If Everyone has a Gun, Someone is Going to get Shot (Part II)

First this little tidbit to get your morning going:

The United Arab Emirates has secretly dispatched hundreds of Colombian mercenaries to Yemen to fight in that country’s raging conflict, adding a volatile new element in a complex proxy war that has drawn in the United States and Iran.

The arrival in Yemen of 450 Latin American troops — among them are also Panamanian, Salvadoran and Chilean soldiers — adds to the chaotic stew of government armies, armed tribes, terrorist networks and Yemeni militias currently at war in the country. Earlier this year, a coalition of countries led by Saudi Arabia, including the United States, began a military campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels who have pushed the Yemeni government out of the capital, Sana.

Yep, the whole world is festering with unhappy souls, and we are arming them to the teeth.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Okay, I promised to solve the Middle Eastern crisis in one simple blog.  You know, it is a great responsibility and not easy trying to save the world from my iPad in the morning, usually in one page or less.  But somebody has to do it because our mainstream press asks really important questions like, “Marco, what non-politician would you like to sit down and have a beer with?”  If that weren’t bad enough, he answered Malala who is probably underage and a Muslim (doesn’t drink).  I rest my case on the brain trust that is running for President on the Republican side.

Okay, the common perception is that ISIS is the problem.  So the easy answer (see Lindsey Graham) is to send in our troops and wipe them out.  However, we have the vacuum problem.  Who fills the vacuum after we go or do we just stay there forever being the policeman of the world? It’s what we did before. You get the problem.

But there really is a more fundamental problem which many have pointed out has to be dealt with or the problem just keeps raising its ugly head. This problem is the lust for  religious totalitarianism that cannot abide any other beliefs.  It is not just Islam, Christianity has this in its blood stream also, but we have a more tame version where if you don’t believe the “right” way you are just damned to hell.  God will get you in the end and that is good enough. That’s actually a comforting thought for us atheists since we think God is a figment of the imagination anyway.  And I am always reminded of priest and pastors who are “right” thinking, sexually abusing their flock.

The good news, like Christianity, most Muslims are quite happy with live and let live, so part of the solution is to mobilize them against the more crazy Muslims.  When we see shows like The Book of Mormon, being played out as The Book of Mohammed, we know we have arrived.  All kidding aside, just getting the discussion going without death threats within the Muslim world would be a big start. So whatever we do, that has to be part of the solution.

The next thing we have to do is recognize that what we have been doing does not work, period.  And from Libya to Yemen to Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan, our many varied approaches have yielded very little unless of course you manufacture and sell arms or more sadly, if you are in the medical rehabilitation field.  Oh, and it has worked swimmingly if you sell dilapidated boats to refugees.  So we have a region in chaos, millions migrating to Europe, and ISIS and al Qaeda exporting war to our shores.  Not what I would call a success.

So we throw everything we think we know away.  That includes established borders and who are our friends and foes.  Next we have to lay out our goals.  I know this is Project Management 101, but apparently those in charge could use a little.  Here would be my goals:

  1. Destroy ISIS and al Qaeda (and the idea of intolerant religions)
  2. Separate the warring factions and quit trying to get them to hold hands (Iraq)
  3. Stand behind our American principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (did I forget minority rights (Think women here)?)
  4. End the refugee crisis

For Goal 1, we make whatever deals we have to except allowing a war criminal like Assad to remain in power.  If we do let him stay in power, it will be self-defeating and violate Goal 3.  There are going to have to be some Americans involved and NATO has to step up to the plate, along with primarily Arab ground troops.  This includes putting the screws to Pakistan who have nurtured al Qaeda and the Taliban in their territories.

As part of this, we are going to have to establish a no-fly zone and using NATO  forces secure it so the refugees do not have to go to Europe (Goal 4).  This will also require massive humanitarian aid, to build a modern place to be safe while the nuts can fight their wars elsewhere.  Cause trouble and out you go. This could even become a proving ground for a modern Arab government, but tightly managed by NATO to ensure no backsliding.

To make the deals to in fact get an Arab force to fight ISIS and al Qaeda (and maybe Assad), they have to know that they get some of the spoils.  Since we have seen how promising an inclusive government does not work, they get to control the areas they win (Goal 2).  Iraq would probably become three areas (remember Joe Bidden said this years ago), Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish.

