This really is frightening.
Terrorist incidents tell us nothing new about human nature. We already knew that people are capable of horrendous violence, especially when they have come to regard some other subset of human beings as unworthy of full human status. It’s not surprising, then, to see the terrorists of Somalia’s loathsome al-Shabaab movement violating all laws of humanity by slaughtering innocent victims of all ages. People can become monsters, and they did in the Nairobi mall attack that began on September 21.
What really is alarming, though, is to see terrorists create a radical new tactic against which there is no obvious response or defense. There was nothing surprising, for instance, in the idea that terrorists might hijack airliners, but only in 2001 did we realize that hijackers might use them for suicide attacks, turning those aircraft into deadly missiles. Nairobi has just shown us another horrible innovation. It might be that we won’t realize how effective this could be against the U.S. until we face yet another day when we are counting the dead in their hundreds. We have to confront this issue immediately.
Think about it. How would one attack a shopping mall, whether in Nairobi or Minneapolis? Presumably a number of pickup trucks draw up in the parking lot, and 20 or so armed men and women get out, carrying their weapons and ammunition. Then they enter the mall and begin killing until they can do no more harm. They are strictly limited by the number of bullets and grenades they can carry. When police and military forces arrive, the terrorists might hold out for an hour or two before being eliminated.
That’s one way to do it, but it’s clearly not what happened in Nairobi, where firefights were still in progress several days after the initial assault. Even more amazing, terrorists were still putting up resistance against strong Kenyan forces, reputedly trained and assisted by British and Israeli special forces.
How on earth did the terrorists do it? Why, they rented a store. Read More…
Wednesday, much of Washington, D.C. was shocked by the news of a shooting at Navy Yard. Some buildings went into lockdown. At least one intern got a frightened call from her father. A fellow employee asked me if my husband was safe. But 12 people are dead, and their loved ones now mourn. It was shocking and tragic.
But from media, we hear a familiar regurgitation of anger and disdain. Every time there’s a tragic shooting, the pro-gun and anti-gun commentators raise their voices. The “I told you so!” messages ricochet off each other, with finger pointing and lambasting on both sides. Commentators respond to these deaths as they have to so many—at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and others—with an upsurge of political debate on gun control. In addition, there always seems to be an in-depth psychoanalysis— sometimes akin to morbid fascination—of the killer.
It is true that, in light of the tragedy, some consideration of gun policy is probably a matter-of-course. But to launch into this debate within hours of the shootings seems insensitive and careless. We forget that killing is messy and erratic, and killers even more frighteningly unpredictable. We forget that there is no way to stop all evil people from ever doing evil things, as long as the human mind is possessed with creativity and cleverness. We forget that guns can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and that something must be done to protect the vulnerable.
But most of all, we forget the killed: the people with mourning loved ones, lives cut short. There were 12 of them Monday—NBC News shared their names and stories:
Michael Arnold, 59
Sylvia Frasier, 53
Kathy Gaarde, 62
John Roger Johnson, 73
Frank Kohler, 50
Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46
Vishnu Pandit, 61
Arthur Daniels, 51
Mary Francis Knight, 51
Gerald L. Read, 58
Martin Bodrog, 54
Michael Ridgell, 52
Kenneth Proctor loved the Redskins. Vishnu Pandit was a native of Bombay, India, who “took great pride in being employed by the United States Navy.” Martin Bodrog had three daughters and taught Sunday School at church. Arthur Daniels’ wife and family shared their story on a local TV channel last night: “Priscilla says her husband Arthur had worked at the Navy Yard off and on as a handyman for 17 years. She says he left for work on Monday at 6:45 a.m. and wasn’t heard from again.” The couple had been married for 30 years, with five children and nine grandchildren.
There are responses to the shootings worth praising for their genuine concern. Rev. Andrew Royals at St. Vincent de Paul, blocks away from the Navy Yard, opened the church doors for mass. Attendees prayed for the victims.
