Chickens, Roost

Back in March, I wrote to the Democratic Party:

And how the hell could you have laid down and rolled over for the bankruptcy bill? If there was ever a bully pulpit to stand behind and use to point out the corporatist flaws of the GOP, this was it.

Note that I’m not opposed to government actions that help corporations; sometimes what’s good for G.M. is actually good for America.

But this was such a clear-cut case of taking from the weak and giving to the rich with no public purpose except giving more to those that have that my head is swimming.

And the missed opportunity for the Democrats to define themselves – by challenging irresponsible and rapacious lending as much as they are challenging irresponsible borrowing – boggles my mind.

And today, reader Robert Martin emailed me this story from the New York Times:

…four weeks after New Orleans flooded and tens of thousands of other residents of the Gulf Coast also lost their homes and livelihoods, a stricter new personal bankruptcy law scheduled to take effect on Oct. 17 is likely to deliver another blow to those dislocated by the storm.

The law was intended to keep individuals from taking on debts they had no intention of paying off. But many once-solvent Katrina victims are likely to be caught up in the net intended to catch deadbeats.

So thanks, Congressman Moran (D-MBNA), (along with Senator Mary K Landrieu (D – LA) – hat tip to commenter PD Shaw) – and the 72 others who voted for this bill:Andrews
Bishop (GA)*
Davis (AL)
Davis (FL)
Davis (TN)*
Green, Al
Larsen (WA)*
Meek (FL)
Meeks (NY)
Moore (KS)
Moran (VA)
Peterson (MN)*
Price (NC)
Schwartz (PA)
Scott (GA)*
Taylor (MS)
Thompson (CA)

(the names with a * also voted to repeal the estate tax – hat tip to The Left Coaster)

Liveblogging Galloway

It’s 6:45 an there are maybe 150 people in the church; there weren’t enough people out front to leaflet…the three of us will try while folks are on the way out.

Our pewmates are unhappy with the turnout, but maybe Los Angeles is just fashionably late.

I’ll update as the evening progresses.

7:00 Now about 275…

7:15 Now about 350, and I just got an emergency call and have to bail. No choice…have to choose parenthood. Crap…Flap will report.

Mr. Galloway Comes To Los Angeles. Let’s Go Listen to Him!

I’m bumping this post to remind Los Angeles-area readers to join me this Thursday to greet Mr. Galloway.

Mercedes George Galloway is coming to Los Angeles in a week.

He’ll be speaking (supporting the sales of his book) at 3300 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

You can buy tickets for $12.50 here or by calling 1-866-468-3399, and I’d really, really like to encourage you to do so.

First, because you need to look at the face of what we’re struggling against here in the West. If you’re opposed to the war and to Bush, it’s important that you understand how the leadership of your movement is being captured by people like Galloway – people who don’t have a chance in hell at connecting with the average American voter. If, like me, you’re for the war and for the left, you need to understand how this monstrous man has sold out labor unions and socialists in Iraq and the Middle East to suck dollars for his vacation home in Spain from the dictators there. If you’re for the war and for against the left, you should come to cheer him on because he’s a millstone around progressive causes here and in the U.K.

Some of us will be doing peaceful, informational leafleting outside the event. If you’d like to join us, drop me an email at the site address on the right.

Update: Here’s Patrick Belton liveblogging his debate with Hitchens (I couldn’t get a stream).

Red Mist

As more facts have come out, I’ve been critical of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menzies, who was shot and killed by special operatives of the London police in the mistaken belief that he was a suicide bomber.

In the London Times yesterday was an article even more critical of the culture of the London “Gun Police” quoting two SAS trainers who had trained the officers. I’d be a bit wary of this because there’s certainly room for some blameshifting, but if half of what is claimed is true, the London cop shop needs some major work.

The two soldiers describe a number of alarming incidents during police training at the regiment’s base in Hereford. The trainers have no authority to fail police officers they believe are unsuited to the job.

One of the soldiers said: “When the tension starts to rise and the adrenaline is flowing, the ‘red mist’ seems to descend on armed police officers who become very trigger-happy. This has been shown time and again in training exercises.”

