April 22, 2016
April 15, 2016
April 8, 2016
March 28, 2016
This past weekend homeland security expert Juliette Kayyem had an op-ed in The Washington Post unfortunately titled (by the editors I’d assume…), “No, America isn’t 100% safe from terrorism. And that’s a good thing.”
Obviously provocative but, in my view, unnecessarily vague in regards to the point of the piece. But whatever. The important thing is the message:
Is my family safe?The answer is both simple and liberating: No, not entirely. America was built vulnerable, and thank goodness for that.
The flow of people and things, the movement to and within cities, the congregation of the masses that makes our lives meaningful, whether at church or at Fenway Park, are inherently risky. Our system (a federal government with limited powers, mayors overseeing police departments, governors directing National Guards) wasn’t designed to produce a seamless shield against every conceivable threat. Every day, more than 2 million passengers board planes at U.S. airports. The movement of goods and services — the expectation that everything from airline tickets to groceries can be purchased with just a few mouse clicks — is our lifeline. We’ve traded a measure of safety for convenience. And in our America, there are sometimes monsters under the bed.
Kayyem identifies the problem as the unwillingness of our leaders to speak the truth about our situation:
Threats constantly change, yet our political discourse suggests that our vulnerabilities are simply for lack of resources, commitment or competence. Sometimes, that is true. But mostly we are vulnerable because we choose to be; because we’ve accepted, at least implicitly, that some risk is tolerable. A state that could stop every suicide bomber wouldn’t be a free or, let’s face it, fun one.
And she suggests a path forward:
Yet we still live, often joyfully, in a world with gun violence. And drunk drivers. And disease. We implore government to allocate resources as best it can to minimize those risks. Once we move past our angst, this becomes the most rational way to approach terrorist violence.
Accepting these vulnerabilities means our safety can be measured and evaluated on three core premises: how well we minimize our risks, maximize our defenses and maintain our spirit.
The entire piece is worth your time reading, and worth sharing with friends, family, and loved ones who might not have a grasp on the concept of risk management.
March 25, 2016
March 21, 2016
With the declining state of campaign rhetoric during this political season, especially as it concerns immigration, Islam, and terrorism, I thought it appropriate to bring attention back to President Obama’s visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore last month.
If you missed it behind the sheer volume of campaign and other news, it is a speech worth reading or watching. The President hits on several important homeland security topics, while at the same time resisting the urge to frame the speech in simple security terms.
As a reporter from the Washington Post described it:
President Obama Wednesday delivered the comforting sermon to U.S. Muslims that their community leaders have been requesting for years, framing Islam as deeply American and its critics as violating the nation’s cherished value of religious freedom. Obama’s comments came in his first visit as president to a U.S. mosque.
The historic 45-minute speech at a large, suburban Baltimore mosque was attended by some of the country’s most prominent Muslims. In what appeared to be a counter to the rise in Islamophobia, Obama celebrated the long history of Muslim achievement in American life from sports to architecture and described Muslims as Cub Scouts, soldiers and parents, pointing out the mother of the pre-med college student who introduced him at the podium.
“There are voices who are constantly claiming you have to choose between your identities…. Do not believe them…. You fit in here. Right here. You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America, too,” Obama said, his volume rising as he said he was speaking in particular at that moment to young Muslim Americans. “You’re not Muslim or American, you’re Muslim and American. And don’t grow cynical.”
You can read the text of the speech at the White House website here:
Or you can watch it below:
March 18, 2016
March 11, 2016
March 4, 2016
February 26, 2016
February 19, 2016
February 12, 2016
February 11, 2016
This post is to announce my departure.
For over seven years I have shared these screens with a wide range of people posting and commenting. I have certainly benefited and hope to have returned the favor.
Three issues have converged to move me along.
First, Homeland Security has continued to so persistently fracture that I find it more difficult than ever to discuss it as anything but a rather arbitrary collection of functions. It is a Rube Goldberg construction incorporating several individual bits performing practical services. But as a whole, it seems to me less and less strategically — or conceptually — coherent. This is frustrating to me and I don’t perceive my contribution at HLSWatch is helping close the gaps. Perhaps the opposite.
Second, the coarsening of public discourse, our readiness to denigrate one another, and the emergence of anger as a recurring default is deeply distressing. Various Vulgarian tribes are fighting over the remnants of the Republic. A predilection for attack, rather than any serious attempt to understand, is epidemic. At HLSWatch I have failed to craft effective alternatives or even a meaningful defense. Both on the blog and in bilateral communications about terrorism, immigration, refugees, fear, and if or how to fight there is an explosion of stubborn factionalism that I find inherently self-destructive, probably for our polity… certainly for me.
Third — and thankfully — other aspects of my life are going rather well. I find that in other venues it is still possible to speak softly, listen carefully, work together to apprehend problems and opportunities, experiment with creative interventions, be kind to one another, and at the end of the day see that progress is often being made, even if many of us remain uncertain or disagree. I want to focus more on where my investments generate positive returns, rather than digging a deeper deficit.
But you will not be surprised that as a parting “gift”, I leave you with one more potentially specious classical analogy. Below is a passage from the Third Book of Thucydides “Peloponnesian War“. Many traditional translations take the classical Greek word stasis and give us “revolution” or “civil strife” or something similar. But I perceive Thucydides was quite intentional to signal “standing still” or even “locked in place”. He describes a mutually reinforcing face-off between two roughly equal sides within several city-states, neither side typically willing to grant the other moral equivalence, each insistent on its moral superiority.
The sufferings which stasis entailed upon the cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occur, as long as the nature of mankind remains the same; though in a severer or milder form, and varying in their symptoms, according to the variety of the particular cases. In peace and prosperity states and individuals have better sentiments, because they do not find themselves suddenly confronted with imperious necessities; but war takes away the easy supply of daily wants, and so proves a rough master, that brings most men’s characters to a level with their fortunes.
Stasis thus emerged in city to city, and the places where it arrived at last, from having heard what had been done before carried to still greater excess the refining of their inventions, as manifested in the cunning of their conspiracies and the atrocity of their reprisals.
Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence, became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defense.
The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. To forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was wanting, was equally commended, until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations… were formed by ambition for their overthrow; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any ethical (or religious) sanction than upon complicity in crime.
The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with a generous confidence. Revenge also was held of more account than self-preservation. Oaths of reconciliation, being only proffered on either side to meet an immediate difficulty, only held good so long as no other weapon was at hand; but when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one, since, considerations of safety apart, success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence. Indeed it is generally the case that men are readier to call rogues clever than simpletons honest, and are as ashamed of being the second as they are proud of being the first.
This ancient description of a society ripped-asunder seems entirely too familiar for my comfort. The challenge — at least for me — presented by such extremes (and extremists) is to find where it is possible to productively focus any remaining constructive resources. There are now, I perceive, other more fertile places.