May 2009: Nobody asked me, but..

Cheney 2.0, Europe and Islam, and GM’s narrowing market appeal

With apologies to the late, great New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon, here are my much-delayed observations for the month: nobody asked me, but…

THERE’S SOMETHING VERY STRANGE ABOUT DICK CHENEY VERSION 2.0. This “New Cheney” has been quite eager in numerous media appearances to defend the harsh “enhanced interrogation” techniques of the Bush II years, policies the once-reticent former Vice President was instrumental in shaping. While in office, the secretive Cheney made no secret of his disdain for the American press, but now anxious to defend the Bush legacy, the suddenly voluble Cheney is courting media appearances. Has Cheney belatedly discovered the value of openness and public debate? Or does he prize it only when it serves his self-interest?

THE LOWER THE STAKES, THE NASTIER THE POLITICS? The furor in England over the Oxford University’s prestigious post of professor of poetry, which is an elective honor, would suggest that old saw is true. Ruth Padel, the first woman to hold that job since its establishment 1708, abruptly resigned her post after the Sunday Times revealed that she “tipped off journalists about past allegations of sexual harassment made by students at Harvard University in 1982 against her main rival, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott.” Padel conceded her actions had been “naive and silly” while maintaining that she acted in “complete good faith.” Now neither Padel nor Walcott will run for the position when Oxford reopens nominations in October.

DO GROWING ISLAMIC POPULATIONS IN MANY EUROPEAN NATIONS THREATEN FREE SPEECH, TOLERANCE, and women’s rights? Only, I would argue, if Europeans shy away from openly addressing the question of conflicting values.

Conservative columnist Mark Steyn’s piece in Commentary magazine, “Israel Today, the West Tomorrow,” warns of what he calls the Islamicization of Europe coupled with a growing anti-Semitism and hostility toward Israel. Changing demographics, Steyn concedes, presents a problem only insofar that European Muslims reject assimilation and Enlightenment values and embrace radical versions of Islam.

An Italian journalist, Giulio Meotti, has documented a disturbing episode in Rotterdam:

For a performance by the Muslim Salaheddine Benchikhi, the Zuidplein Theatre agreed to his request to have the first five rows set aside for women only. Salaheddine, an editorialist for the website, is known for his opposition to the integration of Muslims. The city council has approved this: “According to our Western values, the freedom to live one’s own life by virtue of one’s convictions is a precious possession.” A spokesman for the theater has also defended the director: “It is hard to get Muslims to come to the theater, so we are willing to adapt.”

It does raise this question: would European civil libertarians ignore the physical segregation of any other group (immigrants, gays, etc.) in a public place? Wouldn’t they rush to the European Human Rights Commission for intervention? There should be no double standard. Defending the civil rights of women today, (when Muslims represent 24% of the population of Amsterdam, 20% of Marseille, 14% of Birmingham, and 13% of Rotterdam according to the Economist), will better preserve them for tomorrow.

SO WILL REPUBLICANS, CONSERVATIVES, AND LIBERTARIANS PURCHASE GM CARS after the Obama Administration’s intervention and UAW-friendly bankruptcy? I’d guess that any American with laissez faire economic views, those who would have preferred to see the dysfunctional carmaker fail without any federal bailout, will hesitate before buying GM. Since some 40% of Americans describe themselves as conservatives (according to Gallup), and liberal Democrats lean toward small imports (for example, virtually all of Obama’s economic team drives foreign cars), that spells trouble for the market share of Government Motors.

It’s hard to see how GM retirees, UAW workers, and rental car fleets will provide enough demand for the Obama turn-around plan to work. Will Washington respond to flagging GM car sales with targeted incentives (like the “trade in that clunker car” provisions working their way through Congress) or more outright subsidies?

IF PHIL JACKSON ISN’T THE BEST PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL COACH of all time, who is? With Jackson’s Lakers winning the 2009 NBA championship, his tenth title, the former Knickbocker player has exceeded the Celtics’ Red Auerbach’s championship mark, in what is arguably now a much more competitive league. Jackson not only handled the volatile Kobe Bryant, but—most importantly—also skillfully pushed the development of Lakers’ center Pau Gasol (as Eric Neel of ESPN recently reported).

THIS MONTH’S WORDS OF WISDOM FROM NEW ENGLAND’S POET, ROBERT FROST (1874-1963): “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”

Copyright © 2009 Jefferson Flanders

All rights reserved

March 2009: Nobody asked me, but…

Obama the Adaptive Communicator, the Oliphant cartoon controversy, and other observations

With tip of the umbrella (for borrowing his signature phrase) to the late, great New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon: nobody asked me, but…

ALREADY PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA IS SHOWING THE ABILITY TO ADAPT HIS COMMUNICATION STYLE to the audience, occasion, and purpose. Will history see him as the Great Adaptive Communicator?

