Casualties from Iranian Invasion Continue to Mount, Approach 150,000

What if the headline looked like this?
“The Iranian 3 and 4th Armies, aided by what experts believe to be the bulk of the troops in the Revolutionary Guard, have continue their attack on the Gulf Coast. Although no one could have predicted their surprise spring offensive, invading multiple Eastern seacoast ports on inflatable rafts believed to have been supplied by the Chinese, the Pentagon had issued many warnings that despite having their offensive halted in key Northern states such as New York, that they were likely to shift their attack to less protected states, such as in the Southeast.
Currently, Iranian troops have made Florida and Texas into strongholds, where they’ve been easily able to resist the typically feeble and uncoordinated counterassaults launched by a hodgepodge of Army, Marine and National Guard forces. The Iranians have killed a number of our front line troops, but they seem to be concentrating their particular ire on the civilian population, indiscriminately machine-gunning crowds and setting fire to every nursing home they encounter. To date, Iranian forces have killed over 140,000 Americans and wounded over a million. Hopes that they would find the oppressive humidity of the Gulf Coast uncongenial, causing them to lose heart and return home to their dry, desert climes have, to date, proved unfounded.
Troops attempting to stem the tide of highly-motivated and well-supported Iranian combat units have been asking for additional scout troops and drones to better determine the exact location of the enemy, but Washington has sent only a few, advising our generals that “If you don’t see any Iranians, they must not be there.” Local commanders state they are also running out of ammunition and flak vests and have been calling their West Point colleagues in other states to see if they’ve got any extras. Some enterprising local residents have taken to hiding in their basement and coming out only furtively while wearing their own flak vests and helmets and avoiding the large crowds that Iranian helicopters find tempting targets. Other residents scoff at such measures and have been gathering unprotected in public locations, where they are frequently on the receiving end of Iranian mortar attacks.
The White House, under an umbrella of air defenses, cybersecurity and the 82nd Airborne advises Gulf Coast commanders and citizens, “Sucks to be you.”
Most people are pinning their hopes on secret anti-Iranian weapons currently being developed.”

You betcha we’d all be running around with our hair on fire if Muslims with machine guns had invaded and killed 140,000 people with no signs of stopping. Our leaders would unite us in an all-out effort to eradicate the invaders. This would be Pearl Harbor on steroids AND crack. We really WOULD have some shock-and-awe. Even the anti-maskers would be dressed in full combat gear and not saying “whatsa matter, pansy, can’t take a bullet?”
However, instead of large (and brown skinned) people with automatic weapons, we have an invisible enemy of no particular religion. And, so, even though the casualties and consequences are equal, we instead have dithering, buck-passing, and general attempt to wish the problem away and demonization of those who try to deal with it.
So if we’d rally together to beat a visible threat, why not do the same for an invisible one?”

What Would Republicans Have Thought of the Boston Tea Party?

I mean, it WAS a Tea Party. That’s good. They were protesting TAXES! Yaay! And everyone dressed up as Indians so they were demonstrating political incorrectness AND pushing blame onto a troublesome minority at the same time. Great, a twofer! Come on, what’s not to like?
Well, hold on a minute. What about the violence part? I mean, they destroyed somebody else’s PRIVATE PROPERTY. You know tea doesn’t grow on trees (well, bushes), and it came on a boat all the way from China or India or someplace far away and those sailors had to go through storms and stuff and that cost somebody a WHOLE LOT OF MONEY and those violent protesters just threw it into the harbor! What if the owner didn’t have enough insurance? Or it didn’t cover acts of war or insurrection—and you know that’s what the insurance company would say, even if it was “Indians” who did it.
AND, even worse, they were protesting the legal actions of their OWN GOVERNMENT. It wasn’t that a few rogue tax collectors were out of control and giving a bad name to all the good tax collectors, it was the King and his whole government who raised the taxes! Gosh, you can’t take to the streets (or docks) to protest your own government, you should SUPPORT your government. No matter what. And if you don’t like it, just leave. God Save the King and all that (you DO stand up when they play that tune, don’t you?).
Gosh, what’s a good Republican to think? People with a just grievance but who are both protesting against the government AND destroying private property! Republican heads are spinning. We hate taxes but we hate violent protests against the government too! Where are my cognitive dissonance pills? I know, if the violent protest involves white people upset about money, it’s good and I’ll name a wing of my party after it. If it’s dark-skinned people upset about being beaten and murdered, it’s bad, and I can go on happily ignoring whose knee was on whose neck.

