Category Archives: 11 September

Andrew Cuomo

Last Thursday we had the primary election in New York for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and some other offices.  It’s the first time that I can recall in my life that an election in the United States was moved from Tuesday.

But then, this past Tuesday was 11 September, the modern date that will live in infamy.  For me, it’s the day we learned our leadership is either stupid or evil, and to this day we’re afraid to find out which. Living well—or at least carrying on with aplomb—is the best revenge against terrorism, or stupid or evil governments.  Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Alas, I’m apparently in the minority.  11 September is supposed to be a day of moaning and interminable suffering, and not for normal things like elections.

Andrew Cuomo, son of Mario, won the primary and will be running for a third term in November.  His opponent this week was Cynthia Nixon, the actress who played Miranda Hobbes in Sex and the City. I knew it was a lost cause, but I voted for Cynthia, even though I disagree with most of her positions.  Then again, if a live turnip had been running for Governor, I would have voted for it.

It bothers me when a politician is himself the son of a politician.  (I’m sure we’ll have daughters of politicians running for office someday, and I’ll have the same objection.)  It says that talent is so thin on the ground that we have to look to the children of past leaders.  I thought hereditary government was something we fought a Revolution to get rid of.

Worse than that were his campaign commercials.  Cuomo’s campaign invective against President Trump rubbed me the wrong way.  It isn’t that I agree or disagree with his positions: I watched Cuomo’s campaign commercials and realized: I don’t like this person.  I want him to go away.

In contrast, in President Bush, we had someone who more clearly became President in 2000 as a result of electoral finagling, and who led us into a pointless war.  But other than John Kerry, whose entire platform running for President in 2004 was ‘I am not Bush,’ nobody felt the need to rail against Bush or make him the bogeyman.

Alas, Andrew Cuomo isn’t going away, and I expect that he’ll run for President in 2020.

Mixed Bag

“Donald Trump is not a gentleman,” remarked my wife the other day.  She’s right, but then again, neither is Ted Cruz.  The two of the got embroiled in what seemed a bar fight over pictures of the candidates’ wives.  (I’m not going to fill in the details here: if the whole soggy saga gets lost to posterity, it can only be an improvement!)  At this point, I may end up voting for Bernie Sanders as the only candidate who (a) acts like a responsible adult, and (b) isn’t dead on the vine.

  • One might vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman, or because she presents herself as the logical continuation of the Obama administration. But Clinton, sadly, embodies everything that we love to hate about male politicians, and many people, myself included, believe that Obama is the worst President in modern times.  Moreover, she across as stale and tired in her speeches.  Even if I were on the fence and willing to consider her as a candidate, she needs to present herself as someone who actually wants the job.
  • John Kasich probably has the best head for figures of any of the candidates, and is the most likely to actually fix our problems. Alas, unless he can get people’s attention, his candidacy will go nowhere.  But that seems to be the plan.  I can almost imagine some Republican Party guy making the pitch: “We want you to run for President.  But realize that you won’t be the nominee: we just want you to be there to take momentum away from any oddballs that might show up.”  I’d have told the Party guy to fuck off, but that’s just me.

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I initially had nothing useful to say about last Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels.  But as news reports came out that the perpetrators were already known to the intelligence services, but that the Belgians were somehow unable to stop them, I began to wonder.  Apparently, what we’re supposed to do is let the potential terrorists into our midst, then maintain a police state to monitor what they’re doing and jump on them just as they’re about to attack.  Wouldn’t it be far simpler and cheaper not to let the potential terrorists into the country in the first place?

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And for that reason, I can’t get upset with President Obama for not aborting his trip to Cuba to address the Brussels attacks.  When he woke up in the morning, the attacks were already a fait accompli.  It wasn’t like 11 September, when the United States was actually under attack while President Bush continued his visit to a Texas kindergarten.  (On that day it would have been so simple to say, “I’m very sorry, but something has happened that requires my immediate attention.  I have to go.”)  But this time, the deed was done: the Belgians have emergency services that can clean up the mess: all that’s left for our President is to utter the usual rot about how we stand with the victims.

What was creepy about the Cuba visit, however, was the President’s decision to have himself and his entourage photographed in the shadow of the Che Guevara mural in Revolution Square.  The Cubans had planned something different, but the President had everyone move so that Che was in the background.

