Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

October 31, 2007

The End of Diplomacy as Symbolized by the U.S. Embassy in Iraq

Filed under: politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 7:47 am

I don’t know what one calls the $600 million dollar U.S. embassy that we are building in Iraq. Is it an Imperial Palace, a Mega-Bunker of Baghdad or a transplanted piece of America that has been grafted onto Iraq? Vanity Fair has an article about the facility. This webpage has various pictures of the construction and the extent of the complex.

Despite its on-time and under-budget construction, the complex represents a failure. It represents a failure in purpose and it represents a waste of precious resources. Much like the Roman empire falling to the barbarian hordes, it matters little how high or how deep we build the walls; we have lost the war before the first battle has begun.

American diplomacy and democracy is ideally based on one principle, the ability to form a consensus through mutual agreement. The basis of such agreements were believed to be evidence-based reasoning and a recognition of basic equality between parties. This process leads to compromise and understanding and is the theme behind our justice system and organization of government.

To the extent that we’ve abandoned those principles at home through the lens of blind partisanship, we’ve also abandoned it abroad through nearly unilateral action. Our government imposes its will, but with that elitist bravado comes doubt. A fear, because we know, in our hearts , that such power is illegitimate. The only legitimate power over another man is through their voluntary consent, not their fear.

And so, we build our walled palaces. When, in fact, we should recognize them for what they are: prisons. There will be no understanding that will be developed out of such structures. It is a bubble. It is closed. It is only capable of allowing pre-approved thoughts enter and exit its gates. It literally is not capable or open enough to allow any other possibility.

And so, it will fall. Not because of its design, but because people will see no reason to defend it. They will not see the moral purpose in putting their life on the line for it. It is a symbol. It is a symbol of everything that is wrong about the reconstruction of Iraq and our attempt to impose a democracy that the U.S. would find acceptable in that country: a waste and failure from the outset that will continue until our government recognizes it as such.

October 30, 2007

Real Time: New Rules 10/26/07

Filed under: environment, history, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 8:14 am

Bill Maher had an excellent “New Rules” segment last Friday. It is good to watch in its entirety.

It is important to remember that the development of agriculture, civilization and the state were almost unquestionably praised. Hobbes summed up life in the state of nature thusly in “The Leviathan.”

In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

This view of the state of nature went unchallenged for centuries, despite the fact that there was little evidence to support the claims.  In Hobbes’ view, the state was justified to exist, no matter how tyrannical or unjust because any state was certainly better than the horrific state of nature.  A funny thing happened when archaeologists went looking for the evidence to support this largely unquestioned view.  They found it largely unsupported.

Agriculture did not improve the quality of life, it actually made quality of life go down.  What it did allow was greater population density and growth.  100 unhealthy farmers could defeat 1 hunter-gatherer, no matter how healthy.  This essentially allowed the farmers to push the hunter-gatherers to the land they didn’t want, and set mankind along this tumultuous path.  The question is: can we, as a species, survive on the course we have chosen?  One, whose true legacy does not rest on the foundation of rational, enlightened betterment, but rather ruthless, resource efficiency.

One aspect is clear, we cannot continue to treat this world as an infinite resource and infinite trashcan.  Additionally, in this increasingly nuclear age, aggression and conflict can literally result in an epic calamity that would throw our very survival into doubt.  Events and consequences can rapidly spiral out of control.  The question is, what will we do about it?  Will we face the challenge and rise above it, or sit back as the world burns?

October 29, 2007

The Curious Exchange Between the Blogger and a Military Spokesperson

Filed under: politics — codesmithy @ 7:31 am

If one wants to participate in a real-life whodunit, there is ample evidence over at Glenn Greenwald’s blog where he receives a “bizarre” and “unsolicited” email from someone claiming to be Col. Steven A. Boylan.

