Archive for July, 2012

Gun control advocates generally equate absence of guns with safety. Yet gun control in Norway didn’t make more than seventy victims of the island massacre near Oslo safe last year. I’m sure Bashar Assad’s security forces did their best to clear city streets of guns at the beginning of Syria’s civil war. Their success or failure in that project didn’t keep Syrian civilians safe, and wasn’t meant to. In one Middle Eastern country after another, the best gun control would be to remove weapons from the hands of security forces.

On the other side, gun control advocates point to Japan’s strict laws and say, “Look, you don’t see massacres like that in Japan.” Every country is different. Every country has its own way of dealing with guns. As we look at the relationship between regulatory regimes for guns and the amount of gun violence in a country, we can’t say that greater restrictions result in less crime, less violence, or more safety. The roots of insecurity and crime in a given situation reach beyond the availability of guns.

“At least we can make it more difficult to obtain a gun,” say the advocates. “Ease of ownership makes gun crime more likely.” People believe what they want to believe. Gun owners can cite numerous stories of people who were able to protect themselves from intruders because they had a gun in the house. Criminals don’t pick a fight with someone who points a gun at them.

Gun control advocates can’t logically offer counter-examples to stories about self-protection. In places that have strict gun control, how can you point to crimes that weren’t committed because the would-be criminal could not purchase a gun? You can only point to crimes that were committed because the shooter had a gun. The two sides in this argument, using the evidence they have at hand, can blast away at each other as long as they like. Neither side will persuade the other. Logic, evidence, and even constitutional arguments cannot decide the issue. Moreover, neither side cares what the other has to say to begin with.

Here’s another thing to consider as we hear the clamor for gun control after Aurora. We already have gun control. We have federal gun laws, state gun laws, and local gun laws. Advocates say that’s the problem: the laws are a mishmash, they’re not strong enough and they’re not effective. To be effective, they have to be uniform. To be uniform, they have to come from the federal government. If the federal government takes charge of gun control, they say, we’ll have strong, enforceable laws that remove guns from the hands of criminals.

At this point, gun control advocates find themselves in a hard position, as they know a total ban on guns would not work in this country. To hear their arguments, many would be happy with a ban on all guns. If that’s not possible, they reason, we can make exceptions to allow weapons with small magazines clearly designed for hunting or target practice, but not practical for massacres or other mayhem. The main goal for advocates is to keep weapons away from people who want to use them to kill other people. Every time a massacre occurs, it’s proof we have not achieved the goal.

Just as a total ban is problematic, so are exceptions. The more exceptions you make, the less enforceable the new regulatory regime becomes. No gun control advocate wants to replace the current mishmash of locally enforced rules with a federal regime that allows just as many weapons out there. Black and gray markets for guns already exist. A total ban induces every gun owner, whether criminal or not, to participate in black and gray markets for weapons. Exceptions to a total ban also foster more gray markets.

The National Rifle Association and other groups have accepted local regulations. In general, they have not tried to change the state and local laws that already exist. Interestingly, neither have gun control advocates. The battle about gun control concerns federal regulations. The push and pull on this issue is Washington centric: if you can get Congress to go along with your position, the rest of the country will follow. I’m doubtful about whether this regulatory model serves our country well, especially in this area, but it is clearly the model that people who argue about gun control have in mind.

What’s bothersome here is the certitude after Aurora, after Columbine, after every other horrific gun crime, that we would all be more safe if we regulate guns more strictly. Ask James Holmes what he would have done if he could not have purchased an assault weapon. Consider how murderers in other countries obtain their weapons. Compare how murderers in Chicago and Washington DC obtain their weapons with how murderers in other less strictly regulated cities obtain theirs. You could build a worldwide database for gun crime to see how lethal criminals obtain the weapons they use to kill people.

One can guess why gun control advocates do not marshall this kind of evidence to back their arguments. They don’t present evidence of this type because it would not be conclusive. You need only one massacre in well regulated Norway, only one civil conflict in the Middle East to know that you cannot reduce the relationship between gun laws and gun violence to a simple rule: take away our guns so we can be more safe.

In one episode of The Simpsons a long time ago, Homer gets into a dispute with someone. He walks into a local gun store and demands a weapon. The person behind the counter says that he can’t have it. All gun sales require a waiting period of five days. Homer, flustered, bursts out, “I can’t wait five days! I’m mad right now!” As usual, Simpsonian satire doesn’t easily take one side or the other. You know that if Homer truly wanted to shoot someone, he would find a gun, and his plan would not depend on how angry he was five days from now. At the same time, if Homer were actually capable of a crime of passion, his prospective victim is happy he is subject to the wait.

When John Brown raided the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, we saw an interesting case of gun control. When a civil conflict is brewing, the government takes extra care to enforce its custody of heavy weapons. That’s why the British tramped out to Lexington and Concord: to confiscate the weapons there. I mention these examples because we’ll see a true controversy about possession of firearms in our country if civil conflict reaches that kind of boiling point. Short of that, we will see inconclusive outcomes in the argument. If the controversy revives with each horrific crime committed with a gun, we will have no place to go but the current well established deadlock.

