The Aftermath of 9/11 – Has it Been Worth It?

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Today marks 18 years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center changed the world forever, and not for just the States of America. 19 terrorist hijackers primarily from Saudi Arabia – 15 of them held Saudi citizenship, two were from United Arab Emirates, one from Lebanon and one from Egypt – seized control of four aircraft flying cross-country routes from Boston, Newark, NJ and Washington, D. C., to California (Los Angeles and San Francisco). Loaded with jet fuel, the terrorists utilized the planes as weapons, employing training that they had received at flight schools in the U. S. to pilot one plane each into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon in Washington and, after an uprising of the passengers on the flight, a forced crash landing in a field in Pennsylvania instead of its intended destination of the White House or Capitol Hill, home of the U. S. Congress.

The results of the 19 terrorists’ actions were immediate and numbing. 2977 people – and not all of them ever had any physical evidence of their existence ever recovered from the wreckage – were killed in the four instances, the worst terrorist attack on U. S. soil in the country’s history (the 1941 attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor technically did not occur on U. S. soil as Hawaii was a territory of the U. S. at the time, not a state). And, much like when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the response from the country was swift and powerful. But the question has to be asked – 18 years later in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, has it been worth it?

In the days following 9/11, first responders sifted through the rubble of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania, trying to find any survivors and, when it became apparent that there were no survivors, recover the bodies of those who were killed in the attacks. Meanwhile, the presidency of George W. Bush aggressively moved to act against an unknown opponent. In an address to Congress mere days after the attacks, Bush announced that a “war on terrorism” needed to be conducted and, with the blessing of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, received virtually everything that was asked, including wide-sweeping mass surveillance of citizens of the U. S. (the Patriot Act of 2001) and broad ability to conduct military actions anywhere in the world.

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That thoroughly expected military action is still ongoing. As a part of the actions given to the Bush administration, on September 14, 2001 a broad Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) was granted by Congress. This allowed the Bush administration to immediately attack – without the consent of Congress, who is the body that has the right to declare war against another country – anyone viewed as “responsible for the attacks of September 11” and any “associated forces.” The AUMF has since been used by subsequent administrations.

There has rarely, in the history of the U. S., been two documents that affected the future as much as the Patriot Act and the AUMF. With the Patriot Act, it became possible for the government itself to spy on its own people, something that would have been abhorrent to the founders of the country or, even more recent, those that fought against oppressive governments in Germany, Japan and Italy in World War II. With the AUMF, it basically allowed the government to wage war virtually anywhere in the world in the name of the “war on terrorism;” it has been used to justify military actions by not only the Bush administration but those of President Barack Obama and the current occupant of the White House in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Yemen, Georgia, Syria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Iraq and Somalia, among others.

But other, uglier actions arose from 9/11. Now called “hate crimes,” attacks against Muslims, Middle Eastern “looking” people, people of Asian descent (Sikhs in particular, who wear turbans that are erroneously confused with being associated with the Islamic faith) and others precipitously rose, blaming them for the actions of the 19 terrorists. This included taunting people in public and burning mosques all the way to killing people, when white supremacists took lives of those that “looked like terrorists” or were “towel heads” in a murderous rampage. It is arguable that these actions go on to this day.

Citizens themselves are not absolved of any responsibilities or blame for the devolvement of society since 9/11, either. If Watergate damaged the image of the country in peoples’ minds, the 2000 election controversy between Bush and former Vice President Al Gore and the actions of 9/11 totally destroyed any belief in a “just” government. These shattered thoughts and beliefs have tumbled over the past two decades into a massive snowball that ravages the psyche of the country in an avalanche of unsubstantiated thoughts and “alternative facts,” weaponized by extremists and employed by those to justify their philosophies.

Beliefs that the U. S. were a part of a “New World Order” (a phrase, ironically, uttered by Bush’s father, George H. W. Bush) brought about the idiotic conspiracy theories that 9/11 was an act by the Central Intelligence Agency and other nefarious operators, both domestic and international, to take freedoms from the citizens of the U. S. The use of fraudulent intelligence by the Bush administration that led to the Second Gulf War and the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein further ripped the fabric of the country. And the virulent rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle – that if you didn’t fully support “American” action, then you weren’t a “true American patriot” – contributes even today to the massive schism that exists in our political process.

The costs of the “war on terror” brought by the 9/11 attacks also have to be questioned. The human toll is striking and depressing simultaneously – the U. S. military has seen roughly 7000 deaths and tens if not hundreds of thousands of injuries from operations contributable to the “war or terror.” The civilian cost is estimated to be conservatively 1.3 million deaths, although some estimates set the total closer to four million. And the costs to cultural, religious and historic areas – ISIS has destroyed many sites of antiquity in their version of the “war on terror” – are too numerous to mention.

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The human costs are arguably the most important thing, but the financial costs of continuing the “war on terrorism” are approaching astronomical figures. Since 2001, it is estimated that the three U. S. presidential administrations that have conducted the “war on terrorism” have spent $7.6 TRILLION pursuing terrorist targets around the world and added $2.4 TRILLION to the U. S. budget deficit. This isn’t counting what other nations, including our NATO allies, have spent in their support of the actions following 9/11.

What has all of this brought to the U. S. and the world? “Terrorism” is something that can never truly be snuffed out. It is an action that dates back to biblical times (a Jewish group called the Sicarii would use concealed daggers to execute their targets in large crowds before slipping away and the Hashhashin, an Islamic sect, were a terrorist group in the 11th century that employed terrorist killings – the group’s name is where the word “assassin” comes from) but, in recent history, has moved from a “nation-state” action to a tool used by an individual political, religious or social group that has no traditional physical base of activity. It is one of the reasons that al-Qaeda (the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11), despite the protestations of the current administration, continues to thrive around the world.

