The 9/11 Attacks: Understanding Al-Qaeda and the Domestic Fall-Out from America’s Secret War

With American military personnel now entering service who were not even alive on 9/11, this seems an appropriate time to reexamine the events of September 11, 2001 – the opaque motives for the attacks, the equally opaque motives for the counter-offensive by the United States and its allies known as the Global War on Terror, and the domestic fall-out for Americans concerned about the erosion of their civil liberties on the homefront.

Before venturing further, it’s worth noting that our appraisal is not among the most common explanations. Osama bin Laden, his lieutenants at Al-Qaeda, and the men who carried out the attack against the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon are not “crazy,” unhinged psychopaths launching an attack against the United States without what they consider to be good reason.

Nor do we consider then-President George W. Bush to be either a simpleton, a willing conspirator, an oil profiteer, or a Machivellian puppet whose cabinet were all too happy to take advantage of a crisis.

The American press tends to portray its leaders as fools and knaves, and America’s enemies as psychopathic. Because the propaganda machine hammered away so heavily on the simple “cowardly men who hate our freedom” line, there was not much in the way of careful consideration of the actual political motives of the hijackers, the Petro-Islam that funded them, the ancient, antagonistic split between Sunni and Shi’a, the fall-out from the 1979 Iranian revolution or the 1970s energy crisis, the historical context of covert American involvement in the Soviet-Afghan War and the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, nor the perceived “imperialist humanitarianism” of American military adventures of the 1990s in Muslim nations like BosniaIraqSomalia and Kosovo. Alone, none of these factors were deadly. Combined, they provided a lethal combination.

It is our considered opinion that the events of 9/11 and those that followed in direct response to the attacks – including the invasion of Iraq – were carried out by good faith rational actors who believed they were acting in the best interests of their religion or their nation. There are no conspiracy theories here; sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

This opinion does not in any way absolve the principals from moral responsibility for the consequences of their actions. It does, however, provide what we believe to be a more accurate and nuanced depiction of events than is generally forthcoming from any sector of the media – because we see these principals as excellent chess players who, in the broad sweep of events, engaged in actions which are explicable.

Continue reading The 9/11 Attacks: Understanding Al-Qaeda and the Domestic Fall-Out from America’s Secret War at Ammo.com.

Open This Content

UBI: Some Early Experiments

The Universal Basic Income is only a tangential interest of mine.  Yet when I’ve debated it, I’ve been consistently impressed by how little the eager advocates try to teach me.*  Case in point: I learned more from reading three paragraphs in Kevin Lang’s Poverty and Discrimination than in my typical conversation with a UBI enthusiast:

Because the stakes involved in instituting a negative income tax were so high, policy analysts convinced the federal government to conduct experiments in which some people were randomly assigned to be eligible for the negative income tax while others were randomly assigned to remain subject to traditional welfare. In the experimental group, there was also variation in the generosity of the program. Four experiments were conducted in the United States and a fifth in Canada. The largest of these is known as SIME/DIME (the Seattle Income Maintenance Experiment / Denver Income Maintenance Experiment).

Many policy analysts found the results of the experiments disappointing. Although the labor supply response was modest, it added substantially to the cost of the program. Depending on the generosity of the program evaluated in SIME/DIME, the labor supply response could account for over half of the costs. The least generous program would save $4 billion but would make 95 percent of recipients worse off. A program that would guarantee support at the poverty level and tax-back benefits at a rate of only 50 percent would still make one-fourth of recipients worse off and would exceed the cost of the welfare program then current by $30 billion, an enormous increase.

There were also some “unintended consequences,” the social science equivalent of medical side effects. In particular, the divorce rate rose among recipients randomly assigned to the negative income tax. The combination of the costs of the labor supply effects and the effect on marriage led Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an early supporter of the negative income tax, to withdraw his support.

