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Archive for September, 2012

Ambassador Stevens Died in Vain

Ambassador Christopher Steven’s assassination on September 11th in Benghazi, Libya, needless to say, stirred a wide array of reactions from different sources.  There were those that instantly called for war against Libya.  Others, realizing that the deed was a planned attack by a smaller subgroup in that country were more conciliatory by eulogizing the ambassador as a man who gave his very life to make the lives of others better.  And then there was the clumsy and irresponsible reaction of the leader of the Republican party and its current presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.  For his part, the former Massachusetts’ governor reacted by blasting the Obama Administration for “sympathizing with those who waged the attack” because its U.S. embassy in Cairo issued a statement during the attacks meant to quell any potential violence.

Whatever the case, the death of Christopher Stevens was needless and wasteful.  He died in vain for two reasons: his inappropriate involvement in the affairs of a country not his own and the fact that he should not have been in Benghazi on September 11.

Last year when President Obama decided unilaterally to intervene in the Libyan Civil War, he appointed Stevens to work closely with anti-Gadhafi fighters on the ground in Benghazi and serve as a conduit between them and the U.S. military.  At first, NATO involvement was just supposed to include imposing a U.N. sanctioned “no-fly zone” over Libya so Gadhafi could not use his air force to brutalize Libyans on the ground.  However, in very short order, the mission morphed into an all-out air invasion complete with bombings of Gadhafi’s fighters on the ground.

What was lacking of course was any congressional debate whether or not American forces should be employed in Libya and ultimately a declaration of war from Congress as required in the Constitution.  After all, U.S. forces were engaged in direct combat in the Libyan Civil War for months.  Just because no Americans died in the conflict until Ambassador Stevens is beside the point.  Congressional debate could have resulted in a vote not to declare war on a country that posed no national security to us.

So, in essence, the Obama Administration used the pretext of saving lives to commit regime change.  Chris Stevens was the point man on the ground in Benghazi that helped to make that happen.  The regime was Gadhafi’s and chances are good Stevens was killed either by a pro-Gadhafi militia or a fringe militia looking to gain support from pro-Gadhafi forces.  Either way, this is what is called blowback.  Stevens paid for his deeds directly in Libya.  The bottom line is that Americans will continue to experience this phenomenon as long as their government continues to meddle in the affairs of other countries, even if the goal is noble.

The second reason Chris Stevens died in vain was because he shouldn’t have been in Libya on September 11th.  No American should have been.  Since the end of the civil war, Libya has been reduced to a Somalia like haven.  Without a legitimate centralized authority, heavily armed militias operate freely on the streets of Libya’s major cities.  Assassination attempts, shootouts, car bombings, arson, and threats against foreign diplomats are commonplace.  In August, in Tripoli, armed men tried to commandeer a U.S. Embassy vehicle carrying American diplomatic personnel.  Stevens and the American diplomatic corps should have been evacuated out of Libya a long time ago.  It was and is simply too dangerous a place for them.

Shortly after Ambassador Stevens was assassinated, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted asking, “How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?”  The answer is easy – American intervention in other countries makes all Americans unsafe.  When Washington picks sides in a conflict there are other sides that are slighted.  When America attempts to militarily or politically dominate another country folks in that country become resentful.  Clearly, these are lessons that Secretary Clinton needs to learn.  If Ambassador Stevens understood them, he would still be alive today.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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A Lack of Judgment and Hypocrisy

Mitt Romney’s behavior in the last 24 hours has been repulsive.  Faced with an attack from a crowd of angry protestors in Cairo over the release of an anti-Muhammad film in the United States, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo released the following statement in an attempt to appease the mob and prevent violence:

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

Romney apparently sensing a political opening attacked the Obama Administration over the statement claiming it was “sympathizing with those who waged the attack”.  Back on the offensive the next morning, Romney reiterated his criticism of the Administration’s handling of the attack and stated, “It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values.”

That Mitt Romney would play politics while an attack on an American Embassy was in progress is more than disgusting; it is indicative of his unfitness to hold the office of the presidency.  It shows impulsiveness and a readiness to shoot first and ask questions later that we can ill afford in a president.