And what has been the collateral damage from the aftermath of 9/11? In the U. S., we have raised a generation of children that know nothing but “war” and a misguided view of “patriotism” that is foisted by some who use that “war” as a political tool. In the world, there are people who have seen their families affected by the bombs of some far-flung U. S. drone attack, the bullets from a U. S.-made weapon or the ravages of imprisonment for “being (insert your religion or nationality here)” that has permanently implanted anti-U. S. sentiments in their minds. And the money that has been spent on the pursuit of “war” hasn’t been spent on areas to improve life for EVERYONE, significantly impacting all facets of life around the world.

On this 18th anniversary of 9/11 and in the future, as the costs both human and financial continue to rack up, we all must ask ourselves – “Was (Is) it worth it?” The nationalism that is becoming prevalent in the world nowadays can be directly traced back to 9/11 and it is something that has to be combated because it will only acerbate terrorism throughout the world. When it comes to the aftermath of 9/11, everyone has to have the ability to examine this question and plenty of other ones truthfully and come up with their own answers because this current situation cannot be continued in perpetuity. The current situation also cannot be allowed to flourish, lest it destroy civil society and plunge the world into an anarchistic state or theocratic or fascist rule. There is no such thing as “total security” and these thoughts present not only the people and leaders of the U. S. with a complex challenge but the world as well.

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White House has Mastered the Lie, Now Working on the (Mis)Information

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We’re barely a month in to this charade that acts like a leadership group for a country and there are several things that have become apparent. Potentially the most important is that the people staffing this team – the Confederacy of Dunces arranged like deck chairs on the Titanic – have utterly no problem with lying their asses off should the situation arise. All one has to do is look at one area – terrorism – to see that it is their raison d’etre to lie.

First there was a person who does not even have an OFFICIAL position in the leadership group, Kellyanne ConJob, spewing her idiocy about the fictitious Bowling Green massacre, in which agents of al-Qaeda supposedly did this, that and…guacamole. Not only did she repeat this blatant lie once, she did it THREE times before finally coming out and admitting she was wrong. This came after ConJob coined the phrase “alternative facts” that accurately describes every fucking thing that comes out of the mouths of the conservatives involved with this fraud of leadership.

Then there was Sean Spicer, the current White House press secretary, who doesn’t seem to have the ability to speak the English language without fumbling the words. During a presser not a couple of weeks ago, he used the “terrorist attacks in Atlanta” as a reason for the unconstitutional travel ban enacted by the cabal. Once again, after great derision from pretty much anyone with a functioning brain, he admitted he was wrong and that he meant “Orlando” (which was a mass shooting by a U. S. citizen, but still a domestic terrorism attack – that part was left out…DOMESTIC).

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Finally, there was Orange Julius Caesar himself topping them all. During a party rally/Hitler-esque display in an airplane hangar on Saturday – complete with the brainless, the spineless and the soulless expressing their admiration and devotion to Herr Twitler –he noted the terror attacks “in Sweden last night. Sweden, of all places.” The problem is? There were no such attacks. When it was pointed out that he was once again wrong, he simply played it off as “something he saw on Fox News,” which was two editorialists positing about the situation in Sweden, not the actuality. It was simply the latest lie in the pattern of this governance to create fear of a certain religion – Islam – so that they could run roughshod over it.

Watching the conservatives justify this would be high comedy if the goddamn stakes weren’t so high. Supporters have contorted themselves into positions that would rival anything you’d see in a circus sideshow and, once in that position, cannot seem to extricate their brain to be able to have a cohesive thought – hence their silence over these blatant falsehoods. Add in the continued attacks by The Resident on the media, falsely accusing the Fifth Estate as the “enemy of the people,” and it is obvious that they’ve mastered the lie.

Now all they need to do is work on the information…and they are starting in on that end.

Recently the campaign sent out an e-mail to its “followers,” asking for their opinion on the media. As someone who is close to a person who does opinion based research (my lovely wife), I’ve seen enough questionnaires created to demonstrate what is supposed to be done with these quizzes. Usually – and to get the clearest based information without biases showing up in the research – these questionnaire surveys are very balanced in their approach and lack any guidance towards a particular side of the discussion. This one? Not even close!

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These geniuses seem to have forgotten about the usual approach of “research” questionnaires. EVERY ONE of the questions posited to the respondent is slanted towards the response that those in charge of the survey want to get. Don’t believe me? Here’s a sampling of some of the questions from the very survey:

“On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? ” Possible replies (and the respondent can choose as many as they please) include immigration, economics, pro-life values, religion, individual liberty, conservatism, foreign policy, and Second Amendment rights. Note that the original question did not ask “Does the MEDIA do a good job of representing Republicans?”…that would at the minimum be a non-leading question.

Then we get to where they attempt to use a “push poll” technique, in which The Resident’s lackeys state, “Were you aware that a poll was released revealing that a majority of Americans actually supported (The Resident’s) temporary restriction executive order (another blatant lie)?” It hits every high point of the conservative dogma – taxation, faith, the Second Amendment and more – to rile up the base and give them shitty evidence (with this “garbage in, garbage out (GIGO)” biased poll) to be able to say, “Look, this is what THE PEOPLE want!”

So why haven’t we heard anything about this? Why haven’t we heard the results of this awe-inspiring poll that will show that The Resident is a GOD that should be worshipped for his knowledge? Part of that is because The Resident’s people are using their campaign mailing list. This list, in which people provided their e-mails to be able to receive updates during the 2016 campaign, saw many FROM THE OPPOSING VIEWPOINT sign up to keep an eye on what this shitstain was doing. As such, when they try to gather bullshit information for some pseudo-scientific poll, The Resistance rises and, by the droves, throw off the results of the poll by answering the questions as a rational fucking human would. This was actually the SECOND effort and, with hope, it is being fucked with accordingly.

When leadership attempts to twist reality in this manner – to blatantly lie to the people in the hopes of advancing their agenda – then it isn’t leadership at all. It becomes a conspiracy of criminals, a cabal of kakistocrats that are neither interested in the well-being of the people of the nation nor of the nation’s welfare abroad. It becomes everything we were taught about that third-world countries led by hammer-fisted dictators were – and that this country should never become.

