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9/11

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The Last Dog Scout.

“You’d see firefighters sitting there, unanimated, stone-faced, no emotion, and then they’d see a dog and break out into a smile,” Otto recalled. “Those dogs brought the power of hope. They removed the gloom for just an instant — and that was huge because it was a pretty dismal place to be.”

Thirteen years after a dark day, 15-year-old Bretagne, one of the last surviving 9/11 search dogs, returns to Ground Zero. “In the years that followed 9/11, Bretagne and Corliss deployed together to numerous disaster sites, including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ivan. Bretagne retired from formal search work at age 9 — but today, even though she’s roughly 93 in human years, she still loves to work.”

Then It Wouldn’t Be Sky Anymore.

“Someone asked me, ‘Do you think children born after, say, 1994, will ever feel the same things about 9/11 that people born before then feel? More and more, what we “feel” about collective history seems like something manufactured, and kind of pumped into us, rather than a real emotion. It’s all so framed by the sense that reality doesn’t exist any more, or at least not in a way that is alterable or questioning.”

In related news, Michael Stipe of R.E.M. talks about the art of Douglas Coupland and the legacy of 9/11. “Is that who we are now? Blind, unquestioning, warlike? Are we that violent, that childish, that silly, that shallow? Are we that afraid of others? Of ourselves? Of the possibility of genuine change? Are we that easily swayed, that capable of defending ‘American interests’, whatever ‘American interests’ means?

Tragedy: Experience the Ride.

“Everyone should have a museum dedicated to the worst day of their life and be forced to attend it with a bunch of tourists from Denmark. Annotated divorce papers blown up and mounted, interactive exhibits detailing how your mom’s last round of chemo didn’t take, souvenir T-shirts emblazoned with your best friend’s last words before the car crash. And you should have to see for yourself how little your pain matters to a family of five who need to get some food before the kids melt down. Or maybe worse, watch it be co-opted by people who want, for whatever reason, to feel that connection so acutely.”

In a powerful piece for Buzzfeed, Steve Kandell, who lost his sister on 9/11, journeys through the new 9/11 museum and gift shop. “This tchotchke store — this building, this experience — is nothing more than the logical endpoint for our most reliably commodifiable national tragedy. If you want to bring a coffee table book full of photos of cadaver dogs sniffing through smoking rubble back home to wherever you’re from, hey, that’s great.”

Heisenberg? Try Cheney.

“Americans are, like Walter White, a self-justifying sort. We see ourselves as exceptional. Often times we behave as if the rules that apply to the rest of the world, rules we want constraining them, don’t and needn’t really apply to us…Take it from The New York Times, our paper of record. Other nations forcing water into a prisoner’s lungs is torture. When we do it? Enhanced interrogation. America doesn’t torture. We’re the good guys!”

A late but welcome reassessment from Conor Friedersdorf: Breaking Bad as an analogy for post-9/11 America. “The world dealt us an unfair blow, and we used it as an excuse to break bad…We became inured to the selfishness of our actions. We slid predictably down the slope upon which we stepped, and the farther we go the uglier it gets. We haven’t hit bottom yet or anything close to it.”

The Black Budget, Revealed.

“The summary provides a detailed look at how the U.S. intelligence community has been reconfigured by the massive infusion of resources that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. The United States has spent more than $500 billion on intelligence during that period…The result is an espionage empire with resources and reach beyond those of any adversary, sustained even now by spending that rivals or exceeds the levels reached at the height of the Cold War.”

Thanks to info provided by Edward Snowden, the WaPo builds on their earlier Top Secret America coverage with a first-ever detailed summary of the “Black Budget.” “The document describes a constellation of spy agencies that track millions of individual surveillance targets and carry out operations that include hundreds of lethal strikes.”

Among the revelations here: “Spending by the CIA has surged past that of every other spy agency, with $14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013. The figure vastly exceeds outside estimates and is nearly 50 percent above that of the National Security Agency, which…has long been considered the behemoth of the community…The CIA’s dominant position will likely stun outside experts.”

Also of note: This multi-billion-dollar, post-9/11 technological terror we’ve constructed “remain[s] unable to provide critical information to the president on a range of national security threats..A chart outlining efforts to address key questions on biological and chemical weapons is particularly bleak…The intelligence community seems particularly daunted by the emergence of ‘home grown’ terrorists who plan attacks in the United States without direct support or instruction from abroad.”

