If you’re an American tax payer, then you owe it to ~3000 dead Americans, 20,000 wounded Americans, and more than 100,000 dead Afghans to read this whole thing:
This long piece is worth every second of your time—and deserves every moment of your attention. It’s full of gems: nauseous, heartbreaking facts, brief tales of uncertain moral.
“We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich. We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic.We invade violent countries to make them peaceful and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.”— James Dobbins, former U.S. diplomat
Also—and I’m not being flip here—but I sorta love that Rumsfield called his frequent memoranda “snowflakes.” Over the years, I’ve grown to realize that he may have been one of the most profoundly clear-eyed thinkers of the dawning of the American 21st C. Again, I’m not being sarcastic in any way here: The shit he said frequently sounded nuts, but it was and is perhaps the only clear and honest way to talk about Now.
Anyway, here’s a #fact you should know:
One unidentified contractor told government interviewers he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home: “He said hell no. ‘Well, sir, that’s what you just obligated us to spend and I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.’ ”
The gusher of aid that Washington spent on Afghanistan also gave rise to historic levels of corruption.
In public, U.S. officials insisted they had no tolerance for graft. But in the Lessons Learned interviews, they admitted the U.S. government looked the other way while Afghan power brokers — allies of Washington — plundered with impunity.
Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three U.S. generals in charge of the war, said that the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006 — and that U.S. officials failed to recognize the lethal threat it posed to their strategy.
“I like to use a cancer analogy,” Kolenda told government interviewers. “Petty corruption is like skin cancer; there are ways to deal with it and you’ll probably be just fine. Corruption within the ministries, higher level, is like colon cancer; it’s worse, but if you catch it in time, you’re probably ok. Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal.”
And here’s another:
“We stated that our goal is to establish a ‘flourishing market economy,’ ” said Douglas Lute, the White House’s Afghan war czar from 2007 to 2013. “I thought we should have specified a flourishing drug trade — this is the only part of the market that’s working.”
No single agency or country was in charge of the Afghan drug strategy for the entirety of the war, so the State Department, the DEA, the U.S. military, NATO allies and the Afghan government butted heads constantly.
The agencies and allies made things worse by embracing a dysfunctional muddle of programs, according to the interviews.
At first, Afghan poppy farmers were paid by the British to destroy their crops — which only encouraged them to grow more the next season. Later, the U.S. government eradicated poppy fields without compensation — which only infuriated farmers and encouraged them to side with the Taliban.
And here’s a picture. No trigger warning, because we should all look, regardless of how it makes us feel. Do you see the writing on his forehead? The duct tape on his shirt? These tell me that there is a tourniquet on his right leg. It was put on at 2:55 pm. I wonder if he kept that leg, if he survived at all.
Incidentally, here’s the previous winner for “Most American Sentence Dave Can Imagine”:
This is us, folks. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.
“Contingency” by Kris Straub
UPDATE: Last night I learned that this might be a riff on actual prepared U.S. Civil Defense recordings. ☹️🇺🇸
FUN BONUS EXERCISE: Read this whole thing, and ask yourself:
Is this more plausible as a CIA guide for resistors trying to drag down fascists in foreign nations, or as a plot to nudge patriotic Americans into suspecting organized labor and broad progressive social movements of actually being enemy saboteurs?
…when I go to sum up the story in a Big Picture way, I end up saying the same thing that I said about that election:
I totally hear where folks—angry, aggrieved, not-gonna-take-it-anymore folks—are coming from, because I totally agree with them: They are getting screwed. We just totally disagree on who is screwing them, or what is a sensible way to address that.
This story is about that, in a fundamental way.
I also tell an anecdote about seeing a homeless guy get ejected from a Coney in the mid-1990s, and make mention of Michigan trespassing laws, the sovereign citizen movement, my neighbors from Chennai, and Dave-o’s patented “magpie and junk drawer” speculative-fiction drafting strategy.
The Nov/Dec issue of F&SF is still on newsstands—but only for a few more days. Nab your copy soon!
Found this in a stack of unlabeled 78 rpm records I bought off eBay, like, a billion years ago. No time to lay down a new track this week, so I just digitized this instead. Mysteries within mysteries, etc.
