“Lee died in the service of his country.”


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When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. ~ Maya Angelou

That goes for institutions as well as people. When a person or an institution reveals something that makes you think, “That can’t possibly be true,” don’t think that if you overlook it, the truth will go away. It won’t.

I’d like to apply this insight to the way our government treated Lee Oswald. Lee’s mother, Margeurite Oswald, was right when she declared that her son died in the service of his country. The people who betrayed him, however, made him a scapegoat, and scapegoats have no one to speak for them at the time of their ostracism. They are completely alone, and no one helps them.

Lee Oswald shortly after his arrest

The more you learn about Oswald, the more you understand why he looks the way he does in the photographs taken after his arrest on November 22, 1963. In particular, you come to understand the shape and expression of his lips, interpreted at the time as a smirk.

Killing: Oswald is seen here being led through Dallas Police Station after being arrested on suspicion of assassinating President John F Kennedy. He was later shot and killed himself by Jack Ruby

Lee Oswald handcuffed

The more you look in to Kennedy’s murder, the more you hear the argument, “If all those conspiracy theories were correct, someone would have talked. Where are they?” Actually, the answer to that question is rather complicated. The simple answer for our present purpose is that people have talked. Sometimes we don’t care to hear their voices. Often, they suffer ostracism and even death in the same way that Oswald did.

One person who waited forty-five years to tell her story, and Lee’s story, is Judyth Vary Baker. She worked with David Ferrie, Mary Sherman, and Lee Oswald in New Orleans during the summer of 1963. In a year, every member of that foursome was dead except for Judyth Vary. We are lucky she survived, for the memoir she published in 2008 tells a story that no one else could tell. Her story explains Oswald’s fate. It exonerates him, and shows how he found himself accused of murdering the president on November 22, 1963.

Judyth Vary Baker as a high school student

The title of Vary’s book is Me and Lee. Get past the cover as quickly as you can. The cover designer does not show much respect for the author, I’ll say that. The cover suggests you are about to read a roman a clef, whereas the memoir’s content contains a lot more. Vary explains, by virtue of her detailed account of Oswald and his work, why Oswald could not have been the president’s assassin. She also explains how Oswald found himself in a position where the Dallas police and the FBI could accuse him of the murder.

By late July 1963, Oswald foresaw that he would be whacked, just as Ferrie and Sherman were. He did not know how or when it would happen, but he knew he was vulnerable. He worked for both the CIA and the FBI, but he could not trust anyone in either of those organizations. When the Dallas police arrested him on Friday afternoon, November 22, the arrest did not come as a surprise to him. He cried, “This is it!” as police pulled him from his seat.

Imagine what Oswald’s experience was like during the forty-eight hours between his apprehension on November 22, and his murder on November 24. Interrogated during the night and day, beaten about the face and anywhere else the Dallas police wanted to make their mark, paraded in front of journalists as the most hated man on the planet, friendless and without counsel, Oswald had to operate on his own, and suffer unbidden infamy without assistance.

Once you learn that Oswald worked for the CIA and FBI, and learn what he did for them, so many puzzles related to Kennedy’s assassination resolve themselves. Government’s account of the crime explains nothing. Vary’s description of Oswald demonstrates what kind of a person he was. Most assuredly, he was a patriot. He was not a lone nut.

Don’t try to wish war away


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Russia invaded Ukraine yesterday. What was the headline in Reuters? Ukrainian prime minister Poroshenko accuses Russia of invading Ukraine. The US and EU still do not want to acknowledge what has been true since Russia invaded Crimea: Ukraine and Russia are at war. We still talk about separatists and Russian troop movements, but we can’t speak about the truth: Russia wants at least eastern Ukraine as a satellite, and it has started a war with Ukraine to achieve that outcome. Why won’t we acknowledge that?

We don’t want to say the truth because the truth is too awful to think about. Ukraine wants to be part of the European Community. If Russia goes to war to prevent that, and we don’t acknowledge that, we can pretend the situation is less serious than it is. If we hang Ukraine out to dry, we look terrible. If we hang Ukraine out to dry, but manage to disguise that decision as “grave concern”, we can pretend to be a leader and potential protector when we’re not. We’ve expressed grave concern over Russia’s actions since February, and this week we see how far Putin is willing to go. He has decided not to disguise his aggression in eastern Ukraine any longer.

Everyone knows the question of how to respond to the war in Ukraine is a difficult one. It is the first international war in Europe proper since 1945, and it is terribly close to many other wars in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. We have tried to have it both ways with Russia, where we condemn its actions, but constantly say we have to gather more evidence to confirm what is obvious. It has started a war with Ukraine. The consequences of this war are big, because one of the combatants is Russia, and because Ukraine is such a key state for the West. It is for 2014 what Poland was in 1939. That does not mean we have to go to war with Russia. It does mean we have to acknowledge the truth about Russia’s aggression right now.

Like for like


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If someone shoots a tear gas canister at you, throw it back. Use the state’s own weapons against it.

When did it become alright in our country to use gas to disperse non-violent protesters? Who will demonstrate that this kind of police behavior is not okay? Edward Crawford shows us what we need to do. Turn the state’s own power back on itself, and exploit its weaknesses. That is how we citizens will muster the strength we need to exist. That is how we can prevent complete domination by forces that regard free citizens as a threat.EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUTEdward Crawford, 25, throws back a tear gas container just after midnight Aug. 13, in St. Louis. The now iconic photo has come to symbolize the militarized police force and civil unrest following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Government after government has tried to establish a permanent police state, and every single attempt has eventually failed. Let’s do what we must, now, to prevent that here.

Brother, can you spare a laparoscopic power morcellator?



Here are some thoughts related to Johnson & Johnson’s decision to stop selling its power morcellator, long after the FDA approved it to remove fibroid tissue inside a woman’s uterus, because evidence indicated it could spread cancer in women.

Laparascopic power morcellator.


Power morcellator, closeup.

We recognize a general tradeoff between innovation and regulation. That is, we are usually willing to slow development of new, potentially beneficial products and techniques in order to protect public safety. This principle of caution applies with special force to medicine: government regulates medical technology, devices, methods, drugs and so on to make sure innovation does not accidentally harm people.

So why do we have one case after another where the FDA fails to perform its mission? Are they careless or negligent? Do they not know how to analyze data or make judgments about risk? Are they in the pockets of the companies they regulate? Do they focus on the wrong things when they undertake their regulatory activities? Are they ignorant?

Twenty-first century power projection from your friends at the FDA.

One possibility escapes public discussion: suppose you can’t regulate innovation in the way the FDA thinks you can regulate it? What if a regulatory agency of this type necessarily experiences an astonishingly high failure rate, where it approves things that turn out to be dangerous, and prohibits things that, in other countries, turn out to be beneficial?

That is what we have found with the FDA. It does not get things right. The extraordinary power it exercises serves no one well.

May I have a permission slip?



