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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Gravedigger

Dear Mr. President, I hereby resign, effective immediately, as assistant to the president for national security affairs. Thank you for having afforded me this opportunity to serve our country.
  
-- Sincerely, John R. Bolton

Bolton is out.

Another National Security Advisor down.

Bolton claims he quit. Trump claims he was fired. In the end, I don’t suppose it matters much.

Reportedly, Bolton was fired, or quit, after a furious argument with Trump over Iran.

Or maybe it was North Korea.

Or Afghanistan.

According to news reports – which Trump will no doubt decry as “fake news” any minute now – Bolton disagreed with Trump and Trump’s inner circle on nearly every aspect of the President’s … well, I suppose we have to call it “foreign policy,” though that implies some sort of coherent strategy beyond random tweets and the evidence really doesn’t support that.

And you know, it’s a damned bizarre world we’re living in when the slavering jingoist with a dead wharf rat glued to his upper lip is the sanest one in the room. 

Bolton has been vocally opposed to Trump’s repeated attempts to cozy up to Kim Jong Un, something the President seems determined to do for no discernable reason other than he just likes dictators. Likewise, Bolton has also been publicly critical of Trump’s repeated dismissal of Russian aggression, both against its neighbor and against the United States. Again, there’s no logical reason for Trump’s position. The same is true of nearly every other National Security issue from Syria to Afghanistan – especially Afghanistan. And we’ll come back to that in a minute. So, ultimately, it’s not really surprising that the same guy who is so utterly insecure he would order the Secretary of Commerce to threaten National Weather Service personnel over a mistake he made would fire the only guy in his inner circle who disagreed with him on a regular basis.

Now, before I go any further, understand something here: I’ll shed no tears for John Bolton.

Bolton’s entire worldview is based on the idea that might makes right, that force is the ultimate moral authority, that war is how the future should be shaped.

It’s difficult to understand just how terrible John Bolton is and just how much his influence on our government has shaped all the worst aspects of our nation today.

Bolton began as an intern in Spiro Agnew’s office. He was a vocal supporter of the Vietnam War – but, like many conservatives, actively avoided going to war himself, saying, "I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost." He later explained his comments by suggesting that he would have gone to Vietnam if only liberals hadn’t “made certain we would not prevail and I had no great interest in going there to have Teddy Kennedy give it back to the people I might die to take it away from. ” Eventually Bolton wormed his way into the Reagan Administration and was involved in everything from the “War on Drugs” to Iran-Contra. And like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and all the other foul distillate from those years, Bolton returned when George W. Bush took office and he was right back to the same old tricks.

Then came 9-11.

That was the moment he’d been waiting for and Bolton milked the horror for all it was worth. He was there at every turn, on every channel, in every meeting, demanding war.

And he got it.

He finally got his war – with no danger of being drafted to actually go fight in this one.

And even after it turned out Bolton was wrong about everything from Yellowcake uranium to Saddam’s involvement in 9-11, he stood steadfast in his support of that war and said the “only mistake that the United States did with regard to Iraq” was to not leave earlier. Bolton said the US should have pulled out after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and told the Iraqis "Here's a copy of the Federalist Papers. Good luck.”

Bolton is the very worst of the Neocon hawks, a xenophobic warmongering jingoist who has been an influence on American policy in all the wrong ways for far, far too long. Good riddance and the only part of his departure from government service that saddens me is that it didn’t end with him being hauled away by grim faced men in dark suits and stuffed into a cold dirty cage on the Southern border. May his moustache be ever infested with syphilitic fleas and the ghosts of all the dead killed in all the wars he started howl forever in his ears. May we never hear his name again. I hope he dies alone after a long period of suffering, destitute, and in some hilariously embarrassing fashion.

Fuck John Bolton. 

But, as much as I despise Bolton – and despite the above paragraphs you really have no idea how much as an Iraq Veteran I despise John Bolton – I was in some ways glad he was there, a contrary gadfly among the simpering toadies and ass-licking sycophants of Trump’s administration. I’m opposed to nearly everything Bolton stands for, but if he daily threw sand into the gears of Trump’s ambitions then perhaps he served a useful purpose.

The Ironic part is that Trump fired Bolton not so much for being contrary, but for being right – well, on a few things anyway.

Bolton at least operated from cold calculation. His advice to Trump not to meet with terrorists at Camp David wasn’t so much because John Bolton doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, because he does, but because he’s a shrewd political operator and he knew both that the Taliban would betray any promises made and what it would look like to the American people.

Trump operates from his gut. And Trump’s instincts – driven by his ego and his all consuming insecurity and his overwhelming need to be seen as important – are almost always wrong.

But it’s ironic that the final break should come, at least in part, over Afghanistan.

Maybe irony isn’t a strong enough word here.

