Category Archives: anti-terrorism

Our Own Reality Show: Late Night Version

Nightmare Trees Dems

We have a presidential candidate who gets up at odd hours of the night to tweet insults to former beauty pageant winners, and who expended a great deal of time and energy bemoaning the categorization of his White Supremacist followers as “deplorable.”  If these are one’s priorities so be it, but there’s a difference between nightmares and issues – a differentiation not tackled all that efficiently by his supporters and surrogates. 

Republicans appear to be beset with nightmares, not the least of which is we, as a nation, might seem weak in the eyes of others.  Strength is Action. Action is Strength. We must, like a Hollywood B-Movie production complete with car chases and explosions, appear strong.  As we do when bombing some location into gravel and small piles of rubble. This is the nightmare of the small man in the bar just before closing time, well liquored up, who decides to demonstrate his masculinity by punching some fellow who has offer some vague (and probably misinterpreted) insult.   Should these people wake up and read the information available they’d find that the United States spent some 54% of its discretionary spending on the military.

Military Spending Discretionary And, how does this compare to military spending by other nations?  The U.S. spends approximately $2.77 for every dollar spent by the Chinese.

Military Spending Comparisons So, this ought to give some comfort to those whose sleep is disturbed by dreams of military annihilation at the hands of the nefarious.  We have the best equipped, best lead, most professional military in the world.  There are issues here – not nightmares.

One issue is the tendency toward militarism, the notion that all problems have a military solution and thus the military must be accorded a prime place in national planning and policy.  This topic was explored here about eight years ago:

“Evidently lost on the militarists is the notion that one can be supportive of the military without adopting militarism. In fact, a “muscular” militarism that posits the application of military force to each and every conflict is counter-productive to long term military interests. The ‘whack-a-mole’ Bush Administration/McCain policies have the U.S. Armed Forces stretched to the limit, with used and abused equipment, and over-deployed troops, who are facing serious obstacles to receiving comprehensive care and benefits after their service. A cogent, less militaristic, policy would recommend the continual evaluation of our deployment ramifications, sentient assessments of our capacities, and a rational review of our own recruiting and remuneration standards. A less militaristic policy would allow us to employ the diplomatic tools in our arsenal to spare the unnecessary exploitation of our military. When we ‘wise up’ we’ll realize which Party’s candidates can deliver these policies.”  [DB]

In short, if we’ll stop all the posturing and flag waving pseudo-patriotism and start thinking about how and when the use of military force is applicable without draining our resources and putting our diplomatic efforts in jeopardy, then we can all sleep a bit better.

The second nightmare which seems to be grabbing hold of the sweat soaked sheets of our Republican friends is that someone, somewhere, is cheating us out of what is rightfully ours.  Taxation! Tax money being spent on Welfare Queens and Food Stamp cheats!  Oh, the misery.   Waking up and using The Google will solve one part of the nightmare – we really aren’t “taxed to death.”

“The tax burden is lower in the U.S. than in many other developed nations. Of 34 OECD countries, the U.S. tax rate for the average single American with no children ranks No. 17. The tax burden on a single person with two kids ranks 27th. Comparing tax rates across countries is difficult, however, without taking into account how much people benefit from their tax payments in college tuition, retirement income, or more intangible rewards, such as security and the social safety net.” [BlmbNews]

The reality is that there is no monster under the bed.  We aren’t even in the top ten OECD countries in terms of taxation.  But, but, but, how about welfare cheats?   If we look at the SNAP program from the USDA we find that: “The SNAP national payment error rate for fiscal year 2014 is 3.66 percent.  This indicates a 96.34 percent accuracy rate of providing benefits to low income people.  In fiscal year 2014, over 99 percent of participating households  were eligible for SNAP as determined by income and other program criteria.” [USDA]  I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I could get my total financial records into the 96.34% accuracy category I’d be one happy camper in sweet dream land. 