It’s now conventional wisdom that Obama can deliver a brilliant set speech, although he has often toned down the soaring rhetoric when it doesn’t suit his political ends (witness his somber and workmanlike Inaugural Address). Despite mixed reviews from media critics, the new President has quickly mastered the prime-time news conference, one which plagued many of his predecessors in the White House. Where Obama has struggled, surprisingly, is in less formal settings where he lets his guard down (for example, the Jay Leno Special Olympics kerfuffle or Obama’s “gallows humor” joviality on “60 Minutes”).

Some conservative pundits have mocked Obama for his reliance on the teleprompter in public appearances, but his recent news conferences prove the President can think quite well on his feet without a canned script. He knows he gives a smoother, more telegenic performance with the teleprompter, and that’s why he turns to the device.

I think Obama will prove to be a master of presidential news conferences, as well. Unlike many of his Republican predecessors, he doesn’t disdain the press (or at least openly show that he does), and he isn’t intimidated by the prospect of fielding questions.

What Obama has apparently realized is that the President can control and shape a East Room news conference to his liking. He can pick and choose the questioners. He can slow down the pace of the proceedings by stretching out his answers (which meant just 13 questions in his last hour-long press conference). He can ignore the intent of any given question and, even when pressed on it in a follow-up, always has the last word. And if he keeps his emotions in check, and sticks to his message, he can avoid any “gotcha” moments.

The media hopes for something newsworthy from a presidential “presser”—a dramatic revelation, an insight into the president’s thinking, a policy shift. They are disappointed when that doesn’t happen. Obama’s performance at his last formal news conference (before leaving for the G20) was panned as “professorial” by many in the mainstream media. Obama sounded “like the teacher speaking in the stillness of a classroom where students are restlessly waiting for the ring of the bell” according to Peter Baker and Adam Nagourney of the New York Times. True, Obama largely repeated his administration’s talking points on the economy, but that doesn’t mean the news conference wasn’t a success—from a presidential perspective.

I’d argue that Obama’s professorial style worked quite well: he projected the three C’s—confidence, competence, and calmness—which is what a national leader must project during troubled times. What about substance? Obama’s long, discursive answers—which annoyed many commentators—signaled that he has a detailed grasp of economic policy, which was enough for his audience—the average voter worried about his or her job and future—if not for Beltway journalists.

POLITICAL CARTOONIST PAT OLIPHANT STIRRED CONTROVERSY in March with Jewish groups objecting to what they called anti-Semitic elements in his cartoon on the Gaza situation. (The cartoon featured a headless goose-stepping soldier and a fanged Star of David looming over hapless Gaza refugees. You can view it here). The Anti-Defamation League called it “hideously anti-Semitic” for using “Nazi-like imagery and hateful evocation of the Jewish Star of David.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center said “the cartoon mimics the venomous anti-Semitic propaganda of the Nazi and Soviet eras.”

As a First Amendment advocate, I’ll defend Oliphant’s right to create and distribute the cartoon. And while likening Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi aggression is both deliberately provocative and ludicrous, it’s not prima facie anti-Semitic. The ADL and others are correct, however, in deploring Oliphant’s choice of imagery because it draws on a particularly ugly and hateful legacy.

ARE ASPECTS OF HUMAN INTELLIGENCE (“G”) MORE LINKED TO NATURE, AND LESS TO NUTURE? Here’s how ScienceDaily summarized a recent study (from the Journal of Neuroscience): “…UCLA neurology professor Paul Thompson and colleagues used a new type of brain-imaging scanner to show that intelligence is strongly influenced by the quality of the brain’s axons, or wiring that sends signals throughout the brain. The faster the signaling, the faster the brain processes information. And since the integrity of the brain’s wiring is influenced by genes, the genes we inherit play a far greater role in intelligence than was previously thought.”

Thompson and collaborators scanned the brains of identical and fraternal twins, measuring signal speed, and then compared those findings to results from traditional IQ tests. We inherit how much of a key substance (myelin) we have in our brains that allows for these fast signaling bursts.

IS “DO WHAT I SAY, NOT WHAT I DRIVE” THE MOTTO FOR TOP OBAMA AIDES WHEN IT COMES TO American cars? According to Politico, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner owns a 2008 Acura TSX, and other Obama economic advisors also own Japanese cars (Larry Summers has a 1995 Mazda Protege, Peter Orszag drives a Honda, and Austan Goolsbee, a Toyota Highlander).

Politico also reported: “A survey of West Executive Drive, where White House staffers park, revealed only five American cars out of 23 –a Dodge Grand Caravan, two Ford Escapes, a Jeep Cherokee and a Cadillac.”

And Obama’s car czar, Steve Rattner, apparently favors Mercedes, according to cityfile. (President Obama does own a Ford).

It is a bit awkward for the new administration to advocate massive taxpayer-backed loans for the Big Three when its top staff drives non-American brands.

HOLD THAT OBITUARY FOR CAPITALISM, AT LEAST ACCORDING TO HISTORIAN PAUL KENNEDY in a fascinating Financial Times essay focusing on the wisdom of past economic thinkers.

