trump, burr, and the missing worldwide threat assessment

Here’s a curious thing. Last month Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the Tar Heel Circle (which is more formally known as The North Carolina State Society of Washington DC). That’s not the curious thing; members of Congress routinely meet with ‘important’ people from their home state — business owners, social leaders, local politicians.

This smarmy fucker knew.

The curious thing is what Burr told those ‘important’ people. He warned them about a virus coming to the U.S. He told them it was “much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history. It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.” You know, the pandemic that killed millions of people worldwide. He talked about travel restrictions and schools closing. He talked about how the military might need to be mobilized.

Here’s another curious thing. At the same time Burr was giving his speech, Comrade Trump was assuring the public that “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.” He acknowledged a small number of US citizens had become ill, but “they’ve gotten very much better. Many of them are fully recovered.” We know, of course, that wasn’t true.

Had we been told the truth, the butcher’s bill wouldn’t be so high.

Here’s yet another curious thing. Every year in January or February, the US intelligence community provides the House and Senate intelligence committees with a briefing on global threats. That briefing is usually accompanied by a public hearing and the publication of an unclassified report called the Worldwide Threat Assessment. This year, the public hearing for the 2020 Worldwide Threat Assessment was canceled. It hasn’t been rescheduled. The report, which is usually unclassified, was suddenly classified.

One more curious thing: Senator Richard Burr, who issued that dire warning to the ‘important’ people of the Tar Heel Circle, is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee that first learns the details of the Worldwide Threat Assessment.

More curious things. In 2017, the Worldwide Threat Assessment said this about the threat to public health:

“A novel or reemerging microbe that is easily transmissible between humans and is highly pathogenic remains a major threat because such an organism has the potential to spread rapidly and kill millions.”

The 2018 WTA:

“A novel strain of a virulent microbe that is easily transmissible between humans continues to be a major threat, with pathogens such as H5N1 and H7N9 influenza and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus having pandemic potential if they were to acquire efficient human-to-human transmissibility… a severe global influenza pandemic could cost the equivalent of 4.8 percent of global GDP—more than $3 trillion—and cause more than 100 million deaths.”

The 2019 WTA:

“We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or largescale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”

We can, I think, safely assume the now-classified 2020 Worldwide Threat Assessment repeated what the last three WTAs said. We can, I think, assume that what Senator Burr reported to the ‘important’ people of North Carolina came directly from the 2020 WTA. We don’t have to assume that information was kept from the general public for at least six weeks; we know that’s true. Six weeks during which the US government failed to respond to a health threat they knew was coming. Six weeks in which the Trump administration could have prevented needless sickness and death.

We can’t blame every Covid-19 death on folks like Trump and Burr. But we can hold them responsible for a lot of them.

They knew. They knew it was coming. These fuckers deliberately downplayed the threat to the public while warning the ‘important’ people.

We need to see the 2020 Worldwide Threat Assessment report. We need to know what they knew. We need to hold all of these fuckers accountable. We need to toss them out of office. We need to publicly name them and shame them. We need to hang the scope of this pandemic around their necks and make them wear their shame every day for the rest of their miserable lives.

war crimes

There have been Trumps in the United States since 1885, when Friedrich Trumpf emigrated here from Kallstadt, Bavaria to 1) escape poverty and 2) avoid mandatory military service. His failure to serve, combined with his failure to notify the authorities of his departure, led to a royal decree banishing Trump from ever returning to what was then the Kingdom of Bavaria.

Since their arrival in the U.S. Trumps have had the opportunity to serve their adopted nation in two world wars, the Korean war, Vietnam, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. They haven’t. Not a single member of the Trump family has spent a day in uniform (to be fair, Trump’s parents sent him to a private military school when he was an unruly, wayward 13-year-old). Comrade Trump his ownself famously dodged military service during the Vietnam war through a bogus medical deferment.

