Ten Years After 9/11, Aviation Security Still Hysterical

The tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks had aviation security officials on edge. They were so edgy they scrambled fighter jets and deployed the bomb squad for a couple that was probably having sex in the airplane bathroom.

A Frontier Airlines flight from Denver to Detroit was taken to a “remote area of the airport” and searched for explosives. ABC reported “suspicious behavior,” which in fact was two people “making out” in the bathroom. The local ABC affiliate WXYZ in Detroit was more explicit: “The ABC News National Security team is telling Action News that their sources say the flight was disrupted by two people having intimate relations in one of the bathrooms.”

The FBI’s statement on all this covers up the fact that a couple Americans were trying to join the Mile High Club and that is why NORAD ended up scrambling F-16 jets to “shadow the flight until it landed.” The statement claims they were sent “out of an abundance of caution.”

The Department of Homeland Security issued a “specific, credible but unconfirmed” threat for New York City and Washington, DC that allegedly stemmed from “intelligence” indicating new al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri was going to try and avenge the death of Osama bin Laden on the tenth anniversary. At the moment, it does not appear anything was being plotted at all and al-Zawahiri was just saying a plot was being planned to make America go into a frenzy (however, there is no way to confirm that because the US government rarely informs Americans of key details related to why they believed there was a threat, even after it becomes clear there was no threat).

It must give Islamic extremists, who plot attacks that US intelligence agencies have yet to successfully prevent, great satisfaction to see that a libidinous act forced the US to send military planes to make sure it landed and was inspected. It shows just how the “terrorists” control America ten years later, as those handling security are so fearful that they cannot distinguish between someone planting a bomb and a couple banging each other in the lavatory. (more…)

The Terrorism Issue That Wasn’t Discussed

In the commentary on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the news and infotainment media have predictably framed the discussion by the question of how successful the CIA and the military have been in destroying al Qaeda. Absent from the torrent of opinion and analysis was any mention of how the U.S. military occupation of Muslim lands and wars that continue to kill Muslim civilians fuel jihadist sentiment that will keep the threat of terrorism high for many years to come.

The failure to have that discussion is not an accident. In December 2007, at a conference in Washington, D.C. on al Qaeda, former State Department Coordinator for Counter-terrorism Daniel Benjamin offered a laundry list of things the United States could do to reduce the threat from al Qaeda. But he said nothing about the most important thing to be done: pledging to the Islamic world that the United States would pull its military forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and end its warfare against those in Islamic countries resisting U.S. military presence.

During the coffee break, I asked him whether that item shouldn’t have been on his list. “You’re right,” he answered. And then he added, “But we can’t do that.”

“Why not,” I asked. “Because,” he said, “we would have to tell the families of the soldiers who have died in those wars that their loved ones died in vain.”

His explanation was obviously bogus. But in agreeing that America’s continuing wars actually increase the risk of terrorism against the United States, Benjamin was merely reflecting the conclusions that the intelligence and counter-terrorism communities had already reached.
The National Intelligence Estimate on “Trends in Global Terrorism” issued in April 2006 concluded that the war in Iraq was “breeding deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim World and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” It found that “activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.” And in a prophetic warning, it said “the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance…particularly abroad but also at home.”

Given the way intelligence assessments get watered down as they ascend the hierarchy of officials, these were remarkably alarming conclusions about the peril that U.S. occupation of Iraq posed to the United States.

And that alarm was shared by at least some counter-terrorism officials as well. Robert Grenier, who had been head of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center in 2005-06, was quoted in the July 25, 2007 Los Angeles Times as saying the war “has convinced many Muslims that the United States is the enemy of Islam and is attacking Muslims, and they have become jihadists as a result of their experience in Iraq.”

As the war in Iraq wound down, the U.S. war in Afghanistan — especially the war being waged by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) — was generating more hatred for the United States. As JSOC scaled up its “night raids” in Afghanistan, it never got the right person in more than 50 percent of the raids, as even senior commanders in JSOC recently admitted to the Washington Post. That indicated that a very large proportion of those killed and detained were innocent civilians. Not surprisingly, the populations of entire districts and provinces were enraged by those raids.

