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

Ukraine says Russia helping separatists destroy evidence at MH17 crash site

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 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 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


Prince Charles understands what Putin is about in Ukraine


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“Any student of politics who does not understand how Hitler operated in the 1930s, does not understand politics.”

At some point in international discourse, it became not okay to compare anyone to Adolf Hitler. Saddam Hussein is like Hitler? George W. Bush is like Hitler? Next thing you know, every president of the United States gets a Hitler mustache painted on his upper lip. Everywhere you turn, someone compares someone to Hitler. Come on, you say, isn’t that not helpful? It seems like the epithet of the day, when people level the comparison so often. How would you like it if I called you Hitler?

Vladimir Putin and Prince Charles

Then Prince Charles, in a private conversation with Marienne Ferguson, observed that Putin’s tactics in Ukraine were like Hitler’s tactics in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other states near Germany’s eastern border. Charles said, truthfully, that history was repeating itself. The tabloid press in London went nuts. The nationalists in Moscow went nuts. Who knows who else, especially in Europe, went nuts? We have another Hitler comparer on the loose. He’s a royal! We have to catch and throttle him, to make sure it does not happen again.

Nazis in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

The odd thing is, Charles’s comparison is exactly on the mark. He knows his history. Hitler would send his agents across the border to engage in violent mischief in the neighboring country. So does Putin. When the neighboring government tried to stop the troublemakers, Hitler said he had to protect German nationals abroad, who by the way, should not have to live outside their homeland. Does that sound like the language we hear coming from Putin’s mouth in his public pronouncements on Ukraine?

The worse the violence in the target country, violence initiated by so-called agents provocateurs, the more justification the stronger power has for full intervention with its own military force. Sooner or later, the invasion comes. Russia acted so fast in Crimea, no one had time to mount much of a response. Because Putin had so many military forces already in Crimea, he needed minimal pre-invasion mischief in Crimea. In Ukraine’s eastern provinces, where Kiev has mounted a fight, Putin follows Hitler’s practice closely.

Since things went to hell in Iraq



We’ve had a lot of review and comment since things went to hell in Iraq this week. When something big happens, we take notice. Let’s remember our goal when we went into Iraq: establishment of a stable democracy friendly to the United States. Its success would spread democracy and Western values through the rest of the Middle East. We envisioned a similar role for Japan, in east Asia after 1945. Why could we not conquer Iraq, then shine democracy’s light over the entire Middle East?

It didn’t quite work out that way. Thank God Cheney’s heart lasted long enough to let him see the outcome of his pride. Not that he thinks he did anything wrong. Nevertheless, one takes some recompense from knowledge that folly, child of Cheney’s pride, revealed itself while he was still alive to see it.

Who could have imagined that things would turn out so wrong, you say? A lot of people imagined that. They were so sure of the disaster, they wrote passionately against the war in Iraq from the first moment Bush said in 2002 that he had a plan. He told an astonished nation that his plan was to conquer Iraq. Through adroit propaganda, he managed to make people think that Saddam Hussein was an actual enemy, someone who would attack us if we did not attack him first. The people who warned against this course of action became small and uninfluential under Cheney’s dark scowl.

I wrote two books on the subject, Ugly War and Soldier of Misfortune. Soldier of Misfortune is an interesting case, as I wrote it before I came to see the place of al Qaeda in U. S. propaganda. I wrote it before understanding the relationship between our destruction of the Twin Towers, and our destruction of Iraq. You can find both essays on the Books page of this site.

Just one thing is wrong with the argument in soldier of misfortune: it assumes that the government’s account of 9/11 is correct. It assumes that Al Qaeda was responsible for bringing down the twin towers. It argues that we should not fight in Iraq when our real enemy is Al Qaeda. The correct argument is: we should not fight in Iraq, when our real enemy is in Washington DC.

Who lost Iraq?



Are you ever going to see recriminations now! Who lost Iraq? The Republicans are going to blame the Democrats! The Democrats will blame the Republicans! Everyone gets a free swipe at Maliki. Honest. Play dunk the prime minister and support your local Department of Defense. Play dunk the opposing political party and support your sectarian prime minister.

Think about this one for a second. The Republicans want to blame the Democrats for the mess in Iraq. Think that one through. Suppose someone set your house on fire, then blamed your neighbor for letting it burn down. You’d wonder if the arsonist was a sociopath or something. You know I’m no respecter of Obama’s foreign policy, nor do I think he should blame the Republicans for everything he can think of, but to blame the president for the catastrophe in Iraq is beyond rational.

Do you remember how much we put into training the Iraqi armed forces? “When the Iraqi security forces stand up, we’ll stand down,” our military and political leaders used to say. We would stay in country till the Iraqis were ready to defend themselves. After year upon year of that futile project, we said, “Well, the Iraqi army just doesn’t have good leadership, at any level. That prevents them from becoming a good fighting force.”

And how. Do you know who is allied with ISIS as its army moves south from Mosul? Officers and other experienced men from the Iraqi army we broke up in 2003! That’s where your leadership went! Good move, guys. No army with even adequate, let alone good leadership would have collapsed as quickly as the Iraqi army did this week. The soldiers left their weapons and fled in civilian clothes. Maliki says he wants to prosecute deserters, even as he calls on civilian volunteers to protect the country. That’s a good policy, folks. The army can’t protect the civilians, so now we’ll see if the civilians can protect the army.

No one in Washington wants to confess now that we did something wrong in 2003. Hillary Clinton says she should not have voted for war then, but remember, she wants to be president. Listen for one person in power to say, “We messed up.” Listen for a sincere admission of war guilt. You won’t hear anything. Instead you’ll hear recriminations. “It’s your fault!”

The Iraqis told us in 2011 they didn’t want us to help them anymore. So we left. Now that Maliki’s army in the north has disintegrated, he’d like a little assistance. Our assistance didn’t help five years ago, when he had an army, and Mosul was an Iraqi city. Our assistance won’t help now, as his country falls apart. I wonder if Maliki has called his travel agent yet.


Mosul falls, government takes notice


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We are about to become Iran’s ally in the defense of Baghdad. We were enemies when we attacked Baghdad in 2003, but not now. Neither capital, Washington or Tehran, will let Maliki’s Shiite government in the capital fall without helping it out. The Persians to the east already offer Maliki a lot of moral support, money, and elite troops. Now he might see some air support coming from the west. Meantime, Maliki can hunker down in Baghdad’s Green Zone, and hope the jihadists don’t cut off his balls before he finds a way to escape.

ISIS forces take Mosul.

