Monday, June 24, 2019

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part VI

A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.
-- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, “Fear God and Take Your Own Part,” 1916

A century ago, America had an articulate and educated president who understood the strategic necessity of sea power.

But then, that president was a graduate of the great educational institutions of America where he had studied in detail naval strategy and who as a student wrote a paper titled “The Naval War of 1812” that remains a full 100 years later an oft cited standard study of that war. Before he was president, Theodore Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and his orders to the commander of the US Navy’s Asiatic Squadron, Admiral George Dewey, are credited by Dewey himself with victory at the Battle of Manila Bay. When a peaceful solution to conflict with Spain could not be found, Roosevelt gave up his office to become a cavalry officer of the US Volunteers and leader of the famous Rough Riders where he would win the Medal of Honor for his astounding heroism in battle.

Despite his many faults, and despite valid criticism of his actions and policies, Theodore Roosevelt remains one of America’s truly great leaders, a genuine cowboy, a war hero, a peacemaker, a diplomat, a scholar, a conservationist, a naturalist, a military strategist, a consummate politician, a humanitarian, and a president who truly understood the machinations of politics and the workings of power on a global scale.

More, Roosevelt, despite being born to privilege was always and ever aware of his responsibility as a leader to both the nation and to history.

Today … well, yes, today.

Today, America is being lectured on naval strategy by a guy who doesn’t know the difference between "straights" and "strait."

But then it gets better.

"China gets 91% of its Oil from the Straight [sic], Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world! The U.S. request for Iran is very simple - No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!"

If you need an example of a non sequitur logical fallacy, this is a pretty good one.

As usual, Trump begins as he always does: power is for profit.

Trump never reminds you that power comes with responsibility, because he doesn’t believe that. No, for Trump power is about one thing: money.

Specifically, Trump implies US sea power is something we do for profit and then, somehow, he ends up at Iranian nuclear ambitions via US domestic energy production.

As I said, a non sequitur logical fallacy in that one most assuredly does not follow the other.

But then, that is the hallmark of this administration.

Everyday with Trump is like that Calvin & Hobbes cartoon where Calvin is completely unprepared for Mrs. Wormwood's question and just starts shouting random answers: The Gettysburg Address! War of 1812! Lewis and Clark! Spaghetti!

Let us begin here then:  US strategic power isn't a business.

We do not profit from our military.

Other nations do not pay us for protection, nor should they.

We don't project sea power for the purpose of making a profit, but rather to secure the sea lanes for our own use and that of our allies.

The Strait of Hormuz is a strategic chokepoint, one of the most critical waterways in the world. Not just because it is the primary passage for Gulf state oil, or because it allows the US military access to our allies (and our enemies) and US commercial interests access to their markets, suppliers, and customers, but because what happens there to both our enemies and our allies affects the entire world.

This is the very purpose of sea power; something previous presidents have understood in detail.

The fact that other nations benefit from our military power is incidental.

Also, it should be noted since Trump himself specifically used the example: Japan does not have a navy.

Japan has a Maritime Self-Defense Force to protect their sovereignty and their interests in their own waters.

But the nation does not have a blue-water navy to protect their commerce on the high seas.

This is by design.

Our design.

Japan does not have a navy because the United States and her allies defeated Imperial Japan at the end of WWII and the agreements which ended that conflict and Japan's formal acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration dissolved Japan's military forces. When a new Japanese government was formed following the war, it specifically declared: "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes" and they put that in their new constitution verbatim as Article 9 in 1947. And what an example, and an admonishment, to the rest of us.

For the last 70 years, the US has provided protection, at least in part, for Japanese shipping on the high seas – as America does for all of its allies. Not for profit or for prestige or for conquest, but because it is in our best interest to ensure freedom of the seas for all nations, friend and foe alike.

Because when freedom of the sea lanes is not enforced for all, war follows. Always.

This is what Roosevelt meant when he said, A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.

As to China, do you believe it is in our best interests that the Chinese navy became the peacekeeping force in the Arabian Gulf? Or the Russian navy? Or the Indians? Really?

For some reason, I am suddenly reminded of the decline of the British Empire and how it ceded control of the seas to younger, more vital nations in the interests of saving itself a few pounds.

But I digress.

Trump’s assertion that "we don't need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy [sic] anywhere in the world!" demonstrates a profound ignorance of history, the purpose of US strategic power projection, and global energy production.

War in the Gulf is bad for the entire world, both now and into the future.

It is in our best interests to prevent that conflict and to keep that waterway open and free to passage of all vessels whether we get a single drop of oil from the Arabian Gulf or not.

Moreover, and beyond the geopolitics of the Strait of Hormuz, all energy is not the same.

All energy production is not equal.

And production of energy is not the same as the process of acquisition, refining, and distribution of the materials necessary for the production of that energy.

Nuclear energy, for example, requires materials and technologies far beyond the simple mining of uranium. And it is the same with oil or gas, wind or solar – or oxen pushing a cane-mill around and ‘round for that matter.

Trump's declaration that the US is the largest producer of energy in this context implies not only that all energy production is the same, but all forms of energy are interchangeable at all levels of our civilization and are produced at the same rate, for the same cost, and at same level of technology and purpose.

This is patently ridiculous in all regards.

Trump’s comment is a gross oversimplification of an incredibly complex subject.

For example, not all crude oil is the same.

Did you know that? Trump doesn’t seem to. The majority of our congressmen and Senators don’t seem to know this.

Not all oil is created equal. The oil from Saudi Arabi and the oil squeezed out of Canadian Tar Sands is not even vaguely similar.

Oil is graded by three factors, viscosity, volatility, and toxicity.

More viscous oil is thicker. What does that mean, thicker? Well, what it means in practical terms is that it takes more energy to move that oil, to pump it out of the ground, to transport it, to refine it.

And more energy means more cost.

Which means the final products made from that oil are more expensive.

More volatile oil contains the most desired light compounds, the kind of stuff you make gasoline from for example. But those compounds evaporate quickly, that’s what volatile means. It’s also much more flammable. And so this more volatile oil requires more advanced processing, safety, and transportation technologies to prevent it from evaporating, or exploding, during extraction from the ground, during pumping and transport, during refining. Meaning you can’t use just any tanker or any pipeline or run it through just any refinery.

Toxicity refers to how poisonous the oil is. What percentage of the oil is made up of toxic sulfur compounds for example. Oil heavy with sulfur compounds is very difficult to process, it's extremely expensive to refine it into lighter products -- such as gasoline or jet fuels. And that production produces huge amounts of toxic compounds that have to be disposed of. The majority of oil in the world is highly toxic, including much of the oil produced in North America.

With advances in recovery technology, yes, the US now pumps a huge amount of oil, or gets it from Canadian tar sands. But much of that oil is heavy, thick, toxic low volatility crude that can't be used for our most common energy requirement, i.e. transportation. Because that oil is thick toxic goo, i.e. heavy sour crude, we export it, mostly to Asia where it's used for bunker oils, heavy fuel oil, lubricants, industrial processes, plastics, and etc.

And we still have to import light sweet crude (low viscosity, volatile, low sulfur) oil to refine into gasoline, diesel, kerosene, heating oil, jet fuel, and so on.

So does the rest of the world.

But then there's the dismount.

“The U.S. request for Iran is very simple - No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!”

That’s what Trump said. That’s where he ended up. There.

And yet, literally, the sentence immediately prior to that is, “We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world!”

No nuclear weapons?

No sponsoring of terror?


Iran is far away. If the US did not maintain a presence in that region, then Iran would have no beef with us. Right? So why would they sponsor terrorism or wage nuclear war against us? Why then would we care what they do? 


What’s that?

Israel, you say? What if Iran attacks Israel?


So what?

According to Trump’s own statement, that’s not our problem.

I mean, we don’t make any profit from defending Israel, do we? We don’t get any energy from Israel. So who cares, right? Why is it our problem? Why don’t they just defend themselves?

You again? What now?

Oh, I see. That’s different.

Except, of course, it’s not. And I am being sarcastic and not actually suggesting we abandon our allies and the nations of that region simply because we might not directly profit from them.

We do need to be there.

Not just because of Israel. Or Saudi Arabia. Or Kuwait. Or our other allies such as the U.A.E and Bahrain. 

We do need to be there.

Not because we do or do not profit from the region but because securing the sea lanes for our own use and for that of both friend and foe alike is in our best interest.

We need to be there in the Middle East, because what happens there affects us all.

We need to be there because, like it or not, the United States cannot stand alone and because being an ally cuts both ways.

We need to be there because if we are not there to secure the sea lanes – and thus access to the Gulf – then someone else will be and that nation will control the global economy.

We need to be there because America is part of that global economy and what affects our allies – and our enemies – impacts us both directly and indirectly. Because our trade and production is global. Because if Japan and China and other nations that are a critical part of our economy are cut off from light sweet crude oil produced in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it will have a direct and immediate and unpleasant impact on our nation. 

