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Daily Archives: January 5, 2010

Why People Continue To Be Angry About The Crotch Bomber

In recent testimony before Congress, Timothy Healy, the head of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, explained the unit’s “reasonable suspicion” standard in answer to a question from a member of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s Homeland Security Committee:

“Reasonable suspicion requires ‘articulable’ facts which, taken together with rational inferences, reasonably warrant a determination that an individual is known or suspected to be or has been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to, terrorism and terrorist activities, and is based on the totality of the circumstances. Mere guesses or inarticulate ‘hunches’ are not enough to constitute reasonable suspicion.”

Uh, ok … in that swarm of legalese, I see “engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to, terrorism and terrorist activities…”. Got it.

So you’d need come “articulable facts” which could “reasonably warrant a determination” that the guy  may be a terrorist based on his behavior. And one assumes his behavior would have to catch the attention of the authorities, correct?.

Well let’s see.

  1. His dad, a former minister in Nigeria, informed the US embassy there that his son had been radicalized (the dad obviously had a reason for concern).
  2. US intelligence had been following him for a while, dubbing him “the Nigerian” (one assumes there was a reason).
  3. He was on a watch list (one assumes there was a reason).
  4. He had been banned from Britain (yup, one assumes there was a reason).
  5. The British intelligence service had identified him to our intelligence agencies in 2008 as a potential threat (sigh, uh, yeah, reason).
  6. He’d just visited Yemen, an al Qaeda hotbed (given the first 5, one can reasonably guess at the reason).
  7. He bought a one-way ticket to the United States in Africa through Europe (red flag 1).
  8. He paid cash (red flag 2).
  9. He checked no luggage (red flag 3).
  10. Just wow.

OK, forget 10, but are those or are those not “articulable facts” which should have “reasonably warranted a determination” that this guy fit the profile of someone who is usually up too no good? No?

Well, let’s review – Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, bought a one-way ticket to the US, using cash and checked no luggage. 8 years ago. So, as Jon Stewart ask recently on the Daily Report, what other than the location of the explosives changed in those 8 years?

Nada.  Our lack of security sure hasn’t changed, has it, when the same MO used 8 years before succeeds again.  All that changed after Reid was we had to take our shoes off for screening.  Is our underwear next?

Not one, but two systems broke down in this little debacle. The intelligence system which apparently still keeps its dots separate from each other (or simply doesn’t find them compelling enough to check out) and makes watch lists it doesn’t watch (it’s called complacency and incompetence, folks). It certainly was all there wasn’t it? Or at least a bunch of “articulable facts” that should have “reasonably warranted a determination” that this guy might be a bad guy worth tracking, no?

And the second system which failed was the airline security system which should have picked up on the fact that they had a guy traveling out of Nigeria on a one-way ticket paid for in cash and with no checked luggage. This is an automated system which shares info, no?

I mean how hard is it to design software to constantly peruse passenger info and when it gets a 3 category hit like that, alert someone? Sound a siren. Pop out in little red flags. Something. But apparently must be very hard to do, because the same problem exists now as when Richard Reid tried it lo those many years ago. This most recent bomber should never have made it out of Amsterdam. No, he should never have been allowed on the plane in Nigeria, given those three indicators alone, without a full body search.

So good job FBI – you’ve got your legalese down pat but couldn’t catch a crotch bomber if he wore a sign. And good work CIA and National Terrorism Center for connecting the dots and passing the info along. And good job airline security – nary a clue the guy was a possible threat even though information should have been available that would have draped him in red flags.  Heck, the ticket agent should have picked up on this.

If you’re wondering, then, why people are angry about this, it’s because after all the money and all the assurances that security was better than before, we have “Richard Reid Jr.” using precisely the same MO used 8 years before and almost pulling it off again. You might be able to shrug this off as luck and happenstance if this guy had some entirely new way of getting on the plane (credit card, round trip ticket, checked bag – I mean how hard is it, really?), but he didn’t. That’s the problem.  And that’s also why people are angry!

Meanwhile, the comedy we call “security” continues.

~McQ

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Michale Yon: Handcuffed In Seattle For Refusing To Divulge His Income

I had the pleasure, last Sunday, of participating in an interview with Michael Yon on PunditReview radio. Michael had finished up a year out of the country, covering both Afghanistan and Iraq as a citizen journalist. He was in Hong Kong when we did the interview (you can hear it here). You could tell how excited he was to be coming home to the US. My last words to him were, “welcome home, Michael”.