We have a fairly new phrase to add to our political vocabulary. In addition to the surveillance state, we also have the permission state. You have to ask the state permission to do so much now. The state calls to mind the feds, but I’m thinking of state and local government as well as the national government. The more control they have over what you do, the better they like it. How do you exert control most effectively? Like parents who dominate their children in an unhappy household, you require that people ask for permission before they can do anything.

The remarkable thing about this state of affairs is that people seem to take it for granted. I have to have nearly a dozen permits and inspections in order to do substantial work on my house? Sure, where do I pay? The same readiness to comply without complaint seems to hold all across business, personal, and political life. Consider the lack of freedom that young adults experience in their high schools. Ask them if they don’t find the constraints a little tight, for an environment that is supposed to prepare you for autonomy in the wide world. They may look at you and say, “What constraints?” Permission based institutions are all they’ve known.

When war comes to your village


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A long time ago in graduate school I worked as a teaching assistant for a professor named Lane Davis. I handled the discussion groups for his introductory class in politics. For that class, we would read pieces of the canon, such as the Melian dialogue in Thucydides’ History of the Pelopponesian War, and Socrates’ famous dialogue with Thrasymachus in The Republic about the meaning of justice.

After we had a look at the various definitions of justice advanced by Thrasymachus and his friends, Lane would ask, “What was Socrates’ definition?” That query was a little difficult, of course, because Socrates often does not reveal all of his thinking when he questions his interlocutors. That’s particularly so in this conversation about justice. You know he doesn’t agree with Thrasymachus, that justice is the interest of the stronger, but what does he think?

Lane proposed a surprising answer: to do justice means to mind your own business. It’s surprising because it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with justice at all. How is minding your own business related to our everyday ideas about acting justly?

Think about the question this way. The Athenians told the Melians, “Whatever you might say about fairness, we’re stronger than you, and we’ll do whatever we like. That’s the way justice works between parties of unequal strength.” Thrasymachus endorsed that view. Now consider what minding your own business implies about human interactions. It altogether removes strength from the way people interact with each other. In fact, it greatly reduces the interactions. When people do interact, say, because they bear joint responsibility for something, they still focus on their own share of the activity. They do not meddle, scheme, give orders, conceal the truth, or undertake any of the other things you might do to have your own way. Having your own way does not matter to a just person.

These thoughts come to mind as we watch the war in Syria and Iraq become worse by the day. The Islamic State offers people – people who are weak and unable to resist its military might – a fourfold choice: convert to Islam, pay a fine, leave your home, or die. If the villagers try to act justly – that is, ignore the command as they go about their business – they will not find a similar conception of justice among the new strongmen in town. The strongmen act like the Athenians – we will do what we like with you. Whatever we say is just, that’s justice. Do as we say, and you can live.

Because aggressive warfare involves overt coercion in so many respects, times of war illustrate why minding your own business – following a principle of live and let live – defines the only way for people to live justly with one another. Every other mode of living – every other principle of interaction – results in conflict that deals injustice to weaker parties. People want power, not to protect others so they can go about their own business, but to take advantage of them.

All over the world, in our country and elsewhere, you see strong people having their way with the weak. The crimes of rape, murder, slavery, theft and torture all turn on this idea that stronger parties can impose their will on people too weak to resist. Warfare magnifies these crimes from individual acts to organized activities undertaken by armies, governments, guerilla bands, security forces, criminal organizations, tribes, political parties, and other groups who recognize how to use superior strength to get what they want. Those who cannot resist also cannot persuade these strongmen to stop their coercion. When war comes to their village they can only submit, and pray.

Our foreign policy: disingenuous impotence and dishonesty


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THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Today I authorized two operations in Iraq — targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, [and humanitarian aid].

Let’s parse the latest from the White House. What are targeted air strikes? I guess those are different from untargeted air strikes, like the ones we conducted for years in Afghanistan, where we mistakenly murdered people at weddings and funerals. We insisted those were targeted air strikes, too, only we missed. You wonder why the president feels he needs to tell us the air strikes he orders actually have targets. I guess he doesn’t want listeners to think we drop bombs and launch missiles indiscriminately. That would recall our missions to incinerate Japanese cities, which Curtis LeMay would say worked just fine.

The second part of the president’s announcement is interesting, too. He says that the purpose of targeted air strikes is to protect American personnel. No government official ever calls people people. People are always personnel. That reminds us that they are official people. In any case, almost all of our American personnel are in Baghdad, many of them sent there during the last month or so. Are they in danger because the Islamic State and its Sunni allies are launching attacks close to Baghdad?

According to the maps put out by the government’s propaganda partners, you bet our enemies are launching attacks close to Baghdad! Whether these attacks endanger American personnel in the Green Zone is another question. Whether we are launching air strikes near Baghdad is another question, too. If you read the news, you see we are launching air strikes against the Islamic State’s artillery positions in the north part of the country. We do not want to shoot up the ring of cities around Baghdad, no matter how many officials we have in the Green Zone. Shooting up the outskirts of Baghdad does not make good propaganda back home.

Nevertheless, the president wanted to reassure all of us that we will not be dragged into another shooting war in Iraq. Therefore he had to say that air strikes in the north part of the country were intended to protect Americans in the Green Zone (and Erbil, where we have a few more advisors to help the Kurds). It’s another illustration of the general rule: no matter what the government tells you, don’t believe it. Whatever a government official tells you, think about what’s actually going on.

That’s especially true of the president’s pronouncements, which generally illustrate the second rule of government discourse: the higher the official, the more likely the statement is untrue. The higher the official, the more responsibility the person has to hide the truth. The higher the official, the bigger the consequences if the truth does escape.

The third general principle relates truth to people’s relationships with each other. Friends tell each other the truth. Enemies use truth and lies interchangeably to achieve their selfish purposes. You figure out which category the government is in.

In this case, the government looks terrible when it lets thousands of Yazidis die of thirst in the mountains. It looks terrible when the Kurdish peshmerga have to fall back from their own cities and towns. It looks terrible – let’s just say it – when a country we fought hard to bring into the Western camp falls into two parts, one allied with our arch-enemy Iran, and the other conquered by a band of medieval barbarians who know how to fight. We don’t know what to do to counter a disaster like this. So we say we will launch air strikes to protect “our American personnel,” and we – government officials in particular – endeavor to act as if nothing especially bad has occurred – no more war coming your way.

Cheney and company wanted to add a major piece of Middle Eastern real estate to America’s empire. Iraq had so much to recommend it, with its central location. All we had to do was roll in our armor and hang Saddam. Saddam Hussein is dead, the armor is gone, and now the real estate deal does not look so appealing. Hubris goeth before a fall. Why? Because hubris in people like Cheney is nothing more than incompetence born of dishonesty. When you lie to other people, you lie to yourself as well. You think you are powerful, but you demonstrate for everyone that you are impotent: stupidly impotent.

