Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 13, 2012

WSJ: National Counterterrorism Center given access to full-spectrum of Federal databases

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 13, 2012

If you’re a Wall Street Journal subscriber, you  read the story late Wednesday night or earlier today.   If not it’s behind the Journal’s pay-wall.   I carried today’s (paper) Wall Street Journal to my morning meetings and didn’t see it until lunchtime.

But here’s how Wired magazine is summarizing the WSJ’s investigative journalism:

In a secret government agreement granted without approval or debate from lawmakers, the U.S. attorney general recently gave the National Counterterrorism Center sweeping new powers to store dossiers on U.S. citizens, even if they are not suspected of a crime, according to a news report.

Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder granted the center the ability to copy entire government databases holding information on flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and other data, and to store it for up to five years, even without suspicion that someone in the database has committed a crime, according to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story.

Whereas previously the law prohibited the center from storing data compilations on U.S. citizens unless they were suspected of terrorist activity or were relevant to an ongoing terrorism investigation, the new powers give the center the ability to not only collect and store vast databases of information but also to trawl through and analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior in order to uncover activity that could launch an investigation.

The changes granted by Holder would also allow databases containing information about U.S. citizens to be shared with foreign governments for their own analysis.

A former senior White House official told the Journal that the new changes were “breathtaking in scope.”

MORE FROM WIRED

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Am I vulnerable or am I threatened? Does it make a difference?

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 13, 2012

Monday I participated in an “Emerging Threats Forum.”  Facilitated by Toffler Associates, a major jurisdiction was working to think through the atypical and potentially new.   Among the issues offered were:

  • Aging Infrastructure
  • Engineered Viruses
  • Climate Change
  • Cyber Attacks
  • Nano robots
  • Solar Weather

And more.  I perceive the purpose was less a matter of tactical planning and more an effort to conceive a strategic stance that might meaningfully engage a wide range of threats, not just those specified.

While our rather small, but diverse group was in conversation, the National Intelligence Council released it’s quadrennial report: Global Trends 2030: US Leadership in a Post-Western World. (Warning: 20-plus MB)

If you read HLSWatch, I’d be surprised if you have not already read a news piece or two on the report.  The Telegraph (UK) headlined: US will be “first among equals by 2030.” The Economic Times (India) headlined: India- China unlikely to topple American supremacy by 2030: Intelligence.  Same report viewed from two different contexts.

Here’s how the Office of the Director of National Intelligence frames the report:

“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” projects that by 2030 the U.S. most likely will remain “first among equals” among the other great powers, due to the legacy of its leadership role in the world and the dominant role it has played in international politics across the board in both hard and soft power. The replacement of the U.S. by another global power and construction of a new international order is an unlikely outcome in this time period.

Nevertheless, with the rapid rise of other countries, the “unipolar moment” is over and no country – whether the U.S., China, or any other country – will be a hegemonic power. In terms of the indices of overall power – GDP, population size, military spending and technological investment – Asia will surpass North America and Europe combined.

The empowerment of individuals, the diffusion of power among states, and from states to informal networks, will have a dramatic impact bringing a growing democratization, at both the international and domestic level. Additionally, two other “megatrends” will shape the world out to 2030:  Demographic patterns especially rapid aging and growing demands on resources such as food and water, which might lead to scarcities. These trends, which exist today, are projected to gain momentum over the coming 15-20 years.

On Tuesday Dan O’Connor asked, “Why are Americans so scared?” Well, if you’re predisposed to fretting there’s plenty of encouragement in the Global Trends report.   If worst case thinking is your particular fetish, the six Black Swans described will be as titillating as the Four Horsemen.

I was surprised how the emerging threats conversation unfolded.   To effectively deal with any exotic threat — and many others as well — those in the room concluded there was a need to proactively engage the public.   The public should know the government does not have sufficient capabilities to effectively respond to many of these threats.  As a result, individuals — and the private sector generally — should be self-sustaining for a significant period, potentially well-beyond the 72-hour window.  It is especially important that those with the financial and physical capacity to be self-sustaining do so in order to allow the government to assist those without such capacity.

In other words, the conversation gave much more emphasis to shared vulnerabilities than to specific threats.  The strategic stance focused on individuals and the community being informed, realistic, and proactive regarding existing vulnerabilities.  (The group also perceived it would be difficult — both politically and functionally — to achieve this strategy, but that is for a different blog post.).   At least one HLSWatch reader was also involved in the discussion, I will be interested if she finds this a fair representation of what seemed to me to be a consensus conclusion.

The National Intelligence Council addresses vulnerabilities (and opportunities), but it does so within a rhetoric that presumes a threat.   The calculus of action and options unfolds from preventing or mitigating a threat.

The micro does not always translate into the macro but as the father of young children I discouraged attention to potential threats, even while I encouraged sustained attention to potential vulnerabilities.   I was taught by my parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, and community that strength emerges from diligent self-development — doing my very best — not from preoccupation with threats or competition.  For better or worse — and I think mostly for better — this is the strategic stance with which I have lived my life.

Are we vulnerable or are we threatened? Does it make a difference?

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December 11, 2012

Why are Americans so scared?

Filed under: International HLS — by Dan OConnor on December 11, 2012

Recently my wife and daughter went on a school/church trip to Kampala, Uganda.  They spent two weeks working in and around an AIDS orphanage and a small village.

The trip is part of a recurring program that has a variety of humanitarian, educational, and spiritual missions. It often shocks the team, typically a dozen or so 16-18 year olds, into stark awareness of how life is lived elsewhere, and what it looks like.

On this particular trip, they worked in a village than had never seen Caucasians, ever.  The kids on the team, almost all girls, were mauled — not in a malicious way, but purely a curious one as the children from the village wanted to touch their hair and pink cheeks.

One day the kids went to visit an older woman.

She was taken aback, thinking they were… well, ghostly.

 

It was after this visit that some real learning took place.

The woman had no income and lived by selling goat milk.  She was upset on the day of the visit because someone had stolen her goats.

Nevertheless, she felt compelled to give a gift to the visitors, as is their custom.

She did not want the kids to enter her home for a variety of reasons, but she returned from her shelter with a small sandwich style bag full of peanuts.  This was her food and she felt compelled to share it.