But, Romney’s actions frankly did not surprise this commentator.  Those advising him on his national security team are basically retreads from the George W. Bush years – renowned neoconservatives, and Zionists.  All are itching to reacquire the reins of power in order to involve America in more foreign military adventures, namely Syria and Iran.  So, when Romney went on the offensive, it became clear that the same gang that gave us the “axis of evil”, and the “you are either for us or against us” campaigns and over a decade of continuous war was at it again.  Apparently they are willing to stoop to any depth in an effort to score political points to win this election so as to recommence their murderous rampage specifically through the Islamic World.

There is no question that Governor Romney has surrounded himself with dangerous advisors on national security.  But, through his recent actions he has proven himself to be a hypocrite as well.

On Wednesday morning, he went to great lengths to claim that the Obama Administration had failed to defend our values with the Embassy’s statement.  Specifically, he accused them of “effectively apologizing for the right of free speech”.

This is outrageous coming from a man whose campaign just conducted a party gathering in Tampa described by one political commentator as a “Brownshirt Convention”.  At the Republican National Convention, Brown shirted guards and police cordoned off a large section of downtown Tampa to keep protestors out of sight.  Anything not specifically approved by the Romney people, including signs of rival factions within the party, were confiscated on the streets inside the cordoned off area and on the floor of the RNC.  Lastly, leaving nothing to chance, all speakers were censored by the Romney campaign and those that refused were denied a platform to speak.  This all makes Romney’s criticism that the Administration did not defend the right to free speech hypocritical given his personal squashing of the same in Tampa.

At the end of the day, Governor Romney’s political attack on the Obama Administration while Americans were in harm’s way shows a lack of judgment on his part.  His criticism of the Administration that it did not defend the right of Americans to freedom of speech was pure hypocrisy in light of his campaign’s abuses at the RNC.   It is these traits that make him unfit to be our president.

Article first published as A Lack of Judgment and Hypocrisy on Blogcritics.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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Wouldn’t it be something if 9/11 were part of this fall’s presidential campaign? I agree: the partisanship wouldn’t be pretty. If I had lost a family member that day, I can’t say I would want to see a controversy like that come up. Yet it would be healthy for all of us to see that we could talk about the subject in public.

Here’s the current state of the argument, based on David Ray Griffin’s books as well as Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.  They would agree on these points: (1) the evidence we have demonstrates that government’s account of 9/11 is false; (2) current evidence is insufficient to give a full account of what actually did happen on 9/11; (3) therefore, we need a new investigation. Not one of these points is particularly controversial. Even the first one becomes matter of fact after you become acquainted with Griffin’s work.

Read one chapter in one of Griffin’s books. You will think, “He has a sure grasp of his logical and evidentiary tools, like a skilled attorney. I would not want to face this gentleman in a courtroom!” He handles evidence so well, so methodically and with such intelligence, that defenders of the official account appear careless, thoughtless, feckless or malicious – take your pick. By comparison with Griffin’s own thoroughness, his opponents have neither intelligence nor skill to accomplish the fraud he uncovers, but accomplish it they do. They radiate such self-assurance about their excuses and evasions that their lies seem reasonable until Griffin picks them apart. Honestly, it’s one of the best illustrations of Socratic inquiry I’ve seen. Griffin is a philosopher as well as a theologian, and his training shows.

Griffin doesn’t go against only weak opponents, either. Cass Sunstein is a capable legal philosopher out of the University of Chicago, and Griffin makes him look foolish. To his credit, Griffin doesn’t try to make Sunstein look that way, but what do you do when you encounter a weak, even reprehensible argument that deserves rebuttal? Socrates’ opponents charged him with making the stronger argument look weak, and the weaker argument look strong. His skill in argumentation so exasperated his opponents that they cooked up an additional charge about corrupting youth, convicted him, and put him to death: all because Socrates made them look foolish. I wonder how Sunstein felt when he read Griffin’s rebuttal? 

I don’t want to take this post in that direction, though. For now, let me point to Griffin’s book on Sunstein and leave off the discussion for now. The title is Cognitive Infiltration: An Obama Appointee’s Plan to Undermine the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory.