If You Don’t Like it, Leave!

Just read this devastating rejoinder in the comments section of a NYT article discussing racial problems in America. Really? Did you just think that up all by yourself this morning while reading the newspaper? No, I bet you’ve been parroting that half-assed excuse for not dealing with something all your life. I’ve certainly been hearing variations of it since I was a teenager in the ‘60s (“America, love it or leave it!”). It’s the all-purpose, get-out-of-rational-thought-jail card that numb nuts have been playing all century.
Thing is, nobody but sociopaths actually lives their life that way. My wife says the front door is sticking? Hey, if you don’t like it, leave! Then she says our 8 year old is disobedient and doing poorly in school. Don’t like that, either? Leave! Oh wait, then I’m stuck with the kid. I’d better leave first. Better yet, we’ll put the kid in a foster home.
Got a beef with how we do things here in Land-of-the-Free? Don’t want to hear about it. Just shut up. Better yet, shut up and leave! Hey, every dictator worth his epaulettes and armored limo knows that the easiest way to get rid of problems is to get rid of the people who mention them! Why solve a problem when you can just ignore it?
Actually, I may be too harsh (who me??). There are times when it’s ok to keep your mouth shut—when something is none of your business. But when somebody does something or says something that affects you and those you care for, well then it IS your business. And if you care for your country, then something that affects it (or reflects poorly on it) IS your business. The prejudices you hold about people in the darkness of your mind are between you and whatever passes for your conscience. But how we collectively treat people and deal with the myriad problems that we face are my and everybody’s responsibility. I will not be denied the opportunity to make my country better.
If you don’t like it, FIX IT!  

Erasing History

So pulling down the statues of Confederate leaders is “erasing history,” meaning we want to hide the truth about the past, let it be lost and forgotten in the mists of time, cover it up and bury it in the litter box. Well, that would be bad, right? Same thing as Stalin airbrushing his latest enemies out of official pictures in textbooks and news archives (some of those pics got pretty empty over the years). We can’t pretend stuff didn’t happen. We need to remember all the dumbass things we did so we don’t do them again (didn’t somebody say something like that?).
And of course, teaching stuff in school and writing about it in books doesn’t count, because who the heck pays attention in school or reads books? Maybe a short YouTube video… But what we really need are STATUES! Yeah, every government building should have a bronze, bigger-than-life-sized fertilizer truck with Tim McVeigh stepping out of the cab so we remember not to blow people up (and government employees remember to keep an eye peeled). Schools should all have statues at their entrance of Dylan and Eric with their trench coats and weapons ready to rock and roll—or another child-murderer of their choice (oh so many to pick from)—so we know not to kill kids.
Really? No, not really. Confederate sympathizers and apologizers, as well as actual sane people, know very well that we don’t put up statues of despicable things we need to remember, we put up statues of people and events we LIKE and respect and celebrate. And of course they DO love and celebrate the leaders of the Confederacy, cuz they told that darn Federal gummint where they could go stick their anti-slave talk. Nobody was gonna slave-shame THEM. And THAT’S the problem, a lot more than the statues themselves. Too many people still today don’t really have a problem with what happened in the slave-holding states back then and what is happening to the descendants of those slaves here today.
And for those of you who are limbering up your typing fingers to reply that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, it was about states’ rights, read the various Confederate States’ declarations of secession. The “rights” they wanted to preserve were the right to buy and sell people, make them work for nothing and beat them bloody if they didn’t. Guess your statues didn’t teach you right after all. Pull ‘em down.

