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Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Watch out! No! Over there! Or there! There!

In Crime, World on January 30, 2010 at 9:55 am

Ever feel like everybody’s trying to kill you?

Well, according to the National Counterterrorism Center, your concern may be justified.

Speaking before the House Committee on Homeland Security earlier this week, the center’s director, Michael Leiter (no apparent relation to Al Leiter), told the committee that 350 people a day are added to the terrorist watch list.

That’s 127,750 people a year.

And even though some 27,000 people have been removed from the list over time, there were still about 500,000 on the list as of January 2009.

So, maybe not everyone’s trying to kill you but, according to the government, it certainly seems a lot of people are.

I think I’ll stay indoors today.

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Man Who Got ACORN Got by Feds After Botched Bugging Attempt

In Uncategorized on January 26, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Well, ain’t this something.

James O’Keefe, who has made something of a name for himself leading a war against housing advocates ACORN (admittedly, they’re not all saints there but they do a lot of great work) has been arrested by the Feds after he allegedly tried to bug the phones in the office of Louisiana Senator, Mary Landrieu.

According to the press release, O’Keefe and three other men — one of whom is Robert Flanagan, the son of the US Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana William Flanagan — tried to gain access to Landrieu’s office by posing as telephone repairmen.

Now, for those who missed it… O’Keefe launched a YouTube campaign against the group, trying wherever possible to get staffers to do things that were illegal. And while he was successful in some regards — and those people were fired — he also was far from a saint himself.

While O’Keefe tried to be judge and jury and convict people based on insinuation, I feel it’s worth pointing out that he is innocent until proven guilty.

A courtesy he never extended.

Not Exactly Bedtime Reading

In Crime, Politics, World on January 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Maybe it wouldn’t be so disturbing if it wasn’t bipartisan, if it was just the usual, well you’re from a different political party so the hell with you.

But a new report from the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism carries the headline, “Government Failing to Protect America from Grave Threats of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism.”

Great.

“Nearly a decade after September 11, 2001, one year after our original report, and one month after the Christmas Day bombing attempt, the United States is failing to address several urgent threats, especially bioterrorism,” said Senator Bob Graham, co-chairman of the commission. “Each of the last three Administrations has been slow to recognize and respond to the biothreat. But we no longer have the luxury of a slow learning curve, when we know al Qaeda is interested in bioweapons.”

According to the report, the Commission found several areas where the risks to the United States are increasing: the crossroads of terrorism and proliferation in the poorly governed regions of Pakistan, the proliferation of biological and nuclear materials, and technology, and the potential erosion of international nuclear security, treaties and norms as we enter a nuclear energy renaissance.”

The report assessed United States efforts in 17 areas including tightening government oversight of high-containment labs to strengthening domestic and global disease surveillance networks to designating a White House principal advisor for WMD proliferation and terrorism.

While the commission gave several As and Bs, there were also three Fs including one for efforts to implement education and training programs to recruit and retain the next generation of national security experts.

The report warns:

There is direct evidence that terrorists are trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction and acquiring WMD fits the tactical profile of terrorists. Terrorists also have global reach and the organizational sophistication to obtain and use WMD. Finally, the opportunity to acquire and use such weapons is growing exponentially because of the global proliferation of nuclear material and biological technologies.”

Meanwhile, the CIA official who headed up the agency’s efforts to find weapons of mass destruction, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, has written a report for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government stating that Al Qaeda has not abandoned its efforts to attack the United States with such a weapon.

“Al Qaeda is the only group known to be pursuing a long-term, persistent and systematic approach to developing weapons to be used in mass casualty attacks,” Mowatt-Larssen writes, adding that threats by Osama bin Laden to escalate attacks “should not be interpreted as empty rhetoric and idle threats.”

Mowatt-Larssen acknowledges that “there is widespread suspicion in America and abroad that WMD terrorism is another phony threat being hyped for political purposes, and to stoke fears among the public” and that “it is difficult to debunk this allegation, given the US government’s lack of credibility in the case of Iraqi WMD.”

