Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Citizen Terrorist

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

The problem is the 5th amendment of our constitution.  It says,

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation

In basic terms, this means that the government can’t kill a citizen of this country without due process of law.

But the government just did this in the case of the Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

There is strong circumstantial evidence that this cleric encouraged several people who attacked or attempted to attack US citizens.  Those included some of the 9/11 hijackers; Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused in the 2009 killings in Fort Hood, Tex.; Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalib, accused of trying to set off a bomb hidden in his underwear on a 2009 flight to Detroit; and Faisal Shahzad, who tried to blow up a car in Times Square last year.

There is also no question that his message was dangerous.  He said that American Muslims had to choose between being a good Muslim and being a good American.  In his mind, you couldn’t be both.  He claimed that the United States was at war with Islam and Muslims had to choose a side.  His support of indiscriminate killing of Americans was completely at odds with those of mainstream Muslim clerics around the world.  As a result his views were widely condemned by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The problem is that there was no Grand Jury.  There was no trial.  There was no judge.  There was no opportunity for al-Awlaki to confront his accusers, refute the evidence that they may have presented, or tell his side of the story.

That is a basic right guaranteed every US citizen.  It is what protects us from the immense power that we give to our government.  There are clear limits to that power, and if we don’t insist that those limits are respected, and punish those who overstep their authority, we risk losing those protections.

It doesn’t matter how strong the government’s evidence was regarding al-Awlaki’s involvement in previous attacks.

It doesn’t matter how good government intelligence was regarding his plans for future activities.

It doesn’t matter how many US lives the government feels it may have saved by this action.

What DOES matter is that our constitution says that NO ONE in our government has the power to unilaterally target an American citizen for assassination.

The end does not justify the means.

This serious erosion in civil liberties began in the Bush administration with warrantless wiretapping and the Patriot Act.  It has escalated in this administration with the murder of a US citizen.

I never accepted the premise that we have to trade liberty for security during the Bush administration and I reject it during the Obama administration too.

The curious thing is that Obama’s harshest critics on the right, those who seem to see constitutional violations in the color socks that our president chooses to wear, have said nothing about this.  This President should be held accountable for this significant abuse of executive power.  Ron Paul has publically called for an investigation.  We’ll see where that goes.

In my mind this is a dangerous step down a slippery slope taken by a President who knows EXACTLY what it means.   It is a very sad day.

 

Jobs

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

It is now time for the Tea Party and Republicans to take ownership for the economic impact of their policies.  They’ve introduced the term “job killing” to the political lexicon and feel free to attach it to whatever progressive policy that they disagree with.  But I think that REAL job killers here ARE the Republican Party and here’s my proof.

  1. A decade of low taxes has failed to produce jobs.  We are in a net negative position regarding jobs since the Bush tax cuts were passed (2001 and 2003).  In every decade since the Great Depression employment has grown at least 20% regardless of who was in the White House.  Middle Class income, when adjusted for inflation, dropped in the last decade for the first time since statistics first started being kept in the 60’s.  The combined net worth of American households declined in the last ten years when adjusted for inflation for the first time since the 50’s when statistics were first kept.  There are plenty of reasons why we’ve experienced a “lost” economic decade, and both parties share the blame.  But CLEARLY lower taxes were not the effective method conservatives claim it is.  Historically low taxes that have remained low for more than a decade did not spur robust economic growth OR create jobs.  The only thing that lower taxes did is make the rich richer and everybody else including the government poorer.
  2. Smaller government at every level is putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work.  At a time when the US economy seems to be teetering on the brink of a second recession, modest growth in private sector employment is almost completely swamped by massive layoffs in public sector driven almost entirely by Tea Party-led fiscal austerity programs.  Fears about slow economic growth have caused the private sector to hire temporary and contract workers instead of full-time employees.  Temporary and contract workers do not receive benefits and can be terminated quickly.  Those workers, as a result, remain as cautious about spending as they did when they were unemployed.  All this contributes to uncertainty and slow economic growth.  Temporary and contract work also swells the rolls of the uninsured which adds more stress to individual budgets, hospitals who have to cover emergency room costs, and Medicaid.
  3. When faced with a choice between ideology and jobs, the Tea Party led Republicans consistently choose ideology.  The FAA debacle is the most recent example. The FAA was effectively defunded because Tea Party Republicans saw an opportunity to weaken the union voting rules that currently protect FAA workers.   They put 4,000 FAA employees on unpaid furlough, sent tens of thousands of construction workers home without a paycheck, and prevented the government from collecting more than $300M in ticket taxes.  The furloughed FAA employees included inspectors who are vital to aviation safety.  It was only the willingness of those inspectors to continue working without pay that prevented this from also becoming a public safety issue.The Tea Party controlled House used the same tactics that were successful in the debt ceiling debate.  The only difference was instead of holding the financial standing of the country hostage; they held the jobs of these workers, the tax revenue coming from the airlines, and potentially the safety of the airline passengers as hostage in an attempt to weaken the FAA employees union.

    Want to know where that $300M in lost taxes went?  Right into the pockets of the airlines who immediately raised their fares to cover the uncollected taxes as soon as the shutdown occurred.

So it is time to hold these people accountable.

American voters handed these guys a majority in the House in the last election because they promised a more fiscally responsible government that would create more jobs.  It hasn’t happened.  Instead what we are seeing is “terrorist” politics which effectively caused the gears of government to seize up.  We see a party that is willing to hold the economy and jobs hostage to maintaining a purist ideology that only a small minority of the country even cares about.  They are hell bend on pursuing an economic policy that would slow even a good economy down.  Investors have already shown that they are terrified of the potential damage the Tea Party is inflicting on our weak economy.   Here’s what Standard and Poors said caused their recent downgrade of US debt.

“The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.”

Donna Brazile had a good summary in a recent CNN article.

“Could there be a clearer illustration of the difference in tone between congressional Democrats and Republicans? Democrats understand the difficult state of our economy but also understand that Washington can’t throw in the towel on protecting and creating jobs. Just as on the debt deal, Democrats have been willing to compromise, to tackle sacred cows and to put the American economy first.”

The Tea Party has between now and next November to meet the Democrats somewhere in the middle on a series of job enhancement legislation.  If they continue to stonewall and employ the hostage tactics that we’ve seen them use, the American voters will punish them in November.  Hopefully the Tea Party won’t take the economy down with them in the meantime.

Hypocrite

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.