Beyond that, money from oil is what powers the banks of the U.A.E and other Middle Eastern financial centers. Those banks in turn fund a huge amount of the global economy. If Saudi and Kuwaiti oil money stop flowing through those banks – because war closes the Strait of Hormuz for example – then very, very likely the global economy will collapse and fall into chaos the likes of which will make 2007 look like a bad day at the track. All the fracking wells punched into your water table, all the tar sands crude oil, and all the natural gas in the world, will do you not a goddamned bit of good when the critical parts you need to run your economy come from nations cut off from their energy sources and the global economy has imploded into massive recession. And, unless you own a Tesla, you can't run your car on it either, or transport goods over your highways or down your rail lines.

Trump's childish boast of America's energy production in this context is not only a non sequitur, it demonstrates a staggering lack of understanding of global economics.

Trump ranks every relationship by how it might profit him, the manifestation of a life of selfishness.

Donald Trump sees everything in terms of money. For him power is merely a means to profit, and profit means more power. But the world is far, far more complicated than that and Trump can’t even manage to string together two pitiful tweets and maintain a coherent train of thought between them.

Our president, like far too many American leaders, is an ignorant fool. He is the product of privilege without responsibility, of power without education or temper, of might without compassion or empathy.

A century ago, we had a president of vast intellectual curiosity, a scholar and a diplomat and a warrior, a man who won both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Medal of Honor, and a leader who understood in his very bones the complexity of global politics and the absolute responsibility of power and privilege. Statesman. Scholar. Soldier. Intellectual. Humanitarian of compassion, sympathy, and respect for his follows. In this regard, Roosevelt was not at all dissimilar to the men who founded the United States itself.

Over the last century, as the traits we demand of our leaders have diminished, so has our nation.

Force is never more operative than when it is known to exist but is not brandished.
-- Alfred Thayer Mahan, US naval strategist, “Armaments and Arbitration, Or, The Place of Force in the International Relations of States,” 1912

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Remember The Maine

"In spite of all its horror, we must regard the sinking of the Lusitania as an event most important and favourable to the Allies. The poor babies who perished in the ocean attack struck a blow at German power more deadly than could have been achieved by the sacrifice of 100,000 men."
-- Winston Churchill, commenting on the “unprovoked” attack on the luxury liner RMS Lusitania, torpedoed by German U-boat U-20 on May 7, 1915. 1,200 people died in the icy waters off the coast of Ireland. The attack caused international outcry and was one of the factors that led to US involvement in WWI and was used to stoke anti-German sentiment in the United Kingdom.

It was later revealed Lusitania regularly engaged in the transport of thousands of tons munitions and war materiel using civilian passenger service as camouflage, a fact that had been deliberately kept from the British public and Lusitania’s passengers.

Trump on Twitter quoting US Secretary of State Pompeo, “It is the assessment of the U.S. government that Iran is responsible for today's attacks in the Gulf of Oman...."

The government.

It is the assessment of the US government.

Not the US intelligence community, the US government.

You want to pay attention to the weasel words.

[Edit: Moments ago, Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks, “citing evidence from US intelligence” instead of just saying “US government. He did not, however, present any of this alleged evidence.]

Two tankers were attacked this morning in the Gulf of Oman near the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz.

Japan's Trade Ministry said the two vessels were carrying "Japan-related” cargo.

Four tankers were attacked last month in the same region.

Two more today and it’s starting to look like a trend.

Naturally prices surged on international markets as investors panicked at this sudden threat to the oil supply.

US officials are – predictably – blaming Iran for the attacks.

The general consensus in the press and world opinion is that Iran must be behind these attacks.

Must be.

There’s no evidence yet, at least none that any nation is willing to make public. No one actually witnessed Iran carrying out these attacks. It’s the assessment of our government, but not of the professionals – at least, not yet.

Still, perhaps conveniently, there really isn’t another obvious candidate.

But, as a retired US Navy Intelligence officer who spent significant time in that part of the world, I've got to say this assumption doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense. Not to me anyway.

Right now, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in Tehran.

Japan’s leader is meeting with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in an attempt to rekindle nuclear disarmament talks – something the Trump administration is adamantly opposed to. And Trump himself said so on Twitter again this morning.

And suddenly there are these attacks on tankers ...

...carrying Japanese cargo?

That's damned coincidental, if it is indeed a coincidence.

But if it's Iran, as our leaders say it must be, and it's not a coincidence, then what's the message?

Japan isn't threatened by Iran. 

Iran isn’t threatened by Japan.

Japan is currently in Iran attempting to negotiate a future equitable to Iran and Iran blows up cargo destined for Japan?

I repeat, what's the message here? Don’t try to negotiate with Iran? Is that the message? Because that message seems like it would be a lot more likely to come from somebody other than Iran.

Somebody who doesn’t want Japan and Iran talking.

Somebody who doesn’t want Iran talking to anybody.

Unless, you know, it is just a damned odd coincidence.

And maybe it is. How do you know?

How do you know?

Perhaps start with your intelligence assets, the professionals who spend their entire lives looking at this problem, instead of some political hack running the State Department who tells you only what you want to hear.

And the first thing you have to ask as an intelligence analysts is: Who benefits from these attacks?

Start there. Don’t start with the assumption Iran is behind the attacks and then reverse engineer the data and the politics to make it so. That’s how we ended up invading Iraq for 9-11. I know, because I was there.

Who benefits from these attacks?

And that's the question you don't see asked.

You see a lot of blame tossed around this morning. A lot of speculation. But the press doesn’t ask "who benefits?"

This morning, as we edge closer and closer to war, President Trump is furiously tweeting about impeachment and how somebody spied on his campaign and how he’s under no obligation to report when foreign intelligence agents hand him dirt on his opponents and something about the “Prince of Whales,” but you don’t see him asking: “who benefits?”

And you’re not seeing it from any of our other so-called leaders either.

We all just assume Iran benefits. But do they? And can you prove it?

Who benefits from attacking oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman?

Start here: The attackers didn't get the cargo.

And that’s significant.

In fact, at this point, we're not even sure how the ships were attacked. Mine? Missile? Torpedo? Nobody knows, again at least not that they’re saying. But whoever it was and however they did it, they weren’t interested in the cargo. I have some very direct experience in this area, in this gulf, on ships like this, with piracy and oil and you don’t blow holes in a tanker or light it on fire if you’re after the oil.

The attackers didn't get the cargo and made no attempt to do so.

So piracy isn't the motivation.

Or is it?

See, there's more than one form of piracy and this is where I remind you of that surge in oil prices this morning.

What am I saying? Wall Street is behind the attacks? Exxon stock holders? Investors? OPEC? Some sort of James Bondesque plot from the Pierce Brosnan era?

Well … you know, stranger things have happened. Wars have been started for profit more often than we’d like to admit. It is a hell of a lot of money. One hell of a lot of power.

To hell with Spain! Remember the Maine!
-- Rallying cry of Americans who wanted war with Spain following that nation’s attack on USS Maine in Havana harbor, February 15, 1898.

Many years later, following the Spanish American War, it was revealed USS Maine had been destroyed by a coal bunker explosion. An accident.

But I'd rate the probability of that scenario as, well, probably unlikely – but not entirely impossible.

It would be easier to raise oil prices via a variety of safer means, depending on your definition of "safe." Particularly when these attacks are likely to spark a military response.

Very likely, a military response from the US -- despite the fact that these are not our ships, nor our cargo, nor our people, nor our sovereign territory.

And that’s the thing, right there. Isn’t it?

Who wants war between the US and Iran?

Besides us, I mean?

Who wants that war? Who benefits from war between the US and Iran?

Well, a lot of people actually. A lot of nations. A lot of entrenched political and monied power structures.

Now, we're certainly veering dangerously towards conspiracy theory territory here, but the thing is that whoever is behind this, well, they must want war.

They must.

Whoever is behind these attacks, be it a nation or some other agency, they must want war.

Or they are the single most naïve terrorists ever born.

Because war is what you're going to get when you threaten the oil supply.

And the United States is going to be leading the charge. That’s a given, for many reasons beyond just oil.

So, if it is Iran, is that what they’re trying to provoke? War. With America?


Does Iran really want war with the US?

Of course, the kneejerk jingoistic American answer is: YES!

But, do they? Really?

How does Iran benefit from that war?

The odds are that the US will win – depending on how you define the terms. Maybe not quickly, maybe not easily, maybe at great cost – perhaps even fatal cost -- but eventually the US along with the rest of the world will destroy Iran if pushed into war, because the world can’t afford to have the Straits of Hormuz closed for very long. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, the UAE, those nations cannot allow Iran to close the Straits for long. The nations who depend on the oil which flows via tanker through those straits, they can’t allow those straits to be closed at all.

And that’s what will happen when the US goes to war with Iran.

I’ve been there. I’ve been on the bridge of US cruisers, the point ship of a fleet transiting that narrow strait. I’ve looked at the war plans, hell, I helped write them. It doesn’t have to be complete. It doesn’t have to be total. Such a blockade might not keep warships from fighting their way through – unless somebody gets lucky and sinks an American nuclear aircraft carrier in the channel. But you can’t sail oil tankers through a war zone. Not through that channel under fire.

It doesn’t matter if anybody else can get through, if you can’t sail tankers through the Straits of Hormuz, then you’re screwed.

And there isn’t much anybody could do to stop that once war is joined, short of utter destruction of Iran – perhaps even nuclear destruction. 