The basic outline of the story is as follows. Greenwald had an exchange with Boylan a few months ago in regards to Greenwald’s request to do an interview with Gen. David Petraeus. Today, Greenwald received a detailed email from someone claiming to be Boylan in regards to the Greenwald’s post about “The growing link between the U.S. military and right-wing media and blogs.” Certain commenters questioned the authenticity of the email, so Greenwald emailed Boylan for confirmation. Boylan denied writing the original email. Was Greenwald duped? Or is Boylan lying?

Let’s examine the evidence. The email in question is expertly written. It takes issue with specific claims in Greenwald’s post about links between the U.S. military and right-wing media. Specifically, Steve Schmidt and Gen. Kevin Bergner. Here is the context of Greenwald’s post.

Throughout this year, the U.S. military in Iraq has become staffed with pure Republican political hacks — including long-time Bush/Cheney P.R. hack Steve Schmidt and former White House aide Gen. Kevin Bergner

Now, this would lead a reader to believe Schmidt and Gen. Bergner are currently on staff, working for the military in Iraq this year and were primarily put in place to color the news coming out of Iraq. The email sets out to correct those assertions.

The email asserts Bergner was qualified for his past and current position. Namely, the email seems to be of the opinion that Greenwald unfairly characterized the history of Bergner. He had worked as North Assistant Division Commander for more than a year before joining the White House National Security Council. Now, he is back in Iraq as a Military spokesperson.

As for Schmidt, the email claims:

Schmidt was here, but at the time for the vote on the Iraqi Constitution, October 2005 for 30 days. He was never on the MNF-I staff and for that short period was actually detailed to the Department of State.

So Schmidt was never on military staff and in fact was not in Iraq this year.

All the corrections in the email to Greenwald’s post appear to be correct. So, the picture goes something like this. In order for Boylan’s claim of not writing the original email to be correct, someone would need fairly expert knowledge in the military to correct specific statements about obscure government officials to a blogger. Not only that, these corrections claim to come from another relatively obscure government official that is intimately familiar with all the facts. A person whose very job it is to correct mischaracterizations of the military in the media. An email that is not only likely to represent his knowledge and viewpoint but also manages to fit his writing style. In fact, the email headers (the electronic history of the paths the emails took) match all the previous emails Greenwald has received from Boylan. Not just superficially, but down to network topology, likely software configurations of servers that handled the messages and IP address ranges of the servers in question that can be confirmed using other public information. We are talking about what has to be one of the greatest electronic mail forgeries in history of the Internet. In this case, for these purposes, it is safe to say that didn’t happen. It would take a skill on the order of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to conduct such a widespread deception, about issues that are specific and limited to a vast minority of the population.

The other scenario is much more likely. Boylan doesn’t like Greenwald. He thinks that he plays fast and loose with the facts and is especially upset about two things. One, that despite the plea from the beginning of the email that

I am not sending this as anyone’s spokesperson, just a straight military Public Affairs Officer, with about 27 months overall time in Iraq who is concerned with accuracy, context and characterization of information and has worked with media of all types since joining the career field in 1991. The issues of accuracy, context, and proper characterization is something that perhaps you could do a little research and would assume you are aware of as a trained lawyer.

Then Greenwald subsequently titles the post “A bizarre, unsolicited email from Gen. Petraeus’ spokesman.” Col. Boylan made it clear he wasn’t serving in a official capacity, but rather a concerned citizen. There is a difference. For example, I work for a company, let’s call them Company X. Nothing I say on this blog is as a spokesperson of the company. Let’s say I respond to someone attacking Company X on some random blog. I’m not authorized to do so in any official capacity, and it would be a huge mistake if I tried. But, if the error was so blatant, the conspiracy theory conclusions were so off-the-wall and the site popular enough, I would tempted to write something to correct it. Even though, I knew I shouldn’t. Now, let’s say the person I tried to correct completely mischaracterized what I said and titled it “Bizarre and Unsolicited email from Company X Spokesperson.” I might be a little upset. Especially, if I considered, like the writer of the email did, to a basic privacy of exchanges unless both people agree to post it openly.

