Tuesday, April 24, 2012

O'Sullivan and "Behind the Shed" Justice

For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check; yet crime persists. Why? Because the instincts that are warring in man are not, as the law claims, constant forces in a state of equilibrium.

               - Albert Camus
anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death.

               - Leviticus 24:16

I stumbled out of bed this morning with a profound illness.  My girlfriend and I had spent the last evening down at Seal Beach, and I had had a Smithwicks and shepherd's pie at one of the downtown pubs.  This, as it turns out, was not the best decision I could have made, and after dragging myself into work I felt as though I had been hit by a commuter train the night before, hastily reassembled by first responders with packing tape and wood glue, then unceremoniously hurled up through the second-story window of my apartment via catapult.

To emerge from the weekend in such a state, and then to have to endure the musing of John O'Sullivan, is a fate I do not wish on anyone.  Only a serious masochist would compel themselves into that kind of a situation, and I can only account for my behavior by way of my rapidly-declining physical condition, causing an inability to make rational decisions.

This left me in a unique position to empathize with O'Sullivan's arguments about how putting Norwegian mass-murder Anders Breivik on trial is a waste of everyone's time.  Which is a strange thing to hear on its face, even in the proper context: he said he's guilty, we all know he's guilty, so why do we have to go through all of the pomp and circumstance of a "justice system" when we can just pull him behind the shed and pop one in the back of his head?
The first such question is: Why should there be a trial at all — or at least a trial that treats the verdict as something in doubt? Everybody knows that Breivik murdered 77 innocent people; we all know just why he did so. His rambling paranoid web attacks on Norway’s social democrats for betraying Christian civilization were given wide publicity on the day after his rampage. Today he is not denying but rather boasting about his crimes. Nothing crucial to justice is in doubt.
No doubt this argument will be described as "thoughtful" or "uncompromising" in some circles.  I prefer words like "asinine", "sadistic" or perhaps "dangerous".

Not that I expect O'Sullivan to catch the first ticket to Norway with a .45 stuffed in his pants to dispense some vigilante justice.  His argument is so base and simplistic as to approach knuckle-dragging territory.  It has less to do with what is just (which is, by definition, what a justice system is set up to maintain), but more about what makes John O'Sullivan feel better about himself.  The thought of Breivik being allowed to breathe the same air and walk the same earth as John O'Sullivan so fills him with such contempt that the only logical option is to just snuff the Scandinavian bastard out.

Not that I wish to argue for Breivik, or somehow suggest that his actions are not deserving of serious punishment.  That's why he's on trial in the first place.  What bothers me about arguments such as O'Sullivan's is a complete inability to see criminals as human beings, and it has serious implications about how we view the perpetrators of even minor crimes.

Breivik gets a full trial because, as a Norwegian citizen, he is entitled to one under the law.  It has nothing to do with how obviously guilty he is.  O'Sullivan disagrees:
That leads to the second question: Who benefits from a show trial? Is it the prosecution, by getting a large hearing for its case? Or the public, because it learns important lessons from it? Or the perpetrator because, however vile his actions, he looks like a lone man against the world and gains something from that impression?
 His objection is not that justice will not be served by this court, but that in doing so it may allow people to see Breivik for what he is: a man, sitting in a court room, being normal.

For people like O'Sullivan, this is totally unacceptable.  For them, Breivik is to be considered less than human.  He quotes Dan Hodges of the Daily Telegraph who says of the ongoing trial:
I find its sterility demeaning. The cramped, featureless courtroom. Breivik seated casually at the table between his attorneys, looking like a man taking part in a civil custody hearing, rather than someone on trial for 77 murders.
It’s an environment that appears to be framing Breivik, not cowing or reducing him as I’d hoped. There is no banality of evil on display here. Breivik actually appears quite an imposing figure, his physicality if anything enhanced by his calm, softly spoken interventions.
Hodges would, perhaps, prefer chains and a Hannibal Lecter mask, so that he would not have to contend with the complicated moral, ethical and philosophical underpinnings of something like a trying a human being for murder.  Better to look at the defendant as a beast who can be quickly dispatched so we can all get on with our lives.
Hodges feels frustrated at this, asking if Breivik shouldn’t simply have been shot out of hand. He is being less than half-serious here. He marshals all the right civil-rights arguments against such a course. He knows that his feelings cannot and should not be acted upon. But his instincts are expressing a serious moral point, too — namely, that some crimes are so terrible that they require a punishment that reflects that horror.
Never mind the fact that Hodges and O'Sullivan can make the conscious choice to just not pay attention to the court proceedings, like so many of us have.  For them, life in prison in Norway is not sufficiently horrible for the likes of Breivik, natural causes not sufficiently swift in ending his life.

It's not a cry for justice, it's a cry for vengeance.  It is "eye for an eye" at its most basic level.  There is no suggestion that a life sentence will be an insufficient deterrent to other would-be killers; in fact, deterrence isn't even mentioned once, despite it being the oft-used rallying cry for pro-death penalty advocates.  John O'Sullivan wants Anders Breivik dead because John O'Sullivan thinks Anders Breivik deserves to die.  And if the Norwegian justice system will not allow that, then it is fundamentally flawed.

* * * *

Another interesting omission by O'Sullivan is any alternative fate for Breivik.  Hodges at least has the balls to suggest, albeit wryly, that Breivik should just get a bullet to the face.  For all of the shirt-rending going on about what isn't being done in this trial, there is almost no mention of the other side of that coin: what should be done?

In Camus' essay Reflections on the Guillotine, he describes how his father went to witness the execution of a farmhand who had killed an entire family and then robbed them.  He says that his father "was particularly outraged by the murder of the children. One of the few things I know about him is that this was the first time in his life he wanted to attend an execution."  Upon returning he refused to explain what he saw, went straight to the back room and began to vomit.

Camus explains how modern societies speak of capital punishment "only in whispers", explaining that "the condemned paid their debt to society" rather than "the blade sliced through his neck like a razor, his head falling to the plans with a thud while his body reeled, convulsing as blood spurted from the arteries."  It is glossed over with dull, official language to conceal the true act because the act is inherently repulsive.