Iran knows this.

Their leaders are religious fanatics, but they are not stupid. And they understand war and power just fine. So why would they provoke the US into attacking?

What do they stand to gain?

Now, of course, this is where things get difficult, because we are talking about religious fanatics. Maybe they do want the US to attack. Maybe they think their God will give them victory. Or maybe they’re gambling that the attack will be limited.  Maybe they think they they can parley such a strike into sympathy, drive a wedge between the US and its allies, especially if they can play up America’s penchant for unprovoked war ala Iraq.

That would be a hell of a risky plan.

Then again, stranger, riskier, and far more ridiculous plans by fanatics have pushed nations into war.

But you have to ask yourself, why then attack tankers? Why attack these tankers? Why not attack warships? If war is what you want. Iran attacking these tankers just doesn’t make much sense even if they did want war. And the truth of the matter is that no matter who “wins,” war with the US will be very, very bad for Iran. And it’s damned unlikely they would risk any such open conflict, especially since these very same Iranian leaders have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to sit down at a negotiating table and talk, even sign agreements with the United States and her allies.

Agreements the US walked out on, not Iran.

Of all the nations that might want war between the US and Iran, Iran is the least likely candidate.

And so, we come back ‘round to it.

Back around to the questions we should be asking.

To the questions that the press should be asking.

To the questions our our leaders should be loudly asking right now.

To the questions our intelligence community should be working to answer in detail.

Who benefits?

Who benefits from attacks on these particular targets?

Who has the capability to carry out these attacks. Who has the ability to carry out an attack on oil tankers, underway at sea, in one of the most heavily trafficked sea lanes and thus one of the most heavily surveilled areas in the world, on ships that are specifically on the lookout for such an attack.

Who can carry out that attack and do so in such a manner that the methodology and origin are not immediately apparent?

Who has that capability?

Not only has that capability, but also believes they will directly benefit from a war between Iran and the rest of the world.

Has the capability, is willing to use it, wants a war, and will benefit from the results even if later reveled  -- starting with a massive increase in the price of oil.

Now, you tell me: who is that?

My fellow Americans, as President and Commander in Chief, it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply…
-- President Lyndon Johnson, August 4, 1964, addressing the nation following two attacks by North Vietnamese gunboats on the American warship USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Whereas these attackers are part of a deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom…
-- Tonkin Gulf Resolution, August 7, 1964, the US resolution which, as a result of the North Vietnamese attacks on USS Maddox, led directly to the Vietnam War.

In 2005, records from the Maddox Incident were declassified, revealing that in the first “attack” on USS Maddox, the US warship was in fact the aggressor and fired on North Vietnamese vessels first.

The second “attack” never actually happened at all.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Quick and Easy

And we begin here:

90% of the Drugs coming into the United States come through Mexico & our Southern Border. 80,000 people died last year, 1,000,000 people ruined. This has gone on for many years & nothing has been done about it. We have a 100 Billion Dollar Trade Deficit with Mexico. It’s time!

If you need an example of a non sequitur logical fallacy, this is really good one -- or bad one, depending.

Break it down:

"90% of the Drugs coming into the United States come through Mexico & our Southern Border."

Is that true?

Of drugs used in the US but manufactured outside of our borders, do ninety percent come into the country via Mexico across the southern border? Is that true?

Wait, drugs?

Trump said "Drugs." Capital D.

Not illegal drugs. Drugs. Now, from the context he likely means illegal drugs, but how can you be sure? I mean, he capitalized it, does that means all drugs, legal and illegal? Or do we just capitalize illegal drugs? The AP Style Guide is no help here, so what does he mean? No, I’m not just being pedantic. This is the president of the United States doing foreign policy via twitter. Words matter. Precision of thought, especially on this scale, matters. And that’s the point here, as I will demonstrate.

For the sake of simplicity, let's say it's illegal drugs.

Ninety percent of illegal drugs smuggled into the US, come through the southern border. Is that true?

DEA statistics for 2018 show that 90% of heroin, 88% of cocaine, 87% of methamphetamine, and 80% of fentanyl seized on the southern border were found at Ports of Entry, i.e. legal crossing points, but are those numbers 90% of all illegal drugs entering the US?

Is it?

There’s a difference between “seized” and “all.”

Ninety percent of heroin.

Ninety percent of total illegal drug smuggling.

Is that the same number?

Is it?

Trump’s talking about the amount of drugs crossing the US/Mexican border, but what percentage of the total illegal drugs entering the US is it?

Because Trump say it's 90%, but he seems to be confusing the amount of drugs seized at legal crossing points compared to the total suspected amount crossing the border WITH THE TOTAL AMOUNT OF ILLEGAL DRUGS ENTERING THE US.

And nobody calls him on it.

Nobody calls on him to produce a comparison to the Canadian border or to maritime ports of entry or US international airports.

We just let that number go: 90% of illegal drugs entering the US come via Mexico.

So, right out of the gate, the argument is based on an assumption without any proof of validation – and it gets much worse than that when you discover most of the numbers used by the DEA, FBI, and other government agencies regarding volume of drugs manufactured, used, and smuggled into the US are total bullshit based on spotty data, incomplete information, hunches, guesses, and numbers padded to make budget requests look good. That’s the first thing you learn, if you ever do counter-narcotics work, all the numbers are complete bullshit. No one can prove anything with any degree of confidence and they’ve long since given up trying, there’s something downright Soviet about it.

Next: "80,000 people died last year, 1,000,000 people ruined."

80,000 deaths.

A million people "ruined."

Assuming, I guess, from drug use. Though he doesn't actually say so, or where that number came from. With the implication being that the drugs which killed and ruined these people came from ... Mexico.

And note that he just says "deaths." He doesn't break down those drug related deaths into specifics. As if a heroin overdose is the same as death by anti-depressant abuse is the same as death via chronic methamphetamine usage.

As if the complex circumstances that lead people to a drug related death are all the same and can be solved with the simple expedient of cutting off the supply of foreign drugs on just the Mexican border.

As if two thirds of drug overdose deaths last year were not caused by opioids, a significant fraction of which were manufactured and prescribed legally. Now, while it's true, as Trump says, that the majority of illegal opioids, usually some variation of Fentanyl, are manufactured in China and smuggled into the US in part via Mexico, most of it comes via US Ports of Entry -- meaning a wall wouldn't do a damned thing to stop it. Trump never addresses this, never even acknowledges it because it doesn’t fit his simple narrative.

Next: "This has gone on for many years & nothing has been done about it."

This is a complete load of crap.

The US has spent an astounding amount of resources over decades attempting to stop the flow is drugs smuggled into our country.

Our prisons are full to bursting with the results of the so-called war on drugs.

Hell, I myself spent more time than I care to mention hunting drug smugglers, including three miserable months in South and Central America chasing down boatloads of cocaine and heroin and even though we brought back record numbers of captured drugs and drug smugglers it was nothing. Less than a drop in the bucket. Drugs are a Just In Time model of Supply and Demand, meaning drug pushers don’t keep huge warehouses of stock in case their supply takes a hit. If they have it, they sell it. Drug users don’t stockpile for a rainy day, if they buy it, they use it. And then they buy more. Despite the simplistic boneheaded logic of the War on Drugs, less drugs do not translate into less drug users or less violence or less crime, it just means that drugs cost more – and because they cost more, you get more crime and more violence. And that means if you want to know how effective the billions of dollars you’re spending sending Navy ships south of the Galapagos to chase smuggling boats, all you have to do is look at the price of various drugs on the street.  Guess what? There’s no impact. None. Drugs are getting cheaper.

Likewise, Trump’s wall will have no effect. Why? Because it doesn’t address the basic problem: Americans want drugs!

We have dozens of federal and state agencies, law enforcement, the military, working on stopping the flow of illegal drugs. And they have no effect. None. The price of drugs are falling. Drugs are everywhere. If you want drugs, you can get them. The war on drugs is a total failure. Why? Because it doesn’t address the basic problem. Americans. Want. Drugs.

But that's the thing, right there. Drugs are complicated. The reason why people do drugs is complex and there are millions upon millions of variations of this problem. There isn’t one easy simple solution. You have to understand the problem and address the actual causative issues. And if Prohibition taught America anything, it's that cutting off the supply doesn’t do shit to fix those underlying problems and in fact might just make the situation worse in a hundred unexpected ways – like increased crime and violence.

You can't just build a wall and fix it.

It's vastly more complicated than that.

People want drugs and they are going to get them even if they have to make them in their bathtub like gin in the 1930s. Even if they have to murder for them.

And then: "We have a 100 Billion Dollar Trade Deficit with Mexico."

The hell do trade deficits have to do with illegal drugs?

Nothing, that's what.


Not a damned thing.

He starts with a claim about the origin of illegal drugs, segues into drug deaths, falsely claims no one has every done anything about it, and fetches up at trade deficits on legal products. It’s a non sequitur logical fallacy in that one does not in any way follow the other.

This, right here, is the problem with critical thinking in America. This scatterbrained gibberish.

It seems that Trump is actually saying something, but his comment literally makes no sense. It's three different issues mashed together like Frankenstein's monster stitched together from dead body parts.