And how was he welcomed home? From his Facebook page:

Got arrested at the Seattle airport for refusing to say how much money I make. (The uniformed ones say I was not “arrested”, but they definitely handcuffed me.) Their videos and audios should show that I was polite, but simply refused questions that had nothing to do with national security. Port authority police eventually came — they were professionals — and rescued me from the border bullies.

His description of those who handcuffed him is appropriate and I applaud his resistance to their questions. He also put a little context around what happened to him in his next posting on Facebook, something which I find disturbing:

When they handcuffed me, I said that no country has ever treated me so badly. Not China. Not Vietnam. Not Afghanistan. Definitely not Singapore or India or Nepal or Germany, not Brunei, not Indonesia, or Malaysia, or Kuwait or Qatar or United Arab Emirates. No county has treated me with the disrespect can that can be expected from our border bullies.

Unfortunately, in the “home of the free and the land of the brave”, that’s not at all an uncommon tale. For the life of me, I can’t figure the “national security” angle on income. And I have to admit I’d have told whoever asked me that it was none of their business.

This is an example of the individual tyrannies that can establish themselves within nameless/faceless bureaucracies. I have no idea if that question is a standard one that our border agents are supposed to ask. If it is, it is an unwarranted invasion of privacy. But my guess is it isn’t. My guess, based simply on a hunch, is that this was some border agent playing his or her little game and not used to being refused. And when refused, didn’t have the good sense to back off and instead escalated the situation.

I hope Michael gets a good lawyer and goes after the individual and the agency for attempting to invade his privacy. National security is a serious business – but it appears, given the info we have, this had absolutely nothing to do with national security or any type of security.

Anyway, “Welcome home, Mike”.

~McQ

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Things I’d Like To See: The 28th Amendment

How do you suppose Congress would react to this?

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States  Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law that  applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to  the Senators and Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies  to the Senators and Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States”.

The founders of this country went to great lengths to ban titles of nobility from existence in the US. They wanted no entitled “elite” on these shores, understanding first-hand what such an elite would and could do to the common man. And one of the signature problems of Europe’s elite (nobility) was the fact that they made rules for their subjects to which they were never required to adhere. Instead they exempted themselves and thereby lost touch with the effect their rules had on others.  The French Revolution, among others, demonstrated the pure folly of such a system.

But that’s essentially what Congress does every time it exempts itself from laws it requires the rest of America to follow. It is also one of the reasons for the huge and growing disconnect between government and the people. When you don’t have to live by the laws you pass, it’s is hard to sympathize or empathize with those who do.

The concept of “nobility” or elite doesn’t necessarily require noble titles to exist. Congress making laws it doesn’t have to live by is enough for most to label those doing so an elite class.

Now I’m not particularly interested in parsing the language of the proposed amendment – you get the gist of the idea.  Don’t you think, in the overall scheme of things, that requiring those who make the laws live by them would help reconnect them with the mainstream (and perhaps have them making fewer laws)? Wouldn’t doing so also give them practical experience concerning the effect of the laws they pass on the daily lives of ordinary people? Why shouldn’t they be in the Social Security system instead of a different (and much better) pension system? Why are they exempt from sexual harassment laws? If this health care system they’re contemplating is good enough for us, why not them?

My guess is most state legislatures would have no problem with passing such an amendment (given the mandates Congress routinely shoves down their throats).  And my guess is it wouldn’t require much at all to get a popular groundswell behind it as well.

Last – aren’t you somewhat amazed we even have to have this conversation or propose such an amendment to begin with?

~McQ

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Challenging The Health Care Reform Bill On Constitutional Grounds – Is It Really An Option?

One of the more dishonest ways the Congress is able to portray various spending bills as not adding to the deficit or being revenue neutral is to push mandates onto the states and have them pay a large portion of the cost. That way, that cost is hidden from the original numbers churned out by Congress and validated by the CBO. That’s the case in this health care bill and one of the primary reasons Sen. Ben Nelson sought an exemption for his state of Nebraska before he’d support the current Senate bill.

Well that’s not sitting well with any number of states going through hard financial times right now and seeing even more spending mandates coming their way in the health care reform legislation. They’re threatening to go to court if what they’re calling the “Cornhusker Kickback” is left to stand in the legislation:

Thirteen state attorneys general have sent a letter to Congress threatening legal action against health care reform unless a provision in the Senate bill given to Nebraska is removed.

