Monday, February 12, 2018

Caveat Emptor

Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus – the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers' enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.
Simone Weil


"We will have a military like we've never had before."

What does that mean?

No. No. Stop. Don't wave your hands and make vague noises.

Don't roll your eyes and sigh.

Stop and think about it.

Answer the question.

I mean, it sounds good. Make American Great Again. We'll have a military like we’ve never had before. Sure. Sure. Who wouldn’t want that? What patriotic American wouldn’t want a … um, well, whatever kind of military he’s talking about? It must be better than the one we have now. Right? Must be. Sure. Let’s get us some of that. Got to be better. Bigger. More powerful. Shinier. Yeah! USA! USA!


I mean, right?

But, well, not to be unpatriotic and all, but better … how, exactly?

You did notice that Trump never actually tells you this. Ever.

There’s a reason for that.

You see, the Long Con is based on simple human nature. A confidence game that plays on greed, pride, desperation, fear, hope. Which is why religion is often so very successful at it. It takes skill and commitment to pull off a long-con, weeks, months, years even, to groom the suckers, until the mark finally hands over his money of his own free will. And the most skilled confidence man can fool a mark over and over, convincing him again and again to hand over his money. And the best part is that once, if, the mark ever twigs to the fact that he’s been fooled, robbed by his own greed and gullibility, well, he’s often too embarrassed to do anything about it.

As General Smedley Butler once said, war is a racket.

And the military industrial complex and their shills have been playing this game for a very long time.

The key to this con is greed, pride, desperation, and fear. Or in simpler terms: the refuge of the scoundrel, patriotism.

"We will have a military like we've never had before."

The key to a successful con is letting the mark convince himself. Ohhhhh, yes, like we’ve never had before! You bet. We gotta get us some of that, America!

Never give him too many details, too much information. Let him create those things in his head. Let him build it up in his mind, let him imagine how for just a few dollars down he’ll make a fortune. How many of those Spanish Prisoner scams have you seen? The Nigerian Banker with the fortune in British Pounds Sterling sitting in an African bank and all you need do is hand over a small processing fee for your share of the fortune. Crude and clumsy, and yet thousands fall for such cons every year. You laugh at the suckers, meanwhile the CEOs of Northrup-Grumman and General Dynamics, the politicians, and the media pundits tell you that you need a shiny new warship and a fleet of brand new invisible planes. Pride, you want to be proud of your military don’t you? You don’t want another country to have a better military, do you? No, of course not! Our prestige is on the line. And what about all those threats? ISIS for example! Yes, ISIS. If we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them over here! You’re gonna need a fleet of shiny new warships to defeat ISIS, folks. How much is freedom worth, they’re cheap at that price. What are you, a liberal fool? Do you want them to murder your children? Don’t you love your children? We’ve got to have this new military! One like we’ve never seen before! Yes, yes!

But what does that mean in detail?

Trump never explains anything, any of his genius ideas, in any detail.

He constantly makes vague pronouncements like this one. And no one ever calls him on it.  Not the press. Not the people. Certainly not Congress.

Trump says we need a big beautiful Wall.

And the masses nod or rage depending on their inclination, but what does that mean?

Big! Yes! Yes! Beautiful! Oh, God yes!

Big and beautiful. Beautiful and big.

But what's the goal? Stop illegal immigration? Stop terrorism? Stop drugs? How? What terrorists? What drugs? Which immigrants? What's the plan? What studies and hard data is the plan based on? What are the counter arguments? What other options do we have? Have we looked for any other solution? Where are the studies weighing those options against each other? Where is the cost benefit analysis of each one? The environment impact statements? What are the objectives of this wall? How will you measure if the objectives are being met and what's the backup plan if they aren't? How much will it cost? To build? To maintain over its lifespan? How long is that lifespan? How will we pay for it? Who will build it? How long will it take? Will construction stretch into the next administration? What happens if that administration elects not to continue? Do we get our money back? Who will maintain it? Who will patrol it? How long will it be? How high? How is it better than what we have now?



And etcetera.

He never answers any of these questions. He never explains anything. Not only because he doesn’t know, but because he’s conning us. 

