Monday, February 29, 2016

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part II

This is not Bernie Sanders’ America.

This is not an America where the optimistic hippy idealism of the 1960’s came to pass.

It would be great if it was though, wouldn’t it?

No, really, think about it.

Conservative or liberal, Republican, Democrat, greying hippy, old brush-cut veteran, wouldn’t you all rather live in an America that spends as much on college educations for every single one of its young people as it currently does sending those same kids off to war?


Well then, how about an America that puts as much effort, real actual effort, into taking care of old veterans as it does making new ones? Isn’t that something we can all agree would be the kind of America we’d all want to live in?

Imagine an America where the budget for the National Science Foundation is larger than for the Department of Defense. Too much? Okay, but imagine it anyway. What wonders would a nation like that create? You can’t imagine it, can you?

Imagine an America that invested as much sustained manpower, resources, research, initiative, and funding into developing new sources of sustainable clean energy as it has into the F-35 Lightning II. Imagine an America that invested as much in new infrastructure or its space program as it does in new Zumwalt class destroyers and nuclear powered Virginia class attack subs.

Imagine an America that is as passionate about fixing poverty, inequality, homelessness, pollution, hunger, disease as it is about tax breaks for Wall Street billionaires and turning our borders into demilitarized zones.

But this isn’t that world, is it?

No, this isn’t Bernie Sanders’ America.

This is an America where a significant fraction of Americans are far more afraid their kids won’t be able to get an assault rifle than they are their kids won’t be able to get a decent education.

This is an America where more Americans are daily terrified by a handful of raggedy-assed ISIS fighters in a foreign land than they are of a growing legion of heavily armed militant religious fanatics in their own midst whose openly stated purpose is armed overthrow of civilization and the bloody murder of those Americans they deem not American enough. And when foreign terrorists actually do attack America, as two did in San Bernardino, California, this is an America far more concerned that those terrorists had access to an iPhone than they are those same murdering lunatics had no problem getting guns - yes, this is actually an America that would impose immediate and draconian laws literally requiring a manufacturer to create a new technology in order to regulate cell phone encryption, but not to control the goddamned guns used to murder 14 Americans and seriously injure 22 more.

The America we live in is far more afraid that some vaguely defined shadowy terrorist is going to kill their kids than it is their kids don’t have healthcare or enough to eat or a decent paying job with a wage they can live on that won’t be outsourced to India.

This is an America far more offended by the idea immigrants might get a piece of the American Dream, might get a taste of freedom and liberty, might become part of our society, than they are by the idea anybody should be left out.

This is an America where the dominant religion is far more concerned with the unborn than with millions of actual living breathing children. This is an America where the dominant religion is far more concerned with forcing the unborn into a world that doesn’t want them than in making this a nation that would freely welcome those children and offer them opportunity and support. This is an America where the majority religion daily proclaims itself the only rightful heir to America, who loudly claims America for its miserable god, who imposes a de facto religious test on nearly every aspect of American life in spite of the Constitution, who daily defines itself by who it hates instead of who it loves in spite of its own prophet, and then has the unmitigated gall to paint itself as oppressed and downtrodden and endlessly persecuted. And more than anything, this is an America where the dominant religion is utterly obsessed with the end of the world and far more fascinated with some fantastical exclusive members-only paradise in some supposed afterlife than it is in making the world we live in right now a better place for all of us.

This is an America that once gloried in its science and engineering and daring. This is an America that once created new fields of study, new areas of endeavor, and new technologies whole cloth. This is a nation that once flew to the moon and looked outward toward the stars and saw the mysteries of the universe as fascinating puzzles to be solved and the problems of the world as challenges to be faced with grit and determination. Now? Now this is an America which looks in upon its own bellybutton in self-imposed woe and depressed misery and that regards its own science as a lie and a scam. Creationists don’t build starships and so neither do we. This is an America which quails in superstitious dread beneath that same starry vault and looks out at the world in fear and terror while Russian and Chinese rockets soar into a future that was once promised to our children.

This is an America that once upon a time stood before the Brandenburg Gate in the midst of divided Berlin and demanded in righteous fury, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Today that gate is open. That wall has fallen. Germany is united and free, the Soviet Union is gone to dust ... and somehow America has become a nation that would wall itself in behind minefields and barbed wire and live like prisoners in an armed camp.

No, this is not Bernie Sanders’ America.


It’s Donald Trump’s.


This is a nation tailor made for Donald Trump.

It wasn’t always so. When Trump first appeared on the political scene, he was a joke.

It might have been more Ronald Reagan’s America than Bernie Sanders’ back then, but it sure wasn’t Donald Trump’s either.

Congress still worked, the economy was strong, the national budget was running a surplus, and after wasting more than $20 million of the taxpayers’ money the worst thing his enemies could pin on the president was that he’d gotten himself some oral gratification in the Oval Office from a comely and enthusiastic intern, we should all be so lucky.

The Twin Towers still stood, the Pentagon was still whole, and 911 would be nearly two years in the future.

War, let alone two wars, 3000 dead on September 11, 2001, and 5000 more in Iraq and Afghanistan wasn’t something America imagined for itself then.

Waterboarding, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, secret CIA camps,  warrantless wiretaps, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, the Patriot Act, those horrors were still the kind of things we Americans condemned in other nations.

In 2000 Trump was Ross Perot’s Reform Party nominee, and everything about his campaign was a ridiculous caricature of America.

The Reform Party was easy patriotism and applause lines for dimwitted droolers splintered off from the Republican Party, their platform was shallow populism based on dislike of “the establishment” and “business as usual.” And there was Trump, the perfect Third Party figurehead, red faced and overfed, all bombast and bluster, more money than brains – the Anti-Nader. Perot supplied the Texas drawl and the ten gallon hat and the political cartoons essentially drew themselves and we all had a great laugh.

But the warning signs were already there.

Congress worked right enough, but only because Newt Gingrich’s coup d’etat and political ambitions went down in bitter flames after he arrogantly shot his mouth off in front of the press. Reagan’s compassionate conservatism (never all that compassionate in the first place) was being replaced by Conservative Evangelicalism and the Republican’s Big Tent was becoming the Revival Tent. George W. Bush had all of his father’s worst qualities and none of the good, but he might have been a reasonably mediocre president – America survived far worse than Dubya – if not for 911.