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Dear David Ray Griffin,

I seem to have a difficult time these days with book reviews, so I wanted to see if I might write this letter instead. To start, thank you for your books. The work you have done makes me want to say, “Thank God for theologians!” Your books demonstrate that when philosophers, theologians, and other thought leaders ask God what he wants from us, he gives whole communities courage to do what he asks. Paul said in one of his letters that God never asks of us more than we can give, that he always gives us strength to do the work he places before us.

I addressed the first version of this letter to you and to James Douglass, author of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. It’s hard though to write two people at the same time. So I wanted to collect some thoughts about 9/11 and the Kennedy assassination here. A second letter to James Douglass after this one may work just fine.

Over a year ago, I wrote a review essay on Douglass’s book. The research required to uncover the truth about Kennedy’s assassination and about 9/11 have a number of similarities. That’s why I’ve wanted to write about your work and Douglass’s work together. Both of you address a common theme underneath these historic events: how did we let our democracy get away from us?

I have not written about your books on 9/11 before now. I’ve been reading them, though. If these books don’t save our republic, I don’t see how anything will. At the moment, I’m pessimistic. If someone ever tells the story of our times, the historian will see that we failed to keep our democracy despite leaders like you, who care about telling the truth. The desire to deny the truth makes me think of Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly.

You use the term state crimes against democracy. We know that all states commit crimes. That is why states are so dangerous: they combine unusual power with criminal behavior. Democracies are supposed to be different, though. In a democracy, the people place limits on state power. Therefore the state’s crimes are of such small scope, we may call them petty. That is the theory anyway. When citizens constrain the state, they want to constrain its unjust and criminal behavior.

State crimes against democracy aim to abrogate these constraints. Other criminal behavior aims at theft, torture, revenge, conquest, and the like. These types of crimes undermine democratic institutions, to be sure, but that is not ususally their principal purpose. The principal object of a crime against democracy is to destroy or remove constraints on state action. That makes this type of crime especially troublesome. When it succeeds, it makes all the other types of criminal behavior much easier to carry out.

To illustrate, Douglass argues that the CIA decided Kennedy had to go. They had a lot of specific reasons to make such a decision. Most broadly, they perceived that Kennedy wanted to hamstring the CIA and the Department of Defense, and that he might actually succeed if he stayed in office. On the other side, you argue that people in the United States government made plans they could not carry out without a new Pearl Harbor. In the case of 9/11, a whole set of institutional constraints prevented people in the Department of Defense and the CIA from undertaking a variety of actions. 9/11 removed those constraints.

One thing we might do is investigate why these two crimes succeeded, and whether they succeeded for similar reasons. I’d like to talk first about the research required to uncover the truth about state crimes against democracy. The research process in these cases poses some especially difficult challenges:

  • The state will not investigate itself.
  • The state has many methods to keep information secret.
  • The state has many methods to keep researchers and others from revealing the truth.

Non-state researchers, on their side, have a few factors that work in their favor:

  • The internet helps them publicize their results and share information with each other.
  • The country is large, and the state has difficulty preventing all research into its activities.
  • Many citizens no longer trust the state.

You indicate in The New Pearl Harbor that Congress and the media have sufficient resources, independence, and responsibility to investigate what happened on 9/11. Certainly they have a responsibility to do it, but they do not have sufficient independence. Even if they were independent from the state, I’m not sure they could assemble the required skills for the job. Therefore the job of telling an accurate story about what happened on 9/11 rests with non-state researchers like you, Paul Thompson, and many others. The strong affiliations between mainstream media and the state make those organizations unqualified to conduct research in this area.

Like you, I accepted the general outlines of the government’s account of 9/11 in the years right after the event. I spent most of my life thinking that the government’s key conclusions about November 22, 1963 were accurate. The way government behaved after 9/11 made me rethink both November 22 and September 11. After 2005 or so, I could not accept anything the government said.

For a long time, I had a dim view of conspiracy theorists, as that term described people who conducted research into Kennedy’s assassination. Then I watched a few internet videos made by Bob Harris and thought: this guy is good. His arguments are logical, thorough, reasonable and well grounded. I no longer had a dim view of conspiracy theorists!

Perhaps I should write more about my experience doing research on both November 22 and September 11, but for the moment I’d like to move straight into a brief comparison. That is, what lessons can we learn from Kennedy assassination research that will help 9/11 research succeed? Here are eight points:

  • Be patient.
  • Dont ask of the evidence more than it can give.
  • Assume the government is untrustworthy.
  • Don’t mind the names.
  • Go for the easy stuff.
  • Tell a story.
  • Remember the victims.
  • Build and maintain credibility.

I hope to have a chance soon discuss these points thoroughly. In less than sixteen months, we’ll mark the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Researchers have learned so much during that time, and have accumulated such a record of success, that we should know how they did it. We want to follow their example. We don’t have fifty years to assemble an accurate account of 9/11. We can’t simply call for an official investigation that will never happen. We have to work with what we have.

Over time, Kennedy researchers and citizens did persuade the government to release information about the assassination, little by little. In the end, independent researchers digested and assembled all the pieces available to them. All signs indicate that 9/11 researchers have to follow the same model. If they wait for an official investigation that reveals more than the investigations already completed, they will wait a long time. We have to conduct the research now, while the victims’ families are still alive, and while citizens still understand what is at stake. We cannot wait fifty years.



