Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Perhaps it was inevitable. After all, even the greatest of empires such as the Roman Empire or the British Empire – upon whose lands the sun never set – eventually collapsed. Their laws, values, and customs disintegrated as the people of the empire no longer cared enough to fight for them – as their ancestors had. Now the United States of America, an unacknowledged empire, but one nonetheless, is beginning to crumble, bit by bit. The barbarians are at the gates, held back only by a mostly mercenary army, lured into military service by steady wages, health and education benefits, college education benefits, and the promise of a secure, paid retirement. Meanwhile, the common people lead their lives as consumers of industrial agriculture, imported energy, and the goods of foreign lands. It is not the America envisioned by its founders; indeed, it is far from it. Gone are the citizen soldiers, the Minutemen. Gone are the self-sufficient family farms. Gone is the town meeting form of government where the citizens of a town met and agreed upon the town’s budget (except for a few anachronisms in New England). Now, an insidious erosion of American justice is underway, and as in the corruption of our economic system, the transformation of our military into a paid professional force, and export of American jobs to overseas sources of cheap labor and materials, the American people once again simply turn over on their sofas and click their remotes to see what is on the other channels.

However, this time it is different. This time, changes are happening that can undermine the very foundation of America and its ideals. The nation is threatened, not from external enemies, but from within. It didn’t begin today or yesterday. It started in earnest perhaps with the administration of George W Bush, although its roots go back at least to Ronald Reagan and the insidious replacement of pension plans with 401k accounts. It was the attacks on 9/11 that opened the doors of opportunity for Bush and Cheney, certainly the most despicable people to ever lead our government. Using the excuse of the necessities of war Bush and Cheney obliterated the rights of citizens to have private conversations without the government eavesdropping on their every word without a court order. Using the excuse that the country was in dire danger – more so that the threats that had come in a previous era  from Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan – Bush and Cheney developed a consistent policy of torturing prisoners, and in doing so became neo-Nazis themselves. These two individuals, entirely bereft of America’s sacred ideals, established a policy of indefinite confinement without trial for suspected terrorists, i.e. people who the U.S. government thought might be guilty – but for whom they had no proof of guilt. It was not a reasonable or sane policy. It is a senseless, literally insane policy, worthy only of a scene from Alice in Wonderland, “Sentence first – verdict afterwards!”

When President Obama campaigned for the Presidency of the United States he promised to end the indefinite detection of suspected terrorists in Cuba and have civilian trails for these people in the United States. They would be found guilty or innocent based upon American justice. However, it seems that it became apparent that virtually none of these people would be found guilty in an American court because their was insufficient evidence to prove their guilt. Under the rules of American justice they would have to be set free. So, like George Bush, Obama agreed to indefinite imprisonment and military trials for these people in Cuba. So much for the promises of Barack Obama.

Now, President Obama has signed into law a new act of a seditious Congress that will eliminate more rights of American citizens. This law will allow the detention, by the military, of American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists. No proof required. No rights of the citizen to a fair trial by his peers. No resort to the system of American justice. Instead, we citizens of the United States of America can be imprisoned without trial indefinitely by our own military. It will happen simply by having some official say, “I think he’s a terrorist.” We are witnessing the fall of the American Empire, we are seeing the rotting from within – a cancer on the Presidency, a corruption of the Congress, and a Supreme Court that has become nothing more than the begging servant of industry. And what do we do? We turn aside, grab a can of beer, and see what else is on TV.

We are no different from the empires of Rome and Greece and Egypt and Great Britain and so many more. These all had one thing in common. The people stopped believing in their ideals, the empires collapsed from within, and the barbarians tore down the gates of the cities while a complacent people drank wine and watched the circus.

It is a sad day for America.

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There’s a word for this: bureaucracy.  The U.S. narrowly escaped a devastating airborne disaster on Christmas Day and today President Obama unveiled his plan to assure us that such things won’t happen again. Unfortunately, his plan is a plan “of bureaucrats for bureaucrats”.  It preserves the holy pecking order of the government civil service.  Information gleaned by operatives in the field is passed up the chain to be reviewed and analyzed by experts.  Judgments are made or not made.  Alerts are issued or not issued. Nothing has fundamentally changed.  The bureaucrats are happy. Order in the office has been preserved.

Consider a hypothetical case: you are in a public building and you see a fire in a corridor.  You look around for a fire alarm, but there are none.  You look for a fire extinguisher, but there are none. You run to a nearby office to tell someone about the fire, but you are told you have to stand in line if you want to make a report.  Fortunately, our real world isn’t like that.  Buildings have fire alarms and anyone can pull a fire alarm.  The first person who sees a fire can warn everyone and call the fire department at the same time. In the world of the CIA, DIA, DHS, and the unending list of government acronyms and abbreviations, there are no fire alarms. A CIA agent can’t pull one and warn the world about anything. It has to go through the system – a system that demonstrably does not work.