Despite Boylan’s claims of identity theft, the two incidents are unrelated. It would be like saying I must have been a victim of arson, because someone stole my bike. Identity theft has a clear motive for the thief, writing a well researched email does not. Especially when it so convoluted to dupe a blogger into thinking it was you, but wasn’t, however it confirms your point of view.

One thing that someone else noted is that Greenwald lists the originating IP address as 10.70.20.16. They are correct that 10.70.20.16 is a private IP address. Anyone can claim to be 10.70.20.16, just like anyone can claim to be 192.168.1.1. However, that is missing a key piece of evidence. I’ll trim the header for the relevant information.

Received: from rich.salon.com (rich.salon.com [206.80.4.124]) by mailer.salon.com (8.13.6/8.13.6)
Received: from 02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil (02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil [214.13.200.111]) by rich.salon.com (8.12.11/8.12.11)
Received: from INTZEXEBHIZN01.iraq.centcom.mil ([10.70.20.11]) by 02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.3959);
Sun, 28 Oct 2007 14:15:05 +0300Received: from INTZEXEVSIZN02.iraq.centcom.mil ([10.70.20.16]) by INTZEXEBHIZN01.iraq.centcom.mil with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.3959);

The key piece is the 214.13.200.111. That is a public address. You can use nslookup to verify it. Heck, you can look up who owns the 214 address chunk. Here is a hint:

214/8 Mar 98 US-DOD

The email got routed through a US-DOD server, that is not something that one can just do. You would need to compromise the server to forward the email. The choices are clear, either a government official lied because he didn’t like what a blogger was writing about and got more upset by what he saw as unfair and unprofessional behavior or someone pulled off a hoax. A hoax with the unusual property that the more evidence that comes to light, the more convincing it becomes. I think it is safe to say Boylan lied, but more importantly I love mysteries.

October 27, 2007

RE: Rich State, Poor State

Filed under: culture, politics — codesmithy @ 10:17 am

Crooked Timber has some maps on how the 2004 elections would have turned out if they were divided along poor, middle income and rich lines. The visual results are pretty stunning, and worth checking out, but I’ll approach it from a strictly textual/numerical perspective.

To summarize, if only poor votes were counted only Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Utah would be red states.

When only middle incomes are taken into account, the country becomes vastly red but leaving Washington, California, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine as blue states.

When only the rich are considered, many blue states drop leaving only California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell by looking at the maps which way Washington D.C., Alaska or Hawaii went. But, here are the numerical totals on how the election would have turned out along in each scenario along with the actual result.

Bush Kerry Unknown
Poor Only 66 462 10
Middle Income Only 304 224 10
Rich Only 394 134 10
2004 Actual 286 252

The paper states:

For poor voters, there is no systematic difference between rich and poor states. But for middle-income and especially for rich voters, there is a very strong pattern of rich states supporting the Democrats and poor states supporting the Republicans.

Crooked Timber concludes:

In short, rich people and poor people who live in poor states have very different voting preferences from each other. Rich people and poor people who live in rich states have much more similar voting preferences. Gelman et al. don’t have any hard and fast explanation for this (they note that race explains about half of this disparity, but only half). However, their results do suggest that some of the conventional wisdom of American journalists on class, voting and geographic location stands in sore need of revisiting.

My hypothesis on the differences between middle-class and rich voters in the heartland of America (i.e. not the West Coast or Northeast) is due to interests of the corporations located in that part of nation.  The middle-income and rich voters align themselves with the interests of the companies that they work for.  In this view, the Republicans represent corporate interests of the old economy (primarily nationals); Democrats represent corporate interests of the new economy (information economy) and some other professional classes such as doctors, lawyers and teachers.

Nationals represent the old established economies of freight, power, telephone, mining, etc.  Making a profit in a national is done by reducing costs and tactically increasing markets.  Therefore, their interests are aligned with decreased regulation, reduced taxes, higher government subsidies, access to cheap resources both at home and abroad, anti-labor (no unions, health care, minimum wage increases), etc.

