When the government stokes fear, it lays the groundwork for stochastic terror…

I just put on this blog a post by Kos about commentators whose comments can trigger “lone wolf” terrorists.  But those opinion sources often have a friend in the US government.  Janet Napolitano’s rock hard statements about dangers to the public, the TSA boss’s apparently limitless imagination for ways one might blow up an airplane, seemingly unqualified by experience or probabilities, and the President and White House willingness to support positions that arouse public fear all give the Becks, Hannitys, Limbaughs, et. al. presumably authoritative statements from “people who ought to know” from which to work.

In  particular, I want to point to the President’s saying that his first priority was “the safety of the American people.”  Nowhere in his oath of office are there words suggesting a priority to public safety.  His first obligation is to “protect and defend the constitution of the United States.” yet much of what he has done has reduced the force and power of the constitution and he has said he has done it to provide safety to the people.  The constitution provides them safety, that’s why we have the bill of rights and some colonies refused to ratify the constitution without it.  Yet we are behaving as if the safety of the people was at odds with the constitution and bill of rights.  I don’t buy that and I hope you don’t either.

Laws, read by the legislators, not just their staff members, affecting individual rights deserve thoughtful debate.  The Patriot Act was an initial reaction to 9/11 and the lack of debate can be justified only by the fear generated by the events of that terrible day.  Subsequent undebated amendments and those provisions soon to be renewed as they are or amended as proposed by some are no credit to our legislators but even more, no credit to us for our unwillingness to be brave enough to live in a free and open society.


Is it any wonder that sometimes our international relations don’t go well?

The Washington Post today carries a story on the appointment of a replacement for Richard Holbrooke as the person responsible for civilian activity in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  At the mid-point of the article is this paragraph:

“But virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy’s other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there.”

It doesn’t require a managerial genius to know that changing all the key players at approximately the same time will change things fundamentally and, unpredictably.  Given the new person in Holbrooke’s position and all these changes, don’t expect less than, at best, months of confusion as personalities adjust and learn about each other and the personalities of Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s leaders.  Eventually it may all settle out nicely but it will take time that is at a premium if any significant change in the American commitment in Afghanistan is to take place in August, as previously announced.

All of these key people deserve, and probably crave, relief from their current roles.  They should be given it but most of that relief should come after August’s changes and not before.  There may be some special cases but surely all this turnover at this time is not just risky, it is foolish.


Defense Spending: Can you believe it? Okay Tea-Partiers, here’s a challenge!

Today’s Washington Post contains a George Will column on defense spending.  It is not the details of Marine amphibious craft or the individual items that draws my attention but the larger numbers and comparisons coupled with the fact that, despite the law requiring it, the Department of Defense cannot produce auditable financial statements for the appropriate congressional committees to review.  In effect neither it nor the country knows what it spends on defense.

Add to that the Washington Post’s recent revelations of the size of the intelligence community that make it impossible for its heads to say how many people it employs, how many contractors, how many security clearances at each level and the fact that a great deal of its budget is contained in the unauditable defense budget, are you a little queasy about your government being “out of control?”

The wars have other separate financing. Although there is doubtless expenditure overlap, the mammoth’s reason for being so large is not just that it is conducting two wars.  This is astonishing.  There simply must be some means of reviewing what it spends and why, followed by a determination that some things are priorities to be funded and others are perhaps good ideas that are not justified in current circumstances.

I am not committed to small government or less government if the mission of the government department is legitimate and I think defense is one of the primary functions of government.  Having said that, if Will is correct, our mammoth’s expenditures do not keep our equipment up to date and they are not the one’s that pay for our current war efforts.

If the new-comers to congress who are so determined to cut government spending will look critically and intelligently at the Department of Defense for savings (and the Intelligence Community {Do you find it as strange as I do that a function of such importance as intelligence is big enough and diverse enough to be a “community” rather than a department?} they will do us all a great service.  No across the board cuts, no politicking for their locals but genuine concern for the country’s proper defense and a willingness to work with others to reach agreement on cuts (and increases where justified) will serve us all well.

Here is the link to Will’s column:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/11/AR2011021105062.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead

Sometimes People We Don’t Like Say Important Things…Update 1

Patriot Act revision is the public policy matter I regard as more important than any other facing our country, presented here by a man I generally do not support.  My first awareness of him was in his famous Rachel Maddow interview in which he appeared willing to roll-back the entire civil rights era’s gains and not only do I not favor that, I cannot imagine any seriously thoughtful American supporting that position today.  I shared Rachel Maddow’s increasing astonishment as her questions brought forth amazing and unbelievable answers from him.  I suspect that I will be amazed, negatively, again by him.  Yet, in this presentation, he is saying something important and worthy of public debate and consideration:

The original post’s commentary is below, on Donald Rumsfeld’s Memoir:

The title of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s new memoir, “Known and Unknown,” comes from a remark he made about whether Iraq had supplied or was willing to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me,” he quipped in 2002, “because, as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Long before he became Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration I had read and found quite thoughtful some of the famous Rummy’s Rules, (pdf at: http://www.cornerbarpr.com/images/home/rumsfeldsrules.pdf) which have been amplified in 2001.  He certainly didn’t obey them all but they contain some substance that, like the remarks quoted above, bear serious thought.

We spend what seems like enormous time on the unknowns and fill in our ignorance with speculation, often stated forcefully as if it were fact.  A very high percentage of the commentary I see focuses on the motivations of particular individuals as if they were obvious.  Perhaps I am unique but quite often introspection reveals that I don’t know my motivations or whether they are many, mixed and sometimes contradictory.  How can I assert vigorously the motivations behind the actions of another person, no matter how much I suspect that I know them?

Before leaving the comments on Rumsfeld, let me mention something I heard in an NPR interview a few weeks ago about national infrastructure cybersecurity.  At the end of the conversation the host asked quite credulously “Is it possible that our infrastructure already contains bugs that we don’t know about that would disable it?” (paraphrase).  We really desperately need to refine the quality of our thought for this is an unknown presented as a valid question in a serious interview.  Obviously there could be bugs already planted that we don’t know about.   That’s part of not knowing something.  It doesn’t belong in a serious interview.