And so 15 years later, just what have we learned from 9/11? In some ways not much…

September 11, 2016

Just like everyone alive at the time remembers where he or she was when JFK was assassinated, everyone remembers 9/11 the same way. For me, a lifelong current events fan, it was strange in that when I heard about it I rolled over and went back to sleep or at least attempted to do so. I had been up late visiting my now late wife at the hospital (she would live another almost nine years). I was at my mother’s house and just like when I was a little kid mom had the morning news show on blaring throughout the house.

She opened the bedroom door and told me that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. I don’t think I had ever heard of the World Trade Center. I knew about the Empire State Building. While I certainly thought that was big news, I was dead tired and figured I would catch up on it all when I got up. But then some time later she peeked in again and said another plane had crashed. I got up. And now having just written this I think I have answered the question as to did I see that second plane crash live or a re-run. Must have been the instant replay. But it is strange to me to think that I would not have instantly got up and rushed to the TV. I think my interest in current events stemmed from sharing a combination bedroom family TV room (at a different house) with one of my brothers. When I was as young as a first grader I would wake up to the Today Show with Dave Garroway blasting at me (well blasting due to the volume of the TV set, I think Garroway was soft-spoken himself). Mom always had the TV on loud. Once when I mistakenly thought I wanted to go into teaching in my application I wrote about how I was probably the only first grader to be up to date on the Suez Crisis.

Now can I say anything useful about 9/11?

I was somewhat astounded to read in a recounting of the events of that day by some key players with the president that you or I watching events on TV (well me once I got up) had more complete up-to-the-minute news than the president and his staff who were flying around in Air Force One with sometimes only intermittent and somewhat sketchy communication.  Of course they were still on the ground down in Florida when the first news from New York City hit, but relatively soon afterward took off in the president’s official plane not knowing where they were going, although the president reportedly wanted to get back to Washington as soon as possible. But his staff was not sure that would be safe.

And anyone who has followed the politics of the times should know that there were some people called “neocons” who were itching for the United States to take on a more aggressive role in the Middle East. Or to put it bluntly, they wanted the U.S. to invade Iraq. They had written a paper called Project For a New American Century and had suggested there needed to be a modern-day Pearl Harbor for the general public to be awakened and get on board to support a stronger role in the Middle East. With 9/11 they got their wish. Of course some have suggested it was all a plot by the neocons. I doubt it. Some have even suggested FDR knew about the Japanese plans for attacking Pearl Harbor and let it happen because he wanted the opposite of what the isolationists wanted. Doubt that too.

But back to the Middle East. I have not really studied the whole geopolitics of it all, but I know we vied for influence there, as we did everywhere else, during the Cold War. We wanted Middle Eastern governments to align with us and not the old Soviet Union. So what we basically did back then was try to be friendly with whatever dictator was in power and back him and if we didn’t like him we put in our own. We finally got called on that in the case of the Shah of Iran. He was overthrown by Islamic fundamentalists, and they never forgave us for installing the Shah.

We played the same game in Iraq and elsewhere. It was a lot easier when the threat was just the Soviet Union. We had one big identifiable adversary and in reality the interests of the two world super powers at the time, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, in some respects aligned. We both wanted to have hegemony over our own spheres of interests, keeping our adversary at bay and protecting our competing economic and political systems, capitalist democracies versus communist tyranny.

But why is the Middle East so vital? I would think oil is the major reason. Our whole modern way of life depends upon oil. And it just so happens the world’s largest reserves of oil are located in the Middle East. In addition, our world trade routes go through there. And as barren as we think of that region to be, one heck of a lot of people live there. Europe does a lot of trade with the Middle East, particularly for agricultural products. And of course it is the center of the world’s three major religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

But with the collapse of the Soviet Union we faced a more diffuse and harder to identify enemy– Islamic fundamentalists who don’t wear uniforms (except now some have that all-black attire when they attack) and are not necessarily directed by individual nation states, and who are themselves factionalized. And they as a whole are, well to put it bluntly, crazy. The Soviets were not crazy. For all of their threats they apparently did not want to blow up the world. But the Islamic terrorists seem quite willing to destroy themselves and the world along with themselves. Much harder to deal with people like that.

