Layers And Layers Of Gatekeepers, Part MMMLXVIII

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is leaving a downtown Saint Paul bar after happy hour with friends.  

As he fumbles for his keys by his car, MyLyssa SILBERMAN, reporter for National Public Radio’s Saint Paul bureau, steps out of an organic tax accountant office.  Dressed in a hemp power skirt, her brunette-but-slightly-prematurely-gray hair cut into the style known as “ELCA Hair”, she wrinkles her nose on encountering BERG.

SILBERMAN:  Er, hello, Merg.

BERG:  MyLyssa.  A pleasure (He finds his car key)

SILBERMAN:  You and your show and blog are “fake news”

BERG:  Huh.  You don’t say.  Why’s that?

SILBERMAN:  You don’t have a staff of fact-checkers.

BERG:  .Like the Washington Post.

SILBERMAN:  Exactly.  The Washington Post has layers and layers of gatekeepers and factcheckers, all trained at Ivy League journalism schools to the highest standard of the journalistic craft.

BERG:  The WaPo ran a story last week about Russian hackers trying to bring down the Vermont power grid.  Until it turned out it wasn’t; just some malware on a laptop that wasn’t connected to any grid other than an AC plug.  Then they revised the story, and tried to re-focus it under the radar while going “um, nothing to see here” about their earlier claim that Russians  were trying to bring down the US power supply.

SILBERMAN:  Right.  The fact-checking worked.

BERG:  The “fact-checking” was entirely external to the Washington Post.  They were “fact-checked” by their audience and the rest of the media.  No different than my blog.

SILBERMAN:  No, Merg.  That’s false.  And I’ll tell you why.

BERG:  OK.  You do that.

SILBERMAN:  The person who pushed “publish” on the online revision?

BERG:  Yes…?

SILBERMAN:  And the person who started the printing presses?

BERG:  Right?  Yes?

SILBERMAN:  They were Washington Post employees.  Without them, the correction would have never gotten out.

BERG:  Huh .

SILBERMAN:  Also, you are a white male.  (Looks at bare wrist)  Oh, look at the time.  (Steps back into accountants office).

BERG:  (Rolls eyes, climbs into car)

And SCENE.

They Are So Close…

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is leaving Alary’s after a Bears game, when he runs into MyLyssa SILBERMAN, reporter for National Public Radio’s Saint Paul bureau.  Dressed in a hemp power skirt, her brunette-but-slightly-prematurely-gray hair cut into the style known as “ELCA Hair”, she is on her way from her Lowertown condo to the MPR building.  

SILBERMAN:  (In her “NPR” voice – a nasal brogue that bespeaks an Ivy League education, and sounds like it may have ironic clarinet music in the background) Mr.  Berg.

BERG:   Oh, hello, MyLyssa.

SILBERMAN:  So you’re still a Second Amendment activist?

BERG:  I am.

SILBERMAN:  And you oppose closing the “Gun Show Loophole” with mandatory registration?

BERG:  Yep.

SILBERMAN:  Why?  It’s clearly commonsense.

BERG:  I’m going to refute you with an NPR story.   Yesterday, NPR reported that the Obama Administration has done away with a 9/11-era program that allowed the creation of a registry of people from several countries linked to terrorist activities.   (BERG draws iPhone from pocket, shuffles through to find a recording).  I believe this the report, from NPR’s Tom Gjelten:

GJELTEN: Among those who would speak out – the American Civil Liberties Union. Hina Shamsi is the national security director there.

HINA SHAMSI: We would absolutely oppose this program. And as we have said, if this form of discriminatory registry is put in place, we stand ready to sue and to challenge it.

(BERG stops the recording)

SILBERMAN:  Right.  So?

BERG:  Listen to this next bit.  I’ll crank up the volume for a few parts”

GJELTEN: A new registry could bring out law-abiding Muslims. But human rights lawyer Banafsheh Akhlaghi says it would probably not reveal the would-be terrorists the government should be worried about.

AKHLAGHI: They aren’t going to voluntarily come into a federal building, give you their fingerprints, give you their name and their identity and allow you to take photographs of them. The good guys do that.

(BERG stops the recording again)

BERG:   So terrorists aren’t going to come in and register themselves…

SILBERMAN:   Right.  That’s absurd.

BERG:   Exactly.  But criminals – people who commit violence with guns?  They will come in and, in effect, register with a background check when they buy guns?

SILBERMAN:  You are clearly “fake news”.

BERG:  Clearly.

(And SCENE)

The New Puritans

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is shopping for a generator at Menard’s.  As he pores over the spec sheet, Moonbeam BIRKENSTOCK steps around the corner.  

BIRKENSTOCK:  Merg!   The “christian” college, “Liberty University”, is building a gun violence range for its students.

BERG:   It’s a gun range.  And so what?

BIRKENSTOCK:  It’s weird.

BERG:   Hardly. It’s a conservative institution.  Many of its students are shooters.  The campus 2nd Amendment group is large and active, and shootings sports are popular among students.  It’s not unreasonable to assume that a shooting-sports-friendly campus is going to be a draw for students who are, like most Liberty students, to the right of center.

BIRKENSTOCK:  But guns on campus!  Isn’t that just kind of weird?  Shouldn’t school be a place of non-violence?

BERG:   Non-violence?   You mean like “gun-free” Virginia Tech?

BIRKENSTOCK:  Yes!

BERG:  Where a gunman killed 32 students and faculty?

BIRKENSTOCK:  Don’t confuse me with irrelevant details.

BERG:  Er, right.  So – why should Liberty not provide that facility, if it’s an obvious marketing spiff for them?

BIRKENSTOCK:  There should be no guns at places of higher learning.

BERG:  Question for you, Moonbeam:   should colleges teach abstinence only sex education?

BIRKENSTOCK:  Good heavens, no.  That never works!

BERG:  Because people naturally gravitate toward things they enjoy?

BIRKENSTOCK:  Yes!

BERG:   So abstinence only education can not work when it comes to sex, but is the only acceptable solution when it comes to guns?

BIRKENSTOCK:  Why do you hate women and minorities?

BERG:  Naturally.

And SCENE. 

Fringe-y

SCENE: Mitch BERG is shoveling his sidewalk. As he’s shoveling to the east, Avery LIBRELLE, out for a walk, comes up from the west and catches BERG by surprise.

LIBRELLE: Hey, Merg!

BERG:  Uh…hi, Avery.  What’s…

LIBRELLE:   Drumpf is appointing racist white supremacists from the Alt-Right to his cabinet!

BERG:  Avery, I have a question for you.  One of the reasons I support the Second Amendment is that I believe it’s possible – not “highly likely”, but possible – that despite all the safeguards built into the Federalist system, our government could one day be take over by people who actively trample the peoples’ freedom.

LIBRELLE:  That’s paranoia, treason, and an ammosexual gun fondler fantasy.

BERG:  Huh.  But Donald Trump is now president, and you’re worried…

LIBRELLE:  …that government is actively going to stifle and quash peoples’ freedom.

BERG:  Gotcha.  So when a Second Amendment supporter says that they’re acting in defense of liberty, they are…

LIBRELLE:  Fat bald white gun fondlers who’ve watched Rambo too many times and are probably terrorists waiting to happen.

BERG:   And when Hillary Clinton supporters say it about Trump, they are…

LIBRELLE:  Guarding freedom against a fascist tyrant.