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Old Beliefs Die Hard

It is very difficult coming to the realization that something or someone you truly believe in, have revered and defended for a long time, and have dedicated your life to following is not what you thought it was and might even be the exact opposite of what you appreciated about it.

For me recently, I have had to come to grips with the fact that former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was not the hero I revered for a long time.  See, I grew up in Pennsylvania and followed his winning teams every year.  His success was abundant while all along running a squeaky clean program with no recruiting violations and a good graduation rate.  To top it off, we shared an ethnic heritage (Italian) which became a source of personal pride.

Then the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal hit.  My world was shattered.  How could Coach Paterno only inform his superiors at the University when he was told that his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was caught showering with a young boy in a university locker room?  How could he not blow the whistle loudly to put an end to the carnage and bring a deviant to justice?  I mean, Paterno was the moral bastion of college football.  As an educator, he would never forsake the well-being of youngsters in order to protect a friend and/or his football program.

But, it’s true.  Paterno did not do all that he should have and many more young boys were abused at Penn State facilities by Jerry Sandusky as a result  This realization has negated close to 40 years of hero worship.  Joe Paterno made more than a mistake; he allowed a tragedy to continue.  He was not the moral bastion I naively thought he was.  It was tough and a long process, but he is no longer a hero.

Thus, I can now empathize with folks who need to come to grips with their wrongheaded thinking that government is the great solver of our problems.  Take the so-called “War on Poverty”(1) programs launched under Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.  Supporters would argue that it was the right thing to do at the right time to eradicate poverty.  However, close to 50 years and $15 trillion later, the poverty rate has barely budged going from about 15 percent to 13 percent.  In fact, poverty was on a steep decline for five years preceding Johnson’s programs.  His “War on Poverty” halted that decline and stabilized the poverty rate in the low teens.  But if you listen to advocates of the federal social safety net, you’ll hear how without federal largess the problem of poverty would be more acute.  They just can’t bring themselves to accept the realization that federal welfare programs are wasteful, debilitating, and ineffective.

Of course, the best example from recent history where government policy has been wasteful, debilitating, and ineffective is the economic policies of the current administration.  The same folks that can’t admit to themselves that the War on Poverty was a failure are now defending the Obama Administration’s policies as if they have been successful in bringing about recovery from the Financial Crisis of 2008.  After trillions have been spent and interest rates kept at rock bottom lows for the last four plus years the unemployment rate has never fallen below eight percent.  In fact, the real unemployment rate (U6 which includes discouraged workers) is 15 percent and on the rise. Most embarrassing for the President is the fact that more people went on Social Security Disability than got jobs in June.

To be sure, there are many more examples of government intrusion gone wrong.  The greatest of which is Roosevelt’s New Deal because it prolonged the Great Depression through the 1930s.

So, with such a track record of failure, why is it that advocates of big government cannot bring themselves to realize that their philosophy is bankrupt and wrongheaded?  One reason is emotional.  They think with their hearts and not their heads.  They are so fixated on helping others and believe they may need the same kind of help someday, that they forsake logic and experience for empathy and generosity (of other peoples’ money of course).

Another reason is socialization.  There are so many Americans who rely on the federal government for one reason or another that it is hard to find many that are willing to bite the hand that feeds them.  Take college professors and the mainstream media (MSM) for instance.  Very, very few are willing to go against the Establishment line for fear of losing grant money, being denied tenure, or losing the interview or even their jobs (remember Helen Thomas?).  These are the societal elites that most Americans get their information from (many times academics appear on the MSM).  It’s no wonder many Americans lack basic economic knowledge.  They have been bombarded through the years with the party line instead of the truth.

At the end of the day, it’s brutal being challenged let alone acknowledging that what you have believed in for a long time is poppycock.  I know – I lost a long-time hero recently.  It is a tough and long process but one that needs to be undertaken by those that cherish big government intrusion in our economy.  It needs to be undertaken so the widespread suffering resulting from big government intrusion in our economy seizes.

Article first published as Old Beliefs Die Hard on Blogcritics.

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

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The revolution in Syria offers a good case study. First, it looks like it will be successful. Second, the regime to be overthrown is one of the worst ever. Third, it started non-violently on the citizens’ side. Fourth, violence initiated by the government led to armed response from the other side, and a civil war. Fifth, one could not have predicted the outcome of this conflict when it started.

If you have read Revolution in the Air, or a couple of related posts on Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy, you know that I agree with his ideas about how to resist dictatorships in order to replace them with democratic forms of governance. His ideas about political transformation are complex enough that I won’t summarize all of his arguments here, but I’ll mention three key points:

  • Non-violent means of resistance work better than armed force to establish democracy firmly in place of a dictatorship.
  • Successful practice of non-violent resistance requires sound strategy, discipline, and a well-led movement capable of carrying out plans that change over time.
  • Dictatorships do not fold voluntarily. To defeat them, you must understand and exploit government’s weaknesses.
  • Use of armed force plays to government’s primary strength, for in most polities, government has a monopoloy on the use of force. 