And that’s when it all went sideways.

That’s when it truly became Donald Trump’s America.

That’s when we sold our souls, when we as a nation gave into hate and fear and rage, when we traded our freedoms for the illusion of security, and when we gave away our children’s future for a tax rebate and endless unending war.

Since Donald Trump first ran for President 16 years ago, we’ve been daily assaulted by unchallenged extreme talk radio conspiracy theories. Glenn Beck and  Michael Savage and Alex Jones and Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, they fill the air with bilge and bile and insanity  and  news organizations have buried Edward R. Murrow in a shallow unmarked grave and gleefully given up their sacred duty to the Republic

What? What’s that? Oh, you thought Freedom of the Press was specifically enumerated in the Constitution because pictures of your favorite movie star’s ass were somehow critical to liberty?

Birthers and truthers are now acceptably mainstream and their ridiculous unprovable lunacy – lunacy that in a rational world would be treated as the mental illness it is – is instead readily taken at face value by a credulous population who believes the earth is 6000 years old and the Son of God rode around Galilee on a dinosaur. The Reform Party’s mild dislike for the establishment has metastasized into the Tea Party’s open hatred of government to the accompaniment of Sarah Palin’s screeching caterwaul. And meanwhile the spiritual descendants of Newt Gingrich have taken out a contract on America.

And suddenly Donald Trump isn’t so goddamned funny anymore.

Trump isn’t just a creation of the booger-eating madness that has taken over the once Great Party of Lincoln. Liberals had a hand in creation of this Frankenstein’s monster too.

I see everywhere speculation that Trump isn’t serious – hell, there was a time I might have believed that myself but that time is long past.

Every day liberals and progressives and even conservatives write to me saying they just don’t believe Trump really wants to be president despite the fact that he’s spending millions of his own dollars and he’s been running for president for 16 years. Liberals are as deep in denial as conservatives. They, none of  them, can believe it’s come to this.

Every day liberals and progressives and an increasing number of conservatives write to tell me how they’re sure, absolutely sure, Trump is a stalking horse, a creation of Hillary Clinton or some other vast left wing conspiracy, designed to discredit and destroy the Republican Party. Given that we have become a nation of gullible cud-chewing conspiracy theorists half of whom believe one of our presidents snuck into the Twin Towers on September 10th, 2001 and wired them for demolition without anybody noticing and the other half believe one of our presidents is somehow an alien reptile in a rubber human suit born in a foreign country and secretly in thrall to the Islamic Brotherhood, I guess nothing is too farfetched in this America.

We created this monster. All of us.

We’ve had years, decades, centuries, to make this country into something better, to live up to that promise of life, liberty, and happiness. We could have fed the hungry, clothed the poor, and healed the sick – all of them, every last one. We had more than enough resources to do so. We could have gone to the stars, instead of hitching a ride like poor cousins on Russian rockets to low earth orbit. We could have educated every single child in this country and made a bright future for those yet unborn.

We could be living in Bernie Sanders’ America. 

Sure we could, and it wouldn’t have taken all that much effort – certainly not as much as we put into those silos out West or that fancy new invisible fighter plane or that wall Trump wants to build. Or Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone Vietnam.

We don’t have to wait for some mythical afterlife. We don’t need some promise of eternal reward or threat of eternal damnation. We could storm the heavens and build for ourselves an enduring paradise right here, right now, for everybody, not for just those few some miserable God decides are worthy.

We still could.

Far too many Americans still think of Trump’s campaign as a joke and they keep waiting for the laugh ... but somehow the punchline never comes.

It never comes because, you see, the joke is on us. All of us, conservatives and liberals, republicans and democrats and the independents.

Trump is deadly serious.

Trump is deadly serious and this is now his time, his America.


But it doesn’t have to be that way. 


Donald Trump is no Adolf Hitler.

Donald Trump is no Benito Mussolini.

America is neither Nazi Germany nor Fascist Italy, not even close, and the comparisons which now fill social and mainstream media alike are nothing but lazy journalism.

There are similarities, certainly, the mindless nationalism, the shallow jingoistic patriotism, the endless saber rattling and warmongering, the bluster and bombast and ten gallon hats, enemies everywhere foreign and especially domestic, the fear, the seething impotent rage, the intolerance, the endless threats of force, the racism, the xenophobia, the explicit promise of new nation especially for true Americans, and the vague promises of a newly restored America of a more pure greatness.

Oh yes, there’s  no doubt that the danger is close and very real.

But then it always is, for that is the nature of civilization. It’s fragile. It takes effort. The nuts work loose constantly as the gods stand by and laugh. That’s just how it is.

In 1787, in Paris, a decade after the Revolution, Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” He wasn’t just talking about war and revolution and armies, he was talking about real force, real power, the power you wield as citizens of the Republic.

You see fate is what we make of it, fate of men and fate of nations, and in the end while this might not be Bernie Sanders’ America, or even Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on the Hill, it doesn’t have to be Donald Trump’s America either.

You can change it. Starting today.

This  is not Bernie Sanders’ America.

This is not  Donald Trump’s America. 

It’s ours. All of us together.

If you want a better nation, be better citizens.

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part I is  here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part I


If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.
Graydon Saunders (via Scottish writer Ken McCleod)

I tried to ignore the most recent Republican debates.

I did.

I think political debates are idiotic and a terrible way to pick a leader.

I think political debates pander to the very worst traits of our society. In fact, I think political debates encourage those base habits.

Political debates are reality TV, people watch for the same reason they watch NASCAR – they’re hoping for a spectacular crash.

And so, I tried to ignore the debates.

But then they started talking about carpet bombing.


I saw it scroll past over and over in my social media and news feeds: carpet bombing, carpet bombing, carpet bombing...

I thought: Are they really talking about saturation bombing again?

And then, as I sat there boggling, the phrase “waterboarding” began to scroll past.

I opened the live feed to watch in stunned revulsion as the men who would be president of the United States of America argued over which one of them was more insane.

Carpet bombing? Waterboarding? And the crowd cheered.