 

In Kampala, girls are relatively worthless.  Girls are considered trade bait and commodities.   A 12 year old girl has generally only two outcomes in Uganda: traded for a cow or sold for sex.   Mothers purposely distance themselves from affection because this is the course life takes.

The orphanage where my wife and daughter worked was overwhelmingly filled with girls who were discarded…no longer useful for trade or sex.  Imagine having no value at 13 years of age.

Towards the end of the second week, there was a question and answer panel set up by a seminary in Uganda.  The seminary students were African and had what I would call a binary understanding of the world and a qualified “if, then” thinking.

Here are some of the questions they asked the American visitors:

“Why did the Americans help Muslims in Yugoslavia and not Syria?”

“Why does your President say he is a Christian but allows Cops (Coptic Christians in Egypt) to be persecuted?

“You are a superpower, why do you pick and choose who you provide humanitarian aid to?”

“How can you be the richest nation in the world and have so much debt?”

“You are America, why are you so scared?”

My wife said they expected simply questions about America but not questions like this, in a place where electricity is on 4 hours a day and poverty and death are universal.

They did their best to answer the questions and while not contentious, the discussion did create tension.  The questions spurned a secondary discussion amongst the American kids.

They felt like there was a purposeful hypocrisy in our politics and felt like our affluence had less influence than our character.

Bright, wide eyed American kids, conducting foreign policy.  Perhaps this is our real responsibility in the world.  Not necessarily being so quick to drop money or food but being more consistent in our portrayal of character and consistency.

This being a homeland security blog, these people who live in mud huts and metal sheds, and who live simple, simple lives want to know why America does what it does.

Homeland security is monumentally bigger than money, policy, and security.  It is as much an idea as it is a function.  Our security and place in this world are directly affected by what we present, how we present it, and whether it’s authentic.

The world is full, literally and figuratively, of places like this that pose the question: why does America do what it does?

Perhaps if we were to become more attuned to our reputation and more consistent in our behavior, our kids and our citizens won’t struggle the next time they find themselves in a conversation that starts, “We love America and thank you, but why do you….”

 

 

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December 8, 2012

Hanukkah: Lighting one candle at a time

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 8, 2012

Last week a young woman approached me after a fairly typical policy-strategy session.  I had an hour until my next meeting across the street, so we sat talking over stale coffee as the room emptied.  Her first name was Laura, same as my daughter’s and close to the same age.  Stupidly, I did not get her card and don’t remember her last name.

But I know she reads this blog.  That’s how the conversation began.  She recognized my name.

Laura is a contractor assigned to DHS.  She originally wanted to become a civil servant, but especially because she is not a veteran she thinks this is unlikely anytime soon.  I won’t say much more about her background since I cannot ask her permission.  But I will say she was articulate, seemed competent, and for her age had a strong set of experiences to complement a BA/MA from good schools.

She had read the Coburn report and seen an ABC News piece on the same.  She was discouraged. “As depressed as I’ve been since the GSA Las Vegas conferences.”

Laura does not question the veracity of Senator Coburn’s findings.  She is at least as appalled and embarrassed too, wondering which family member will bring it up over the holidays.  Laura is also mystified.   I will have to paraphrase, I do not have audiographic memory.

“I’ve been assigned to DHS for almost three years.  I’ve seen money wasted, but only from good ideas that failed.   Stupid, silly ideas get shot down pretty quickly.  Even potentially good ideas get kaboshed because someone’s worried to try something new or there’s just not enough money for every good idea.”

“We were working on a pretty cold private-public possibility and it seemed there was departmental buy-in, but once Toy Story (her name for the Coburn report) was released the client shut-it-down totally.”

Most of the projects to which Laura has been assigned require significant private-public engagement to make substantive progress.  She said, “To even hope to be effective we should be going to the private sector, attending their conferences, asking for meetings, bringing resources — even funding — to co-invest in solutions.  I shouldn’t be in DC much. But the best way to avoid  criticism is to sit at your desk and write reports or go down the hallway and meet with other feds and contractors.”

She mentioned I was the only non-Fed at the meeting just completed.   My identity is fungible.  To private sector people I am clearly public sector, while to public sector I am obviously private.  To academics I am a practitioner, while most practitioners think I’m as academic as the day is long.

“The real waste, the profound and appalling waste is of human talent squeezed into cubicles and windowless conference rooms and basically told to stop asking interesting questions, much less encouraged to find interesting answers.”

Laura asked me if she should go into the private sector.  I asked a few questions:  long-term goals, what she really likes doing, amount of student loans… typical stuff.  I gave a non-answer about the sort of problems encountered in the private sector.  She had to leave before I could come up with anything more meaningful.  I’ve thought about the conversation ever since.

Tonight is the beginning of Hanukkah.  As I write the sun is just about down.

I am tempted to an extended analogy on the tension between Judaism and Hellenism and the contemporary private-public divide.  But I will save that for what I hope is another conversation with Laura.  For the purposes of this blog I will, instead, turn to the most traditional story of the festival.

On reclaiming and cleansing the Temple from the defiling and tyrannical Greeks, the Maccabees discovered they only had enough sacred oil to keep the menorah alight for one day and it would take at least eight days to produce new oil.  Miraculously the small amount of oil was sufficient.  It lasted until new oil was made.

Laura, we often underestimate our own capabilities.  This is a particular vulnerability of those who are self-aware, self-critical, and self-correcting.  We don’t think we have enough, when we actually have much more than is needed.  One of many meanings of Hanukkah is to not hesitate to use what we have, even as we very practically work to make more.

I don’t know the specific impediments that are being thrown at you.  But I encourage you to continue asking interesting questions and exploring interesting answers.  Do what you can  as you can.  When one angle is blocked, try another — always remaining self-aware, self-critical, and self-correcting.  Listen carefully even to the fearful and angry, they are not always wrong.  Continue to make your way, as best you can see the way… especially when self-giving is, as best you can tell, what’s fueling you.

Each day and night use what you have.  You may be amazed at how much you have.

–+–

Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness – to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness – to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.

Allen Ginsberg, “Psalm III”

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December 7, 2012

December 7, 1941

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 7, 2012

December 7 1941

December 7, 1941, Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“When I came back from church today, I heard the dreamlike news that Japanese airplanes had bombed Hawaii. I was shocked beyond belief. I sat in front of the radio and listened to the news all day. They said that at 6 a.m. Japan declared war on the United States. Our future has become gloomy. I pray that God will stay with us.”