If capital punishment were truly the deterrent which everyone who advocates it claims it to be, then we would see them broadcast on all the major networks on Friday night (for a hilarious take on this subject, listen to "Generation Execute" by Lard). We would read eyewitness accounts from coroners, executioners and bystanders to ensure that everyone is keenly aware of the gruesome demise which they would be subjected to, should they decide to flaunt the law.
Here is how one assistant executioner, hardly likely to cultivate the sentimental or romantic aspects of his trade, describes what he has been obliged to see: "There was one wild man, suffering from a real fit of delirium tremens, whom we had to throw under the knife. The head died right away. But the body literally sprang into the basket, where it lay struggling against the cords that bound it. Twenty minutes later, in the cemetery, it was still shuddering."
That none of this happens, and that authors such as Hodges and O'Sullivan are usually remiss to detail their preferred methods of justice, underscores two things: (1) that pro-death advocates do not inherently believe that capital punishment is a deterrent, and (2) such acts are perpetrated either out a misplaced sense of duty (it has always been this way) or out of bloodlust, neither of which have any place in a judicial system.

* * * *

 California has its own share of criminal justice issues, most notably an abysmally high prison population.  So much so that even the feds, infamous for detaining people on a whim, told the state to get its shit together.  You, as a state, have officially hit rock bottom when the people who run Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib are telling you to clean up your inmate act.

Steps are being taken and cost-cutting measures are in place.  For many of us it is still not enough, but one cannot help but notice a good step in the right direction.  Since taking steps to reduce the prison population in our state, we've seen that population drop by 22,000 inmates and 16,000 parolees.  
Overcrowding has been reduced from a high of more than 200 percent of design capacity to just 155 percent today. The thousands of makeshift beds in gymnasiums and dayrooms that CDCR had been forced to use for years are now gone.
“Realignment has given California a historic opportunity to invest in a prison system that is not just less crowded, but more efficient, while saving billions of state taxpayer dollars,” said Cate.
Indeed, but can the prospect of 22,000 criminals now free in the state allow John O'Sullivan to rest easy at night?  Has justice truly been served?  Clearly these were all guilty men, so why should they be allowed to go free because we have a budget crisis?  Life in California cannot be sufficiently horrible for these fiends; some further action is required.  And why not save the state some money on administrative costs in the process?

After all, one guillotine isn't that hard to make.  And if that doesn't work you can always buy 9mm rounds in bulk for a discount.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rick Santorum for National Patriarch

The longer this GOP primary goes on, the more difficult it becomes for me to try and write more detailed posts on the candidates. The crazy is coming too hard and too fast; I grab on to one piece of red meat flung out by the campaigns, sink my teeth into it, and by the time I'm one paragraph in they've chucked out three more.

I had a real juicy one picked out for this week, too, a gem that I thought everyone had missed. Only now I've come to find that Pericles over at DKos has a missive on the same damned thing I'm about to ramble about.

This business is too fast-paced. The minute something goes over the airwaves you have thirty seconds to gin up an article, proofread, edit and post to see if you can beat the three thousand other hooligans doing the same damned thing you are. It's enough to drive one to drink, but since I'm already heavily into that stuff it took an afternoon with a Sig Sauer over at the local indoor shooting range to cool my nerves. Never underestimate the ability of firearms to improve your day.

Back to the matter at hand. I'm forced to talk about Rick Santorum because, despite the efforts of Mitt's Cocktail Hour Brigade and a fantastic push by Dan Savage via Google, the poor beast stands to be the front-runner for the next month or so. It remains to be seen how long that will last; Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Huntsman and Gingrich have all run through the Mitt gauntlet and been left battered, bloodied and dismayed. It's safe to say that Gingrich is staying in the race out of pure malice for the coiffed cyborg, but does Santorum harbor the same levels of self-loathing and ignorance capable for such a devastating course of action?

If he's a good Catholic, I'm guessing we all know the answer.

Good for us! The race needs more buffoonery and chaos. It is truly the stuff of legends, a good backdrop for the first African-American president winning his second term in a landslide. Every time these candidates open their mouths, the world is reminded of just how horrifyingly backward the GOP has become; they have succeeded in marginalizing themselves even among staunch, lifelong conservatives, pandering more and more to the base of the base of the hideous base.

Case in point: this interview graciously linked to us by Robert Scherer, in which the reincarnation of Pope Innocent III gives us what is widely regarded as a prime example of "alienating nearly all of the electorate at once."

One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.”

It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it—and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

Again, I know most Presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These how profound impact on the health of our society.

Rick is sitting on the couch reading the paper as the nation comes back from their day at school. The nation walks by, and just as we're about to clear the living room and make it upstairs to the relative seclusion of our room and our teen-heartthrob posters and Tiger Beat magazines, Rick says, "Nation! Come have a seat over here. We need to talk."

We are sheepish, but know that it is unwise to comply. There's an understanding that disobedience begets punishment, and we're in no mood for that. Rick points to the seat just beside him and folds the paper over his lap, his gaze stern yet compassionate, something right out of a Norman Rockwell piece. "Your mother found this in your room today." A condom in his hand. Its wrapper very nearly glistens in the light seeping in from behind the louvered shades, and The Nation feels its stomach turn knots. Christ, we think, how did he find that? It was so safe and secure underneath our mattress. Was he snooping around our room again?

"Now, don't try and say it isn't yours," Rick frowns. "I know it is. And I know it's tough to resist the temptations of the flesh, but you must remember what I've taught you about that, you know? Sex can be a wonderful experience, Nation, but as your farther I know what's best. You'd do best to avoid using these things and sullying the beautiful gift God gave you. Understand?"

We nod. Part of us feels like we just dodged a bullet, and yet another part of us wants to tell him that we're old enough to make our own decisions, to strap that sucker on our hog and fuck the living daylights out of anyone we want. But do we dare say such to his face, or will that talk be reserved for the locker room, another fairytale story about "standing up to Dad?" Come on, we already know the answer to that question.

Rick smiles, pats us on the head (seriously, we're too old for this Andy Griffith bullshit) and tells us to run along and play with Israel. "And if he starts beating up on Iran, you'd better help him out!"

* * * * * * * *

We all know that at his heart, Rick Santorum is a social-issues candidate. When he does decide to pontificate on economics, foreign policy or national defense, there is a very vibrant and very deliberate strain of Santorum morality injected into it. It's not hard to notice, and it exposes a very deep and dangerous crack in Santorum's campaign: outside of being the National Patriarch when it comes to issues he finds morally reprehensible, he has no fucking clue what he's doing.

