Tag: nuclear terrorism

NSA Reform or Foreign Policy Signaling? Maritime Provisions in Title VIII of the USA Freedom Act

With much attention being given to the passage of the 2015 USA Freedom Act, there is some odd silence about what the bill actually contains. Pundits from every corner identify the demise of section 215 of the Patriot Act (the section that permits the government to acquire and obtain bulk telephony meta data). While the bill does in fact do this, now requiring a “specific selection term” to be utilized instead of bulk general trolling, and it hands over the holding of such data to the agents who hold it anyway (the private companies).   Indeed, the new Freedom Act even “permits” amicus curiae for the Foreign Surveillance and Intelligence Court, though the judges of the court are not required to have the curiae present and can block their participation if they deem it reasonable.   In any event, while some ring in the “win” for Edward Snowden and privacy rights, another interesting piece of this bill has passed virtually unnoticed: extending “maritime safety” rights and enacting specific provisions against nuclear terrorism.

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Standing Up against the “Patriot Act”

It’s great to see a few of our elected representatives fighting back against the Democratic and Republican leadership’s attempt to renew the Patriot Act for another four years without amendment or even debate.  
I highly recommend reading a few of the statements and speeches by the handful of Congress people brave enough to stand up against the leadership of both parties.  Here is one of Republican Senator Rand Paul’s speeches from a few days ago.  Here is John Tester.  And here is Democratic Senator Tom Udall.  They make many telling points about the Patriot Act’s gutting of the U.S. Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment–and the lack of meaningful debate that America has had about this. 
Their bold effort may be futile given the powerful political and economic forces behind continuation of the Patriot Act’s invasions of all Americans’ privacy and rights (not to mention the broad foreign policy effects).  But the attempt is worth paying attention to.
 For one thing, it is one of the most important issues facing our country.  Over the last 10 years, we have traded freedom after freedom for the illusion of “security” and the enrichment of the “homeland security” industry.  Even 10 years after 9/11, political leaders continue to use fear to empower the government, intelligence and military institutions.  Those tactics help generate the “I don’t care” or “I have nothing to hide” attitudes that too many Americans claim to have–but which, with a bit of probing and debate, often fall away. 
What is particularly sad is that both mainstream Democrats and Republicans avidly support these incursions on American liberties and stoke the fear-mongering.  Party loyalty—what Glenn Greenwald rightly calls “tribalism” by both sides–prevents all but the “fringes” of the parties from fighting back.  Yet just a bit of long-term thinking should make even hardcore loyalists think twice:  It is inevitable that the “other side” will hold the reins of power again soon.  Yet, for instance, Democrats servile to the Obama administration, think not about what might happen if Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman became President—and wield these very same instruments of government.
Taking a more optimistic view, another reason to pay attention is that this might, just might, be one of the early signs of an eventual ebb in attacks on Constitutional freedoms in the name of homeland security.  It’s true of course that these efforts to debate the Patriot Act are receiving relatively little coverage in the mainstream press.  It’s also true that the coverage is often biased.  The New York Times’ backpage story for instance headlines that the delay in reauthorizing the Patriot Act “could hinder investigators.”  Shudders!  Those always trustworthy government agents won’t be able to read our emails, listen to our phone calls, and monitor our financial transactions without warrants.  We face grave peril!  The Times’ headline could just as easily have read that the delay will restore Constitutional liberties. 
But possibly, just possibly, the pendulum will begin to swing back.  If it does, it appears this will require an unusual coalition of libertarian politicians on left and right to fight the establishments of both parties.

Taking some time to understand what’s happening in Congress now—and to support debate about the Patriot Act—can only help.  Maybe someday this blot on our Constitution will actually be repealed.

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Dr. Strangelove’s Mineshafts

What would the world be like after a nuclear attack of some type? That’s the question answered by the President’s National Security staff in the June 2010 second edition of the Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation.

I haven’t read the entire 130 page document, but I did read a chunk of it, as well as an interesting article about it by Ira Chernus, a professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Here’s the provocative opening paragraph that got me to click on his piece:

Good news! You’ve got a pretty good chance of surviving a terrorist’s nuclear blast in your city — especially if you’re a rich white man.

Chernus seems particularly interested in the fact that the Obama administration has produced this report — even though the first edition (available here) was issued on January 15, 2009, just before Barack Obama’s inauguration. Moreover, the original report noted that a future edition would do “additional work” on “relevant topics” such as “psychological impacts to the population.”

What does the second edition of the report say about psychiatric disorders — and why will rich white men inherit the world?


According to the latest report, attack survivors will realize they have severe ARS (“acute radition syndrome”) and many are doomed to develop psychiatric disorders as well. Among the “risk factors” listed, the National Security staff (pp. 95-6) includes female gender, ethnic minority, and lower socioeconomic status. In Chernus’s words, “once they [women, minorities and the poor] start going crazy they’re less likely to survive.” Here’s how the report (p. 96) phrases that last claim:

The social, psychological, and behavioral impacts of a nuclear detonation will be widespread and profound, affecting how the incident unfolds and the severity of its consequences.

Chernus compares the report’s frequent optimism about survival rates to Eisenhower-era policy discussions about civil defense. “The big problem, in his [Ike’s] view, was ‘how you get people to face such a possibility without getting hysterical.’”

Though the report concerns the likely aftermath of even a single terrorist nuclear use, the discussion of psychological response and potential survival rates reminded me instead of the prescient film Dr. Strangelove –made not long after Ike’s presidency ended.

Near the end of the film, President Merkin [a-hem] Muffley asks the title character the following question:

But look here doctor, wouldn’t this nucleus of survivors be so grief stricken and anguished that they’d, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?

The nuclear strategist Strangelove largely dismisses this particular psychological concern and asserts that the privileged white men in the room should be protected as priority survivors in the post-apocalyptic world:

Mr. President, I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy… heh heh…at the bottom of ah… some of our deeper mineshafts. The radioactivity would never penetrate a mine some thousands of feet deep. And in a matter of weeks, sufficient improvements in dwelling space could easily be provided…

A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country. But I would guess… that ah, dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.

…a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross section of necessary skills. Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition.

By Dr. Strangelove’s reckoning, the female-to-male ratio in the mineshafts should be about 10-to-1 — and “women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.” That’s a different post-war psychological concern, eh?

Indeed, the gender politics in the film are obviously quite provocative, essentially equating male sexual fantasies with war and nuclear planning. The latest Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation suggests that absurd nuclear fantasies continue to influence today’s security policymakers.

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