The West Coast and Northeast represent the new information economy. Making a profit means being competitive in the global marketplace with new technology and products. These companies have an interest in ensuring that education continues to be subsidized to ensure access to a relatively cheap supply of scientists and engineers.  They also tend to be more concerned with enforcing intellectual property rights at home and abroad.   Although, they may share interests with the nationals in some areas such as reduced taxes and deregulation, they are willing to make concessions to the poor to gain political leverage when national and new economy interests come into conflict.

The states that are red even when only the poor voters are considered is due to some cultural artifacts.  Poor ranchers and white farmers tied to agro-business tend to be Republicans.  Despite the fact that white farmers in the West are poor, they behave as if they were middle-income employees for a national corporation.  I think the isolation and self-employment contribute to that culture.  It is a special case, much like Utah, which is Republican for value platform reasons.

I think liberals, in particular, have a very bad sense of who they are arguing against.  It has a lot to due with misconceptions about history and how the opinion making elite project a myth about America.  They are not, by in large, uneducated rednecks living in a trailer or some other anti-intellectual stereotype.  They are people like this guy.  Middle-class or rich, religious, educated and probably employed by some private national business in the heartland of America.

October 26, 2007

Rosa Brooks: Straightjacket Bush

Filed under: politics — codesmithy @ 9:20 am

Rosa Brooks wrote an opinion column for the LA Times suggesting that the President should be committed.

Apparently, there is a good case for presenile dementia.

And 10% of people suffering from dementia also have a psychosis, with hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia. I honestly think a good case could be made.

October 25, 2007

American’s Self-Absorbtion or Why We Are Going To Attack Iran

Filed under: impeachment, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:07 am

Hello, and welcome to Cassandra’s hell. If you are reading this, rest assured, I’m probably not talking about you. I’m talking to you about the 41% of Americans who can’t name one GOP hopeful. Look, I haven’t watched a single debate, only pieces of them posted on various websites. I hardly watch any television. That said, I can name 7 Democratic candidates (Biden, Dodd, Gravel, Kucinich, Edwards, Obama and Clinton) and I know there is at least one other who I can’t name but would recognize (Richardson). I can name as many Republican candidates (Paul, Brownback, Huckabee, Thompson, McCain, Giuliani and Romney) and I know there is at least one other that I can’t name but would recognize (Tancredo). I mean, how do you go anywhere on the Internet without meeting at least one rabid Ron Paul supporter? Do they not know McCain is running again? The guy from Law and Order is running? America’s mayor, Mr.-9/11-himself-and-will-remind-you-every-other-breath Giuliani is running? The mormon even?

There is no excuse for this. What it means is that there is about 40% of Americans are flat-out not paying attention to anything outside of maybe their own lives. These 40% of Americans don’t know what the President means by diplomacy. The President’s notion of diplomacy is the same as his idea of bi-partisanship. The common theme is the President says: give me what I want or else. Democrats typically give him what he wants. Iran, quite simply, will not. So they will get the else which in this case is an air-strike. He will paint himself into that corner, so it will either be attacking Iran or a loss in credibility. This President will choose to attack. The same way he did with Iraq. Arguing with the President about it is pointless. It will be just like trying to convince him to withdrawal from Iraq. He’ll ask: why are you against freedom? For Iran: you don’t want them to develop nuclear capabilities? You don’t want World War 3 do you? The irony is, this President will start World War 3 for the sake of preventing it. You will never hear this directly from the mainstream media. They’ll just report that the President said that any planned strike on Iran is a “baseless rumor.” It is not a baseless rumor, there is lots of evidence for it. But it requires people to have been paying attention for the past six years. And that my friends, is exactly what this poll proves is not happening.

The Democrats are feckless to stop this. Their approach to hold an investigation but it doesn’t matter what the investigation finds. The administration is never candid. And in some instances won’t even answer the subpoena to testify. What is the point! It doesn’t matter what these investigations find, because any evidence or obstruction or wrong-doing never results in a conviction from the Democrats to actually hold the administration accountable. They only have one constitutional recourse that means anything, and that is impeachment. Something that Democratic leadership says is “off the table.”