What is so monumentally dangerous about these kinds of candidates is not their die-hand support of some truly warped religious ideologies, but their admitted ignorance of the more nuanced aspects of running a democracy, most notably the ability to compromise. Barry Goldwater put it best:
Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them.
Emphasis mine. It's a sad fact but it's one that is instantly recognizable and a very real problem. Rick Santorum does not care whether the condom found under our mattress is really ours or not: it's ours, as far as he's concerned. He doesn't care whether we agree with his views on whether it should be used or not: we won't, because father knows best. He doesn't care that he is vying to be the head of a pluralistic society in which everyone must get along in the commons, and compromise on important issues: father knows best.

Rick Santorum and his ilk don't give a shit if you're using contraceptives for hormonal balance or as a treatment for amenorrhea: you're using it because you're a whore and don't even bother trying to feed your father that bullshit about it being used for medical purposes. How could you even think to disrespect him like that? God placed him at the head of the National household, and it's your duty to do what he says, whether you like it or not.

If there's still any doubt that Rick's running to be Patriarch of the United States, consider this gem from the interview:
(15:20) Under my administration, you would see a lot of the social services pushed back to the states....I would be the head of the faith-based initiatives because that is what I would be focusing on and that is what I would be talking about a lot.
There are a couple of ways to approach that statement, whether you think he wants to advocate for faith-based initiatives or actually head some kind of federal program to support them, but the ultimate message is the same either way: Rick is interested in using religious organizations to administer social safety net programs, complete with their moralistic bans on certain types of lifestyles and behaviors.

The "Father Knows Best" current is almost normal in conservative American politics, especially when it comes to sexual issues. I think it amounts to something akin to jealousy that some of us are capable of having it without feeling guilty afterwards, but that's mere speculation on my part. What surprised me though - and this is clearly something far more important than Rick's discussion on contraception - is this delightful little gem about higher education:
(26:10) We're going to repeal all sorts of regulations that inject the federal government into the area of education....I'm amused with the idea - not on primary or secondary, but on higher education - that we'll tie higher education dollars to the new...[useless jabber about titles]...saying that there should be an equal number of conservative professors teaching our kids in college and universities that receive federal funds as liberal. And that we have organizations that are certified organizations, just like we have certified organizations that accredit a college, we're gonna have certain organizations that will accredit conservative professors, that if you are to be eligible for federal funds to provide an equal number of conservative professors as liberal professors so we have some balance when our children come to school and they're not in the process of being indoctrinated by the academy, which is exactly what they are doing right now. And if we do not fight this battle of government control of education - primary and secondary - and the left's control of education post-secondary, that we are not going to have a country that is going to be free, we will have a country that is built and modeled on socialism and a model that approves and condones government control of their life.
If the cognitive dissonance in that statement confused you slightly, you're not alone. Nothing says "repeal all sorts of regulations that inject the federal government into the area of education" like creating a federal accreditation program that rates each university professor based on their assumed political ideologies and can deny funding to universities if their faculty don't meet the government's idea of "balance".

The main problem is that I expect nothing less from Santorum and his cadre of supporters; this has never been and never will be about sharing power with the rest of society. Their only purpose in meddling with the political system is to grab and maintain power, to shape the society as they see fit and ensure not only that their right to preach their backwards ideology is kept sacrosanct, but that we're all forced to sit in the pews with them each week.

For people who crow so much about freedom of choice, they demonstrate no understanding of how to actually implement the damned thing. From their perspective, denying you contraception is doing you a service, because they're keeping you from committing a sin. They want to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, because doing so ensures that they are marginalized in society, seen as second-class citizens and further reinforces the stigma that being homosexual is wrong and should be corrected. Whether these actions cause additional pain and suffering for those involved is irrelevant, since it's what God wants.

It doesn't matter what you think, only what Father thinks. Because, as we all keenly understand, Father knows best.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Damn the Promotions, Full Speed Ahead!

I'm not ashamed to say that I browse r/politics on a regular basis; I consider it something of a personal research office. Thousands of people scour the internet for new and interesting political scoops in the hopes of grabbing some ultimately useless karma points from fellow redditors, and I get a steady stream of the most up-to-date news on the market.

Most of it is a wash, but that's the price you pay for using such a hefty dragnet. Still, the occasional juggernaut makes its way into the pile, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I received word of this issue from that sordid lot. So, you know, props to them and such.

My MO at this point is to just click anything politics related that has its origins at Rolling Stone. Any publication which has the balls to hire someone as twisted as Hunter S. Thompson and someone as prescient and valuable to the national news scene as Matt Taibbi deserves a great deal of respect, and I take their political reporting very seriously.

It's one of the perks of being known as a music magazine: you get to fly some wild shit from time to time and sneak it in under the radar. Between stints penning up this article I made an effort to find some discussion of the content of the report, but much of what was being passed along from the major news outlets was responses from military brass which were, to say the least, negative. This thing is hot, so it's not surprising that major outlets are keeping it at a distance. The reasons for that are explained rather thoroughly in the report, and I have done my best to summarize them in this article.

What I present to you then is my own synopsis and analysis of the draft report Dereliction of Duty II: Senior Military Leaders' Loss of Integrity Wounds Afghan War Effort by LTC Daniel Davis, an Iraq and Afghan war veteran. In short, it is a scathing review of the scale of corruption, manipulation and back-patting going on at some of the highest echelons of the military, but to take that twitter-sized summary and walk with it is the equivalent of looking at a derelict Ford Pinto and concluding, "That's a shitty car." You can't truly grasp how far gone it is without getting in and attempting to drive the damned thing.

And drive it I did. Heck, I drove it all weekend and ended up anxious, strained and unnerved. If a Lieutenant Colonel has the brass balls to release a report on his superiors' loss of integrity to the press, and then after it has been delivered inform his chain of command of the action (in an interview with Pete Dominic, Michael Hastings said LTC Davis expected to be "nuked" by Army brass for it), I consider his opinion worth hearing.

I recommend everyone read the entire report, which can be found here, but understand that few will have the patience and background in military affairs to persevere through some of the cryptic jargon. I'm willing to give you the best synopsis I possibly can, rife with direct quotations, so that you can perhaps save yourself an hour or two and still take away what the good Lieutenant Colonel wants you to.

