Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Madman Theory

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

This is actually the name for a foreign policy that Nixon tried to use to bring the Viet Nam war to an end.

In his case, the setup was that Nixon was obsessed about communism and also under great pressure to end the war. As a result, the threat was that he might simply lose patience and nuke North Vietnam back to the Stone Age if the North Vietnamese didn’t come to the negotiating table.

The same strategy is in play right now in the showdown over defunding Obamacare.

Republicans have admitted that this is a political strategy.

Even though they failed to gain the White House or a majority in the Senate in the last election, the fact that they did retain a majority in the House (they feel) entitles them to use whatever means are available to them to advance the agenda of the people who elected them.

That’s where the Madman enters the room. Republicans are willing to shut down the government in order to get some portion of their agenda passed by the Democratic Senate majority and signed by the Democrat in the White House.

“People have to recognize there’s never any compromise until the stakes are high,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California. “In our society, that’s the nature of democratic government.”

The compromise in this case is that the Republicans agree to allow the government to continue to operate in return for significant legislative concessions by the Democrats.

AND they don’t seem to care whether or not it harms the economy.

“Economists, what have they been doing? They make all sorts of predictions,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “Many times they’re wrong, so I don’t think we should run government based on economists’ predictions.”

Nixon faced this same problem in Viet Nam. If your opponent is afraid of dying, and they believe that you are crazy, they will likely negotiate. If your opponent doesn’t care about dying, or at least is willing to call your bluff, you are forced to do something crazy or lose future bargaining power. That crazy act, in Nixon’s case, was invading Cambodia. The Republican crazy act is damaging the US economy in order to bring about legislative change that they couldn’t achieve through the ballot box.

The problem with this Republican strategy is that they are INDEED crazy, but not for the reasons that you might think.

They are crazy because they allowed the Democrats to BAIT them into picking a fight over the continuing operation of the government rather than the government default.

Government default is the BIG DEAL. It is one that Obama might have been willing to give up a year of Obamacare to prevent.

The Democrats, however, don’t care if the Republicans shut down the government. In fact, they prefer it to the other alternatives on the table.

The reason is that the country will survive a government shutdown, but the Republicans won’t.

By the time the REAL battle comes up, which is the debt ceiling, the country will have dealt with several weeks of the government being shut down, will be convinced the Republicans are indeed Madmen, and will demand an end to the lunacy. That end will be passing the CR to get the government running again AND passing a resolution to raise the debt ceiling. The voting public will NOT be willing to listen to Republicans talking about debt, or future generations, or irresponsible Democrats. They will have lost their patience with Republican tactics and it will all be over but the shouting. That’s because the voting public will vote in sufficient numbers in 2014 to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

So in essence, the Republican Madman Strategy was to put a gun to their own head and threaten to pull the trigger. Democrats jumped up and yelled, “Stop. Please don’t do that. Give the gun to me.” Once they were sure the gun was loaded, they handed it back to the Republicans and said, “I believe this is yours.” Last night the Republicans pulled the trigger.

Clown Politics

Monday, August 12th, 2013

This past weekend, a rodeo clown at the Missouri State Fair wore a mask to mock President Obama.  Apparently the performance went well over the line between the sort of slapstick humor typical of rodeo clowns and mean spirited racism.

 

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Here’s a description from one of the members of the audience.

“It was the usual until the very end at bull riding,” he said. “As they were bringing the bulls into the chute and prepping them … they bring out what looks like a dummy. The announcer says ‘Here’s our Obama dummy, or our dummy of Obama.

“They mentioned the president’s name, I don’t know, 100 times. It was sickening,” Beam said. “It was feeling like some kind of Klan rally you’d see on TV.”

Unfortunately, this Missouri rodeo clown is part of a vocal minority who feel that the man who has won two national elections fair and square somehow doesn’t deserve the office that he occupies.

This is driven by an unprecedented assault on both the man and the office by the Republican Party.

Paul Ryan recently responded to Obama’s latest proposal for a corporate tax cut.  Obama was offering to work with Congress to overhaul business taxes in exchange for a guarantee that the revenue gains be used create new jobs through spending on roads and infrastructure.

“The president claims his economic agenda is for the middle class. But it’s actually for the well-connected…There’s no doubt that it works well for them. But for the rest of us, it’s not working at all.”

