Monthly Archives: May 2004

Playing the Fear Card

Lots of people have been suggesting cynically that the Administration's warning that there are terrorists under the bed might have been an attempt to distract people from Iraq and other news displeasing to the Bush re-election machine.

The cartoonists in particular have had a field day with that one. A New York Times columnist cited the doubtful reaction in his column as a sign that the press might be rising from its dormancy.

Well, don't get your hopes up too high quite yet. Consider this Newsday item (Newsday hardly being a shrinking violet) reprinted in the LA Times, Threat Warning Called a Surprise to Agency:

The Homeland Security Department was surprised by the announcement by Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that a terrorist attack was increasingly likely in coming months, officials said Thursday.

The department, created a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, is charged with issuing terrorism warnings to the public, and tension arose when Ashcroft and Mueller effectively took over that role at a news conference Wednesday when they said Al Qaeda is preparing a powerful attack.

Officials said the Homeland Security Department knew in advance about the news conference but expected it to focus on seven suspects with ties to Al Qaeda who were wanted for arrest or questioning. Department officials said they were caught off guard when Ashcroft went further and warned that Al Qaeda “is ready to attack the United States.”

The news conference, which excluded Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, raised concerns in Washington that his department was not coordinating the domestic fight against terrorism, which was confusing the message for the public and for local authorities.

Talk about missing the point! What this set of facts loudly suggests is NOT that Homeland Security is a useless agency with a confusing message (although it is), but rather that Ashcroft was doing political spear-carrying. The threat level wasn't changed because the non-evidence Ashcroft presented wasn't enough to warrant raising it (raising the 'threat level' above yellow imposes millions of dollars of extra policing and security costs on states, localities and airports).

The anonymous author of this story is fatally infected with the idea that the administration would not make an announcement about a heightened terror threat unless (a) it believed it and (b) was doing something about it. Yet the story itself suggests strongly that neither of these are in fact the case, since if there really were a domestic threat and plans to do something about it, Homeland Security would be involved, if only in an inter-agency way. As the Washington Post reminds us

Under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and Bush administration rules, only the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can publicly issue threat warnings, and they must be approved in a complex interagency process involving the White House. Administration officials sympathetic to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said he was not informed Ashcroft was going to characterize the threat in that way — an assertion that Justice officials deny.

The failure to even pick up the phone and call Ridge's office is nearly conclusive evidence that Ashcroft's press conference was just a stunt—based on facts that the Post reports may be “six weeks old”.

Posted in National Security | Leave a comment

Ted Koppel Predicts US Will Be Under Martial Law

Over at the Poynter Foundation, they have the transcribed text of Ted Koppel's address to UC Berkeley grads (you have to page down a bit to get to it). It is riveting, especially this part, in which Koppel predicts the US will be hit with a WMD terrorist attack “in the next few years” which will “more than likely” lead to the imposition of martial law. Koppel warns, “For how long and under what circumstances it would be lifted again has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever been publicly addressed” and he calls for an urgent debate about “What we will do after the next terrorist attack”.

[Note: The Poynter web site seems to be set up to redirect internal links to Romenesko's Misc. Forum to their front page. If this happens to you, to find the Koppel speech, click here; you'll still have to page down to find it, but (for now at least) that's the right page. Or you can just read the extended quote below.]

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Posted in National Security | 2 Comments

Fafblog Interviews Donald Rumsfeld

It's interview week over at Fafblog. Today it's Fafblog interviews Donald Rumsfeld, and Fafblog asks the questions no one asks and gets the answers no one says:

DR: Now, I've accepted responsibility before and I'll accept responsibility again for everything done under my command. But I'll be damned… damned… if I let a few systemic, widespread, and grotesque atrocities reflect on the character and conviction of the high-ranking civilian and military brass who created the environment that fostered those atrocities.

Posted in Iraq Atrocities | Leave a comment

Autres Endroits Autres Moeurs

Living in a country where it's a serious question of debate whether and when Employer is liable to Employee2 under an 'environmental harassment' theory for Employee1's visible consumption of online porn, it's bracing to be reminded that attitudes are different elsewhere. Consider Danes permit office p0rn. Danish IT firm LL Media found out that its programmers were wasting large amounts of office time surfing online porn, and decided to start blocking it during working hours. In an attempt to keep the troops happy after the blocking went into effect, LL Media is offering a new fringe benefit: signing workers up for a pay online porn service — but for after hours use only.

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Posted in Law: Everything Else | 1 Comment

Press Coverage of Frontier Travel Case

Good coverage of the filing of the Frontier Travel lawsuit:

“Mark Hatfield, a T.S.A. spokesman, said yesterday that the complaint's assertion of systemic secrecy was off base. 'There will be nothing secret' about the process for developing CAPPS2 and enlisting airlines in carrying it out, he said. While the actual text of the security directive outlining CAPPS2 won't be made public for obvious security reasons, he said, 'I'll put out a press release that paraphrases it' when the directive is issued.”

Of course, that's not a legally enforceable promise.

Posted in Law: Right to Travel | Leave a comment

What Do Republicans Like Best About Bush?

Last Halloween I asked,

How can it be that about half of the voters in this country tell pollsters that they are basically happy with an administration that lies like a rug? This is surely one of the central questions of the day.

Now comes Michael Bérubé, professor of literature and cultural studies, with a poll that is designed to address this still-burning (or at least spluttering) question.

Good blog, too.

Posted in Politics: US: 2004 Election | 2 Comments