If I were an enthusiastic UBI advocate, I would know this experimental evidence forwards and backwards.  Almost all of the advocates I’ve encountered, in contrast, have little interest in numbers or past experience.  What excites them is the “One Ring to Rule Them All” logic of the idea: “We get rid of everything else, and replace it with an elegant, gift-wrapped UBI.”  For a policy salesman, this evasive approach makes sense: Slogans sell; numbers and history don’t.  For a policy analyst, however, this evasive approach is negligence itself.  If you scrutinize your policy ideas less cautiously than you read Amazon reviews for your next television, something is very wrong.

*Exception: Ed Dolan

Open This Content

If It Bleeds It Leads: How the American Media Perpetuates and Profits from Mass Shootings

I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media the following if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders: Don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photos of the killer. Don’t make it 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story. Localize the story to the affected community. And make it as boring as possible in every other market.

Video games. 4chan. “Toxic masculinity.” These are just a few of the media’s favorite folk devils when it comes to assigning blame for mass shootings in America. However, there is startling evidence that how the media covers these tragedies makes them culpable in perpetuating future ones.

This might sound like an outlandish claim, but it’s supported by evidence from no less an authority than the National Institutes of Health. It’s related to a well-established phenomenon of copycat suicides known as the Werther Effect. Other countries’ medias have taken steps to minimize the Werther Effect through self-imposed industry standards on suicide reporting, and many of these standards have parallels with the coverage of mass shootings.

The American media currently has no industry standard practices for how to cover either suicides or mass shootings. However, one can easily see the difference between how mass shootings and suicides are covered. Whereas suicides are treated as sombre tragedies, mass shootings often have the sensationalism turned up to 11. There’s a detailed discussion of the shooter’s life story, motives and methods. Strong evidence suggests that this both encourages and instructs potential mass shooters.

Statistically-speaking mass shootings represent a tiny portion of all deaths in the United States. For example, 2017 was the deadliest year for mass shootings in America with a total of 117 people killed. For context, 102 people die from automobile accidents every day according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute.

Despite the low frequency of these tragedies, the media pays outsized attention to them for self-serving reasons which are both political and economic: There’s a demonstrated anti-gun agenda amongst America’s media. And there’s the ongoing shift in the media’s business model to attention-based revenue that results in ever-more sensational news coverage and “clickbait” headlines.

The lurid attention to mass shootings is profitable for America’s press, cable news networks, and social media companies – despite the consequences encapsulated by the Werther Effect. Thus a look at the role the American media plays in perpetuating these rampage killers is in order.

Open This Content

Rights as a Human Construct

Are rights a human construct? Yes, obviously. As are ethics and empathy and many other things humans value to some degree. You might see those constructs expressed in similar ways in some other animals, especially among the Great Apes, but they only truly reach their human form in humans.

Rights are a human construct in that they only matter between humans, or between humans and something humans want to treat in a human-like way.

Rights don’t exist apart from sentient beings. They only exist within the brain, while still having consequences, with regard to interactions between those bearing the brains, in the physical world. The Universe doesn’t have rights or respect rights otherwise.

A rock will never respect anything’s “rights”, nor will a mosquito. The rock has no consciousness or will (free or otherwise) and a mosquito just does what it must to survive long enough to reproduce– it doesn’t concern itself with anyone else.

Being a construct doesn’t mean rights are imaginary. They are real– at least when you are speaking of human interactions. Life doesn’t turn out well if you don’t respect the rights of others at least a little bit. If you didn’t, you’d be worse than the worst psychopath, and you wouldn’t survive long. You’d be everyone’s enemy and everyone would be doing all they could to end you.

So, rights are a useful construct. And as long as I’m dealing with other humans (or creatures I want to treat humanely) I will respect rights and will expect mine to be respected by other humans as well.

Open This Content

How Government Programs Ruined Childhood

An op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times entitled “We Have Ruined Childhood” offers disheartening data about childhood depression and anxiety, closely linked to school attendance, as well as the disturbing trend away from childhood free play and toward increasing schooling, standardization, and control.

“STEM, standardized testing and active-shooter drills have largely replaced recess, leisurely lunches, art and music,” says the writer Kim Brooks, who is the author of the book, Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear.