The second soldier said: “We thought that police firearms officers were far more concerned with their personal image, dressing in body armour and looking ‘gung ho’, rather than their professional capabilities. I’m not surprised at the number of mistakes over the years.“

The statement also describes a police training exercise run by the SAS in which an armed terrorist group was threatening to kill a hostage. The police team were to rescue the hostage using minimum force.

“I was playing the leader of the armed group and instructed the other members of my group to surrender peacefully once the final assault was initiated. Therefore there was no need for the police to open fire.

“But as the police assault group entered the room they began firing at everything. No one had moved; we were all stood with our hands on our heads.

“The response would have resulted in the unnecessary deaths of all the make- believe terrorists and the hostage alike. So much for the rule of minimum force.”

This sounds like a serious case of undertraining, lack of accountability in training, and poor management on the part of whoever is supposed to vet and deploy these guys.

The first time I went into a shooting simulator at Gunsite, I did in fact shoot everything in sight.

But that’s a mistake I’ve never made in a live-fire or force-on-force simulation again, and I’m just a random civilian. If they can’t train the London cops better than I’m trained, they shouldn’t be allowed to carry guns. Period. This is a significant management failure, and needs to be addressed today; my guess is that more – rather than less – London officers will be carrying guns in the next year or so.

Chains of Love

It’s a quiet Sunday morning, after a busy, sad, and hopeful week.

For us, the biggest news is that Middle Guy has been delivered to his freshman dorm suite in San Diego, and the quiet reality of that – the empty room in the house that is waiting to be cleaned out and symbolizes his launch into the world – is weighing on us.

I’m thrilled at who he’s become, anxious about the world he’s headed into and his place in it, happy because I think he’ll do well in dealing with that world, and mostly sad because I really like him and will miss him as I still miss his older brother, Biggest Guy.

On the drive home, I thought about how collapsed time seems in these moments – I still clearly remember standing on the sidewalk eighteen years ago hearing the news that we were going to have a second son. It seems impossibly close to the yesterday when I told him we could cross the street to the car on our own, and he ought to go back up and meet his suitemates.

We hugged, and TG and I forced ourselves not to look back as we walked away.

And as soon as we got home last night, we got word that TG’s friend John had died. She went to see him Friday, and knew his time was short even though he was lucid and asking about the boys and about me. I’d hoped to get to go see him today. Instead we’ll help his family – scattered around the country – arrange the logistics of their arrivals for the funeral.

TG and I were even laughing a bit at the cheap coincidence; start a life, end a life.

Links in a chain going forward and backward further than we can see.

John Roberts and George Galloway

What do they have to do with each other?

Quite a bit.

Part of the blogging hiatus was a camping trip with TG and Littlest Guy and several other family-units to the Isthmus on Catalina Island. Kayaking, hiking, snorkeling, sunscreen, more kayaking.

The other families are from my West LA days, and they’re wonderful, rich West Los Angeles Democrats almost to a BMW-driving dad and Mercedes-driving mom. We talked a fair amount of politics :^)

One of them is a lawyer and was lamenting the Robert nomination and what he perceived as the even worse second appointment Bush was likely to make…with the possibility of one or two more before his term is over.

“What can we do?” he lamented.

“Well, we could win some f**king elections,” I replied.I pointed out the secular shift in power toward the Republican Party as the Democrats pull up the ladders for the working class who aren’t in big, money-donating unions and as they embark on a culture war designed to make Main Street in Omaha feel a little more like Rockridge Avenue in Berkeley.

As the party’s center of mass – its ideas, plans for the future, and credibility about performance in the past – get hollowed out, it appeals less and less to mainstream voters and more and more strongly to a smaller and smaller “committed base.”

The fantasy, of course, is that as soon as the vanguard speaks up and is heard by the lumpen proles, they will understand the inalterable truth of the vanguard position and rise up marching to vote. Mercedes George Galloway is a “probably literally” card-carrying member of that aggrieved vanguard. And by supporting him – hell, by not running him out of the country in tar and feathers on a rail – the Left and the Democrats are sending a clear message to those suburban housewives and husbands about where they stand and what they expect. They stand with bullhorns waiting for the masses to follow them to the polling places.

Hasn’t happened yet.

Middle-class, middle-aged, middle-valued voters keep driving away from the Democrats.

