Monday, 28 October 2019 19:56

Students Beware: Portland State University

In Brief:

Portland State University is trying to take nearly $1,500 from me because their own negligence, and other students are at risk, too.

 

If you are considering attending Portland State University as a graduate or undergraduate student, I want you to be very, very careful before making a final choice.

PSU, particularly the Financial Aid Office, is failing to provide vital information to students who discover during a Term that they need to withdraw from courses - say, when there's a family medical emergency.

As a result, I and probably many others are being hit with inappropriate bills amounting to thousands of dollars.

Here’s the story.

In the Winter Term of 2019, I was enrolled half-time as a graduate student in two courses, one independent study and one online.

During the term, my spouse was referred to Oregon Health Sciences University in order to treat a rare and extremely painful chronic condition called trigeminal neuralgia. To treat it, she was scheduled to have brain surgery at the beginning of April.

The procedure involved a surgeon drilling into her skull, then intentionally damaging a major nerve in hopes of relieving the chronic pain. Recovery would require two months of bed rest at home, minimum, and we needed time to prepare beforehand.

As a result, in Week 7 of Winter Term, I made the choice to withdraw from my courses in order to help her prepare for this potentially life-threatening operation. I accepted that I would receive W grades on my permanent transcript, reluctantly informed the instructors I had been working with, and let my department know I would be taking a leave of absence for Spring Term.

Three weeks later, I received an email from Portland State informing me that I owed the university almost $1,300 dollars, and would have to begin making payments - right when we were having to think about the costs associated with the surgery.

When I was finally able to make contact with someone who could tell me what happened, they informed me that because I had, by my withdrawal date, completed less than 60% of the Term, hadn't “earned” the financial aid I was awarded at the beginning of term.

Here’s why this came as such a shock: The exact same thing happened the prior Term, Fall 2018, when my spouse first fell ill. Then, I was similarly forced to withdraw from my courses - but this time in the middle of Week Five.

In that term too, weeks later and too late to do anything about it without direct help from the University, I had been sent a $1,300 bill out of nowhere. When I contacted Financial Aid, I was told I had not completed at least 60% of the term and so hadn’t “earned” my aid.

Problem: Nowhere on the Portland State University website, catalog, or published rules was this 60% threshold rule available. I had no idea it existed, and I doubt other students did either - until they withdrew, and got hit with the bill.

At that time, with my spouse’s condition still new and unknown, I didn’t have the time or mental energy to do anything other than point this lack of information out to Financial Aid.

So in Winter 2019, when I again found it necessary to withdraw, I made sure I was past the 60% point in the Term. Portland State is on the quarter system, all coursework to be completed by the end of Week 10. After that comes a variable week where those with finals take them, and term papers are often due, but no new work is assigned and many students – especially graduate students – are free to grade or work on research.

Once I was finally able to get in contact with someone via email, they informed me for the first time that Portland State Financial Aid considers the Term to include finals week. So because I withdrew on Monday of Week 7, and 60% of 11 weeks (as opposed to 10) comes to about 6.6 weeks, I had only technically completed 56% of the Term.

According to the Financial Aid Office’s numbers, had I withdrawn on Thursday of Week 7 instead of Monday, I would have passed the 60% threshold and "earned" all of my Aid. But because this information wasn’t public, there was no way I could know - so Portland State says I owe them $1,300 + late fees.

This is an especially frustrating situation because Portland State, in these emails, gives every impression of very selectively interpreting what 60% of term means – and always in such a way that the student is at a disadvantage.

I have made numerous attempts to contact the Portland State Financial Aid, Registrar, and even President’s Offices by email in order to resolve this issue over the past six months.

I have received only silence, bills – and most recently, notification by letter that my account has been referred to a collections agency.

Portland State has had ample time to fix this issue or at least respond with some kind of coherent explanation. No one has attempted to reach out, no one has responded to my inquiries.

Further, it is very likely that I am not the only student who has experienced this.

Any student who had to withdraw from a Term in the 2018-2019 Academic Year for medical reasons was likely impacted. If they withdrew on the correct (but unpublished) date, they hit the 60% threshold for “earning” their Financial Aid. But fall short by a day, and a student will receive a bill for half their tuition.

Portland State has systematically failed to publish basic information on Financial Aid policy and procedures, refused to address the problem I raised across two separate terms, and gives the appearance of selectively interpreting regulations to make students foot the bill for Portland State’s errors.

Withdrawing from a course for medical reasons is a normal thing in a student's life. Illnesses happen. As someone who has worked in academia for many years, I have seen withdrawals at other universities happen smoothly and generally with no financial impact to students.

If you are considering Portland State University for graduate or undergraduate studies – be very, very careful.

This is not a university that demonstrates care for vulnerable students.

Best avoided.

Next Steps

My position is that Portland State University is systematically victimizing students, and this must stop.

As a resident and taxpayer in this state, I have a right to know my public universities aren’t failing their students and hitting them with crippling bills.

Until I receive a letter from Portland State University acknowledging the problem is resolved, canceling this illegitimate debt, and apologizing, I will take the following actions as my time allows:

  • Leave this web page up, indexed on search engines, and periodically shared on social media to deter prospective students

  • Contact elected representatives at the state and federal level to request oversight and intervention

  • Report Portland State University’s conduct to the Department of Education

  • Tell my story through area media publications like The Oregonian

  • Engage the services of an attorney to recover my own costs and pursue damages on behalf of myself and any other victims

Given that Portland State University did this to me in two consecutive Terms, if I have to press the issue, I will seek compensation for the money I had to pay out in Fall 2018 just to be able to receive Financial Aid in Winter 2019 as a result of the first iteration of this mess.

That comes to $2,800, including the late fees assessed to my account.

Then there is all the time I have had to waste working through the consequences of their negligence – thirty hours minimum over the past year, at my professional contracting rate of $40/hourly comes to another $1200. Say $4,000 total in direct damages.

But frankly, the stress and anxiety this has caused me has impacted the past year – already fraught with medical terror – demands something more.

And that is what I plan to talk to some attorneys about. In the meantime, Portland State - you know how to contact me.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 03 April 2019 19:12

Trigeminal Neuralgia Sucks

I am sitting in the corridor outside the surgery waiting room, waiting for a team to drill into my spouse's skull and intentionally damage a nerve.

So, if this is a bit of a scattered, random post - eh, no apologies.

Really, I'm just killing time until hunger sets in long enough to drive me to the cafe, which will kill some more time, before it is back to the waiting room to wait/kill time some more.

The odd thing is that I actually hate this less than i thought I would. The OHSU staff so far have been considerate and professional, which alleviates much of my natural tendency to anxiety (the Tanner nerves, my grandmother used to say). I hate being out of control, always have, but It has gotten especially strong since my year of enlisted military service. I also don't trust easily, whether individuals or institutions. So all in all, I anticipated feeling much worse through all this than I do now.

Not that I have cause to complain, I'm not the one who has been suffering from horrific pain for a year, only controllable with heavy-duty anticonvulsant medication that can't fix the problem. Trigeminal Neuralgia is a vicious condition - so much so that I made an allusion to it in my most recent book as a form of torture used in/by Hel (the Norse version of Hades, named for the daughter of Loke who runs the place).

And all in all, despite the poor luck in being struck by such a rare condition, she has been fortunate overall. We happen to live an hour's drive away from one of the world leaders in treating the condition, and even better - the sub-type of TN she appears to have (it actually isn't formally split out definition-wise, but specialists are on the cusp of showing a genetic cause and, fortunately, have developed a procedure to treat it that boasts very high success rates, especially for patients like her - younger than average, and almost exclusively female.

We're also counting our luck/blessings/random number gods that this is the diagnosis she ended up with (and received sooner than most do). Most women in her situation get mis-diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and she quite nearly did. While MS isn't life-ending, it isn't kidding around.

TN is its own form of nightmare, and the usual procedure for fixing it doesn't work for the sub-type she has. Worse, there's no cure yet - the interim solution is either physically moving blood vessels that are compressing the nerve (more typical in older patients) or doing permanent damage with ionizing radiation when that fails. Unless, of course, you want to spend your life on high doses of a pretty debilitating medication.

What they're doing to her as I type this is actually derived from a procedure used to treat nerve issues like carpaltunnel syndrome. It would be an outpatient operation, except the nerve they need to comb (yeah, that's the actual term they use) is located just at the point the trigeminal nerve bundle exits the brain. So to get at it, they've got to cut into her skull, in what is technically brain surgery.

That's what makes it a major and frightening operation, because who wants someone mucking around in their brain, no matter how skilled? Cutting the skull open isn't something the body was meant to endure, so the recovery period (mostly from the neck muscles that are in the way and get cut up) will be weeks in length - fortunately, all but the first 2-4 days are at home. So after a night in ICU (awake, but monitored to be extra safe) and a couple days in the hospital, we'll be home.

It is moments like these you can't help but be grateful for being in a reasonably stable financial situation, despite my recently abandoning (ok, puting on hiatus, but until I'm making a solid income from writing I have no intention of putting a lot of time into scholarly work) my PhD ambitions (unless I can somehow get a degree in Europe, where all the researchers who do what I'm interested in live.). She, fortunately, is hyper-competent and has already become pretty much invaluable at her work (local universityone that actually cares about education, so not Oregon State University (hell) or University of Oregon (discount purgatory), so through her work we've got solid health insurance and disability benefits for when she's unable to work.

Not that I couldn't provide these things - i have in the past, we kind of switch off who gets to be the breadwinner and who gets to be entrepreneur - but the peace of mind granted by having them is absolutely priceless.

Which is why everyone, everywhere, should have guaranteed healthcare and a sustainable livelihood. Too bad the United States is dead determined to prevent anyone who isn't white or wealthy from having this.

But hey - that will change, at least for those who live in the states that are committed to providing these basic, fundamental services, when DC collapses entirely and they're left to fend for themselves.

And we happen to live in a region that is richer than the rest of the "United" States, and where 2/3 of the population wants these benefits for all citizens. Better times will come, in a decade or so - for us.

Until then, I'm just glad that what turned out to be a career-killing move to Oregon (for me) has turned out so well for her, in every way. I can be an author anywhere, but access to quality healthcare is bound to a healthy economy, and not every place will have that in the coming years.

Also (addendum), At least half of the doctors and surgeons who have saved the lives of members of my family are either recent immigrants themselves or children of recent immigrants. I literally have no honorable reason to oppose immigration, ever, period-point-blank.

Edit/Update (2 hours later) - operation went great, and now to the recovery. Always nice when things work out as planned! To all the people sening messages, thoughts, prayers, and the like - thank you!

Published in Blog

Executive Summary of the Draft New Congress Report on the State of the Union Attacks
[Draft, version 3.62]

UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS TO THIS DOCUMENT PROHIBITED BY LAW

Section A - Reconstruction of Events

At 9:12 PM, Eastern Standard Time, the President of the United States began the annual State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. In attendance were ninety-three members of the United States Senate, four hundred and seventeen members of the House of Representatives, all but three members of the Cabinet, twelve members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, six justices of the Supreme Court, and several hundred spectators and members of the press.

At approximately 9:13 PM EST, six "Klub"-type cruise missiles broke the surface of the waters above Delaware Bay. As a tightly clustered group, they ascended to a height of approximately 50 meters/200 feet, moving toward Dover Air Force Base.

After thirty seconds, the missiles turned west. They then descended to an altitude of approximately 10 meters/40 feet above ground level and rapidly accelerated.

At 9:15 PM EST, NORAD was informed that one or several unidentified aircraft had crossed the Delaware-Maryland border, at speeds that would put them over the center of the District of Columbia in three minutes.

Radar operators at Dover Air Force Base and on board an E-3 Sentry AWACS platform patrolling south of Andrews Air Force Base immediately established a radar track upon launch, however in the crowded airspace along the United States Eastern Seaboard such signals are sufficiently common that this in and of itself was not suspicious. Operators report having immediately noted the new radar track veer away from the approaches to Dover AFB and accelerate, but the missiles' maneuvers caused between fifteen and twenty-five seconds of delay in re-acquiring a firm radar track amidst the ground clutter. It took a further thirty to forty-five seconds for operators to notify their superiors of a clear and immediate threat to the national capitol and to send a message via FLASH protocols to NORAD.

Sixty seconds later, at 9:16 EST, the six missiles passed over the Chesapeake Bay south of Annapolis, Maryland, traveling at a speed of 2400 kilometers per hour - two miles every three seconds. At this moment, several events occur almost simultaneously.

- NORAD passes a FLASH warning to the District of Columbia air defense system along with an authorization to intercept what is presumed to be a hostile target or targets.

- NORAD notifies the Secret Service of an immediate threat to the life of the President

- Air defense tracking radars activate, and begin targeting the inbound cruise missiles.

- Three of the Klub missiles ascend to an altitude of approximately fifty meters/two hundred feet, activate electronic countermeasures, and alter their flight trajectories to simulate impending strikes on the Pentagon and White House in addition to the Capitol building.

These decoys generated sufficient electronic noise that electronic counter-countermeasures required between twenty and thirty seconds to re-establish active radar tracking and targeting. The moment after their ECM systems began to transmit, four “SLAMRAAM” surface to air missiles were launched from sites near District of Columbia and Andrews Air Force Base. They are fired in anti-radar mode, allowing them to home in on and eliminate the source of the jamming.