President Obama has issued a stern order: make the bureaucracy work better.  Right.  This isn’t going to work.

The President said the buck stops with him. That does not help.  It might sound good, like in the old Hollywood movies. But it doesn’t help.  No organization can be victorious with incompetent people manning critical positions.  Imagine that the New York Yankees lost the World Series last year and their manager said, “The buck stops with me. We are not planning to trade anyone. We’ll keep the same team, same positions for next year. I take full responsibility.” Right.  That’ll work.

Here is one simple piece of evidence: the father of the man who tried to blow up the plane told the CIA that his son had become radicalized and that he was a threat to the U.S. The CIA person who received this information should have been able to pull the fire alarm.  He should have been able to put this man on the Do Not Fly list in a heartbeat – maybe two heartbeats.  He should have been able to put this man on a bunch of other lists too, but he couldn’t.  That’s because our anti-terrorism system is a gigantic bureaucracy.  It can never be successful fighting an agile enemy like Al Qaeda. President Obama does not understand that. Neither does anyone else in the self-sustaining bureaucracy of the bloated U.S. government.

Meanwhile, it seems that the facts surrounding the whole underpants bomber incident are morphing as the government bureaucracy passes the papers back and forth from desk to desk.  Take a look at the official accounting of what happened on the plane. This was published today, just a few hours ago. It says that after the terrorist failed to set off the bomb that he was restrained by the flight crew until the plane landed.  Gee, that’s odd.  I thought I had heard that this Dutch guy had leaped over four seats and tackled the terrorist and put out the fire with his bare hands  and that everyone on the plane was cheering for him and calling him a hero. At least that’s what it said in the Washington Post a couple of days after the incident. So what ever happened to good old Jasper Schuringa, the guy who saved everyone? Why has President Obama studiously ignored him? No medals for heroism? No key to the city of Detroit from the Mayor? Nothing?  Not even a thank you?  Are we too embarrassed to admit that the plane was saved by a Dutch passenger and that if it wasn’t for him almost 300 people would have died?  So, officially, Jasper doesn’t exist anymore and it was the flight crew (the stewardesses?) who saved everyone?

The problem with the President’s approach is that it is the approach of a politician and a bureaucrat to a practical issue.  The bigger problem is that the President doesn’t realize that that is a problem.  The thing is this: the system in place is horribly flawed. It didn’t work. The system did not work and the people in the system who might have tried to override the system did not do so. These people are at fault. These people are the only ones who could have saved the day because the system, demonstrably, does not work. They failed. They should be replaced with people who are not afraid of taking decisive action. Instead the President has chosen to protect these failures in our system. He says the buck stops with him.  He doesn’t want to blame anyone.  Fair enough, President Obama, if that is the best you can do then maybe it is time for you to step down.  We don’t need a manager who can’t make the tough decisions, we don’t need Generals who deal in warmth and platitudes.  We need a hero who can cut the Gordian knot of our vast, and hamstrung, homeland security system and get the job done.  Many of us thought that you were that hero.  Now, I’m not so sure. My sword-wielding hero is looking more and more like an average politician. (Let’s not even get into the health thing.)

The answer to the murderous terrorism of Al Qaeda will never, ever be found in protecting incompetent civil servants or in papering over the byzantine workings of Washington bureaucrats. Don’t we all know that?  Mr. President, don’t you know that?

I know, Mr. President, that you are fond of quoting President Truman when you say: “The buck stops here”, but Mr. President, you need to make major structural changes in our homeland security system.   The system does not work well enough.  Surely, you can see that.  If you would just rather not get entangled in such a messy affair, perhaps you might also ponder another one of President Truman’s quotes: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”.

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Suppose you were going out to dinner and you called a babysitter to take care of your children. Then, after you made the arrangements for the sitter, a friend tells you that your babysitter has been exposed to bubonic plague.  Would you still let this person babysit your children? But wait – what if they didn’t show any symptoms of bubonic plague; wouldn’t it be alright then?

Today, the U.S. Terrorist Screening Center (administered by the FBI) has over 1,300,000 names on its Terror Watch List. Two sets of names are extracted from this ever-growing list. One set of names is the No Fly list.  The other set of names is the Selectee list.  The Selectee List is the list of names of people who must receive extra screening of some sort.  The No Fly (the name is self-explanatory) list is much, much shorter than the Terror Watch List.  Since the underwear bomber incident, the No Fly list has been growing longer. Even so, the are still a lot more names on the watch list than on the no fly list.

