Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category


Thursday, March 17th, 2011

“For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul?” Job 27: 9

Job is an interesting story.  Job perseveres in the face of terrible trials and refused to lose his faith in God.  He makes this particular comment about hypocrites who may appear to be profiting from their deceptions, but God ultimately will hold everyone accountable for their acts.

It’s appropriate on St. Patrick ’s Day to talk about Rep Peter King who is a hypocrite.

He recently opened hearings condemning Muslims for terrorism and raising the specter of domestic terrorist acts at the hands of radicalize Muslims.  He first picked up this banner several years ago in his public opposition to plans to build a mosque near ground zero in Manhattan.  He has now expanded this to a national focus on all Muslim activities in this country with quotes like, “Unfortunately, we have too many mosques in this country”, “85% of American Muslim community leaders are an enemy living among us”, and “The fact is while the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding people, on the other hand 100% of the Islamic terrorists are Muslims and that is our main enemy today.”

Mr. King is following the well worn script that folks like Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn used in the 50’s to rise from obscurity to power.  Their target was communists.

Xenophobia works in this country, whether it is Mexicans, Japanese, Germans, Italians, Irish, or Africans.  There has always been a racist streak in this country that unscrupulous politicians periodically use to promote their own ambitions.

What is interesting about this particular effort is that Mr. King earlier in his political career was a staunch public supporter of the IRA.

When recently confronted with this seeming contraction between his support of the IRA and his criticism of radical Muslims, Mr. King refused to admit that the IRA was a terrorist organization.  They were in his eyes freedom fighters against an oppressive British regime.

As The New York Times reported, King told a Long Island rally in 1982, “We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry.” As for the civilian toll of the I.R.A.’s terror campaign, King shrugged his shoulders and said, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”

So how does King justify the 1800 deaths attributable to the IRA as somehow different from the 3000 deaths caused by Al Qaeda on 9/11?

King says, “the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States.”

To his credit, King was instrumental in helping promote the peace agreements which ultimately ended the uprising in Northern Ireland.  Unfortunately he hasn’t seemed to learn much from that experience and appears determined to paint Muslims with a different brush than he used for his Irish relatives.

A More Perfect Union

Friday, August 20th, 2010

America is an odd place full of contradictions, imperfections, high ideals, and low morals.

We’ve got Tea Partiers who want to return us to strict constitutional rule, but are unwilling to embrace the parts of the document which they disagree with. Like the parts which provide citizenship to every person born here or guarantee the freedom of Muslims to practice their religion. They claim that they want to keep government out of the lives of citizens, but then they rise up in arms when a particular group of citizens wants to build a place of worship.

What is even more disturbing is a Pew research poll which shows that the number of people who believe that President Obama is a Muslim is going up. This is an internet hoax of the worst sort. It is completely without basis in fact. It persists like so many other urban myths only because some people want to believe it.

All I can wonder is why?

Clearly the bias against Muslims is related to the violent actions of a small group of radicals. But there is something more fundamental going on here. It is the dirty little secret of our “free” society. We are not content to co-exist. We need an enemy to validate our own sense of superiority. There has always been a conservative segment of our society who was eager to restrict the basic rights that we claim to hold dear in an effort to “protect” the rest of us from whomever the current perceived enemy may be.

John Adams passed the Alien and Sedition act because he feared the influence France had on Catholics. We called the American Indians savages and waged a successful genocidal war against them. Jim Crow laws were passed and the KKK formed because of southern fears of an African American backlash to slavery. We put Japanese Americans in concentration camps during WWII because we doubted their loyalty to the United States. During the Fifties, we imprisoned and deported those that we feared were communist sympathizers.

Now the worst thing you can be is a Muslim because Muslims are different and dangerous. So those who have been influenced by the drumbeat of right wingnut conspiracy theories about the President have begun to associate him with being a “secret” Muslim.

Muslims who have lived peacefully in this country for generations are suddenly suspect. Congregations who have been building mosques in this country since 1915 suddenly discover that they are no longer welcome.

Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer wonders “whether Americans still have the self-confidence to stand up for our Constitution’s principles – or whether we’ve become so fearful that we’re eager to junk them.”

Richard Cohen of the Washington Post confronts the notion that recent polls show a majority of American oppose construction of NYC mosque, “So what? Would they have liked Lincoln to have deferred to popular sentiment in the South regarding slavery? Would they have liked Truman to have polled the Army about desegregation?”

He goes on to say, “Minority rights are embedded in our Constitution. It was the perceived lack of them that caused the states to seek some immediate amendments, what we now call the Bill of Rights.”’

