Category Archives: Terrorism

Apple stiffs America, kowtows to the Chinese

apple_logo_png_06

Remember how Apple told the U.S. government to take a hike when it made a perfectly legitimate request for help in a terrorism investigation?

By contrast, here’s how the company reacts when China asks it to help oppress the Chinese people:

BEIJING — Apple has removed the New York Times app from its digital store in China, acting on what it says were orders from the Chinese government.

The New York Times, which offers content in both English and Chinese, is one of a growing number of foreign news organizations whose content is blocked in China, although some people here use special software to bypass the censorship system.

The Times said the app was removed from Apple stores on Dec. 23, apparently under regulations issued in June preventing mobile apps from engaging in activities that endanger national security or disrupt social order.

That occurred as New York Times reporter David Barboza was in the final stages of reporting a story about billions of dollars in hidden perks and subsidies the Chinese government provides to the world’s largest iPhone factory, run by Apple’s partner Foxconn. That story went online on Dec. 29….

‘Weekend of Terror’

vlcsnap-344903

Did you know that was a thing? There was a cheesy made-for-TV movie by that name in 1970, one so low-profile that there are no surviving promotional materials for me to grab an image of. Just that stultifyingly uninteresting title screen above. (Back in 1970, the third-string cinematographers who made these things didn’t even try to make anything look interesting.)

In a way, the scattering of terror incidents in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota over the weekend are sort of the real-life terror equivalent. Nobody killed, thank God. Low-impact, low-budget. Forgettable imagery.

Earlier today, I told Bryan I didn’t see any points I wanted to raise editorially — there seemed to be little to say about such attacks in a political sense, since presumably everyone on the blog is opposed to them.

But The Wall Street Journal managed to find an angle. Under the headline, “Another Bomb After a Weekend of Terror,” there was the subhed, “Plus, more Clinton email revelations.”

Really. Neither I nor Dave Barry is making this up, even though it sounds like satire.

In the Journal‘s defense, that headline was on an editorial roundup. Still, the juxtaposition was a bit jarring. Meanwhile, not to be outdone, a site called Townhall sported this headline: “12 Hours of Terror: Just Another Weekend in Leftist-run America.”

Sheesh.

But back to the news…

The BBC summed it all up this way:

On Saturday morning, a pipe bomb exploded on the route of a charity race in New Jersey. Nobody was hurt, because the road was empty at the time. The race had been delayed due to an unattended bag. The event, which was planned to raise money for Marines and sailors, was cancelled.

That evening, a man dressed in a security uniform stabbed eight people in a shopping centre in a town in Minnesota. They all survived and none of their injuries are life-threatening. The attacker was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer. It happened in St Cloud, 70 miles (110km) from the major city of Minneapolis. The town’s police chief said the man had asked at least one person if they were Muslim. It is thought he was Somali-American.

At roughly the same time, more than 1,200 miles (1,900km) away in Manhattan, New York, a pressure cooker filled with shrapnel exploded. It happened in the Chelsea area where there is a bustling nightlife, and 29 people were injured. All were released from hospital by Sunday. The same kind of bomb had been used in the Boston marathon attack in 2013.

A second, similar, bomb found four blocks away was removed safely.

Overnight on Sunday and in the early hours of Monday morning, up to five explosive devices were found in a backpack inside a rubbish bin in Elizabeth, New Jersey. One of them exploded while being handled by a robot. The city’s mayor has said this was “not a controlled explosion.”…

I’m not even sure how many incidents that counts as, or what’s related to what.

My main personal concern with all this is that my youngest daughter is in New York. Bryan has a similar concern with two sisters there.

On the other hand, the Minnesota attack is worrisome because it’s part of a pattern of recent attacks that are NOT in New York or Washington or Boston, which shows terrorists are figuring out that if they really want to terrorize Americans, they should make them feel insecure everywhere. Either that, or he couldn’t afford a plane ticket to the big media centers. After all, he apparently couldn’t afford firearms.

A quick update: The guy authorities were looking for in New York, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was captured after being wounded in an exchange of gunfire with police.

And POTUS was delivering remarks on the incidents. This just ended a moment ago. Watch for criticism that he didn’t mention “Islamic extremism,” or didn’t mention it enough, or whatever.

Comments?

majorsOh, by the way… The bad guys in “Weekend of Terror” were Robert “The Wild, Wild West” Conrad and Lee “Six-Million-Dollar Man” Majors. Sort of against type for both. Neither, you’ll note, looks like a Muslim, so just another case of the liberal media conspiracy trying to pull the wool over our eyes, right?…

The bad guys in "Weekend of Terror" were Robert "The Wild, Wild West" Conrad and Lee "Six-Million-Dollar Man" Majors. Sort of against type for both. Neither, you'll note, looks like a Muslim, so just another case of the liberal media conspiracy...

Here’s a good example of ‘doing smart stuff’ in the world

As we know, the Obama administration’s guiding principle in dealing with the world is “Don’t Do Stupid (Stuff).

Which, unfortunately, is the sort of mindset that can lead to not doing “stuff,” period, even when you really, really ought to.

So I’m pleased when I see us going out and taking action when it’s called for. Such as in this instance:

Late last year, as Islamic State fighters battled to expand their stronghold on Libya’s coast, ­militants came within 45 miles ­of the country’s sole remaining ­chemical-weapons site, unnerving Libyan and American officials who feared that potentially deadly chemicals could fall into extremist hands.libya_-_location_map_2013_-_lby_-_unocha-svg

In May, when the fighters struck a mile from the lightly guarded desert facility, killing two security officers at a checkpoint, they decided it was time to act.