Trump claims to be a genius. Of course we have only his word for that and he’s a little short on the details of who certified his intellect. We’re just supposed to take him at his word. Stable genius. Sure.

But have you ever actually listened to a real genius?

Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds who has ever existed. He studies time itself. Time. Try to define that. Go ahead. Try to explain time. Time is … what? Hawking studies things that most mundanes can't even put into words in even a general sense, let alone comprehend in any detail. And yet – and yet – what Hawking is most noted for is his ability to patiently explain that very complexity to ordinary people. He wrote a famous best selling book on it. He gives sellout lectures on it, like some kind of rock star. Even though doing something as ordinary as speaking is horribly difficult for him.

Ever watch Elon Musk describing his plans for the future of humankind? This guy is so many steps ahead of the human race that there is legitimate reason to wonder if he's maybe an alien in disguise, sent here from some advanced civilization out there beyond the stars. Musk can describe the most complex machines – like his Falcon Heavy – the most complex ideas, and why they are so very important for our future, in terms that anyone can understand. All while cracking sly jokes and sending his own car into orbit around the sun.


Trump claims similar genius, yet he can never describe his plans in even the vaguest of terms.

"We will have a military like we've never had before."

What does that mean?

What the hell does that mean?

The United States spends on average 20% of its entire federal budget on the military – and that does NOT include the Veterans Administration or money spent on veterans after they leave the service.

54% of federal discretionary spending is on the military.

4.5% of the Gross Domestic Product is spent on the military, that’s 700 BILLION dollars as of this year.

And Trump and conservatives in Congress tell us that we must increase that expenditure.

We have to.

We have to, right? Don’t you want a military like we’ve never seen before? Sure you do.

But … why?

Why do we need to spend more on the military?

No. NO. That's not a rhetorical question. Why do we need to spend more on the military?

Why? The answer to that question, the ability to answer that question in any detail, is the whole goddamned point here.

We spend on average right now a bit over 4% of the Gross Domestic Product on ... well, I was going to say Defense, but that's not really accurate, is it? War. Military hardware. Weapons. Invasion. Power projection. Occupation of foreign nations. Empire building. Whatever the hell you call it, it's not really defense anymore. Department of Preemptive Mayhem and Wanton Destruction maybe. War, Inc.

Whatever we call it, we spend roughly 4% of our GDP on it.

For comparison, during the height of WWII, spending on the military peaked at 41% of GDP.

Forty-one percent.

That’s a lot. We had to give up a lot of other things to fund the military at 41% of the GDP. But that's back when we were literally fighting for survival, fighting a total war, globally, against two different enemies -- enemies that were a vast alliance of nation states -- simultaneously over literally millions of square miles of the planet. We were fighting in the air, on every sea, and over the land on six continents. Nearly every ship, every plane, every base, entire armies, new technologies, doctrine, plans, alliances, all of it, had to be built from scratch. All of America had to sacrifice, they gave up consumer goods, they rationed food and essentials such as gasoline – hell, it was illegal to own a spare tire for your car, that rubber went to the war. They scrounged for metals, they went to work in the factories, they volunteered for the military, they instituted a draft, they bought war bonds. That’s what it took, and more, to fund the military to 41% of the GDP. They could never have sustained it, if the war went on as long as the current one has.

During the Cold War we spent on average about 10% of the GDP on the military. That was to maintain a global presence and go toe-to-toe with the Soviet Union, with the literal end of the world hanging in the balance every day.

During World War II, during the Cold War, our enemies could have wiped us out. Taken us over, destroyed civilization in a dozen different ways. Now? We face some pissant terrorists and a handful of Third World dictators. They can harm us, certainly. Some of them might even have the power to destroy a city. I won't argue that. They might certainly wreak terrible damage.

But they can't destroy the United States.

They can't end the world.

They can’t topple civilization.

Meanwhile, Between 2001 and 2014, 440,095 Americans died from gun violence on US soil.

Four-hundred thousand.

You know how many Americans died in World War II? 416,500. 

For comparison and lest you think I’m picking on gun violence unfairly, between 2001 and 2014, 534,601 Americans died in car accidents.

Again, for comparison, in the same amount of time, 13 years or so, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam.