For many years, I though the Cuban embargo was pointless and stupid, but it’s probably not practical for us to simply admit that.  But that isn’t what I think is happening now.  We’re reopening relations with Cuba not because we acknowledge that the embargo hasn’t accomplished anything useful, but because Cuba and the United States are converging.

“But Cuba is a totalitarian surveillance state!” I hear you cry.

And what are we becoming?

Remembering Paris

A week ago Friday, Islamic terrorists associated with ISIS executed a series of attacks in Paris, at a sports arena, a music hall, a restaurant, and several other sites.  They killed 129 people and left over 300 wounded.

I was horrified, but not particularly surprised.  Two weeks before, ISIS planted a bomb on a Russian airliner full of tourists returning home from Egypt.  The plane dropped out of the sky, and all 224 on board was killed.  The Russians, more than us, have stirred up the ISIS hornet’s nest, and now we’re facing the consequences.  (Then again, we built ISIS, but that’s another story.)

The next day (a week ago Saturday), my wife and I went to see the new James Bond movie, Spectre.  One of the trailers was for London has Fallen, an upcoming action movie in which terrorists blow up, well, London.  It seemed in poor taste after the events of the previous day.  But I suppose that the show must go on.

Spectre was a pleasant afternoon’s entertainment, without so much emphasis on Bond’s personal problems.  But it’s consistent with the new generation of Bond films in that Bond’s adversary resolves into a non-rogue agent of the same government that Bond himself serves.  The plot revolves around a ‘Nine Eyes’ surveillance initiative by which nine countries would pool their resources and share surveillance data on all their citizens.  But, in real life, there is a ‘Five Eyes’ surveillance agreement between the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  It seems pointless for Bond to appear in a movie trying to thwart a plot that is already in operation in real life.

Saturday night, the Democratic Presidential candidates had a debate.  I watched some of it after the fact, and lost interest: the candidates are too much in agreement with each other.  But Hillary Clinton was called out for not wanting to say that we were at war with ‘radical Islam.’

On one level, I agree with her: it’s ludicrous to say that one is ‘at war with Islam.’  A religion is a set of ideas: software for the brain.  It’s almost like saying one is at war with Microsoft Word.   But the principles of Islam are a driving force for the terrorists.  That’s why I prefer to refer to our adversary as ‘Islamic terrorists,’ and what makes Hillary’s use of ‘jihadist’ evasive.

As I watched the evening news this week, and they regurgitated the Paris attacks, I realized that I was supposed to be frightened.  I don’t see the point: quivering in fear accomplishes nothing.  Even the Parisians understand that: they have been coming together at the Place de la Republique to talk, and heal, and move forward.

But our leadership is latching on to the event to tell us that we need yet more surveillance, and that those evil companies, Apple and Google, have released software that enables individuals to send encrypted messages that the government can’t read!  They have to be stopped!  And, by the way, you can blame this all on Edward Snowden, for spilling the beans about the NSA.

Well, maybe.  If the volume of data to be transferred is small enough, it’s easy to make an unbreakable code, with or without a smartphone app, because the party who would break the code does not have enough input to begin to try.  And no, the government does not have the right to read our communications in transit, any more than it has the right to read our paper mail.

Meanwhile, President Obama wants to bring at least 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US per year over the next two years, and perhaps many more.  He says that it’s in the American tradition of looking after the downtrodden.

Again, well, maybe.  Our Dear Leader sent out a graphic noting that in the past five years, we’ve accepted 2,000 refugees, none of whom have been arrested for terrorism… yet.  But now he’s proposing bringing in an order of magnitude more in a shorter time, and somehow things will just work out?

Moreover, we’re broke.  You might say that it’s only a few billion, and barely moves the needle in terms of the national debt.  But it still pains me to see our President playing Lady Bountiful, spending money he doesn’t have.

All of which has taken me a bit afield from what I started with, the terrorist attacks in Paris last week.  To be sure, it’s sad and horrifying, but life goes on.  I speak from experience: we had terrorist death and destruction in New York City not that long ago.

But more horrifying than the destruction wrought by the terrorists is the realization that, in both instances, our leadership brought the terrorists into existence to play some other geopolitical games, and they turned on us when circumstances changed.