In other words, what we have here is a resource-swallowing, clandestine intelligence-industrial bureaucracy that’s nonetheless incapable of actually doing what it’s ostensibly being funded to do. You can see why they’d want to keep this sort of thing secret.

Update: “Since 2007, we’ve known how much the total Black Budget is (before that, with some years excepted, we didn’t even know that), but not how much is spent on specific things. Now we know that too.” Eleven budget charts to help make sense of it all.

The New Haymarket.

What I said last year stands. The world doesn’t need any more 9/11 retrospectives. Still, this NASA picture from that dark day is pretty impressive, so there’s that.

I will say this: Since last week we watched Democrats — Democrats — chant USA, call out Mitt Romney for being insufficiently for the troops, and all but roll the severed head of Osama Bin Laden out on stage, perhaps it’s time to regain a little perspective.

9/11 was a horrible crime that demanded justice. It was also an event, it has now become clear, that could have and should have been prevented by the Dubya administration using traditional, pre-9/11 intelligence methods. Since that dark day, nine people have died in our indefinite detention prison camp at GitMo. The only person being prosecuted for the Dubya-era torture regime is the whistleblower. And we’re now set to unleash a wave of SKYNET-like drones over our own territory in the name of keeping us safe.

It’s long past time to stop compounding the tragedy of what happened in New York and Washington eleven years ago by shredding the constitution in response. It’s time to get back to being America again.

Back on Top of the World.


Soon after 9/11, I posted here that I hoped they’d break ground on the new buildings at Ground Zero before I left New York City and/or finished the PhD. Well, they got one out of two at least. Via the WTC Progress twitter feed and Buzzfeed, breathtaking views from atop the new World Trade Center. Great light in this one — It looks like a matte painting out of King Kong.

Ten Years After.


You know what the world really doesn’t need right now? Another 9/11 retrospective. So, in terms of my thoughts on the recent tenth anniversary, I’ll just point you to the blog entries from that time, the 9/11 category here, and Paul Simon’s haunting, Dylanesque rendition of “The Sound of Silence” from the anniversary memorial.

It was a terrible day ten years ago, to be sure. But, I’m with Paul Krugman and The Onion. The horrors of that day can’t justifiy away torture, wars-of-choice, or any of the other ugly facets of the the low, dishonest decade that has followed.

United [REDACTED] of [CLASSIFIED].


The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

Sigh. In the WP, Dana Priest and William Arkin attempt to survey the breadth and depth of our post-9/11 intelligence complex, and the results are troubling, to say, the least. Basically, nobody, not even the SecDef, has any clue how big some of these programs are, or what the armies of private contractors are up to half the time. “After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine…’Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste,” Vines said. “We consequently can’t effectively assess whether it is making us more safe.’” If you have to ask…

For a good overview of the Post‘s laudable coverage, check out this worthwhile post from Wired‘s Danger Room and Glenn Greenwald’s pithy summation of the problem. “This world is so vast, secretive and well-funded that it’s very difficult to imagine how it could ever be brought under control…[Meanwhile] The Drudge and Politico sewers still rule our world — ‘fights over nothing’ — and happily distract us from Top Secret America, what it does and what it takes.” But, hey, what’s Sarah Palin been up to?

While Dubya Slept.

“Farmer’s verdict: ‘History should record that whether through unprecedented administrative incompetence or orchestrated mendacity, the American people were misled about the nation’s response to the 9/11 attacks.’” To paraphrase Mark Twain, a lie gets halfway ’round the world before the truth can put its boots on…or any plane can get off the ground. In his new book The Ground Truth, 9/11 Commission Senior Counsel John Farmer points out yet more lies from Cheney and the Dubya administration, this time about their behavior during that fateful morning.

To wit, waist-deep in My Pet Goat at the time, they didn’t know their ass from their elbow when the attacks were happening: “Yet both Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney, Farmer says, provided palpably false versions that touted the military’s readiness to shoot down United 93 before it could hit Washington. Planes were never in place to intercept it. By the time the Northeast Air Defense Sector had been informed of the hijacking, United 93 had already crashed.” Well, they’ve lied about just about everything else — can’t say this is much of a surprise.