BERG:   Gun owners…

LIBRELLE:  Fat angry stupid traitors.

BERG:  People attacking Trump…

LIBRELLE:  The highest expression of democratic ideals.

BERG:  Conservative…

LIBRELLE:  Evil.  Hate.  Death.

BERG:  “Progressive”

LIBRELLE:  Love.

BERG:  Naturally.

And SCENE

Somewhere In Virginia

SCENE:  FBI Director James COMEY drives up to his house, in a cozy northern Virginia suburb of DC.

As he gets out of his car, he notes Huma ABEDIN, sitting on his porch.  

He takes his briefcase and walks toward her.

ABEDIN:  Good day, Mr. Comey.

COMEY:  Ms. Abedin, you know I can’t communicate with you during an investigation,

ABEDIN:   You can’t talk about the investigation.  This is a social call.

COMEY:  Do tell.

ABEDIN:  Purely social.

(ABEDIN pulls out a manila envelope)

COMEY:  Social?

ABEDIN:  Sure.  I wanted to talk family.

(She pulls out an 8×10 photo and a sheet of paper from the envelope and hands it to COMEY)

COMEY:  What the…?

ABEDIN:   Nice looking grandkids, there.  Aaron, age six, who attends Holy Cross Elementary school, takes the 4 bus, gets to school at 8:30 and leaves at 2:30, plays soccer with the Hippo team at Wartford Rec Center, and…Emiliy age four, attends the Rutherford Crossing pre-school from 9AM to noon.  Children of your daughter, if I’m not mistaken.

COMEY:  So you want…

ABEDIN:  You know what I want.

(ABEDIN rises, leaves)

COMEY:  (Sighs, resignedly dials number on cell phone)

And SCENE

Evidence

SCENE:    At the garden center.  Mitch BERG is taking advantage of late-season blowouts when Avery LIBRELLE, carrying a lawn flamingo, steps around the corner, catching BERG by surprise. 

LIBRELLE:  Merg!  You keep claiming there’s vote fraud.  And yet there is not.  There never has been and there never will be.

BERG:  Well, the evidence in  California and Chicago and Philadelphia and Maryland and Florida and a key and very swingy district in Virginia and Mississippi and of course right here in Minnesota says you’re wrong.

LIBRELLE:  But the Brennan Center said there is no voter fraud!

BERG:  Leaving aside the fact that the Brennan Center is pretty much devoted to undermining self-government and making society safe for our “elite” better to govern as they see fit, their “sources” were pretty much all election authorities confirming that nothing is wrong, nosirreebob.  In most states where the fraud happens, it’s almost impossible to convict anyone for even the most bald-faced vote fraud.

LIBRELLE:  But there’s more evidence!

BERG:  Aaaand what’s that?

LIBRELLE:  You’re racist.  Hah!

(LIBRELLE turns and runs for the door)

BERG:  Clearly.

(And SCENE)

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Oooh, look there; an article about vote fraud.  Feel free to leave a comment in the comment section.

Unless, of course, you are one of the commenters who’s made a habit of leaving extremely long, usually off-topic, usually condescending comments, purporting to “fact-check” my content, but usually proving only that you’re a terrible researcher with no command of logic:

You’ll need to respond in depth to this question in a previous thread.  And respond to the responses.  And then I will start letting your comments out of moderation.  And only then.  Your call.  No skin off my teeth).

The Source Of All Slime

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is walking into the Russian Tea House on University Avenue for some piroshki and borscht.  As he walks up the steps, Avery LIBRELLE is walking out.  BERG can’t avoid LIBRELLE; the meeting is inevitable.  

LIBRELLE:  Merg!

BERG:  Er…hey, Avery.   Didn’t know you liked Russian food.

LIBRELLE:   I don’t.  I was just going door to door looking for contributions to my new PAC.

BERG:  Huh.  Did you get anything?

LIBRELLE:   Not yet.

BERG:   Well, hey, I’m just gonna grab some…

LIBRELLE:  So shame on your for accusing Hillary Clinton of spreading the “Birther” rumor!  I fact-checked you by going to “AllTheFactsYouNeedToKnowAboutPolitics.com”, a production of the Non-Partisan Center For Non-Partisan Progress, and they said that Hillary never, ever, personally used the word “Birther”.

BERG:   Nobody said she did it personally.  Her campaign used surrogates to do it.

LIBRELLE:  But she didn’t do it personally, so you’re a liar and a hypocrite!

BERG:   So if someone’s campaign spreads information, but the candidate doesn’t do it himself, then the candidate is blameless.

LIBRELLE:   Right!

BERG:   By that logic, the Holocaust never happened, since Hitler didn’t personally kill a single Jew.

LIBRELLE:   Let me check with AllTheFactsYouNeedToKnowAboutPolitics.com when I get to the library.

BERG:   Right.  And the fact that Hillary’s campaign spread the “Obama is a Muslim” rumor never happened, since the words “Obama is a muslim” never crossed Hillary’s lips?

LIBRELLE:  That’s correct.  If the candidate doesn’t say it, it never happened.

BERG:  Gotcha.

LIBRELLE:  Hey – wanna donate to my PAC?

(And SCENE)

Survey

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is at work in his home office.  His phone rings.  

BERG:  Hello?

POLLSTER:  Hello.  I’m Kandi, a pollster working on a combined study commissioned by Harvard University, Northeastern University, the Trace and the Guardian, four organizations dedicated to disarming Americans by any means, fair or foul.  If you have a few moments to spare, I’d like to ask you some questions about gun ownership.

BERG:  Go ahead.

POLLSTER:   How many guns do you own?

BERG:  How many guns am I going to admit I own to an anonymyous rep for  four organizations that are dedicated to ensuring that Americans are disarmed, docile sheep,?

POLLSTER:   That’s correct!

BERG:  None!  Guns are scary!

POLLSTER:  So that’s no guns, then?

BERG:  As far as you know.

POLLSTER:  Wow. It’s amazing how the number of gun owners is dropping, according to our Fact-Based Research ®.

BERG:  It is, isn’t it?  Absolutely astounding.

SURVEY:  We’re also finding three percent of American adults own 50% of the guns!

BERG:  Huh.  I’m also gonna guess 3% of American adults own 50% of the iPhone 7s, and roughly .000001 of all Americans own 90% of all newspapers.

SURVEY:  No comment!

BERG:  Naturally.

SURVEY:  Now, if you did buy a gun, why would you buy one?  Are you a hunter, a target shooter, or would you buy a gun due to fear?

BERG:  If I did have a gun, which I don’t, as I already told you, it’d be for self-defense.

POLLSTER:  OK.  “Fear”.

BERG:  No, self-defense.  A prudent response to the vicissitudes of human nature.

POLLSTER:  Right.  Fear.

BERG:  Nope.  A rational, prudent assessment of and response to life’s actual risks, based on data, ability and experience.

POLLSTER:  Right.  We call that “fear”.  It’s just a category.

BERG:  Naturally.  Hey, someone’s calling…

POLLSTER:  I didn’t hear a click…

(But BERG has already hung up the phone).

And SCENE.

 

Last Gleaming

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is shopping for chainsaw chains at MENARDS.  He sees Garth MULLER, a professional golf pro and Vice Chair for Ideological Purity at the Minnesota 5th CD Libertarian Party.  He is dressed head to toe in Minnesota Vikings wear.  