 After he elaborates these principles, Sharp lists many specific methods of resistance that citizens can employ against the institutions that crush them. Three things about the list impressed me:

  • The amount of variety built into the list. It contains quite a range of tactics that aim to degrade the authority of dictatorial governments.
  • The list feels out of date. It is geared toward democratic movements in places like Burma in the 1970s. That is not an accident: Sharp wrote the earliest versions of the book for precisely that audience. The book does not take into account the internet or social media.
  • The list emphasizes traditional, public means of protest, which sometimes work over time but often times have not. A ruthless, determined government has quite a few techniques to counter public resistance.

Here are some responses to these three points:

Build the list of tactics. Use the internet to make the list as comprehensive and as specific as possible. One difficulty for this project is that posting on the internet is highly public, searchable and traceable. The FBI and other government agencies have shown impressive energy in tracking down people they regard as threats. Government is happy to praise posts about how to bring democracy to other countries. They are not interested in seeing posts about how to bring democracy to ours.

Update the list to take current technology into account. We need to find ways to take advantage of government’s weaknesses, especially weaknesses in the area of computer and communications technology. Anonymous has a good record of success, but it has not focused on government agencies, for good reason. No one wants to be the first to go to prison, or to take a stand without leadership and committed support.

Lastly, think imaginatively about how to resist government power without over reliance on traditional protests. The Boston Tea Party offers an interesting example in this respect. It was clever, it did real damage, it made its point, and it got the attention of the British. That it may have been the last straw before the onset of war may or may not count in its favor. After nearly ten years of civil resistance in the colonies, no one event could cause a war.

As I’ve written elsewhere, we have to act fast. Just yesterday, in the Wall Street Journal, our own president made a case for granting our government increased power to fight cyber-terrorism, as he called it. When the government asks for more power, stop and think! It has power enough. In fact, it has way too much power. When government appeals to fear to argue for more power, reject the argument out of hand.

Obama argued in a smooth, oblique way for collaboration between business and government to meet cyber-terrorist threats. Read a little more closely, and you see that the changes he advocates would not be collaboration at all. Businesses, as usual, would be compelled to comply with government orders. Observe the way government has acted in this area over the last ten years, and you can readily see that Obama’s argument for collaboration is a snake in the grass.

Each passing week brings more signs that our republic is rapidly becoming a place we would never want to live. As the Russian resistance has made so plain in its movement against Putin, we suffer under a government of thieves. Officials take our money and spend it on themselves and their friends. That’s the definition of crony capitalism. The only differences between crony capitalism and crony something else in Russia, Myanmar, Syria, or anyplace are the names of the political parties. When the Syrians overthrow Bashar Assad and his cronies, let’s hope the people in Washington DC wonder if they are next. They ought to be.

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Romney Foreign Policy Would Make Americans Unsafe

It is no surprise that the main issues of this election cycle are chronic high unemployment, massive budget deficits, and rising health care costs.  Mired in an economic downturn for close to five years now, many commentators agree that the outcome of the presidential election hinges on who voters believe can best manage the economy.  Unfortunately, neither of the major party candidates are capable of managing the economy effectively (by essentially getting the government out of it) as the American electorate once again has a choice between Establishment Front Man #1 and Establishment Front Man #2 for president.

Also unfortunate is that economic issues are overshadowing foreign policy this election cycle.  Obama’s record is in this area is horrendous.  Unprovoked invasions of sovereign countries, threats and intimidation toward others, illegal detentions, the killing of innocence, and the murder of American citizens without due process of law are hallmarks of the Obama Regime.

But, from the looks of things, a potential Romney Administration would be even worse foreign policy wise.  Not only has he surrounded himself with a bunch of warmongering advisors from the Bush years, he has through other appointments and actions indicated that he will be the most pro-Israel American president ever.  Why is that bad?  Because molding American foreign policy around the needs of Israel is contrary to American interests – more about that in a bit.

Recently Mitt Romney announced he would travel to Israel to meet with government officials there.  He will also hold a $60,000 a plate fundraising dinner while in Jerusalem.  This all comes on the heels of his super PAC receiving a $10 million contribution from casino magnet Sheldon Adelson.  This is the same Sheldon Adelson who is vehemently against a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian mess, who called the Palestinian prime minister a terrorist, and who expressed regrets that his own military service was done in an American uniform and not an Israeli.

Now, on the surface, this all seems so political.  After all, there are a lot of Jewish and Evangelical Christian voters in several swing states like Pennsylvania and Florida.  Romney’s trip to Israel will be a positive for these groups.  But, aren’t there a lot of Italian, Irish, and Polish voters in those states as well.  Why not pay a visit to the ancestral homelands of those groups in an effort to endear yourself to them?  It is because Mitt Romney knows the political payoff wouldn’t be as great in terms of fundraising and political activism.  And because it is so great with the advocates for Israel, they will expect a lot from a Romney Administration.

If Romney’s junket to Jerusalem and his acceptance of Adelson’s largess aren’t bad enough, at an elite gathering of Romney supporters in Utah recently he boasted that he receives briefings from Israeli officials on Middle East developments.  And then there is Romney’s extremely pro-Israel national security team.  It includes hardliners like Walid Phares and Dov Zakheim.  Even as more drone attacks in Pakistan have been launched and been deadlier under Obama than Bush, Zakheim recently penned an article entitled, “Obama’s Drone War has Actually Not Gone Far Enough.”  Make no mistake about it, Romney getting briefings from the likes of Zakheim and Israeli officials does not guarantee that he will be getting unbiased, balanced intelligence.  How can we expect him to make good decisions?  Let’s not forget the last time a president got bad intelligence from biased advisors – we went to war for a decade looking for the allusive weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

So, returning to the question, why is it bad for America if Mitt Romney gets elected president and is the most pro-Israel leader in our history?  It is because it makes us less safe as a people.  Whether Israel carries out a military mission with our blessing or even worse we carry it out on Israel’s behalf in the Middle East, our public image is damaged and groups like al Qaeda use the event to fanaticize young Muslims to commit Jihad.