And the majority of Americans aren't equipped to even recognize this as nonsense.

The news media, the average citizen, lets nonsense -- literally "no sense" -- like this just roll on past without question, without any deeper examination. Liberals reject it because it's Trump, conservatives embrace it for the same reason. But they don't even know why.

It's just nonsense. Faulty thinking. Failed reasoning.

This is why problems don't get solved.

This is why shit keeps getting worse.

This is how some moron like Trump gets elected and why 60 million morons think he's some sort of genius.

Because as a people we are deliberately incapable of critical analysis on even a fundamental level. And that’s the real tragedy. It’s not rocket science. It’s the basics. When you break it down, examine each piece, drug smuggling, drug deaths, legal trade deficits, all of these are highly complex problems that may or may not relate to each other in complex ways -- but not in the manner Trump describes. And that should be obvious, even if you don’t understand the complex issues underneath. But for too many Americans, it’s not.

If he can't understand it, he can’t fix it.

If you can’t understand that, you’ll never fix The Republic.

And that is a metaphor for not only America, but the very future.

Then he moves from faulty thinking to outright lies:

"Hard to believe that with the Crisis on the Border, the Dems won’t do the quick and easy fix. Would solve the problem but they want Open Borders, which equals crime!"

Though, to be fair, his lies are a result of his faulty thinking.

Leaving aside the obvious lie regarding his manufactured "crisis" and his provably false assertion that democrats as a whole "want open borders,” the critical part of that statement is "quick and easy fix."

Quick and easy.

Shoot it. Hang it. Kill it. Bomb it. Bulldoze it. Build a wall.

The simpleminded are always looking for simple solutions to complex problems.

Like Trump -- exactly like Trump -- they don't have the capability to process the complexity of the world and they just will never understand that there are no "quick and easy" solutions to immigration, to poverty, to violence, to drug abuse, to crime, to national security, to governing a nation, to any of it.

Even their God knows that. That's what their prophet told them, that salvation wasn't going to be easy, there aren't any quick and easy solutions, you actually have to be a better person. Even, especially, when it's hard. If you want the reward, you have to do the work. And two thousand years later, they still can't wrap their pointy brains around it and have reduced that complex message to thoughts and prayer and hate that guy over there. Even the pious who study that religion do so mostly in order to figure out how not to have to think about it.

"Mexico has taken advantage of the United States for decades."

Ain't nobody gets "taken advantage of" like a rich guy who craps in a golden toilet and lives in a giant dick-shaped tower with his name on the side in 30-foot-high golden letters. Oh there ain't no bigger victims than the poor put-upon wealthy of America.

That's what he's saying here. When he says "America," he means rich people. Not you and me.

I mean, look at it: advantage how?

How is Mexico taking advantage of the United States? How?

If anything, the power structure would suggest that we take advantage of Mexico.

That we daily take advantage of lax Mexican laws and cheap Mexican labor and cheap Mexican vacations and cheap Mexican produce and, hell, the conditions that make for cheap Mexican drugs. I mean, it's easier to buy foreign illegal drugs than it is to make them ourselves. Just as it's easier and more profitable to manufacture car parts in Mexico than it is to pay Americans a living wage.

That's not to Mexico's advantage except by accident.

Those jobs are in Mexico, and in China, etc, because that’s how rich people like Trump want it.

That’s how the wealthy business owners got rich in the first place. They don't want to pay a living wage. They don't want to pay for healthcare. They don't want to give baby leave or benefits or build safe factories that don't pollute. They don't want to hire Americans because it costs them money.

Those factories, those jobs, they weren't moved to Mexico for Mexico’s advantage, but to make rich Americans even richer.

That’s who benefits.

That's who is taking advantage, right there. The rich. Not Mexico.

"Because of the Dems, our Immigration Laws are BAD."

And we're back to immigration without taking a breath.

And what are those immigrants doing here anyway?

It's not only democrats who hire cheap day laborers from every corner in Arizona and California.

It's not just democrats who own the farms and ranches where cheap migrant laborers go seeking work.

It's not just democrats who hire cheap nannies and gardeners and handymen.

Our laws were made by democrats and republicans, and signed into effect by both kinds of presidents, and it's that way because that is to both democrat and republican advantage – it sure has hell wasn’t done for immigrants.

"Mexico makes a FORTUNE from the U.S., have for decades, they can easily fix this problem."


America makes literal fortunes from Mexico, and has for decades.

Or did you think the stockholders of General Motors, Ford, and Chevy, and every other major manufacturer in the US was sending their factories south of the border just for fun? This wasn’t done for Mexico, it was done for American profit, to make rich people richer.

It's ironic that a guy who made his alleged fortune at least in part from products bearing his name and that are manufactured overseas, and by hiring cheap foreign labor to operate his golf courses because he doesn't want to pay Americans a living wage, doesn't seem to get this.

"Time for them to finally do what must be done!"

And what's that? Cut the United States off? Go into business making cars and underwear for China and Russia? Because that's what's going to happen.

It's instructive Trump sees immigration as "taking advantage" of the US and blames democrats for it. But somehow jumps right over the part where foreign nations profit from the US because Republican capitalism moved our manufacturing there in search of greater profit.

“In order not to pay Tariffs, if they start rising, companies will leave Mexico, which has taken 30% of our Auto Industry, and come back home to the USA. Mexico must take back their country from the drug lords and cartels. The Tariff is about stopping drugs as well as illegals!”

We are fond of quoting that bit about history and those who forget it.

But we mouth the words and never actually understand what they mean.

Companies leave Mexico – and by companies, he means manufacturing.

And why would they come back to the US? What? Suddenly they’re going to pay Americans a living wage? Build plants that comply with our safety and environmental laws? And give up those huge profits and those hundred million dollar CEO salaries? Really?

More likely, they just move manufacturing to somewhere else without tariffs. Some undeveloped 3rd World country that’s willing to chain its people to an assembly line for table scraps. Sure. I mean, goddamn, look at Trump, he’s not hiring Americans to wait tables and scrub toilets at Mar-a-Lago is he? He’s not giving up any profit. You think anybody else will? Come on.

But more than that, Trump says this is about illegal immigration, about violence and crime.

Ask yourself something: in those places where jobs disappear, where the cost of living is too high for most of the population, where the only work is illegal and dangerous, how are crime and violence statistics in those places?

So, you force Mexico out of business. What happens?

Will Americans stop buying drugs then?


So what do you think will happen? When the jobs in Mexico go away? When the money goes away? When the cost of living skyrockets? When the tax base falls off as a result and thus Mexico itself has less and less resources to combat crime and violence? When people get desperate and the drug cartels and the crime bosses have all the power and all the money funded by American cash?

What then?

Do you think that America’s problems will be over?

Do you think that the violence and desperation south of the border won’t be our problem?

Do you think people won’t try to escape it, even if they have to climb a wall a hundred feet high? When there are no jobs and no hope and no advantage to staying in Mexico, do you think the solutions then will be “quick and easy?”

Trump is a simple fool.

Those who support him are worse fools.

Because the fools drag the foolish and the reasoned down alike.

And because they are the one who will someday soon suffer the worst of Trump’s quick and simple nonsense.

But by then, it’ll be too late.

Too late for us all.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Thanks, But It Was Never About That

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
-- John F. Kennedy

I was at the hardware store.

I needed parts for my in-ground lawn sprinkler.

The irrigation system came with the house. Like everything else that came with the house, the system was a kludge – and that’s probably an insult to kludges. I’d spent two years fixing and replacing the mess left by the previous owners, from faulty wiring to leaking, poorly installed plumbing to cheap watering heads no doubt purchased from every bargain bin for three counties around. Given that my lawn covers four acres in the boiling Florida sun, it’s a project. I’d gotten to most of it, but I’d left one original sprinkler head on the far side of the front yard. It seemed to work okay … right up until a week ago when it suddenly blew out of the ground and was replaced by a geyser of high pressure water shooting 20 feet into the air.

I shut the water off at the well and went to survey the damage.

It was a muddy mess, a dirty hole in the ground surrounded by sand and ruined plants, the failure caused by the usual hash of mismatched parts, poorly fitted together. The previous owner was some sort of accountant. I hope he was better with numbers than he was with plumbing. I dug it up, cut out the bad assembly, cleaned off the feed pipe and went back to the shed for the appropriate replacement parts.

Naturally I didn’t have the one PVC joint I needed.


I invoked the standard profanity laced prayer to the Gods of Foolishness and headed for the hardware store.

And so, there I was a few minutes later, covered in drying sand and mud, holding a handful of plumbing parts, facing the cashier.

Cashier: “Military?”

“Retired,”I answered reflexively.

Cashier: “thankwewferyersevich.”

I made some sort of non-committal grunt in response.

This is the social contract we veterans have with America nowadays. The tedious hoop we have to jump through, that awkward moment at every checkout. The words are empty, it all runs together, a required part of the spell necessary to make the banking system process your debit card, I guess. The cashier just wants to get through their shift and get paid, I just want to fix my sprinkler. Thankyouforyourservice nothankyou haveaniceday youtoooo, you mouth the incantation without thinking.

Well, most of the time.

