Friday, September 23, 2011

Troy Davis and the minority death penalty

This week’s execution of convicted cop-killer Troy Davis in Georgia had sparked protests and appeals for clemency from around the world. Even many people who normally support the death penalty believed that with the recanted testimonies of several prosecution witnesses, there was too much doubt to allow the execution of Davis to proceed.

In many cases, the race of the defendant is a factor in opposition to the death penalty. Critics have long charged that there is discrimination in the application of the death penalty. According to, blacks make up about 12 percent of the US population and 30 percent of the population of Georgia. Hispanics make up 16 percent of the US population and eight percent of Georgia’s.

In contrast, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, the number of blacks on death row and who have already been executed is out of proportion the percentage of blacks in the general population. Recent statistics show that 44 percent of death row inmates are white and an approximately equal percentage, 42 percent, are black. Hispanics make up 12 percent of death row inmates. In the past, 56 percent of executed inmates have been white. Thirty-five percent of past executions have killed blacks and seven percent have killed Hispanics. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, blacks are imprisoned at a much higher rate than Latinos or whites.

Rather than racism, the racial disparity on death row and in our prisons can most likely be attributed to the disintegration of the black family over the past half century. President Obama recognized the problem in a Father’s Day address in 2008 when he said, “More than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled — doubled — since we were children.” According to Politifact, the percentage of black single parent families has risen from 22 percent in 1960 to 54 percent in 2006.

Put another way, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 67 percent of black children grow in single-parent homes, as do 53 percent of American Indians and 40 percent of Hispanics. The percentage of white children in single-family homes, 24 percent, is much less but still significant.

Many of these fatherless children end up inside prisons. Troy Davis was one. According to the Savannah Morning News, Davis’ mother divorced his father when Troy was very young. The oldest of five children, Troy was forced to grow up at an early age.

Without positive male role models, many children from single-parent families get into trouble with the law according to statistics on Children who grow up without fathers are twice as likely to become juvenile delinquents or teenage mothers. Seventy percent of long term prison inmates, 60 percent of rapists, and 75 percent of juvenile murderers grew up without fathers. Children without fathers are more likely to drop out of school and are 40 times more likely to become victims of child abuse.

By the time children reach their teens or, as with Troy Davis, they are sent to prison or death row, it is often too late. Chuck Colson, himself a former inmate, started Prison Fellowship in 1977 as a ministry to reach out to prisoners and their families. The ministries of Prison Fellowship include Angel Tree, which gives Christmas presents to the children of prison inmates, and Innerchange, a faith-based program for prisoners that focuses on rehabilitation instead of merely punishing prisoners.

Much of the blame for the destruction of the black family unit can ultimately be traced to well-intentioned federal programs. As Walter Williams explained in the Wall Street Journal, “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn't do, what Jim Crow couldn't do, what the harshest racism couldn't do, and that is to destroy the black family.”

The fatherless upbringing of Troy Davis does not excuse his shooting of Michael Cooper, his assault on Larry Young, or his murder of Mark MacPhail, but it does help us to understand why he committed those crimes. More importantly, it gives us clues about how to keep from raising another generation of violent criminals.

The answer to the problem of greater percentages of minorities on death row or incarcerated in our prisons is not to impose racial quotas on the death chamber or to release large numbers of convicted criminals back into society. The way to address the problem of crime by children from single-parent families is to address the problem of single-parent families. Steps must be taken to minimize divorce and promote stable marriages. This is the way to save the next Troy Davis.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Palestinian statehood move in UN may spark Mid East Again

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has indicated that he will petition the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a national state as early as this Friday. When the UN takes up the question of Palestinian statehood over the next few weeks, it may well spark another explosive confrontation in the Middle East.

At first glance, bestowing statehood on the Palestinians makes about as much sense as deeming that Georgia and the other southern states are still part of the Confederate States of America and are merely occupied by the United States. Many observers may be confused as to how a group of people without land could be considered a nation. The fact that the Palestinian Authority does not possess a defined territory, one of four requirements for national recognition under the 1933 Montevideo Convention, is part of the legal case against Palestinian statehood in a recent Wall Street Journal column.

There was once a Palestinian state. When the UN voted in 1948 to create the modern state of Israel, it also created an Arab state (see map here). On the first day of Israel’s existence, it was attacked by the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. When the war ended in 1949, Israel’s size had increased with its battlefield successes (see map here). Israel occupied some of the land that had been set aside for an Arab state. Other parts of the Arab state were occupied by Arab nations. Transjordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza. The West Bank and Gaza were among the lands later captured by Israel in the Six Day War of 1968.

Mahmoud Abbas has said that Palestinians have been living under Israeli occupation for 63 years, which means that Abbas considers the beginning of the occupation to be the 1948 war. This would seem to indicate that Abbas wants the Arab state to include not only the West Bank, but approximately half of Israel as well.

Abbas’ position is in keeping with the Arab pattern of refusing all peace proposals that does not end Israel’s existence. In 2001, Yasir Arafat turned down an Israeli proposal to give the Palestinians 91 percent of the West Bank. Even when Israel unilaterally withdraws from occupied territory, as it did from Gaza in 2005, there is no peace. Gaza residents promptly voted to place the terrorist group Hamas in charge. Gaza has since been used a base to launch rockets into Israel, leading to another war in Gaza in 2008. An earlier withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 allowed Hezbollah to fill the void. Israel fought another war in Lebanon in 2006 after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.

CNN reports that 120 of the 193 members of the UN General Assembly favor Palestinian statehood. A General Assembly vote would be nonbinding, however. The binding vote would take place on the 15-member Security Council. To his credit, President Obama has promised a US veto of the matter if it comes before the Security Council.

If Palestine is declared to be an Arab state, it would give the Palestinians access to international bodies such as the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Council. This would give the Arabs more avenues to attack Israel diplomatically as well as giving their military attacks against Israel more legitimacy. There is also an outside chance that they might one day persuade other countries to put together a coalition backed by a UN resolution that would attempt to oust Israel from the occupied territories militarily, although this would almost certainly face a US veto as well.

In the end, UN consideration of a Palestinian state would be likely to inflame passions on both sides and make peace even more difficult to achieve. Tensions have already been rising between Israel and Turkey and Egypt in past months. Merely introducing the question of Palestinian statehood would further exacerbate the problem. A US veto would likely cause further anti-Americanism in the region as well.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Israel is Georgia’s 23rd largest trading partner. In 2010, Georgia’s exports to Israel totaled more than $164 million. Trade between Israel and Georgia is increasing. Israeli trade with Georgia in 2010 increased by more than 42 percent from 2009.