Dec 12

December 12, 1941, Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“It was fair and clear weather today. I spent all day at home. Starting today we were permitted to withdraw up to $100 from the bank. This was for our sustenance of life, we who are enemy to them. I deeply appreciated American’s large heartedness in dealing with us.”

Dec 25

December 25, 1941, Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“Christmas in the time of war. We spent time at home quietly as all of the family joyfully got together. For this we were all thankful. We had a pleasant Christmas, with Roger as the center of attention.”

Jan 5

February 3, 1942, Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“I finally decided to register my fingerprints today after putting this off for a long time. Mrs. Sasaki and I went to the post office at the appointed time of 9 a.m. We finished the strict registration two hours later. I felt that a heavy load had been taken off of my mind.”

April 3

April 8, 1942 Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“Today most of the stores in the Japanese section of town closed down. In this manner, our community of 40 years has come to a profound end. Reminiscing over the past, my eyes filled with tears. I had high blood pressure again so I received a second injection. I stayed in bed and rested, but my heart was filled with deep emotions thinking about the future.”

April 28

April 21, 1942 Seattle, Washington (diary translation)

“At last the order for evacuation was given formally by General DeWitt. There were some limitations to the first move. Kazuo (son) along with some others will leave here on the 28th as an advanced party. In haste, we prepared for the leave.”

April 29

April 28, 1942 Camp Harmony Assembly Center, Puyallup, WA: (diary translation)

“At last the day had arrived. It was time to leave Seattle, the city where we have lived for such a long time. Even though I tried not to cry, the tears flowed. Our group of 370 working people departed at 9:30 a.m. in a long string of cars and buses. We arrived at Puyallup at 11:30 a.m. We settled into our assigned place, A-2, number 27. We were all very dissatisfied with our army cots and cotton mattresses. Until late at night we heard a mixture of hammering and the crying voices of children. With much difficulty, I was eventually able to fall asleep.”

———————–

The images were created by Japanese-American Roger Shimomura. The words are translated from his grandmother’s diary.

The remaining images from Shimomura’s “An American Diary,” describing his family’s internment during World War II,  can be seen at this link.

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New York City is where the future comes to audition

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 7, 2012

Thursday morning Mayor Bloomberg gave a speech on post-Sandy recovery.  It is important to New York.  Some of the principles articulated are, I suggest, important for the nation.  You can read the entire speech here. Below I have excerpted several paragraphs worth your particular consideration

–+–

We may or may not see another storm like Sandy in our lifetimes,but I don’t think it’s fair to say that we should leave it to our children to prepare for the possibility. We are a coastal city, a harbor city, surprise, surprise. And sea levels are expected to rise by another two and a half feet by the time a child born today reaches 40 years old, and that’s going to make surges even more powerful and dangerous. And intense storms are likely to increase as the ocean’s temperatures continue to rise…

You can argue about what caused the weather to change, but there is no question – you can measure the temperatures of the ocean, you can measure the amount of moisture in the air, and that just leads to the kind of aberrations that we’re seeing: snowstorms where we didn’t have them before, droughts where we didn’t have them before, hurricanes that take different paths, go in different directions and have different strengths.

We cannot solve the problems associated with climate change on our own here in New York City, but I think it’s fair to say we can lead the way. We have been, both locally and globally. New York City has always been a leader. As Ed Koch once said: ‘New York City is where the future comes to audition,’ and we have a responsibility I’ve always thought to help the rest of the world…

We don’t know whether the next emergency will be a storm, a drought, a tornado or a blizzard, but we do know that we have to be better prepared for all of them.

And we also know that every one of those events is not going to come exactly the way that we had prepared for. We need to make sure that we have people who are well-trained, well-equipped, and able to react in an emergency and to deal with whatever nature throws at us, even if we hadn’t predicted it…

We have to reexamine all of our major infrastructure in light of Sandy – and how we can adapt and modernize it in order to protect it.

So today, I have directed someone with extensive experience in both infrastructure development and community revitalization, Seth Pinsky, the President of the Economic Development Corporation, to develop concrete recovery plans for the communities Sandy hit hardest as well as a specific and comprehensive action plan to prepare our city for the climate risks we face. Deputy Mayors Cas Holloway and Bob Steel will directly oversee this work – and our entire City Hall team, especially our Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability – will be deeply involved…

This is not work that can be done overnight, but it is work that must begin immediately where the need is greatest. So in each of the hardest-hit areas, Seth and our team will work with local leaders to develop and implement comprehensive Community Recovery and Rebuilding plans.

The plans will cover everything from public and private housing, to hospitals and schools, to transportation and parks, to businesses and nonprofits, including cultural institutions like the New York Aquarium. To succeed, the plans must include the input of the people who live and work in these communities – and they will. Members of the community will assist in shaping and implementing each community plan – and that will be just the beginning of our work.

The biggest challenge that we face is adapting our city to risks associated with climate change. And meeting that challenge will require us to take a leap into the future. But I think, as Al pointed out, the good news is, compared to any other American city, we’ve got a running head start…

For major developments in vulnerable areas, we now require a climate risk assessment. That’s why the developers of Willets Point – and those building the new recycling facility in Red Hook – are required to elevate development out of the flood plain. It’s why the park being built on Governors Island is being elevated by four feet, and I’m happy to say it sustained no major structural damage in the storm, nor did Brooklyn Bridge Park, which we designed specifically to withstand major storms – and I’m happy to say that it did…

New York City has 520 miles of shoreline – and it is some of the most beautiful, dynamic shoreline in the world, with the most beautiful views. Robert Moses built the roads along our coastline, separating us from this natural resource and we have worked very hard to try reconnect back to the most wonderful asset that we have. It’s why people have chosen to live at the coastline for centuries. And it’s why the question I have gotten most often since the storm is not about the damage Sandy caused, but about whether people can rebuild their homes in places like Breezy Point and Midland Beach.

Let me be clear: We are not going to abandon the waterfront.

We are not going to leave the Rockaways or Coney Island or Staten Island’s South Shore. But we can’t just rebuild what was there and hope for the best. We have to build smarter and stronger and more sustainably. And Seth and his team will be working with all of our City agencies, and lots of outside experts, to determine exactly what that means.