Give some credit to our friends in Washington for their prudence. Their foreign policy amounts to saying, “Yep, yep, things got serious. Big problem. We’re thinking about what we want to do. No options off the table. Don’t want to do something stupid. Situation doesn’t look good.” You have to feel sympathy for those guys. Predictions of catastrophe made in 2002 and 2003, before we dropped bombs on Baghdad and rolled our tanks across the border, are coming to pass before our eyes. Eleven years of death and destruction is a long time. You ask, can things get any worse? Oh yes, they can. Here at home, we have witnessed the historic unmaking of a great power: its leadership, it’s willingness to fight, its influence within its own borders and everywhere else. This process did not begin in 2003, but our military action against Iraq greatly accelerated it.

The border between Iraq and Syria is no longer a border.

So what should Team Obama do, now that the war Bush junior started has metastasized into a multi-state, Sunni vs. Shia crackup? How can you criticize Obama’s foreign policy people for not having a foreign policy, in a situation like this? You could say that we should have armed the moderate Syrian opposition before ISIS became so powerful, but look, that’s more than two years ago. What’s done is done; what’s not done is not done. We have the make the best of it. Wasn’t that Bush’s policy, too? Waste your power and prestige and hope for the best? That’s how we want our leaders to think, right?

We put the match to the forest in 2003, and added loads of accelerant to guarantee spectacular failure. Normally, an arsonist is not well equipped to extinquish a fire. The fire stops when the fuel is gone. The fire stops when everything that can burn is destroyed. Stand back.



We have five anniversaries this first week of June:

June 4: Twenty-fifth anniversary of the massacre of members of the Chinese democracy movement in Beijing in 1989.

June 5: Twenty-fifth anniversary of Tank Man standing down Chinese tanks near Tiananmen square in 1989.

June 5: Tenth anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s death in 2004, at age 93.

June 5: Forty-sixth anniversary of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California

June 6: Seventieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy in 1944.

Tank Man, June 5, 1989, Beijing, China.

Bobby Kennedy, mortally wounded, shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968.

Normandy, June 6, 1944.

The Osama bin Laden hit: how every crime becomes an occasion for dishonesty



What does public dishonesty signify? It could signify hypocrisy, misdirection, or a need to conceal truth in order to escape blame.  At last propaganda, image making, and garden variety lying become so habitual that perpetrators cannot distinguish what is real from what they want to be real. When you cannot make rational judgments any more about the essential nature or justifiability of your actions, you may begin to talk about things you have done in ways that arouse people’s skepticism. We have had these skeptical reactions so many times now, we hardely recognize them. When lying becomes that habitual, you know you have an unhealthy relationship.

You do not even need independent evidence to see that government’s statements about its own actions do not square up. Its claims about its own activities are so inconsistent and laced with dishonesty that you wonder why they trouble themselves with this stuff. The example I have in mind here is the Osama bin Laden hit. Dishonesty about his killing is evident on two levels: statements about the act itself, and statements about how the act was possible. Let’s address the act itself,  then its precursors.

Assassination or self-defense?

First, let’s consider official statements about the killing. Everything about the mission indicates it was a planned assassination. Given bin Laden’s location deep inside Pakistan, any other plan increased the likelihood of failure. To reduce that likelihood, you send in a team of assassins, not a team of sheriffs who plan to bring their quarry in for questioning. Yet the government’s statements afterwards pretended that bin Laden was shot because he tried to resist, he reached for his weapon, he or his guards did something or other that made the SEAL team plug him twice in the head.

That does not sound right. You went in there to take him prisoner, but you shot him twice in the head because he reached for a weapon? Why did spokesmen at the White House prevaricate about such a significant event? The mission’s successful outcome, after all, warranted a presidential speech from the White House. What kept you from simply telling people what happened, consistent with the SEAL team’s obvious intent?

Turns out the answer to that question is simple enough. States don’t assassinate people. It violates domestic law to do it in your own country; it violates international law to do it in someone else’s country. So even though you obviously assassinated someone – and in case anyone missed the point, you dumped the body in the ocean – you cannot call it an assassination. You pretend the hit was not a hit. You pretend the SEALs shot him in self defense, even though no one believes that, and few in the United States care much one way or another. The president said that we got him: justice was done.

Here is a puzzle about the assassination that I want to present without an excess of insinuation. Why did the White House reveal who carried out the killing? Could this revelation have been an inexplicable blunder, a misplaced desire to give credit to a secret hit team? If so, government must be just as bad at truth-telling as it is at lying. When the White House praised members of SEAL Team Six in public, members of the team knew immediately that they had become targets. At 02:38 on August 6, 2011, the Taliban brought down the team’s Chinook helicopter just three months and four days after Osama bin Laden died on May 2. All thirty-eight people in the helicopter died.

What is the purpose of so-called harsh interrogation methods?

The second point concerns information that let SEAL Team Six locate bin Laden. Apologists for the CIA claimed that its interrogation methods enabled the United States government to find their target. Critics would say these claims amount to more dishonesty about torture, not legitimate interrogation methods. To develop this point, let’s review the public discussion that followed bin Laden’s death.

The White House’s jubilant announcement – “We got him!” – set the tone for discussion that followed. Not only did we kill the guy, we did it with intelligence gained from enhanced interrogation techniques. Put that on your sleeve and wear it, you coddlers and bleeding hearts. Even celebration becomes a  finger-pointing, I-told-you-so moment in our current political culture. When you can score points, do it.

Well, let’s consider the question of time here. Apologists brag that torture is effective. You can use it to extract actionable intelligence from a prisoner. If you want to gain information about a target’s current location, information you can use before the target moves, you use so-called enhanced techniques to extract information from someone who would not otherwise give it. Because these methods give you accurate, valuable, and timely data, you can use the information in your current plans.

So how was it that we used torture on our prisoners regularly to extract information, and it took us almost ten years to find Osama bin Laden? Is that what you call actionable intelligence? The braggarts might say that we merely required some time to find the right person, the key individual who had the right information. You’re saying then that we torture every candidate truth-teller, until we get lucky, and find the right person? By that reasoning, you would round up every person who might know where bin Laden resides, and torture each one until you get the information you need.

Does that sound extreme? We can narrow the field quite a lot, if we focus on Pakistani intelligence officers with a need-to-know clearance for bin Laden’s whereabouts. They could lead us to the man. If we round them up and strap them to a waterboard, we could probably find bin Laden in under ten years. That’s a little risky, though, because what happens if you torture an intelligence officer who doesn’t have the information you need?

While shilling for torture, the braggarts and apologists brought forward some intriguing story about how enhanced interrogation led us to a courier, who in turn led us to bin Laden. If the public relations people want to make such a momentous argument – that torture is justifiable because it yields the results you want – we need a story with a little more fundamental credibility. Government intelligence agencies are habitually secretive about their sources. For a mission this critical, it would never release reliable information about its intelligence gathering techniques. Or was this operation a special case, where you can reveal anything you like, including the identities of the assassins?