If conflict with Iran is to be avoided at this point, three things need to happen.

  1. Democrats need to stand up, just like Dodd did against telecom amnesty
  2. Congress needs to pass a law that says unequivocally that the President is not authorized to use force against Iran before getting approval from Congress
  3. This language needs to be tied to Iraq and Afghanistan war funding either as an amendment or passed before any additional war funding is approved, including the additional $46 billion the President just asked for

The power of the purse is the only leverage the narrowly controlled Democratic Congress has, they must not be afraid to use it. Democrats will take a lot of heat in the beltway for this. But, they need to take a stand. An attack on Iran could cause a broader conflict that would spiral out of control, such as Turkey invading the northern part of Iraq. However, in order for the Democrats to actually do what is right, it might require waking 40% of Americans who haven’t been paying attention up.

Starving The Beast Part 1: Institutional Analysis

Filed under: history, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 6:41 am

There is a concept that I want to discuss called “starving the beast.” But, before addressing this strategy we have to address the topic of “institutional analysis.” Institutional analysis is analyzing how a institution actually behaves. For example, if one does an institutional analysis of a corporation, it will find that it tries to maximize profit. This shouldn’t be especially controversial. However, institutional analysis has a tendency to be dismissed as conspiracy theory.  Institutional analysis differs from conspiracy theory in the amount of evidence that supports it.  It is hardly a mere conspiracy theory when the administration stacks the justice department and then the justice department pursues partisan prosecutions, despite administration claims to the contrary.

In institutional analysis, little attention is paid to what the institution says its motives are.  Instead, any statement issued from the institution to the public is assumed to be part of achieving the institution’s true goal and as such is not taken at face value.  However, earlier thinking of people who lead the organization, internal memos and observable evidence are respected.

In any institution, there is a wide spectrum of agendas.  In this respect, any rule or motive will come off as overly simplistic.  This does not mean the conclusion should be dismissed.  What we are looking for are drivers for behavior, particularly those who lead the organization.  For example, it is virtually impossible for the military to disobey the President.  While the military might offer some initial resistance, the President has the power to fire and promote people to eventually carry out his will.  If the military did disobey the will of a determined President, that would mean the literal breakdown of the institution.

So, what is “starving the beast?”  “Starving the beast” is a strategy to undo new deal style social spending by bankrupting the government.  It takes advantage of “eat your cake and have it too” aspect of a representative democracy.  Simply put, the government maintains or increases expenditures while cutting tax revenues.  At some point a huge debt develops that can be leveraged to cut “unnecessary” aspects of the government such as oversight and regulation of industry, public education, and social welfare programs while maintaining “necessary” aspects such as defense spending.

I’m going to break this down into to four parts, and this is obviously the first.  Part 2 will look at the history of the idea.  Part 3 will see if there is any evidence to support if this idea has been tried.  Any conclusions will be drawn in part 4.

October 23, 2007

Understanding the Credit Crisis

Filed under: economy, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 8:13 am

I went over some key points in a post titled “Economic Contraction Looming?” So, the two questions we have to ask ourselves are: “how does it work?” and “is this true?”

So, we’ll address “how it works” first. For those that don’t like the dry articles maybe some British humor will penetrate and be enlightening.

Based on this story, what data can we find to confirm it or to contradict it, essentially “is this true?” So, we start with the fundamentals. The base of how much money will be lost is directly proportional to the number of loan defaults we see. This can be measured by the foreclosure rates on homes. Compared to last year, the foreclosure rate is nearly double for September. To be fair it was down from August, but the article states:

It’s likely that the sequential decline in foreclosure activity between August and September was just a blip, not a bellwether of lessening foreclosure filings.

Fine, is there any data to back up that assertion. A significant portion of the crisis is in the so called sub-prime sector.