For instance: even though the City has already revised the building code to strengthen standards for flood protection, we will now do it again. The fact is: two-thirds of all the homes damaged by Sandy are outside of FEMA’s existing 100-year flood maps…

No matter how much we do to make homes and businesses more resilient, the fact of the matter is we live next to the ocean, and the ocean comes with risks that we just cannot eliminate. Over the past month, there has been a lot of discussion about sea walls. It would be nice if we could stop the tides from coming in, but King Canute couldn’t do it – and neither can we, especially if, as many scientists project, sea levels continue rising. However, there may be some coastline protections that we can build that will mitigate the impact of a storm surge – from berms and dunes, to jetties and levees.

On October 23rd, one week before Sandy hit, you should know that our Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability initiated a formal request to the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate additional ways that we could reduce the impact of coastal storms. A full Army Corps study will take three to five years to complete – and that does not include the required engineering analysis, which also can take years. And I’ve said we just cannot wait that long. So we will launch an expedited engineering analysis of coastal protection strategies to ensure we pursue the ones that are right for our city.

But remember: there are no panaceas or magic bullets. No matter what we do: the tides will continue to come in – and so we have to make our city more resilient in other ways, especially when it comes to our critical infrastructure.

During Hurricane Sandy, all of our major infrastructure networks failed and they have all taken just too long to come back on line. Our Long Term Planning and Sustainability Team have been working with many of these network operators to assess their vulnerabilities.

We know, for example, that a substantial proportion of the City’s critical electrical infrastructure is in the 100 year flood plain, so I have directed Seth to work with Sergej Mahnovski and our sustainability team to assess what it takes to make every essential network that supports our city capable of withstanding a Category 2 hurricane, or a record-breaking heat wave, or other natural disaster. That includes our transportation network, our power network, our gas network, our telecommunications network and our hospital network.

What will it take to ensure that even in a Category 2 hurricane, orif a record heat wave comes, what will each of these networks be required to remain operational? How much will it cost? And what standards should be set for bringing networks back quickly so that residents and businesses can have reasonable expectations about how long they may be out of service? In addition, how can we ensure continuity of operations, not just of our critical infrastructure, but of critical industries?

Many businesses – including the New York Stock Exchange – remained closed for days because not enough people could get to work. In all fairness, the New York Stock Exchange did have generators, they were perfectly capable of opening, but they can’t open without their employees. In a wireless world, we have to do a better job, not only keeping our networks up, but keeping our markets and businesses open, come hell or high water.

Many of our key infrastructure networks are run by private companies as you know, but they have contracts, franchises, and licenses to provide public services – and the public does has a right to establish clear benchmarks for their performance in a disaster. That’s why we’ve reached out to the CEOs of Con Ed, National Grid, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner, Hess and others and asked them to work with us on this effort. All have pledged their unqualified support…

I had a long conversation last night with Lowell McAdam, who is the CEO of Verizon. Their schedule right now says that Lower Manhattan’s night going to be back up until May, and I pointed out that is just not acceptable. And together we’ve worked out a plan where the City can help them get access into buildings and other things that you wouldn’t think about so that Verizon can accelerate that. Those buildings in downtown that lost electricity and heat should be back up by the end of this month, but they can’t be occupied unless we have telephone service, and that’s going to be our number one priority for downtown.

Even today, five weeks after the storm, there are just too many people who cannot come back to work here. We don’t want them moving any place else, and they need to earn a living and we need their service. And a growing number of New Yorkers, as we all know, today are relying on wireless networks and abandoning land-line telephones. We cannot, in the future, have cell towers that have only eight hours of back-up battery power. That is just not acceptable in the world that we live today. The telephone is our lifeline, the telephone is a lifeline not just to business, but to our own physical security. It has to keep working.

We’ll take on all of these efforts, but we also have to be mindful not to fight the last war and miss the new one ahead.

–+–

The actual speech is about twice as long and worth the read.    Reading Mayor Bloomberg is much better than listening to him.

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December 6, 2012

Senator Coburn gives a second warning to homeland security

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,State and Local HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on December 6, 2012

Senator Tom Coburn fired another warning shot over the bow of the USS Homeland Security Enterprise.

On December 4th, the man likely to become ranking minority member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released “Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in US Cities.” The 54 page report — well worth reading — “exposes misguided and wasteful spending” in the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant programs.

As if to emphasize “misguided and wasteful,” the cover features a toy truck, a toy 4 wheeler, a toy police helicopter, and a small R2D2 robot.

Coburn uasi report

The toys are immediately outside the US Capitol building. I’m not sure what that image is supposed to symbolize. It could mean somebody’s been playing around with Congress. Or maybe it is supposed to be a metaphor for the way Congress treats homeland security.

—————————————

The UASI report is the senator’s second recent warning to the homeland security enterprise.

Last October, he released “Federal Support For And Involvement In State And Local Fusion Centers.” That report questioned federal funding for fusion centers and concluded, among other things, that fusion centers do not contribute much to federal counterterrorism effectiveness, and DHS does not know how much it spent on fusion center support. (Spending estimates ranged — if “ranged” is the correct word here — from $289 million to $1.4 billion.)

The Fusion Center report hit a nerve. Within a week of its release, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Sheriffs Association, Major Cities Chiefs, Major County Sheriffs, National Governors Association Homeland Security Advisers Counsel, National Narcotics Officers Coalition Association, National Fusion Center Association, and the Association Of State Criminal Investigative Agencies issued a “joint statement” disagreeing with the report. (Eight public safety associations agreeing on anything in less than a week must be a world record.)

Their statement said, in part, “Simply put, the report displays a fundamental disconnect and severe misunderstanding of the federal government’s role in supporting state and locally owned and operated fusion centers and the critical role that fusion centers play in the national counterterrorism effort.”

Media attention to the Fusion Center report lasted about a week. I wonder how long interest in the UASI report will last.

—————————————

The UASI report has lots of material to provoke media outrage.

Some of the stories of questionable UASI expenditures are old news – for example the one about 13 sno-cone machines (p. 31). Other “questionable projects” were new – at least to me.

One city produced a series of videos titled “A Tale of Disaster and Preparedness.” The UASI report complains the “little more than common sense suggestions” in the video are “presented as a steady stream of jokes….” (p. 32).

I thought the preparedness videos were innocently compelling – sort of like Apple versus PC commercials. But as Will Rogers might have said, one person’s joke is another person’s misused taxpayer funds.

