Weblog of Leland Rucker
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Category — Politics

Another Great Book About What Happened on 9/11/01

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in custody at Guantanamo.

Much has been said and written about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which even has its own feature film. But about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who actually planned and executed the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001? Not so much.

That’s what makes Terry McDermott and Josh Myer’s The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed> such a compelling read and major addition to 9/11 history. It tells the story of the loose terrorism network that finally hooked up KSM and bin Laden, and the decade-long search by a few intrepid FBI investigators to track down the man who conceived and carried out the attacks before they happened. KSM was finally apprehended in 2003 in Pakistan and, after being tortured by the U.S. on numerous occasions, is incarcerated in Guantanamo Prison in Cuba.

I’m not trying to lessen Osama bin Laden’s part of the story. He was the kingpin, providing money and logistical support to a plan brought to him about blowing up iconic American buildings, and his part of the story is told elsewhere, in Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower and several of Peter Bergen’s books about al Qaeda.

But KSM, whose nephew, Ramzi Yousef (aka Abdul Basit), planned the 1993 bombing of the WTC,  and then spent more than a decade crisscrossing the globe hatching plots of mayhem and death in far-flung places (thank him every time you remove your shoes because of the Robert Reid attempted footbomb, among other plots, including one to blow up several jets simultaneously over the Pacific in 1994.

KSM came to bin Laden and al Qaeda with the crazy idea of taking down the World Trade Centers using airliners as bombs. The book explains how they conspired to pull it off, but as it makes clear, KSM wasn’t actually an al Qaeda operative or member, just a like-minded terrorist whose interests coincided with al Qaeda’s at a critical moment.

The book provides plenty of evidence of the stupendous inefficiency the various agencies involved in American security displayed in the years leading up to the attacks. At one point, they came within a few minutes of apprehending KSM in 1996, and then he disappeared for seven years.

As always, I invite any of my friends who suspect or believe that 9/11 was an “inside job”  to read this book. We still don’t have all the answers, but books like this are beginning to provide a better understanding of what happened that day. More on my views about 9/11 Truth here.

January 21, 2013   No Comments

On the Day Pot Becomes Legal, It’s Reefer Madness Again in Boulder

Bike rack, Table Mesa and 40th Bus Stop, Boulder, Colorado. (Leland Rucker)

Bruce Springsteen put it aptly at his Denver concert last month. “I understand that Colorado just underlined its Rocky Mountain High.” The word’s getting around about our state, the budding Amsterdam of the American West.

On Nov. 6. about 55 percent of Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which allows anyone over 21 years of age the right to have an ounce or six plants of marijuana for personal use.   Even glowing-red El Paso County came out for decriminalization, though just barely. Voters in Denver and Boulder overwhelmingly supported the amendment and were mostly responsible for its passage. Today, December 10, 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the amendment into law.

Colorado voters in 2000 approved a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana for patients with approved cards in Colorado. But it wasn’t until the spring of 2009, following a Justice Department edict that said that the federal government wouldn’t interfere with state marijuana laws, that Colorado erupted in a crescendo of craziness and reefer madness.

Under a volcano of optimism, entrepreneurs – old pot dealers, mom-and-pop businesspeople, everybody, it seemed  – got into the legal medical business. Legislators, caught off guard, for whatever reasons, didn’t deal with state regulations for months, leaving it to local jurisdictions to deal with an onslaught of dispensaries, grow operations and card-carrying patients. Cities reacted in various ways. Some banned dispensaries outright; others, like Breckenridge, completely decriminalized pot within its boundaries.

That crazy period is well documented in Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America’s Most Outlaw Industry, a great book by Greg Campbell, a Ft. Collins journalist who writes of getting a medical marijuana card and growing six plants in hopes of selling to dispensaries amidst the craziness.

