Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Hiatus

About the lack of posting: I’m traveling over the holiday season.

I thought I’d have some time to write during this trip. I was wrong, between snow storms and ice storms and endless airline delays and a flight divert due to a medical emergency and a dozen reroutes and a sprint through Denver and all the Christmas stuff and the fact that I’m now entrenched at a farm in rural Michigan with internet connectivity straight out of 1985 and no cell phone service whatsoever, well, there’s not going to be much in the way of posting on Stonekettle Station.

That’s okay, I needed a break anyway.

I’ll be in Florida on Friday for a week in the banjo playing swamps of the Panhandle. I may find some time then.

Happy Holidays, folks, Stonekettle Station will be back online shortly.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Beck’s Folly





I get mail.

The single most common complaint that I get on Stonekettle Station is that I go on, and on, that my essays are too long and involved and that I explain things in too much detail.

That is to say: my critics complain that I tend to beat dead horses into glue.

With that in mind, and because I’m short on time to write lately, I endeavored to keep this particular post as brief as possible, focused on the central theme that Glenn Beck and those who follow him, and specifically the Tea Party, are hypocritical self-centered dimwits with a conveniently limited and malleable sense of history and society.

I deliberately avoided detours into extended digression and long explanations, figuring that a) most of my regular readers are smart educated folks who would know what I was talking about, or b) they’d go look it up, or c) another commenter would explain things in detail and we’d end up with the usual adult conversation of differing views and we’d all learn something.  The observations from regular commenters here and the associated Facebook discussion leads me to believe that was a reasonably correct assumption.

The problem comes from those who either a) aren’t regular readers and are used to being spoon-fed their beliefs by the likes of talk radio pundits and Fox News, b) lurkers who spend a lot of time hanging out on the IMDB and 4-Chan comment channels where they’ve come to the erroneous conclusion that the only way to comment on a topic you disagree with (or think you disagree with) is by acting like a nasty 14-year old with the manners of a donkey, or c) they’re just obnoxious obsessive jackasses who can’t see anything but their own pet bugaboo even if you grab them by the back of the neck and rub their noses in their own feces. 

I’m getting mail on this post.

I’m getting comments on this post, comments from folks who are obviously not regulars.

I can see that keeping it short was a mistake, one that I won’t make in the future – and one that I’m about to correct here.

A number of folks have fastened onto one minor observation and sidetracked into their own outraged obsession. As a result, they have completely missed the point of this post – and, in fact, could not possibly miss the point any harder even if Glenn Beck was beaming his show directly into their fuzzy noggins via John Galt’s magic magnet machine.

The really ironic part is that they are about evenly divided between barking Uber Liberals and howling mad Tea Party Conservatives.

Like a neurotic dog they chase manically ‘round and ‘round after their own tails barking furiously at imaginary monsters.

They have managed to construct for themselves a strawman and they are now attempting to derail my blog onto their own cause, a front in a war that ended more than 70 years ago and a minor unimportant battle in which nearly everybody involved is long dead.

That’s not going to happen.

Comments are in full moderation and will remain so.

It’s not my job, expressed or implied, to entertain mental illness and fanaticism or to provide either with a platform.

If you’re afflicted with obsessive compulsive mad cow disease, then you deal it on your own time, it’s your problem, I won’t let you make it mine. You engage in assholery, big or small, your comments will not post. Period. This is non-negotiable.

Don’t like how I do business here? Then as I noted below, you’re completely free to fuck off back to whatever part of the internet you came from.  Don’t bother to email me, because I won’t read it – and if by chance I do, I’ll likely use your chattering assholery as fodder in another blog post devoted to the ridicule of hatemail. Don’t bother trying for the last word, because you’re not going to get it.  Stonekettle Station is my intellectual property. Mine. I get the last word. I’m not particularly pissy about that – unless you make it into a shoving match. If you do, you’ll lose. Period. I spent more than 20 years in the military and fought in two wars; I’ve been hated by professionals and you’re not the first jackass to show up here. Frankly I couldn’t possibly care less about your contempt. Really.

If you’ve got a beef with something I wrote, then express your disagreement in a reasoned adult manner, otherwise go away. Those are your only two options.


Marked updates to the text below now include a detailed explanation of exactly what I meant by my comments.




My teenaged son stuck his head into the den.

“You’re missing it,” he informed me.

“Missing what?” I asked.

“Glenn Beck’s on Hannity,” he grinned, rolling his eyes and laughing in sardonic mirth.

Yes, my son watches Sean Hannity.

And Bill O’Reilly. And Glenn Beck.

He thinks they’re endlessly, ridiculously, amusing; but then again what 17 year old isn’t captivated by the self-mutilating shenanigans of capering idiots? Why do you think MTV’s Jackass is so popular? Or those Fail videos on YouTube? Same thing. Given that, seems to me Rupert Murdoch is missing an opportunity.  After all, the Fox News network already has more brainless jiggling cleavage in their line-up than a rerun of Bay Watch, combined with the sophomoric antics of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, if Fox could work in a couple of Metallica videos they’d have the teenage male demographic sewn up.

But I digress.

It delights me that my son, a teenage high school senior, has absolutely no problem whatsoever picking apart the logical fallacies, outright falsehoods, and daily fabricated paranoid nonsense of TV pundits.

‘'Beck and Hannity, on Fox News, now there’s an incestuous bromance made in heaven,” I said.

“Oh, it’s even worse than usual,” my son grinned mischievously. “Glenn Beck wants to sell Alaska …”

All of the federal government land they own. What do they own it for? Sell it. Get rid of it. They don't need it anymore. It's time to sell things. It's time to go up to Alaska and drill in Alaska. And if they are not willing to build a pipeline and drill in Alaska, then it's time we sell it to somebody who will because we've got to pay off our debt.

They should build a pipeline and drill for oil.

In Alaska.

See? That, right there, that kind of dazzling logic is why Glenn Beck gets the big bucks. Drill for oil. In Alaska. You can see why the Tea Party loves this guy, he’s just so darned clever. Drill for oil. In Alaska. Wow.

Man, too bad we Alaskans never thought of that.

Drill for oil. In Alaska.

Now there’s an idea worthy of Beck’s pal, Sarah “Johnny Knoxville” Palin.

Beck left out a few details. 

For example he didn’t specifically say who “they” are.

They should build a pipeline.

They should drill for oil.

Because we have got to pay off our debt.

Wait. What?

Drill for oil in Alaska. Pay off the national debt.

Now hold on just a damned minute here.

Drill for oil in Alaska. Pay off the national debt. 

As an Alaskan, I have some questions.

First, I guess Beck means President Obama should be doing the drilling and building and selling and paying, right?  Both Hannity and Beck are self-declared “Tea Party Conservatives,” and according to the Tea Party the national debt is all Obama’s fault, so shouldn’t Obama be the one to pay it off? Isn’t that exactly what Glenn Beck is saying? Build a pipeline. Drill for oil. Pay off the debt. I get that part okay, but I’m just a little surprised to see a couple of Tea Party Conservatives on Fox News enthusiastically embracing communism

Communism. Sure. Communism.

That’s what they call it when the government owns the oil, the drilling rigs, the pipeline, and all the profits, isn’t it?

“They” should build a pipeline and “they” should drill for oil and “they” should use the money to pay off the national debt.

They would have to be the government in this scenario, wouldn’t they? By definition. Specifically President Obama.

So, communism. That’s what Glenn Beck is demanding. Communism.

Or some kind of absolutism anyway, maybe a dictatorship if Obama himself owns it all.

I mean, that’s what we’re talking about, right. Drill for oil in Alaska. Pay off the national debt. The only way that works is if the government owns the oil and the means of production and sale, and the government reaps the profits which they then use to pay off the debt.

Otherwise Beck would be suggesting that private industry invest in drilling and merchandising the oil.  Which, of course, is pretty much exactly how we do it now.

You’d think Palin would have mentioned that, given her extensive oil industry experience and all.

What? I’m just saying it’s a weird oversight. Honestly, it makes you wonder, what do they talk about?

Here’s the thing: if the oil is produced and sold by industry, then only way you get from corporate profits to paying off the debt is … taxation.

And yet, we know that Glenn Beck is loudly, vocally, voraciously, inflexibly, ideologically, opposed to government taxation on such enterprises. He’s screamed and ranted and waxed fat and fecund about taxation for years. Hell, he even threaten to go off and start his own walled country to protest taxation. Like minded conservatives in congress, including Alaskan Democrat Mark Begich, have fought tooth and nail to reduce federal regulation and taxation on the poor belabored oil industry (what with their record profits and all it’s hard to understand how Exxon can stay in business with just billions in oil subsides alone). And it’s the same here at the state level, in fact, Alaskan conservatives, most of whom are dewy-eyed Glenn Beck fans, led by Alaska’s governor and Palin successor, Sean Parnell, just gave the entire oil industry in Alaska a huge tax giveaway (and just this morning Alaska woke up to the sudden realization that the Alaska Permanent Fund and next year’s state budget are facing massive reductions as a result. Whoops. But, hey, it’s not like Alaska needs schools.  When the oil industry “creates” jobs here, they fill ‘em with wildcatters from Texas and Oklahoma anyway, right?). 

However you slice it, obviously Beck’s not talking about paying off the debt via taxation on the oil industry.

And if the government isn’t drilling and selling, and the government isn’t taxing those who are, then the government isn’t doing the paying, is it?

So what is Glenn Beck suggesting? That the oil companies use their immense profits to pay off the national debt directly? I’m not exactly sure what kind of magic Ayn Rand government that’s called. It’s not communism. It sure isn’t capitalism. It’s not republicanism. Ridiculous Blustering Glenn Beck Bullshitism maybe?

Okay, scratch that.

So then according to Beck, what’s left?

I guess “we” should sell off Alaska to pay “our” debt.

And how exactly we Alaskans, the paltry few five hundred thousand of us, ended up being responsible for the entire national debt given that there are three hundred and fifty million of you, just completely escapes me.  That seems, oh hell, I dunno, just a little suspect, mathematically. If Alaska is suddenly responsible for $17 trillion, seventeen trillion dollars, seventeen trillion, seriously, folks, where the hell did all that money go?  We didn’t get it, trust me on that. Oh sure Wasilla got a new rec center, and they made some improvements to the Ted Stevens International Airport, but seventeen trillion? C’mon, not even Don Young could spend all of that and it’s not like Alaska declared war on Iraq and Afghanistan all by itself.

I’ll tell you, speaking as an Alaskan, for seventeen trillion dollars our lousy potholed roads should be in one hell of a lot better shape.

Seventeen trillion dollars.

And Alaska is responsible for it all?

Why us? Why not all those poverty stricken southern Bible Belt States that produce nothing but trailer parks and toothless rednecked Glenn Beck fans? Why not Texas? Hell, they want to secede, let’s sell ‘em to Mexico!