My main object in this post is to consider the implications of point three: the need for a new investigation. Griffin, architects and engineers who agree with him, and many others have advocated research that accounts for all evidence related to 9/11. That would include what happened before that day, an account of the day itself, as well as what happened after the towers and WTC 7 fell. In short, they want an impartial examination of evidence that tries to uncover what actually happened on 9/11. How did nearly three thousand citizens die that day?

Griffin is clear as well about who should conduct the investigation: Congress or the press. The executive branch had its chance with the 9/11 Commission and failed. The Commission’s report felt like its infamous predecessor, the Warren Commission report: long, laughably inaccurate and incomplete, and insufficient. The 9/11 truth movement wants a report that does justice both to the evidence and to the truth. A board of inquiry appointed by Congress would have the independence, resources, skills, and motives to investigate 9/11 properly. In good faith, professional journalists would bring the same qualities to investigations they conduct. Either institution – or the two working along parallel tracks and in their own ways – could produce work superior to the report the 9/11 Commission produced.

That is the reasoning behind the appeal, I believe. I disagree with the reasoning, but I have to explain why another time. For now let me say, the only people who can produce good research about 9/11 are independent researchers who have already undertaken it. They need encouragement, support, and new recruits to continue this essential work. Just as important, we ought to keep demanding that government release information about 9/11 that it guards so closely. Government officials know instinctively that their authority will evaporate if they resist these demands indefinitely. Meantime, independent researchers have to keep at their work. They’re the only ones with integrity, skill, and motivation to succeed.

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Back when victory in the Cold War was still a gleam in Ronald Reagan’s eye, analysts had some fixed ideas about why the conflict endured, and why it would be nearly impossible to end. One idea was the arms race, along with the fear and distrust those large arsenals caused. Another idea was the continued occupation of Eastern Europe, which the West saw as the original cause of the conflict. A third idea was that when two great powers face each other like that, neither one will back down.

Ronald Reagan offered an explanation of his own, one that showed his understanding of the way people and groups interact when they fight. He said that we could never trust the Soviet Union while they maintained a closed society. How can we have confidence in what they say, he asked, if they do almost everything in secret? Reagan pointed out that was true not only for the Soviets’ international behavior – the government kept almost everything secret from its own citizens as well.

Not so long after Reagan’s observation, glasnost – openness – became the leading edge of Mikhail Gorbachev’s initiatives for change. He apparently agreed with Reagan: no one would trust the Soviet regime without openness on its part. No adversaries within or without the Soviet Union could make peace with its leaders unless the leaders could create some degree of trust. Trust begets good will; good will begets peace. Distrust fosters conflict because it’s the deepest form of alienation.

I wanted to record these thoughts because our government has become more and more like the Soviet government in matters of secrecy. Governments, including our own, have always guarded information carefully for various reasons. Our government, however, has moved strongly away from openness and toward secrecy during the last decade. The evidence for this change is everywhere, most recently in the government’s atrocious war on whistleblowers.

This move toward secrecy is 9/11’s clearest effect. 9/11 destroyed our democracy – it did so by making our government a closed organization. As a result government has alienated citizens from itself. Alienation always results in conflict, and that is just what we find in the relationiship between citizens and government in our country. We cannot trust our government when most of its acts occur in secret, when it lies to cover its crimes, and when it acts in multiple ways to conceal its motives. Secret organizations with power cannot coexist in peace with other groups. They must be at war.

The Cold War ended, and this war between our government and the rest of the country can end, too. It can only end with openness on the government’s part.

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What makes something fishy? What makes something sound?

Definition one for fishy: arousing feelings of doubt or suspicion.

Definition two for sound: based on reason, sense, or judgment.

When you hear an explanation of a public event, how do you tell the difference between the two? That’s an important attribute of good citizenship, right? You have to be able to tell whether or not someone is being straight with you. Out there in the wide world, some people are more honest than others. One of the basic skills you have to develop as you grow up is how to distinguish people who are honest from people who are not.

You could respond, “No, I just mind my own business. I don’t care that much whether or not someone is honest. They go their way and I go mine.”

That’s true to an extent, but what if your boyfriend or girlfriend cheats on you, and lies to you about it? Or what if you charge your mate with infidelity when he or she has been true to you? You’d want to make accurate judgments about honesty in cases like that, wouldn’t you?