Now Colorado has legalized pot, which brings up more than a few grams of questions and even more reefer madness. First, it puts the federal government on notice that more and more of its citizens, even those who don’t smoke pot, are sick and tired of the hypocritical Drug War rat hole down which billions of our tax dollars plunge each year criminalizing the act of smoking a plant anyone can grow and Grandma now uses to ease her chronic pain. Unless President Obama’s Justice Department decides to revisit marijuana’s current Schedule 1 status, the passage of Amendment 64 might ignite a hell of a states’ right battle.

The Obama administration has followed its predecessors, waffling on its pledge not to interfere in states that have approved medical marijuana. Locally it has issued cease-and-desist orders to dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school, even if they were in local compliance. It recently reminded Washington state, which also legalized pot in November, of its Schedule 1 status.

Attorney General Eric Holder has not replied to requests from Colorado congresspeople or Gov. John Hickenlooper, for clarity, perhaps because, when it comes to the Feds and marijuana, there is no clarity, no common sense and no science involved in its decision-making process. For seventy-five years marijuana has been demonized by its Schedule One classification, and for forty of those years the federal government has waged a so-called drug war, with our tax dollars, incarcerating mostly poor and minority pot smokers while allowing the marijuana market in the United States to grow into perhaps the nation’s largest agricultural product. Make no mistake; pot is far more ubiquitous and easy-to-find today than it was in when the government began waging war on it.

Locally, Stan Garnett and Mitch Morrissey, district attorneys for Boulder and Denver counties, announced they would drop all pending marijuana possession cases, while Weld County D.A. (and fierce opponent of Amendment 64) Ken Buck said he would prosecute people up until, well, today.

Boulder’s city attorney, Tom Carr, who was voted out of the same office in Seattle at least in part because of his anti-marijuana policies, recommended the city not allow dispensaries because the window for the state to write its regulations and the city to start issuing business licenses is only a few months away and asked a two-year moratorium before revisiting the situation. No less than Nobel laureate Eric Cornell denounced Carr’s actions, quickly seconded by former City Council member and County Commissioner Paul Danish. Wisely, current council members reminded Carr that 2/3 of the voters in Boulder approved Amendment 64 and that perhaps he should revisit his current thinking.

And then, University of Colorado President Bruce Benson, in a bizarre email sent to alumni late Friday night, wrote that he personally had worked to oppose the passage of Amendment 64 and suggested that the university might lose a billion dollars a year in funding because of its passage, an astounding claim. “The glaring practical problem is that we stand to lose significant federal funding,” Benson wrote. “CU must comply with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which compels us to ban illicit drugs from campus.”

Benson generally keeps his opinions to himself, but he is the guy who authorized CU to spend more than $278,000 to try to stop the 4-20 Smokeout at CU in April. Congressman Jared Polis, in effect calling Benson a liar, pointed out that the university already has banned illicit drugs from the campus and that the amendment’s passage has nothing to do with CU funding. Local entrepreneur and CU donor Brad Feld called for Benson to retract his comments and leave his personal agenda out of CU-alumni communications.

There is more of this kind of lunacy ahead. Even Hickenlooper opposed Amendment 64 before its passage. Who knows what mischief our Republican friends in the state House of Representatives might already be cooking up to subvert Amendment 64 in the legislature’s next session?

All of this is just a reminder that, even here in our broad-minded enclave next to the Flatirons, a significant minority of people with significant power, for whatever reasons, don’t want to see marijuana regulated like alcohol in Colorado. Look for more insanity as reefer madness gives way to the fear of a stoned planet.

December 10, 2012

December 10, 2012   No Comments

Buck Rogers and the U.S. Budget

The cutline beneath this illustration actually says: "An optimistic artist's rendering of a fully operational Maritime Laser Demonstrator." And this is what is off limits to the budget debate?

I found this “news story” from LiveScience on the MSNBC website It begins with a catchy headline and lede to draw your attention, but it’s really just a glorified press release.

Navy Raygun Disables Boat With Laser Weapon

“With their (sic) new high-energy laser weapons, the U.S. Navy has succeeded in combining buccaneers and Buck Rogers. Called the Maritime Laser Demonstrator, the ray gun quickly disabled a small boat in a recent test.”