That’s okay. We don’t have any mandatory service in the U.S. and it’s hard to blame anybody for not wanting to fight in that particular war (or any war, for that matter). I can fault with the system that allowed Trump to dodge conscription because of his family wealth, but I don’t fault him personally for not wanting to fight.

I do, though, fault him for celebrating war. I do fault him for using the military as a prop. And I especially fault him for honoring war criminals. I fault him for interfering in the military justice system to benefit murderous fucks like Eddie Gallagher.

If you’re not familiar with the Gallagher case, here’s a quick take. He’s a Navy SEAL Special Warfare Operator. He’s done eight combat tours; he’s been trained as a sniper, as a medic, and as an explosives expert. He’s been awarded two bronze stars and was, apparently, under consideration for a silver star. He’s also been accused of multiple war crimes. He was acquitted of some of the most serious crimes (murdering at least two civilians — an old man and a young girl) because of the absence of physical evidence (it’s hard to collect DNA evidence from sniper victims in a combat zone). Basically, Eddie Gallagher is a hero who is also a murderous fuck.

Loyalty is a big deal in the military. First loyalty is to your buddies, then it spreads out to your squad, to your platoon, your company, your battalion, and so on in an expanding circle. Because loyalty is such a big deal, it’s incredibly telling that Gallagher’s squadmates reported his criminal behavior repeatedly. It’s telling that they were willing to testify against him in court. It’s telling that they were so concerned about him, they even sabotaged his weapon — they altered the optics on his sniper scope — to keep him from killing innocent civilians.

Eddie Gallagher in Iraq.

Here are two really really ugly truths. First, the military has a need for people like Eddie Gallagher — people who are murderous fucks. They need people who are willing and capable of doing horrible things. There are situations in combat, for example, when it might be necessary to kill children. It appalling that we ask people to be prepared to do that, but it is sometimes necessary. Here’s the second ugly truth. We need to punish those murderous fucks who act indiscriminately. We need laws to regulate war, to define and distinguish between what murderous fucks can and cannot do. Murderous fucks are only useful to the military when they can effectively channel their murderous fuck potential. There are really good reasons the military talks so much about ‘good order and discipline.’

The military tends to treat their murderous fucks the way a family treats a lecherous, drunk uncle at a holiday gathering. They try to quietly control them, to put limits on their opportunities to be drunk and lecherous, to keep it in the family unless their behavior becomes so awful they have to notify the police. The military will demote their murderous fucks, they’ll re-assign them to posts where they have fewer opportunities to be murderous fucks, they’ll discharge them from the service, and when it’s absolutely necessary they’ll prosecute them for war crimes.

Eddie Gallagher in handcuffs.

When Comrade Trump, the President of the United States, interferes with the prosecution and sentencing of murderous fucks — when he absolves them of their crimes, when he celebrates them, when he says he actually wants them to campaign with him — he essentially erodes the necessary restraints the military puts on them. In effect, Trump encourages murderous fucks to become more fucking murderous.

This would be egregious in any president. It’s especially galling in a president who knows nothing about military life, a president whose entire family has avoided any sort of military service. Eddie Gallagher is as unfit to serve in the U.S. military as Comrade Trump is to be the Commander-in-Chief.

still the guns

In December of 2012, I said it was the guns. It’s still the guns. All the guns. The easy availability of guns. It’s the goddamned guns.

Do hate and bigotry and prejudice play a part? Sure. It doesn’t help that we have a president who feeds into the hate and bigotry and prejudice. Inadequate mental health care? Yeah, sure, that’s part of it. The entire for-profit health care system in the US is fucked up, and the mental health system is more fucked up than the rest. Economic tension, free-floating anxiety, inchoate rage, fear of change? Sure, all that figures into it.

But basically, it’s the guns. It’s obviously the guns. Other nations have all the social problems that trouble the United States, but they suffer only a small fraction of the mass killings. Because it’s the guns. Guns make all the difference. Guns and high capacity magazines. They make killing easier, they make body counts higher. THIS IS WHAT GUNS ARE SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO DO: KILL THINGS.

