The wind has shifted. We smell the smoke. One of our friends was at an early morning meeting on a high floor of the World Trade Center and has not been heard from since. Another friend works in the building next door and ran out to see what was happening. He was standing beside the second building as the second plane made impact, and ran for his life – successfully. A friend of a friend called his family from the World Trade Center to say he was trapped . . . and to say good-bye.
The stories have begun to trickle in.
The last time I was on a high floor of the Trade Center was for a New York City Department of Finance Tax Audit. Despite the way his department tormented me, my auditor and I came to like each other. I fear he may be among the dead.
My friend Joe Andrew, chairman of the Democratic National Committee until earlier this year, had seat 6C on American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington Dulles to LAX. A meeting cancellation caused him to switch to an afternoon flight.
A pilot on the flight Joe narrowly missed taking, a member of the National Gay Pilots Association, was a friend of a friend.
One Liberty Plaza – an enormous, landmark skyscraper, may collapse. We are waiting to see.
As I write this, they’ve just evacuated the Empire State Building. I assume it’s just a bomb scare that will turn out to be a false alarm, but I don’t dismiss it quite the way I once would have.
Our wonderful maid (once a week! on the books!) has been waiting for years to coax her mother, who had never left Peru, never flown, to come visit New York. She was always afraid to come, but finally arrived for a week on Saturday. What must she be thinking?
The stock market will not be open until Friday earliest, Monday latest. My guess: Monday. So what will happen? A 6% or 7% decline as in Japan? Not so bad? Worse?
Holly P: ‘I saw this idea today and think it is a good one. If you think so too, do it and pass it along. No doubt you have heard dire predictions about the financial devastation that will occur when the US stock market re-opens. This will be a second devastating attack on America if we allow it to happen. We DON’T have to allow it to happen. Here’s what YOU can do to help prevent it… When the markets re-open, in a show of support and solidarity, BUY at least one share of stock in a U.S. company. Open your minds to imagine what a SLAP in the face of terrorism it would be if the American markets actually RISE instead of PLUNGE when they re-open! Can you think of a STRONGER message we could send to those who would seek to destroy our way of life? We do NOT have to be the VICTIMS of the US stock market like we were the victims of four hijacked planes. WE are at the controls of our stock market and WE can determine its course. People by the hundreds of thousands are lining up to donate one pint of blood. Think of the effect we can have if we line up in the same way to “donate” to the American economy! For very little money you can DO something to show would-be terrorists that they will NOT win.’
☞ It’s a nice idea, but the market will seek, and should be allowed to find, its own notion of sensible value. Pitching in to stop a decline is not practical. Trading the first day will likely top 2 billion shares. If 1 million people responded to this e-mail and bought ten shares each, not one, that would be less than half of one percent of the volume. Nothing. And in my experience, a million people do not respond to e-mails like this.
(On the other hand, I do hope the SEC imposes a brief moratorium on short-selling.)
Even before this horrific tragedy, the market, by many traditional measures, was overpriced – the Dow was 6500 five years ago when Secretary Rubin and Fed Chairman Greenspan worried it was dangerously overvalued.
So instead of buying at the opening in an attempt to send the terrorists a message, one might be equally patriotic placing “limit orders” for stocks at prices, say, 20% below the market, instead. With luck, the market won’t drop that much, in part because a flood of such orders will have provided a “cushion,” and some psychological underpinning. If you do get the stock, your patriotism will have cost a lot less.
This event itself does not deserve to deflate the stock market by trillions of dollars. It’s actual cost – or tangible cost, anyway, all in – may well be under $100 billion, which is more like a 1% hiccup, a 96-point drop in the Dow. The psychological damage is greater, but, with a bit of luck, may not prove long-lasting. So if you can snag stocks at 20% off, you could wind up doing pretty well.
Note – while we are searching for bargains – that Japan’s Nikkei Dow is now at essentially the same level (9620) as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (9606). The Nikkei has not been this low in 18 years, and is less than one-fourth its high nearly 12 years ago, while the Dow, in that same time frame, has quadrupled. That is a sixteen-fold shift in relative values . . . much of it deserved – the Nikkei was preposterously overvalued at 40,000 – but it is a shift that has perhaps now run its course, or perhaps even gone too far. (The problem is that both indexes could have further to fall.)
The goal of these thoughts is not to panic you. Far from it. If the Dow should open 2,000 points lower – 20% – and I don’t expect it – just remember two things. First, if you’re in it for the long haul: good. You might be able to pick up some shares on sale. Second, it could end the day, or the year, close to where it started. The all-time worst drop in the Dow Jones, 22.6% on October 19, 1987, left the index at 1738. You could have done a lot worse than to buy and hold it after that drop.
Tuesday morning I wrote: In the long run, America must win its security as much with love, good works and good will as with overwhelming force and impregnable missile shields.
