Weekend open thread: 9/11 memories

Fifteen years later, images of the burning and collapsing World Trade Center towers are fresh in the minds of just about everyone old enough to remember 9/11. All topics are welcome in this thread, including any reflections on that horrific day.

Many people casually refer to "3,000 Americans" killed on 9/11, but hundreds of the victims were from other countries. Last year, the Brilliant Maps website posted a map created by reddit user thepenaltytick, showing all countries that lost at least one citizen. Most of the globe is covered.

The United Kingdom lost 67 citizens (some tourists, others working in the U.S.), making 9/11 the deadliest terror attack in that country’s history.

I was living in London fifteen years ago. Having watched the BBC’s uneventful news over lunch, I turned off the tv to get back to work on my dissertation. Around 2:00 pm, which would have been 9:00 am in New York, someone called and told me to turn the tv back on. I was glued to the BBC for the rest of the day and night. Watching the people trapped on the roof of the World Trade Center, I couldn’t understand why none of the helicopters could get close enough to rescue them before the towers collapsed. I could not believe a plane was able to crash into the Pentagon.

In Britain, as in the U.S., there was a tremendous public outpouring of grief after the attacks. British people are normally reserved with strangers, but many approached me after hearing my American accent in a shop or a train station, just to say how very sorry they were about what had happened in my country. UPDATE: Added below photos a reader sent, showing piles of flowers and gifts and notes left outside the U.S. embassy in London in September 2001.

I didn’t lose any friends on 9/11, and only one of my acquaintances lost a loved one that day; his father was on one of the planes that hit the towers. Even without experiencing a personal bereavement, I felt enraged, especially when reading newspaper profiles of the victims. During the Jewish high holidays in late September 2001, the last thing I felt like doing was reflecting on the past and forgiving wrongs from the past year. At that time, I heard a BBC radio segment featuring the UK’s Chief Rabbi, David Sacks. He reminded listeners that the Bible (he meant the Hebrew Scriptures or “Old Testament”) tells us once to love our neighbors, but tells us approximately 30 times to love the stranger. That’s because it is easier to love our neighbor, who is probably a lot like ourselves, than it is to love a stranger. It’s the only quote I remember from what must have been dozens of radio commentaries by Sacks I heard during my years abroad.

This week, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein called for a new investigation of the 9/11 events. Stein is headlining a rally at the state capitol in Des Moines today from 3 pm to 5:30. To any readers who attend: feel free to write about the speakers or crowd atmosphere in a comment or a guest post for Bleeding Heartland later. MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald analyzed Stein’s campaign strategy a few weeks ago, arguing she "seems unsure how to speak to anyone this side of Noam Chomsky" and has "misread" the Bernie Sanders playbook while attempting to appeal to Sanders supporters.

Big news on Friday: in a move without precedent, the Obama administration ordered that construction of the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline "will not go forward at this time" on Army Corps land bordering or under a North Dakota lake on Standing Rock Sioux tribal land. Gavin Aronsen wrote up the story for Iowa Informer. The federal action will not affect Bakken pipeline construction in Iowa. Though the project will probably be completed in all four states eventually, James MacPherson reported for the Associated Press that the government’s intervention "may forever change the way all energy infrastructure projects [affecting tribal land] are reviewed in the future."

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Iowa Senate district 8 preview: Mike Gronstal vs. Dan Dawson

No Iowa Democrat has frustrated Republicans more over the last six years than Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. The 26 to 24 Democratic majority in the state Senate has kept dozens of bills on the conservative wish list from reaching Governor Terry Branstad’s desk. After a net gain of six Iowa Senate seats in the 2010 wave election, many Republicans were confident that gaining control of the upper chamber was only a matter of time. However, Democrats managed to keep that one-seat majority despite a new map of political boundaries that gave Republicans lots of opportunities in 2012. Another GOP landslide in 2014 failed to deliver any net gain for the party in the Iowa Senate.

I’ve long believed Gronstal was well-positioned to win re-election again. Earlier this year, the Iowa Firearms Coalition PAC made the same calculation, leaving Gronstal’s district off its list of targeted Iowa Senate races.

But even if Senate district 8 isn’t among the most promising GOP pickup opportunities, Republican leaders will invest resources in this race, especially since their preferred challenger, Dan Dawson, won a three-way GOP primary. A television commercial introducing Dawson to voters is already in the can.

Follow me after the jump for a closer look at Senate district 8, its recent voting history, the two candidates, and likely themes of the general election.

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Using a flag to express a political view is protected speech

A Calhoun County judge has dismissed a short-lived criminal case that never should have been filed. Homer Martz was arrested last week and charged under Iowa’s flag desecration statute, because he "flew a U.S. flag upside down under a Chinese flag." An upside-down flag is a widely recognized distress signal. Martz was protesting the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline, which will run near his Calhoun County home.

Trouble is, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt ruled in December 2014, "Conduct involving the American flag has long been recognized by the United States Supreme Court as expressive communication that falls within the protection of the First Amendment." Click here for the full opinion in that case, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa on behalf of Westboro Baptist Church members who had dragged the flag on the ground while trying to disrupt military funerals.

Word of that court decision didn’t reach law enforcement in Calhoun County. David Pitt reported for the Associated Press on August 15,

Calhoun County Attorney Tina Meth Farrington filed a motion to dismiss the charges Monday, saying that she read the 2014 federal ruling and concluded she shouldn’t pursue the charge.

“The Legislature should take immediate action to repeal this law so that other citizens and law enforcement are not caught in this type of situation again,” she said.

A judge approved the motion Monday afternoon.

Calhoun County Sheriff William Davis said at the time Martz was arrested, he and the two arresting officers were unaware the law had been struck down.

When I was growing up, flag protection laws and constitutional amendments were a salient topic, as Republicans exploited a tiny number of flag-burners on the left in search of a wedge to use against Democrats. In recent years, some conservatives have displayed upside-down flags to protest President Barack Obama or his policies. On a busy corner in Windsor Heights, an upside-down flag flew for several weeks in late 2014, presumably to communicate the homeowner’s view of the president’s executive orders on immigration policy.

We can debate whether an unconventional flag display is an effective tool for political persuasion. But no matter how deeply offensive the message may be to some Americans, there is no legal recourse against those who use or abuse a flag to make their point.

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