In our democracy, we can be happy that public discourse and media give us the right to comment on important policy issues. But perhaps we need reminding that such a right comes with the responsibility to use it well, for the sake of all those who grieve today.
The estimable Front Porch Republic will host its upcoming conference, titled “City People, Country People: Being a Localist In the Megalopolis,” in Claremont, California. Event speakers include TAC contributors Bill Kauffman and Jeremy Beer. The conference will also contain a screening of recent Maxwell film Copperhead (reviewed by TAC contributor Jordan Bloom in June).
The conference will explore the ideas of place and community in a growing urban and suburban landscape, and strive to determine how people “enmeshed in a massive (sub)urban expanse” can cultivate community and live sustainably. As co-sponsors of the event and friends of FPR, we strongly encourage you to attend.
Here is the program:
Friday, September 20
7:30 p.m. Screening of Copperhead followed by Q&A with screenwriter Bill Kauffman (Rose Hills Theater)
Saturday, September 21
8:30 a.m. Continental Breakfast (Rose Hills Theater Lobby)
9:00 a.m. Introduction (Rose Hills Theater)
Susan McWilliams, Pomona College
9:15 a.m. “The Good Twenty-First-Century City” (Rose Hills Theater)
Chair: Lily Geismer, Claremont McKenna College
Panelists: Phillip Bess, University of Notre Dame School of Architecture; Peter Dreier, Occidental College; Ted McAllister, Pepperdine University
10:45 a.m. “The Possibilities of Work in the New World” (Rose Hills Theater)
Chair: John Seery, Pomona College
Panelists: Susan McWilliams, Pomona College; Andrew Yuengert, Pepperdine University; TBD
12:15 p.m. Lunch and Keynote Address (Rose Hills Theater and Lobby)
“I Can’t Believe You’re From L.A.: Los Angeles as a Cultural Center”
Speaker: Dana Gioia, author and former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts
2:00 p.m. “Food in the Megalopolis” (Rose Hills Theater)
Chair: Jeff Polet, Hope College
Panelists: Nancy Neiman Auerbach, Scripps College; William Barndt, Pitzer College; Jason Peters, Augustana College
3:30 p.m. “Philanthropy, Localism, and Hypermobility” (Rose Hills Theater)
Chair: William Schambra, Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal
Panelists: Jeremy Beer, American Philanthropic; David Bosworth, University of Washington; Alicia Manning, Bradley Foundation;
4:45 p.m. Closing Remarks (Rose Hills Theater)
Mark T. Mitchell, Patrick Henry College
Late yesterday, the Treasury Department announced that it will be delaying the employer mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) by one year. Treasury’s ostensible reason is to simplify reporting requirements, but Josh Barro explains that is either lame or fake. In short, the Obama Administration is having difficulty implementing its signature legislative achievement, and so is pushing it back to try and ward off some of the consequences of a bungled law.
Last week, the Supreme Court overturned a federal law (DOMA), which having declared it unconstitutional, the Department of Justice had already refused to defend in court. The Court simultaneously denied standing to a California group seeking to defend ballot initiative Proposition 8, which had amended the California constitution to ban gay marriage. The California executive had refused to defend that popularly passed measure, and so the amendment was defeated by ultimate default after being struck down by a lower court.
What these have in common is an executive tradition with an ever increasing sense that it is not only the executor of the laws, but the legislator and judge as well.
In the latest issue of National Affairs, Tevi Troy detailed how Team Romney planned to implement their “pledge to repeal Obamacare.” Troy acknowledged that “even in the optimistic scenarios that had Romney winning the Presidency,” the GOP would lack full control of the Senate, and so “a straight-up, all-out repeal was unlikely.” As Jordan described previously, their strategy was: “eat away at enough of the the thing that collapse is inevitable and repeal seems like the better option to Senate Democrats.”
Because of the great “leeway” given to the HHS in making key decisions about Obamacare, Romney’s team of experts concluded that, “in the hands of an administration eager for repeal,” it would be possible “to effectively nullify the new system through a carefully choreographed series of executive actions.” Troy says “the regulatory rollback would have been so complete that we were confident Obamacare never could have gotten off the ground,” and a better designed system could be pushed to replace it.
