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Thursday, September 12, 2019


I want later today to return to the Piketty book and talk about its implications some more, but first, brief comments about three things that arose while I was in New York:  9/11, the Taliban at Camp David, and the firing of Bolton.

9/11:   The attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001 is universally considered the defining moment of modern twenty-first century America, the transformative event that has shaped everything that has come after, an event that people of all political persuasions memorialize by ritually recalling where they were when they first heard of it.

It was also, statistically speaking, not a very big deal.  Roughly 2,800,000 people die each year in America, which is to say somewhat more than 7,600 a day.  The three thousand or so deaths in the attack were thus a blip, the equivalent of a single day with ten extra hours in it.  That number is dwarfed by the body count of many other disasters:  the number of Americans who die each year because of the denial of readily available medical help, the number of Americans who die each year from opioid overdoses, the number of Americans who die each year from gunshot, the number of Americans who have died in wars ostensibly initiated in response to the 9/11 attacks, and so forth.

Just sayin’.

The Taliban at Camp David:  The bloviating classes were aghast at the insensitivity of even considering inviting Taliban leaders to Camp David in the very week of the sacred 9/11 remembrances.  Their collective horror at the thought somehow was transformed into the notion that the Taliban had something to do with 9/11 but that, of course, is nonsense.  9/11 was a Saudi Arabian manned operation, a fact that led the Bush administration to suspend the nation-wide grounding of commercial aircraft sufficiently to allow a bunch of high placed Saudis to fly home before public outrage trapped them in this country.

The Taliban are cutthroat religious fanatics, to be sure, but they are our cutthroat religious fanatics.  We did not create them, but we funded them and provided them with the shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles with which they could down the Soviet helicopter gunships that were wreaking havoc with the Mujahadin during the ill-fated Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  [For movie fans, the go-to film is of course Rambo III.]

They have a greater claim to a Camp David invitation than does Prince MBS.

John Bolton:  Bolton is a genuinely dangerous man, and I am delighted to see him gone.  His summary dismissal highlights the odd but welcome fact that Trump is a dove.  A belligerent dove, a bullying dove, a bombastic dove, an ignorant dove, a feckless dictator-loving suck up of a dove, but a dove nonetheless.  This is a dangerous world.  We must take our comfort where we can find it.


Howie said...

Another odd thing about the man and his Presidency: as a president is precedent is not in prior presidents but in Kings of England and the Holy Roman Empire.No?
However, he is enabling Israel's demonic lust for land, which might prove a factor in Armageddon, to offset his dovishness- Jesus was a dove, too, with a hawk's beak

Paul Kern said...

I'm not sure how much of a dove he is...he seems to frequently threaten war as a means of negotiation. At some point someones going to call his bluff and then we'll see. He also celebrates the military and enlists it when called upon (i.e. border issues). But I do agree, it's a relief to see Bolton to wait for the next shoe to drop...

Jerry Fresia said...

I agree and would add:

1. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was a cover-up. Larry Silverstein, owner of the 47-story building 7 World Trade Center that was not struck or on fire as were Trade Towers 1 and 2 but collapsed in its footprint at around 5 PM, is on film telling authorities "to pull it." A woman announcer on a British TV station was announcing the collapse of Bldg. 7 all the while it could be seen in background. Both of these events are on YouTube. Just sayin.

2. You're right about the Taliban, of course. They were our allies at the time in 2003. The US had been giving them money and awards for their poppy eradication program. And when the US asked the Taliban to deliver Osama, the Taliban had the nerve to ask for evidence before they would extradite Osama. So the US began bombing them. I think it would be a fitting invitation and accomplishment if the Taliban were invited to Camp David and peace declared.

3. Note the rise of the liberal hawks who now say that while Bolton was a bad guy, he was a smart, savvy analyst whose views ought to be heeded. To wit, Graeme Wood of The Atlantic: "But having a shrewd, amoral calculator in charge might not be so terrible. After all, blind devotion to principles can lead to catastrophe, and freedom from principles at least leaves Bolton less prone to bold and irreversible gestures." Screw peace initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Dem establishment is doing its best to oppress Bernie activists within the DNC so that it can lose again with another inauthentic, lying, gas-bag, gaff-machine:

Michael Llenos said...