The cashier did cashier things, giving me a discount, I guess. Then…

“No,” he said, “I really mean it.”

I can make it through the empty thankwewforyourservice. It didn’t used to bother me much, and I wrote about that a few times, but in the last few years it’s just everywhere. And this is where I don’t want to be. Right here. Talking about my service with some random person in public. I just want to fix my goddamned sprinkler. Like every other civilian schmo.  I just want to be that guy, the guy who can walk into a hardware store in America and buy plumbing parts without it being part of some enforced national narrative on military service. But no. Now he really means it and I have to be The Humble Veteran. Aw shucks, Citizen, it weren’t nothing. Grateful to serve America, kill some commies for Jesus. Ooorah! Anyone would have done it.

That’s what is expected, right?

What I actually said was, “Thanks. Appreciate it. I'm in a hurry here.”

I wasn't, in a hurry. I just didn’t want to be rude. I just wanted to buy my stuff and get out, go back to fixing my yard. I didn't ask for the discount. The cashier noticed my haircut, or my bearing, or that my debit card was from a military institution, I don’t know. And that's fine. Being a veteran should maybe be good for something other than a limp and a bad attitude, I guess, and I'm not such a jackass that I won't accept a couple of bucks off the price. I can use it. And I do appreciate it. I do. I don’t expect a discount. I don’t demand it. But if it’s offered, sure, I’ll take it. Why not? Not like the benefits of being a veteran are all that spectacular, wealth wise.

Look, I'm not trying to be an ass and I'm proud enough of having served. I spent 20 years at it. I'm certainly not ashamed of who I am or bitter about it or disgruntled or PTSD'd or whatever.

But how I feel about my service is … complicated.

And it’s personal.

And it’s my business, not yours.

More, it's not the only thing I am and right now I'm just buying parts for my sprinkler system and I don't want to be reminded of certain things, again, for the tenth time today by yet another random cashier. I'm not offended, or angry, so much as just tired of the ubiquitous inanity of this mandated ritual every damned time, of being thanked for my service over and over. I got it, America. You're welcome. Let's move the hell on now. Please.

But, of course, we can’t. Move on. Because this is America and this is our collective guilt trip.

He didn’t take the hint. He went on, “I don't think the military is appreciated enough in this country.”

I didn’t respond. Because anything I could have said would just make it worse. And, as noted, he’d already missed the hint.

“It's just a shame the way the military is treated.”

He was obviously waiting for me to agree. And it was like fingernails on a blackboard. All the shit I don’t want to think about, there it is. In my face. I just wanted to fix my fucking sprinkler, instead I’m ambushed with this bullshit and now I’ve had to do this dance, again.

I just wanted him to shut up.

But he wouldn’t.

“You guys deserve...”

It wasn’t the thanks.

It wasn’t the thanks. No, it was this. This narrative. This is what always comes after the thanks. This. This neck-deep conservative bullshit, pushed by people who never served themselves, this never-ending attempt to co-opt my service into martyrdom for a political ideology built on lies used to diminish other Americans.

You look at my haircut and you think I’m one of those assholes and I’m sick of it.

That’s what it is.


And so I did answer him, “Just, goddamn, man, stop. Just stop. You don't think the military is appreciated in this country? Seriously? There are two national holidays dedicated to the military and I don't know how many state holidays. None for teachers or doctors or peacemakers. But two for the military and they're trying to turn all the rest of them into some statement on military service too. Every town in this country suddenly has some sort of park or monument dedicated to veterans. There are parades and fireworks and TV shows. There are two Executive departments of our government dedicated to the military. TWO. We spend more than 50% of the national budget on the military. Every car has one of those idiotic magnets on the back of it, or some sort of bumper sticker. I can see three of them from here. Every goober in this store is wearing some sort of military shirt with eagles and guns and flags on it. We idolize the military. It's a goddamned fetish! (I might have been shouting by this point). What the hell are you even talking about?”

He wasn’t particularly taken aback, I think he wanted the argument, “Well, liberals are...”


There it is.

Well, liberals are…

Oh, yes. Liberals. That’s the problem.

Maybe you didn’t see it coming, but I sure did. Because I do this dance multiple times every day. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about gratitude. It was about using my service to make some shitty political statement.

And that’s where I ended it. “Just stop. Fucking stop. Give me my receipt.”

And I walked out.

And by then I was too fucking mad to finish the job I’d started and the lawn had to wait another day.

He was young, 20s maybe, old enough to be serving himself if he felt so strongly about it. But, of course, he wasn’t. Serving. They never do.

Maybe I should have been more patient and maybe ... I don't know. It's not my job to deprogram these damned zombies and detox the conservative talk radio bullshit out of their systems.

The military isn't appreciated in this country? Fuck me.

If only education, healthcare, the environment, or people, were "unappreciated" half so much.

But it doesn’t end there.

Of course it doesn’t.

I’m a writer.

And I write about politics.

I write about the cultural narrative.

I write about things that hurt me, because that’s how I deal with them.

And so I wrote about this. A shorter version of the above story appeared on my Facebook page and as a thread on my Twitter feed.

And for the last four days, it’s been viral across social media, viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

I got a lot of feedback. Some good. Some not.

I shared some of it on Twitter, because Twitter is designed to make such comments easy. I didn’t post the feedback to Facebook, because it’s a lot more difficult on that platform.

I’ll share some of that here, because it’s important to me that you see it. The reasons for which will become apparent by and by.

Now, before I do, I’ll remind you that it wasn’t about being thanked. Not really. And if it had ended at being thanked, or not thanked, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

"Thank you for your service."

That’s what the cashier said, like every other cashier.

I acknowledged it. I did. I wasn’t a bitter curmudgeon it. He said thanks, I nodded, or grunted, or whatever. I didn't profusely thank the cashier for his thank you or break down in tearful gratitude and a heartful rendition of Lee Greenwood’s Proud To Be An American, but I acknowledged his appreciation. As I said, if it had ended there, there wouldn't have been posts on social media.

But it didn't end there.

I acknowledged the thanks. And I acknowledged it the second time he brought it up as well.

I said I appreciated it.

After that, I don't want to talk about it. It makes me uncomfortable for reasons that are none of your damned business – but I’ll explain anyway here in a minute.

That doesn’t matter though, does it? My comfort. That’s something else I have to sacrifice as a veteran. America needs veterans to be symbols, heroes, not people, so my discomfort doesn’t matter – so long as you feel good.

I don't claim to speak for any other veteran.

I told you what happened and I told you how I felt about it. Me. That's all.

I didn't tell other veterans how to feel. Hell, I didn’t even demand that Americans stop thanking random veterans.

And again, because I’ll have to keep reminding you, it wasn't about being thanked. Or not thanked.

But can you maybe see that some of us don’t want to be reminded all of the time?

Can you maybe understand that some of us just want to go to the store and do our business without it being a referendum on our service every goddamned time?

Or does that even matter? Is your need to feel validated more important?

Who is this really about?

I know plenty of vets who wear their service on their sleeve.

As I said, I don’t speak for them. Maybe they do expect to be thanked. Maybe they even demand it as their rightful due. You can hardly blame them, that’s the national message, isn’t it. You’re owed a thank you, Veteran. Owed it. Certainly a significant portion of this country increasingly sees it that way.

Me? I see America as more than some warrior class – even though I am a member of that class. Or was.

And I have to wonder why we don’t respect other citizens half so much?

What we did, we veterans, what we do, out there in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, is often rough, there’s no doubt about that. But, is it any more important to the fabric of society than, oh, say, being a garbage collector? I mean, let your garbageman not show up for a few days in a hot Southern summer and see if your appreciation for the profession doesn’t increase. Why is the soldier more important than the teacher who trains the next generation? Than the farmer who feeds the nation? Than the doctor and the nurses who treat the sick? Than the average faceless nobody who drops a dollar into the cup of a homeless veteran on the streets of America and thus provides a moment of joy and compassion?

Why do we revere the warrior and scorn the peacemaker?

Decades ago, a different war, a different nation, and perhaps America didn’t so much revere the warrior.

I understand if you served in that war and came home to that country how you might still resent it. I would.

I don’t presume to speak for you, or to your experience.

And I never asked anything of you except for the same courtesy in return.

I don’t mind being recognized as a veteran.

Do you mind being recognized for who you are?

Are you expected to change your appearance so as not to be the object of unwanted attention?

Maybe you are.

Women know what I’m talking about. Ironic then that every comment I got about my haircut came from a woman. If you don’t like the attention of your military appearance, hide it, grow your hair out, don’t wear certain clothes, don’t carry yourself in a certain manner. Pretend to be somebody else.

Otherwise, it’s your fault.

As I said, ironic.

Maybe I’d be prettier if I smiled more.

Again, this wasn't about being thanked. Or not thanked.

It wasn't even about having part of your life constantly pulled out and held up for examination by random people.

Or that society deems you should be grateful for that attention and is resentful when you aren’t.

No, it was about that last bit, that part about the military in America not being appreciated.

The military isn’t appreciated enough in this country. That narrative, pushed by the nationalists, by military fetishists, by a certain strident political ideology bent on creating a hallowed warrior class – and then perhaps using it to crush their hated neighbors.