It is unlikely that any peace attempts in the Middle East will meet with success until the Palestinians renounce violence. The Israelis have demonstrated their willingness to trade land for peace several times, but their unilateral withdrawals have been interpreted as weakness by the Arabs. Peace will require a willingness by the Muslims to coexist with the Jews. At this point, they are not.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More 9/11 myths

In memory of the victims of the 9/11 attacks and the casualties in the war against the terrorists since then, the Atlanta Conservative Examiner is addressing some of the conspiracies surrounding 9/11 in the hope that sanity will prevail and that Americans can once against unite against a very real and common enemy instead of wasting time and resources chasing phantoms. Six Georgians died in the attacks, eight Georgians died in Afghanistan and 124 Georgians were killed in Iraq. Let us honor their memory and the sacrifice of the thousands of other Americans and Georgians who served or were wounded in action by fighting the real enemy: Al Qaeda and radical Islam.

After the recent Atlanta Conservative Examiner article, “the truth about the September 11 attacks,” there was a lot of feedback, both from conspiracy believers and skeptics. Conspiracy believers pointed out several conspiracies that were not addressed in the article. Some of these other theories and claims will be addressed here.

A potentially explosive claim made by one conspiracy site is that the cockpit door on American 77, the flight that hit the Pentagon, was monitored on the flight data recorder and that this data showed the door was never opened. The site claims that the FDR data was obtained from the NTSB under the Freedom of Information Act and that the cockpit door parameter shows that the door did not open in flight. The site claims that this information was discovered eight years after the fact by an Australian researcher.

This claim cannot be closely examined because the link on the site’s page that purports to allow a download of the FDR data is a dead link. As a professional pilot, I can say that it is unlikely that the cockpit door was monitored on the FDR. Prior to 9/11, cockpit doors were not hardened as they are today and it is unlikely that they were monitored.

An acquaintance who worked in the training department at Delta Air Lines before and after 9/11 agrees that cockpit doors were probably not monitored. He suspects that the monitoring parameter on the FDR, if it actually existed at all, may have represented an electric mechanism that allowed the pilots to unlock the cockpit door without getting out of their seats. This mechanism could be monitored, but the door could also be opened manually.

He also notes that the sound of the door opening might have been picked up on the cockpit voice recorder. Unfortunately, CVRs only record for about 30 minutes. Additionally, according to the NTSB report, the CVR was extensively damaged and the magnetic tape inside was “fused into a solid block of charred plastic.” A photo of the CVR shows the damage from the crash.

Another claim is that Marvin Bush, brother to President Bush, was in charge of security at the World Trade Center on 9/11. This claim is easily disproved. The real head of security for the WTC was John O’Neill, a retired FBI agent. O’Neill was killed in the attacks. Ultimately, the WTC was owned by the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J. so the Port Authority Police were responsible for security. goes further to debunk the Marvin Bush claim. Bush’s company, Securacom (later called Stratesec), did have a contract to help

install security systems in the WTC after the 1993 bombing. This contract ended in 1998 according the company’s SEC filings. Bush left the company in 2000, and despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that Wirt Walker, the firm’s current head, is a Bush relative. Even if Bush’s company had been actively working at the WTC on 9/11, it would be irrelevant since the towers were attacked from the outside by airliners. Additionally, the mere presence of a Bush family member is not evidence of any crime or conspiracy.

The conpiricists charge that the WTC must have been destroyed by explosive charges, claiming that it was the first time in history that a steel building collapsed from a fire. In particular, they point to Building 7, which was not struck by an airliner, and the fact that the buildings seemed to fall straight down, rather than to the side. In reality, no steel skyscraper had ever been hit by an airliner before. No steel-framed buildings had ever been left to burn for six hours without firefighting.

Charles Zimmerman, a Ga. Tech educated Structural Engineer, explains what happened: “Under normal temperatures, the bolted connections of the beams to girders or columns are simple shear connections and do not induce any significant tension in the bolts. However, under much higher sustained temperatures, the steel beams begin to sag like a cable, which introduces tension forces into the bolts in addition to the shear forces for which they were designed, causing brittle failures of the connections. If it is a girder connection to a column, it may cause an entire bay of floor beams to collapse onto the next lower level. The impact load of a floor collapsing onto the floor below is a dynamic load and is a much greater force than just its weight, because it is a moving load. This creates a collapse mechanism called "pancaking" which can continue all the way down the building with one floor collapsing onto the floor below, causing it to collapse, and so forth. While the loss of floors at some levels of a building reduces loads on the columns that once supported them, it also increases their unbraced lengths, which weakens their strength and their ability to support the floors above the removed floors. So the columns begin to fail at the levels [where] floors are lost and the entire building above begins to collapse.”

Zimmerman continues: “Where the fire was located on WTC 7, there were a number of collection girders and trusses to allow more open spaces uninterrupted by columns at lower levels, such that the failure of one of these collection elements due to the heat of the fire made it more vulnerable to progressive collapse. The Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was likewise vulnerable to progressive collapse for this reason, but from blast rather than fire loads.”

With respect to the failure of the Air Force to intercept the airliners, Col. Marc Sasseville, one of the first fighter pilots launched on 9/11, recently told his story in the Wall Street Journal. Sasseville was given the authority to shoot down threatening aircraft. The problem was that his aircraft, launched on short notice, had no missiles and carried only training ammunition. Sasseville decided that if he had to, he would try to disable a hijacked aircraft by crashing his fighter into it.

Additionally, there was not enough time to perform an intercept in most cases. According to the 9/11 Commission report (pp.32-33), in the case of American Flight 11, the first place to be hijacked and the first to crash into the WTC, there were only 27 minutes between the notification of the hijacking and the crash. United Flight 75, the second plane to hit the WTC, crashed 11 minutes after the hijacking was discovered. American Flight 77 went the longest between discovery of the hijacking and crashing at 32 minutes, but NEADS (Northeast Air Defense Sector) was only notified by the FAA three minutes prior to the crash at the Pentagon. United Flight 93 was discovered to have been hijacked 29 minutes before it crashed. NEADS was not notified by the FAA until after the crash. On all except UAL 175, the transponders were turned off by the hijackers, making it more difficult to track the planes. On UAL 175, the hijackers evidently tried to turn off the transponder, but only succeeded in changing it to a different code.

Another claim made on some sites is that the phone calls from the hijacked aircraft could not have happened because that technology had not been invented on 9/11. The reality is that phones were installed on airliners as early as the 1980s. As the planes flew lower to approach their targets, even personal cell phones may been able to make calls.

There are further holes in the 9/11 conspiracies as well. Apparently no one has developed a rational motive for anyone except al Qaeda to have carried out the attacks. If it was as an excuse to attack Iraq, then why blame Osama bin Laden, attack Afghanistan, and then wait 18 months to invade Iraq? Claims that it was to provide a rationale for cracking down on civil liberties or installing a U.S. dictatorship have been proven false by events. Likewise, no New World Order has arisen from the ashes of the WTC. Theories about Israel’s involvement seem similarly fanciful.

