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Archives for 9/11/2001

9/11: The Letdown


My brain doesn’t do well with the “I was doing this when that event happened” associations, at least not in great detail. My father, for example, can tell you he was walking through a golf course with his best friend on December 7, 1941. He was eleven years of age.

My most vivid memory from that age was at summer camp when, while fishing one afternoon following a swimming session, I accidentally hooked my briefs from a bundle of clothes I had piled beside me and I cast them into the pond. Underwear dangling from a fishing rod hardly constitutes an historic time in our nation’s history, but it stands out in my mind.

I have no idea where I was when I learned that President Reagan had been shot, nor where I was when I learned that John Lennon had been murdered. I was in the Mediterranean on board the USS Coral Sea when the Challenger blew up in the sky over Florida… I think. But that’s as specific as that memory gets for me.

I do have some clear memories of September 11, 2001, however.

At the time I worked for a public relations agency in Watertown, Massachusetts. I was in my office, working hard (see… memory can be a deceiving thing), when someone outside my door mentioned that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. At the time the implications were far from apparent, but it was a curious situation, and one of the networks happened to be carrying the news, so I sauntered down to the lobby to check it out.

I’m pretty sure the television set was tuned to CNN and Aaron Brown. I and about a half-dozen of my colleagues watched him talk for a few moments when one of the cameras zoomed in on the damaged tower. I irreverently joked that it looked straight out of a Warner Brothers cartoon, as it appeared that the hole in the side of the building was plane-shaped, much like a hole in a wall will be a perfect silhouette of Daffy Duck after he runs screaming through.

About that time the broadcast went briefly black, but before the picture was lost, the second jet appeared on screen. Once again I cracked wise. Assuming I was simply seeing a jet full of passengers approaching or departing La Guardia on another routine business day, I feigned horror and yelled that another plane was crashing into the buildings.

Little did I know.

When the picture came back, both the visual and Mr. Brown made it apparent that a second impact had indeed occurred. My heart sank. Someone in the lobby wondered aloud if air traffic might be experiencing a glitch, sending unwitting planes hurtling into the towers.

That’s no accident, I said in a tone much changed from the one I’d used just moments before. Something inside told me we’d just witnessed an act of terror. The implications were days, if not weeks, from being understood – if we yet have a grasp on how that day changed our lives.

The rest of the day and those that followed remain out of focus for me. I spent a great deal of it watching events unfold: the scene at the Pentagon, the wild rumors, the terrible image of two massive structures crumbling into giant, smoking heaps, the frantic search for survivors — and answers. My heart still aches for my country, and I struggle with feelings of hate and a thirst for revenge. I suppose I always will. But mostly I am disappointed at what we have failed to accomplish as a country in the five years since.

I guess I believed that such a blow would only cause America to rise up, seize the opportunity, and march together to confront all those things that had distracted us for so long. Back then, I would have believed that in the 1826 days since the attack, we would have caught the world by the neck and dragged it forward as we had in 1941. Today I’m disappointed to admit that I’m not so sure we still have the will or courage.

Instead of taking stock of ourselves and our world and deciding what we are going to do about it; instead of uniting and steeling ourselves for the challenge of leadership in a world beset by tumult, we act like a selfish child who has been denied a hot fudge sundae. Rather than do without, we are urged to buy more in order to buoy the economy and distract ourselves from the truth.

In the 20th Century America conquered flight, split the atom, and put a man on the Moon. We twice stepped in to defeat tyranny in two World Wars, crisscrossed a continent with wide asphalt highways and harnessed mighty rivers. In the 21st Century, in spite of the potential we still have within us, America is more concerned that it can watch a ball game in high definition than it is with helping our neighbors.

Five years later we still bicker about building a monument that will pay tribute to the victims of terror, but that will not offend anyone (meanwhile, an entire city lies in ruin, all but forgotten).

Five years later, our opportunity to open the new millennium by showing how great we can still be by setting the standard for a generation or more of people is gone. It will take extraordinary resolve and an unprecedented amount of selflessness to gain the advantage again.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 12:15 PM | Permalink