The same need for good judgment holds for assessments of honesty in the public sphere. If you charge honest public officials with lying or fraud, you’ll eventually have nothing but liars and cheats in office. If you trust public officials who are liars and cheats, you’ll never get them out of office.

The worst case occurs when criminals acquire a lot of power. Hitler and Stalin are especially sobering examples in this respect. A lot of people – millions – die in wars, death camps, pogroms and massacres when evil leaders win other people’s trust. A lot rides on our ability to trust the right people.

I would say that generally, we’re sharper about making these judgments in personal relationships than we are about judging our leaders. Experience and observation indicate we process a lot of information about other people in real time. We use the information we have to make judgments about them, and to regulate our interactions with them. Without a steady flow of first-hand information about public leaders, we have to find other ways to make judgments about them.

Because more distance separates us from our leaders, our information about them is less immediate. That raises two possibilities. First, accurate judgments about our leaders may take longer to form. Second, accustomed to reaching fairly accurate conclusions in our personal dealings, we may jump to inaccurate conclusions in our public affairs. To avoid those mistakes, we would want to gather extra information, and deliberate more extensively about the judgments we reach. Research and deliberation do not come easily to people in a hurry.

Now let’s turn to our fishiness postulate. The postulate says that when something feels fishy, don’t believe it. When Jack Ruby shoots Lee Oswald in the basement of a Dallas police station during lunchtime, with policemen all around, that feels fishy. When World Trade Center 7 comes down in a controlled demolition at the end of a long afternoon, in seven seconds, that feels fishy. These are events where your spidey sense kicks in – you wonder what could be going on. You wonder what other people must be thinking. You don’t want to step out of line – no one wants to look weird.

The deep lesson of The Emperor’s New Clothes is that no one wanted to step out of line. No one wanted to call attention to the obvious. The tailors who pulled off that fraud could rely on people’s disinclination to stand out in a situation where something bad might come of it. “But Mom, he hasn’t got anything on!” said the young boy. The boy probably didn’t even care if the emperor was naked, but he couldn’t figure out why everyone was complimenting him on his new suit of clothes.

Public frauds are especially damaging. They force complicity from all who don’t want to stand out. Everyone has an opportunity to participate in a big lie, and all but a few stubborn misfits think of a good reason to do so. Who are misfits in times like ours? Theologians. Can you think of a more arcane and necessary vocation in this time and place? We have two theologians in our midst who deserve our recognition and gratitude: David Ray Griffin and James Douglass. If you don’t know who they are, you can find their books easily on the internet. I’ll say this about them: they care about the truth.

Today’s the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. One year past the tenth anniversary, some say we ought to move on: let’s put this memorable event behind us. Don’t say it! We don’t even know what happened that day. We can say only one thing for sure: that public officials have been dishonest in the stories they’ve told. Public officials spent seven billion dollars of our money to keep victims’ family members from asking questions about what happened September 11, 2001. Our leaders did not want any citizen to ask questions about their crimes. They published numerous reports about the event, each one with a sheen of truth, to overlay a rotten core of fraud. Don’t forget what they did.

When you feel something is fishy, trust yourself.

When your instinct is sound, speak up.

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What distinguishes conspiracy nuts from the rest of us? Why are they so crazy?

Table that question for now. Let me ask another one: Does the government think we are nuts? Or does it just not understand how it comes across?

Here’s why I ask that question. Some time back the news got out that the CIA or some other agency had waterboarded the 9/11mastermind 183 times. Maybe it was 187. Or maybe the combined total for the mastermind and another prisoner was 187. The numbers for the two prisoners together were so high you couldn’t keep track. I looked up the names and numbers once – you can find them on the internet. The mastermind’s name has Shiekh in it, I believe. You used to see his picture online all the time. He needs a publicist to get him a better picture.

Now we step over to the debate about torture, or enhanced interrogation techniques as Dick Cheney and Antonin Scalia like to call them. All the leaders who address this subject speak with one voice: we use these techniques because they’re essential for national security. We gain information from these techniques that we can obtain no other way. We extract actionable intelligence from highly placed al Quaeda operatives with these methods. If we do not use these interrogation methods, people will die. Waterboarding has a proven track record for producing good information – intelligence that helps us prevent new attacks. For naive enemy sympathizers who oppose waterboarding and similar techniques, the blood of new victims is on your hands.