Additionally, Israel and the United States have different priorities in the Middle East.  Israel thrives on Arab disunity and instability for her own security.  If Arabs are quibbling with each other than they are distracted from harming Israel.

On the other hand, the United States is better off with peace and stability in the Middle East due to our continued dependence on the region’s oil supplies.

This is by no means an endorsement of Obama for reelection.  He has proven himself incapable of doing the right things with regards to the economy and foreign affairs.  Instead it is calling attention to the disastrous foreign policy that Mitt Romney will bring with him to the White House if he is elected president.  This all leaves Americans with no real choice when it comes to voting in November.  But we should be used to that by now, given that our choices are always Establishment Front Man #1 and Establishment Front Man #2.

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

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Ask me a stupid question, and you’ll get a stupid answer. That’s how Mitt Romney must feel after reporters pestered him on the Fourth of July with queries about whether the ACA’s tax penalty, or penalty tax, is a tax or a penalty. Romney responds that if Roberts says it’s a tax, then it’s a tax. “Aha!” the reporters say: “Then you think it’s a tax! We have him now.”

Good lord. The ACA was a bad law before the Roberts decision, and it is still a bad law after the Roberts decision. It was wrong to impose a fine for inactivity before Roberts’ ruling, and it is still wrong to impose a penalty for inactivity after the ruling. Yet now both political parties have jumped into the gotcha game with gusto. “We gotcha, Barack Obama! You said you wouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class, and look what you’ve done: raised taxes!” “We gotcha, Mitt Romney! Your campaign director said the penalty is a penalty, and now you say it’s a tax. What do you say to that, you flip-flopper?” 

Honestly, this kind of political conversation doesn’t even qualify as conversation. It’s tiresome. We have a health care system that badly needs reform. We have health reform legislation that makes things worse. Playing gotcha some more is the best we can do? People are beyond losing patience with this kind of talk. They are beyond losing patience with leaders who don’t lead. We have party operatives who just want to win elections. To hell with leadership. 

John Roberts’ decision reminds me a little of Roger Taney’s Dred Scott decision. In both cases, the nation looked to the Supreme Court to settle a divisive issue where a lot was at stake, and where the Constitution did not contain clear guidance. In both cases, the Court handed down reasoning that possessed neither moral clarity or courage. In both cases, the chief justice seemed to search for a solution that would minimize hard feelings. The Court’s aim in both cases seems to have been, we can wend our way out of this legal thicket one way or another if we forget about the moral question at stake.

I suppose we can excuse a jurist for thinking that way, but it does not serve the country well. In the Dred Scott case, abolitionists in the north wanted some kind of statement that slavery is morally wrong, that one man cannot own another, especially not in states where such ownership is prohibited. Instead Taney overturned the Missouri Compromise and said that the Constitution authorizes ownership of slaves in states and territories that forbid the practice.

The Affordable Care Act raises entirely different issues, but the moral component here is similarly high. A majority of people in the United States oppose the Affordable Care Act.They sought the Court’s opinion on this question: can you force people to buy something like health insurance and still have a free society? Like the other two branches of government, the Supreme Court seems to have acquired the punting instinct. Instead of addressing directly the issues raised in oral arguments, the Court ruled that the penalty imposed for  non-compliance isn’t a penalty after all. It’s a tax, so it’s alright to impose it. 

I suppose that’s what you get when you appeal to a Court that thought it was alright to appoint the previous president in 2000, Yes, I admit that if the Court had used poor reasoning to strike down the Affordable Care Act, I would not likely be so critical. Instead it used narrow reasoning to define the act’s key enforcement mechanism, and ignored whether government has power to lay the requirement that lies behind the tax penalty. The Court ruled that Dred Scott was not entitled to his freedom, and it tells all of us that we must comply with the ACA or pay a fine. We will not fight a civil war over the Affordable Care Act, but the civil disobedience that it provokes may at last begin to pull some states out of Washington’s orbit. 

Many have criticized ACA opponents for not proposing an alternate plan. Let’s end with a look at some ideal outcomes. What would ACA opponents like to gain from health care reform? Let’s think then about how an ideal health care system would operate. For the moment, we needn’t consider how we would travel from where we are to the ideal.

  • No people dying in the streets with no care.
  • The cost of health care is set by supply and demand.
  • Supply and demand also determine the allocation of resources within the health care system. This allocation occurs across age groups, across types of care, across the various activities and institutions that accomplish the system’s goals.
  • Health insurance functions as insurance, to protect against medical catastrophes.
  • Health insurance is independent of employment.
  • Individuals and households can purchase whatever kind of insurance they like, wherever they like. Health insurance companies must provide plans that individuals and households are willing to purchase.
  • The tax system treats all health insurance payments equally. Either they are all deductible, or they are all not deductible.
  • The relationship between physicians and patients governs the choices they make together.
  • Delivery of health care services is timely. Patients should be able to obtain treatment when they need it.
  • The quality of health care due to innovation, professionalism, technology, and advancement of medical knowledge is high.