Syria could go the same way.  Turkey is in for a rough comeuppance. Since they have facilitated the flow of oil and people into and out of Syria. Russia is not going to like this, but they either play along or get confronted.  Better now than later.  They can either play and have a role in a new Syrian government or they become part of the problem. The whole pack of nations has to clamp down on the flow of money and arms.  Remember this is a world solution to a creeping cancer.

Finally, the big one, Goal 3.  This is really what brings the Middle East into the 21st century and makes us a more civilized world. We help them separate and survive only as long as they promote the values of life, liberty, and happiness.  If they become like Saudi Arabia, they are just a ticking time bomb and will eventually go off, and not peacefully.  If we are going to solve this, we have to recognize that some cultures are not just different, they are destructive to the human spirit.  We have to use our force, influence, and money to become the good guy again.

One last thing.  We are not going to be the policeman of the world.  If it doesn’t work out, we walk away and let them fester in stupidity.  The only time we (NATO) get involved is if like ISIS, they start posing an international problem.  Then we squash them.  See, that was not so hard. Now with this framework in hand, and France now probably fully on board, let’s see if we can make some headway because this is a world problem and only a world solution will work.

If Everyone has a Gun, Someone is Going to be Shot

It was in my mind just a matter of time until someone had a conflagration with Russia.  Ha! you thought I was going to talk about gun control in the U.S.  Well I will in a minute.  A Russian fighter jet was shot down today, allegedly flying over Turkish territory.  I wonder why you have to kill people to make a point?  It just complicates an already very complicated situation.  As an ex-back seater in a fighter my first thought was wondering if the crew got out.  Apparently they did to be murdered either while parachuting down or after they landed by Syrian rebels.  These are our pals.  Isn’t that a war crime?

First the gun thing.  No one will see it, but if you arm everyone in the Middle East, and that is exactly what we and others have done, there will be endless violence.  The hate and retribution just go on and on.  If everyone in the U.S. has a gun, we will at one point or another take a shot at someone.  So if guns don’t kill people, people do, should we ban people and leave the guns free to do what they want?

So with that sort of meandering intro, what should we do about the Middle East.  And the real question is what can be done?  In my perfect world, we would quit supplying them arms and let them sort it out.  But we have supplied them with arms and millions are leaving the area, while the religious fanatics are importing their violence to the civilized world.  So option one, the perfect world solution is out.

Now the first thing we have to do is sort through all the challenges.  Apparently Shiites and Sunnis cannot live together and share power.  Too much baggage and the natural proclivity to usurp your neighbor if he has more than you do.  In Iraq, that simply means the country has to be broken up and that will be no easy task since some parts have oil and other parts are poor.  And of course throw in the Kurds who seem to be able to handle modernity better than the rest of the cultures there.  Then we have the Turks afraid of a modern Kurdish nation that could cause trouble with the Turkish Kurds who might want to break away from Turkey.

Then you have all the power plays at the national level.  Iran wants a pal in a Sunni world so they have backed Assad who is a war criminal, but maybe the only game in town to fight ISIS.  The Saudis, who probably gave birth to all these religious fanatics, and are still a source of funding, are terrified of a strong Iran, yet do not want to become too embroiled in a war against radicals that could stir up unrest in Saudi Arabia.

Then you have ISIS, al-Qaeda, and throw in Pakistan, because without their tolerance of the rebels in their territories, they would cease to exist.  Oh, and Pakistan has nukes and we give them lots of money to not attack India.  Did I miss anything?  Oh yeah, Russia, who wants to project power in the region so Putin can strut around the Moscow square.  Now I think I have it all.  Just remember that they are all swimming in guns and ammo so there is a lot of shooting going on.

I think I am going to have to make this a two-parter because there really is a lot to discuss.  Now we seem to be fine with most of the above until first al-Qaeda and then ISIS imported their violence out of the region, the latest being the Paris shootings.

