Flawless is coming soon...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What’s With the Grounding of the Planes?

I love living in a modern society! I love the convenience of hitting a thermostat and hearing my oil fired furnace roar to life. My parents grew up in homes, not unlike many Americans in rural stretches of this country, where the thermostat was in the wood pile. While it would have taken my ancestors six months to travel from Maryland to California, my wife and I did it in about eight hours after a layover in Denver. And most urbanites have the convenience of a 24-hour retailer that would welcome them at 2:30 a.m. for the purchase of a painkiller to help ease the throbbing of a toothache.

This is truly a remarkable society that we live in; however, the downside to a modern society is that when things go bad, they can go really bad: if a nuclear power plant had a meltdown, the radiation exposure could kill everyone within a 5-mile radius; alcohol and automobiles kill nearly 20,000 people a year and injure many more than that; a bridge that is not inspected regularly could collapse without warning; bacteria in a city’s water system could cause an epidemic; and an airplane cruising at 29,000 feet is susceptible to a wind sheer that can knock it right out of the sky.

I think most people are willing to live with the unseen risks of a modern society. However, very few of us are the type of thrill seekers that would go about our daily activities in the face of danger. Sure, many thrill seekers will bungee jump, sky dive or raft the white water rapids, but how many would book travel on an airline if they knew that that airline had been threatened with a terrorist attack? Certainly if the price is right, there is always someone who is foolish enough or desperate enough to take that risk, which brings me to something that has recently been of concern to me – American Airlines’ cancellation of thousands of flights over the last week.

We have been told that Federal Aviation Administration inspectors raised concerns about the wiring harnesses in the wheel wells of the Boeing MD-80. I sure pray that that is all it is; however, why would American basically ground its fleet of MD-80s when, if this is a problem, it has been a problem since the planes were delivered. These fuel efficient, twin-engine jets were certified for service by the FAA in August 1980; therefore, why almost 30 years later is there a concern that had not been noticed prior? I certainly am not qualified to make a decision to ground a fleet of airlines over safety concerns. However, it would seem to me that a reasonable inspection period, let’s say 90 days, would have been appropriate in this instance, considering that fact that some of these airplanes are nearly 30 years old.

Usually if there is a safety concern over a product, the manufacturer is brought into the process of eliminating the hazard. However, I have not seen where Boeing has explained why the harness system was installed the way that it was, neither has the manufacturer offered an explanation that would verify the integrity of the product, in this instance, the commercial airliner. Also, what is adding to this mystery is that some of the planes have been inspected more than once. If American has competent machinists inspecting the wiring harness, why would it have to reinspect some planes?

The logical questions that I have posed, along with the airlines’ urgency to demonstrate its prompt attention to an FAA “concern” that appears to be 30 years late, seems to suggest something more ominous than simply a faulty wiring harness. I would not be surprised if the United States intelligence community or the diplomatic back-channels have uncovered a terrorist plot to blow up commercial airliners while in flight; specifically MD-80s. Consequently, what has been advertised as safety inspections could in fact be heightened anxiety that one or more MD-80s has a bomb installed in it. If so, and I hope that I am wrong on this suspicion, then that would explain American’s willingness to abruptly cancel thousands of flights, leaving tens of thousands of their customers stranded at airports across the country.

On a deeper level, have Americans convinced themselves that Al Qaeda, or another terrorist organization will remain dormant while the U.S. Military hunts its leaders, including Osama bin Laden? Depending on which report you believe, between 60,000 and 110,000 Iraqis have been killed during the current conflict. These are men, women and children; Iraqi citizens who have been caught in the crosshairs of a war between the U.S. and the insurgents. I believe in modern military vernacular this is called collateral damage. It is extremely unfortunate that it is happening, but do we honestly believe that the terrorist will not strike back for this and for other reasons?

If there has been a terrorist threat against our commercial airlines, and again I hope that I am wrong, it would make sense that the administration would want to keep this information above top-secret. And the current explanation for grounding the MD-80s would certainly prevent a public panic and a subsequent refusal to fly. With the current housing market, credit crunch and high gasoline prices, our economy could nosedive, no pun intended, into a depression if the public stopped flying for fear of another terrorist attack.

If we rewind to September 11, 2001, we will note that the terrorists attacked two airlines that, metaphorically speaking, represent the U.S. – American and United, so in a possible follow-up attack, has Al Qaeda set its sites on American Airlines again? For the third time, I hope (and pray) not.

In closing, I would like to urge those who may read this article to use some caution during this period if flying is a logical choice for you, because as the late Kurt Cobain has been quoted as saying, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they are not after you.”

Friday, April 4, 2008

Did the Military Assassinate Dr. King? Part II

I remember my mother running through the house forty years ago this day, struck with the most emotion that I had ever seen in a person, weeping over the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In one of the great speeches of American history, Robert Kennedy summed up Dr. King's life in two sentences as he addressed a mostly black crowd in Indianapolis – “Dr. Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort.” Forty years later, Dr. King, ironically, would not recognize the world that we live in. His dream, which seemed so distant during the Civil Rights’ struggles of the 1960s, has not quite become a reality; however, it would be dishonest to suggest that America has not made long strides in the direction of fulfilling one of the great ideals of the 20th Century: the dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed; holding a self-evident truth that all men are created equal…the dream that black children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content
of their character.