Trump claims he’s always been opposed to the US invasion of Afghanistan. Twitter doesn’t go back that far, but maybe it’s even true. Maybe Trump was always opposed to war. His tweets and comments beginning in 2009 certainly seem to suggest so, he complained all through the Obama Administration that the US should just get out of Afghanistan – though his concern seems to always have been less about the staggering human cost and more about the money:

Afghanistan is a total disaster. We don't know what we are doing. They are, in addition to everything else, robbing us blind.
--
Donald J. Trump, March 12, 2012

Trump campaigned on pulling the US out of Afghanistan – famously claiming “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.”

And so it’s ironic indeed that he should have nominated John Bolton, one of the principal architects of that very war, as his National Security Advisor.

And so here we are, three years later. There’s the part where Trump pulled the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the so-called Iran Agreement, largely on the advice of his National Security Advisor because Bolton has openly advocated for war with Iran for more than 30 years now, but now it’s Trump who wants to secretly meet with Iran’s leaders and hash out some sort of peace deal.  Meanwhile it’s Bolton, the guy who was mad at Ted Kennedy for not staying the course in Vietnam but who then wanted to just walk away from Iraq, screw it, good luck, who thinks we need to stay in Afghanistan. And it’s Trump who thinks we should just pull out, walk away, screw it, good luck, because we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

You could get whiplash.

But that’s just it, isn’t it?

That irony, right there.


I’m reminded of that scene in the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, where the characters are trapped in an ancient ruined underground city, destroyed by war and filled with endless enemies, and among the skeletons of the previous owners, Gandalf finds a journal and begins to read the final entry: They have taken the bridge and the second hall. We have barred the gates but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes, drums, drums in the deep! We cannot get out. A shadow lurks in the dark. We can not get out. They are coming.


That’s Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires.

Trump wants to cut and run.

Bolton wants to stay and kill some more.

Both are rotten options and with inevitable consequences.

If we run, more Americans will die. There will be more death, more destruction, more terrorism. It’s inevitable. Leaving the country ruined and in the hands of warlords, religious fanatics, and terrorists will, without doubt, one day come back to kill us.

Because it always does. Always. Every time.

If we stay, it’s more of the same. It’s just a continuation of the last 19 years. More war, more money, more dead, more terror. ‘Round and round without end.

We can’t get out.

We can’t safely retreat.

We can’t win. No matter what we do, we lose. Sooner or later, we’ll lose.

We can’t win in Afghanistan for one very good reason.

Because we never defined what winning is.

And again, ironically, for two guys who so vehemently disagree, the single trait that defines both Trump and Bolton is that very lack of definition.

Bolton has been involved in America’s wars since Vietnam – but he has never once, not one time, ever defined what “winning” any of those wars would look like.

Trump never defines anything. He’s the king of vague, undefined statements. Winning! We’re winning again! Make America great! And never, not once, not one time, has he ever defined what he means by “winning.”

Now, to be fair – and you have no idea how little interest I have in being fair to either of these two – it’s not just this administration.

This has been America’s foreign policy since 1945.

That’s what you think of when somebody says “win the war,” isn’t it? 1945. Sure. Simple. Bomb the enemy into submission. March into his capital. Make him sign the instruments of surrender. And, hey, war’s over! Now we’re all friends! Freedom and democracy magically spring from the ashes and we get a couple of new overseas bases granted in perpetuity. Johnny comes marching home again a hero and we have a big parade and that’s it. Over. Done.

Victory.

Except that hasn’t happened since 1945. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and all the little wars in between from Beirut to Somalia, we have no idea what the end state looks like. None. It sure as hell doesn’t look like 1945.

What is victory in Afghanistan?

No. Don’t look away. Don’t roll your eyes. Answer the question, what is victory in Afghanistan? What does winning look like?

Trump says he could achieve victory in a week – but then again he knows more than the generals.

“If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I would win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill ten million people. Does that make sense to you?”

I could win that war in a week. That’s what Trump said.

By killing ten million people.

Pretty obvious what he’s talking about. Nukes. Burn the country down to the bedrock under a rain of radioactive fire.

Is that victory?

Is that winning?

Literally vaporizing an entire nation off the planet. Wage nuclear war against a third world country. Commit genocide on a scale to dwarf Hitler’s best efforts?

Do you really think the war would end there?

Do you?

Do you think the survivors of that nuclear bombardment would then just roll over? March down to the harbor and sign an unconditional surrender on the deck of a US warship. Do you really?

No?

No, I suppose not even John Bolton would call that winning.

So what is?

What is winning in Afghanistan? Or Iraq? Or Vietnam? Or…well, let’s just stick to one problem at a time for now.

What is winning in Afghanistan?

What’s the end state?

You notice that in nearly twenty years of war, no one, not Bush, not Obama, and certainly not Trump, has told you what it is that we are fighting for. What the end state is. What victory is.

Is it a functioning government? A stable civilization? Is that the end state we want?

Is it?

What kind of government? Do we even care so long as the resulting nation is stable and no threat to the rest of the world? Then find the meanest, most ruthless son of a bitch and put him in charge. Give him guns and tanks and let him conquer the country, root out the terrorists, get the population in line. What skin is it off our ass if the Afghanis are crushed under oppression so long as they’re no threat to us? I mean, right?

What’s that?