Affordability is the touchstone – affordability for the government and for households. We want the health care system to give us what Apple offers at the high end and Nokia offers for a little less: good quality at a price we can pay. We say we want to bring health care costs down, but that’s not entirely accurate. More precisely, the government wants to bring its health care costs down, as it cannot afford the current rate of growth in that part of its budget. If we allocate resources in the health care sector entirely by supply and demand, the total cost of health care might rise instead of fall. That would be fine, if individual choices in the health care market had that result. The important thing for the government is that its own costs go down, whatever happens in the sector as a whole.

For all the trouble it causes, politicians must like pulling reporters, their loyalists and their opponents into games of gotcha, or they wouldn’t do it so much. It saves everyone from having to think. We have enacted health care legislation that sinks government ever more deeply into a sector that does not benefit from government involvement. Does anyone think we would have iPhones if government ran Apple? To reform health care, we want to go in the other direction, to fashion a health care system that operates as independently from government as possible. Squabbling about what to call the fee that the IRS collects if we don’t buy health insurance is not a good use of our energy or our intellects.

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The time elapsed from November 22, 1963, to September 11, 2001, is thirty-seven years, nine months, and twenty days. That is just about a generation and a half. A person born the day Kennedy died would likely have children not old enough to remember 9/11. We let it happen in 1963; just over thirty-seven and a half years later, we let it happen again.

We know now that we permitted a coup in 1963. A long time passed – more than forty years – before many of us understood that. We don’t know yet what occurred on September 11, 2001. The events of that day present more complications than does delivery of a bullet to a leader’s head. Complex or not, we do not have fifty years to understand the events of 9/11. To save our democracy, we have to understand them as soon as possible.

To undertake this project, we should recall that the desire to discover what happened on 9/11 does not originate with a group of extremists who see a government conspiracy behind every horrible event. Efforts to learn the truth about 9/11 originate with the families of people who died that day. Family members lost wives and husbands, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. They lost the people they loved most in circumstances so unimaginable, the victims jumped from a thousand feet and more to escape being burned alive. Better one last leap into the air wait for the flames to consume you and everyone with you.

Each person in the towers walked into the front door of the building that sunny September morning, ready to work one more day. They took the elevator to the floor where they would meet their friends, sit at their desks, place phone calls, type messages to colleagues. Everything seemed like every other morning. Thirty minutes later, they are saying goodbye to their spouses on their cell phones, standing at a shattered window to decide whether they have courage to jump. Most of the people who died that morning had loved ones at home, in school, in cities nearby. They all had dinner that night with an empty space at the table, went to sleep that night with an empty space in the bed. They knew the empty space would not be filled again.

When something like that happens to your family, you want to know why. You don’t just let it go. You press for an investigation, but you find quickly enough that the officials you ask are too busy for you. They tell you they have better things to do. They tell you to go away: we’ll give you money if you go away. They tell you we already know everything we can find out. They tell you things you know cannot be true. You come to understand that they snow you compulsively, that you cannot trust them with even the simplest request or task.

The 9/11 truth movement began with family members who encountered officials who screwed with them, officials who were dishonest, unforthcoming, deceptive, unresponsive and, in the end, unsympathetic. The 9/11 Commission was formed more than fourteen months after the attacks, and submitted its final report nearly three years after September 11, in 2004. Even the president would not speak with the Commission for the record – the president! Anything he had to say would be privileged and private. If the president would not cooperate with the Commission, who else in the government would?

Today the 9/11 truth movement continues to comprise men and women who just want to know what happened, not extremists who pose a threat to our country. Cass Sunstein, who works for President Obama, has called people in the movement epistemological cripples, people so unbalanced that government should infiltrate their groups to destroy cohesion, spread rumors and lies, sow conflict, and end their effectiveness. That is how government responds to people who just want to know what happened. Sunstein ridicules parents who do not care to hear lies and excuses when they ask why their sons and daughters died. He devises aggressive, deceitful strategies to derogate and destroy spouses who simply want to know what happened to their wives and husbands.

Instead of honest, full answers, we have a whitewash. The difference between Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush is that Johnson launched the Warren whitewash right away. If it had been up to George W. Bush, we would have had no 9/11 Commission at all. He steadily opposed an investigation, and only acceded to an investigation after Congress sent the required legislation to the White House for his signature. Since he did not explain why he resisted an investigation for so long, we can only guess. He offered an excuse that an investigation would distract from the administration’s Global War on Terror. That’s some reason.

World Trade Center building number seven plays the role of Jack Ruby in this story. On Sunday, November 24, 1963, Jack Ruby walked up to Lee Oswald in the basement of a Dallas police station and shot him in the stomach. The country watched him do it on television. Now the Kennedy family would be spared the pain of a trial. Something was not right about that murder. Something was fishy. Something was not right.

