Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 5, 2011

That Might Be Us

Filed under: Events,Futures,Private Sector — by Mark Chubb on October 5, 2011

I don’t know how many of you have noticed, but things are getting a bit tense out there. If life inside the Beltway was making you anxious, you might not want to avert your gaze. The view farther afield is not such a pretty sight these days.

With the Tea Party on one hand and the Occupy Wall Street and We Are the 99 percent protestors on the other, a growing proportion of our fellow citizens are actively expressing disgust with the status quo. And this doesn’t even include all the others like No Labels, the Coffee Party Movement and more who in their efforts to re-establish a middle-ground have ended up — often from the comfort of their home computer or smartphone — on or near the edge of a growing disquiet.

This morning I listened in a state somewhere between fury and amazement as Bill Frezza, a venture capitalist and fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, complained bitterly on NPR that those making more than $250,000 a year were being unfairly cast as “whipping boys” for failing to pull the economy out of its tailspin by creating jobs. His full-throated defense of free market capitalism worked about as well as sending the fire department to pour gasoline on a blaze.

If Frezza and his ilk are to be believed, the country has it all wrong: executives are just like entrepreneurs; consumption always precedes production, and employment is an input to a healthy economy not a byproduct of it. And, oh yeah, corporations are citizens too. Of course, Frezza and his friends are the same folks who creatively destroyed not only some of the nation’s biggest corporate brands, but also brought us the savings and loan scandal, the dot.com bubble, and collateralized debt obligations.

After 30 years of vilifying civil servants and public policies aimed at protecting much less expanding the middle class, these economic elites want us to believe that consumers have only themselves and the left-leaning political pawns they elected to blame for the lack of jobs, growth and real competitiveness.

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman and co-author Michael Mandelbaum have another take on this. Their book, That Used to Be Us, contends that four trends underlie our current situation (summary taken from ‘That Used to Be Us’: Tom Friedman’s Rx for America to Get Its Groove Back at Yahoo! Finance):

  1. Misreading the end of the Cold War, which was not a military “victory” but the start of a very big challenge to U.S. hegemony.
  2. Taking a bad course after 9/11 by focusing on the losers of globalization vs. the winners.
  3. Underestimating the impact of technological change which has made the world “hyper-connected.”
  4. A generational shift from the “Greatest Generation” who believed in thrift and “sustainable values” to the Baby Boomers who use “situational values” and prefer to ‘borrow and spend’, instead of save.

Friedman and Mandelbaum suggest that the remedy to our current ills lies in what they call the ‘Five Pillars of Success,” outlined as follows:

  • Education
  • Infrastructure
  • Immigration
  • Regulation
  • Research and development

In all five areas, the government, they argue, plays the key role, not just in jump-starting our economy, but in restoring confidence in our greatness as a nation. They make a compelling case that without competence in these five areas, the nation cannot expect to reclaim much less retain its position as the world’s preeminent power.

About the same time Friedman and Mandelbaum’s book hit the stores last month, James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, was discussing a damning essay by former GOP Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren and conveying some pretty salient observations himself (see herehere, and here) about the degree of unrest emerging around the country as a consequence of the growing distrust of our political elites.

More than a few commentators have begun to suggest in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the Arab Spring could be followed by an American Fall. As homeland security professionals, we might rightly ask ourselves what this means for us. Which side are we on? Do we stand with the state or the citizens?

I don’t know about any of you, but I’m not eager to play the part of the Egyptian Army if Zuccotti Park becomes the new Tahrir Square.