However, nightmares aren’t made of rational ruminations about fiscal accuracy and accounting practices.  They come from anecdotal renditions and repetitions of ‘stories’ about seeing some guy drive up in a new pickup and toting out a case of Budweiser.

“The Act precludes the following items from being purchased with SNAP benefits:  alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, hot food and any food sold for on-premises consumption. Nonfood items such as pet foods, soaps, paper products, medicines and vitamins, household supplies, grooming items, and cosmetics, also are ineligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.” [USDA

Under the terms of the 2002 legislation, no “illegal immigrants” are eligible for SNAP assistance. [USDA]  Further, ‘non-qualified aliens’ are not eligible for a host of other benefit programs, as specified in bureau or agency rules:

“Federal public benefits include a variety of safety-net services paid for by federal funds. But the welfare law’s definition does not specify which particular programs are covered by the term, leaving that clarification to each federal benefit–granting agency. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a notice clarifying which of its programs fall under the definition. The list of 31 HHS programs includes Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare, TANF, Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, the Child Care and Development Fund, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.” [NILC]

Sleep well Republican friends, the undocumented are not eligible for support,  and we are being most parsimonious in regard to our bestowal of benefits. 

Democrats might sleep more comfortably if the following situation were improved:

“Despite growth in SNAP caseloads since the onset of the Great Recession, about 17 percent of those eligible go unserved and SNAP is missing nearly six in ten eligible elderly persons. SNAP policies that improve program access and increase staff capacity to process applications as well as SNAP outreach can help communities, families and businesses maximize federal dollars.” [FRAC]

We should not forget the other monster in the closet. Others.  If slavery was America’s Original Sin, and segregation its phalanx of myrmidons, then racism is the residual.  However, demonization is not necessarily the exclusive domain of people of color – we’ve demonized Irish and Eastern European immigrants, Asian and Chinese immigrants, Jews, Catholics; and lest we forget “commies” during the McCarthy Era. 

Perhaps some right wing individual tosses and turns on the mattress because the phone answering service wants to know if he’d like the message options in Spanish?  This is America, Speak English!  The immigrants will, like most others before them, and the native language will be lost in three generations:

“The authors found that although the generational life expectancy of Spanish is greater among Mexicans in Southern California than other groups, its demise is all but assured by the third generation. Third-generation immigrants are American-born with American-born parents but with three or four foreign-born grandparents.
In the second generation, fluency in Spanish was greater for Mexican immigrants than for other Latin American groups, and substantially greater than the proportions of Asian immigrants who could speak their mother tongue very well. In the third generation, only 17 percent of Mexican immigrants still speak fluent Spanish, and in the fourth generation, just 5 percent. The corresponding fourth-generation figure for white European immigrants is 1 percent.
What is endangered, said the authors, is not the dominance of English but the survival of the non-English languages immigrants bring with them to the United States.” [Princeton Edu/Massey 2006]

If we’re looking for some reason to lose sleep it might be because by the 4th generation we’ve lost 95% to 99% of the language facility we might have had in this increasingly shrinking world.

But, wouldn’t we all sleep more peacefully if we’d just SAY we need to fight “radical Islam?”

First, there’s a little problem defining “radical.”  Do we mean what might be considered conservative Islam, men with beards, women in burkas?  This leaves us with a problem – what to do with the Muslim family who wants the daughter to go to medical school because there’s a need for women doctors to treat women patients?  What to do with the millions of practitioners  of Islam who are not conservative? And the millions more who have a special word for the ISIS thugs who flout their disregard for the basic tenets of Islam – daesh. (That stuff you scrape off the bottom of your shoes.)