The controlled demolition of World Trade Center 7 was equally fishy. No one could witness the destruction of that building – on film or otherwise – and think it was anything other than a planned demolition. No forty-seven story skyscraper constructed of heavy steel could fall to the ground in just over seven seconds due to some scattered fires. Just as governnment offered pablum to explain why Ruby shot Oswald, it offered essentially no explanation for the destruction of World Trade Center 7. The building fell down: that’s all you need to know.

Now we come to the stated aim of the 9/11 truth movement. When challenged on their evidence, their reasoning, their implied conclusions, their analytical methods, or any other element of their arguments, movement representatives say that all they want is a new, impartial investigation. It’s a reasonable aim, a modest one, and in its modesty it deflects the challenges people would like to pose for the group.

A major difficulty is that movement leaders do not indicate who should conduct an impartial investigation. Investigators would need resources, and access to relevant information. The investigators taken together would need a variety of skills. They would need a charter of some sort to lend their findings legitimacy. They would need to use methods of research that promote high quality work, sound conclusions and believable results. With people like Cass Sunstein working for the White House, the battle lines in this conversation are already drawn. Some people will regard the investigators’ results as incredible no matter what they find. In that kind of investigative environment, you have to think about what kind of body could produce results that are worth the trouble.

So now someone has to ask who would sponsor such a group of investigators. The sponsor would select the group’s members, fund the group’s investigation, and help the group achieve its goals. It would facilitate the group’s activities so it could concentrate on research, evaluation of evidence, preparation of summaries and reports, and the like. The sponsor could be inside of government, or outside of government. If inside, taxpayers would fund the investigation. If outside, money from private sources would fund the research. Whatever the source of funds, the group would need access to relevant evidence.

Mounting an independent investigation that has any connection whatever with government would be a foolish, questionable and futile enterprise. We already know that government is thoroughly untrustworthy, that the investigation it has already completed is practically empty of answers to outstanding questions, and that key agencies in the government – especially the CIA and FBI – have no motivation to supply evidence required for the investigation. Why would we expect a new investigation conducted by government to be superior to the one it has already completed?

That leaves a privately sponsored investigation. Here the progress of research into the Kennedy assassination offers a good lesson. The efforts of private researchers over five decades have revealed far more than official inquiries have. Yes, pressure from private researchers and from the public more generally has, over time, forced government agencies to make more documents available than they did in the years immediately following the murder. This new evidence has made a difference.

Nevertheless, credit belongs to the persistence and perseverance of people who worked without sponsorship, without pay, and without an official charter to give them credibility. They suffered incredible ridicule, ostracism and contempt, yet they stayed with their research. They patiently made their case until they left their opponents looking like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A huge preponderance of evidence has sliced off both their arms and legs, yet the lone nut theorists continue to sputter their challenges. They used to speak so confidently – now they look like lightweights who can’t admit they were mistaken.

Our government tries to protect more information now than ever. Certainly it is currently more closed about information related to 9/11 than it has been about records related to the Kennedy assassination. If a group of government sponsored investigators could not gain access to evidence they need, that would be true of private researchers as well. As with the Kennedy assassination, private researchers have to rely on their ingenuity, their resourcefulness, and their investigative skills to make progress. As indicated above, 9/11 is a more complex event than the Kennedy assassination. It also does not have a prominent piece of evidence like the Zapruder film to serve as a touchstone for other work. 

No matter. Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth have assembled good evidence and arguments related to events in New York at the World Trade Center on September 11. They have professional pride and many other reasons to fuel their work. If what the government says about 9/11 is true, then architects and engineers who design skyscrapers are idiots. Credit belongs to this group and to the professions it represents for taking up this fight.

I do not want to say that government can have no role in uncovering what actually happened on 9/11. It’s clear though that this administration, under this attorney general, would never ever permit an open, thorough and truthful investigation of the events that occurred on 9/11. Meantime, research outside of government will continue – it must continue. Government would like the movement to go away. We know that it won’t, even if our democracy continues to deteriorate.

Let me add one more thought. All of the researchers and writers involved in this search for truth, all who want to learn the truth in order to preserve our republic, should think in terms of stories. If we quote witnesses, the witnesses ought to have names. If we know of incriminating evidence found in the towers’ remains, listeners want to know who found the evidence, what they did with it, and who analyzed it. Listeners want to identify with real people who interact with other real people, and who do things. Why do you suppose the government did not reveal the life stories of the people who attacked us on 9/11? It did not do so because it has too much to hide. It could not personalize the attackers’ stories without revealing information that it would prefer to keep hidden.

Stories about actual people lead to reasoning about motives and actions tied to those motives. Early Kennedy researchers focused, among other things, on the Warren Report and its weaknesses, medical reports, forensic evidence and its interpretations, as well as basic facts gleaned from photographs and eye witness interviews. That was necessary preparative work, but it did not become truly persuasive until researchers sought to attribute motives to the actors. The idea that the Kennedy assassination was a coup remained unpersuasive unless the conspirators had a motive for murdering the president. In books like James Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable, we could see at last why the conspirators wanted President Kennedy to die. Douglass tells a complicated story to reveal those motives.

The same narrative methods ought to drive 9/11 research. Which is more persuasive, to say that tiny chips indicative of nano-thermite were found in the towers’ dust, or to relate details about who discovered it, and what happened after that? Assemble first person accounts and fashion them into narratives we can compare with the government’s version. If we don’t have enough good accounts now, find people who were present that day and ask them to write down everything they remember. Banish the passive voice from all investigative reports, and replace it with a narrative that explains who acted, when they acted, what they did, and why.