Between 2001 and 2014, the total number of Americans killed overseas by terrorism (as the government defines it) was 369.

Three-hundred and sixty-nine. Total. That’s it. Killed by terrorist overseas.

Inside the US, the number of Americans killed by terrorism during that same period was 3,043 – a tenth of the guns deaths in America that year.

Three-thousand and forty-three. That’s a lot right? Yes it is. But that figure includes the attacks of September 11th, 2001. With the exception of that extraordinary and terrible event, the annual deaths from domestic terrorism (as the government officially defines it) is much, much lower, averaging <10 per year. 

Note: as the government defines terrorism. You can't have it both ways. If the government doesn't define a white Christian man with a modified semi-auto assault rifle firing from a hotel window into the crowd as terrorism for the purposes of gun violence, then they can't count it as terrorism for national defense purposes either. Make your bed and lie in it.

That's the threat we face today. Opioid abuse. Gun violence. Car accidents. These things are what kill Americans today. And while, certainly, terrorist states and rogue nations are a threat, comparatively speaking they’re fairly minor when plotted against the things that are actually killing Americans in large numbers right now.

Quick, what percentage of the federal budget is spent on gun violence?

What percentage on car accidents?

What percentage on drug deaths?

We spend 4% and more of our GDP, 20% of the federal budget, on our military and almost nothing on the actual threats that are actually killing Americans. 

The politicians and the pundits and the defense industry would have you convinced that our enemies are massed outside the gate and tunneling under the walls. But, fear not, America, for the low, low price of $700 Billion, we can defend you! And most of America is too damned scared to stop and question anything. $700 Billion? What a bargain for our safety, plus, super cool military! USA! USA!

Let me give you an example, one of many: 4,486 American service personnel died in the most recent Iraq War. 2,345 American military personnel have so far died in Afghanistan. More than a million have been wounded.

Now, how many of those deaths were due to enemy airpower?

How many of those 6,831 dead Americans were killed as a direct result of enemy airpower?

Need a hint? It’s none.

Over 17 years of war, no American in that conflict was killed or wounded by enemy aircraft. They were killed by IEDS in infinite variation, RPGs, mortar fire, snipers, small arms fire, suicide bombers, but not one was killed by enemy air superiority.

In fact, how many Americans have been killed by enemy air power since Vietnam?

And yet, we’re spending $1.5 Trillion to build the F-35, because we just gotta have it. And this was the cheap one, the single seater, compared to the F-22, the air superiority fighter, which we also just had to have. Now, sure, technological superiority is great and all, but again, it’s not technological superiority that’s killing our people or threatening our country. Hell, 19 shitheads with boxcutters killed 2,996 of us on 911. All the super invisible fighter jets in the world couldn’t have stopped it. Just as they can’t stop a fanatic with a suicide vest. But, the generals, the defense contractors, the politicians and the pundits have convinced you that the real threat is enemy airpower. Or enemy ships on the high seas. Or enemy tanks. So we’ve got to have new planes and new ships and new tanks.

And yet, ISIS can’t destroy us. North Korea can’t destroy us. They can bring down a building. Blow up a city. Sure, and we need to deal with that threat, I’m not saying we don’t. I’m certainly not saying that any building, any city, is expendable. But they can’t destroy us.

And the things we need to fight ISIS, or even North Korea, well, those things aren’t sexy and they don’t keep multi-billion dollar defense contractors in business. So we buy trillion dollar fighter jets to fight terrorists.

It’s a racket. That’s why you never hear about the details.

The generals, the defense contractors, the pundits, the politicians, they never spell it out. They don’t want you thinking about it, asking questions, getting suspicious that you’re being conned.

Ask yourself something: Where's the upper limit?

At what point do we max out, percentage wise? 10% of GDP? 41% like WWII? And what are we willing to give up to achieve that level of military spending? Nylons and spare tires? Will you buy war bonds and ration gasoline and butter? Will you send your children off to fight a preemptive war somewhere in the world?

How is this military Trump plans to create unlike any we've seen before? What will it do that the current one can’t? How will it be better? Who decided that? What did they base that decision on? How much will it cost? How much will it cost to maintain? How long will it last? What do we have to give up? What are the long term consequences? Ronald Reagan created a massive military, unlike any we'd seen in recent history. We activated WWII battleships and built nuclear cruisers and bought new fighter jets and new tanks. We recruited new soldiers and marched out smartly to show the world our might.