MULLER:  Hey, Merg!  People who pledge allegiance to Skycloth before football games are no better than Nazis who sieg-heiled along with Hitler.

BERG:  “Pledge allegiance to Skycloth?  What are you talking about?”

MULLER:  The American flag, and the miltaristic ritual of standing for the national anthem before NFL games.

BERG:  Before what?

MULLER:  NFL games.

BERG:  That’s what I thought you said.  I don’t stand to pledge allegiance to the government.  I do it out of respect for what this nation is supposed to be about.  And other than some community opprobium, there’s really no consequence for not standing for the anthem.

MULLER:  But all the fuss about Kapernick and the other people taking a knee…

BERG:  I don’t really care.  Let ’em.  It costs nobody anything.

But – that team you support?

MULLER:  Go Vikes!

BERG:  Yeah – if I decide not to pay my part of the taxes for “The People’s Stadium”, and carry the protest on long enough, men with guns will beat down my door and take the money.  To pay for your recreation, sixteen Sundays a year.

So – “Skycloth”, consequence-free observance of an ideal.

Your NFL game?  My money being taken from me by force.  Which is either theft or slavery.

MULLER:  But…

BERG:  I know.  Principle.

And SCENE.

Remora

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is has just picked up a pound of coffee beans from the neighborhood coffee shop.  As he leaves, he notices Avery LIBRELLE sitting at a table.  BERG tries to look smaller, and starts to slink past to get to the door – but LIBRELLE notices him.

LIBRELLE:   Merg!

BERG:  Oh…hey, Avery.  What’s up?

LIBRELLE:   I’m leaving comments on your blog.

BERG:  Uh…OK.

LIBRELLE:   They call you out for being the amoral conservative scumbag you really are!

BERG:  Huh.  Just like my  mom always says.

LIBRELLE:   Hah!  I bet!  And I do it under a pseudonym, so nothing I say will ever get back to me!

BERG:  Huh.

LIBRELLE:  Because conservatives, being shriveled emotional husks of people, will track me down and attack me if they find out who is speaking truth to them!

BERG:  Hmmm.   Seems a little…hyper dramatic?

LIBRELLE:   And my comments are really, really long, because I have a lot to say!  Stuff that will enlighten the mouth-breathing morons that read your blog!

BERG:  And I’m sure we’ll all appreciate it.

LIBRELLE:   You should!  I’m brilliant!

BERG:   Huh.  And then you’ll discuss the response to your comments?  Because that is not only the purpose of my comment section, but really the entire benefit of having online comments; to have a conversation, something from which everyone learns.

LIBRELLE:   Discussion?  Are you kidding me?  What do I, someone with thirty years experience as a liberal activist, have to learn from the brain-dead impotent fat bald hate-filled pieces of shit that read your garbage blog?

BERG:  Huh.   Well, I mean, among my regular commenters we have an M.D, a couple of engineers, a couple of scientists, some accountants, a lawyer or two, some writers – people who actually have to work with fact, logic and argumentation for a living.  You might learn something.

LIBRELLE:  From who?

BERG:  Er…right.

Hey – just a suggestion, here.  Don’t you have  a blog of your own?  “The LIbrelle Point Of View?” One where you are perfectly free to write anything you want, and have the discussions…

LIBRELLE:   …no “discussions” on my blog.  Any fat, bald, white, brain-dead pieces of crap who comment on my blog get blocked.  Life’s too short for idiots and scumbags.

BERG:  Anyway, why don’t you write these earth-shaking nuggets of truth on your own blog, since you don’t really intend to actually discuss your comments?

LIBRELLE:    But I get like five readers a day on my blog.  I can get the truth out to hundreds of people in your comment section.

BERG:  Huh.

LIBRELLE:   Hey, grab me a large latte, skim, extra syrup, organic only, while you’re up.

(And SCENE)

From Thin Air

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is ordering a cup of coffee and a bagel.

Brian FURIOUS, liberal opionblogger for “”MinnesotaLIberalAlliance.blogspot.com”, walks into the coffee shop.

FURIOUS:  Merg!

BERG:  Oh, hey, Brian…

FURIOUS:  I am Brian Furious, defender of fact, crusader of truth!

BERG:  Right.  Or…hey, Brian.

FURIOUS:  Don’t you deny it!  You’ve been writing about Ilhan Omar!

BERG:  Well, mostly I’ve been doing a combination of writing about people writing about Ilhan Omar, and writing about people writing about people writing about Ilhan Omar.  There’s a bit of a difference.

FURIOUS:  What you did was engage in race-baiting, saying that if someone comes to the US they should learn our laws and abide by them,

BERG:  We’ll come back to the “race-baiting” red herring in a bit.  But as re the other bit – you mean, like “learn and abide by our laws” like everyone who comes to the US – or, for that matter, goes to other countries – is supposed to do?

FURIOUS:  That’s not news!

BERG:  Not sure what you mean.  It’s not news that immigrants, like citizens, are supposed to follow the law?

Or do you mean the Ilhan Omar story?   Because it seems like there just might be some news there.  Even the mainstream liberal media seems to think so.

FURIOUS:  But you admitted you probably wouldn’t adhere to laws requiring a marriage license!

BERG:  Well, yeah – like Ms. Omar, I believe that marriages in one’s faith tradition that ignore state licensing are perfectly legitimate.   And, by the way, it’s not “illegal” to eschew the state license.

Anyway, let me repeat the important part; I defended Ilhan Omar’s “marriage in her faith tradition“, while noting that her explanation still left some questions.

You seem to have trouble recognizing that fact.  Perhaps you’re racist?

FURIOUS:  You’re just saying it’s about being “foreign” is just taking a change to stoke anti-immigrant fears and is, yes, race-baiting!   You’re demeaning her, and with her other Somalis for whom she’s an emblem because of her ethnicity.  You’re claiming it’s her “foreign-ness” which is the problem. 

BERG:  Er, yeah – I’d heard you wrote that.  The thing is,  I’ve never mentioned Ilhan’s “foreign-ness”, never alluded to it in anything I’ve ever written or said, never even hinted about it.  It’s a fabrication.

FURIOUS:  No, it’s not!

BERG:  Well, given that I’m supporting Abimalik Askar – a Somali immigrant – in the race for the seat, let’s just say it’s kinda weird.   So – if Ms. Omar’s “foreign-ness” is a problem, wouldn’t that of Mr. Askar – who is from the exact same place – also be a problem?

FURIOUS:  Clearly, Askar is not Somali!

BERG:  He was born in Somalia, and immigrated to the US in 1993.

FURIOUS:  Then it stands to reason you hate him too!

BERG:  Er, no – I’ve interviewed him on my show, and I’ll do it again.  He’s a very sharp guy and is quite clearly the best candidate for the job of any ethnic origin.

FURIOUS:  But he’s a ReTHUGliican!  Clearly he must hate Somalis!

BERG:  Huh.  Hey – look!  A shiny object!

[BERG slips quietly away as FURIOUS furiously whips his head around]

[And SCENE]

A Rhetorical Question

MINNESOTA CONSERVATIVE:  If a conservative, libertarian or Republican gets hit, spit on and otherwise attacked, and no media reports on it, did it really happen?

MINNESOTA LIBERAL:  If what happened to who?  Huh?

MINNESOTA CONSERVATIVE:  I said, if a conservative, libertarian or Republican gets hit, spit on and otherwise attacked, and no media reports on it, did it really happen?

