Never Again

On this 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on America, many of us are saying “NEVER AGAIN”. What those saying it mean will determine the future of our country.

If “never again” means to you that we will never allow attacks on our homeland again, you are saying that out of your fear you chose safety over liberty. You support the authoritarian, repressive measures of the so-called Patriot Act and the related government intrusions in our privacy and liberties in the name of greater security. This is not the spirit of those Americans who continue to get into their cars to drive to work or wherever despite automobile accidents killing ten times more Americans every year as American soldiers who have died in Afghanistan in the past 20 years.

For me and thankfully for many other Americans, it means that we will never again surrender to the fear that blinded us to the tragic mistakes of American aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Uganda. Lawrence Wilkerson explains our self-destructive behavior in the following interview. COL Wilkerson was a senior official in the Bush administration when it launched the Iraq invasion. Now he calls it a mistake born of rage and fear. https://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2021/09/10/amanpour-wilkerson-9-11.cnn

We have the most powerful military in the world. No military force could protect us at home (to the extent that our safety depends on military force) better. When it comes to its effectiveness in offensive attacks on other countries, its effectiveness is less clear and its effectiveness in efforts to rebuild the countries it has occupied…… well this fantastic three hour discussion reveals it as worse than zero https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkjsjBknWfo

We once revered and defended our liberty above all else and we were respected and envied around the world. We prospered. Over the last twenty years we have gradually, year by year, squandered our cherished traditions and our standing and respect in the world has declined as a result. Former President Trump signed an agreement with the Taliban promising to remove all American troops from Afghanistan by May 1 of this year. It was a bad agreement, but our departure was many years overdue. President Biden extended our stay for a few more months but has now honored Trump’s commitment. Why our military was unable to prepare properly for our withdrawal from Afghanistan with this two-year notice is a mystery we need to investigate.  

Never again should mean that we never again act out of fear. https://wcoats.blog/2021/09/05/nation-building-in-afghanistan-2/

Cancer in the Republican party

Does Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene really believe that “a plane did not hit the Pentagon on 9/11, the Clintons crashed JFK Jr’s plane and that the 2018 California wildfires were started by a space laser controlled by Jews”? “Karl Rove blasts GOP rep Marjorie Taylor Greene”  Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, stated Monday (belatedly) that her “loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party.” “Has Mitch McConnell been struck by Jewish space laser”

An even more disturbing question is why do so many people believe her and other obviously (to most people) false claims? QAnon is sadly not the only group espousing claims that even my grandmother (or maybe especially my grandmother) would find transparently laughable. QAnon “followers believe that a cabal of Satan-worshipping Democrats, Hollywood celebrities and billionaires runs the world while engaging in pedophilia, human trafficking and the harvesting of a supposedly life-extending chemical from the blood of abused children.”  “QAnon conspiracy theory explained” 

We live in a time in which sorting fact from fiction has become more challenging than usual. As a young man I had Walter Cronkite, who I could check against Huntley and Brinkley. If they reported it, we believed it. If they got it wrong (rarely) they corrected it the next day. The pronouncements of QAnon are so ridiculous that most of us don’t need a fact checker to reject them. Common sense is enough. But when the previous President of the United States lied to us more or less every time he tweeted, and claims to this day that his reelection was stolen without producing any credible evidence, sorting fact from fiction becomes more challenging.

Sometimes we are lucky enough to encounter contrary evidence directly, in which case we discard the lie and downgrade our trust in its source. This seems to be happening to some QAnon supporters–but unfortunately not to Congresswoman Greene. But this also raises the question of why those inventing and perpetrating lies do so. The specific example of Rep. Greene’s claim that 9/11 was a hoax and that no plane crashed into the Pentagon presents an interesting case.

Of course, the conspiracy theorists do not claim that planes didn’t crash into the World Trade towers, too many of us saw it in real time on TV (I watched in horror from my hotel room in Bratislava, Slovakia). They claim that the U.S. Government was complicit and that the buildings were brought down by planted explosives, etc. In short, they developed clever, even plausible but highly improbable arguments for not believing what the press reported.  https://www.serendipity.li/wot/911_a_hoax.htm

Some years ago, probably sometime in 2002 or 3, one of my children sent me a video claiming that the 9/11 crash into the Pentagon was a hoax. I no longer remember the details of the lengthy arguments it made to convince us that American Airlines flight 77 never crashed into the Pentagon that day and did not kill the 184 people the press reported, but it was well done and convincing. If I had not had directly contradictory information, I might have wondered whether these claims of hoaxes might be true.