It put us into massive debt and couldn't be maintained.

We had to cut back.

Meanwhile, there was the Soviet Union. They too built a massive military at the expense of everything else in their society. They loved to parade it through Red Square to show the world. Their mighty ships patrolled the high seas and their bombers cruised the skies.

And combined with endless war, eventually that military bankrupted the USSR.

The entire country collapsed overnight without so much as a whimper, and disappeared into history.

Right now, North Korea is building bombs and rockets while their people go hungry. We mock them for this, just as we laughed at Soviets standing in endless lines for bread and toilet paper while their government churned out tanks and nuclear cruisers that they couldn’t afford.

These things should be cautionary tales, not examples to emulate.

"We will have a military like we've never had before."

How come conservatives like Trump never say, “We will have an education system like we’ve never had before.”

We’re going to have healthcare coverage like we’ve never had before.

We’re going to advance science like we’ve never done before.

We’re going to help people we’ve never helped before, feed people we’ve never fed before, spread civil rights to those who’ve never had them before, bring freedom and equality and justice to all like we’ve never done before, give a leg up to every member of our society like we’ve never done, work towards making war less likely and work on lasting peace and prosperity like we’ve never done before.

We’re going to see that everybody has a boat and that the tide raises all of those boats together! Goddamned right, that’s what we’re going to do.

They don’t say it, because they don’t believe it.

Because they are amoral bastards who don’t believe in anything but enriching themselves. They’ve been running this con for a long time. They’ll take your last dime and they don’t give a damn what happens to you.

But here’s the thing: the con doesn’t work unless the victim plays along.

Greed. Pride. Envy. Fear. These are the human traits that make this con profitable.

As such, the countermeasure should then be obvious.

You must ask the questions and demand the answers. You must look past fear and greed and pride and mindless unthinking patriotism.

You must hold this administration, every administration, accountable. Every Congressman. Every Senator. Every general. Every CEO who takes taxpayer money. Every political party. Every media outlet. Every journalist. Ask the questions and demand the answers. Never stop. Show up for every election, no matter how minor. Educate yourself on the candidates and the issues before the election.

When government is of the people, by the people, and for the people, the people – you – are the weakest link.

In the end, as always, if you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Friday, February 9, 2018



Someone asked, "What would you say to someone considering joining the military right now?"

My answer?


Flip, I suppose. Terse, certainly. But that’s my recommendation nonetheless.  Don’t.

It doesn’t need to be any more elaborate than that, if you understand what you’re asking.

It doesn’t require any more words than that, if you understand what you’re asking.

If you understand what you’re asking.


Simple as that.

But, of course, it’s not that simple.

And, of course, it didn’t end there.

How could it?

I mean, if you had to ask, well…

Those you who follow me on Twitter, you saw the responses.


Many seemed shocked, surprised, as if they expected a career veteran like me to have answered differently.

But why? They asked. Why would you tell people not to join the military? You did. You spent 20 years and more in the military, why would you, you of all people, tell others not to join up? Are you one of them? One of those disgruntled vets, all sour and angry and ashamed of your service?


No, I’m not one of them.

Not at all.

I’m proud of my service. I’m glad I served. Even when the war was unjust and ill-conceived and based on lies, my service, and that of those who served beside me and under my command, was honorable. I’m proud of my service and those I served with. I am neither bitter nor angry nor ashamed of it. Just the opposite and I’ve written enough about my career here that such should be obvious.

But this world, this America today, is not the same nation it was when I signed up.

I was no idealist. I joined up for a number of reasons, some good, some dumb, some I’ve told you about in other articles and some that are none of your business, but idealism wasn’t one of those reasons. I knew what I was getting into. I joined the military in the first years of the Reagan Administration. Back then, agree with the president or not, the Cold War was very real and you could at least see the very explicit threat America faced every day. We didn’t have to go looking for it. We didn’t have to provoke it with bombast and juvenile posturing on Social Media – even if such had existed back then. And while I wasn't so foolish as to believe everything the government told me, I believed that the majority of those in our government wanted to make the world a better place. Reagan, whatever his faults, whatever his ideology, was trying to make nuclear war less likely, not start one to prove his manhood.