Oh, riiiiiiight, nobody would pay $17 trillion for Texas.

So, I guess it’s on us then.

How does this work exactly? Palin tried to sell the governor’s jet on eBay, can we put the whole state up for bid there?  Can they just list us on Craigslist? Is selling off Alaska even constitutional – I mean, you know how the Tea Party loves them some Constitution and all.  Honestly, I don’t get how this works, but then again my education is mostly engineering and technology and military strategy (you know, reality based), maybe I should have studied Magic Fairy Dust and Creation Science math at Glenn Beck University.

“We’ve” got to pay off “our” debt, folks, so “we” should sell Alaska.

Note how Alaskans aren’t part of the we

When you’re talking about the United States, there’s “we” and then there’s Alaska.

No, no, that’s okay. We’re used to it.

So. Sell Alaska. For money. To pay off the national debt. That’s the plan.

This from the guy who’s bombastically enraged and righteously outraged at the mere thought of his precious Israel trading a couple hectares of worthless sand for their security.

But Alaska? Well, if we’re not using it the way the Tea Party thinks we should, screw it. Get rid of it.

Boy, spoken like a genuine Wall Street MBA. 

Sorry, Alaskans, the folks down here in real America have two wars and our bad mortgage industry investments to pay off. So looks like we’re going to have to downsize. Liquidate. Got to keep the shareholders happy. Got to keep the ol’ Golden Parachute fully inflated. Return on investment, you know how it is, nothing personal. So, anyway, you guys are now officially Chinese.

I note that laying a $17 trillion dead horse on Alaska hasn’t done much to diminish Glenn Beck’s popularity here in Tea Party Central.

That’s about par for the course, Alaskan conservative logic-wise. 

They’ll all be lining up to buy a copy of his new book, Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America (I swear, that’s the actual title, the true story of ‘Merica!) wherein Beck (who’s now a “student of history” according to Sean Hannity) trots out the Dirty Sanchez of Second Amendment porn, the 1945 so-called Battle of Athens


[Update: “The Battle of Athens”]

The so-called “Battle of Athens” is a common anecdote proffered by gun-nuts and Second Amendment fanatics to justify their version of America where the citizens are locked in a perpetual armed standoff with their government and where liberty comes from the muzzle of a gun and not from rule of law.

The pitiful “battle,” such as it was, happened in 1946, in McMinn County, Tennessee.

There had been rumors and accusations of election fraud in McMinn for years. The federal Department of Justice made a number of investigations into the allegations both before and during World War II, but the inquiries were inconclusive and the federal and state governments had, as yet, taken no action.

The point of contention was the county sheriff, a democrat named Paul Cantrell who had been elected to the position in 1936 and served for six years until he was elected to the Tennessee state senate in 1942. He was replaced by his former deputy, Pat Mansfield.  Now, the partisan divide wasn’t quite as wide or as hostile as it is now, but nevertheless a lot of folks in the predominately republican county felt the election was rigged – specifically due to recent redistricting and a reduction in elected positions (that is, the size of the local government got smaller, and a lot of people ended up feeling like they weren’t getting proper representation. The more things change, right?).

The real problem was that the county sheriff and his deputies were paid via an old fashioned system, a system that was inevitably prone to abuse and corruption. The police were paid per arrest. In other words, the more people they arrested the more money they made, individually. Unless you’re a complete idiot, you can see where that kind of thing leads and it wasn’t long before the sheriff and his deputies went from rousting the usual suspect to actually staking out the highways and stopping Greyhound buses, pulling out the passengers and ticketing them on a variety of bogus charges. Needless to say, ethnic minorities and the poor spent a lot of time in the McMinn County courthouse.

You can imagine the increasing aggravation of the populace and the nature of the complaints, but there was a war on and most of the people who had the wherewithal and means to stand up to the police were fighting their way across Europe or storming the beaches of the South Pacific. And there wasn’t much time or attention available in the federal government for an overbearing police force in some unimportant county in the middle of the country.

All that changed with the end of the war.

In 1945 and 46, several thousand combat veterans returned home to McMinn and weren’t happy with what they found – most especially because they suddenly became the single most lucrative source of income for the County Sheriff.

The veterans had no intention of being pushed around and they resolved to change things. 

In the August 1946 election Cantrell and Mansfield swapped positions, Cantrell ran again for sheriff and Mansfield for state senate.

The veterans, about ten percent of the McMinn population, tendered their own candidates.

When polls opened on August 1, 1946, voters found themselves facing hundreds of armed deputies, cronies of Mansfield and Cantrell, brought in from neighboring towns and counties to augment McMinn’s fifteen permanent officers.

Men who had fought the Nazis and the Japanese were outraged by this blatant act of raw intimidation. Fights broke out. And a black man, Tom Gillespie, was shot in the back by deputies who were attempting to stop him from voting.

As the polls closed, the deputies seized the ballot boxes and took them back to the county police office.  They locked the boxes in the jail and fifty-five deputies stood guard over them.  Exactly what their intentions were is unclear. Supposedly it was to guard the ballots until they could be counted. Maybe that’s true. Likely it’s not. 

The population, already enraged, had had enough.

A number of veterans assembled, the exact number is unknown – some accounts say it was a few hundred, others claim it was a few thousand. The vets were armed, some with personal weapons, some with heavy weapons taken from the national guard armory.  They marched on the jail and demanded that the sheriff turn over the ballot box.

Predictably the soon to be ex-sheriff refused.

So the veterans opened fire. 

The deputies fired back.

The “battle” consists of exchanges of intermittent gunfire and lasted somewhere between a few minutes to a couple of hours depending on who’s telling the story. There were no casualties, but elsewhere in the town of Athens, other vets, who might or might not have been drinking, rioted. Police cars were burned. Windows were smashed. Mobs formed. Eventually the vets, being vets, got sick of screwing around and dynamited the jail.  They blew the building’s door off and poured in through the breach just like the good old days when they were storming enemy bunkers. The sheriff and his deputies, now shaken and deafened and injured from the blast, surrendered in short order.

The ballot boxes were recovered intact and when they were counted the next day, the county had themselves a new sheriff (history doesn’t speculate on what would have happened if the vote had gone the other way).

After it was all over, a lot of folks ended up feeling rather chagrinned.

The new county government revised the compensation method for police officers, installed salary caps on public officials, cleaned up the corruption, and set about getting rid of the former deputies via dismissal.  The deputy who shot Tom Gillespie was tried and went to jail.

Now, you can see why the Second Amendment Fetishists love this story.

Except, of course, that part about how the only guy who got shot was an innocent black man who was just trying to vote.

And the only gunfire exchanged was ineffective and accomplished nothing but to terrorize an already frightened town.

And the jail was actually breeched with dynamite (which makes you wonder if we’re going to see the NRA demanding unrestricted access to explosives next).

And, most especially, that similar and far, far more egregious abuses of power have been stopped, overturned, prevented, and corrected numerous times without gunfire and revolution and dynamite … by the very thing Glenn Beck hates, a strong federal government.  In fact, based on history, something Beck claims to be a student of, when it comes to civil rights you’d be a hell of a lot better served putting your faith in the Justice Department and the Supreme Court than in your pistol. 

The amusing part is that within five years, the very veterans who staged their little armed rebellion were complaining that their own installed candidates were just as bad and they’d merely swapped one tyrant for another.

Beck fails to mention one of his personal heroes, the nation’s most abusive and out of control lawman, Joe Arpaio, five time sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona.  And I’m left wondering how Beck would feel if the aggrieved citizenry took up arms and removed “America’s Toughest Sheriff” from office by force. That’s different, of course, Arpaio is a conservative who primarily targets Latinos. But I digress. Again.

Most ironically, Beck failed to mention how his own political organization, the goddamned Tea Party, is openly engaged in an active campaign to disenfranchise voters via unfair voter ID laws, gerrymandering their candidates into “safe” districts, closing primaries, and massive amounts of anonymous campaign money funneled through Beck’s own SuperPAC.

In the Battle of Athens, Glenn Beck and the Tea Party aren’t Tom Gillespie and the veterans, they’re Paul Cantrell and his deputies and make no mistake about it.


My favorite part of Beck’s new book? Yeah, that would be where he declares Tokyo Rose a hero.


Yes, that Tokyo Rose. 

Beck says she’s a genuine hero. You betcha.

Apparently, according to the interview, Beck owns her microphone, the one she used to broadcast Japanese propaganda at American military men during World War II. Because, quoting Glenn Beck here, Tokyo Rose “was a hero, not a villain.”

I know. Oh, believe me, I know

Obama puts his little American flag pin on crooked and Glenn Beck holds a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to decry Obama’s treason. But Tokyo Rose, she’s a hero according to Glenn Beck.

Yep. And that, right there, tells you everything you need to know.

On the other hand, if we Alaskans have to become part of China in order to pay off the national debt, then the very least all those old geezers who battled their way across the Pacific to earn themselves a place in the Greatest Generation of Glen Beck fans can do is acknowledge the heroic patriotism of poor misunderstood Tokyo Rose.

Frankly, at this point, I can’t wait to see what Glenn Beck does with Hanoi Jane.


[Update: Tokyo Rose]

…and that, right there, tells you everything you need to know.

Except, of course, for a number of folks, it didn’t.

I suppose this is my fault. I assumed, for no good reason, that everybody else is as fascinated and horrified and familiar with World War II as I am.

Tokyo Rose was the name given to an Imperial Japanese radio program, broadcast during World War II in the Western and South Pacific theaters, and aimed at Allied forces. 

The broadcast consisted of English speaking women who read scripted programs alternating with popular American and British music.

It was an early application of Information Warfare, specifically a combination of both crude psychological manipulation and a form of what nowadays is sometimes referred to as information insertion

The basic idea was that a sympathetic sounding female voice, speaking English, alternating with familiar music would degrade Allied morale and esprit de corps by working on the minds of lonely weary men far from home by making them homesick, by making them question their commitment, by making them wonder why they were risking their lives in a war that supposedly didn’t really concern them. 

The Tokyo Rose broadcasts played up those ideas by suggesting to Allied forces that their sweethearts back home had probably forgotten them, that their wives were probably fooling around, that their children no longer remembered their faces and were calling somebody else daddy, that there was nobody to help poor old mom on the farm, and so on.

And these were things that many of those men really did worry about.

Allied troops grew to hate Tokyo Rose with a passion that bordered on the kind you reserve for child molesters and people who drive too slow in the fast lane, and legends grew up around her.

It’s hard nowadays to understand just how isolated many of those men were, and for just how long. 

