Thursday, January 14, 2016

Another Look at Building 7

Another Look at Building 7
Winslow Myers
The shock of President Kennedy’s assassination back in 1963 on my impressionable 21 year old mind led me to the usual articles, fictional films, and documentaries about who did it and why. Did Oswald act alone? Was there something on the grassy knoll? More than 50 years later, definitive answers are as elusive as ever. Then in 1968 we lost both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Again, conspiracy theories became legion, but nothing has ever been nailed down. 

John Kennedy’s mysterious death began decades of mistrust between citizens and government, intensified by evasions and outright lies on the part of many subsequent U.S. administrations, from Watergate, to the Gulf of Tonkin, to overestimates of success in Vietnam, to the realization that a gigantic secret bureaucracy is trawling who we email and telephone. 

Our leaders often urge us to become civically engaged beyond mere voting, as Obama did in his latest State of the Union address. But there has been a divisive tension between a presumed need for secrecy and an informed citizenry—a tension that encourages conspiracy theory at its most paranoid. 

A further grave wound to our civil cohesion came on September 11, 2001. The dust had barely settled before the conspiracy theorists were once again hard at work. Such theories, considered far-fetched by most Americans, gained some traction by way of the Bush administration’s perverse response to 9/11.  While 15 of the conspirators who brought down the twin towers were Saudi, George W. Bush and colleagues began to beat the drums for an invasion of—Iraq. 

Like millions around the world, I could see no connection to 9/11 and no good reasons for war. Aluminum tubes? Uranium in Niger? Weapons of mass destruction? The evidence seemed flimsy. But the U.S. attacked anyway, cobbling together a “coalition of the willing” to employ “shock and awe.” The result was the greatest foreign policy disaster in our country’s history. The Iraqis didn’t greet us as liberators. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Every rationale the cocksure Bush administration gave for the invasion has been proven bogus. And the blowback, all the way forward to the contemporary rise of ISIS, is still unfolding. 

Though it was obvious that what Bush and Cheney told us about Iraq wasn’t true, when the 9/11 Commission Report was published in 2004, I registered the gravitas of the Commission members and accepted their findings. However, at the urging of a friend in the construction business, I recently watched the 15 minute film narrated by Ed Asner, about one huge loose end in the events of 9/11: the collapse of World Trade Center Building No. 7: (Solving the Mystery of Building 7, produced by AE9/11Truth (Make into link?)

Leaving conspiracy aside, the hard facts are very troubling. Everyone remembers the horror of the twin towers collapsing on the morning of 9/11 shortly after being struck by two hijacked planes. But a third skyscraper, Building 7, collapsed at 5:20 that afternoon. The impact of the two jet airplanes and the large quantities of burning fuel were given as the reason for the fall of the twin towers, but there was no airplane or jet fuel involved in Building 7’s collapse. Strangely enough, the 9/11 Commission Report published in 2004 didn’t even mention Building 7. A 47-story building collapsed straight down into its own footprint for no apparent reason, and there wasn’t a word about it in the initial 9/11 official story.

Finally, after loud protests, the government produced a lengthy report in 2008 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that claimed office fires were responsible for the collapse of Building 7. The two thousand architects and engineers of AE9/11Truth, however, don’t buy the NIST explanation. In the Asner film, some of these experts in their respective fields present credible explanations in the areas of structural steel, demolition, fire fighting, fire protection, metallurgy and explosives. Their evidence is overwhelming that the building came down in a controlled demolition. 

As someone who would prefer to avoid conspiracy theory, I find it congenial to stay with the established scientific facts. I’d like to see experts on opposing sides of the issue going toe to toe and arguing openly about who is right. The issues are based in established principles of science and engineering. It shouldn’t be that hard to determine the truth.

Pondering the implications of the collapse of Building 7 ought to remain a separate step altogether, avoiding the temptation to wonder about inside jobs, Al Quaeda, and all the other suspicions native to our experience of deception from whatever quarter. But if a further step leads downward into that darkness, it will be easier to face it armed with the truth about how the collapse actually occurred. Kudos to those persistent architects and engineers calling for a new independent investigation of what happened to World Trade Center Building No. 7.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How Does It End?