First of all, I knew from an acquaintance (Lawyer Ted Olson) that his wife Barbara had died in that crash. Secondly, at the time, I lived next to the Pentagon in Crystal City and could view firsthand the crash site after returning home from Slovakia (the hole in the west side of the building and the plane wreckage laid out in the Pentagon parking lot). The impressive and potentially convincing story in the video was totally made up. But why? The video was expensive to make. Perhaps psychologists can shed light on why gullible people fall for these lies, but what motivates those who put up the money to propagate what they know full well are lies?

Who has an incentive to undermine the American public’s confidence in its government and institutions? Who has an incentive to weaken the United States via a distrusting public turning on itself? The devil himself, of course, but who else? Q? Followers of QAnon “believe that “Q” is a high-ranking government insider, presumably with a military or intelligence background, committed to exposing the hidden truth of what they see as an international bureaucracy scheming against Mr. Trump and his supporters.” “What is QAnon-what we know about the conspiracy theory” Russia? Russia has been playing both sides against the middle in the U.S. for years.

And what about Rep Greene, herself? Is she one of the gullible followers or knowing perpetrators?  In a private meeting of Republicans in the Capital Wednesday evening she apparently expressed “contrition for some of her most outrageous comments made on social media — including questioning the 9/11 attacks, blaming a space ray directed by a Jewish cabal for a deadly wildfire and doubting school shootings. She also, according to Republicans in the room, apologized for putting her colleagues in a difficult spot.” But she has not repudiated any of her outrageous claims publicly.  “’I won’t back down. I’ll never apologize. And I’ll always keep fighting for the people,’ she tweeted Saturday.” “Amid GOP paralysis democrats vow to force vote on rep Greene’s extremism”

“While McCarthy on Wednesday condemned Greene’s comments questioning the veracity of school shootings, encouraging political violence and promulgating anti-Semitic falsehoods, he said he would not bow to demands that she be removed from her committees.” [op. cit.] I have sympathy for McCarthy’s position but a tent big enough to include people like Greene is not one I am willing to reenter. Vladimir Putin must be smiling.

We will never be able to prevent the devil in one guise or another from manufacturing lies in efforts to keep us divided and at each other’s throats. But we can and should better educate our public to critically assess wild claims and more carefully choose more reliable sources of information.

Social Distancing

Research lead by Neil Ferguson and his colleagues at Imperial College London suggests that a staggering 2.2 million would die in the United States and 510,000 in Britain if nothing is done by governments and individuals to stop the pandemic (no social distancing or hand washing, etc.).  Imperial College London study  The U.S. was late and bumbling in addressing the Novel Coronavirus coming from China in December. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) refused to authorize the use of tests approved by the EU and the test developed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was flawed and had to be withdrawn. The United States remains embarrassing and dangerously behind other countries in testing and other preparations for dealing with the disease.  “Coronavirus-testing-delays-caused-red-tape-bureaucracy-scorn-private-companies”

Unable now to contain the virus in a targeted way, the U.S. has largely shut down its schools, theaters, restaurants and other places of public gatherings as well as flights from abroad. The Ferguson “report concludes that the British government might be able to keep the number of dead below 20,000 by enforcing social distancing for the entire population, isolating all cases, demanding quarantines of entire households where anyone is sick and closing all schools and universities — for 12 to 18 months, until a vaccine is available”. A comparable figure for the U.S. implies a reduction in the death rate to 86,000.

For perspective, traffic accidents in the U.S. in 2017 killed 40,100.  More than forty-seven thousand committed suicide that year and 55,672 died from influenza and pneumonia. When compared with ordinary flu, covid-19 spreads more rapidly and is ten times as deadly, but we still do not know very much else about its properties.  But, we can expect a relatively large number of deaths from this new virus no matter what we do.  But doing nothing will increase deaths considerably.

