Ferguson.

First, it is worth pointing out that Michael Brown robbed a store shortly before the encounter with Darren Wilson. Brown shoved the much smaller store employee who tried to get in his way. Soon afterward, he shoved the door of the police car shut when Officer Darren Wilson tried to exit. Then he struggled with Wilson. Was Brown, in fact, a “gentle giant”? Or did he have a history—written or unwritten—of violent encounters? If Brown was the “gentle giant” alleged by friends and family, what brought on this fit of physical aggression on the day he died? What put him over the edge into serious anger on his last day?   I haven’t seen any reporting that addresses these questions. Based on the little I have read about Michael Brown, he appears to have been an unpleasant person. This is not a capital crime.[1]

Second, I think that Darren Wilson succumbed to rage during his encounter with Michael Brown. I myself succumbed to rage one time. During a prolonged argument, someone did something that put me over the edge psychologically. During this episode, I was “outside myself” in some sense. Unthinking. Acting—I guess—on some deep impulse. Not feeling pain, and with time slowing down. That’s evidence for a huge adrenalin dump. At the last moment, God saved me from beating the other person to death.[2] So, that’s the basis for my thinking about this particular aspect of the case. The whole thing took place in a very compressed span of time” 90 seconds. What critical things happened? Brown shoved the door closed on Wilson when he was trying to exit the vehicle. Wilson grabbed Brown around the neck through the window. They struggled. Wilson at least believed that Brown had reached for his weapon, so he drew and fired within the car. Brown broke off and moved away. Wilson exited the vehicle, fired at Brown, and ordered Brown to stop. Brown turned to face him, then approached Wilson. It isn’t clear to me what happened after that. In any case, Wilson then shot Brown a bunch of times. The last one went into the top of Brown’s head while he was lying on the ground. A fatal wound, even if the other ones were not, fired after Brown posed absolutely no threat. To me, this is evidence that Wilson had lost control of himself. He revved through most of his mag, firing a total of twelve rounds. Racism and Rage aren’t the same thing.

Third, I think that District Attorney Robert McCulloch chose an unusual path for the grand jury, one that was unlikely to result in an indictment of Darren Wilson. In Anglo-American law, a trial is a confrontational procedure in which both the prosecution and the defense seek to structure the evidence to generate conflicting interpretations of that evidence. A decision emerges from the confrontation of the interpretations.   The jury must find for guilt or for innocence unanimously. Otherwise, you get a mistrial and a go-around. However, District Attorney Robert McCulloch short-circuited that procedure. Dumping all the information available in the case in an unstructured mass into the lap of the grand jury, with no one to provide an alternative explanation, and then letting them sort it out for themselves is a ludicrous procedure. If he had wanted to find out what happened, then he would have actively sought an indictment. New York judge Sol Wachtler once said that if a prosecutor wants to, he can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Apparently, Darren Wilson isn’t a ham sandwich.

[1] At least, I hope that it isn’t for my own sake.

[2] Afterward, I felt dirty, and empty, and afraid—not of the Law, but of my newly-revealed, previously-unknown self. If I had killed the other person, then I would have been guilty under the law of some form of homicide. I imagine—and I hope with all my heart—that I would have been racked with guilt and felt deep remorse. Perhaps Darren Wilson feels these things. The circumstances for feeling remorse or expressing regret are not favorable.

 

What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XVI.

The new administration of President George W. Bush recognized that al Qaeda posed a real terrorist threat to the United States. How much of a threat? So far, al Qaeda had truck-bombed two embassies and boat-bombed a warship, all on the margins of the Indian Ocean. So, ambitious, but with a short-reach. Moreover, al Qaeda operated from Afghanistan, a client regime of Pakistan. So, no simple solution.

In February 2001 President Bush warned President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan that al Qaeda posed “a direct threat to the United States and its interests that must be addressed.” (Quoted, p. 298.) On 7 March 2001 the Deputies Committee took up the al Qaeda issue for the first time. The Deputies seem to have concluded that policy on al Qaeda terrorism would have to depend upon the development of a policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. They began this process and Rice deferred any reference of the issue to the Principals Committee until they had finished; this deeply frustrated Clarke. (p. 293.)