As the ECCM "burn through" the hostile jamming, additional SLAMRAAM missiles were launched and begin receiving mid-course targeting updates in order to home in on identified targets.

However, because of the uncertainty surrounding the total number of hostile inbound objects, the three decoy missiles are able to prevent the detection of their companions for more than thirty critical seconds, successfully attracting all intercepting fire until all are shot down. In the confusion caused by the competing ECM and ECCM systems and destruction of these decoys, an additional fifteen to twenty seconds pass before it is realized that additional hostile targets remain.

At 9:17 EST, the three surviving Klub-type cruise missiles reach the outskirts of the District of Columbia, passing less than twenty feet over rooftops. One of the three repeats the decoying maneuver, and at the moment air defense officers establish tracks on the remaining hostiles and launch another volley of interceptors at the incoming missiles, this new decoy's ECM systems activate, attracting the attention of the half-dozen interceptor missiles now airborne.

While this new decoy is shot down within fifteen seconds, the two surviving hostiles all but disappear in the radar clutter caused by the District of Columbia's complex urban infrastructure. Neither the SLAMRAAM air defense systems nor the portable “Stinger” missiles deployed on the Capitol itself are capable of successfully reacting to a supersonic threat in time.

Immediately before 9:18 EST, the last Secret Service transmission from the Capitol reports that the President has been removed from the publicly-accessible areas, and is in the hallway leading to the emergency bunker underneath the building, with the vice president close behind.

At exactly 9:18 EST, two 5-kiloton nuclear warheads simultaneously detonate within one hundred feet of the Capitol building.

Subsequent analysis confirmed that one warhead detonated to the southwest of the building, possibly thrown off course by a partially successful intercept. The other detonated directly adjacent to the Capitol rotunda.

Destruction of the structure was total: ground-penetrating radar surveys show complete collapse of the subsurface structure, leaving no possibility of survival. Mortality reached 100% within the Capitol as well as the adjacent grounds, with the first technical survivors appearing approximately 1000 feet from ground zero. However, mortality eventually reached 100% for virtually all those within 1/4 mile from ground zero due to the combined effects of prompt radiation, thermal pulse, and structural collapse from atmospheric overpressure. Mortality rates range from 50%-100% between 1/4 and 1/2 of one mile from ground zero.

FEMA estimates a total of 15,000-20,000 fatalities, with more than 100,000 severe injuries. In the subsequent evacuations, several million Americans became homeless, as uncertainty regarding the direction and intensity of the fallout plume spreading over the District of Columbia necessitated mandatory evacuation of the area.

Section B: Responsibility and Response

As members of the committee will be aware, the State of the Union attacks were unprecedented in American history in scale and effect. Most of the federal leadership of the United States of America was destroyed. The senior surviving Cabinet member was ineligible to ascend the Presidency, as she was not a natural born citizen. The “Designated Survivor”, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, was sent aloft in the Airborne National Command Center, and surviving members of Congress were secured in an undisclosed location.

For several hours, the acting President stood ready to authorize a massive nuclear counter-strike in the event that the attack was the first shot in a general war. However, no attack came, and the military and intelligence communities reported no evidence of any nation mobilizing strategic forces to launch a follow-on attack. While a decapitating first strike has long been considered a risk in the event of uncontrolled military escalation with Russia or China, they would almost certainly follow immediately with a wave of strikes against America's nuclear arsenal and military bases worldwide.

But no attack came. No national or credible non-state actor claimed or claims responsibility. In a separate, access-restricted addendum to this report, a Central Intelligence Agency analysis confirms that while carrying out such an attack would require access to nation-state level capabilities, no nation state appeared to have planned for the event or been prepared to take advantage of the aftermath.

Evidence pointing to the responsible party has not been forthcoming. While the cruise missiles themselves are certainly derived from Russian technology, Russian military equipment is widely exported and used by America's adversaries and partners alike. In particular, quiet diesel-electric submarines and sea-skimming cruise missiles have proliferated throughout much of the world since the early 2000s. Russia, China, India all use Russian-derived equipment and technology, and retain the capability to produce domestic versions, perhaps covertly. Algeria, Iran, Indonesia, Venezuela, and Vietnam are all Russian military customers. It is impossible to rule out the transfer of a submarine and cruise missiles from the inventories of any of these nations to rogue actors.

Aside from the fragments of the Klub-type missiles, the navigation and electronic systems that survived the decoys' destruction, and the radiological signature left by the nuclear warheads themselves, no unambiguous evidence of culpability has yet been recovered. Twelve hours after it presumably fired the six cruise missiles responsible for the attack, a submarine identified by U.S. Navy sonar as belonging to the Kilo-type was destroyed thirty miles east of the Continental Shelf, in several thousand feet of water, after unsuccessfully firing torpedoes at a pursuing U.S. Navy destroyer. While recovery of the wreckage is technically feasible in six months to one year, it is probable that any useful evidence was destroyed by the pressure of the Atlantic.

Investigation of the nuclear warheads and their likely provenance has been no more successful. Their explosive power, at 5 kilotons, is within the capabilities of several small nuclear powers such as North Korea and Pakistan, and it is likely that Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Japan among many others possess the technical capability to produce warheads of this size that are also compact enough to fit on a cruise missile. Israel, despite its official ambiguity with respect to possession of nuclear weapons, is also presumed capable of warhead construction. Russia, China, and India are, like the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, mature nuclear powers with the ability to deploy 'dial-a-yield' warheads can produce 5 kiloton-sized explosions from warheads capable of larger detonations.

As a result of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, supersonic cruise missiles, and quiet submarines since the start of the 21st century, it is not possible to identify beyond a reasonable doubt the culprit for the State of the Union attacks. While remnants of Al Qaeda and ISIS have attempted to claim responsibility, it is highly unlikely either has the capability to carry out such a devastating attack. More likely as a culprit is a rogue branch within an intelligence agency, however it must be re-affirmed that no hard evidence has yet been found linking any group with this atrocity.

Because of this ambiguity, no military response is likely to either harm the perpetrators or protect against further such attacks, barring discovery of significant additional evidence.

The authors of this report wish to make clear to the committee that despite their failure to prevent these attacks, none of the personnel involved in the response between 9:12 and 9:18 are in any way at fault for what transpired. In the highly complex airspace and radar ecosystem along the Eastern Seaboard, it was simply not possible for personnel to react with any more speed without posing undue risk to civilian activities. Their equipment was simply not capable of handling the threat posed by high-speed, low-altitude missiles.

Nor can the United States Navy be faulted for failing to detect the inbound threat. While at least two USN submarines reported detecting a faint acoustic signature consistent with a Kilo-type diesel-electric submarine, this is not particularly unusual, given that there are dozens of such vessels in service around the world, and training patrols even in the mid-Atlantic are not uncommon. In addition, such a submarine can effectively hide its acoustic signature by moving into the wake of passing commercial vessels, while also remaining virtually invisible to radar. While anti-submarine defenses could theoretically be deployed in places like Delaware Bay to prevent such an attack from happening again, there are in fact several ways to bring nuclear-tipped cruise missiles within miles of the US coastline without detection. Such weapons can be hid in shipping containers, undetectable until launch. A cruise missile launched from a container ship heading to Baltimore could have traveled the distance to D.C. in under three minutes, further reducing feasible response time.

Finally, the Secret Service reacted both bravely and according to their training, and had the missiles not carried nuclear warheads it is likely that their evacuation of the President would have been successful.

Published in Blog
Sunday, 16 September 2018 18:36

Bringing Ragnarok, Dev Diary 3.5

Well, got my first drive-by review on Amazon this week. Even better: it's probably by some dude on the alt-right! (read, Nazi sympathizer.)

Amazon has serious problems with its review system. Deep in the underbelly of the indie author world, there's widespread recognition that there exists a subset of internet trolldom that actively looks for stuff to slander. Some of it is the usual gamergate nonsense: men mad that popular books feature female leads. Some of it is political: MAGA-types and other neo-Nazis think their moment has come, and are looking to attack anyone and anything that doesn't fit into their blood and soil vision for America (read, America for the whites, and especially the christian males). And some of it is authors, who see a competitor in their category and try to damage its visibility.

Having worked professionally in the world of reviews, I know that this seedy underbelly of the internet is a constant problem for sellers and marketplaces alike. Just as Facebook and Twitter are now confronting how their platforms are used by neo-Nazis and other hate groups, so are Apple and Amazon. Now, in reality, long term, this activity doesn't in fact normally do much damage to a committed author/seller. Reviews come in time, and even a bad review is actually useful - people like to know the 'cons' of a work, and if most of the cons written come from the voice of someone who appears to have an axe to grind, people who read them are actually prone to then view the product more positively. Subconsciously, they think 'huh, that's all the criticism they've got? And are more likely to see what the deal is, maybe even give it a read.

Overall, reviews are widely known to be of limited value, and they're totally broken when it comes to pure monetary utility. The average product rating, once it has a sufficient number of reviews, is right about 4 stars. 4.2 is the number I used to hear as the typical average, back when I worked for a start-up in Silicon Valley. Which, incidentally, set up its business model around providing review widgets... and went under in just a few years. Businesses found that reviews are good to have (promote buyer confidence), but you have to actively moderate them and interact if you want real results. The cost of paying people to do that interaction must outweigh the benefits, though, because most - like Amazon - use mostly automatic filters that look for certain signals (use of swearing, posting contact information, stuff algorithmically tractable), and actively human-moderate only a select subset (flagged automatically or by users).

But for an independent author or merchant, the nature of the Amazon ecosystem (Apple likely works the same, I just have no experience there) disproportionately boosts the impacts of negative reviews, especially when a book has only a few to begin with. Amazon lives and breathes by getting shoppers to what they want to buy as quickly as possible. The ordering of search results (like with web searches) is extremely important. Amazon uses an algorithm (an equation, incorporating multiple signals/variables, like your and other similar buyers shopping history, as one example) to predict the all-important matter of relevance - whether the product is likely to be what the user is looking for. Using star ratings as a metric feeding the algorithm's decision about relevance means that a new author who gets hit by a drive-by review, is harmed more than a more established author.

I have to anticipate that my current steady stream of sales will drop off for a while, until other readers write reviews (and given what I'm seeing on Goodreads and hearing from my beta readers, they'll come and be solid), because of the newness of my book. Which is frustrating and demoralizing, when the apparent reason for the review is something non-pertinent to the actual product, like say the writer's politics.

I assert that the 2-star (why only 2? Makes a person seem like they are being reasonable. The alt-right understands propaganda. Thanks, Goebbels.) rating that prompted this blogpost (you can go look at it on Amazon if you would like) is politically motivated for the following reasons:

  • Writer is anonymous, but clicking the 'Amazon Customer link' shows a review history and wish list oddly fascinated with fascism... and not in the proper 'how to kill this disease' kind of way. One praises a book about Hitler's bodyguard unit, the infamous 1st SS Panzer Division, as being 'unbiased'. That same term, or variations, is used by several reviewers of the book in question. Which is a long-used term by Third Reich apologists and Waffen SS fans intended to mean 'we don't go deep into the atrocities. Just stick to the tank-on-tank action, please). Other of his reviews are tied to the usual anti-liberal stuff alt-right types are into. Right wing 'libertarian' writers, fascist thinkers, and the like. I'm not into doxxing, but Anonymous and Antifa have shown these trolls do exist, intentionally target certain products and ya gotta point 'em out when you find them even if Amazon isn't likely to do anything about the issue.
  • Writer offers no comment on specific aspects of what he disliked, just expresses hatred of the plot, pacing, characters, and cover - after asserting he made it halfway through the book. On one hand, I have to commend that level of tenacity. I can usually tell if I'm going to hate a book after the first chapter, which you can freely read right on the Amazon landing page. To go ~60,000 words into one before coming to that conclusion is either down to dedication (whatever the motive) or, well... let's just say that either reading comprehension is lacking, or he was really, really hoping Eryn would go back to 1944 and join the Reich.
  • Use of the royal 'we' generally implies the writer has a specific audience in mind. Usually, when people invoke a vague generality like "We've seen this kind of thing before" they and their audience knows what the speaker means. That's the mark of a tribe member telling another tribe member in their own secret language that something they consider socially unacceptable is afoot. Those sorts of dog whistles are how white supremacy has remained a problem in society. Someone throws out a Nazi salute, you know where they stand. Harder when they use euphemisms and tribal appeals.

So why am I spending so much time detailing this? Perhaps, it is just an author's fragile ego reeling at a poor review, you might think. You are free to! Perhaps you are right. And yet... I have received immense amounts of criticism on my writing, non-fiction and fiction alike. This one stands out, in part because when I first started writing Bringing Ragnarok, I made choices that I knew would result in this happening. I was not at all surprised when I saw that review, or when (for market research, trying to figure out who does and doesn't like the work) I looked through his review history.

Look, Gamergate trolls, alt-right misogynists - they exist. They are threatened by the fact that the patriarchy - also a real thing - is slowly (at last) crumbling. In this historic process, I know what side I'm on.