* * * * * * * *

In short, it's a discussion of the lead-up and execution of the surge in Afghanistan, a strategy built almost exclusively off of its more successful predecessor from Operation Iraqi Freedom. It has failed, the Colonel asserts, using casualty data from the last 6 years to justify his claim. The greatest failure, however, is in the senior leaders who continue to assert year after year that not only is the strategy working, but it has birthed spectacular results.

What causes such a disconnect to occur? Information Operations, a military program which seeks to control the narrative of a military operation in the press. Under normal circumstances this is directed exclusively at media within the combat zone in an effort to sway public opinion, but the problem has to do with a bleeding of IO into the domestic market.

This presents a number of problems, not only in terms of its influence on public opinion (do people like the war or not?) but also in terms of influencing policy. It is one thing to manipulate news media with the intent of maintaining public support for the war, but it is quite another to extend that level of propaganda to Congress and other governmental bodies who control purse strings and national policy. Both are equally reprehensible, at least in my view, but the former is quite a bit less frightening than the latter.

Under current legislation, this seems to be patently illegal (see: Smith-Mundt Act), but it's difficult to tell what is "legal" in the Global War on Terrorism. The whole thing is so ethereal as to stupefy even the best policy analysts at times.

The military has always made it a point to control public perception, especially when it comes to warfare. This harkens back to the PR fiasco of Vietnam, a painful lesson the military has never truly forgotten: not that they should avoid getting involved in indigenous uprisings around the world, but that they had better damn well control the media narrative while they do it. Press access to combat zones is strictly controlled and relegated to the safer sectors of the fight. Soldiers are instructed not to avoid press, but when confronted to carefully choose their words. I can personally attest to a number of exercises and scenarios in which we had a "script" of sorts, a grab bag of safe phrases to give to any journalists should they start snooping around. "We are working to secure a brighter future for [blank]." "I have every confidence [blank] will be able to take over by [blank]." "[blank] is progressing at an excellent rate, and I'm proud to serve by [blank] as we work to give [blank] a stake in their own future."

This is all well and good for the common grunt getting drilled by a beat reporter on the ground in Afghanistan, but what of the serving and retired military officers doing the rounds in the media? Some may remember the row when it was found that Rumsfeld had been working with these officers to act as "message force multipliers" for the Bush Administration. This is a fancy way of saying "spit out shit that makes our boy look good, whether it's entirely truthful or not."
In some cases, the report said, military analysts ''requested talking points on specific topics or issues.'' One military analyst described the talking points as ''bullet points given for a political purpose.'' (27)
Another military analyst, the report said, told investigators that the outreach program's intent ''was to move everyone's mouth on TV as a sock puppet.'' (27)
In short, American military brass know they are the gatekeepers when it comes to access to stories related to Afghanistan. With American media strangled by budget cuts, slashing international bureaus and generally pulling their reporting infrastructure inward to the domestic market, they have no choice but to play the Generals' games in order to "get the scoop". Except that there is no scoop in the traditional sense, only the skewed op-ed pieces of the Generals themselves.
And equally as troubling: with the small number of excerpts provided by the DoDIG’s final report I cited above – all of which reveal questionable practices and clearly indicate the Pentagon’s senior leaders were unapologetically [sic] attempting to get their message (and only their message) spread on the news – the Pentagon’s watchdog investigative arm finds the program “complied with regulations and directives.” Meaning, we can be sure that such practices will continue without interruption. (28)
Indeed, and even days after this report was released to the media, it has been difficult to find any major outlets analyzing the document in any meaningful way...and even if they do, there is always the attempted "seeing both sides" in which they quote the very brass implicated by the report.

What's troubling for me - and what must be downright maddening for the author - is that the raw data suggests something totally out of sync with the official brass narrative. I'm going to quote the report verbatim, since there's really no way I can improve on his analysis:
The bottom line in terms of violence and casualties is that no matter how one wants to parse the numbers, it is clear that the Taliban has adjusted to our every move. By any objective analysis, the violence has indeed diminished in a few areas, but increased in others, as it has done throughout the war. But the most troubling category is US Casualties. Since 2009 when General McChrystal reported we were in real trouble, overall violence has almost doubled but our casualty rate has come close to tripling. How can the low numbers in 2009 represent near-disaster while the dramatically larger numbers in 2011 represent success? (30)
Such blatant misrepresentation of the facts necessitates one of two things: 1) someone is intentionally trying to deceive the public, or 2) someone is grossly incompetent and needs to be sacked at once. The author admits as much later:
Imagine if [Undersecretary of Defense, Michele Flournoy] accurately reported to Congress during the hearing this past June: “Well, sir, of the 121 key districts in Afghanistan, not one of them is rated as supporting the government.” What do you suppose the response would have been in that chamber if the truth had been told? Yet that is the truth and Secretary Flournoy knew it when she crafted her speech. Either she knowingly misrepresented the state of affairs in Afghanistan in order to continue Congress’ support, or the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy who is charged by the President for knowing the conditions and then providing accurately to the American public is unaware of some of the most critical information necessary to ascertain whether our mission there is succeeding or failing. In either case, Congress was not given true nor accurate information. (38-39)
* * * * * * * *

If a discussion of troop casualties and ineffective Afghan police makes you well up, the proceeding discussion of the Advanced Warfighter Exeriment and DoD funding will make you commit seppuku. You're more than able to skip this section and move on to the third. Just giving you the fair warning: it's not pretty.

After Desert Storm, the Army underwent a process of trying to develop the next generation of warfighting equipment. This program began as the Advanced Warfighting Experiment. As with reports of success in Afghanistan, top brass either skewed or downright fabricated the success of the program, presumably to ensure that funding for it came in smoothly. To wit:
Virtually no legitimate experimentation was actually conducted. All parameters were carefully scripted. All events had a pre-ordained sequence and outcome. The AWE was simply an expensive show, couched in the language of scientific experimentation and presented in glowing press releases and public statements, intended to persuade Congress to fund the Army’s preference. (42)
This trend continued into the next decade with the Army's Future Combat System, a program that all recent veterans should be well acquainted with. The author goes on a scathing rant about the program's waste, inefficiency and lack of tangible results. He discusses how in simulations against weaker, less technologically advanced foes, the FCS forces performed well. However, once the OPFOR (Opposition Force) was adjusted to have "the same or better technology", the FCS force was "routed," which is the PC military way of saying "they had their asses handed to them on a plate."