If it isn’t the lies, it is the continued deprecation of the media, the bastion that can have a slant to their presentation but are there to be the WATCHDOG of the government and point out its errors eventually. If it isn’t the continual battering of the Fifth Estate, it is the castration of our intelligence services, who risk their lives to ensure that some fuckhead sitting at a desk in Washington has the best information to make decisions on what could perhaps be thousands or millions of lives.

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Ask yourself…do these things sound like the operations of a “democratic” government? Or does it sound like the dictatorial rants of a fascist? I can recall President Barack Obama mildly rebuking Fox News on occasion and their slant to particular stories…I don’t recall him ever saying it was “the enemy of the American people” as this asshole has stated.

It is only through the constant vigilance of those on the side of truth that these villainous swine will have their agenda exposed. It is time to stand against them for their misdeeds for, if you don’t, then you fall for the lies they present on nearly an hourly basis. It’s time to expose The Resident for the fraud that he continues to perpetrate on the people of this great nation.

At What Price Security? At What Price Privacy?

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As many U. S. citizens awoke this morning, they were greeted by the news of the most recent battle of the civilized world against those who would seek to change it through terrorist attacks. In Belgium, at least three bombs – two in an airport and another in the subway system in Brussels – have killed at least 30 people and injured 230 more (and the numbers are increasing). As always, the world is stunned at the ferocity and sophistication of the attacks as the process begins of investigating and capturing the people involved.

Much of what will occur in Belgium and on the European continent over the next few days will rest in the hands of security agencies and law enforcement investigators, probably with assistance from our Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigations. These two departments – along with INTERPOL, MI6, FIS and several other powerful organizations, not to mention local law enforcement in each country – will put together the smallest threads of evidence, discover how and where the bombs were built and, eventually, find those responsible for the attacks (whether they are apprehended alive or dead doesn’t really matter, unless we’re truly interested in why they did what they did). But what happens for the United States, when we’ve built a society that treasures security as much as their citizens’ privacy?

This is a monumental question today – at what price do we want security? At what price do we sacrifice privacy? – with several cases that the federal government is currently pursuing in courts across the United States. Currently in Brooklyn, a federal judge has denied the U. S. Department of Justice’s request that Apple assist them in unlocking the iPhone of a drug suspect, citing that he lacked the authority to be able to order the computer giant to disable the security protocols that they established to ensure that their customers’ information was safe. Likewise, the popular messaging application WhatsApp has come under scrutiny from the feds because the encryption used in their program prevents anyone outside of the sender and receiver from seeing what has been passed. If pushed in a courtroom, would WhatsApp fall under wiretap orders – more than a decade old that were passed for landlines – or would it be protected under privacy laws?

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The biggest fight, however, has been the Department of Justice’s ongoing battle against Apple regarding the iPhone of one of the terrorists responsible for the attacks in San Bernardino, CA, late last year. Syed Farook, one of the terrorists killed after Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, ruthlessly murdered 14 people (most of whom were Farook’s co-workers) and injured another 22 people before they were gunned down by law enforcement as they attempted to escape the scene. As a part of the massive amount of evidence against them, Farook’s iPhone was allegedly found to possibly have information on it that could be beneficial to law enforcement (adding information as to potential accomplices or groups that might have helped the duo), but was inaccessible due to the security features that Apple employs on every iPhone that customers around the world purchase.

If there are too many attempts at an individual’s password for an iPhone, then the phone completely erases whatever information is on the device, locks up and becomes completely useless for whoever has the device, be it the owner, a thief or, in this case, the federal government. Naturally, investigators want to preserve any information that might be on the terrorist’s phone and, in the case of Farook’s phone, the potential destruction of whatever evidence might be contained on the device is something that is necessary to avoid. But should there be some way to get around this security feature?

The feds did kindly ask Apple to create a “backdoor” that would allow them to access Farook’s phone but, with their customers not only in the United States but worldwide in mind, Apple politely declined to create such a plan, program or application to assist the government. In Apple’s eyes, allowing such a move for the government would allow them to do that with virtually any iPhone they wanted access to (see the Brooklyn case above). For their part, the feds are saying no, we’ll only use it this one time, honest as they try to plead their case to the court of public opinion.

Currently the battle is raging in the real courts, with the Department of Justice so far winning the judicial argument as Apple maintains its privacy and security rights. The higher up the debate in the judicial branch has gone, however, it has become more difficult for the feds to be able to justify their breach of privacy and security, especially the “one time only” usage of such programs to penetrate Apple’s devices. Public opinion is split on the issue, with some attacking Apple for its stance while others are applauding Apple for standing up for the rights of citizens not only from the U. S. but also around the world. That battle has paused, at least for the moment, as the federal government yesterday asked to cancel a hearing in Los Angeles for reasons unknown.

The answers to the questions that surround this case – at what price security? at what price privacy? – are ones that, if you ask ten different U. S. citizens, you would probably end up with ten different answers. Since the attacks of 9/11, the U. S. citizen has consistently given up pieces of their privacy, their right to keep the government out of certain aspects of their lives, in exchange for the (false?) cocoon of “security” that is supposed to be provided by said government. And, for the most part, it has worked – there hasn’t been another 9/11 style attack in the nearly 15 years since that dark day.

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Just how far does the government need to go, though? Whether you like him or not, whistleblower Edward Snowden pointed out the vast amounts of data that is scooped up by U. S. agencies in the name of “homeland security,” and in many cases it was questioned why the government needed such extreme measures. The result was a minimal slowdown on data taken but, in the end, vast amounts of data collection continue unabated.

The need to be “safe” is an emotion that human beings consistently want to feel but it shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of the government consistently invading private aspects of your life. What books you order from Amazon, the websites you read online, even particular groups you interact with physically or online – all of these things are something that shouldn’t be known by the government. At the snap of a finger, however, a dossier can be created on probably every U. S. citizen that can trace their activities, a penetration into personal life that the government shouldn’t have.