Police Protests

The Right says it’s bad to even criticize—much less protest—the mistakes made by public servants who are trying to do an extremely difficult and thankless job under impossible conditions. After all, the “mistakes” were probably just someone’s best judgment in the heat of the moment under incredible pressure, and second-guessing by people who just saw a quick video and weren’t even there and don’t have all the facts is just uncalled for. Right? That is, unless the public servant is the President of the United States. In that case, get your “facts” from Fox News and protest, call him names, vilify him, do everything you can to delegitimize him and his job. That’s fine. That’s your patriotic duty. But don’t criticize the police. So, tighty-white rightys, why is it open season on the president? Oh yeah, he’s Black. And you wonder why they’re in the streets protesting.
Now, it should go without saying that shooting people that piss us off—like just happened in Dallas to the police (or in street corners around the country to “suspects”)—is a bad thing. But I’ll say it anyway. Kids, don’t shoot your neighbors, don’t shoot the police, just don’t shoot people, ok? No matter how good you think it might feel, life is really going to be better for everybody, including you, if you knock that shit off.
Now, keeping a leash on every nut case who’s been hiding under a flat rock collecting grievances and firearms for a few years is admittedly a bit of a challenge. So I’ll defer that one for another rantatorial. But how about the police? Yes, yes, tighty-rightys, most of the time they shoot people that pretty much deserve it. But if you had a guard dog that most of the time didn’t bite your kids, would you be cool with that? “Oh, Cujo keeps thinking Timmy’s a burglar when he comes home late from choir practice. But most of the time he just growls. Timmy only gets bitten 3 or 4 times a year.” And if you don’t care about your kids, pretend it’s your girlfriend he’s biting. No, you’d be going for a zero error policy (or a new apartment).
And unlike the problem of deranged individuals, there actually are some reasonable solutions for police. Like, remembering that they work for us. And not in some vague metaphorical sense. They literally work for us. We hire them, pay them, tell them when to show up for work and what to do when they get there. And we can discipline and fire them. We can make them do stuff we want and not do stuff we don’t! That’s what bosses are for. At least that’s what my boss seems to be for. Making me do stuff. Now if I run over to the office of the Procurement person who won’t answer my 6 emails about this contract I need and scream at him and pound on his desk and threaten his pets, I’m going to be out of a job before I get back to my own desk—especially when it’s turns out I wasn’t even yelling at the right guy. So why can a cop pull up in a squad car, jump right out and shoot a 12 yr-old boy carrying a toy gun and nothing happens?
Well, I think it’s because the police are where doctors were 30-40 years ago. Time was, if a doctor did something wrong—something really wrong like ignoring a big lump that even the mailman thought looked like cancer, or cutting off the wrong leg—all the other doctors would circle the wagons (actually, Cadillacs) and solemnly intone what a difficult job it is to practice medicine, how much pressure there is, how we shouldn’t armchair quarterback what the expert did on the scene, and blah blah blah, doctors are never wrong no matter how bad it might look to amateurs.
Well, this blind defensiveness has fortunately died away (though not out) because doctors realized a couple things. They realized the profession as a whole looks bad when it pretends errors are ok. And it actually looks good when it condemns screw-up docs and doesn’t tolerate even unintentional errors with really bad outcomes. They realized criticizing errors is not criticizing all doctors and all of medicine. It is making medicine better. Zero error may not be achievable but it needs to be the goal when life and death are concerned. Do you see a certain similarity here? When police stop defending the indefensible, call and condemn errors for what they are, and do not tolerate those amongst them who give the profession a bad name, they will return to a place of pride in society’s eyes—and fewer innocents will die, including police.

Hey, Lets’ Give ISIS What They Want!