Wow. Cool. Just like in the movies. Ray guns. Buck Rogers. Buccaneers. It even includes a video of the “Maritime Laser Demonstration.”

The story goes on to explain that the high-energy laser properly functioned as a weapon on the high seas, something “offensive lasers” have had difficulty with, and that “the lessons learned while developing the laser may prove more valuable than the laser itself.”

And here’s the clincher: “Such lasers could one day protect military vessels from the same kind of tiny boat that almost sunk the destroyer U.S.S. Cole by augmenting the small machine guns already aboard American warships.”

The U.S.S. Cole, you will remember, was attacked by al Qaeda suicide bombers from a small boat on Oct. 12, 2000, in Aden harbor, Yemen. Seventeen U.S. soldiers were killed and 39 injured in the blast, which blew open a huge hole in the destroyer. The story says “ONR developed the laser in conjunction with the defense company Northrop Grumman. The program had a ceiling value of $98 million, and took about two and a half years to complete.” Which begs two questions: a) How many other “offensive lasers” have we built before this one? b) is the U.S. spending at least $100 million and probably a lot more to make sure a small boat with suicide bombers can’t take out a destroyer in a harbor again?

And you gotta love the use of  “could one day” to remind us that this is an early test of some weapons system designed for the future. The cost doesn’t matter, though, because it’s part of the military budget, which makes up enough of a percentage of the total U.S. budget that cuts in its excesses alone could probably make up for most of the one percent our lawmakers and president spent six weeks dithering on about while network news ran countdown clocks on the government shutdown. And that those of us whose money goes toward it have no idea what the hell’s going on.

But what’s interesting is that while we just endured one of the most disgusting, embarrassing debacles in executive/legislative history over a total of one percent of the total budget – with more to come on another couple of percentage points – our government develops weapons programs that we “could” use years down the road and probably will sell to other countries for their wars. And all we ever hear about it is some MSNBC press release that today passes for news in the U.S.? Or this intriguing “infographic” explaining how laser technology can be used to create mayhem and blind people? (Apparently not the laser technology that optometrists use.)

This is just the tiny tip of the iceberg? When will we have a debate in this country over our secret military budget? When will we even be able to see the military budget? When will we ask why, in the name of “security,” we as a country are the major arms supplier in the world? When will we ask why not cut back on future weapons programs instead of arguing over Planned Parenthood?”

April 13, 2011   No Comments

Set Piece in a Crazy Colorado Governor Race

Colorado gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper arrives at KBDI studios for a debate Thursday. (click to enlarge)

For anybody who watches politics, the 2010 Colorado gubernatorial race has everything. Just when you think it can’t get any juicer, it does, like a gift that just keeps on giving.

This is due in no small part to the Republicans, who (barely) voted for unknown Dan Maes in the primary after the original frontrunner, former Congressman Scott McGinnis, was found to have been paid $300,000 by a foundation for some articles on water rights, which McGinnis stole from a researcher and presented as his own work. (Every journalist in America was envious.)

Since then, as Party leaders found out more about Maes – he called Denver’s bike-sharing program part of a U.N. conspiracy to take over our cities, just for starters — they began to jump ship in droves. Just this week, after more stories that indicated Maes was at best embellishing his past accomplishments, prominent Repubs like former Sen. Hank Brown and John Andrews, among others, took back their original endorsements.

Tom Tancredo, the infamous anti-immigration former Congressman, called for McGinnis and Maes to step down before the primary so the party would have a chance to win. If they didn’t, he threatened to run himself. Both declined to quit, so he’s running as a third-party candidate for the American Constitution Party, whatever that is.

This leaves most observers of the political scene here to believe that, beyond a YouTube video of misconduct by Hickenlooper, whose first TV campaign commercial show him fully clothed in the shower stating that he won’t run any negative ads, is a shoo-in to move from City Hall to the Governor’s office early next year.

