Of mice and maniacs

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Well, I’m home … knee-deep in snow, bills and e-mails; it will take some time and effort to dig out of each. Having downloaded the PC updates waiting in queue for over a month [4 and 1/2 hours worth ... dial up, doncha know] I checked politics to see if anything but high angst and hot air had happened in the last few days and found a couple of things worth noting.

First … as was painfully explicit as I flew this week … was the Underwear Terrorist in Detroit and the ensuing hysteria that required travelers to dance like water on a hot skillet, surrendering their every curve, bulge and pointy thing to scrutiny. Half-dressed and barefoot, I stepped through the gate to get wanded, patted and eye-balled. Then I got stopped at the carry-on x-ray machine with something that seemed suspicious. The person tearing into my little backpack of Christmas bits and pieces narrowed an eye and asked me if I was carrying something sharp. I said I didn’t think so, but The Gloved One was undeterred. She unearthed the heinous Mickey Mouse long-sticked lollypop my kids had given to me; I suspect the ears at the end appearing as a trigger of some sort and that loooooong stick oh-so-sharp and dangerous. Pfffft!

With the ill-fated attempt at mayhem by Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian that boarded in Amsterdam, we’ve had a shitstorm of Pub hysteria and finger pointing. Early in the discussion, Dana Parino, then Mary Matlin and most recently Rudy Giuliani have loudly announced the Dubby had brooked no terror attacks in HIS administration — all of which deserves not just a snort but a rumbling fart of disdain from any sentient human.

No, 9/11 didn’t happen, Rudy, not on your watch. Oh, wait! Perhaps your amnesia doesn’t cover THIS.

What a crock. Terrorism was the only topic of interest in the Bush camp, and not only were there both international and domestic terrorism incidents, but the Bushies went OUT OF THEIR WAY to create them so they could show us all how they’d been foiled by razor-sharp (and patriotic) agents, keeping us safe and protecting the American Way.

All that aside, Obama handled this in a most Presidential manner, reminding us of the difference between Now and Then. I’d like to have seen how many subpoena’s for information we’d have to have pushed on the Bush White House to get a clear picture of the events and intelligence failures. Obama says he’ll take the heat and make the changes — and clearly, the Kerry position of international policing is the answer to this problem.

That and more help in the office — Josh Marshall sez a misspelling appears to be one of the factors that allowed Mr. Undies to slip by. With the Prez STILL understaffed due to Pub obstruction, there remains much to be reorganized and set straight as we seem to be slowly wading through the goo of the old system … but this is Very Much the sign of our times, as I wrote about in the weekly.

Also of interest in the news, Chris Dodd’s announcement not to run for re-election and Tim Geitner’s problem with e-mails and AIG, but that’s another post. I still have necessary digging out to do so we’ll take a look at both at the beginning of the week.

Underwear reads below, and as bonus a very entertaining Morford. And do open the weekly and get the link to Mark’s interview with the devil. Very satisfying read.

Have a good weekend and all I can say, having risen to 3 degree temps, is brrrrrrrr! Oh, and you can relax — you’re all safe from Mickey!


digby, Hullabaloo

I have been watching the gasbags anxiously await the President’s “shocking” announcement all day going on and on about what they thought he was going to say. And he didn’t really saying anything, at least not that I could discern. (Why all the hype?) but now th gasbags are l;eft with nothing to say and this is the kind of thing we’re hearing:

    Blitzer: he said he’s not interested in laying blame right now.Ultimately the buck will stop with me and and when the system fails it will be my responsibility. he was under pressure, I think, to say that.

    Gloria Borger: Yeah, I think he was, and I think he’s the president of the United States and the buck does stop with him. I think what was also very interesting about what he said was that not only didn’t we connect the dots, but we didn’t understand the dots…

Yeah, that’s quite the fascinating insight.