We can still find out what happened that day. We used to think that the more time passed after November 22, 1963, the more difficult it would be to learn the truth about Kennedy’s assassination. If anything, books about the assassination during the last ten years have been as rich and detailed as you could ask. Evidently we needed the Kennedy research pot to simmer for a long time. Patience yielded persuasive results.

I indicated above that we don’t have such a long time for 9/11 research to simmer. Nearly fifty years ago we let conspirators kill our president, and get away with it. Thirty-seven and a half years later, another calamity struck, and we let the conspirators get away with it again. When U. S. armed forces tipped bin Laden’s weighted body overboard and let it sink to the bottom of the ocean, we did not reach the end of this story. When we assassinated Osama bin Laden, we did not complete our responsibility to our republic, to 9/11 victims or their family members, or to ourselves as citizens. We have to know what actually happened on 9/11 before we can do that.

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People are naturally wondering why Justice Roberts changed his mind as the Court considered the decision it would render on the Affordable Care Act. Some news analysts suggest Roberts wanted to protect the Court’s reputation, and changed his vote with that thought in mind. He remembered how much criticism the Court received after it decided in favor of Bush in Gore v. Bush in 2000. He did not want to make a mistake of similar magnitude again, nearly twelve years later.

That is a bad way to make Supreme Court decisions. When you can’t please everyone – in fact, when you know you will displease a multitude no matter what you do – you can’t fall back on poor reasoning to try to save your reputation or your skin. Caution is a virtue in politics, but it is not always a blessing.

So we have to ask, how can misplaced caution be sound reasoning for a judge? The huge mistake the Court made in 2000 was being too sensitive to the public’s desire to get the whole election process over with. “We want results!” the journalists said, “We can’t let this sad business in Florida drag out.” However messy Florida’s recount, though, the Court had no authority to adjudicate a tie in that state’s presidential vote. Only Florida’s secretary of state, and the rest of the state’s electoral apparatus, held that authority. The Court should not have stepped in, and its reputation suffered because it did.

For the ACA, the Court’s place was to adjudicate the issues brought before it on appeal. We don’t pay Supreme Court justices to consider public opinion, though. We want them to craft opinions based on the Constitution, or on our Constitution and our political traditions if the Constitution alone does not give clear guidance.

Crafting an opinion that pays even a smidgen of attention to public opinion is a blunder one doesn’t expect from a chief justice. Roberts knew he would displease a lot of people no matter what he did. That’s all the more reason he should have based his opinion on sound legal reasoning. Apparently Justice Kennedy tried hard to persuade Roberts not to change his mind – that is, to side with the Court’s conservatives. I wish we knew the reasons Kennedy gave in his arguments.

The Court faced a difficult political problem. First, ACA supporters and opponents are as deeply divided as any two groups can be. Compromise did not seem possible during the legislative struggles of 2009, and it certainly has not become more likely over time. ACA supporters say the Court should not strike down a law this consequential merely because it is imperfect. ACA opponents say the Court should not uphold a law that is so imperfect it is bad law.

Roberts recognized this problem, of course, and his majority opinion reveals his response to it. The two factions – ACA opponents and supporters – each wanted the decision to go their way, and their initial reactions to it would be based on whether their side won or lost. Over the longer run, though, people will judge the Court based on the quality of its reasoning, not whether the referee found for the home team or not. To find for the home team – that is, uphold an existing act – Roberts had to call a penalty a tax. To take a lemon and prescriptively redefine it as a pomegranate in order to get the outcome you want is just slipshod and not worthy of any court, let alone the Supreme Court.

Since we’ve been talking about the politics of the Court’s decision, we should consider its impact on the presidential campaign. Obama has a difficult problem now. Romney and the Republicans want to make a big deal out of the ACA between now and November. They already have. Obama can take the attacks in silence for four months, or offer a vigorous defense of the Act. Given the results of the 2010 congressional elections, he has chosen not to defend the act, except in court, for the last year and a half. If he suffers in silence this summer and fall, he stands a good chance of losing in November. Offering a vigorous defense might appear more risky, but may yield his best chance of a second term.

My own negative judgments of the ACA are well developed in other posts. I imagine I would not be so critical of Roberts or his reasoning if I liked the ACA and wanted to see it preserved. In fact, the Democrats cannot be altogether pleased with the Court’s decision. The majority opinion found that the Constitution’s commerce clause does not give Congress authority to mandate purchase of health insurance. The commerce clause is the justification the Democrats have used to give legitimacy to the law’s the individual mandate.

As the Court rejected the commerce clause rationale, it changed the mandate’s fine for non-compliance from a penalty to a tax. Congress has authority to lay taxes of any kind, so the Court found that the individual mandate and the ACA more generally meet constitutional requirements. Nevertheless, Democrats have never wanted to defend the individual mandate’s fine for non-compliance as a new tax. As one article said today, the Democrats just want to change the subject, even though they won. If they can’t change the subject, or find some way to placate voters’ anger about the ACA, they’ll have to undergo a long and painful presidential campaign.

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