While many of Brooks’s insights are spot-on, the undertones of her article make clear that she is focused on the collective “it takes a village” narrative of childrearing. Indeed, her book praises “the forty-one industrialized nations that offer parents paid maternity leave—to say nothing of subsidized childcare, quality early childhood education, or a host of other family supports” (p. 50).

The assertion is that most parents are desperate and alone and they must rely on government programs to help raise their children. She writes in her article:

The work of raising children, once seen as socially necessary labor benefiting the common good, is an isolated endeavor for all but the most well-off parents. Parents are entirely on their own when it comes to their offspring’s well-being…No longer able to rely on communal structures for child care or allow children time alone, parents who need to work are forced to warehouse their youngsters for long stretches of time.

This narrative is backwards. It was the expansion of government programs, particularly in education, that weakened the family, led many parents to abdicate responsibility for their children’s upbringing, and caused them to increasingly rely on government institutions to do the job for them. These institutions, in turn, grew more powerful and more bloated, undermining the family and breeding contempt for parental authority. What may seem like a charitable endeavor to help families ends up crippling parents and emboldening the state. As President Ronald Reagan reminded us: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

Brooks knows better than many of us the terror associated with granting the state more power: Her book details her harrowing ordeal of being accused of child neglect and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service for leaving her child alone in a car for five minutes while she ran a quick errand. The village shouldn’t be in charge of raising children; parents should.

So how did we get here? While the seeds of mounting state power and institutionalization were sown in the 19th century and spread throughout the 20th, it was Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson who dramatically accelerated these efforts in 1964-1965 with his “Great Society” legislation. One of the most consequential effects of Johnson’s Great Society proposal was getting Congress to pass the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) which gave unprecedented control of education to the federal government, mainly through the funding of a variety of government programs. In fact, expanding the government’s role in education was a stated goal of the Great Society plan. As Johnson himself stated: “And with your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build a Great Society. It is a society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled.” (Heaven forbid a child be unschooled!)

The result of Johnson’s plan was the establishment and enlargement of programs such as Head Start, which was initiated in 1965 to provide government preschool and nutrition programs to low-income children. Despite billions of dollars spent on the federal Head Start program over the last half-century (the annual Head Start budget is over $10 billion in 2019), the results have been disappointing. As researchers at the Brookings Institute noted, the most in-depth studies of Head Start show that any initial gains disappeared by the end of kindergarten. More troubling, by third grade the children in the Head Start program were found to be more aggressive and have more emotional problems than children of similar backgrounds who did not attend Head Start.

Not only are these outcomes concerning for the children involved, they also indicate how government programs can strain family relationships. Notably, it was the parents of the Head Start children who said their children were more aggressive than non-Head Start children of similar backgrounds, suggesting that parental bonds could be compromised at the same time that government early learning programs could foster maladaptive social behaviors. When parents, not government, are in charge of determining a child’s early learning environment they may rely on informal, self-chosen networks of family and friends, thus building social capital in their communities, or they may choose from among various private preschool options where they retain control over how their child learns. If parents are not satisfied, they can leave. When government increasingly controls early childhood programs, reliance on family members, friends, and other private options fades. Grandma is no longer needed, and she becomes less of an influence in a child’s life and learning and less of a support system for her daughter or son.

Sign-Up: Receive Kerry’s Weekly Parenting and Education Newsletter!

Johnson’s Great Society plan had other consequences that served to weaken family roles and strengthen government. The Child Nutrition Act of 1966 greatly expanded the National School Lunch Program, allocating additional funding and adding school breakfasts. While no one wants a child to go hungry, relying on government programs to feed children can cause poor health outcomes, strip parents of their essential responsibilities, weaken informal family and community support systems, and lead parents to hand over even more control of childrearing to the government.

Perhaps the most far-reaching impact on education of Johnson’s Great Society was the lasting legacy of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that paved the way for ongoing and amplified federal involvement in education. It was the ESEA that was reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that led to the standardization of schooling through Common Core curriculum frameworks, as well as regular testing. No Child Left Behind morphed into the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, again a reauthorization of Johnson’s ESEA, that tried to shift some curriculum standard-setting to states but retained regular testing requirements under federal law.