Who would this guy in Dayton be without his AR15? Who would Patrick Crusius be without access to an AK-47? He’d be just another angry young white guy with a dodgy understanding of history and the influence of social forces. Just another inadequate person man who wanted so very desperately to believe he had an important part to play in some imaginary racist redemptive narrative.

Who would Stephen Paddock be? Who would Devin Kelley or James Holmes be? Adam Lanza, Nikolas Cruz, Omar Mateen, Robert Bowers — who would these guys be without easy access to guns and high capacity magazines? Without the guns, they’d be…insignificant. These guys think the guns might make them matter.

Sadly, they’re right. It’s the guns.

You want to tell me guns don’t kill people — people kill people? Fuck you. Jumping off buildings doesn’t kill people — deceleration trauma kills people. You want to tell me the majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens and shouldn’t be punished because some asshole misuses a firearm? Fuck you in the neck, life doesn’t work that way. I’m not going to cook meth, but I still can’t buy Sudafed without a huge amount of fuss because some asshole misuses it. You want to tell me you can also kill people with a knife or a baseball bat? Fuck you, you half-witted ballbag. That’s so damned stupid it doesn’t deserve a response. You want to tell me the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun? Fuck you, fuck your whole family, fuck everybody you know. Texas is jammed with ‘good guys with a gun.’ But Crusius was still able to waltz through the aisles of Walmart shooting folks IN TEXAS, walk out unmolested, get in his car, and start to drive away before police officers stopped him. And this asshole in Dayton managed to kill nine and wound a couple dozen more in about 2-3 minutes before he was shot.

I’m going to say it again. It’s the guns. The guns and high capacity magazines and lax gun laws. Patrick Crusius and the Dayton shooter (who hasn’t been publicly identified yet) were both law-abiding citizens until they opened fire. It’s legal in both Ohio and Texas to openly carry long guns. Seriously, you can walk down the street in Dayton or El Paso with an AK or an AR slung over your shoulder, wearing camouflage and tactical gloves, with a pouch containing a few high capacity magazines and it’s absolutely legal (although it wouldn’t be wise to do that if you’re not white).

This morning in Dayton.

I’m going to say it one more time. It’s the guns. Guns, high capacity magazines, and lax firearm laws. You get yourself a semi-automatic rifle and a few 30-round magazines, and you can rack up a high body count in a very short time. Doesn’t even have to be an assault-style rifle, though the military design of those weapons makes them more attractive to would-be mass killers. Any semi-auto rifle would do the job, so long as you’ve stocked up on hi-cap magazines. Gear up, take a walk, and until you open fire, you’re probably acting within the law.

Basically, it’s the guns. It’s the easy access to guns. It’s always been the guns. It’ll be the guns again tomorrow. It’s the goddamned guns.

but what if he didn’t do it?

Let’s just acknowledge this right up front: Judge Kavanaugh is screwed. Regardless of whether or not he actually sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the guy is just flat-out screwed. Whether you support his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court or oppose it, there’s no getting around the reality that Brett Kavanaugh is totally and massively screwed.

Personally, I believe Dr. Ford. I’ve already written about that, so I won’t bother to repeat myself. I’m also opposed to Judge Kavanaugh’s elevation to the highest court in the land. I was opposed even before the allegations of sexual assault, and I remain opposed even if he’s entirely innocent of the alleged assault. I firmly believe his judicial decisions would be — and have been — moved as much (or more) by his political and ideological views than by the law.

That said, I have to acknowledge that the guy is screwed. No matter what happens now, Kavanaugh is absolutely and completely screwed. If he gets confirmed, he’s always going to be the SCOTUS Justice with an asterisk attached to his name. He’ll always be ‘Mr. Justice Accused Rapist’. If his nomination is rejected, he’ll always be ‘Judge Denied SCOTUS Because Rapist’. Even if he withdraws his nomination, he’ll always be ‘Judge Suspected Rapist’.