Most people, even nowadays, have little grasp of the staggering vastness of the Pacific and the immense distances these men fought across. I have sailed across that ocean myself, from the Bering Sea to the South Pacific atolls, from Sumatra to San Diego, from the Galapagos to Guam, from Hawaii to the Straits of Malacca, and even I can barely comprehend it.  Back then, it was even more remote and many of those men didn’t have the benefit of our worldwide consciousness. Most had never even heard of the places they were sent to. Prior to the war many hadn’t travelled more than a few dozen miles from the places they were born. Communications were extremely limited, both by the state of the art and by operational security. There was no internet, no TV, no telephone. There was almost no mass media. News came on movie reels, and on paper, physically transported on ships across the ocean, from base to base, months old. Letters arrived the same way, again often months out of date as the mail chased ships and mobile units from one battle to the next, and those communications were subject to censor and editing and contained only the barest of information. Death and danger, terror and loneliness, were ever present for years at a time.

That voice, Tokyo Rose, men hated it, but they couldn’t stop listening.

Tokyo Rose herself wasn’t just one person. 

Tokyo Rose was more than a dozen women over the course of the war.

But the woman who grew to be most associated with the hated broadcast was Iva Toguri.

An American.

Toguri was the daughter of Japanese immigrants. She was raised primarily in Southern California, but had gone to grammar school in Mexico. Prior to the outbreak of World War II she graduated from the University of California with a degree in zoology. 

In July of 1941, five months before the Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor and the sudden outbreak of World War II, Toguri traveled to Japan. She was issued a Certificate of Identification, but not a passport, which indicated that she didn’t plan to come back right away – supposedly because she intended to stay in Japan and study medicine.

However two months later, in September, amid worsening relations between the US and Japan, Toguri applied to the US Vice Consul in Tokyo for a passport to return to the United States.

Toguri was still in Japan and the paperwork was still being processed on December 7th.

Toguri was alone and stranded in Tokyo, an enemy in a country at war with the United States.

Though Toguri was not rounded up and shipped off to an internment camp, as a Japanese American with dual citizenship she was pressured by the Japanese authorities to renounce her American citizenship. She refused to do so. She remained free in Tokyo, but unable to return to the US and barely able to survive.

Eventually she found work as a typist at a news agency, which eventually led to a similar job at Radio Tokyo.

By 1943 the Japanese military had forced a number of Allied POWs with radio experience into service making propaganda broadcasts aimed at their own countrymen.  The ethics of the POWs’ participation in enemy broadcasts is still something that is hotly debated in classes at military academies across the United States and England.  It’s easy to say that you, as a member of your country’s military would never do such a thing when you’re sitting safe and secure in a college classroom, it’s something else entirely when you’re facing the reality of Japanese concentration camps (or Korean or Vietnamese), starvation and torture, and you maybe have a chance to change the lot of your comrades interred within those places. 

Toguri was recruited from the typing pool by the head of the POW propaganda arm of Radio Tokyo, one Major Cousens – an Australian captured in the fall of Singapore – on the advice of American Army Captain Wallace Ince and Philippine Army Lieutenant Normando Reyes.  Ince and Reyes had met Toguri when she had risked her own relative freedom to smuggle food into an interment camp where they were being held (both were later scooped up based on their experience in radio and, like, Cousens, tortured until they agreed to make propaganda broadcasts).  Toguri at first resisted, saying that she would not speak against the United States. But Cousens and Ince convinced her that she could make the broadcasts without directly denouncing her country and eventually she made more than three hundred broadcasts on a show called The Zero Hour.

Officially she called herself “Orphan Ann,” but inevitably she became the voice of Tokyo Rose.

And she was all the more reviled when Allied troops learned she was an American.

Toguri survived the war.

She might have been forgotten after the nukes fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after Tokyo surrendered, and the world, weary from half a decade of total war, returned gratefully to those aforementioned sweethearts back home.

She might have been forgotten, if not for the press.

Broke and desperate, she agreed to tell her story to Cosmopolitan Magazine for the astounding sum of $2000.

Instead, the reporters betrayed her in a bid for sensationalism and she was arrested as a traitor and a war criminal in Yokohama on September 5th, 1945.  The Cosmopolitan reneged on their deal, kept the money, and played up her interview as a “confession.” They sold a lot of copy and made a lot of money as a result.

Toguri was interrogated for a year. Her former POW friends testified on her behalf. Records and transcripts of her shows, those that remained in the ashes of Tokyo, were examined in exhaustive detail. Eventually, General Douglas MacArthur’s staff determined that she was mostly a victim of circumstance, an young American girl caught in enemy territory who had only done what she had to do in order to survive. She was released, supposedly free to return home.

But the press wasn’t through with her.

Pundit and prominent radio host, Walter Winchell, took up the fight against Toguri.  His audience, many of the men who’d listened to her during their time in the Pacific, were outraged at the idea of Tokyo Rose returning to the US unpunished. Urged on by Winchell and other media personalities, they wanted their pound of flesh.

Toguri was rearrested by US military authorities and returned to the United States in custody to be tried for treason.

Amid a media frenzy, on September 25th, 1948, in San Francisco, she was convicted on a single count of “giving aid and comfort” to the enemy in time of war, the classic definition of treason. At that time, her trial was the longest and most costly in US history – eclipsing even that of the spectacular Lindbergh Baby Trial before the war and those trials that were even then still going on in Nuremberg.  The court was biased from the start and the conclusion forgone despite the herculean efforts of her defense team – led by the Johnny Cochran of his day,  Wayne Mortimer Collins. She was fined $10,000 dollars, an extraordinary sum in those days, and sentenced to ten years in federal prison. 

Toguri went to prison for treason and was paroled after serving six years.

Winchell and other media personalities attempted once again to rile up public support, they demanded that Toguri be deported upon her parole, but by 1956 much of the hatred and hysteria of the war years had cooled.  Toguri rejoined her family, now living in Chicago where they’d moved after being released from the Gila River War Relocation Center, a Japanese American internment camp. Toguri quietly went to work at her father’s store in Lakeview and tried her best to disappear into the the dusty forgotten volumes of history.

One thing I didn’t mention. After the war, in the time before she returned to the United States, Toguri got married.  Her husband had been a Portuguese prisoner of war. Toguri became pregnant during  her time in detention but the baby died before she could return home. Her husband came the US to testify at her treason trial but was immediately arrested as a war criminal himself. He was deported and forced to return to Japan. As his ship prepared to depart Hawaii, FBI agents forced him to sign a document that would prevent him from ever attempting to return to the US.  Toguri never saw him again. They remained married until 1980, when Toguri granted him a divorce so that he could get on with his life.

In 1976, largely due to efforts by Chicago Tribune reporter Ron Yates, the true story of Iva Toguri and Tokyo Rose began to emerge, culminating a riveting story by Morley Safer on the popular news show, 60 Minutes. A year later, President Gerald Ford granted Toguri a full and unconditional pardon on his last day in office.  That pardon was supported by unanimous vote in both houses of the California State Legislature – though many WWII veterans of the Pacific campaigns would never, ever, forgive her.

With the presidential pardon, Toguri’s U.S. citizenship was restored.

Toguri died in 2006, still working in her family’s store on Belmont Avenue in Lakeview, a suburb of Chicago.

The vast majority of her customers had no idea that the tired sad old Asian lady behind the counter was the once infamous and reviled Tokyo Rose.

Now, it is certainly possible to paint Iva Toguri as a hero of sorts – depending on which side of the radio you happened to be on.  Her story is terrible and fascinating.  She was treated heinously throughout much of her life, by fate, by governments, by militaries, by the public, and most especially by the media

The great Japanese-American actor, writer, and director, George Takei – himself once a resident of American internment camps for Japanese Americans – has labored for years to bring Toguri’s story to the screen.  And frankly, if Takei’s studied view of Toguri is a sympathetic one, then I bow to his judgment.

I have no heat, one way or the other for Tokyo Rose. I don’t forgive her, because I never condemned her. It wasn’t my war. It wasn’t my time. 

I don’t know that I’d call her a hero per se, but she is unarguably a tragic figure.

This is not the point.

All of this, the story of Tokyo Rose, is not why I mentioned her in the context of an article on Glenn Beck’s staggering hypocrisy.

Or maybe, maybe, it is.

Toguri, daughter of immigrants, one step removed from our mortal enemies (of the time), student in a foreign country, willing (however reluctantly) employee of those bent to the utter destruction of the United States (the same folks who engaged in one of the worst and most heinous acts of war and terrorism in our history, a day of utter infamy), Tokyo Rose … Glenn Beck hails her as a hero.

Perhaps I even agree with his description.

And yet, and yet, in Beck’s twisted little world, while Iva Toguri is “not a villain but a hero,” those who wore the uniform and spent their lives serving this self-same America, people like me for instance, we are branded as traitors, commies, socialists (as Beck defines it), Nazis. Hell, Glenn Beck and his legion of haters have no use whatsoever for George Takei, an outspoken and unabashed liberal advocate for gay rights and for the rights of minorities and immigrants. But somehow, Glenn Beck can not only forgive Iva Toguri for her funny name, her ancestry, her foreign education, her fluid citizenship, her wartime role as Tokyo Rose, he elevates her to the status of hero … but the President of the United States, Barack Obama, is a Nazi, Hitler, right? Liberals are Nazis, enemies of America, lowest of the low, hated and despised and reviled by the likes of Glenn Beck and the very media punditry who similarly railroaded Iva Toguri into prison for their own profit and benefit.

That, right there, is my point.

That staggering, astounding, gargantuan hypocrisy of Glenn Beck and the mindless idiotic drooling lynch-mob of Tea Party “patriots” who hang upon his every twisted word beggars the imagination.  These people, some of whom are the very conservatives who once fought to have Toguri imprisoned are now willing to make her a hero, and yet they can’t seem to find it in their hearts to meet their own president halfway.

This is specifically why I mentioned “Hanoi Jane.” 

Periodically I follow a pickup truck on the highway here between Palmer and Anchorage. There are two bumper stickers on the back, “Hanoi Jane: We Will Never Forget!” and “TEA Party, Taxed Enough Already.”

Here’s my question, Jane Fonda, what she did in the closing days of the Vietnam War was (at best) misguided and (at worst) an act of treason. But Fonda didn’t do a ten-thousandth of what Iva Toguri did.  Fonda also visited POWs and carried messages home to their families. Fonda, like Toguri, was used. That revolting picture of her seated on a North Vietnamese Anti-Aircraft battery was staged deliberately and used to maximum effect by our enemies, men who knew exactly what they were doing. Fonda paid the price for it too, far less so than Toguri, but then so was her treason.

Look, I don’t have a hell of a lot of use for Jane Fonda.  I think her later actions and her statements about returning POWS and her denial that they were systematically tortured fully justifies the hatred and contempt most Vietnam veterans feel towards her.  Just as the hatred and contempt many WWII Vets felt toward Tokyo Rose.  But again, if you can forgive Tokyo Rose for her actions during time of war, when are Glenn Beck and the Tea Party veterans of Vietnam going to forgive Fonda and elevate her to hero status?

They won’t of course, Fonda is a liberal.