Osama bin Laden admitted to the attacks in a video message in 2004. Al Qaeda had a history of attacking American targets that included the 1993 WTC bombing, bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. In a prelude to the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda agents assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance, on September 9, 2001. This was meant to enable the Taliban to crush the Northern Alliance and prevent U.S. aid against the Afghan overlords. Conpiricists typically ignore these facts or else claim that they are hoaxes, as they do to anything that does not fit their narrow worldview.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the reasoning of the conpiricists is the existence of the conspiracies themselves. Would a government or entity that would sacrifice 3,000 people allow its actions to be made public? It seems more likely that such an organization would squelch the publication of books and movies that exposed their nefarious deeds and make the authors quietly disappear. Perhaps Alex Jones and his fellow conspiracy mongers should watch out.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Troy Davis: Is Georgia really about to execute an innocent man?

It is said that prisons are full of innocent men. Virtually no prisoners ever admit to guilt. Many believe that Troy Davis, a Savannah man convicted of the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer, may be a truly innocent man.

Davis, nicknamed “Rah” for “rough as hell” by neighborhood kids, was actually a nice person his neighbors told the Savannah Morning News at the time. Neighbors said he was “like a big brother” to local children, but according to a former teacher he was “a dumb kid and a worse student.” Davis had pled guilty to carrying a concealed weapon in 1988 and, according a Morning News article, had been arrested for eluding an officer in a high speed chase several months before the shootings.

The case stems from the events of August 19, 1989 in Savannah. According to Savannah Now, Davis attended a party where he allegedly shot Michael Cooper in the face. After leaving the party, Davis became involved in an argument with Larry Young, a homeless man, and Sylvester “Red” Coles.

At some point, Mark Allen MacPhail, an off-duty, uniformed police officer who was working security at a local Burger King, attempted to intervene and was shot. MacPhail did not draw his own weapon and was shot twice, once in the heart and once in the face. Davis also allegedly pistol whipped Young. Davis claims that he left the scene before the shooting and ultimately left Savannah for Atlanta.

Coles, who claimed that he was the one who fled, told police the next day that Davis had shot MacPhail. Police converged on Davis’ house and searched it, taking a pair of Davis’ shorts. The shorts, which reportedly contained blood, were not allowed to be admitted as evidence because the judge ruled that the warrantless search was not necessary according to the Savannah Morning News. Davis returned to Savannah and surrendered to police on August 23, 1989.

The murder weapon was never recovered, but a ballistics expert testified that both Cooper and MacPhail could have been shot with the same gun. According to Amnesty International, the shell casings from the party matched one found by a homeless man at the Burger King. Much of the prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of witnesses who either specifically named Davis as the killer or who identified him by the white shirt that he wore that night. At the time, there seemed to be little question of Davis’ guilt, although he proclaimed his innocence in court and denied admitting the shootings to anyone.

At the trial, Harriette Murray, Larry Young’s girlfriend, stated that “Davis was the same person who hit Larry and shot the police [officer]” according to the Morning News coverage. She stated that Davis was wearing a white shirt.

In the same article, Coles, who said he wore a yellow shirt that night, also said that Davis hit Young. Coles said that Davis had carried a .38 pistol earlier at a pool hall. Coles said that he heard the first shot and started running. Coles admitted to owning a chrome .38, but said that he did not have the gun in his possession at the time of the shooting.

Other witnesses included Kevin McQueen, who claimed that Davis confessed to the killing while playing basketball in jail, and Michael Cooper, who said that Davis had argued with one of his friends at the party. The Morning News said Cooper did not know who shot him, but that Davis didn’t “know me well enough to shoot me.” Benjamin Gordon testified that the man who shot Cooper wore a white shirt and blue shorts, similar to Davis’ attire. Darrell Collins, who was with Davis at the party and at Burger King, said that Davis shot at the car carrying Cooper. Dorothy Ferrell identified Davis in court as the man who shot MacPhail. Both Gordon and Collins changed their stories on cross examination.

According to Savannah Now, there were other witnesses as well. Jeffrey Sapp testified that Davis had admitted shooting the officer in self-defense. Antoine Williams, who worked at the Burger King, and two Air Force enlisted men, Stephen Sanders and Robert Grizzard, agreed that the man who hit Young shot MacPhail. Williams and Sanders agreed with Murray and Ferrell that Davis was the killer.

Amnesty International cites three more witnesses: Monty Holmes, Larry Young, the homeless man, and Darrell Kinsman, another Air Force member. Kinsman could not identify the shooter, but said that the gun had a shiny finish and that the shooter held the gun in his left hand. Davis is right handed. Young identified Davis as the man who assaulted him by the color of his clothing. Holmes said that Davis admitted to him that he shot MacPhail.

Davis was convicted in the shootings of both Cooper and MacPhail, as well as the assault on Young. Since the trial in 1991, almost all of these witnesses have signed affidavits recanting their testimonies. In most cases, they claim that the police pressured or coerced them into testifying against Davis. Sylvester Coles, Harriette Murray, and Stephen Sanders have never recanted their testimonies.

Davis’ conviction predictably led to numerous appeals at both the state and federal levels. After the recantations and the new testimony from several witnesses that implicated Coles, the case garnered international attention. Celebrities from the Pope to Jimmy Carter to Bob Barr, a former Georgia congressman and presidential candidate, and William Sessions, a former FBI director, spoke out on Davis’ behalf.

In contrast to defense claims that the new evidence has not been heard, last year Davis was granted a hearing by the Supreme Court to prove his innocence, the first such hearing in 50 years according to the Atlanta Journal. At the hearing in federal court, the defense failed to subpoena Coles, so Judge William Moore did not allow hearsay evidence from witnesses who claimed that Coles had confessed to the killing.

In addition to not calling Coles to testify, the defense also did not call Larry Young and Dorothy Ferrell, two of the prosecution’s most important witnesses and who had by then recanted, to testify. Therefore, the judge could not examine their credibility. According to a article, Judge Moore called the recantations of Sapp and Collins “impossible to believe” and noted that Murray and Williams did not say that they lied at the trial or that they were coerced. The hearing in front of Judge Moore was Davis’ big chance to prove his innocence and the defense blew it.

Defense claims that Davis is innocent rely solely on the recanted testimonies of the witnesses. By definition, a witness who recants has lied and is no longer credible. The question that the courts must determine is whether the lie took place in the original trial or in the affidavit where the witness claimed to lie at the trial. It is not unreasonable to believe that Davis’ friends, who originally testified against him, want to prevent his execution 22 years later.