The Islamic State’s encroachment on an installation outside the remote oasis town of Waddan, where 500 metric tons of ­chemical-weapon precursor materials were stored, set off a hurried chain of events culminating in a disarmament operation involving the United States, European countries and the United Nations.

The international effort, which concluded last week when a Danish ship unloaded the materials at a German port for destruction, is one of the rare successes that Western nations can claim in Libya since dictator Moammar Gaddafi’s ouster in 2011 pitched the North African country into lawlessness and civil war….

Well, I’m glad to hear that.

I hope even my more isolationist friends can agree that it’s a very good idea to do such stuff as this, and that we ought to in the future whenever something as obvious as this presents itself.

Right?

The habitual skepticism of the BBC, taken to new lengths

EDITOR’S NOTE: DUH! Someone point out that maybe the Beeb was saying “so-called Islamic State” instead of “so-called Islamic State TARGETS” — in other words, rightly doubting the terrorist’s legitimacy as “the Islamic State” — which is an appropriate form of skepticism — rather than doubting that the targets were actually associated with the terrorist group. This seems likely. In which case, I am officially an idiot. Never mind…

“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

That’s the rule tyro journalists are taught from the start: Take nothing for granted; believe nothing that you haven’t checked.

But as much as American reporters may have internalized that, no one in this country takes it to the extremes that British media do. Even in their headlines, they attribute things that American media would not, putting the most routine statements of fact in quotes. For instance, today they have a headline that says, “Top Nigerian ‘internet scammer’ arrested.” Because you have to be careful — it may turn out he really IS a deposed minister who wants to share several million dollars with us.

This practice reached a new level today. I received this news alert today from The Washington Post:

WP alert

And this one right after it from the BBC:

BBC alert

I could see putting “Islamic State targets” in quotes, as the Beeb often does with government statements.

But “so-called”? To me, that’s just a few shades short of “liar, liar, pants on fire.”

Did the Beeb have some particular reason to doubt that these were actual ISIL targets in this instance — reason that escaped other news outlets?

The thing is, they had already covered themselves with “Pentagon says.” If the Pentagon had said we’d shot down pretty pink winged unicorns, you really wouldn’t need to distance yourself further, as long as you included the “Pentagon says.” No matter how scrupulous you are.

There’s such a thing as being too scrupulous by half, and I think the BBC accomplished that today…

Oh, by the way, in case y’all want to talk about the alleged U.S. airstrikes in Libya (“alleged” because, for all we know, there were no airstrikes at all!), this would be a good place to do it. Just ignore my pedantic ramblings…

Yes, that’s right: Iraq under Saddam sponsored terrorism

Another of Trump's favorite strongmen.

Another of Trump’s favorite strongmen.

In doing a fact-check on Donald Trump’s assertion that Saddam Hussein was “so good” at killing terrorists (and yes, he got four Pinocchios), The Washington Post reminded us of some history.

Namely, that rather than being some anti-terrorist scourge, Saddam was officially considered by the United States to be a state sponsor of terror.

Because, you know, he was.

What I remember knowing back before our invasion of 2003 was that he used to send $25,000 cash payments — bounties, if you will — to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers who killed Israelis.

Here’s the thing about Saddam, though: He was “so good” at killing terrorists (and he called all domestic opponents of his regime terrorists) inside Iraq. Just because he was “good” at killing anyone he saw as posing a challenge to his absolute control of the country. Frankly — just to stick up for Trump a bit here — I think they could have taken off one of the Pinocchios for that. Even though Saddam wasn’t killing them to make the world a safer place, but to hold onto dictatorial power.

But when it came to terrorists striking at the rest of the world — well, he was all for that.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from the Post’s story:

Hussein’s regime was a long-standing supporter of international terrorism and was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In 2007, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a think tank for national security agencies, published a five-volume report, “Saddam and Terrorism.” The report, compiled after hundreds of thousands of Iraqi documents became available after Iraq fell, highlighted relationships between Hussein’s regime and regional and global terrorism. The report details how Hussein nurtured relationships with terrorist groups, especially Palestinian ones. (We explored this issue in a 2014 fact-check.)

Among its major findings was that there was no direct connection between Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaeda  calling attention to the premise of one of George W. Bush administration’s justifications for invading Iraq. But the report found that at times, their short-term goals overlapped….

One of the charges I used to get a lot from my antiwar friends was that we supposedly went to war on the erroneous belief that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. As I always had to explain, that wasn’t something I ever believed or tried to get anyone else to believe. But there was no question that outside his borders, he was often a friend to terrorists…

 

Thoughts on the Orlando nightclub massacre?

Orlando shootings

I mean, aside from Oh, my God, here’s another horrible thing that’s happened?

Pretty much all the usual, trite political reactions were aired yesterday, reflecting our divisions over guns, terrorism and homosexuality. Although there have also been encouraging signs of coming together.

Personally, I’m still in the Oh, my God, how horrible mode. The only good news we’ve gotten was when the death toll was revised down from 50 to 49.

Here’s the latest. As I type, the FBI director is giving more information. He just called people who do such things “savages.” Apt. But what can anyone say that would ever help us understand the mind of someone who would do this?

Thoughts?

The killer really liked selfies. This is one of many out there.

The killer really liked selfies. This is one of many out there.

 

I’m glad my girls are home from Tel Aviv

A shot one of my daughters took in Jerusalem.

A shot one of my daughters took in Jerusalem.

My two youngest daughters returned over the weekend from a friend’s wedding in Tel Aviv — that is, one is back home here, and the other is back in Bangkok.

