Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Failed Christmas Day Bombing Prompts Criticism, Calls for Reform

Given the recent failed airline bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Detroit on Christmas Day, a lot of folks have taken the opportunity to politicize this event and attack the Obama administration. Certainly criticism is due to the administration for this incident, but ad hominem attacks on Obama won't solve any problems. Let's get some pesky facts out of the way.

Representative Peter King (R-NY), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, believes that the Obama administration is not taking the threat of terrorism seriously enough. He thinks that because Obama wants to try terrorists in criminal courts - as opposed to military tribunals - that he is putting our nation at risk. He thinks that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's framing the incident as a "criminal matter" and not an "act of terrorism" is worrying. Yet the response from the Obama administration is on par with that of the Bush administration's response to Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber" who tried to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes (hence why you have to go barefoot through security at airports now) on December 22, 2001. This, of course, does not faze King, who adds that Obama "seems almost awkward when he's talking about terrorism."

Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) would like the U.S. to send Abdulmutallab to Guantanamo and treat him as an enemy combatant. King seems to be in line with this thinking, requesting that Abdulmutallab be tried in a military tribunal rather than a criminal court. It's clear why they would want to do this, as the term "enemy combatant," which the Obama administration has stated will no longer be used, is a term that is outside the scope of the Geneva Conventions, which outlines the rights of prisoners of war. Add to this the fact that the term "enemy combatant" is based on skewed Supreme Court decisions (read the ABA's report on the treatment of enemy combatants, which contains a little ditty about Ex Parte Quirin), and you have a recipe for legal disaster.

But it's not just misguided politicians trying to gain political advantage via this failed terrorist act (Hoekstra, after all, invoked the incident in a recent fundraising letter). Take the New York Post. The paper took time off from covering all things Tiger Woods and had a front-page editorial slamming President Obama for not speaking out more forcefully and sooner about the attempted attack while mentioning in passing that he inherited the notoriously lackluster TSA (which is another matter, as the flight did not originate in the States), that it was actually George W. Bush who released two Yemenis from Gitmo suspected of leading the Al-Qaeda offshoot that allegedly sponsored Abdulmutallab, and that the intelligence databases created by the previous administration are of "unwieldy proportions." But other than that, Obama 100% dropped the ball.

Is the Obama administration guilty of mishandling the intelligence gathered on Abdulmutallab? Absolutely. It seems that a lack of communication between intelligence agencies or departments is to blame, and it is dismaying that over eight years after 9/11 this problem still has not been fixed. As far as Obama waiting a few days to speak, media outlets report that he received the information on Tuesday, the day he spoke out on it. I don't mind the president waiting a few days to verify the information (intelligence agencies were still trying to figure out if this was, in fact, sponsored by an Al-Qaeda offshoot) before speaking to the nation. Patience, combined with fact checking, would have prevented the War in Iraq.

And as far as the paranoia surrounding airline security and terrorism in general goes, just remember that the last two attempts to attack this country on our own soil via airliner failed miserably. Reid succeeded in only ruining his shoe and Abdulmutallab now has cajun-style testicles. Should we grow complacent? Absolutely not; the fact remains that there are people out there who want to do harm to this country and will kill innocents to get their message across. However, rules like no bathroom breaks an hour before landing, no iPods throughout the flight, no access to personal belongings during flight time, etc. seems a little overboard. If you want to improve airline security, make sure people don't bring explosives onto planes rather than assume that people can bring them on and adjust the rules accordingly. In any event, Obama has his work cut out for him; multiple problems (airline security, intelligence department communications, intelligence databases) have been identified, now fix them.

Photo - Obama speaks to the nation on Monday about the Christmas Day bombing attempt (Reuters)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Daniel Talbot Murder Accomplice Changes Plea

Gia Nagy (Boston Herald)
Now for those of you who follow this blog semi-regularly, you know that I've been following the Daniel Talbot case quite closely. The last development was a big one, when Derek Lodie, who had been charged as an accessory before the fact of Daniel Talbot's murder, changed his plea to guilty and received a sentence of 8-12 years. Given that accessories before the fact of a felony in Massachusetts receive the same punishment as the principle if convicted, 8-12 years, at least on the surface, looks like a very good deal for Lodie.

Today Nagy has changed her plea on the indicted charge, which is accessory after the fact to murder. She is charged with helping her boyfriend Robert Iacoviello, the alleged shooter, to break down the alleged murder weapon (a 9mm) and dispose of it while providing an alibi for Iacoviello.

This brings the number of people involved in this case who have pleaded guilty to five (by my count.)  There's Lodie and Nagy, as well as three unidentified individuals who are apparently well-known in Revere and were offered deals in pending, unrelated cases to testify about their knowledge in the case. One was also allegedly put into witness protection and flown out to Vegas. Of the three, two have since had run-ins with the law and, according to the Revere Journal, one is now behind bars.

Judge Brady handed down a sentence of 1-2 years for Nagy, which is what the Suffolk DA's office was looking for. As far as Nagy testifying against Iacoviello during his upcoming trial next month, the DA's office says that Nagy did not sign a cooperation agreement with them. As of right now I've yet to receive comment from Nagy's lawyer as to whether she plans to testify against Iacoviello.

So how does this change things for Iacoviello? Will he still go to trial in January as planned or will he be looking to cut a deal now that two people have pled to accessory charges in related to his alleged crime? Iacoviello's lawyer had no comment.

