Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 27, 2010

Today’s Big News: No News

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on January 27, 2010

Just in case you’ve been hiding in some undisclosed secure location for the past week, it’s worth noting that Apple CEO Steve Jobs, on the heels of announcing record profits, intends to reveal the company’s latest offering today. In a much anticipated and widely discussed move, he is expected to unveil Apple’s latest foray into the tablet computer market. If successful, as expected, Apple’s product will establish a whole new category, which Jobs himself has claimed to be the most important work of his life. Others have simply hailed it as a “game changer.”

Okay, now that I have your attention, I would like to recap some of the other issues competing for your attention today:

  • President Obama will address a joint session of Congress tonight in his first State of the Union Address; he is expected, among other things, to call for a freeze in non-defense discretionary spending in an effort to curb the federal budget deficit.
  • Massachusetts voters in a stunning defeat for Democrats elected Republican Scott Brown to fill the unexpired term of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, undermining the Democrats’ filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear that the U.S. House of Representatives lacked sufficient votes to pass the Senate health care reform bill in its current form, which resulted in calls for a stripped down agreement or at least further delay.
  • Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden claimed credit for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. jetliner by a Nigerian radical.
  • Oregon voters, counter to the assumed public backlash over tax-and-spend business-as-usual politics, voted to raise their own taxes.
  • A series of bombing in the Iraqi capitol killed scores of people and raised questions about the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces.
  • Iraq executed convicted mass-murderer and Saddam Hussein cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, better know in the west as “Chemical Ali” for his gas ttacks against the country’s Kurdish and Shiite minorities in the north and south, respectively.
  • In a striking precedent, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned two of its own precedents, deciding by a 5-4 majority to allow corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of cash to national electoral campaigns.
  • And, oh yeah, hundreds of thousands of Haitians died after a massive earthquake struck their impoverished nation leaving millions homeless.

Now, which of these stories has the most sweeping implications for U.S. national security?

For my money, it’s the Supreme Court decision. In an almost unprecedented statement yesterday, retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor criticized the decision as an, “arms race” that will be a “problem for maintaining an independent judiciary.”  Her concerns do not reflect the lingering Senate stalemate over appointments to the federal bench rooted in partisan bickering over judicial ideology. Rather, she’s concerned that the vast majority of state and local judges are elected.

Confidence in and the independence of the judiciary represents an important bulwark against the deepening partisan divide and associated erosion of public confidence in the other two branches. Without it, confidence in government, or for that matter our constitutional form of government, becomes increasingly suspect if not downright untenable.

The vastly different electoral results in the Massachusetts Senate race and the Oregon tax referendum only serve to illustrate the difficulty characterizing the political mood of the country with any precision. That said, both illustrate deep skepticism and growing cynicism surrounding the established political order.

At the same time, the overwhelming, even unprecedented public response to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti should give us hope. Most Americans still care deeply and passionately about the plight of others. They want to help. But as the mood attending events in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate, they do not like getting their hands bit by those who benefit from aid.

This leaves me wondering what Jobs’ announcement today and the veritable furore surrounding it says about us as a country and a people. Apple is not just a huge, profitable company that produces innovative products. Its brand has taken on the air of cultural metaphor. Despite some recent criticism of the company’s environmental record, Apple has often been credited with doing well by doing good.

This brings me back to the potential threat posed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. If the global financial crisis has taught us anything, companies have no inherent moral code that impels them to do right by others. In contrast, biological evidence of an evolutionary bias toward altruism among individuals is well-established and growing.

When assembled in a group, our tendency toward altruism finds expression in efforts to conform our behavior to perceived group norms. When those norms run contrary to morals or accepted notions of the public good, we often have difficulty detecting the discrepancy much less changing the overall mood of the group. We’re more likely to consider our own views aberrant than that of the perceived group will. This pack mentality makes us susceptible to all sorts of unintended, and more importantly, unsuspected, evil.