CNN had a former FBI guy on who said that we need to have an aviation summit with countries all over the world to standardize security and create a new world aviation treaty, at which point I heard Glenn Beck’s head explode from this fresh evidence of the progresso-fascist New World Order with its black helicopters coming to grab your gun, give it to a Muslim and then devalue the dollar. Scary stuff.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but this seems like an intelligence bureaucracy cock-up that fortunately didn’t end in disaster. But, we’ve been dealing with middle eastern terrorists attempting to blow up airplanes for some time and it’s clear there’s never going to be completely foolproof security. When you have a wake-up call like this you thank your lucky stars the plot didn’t work, review your procedures and re-double your efforts. Short of starting a war with another country that didn’t attack us, what else can we do? This 24/7, garment rending is just playing into terrorists’ hands. It’s annoying.

I’m not blaming Obama for this. I would guess he finds it annoying too that that people are clamoring for him to grab a bullhorn and start spouting stupid cliches just so the gasbags can get the lovely warm feeling they always get when the Preznit acts like The Dad Who Is Always Mad. He seems to be trying to put on that silly pageant as best he can, but it’s clear his heart isn’t in it. Thank God. ++

Obama: The Buck Stops With Me
BEN FELLER, AP via Huffy
01/ 7/10

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama declared Thursday “the buck stops with me” for the nation’s security, taking responsibility for failures that led to the near-disastrous Christmas attack on a Detroit-bound airliner and vowing the problems would be corrected. He said the lapses were widespread but suggested no officials would be fired.

Obama didn’t tell intelligence officials to dramatically change what they’re doing. Instead, he told them to do it better, and faster. He left it to them to figure out how.

Clearly aware of the potential political fallout, Obama struck a tough tone toward the anti-terror fight, taking the rare step – for him – of calling it a “war.”

In one concrete change, the administration is adding more air marshals to flights. Hundreds of law enforcement officers from Homeland Security Department agencies are being trained and deployed to the federal Air Marshal Service, said a government official familiar with the strategy.

There are more than 4,000 federal air marshals but many times that number for domestic and international flights each day.

In the president’s bleak assessment and a White House-released report about what went wrong, the country got an alarming picture of a post-Sept. 11 debacle: an intelligence community that failed to understand what it had.

U.S. intelligence officials had enough information to identify the suspect as an al-Qaida terrorist operative and keep him off a plane but still could not identify and disrupt the plot, and security measures didn’t catch him, either.

Obama announced about a dozen changes designed to fix that, including new terror watch list guidelines, wider and quicker distribution of intelligence reports, stronger analysis of those reports, international partnerships and an interagency effort to develop next-generation airport screening technologies.

More inquiries are on the way.

“It is appalling that we have not learned from our mistakes, eight years after the worst terror attacks in our nation’s history,” said Sen. Olympia Snow, R-Maine, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will hold its first hearing on the subject on Jan. 21, probably in private.

While Obama promised improved security, his solutions were laced with bureaucratic reshuffling.

Americans might be surprised that the government was not already taking some of the steps Obama ordered. For instance, he directed the intelligence community to begin assigning direct responsibility for following up leads on high-priority threats.

Obama himself hinted at the difficulties of improving intelligence and security against a terrorist network that devises new methods as fast or faster than the U.S. can come up with defenses.

“There is, of course, no foolproof solution,” he said. “We have to stay one step ahead of a nimble adversary.”

He spoke from the State Dining Room at the White House, his remarks delayed twice as officials scrambled to declassify a six-page summary of a report he’d ordered from top officials on the security failures. That summary was released immediately after he spoke, as was Obama’s three-page directive to agency chiefs.

“When the system fails, it is my responsibility,” Obama said.

The White House is anxious to resolve and move beyond the issue, which threatens to damage the president politically and distract further from his agenda.

Republicans have pointed to the attack and Obama’s handling of it to criticize him as weak on national security – a perennial election-season charge against Democrats that has sometimes been effective in the past. His language Thursday was strong.

“We are at war, we are at war against al-Qaida,” he said. “We will do whatever it takes to defeat them.”

The unclassified summary stated that U.S. intelligence officials had received unspecified “discrete pieces of intelligence” to identify Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, as an al-Qaida operative and keep him off the flight from Amsterdam. Officials received fragments of information as early as October, according to the report.