I am fine with a “surgical” strike by law enforcement groups like the FBI. Go to the courts and obtain a subpoena, have a singular target for a specific time and ask whatever tech companies might have on the subject. A blanket gathering of information is not what was envisioned by the creators of the United States, in fact the federal government was meant to stay as far away from infringing on the individual as possible. Furthermore, to tell a company they HAVE to do something against their will – especially when that would violate the personal trust that people have put in a product that company produces – also violates the rights of the people against potential tyranny.

General Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency, said it best. “Look, I used to run the NSA, OK?” Hayden told USA TODAY earlier this year. “Back doors are good. Please, please, Lord, put back doors in, because I and a whole bunch of other talented security services around the world — even though that back door was not intended for me — that back door will make it easier for me to do what I want to do, which is to penetrate.”

The battle between the rights of the people and the protection of those people by the government will continue to rage onward. But the answer to the questions asked is that security shouldn’t be an extreme price, but privacy shouldn’t be sacrificed at the altar of security. Once privacy is shattered, any semblance of security disappears also.

What’s My Problem? It Should Be Everyone’s Problem…

After one of my essays the other day, someone had the audacity to ask me what was my problem with the Republican Party. “Why don’t you go after the Democratic Party the way you go after the Republicans?” the person asked. I offered a quick, Facebook-friendly reply – which wasn’t enough for that person (it seldom is – Facebook is not an essay-friendly arena) – so I thought that I would take the time to fully enunciate what “my problem” is with the Republican Party, at least the way that it is constituted today. When I reach the end, I think that most people might recognize that it should be everyone’s problem.

I came of age in the 1970s, in the post-Watergate/post-Vietnam Era when we questioned everything that made up the government (in fact, it is why I still question it today). Whether it was the federal, state or local offices, none of them were given a break over the conditions in the United States. Republicans back then were not identified by their blind addiction to denial of social norms – abortion was an issue that was just beginning to bubble – but were more likely to be viewed on their business acumen, foreign policy expertise and respect for the military, things that everyone could get behind including their counterparts. Democrats at that time were looked at as the voice of the “people,” the party who would actually stand with those who needed the help the most when the times were the toughest, and protected them sometimes against those businesses that threatened them.

As the 1980s rolled around – and especially after the mixed results that were the presidencies of Richard Nixon (and, after his resignation, Gerald Ford) and Jimmy Carter – the two parties were still somewhat malleable in that they stood for different things but worked together for the improvement of the United States. The election of Ronald Reagan was something the country needed – a new rebirth, if you will – and it did serve to recharge the nation. I served in the United States Marine Corps during Reagan’s presidency and, while seeing him build the world’s greatest military, I also saw the Republican Party’s treatment of its fighting force in decrepit barracks and base housing, inadequate equipment, improper usage in military actions and other various areas of governance, including the denial of the AIDS epidemic and other societal ills.

Because of the success of Reagan, President George Bush – Bush I, as I like to call him – was a natural choice to continue. But Bush was different:  he was practical, he knew that you couldn’t just force the military anywhere for any reason (perhaps because of his days at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency, he had a bit more “intelligence,” no pun intended) and he also knew you had to pay for the military. Thus, when he paid for the First Gulf War (or military action as “war” was never declared per se) by raising taxes, he was doomed as the 1990s began.

The true segmentation of the Republican and Democratic parties (and there is a segmentation, they are not “the same”) – and the reason for my look at one over the other – came about in the 1990s. When Bill Clinton became President in 1992, the nation took off, arguably because he worked with a Republican-led House of Representatives and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in 1994 and they maximized the “tech surge” of the mid-1990s. It was the second term of Clinton, however, that put the nail in the coffin for me.

Instead of being pleased with making the country work, the rising “neo-con” movement in the Republican Party – not happy to have a military that was sitting on the sidelines, wanting a bolder and more aggressive foreign policy and willing to do whatever it took to regain not only the power in Congress but also in the White House – seized on Clinton receiving a hummer from intern Monica Lewinsky and turned that into an impeachable offense (ever the opportunist Gingrich, rather than trying to staunch this wave, grabbed a surfboard and rode along with it). Fortunately, a more-rational Senate was able to stave off the slathering idiots that were the neo-con Republicans screaming for Clinton’s removal, but it would only be a momentary pause before the truly shitty schism would develop between the two.

The Republican neo-cons weren’t happy with skewering Democrats, they also ravaged their own. First they took down John McCain in 2000 with a bogus “black child” scam, getting their hand-picked puppet, George Bush (or Bush II), into the nomination, then they would turn the targeting on Al Gore as the election hinged on the state of Florida (the “swift-boating” of John Kerry four years later was just icing on the cake). Having seated 10 of the last 12 Supreme Court Justices, the Republicans were able to use the U. S. Supreme Court to shut down any further review of Florida’s recount in 2000, with 538 voters being the determining factor in Bush’s 2000 Electoral College win (Gore won the popular vote) over Gore.

Once back in power – and with the attacks of 9/11 – the Republican neo-con movement was given the proverbial golden chalice of opportunity to sweepingly affect the United States and they took full advantage of it. They enacted the Patriot Act of 2001 – with a reluctant Democratic Senate coming along (only Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat, voted against it) – arguably the worst piece of legislation in the history of the country. They started first an air campaign against the alleged (true) mastermind behind 9/11, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan, but then for some inexplicable reason transferred most of their attention to an air and ground invasion of Iraq and its dictator Saddam Hussein, in essence starting a two-front war.

While making these mistakes, they also spent money like drunken sailors on shore leave. Instead of maintaining steady tax rates, the neo-cons lowered taxes – apparently thinking that there would be a magical money tree that would just drop $100 bills from the sky – while pushing an extreme anti-everything social policy that impeded on the rights on every person that isn’t a white male in the U. S. If that wasn’t enough, then the fiscal collapse of 2008 occurred – and the resulting “bank bailout” that was started by President Bush – before President Barack Obama came to office.