MINNESOTA LIBERAL:  If what happened to who?  Again, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

MINNESOTA CONSERVATIVE:  Well, you got that part right

Welfare!

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is driving down a rural two-lane road near Rapid City, South Dakota. 

He notices a plume of smoke up ahead, so he steps on it to get closer.  Presently, he notices the burning car is a 12-year-old Subaru.  Standing by the side of the road, looking away from the car, is Avery LIBRELLE.  

BERG pulls over, pops his trunk, jumps out, and grabs a fire extinguisher.  He runs over to the car.  As he pulls the pin and points the extinguisher, LIBRELLE notices him. 

LIBRELLE:   Merg!   I’m driving among the red-state welfare queens!

BERG:   Avery, your car is burning! (Directs fire extinguisher towards engine compartment)

LIBRELLE:   Oh, yeah.  Don’t change the subject. Paul Krugman says that Red States get more money from taxpayers than they pay in…

BERG:   (distracted, as he extinguishes fire) Uh huh

LIBRELLE:   …while Blue states pay in more than they get back!

BERG:  (Coughing as cloud of smoky steam engulfs him, as the fire dies down).

LIBRELLE:   Red staters are welfare queens!

BERG:    (Finishing a bout of coughing).  Look, Avery.  See over there?  (BERG points over to Ellsworth Air Force Base).  See those planes over there?  Probably close to two dozen B1B bombers, which rolled off the dealer floor at $300,000,000 a piece and probably cost $30,000,000 a year apiece in fuel, maintenance, aircrew and ground crew salary, benefits and maintenance, not to mention the cost of the base itself in terms of people, supplies, and the cost of the very valuable farmland it and its associated training areas are built on?  Not to nThat’s tens of billions of dollars, just at this one red-state military base – which, divided among the sparse population.

Now – are you saying those planes, those personnel costs, all this physical infrastructure, is a transfer to the people of South Dakota?

LIBRELLE: (Idly stares at nearby prairie dogs).

BERG:  Then look over there (points at nearly Black Hills mountains).  That’s a huge national park.  Hundreds of thousands of acres, along with lots of other federal land.  Is that a transfer payment?

By the way – while there’s a ton of military spending and federal land, there’s a very tiny population with very low cost of living.  Blue staters pay lots of taxes because their cost of living, and income, are higher.  So – progressive taxation is suddenly bad?

LIBRELLE:   Yeah, you’re a racist, and why do you advocate killing Hillary Clinton?

BERG:  Naturally.

LIBRELLE:   Hey  (pointing at prairie dogs) – are they regstered to vote for their best interests?

BERG:  Not yet.  So – why did your car catch fire?

LIBRELLE:   Oh, yeah.  The oil light was on for like a month.

BERG:  Well, why didn’t you add oil?

LIBRELLE:   I didn’t want to enrich Big Oil.

(And SCENE)

Black Flag

SCENE:  A conference room at the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.   Special Agent Charles SIEGELMEYER, in charge of the Russian Online Political Espionage (ROPE) desk, sits at the head of the table.

In the room are Jared SCHLAUTERMEYER, a cybersecurity analyst with the ROPE desk, Juliana SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO, a senior Russian policy analyst, and Oscar VILLANUEVA-LOPEZ, from the Central Intelligence Agency.    SIEGELMEYER convenes the meeting.

SIEGELMEYER: OK.  Welcome to the task force on Russian political cyberespionage.   Juliana, do we have an update on the Clinton case?

SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO:  Nothing, really.  Nobody, either at State or at FBI can tell what Putin would stand to gain by punking Clinton.

SIEGELMEYER:  Devil’s advocate here – less defense of the Baltic States?

SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO:   At the risk of getting all of Europe to start rebuilding its military?

SIEGELMEYER:  I agree.  At worst, I think Putin is just imparting chaos, because…

SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO:  …chaos increases your options.

SIEGELMEYER:  Jared?

SCHLAUTERMEYER:  Well, so far it’s just a story. Nothing hard to pin it on.

SIEGELMEYER:  Huh.  So it sounds like this investigation…

SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO: …is at a standstill?

(SIEGELMEYER, SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO and SCLAUTERMAYER nod glumly)

VILLANUEVA-LOPEZ:  Let me interrupt here…?

SIEGELMEYER:  I’m sorry – this is Oscar Villanueva-Lopez, from the CIA.  You’re from the…

VILLANUEVA-LOPEZ:  I’m from the Cuba desk.  And we’ve really got one theory here.

SIEGELMEYER: Shoot.

SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO:  Let’s hear it.

SCHLAUTERMEYER:  Anything’s better than nothing.

VILLANUEVA-LOPEZ:  So the question is “who is running a cybermole operation in the US, we’ve had one big clue to work with.  In Cuba, the people at the top of the food chain are given to giving these loooooong speeches – four, five, even six or seven hours.  They just go on and on.  And sometimes it’s just babble; they’re not a whole lot more “accurate” than Kim Jong Un, plus they’re all full of that Latino sense of drama.  It literally is about hearing their gums flap.

SIEGELMEYER:  Interesting.

SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO:  Huh

SCHLAUTERMEYER:  Fascinating.

VILLANUEVA-LOPEZ:  Now, at the CIA, one of our analytical tools is “Berg’s Law“, specifically Berg’s Seventh Law…

SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO:   …Oh, yeah!  “When a Liberal issues a group defamation or assault on conservatives’ ethics, character, humanity or respect for liberty or the truth, they are at best projecting, and at worst drawing attention away from their own misdeeds.”

VILLANUEVA-LOPEZ:  Wow – you use Berg’s Seventh here at FBI, too?

SIEGELMEYER:  Absolutely.

(SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO and SCHLAUTERMEYER nod in enthusiastic agreement)

VILLANUEVA-LOPEZ:  Excellent.  So the DNC has accused the GOP of colluding with a foreign power, that means…

SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO:  Someone at the DNC is colluding with a foreign power.

SCHLAUTERMEYER:  Damn.

VILLANUEVA-LOPEZ:  And the Russians are know to work through proxies.  What you need to do is find a long-winded liberal commentator who makes endless proclamations, puffed up with lots of drama and strurm und drang, but all talk.  Not just any long-winded BSers – the longest-winded, most BS-addled ones!

SIEGELMEYER:   And they’ll be a Cuban mole?

VILLANUEVA-LOPEZ:  Yep.

(SIEGELMEYER, SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO and SCHLAUTERMEYER nod in agreement).

SCHMIDT-BULAWAYO:  So we just need to find an American liberal commentator that goes on and on and on and on, and never really says anything of value?

SCHLAUTERMEYER:  Hmmm.

SIEGELMEYER:  We’ll obviously have to continue this discussion.  I’ll schedule a meeting on Monday.

Who.  Who, indeed.

And SCENE 

 

Wolf!

SCENE:  Mitch BERG steps out of the rest room at City Hall as Avery LIBRELLE steps around the corner.

Distracted, visibly in distress, LIBRELLE walks into BERG.

BERG:  (Stepping back)  Oh … (a little nonplussed, as LIBRELLE doesn’t react, lost in  anxiety)…er, sorry…?

LIBRELLE:   Oh, Merg.  Right.  I’m just worried about this country.

BERG:  After eight years of Obama, join the club.