We tortured some folks


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Did you see President Obama’s remarks about torture, as the Senate prepares to release the long-in-coming report on the matter? He said, “Yeah, our guys tortured some folks,” but we shouldn’t make too big a deal out of it. Journalists jumped on the word torture: like Voldemort, no one is supposed to use the dread word, though in this case people seemed to welcome the president’s candor. I’d say we should listen to the next two words: some folks. That seems a little casual to me.

I wonder how we would have reacted if George Wallace had said, back in the 1970s, “Yeah, our guys lynched some folks.” We shouldn’t make too big a deal out of it, Wallace might have added: it doesn’t happen anymore, at least not often. We have to look ahead. What would we think about Governor Wallace, or any leader, if he had said something like that about torturing blacks to death, burning them to death, and hanging them from trees?

Cool, casual Obama.

President Obama likes to use the word folks. He likes to be folksy. Dropping his g’s, as in the Republicans got “to stop hatin’ all the time,” becomes part of the presidential persona. To bring that casual tone to the subject of torture surprises me. “Yeah, we tortured some folks.” It sounds like a junior high schooler trying to be cool. “Yeah, we depantsed some guys after the game.” I guess the “folks” we waterboarded and hanged from walls at black sites should feel the same about their treatment as those guys who get mistreated in junior high school: it’s in the past – forget about it.

You know, when the president talks this way about torture, Voldemort resides comfortably in our deep politics, not to mention our conscience.

Science and money: competing elements of 9/11’s aftermath



What is the purpose of science? What is the purpose of scientific reasoning? The purpose of the whole enterprise – the logic, the testing, the evaluation of evidence – is to make the inexplicable, explicable. Before science, existed magic, superstition, and we have to admit it, religion. Before science, the sun – the source of life on our planet – had no rational explanation. We did not know why it rose and set. We had no idea how it generated so much heat. We still don’t know how it generates so much heat, for so long. That’s just what stars do. Some balls of gas apparently have their own furnace.

The 9/11 attacks present numerous inexplicable problems – puzzles if you like – that invite us to engage in scientific reasoning. Only that kind of reasoning can explain what, at a first look, appears inexplicable. Why did U. S. air defenses fail? Why did the FAA not follow its standard procedures? Why did the debris at the Pentagon not include parts from a large passenger jet? Why was the debris near Shanksville spread over such a large area? Why did so many extended cell phone calls from the doomed planes come through, with such good reception? Who exactly were the people who executed the attacks? Why did three skyscrapers at the World Trade Center come down at free fall, or nearly free fall speeds? These puzzles don’t answer themselves. These puzzles require a certain kind of reasoning to solve. The reasoning required is fairly sophisticated, if you do it correctly.

Interestingly, the commission that President Bush appointed to investigate the 9/11 crimes did not address any of these questions, except for the one about who did it. The commission treated the questions as irrelevant, already solved, or illegitimate. The only question under its charge was the problem of who did it, a question the government had answered for us long before the commission set about its work. You knew, before the president put these people to work, how they were going to answer the question of who was responsible.

Given the simplicity of its charge – who did this to us? – you might expect a report from the commission that was pretty straightforward. Yes, people expected a couple of hundred pages, but you can fill that much space without a lot of trouble, and without embarrassing yourself. Look what the commission produced instead. Instead of presenting honest, soundly researched answers, the commission’s report was so poorly assembled that no sixth grade science student would turn it in. Not only did it ignore the apparently inexplicable elements of the case, it did not even take seriously the question of who carried out the attacks. The investigators might have said, “Of course the report is incomplete. So much of the relevant information is classified.” That’s an answer? Why, may we ask, is information related to this horrific crime classified? Will you even bother to explain why the government wants to withhold information in a case like this?

The difference between Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush on the matter of investigations is that Johnson launched the Warren Commission right away. If it had been up to George W. Bush, we would have had no 9/11 Commission at all. He persistently opposed any investigation, then authorized one only after Congress passed the required legislation, and sent it to the White House for his signature. Since he did not explain why he resisted an investigation for so long, we can only guess. Vice-President Cheney pleaded that an investigation would distract from the administration’s Global War on Terror.

That’s an amazing excuse, when you look at it. It says, “We don’t want to find out who attacked us, because that would distract us from the people we’re attacking right now. If it turns out that we’re attacking the wrong people, that’s our bad. Meantime, we want you to go away. Don’t bother us anymore. We’ve already told you what we’re going to tell you. You already know what you need to know.”

When the vice-president, who speaks for the president, gives you an excuse like that, you know it’s a snow job. You know something is wrong.

The controlled demolition of World Trade Center 7 – passed off as an uncontrolled collapse – illustrates what I mean. No one could witness the destruction of this third skyscraper – on film or otherwise – and think it was anything other than planned. No forty-seven story skyscraper constructed of heavy steel could suddenly fall to the ground in just over seven seconds, due to some scattered fires. Just as government offered pabulum to explain other puzzling elements of the 9/11 attacks, it offered essentially no explanation for the destruction of World Trade Center 7. The building fell down, people. That’s all you need to know.

When you see someone treat the families of victims with that little respect, you know you are dealing with someone who has no integrity. When victims families say, “Honestly, is that all you’re going to tell us?,” government officials can say, implicitly, “Look, we’ve already given you a lot of money. That should be enough for you.” The first thing government officials do, after each of these horrible events, is organize a huge victims’ fund. Someday, we will come to see these funds as hush money, dispensed on behalf of the national security state.

Thankful we have the NSA to protect us


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“NSA is a professional foreign-intelligence organization with a highly trained workforce, including brave and dedicated men and women from our armed forces… As we have said before, the agency has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities or professional standards.” ~ Spokeswoman for the NSA, speaking to Forbes magazine

I guess that’s why highly trained Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sets such a good example of professional behavior by lying to Congress, the body that oversees and sets professional standards for the NSA. I guess we should be grateful the intelligence community has such outstanding leadership, because that means we can trust it to do everything it is supposed to do, and not do anything it is not supposed to do. Thank you, NSA spokeswoman, for reassuring us your organization is super trustworthy, and that we never have to worry about your leadership lying to us. You guys are great. Keep up the good work.

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The NSA Is Totally Passing Around Your Sexy Selfies

Today’s quiz

Which of the people in these photographs has a reputation for telling the truth? Hint: he’s not wearing an American flag on his lapel.


No apologies, no condolences


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Putin and company mounted their usual round of lies and accusations after Russians in eastern Ukraine shot down MH17 last week. How do we let them get away with this kind of thing, evading responsibility with relative ease? While we engage in quasi-legal proposals and expressions of concern about securing the crime scene, conducting an international investigation, and tampering with evidence – none of which seemed to concern us too much after 9/11 – Putin lays down his case that terrorists in Kiev shot down a passenger jet flying over Ukrainian air space.