An independent judiciary provides an important check on the pack mentality that often infects corporate bodies, including mobs in the legislative and executive branches of government. Allowing corporations, often under the control of interests hostile to the public good and sometimes under the influence of foreign nationals or others not otherwise allowed to participate in elections, to contribute freely to campaigns, especially judicial campaigns, poses an unchecked threat to our liberty.

Threat to our liberty are neither limited to nor dominated by international terrorism and the radical extremism that breeds it. A failure to give adequate expression to our best intentions by providing a durable and independent check on our own impetuous behavior poses just as great a threat to our liberty.

If the anticipation surrounding Apple’s announcement is any indication, we may need intervention of the clinical rather than the political sort sooner rather than later. With any luck, we will see the error of our ways and insist on the essential distinction between our individual and corporate lives.

In the meantime, enjoy your iSlate, iTablet, MacPad or whatever it’s called and don’t forget to vote. Take it away Steve Jobs …

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10 Comments »

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

January 27, 2010 @ 11:47 am

In light of the catastrophic earthquake event in Haiti, what lessons should we be studying re the U.S. ability to respond and recover from such an event?

Comment by bellavita

January 27, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

Re: Claire Rubin’s comment –

I think the GAO report issued in July 2009 (“DISASTER RECOVERY Experiences from Past Disasters Offer Insights for Effective Collaboration after Catastrophic Events”) sets out 4 core lessons that are worth looking at in regard to Haiti and the next catastrophic disaster in the US:

Develop and communicate common goals to guide recovery.
Leverage resources to facilitate recovery.
Use recovery plans to agree on roles and responsibilities.
Monitor, evaluate, and report on progress made toward recovery.

That’s a start, especially if we could get better at transforming lessons to be learned into actions that are actually done.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

January 27, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

In my view, the GAO has not taken a comprehensive enough look at recovery.

Presently, both DHS and HUD are currently working on a National Recovery Framework. There is no know yet if their planning is broad and deep enough to anticipate a truly catastrophic event. These are among the reasons I think the Haiti event should be a wakeup call to all concerned.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 27, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

The new world of the Ipad dawns. Technology advances but sometimes humans seem slower on the uptake.

Will be interesting to see if any priorities are established by the President’s SOU tonight. Interesting how difficult it is for either Congress or the Executive Branch to establish priorities. The Secretary DHS released her priorities yesterday. No indication really of the priority of the priorities. Well in founding and implementing DHS several key missions were assigned. 1. WMD prevention, protection, and response. 2. Domestic Intel. 3. Critical infrastructure protection and cyber security. All are technical arenas including their technological and scientific aspects. Butit appears that DHS after almost eight years is settling into not what needs doing but what it can do? Perhaps after one year the President will adopt the same bureacratic crouch. Hoping for more leadership in the American polity. We have lists but never one listing the top 100 American citizens that are our countries leaders! I list Steve Jobs in the top 100 for his technology inventiveness and pure obstinacy and striving. Would be interesting to see a list of the top 100 most influential on Homeland Security matters. Surely the leadership of DHS should qualify and probably does but I would argue that others may be more of an eye of the beholder. I also include the President since he can make or break Homeland Security through decision or indecision, funding or non-funding, quality of appointees or lack of quality. In other words some might just be on the list for negative reasons, e.g. UBL? The money spent studying his various transmissions would be interesting to see tabulate.

Comment by Christopher Bellavita

January 27, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

I neglected to add the link to the GAO report I referenced earlier: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-811

Claire — What issues would you ask people to look at if they wanted to learn from Haiti lessons that could be applied in the US in the event of an (contextually) equivalent catastrophic event?

Comment by Mark Chubb

January 27, 2010 @ 7:03 pm

Clearly, the situation in Haiti raises some interesting and important questions. I am not sure how prepared I am (personally) to dive in and start answering them. For that matter, I am still a bit skeptical I can put forward adequate questions about this situation.

What I can say for sure is that I am not prepared to draw an analogy between this event and either Hurricane Katrina or the Asian tsunami. To me, context matters a lot, and each of these events presents very different circumstances.