In March 2001 Rice asked the CIA to come up with new guidance documents for implementation in Afghanistan. (p. 303.) These were ready by the end of the month. On 28 March 2001 Tenet sent Hadley two new draft guidance documents. One authorized the CIA to provide covert aid to opponents of the Taliban. The other authorized the CIA to kill Bin Laden. (pp. 303-304.) In March and April 2001 the CIA began pressing for giving a lot of covert assistance to the opponents of the Taliban. Cofer Black particularly favored aiding the Northern Alliance (a move supported by Clarke). (p. 297.)

From late March through April 2001 the CIA issued warnings of looming terrorist attacks by “Sunni extremists” and/or by Abu Zubaydah. On 30 April 2001 the CIA briefed the Deputies, warning that al Qaeda was the “most dangerous group we face.” (p. 293.) The Deputies discussed reports of planned attacks by Bin Laden as part of this review of policy toward al Qaeda.

Reports predicting terrorist attacks continued to come in during May 2001 and formed part of a backdrop of concern. On 29 May 2001 the weekly meeting between Rice and Tenet was devoted to al Qaeda, with Tenet emphasizing the need to devote expanded resources to counterterrorism. Rice told Clarke to write up a new plan for action against al Qaeda.

The flood of reports about terrorist plans to act in the near future actually increased during June and July 2001. However, they always referred to action overseas, mostly in the Middle East, but also in Europe. (p. 369.) There were a number of key dates or places that might serve as the occasion for terrorist attacks: the Fourth of July, the G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy (which President Bush was to attend). (pp. 370-371.)

Only in June 2001 did American intelligence begin to receive reports hinting at the 9/11 attacks. On 12 June 2001 a CIA report stated that KSM was recruiting people on behalf of OBL to come to the US in order to carry out attacks in partnership with people already in the US. On 22 June 2001 a CIA report warned of a possible suicide attack on an American target in the near future.

On 30 June 2001 the CIA intelligence brief to top officials warned that “Bin Laden [is] Planning High-Profile Attacks.” Ultimately, dealing with Bin Laden would require overthrowing the Taliban. This seemed a very complicated undertaking. During June and July 2001 people in the Administration argued over whether the US should engage in regime change in Afghanistan. (p. 297.)

What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XV.

President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice insisted upon a return to the formal table of organization, in which Clarke’s group reported through the deputies and Clarke ceased to be a de facto “principal.” Clarke saw this as a demotion. (p. 288.)

On 25 January 2001, in response to a request from Rice for suggestions on policy reviews or initiative from her senior staff, Clarke submitted a memo pushing the policy he had advocated in the waning days of the Clinton administration. He also worked to bolster the case for action against al Qaeda in other ways, sending a memo outside the normal chain of communications directly to VP Cheney before a visit to CIA HQ urging the VP to press the CIA about the Cole investigation and sending intelligence about al Qaeda’s role in the Cole attack to Rice as a counter to the CIA’s refusal to claim a definite link between Bin Laden and the bombing. (pp. 290-291.)

On 19 April 2001 Clarke’s Counterterrorism Security Group discussed the reports of predicted attacks by Sunni extremists and by Abu Zubaydah.

On 29 May 2001 Clarke urged Stephen Hadley to press the CIA on what further steps it could take to forestall an attack against American interests. (p. 368.)

About 7 June 2001 Clarke submitted to Rice a memo–essentially his memos of December 2000 and January 2001–outlining a sustained multi-faceted effort. (pp. 295-296.)

On 25 June 2001 Clarke told Rice and Hadley that he had learned of six different intelligence reports that reported al Qaeda people predicting an attack in the near future. (p. 369.)

On 28 June 2001 Clarke warned Rice that the intelligence community had concluded “that a major terrorist attack or series of attacks is likely in July.” (p. 370.)

In late June or early July 2001 Clarke urged Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley to make anti-al Qaeda policy the whole focus of US-Pakistan relations. This went nowhere. (p. 299.)

By early September 2001 Clarke felt a furious urgency to get the government to act on al Qaeda. “After nine years on the NSC staff and more than three years as the president’s national coordinator, he had often failed to persuade these agencies [CIA, Pentagon] to adopt his views, or to persuade his superiors to set an agenda of the sort he wanted or that the whole government could support.” (p. 308.)

So, was Richard Clarke a prophet without honor in his own land or was he an ambitious bureaucrat who had found his leash being pulled-in by the business-like Bush administration?  Perhaps different people in the national security establishment saw him in different lights.