This particular sort of popular bigotry is exactly why the founding fathers built these sorts of protections into the fabric of our government.

But more importantly, Jesus also knew that the self-righteousness could justify virtually any cruelty and violence in the supposed service of God. So he gave us very clear instructions on what he expects from us,

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matt 5:43-48

Domestic Terrorism

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

In the face of all of the claims regarding the relative effectiveness of current and previous administrations to prevent domestic terrorist attacks, I thought some facts might be interesting.

These were compiled from the Wikipedia entry on Terrorism in the United States.

Under President Clinton, there were eight incidents of domestic Islamic terrorism. The most famous of these was the Trade Tower bombing in 1993 that killed six and injured 1042. Four of the six who carried out the attacks were put on trial, convicted, and are serving life sentences. One remains on the US terrorist list but disappeared in 2003. The other died in Saudi Arabia in 2007

There were also at least two terrorist attacks that the Clinton administration prevented. One in 1993 in New York and the other on and around January 1, 2000 at various sites including LAX. In both cases, the perpetrators were arrested, convicted, and are now in prison.

Under President Bush, there were six domestic attacks connected with Islamic terrorists. The first was in New York and Washington DC on 9/11/02. The last was in 2006 in Seattle.

There were also at least ten other attempts that were prevented including the famous shoe bomber case in 2001. All perpetrators were prosecuted in US court and are in prison.

Under President Obama there have been two domestic attacks associated with Islamic terrorists. One was at Fort Hood where 13 were killed and 30 wounded. The other at an Arkansas recruiting office where one was killed and one wounded. Both attackers were US citizens.

There have been at least six other attempts that either failed or were prevented. The most famous of those is the recent attempted Christmas bombing.

So the reality is that no administration has been able to prevent domestic attacks from radicals who feel that the United States is at war with Islam. We also appear to be getting better at disrupting terrorist activity here at home, but we are far from perfect.

What we need going forward are facts and accountability, not tea party politics.

The costs of failure are too great to allow petty partisanship to undermine the efforts of those who job it is to protect us.

Political Correctness

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

The recent failed bomb attack has spawned an interesting right-wing reaction.

The line I hear most is that some misplaced sense of political correctness caused the attack.

This is hard to figure since the attacker presented a valid passport and visa to Amsterdam authorities before boarding the plane bound for Detroit. This was not a breakdown of US airport screening. In response the Dutch have announced that all US bound Amsterdam passengers will now have to go through full body scans before boarding.

The truth of this particular situation is that there was a breakdown in the information systems designed by the Bush administration in response to the 911 attacks. The good news is that no one died this time and we have another chance to figure out why this terrorist alert system failed.

The reality is that Bush/Cheney policies created much of the terrorist threat we now fear. Their failure to take intelligence warnings prior to 911 seriously, gave al Qaeda a worldwide stage. The invasion of Iraq created a battle field where muslims were killed, wounded, and raped. Sexual abuses at abu Ghraib proved their claim that we were corrupt. Black torture sites proved us lawbreaking liars. Guantanamo remains an international example for al Qaeda of what muslims should expect from us.

This is not a war against people. It is a conflict against an evil idea.

We can’t imprison, torture, or kill our way to victory against this idea. Our attempts to do so only strengthen the idea.

We have to prove that the idea is wrong.

We do that by demonstrating that we are a moral nation of laws with freedom and justice for all. We extract ourselves from Iraq and Afghanistan. We hold those accountable who break our laws by putting them on trial. We work with the rest of the world to capture those who seek to attack us and our allies.

We slow the spread of this idea by proving that we are a nation that cherishes the rights of every citizen regardless of race, color, or creed.

We offer to share our freedoms with all willing to live in peace.

It is at times like this that our freedoms are at most risk, not from those who attack us, but from those who claim that the only way we can be safe is to give them up.

Human Will

Monday, June 1st, 2009

“I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” John 5:30

The culture wars have claimed another victim.

I find it very difficult to understand how someone can call themselves a Christian and use that position to justify murder. It is hard enough for me to understand how nations that call themselves Christian can start wars. When an individual takes a gun, points it at another human being, and pulls the trigger, they are not doing God’s will.

It does not matter what the circumstances are.

It does not matter what the person has done.

There are no exception clauses to “thou shalt not kill”.

The nonviolence of the early Christian Church was legendary and ultimately so impressed the Romans that they stopped killing Christians and converted to Christianity themselves.