We can’t do that?

But why not?

That’s Russia’s basic strategy in Syria, you say?

Huh.

Well, okay, sure. And far be it from me to point out that was the same basic policy we used with Marcos and The Shah and Batista and Saddam and Noriega and …

Fine. I’ll stop. Okay. That’s bad. Don’t do that. Got it.

So, then what?

If not a ruthless dictatorship, what kind of government? Democracy? A republic? Sounds good.

How?

How do you build that from the ruins of Afghanistan? Representative republics are built on a foundation of existing civilization, they don’t sprout fully formed from nothing. In Germany and Japan, there had been functioning civilizations before the war, before those nations were bombed to rubble. The people there had experience with government, with civilization, they were essentially unified as a people. Germans. Japanese. But Afghanistan? There has been war and ruin in Afghanistan for so long that we are now generations removed from a functioning nation and no one there has any experience in building a republic from the ground up nor does the population have any such desire, and they are far, far from unified as a people.

And when I say this to Americans, they all respond with the same thing: Well, duh, they’ve been fighting there for 1200 years!

And again, it’s ironic.

Yesterday in America was the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. 3000 people died. A terrible day.

And yesterday the message from our leaders was this: never forget.

Never forget.

Never. Forget.

Never.

Never forget the horror.

Never forget the fear.

Never forget the pain.

Never forget that we were attacked.

Never forget that we were wronged.

Never forget those who died.

Never forget who the enemy is.

Never forget.

Never forget. As I said, ironic, because that’s Afghanistan. That’s the people of Afghanistan. Proud. Fierce. Vengeful. They never forget. They never forget who did them wrong, who their enemies are, the slights and insults of the past, the dead, the wars, the invaders.

In our nation we shout NEVER FORGET! 

In Afghanistan, you see the devastation all around you of a people who never forget.

Never forget, we shout here in America. Never forget. And yet we expect others, those we attacked to forget. To forgive. To let it go and come together and build civilization from the ruins – not for their sake, but to make America safer.

Maybe not so much ironic as hypocritical, now that I think about it.

And to do that, to build that nation, that democracy, that republic, the one that puts aside its terrible past, you’ll need at least two generations. You’ll need stability, long term education, infrastructure, a functioning method of discourse, and a thousand other things – none of which are the skillset of militaries. If you want to build that nation, from scratch, it’s going to take decades, and it’s going to cost trillions, and it’s going to take a lot more than just dropping bombs on people.

And we don’t have the stomach for that.

We can’t even commit that sort of effort to our own nation, let alone Afghanistan.

We can’t forget, not for a generation or two at least, and neither can they and that’s how long it would take. 

We don’t have the fortitude for nation building, we can’t just walk away.  What’s left? Nuke ‘em? Meet with the terrorists at Camp David and hope for the best?

Here we are.  Donald Trump has now arrived at exactly the same place Barack Obama and George W. Bush did before him: Trapped.

Trapped by John Bolton and those who pushed America into this war for their own selfish ideology.

I don’t know what the answer is at this point, but I know for goddamned certain Donald Trump isn’t equipped to find it.


No one who surrounds himself with only those who tell him what he wants to hear will ever be so equipped.


We can’t get out.

We can’t get out.

History calls Afghanistan the graveyard of empires.

And John Bolton is the man who buried us.

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains
and the women come out to cut up what remains
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
and go to your Gawd like a soldier
 
-- Rudyard Kipling

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Scabs


"I mean, 40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually before the World Trade Center the tallest, and then when they built the World Trade Center it became known as the second-tallest, and now it's the tallest. "
-- Donald J. Trump


Fuck 9-11.

I hate this day.

I hate this anniversary, all the things it represents, the terror, the wars, the endless dead, the mindless furious patriotism, and most especially I hate what it did to the country I once pledged my life to serve.

You need an example?

A few years ago, when I’d finally had enough of this bloody memory, I made a Facebook post about 9-11.

It went viral.

And many people were offended. Goddamn, were they offended.

Those who beat their fleshy chests and wave the flag in righteous unending fury and bleat most bitterly about “Freedom” and “Liberty” and “Patriotism” were the most offended. Because aren’t they always?

Aren’t they?

They were so offended, they attempted to hack my Facebook account.

When that didn’t work, they complained to Facebook in righteous anger, furiously waving their little flags, shouting their rage and how aggrieved they were.

Because that’s what you do when you love “Freedom” and “Liberty” and “Patriotism” -- not the real freedom and liberty and patriotism but the jack-booted goose-stepping version where everybody is lined up and made to salute the flag with a gun to the back of their necks.  The kind of “Freedom” that’s administered by serious men of pure Aryan descent with death’s heads and lightning bolts glittering on their collars. And eventually these righteous patriots succeeded in convincing Facebook’s idiot mechanical brain to remove my post for “violation of community standards” – even though nothing I wrote violates Facebook’s community standards in any way.

They got the post removed and got me suspended for a few days until Facebook’s support staff figured out what was going on and restored both my original post and my account.

Now, I was not particularly vexed by this.