Just as they will never bend on their conviction that Barack Obama is Hitler reborn.

Glenn Beck can brush away Toguri’s birth, ethnicity, religion, education, and actions, but condemns the rest of us as Nazis, fucking Nazis, for far, far, far less.

Glenn hails Iva Torguri as a hero, but condemns Teddy Roosevelt as a progressive and un-American.

Glenn Beck hails the veterans of Athens as heroes for confronting their government, but reviles and condemns the veterans of the Occupy Movement as traitors and cowards and, well, Nazis.

Glenn Beck waxes fat and fecund and teary eyed-over states rights and self determination … and offers up Alaska to the highest bidder.

That, that right there, is the point of this essay.

Beck twists his worldview into whatever shape brings him the most fame and money, just as did those who pilloried Toguri and Fonda for their own profit.

And behind, following in the wake of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter and Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly and Michael Savage and Pat Robertson and all those other selfish twisted mercenary whores comes those who are so filled with hate and bile and fear that they can’t even see their own bullshit when their noses are rubbed in it.

If that’s not clear and unambiguous now, then you’re in the wrong place.


But, again, here I am digressing.


I’m telling you, all this Hannity episode lacked was some James Hetfield blaring from the speakers.

I was going to say it could have used some Pam Anderson running on the beach too…

…but it already had a couple of boobs.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Take Back Your Government: Part 1

A practical guide to fixing what’s wrong with America


Never underestimate the power of human stupidity
- Robert Anson Heinlein

Government of the People.

That’s what Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg one hundred and fifty years ago this week.

Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.

Lincoln was, of course, referring to the Preamble of the United States’ Constitution, the bit that goes “We the People of the United States…”

More, Lincoln’s speech reached directly back to the fundamental principles outlined by the grievances in the Declaration of Independence, i.e. the Founders’ demand for a government that does the business of its people first and foremost, one that operates with the consent of the governed, and a government that is directly answerable to its citizens.

That’s the idea, right?

That’s how America is supposed to work.

We can all of us, left and right, republican and democrat, moderate and progressive, whatever side of America we’ve chosen to plant our flag on, surely we can all at least agree to that basic principle. Right?


Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And sure, that sounds good.

In theory.

As a sound bite.

There’s just one problem.

The people.

That’s the fundamental flaw in almost any political philosophy, people.  From Marx to Madison, from the federal government right on down to the local school board, people will eventually screw up any social structure given half a chance and a lack of adequate safeguards on the process.

That’s what the designers of political systems and ideologies tend to ignore: sooner or later, the perversity of human nature tends towards the maximum. Plus ten percent. Every single time.

That’s the problem with systems like communism. They’re based on wishful thinking. For communism to work, really work, it requires a radical change in fundamental human nature. Which is why it doesn’t work and almost immediately devolves into sullenly stagnant absolutism.

And the problem with any form of absolutism is that it attempts to force human nature into a rigid mold at the point of a sword. Humans, given human nature, tend to get irritated about that sooner or later and push back.

The men who founded America, the ones who threw off absolutism and came up with that idea of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, they understood human nature and tried to compensate for it by designing a republic. 

Their blind spot, however, was the opposite of the absolutists.

Where the tyrants typically regard their subjects with a certain degree of contempt, America’s founders had, perhaps, an overly inflated opinion of those self same people.

They expected the people to put aside their selfish interests long enough to rise to the challenge of running a republican democracy.  They expected that those elected to government would regard it a duty, a trust, a privilege as they themselves did. And more than anything, they fully expected the people to hold their government accountable.

This is evident in the very fabric of the representative democracy they designed.

It is particularly evident in the lack of certain specific and, in retrospect, obviously absent safeguards.

The founders didn’t include those safeguards, because they didn’t think they’d need them – they expected the people to be their government’s check on power.

In retrospect, they should have known better.

And they obviously realized at least some of their mistake in fairly short order – the Bill of Rights is proof of that.

As I said, you forget the perversity of human nature at your peril.

A government of the people, by the people, for the people, if it is to be anything other than anarchy, if it is to be anything other than embroiled in a continuous deadlock of unending partisan infighting like a screeching crap-fight on Monkey Island,  well, then that takes work. It takes vigilance. It takes an active, informed, educated, rational, reasonable, and diligent population willing to hold their elected representatives – and themselves – accountable.

For a government of the people, by the people, for the people, to function with any degree of efficiency and reliability, the people responsible for its operation must be educated and aware and informed, even if they don’t like what they hear.

A government of the people means that the people must agree they are all in it together, even if they agree on nothing else.  They must agree that they are all in it together, this is the fundamental premise upon which such a nation is based.

For good or bad, for a government of the people, by the people, and for the people to work as we expect, the people must understand that they are part of a greater whole, that they are better off together than they are apart. They must truly believe this and do what it takes to make it a reality even if it goes against their own, personal, interests in some ways.

If such a nation is to endure, the people must know the lessons of the past in detail and they must be able to see beyond the present into a future they themselves are creating together.

And that means the people must be able to compromise.

They must be willing to act for the good of all and not just in their own selfish interests.

However, that said, if there is to be freedom, if that government of the people is to protect the lofty supposedly inalienable ideals of the Declaration, those of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then it also means individual self-interest must be acknowledged and safeguarded to the maximum extent possible. Individual liberty is paramount, but for the government defined in our Constitution to work, we, all of us, must understand and acknowledge that our inalienable right to life, liberty, and happiness has limits and doesn’t come at the expense of another’s life, liberty, and happiness or our implicit responsibilities to civilization.

There’s a profound difference between liberty and anarchy, between self-interest and selfishness.

More than anything, a government of the people means that the people are responsible for their government, it’s implicit in the design.

But the problem, as I said, is the people.

Or more correctly, human nature.

We demand the inalienable rights of liberty, but we too often forget the very specific responsibilities of our freedom.

People are far too often cheerfully ignorant and/or deliberately stupid, they are egotistical and self-involved and xenophobic and easily led. They think the rules apply to others, but not themselves. They are too often limited in vision and concerned with the present instead of the future. They are perfectly willing to place their own selfish wants above any larger good, even if it leads to destruction, and they are commonly unable to compromise in any useful fashion unless there is instant gratification or a real threat of immediate and unpleasant consequences.

Because that’s just how we humans often are. Even the best of us.

We can wish it otherwise, but wishful thinking doesn’t actually change anything.

And there are more than three hundred million of us, we Americans. All with our own fears and illusions and and delusions and beliefs and uncompromising selfish interests and agendas. So, when we say, “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” which people exactly are we talking about? All of us? Some of us? Or just a selected few? Ask any three hundred million Americans that question and you’ll likely get three hundred million different answers. All right. All wrong.

We are a fractious people, we Americans.

We don’t agree that we are all in it together – or we do very rarely anyway, especially in recent years.

Far too many Americans fall far short in their duty as the people to be informed, educated, willing to compromise, to function as part of a greater whole, and to take responsibility for their own beliefs – let alone the actions of their own government.

Far too many Americans selfishly demand the rights explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution and blithely ignore the responsibilities that implicitly come with them.

It’s little wonder then, that our government has become a self-licking ice cream cone in business for itself. 

That is the natural inevitable result of ignoring human nature. This is provable and repeatable with unfailing accuracy and history is chock-a-block with examples big and small.

And so here we are.

Americans are angry with their government, or more angry than usual. 

That anger, that frustration is what gave birth to the Tea Party. That’s where the Occupy Movement came from.  That’s what fuels the gibbering paranoid mental illness of talk radio and the rabid snarling ideology of the sovereign citizen’s movement.That’s why government’s popularity, never particularly high among Americans in the first place, is at an all time low today. That’s why it’s suddenly fashionable in America to refer to oneself a “Libertarian” while brandishing assault weapons and calling openly for sedition and armed revolution (note that calling oneself a “Libertarian” [big L] and actually being a libertarian [small L] are two entirely different things. One is mindless raging spittle-flecked bluster driven by a self-serving dimwitted rabblerousing punditry, the other is a social and political philosophy that in broad strokes resembles a barn full of feral cats). 

Americans may have a legitimate point in their discontent, but too many of these angry unhappy people ignore how we got here.

Wishful thinking won’t fix what’s wrong with our government. We can wish that the people were informed, educated, sane, reasonable, willing to compromise and willing to put the good of the whole over their own selfish interests. We can wish that the people would dispassionately hold their government to account.

But they won’t. They never have and they never will.

And if we are to have liberty, then we cannot mandate that they do, because when government tries to make responsibility compulsory, no matter how good the initial intention, tyranny and absolutism follow shortly thereafter.

We Americans do government the same way we drive, hell bent for leather and every man for himself.

We can wish it wasn’t so, but pragmatically we have rules and laws, safeguards, that take foolish human nature into account when behind the wheel. Those rules keep us all moving in the same direction and force us to acknowledge the needs and interests of others on the road as part of a greater whole in order that we can each reach our own individual destinations without killing ourselves or others (usually). And that’s the key, right there. Those kinds of pragmatic safeguards.

Idealism created our government but it won’t fix it.

Instead, just like on the highway, to fix what’s wrong with government we need pragmatic acknowledgement of human nature.

Yes, yes, I see you there in the back. The guy with the Ben Franklin hat and the shoulder holster, turning red and apoplectic. Take a deep breath, relax. I’m not talking about any radical restructuring of America. I’m not talking about changing the Constitution or abolishing capitalism or taking your goddamned gun away or forcing everybody to stop shaving and live on a collective farm raising cabbages. 

Exactly the opposite in fact.

I’m talking about some simple changes that would return the American government to the basic ideals of its founding.

Starting with four things that would do more to return our nation to a government of the people than anything else:


End Closed Primaries

The increasing political polarization of America and the noxious consequences of that divide begin at the state primaries.

Specifically with closed primaries.

Closed primaries are a relatively recent invention and you can trace a marked increase in the hostility of American politics directly to this change. 

Like the road to hell, the move towards closed primaries began with the best of intentions. By the early 1970’s, state caucuses had become a mess, largely due to human nature – specifically that greedy selfish streak in any human organization from sports to politics that encourages people to game the system if they can even remotely get away with it in order to win at all costs. 

Closed primaries were intended as a positive reform in the Democratic Party nomination system, as a way to prevent politically driven strategic voting, or what is benignly referred to as “crossover voting.”  There’s nothing benign about it, it’s a way to game the system, bypass democratic choice, and bias the election process through electoral manipulation by having large numbers of voters file malicious ballots in the opposing party’s nomination process.  For example, in 1972 at Michigan’s Democratic primary, republicans showed up in large numbers and cast ballots in an attempt to make the Democrat presidential candidate Alabama’s detested governor, George Wallace.  The idea being, of course, that if they managed to nominate Wallace, then in the general election voters would be faced with a choice between the oily smooth Republican incumbent, Richard Nixon, and an openly racist and unelectable southern democrat. The tactic failed and George McGovern (amnesty, abortion, and acid) was the Democratic Party’s nominee that year (who then went on to clinch the election … for Nixon, and we all lived happily ever after).