Rambo 3 was weird in the sense that just two Russian helicopters were stopping the shipment of STINGER missiles to a single province of Afghanistan. I like the helicopters Russia makes, though I've never seen one up close. It's too bad the Hind-D never made it into Rambo 3. I think Sly spent a ton of money on one of the authentic helicopters. I think it was a Hind-A. I don't think Sly is too old to make action movies anymore. Almost everyone is going to watch LAST BLOOD at the theater or on DVD eventually anyway.

RMcD said...

Re Piketty:

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Rats. Just when it gets interesting one has to pay to read it. Oh well.

RMcD said...

Its translator into English mentions it here, but gives nothing away except that it's about 1000 pages long. You may be provoked to saying "Rats" yet again next Spring. r

Ed Barreras said...

I’m not sure I see the point in pointing out the statistical insignificance of the deaths of 9/11. Does the tragedy of those deaths somehow morally outweigh that of other deaths that took place elsewhere? Certainly not. But the geopolitical significance of those deaths was real and is now part of history.

Is the current occupant of the White House a dove? We are barely halfway through what may be (please God, don’t let it be!) his first of two terms, so it remains to be seen. Certainly there’s a always been a sort of half-baked isolationism in his outlook. But since you mentioned the Saudis, don’t forget that the current occupant vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have put the brakes on American involvement in Yemen, which was widely understood as a gesture of solidarity with MBS. Also, just this week he boasted that we’re now “hitting the Taliban harder than ever.”

As for 9/11 conspiracy theories, here is a good resource debunking much of them

LFC said...

Jerry Fresia: Osama bin Laden publicly took credit for the 9/11 attacks not too long after they occurred, or at least that is my recollection and I believe if you will check you'll see that's the case. In those circumstances the Taliban's request for evidence that OBL was behind the attacks was ludicrous and an obvious play for time. OBL had acknowledged that his org. was behind the 9/11 attacks.

Unlike the illegal (in my view) '03 invasion of Iraq, the '01 invasion of Afghanistan actually did have a justification in intl law. Now that's not to say it was necessarily the best course of action or the only course of action, and with the benefit of 18 years hindsight it is of course poss. to raise v. serious questions about it. Individual decisions can be questioned, not only those of Bush 2 but also those of Obama (cf. the 2009 "surge" for example).

But the Taliban when they controlled Afghanistan did allow OBL and al-Qaeda to use it as a base of operations, and al-Qaeda did carry out the 9/11 attacks. That much of US policy in the region for decades had not been a particular model of probity or morality goes w/o saying. But the fact that the US supported the mujahideen vs the Soviets in Afghanistan does not somehow absolve OBL and al-Qaeda of their crimes. Al Qaeda was and is a reactionary fundamentalist terrorist organization dedicated to a quasi-fascistic vision of the world in which intolerance, dogmatism, and brutality play a central role and are openly embraced as principles. (Ditto for ISIS, for that matter, which was originally, if memory serves, an outgrowth of al-Qaeda-in-Iraq.) And the Taliban when they were in charge of Afghanistan were cut from mostly the same cloth.

LFC said...

P.s. And why do you assume the CIA did *not* provide the Taliban the evidence that OBL was behind the attacks? The evidence after all was not in doubt to people in the US intelligence services and it wd not have been a hard job for the CIA to summarize it for the Taliban leadership. Pointless in a way, since the Taliban really cannot have been *completely* clueless about what OBL was up to, although they were not in the loop on the details. Anyway, read Lawrence Wright's very good The Looming Tower.

LFC said...

And btw, now that I've reread RPW's post: contrary to what RPW suggests, the Taliban of course did have "something to do" in an important indirect way w 9/11 inasmuch as they provided OBL w a safe haven and base of operations.

The Saudi Arabian government, by contrast, had expelled Osama bin Laden from the country years before. OBL hated the Saudi monarchy and they hated him. I hold no brief for the quite detestable Saudi regime, but the fact that many of the 9/11 hijackers had Saudi Arabian passports is, in this context, basically irrelevant. Also, recall that Mohammad Atta, one of the lead hijackers, was not a Saudi Arabian; he was an Egyptian. That doesn't mean the Egyptian govt was behind 9/11 anymore than the hijackers w Saudi passports mean the Saudi govt was behind it.

The responsibility for 9/11 is primarily and directly on al-Qaeda and secondarily and indirectly on the Taliban govt in Afghanistan that allowed al-Qaeda to operate there.

Jerry Fresia said...