Bringing Ragnarok is being written as, is intended to be, postcolonial and feminist science fiction. There are more women leads than men, and no, they aren't really concerned about romance when the end of the world is at hand. They are not all in 'healing' positions, either: they are (end up) generals, soldiers, pilots, insurgents, and strategists. Hell, by the time we're talking about the 22nd century, gender isn't even a particularly relevant term anymore, as people and intelligent machines both exist, and there are many hybrids - BioMods, colloquially, who start to play a bigger role in Book 2, and whose genders are... well, whatever they want them to be.

Most of the characters, too, are non-white and, to the degree possible, not originally western. They are mostly culturally Western, but this is presented as a legacy of colonialism and colonization (hah, mixed Commonwealth and US English again. I like both.), and not as something they like or want. Yari and Loucas are both from Puerto Rico, and no, they aren't children of poverty (well, Yari was adopted from Haiti as a child, but after that, firmly middle-class), they're children of scientists. Timur is Punjabi, was a child soldier in South Asia, but his upbringing was also solidly Indian middle class. Kim is from Jakarta, Indonesia, and is mostly (but not entirely) of Chinese descent. Patrick may be from Canada (Estonia before that), but the fact that he's married to a Canadian Forces fighter pilot will rankle the alt-right types all the same. The only white-bread character, Eryn, goes to 1944 Germany - a place and time where women weren't exactly (normally) allowed to do real political or military work.

I like multifaceted characters of complex origin who end up being fish out of water, then learn to cope. I prefer to write from the perspective of people who are, relative to their surroundings, subalternPart of my objective in writing this story is to reclaim the topic of war from the dominion of old white men. I use old European myths as a way to deconstruct the Christian Anglo-Saxon worldview of the past two millenia, while restoring women to their proper, traditional place in the world: coequal with men in all things.

And I like to tell a story that deals critically (I was a critical geographer, after all) colonialism, empire, and resistance against both. Which, y'know, was what Tolkien was really after, too, what with the whole 'throw the Ring of Power into the fire' plot. He was no pro-Churchill colonialist. And he too had to deal with Nazism impacting his fiction readership.

Like our grandparents and great-grandparents in the 1930's and 1940s, we live in a time of great change, but also the dogged persistence of old evils. I see Nazism as a cancer on human society, one that is always present, always a danger, but generally only rears up and gains strength, Sauron-like (or Voldemort-like, if you prefer), under certain circumstances. Probably 20% of people, across the world, hold some level of Nazi/alt-right (they boil down to the same thing, in the end) sympathies. People forget, but in the Second World War, most Americans saw the fight against Japan as more important, and not only that, a majority of them polled in approval of genocide against Japan. Many Americans were fine with Hitler, and saw in him the 'final solution' to the 'problem' of blackness. Eugenics, racism, virulent hatred of the other are deeply embedded in the DNA of America. Part of the tragedy of Trumpism is that these filth have gained a far greater voice than ever should have happened - ever would have happened if America's federal system still worked like the Founders intended.

Many people have debated whether Trump is Hitler, Mussolini, or something else - truth is, he's Hitler with an American paint job. One of the thing the weirds me out the most in the news these days is the liberal/neoliberal meme of Trump being crazy, stupid, senile, whatever. He is, but this isn't particularly relevant anymore, now that he has power. Like Hitler in the '30s, he now holds a position of authority and can't be easily removed. If he wants to launch a nuke, nothing but the military directly disobeying his orders (which I hope for, but also fear - this would effectively be a coup, and a blow against American democracy) would stop him. Impeachment is unlikely, unless leading Democrats and Republicans decide President Pence isn't simply the same basic nightmare in less Twittery-clothing. Democrats are already playing at nominating an old white dude like Joe Biden to be the shoe-in in 2020 that they thought Clinton was in 2016 (people forget how happy they were that the GOP nominated Trump!). They fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the Trumpist threat. They've forgotten how power works. Largely, because they don't personally suffer when they lose.

In 2020, you will see an election featuring two vicious primary campaigns, allegations of Russian election interference, and even higher levels of voter suppression in key states than normal. The stakes will be very high, and Trump has every incentive to fight as dirty as he can to remain in office. He'll need to double-down on his base of old white racists. He already alleged in 2016 that he wouldn't respect the outcome if it didn't go his way, so why would he do any differently in 2020? Couple this to the relentless attacks on the media, incitement of violence, allegations that the Dems and Libs are manipulating all information...

Just remember this: the idiot-in-chief can be insane, and still hold on to power, so long as the elites around him dither about playing their own power games, and trust that the mad idiot will respect the system in the end. Such a twit as Trump can literally fail his way into a position of permanent authority, and then wreak havoc according to his Constitutional powers to do so, because Congress has allowed them to accumulate in the executive branch for far too long. That's why Trump is more Hitler than anyone cares to believe - Hitler was mad, and yet able to take Germany down the path to total war and annihilation. Are America's crumbling institutions capable of withstanding such a threat? And even if Trump dies or gets impeached, will Pence - who signed onto his administration, after all - not use the massive power now in the hands of the executive branch? Remember: we live in a world full of nuclear weapons. That have never been adequately supervised or controlled as well as the Pentagon would like the world to believe...

Time will tell. But me, looking ahead and seeing great chaos and misery, I'm writing a dystopian war story for the people of my generation who have to deal with the consequences of this political disaster, which really does amount to a simmering civil war among the Baby Boomers stuck in the Sixties, who are clinging to power even as they lose the intellectual capability to wield it (if they ever had it). I'm writing a story for people who are more Antifa than alt-right, who actually believe in getting up and doing something, building things, to roll back this tide of oppression sweeping across the world - not just in the US, but all the hell over.

I am, personally and professionally, at war with Nazis and Nazism. I write to earn $ to live on, then, gods willing, accumulate surplus to invest in some kind of formal organization that can help other people have a piece of whatever success I am granted, to grow a movement capable of building something better. I'm writing a modern work that is feminist and postcolonial even at the same time it engages in world-building to power a piece of speculative fiction that I hope will be popular and last. Because we're at a point in human history when we badly need a new Axial age, new ideas, understanding, and even myths, if we're to deal with what is coming.

So here's hoping there are enough readers of progressive, feminist, postcolonial speculative fiction written by a white autistic dude, more Buddhist and Norse than Christian, to get things a-going. If that's you, well - check out Bringing Ragnarok. Post on forums. And write me some reviews!

Published in Blog
Friday, 23 March 2018 16:51

The Coming American Assault on Iran

EDIT 4 October 2019:

The attack on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities was a very interesting development. Some quick notes:

Whenever intelligence services allege something, pay close attention to the language. So far, no one has offered proof of the origin point of the attacks, and certainly not from Iran. The theory that Iran was the launch point is based on a (likely flawed) assumption - that the Houthi arsenal lacks the range to strike so far north into Saudi Arabia. Cruise missiles can easily turn and attack a target from a different direction than they used to approach - they follow whatever flight path they're programmed to. Drones can land and be refueled unnoticed in the vast deserts of the "Empty Quarter" between Yemen and Persian Gulf.

Best assumption, given the evidence - the Houthis were telling the truth.

This does *not* exonerate Iran. They very well may be (likely are) allowing advanced weapons to reach groups hostile to Iran's enemies. The Houthis, however, inherited quite an arsenal, and have maintained control of territory long enough that they may be home-manufacturing equipment, or upgrading what they do smuggle in from elsewhere. Difficult to say.

The other interesting aspect of this attack was the total failure of Saudi Air Defenses. Despite flying some of the world's most sophisticated aircraft, having Patriot missile batteries all over the place, they got completely bushwhacked.

This MAY - and boy I have to emphasize the MAY here - reduce the chances of an attack on Iran.

Assuming Iran does have a hand in the events that have taken place in the Gulf over the past few months, I assess their intentions as follows:

 - They know the USA, possibly backed by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, are planning a strike in Spring of 2020. Air attacks intended to destroy large portions of Iran's capabilty. Hasn't worked versus Hezbollah or the Houthis, but no one wants to admit failure, because they have no other option but diplomacy. So there is pressure to escalate.

 - They know that once the US builds up sufficient forces - 2-3 carrier battle groups, multiple fighter squadrons and greatly enhanced force protection for US bases in the area, they'll face an almost-unstoppable force, like Iraq in 1991.

 - Having learned that lesson, Iran is acting to pre-empt the planned run-up by demonstrating - without incurring casualties - that they have the ability to hurt anyone who attacks.

Whether or not there will be additional attacks from here is very difficult to say. I evaluate that the tepid response by the US and Saudi Arabia indicates they were deeply surprised, and now know they have to update their planning. War with Iran will be costly.

Will it be worth it? An advantage of making a proxy strike like this - assuming again this is what happened, and the Houthis didn't simply act alone - is that it can imply you possess capabilities you in fact don't. Iran is in a fragile situation, and needs to not look like an aggressor. Hence the lack of casualties. If Russia and China continue to back Iran and offer a path around sanctions, Iran can survive any US attack - even a limited nuclear strike. To Iran's people, it has demonstrated strength. To its foes, it has demonstrated teeth.

War may still be inevitable, given the political benefits the current Oval Office incumbent will likely gain from a major military operation risking few American lives. He may be convinced that US bases won't be as vulnerable, because as we all know - he is an idiot, if one possessing a certain kind of instinctive cunning.

But possibly, leaders in the region will come to their senses, and put a lid on tensions. World is fragile enough as it is, last thing anyone needs is another Middle East War.

I fear, however, that any successful impeachment push leads directly to a major war abroad. When dealing with a television star, best to assume television scenarios will be an inspiration. And everyone remembers Wag the Dog.

 

EDIT 16 September 2019:

Another step forward

I did have a brief, fleeting hope, when I learned of John Bolton being fired, that tensions might decrease, at least for a time. But so much for that!

What I believe is most important to pay close attention to is the consistency of the "Iran is on the march" narrative. I don't see a major attack coming quite yet, because to effect a truly devastating strike on Iran one needs either 2-3 Carrier Battle Groups on-station in the Arabian Sea *and* significant air-defense assets in the Persian Gulf (I mean on EVERY base). They're not there yet.

It appears that Mike Pompeo hails from the part of the Evangelical Christian community that believes all recent events in the Mideast are leading up to the catastrophic World War that will lead to Christ's Second Coming, which means that Bolton's removal was merely a matter of personality, not a fundamental disagreement with his aims with respect to Iran. A coalition bent on a conflict remains strong within the Administration, but again - an actual invasion would be a catastrophic disaster, and take many months to prepare. Months when Iran would not stand by and do nothing, like Iraq did in 1990 as the Coalition built up forces in preparation for the liberation of Kuwait.

So my forecast remains the same: a major air campaign, perhaps preceded by smaller retaliatory strikes for this incident (whether or not Iran was involved) to keep tensions high and a palatable excuse for the aerial disarmament campaign they really want to pursue.

Russia has already stated it doesn't want to see Iran attacked. I wonder when modern air defense systems, perhaps even a squadron of fighters, appears in Tehran?

 

EDIT 21 June 2019:

Here it comes.

Well, not *right* now, not yet. They're still in the mode of pretending the escalation in tensions is not planned.

Naturally the media is screaming about an 'invasion' which won't happen - despite the propaganda the Pentagon and defence companies feed everyone, the USA lacks the physical capability to invade and occupy Iran.

It failed in Iraq, it failed in Afghanistan - and Iran is the two combined, *with* an actual military to boot.

Iran survived the Iran-Iraq war, when Iraq was backed by the USA. Then, it was far weaker than today.

Further, it is unbelievable that the world will tolerate another US invasion and occupation of a Middle East country without effectively turning all its allies against it.

That being said, I'm convinced that Trump's people have learned from would-be fascists like Modi in India, Netanyahu in Israel, and Putin in Russia, who have all used limited military strikes to bolster their popularity.

What we can expect at some point between now and Spring 2020 is a series of escalations, very possible tit-for-tat attacks that slowly and steadily escalate.

The US will eventually attempt to "disarm" Iran's Republican Guard via airstrikes targeting ballistic missile and naval infrastructure, plus of course the alleged nuclear program.

The question then will be what Russia and China do - and how much the US proves willing to escalate when Iran proves able to resist, just as the Houthis have vs. the Saudis and UAE in Yemen.

Were I Vlad Putin, I'd be ready to take advantage of the situation by giving Iran lots of surface-to-air missiles, the kind of thing you need to swat down cruise missiles and threaten US aircraft. Possibly, I'd even sent "advisers" to help shoot down US combat aircraft in a sort of aerial guerilla war.

Bad times, they are a'comin, I fear.


******
I'm convinced that, barring an accident, the US is not going to war with North Korea.

The reason is simple: the US is not powerful enough to attack North Korea without the support of both South Korea and Japan. And because North Korea can cause mass civilian casualties in either, neither can accept the risk of war. When push comes to shove, they won't allow the US to use them as bases for a war of choice, just like Turkey and Saudi Arabia denied the US bases to attack Iraq in 2003.