And there is one other major challenge we seem to avoid like it was a pool of Ebola tainted blood, religion.  These are at the heart, religious wars, and dare I say it, Islamic radical fundamentalists wars.  We can’t seem to see that ISIS is a religion and is part of Islam, just as we can’t quite admit that the Christian religion has the same strains of tyrannical mono-theism at the root of the problem if we wanted to act crazy and intolerant like the radical Muslims are.  Well actually if you look at all the “good” Christians running for president on the Republican side, it is actually raising its ugly head again.

It is important to recognize all these issues because to solve it, if it can be solved, or at least create a way forward, is to recognize all the problems because then it becomes quite clear that simple-minded solutions are not going to work.  In that vein, Republican presidential candidates need not apply for solving anything.  Okay tomorrow, I will think/write out loud, giving all of the above, what one possible way forward might be.  The only other person to do this is Hillary and you might want to think about that America.  We can shoot ourselves in the foot again with Republican cowboy solutions, or we can see what is really possible with the least blow back and proceed accordingly.

Okay now I will see you tomorrow when I figure this thing out.

Ready, Shoot, Aim

From the Daily Beast:

Ben Carson told an ABC News reporter on Monday that he “saw the film” of American Muslims cheering after the World Trade Center fell on 9/11, an unverified claim about unspecified people, perpetuated by recent statements from Donald Trump. His reference to a “film” is allegedly U.S. news coverage from around the time; though no such film has been known to exist. Several hours later, Carson’s campaign said the candidate “apologizes” for a factual mistake and that he meant he saw footage from the Middle East of people celebrating the attacks; not from New Jersey.

So this is how the man forms opinons and positions on issues?  Donald Trump is just as bad.  Feed them some garbage they want to believe anyway, and that is what sticks in their minds as truth.  Now it is widely known that most of what they have said or believe is more in error than true, yet the fine morons from Iowa like these guys.  I can hear it now.  Opps, sorry about that nuke, but at the time it seemed like a good idea.  Is this a great country or not?

Why Would You Live in LA

Well, here is a blog written by someone who has never lived there and in the last 20 years has only seen LA from the edge of the freeway going through it, so judge accordingly.  I made my yearly trip down to San Diego to visit my son so I get my yearly taste of LA traffic and I-5 ignoramuses.  I wrote about the drive last year (Going Crazy Driving I-5) and my fantasy for a roof mounted rocket launcher on my car.  This year two things struck me as representative of where we have arrived at.

The first is that while the speed limit on I-5 is 70 mph, that would be in the slow lane.  But from time to time you either have a truck passing a truck or some ignoramus actually only driving 70 mph (or slower) in the fast lane, which slows everything down.  But generally everyone will que up in the left lane waiting for a their turn to finally clear the offending motorist and resume warp factor 5.  But there are always those who refuse the que, and come zipping up on the right and then try to cut back into the que when they get near the front.  I like to think of them as Republicans.  The rules only apply to others.

The other striking revelation is LA freeways.  What a mess.  The trip through LA on a Saturday morning added an additional 1.5 hours of travel time to the normal trip duration if you could have maintain even close to the speed limit.  There were a couple of times as we were creeping along that I was thankful for the creeping as the freeway looked like a giant pothole.  And of course there is construction everywhere.  You know those shows in LA like NCIS Los Angeles or Scorpion when they jump in their cars to get to some crime scene?  Right, not happening in a 1-hour time slot.

But how did we let our freeways get in such a state that a horse and buggy would be quicker?  I am sure like the residents of San Francisco, the residence of LA know their short cuts on city streets that keep them out of the log jams on the freeways, but again, how did we get here?  Why did we let things get so bad before we take action?  That seems to be the question of our times.  We can see this stuff coming and yet until we are sitting in a traffic jam we can’t seem to force ourselves to plan ahead.  Again I harken back to Republicans who think these things will be taken care of by the private sector, when government planning and investment are necessary.

The only flaw in that logic is that as soon as you enter Orange County (Republican stronghold) the freeways widen, Disneyland is coming up, and the carpool lane is actually two lanes. You ever seen a two lane carpool (HOV) set aside? I guess that says something about an affluent tax base and power to influence where transportation funds are spend.  Too bad LA county could not get in on that.  Of course then there is the problem of how you rebuild and expand a freeway system that you can’t get to because of the traffic jam that is parked over it.