I’m not.

I mean, it’s not often that you get confirmation of your position in such a succinct manner and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t amuse me.

By getting my post pulled down they confirmed everything I said.

They always do, these patriots, predictable as the next rank of goose-stepping Nazis parading down the road.

What was it I said that was deserving of censorship and death threats?

This:

You're expecting some kind of obligatory 9-11 post, aren't you?

Here it is, but you're not gonna like it.

15 years ago today 19 shitheads attacked America.

They killed 3000 of us.

And then ... America got its revenge for 9-11.

Yes we did. Many times over. We killed them. We killed them all. We killed their families. We killed their wives and their kids and all their neighbors. We killed whole nations that weren't even involved just to make goddamned sure. We bombed their cities into rubble. We burned down their countries.

They killed 3000 of us, we killed 300,000 of them or more.

8000 of us came home in body bags, but we got our revenge. Yes we did.

We're still here. They aren't.

We win. USA! USA! USA!

Right?

You goddamned right. We. Win.

Except...

Every year on this day we bathe in the blood of that day yet again. We watch the towers fall over and over. It's been 15 goddamned years, but we just can't get enough. We've just got to watch it again and again.

It's funny how we never show those videos of the bombs falling on Baghdad today. Or the dead in the streets of Afghanistan. We got our revenge, but we never talk about that today. No, we just sit and watch the towers fall yet again.

Somewhere out there on the bottom of the sea are the rotting remains of the evil son of bitch who masterminded the attack. It took a decade, but we hunted him down and put a bullet in his brain. Sure. We got him. Right? That's what we wanted. that's what our leaders promised us, 15 years ago today.

And today those howling the loudest for revenge shrug and say, well, yeah, that. That doesn't matter, because, um, yeah, the guy in the White House, um, see, well, he's not an American, he's the enemy see? He's not doing enough. So, whatever. What about that over there? And that? And...

Yeah.

15 years ago our leaders, left and right, stood on the steps of the Capitol and gave us their solemn promise to work together, to stand as one, for all Americans.

How'd that promise work out?

How much are their words worth? Today, 15 years later?

It's 15 years later and we're STILL afraid. We're still terrorized. Still wallowing in conspiracy theories and peering suspiciously out of our bunkers at our neighbors. Sure we won. Sure we did. We became a nation that tortures our enemies -- and our own citizens for that matter. We're a nation of warrantless wiretaps and rendition and we've gotten used to being strip searched in our own airports. And how is the world a better place for it all?

And now we're talking about more war, more blood.

But, yeah, we won. Sure. You bet.

Frankly, I have had enough of 9-11. Fuck 9-11. I'm not going to watch the shows. I'm not going to any of the memorials. I'm not going to the 9-11 sales at Wal-Mart. I don't want to hear about 9-11. I for damned sure am not interested in watching politicians of either party try to out 9-11 each other. I'm tired of this national 9-11 PTSD. I did my bit for revenge, I went to war, I'll remember the dead in my own time in my own way.

I'm not going to shed a damned tear today.

We got our revenge. Many times over, for whatever good it did us.

I'm going to go to a picnic and enjoy my day. Enjoy this victory we've won.

I suggest you do the same.

Horrible, yes?

Unamerican, no doubt. How unpatriotic that I should suggest we stop wallowing in this misery, that we stop allowing ourselves to be terrorized by men long dead.

Yes indeed, how terrible.

That was three years ago I wrote that. Every year on this date, I say again, Fuck 9-11. I’m tired of wallowing in the blood of that day and what came after. We’ve won. Haven’t we? Look around, surely we won. Let us live our lives, enjoy our bitter victory.

And every year, the supposed patriots who love freedom and liberty show up and get my various social media accounts suspended.

Because for them, it will never be enough.

There will never be enough misery.

There can never been enough death.

There can never been enough blood.

There can never be enough hate.

We simply cannot kill enough people to sate our need for revenge.

Entire countries were laid waste in revenge for 9-11. We did that. I know, I was there, I was one of those who went to war for a lie and helped to kill hundreds of thousands in revenge for something they never did.

It’s been almost 20 years now, and in those decades since 911 we Americans have become a callous people who can look upon those devastated lands and say, well, you know they had it coming, all of those bastards had it coming including their goddamned children. Fuck them. 

We became a nation that tortures people and disappears people and detains people, including our own citizens, indefinitely without trial or recourse in abject repudiation of the very spirit of our nation’s own founding – and we are unashamed of that and unrepentant. 

In the decades since 911, we have become a nation where, as an American, you must put aside your freedom a dozen times a day. You must show your papers. You must submit to naked body scanners and you must allow unsmiling uniformed men with the force of secret laws behind them to grope the most intimate areas of your children and yourselves. Such has become the price of freedom in America.

We have become a nation  where you – as an American – can be detained for a glance or a gesture or a careless word or for checking out the wrong book from the library or for worshipping the wrong God.  We have become a nation where the only acceptable response to uniformed authority is immediate and total submission. Talk back, question, stand pat on the rights of previous generations and you’ll be branded an enemy.