In order to stave off this tactic during future elections, Democrats began moving towards closed primaries by excluding from the process anybody not specifically registered in their party. States changed their voting laws to mandate closed primaries, mostly driven by democrats but often closing republican primaries too.  By closing their primaries, states deliberately excluded independent voters from the candidate nomination process. Independents, as a general rule, tend to be ideological moderates who are actively opposed to party-centric politics. Again, generally speaking, Independents tend to vote for people, not parties.

As a result of this change, states effectively disenfranchised moderate voters and unintentionally begin actively selecting for extremism.

Closed primaries initiated an evolutionary change in American politics, a slow but certain shift towards radicalization and you can see the results clearly and unambiguously by graphing the hardening of ideology towards extremist positions over the last 40 years. 

Closed primaries as they currently exist are anathema to liberty and free choice.

Closed primaries, whatever their original intent, have nowadays produced a largely non-functional polarized government of political parties, by political parties, and for political parties.

In the general election this situation often leaves moderate voters, already disenfranchised in the primaries, with a choice that many of them regard as between the devil and the deep blue sea and they are forced to vote for political parties anyway or they might as well not vote at all.

Closed primaries de facto prevent any serious attempt at a viable third party.

So what do we do about it?

New Hampshire’s hybrid primary system allows registered independents, who often determine general election outcomes, to participate in either the Democratic or Republican primary and at the same time effectively protects political parties from crossover by others. If adopted by all states this model would return moderate independents to active participation in the candidate selection process and over time temper American politics away from its current extremist trend and back towards the middle. Candidates would have to actively court moderate independents in the primaries - instead of just paying lip service to them in the endgame of the general election as they do now. 

A change to hybrid, or semi-open, primaries, would stop penalizing moderate Americans for being centrists, those who find it distasteful having their allegiance permanently usurped by the petty tyranny of a political party, and it would allow voters to divest themselves of formal political affiliation without giving up full participation in our republic.

This model would encourage political parties to moderate their positions, to actively seek the middle, in order to attract and keep independent voters.

Note that I said change would be forced upon political parties, not individual citizens.  People have inalienable rights, political parties don’t.

This simple change will eventually give you, the citizen, a range of actual choices and make it much more difficult for any faceless party apparatchik to dictate your franchise. 

In the end, the New Hampshire primary model would very likely produce a selection of reasonable candidates acceptable to a majority of voters, whatever their party, instead of the current choice between someone you don’t much like and someone you actively hate (as was the case for many Republicans this last time around).

If enough voters become free agents it would effectively break the established political parties’ stranglehold on American politics.



Nothing is more ruinous of liberty than a “safe” political seat.

If there is currently any more noxious form of legalized disenfranchisement than a gerrymandered safe politician, I don’t know what it is. 

Gerrymandering for those of you not familiar with the term, is a method of nullifying the democratic process by redrawing voting districts specifically in order to provide a clear and significant advantage for one particular group, typically a political party and usually the one currently in control of that state’s government. There’s an entire malignant science to this, with its own jargon and tactics and specialists, people who make a living by actively working to disenfranchise their fellow citizens in the name of freedom and liberty and justice.

Gerrymandering, especially when combined with closed primaries, without fail results in the de facto abrogation of even the illusion of democracy and a blatant abuse of power at its very worst. 

For the folks who live in heavily manipulated districts, their choices aren’t all that different from the “democratic” republics of communist countries like North Korea.

Sure it’s a democracy … just so long as you vote for the one party in power and the candidate they select for you.

Gerrymandering has been a facet of American politics since the election of 1812, when Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry directed the redrawing of state senate election districts specifically and unabashedly in order to bias the outcome in favor of his own Democratic-Republican Party.  One of the resulting tortured Boston districts sort of resembled a salamander which caused the Boston Gazette, under the editorship of Founding Father Nathan Hale, to run an editorial cartoon in outraged response.

Naturally, the Gazette called the resulting image a Gerrymander.

And naturally, human nature being what it is, both the term and the practice caught on immediately in other states and has been with us ever since.

And once again, just like closed primaries, Gerrymandering results in a government of, by, and for political parties, not people.

It’s long past time that this loathsome practice, like every other type of disenfranchisement we’ve tried over the years, goes the way of Jim Crow and institutionalized denial of women’s suffrage. 

Author and scientist David Brin writing for Salon suggested disenfranchised voters in gerrymandered districts switch their political registration, democrats become republicans in republican controlled districts and republicans become democrats in democrat controlled districts, and then elect their own candidates in order to unseat those “safe” politicians in a sort of reverse version of crossover voting – but one designed to overcome deliberate bias in the process instead of introducing it. Read Brin’s essay, Brin is always worth your time.

While I agree with Brin’s basic proposal, it’s a stopgap and as he says the real solution is a complete non-partisan reform of the electoral districting process.

Folks, there should be no “safe” districts. Ever.

The political party in charge should never, ever, be given a free hand to redraw voting districts – again human nature being what it is, a political party will always, always, game the system to protect itself. Political parties exist to perpetuate themselves, their only goal is a government of themselves, by themselves, and specifically for themselves.

Safe districts are counter to everything this country is supposed to stand for.

Safe districts are tyranny of exactly the kind outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

Safe districts are unfair, undemocratic, and unAmerican.

No elected official, be they a senator or a member of the local school board, should ever be comfortable in their seat. Period.

No election should ever be a sure thing – otherwise it’s no more an election than those of the long defunct Soviet Union.

A politician should have to sweat every election, every time, no exceptions.


Campaign finance reform

We’re capitalists, we Americans.

There are individual exceptions of course, but overall as a people and as a nation money is what makes the star spangled wheels go ‘round.

Again, you can wish that is was otherwise, or not – or you can deal with reality as it exists.

And the reality is this: People are very often greedy selfish bastard flavored bastards with bastard filling and little bastard sprinkles on top – even if you’re not, somebody is. And in a society like ours, if you depend on the altruism of your fellow citizens, and unless you install some very very specific safeguards, those ruthless bastards are going to end up owning everything, including your government, and you’re going to end up paying them for the privilege of eating out of their garbage can.

Unless you are very careful, and very vigilant, in a society that places a monetary value on everything and where everything is for sale, any election can be bought.

It’s the old joke, The Golden Rule: he who has the gold, makes the rules.

It’s always been this way in the US, but lately it’s gotten much worse.

We put up with it in the past because every American, no matter how poor, figured that one day they would cash in on the American Dream and become a rich bastard flavored bastard in their own right.

And so we let it go on, we let the money pour into our politics until one day we looked up and realized that we were on the far side of decisions like Citizen’s United, outside the wall looking in, and that once again human nature being what it is our vote no longer mattered.

We pride ourselves on individualism, we Americans. We mouth the sacred words, government of the people, by the people, for the people … but in reality, in our political system as it stands right now, the individual is last and least. Money and ideology come first.

Understand something here, I’m not talking about getting rid of the free market, or capitalism, or even the greedy ruthless bastards. I detest communism, it’s a miserable ridiculous philosophy that doesn’t work for actual human beings. We’re capitalists, and that’s okay.  It’s okay to get rich in America. It’s okay to make money by the truckload if that’s how you pursue happiness. I wish you the best of luck.

But, as I said in the introduction, your right to life, liberty, and happiness doesn’t come at the expense of another’s life, liberty, and happiness. We’ve established this beyond any argument. We fought a civil war over it. We’ve gone to court a thousand times over and more on this, and we’re still fighting to beat it into the heads of those who just don’t get it:  In America, we’re all equal. Period. We didn’t start out that way, back in 1776, but that’s where we’re going. That’s the whole damned point in every battle we’ve fought, from slavery to suffrage to the right to marry whomever you goddamned well please.

That, right there, is the single fundamental principle that defines America: A rich white man’s vote counts no more and no less than a poor black woman’s.

Or it shouldn’t anyway.

But, of course, it does.

Because we lack certain specific safeguards, the votes backed by big money count far, far, far more than those of the average citizen.

And if there’s a worse form of democracy than a government of political parties, it’s government of, by, and for Wall Street. 

Campaign finance reform is far too complex a subject to cover as a section here. There is no one solution. There are many good ideas for revising how we finance elections and one size doesn’t have to fit all.  But at a minimum, safeguards on campaign financing should include:

* strictly regulated limits on and full disclosure of “hard money,” i.e. that money donated to and raised by the candidates themselves, including a candidate’s own personal money.

* speaking of personal money, there also needs to be strict limits on how much a person can spend of their own money on their own campaign. Yes, I’m seriously suggesting that candidates be limited on how much of their own money they can spend on getting themselves elected. Again, government of the people, by the people, for the people with the implicit assumption that we’re all equal in this democracy – there’s no electoral equality between say a millionaire businessman running for the local assembly and somebody from the middle income bracket. And yet, and yet, who do you think would better represent your interests (assuming you’re part of the average), the millionaire or Joe Middleclass? Sure, maybe it’s the millionaire, but how do you know if Joe Middleclass never gets a shot? Do you really think the election should be decided by personal wealth? Really?

* strict regulation of “soft money.” SCOTUS’s Citizens United decision likely did more damage to the basic principles of this country than all the gerrymandering and closed primaries in the last 40 years. The declaration that corporations are people is exactly the same as saying money is people, and the more money the more rights it has.  Citizens United and the resulting creation of SuperPACs and their massive influx of anonymous soft money into the electoral process makes a mockery of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  Again, again, and again, in accordance with the Constitution, the rights of any one “person” (be it human or corporate) may not trump the rights of another – and yet that’s exactly what SCOTUS’s decision does, it makes the rights of corporations and SuperPACs and billionaires orders of magnitude more important than any individual American. Corporations are not people, people are people. And money is not speech, nor does it have rights under the first amendment, but that’s exactly what Citizen’s United did, made money into a person and give its rights priority over yours.

* elimination of anonymous money. Period. There is absolutely no reason for any campaign money to be anonymous. And I mean any campaign money. We have safeguards protecting whistleblowers from retaliation, similar laws can protect those who may donate to unpopular candidates. Your ballot may be secret, and rightly so, but you money isn’t. You have the right to freedom of speech, not anonymous speech. Americans have a right, in fact a duty, to know who’s funding the politicians and buying the elections whether it be Karl Rove or the Pope. And quite frankly if you’re sending campaign money to the American Nazi Party, or the Tea Party for that matter (and no, I am not comparing the two so don’t go there), then you should have to own it, publicly – because we, all of us, have to live with the consequences.

Here’s the bottom line on campaign financing, a government of the people is answerable to the people, even if they fail to exercise their responsibilities in this matter, but a government of corporations and anonymous billionaire backed SuperPACs most certainly is not. Q.E.D.