I'm going to run his play-by-play of a simulation verbatim, because it is otherwise impossible to explain the sheer ruin that FCS forces were reduced to:
“In the second run, the Red (Enemy) commander decided to be very aggressive. First, we waited until the air was full of Blue (Friendly) Force UAVs, ground attack jets, and other aviation assets. We had previously deployed our anti-air assets but up until that point had kept them turned off. We then simultaneously turned them all on to overwhelm Blue’s ability to counter them and destroyed virtually all of the Blue air assets within 5 minutes. Next we launched all of our UAVs. Although many were shot down by Blue, we had more UAVs than they did missiles. We then massed all our legacy and enhanced forces in the area together in a massive armored spear-head attack and charged at the assembly area with about two battalions. The Global Hawk (used by the Blue Force) continued to fly so that blue forces could use precision fires to destroy many of our elements while they were still out of direct fire range. But Red had precision fires of their own and the surviving Red UAVs identified the most critical elements of the Blue force, which we then engaged with artillery and guided missiles (ATGM) from the tanks.

“When the charge came within 4 km of the Blue forces,” he continued, “the (Red) tanks began to engage with direct fire and it was like shooting fish in a barrel. When Blue attempted to maneuver away, their signature reduction was neutralized and they were immediately shot. Their Active Protection System was unable to help them against the tank’s ATGMs (guided missiles) and Sabots (tank main gun rounds). Blue suffered unbelievable casualties and the run was ended.” As previously mentioned, though this exercise was conducted in support of what’s known in the Acquisition world as “Milestone B” – which determines if the system is valid and is funded to the next level – no changes were made to either the mix of platforms nor to the concepts behind FCS. Mr. Welo provided a possible explanation as to why this might be.

“The green suiters (uniformed members of the Army) that were in charge of the gamers were split in their opinion on the implications of the results,” he explained. “Those who participated in my Red camp said we should run more simulations against an enhanced threat because of the possibility that in the future this could become a real-world disaster, and those that fought with the Blue camp argued that the simulation data and parameters were flawed and that the USA would not be this outmatched any time within the next 50 years. The “neutral” green suiters seemed puzzled at the power of the enhanced threat, and seemed to believe that the result was unlikely to ever happen in real life and not a scenario that was very profitable.” (45-46)
By 2008 or so the FCS program was scrapped entirely, rendering tens of billions of dollars - not to mention millions of man hours - wasted.

I do not possess the placement and access that the author does to judge many of the military's top projects, however I have intimate experience with one, and my observations continue to baffle me to this day. All recent veterans are familiar with MILES gear, essentially the military's version of laser tag with all the fun removed. I trained on the equipment in 2005 during Basic Training, once again in 2006 when I tried at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

At that time, we found the equipment to be awkward, unwieldy and totally unreliable. The sensors themselves weighed several pounds and had to be worn over already bulky combat equipment. Devices attacked to weapons were the size of small bricks and weighed on the order of four to six pounds, making steady aim - and thus any semblance of realistic training - all but impossible. If this were not enough, the devices would either cease to register hits at all, or would register erroneous hits during briefings or when nothing was going on. It took us only a day or two to realize that the device attached to the weapon responded to the recoil of the rifle, and that all we had to do was tap it with our hand for it to start firing. Needless to say, any training that could have been gleaned from the gear was lost immediately.

When I revisited the same equipment in 2011, I was hopeful that those horrific bugs had been removed. I was disappointed to find out that not only had the old defects not even been addressed, but instead new features were added that also suffered from debilitating bugs. A GPS system was added to the equipment, so that in post-mission briefings we could see on the map where we all were during the exercise. Three times out of five I was shown to be outside of the training area; the other two times I either did not register with the system or was shown KIA in the admin area.

When calibrating the system at the issuing facility, I was soon registered as KIA from faulty equipment. As the technicians reset my sensors, I asked one of them, jokingly, "So what DOESN'T set these things off?"

The technician replied, "A lot of things will set these off. Laser pointers, fluorescent light, sunlight coming in through the trees..."

Shit, I thought. After six years the damn thing registered a hit when the SUN shone on it, which wouldn't be a problem if the sun wasn't out for two thirds of the day, and if we didn't rely on the sunlight to train in the first place. We removed the batteries from our sensors the minute we went to the training area and never relied on them when assessing our performance in training. Nobody harped on us for this, as there was an understanding among the soldiers and civilian technicians that the things were a complete waste of time and money.

To read that this is symptomatic of other military programs, including FCS, doesn't fill me with the expected fear and dread. Rather, I find myself disappointed that my personal analysis of military command at or above the field grade level has just been proven a little more plausible: that upward mobility relies heavily on political posturing and networking, which in turn tends to rely on fudging results to paint oneself and on'es superiors in an increasingly positive light. Top brass were more concerned with protecting their pet project - something they had invested large amounts of personal capital in - than ensuring that our military continued to receive the most up-to-date and relevant technology and equipment possible. The author states rather bluntly that:
...in large measure we are, in terms of force composition, technologically at the same place we were after Desert Storm; we are decades behind where we could have been by now, and by all rights ought to be.