Despite the enormous progress in American race relations, the dream of a color blind society has yet to be achieved. We keep hearing, of Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy, that he may be the country’s first “black” President. In a truly color blind society, Barack’s ethnicity is irrelevant. The media didn’t call President Bush the 43rd white President of America. The attention that has been given to Obama’s skin color demonstrates how much work is necessary to achieve Dr. King’s dream.

The 40-years between Dr. King’s death and Obama’s presidential bid is heroic in one respect; that the descendant of a slave can have a serious prospect of holding the highest public servant position in the country. However, it is tragic in another respect; that the U.S. Government saw Dr. King as a national security threat. At a minimum, one could argue that America helped preserve the climate of hate that caused Dr. King’s death, and at worst, one can argue that she created it. Whether one agrees that America has a level of culpability in his death, one thing is certain, military presence in Memphis on April 4, 1968 is very, very troublesome.

The military spying on an American citizen seems like a paradox of sorts since any concern that Dr. King would fuel social unrest would appear to fall under the responsibility of the FBI. Part of the FBI's mission is to provide leadership and law enforcement assistance to federal, state and local agencies; and to perform these responsibilities in a manner that is responsive to the needs of the public and is faithful to the Constitution of the United States. Any concern that Dr. King’s involvement in peaceful, social protests would lead to social unrest would clearly fall under the purview of the FBI and state and local police agencies. Therefore, I am deeply troubled that the military took the lead to spy on Dr. King instead of the FBI, who had monitored his every move since the Birmingham Bus Boycott.

Given the social climate of the 1960s, it is in fact not much of a stretch for people to believe that the military was responsible for Dr. King’s death. What is curious, however, is that James Earl Ray was charged and later convicted of his death; however, the King family later granted him a clemency of sorts, by publicly acknowledging that they did not believe he killed their father/husband. This is dramatic, since Coretta Scott King and her children would have been more closely connected emotionally to Dr. King’s death. Consequently, for them to publicly declare Ray’s innocence, it would suggest that they strongly believed that he was not responsible for his assassination.

Ray claims to have confessed to the murder of Dr. King to prevent the possibility of a capital case, leading to conviction and a possible death sentence. He later recanted his confession and spent the remainder of his life trying to obtain a trial in order to prove his innocence. Twenty years after his verdict, a friend of Dr. King, Dr. William Pepper, began an intense research effort to help secure a trial for Ray in order to clear his name. In the process, Pepper discovered evidence that led to a wrongful death civil suit by the King family in 1999. The centerpiece of the civil suit was a bar owner named Loyd Jowers, who claims to have disposed of the murder weapon at the request of a local mob figure.

Pepper called dozens of witnesses and according to Publishers Weekly, they contributed to a forceful, detailed case that accused the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. military, the Memphis police, and local and national organized crime leaders. And after only an hour of deliberation, the jury found for the King family. In order to suppress any claims that they were in it for the money, the family only sought $100 in the suit. They wanted the facts of the case to receive wide circulation. However, in what should have been one of the biggest news stories of the decade, it barely made it beyond one news cycle. Determined to enlighten the public on the facts of his research and subsequent trial, Pepper wrote An Act of State, The Execution of Martin Luther King, a comprehensive examination into the assassination of Dr. King.

As we remember the death of a great American patriot, there are still many unanswered questions, like –

· Why were Floyd E. Newman and Norvell E. Wallace, black firefighters who worked at Fire Station 2, directly across the street from the Lorraine Hotel, telephoned at home on the night of April 3, 1968 and advised that they had been temporarily transferred to fire stations far removed from the Lorraine Hotel?

· If James Earl Ray was the lone assassin, then who placed sophisticated listening devices on Dr. King’s telephone and television in his room at the Lorraine Hotel?

· What was the United States Army doing in Memphis on April 4, 1968?

· Why did Walter Fauntroy, who chaired the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) that investigated Dr. King’s death, believe that Ray did not kill Dr. King, but that there was a larger conspiracy that “possibly involved federal law enforcement agencies?”

· What about reports that the FBI sent a swat team to Tennessee’s Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary to shoot Ray after an escape to prevent his testimony at the HSCA hearings?

· Why did Carthel Weeden, captain of Fire Station 2 take two U.S. Army officers to the roof of the fire station on the morning of April 4, 1968, which gave them a perfect line of sight to Dr. King’s balcony doorway?

· Why did the Army’s 111th Military Intelligence Group keep Dr. King under 24 hour surveillance during 1968?

· Why did the owner of Jim’s Grill (the back door of which opened into the dense bushes across from the Lorraine Motel), Loyd Jowers, tell Sam Donaldson on Prime Time Live in 1993 that he had been asked to help murder Dr. King and was told that there would be a decoy (Ray) in the plot if it was not true?

· Is it true that Merrell McCullough, an undercover Memphis Police Department officer, who later began working with the CIA, infiltrated a Memphis community organizing group, the Invaders, which was working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference? (Note: McCullough can be seen holding Dr. King’s head in the famous photograph of him lying on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.)