There is NO getting around that. Unless Kavanaugh can provide definitive, categorical, absolutely conclusive proof beyond any doubt whatsoever that Dr. Ford concocted her allegation out of thin air with the express intent to derail his nomination, there is literally nothing he can do to restore his reputation. Nothing at all.

If he’s innocent — IF he actually did NOT attempt to rape Dr. Ford when he was 17 and she was 15 years old — then what is happening to Judge Kavanaugh is terribly unjust and tragic.

I’m mostly okay with that. Not entirely okay with it…but mostly.

That’s a horrible thing to say. How can that be? How is it possible to be mostly okay with an innocent person being falsely accused of something horrible?

I’m mostly okay with it for these reasons. The unfair destruction of the reputation of one privileged rich white guy is small beans compared to the unfair destruction of the reputations of millions of women who’ve been sexually assaulted, then blamed for their own assault. The long-lasting shame and emotional pain Kavanaugh must feel IF he’s falsely accused of sexual assault is small beans compared to the long-lasting shame and emotional damage experienced by millions of women who’ve actually been sexually assaulted. IF he’s not guilty, the frustration and disappointment Kavanaugh will feel if his appointment is scuttled or tainted by this allegation is small beans compared to the millions of women whose lives and ambitions and dreams have been derailed because they were sexually assaulted.

IF Kavanaugh is factually innocent, then I have great compassion for him and for his family. Because he is utterly and comprehensively screwed, and there isn’t anything at all he can do about it. But if Kavanaugh is innocent, I’d argue he’s just another victim of a rape culture that’s been created, maintained, and perpetuated by him and people like him. If he’s innocent, it simply means rape culture has turned the table on him; it means he’s being victimized simply because he’s a privileged white man and his options are severely limited. Some would consider that poetic justice.

At the heel of the hunt, it comes down to this: if you think Judge Brett Kavanaugh is innocent, if you think he’s being treated unfairly, if you believe he’s being punished for something he has no control over, then the answer to the problem is pretty clear. The problem isn’t Kavanaugh. The problem isn’t Dr. Ford. The problem is rape culture. The answer is to work to destroy rape culture.

life just be that way, i guess

Every so often, on a regular goddamn basis, I am reminded that The Wire wasn’t just the best cop show ever made, but a modern oracle for understanding These United States. The opening scene of the very first episode is the most concise, most hard-boiled, most accurate summation of how the world works in this nation.

Here is a True Thing, a thing The Wire gets right: Snot Boogie is always going to steal the money. Always, every time. But here is another True Thing, something that reminds you that The Wire is fiction: in real life, Snot Boogie often gets away with the money. Not every time, but often enough that snatching the pot and running is considered a business practice.

Maybe you should watch this before we go any further. Little over two-and-a-half minutes. It’s all there.

Delaware North. A privately owned global food service and hospitality company, owned by the Jacobs family, named for the location of its headquarters building on the corner of Delaware Avenue and North Street in Buffalo. Over fifty thousand employees, annual revenues of over three billion dollars. Three billion dollars. That’s serious coin.

In 1993, Delaware North won the contract to provide concession services for Yosemite National Park. We’re talking food, beverage, souvenirs — a sweet deal. But they lost that sweet deal to another company in 2015. That’s how the game of craps works, right? You make your point, you keep the dice; you don’t, the dice get passed to the next player. Delaware North is out, Aramark has the dice.

Well, that’s how it works in a fair game, even in a Baltimore back alley. Now imagine if Delaware North passed the dice, but said that in order to keep playing you had to pay them if you used the words ‘dice’ or ‘craps’ or ‘roll’ or any numeral from two to twelve. If somebody pulled that shit in Baltimore, his ass would get whupped.

But that’s basically what Delaware North did with Yosemite National Park. During the twenty-two years they had the concession contract, they began to trademark the names and images of the iconic landmarks inside Yosemite. They trademarked the name of ‘Curry Village’ and ‘Ahwahnee Hotel’ and even ‘Yosemite National Park.’ Hell, they trademarked the likeness of Half Dome. These greedy motherfuckers trademarked the phrase ‘Go climb a rock.’