The provision is known as the “Cornhusker Kickback,” because it gives Nebraska a permanent exemption from paying for Medicaid expenses that would be required of all the other states. This means that taxpayers in other states would be paying for an increase in Nebraska’s Medicaid population. Medicaid is a federal-state health care program for the poor.

“This provision is constitutionally flawed,” the attorneys general wrote. “As chief legal officers of our states we are contemplating a legal challenge to this provision and we ask you to take action to render this challenge unnecessary by striking the provision.”

I bring this to your attention because I think this may be the primary way those who oppose the health care bill will have to fight it once it has passed – in court.  There are all sorts of problems and pitfalls with such a strategy.  But I’m also of the opinion much of the bill is “constitutionally flawed” and wide open to challenge. Of course, given the rather liberal interpretations of that document in the past by SCOTUS, it’s rather difficult to predict whether challengers will have any success. However, I think the mandate to buy health insurance, for instance, is something which can be challenged on constitutional grounds. And obviously these 13 States Attorney Generals think they have constitutional ground to challenge the kick back (I wish they’d challenge the mandate to the states instead).

We’ll see, but supposedly that’s what the court is there for – although since Kelo, I’ve had very little confidence in the court’s actual desire or aim to uphold the actual intent of the document.

~McQ

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Health Care Reform – Passage Now An Exercise In Pure Politics And Power

Yesterday we learned that the Congressional Democratic leadership has no intention of following it’s own procedures in order to get the unpopular “health care reform” bill passed:

Now that both the House and Senate have passed health care reform bills, all Democrats have to do is work out a compromise between the two versions. And it appears they’re not about to let the Republicans gum up the works again.

According to a pair of senior Capitol Hill staffers, one from each chamber, House and Senate Democrats are “almost certain” to negotiate informally rather than convene a formal conference committee. Doing so would allow Democrats to avoid a series of procedural steps–not least among them, a series of special motions in the Senate, each requiring a vote with full debate–that Republicans could use to stall deliberations, just as they did in November and December.

“There will almost certainly be full negotiations but no formal conference,” the House staffer says. “There are too many procedural hurdles to go the formal conference route in the Senate.”

Of course the obvious implication of Jonathan Cohn’s report is that they’re doing so to avoid “procedural hurdles” with which Republicans will “gum up the works”. I.e. – the procedure that has been agreed upon for centuries to meld House and Senate versions into a single bill and allow proper debate of the particulars will be thrown out the window in an effort to deny Republicans a chance to challenge the legislation and attempt to modify it or defeat it.

But, it turns out, it isn’t only Republicans they’re interested in denying a say. The Progressive Caucus in the House is none too happy with the development either. Remember, they want a stronger bill which included the public option. And they, like Republicans, would be denied the opportunity to have their say should this plan to “informally” negotiate the bill be undertaken. That has prompted Rep Raul Grijalva, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, to issue the following statement:

“I am disappointed that there will be no formal conference process by which various constituencies can impact the discussion. I have not been approached about my concerns with the Senate bill, and I will be raising those at the Democratic Caucus meeting on Thursday. I and other progressives saw a conference as a means to improve the bill and have a real debate, and now with this behind-the-scenes approach, we’re concerned even more.”

Greg Sargent claims that “many expect House liberals to ultimately support the plan no matter how this process plays out.”

Of course they do – it is at least a step in the direction that liberals want, single payer so this is a calculated political risk.  It can be added too incrementally to get there, or at least that’s what is being sold. That’s not at all a hollow promise as we’ve seen with programs like Medicare, SCHIP and Medicaid.

So it is indeed possible that is how this situation will play out. But it is also possible that Republican gains in 2010 and beyond will block further incremental additions such as a public option, etc – at least for a while. So Sargent wonders if, in fact, this shutting out of the Progressive Caucus may not be a bridge too far, assuming it isn’t eventally included in the “informal negotiations” and given some of what they demand:

But House progressives are already infuriated by the multiple concessions they’ve been forced to make, and cutting them out of the process could only bruise feelings more and harden their resolve to hold the line against the eventual compromise.

We’ll see – meanwhile this unpopular monstrosity moves forward as only it can – through procedural tricks which avoid debate and the use of raw power. Remember, once it becomes law (whatever shape “it” is in when that happens) it becomes almost impossible to repeal. The time to stop it is now. But it appears our “representatives” in power have absolutely no desire to let the people’s will have any effect on this naked power grab and will use any means necessary to pass it. This is something the Democrats have wanted for decades and they’re going to get it whether you like it or not. Politics and party rule the day.

~McQ

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