LIBRELLE:   Har di har.  No, serious.  The GOP has nominated a candidate who is the worst human being in the world.  A genuine Nazi.  A man who is the biggest racist in American politics, and who is so clogged with hate that he can barely sit down.

BERG:  Is that so?

LIBRELLE:  Yes.  And yet, his poll numbers remain a challenge to Herself.

BERG:  Huh.  Why do you suppose that is?

LIBRELLE:  The American people have lost their ability to reason.

BERG:  Huh.

LIBRELLE:  We’re pointing out what a horrible human he is, and the American people are ignoring it.

BERG:  Huh.  What – again?

LIBRELLE:  (Nonplussed)  What do you mean by that?

BERG:   What did you all say about Ronald Reagan?

LIBRELLE:  That his presidency would lead to a nuclear war, that he was a racist, that he was going to draft all teenagers to go to war for Exxon, that he was a stooge of big business, that he wanted to create a nuclear armageddon to enhance his power…

BERG:  Huh.  And Bush Senior?

LIBRELLE:  That he was a stooge of Big Oil, that he’d inherited his father’s Nazi sympathies, that he was a warmonger…

BERG:  Right.  And Dubya?

LIBRELLE:  That he was a bigger Nazi than Hitler, than he was a stooge of big oil, that he was a racist, than he hated children, that he’d never relinquish power, that he was stupid, that he wanted a nuclear war to hasten his fundamentalist faith’s version of Armageddon…

BERG:   None of which turned out to be true.

LIBRELLE:  Er…it’s all true!

BERG:   No, I mean, none of the claims turned out to be factual.  And yet every time a Republican runs for office, you get the same chatter.

LIBRELLE:   What do you mean?

BERG:   How would you describe Republican Senate candidate Al Franken?

LIBRELLE:   He’s a racist and a Nazi and a Klansman who’d send our children to war for Big Oil because he’s in the pocket of the Koch brothers and ALEC and the NRA, he hates children and would drive elderly widows into the street to satisfy Big Power, that he wants to launch a war to satisfy his toxic fundamentalist Christianity..,

BERG:   Right. Al Franken is a Democrat, a secular Jew.  But once I said “Republican”, you switched to autopilot . Just the way the media does.

This is the eventual result of decades of liberal media bias; it’s like the Little Boy who Cried Wolf; people have tuned out the propaganda, just in time for you to face a candidate who actually is troublesome – not to mention a Democrat.

LIBRELLE:  (Stands, stunned)

BERG:  See ya, Avery.

LIBRELLE:  (Slowly turns) But…But…

And SCENE

 

10:15 Thursday Night

Mitch BERG is walking on the sidewalk past the “Safe Space” – a Saint Paul bar catering to “progressives”, featuring free-range beer, organic locally-sourced chips and pretzels, and gluten-free “everyone wins” dart boards.

Suddenly, Avery LIBRELLE gets off the bus, and removes a set of Apple earbuds connected to an iPhone.  LIBRELLE notices BERG.  

LIBRELLE:  Hey, Merg!

BERG:   Ugh.  I mean, hi, Avery.

LIBRELLE:   So.  Donald Drumpf’s speech was dark and dystopian.

BERG:   Well, that was quick.  The speech ended literally a minute ago.   So you listened to it.

LIBRELLE:   Oh, hell no.  I listened to NPR’s wrapup after I heard on Snapchat that the actual speech was over.

BERG:   So – less than thirty seconds after the speech was over, NPR and the rest of the media, more or less at the same time, labelled the speech “dark and dystopian?”

LIBRELLE:  Yep!  Because it was!

BERG:  And you don’t think these are dark and dystopian times for a lot of the people who’ve come out of the woodwork to support Trump?

LIBRELLE:  Mark Shields and Gwen Ifill and David Brooks said it’s a great time to be optimistic!

BERG:  Sure.  It’s a great time to be part of the DC echo chamber, with an inflated, legacy-media salary.  But if you’re a WalMart assistant manager in Mississippi, or a machinist in Milwaukee, or a coal miner in West Virginia, it’s kinda scary out there.

LIBRELLE:  Bla bla bla.  After eight years of Barack Obama, America is a wonderous place!  Drumpf is a traitor for accentuating the negative!

BERG:  So you’re saying it’s wrong to accentuate the negative…

LIBRELLE:  Yes!

BERG:  …when things are either positive or kinda in between, overall?

LIBRELLE:  Absolutely!  It’s utterly and completely dishonest!

BERG:   Ah.  So in general, when someone talks about something that’s improved as if it’s been going the wrong way, it’s a lie?  Or even something that’s been net-neutral as if it’s been a complete negative?

LIBRELLE:  Lies, lies, lies!

BERG:    So when a candidate says “gun crime is out of control” when it’s dropped 50% in 20 years?   Or that “women get paid 76% of what men make” when it’s actually pretty close to even when you compare men and women with the same backgrounds in the same fields, and women under 30 are actually starting to out-earn men?  Or that “one in five women in college will be raped” or “black men are astronomically more likely to be shot by the police, and it’s because of racism”?

LIBRELLE:  Yeah!

BERG:  (Waits two beats)

LIBRELLE:  Heyyyyyy!

(And SCENE)

Scenarios

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is working on the potato boxes in his backyard.    Avery LIBRELLE walks through the back gate into BERG’s back yard.

LIBRELLE:  Hey, Merg!  The case of workplace violence in Orlando proves that it’s time for America to get serious about guns.

BERG:    We did.  Or at least parts of the country did; the parts that ratcheted up the penalties for gun crimes, and seriously prosecuted straw buyers, saw a marked decrease in gun crimes.   Of course, that wasn’t “sexy” enough for the Democrat-run governments of most major cities – so while the rest of the nation’s crime rate plummets, in major Democrat-run cities it’s rising…

LIBRELLE:  I’m already bored.   The Orlando workplace violence episode proves that guns are no defense.

BERG:   It showed that a cop working security was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that Mateen, unlike most mass shooters, didn’t fold up when he ran into resistance.   As might befit someone who was carrying out a terror attack, as opposed to someone just seeking immortality as a spree killer.  That’s just a theory…

LIBRELLE:  …I’m still bored.

BERG:  Well, bore yourself with this; had a any person in that club had a legal, permitted firearm, they could have stopped the shooting.

LIBRELLE:  Can you guarantee that?

BERG:   There are no guarantees in life.  But I’d like to talk you through three hypothetical scenarios.

LIBRELLE:  Don’t make me bored!

BERG:   What’s with the boredo…oh, never mind .

Scenario 1:  You’re out at a bar.  Someone starts shooting.   People around you are getting hit left and right.

Suddenly, a schlub nearby sees an opportunity while the shooter is shooting the other way; they draw their legal handgun, and they kill the attacker.

LIBRELLE:  That’s unrealistic.

BERG:  Why?

LIBRELLE:  The attacker would shoot them first.    They’d sense they were about to be attacked, and turn and kill them.  Which would just make it worse for everyone else in the club.

BERG:  What, you think mass shooters are superman ninja warriors or something?

LIBRELLE:  Doesn’t matter.  That never happens.

BERG:   By my count, it’s happened at least sixteen times in recent years.

But that  brings us to the second scenario.  Let’s say a citizen draws, and misses, or doesn’t kill the shooter, and the shooter kills the citizen.  That’d be tragic – but it’d throw the shooter’s plan off, and give people time to escape in the confusion, and probably safe at least a few lives.

LIBRELLE:  You’re dreaming.