But, he adds, “that said, WMD terrorism is not Iraqi WMD…There is no indication that the fundamental objectives that lie behind their WMD intent have changed over time.”

Instead of Closing it, How about a Murder Investigation First?

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2010 at 11:06 am

Today was supposed to be the day.

One year ago, President Obama signed an executive order calling for the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in one year.

That’s today.

And while there’s a lot of good reasons for it not to be closed yet: the fact that some of the people released have returned to terrorism, or become more determined after their experiences at Guanantamo; the fact that there’s still really no plan in place on what do with the prisoners who maybe shouldn’t be released yet.

But, perhaps the best reason for not shutting it down completely is because they need to keep everyone on hand and conduct an investigation into the deaths of three inmates on June 10th, 2006.

The Pentagon reported at the time that:

“Three detainees at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, died of apparent suicides early this morning, military officials reported today.”

The Pentagon asserted that the three had been found “unresponsive and not breathing in their cells and that medical teams responded quickly and all three detainees were provided immediate emergency medical treatment in attempts to revive them.”

In August 2008, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service released a report that pretty much came to the same conclusion.

It didn’t take long for questions to be asked about the the deaths of the three — later identified as Salah Ahmed al-Salami, 37, a Yemeni, and two Saudis, Talal al-Zahrani, 22, and Mani Shaman al Utaybi, 30.

The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a suit on behalf of the families of two of the men, seeking to hold someone accountable for the “arbitrary detention, torture and ultimate deaths” of the men.

A report by Seton Hall University School of Law’s Center for Policy & Research alleged “dramatic flaws in the government’s investigation” of the deaths.

As I wrote last month, the report points out that, if the government’s probe is to be taken at face value, in order for three — in separate cells — to have committed suicide, they would have had to:

“braid a noose by tearing up their sheets and/or clothing;

“make mannequins of themselves so it would appear to the guards they were asleep in their cells;

“hang sheets to block the view into the cells, in violation of standard operating procedures;

“stuff rags down their own throats;

“tie their own feet together;

“tie their own hands together;

“hang the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling;

“climb up on the sink, put the noose around their necks and release their weight, resulting in death by strangulation;

“hang dead for at least two hours completely unnoticed by guards.”

“An investigation was promised,” said Professor Mark Denbeaux, the director of the Center for Policy & Research. “The promised investigation was a cover up. Worse still, given the gross inadequacy of the investigation the more compelling questions are: who knew of the cover up? Who approved the cover up, any why? The government’s investigation is slipshod, and its conclusion leaves the most important questions about this tragedy unanswered.”

The Seton Hall report said the government’s report — a heavily redacted version of which was released in August 2008 — also questions how the three — who had been on the same cell block for less than 72 hours — were able to coordinate what the government called an act of “asymmetrical warfare.”

As if that wasn’t enough to make you shake your head, now comes a report from Harper’s Magazine by Scott Horton that raises serious questions about whether the three men were murdered while being tortured.

It’s a well-reported piece with on the record accounts from guards at the camp.

It strongly suggests that the men died at a previously undisclosed location — Camp No as in “no, it doesn’t exist” — and then moved back to the main base where they were “discovered.”

The questions raised are disturbing at best. Given the fact that a Justice Department task force yesterday recommended that 50 of the 196 detainees still at Guantanamo be held indefinitely, they urgently need to be addressed.

Maybe since legendary Robert Morgenthau doesn’t seem ready to really retire, maybe he can lead the probe into this real life law and order.

Admiral Blair: 'Duh! You Know, We Didn't…But We Will Now'

In Crime, Politics, World on January 21, 2010 at 2:08 am
Admiral Dennis C.

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Those were the words Wednesday from Admiral Dennis Blair, the United States Director of National Intelligence.