Sleep well, the odds against an American being killed in a terrorist attack are 1: 25,000,000. [TechJuc] Another comforting (?) thought is that an American is far more likely to be shot by a toddler than a terrorist. [Snopes]

But that is another nightmare we don’t like to talk about.  I’d sleep better if we could do something about keeping firearms out of the hands of toddlers…

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Filed under anti-immigration, anti-terrorism, conservatism, Federal budget, Gun Issues, Immigration, Islam, Nativism, Politics, racism, Republicans, Taxation, terrorism, White Supremacists

GOP’s State of Confusion: Anti-LBGT or Anti-Muslim or Both

Confused

OK, I am officially confused. Which is it, does the GOP want to be seen as the champion of conservative religious tenets which hold homosexuality as sin and corruption; or, does the GOP want to be thanked as the protector of homosexuals from the evil-doing nasty folks of IS/Daesh?

Invisible Victims

No matter how hard some conservatives may try to avoid saying LGBT, the attack in Orlando, Florida was made on a GAY nightclub.  As noted previously Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1) was capable of observing this fact; while, on the GOP side of the aisle Representative Cresent Hardy (R-NV4) just couldn’t quite resist the temptation to generalize the victims.  Somehow, Representative Hardy’s lights couldn’t illuminated the fact that the victims were in a GAY nightclub.  He’s not alone.

The Republican National Committee’s first response mentioned “lifestyles,” but even that was edited out of their second edition – now the terror attack was made on “any American.”  Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX)  publically denied Pulse was a GAY nightclub immediately before blocking attempts to provide LGBT protections in a bill before his committee. [TP]

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was blunt: “This body should not be engaged in political games,” Cruz said. “We should be focused on the threat and keeping America safe and defeating radical Islamic terrorism.” [BusIns] Against whom?  Once again, the victims of the horrendous attack were invisible.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was just as vague in remarks made on the Senate floor yesterday — “This week in Orlando, Americans were targeted deliberately and taken  forever from their families by a terrorist ISIL has claimed is “one of  the soldiers of the caliphate.” It is clear from his behavior that this was not a random act of  violence. This was a calculated act of terror.” [LoC pdf]  Scrolling down the entirety of the  Majority Leader’s comments yields exactly Zero references to the victims of the Orlando attacks – patrons of a GAY nightclub.

Yes, it was obviously calculated, and yes, it was an act of terrorism – against the patrons of a GAY nightclub.

Squirrel Logic

But wait, after making the victims of the assault on the Pulse nightclub almost perfectly invisible in their comments about the attack, the GOP would now have us believe they champion GAY rights? Excuse my confusion – I would have thought these people were invisible to you but…

Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) appears on the scene with this bit of baffling political analysis:  “Democrats are in a perplexing position. On the one hand, they’re trying to appeal to the gay community, but, on the other hand, they’re trying to also appeal to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)” [TPM]

And, far be it from Mr. Trump to pass up an opportunity to stick his oar in the muddied waters:

Donald Trump, in his first major speech after the weekend’s tragedy suggested that Hillary Clinton “can never claim to be a friend of the gay community.”  “She can’t have it both ways,” Trump said. “She can’t claim to be supportive of these communities while trying to increase the number of people coming in who want to oppress them.” Ask yourself, who really is the friend of women and the LBGT community: Donald Trump with his actions or Hillary Clinton with her words?” [TPM]

There seems to be more than a little political semantic gamesmanship here.  The message to the heretofore invisible LGBT community seems to be either you are anti-Islam or you have to be anti-LGBT, there is no middle ground.  This conflation of all practitioners of Islam as anti-gay is as inaccurate as it is distasteful divisive rhetoric.   Those unsure of this might want to consider the following comments by an Islamic scholar in the Dallas Morning News:

“As Muslims we believe there’s no compulsion in religion. That’s actually a Quranic verse. Everyone adheres to their own set of values, their own set of morals. But that should not lead to the oppression of another person or to harming another individual. The way that we talk about that is the way that we talk about anything in the Quran or in the prophetic tradition.

Yes, you’re going to find Muslims that would offer revised interpretations of the Quran. But I think one thing that’s important to stress is that conservative is not the same thing as radical. If a person has conservative views that they uphold within their own family life, so long as that does not lead to denying, belittling, or dehumanizing someone else, then I don’t think that’s particularly problematic.”