The North Korea crisis is all about administration's desire to win a foreign policy “victory” ahead of the midterm elections. It doesn't even matter if the victory is “real”. This is foreign policy as reality tv: only the producers know the whole truth of where the plot is supposed to go. And while things can go weird, the stage management usually works out in the end.

The real target is Iran. It always has been. For the conservative movement, Iran has been national enemy number 1 since 1979. First, because it dared to humiliate the US by seizing the embassy in Tehran and holding the staff hostage, leading to a botched rescue attempt that reminded way too many people of the failures during the Vietnam War. Few commentators realize how deeply this episode challenges the self-narrative of American conservative elites. Second, Iran is one of the two countries (the other being Saudi Arabia, which remains a close ally) capable of challenging American access to the Persian Gulf, where the cheapest and highest quality oil in the world is harvested, and since the Carter Doctrine laid out in the 1970s America's foreign policy has been structured to prevent any major power (other than the US) from dominating the Middle East. Now that Iran has effective control over the government of Iraq (thanks to the US invasion), has sent soldiers to help rescue the Assad regime in Syria, is closely allied with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and is increasingly friendly to Putin's Russia, the administration's foreign policy hawks view great-power competition in the Middle East to be a priority concern.

If you look at the personnel changes in the administration over the past two years, one natural conclusion you might draw is that chaos rules. With respect to the actual functioning of the US government, this is probably true. The State Department is largely unstaffed, Pentagon and CIA types are setting foreign policy. Congress is mired in the games played by democratic and republican party elites, and the Courts are slowly being packed with conservative ideologues. But the American media is extrapolating too much from this apparent chaos, and presuming too much about how this apparent chaos will impact their electoral success in the future. The administration, in rhetoric and action, is entirely focused on maintaining power. By holding on to their Senate majority, and by making sure the electoral college goes for Trump again in 2020. It is perfectly happy with the media (which it denigrates as biased anyway) staying fixated on the insane Tweet of the day, and avoiding the necessary deeper public discussions about how to repair and reform the United States. It wants to stay in power, and we should all expect it to pull any trick it can to ensure that it does.

The simplest way is to launch a war. Step back from the filters the US media applies to create a sense of narrative (thus driving readership, and advertising revenues), and virtually every action of the administration is steadily pushing the United States in this direction. The hell of Trumpism is that it is actually rather weak, riding a nationalist/populist wave that won't last forever. Its seizure of the Republican party has generated a strategic commitment to a set of ideological positions that, as the Silent Generation dies and the Boomer Generation reaches terminal decline, will leave the Republicans without a meaningful constituency outside of Dixie and the Plains.

The Trumpists have been flying by the seat of their pants since day 1, and their current success is really a statement about the complete incompetence of the Democratic party's leadership (which is actually happy with Trumpism, thinking it will be easy to defeat in 2020. Deep down the democrats are the party of linear responses to non-linear threats, hence their lack of competence), and not a testament to their own capabilities with respect to political strategy and organization. They won in 2016 because they sold themselves well to just enough people in just the right states, while the Democrats refused to accept the tribal nature of politics or the poll numbers that should have told them their assumptions about voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were incorrect. White Christians in these states accepted the Trumpist lie that immigrants, minorities, and trade were responsible for the terminal economic decline of the Rust Belt. The fact that census numbers show their numbers and political power declining permanently in coming years provided the necessary point of irritation that the Trumpists exploited to win the Electoral College.

It is precisely because of this coming demographic cliff that the Republicans have sold out to the Trumpists, and it is the sense of impending doom that ultimately drives Trumpism onward. White America has an expiration date dancing before their eyes, and it seems fair to say that in their view, an America that isn't white isn't America at all. This is a very old story. One would think, knowing all we do about how a very similar set of dynamics played out in Europe in the 1930s, our society would be able to generate an effective counter-response. But there too, economic uncertainty is being pirated by racist opportunists who want to pretend that it is brown people, and not their own political and economic elites, that are the cause of the problem.

So the Trumpists remain in the driver's seat, creating chaos and uncertainty and seeking any effective means of retaining power in the face of the challenges ahead. The logic of their struggle for power, bound to America's peculiar sense of being special, will drive pressure for a major international conflict before the next election. Prediction of the details is always fraught, but here's the nutshell timeline I think is basically correct:

2018: Democrats narrowly take back the House of Representatives in the Mid-term elections, but fail to win a majority in the Senate. The Mueller investigation alleges improper ties between the Trump campaign in 2016 and Russian agents, and recommends charges to Congress.

Early 2019: Seeing no chance of winning a successful impeachment conviction due to continued Republican control over the Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi takes impeachment off the agenda, and focuses the party on the 2020 elections.

Late 2019: With both the US and Iran withdrawing from negotiations over Iran's alleged nuclear program in late 2018, a steady drumbeat of media reports that Iran is bolstering its arsenal of ballistic missiles and re-starting development of nuclear weapons re-invigorates the simmering crisis.

Winter 2020: During the State of the Union, the administration states that all options will be pursued to rein in Iran's weapons programs, and announces the deployment of major military assets to the Middle East in preparation for combat operations.

Spring 2020: Amidst aggressive rhetoric on both sides and a dramatic US military buildup, the largest anti-war protests since 2003 are held across the world. The US Administration vows not to be swayed by the actions of “peace-mongers and illegals”.

Late Spring 2020: Several incidents between US Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz and boats operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps result in a series of punitive American strikes on IRGC targets. The IRGC responds by firing several ballistic missiles at US forces in Kuwait.

Spring-Summer 2020: Tit-for-tat strikes escalate into a massive American air campaign against Iran, targeting government and military assets. Russia, concerned that a major ally is being targeted for regime change, deploys anti-aircraft missiles and several squadrons of fighter aircraft to bases in Northern Iran...

Like incompetent governments often do, the US will underestimate both Iran's ability to resist and the speed at which a conflict can escalate. International relations are rapidly sliding towards something very nasty. Without international efforts to reduce tensions, the world of 2020 may well stumble into a new round of violent conflict, much as it did in 1914 and the late 1930s. But this isn't on the radar: blinded by their 'America is the best!' rhetoric, bound to an ideology that sees white christian America as favored by God, the Trumpists simply aren't able to realize that their actions, their assumptions of the international community being driven solely by competition, can in fact make it so.

Eventually, they will decide that they have to “win” the 2020 election, whatever the cost. And history shows that Americans will support the administration in charge if there's a war on. Combine the two, and you have a recipe for a pretty miserable 2020.

And what happens after? Anyone's guess. Global tensions are primed to snap, with unpredictable consequences. Unless Americans can collectively get their act together and start forcing reforms on the federal government in D.C., things 'gonna get interesting here, real soon.

Will we live out the nightmare that Muslim Americans (And probably DACA beneficiaries, who the Democrats this year totally betrayed) fear is coming? Or does the Trumpist infection burn itself out by provoking a nuclear exchange with Russia? Sometime in 2020, as the Presidential campaign kicks into high gear, will foolish actions lead to the US and Russia blowing up one another's ICBM silos?

Guess we'll find out. I'm definitely starting to think that the Universe has a wicked sense of humor, though. Of all the possible ways humanity could have evolved, who'd have thought that one day our entire civilization would be at the mercy of a reality tv star with probable mental illness who literally has the ability to launch thousands of nuclear weapons whenever he chooses?

Oh wait, science fiction writers have seen this coming for decades. We were warned. There really isn't any excuse. So now, we all get to find out exactly how special America really is.

But as the old Slipknot lyric goes: America – what if God doesn't care?

Published in Blog
Tuesday, 20 March 2018 17:19

How Osama Bin Laden Defeated America

NOTE: I wrote this before Matt Taibbi published his latest in Rolling Stone, and am pleasantly surprised at the parallels between our arguments. Not that many people are likely to ever read mine, so I appreciate that someone with a helluva bigger audience is making similar points.

But I'll go a step further than is probably *allowed* in the media these days: By the mid 21st Century, Americans will be looked at by most of the world in the same way Germans were viewed in much of the 20th. 8 or 9 billion people living in 2050 will wonder how Americans could not know, how they could let the bloodletting go on and on without realizing that what goes around, comes around. At a certain point, inability to do anything about the problem renders us all complicit in our leaders' crimes.


How Osama Bin Laden Defeated America

Today marks 15 years since the USA launched its attack on Iraq. Most commentators around the world seem to have come to a general conclusion about the whole thing:


Whoops.


No point in mincing words. The US invasion of Iraq directly killed tens of thousands of civilians, indirectly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and provided a training ground for the butchers of ISIS. The damage has steadily spread beyond Iraq, triggering a Sunni-Shiite sectarian war in the region that has inexorably pulled Saudi Arabia and Iran into conflict. As their proxy conflicts have escalated, other countries have gotten drawn into the fighting. Turkey is attacking the Kurds, Russia has intervened to prop up their major ally in the region, Syria. Yemen has been annihilated by civil conflict and a US-backed aerial assault by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

The Middle East today is a breeding ground for war. And more war is coming: a key lesson of history is that when a resource-rich region is destabilized to the degree the Middle East is today, the conflicts escalate until someone figures out how to negotiate a stable peace. Or the combatants wipe one another out, as the Allies and Germans did on the Western Front 1914-1918, or the Soviets and Germans did on the Eastern Front 1941-1945. But that threat isn't even on our national radar, though it should be. Look at the escalating military budgets of the combatant powers, listen to the rhetoric of the leadership. The powers-that-be see war coming, and worse, they all seem to think they can win it.

They're wrong.

I don't think there's point in mincing words: the Middle East is spinning towards terminal disaster, and the next major unilateral American military action in the area, probably an attack on Iran, is in the making. The US is dramatically increasing the Army and Air Force budget, and the Trump administration is packed full of characters who see Iran as enemy #1 in the region. Sooner or later, the Trumpists will trigger a war, believing that Obama's re-election was secured by the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden and that Trump's re-election will be secured by a successful strike on Iran.


Speaking of old Osama –
he won, you know.

Sure, sure, he's dead. And by American cultural definitions, if you die, you lose. Bin Laden himself would probably agree on some level. After all, despite his claim of seeking martyrdom, you never saw Bin Laden set off a suicide vest or crash an airliner into a building. Somewhere deep down the man probably saw himself as leading the renewed and united Islamic Caliphate from Mecca. I guess that's a plus side of having faith.

But beyond his personal ambitions, Bin Laden built Al Qaeda by promising something to his followers. And what he offered was Holy War, in which the faithful could sacrifice themselves and gain admission to eternal paradise in the next life. Of course, that only works if you have an enemy you feel is big enough, pervasive enough, mean enough to justify carrying on Holy War against it. Fortunately for Al Qaeda, generations of American political leaders have built exactly the sort of enemy a group like Al Qaeda needs to thrive.

By and large, Americans dislike studying history. In large part because in school we're fed a steady diet of history-as-names-and-dates, which turns most people off to history. But history is, if nothing else, a database full of bad ideas. Stuff humans, usually those in power, try over and over again. And we Americans, we have no idea how many bad ideas our leaders come up with and try to put into practice. Then, when they're desperately trying to explain why it all went wrong, our collective ignorance of the past gives them a perfect opportunity to sell us a pack of myths. That everything would have gone right if only the right people had been in charge. That other forces interfered with our noble aims, and that next time we'll do it better.

We rarely do. The history of the United States since 1945 is stained with blood. A huge chunk of the world doesn't see the Stars and Stripes as standing for freedom or democracy, they see them as standing for misery and death. The growing nationalist taboo about questioning our nation's violent history of foreign interventions, that curious silent treatment you get when you list off America's many crimes to someone in a position of authority – these represent fundamental weaknesses in the American myth. A recognition that the self-serving tales we tell about our intentions and actions aren't the whole truth.

This blood-stained history is what makes people join organizations like Al Qaeda. The idea that Arabs, Muslims, or anyone else is driven by some vague, inherited cultural hatred of America has been widely disproven by two decades of scientific research. Very few people hate America. A great many people hate America's policies. Especially those that bring bombs, ships, and troops to their doorstep.

Osama Bin Laden knew this. And so he organized a bold and successful strike on America, that would induce us to send even more bombs, ships, and troops to the Middle East. Because every time we do, every time our leaders give our soldiers orders to shoot at something or someone, innocent civilians get caught in the middle. And when innocent people die, everyone they ever knew and loved get angry. It's the most basic of Human emotions, to get angry when someone close to you is harmed by injustice. And from the perspective of a victim, it doesn't matter if your actions were noble or just or necessary. It doesn't matter if your country is the best, if your cause is pure. They only know that you hurt their loved one. And when normal channels for pursuing justice seem to fail, all that is left for those who have been harmed is that most ancient of counters to bad behavior: the promise of exacting vengeance.

When September 11, 2001 happened, the voices of people who understood this dynamic, knew that America had played a negative role in the Middle East for more than 20 years, were completely suppressed by a wave of nationalism. Forget that the governments we are supposed to be able to make accountable through our democratic system have abused our trust and harmed innocents in pursuit of their aggressive foreign policy. Ignore that experts in terrorism and insurgency warned that groups like Al Qaeda launch these types of mass-casualty, high-symbolism attacks specifically to provoke a disproportionate response. Just plop an American flag sticker on your car, pay your taxes, and keep shopping.