Sorry, dude, can’t say that no more.

And when they lost the contract, Delaware North sued the National Park Service for trademark infringement, demanding US$50 million in compensation. That suit is still unresolved, but in the meantime the park decided to rename the hotel, the village, and some other sites. You can’t stay in the Ahwahnee Hotel anymore. Now you have to stay in the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. I mean, it’s just a name…but damn.

But wait…it gets worse. Of course it does. Everything gets worse in the Comrade Trump administration. About a year ago, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke created (and I am NOT making this up) the ‘Made in America’ Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee “to tackle some of our biggest public lands infrastructure and access challenges.” That’s ZinkeSpeak for ‘How to make rich motherfuckers even richer by letting them fuck with public lands.’

“Life just be that way, I guess.”

Guess who’s on that advisory committee? If you guessed Jerry Jacobs, the billionaire CEO of Delaware North, you’d be right. Only in the Trump administration would you find a greedhead like Jacobs, who is suing an agency of the Department of the Interior, formally named an advisor to that department.

Why is Jacobs on the committee? According to Zinke, he offers “unique insight that is often lost in the federal government.” That’s ZinkeSpeak for “Life just be that way, I guess.” Jerry Jacobs is what you get if you let Snot Boogie keep stealing the pot. So why do we even let him in the game?

“Got to. This America, man.”

spink spink spink

Okay, I’ve come up with a plan to put an end to mass murder events. After the most recent mass killing (and it’s the sad nature of mass killings that the phrase ‘the most recent’ becomes meaningless almost immediately — so just to be clear, I’m talking about the mass murder of journalists and support staff at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, MD on 28 June), I knew we had to do something. I mean, thoughts and prayers just aren’t getting the job done.

I think we need to try a new approach. Bracelets of Submission.

Okay, I admit, I see some branding issues there. That ‘submission’ business would make it hard to market. But you see, that’s the actual name for Wonder Woman’s cuffs. The Amazons of Paradise Island wore them as a symbol of their loving submission to the goddess Aphrodite. They also served as a reminder to the Amazons ‘of the folly of submitting to men’.

So yeah, that goddess and submission business might discourage some folks. But I think we just need to shift attention to the bracelets’ awesome ricochet properties. I mean, these things are made from Amazonium, which everybody knows is the industry standard for deflecting projectiles. Not only that, the bracelets are imbued with magic that makes them impermeable to fire, invulnerable to traditional weaponry, immune to blasts of energy, resistant to deceleration trauma (as a result of, say, falling from a great height), and can repel ticks and prevent insect bites. Plus, can you say fashion forward?

But granted, we’d have to rebrand them as something other than Bracelets of Submission. Maybe we could call them Second Amendment Cuffs. Or what about MAGA Bangles? No, wait, I’ve got it. Freedom Gauntlets. Yeah, that would work. 

So I propose we issue Amazonium Freedom Gauntlets to every citizen of school age (at the very least, to those who have health insurance coverage) and hey, bingo, problem solved. Angry white guy breaks into school and starts shooting? Spink spink spink until the police arrive. Angry white guy walks into your place of employment? Spink spink spink and a bit of patience and it’s all over. Angry white guy attacks a women’s health clinic? Spink spink spink and maybe a couple more spinks. Angry white guy shoots up a gay nightclub or a mosque or a pizza parlor? Spink spink, bitches.

Spink spink spink, bitches.

Now, some folks will say this is silly. Some folks will say I’m making light of a terrible situation. Some folks will say I’m mocking the notion of thoughts and prayers.

All of those folks are right. It is silly, it is making light of a terrible situation, and I’m totally mocking thoughts and prayers as a response to mass shootings. Thoughts and prayers are no more effective at mass murder prevention than magical Amazonian Freedom Gauntlets. The response of the United States to gun violence deserves to be mocked.