Such an initiative would have come under great contumely, and provoked a great outcry from Democratic circles and the media, who would have rightly called it a breach of the principle that the executive should enforce Congress’s duly passed laws. Congress has abdicated so much legislative authority to the executive branch, however, that it has enabled any arbitrary implementation and enforcement of its laws that satisfy any executive’s political concerns.
In related news, the Dodd-Frank financial system reform still has significant regulations outstanding as pressure is brought on regulators to delay and water down another complex mess of well-intentioned legislation. And before the administration began its push for immigration reform, it ramped up enforcement of border laws so as to mollify conservative critics, but those same critics have no recourse if the administration should slack at enforcement after passage.
More, and more, it seems, laws are seen as a signals to the executive and bureaucracy of topics to take up and dispose of as they please, rather than specific instructions in need of execution. That should trouble all of us.
After a surge of recent protests, Egypt’s military issued an ultimatum on Monday, giving Morsi two days to appease the demonstrators. If he does not comply, the military will impose its own ‘road map for the future.’
Some have called this Egypt’s “Second Revolution.” The question, however, is whether its first revolution was ever completed.
In January 2011, Over 50,000 protesters first filled Tahrir Square. News websites noted how “rare” and “unusually large” such demonstrations were. Even after toppling long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak, the protests continued to fester and build over the next 10 months and into November. After the provisional government offered its resignation to the supreme military council, things quieted somewhat in December and January.
However, sporadic protests continued in February, March, and April 2012. In June, demonstrators protested the Supreme Court’s dissolution of the Islamist-led parliament. In July, they protested when the court froze Morsi’s decree to reinstate the parliament.
When Morsi assumed legislative powers on August 12, the people responded with mixed support and protest. After the court acquitted 24 people associated with the 2011 “Battle of the Camels,” activists and political parties called for a nationwide protest on October 12. That same week, anti-Morsi protesters accused the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to take over the country.
When Morsi issued a presidential decree on November 22 immunizing his decrees from challenge, demonstrators again filled Tahrir Square. Violent clashes erupted between protesters and the police.
In December 2012, Egypt Independent reported that Egypt had plunged into a “political crisis,” with “deadly” demonstrations by Morsi supporters and opponents. On January 24, demonstrators and police clashed on the eve of the second anniversary of Mubarak’s overthrow.
Last month, a purported 14 million anti-Morsi protesters gathered across the country. They were using their 2011 revolution slogan: “The people demand the ouster of the regime.”
After looking at the two-year timeline, it appears that Egypt’s protests have never fully stopped – not for more than a few months. The country is stuck in a cycle of protesting, violence, attempted appeasement, and more protesting. The current demonstrators are in Tahrir Square with the same reasons – and even the same words – given in January 2011.
Perhaps this exhibits one of the weaknesses of protesting. While Tahrir Square demonstrations have enabled angry Egyptians to gather and vent frustrations, they have not effectively changed the status quo. As noted by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, this is a “leaderless movement.” The Egypt opposition has yet to provide a viable alternative to authoritarian rule – and without a strategy, they cannot establish order. Egypt’s only order, in the midst of the chaos, has come from its military and political leaders. Unfortunately, the “order” these leaders impose is often unjust. But without a feasible substitute, they will maintain power.
The 1789 French Revolution is one example of effective protesting, as the French managed to topple their monarch and “make their voice heard.” However, the ensuing Reign of Terror was characterized by death and destruction. Few protests seem to generate order from their chaos. It is impossible to deny that chaos and injustice have riddled Egypt’s protests. Tahrir Square has had its fill of sexual assault, violence, and vandalism. A mass of angry protesters will never create order or equality – not on their own, at least. Not without a thoughtful, judicious plan.
Unfortunately, in Egypt’s case, there is no plan. And after two years of nearly constant civil unrest, one wonders whether they will ever find one.