We have become a nation that claims to revere liberty and justice, but believes those things can only be had when secret agencies monitor our every email and our every communication without warrant or probable cause.

We have become a nation where parents buy bulletproof backpacks for their children as part of their school supplies.

We have become a nation that turns away the desperate and the needy, a nation that puts children in cages and lets women sit in their own menstrual blood because we don’t even have the minimum empathy to provide sanitary napkins or even flu shots to sick children.

We have become a nation that would build our own prison walls and surround ourselves in barbed wire and machine guns and call it freedom. 

Nearly two decades on and we have a become a nation so filled with hate, so filled with rage, so fearful and so terrorized, that we are now deporting the very veterans who fought for America in the terrible days after 9-11.

That’s who we are.


And I have no desire to celebrate that at all.


The day after 9-11, September 12th, 2001, Congress stood upon the steps of the Capitol with the smoke of the burning Pentagon still hanging in the air above their heads and solemnly pledged to the American people that they would put aside their partisanship and their personal agendas and work together for the sake of our nation. 

In the decades since that moment we have become a nation divided instead, a nation of partisan rancor writ large – and those who stubbornly proclaim their patriotism loudest are the very ones who would lead us into civil war and secession.  They would destroy what terrorists could not.

And yet, in the decades since 911, we have found those responsible, rooted them out, and ground them into dust.  It took ten years, but Osama bin Laden is dead at the hands of Americans.  So is his successor. So are hundreds of his lieutenants.  So are thousands of his foot soldiers. 

So are many, many others, including thousands of Americans.

But it has not brought us closure.

And it has certainly not brought us peace.

Nor has it healed us as a nation.

9-11 was horrifying. It was personal to us all, every single American. It left us scarred, as a nation, and traumatized.

And we keep using that horror, that trauma, as an excuse to lash out in a massive case of collective post traumatic stress disorder.

The wounds of that event run deep and are still raw decades later – but those wounds will not heal so long as we keep picking at the scab over and over and over.

Today, we will relive the horror yet again – a fevered nightmare that simply won’t go away because we will not allow it to go away. 

Again, don’t get me wrong, we should always remember the events of September 11th, 2001, just as we remember Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the hundred other events that shocked and traumatized our nation. But if we are to heal, if we are to move on, we have to stop reliving that horror over and over.

Certainly we should build the memorials and lay the wreaths.

Of course we should always remember the names of the fallen and hold them sacred.

Of course we should.

But we need to stop covering ourselves in the blood of that day.

Today, right now as I write this, hundreds of media channels will play the recordings of those trapped in the towers.  They’ll play those recordings over and over and over again. Recordings of the tortured calls to emergency services and the final calls to loved one.  And we’ll listen, yet again, to the intimate agony of those dying people.  They will play on endless loop the videos of those who jumped seventy stories to their death, lingering lovingly on their faces, speculating about their last moments, reveling in the horror. They interview those who witnessed the death and destruction and horror and they’ll beg, “Tell us what you were thinking. Tell us what you were feeling at that very moment.” We don’t need to know what they were feeling, what they were thinking, because we felt the same exact thing. We’re still feeling it. But we’ll listen anyway like a entire nation slowing down to boggle wide-eyed at a car wreck.

We’ll watch the towers fall. Again.

We’ll see the Pentagon crumple and explode.  Again.

We’ll hear the tapes of the air traffic controllers, of the horrified confusion in the towers, and the phone calls of those Americans who fought back above the corn fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

I hear those tortured voices, I see those dying faces, and I don’t feel hate. I don’t feel a need for revenge. I’ve had decades of hate. I went to war in revenge. I’ve been covered in blood long enough.

Instead, I look at those pictures and I feel revulsion.

There is something obscene about listening to 911 calls, any 911 call.  While those records may have value to history, it is nothing but a voyeuristic grotesquery to broadcast those intimate communications to a public jaded by reality TV and violent slasher flicks.

It serves no purpose whatsoever but to keep open festering wounds that should be long scarred over.

Today, the president will once again lie about his feats of heroism in the days after the attack. He’ll once again use this anniversary to attack his political enemies and to divide America still further. Because that is what he does.

Today, pundits and politicians will use this anniversary to drive us further apart, to reopen the wounds, for their own selfish agendas for clicks and likes and social media accolades, to further inflame partisan fervor and to brand their neighbors as enemies and un-American.

And we will let them do it, because in the decades since 911 we’ve become a nation of cutters who hack at our own flesh with mean abandon.

Since 911, an entire generation has been born and grown to self-awareness.

Those young Americans have never known their nation at peace.

They have never known a nation that is not divided.

They have never had a single day where they weren’t told to hate their neighbors and to report them if they don’t seem patriotic enough.

They have never lived a single day in a nation that wasn’t bent to the terrible business of revenge.

They have never known a nation that didn’t roil in fear and cringe in terror every single day.

They have never flown on an airplane without having been treated like a criminal.

They have never checked out a book from the library without having been subject to secret scrutiny.