First of all, the terrorists in Kiev are Ukraine’s legitimate government for the rest of the world. They are terrorists only in Putin’s propaganda. Second, the so-called terrorists in Kiev have no motive to shoot down passenger jets, whereas the Russians in eastern Ukraine want to shoot down just about anything that moves in the sky. They are so trigger happy with their surface to air missiles that they brag about their hits on Twitter until they see bodies falling out of the sky. Then they remove their boasts and their videos from Twitter, scramble the weapons they used out of the fire zone, and blame someone else for their mistake. These are criminal hoods we are dealing with. Many of them wear black hoods wherever they go, to hide who they are. Let’s remember that when we put out our legalistic pronouncements.

Flowers lay on the tarmac as a ground Hercules transport aircraft of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, carrying bodies from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, prepared to take off Wednesday in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

The most amazing thing of all is that Putin did not find a way to offer condolences to the Dutch or to any other people personally affected by the actions of his proxies in Ukraine. Instead, he offered condolences to the prime minister of Malaysia! If he looked west, to Europe, in the days after the attack, I haven’t seen it. Even during Wednesday’s day of mourning for MH17 dead in the Netherlands, Putin had nothing to say. If you offer condolences, people might think you’ve taken responsibility. Putin doesn’t need that. Instead, a week after MH17 goes down, his anti-aircraft experts down two more Ukrainian military jets, and his army bombards eastern Ukraine with artillery from Russian territory.

Hearses carrying remains en route to Hilversum on Wednesday. Mourners gathered along the three-hour journey from Eindhoven airport.

Putin wanted to take over eastern Ukraine the same way he took over Crimea: without insignia and without flags flying, but with a coordinated military operation to secure key institutions of control. He doesn’t like to open fire unless it’s necessry. It didn’t work. That method works only if the other side does not fight back. For a number of reasons, Ukraine was not able to fight back in Crimea. For other reasons, Kiev decided to fight in Ukraine. It has tried to do for Donetsk what it could not do for Sevastopol.

The war in eastern Ukraine has not gone particularly well for Putin, and he has a decision to make about what to do next. We have to think about how to help Ukraine win this war. The fussiness about sanctions – when to apply them and to whom – does not help Ukrainian military operations on the ground. Everyone recognizes that, but we have not seen Washington, Berlin, Paris, or any other capital try to rally even a little moral support for those soldiers. Where leadership has failed, the mourners in the Netherlands might step in, even if that’s not their intention. Let their grief rally us, to make sure Putin does not conquer the territory where bodies and blood rained from the sky.

Memory holes everywhere



The latest warnings about Iraq are that leaders in Iraq must make political progress, or the country will plunge into chaos. What do you call the condition that has existed since spring of 2003, when the United States invaded? Do you call that not chaos? If that is not chaos, then what counts? Someone might point to Syria and say, “That’s chaos. Iraq isn’t that bad.” That’s like saying Saturn isn’t a planet because it’s not as large as Jupiter.

Kerry and Maliki in Baghdad.

This idea that Iraq could plunge into chaos, in the future, is a way of pretending that conditions there during the last eleven years are not a complete, chaotic disaster. It is a way to pretend that somehow, leaders in Baghdad can salvage something from our destruction of the Iraqi state. They cannot. The Iraqi state does not exist, and we pretend that it still does. The Iraqi state does not exist. Not one person, except the fools in Washington, thinks that a political process directed from Baghdad can put it together again.

Impartial investigations: how to make sure they never happen


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It’s instructive to listen carefully to U. S. commentary after the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine. Observers make these points, with some urgency:

We have to secure the crash scene. Put yellow crime tape around it. Don’t leave it in control of the Russian separatists who control it now. They are the ones suspected of launching the missile that brought the plane down, so they have all incentive to hide and destroy evidence of what happened.

We have to allow access by impartial investigators. That’s not easy, in a war zone, but we have to do it. Only impartial investigators, not Russian separatists and their allies in Moscow, can learn exactly how this plane crash occurred.

Thirdly, we want to treat the crash scene with respect. We don’t want looting or tardy removal of bodies. We should return remains of the dead to their families as soon as we can.

Russian surface-to-air missiles on mobile launchers, easy to deploy, maintain and launch, deadly to 70,000 feet.

These points are instructive because they take us to the period after September 11, 2001, when Europe and the rest of the world so hoped we – someone – would conduct a proper investigation of the attacks that occurred that day. Instead, the United States government declined to conduct any investigation at all. American authorities secured the crash scenes in Manhattan, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC, not in order to gather and evaluate evidence, but to clear the evidence away as quickly as possible.

Consider the attack on the Pentagon, for example, every crime scene investigator will say, the first rule is to leave everything exactly where it is, for investigators need to map out pieces of the plane, location of bodies, gather samples for laboratory testing, and so on. Instead, people from the FBI, the very agency we expected would conduct an investigation, cleared away evidence from the Pentagon attack as quickly as they could. The same story, on a larger scale, occurred in Manhattan. Authorities scooped up steel from the Twin Towers and shipped it overseas as expeditiously as they could. Shanksville tells the same story: secure the crash scene not to investigate it, but to clear away evidence so no one can investigate it.

So it goes when people want to hide the truth. The people who brought down Flight 17 near Donetsk bragged about their success, tweeting about it and posting an actual video, until they discovered their mistake. Then they deleted evidence of their act immediately. You can expect the people who launched the missile to treat all the other evidence of their complicity the same way. The Russians have already blamed the Ukrainians for bringing down the airliner. Now they must destroy any evidence that contradicts that accusation.

After 9/11, those who controlled all three crime scenes had to cover their guilt. The same has already happened with the people who brought down Flight 17 over Ukraine. The mobile missile launcher is gone. Investigators say you have to leave the scene intact. Otherwise the evidence cannot reveal the truth. When you clean up the scene as fast as possible, as Johnson did with Kennedy’s limousine, you cannot retrieve the stuff you washed away, removed, and destroyed. In 2001, a shocked American public largely accepted the government’s account of what happened on September 11.

People in Europe were more skeptical. They would have liked to see a real investigation. By the time President Bush acceded to pressure, and created the 9/11 Commission in 2002, the evidence at all three locations was long gone. With no crime scene evidence to analyze, the commission instead wrote a treatise about how to prevent future attacks, and of course about the dangers posed by groups like Al Qaeda. The commission did not do any of the things you would expect an investigative commission to do. It couldn’t. The evidence investigators need to analyze to determine what happened was gone.

So when we call for an impartial, international investigation of what happened in eastern Ukraine on July 16, 2014, we can think of a season, not so many years ago, when the rest of the world wanted to see a similar level of openness here in the United States. You know that Russia, in this time of anger and sadness about the war in Ukraine, will follow our example then, not our words now, as they decide what to do about an investigation of the crash scene.

They will maintain control of the scene until the evidence is gone. They believe that whatever suspicions their behavior might provoke, those suspicions make for lighter problems than what might follow if people know the truth. In the end, officials who want to hide their complicity don’t think that distrust from people they don’t know is all that high a price to pay, as long as they are not publicly caught out. If you want to hide your complicity in a heinous act, removal and destruction of evidence becomes the highest priority. You can see that pattern of behavior over and over.