Ryan further protested that Obama is “interested in tax reform for corporations — but not for families or small business.” He also accused Obama of implementing health care and regulatory policies that favor big businesses and big banks.

Paul Ryan struck a different tone during the 2012 Presidential campaign.  He accused Obama of “sowing social unrest and class resentment,” of supporting “a government-run economy” and of “denigrating people who are successful.” He has charged the president with leading the nation toward “a cradle-to-grave, European-style social welfare state.”

So which is it?  Is Obama a class-baiting socialist or a corporate sellout?

Boehner, asked at a news conference about Obama’s series of speeches on the economy, replied: “If I had poll numbers as low as his, I’d probably be out doing the same thing if I were him.” Obama’s job-approval rating is 46 percent. Boehner’s is half that.

Mitt Romney called Obama a “weak president,” and Newt Gingrich, during the 2012 campaign, called Obama “so weak that he makes Jimmy Carter look strong.”

Yet in January Boehner said that Obama planned to annihilate the Republican party, ““[G]iven what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me and should be clear to all of you that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans,” Boehner said. “So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. And let me tell you, I do believe that is their goal. To just shove us in the dustbin of history.”

Rep. Issa said Obama is guilty of “imperial behavior” and “abuse of power.” Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, asserts Obama is “someone who wants to act like a king or a monarch.” And Rep. Louie Gohmert, of Texas, says Obama is “a tyrannical despot.”

So which is it?  Is Obama a weakling or a tyrant?

During the intervention in Libya, Gingrich demanded in early March 2011 that the United States should “exercise a no-fly zone this evening.” Two weeks later, after Obama took the action that would bring down Moammar Gaddafi, Gingrich said, “I would not have intervened.”

After the Benghazi attacks, Republicans lined up to criticize the President for not having enough security at the embassy in Benghazi and ignoring the mounting tensions Ambassador Stevens was documenting.

Fast forward to this month when the administration closed embassies across the Middle East in response to an intercepted al Qaeda communication.  “Terrorism works — because we’re closing all of our embassies and consulates on one day,” said Rep. Ted Poe, the chairman of the House’s terrorism and nonproliferation panel.  “Our embassies cannot operate with a bunker mentality in foreign countries,” he said. “Our embassies are there to interact with the people of that country. I hope we don’t get into this bunker mentality mode.”

So which is it? Is Obama a tone deaf risk taker or a terrified bunker dweller?

I could continue for quite a while, but the picture is clear.

The only consistent message coming from Republicans is that Obama is always wrong.  He is wrong if he acts.  He is wrong if he doesn’t act.  His ideas are always wrong even when he borrows them from Republicans (Obamacare, corporate tax cuts, and no fly zones).

Republicans may feel that tearing down the President is an effective strategy to get them back into the White House.  The problem is that if they demonstrate that this is an effective strategy, it will be used on them too.  And if they do ever return to the White House, they may not recognize the smoldering ruin they had to create to get there.

Putting Bombs and Guns in Perspective

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

The Boston Marathon bombing raised a couple of questions in my mind.

The first is a the level of resources we devote to anti-terrorism efforts.

Since 2001, we’ve spent $1.2T domestically on anti-terrorism. That doesn’t count the $2T that we spent on two wars and the $4B/yr we continue to spend on drone attacks.

During that same period of time there have been 30 or so terrorist attacks in this country resulting in 45 deaths. Most of those including the Boston attacks were carried out by US citizens. The Beltway Sniper and Fort Hood shooting are others. There have also been 32 plots to carry out domestic attacks that were thwarted.

While it is difficult to place an economic value on preventing terrorist attacks, it is also clear that we are spending a lot of money on some things that aren’t working. The TSA, for example, spends $8B a year checking the shoes of every airline passenger. That effort and the associated personal and luggage searches failed to catch one terrorist. One of the Boston bombers was on a watch list. He had been interviewed by the FBI at the request of the Soviet Union. He was still able to fly to Russia and back because of a clerical error. If the whole TSA and FBI infrastructure can be overwhelmed by a clerical error, you have to questions what we are buying with our tax dollars.

As part of this effort, we also willingly give up our Fourth amendment rights regarding physical search. We also allow the government to listen in on our electronic conversations, have access to our banking records, and review any wire transfer in excess of $5,000.  I don’t recall seeing a single Tea Party sign suggesting the government keep their hands off their shoes, or email, or bank records.  Why is that?