I’ve seen several recorded performances of this trick, and watched it live at least once—and yet this is the first time it dawned on me that there is no trick to this trick. (i.e., I’d bet that if you take just a moment to think about this—even if you’ve never touched a nail gun before—you can think of at least two totally different ways to modify a stock nail gun or fabricate a fako, and once you accept that the nail fun is gaffed, then there isn’t a memory trick at all, just some patter).
In fact, there’s a degree to which this trick is about the trick’s tricklessness, if you catch my meaning: It’s about delivery and panache and the fascination that comes with the risk of grievous bodily harm. It is an amped up, thoroughly Modern America version of Barnum’s wonderful(!), stupendous(!!!), incomparable(!!!) Egress.
BONUS: Penn & Teller’s greatest of misdirections—They get you caught up on the idea of being live and doing camera tricks, thus distracting you from the obvious explanation revealed at the end—AND THE FACT THAT THEY DO USE CAMERA TRICKS!!!
Listen: There is going to be a major attack on U.S. soil between now and, I dunno, probably the end of January 2018. (I personally think it’ll be earlier—possibly by mid-October—but depending on who is attacking, I think they might wait as late as Xmas/New Year’s in order to maximize mayhem).
I’ve been saying this for months, but I think most folks thought I was kidding. I’m not.
REMINDER: We’re likely 2 to 4 months from a major US soil attack. PotUS will use it to consolidate power. https://t.co/wiy1XddbSC
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) August 10, 2017
REMINDER: We’re probably not more than 4 months from a major US soil attack. My money’s on N Korea, but whoever it is, it’s a win for PotUS.
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) August 1, 2017
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) July 21, 2017
Hard to believe it’s just six months until a major foreign attack on U.S. soil!🇺🇸🔥 https://t.co/0nPayGb4Pd
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) May 16, 2017
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) May 13, 2017
Hard to believe it’s just nine months until a major attack on US soil! https://t.co/GZu9RG0Ynw
— David Erik Nelson (@SquiDaveo) May 1, 2017
A disorganized defender cannot defend. When your opponent is disoriented, you strike. It’s elementary, and holds in many fields: In business negotiations, in chess, in Go,in court, in bar fights and boxing matches, in battlefields and hardened bunkers.
Readers of a certain age will recall that the success of the 9/11 attacks was widely attributed to a “failure to connect the dots” within the Executive Branch (especially within intelligence and foreign affairs agencies). Why did we fail to connect the dots? Because there were empty seats throughout the administration, and the folks in many of the filled seats were still coming up to speed.
Rewind 11 months from 9/11, and you’ll recall we had an insanely close presidential election that ultimately needed to be decided by the Supreme Court. As a result, when G.W.Bush took office, his team had significantly less time to pull together their nominations than was the modern norm. 100 days in, he was still behind, with only about 35 confirmed nominees (there are several thousand positions that need to be filled by any incoming president, of which about 577 are considered vital by experts). 200 days in GWB had 294 nominations confirmed, roughly half of the most vital positions. In other words, on day 200 in office, G.W.Bush still had 283 empty seats in vital parts of the Executive Branch, and many of the seats that were filled had folks sitting in them who’d only had a couple months—maybe just weeks—to digest, consider, and route huge amounts of intel. About a month after that we notably “failed to connect the dots” and 19 dudes crashed four airplanes with the net result of 3,000 humans being cooked and crushed in the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania farm field.
I was teaching school that day, back in my old life. I stood in a room with a bunch of troubled teens and watched folks jump out of the World Trade Center towers rather than burn inside. I walked outside with a coworker. Our school was under several flight paths, but the sky was perfectly clear above us, no clouds, no contrails, no planes, because every plane in the nation was grounded.
But, man, that sky, so blue. So clear.
Within a year I was on a “selectee list.” For the next eight years every time I flew I was pulled out of line, searched, patted down, swabbed for explosives, questioned, stripped down to socks, pants, and undershirt. But, you know, whatevs, right? Terror. Safety. Patriotism. #America.
But my mind wanders. All apologies. More to the point:
How’s Trump Doing?
How’s Trump doing, in terms of getting the right folks in the right seats, and thus preventing another major attack and loss of life on U.S. soil?
Not great. In fact, he’s doing cataclysmically poorly. He was behind Bush on Day 100, and he’s now even further behind:
As of August 4, when the Senate left town for its August recess, Trump has nominated 277 people for key posts, has had 124 confirmed, and has withdrawn eight of the nominations, according to CNN’s tracker.