Hickenlooper fans arrived early to greet motorists and light-rail riders.

By 11 a.m. Thursday, a spirited advance phalanx of supporters of Hickenlooper, was lined up below our offices along Welton and 29th streets, cheering and chanting their candidate’s name to passing motorists and light-rail trains.

He was the first to arrive for a candidate’s forum at KBDI, the public television station which occupies the first-floor offices of our building.

At quarter to twelve, I came out of the back door and almost ran into Hickenlooper on the sidewalk, where he was approaching the cheering throngs gathered at the front door. There were TV cameras and Tancredo For Governor placards juggling amidst the sea of Hickenlooper signs. Hick was trying to not notice the man behind him with a megaphone,  screaming at the mayor to acknowledge him because he was a candidate for governor and asking why he wasn’t being allowed to join the debate. This turned out to be Jason Clark, one of two unaffiliated candidates running.

I took a couple of photos as Hickenlooper took in the adulation of his army of supporters. As I turned the corner to catch the light rail, Hickenlooper was heading in for the debate, leaving Clark on the street with his megaphone.

September 3, 2010   No Comments

When the AIG Chickens Come Home to Roost

This AIG ad, in the Dec. 2005 issue of National Geographic, claims "50 million customers" who rely on AIG to secure their financial future.

This AIG ad, in the Dec. 2005 issue of National Geographic, claims "50 million customers" who rely on AIG to secure their financial future.

Fairfield, Conn. — Longtime pillars of the community are now pariahs living in fear, hiding behind locked gates and security guards amid the public outrage over bonuses paid with taxpayer bailout money.

Payouts by American International Group Inc. appear to have put a face on the economic struggles the country faces, and the anger targeting AIG executives living in this ritzy area of Connecticut is palpable. Death threats have been pouring in since the brouhaha broke, the company said, and its workers are taking no chances.

“It’s scary,” one executive said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution. “People are very, very nervous for their security.”

Associated Press, March 21, 2009.

March 21, 2009   No Comments

Questioning Rep. Polis’ News Judgment

A couple of newspaper articles caught my eye this morning. Jonathon Berlin writes of his years at the recently shuttered Rocky Mountain News. Berlin came of age at the Rocky during the first years of this century, when the newspaper relentlessly covered Denver and its politicians, winning awards and Pulitzer prizes for its efforts, and he wonders what will fill the gap left by newspaper closings.

Rep. Polis: A bit full of himself already?

Rep. Polis: A bit full of himself?

“As more journalists move on, who will do this kind of work? And how will the world be affected as less of it is done,” Berlin asks. “It’s not cheap, it’s not easy and it takes a very special collection of people and skills that budget-minded companies don’t often have the tolerance to incubate.”

Well, my congressional representative, Jared Polis, for whom I voted, answered that question in another story: bloggers. The Denver Post, the still-standing newspaper in that city, quotes Polis telling the Denver Young Democrats on Sunday: “The media is dead and long live the new media.”

I generally expect my congressman to know that media is plural, but I have given up on that one. But then he adds that since bloggers “killed the newspapers” and now “own the media,” they have a responsibility: “It’s important for all of us to reach out to some of those on the other side and present the progressive point of view.”

Bloggers killed newspapers? Replace newspaper reporters with progressive bloggers? Can Polis be serious? There are many reasons for the collapse of newspapers, but they have to do with numbers and corporate ownership and declining advertising, and despite what some bloggers want you to believe, little or nothing to do with bloggers.

Now perhaps our freshman representative, full of himself and the current progressive hegemony, was just trying to bump up his hip quotient with his young Democratic constituents, but it’s equally easy to say that Polis is pleased to see that newspapers like the Rocky, which often watched politicians like himself through a less-than-glowing lens, are going away, replaced with bloggers who praise his progressivism. If Polis has his way, there soon won’t be a Denver Post to print the idiotic things he says in public forums. Instead, “citizen journalists” will help push his agenda.