Well, one way is actually survey people that have these types of loans. 73% don’t know how much their payment will increase after the ARM resets. Only 1 in 5 knew what factors determine their rate adjustment. 1 in 3 answered incorrectly, and approximately half have no idea what factors affect their rate. In other words, these loans are not a responsible borrowing of money.

So, we expect the foreclosure rate to rise. Especially given the hit most home owners are going to take to heat their homes given current energy prices.

The structured investment vehicles based on mortgage-backed securities are hot potatoes. Right now, the hedge funds that own these securities are bluffing. They are trying to find a way to give these worthless securities to someone. Paul Krugman examines Henry Paulson’s plan to deal with the crisis.

Right now the bleeding edge of the crisis in confidence involves worries that there may be large losses hidden inside so-called “structured investment vehicles” — basically hedge funds that borrow from the public and invest the proceeds in mortgage-backed securities. The new plan would create a “super-fund,” the Master Liquidity Enhancement Conduit, which would seek to restore confidence by, um, borrowing from the public and investing the proceeds in mortgage-backed securities.

Although, I would state the thesis much stronger than Krugman. I would rewrite the sentence “Right now the bleeding edge of the crisis in confidence involves worries that there may be large losses hidden inside so-called “structured investment vehicles”” to be “Right now the bleeding edge of the crisis in confidence involves evidence showing there are large losses hidden inside so-called “structured investment vehicles””. The “may” makes it sound like it is 50/50, when it is in fact more like 90/10 when one examines the fundamentals.

However, Krugman is fundamentally correct in the solution. “… [T]his rescue scheme could be seen as an attempt to hide the bad debts everyone knows are out there, and as a result could delay any return of trust to the markets.” To return trust to the markets calls for an investigation and honest accounting of the “structured investment vehicles” and proper oversight of the hedge funds. Until that happens, there will be a continued belief that hedge funds are bluffing about their state of affairs.

October 22, 2007

The “Good” Republicans

Filed under: culture, politics — codesmithy @ 8:05 am

As Kenneth Miller and Patricia Princehouse point out, it was a Republican appointed judge (Judge Jones) who ruled against Intelligent Design.  Please forgive me for not seeing the Constitution of the United States as a partisan issue.  I used to consider myself a Republican.  Hell, I used to consider myself a conservative.  I’m for rule of law, fiscal responsibility, humble foreign diplomacy, limited government and personal responsibility.  However, I’ve seen the modern Republican party violate each one of those principles.  Rule of law was violated with the Libby commutation, and the current attempt at telecom amnesty.  A humble foreign policy was thrown out with the unjustified invasion of Iraq, and the abuses caused in its wake with Abu Ghraib, Blackwater, and Guantanamo Bay.  Limited government was betrayed by warrantless wiretapping, and suspending habeas corpus.  Personal responsibility is not embodied by this administration because they, themselves, never live up to the standard necessary, such as properly planning for the post-war realities in Iraq, not taking responsibility for intelligence failures, not holding those in the administration (such as those that leaked Valerie Plame’s identity) to account, or to curtail the rampant fraud in the reconstruction of Iraq.

In the meantime, studying the Enron implosion showed the dangers of deregulation and some of the moral hazards that can arise.  Support for environmentalism is based on conservationism.  We need to find a way to live in a sustainable fashion on this planet.  We cannot continue to treat it as an infinite resource and infinite trash can.  I believe in the free market, but I am also aware of the factors that make a market not free.  In that vein, the free market doesn’t work for everything.  It takes work to ensure that a rising tide does actually lift all ships, one can’t just take it as a tenet of faith in a purely theoretical framework then ignore the consequences when it is actually implemented in reality.  Additionally, not all free market solutions produce optimal outcomes, examples include police protection, and fire protection.