We have to start doing something different.  And we need to start, as individuals, by not letting our leadership and the media fearmongers frighten us.

Evil or Stupid?

I’ve written in these pages that 11 September 2001 was the day we discovered our government was either stupid or evil, and to this day we’re afraid to find out which. Now we’re hearing that the terrorist group ISIS is already ensconced here in the US, just waiting for the right moment to strike.

Our leadership is trying hard to present themselves as ‘not stupid:’ if, indeed, there is a terrorist attack, we won’t be able to say they didn’t warn us.

But if they’re not stupid, then they would have to be….

Hold that thought for a moment.

We, the United States, built ISIS.

We built ISIS the same way we built al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein. They served our purpose… until they didn’t.

In the particular case of ISIS, we wanted to go after the Syrian government, but the political will for a direct military response wasn’t there. So we enlisted the help of the ‘moderate Syrian rebels,’ only later coming to understand that there was no such thing.

There are two rational ways to deal with ISIS:

  • Acknowledge (even if only to ourselves) that we’ve made a mistake, and do our best to undo it. That means not only ‘boots on the ground,’ but whatever it takes to grind them into oblivion, followed by an extended occupation so they don’t get back up.
  • Acknowledge further that whatever efforts to undo the situation will only make matters worse: resist the urge to do something in the face of ISIS atrocities, stop supporting them, and let them burn themselves out.

Of course, we’re doing neither of those, outsourcing the dirty work to ‘carefully vetted moderate’ rebels, even though that approach got us into this mess in the first place.

Maybe I just don’t understand things. Maybe sleazy geopolitical gamesmanship is simply the way of the world.

I do understand, however, that if ISIS commits terrorism here, it will also be an event of our own making, because, besides building ISIS, we neglected the simple imperative of securing the border.

I also understand that responsible leadership means forestalling crises, not encouraging them. ‘Never let a crisis go to waste’ is the cry of fearmongers and despots.

Evil or stupid?

I’m still not sure, and I don’t think I want to find out.

Back into Iraq?

One of my conservative friends sent me an item reminding us that in 2007, when then-President Bush pushed for the ‘surge’ in Iraq, he warned us that if we left Iraq prematurely, the same problems would be back, only worse.  Now we have ISIS (or whatever they’re calling themselves this week) taking over the place, and the armchair generals in Washington saying that we need to go back and hit them hard.

Well, maybe.

In 2007, we owned the mess in Iraq, and there really was no way that we could duck out honorably.  But once something resembling peace had been achieved, the next step would have been to negotiate an agreement by which we could maintain some forces in place in Iraq, to help keep the peace if trouble should flare up in the future.  But we didn’t do that: as far as I can tell, both the Americans and the Iraqis wanted us to leave.  So there was no agreement to maintain forces, and we left.

And our hands are not clean in this affair: we built ISIS when we decided, instead of going to war in Syria ourselves last year, to arm the ‘Syrian rebels’ to fight on our behalf.  But the rebels realized that actually fighting the Syrian government would be work: extending their reach across lightly armed Syrian and Iraqi territory, where the locals would either be happy to receive them or ashamed to admit otherwise, would be far easier and more rewarding.

‘But don’t you see it?’ my conservative friend implored.  ‘They’re like the Terminator: they won’t stop until we’re all dead.’

But they get their strength… from us!

We congratulate ourselves that we haven’t had another terrorist attack on the US since 11 September, but we don’t realize that the terrorists didn’t have to do anything.  They can roll on the floor of their caves laughing as we turn ourselves into a police state and blow trillions of dollars fighting a war that kills people and destroys buildings, but leaves the movement pretty much unscathed.

‘Where would you rather confront them?  There, or here?’

Well, if confronting them ultimately serves to strengthen them, and weaken us, what’s the point?

Who Killed JFK?

Honestly, I don’t know.

Last Friday was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, and last night, my wife and I watched a History Channel presentation about the assassination.  While they did a good job of presenting the facts of the events, the program was driven by statistics of what people thought about the assassination.

In the process, one of the most significant events of the 20th Century is turned into a parlor game: CIA operative X did it from the grassy knoll with a sledgehammer.  At the end of the presentation, we were back where we started: another demonstration of the impotence of facts and reason.  (There’s a reason for this that goes beyond the JFK assassination, but it’s a subject for another day.)