We are coming to a point where respect for the military will be mandatory.

When we declare taking a knee as unpatriotic, how long before we're required to line up and salute those tanks rumbling down the streets of our capital and the tromp of marching boots, those military parades as our president demands?

How long before gratitude turns to resentment for those veterans who don’t toe the party line?

How long before that forced gratitude becomes a weapon?

She was ashamed of my service.

I’m a decorated veteran. I served my country honorably for more than 20 years, in peace and in war.

But she’s ashamed of me. Ashamed that I was ever in the military.

Because I’m don’t want to discuss my service with some random cashier. Because I don’t want to be reminded of what I did every minute of every day, of the friends and comrades I lost, of things I saw and wish I hadn’t. Because I just want to be a regular citizen, just a guy who can walk into a hardware store and buy some screws like any average joe. She’s ashamed of me.

But is she even an American?

I included Catheri22165164 for a reason.

Because she’s very likely a Russian bot. A troll. Attempting to weaponize my comments and turn America’s obsession with thanking veterans into another way to divide and stir hate.

The next one is a real person, someone who followed me and no longer does because I disappointed her.

She’s disappointed.

Disappointed in me.

Disappointed that I'm not doing it right, being a veteran.

Disappointed that I'm not the symbol I'm supposed to be.

Disappointed that I'm not what some random person needs me to be every single minute of every day.

Disappointed that I’d be so selfish as to want to walk into a hardware store, minding my own business, without having to be a fucking hero.

Put my ego away.

Because it’s me.

Because maybe some hippies 50 years ago did or didn’t do something, now I’m – me – I’m somehow now responsible to … be the object of respect? What? I don’t know who I’m supposed to be in this scenario. Am I the flower child or the baby killer? Help me out here.

As to making it real, why does every cashier get to define my reality?

The commenter is making a lot of assumptions there, but let’s say she’s right.

Let’s say the cashier lost some respect for me.


I don’t know the cashier.

I wasn’t looking to impress the cashier with tales of military glory – yes, I know, who doesn’t love to hear a veteran in the checkout line tell war stories all day, bragging up their exploits, impressing the cashier. And the cashier would be impressed, oh he would. Still.

I didn’t go into the store looking for respect. I don’t need gratitude and validation from random people to feel good about myself.

I just wanted some parts for my sprinkler system. That’s all. What does it say about this country when a broken water pipe in my front yard, when every goddamned trip to the store, becomes a mandatory political statement about my military service?

I could go on. There were hundreds of responses. But I’m going to finish up with this last one.

This is the one that finally got to me.

This is the one that perfectly encapsulates the problem America has with its veterans.

This one, right here.

It’s funny, you see?

Big joke. Laughing out loud. Hilarious.

I shared something which bothers me, something I’m uncomfortable with, something that matters to me as a veteran.

But that’s not important to her. Sounds like you need a Snickers.

She didn’t know what the subject was, hadn’t bothered to see if it was a personal tragedy or some horrible disaster. You see somebody else in pain, irritated, uncomfortable, that shit is funny, man. You hangry. Hilarious.

And I wonder if her husband is getting out of line because he’s hungry or because he’s just sick of standing next to a self-centered asshole.

She hadn’t bothered to read any of the thread.

Thirty-seven tweets? That’s like … a whole paragraph. Laughing my ass off at the idea of such an effort. That’s four laugh-crying emojis funny, man!

I mean, why would you even bother to read the whole thing and actually get some idea of the context before offering up advice? Eat something, Buddy, you’ll feel better! That’s right.

That’s right.

You’re standing there, right?

And the cashier is thanking you for your service. Right?

Your service.

Sure. Your service and what about it?

You joined up. You were proud of swearing the oath, wearing that uniform, serving your country. It mattered to you, a lot.

See, you’d always been a small kid, skinny, buck-toothed. Lousy at sports. A reader. A dork. Bullied. Picked on. Pushed around. Loser. Now, suddenly, you were an adult. Is this who you were going to be for your whole life? Get some shitty job. Never leave your hometown. Spend the rest of your life living next to the jerks who think you’re a loser? Live your life vicariously through stories about heroes and adventurers, those who had the courage to do what you could not?

You wanted to prove something. Not to the bullies, not to those who thought you were a loser, but to yourself.

Your dad, man, you admired that guy. He was a veteran, a Navy man in the Korean War, and goddamn was he proud of you for signing up. And your uncles, Navy men both. One a medic on the beach at Normandy, yes, that Normandy, during that war, on that day, and another, a Seabee, on Midway Island, yes, that Midway, during that war, during that battle.  A cousin, another Navy man, in Vietnam. That was just the Navy, there were Marines and Air Force and Army in your family too. That’s the legacy you followed out of your small Midwestern town. And after that, nobody called you a loser or tried to push you around and the military became your home. And you believed. You did. You knew it wasn’t all heroism and righteousness, you knew your country wasn’t always that shining city on the hill, but you thought you were one of the good guys. You did. You worked your ass off for it. A decade, two. You set the example, led from the front, and one day you were an officer. Married. Kid. College degree. And you were starting to think about what you might do next when your country was attacked. And thousands of the people you swore to defend died. Horribly. And suddenly America was at war and it was your job, yours, to lead others into battle and you realized on that day how those men looked at you the way you’d once looked up to the heroes in those stories you so loved as a kid. It was your job to take the fight to the enemy and make him pay for what he’d done. You knew you were one of the good guys. You did. You knew it when you looked down and saw your son looking back up at you as if you were ten feet tall, tears in his eyes as you left for war. A final hug for your wife, who was terrified that you wouldn’t come home, but was proud that you were going anyway.

And you did.

You went.

You did the thing.

You went to war, as your family had done for generations.

You weren’t even scared, because you were one of the good guys and this is what you were supposed to do. Your whole life had come down to this moment.

Oh, you had doubts, because information was your specialty and the things you saw didn’t line up with what your government was telling the world. But war is complicated. You didn’t know everything, you were just a cog in the machine. You had to believe those in charge, those elected to run the country, knew what they were doing. That they knew the real truth and one day, if you lived, you would too.

That was your job – to believe.

To lead by example. To get the mission done. To get your people home alive.

And that’s what you did. And you were proud of it and why the hell shouldn’t you be? Not many could have done what you did or as well. You’d done things they write books about. You’d done things they make movies about. You were that guy.


One night, a few days into the war, you stood on the deck of a Navy cruiser and you watched as other ships of the fleet launched salvo after salvo of missiles. It’s been a long time since that night, but you can still hear the roar of boosters flinging those terrible weapons into the sky, still smell the acrid sting of the propellent, still see the rocket’s red glare, still hear the womp! as each booster burned out and the missile’s sustainer engine lit off and that weird whistling sound it made as it disappeared into the night, bound for some target in enemy territory hundreds of miles away. Those under its fall were already dead – they just didn’t know it yet.


You remember what you felt that night, watching the death of tens of thousands rise into the sky.

Fierce satisfaction.




Those who had killed so many Americans, those sons of bitches were going to die and you were happy see them burn. Because that was your job.

Only it wasn’t you, was it?

No. It wasn’t you.

It was me.

It was me standing on that deck. Feeling those things. Doing what had to be done. And there was more, a lot more, but I’ve told you all I’m going to and the rest is none of your business. It’s my job to live with it.

We went because we thought we were doing right.

Because those who led us, they told us we were doing right.

Just as I told the men I led that we were doing right.


Yes. But.

That’s the rub. Isn’t it? That but.

We weren’t the good guys after all.

We weren’t doing right.

It was all a lie.

Those missiles, when they fell, they killed thousands of people who had never done America any harm. When it was done, when the war was finally over for us, more than a decade had passed. I don’t how many died. No one does. Hundreds of thousands. More.

I was part of that.

And I remember exactly how I felt back then in that moment.

A few weeks back, Ari Fleischer, who’d once been a member of the Administration which sent us into war on a lie showed up on Twitter.

Fleischer began with this: The Iraq war began sixteen years ago tomorrow. There is a myth about the war that I have been meaning to set straight for years. After no WMDs were found, the left claimed “Bush lied. People died.” This accusation itself is a lie. It’s time to put it to rest.

He went on, making excuses, blaming Americans, blaming liberals, blaming everyone but those actually responsible. Lying. Because lying is what he does. He lied for a president and he got paid for it. And that president, those dirty rotten sons of bitches, they lied to America.

They lied to the United Nations.

They lied to the world.

They lied to you and they lied to me.

And most of all, they lied to themselves. They lied knowing they were lying, with deliberation and malice aforethought.

It’s sixteen years later, and they’re still lying about it. And I remember exactly how I felt that night when we killed tens of thousands of innocent people.

I believed them.

Hundreds of other military men and woman believed them.

And yes, it’s easy for you to sit here now and call us fools – and we were certainly that – but you weren’t there. You weren’t out there, on the pointy end of the stick when the towers fell. And you don’t have to live with being a fool now and I guess that makes you better than me.

That’s what I live with.

I always did right, as best I was able, even though they made me part of their lies. I made the choices I made so that I could look my dad, my son, in the eye. I served honorably. I was decorated. I got my men home alive. I did it.