Kennedy predicts that in the post-crisis economic system:

…the animal spirits of the market will be closely watched (and tamed) by a variety of national and international zookeepers – a taming of which the great bulk of the spectators will heartily approve – but there will be no ritual murder of the free-enterprise principle, even if we have to plunge further into depression for the next years. Homus Economicus will take a horrible beating. But capitalism, in modified form, will not disappear. Like democracy, it has serious flaws – but, just as one find faults with democracy, the critics of capitalism will discover that all other systems are worse. Political economy tells us so.

THIS MONTH’S WORDS OF WISDOM FROM CHARLES DICKENS’ NOVEL LITTLE DORRIT: “A person who can’t pay gets another person who can’t pay to guarantee that he can pay. Like a person with two wooden legs getting another person with two wooden legs to guarantee that he has got two natural legs. It don’t make either of them able to do a walking-match.”

Copyright © 2009 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

Anti-Semitism and the Gaza excuse

Who hasn’t been disturbed by the recent images of Palestinian civilians killed and wounded by the Israeli incursion into urban Gaza? Or deeply troubled by the video of injured children and lifeless bodies? The IDF’s military assault proved both misguided and counterproductive, a disproportionate overreaction to rocket attacks by Hamas. It was exactly the response the Islamist group, and its Iranian sponsors, had hoped to provoke. When active hostilities ceased, Israel’s adversaries had won a victory in the court of world public opinion and for that the Israeli government could blame no one but itself.

Yet legitimate criticism of Israel for its heavy-handed approach is one thing; it is quite another thing to use anger over the Gaza crisis (or protests against “Zionism”) as an excuse for anti-Semitism in its most virulent form, a crude hatred aimed at Jews for their Jewishness. The target of this surge of post-Gaza anti-Semitism has been Jewish individuals and institutions collectively, as if all Jews somehow bore responsibility for Israel’s actions.

In England, anti-Semitic attacks “included assaults, damage to Jewish property, threats, hate mail, verbal abuse and anti-Semitic graffiti,” according to news reports. Synagogues in France, Sweden and Belgium were also attacked and Dutch synagogues were targets of arson or stoning, the Associated Press reported, while some demonstrators at anti-Israel protests in the Netherland “…shouted slogans of ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.'”

Richard Prasquier, the head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, told the New York Times that the Gaza conflict had spurred anti-Semitism in France among Muslims who: “… don’t see themselves as anti-Semitic; they identify with Palestinians who are victims of Israel. But they use practically the same stereotypes of the old anti-Semitism, of the rich Jew who manipulates governments and is the origin of all evil.”

Daniel Schwammenthal of the Wall Street Journal argued in his piece “Europe Reimports Jew Hatred” that any outrage over Gaza by Muslim immigrants in Europe is the product of an underlying anti-Semitism they brought with them.

The rage against the Jews that is exploding in Europe has been carefully nurtured; it is not spontaneous sympathy for fellow Muslims in Gaza. How else to explain the silence when Muslims in other conflicts, from Darfur to Chechnya, are being killed?

The depth of anti-Semitic propaganda in Palestinian and other Muslim societies is one of the most underreported facts about the Middle East. It is this anti-Semitism that predisposes Muslims in Europe to attack Jews and fuels the Mideast conflict….

The toxin hasn’t been confined to Europe, however, as anti-Semitic incidents were reported in Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez has demonized Jews and openly encouraged anti-Semitic propaganda.

The danger ahead

What makes this current wave of anti-Semitism so dangerous is that it comes during a global economic crisis. Societies in distress are fertile ground for the scapegoating of what Yale Law scholar Amy Chua has termed “market dominant minorities” such as Jews, who are resented and envied for their success. (Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, Nigerian merchants in Africa, Indians in East Africa, and the Lebanese in West Africa have also suffered from prejudice because of their business acumen, Chua notes). While it has been left-wing and Islamic anti-Semitism on recent display, the potential for a resurgence of right-wing bigotry, especially in Europe, cannot be discounted.

Already there are disturbing signs that Jews are being blamed for the current financial crisis. A public opinion survey in Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Spain commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League found “…nearly a third of Europeans polled blame Jews for the global economic meltdown and that a greater number think Jews have too much power in the business world.” It is no wonder that European Jews are jittery.

Fortunately there are voices now being raised, in Europe, in Latin American, and in the United States about this troubling rise in global anti-Semitism. Elected officials in Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have denounced rhetoric linking Israel and Nazi Germany (a common trope in recent demonstrations). And this week the British government is sponsoring a conference on combating anti-Semitism that has attracted nearly 100 legislators from 35 countries. As Irwin Cotler, a former Attorney General for Canada, notes about this “new, lethal, and virulent” form of prejudice: “Silence is not an option. The time has come not only to sound the alarm, but to act. For as history taught us only too well, while it may begin with Jews, it does not end with Jews.”