Grow Up


With Fidel Castro ailing and aging, my message to our leaders in Washington is simple: grow up.
I’m no fan of Castro, communism, or dictatorships, but I’ve never understood our stubborn attitude toward that island nation a mere 90 miles from the shores of Southern Florida.
The history of our feud with Cuba is not lost on me. I recognize the nuclear threat that once emanated from the shores of the erstwhile Caribbean paradise and our desire to see a pro-US government restored there. But the critical mass of that situation peaked more than 40 years ago, and all but disappeared 15 years ago with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
US foreign policy, meanwhile, as seen fit to embrace our one-time mortal enemy the USSR, now known simply as Russia, as well as China – a country that poses a serious if latent threat to our domestic and foreign interests.
George W. Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin are regular pals, and we choose to turn a national blind eye to China’s economic and military belligerence because, it is argued, maintaining warm relations with that country and its emerging consumer population (and powerful/cheap manufacturing base), is “good for business.”
Castro stands alone as the recipient of our lingering Cold War ire. It’s silly, it’s short-sighted, and it is dangerous.
A quick look around the globe reveals turmoil everywhere US power is projected. From the Middle East to the Korean Peninsula we are at swords’ points with Islamic extremists and totalitarian crackpots. In Europe, once trusted allies have cooled in their attitude toward us, and we remain stymied by the many challenges that face us in Africa.
There are no easy answers to any of those situations, and I am sympathetic to both sides of the aisle here at home; those who believe we must fight – for as long as it takes – an enemy that sees us as the Great Satan, and those who feel we have a greater need to withdraw and spare precious American lives and treasure.
Meanwhile, the United States’ standing in its own hemisphere suffers from neglect. The problem of illegal immigration tells me that the people of Central and South America still regard America as the land of opportunity, but we seem adept at alienating the governments of those nations to our south. And it all points to our obstinacy with Castro.
Imagine how, instantly, our perception across Latin America would change if we were to offer Castro an olive branch, set aside a half-century of animosity and – before he dies – lift our ancient embargo and open diplomatic relations with Havana.
Let Fidel Castro tell his people they won. So what if it means a brief meal of political humble pie? At its heart America is a gracious nation, and we’d be prouder of doing right by our neighbor than we would feel momentary shame at the image of Castro’s triumphant gesturing.
In the 1980s America evoked the Monroe Doctrine in Nicaragua, Grenada, El Salvadore, and in prosecuting a drug war against the cocaine cartels of Central and South America. But if it is to hold any meaning beyond simply being a policy of military convenience, the Monroe Doctrine must also be a guide for political pragmatism. Our interests in this hemisphere go far beyond seeing to it that puppet banana republics receive their share of love while antagonists feel our glowering stare.
Had our posturing with Cuba been different these last 15 years, we might not be dealing with the problem of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez; greater economic prosperity throughout the region might have taken hold, giving less motivation for illegal immigration; closer ties and more influence with oil producing countries in the region might have translated to less pain at the pump and, perhaps, a diminished reliance on the troublesome Middle East.
Furthermore, the recent discovery of high quality oil fields in Cuban territorial waters, and the technological ability to drill into these deep water reserves, is exposing our embargo for the sham that it is. Apart from denying American cigar aficionados easy access to rolled Havana leaf, the US suffers no direct effect from that obsolete policy, but earlier this year bills were introduced in both houses of Congress to exempt US oil companies from the embargo, laying bare our attitude on the matter of Cuban relations as nothing more than a 45-year temper tantrum.
While we are generally regarded as the mightiest power on earth, our respect lags on the international stage. Cuba gives us an opportunity to do the right thing. Eighty roses and a sincere Hallmark card from Washington to Havana could be the best foreign policy investment we make.
There’s still time, but not much.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 11:05 AM | Permalink

Talking Sense about The Lieberman Loss


Much attention – maybe too much attention – is being paid to the suddenly independent candidate status of Senator Joseph Lieberman. His defeat Tuesday at the hands of political neophyte, anti-war candidate Ned Lamont sent shock-waves rippling across the country.

At least the parties involved want us to believe that’s the case. One side laments the loss of an upstanding senator while the other cries from every rooftop that Lamont’s victory is proof of the demise of war-mongering.


To break it down for those of you who have been confused by all the smoke and mirrors (and, before yesterday, a very slow August news cycle), a liberal Democrat got beat by an even more liberal Democrat in a private election attended mostly by liberal Democrats. The outcome should have been a surprise to no one.

What’s more interesting is the way Lieberman’s newly cast Independent bid to hold on to his seat in Congress is being described. Generally conservative radio talk-show pundits and callers are calling Lieberman’s run a third-party candidacy and, in these early days, are ebullient over the possibility that an independent might stick it in the eye of the two major parties.

Don’t believe it.

Joe Lieberman is no third-party candidate. He’s a liberal Democrat addicted to the narcotic called political power. His political pedigree is that of a three-term incumbent with a consistent history of pro-left voting, and a Lieberman win in November will have zero impact on the fortunes of true independents or those who swear allegiance with actual third parties.

As a registered Libertarian, I would embrace Joe Lieberman if I thought he had any inkling of shaking things up in Washington, but whether or not Connecticut sends him back to the Hill with an “I” after his name, his future voting record will remain indistinguishable from his voting history. He’ll remain a Big Government stooge and the American taxpayer will continue to foot the bill. Meanwhile, the Democrat and Republican pundits will hail a Lieberman win as evidence that our political system works, and that independent voices can, indeed, be heard.


A Lieberman win in November will only prove that the rules favor incumbency and that, now more than ever, the two ruling parties’ iron grip on power remains secure. Whatever the result, I predict with absolute certainty that the size and cost of government will continue to grow apace, without fear of reprisals from an American citizenry that has come to believe that blind party loyalty is a fine substitute for critical thinking.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 11:30 AM | Permalink

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