What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XIV.

“Soon after the Cole attack and for the remainder of the Clinton administration, analysts stopped distributing written reports about who was responsible.” (p. 279.) In the 25 November 2000 memo from Clarke and Berger to President Clinton, the National Security Advisor described the presumption of Bin Laden’s role as an “unproven assumption.” (p. 281.) On 21 December 2000 a CIA briefing said that there was strong circumstantial evidence of al Qaeda involvement in the attack, but nothing concrete. (p. 281.) Clinton and Berger have said subsequently that the president could not take the country to war or deliver an ultimatum to the Taliban or risk killing a bunch of civilians on the basis of such foggy judgments. George Tenet has said that he didn’t realize that the White House was waiting on a definite judgment from the CIA. Clarke suspects that the White House “didn’t really want to know” who was responsible because they wanted to concentrate on a last minute push for peace in the Middle East. (p. 282.) NB: The sort of thing that would get Clinton a Nobel Peace Prize and rehabilitate his “legacy” after the Lewinsky scandal. Tenet obviously playing along.

 

The Election of November 2000 didn’t do political comity or policy implementation any good. Of course, I haven’t seen that anyone asked Al Gore what he thought of Richard Clark or his stance on terrorism. I suppose it could have been him reading to a class of schoolchildren.

Between the election of 7 November 2000 and the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling much of the attention of the nation focused on the political and legal struggles attending the disputed presidential election. Moreover, the long struggle cut by half the normal transition period between administrations. (p. 285.)

 

The Bush Administration brought little change to the personnel involved in counterterrorism policy: Tenet remained DCI, Cofer Black remained head of the Counterterrorism Center, Louis Freeh remained Director of the FBI until June 2001, Dale Watson remained FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, Hugh Shelton remained Chairman of the JCS, and Clarke remained National Counterterrorism Coordinator. (p. 289.)

However, gaps existed. Brian Sheridan, the Clinton administration’s assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, departed on 20 January 2001 and was not replaced before 11 September 2001. (p. 300.) John Ashcroft, the new Attorney General, knew little, if anything, about terrorism and was more committed to the traditional law enforcement targets of drugs and organized crime. (pp. 302-303.)

In foreign policy the new Republican administration wanted to concentrate on “China, missile defense, the collapse of the Middle East peace process, and the Persian Gulf.” (p. 288.) In defense policy, the leaders wanted to concentrate on a new military strategy and force structure for the 21st century. (p. 300.)

On 29 December 2000 the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center put out a forward-looking memorandum on dealing with Afghanistan-based terrorism. Clarke adopted some of the CIA’s idea in his own memo early in the new year. The plan recommended a long-term effort (3-5 years) for dealing with al Qaeda; proposed to support both the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks as a way of eroding Taliban support for al Qaeda; recommended more Predator flights once the weather improved in March 2001; and contemplated military action. (pp. 284-285.)  None of this aimed at scorching snakes right this instant.

What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XIII

The “Planes Operation.”

The East African embassy bombings had persuaded Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (KSM) that OBL was serious about attacking the United States. He renewed his proposal for al Qaeda support for the “planes operation.” In March or April 1999, OBL agreed to support the plan. (pp. 216, 223.)

 

Planning.

KSM turned to the preparation phase of the attack. KSM, OBL, and Mohammed Attef worked up a target list. The early list of targets for the “planes operation” included the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon, and the World Trade Center. KSM spent the first months (Spring-Summer 1999) collecting materials: “Western aviation magazines; telephone directories for American cities such as San Diego and Long Beach, California; brochures for school; and airlines timetables, and he conducted Internet searches on U.S. flight schools. He also purchased flight simulator software and a few movies depicting hijackings.” (p. 227.) NB: KSM found a San Diego phone book in a Karachi flea market. (p. 312.)

Initially, the target date of the attacks was set for May 2001, ideally 12 May 2001—seven months to the day after the attack on the USS Cole. (p. 360.)

OBL also provided KSM with four candidates as suicide bombers. In Fall 1999 these men were passed through an advanced commando and terrorism course at an al Qaeda camp. By December 1999 they were Karachi, Pakistan, for further training from KSM. Here they may have crossed paths with four young Muslims coming to Afghanistan from Germany.