What steps should the U.S. take?  We don’t ban cars because people die in them. We choose to take calculated risks if they are not “excessive”.  https://wcoats.blog/2016/12/27/our-risks-from-terrorists/

The extreme measures being taken in the U.S. proceeded without serious estimates of the economic costs to the economy and the spill over health risks of children kept home with vulnerable grandparents, etc.  “The CDC guidelines advised that short- and medium-term school closures do not affect the spread of the virus and that evidence from other countries shows places that closed schools, such as Hong Kong, ‘have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not,’ such as Singapore.  But this guidance was not released until Friday [March 13], after the cascade of school closings had begun.”  “States-are-rushing-to-close-schools-but-what-does-the-science-on-closures-say”

Our extreme reaction will generate huge costs that cannot be fully known reverberating for years to come. We can be pretty certain that there will be unintended, undesirable consequences quite beyond the disruption of our pleasurable, cultural activities (bankruptcies of otherwise viable firms and the resulting loss of jobs, etc.). The government (congress and the administration working together for a change) is attempting to anticipate and ameliorate as many of those consequences as possible. One example of the search for cost effective balance of cost and mitigation involves the stopping of flights from Europe.  The cost of monitoring arriving airline passengers before boarding abroad is very likely cheaper than the economic disruption and damage of forbidding foreign visitors at all.  Following Trump’s announcement of the travel ban (once his team sorted out and clarified what he was actually imposing) the American Civil Liberties Union announced, “These measures are extraordinary incursions on liberty and fly in the face of considerable evidence that travel bans and quarantines can do more harm than good.”

Unlike the U.S., Britain has not closed its schools and restaurants. But as I am writing this, the UK just announced that its schools will close Friday March 20.  The Patriot Act passed quickly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001 (for those of you too young to remember) reminds us how quickly and easily we surrender our revered liberties when we are scared.  Almost 19 years after 9/11 we still have the dangerously intrusive provisions of the Patriot Act.  Once freedoms are surrendered and the government steps in it seems to be hard to regain them.  The extreme measures being taken in the U.S. and elsewhere to slow the spread of covid-19 provide us with the latest example.

On March 16, Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, reported that models based on data available so far indicated that the biggest reduction in deaths came from “social distancing, small groups, not going in public in large groups. But the most important thing was if one person in the household became infected, the whole household self-quarantined for 14 days. Because that stops 100 percent of the transmission outside of the household,”

The biggest bang for the buck comes from individuals protecting themselves by social distancing, hand washing, and normal (and perhaps enhanced) care to avoid the sick and avoid exposing others when we are sick as we generally do now. Clear public health guidance from the government could go (would have gone) a long way to encourage the enhancement of such diligence.  The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts never closed down during the flu season.

Covid-19 calls for vigorous government action, even now when it is too late to stop it any time soon. We will need extra hospital beds, medicine, respirators, protective gear, replacements for infected health workers, vaccine research, development, manufacture and administration and more.  Soon we will require replacements for the many brave health care workers such as nurses and doctors as they also become infected with the virus. But as with all decisions, private and public, a careful assessment of costs and benefits of different courses of action will produce the best result.  Knowledgeable public information to guide the natural protective self-interests of each of us and our usual concern and respect for the well-being of our families, friends and neighbors can carry us a long way toward minimizing the further spread of this disease at minimal cost to lives and property.

P.S.  In my previous blog of March 15 (Covid-19, why aren’t we prepared) I reported Beth Cameron’s claim that the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense was disbanded in May 2018.  Ms. Cameron was its director at the time.  Yesterday Tim Morrison, director of the successor unit for a year in 2018-19, “No-white-house-didn’t-dissolve-its-pandemic-response-office”, explained that its staff and function were merged with two other units performing overlapping functions in order to improve efficiency without a loss of its capacity “to do everything possible within the vast powers and resources of the U.S. government to prepare for the next disease outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic or pandemic.”  I apologize for misrepresenting what happened and expect Mr. Morrison to apologize for the disastrous failure of his unit to fulfill its mandate.

Alex Jones

Alex Jones and his Infowars website have been removed and banned from YouTube, Facebook, Apple, and Spotify among the most popular social media platforms.  As of this moment, Twitter claims to be reviewing CNN claims that Jones and Infowars violate Twitter’s standards.  What should we think about this?

Jones has made many ridiculously false claims, such as the belief that Sept. 11 was an inside job, that the Sandy Hook massacre never happened and that Michelle Obama is a transgendered person with male genitalia.  “An InfoWars video posted in July 2018 falsely declared that the ‘CIA admits transgenderism is a plot to depopulate humanity.’” Twitter-Infowars-Alex Jones But accuracy and honesty haven’t been criteria for banning posts or President Trump’s tweeter account would have been closed long ago. Who is to decide whose lies can be tweeted and whose can’t?