Unless the intelligence agencies decided to break every standard procedure they have about how they handle secret information, no one can say how the mission’s planners gained their knowledge of bin Laden’s location. Statements on that subject must be self-serving: convenient, unreliable PR that supports a position government adopted well before it undertook any daring operations. If the CIA wants to torture people in secret, no post-torture public relations campaign on the agency’s behalf will redeem it.

Triumphalist swagger aside, you cannot justify torture under any circumstances. Even when these immoral, illegal techniques force a prisoner to reveal information, you cannot know until much later whether the information is accurate or useful. To ask an Old Testament question related to Sodom and Gomorrah, what proportion of information obtained via torture would have to be accurate and useful to justify the methods? One hundred percent? We know from much experience that no interrogation method yields information of that quality. How about seventy-five percent or fifty percent? That would mean one-quarter to one-half of the people you torture provide information that is useless.

Who but an entirely amoral person would even begin calculations like that? It reminds one of Robert McNamara’s kill ratios, where he conducted nuclear warfare simulations to estimate the number of enemy combatants we have to kill to justify the innocent civilians who also die in strategic bombing raids or ballistic missile attacks. In warfare, and all enterprises that depend on cruelty, amorality amounts to immorality.

Professional interrogators recognize that torture is primitive and ineffective. You cannot tell whether the information it yields is true, or even relevant to your question. No professional interrogator will tell you that torture yields reliable information. Torture is used instead for revenge, intimidation and control. It lives in another realm, one of cruelty and brazen immorality.

People who practice this kind of cruelty are not concerned with the truth. They care about intimidation and deterrence. When Ku Klux Klan members hang a black man from a tree limb, they know what they are doing. They want retribution for a crime they have pinned on their victim, but more than that, they want a demonstration of their own power. Guilt or innocence does not actually matter that much. Hanging a person in public serves the purpose of intimidation and control quite well, whether the victim actually committed a crime or not.

Torture is like lynching, except the CIA and its affiliates do not hang their prisoners in public. They use secret military bases  and prison camps. They pretend that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, compliance positions, beating, and other techniques borrowed from masters of cruelty all over the world serve a legitimate, intelligence gathering purpose. Except for solitary confinement and beating, we do not routinely use these techniques within the United States, yet.

Post-9/11 torture differs from lynching in the thick layer of dishonesty we lay over the practice. Lynchers knew why they hanged people, even as they told themselves lies about their lawless administration of vigilante punishment so they could live with themselves. They executed their prisoners publicly and remorselessly to keep the people they feared impotent. Today government practices its astonishing crimes in secret, and relies on braggarts’ dishonesty to legitimate what they do.

When Navy SEALs shot bin Laden twice in the head on May 2, 2011, they accomplished a task government set in our name shortly after September 11, 2001. That’s the most you can say about the operation. Claims about self-defense and enhanced interrogation reflect government’s habitual dishonesty about its own acts. When lies accompany a public execution of this type, you know how deeply dishonesty runs. No one, apparently, can escape its effects.

Nine Democratic senators: “Tea Party? Sic the IRS on them.”



On June 2, 2014, the Center for Competitive Politics files a complaint with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics against these nine senators:

Charles Schumer, Democrate from New York

Richard Durbin, Democrat from Illinois

Carl Levin, Democrat from Michigan

Michael Bennett, Democrat from Colorado

Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrate from Rhode Island

Al Franken, Democrat from Minnesota

Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat from New Hampshire

Jeff Merkley, Democrat from Oregon

Tom Udall, Democrat from New Mexico

The complaint details actions these individuals took to pressure the IRS to investigate organizations that opposed their party’s views. According to Ethics Committee rules, “The Committee shall promptly commence a preliminary inquiry… of such duration and scope as is necessary” to discover whether the people in the complaint violated the Senate’s rules.

The complaint cites nine Democratic senators, or about one in six of the sitting senators from that party.

Man up


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This is a man who has betrayed his country. He should man up and come back to the U. S…. The fact is, he has damaged his country very significantly. I find it sad and disgraceful. ~ John Kerry

We hear Secretary of State John Kerry tell Edward Snowden to “man up,” and come back to the United States to face prosecution for revealing that the NSA does not adhere to the plain language of the Constitution. Is that the best response our top foreign affairs official can come up with: a taunt and a charge of treason? The U. S. government goes absolutely nuts a year ago trying to track Snowden down. Snowden makes the feds look bad, real bad, like the super-confident, villainous, but inept crooks that Jason Bourne evades when he makes them trip over themselves trying to catch him. When the feds encounter a real Jason Bourne – who’s a computer tech, not an assassin! – the best it can do is call across the ocean, man up, you betrayed your country. Sometimes you want to tell these guys, keep your mouth shut. Every time you say something, you make it worse. We already know you are compulsive law breakers who hide behind official procedures and secret barriers. Must you issue empty challenges to flaunt your weakness and incompetence as well?

Secretary of State John Kerry

If we’re talking about manning up to face criminal charges, I wonder why Kerry does not issue the same challenge to Clapper, Alexander, and the rest of the crew over at NSA. That would be something to see: the whole intelligence establishment trooping down to Leavenworth to join Bradley Manning in solitary confinement so they can man up as well. As it is, Chelsea Manning is at another facility now to undergo hormone therapy, but I imagine Leavenworth is good enough for these men. It probably has a good locker room. Let’s see how masculine these spies feel when the guards let them out of their eight by eight cells for one hour a day to walk around the yard.

It’s an interesting phrase, man up. Does that mean by going to Russia, Edward Snowden has chosen to woman down? We used to see the phrase in television shows like Friends, where one brother tells another he should man up and apologize to his girl friend. I haven’t seen a secretary of state apply it to a person charged with espionage. When did going into exile to keep from being thrown into solitary for the rest of your life become an unmanly thing to do? Does the rest of the world see Snowden as someone who decided to woman down?

I wonder if President Rose in Hunger Games would challenge Katniss Everdeen in public to woman up. She’s the heroine of the revolution, a sort of Joan of Arc figure for the poor people in the provinces. President Rose travels all the way to her house to caution her against any more provocative heroics. She understands what is at stake: the government will come after her sister and her mother if she doesn’t cooperate. At least no one from Washington has threatened to go after Snowden’s father and girlfriend, though I expect they have both had to deal with some unwelcome visits, and pressure to help get Snowden back. When everything else has failed, the secretary of state tells Snowden to man up. Snowden must want to reply, how reckless do you think I am?