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18 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 5, 2011 @ 12:55 am

Mark an interesting and insightful post. And yes Fallows and Friedman worth reading always whether or not you agree with them. Hoping when the book has been read by many you will return to post and ask its implications for Homeland Security. I for one would have been much happier if DHS had forged a non-DOD and non-law enforcement culture for itself. You might ask was this possible and I answer yes. But the explanation far too long for this comment. Some other time or perhaps on my second blog. ON my FEMA blog I always ask from time to time is FEMA’s real job response and recovery or preventing and mitigation of disasters and potential disasters. No one in FEMA history ever accepted by paradigm but I sure did try for 20 years to explain that disaster outlays might well be making the situation worse not better. And FEMA now led by two FIRE SERVICE personnel last two tries. Why does the FIRE SERVICE so love to put out fires and not prevent them? And the Armed Forces and DoD so love to fight wars and not prevent them?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 5, 2011 @ 5:47 am

The Tea Party consists of various strains, some know-nothing, obnoxious or worse. So far the Occupy Wall Street movement could be described with similar terms. But each movement also contains a meaningful critique of an unsustainable status quo.

Despite the clowns, idiots, and worse on each side, the two sides represent alternative theses regarding how individual liberty and responsibility is related to social cohesiveness and responsibility.

What each movement offers is a means to actively participate in the political process and find like-minded collaborators. Already this process is resulting in a refinement of each side (a kind of proto-deliberation?).

If this process only produces an increasing sense of division and alienation, then we are in real trouble. But if over time the meaningful differences are discussed, sifted, refined, and a new synthesis is accepted by the vast majority, then we have a much more conducive basis for moving forward together… as individuals and a society.

To find this synthesis there is a need for brokers who can engage in good faith with all sides to encourage listening and learning across the barricades of ego, self-interest, and fear. The absence of this — even rejection of — brokering is where the system is currently most vulnerable.

But as a sometime broker, I also know that common ground is seldom achieved until each side has a well-defined sense of its own minimums and is prepared to acknowledge they cannot achieve those minimums unless they engage the other side(s). Brokers can help these preconditions emerge, but they cannot be imposed.

I do not perceive the current American context to be a case of state v. citizens, but much more citizens v. citizens, thesis v. anithesis, idea v. idea, expectations v. different expectations. As such our situation is more treacherous and more promising than a potentially simpler rage against the machine.

Our current precarious condition is, by the way, a common characteristic of a resilient system under stress. It appears to be hurtling toward its break-point, but bounces back just in time.

Not always, but often… especially with a little help.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 5, 2011 @ 7:04 am

Well while many would differ I view the TEA PARTY as a reaction to official corruption and indifference. As to Wall Street occupants that is driven against the fact that WALL STREET is the symptom not the disease. The disease is the worship of MAMMON by the people of the USA as opposed to quality of life. Hey hate to be biblical but seems to be approaching that. What is not understood by elites or plebians in USA is the world will not tolerate much longer our consumption annually of 25% of the earth’s productive resources. Note the cutting by up to 1/2 of foreign assistance this fiscal year even while we continue to give military assistance directly and indirectly to other countries in the largest amount in history even while proclaiming our system is exceptional in its kindness, caring and understanding of other peoples. Most of this military assistance goes to authoritarian governments not democracies. And that system has almost no political controls.

Comment by Alan Wolfe

October 5, 2011 @ 7:56 am

Quick, name five things of which the GOP refuses to invest federal funds: Education, Infrastructure, Immigration, Regulation, Research and development.

As far as what side the homeland security professionals stand on, come on. This isn’t a HLS issue, in as much as there is no threat to the continuity of government or essential services. Maybe there is one issue, will NYPD and the federal law enforcement agencies start keeping records on peaceful protesters as “insurgents” or potential terrorists?

As policy analysts, we ought to at least acknowledge the failure of the federal government, and in particular the Congress, in addressing the basic expectations of the American public. By protecting the 1% rich and ignoring the 99%, they’ve done a disservice to our economy and public well-being.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

October 5, 2011 @ 8:51 am

I think the unrest is inevitable when people feel as if their voice has been muted or worse, ignored.

Both sides, as its now murkily defined feel there are intrinsically correct. You all have touched on many themes today and they all have resonance.