There was a somewhat too long description of a $1000, UASI allowable expense, entrance fee for a five day counterterrorism summit held on an island near San Diego. The Summit featured “40 actors dressed as zombies getting gunned down by a military tactical unit.” (p. 25)

The report even found some UASI money was apparently spent on “a true pork project – a hog catcher in Liberty County [Texas],” used (according to another source) to aid in catching and controlling unruly swine at holding sites. (p. 24)

—————————————

There are many other examples of UASI spending for things and activities that at a minimum activate a reader’s WTF response. But beyond the sometimes surreal stories, the report – addressed to “Dear Taxpayer” – is a serious critique of the $7 billion spent on the UASI programs over the past decade.

Part 2 of the report: “The Politics of Risk” discusses the role of political influence in determining how homeland security money is allocated.

Tom Ridge is quoted as saying he was looking for a grant formula that gets “218 votes in the House or 51 votes Senate….”  Anyone still operating under the assumption that grant awards are – or ever were – based on objective measures of threat or vulnerability or consequence can benefit from spending time with Part 2.

Part 3 asks whether UASI grants have made the nation safer.

This chapter is the latest cover of the “Nobody Knows Whether Homeland Security Spending Is A Worthwhile Investment” song. The report (later) even brings up the Mueller and Stewart critique about acceptable and unacceptable risk. I thought their analysis was anathema in DHS and in Congress. Maybe not everywhere.

Part 3 also describes how homeland security money expands the militarization of state and local law enforcement, including the use of drones and “Long-Range Acoustic Devices” (i.e., sound cannons) in urban areas.

Part 4 was a bit disappointing. It offered a recycled critique that FEMA ineffectively manages grant programs, and shows a surprisingly naïve understanding of how measuring homeland security preparedness is different from measuring risk in the finance and insurance industries. The report avoids trying to explain the causes of this “mismanagement;” saying instead, “It is unclear why FEMA continues to have difficulties in [measuring the effectiveness of its grant programs] considering the experience and expertise of the private sector that is available to inform FEMA’s own efforts.”

How about “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted?”

I thought the report all but gave up in Part 5: “Conclusions and Recommendations.” I did not see anything new here in the slightly more than one page final section.

DHS needs to address A, B, C…
DHS needs to demand Q, R & S from local and state partners…
DHS needs to implement a systematic approach to X, Y & Z…

Yes, DHS ought to do all those things.

But what is that old saying about insanity? About doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results? Those recommendations are not new insights.

—————————————

The UASI report missed an opportunity to break new ground in the decade long search for ways to bring more rigor, order, rationality, and common sense to the homeland security grant process.

On page 5, one finds this nugget of realpolitik:

“Any blame for problems in the UASI program, however, also falls on Congress, which is often more preoccupied with the amount of money sent to its cities than with how the money is spent, or whether it was ever needed in the first place. With so few accountability measures in place, there is almost no way to ensure taxpayers are getting value for their money, and more importantly, whether they are safer.”

The report blames the members of Congress for being more interested in sending money to constituents than figuring out the usefulness of those expenditures.

So what does the report recommend Congress should do to fix this primal cause of the UASI allocation problem?

The only recommendation I could find was in the last sentence of the report: Congress needs to … “demand answers.”

—————————————

Lorelei Kelly describes in another document  called  “Congress’ Wicked Problems,” — also released on December 4th – how and why Congress has become incapacitated, despised and obsolete.   She argues in its present state, Congress “cannot serve the needs of American democracy in the 21st Century.”

Kelly’s essay is especially worth reading in conjunction with the UASI report.

Someone who is sick probably can’t get better by demanding that other people get healthy.

Maybe the next step Congress could take to remedy the significant issues raised in the UASI report is to heal itself first.

I wonder if that healing will be on the agenda of the new ranking minority member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

October 29, Lower Manhattan looking north (Getty Images)

This season’s final episode of Revolution, a new NBC dramatic series, was broadcast last week.   With 7 to 10 million viewers, the network has ordered a second season.  Here’s the premise:

We lived in an electric world. We relied on it for everything. And then the power went out. Everything stopped working. We weren’t prepared. Fear and confusion led to panic. The lucky ones made it out of the cities. The government collapsed. Militias took over, controlling the food supply and stockpiling weapons. We still don’t know why the power went out. But we’re hopeful someone will come and light the way.

Last Thursday’s post included what then seemed a rather modest notion: “I perceive we need to assume power outages and discover how we can still water, feed, and otherwise serve those in need.”  The onslaught of email I received seems to indicate the TV show’s premise may not be as implausible as I thought.  For many the possibility of  doing much of anything without electricity is nearly unimaginable.

Another set of emailers can imagine life without electricity, but found my effort misguided (even in the words of one, “enabling bad practice by the utilities.” ) These correspondents insisted that instead we must see to it that the electric utilities “just do their job.” This job evidently involves effectively, efficiently, and at no additional cost adapting to increasing demand, legacy infrastructure, more regulation, hurricanes, ice storms, earthquakes, cyber-threats, and perhaps the greatest threat of all: property owners who love big trees. Not a job I want.

October 29, Lower Manhattan to Midtown seen from Brooklyn (AP Photo)

I know a resilient electrical grid is possible.  It’s just that given choices we made more than a century ago, it seems unlikely anytime soon.  Re-engineering for resilience will take time and lots of money.   But I want to believe in the possibility of redemption.  And fortunately, there are prophets to show us the way.

The prolifically prophetic J. Michael Barrett — usually  more Isaiah than Jeremiah — has just completed an augury that might well have included, “Come now, let us reason together…”    It is a scripture in four chapters, which began appearing on October 19 (see, I told you, prophetic) entitled: Ensuring the Resilience of the US Electrical Grid.

Chapter 1: Fixing it before it breaks

Chapter 2: Managing the chaos — and costs — of shared risk

Chapter 3: Requirements for a more resilient system

Chapter 4: Key investments and next steps

In Barrett 4: 12 (or so) we read, “Embedding resilience within the electrical grid is about three main categories of investment: 1) managing and meeting overall demand to help avoid an adverse event; 2) expanding alternatives or substitute systems before and after an event; and 3) enabling rapid reconstitution if and when a disruption does occur. Fortunately, the implementation of each type of solution often carries over benefits across to one or both of the other categories, for the tools and the knowledge that can help avoid an event can also be useful in response and recovery efforts.”