Earlier Thursday, the administration said Abdulmutallab was flagged for extra screening after he was already on the plane and headed for Detroit. The Department of Homeland Security said his potential ties to extremists came up in a routine check of passengers en route to the U.S. – and not because of any suddenly gathered intelligence that emerged during the flight.

Although intelligence officials knew that an al-Qaida operative in Yemen posed a threat to U.S. security, they did not increase their focus on that threat and did not pull together fragments of data needed to foil the scheme, said the summary.

Still, the report concludes, “The watch listing system is not broken” and a reorganization of the nation’s counterterrorism system is not necessary. The report, instead, calls for strengthening the process used to add suspected terrorists to watch lists.

According to the report, “a series of human errors” occurred, including a delay in the dissemination of a completed intelligence report and the failure of CIA and counterterrorism officers to search all available databases for information that could have been tied to Abdulmutallab.

Unlike the run-up to the 2001 terrorist attacks, intelligence officials did share information. But authorities didn’t understand what they had.

The president seemed to settle the question of whom to blame by declaring that blame was shared by many.

“Now at this stage in the review process, it appears that this incident was not the fault of a single individual or organization, but rather a systemic failure across organizations and agencies,” he said.

He ordered all involved agency heads to set up internal accountability units to review efforts to make changes. “We will measure progress,” he said.

Underscoring Obama’s assertion that no one individual was responsible for failing to thwart the attack, the administration’s report noted that Abdulmutallab’s name was misspelled in one instance, leading the State Department to conclude he did not have a valid U.S. visa – when in fact he did. Even so, the report said steps to revoke his visa could have occurred only if other intelligence information had been coordinated and he was placed on a more restrictive watch list.

Abdulmutallab was indicted Wednesday on charges of attempted murder and other crimes in the airline incident.

Meanwhile on Thursday, many airlines were re-briefing employees on security procedures, from baggage handlers to pilots.

“Everybody is being reminded of what the rules of the road are,” said Jack Casey, an aviation safety consultant in Washington.

There’s a limit, though, to how much airlines can do on their own, said Casey, a former airline pilot. “They’re waiting for better guidance from everybody in government over this whole issue of profiling and the issue of privacy. That’s a big gray area.”

Associated Press writers Eileen Sullivan, Pamela Hess, Matt Apuzzo, Jennifer Loven, Julie Pace and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

Obama takes responsibility, won’t order firings in bomb plot
Steven Thomma and Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Thursday declined to fire anyone for the lapses that allowed a suspected terrorist carrying explosives to board a plane for Detroit on Christmas Day, and said for the first time that he bears the ultimate responsibility for any breach that endangers Americans.

“I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer, for ultimately the buck stops with me,” Obama said. “As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my responsibility.”

The president said he’d ordered steps to guard against a repeat, including making sure that some agency is responsible for investigating all high priority threats, directing that intelligence reports be distributed more quickly and to more people, strengthening analysis of raw intelligence reports and making it easier to add individuals to terrorist watch and no-fly lists.

Obama had a new tone Thursday, taking responsibility himself and adding his White House staff to the list of government offices and agencies that failed to stop 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding Northwest Airlines Flight 253 despite numerous warning signs.

In earlier statements, first from Hawaii and this week from the White House, Obama didn’t mention his own responsibility, and on Tuesday he called the failures by intelligence agencies a massive screwup.

Obama spoke as the White House released a redacted summary of its internal review of the lapses that allowed Abdulmutallab onto the plane even though his father had told U.S. officials he was involved with Islamic militants, he’d bought a one-way ticket with cash and he had no luggage.

Abdulmutallab has been charged in a federal indictment with trying to blow up the plane and has told investigators that he was working with the al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terror network.

In an apparent effort to answer criticism that he’s treated the Christmas Day attempt and other threats as a criminal problem rather than a national security threat, Obama said again that the United States is at war with the al Qaida terrorist network and its branches.