And for what?

For a lie.

Don’t be grouchy.

Kidding! Lighten up.

It’s corporate policy for businesses to keep reminding you of the things you have to live with – as if you don’t wake up at 3AM thinking about them already. It’s nothing. A feelgood moment. But you, me, I end up thinking about it all day. I remember that night, feeling joy knowing those people were about to die.

And that’s just too bad for me. Eat a Snickers and get over it.

Laughing out loud and can’t even be bothered to read the context. Some of us, we spent years out there fighting America’s wars. We spent more months than I can tally away from our families, not knowing if we were going to make it home, doing our jobs on the knife edge. But this woman, this American citizen, she can’t even be bothered to spend a single minute reading a single paragraph. Because it doesn’t matter. You’re a veteran. America doesn’t need context, doesn’t need to know you or your history. No. You’re not a person, you’re a symbol. You’re a joke, a punchline. It’s funny. You’re hangry! You need to eat something. That’ll fix it.

If ever there was a metaphor for how America regards its veterans, it’s this horrible fucking woman right here.


Not so goddamned funny when it’s the other way though.

You wonder why so many veterans have trouble coming home?

You wonder why veterans drink, do drugs, fall apart?

You wonder why veterans kill themselves?

Do you?

Maybe it’s because you’re not listening.

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.
-- Henri Frederic Amiel



This discussion, if that’s what this is, has been raging on my Twitter timeline for four days now.

Yesterday, I’d had enough.

I didn’t want to think about it any more.

I didn’t want to be reminded of certain things any more.

I didn’t want to be part of this national narrative, if only for a while.

So I took the day off and went where there is no internet, no cellphones, and few people.

And I found myself standing on a deserted sandbar in the middle of the Blackwater River, in a remote part of the Blackwater State Forest. Holding a camera – which is what I do when I’m not writing. Photography. I’m good at it. And I enjoy it, the mechanical perfection of it, the skill, the art of it. The mind clearing concentration it takes.

The day was hot. The water was icy cold. The sky was gray. The alligators were lethargic and unlikely to be any trouble.

And it was just what I needed.

Then an older couple in a canoe appeared from around a bend upstream.

I waved as they came abreast of my sandbar.

The woman asked, "Navy?"

See, I expected to spend the day doing wildlife photography, wading in the river and through the cedar swamps and not interacting with strangers. So I grabbed the first shirt out of the drawer where my wife puts "work clothes," a stained, ratty old navy PT shirt.

"Retired," I answered, reflexively.

"THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!" she shouted, as they cruised past and disappeared down the river.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Objectionable Content

Monsignor Chamberlain: Remember, to go against the church is to go against God!
-- Priest,
Sony Pictures, 2011

“This post goes against our Community Standards.”

Facebook wouldn’t allow me to post to my own timeline.

I’d violated the rules and was to be locked out in penalty. Again.

That’s what it said.

“You can't post right now. You may have used Facebook in a way that our systems consider unusual, even it you didn't mean to. You can post again in 3 days.”

Unsurprisingly, I suppose, I’d apparently gone against community standards. And to go against Facebook’s community standards is to go against … God. I guess, given that arbitrary smiting and capricious power wise there doesn’t seem to be much difference these days.

Leaving aside the part where Facebook isn’t sure but “you may have” “even if you didn’t mean to” so you get punished anyway (see my comment above regarding a certain petulant deity) I’m pretty careful about community standards on the various sites I inhabit, especially Twitter and Facebook. I’ve been suspended enough to ensure that I read the rules and adhere to them. Generally when I get suspended, it’s because I hurt a fascist’s feelings. No, that’s not hyperbole. The last time I was suspended from Twitter it was literally for insulting a self-declared Neo-Nazi. In fact, about a year ago, a certain infamous Nazi put a bounty on my head and announced it on Twitter. When I publicly mocked him for it, Twitter suspended me (On the up side, so far, no one has collected the bounty). I’ve been suspended from Facebook for exactly the same thing. More than once.

Seems the Master Race is somewhat delicate, feelings wise.

But I hadn’t insulted any fascists lately.

Or had I?

Impeach Trump. There is more than enough reason to begin impeachment proceedings. We impeached both Nixon and Clinton for far less than is in the Mueller Report. So, impeach Trump. Impeach him in the House. Take up the investigation, one he CANNOT stop or obstruct or redact, one his pet Attorney General and his cronies cannot impede, one that Trump himself has NO control over whatsoever, and impeach him if that's where the evidence leads. THEN if the Senate refuses to convict, if Mitch McConnell refuses to take up the impeachment, refuses his duty and the Senate stands by him, hang it around their dirty cowardly necks like a fucking albatross. Make them own it in 2020. Make them own it forever.

That’s it.

That’s what what got me suspended from Facebook. 

That’s what I said, impeach Trump. That’s what goes against Facebook’s “community standards.”


What’s that?

The swear word?

I said “…hang it around their dirty cowardly necks like a fucking albatross…” and that’s the problem?

Nope. No it’s not. See, profanity is not a violation of either Facebook or Twitter’s rules. I told you, I’ve actually read those rules. There’s nothing in there about profanity. Nothing.

Facebook’s community standards are divided into five parts:

Nothing in my post suggested violence or criminal behavior.

There was certainly nothing safety related – unless you consider the number of threats Facebook and Twitter allow their users to send me, though I doubt my post was removed because it put my safety in jeopardy.

My post did not violate Facebook’s alleged standards of authenticity. I certainly wasn’t pretending to be anyone other than myself.

My post was my intellectual property and thus did not violate copyright or IP laws.

And my post was not removed because I requested it – that’s what “Content-Related Requests" means (You ask to have your content deleted, or you die and your designated estate asks Facebook to remove your account).

So, the only “standard” I could possibly have violated would be “Objectionable Content.”

Except, again, I’ve read the rules and Facebook defines objectionable content as, “Hate Speech,” “Violent or Graphic Content,” Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity,” “Sexual Solicitation,” or “Cruel and Insensitive.”

My post wasn’t hate speech, unless we’re now defining politicians as a protected class.  It wasn’t violent or graphic. It didn’t contain nudity or sexual activity. It didn’t solicit sex (though with Republicans, you can never be absolutely sure what they might regard as sex. And I did say “fucking.” Still…).

So, that leaves us with the last one.

And I suppose I can see that.

I can indeed see how calling for impeachment may have offended the delicate sensibilities of those who would be fascists. 

This amuses me. Well, okay, maybe “amuse” is the wrong word, but I admit to some satisfaction that my point was proven so succinctly.

You see, there was no violation of Facebook’s Community Standards.

Of course there wasn’t. No, what happened is that my comments were shared widely, both on Facebook and Twitter – which is the point of social media. And because the post was shared widely, it naturally came to the attention of conservatives. Republicans. Trump supporters.

Russian operators, perhaps.

They were outraged. Impeach Trump? How dare you! How dare you suggest such a thing!

I got messages. I got email. I got tweets – some might even have been from actual Americans outraged at the very idea of a congress that actually does its duty.

They mass reported my post for violation of Community Standards and Facebook’s automated software took my post down and locked me out. Shut me up. Shut out the words they didn’t want to hear, didn’t want you to hear.

And the irony of this amuses me.

A bunch of faceless goons marching in lockstep call me – me – a “Marxist” and then try to silence me not because I actually violated any rules but because they were offended by the idea of a government accountable to its people, literally the very ideal the United States of America was founded on.

Imagine being offended by that.

And that – that right there – is what this about.

This isn’t about me. This isn’t about some ridiculous suspension from a social media platform – or at least it’s about that only tangentially, as a metaphor for larger things.

I don’t think it’s any secret I detest Donald Trump, both as a man and as a president.

And as a carbon-based lifeform, so long as we’re on the subject.

I have a right to detest him. I have a right to despise everything he stands for. I despise his greed, his endless conceit, his avarice, his gluttony and his sloth, his deliberate stupidity, his staggering foolishness, and his towering ignorance touted as some sort of virtue. I am daily appalled by his open encouragement of the worse elements of our society, his abuse of power, his obvious lies, his casual racism, his gross misogyny, his swaggering jingoism, his prideful nationalism, his craven xenophobia, his quailing insecurities large and small, his childish need for revenge, the bottomless unplumbed depths of his cowardice, and the utter shallowness of his character.

But most of all, most of all, I despise the gleeful hypocrisy of his chanting supporters.

Those who wave the American flag and spit on everything it stands for.

Those who daily demand for themselves the rights guaranteed by this country and would deny those rights to everyone else.

But I didn’t call for the impeachment of President Trump because I detest him.

I called for impeachment because it’s the only way to save the Republic.

Last Sunday during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said there's nothing wrong with taking information from America’s adversaries in order to win an election. Yes, that’s exactly what he said. And he meant every word of it.

And today, half a week later, that outrageous comment isn’t even front page news.

Giuliani was responding to Republican Senator Mitt Romney’s statement the day before, where Romney said he was appalled that “fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia.”

“Stop the bull,” Giuliani shouted. “Stop this pious act!”

Stop this pious act? Pious?

To go against the Church is to go against God! Or to go against Trump. Same thing, I guess.