Thus much for the lack of middle ground.  Doing a quick inventory – Islam is not a compulsive religion (check), Islam has conservative followers (check), Islam teaches that one’s beliefs may not “deny, belittle, or dehumanize” someone else. (check) Conservatives are not necessarily radicals. (check) Only in the most bigoted way imaginable could a person decide that all members of the Islamic faith are radicals. Only in the most prejudicial manner could a person proclaim that all followers of Islam are necessarily so anti-gay that they could excuse or rejoice in the killing of their fellow citizens.

There may be a second message in the dog whistling coming from these Republican remarks.  It’s  message to their own base.  If the actual victims of the massacre are invisible, and if they can be generalized out of the picture, then it’s possible to believe that all Muslims are radical, and it’s acceptable to “monitor, screen, place them under surveillance, and restrict their freedom and liberty” in the name of public safety for “all Americans” (except the ones we won’t name.)

A third screech from the dog whistle may be aimed at a more general audience.  By creating an artificial “either/or” proposition the GOP can seek to associate Democrats with Muslims.  The inference is that Muslims are dangerous, Democrats support Muslims, ergo Democrats are dangerous.  Their’s is a simple but demonstrably false syllogism which depends on the acceptance of the initial false proposition that ALL Muslims are dangerous. I’m fond of calling this Squirrel Logic: Squirrels have hair on their heads. That man has hair on his head. Therefore, that man is a squirrel.

A Broader Perspective

While the GOP may wish to fixate on the terrorism facet of the attack on the GAY nightclub, what happened seems far more complex.  The horrific massacre had more than one element – it had a very disturbed radicalized young American man wielding military weaponry with a high lethality rate, in a GAY nightclub, who intended to kill GAY people.  It really isn’t hard to unpack the elements.  A marginalized person (self or otherwise?) who attached himself to a radicalized version of a religion, and who had easy access to a military weapon and enough ammunition to launch a killing spree in a GAY nightclub, the victims in which have themselves been marginalized in anti-LGBT rhetoric. 

Taking any one of the elements out of the toxic equation shouldn’t lead us to conclude that there is any single policy change that would have prevented the tragedy.  However, removing at least one certainly wouldn’t hurt and might help avoid subsequent attacks.

It would help if we could tone down the anti-LGBT rhetoric. Just as it is no longer socially acceptable to make a joke of someone’s ethnicity, wouldn’t it be nice if the mocking, demeaning, and dismissal of a person’s sexual orientation were no longer acceptable in polite society.  This isn’t “political correctness,” it’s merely fine old fashioned good manners.  It would be even more helpful if we could enact statutes protecting the rights of members of the LGBT community and being as concerned about their rights as we are our own.

It would help if we toned down the anti-Islam barrage.  Those whose image of Muslims, and especially of Muslim Americans, is composed of TV footage of Daesh outrages, or foreign cultural practices commonly abhorred, should take note of the many resources available for better understanding their Muslim neighbors.  They should consider the following statements from Muslim community leaders:

Dawud Walid the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan says Mateen doesn’t represent Muslims in the U.S. His message to the public; Muslims are American and as all other Americans, they are loyal to their country even if they disagree with certain issues.The rule of American Muslims is to abide by the laws of the land and to be peaceful and this recent extremist act that took place this morning, is the rare exception and in no way embodies our morals or our values as Americans citizens who just happen to be Muslims,” said Walid. [CBS Detroit]

Or, this:

“We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” [CAIR]

A little more mutual understanding should certainly help more than vilifying the American Muslim community.

It would help if we made it less likely that a disturbed or deranged individual could  get access to a military style weapon of war, which were never designed for civilian use.   There are listings of weapons by lethality. The AK-47 style; the M-16 (AR-15) “family”; the M240 machine gun; the PK machine gun; the QBZ 95 assault rifle.  It would seem reasonable that if a gun is listed as one of the five most lethal weapons in the world that common sense implies its ownership should be restricted.  Perhaps restricting the magazine capacity would assist in diminishing the lethality of these weapons when they are misused by civilians? That, too, sounds like common sense.