    Well, at least that seems to be everyone’s current plan—from the Republicans to the liberals to just about everybody else in the world. How’s that? Doesn’t ISIS want the US government to be replaced by a Caliphate (I mean a Muslim one, not the Christian one that Ted Cruz and all the Republicans except Trump want)? Well, maybe ultimately. But for right now, both sides want the exact same thing, FOR US TO BLOW UP A BUNCH OF MUSLIMS.
    You’re thinking, “Right, they want US to blow THEM up.” You bet they do, buckaroo. Here’s the deal. In Terror 101, the first thing the class is taught (after knife sharpening) is that the two main goals are to get people to pay attention to you and to recruit more gullible schmucks to your side. If ISIS wasn’t cutting off heads and blowing shit up, they’d have the same international visibility and ability to attract people to their cause as Lindsay Graham, which is none whatsoever. Now, there’s always a few hard core numbnuts who’ll come join the revolution—any revolution—but did you ever try to get people to, say, drop leaflets door to door for a political campaign? Right. Everybody’s got something else to do, you know, soccer practice, pick up the dry cleaning, rake the yard. So how hard is it to get people to forget about soccer practice, quit their jobs and RUN OUT AND BLOW THEMSELVES UP IN A FUCKING SHOPPING CENTER? How the hell do you talk people into that? Good luck. Talking doesn’t work. PREACHING doesn’t work. The only thing that works is to get people really, really pissed off. And how do you piss people off? I mean besides snoring really loud or saving 5 seats at the movies with one coat. Well, you get someone to attack them and their loved ones, that’s how. THEN they’ll drop everything and flock to defend their God/Homeland/Way of Life, trigger fingers itching, souls aching to go to heaven and to send the enemy’s to hell. So that’s what Terror 101 teaches. You provoke your opponent into dramatic repression, the bloodier the better. The more your own people suffer, the more of them flock to your cause. If you sit quietly in your basement and write clearly reasoned, impassioned tracts and blog posts—crickets (Lindsay Graham, Rob Porter). But get someone to set off a few explosions in your town, machine gun a crowd, and voila, people come out of the woodwork ready to kill. That’s what ISIS just did in France, they KNOW the response it will provoke, and THEY CAN’T WAIT. They’re praying 5 times a day for “Crusader” troops to return to the Middle East.
    In football, if somebody gives you an opening, you run through it as fast as you can. In chess, if somebody gives you an opening, you figure out where the trap is—and don’t step in it. So we’re playing football and ISIS is playing chess.
    If I were a presidential candidate, I’d stop here, and not spell out what I think we SHOULD do. But I’m not running for anything, so I’m perfectly happy to put my money where my mouth is and tell you the best chess response. In the short term, people do have to die. We need to send a bunch of their higher-ups on a free trip to see if that afterlife they’ve been dreaming about is all it’s cracked up to be. We’ll lose our own recruiting match if something like this doesn’t happen. The trick is that it has to be done in a way that doesn’t make good jihad TV. No obliterated homes with sad eyed old men standing in front of the rubble, no children’s bodies arranged in a photogenic line on the sidewalk surrounded by crying women, no American (or French, German or Guatemalan) planes roaring overhead. And absolutely no tanks rumbling through Arab neighborhoods. Let the bastards do their own recruiting.
    In the long term, we attack their resources, not their people and towns. Last I heard, there weren’t any factories making machine guns and high explosives and tanks and shit in ISIS lands. All their stuff comes from elsewhere, paid for with money from selling oil or simple looting. So the people who run the companies that sell them weapons, the people who run the banks that handle the money, and the people in charge of the companies that buy their oil? All those people need to go to jail. And if there’s no way to make charges stick, maybe they just have a little visit from SEAL Team 6. And you thought I was a softie.


Race or Journey? (The Quick and the Dead)

It’s very tempting to look at life as a race when you’re one of the fastest runners. And the race of life isn’t just for a little, shiny medal. It’s to see who gets the lion’s share of stuff—big money, a good job, fine schools for their kids. No wonder the winners like this model. And you slower folks, well you just need to train harder, sweat more, buckle down gosh darn it so that you too can snatch up a little piece of bread before someone else stuffs it in his mouth. Yeah, those fast, smart, talented people, especially the ones born with a 100 meter head start, just loves them their competition. Too bad about that kid with the sprained ankle, the old person, the woman with a baby—heck, they just make it easier to place higher.
That race analogy is appealing of course—appealing to our ego, our vanity, our belief that nobody’s better than me. And people aren’t better than you, at least not more deserving. But you know damned well some are faster, wilier and have families with more money and connections to make up for any shortcomings in speed and smarts. So who benefits from the perpetuation of this appealing fantasy? Who needs to convince a bunch of average people that they’re just as fast as professional triathletes, just as likely to win a prize even if they’re born so far behind the starting line they don’t even need to be elbowed out of the way. “Yeah, you people can do it! At least you could if that pesky ol’ guvmint hadn’t tied your shoelaces together. Yeah, that’s why you’re not pulling in six figures and your kid’s on drugs instead of on a football scholarship. It’s the government’s fault! Get out there and fight! Pay no attention to those men behind the curtain.” This sound like anybody you know?
In America, the life-as-race analogy isn’t even questioned. It’s part of who we are, just like high infant mortality, mass shootings and preventive war. Well it’s a shitty analogy that’s been scrapped in a lot of the civilized world, and it’s past time for an upgrade here in the USA. How about thinking of life as a journey, a wagon train, a caravan to a far-off destination? There is no “win” in a journey, just the need to get as many people as far as we can each day in as good a shape as they can be. If a scout leader takes kids on a hike and some get left behind, hungry and lost, that scout leader has failed, no matter how quickly the first kids get to the next camp site or how many merit badges they chalk up. We’re all in this together, people. Seen anybody in the Republican debates who thinks like that? Me neither.