Giuliani then dismissed Romney’s criticism, saying that when Romney himself was running for president he likewise was “trying to dig up dirt on people. Putting dirt out on people.”

Tapper pointed out that there was a difference between legitimate, legal, opposition research and taking information from a foreign intelligence service.

Giuliani shouted Tapper down, ““What a hypocrite! Any candidate in the whole world, in America, would take information. Who says it’s even illegal? There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians!” Giuliani hedged his comment at the end with the caveat that the legality of accepting information from a foreign agency “depends on where it came from.”

Do you believe that?

Do you believe that any candidate would accept information from a foreign agency regarding their political rivals? Particularly a foreign agency in opposition to the United States itself?

Do you believe any candidate should? That such is indeed legal, even morally acceptable?

Do you believe this should be the norm in our democracy?

Do you?

You do.

Yes, you do.

Some of you anyway. You do.

That’s what the Mueller Report says. That Donald Trump was elected to office with the help of foreign intelligence. His campaign took information from foreign agencies. And at the same time, those same foreign governments used social media and other vectors to manipulate American voters. Some even tried, and did, hack into our voting machines. There is no doubt whatsoever that Donald Trump benefited from those efforts and that his opposition was penalized.

And you’re fine with that.

Some of you.

You told me so, on Twitter, on Facebook, here on this blog, in email. Yes you did. Did you forget?

You told me it was acceptable for a foreign agency to provide information – whatever that information’s source –  to American politicians, to manipulate the American citizen according to its agenda even if that agenda is hostile to the Republic.

That’s what you said. Some of you.

See, you told me Julian Assange, a foreigner with the stated goal of bringing down the government of the United States was a "journalist."

You told me that Wikileaks, a foreign political agency dealing in stolen materials, who manipulated and selectively released information in support of its own foreign goals, operating in conjunction with our adversaries in direct support of Julian Assange’s personal agenda, is a news organization.

That’s what you told me.

Assange, Wikileaks, these are not Americans. They have no vote in our democracy, no standing in our Republic. Whatever they are, whatever their agenda, these are not in America's interest -- just as the Russians don't have our best interests at heart.

Russia, Wikileaks, they both push information that furthers their agendas and they hide information counter to their goals. These facts are supported by the evidence at hand – including the words of Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin themselves. These facts are supported by the conclusions of the Mueller Report. These facts are borne out by every US and allied intelligence agency.

Russia and Wikileaks worked together and separately to manipulate our democracy, to influence you, to put in place a government favorable to their goals. To put Donald Trump in office and to keep Hillary Clinton out of it. And whatever that agenda may be, you can bet its not in our best interest.

And so, when you tell me that Assange is a journalist, you're telling me that Rudy Giuliani is right.

You’re telling me that it's acceptable for Americans seeking power to take information from foreign sources – even if those sources are antagonistic to our nation. Even if that information is backed by foreign political agendas inimical to our interests. You don’t how that information was gathered. You don’t know if that information has been manipulated, grossly or subtly. You don’t know the purpose behind a foreign power giving you access to it. You don’t know what’s been purposely left out. If you take that information, if you act on it, if you put it into the public consciousness, you are allowing a foreign power to directly influence how this nations thinks -- and thus, indirectly manipulate democracy. That’s what the Mueller Report, among other sources, says.

You’re telling me the ends justify the means.

Even if the means bring down our nation.

You can't have it both ways.

We know our democracy is vulnerable. We know money directly influenced the outcome of elections in this nation and that we, we citizens, we voters, we are not allowed to know the origins of that dark money. We are not allowed to know who funds our politicians, who pays for those ads on television and on social media that directly influence how Americans think – and thus vote, if they bother to vote at all.

Dark money, we call it.

But it’s not just dark money.

It’s dark information as well.

Facebook was founded in 2004.

Twitter was founded two years later.

Smartphones. Unlimited real-time connectivity. Troll farms. Bot swarms. Social media influencers. The weaponization of information piped directly into our minds. The merging of 24/7 broadcast news, print journalism, internet, and social media. It took a decade for the technology to reach critical mass. 2016 was the first election where social media had as much, or more, influence on how we think, how we vote (or don’t), how we see the world, what we believe, as money does in our political process.

And we are ill-equipped as a people, as a democracy, as a republic, to handle it.

That’s what the Mueller Report tells you.

In such a world, truth, lies, reality are all malleable.

Reality is whatever narrative gains traction, is “liked” and shared, goes viral.

Two days after Rudy Giuliani declared there was nothing wrong with a candidate for president accepting damaging information on a political rival from a foreign intelligence agency, other Republicans took up the same narrative, Rick Santorum chief among them.

And that becomes the narrative. That becomes reality.

Anyone who objects is shouted down. Silenced. Redacted. Guilty of violating community standards.

And that’s why impeachment matters.

If you wait to do the right thing, wait until it is politically expedient, then you’re not doing the right thing.

Republicans have allowed Trump to become the norm, to become their reality. There is no lie too big, no moral abyss too deep, no act of cowardice too craven, no tweet too insane. When the president’s own lawyer says on national TV that as a presidential candidate there’s nothing wrong with allowing yourself to be manipulated by foreign agency – and make no mistake, that’s exactly what Rudy’s words mean even if he himself doesn’t realize it – and no one pushes back, not the press, not the White House, not Trump, not Republicans, not even the opposition for more than a fleeting moment, then this is become our normal.

The very worst elements of our society are now running our country unimpeded.

The very worst elements of our society, of social media, of foreign agency, now define our reality.

If we don’t impeach this president, then what is the threshold for impeachment? How low does an administration have to sink? How bad does it have to get?

Mueller could not indict the president.

Mueller could not exonerate the president.

That wasn’t his job or his responsibility.

That is Congress’s job.

That is Congress’ responsibility as spelled out in the Constitution.

It is Congress’s job to indict the president OR see him exonerated.

WE, citizen, we cannot know the truth of this matter. Not yet. Not now. By definition the information we have to work with is tainted. What you think you know, did that come from Wikileaks? From Russia? From some Fox News pundit? Some CNN anchor? Some rumor on Facebook? The product of trolls and bots on Twitter? How do you know? How can you know? How can you know when the only analysis you have has been redacted, filtered, processed through the very subject of the investigation? When you can’t see the raw data? When you don’t know the scope of the investigation because it’s hidden under those blacked out lines?

Impeach Trump.

That’s what I said.

Do it. Impeach him.

Congress threatened to impeach Nixon for far less than is in the Mueller Report. Nixon resigned when the court ordered him to hand over information he knew would convict him and the Articles of Impeachment were never brought. A conviction in the Senate was not necessary. But the end result was the same. Nixon was removed from office and faith in our government was restored – or as much faith as Americans ever have in government anyway.

The House did impeach Clinton, again for far less than what we know about Trump. The Senate refused to convict and so Clinton stayed in office. And those who brought Articles of Impeachment against the president went down in flames.

Nixon was threatened with impeachment because he was a goddamned crook.

Clinton was threatened with impeachment for political theater.

And that’s the lesson, right there.

There is more than enough reason to begin impeachment proceedings. Begin with hearings, with an investigation that Trump cannot impede. Cannot control. Cannot stop. Cannot redact. Ensure those hearings are bipartisan. Professional. Above reasonable reproach. Not theater, but duty. Nixon. Not Clinton.

And if those hearings find nothing, then be done with it. Exonerate Trump. Publicly. Swallow the sour grapes and move on. Do the right thing, head up, and own it.

But …

But if those hearings do find something, not infidelity or some other ridiculous charge but find evidence of real crimes, then the House must bring Articles of Impeachment against Trump and as many of his administration as indicated.

And if that impeachment finds evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, then send the charges to the Senate to be tried.

If the House does its job, professionally, dispassionately, thoroughly, then the Senate cannot refuse to take up the case.

But, of course, in the America we live in, the Senate could refuse. And, so, if the Senate does refuse to do its duty despite the evidence, then hang it around their necks like a fucking albatross. Make them own it in 2020. Make them own it forever. Nixon. Not Clinton.

Make every politician who puts party over country, political expediency over duty, own it. 

This is what I said a week ago.

This is what I say now.

This is what I will say tomorrow.

Because this is the only way to save the Republic.

Because this the only way to restore faith in our government.

Because if we don’t get to the truth, one we all agree on, then it hardly matters what happens in 2020.

Because if we don’t get to the truth, then this – this right here – this is our truth. This is our normal. This insanity.

We’ve been on this curve for thirty years, growing more and more divided, more and more unstable. If we don’t stop it, then our government will swing in shorter and shorter partisan arcs until it collapses and our nation implodes.

We, Citizen, must know the truth, whatever that truth may be.

A truth that cannot be redacted or obstructed.

And if you’re afraid of that, if you are afraid of where the truth might take you, if your loyalty is to a would be king and not the nation, then you are complicit. If you’re outraged at my words instead of at the thought of what that process might find, if you don’t want to know the truth, well, then you’re the problem.

You. Are. The. Problem.

If you want a better nation, then you have to be a better citizen. 

Chamberlain: Remember, to go against the church is to go against God!
Priest: Then I go against God.
-- Priest