I was relieved when they were back in their respective homes. I didn’t really worry about them being in Israel on a rational level. Even when there is a terrorist attack in a given city on a certain day, 99.999 percent of the citizens are unharmed by it.

When I think about the odds of coming to harm in a relative “trouble spot” in the world, I think of my experience covering the simultaneous fire and police strikes in Memphis in 1978. It was a huge national story, and if you followed it on TV you’d think the city was on fire, with no one to put the fire out or keep order. And yet, most people were entirely unaffected. I was in a Memphis restaurant at the start of the curfew imposed because of the “emergency,” and the customers being turned away were surprised and irritated — they thought it ridiculous.

At one point, I found myself part of an impromptu press gaggle with a senior official on a street in Midtown. Tired of trying to press my way through the mob, and realizing I wasn’t really getting anything out of it, I stepped away. I walked across the street, and looked back. The clamoring knot of media types made it look like something exciting was going on. That was a shot that might make it onto TV news, if there were no fires to shoot.

Then I conducted an experiment. I turned slowly around, my line of vision passing through all 360 degrees. And all around me was complete, unperturbed peace and order. Only in maybe five degrees was there disorder — and that would have decreased if I stepped a few more yards away.

Ever since then, I’ve kept in mind that perspective whenever I think about the risks of being in a troubled country or city.

So on that level, I didn’t worry about my daughters being in Israel — mostly in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, but with side trips to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. I knew that they were probably safer there than in peaceful Thailand, what with the traffic in Bangkok (oh, I wish I hadn’t just thought of that).

Besides, I didn’t see any reports of violence anywhere in the country while they were there.

But that was just the rational level. I’m a Dad, so there was a tiny bit of irrational worry while they were there in a country surrounded by people who don’t want it to exist.

So I’m glad they’re back, especially in light of this:

At least four people were killed and five wounded in a mass shooting at an upscale market in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. CBS reported that police were saying that two suspected terrorists had been “neutralized” after the attack at Sharona market, while Haaretz reported that the suspects had been taken into custody.

God have mercy on the victims of this atrocity and their families. To them, of course, it’s little solace that most people in Israel were unharmed.

My girls, posing and mugging in Tel Aviv.

My girls, posing and mugging in Tel Aviv.

There’s no excuse for Cruz calling for ‘carpet’ bombing

Walls of houses of Wesel still stand, as do the churches, but a great part of the town was destroyed when the German commander forced the Allied troops to fight their way street by street through the ruins. Germany, 1945. Army. (OWI) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 208-N-39903 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1336

Wesel was 97% destroyed before it was finally taken by Allied troops in 1945. See that carpet of craters? Wikipedia doesn’t SAY those are bomb craters, but what else might they be?

I tend to agree pretty frequently with Charles Krauthammer on national security issues, but I was disappointed in him over the weekend.

Did you see his column assessing the foreign policy approaches of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, which he termed, respectively, “passivist,” “internationalist,” “unilateralist” and “mercantilist.”

There was much of value in the column, and some things to enjoy — such as his observation that Trump’s worldview comes closest to that of King Philip II of Spain (1556-1598).

Of course, I was disappointed that he left out Kasich — I reject the notion that we have no options left but these four. But to his credit, he promised that “If Kasich pulls off a miracle, he’ll get his own column.” Which he would, of course, unquestionably deserve at that point.

Most of his observations are sound, and he is scrupulously careful to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton would likely be less reluctant to take effective action in the world than her erstwhile boss, President Obama. He says her nearest historical analog is her husband’s approach in the 1990s — which isn’t as good as, say, Tony Blair in that decade, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

What gets me is the way he bends over backwards to make Cruz’ approach palatable:

The most aggressive of the three contenders thus far. Wants post-Cold War U.S. leadership restored. Is prepared to take risks and act alone when necessary. Pledges to tear up the Iran deal, cement the U.S.-Israel alliance and carpet bomb the Islamic State.

Overdoes it with “carpet” — it implies Dresden — although it was likely just an attempt at rhetorical emphasis….

Really?!?!?!? “Overdoes it?” The fact that Cruz uses that word utterly disqualifies him from consideration as POTUS. Whether he really wants to do that, or merely does not understand what the word means, he is beyond the pale.

Here’s what “carpet bombing” means:

Carpet bombing, also known as saturation bombing, is a large aerial bombing done in a progressive manner to inflict damage in every part of a selected area of land.[1][2][3][4] The phrase evokes the image of explosions completely covering an area, in the same way that a carpet covers a floor. Carpet bombing is usually achieved by dropping many unguided bombs.

And yes, when we think of “carpet bombing” we do think of Dresden, and Tokyo, and Cologne, and all those other places that we sent thousands of planes over in an effort to destroy everything below — including all those civilians.

I’m not going to get into the ethics of our having done that in the course of total war, in a time in which we lacked the technical precision of modern munitions. I’m just going to say that that is what is clearly, unquestionably meant when one says “carpet bombing” — that you’re dropping a carpet of bombs to destroy everything and everyone in the covered area, and let God sort them out.

There is no room in the 21st century, when we have so many other options, for a suggestion like that. The term is primitive, atavistic, barbaric — which is no doubt why Cruz said it, in an attempt to appeal to Trumpist sensibilities.

Yet Krauthammer is completely blasé about it, with that forgiving “overdoes.”

But that’s just the setup to the really bad thing: His assertion that Cruz’ closest historical analog is… Ronald Reagan.

So it’s come to this: That folks on the right are working so hard to talk themselves into settling for Cruz that Charles Krauthammer can equate the Cruz worldview with that of the one guy Republicans believe could do no wrong.

That’s just inexcusable.