They never sent an unmonitored email or made an unmonitored phone call.

They have never lived in a house that isn’t subject to unwarranted search.

They have never had the right to redress or legal challenge when their name is placed on secret lists – and in point of fact, they don’t even have the right to know if their name is on that list at all.

They have never lived in a nation where they have the right to confront their accuser and demand proof of more than just suspicion.

They have never lived without the threat, however unlikely, of being disappeared.

They have never lived in a nation that didn’t regard the torture of human beings as an acceptable option.

This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.

The terrorists didn’t do that.


We did it to them.


Fuck 9-11.

Fuck this is anniversary.

I’m going to log off and enjoy the day with those I love.

I suggest you do the same.


Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.”
-- Barack Obama

Monday, September 2, 2019

Labor Day 2019

If you appreciate 40-hour work weeks, safe working conditions, higher wages, weekends, and a day off today—thank the labor movement. #LaborDay
-- Hillary Clinton, Labor Day, 2019

Happy Labor Day.

That was Donald Trump a year ago. That was his Labor Day message.

Our Country is doing better than ever before with unemployment setting record lows.

The U.S. has tremendous upside potential as we go about fixing some of the worst Trade Deals ever made by any country in the world.

Big progress being made.

Big progress.

That’s what the President of the United States said a year ago today: “Happy Labor Day! Our country is doing better than ever before with unemployment setting record lows. The U.S. has tremendous upside potential as we go about fixing some of the worst Trade Deals ever made by any country in the world. Big progress being made!”

Big progress.

Big. Progress.

Back then, Trump thought Labor Day was really Business Day.

Or maybe he thought it was CEO Day, or Stockholder Day. Trade Deal Day. Gross Domestic Product Day. Wall Street Day.

Back then, Donald Trump didn’t really seem to understand that Labor Day was about … well, Labor.

Not profits. Not trade deals. Not the stock market. But Labor.

It’s right there in the name: Labor Day.

And it’s Labor Day for a reason.  It’s about labor, it’s about the American worker, it’s about history, because a century ago, those who labored in this country lived radically different, and far worse, lives.

In 1919, the United States was in the middle of the Second Industrial Revolution.

It was a time of war, and wonder, and ever advancing technology.

It began with steel, the Bessemer process to be specific, a cheap and easy way to mass produce strong and reasonably lightweight metals.  Strong lightweight steel was the skeleton of the modern age, the core of everything from the new cars to steamships and oil rigs to utensils and lunchboxes, to the machines that manufactured the future.  A few years before, in 1911, a tall skinny fellow by the name of Eugene Ely landed a Curtiss #2 Pusher on the deck of USS Pennsylvania and took off again – and thus was born naval aviation, a profound moment that would change the very way wars were fought and thus change almost everything else too and the effects of which are still being felt to this very day.  Steel built those ships, the industrial revolution built those airplanes, labor built that mighty military.

If you were moderately wealthy, you could buy a Cadillac with an electric starter.

If you weren’t, you could still maybe afford a Model T. Despite the fact that there were still plenty of horses out there on the roads, the car had become so ubiquitous and affordable that Michigan created the first modern roads when the state started painting white lines down the middle of the more heavily traveled avenues.

Though many factories were still powered by steam, electricity was no longer a novelty.  The first modern public elevator began operation in London, England, and soon became common everywhere – leading directly to the modern city skyline.  America was booming. Her factories were churning out new products at a record pace. The western frontier had all but disappeared – oh, there were still a few bandits and cattle rustlers out there, but the wild woolly west was long gone.  The gold rushes, the boom towns and gun fights were long over.  Hell, by 1919 Wyatt Earp was living in Hollywood and working as a consultant for the new movie industry.

It was certainly a marvelous time.

If you could afford it.

If you lived through it.

See, those churning factories were horrible places.

In 1919, most were still powered by a massive central steam engine which drove an enormous flywheel, which in turn powered shafts and belts and pulleys, which finally powered the machines.  And though, as noted above, electricity was becoming increasingly common, most of those factories were dark and poorly lit – typically illumination was sunlight through skylights and banks of single pane glazed windows.  Often boiling hellholes in the summer and freezing dungeons in the winter – both air conditioning and central heating were still decades away and all those single pane windows didn’t do much to keep out either the cold or the heat. Those factories were filled with smoke and poisonous fumes from the various manufacturing processes, lead vapor, heavy metals, acids, chlorine, bleaches, all were common.  Normal working hours were from dawn to dusk, typically anywhere from twelve to fourteen hours a day, sixty and seventy hours per week for wages that would barely pay the rent and put food on a factory worker’s table.

Child labor was common, especially in the textile industry, though in some states there were supposed to be laws regulating it.  The kids toiled right alongside their parents.  The children typically worked the same hours as adults, but for a quarter, or less, of the pay.  Pictures of the time show children working barefoot among the machines, ragged sleeves flapping near the flying belts and spinning pulleys.  Whole families hired out to the factories, the men doing the heavy labor, the women and children doing the more delicate tasks.