It would help if we de-stigmatized those who are harboring feelings which are anti-social and the antithesis of stability.  Who missed the signals that the Orlando shooter was demonstrating troubling personal behavior? Were the signals and warnings acted upon appropriately? Who could have warned authorities that the Aurora, Colorado theater shooter was exhibiting disturbing behavior – do we need to emphasize the necessity of giving local authorities a warning about those who combine disturbed thinking with fixations on violence?  Who might have warned authorities about the intentions of the Colorado Springs PPA facility shooter?  We are fond of saying “If you see something, say something,” why not practice what we’re preaching? And, why not support the funding and increased resources of our mental health services?

If we persist in seeing only those elements of mass shootings which conform to our pre-existing ideologies then we’ll miss the opportunities available to diminish the likelihood of further mass tragedies. A broader perspective is required to reach better horizons.

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Filed under anti-terrorism, gay issues, Gun Issues, Islam, Mental Health, Nevada politics, public safety, terrorism

Something to Celebrate July 4th: Young People, Old People, and the CNN Poll

Fail News Channel

In perhaps haste to show “relevant” news concerning the battle flag issue, CNN concentrated on a poll question about whether the CSA battle flag was a symbol of pride or a symbol of racism.

“The poll shows that 57% of Americans see the flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism, about the same as in 2000 when 59% said they viewed it as a symbol of pride. Opinions of the flag are sharply divided by race, and among whites, views are split by education.” [CNN]

And just as certainly, the views were divided along ethnic/racial lines:

“Among African-Americans, 72% see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, just 25% of whites agree. In the South, the racial divide is even broader. While 75% of Southern whites describe the flag as a symbol of pride and 18% call it a symbol of racism, those figures are almost exactly reversed among Southern African-Americans, with just 11% seeing it as a sign of pride and 75% viewing it as a symbol of racism.” [CNN]

Thank you CNN for once again concentrating on the perfectly obvious and missing the much more interesting.

For example the poll also presented results by age.  A point not emphasized in the coverage, and those results were interesting in themselves.  One of the questions asked was if the crime in Charleston should be considered terrorism. The results by age:

CNN poll terror q 47% of individuals 18-34 saw the act as one of terrorism, compared to only 37% in the 35-49 cohort, 39% in the 50-64 group, and 37% of those over 65 years of age.   Since the CNN results and reportage invite speculation, let’s engage in some.

Most children by age four are aware of major national events, if not entirely capable of explaining them.  By seven the gears are clicking such that the young person can at least form an emotional reaction to the events, situations, and ideas being presented to them; ideas which are more fully informed when they reach eleven years of age.  In simpler terms, what happens before a person is about 10 is history and what happens afterwards is current events – none of us willing to perceive ourselves as museum relics.

Thus a person who is 34 years old now was 12 years old when the first attack was made on the World Trade Center in New York City (1993) and saw “terrorism” on the television set.  A 34 year old person was 14 years old when the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred, 1995.   For an individual born in 1985, that domestic terrorism bombing happened just as they were capable of a better understanding of the event.  That person is 30 years old this year.

Perhaps terrorism has a broader definition for those who are old enough to remember the Khobar Towers (1996), the African embassy bombings in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole (2000), the WTC/Pentagon Attack (2001), the Madrid train bombing (2004), and the attack on the London underground rail system (2005).  We might contend with some rationality that for those under 34, if an attack of any sort includes multiple victims, in significant places, for particular ideological reasons then it’s terrorism.  That the Charleston attack is not perceived as “terrorism” by more than half the respondents may be a function of the media’s tendency to attach “Muslim” to any and all assaults, hence it’s not terrorism if it isn’t associated with the followers of Islam.