In late 1999 OBL seems to have begun recruiting several dozen “muscle hijackers.” I conjecture this because the eventual “muscle hijackers” all began breaking contact with their families in late 1999 and early 2000. (p. 337.) Alternatively, these hijackers may have ended up in Afghanistan for training when they could not get to Chechnya, and been recruited there in Summer 2000. (pp. 337-338.) In any event, there were about 20 of them recruited. About ten of them fell by the way-side during the next year: failing to obtain visas to the United States, backing out of the plan, or failing some al Qaeda test. (pp. 340-341.)

 

Bumps.

The four men initially chosen as pilots were experienced mujahideen and devout Muslims, but they were clueless about America. When it became apparent that not all of the men would be able to gain entry into the United States, the planners added a second component of the plan. This would involve destroying airliners in flight leaving from places in Asia where access could be gained easily. In December 1999 three of them traveled on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

A group of Muslim students living in Hamburg, Germany, became radicalized by some means that still is not clear. In late 1999, fired by a desire to join in “jihad,” four of the group left Germany for Afghanistan. Here they were recruited by al Qaeda. The intent was to use them for the “planes operation,” but they were not told exactly what their mission would be at this time. By late January 2000 they were back in Hamburg trying to get visas for the United States; in March 2000 Mohammed Atta, the alpha dog in the group, began contacting US flight schools. (pp. 231-245.)

In May 2001 the “planes operation” had to be postponed until July 2001 because the teams were not yet ready. (p. 360.)

In Spring 2000 UBL cancelled the Asian component of the “planes operation” on the grounds that it would be too difficult to coordinate with the American component. (pp. 221-231.)

In July 2001 the “planes operation” had to be postponed until September 2001 because of another glitch (probably the uncertainty over the commitment of one of the pilots, Jarrah). (p. 360.)

 

Scottsboro Boys

The Civil War ended slavery in the South. White Southerners then created a system called “Jim Crow.” In politics, blacks weren’t allowed to vote or to serve on juries. In economics, blacks got pushed down into “debt peonage” (a new kind of slavery), but so did many poor whites; their schools were lousy[1]; and most professions were closed to them. In 1896 the US Supreme Court upheld the doctrine of “separate, but equal” in the case “Plessy v. Ferguson.” If you were black, your only hope was to get north to New York City or Chicago.

The Great Depression hit at the end of 1929, not that you could tell in the rural South—cotton prices had been dropping for a decade.[2] As unemployment rose, lots of people went “on the bum,” living in “hobo jungles” and “hopping freights” [catching free rides on freight trains] in search of work.[3] This was a dangerous life. Hopping freights amounted to stealing and the railroad police (“bulls”) would throw you off a moving train. There were a lot of creepy people on the bum. Most “bums” or “hobos” carried knives for fighting and the few women dressed like men and sometimes traded sex for protection or money.[4]

In late March 1931, some white kids jumped off a freight train bound from Chattanooga, to Memphis, Tennessee, to report a fight with blacks on the train. A local sheriff in Alabama stopped the train. Two white girls on board said that they had been raped by the nine black males[5] on the train. A doctor examined the girls and didn’t say that they had not been raped. A lynch mob gathered, but the sheriff backed them down by himself and sent for the National Guard.[6] All were tried in Scottsboro, Alabama; all convicted; and eight sentenced to death.

This was 1931: the Depression just kept getting worse; Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t get elected until November 1932; and the “New Deal” was a way’s off. The American Communist Party offered an alternative to the mainstream political parties. They said that only social class mattered; race didn’t matter. Southerners—all of whom were Democrats—said that only race mattered; social class didn’t matter.

Both the Communist Party and the white chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court said the trial was a travesty. The United States Supreme Court agreed. So, new trials were held. One of the white women on the train recanted and said that neither woman had been raped.[7] Nevertheless, the jury convicted the blacks. The judge set the verdict aside because he didn’t believe any of the prosecution witnesses.[8] So, new trials followed. Same result: guilty.[9] Again, the US Supreme Court overturned the verdicts.

In 1937 the prosecutor dropped the charges against four of the accused—after they had spent six years in prison. The rest got long prison sentences instead of the death penalty. Three of them escaped, two to be recaptured and one who only came out thirty years later. They have all received pardons from the Alabama Parole Board. So, the South before the Civil Rights era.