Raw footage of the blast is harrowing: a father and son filming the fire at the West, Texas fertilizer plant were close enough to be shaken and deafened by the explosion.
The Telegraph has a somewhat less disturbing clip of moment of detonation in the report below. The plant contains more than 12 times as much chemical fertilizer as was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
We had a death in the family and had to go up to central New Jersey for the funeral last weekend. It was extremely difficult finding a room as most of the hotels are still full of people who are homeless as a result of hurricane Sandy. When I did find a vacancy online, I quickly moved to lock it in with my credit card. The reservation bounced back, with a message telling me that the room was no longer the $130 posted price but had instead increased to $160. I did the reservation form a second time only to have yet another message pop up telling me that the price had increased to $190, plus tax. I reserved the room at that price as I had no choice. I wondered to what extent the hotels were playing the same trick with FEMA, with the State of New Jersey emergency management, and with the hapless survivors who were paying their own way.
We talked to a number of people who had lived on or near the Jersey Shore. Many were either retired or were approaching the end of their working careers and had lost absolutely everything in the storm. The entire Shore area has been reconfigured and whole communities embracing a specific economy and way of life have been swept away. Many homeowners did not have flood insurance as it was prohibitive (upwards of $4000 per annum I was told). Like New Orleans, this was a disaster that will play out over many years as reconfiguration and reconstruction take place in the peculiar New Jersey human environment that combines widespread corruption with sometimes astonishing altruism. Our local best-in-New Jersey pizzeria (a significant accolade) had lost its power for a week but was up and running overtime when we arrived dishing out hundreds of free pies to people who had lost their homes. Read More…
As I write, Barack Obama has been declared the winner of the 2012 election. He will compile an impressive victory in the Electoral College. By my projections at least a 313-213 victory. And it could be larger than that when Florida and Ohio are finally counted. But Romney made a respectable showing in the popular vote, one that would have been surprising before the first debate made a Republican comeback victory seem temporarily possible.
We’ve already gone over the reasons Romney lost. The Republican coalition is shriveling, the Democrats are growing. Romney was an unliked nominee who failed to compete for the very voters that powered Republicans to re-take the House in 2010. I think he is an admirable guy in some ways, but harnessing the passions of the GOP and riding them into the White House was a task beyond the abilities of the hyper-competent, hard-working moderate.
It’s a bad night for social conservatives, in fact it is almost a complete reversal of 2004. Same sex marriage won on the ballot in Maryland and Maine. Obama did not really propose anything new on the economy or foreign policy fronts, but he did make contraception, rape, and Roe v. Wade a large part of this campaign. He constantly portrayed Romney as a man with “the social policies of the 1950s.” Apparently this worked. If there is one thought that comforts me (and perhaps some readers), it is that the chances of courts striking down the “contraceptive mandate” that impinges on religious freedom seem very good. However, Obama’s second term will mean that a future American judiciary may be more open to that sort of thing.
Because changing demographics are such a huge part of Obama’s formula, it is going to cause Republicans to discuss how they can attract a more diverse pool of voters. Inevitably this will focus on Hispanics. I expect tonight’s results will be used as an argument for automatically nominating Florida Senator Marco Rubio for 2016.
But in reality the more pressing problem is that Republicans are still a party badly damaged by the George W. Bush years. The GOP has traditionally held huge advantages on foreign policy and the economy. That advantage is gone now. And Mitt Romney was the wrong candidate to give the party a refresh on those issues, particularly when the gettable voters were downscale whites. It isn’t that Republicans aren’t reaching enough voters; voters simply don’t believe the GOP is competent to govern.
We heard a great deal about Israel in last night’s debate. Obama repeated several times that Israel is “a true friend and our greatest ally in the region.” Romney tried to outdo him, promising that he’d prosecute Iran’s Prime Minister for threatening to “wipe Israel off the map”. As President, Romney claimed,
I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it. I would also make sure that their diplomats are treated like the pariah they are around the world. The same way we treated the apartheid diplomats of South Africa.