Yeah, Apple, that’s some heavy-duty security ya got there…

When the news broke a few days ago that the government thought it had a way to get into the San Bernardino shooter’s phone without Apple’s help, someone on the radio made the point that this development meant both sides were losers:Apple_Logo_Png_06

  1. The government had to admit it was wrong that they could only get into the phone with Apple’s help.
  2. Apple, which based its refusal to provide this service to the country on the claim that it was just so important that its security remain intact, and that even Apple itself coming up with a way in would compromise the truly awesome security of its phones to an unacceptable extent, would be exposed as having lame security if a third party could indeed break in.

Here’s today’s news:

The Justice Department is abandoning its bid to force Apple to help it unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terrorist attack because investigators have found a way in without the tech giant’s assistance, prosecutors wrote in a court filing Monday.

The government said that investigators had now “accessed the data stored on” the shooter’s iPhone and no longer needed Apple’s help. They asked a court to vacate an earlier ruling forcing Apple to provide assistance….

It’s good that law enforcement can now see whether there’s any intel of value on the phone. It’s bad that we didn’t establish the precedent that Apple has to cooperate with law enforcement. But I console myself on that point with the fact that Tim Cook now has egg on his face because his vaunted security has been shown to… I believe the technical term is “suck.”

Apple against our duly constituted authorities

In a Tweet on Friday, I put it as plainly as I could in 140 characters:

And since then, I’ve not seen a word that even comes close to justifying the outrageous position taken by Tim Cook. There was certainly nothing in his public letter that excused his behavior.

Probably the most outrageous part of the letter is when Cook essentially condescends to say the FBI’s intentions are no doubt quite honorable, and that Apple has cooperated with authorities (when Apple approved of how it was being asked to help), but the poor, simple creatures just don’t understand what they’re asking now. Fortunately we have the unelected wise men of Apple to countermand the requests of our duly constituted law enforcement authorities.

And I’ve seen quite a bit to confirm me in my view of the matter. Such as this piece today in the WSJ:

Apple was asked to adjust its software that wipes iPhones clean after 10 failed passwords, to enable the FBI to find the password. Prosecutors want this only for Farook’s phone, to “mitigate any perceived risk to Apple iOS software as to any other Apple device.” The local agency that employed Farook owns the phone and wants Apple’s help. “The user was made aware of his lack of privacy in the work phone while alive,” prosecutors note.Apple_Logo_Png_06

There’s no risk to encryption and the dead terrorist has no privacy rights. So what is Apple trying to protect?

The answer, according to the Justice Department, is a “business model and public brand marketing strategy.” Apple admitted as much last year in explaining to a federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., why it refused to unlock the iPhone of a methamphetamine dealer. The company had unlocked some 70 iPhones in criminal cases since 2008, so the judge was surprised by its sudden refusal.

Apple’s lawyers explained that customers are so concerned about government access to data that compliance with court orders would “substantially tarnish the Apple brand.”…

Yeah, I bet the families of those murdered by the phone’s owner sit up nights worrying about poor ol’ Apple’s brand.

You want to improve your brand? How about not selling me a phone set to destroy all my data after 10 failed passwords?

I’ll anticipate my libertarian friends’ arguments and say you’re right — I don’t understand the technology. And maybe the fact that I don’t believe Apple when it says it can’t crack one phone without making all iPhones immediately insecure makes me an ignoramus. But I don’t believe it. And even if I did, I would consider granting Apple the power to choose which court orders it will obey to be far too high a price to pay for having an unhackable phone….

All those times we DIDN’T kill bin Laden

Bin Laden in 1997, being interviewed by a Pakistani journalist.

Bin Laden in 1997, being interviewed by a Pakistani journalist.

The Washington Post did a fact check on Marco Rubio’s assertion that “The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.”

Rubio also said that Clinton passed on the chance to kill bin Laden “Not once but four times….”

Let’s set aside the blame game. I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall particularly expecting Bill Clinton to kill him. I sort of knew who bin Laden was back in the ’90s and that he was a real problem for us, but this was well before it was an accepted thing that POTUS would have a kill list on his desk, à la President Obama.

I said something about this on Twitter and Facebook, and Jim Hammond reminded me of one incident that was well-covered at the time, and it started coming back to me.

That said, the fact that the Post identified nine incidents in which the U.S. nearly went after or nearly got bin Laden, not just four, is fascinating — not as fodder for blaming this president or that one, but because its interesting to review what was really going on in that relatively complacent, “end of history” decade. An excerpt:

1. May 1998: Tarnak Farms raid plan rejected

The CIA planned hard on an effort to capture bin Laden and to bring him to the United States for a trial. But at the last minute the CIA senior management lost its nerve and apparently never brought the plan to Clinton for a decision.

From the 9/11 Commission report:

A compound of about 80 concrete or mud-brick buildings surrounded by a 10-foot wall, Tarnak Farms was located in an isolated desert area on the outskirts of the Kandahar airport. CIA officers were able to map the entire site, identifying the houses that belonged to Bin Laden’s wives and the one where Bin Laden himself was most likely to sleep. Working with the tribals, they drew up plans for the raid. They ran two complete rehearsals in the United States during the fall of 1997. By early 1998, planners at the Counterterrorist Center were ready to come back to the White House to seek formal approval…

One group of tribals would subdue the guards, enter Tarnak Farms stealthily, grab Bin Laden, take him to a desert site outside Kandahar, and turn him over to a second group. This second group of tribals would take him to a desert landing zone …From there, a CIA plane would take him to New York, an Arab capital, or wherever he was to be arraigned. Briefing papers prepared by the Counterterrorist Center acknowledged that hitches might develop. People might be killed, and Bin Laden’s supporters might retaliate, perhaps taking U.S. citizens in Kandahar hostage.