They are driving Bush’s numbers down…but their numbers are falling as fast or faster, and to win elections, the GOP don’t have to beat the bear, they just have to beat the Democrats.

So the party has a choice. It can embrace passionate opposition to the powers that be – Kerry’s deeply amusing “speaking truth to power” – or they can decide that as one of the two national parties in the most powerful nation in the world, they should be the power and explain what exactly they would do with it.

Levee Socialism, anyone?

Terror in the Bookstores

Anne Jacobsen of Flight 327 notoriety now has a book, “Terror in the Skies.”

Her publisher apparently noted my posts on the subject, as uncomplimentary as they were, and asked me if I’d like to read it and comment. I’m a slut for free books, and so even though I tend not to enjoy “insta-books” all that much, decided that it was worth reading because not only – it’s free! – but it might change my mind about something. I mean, God forbid I might have to learn something…

Sadly, after trying hard to get engaged by the book, I can’t recommend it to you as worth reading either as a policy document, history, or journalism.

Let’s go back through the history.On June 29, 2004, Jacobsen, her husband Kevin, and their young son flew from Connecticut to Los Angeles. One leg of their flight was Northwest flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles.

On that flight were “fourteen Middle Eastern men who acted as thought they might hijack the plane,” in her words.

The book is a close recounting of the flight, her reaction, and her efforts afterward to publicize and escalate the event to the attention of the American public – culminating in her publishing the book.

While my reaction to her original articles on the WomensWallStreet site were consistently and immediately hostile, when I got the letter from the publisher asking if I’d look the book over, I was genuinely curious. I tend to assume that most people are as smart or smarter than I am, and so if they see something of interest – except for professional football – there must be something interesting there. So maybe, with the luxury of more time to look into the background of the event, some nonobvious facts might have been brought up that would teach me something new.

So I really did open the book with as open a mind as I could.

And I held that open mind until about Page 14.

By this point, she’s described, in great detail, the flight, the actions of the Middle Eastern men on the flight, and her reactions to them.

And all my early criticisms of her writing came right back.

Let go through the points in some detail.

First, here’s what we’ll accept as a base level of fact.

There were 14 Middle Eastern men on the flight, who traveled as a group even though they did not sit together. They traveled on Syrian passports with questionable visa status (had they expired, as she suggests, or were they still in status as others have suggested).

During the flight, they moved around, talked to each other, and acted in ways that made Jacobsen and some other passengers frightened.

Here’s Jacobsen:

Once on the plane, we took our seats in the front of the coach class cabin, in the row second from the aircraft exit door (in seats 17A, 17B, and 17C). The man with the yellow shirt and the McDonald’s bag sat across the aisle from us in seat 17E. The pleasant man with the goatee sat a few rows back and across the aisle from us in seat 21E. The rest of the men were seated throughout the plane, and several made their way to the back.

As we sat waiting for the passengers to finish boarding, we noticed another large group of Middle Eastern men boarding. The first man wore a dark suit and sunglasses. He sat in first class in seat 1A, the seat second-closest to the cockpit door. The other seven men walked into the coach cabin. Kevin and I exchanged glances, then continued to get comfortable. I noticed some of the other passengers paying attention as well. As boarding continued, we watched as, one by one, most of the Middle Eastern men made eye contact with each other. the continued to look at each other and nod, as if they were in agreement about something. I could tell that Kevin was beginning to feel anxious.

He said that something was not right. he told me that he was considering having us get off the train.

Sound and portents. Everything is filled with foreboding – the single Middle Eastern man sits in the front row of first class, and she breathlessly points out that his seat is second-closest to the cockpit door.

Then another man from the group stood up and took something from his carry-on in the overhead bin. It was about a foot long and was rolled in cloth. He headed toward the back of the cabin with the object.Five minutes later, several more of the Middle Eastern man began using the forward lavatory, consecutively. In the back, several of the men stood up and used the back lavatory, also consecutively.

For the next hour, the men congregated in groups of two and three at the back of the plane for varying periods of time. Meanwhile, in the first class cabin, just a foot from the cockpit door, the man with the dark suit – still wearing sunglasses – was also standing. Not one of the flight crew suggested to any of the men that they take their seats.