The promise to indict Ahmadinejad is mere posturing: the President doesn’t have the authority to indict anyone for anything. The reference to South Africa, on the other hand, is more interesting because it exposes Romney’s ignorance of the morally ambiguous realities of foreign affairs.
In the first place, Romney seems unaware that “we” did not treat South Africa as a pariah until quite late in the game. In the 1970s, the Nixon administration regarded the apartheid regime as a key ally against the spread of Communism. That strategy became untenable in the 1980s. Even so, President Reagan and prominent Republicans in Congress including Dick Cheney consistently resisted efforts to recognize the ANC, which they regarded (with some justice) as a terrorist organization. In Romney’s view of history, the forces of good are always clearly aligned against the “bad guys”. It just isn’t so.
Much the same is true of Israel. Although Israel publicly opposed apartheid, the 1975 Israel-South Africa Agreement established close military links in response to both countries’ international isolation. On some accounts, that included nuclear cooperation. According to Romney, Iran can’t be trusted with a nuclear weapon because of the fundamental injustice of its government. But Israel may have helped his paradigm of a pariah state acquire the same weapons.
And what about Israel itself? Romney implicitly condemns apartheid as an intolerable violation of human rights. According to a survey released today, however, 58 percent of Israel’s own citizens believe that it practices apartheid policies. What’s more, many Israelis are quite satisfied with that state of affairs. The ultra-Orthodox, in particular, express overwhelming approval for denying votes, jobs, and even public roads to Arabs both within Israel proper and in the territories.
My point here is not that Israel is identical to South Africa. Bad as things are there, especially in the territories, there’s room for improvement within the existing political and legal system. That was not the case under apartheid.
But, as his secretly-recorded remarks indicates, Romney is unable to imagine how that improvement might occur. That’s because he imposes a largely simplistic script onto the messy, wrenching events and circumstances that constitute international affairs. We just had a president who saw the world with what he was pleased to regard as similar clarity. We will be lucky to avoid another.
I find presidential debates painful to watch. The main reason is that isn’t they aren’t really debates, at least in the traditional sense of extended presentations of dueling arguments on a single, predetermined subject. When Abraham Lincoln confronted Stephen Douglas in 1858, the opening speaker spoke for an hour, was followed by a 90 minute response from his opponent, and then offered a 30 minute rebuttal (Lincoln and Douglas alternated speaking first). The encounter between Obama and Romney two weeks ago, by contrast, consisted of a series ten-minute segments in which the candidates answered questions posed by a moderator.
That format transforms ancient tradition of political rhetoric into a kind of dual interview. As such, it encourages the participants to pursue “zingers” and non-sequitur soundbites. There’s no question that Romney’s performance was more effective than Obama’s. Read in transcript, however, it develops no argument or vision.
There’s reason to expect that tomorrow’s encounter will be even more inane. One problem is the “townhall” format, in which voters ask impromptu questions. Leaving the choice of subjects to a moderator is bad enough: who cares what Jim Lehrer thinks is worth discussing? But soliciting questions from a relatively large audience almost guarantees incoherence.
A second problem is that participation in the townhall meeting will be limited to undecided voters. That means that they’ll be representative of only a tiny slice of the electorate: about 6% of likely voters, according to Reuters. Why should their questions have priority over other citizens?
It’s bad enough that citizens whose views reflect the vast majority of likely voters are excluded from the debate. What’s even worse is that undecideds are, speaking generally, the least informed and interested of likely voters. They haven’t made up their minds because they don’t know or care much about politics. As a result, they tend to be more concerned with character and manner than ideological commitments or specific policies.
The campaigns can’t be blamed for using debates to go after the few “sellable” voters who remain. Journalists and commentators, however, should not be shy about identifying the farcical character of the exercise. With the exception of the Nixon-Kennedy encounter in 1960, debates between the nominees became a regular feature of presidential politics only in 1976. Unless the candidates want to return to something resembling Lincoln and Douglas’s example, we’d be better off without them.