Copyright © 2009 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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Confronting reality: Occam’s Razor and the 9/11 “Truth Movement”

When I walked across Cooper Square last Thursday just after dark, I found two columns of bluish light rising into the Manhattan night sky, an illuminated reminder of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The “Tribute in Light” was a sight that stirred memories of that tragic day in New York seven years ago, and all that has followed.

It is a changed country now: innocence lost; American soldiers and marines in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq; and many Americans deeply conflicted about the “War on Terror” and what focusing on homeland security means for civil liberties in a democratic society. And, after the terrorist bombings in Madrid and London, and numerous foiled plots, there is a deep unease about our continued vulnerability to terrorism.

Others have responded to the danger of Islamic terrorism, however, by minimizing the threat, or blaming the victim, or embracing conspiracy theories that obscure the reality of 9/11. I found evidence of that last week when, along with John Ray, a very bright Carnegie-Mellon student who blogs at Conspiracies R Not Us, I appeared on the Toronto-based show “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” to offer the skeptics’ view of the “evidence” behind 9/11 conspiracy theories. Also on the show: two Canadian academics, Graeme MacQueen and Michael Keefer, who argued that the American government deliberately staged the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East. (You can view the program in its entirety here.)

I was somewhat surprised that MacQueen and Keefer proved to be such fervent members of the 9/11 “Made it Happen on Purpose” (MIHOP) school, because it’s a hard position to defend considering its logical gaps and inconsistencies. For starters, MIHOP advocates won’t concede the obvious: that 19 Arab terrorists hijacked four airplanes on 9/11; that Al Qaeda engineered the attacks; that jetliners loaded with fuel made effective weapons; and that the explanations of structural engineers and fire safety experts for why the World Trade Center towers and nearby buildings collapsed make sense. Instead, most in the MIHOP school contend that the Twin Towers and World Trade Center 7 were brought down by controlled demolition; many think the Pentagon was hit not by a plane but by a missile; and few accept what they call the “official story” about the crash of United 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. MIHOP believers see “an inside job” and/or a “false flag operation” behind the events of 9/11 and blame the “neo-cons” in the Bush Administration (and sometimes, with an anti-Semitic twist, the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, as well).

Occam’s Razor and 9/11 conspiracies

As I pointed out on “The Agenda,” these grand conspiracy theories violate Occam’s Razor, the insight of a 14th century Franciscan that the simplest explanation for a phenomenon is the best. These theories also run afoul of basic logic: Why crash airliners into buildings AND bother rigging them beforehand for controlled demolition? Wouldn’t the attacks alone be enough of a provocation? For that matter, why bother with hijacking planes? Wouldn’t a massive truck bomb, or bombs, work just as well and present fewer logistical challenges? Why not replicate the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center (or Oklahoma City)? Why make the conspiracy so elaborate and so complex?

The controlled demolition theory doesn’t make much sense either. To rig a large office building with explosives takes professional demolition firms months to accomplish. How could massive amounts of explosives been placed secretly in three skyscrapers, let alone one, without detection? And as John Ray noted, the larger the conspiracy gets, the greater the number of people involved—to the point where hundreds of thousands must be part of the “cover-up.” Would they all remain silent? Would no one be moved to confess? With all of the media attention following 9/11, wouldn’t the secret have leaked out? Further, there isn’t any evidence of controlled demolition, something that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) noted in its reports on the collapse of WTC 1, 2 and 7: no witnesses, no seismic record, no demolition equipment in the wreckage.

The “Alice in Wonderland” nature of the MIHOP fantasies makes them relatively easy to debunk. The Let It Happen on Purpose (LIHOP) argument, on the other hand, while also flawed, relies on a more subjective approach to the question of 9/11. LIHOP advocates say 9/11 happened because the Bush Administration had advance knowledge of Al Qaeda’s plans and, eager to fight a war for oil, either turned a blind eye to the plot, or worked to facilitate it. There is no “smoking gun” evidence for LIHOP, and the record suggests incompetence, indifference, and ignorance on the part of the authorities, not collusion, but since LIHOP asks us to assume the worst about the U.S. government, it has gained adherents from the far Left and Right, and will continue to attract support.

Confronting the reality of 9/11

My appearance on “The Agenda” provoked further comment in the days that followed: I received several emails from Canadians (including those from a retired pilot and a firefighter) apologizing for what they saw as the anti-Americanism of MacQueen and Keefer, and assuring me that most Canadians accepted the reality of 9/11. I replied that no apologies were necessary, that Canada had supported the U.S. in its pursuit of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and that the leaders of the 9/11 “Truth Movement” were Americans. I also received some nasty feedback from foot soldiers in that movement, denouncing me as a CIA media plant and hinting darkly of the fate that awaited such “traitors.”

Despite their nastiness, my sense is that that the 9/11 “Truth Movement” is losing ground. The debunking done by Popular Mechanics, the BBC, and independent bloggers and skeptics, and the recent release of the NIST’s WTC 7 report ruling out controlled demolition as a cause of the building’s collapse, has put the 9/11 deniers on the defensive.