BERG:   Well, it’s happened.  But it probably beats the third scenario.

LIBRELLE:  Which is?

BERG:  (Very, very quietly, with an air of fervent, quiet concentration).  You’re at a bar.  (LIBRELLE listens intently; BERG continues, quietly).  Shooting rings out.  People are dying left and right.  But the bar is a gun-free zone, and everyone in the bar followed the law tonight.  So there’s exactly one armed person in the joint – the mass shooter, motivated by hate, or desire for immortality, or on a terror mission.  And the shooter keeps on going, blasting away, killing defenseless person after defenseless person (BERG grows quieter, leaning toward LIBRELLE, who leans closer as well), killing everyone around you until…

(BERG stops)

LIBRELLE:  Until wha…

BERG:  (At a whisper) he lifts his gun, and (BERG yells at the top of his lungs) BOOM!  RIGHT AFTER YOU PROJECTILE CRAP YOURSELF WITH FEAR, HE BLOWS YOUR F****NG HEAD INTO A MILLION F****NG PIECES ALL OVER THE WALL!

LIBRELLE:  (Leaps backward eyes, wide  with fear, transfixed, hyperventilating).

BERG:  Your choice.

LIBRELLE:  (Quickly shuffles out of BERG’s back yard).

BERG:  Seriously, Avery.  It is your choice.

(And SCENE).

Cop Resident

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is buying topsoil at Kern Landscaping in Saint Paul.    Busily loading his car, he doesn’t notice Avery LIBRELLE climbing out of an oil-belching Subaru wagon to make a deposit.  

LIBRELLE:  Merg!  If we elect Hillary, we’ll get Bill Clinton for co-president!

BERG:  So?

LIBRELLE:  That means the economy will boom!

BERG:  Wait – didn’t NPR tell me the economy is already booming?

LIBRELLE:  It’ll boom even more!

BERG:  OK.  So we’ll get Bill Clinton.  Will we also get Newt Gingrich?

LIBRELLE:  No.  Why?  Hisssssssssssssss!

BERG:  Because it was the Gingrich Congress’s enforcement of fiscal discipline on the Clinton Administration after the 1994 Republican Wave that kept the Feds out of the way of the economic boom.  By the way, speaking of boom – will there be any empires falling, paving the way for a massive transfer of resources from the military?

LIBRELLE:  Huh?

BERG:  The “Peace Dividend”.  When the USSR collapsed – thanks to Ronald Reagan – the US was able to move a lot of defense spending to civilian uses.  Which dumped a ton of money, skill and technology into the civilian market.   Which led, after a brief recession, to the beginning of a boom that ran until 9/11.

So – if Hillary plans to bring back a conservative Congress and has another “peace dividend” in her purse, we might have ourselves a deal.

LIBRELLE:  (Stands, mutely flapping jaw)

BERG:  Have a nice day, Avery.

(And SCENE)

Bigotry And Phobia!

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is trimming weeds by his driveway with a grass whip.  

Before he can react, Avery LIBRELLE – who is walking through the alley making notes about people who aren’t separating their recycling – surprises him.  

LIBRELLE:  Hey, Merg!   Why are you people so panicky about transgenders picking their own restrooms?

BERG:  I’m not.  The whole thing is a tempest in a teapot – except of course for the Feds stepping in to make, literally, a federal issue about something that is really no issue at all.

LIBRELLE:  But you Republicans are all angry and scared!

BERG:  Enh.  Not me.  I’ve worked around some transgendered people.  It’s really no big deal.

LIBRELLE:   Ha ha ha ha ha!  Hah!  You should know that transgender people are very very unlikely to commit any crime at all!

BERG:  Right.  I know that.  But let me ask you, Avery – since transgendered people have a very very very low crime rate, we shouldn’t be imposing all sorts of pointless regulations on who goes into what restroom?

LIBRELLE:   Right!  That would be bigoted and transphobic!

BERG:  Bigotry and a design-your-own phobia!  Exactly!  Being mortally afraid of, and imposing pointless regulations that will have absolutely no affect on crime, on populations that have essentially negligible offense rates, is bigotry and phobia!

LIBRELLE:  Exactly!

BERG:  (Getting excited)  In fact, we should never impose pointless rules and regulations on people who commit vastly fewer crimes than the general population, because such regulations are rooted in bigotry and fear!

LIBRELLE:  Yes!  Absolutely!

BERG:  All of them!

LIBRELLE:  All of them! (LIBRELLE leaps up, kicks heels in glee)

BERG:  So background checks for law-abiding citizens transferring guns are…

LIBRELLE:  (Not quite realizing the change in subject) Phobic and bigo…HEY!

And SCENE. 

Hearings

Joe Doakes convenes a meeting of the Immigration Integration Advisory Task Force, via email:

C: This session of the Immigration Integration Advisory Task Force will come to order. The Secretary will call the roll:
S: Madam Chairman . . .
C: Excuse me. I find that offensive. I prefer a gender-neutral title.
S: Certainly Madame Chair.
C: I am not a “Chair,” I am a human being. And I am offended by “Madame.” I prefer a gender-neutral title for that, too, in case I change my mind about my gender while we’re in session. You can address me as “Mix.”

Continue reading

Fear The Walking Dead: Exit 288

SCENE: The prairie.  It’s the dead of winter.  The sky sweeps above in 180 degrees of piercing blue, studded with a few isolated scudding clouds, pale with the reflections of frozen ice crystals in the air, as the very humidity itself is frozen.  The wind is light – 10 mph – as it sweeps across the plains.   As far as the eye can see, there is snow.  

A squad car rolls up a four lane freeway.  Behind the wheel, Officer Tom CHRISTIANSON, a Barnes County sheriff’s deputy, sails briskly up the road, his whoopie lights turned off.  CHRISTIANSON, a trim, purposeful man in his late thirties, looks tired, even a little haggard, but his eyes are focused and fierce.    The camera briefly focuses on a green freeway sign:  “Fargo 72; Valley City 12”.  And then another:  “Exit 288 – No Services”.

CHRISTIANSON slows and pulls up behind a Ford F150 Club Cab, which is idling on the shoulder of the eastbound lane just east of the exit  He climbs out of his squad car, dons his stetson, and walks up to the pickup, his breath steaming in the bitter cold as it blows away.  

Jake and Donna STADEL, a thirty-something couple, are standing by the tailgate.  Jake is carrying a hunting rifle; Donna, a long-barreled hunting shotgun.   CHRISTIANSON shakes Jake and then Donna’s hands.  

CHRISTIANSON:  Jake.  Donna.

J STADEL:   Deputy.

D STADEL:   Tom.

J STADEL:   So is it true what they’ve been saying?

CHRISTIANSON:  (Shakes head in a way that says “just a little numb from fatigue and confusion”).  No idea.  Last thing anyone knows is that all the TV and cable networks went off the air.

J STADEL:   Did you see that one live newscast where they…

D STADEL:  …overran the news crew live on the air, on camera…

J STADEL:  In the middle of that riot?

(All three go silent, shaking their heads, wincing in horror at the horrid memory).

CHRISTIANSON:   Yep.  I did.

J STADEL:   So they’re saying they (thumb points over shoulder, off-camera to the right) are pretty much everywhere these days?

CHRISTIANSON:   The whole east coast.  All of California.  The whole deep south.  Even the desert southwest.  The last ham-radio transmissions say they’re pretty much the only thing left walking in those parts of the country.   There’s a few survivors, I suppose, but they’re few and far between.