“We are at war. We are at war against al Qaida, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people and that is plotting to strike us again,” he said. “And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them.”

At the same time, a White House report referred to Abdulmutallab as “the individual terrorist,” and Obama stressed the threat of lone Muslims such as Abdulmutallab being drawn to al Qaida.

“That’s why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaida offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death, including the murder of fellow Muslims, while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress,” he said.

Although Obama aides had said the report on the Christmas attack would shock the country, it contained few new details. Its release was delayed twice Thursday as officials scrubbed it to make sure it didn’t report anything that would reveal sources of intelligence.

Obama said mistakes in three areas piled up from mid-October through late December and allowed Abdulmutallab to board the plane, allegedly with explosives.

First, he said, U.S. intelligence officials “did not aggressively follow up on and prioritize” reports that Yemen-based al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was planning an attack on the United States and recruiting people to carry it out.

“The White House and the National Security Staff failed to identify this gap ahead of time,” the White House report said. “No single component of the CT (counterterrorism) community assumed responsibility for the threat reporting and followed it through.”

Second, he said, the intelligence community “failed to connect the dots” that could have revealed that Abdulmutallab was planning the attack. Abdulmutallab’s father told U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria on Nov. 18 that his son may have been radicalized and was planning to go to Yemen.

While information was “fragmentary and embedded in a large volume of other data,” the White House report concluded, several U.S. agencies obtained reports about al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, its plans and Abdulmutallab over several months.

“The U.S. government had sufficient information prior to the attempted Dec. 25 attack to have potentially disrupted the AQAP plot, by identifying Mr. Abdulmutallab as a likely operative of AQAP and potentially preventing him from boarding flight 253,” the report said.

“We saw the plot was developing. But at the time, we did not know, in fact, that they were talking about sending Mr. Abdulmutallab to the United States,” said John Brennan, Obama’s chief counter terrorism adviser.

Third, Obama said, “shortcomings” in the system failed to move Abdulmutallab’s name from a broad list of suspected threats to a narrower “no fly” list that would have kept him off any U.S.-bound plane.

One problem: the fact that Abdulmutallab had a visa to enter the United States was never matched to the reports that he might have become a dangerous radical. At first, a misspelling of his name led the State Department to think he didn’t have a valid visa. Yet even if State had known of the visa, it would only have revoked it — and barred him from entry to the U.S. — if counterterrorism officials had connected all the information about him and al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Obama also said the government will use new technology at airports, including full body scanners, but he insisted that the U.S. won’t turn its airports into war zones that would make flying untenable.

“We will not succumb to siege mentality,” he said. +

Freak-Outs, Flubs, And Fails: The Airport Aftermath Of Flight 253
Jillian Rayfield, Talking Points Memo
January 7, 2010

It seems like the entire world has been on high alert since the attempted attack on Flight 253, with security personnel jumping anytime a potential breach is reported. Unfortunately, this has made for some embarrassing and would-be-funny-if-they-weren’t-so-frightening bloopers in the name of security.

Here’s a round-up…

Detroit, December 27: Two days after a Nigerian man attempted to detonate explosives on Flight 253, another Nigerian man boarded a different flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

This time, the flight crew was ready for him: When the man locked himself in the bathroom, he was ordered to come out. Upon his refusal, the FBI was called in to escort him off the plane, as police officers yielding automatic weapons looked on. Meanwhile, bomb-sniffing dogs scoured the flight’s luggage.

Terrorist, it turns out, he was not: The man was soon released after it was determined he just had a particularly bad stomachache.

Slovakia, January 2: Determined not to be caught with their pants down, Slovak officials decide to test airport security by hiding plastic explosives in the luggage of eight unsuspecting passengers.

Hey, it almost worked:

Airport security did detect the explosives in seven of the suitcases. Unfortunately, the eighth bag, which belonged to a Slovak electrician living in Dublin, was not intercepted — and not immediately recovered.

According to the Irish Times, the explosives were so well-concealed that the passenger did not even find them when he returned home and unpacked his bag.