For a prophet Mike Barrett’s language is remarkably calm and balanced (unlike this post).  But between the lines a reader might discern the lemony shadow of “Rise up you who are at ease, hear my voice; you complacent ones… for the palace will be forsaken, the populous city deserted…

On what do you depend?  If you persist in this dependence do not despise its nature, but honor it with study and work. Beware distraction.  Do not be absent minded.  That on which you depend requires mindful engagement.   Absence — ab esse — is to step away from being, even outside being.  Never a good choice.

Please visit an extraordinary collection of Sandy-related photographs by Christophe Jacrot: New York in Black.  The example immediately above is too small.  In full form the spirit of Edward Hopper is re-claimed.  This is not just a city darkened, but a city more sharply seen.

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December 5, 2012

“This goes far beyond what FEMA does”

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on December 5, 2012

Tuesday the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing to “review the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) preparedness and response to Hurricane Sandy, receive information about the plan for redevelopment and recovery, and examine the lessons learned by other states impacted by previous disasters.”

Here’s one news report on what transpired:

“I hope that the members of the panel today will address questions regarding how we need to rethink our infrastructure,” U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., said. “The elephant in this room that needs to be spoken about is the impact of climate change. … We have to rebuild and rethink our infrastructure in those terms.”

Yet, when legislators asked FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate about these kinds of infrastructure issues, such as developing a long-term strategy for safer housing on the shorelines, he insisted that such issues, while important, were beyond the scope of his agency.

“Again, this goes far beyond what FEMA does, it goes far beyond the Stafford Act,” said Fugate, referring to the law that created the federal disaster relief system that is in place today.

Housing repair and replacement was a big topic.  Several others testified, including HUD officials.

There’s much more.  But, unfortunately, I did not have time yesterday and do not have time this morning to dig into it.  I hope you will. Prepared testimony is available at the House website.

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December 4, 2012

Chief Boatswain’s Mate Terrell Horne

Filed under: Border Security,Port and Maritime Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 4, 2012

Horne tribute1 300x300

“Chief Boatswain’s Mate Terrell Horne, the Executive Petty Officer of CGC HALIBUT, … died early [Sunday] morning from injuries sustained while conducting maritime law enforcement operations off the California coast.”

“BMC Horne and his fellow crew members of the USCG Cutter Halibut were engaged in an at-sea [counter-drug] interdiction when they came under threat by a small vessel that rammed their small boat. This tragedy reminds us of the dangers our men and women in uniform face every day, and the great risks they willingly take, as they protect our nation. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of BMC Horne and all of our Coast Guard personnel at this difficult time.”

Two men were apprehended and charged with killing an officer of the United States engaged in his official duties.

Chief Boatswain s Mate Terrell Horne

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November 30, 2012

West Coast Bombarded

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on November 30, 2012

The National Weather Service forecast for Friday to Sunday opens with:

THE ONSLAUGHT OF PACIFIC MOISTURE WILL CONTINUE TO BOMBARD MUCH OF THE WEST COAST

Who needs aliens — or even North Koreans — when you have computer-enhanced atmospheric energy waves!

The weather channel explains,

Meteorologists use the term “atmospheric river” to describe a long, narrow plume piping deep moisture from the tropics into the mid-latitudes. One type of atmospheric river you may have heard of is the “Pineapple Express”, a pronounced plume tapping moisture from the Hawaiian Islands to the U.S. West Coast. Amazingly, according to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL), a strong atmospheric river can transport as water vapor up to 15 times the average flow of liquid water at the mouth of the Mississippi River! Suffice to say, if an atmospheric river stalls over a particular area, significant flooding can be the result.

Right now the immediate forecast suggests local challenges but nothing catastrophic.  For those outside the Pacific northwest: mostly guilt-free storm porn.  But just as one man’s porn may be another’s sex education (I too was once a thirteen-year-old boy), what unfolds this weekend could — even should — influence our expectations.

In early 2011 the US Geological Survey, CALEMA, and others conducted a multi-hazard demonstration project they called ARkStorm:

The hypothetical storm depicted here would strike the U.S. West Coast and be similar to the intense California winter storms of 1861 and 1862 that left the central valley of California impassible… The Central Valley experiences hypothetical flooding 300 miles long and 20 or more miles wide. Serious flooding also occurs in Orange County, Los Angeles County, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay area, and other coastal communities. Windspeeds in some places reach 125 miles per hour, hurricane-force winds. Across wider areas of the state, winds reach 60 miles per hour. Hundreds of landslides damage roads, highways, and homes. Property damage exceeds $300 billion, most from flooding.

Demand surge (an increase in labor rates and other repair costs after major natural disasters) could increase property losses by 20 percent. Agricultural losses and other costs to repair lifelines, dewater (drain) flooded islands, and repair damage from landslides, brings the total direct property loss to nearly $400 billion, of which $20 to $30 billion would be recoverable through public and commercial insurance. Power, water, sewer, and other lifelines experience damage that takes weeks or months to restore. Flooding evacuation could involve 1.5 million residents in the inland region and delta counties. Business interruption costs reach $325 billion in addition to the $400 billion property repair costs…

As we saw with Sandy and Katrina and the Tohoku Quake and Mississippi flooding and profound drought in the Great Plains (and more) this is not a wild-eyed Mayan prediction of the future.   This is merely the projection onto the present of a previous and recurring natural event.

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November 29, 2012

Learning from Sandy

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector — by Philip J. Palin on November 29, 2012

It’s too late for a hot wash and there’s not been sufficient time for a serious after-action, but a few impressions — hypotheses, perhaps — that might productively frame follow-on information gathering and analysis.

(Below I focus mostly on a forty-mile radius from the Empire State Building.  I have not addressed electricity because I perceive we need to assume power outages and discover how we can still water, feed, and otherwise serve those in need.  I have not addressed telecommunications because, so far, this is for me mostly a dark hole. A reminder:  Sandy began seriously impacting the mid-Atlantic during the afternoon and evening of Monday, October 29.)