School’s Out, Forever.

I was going to let this most recent colossal idiocy by the GOP pass without comment, mainly because it’s so infuriatingly stupid that it speaks for itself. But, so was Swift Boat, I guess.

So, with that in mind: Yes, Virginia, it is ok for the President of the United States to talk to schoolchildren. In fact, it should probably be considered part of the job. Ask Ronald Reagan. Or George Bush Sr. Or just consider the picture above, taken eight years ago next week.

The District Thirteen.

“Some of the 13 manipulated the federal bureaucracy and the legal process to ‘preauthorize’ torture in the days after 9/11. Others helped implement torture, and still others helped write the memos that provided the Bush administration with a legal fig leaf after torture had already begun…Between 9/11 and the end of 2002, the Torture 13 decided to torture, then reverse-engineered the techniques, and then crafted the legal cover. Here’s who they are and what they did.

Triskaidecaphobics, beware: From the bookmarks and in her debut for Salon, blogger Marcy Wheeler lists the thirteen officials most responsible for the Dubya-era torture regime. A baker’s dozen of orange jumpsuits, please.

Out with a Whimper (and a “9/11″)

“This evening, my thoughts return to the first night I addressed you from this house – Sept. 11, 2001.” Now, there‘s a surprise. To be honest, there’s not much to be said about Dubya’s dismal farewell speech last night, which had been touted earlier in the week as potentially something interesting. [Transcript.] Rather than go the statesman route a la Eisenhower, Dubya chose to spend his last few moments with the nation’s ear dispensing trite, self-serving, and patently idiotic bromides about the world that will do nothing to alter his status in history as one of our worst presidents, if not the worst president, to-date.

I hope to spend very little blog-time in the future attempting to parse the immature, inchoate worldview of this soon-to-be ex-president. But, for example: “When people live in freedom, they do not willingly choose leaders who pursue campaigns of terror.” Uh, they don’t? (No, then it’s called regime change. [rimshot].)

By the way, was America not “free” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, or were Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, and other duly-elected architects of ugly institutions like indian removal and slavery all just part of ye old axis of iniquitye? Now, put your keyboards down, crazy right-wing Freeper-types. (How’d you end up here anyway?) I’m not arguing that the U.S. is evil — I love America (I just hate flag pins.) But I am arguing that it’s never been satisfactorily proven by world events that ostensibly freedom-loving people aren’t capable of horrible atrocities from time to time.

This is the same ridiculous note Dubya struck constantly in his second inaugural (“Freedom, yeah!”), and it still rings false. When people live in freedom, they can willingly choose anything they want, including paths and policies deeply at odds with the direction we — or even common humanity — might want them to go. News flash: Dubya’s windbreaker-clad nemesis, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is — along with being a certifiable, Holocaust-denying nutjob — the freely-elected president of Iran. So let’s stop pretending that the introduction (or imposition by force) of a western-style democracy to a region is a sudden and immediate cure-all for that area’s problems. Even after eight years in the world’s most powerful office, Dubya once again showed us last night that he harbors the black-and-white, absolutist worldview of a child…or an ex-alcoholic. Good riddance.

Update: See also DYFL on this Dubya chestnut last night: “Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Um, yeah.

We screwed up Afghanistan…

“Just as it had on the day before 9/11, Al Qaeda now has a band of terror camps from which to plan and train for attacks against Western targets, including the United States…’The United States faces a threat from Al Qaeda today that is comparable to what it faced on Sept. 11, 2001,’ said Seth Jones, a Pentagon consultant and a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation.

In the NYT, Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde explore how, despite all their endless bluster and unconstitutional behavior, the Dubya administration is losing the war against Al Qaeda, and has apparently given up on catching Bin Laden. “By late 2005, many inside the CIA headquarters in Virginia had reached the conclusion that their hunt for Bin Laden had reached a dead end…’You had a very finite number’ of experienced officers, said one former senior intelligence official. ‘Those people all went to Iraq. We were all hurting because of Iraq.’

Pax Corleone.