Especially interesting is to hear Kerry talk in this vein after his experience in Vietnam, his experience in the resistance against the Vietnam war back in the States, and his experience as a presidential candidate in 2004. First, I admire Kerry for the stand he took when he came back from Vietnam. The Swift boat people charged him with cowardice and mendacity for medals he won as a leader in combat. For those lies, the people who ran that campaign against him will go down in the annals of U. S. politics as authors of one of the dirtiest presidential campaigns in recent memory. They did not even acknowledge in public that their real complaint against Kerry was his leadership of war resisters back home.

Having endured that kind of trashing, Kerry knows what it’s like to take an unpopular stand. Is he less a man because the feds did not throw him into prison back in 1971? Did he woman down because lying jerks working for the Republicans Swift boated him in 2004? That’s a sensitive question, because in fact his defenders do wish he had spoken more forcefully against his detractors during the campaign. The root fault lies with the Swift boaters, though, not with the candidate. He chose to ignore the charges as beneath contempt, and that was not an unmanly thing to do.

We have to ask, then, why Kerry thinks civil disobedience requires punishment to make the act complete. What theory of civil disobedience is that? Is there a yin and yang for outlaws, that requires people like Snowden to wind up in jail, to elevate their act and lend it significance? Snowden is not Jesus on the cross. He does not have to suffer at the hands of tyrants to infuse meaning into his disclosure of official lawlessness. John Kerry should man down – that is, simply tone down – and, if he likes, reply quietly to Snowden’s arguments about constitutionality and privacy. Kerry says Snowden should make those arguments in court, here in the country that has charged him as a spy. An interview with Brian Williams in Moscow does not score well with Kerry, or with other rabid law enforcers in Washington who call Snowden a traitor.

Here’s a final observation on Snowden’s choice of exile over prosecution and imprisonment. Washington set the model for treatment of civil disobedience with the Manning case. It kept him in solitary confinement for three years before it tried him. The trial itself was not quite secret, but the feds preferred to keep the event off the media’s front pages if they could. They wanted to put him away, but not stir up excess noise among Manning’s supporters.

What opportunity did Manning have to defend his action during this semi-secret proceeding? Near the beginning of the trial, Manning submitted a written statement. Because the verdict was foregone, the trial is essentially a sentencing hearing. The reporting on Manning’s statement indicates some lawyering strategy in the background. Manning suggests he was a naive, low-level and well intentioned intelligence analyst who did not realize the damage he might cause. As a strong statement against our government’s conduct of war in Iraq, and its conduct of diplomacy and military operations worldwide, it came across as rather muted. Rather than defend his own actions to expose our govenrment’s conduct, Manning chose to lay some soft covers over his truly significant act of disobedience. That’s where the trial strategy comes in: the cautious attorney advises not to present a statement that provokes the court to deliver a life sentence without parole. He reminds Manning that your statement glitters for a moment, then you spend an extra twenty years in prison for it. In the event, Manning received thirty-five years confinement for his heroism.

Consonant with the gender issue that Kerry introduced with his public challenge to Snowden to man up, we should acknowledge Chelsea Manning’s desire to change gender. I believe that if the feds had not hauled Manning into solitary confinement for three years, Bradley Manning would still be Bradley Manning, living as a gay man. Life took another turn for him. He has undergone a lot of suffering for his country. After the way our government treated Manning – as a traitor to be locked away, without a voice, for as long as possible – Edward Snowden made the correct choice. He can make his case more effectively from abroad. If he ever steps onto U. S. soil again, his right of free speech is gone.

Let’s return at the end to Kerry’s suggestion that turning yourself in counts as manning up. Chelsea Manning did not turn herself in. Adrian Lamo, a friend Manning trusted, turned her in. Edward Snowden did not turn himself in. Sarah Harrison from Wikileaks, the organization that published Manning’s documents, helped Snowden reach Moscow. For the U. S. government, and for others who mistakenly support its policies and activities, Adrian Lamo is an asset. The feds regard the other three as contemptible traitors. For the rest of us, who have to figure out a way to resist unchecked power, we know the heroes in this quartet: Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Sarah Harrison. They stand courageously against people who betray our Constitution. Their courage is not masculine or feminine. The cowardice of people who lie and hide behind shrouds of secrecy is not masculine or feminine, either. Virtue does not know any gender, and neither does vice.

Researchers’ best practices



Book reviews can tell you a lot, in a short space, about differing points of view. That is especially true for contested issues like the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. Students of both episodes in our history know the arguments associated with each. These are controversial issues not only because crimes can be inherently difficult to solve, but also because they involve fundamental understandings about our government, and our country. Moreover, arguments about them play out in a turbulent social and political environment. These arguments are not parlor games. The conclusions we reach affect how we define our membership in the American community, or whether a real community as we conceive it even exists.

9/11 occurred about thirty-eight years after Kennedy’s assassination. The social and political environment in the United States changed a great deal during that time. One thing did not change: if you disagree with the government’s account of what happened on November 22, 1963, or September 11, 2001, you will encounter ridicule, mocking attacks, and rude contempt. 9/11 researchers observed what happened to Kennedy researchers. They saw the Kennedy researchers prevail nevertheless, after nearly fifty years of work. 9/11 researchers understand that we may not have fifty years to solve this case. If the truth about 9/11 waits until 2051, we may not see any remnants of the American republic left. In fact, hardly any exist now.

Based on the way successful 9/11 researchers undertake their work, we can identify a few best practices. Researchers want their work and the language they use to persuade people, or at least to provoke second thoughts. Few want to work carefully, in good faith, only to hear ridicule and contempt. Given the nature of these crimes, researchers can expect strong, negative reactions when they imply state complicity. Yet one hopes to build a body of work that gains a hearing among some thoughtful people, who take time to follw a line of reasoning, and who constrain their judgment until they comprehend that reasoning. One hopes to build a persuasive body of work, no matter how long it takes. Yet given what is at stake, time does matter.

These practices emerge as one compares the work researchers have done on 9/11, with experience researchers have gained during decades since Kennedy’s assassination.

Develop a common vocabulary and mode of argument

Develop a rich language that frames the agenda for discussion. The language should not be arcane or antagonistic, but should encourage people to join the conversation. The language should begin with general arguments, and lead to more detailed ones. It should start with the big picture, and move from there to stories about people involved with the crime.

A simple example is use of the word conspiracy. It’s meaning is simple – more than one person involved in planning or executing a crime – but the word became an epithet in debates about Kennedy’s death. Conspiracy theorists became conspiracy buffs, who became conspiracy nuts. That evolution of the phrase serves the Warren Commission well, but it doesn’t help you find the truth. Truth likes language a little more impartial than that.

A key difference for 9/11 research is that everyone agrees from the start that the crime was a conspiracy. A lone actor did not destroy the twin towers. The question becomes, which actors? 9/11 researchers recognize that opponents cannot use the word conspiracy against them, as opponents did in the Kennedy case. Of course, that hasn’t prevented opponents from brandishing the label conspiracy theorist anyway. 9/11 researchers have insisted that conspiracy is a neutral term in this debate – our task is to determine which conspiracy.