So I will be looking for a longer route to San Diego which bypasses LA.  As you get older it is really important you keep moving so the next rest stop is not hours away.  Going home we will do it in the middle of the night. I wonder if the cat will forgive me for being gone.  The dog went to dog Disneyland so at least she will be okay with us being gone. Maybe irked that we came home.  You just can’t win.

Sadly, Crazy People Vote and the Rest of Us Not So Much

There was an interesting story in the NYT written by a person that asks the same question I do over and over again, why do people hurt by Republican politics vote Republican. Now there can be some obvious examples where people who have been helped by safety nets then turn against them because they perceive it just facilitating joblessness.  The other is that there is a whole class of citizens who believe that the poor just deserve to be poor.  They fail to see the connection between passing tax cuts for the wealthy and the smaller and smaller share of the pie that they get to share.

But then there are the surveys that show that the majority of Americans, when polled on specific issues, are much more liberal than conservative.  So what gives?  Well, Alec MacGillis in his article, Who Turned My Blue State Red, made the case that they weren’t voting against their best interests, they weren’t voting:

In eastern Kentucky and other former Democratic bastions that have swung Republican in the past several decades, the people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process. 

When he surveyed the poor going to a free health clinic, he found that most who availed themselves of these services did not vote and were poorly informed about health care policy in general.  His prescriptions for Democrats to re-energize these voters was to redouble efforts in poor communities who no longer had unions or other organizations to represent them.  To reduce the resentment of those above the poverty line that see more and more people dependent on support using it as a crutch to not work, find ways to increase economic growth in their area.  Hmm.

Sadly people generally don’t see the consequences of their actions until it’s too late.  So far Democrats have been able to prevent the worst effects of Republican policies on this class so they remain oblivious.  As I watch our reaction to Syrian refugee-terrorists, that as far as I can tell don’t exist, I have little hope for rational arguments.  Somehow this country seems to have lost the ability to let rational thinking guide us over emotional outbursts.  I fear that as we dumb down our nation, we get dumbed down policies until it personally impacts us and then we wake up.

I guess in some ways I am like that angry nurse described in the piece who while turning her life around with the safety net when she needed it, felt resentful of the people she now helped with that same safety net because they took everything for granted.  She voted Republican because she felt there really was a hammock that allowed them to recline when they should be giving back.  I feel resentful because a lot of us fight really hard for their welfare and they can’t be bothered to vote.

We are facing immense problems today, the biggest being an over heated planet and a distressed ocean, and most could care less.  And they won’t care even with all the scientific arguments in the world until it is too late and then they will wonder why somebody didn’t do something about it.  How you get them out of their focus on their own navel and recognize that they are those somebodies is beyond me.

An Important Insight

We are starting to have a real discussion about what the problem is with ISIS and al Qaeda and how to deal with it. I have my opinions, but they are pliable.  They are pliable because it is such a complex problem that does not lend itself to easy answers.  Send in the Marines!  We did that last time and when we left, the vacuum was filled by terrorists.  Are we to be there forever?  Can non-Muslims really solve anything?  Sunnis, Shites, Kurds, Russian pride, Iranian fear of Sunnis and Saudi Arabia, Turkish fear of the Kurds, and boundaries that don’t make sense make it a complex mix and the answer is not just send in the calvary.

There is an extreme opinion that the problem at the heart of everything is Islam.  I have expressed that myself, but I am biased against most religions. There is criticism that Democrats can’t say radical Islamic fundamentalism for fear of alienating all Muslims.  But I won’t give you my argument tonight, but  Maajid Narwaz, a Muslim, who wrote in the Daily Beast today something we ought to all think about in regard to al Qaeda and ISIS.  Here are a few quotes and then I will make my point:

Recognizing this as an insurgency affects entirely how we react to it. We cannot simply shoot or even legislate our way out of this problem. Unlike war, counter-insurgency rests on the assumption that the enemy has significant enough levels of support within the communities it aims to survive among. Recognizing the source of that support means avoiding the apologism of the far left or the sensationalism of the far right. Both of these reactions will render us blind to the real wellspring of this insurgency’s appeal: the Islamist ideology, as distinct from the religion of Islam.