“The aging Vito Corleone, emblematic of cold-war American power, is struck down suddenly and violently by forces he did not expect and does not understand, much as America was on September 11. Even more intriguingly, each of his three ‘heirs’ embraces a very different vision of how the family should move forward following this wrenching moment. Tom Hagen, Sonny and Michael approximate the three American foreign-policy schools of thought—liberal institutionalism, neoconservatism and realism—vying for control in today’s disarranged world order.” In The National Interest, John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell compare America’s post-9/11 foreign policy to The Godfather. What they neglect to mention is that Dubya diplomacy in practice has been Sonny by way of Fredo.

The Commission, Stonewalled.

“There could have been absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone at the C.I.A. — or the White House — of the commission’s interest in any and all information related to Qaeda detainees involved in the 9/11 plot. Yet no one in the administration ever told the commission of the existence of videotapes of detainee interrogations.” From a few days ago, 9/11 Commission Chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton angrily accuse the CIA and Dubya White House of stonewalling their investigation. “As a legal matter, it is not up to us to examine the C.I.A.’s failure to disclose the existence of these tapes. That is for others. What we do know is that government officials decided not to inform a lawfully constituted body, created by Congress and the president, to investigate one the greatest tragedies to confront this country. We call that obstruction.”

Ahmadinejad in the Lions’ Den.

So, you’ll never guess who came to campus today…It didn’t get much press or anything, but Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kicked off his NY tour this morning by being eviscerated in public by Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger. Normally, I’d say it’s poor form to hijack an invited speaker like that, but: the national temper is running angry, Ahmadinejad’s no angel by any means, and — most importantly — the questions Bollinger posed demand substantive answers. (Besides, a furor is what Ahmadinejad wanted anyway.)

All that being said, I still think it was a dumb political stunt (on both ends) to disinvite the Iranian president from visiting Ground Zero. A couple of points people seem to have forgotten lately: 1. Iran didn’t have anything to do with 9/11, and 2. Whatever’s going on on the Iraqi border, we’re not currently at war with them. Most importantly, why wouldn’t we want a man who’s trying to obtain nukes to see the lasting consequences of a large-scale atrocity firsthand? If the sight of that still-gaping wound in the heart of the city gave him pause for even a moment, the world would be better for it.

Imperial Hubris…or Conspiracy?

“How could any pilot shoot a missile into a 2 meter-wide exhaust port, let alone a pilot with no formal training, whose only claim to fame was his ability to ‘bullseye womprats’ on Tatooine? This shot, according to one pilot, would be ‘impossible, even for a computer.’ Yet, according to additional evidence, the pilot who allegedly fired the missile turned off his targeting computer when he was supposedly firing the shot that destroyed the Death Star. Why have these discrepancies never been investigated, let alone explained?” By way of Triptych Cryptic, Uncomfortable Questions: Was the Death Star Attack an Inside Job? True, it’s not as devastatingly on point as The Onion‘s recent Bush Refuses to Set Timetable for Withdrawal of Head from White House Banister (“I am going to finish what I set out to accomplish here, no matter how unpopular my decision may be, or how much my head hurts while stuck between these immovable stairway posts.“) Still, decently amusing nonetheless…I was sold on it by the pic of Palpatine reading My Pet Bantha.

Commission Accomplished.

Upholding a Democratic promise from the 2006 elections, the Senate passes long-overdue legislation to implement the 9/11 commission suggestions. “In a sign of how far the politics of homeland security have shifted since the Democrats seized Congress, senators voted 60 to 38 — with 10 Republicans and no Democrats crossing ranks — to force a fresh national security confrontation with President Bush, who has threatened to veto the bill over a provision to expand the labor rights of 45,000 airport screeners.

War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

“Faust’s interpretation helps explain the way the US responded to the 9-11 terrorist attacks with a war on Iraq. ‘Even a war against an enemy who had no relationship to September 11’s terrorist acts would do,’ she notes. People supported war not just because of the rational arguments offered by the White House, but also ‘because the nation required the sense of meaning, intention, and goal-directedness, the lure of efficacy that war promises.’ It was especially necessary to restore a sense of control after the terrorism of 9-11 had ‘obliterated’ it. The US, she concludes, ‘needed the sense of agency that operates within the structure of narrative provided by war.’” In the pages of The Nation, Jon Wiener evaluates new Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust’s work on war mania.

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