Jesus came to earth to share a new gospel of love. He came to deepen the understanding of those who saw God as capricious and vengeful. Jesus told us that God is a tender Father, a shepherd, and our guardian.

Those who seek to violently act in His name, are taking His name in vain. They are underestimating God’s power and completely missing His message. They are assuming that because they see sin in the world, that somehow God needs their help.

God doesn’t need their help.

God not only doesn’t ask us to be executioners, He doesn’t even want us to be judges.

He asks us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. He asks us to be peacemakers. He asks us to turn the other cheek and walk with those with whom we disagree until at least we understand them.

Those who demonize their opposition suffer from self-righteousness. They will find out soon enough that God loves everyone, and the simple sinner who humbly repents will find himself closer to God than the righteous man who condemns the unrighteous.

God reserves judgment to Himself and those who seek to usurp that role will discover soon enough how wrong they were.

What’s going on in Iraq?

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

The sort answer is that 4000 US soldiers and as many as 1.2 Million Iraqi’s have died in this conflict over the past five years. We are currently spending somewhere around $12B per month and there is no end in sight.

A quick summary of the most recent conflict is that the British pulled out of Basra in December turning the area over to local militia. The current fight was predicted by many (including me). It is between Shiite groups for control of a very valuable distribution point for Iraqi goods (read oil). Many of those Shiite groups make up the current government coalition.

The Iraqi government has made an effort, with the help of American and British air power, to bring order back to the area, but so far the militia are winning.

This again begs the question of American presence in the area. The troop surge and associated “incentives” (guns and money) encouraged rival groups to focus their efforts on al Qaeda in Iraq rather than each other. It also worked to the degree that major political figures like Moktada al-Sadr were willing to stand down in return for making some money. The hope was that during this short period of political calm, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, could begin dividing up enough of the political pie in Iraq so that folks like al-Sadr would decide that there was more money to be made by being in the government rather than out of it.

Well that didn’t happen. In fact al-Sadr pulled his group out of the government and the most recent violence started with a call by al-Sadr for a general strike to demonstrate to the rest of the country that he is someone with political power. The government responded by sending in troops and the rest will shortly be history.

Here’s what the history will look like, “British pull-out from Basra delayed after rise in rocket attacks” and “U.S. forces drawn deeper into faceoff with militias”. Faced with a challenge, the Iraqi government has asked both the British and Americans for more troops. As long as we respond, we prop up a government that has not been able to demonstrate that it has the ability to keep peace even between it’s own elements.

President Bush has said that he sees this as a defining moment for the al-Maliki government. Yup just like the Tet offensive was the defining moment for the government of South Viet Nam.

This is not a struggle that is going to be won militarily, yet our government continues to define this conflict in those terms.

The solution in this area is going to be a political one where all sides determine that there is more to be gained by compromise than by bloodshed. Unfortunately, the deep seated differences between rival factions may require conflict before compromise can be won. As long as we are there, we perpetuate the status quo and inhibit the progress that has to come if there is ever going to be a government that doesn’t require US force in order to govern.


Trust Me

Friday, February 15th, 2008

“Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” Eph 5:6 

The President was on television again today telling half the story about the wiretap bill that the house refused to pass. 

Here’s the rest of the story. 

This is all about extending the President’s power to wiretap US citizens without court approval.  The President says that this is only about looking for terrorists, but the whistleblowers which brought this who issue to the public’s attention have testified that the equipment installed by the government at the phone companies allows the government to listen to all traffic that goes through the Internet.   

There is a law on the books which gives the President the ability to request spying on US citizens, but requires court approval.  The spy activity can begin before the approval is obtained, but the agency doing the spying must send a letter to the supervising court letting them know that they have begun the activity and will be seeking approval.  The FBI has already admitted that it so fumbled this process that it lost track of how many requests it had made, and as a result could not confirm that it was in compliance.  In other words they have already proven that they can’t be trusted to follow the legal process. 

The last shoe to drop in this whole process is immunity for the Telco’s which cooperated.  They knew that this was against the law, and are seeking immunity for breaking the law at the government’s request.  By the way, they didn’t all cooperate.  Qwest refused and lost some government contracts as a result.  The President had the gall to suggest that Congress had to provide immunity to make sure that these companies would cooperate in the future.  We don’t want them cooperating if it involves breaking the law.  We want these companies to be held liable, and as a result to hold the government liable to prove that all requests are compliant with the law.   Otherwise this all comes down to the big lie that this government has been telling for the past seven years.  Trust me.  I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but I’m doing it to protect you from terrorists. 

Democracy requires transparency.  Democracy requires that no one is above the law.  Democracy requires accountability.  