Water and Wastewater Systems: Most did better than I had expected, given the extended period without electric power.  In the handful of cases (well, two handfuls and a few toes) where there were  problems it mostly resulted from the loss of pumping capability. For example the Middlesex Water Company serving 450,000 in Central New Jersey lost primary power to its New Brunswick intake facility and this was not restored until late on Tuesday, November 6.  As water pressure fell contaminants entered the system requiring boiling or bleaching.   The non-operation of water treatment facilities, caused by both power outages and physical damage, and the resulting release of untreated sewage into the region’s rivers could still threaten the safety of water drawn from these sources.  The current status of waste water treatment facilities is tough to assess. (Thursday afternoon update: Today’s NYT has an extended report) Private sector sources of water were a helpful input in the immediate response period.  For example, Anheuser-Busch donated 1 million cans of water.

Food Supply: A few grocery stores — notably in Hoboken, Red Hook, the Rockaways and other barrier islands —  were totally washed out.  Of about fifty ShopRite stores in the New York metro region  27 were still closed on Thursday morning November 1, mostly due to power outages. Out of 30 Stop & Shop stores, ten were closed because of no electricity.  All have since reopened and most grocery and convenience food stores were back in business within 72 hours. Sources of food supply were mostly not impacted.  The fuel problems (see below) did not seem to have a serious impact on making grocery deliveries after the event.  Food shortages were evidently less the result of disruption in the food supply chain and much more the result of  impediments to consumer mobility. (Special Note: In Connecticut on October 29 the Governor ordered all large trucks off state highways as of 1PM.  It is not clear to me — yet — what impact that might have had on food, pharma, or other supplies.)

Pharmaceutical and Medical Goods: There have been several media reports of individual survivors of Sandy running low on prescriptions.  I have not seen or heard suggestions of systemic problems.   There was, apparently, some challenge in distributing pharmaceuticals as a result of fuel distribution problems.  On November 5 Drug Store News reported:

A key focal point in the discussions between Rx Response and government agencies has been addressing challenges in getting fuel to delivery trucks re-supplying hospitals and pharmacies, and helping to secure fuel for pharmacies and other healthcare facilities operating on generator power. Efforts are currently underway to help ensure access to fuel for both delivery fleets and healthcare facilities powered by generators.  Rx Response is also working with local law enforcement to help delivery vehicles gain access to areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

I have no idea why pharma distribution would have more problems with fuel than food distribution.  In any case, it is a distinction worth resolving.

Since Katrina the pharma industry has developed a proactive approach to disaster preparedness and response.   This process is coordinated through an industry-wide collaborative called RxResponse.   The entire effort is designed to help the full pharma supply chain flex when under stress from an event like Sandy.  For consumers and emergency managers an online pharmacy status update may be especially helpful.

Transportation Fuel: As was the case in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 tsunami-and-earthquake in Japan (and elsewhere), the disruption of the fuel distribution system seriously complicated the immediate response to Sandy.  HLSWatch has already given considerable attention to this issue here, here and here.  Yesterday Joshua Schneyer and Selam Gebrekidan with Reuters filed an excellent overview that I strongly recommend reading.

Housing Repairs and Replacements:  On Monday New York Governor Cuomo reported that 305,000 housing units had been damaged or destroyed by Sandy in New York alone and this number is expected to increase.  FEMA has reported 71,770 homes damaged or destroyed in New Jersey.  This total is much larger than I anticipated.  According to FEMA, more than 450,000 New York metro-area residents have registered for assistance.  Over $888 million in emergency housing assistance has already been approved.  During the Monday event — clearly designed to set the stage for a special Congressional appropriation — Governor Cuomo estimated needing $9.67 billion just focused on housing.  Wednesday afternoon the New York Federal Reserve “Beige Book” summary included the following overview:

Residential real estate markets in the (NY Federal Reserve) District were mixed but generally firm prior to the storm, and its effects on the market remain unclear at this point. Manhattan’s rental market remained on a positive trajectory in October, with rents up roughly 5 percent from a year earlier and vacancy rates continuing to decrease. Sales markets in both Manhattan and the outer boroughs were fairly active in October, with prices steady and the inventory of available homes characterized as low… An expert on New Jersey’s housing sector notes that conditions were improving gradually prior to Sandy and expects that post-storm rebuilding will boost multi-family construction. The storm caused a noticeable slowdown in sales activity throughout the New York City metropolitan region, but this is expected to be temporary. With many homes along the New York City, Long Island and New Jersey shorelines severely damaged or destroyed, the lean housing inventory is a concern, as displaced residents seek short-term rentals. There is some concern as to how much of the shore communities will be rebuilt and how quickly, but one industry expert anticipates that residents in the severely-damaged areas will be strongly motivated to return and rebuild. Some of the biggest potential challenges are likely to be shortages of construction equipment and materials, and steeper prices for insurance.

(Might be worth reviewing the National Disaster Housing Strategy. Especially in the immediate context of Post-Sandy, it sets out a a very restrained strategic concept.  This is not necessarily a criticism.)

Some emerging impressions:

  • Supply of consumables (water, food, pharma)  was not seriously impacted.  There were problems with distribution, most dramatically with fuel.  There was widespread lack of understanding about how distribution systems work and as a result early efforts to address problems were misdirected.  Lots of mitigation opportunities were exposed.
  • The most serious human consequences seem to have emerged from an inability to express or actuate demand.  People who could not easily communicate with or travel to nearby sources of supply were those most affected by the event.  Physical separation and social isolation are amplified by disaster (hardly a new finding).
  • I’m surprised we’re not hearing more horror stories about housing.  Maybe I spent too much time in Japan, but sometimes silence is the most important part of the message.
  • Sandy was a serious event, but considerably less than a “worst case”.  She was subtropical by landfall.  She was certainly big but might have been badder.  A repeat of the Great White Hurricane of 1888 would have much more serious and sustained impacts on electricity and distribution networks with considerably greater consequences for supply chains, critical infrastructure, and the population.

Given what we experienced with Sandy what can we do now to deal more effectively with the next really bad day?

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November 28, 2012

I am in the midst of a major disaster

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on November 28, 2012

On Monday a “Major Disaster Declaration” was approved for the Virginia county in which I reside. According to FEMA, “The President’s action makes federal funding available to the commonwealth and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by Hurricane Sandy.”  Hazard mitigation funding is also available.

My wife and I were without power for 25 hours.  We live at the end of a line and were one of the last restored. Down the mountain, a 1970s trailer-home had its roof pealed off.  Sustained winds exceeding 60 mph blew off some exterior panels at the middle school gym.  After the storm passed, the county sheriff told the local paper, “We had some strong winds and trees down on houses, but it could have been a lot worse. We were expecting flooding and thankfully we didn’t get any of that reported to us.”