None of the leaders responsible for this deception have ever been held to account. In fact, most of them were given remarkable awards for their performance, given promotions, or as in the case of Major General Charles Cartwright, after he retired was hired to be the Vice President of Raytheon Network Centric Systems' Advanced Programs. Raytheon was one of the major suppliers to the FCS program, being named, among other things, as the Ground Sensor Integrator.** (53-54)
* * * * * * * *

So what of the misunderstanding which led us to believe that a troop surge in Afghanistan would yield the same effects as the one performed in Iraq? According to Odierno, our reasons for victory were thus:
Suggesting that the reduction in violence resulted merely from bribing our enemies to stop fighting is uninformed and an oversimplification… It overlooks the salient point that many who reconciled with us did so from a position of weakness, rather than strength. The truth is that the improvement in security and stability is the result of a number of factors, and what Coalition forces did throughout 2007 ranks among the most significant. (60)
Odierno is referring to the Awakening movements, in which Sunni militia who had been fighting Coalition forces dramatically changed course and joined the fight against AQI. Odierno, Petraeus and subsequently the vast majority of the US came to see this as the result of a shift in strategy on the part of Coalition forces. The truth, however, is that after Zarqawi chose to side with AQ, what was once an Iraqi liberation movement morphed into something more sinister. The author points to a number of interviews conducted with members of the Awakening movement, noting that none of the interviewees "suggested there was ever the slightest change of their view of the US military occupation: they continued to despise it....had AQI not turned to such brutality and begin slaughtering what ought to have been their natural Sunni allies, they would have almost certainly never come to the American's side." (65)

The point is not to say that the surge has zero effect, but that it was not the primary motivator of change in Iraq.
I give huge cred it to the Iraqis who stood up to al-Qaeda. Maybe 75-80% of the credit for the success in the counterinsurgency fight in Ramadi goes to the Iraqi people who stood up to al-Qaeda and joined us in common cause. But, make no mistake, there would have been no Anbar Awakening without the US Forces. It's like asking, "Which element is the most important component in making an engine run: the spark, oxygen, or fuel?" The answer is "all three." (67)
What's crucial is understanding just how bad things had to be for once-liberation fighters to take up arms with the "occupiers"...AQI had to treat them like absolute shit (the author goes so far as to call AQI's actions "bestial") for them to say, "I don't care if it's the Americans, these AQ guys are fucking nuts!"

And THAT is the take-away: while the surge may have provided more fuel for the fire, the spark came from an externality completely out of our control: the behavior of AQI. Thus, when we began trying to mimic the strategy in Afghanistan, we found that the results were lacking. The price we have paid for this mistake has been the blood and limbs of young American soldiers.

Troubling still is that our lack of honesty has been noticed by the our enemies as well as the indigenous population. While Information Operations have succeeded in maintaining public will far longer than it would have otherwise, public will in Afghanistan is desperately lacking. This is additionally harrowing when we consider that the general consensus is that a military victory is out of reach. Negotiating a reasonable outcome with the Taliban will be all but impossible if the latter party is convinced that all of our words are just sound and fury signifying nothing. How can we expect the Afghan people to accept our promises of not abandoning them a second time when they have no reason to trust us now? And how can we continue to deceive ourselves so brilliantly when it comes to the nature and progress of the war in Afghanistan?

* * * * * * * *

I will concede that I am speaking from a rather limited viewpoint, as far as the military is concerned. I have not served in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and I don't want to give the impression that I am presuming the worst of senior officers within the service. I have served and continue to serve under some exceptional field grade officers, and regard their mentorship and leadership highly.

My indictment is against the system in which we operate, one which is highly bureaucratic and becomes intensely competitive at the field grade level. It is, to steal a quote from Rousseau, a system "liable to the most frightful abuses," one which by its design encourages favoritism and an intense protection of the reputation of one's superiors (they are the ones, after all, whose opinion will determine your future assignments). I was relieved to read this in the author's closing remarks:
The sad fact of the matter is those few high ranking men wield enormous power when it comes to deciding who gets promoted and who does not; there are many officers who would have made outstanding senior leaders but did not “play the part” to the satisfaction of those leaders and were subsequently passed over for senior positions. (80)
Thus it is not surprising to me that once someone like Petraeus or Odierno issues a proclamation about the "progress" of ISAF/ANA, or ruminates on what caused the success of the Iraq surge, many of their subordinates quickly echo that line of thinking. To do otherwise is demonstrably detrimental to one's career, and only those such as the author who are not overly concerned with future assignments feel willing to express disapproval of present and future operations.

By extension, I suppose that includes me. In fact it does; I intend to serve my term in the service admirably and to the best of my ability, but not to pursue the military as a lifelong career. There is perhaps no single event in my life which has so drastically changed me for the better than my choice to enlist in the armed services. If anyone is willing to serve, and fully understands the sacrifices such a decision entails (and nobody truly does until they're in the thick of it), I would encourage the move highly, but I would also warn against being caught up in the machine. Do not allow yourself to be consumed by it, or consider it as the be-all-end-all of your existence. Many of my friends have wandered down this road. I wish them well, but I do worry about what the experience will do to them.

As citizens, we have an obligation to arm ourselves with facts. In today's day and age, ignorance of the facts is unacceptable; there is a horrendous wealth of information to be garnered, and little is held back. Simply reading the prepared statements of officials is unsatisfactory; pairing these statements with verifiable data is essential to forming a meaningful and informed opinion on current events. Do not be content with the official position, and seek out information that may corroborate or eviscerate it.

Perhaps the most maddening and damning fact of this report is that all of the data provided is publicly available and painfully easy to find. One only needs a cursory understanding of the use of search engines and a desire to find the truth, wherever it may lead.

The next step is to translate those conclusions into actions through our elected officials, but let's take it one step at a time. Selah.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Afghan War and Information Operations

Michael Hastings brings us a damning report on the state of our fight in Afghanistan, as well as potential overlap of Army Information Operations into the domestic market. Something of that magnitude has a very real possibility of violating the Smith-Mundt Act.

I'll be spending the weekend pouring over the 83-page document, but I want to make sure that info on this piece is getting around as much as possible.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fragments of Democracy: We do not Question the Gods

Clearly I have become desperate for a caffeine fix when I find myself wandering into a Starbucks at seven fifteen in the morning. I find the fact that I resorted to Starbucks itself degrading, but this morning it was surely necessary. The girlfriend stayed over last night, and the truth was I needed the companionship, as the news of the day was weighing on me...

I had to drive her home by seven, which left me little time to prepare for the day. While I consider myself a morning person, I require at least an hour to get out of bed in the first place, which usually necessitates a series of alarms, all muted mere seconds after they begin, and then a frantic fifteen minutes of clothes, juice and coffee before I whisk out the front door with none of my things in order. This was the case this morning as I entered Starbucks: cold, disheveled, hair cowlicked, eyes crusted and gray, laptop under arm with the AC cable dragging behind me like some defeated Labrador being tugged along the sidewalk by leash.