A personal note about “citizen journalists.” I am by trade a journalist and I write this weblog, so I guess you could call me a “citizen journalist.” What that means is that I write about subjects in which I am interested or passionate about. I don’t have an editor to challenge what I write or question how I write it. So I am not a “journalist,” and bloggers who say they are journalists are simply not being honest with themselves. Like me writing this post, they are advocates, not journalists. There is a place for both, but one won’t “replace” the other. And certainly not Rep. Polis and his blogging advocates.

March 3, 2009   1 Comment

Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009

Pedestrian Crossing, Baseline Road and 27th Way, Boulder, Colorado

Pedestrian Crossing, Baseline Road and 27th Way, Boulder, Colorado

January 20, 2009   No Comments

A Day I Thought I’d Never See

MLK and LBJ confer in 1963 in this Life magazine image.

MLK and LBJ confer in 1963 in this Life magazine image.

Watching the concert Sunday night at the Lincoln Memorial, it really began to sink in that Barack Obama will be sworn in as the forty fourth president of the United States tomorrow morning. I’m far too much of a cynic to put my hope in government solutions to our country’s problems, but that’s the way it is right now, and I feel encouraged by the fact that Tuesday we will see something that, at least for this white man who grew up in the shadow of segregation, never dreamed would happen in my lifetime.

I was in third grade when the schools were desegregated in 1954, but it had no immediate impact on me; my suburban classrooms were still almost all white. We moved back into Kansas City in 1957, and after a black kid rode his bike into the neighborhood one afternoon, we were told that night, in no uncertain terms, that we couldn’t play with him again. My aunt and uncle weren’t what I would call racist, but segregation was the law, and though blacks and whites could work alongside each other, they could not live so. I was never taught to hate anybody, but the implication was to keep to  your own.

This struck me as inherently wrong morally and significantly at odds with my then-Christian beliefs. While the battles of the civil rights movement played out on the pages of Life magazine and on television newsreels, I read Black Like Me, the story of John Howard Griffin’s trip to the deep South disguised as a black man, and Dick Gregory’s memoir From the Back of the Bus. But the clincher was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a scathing indictment of institutional racism in the little town of Maycomb, Alabama, as seen through the eyes of children my same age. With Tom Robinson’s trial, the veil was lifted.

This coincided with my first political stirrings, beginning in 1959, when, as a seventh grader, I gave a stump speech over the Calvary Lutheran School intercom for candidate John F. Kennedy. (He lost overwhelming in our classroom 13-2 to Richard Nixon.) I knew nothing really of his politics at the time, but I was stirred by his enthusiasm and his powerful calls to action. His murder, along with Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the war in Vietnam and a host of other tragedies snuffed out that particular flame. Today, I feel some of that same enthusiasm, but it is now tempered with a skepticism born of decades of cynicism.

Remembering the outrageously partisan rule of the last eight years, the particular nastiness and racist overtones of the campaign and the ultimate election of a mixed race black man by a majority of American voters is worth savoring along with King’s memory.

Yours for only $9.99. Are there velvet paintings yet?

Yours for only $9.99. Are there velvet paintings yet?

Meanwhile, I just got an email advertising, for only $9.99, an Obama commemorative plate. Come Wednesday, all bets are off.

January 19, 2009   No Comments


Having decided to vote for him many months ago, I am pleased as hell that Barack Obama will become our next president come January.

And yes, part of it is that as an aging white man who grew up in the civil-rights years, participating in the election of a black man to the presidency of the United States is deeply satisfying in a primal way I can’t put into words. I’m not naïve enough to believe this will end prejudice or mend race relations, but hopefully white hegemony in America ended forever on Tuesday. I don’t know about you, but I kind of like the ring of Black House.

One of the many great stories of this campaign is how the Obama team succeeded in putting its candidate into the presidency at a point where he seems ready for the position. Everybody talks about how brilliant the Bushies were in their 2000 and 2004 victories. But the Obama team didn’t need to resort to the slimeball tactics that destroyed war-hero John McCain’s chances in the primaries of 2000 and war-hero John Kerry in 2004.