I don’t idolize Ronald Reagan, far from it. And I am well, well aware of his myriad faults and I despise the path he set American politics on, the path that has led thirty years later to this very point. But I was willing to sign up and serve under his command because I believed he truly wanted to make the world a better place for all of us. Reagan tried to tear down walls, not build new ones.

I don’t expect you to agree with me about that. I expect you and I see that time differently. That’s okay.

But I think we can agree that the world, and America, was a very, very different place and Reagan aside, back before the rise of the 24/7 news cycle and hate TV and 9-11, I believed the majority of Americans wanted to make the world a better place. We certainly didn’t agree on how, and maybe many of those Americans never thought beyond winning the Cold War, but in large part most of our country wanted to make the world a better place.

I could support that.

I could be part of that.

Even if I didn’t agree with the various administrations over the years, or the methodology, or how we were used, I could be part of that.

Fast forward to the present:

Joining the military is (so far) still a personal decision.

If you're considering it, then you should understand in detail what that decision implies.

You're going to swear a binding oath to obey the orders of the President. This President. If you don’t understand what that means now, well, you could find yourself later in the same jail cell Chelsea Manning just vacated.

You need to understand that oath and what it means before you sign up.

Oh sure, the orders must be lawful.

But you’re going to find out, sooner or later, that there is a hell of a lot of wiggle room in lawful. Using that above example: nothing that Manning disclosed, not one of the things she couldn’t live with, none of them were unlawful. Immoral maybe. Unethical. Horrible. But not unlawful.

And here's the real rub: what is and is not lawful, well, that’s decided by Congress and the President.

This Congress.

This President.

You? Once you swear that oath, you don't get to decide what is and is not lawful, but you will be held responsible for it anyway -- and they will not.

So, before you hold up your right hand and swear your oath, you need to think about what that could mean for you personally.

Particularly under this Congress and this president.

And you need to think about it in detail. Hard. All the way through. And if you can't live with what it very well might come to, if you can’t see what it might very well come to, then don't swear that oath.

Because once you do, you're part of it.

All the way.

Once you swear that oath, you're part of this administration. Part of its agenda. And you’ll be held responsible, at least in part, by history for it. If you sign up during this administration, you're saying you're good with all of that – or if not good per se, then at least you can live with it. Whatever it might come to. You won't have an excuse. You volunteered. You're in, all the way, whatever might come, to the bitter end.

And you damned well better understand that in your bones.

Me? I spent more than 20 years in the military. I served under Republicans and Democrats with equal fidelity. I had to do some pretty shitty things in some pretty awful places. I don't regret that, because I made my peace with it before I swore my oath the first time and again when I became a Chief and then an Officer and was put into a position were I would surely have to order others to do terrible things in the name of my country.

I can live with it.

I can live with it, even if I didn't agree with the government, or the president of the moment, or the war. I did my duty because I believed we were right. Because I believed we weren't sacrificing our lives for nothing. Because I believed the majority of Americans wanted to make the world a better place.

I no longer believe this to be true of America.

You see, my word, once given is good. No exceptions.

So I don't give it lightly. And as such, I could not in good conscience swear to obey the orders of this President, even lawful ones – not when he is enabled, encouraged, and unchecked by this Congress and an America who put these rotten faithless sons of bitches in power. I could not in good conscience follow the orders of this feckless fool of a President unrestrained by this small-minded hateful Congress. I do not believe they want to make the world a better place for anyone but themselves.

I do not trust these people not to waste lives, mine, yours, the lives of my troops, the lives of our children, or the lives of those caught in the middle.

In point of fact, many in this government have made it abundantly clear that they regard the lives of those they deem unAmerican to be unworthy of any further consideration. This is not acceptable to me. I would not pledge my life to those who see me as expendable to further their own selfish ends.

Yes, but what about the Coast Guard, someone asked. What about the National Guard, asked several others.


Hell no.

Those services most especially.

Why? Well, see, the Coast Guard is a military service under the cognizance of the Department of Homeland Security.