Bill Dunbar: ‘I vote for overwhelming force and impregnable missile shields.’
Well, we have overwhelming force, but that may not be enough because I’m not sure there can be such a thing as an impregnable defense against terrorism.
One of the scarier e-mails I got yesterday was from a very well-meaning Christian exhorting his e-mail list to recognize that this is a Holy War we are in, that it is ‘the end days,’ as foretold, and that – good news! – he has read the last chapter and ‘we win.’
Somehow, this did not fill me with confidence.
I found this forwarded e-mail, originated by someone named Sharif M. Abdullah, to be more logical. I’m not saying I agree with every word of it, and I recognize it will not win Bill Dunbar’s vote. It doesn’t entirely win mine, either. But in it you may find some thoughts to consider. Take those and discard the rest.
(Sorry this has been such a long column. I won’t write one tomorrow, so you can amortize the time over both.)
OUR WAR WITH “THE OTHER”
Prayers for the Departed; Compassion for the Injured:
First, I think all of us should take a break from the television and radio broadcasts, light a candle and say a few prayers:
First, for our friends, families, loved ones, business associates, travel companions and others who have departed in these attacks – our prayers on the rest of their journey.
Next, those of us who have been injured – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – our compassion and prayers for healing.
For the rest of us I hope that our compassion and understanding exceeds our fear, our anger and our desire for revenge.
Chickens Coming Home to Roost:
There are some very, very angry people out there in the world. Part of their anger is in not being heard. People who do not feel heard will do ANYTHING to get one’s attention.
Some of those angry people live here in the US; some are in other parts of the world. Some look and act just like you.
In general, Americans have no idea that such anger exists. It’s not that people aren’t screaming at you, it’s that you’re programmed not to see or hear them. Or, if you do hear them, you think they are saying something other than “I am angry at you”.
Or, you hear the anger yet ignore it – these people can’t possibly hurt you in your middle-class, gated community, your gated lives. “We” feel “protected” by our “security.”
The US government has ignored these angry people, calling ANY attack against the US or its interests “unprovoked”.
The United States, directly and indirectly, supports violence throughout the world. Denying it won’t make this truth go away. We seem unable to understand the anger of someone who had their village leveled by American cruise missiles, or whose family was killed by a US-backed government. Believe me, they are angry and they feel powerless. Anger and powerlessness are the root of violence.
Culture and Consciousness:
A few years ago, when I was in the Sri Lanka war zone, we passed two young men who were acting in a way that I believed was consistent with Tamil Tiger attack spotters. I mentioned this to my Sinhalese companion, who said, “That’s impossible; those boys are Sinhalese.” I asked him, “Is it possible for a Sinhala person to be in sympathy with the Tigers?” He looked at me as though my head had jumped off my shoulders and flew around the room.
Like the Oklahoma City bombing, the first (and predominant) thought is that the perpetrators are Islamic fundamentalists, America’s favorite “Other.” We are programmed to not hear or understand them. Americans were in “shock” when the “foreign terrorist” turned out to be blue-eyed Timothy McVeigh.
Let’s not rush to see “the Other” as in any way different from yourself. The people who steered those planes aren’t “crazy, cowardly fanatics.” [Well, that’s at least debatable! – A.T.] They are people whose spiritual emptiness and frustration led them to commit these acts. Let’s not think that their emptiness is any different from our own.
Forgiveness and Weakness:
We may find it difficult to forgive, because many of us equate forgiveness with weakness. In the face of attack, we want to attack back. We want to find the perpetrators and make them hurt, the way that we are hurting. We believe its the only way we can relieve our pain.
We have to find another way.
Many of us have been talking about a change of consciousness. Many of us think that it is THE OTHER who must change; it is THE OTHER who must change their consciousness. They point to their favorite “Other”; people of different ethnicity, class or power status.
It’s not “the Other” who must change first – its “us.” [I’m not sure it’s us; at the very least, it’s both. – A.T.]
Beefing Security and Preventing Terrorism:
There is no way to stop a coordinated suicide attack. I repeat: there is NO WAY to stop a suicide attack. The suicide attackers in Sri Lanka, in the Middle East, and now in the US have a way of making their point, with ever increasing accuracy and deadliness.
The ONLY way to prevent such an attack occurring in the future is to de-fuse the attacker before the attack begins. We must work to remove the ROOT CAUSES that drive the suicide attacker. Our intelligence must be geared toward identification, understanding and transformation, not technology and retribution. We clearly have the capacity to punish: so far, that punishment has given us ever-escalating rounds of violence and terror. We must generate a much greater capacity to transform “the Other”.
We cannot do this without the capacity to transform ourselves.
It’s a point of view. And we owe it to the dead to consider all points of view, searching for the best path out of this awful mess. It may be that the best path involves both devastating retribution for what has happened and a change in the way we approach the future. I don’t claim to know, nor do I envy the President and his team the job of figuring it out.