President Obama, and many liberals, shy away from calling this ideology Islamism. Their fear is that both Muslim communities and those on the political right will simply hear the word “Islam” and begin to blame all Muslims. Instead, the mantra that is repeated is “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam.”

ISIS did not radicalize those 6,000 European Muslims who have traveled to join them. ISIS propaganda is good, but not that good. No, decades of Islamist propaganda in communities had already primed these young Muslims to yearn for a theocratic caliphate.

…Islam is what Muslims make it. But it is as disingenuous to argue that ISIS has “nothing to do with Islam” as it is to argue that “they are Islam.” ISIS has something to do with Islam. Not nothing, not everything, but something. If you’re going to talk to a jihadist—and believe me, I have spoken to many—you’re not going to find yourself discussing Hitler’s Mein Kampf. You’ll be discussing Islamic texts.

…Islam is a religion, and like any other it is internally diverse. But Islamism is the desire to impose a very particular version of Islam on society. Hence, Islamism is Muslim theocracy. And where jihad is a traditional Islamic idea of struggle, jihadism is the use of force to spread Islamism. Defined in this way, it becomes easier to understand how this global jihadist insurgency seeks to recruit from Islamists, who in turn operate among Muslim communities.

…We should be able to distinguish Islamist extremism from Islam by clarifying that Islam is simply a religion and that Islamism is a theocratic desire to impose a version of that religion over society. And once we do that, we are then able to clearly identify the insurgent ideology that we must get understand, isolate, undermine, refute, and provide alternatives to.

Okay where am I and where do I think Maajid is going with this?  Maajid is a Muslim and I am an atheist.  And in that distinction we see the same thing.  Maajid, I believe, finds comfort and truth in his religion.  I find religion nonsense, although I recognize its utility.  But both of us have no need to conquer the world with our beliefs.  In fact we see the utility of the diversity of beliefs.  My view is that Islamism is no different than those who wish to legislate their religious beliefs into our U.S. constitutional system.  Conservative right wing religious organizations want to prevent you from excercising rights they find religiously objectionable.  They are not content with the freedom to abstain, they must make sure you do too (Hobby Lobby).

What we see is the intolerance of religious belief.  And the point Maajid is trying to make is that the seeds of this theocracy of belief is in the religion itself.  To deny it is to not be able to face head on the real problem.  Islam is not inherently evil nor is Christianity from my atheistic point of view.  But the seeds for it being used for evil are within the religion and unless we face that head on, we are spinning our wheels.  Amen brother.

Oh, and one other thing.  The media is all over how maybe these insurgent radical jihadist groups are combining forces.  Get a grip.  These are really small groups with radical and deadly tendencies that can cause havoc in civilized society because they are not afraid to die.  But they will never work together because in the end each is seeking power through their fantasy of religion and they are never going to agree on whose fantasy is the right one. In reality it is just another power trip.  If they were successful in establishing a caliphate together, it would be a short period before they would be warring against each other in a fight for whose vision of the perfect caliphate is right and who was in charge.  Or as it ever was.

The Race to Madness

This past week has been like a trip back in history where ignorance, racism, and xenophobia were normal American political carrion calls.  Now the Donald tells us maybe registering all Muslims is a good idea.  A Democratic Mayor in Virginia thinks the “good” example of the Japanese internment during WWII could be used again.  Ben Carson, suggested refugees of the Syrian conflict should be screened as they might be “rabid dogs”.  And of course we have this moronic bill the House just passed to “toughen” up the standards for refugee status.  And it all is what it sounds like, racism, ignorance, and xenophobia running wild.

A few words about the bill.  The House panicked  when a passport was found in Paris that indicated that one of the attackers could have come in as a refugee.  Note that to date that has not been verified and those identified were all citizens of Europe, not refugees.  The passport could very well have been a plant to get this exact reaction.  Since 2011 only 2000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the country, 3/4 of them women and children.  They had to go through a vetting process of 18-24 months. None has ever broken a law.  So be afraid!  Meanwhile any of the attackers in Paris could have bought a ticket to the U.S. from Europe with no checks, and been here in a day.  And they still can.  What the fuck are they doing in Congress?