Without those things we have what we’ve been living through the past seven years.  Invasions based on “cooked” intelligence.  The VP insisting that Saddam was connected to al Qaeda when even the President was admitting that this was false.  Billions of dollars funneled to administration-connected companies.  Our President telling the world that we don’t torture only to later discover that his definition of torture didn’t include waterboarding.  Our Secretary of State telling the world that we didn’t have a secret interrogation process only later to admit that renditions continue to be a standard practice.  US Citizens imprisoned without access to lawyers or the ability to defend themselves against their accusers.  Widespread violations of human rights.  Widespread domestic spying.  The wounded and dead snuck back into this country under the cover of darkness.  The rich getting richer and the poor and middle class getting poorer. 

Trust me.  I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but I’m doing it to protect you from terrorists.       

Greater Love

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

 Well I guess it was inevitable. The CIA admitted waterboarding three al Qaida suspects during 2002 and 2003. The new attorney general will not open a criminal investigation. VP Cheney thinks that it was a good thing then and would be happy to do it again if necessary. CIA Chief Hayden thinks that waterboarding is now likely illegal under laws passed by Congress.

This is all coming out now because the next President (John McCain, Hillary Clinton, or Barak Obama) will enforce the law and finally establish for all agencies that this country does not torture and that waterboarding is torture. So those who have used this technique want to make it perfectly clear that they did so only with the authorization of the President.

What has happened to us?

We used to be a nation of laws.

We are now a nation of lawyers.

We used to be a nation founded on principle.

We are now a nation of fear and self-righteousness.

We call ourselves a Christian nation, but there is no Christ in this policy.

It is tempting to try to justify torturing a person to save the lives of others, but that cuts to the very core of moral principle.

God gives us simple choices. Love Him and love all of those around us.

We are the ones who try to make these choices complicated.

We make them complicated because we fear that doing what we know is right will somehow leave us vulnerable. It’s at that point that we have stopped listening to God and have started listening to our fears. Unfortunately our fears can drive us to the ultimate absurdity, we kill to save lives.  To my mind that is the ultimate act of cowardice.

Here’s how Jesus defined courage, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13.  What that means to me is that the greatest demonstration of love and courage is willingness to confront your own fears and remain commited to your values.  

My sincere hope is that the next election cycle delivers a leader who understands and can demonstrate this quality. 


Something Happening Here

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Something interesting happened in the Senate yesterday. 

The bill to extend retroactive immunity to the phone companies for participating in the government’s domestic spy program had to be pulled by Senate Majority Leader Reid.  This occurred after the Republican leadership in the Senate said that they had the votes to pass it. 

Here’s basically what is at issue. 

When the majority of long distance phone connections were made using satellites, the NSA spy agency could simply put up their own dishes to listen in on those transmissions and do all of the spying that it wanted without anyone’s permission.  Whether or not they followed the laws regarding domestic surveillance is hard to tell.  But since local and domestic long distance communications went over land lines rather than through satellites, no one was too concerned. 

The demand for high speed cheap Internet connectivity caused a rapid worldwide deployment of land-based fiber optic connections.  Those connections are faster and cheaper than satellites, so fiber is now the primary distribution mechanism for most phone communications too.  That caused a problem for the NSA, however, who now had no easy way to listen in.  So the NSA went to the phone companies and asked for permission to install equipment which would allow wiretapping the fiber.  The difference is that now there was no doubt that they were getting not only international conversations but most domestic phone traffic and most of the traffic over the Internet too. 

Most of the phone companies agreed and a few didn’t.  As phone company employees for those companies who cooperated discovered what was going on, they tried to blow the whistle.  The phone companies eventually got sued and ran to Congress seeking protection. 

The main argument for protecting the phone companies is that if they aren’t offered immunity from prosecution, they will be unwilling to cooperate with government the next time the government asks them to break the law.  Excuse me if I’m a bit naïve, but why is this a bad thing?  Just because the government is asking doesn’t automatically make something legal or ethical.   

In this time of deep divisions and culture war, there are those who feel that the government is justified in whatever it does in the name of protecting the country against terrorist attacks.  Unfortunately, the old saying regarding the corrupting influence of power has proved accurate again.  After six years of one party rule, political agenda trumps respect for the law, and you end up with abuse being confused with good intention. 

The whole argument of protecting the phone companies is disingenuous anyway.  The phone companies ARE already protected from civil suites when they cooperate with the government as long as there is either a court order, or the Attorney General certifies that a court order isn’t necessary.  When they knowingly comply with questionable government requests that don’t include these legal protections, they leave themselves liable.  In this case, that’s what some of them did.