At the same time, it seems that many in the U.S. are slipping back into a pre-9/11 complacency on the question of terrorism. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released last week found only one in 10 Americans who say terrorism is the most important issue in voting for president, and “concerns about an impending terrorist strike are at the lowest point on record” since 9/11.

Also last week the New York Times carried a chilling op-ed piece by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic (“On Nov. 4, Remember 9/11“) warning of the dangers of nuclear terrorism and noting that “[m]any proliferation experts I have spoken to judge the chance of such a detonation to be as high as 50 percent in the next 10 years. I am an optimist, so I put the chance at 10 percent to 20 percent.” Goldberg doesn’t flinch from confronting the reality of 9/11 seven years later: “The next president must do one thing, and one thing only, if he is to be judged a success: He must prevent Al Qaeda, or a Qaeda imitator, from gaining control of a nuclear device and detonating it in America.” It is advice that we can only hope that Senator Obama or Senator McCain will heed.

Debunking some specific claims made by MacQueen and Keefer on “The Agenda”

John Ray and I tried to refute as many of the outlandish claims made by Professors MacQueen and Keefer during our appearance on “The Agenda.” We didn’t get to deal with all of them, and so, in the interests of setting the record straight, I am offering a more detailed debunking of six of their claims.

1. American air defenses were deliberately weakened by war games on 9/11. FALSE.

While it is true there were a number of military exercises that day, it made no difference in the readiness of the American military to respond to a hijacked jet, and, if anything, might have allowed a quicker response to terror attacks (if there had been more timely communication between civilian air traffic controllers and their military counterparts, which there wasn’t). There were only 14 fighter jets on alert in the contiguous 48 states, none of which were diverted because of the “war games.”

SEE: Popular Mechanics, “Debunking the 9/11 Myths” and the website Debunk 9/11 Myths.

2. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been politicized by the Bush Administration, and therefore cannot be trusted to investigate the WTC collapses. FALSE.

There is no evidence that NIST has been politicized. The WTC reports were reviewed by professional associations of architects, structural engineers, and fire safety experts (for example, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEONY), and National Fire Protection Association) without anyone questioning NIST’s objectivity, professionalism or adherence to the scientific method. The one dissenter cited by Professor Keefer, fire safety expert James Quintiere, has differed with NIST over its investigative approach but agreed with NIST’s conclusion that controlled demolition was not involved. In Quintere’s comments on NIST’s WTC 7 report, he dismissed demolition claims, according to Newsday:

Quintiere stressed, however, that he never believed explosives played a role. He said NIST wasted time employing outside experts to consider it.

3. At the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, the FBI testified that conservative commentator Barbara Olson could not have called her husband from the doomed flight (AA 77) that crashed into the Pentagon. FALSE.

The FBI identified one interrupted phone call from Olson, and could not determine who was the source for four other calls from the plane. It is likely that some of these unidentified calls were made by Olson, as reported by her husband. The 9/11 Commission reported:

The records available for the phone calls from American 77 do not allow for a determination of which of four “connected calls to unknown numbers” represent the two between Barbara and Ted Olson, although the FBI and DOJ believe that all four represent communications between Barbara Olson and her husband’s office (all family members of the Flight 77 passengers and crew were canvassed to see if they had received any phone calls from the hijacked flight, and only Renee May’s parents and Ted Olson indicated that they had received such calls).The four calls were at 9:15:34 for 1 minute, 42 seconds; 9:20:15 for 4 minutes, 34 seconds; 9:25:48 for 2 minutes, 34 seconds; and 9:30:56 for 4 minutes, 20 seconds. FBI report, “American Airlines Airphone Usage,” Sept. 20, 2001; FBI report of investigation, interview of Theodore Olson, Sept. 11, 2001; FBI report of investigation, interview of Helen Voss, Sept. 14, 2001; AAL response to the Commission’s supplemental document request, Jan. 20, 2004.

SEE: 9/11 Commission Report, Note 57

4. The WTC 7 fires “died down” and couldn’t have caused the thermal expansion described by NIST and the resulting progressive collapse. FALSE.

Fires raged, unchecked, on many floors of WTC 7 for some seven hours. Firefighters reported this at the time, and FEMA and NIST found photographic evidence of this.

SEE: Photos here from the scene.

5. The steel sample taken from WTC 7 had damage suggesting the impact of thermite or some unexplained chemical. FALSE.

Here’s what the BBC has reported about his claim.

In New England the claims of the mysterious melted steel from Tower Seven has been unravelled at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute near Boston.

Professor Richard Sisson says it did not melt, it eroded. The cause was the very hot fires in the debris after 9/11 that cooked the steel over days and weeks.

Professor Sisson determined that the steel was attacked by a liquid slag which contained iron, sulphur and oxygen.

However, rather than coming from thermite, the metallurgist Professor Sisson thinks the sulphur came from masses of gypsum wallboard that was pulverised and burnt in the fires. He says:

“I don’t find it very mysterious at all, that if I have steel in this sort of a high temperature atmosphere that’s rich in oxygen and sulphur this would be the kind of result I would expect.”