These guys and gals in Congress cannot sit down and authorize force to be used in the Middle East, but in two days they can create a bill from ignorance and stupidity to pander to the very worst fears and emotions of Americans?  It tells you all you need to know why government does not work.  Oh and listen to them pander to each other, with nonsense like we need to step back a minute and look at the program.  Yeah let’s make it impossible to run where there was no problem in the first place.  And this is from Republicans who say government is the problem, and now we know why.  They make it so.

But the worst part of this is that 40 Democrats voted for it.  And right there is why the Democratic Party always fails.  It does not stand for anything.  This bill should have been appalling to anyone who calls themselves a liberal or a Democrat.  This should have been a line in the sand. Yet they pandered to their voters who are in a mad rush to hide in their shopping centers.

It harkens back to our worst days of racism, xenophobia, and ignorance.  You remember when we sent Jews away in 1939 to die because we were afraid they might be communists, interned the Japanese Americans, or persecuted blacks.  At least our Presidential candidates in the Democratic Party get this totally un-American behavior.  Maybe the 40 ought to be expelled.  If the Democratic Party is ever going to rise again, it has to mean something, and those 40 should be held accountable.

Oh, and I had one other thought.  While America is in the throes of a full-blown panic attack, Paris, the country that was actually attacked, is leading the way showing us how not to lose our principles, going out into the streets and continuing to embrace refugees.  Remember when those brilliant tacticians in Congress wanted to rename French Fries to Freedom Fries?  Funny, the French were right then too.  Right now the French are showing Americans how to be American and we look like feckless fools.

Some Food for Thought

I don’t know about you, but I think the Paris bombing and our reaction to it has exposed what a selfish bunch of little minded cowards we have become.  The media tells us that polls indicate Americans are fearful and therefore based upon no threat whatsoever, we want to ban Syrian refugees.  And of course the political class we have today is going along with them because following polls is leadership.  It is similar when Americans refused entry of Jews from Europe in 1939 because they could be communists.  I really thought we were a better people than that.  I was wrong.

But here is a little snippet from Roger Cohen which I want you to think about:

We may not know who exactly the killers are but we know what they want to destroy. They spit at Montaigne, Voltaire and De Tocqueville. They loathe reason. They detest freedom. They cannot bear the West’s sexual mores. They would enslave the world, particularly its women, to the cruel god of their medievalist reading of Islam.

Remove Islam and add Fundamental Christians and you have exactly the same story.  No, they are not blowing things up (except abortion clinics), but they are using the same fear and loathing to create a litmus test for right thinking.  Is there any hope at all for the human race?

I am Sorry, I am Not Buying It

To step back and watch our reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris is very sobering.  Here I think we are a 21st Century civilized and educated nation and then we go bat shit crazy.  The Donald tells us Syrians refugees are coming into our country by the millions virtually unchecked.  It is a total lie, both parts.  Twenty eight governors say they will prohibit Syrian refugees from coming into their state when they have absolutely no authority to do that unless they secede.

Even some including Jeb! Bush says maybe we should just limit it to Christians.  Anybody sees that as grossly unconstitutional and un-American?  Oh, and when correspondent Katy Hunt asked him how he could tell if they were telling the truth about being Christians, he just said you could tell.  Really?  We have lost our bloody minds.

Meanwhile in the security and terrorism industry, they are ginning up fear because it sells their services.  The media, of course, turns to these folks for “insight”.  There are actually some really good folks out there, but lets bring in the generals who want to refight the Iraqi war to tell us how we ought to be waging war against ISIS.  They got it wrong last time, and they have it wrong this time.

The part I love is that as thoughtful news medias point out, when you get done shifting through their we totally screwed up the war and their plans for the future (including all Republican candidates) it is generally exactly what President Obama is doing.  There is no easy answer.  Don’t you think we are trying to build coalitions?

Then there is the spy class who tells us we need more spying and end encryption.  Again, total bullshit.  The NYT had a great editorial today on that subject and I will give you a few highlights:

Mr. Brennan [head of the CIA] called the attacks in Paris a “wake-up call,” and claimed that recent “policy and legal” actions “make our ability collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging.”