The recanted testimonies do nothing to challenge the physical evidence in the case. The fact that that the shell casings from the party where Michael Cooper was shot were a match for the shell casings from the Burger King where Officer MacPhail was shot is a damning piece of evidence. No one has alleged that Sylvester Coles, the only other suspect, was present at the party where Cooper was shot. This makes Davis the only viable suspect.

Davis’ shorts that were not admissible in his original trial were presented as evidence in the 2010 hearing. According to a WSAV report, a GBI report from 2007 indicated that there was a small amount of blood on the shorts, but not enough to do a DNA test. Even though the shell casings matched, the bullets taken from Cooper and MacPhail could not be conclusively matched.

For his part, Spencer Lawton, the Chatham County prosecutor who tried the case, told WTOC, a Savannah television station, in 2008 that he remains convinced of Davis’ guilt. Lawton says that the shell casings from the party shooting “exactly matched the shooting of Officer MacPhail” and that the defense wants “to condemn a fella [sic] named Coles on far less evidence than [on which] Davis was condemned.”

The date for his execution has been set three times previously, but was stayed by courts. It is unlikely that a court will intervene again to delay Davis’ execution after the failure to prove his innocence in 2010. The Georgia Parole Board will meet today to consider his case. If it denies his appeal for clemency, there will be few options left for Davis.

We will never know why Troy Davis, a “straight up fella,” shot and killed Mark MacPhail outside the Burger King that night in 1989, but the evidence is that he did.


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Photo Credit:  Worldwide Coalition Against the Death Penalty/Wikimedia

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Becoming a discerning internet user

Anyone who has spent any time on the internet knows that there are an abundance of fraudulent claims, hoaxes, and conspiracies. Cartersville, Ga. was the centerpiece of a 2008 hoax about rigged gas pumps and countless Georgians have received variations of the Nigerian email scam. The proliferation of such lies means that internet users need to learn how to separate fact from fantasy.

There are steps that that internet users can take to become more discerning about the information available on the internet. The first and most obvious step is to distinguish between trustworthy and unreliable websites. When looking for factual information, be leery of blogs and other websites that do not meet journalistic standards.

Wikipedia is a popular online encyclopedia site, but its articles can be edited by users. There have been several cases of false or unreliable information on Wikipedia. Wikipedia can be useful for an overview of a topic, but information found there should be verified elsewhere. Fortunately, Wikipedia entries are often footnoted with links to the source information.

Other websites have no such saving graces. World Net Daily is a news website that is less than credible. It is associated with a wide range of conspiracy theories including questioning Barack Obama’s birth certificate. The websites of Alex Jones, Infowars and Prison Planet, are notorious for propagating outlandish conspiracies on topics from 9/11 to UFOs. Documentaries posted on Youtube or other internet sites should also be treated with skepticism unless the creator of the piece can be determined to be credible. Articles by mainstream political groups and politicians may be so slanted that the truth is barely recognizable.

As a general rule, information should not be believed unless it can be independently verified by more than one source. In many cases, this can take a little searching. Sometimes this can be accomplished by following links in the article to the source. In other cases, it will involve using an online search engine such as Google or Bing.

Internet users should hone their innate BS detectors. If something sounds either too good or too outlandish to be true, it probably is. Atlanta consumer talk show host Clark Howard offers a list of resources for use in cases of suspected financial fraud. For internet rumors and conspiracies, there are several resources as well. The most famous of these is, but the Urban Legends page on and are recommended as well. Politifact and Factcheck are good resources for political claims, but both of these sites sometimes lean left.

Even on reliable sites, it is important to distinguish between commentary and factual reporting. For example, the Atlanta Journal is usually considered to be a fairly reliable source, but its columnists and bloggers merely state their opinions. Therefore, news items from can generally be trusted. On the contrary, statements by its famously left wing editorial writer Cynthia Tucker (who recently left to teach journalism at UGA) should be taken with a grain of salt.

Another clue that a website is unreliable is a fixation on how one group is conspiring for nefarious purposes. This could include racial groups, religious believers, corporations, or the government. Jews, Catholics, and Freemasons are favorite targets of conpiricists. The Illuminati, the Bilderbergers, UFOs, the United Nations, and a shadow U.S. and world government are also frequent topics on conspiracy sites.

In one recent example, the Atlanta Conservative Examiner was sent a link that purported to show recently unclassified National Security Agency documents detailing how extraterrestrial messages were decoded by government cryptologists. These documents immediately set off the BS detector because of the incredible claim that aliens had contacted Earth and that the government had decoded their message, published it on the internet, and all this had somehow been missed by the major news outlets. Googling the author of the report and the report’s title yielded only links that referred back to the original source document as proof of alien contact. Snopes and the debunker sites had no information.

Finally, an article on Open Minds (admittedly not a first tier site when it comes to credibility) was found several pages into the search results. It detailed how the messages were part of an NSA cryptology exercise from the 1960’s. As Sherlock Holmes said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Don’t believe everything you read. Use common sense and look for verification from objective, reliable sources.


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Photo credit:  Stuart Miles/

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Herman Cain unveils economic plan

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Georgia native Herman Cain unveiled the specifics of his economic plan for the first time today. Cain’s plan, called the “9-9-9 plan,” appeared on the editorial page of the September 15 Journal.

The core of Cain’s plan is a tax reform proposal that would replace current personal and corporate taxes with flat taxes at a 9 percent rate. Businesses would deduct business-to-business purchases and capital investment and then pay a nine percent flat tax on the remainder of their income. Individuals would deduct charitable deductions and pay a 9 percent tax on their remaining income. Capital gains would be excluded from taxation.

The third “9” would be a 9 percent national sales tax. This federal sales tax would be levied only on the sale of new goods. In a nod to the Fair Tax, Cain’s plan excludes used items from taxation. Cain would also eliminate the taxes on profits from international operations that are returned to the U.S., the payroll tax and the estate tax.

Cain believes that his tax reform plan would make U.S. businesses more competitive and help the economy begin to grow again. According to Cain, the tax reforms would be revenue neutral when they are implemented, but revenues would increase as the economy grows.

Cain also notes that he would repeal three laws that have caused severe damage to the economy. He calls the repeal of Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank financial reform, and Sarbanes-Oxley “critical steps” toward an economic recovery.

Cain’s plan also calls for taking steps to stabilize the dollar’s value, reducing spending and paying down the federal debt. He also favors free enterprise (empowerment) zones as a way to encourage investment in urban areas. In another recent WSJ editorial, economist Arthur Laffer describes free enterprise zones as areas where the government would suspend minimum wage laws, suspend or lower tax rates, and offer expedited approval of burdensome regulations.