The crowd cheered.

What in the holy hell is it with these goddamned people?

When did the unabashed willingness to engage in the indiscriminate obliteration of entire populations, when did the enthusiastic willingness to torture our enemies, when did those things become traits anybody liberal or conservative would want in an American president?

When did genocide and torture become things we cheered as a nation?

We used to call people like this psychopaths.

Much of the civilized world still does.

And yet, there they were, up on stage talking about which one was more willing to carpet bomb and torture our enemies.

This obsession with force never ends with these people. Never.

Might makes right, that’s it and that’s all and they’ve made a fetish of military force.




These people, lately all they ever talk about is "rebuilding" our military.

All they talk about is rebuilding the largest, most powerful military in not only the world, but in the entire history of the world.

In a Gallup Poll released yesterday, 51% of Americans questioned said they thought the US Military wasn’t powerful enough.

That’s right. Fully half of American believe the US Military isn’t powerful enough.

The US military.

Isn’t powerful enough.

I don’t suppose I have to tell you which half of America thinks that.




“Ted Cruz has a plan to rebuild our military so we can lead from a position of strength.”

Think about that.

No, really think about that.

Do you see the implications? Can you follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion?

Can you?

These people are those grade school bullies you remember, the drooling dimwitted meatheads whose only response to any situation is a punch in the mouth. They don’t lead from reason or intellect or diplomacy or even from a position of (supposed) moral superiority. They can’t even imagine such a thing. In fact they sneer in disdain at those concepts.

No, might makes right and for them leadership is a punch in the mouth.

Ted Cruz has a plan. Donald Trump has a plan. Republicans have a plan.

But, have you ever noticed they're damned short on details?

Let us start right at the beginning:


Not powerful enough how?


What is it that we’re lacking?

Do we not have enough nuclear bombs? Not enough drones? Not enough poison gas? Are we not monitoring enough phone calls and social media and emails and library records? Are our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines substandard in comparison to other nations? Are our military academies lacking in some way? Is our military budget not large enough? Do we not have enough defense contractors in the Military Industrial Complex?

What is it that we’re lacking? Be specific, show your work.


What’s that?

Aaaah, I see.

Will. Of course. We lack the will to use our military. That’s it, isn’t it? Will.

Problems that were solved with diplomacy, we should have used guns.

Problems that were solved with treaties and international agreement, we should have used bombs.

Problems we solved with economics, with reason, with international pressure, we should have used threats of force.

Yes, I see.


Let’s come back to that. In the meantime, rebuild ... how? Exactly?

What is it that we need? More nuclear aircraft carriers? More fighter jets? More tanks? More bombs? More satellites? More intelligence agencies? More bullets? More bodies? More money? What exactly are we talking about here?

What are the specifics?

More importantly: what, exactly and in detail, do we base this idea on? That we must “rebuild” our military.

In order to answer that question, we must roll it back one more step to the very basic of assumptions.




Cruz echoes Trump echoes Reagan with "We can rebuild our military so it will be feared by our enemies and trusted by our allies."

Feared by our enemies?

Ah, there it is.

This, this right here, this is it, the foundation stone. The basic assumption. Our enemies must fear us, fear our military might, fear that we will use it at any time, any place, for any reason, in response to any transgression no matter how slight.

The way you fear a bully’s fists.

And that fear, you see, will keep the world in line, keep our enemies at bay, keep us safe.

Okay, how do you measure that?

No. No. Stop. No hand waving. No moving the goalposts. Be specific. If this is the fundamental assumption we are to base national security on, this fear, making our enemies fear us, fear our might, fear our unfettered military power, then what are the metrics?

How do we measure “feared by our enemies?”

I used to be a war planner. I designed military doctrine. I helped write a portion of the war plan used to invade Iraq (and whatever happened later with the occupation, with the politicians, that part of the plan worked perfectly). I designed strategies and tactics, methodologies for the employment of weapons and forces, I wrote hard objectives and methods both qualitative and quantitative for measuring if they had been achieved. I put my own ass on the line to execute those plans. I taught others how to do it. I have some extensive experience in this area. And here’s how it is: You can’t build a national strategy, you can’t write an OPLAN, you can’t build a federal budget, you can’t design the weapons and more specifically the doctrine to use them effectively, without measurable objectives.

If fear is the objective, then we must be able to measure it.

Because if you can’t measure it, then you have no way whatsoever to determine if your strategy is working.

So, what are the metrics? Show me the equation. What are the components? What are the assumptions? What are the variables? What are the constants? What are the limitations? What are the assets? What are the targets?

Let’s see ‘em.

Trump, Cruz, conservatives in general and Republicans in particular, feel that our enemies don’t currently fear us, so let’s start right there. That’s the first variable: enemies.

What enemies?

Define enemies. Be specific. Again, show your work.

Russia? Is Russia our enemy? We trade with Russia. We do business with Russia every day. We travel to Russia and Russians travel to the United States on business and on vacation. We fly into space with Russians on Russian rockets and in fact if it wasn’t for Russia we’d have no manned space program at all. We do scientific research with Russia, medicine, physics, agriculture, astronomy, and energy.

So, is Russia our enemy?

Is Russia our enemy?

If so, why? It matters, you know.

You can’t design a strategy if you don’t know why.

Why is everything. Why tells you where the vulnerabilities are. Why defines the objectives. If Russia is our enemy, why? Is it ideology? Is it religion? Is it resources? Are they murderous cannibals? Have they attacked us for our precious bodily fluids? Is it just simple convenience, do we fear them simply because they’re weird and different and over there?

If Russia is our enemy, shouldn’t we all understand why?

If Russia is our enemy, shouldn’t each and every one of us be able to articulate why? Spelled out, in simple language, in detail.

Well? Is it Russia? Is that who we want to fear us?

Is it?

And what would that take, to make Russia fear us?

At the height of the Cold War, when the world could have ended at any time, when America and Russia spent massive sums in blood and gold to build world destroying weapons, did they fear us? Did they? Did we fear them? And what did that fear accomplish? When our fleets fenced on the open seas and the skies with the fate of civilization hanging in the balance, did it make the world a safer place? When our children hid under their school desks, ducking and covering and waiting for Russian bombs to fall from the sky, was America safer for Russian fear?