SEE: BBC News, “The Conspiracy Files

6. WTC 7 is the only steel-framed skyscraper in the world to have collapsed solely because of fire. TRUE.

WTC 7 is also the only steel-framed skyscraper with vulnerable long-span construction subjected to unchecked fires for seven hours (a sprinkler system was disabled when the water main broke). 9/11 “Truth Movement” advocates point to office tower fires in Madrid and Caracas which didn’t bring those structures down, yet fail to note that these buildings had their steels columns encased in cement (unlike WTC 1, 2 and 7).

SEE: Debunking 9/11 Conspiracy Theories

An extended commentary on the 9/11 “Truth Movement” can be found at “Exposing the 9/11 conspiracy fantasies.”

Copyright © 2008 Jefferson Flanders
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Why 9/11 conspiracy theories should be challenged

On Friday night, Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly briefly debated David Corn of the Nation magazine and Newsday‘s Ellis Henican about the dangers of home-grown anti-Americanism and its export overseas; O’Reilly focused on Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban’s plans to fund the overseas distribution of Loose Change, a film which suggests that the attacks on 9/11 were an inside job by the U.S. government.

O’Reilly’s liberal guests discounted any significant impact of anti-American screeds from the far Left, arguing that they represented only voices from the fringe. Henican brushed aside any concerns when O’Reilly questioned him about the potential danger of showing Loose Change in the Middle East.

What I found fascinating about the conversation was how Corn and Henican assumed that viewers would see through the patent absurdities of Loose Change. (To his credit Corn has debunked 9/11 conspiracy claims). The reality is that a shockingly high percentage of Americans are suspicious about U.S. government complicity in 9/11 (36 percent suspect the U.S. government promoted the attacks or intentionally sat on its hands, according to a Scripps Howards/Ohio University survey) ; a BBC poll in September 2006 found 16% of Britons believed there was a wider 9/11 conspiracy involving the American government while 20% said they did not know.

Why wouldn’t wide-spread distribution of Loose Change, financed by a billionaire (Cuban) with an added narration by an American movie star (Charlie Sheen), and the attendant publicity, further influence public opinion here and overseas? And doesn’t that matter?

The U.S. 9/11 “Truth Movement” is mirrored in Europe by similar groups. Don’t forget there were 9/11 conspiracy best-sellers in France and Germany in the first several years after the attacks. Former German government minister Andreas von Bülow argued that 9/11 was part of a neoconservative conspiracy (including Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency) to give the Bush Administration justification to attack Iraq in his book “The CIA and September 11.” French author Thierry Meyssan in his “The Big Lie” (versions in 28 languages) claimed that it was a U.S. missile that hit the Pentagon on that September day, not a hijacked American Airlines 757, again as part of an dark, elaborate plot to create “an hegemonic military regime.”

Why does challenging the conspiracists matter? Why should Cuban and Sheen be publicly confronted over their complicity in advancing these noxious theories?

It should be deeply disturbing that a third of the U.S. populace would question whether its own government could be involved in mass murder—because that is the ugly charge actually being made. If you believe that 9/11 was part of a Bush Administration conspiracy, you believe American government officials killed nearly 3,000 of their fellow citizens in cold blood. (I’ve also written before how the false “Bush lied on WMD” meme unfortunately fuels this paranoia.)

Who would argue that is healthy for the democratic political process? The acceptance of conspiracy theories makes political debate difficult, if not impossible. It creates an atmosphere of enmity and suspicion. It encourages the growth of extremism, since a government that would murder its own people can hardly be trusted on anything, could it? The 9/11 “Truth Movement” and “docugandas” like Loose Change represent the equivalent of a political virus—challenging their fabrications publicly is a way to help inoculate Americans against infection.

Many of the 9/11 conspiracy groups embrace theories tinged by anti-Semitism. The European branches of the 9/11 “Truth Movement” are more open in arguing Israeli involvement in the attacks, including as the BBC puts it, that “the Jews were forewarned about the attack,” a libel the U.S. State Department, among others, has addressed and debunked on its website.

This is particularly of concern if Mark Cuban plans to underwrite the distribution of Loose Change in the Middle East, where 9/11 Denial has always had a receptive audience. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 many Arabs denied that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were behind the attacks, but over time, as bin Laden publicly accepted responsibility, the idea that the Mossad and CIA plotted 9/11 has faded. It would be a tragic irony if an American-produced and financed film resuscitates this discredited propaganda.

So O’Reilly has it right. Sunlight is the best disinfectant—and the 9/11 “Truth Movement” needs to be challenged with the facts. While the truth may seem self-evident or obvious to the mainstream media, the opinion poll numbers suggest that isn’t the case for a dismayingly large number of people in America and the wider world. More exposure of the shabby 9/11 fabrications is needed. As George Orwell once wrote, sometimes the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent people.

9/11 Conspiracies and the Facts

A full debunking of “Loose Change” can be found here.