Now, in my entire existence, the Congress may not have agreed with the President, but they at the minimum did their job and attempted to work with the President. They passed bills, put them to the President and it was up to him as to whether he wanted to enact them. They WORKED with the President and/or his personnel. From the start of the Obama Presidency, however – and epitomized by now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s infamous “our job” speech (“Our job is to ensure that the man in the White House is a one-term President”) – the Republicans have done exactly NOTHING to further the cause of the United States (and please don’t try to say the 60 or so votes to end the Affordable Care Act constitutes “action”).

Where I come from – my core beliefs – is that government works the best when it does keep its nose out of the lives of its citizens. There come moments in a nation’s history, however, when it does require the “voice of reason” to step in and make a determination. Slavery, the right of women to vote, civil rights, abortion, equal protection for women and LGBT persons…these are all moments when the federal government has to step in and say, as a whole for the nation, that there is one rule for one nation. Through this method, one area of the nation cannot inflict its ignorance, giving the country a black eye over something that should be settled (as Alabama recently did over the gay marriage issue).

With these issues, the Republican Party seldom seems to be on the right side (slavery seems to be one of those rare occasions). Rather than embracing the rights of people, the GOP seems to kowtow to a small sect (and I use that term in its perfect religious intentions) of people who consistently chop off their leaders’ arms for not trying to be more accepting of people DIFFERENT THAN THEM.

I don’t want to see leaders blaming people for being disadvantaged or poor, I want to see those leaders attempt to help those people (a great program in North Carolina, started by a Republican, encouraged people on public assistance into a two-year program that eventually saw those people get off the dole). I want to see schools given every tool available for the children rather than hear politicians cry about the tax expenditure (education is the only way to ensure that we improve as a country) of simply providing textbooks. I want to see leaders who try to improve life for everyone rather than improve it for a few. I want to see intelligence praised instead of derided, as many in the GOP do when it comes to science.

As to the military (and as a veteran), I would like to see our troops used less rather than more. I’d prefer to see them used only as a TRUE last resort instead of as a “peacekeeping” force (as they have been since World War II). And, if you’re going to use the military, supply them with the equipment they need, pay them well, take care of their families and, when they come home, take care of the veterans and their medical conditions. The Republicans who say that they cannot take care of veterans – calling it an “entitlement” – shouldn’t ever darken the door of Congress again.

This means you have to have money for everything. Paying for a strong military, infrastructure, improvements overall for people’s daily lives, business and education improvements…it all takes money. While it can be streamlined, it also needs funding to function. Taxation for government is a necessary evil and denying that increase in revenue is a death sentence to being a third world country.

This isn’t to say all Republicans are evil, just as it isn’t to say that all Democrats are saints. But, when the scales are weighed, I see one side doing more for people and the military overall and it certainly isn’t the one that is represented by the heavier animal. I’m always open for presentation of evidence to the contrary but, for the Republican Party, that evidence is rather sparse.

Is that answer good enough?

What if the Answer to Terrorism is That There Isn’t One?

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Much like the rest of the world, I’ve been riveted to the coverage and aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The news agencies, in their haste to “be first” with the story, refused to simply say that “the situation is flexible” and that they weren’t fully aware of the ramifications of the attacks at any point. As such, the world saw the death toll mount from a dozen…then 30…then 60…until, on Saturday, the most up to date death toll of 129 was released, along with 352 injured in one manner or another. (There are unconfirmed reports that it has risen to 132 people as of Monday morning.)

The tragedy of such a violent attack on one of the world’s most beautiful cities is at once angering and saddening. That a multicultural center of the world such as Paris could be the focal point of such a racist and theistic attack – if we are to believe that it is the work of ISIS, as reports throughout the weekend suggest – leaves a person to wonder just what may come next. With 9/11, we kind of knew that the perpetrator of that attack, the Osama bin Laden-led Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, had shot everything the organization had into that travesty; with this attack in Paris, however, it was a meticulously run military-style operation that was well-planned and could be transplanted to any major city on the planet. Moscow? London? Tokyo? Rio de Janeiro? Mexico City? Los Angeles? New York again? It would not take much to have a similar style Paris-type attack occur at these or any one of hundreds of major locales in the world.

As the weekend continued, the dichotomy between the thoughts of people was vastly different. My Facebook and Twitter accounts hummed with the drumbeats of war, with the sentiment of “bomb them back to the Stone Age,” while a smaller faction of voices advocated for a peaceful remedy to the situation. This same point/counterpoint was seen on Sunday morning when some of the opinion show’s hosts (such as Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN) suggested not taking any action against ISIS (with the opinion being that, by the world not showing any aftereffect from the terrorist attack, it would force the group from their terroristic actions) while their guests, mostly members of the United States government and former military commanders, sounded the clarion call for the troops to come to the battlefield for another Middle East conflict.

Being the Marine at heart that I once was on active duty, you never want to see war. I don’t know of any military person – from the seaman on a nuclear sub in the Navy to a grunt in the Army trenches to a flyboy in the Air Force dropping his bombs from afar – who actually cheers when his brethren are sent off to a conflict. The U.S. military, if we are to be honest, has been wrongly used arguably since the end of World War II, put in situations where it is supposed to fight but not win and defend without going on offense.

The unfortunate thing is war is probably where we are headed again. France has “declared war” (according to its leaders) against ISIS and enacted bombing runs (approximately 20 over the past few days) against ISIS strongholds in the Middle East. Beyond that, the U. S. and Russia continue to battle “terrorist elements” (the problem being is that the U. S. and Russia don’t exactly view the same people as terrorists) that may include ISIS in Syria and the Iraq government, known for its ability to tuck tail and run in the face of the black flag of ISIS, continues to “fight” the group inside its borders.

Diplomacy is always the correct route to take first but, in the situation with ISIS, what do you diplomatically do? It isn’t as if there is a way to put sanctions on the money that ISIS has and, if there is, no one has done it as of yet. You cannot restrict the travel of the group’s “leaders” (because that is a constantly changing cast of characters) or appeal to a segment of the ISIS community that they should “rise up” and overthrow those in control of the organization. Hell, there isn’t even representation in the United Nations nor an elected figure whom you could have logical negotiations with.