I've never truly fit in at a place like Starbucks: the setting is too clean, too sterile. Nothing seems as it should be, and although the help may be kind and comfortable in their environment, the patrons always seem visibly tense and uneasy. Everyone fully expects to be jumped at any moment, and compensates for this fact with an over-attuned sense of spatial awareness. For luck, I always pick a seat near an emergency exit or a thin looking pane of glass so I can make a clean getaway, in case anything unfortunate should go down. Packing a blade doesn't hurt, either.

Coffee in place, it's time to mull over last evening's events. I had read karoli's post on C&L regarding the reversal of the Obama administration regarding SuperPAC donations. I chose to muse on it overnight, but rereading it now it still gives me a deep, unsettling sense of fear and uncertainty. This sort of thing isn't supposed to happen, at lest in my mind, and yet here we are. Politicians go where the money sends them, but what has bothered me more is the instant apology tour taking place among the Democrat's more bellicose subjects. To wit:
With so much at stake, we can't allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.
Unilaterally disarm, indeed. An interesting use of war imagery, although not unexpected from an administration hell-belt on continuing the The Global War on Terror™ with a sinister shift to the home front. Such is expected from members of the staff, but what about the minions? Again, to wit:
Some may feel like this is a policy reversal and has the risk of polluting OFA's message that this is a campaign fueled by small donors. I disagree with that, particularly in light of the fact that the Koch brothers have pledged $100 million to defeat President Obama in this cycle.
In what fucked up world do these sentences make a lick of sense? The President said he wasn't supporting PACs, but beginning to do so isn't a "policy reversal" because the GOP has been doing it all along? I'd expect her to at least try to maintain some modicum of self-respect by admitting it's a policy reversal, but perhaps it's more comfortable to spin until your ears bleed.
For me, there are two relevant and important questions which will distinguish large donor funding to the Obama campaign from the Republicans' efforts. First, will PrioritiesUSA disclose who their donors are? Their answer to that is an emphatic "yes."...For me, this is a key question. Lack of disclosure harms elections more than unlimited funds.
I want that last sentence to sink in, because that was the exact moment, late last night, when I felt a part of my soul shatter. I temporarily repair it with gin and good company, but the many of the cracks remain. It wasn't long ago that karoli railed against Justice Thomas for indiscretions regarding cash investments his wife received around the Citizens United case, specifically direct and disclosed cash investments to her lobbying firm. By karoli's own ass-backward logic, this shouldn't be that much of a problem since it was all done out in the open. The rest of us understand that the damage is done once the money changes hands, not when everyone else is eventually informed about it.

In what fantasy land do these people live in? Or better yet, what fantastic hallucinogens are they hiding away from the rest of us who are left to wallow in the harsh reality of this Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twelve?

Glenn Thrush of Politico joins us in that bleak landscape:
But, as POLITICO reported last month, the fundraising prowess of the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future — and the effectiveness of its withering ads in degrading the popularity of rival Newt Gingrich in Iowa — alarmed officials at Obama’s Chicago campaign headquarters, prompting the campaign to take the baby step of allowing national finance committee members to solicit contributions for Priorities USA Action.
So the Democrats have decided to dance with The Devil, and who can blame them with the obscene amounts of money currently being spent in the sad, downward spiral that is the Republican primary? Only those who struggle to maintain a sense of dignity and honor in politics, however miniscule, and had looked to the Obama campaign to be the flagship of that struggle.

But misplaced hopes are common in this game. There is certainly enough to admire about Obama, and I would be amiss if I didn't say I house some starry-eyed sense of awe when I contemplate the man, especially against the backdrop of peddlers like Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, not to mention the philanderers and dingbats hanging out in the fringes. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, as they say, and it doesn't matter how near-sighted the poor cyclops bastard happens to be; one is better than none no matter how you choose to look at it.

The disappointment lies in the fact that campaign fundraising seemed to be the last bastion of pure, untainted dignity in the Obama machine. After drone attacks in Pakistan, the unilateral execution of an American citizen on foreign soil for terrorist ties, the inability to get Guantanamo detainees tried in civil court and the nightmarish expansion of an already-bloated intelligence and police apparatus, at the very least we could bury ourselves in booze at the end of the day, pat each other on the shoulder and say, "Well, you know what? At least he hasn't gotten wrapped up in this SuperPAC mess...so there's that, you know?"

Perhaps we are simply being naive. That seems to be the narrative coming out of Washington with the news of the Obama administrations back-peddling and the Santorum surge sweeping the heartland, as Rick takes Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado from under the party-elite-anointed Mitt Romney. How does one explain such an embarrassing slip up for the man-bot constructed in a basement beneath RNC HQ? Something in the water? Possible, though unlikely. It's money, or rather lack thereof, and the Democrats caught hold of that narrative by the throat and will be damned if they'll let it go.

In states where the Mitt Machine outspends its foes at ratios of 7 or even 20 to 1, Mitt takes the race. It is a depressing reality, one which should cause heavy bouts of self-loathing and suicidal tendencies among the GOP electorate. The man is a human jukebox, and if you give him a quarter (million) he'll play any tune you want to hear. Even Republicans recognize this, but you can't fight that kind of monetary tidal wave for long before your muscles buckle and you resign yourself to the inevitable Mitt candidacy. All Hail, Robot Romney!

The Romney campaign has a strong and dirty left hook in the Restore Our Future PAC, and one which is shielded from a great deal of scrutiny. Indeed, even Romney himself has been reluctant to release his own tax records, while maintaining that there's nothing really interesting to see there in the first place. We can expect the same treatment from his goons over at ROF PAC. It is a large, brutish, ultimately unwieldy thing, and if Santorum can only avoid it by going where it doesn't bother to show up, well, how in the hell are the Democrats supposed to try and avoid it in the General? It will stalk them, thrashing through the nation's airwaves like a drunken ox, smashing into programming without a second thought given to the continuity or grace of the message it spews from its hideous maw.

The imagery smacks of Lovecraft, or perhaps more specifically Charles Stross: if the Reds have unleashed some ghastly hell spawn onto the world, drawing the entire thing into madness and misery, then by God the Blues better damned well unleash their own as well to provide "an alternative madness" at the very least.