It is hard to believe anything Mr. Brennan says. Last year, he bluntly denied that the C.I.A. had illegally hacked into the computers of Senate staff members conducting an investigation into the agency’s detention and torture programs when, in fact, it did. In 2011, when he was President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, he claimed that American drone strikes had not killed any civilians, despite clear evidence that they had. And his boss, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has admitted lying to the Senate on the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of data. Even putting this lack of credibility aside, it’s not clear what extra powers Mr. Brennan is seeking.

Most of the men who carried out the Paris attacks were already on the radar of intelligence officials in France and Belgium, where several of the attackers lived only hundreds of yards from the main police station, in a neighborhood known as a haven for extremists. As one French counterterrorism expert and former defense official said, this shows that “our intelligence is actually pretty good, but our ability to act on it is limited by the sheer numbers.” In other words, the problem in this case was not a lack of data, but a failure to act on information authorities already had.

In fact, indiscriminate bulk data sweeps have not been useful. In the more than two years since the N.S.A.’s data collection programs became known to the public, the intelligence community has failed to show that the phone program has thwarted a terrorist attack. Yet for years intelligence officials and members of Congress repeatedly misled the public by claiming that it was effective.

On the encryption issue, as the technology companies point out, giving backdoors simply multiplies the odds of hacking, spying, and misuse of data by other operators.  And they “could just as easily establish links between suspects, without the use of back doors, by examining who they call or message, how often and for how long.”  But hey, who needs a court order?

But my favorite part of this travesty is the whining.  “Please big government, keep me safe”, from the very people who purport to hate big government.  The media are into the blame game, trying to imply that we really can have some sort of perfectly safe world if government was just doing more.

Of course we can’t and there is just so much that can be done before we destroy the freedom we do have.  A nutcase can blow you away tomorrow and generally there is no way to predict it.  One swerve on the freeway and it is over.  But control freaks, and that is most Republicans, can’t live with the idea that shit happens.  We can’t prevent everything, and if we did, we would live in a cocoon.

So we go through this cycle where the precarious nature of life is laid bare and we are terrified and we do really stupid things.  Then things settle down and we can live in denial again for a while till the next incident and we act like morons again.  It really makes one wonder if anybody really understands our Constitution and the liberties it confers.  And more importantly, that they are fragile and must be sustained sometimes with our lives.  Sometimes we understand that, but most of the time we seem oblivious and are way to quick to give them up. It is times like these when it is clear who the real Americans are.  You can scratch off those 28+ governors and those who are calling for a Christianity test.

Oh David Brooks, or Intellectualizing as Denial

David Brooks, the New York Times Columnist, wrote an op-ed today about Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts, and as the NYT described it, “the answer to ending religious violence will probably be found within religion itself.”  My first thought on reading that was, you can find everything but the kitchen sink within the holy texts, so pick what you want.  He kind of ignores that the holy texts give us plenty of violence to justify what is going on, so pick your pleasure.  

But I will let his more learned readers take him apart on painting this very blinders on painting of religion (read the comments), here is what I find just amazing:

Humans also are meaning-seeking animals. We live, as Sacks writes, in a century that “has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.” The secular substitutes for religion — nationalism, racism and political ideology — have all led to disaster. So many flock to religion, sometimes — especially within Islam — to extremist forms.

…Sacks correctly argues that we need military weapons to win the war against fanatics like ISIS, but we need ideas to establish a lasting peace. Secular thought or moral relativism are unlikely to offer any effective rebuttal. Among religious people, mental shifts will be found by reinterpreting the holy texts themselves. There has to be a Theology of the Other: a complex biblical understanding of how to see God’s face in strangers. That’s what Sacks sets out to do.

So if I understand this correctly, first we secularist are doomed because our substitutes for religion have all led to disasters.  Second, “secular thought or moral relativism are unlikely to offer an effective rebuttal.”  Yeah, the Enlightenment was a disaster.  The Constitution was a disaster.  And here is the amazing statement:  “…mental shifts will be found by reinterpreting the holy texts themselves.”

Oh, I see it just depends on who has the right interpretation.  Is this not a circular argument.  First he says there are no secular answers, which I strongly disagree with, and then he says we just need the right interpretation.  You just need to be a member of the right church.  Is that not what ISIS is arguing?  They have the right church and secularism is evil?  It is just amazing.