Term limitations

I never believed in term limitations.

I firmly believed that a politician was term limited by the voters.

Democracy could throw out the bad politicians, but why shouldn’t voters also be able to keep the good ones? Right?

Over the years I’ve come to realize two things: 1) no politician is that good, and 2) in general, as a group, the people are self-centered idiots who are more than willing to screw over everybody else in the country just so long as they think they’ll come out ahead.

Take Democrat Strom Thurmond. The guy served 48 years in the Senate. Forty-eight years. That’s almost five decades. He was 100 years old by the time he left office. One hundred years old. One hundred. Look, that’s great. I hope I live that long, but for crying out loud, by the time Thurmond left office he was little more than a pickled head in a jar and there is no damned way he was competent to run the country. Worse, look back over those five decades and Thurmond was on the wrong side of history at almost every turn. And yet, South Carolinians just kept right on reelecting him – and hell if he actually did end up as a pickled head in a jar animated by clockwork and electricity, they’d still be reelecting him if they could.  It was a goof, a joke, bragging rights. Ha ha, we’ve got the oldest senator!  Har dee har har!  Our guy is senior! We win! We win! 

That’s the perversity of human nature, right there.

It’s the same here in Alaska with Representative Don Young. Hell, he didn’t even show up for one of the most important votes in recent history, instead he went on safari to Africa. Because he could. He’s safe. The whole damned state is his gerrymandered district. He’s been in office for more than 40 years, 40 years, think about that, really think about it.  He’s the most senior republican in the House, he cannot lose and there’s no point whatsoever in running against him.  Alaskans will just keep right on reelecting Don Young even if he ends up as a head in a jar full of onions and formaldehyde. The guy hasn’t had an honest job in 40 years, there’s absolutely nothing that he and I have in common other than we live in the same state (when he’s not down in D.C. or off shooting elephants in Kenya, I mean). As my representative, he represents none of my interests and we don’t even operate in the same decade let alone the same century – but until he dies, and maybe even after that, I have no hope whatsoever of getting anything different. He might as well be George The Third, hereditary King of England. My vote means nothing.  And yet, Alaskans here in Tea Party Central, more than any other American, will bitch endlessly about how nothing ever changes and they’ll moan and gnash their teeth on and on about Washington cronyism – and then they go to the polls and fill out the same little box on their ballots as they have for the last four decades. Because they’re idiots. Because we’ve got the oldest congressman! Our guy is senior! We Win! We Win!

And that too, is the perversity of human nature.

Look, Don Young’s not a terrible guy (for somebody who doesn’t understand why “wetback” might be offensive to certain ethnicities, I mean. See? The world has changed, he hasn’t). He’s done good things for Alaska, there’s no disputing that.  But nobody, my shiny electronic friends, nobody is 40 years good. Nobody, no politician, should be guaranteed a seat at the table for four damned decades. It’s long past time for this guy to go.

The founders intended government to be a duty, not a lifestyle.

When you’ve been in office 40 years, you’ve got a compelling inclination to protect the status quo and there’s no reason whatsoever for you to adapt to the future.  

It’s all part of a set piece, closed primaries, gerrymandered voting districts, bought and sold elections. It’s not about government of the people, by the people, for the people. When you’ve been around that long it’s about holding onto power and you start believing that you deserve to govern America.

Any politician who believes themselves safe will eventually come to think that power is their inalienable right – just as King George did.

No politician should be safe in their seat. No politician, no matter how good.

What limits am I talking about? Two terms in the House? Two in the Senate? Two in the White House? If it was up to me alone, I’d say that no politician be allowed to serve long enough to collect a pension, ten years total in any combination and out, find a real job and rollover your 401K same as the rest of us. Should service in state government count towards the total?  We’ll need to talk about it, as a nation. We need to examine it from all angles for unintended consequences.  And while we’re at it, maybe we should set an upper limit on the length of a Supreme Court Judge’s term, or not.

Term limits look easy, but they’re the hardest safeguard to impose, because it’ll take a Constitutional Amendment.

Edit: As has been pointed out in the comments, both the comments here and in the associated conversation on my Facebook page, there are very real problems with term limits – if those limits are applied without regard for the consequences.  A loss of institutional experience and a government of inexperienced lawmakers in thrall to lobbyists is one of those pitfalls. Which is why I said “We’ll need to talk about it, as a nation. We need to examine it from all angles for unintended consequences.” I most certainly agree with the commenters who pointed out that there’s little point in trading one form of disenfranchisement for another.  But I firmly believe that there have to be limits of some kind and that there’s a reasonable middle ground between a legislature of pickled heads and the tyranny of unelected lobbyists.

Mark Twain had it right when he said,

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often … and for the same reason.”


The politicians backed by big money and political parties will fight the idea of term limits – along with limits on election financing, redistricting, and primary reform. They’ll resist any limits on their power, that’s how power is. 

They’ll fight it every step of the way, and why shouldn’t they?

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is the very last thing they want.

But, it’s a fight the American people can win, they can take back their government, if they put their minds to it.

We’re all in this together, and it’s about time we remembered that.



Part 2 of this essay will examine some additional, more minor tweaks to government that would put us back on the road to the government our founders envisioned.  Stay tuned.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran’s Day 2013

I’m not a particularly reflective kind of guy.

I don’t spend a hell of a lot of time dwelling on the past.

For me, as someone who spent most of my adult life in the uniform of my country, every day is a day to remember those I served with.

Every day is a day to remember those who trained me and led me, to remember those I served alongside of, to remember those I trained and led myself. 

Those men and women – the good and the bad, the faithful and the faithless, the leaders and the followers, the admirable and the shitheads, those who came before me and those who came after, those that still live and serve and fight, those who like me who have hung up their swords, and those who have given the last full measure – I remember them, each and every single one, each and every single day. 

They are always with me, because they are the people who made me what I am.

If you’re an American, you owe your freedom to those who risked all in your name.

You don’t need to kiss our asses, you’re not required to shed tears, you don’t need to hunt down a veteran and prostrate yourself.

Veterans Day is not a wake. It’s simply a day to remember.

In our country, in a free society, the soldier is no more revered than any other citizen.

We respect the warrior, but we do not worship him.

And that’s how it should be for there is no glory in war. It is a horrible, brutal business and make no mistake about it. We can wish it otherwise. We can rail against the utter stupidity and the phenomenal waste and the bloody obscenity of it all. We can declare and decry war’s terrible necessity and its terrible cost. Be that as it may, given human nature, for now war must often be done and our nation, our world, needs those who would fight. But it is a duty, a profession, a job that must be done, not some glorious spectacle.  

Perhaps in some distant future we will have put it behind us, perhaps we will have made war and the warrior long obsolete.  We can certainly hope that it shall be so. We can, and should, strive to make it so. Perhaps some day we will set aside a day to honor the peacemakers and study war no more. Perhaps.

But I wouldn’t count on it.

Until then, on this day, do take a moment to remember the warriors. 

We set aside today in order to acknowledge those who did their duty to the best of their ability. Raise a glass and honor those who served their country in peace and in conflict, those who came when called – both those who came against their will and those who came of their own volition – all of those who came to stand between home and war’s desolation.

This is their day.

Honor them and then, and then, go on about your lives.


Be free, revel in it – because that, ultimately, is why they do what they do.


To all of my brothers and sisters in arms, those of you who wore the uniform, those of you who have stood the watch, those of you who walked point into the unknown, and those of you who are even now out there in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, my message to you remains ever the same:

Respect is earned, each and every day, by every word, by every action. Respect cannot be bought. Respect cannot be bargained for. Respect can be lost with a single thoughtless deed, with a single careless gesture, by a single failure to act.

Men and women will lay down their lives at your command, but they won’t do it for freedom or democracy or other such ideals, they won’t do it because you’re bigger or tougher or because you’re the meanest son of bitch who ever lived or because you’re smarter or better educated or because they love you or even because they hate and fear you.

They will only do it because they respect you.

Respect is why Americans remember you today – or not.

Respect is the only authority you have, guard it well.

Be proud of who you are and the uniform you wear.

You are more than a simple Soldier, a Sailor, a Marine, an Airman, or a Guardsman, you are the very symbol of this nation and its people – for good or for bad.

You are the first bulwark against the night. 

When you put on that uniform, you are the United States of America, you represent us all. Never forget that, not for one single moment.

Hold your head high, hold your honor dear, be always true to your oath. 

Stand steadfast by your duty even when there is no one to see.

Follow those who lead and lead those who will follow.

Leave no one behind.

Remember the fallen. Always.

Thank you for your service on this day and every other. Here’s to you, you magnificent bastards, one and all, here’s to us and all that we shared.

//Chief Warrant Officer Jim Wright, United States Navy (Retired).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bang Bang Crazy, Part 8

Will Munny: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming…
Will Munny: We all got it coming, Kid.
     - Unforgiven, 1992


Update at the end of the post.


So, a guy walks into a crowd and starts killing people…

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.


Oh, you have. Well, yeah, I guess it’s been done to death by now, hasn’t it?

Honestly, you have to wonder if nowadays the news media just keeps a generic boilerplate for American gun violence:

<Insert Location>, <insert time/day>, a young <white/black/Latino/Asian/other ethnic minority> <man/woman (it could happen)> wearing <all black/tactical gear/fatigues/body armor> stormed into <his former place of work/his ex-wife’s place of work/a mall/a school/a movie theater/other crowded public venue> and started shooting people with <(liberal audience) a fully automatic assault rifle/(conservative audience)semi-automatic AR-15 Chinese-made clone>.  Witnesses say that the <(liberal audience)gunman/(conservative audience) terrorist> was shouting <”Obama is the Anti-Christ!”/”Allah Akbar!”>  as he methodically moved from room to room shooting <(circle all that apply): co-workers/family members/ethnic minorities/gay people/former bosses/children/teachers/government employees>.  <Police/Forensic Experts/Random people on the street> say that the gunman had enough ammunition and high capacity <(if reporter actually knows anything about guns)magazines/(knows nothing)clips> to <kill dozens/render New York a lifeless wasteland>.  After killing <insert number> and wounding <insert number>, the gunman <was shot dead by police/turned his weapon upon himself/taken down by a heroic good guy with with a concealed carry permit/captured alive but is now in a coma from his injuries>.  A <(liberal audience)rambling letter/(conservative audience)manifesto> found on the gunman’s body declared his hatred for <the mind destroying evil of Monsanto and Big Oil/the gay agenda FEMA death camps of the New World Order>. Friends and family say he was <a nice quiet guy with mental problems/a murderous raving lunatic with mental problems).  <Roger Powderburn from the National Man-Gun Love Association/Sally Tofuburger from Mad American Mothers Against Mass Murdering Machine-Guns!> called for <mowr guns!/mowr gun control!>.  Powerburn was quoted as calling the women of MAMAMMMG gun grabbing <Nazis>. Tofuburger called the men of NNGLA child murdering <Nazis>.  <Talk radio pundit> immediately declared the shooting to be <a staged event/false flag operation> by <”crisis actors”/the nefarious machinations of cats/Illuminati/FEMA/Barack Obama/Dick Cheney/Nazis/All of the above). In response to the increasing gun violence, the US House of Representatives voted for the <42nd/49th/101st/etc> time to repeal Obamacare.