And so, Bin Laden won. The United States wandered into Afghanistan, failed to get him in Tora Bora, then Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the rest of the Bush-era neoconservative set pretend that Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were buddies, and off to Iraq we go. There to sacrifice 4500 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians pursuing “regime change”. And to so badly destabilize the region that Iraq and Syria both disintegrated into sectarian civil war – and led to the rise of ISIS. And a new round of destruction.

The dark irony of it all is that, despite the deaths and destruction, Americans seem to have learned nothing from the past fifteen years. Half of our federal income taxes get funneled to the Pentagon, and it obliges our support by conducting combat operations in at least half a dozen countries, with special forces teams deployed to more. Thousands of American soldiers still sit all over the Middle East, doing whatever our fearless leaders in D.C. think they should, regardless of the long-term consequences to America itself. Our drones buzz over Yemen and Somalia, unleashing death whenever some analyst sitting at a desk in Florida decides a group of potential targets are acting in a “signature” fashion, implying they may be “bad guys”. And with no on-the-ground after action assessments possible, more civilians die by our hands, and we don't even admit it.

Osama Bin Laden won by provoking the United States of America into a Forever War in the Middle East, which looks to people living there like another iteration of European imperialism and colonialism. Another distant power intervening in their lives – and what's worse, proclaiming that it is doing so in the name of “peace” and “defense”. Resistance under these circumstances is not only to be expected, it is in fact morally justified. It is worth setting aside the nationalist lens foisted on us by the national media, whether FOX or CNN or MSNBC, and asking ourselves a simple question: if a foreign power were doing to Americans what we do every day to people around the world, wouldn't we resist?

But there, see, is another of our society's deep taboos. We are taught to believe that we're different, that American means something inherently different than Russian, German, Iranian or Indian. And this poisonous conceit gives our political leaders the opening they need to sell us on the necessity of Forever War, on the mistaken belief that they are all that stands between us and the bad people.

But the truth is, the only bad people are the cynical politicians themselves. Trump, Pelosi, Ryan, Schumer, McConnell – stop wearing the blue and red tinted glasses, and you can see them for what they are: America's true enemies. The real bad people – not because they are inherently evil, but because they have chosen to be part of a political machine that, above all else, is concerned about concentrating power in the hands of an elite few. Whether neoliberal or neoconservative, that's their ultimate objective. Power.

Americans are today as fundamentally ruled without meaningful representation as they were in 1776. Our 200-year old political institutions are fully gamed-out by political elites. They cry “One America!” in order to prevent us all from realizing that there isn't One America at all. America always was, and remains, an idea. The dream that we can collectively develop a set of political institutions capable of letting us all pursue life, liberty, and happiness. That who you are, what you look like, is irrelevant to actually being American.

The dream is almost dead, now. People want to blame social media, or Russia, or populism. But the reality is that our political institutions have been entirely captured by elites. Our media serves its own interests by pushing us into the feedback loop of social media, where we can be safely clustered into groups defined by what advertisements we are shown. It is worth noting the response by major media companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to their networks being infiltrated by white supremacist groups has been to aggressively tamp down on any speech deemed too political. Progressive websites dependent on Google to drive traffic to them have noticed that the crackdown on fascist and Nazi speech is actually hitting them worst of all. Around the web, sites are trying to undermine and even ban ad-blocking software that for some of us is our only refuge to the deluge of clickbait advertising swamping the net.

Great changes are afoot around the world. And not all bad – in fact, most of the world is getting markedly better. Economic development is pulling millions of people out of poverty. Global organizations are learning how to better provide humanitarian aid and relief without undermining local social structures. And online, new societies are being born despite the censorship pressures emanating from global governments.

But America is in the middle of a deep crisis. Our two major political parties are collapsing, one captured by neoconservative extremists and the other colonized by neoliberal idealists. America requires renewal and reform if it is to survive the next couple decades. But too many special interests intersect in D.C., and it is becoming apparent that Americans themselves don't agree on the most basic norms of political behavior anymore. All they can agree on is “there is no alternative.”

History shows that there's always an alternative. Usually a set of alternatives. And it also shows countries that do not reform when the time comes, fail and fall.

America's elites have let Osama Bin Laden win. In fact, Obama's raid on that compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden was hiding gave him his final victory. Americans were almost universal in their outpouring of joy over his killing. And few people deserved to take a couple rounds fired from a Seal's rifle straight to the face like Osama Bin Laden did.

But in launching that raid, by showing the world stage-managed scenes of Obama, Clinton, and the rest of their administration sitting in the White House, supposedly watching a live feed streamed from a Seal's helmet camera, America's leaders proved for all the world to see that we don't feel ourselves bound by any hard rules. That we talk a big line about justice and rule of law when it suits our interests, and then ignore them when it doesn't. We proved Bin Laden's point for him. And we continue to do it.

To defeat Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, those Navy Seals needed to take him alive, and deliver him to the International Court at the Hague, there to be forced to defend his actions and ideology before an impartial hearing. And then to be locked in a cage for the rest of his life. That is how you beat someone who uses ideology and a narrative of your nation's aggressive nature to gain recruits and justify Holy War. Not by proving everything they allege about you. That's taking the “high road”. That's proving that America is different, even when it has been harmed.


But that isn't what happened. America executed Bin Laden, America fires Hellfire missiles from drones that every so often kills a bunch of innocent civilians. America invades Iraq, botches the occupation, and unleashes another form of Hellfire across the Middle East.

And now, unable to understand the crisis we've created, the blowback is coming home to consume our own society. Bin Laden goaded us into destroying the basis for our own power. The Global War on Terror, or whatever we're calling it this year, has convinced billions of people around the world that America is an evil empire. The Trumpist retreat from the international institutions that have been the foundation of America's power and prosperity will only make matters worse. And when their rhetoric and diplomatic incompetence draws America into another war of choice in the Middle East, the consequences will be grave.

And then, Bin Laden's victory will be complete.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 10 February 2018 20:39

Mission of the Pacific Freedom Party

 

Mission of the Pacific Freedom Party

Objective

Establish an Autonomous Federal Region empowered to govern the Pacific States of America under the authority of the Amended United States Constitution.

Intent

Amend the U.S. Constitution to allow groups of states the right to demand and receive full devolution of all powers currently vested in the Federal Government in Washington D.C.

Purpose

Pioneer a new Constitutional solution that undermines the sham of democracy perpetrated by elites of both major parties, who govern in the interest of the wealthy and well connected and not Americans as a whole.

Rationale

The Presidential election of 2016 marked a turning point in the history of the United States of America. The two major parties put forward the two most divisive and unpopular candidates of modern times, resulting in a split between the outcome in the electoral college and popular vote for the second time in sixteen years. This was accompanied by one candidate openly calling into question his willingness to accept an unfavorable outcome, and subsequently calling into question the legitimacy of millions of votes. Revelations of attempted foreign interference in the electoral process, as well as claims of collusion between the electoral college winner and this same foreign power, have dramatically eroded Americans' confidence in the strength of our most fundamental institutions.

This breakdown in our democratic system of government is made worse by the longstanding efforts by both major parties to reduce competition in the House of Representatives and Senate through gerrymandering and suppression of minority voting. In the 2018 legislative elections, only a fraction of 435 seats in the House of Representatives are actually subject to open competition, with most districts effectively owned by one party or the other. This reduction in democratic competition catastrophically intersects with the lack of meaningful campaign finance rules to produce a federal government that represents the interests of elites and not the people at large.

There is no longer hope of meaningful reform at the federal level. But the Constitution of the United States, under Article 5, allows for the States to collectively redefine American federalism by holding a Constitutional Convention. Provided that a supermajority of states can develop a binding, formal agreement, this Constitutional mechanism allows for reform to be imposed on the D.C. system.

The Pacific Freedom Party has two basic goals: First, unite the majority of Americans living in the states that adjoin the Pacific Ocean in formally demanding an Article 5 Convention to reform the United States federal government. Second, to promote reforms that take into account the simple fact that different geographic regions within the USA hold very different visions of the kind of federal government that they want.

While the elites of the two major parties, Democrat and Republican alike, are united in their desire to deliver financial benefits to their allies, they are only able to sustain their rule by fomenting fear among their supporters of what will happen if the other party takes complete control in D.C. After decades of this dynamic, Americans are deeply divided when it comes to their beliefs about the role of government in their lives. But these divisions do not fall neatly along right/left, conservative/liberal lines. Geography and regional culture are also deeply relevant.

We in the Pacific States share a common culture as a result of our unique history and geographic realities. The vast majority of us are relatively recent immigrants, our families having only arrived on these Pacific shores since the end of the Second World War. We are more diverse than the United States as a whole, our population is younger, our politics (whether liberal or conservative) more libertarian. Our foreign policy and economic interests are oriented towards Asia rather than Europe, our natural environment is shaped by the currents of the Pacific Ocean and the tectonic hazards of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Like the Intermountain West, Great Plains, Upper Midwest, South, and Northeast, we form a distinct social, economic, and political region within the United States.

We, like all Americans have both the need for and right to a working federal government capable of addressing our citizens' concerns. As fundamental reform is impossible given the perpetual dysfunction and corruption that characterizes the present-day state of affairs in Washington D.C., we have no choice but to seek an alternative solution under the Constitution.

Therefore, we advocate for an Article 5 Convention organized with a clear, coherent, limited purpose: to enact a Constitutional Amendment allowing groups of consenting states to establish a common federal government answerable only to their citizens. These groups of states will operate as Autonomous Federal Regions, united under the authority of new federal capitols that inherit all existing federal responsibilities as well as the right to Interpret and Amend the Constitution to apply within their jurisdiction, save for those few matters that all AFRs agree should remain in the hands of the supra-national capitol in Washington D.C.

Tasks

Achieving reform will be a difficult task, requiring focused and consistent effort across space and time. While we fight for a Constitutional solution that can benefit all Americans, we recognize that the basic difficulties of organizing radical collective action of this nature requires a high degree of pragmatic adaptability. To accomplish the broader mission, we must accomplish several fundamental tasks:

1. Force frank public discussion about the pressing need for fundamental Constitutional reform in America.

2. Establish a party platform that adequately addresses the major concerns of the majority of citizens in the Pacific States.

3. Recruit support and contributions sufficient to sustain visible actions that demonstrate our capabilities as a political party.

4. Contest local, state, and federal elections to undermine the power of the Democratic and Republican party establishments.

5. Foster the development of allied parties in other regions, uniting in the post-partisan pursuit of a better solution for America.

Published in Blog
Friday, 08 September 2017 18:04

Calling Bullshit on America

Calling Bullshit on America

Ten or so years ago, during a short stint on active duty with the United States Army, a group of medics taught me a phrase that has resonated ever since:

“I call bullshit on the entire operation!”

It's one of those timeless bits of military wisdom applicable to many, if not most, of the things soldiers are sent to do by their generals.

For these particular soldiers it encapsulated their experience of one mission in particular. Two years into the occupation of Iraq, some brilliant mind somewhere in the Baghdad Green Zone decided that a Vietnam-style air assault mission into some outlying Sunni town or other would be a fun idea. So a couple hundred soldiers get packed into a couple dozen helicopters, and off they go.

Fortunately, it was one of those days when nobody decided to shoot at the “Amriki Jundi”, and the soldiers searched the village for whatever insurgent leader or weapons cache “intelligence” thought was in the place, while the Iraqi residents did their best to stay out of the way.

Thing is, in all the planning and preparation, someone in the chain of command forgot to plan out exactly how they were supposed to get home in the event that the helicopters weren't available. For hours they sat around, avoiding the burning desert sun, surrounded by people who likely harbored at least one insurgent informant savvy enough to realize that an isolated group of soldiers makes for an excellent target.

Someone did eventually work out how to get a convoy of Humvees down to the village, and the soldiers made it back to base without casualties. Some had been ordered to simply start walking to the nearest Forward Operating Base (many miles away), with transport only showing up halfway through a hike that very nearly resulted in casualties not from insurgent attack, but dehydration in the bitter heat.

Naturally the mission was reported as a smashing success in the press - with that last bit conveniently forgotten. And so veterans of this absolutely typical military experience taught me that unforgettable and perpetually applicable bit of soldier's wisdom: “I call bullshit on the entire operation.”

It effectively sums up the way I feel about the United States of America in 2017.

There is no point in mincing words: America is dead. The 2016 election killed it as surely as an IED or a sniper's bullet. Nazis – Nazis – are now killing people. In America. with only lukewarm condemnation from the President and his loyal republicans, and another round of impotent verbal protests by the leadership of the democratic party.

The only question that truly remains is how the American corpse will be carved up at the end of the day.

This, of course, isn't something that you will hear from the Beltway elites, who day in and day out spare no effort in their ongoing campaign to shape our perceptions of the disaster that D.C. has become, always trying to convince us to keep playing the same old rigged game. The game that keeps them personally rich while preventing us from engaging in public debate about the real questions that matter. The kind of questions that, merely by being asked, violate the silent taboos that keep us locked in the futility of endless cycles of partisan warfare. Simple questions, like:

  • Can either of our existing ideological parties actually govern a huge, diverse nation?
  • Will their wars that now consume more than half of our federal income taxes ever end?