But the briefing papers also noted that there was risk in not acting. “Sooner or later,” they said, “Bin Laden will attack U.S. interests, perhaps using WMD [weapons of mass destruction].” The CIA planners conducted their third complete rehearsal in March…The plan had now been modified so that the tribals would keep Bin Laden in a hiding place for up to a month before turning him over to the United States-thereby increasing the chances of keeping the U.S. hand out of sight. …On May 18, CIA’s managers reviewed a draft Memorandum of Notification (MON), a legal document authorizing the capture operation. A 1986 presidential finding had authorized worldwide covert action against terrorism and probably provided adequate authority. But mindful of the old “rogue elephant” charge, senior CIA managers may have wanted something on paper to show that they were not acting on their own….

Discussion of this memorandum brought to the surface an unease about paramilitary covert action that had become ingrained, at least among some CIA senior managers. Despite misgivings, the CIA leadership cleared the draft memorandum and sent it on to the National Security Council.

From May 20 to 24, the CIA ran a final, graded rehearsal of the operation, spread over three time zones, even bringing in personnel from the region. The FBI also participated. The rehearsal went well. The Counterterrorist Center planned to brief cabinet-level principals and their deputies the following week, giving June 23 as the date for the raid, with Bin Laden to be brought out of Afghanistan no later than July 23.

On May 20, Director Tenet discussed the high risk of the operation with Berger and his deputies, warning that people might be killed, including Bin Laden. Success was to be defined as the exfiltration of Bin Laden out of Afghanistan. A meeting of principals was scheduled for May 29 to decide whether the operation should go ahead. But the principals did not meet…The plan was never presented to the White House for a decision.

Working-level CIA officers were disappointed….No capture plan before 9/11 ever again attained the same level of detail and preparation. The tribals’ reported readiness to act diminished. And Bin Laden’s security precautions and defenses became more elaborate and formidable.

Fascinating stuff…

Cruz would be less appalling if he were more of a, y’know…

You’ve heard by know about Donald Trump’s nodding, winking, mock-shocked repetition of a vulgarity aimed at Ted Cruz. And if you haven’t, well, excuse this violation of my civility policy:

“She just said a terrible thing,” Trump said with a smile. “You know what she said? Shout it out.”

The woman shouted louder, but still couldn’t be heard throughout the cavernous arena.

“Okay, you’re not allowed to say and I never expect to hear that from you again,” Trump said with mock seriousness, like a father reprimanding a child. “She said — I never expect to hear that from you again! — she said: ‘He’s a pussy.’ That’s terrible.”…

There’s been a goodly amount of appropriate harrumphing over this, but I haven’t seen any address the “substance,” such as it was.

And the thing is, Cruz would be a more appealing, or at least less appalling, if he were just a wee bit more of a, well, you know.

There’s a long tradition of tough-talking in our politics, but Sen. Ted Cruz takes ersatz machismo to a level that is frankly embarrassing, such as in the video above, in which he promises that “if you wage jihad against us, you’re signing your death warrant,” and that he will never “apologize for America.”

You know what? As uncharacteristic as it would be for me, if Ted Cruz gets elected, I will apologize for America.

Here’s the problem for people like Cruz and Trump both: As much as they’d like to portray the president as a “rhymes with wussy,” Obama’s been actually killing terrorists right and left, including the grand kahuna of the jihad crowd himself. We all know that, if you get mixed up in terrorism, you make Obama’s list.

But he does it like a man of respect, like Vito and Michael, never uttering a threat, but quietly whacking guys left and right as needed. The heads of the other four families thought Michael was a, you know, but they found out different.

Cruz is a wannabe Sonny, only without the rep to back it up. Really, when did Cruz make his bones? Never, to my knowledge.

Cruz needs to get in touch a bit more with his, um, gynecological side, just enough to dial back the empty strutting about. It would make him less contemptible. Maybe then we could take him seriously as a man…

tough 2

The look that’s supposed to scare the terrorists.

Obama acknowledges War on Terror

Obama speech

Most of the commentary I’ve seen since last night has emphasized that POTUS didn’t unveil anything new in his speech last night, that he mainly just tried to justify what he’s doing (or what he’s not doing, if you prefer), and that his real purpose was apparently to lecture us about tolerance.

Well, I heard something that sounded new to me. He said:

Our nation has been at war with terrorists since al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11. In the process, we’ve hardened our defenses — from airports to financial centers, to other critical infrastructure. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have disrupted countless plots here and overseas, and worked around the clock to keep us safe. Our military and counterterrorism professionals have relentlessly pursued terrorist networks overseas — disrupting safe havens in several different countries, killing Osama bin Laden, and decimating al Qaeda’s leadership…

Did you catch it? Tell you what; let’s just zero right in on what I’m talking about:

Our nation has been at war with terrorists since al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11.

 

You catch that? We are “at war with terrorists.” Not “We’ve been prosecuting incidents of terror as discrete crimes,” or “I’ve been shutting down multiple wars started by my predecessor,” or “the so-called War on Terror.”

He said we are at war with terrorists. Maybe he’s said it multiple times before, but this time it jumped out at me.

Did it strike anyone else?

These days, apparently, you ARE entitled to your own facts

We now know, as a result of an FBI announcement late this morning, that one of the San Bernardino attackers had “pledged… allegiance” to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

That’s the first piece of information we’ve had indicating that the killer couple had any sort of connection, direct or indirect, to radical Islamic groups.