If there is one place on earth where it is obviously irrational to antagonize the male population on a long-term basis, it is the Pashtun region that straddles Afghanistan and Pakistan, with its tribal culture of honor and revenge for the killing of family and friends.

Meanwhile, after fleeing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in 2001, al Qaeda had rebuilt a large network of Pashtun militants in the Pashtun northwest. As the murdered Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad recounted in Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, President Pervez Musharraf, under pressure from Washington, began in 2003 to use the Pakistani army to try to destroy the remnants of al Qaeda by force with helicopter strikes and ground forces. But instead of crushing al Qaeda, those operations further radicalized the population of those al Qaeda base areas, by convincing them that the Pakistani government and army was merely a tool of U.S. control.

Frustrated by the failure of Musharraf to finish off al Qaeda and by the swift rise of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, the Bush administration launched a drone war that killed large numbers of civilians in northwest Pakistan. An opinion survey by New American Foundation in the region last year found that 77 percent believed the real purpose of the U.S. “war on terror” is to “weaken and divide the Muslim world” and to “ensure American domination.” And more than two-thirds of the entire population of Pakistan view the United States as the enemy, not as a friend, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

The CIA and the Bush and Obama administrations understood that drone strikes could never end the threat of terrorist plots in Pakistan, as outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden had told the incoming President, according to Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars. And if Obama administration didn’t understand then that the drone war was stoking popular anger at the government and the United States, it certainly does now. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has pointed out that “hatred of America is increasing in Pakistan” because of the drone strikes.

Yet the night raids and the drone strikes continue, as though the risk of widespread and intense anger toward the United States in those countries doesn’t make any difference to the policymakers.
There is only one way to understand this conundrum: there are winners and losers in the “war on terrorism”. Ordinary Americans are clearly the losers, and the institutions and leaders of the military, the Pentagon and the CIA and their political and corporate allies are the winners. They have accumulated enormous resources and power in a collapsing economy and society.

They are not going to do anything about the increased risk to Americans that the hatred their wars have provoked until they are forced to do so by a combination of resistance from people within those countries and an unprecedented rebellion by millions of Americans. It’s long past time to start organizing that rebellion.

Sunday Late Night: and… Exhale

So, that happened.

And our collective national remembrance, summary of lessons learned and wrong paths taken, moments of silence for the victims and fond memories of an America that was and shall not be — is all done for another year, and without an echo-event to further traumatize a fearful people.

Behind us, then, this last and greatest anniversary: perhaps? Without forgetting the victims or disrespecting their loved ones — might it be? Can we now move on? Will it be possible now to dial back the public, national paroxysm of grief to allow private mourning, personal reflection, and public accountability? All of which, I submit, have been obscured by our media and political elites’ co-option of this anniversary.

Everyone mourns differently because everyone’s experience of that day is different. Acknowledging that uniqueness, though, I submit that this weeks-long media celebration (for that’s what it was), the repetition of painful images and recitation of mistakes made and opportunities lost helps no one. I simply do not believe that continued escalation of the public, national, communal nature of this commemoration will help any one individual — or our nation — heal.

And we favor healing, do we not?

Honoring the victims, remembering — and caring for — the heroes, comforting the grieving survivors, mourning actual loss: can we make this anniversary about that as we go forward? Let’s excuse our political and military leaders (who failed us all that day) from their pompous displays of jingoism, while we prevail upon our orgiastic media to lock away in their vaults the ghastly images they use to claim our eyeballs and then sell us stuff.

Media alert: We know what that day looked like. You needn’t remind us.

Let’s not glorify this awful wound so publicly again. Let’s heal. Let’s help America heal.

Obama Jobs Bill Con-Job – only benefits for rich and corporate will pass

Obama has as job one destroying Social Security and Medicare, and as job two destroying the return of the Clinton tax rates – but both can be summarized as a job one of making US rich and corporate happy.