Clearly the other motivation is that the phone companies spend a LOT of money helping elect our representatives.  Senator Reid is only one example.  So the phone companies have expectations that those representatives will vote their pocketbook rather than their conscience.  

Finally, I also have a hard time with the “at war” argument.  You can literally justify any “means” for the “end” of saving lives.  The most ridiculous example of that “logic” is our current involvement in Iraq.  We have laws to guide us in these times of uncertainty, and no one, including the executive branch, can hold themselves above those laws regardless of their justification. 

So I’m happy to report that at least for now, the people have prevailed thanks in part to a charge led by Presidential hopeful Chris Dodd.  The law suits against the phone companies will go forward, and we will likely have an opportunity to learn more about how extensive the domestic spy program was. 

This is the wonderful thing about truth.  As a quality of God, there can be no greater power than truth.  It will always prevail.  There may be those who feel that they can manipulate the truth to serve their own purposes, or those that feel that they can justify their actions based on some other set of principles, or those that feel that they can delay the truth past the point that it will have any affect.  At the end of the day, however, you can’t fool God.  Those who have chosen to walk in their own path, will be guided lovingly back to the path of truth, whether now or later, and suffer whatever consequences are necessary for their instruction.  We don’t always get to see this in action, but when we do, it is a beauty to behold. 

“Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” II Corinthians 4:1-2

Terror by Night

Friday, November 16th, 2007

“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.” Ps 91:5-7

The biblical Jews had a lot to be afraid of. Through their history, they were conquered, enslaved, occupied, and persecuted. They had to deal with threats from the north and the south. They also had to deal with drought, disease, and internal unrest. But they sang songs like this that reassured them of God’s love and protection for them.

The nightmare of my generation was the Russians launching a pre-emptive attack with weapons we knew worked. I grew up in Omaha. We saw the B52 bombers flying every day from the nearby Strategic Air Command Headquarters. We knew that there were always some in the air because if the missiles did start falling, there would be no base or any Omaha, and the airborne planes would be part of the force that retaliated. This was so real to us that one of my neighbors built a bomb shelter for his family in his front yard.

This generation’s nightmare is a nuclear device set off by radical Islamists in a major US city.

We went to war in Iraq because of that fear. The fear that Iran is gaining some nuclear capability has us lining them up in our sites. We are throwing billions of dollars in military aid at Pakistan to keep their nuclear capability in the hands of the military. We even give money to Russia to help them gather up all of the weapons that they have scattered through the now independent parts of the collapsed Soviet Union.

So let’s say that that radical Islamists will somehow acquire nuclear materials. Could they build a bomb?

The practical answer is yes, they could blow up this very toxic material and perhaps render the city block blast area uninhabitable as a result.

Could they actually create a bomb that could result in the sort of city leveling devastation that our current weapons are capable of?

Never. Not even close.

They couldn’t even create the equivalent of the much less sophisticated bomb that we dropped on Japan.

Creating a successful atomic chain reaction which results in the explosion, is very difficult. That’s why governments have to test them over and over again in order to make sure that they have something that works.

It takes a minimum of 130 lbs of enriched uranium or 22 lbs of plutonium to make a bomb. Plutonium, though, is very difficult to obtain and very difficult to handle because it is so radioactive. Enriched uranium is somewhat more widely available and much easier to handle. But it also requires a much bigger bang to get going.

The other challenge is that the radioactive material is constantly affecting its surroundings. So the electronics needed to trigger the bomb break down after only a week of being exposed to the radioactive source.

The idea of a lone terrorist carrying a suitcase into Central Park and leveling New York City is fiction. The minimum size for this sort of home-made bomb would be an SUV. Creating it requires a large team, lots of money, lots of expertise, and some method to assemble the whole thing undetected shortly before they plan to detonate it.

If they are unable to test it, it will fail. In order to test it they probably need more like 260 or 390 lbs of enriched uranium and some sophisticated underground testing facility that they can successfully use only once because the results of their test will be immediately detected by worldwide monitors.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore our responsibility as a nuclear nation to help the rest of the world manage these dangerous materials. I also support worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons including discouraging new nations from developing their own.

What I am suggesting is that we don’t use this irrational fear to guide our policies and justify our actions. Someday our children will look at this crisis the same way that we now look at the fear that drove us to build all of those bombers and all of those bomb shelters. The B52’s are still in use. For all I know the bomb shelters might still be in use too. As I recall it was a great makeout spot.