Towns sprang up around the mills, often controlled by the factory owners. Company towns, where workers very often became little more than indentured servants.  Though life in a company town was often better than the alternative on the streets of places like Hell’s Kitchen or out in the hellishly hot cotton and peanut fields of the South. Company towns gave workers a higher standard of living than they would otherwise be able to afford. But the running joke was that while your soul might belong to God, your ass belonged to the company.  Mill towns and mining towns and factory towns and logging towns were common across America, places where the company owned everything from your house to your job to the church you prayed in to the store you bought your food from. And prices were whatever made the company the most profit and in many places there were laws that prevented you from renting or buying outside the company town.  The company might pay you a decent wage for the time, but they got a lot of it back too.  Get crosswise of the company and you lost it all.  Get injured on the job and could no longer work, and you lost it all. Get sick, and you could lose it all.  Get killed, and your family was out on the street.  There was no workman’s comp. No insurance. No retirement but what you managed to save – and since you probably owed a significant debt to the company store, your savings were unlikely to go very far.

Of course, you could always take a pass on factory work and return to the land.

In 1919, millions of Americans were farmers.  Farming was hard backbreaking work (it still is, just in a different way) – so hard that seventy hours a week in a smoke filled factory with a high probability of getting maimed or killed looked pretty good in comparison.  Most of those farmers, especially in the South, didn’t own their fields. They were sharecroppers, living in conditions little better than slavery or the serfdom of the Dark Ages.  Of the small farmers who did own their own land or rather owed the bank for their own land, more than half lived in abject poverty.  In the coming decade, the decade of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, most would lose everything.

Most of America was powered by coal in those days and if there was anything that would make life in a factory town or in the sweltering fields look good, it was working in a West Virginia coal mining town.  It was a race to see what would kill you first, explosion, cave-in, or the black lung.  And just like in the fields and factories, children worked alongside their parents – if they had parents, orphanages were also common. And orphan labor was even cheaper than the average child laborer, both in life and in pay. Renting out orphan labor was a good gig, if you could get it.

In September of 1919, Americans were coming home from Europe, WWI was finally over and the streets were filled with maimed veterans and why does that seem so familiar a century later?

You could always become a merchant seaman, though life at sea was damned rough.

You could move west and become a logger, though you’d probably live longer in the mines of West Virginia or on the ocean.

You could still be a cowboy, or a cop, or carpenter, none which paid worth a good Goddamn, or offered any benefits, or much in the way of a future.

Since people got sick and injured a lot, and most couldn’t afford even rudimentary medical care, many turned to patent medicines.  The pharmaceutical industry was only loosely regulated, but by 1919 there were some few laws in a handful of states regulating the more outrageous claims for the various elixirs. The big medicine shows were gone, but there were still plenty of drug store shelves stocked with hundreds of varieties of patent medicines. Some were mostly benign, like Coca-Cola. And some were downright toxic, like Radithor, made from water and radioactive radium.  As late as 1917, The Rattlesnake King, Clark Stanley, was still making Stanley’s Snake Oil, a worthless mixture of mineral oil, turpentine, and red pepper, and fleecing sick people out of their money and making them yet sicker (hell, as late as the 1960’s TV’s commercials touted the benefits of smoking for sore throats. And, as late as 1970 there were still X-ray foot measuring devices that would give you cancer, in use in a handful of shoe stores across America).

In 1919, only a few states mandated that your kids attend school, and then only through elementary.

In the South segregation and Jim Crow Laws were in full force and civil rights were decades away. Lynching was as common as sharecropping.

Women could actually vote in six states.

In 1919, maybe three out of ten Americans could ever expect to own a home, most would pay a landlord their whole lives. Middleclass suburbia was a generation and another War World away. Few had any rights in those relationships either, you paid the owner and you lived with what you got or you got thrown out.

In 1919, a lot of Americans were hungry. More than fifty percent of seniors lived in poverty, but then the average lifespan was only about fifty-five, maybe sixty if you hadn’t been breathing coal dust or lead vapor all your life.  Few of those seniors had pensions, most lived on the charity of their families – if they were lucky enough to have families.  Sanatoriums were a common place for the aged and infirm to spend their brief final years, stacked like cordwood, forgotten, warehoused.

In 1919, if you had ten kids, you might expect six of them to survive to adulthood.  If you were lucky. Polio, tuberculosis, measles, mumps, pneumonia, whooping cough, hard labor in the mines and factories and fields, lack of social safety nets, lack of proper nutrition, lead paint, food poisoning, poverty, orphaned by parents killed by the same, would probably claim at least four of those kids. Likely more.

Ironically, people from that generation always wax nostalgic for The Good Old Days.

And then they immediately proceed to tell you why life was so much harder and more miserable back then.

The simple truth of the matter is nowadays we Americans live a pretty damned good life.  And we live that good life because since 1919 we’ve put systems and laws and regulations in place to improve life for all of us.  Programs like Social Security and Medicare have a direct and measurable effect on how long we live, and how well. Regulations governing working conditions and workplace safety have a direct and measurable effect on the probability that we’ll survive to retirement.  Laws that prevent the rich from owning a whole town, or abusing workers, or turning them into indentured servants, or hiring children at pauper’s wages to maintain the machines in their bare feet, have directly benefitted all but the most greedy few.