And now? Today? What exactly would it take, how big, how powerful, how capable, how advanced, does our military have to be to strike fear into Vladimir Putin’s heart? To bend him to our will – assuming we can agree on what our will is.

Ask yourself this: What if that fear requires a military so big, so massive, so powerful, so capable, that America collapses under the burden of supporting such a force – as the Soviet Union did?


When the men who would lead America speak of rebuilding our military, why do you suppose they never mention any of these things?


China? Is China our enemy? We trade with China. We do business with China. We travel to China. The American economy is deeply, deeply invested in China at the expense of American workers. If China is our enemy, then why are so many of the products filling the shelves in Walmart and Target made in China? If China is our enemy why is our lumber processed in China? It is, you know, we cut down the trees here and send them to China to be turned into lumber, then we pay to ship them back – honestly, where did you think all those 2x4’s and plywood panels in Lowes and Home Depot come from? Why do we buy tens of thousands of tons of farmed fish from China? Why do we sell coal and LNG energy to China? Why are our car parts and electronics and iPhones manufactured in China?

Tell me, if China is our enemy, then why do Wall Street bankers and American investors like Mitt Romney and the Koch Brothers and the Walton Family grow immensely rich by sending American jobs to China – is that not colluding with the enemy?

The rising Chinese economy, what powers that?

The growing Chinese military, who pays for it?

If China is our enemy, then how much American money should be devoted to “rebuilding” our military in order to fight a Chinese military that we are also simultaneously paying for?

At what point does this become ridiculous?

So who then? If not China, if not Russia, who is the enemy we want to fear us?


North Korea? Iran? ISIS? Really? Are we really putting ISIS and Kim Jong Un on the same footing with global powers such as the US, Russia, and China? Really?

North Korea must fear us, fear our military might, fear that we might use our fists at any moment. I would suggest to you that they do already fear us – which is why they want nuclear bombs of their own at the expense of feeding their own people. Ditto Iran.

Conservatives want guns to protect themselves from America. Why should ISIS be any different?

But that’s not what we’re talking about is it?

It’s not. We’re not talking about respect here, we’re talking about fear. We want them to fear us.

We’re not talking about rebuilding our education system into the best in the world.

We’re not talking about remaking our infrastructure into the envy of nations.

We’re not talking about retooling our social safety nets, or our medical system, our science, our innovative engineering, our space and exploration programs. No, that’s not what we’re talking about.

Our politicians don’t stand up there on that stage debating which one of them is more willing to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, heal the sick, educate our children, or colonize Mars. No, they intend to make America great with their fists, by bombing entire populations out of existence, by waterboarding our enemies, through military force, by fear.

When Trump, Cruz, et al talk of making our enemies fear us, when the crowd cheers, what we’re talking about here is real fear.


The kind of fear where they will never challenge America. Ever.

The kind of fear where when an American strays into their territorial waters or crosses their border with a weapon concealed in his trunk, they don’t think about questioning the reason or defending their own sovereignty or even enforcing their own laws.

The kind of fear where they capitulate immediately and in total to any US demand – be it military, political, or economic. If we want them to give up a weapons program or territory or their religion, they do so instantly and without any show of resistance or resentment.

The kind of fear where terrorists would never think of taking one of ours hostage, or detonating a bomb anywhere near Americans, or even so much as giving us a dirty look.

That’s what we’re talking about.

That’s the fear Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are talking about.


But see, here’s the problem, even in the darkest hours, even in the deepest depths of fear and terror, humanity tends to resist.


In Iraq and Afghanistan, in Vietnam and Korea, despite our overwhelming military superiority, our enemies fought back as best they could. All the military might in the world couldn’t beat it out of them completely.

In Chechnya, despite Russian willingness to ruthlessly slaughter terrorists and civilians with equal abandon, Chechens fight back even now with bombs and homemade guns and terror.

In Israel, despite ruthless determination on the part of one of the best trained and best equipped militaries in the world – and a government willing to use it – Palestinians fight back. Violently. Every single day.

In Northern Ireland, despite the vast and powerful British Army, the Irish fought back, with car bombs and bullets and their bare hands.

In the fearful horror of the concentration camps, despite an absolute power willing to murder them six million deep, in Dora and Mittelwerk, the Jews resisted.

In the old west, despite the Gatling gun and the Sharps rifle and the cavalry and the reservations, despite starvation and disease and genocide, Native Americans fought back.

In divided Berlin, despite the mine fields and the barbed wire and the dogs and the machine guns, East Germans fought their way through to the West or died trying.

In the old Antebellum South of the United States, despite ruthless oppression, American slaves fought against their chains and, again, all the ruthless brutality in the Confederacy couldn’t beat it out of them.

On December 7th, 1941, on September 11th, 2001, knowing they were attacking a vastly more powerful enemy, knowing we would come for them, knowing we would kill them and their families and crush their strongholds, our enemies attacked us.

And yet, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, the pundits and the talking heads, the shouting mob, they demand our military become so powerful, and our willingness to use it so ruthless, that no enemy will ever challenge us.

Think about that.

Think upon what kind of nation that would be.

We must be able to measure the achievement of objectives.

If the objective is fear, fear to such a degree our enemies will not challenge us, then the only measure is that they don’t. Ever.

It’s about will. Remember?

Imagine such a nation.

Imagine a nation so unassailable, so powerful, so utterly ruthless, so utterly without sympathy or humanity, so willing to use force, willing to carpet bomb entire populations out of existence, willing to torture its enemies, willing to sacrifice its sons and daughters and its treasure, willing to forgo education and healthcare and even eating, to do anything and everything to preserve its security. And to do so to such a degree that no enemy would ever dare to even think about resisting it.

Now, you tell me: what does that nation look like?

Give that some thought, why don’t you?

Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.
Alasdair Gray, Scottish Novelist and Playwright (attributed to Canadian author Dennis Lee)


Footnote: These very same men utterly fear the power of government and would arm themselves against it in resistance. Ironic, no?