Show courtesy, respect, and self-confidence

Treat opponents better than they treat you. Courtesy and respect communicate self-confidence. These qualities help you stay positive about inevitable ridicule. They help you feel comfortable with your arguments. They save you from seeing the other side force you to play defense. You want to control the ball. Respectful and courteous methods of argument, backed by self-confidence, help you do that.

A double standard usually reveals that something is not right in the bigger picture. One side freely uses words like whacko, nut case, wingnut, conspiracy buff, truther (apparently reserved for 9/11 skeptics), and others. These terms are clearly derogatory, and evidence-free. That is, they displace reasoned argument. Once you begin by calling your adversary a whacko, you don’t need to bother with an argument at all. In fact, arguing with a whacko makes you look bad. Once you start with the epithets, you don’t need to say anything reasonable.

One waits – a long time – to hear someone say, “Wait a minute, that kind of name calling isn’t so helpful here.” It takes you back to elementary school, doesn’t it? Now imagine the response if skeptics routinely relied on name calling to address people who disagree with them. Let’s say, out of the gate, researchers into Kennedy’s murder accused people who believe Oswald did it of being whackos. Would you encounter the same nonchalant silence in that case? To the contrary, non-skeptics would say that the impolite vocabulary confirms their negative assessment of the skeptics’ sanity.

Occasionally you read a book revieew where a skeptic says you have to be an idiot to believe the official story, whether it’s about JFK or 9/11. It’s kind of satisfying, after all the abuse, to see a strong word thrown back. For the moment, it feels good to be on the offensive, working as part of a team that feels confident enough to use a word like that. Satisfying though it might be, the costs of giving in to reciprocal name calling are pretty high. Continue to treat your opponents with courtesy and respect. Set an example of politeness, and insist on respect in return. Eventually people will perceive the obvious double standard that applies to arguments from each side. You cannot ignore a disparity that wide for too long.

Focus on persuasive, key evidence

For the Kennedy assassination, government agencies from the Dallas police to the Federal Bureau of Investigation effectively destroyed, dismissed, ignored, or tampered with a lot of evidence. They cleaned up, tore apart, and rebuilt Kennedy’s limousine as quickly as possible. They performed an incompetent and, one might say, criminal autopsy on Kennedy’s body. They permitted Lee Oswald’s murder. Johnson formed an investigative commission led by people like Allen Dulles, one of Kennedy’s most vigorous and motivated enemies. The investigative commission relied on evidence assembled by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, another of JFK’s enemies.

As a result, it took time for Kennedy researchers to reach an appreciable level of agreement about key evidence. Everyone recognized the importance of Abraham Zapruder’s film, but for a number of reasons, interpretation of that film led to an amazing amount of disagreement. Combined with other evidence, such as where pieces of Kennedy’s brain landed after his head blew apart, the film demonstrates that the Warren Commission was wrong. The film was not released until twelve years after Kennedy’s murder, however, so the overall trail of evidence was well cold by then.

Government pursued similar tactics for the 9/11 investigation, except the president resisted formation of any commission at all. The number of victims was large, and so was the pressure, so Bush eventually relented, and formed the 9/11 Commission to determine what happened that day. Like the Warren Commission, it started with a set of conclusions, and evaluated evidence in light of its destination. Unsurprisingly, given its methods, its work was just as poor as the Warren Commission’s. Moreover, many people received its findings with a similar level of skepticism. “Really?” they said. “That’s what you found?” The Bush administration knew that was a likely reaction. That’s why it resisted formation of the commission to begin with. Why commission all that work if you know the results will be false, and transparently false?

Now we arrive at questions about key evidence in the 9/11 case. The event that most persuasively points to 9/11 as a false flag operation is the collapse of World Trade Center building number seven near the end of the day, about eight and a half hours after the initial attacks. The collapse of this building in free fall was a controlled demolition, not the result of contained fires that burned inside the building during the day. The collapse of this building in free fall looked exactly like the collapse of other large, steel-framed buildings brought down in the same way. When you try to understand why WTC7 fell as it did, when it did, you encounter a chain of questions that leads you from one disturbing conclusion to the next.

9/11 researchers correctly regard the collapse of WTC7 as their starting point. Like Jack Ruby’s hit of Lee Oswald two days after JFK’s murder, the collapse of WTC7 shortly before dusk on September 11 reveals too much to be ignored. After you digest the significance of these two critical events, everything about government’s explanation of the larger crimes feels artificial and false.

Stress scientific reasoning

Scientific reasoning starts with how one collects and evaluates evidence, and reaches well beyond that. When applied to forensic analysis, it requires you to work backward from fragmented , hard-to-find evidence, under uncertain hypotheses, to reconstruct an event that you can never reproduce, or verify first-hand. Forensic analysis requires the skills of Holmes, not so much the skills of Watson and Crick.

We are used ot reasoning forward from premises, what-if questions, thought experiments, laboratory trials, carefully recorded data, trial and error, observations, tests, and comparisons. When you apply these methods to solution of a crime, you must adapt them to an environment where you cannot conduct experiments as such. Instead, you must try to reconstruct the big bang from evidence scattered throughout the universe.

Two pieces of analysis about the Kennedy assassination illustrate these points. Watch a YouTube video of Vincent Bugliosi, where he discusses the work of researchers who disagree with him. As he defends his work, he can run other people down, or he can use evidence from h8is own research to demonstrate that his conclusions are superior. From these interviews, Bugliosi appears to be a smart man who does not have much to say. His laces his sentences with words like idiotic, wrong-headed, and misguided to describe those who present evidence that counters his own. Consequently he spends practically no time discussing his evidence! Contrast that with Bob Harris’s treatment of the same event and the same evidence. When you have watched Harris’s presentation, you know you have seen forensic analysis that makes effective use of scientific reasoning.

We all know how to reason scientifically. We all recognize valid scientific reasoning when we encounter it. Teachers often illustrate it with simple examples. It requires practice to apply the same methods to more complex cases. In every instance, scientific reasoning asks you to test hypotheses against evidence. You use hypotheses to help you decide which evidence is germane, and which is not. You try to reach reasonable conclusions based on evidence you have available. You try not to reach beyond the evidence, but you make the best use of evidence you have. If you speculate or make educated guesses, you distinguish those from your conclusions. Again, watch Bob Harris to see a master at work.