He was testifying before the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Click on the link, which will take you to the hearing page. Toward the upper left corner is a link, “view archive webcast.” Click on that, go about 69 minutes into the hearing and you will see Blair — I’m sorry, Admiral Blair — pretend to slap himself on the forehead when he says it.

He was responding to a question from Senator Collins from Maine who wanted to know whether he, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano or Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, had been consulted before the decision was made to read Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab his rights and treat him like a criminal.

As it turns out, while none of the three — who were testifying as part of the first of two hearings by the committee on “the lessons and implications of the Christmas Day attack” — were consulted by the Justice Department, they probably all should have been.

That’s why, last August, President Obama created the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group or HIG.

“That unit was created exactly for this purpose, to make a decision on whether a certain person who’s detained should be treated as a case for federal prosecution or for some of the other means,” Blair told the committee. “We did not invoke the HIG in this case; we should have.”

Blair’s comment in the headline — “Duh! You know…” — was made as he explained the HIG program was created with the thought of people being detained overseas, not within the United States and, as a result, no one really thought to invoke it.

Over at the Senate Judiciary Committee during a similarly themed hearing — this one was “Securing America’s Safety: Improving the Effectiveness of Anti-Terrorism Tools and Inter-Agency Communication — FBI Director Robert Mueller, pretty much backed up what Blair had to say, testifying that “It happened so fast there was no time really at that point” to figure out if they should bring in other interrogators.

While they appeared to be on the same page while visiting the Senate, Mueller and Blair — or at least their aides — must have had words later in the day because Blair later released a statement, saying:

“My remarks today before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs have been misconstrued. The FBI interrogated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab when they took him into custody. They received important intelligence at that time, drawing on the FBI’s expertise in interrogation that will be available in the HIG once it is fully operational.”

So, here we are two weeks after the President released the review of the intelligence failures leading up to the attempted attack on Christmas Day and calling for more cooperation, it seems the children are still having a hard time playing together.

Yemen, Al Qaeda and the Threat of 'Blond-Haired, Blue-Eyed Types'

In Crime, World on January 20, 2010 at 12:12 am

A report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee scheduled to be released on Wednesday calls the presence of Al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia “a ticking time bomb.”

While the threat posed by Yemen has been written about a lot recently — especially since the attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to bring down a Detroit-bound plane — this report goes into more detail and paints a fairly bleak picture.

“The group seeks to recruit American citizens to carry out terrorist attacks,” Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry writes in a letter accompanying the report. “These Americans are not necessarily of Arab or South Asian descent; they include individuals who converted to Islam in prison or elsewhere and were radicalized.”

The report quotes “US diplomats and law enforcement officials” as warning “that a significant threat to US interests could come from American citizens based in Yemen. Most worrisome is a group of as many as three dozen former criminals who converted to Islam in prison, were released at the end of their sentences, and moved to Yemen, ostensibly to study Arabic.

“US officials told committee staff that they fear that these Americans were radicalized in prison and travelled to Yemen for training. Although there is no public evidence of any terrorist action by these individuals, law enforcement officials told committee staff members that several have “dropped off the radar” for weeks at a time.”

The report also warns of “a group of nearly 10 non-Yemeni Americans who traveled to Yemen, converted to Islam, became fundamentalists, and married Yemeni women so they could remain in the country. Described by one American official as ‘blond-haired, blue-eyed types’ these individuals fit a profile of Americans whom Al Qaeda has sought to recruit over the past several years.”

There is also several mentions of Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born cleric who moved to Yemen and was until recently thought killed in a US air strike. Al-Awlaki has been linked by email to Major Nidal Hasan, charged in the Fort Hood shooting.

According to the report: “US law enforcement officials said they are on heightened alert because of the potential threat from extremists carrying American passports and the related challenges involved in detecting and stopping homegrown operatives.”

Harold Ford: Keeping Podiatrists Happy

In Politics on January 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm
WASHINGTON - JULY 13:  Former Rep. Harold Ford...

Image by Getty Images for Meet the Press via Daylife

I know there’s a lot of big stuff going on today.