By all estimations, ISIS is one of the biggest terrorist groups in the world but probably one of the smallest military groups. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates the size of ISIS inside Syria and Iraq to be somewhere between 20,000-31,000 people, with other organizations stating it is more along the lines of 100K-200K. Outside of Syria and Iraq, in such areas as Africa and Asia, the count is between 32,600-57,900 jihadists that are considered the “Military of ISIS.” If those numbers were totaled up, ISIS followers and military totals somewhere between 52,600 and 257,900, depending on who you believe. That is slightly more (if we take the high end) than what the country of Saudi Arabia has (249,000) but less than that of Japan (317,913).

Spread out as the organization is, one nation cannot take on the entire responsibility of battling ISIS. It has to be a worldwide coalition of countries using every bit of their resources, including putting men and women at risk of losing their lives or being maimed, on the battlefield (remember, I personally dislike the term “boots on the ground” because it removes the human factor that people might actually die from your actions), through the skies and by locking down the borders where ISIS is supposedly in power. It would take Europe, Russia, the U. S. and the Middle East – countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, who haven’t exactly been stepping up to the plate in this fight – putting aside their personal distrusts if (and that is a mighty big IF) they are to destroy the group.

But here’s a thought… what if the answer, the response to “terrorism,” was to do nothing at all?

By its inherent definition, “terrorism” is the usage of “terror” or frightening people to achieve a political goal. Whether the terrorism is an attack on a military ship (the USS Stark in 1987 and the USS Cole in 2000), on an iconic building, monument or area (9/11, the Paris attacks) or on people who supposedly follow the same faith (ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Beirut on November 12 that killed 43 people, mostly Muslims; it was overshadowed by the Paris attack the next day), the goal is to force changes in lifestyle, actions or political philosophies. There are some differences with ISIS, though, that make it a bit different.

In the past, terrorist organizations would make political or financial demands, such as when the Irish Republican Army or Red Army Faction in Germany would request the release of key leaders of their organizations during the 1970s or a ransom for hostages they held. While ISIS does this too (especially if it is a Western hostage), they are more interested in building a nation of their own, taken from other Muslim countries in the Middle East. Would their power – and their uncanny ability to draw in followers from around the world – be dismantled by simply ignoring their actions?

Israel is an example of what might be done regarding terrorism. While they are one of the most aggressive countries when it comes to protecting their own people (as any nation should be), they don’t dwell on the subject when an attack occurs. The knifing attacks over the past few months, while they did draw attention, quickly went away as Israelis cleaned up from the attacks and continued about their lives as if nothing happened. They have gotten used to the air-raid sirens that will pierce the night or shatter a day’s tranquility. They choose not to let terrorism dictate what they will do with their lives.

I know many would say, “Well, I don’t want to live like that.” Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice anymore. This isn’t the 1970s, where it took days to traverse between continents. Today, a person in Nebraska can be in Baghdad within 24 hours if they so desire. That same holds true for potential terrorists, provided they can penetrate the extreme amount of security that is in place around the world.

Second, there is a fallacy that we can be “perfectly safe.” No matter what restrictions are put on, no matter how many security devices are used, there is nothing that can be made “perfectly safe.” All you can do is make it as safe as humanly possible and, if there is a failure, you reinforce the safeguards and continue on with life’s activities.

Finally, let’s look at the actual opponent. Despite the boogeyman persona that has been laid upon ISIS, nearly the entire world will never cross paths with a member of the group. To battle ISIS, we have to ignore what they do while simultaneously thwart their attempts through diligent security measures that will on occasion fail. By giving them the credence that they are at the proverbial “barbarians at the gates” puts unnecessary fear into the weak and wastes the efforts for those that are vigilant.

Terrorism isn’t a “war” that can be won. In war, you battle over territory until one or the other side is defeated. With terrorism, there is a nine-headed Hydra that can never be extinguished. The best that can be hoped with terrorism is that it is castrated to the point where its actions are miniscule and its impact on people nearly non-existent. If we are able to reach that point with ISIS, then the battle will have been won.

Jade Helm 15 a Conspiracy Theory With No Basis in Fact

When Hollywood puts together a movie or television show, the better ones always have some basis in fact or reality. No matter the genre – horror, suspense, action, romcom, etc. – the closer to reality it is, the more impact it has on the viewing audience. In many cases, it is because it MIGHT have a chance of happening or it is factually feasible to someone or something that makes the thrills, scares or emotional investment viscerally important to people. The same thing can be said books; although some (alongside their acting brethren) do like to be removed to a fantasyland that allows the brain to take a pause, the more realistic a book is in the mind of the reader, the more of an impact it will have.

In many ways – possibly because they are works of fiction created by someone’s mind – the multitude of conspiracy theories that abound in today’s world fall into the same category that Hollywood’s best cinematic, theatric and episodic efforts reside in that they sometimes need just a flake of truth to them to be believable. Without the slimmest of possibilities that it could actually happen, conspiracy theories often die an ignoble death or, at best, find a life in the alternate history genre.

Before we dive into the latest example of the conspiracy theory concept, we have to look at why conspiracy theories abound. What is it about conspiracy theories that draw people in? Why do conspiracy theories continually pop up in society? What should be done if they’re false claims? These are all good questions and we’ll start at the beginning.

The thing about conspiracy theories that draw people in is the desire by humanity to understand their conditions for existence. For humans it is highly desirable to know that the sun comes up in the morning, sets in the evening and it will do the same thing tomorrow. It can be highly desirable to believe that good always vanquishes evil, right triumphs over wrong and all is copacetic with the world when they lay their head on the pillow at night. These desires, if not met, can cause otherwise normal people to concoct an alternate reality that fits into their desired existence.

For example, let’s take a look at one of the greatest conspiracy theories of all-time, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. People who saw the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, couldn’t believe that such a “small” person could be responsible for taking down the most powerful leader on Earth. To help their minds cope with this, many dredged up scenarios that helped their minds to make sense of the situation:  the Cubans were involved because of the Bay of Pigs fiasco; the Chicago and Miami arms of La Cosa Nostra joined forces with the Central Intelligence Agency to do the deed; the Russians (for being shown up in the Cuban Missile Crisis)…the list goes on. For many, believing that these powerful and mysterious bodies killed the President of the United States made more sense than a single man who was allegedly an awful shooter picking off the President from the window of a building as he drove by in a limousine.