Think about that.

Think about why it is that way.

You want to think carefully about what that implies nowadays in the context of, oh say immigration, or drug enforcement, or national security, and how those things have grossly distorted the Coast Guard's traditional mission in this paranoid, nationalist, post-911 America. And then you want to remember that the Coast Guard is specifically not under the Department of Defense because it is, primarily, a law enforcement agency who unlike the rest of the military, can enforce the government's will directly on Americans without regard to the Posse Comitatus Act or other niceties.

The same is true of the National Guard when under the command of State Governors, and I wouldn't trust those fascist bastards not to abuse that power nor this federal government to hold them in check.

Nor would I want to be the instrument of it.

How likely do I think that danger is?

I don’t know. And that’s the problem.

So, if you're thinking of joining, think on that very carefully.

Remember, you asked me what I would do.

Back in the early part of the last century, there were those Germans who signed up. They weren’t Nazis. They weren’t terrible people. They were serving their country long before the fascists came along. They were decent people who hailed from a tradition of service in a nation that valued their sacrifice. They were professionals. And when Hitler came to power, well, at first they were glad to see their military restored to priority in that society.

But when it all went to hell, when the horror became apparent, it was too late. They were part of it then. All the way. To the bitter end.

Those men, they didn’t know, not at first, not like those who joined up after the truth was obvious, but in the end they had become monsters just the same.


In this world?

In this America?

I would not join up, because I know in detail what that oath means.

The oath is power. Service is power. Not for you, but for those who command it.

And I know that the restraints and the reason that were once placed on that power no longer exist in America.

I won’t be a part of that. And I am not willing to risk becoming a monster even by accident.


Well, that's your decision.

And you’ll have to make it.

But if you’re asking for advice, then my answer is this: Don't.

If you don't like my advice, then you shouldn't have asked for it.

Then again, if you’re asking, you really don’t understand the question.

And you really, really should.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Damned Lies

America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?
-- US President Donald J. Trump, State of the Union speech, 1/30/2018

America is a nation of builders.

We built the Empire State Building in just one year.

Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years – ten years! – just to get a minor permit for a simple road?

If I had to pick one line from Trump’s State of the Union speech, one line that summarizes today everything wrong with America, that would be the line. That one right there: America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?

Begin at the beginning: America is a nation of builders.

What does that mean?

No. I’m serious. What does that mean?

“Builders” implies building things. What things? Houses? Skyscrapers? Bridges? Roads? That’s the context, isn’t it? That’s what Trump was talking about. Infrastructure. It sounds good, but what does it mean? All nations build those things. What identifies us as a “nation of builders” different from other nations who build things?

And I strongly suspect that those nations, such as Iraq, who have been on the receiving end of our artillery and missiles for the last decade and a half would argue this boast. For them, we are destroyers not builders. But I digress.

What does he mean, a nation of builders?

This is not a rhetorical question. Trump routinely makes statements of fact, that upon examination are anything but. This was supposed to be a Constitutionally mandated report on the state of the union, a summary of fact. So, who’s doing the building? When he says, “a nation of builders,” what exactly is he talking about? Public projects funded by the government?  Commercial construction financed by business and industry? Private homes? What? I mean, there’s a big damned difference indeed between the new 400 million dollar Pensacola Bay Bridge currently being built between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze by the State of Florida and the new Trump Hotel currently building in Cleveland, Mississippi, under Trump’s Scion brand managed by Eric and Donald Trump Jr.

That’s the very crux of this part: We built the Empire State Building in just one year.


We who?

The Empire State Building was constructed beginning in 1930 by a group of wealthy investors, known as Empire State Inc. These people were accountable only to themselves and their investors. They intended to build a building on a two-acre plot in Manhattan, a city made of buildings and an area specifically zoned for buildings. Unsurprisingly, there was little resistance from the city or much need for public input. And in fact, the city and the public, in the grip of the Great Depression, were quite enthusiastic about building a big building on a site zoned for buildings in a city full of buildings using private money. So it didn’t take very long to get the permits needed to begin construction.

Now, compare that to similar public works of that time.