Ten (fifteen? twenty? I dunno, I lose track) mass shootings back, I wrote The Seven Stages of Gun Violence.

In that essay I said:

Mass killings are still big news. I have no idea how much longer this will be so, Americans quickly grow bored with sequels. Unless the next act of mass murder is done by a guy in a Bruce Willis costume shooting a chain-gun from the back of a crashing stealth fighter in the middle of Times Square, I suspect that eventually we’ll just stop watching.

I don’t know that we’re entirely bored with gun violence just yet, but we Americans are certainly suffering from gun violence ennui.

In Los Angeles, last Friday, a young white male wearing fatigues stormed into Terminal 3 of LAX Airport and started killing people with a semi-automatic civilian version of the AR-15 assault rifle. Witnesses say the the gunman asked people “Hey! Are you TSA?” as he methodically moved through the crowd shooting at security agents. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the gunman had enough ammunition to “have  literally killed everyone in that terminal.”  After shooting a TSA agent dead and wounding two other security personnel, the gunman was himself shot multiple times by police and taken into custody. The gunman is currently in the intensive care unit of a local LA hospital and unable to talk to police due to his extensive injuries.  A rambling manifesto found on the gunman declared his suspicion of the government in general and the TSA in particular and mentioned fears of a New World Order. Friends and family say that he’d always been a nice guy but they’d grown worried in recent weeks over his sudden raving lunacy and they were concerned that he might be suffering from mental problems.  Gun advocates led by the National Rifle Association blamed restrictive gun laws and called for the arming of TSA agents.  Gun control advocates called for stronger measures to restrict widespread access to assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Alex Jones speculated that this latest shooting is part of a false flag operation by the United Nations to take away American sovereignty in preparation for the New World Order in advance of an invasion by alien reptiles from Zeta Reticuli. A spokesman for the US House of Representatives condemned the attack and spoke at length about congress’ ongoing inquiry into the manifold failures during the rollout of President Obama’s signature Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act…

By Sunday, headlines for the shooting had dropped below the front page fold.

By Monday, news of the shooting had fallen off the front page entirely – despite the fact that there was yet another incident of gun violence that evening at a mall in Paramus, New Jersey. 

By Tuesday, the LAX Airport shooting didn’t appear on any of the major news media feeds – a direct measure of public interest, or lack thereof (though late Tuesday afternoon, the media did mention the memorial service for slain TSA agent, Gerardo Hernandez). And there was yet another mass shooting at a barbershop in Detroit and another one in Mississippi.



By today, Wednesday, the big new feeds are full of speculation about Twitter’s IPO and Chris Christie’s landslide victory in New Jersey and the shooting has become mostly forgotten history.

Even the usual conspiracy mongers are mostly quiet, though the paranoia-porn fetish site Infowars posted an article about the unfair persecution of those folks who trade freely in unhinged gibbering psychosis – charmingly, it only took two comments under the article for the Hussein Obama Hatin’ New World Order conspiracy nuts to point out that the LAX shooter’s name, Ciancia, contains the three letter abbreviation for the Central Intelligence Agency. Not once, but twice.

lol ...

the Progressive steaming pile-- do they think nobody would ever notice or have the guts to point out his name?? or are they just that arrogant?? --

if the shooter is connected to the Government they die right then and there ---while the patsy icon shooters always survive so the media can refer to their status instead of discussing real news

meanwhile a kid carrying a toy gun is riddled with bullets -- or a man with a knife in his own front yard is executed--

Paul Ciancia.


Get it?

Because apparently Obama’s One World Illuminati Bilderberg Space-Reptile Magic-Negro Government secretly rules the world from their hidden lair beneath the Denver Airport while constructing clandestine FEMA Death Camps and monkeying with our healthcare, but just somehow isn’t creative enough to name their suicide agents “Smith” or “Johnson” or even “Mohammed.”

No, apparently the only name Obama could come up with for his CIA false flag agent provocateur was, uh, “CIA ‘n CIA.” 

You want to actually feel your brain cells dying? Go read the rest of the 500+ comments under the article on Infowars, the above commenter is one of the saner ones – maybe he’s getting free meds through Obamacare. 

Question: If the law mandates that we put warning labels on cigarettes, booze, and HipHop albums, why isn’t conservative talk radio required to be labeled in a similar fashion? 

No seriously. 

Before the blood was even dry at Sandy Hook, NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre blamed the violence on video games and Hollywood,

"There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows violence against its own people."

LaPierre went on to call out specific Xbox and PlayStation games such as Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat.

So why isn’t LaPierre this morning condemning  conservative talk radio (and his own NRA for that matter) for their unending hysteria fueled conspiracy theories, their repeated strident calls for “Second Amendment Solutions,” and their constant urging of armed uprising against the democratically elected government of the United States?  After all, wasn’t the LAX shooter carrying their literature and ideas?

Wayne? Hello? Anything?

No, I thought not.

For the most part, other than among the Alien Reptile Armada waiting behind the moon for Obama’s signal, interest in the LAX shooting dropped off within a day or so.

Now, obviously I can’t prove that this is the far end of the curve I predicted when I penned The Seven Stages Of Gun Violence. We’ll need a couple more public shootings to be sure.  Maybe one more elementary school, one more congresswoman shot in the head, one more movie theater, a couple more mass shootings on military bases, to be sure I mean.

So, at the current rate of gun violence and public shootings, figure what? A month, month and a half?

Cynical? Who me?

I could be wrong of course.

In fact, I probably am.

Likely the rapid decline in interest pertains just to this particular incident.

After all, the gunman was targeting a government organization despised by both the Left and the Right.

Sure, the gunman opened fire in a crowded airport, but he only targeted the people that we all hate, right?

And besides, it’s not like the they didn’t have it coming, right?

The only government agency more hated than the Transportation Security Administration is the Internal Revenue Service – and even that’s open to debate.

Since the first day of operation, November 19th, 2001, the TSA has been routinely compared to the Nazis.

Glenn Beck has directly stated that he believes that the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration are the shock troops of some secret army answerable only to Barack Obama.  A large number of his followers apparently regard this idea as a given. Wading through the various theories on how exactly Obama plans to have this unarmed “army” take over America when they can’t even defend themselves from a single gunman is an exercise in raving unhinged spittle-flecked insanity – i.e. just another day in the comments section of The Blaze and at Infowars.

Anne Coulter declared airport screenings “Hitler’s last revenge” – because apparently der Fuehrer was deeply concerned that terrorists might hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings in America 70 years after his own death. 

Beck, Coulter, Limbaugh, Jones, Savage, and conservative talk radio et al wield the Nazi label with wild abandon, conveniently forgetting that they themselves loudly demanded airtight security with regards to public transportation after the horrific events of September 11th, 2001 and in response to every single airline security issue since – from the Shoe-bomber to the Underwear Bomber to imagined boogymen like exploding Islamic breast implants and Improvised Explosive Sikh Turbans.

Back in 2010, a Libertarian Party candidate for New Jersey governor, one Murray Sabrin, penned a piece for the Economic Policy Journal titled “We Are All German Jews Now."  Because, obviously, the next step is for Obama and the TSA to start herding airport passengers into cattle cars on the way to Texas gas chambers. And if you think think that kind of hysterical libertarian fear mongering is past us, get a load of Rachel Burger, writer for the Feminist Libertarian site, Thoughts On Liberty

Burger writes of Gerardo Hernandez, the slain TSA agent:

[…] Hernandez died in a terrible reminder of how horrible people can be, but that does not mean he was guiltless.

Burger goes on to say that the LAX shooter, Ciancia, didn’t have a beef with the travelling public or innocent civilians, only agents of the hated TSA. Which in Burger’s mind means that Hernandez was a legitimate target and that he got what was coming to him:

Paul Ciancia was a sick and violent murderer, and Gerardo I. Hernandez, the slain TSA agent, was an actor on behalf of the American government that is denying rights to its people.

Least you think I’m reading too much into that, Burger specifically restates and clarifies her reasoning in the comments under the article. She specifically says Hernandez had it coming:

Saying Hernandez was not guiltless and that he had it coming/deserved to get shot are two very different ideas, and I only subscribe to the former.

(Edit: I’ve been accused of misrepresenting Ms. Burger’s position. Addendum at the end of the post, see below)

Burger justifies this ridiculous and despicable worldview by dredging up the Nazis,

As a Jew, I am consistently reminded of the Nuremberg Trials. Those who slaughtered the Jews in the Holocaust were “just following orders,” but that did not mean that they were any less accountable. Just following orders, just doing the job that they signed up for, did not excuse their actions. Of course, the Nuremberg Trials specifically addressed war crimes, but I think that the idea of just following orders extends beyond that. Being an ethical person requires critical thinking about everyday actions, whether commanded or not.

Hernandez signed up to the TSA, an organization devoted to “protect” travelers from terrorists. He could have had very good reasons to do so: he could have believed in the mission and needed to support his family (and on not very much, I might add). He was not a decision maker—he was an everyday guy doing his job. Hernandez, when infringing on Fourth Amendment rights, was “only following orders.” He might have been a good guy at home, but he was not entirely innocent in this situation. Doing without introspection does not absolve evil deeds.

Too bad, as a Jew and all, Burger doesn’t have a better grasp of the fact that those on trial at Nuremberg were there not only because they “were just following orders” but also because they were the type of people who justified murder and violence by stereotyping groups of people they hated and with the logic of “Jawol, it vas a terrible thing, but … vell, you know, ze Juden had it coming.”

Burger tosses in a caveat, a quick get-out-of-jail-free card, by saying that she doesn’t condone what Ciancia did.  Violence, Burger says, is never the answer, however…

And there’s always that however, isn’t there?

[…]Infringing on life and liberty can come at a high cost, and that includes death. Ciancia did not object to the TSA in the right way, but he did have every right to feel disdain for their agency […]

How, exactly, the TSA in general and Hernandez specifically, were “infringing on Ciancia’s life and liberty Burger leaves as an exercise for the reader. Last I checked, TSA agents were confined to screening airline passengers in airports, not dragging ethnic minorities from their homes in the middle of the night and shipping them off to death camps. 

Maybe it’s just me.

She concludes with this bit of dazzling logic:

The answer is not stricter gun laws or mental health screenings, the answer is a smaller state.

The answer, my shiny electronic friends, is not laws that keep weapons out of the hands of crazy people, it’s less government

The logic apparently being that if there wasn’t any TSA, there wouldn’t be any TSA to hate and kill.