That news broke about 6 hours ago. But before that, there was a remarkable number of people in this country who were so sure that this was indeed an act of Islamist terror that they were contemptuously dismissive of anyone who expressed anything other than absolute certainty on that point.

For instance, take a look at some of the Twitter reactions to a story that was in The Washington Post this morning (meaning that it was probably written last night, long before that FBI disclosure). The story was headlined, “Motive elusive in deadly San Bernardino rampage as FBI takes over probe.”

Which was certainly true when the story was posted. This was a weird case, and not only because it was the first potential terrorist attack that we had seen involving a married couple with a young child (so much for the stereotype of sexually frustrated young men). This couple had taken the trouble to amass a modest armory, had taken their child to relatives for safekeeping — and yet had not left the world any obvious message as to why they were doing what they did. It fit no known pattern.

But there are a lot of people out there these days who just know things without any evidentiary support, such as these:

… and so forth.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Oh, how quaint.

Today, people are adamant that they are so entitled to their own facts. That’s why Donald Trump doesn’t implode no matter how many stretchers he may defiantly utter. There is a natural constituency that believes that truth is whatever they choose to forcefully assert.

I find myself suspecting that this is related to the rise of the Web. Since there are no barriers to publication, there are no standards. Anyone who believes anything can find an audience of people who believe him — and stand ready to amplify him — and that’s the only test one has to meet. The hordes of people who embrace this new state of affairs have been waiting for a man like Trump, and the moment has found its man.

Anyway, back to actual reality…

This case remains perplexing. Why would this woman have “pledged allegiance” to ISIL’s leader, but done so in such a backhanded manner? One of the cardinal rules of terror is that you kill and/or sacrifice yourself to send a clear political message.

Why has ISIL not leaped to claim even indirect responsibility, given the way they did so so quickly after Paris?

I’m interested to learn more so that I can understand what happened and why, and learn valuable lessons for heading off this kind of thing in the future. Yeah, I know. I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I like facts…

Not to be outdone, Graham calls for war ‘with no limits’

Just in case I missed it in my daily perusal of The Washington Post (and somehow I had), Sen. Graham’s office made sure I knew that, while Jeb! Bush may be calling for boots on the ground, Graham is not going to give up his status as the undisputed hawk in the field:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is readying an authorization of military force against the Islamic State that would allow the United States to attack the militant group’s allies anywhere, and with no timetables.

“ISIL is a more credible threat to our homeland than al-Qaeda,” Graham said in an interview, referring to the Islamic State by one of its other names. “We need to have an authorization of force that is not limited by geography, time, or means.”

The resolution, which Graham plans to officially introduce after the Thanksgiving recess, is being shaped and shopped around to senators on Wednesday. “No geographic limits are placed on American military or intelligence services in the fight against ISIL,” reads the outline of the in-process legislation. “No expiration date. No prohibition on sending American forces on the ground to combat ISIL. No prohibitions on the ability of the United States to disrupt online terrorist recruitment activities, online terrorist propaganda, or terrorist communications.”

All of that makes Graham’s AUMF further-reaching than any comparable ones — none of which have gotten traction in Congress….

Read the whole story here.

 

Terrorists able to hide their communications? Thanks, Edward Snowden!

This one is for those you who think Edward Snowden’s betrayal of his country (“Betrayal of his country?” What a quaint concept! How droll! This old guy is really out of it!) did no harm.

Of course, Snowden fans won’t be bothered by it, thanks to the pied piper effect he has on privacy fetishists. They’ll still think it’s a good thing. But it isn’t.

Here’s what’s going on:

Senate Intelligence Committee leaders are vowing to explore ways to grant more government access to secure communications, after intelligence outfits failed to pick up on direct chatter between the perpetrators of the Paris attacks.

Lawmakers said it was time to intensify discussions over what technology companies such as Apple and Google could do to help unscramble key information on devices such as Iphones and apps like WhatsApp, where suspected terrorists have communicated. Those companies made changes last year to their smartphone operating systems preventing the companies themselves from accessing that information…

“It is likely that encryption, end-to-end encryption, was used to communicate between those individuals in Belgium, in France and in Syria,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), following a closed-door briefing for committee members on Tuesday. “It’s a wake-up call for America and our global partners that globally, we need to begin the debate on what we do on encrypted networks, because it makes us blind to the communications and to the actions of potential adversaries.”…

Makes sense. The idea of allowing terrorists to privatize their use of public bandwidth so that they can kill innocents is an outrage, and fortunately one that is easy enough to address — technically, anyway. But there’s a rub, and you probably already know what it is:

Previously, the government could issue a warrant to force tech companies to cough up data from its users. But following the Edward Snowden leaks, and a heightened sense of privacy from the public about the government’s access to personal information, companies began clamping down….

Sure, there are other obstacles, such as Silicon Valley’s greed: As The Wall Street Journal reports,  the problem is “technology companies that sell products based on the promise that corporate data will be secure from hackers and government surveillance.” But politically, I believe that could be overcome, leaving the ridiculous attitude that Snowden has engendered in this country as the main problem.

If we can overcome that, we’ll have taken an important step back toward sanity in our security arrangements.

 

 

Barring Syrian immigrants: Prudent or ‘shameful?’

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Over the last day or so, we’ve seen a huge rush by Republican politicians — from presidential candidates to state legislators to governors, including our own — to bar Syrian refugees from our shores.

President Obama has termed the proposal to let in only Christian Syrian refugees “shameful.” My initial reaction yesterday was to say he was right. For me, it was the religious test more than anything else. Nothing speaks more directly to what this country is about than to respect freedom of belief and expression. Y’all know how I oppose “hate crime” laws, because I believe it’s unAmerican to punish beliefs or attitudes? It’s related to that. Punish actions, not beliefs. Bar terrorists, not Muslims.