I don’t have my copy of Blink handy, but I’ll strongly suggest that Ms. Jacobsen would profit from reading it. Or from taking the Harvard IAT on race.

Now in response to her reaction, I’ll suggest one points of fact and one of personal experience.

I’ve only flown into and out of Detroit a few times (I don’t a lot to do there) but it was surprising to me the first time how many Middle Eastern folks were on the plane. Then the little light bulb went on in my head, and I remembered that Detroit has one of the highest populations of Palestinian and Arab – Americans in the country. It’s no more surprising than the fact that the train I’m writing this on (the Surfside Express to San Diego) has a high concentration of Hispanic passengers.

I have flown as a part of groups before – to and from sales meetings, conferences, and the like. I’d worry quite a bit about what Ms. Jacobsen would have made of some of those trips…bleary-eyed hung over young men working hard to trip each other up verbally or physically. Or the time I sold my Hawaiian shirt to one of my seatmates because, as hung over as he was, it was intolerably bright.

As a group, we get up, we walk around and chat, steal each other’s drinks and peanuts. We gesture to each other.

But because we don’t fit into her prepopulated narrative of terror, we’re somewhere between amusing and annoying, not frightening.

So let’s talk about whether she should have been frightened.

What in the world would I do … even with the most evil intentions … with 14 hijackers on a modern plane?

Could I assemble a bomb in the bathroom?

Sure. But I don’t need 14 people to do it. And I can’t imagine that I’d be so long on suicidal terrorists that I’d use 14 of them on a one-way mission.

In fact, I don’t need to assemble the bomb onboard anyway, most likely I can just ship it – given the appalling lack of security in air freight – and set it to blow up midair.

So what else could I do with 14 terrorists on a plane?

Jacobsen suggests – at length – that this was a “probe” to test the responses of the security systems.

New to counterterrorism vernacular is the idea of a “probe.” Probe is the term used inside the Federal Air Marshal Service to describe “operatives gathering intelligence” about what goes on during commercial airline flights. A probe is inherently different than a surveillance flight because it involves testing non-variables, that is testing a human being’s response or the response of a group [sic].

That’s certainly an interesting possibility. What’s the appropriate reaction to a probe?


That’s right. The goal is to give away as little information as possible about the responses, capabilities, and tactics that will be used in the event of a real attack.

What is it about FAM’s reaction that she is so upset about?

They did nothing in response to the probe.

Look, it’s a 169 page book, and there are useful and interesting points in it.

I share her concern with the state of airline security, and her approval for the El Al version of “interviewing” all passengers and empowering the entire chain of employees who will have contact with them to raise security alerts that are taken seriously.

I’m bothered that a guy with an orthopedic brace big enough to hide a small handgun can get lightly searched while my wife is having her breasts fondled to make sure she’s not packing plastique in her bra.

But, first and foremost, I don’t believe that anything – any fact – about the Syrian’s behavior on the flight she was on deserved more attention from the authorities that it appears to have received.

I think that her breathless demand that the simple act of FWA (Flying While Arab) require massive law-enforcement attention is a silly idea. Not out of enlightened racial sensitivity (although pissing off an entire cohort seems like a bad idea), but because it diverts resources and attention from the next round of Islamist terrorists who could be Indonesian Islamists, Filipino Islamists, or black American Islamists. Not to mention the random white, Christian terrorists like Tim McVeigh.

She concludes her book with the Winston Churchill quote “Facts are better than dreams.”

Yes they are, even when the dreams are nightmares.

It would be outrageous of me to claim that she manufactured the media event in order to sell a book. That would be projecting as badly – or worse – as I believe she is in amplifying her anxiety during her flight. But that kind of fantastic projection is just what she engages in, and the subject – our vulnerability – is far more important.

Terror and Remembrance

It’s the 4th anniversary of 9/11, and in some ways, it seems that it has receded into the past.

Donovan Janus points out that on the websites of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and London Times, there are only minor mentions of the anniversary.

The Post’s lead article is headlined “Date’s Significance Could Fade” – well, yes it may – if the gatekeepers in the media encourage it to. I’m going to do my part to see that it doesn’t.

There will be a time when 9/11 and the war the Islamists have declared on the West will have receded into the past and be worthy of minor remembrance.

We’re not there yet.