Sort of like, if there aren’t any Jews … well, you can do the rest of the math for yourself, remember to divide by Hitler and factor the result by the square of a logical fallacy times the Second Amendment.

Burger’s bio says, “When Chuck Norris needs advice, he comes to Rachel Burger.” 

That might indeed explain Norris’ behavior during the last election, but I digress.

The comments under Burger’s article are informative. Many, including Burger’s own friends, vehemently disagree with her premise. 

But many others piled on:

[…] Agencies like the TSA (or law enforcement, or the "private" corrections industry, etc.) are increasingly becoming employment holding facilities for otherwise-unemployable Americans who are largely unable or unwilling to reflect on the ethical ramifications of their nine-to-five.

It never occurs to any of these commenters, or Burger herself, or the talk radio pundits, that ethics aren’t an absolute.  That, in point of fact, the only people who attempt to codify ethics into rigid black and white terms, into my way or the highway, into you’re either with us or against us, are folks like, well, Hitler.  It never occurs to any of these libertarian patriots that liberty, freedom, means that other people are going to choose differently than you. If you require men like Gerardo Hernandez to work only at jobs that meet your definition of ethical or risk a well deserved death then I’m not sure exactly which political system you’re referring to but it’s for damned sure not liberty.  And where, exactly does this end? Where does the twisted reasoning of “they have it coming” end? What other undesirables have it coming? Oh, yes, Ms. Burger, do let us go down that road, let’s follow it all the way to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen – as long as you’re speaking as a Jew and all.

It never occurs to any of these commenters, or Burger herself, or the talk radio pundits, or those that so utterly hate and despise men like Gerardo Hernandez, they they are engaged in the exact same stereotyping and bigotry they claim to hate, the exact same form of stereotyping and bigotry that leads directly to the very purges people like Burger claim to fear.  When you justify “they have it coming” with reasoning such as “otherwise-unemployable Americans who are largely unable or unwilling to reflect on the ethical ramifications” without any shred of supporting proof for your position, then that’s exactly what you’re doing. They seem utterly incapable of seeing their own staggering hypocrisy and they write off men like Hernandez and his fellow agents along with law enforcement, the military, and other selected government workers, as dim witted Morlocks incapable of getting either a “real” job or of examining their own lives in the kind of ethical detail Burger reserves for herself.  So, of course, those people just have it coming. Of course they do.

It never occurs to any of these commenters, or Burger herself, or the talk radio pundits, or those that so utterly hate and despise men like Gerardo Hernandez, that perhaps those members of the military, of the Transportation Security Administration, of Homeland Security, of law enforcement, have examined the ethical ramifications of their chosen profession. In detail. That they wrestle with the ethics of their profession every single day as they set about doing their best to prevent another 9-11, another Pearl Harbor, another mass shooting, another dead American.  Perhaps they see it as unethical to allow another airplane to be turned into a weapon of mass murder, to allow another innocent to die at the hands of insanity. Perhaps they see themselves as standing between their homes and war’s desolation. Perhaps they see it as their duty to protect their friends, their families, their country, and the very people who hate and openly despise them and who compare them to Nazis each and every day.

So, a guy walks into a crowd and starts killing people…

I don’t know what the answers are, but I do know this: blaming the victims is exactly, exactly, what the Nazis themselves did.

And there’s absolutely nothing funny about that punch line.

At all.



Update 1:

Readers, both in the comments and in some truly obnoxious email, have accused me of misrepresenting Rachel Burger’s ideas.

Allow me to clarify:

Burger makes it clear in the context of the overall article, including its title, that she does very clearly believe that as a member of the hated TSA Hernandez did indeed have it coming.

Now, it’s true that she did not say that he “had it coming.” 

In fact she denies that’s what she said or meant – this being the point of contention.

She’s just plain full of it.

And so are her apologists.

They’re just playing at semantics. 

Allow me an illustration, one applicable to a self-declared feminist-libertarian like Burger:

This woman, she’s a decent person at home, at work.  But she’s attractive and she dresses in a manner that shows it off.  She likes to go clubbing on the weekends. She likes to dance provocatively, but she goes home by herself.  Men say she’s nothing but a cock tease. One night she has a bit too much to drink, she staggers out to the dark parking lot alone … and is attacked and violently raped.  The rapist is sick and violent, we can all agree to that, right?  But, see, the woman, she’s not guiltless in this matter.  If she hadn’t gone out wearing a short skirt and low cut blouse, if she wasn’t attractive, if she wasn’t a tease, if she hadn’t been drinking, if she hadn’t walked out to her car alone, if she’d had a male as a protector like any decent moral woman – if she hadn’t been engaged in evil deeds – well, she wouldn’t have gotten violated.  The woman certainly didn’t deserve to get raped, but, she was sort of asking for it, wasn’t she? If she hadn’t made the choices she did, she wouldn’t have gotten raped, would she?

How about it?

Are you going to let me off the hook on that bullshit? Are you really?

Wait, I didn’t tell you what she did. I said she was a decent person at home and at work, but what if she was a lawyer? One that specialized in defending the mob or former Concentration Camp SS guards or maybe child rapists? What if she was an exotic dancer and she spent all week half-naked wrapped around a pole for money? How about if she’s a doctor? One that works for the Virginia Attorney General? One that believes and publically states that any woman who wants an abortion should be subjected to a forced inter-vaginal ultrasound as a condition for the procedure? Would that change your mind? Would you think she maybe had rape coming then?

Would you let me off the hook if I made her into an employee of some hated profession?

Would you really let me off the hook if I tried to say, well, hey, you know, I’m not saying she deserved it, but you can kind of understand how she might have had it coming and all…

Do you think that a self-declared feminist libertarian would let me off the hook on that bullshit?

If I protest that, hey! Whoa! Hang on, let me repeat I didn’t say she deserved it. I’m just saying that if you’re a member of a sick society, if you behave in a certain manner, if you work for certain people, there’s going to be consequences. If I say that, if I use that to defend my position, are you really going to argue that I’m not blaming the victim? Are you really going to argue that I didn’t in fact specifically imply that she had it coming – whether or not I used those exact words? Really?

Because that’s exactly, exactly, what Burger is saying regarding the death of Gerardo Hernandez. 

Her essay makes absolutely no sense otherwise.

It’s the core message of Burger’s entire article: Hernandez made himself a target because he chose to work for the TSA.

The TSA is the new Gestapo. The TSA are just like the Nazis – and Burger as a Jew knows what she’s talking about when it comes to Nazis, doesn’t she? She makes that quite clear when she attempts to argue from a position of authority, i.e. by specifying her particular religion and how it gives her perspective on the Nuremberg war crimes trials at the end of WWII. The people who work for TSA are incapable of understanding the ethics of their actions.  Therefore, if you work for the TSA you’re guilty of being a Nazi by association – this is the specific unambiguous conclusion of Burger’s very first statement:

Hernandez died in a terrible reminder of how horrible people can be, but that does not mean he was guiltless.

Burger specifically says that even if you’re “just following orders” you’re no less accountable.

He might have been a good guy at home, but he was not entirely innocent in this situation. Doing without introspection does not absolve evil deeds

Evil deeds. Accountable. No less guilty.

Ciancia only targeted the TSA. Because the TSA is engaged in evil. Hernandez wouldn’t have gotten killed if he didn’t work for TSA.

He might not have deserved it per se, but by default he sure had it coming.

Whether Burger and her supporters want to admit it or not, that, right there, is the message of her essay. 

Murder, rape, they just go to show you how horrible people can be, but that doesn’t mean the victims are guiltless. Right?

Hernandez had it coming. 

Just like the woman who got raped had it coming.

Burger’s apologists want me to let her off on the former statement, but would (I hope) never let me off on the second.

Burger can deny her meaning all she likes, but she’s just arguing semantics.

Update 2:

In her most recent comments, Burger says, “In fact, the word "Nazi" does not appear once in my post…”

Talk about complete and utter disingenuous bullshit.

As a Jew, I am consistently reminded of the Nuremberg Trials. Those who slaughtered the Jews in the Holocaust were “just following orders,” but that did not mean that they were any less accountable

If Burger is not talking about Nazis, as a Jew who exactly is she talking about?

As a writer, Burger fails at both logic and integrity so utterly that it boggles the mind.



Addendum 1:  Every time I write one of these, I hope it's the last. But it never is, there's always another massacre. Always.
The Seven Stages of Gun Violence
The Bang Bang Crazy Series:
Part 1, What we need, see, are more guns, big fucking guns
Part 2, Gun violence isn't the exception in America, it's who we are
Part 3, Sandy Hook, the NRA, and a gun in every school
Part 4, More dead kids and why we have laws
Part 5, Gun control and a polite society
Part 6, The Christopher Donner rampage, they needed killin'
Part 7, Still more dead kids and let's print our own guns!
Part 8, Let's try blaming the victim, shall we?
Part 9, Armed soldiers on post, sure, nothing to go wrong there.
Part 10, Big Damned Heroes!
Part 11, Two in the Bush
What do we do about it? How do we change our culture of gun violence? Bang Bang Sanity

Addendum 2: As noted elsewhere, I’ve  been around guns my entire life. My dad taught me to shoot when I was a kid – in fact the very first gun I ever fired was my dad’s prized black powder .75 caliber smooth bore Civil War trench piece when I was about four years old. I still own my very first gun, bought from Meyer’s Thrifty Acres in Jenison, Michigan, for me by my dad when I was fourteen years old – a lever action Winchester 30-30. I got my first deer with that gun.  I grew up shooting, at home, in the Boy Scouts, hunting, target shooting, plinking, with friends and with family.  Thirty years ago I joined the military and spent my entire life there. I know more than a little about guns. I’m a graduate of the Smith & Wesson Rangemaster Academy, the nation’s premier firearms instructor school. I’m a certified armorer and gunsmith. I’ve attended pretty much every boarding officer and gun school the military has. I hold both the Expert Pistol and Expert Rifle Medals. I’ve taught small arms and combat arms to both military and civilians for nearly thirty years now. I’ve fired damned near everything the US military owns, from the old .38 revolver to a US Navy Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser’s 5” main battery – and everything in between. I can still field strip a Colt .45 M-1911 pistol and put it back together in under a minute, blindfolded – I happen to own several of them, along with numerous other semi-auto pistols and a number of revolvers. I used to shoot professionally and in competition. I helped to design, test, field, and fire in combat US Military weapons systems. I’ve spent my entire life in places where gun usage is extremely, extremely, common. I have a Concealed Carry Permit. I’m an Alaskan and I typically carry a gun in the wilds of Alaska on a regular basis. I am neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, a gun is a tool, nothing more. If you feel that I’m ignorant of guns, or that I’m anti-gun, or unAmerican, well, you’re welcome to speak your piece – just so long as you can live with what comes after.