The answers are, of course (or why else would I write this?): No, and No. So, very much in the spirit of Thomas Paine: I call bullshit on the entire operation. I call bullshit on this version of America.

The two-party system is so empirically broken that if Americans on either side of the political spectrum had any decent leadership in the higher echelons of the party elite someone would have long ago figured out how to build a viable centrist party. The fact that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump became the presidential candidates for their respective parties is all the evidence anyone should need to realize that both parties are functionally dead on their feet. These were the two most unpopular presidential candidates in modern American history. Both parties had alternatives with far broader public appeal, both failed to notice or care.

They remain locked in their perpetual war of attrition. And, as typical in such a fight, continuation of the battle has long since become its own justification. It is useful to apply a biological view here: each party as an organism. While it appears that they are in constant and direct competition, in fact they've long since evolved a form of mutualism. Each party survives by extracting resources from a coalition of social groups held together mostly by fear of the consequences of the other major coalition winning in any given round of the endless game.

Consider the rhetoric of “resistance” the democrats have employed since the 2016 election. They call for it, but what do they actually do? One only has to look at Tahrir in Egypt and Maidan in Ukraine to see that people can defeat a standing government, by physically engaging in mass civil disobedience that directly impacts the government's ability to operate. Sure 2020 hopefuls like Terry McAuliffe can rattle off focus-group approved slogans to Trevor Noah, and Bernie Sanders is out there agitating for single-payer healthcare, but while they play the game by the old rules the Trumpists remain in total control of the federal government, hindered only by their own incompetence and disorganization.

The leadership of the democratic party does nothing but offer hope of change in 2018 and 2020. But the hard truth is that the democrats have learned nothing from 2016. If you want to understand why Clinton lost, simply look at her response to the poisoning of the water in Flint, Michigan. Look at how it was received by residents. Look at how many votes the democrats shed in Flint – and Detroit - between 2012 and 2016.

A sign of how little we can trust their judgment: there were clear signals in middle of summer 2016 that the democrats were extremely vulnerable in the rust belt. They completely failed to realize that polls in Iowa and Ohio – which Obama won handily in 2012 yet where Clinton was perpetually tied with or behind Trump throughout 2016 – reflected something important happening in neighboring Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. That the post-recession “recovery” had only really happened on the coasts. That too many people in the “Blue Wall” didn't believe in the democrats any more.

The democratic party's track record in crucial elections is simply abysmal. Gore, in 2000. Kerry, in 2004. Clinton, in 2016. In all three the republican candidate made it into the White House after winning swing states where voter suppression efforts were observed. The democrats have however never made a serious issue out of the repeated incidence of voter suppression in crucial swing states, despite both the clear evidence that it is taking place, that is has terrible effects on turnout among non-white voters, and that the scale of the suppression is rapidly increasing.

With a man in the White House proclaiming that the popular vote was, in effect, illegitimate (after proclaiming during the campaign that he wouldn't necessarily respect the official outcome), with voter roll purges and federal funding shifts now underway that are designed to restrict voters' access to polling places in crucial 2020 swing states, it is for the first time in modern American history reasonable to assume a serious risk of a rigged election. Very possibly one where we see large-scale violence in places where the Nazi and KKK decide they can operate freely.

History does not show that the democrats can be trusted to mount an effective resistance.

Look at them at this very moment, months into this nightmare. Where are the calls for protestors to encircle the White House, Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and Wall Street, to refuse to budge until the entire Trump administration – anyone having signed on to this administration sharing in culpability for his actions – resigns? Where are the plans for launching national strikes? You know, the things that people in the rest of the world have always had to do whenever their government has gotten out of control? The things that actually make the politicians accountable?

V for Vendetta put it best. People shouldn't be afraid of their governments - governments should be afraid of their people. Until the democratic party leadership can demonstrate the ability and will to organize an effective counterattack, I am done with them. I call bullshit on their entire operation.

America doesn't work anymore. The root cause is obvious. Vast sums of tax dollars are hoovered up by the federal government, which then manages to waste tremendous quantities of it while perpetually under-funding the programs needed to keep the most vulnerable Americans afloat. It is instructive to look at how much Americans spend per person on healthcare, education, and the military, and compare how much value we get per dollar compared to our counterparts abroad. Typically, we spend 2 or 3 times as much per person only to achieve worse results than other advanced economies like those of Germany or Japan or Canada.

Despite the fact that America is the world's largest economy with control over a disproportionate share of global wealth, despite our pointlessly massive military budget, despite the soft power that comes with having our currency serve as the world's replacement for the Gold standard, life for a rapidly growing subset of Americans has been getting harder for decades and is set to get much worse in the near future. We are rapidly moving towards a point where it takes almost as much energy to get the next barrel of oil as it required to obtain the last one. This “energy gain” crisis will produce inflationary effects that will disproportionately harm the most vulnerable. The first effects of climate change will likely be increased frequency of unusually intense weather events, which will create increasing pressures on the global food system, which will also be felt as inflationary pressure by those least able to bear it.

America's leaders have been playing history on easy mode for more than a generation, and yet have manged, since the 1990s to completely compromise America's international position.

Which, in the coming decades, will prove increasingly consequential. In the 20th Century, the United States became an empire. At the end of the Second World War, American diplomatic and military elites quite literally decided that America's borders ran through Germany and Korea. That we had the right and responsibility to police the world. That we would be the inheritors of the then (still?) crumbling British Empire, and pax Brittania would become pax Americana.

Sustaining that empire since the end of the Second World War has cost the lives of tens of thousands of American militarypersonnel and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. Sanctions and other foreign policy fiascoes have resulted in the death of millions more, in total absence of evidence that our national security has improved. Like the Germans who were forced to tour the concentration camps in 1945, all Americans should have to go through Wikipedia and count the dead. There is a strong empirical and legal case to be made that the United States of America has become the single greatest threat to global stability. And the rest of the world has noticed.

This is so desperately important for Americans to understand. Our empire's past prosperity is a result of the fact that it was originally far more benign than the one it replaced. The British Empire was willing to starve the people of India in two world wars. The American Empire, at least initially, emphasized a stable world economic order, where independent nations would be free from direct control so long as they were willing to trade with us. We became interdependent with the rest of the world, and this created the foundation for our prosperity. Then and now. By grace of our literally writing the rules of the global economy in the 1940s, we set the stage for our own ability to grow economically and provide for our citizens. We became less and less benign over time, because that is a consequence of the logic of empire – it always tries to expand. And destroys itself in the process.

But look at the world post-2016. The signs are everywhere. When a French president publicly states that “China leads”, when the US president is threatening military action almost at random, how long does it take until the uncertainty and fear starts to spill over into the economic sphere? What happens when US companies start to lose key contracts to competitors, when movements to divest and boycott the US gain steam, when China leads an effort to formally de-emphasize the dollar in international transactions? Flailing some cruise missiles at Syria won't solve those kinds of problems. Boosting the military budget by another one or two hundred billion dollars won't help.

Another truth that the Beltway establishment won't voice: America's military power is ephemeral. Vulnerable. Dependent on a network of alliances and bases around the globe. Our ability to threaten North Korea and Iran depends on willing allies who provide bases and transit for supplies. The idea that America can act alone is a total myth. So all this uncertainty, instability, and questioning of America's future that even our closest and oldest allies are now engaging in as a matter of self-preservation? There is only one way this can go: a slow, steady decline in America's influence, power, and capability to defend its interests abroad.

The root cause of this decline is two-fold: the “War on Terror” and the incestuous merger that has taken place between the Pentagon and the defense industry. How this works is well understood: to get promoted to a senior position, candidates are assessed by a board comprised of senior officers. Generals make generals, like Ph.D.s make Ph.D.s. But senior generals have a strong incentive to make sure they promote subordinates who won't threaten the status quo. A status quo where generals get to retire with a full pension, then work as highly-paid 'consultants' for the rest of their lives, regardless of their performance after promotion.

Anyone who believes that this isn't a fundamentally corrosive relationship is kidding themselves. Consider the case of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project. Almost a decade behind schedule and nearly two hundred billion dollars over-budget, the aircraft costs two to three times (there's that ratio again) more to operate per-hour than aircraft it replaces and possesses truly dubious combat capabilities compared to the initial objectives set for the platform. But the way the program has been set up ensures that it is un-killable by either party, and will function until 2070 as a veritable dollar farm for Lockheed Martin – and, of course, the congressional districts where subcontracting for the program takes place.

At the same time, the US Army can't come with replacements for its aging fleet of vehicles and the US Navy continues to spend huge sums on massive supercarriers that may not even be able to operate close enough to the coast of a future adversary to be of any military use. Ever since US President Bill Clinton sent a threatening fleet through the Taiwan Strait, China has steadily built up the capability to physically prevent such a thing from happening again. They now possess hundreds, perhaps thousands of cruise missiles that can fly farther than combat aircraft operating from our supercarriers, and have deployed hundreds of ballistic missiles capable of striking US bases throughout the western Pacific. Other nations, like Iran, are also pursuing this strategy.

The truth of the matter is that major conflict between great powers is no longer a viable means of solving international disputes. It simply can't work anymore: too many key players have nuclear weapons. The risk to the global economy is too high. If another general conflict on the scale of the World Wars were ever to break out, everyone would lose, and humanity itself might never recover.

And yet, this is never acknowledged by America's political elites. Americans do not truly comprehend, because our leaders never admit, how much our inability to pursue defense reforms is damaging our economy. By definition, resources spent on defense are effectively wasted. Build a bridge, and that is embodied capital that can be productively used for decades. Build a tank, and it gets used up, then has to be replaced. Over and over, so long as there is another “threat” to scare people with. The Soviet Union failed to learn this lesson, and eventually defense expenditures consumed their economy from the inside.

Every American should take a moment, every tax season, and give some thought to that line on their W-2 that shows the amount of federal income taxes withheld. Take that number, and divide it in half. That's your direct monetary contribution to the base defense budget. Works even if you aren't an American, but pay taxes to the Internal Revenue Service. That's your share of the empire. Of all the bombs and all the blood. Year after year after year. Even as half of Americans would seriously struggle to deal with a $400 expense without falling into debt.

You'd think that after the past sixteen years we'd have risen up as Americans to demand that every general who has ever set foot in the Pentagon be fired for sheer incompetence. How many years do you give to a military establishment before deciding that enough is enough and that they've completely, totally failed in their fundamental mission?

I call bullshit on the entire operation.

To be frank, I write this in a spirit of absolute despair. And disgust. Our Constitution has been trampled, our flag and the sacrifices of our grandparents – many of whom died to defeat the Nazis of their time, have been dishonored. And yet our supposed leaders do nothing but keep playing the same stale partisan game. We are all colonized subjects of the American Empire. Some more than others, but to paraphrase Tolkien, writing of his time as a soldier in the service of his Empire in the First World War: We are all Orcs.

The only viable way forward involves a complete dismantling of our Imperial Capitol, Washington D.C. Probably by porting the entire thing down to a set of six or eight or nine regional federal governments, each with the right to interpret the Constitution as its citizens prefer. In essence, the same sort of process that resulted in Canada and Australia and the other members of the Commonwealth receiving political independence. I say, Let the Pacific States take over all responsibility for managing America's affairs in the broader Pacific. Let the Texas Republic go free. Make Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi their own republic. Free Miami (until it is swallowed by the Atlantic in 2053). Let Oklahoma be Oklahoma and Oregon be Oregon. Let us all pay taxes to a federal government over which we can actually exert meaningful control.

It will require a Constitutional Amendment to get the job done. But frankly, a Constitutional Amendment is probably what is required to take America back anyway. To make it happen, a non-partisan movement, or some sort of union of movements, will be necessary.

But now that neo-Nazis are on the march, and neither party is capable of producing a leader on par with a Roosevelt or even an Eisenhower, the fact of America's death should be obvious to everyone. The question is now how long the charade continues before some major crisis erupts and spirals totally out of control.

So I call bullshit on America, the two party system, and the military-industrial complex in general. We need to come up with a plan for fighting back. And we need a champion.

But not a white guy like myself. The leader we need is young, competent, and bold, and she is also a combat veteran, who has lost friends and possibly bits of herself in Iraq or Afghanistan or some other forgotten battlefield. She is probably some shade of brown, perhaps a child of immigrants. She may have served as an officer, though I personally hope that she hails from the enlisted side, because sergeants and other non-commissioned officers: they know how to get things done. She must be, in every way, the anti-Trump.

I don't know who she is. Or where she lives. But I hope she reads this, and hears the call. And I hope that she isn't alone. Because to win this war, to take our country back, we will need an army.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 12 January 2019 06:00

Building the Pacific National Party (1.0)

NOTE: This falls into the category of 'ideas I wish I had the time/money to chase down'. While I'd like to spend time making this happen, it ain't gonna happen unless someone with deep pockets happens to want to fund the thing. Or someone with a hell of a lot of ambition and time decides to take this on.

A couple weeks ago, I published an article laying out my vision for a new party - a Pacific National Party. capable of, you know, actually doing something to take America back. A non-partisan, centrist movement inspired by Macron's recent victory, that kept France out of the hands of its own set of petty-fascists, and the Scottish National Party's long-term success in forcing the UK national government in London to give the Scots a significant degree of autonomy to manage their own affairs.