It Ain’t Over Till We Say It’s Over

Article in the NYT today about our ongoing inability to close Guantanamo (see article).

Did you know that this year, it is costing about $443 Million to incarcerate 149 people? That’s $3 Million per prisoner or $8,145 PER DAY! That’s a hell of a tropical resort, particularly since the pool is closed. For that price we could put every last detainee on a cruise ship and sail the 7 seas. Hey, I know! Then we could drive the ship up and down the east coast of Africa until it was highjacked by Somali pirates, who would hold the prisoners for ransom and…ha ha, joke’s on you. Problem solved. Of course we couldn’t really do this—the cruise ship would put the prisoners at risk of Norovirus, which even the US would have to consider an unacceptable violation of their rights. Oh, and also the prisoners are “enemy combatants,” who can be held until the “war is over.”

Now we can disagree about the justice and wisdom (or lack thereof) of this plan, but just for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s a good idea. My question is this: How do we know when the War On Terror is over? What visible event could we conceivably witness that would allow Dick Cheney to give the nod and have every last Republican agree that “Yep, by golly we’ve won.” (Of course, the war could equally be over if it was “Oops, we’ve lost,” but I notice nobody is going there).

Now we knew when the war with Japan ended because in 1945 some Japanese government officials put on funny Western formal clothes, lined up on the deck of a battleship and signed a bunch of papers. Now, even though we don’t have any more battleships, I’m sure we can find a suitable boat, but who signs the surrender forms in the War On Terror? The Mayor of Terrorville? The Secretary of Sorry I Don’t Have a State? Even if the current, and highly temporary, successor to Bin Laden as leader of Al Qaeda were to show up in his best formal camouflage and execute a document (as opposed to a journalist), that would be binding on maybe a few of his closest followers and more likely on no one whomsoever. Most current Al Qaeda groups share only the name; they take inspiration but not orders. And that’s just Al Qaeda. The biggest bunch of terror trouble-makers currently are the nutcases from ISIS, who even Al Qaeda told to “tone it down a little, you’re making us look like crazy extremists.” No, bombs will continue to go off as long as there’s a half-dozen numbnuts somewhere with a grievance and a case of C-4.

So if there’s nobody who even can surrender, and there will always be somebody willing to blow stuff up, what does the end of the WOT actually look like? Is there one, or are those who profit (politically or financially) from endless war the only winners here? Hey, I know! How about if Al Qaeda and ISIS sold all their guns and bombs and formed a super PAC to support Republican candidates? Would that be enough to let us say we won? Well, you know, that might actually do it—for the Republicans anyway—but the rest of us would still think they were out to destroy our country. Oh well…

Happy Anniversary, Sarajevo

OK, love anniversaries. Today is the 100th anniversary of the assassination in Sarajevo (where have we heard that name before?) of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The actual trigger-puller was Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb dupe of an ultra-nationalist, underground Serbian movement called “Union or Death!” popularly known as the “Black Hand”, who in case their name left anyone confused about their intentions, created a logo consisting of a skull, crossbones, knife, vial of poison and a bomb. Today, they’d also have a mushroom cloud. ISIS could take lessons from those guys.

Anyway, in the really super, ultra-condensed, brief version, Franz’s assassination led to Austria declaring war on Serbia, whose allies the Russians declared war on Austria, whose allies the Germans declared war on Russia and because the Russian ally France might then attack Germany, attacked France via Belgium, whose ally England felt compelled to…kaboom! Isn’t simplifying history fun?