Because we know this to be true: five men and women were killed couple of days ago by yet another angry white guy who legally purchased the weapon he used to kill them, and aside from the ritual thoughts and prayers, absolutely nothing will be done to reduce the likelihood that it will happen again tomorrow. Nothing.

fuck those guys

A few days ago I lost my patience with Bret Stephens, an anti-Trump conservative who wrote an apologia defending Kevin Williamson, who’d just been hired by The Atlantic despite having publicly expressed his opinion that women who’d terminated their pregnancies (and their doctors) should be hanged. My position was simple: if you think the opinion that hanging people for receiving or performing an absolutely legal medical procedure has a legitimate place in the marketplace of ideas, then…well, fuck you.

There’s a discussion to be had on abortion, to be sure. But it’s basically impossible to have a discussion when one party’s position is “hang ’em.” In any event, the issue isn’t abortion itself; that just happened to be the subject on which Williamson expressed himself. The real issue is this: what are the boundaries of civil discourse?

After some reflection and thought, and under pressure from outraged readers of The Atlantic, the magazine decided NOT to hire Williamson after all. Jeff Goldberg, the editor who’d hired Williamson, offered an explanation both for his hiring and his firing. In defense of hiring him, Goldberg said, “[N]o one’s life work should be judged by an intemperate tweet.” Which I happen to agree with. However…well, let Goldberg himself say it: “The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post.”

Composing an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment tweet ain’t easy.

In other words, Goldberg thought it was fine for Williamson, in the heat of the moment, to say he’d like to see women who have an abortion and the doctors who perform them hanged. But it was NOT okay for Williamson to actually hold that view as a considered opinion. To which I can only reply to Goldberg, fuck you. That’s bullshit. Even in the heat of the moment, once somebody voices the opinion that ‘you and people like you deserve to be killed‘ the discussion is basically over, even if the person who says that doesn’t really mean it. The fact that Williamson DID mean it, only makes it worse.

Now that Williamson has been returned to the editorial shelf, conservatives are rushing to his defense and the defense of free speech.

Kevin Williamson’s firing is another reminder that much of American conservatism finds itself ghettoized not by choice, but by the left’s active demands that the right be silenced. Socialists, national or otherwise, don’t like to compete for ideas when they can shut up others.

Fuck you. Nobody is calling for the right to be silenced. But a lot of folks do hold the opinion that advocating death by hanging for folks who engage in a legal medical procedure isn’t a position that merits much consideration or discussion.

It appears that The Atlantic has fired Kevin Williamson. That was close. They almost expanded their intolerant little bubble for a brief moment. In the end, we knew they couldn’t abide employing a talented individual with – gasp – a different worldview.

Fuck you. I feel no obligation to tolerate a worldview that says women and their doctors should be killed for legally terminating an unwanted pregnancy. If you feel that’s an acceptable worldview, then…well, fuck you.

Kevin Williamson: hired for his talent, fired for his views. This is chilling.

Fuck you. You know what’s chilling? Saying women and doctors deserve to die because they choose to undergo a medical procedure you find abhorrent. That’s pretty damned chilling to any sort of civil discussion.

“You dare omit the nutmeg? Have at you, villain!”

Here’s the thing: there are venues and forums for every political, social, or religious view, no matter how extreme. If you believe Jews are actively plotting to destroy Christianity, there’s bound to be a place where that view can be discussed. If you believe nine-year-old boys are capable of consensual sexual experiences, there’s probably a place where you can discuss that. If you believe slavery is a legitimate social institution, I’m pretty sure you can find a forum where that view is welcome. If you believe people who eat meat should be locked up in a hog containment barn for a year, there are places where that view will be seen as legitimate. If you think it’s a mortal sin to omit nutmeg when serving eggnog, you can find a venue where that belief will be applauded.

But extremist views of any sort don’t belong in general social discourse. Extreme voices shouldn’t be silenced, but that doesn’t mean we’re obligated to hear them or accept them as legitimate. And if you think claiming women and their doctors deserve to be hung by the neck until dead is NOT an extremist view, then fuck you.