The election in Massachusetts. News out of Haiti. Word that the FBI broke the law for two years getting phone records. And, most disturbing, new evidence that three prisoners at Guantanamo may have been murdered.

I’ll have more on those last two at another time but first let’s go a little off subject and talk about what a lousy candidate Harold Ford Jr is turning out to be.

I mean, at the rate he’s digging a hole for himself, he’s going to be running for the Senate in Beijing.

In eight short days, he has gone from coming across as elitist to advocating child abuse. If I’m Kirsten Gillibrand, whom Ford hopes to challenge, I’m dancing for joy. If I am a deceased friend or relative of Ford’s I’m spinning in my grave. If I’m not dead, I perhaps am wishing I was.

First, there was the interview with The New York Times where he was asked if he was a Jets or Giants fan and replied he is closer to the Tisches, the owners of the Giants, than he is Jets owner Woody Johnson. He also talked about when he “in in town” he likes to have breakfast at the Regency and his only real experience on Staten Island was landing there in a helicopter with the police commissioner.

Then, he gives an interview to The Daily News — an interview the News says was “granted under the condition that the questions be limited to his rationale for running, and not issues ” — in which he says “”I love New York, I love the smell of New York.”

Finally, yesterday. He’s at  Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network for the annual Martin Luther King Day Memorial and he says:

“We as a nation need to be disciplined. If there were ever a day in which an electric cord ought to be used on all of us to remind us of what’s good, what’s bad, what’s right and what’s wrong, it’s on the King holiday.”

That’s right. If there was ever day where it was okay to beat your child with an electrical cord — it’s Martin Luther King Day.

Harold Ford may be a very smart man. I mean he did get elected to Congress a few times and a lot of smart people seem to like him. But pretty soon the only people who are going tow ant to vote for him are stand up comics and political cartoonists.

He’s like a jobs program for the podiatrists who are going to have to keep removing his foot from his mouth

The TSA's Blogger Bob Should be Bounced

In Politics, Uncategorized on January 16, 2010 at 9:01 am
Seal of the United States Transportation Secur...

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First off, that any government employee is allowed — if not encouraged — to sign his work “Blogger Bob” is really just so very disturbing.

Second, that he should be able to seriously write a post titled, “There Are No Children on the No Fly or Selectee Lists” that starts off

“It’s inevitable that every several months or so, some cute kid gets their mug posted on a major news publication with a headline reading something like: “Does this look like a terrorist to you?” Anything involving kids or cats gets tons of mileage and everybody starts tweeting and retweeting that there’s an 8 year old on the no fly list”

and continues

“What happens is the child’s name is a match or similar match to an actual individual on the No Fly or Selectee Watch List”

is mind-boggling to me.

To refer to it as disingenuous would be to insult the countless politicians who spend their days seeming to try and make disingenuous into an art form.

No one thinks that as ridiculous as the government can be, that they’re purposely listing four-year-olds, seven-year-olds, or infants who couldn’t possibly be terrorists.

What people are pointing out and criticizing the TSA for — and I suspect Blogger Bob knows this and if he doesn’t he’s an idiot — is that there are children getting stopped repeatedly who can’t seem to get off the list as The New York Times just reported.

That the no-fly list has problems has been extensively reported, especially   in the wake of the Christmas bombing when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to get on a plane despite the fact that he should have been on the list.

And there’s no doubt that the decision of Republican senators to hold up the nomination of someone to run TSA has probably not helped the agency.

But for “Blogger Bob” and the “TSA Blog Team” to try and make it seem like this is some media myth and people just need to follow a few steps to clear up the problem is just insulting.

Tales from the End of the Trail: Licensed to Hopefully Not Kill

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2010 at 9:33 am

So, yesterday I made the mistake of suggesting that scaring people instead of trying to engage in honest political debate was really not such a great idea.