In my view, the whole Republican vs. Democrat, left vs. right paradigm is a false dichotomy.  Just because I don’t like George W. Bush doesn’t mean I consider Clinton to be a hero.  But, what I do ask from Republicans like Kenneth Miller, Patricia Princehouse and all the other principled Republicans is to take a good hard look at the Republican party and based on the evidence, does it actually support the positions it says that it does.  I would encourage the same analysis of Democratic party.  It is not all he said, she said, there is an underlying reality to it all.  But, what I think Miller and Princehouse and others will find is that in an objective, impartial analysis, many Republican policies are based on powerful myths not reality, just like Intelligent Design turned out to be.  That isn’t to say that Democrats would fair much better, but I think what one will find in of so called “loony-left” is far more reasonable than the picture that Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh or other right-wing pundits try to paint.  Once this common ground is found, I’m hopeful that real progress can be made in turning this country around.  One way to start is to drop the labels that inaccurately define us.

October 21, 2007

9/11 Truth Movement, Bill Maher, and Freedom of Speech

Filed under: culture, media, politics, protest — Tags: — codesmithy @ 12:27 pm

As is all the rage in on the Internet, Bill Maher sent some hecklers from the 9/11 Truth Movement packing. I can’t construct a complete narrative of situation, but one key point seems to be the 9/14/07 show. His first show after the 9/11 anniversary where he highlights the failure to do anything at the site and also dismisses the 9/11 Truth Movement as conspiracy theorists and in need of medication. I don’t know how members of the 9/11 Truth Movement were attempting to raise the topic, but I imagine it was for the online overtime segment where they take questions “from the Internet for the Internet.”

I happen to wholly disagree with the 9/11 Truth Movement and basically share Maher’s view on what caused the towers to collapse. I watched “Zeitgeist” (no, I won’t link to it but it is the top hit on google when you search for zeitgeist.) I’ve also watched parts of “Loose Change.” So, I do feel like I’ve given the 9/11 Truth Movement the benefit of the doubt, however I remain unconvinced. Believing the 9/11 Truth Movement means watching the towers fall, and believing it is a controlled demolition. A controlled demolition that starts right below where the planes impacted. Believing the government is so competent that it orchestrate a complicated attack on its own citizenry, however when the attack comes, the leader of that government sits stone-faced with “My Pet Goat” in his lap.

What do I believe? I believe what I saw. Two planes struck the towers and after an intense blaze burned for approximately two hours, fell. This is supported by testimony of fire experts and consistent with the video record. One can watch interviews with the engineers of the building. They designed it to withstand the impact of an airplane. However, in their analysis, they didn’t consider the effect the fire would have. I believe the Bush administration could have done a better job of acting on the intelligence information that they had in their possession. If they had notified the TSA that terrorist might be hijacking planes, then extra significance might have been placed on four of the hijackers who were stopped by airport screeners. Would it have been enough? I don’t think anyone can truly know, but I think it demonstrates that the government could have done a better job with the same exact resources and powers at its disposal.

So, how does this lead into freedom of speech? In order for freedom of speech to mean anything, one has to defend the people they disagree with. I don’t believe members of the 9/11 Truth Movement should be thrown in jail or be threatened, or have violence advocated or performed against their person for their views. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t consider them, for lack of a better term, crackpots.

Nevertheless, I have to question the methods and the targets of the 9/11 Truth Movement. One, Bill Maher is a host for a T.V. show on HBO. I mean really, Bill Maher? HBO is arguably the best premium cable channel, but it is still a premium cable channel. Its reach is small, can’t you target CNN, Fox News, NBC, ABC, CBS or PBS? I’m sure Bill O’Reilly would love to hear from you, I can literally envision some of things he will say right now (holocaust deniers, loony left, etc.). Second, wouldn’t it be better to target politicians? I mean, they have the power, and unlike Maher, are directly accountable to the public.

Ultimately, I think forcibly escorting the protesters out was the right thing. Especially since protesters in that situation seem incapable of listening. Although, some of Maher’s comments during the fiasco, I feel were uncalled for. Particularly, he shouldn’t have called for security to rough the protester up, because that is a violation of someone’s freedom of speech or at least the principle that it is supposed to embody in our society. No, he is not an actor of the government, but there are limits and inciting violence is one of those limits.

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