9/11 researchers are correct to rely on scientific arguments when they analyze evidence related to the 9/11 attacks. Critics of 9/11 research, like Vincent Bugliosi in Kennedy’s case, will call 9/11 researchers idiots and nuts to denigrate both their evidence and their conclusions. Set against valid analysis, these names appear pretty small. Bob Harris sets a standard of analysis that no defender of the Warren report, including xxx Posner in Case Closed, has matched. The quality of Harris’s analysis speaks for itself. The quality of analysis in the Warren report and the 9/11 Commission report speaks for itself, too.

The quality of your analysis serves as the best bulwark against ridicule.

Promote collaboration

To see the importance of moral support and collective endeavor, consider the attacks on Jim Garrison, the courageous New Orleans district attorney who, in a suit against Clay Shaw, marshalled evidence of government complicity in Kennedy’s murder. He dealt with infiltrators, witness tampering, hostile press coverage, overt and implicit threats, and all kinds of contempt and ridicule. Washington’s tactics to discredit and frustrate Garrison came to define the idea and practical use of dirty tricks for the 1960s. Yet his work endured over decades, and his conclusions proved correct.

What would have happened if his backers during the 1960s had been able to speak with a firmer, more unified voice? Would the history of research into the Kennedy assassination have changed? We don’t know the answer to that, but we do know that efforts to disprove the Warren Commission’s conclusions during the 1960s met furious resistance from several quarters. Lacking effective means of cooperation, people who agreed with Garrison had to wait a long time to see his efforts validated.

9/11 researchers can communicate more effectively, but the resistance is just as stout. Moreover, the Internet can promote isolation and distrust, just as easily as it can promote community and collaboration based on trust. Cass Sunstein, administrator of the aptly named Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, advocates openly that government infiltrate communities of 9/11 researchers to sow disagreement, spread falsehood and suspicion, and use these techniques to break them up.

Propagandists call these methods cognitive infiltration. Open advocacy of such turpitude shows contempt for your opponents – doesn’t it? – not to mention contempt for the government you represent. You declare that your opponents are too weak and inept to to counter you, even if they know what you want to do. Worse still, it shows you expect people, the citizens you serve, to back you in such an immoral plan.

Sunstein argues that these measures are necessary and justified because the 9/11 truth movement is corrosive, without considering the effects of his own cynicism. We have witnessed evidently cynical propaganda techniques, worldwide, for a long time now. Sunstein’s proposals unmistakably show how government self-interest actively undermines good-faith efforts to find the truth.

If Cass Sunstein followed David Ray Griffin’s argumentative approach, he would meet 9/11 researchers on level ground, to fight them point by point. He would not talk about devious, dastardly government tactics that confirm nearly every point 9/11 researchers make. Honest, courageous people like Griffin charge Sunstein’s government with complicity in a monstrous crime designed to sow fear, panic and division among the citizenry. What government official, responsible for upholding free speech and free information, would want to use invidious, divisive falsehoods to break up groups that support Griffin, in order to counter a charge like that?

Sunstein cannot have it both ways. Either members of the 9/11 truth movement have important things to say, in which case members of a complicit government do in fact have something to fear. Or, members of the 9/11 truth movement believe in Santa Claus fantasies and falsehoods, in which case they are harmless. Sunstein dismisses the movement’s beliefs as fantasies, yet advocates a large government program to destroy their credibility and cooperation. At bottom, Sunstein recognizes the extreme danger to government if the 9/11 truth movement can unite and collaborate effectively. Absent the anticipated danger, and cognitive infiltration becomes beside the point. Any strategist will say, deploy your resources economically, and only where required.

Having mentioned a moral man like David Ray Griffin, let me make one more remark about how communities based on truth form. It also counts as a warning to governments who underestimate their opponents: watch out for theologians and other leaders who care about truth! They will bring you down. They unite people because they believe freedom and truth always defeat criminal, cynical behavior. They care about what is right. We can remember religious leaders like Martin Luther, and move straight to heroes like Mahatma Ghandi, Jack Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Karol Wojtyla, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela, Liu Xiaobo, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, and less known leaders everywhere who currently struggle to achieve freedom and dignity for others. If you go up against people like these, you will eventually lose – even if the struggle requires decades, and you destroy a lot of people in your defeat.


These practices concern language or rhetoric of debate. Persuasion occurs via verbal and social means. Naturally people who engaged in persuasion pay attention to language, and to means of communication. The huge difference between 1963 and 2001 is that the Internet did not exist in 1963. We had Walter Cronkite and the local newspaper. Go on YouTube to watch television news coverage from the afternoon of November 22. You witness a different era in communications, without a doubt.

Kennedy researchers in the years after 1963 operated at a big disadvantage by comparison with 9/11 researchers. Government could control the narrative and dissemination of evidence more surely than they can now. In fact, research on the Kennedy assassination, and reassessment of its conclusions, developed during the twenty years after Oliver Stone’s film, JFK, in the early 1990s. That period coincides with the development of new methods of communication, including the Internet.

Government possesses several key advantages in the debate over what happened on 9/11. It also operates with some disadvantages. It recognizes that if it cannot control communications channels, and thereby break up communities, it will lose in the end. That is why it works so hard to regain the kind of control it had in the 1960s. We have some confidence that, eventually, government’s efforts to control key communications channels will fail. We can expect that, eventually, officials’ efforts to disrupt collaboration may not yield the results they seek. Less certain is whether 9/11 researchers can overcome disadvantages on their side. Today’s researchers need discipline, and faith their work has prospects of success. If they remain mindful of what we have all learned since 1963, they may see an opportunity, soon, to make a reasoned case in a less hostile, albeit unsettled atmosphere.

Extra points

When we compare JFK’s murder with 9/11 and other state crimes against democracy, we find these common practices on the part of state authorities:

  • Control the crime scene; clea it up as quickly as you can.
  • Identify the culprit quickly.
  • Develop a narrative that establishes the culprit’s motive and guilt.
  • Develop a narrative that explains the forensic evidence.
  • Destroy alternate theories of the crime.

The presidential limousine is gassed up and ready at Love Field.

Last stand for freedom


People looked at the wreckage in New York, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia on September 12, 2001, and said, “9/11 changed everything.” What the phrase meant at the time, however, is not what it turned out to mean later. At the time, people meant that we could not feel safe from the world anymore. We were at war, and our enemies could strike anywhere. They could annihilate thousands of people in downtown Manhattan. Homeland security became a national preoccupation.

Then, as many people around the world and in the United States began to realize what actually happened on 9/11, they began to see the calamity – and the putative initiation of hostilities – in a different way. They began to ask questions that the American government should have been able to answer, and could not. Gradually it became clear that government preferred not to answer straightforward questions because it had a lot to hide. At last, government officials refused to answer persistent and pointed questions from victims’ families, because it could no longer hide what had become obvious: government counted itself among our enemies. 9/11 changed everything, because at last citizens perceived the truth about their own government.