I have done a lot of thinking about recovery, its relationship to strategy, and, more importantly, its relationship to pre-existing conditions, particularly the economic/political and material reality that emerges as a product of social/cultural and environmental circumstances (and for that matter vice versa). My offline musing on these issues have proven extremely difficult to condense into a coherent argument suitable for publication on this blog (or elsewhere). I am prepared, however, to give it a go if there’s adequate interest in engaging the debate.

In the meantime, I invite you — Claire and others — to elaborate further on the issues you would like to see explored in this forum.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 27, 2010 @ 10:20 pm

An important and divise consideration is whether restoration of conditions of life and living prior to the event should be the standard or whether to make improvements that are justified to protect the further investments of money and effort. This conundrum has never been reconciled in the disaster or recovery policy of the United States. Documentation exists by the Stafford Acts mandate to only require public assistance to retore to the condition prior to the disaster. FEMA just “lost” and NOLA “won” the first arbitration case ever involving the Stafford Act under a special law passed to assist in the Gulf Coast Recovery from Katrina which this summer will be five years ago. The award of over $450M to upgrade and restore Charity Hospital by the judges demonstrates that Congress in essence decided to go for the most impact for the investment. Charity by most accounts was struggling before Katrina but did serve an underserved population so it seems to me that whatever the level of service the award is just. Still the underlying policy is unsettled. Do you improve on the condition prior to the disaster when you have the knowledge, capability and funds to do so or simply restore to the pre-existing condition of the assisted project?

Comment by christopher tingusi

January 28, 2010 @ 5:27 am

As I spend my precious moments hour after hour, day after day pursuing investment monies and humanitarian relief from Wall Street or from the World Bank, USAID and others globally for substantial and much needed – real and profitable $50-million-$250million waste water and water purification projects throughout Africa and even noe in Haiti where I have been trying to get through US and Canadian bureacracy and deliver (75) per each 40 ft. container – 200 sq. ft. easily assembled eco-friendly, earthquake resistent homes w/solar and rain water collection system as a solution to a long-term rebuild of Haiti on the same fault line, portable water purification units ready the day the earthquake jolted the island, what I have learned is that I am proud to be an American as I see relief aid making the effort, but a global community far less prepared and bluntly, indifferent in many ways and quite unprepared to address a scenario with such demand and 200,000 souls killed by Mother Nature’s wrath….

I believe you Mr. President must create jobs and more jobs. You have failed thus far.

No to the world, the US military is not using this very sorrowful event in Haiti to place US troops there as the Europeans and others are whipering and again, while we are close to the disaster, we are there to assist the people of Haiti, a people so pervaded w/poverty and lack of much….

Maybe Mr. President you can muster a civilian Haitian corps of folks the US can muster – carpenters and other trades people struggling for work here and put them to work. There are so many types of skills necessitated in the rebuild of Haiti.

It also points to the fact that we need to build our civil defense, create jobs for people who can get trained and employed to respond to neighbor when like substantial events pose risk to the US populace. It shows the necessity for more first response training and implementation – preparedness and coordination to be timely and effective.

From my perspective whether making repeated attempts at various government, military and commercial levels to get much needed financial support and supplies/products into Haiti or to muster global community support of profitable wastewater and quality water solutions throughout Africa as well as to the clean up of the Ganges River in India, we need organization, coordinated and well versed US and others prepared.

The logitics folks to the relief workers deserve accolades, if we together are having difficulty handling Haiti and getting medical and required solutions and bureacracy has become fsr too much and inhibits us, then let’s get some true leadership as there is much demand to be addressed – fellow humans, children tat need food now, access to quality water, medical attention, housing, etc.

Christopher Tingus

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 28, 2010 @ 10:33 am

Increasingly clear that despite the world’s hopes there is in reality no Haitian governance. Survival of any portio of the population post-earthquake is totally dependent on US and international assistance. This story will continue to grow over the next 120 days until the MSM turns off the horror of the on-the-ground reality in Haiti.

The totality of international efforts must be doubled or tripled since many Haitians without water, food, medical two weeks after the earthquake. Apocolypse Now? The “Horror”!

Comment by Gerardo Hepler

January 12, 2012 @ 9:28 am

A big thank you for your article.Thanks Again. Awesome.

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