Can such a weighty Pandora's Box ever be resealed? I doubt it, though in today's volatile political climate anything is possible. For those of us who relish in political gamesmanship, the advent of unlimited funds adds a twisted sort of chaos to the game that's amusing to watch, much like tossing three or four balls on the soccer field just to see how the players, well-versed in traditional sports and their rules, react to the whole scene. Reckless, over-the-top antics at first, a few wayward goals scored merely by chance, and then - the terror! - as the game morphs to adapt to the new reality, becoming something altogether unpleasant to witness and ultimately irreversible.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Free-Market Jesus



via Crooks and Liars:

"People have no problem paying $900 for an iPad," the candidate explained. "But paying $900 for a drug they have a problem with — it keeps you alive. Why? Because you’ve been conditioned to think health care is something you can get without having to pay for it."

The mother replied that she could not afford her son's medication, Abilify, which can cost as much as $1 million a year without health insurance.

"Look, I want your son and everybody to have the opportunity to stay alive on much-needed drugs," Santorum insisted. "But the bottom line is, we have to give companies the incentive to make those drugs. And if they don't have the incentive to make those drugs, your son won't be alive and lots of other people in this country won't be alive."

"He’s alive today because drug companies provide care," the candidate continued. "And if they didn’t think they could make money providing that drug, that drug wouldn’t be here. I sympathize with these compassionate cases. … I want your son to stay alive on much-needed drugs. Fact is, we need companies to have incentives to make drugs. If they don’t have incentives, they won’t make those drugs. We either believe in markets or we don’t."

Listen, I would love it if your son could survive, but you have to remember what the Bible says about caring for the sick: it's not worth it if there's no money to be made.

I understand that you're poor, but I also understand that the poor person archetype that's been constructed to coincide with my sheltered, backwater worldview buys iPads, which are rather expensive. So my question to you, ma'am, is this: why are you buying iPads instead of medicine for your son? Of course he's dying! You poor people are so bad with money, it's no wonder you're destitute.

Everyone else here understands what America is all about: markets. Now, luckily for you, the market has seen fit to develop the medicine to treat your young child's illness to begin with, but are you thankful even for a second? No! Instead you bitch and moan about it "being too expensive." Yea, it's expensive because the market knows you'll pay out the ass for it to save your kid. That's supply and demand; have you ever even studied economics, lady?

The market has spoken, and it's decided you're child needs to die. So it is written; so it is done. Praise Free-Market Jesus!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Walter Jones for National Spinster

Campaign season brings a special kind of crazy in social media, so this season I'm putting my foot down. The madness has to end. Anyone who shares disingenuous campaign paraphernalia (and that dragnet pretty much covers ALL campaign paraphernalia) will have their kneecaps split with a rusty lead pipe. Those of us trying to have a decent, level-headed argument about policy can't sit for three seconds without having to pen out some ridiculous diatribe explaining why even if the President were born on the moon his parents were American citizens, so it doesn't even matter. Jus sanguinis.

Case and point, this claptrap from Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC):


I'm gonna start with the shit that should scream out at you and then work my way down...

1) Only in Orwellian math does a 0.7% rise in unemployment equal a 9% rise in unemployment. And yes, I understand where the number came from, it's still shit. That's like saying that if I switch from drinking 1% milk to 2% that I've increased my fat intake by 100%. Sure, the math is technically correct, but just saying it's up by a measly percentage point won't make it seem like my arteries are going to explode.

I can guarantee you that if the unemployment rate had decreased from 8.5% to 7.8%, nobody would be saying that unemployment dropped by 9%, because nobody is that stupid, except maybe the Congresscritter from North Carolina. There must be something in the water.

2) For most of us, the last time we can remember gas being below $2/gallon is somewhere around the time the Marlins won the World Series. This is because that is the last time gas was that cheap for more than the blink of an eye. Once again, the number is technically correct, but still shit. There was a period between late November 2008 and late March 2009 when oil was trading around $50/barrel. I can't blame anyone for not remembering why, but sufficed to say the world economy looked something like this. Even people I know who don't follow politics at all realize that this is a bogus talking point, so I'd suggest people stop using it before they make even larger fools of themselves.

3) I'm going to jump back to the unemployment rate because while a 0.7% increase is nothing to balk at, and certainly nothing a sitting President would even be proud of, the number is hollow unless you marry it up with changes in the labor force over time. Once again, those of us who have memories that span past the last episode of Jersey Shore recall that when Bush left office our economy was hemorrhaging 750,000 jobs a month. Not a year, not during his entire Presidency, but 750,000 jobs in January 2009 alone. You can read all the data off of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' website. Look at where the graph is in January 2009, and where it is now. Go on, do it. I'll wait...














...moving on.

4) If America were a right-proper socialist nightmare, trying to hang the cost of health insurance around the President's neck might be worthwhile. But is isn't, and doing so just makes you look like an ass. Here's five theories as to why costs are rising...the first one comes from the US Chamber of Commerce, which means they must have taken a five-minute breather from fellating Chinese financial firms to tell us what they think. I'm betting that they're more talented at the former occupation than the latter, but hey, you're entitled to think what you want. Just wipe the slop from your chin before you exit the washroom.

Same goes for college tuition...Jesus people, do you love Adam Smith or not? Because I have trouble keeping track.

5) Foodstamp stats are fun, because any rise means more poor people are being fed, and nobody hates that more than Jesus. Yet again, if you don't pay attention big numbers are scary, but I'll do my best to beat the scared out of you:
Since Oct. 1, new federal rules make it easier for households with income from combat pay, retirement accounts or education savings to be eligible.
If I know my Constitution well, this means that Sarah Palin is automatically President for the next 10 years and Obama has to clean the lavatory at the Congressional gym room for the remainder of his term.
Dean says the changes will increase participation but job layoffs will do far more to add people to the program.
I'll understand if you forgot, but remember this? Yeah.

6) Federal debt. Big numbers scary, right? Not if you realize that the US owns the vast majority of its own debt, so really it's just us investing in ourselves. Holy shit, somebody must be stoned for this! Wait, the SEC is already, stand down!

The rest of it is either subjective (what is US Competitiveness and how is it gauged?) or just plain fact. Yes, there are more unemployed since 2009, and yes, home values have plummeted...I don't know how many more .gifs of imploding buildings I'm allowed to post before I hit some kind of quota. Just remember that I have a lead pipe in standing water, so pay the fuck attention to what you post. It won't take much to warm up my swinging arm. I can't get to NC, so I'll have to settle for slugging his social media arm, I suppose. Selah.