Herman Cain is one of two Georgians competing for the Republican presidential nomination for 2012. He is a former business executive and radio talk show host on Atlanta’s WSB AM-750. A Tea Party favorite, Cain polled well initially, but has slipped over recent months. In the most recent Real Clear Politics average of polls, Cain claimed less than 5 percent of the vote. He trailed Perry, Romney, Palin, Paul, Bachmann and was in a statistical tie with the other Georgia candidate, Newt Gingrich.

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The Bible and taxes

In recent years, a recurring theme among progressives and liberals is that Christians have a duty to pay taxes and not resist tax increases because of Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 22:21 to “render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's” when asked by the Pharisees if Jews should pay tribute or taxes to the Roman government. According to this line of reasoning, modern Americans should happily pay ever-increasing taxes because Jesus said that the Roman coins belonged to Caesar.

Progressives also point out that Jesus, on numerous occasions instructed his followers to help the poor. His instruction to the rich, young ruler in Matthew 19:21 was to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. In Luke 6:20, he said that the poor were blessed and would inherit the kingdom of God. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus equates helping the poor with aiding Jesus himself. In one famous passage, Jesus says that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).

There is no dispute that Christians are instructed to help the poor (Luke 12:33, 2 Corinthians 8:7). The question then is how best to help the poor. Is it more efficient to send more tax money to the government which can then make transfer payments to the poor or is it better to donate to private charities?

Government social programs are notoriously inefficient and costly. The big three entitlements, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, now make up forty-one percent of the federal budget according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. This percentage will go higher in coming years as more Baby Boomers retire. Social Security is scheduled to be bankrupt by 2036 and Medicare by 2024 according the Trustee’s Report. As the trust funds are depleted, even more tax money will be needed to meet obligations to retirees.

In part government social programs are so costly because they are universal. Rather than be a safety net for the poor, the government forces all retirees into Medicare and Social Security. This means that even the wealthy are required to accept government benefits, whether they need or want them or not.

Government programs are also costly because they are administered by bureaucracies filled with civil service workers. Where most charities rely heavily on volunteers, government workers that administer social programs often have salary and benefit packages that are valued at more than six figures annually. In effect, the government is taking a cut of the tax money before it is distributed to the poor. This expensive overhead adds significantly to the cost of government programs.

Finally, bureaucracies and rigid rules breed fraud. As the government tries to sign up as many people as possible to collect benefits, it becomes increasingly difficult to weed out those who are gaming the system. Caseworkers have less time to examine their clients, most of whom they do not know personally. With private charities, local volunteers get to know the need on a personal basis and can determine who needs aid and who does not. For bureaucrats, charity is a job; for volunteers, it is a passion.

A clue as to what Jesus would do with respect to entitlements in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 where the Apostle Paul wrote, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Paul doesn’t say that those who cannot work should not be fed. He does say that people who can work but choose not to, those who are gaming the system, should not live off the sweat of others. The book of Proverbs, especially in chapter 24, extols the virtues of work and is critical of the “hater of work.”

Even while the Bible encourages people to give to charity, it also teaches people to be smart with their money (Proverbs 6:6-8, 21:5, Luke 14:28-30) . The Bible also stresses that the accumulation of wealth should not be an end in itself (Psalms 15:5, Titus 1:7). Money and material wealth should not be accumulated dishonestly (Exodus 20:15, Titus 2:9-10).

Not only is it expensive and inefficient to filter funds to help the poor through government bureaucracies, it is counter to God’s instruction to believers in Proverbs 3:9-10 in which the people are told to give the first part of their income to God. Part of this money would be used to maintain the house of worship and part of it would be used to help the poor. When people give large portions of their income to the government, it naturally discourages them from giving a percentage of the remainder to charity because they need money to support their own families as well. Nevertheless, taxes and government social programs do no relieve believers of the duty to give to charity (James 2:15-16).

There are more benefits to charitable giving than tax deductions. There are studies that link altruism to mental and physical health benefits. Givers tend to be happier than those who are not so generous. Research shows that giving stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain as eating and sex, resulting in a joyful feeling. When government programs and taxes take the place of charities, taxpayers are cheated out of the benefits of voluntary giving.

According to the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University’s report “Georgia Gives 2008,” more than 77 percent of Georgia households give to charity. Individuals accounted for 83 percent of Georgia’s charitable giving which is comparable to national averages. Eighty percent of respondents indicate that they would give more if they were more financially secure. It can be reasonably assumed that if individuals had a lower tax burden, they would give more money to charity.

The progressive argument also fails to make a distinction between the Roman Empire and American democracy. Where Jews and Christians in Jesus’ day had no say in how Rome used their taxes or at what rate they were taxed, believers today have the right and duty to see that their taxes are not wasted.


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Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11: The good, the bad and the evil

September 11 marks the dividing line between the carefree prosperity of the ‘90s and the 2000’s, a decade plagued by war, fear, and financial hardship. While the date, September 11, 2001, will be remembered as a day of infamy, there were many aspects and reactions to the attacks.

When most Americans think of the good of 9/11, they think of the courageous police and firefighters and their self sacrifice. In all, 343 firefighters and 72 police officers from across New York died in the World Trade Center collapse. Many of them were helping injured and frightened people escape the towers and died when the towers collapsed around them. One of the first casualties of the attack was FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge. Father Mike was hit by falling debris and killed while administering last rites to victim. The picture of four firefighters carrying Father Mike’s body is an iconic image of 9/11. John wrote in the Bible, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).

More good was done in the days after the attacks. Americans across the country turned out to give blood to help the survivors of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Volunteers and fire crews from all across America came to New York to help in the recovery operation at Ground Zero. For a few brief moments, America was more united in the wake of the attacks than it had been since World War II. The story of the heroic resistance of the passengers on United Flight 93 inspired the whole country.

There was no shortage of badness on 9/11. Indeed, that is why the day is remembered. The hijackers subscribed a religious belief that it is more honorable to kill, destroy, and die than to live and create. To the hijackers and their murderous leaders in al Qaeda, killing thousands of innocent people without provocation or warning was as acceptable as killing animals.

Osama bin Laden railed against America, largely without being noticed, for years before 9/11. He likened the U.S. military to latter day “crusaders” in a 1996 fatwa. Bin Laden believed that the American withdrawals in the wake of terror attacks in Beirut, Yemen, and Somalia meant that “the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear.” Bin Laden believed that his hijackers could exploit that weakness on American home soil and drive westerners from Muslim countries. To that end, he indoctrinated his followers with promises of paradise as a reward for killing Americans: “Those youths know that their rewards in fighting you, the USA, is double than their rewards in fighting someone else not from the people of the book. They have no intention except to enter paradise by killing you.”