From the not so neutral Wikipedia:

Regarding known responsibility:

"For several months after the 9/11 attacks, no one, nor any group, claimed responsibility for the attacks, so the primary responsibility fell solely upon the hijackers, all of whom were killed and all of whom left no message or any claim of responsibility, explaining why they had carried out the attacks."

Thus the attack was launched prior to anyone or any group claiming responsibility:

"US President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda; bin Laden had already been wanted by the FBI since 1998. The Taliban declined to extradite him unless given what they deemed convincing evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks,[4] and ignored demands to shut down terrorist bases and hand over other terrorist suspects apart from bin Laden. The request was dismissed by the US as a meaningless delaying tactic, and it launched Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001 with the United Kingdom."

In lieu of a prolonged debate on this issue, the 9/11 attack was essentially "blow back." And for what it is worth, the US and its allies, in its 18 years of "enduring freedom," have killed more civilians in Afganistan than has the Taliban, thus inviting more reprisal. One can only imagine if Afghanistan had been bombing the US for 18 years, how many American terrorists would be planning counter attacks. There have been no terrorist attacks on Switzerland that I know of. Just saying.

Jerry Fresia said...

Ed Barreras

Surely you would agree that with any catastrophe where culpability lies with the state, there will always be armies
of court investigators jumping through hoops to exonerate the powerful. Just take a look at the Grenfell Towers situation in London.

Here we see ( Silverstein admitting that the collapse of Bldg 7 was a "controlled demolition," which begs the question why was it and when wired for controlled demolition (as were Trade Center 1 and 2?).

And here is the BCC telling of the collapse of Bldg 7 (Soloman Bldg) all the while it is standing in images
being broadcast ( Raises questions don't you think?

Matt said...

I don't think Sly is too old to make action movies anymore. Almost everyone is going to watch LAST BLOOD at the theater or on DVD eventually anyway.

I watched the last two Rocky Movies (Creed and Creed II?) on long trans-pacific flights recently, and while I wouldn't say they were great, they were enjoyable entertainment. But, Rocky is shown to be old, in very ill health, and barely getting by. I'm not sure Stalone can pull off more. But in any case, the real problem is that this film should obviously have been titled "Rambo no. 5".

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Conspiracy theories are like black holes. Once you pass the event horizon you are caught in the gravitational pull and can't get out. Once one accepts the idea that the explanation for an event is flawed, and then adopts a paranoid stance that the powers to be are covering it up, one is past the event horizon. At that point everything is interpreted in light of the assumption that there is a conspiracy. Given this rational discussion is unlikely. Skepticism I like, conspiracy theory is problematic.

Re: Bolton's firing I was struck by the same refrains in the press about Bolton that Jerry notes. There was another frequently used refrain, the "Bolton was a bumper, one of the adults who constrained Trump's behavior." This refrain pops up every time someone is nominated or appointed to a White House position, and when the inevitable firing comes, the press bemoans the loss of another adult in the room. Bill Barr was an institutionalist who would constrain Trump and protect the DoJ from his predations. Remember that?

I find this a bizarre explanation. After all, it assumes, correctly, that Trump lacks knowledge and impulse control thus his behavior needs to be constrained. But it hides the recognition that he is unqualified to hold the office. That remains implicit as does the reality that when push comes to shove the notion the president can be constrained is largely wishful thinking.

Trump is treated more as a monarch in this regard than as a president. This must be what was said about European monarchs like Mad King Ludwig or George III as aristocrats in the royal court scurried around trying to curb the their monarch's more dangerous vices and predilections for the good of the state. Oddly enough, treating Trump, and the presidency, in a more monarchical way is what Bill Barr, and the Federalist Society, is all about regarding the "unitary executive theory." This theory is behind Barr's willingness to immediately declare Trump innocent of obstructing justice because president's can not, as a matter of law, obstruct justice. L'etat c'est Trump!

Brian said...

Trump may be more of a dove than Obama, but that bar is already far too low... He hasn't invaded any countries (yet), but he's exponentially expanded the Bush/Obama drone program. What is more, he has also eliminated civilian casualty reporting requirements, so we hear even less about the damage drone strikes are causing.

aall said...

Trump isn't a "dove", he's a coward (plus all the adjectives you appended). There is a difference between the two and cowards aren't going to have the necessities to unwind the Neo-con mess. There is no upside here and the blowback should the Kurdish issue go south will be devastating. There is no silver lining with anything this fool does so stop looking.