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part II, is here

Monday, February 15, 2016

Presidents Daze

Parts of this post have appeared previously on Stonekettle Station.  In fact, parts of this post appear every year on this date.


So, Presidents Day.

President’s Day.

Or is it Presidents’ Day?

I can never remember where to put the apostrophe.

We should call today what it is, Just Another Random Reason To Close the Post Office Day.

Whose dumb idea was this anyway?

No, really, considering the sheer level of contempt most Americans have for their government these days, not to mention specifically and in particular the president, we’re really going to celebrate something called president’s day? Presidents Day? Seriously?

What are the Presidents Day traditions? Do we burn down our garages while deep frying a turkey full of firecrackers? Is there animal sacrifice involved? Do we put up colored lights? Gift wrap fudgesickles? Paint eggs? Shoot guns into the air and light our farts? (that would be my choice, just saying). Should we maybe nail some guy to a cross and poke him with sticks? Burn witches and dress up in costumes based on the latest Spielberg movie? Is there a corned beef and leprechauns involved? Shouldn’t there be some kind of sporting event and a parade in New York? What? I’m a little hazy on what this day is supposed to be about. Does Hallmark even make a card for President’s Day?  Would it be like The holiday season? You know, Christmas cards for right thinking true actual Americans, Chanukah cards for the Jews, Generic Festivus Card for the non-believers, money orders for the Scientologists, and like that? 

Are there Liberal and Conservative President’s Day cards? If not, somebody is seriously missing out on a lucrative business opportunity. 

Like The holidays, do people get pissy if you don’t call it after their particular thing? Xidents Day? Ooooh, I’m so offended! Offended, I tell you! This is the day that we celebrate the magical virgin birth of little baby George Washington who was delivered unto America in a cloud of sparkly Angel wings by Jesus! By God, this day isn’t about celebrating Lincoln. It’s not about Taft. It’s not Grover Cleveland day! It’s Washington! George Reagan Jefferson Washington! Why has [insert generic political object of derision] declared war on little baby George Washington? Why?!

What’s the greeting? Every holiday has a salutation of some kind. Merry Christmas, Kiss Me I’m Irish lets go back to my place and have drunken leprechaun sex, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, Happy Easter (or as it’s known around here, Yikes! Zombies!).  What’s the salutation for Presidents’ Day?

Presidents Day. How can this be a real holiday?

Folks, think about it, there isn’t a even a pie

That’s right, all real American holidays worth closing the Post Office for come with pie.  Presidents Day? No pie.

I think I’ve made my point here.

Presidents Day, it’s ridiculous.

Now, of course, originally, we celebrated George Washington’s birthday and that was okay. No pie, but okay.

Because, Americans being Americans, they declared their independence from England, told the Crown to shove off, spit on the idea of aristocracy and royalty and the divine right of kings, and made all men equal – and then immediately set about elevating their own set of icons to worship.

Starting with George.

I guess I can dig that.  George Washington was the father of the United States, born in Texas, he was a personal friend of Jesus, he threw a hundred dollar bill across the Mississippi, he wrestled a polar bear when he was only three wearing nothing but a coonskin cap and freed the slaves at the Alamo, and then he fought off the Nazis after they bombed Pearl Harbor – or something. 

OK, I’m not sure exactly what George did, but he’s Sarah Palin’s hero and that’s good enough for me.

But that wasn’t good enough for everybody else, oh no.

Pretty soon, people wanted the day off for their favorite President too.

So then we had Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday. That was fun, people dressed up in stovepipe hats and went to see a play…

But before you knew it, Americans were talking about taking the day off for Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday too.

And then there was Benjamin Franklin’s birthday - he was never the President, but he’s on the money and that confused a lot of people and besides he discovered electricity and Pop Tarts and that ought to be worth a couple days of drinking and tailgating and some kind of bowl game. 

Pretty soon folks were talking about taking Grover Cleveland’s wedding anniversary off and going up to Big Bear for a four day weekend.

Then somebody came up with the idea of Vice President’s day, and Speaker of the House Day, and Take Your Press Secretary To Lunch Day, and Spend A Night In The Motel 6 With Your Congressional Page Day.

By the end of the 1960’s, things were totally out of hand – there were so many holidays that the 60’s seemed like one long party. That’s where hippies and venereal disease came from. The 60’s were not, in fact, a cultural revolution, it just seemed that way because everybody had been basically drunk for a decade – which, come to think of it, also explains the hygiene issues.

So around about 1971, Congress sobered up long enough to create Presidents Day.

Technically, it’s supposed to be Washington’s Birthday but saying that out loud started the whole “what about my president!” thing all over again.  So we just call it Presidents Day. Or President’s Day. Or maybe Presidents’ Day – nobody is really sure what to do about that stupid apostrophe.

The problem with “Presidents Day” is that it is supposed to be a day we all take off and ruminate on the greatness of our leaders here in the US.  And sure, that sounds terrific in principle, but in reality there were some real duds in the ol’ Presidential line up.

Take Marty Van Buren:


Give this guy a red rubber nose and we’re talking Bozo the Clown here.  And that’s how a lot of people felt about him.  In the 1830’s there was basically no federal banking regulation and Wall Street just sort of did whatever it pleased – including handing out huge loans to people who couldn’t pay them back, ever.  A massive financial crisis resulted.  Marty was a rich elitist and liked to live the highlife, you can imagine what the average voter thought of him by the end of his first term. 

Fortunately, thanks to Congress and modern laws, nothing like that can happen these days.

Or how about John Tyler:


Tyler ended up in the White House by default.  President William Henry Harrison gave the longest inaugural speech in history – in the pouring rain, in freezing temperatures, without a coat or a hat. As a result he had the shortest presidency of all time when he died from pneumonia less than a month later. 

Hey, I’m all about term limits, but that seems a little extreme.

John Tyler, who was Harrison’s Vice President, was sworn in as the booby prize.  Tyler was so widely despised that he is often confused for George W. Bush by historians.  His entire cabinet resigned in protest of his policies. The House tried to impeach him and he was actually thrown unceremoniously out of his own party.  After he was eventually evicted from the Oval Office, he joined the Confederacy and died during the Civil War as a Representative of the CSA House. 