When the hijackers took control of the four airliners, it was with the belief that murder was their path to heaven. When they slit the throat of the flight attendants to gain access to the cockpits, it was in a vain attempt to save their own souls. When they crashed the planes into their targets, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” it was an attempt to secure their own salvation. In a sense, the 2,996 victims of Osama bin Laden and his men were paying for the sins of the hijackers. Their deaths were celebrated by much of the Muslim world. In the Quran, Surat al Maideh 32 says, “if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all mankind.”

The victims included six Georgians. Maynard Spence of Douglasville, Harshad Thatte of Norcross, Adam White of Atlanta, and Claude Michael Gann of Roswell died in the World Trade Center.  Leslie Whittington of Atlanta died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.  U.S. Army Maj. Steve Long of Georgia died in the Pentagon.

The 9/11 attacks are symbolic of the evil in the hearts of men. They remind us that even though mankind is civilized, we are still a savage, cruel and brutal race. They erase any doubt about the existence of pure, unadulterated evil. The presence of a demonic figure in smoke billowing from the World Trade Center may or may not have been a literal demon, but it was certainly symbolic of the evil act just committed.

Why is man so evil? It isn’t because God willed it. It was never God’s intention for the world to be this way.

Man is evil because we choose to be that way. Paul wrote that the truth of God is plain to everyone and that truth is only suppressed by the

wickedness of our hearts (Romans 1:18-23). The fundamental truth that it is wrong to murder your fellow human beings was suppressed by bin Laden’s promises of paradise. While most of us don’t go out and murder thousands of people, we do suppress God’s fundamental moral truths in order to lie, cheat, and steal on a regular basis.

What hope do we have? Spiritually, our hope is in Christ, who died for us. Even though our sins seem to pale in comparison to those of bin Laden and the terrorists, we still fall short of the requirement (Romans 3:10, Romans 6:23). Our only hope for salvation and forgiveness is to accept Christ’s sacrifice (Romans 10:9-10). There is no need to wage a holy war.

Physically, our hope is that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This doesn’t mean that only good things happen to believers. It does mean that God has the ability to turn evil into blessings. Notably, this hope is not given to those who do not love God. The cross-shaped debris found in the rubble of the World Trade Center is symbolic of God’s presence, even in the fiery hell of the collapsing towers.

What blessings have come from the 9/11 attacks? We may never know fully. We do know that the attacks resulted in the liberation of two countries. The uprisings of the Arab Spring that are toppling dictators across the Muslim world may be the result of events set in motion by the attacks. Thanks to increased American involvement in the Arab world, Muslims have gotten a glimpse of compassion and forgiveness as American military doctors save the lives of their former enemies, people who would happily torture them to death if the situation were reversed. Two of the most heartwarming stories of the war on terror are those of Hannan and Razia, girls from Iraq and Afghanistan who were horribly burned during combat. Americans cared for the girls and provided them with much more assistance than they would have gotten at home.

Less visible, but no less important are the spiritual results. We will never know how many hearts were opened to God by the events on 9/11. God’s comfort and strength were all that enabled the families of some survivors to go on. Perhaps some of the victims would tell us how God comforted them in their final moments as “I was there” suggests. God calls us all, as evidenced by the reports of supernatural dreams and visions directing thousands of Muslims to Christ.

The 9/11 attacks can be viewed as a warning. They remind us that nothing is assured. Our comfortable lives can be snuffed out at a moment’s notice, whether by a terrorist attack, a car accident, or some natural cause. We are reminded to pay attention to what is important, to serve God, to love our families, and to help others. We know what we’re supposed to do.

Let’s roll.

[Thanks to Debi Thornton for the inspiring for this article.]


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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ten years after 9/11, US is winning war on terror

Ten years after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. is winning the war on terror. In the fevered days after the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, most Americans were holding their breath, waiting for the next explosions. They never came.

It was not because al Qaeda did not try. Al Qaeda was successful in launching attacks in other countries. The 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali killed 180 people. In 2003, al Qaeda bombs killed 58 and wounded 750 in Istanbul. In 2004, a series of bombs on commuter trains in Madrid killed 190 and wounded 2,000. The 2005 attack on the London subway killed 56.

There have been numerous terror plots disrupted by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies. By one count, 39 al Qaeda plots have been foiled in the United States since September 11. Some of these plots were high profile such as the “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid, in December 2001 or the “underwear bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in December 2009. Most frequent fliers will recall the liquid bomb plot against airliners from August 2006 since it marked the beginning of the ban on all but the smallest liquids for airline travelers.

Fewer will remember the cargo bomb plot disrupted less than a year ago in October 2010 in which terrorists tried to ship bomb-laden packages on cargo planes. There were also plots to attack soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J. in May 2007, to blow up fuel tanks at Kennedy airport in June 2007, and attempted car bombings in Times Square in May 2010 and at a Portland, Ore. Christmas tree lighting in November 2010. Miraculously all of these attempted terror attacks were thwarted.

The fact that the terrorists have not struck America again is largely due the valor and sacrifice of American and allied soldiers, sailors, airmen, and intelligence officers. In addition to freeing two countries, they have decimated al Qaeda’s leadership beginning with beginning with Mohammed Atef, an al Qaeda lieutenant killed in Afghanistan in November 2001. September 11 plotters Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were captured in Pakistan. Attacks on al Qaeda’s command and control culminated in the death of Osama bin Laden himself in Pakistan on May 1, 2011.

All of this was accomplished without the loss of civil liberties that many feared. The much maligned PATRIOT Act was reauthorized in 2005 and 2011 with bipartisan votes. The act was amended to assuage concerns about civil liberties. There have been no pogroms or harassment of American Muslims. The omnipresent and rabid criticism of President Bush is evidence that dissent was not crushed. Newspaper coverage of classified programs shows the lack of censorship. Unlike during the Civil War, habeas corpus was not suspended. With the exception of increased screenings at airports, there has been little change for most Americans. Even the soldiers armed with automatic weapons that were present at airports after the September 11 attacks are long gone.

President Bush deserves credit for bringing the nation together in the days after September 11. President Bush’s steadfastness in the darkest days of the war, when even members of his own party were calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, eventually led to the surge that pacified the country. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq removed Saddam Hussein, a mass murderer and sponsor of terrorism, and may have ultimately helped to fuel the Arab Spring uprisings.

President Obama also deserves credit for his part in the war on terror. Obama ordered the attack on Osama bin Laden and ordered his own surge in Afghanistan and stepped up drone attacks on fighters in Pakistan. Obama also deserves credit for reneging on his campaign promise for a precipitous pullout from Iraq.

The new face of terror is the homegrown terrorist. Several recent terror attacks have been carried out or attempted by local Muslims who became radicalized over the internet without planning or direction by al Qaeda leaders. Although several al Qaeda agents and cells had been discovered earlier, Abu Nidal Hasan’s Fort Hood rampage in November 2009 was the first high-profile terror attack by a homegrown radical. Earlier that year, members of a terror cell in North Carolina were accused of plotting attacks.