J STADEL:  Jeez.

D STADEL:  God.

CHRISTIANSON:  Yep.

J STADEL:  So we’re…

CHRISTIANSON:  Us and South Dakota, northern Minnesota, Montana, the U.P,. Alaska, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta, Russia, Finland…

(All three shake their heads as the thought trails off).

CHRISTIANSON:  Well, thanks for calling this in.  Let’s get to it.

(Camera pulls back and pans right, and we see a large herd of zombies trailing off to the east, perhaps two hundred of them – all of them frozen stiff; a few jerk fitfully about and hack and gack feebly; most are utterly frozen.  The three grab machetes and axes, and walk toward group and start hacking).

CHRISTIANSON:  You still doing poker on Friday, Jake?  (Grunts has he hacks off a frozen head)

J STADEL:  Oh, ya.  You betcha. Won’t be there until after Shania’s basketball game.  (Plunges knife into zombie skull)

CHRISTIANSON:  How’s the team doing this year?

D STADEL:  She’s finally getting enough playing time.  Now we just gotta get her chemistry grade up…  (Smashes a head with an axe)

CHRISTIANSON:  I had to take away Ashley’s X-box…

(Fade to black over mundane small talk as the three matter-of-factly go about lopping off frozen zombies).  

(And SCENE)

Virtue Whistles

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is shopping in the dairy aisle at Target in Roseville.  

Suddenly, Avery LIBRELLE rounds the corner.  With LIBRELLE is Ashley FIGG, a young woman of apparently mixed but minority-ish ethnicity.  

LIBRELLE:   Merg!  It’s time for you to admit your privilege!

BERG:  OK.  I was born into an intact family who made sure I stayed in school, kept my pants zipped until I could support a family, and ensured I grew up knowing that actions had consequences.

LIBRELLE:   No, no, no.  You’re white!  I want to introduce you to Ashley Figg.  She is a student at Macalester College.

BERG:  Ms. Figg.

(FIGG glowers at BERG)

LIBRELLE:  We’re going to have a debate!

BERG:  A debate?

LIBRELLE:  Yes.  First, Ms. Figg.

BERG:  …I”m not really…

FIGG:   You are white.  You have privilege.

LIBRELLE:  Your turn, Merg.

BERG:  Um, OK.  Ms. Figg, what is it you would have us do about this “privilege” you talk about.

FIGG:  The fact that you even ask is racist.

BERG:  Um, how do you figure?

FIGG:  That’s racist, too.

BERG:  Seeking clarity in the discussion is “racist?”

FIGG:   You’re using your power over me.  That’s racist.

BERG:  That’s just bizarre.

FIGG:  F**k you.  I hate you.  I hope you die.

BERG:  (Turns to LIBRELLE):  Er, Avery?  What’s the…

LIBRELLE:  We should stop the debate…

BERG:  …um, yeah?

LIBRELLE:  Because clearly, Merg, you are racist.

BERG:  What, now?  I never mentioned race.

LIBRELLE:   You were using your power, being a racist.   Being a racist, race is endemic in everything you say, and do, and don’t say, and don’t do.  Right, Ashley?

(FIGG glowers)

BERG:  Lavrentiy Beria called.  He said “dial back the kangaroo”.

LIBRELLE:   And now you’re mansplaining.

BERG:  (Looks beyond FIGG and LIBRELLE).  Hey, look – it’s Hillary Clinton!  And she’s giving out suckers!

(LIBRELLE and FIGG wheel around, as BERG slips away)

(And SCENE)

(LIghts fade up in screening room.  BERG is sitting in the middle of the room.  A few rows behind, covered in popcorn debris and spilled soda, are Edmund DUCHEY and CAT SCAT, bloggers with “MinnesotaLiberalAlliance.Blogspot.com” a possibly fictional Minnesota liberal blog.  )

(DUCHEY leaps to his feet, scattering popcorn debris in all directions)

DUCHEY:  Merg!  Unless you can prove every word in that film short was true, you’re a liar!.  (Pauses to wipe drool from his chin).

BERG:  It’s satire.  It’s meant to illustrate larger truths through a caricature of people and events.  In this case, that the left’s social justice warrior class has become simultaneously obsessed with virtue-signaling, McCarthyistic witch-hunting and public shaming of dissenters, while simultaneously becoming less able to state a coherent case.

SCAT:  The fact is, the law says you have to have a degree in satire from an Ivy League school to practice it!

BERG:  You’re making that up.

DUCHEY:  So you’re saying it never happened?  Hah!

BERG:  Actually, of the dozens and dozens of these “dramatization” scenarios I’ve written in recent years, this one may be the least fictional of all.

DEUS (EX MACHINA, via thunderstorm).  You’re kidding?

(Urine stain appears on DUCHEY’s pants)

BERG:  (Looking upward)  Nope.    It pretty much happened.

DEUS EX MACHINA:  Wow.

(And SCENE)

 

In-Kind Contribution

SCENE:  At the offices of Kornbluth Chadwick Communications – a big Democrat-leaning PR firm in Boston.   A tastefully spare room furnished in the Danish style, with a full-height window overlooking downtown Boston, includes a number of people in just-ahead-of-the-fashion-curve PR-wear.  

Hanna EPSTEIN-FAEGER, director of the firm’s political communications practice, sits at the head of a glass table and calls the meeting to order. 

EPSTEIN-FAEGER:  We’re here to find out what went wrong with the independent expenditure ad we did against Ted Cruz.  Ruth?

Ruth LOWENSTEIN-NEDZVINSKI, an assistant project manager, picks up a sleek, buttonless remote, and presses “play”

EPSTEIN-FAEGER: I think we can all agree it was brilliant.  Joshua?

Joshua-Micah KORN-FLEEBER, the ad’s producer – a slight man in a lumberjack beard wearing a “Feel The Bern” t-shirt under his hemp sports jacket, speaks up.

KORN-FLEEBER:  That’s correct, Hanna.  The ad includes all the things that we believe that the vast majority of voters respond to:  belief in the need to reinterpret the Constitution, the throbbing desire throughout the country to repeal the Second Amendment and the traditional view of marriage and remove all reference to faith from public life – and, of course, Robert Reich himself.

LOWENSTEIN-NEDSVINSKI:  Americans  love Robert Reich!\

(Entire table nods assent)

EPSTEIN-FAEGER:  And yet the focus groups, one after the other, showed that representative voters from west of the Hudson River and east of the Sierra Madre unanimously thought it was an ad for Ted Cruz?

KORN-FLEEBER:  I’m sorry.  I just don’t get it.

LOWESNSTEIN-NEDSVINSKI:  One quote from one focus group said “this is a fiendish parody of the east-coast liberal echo chamber”.

EPSTEIN-FAEGER:  The what?

LOWENSTEIN-NEDSVINSKI:  No idea.

(Muted chuckling)

EPSTAIN-FAEGER:  So – middle-Americans unanimously thought it was a pro-Cruz ad, and some thought it was a parody of how the left thinks?

(General nodding)

EPSTEIN-FAEGER:  I say it’s a blip in the data.  Let’s run it!

(Everyone nods and gathers their notebooks, phones and tablets and moves to their next meeting)

And SCENE

The Slogan-Based Life

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is at a hardware store, shopping for a chainsaw sharpener, when around the corner steps Bud GUNKEL, chairman of the CD2 chapter of “Former Republicans for Ron Paul”.  