The hate crime question seemed a bit less divided.  CNN asked if the attack on the Charleston church was a hate crime:

CNN poll terror 2 Every age group overwhelmingly categorized the act as a hate crime. What’s intriguing in this question is the 5% difference between the younger group, who were more likely to classify the act as terrorism, and the over 65 group 90% of whom categorized it as a hate crime.

A person now 65 years of age (born 1950), one now 70 (born 1945) will more likely have a frame of reference tilted toward classification of attacks as hate crimes because they witnessed these during the modern Civil Rights Movement.  A person born in 1945 would have been aware of the murder of Emmett Till (1955), Medgar Evers was murdered in 1963, and the iconic image of the carnage, the Birmingham Church Bombing took place in September 1963.  A person now 65 was 13 years old when that happened, and one 70 was 18 at the time.  The bombing of the Church and the murders of Civil Rights Movement advocates are within the ‘current events’ time line of those over 65.  Little wonder they would slot the Charleston Church attack into the hate crime category.

It would be interesting to see the results of an academic study that tests how individuals categorize insidious attacks perpetrated for ideological reasons, and if the nature of the reporting and publicity given to the event at the time informs their classifications as they age.

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Filed under anti-terrorism, media, racism

>Add the Treasury Department to the List?

>If anyone needs any more evidence that the Bush Administration’s “War on Terror” is a shambles of mis-information, dis-information, unsupervised, and incompetent bungling — at the expense of American traditional liberties, the activities of the Treasury Department provide yet more proof: “Private businesses such as rental and mortgage companies and car dealers are checking the names of customers against a list of suspected terrorists and drug traffickers made publicly available by the Treasury Department, sometimes denying services to ordinary people whose names are similar to those on the list.” [WaPo]

And perhaps the worst of the OFAC problems is that “…The government has encouraged a wide range of private businesses to screen against the list, resulting in difficulties for ordinary people even where there is no discernible relationship to national security. Moreover, there are few safeguards – such as training requirements for businesses, complaint mechanisms for individuals, or other avenues for redress – to protect against such arbitrary screening.” [OFAC report] (emphasis added)

And the effect of this?
As the practice of watchlist-screening spreads across the economy, there is an increasing risk that some employers, landlords, or salespeople may simply be cutting short transactions or discontinuing relationships rather than make the effort to determine that an individual is not actually on the list. In such a case, a person denied an opportunity – perhaps a job, apartment, or a busi­ness contract – might never come to know the true reason for the loss. Despite the frequency of “false posi­tive” matches to the list, there is no procedure to permanently distinguish oneself from the person on the list.” [OFAC Report]

Where have we heard this before? The Transportation Security Administration’s terrorist watch list has snagged a state department diplomat, an individual with Energy Department security clearance, and an 82 year old veteran who’s never gotten so much as a parking ticket. It swept up a US Navy offiers, an employee of the FDIC, and amazingly — a retired US Army anti-terrorism force protection officer. The list goes on. [Wired]

It’s not like no one sounded a warning.
The San Francisco Chronicle documented in late 2002 that there were problems with the infamous Do Not Fly list, which “trapped” Sister Virgine Lawinger, a 74 year old nun. Village Voice offered that the Pentagon was attempting to “track everything that moves” back in 2003. [VV] NBC uncovered Pentagon spying on anti-war groups. [MSNBC] Business Week offered a thoughtful critique of the federal attempts to gather meaningful information in 2005. [BW]

And, still we believed that the Bush Administration could cobble together a system capable of protecting both Americans and their civil liberties?

Revelations about the incompetence of the FBI’s handling of national security letters, the problems with the warrantless wiretapping programs, and now this latest foul up, should convince all but the most rigid authoritarian that this Administration has not, cannot, and likely will not, be able to untangle itself from one of the greatest civil liberties snafus since the McCarthy Era debacle.

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Filed under anti-terrorism, Bush, Treasury Department, war on terror