(To keep the above bullet points from reading like a trial transcript, I simply offered a summary; however Probe Magazine published an expose of the King Family’s wrongful death suit against Loyd Jowers, which brought to light a number of questionable events that I have identified. Also, the King Center has published an online transcript of the court proceedings.)

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a constant reminder that we live in a very cruel world, where ambitions, aspirations and dreams can come in for a crash landing in an instant. The power of Dr. King’s life, however, demonstrated that his was sprinkled with God’s grace, which caused it to be immortalized in the lives of, not just his family, but all men and women of good will. The world was truly a better place with him in it, and ironically, because of his life, the world became an even better place when he left it – what a great epitaph to have engraved on ones gravestone; however, that choice is yours.

As I leave this series on Dr. King’s assassination, I wish to offer a tribute to his legacy by quoting one of my favorite passages from his many speeches – “An individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity. Every person must decide, at some point, whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgement. Life=s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’@

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Did the Military Assassinate Dr. King? Part I

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I will examine his death in a two part series and layout what I believe to be some disturbing questions that still deserve answers.

Before I am charged with being unpatriotic or anti-American, I better swiftly say that there is no hard evidence to prove military involvement in the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, the evidence that is available does provide a scary connection between his death and our Government. According to The Commercial Appeal, a conservative newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, the U.S. Government had spied on the King family for 30 years and they were in Memphis on the day of Dr. King’s assassination. As his popularity grew and he began to speak out against the Vietnam War, enlisting the support of many anti-war advocates, the military increasingly viewed him as a threat to national security.*

Dr. King was in Memphis in early April preparing to lead a demonstration in support of striking sanitation workers. A few weeks later, he was planning to bring his Poor People’s Campaign to Washington, D.C. to demand that less attention be given to the war in Vietnam and that the government provide more resources for the poor.

An April 4, 1968, Dr. King was slain by an assassin’s bullet.

For those who understood the climate that led to Dr. King’s assassination, it would be impossible to disregard his evolution as a human rights leader. Dr. King was thrust into the national spotlight with his courageous leadership of the Birmingham Bus Boycott in 1955 and 1956, which led to the Supreme Court’s decision prohibiting segregation on city buses. This was the prelude to a short, but very influential career as a social leader. The turning point in Dr. King’s career came on April 4, 1967.

I’m not quite certain if I should categorize this turning point as coincidence, ironic or tragic. However, this date should be regarded as the moment in his ministry that he challenged an even greater evil than racism: In New York City’s Riverside Church, Dr. King preached a sermon that is affectionately known as Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence, where he delivers a blistering attack against the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, while America’s poor languished in poverty. In Beyond Vietnam, Dr. King uses very harsh language against his country that would be considered anti-American or even subversive, if someone with his celebrity status gave it today in light of Iraq.

I call it Dr. King’s turning point, because essentially he called it his turning point. During his experience in the ghettos of the North, he claims to have grown to a deeper level of awareness regarding his calling as a minister. This experience motivated his active participation in the anti-war effort. He shared his insight into the evolution of his ministry on April 4th, 1967 in New York, which coincidentally (or is it ironically, or tragically?) is exactly one year to the date of his assassination – April 4, 1968:

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the [ghettoes] of the North over the last three years -- especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent [emphasis mine].

Dr. King called for the “radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam,” and he began to embark upon a course where some white people, who opposed his civil rights stance, along with those who didn’t, embraced his anti-war sentiment. This anti-war theme brought blacks and whites together to form a common bond of major public dissent. This concerned the war planners, because a successful military campaign in a democracy hinges on public support, and Dr. King’s presence in the anti-war movement began to contribute to the erosion of such support.

By most post-war accounts, Vietnam was a failed foreign policy that was aggressively pursued under the Johnson and Nixon Administrations. In fact, Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 through 1968, offers an unabashed apology for his involvement in Vietnam in his book, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. I believe that this is one of the most significant books written in the United States in the last 25 years, because it is so rare for a public official at McNamara’s level to give this type of extraordinarily candid view of his errors in judgement over a failed policy.

History vindicated Dr. King over his anti-war stance; however, his position fueled an anti-King reaction within the military and Federal government. Of course, it is legend the stories of illegal spying by the FBI on the Civil Rights Movement, but what is not so widely known is that the military illegally spied on Dr. King as well. In fact, according to The Commercial Appeal, “[the] U.S. Army spies shadowed Dr. [King] the day he died in Memphis. They watched him closely through most of the 1960s, but stepped up their observation of him in early 1968 because of fears that his planned ‘Poor People’s Campaign’ on Washington would lead to widespread violence.”

...to be continued

* (The following link will take you to a search page at The Commercial Appeal regarding its investigation on Dr. King's Assassination.) http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=CA&p_theme=ca&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_text_search-0=army%20AND%20secretly%20AND%20watched%20AND%20King&s_dispstring=army%20secretly%20watched%20King%20AND%20date(1993)&p_field_date-0=YMD_date&p_params_date-0=date:B,E&p_text_date-0=1993&xcal_numdocs=20&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:A&xcal_useweights=no.