And those systems were put in place because Labor fought for them, sometimes, often, at the cost of their very lives.

It is a measure of just how far we’ve come, and just how big an impact that those laws, regulations, and social safety programs have had, that those who directly benefit the most can complain with full bellies just how terrible they have it.

It is a measure of how far we’ve come, and the danger of complacency, that those who don’t remember that history, who again work for less than a living wage, without benefit, without safety nets, without recourse, have been convinced by the wealthy, by business, by politicians, that they don’t need them.

Things like a 40 hour work week, Social Security, Medicare, Workman’s Compensation Insurance, The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance, child labor laws, federal minimum wage, occupational health and safety standards, the Environmental Protection Agency, The Centers for Disease Control, The departments of Education and Health, Labor Unions and workers’ rights, and yes, even Welfare, all of these things were created for a reason. For a good reason. For compelling reasons.

But if you don’t remember history, then you’ll never know those reasons.

And you will be ever at the mercy of the powerful and greedy.

That’s what this day is supposed to be about.

Because, you see, these protections, those systems, those safety nets, they were created because when you leave it up to the church and charity to feed the hungry and clothe the poor and heal the sick, a hell of a lot of people go hungry and cold and ill.

It is really just that brutally simple.

These things were created because when you leave it up to charity and family to take care of old people, a hell of a lot of old people end up stacked like cordwood in institutions. The moldering remnants of such places are all around us.

These things were put in place because when you leave it up to devoutly righteous people who go to church every Sunday to decide what is right and proper and moral, you end up with lynchings and segregation and Jim Crow. And that is a Goddamned fact.

These things were created because when you leave it up to people to save for their retirement or a rainy day or for accident and infirmity, a hell of a lot of them don’t, or can’t, or won’t.

These things were put in place because when you leave it solely up to the market to weed out poor products and fake medicine and unsafe machines, the market doesn’t, or can’t, or won't, and it’s perfectly happy to go right on killing people for profit.

These things were put in place because when you leave it up to industrialists and share holders to treat their workers with dignity and respect and to pay them a living wage for their hard work, you get indentured servitude. Every. Time. Every single time.

These things were put in place because when you leave it up to the factory owners to decide wages and safety and working hours, you get this:

When you leave it solely up to bankers and the factory owners and the industrialists and the politicians, well, Sir, then what happens is they end up owning it all and you get the privilege of paying them to eat out of their garbage can.

And for most of history, right up until very recently, that’s exactly how it was.

Lately there are a lot of folks who think they want to live in 1919, rather than in 2019.

And that is because they have forgotten, or never knew, the history of Labor in this country.

And nowhere is this foolishness more evident than the White House. In the mindset that put this buffoon in the White House.

Happy Labor Day! Our country is doing better than ever before with unemployment setting record lows. The U.S. has tremendous upside potential as we go about fixing some of the worst Trade Deals ever made by any country in the world. Big progress being made!

A year ago, on this, Labor Day, Trump attacked Labor and crowed about profits.

But this day isn’t about profit.

And there is far more to labor than employment.

The worker in America is doing better than ever before, that’s what Trump said.

Define “better.”

Define “progress.”

It matters, those definitions.

It matters a great deal. It matters because there is an enormous difference in how the wealthy, in how a guy who was born rich and who has never labored a single day in his privileged life, defines “better” and “big progress” and how somebody who works 60 hours a week on the line without a living wage, without healthcare, without benefits, with a paycheck that has stayed flat for the last three decades while CEO salaries have increased more than 900% defines “better” and “big progress.”

Better, progress, those words are defined very, very differently by those who live in the manor house and to those who labor in the fields.

Trump has no idea what this day is about and he is utterly ignorant the history which led to it.

How do I know?

You wonder why I’m using Trump’s comment from a year ago in this post? You wonder why I didn’t use Trump’s Labor Day tweets from today?

Do you?

Well, that’s because Donald Trump didn’t make any comments about America’s workers today. He spent three hours this morning quoting Fox News, but had nothing to say himself. He again attacked labor unions, the very thing this day is was designed to honor…

… and then bragged about his own supposed accomplishments. That he attacked the press. It was only around noon that the White House twitter account finally managed to crank out a belated Labor Day post – in which they credited Labor’s accomplishments to a man who routinely doesn’t pay his laborers.

Then, he went golfing.

And why would he?

Why would Donald Trump bother honor Labor?

Why would Donald J. Trump know that history? Or care?

For him, for those like him, it’s right there in his own words, money, profit, business. That’s all that matters to the wealthy like him.

But this day was created to remind America of its history, to remember the security and safeties put in place – often at very, very high cost – specifically to protect labor from business, from unfettered greed, from the wealthy.

From those exactly like Donald Trump.

My grandfather once told me there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to be in the first group; there was much less competition.
  - Indira Gandhi