My point was that Rush Limbaugh and others have every right to criticize the President, I just wish they would do it with facts instead of fear; that really what they’re doing is what President George W. Bush suggested the terrorists were doing: trying to scare people so much they are unable to act, move on with their lives.

Some intelligent, perceptive commenter wrote in to ask why I hate America.

So, today I’ve decided to go in a different direction and try something light-hearted.

While I grew up just outside of Manhattan, I’ve spent most of my life in the land of, “If you can’t get there by subway, is it really worth going?”

It’s not that I was anti-car. I just didn’t see a need for anything beyond cabs and emergency vehicles.

The lack of a license originally probably stemmed from a laziness in high school — or rather a different set of priorities. I could walk to and from school, to and from the library, to and from the train station. I had friends who would pick me up, give me rides for the rest.

And then I was living in the City and people just assumed I was one of those lifelong New Yorkers who had never bothered to get a license. I saw no need to dissuade them.

The minute Amy and I decided we were going to move to Oregon, I knew I was going to be in trouble.

Regardless of whatever reasons I had had for not driving before, I was going to need to buckle down and figure it out.

Within 48 hours of moving, I was signed up for driving class. Amy and I agreed that if we wanted to stay married it would probably not be a good idea for her to teach me.

The first day, I remember waiting for the instructor to pick me up and focusing on what had been In fact, my one driving experience.

I was maybe ten years old and my mother’s parents were taking care of my brother and me. I had gone to the store with my grandfather to the store in his red Dodge Dart that I can still remember seemed bigger than a boat. When we got back in the car to go home, he directed me to sit in his lap. Neither of us wore seatbelts. I don’t know that it was a simpler time as much as it was just a different time.

I scooted across the front seat and into his lap. He told me to put my hands at the top of the wheel. He started the car and bookended my hands with his and together we drove the five blocks back toward his house. When we turned the corner and it was a straight 300 feet back to his house — and, I’m pretty sure, there were no other cars on the road — he removed his hands and I steered on my own the rest of the way.

My instructor, whom I’ll cal Mr. White because I can’t remember what his real name is and that was the color he turned every time he was in the car with me, convinced, I’m sure, he was never going to see his loved ones again.

It was a lousy experience made more difficult by the fact that no matter how many times I explained that not only was I getting my first Oregon driver’s license, I was getting my first driver’s license EVER, he couldn’t seem to get his head around that concept.

There was lots of, “Well, Mr. Miner I don’t know what they teach you in New York but that’s not how we do it in Oregon.”

Admittedly, I didn’t help the situation because for the first few lessons he was talking about things like staying in my own lane, signaling before turning and not running red lights.

But with each lesson, I got a little better. The problem was that because he couldn’t figure out that this was really going to be my first driver’s license, we spent very little time on basics.

After nine lessons in three weeks, came time for my road test.

It was pouring rain and I was not optimistic but I figured since it rains, let’s just say frequently, in Oregon, I figured I would have to suck it up. Sitting in White’s Toyota Corolla — a brand and make I still refuse to get in, the entire experience was so traumatic — I tried to figure out which was going to be worse: failing my road test or telling people that I had failed.

I had decided that both were pretty much going to suck equally and that maybe the best solution would be just having White drop me at the airport so I can just hop on a plane and head back to New York and subways. I would send for my stuff later.

“Are you Mr. Miner?” a balding man who looked twenty years older than I felt — even though we were probably around the same age — asked me, opening the passenger door to the Corolla. He had a clipboard in his right hand and a somber expression on his face. “I’m Mr. Adams and I will administer your road test. Before any driving, let’s just make sure everything’s in order.”

He spoke so quickly, so efficiently, there wasn’t time for me to charming, or at least try to be charming. I suspected that even if I had had all the time in the world, he really wouldn’t have given a damn. If nothing else, my lessons with White had taught me that driving instructors may be the most humorless of bureaucrats.

Adams walked around the car, making sure that all the lights are working, got in the car and directed me to back up, which I did but only after trying with the emergency break still on. Not a good start.