Hate speech, which violates Twitter’s rules, is another matter, as is the promotion of violence.  Twitter’s rules state that it does “not tolerate” content “that degrades someone.”  President Trump violates this rule as well on a regular bases.

What should we do about the lies and hate that are regularly posted on the Internet?  I agree with Kimberly Ross who said that: “It is imperative that we don’t view those like Alex Jones, who peddle in fear-mongering and lies, as harmless. In fact, we should actively call out such appalling behavior….  We should never wait around for the Left to come in and clean up our side.  We should do that ourselves.  Individuals like Jones who manufacture outrage and spread falsehoods should find that the market on the Right for their wares is minuscule.”  Dont-defend-Alex-Jones-but-dont-let-the-government-get-into-censorship-either

Several important policy issues arise from this.  We should challenge what we believe to be lies and hatred ourselves.  Our First Amendment protection of free speech rightly prevents the government from deciding what is true and what is hateful and banning it.  Few of us would be happy letting Stephen Miller, a nasty minded White House Adviser, determine what could be posted on Facebook about American experience with immigrants.  Jonathan Rauch has updated his wonderful book Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought,in which he argues that the best defense against fake news and hateful speech is to exercise our free speech to challenge it.  Kindly-Inquisitors-Attacks-Free-Thought. See also his short essay on this subject:  “Who-will-regulate-hate-speech”.

Facebook and Twitter are private companies and should be free to set whatever policies for access that they want.  On the other hand they come close to being public utilities like telephone companies and Internet access providers who should not be allow to block access to the Alex Joneses of the world because they lie and spread hate.  This deserves further thought.

Turning to government to protect us from every unpleasantry we might encounter weakens us and takes us in the wrong direction.  Those who defend protecting us from hate speech with “safe zones” and “trigger warnings” reflect a paternalistic attitude toward the responsibilities of our government and of ourselves as citizens of a free society.  Like the well-meaning, but ultimately harmful, helicopter moms, we risk creating a society of wimps dependent on government for far more than is healthy for a free society.  Part of our training as we grow up and encounter a sometimes nasty world should be to stand up and challenge falsehood and hate when we encounter it.  Safe zones deprive us of such training.  It’s our job to counter lies and hate, not the government’s.

Are We Becoming A Nation of Cowards?

“No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

James Madison, April 20, 1795

Osama Bin Laden’s vendetta against the United States grew out of his anger over our stationing American troops in his home country of Saudi Arabia. Imagine for a moment what might be his most cost efficient weapons for hurting the U.S.  What might give him the biggest bang for the buck? Shutting 19 American Embassies and related diplomatic facilities in the Middle East for at least a week on the basis of intercepted communications between al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri in Pakistan and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, who heads the al-Qaeda franchise in the Arabian peninsula, would be high on the list. Such reactions to intel, which could well be a deliberate planted by clever Arabs, must have the ghost of Bin Laden laughing hysterically (if it is possible to imagine Bin Laden laughing at all).

I still carry in my travel bag a nail clipper missing the little nail file that a Miami airport guard broke off as a potentially dangerous carry on weapon not too long after 9/11. It has taken 12 years for our government (the Orwellian named Department of Homeland Security) to figure out a way for me to board planes without taking out my computer and taking off my belt and shoes. At least the perpetual alert status of code Orange has been dropped.

These are minor inconveniences compared to the cost and danger of the billions and billions of dollars spent by NSA and others to invade our privacy (for our own good, of course) in order to better search for needles in hay stacks that might detect plots to harm us (such as the Boston marathon bombings—Upps). We are assured that these data will never be searched by a rogue bureaucrat looking for dirt on political enemies. We are reassured because our political leaders never lie to us.  For example, when National Intelligence director James Clapper informed a Senate Intelligence Committee last March that the government was not “wittingly” collecting information on millions of Americans, he later justified the lie by saying that it was the least dishonest statement he was comfortable making.