And while our old arch-enemy, the Soviets, incited guerilla insurgencies, such as in Vietnam, the Islamic fundamentalist type organizations use worldwide terror.

So what can we learn from 9/11?

We are in constant danger but we don’t know quite what to do. Conventional military tactics don’t work well. We should have learned that in Vietnam.

But sending out unmanned drones and offing terrorists is problematic. We end up killing innocent people and breaking our own moral code.

I think the only thing we can really say is that the world has become a much more dangerous place when we face an enemy who can hide in the shadows and yet seemingly strike anywhere anytime.

And back to conventional military tactics. While they do not always work well and are cumbersome they may sometimes be called for. Even the terrorists need a base from which to work, and while it is difficult to find them always in say Paris where they may be hidden within the protection of our own Western culture and in the throngs of Middle Eastern immigrants (and they also of course have recruited non-Middle Easterners to some extent), the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) has actually gone the more conventional route and has taken physical territory. It can be fought by conventional tactics.

I was appalled when I heard Hillary Clinton the other day vow in no uncertain terms that she would never insert American ground troops into the Middle East. How can she know she won’t face the fact she might have to? And I am sure she would if she thought she had to. But you give potential adversaries encouragement when you announce ahead of time that you will only go so far and then give up. So far, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Hillary have made that grave error.

You can’t pin Donald Trump down on what he would do, but talking tough is of little use too, I think.  Actions speak a whole lot louder than words, and saying too much ahead of time limits your options.

What did we learn from 9/11 again?

Not enough, probably, and that there are no easy answers. And that we lack leadership. And maybe the American public itself is conflicted as to what it wants, other than for it to all go away, which it will not.

p.s.

Yes, leadership. Now that I think of it, the nation seemed united with resolve in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But then it faded and George W. Bush went astray and seemed to go the wrong direction, invading Iraq, a country whose leadership had been belligerent to us (even though we had just previously backed it) but who had no known direct or even indirect involvement in 9/11. And although we seemed to at first have success in invading Afghanistan from where 9/11 was plotted, that fizzled too with a leadership that could not seem to determine how far to push and where and who wanted to hide the real cost of military victory from the public and in so doing failed to achieve it.

And some have argued the whole idea of war over 9/11 was wrong. It was not an aggressive act by a nation-state but by a band of terrorists and should have been handled as more of a law enforcement investigation.

And I forgot to mention the lingering suspicions that the Saudis (our oil-rich ally) were complicit in 9/11. Well then it would be an act by a nation state.

It is all so complicated.

p.s. p.s.

And just watched something on PBS about the fact that many of the 9/11 planners or persons suspected of being involved in the plot or operation (obviously not the hijackers who all died or Osama Bin Laden who was killed by our own commandos) are in custody at Guantanamo but have not been prosecuted 15 years later. I don’t know, something about they can’t be brought to the mainland U.S. to our courts due to an act of Congress. Gee, why do they have to be brought to the U.S.? We didn’t hold the Nuremberg trials in the U.S. and we didn’t hang Gen. Tojo in the U.S.

 

 


Wells Fargo needs to be closed down for robbing customers; honchos had to know what was going on

September 8, 2016

Talk about the greed of the one percent.

Wells Fargo Bank needs to be shut down. I mean if what has been reported is true that one percent of its work force was involved in setting up phony accounts so individual employees could get sales bonuses and as a result customer accounts were robbed and customers were subjected to fees and overdraft penalties, then there is no reason that the bank should be allowed to remain in business.

It was reported that 5,300 employees have been fired over the scandal.

It seems to me the chief executives and their underlings should be the first to go. I mean that is what they get paid the big bucks for, to take responsibility.

And I would think there ought to be quite a few people sent to prison. A message on this needs to be sent.

That many employees could hardly have participated in the fraud without the consent and in fact encouragement from higher-ups. The bank did not lose, until now, possibly, the customers did.

While it is reported the bank is being fined 185 million dollars, I think the penalty should go further than that. The bank will no doubt just somehow siphon that out of it’s customers somehow.

All honest business people should be outraged.

The FDIC or whatever regulatory agency should shut it down, not just fine it.