Structure of the Pacific National Party

Objective: Build and sustain a movement capable of, in 2020, taking control of enough electoral votes and state congressional delegations to prevent any partisan political candidate from winning the 2020 election outright. By holding enough electoral votes in the right states and enough state of delegations in the House of Representatives, we can make sure that the Presidency can only go to a candidate who is willing to champion an Amendment to the Constitution that fundamentally restructures our federal government to permanently bypass the gridlock and partisan madness of Washington D.C.

Basically, under the reasonable assumption that the republican party can, by hook or crook, hold on to the states won in 2016, we need to be in a position to make this map happen:

The core of the Pacific National Party is the Executive Council. Four individuals from diverse backgrounds, each with responsibility for running (being, in the start-up phase) one of the four major departments. In diagram form:

LeadershipOrgan

The four departments function collectively as a sort-of organism, a "Leadership Organ". Information flows between departments in a perpetual loop, that John Boyd called OOD: Observe-Orient-Decide (There IS an A many people use, but I find it redundant. Decision must produce action, or what's the point?). In essence, the organization as a whole knows what it needs to accomplish in order to survive/thrive, but to manage that process day-to-day requires a constant rhythm of experiencing the "environment" and/or "landscape" (either metaphor works), evaluating opportunities and threats, then structuring and taking action on the environment, which itself alters the environment subsequently experienced, re-starting the cycle.

Each department has total autonomy within its own sphere, with a responsibility to apply resources given to it however they can achieve the maximum effect in pursuit of the organization's formal objectives. Departments inevitably step on one another's turf, the 4-member Executive Council is responsible for de-conflicting their efforts, however that is best done in the moment. This system is modeled after the German military doctrine known as 'leading by mission', which places a tremendous emphasis on individuals, whatever their functional role, taking the initiative wherever possible to take advantage of (all-too-often) fleeting opportunities.

I want to stress that when I say this organization will reflect the diversity of the Pacific States, I mean it. If the "reach" funding threshold is met I will write in a small, paid, part-time role for myself as a "research consultant", but regardless my primary role will be to manage the hiring process to make sure capable people are doing the job. I will look for women, immigrants, and veterans in particular. People who have demonstrated by some combination of education and experience that they can take the initiative and make things happen.

 

Phase 1: Start-Up (2018)

Necessary Funds:   $1,490,000   [$1.49 Million]

Core Tasks:

  • Obtain necessary funding committment and seek additional support if available
  • Identify and hire the four members of the Executive Council, who reflect the diversity of background and belief in the Pacific States
  • Publish White Paper outlining formal plan of action for achieving 2019 and 2020 objectives
  • Develop a network of supporters, allies, and donors in pursuit of Phase 2 funding requirements
  • Establish a presence on the web and the media to begin to make our voices heard

Department Tasks:

Signals - Public outreach and recruitment - find out what people are worried about and how we can focus our platform to address their concerns. Develop the web and media presence necessary to reach people. Identify potential partners and allies. Act as the conscience, making sure the party's actions are in accord with its ideals. Be the Gadfly to counter Groupthink, as needed.

Research - Map and understand the "Environment" and "Landscape" of the Pacific States political system and institutions. Develop strategic objectives and potential courses of action. Identify opportunities and threats. Be the Big-Picture-Thinker, the navigator, always trying to plot the best course that will achieve the collective objectives.

Logistics - Develop and maintain the institutional architecture that keeps the organization running. Convert evaluation and strategy into concrete objectives and plans of action. Monitors and manages technology and finances. Be the detail-oriented "Staff Officer" who works to determine what is feasible and what is not.

Operations - Engages potential allies and supporters, winning them over to our cause. Actively solicit involvement and assistance from public, private, and charitable sources. Goes out and meets people to represent the Pacific National Party and its mission. Be the face of the organization, the one who gets things done.

Budget [$1.49 Million]:

  • 4 Staff, 3 year contracts, $60,000 in base salary and 50% of that again in taxes and benefits: $1,080,000
  • Technology, basic supplies, office space (as-needed basis), administrative support: $210,000
  • Contingency Fund: $100,000
  • Fees to Crowsource platform and payment processor: $100,000

Reach Goal: $328,000(+)

  • "Research consultant" (me) for 3 years at ~1/2-time: $108,000
  • Technical consultant to help design/prototype digital app (for Phase 2): $120,000
  • Early outreach/media efforts via consultants (for Phase 2): $100,000-200,000

 

Phase 2: Expansion (2019)

*Phase 2 is inherently more of a ballpark estimate compared to Phase 1, as success or failure in Phase 1 will largely structure the course of Phase 2. However, Phase 1 will be conducted with Phase 2 always in mind, because that is where the PNP makes the jump from four people in an office to a fast-growing start-up in its own right. It is also important to note that the transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2 will depend heavily on when the organization can obtain the necessary funding committments.

Necessary Funds:   $9,700,000   [$9.7 Million]

Core Tasks:

  • Hire 12 additional staff, 3 in each department, allowing intensification and acceleration of all efforts
  • Contract for the development of an app, a digital platform for political engagement, a mashup of Duolingo, Politifact, and StackExchange (among others)
  • Pursue further funding partnerships with large donors to augment the crowdsourcing effort, to lay the groundwork for Phase 3
  • Develop a slate of candidates, new or established - but willing to make a binding agreement with respect to our main objectives, to run in the West 2020
  • Support the start of a compatible regional party in the Intermountain West, who will be needed as allies to control the outcome of the 2020 election
  • Publish widely in multiple media outlets to continue growing our support base and spreading the word of our alternative for America

Department Tasks:

  • Essentially the same functions, with added capacity. Original Executive Council remains, with members serving as liasion between department and council
  • A centrally-managed budget will be established and assets allocated to departments as needed to pursue opportunities

Budget: [$9.7 Million]

  • 12 Staff, 2 year contracts, $60,000 in base salary and 50% of that again in taxes and benefits: $2,160,000
  • Physical office space and administrative support for 2 years: $840,000
  • Operations budget/common resource pool for 2 years: $2,000,000
  • App development (contracted out to best bid): $3,000,000
  • Contingency budget: (10% of total): $800,000
  • Fees and Taxes (assume 10% of total): $900,000

Additional funds over and beyond this amount will either roll over to Phase 3 or be used to enhance Phase 2 efforts.

 

Phase 3: The Battle of 2020

* Phase 3 goes from ballpark to best guess. As with the Phase 1 to Phase 2 transition, Phase 3 will require an intensification of effort and an order of magnitude more cash on hand. Since raising $100 Million via crowdfunding would set a record, it is likely that to succeed in 2020 the Pacific National Party will need to secure significant funding support from public, private, or foundation sources to achieve our objectives in 2020. However, given the presence of numerous multi-billionaires and thousands of millionaires in the Pacific States, most of whom are as dismayed by what is happening in D.C. by the rest of us, all it really takes is one or two patrons willing to do their civic duty and help get this done, without trying to control the process.

Necessary Funds: $120,000,000 (for campaign offices and supporting infrastructure)

Needed Funds: Up to (and perhaps over) $1 Billion in fundraising from all sources to support candidates and compete in the presidential contest everywhere west of the Mississippi.

Core Tasks:

  • Establish offices in 80-100 counties throughout the Pacific States, each with 5 paid staff and a $1 Million dollar budget to work with
  • Coordinate outreach, fundraising, and turnout efforts by offering guidance and additional resources where needed
  • Maintain oversight and continuity with respect to message and platform, but allow local staffs maximum autonomy in achieving results
  • Run or endorse (in exchange for binding agreement of support) a comprehensive slate of candidates for all federal offices
  • Support the establishment of a formal party infrastructure eligible for public funding and the donor base necessary to support our candidates in the future
  • Pursue any and all opportunities to develop a coalition in 2020 capable of keeping any partisan candidate from winning the presidency

Budget: [$120 Million]

  • 80-100 offices totaling 400-500 staff on 9-month contracts at $50,000 total compensation each: $25,000,000
  • Operating budget for offices to recruit volunteers, purchase media time, and remain stocked up on supplied: $75,000,000
  • Common resource pool for operations, contingencies, and other additional expenses: $20,000,000

Again, this is $ spent solely on salary for staff and operations for the campaign we have to fight between 2017 and 2021. Any additional funds will be placed in a trust that will be managed by an independent foundation to provide a skeleton staff and structure on into the future, capable of providing a base for mobilizing subsequent efforts as needed. The size of this trust will depend on donor relations. But ideally, we could place $10-$20 Million in the trust, using the 3%-5% earned on annual interest to fund a reserve supporting infrastructure independent of whatever formal party governance model is ultimately chosen for the party going forward. That would be enough to support 4-8 staff dedicated to outreach, education, and advocacy.

 

Conclusion

It feels entirely silly to be proposing such a thing. But over the course of the past year, I have watched my country fall to fascism. It was always bad enough to look at my W-2, and know that half of the Federal Income Tax I pay ends up buying bombs that get dropped on literally thousands of innocent people, year after year. And now all that power is in the hands of people who continue to make it clear that they govern in the interest of a privileged, wealthy, white minority.

So I put this out there, in hopes that I can somehow, in some way, help to make a difference.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 12 January 2019 06:00

2017 and 1933: Watching A Nation Crumble

What a somber 4th of July. It is difficult to enjoy what should be a celebration of freedom when the country is pretty clearly falling apart. As crazy as I know it sounds, the more I read and study and research, the more convinced I am that we're facing an unprecedented crisis. I'm fairly certain I'm not the only American who thinks there is a very real possibility that the USA won't make it through the next decade in one piece.

It is difficult to feel proud of something that is in the process of disintegrating. Beyond that, though, this 4th is reminding me the degree to which our collective desire to have pride in our country gets used to justify the terrible acts that our leaders commit, year in and year out. Pride in your nation should be a result of that nation living up to its promises, which, in America's case, I think best boil down to: everyone has a reasonably equal chance to experience a life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, more or less however they personally define those things. 

So it is very hard to feel like a proud American when more than 50% of our federal income taxes go to the Pentagon to pay for more jets and bombs and nuclear weapons, while our actual national security diminishes as countries that feel threatened by our power build their own power to counter ours (um, classic security dilemma, anyone?).

It is hard to feel like a proud American when the color of your skin is a major factor in someone's risk of being killed by a police officer and even if they survive an encounter unscathed, they are more likely to be charged with a crime, which exposing them to being permanently barred from voting and subject to lifelong discrimination when trying to get a job.

It is hard to feel like a proud American when that ridiculous archaism that is the electoral college has yet again produced a fundamentally non-democratic outcome, when the electoral process itself has been compromised by foreign interference and widespread, racially-motivated domestic voter suppression, or the fact that the creature now occupying the Oval Office (when not on Twitter) was even allowed to stand for election after threatening the integrity of the outcome if it didn't go his way (how can such an act, a direct and unprecedented threat against the integrity of the Constitution, not constitute treason, by the way?).

Look, America, like any country is a land full of myths, something both good and bad. Good, because myths like the American Dream (making it in this country has never been just a matter of working hard enough) bring amazing immigrants who have, generation after generation, have fought to make it a better place. But the myths can go bad, and our collective national inability or unwillingness to hold our political and economic leaders accountable for their abuses has, generation after generation, enabled them to justify killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

From the genocide of the Indian Wars to the brutal occupation of the Philippines and right through the indiscriminate bombing campaigns our leadership waged against Germany (particularly Hamburg and Dresden), Japan (even with nukes), Korea, and Vietnam, to their 'precision' counterparts Iraq, Afghanistan, and wherever else we've started bombing between the time I hit 'publish' and you read this (hm, maybe I should start inscribing my rants on stone tablets? Hard copy, and survivable!). Actions that are as morally dubious as they are military ineffective. The United States has been on a roaring rampage of revenge for more than fifteen years now. We have tried to occupy and/or bomb more than half a dozen countries. Killing tens of thousands of civilians. Innocent women and children mostly caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. People our ideals (and basic human decency) tell us we are morally obligated to protect. And is there an end in sight? At least in World War II the thing had an end. One can almost accept the 'war is hell' argument if there's a definite end point to look forward to. Eventually, the refrain 'collatoral damage' or even 'we killed x more terrorists/insurgents' starts to look like bureaucratic self-justification for continuing to do the same pointless thing year after year after year.

That the United States of America is now seen as one of the greatest threats to world peace even by our allies is largely down to the fact that decade after decade America's military is deployed to annihilate one city or country after another. Our tax money at work, I guess, but I invite you to take a look at your W-2, and divide the amount withheld for federal income taxes by 2. That's your regular share of the 'security' budget. I hope you feel it well-spent! If not, I can tell you exactly how to reduce your tax bill by up to 25%, instantly...