But overall, is it “shameful” to say, hey, wait a minute on letting Syrian refugees into the country, after at least one of the Paris attackers got into Europe that way? Not necessarily. There’s an element of pragmatic self-preservation in it.

Do I think nativism and xenophobia are mixed up in it? Yes. Do I think there’s an element of We’ve got ours, so pull up the ladder behind us? (The “ours” being an element of security that Europe lacks.) Yes.

But I don’t think it’s inherently evil to take care in such a situation. Just because some unpleasant impulses are mixed up in the situation doesn’t mean it’s wrong to have second thoughts.

Most of us today condemn the practice of interning Japanese Americans during World War II. We associate it with the racism that was so common in America at the time, and yep, that was mixed up with it. But it wasn’t irrational to have a security concern about people on our shores who may have had some sense of loyalty to Japan. It was an overreaction, knowingly locking up thousands of loyal Americans in order to contain a supposed spy or two. It was going after squirrels with an elephant gun. It was an injustice — it was thousands of injustices. It was unfair. Ultimately, it was wrong.

But it wasn’t irrational. We know, for instance, of the Niihau Incident, in which a nisei couple aided a downed Japanese pilot from the Pearl Harbor attack. Humans are complicated; their loyalties not always easy to predict.

Does that excuse the internment? No, because loyal Americans were treated unjustly. It was wrong. But I don’t join with those who seem to believe it was all about racism. Were there plenty of Americans who wanted to see the Yellow Peril locked up? Sure. But that’s not all it was.

Bottom line, it’s wrong to slam the door on Syrian refugees. But while I know nativism and intolerance play a role in many people’s eagerness to do so, that’s not all that’s going on.

It’s complicated.

It’s very easy to do what partisans do: To notice that it’s Republicans calling to bar the refugees, and Democrats calling it “shameful,” and use it as another excuse to split us into two reconcilable camps — the good people over here, and the bad people over there.

In this post, I’m deliberately resisting that, doing my best to see the merits of each position. Although in the end, I’m for carefully letting refugees in, with our eyes wide open. Which appears to be what we’ve been doing.

McCartney’s enthusiasm for Guy Fawkes Day creeps me out a bit

I say that on account of my being Catholic and all.

I reTweeted this from Paul McCartney yesterday, which included a picture of him that appears to be from his “Maybe I’m Amazed” period:

But this was a classic case of a reTweet not constituting an endorsement.

Now, y’all know that I’m an Anglophile from way back. I generally love English traditions, including some of those involving fire.

But I’m a bit squeamish about the one that involves burning in effigy a Catholic-rights activist who in reality was tortured by English authorities before being drawn, hung and quartered.

OK, granted, we’re not talking Pope Francis here: Guy Fawkes was a terrorist who intended to blow up the king and Parliament and had the explosives to do it.

But still. The English had already been oppressing Catholics for Fawkes’ entire life and then some, and they used the Gunpowder Plot as an excuse to step that persecution up and continue it for most of the next 400 years. The celebration, unless I mistake, was of a victory over the Pope and papists as much as over a terrorist cell.

Which I kind of resent, because, you know, we’re not all terrorists.

So excuse me if I’m not too thrilled about your bonfire there, Paul…

 

Charlie Hebdo grows up, just a little bit — maybe

Bryan brings this to my attention:

The top editor and publisher of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French newspaper that suffered a deadly terrorist attack in January, said the publication would no longer draw the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have garnered it worldwide notoriety.

“We have drawn Muhammad to defend the principle that one can draw whatever one wants,” said Laurent Sourisseau, in an interview this week with Stern, a German magazine.

But Sourisseau, who goes by the cartoonist nickname “Riss,” said that it was not Charlie Hebdo’s intent to be “possessed” by its critique of Islam. “The mistakes you could blame Islam for can be found in other religions,” he said….

Interesting. I’d like to say that Charlie Hebdo has grown up, and is no longer interested in offending just for the sake of offending. But that crack about “other religions” suggests we’ll still see trashy scribbles about the Pope, et al.

Or maybe not. Or maybe — and this would be wonderful — Charlie will satirize Islam and Christianity only when they have a point to make, rather than just being offensive for the hell of it.

As you know, I have never been Charlie. I would be happy to say that now Charlie is trying to be me, but that remains to be seen. I see no particular indication that they’re making this move for the right reasons.

A short debate regarding cartoonists and terrorists

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Bryan Caskey wrote this over on his blog:

“You’re just not going to convince me that the right and true and courageous’ way to stand up to terrorism is to go out of your way to offend hundreds of millions of Muslims who are NOT terrorists, and mean you no harm.”