I would advise any customer to close his or her account and move funds elsewhere.

For that many people to be involved in fraud in one entity is shocking and sickening and indicates that there really are no ethics or morals left it the finance industry — if there ever was. Okay maybe a bit strong, but this sounds like an ethical crisis to me.

p.s.

I do no business directly with Wells Fargo. Did use the bank in the distant past for my measly account.


 


At 67 I only learned how to pack a suitcase today; I’ve been waiting for the internet…

September 8, 2016

All my bags are packed and I’m ready to go — hey, that sounds like a song.

I’ve never been good at packing until now maybe. All told I have not had to travel much in my lifetime but when I have I just sloppily folded things and tossed them into a suitcase or bag, not because I don’t care but because I never bothered to learn how to fold things to maximize space and hopefully save clothes from wrinkling.

Guess learning at age 67 is okay. Better late than never. I was waiting for the internet. Today I watched videos on folding clothes. It all seems so easy. One rule they tell you, though, about packing is to figure out how much you’re going to need and then leave about half of it behind. That sounds right.

But beyond packing a suitcase I would still be wanting when it comes to packing a car, especially one with little space. But my dad was an expert. Slow, but he could get everything we needed and then some into the trunk of a modest size automobile. I remember family camping trips. There was my mom and dad, me, plus a brother and a sister (my oldest brother already having left home). So five of us. For as much as two week’s camping my dad was able to pack a tent and sleeping bags, camp stove, food, fishing poles and gear, and various other paraphernalia all in the trunk of a modest sized 1953 Studebaker.

Fast forward a decade or so and when my wife and I and two children went on a camping trip we could not seem to get everything into the trunk. We’d be sharing our sitting room in the car with pots and pans and stuff. Blame that on me. I was in charge of the packing.

My excuse is that they hadn’t invented the internet yet. I mean I could have watched a “How to Pack Your Small Car” video.

I’m leaving for Spain. Having everything all nice and tidy in my suitcase will be great for the many times at the airports the TSA is going to make me take things out and put them back in (I wound up doing this several times on my last trip).

If a person was smart they’d show up naked with no luggage.

 

 

 

 


My family’s peaceful journey through a violent land during the ’60s civil rights struggle…

September 6, 2016

What an eerie feeling to realize you lived history, a violent one, but somehow escaped harm. I just read a story about an 81-year old white man in Alabama implicated in the murder of a white preacher from the north who was marching for civil rights for black people. The now deceased man was acquitted by an all-white jury in about an hour and a half. And this occurred in 1965.

I was in high school, and I think that is the year my family took a car trip through the deep South on our way to the New York World’s Fair.

We met with no outward hostility whatsoever, but maybe some suspicion. A gas station attendant did make note of our California license plates. And at the service station there were as I recall restrooms for whites and others for “colored” people.

At an Arkansas cross roads I saw a wagon pulled by a team of mules with two black people in bib overalls riding atop it.

In Winston-Salem, North Carolina we ate at a lunch counter. A man with red freckles and a short brimmed hat with a small checker design without introduction as I recall told us he thought that if white people and black people were supposed to live together God would not have made us of a different color.

In Virginia I saw a white farmer in a tobacco field behind a horse-drawn plow, and I don’t think he was Amish.

But like I said, all was peaceful on our trip.

And we had travelled through a violent land in the middle of a great upheaval where long oppressed black people, descendants of slaves, were demanding civil rights and those more comfortable with the then status quo were resisting, sometimes in a deadly manner.

Racism of course existed everywhere in the nation, and it survives today. But the South had a history of it being officially institutionalized.

But besides from all that I think I got a glimpse of the Old South, kind of like William Faulkner wrote about.

I thank my parents for being adventuresome enough to have taken the trip.


The story that reminded me of all this was:

 


Enjoy your labor, it’s beginning to go out of style

September 5, 2016

On this Labor Day I’m still wondering what working people will do once there is nothing left to do as the result of technology that is meant to free us from labor.

This morning on my computer I was looking at the digital version of a Spanish newspaper (I’m headed to Spain next week) and there was a photo of a farm tractor pulling implements behind and it was remotely controlled.