The Governor requested a Major Disaster be declared by the President.  This maximizes the amount of federal assistance available.  Twenty-five Virginia counties are included in the declaration.

According to the Congressional Research Service:

44 C.F.R. § 206.47 regarding cost-share adjustments. The federal share of essential assistance shall not be less than 75% of the eligible costs of such assistance. 42 U.S.C. §5170b(b), (c)(4). For hazard mitigation under 42 U.S.C. § 5170c(a), the federal share is upto 75% of the cost of hazard mitigation measures the President has determined are cost effective and which substantially reduce the risk of future damage, hardship, loss, or suffering in any area affected by a major disaster. For repair, restoration and replacement of damaged facilities under 42 U.S.C. § 5172(b)(1) the federal share is not less than 75 percent, but this amount may be reduced to not less than 25% under § 5172(b)(2) in the case of repair, restoration, reconstruction or replacement of any eligible public facility or private nonprofit facility following an event associated with a major disaster that has been damage don more than one occasion in the last 10 years by a similar event and with respect to which the owner has failed to implement appropriate mitigation measures to address the hazard which caused the damage to the facility. For debris removal under 42 U.S.C. § 5173(d), the federal share of assistance is not less than 75 percent of the eligible cost. The federal share for assistance to individuals and households under 42 U.S.C. § 5174 is 100% of eligible costs generally, except that it is 75% for financial assistance for other needs, the non-federal share to be paid from state funds. The maximum financial assistance that an individual or household can receive under this program is $25,000 with respect to a single disaster, with the limit subject to annual adjustment to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers published by the Department of Labor.

Section 501 of the Stafford Act requires that a Governor’s request for a declaration, ”shall be based on a finding that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and the affected local governments and that Federal assistance is necessary.”

Clearly, there are localities where this criterion has been more than met.

I have drafted and deleted several more sentences.  I seem trapped in a tone that is cynical, acrid, churlish, peevish, and — well, I guess — unrealistic.  Until I can offer something more constructive,  I’ll leave it there.

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November 27, 2012

Resilience, generational style

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Dan OConnor on November 27, 2012

Last week I was able to speak with one of my cousins.  A lifelong resident of Broad Channel, New York, she and her adult children were directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  To be blunt, they stared down the barrel of it.  Her kids, both adult children live in Rockaway and Broad Channel as well.

Their houses were all but destroyed.

The home that is near the Shore Front Parkway had the boardwalk driven through the front of the house and flooded.  The other house was filled with upwards of six feet of water and everything inside lost to water damage.

The oldest house was stripped to its studs.

This house in particular is one of two houses that my great grandfather was able to purchase by cobbling together a down payment with a combination of glue factory, church sexton, and gambling earnings.   He was a laborer in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century.

The house I grew up in also had its roots planted the same way.

My great grandfather was a first generation American.  His father, my great great grandfather, survived the potato famine in Ireland and sailed across the Atlantic for 39 days in steerage.

My mother, brothers, and I went to this house every year,  every summer.  From the  late 1930s through the 21st century, we all made it there.  It was not much of a house.  It was a bungalow really and probably had no business being built, but it was a building, that became a house, that became a home.

That house has survived floods, hurricanes, fires, and a host of other meteorological activity.

But it’s still there.

Stripped to its core, it still stands, naked so to speak but not completely yielding to its challenges.  It has been in the family, this bungalow has,  for nearly a hundred years and it will not yield.

My cousin has survived losing both parents in a fire, countless hurricanes over the last 5 decades, and other calamities.  But she knows her people manage.

When we spoke, she said “I have no expectation for sympathy or assistance.  I chose to live here and this is where I am from.”

She also said, “We will make it.  What are you gonna do?  We’ll rebuild.  That’s what we do.  Uncle Larry did it, Grandma did it, my sister did it. What am I gonna do, go somewhere else?”

Tough broad, as my mother would say.

I am keenly aware how I came to be a New Yorker and then an American.

I know when and where my relatives landed in Lower Manhattan and made their way to Brooklyn.  And I know how that bungalow came to be.

The house was ravaged by the sea and still stands.  What a great metaphor for all those who did the same thing to build our Nation.

My cousin is tough as nails.  Like many who live around her, they will rebuild.

They know no other way.

Stubborn, prideful, tough … resilient.

Don’t count them out.

What are they gonna do?

Rebuild.

 

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November 22, 2012

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 22, 2012

A community Thanksgiving meal served by volunteers on Staten Island. (More from Reuters)

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November 21, 2012

Giving thanks

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 21, 2012

In 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.  It is now estimated that in the Civil War 750,000 Americans were killed by other Americans  or the direct effects of the conflict.  Yet the President offered explicit cause to give thanks and praise and invited others — including those in rebellion — to join with him.

In the closing paragraph of the Presidential Proclamation (below), Mr. Lincoln encouraged his fellow citizens to several actions — including seeking humble penitence for our national perverseness.

I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.  And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

We are again engaged in “lamentable civil strife” that, in my judgment, exceeds necessity or good cause.    The recent election has, I am afraid, served mostly to deepen the divide.

It is a division founded in pride and perpetuated by denial: I am right.  You are wrong.  My motives are pure.  Your motives are either confused or conspiratorial.  You must be persuaded or at least dissuaded.  I listen only for weakness in your argument.

This is a habit unfriendly to peace, harmony, tranquility, and union. This is the stance that unleashed the civil war.  This is the dehumanizing at the source of our most inhuman behavior.

On the screened porch beside his favorite chair my grandfather hung two sayings, the first in needlepoint, the other written in his own hand, both framed:

Come Let Us Reason Together.

A man who hasn’t made a mistake hasn’t made anything.

Effective reasoning requires a sense of personal limitation.  Humility is not just a virtue, it is a helpful embrace of reality.

Lincoln explained, “When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.”  On occasion this interior reasoning and careful consideration of alternatives caused Lincoln to adjust his own judgment before the other had uttered a word.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, judgments, and opinions.  Thank you for encouraging me to step outside my predilections and prejudices.  Thank you for causing me to actively consider alternatives. Thank you for opening and changing my mind. I hope to occasionally return the favor.

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