Personally, I think the guy missed his calling, he could have made a killing as the “before” picture for any number of laxative manufacturers.

And do we really want to celebrate James Buchanan?


It’s creepy uncle Fester! 

What? Nobody owned a comb back in the 1800’s?

Buchanan, besides being the inspiration for Donald Trump’s hair stylist, basically caused the Civil War.

No doubt they’ll be raising a few glasses in his memory down South today.

How about Rutherford B. Hayes?


The only President with a more sissified first name than Millard Fillmore (seriously, Millard? Were his parents just trying to get him beat up every single day of his life?).

Hayes lost the popular vote, but won the Presidency in court – thank God that kind of shit doesn’t go on any more. 

His inauguration was actually held in secret, for fear that he’d be assassinated if he appeared in public for his swearing in.  You know, I’m not a superstitious man, but I’d consider that a somewhat less than auspicious start to any administration.

Wait, it gets better, his wife was known as Lemonade Lucy because she banned alcohol from the White House – funny, but you’d think she’d drink pretty much continuously if she had to sleep with this guy. C’mon, Lucy, give The Beard some sugar!

Then there’s Warren Harding:


Widely regarded as “The Lost Munster,” Harding is considered by most American historians as probably the only US president who can’t look at George W. Bush and say, “Well, at least I didn’t suck as much as that guy.”

He was easily corrupted, a serial adulterer, an astoundingly horrible leader, and a worse public speaker – in fact, this guy was so bad at talking out loud, that he made Dan Quayle look like the president of Toastmasters.

Also, he was the guy behind the Teapot Dome scandal.

He died in office and the only reason anybody even noticed was because things started getting better.

How about this guy?


I’m going to be honest with you here, I think William Jefferson Clinton is the perfect role model for an American holiday.

No, seriously.

Frankly I don’t think it gets any more American than this guy.  Left, Right, independent, c’mon there isn’t a male in all of America that doesn’t secretly fantasize about getting a hummer from an amply cushioned cute intern in the Oval Office. I mean if you’re not getting free gratuitous sex, what’s the point of being President in the first place? It’s not like there’s pie.

Now, it is true that I hate Bill Clinton. It’s personal. He’s the guy who caused my conservative 80 year old mother to use the word “blowjob” in a sentence, at dinner. Folks, that’ll put you off sex, and dinner, for a while. Thanks, Bill.

But really, what better way to celebrate President’s day than we watch the game, we eat junk food and swap stories of our sexual conquests that may or may not be true. And later on we’ll have a cigar and not have sex with that woman (wink wink). Twice.

Now that’s a holiday tradition most Americans could get behind (or in front of, depending on your fancy, but I digress). That’s a damned holiday. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go stuff the turkey with firecrackers before putting it in the deep fryer.

Happy George Washington’s Birthday, folks.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bomb Shelter


Narrator: What you are about to watch is a nightmare. It is not meant to be prophetic, it need not happen, it's the fervent and urgent prayer of all men of good will that it never shall happen. But in this place, in this moment, it does happen. This is the Twilight Zone.


It’s been an interesting few weeks.

And by interesting, I mean like the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” interesting.

Like I fell into an episode of the Twilight Zone interesting. You know, that episode where the neighborhood goes insane and turns on each other in red-eyed panic when they think the world is about to end.

After writing about the standoff with armed militants in Oregon last week, I’ve gotten a near continuous stream of virulent hate mail and threats of violence – some veiled, some less so.

Now, I’d be lying if I said I was surprised.

I’ve been doing this for a long time and the one thing you can always count on is the immediate and rabid slobbering of fanatical haters when you ring their bell.  Especially if you ring it on purpose as I’m prone to do. But that’s where I like them, out in the open where I can see them, instead of skulking around in the shadows.

Many of these folks say similar things and have similar outlooks. What’s interesting to me is the source of this increasingly paranoid mindset since it’s fairly obvious they all have something in common, at least tangentially.

For example, a guy named John Pennington posted the following comment to the Refuge of Scoundrels essay:


On one hand, I have to give him props for “coprophagenous liberal dogs” (even if the word should really be “coprophagous”).

On the other hand, apparently the irony of disputing the essay’s basic assertion by threatening to add my body to a pile of dead Americans used as sandbags completely escaped Mr. Pennington.

Not content to leave a comment filled with threats of violence on the Refuge of Scoundrels essay, Pennington then began sending me emails. I shined him on a bit, just to see where it would go. He didn’t disappoint.


A charming fellow, John Pennington.

It turns out he’s damned near a cliché, a doughy over-the-hill angry conservative white man who hates Obama and liberals and gays and Muslims and, most of all, the government – all while living on government disability.

He’s a member of Mesa County Patriots, a rabidly anti-government militia of the usual stripe, Birthers, 911 Truthers, gun nuts, and government haters, and you can certainly see why he thinks the louts, drunks, fakers, and criminals occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge are just the best thing since John Hancock told King George to go fuck himself.

After I flagged his email address, Pennington sent me one more message and couldn’t resist that little veiled threat at the end.


We’ll see. Eventually.

Yes, indeed, I suppose we will.

Now, this is pretty mild compared to some of what I get. So why bring it up? Why this particular example?

Well, first because he gave me permission to do so, but mostly because two years ago John Pennington was running for Mesa County Sheriff.

Allow me a digression: Imagine that. Imagine this guy as your sheriff. Imagine your sheriff being the guy who goes home at night and sends emails to people on the internet like those above. Worthless human scat. Enjoys turning shit like you into “breathing space.” Somebody will cover you up eventually. Fuck you. We’ll see. Stack your body with the other filth to absorb the bullets. There will come a day of reckoning.

Generally, it’s the sheriff’s job to protect you from goons like John Pennington.

Try to imagine Sheriff John Pennington, a man who regards his own country as the enemy, a man who is a member of a seditious organization whose sworn goal is violent overthrow of the US Government, try to imagine calling that guy when armed militants take over your town. Try to imagine him stopping your daughter on a dark lonely road…

Fortunately for the folks of Mesa County, Pennington lost the election.

But here’s the point, here’s the real question: how do you become that guy?