The Popular Mechanics debunking of common 9/11 conspiracy theories can be found here.

An extended commentary on the 9/11 “Truth Movement” can be found at “Exposing the 9/11 conspiracy fantasies.”

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Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
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The week (November 10th): Nobody asked me, but…

Borrowing Jimmy Cannon’s signature opening, nobody asked me, but…

THE 2006 MID-TERM ELECTIONS, in which the Democrats regained control of both the House and the Senate, will be long remembered for the message American voters sent about President Bush’s troubled policies in Iraq and their judgment that Republican would-be reformers had been corrupted by inside-the-Beltway power. The exit polls suggested that voters don’t favor a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq, but had lost faith in Bush’s “stay the course” approach.

The election results clearly strengthen Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s hopes of become the first woman to win the Presidency in 2008. The Electoral College now favors Clinton (or any centrist Democrat): she needs only to add Ohio (which dramatically swung Blue in 2006) or Colorado, to the 19 states that John Kerry won in 2004 (California, New York, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine) along with the District of Columbia. The Democratic base, which includes more large states, appears to be more defendable than the Red states of 2004.

Those who question whether America is ready for a female President (or a black one, considering that Senator Barack Obama is another leading Democratic hopeful) are seeing the presidential election in national, popular vote terms. The question is: can Senator Clinton win the mini-elections in the 21 states she needs? The answer is yes.

Perhaps John McCain, if nominated by the Republicans, could put Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Michigan in play, but it is more likely that he will be hard-pressed to defend Missouri, Iowa and Virginia, to say nothing of Florida (where Bill Clinton campaigning could be a significantly positive factor for Mrs. Clinton among African-American and Jewish voters). Senator Clinton has to be considered the front-runner now, and it will be intriguing to see if Democratic primary voters remain anxious about her electability in a general election or accept the new math.

The quick announcement by Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa that he is running for President suggests, in part, that other Democratic Party centrists see that the Electoral College math now tilts Blue.

WHY DOES ANTI-SEMITISM BECOME THE FIRST REFUGE OF SCOUNDRELS? The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that Venezuela has experienced a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism, fueled by the rhetoric of President Hugo Chavez. The ADL cites a “troubling mix of anti-Semitism and support for radical Islam that—along with anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism–have become the calling cards of the Chavez regime.”

What makes this even stranger is that there are only an estimated 25,000 Jews in Venezuela—which has a population of some 25 million—making claims of “Jewish control” laughable. For a demagogue like Chavez, though, attacking external enemies diverts attention from his consolidation of power within Venezuela.

MORE SIGNS THAT COUNTRY MUSIC’S POPULARITY is transcending boundaries: the latest music videos for singles by Keith Urban (“Once In A Lifetime”) and the group
Sugarland (“Want To”) have decidedly Blue State, urban backdrops, filmed in San Francisco and New York City respectively.

IS THE U.S. IN DANGER OF LOSING ITS PRIMACY ON THE INTERNET? Some, like Fortune magazine’s David Kirkpatrick, warn that “China, India, and many European and Asian countries are moving faster to implement the addressing scheme known as Internet Protocol version 6, or IPv6.” Why does that matter? Kirkpatrick notes that IPv6 will allow a dramatic expansion of the number of Web sites and “will enable much more secure network transactions, as well as dramatically better mobile use of the net.” He adds:

More importantly, v6, as it’s known among the experts, will allow us to do things we simply haven’t imagined before. Because it can assign a unique Internet address to anything electronic, it can tie in sensors in our homes, vehicles and even under our skin.

A survey by Jupiter Networks of 1,000 high-tech types found that “75 percent of respondents said that they would like to see a central Federal IPv6 transition office.”

DON’T BLAME NEW REPUBLIC PUBLISHER MARTIN PERETZ for building a mansion in the Cape Cod town of Truro, nor the other homeowners who are “upsizing” their houses in Truro and Wellfleet in Cape Cod National Seashore areas, leading to alarm about “mansionization.” If there are objections to the impact of the new trophy houses, there are solutions: the federal government can condemn and buy the homes, or private organizations can raise the money to acquire them. Another approach—stricter zoning laws—which has been used in many suburban communities to stop property owners from “building big,” reflects the “tyranny of the majority” and, one can argue, is driven by envy rather than sincere public policy ends.

COMEDIAN WHOOPI GOLDBERG once suggested: “We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.”

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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The week (September 8th): Nobody asked me, but…

To borrow once again from newspaperman extraordinaire Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

DON’T BLAME THOSE FORMER CLINTON ADMINISTRATION officials who, along with Bill Clinton, remain highly exercised over the scheduled ABC 9/11 docudrama (“The Path to 9/11”) which includes fabricated scenes suggesting that they approached the threat of Osama bin-Laden and al-Queda with less than proper zeal. They are right to pressure Disney, parent company of ABC, for changes in the program prior to its televising, and if Disney/ABC does the right thing, they’ll remove the made-up scenes (the Washington Post reports that ABC plans “minor changes” in reaction to the criticism.)