Related article

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Photographic evidence

The great thing about photographs and video recordings, especially in the age of the internet, is that this type of evidence is not so easy to destroy. Consequently, people involved in crimes have a harder time hiding their involvement.

The South Tower explodes at 9:59 am on September 11, 2001. Note the squibs firing by the red arrow.

Someday we will say, “How did we think this destruction was anything other than a controlled series of explosions?” Put another way, how could we think that gravity – by itself – brought down all 110 stories of this skyscraper? We make ourselves believe one thing, because the alternative is too awful.

Sometimes simple analysis yields clear results. Consider the pancake theory, used to explain how each tower fell straight down shortly after jet fuel fires ignited the upper floors. The theory has a certain plausibility, if you concentrate on certain parts of the evidence. The first key element of the theory is that the collapse of the upper floors initiated a chain reaction, whereby the collapse of each floor causes the floor below it to fail. The second key concept proposes that the horizontal trusses supporting each floor unzipped from the vertical columns as the weight of the pancaking floors above came down on them. Not designed for the kind of strain they experienced, the trusses detached from the columns floor by floor, until the zipper reached ground level.

Now consider the building in its standing state. The columns and trusses at floor ten, and of course the nine floors below, bear the weight of one hundred stories above them. Structural integrity matters. Ten stories bear the weight of one hundred. Eleven stories bear the weight of ninety-nine, and so one. Each lower set of floors must bear the weight of all the floors that rise above it. That is why the columns near the bottom of the building are so much thicker than the columns near the top. The base bears a lot of weight. It bears that weight securely, no matter how much the top of the building might sway due to high winds. It bears that weight securely, even if an airplane crashes into an upper floor. A disturbance, trauma, or other unusual condition at the ninety-first floor does not affect the integrity of the base. It does not affect the base’s ability to support the weight it always supported.

World Trade Center under construction.

Another view of the base.

The force of gravity cannot “unzip” a rectangular, steel-framed skyscraper. To see why, compare an arch with a Lego tower. An arch has a keystone at the top, the last stone the builder places. Remove the keystone, or any other stone in the arch for that matter, and the structure fails. The integrity that gave it the ability to hold so much weight is gone. A rectangular structure does not permit the empty space underneath that distinguishes an arch, but neither does it depend on every component remaining in place to retain its vertical strength. Build a rectangular tower of Lego bricks, then press down on it from the top. It will never give way. Remove some bricks three-quarters of the way up. You may have weakened the tower at that point, but you have not damaged the integrity or strength of the tower below that point. The internal reinforcements in a steel framed tower give the structure the same robust resistance to vertical pressure. That is why we consider skyscrapers constructed of steel and concrete such a miracle of architecture, an eye-catching demonstration of our ability to conquer vertical space, and gravity, with materials so substantial we can live in the air a thousand feet above ground. You cannot make a tower constructed with steel columns collapse from the top down, by gravity or any other natural force. To destroy a tower like that, you have to destroy the integrity of its internal reinforcements. You have to break the columns, not in one place, but throughout the structure.

Here is one more observation concerning the impossible roles of weight and gravity in bringing the towers down. The pancake theory holds that by the time chain reaction reaches the tenth floor, the extraordinary strain that occurs from a hundred floors pancaking down, one after another, causes the trusses to fail at floor ten, then at nine, until you reach the ground. When you look at video recordings of the Twin Towers coming down, however, you don’t see extra weight from falling floors causing a progressive collapse from the top of the building to the bottom. In fact, you don’t see any weight at all! By the time the destruction reaches floor ten, the building above is just a toadstool-shaped ball of dust and debris. The weight the bottom ten floors bear when the pancake theory says they must collapse, is far less than the weight they bear when the building stands in its normal state. In fact, the weight they bear near the end of the progressive destruction is almost nothing.

What accounts for the destruction of the building’s base? Before you answer that question, ask why clean-up workers found so much molten steel underneath the ruins at ground zero.

Today’s quiz

How do you know someone is a member of organized crime?

He wears an American flag on his lapel.

How do you know when a member of organized crime wants to hurt you?

He wears an American flag on his lapel, and he asks you for your vote.

Why don’t female leaders wear American flags on their lapels?

They’re unpatriotic.

Give me another answer.

It’s not fashionable. They don’t wear dark business suits.

Give me another one.

People don’t challenge women to prove they’re patriotic.

Give me one more.

Women don’t consider themselves members of an orgnanized crime syndicate?

Sign of danger. When you see someone who wears this pin: get away!

How do we create more jobs?



That’s the question: how do we create more jobs? When a politician asks it, the question becomes, “How do we create more good middle class jobs?”

That’s the wrong question. We want to ask instead, “How can we help people make money?” The answer to that question is simple. Get out of the way. How do you get out of the way? That’s simple, too:

    • Get rid of the permission based economy, where business people must seek approval for the things they want to do.
    • Get rid of all taxes on businesses – that is correct, all imposts on business profits.
    • Get rid of all regulatory and publicly imposed administrative burdens on businesses, no matter the source.

In sum, get rid of any law, requirement, tax, rule, or anything else that creates difficulty for businesses or business persons who want to make money.

Seek profit creation, not job creation.

The riddle is not how to create jobs. The project is plainly to help people make money. When people can make money, they will have plenty of work to do.

When you consider the things we must do to remove obstacles to making money, you see why we will never do those things. We will not even begin. Practically no one wants government to step out of the way, to remove all obstacles to money-making activity.

That is why the discussion about creating middle class jobs has become pointless.

Related posts

What is a job?

Path to Labor Market Freedom and Job Growth

See also

For more writing on politics, see The Jeffersonian’s Books page, especially Revolution on the Ground.

Articles about children, parents, and the state


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Not so surprisingly, I enjoy reading the articles at Reason.com. They are well done, and if you don’t read too many of them in one day, you don’t get too discouraged. If you think about what you’re reading too long, though, you’re liable to go into one of those fearful states where your main question is, “How can this be? Do I live in a place where these kinds of things can happen?”

You can go overboard when you collect links, but then what’s a collection if it does not have a lot of artifacts or items in it? Here’s a short list of Reason articles about young people, and adults involved with young people, drawn from a longer list on all sorts of topics. The titles give you a taste of what you’ll find in these pieces. Don’t get discouraged. Do stay mindful of what public authority is capable of doing to us.

Mom charged for letting her daughter, 11, wait in car

Let the kids stay: the drive to deport unaccompanied minors, refugees of America’s drug war, is immoral

Cops want to give teen an erection and photograph it… you know, for evidence

Cop rats out daughter-in-law after helping her grow marijuana for his cancer-stricken granddaughter

Kindergartner pulls down pants, forced to sign ‘sexual misconduct’ confession

Woman dies in jail because she failed to pay a fine – for her daughters truancy from school

Kid twirls a pencil in class, N.J. threatens to take him from his dad and requires blood and urine testing

Border patrol threatens mother, slashes her tire, as kids watch

“For their own protection”: children in long-term solitary confinement

Pregnant women increasingly face criminal prosecution for positive drug tests

Mom jailed because she let her 9-year-old daughter play in the park unsupervised

That’s it for today. Keep your children safe.