As North Korea dug tunnels at its nuclear test site last fall, watched by American spy satellites, the Obama administration was preparing a test of its own in the Nevada desert. A fighter jet took off with a mock version of the nation’s first precision-guided atom bomb. Adapted from an older weapon, it was designed with problems like North Korea in mind: Its computer brain and four maneuverable fins let it zero in on deeply buried targets like testing tunnels and weapon sites. And its yield, the bomb’s explosive force, can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage.
                                                      The New York Times, January 10, 2016
Is there no bottom to the depth of our hypocrisy, we masters of war and merchants of death? We whited sepulchers who grind the faces of the poor, who tax them to pay for world-destroying weapons to “pacify” millions across the waters who are more desperate than our own poor? Who would “make the desert glow,” forgetting that it is our own small planet we would irradiate?

The New Yorker cover this week showed an infantile Kim Jong-un at play in a sandbox with nuclear toys. Talk about mote and beam! By what logic do we assume we are one jot or tittle different from or better than the North Koreans? What makes our own arrogant and pompous leaders one wit less adolescent than theirs? We are subject like the North Koreans to the same self-perpetuating paranoia, the same lack of moral imagination, the same suppression of truth-telling, the same wildly unnecessary secrets and lies, the same demagogic rationalizations of the status quo, the same folly of an endless arms race, the same nuclear dictatorship that leaves citizens without a voice when world-ending decisions are made. It’s my planet too!

Pontius Pilate, confronted by one mute, disheveled, apparently revolutionary Jew, knowing not what he had before him, washed his hands of him. We have the death of the whole planet clearly before us; how much more reprehensible is our own smug hand washing!

How long will the nations and the generals and those who call themselves statesmen stall and stall again, grossly abrogating their obligations to live up to signed treaties committing them to the abolition of these weapons? How long will they passively acquiesce to the march of doom quickened by the mindless greed of the arms makers? Who will throw these moneychangers out of the temple of our one irreplaceable planet and restore it to life-reverence? 

We partake in a cult of death as nihilistic as ISIS, disguised like a thin layer of rose petals on a pile of horse manure, by our obtuse pretensions to exceptionalism—we assume our thousands of nuclear weapons are a force for good, while those of North Korea or Iran are a force for evil.

Who will speak for the right of mothers and children not to be irradiated and poisoned even by the atomic tests—any nation’s atomic tests—let alone annihilated by a war into which we could slip so much more easily than we can possibly imagine? We adults ourselves are children, in the worst, not the best sense. We are active and complicit deniers of the real. Even the missile crisis of October 1962, behind us by a half-century, failed utterly to wake us up. How much closer do we want to come to ending everything that we love?

How long will we call ourselves Christians, setting aside an hour a week to worship Christ, or a day a year to remember King, our own living embodiment of the teachings of Jesus, at the same time that we deploy submarines that can wreak destruction on a scale unimaginable by ISIS terrorists.  We never come within a country mile of considering what the Christian message of creative non-violence might do to help us, all of us on the planet, to survive in the context of realistic international diplomacy—help the West reconcile with the “Muslim world” and not reduce it to fearful stereotypes.

The fundamental illusion that confronts us, whether trying to act upon the challenge of domestic gun violence, or radical Islamic terrorism, or the prevention of nuclear war, or global climate change, is the illusion of “us-and-them.” By paying only lip-service to figures like Gandhi and Jesus and Martin Luther King, we deny ourselves the practical usefulness of wanting our “enemy’s” security as much as we want our own, wanting it because we see our life-and-death interdependency with our “enemy”—this is irrefutable on the level of climate change and nuclear war. We have met the enemy and he is us. If it is irrefutable on that level, the logic works at any level of conflict: we need police and a military trained to de-escalate and resolve conflict, not perpetuate it by the constant use of overwhelming force.