One article of faith for many Americans before 9/11 was that, for all its faults, our government was different from other governments. It did not routinely commit crimes against its own people. It tried to set an example of good behavior for other states. As a result, other states looked to it for leadership, and it responded generously. Among the things that changed on 9/11, this exceptional behavior and exceptional position were the first to go. The U. S. government became, in its own eyes and for others as well, just another criminal, power grubbing machine that served its own interests, not anyone else’s. This change did not take place in one day, of course. The events that unfolded after 9/11, however, simply made these changes apparent to anyone who cared to observe them.

To see the direction of these changes, as well as their ominous outcomes should they go unchecked, consider the civil war in Syria. Not long after we unleashed the furies of armed conflict in Iraq, Jordan’s King Abdullah worried that the war could spread to other countries in the region. His fears about contagion proved correct. We have seen prolonged civil conflict in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Syria’s war is the most serious right now. It has already merged with the one in Iraq.

When we tote up the war crimes of the gang of cronies in Damascus, we see what a government will do to preserve its power. Is Syria an extreme case? Yes, it is, but our government has not bombarded cities, sniped citizens in the streets, or openly tortured children because it has not needed to. Given what it has already done, we cannot predict how much further it might go. As we assess the self protective actions of governments everywhere, we observe differences of degree, not kind. The more rulers feel threatened, the more force they call into play. The more force they call into play, the more they undermine their ability to rule.

No one has charged the United States government with torture and murder of children, as Bashir Assad’s government has done. Yet who predicted in the years after 9/11 that we would torture people on a large scale, and publicly defend these crimes. Moral decay occurs gradually, as does escalation in the use of violence. Assad’s forces use their murderous techniques as means of intimidation: if we are willing to torture and kill this innocent young man, imagine what we will do to your family. Imagine what we will do to you.

Our government uses methods of intimidation, but it has not escalated its use of force against people to the degree we see in countries like Syria and Russia. As it feels itself under threat, however, it applies force sufficient to protect its power. No one can say, right now, what limits our government might observe to constrain its use of force. Rulers and secret police, for their part, like to create uncertainty on that score. Unpredictability and secrecy are hallmarks of people who operate outside the law.

Altogether, government’s use of force to protect its power and privileges presents something of a mystery. When the only foundation for your power is punishment and threats, you have already lost. So-called officials rule as a gang of criminals protected by laws they promulgate or rescind to serve their own interests. So we ask, for people who hold power in Syria, “Why would Assad and his associates be willing to do these things in the first place?” A government that has to use methods like that has lost its legitimacy. It does not lead anymore, and can accomplish no good for the country. The citizens know it and the government knows it. So what is the point of bombarding cities and killing so many civilians every day?

We know the answer by now. Legitimacy, leadership, or serving citizens’ welfare does not concern the government at all. Preservation of power – and of the parasitic relationship where so-called public servants benefit from their access to the country’s treasury – is all that is at issue in this case. No one in Syria pretends otherwise.

The interesting thing is that in principle, we have headed in a similar direction in the United States. We still have officials who praise public service, but even when they mean it, the praise sounds hollow. One travesty after another reminds us of the true relationship between government, and the people who suffer under its humiliations. As Peggy Noonan remarked about a wasteful government conference and shindig in Las Vegas, the notable thing was not that government officials wasted taxpayer money. That is not news. The notable thing is that they wasted taxpayer money, and openly mocked taxpayers while they did it.

So we understand that government officials not only feel entitled to throw a big party for themselves, but show contempt for the people who pay for it. As people remarked after seeing Hunger Games, someone needs to shoot the apple out of this pig’s mouth. We need a leader who can make these jerks feel uneasy. We need a leader who demonstrates courage to say, “We will bring you down. You appropriated our republic for yourselves. We want it back.” That would make their chests tighten up a bit. People who instill fear and humiliation in others, ought to feel a taste of it themselves.

Some would go further and say, “We will bring you down. We will put you away, as you put Jack and Bobby away.” The problem is, the people who put Jack and Bobby away required only a few loaded guns and assassins to do so. You cannot replace your government with a few loaded guns. You cannot replace your government with a republic even if you have a lot of loaded guns. You have to find a way to remove government’s internal supports. Think of a building, like World Trade Center 7, or a tent that collapses when you remove the supports that hold it up. A government’s structural supports are financial and moral. Remove those, and the whole structure comes down.

“But we can’t replace the government with anarchy,” you say. Some would counter that anarchy, or something close to it, is the best possible outcome. Others would say our traditions call for more legal authority than anarchy would permit. That’s why planning for a democratic republic, or multiple republics, must occur while the existing government, its wits clouded by its own power, prepares its own end. We know from history that when governments collapse, they collapse suddenly. They fall after an extended period of changes that throw it off balance, until it passes its tipping point. When we citizens observe government’s self-destructive behavior, we have to recognize it. We have to be prepared to act when corrupt institutions at last inflict a blow, intended for their adversaries, that turns out to be fatal for them.

The first, critical step onto this path of self-destruction occurred when hired assassins shot John Kennedy and John Connally in Dallas, Texas. The gunmen hit Connally by mistake. They executed President Kennedy in the nation’s most infamous public square, Dealey Plaza. In most circumstances – think of Cesar Borgia in Machiavelli’s Prince, or Mexico’s drug lords right now – the perpetrators of a murder like that would want people to know who did it. You can’t intimidate and control people when you finger a patsy to take the blame for your crimes.

The people who hit Kennedy wanted it both ways: a public execution, but with secrecy about who did it. Secret assassination teams were trained to get Fidel Castro, and murder was in the air: our enemy in Havana may be out of reach, but our friend in Dallas is not. After Robert Kennedy received news of his brother’s death, one of the first calls he made was to one of contacts in the get-Castro underground. He asked right off the bat, “It was one of your guys, wasn’t it?”

If we don’t recognize the murder as an execution, we won’t grasp its significance. If we don’t grasp its significance, we won’t be ready when the shadow state that planned this act reaches an endgame where its previous moves cause its own defeat. No government persists indefinitely after it squanders its legitimacy, just as no building can stand after its foundation deteriorates. Processes of degradation and collapse may take some time; eventually a crisis or explosion occurs that reduces the weakened structure to a pile of bricks and shattered wood. Our government will not escape the destination it set for itself.

We citizens cannot resign, or become spectators in this process. If we merely watch, we could sit in bleachers, or in a prison camp that stretches from sea to sea, for two centuries or more. The Roman republic ended long before the structure fell. The secular power of the Catholic church in the Middle Ages underwent a similarly long decline. We still have enough freedom to prevent passive subjugation to prevent subjugation to corrupt tyrants and their toadies, who expect us to kiss their rings. We have to be ready for the crisis. We have to expect the explosion of civic entergy that accompanies reform and revolution. We have to resist, plan, and rebuild, as the bloated ticks eventually fall off the unfortunate animal.