Here are a couple more articles, the second from CNN:

Cop tries to shoot dog, plugs kid instead. Police use of passive voice ensues.

Mom jailed for enrolling kids in wrong school district

Mom jailed for enrolling kids in wrong school district

Kelley Williams-Bolar is escorted through the Summit County, Ohio, jail.

Don’t think it can’t happen here



I read this week the White House is baffled the CIA did not report up the chain of command that the people they had turned in Berlin were about to be detained. In a phone call, Merkel didn’t raise the issue, and Obama didn’t know about it! Does the White House conveniently pretend it doesn’t know how our dual system of government works? We have a permanent national security state, and an elected government that turns over every two, four, or six years, depending on the office. The White House is baffled?

Suppose the officials in the elected portion of government had to acknowledge publicly that they’re sort of like hallowed pipsqueaks compared to the people in the national security state. Each part of government thinks it matters, but both parts know which matters more. When the German government discovers that Washington has recruited a couple of double agents, the national security state doesn’t even bother to tell the president. The president says, “I read about it online!” I guess if he wants to patch things up with Angela Merkel with an amicable phone call, some plausible deniability isn’t so bad. He looks weak, though. He looks weak all the time.

Best buds: should I trust you? Should I even hold your hand?

The division between a permanent national security state and a relatively weak democracy has existed in our republic for a long time now. Ask yourself why Dwight Eisenhower found it necessary to warn us about the national security state in his farewell address. By our Constitution, the president and congress are masters of our national security institutions. Why would an outgoing president need to warn us about their strength? Could he not corral these institutions himself? For an answer, consider what happened shortly after Ike left office. JFK tried to corral the CIA and the Pentagon after they set him up for the Bay of Pigs disaster, and everyone could easily observe what happened to him. Every president after JFK knows what happened to him. You don’t cross those guys across the river. They know how to protect their power. Politics is for keeps.

People have said for generations now, “Don’t think it can’t happen here.” A lot of things happen in politics that we believe happen only in other countries: assassinations, state crimes against democracy, secret surveillance, betrayals, setups, civil wars, torture, propaganda, intimidation, disinformation, and every manner of self-serving corruption you can imagine. All of these things happen here as well as abroad. The odd thing is that we don’t want to acknowledge that it happens here. It’s not consistent with our self-image. We cannot believe that we are like other people in these respects. Worst of all these political ills is violent civil conflict. If we don’t change the course we are on, it is coming. I hope it does not happen while I am alive. Everyone wants it to occur way in the future, because we all long for peace.

One group does not long for peace, people who have power to protect. Right now, as we look over the rest of the world, we can imagine conflict here at home coming sooner than we might wish.

State gambling operations



I hear the Massachusetts state treasurer wants to add online gambling to the state’s line-up of revenue raising endeavors. That’s a good one, folks:

“Why do you outlaw gambling in your state?”

“We outlaw gambling because it just brings in organized crime.”

“So you run the rackets yourself?”

“It’s not a racket: it’s a legitimate business!”

“That’s why you’re worried it’ll bring in organized crime, right?”

Come to think of it, government is the biggest organized crime syndicate we’ve got. Why not put gambling operations in the hands of experts?

Thoughts on the Fourth of July

It is the Fourth of July.

The occasion seems to assume more meaning each year, as the Republic launched this day 238 years ago loses its own significance. What do I mean when I say the meaning of our republic diminishes with each year? For one answer, read the more pessimistic posts in this blog, the ones about torture, assassination of United States citizens, international aggression, militarized police, incompetence and lawlessness among people who are supposed to lead us, government secrecy and dishonesty, the national security state’s domestic surveillance practices, and coercion of once-free people in matters that do not belong to the state. You can see merely from the subject matter of these pieces why our republic signifies something much different from what the founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence, not to mention the Constitution.

When Jefferson wrote the Declaration, and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia approved it, the new country justified its break with Britain by claiming a right of revolution. The right of revolution is closely tied to three other rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – that Jefferson cited early in the Declaration. If government violates these rights, Jefferson said – following Locke – then the people have a right to alter or abolish that government. Thus the argument that underpins the founding of our nation.

The United States is the only country or government, ever, to form with citizens’ right of revolution among its founding principles. No other government sits on this principal of sovereignty. You might say our government does not sit on this principal of sovereignty, either, for it would squash any potent group that tried to advance a right of revolution. The state would not tolerate that type of threat. In that respect, the state took care to remove the right of revolution from the legal constraints that bind it as soon as it was strong enough to do so.

That makes our government self justifying, which makes it immune from replacement, which renders it a type of tyranny – however soft or infrequent its extra-legal coercion might appear in practice. That is the sobering idea that arises in our consciousness a little more each Fourth of July: that we cannot withdraw our consent, or abolish our government, or do anything else that threatens the illicit power our government guards so well. We might shoot off fireworks today to celebrate the unique freedom that underlay our new nation in 1776, but we also know that the celebration remains rather empty so long as government can do as it likes, with no fear that the people who gave it power in the first place can possibly alter or abolish it.

How we can help Ukraine



MOSCOW — The simmering standoff in eastern Ukraine exploded into warfare early Tuesday, pushing the conflict to a dangerous new phase and prompting President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to warn again that he reserves the right to use force to defend Russian-speaking citizens. ~ New York Times, July 3, 2014

Why are we not, every day, pointing to the real nature of Putin’s project in Ukraine? He sends in his special forces, well equipped and well supplied. The Ukrainian government in Kiev goes around to its allies in the west, to ask whether they might be able to help Kiev get rid of the Russian special forces. Ukraine’s allies decline. Kiev correctly concludes, “We’re on our own,” and decides to retake the buildings, checkpoints, and other territory under Russian control. The fighting gets bad, and casualties run high.

Now Putin comes out of his little viper’s nest, and says that Ukraine has to stop killing his special forces! He makes threats about what he will do if Ukrainian armed forces don’t give Russian special forces a free hand in eastern Ukraine. In fact, he threatens to send in his regular military to defend Russian nationals, who he claims are under attack by Nazi fascists and other terrorists.

Don’t that beat all? When Prince Charles in the United Kingdom points out, in private, that Putin is using exactly the technique that Hitler used to take over Czechoslovakia and other huge pieces of eastern Europe, the mainstream press climbs all over him. You’re comparing Putin to Hitler? Good God! When Putin makes his threats, the press gives them lots of publicity, without saying anything about the game he’s playing. You send your specialists in to stir up a lot of trouble, then you move your heavy equipment in when the target country tries to resist the backdoor invasion. If you’re lucky, the target country’s friends politely decline to offer any help, which is exactly what happened with Czechoslovakia. Vladimir Putin, no more than Adolf Hitler, wants to fight for something if he can get it for free.

