The middle class is shrinking. Those in power have run up enormous debts on public credit while shoveling most of the money into private pockets. The corporations that have benefitted from this borrowing binge, meanwhile, leverage the global trade system to transfer their profits beyond the reach of national governments.

Meanwhile, we have been told lies by Democrats and by Republicans, divided into artificial camps and led into debates that are either irrelevant or so dramatically scripted that we fail to realize every choice leads to the same result: the dismantling of the social framework that defined and sustained the opportunity of the last century. National mobilization of resources has given way to radical individualism under a narrative that, in the wealthiest nation in the world, we must always expect less.

In this tumultuous time, we search for a way forward - a new Square Deal for the American people.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Are we safer?

As Americans prepare this weekend to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, there is one question that warrants consideration: are we safer?

The immediate answer given whenever the question is asked is "Yes."  The reason, however, is troubling.  We are told that we are safer because "we haven't had another terrorist attack."

What does that really mean?

Clearly, no one would suggest that American citizens have been safe from terror attacks since September 11.  Each month also brings new injuries and deaths among members of our armed forces.  Troops, of course, are combatants.  Yet most of the troops who are killed or injured are killed or injured by roadside bombs rather than in direct battle. 

In addition, we regularly consider those killed at the Pentagon on September 11 to be "victims," even though the Pentagon is a military command center that would be acknowledged as a legitimate target under any system of values in the world and has in fact for more than fifty years been at any given time the intended recipient of at least a dozen different nuclear missiles were someone across the world to give the order to launch them.

So, the deaths of military personnel under these circumstances are "terrorist attacks," as are events like the capture and subsequent killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.  We have had them over and over again since September 11.

Of course, most of the claimants that "we have not been attacked" implied that they were talking about attacks on American soil.  But this definition too is problematic in measuring our relative safety. 

Before September 11, 2001, there had not been what we would qualify as a "terrorist attack" on American soil since April 19, 1995.  That event was perpetrated by an American citizen and was directed against the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Prior to that, we had a bombing in the World Trade Center in New York City that took place on February 26, 1993.  That attack killed six people and injured over 1000. 

And before thatJanuary 24, 1975--again in New York City--when a Puerto Rican nationalist group detonated a bomb in an historic tavern, killing four people and injuring 50.

The point is, terror attacks on American soil are extremely rare in all cases.  Their frequency is measured in years-between-incidents, not in incidents-per-year.

And since September 11, 2001?

Well, in January of this year, police found and diffused a pipe bomb planted along the route of a planned Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade in Spokane, WA.  The bomb was planted by a white-supremacist group.

But at early as October 2002, hundreds of thousands of Americans in the Washington, D.C. area endured 23 days of fear on account of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who in what became known as the "Beltway Sniper Attacks" killed 11 people and injured six.  These events took place barely a year after the September 11 attacks, and an entire metropolitan population was unnerved and impacted. 

We did not, and do not, classify these events as "terrorism."

Since September 11, 2001, the United States has spent more than one trillion dollars on "homeland security" (and for you deficit hawks out there, understand in no uncertain terms that every single dollar was borrowed and added to the National Debt).  We have doubtless been effective in dismantling the capabilities of the fundamentalist Islamic group known as al-Qaeda, particularly in tracking down their funding and stopping it. 

We have also virtually abandoned any pretext of Fourth Amendment rights.  Not only airline passengers but also anyone traveling on mass transit or walking along the streets of many cities may be stopped and searched, without even probable cause much less a warrant.  The U.S. government claimed for itself not only the power to monitor phone conversations without judicial oversight but the power to secretly obtain records of any kind under gag orders that prevent complying companies from informing their customers that they have been requested to provide the information.

There is evidence that gang activity has grown, both as a result of money siphoned away from community development and engagement activities and also because many of the homeland security programs were paid for by transferring money away from Federal programs that formerly went towards crime reduction and additional police on the streets.

Healthcare costs continue to rise, gaining by double-digits every year.  Coverage for the uninsured remains limited, and unemployment has led to the swelling of those ranks.  Teachers have been laid off as education budgets have been slashed. 

Through it all, defense spending goes up.  Homeland security spending goes up, even as waste mounts

If we measure solely on the basis of whether the odds are lower today of a foreign-sponsored terror attack on American soil, we are hard pressed to conclude that we have changed the equation beyond the simple the bounds of history--that is, that an average of more than five years will occur between any single incident of terror that will kill or injure an average of a hundred people.  We won't know more than that for a long time.  Measured more broadly, against the very real terror imposed by joblessness, homelessness, illness, hunger and despair, our track record is far less impressive.  

We've borrowed and spent a trillion dollars, invited the government to scrutinize every aspect of our lives, and eroded fundamental freedoms to the point of complete loss.  Are we safer today than we were ten years and four days ago?  You tell me.

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