It took two days, apparently, for it to occur to the Slovak officials that maybe they should try to find that other bag, and another day for the Irish Army bomb squad to recover the explosives in Dublin.

Newark, January 3: Travelers faced massive delays after an unidentified man entered Newark Airport through an exit, right past a security guard. He was spotted by a pedestrian, but TSA officials were unable to find him following the breach, and shut down the airport for more than an hour while they conducted security checks. Flights were delayed, chaos ensued.

Apparently, an airport security tape (that will supposedly be released soon) reveals that the man went through the exit so he could kiss his girlfriend goodbye at the gate.

The guard was put on administrative leave, but the kiss-happy troublemaker has yet to be found.

Minneapolis, January 5: The Lindbergh Terminal at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was shut down and evacuated for 90 minutes after a bomb-sniffing dog reacts to a suspicious piece of pink luggage.

In fact, the bag belonged to the airport itself, and was used as a marker to indicate to employees when all the bags had been unloaded from a flight.

Such a bag is so routine, in fact, that in airport jargon it’s referred to as a “last bag.”

California, January 5: At Bakersfield’s Meadows Field airport, a passenger’s luggage tests positive for an explosive during a routine swabbing. When the luggage was searched, TSA officials found several bottles filled with a suspicious amber liquid. The airport was then shut down.

After some testing, TSA officials confirmed that the substance in the bottle was honey. No word yet on whether the incident was actually coordinated by a pack of bears. ++


When scary Jesus make the news
Mark Morford, SF Gate
Friday, January 8, 2010

Will it be drugs? Will it be gays? Will it be an unwieldy sex scandal featuring seedy hotels, bad cologne and grossly detailed text messages you never want to read? How about another “family values”‘ congressman busted for cruising gay chat rooms or hitting on young male pages in the congressional bathroom? That’s always heartwarming.

Or maybe it will be another enchanting case of sexual abuse and pedophilia in the Catholic Church! What, too 2001? Fine, how about six decades of child rape and beatings at the hands of countless nuns and priests in Irish Catholic orphanages? Oh right, that was last year. The pope slamming birth control in Africa? Megachurch pastors shamelessly fleecing their gullible flock for still more millions? Some spectacular combination of the above? So many choices! What’s your pleasure, good reader?

Of one thing you can be absolutely certain: whenever self-righteous Christians make the news, it’s going to be… embarrassing. Sad. Sickening. Disingenuous. A little dangerous. A lot pitiable.

Homophobic? Frequently. Hypocritical? Invariably. Deeply ignorant of the real teachings of the true, mystical, renegade, anti-authority Jesus, who was about as far from the modern Pentecostal evangelical fundamentalist organized-religion worldview as a vegan from a Kansas slaughterhouse? You already know the answer.

All of which makes it delightful — in that nauseatingly familiar sort of way — to read the story about the Northern California evangelicals whose repulsive views on homosexuality and “curing” gay people reportedly helped shape a new, violently anti-gay bill in Uganda.

Did you see? The New York Times piece about how Ugandan officials took the American evangelicals’ beliefs about the best ways to punish/reform “evil” gays to its natural conclusion, and decided, if all other forcible rehab options fail, it would be perfectly appropriate to simply exterminate the homosexuals?

I mean, why not? If it’s certifiably evil, if you can’t “cure” it, if it scares the livestock, transmits disease, preys upon young boys and makes the older men fantasize in dangerous and uneasy ways, if God (not really) said it was an abomination, what’s the problem?

Of course, the radical evangelicals in question were — or at least pretended to be — horrified at this practical summation of their views, immediately wrote panicky letters to Ugandan officials to correct their unfortunate “misinterpretation,” as damn well they should have.

“No, no, no!” they sort of said. “We didn’t mean actually kill them. That would be wrong. We simply meant gently, lovingly rehabilitate. You know: drugs, imprisonment, maybe some beatings, public humiliation, brainwashing, genital torture, electroshock therapy like the Mormons used to do.