First, we have to resist government’s overreach wherever we can. Our government maintains its power at our expense. It makes our lives miserable by degrees, so gradually that we don’t realize how little freedom we have, or how much prosperity we have lost. We must find practical ways to resist processes of governmental aggrandizement, to regain our freedom, our elemental ability to act. We have become hamstrung. Freedom, which we all seek, includes the ability to do work we love, and to dispose of our property as we wish. That is happiness in the social and economic arenas. When government persistently interferes with citizens’ pursuit of happiness, it violates its own charter.

Second, we have to plan to cooperate effectively. Carlos Casteneda wrote, “We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Collaboration to set plans of resistance, to execute strategies and guide civil action, is hard work. However difficult or risky, that work is better than the hopeless drudgery and indignity we suffer when we simply submit. We can act together to make our lives better, and to make our interactions better as well.

Third, we have to prepare and build new institutions to replace decadent ones when they fall away. We know the dispiriting consequences of surprise, born of limited foresight: long periods of disorganized conflict, where powerful people willing to use the most force prevail, only to fall when a stronger person arrives. New rulers, flush with new power, can be even more ruthless and energetic than the ones they replaced. Power groups may put up stooges that are weak and incompetent, but no less criminal than their masters. Only citizens prepared to act in advance can prevent outcomes like that. Only citizens prepared to act in advance can block the ascendance of warlords, demagogues, and strongmen who pretend to be leaders, but are nothing more than thugs with power.

Eventually the pot boils. Stay hungry. Be ready.

Miserable or strong, the amount of work is the same



Observe Syria to see what a government will do to preserve its power. Syria’s an extreme case? Yes, it is, but our government has not bombarded cities, sniped citizens in the streets, or openly tortured children because it has not needed to.

We can’t tell whether the United States government would torture and murder children, as Bashir Assad’s government has done. Moral decay occurs gradually. Assad’s forces use these techniques as means of intimidation: if we are willing to torture and kill this innocent young man, imagine what we can do to your family. Imagine what we can do to you. Our government already uses methods of intimidation, but it has not escalated its use of force to that degree. I don’t doubt that if it felt itself under threat, it would escalate its use of force sufficiently to protect its power. No one can say, right now, what limits the government might observe to constrain its use of force.

Here’s another interesting comparison with Syria. You might ask, “Why would Assad be willing to do these things in the first place?” A government that has to use methods like that has lost its legitimacy. It does not lead anymore, and can accomplish no good for the country. The citizens know it and the government knows it. So what’s the point of bombarding cities and killing so many civilians every day?

We know the answer by now. Legitimacy, leadership, or serving citizens’ welfare does not concern the government at all. Preservation of power – and of the parasitic relationship where so-called public servants benefit from their access to the country’s treasury – is all that is at issue in this case. No one in Syria pretends otherwise.

The interesting thing is that we have clearly headed in that direction in the United States. We still have officials who talk about public service, but even when they’re sincere it sounds hollow. One travesty after another reminds us of the true relationship between government and the people who suffer under the humiliation it imposes. As Peggy Noonan remarked about the wasteful GSA conference in Las Vegas, the notable thing was not that government officials wasted taxpayer money. That is not news. The notable thing is that they wasted taxpayer money, and openly mocked taxpayers while they did it.

So we see that government officials not only feel entitled to throw a big party for themselves, but show contempt for the people who pay for it. As I remarked after seeing Hunger Games, someone needs to shoot the apple out of this pig’s mouth. We need a leader who can make these jerks feel uneasy. We need a leader who can demonstrate courage to say, “We will bring you down. You took our republic away from us, and now we want it back.” That would make their chests tighten up a bit. People who instill fear and humiliation in others should feel a taste of it themselves.

Some would like to go further and say, “We will bring you down. We will put you away, just as you put Jack and Bobby away.” The problem is, the people who put Jack and Bobby away required only a few bullets to do so. You cannot replace your government with a few bullets. You cannot replace your government with a republic even if you have a lot of bullets. You have to find a way to make the government collapse from within. Think of a building that collapses when you remove its structural supports. A government’s structural supports are financial and moral. Remove those, and the government disappears.

Protests around the world indicate we are not the only unhappy ones.

“But you can’t just remove the government and have anarchy,” you say. Some would say anarchy is the best of all possible outcomes, but most would say we can do better. That’s why planning for a democratic republic, or multiple republics, must occur while the existing government approaches its own end. We know from history that when governments collapse, they do so suddenly. They fall after a long period of small changes that point toward destruction. When we citizens observe government’s self-destructive behavior, we have to recognize it and be prepared to act when corrupt institutions at last inflict the mortal blow that brings them down.

The first, critical step onto this path of self-destruction occurred when hired assassins shot John Kennedy and John Connally in Dallas, Texas. Connally was unlucky. President Kennedy was executed in public. If we don’t recognize the murder as an execution, we won’t grasp its significance. If we don’t grasp its significance, we won’t be ready when the government that planned this act comes up against its own retribution. No government can persist after it squanders its own legitimacy, just as no building can stand after its foundation deteriorates. The process of collapse may take quite some time, but a storm comes that reduces the decrepit building to a pile of sticks. Our government cannot escape the destination it set for itself.

As I indicated, though, we citizens can’t be spectators in this process. If we merely spectate, we could sit helplessly in the bleachers for a couple of centuries. To avoid that, effective community action is in order. We have to be ready. We have to resist, plan, and rebuild as the bloated ticks eventually fall off the unfortunate animal.

First, we have to resist government’s overreach wherever we can. Our government maintains its power at our expense. It makes our lives miserable by degrees, so gradually that we don’t realize how little freedom we have, or how much prosperity we have lost. We have to find practical ways to resist the process of government aggrandizement, to regain our freedom. That freedom includes the ability to do work we love, and to dispose of our property as we wish. When government persistently interferes with citizens’ pursuit of happiness, it violates its own charter.

Second, we have to plan in order to cooperate effectively. Carlos Casteneda wrote, “We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Collaboration to set plans of resistance that guide civil action is hard work, but that work is better than the kind of hopeless drudgery we suffer when we simply submit. We can act together to make our lives better.

Third, we have to be prepared to build new institutions when the decadent ones fall away. We know the consequences of being unprepared: a long period of conflict where powerful people willing to use the most force prevail. The new rulers, flush with new power, can be even more ruthless and energetic than the ones they replaced. Only citizens prepared to act in advance can prevent that kind of conflict, or block the ascendance of warlords and demagogues should the conflict occur.

Eventually the pot boils. Stay hungry. Be ready.


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