How do you become a guy who talks about shooting down your neighbors? How do you become a guy who dreams about shooting down the democratically elected government you were once, supposedly sworn to defend and obey? How do you become the guy who talks about taking up arms against your own people, your own country?




How does a guy who claims he was once a Marine, and not just a Marine but an elite Scout Sniper, pledged to protect Americans with his very life, go from Devil Dog to ranting about shooting down those very same Americans and stacking their bodies like sandbags? Assuming he really was a Marine in the first place, that is (look, I’ll do him the courtesy of taking him at his word but let’s be honest here, a lot of these militia types falsely claim to be Scout Snipers and SEALs and Chair Borne Rangers and they cover themselves in enough stolen valor to give a Third World dictator a run for his money. So please, pardon my slightly raised eyebrow of skepticism here. You lay down with camels, you get bitten by camel spiders).

How do you get from being a Marine, an elite warrior who places honor, duty, discipline, and loyalty above all, to throwing in with wife beaters and drunks and thugs and stolen valor? How is that possible?

How do you get from Semper Fidelis to sedition and outright hatred of the citizens you once served?

The simple truth of the matter is if John Pennington was a Muslim and he talked like this, he’d already be in custody.


So how does it happen?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Pennington’s election Facebook page, Pennington for Mesa County Sheriff, is still up, and the last entry dated October 10, 2014 is the reason I chose this particular example:



Wake up, you fools!

They’re here, in America!

They’ve slipped through our borders and they’re colluding with “un-loyal” Americans – got that? Un-loyal Americans and who might those people be? Why, people like me, of course. I don’t have to guess, Pennington told me so. You and me, we’re “human scat.”

Be careful who you have as a friend! You can’t even trust your family. Why, anybody could be one of them! Anybody!

Take what corrective action you deem necessary to protect your family.

Go armed everywhere, you fool! Everywhere!

In their minds, it’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets the Twilight Zone narrated by Tailgunner Joe.

As I said in Refuge of Scoundrels, these people, they aren’t arming themselves to defend America from some foreign invader. Not really. They’re arming themselves to shoot down you and me.

“...until such time as your body is needed, that we may stack it atop the other filth here in order to absorb bullets and fragment. There will come a reckoning...

We are the enemy they fear most of all.


Man: Why don't we get some kind of battering ram?
Frank Henderson: Yeah, we could go over to Bennett Avenue, Phil Cline has some heavy pipe in his basement, I've seen it.
Man: No, no, that would bring him into the act too, and who cares about saving him? No, if we do that, we'll let all those people know we have a shelter on our street. We'll have a whole mob to contend with, with a whole bunch of strangers.
Mrs. Henderson: Sure, and what right have they got to come over here? This isn't their street, this isn't their shelter.
Jerry Harlowe: Ohhhh, this is our shelter, and on the next street that's another country. Patronize home industries, you idiots, you fools, you're insane, all of you.


But where does it begin? How does this start? How do you reach a point where you see your neighbors as the enemy? And everything as a conspiracy?

In the Facebook post above, Mike Albear says he got a “message from a very good active source that was confirmed on Fox News.”

Ah, yes. The source.

Wayne Simmons.

I thought this paranoia smelled familiar.

Wayne Shelby Simmons. Former CIA operative with 27 years of experience in covert operations all over the world. Intelligence expert. Defense Contractor. Author – hell, Donald Rumsfeld even endorsed Simmons’ novel about a retired CIA agent called back for yet another clandestine operation saying “Simmons doesn’t just write it, he’s lived it!” Pentagon consultant via the Military Analysts Program. And finally and most importantly, Fox News consultant who made more than a hundred appearances on various shows as an authority on everything from foreign policy to counter-terrorism.

Simmons claims to have "spearheaded deep-cover intel ops against some of the world's most dangerous drug cartels and arms smugglers.”

He retired from the CIA in 2000 and became a consultant for Fox News. He was a hawk who became a regular face at various roundtables and panels on terrorism and war, a favorite of the Pentagon’s Public Affairs Office who in 2004 was trying desperately to rally support for the floundering war effort in Iraq.

He was a Fox News darling. The perfect anti-liberal, a distinguished tough-talking no-shit expert with a handshake that could crush rocks. You couldn’t argue with him, because he’d been there and done that – or in CIA vernacular, he was never there and that never happened. Wink wink. Wayne Simmons was the guy, the real deal, a man with the grit and the expertise and the experience to take on the generals who were telling Donald Rumsfeld he was wrong. Simmons in his own grizzled words “wanted to slap” those generals, and he did, verbally, over and over, backing up Rumsfeld again and again – which might explain why the Secretary of Defense himself was enthusiastically willing to blurb a fiction novel.


That’s Simmons on the left, standing next to Donald Rumsfeld in the Secretary of Defense’s Office at  the Pentagon.

Simmons was so trusted and so influential in 2006 the White House invited him to be present in the Oval Office when George W. Bush signed the Military Commissions Act – which among other things granted the Executive unlimited power to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely at Gitmo, something Simmons had been loudly demanding on Fox News. The Pentagon listed him as one of its "most prolific retired military analysts" and given his experience they wanted him in Iraq as an expert military consultant advising commanders and the troops.

He became a regular on the Republican speaking circuit and landed himself a lucrative book deal.

And so, naturally I suppose, it’s unsurprising Simmons eventually became a member of the “Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi,” (CCB), a group of experts formed by a media watchdog group called Accuracy In Media to independently investigate the events surrounding the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed Ambassador Stevens and three employees of the US State Department. Simmons and the CCB produced a widely circulated report extremely critical of the Administration and laying the blame for Benghazi squarely at the feet of Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile back on Fox News Simmons made no bones about his politics. On the air he called President Obama a "boy king" and Nancy Pelosi a "pathological liar” and his words were repeated verbatim by Republican politicians and conservatives on the street and by this point Simmons was essentially narrating the conservative consciousness.

And then in a 2014 appearance on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News show, Simmons declared with total assurance there were "at least nineteen paramilitary Muslim training facilities in the United States." Cavuto nodded his head in agreement and responded “wow!” Simmons’ declaration, at least nineteen known Muslim paramilitary facilities training terrorists right here in America, went unchallenged because this was Wayne Simmons after all – one of the nation’s most respected experts.