I was two years old when JFK was assassinated, so I don’t remember what happened.   But there is an event of similar dimensions that occurred in my adult life: 11 September.  There are many similarities in the two events, particularly in how the government acted to get its official version of the story out and suppress alternatives.

But there are essential differences:

  • The official story of the JFK assassination is at least plausible.  Some years ago, I watched a documentary of an effort to reconstruct the trajectory of the ‘magic bullet’ that struck both JFK and Texas governor John Connally.  The effort succeeded.  On the other hand, while I can believe that the Twin Towers would collapse from being struck by airliners, it strains the imagination that they would fall into neat little piles.  Moreover, 7 World Trade Center was not struck by airplanes.  It sustained damage that should have left it standing.  But it, too, collapsed into a neat little pile.
  • The Warren Commission that investigated the JFK assassination believed they had gotten to the truth of the matter.  I don’t know what the 9/11 Commission thought they were doing, but it wasn’t the same.
  • From the official explanation, it follows that the assassination of JFK could not have been avoided.  The President was protected with the normal security measures of the time, and it seemed implausible that someone could accurately shoot and kill the President in a moving vehicle.  But the coming events of 11 September cast their shadows beforehand, and yet we did nothing to forestall the events.
  • The assassination of JFK led to some changes of policy direction, but all of these were within the realm of normal politics.  11 September led to the unfolding police state.

Boom

Saturday night at about 10:00 pm, I was roused by the sound of explosions.  I wasn’t sure what it was, at first, whether we were under attack or it was just fireworks.  I hadn’t read anything in the newspapers about fireworks that night, and it seems in questionable taste to hold a fireworks event on the eve of our Day of National… whatever.

I flipped through the news channels on the tube.  There were no reports of anything untoward, although the Weather Channel showed a few seconds of live video of fireworks over the city.  OK, it’s fireworks, not terrorists, so I can relax.

Sunday morning, I was curious if there were any news reports of the fireworks the night before.  I searched around, and came up mostly empty.  I did find that the City had issued a permit for fireworks from a barge near Red Hook.  That explained the volume of the explosions (I live near Red Hook) and confirmed that the event was not my imagination.

The permit had been issued to ‘Kaynelive LLC,’ an event coordinator, but a visit to their Web site turned up nothing.  So the fireworks were a private event that had been contracted for.

Meanwhile, nothing appeared in Sunday’s papers, nor the newspaper Web sites this morning.

So who arranged for the show?

  • Party promoters, staging an event where people pay to go to a party and hear music;
  • The parents of a spoiled kid, throwing a Bar/Bat Mitzvah / quinceañera / sweet sixteen party;
  • A radical Islamic group, thumbing their nose at the rest of us.

At this point, your guess is good as mine.

Tenth Anniversary

The news media are bursting with reports reminding us that this coming Sunday is the tenth anniversary of 11 September 2001, a date which will live in infamy.

But for what?

Of course, I know damn right well what.  I was working in Manhattan that day, and had to walk home, across the Manhattan Bridge, seeing the column of smoke in the sky.  I still react to the video of the airplane slamming into the South Tower as a punch in the gut.  I remember the smell, the dust, the eerie quiet in the weeks that followed.

But there is one small question.  At times, I thought I knew the answer, but now, I’m not so sure:

How is it that three modern steel buildings all collapsed into neat little piles, dropping at near free-fall speed, covering little more than their own footprints?

I’ve always believed that it was within the power of our leadership to forestall the events of 11 September, but that they allowed it to happen in order to advance their own political agenda.  But if, for a moment, we ponder that small question, and set aside the official answer of jet-fuel fires, what comes out is horrifying.

If the Twin Towers and 7 WTC did not simply collapse, then our government took an event that might have killed hundreds and amplified it so as to kill thousands.  And if our leadership could kill thousands of Americans to score political points, what else are they capable of?

OK: that’s one alternative.  But if we step back from that, and return to the official version of what happened, then we have a government that in spite of clear warnings was simply asleep at the switch.

In other words, our leadership is either evil or stupid.

And that’s the tenth anniversary that we’re really observing.