Gregory Johnsen, an expert on Yemen at Princeton, recently noted the unrealistic and dangerous expectations of the American public (at least as our government sees or would like to see them):“Unfortunately the way we in the US have talked about the terror threat as a society AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] doesn’t have to be particularly good or even successful to constitute a serious threat.  As a society we in the US seem to have a zero-tolerance approach to terrorism instead of weighing its risks against other potential threats.  In such an environment any threat from AQAP could be considered serious.” (reported by Foreign Policy Magazine)

I am not one to see conspiracies everywhere, but this latest scare is a nice distraction for recent revelations of potentially dangerous and at a minimum wastefully expensive government over reaches in the name of keeping us safe (Snowden’s NSA and other revelations). This mornings Washington Post has two op-ed pieces on this subject that you should read. The first by Eugene Robinson, “The New Al-Qaeda Menace” /2013/08/05/, is correct in my view. The second (just below it) by Juan Zarate and Thomas Sanderson,  “Adapting to Terrorism 2.0”,  is down right scary. George Orwell’s big brother could not have made the case better for bigger and more intrusive government for our own good. Are they deliberately trying to destroy our liberties or are they over zealot fools. Probably the latter.

Over the centuries our young men and ladies have risked and often lost their lives to keep us free. How ironic that in the name of keeping us secure our liberties are being increasingly eroded and threatened. It is worth reading a more extensive excerpt from James Madison’s prescient April 20, 1795 “Political Observations” quoted above:

“Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.

“War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.

“In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.

“The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered in both.

“No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

“War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it.

“In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them.

“In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle.

“The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.”

–James Madison, from “Political Observations,” April 20, 1795 in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, Volume IV, page 491.

Comments on my 9/11 post

Thanks, Warren,

We were then in Bratislava… I was the first to speak after Michael and the Muslim speaker (forgot the name)…  I also remember that we cut the coffee break to listen to Becker’s and Horowitz’ assessments of the impacts — months later it turned out their on-the-back-of-an-envelope calculations were very precise.

Regards.

Krassen [Stanchev]

_________________________

Warren

Your “Remembering 9/11..” is eloquent and incisive. Would that we can turn back the unleashed Leviathan; and, with amends, again become a beacon on a hill.

John [Sainsbury

________________________

Dear Warren,

Excellent commentary on 9/11, and the insane government wars in the Middle East……

I was in NY that fateful day, having arrived a week earlier to take over as prez of FEE.  For the next week the phones went dead, nobody called, and we had my first big FEE dinner scheduled in a month at the Harvard Club with Paul Gigot as the speaker.  My first decision was whether to cancel or not.  I decided that if necessary we would hold our first FEE dinner around the dinner table…..Fortunately, the phones came alive and we had over 200 attend.

Did you see that Pres Obama read Psalm 46 yesterday at 911 ceremony?  It’s called Shakespeare’s psalm.  If you look at the 46th word in Psalm 46 and combine it with the 46th word counting backwards from the end of the psalm, you’ll see why……

All the best, AEIOU,

Mark

Mark Skousen

____________________________

Dear Warren

Thank you for sending this e-mail…I really liked your article, thought-provoking and balanced. I spent most of the summer in Princeton doing research and missed not getting together with you for lunch during the summer. During one of my visits this fall, let’s try to meet for lunch.

My best.

Iqbal [Zaidi]

Remembering 9/11– Bratislava, Slovakia

As my generation did for many years following the assassination of JFK, we today remember where we were and what we were doing on the day ten years ago that 19 Middle Eastern terrorists hijacked and crashed four American passenger planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in rural Pennsylvania.

On September 11, 2001 I was in Bratislava, Slovakia (the former Czechoslovakia’s eastern half). I had combined an IMF technical assistance visit to Slovakia’s central bank with a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society, the free market group established over 50 years earlier by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. I returned to my hotel room around 3:00 pm (9:00 am in New York and Washington, DC) to an email from IMF security announcing that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I turned on the television and watched in shock and disbelief as a second plane crashed into the other tower. Then a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, and I wondered if this was the beginning or the end of the attacks.

I called my Icelandic friend Hannes Gissurarson, a member of the board of Iceland’s central bank, who was also attending the MPS meetings. “Hannes, you will not believe what has happened. I don’t want to watch this alone. Please come.”  For the next few hours we sat in front of the television emptying the liquor from my refrigerator and then his. We watched in real-time as the two towers collapsed. I remember thinking that they fell so perfectly straight down that it looked like a Hollywood stunt. I was hoping disparately that it was. We did not see any of the people who jumped or fell to their deaths from the towers, which were not visible or shown at that time (thank God).

Michael Novak, a fellow MPS member, called a meeting to meditate together on these events. Michael has a comforting way of talking about difficult things and the gathering was helpful. Many other friends were there, including Richard Rahn and Marian Tupy.