A couple of things. First, I think that Brad is more concerned about the tone and style than he should be. Now, that probably has to do with the fact that Brad is a really nice guy. He’s a very polite person.
If you met him in person and said something that he seriously disagreed with, he probably would just give you a polite smile and let the pitch go by. He wouldn’t start big argument with you in a social setting, because it’s considered impolite to start political arguments in social settings. He’s right about that, too. For the most part, it’s a good idea to try and get along with other people. I have that instinct, too, but probably not to the same extent.
For instance, it’s probably not the most agreeable thing for a practicing lawyer to have a blog like this and take various positions that I take. I’m sure it makes some people around me (including my wife) uncomfortable at times.
I kind of vacillate between trying to the the go-along, get-along guy and the guy who doesn’t care what you think of me. Part of me wants to be the Conventional Guy, with all the conventional thoughts, because that’s what advances you in life – especially when you’re a lawyer. People want their lawyers to be Buttoned Down People for the most part. They don’t want bomb-throwers.
But the other part of me is the bomb-thrower that doesn’t care what people think because that part of me isn’t seeking the Blessing of Other People. Partly, I think that’s me trying to stand independently, and partly, it’s me not having respect for some of those Other People because I don’t think they’ve earned the respect.
This go-along, get along mentality is certainly fine, and it has it’s place. No one wants to be a social outcast. I don’t argue politics at my son’s friends three-year-old birthday parties. But there’s also a point at which you have to actually stand up for something. If you live in fear of social stigma your entire life, you’re going to be easily pushed around. This is why political correctness is actually a powerful force.
There are so many people who are afraid of being thought of as “the wrong class of people” that the Perpetually Offended Army can push them around by telling them things like If you say the word “thug” you’re a racist. Someone who’s a Conventional Guy doesn’t want to be labeled a racist, because that’s about the worst thing you can be in the year 2015. Accordingly, the Conventional Guy alters his behavior because he doesn’t want to be thought of like that.
Note, it doesn’t matter if he’s actually a racist or not, and it doesn’t matter if the use of the word is appropriate or not. All that matters is that the Perpetually Offended Army can push Conventional Guy around.
So now we have Pamela Gellar and her group who push the envelope of free speech beyond what is tasteful and beyond what ispolite into a region that is….uncomfortable for Conventional Guy to support. So when the Perpetually Offended Army says thatYou can’t support this kind of….hate speech! It’s just not respectful of other people’s religion, Conventional Guys like Brad don’t want to be thought of as “the wrong class of people”, so they focus on the impolite tone and style of Ms. Gellar’s speech as offensive.
And that’s the wrong place to focus. Here are the facts.
1. Ms. Gellar and her group of people drew cartoons and publicly displayed them.
 
2. Men shot at her for this public displaying of cartoons.
 
3. There is no third fact. That’s it. There are no other facts. 
Do we really need to say that drawing cartoon is “inexcusable”? Nope! Because they don’t need an excuse to draw cartoons. That’s allowed. It may not be the way that Brad chooses to express himself, but Ms. Gellar doesn’t need to apologize, explain herself, or have an excuse for anything. She’s an American, on American soil, expressing her opinion about someone’s religious beliefs and conduct.
And people shot at her for doing so. Shot. At. Her.
It’s not hard to figure out which side you should be on. And spare me the “but”. You’re either for free speech or you’re only for speech that doesn’t make you uncomfortable. The latter makes you an unprincipled hack.
Do I like it when people burn the American flag to make a statement? No. I find burning the American flag to be distasteful and somewhat un-American. However, I think that attempting to ban flag burning is even more un-American than burning the flag. That’s how America works.
Respectability is all fine and good, but at some point you have to decide that you are in favor of certain ideals and principles. If other people don’t like your ideals and principles, then screw them. I’m reminded of a quote:

Do you have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” -Winston Churchill

Maybe we should all be a little less afraid of making enemies these days.

And I replied…

A couple of quick points…

First, mine is not the conventional position. Mine is the harder position to take. On the left and on the right, and certainly in the streets of Paris, the overwhelmingly popular position is Je suis Charlie.

I go against that grain, and say I am most certainly not Charlie.

I’m the guy whose position makes everyone indignant.

Another point: This is one of those situations in which someone like me gets hit with the “blaming the victim” accusation. You know, like when you say the beautiful young woman shouldn’t be jogging through a bad part of town in a skimpy outfit late at night. At that point, you’re accused of defending potential rapists and blaming the victim. No, I think rapists are candidates for suspending the “cruel and unusual” prohibition in the Constitution. But that doesn’t change the fact that if you don’t want to be a victim, don’t put yourself in that vulnerable situation. (People get a little less indignant at you if you say, “Don’t walk with a bag full of money with dollar signs printed on it through a high-crime area late at night.” I used the example most likely to stir objection, because the point still applies, but it’s a point that a lot of people miss because the emotional content throws them. As with cartoonists and terrorists. I think like a Dad, or like Buck Compton in the 7th episode of “Band of Brothers,” telling his men: Don’t do anything stupid.)

In this case, there’s an additional factor — you’re not just waving a flag at a bull, you’re going out of your way to insult that which is sacred to millions of people who don’t intend ever to do anything wrong. You really have to be a jerk to do that.

This is made worse by the fact that you have no point to make. It’s all about being offensive, period.

Another point: Go ahead and flatter yourself that you’re being brave, daring the terrorists to come on and get you for being such a jerk. This completely ignores the fact that you are putting other people’s lives at risk. From the security guard who had to defend these jerks in Texas to innocent bystanders at riots in Pakistan, your actions can have completely unpredictable consequences on other people — people who did not choose to be a jerk along with you.

Finally, I have nothing but contempt for this whole “bravery” pose. Imagine it the other way: Say terrorists say they’ll kill you if you don’t draw pictures of Mohammed. In other words, they’re trying to make you do a bad thing. Refusing to do so would be proper courage in the service of a worthwhile cause. Being a big, fat jerk because some lunatic threatens to kill you if you act like a big, fat jerk does not make you a hero. It just makes you a big, fat, stupid jerk.

See what I mean?

Not you, of course. I mean the cartoonists.

Because I don’t think for a minute that you would ever do what they do…

Another way to put it…

Just because someone threatens to kill you if you do a really rotten, stupid, pointless thing does not ennoble the rotten, stupid, pointless thing. You still shouldn’t do it.

The threat of violence just confuses everybody….