Georgia is not without radicals. In 2009, two Georgia Tech students, Syed Haris Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee were convicted of making videos to scout locations for terror attacks. Sadequee had been previously arrested in Sarajevo in 2005 with plastic explosives and bomb making materials as part of “al Qaeda in Europe.” Earlier this year, a Marietta woman admitted mailing a bloody pig foot and anti-Semitic ramblings to New York congressman Peter King.

The Augusta Chronicle recently reported that in the ten years since September 11, $460 million has been spent protecting Georgia from terrorists. Half of this money has been spent in Atlanta where the state capitol and the international airport make inviting targets. This amount, spent over ten years, represents less than six percent of the amount that President Obama and the Democrats spent in one year on their stimulus bill. It was only 42 percent of Georgia’s $1.08 billion share of the stimulus money. The homeland security money was arguably a much better investment.

Although the war on terror will likely continue for the foreseeable future, it is evident that the United States is winning. In spite of numerous attempts, al Qaeda has not been able to attack America in ten years and most of al Qaeda’s senior leadership is either dead or imprisoned. American freedoms and civil liberties have been preserved.

The constantly changing face of terrorism means that there are constant new threats, from car bombs to sniper attacks to nuclear weapons. Threats come of lone wolves hiding in American society as well as state sponsored terror groups. Perhaps the biggest danger – and irony - is that the war on terror has been so successful that most Americans no longer feel threatened.


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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The truth about the September 11 attacks

As the U.S. approaches the tenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, it is time to put to rest the myriad of conspiracy theories that have surrounded both the attacks and the U.S. response. Radicals from both the extreme right and left have sought to propagate these theories in order to further their own aims. Not coincidentally, many of these conpiricists have also made handsome profits from books and films that purport to dispel the lies about 9/11.

The attacks, which were the worst attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor, resulted in the deaths of 2,996 people. Several Georgians were also killed in the attacks. Maynard Spence of Douglasville, Harshad Thatte of Norcross, Adam White of Atlanta, and Claude Michael Gann of Roswell died in the World Trade Center. Leslie Whittington of Atlanta died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. U.S. Army Maj. Steve Long of Georgia died in the Pentagon.

Five years after the attacks, Popular Mechanics released a definitive analysis of many of the conspiracy claims. Much of the information in the book “Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up To Hard Facts” is now available for free online at The website also debunks many of the conspiracy theories around the attacks.

The Popular Mechanics report notes that only 14 American fighter planes were on alert in the 48 contiguous states on the morning of September 11. Further, intercepts of civilian aircraft were not common for air defense fighters. In the decade before the attacks, the one and only civilian aircraft intercepted by fighters in U.S. airspace was the Learjet carrying golfer Payne Stewart, which flew uncontrolled from Florida to South Dakota before crashing after the cabin depressurized. PM reports that it took an F-16 one hour and 22 minutes to make the intercept.

In answer to the skeptics’ claim that the damage to the World Trade Center buildings was too widespread to be caused by a single aircraft strike on each tower, PM responds that thousands of pounds of jet fuel atomized on impact and traveled throughout the buildings. The burning fuel spread flames through elevator and utility shafts. Flames reportedly exploded through the elevator doors in the lobby moments after impact. The 1500 degree flames from burning jet fuel was not strong enough melt steel, but it did reduce the steel frames of the towers to about ten percent of their normal strength.

PM notes that at least one conspiracy site cropped seismology charts to support the notion that controlled demolitions toppled the towers. The full charts clearly show the impacts of both aircraft followed by the collapse of the towers. Extensive damage to surrounding buildings also lends credence to the fact that the collapse of the towers was a chaotic, catastrophic event.

Conspiracy theorists have charged that the Pentagon was hit by a missile rather than an airplane, citing the small size of the hole in the wall. PM points out that both wings of the aircraft were sheared off by the impact and that the 75 foot wide hole that is consistent with the size of the airliner’s fuselage. A separate 12 foot hole was likely made by the landing gear.

In contrast with conspiracy claims that no aircraft wreckage was recovered at the Pentagon, there are both photos and eyewitness accounts of

aircraft wreckage. Allyn Kilsheimer, a structural engineer and blast expert who arrived on scene shortly after the crash, is quoted in the PM article, “I picked up parts of the plane with the airline markings on them. I held in my hand the tail section of the plane, and I found the black box. I held parts of uniforms from crew members in my hands, including body parts. Okay?"

In Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 crashed, a white jet reported in the area is revealed to be a business jet that was descending into nearby Johnstown. Air traffic control asked the jet’s pilots to investigate Flight 93 and they subsequently orbited the crash site at 1500 feet.

PM reports that the debris pattern of the Flight 93 crash site is consistent with a surface impact given the flight path and wind direction at the time of the crash. Lighter debris was thrown up and carried downwind for several miles. Similarly, an engine was found 300 yards downrange. This is consistent with the mass and velocity of the engine at impact.

Reports on a conspiracy radio show that claimed an F-16 pilot shot the airliner down were revealed to be lies. Ed Jacoby, director of the New York State Emergency Management Office, was with the pilot reported to have fired the missiles at Flight 93. The F-16 and pilot were tasked to return Jacoby from a meeting in Montana to Albany, N.Y. where he could coordinate the emergency services response to the attacks. Jacoby categorically denies that the pilot, Lt. Col. Rick Gibney, shot down Flight 93.

An examination of the timing of the attacks backs up Jacoby’s story. The North Dakota Air National Guard operated F-16Bs. The straight-line distance between Bozeman, Mt. and Albany, N.Y. is 1,857 miles. Using the fighter’s top speed listed on the plane’s Air Force fact sheet, 1,345 mph, the trip would take less than an hour and a half, which would barely give Gibney time to get in position to shoot down Flight 93 at 10:03 a.m. if he took off from Bozeman immediately after American Flight 11 crashed into the WTC at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time. But, according to the Air Force, the F-16B’s range is only 1,407 miles and that range could only be achieved by flying at slower speeds. It is likely that Gibney had to rendezvous with an aerial tanker, which would further slow down the flight to Albany. It is also highly unlikely that Gibney was ready to launch immediately after the first WTC attack. In fact, Gibney first had to fly from his base at Fargo, N.D. to Bozeman to pick up Jacoby. There is simply no way he could have been over Pennsylvania in time to shoot down Flight 93.

Logically, the conspiracy theories do not add up. An obvious reason is that the government and the military were clearly caught by surprise. According to the official timeline on, President Bush, who was visiting students at a Florida elementary school, was notified that a plane had crashed into the WTC at 8:50 a.m., four minutes after American Flight 11, the first hijacked airliner, had crashed. United Flight 175 crashed at 9:03 a.m. and the president was notified two minutes later.

