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Cutting Down America March 9, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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According to news reports, the Obama administration will succumb to political pressure and try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—mastermind of the 9/11 attacks—in a military rather than civilian court.

This is simply caving in to the politics of fear.

The implicit argument for military trials is that our civilian judicial system can’t handle these terrorists, who must have super-natural powers that would enable them to escape from custody before our eyes, despite the proven competence of the regular court system that has successfully put countless terrorists on trial.

As David Shorr writes:

As we build up the terrorists into some kind of superhumans, are we losing sight of how this diminishes us? It seems to me that this shows a profound lack of faith in our system, our values. Think of the contradiction at work here: America is a mighty and upstanding nation; it should cower in fear.

The thing about worst-case scenarios is that they are a slippery slope toward darker and darker predictions. Where do you stop? What keeps the scenarios moored in reality? And this is the really disturbing thing, the politics of the terror threat are propelling this great nation toward a policy based essentially on a freak-out.

These attacks on our judicial system are of course made by conservatives who claim to be patriotic proselytizers for American strength.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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A History of the Present January 10, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Journalist Georgie Anne Geyer thinks we will live to regret our approach to terrorism:

This is what I think history, written a half-century or even a quarter-century from now, will say of all this:

“The United States began the 21st century as the pre-eminent and undisputedly greatest power in the world. It was the center of science, learning and innovation. Its democratic system was the envy of much of the world, which engaged in different experiments in governance but basically always used the American experience as its systemic and structural basis.

“Then, after one attack on New York City in which several thousand Americans tragically died, the United States embarked upon a series of ill-thought-out military adventures across the world that took it into small country after small country, never understanding that its very presence turned people against it. It lost the modesty of its founding fathers, who vowed not to meddle abroad, and began to dream of ‘nation-building.’ But in the end, it only de-energized and impoverished its own country, as Asia and particularly China moved in on all levels with economic and diplomatic tools to grasp world leadership.”

There were many other ways we could have responded to 9/11 besides all-out wars, such as police and intelligence actions against particular al-Qaida actors, but those paths were not chosen.

I think she is right.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Get A Grip! January 5, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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All the controversy over the “underpants bomber” and airport security is a good example of how a media narrative and posturing by a few politicians can generate massive overreaction.

As far as I know, since 9/11 there have been two attempted terrorists incidents on commercial airliners that landed or took off in the U.S.– the shoe bomber incident in December 2001, and the Christmas 2009 incident. So that is 6 incidents in the last decade.

As Nate Silver points out,

Over the past decade, according to BTS [Bureau of Transportation Statistics], there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. Dividing by six, we get one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures. These departures flew a collective 69,415,786,000 miles. That means there has been one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 miles flown. […]

Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.

This includes the 9/11 statistics—events that occurred before our current security precautions were put in place.

We should, of course, do what we can to minimize the possibility of a terrorist attack. But anything we do will come at a cost. It will make flying more expensive and bothersome. How much bother and expense is worth the additional safety, especially when proposed policies include trivial prohibitions such as not letting passengers read a book on their laps for the last hour of a flight or regulating the size of bottles that can be carried on a flight. These are easily flouted by a determined, competent terrorist—they are more about the TSA appearing to do something constructive rather than doing anything to prevent terrorism.

It is a terrible event when 300 people are killed; but we lose roughly 10 times that many people each month in automobile accidents. Yet we don’t make driving a car prohibitively expensive or annoying. Terrorists don’t threaten us by killing a few hundred people with a bomb. They harm us when they cause us to waste time and money through our over-reaction.

The goal of these attacks is to produce hysteria, and it’s a shame to see partisan politics helping Al Qaeda achieve their goal.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com