This isn't down to the Trumpists alone, though. This is the result of at least 75 years of a country led by people who govern through manipulation of myths, yet despite their sophistication in that sense for some reason can't seem to get it through their thick skulls that annihilating Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hanoi, Fallujah, and most recently Mosul and Raqqah have in the end served mostly to annihilate the United States' claim to any kind of moral high ground. Every American president since Reagan has promised some variation of 'Morning in America'. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, and now 'Drumpf'. All of them. And all of them use that gap between our collectively saying 'alright, the last guy failed, so it's your turn now' and realizing that we've been betrayed yet again, to make their buddies richer and the rest of us poorer, while taking action after action that back in the days of the Nuremburg trials would have probably seen them convicted of War Crimes - hence, perhaps, why the US refuses to join the International Criminal Court.

Trumpism - the perverse ideology (reducing in the end to a cult-of-personality) shared by the 10-20% of Americans who actually believe in Trump, and not just people who voted for him because they feared a(nother) Clinton presidency - is a manifestation of very old, very dangerous currents in American society. A continuation of the old anti-immigration Know Nothings of the late 19th century, the McCarthy and Goldwater outbreaks of the mid 20th, and the pseudo-Libertarian Tea Partiers of the early 21st. A group of people who appear to truly believe that there is a 'correct' way to be 'American', and that some people either can't or don't deserve to be treated equally in society.

It is a poisonous ideology, a rejection of humanity that anyone who has studied early 20th Century European history should be familiar with, deeply informed by social darwinism and a cancerous social growtn that comprised the basic foundation of Nazi ideology. Fortunately, while it is fair to say that every society will harbor some groups who adopt this kind of poisonous ethical position, only rarely do any of these groups get in a position to actually control anything. Even though conservatives like the Bushes and Reagans naturally tapped into this ideology for their purposes, they never let it run anything too important.

Because when they do, things have a tendency to go very bad, very quickly.

The Trump = Hitler comparison has of course been (keeps getting) made, but as is so typical of the American media, it generally uses a completely mythological version of Hitler as touchstone. Seventy years after Adolf met with his well-deserved, sadly belated fate, we remember him as an odd mix of demon and clown. Where in reality he was more a mix of insane clown (that video shows a very accurate depiction of Hitler on one of his breakdowns towards the end of the war) and charismatic, narcisstic sociopath (it is likely that Hitler used his breakdowns strategically, when his usual methods of gaining compliance had failed). A complete opportunist whose actual positions would swing wildly depending on who he was talking to, who surrounded himself with incompetent subordinates and focused their energy on building little bureaucratic empires, using access to him as a means of controlling their power. 

If that sounds eerily familiar to 2017, it should. Because the Trumpists, as a pseudo-revolutionary minority interest, have been forced to follow a similar, particular path in order to gain power. Most people today don't realize that Hitler and the Nazis never won a majority in a free election, and were losing support when Hitler gained power. While they were the individually largest party in 1933 (in a country with several other major parties, almost as large), they were so viscerally hated by the majority of Germans that the leftist parties of the time, had they been able to unite, would have been in a position to launch a series of national strikes that would have crippled Hitler's government - something the Nazis were desperately afraid of. Hence, immediately after Hitler getting formal power, a campaign of repression was unleashed to bias the electoral process, culminating in a rigged election. And subsequently make the legislature vote itself out of any sort of meaningful existence.

That Hitler was given the powerful position of Chancellor - subordinate to the President, until his death in 1934 - was almost entirely down to a series of backroom political deals made between major players in the powerful German conservative parties, who thought they could control him. They completely underestimated his ruthlessness, and in a rapid period of power consolidation the Nazis simply spread into the fabric of the bureaucracy and essentially stole German society. Subsequent elections were rigged, a terrorist attack was used to grant the Chancellor emergency powers, and when the President died of old age a year later Hitler simply merged the offices of Chancellor and President.

We look back at 1933, and we tend to see Hitler's rise as inevitable, a fact of history. When in fact it was an accident, a confluence of different forces, that conspired to give a dedicated opportunist like Adolf a chance to translate that opportunity into power. Which he was able to do, in tragic fashion, by delivering the German people economic recovery via massive military spending, then solidifying his hold over their loyalty by a long bout of 'winning', in other words, achieving victories in foreign policy that let Germans feel like their nation was 'great' again... until the 6th Army died at Stalingrad in 1942, sending the Nazis down their long slide to total defeat.

Most observers thought it would be a short-lived thing, Hitler's Germany. And by all rights it should have been - Nazism didn't offer anything of long-term substance, it offered no realistic path for resolving the long-term geopolitical and economic problem of a powerful united German nation in the middle of Europe, and Hitler was in fact quite nearly overthworn multiple times by the Army, which was painfully aware that another Great War would mean the destruction of Germany. Most observers of the time seem to have expected that the thing would eventually collapse under the weight of its own illogic and dysfunction.

Turned out that Hitler, mad as he was, had a plan. And the capability to carry it forward through a deadly combination of willingness to topple any existing structure or institution that got into his way (there's a narcissistic sociopath for you!) and the rabid support of a minority interest within German society.

Both Trumpism and Nazism stem from the same basic misunderstanding of society: that it is a Darwinian struggle for survival, that only the fittest people (peoples) should lead, or even live if resources get too scarce. The Nazis were able to tap into the deepest fears of many Germans, rooted in their long history of playing host to other people's devastating wars, and merge them into more pressing contemporary fears of economic and political deprivation at the hands of foreigners. Once in formal power, there was nothing to stop them from carrying their ridiculous visions forward.

And much like 1933, while the international intellectual and political left is speaking the language of resistance, while seeming completely incapable of mounting an effective challenge to the threat. Reading the history of the German resistance from 1933-1945 is starkly illustrative: a resistance has to actually do something, actually defeat the ruling regime in some public way that matters - the quicker the better. Else the regime will use its position of power to reshape the terms of the game.

By matters, I mean something more meaningful and impactful than leading yet another protest or rally. Look at the behavior and words of America's leaders on the 'left' since November 2016, and one thing is clear: they have no intention of actually doing anything to stop the Trumpists, unless the 2018 midterm elections somehow go massively their way (but in all reality probably won't, given how badly gerrymandered Congress is), then we have a 'free and fair' presidential election in 2020 (and is that even a guarantee anymore?) where some people are already talking about Joe Biden, of all people, running against Trump. American liberals seem absolutely wedded to this idea that if they hope and believe hard enough, change will magically happen.

But that's all part and parcel of the sham American politics have become. We functionally have about as much 'representation' with respect to our collective taxation as the Founders did in 1776 (for those of us on the West Coast, DC. is about as far away as London, to boot). No matter who is in formal power, the average American loses. The country seems adrift for a reason: all of us bound to a federal system that is almost entirely dedicated to hoovering up tax dollars to benefit the military-industrial and bureaucratic-regulatory complexes. The national economy is in the midst of something akin to a metabolic crisis (was Marx on to something when he wrote about capitalism and metabolic rift?), with the growth in some sectors (like tech) masking the collapse of other sectors (like manufacturing), and if black or native people hold a protest about being murdered by the authorities or their land being poisoned it gets called a riot, but if white people armed with assault rifles hijack a federal wildlife refuge...

As Standing Rock and Ferguson demonstrate, violent political repression is a fact of modern American life, but it thankfully still remains implemented in an ad-hoc fashion. While the federal government has made it abundantly clear that it will do little to nothing to combat the epidemic of violence being directed at non-whites by agents of the state, and that it won't worry too much about their right to vote, still we haven't seen large-scale, organized violence in the mold of pogroms. No secret police units deployed against, to paraphrase that old bit of wisdom, first the communists, then the socialists, then the trade unionists, and so on down the line.

In part, because unlike Germany in 1933, the United States is a far larger, far more diverse, continent-spanning republic. The Trumpists are in power because they exploited our quirky electoral system, and because the powers-that-be in D.C. are so caught up in their own agendas that they are finding it easier to collude than counterattack. The Nazis needed a highly organized industrial society to work under their direction to accomplish their objectives, which was to culminate in Germany colonizing Russia exactly like the United States colonized the Indian Territories - this objective and logic were both explicitly articulated in Nazi ideology. They needed labor to build and power their machine of conquest. But the Trumpists have inherited the world's best-funded and increasingly automated war machine. They don't need our cooperation to build or deploy it. They can simply choose to blow up whatever (real or metaphorical) institutions wherever they wish.

And eventually, to accomplish their nutty objectives, they'll have to. The Trumpists want us to believe that they can roll us back to the mythical good old days of the 1950s when prosperity was the birthright of all hard-working (white, male) Americans. But to think that you can turn back the clock like that is a myth in and of itself.

In the age of the internet and cheap information, where the lies are so much harder to sustain, myths are already crumbling. It is doubtful that myths alone can sustain us through the turbulent decade or two that are ahead of us. The majority of Americans (particularly those of us under the age of 50, because we're the ones living it while trying to make lives for ourselves) are fully aware of how bad things are. And, given the inevitability of the Boomer generation passing on, we will be the ones ultimately be tasked with repairing the damage. But at present we collectively lack the means to engage in the meaningful, national-scale, moral resistance to oppression required to get started doing our part to surmount the challenges ahead. This isn't even a political position, in truth: we're beyond mere 'politics' now that it is empirically so clear that so many lives are at stake, that our leaders' claim to the moral legitimacy that is needed to hold this country together is so pitifully tenous, given what they do with it year after year.

Are we in a full-on redux of the 1930s? Very possibly. Certainly, at home and abroad, it is looking like history is at least rhyming in a very nasty way. If we ever start to see formal organized violence directed at political opposition, that will be a very sign that thing is on an inevitable slide to... who can say, for certain? Revolution, maybe, but revolutions are fraught with the risk of Counter-revolution and The Terror. Full-on Animal Farm style dystopic nonsense.

More likely, I suspect, is that things just drift, and drift, and get more tense, until the world system throws a crisis that an administration 'led' by a Twitter-addicted, 70-something buffon can't handle. Not a good thing, when that someone (plus a buddy) can literally decide to end the world as we know it in any given hour. (obligatory REM reference). Which probably would never happen.....probably. But even short of a nuclear catastrophe, there are many, many ways Trump can - and appears to be trying to - permanently destroy what remains of the United States of America.

Perhaps we'll just muddle through, and things will take a better turn without the regime flailing around until it finally breaks something too big to put back together (Vlad Putin, hi! Can you please remember we on the Pacific Coast didn't agree to any of this when you are targeting your many Mnogo nukes? Kthanx). At the conclusion of the Bush years, it looked like we would, despite how badly things went for America between 2000 and 2008. But the Obama-era promise of hope and change, which won him the support of people then under 40 and so the election (a voting group Clinton failed to turn out in as high of numbers, a big part of her failure in 2016), has run into a brick wall. And the world is roiling under the weight of so many compounding crisis that it seems doubtful that we have four years to watch the democrats screw up their task of resistance yet again - without missing some major opportunities to move forward as a society, even as the rest of the world moves on without us.

Because that is probably the one thing we can be sure about: like the Nazis, the Trumpists live in a world of ideological fantasy, and insist on doubling or tripling-down on already-crumbling national myths in order to justify what boils down to their attempt to take their metaphorical ball and run home - or, in political-economic terms, re-writing the rules of society to benefit their narrow vision of what it should look like. Which, given the fact that they are disproportionately older and white than the average American, will every passing year be more at odds with the vision of society held by the rest of us. The one, which kids from the 80s through the 00s are familiar with, where we all freaking get along. Not waste all our time fighting endless ideological struggles, shouting back at the talking heads on Fox and CNN.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that we're gonna need to recruit a lot of Sim City and Civilization players to figure out how to rebuild things once the nutters are finally gone. The trick is to try and collectively figure out, those of us who care, what we can salvage from the collapse and use to build something better out of the wreckage.

The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945, by Peter Hoffmann

  • Doesn't pay much attention to the more social and refusenik sorts of resistance, but it doesn't claim to be that kind of history. It focuses on documentary evidence and testimony of people who conspired to launch a coup against the Nazi regime, particularly certain cliques in the Naval Intelligence (Abwehr) and Army (Heer) communities, and culminates in a close look at the events surrounding July 20th, 1944, when Hitler was almost killed by a resistance bomb.

Hitler's Thirty Days to Power: January 1933, by Henry Ashby Turner

  • Comprehensive history, sets blame at the feet of those in a position to actually obstruct Hitler and the Nazis, that is, members of the bureaucratic-political elite, in proportion to their power to do so. And demonstrate the tangled knot of intrigue that led to Hitler's actual accession to the Chancellorship, and from there to Fuhrer.

The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945, by Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman

  • Chilling look inside a genocidal regime inspired by a truly warped ideology. A reminder that logic applied without morality is as dangerous as justice applied without mercy.

Inside Nazi Germany: Conformity, Opposition, and Racism in Everyday Life, by Detlev Peukert (translated by Richard Deveson)

  • A fascinating (to me) insight into life in what must have been a crazy time to be alive. A good reminder at how human these people our grandfathers were sent to fight really were. How distant most of them were from the centers of power, and how many did in fact resist even in small ways. Just because they didn't (couldn't) win by small acts alone, doesn't negate the spirit of their rebellion. They were as much allies in the fight as the slave laborers who sabotaged up to 40% of German military production (in other words, guns that didn't get to be used against our grandfathers).

A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn

  • Classic. And under-read, because it isn't a mythological version of American history.

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