Simmons looked at Cavuto with his distinguished icy stare, and said, "They're using paramilitary exercises to plan and execute these types of operations all over the United States. And when it happens, it will just be you and I saying, 'We told you so.'"

Wow indeed.

And there it is. The source.

Oh others had made similar statements, but Simmons on Fox News is what gave the hidden terror legitimacy. And it confirmed the worst fears of those militiamen up above. They’re here. They are right here among us. They are training to kill us all. They could be anybody. They could be anywhere. Your friends, your family, next door, the next block,  the bank manager, the grocery store cashier. Trust no one. Arm yourself. Take action. It’s the only way to be sure.

And how could you argue?

If there’s anybody who knows about the Islamic State, it’s Wayne Simmons.




Except there’s just one problem.

It’s all – all of it, every single word – it’s all complete and utter bullshit.

Wayne Shelby Simmons is a fraud.


Simmons never worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Simmons was never a spook, he was never a secret agent, he was never an analyst, he was never an operator.

In actuality, he really was never there and it really did never happen.

He’s not an expert on military intelligence. He’s not an expert on terrorism. He’s not an expert on anything.

What he is, in point of fact, is a bullshit artist of extraordinary hubris.

Wayne Simmons is nothing but a conman.

Everything about this guy is a lie.

Which makes his assertion calling Nancy Pelosi a “pathological liar” doubly ironic, don’t you think?

Behind Simmons is a 30 year long trail of wreckage and failure. He ran a limousine service, a gambling operation, an AIDS-testing clinic, and tried to start a commuter airline – all of which failed. He sold hot-tubs and carpeting and very briefly had a contract to play defensive back for the New Orleans Saints. He’s got a criminal record for multiple DUIs, illegal weapon possession, and assault. In 2007 he was arrested for attacking a Pakistani cabdriver in Annapolis, Maryland, and tried to bullshit his way out of it by claiming he was a CIA operative and the cabbie was a Muslim terrorist. The police called the CIA. The CIA told the police to arrest him. Somewhere along the line, Simmons started believing in his own bullshit. He got a job with defense contractor BAE Systems as a "Human Terrain System team leader." But he was forced to resign when it became apparent he had no idea what he was doing. A year later he applied for a job with the State Department, but was rejected when GSA Human Resources looked into his background and realized he was a complete fraud. Simmons is nothing if not persistent in his duplicity. In 2010 he got hired on as a Senior Intelligence Advisor with another defense contractor and was sent to Afghanistan to advise military commanders. Fortunately, he failed his background check and his interim security clearance was revoked and he was sent home before he could get any more Americans killed.

Simmons was arrested last October and charged with multiple counts of fraud. He’s been charged with not only lying about his fraudulent CIA past to gain employment and audiences with Rumsfeld and Bush, but he’s also charged with running a real-estate scam that bilked $125,000 from a woman he was romantically involved with.

He’s currently under house arrest with his daughter as his court-appointed guardian. Even if he could go outside, he’d have to take a cab because his car was repossessed and his house is next given that he’s a deadbeat who hasn’t made a mortgage payment in going on five years.

His trial begins on the 23rd of this month and if he’s found guilty he’s going to spend a number of years in prison.

Oh, and that Citizens Commission on Benghazi? Well, that was more like a commission of Birthers, 911 Truthers, Kooks, and Conspiracy Theorists. The report they produced, the one quoted endlessly on Fox News, was nothing but a list of long debunked and provably wrong falsehoods – though it did make Michael Bay’s job easier. And that watchdog group? Accuracy in Media? Well as it turns out, “accuracy” in that context means “needs more frauds like Wayne Simmons to tell us what we want to hear.” AIM is really a partisan outfit with a conservative political goal.

It’s not just Simmons.

It’s the media who didn’t bother to vet his nonsense before making him a public figure.

It’s Rumsfeld and the Pentagon Public Affairs office who let this go on even though they knew Simmons was a fraud because it furthered  their  own agendas.

And most of all, it’s the public who ate it up without question because he told them what they wanted to hear. Guys like John  Pennington and his friends in their little militia clutching their guns and their bibles waiting for the end, those paranoids out there in Oregon? These people have been had. Not by government, not by Muslim terrorists, not by liberals, not by their neighbors, not even by con-artists such as Wayne Simmons, but by their own small fears.

Jerry Harlowe: Hey that's a great idea, block party, anything to get back to normal, huh?
Dr. Bill Stockton: Normal? I don't know. I don't know what normal is. I thought I did once. I don't anymore.
Jerry Harlowe: I told you we'd pay for the damages, Bill.
Dr. Bill Stockton: Damages? I wonder. I wonder if anyone of us has any idea what those damages really are. Maybe one of them is finding out what we're really like when we're normal; the kind of people we are just underneath the skin. I mean all of us: a bunch of naked wild animals, who put such a price on staying alive that they'd claw their neighbors to death just for the privilege. We were spared a bomb tonight, but I wonder if we weren't destroyed even without it.

And what happens when these people, these lunatic paranoids, finally work up the courage to begin their revolution of false patriots and fake marines? When they finally do take up arms against their own countrymen and come to batter down our doors? What happens after they shoot us down? Or die trying? And stack our bodies like sandbags against the bullets which exist only in their minds?

What happens after they give in to fear and panic and the endless black terror which gnaws at their withered souls?

What then?

When it’s over, when the howling mob is finally sated ... and they look up from the wreckage like those in Oregon are doing even now and find that it was all a false alarm?

What happens when they discover their entire worldview is based on a fraud?

What then?

Will they have the courage to face it?

Or will they turn away in denial and cowardice?

I wonder.


Narrator: No moral. No message. No prophetic tract. Just a simple statement of fact: for civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight's very small exercise in logic from the Twilight Zone.
- The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episode 3: The Shelter, 1961


Correction: I originally said Mesa County was in Arizona.  It’s not, it’s Colorado. That’s what happens when you spend all night on militia websites reading about  “Al Qaeda” training camps in Arizona.  It’s fixed.  // Jim