[1] See Maya Angelou’s description of her middle school in Arkansas in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

[2] Alabama, “Song of the South”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHdXQAQHjd8

[3] You should always jump for the front end of the car. If you miss, you bounce off and don’t fall under the wheels.

[4] See the movies “The Emperor of the North Poles” (1973) and “The Journey of Natty Gann” (1985) for examples.

[5] The oldest was 19, the youngest was 13, so males, but not men. By my standards.

[6] His name was Matt Wann. He was killed serving a warrant on 3 May 1932. “Let us now praise famous men.”

[7] Which isn’t the same as saying that they hadn’t shtupped some of the black guys in return for a cheese sandwich.

[8] In the next election he was voted out of office and the prosecutor was elected Lieutenant Governor.

[9] Guilty of what? First, guilty of being a black male in the presence of white women. Second, guilty of having tried to make a bunch of redneck morons look like redneck morons by insisting on a trial. Not in the law books, but both were real crimes at the time in Alabama. “What’s got four eyes and can’t see? Mississippi.”

“Cabaret.”

So, what’s a cabaret? It’s entertainment consisting of singing, dancing, telling jokes, and performing little bits of theatre. A Master of Ceremonies introduces each act and makes some jokes. Cabaret takes place in a restaurant or night-club, rather than in a theater. The audience can have some drinks or something to eat while watching the show. (SNL and Jay Leno are cabaret-on-television.) The first cabarets opened in Paris—naturally—in the 1880s. They spread all over Europe. Any place you had a big city, crowded apartments, people with some money to go out in the evening, and a sense of pride in being citizens of their city, you got cabaret. German cabaret developed along different lines than in France. Both the German and the Austrian empires censored what could be said in public performances. When those empires gave way to democracies after 1918, a flood of pent-up political smart-alecky performers hit the stage.   Mostly, the comedians didn’t write their own stuff. Instead, some really smart guys who wrote for the newspapers also wrote routines for cabaret comics. Kurt Tucholsky, Erich Kastner, and Klaus Mann are good examples. Also, lots of the cabaret performers leaned left politically, so German cabaret often targeted the rich and powerful. Once the Nazis got into the saddle in January 1933, cabaret artists came in for a lot of trouble. (You try sounding smart with a broken jaw.) Still, between the end of the Second Empire and the coming of the Third Reich, you could hear a lot of funny, offensive stuff from a cabaret stage. The “Cabaret Red Light” in Philadelphia sort of falls in the German tradition.

The characteristic forms of this material were cynicism (you don’t trust the motives people give for their actions), sarcasm (you ridicule somebody, often conveying meaning by tone of voice), and irony (you mean the opposite of what you say and the hearer understands this). Cynicism: Paul Krugman of the New York Times thinks the “grassroots” Tea Party is a false front for a few rich guys who want to buy an election. Sarcasm: “Americans are the most charitable people in the world. Look at how we gave democracy to Iraq.” Irony: Stephen Colbert is all irony all the time.

 

The British writer Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) went to Berlin for the first time in 1928. He was looking for book material and boyfriends in about equal measure. Isherwood found all he wanted of each, so he went back several times before 1933. He later wrote about his experiences in Goodbye to Berlin (1935) and Mr. Norris Changes Trains (1939). The books were published together as The Berlin Stories (1946). These experiences provided the basis for a play called “I Am A Camera” (1951) by a very talented, but now forgotten, English writer named John Van Druten. Then (1955) it was turned into a movie of the same title, with a script by a very talented but now forgotten English writer named John Collier, but it suffered from the prudishness of the Fifties. (It’s difficult to convey decadence when married couples have to be shown sleeping in separate beds and wearing pajamas.) Later still it was turned into a Dr. Seuss book called Sam I Am A Camera. Ten years later, public morals were a lot harder to offend. [See: “Easy Rider.”] The not-yet-great producer Hal Prince bought the rights to the story, then turned it into a musical called “Cabaret” (1966). It was a big hit, so Cy Feuer, an important Broadway producer, decided to make a movie out of the play he had not produced. He hired the fabled choreographer and director Bob Fosse (1927-1987) to direct “Cabaret” (1972).

The movie won eight Oscars (including Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor). The original Broadway show ran for 1,165 performances. A 1998 revival ran for 2,377 performances. The movie made six times its cost in profits. What has made it so popular with people who live in a different society and culture?