A trial would force the DA to show their entire hand, hopefully meaning that more details would come out about what happened, because the official story of what happened seems a bit off to me. I'm not saying that the DA's office is lying or anything like that, but this particular incident is so filled with questions of "Why?" that for it to make sense would not make sense, if that makes sense. But then again, violent deaths tend to conjure up more questions than answers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Goodbye Public Option, We Hardly Knew Ye

With Pelosi's backing down on the public option came the official death (something I've been saying for a bit now) of the measure for the health care "reform" bill currently being debated in Washington. Pelosi was one of the strongest backers of the measure since the inception of the clusterfuck that is the healthcare debate. That all changed yesterday when Pelosi began the first step in the "I know that's what I said, but it's not what I meant" process.

Pelosi has in the past stated unequivocally that the healthcare bill cannot pass the House without some sort of a public option. When reminded of her statements by a reporter in light of Senate negotiations that create a convoluted system that allows those between the ages of 50 and 64 to buy into Medicare, Pelosi stated that she would have to see the Senate bill and declined to repeat her ultimatum of a public option or no House bill.

What's sad is that Congress was willing to spend almost $1 trillion to bail out Wall Street and significantly add to this country's deficit, but when it comes to healthcare we're not supposed to be spending any extra money to make sure people have access to affordable, decent plans. President Obama has said, "I have pledged that I will not sign health insurance reform that adds even one dime to our deficit over the next decade." Pelosi said, "But our standards are that we have affordability for the middle class, security for our seniors, closing the doughnut hole and sustaining the solvency of Medicare, responsibility to our children, so we're not one dime added to the deficit." I'll throw my hat into the ring here with absurd statements, "I would like a Manhattan townhouse, a house in the Hamptons, and a Maybach, all without adding one dime to my deficit." This is America, things cost money, including insuring millions of people.

Wall Street will reap massive bonuses - some in the form of stock with longer vestments (at least until the dust settles and people forget about how they screwed all of us) - and the fact remains: those employed in the bailed-out industries will be getting very large paychecks while those people laid off because of horribly misguided and, at times, downright deceitful tactics in our nation's financial industry will go through the end of this year without affordable healthcare. $700,000,000,000 to bail out Wall Street, $707,851,000,000 for the Iraq War, $0 for healthcare reform. Really?

Is the Medicare buy-in plan an improvement? Sure, for people between the ages of 50 and 64. Are you 25 and just getting off of your parents' plans (if they even have insurance plans provided they haven't seen their benefits cut back or been fired) and can't find a job in this miserable market? Good news! Only 25 more years and you'll be able to buy into Medicare! Until then, however, no Hoveround for you. Peace.

Photo - Pelosi (NPR)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Afghanistan?

You don't. I want to spin a quick yarn about a country back in the 1970s and 1980s that played a massive role in bringing down one of the most militarized nation-states in recent history. This country was a mountainous region with a very weak central government and was ruled over mostly by tribal warlords and religious extremists. When a very large nation-state to the north encroached on their territory and wanted to export their version of government, the tribal warlords and religious extremists mobilized against this foreign force. They eventually wore down the foreign army over nearly a decade, forcing them to withdraw. Now, we all know that the foreign army that retreated was the Soviet Union and the mountainous country it failed to keep under its control was Afghanistan. And clearly the story is a little more complex than a short paragraph (CIA Stingers, ISS corruption, etc.). But the fundamentals remain the same: the Afghan mujahideen was able to draw the Soviets into Afghanistan and then embarrass them on the world stage during the Soviet-Afghan War.

Fast forward to 2001 and while some of the circumstances have changed, the fundamentals remain the same. We've been drawn into Afghanistan by a Soviet-Afghan War veteran who understands how powerful guerrilla warfare tactics can be against a superior military. Compounding this, bin Laden has had two very lucky breaks. The first was Tora Bora in November, 2001 when we let him get away (a conclusion reached five months after the fact but made "official" by the Senate this week) and the second was Iraq. If we catch bin Laden in November we take out a major figurehead of the terrorist movement in Afghanistan and clearly and unequivocally send the message that you do not fuck with the United States. Instead bin Laden escapes because of crucial errors in judgment and tactics, becoming an even more mythic figure. Secondly, we go into Iraq, allowing Afghanistan to be relegated to red-headed stepchild status, with funds, troops, and materials diverted to the desert to find non-existent WMDs.

At the height of the Soviet-Afghan War, the Soviets had about 118,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan. With Obama's plan to send another 30,000 troops to the war-torn country it will bring American troop levels to about 100,000 (with an additional 45,000 NATO troops). We are, essentially, sticking to the game plan that the Soviets had back in the 80s, at least in terms of troop levels. If it did not work for them, what could possibly make those in Washington think it will work for us?

We could sit here all day and talk about the failures of the past 8 years in Afghanistan, but that's not going to help with the future. What are our options there? I don't know, as I don't have top-level security clearance. Going on public information, though, one major issue is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan that border Afghanistan, where it is believed bin Laden is hiding out and from where Al-Qaeda is launching attacks on American forces. We could talk to Pakistan to try to get permission to follow skirmishing Al-Qaeda/Taliban/Haqqani forces whose tactics include ambushing our armed forces and running back over the Zero Line, but Islamabad has no tangible control over the area. We could try to set up something similar to a DMZ on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan akin to that between North and South Korea and try to contain the terrorist forces. We could pack up and leave like we did in the 80s and allow the area to fall out of control (yet again) and hope we don't get attacked twenty years down the road. Pick your poison.

It's important to remember that in war nobody wins. Whether the insurgent forces in Afghanistan/Pakistan want to claim victory or the Americans and their "coalition of the willing" want to claim victory, the reality is we have all lost. Afghanistan has become even more war-torn, is now home to 90% of smack production in the world, and is stuck between two warring groups. Americans have seen our reputation both at home and abroad mocked, we've lost nearly 1,000 men and women in Afghanistan alone (with that number rising each year), and we will more than likely have some type of military presence in the country for at least a decade. You want the definition of a quagmire, here it is.