In her weekend op-ed, Brooks laments the increasing role of regimented schooling in children’s lives. She writes:

School days are longer and more regimented. Kindergarten, which used to be focused on play, is now an academic training ground for the first grade. Young children are assigned homework even though numerous studies have found it harmful.

She is absolutely correct, and the culprit is increasing government control over American education through the ongoing reauthorization and expansion of federal education programs. Longer, more regimented, more standardized, more test-driven schooling is a direct consequence of the government’s education policy.

The inevitable result of these expanded government powers is less control over education by parents. As parents lose this control, they cede more authority to government bureaucracies, which in turn grow more powerful and more bloated while parents get weaker and more vulnerable.

I agree that childhood is being ruined, as children play less, stress more, and find themselves in institutional learning environments for most of their childhood and adolescence. I also agree that the problem is getting worse. The solution, however, is to weaken government and strengthen families, not vice versa. Put families back in charge of a child’s education. Grant parents the respect and responsibility they rightfully deserve. Remember that the government’s role is to secure our natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—not to determine what those pursuits are.

Childhood is being ruined and parents are the only ones who can save it.

Open This Content

Upheaval, Back to School, 1984

Nobody asked but …

A confluence of at least 3 elements brings this blog post to you — it is a mosaic of Jared Diamond, a new school year, and George Orwell.

I got the idea of the mosaic from Jared Diamond, in the intro of his book, Upheaval.  He gives the example of the marks made on the psyches of Bostonians who were victims, or associated with victims, of the 1942 Cocoanut Grove night club fire which consumed 492 lives and crippled 100s of surviving, direct victims.  Diamond was a pre-schooler in Boston then.  I can empathize and I can attest.  Although I was still 5 months from being born, and far away in Chattanooga, my mother hailed from Boston, and my maternal grandparents still lived in Beantown.  I heard about the grisly catastrophe every summer for the next 16 years.  It was a colossal event.  Jared Diamond summed it up by writing that all touched by the occurrence were immediately a mosaic of what they had been before the fire, what they were by the fire’s consequences, and what they would become.

It dawned on me that everyone is at any moment a mosaic of her past, present, and future — a separate, unique, different, and distinguished mosaic.  And the mosaic is a part of all mosaics that are connected by relationships.

In nearly all of my relationships, this is back to school time.  The relationships that are most pressing this year are those having to do with self-ownership and effects on those for whom I care most.  The most critical self-ownership question is, do I understand the consequences of the mosaic mentioned above.  Know thyself is an ancient, wise admonishment.  But to do this, one must understand constant change, affecting not only your own mosaic but those of all relationships.  In the past, I have shared in the all-too-human shortsightedness that wishes to control all events in hopes of maintaining a status quo.  Let go.  Life will go on, until it doesn’t.  In a perfect world, each of us would author our own education — then it makes no difference whether we choose a given vehicle, home school, unschooling, Thoreau-like experiential exposure, public school, or private school.  Grant Allen opined often that one should not let one’s schooling interfere with one’s education.  Mark Twain seconded the notion.  Your responsibility to educate yourself happens 24/7/365, whereas the ritual of back to school is a seasonal thing.  Responsibility and education are biological mandates.  The school year is a statist fiction.

The third element referred to above is that I have just finished reading George Orwell’s 1984.  I saw the chilling movie in 1957, when 1984 was at the end of a telescope reversed.  I thought that the scenario would come true until about calendar year 1985.  Reading the book in 2019, 1984 is way back in the rearview mirror.  And now I know that the predictions have come true in a far more profound way.  They were true in these ways in 1949, the year Orwell’s vision was published.

At any rate, Orwell is an author with stunning power over words and narrative.  He is a philosopher of the first water.  He is an irresistible intellect.  Needless to say, it is time to continue your education.  Get a copy and read it ASAP.

— Kilgore Forelle

 

Open This Content