Later in the evening Hannes and I decided to take a walk. As we walked through the lobby of our hotel, the hotel clerks expressed their heart-felt sympathy. We walked the seven or eight blocks to the American Embassy where we saw people placing flowers and small American flags outside of the Embassy. I was very touched by these displays of sympathy and friendship but felt dazed.

Three days later I was finally able to get a flight home, which was a few blocks from the Pentagon. The hole in western side of the five sided building made by American Airlines flight 77 seemed small considering that it had been made by a very large Boeing 757. It  dramatized just how huge the Pentagon is. Barbara Olson, the wife of the United States Solicitor General at the time (and currently a defender of Marriage Equality in the California appeal of Proposition 8), was one of the 64 people on that plane who died when it crashed into the Pentagon killing an additional 125 people in the building.

The positive side of this tragedy was the outpouring of sympathy and support around the word and the strengthened unity among all Americans. As Ronald Reagan had put it: America is a beacon on a hill. We have created a government that is meant to service us, not the other way around. We have established a society in which very diverse people with very diverse personal beliefs and ambitions live peacefully together (most of the time) because our constitution and our beliefs provide considerable space for such diversity. We require that others respect our property and our space in turn for which we respect theirs. To a large extent we can prosper on the basis of our efforts and the extent to which they satisfy the needs and wants of others in the market place.

The world respected and envied American society. The idea, circulated by a few Neanderthals, that Al Qaeda attacked us because they resented our freedoms, was a silly lie. They resented our troops on their soil (Saudi Arabia) and our intrusions into their countries and affairs. If our leaders had understood that correctly, and fashioned policies accordingly, perhaps we would have retained the respect of the rest of the world over the next ten years after 9/11.

Instead, we have lost thousands of American lives and Afghanistan and Iraq have lost  multiples of that. We have weakened our economic strength and thus our military strength by squandering several trillion dollars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. We have traded off more of our liberties and way of life in the name of security (the infamous “War on Terror”) than we should have. We have lost the respect and support of much of the world.

A poll taken in the U.S. near the end of August found that: “Six in ten Americans believe that the U.S. weakened its economy by overspending in its responses to the 9/11 attacks. In particular, respondents felt this was especially true of the U.S. mission in Iraq. Two out of three Americans perceive that over the decade since 9/11, U.S. power and influence in the world has declined. This view is highly correlated with the belief that the U.S. overspent in its post-9/11 response efforts — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The “Patriot Act” and the “Department of Homeland Security” are names that could have been proposed by “Big Brother” in Orwell’s 1984. How could our government have chosen such names and more importantly how could we have let it. The constant announcements at airports to be on the alert—the flashing signs along the main streets of Washington, DC to report any suspicious activities to XXXXX, are right out of 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Former Vice President Cheney writes without embarrassment that we were right to torture terrorists. I get extremely uncomfortable sitting in the same room with Paul Wolfowitz at AEI. Hopefully I would get up and leave if John Bolton walked in. What has happened to us?

Big Brother/Big Government, however well-meaning, are dangerous to what made us great. They create self-interests that work night and day to direct government spending and policies to their benefit rather than to the nations benefit. That is just how governments work and why our founding fathers were so concerned to limit its scope as much as possible. Governments work best to serve the broad social (national) interest when they provide impartial enforcement of private agreements (courts) and property rights (police and army) and the basic infrastructure of commerce (roads, water, sewage disposal).

Though with every nibble and further intrusion into what was once the private sector Leviathan grows stronger and more dangerous, we don’t have to lose the principles that made us great and made us the envy of the world. We can again be the beacon on the hill that cares about each and every person and thus mankind and sets an example of respect for our fellow-man that others will want to emulate.

But we cannot each have everything in the social sphere exactly the way we each want it. We must live together in cooperation in the pubic sphere. This requires compromises whenever the government is involved (there are not enough desert islands for each of us to each have everything our own way). Thus the broadly accepted need to eliminate our government’s deficit in the future and bring its cumulative debt down to lower levels relative to our economic output over the coming decade or two can only be achieved if each side compromises a few things in order to reach a common agreement on how to do it (what to cut and what taxes to adjust). The President’s largely ignored Debt Commission set out a good basis for such compromises last year. I hope that we can come together again to find an agreement and again become a nation we can be proud of and that is again respected by our neighbors around the world.