That is not a new idea at all. When I was in high school in the mid 1960s I remember going to the county fair and one of the 4-H Club displays was of a farmstead with remote-controlled tractors. Have not seen any yet, but they’re coming. I know. I’ve been an over-the-road truck driver for the past two decades and the remote-controlled trucks have already been built and tested — yeah, they’re coming, and soon. How actually that will evolve I don’t know but I have a feeling that once it begins it will be rapid.

I used to work in the newspaper business as a reporter. It was already going down hill when I began in 1973 but the final nail in the coffin for the real thing, a paper newspaper, was of course the computer, like the one I’m using right now, and of course the smart phone. I doubt my grandkids have much of a concept of a newspaper, although strangely my older grandson did play some kind of newspaper reporter game on the computer when he was smaller — it was completely his idea. I didn’t even get it.

But I ask the question: what do we do when there is no more work? For most of us our whole lives are centered around work. What we do for a living.

At my age, 67, I don’t worry too much about that for my own sake.

But let’s go back to the farm so to speak: when I was an adolescent, just before becoming a full-fledged teenager, my mom hauled me out to a prune orchard and I helped pick prunes off the ground. We did this for extra money for the household, but for some, their lives depended upon it. Whole families used to follow the crops, and as I have written so many times before, back then it was not just Hispanic laborers (and no disrespect for Hispanic laborers intended) but people of all ethnic groups and nationalities — or to put it crudely, poor white folks too. Ok we were not poor, just maybe of modest means. My dad worked on a newspaper.

Crawling around in the dirt all day and in the summer (best to get started in the cool of the morning) is not a joy. So I think it was great progress when that job was mechanized. A v-shaped contraption pulls up under a tree and a mechanical shaker makes the prunes fall into it and then it all moves to the next tree.

So mechanization still has not done away with all harvest labor. Some crops it seems are not as adaptable to it. But as I have also written, I think almost any kind of harvest can be mechanized; it’s more a matter of labor cost than anything else. As long as labor is cheap enough, the pressure to mechanize is not there. So for those hard-to-mechanize crops it still might be cheaper to use hand labor, but if the cost were to get too high on the labor finally, it would be mechanized or in the worst case scenario abandoned.

So what happened to the prune pickers?

For those who did not depend upon the work, they just did something else. For those who could not find anything else, they signed up for LBJ’s Great Society programs. This is something else I have repeated many times in these posts. This is perhaps a form of shorthand. I mean there is probably more to the story. But on the other hand I watched this all unfold in my lifetime and feel it is reasonably accurate.

And the good news is that succeeding generations of the once migrant laborers were essentially forced to move into something else and hopefully something more promising.

So as long as mechanization is doing things like that, good. But now technology is taking over almost every line of work. Every one from restaurant waiters (enter the kiosk to order) to lawyers (computerized programs to do those repetitive legal tasks) is being affected.

I actually have more important things to do now than write this, so I’ll just try to close by saying I hope we don’t end up a civilization that produces weird human forms with bodies that have weak, limp arms hanging at their sides because they have no work and technology does everything for them. I think that was predicted in a song — the year 2525?

p.s.

On the term prunes: I once had an argument with a sergeant in the army who disputed my term prune to mean the fresh fruit from the tree. He insisted they are plums when on the tree and prunes once they are dried. Well technically he is correct of course. But here in prune country (well just south of me nowadays) we call them prunes from start to finish. Just thought I’d clear that up. Oh, and in a way, the sergeant won the argument — it doesn’t pay to argue with the boss.

 


Why not count votes by hand to avoid hacking? Okay, computers it is, but we at least need cyber security and transparency, and the vote should not be over till it’s over…

September 3, 2016

A few posts ago I asked why it is we have to have instant election results. Back a couple of decades ago votes were counted by hand and it could take days, so? I mean the same people remain in office until their normal term is up and by that time surly the votes will be counted. And ballot measures to add or change laws can wait.

(didn’t get any answers then and don’t necessarily expect them now)

I still recall using a rubber stamp with a plus or minus, or maybe checking boxes with a pen.