The Secret Service did not evacuate Vice President Cheney from the White House to a secure bunker until 9:30, one minute before American Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. The nationwide ground stop for all flights was issued at 9:42 a.m. and the White House and Capitol were evacuated at 9:45, an hour after the attacks began. The last commercial flight in U.S. airspace did not land until 12:16 p.m.

In the years after the attacks, President Bush faced much criticism for his slow reaction to the attacks. If the U.S. government were complicit in the attacks, the reaction of all levels of government, including President Bush, would have been much more swift and certain. When the president left Florida aboard Air Force One, he was taken to Offutt AFB in Nebraska after a stop in Louisiana. The president’s location was kept secret for much of the day due to an anonymous phone call that was interpreted as a threat against Air Force One. President Bush did not make his memorable address to the nation until later that night.

Equally illogical is the culprit behind the 9/11 attacks. If, as some charge, the attacks were a smokescreen to justify an invasion of Iraq, then why implicate Osama bin Laden, a Saudi exile that few had ever heard of, and the Afghan Taliban? If Iraq were truly the target of the conspirators, it seems that the evidence would have pointed toward Saddam Hussein, a known supporter of terrorists. As it was, the invasion of Iraq did not take place until March 19, 2003, a year and a half after September 11.

Finally, 9/11 conspiracy theories can be compared to a real government conspiracy, Operation Fast and Furious. Fast and Furious was an operation carried out by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, ostensibly to track the smuggling of weapons to Mexico. In reality, ATF allowed criminals to make “straw purchases” of thousands of weapons, which were then taken to Mexico where ATF lost the trail. Weapons from the program were used to murder a U.S. Border Patrol agent in December 2010.

In contrast with 9/11 conspiracies, there is ample evidence of the government’s culpability in Fast and Furious. Whistleblowers came forward almost immediately and a congressional investigation was begun. If government workers objected to the cover-up of one death in Fast and Furious enough to risk their jobs to bring out the truth, it is likely that a conspiracy large enough to cover-up the hijackings of four airliners and that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians would also generate a large number of whistleblowers seeking justice. No whistleblowers have come forward and investigations are limited to members of the political fringe such as professional conspiracy monger Alex Jones and Cynthia McKinney, a former Georgia congresswoman turned Green Party presidential candidate who is perhaps best remembered for striking a U.S. Capitol police officer.

In truth, there was a conspiracy around the September 11 attacks. It was conspiracy between Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorists. The

very date of the attacks, September 11, is prominent in Muslim history as the anniversary of a catastrophic defeat of the Turks outside the gates of Vienna, Austria in 1683. The defeat ended Turkish dreams of controlling Europe and marked the beginning of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Bin Laden and his zealots hoped that September 11, 2001 would be the beginning of an Islamic jihad to throw Americans and other westerners out of Muslim lands as a first step in establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate.


Note:  With the exception of the 9/11 memorial engraving, the photos are from the September 11, 2001 Attacks collection on


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Potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2012

Even though a primary challenge to President Obama is unlikely in 2012, there are several Democrats who are probably at least considering a run. As President Obama’s approval rating continues to drop, some prominent Democrats may be tempted to throw their hats into the ring in an attempt to preserve Democratic control of the White House.

The most obvious potential candidate is Hillary Clinton, Obama’s chief rival for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. A number of progressives are displeased with Obama and have recently been voicing remorse that Clinton was not the nominee in 2008. Mrs. Clinton instead became President Obama’s secretary of state. Reportedly, she was behind Obama’s decision to authorize military action in Libya, which is currently recognized as one of the Obama Administration’s few foreign policy triumphs. In 2008, she lost the Georgia Democratic primary to Obama by more than two-to-one, receiving 31 percent of the vote to Obama’s 66 percent.

While Clinton is one of the few Democrats with the name recognition and support network in place to mount a last minute campaign, her position in the administration makes it unlikely that she would run. To challenge Obama, she would jeopardize her position in the State Department and, if Obama wins, would probably be out of the public view for the next four years. Clinton is more likely to sit out the 2012 elections and wait for more favorable conditions for Democrats in 2016, when she would also not have to face a sitting Democratic president.

Another possible challenger is former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. McKinney, an Atlanta native, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2003. She was defeated in the 2002 Democratic primary, but re-elected in 2004. She lost another congressional primary to Hank Johnson in 2006. In 2007, she joined the Green Party and was its presidential candidate in 2008, garnering .12 percent of the popular vote and earning a sixth place finish. She was not on the ballot in Georgia.

McKinney is known for her association with conspiracy theories such as the 9/11 truth movement and the belief that the government covered up thousands of deaths during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She is perhaps best remembered for the 2006 incident in which she was accused of striking a capitol police officer. An anti-Israel activist, she was captured by the Israeli Navy in 2009 aboard a ship attempting to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza. She has also been critical of U.S. aid to the Libyan rebels.

McKinney is currently a member of the Green Party, but might be persuaded to rejoin the Democrats to mount a challenge against President Obama. She is a vocal opponent of Obama and has called him a “war criminal” in a speech that is available on Youtube. McKinney would also negate Obama’s use of the race card in the campaign, since she is also black. Many liberals are torn between the ideology of the Greens and the established power base of the Democrats so a McKinney campaign might be a serious challenge to Obama.

Two Virginia senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, also rate a mention as possible candidates. Both are one te

rm senators. Webb was elected in 2006 and Warner in 2008. Both men could be considered among the last moderate Democrats. Webb served as Ronald Reagan’s assistant secretary of defense and secretary of the navy before becoming an author and filmmaker. Warner was a popular one-term governor of Virginia. Last spring, Warner teamed up with Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss to push for spending cuts.

In spite of their moderate credentials, both men voted for unpopular programs such as Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, as well as voting against a repeal of Obamacare. Webb, whose term ends in 2013, has already announced that he will not seek reelection. In a Public Policy poll from July 2011, Webb’s approval rating was 45 percent (with 36 percent disapproving). Warner’s approval rating was slightly better at 54 percent (with 28 percent disapproving). Neither man is well known nationally and would have to enter the race quickly in order to spread their name and message.

A final potential candidate is former senator Russ Feingold. Feingold served as Wisconsin’s senator from 1993 until losing to Tea Party insurgent Ron Johnson in the 2010 Republican landslide. Feingold is best known his work on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. He has a voting record that most Democrats would admire. Feingold was the sole vote against the PATRIOT Act and voted against the Iraq War authorization. He also voted against the Bush tax cuts, TARP, and the Defense of Marriage Act. Feingold was also considered as a possible challenger to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or a candidate for Wisconsin’s other senate seat. Unfortunately for Democrats, Feingold has indicated that he does not plan to run for any office in 2012.

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