Public works such as the Hoover Dam. Construction of the dam began in 1931, but it took more than 30 years of speculation, design, review, regulation, planning, public meetings, litigation, acquisition of land via purchase and Eminent Domain, and legislation to get there.  Construction would create thousands of jobs, but if the dam failed, hundreds of thousands of lives would be at risk. Billions of taxpayer dollars would be lost. Environmental damage would be catastrophic and would likely alter the very geography of the region permanently. The dam would change the political balance of the Southwest and determine both electrical power and water rights (and thus everything else from industrialization to agriculture to raising up entire cities to things as prosaic as golf courses) for the next thousand years. In the face of that, 30 years of development doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.

It took six years to build the dam, two years less than originally planned, in harsh remote terrain far from any support.

The Hoover Dam went into operation in 1936. That same year, the Empire State Building was losing more than $1 million dollars per year and there was no public elevator service above the 45th floor because the building was empty between the 41st floor and 81st. As a matter of fact, the Empire State Building didn’t even start to break even, profit wise, until the mid-1950s. And that’s fine, when it’s private investor money they’re losing. It’s a whole different ballgame when it’s a public facility funded by tax dollars.

Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road.

No. It’s not.

And it’s utterly disingenuous, not to mention a logical fallacy, to compare construction of a private building to the permitting process for public works, especially across the span of a century.

Moreover, a “simple road” doesn’t typically take anywhere near a decade to get approved. And “simple roads” are rarely constructed by the federal government, those are usually state and local projects. For example, here in my area – the small Florida Panhandle town of Milton – a developer purchased several acres of land along my morning bike path and began the construction of a dozen houses. That developer got permits to build what will become public road through the housing development, connecting to existing roads. Now, obviously, a study needed to be done. Basic things: who would pay for maintenance and upkeep of the new road? The city? The state? How? Via new tax dollars from the new houses? A millage? How often will it have to be paved? Will this new road need lights, signals, signs, culverts, etc. You can’t just add new roads without some sort of planning, not if you expect the city and state to maintain the infrastructure. Not if you expect taxpayers to foot the bill. Not if you expect the city and state planners to be able to put together a budget. Not if you expect the police to patrol it. And the postal service to deliver mail. And the electrical co-op and Water & Sewage to run utilities. And so on. I looked it up, from the time the developer began purchasing the land to the time ground was broken for the first house was less than six months, including permits for that “simple road.” Hardly “ten years.”

This is true in large part all across the country.

But we’re not really talking about “simple roads,” are we? And neither was Trump.

We’re talking about major projects, public works. Like the Pensacola Bay Bridge mentioned up above.

That bridge, when completed, will replace the current bridge which is 60 years old. It will be more than three miles long and will carry more than 60,000 vehicles per day, in addition to bicycle and foot traffic. It will have to stand up to Category 5 hurricanes – and it is the major evacuation route for hundreds of thousands of people. It will have to last more than 50 years and it will have to support a growing population, not to mention vehicles and traffic we can’t even envision yet. If it fails, it will be catastrophic. If it damages the environment, it will be a disaster for the local tourist and fishing industries. If it can’t meet the needs of the future, it will be a chokehold on business, on populations, and on development. If it’s poorly designed, if it can’t stand up to the environment, it will be an endless drain on public money. And it has to be built around the existing bridge without impacting traffic, business, emergency evacuation routes, or sea traffic on the inland waterway.

Now, I submit to you that might take some study.

It requires extensive planning, design, public input, permitting, and review. And that may take years.

If Trump’s hotel goes bust, or burns down, or stays empty because he planned poorly, he can go bankrupt and stick it to his investors.

But perhaps a decade isn’t really all that long for development when you’re talking about a public project that costs $400,000,000, impacts the lives of 60,000 drivers per day not to mention the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands in the surrounding communities, and is going to be with us for most of the next century.

Let me give you an example of what happens when you don’t do due diligence, when you rush things.

A few years before construction started on the Hoover Dam, there was another dam.

You might, or might not, have heard of it.

It was a large concrete gravity dam, about 40 miles north of Los Angeles, built in 1926 by a guy named William Mulholland, a self-taught engineer, for the Los Angeles Bureau of Water Works and Supply.