Inventing dialogue and placing it in the mouth of real people—like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger—distorts history and misleads viewers (who may think that it’s a reenactment of real events). Veracity matters. Whether or not the “higher truth” is that Clinton and his top aides took a too narrowly legalistic approach to terrorism during his two terms in office, fabricating scenes in an entertainment program is not the way to prove your point.

Disney/ABC can’t have it both ways—advertising the series as being “based on the 9/11 Commission” but then defending the fabrications as needed for dramatic purposes. The last I checked, ABC had a news division: how do news managers there feel about the blurring of fact and fiction in this “alternative universe”? An example of truthiness (to use Stephen Colbert’s phrase)?

One irony: ABC’s flirtation with fabulism comes just as director Oliver Stone has curbed his paranoic fantasies. Stone’s “artistic license” in the movie JFK introduced millions of young moviegoers to multiple bogus Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. But in his new film, World Trade Center, Stone has dealt with the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers without straying too far from the established historical reality of that horrific day.

The shame is that ABC News could have developed a documentary on 9/11 that could have explored unanswered 9/11-related questions? One puzzle involves Sandy Berger. Berger has never given a plausible explanation for why he furtively removed classified documents from the National Archives about the Clinton Administration’s response to terrorism, documents being reviewed by the 9/11 Commission. What was his motive? What was he thinking?

Other questions: what is the real story on Able Danger, the Defense Department team using data mining to track terrorists? Did the team truly identify terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta prior to 9/11, as Congressman Curt Weldon claims? Why did some government officials tell New Yorkers that the air quality around the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11 was safe to breathe? Who is responsible for those public assurances—now shown to have been wrong?

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER of pop culture: the bronze statute of the fictional boxer Rocky Balboa will be placed on a spot near the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum after a 6-2 vote by the city’s art commission. The statue had been donated by Sylvester Stallone, who played the underdog fighter in a series of films (one more on the way!), in 1982—it had been rejected by the museum and found a home for several decades outside the Spectrum sports arena. Rocky always was persistent.

For traditionalists the best way to swallow this: think of the bronze Rocky Balboa as the Little Mermaid of the City of Brotherly Love—after all a statue of Hans Christian Anderson’s character is a famous tourist attraction in Copenhagen.

WILL ANTI-SEMITES get the point that they are being mocked in British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen’s new movie “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”? Or will they revel in the broadcasting of slurs and stereotypes, figuring that airing them is a victory even if they are ridiculed? The New York Times describes it as a “raucous comedy that makes its points by seeming to embrace sexism, racism, homophobia and that most risky of social toxins: anti-Semitism.”

As a First Amendment advocate, I can’t quarrel with Baron Cohen’s right to make the movie, and I haven’t seen the “mockumentary” so I’ll reserve final judgment—after all, the Producers and Bulworth mine some of the same comedic territory without, from what I can tell, encouraging bigotry—yet having the buffoonish protagonist of the movie worry that “the Jews (will) repeat their attack of 9/11” (a line from the movie, according to the New York Times) may be appreciated for its irony by American multiplex cinema audiences but taken literally by some in the Middle East.

The Washington Post‘s bland headline is “Frey and Publisher Settle Lawsuit” but the details of the story are weird. As a disgruntled reader your refund for “A Million Little Pieces” (in hardcover), the memoir by James Frey tainted by falsehoods, will apparently require the following: proof of purchase of the book on or before January 26, 2006; page 163 of the memoir/novel; and a sworn statement that you would not have bought the book if you knew certain facts had been fabricated or embroidered. That will bring you the $23.95 hardcover refund from Random House, not that anyone is copping to anything.

This has to be one of the more bizarre stories of the year: it is the Culture of Litigation writ large, another example of how some lawyers bring discredit upon themselves and their profession. The crowning legalistic touch is the provision that refund seekers have to return page 163 (chosen at random, we are told). While Frey and Random House haven’t covered themselves in glory, is this really a matter for litigation? Are consumer protection statutes meant to include memoirs?

I’m sure some will argue that it’s the principle, blah, blah, blah–—if that is the case, then the lawyers on both sides should have worked pro bono, or for a token amount (how about the minimum wage?)

THREE CHEERS FOR ALLEN WEINSTEIN, head of the National Archives, who now says thousands of government historical documents, withdrawn because of security concerns, will be made accessible to the public again. Weinstein’s announcement proves that he is independent and not the partisan some on the Left have made him out to be.

DON’T EXPECT KATIE COURIC to work wonders with the ratings for the CBS Evening News. And the trends for one-time Big Three—CBS, NBC and ABC—are dismal. The numbers released this summer by the Pew Media Survey tell a grim tale for the nightly network news; American viewership has dropped from 60% in 1993 to 28% in 2006. That decline reflects a more fragmented media world—and that, along with partisan viewing patterns (conservatives trust Fox News; liberals gravitate to PBS and CNN)—makes agreeing on shared facts harder and harder. The civic implications aren’t pretty.

; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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