These are Getting into the Super Committee Bill:

Cutting the employer portion of the payroll tax in half for 98 percent of businesses via a cut in the tax on the first $5 million in payroll, with a complete payroll tax holiday for added workers or increased wages with this last benefit capped at the first $50 million in payroll increases. Cutting employer taxes by extending new investment in business 100% expensing for purchases (purchase from China the main beneficiary of course?) – and of course “Reforms and regulatory reductions” to help entrepreneurs and small businesses access capital. The employer hiring tax credit for unemployed veterans of $5,600 to $9,600 to encourage the hiring of  veterans, plus a $4,000 tax credit to employers for hiring long-term unemployed workers.

Possibly getting into the bill is an expanded WORKER payroll tax reduction from last years 2% reduction to a 12 month 3% reduction, and the likely give away to businesses of the nation’s wireless spectrum justified by saying Obama is “freeing up the nation’s spectrum” so we can get better wireless.

And a Pointless Home owner program that might get in bill would expand the HARP program that few use because of the large up front and ongoing “insurance of loan” costs and large closing costs and rates not set by the gov so they are set by the banks at 50 basis point – a 1/2 percentage increase – or more – on the final loan amount (the near 4% rate is just Obama referring to current “best customer” home loan rates that will not be forced), by letting the final loan amount be more in excess of the home value than under current rules.

But these Items are not getting into the Super Committee bill:

Prohibiting employers from discriminating against unemployed workers when hiring and those expanded job opportunities for low-income youth and adults through a fund for successful approaches for subsidized employment, innovative training programs and summer/year-round jobs for youth.  Likewise the State unemployment insurance program reform to let states adopt, and pay for with higher taxes on employers, “innovative work-based reforms to prevent layoffs, with greater flexibility to use UI funds to support job-seekers in new ways, including giving benefits to those workers choosing Work-Sharing when the employer allows and employee chooses work-sharing over layoffs. The new State UI program rules will allow states to pay for “Bridge to Work” programs where the displaced take temporary, voluntary work or pursue on-the-job training, with entrepreneurship (start their own businesses) and wage insurance programs permitted, the later seen as a way to help reemploy older workers and programs that make it easier for unemployed workers to start their own businesses.

Also going nowhere are the proposed one year of money to the states to prevent (280,000?)  teacher layoffs, and of course cops and firefighter layoffs. Those funds for modernizing 35,000 public schools across the country,supporting new science labs, Internet-ready classrooms and renovations, and other infrastructure investing, even the tiny seed money for a National Infrastructure Bank and the new “Project Rebuild” leveraging private capital and scaling land banks and other public-private collaborations approach to get private money into modernizing our roads, rail, airports and waterways, are going nowhere, so forget about rehabilitating homes, businesses and communities, .

Robert Reich – A healthy dose of truth-telling

I’m a democratic socialist. It’s always a dangerous business traveling in my circles when I give a nod to someone who once ranked way up there in a Democratic administration. Sometimes, however, it’s warranted.

Robert Reich spoke at a conference in Minnesota yesterday entitled “Summit for a Fair Economy”. There’s no mincing words: he nailed it.

If I have any quibble at all, and I do, it’s that his call for using the tax system as the primary mechanism to deal with the inequities and political corruption caused by the perversely skewed distribution of wealth is not an adequate remedy. That plugs up at least part of the leak in the dam but does nothing to address the flooding that has already occurred. Even under the harshest “tax the rich” scheme, for example Reich’s call to eliminate the “capital gains discount tax rate”, the rich will continue to gain a greater share of national wealth than they currently have. Even if the top one or two percent could keep only ten percent of their annual income, that’s still far more than most Americans earn in a year. It’s still a rich-get-richer system.

To repair the already existing wealth gap, and here’s where Reich comes up a bit short, we need to seize 100% of all assets above some cutoff value. Whether that’s $5 million or $10 million or whatever it is, I’ll leave that to others to pin down.