This time, since they couldn’t attack his race directly, the 2008 Swiftboaters attempted to brand Obama a secret Muslim, a cokehead, a terrorist sympathizer, even a socialist, for god’s sake. He was portrayed as soft on crime and untrustworthy because of his associations.

Because none of it was true, none of it stuck. This time Americans saw the subterfuge, and the 2008 Swiftboaters had their asses handed back to them. Obama and his wife endured the months-long onslaught with a quiet dignity, and the Obama team, right from the first attack (remember the one about him being schooled in a radical Muslim madrassa), began offering real evidence to refute each and every claim.

Score one for us and for common sense, and kudos to the Obama team. I can hardly wait to read the book that compares how each side ran this campaign. Presidential politics will never be quite the same again.

As relieved as I am, there isn’t much time to celebrate what amounts to a historic moment in American history. Barack Obama can’t live on promises and speeches any longer, and to pick up the pieces of the Bush administration’s scorched-earth policies, he needs to hit the ground running on many fronts.

As Thomas Friedman points out in Sunday’s New York Times, all this candidate babble about how the government, with a few tax cuts and trillions of dollars of bailout cash, will somehow bring things back to the point where we can all start buying shit we can’t afford to keep the economy running has to end as well.

Can Obama become a leader who transcends the partisanship of Washington? He has certainly shown great restraint and intelligence during the a brutal campaign, and his inner circle is expanding to include disparate people for whom I have great respect (Warren Buffet and Colin Powell, for example). Obama has been given a mandate that no president has seen since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and a set of tasks as daunting as any president has ever faced entering office. More than ever, we need a real leader. Gobama.

November 5, 2008   No Comments

Jurist in the Cross-Hairs of Adverse Possession

Reading the Daily Camera earlier this week, I came across a half-page ad that strongly reminded voters not to retain a Boulder district judge on the grounds that he is an activist who doesn’t share the values of our community.

Judge James Klein, you might remember, was the jurist who decided last year in favor of former judge Richard McLean and attorney Edith Stevens in an adverse possession case against Don and Susie Kirlin in our fair city. Yeah, that case.

Unfortunately for Judge Klein, who rendered a decision based upon a careful reading of Colorado law and the evidence presented, the case would be seen by many in the public as an affront to general civility. The good news is that it resulted in the state legislature closing the loophole in Colorado law seized upon by Stevens and McLean.

The bad news is that, because he made the correct decision based on a careful reading of the law, there is a good chance Klein will lose his position.

A Longmont man, Randy Weinard, spent more than $2,000 for the attack ad, and it appears that he also might have violated campaign finance laws by not identifying himself on the ad.

Weinard got a double bang for his buck. You can’t buy better position than the Daily Camera‘s story yesterday, which ran across the top of the front page, with a photo of Judge Klein to boot. “An anonymous advertisement that ran in Thursday’s Camera urging voters to dump a Boulder district judge who made a controversial ruling in a land-use case a year ago violated campaign finance laws.”

That sentence is misleading. The judge did nothing more than make the correct ruling based up on the law as it was written. The “controversy” came up after the ruling, when it appeared that the plaintiffs used the letter of the law to misuse its intent and take one-third of their neighbors’ property.

The irony, of course, is that were Klein an activist judge, he would have ruled for the Kirlins, who seemed to be taken advantage of by two wily law vets. Earlier this year, the Colorado statute was amended. If Judge Klein got that same case next year, he would no doubt rule the other way if presented the same case.

But I’m guessing that irony will be swept away by the same self-righteousness that flowed through the streets of Boulder last winter, and people will probably feel better about themselves by voting him out of office.

Why does that old John Prine song keep going through my head?

It don’t make much sense
That common sense
Don’t make no sense
No more

October 25, 2008   No Comments