Here are a couple of things to think about:

1. We have pretty much proven that a terrorist can sneak through our security screeners with either box cutters or underwear bombs.  There are probably lots of other ways to sneak through security too.  The simple fact is that a really clever person can probably outsmart the system.

2 The 1.3 million people on the Terror Watch list make up about 0.014% of the world’s population. (The current world population is about 6.7 billion people.)

So, taking item # 2 first, we need to ask ourselves this question: in the larger scheme of things, how important are these 1.3 million people to our nation’s economy?  How important are these people to us, as a nation, in any way at all? All we really know is that we think they might want to kill us – but we aren’t sure. It’s sort of like the babysitter we hired. There are, of course, plenty of other babysitters we could hire. There are also plenty of other people who we might like to visit our country, besides these 1.3 million people we’re not too sure of.

Secondly, let’s remember the guy with the bomb in his underpants.  There must be a lot of other creative ways to disguise a bomb – after all drug smugglers even carry little amulets of their product in their intestines sometimes.  My point is that you really can’t be sure you are going to detect the guy’s bomb, or maybe some other dastardly weapon, he might be carrying.  Who knows, maybe he’s some sort of Al Qaeda Ninja and he can fabricate a deadly weapon out of his paperback book or something.

The sensible thing to do is to simply ban everyone whose name is on the FBI Watch List from entering the U.S., and if they are already in the U.S. (because they are U.S. citizens) they should be banned completely from flying.  That, of course, doesn’t make us 100% safe – you can never be that, but it makes us a lot safer than we are now. As for the 1.3 million people on the Watch List who can’t come here because we don’t trust them – well, it’s just too bad. They can either clear their name by presenting evidence to the FBI demonstrating that the FBI is all wrong about them, or they can just stay where they are and we’ll work with the other 6,698,000,000 people in the world.

Oh. And one other thing. Janet Napolitano has to go. She was one of President Obama’s political appointees, but as the head of Homeland Security she is clearly in way over her head.  When she said that the “system worked” that was a clue.  Unless, of course, airline passengers are now a key part of the Homeland Security System – could that be what she meant?  Homeland Security has been plagued with political hacks since its inception.  That needs to change.  The President needs to appoint a brilliant non-politician to this job.  It is one of the most important jobs in America and it cannot be entrusted to politicians or to people who are simply being repaid for some political favor.

If there is one message we should take from the underwear bomber it is this: it is time for this country to finally – finally – take homeland security seriously.  We were lucky this time.  The next time a terrorist sneaks through our “system” the results could be far, far worse.

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Here we go again.  Another lunatic tries to blow up an airplane and the Department of Homeland Security once again responds in a way that can only make one wonder if they give an IQ test for employment that specifies not a minimum IQ, but a maximum IQ – maybe around 60.  This sad department of the federal government, first made infamous by its completely inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina, and then made even more infamous by its failure to recognize or own up to its own failure in Katrina, is now in knee jerk response mode to the recent attempt to blow up a Delta/Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Unfortunately for the people at Homeland Security, and thus unfortunately for the American people, this agency – and the government as a whole, with all its CIA, NSA, FBI, DIA, and who knows what other “intelligence” agencies lurk in the shadows of DC –  doesn’t believe in following up on tips from people who know we are in danger. Like for example: the father of the lunatic who tried to blow up the plane told the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son was a nut job and that he feared his son was about to do something radical. So, the lunatic gets on the plane with no problem – no questions asked, just “welcome aboard”. Homeland Security is asleep on the job – as usual.

Hours later, as the plane was preparing to land, the guy gets out of his seat and go to the aircraft lavatory – apparently to rig up the bomb in his pants.  Well, as everyone knows, his pants caught on fire but he didn’t blow himself up in his seat. The plane landed safely and now everyone is saying the same thing: what happened here? Who’s minding the store? Apparently not the Department of Homeland Security.  However, in an effort to convince us that they are not stupid, but instead that they are actually morons, Homeland Security has quickly instituted a rule that you can’t get out of your seat to go to the bathroom an hour before the plane lands. That’s because the lunatic did go to the bathroom an hour before the plane landed.

So here’s a question for the morons at Homeland Security: suppose another lunatic does the same thing but instead of getting up to go to the bathroom an hour before landing he gets up an hour and fifteen minutes before landing? Or what about an hour and a half?  An hour and forty-five minutes?