As the world draws closer together, it also becomes much more difficult to explain; this causes an increase in conspiracy theories in society. Whereas 30-40 years ago it would have been unheard of for some of the actions that, for example, the twenty 9/11 terrorists took – training for over two to three years and immersing yourself in a foreign culture for what would eventually be a suicide mission – today those jihadists have the spiritual, emotional and “obligation to duty” wherewithal to pull off these horrendous acts. It would be easier for some to force up a story that the attacks of 14 years ago were the work of a “shadow world government” or even our own political leadership (to push us closer to a military state and allow for those in power to take more of it) rather than to believe a group of people could even get close to the destruction that occurred on 9/11.

Recently one of those “conspiracy theories” came to a close and it gives us an opportunity to look at how we should handle those that promote them when they are proven to be untrue. On Tuesday, the military exercises known as Jade Helm 15 came to a close after eight weeks of operations across the Southwestern United States. Troops from every branch of the U. S. Armed Forces spread across several states, including Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Colorado (if I left you out, don’t feel bad), to train in terrain, temperatures and combat situations that they would be facing in the Middle East. This training is much like what U. S. Marines do with their amphibious landings off the coast of North Carolina or Virginia or the U. S. Navy or Air Force does with bombing runs or aerial combat in the deserts of Death Valley or Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

This time, however, a preconceived “conspiracy theory” was developed, by which jackass nobody knows. The “conspiracy theory” promoted by these brain-dead individuals was that the federal government, under the auspices of the Muslim king Barack Obama, was going to take over Texas and put it under government martial law. To achieve this goal, the training exercise “Jade Helm” was the cover to allow armed troops to move freely across the Southwest, picking up “true patriots” and putting them into “internment camps.” These “internment camps” were linked by underground tunnels between closed Wal-Mart stores, which the Walton Family (a dastardly part of the conspiracy due to their complicit involvement in the New World Order) had donated to the government for this exact purpose. Once martial law was in place, King Barack would “eliminate” any opposition through mass executions or reeducation programs.

Hopefully you were able to read through that mass of crazy…

The first inklings of this story worthy of Hollywood bubbled up in meetings of the County Commissioners of Bastrop, TX, where “concerned citizens” forced their way to the front of the meetings demanding answers from their elected officials. Were they a part of the conspiracy to enslave their constituents? Were they letting the feds “take over?” Even after bringing in a highly decorated Army officer to explain the situation, people still believed the “conspiracy theory” rather than the logical explanations provided by some in government and the military men who met with them.

The story took on a life of its own when other idiots began to pump it ad nauseam. In the media, conspiracy wacko Alan Jones was the major driver of the short bus, pushing the gruel of misinformation to the point where there was no tinfoil left in the H-E-B’s located around the Lone Star State. Then former actor Chuck Norris – yes, Walker, Texas Ranger himself – fanned the ignorance flames by saying that the exercises could be related to an attack by the Islamic terrorist group ISIS. Most special about Norris is that, to mainstream media, he tried to say he had been misquoted, but to other members of the Insanity Posse he repeated his beliefs.

While these two men made some extremely idiotic statements regarding the federal government and our U. S. troops and their exercises, they have to be cut a little slack. Both are preening celebrity members of society, not news correspondents, reporters or respected anchors that are expected to be held to a high standard (Brian Williams, anybody?). While both Jones and Norris have sizeable followings, they often have to carve up some red meat for them to nosh on to keep them around, listening and contributing millions to their bank accounts for bullshit “survival” items or trying to maintain their relevance that disappeared 25 years ago.

The problem comes when the adults in the room – the elected officials who run the governments – fail to meet their responsibilities. First on the list is now-Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who ordered the Texas Guard (not the Texas National Guard, a branch of the U. S. Armed Forces, but a special militia under the auspices of the Governor of the state) to “monitor the Jade Helm exercises.” Eventually outrage – including the statement “Why are you pandering to idiots?” uttered to his face – forced Abbott to reexamine his stance and the Texas Guard didn’t head out into the field.

Not one but THREE members of our current Presidential campaign also bought into the conspiracy. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry stated that Obama was going to allow IS terrorists into the U. S. during the exercises to allow for more upheaval, being sure to express that nothing like this would happen under “President” Perry’s watch (he dropped out last week, ending that dream for the second time in four years). Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Senator Ted Cruz both opined on the subject, with Cruz saying he thought that the exercises weren’t nefarious but that the President wasn’t “trustworthy” and could pull something along the invasion line and Paul saying he “wasn’t sure” what was going on with the exercises. Finally, another member of Congress, current Texas Representative Louie Gomert, said the exercises were meant to be the vehicle for Obama to target “right wing conservatives” by declaring certain states “enemies” of his administration.

You can give hucksters and entertainers such as Jones and Norris leeway, but you cannot give sitting elected officials, members of Congress or people who wish to be the leader of this nation carte blanche to say whatever they want and inspire the imbecilic minds of some people to take action (there were three men arrested in North Carolina who were looking to stop the “Jade Helm” exercises by attacking a military base in the state and, in Mississippi, don’t forget about the disturbed man who drove by bases firing a rifle at them). At the minimum, these elected officials should be forced to apologize to the elected officials that they’ve slandered with their words. In particular, they need to apologize to those troops that they supposedly love so much that they thought they would take over their state. At the maximum – and I am looking at Abbott, Paul, Cruz and Gomert here – they should be officially sanctioned by their appropriate legislative bodies (but that isn’t going to happen because their party controls both houses). All should look in a fucking mirror and wonder how far that they’ve sunk that they would fall for what was an extremely easy “conspiracy theory” to decipher rather than fall into.