The second question is how our anti-terrorism efforts compare to our efforts to reduce gun violence.

Since 2001, approximately 300,000 people were killed by a gun. The CDC estimated that those deaths cost our healthcare system $37B/year.  Over this same 11 year period that we’ve been using for comparison purposes, that adds up to $407B in insurance rate increases borne by the american people.  That doesn’t count the economic and personal costs from this epidemic loss of life.  We spend 3X that to prevent the much smaller economic and personal losses that we’ve suffered from terrorist attacks.

Our investment to prevent gun violence? The entire budget of the Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is $1B/year.

We all grieve whenever a child is killed. A recent Colorado study found that 50% of the gun injuries suffered by children require intensive care compared to 20% for all other injuries. 14% of those gun injuries are self inflicted. 13% of those injured children die compared with 2% for all other injuries. We spend more money every year keeping fireworks out of the hands of children than we do guns. Even that is woefully ineffective, since the Boston bombs were made from fireworks purchased legally in New Hampshire.  I guess that gives new meaning to the state motto of  “Live Free or Die”.

On par, we spend a huge amount of money preventing terrorist attacks by foreigners. Our efforts have stopped about half of the attacks. Most the attacks that we’ve had are committed by US citizens.

Ten thousand times more people die every year in this country from gun violence than are killed in terrorist attacks. We spend an absurdly small amount of money and attention preventing it.

The Boston bombing was horrific. Law enforcement responded quickly. Perhaps giving up some fourth amendment rights is a small price to pay for preventing these attacks. But what would our response have been if those bombs killed 30,000 people? Why are we willing to pay this terrible price every year to preserve our current system of gun ownership and the sanctity of the second amendment?

The politics are obvious. The NRA, funded by gun manufacturers, directs 90% of the $50M or so that it spends every year in political contributions supporting Republican candidates. They have successfully prevented government agencies from collecting even statistics on gun violence since 1979. They have successfully made this a cultural issue rather than a rational one in order to take advantage of the Tea Party movement.  The NRA has successfully played “rope-a-dope” politics with gun control since the Clinton administration.

That may ultimately backfire (pun intended) because a recent study suggests that there is a link between conservative politics and higher rates of suicide.  That link is easy access to guns.

Though what is more likely is that the 80% of the public that support stronger background checks will likely hold their representatives accountable in 2014 for their votes this year.

In the meantime another 30,000 people will die from guns. Four or five of those will be at the hands of those who can be classified as terrorists. The rest will be at the hands of those who fiercely defend this system.

 

Tortured Truth

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

“We do not torture,” Bush declared in response to reports of secret CIA prisons overseas.

“I have been told that all interrogation techniques previously authorized by the Executive Order are still on the table but that certain techniques can only be used if very high-level authority is granted…We have also instructed our personnel not to participate in interrogations by military personnel which might include techniques authorized by Executive Order but beyond the bounds of FBI practices.” FBI memo May, 2004

“There has been no presidential determination that circumstances warrant the use of torture to protect the mass security of the United States.” Alberto Gonzales, White House Counsel June 22, 2004

“The United States doesn’t and can’t condone torture.” Secretary of State Rice, January, 2005

“The notion that somehow the United States was torturing anybody is not true,” Cheney told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute at an event to promote his new book. “Three people were waterboarded and the one who was subjected most often to that was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and it produced phenomenal results for us.”

“It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” Constitution Project Task Force, April 2013

The Constitution Project Task Force is a bi-partisan commission of former political and military officials. Their report is the first attempt to thoroughly examine this subject of treatment of detainees under both the Bush and Obama administrations. That’s because the Obama administration made the decision not to pursue civil or criminal penalties for anyone in the previous administration involved in torture or renditions.

I don’t think that anyone, except perhaps extreme partisans like Dick Cheney, is surprised at the conclusion of the task force regarding the definition and use of torture.

If there are any that still dispute the definition of torture, here’s a quote from Asa Hutchinson who was co-chair of this reporting committee. Mr. Hutchinson is a former GOP congressman from Arkansas, NRA consultant and undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.

There are those that defend the techniques of—like waterboarding, stress positions and sleep deprivation, because there was the Office of Legal Counsel, which issued a decision approving of their use because they define them as not being torture. Those opinions have since been repudiated by legal experts and the OLC itself. And even in its opinion, it relied not only on a very narrow legal definition of torture, but also on factual representations about how the techniques would be implemented, that later proved inaccurate. This is important context as to how the opinion came about, but also as to how policy makers relied upon it.