Pulling into the street, I made a left, another left, a right, switched lanes, parallel parked, pulled back into traffic, switched lanes and then he told me to head back to the DMV lot.

Since I could barely see the white lines on the road because of the rain, certainly not as well as I could see Adams overly dramatically gripping the handle above the door, I was pretty sure I had failed, something he confirmed for me moments later.

Thanks to the help of friends and maybe the sympathy of my second test administrator, I passed when I took it again three weeks later.

Since then, I haven’t hit anyone, let alone, killed anyone.

I know it’s keeping the bar low but it makes being disappointed that much harder.

Don't Let the Terrorists Win — Ignore Rush and Robertson

In Politics, World on January 14, 2010 at 8:36 am
Rush Limbaugh booking photo from his arrest on...

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Yesterday, much to my surprise, I found myself quoting the National Rifle Association favorably.

Today, another surprise.

It was October 11th, 2001 — one month after the attack — and someone said:

“We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don’t — where we don’t conduct business, where people don’t shop. That’s their intention. Their intention was not only to kill and maim and destroy. Their intention was to frighten to the point where our nation would not act. Their intention was to so frighten our government that we wouldn’t seek justice; that somehow we would cower in the face of their threats and not respond, abroad or at home.”

Yep, W. Not my usual go-to person when I want to make a point.

But here’s the thing — and please understand I am not about to compare Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson to the murderers of September 11th. Well, I’m not in anyway going to say Limbaugh and Robertson are murderers.

But when it comes to President Bush’s statement about “their intention” being “to frighten our government that we wouldn’t seek justice, that somehow we would cower in the face of their threats and not respond…”

Yep. That’s definitely Limbaugh.

Yesterday — and I almost regret sending people to his site because I really don’t want to drive traffic there — he said:

“This will play right into Obama’s hands. He’s humanitarian, compassionate.  They’ll use this to burnish their, shall we say, “credibility” with the black community — in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country.  It’s made-to-order for them.  That’s why he couldn’t wait to get out there, could not wait to get out there.”

He was talking about Haiti and how President Obama waited three days to talk about the underwear bomber but was immediately out there on Haiti.

Now, I’m sure Limbaugh was equally critical of President Bush’s decision to wait for even longer to speak about Richard Reid, so let’s let that part of his comments go for now.

But, when it comes to the part about frightening people so they won’t act, that is exactly what Limbaugh is trying to do, He wants to rile people up, foment hatred, try to force the government into a position of fear where they won’t be able to act.

It’s absolutely hateful.

There are tens of thousands of people dead and he’s trying to score political points and drive up his ratings?

Beautiful.

And Limbaugh’s just getting started. He wants to demonize the Haitians, portray them as the architects of their own destruction and unworthy of aid.

“The Haitian economy is entirely dependent on foreign aid,” he aid. “They produce nothing.  Zilch, zero, nada.  And it’s been that way for the longest time.”

Well, as the State Department points out in a backgrounder, that just isn’t the case.

Yes, they import three times what they export, but they do export things like mangoes, leather and raw hides and seafood.

But, in Haiti’s defense. There could be a country with an even greater trade deficit, one that imports four times of what they export. I just can’t imagine what country could be in that bad shape? Oh, wait.

Listen, I have no problem with Limbaugh wanting to criticize the President. He wants to disagree with everything he says, no problem. Have at it.

But don’t make the stuff up. Don’t try to scare people to drive up your ratings. People want to disagree, that’s great. This country has a great history of debate. But let it be honest debate. Let’s not demonize people to score political points.

Limbaugh has a very powerful platform from which to speak. If he wants to use it to to try and get Obama and his ideas defeated, he should feel free to proceed. He should just do it with facts instead of by trying to scare people into submission.

Admittedly, he’s not saying Haiti can trace their problems to a pact with Satan.

But if Limbaugh and others are able to foment hatred and scare this country into not being able to act, well — to paraphrase President George W. Bush — then the terrorists have won,