Part of intelligent dialogue – whether in debate or other discussion about particular subjects – is being able to sift the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. In this case, it means garnering the useful kernels of information (military exercises are necessary for a well-prepared armed forces, the government has to have some place to train, etc.) from the brainless meanderings of those that are the product of a lobotomy class. Once that is done, then a lucid conclusion can be reached. The “Jade Helm” exercises were a perfect example of a segment of society that has been left to run amok and, rather than use rational thought and reason to figure out what is happening, latch onto something that only serves to exacerbate their fears and not aid in any way reaching a logical conclusion.

Will the advent of “conspiracy theories” go away? Hell, no! There are those out there that see the boogeyman behind every tree, under every doorstep and in the halls of governments around the world. There is also no way to alleviate these unfortunate individuals pain, either; it just has to rot them from the inside until maintaining the many “conspiracy theories” leave them but a former shell of themselves rather than a functioning member of society.

As Syria Burns, the World Simply Watches

The Middle East is a powder keg of differing religions, different religious factions and different viewpoints on pretty much everything, including whether the sky is blue or not. Many in the United States and Europe, far removed from the turbulent area, think that it is the issues between the Muslims and the nation of Israel that are the major problems. Far from it…the major problems are between the Muslims themselves.

Much like Christianity in Europe and the U. S., there are different factions when you discuss the Muslim faith. In Christianity, you can be Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist or Protestant…the list is quite lengthy. Each of the sects has their own particular take on the subject of God, Jesus, the Bible and how to worship as a whole. The same can be said for Muslims as well; there are the Sunnis, the Shias, the Kharijte and the Kurds, and each of those sects have their own subdivisions to make it even more confusing. And, much like Christianity in the Middle Ages (and some would argue even today), the Muslim sects fight with each other, albeit between the Muslims it is a legitimate life or death fight, not one of simply words.

The civil war in Syria is a synopsis of the problems in the Middle East. Three different sects, the Sunnis (the Islamic State – call them ISIL, ISIS or IS), the Kurds and the Shias (some from Iran), battling for control of one of the richest supplies of oil in the world, destroying their own lands and people over the past 4½ years to the point that refugees are fleeing from the country while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad plays the role of Nero. The warfare in Syria is of the utmost cruelty:  gas bombs, poison and nerve gases, phosphorous weaponry and a variety of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). These weapons are used most frequently, but the armies of all the combatants can simply walk into a village and execute its male population. As Syria continues to burn, the world has simply watched and, with the refugee situation, it cannot watch much longer.

Since the beginning of 2015, the United Nations estimates that 366,000 refugees have left Syria and Iraq, heading for Europe for a new beginning. There are plenty of problems with this situation. The situation is in the Middle East, but few nations in that area are stepping up to take on some responsibility to help a neighboring country. Nations like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey or even Iran have not even stepped forward to welcome refugees into their countries, content to sit back and watch even further while al-Assad continues to murder his own people and IS continues to destroy the remainder of the country. This refusal to assist in lessening the tragedy leads to desperate people making desperate moves.

Without the ability to remain even close to their own region, many refugees are heading for Europe by any means necessary. Europe – and in particular Germany – have welcoming regulations when it comes to those who are politically oppressed or are leaving war-torn areas, but the issue is getting to Germany or one of these other nations. Over the weekend, the nation of Hungary, which has accepted roughly 130,000 asylum requests (of which roughly 38,000 were Syrian, according to the Wall Street Journal) was the roadblock, holding up thousands of refugees to the point where many Syrians started walking rather than waiting for transportation. The reason for Hungary’s decision to block the refugees? Fears of the refugees being sent back to Hungary once they reach another European Union country and they are not allowed entry (under the rules of the European Union, a member nation can send a refugee back to the last EU nation they went through if they are not allowed asylum).

The problem that Europe is facing regarding the influx of Syrians is twofold. First, the sheer number of incoming refugees means that several nations are going to have to step up and take on an appropriate number of the refugees. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Germany can handle a certain number of refugees but that, in the future, other countries would have to be willing to allow the refugees into their countries without issue. France is refusing to allow refugees inside its borders, fortifying their defenses with more troops and catching refuges as they try to cross and sending them back to Italy, while Greece (having its own issues since its near default on its financial debt earlier this year with the European Union) hasn’t stepped forward either.

The second issue is a matter of security in the countries where Syrians are headed. Analysts with the Central Intelligence Agency have stated that the potential for terrorists to embed themselves with the true Syrian refugees is quite realistic, even to the point that it is “conceivable” that a terrorist attack could occur in Europe within the next few months from someone that is a part of the Syrian refugee situation. While we would like to think that this isn’t possible, it is a potential reason why the United States hasn’t stepped up further itself other than humanitarian aid in the region and one that has to be in the minds of security officials in the European Union also.

The main thing that many are overlooking is that more could have been done from the start of the conflict. Instead of looking for resolutions, many saw an opportunity to remove a powerful dictator from power (al-Assad is the only leader who survived the “Arab Spring” protests of 2011, watching as Libya, Egypt and other countries saw their leaders toppled). When that dictator stepped over the line in using poison gas on his own people, world governments failed to keep the dictator in check and do anything about it (potentially President Barack Obama’s biggest mistake in his term in the White House) or allowed it to continue through denying it even existed (Vladimir Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China catch the blame here). Now we have a situation in Syria that is volatile at the least and a threat to the world’s security at its extreme.

The images on our television screens may seem far away as those Syrians who are looking for a new home, a new opportunity or even a new life traipse across a continent far from their homes, but something should be felt and done for the people who haven’t asked for anything like this to happen to them. The deaths of men, women and children while trying to flee the ravages of war shouldn’t be happening, nor should the villainous charlatans who fleece these people and then leave them to sickness or death in a truck or a cargo hold of a ship (those bastards just need to be executed). We also need to see what we can do as people, even for those who may not think like us religiously or philosophically…the first step to bringing the world together would be to get beyond simple divisions such as skin color or religion and look at each other as we truly are, flesh and blood humans looking for the best for our family’s futures or for the best out of life.