It was also a harsh and direct repudiation of George Bush and Dick Cheney.

Based upon a thorough review of the available public record, we determined that, in application, torture was used against detainees in many instances and across a wide range of theaters.

The task force also found that there was “no firm or persuasive evidence” that the use of such techniques yielded “significant information of value.”

This second conclusion supports ALL of the predictions of professionals when the use of torture was originally proposed. Those who are subjected to these techniques will say whatever they think will cause the pain to stop. Since there is no way to tell the difference between what is fabricated and what is true, pretty much everything that is gained under duress is has to be validated through other independent reports. If the majority of intelligence information is being gathered through torture, none of it can be independently confirmed. As a result, the only actionable data is that obtained through methods where torture was not involved.

The last conclusion of the task force is that the US should also close Guantanamo because this culture of abuse continues there. The Obama administration has been unable to close Guantanamo because of political opposition from conservative Republicans. This opposition has its roots in the same lies and Zombie Politics which caused Guantanamo to be built in the first place.

Guantanamo remains stark evidence of the arrogance and cynicism of the whole neocon philosophy of ends justifying means represented by Dick Cheney. It will go down in history as one of the darker episodes of our democracy.

All this, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the renditions, the torture, Guantanamo, the Department of Homeland Security, domestic wiretapping, and death by drone are in the name of protecting this country from terrorist attacks.

Let’s compare these investments and the politics behind them with the politics of gun control. That’s next.

 

 

Empty Suit

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Romney’s latest foreign policy pronouncements continue his pattern of criticism without substance and position without difference.

Romney’s positions mirror Obama’s.  He did offer to “lead from the front”.  What that appears to mean is more military spending.  He promises to “roll back President Obama’s deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense”.  The only cuts that fit that description are part of the sequestration “poison pill”.  That was the ransom Republicans got in return for raising the debt ceiling.  The President is using this “poison pill” exactly in the way that it was designed, to force both sides to come up with something better.  He is holding the defense department hostage in EXACTLY the same way that Tea Party House Republicans held the financial standing of the whole country hostage – but Republicans don’t like it when  the weapon they created is used on them.  So we have this fiction that the President wants to cut defense and weaken the country.  If Romney wants to sell that fiction, doesn’t he at least owe the country some explanation for where the money is going to come to make up the difference in the debt deal?

Romney’s attempt to connect the recent anti-American violence to some fundamental weakness in American policy is naive and dangerous.  The Obama administration has quietly been getting the job done.  Somali piracy contained.  Yemen training bases destroyed.  Gaddafi was overthrown.  Iran isolated and sanctions causing domestic unrest.  Al Qaeda decimated.  New democracies and reforms are emerging.

Romney feels that rhetorical swagger and simple affirmations of American Exceptionalism will dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, frighten terrorists into submission, and create loyal peaceful Arab democracies.

Bush’s simple answer to a complex world was democracy.  He equated spreading democracy with spreading peace.  He then invaded Iraq to prove his point.  The result was an Iranian nuclear program and the worldwide spread of al Qaeda.

Simple answers don’t work because they almost always ignore unintended consequences.

Now democracy is finally blossoming in the Middle East and Romney says it’s dangerous.  Punish Egypt because they elected the Muslim Brotherhood.  Arm the Syrian rebels even though al Qaeda has deeply infiltrated them.   He did say that we should only give arms to those Syrian rebels that “share our values”.  I’m curious how he is going to sort them out, or prevent a “values” rebel from handing his US rocket launcher to his al Qaeda cousin.  We went down this road once already in Afghanistan where we ended up both training and arming bin Laden and the first generation of al Qaeda.  We should try not to repeat that mistake.

Romney didn’t even mention the two biggest problems in the Middle East- an unstable nuclear Pakistan and a post-withdrawl Afghanistan.

Foreign policy is complex and young democracies need our help to peacefully grow.  Democracy is messy and it doesn’t always go the way that you want it to.  Venezuela is a perfect example.  But if we believe what we say we believe, we have to hang in there and help when we have an opportunity.

Romney has not demonstrated that he has the patience or the depth of understanding to encourage the growth of democracy.

He is looking no further than the next month.  He desperately wants to win this election and will do anything and say anything that he thinks will help him do it.

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.