Why are we in the west so reluctant to point out what Putin is actually doing? Prince Charles’ private remark should have been publicized by Cameron, Obama, Hollande, Merkel, and every other leader on both sides of the Atlantic. Prince Charles broke the ice, and pointed out the truth. Instead, the press went nuts for a few days, essentially saying, “How could you?” You can always make someone shut up with a public reprimand, right?

The mystifying part of the west’s reaction here is, what possible interest does it serve to overlook the nature of Putin’s strategy and tactics? He has already taken Crimea. Do we want him to bite off big pieces of eastern Ukraine as well? Don’t we want to give Poroshenko and his colleagues even a little moral support? Ukrainian troops are fighting hard. Don’t we see that a little encouragement from us would help? Telling the truth gives a huge boost to the young Ukrainian soldiers who have to face down large Russians who wear black masks, black gloves, and fatigues. The weapons those special forces carry are not concealed.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

We say we’ll impose tougher sanctions on Russia if they don’t stop their campaign in Ukraine. We’ve seen how effective those are. If we don’t want to send any military supplies to Kiev, at least we could give voice to the truth. Let’s say, out loud, that Putin’s playbook for aggression in multi-ethnic European territories did not originate in Moscow. It originated in Berlin, during the 1930s. Angela Merkel could be a heroine here, if she publicly charges Putin with subversion. She grew up in East Germany, during the 1950s and 1960s. She knows what it’s like to live in a divided country. If she takes a stand against Putin, we need to let her know she won’t stand alone.

Related article

Putin Warns Again of Force as Ukraine Fighting Spreads

Solution of political crimes: truth vs. untruth


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If you’ve been following The Jeffersonian even occasionally, you know that I’m writing a book called Infamy. Alright, you probably don’t know that, because I don’t mention the book that much. Whenever I write a post related to the book, I categorize it in this blog. If you select Infamy as your category on the blog’s home page, you’ll bring up a lot of posts.

The book is about 9/11 and Kennedy’s assassination, but those two topics don’t state its subject matter all that well. To me, the essays taken together are about philosophy of knowledge in a political context. One way to approach a subject like that is to consider what shapes political opinions. Walter Lippmann wrote a book on that and other problems, published way back in 1922, called Public Opinion. It’s a somewhat hard book, but I suppose that quality should not keep it from one’s reading list.

Another way to approach basic questions about political knowledge is to ask how we distinguish truth from untruth in this sphere. Laboratory scientists develop fairly sophisticated methods to sort truth from falsehood, as they investigate all kinds of questions. People who seek knowledge about the political world cannot apply methods like those to the questions they investigate. Nevertheless, they do examine evidence and test hypotheses, so scientific methods are not entirely irrelevant.

We know that both crimes – Kennedy’s murder and the events of 9/11 – have generated monumental disagreement about who committed these crimes and how they executed them. The disagreement suggests disagreement as well about standards of truth, and evaluation of evidence in these two cases. When you observe conflict this fundamental, where people disagree not only about what happened, but also about how to reach judgments in the matter, you know you have an interesting problem. You know you have a case that might help us understand how we know what we know.

I’ll say right off that Infamy does not resolve this question. It does look at problems of political knowledge in somewhat unusual ways. Let’s take as an assumption that one way to make judgments efficiently is to decide which authorities we trust, and which we do not. We know we have to do that in numerous areas, because for most cases, we cannot possibly conduct our own primary research, engage in trial and error, conduct experiments, interview experts, observe events or after effects first-hand, or even read very many second-hand accounts. Everything we might do to gain knowledge we trust, without relying on authorities we trust, requires inordinate amounts of time. Except for our own areas of expertise, where people pay us to learn and develop knowledge, we must rely on authorities.

That creates a difficult set of issues for political knowledge, for the heavyweight authority in this area is government. Aside from its legal authority, and its monopoly on the use of force, a fair number of people trust what political leaders and government officials say or write. Naturally that’s not true for everyone, but we are raised, from the earliest years, to trust the people we obey. If you obey your parents at home and your teachers at school, you obey the law when you become an adult. All of these authorities – parents, teachers, government officials – would not be authorities if you did not trust them. So, by habit, we trust what they say, even if what they say is not in the nature of a command. If we can’t trust the people who care for us, then we truly inhabit a pitiless wilderness.

I don’t want to become too pessimistic here, but I want to ask this question: what if we look at political crimes with the opposite presumption? What if we set aside government’s account of these crimes at the start, because we know that anything government officials say is not believable? We may be wrong about that presupposition from time to time, of course, but we’ll have opportunity later to bring government findings back into consideration, if we find reasons to do that. If we are strict about this matter, we should not privilege official accounts, or even feel that they call for a response. If we want to be efficient in the sorting process, no type of evidence should take precedence. If we have to rely on authorities for the reasons cited above – lack of time or opportunity to conduct original research – then place government authorities at the bottom of the list of sources to be trusted. In fact, they place themselves there.

The implications of conducting political inquiry in this way are actually quite radical, since we can easily get into a position where we question absolutely everything. We know that kind of framework is psychologically untenable: we instinctively stay away from it. Nevertheless, we should examine the habits that reinforce these instincts for stability. We are habituated to paying serious attention to reports that bear a government seal. They bear the imprimatur of people like the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The chief justice presents the research the research to the president in a formal ceremony, with photographers present to record the historic deed. Expert researchers write the reports. They contain findings. They compile and analyze far more evidence than we could ever gather ourselves. More than that, we pay for those reports. Do we want to say that they are garbage, after all that?

If we want the truth, then we have to answer yes. Saying we want the truth, however, is not itself such a self-evident presupposition. A lot of people might honestly say, no thank you, we don’t actually want the truth. The truth is kind of difficult to bear, it’s destructive, it’s troublesome, and it’s unpredictable. The last thing you want, if you’re comfortable and want to stay that way, is the truth. You’d be right about all those things. If you want comfort, then a government report that appears true is just the thing.

Infamy‘s argument does not try to address that position, as it does not lead anywhere. If you want to solve a crime, you solve it, no matter where the evidence leads. Jim Garrison famously said, let’s know the truth, though the heavens may fall. That’s a dramatic way to describe the discomfort that results when you seek the truth, but that’s the nature of the whole inquiry. You can’t know, when you start, what the outcome will be, where you’ll wind up, or what consequences you’ll suffer. You just have to trust, from beginning to end, that the truth yields a better outcome than untruth.

When I started writing this piece, I wanted to discuss a particular way of thinking about political crimes that, in part, is quite disturbing. My thinking went in a different direction this evening, but I can live with that sort of unpredictability. The way of thinking might be called pre-modern. It deals with numerology, symbols, and secret societies. That’s not the disturbing part, though. Anti-semitism is the disturbing part. I decided only a few days ago that I would not write about that subject, at least for the book. We’ll see if I stay with that decision. Meantime, this post is complete. We may return to pre-modern ways of thinking another time.