“Barring that, just do what we do in America: psychological torment in the form of relentless, crushing guilt. This will make the evil gay feel so suicidally depressed about his perfectly natural desires, his body, his emotions, who he is as a living soul on this planet, he’s bound to come around. See, like most major religions of the world, we work to shame the sinner so horribly that if he doesn’t kill himself, you’ll end up with a fine, completely numb soldier of Christ! But don’t actually kill them. Heavens!”

Ugandan officials, apparently a bit confused about just how this crazy evangelical thing works, agreed to re-draft the bill and take out the killing stuff. “You extremist Christians are so weird,” they seemed to say, rolling their eyes.

It’s a story that folds in nicely with the sad little furor regarding tired ol’ Brit Hume over at Fox News, a slumpy veteran talking head who recently muttered something gently asinine on the air about Tiger Woods, Buddhism and converting Tiger to the land of happy fuzzy Christ.

Indeed, Hume suggested during a broadcast that Tiger would do well to renounce his sinful ways, pack up his little Temple O’ Buddhism and move to Sweet Home Jesuslandia, home of Ted Haggard, Carrie Prejean and thousands of priests who are no longer allowed to touch children — where all is safe and redemptive and no one has much sex, and if they do it’s certainly not very much fun and doesn’t last more than 90 seconds in the dark in the congressional bathroom. So thoughtful you are, Brit!

So then. Is the mildly offensive part how Hume tried to convert Tiger on national TV? Is it how he obviously doesn’t understand much about Buddhism and how it pre-dates Christianity by hundreds, if not thousands, of years? Or is it how Hume won’t apologize and is now claiming Christian persecution as a result of being so pseudo-righteous? All of the above? Does it even matter?

Of course it doesn’t. But I have to admit, ever since Dubya so mercifully slumped off the national stage and hauled his fractured, dejected army of Christian fundamentalists with him, the stories about unfortunate imbecility, sexual misadventure and righteous indignation in the name of Christ have slowed to a mere trickle. Which is not a bad thing at all, really.

Oh sure, they’re still out there, but the Christian right no longer dominates the national dialogue as it once did. Now the Jesus crusaders have largely been replaced by an even sillier and more fringe bunch — birthers and teabaggers and such — citizens who don’t even have the excuse of a misinterpreted, fear-based faith to back their biases and anxieties. Now they just have … Glenn Beck.

No matter. We can all safely assume millions of good, reasonable Christians were just as disgusted as anyone over the fringe evangelical hatred on display in the Uganda story. And most would even agree that Hume was a bit of a jackass for daring to “correct” anyone’s faith, especially one of the great, peaceful religions of the world, even on a network as shamelessly right-wing and morally unhinged as Fox News.

In that sense, these two stories point to a broader truth: Never forget to be thankful, humble pilgrim, when you stumble over barbed tales like this, that times have changed, are changing, keep right on changing … usually for the better. In other words, as dire or inane as these stories may seem, offer a moment of heaping, divine gratitude that it’s not like it used to be. And with any luck, it never will be again.

Hell, you can bet even Jesus is grateful for that. ++

“I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington … I’m asking you to believe in yours.”
~ Barack Obama

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

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2 Responses to Of mice and maniacs

  1. Nelda Ferlic says:

    Judith –

    Sorry they took your Mickey Mouse lollipop.

    I just stopped my subscription to the paper Wash Post and have been reading more on-line – although I’ve been reading you since I got my subscription to PW last year. I love the articles you find and appreciate your worldview. I miss my morning paper still – it’s only been a few weeks, after 50 years of morning papers. AAHH..

    I live in the Maryland suburbs of DC – a place I find surrealistic at best. A place where my son’s school was closed for 3 snow days after the storm before Christmas.despite being part of the hot air capital of the world. You’re kind of reporting will help in the sanity department, I’m sure.

    Happy new year –


  2. admin says:

    Happy New Year backatcha, Nelda — I understand your withdrawal from print, it took me awhile to adjust as well. I still love the feel of it under my hands.

    Be well and blessed

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