Keep that in mind as you listen to Reich’s truly excellent speech.

Thomas Friedman Thinks the Tea Partiers Are Extremists of the Left

Thomas Friedman is once again orthogonal to reality. In his column today he urges a “grand bargain” where the Republicans abandon extremists of the right and agree to tax increases and Democrats abandon extremists of the left and agree to cut Medicare and Social Security (euphemistically referred to as “entitlements”). There is one little problem with Friedman’s story.

Support for Social Security and Medicare is not confined to extremists of the left. Overwhelming majorities of every group, including Republicans and self-identified supporters of the Tea Party, are opposed to cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The only people who seem to support such cuts are wealthy people like Mr. Friedman.

The reality is that Social Security is easily affordable as everyone familiar with the projections knows. According to the latest projections from the Congressional Budget Office the program can pay every penny of benefits for more than a quarter century with no changes whatsoever. To make the program fully solvent throughout its 75-year planning horizon would require a tax increase is equal to 5 percent of the wage growth projected over the next 30 years. This is why people familiar with the program’s finances are generally unwilling to support cuts in Social Security benefits, unlike Mr. Friedman.

Medicare is more of an issue, but that is because the U.S. health care system is broken. We already pay more than twice as much per person for our health care as people in other wealthy countries. This gap is projected to increase in the decades ahead. If we had the same per person health care costs as any other wealthy country we would be looking at huge budget surpluses, not deficits. This is why serious people focus on fixing the health care system, not cutting Medicare.

The large deficits the country currently faces are due to an economic collapse caused by Wall Street greed and the incompetence of people with names like Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, and Hank Paulson. Mr Friedman doesn’t call for sacrifices from these people, for example with a financial speculation tax like the one recently proposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Fed Warms to More Monetary Easing

Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke

Realistically, it’s not all that worth discussing the American Jobs Act as a policy matter, because unless the President uses the Super Committee, the plan is fairly DOA. Republicans may cut it to ribbons and pass the parts they like, but that’s about it. And the Super Committee option, which would require the President to say that he’d veto any bill from the panel without the American Jobs Act in it, means that there’s no relief for the economy until at least December.

So thoughts turn to monetary policy, and yesterday we saw at least some movement toward some action on that front. In addition to Charles Evans of the Chicago Fed talking unusually rationally about the crisis of high unemployment, Ben Bernanke hinted at more steps:

Ben Bernanke’s speech today in Minneapolis is extremely similar to some things he’s said previously, but this time around in addition to reiterating that “the Federal Reserve has a range of tools that could be used to provide additional monetary stimulus” he also concluded by saying that “the Federal Reserve will certainly do all that it can to help restore high rates of growth and employment in a context of price stability.” […]

Bernanke, unlike some commentators, has never said that the Fed is out of ammunition. He’s always maintained that they have additional tools, so the implication has always been that the tools aren’t being used because the Fed has believed the situation is okay. Now, though, he’s blocked out extra time at the September meeting to discuss those tools with his colleagues and he’s saying that the Federal Reserve will do all that it can.

It’s not like inflation should be any kind of drag on the Fed’s options. And they have a few. Eliminating the reserve payment subsidy for banks parking their money at the Fed is one; communicating the desire for a higher inflation target is another; the Operation Twist thing of trading short-term for long-term bonds is a third. The first two could have payoffs.

Bernanke has political pressure on him from the right to do nothing. And a lot of the Fed’s policies over these last few years of the Lesser Depression have been self-limiting. But with Congress the way it is, it’s one of the few bullets left in the chamber.

Immigration Debate

There has been a lot of talk about immigration and undocumented immigrants in particular. People often are very passionate about this issue and it seems that they come down strongly on one side or the other, either a welcoming attitude or the reverse. Our nation’s policies of late have been very intense. Secure Communities (ICE) has deported more individuals than ever before. What was originally going to be voluntary participation in ICE has become mandatory.