GUNKEL:  Hey, Merg.  The only way to fix the system is…

BERG:  …yeah, I heard it.  To “withhold your consent from it“.   Feel free to tell the IRS, the BATFE and the Minnesota Department of Revenue you’ve “withheld your consent”; I’m sure everyone will get a good laugh but you.

GUNKEL:  He who would trade freedom for security…

BERG:  …deserves neither.  Good Lord, Bill, do you people ever communicate in anything but the form of clichés?   I mean, do you even know what that means?

GUNKEL:  It means he who would trade liberty for security deserves…

BERG:  …neither.  Yep, I got that.  Again.  I mean, have you thought through what it means?

GUNKEL:   What are you talking about?  What else could there be?

BERG:  Here’s another quote for you; without order, prosperity is impossible.  Without prosperity, liberty is pointless.

GUNKEL:  So you’d give up…

BERG:  …no, no, no, stop right there.   Here’s a quote back atcha; without order, prosperity is impossible.

GUNKEL:  So you want to be like a herd animal…

BERG:  No.  “Order” is a very broad term!   It just means that there’s a general understanding that everyone is playing by the same rules, and that if you bring you product to market, there’ll be consequences for people who try to steal it on the way to the market, or swindle you when they get there.

“Order” can mean “a voluntary agreement that whose end of, everyone holds up”, like the anarchists say; that’s perfectly legitimate.  And it can mean full-blown Danish bureaucracy regulating the transaction, or a medieval baron making sure everyone upholds their end of the bargain for the good of his fiefdom.   And the whole American experiement was built around the idea that order should be maintained with the minimum amount of government and force possible – while allowing for the inevitability, given human nature, that some was likely to be needed at some point.

GUNKEL:  So you mean government!  Government is theft!  Nothing but!

BERG:  Sure, if you let it get out of control.  And we in the US largely have, and that’s a very valid discussion to have.  But the fact is, human nature being what it is, it’s inevitable that if the means of keeping order disappear, while 99% of the people will be just fine, there’s that 1% who’ll decide that what they want is what you got.  It can be a mugger, it can be those accursed Methodists, it can be that whole group of people over the ridge that think your ancestors stole from their ancestors, whatever.

GUNKEL:  So you’re a warvangelical?

BERG:  No – I merely observe human nature.  As I observed in my book, while the vast majority of humans are perfectly content to live and work and produce and interact peacefully, there are some that prefer to take what others produce.  It’s just easier.

GUNKEL: So  you’d give up freedom for thirteen pieces of silver?

BERG:  Wow – way to mix milieus.  Here’s another quote for you:  without prosperity, freedom is irrelevant.  If you don’t have prosperity – if you’re a hunter-gatherer or a subsistence farmer – “freedom” is a very relative thing.  You’re free to speak and worship and assemble – but you’re busy seeing to your survival from dawn to dusk, year-round, like a medieval fyrd.  Which means not only are your more abstruse freedoms irrelevant, but you have neither the time nor the energy to see to things like prosperity and order – making you ripe pickings for anyone who wants to take what you’ve worked for.  And this time you’ll have no surplus to see to your very survival!   Which is, by the way, a condition that also makes you ripe pickings for whomever would call himself your king, either against your will or, as tired and close to starvation as you are by this point, with your full consent.

GUNKEL:  So you will trade freedom for security!  Hah!

BERG:  You make it sound like a binary, black or white thing.

GUNKEL:  It is!    If you don’t have all the freedom, you have none of it!

BERG:   That’s just madness.  You say because the American people have given up some freedom, we’re no different than North Korea?

And no.  I won’t trade my freedom, all or nothing, for security – not while I have anything to say about it.   I will, as a constituent of a limited government that has a few carefully-enumerated jobs, engage some agents to keep the order we all need.  And no more.

GUNKEL:  That’s not how government works today!

BERG:  You’re telling me!  Y’see, that’s the problem with “libertarians”; they take poli-sci class absolutes and try to apply them to the real world.   So I’ll do it back atcha:  without prosperity, freedom is academic; without order, prosperity is impossible.  Therefore, without order, paradoxically, freedom is impossible.

GUNKEL:  So you say freedom is impossible?

BERG:   Nope.  I am saying that while absolute tyranny is very possible, absolute freedom cannot exist in a world where others have the “will to power” to become tyrants.

There is a trade-off; it’s the job of a free people to simultaneously see to the order that enables the prosperity that makes freedom possible, and make sure the “order” they create doesn’t become oppressive.

GUNKEL:  All involuntary order is oppressive!

BERG:  So you throw off a “government” that governs by consent of the governed…

GUNKEL:  Yes!

BERG:   And live in a world with only “gentlemens agreements” for order…

GUNKEL:  Yes!

BERG:   So that you can be conquered or killed by someone who took advantage of the fact that you have no means to see to public order?

GUNKEL:  Er…yes!  Better dead than…er…

BERG:  Naturally.

And SCENE

Never Let It Be Said The Left Doesn’t Get Economics

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is getting a cup of coffee.  Aaron ROSTON, a writer at the (possibly fictional) progressive blog “MinnesotaLiberalAlliance.Blogspot.com“, walks up behind him in the line, looking for a free refill.  ROSTON is a crossing guard at a school in rural southern Minnesota, and is a bullying activist – mostly focusing on promoting bullying of children of conservatives.

ROSTON:  Merg! The economy is doing great!  Look at all the new jobs!

BERG:  2/3 of the new jobs are minimum wage.    Times are OK, so far – provided you’re a college educated professional.  If you’re poor, or black, or low-skilled, not so much.

ROSTON:  So it’s time to raise the minimum wage.

BERG:  Raising the minimum wage just rewards some workers by causing others to get laid off.  Prosperity is the only real minimum wage hike.  Here’s the alarming part; the best measure of an economy is how fast people move up and out of the lowest economic quintile.  We used to be among the best in the worlds.  Now, most of the Western world is better than we are.

ROSTON:  Well, funny you should mention that.  Income mobility was pretty good back under the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, when the tax rates were much higher.  Hmmmmmmmmm.

BERG:  Wait, what’s with the theatrical “hmmmmmmmm”?

ROSTON:  It proves you have been outfoxed.

BERG:  Well, no.  It’s a false correlation.  In the fifties and sixties, the US had the world’s only functional economy.  Japan and Germany were still recovering from the war; Singapore and South Korea and Taiwan were third-world hellholes; China was an Orwellian  dystopia; India was still at the bottom of its experiment with “democratic socialism”.

The US was the only place where things actually could get built; it was the world’s only functional market.  We could afford high taxes, and cushy union jobs, because we were the only place actually building things.

Correlation doesn’t equal causation.  Ascribing mobility to higher taxes is the same as chalking them up to the fact that “laws against sexual harassment and racism were more lax in the fifties”; they were facts that corresponded in time, but weren’t related.

ROSTON:   What?  You’re a racist!

BERG:  Um, no.  That was an illustration…

ROSTON:  I will not interact with racists and sexists!

(ROSTON winds up and throws his coffee cup toward BERG from a range of three feet.  And misses.  ROSTON stomps away in a huff – grabbing a handful of sugar packets from the credenza on his way out).

BERG: (Sotto voce) Never let it be said that liberals suck at economics.

And SCENE.