In particular Phil; while resilience is currently being demonstrated, one could take the rubber band adage and bounce back metaphor as each stretch and return to “normal” yields less and less…it will invariably break.

Perhaps the break will be economic or societal. It will be interesting to see if post September 11, 2001 if this activity is re branded as other than social unrest. The tactics to deal with it are in some ways repugnant and other ways a visible and predictable manifestation of leaning forward on any and all activity deemed hostile or “terroristic”. In some light, “they” built what “we” asked for.

It will get very interesting if the unions join, along with more Libertarian or conservative leaning organizations…within that context, this may be a synergy no one expected or anticipated. Really excellent thoughts and points of view today.

Comment by DG

October 5, 2011 @ 10:28 am

Mark,

You should stick to what you know. Attempting to explain the ills of society and claiming that Republicans are the problem does not seem to match the description of HSW as featuring “breaking news, rigorous analysis, and informed commentary on the critical issues in homeland security today.” Nor does it match the claim to be “non-partisan.”

“30 years of vilifying civil servants and public policies aimed at protecting much less expanding the middle class…” Really?! “Frezza and his ilk…”

Is it really vilifying for us “ilk” to warn everyone that we can not sustain the spending without jeapardizing our future success and making everything and everyone dependent on government?

After posting this comment I will be deleting my links to hlswatch. I’ve read posts here regularly since 2005 but now you have jumped the shark.

DG

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 5, 2011 @ 11:01 am

Respectfully disagree with those commenting that this is NOT a HSWatch issue. Civil disobedience and riots and civil disorders are problematic but obviously well known throughout US history. See for example movie “Contagion” involving issues of vaccine distribution. And by the way hoping the Occupy Wall Street group vaccinated for the flu with outbreaks already occurring.

Unanswered of course but when DHS established I personally wrote a long letter to the Attorney General asking for a complete review of domestic crisis management procedures and involvement of the military given the creation of that new organization. As I have posted here many times FEMA has NO, repeat NO role in riots and civil disorders, nor has any STAFFORD ACT declaration ever been made under that statute or its predecessors since 1950. This policy by the way was established by the Department of Justice not FEMA. They [DOJ] reluctantly concurred in 1992 in a declaration of disaster for the LA riots but on the basis of “fire” not riot or civil disorder.

I would feel better if I thought all the top level of DOJ, DHS,and DOD had read the deceased Mary Lawton’s comprehensive monograph on MILITARY SUPPORT For Controlling Riots and Civil disorders or some name close to that (1980)! That document signed off by OLG and the AG revealed for the first time that the ARMY JAG school and DOD directives erroneously discussed the procedures and processes behind the declaration of MARTIAL LAW a concept described by the deceased Ms. Lawton as requiring specific geographic application, review and sign off by the AG, and then declared in a Proclamation or Executive Order by the President.

Comment by mcb

October 5, 2011 @ 11:15 am

DG,

I recommend you and your readership consume at least one helping of contradictory opinion a day. It will not comfort you – the greater the cognitive dissonance the greater the pain – but it helps hold the blinders back a notch or two.

As for Mark remaining on charter (as though he is accountable to anyone but his own conscience for what he chooses to post on his blog) if our culture war ever goes beyond ranting it will constitute the greatest threat to the republic since 1861. Can’t get much more Homeland Security Watchful than that…

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 5, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

Last night I was rereading chapter 11 of the 911 Commission Report. Reviewing what they considered a major failure of pre-911 thinking the commission stated: “It is therefore crucial to find a way of routinizing, even bureaucratizing, the exercise of imagination.” Out of context it may seem a strange recommendation. You can check out the context on page 344.

I am probably not as sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street as Mark may be. Early this morning I tried to reframe the issue (see above). But I don’t doubt that applying a sympathetic imagination to what is emerging in southern Manhattan is relevant to homeland security. Is this behavior a risk signal or a resilience signal or something else entirely?