Is this the best that these inept people can do? Couldn’t a bunch of fifth graders come up with better ideas?  Couldn’t a bunch of sixth graders done a better job of responding to Hurricane Katrina?  Couldn’t a bunch of eighth graders have figured out a way by now (eight years after 9/11) of communicating information about threats to America? Doesn’t anyone remember that the government had plenty of information about Al Qaeda before 9/11 but the various departments all had their own turf and they fiercely defending that turf in the unending DC turf wars? Don’t they recall that it was these turf wars that prevented the sharing of information between departments, and that was one of the major reasons that Al Qaeda was successful on 9/11? Haven’t they figured out a way yet for crucial information about an imminent threat to the security of the U.S. to be relayed to the appropriate people in the government?

Apparently not.

And that is the continuing fiasco and failure that we inappropriately call the Department of Homeland Security.  The blind leading the blind.  Just remember, the next time you fly on an airplane – you can’t go to the bathroom.  That’s Homeland Security’s plan for keeping you safe.

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Today the Obama administration announced that trials of five people accused of participation in the 9/11 attacks will be held in New York City in Federal Court. It was also announced that five other Guantanamo detainees will be tried by a military court for their part in the attack on the USS Cole.  It’s about time.  The Bush administration did nothing during eight years in office to mete out justice to these individuals.  Instead they have all been held without trial at the Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba.  One can only wonder at the thought processes of the people in the Bush administration.

Guilt and innocence are black and white. A person has either committed a crime or they haven’t.  The government either has proof of their guilt or it doesn’t.

Predictably, the extreme right wing of American politics, i.e. the Republicans are upset about the Obama administration’s plans to conduct a trial in New York City. It seems that these people would prefer a hanging without a trial.  Or, as they shout loudly, they would prefer a military trial where the defendants won’t have the same rights to a fair trial that Americans enjoy.  And then, of course there is the Republican “concern” about putting these people in American prisons if they are found guilty.  It seems that they feel that American prisons are not too dependable.  What if these people escaped? So, these confused Republicans like the idea of keeping them in a makeshift prison camp in Cuba where they seem to feel escape is impossible instead of a maximum security prison in the U.S. from which no one has ever escaped.

The holding of trials in New York City is exactly what should be done.  NYC is the scene of the crime.  The people of New York City, who will be the jurors in these cases, will have the opportunity themselves to determine the guilt or innocence of each defendant. This is the epitome of American justice.  So what are Senators Cornyn, Smith, McCain and Lieberman worried about? (I know that Lieberman is not a Republican, but he might as well be and give up the sham of pretending to be an Independent.) Do they think our system of justice is inferior to the military system?  Really?  Is that what United States Senators think these days? Do they think that maybe these people won’t be convicted because the evidence is not compelling enough? Well…. isn’t that what a trial is all about?

Let’s suppose that in the case of one of these individuals that the government doesn’t actually have any proof that this person committed the crime of which they are accused.  Let’s say that maybe the government only has a strong suspicion and maybe some hearsay evidence that no court would admit as evidence.  So maybe they get found innocent.  What is wrong with that?  A person is either guilty or innocent.  You either have the proof or you don’t.  If you don’t have the proof how can you put someone to death?  Are the Republicans looking to hold fair trails or would they just prefer a witch hunt where you judge the person guilty without evidence and then you just kill him. Is that the Republican concept of justice?

Let’s suppose that one of these people is put on trial and the jury finds them innocent because the government has no proof that they are guilty. What should be done?  Should we kill them anyway or should they be set free?  My guess is that these Republican Senators would prefer the “kill him anyway” approach.  This is how far the Republican Party, in all its paranoia, has drifted away from truth, logic, justice, and American ideals.  We cannot be afraid of holding a fair trial even for Osama bin Laden if he is captured.  Facts are facts. Truth is truth. We either have the evidence or we don’t. If we don’t have the evidence, how can we pronounce anyone guilty of anything?

It is my guess that the government has a massive amount of evidence against each of these individuals. It is my guess that they will all be found guilty and be sentenced to death. Why are these Republicans so upset? Do they have no faith in American justice or would rather not have justice at all? Should we just hang them all because they look guilty or because they are Muslims? Could it be that the only “proof” we have is from confessions made during waterboarding torture sessions?

Whatever the worries of the ultra-right wing Republican Party, there is no excuse for not providing American justice for these people. Anything else is a vote of no confidence in our democracy.  It is a vote of no confidence in our system of justice.  It is a vote of no confidence in the ability of ordinary Americans to be part of a jury and come to the correct decisions.

The thing I don’t understand is this: how can these U.S. Senators say these outrageous insults about our American system of justice and then still call themselves Americans? Perhaps they need to resign from the Senate and let some true believers in American ideals take their place.

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