Will we all be secure if more and more nations have nuclear weapons or if none do? Any general worth his stars in any military on earth ought to be calling for the negotiated abolition of these weapons down to zero—and not after they retire and it becomes safe to speak out.  Redirecting the vast sums sucked up by nuclear weapons to a global Marshall Plan addressing real human needs would enhance the survival of our own nation and all nations.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Pyramid of Violence

President Obama’s frustrated tears over the endless flood of victims of mass shootings seemed human and appropriate.  When it comes to gun violence, our country is in the grip of a collective madness. Imagine constitutional law prohibiting automobile regulation: no licenses, age limits, training, turn signals, insurance, or traffic lights. In the highway anarchy that would ensue, millions of us would begin to demand some common-sense changes to end an unacceptable chaos.

But because one powerful organization with murky motives holds sway over a majority of legislators, nothing is allowed to change in the gun-control arena. The Second Amendment actually uses the word “regulate”: “a well-regulated militia. Were I a Supreme Court originalist, would it be so difficult for me to consider such language a solid precedent for stricter gun control? It seems hard to tell for certain what motivates Wayne La Pierre’s objection to even a sliver of gun law reform. Signs point to an unspoken confederacy between dealers, manufacturers, congress people, and the NRA, using the Second Amendment as convenient cover for making millions.

Something similar exists in the gross lack of progress toward the reduction and worldwide abolishment of nuclear arms. Legislators represent states where weapons manufacturing counts for significant employment, so the momentum for renewing our nuclear arsenals contributes to a perpetual motion machine divorced from common sense. The tail of presumed economic necessity wags the dog of international policy. Decades pass as the world grows ever more dangerous. Generals like Colin Powell, admirals like Eugene Carroll, secretaries of state like George Shultz or Henry Kissinger, retire from office and suddenly start speaking out for abolition, because they know from experience that the weapons are strategically useless—either against other nuclear powers, or against terrorism. Demagogues use fear to silence anyone who dares to say our international system of deterrence is without clothes, forgetting that if even one percent of the world’s arsenals are detonated, the entire earth will suffer the agricultural effects of the tons of nuclear soot in the atmosphere.

In a recent TEDx talk, Daniele Santi imagined a pyramid of violence with nuclear weapons at the top. “As the pyramid spreads downward, it reaches into our daily lives. Conflict and mistrust between communities, crime, domestic violence and abuse, even a single rude comment to someone, are all part of a larger culture of violence. The broad base of the pyramid is the silent violence of apathy, our willingness to live comfortably while ignoring others who are in pain.” The notion of a seamless continuity between world-ending weaponry, down through the pain of the thousands of unnecessary gun deaths plaguing a nation which prides itself on its exceptionalism, to the wide bottom holding up everything above it by means of the “silent violence of apathy”: this is a profoundly useful metaphor to help us begin to overcome our assumption that we cannot make a difference.  We can’t help making a difference. We make a difference by doing nothing—by allowing ourselves to be the foundation on which the pyramid is built.

Much evidence (see Stephen Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature) suggests that we are gradually evolving toward less violence as a planet, even taking into account the horrors of groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. An overwhelming majority of earth’s citizens heartily fear and hate war. Thousands of organizations are working for environmental sanity, for an expansion of universal human rights, for equality of race and sex. The international system is awakening to the need for a new level of cooperation on climate change if we are going to pass the planet on to our grandchildren in reasonable shape.

Nuclear weapons, as the late philosopher of nuclear extinction Jonathan Schell emphasized, are a smaller subset of the environmental challenge. If nations can see the need for progress on the larger issues of rising seas and starvation-inducing droughts, nuclear abolition starts to look almost easy by comparison. It even looks easier, at least numbers-wise, than reducing the grotesquely unnecessary pile of weaponry owned by American citizens. There are only about 17,500 nuclear weapons in the world. In 2009 it was estimated that there were 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns in private possession in the U.S. alone. Just as the planet would be safer if no nation possessed nuclear weapons, the United States would be safer if strict regulation limited guns to hunters and a few others who needed them for protection. And far fewer of us would need them for protection if there were less guns overall—duh!

Change begins with you and me, especially if we have participated in the “silent violence of apathy.” We can change our thinking from an us-and-them mindset (“They” are trying to take our guns; “they” will attack us if we don’t have thousands of world-ending weapons) to a mindset that says “we’re all in this together; let’s work toward the common goal, at every level of the pyramid, of creating a safer world for ourselves and our kids. Absent this change of thinking, get ready for more tears.