So now we need to ask: what intelligence did you expect to obtain the 183rd time you waterboarded this guy that you did not obtain the first time you waterboarded him? Did you think that the actionable intelligence he gave you the 183rd time would be superior to the information he gave you after the first time, the second time, or the third time? If waterboarding is such an effective interrogation technique, why did you have to waterboard him 183 times to get the information you needed?

The argument that we waterboard prisoners to obtain actionable intelligence is absurd. We waterboard prisoners for the same reasons that torturers have always practiced their craft: to control, punish, deter, intimidate, force confessions, get revenge, make people talk. The truth of what prisoners say after they’ve been tortured is immaterial. The torturers know prisoners will say anything to make the torture stop. That’s the point: make the prisoner say what you want them to say. That’s the power you have over them.

Let’s returned to the question that opens this argument. Why are those conspiracy nuts so crazy? They believe almost anything, and we can’t explain it. Now consider who asks questions like that. People who agree with the government’s version of events! The very people who side with Cheney and Scalia are those who dismiss citizens who say they want to learn the truth about what happened on 9/11. People who side with Cheney and Scalia on matters of torture are not in a position to call other people nuts because they care about the truth. People who side with Cheney and Scalia on matters of torture have no claim to anyone’s trust, and therefore no claim to say anything about truth, whatever the context.

More broadly, when the government tortures people, then justifies its evil acts with absurd lies, it has no claim to trust or legitimacy. To place faith in anything government says after it defends waterboarding is crazy stupid. To believe what it says about 9/11 or any significant event, given the evil it perpetrated after 9/11, is to misplace your trust radically. The prima facie response to anything government claims after its post-9/11 behavior is to believe the opposite.

The same kind of thing happened with the Catholic church before the Reformation. The church acted with such disregard for moral principle, people just stopped believing anything it said. They stopped believing – or caring – what it said even when it said something true. Yet nearly a century and a half of disbelief passed before people undertook a moral response that overturned the church’s authority – before they decided the church’s authority was illegitimate, and they weren’t going to tolerate it anymore.

We don’t have that much time, folks. We cannot let our country cruise along for 150 years with a goverment that tortures people and lies about it. We cannot live with a government that thinks it’s okay to waterboard prisoners, then offers up preposterous justifications for its behavior. Change may not move faster now than it did in the Middle Ages, but we have better communication. We can use improved communication to protect ourselves from governments that torture, or we can let governments that torture use improved communication to exert enhanced control over us. You make the choice.

Ask yourself if you’d like to be tied to a board with a cloth over your face, and have water poured down your nostrils because government has declared you an enemy of the state. Ask if people who object to that kind of behavior are actually naive. Ask if people who disbelieve government’s claims about its behavior are nuts.

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What do Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden have in common?

All three are leaders who worked for the CIA, and who paid with their lives:

  • Manuel Noriega: life in prison
  • Saddam Hussein: tried and hanged
  • Osama bin Laden: assassinated

These are not people you would naturally feel a lot of sympathy for. Still, there’s a lesson here for leaders out in the wide world: think twice before you do business with the United States. Think much longer than that before you do business with the CIA. You will not come to a good end.

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“No, Mitt, corporations are not people.” ~ Elizabeth Warren

Article of faith: progressives do not like corporations.

Why? Because corporations do bad things.

People do bad things, too.

See Corporate Power, Progressives, and Government Protection.

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Quotations from John F. Kennedy:

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
“A revolution is coming -
A revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough;
Compassionate if we care enough;
Successful if we are fortunate enough;
But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not.
We can affect its character, we cannot alter its inevitability.”
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts… For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
Now one from Thomas Jefferson:
“When the people fear the government, there is Tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
Remember what happened when the movement for change in the 1960s turned violent. Let’s make the second try work.
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President Obama is about to speak at the Democratic National Convention. I don’t want to listen to him. Romney gave his acceptance speech last week. I didn’t want to listen to him, either. As I told my daughter this evening, we want political parties to give us candidates we feel are worthy of our vote, leaders who deserve our loyalty. The candidates these two parties produce speak for themselves.
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For more arguments about change in our country, see Revolution on the Ground.

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