Comment by Mark Chubb

October 5, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

Well, it’s nice to know this blog can provoke impassioned responses from readers! As I made clear in the original post, I am becoming increasingly anxious about the prospects of social unrest spreading. Judging by some of the responses, I think my thesis is sound.

I am not as sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street Movement (much less the Tea Party) as some of you may fear. That said, I obviously have issues with the characterization of unfettered free market capitalism as the pinnacle achievement of liberal democracy. I have even more trouble accepting some of the conservative orthodoxy I’ve heard espoused in support of the gridlock we’re witnessing in Washington, DC.

Now for those of you (Alan) asking yourselves whether I’ve lost my grip and drifted off point when I wonder how public safety services will respond if things get worse, perhaps I should explain: I hang around with cops, firefighters and paramedics all the time (my day job). The banter I hear around their kitchen tables and coffee breaks sounds strikingly similar to the voices I hear chanting in the streets. Their loyalty to governing authority has dissipated in direct proportion to the fear they feel as the prospects of some of them losing their jobs has gone from possibility to probability to near certainty.

The sense of unease among public safety officers is not far from achieving harmonic resonance with the scenes of unrest we’re seeing in the streets. Do I worry that a firefighter will stand idly by and watch a bank burn if protestors set fire to the building? Yes, I do. Am I concerned that cops might not move to clear parks or restrain crowds as protests spill over into more communities? Sure.

To be clear, the crowds scare me too. I don’t find the Occupy Wall Street crowds any more reassuring than the Tea Party protestors. I think both movements have successfully tapped a deep vein of fear running through the American psyche. And people can be less than rational when their worst fears come to life.

I’m sorry if my musings and meanderings offend some of you. But I do think the failure to think carefully about these threats leaves us vulnerable whether we sympathize with one side or the other, or, for that matter, neither.

Comment by Alan Wolfe

October 6, 2011 @ 7:28 am

Hey, Mark, it’s a good diversion and worth the discussion. My only amendment to my earlier comments is that law enforcement/emergency response issues does not always equal homeland security issues. I think it’s important to at least recognize that the exercise of local government, to include policing and hospital services, are the norm, while HLS (to me) is a larger coordination of efforts against an unexpected and much larger threat (natural or man-made). Not everything is HLS. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

“I don’t find the Occupy Wall Street crowds any more reassuring than the Tea Party protestors.”

Here’s a way to tell the difference – old white people holding guns and wearing tricorner hats griping about those kids on the lawn – Tea Party. Young diverse crowd holding signs (with correct spelling) griping about the old white guys on Wall St – much safer, saner group.

Comment by Terry O'Sullivan

October 6, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

I think Mark’s comments are on the money, FWIW. As Chris Bellavita notes, one of the conceptualizations of HS is “meta-hazards” — slow-growing threats to civilian domestic security (which is, after all, what HS [vs. DHS] is — not a wing of the military or law enforcement). And economic structural disfunction, and climate change, and unemployment, all resonate with that view. In addition, as many of us know, economic and environmental security stressors can lead to weakened and even failed regimes and states.

This country is nowhere near the “failed” status, but we are clearly becoming weaker, and this is evidenced by the deep dissatisfaction with government that Mark rightly connects to HS. Whomever addresses it — NOT DHS, of course — it IS “homeland security” in the sense that civilians are being threatened by the economic distress and attendant failure to rebuild the nation or reverse the detrimental trajectory of disaster — fast OR slow — preparedness and human capital.

Comment by John

October 6, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

I have to agree with DG – this is a bit much. Talking about the issue is one thing, but so openly casting your lot with a particular side is a bit off-putting.

I’ve only been a reader for a few months, but this post was so tone-deaf that I’m dropping the site from my RSS list. (“vilifying civil servants and public policies aimed at protecting much less expanding the middle class”… seriously…?)

No, I don’t expect you to care all that much… just wanted you to know why I, and my “ilk”, are leaving.

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