Want a good quick read on this? See NYT article “If Franz Ferdinand Had Lived” at  Want the long form, see, oh, any of a few hundred books, including The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark.

So, Gavrilo Princip was arguably the proximal cause of WWI, and this is the anniversary of the start of that debacle. But saying Princip was the cause is sort of like when you have a huge pit full of oil-soaked trash criss-crossed by tightropes over which walk a succession of drunken clowns bearing torches—you know one of the clowns is going to fall and the whole thing’ll go up, it’s only a matter of time. The identity of the specific clown who falls in the pit and triggers the conflagration is just a matter of random, dumb luck. And Europe was full of drunken clowns back in 1914, many of them occupying positions of leadership and authority and had spent the previous 20 years building the pile of oil-soaked trash ever higher. Europe had been headed for a big war for a long time.

We called it “The War to Make the World Safe for Democracy.” Right. War to make the world safe for fascism and mass slaughter it was, leading like a lit fuse directly to the evil-clown rulers Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Franco and the totalitarian states that took central government rule to levels of control and oppression that the monarchies never even had wet dreams about…And so there was WWII.

So thanks, drunken clowns! 100 million of our best and brightest dead, dead, dead, and many more than that so damaged in body and mind that they could not help create a just and modern society.  Maybe this is a good anniversary to remind ourselves to think twice before we try to bomb and assassinate our way to world peace—it’s often a little hard to tell what might really happen. Are you listening John McCain?

Happy anniversary.

Watermelon, Meet Hammer

I bet you don’t all agree on how amusing Gallagher is, with his giant, whacking sledgehammer and immobile, squishy vegetable/fruit targets.

 gallagher gallagher2

But between the hammer and the watermelon, I bet you agree on which one’s the Republican and which one’s the Democrat. Right? The Republican hammer has been pounding away at the Democratic Affordable Care Act watermelon for the last 6 mos until finally this week, Kathleen Sebelius popped out. Meanwhilst, Democrats—in and out of the White House—have just been sitting in the front row, silently draped in their plastic sheets, somewhat offended by the waste of good food yet strangely attracted to the spectacle.

So what. Sebelius IS a watermelon, right? Botched that website rollout! Give her a whack for me!

Well, any of you ever been involved in a really big, innovative, IT project? And no, I don’t mean changing your FB profile photo or starting a blog. I mean something large that’s never been done before and requiring multiple vendors and multiple years. I didn’t think so. Well I have (certainly not on the scale of the ACA, but still in the multi-million range). So let me remind you the IMPORTANT things that happened with this rollout. The project LAUNCHED ON ITS GO-LIVE DATE in October. And it MET ITS FIRST MAJOR TARGET (7 million registrants by 3/31/14). These are the metrics that matter, not whether there were bugs along the way. Meeting a launch date set over a year in advance and a pre-specified metric in a project this complex is a big deal. And if you think you can do innovative tech (ie, building something that didn’t exist rather than just duplicating current functionality) and NOT have bugs, problems and glitches, well then you don’t know what you’re talking about or have an axe to grind. That is, you’re a Republican.

So why do we insist on being watermelons? Why do we just lie there, taking whack after whack from the Republican hammers being wielded by grinning loons? We reformed health coverage in this country! We made it impossible for insurance companies to deny medical coverage to people who (gasp) actually NEED medical coverage! We made it impossible for them to throw you out once you got sick! We arranged for subsidies to help people who cannot afford the full cost of coverage and expanded access to Medicaid! These are good things. These are great things. What did the Republicans do? Well, they split their seams and shouted themselves hoarse trying to block all this and deny people health care. And most Republican governors are still blocking access by refusing to participate in the Medicaid expansion, which ALONE will cause thousands of otherwise preventable deaths each year (see Paul Krugman in NYT, and the original research article in Health Affairs Blog).

From now on, every time you hear some dunderhead fuming about the “botched” ACA, pull out the hammer:

  • Launched on time
  • Met its targets
  • Why are you killing people?

Capitol Hill is full of fat frogs croaking “Benghazi, Benghazi” who need a good whack and I want to see people in the administration haul off and take a swing for once.