The Partnership for Public Service has identified 577 executive branch positions as being particularly essential — and Trump has only successfully filled about a fifth of them.
We got smashed in the mouth in 2001 because we only had 294 folks in 577 vital seats. Today we have about 124 folks on deck. Among those seats that remain empty: Most of the undersecretaries of state, assistant secretaries of state, assistant secretaries of defense, an undersecretaries of defense, and most of our ambassadors.
So Who is Coming to Hurt Us?
It’s a three-way coin toss, in my humble:
- North Korea
- Actual International Terrorists (like 9/11)
- Domestic Terrorists (I group someone like the Tsarnaev brothers or the Pulse Nightclub Shooter alongside Timothy McVeigh and Buford O. Furrow, Jr. as “domestic terrorists” for the reasons outlined in this very enlightening interview over on Slate: “Profiling White Supremacists Won’t Stop White Supremacist Terrorism“)
If I were a gambling man (and we all are now, here in the Zone of Maximum Mayhem) I’d put my money on #3.
Yeah, North Korea seems like an obvious choice: They can hit the U.S. mainland with any number of missiles, and they have a nuke small enough to mount on such an ICBM. They probably don’t have the reentry ballistics quite right just yet, which means the nuclear device won’t detonate properly, but a goddamn intercontinental ballistic dirty bomb plowing into D.C. or NYC is 1) well within N.K.’s capabilities and 2) not something you walk off.
But launching such an attack is actual suicide for that country—especially with our current PotUS—and regardless of what we say about the Kim regime, he’s not an actual lunatic; he has a country to run and a dynasty to maintain. Given how he’s behaving now, and in the absence of us launching a pre-emptive strike, I don’t see N.K. nuking us before Xmas. (See also North Korea’s latest launch designed to cause maximum mayhem, minimal blowback)
(All of that, of course, assumes the tests they’ve been firing have indeed been tests, and not a killdeer-like misdirection. If N.K. can cripple us in a first strike—say, by nuking LA, NYC, and DC in a single salvo—well, then I imagine they will, and probably sometime this fall.)
As for actual International Terror, believe it or not that’s on the wane in the Western world. When you stop calling everything involving a Muslim “international” and actually look at the facts of the recent attacks in the U.S. and Europe, you see that the last several “Islamist” terror events in the U.S. have a lot more in common with White Power hate crimes than 9/11. (Pulse Nightclub is a solid example of this.)
So that leaves us with Domestic Terror. I’m thinking it’ll be White Supremacists. The PotUS has done a lot lately to make them feel empowered, and those among them with basic arithmetic and reading comprehension skills absolutely understand that there will never again be a White Majority in this country. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be “Islamists” born in Newark or Peoria, or Antifa/Black Blocers looking to head off the impending pogroms, or good ole Militia/Sovereign Citizen folks (who despise the PotUS just as much as the Antifa folks do). They’re all in the same gang, at heart.
But who fucking cares, right? People are going to die—your friends and neighbors—at the hands of your other friends and neighbors, and a lot more are going to suffer, and we are locked in on those rails now, inextricable. These are how these dots connect, and it is far too late to do anything about it before it happens.
(Alternately, listen to and consider this: Episode 790: Rough Translation in Ukraine ’cause maybe I’m wrong, and we’ll go with a whimper, not a bang. And maybe we’re already gone—or, hell, maybe I’m the misinformation that stumbles out of Bethlehem to be born. Your call.)
Jesus! Dave, What Should I Do!?
I have no clue. Stay safe. Don’t hurt any one.
Hell, I’d be turned away, and I’m a highly educated, highly articulate, decently well-off white(ish) person with some little shred of public notability.
Trump’s “merit-based immigration” is a bullshit system that
favors big-money investors who want to buy citizenship while simultaneously draining all the best technical minds from the developing world and consigning them to being well-paid slaves at the pleasure of major tech companies.
It’s callous, crass, penny-pinching robber-baron capitalism that will to jack-shit to stem illegal immigration, create a class of disaffected young men with weak ties to their American communities and strong ties to their home countries, and leave the average American worker to fight for jobs picking cotton, making Starbucks, and driving Uber.
I’ve talked to a few Trump voters in the last several months (I need to get a new roof on my house), and it is precisely bait-and-switch shit like this that has them pissed and cynical as hell.
And those folks have guns, Mr. President.