Exemplars, good and bad

July 16, 2014, is the fifteenth anniversary of JFK Jr.’s death. To note the occasion, I’d like to place two links here. Both articles discuss evidence related to JFK Jr.’s death in a plane crash about 9:40 pm on July 16, 1999.

The first article, written by Christopher Condon, is titled What Actually Happened to John F. Kennedy, Jr.? It appeared at LewRockwell.com on December 27, 2010.

The second article does not have a regular title, nor does it name the author. It appeared at The Conspiracy Zone, with no date given.

One article exemplifies the correct way to undertake research and analysis of this type. The other article exemplifies incorrect methods. Have a look at each one, to see if you can pick the exemplar of good research quickly. Ask which of the two pieces presents its arguments more persuasively.

You know I’m interested in the ways we separate good analysis from poor analysis, especially in areas where so-called authorities denigrate all work they consider out of the mainstream. When you cannot rely on the judgment of these self-appointed authorities, you want to become aware of the standards and methods you use to distinguish truthful discussion from less truthful discussion.

In line with these questions, have a look at Infamy, now available at The Jeffersonian. Someday you’ll probably have to pay a few dollars to download it from Amazon. Meantime, you can download an initial draft here, free. You won’t need to read it in order to select the better article above, but you’ll find the analysis of political knowledge in Infamy both useful and interesting.

Develop the filters you use to distinguish superior thinking that advances your knowledge, from inferior thinking that returns little for your effort.

Fairy tale



In 2003, when American troops first rolled into Baghdad, they destroyed the Iraqi state and its institutions; for the next eight and a half years they tried to build something to replace it. The truth is that the political system imposed on the Iraqis has never worked very well without substantial U.S. involvement; since the Americans left, it hasn’t worked at all. American diplomats and military advisers can’t save Iraq and they can’t govern it, but the decision by President Obama to return to Iraq amounts to a recognition that there was work left unfinished. It’s likely to be a long and difficult job. ~ Dexter Filkins, New Yorker, Choices at the Top

Richard defends his clear-eyed view of American foreign policy disasters.

Once upon a time, a king named George sent his army to another land to conquer it. His lord chancellor Richard told him the conquest would make him even more powerful than he already was, and his subjects would love him. The king wanted to bring democracy and freedom to people around the world, to everyone who did not enjoy its benefits. He also wanted to rid the world of evil doers. Richard did not counsel caution. He counseled action. He did not raise doubts about George’s mission. He told the king everything he needed to hear.

Things did not go as planned in the newly conquered land. George’s new subjects did not love him. He wanted to make his kingdom more prosperous; instead he wasted its resources. His army fought for years to subdue the new country, only to return demoralized and, ultimately, defeated. The army that had made him so powerful did not want to fight anymore. The proud citizens who sent their sons to war wanted to keep them at home. The king, so loved – or at least respected – before the war, now found that when he went out to greet his subjects, they spat in his direction. They could not stand to be near him.

Meantime, as the consequences of the war worsened, his lord chancellor receded from the public view. Let the king take care of his own problems. The king began to lose confidence, began to see that the advice Richard had given him might not have been so sound. From happy celebration at the first victories, the king became discouraged. Immature and callow when he came to the throne, he began to understand that the war he started would never bring him the good will he needed, nor would it secure his kingdom’s place in the world as a force for good. He understood that people everywhere regarded him with contempt.

Richard experienced none of these doubts. When George, along with his advisors, left the palace for good, Richard opened up with his charges. He blamed the new king for everything that had gone wrong, all the disasters Richard had not foreseen. The new king, practiced in the same arts of evasion, dishonesty and accusation that Richard had learned at court, simply responded in kind. The new king blamed George, just as Richard blamed the new king. For all citizens could tell, not one of their leaders accepted responsibility for anything. People began to hate their leaders rather than admire them.

Before long, people began to hate each other. Unhappily, they could not do anything about bad leadership. Rather they divided themselves into groups, accused each other, and organized to defeat people they did not like. They had stirred up such hatred against themselves overseas, the same feelings came home. Nothing felt right anymore. People – soldiers especially – began to kill themselves. Families had a hard time. The war had done something bad, to everyone, but no one was sure what it meant.

Long after George and Richard died, the kingdom fell apart. No one regretted it. The kingdom had started out as a bright shining city on a hill, an example of freedom for people everywhere. By the time it died, everyone wished it good riddance. It could not pass from history’s procession of empires soon enough. People remembered only its crimes, for its crimes came near the end. People remembered only its failures, born of pride, for those too came near the end. Once upon a time a king named George sent his army to another land, to conquer it. Nothing afterward turned out the way he hoped. Nothing could save him or his kingdom after Richard had his way.

George, king of failure.

No redemption for Cheney or his actions


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Usually I make myself read something before I comment on it. I couldn’t make myself read the Cheney piece in the Wall Street Journal. Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz Cheney, criticize President Obama for his actions, his judgment, his decisions, and his inaction in Iraq. They say, “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” This is like Lucifer complaining it’s too hot in hell. You have to ask why the Wall Street Journal gives the former vice-president and his daughter a whole half page in its op-ed section to blame other people for a disaster Richard Cheney helped to bring about.

Richard Cheney is a war criminal. I don’t say that to stoke up the fires that burn all the time between the Republican and Democratic batttle lines. I say it because he sponsored a war that, eleven years later, most people recognize as illegal. He even persuaded Colin Powell, a man of integrity, to present evidence for war that he knew would be dismissed if he himself presented it. He probably appealed to Powell’s patriotism. Cheney is a man of such limited moral vision, a man so degraded in his heart, that he cannot possibly know the harm he has done. He has no humility, and will always believe he is right.

Around the time Senator Paul Wellstone, Democrat from Minnesota, took a stand against the war in Iraq, in the fall of 2002, Vice-President Cheney personally summoned Wellstone to his office. Ostensibly to talk with him about his vote on the war, Cheney wanted to keep Wellstone quiet because the senator had expressed skepticism about the 9/11 story: you know, the story about nineteen Saudis with box cutters, how they leveled three skyscrapers in lower Manhattan with two airplanes. According to Wellstone, Cheney told him, “If you vote against the war in Iraq, the Bush administration will do whatever is necessary to get you. There will be severe ramifications for you and the state of Minnesota.”

Days later, on October 25, 2002, Wellstone and his family were dead, victims of a plane crash investigators couldn’t explain. When Cheney threatens you, he means it.

To return to Cheney’s criticism of Obama: the former vice-president may have no second thoughts about his disastrous tenure in office, and the Journal may lend him a platform to bring his successors down, but history’s judgment of his actions while in office will not be kind. Like powerful, unprincipled and reckless kings of old who fomented war, only to bring misery, death and defeat to their own people, future generations will recognize the nature of this man. Rarely has one bad individual caused so much trouble, or caused such extensive ruin.

Related article

The Collapsing Obama Doctrine



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