Computers are great but there seems to be great concern about them malfunctioning, even changing your vote from what you meant it to be, and perhaps even more so now hacking. Just read about the concern that the Russians or anyone else might be able to change the course of an election.

I imagine the real danger is in a tight race. If the presidential race were real tight and down to the wire, it would not take much to swing it one way or the other and no one would notice.

But why must we have instant results and why can’t we count by hand? And of course counting by hand is not infallible and in fact logic might say that computers would be much more accurate — but they can be manipulated.

Actually, cyber security is the answer I am sure. And it seems to me we have to pay much more attention to the reliability of voting machines and there should be complete transparency as to the testing of them.

We need to assure the public as to the legitimacy of the voting system or we risk complete chaos. Already Donald Trump has hinted he’ll cry foul if he loses, saying it is all rigged.

Hopefully he will lose in such a landslide he’ll have a hard time explaining how that could have been rigged.

And one more thing. I sure wished we had uniform polling hours across our time zones and no reporting on results until the polls closed. I am sure that early reporting of projected winners affects elections. Until I began voting absentee all the presidential elections I had voted in had been unofficially called before I even voted.

It just seems the results should wait till the results are in.


What was Hillary thinking? Loose lips sink ships, had she not heard that one?

September 2, 2016

UPDATE: The New York Times has posted a more complete story about the latest revelation from the FBI about Hillary Clinton’s emails. While the original story I read seemed to discount that there was really anything new, the updated one points to something I don’t understand.  It seems to indicate that Mrs. Clinton sent emails involving discussion of future drone strikes. And since she was using an unsecure system and an unauthorized system, that to me seems like telegraphing war plans.

Loose lips sink ships, had she not heard?

And I thought Donald Trump was crazy (well he is, but Mrs. Clinton seems a about one brick short a load herself if this is true). It also seems she just blames everything on her aides. And the story indicates her aides did indeed destroy emails that were under subpoena or that she knew investigators wanted.

There’s even talk of using hammers to destroy electronic devices. Sounds desperate to cover up carelessness to me. And I mean you can keep investigators from finding things out, maybe, but what about enemies who already could have hacked into her unsecure private email system?

Please tell me I am misinterpreting all this.

Can’t under any circumstances vote for Trump but hard to vote for careless Hillary.

My original post follows:

I just listened to a CNN report on just-released FBI interview notes on the Hillary Clinton email case and then read a breaking news story on the New York Times site and while the Times story seemed to downplay (seemed to I say) it, as in not much new, the CNN report seemed to say it showed how ignorant (the FBI chief you recall said she was “careless”) in handling classified materials Mrs. Clinton was.

(Nixon had those damn tapes he confessed he should have burned, and Hillary I think tried but failed to get rid of some of the emails — they are forever preserved on hard drives and in cyber space perhaps.)

It is said that during the interviews Mrs. Clinton said she did not recall getting instructions on the use of classified material and it is said she simply depended upon advice or action from her aides in handling communications on her private server.

And one report said the CIA is particularly concerned over information on what is supposed to be a secret drone program getting out.

(Not much of a secret, except I guess what or who the next target is.)

So I don’t know on all this. And still I can’t seem to get clarity on whether any actual or legitimately classified or secret information got out.

It does seem that Mrs. Clinton was rather cavalier with the use of a private server and personal email to transact government business and to possibly trade classified information back and forth.

And on another subject the whole thing (true, false, borderline?) about Clinton’s pay-to-play thing while Secretary of State and the connections between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department and foreign entities, some of who are dangerous people, stinks to high heaven.

So, should we vote for the mad man Donald Trump over it all, just not vote or vote for a third party candidate, thus giving the election to Trump?

I don’t think so.

p.s.

However I’ll bet a lot of people take option two and three — don’t vote or vote for a third-party candidate. That has the advantage of making a statement, and I don’t discount that, and the dangerous disadvantage of putting a terrible person in the White House.

p.s. p.s.

And this occurs to me: so Mrs. Clinton was careless and depended too much on aides in the email thing. Well it is said Trump never sweats details on anything, does not care for too much information, just goes on gut instinct and just shoots from the hip — that is not comforting to me for a president of the United States, although I imagine he would not be the first one who acted that way.