Now, in 1926, at the height of the roaring 20s, the economy was booming. The stock market was at an all time high. The city of Los Angeles was likewise booming, the population nearly doubling from 1910. The city had planned to build a dam in Big Tujunga Canyon, but Mulholland was incensed by the prices owners in that area were demanding for their land. He considered it robbery, extortion, and an attempt to derail progress, and said so, loudly. 

This period was also known as the California Water Wars, with cities and ranchers fighting armed battles over water rights and land – much like today’s conservative libertarians fighting the federal government over use of federal properties.

Rather than accede to the land owners’ demands, Mulholland chose the San Francisquito Canyon in the Sierra Pelona Mountains and named his project The St. Francis Dam.

Construction began quietly, so as not to attract public notice. Despite some rather troublesome problems with the local geology, the dam was completed quickly and ahead of schedule and began to fill on March 12th, 1926.

Problems began almost immediately. Leaks. Cracks. Armed ranchers.

Over the next two years, the dam slowly filled, until it was at capacity, 38,000 acre feet of water, rising nearly 180 feet above the valley floor.

Cracks kept appearing at an increasing rate and the soil around the dam became saturated with water. Mulholland and his engineers were called repeatedly by the dam keeper for each new problem, but they dismissed the concerns and ordered various drains and patches.

On March 12, 1928, exactly two years from the day the reservoir began to fill, the St Francis Dam failed. Catastrophically. No witnesses survived the actual event. The dam failed so completely and so suddenly that the entire reservoir, 38,000 acre feet – that’s something in the neighborhood of 12 billion gallons – emptied in less than 70 minutes. A flood 140 feet high killed the dam keeper’s family a mile below the dam. Five minutes later, the deluge, still 120 feet high, destroyed the power stations and killed the electricians and their families who lived in a small town nearby. The flood roared downstream, wiping out ranches and electrical workers and the towns of Fillmore, Bardsdale, and Santa Paula, before pouring into the Pacific Ocean. Bodies were found as far away as Mexico. 431 people died. Tens of thousands were displaced. The environmental damage was catastrophic, as was the damage to property and infrastructure. The monetary loss was in the billions, in 1928 dollars.

Now, before you tell me that engineering has advanced greatly since then, try to remember that the Hoover Dam was built only 4 years later. And in fact, many of the nation’s great works stem from that time, dams, highways, bridges, and etc. 

That said, you don’t have to do much digging to find similar catastrophes, dam failures, bridge collapses, and so on. Hell, there are cable TV programs nightly showing an endless parade of engineering disasters.

One of the reasons permitting takes longer these days is because we, supposedly, have learned from our mistakes, learned from the past. For example: If you were paying attention up above, you saw where I wrote “self-taught engineer” after William Mulholland’s name. We don’t allow that any more either, engineers in every state must meet the requirements and accreditation set forth by their state board of engineers. In California, licensing of engineers began specifically because of Mulholland’s spectacular failure.

Yes, we are a nation of builders.

But nowadays, our buildings, our bridges, our roads, must carry a volume greater than any previous. More, they must anticipate what is to come. And now we must design skyscrapers to withstand the deliberate impact of a jetliner full of fuel, something our ancestors never had to worry about.

Still, our buildings, dams, bridges, and roads are safer than any project built in previous decades. And while jobs are a nice side effect of such works, they aren’t the reason for them. These projects are designed to serve the public, to benefit the nation, to advance future generations. And if they are to withstand the test of ages, then we must not only take the time to build them right, but take the time to ensure they best serve not only the current public interest and that of future generations as well.

America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?

Every major media outlet in the world has spent thousands of hours over the last two days analyzing Trump’s State of the Union Speech. I’m not going to repeat their work.

It’s just wasted motion.

There is no point in analyzing every statement from Trump’s State of the Union address.

Every point, every single one, is the same as this, empty statements wrapped around logical fallacies that say essentially nothing upon examination.  Each point of Trump’s address serves only to demonstrate Trump’s profound ignorance of history and the basic functions of both civilization and good government.

More, it demonstrates the shallow mindless unthinking patriotism of those who would cheer him.

And in that regard, ironically, Trump’s address is indeed a testament to the sorry state of our union.