Thursday, November 08, 2001

LET'S ROLL!

With those words, George W. Bush concluded his address to the nation tonight, adopting the rallying cry of Todd Beamer, one of the heroes of Flight 93.

Whether it was his handlers and speechwriters who thought of it, or possibly even Bush's own instinct, it was a brilliant, Reaganesque moment of Great Communicating. A crowd-pleasing memorable moment. The man sure can read a teleprompter, I'll give him that.

But didn't that Gipperesque turn also make you cringe just a little bit? I mean -- honestly -- can anyone imagine for a moment that Bush himself, had he been aboard that doomed plane, would have been the one to lead the charge against the hijackers as bravely and selflessly as Todd Beamer?

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

CONGRATULATIONS, NEW YORK!

You've just elected a mayor whose temperament for holding public office will swiftly prove to be inversely proportional to his ego.

I'll have more to say about Mayor-Elect Bloomberg soon enough.

Monday, November 05, 2001

FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES...

Glenn (Instapundit) Reynolds finally sees the light, and shouts to the rooftops: FEDERALIZE AIRPORT SECURITY: But only if the security people can't unionize and can be fired immediately if they screw up. Not willing to go that far? Then you're not serious about security -- you just want more federal employees.

Meanwhile, Josh (Talking Points) Marshall reports on the swift release (since rescinded) of Subash Gurung, who tried to take a stun gun, mace and a slew of knives onto a flight leaving Chicago over the weekend. But Josh skips over the aftermath of the original story: United Airlines immediately fired at least seven people, including security screeners and a supervisor, after the weapons' discovery.

Having myself worked for both New York City and State agencies in the distant past, I've witnessed first-hand how difficult it is to fire the truly incompetent from a unionized civil service job, especially -- as is statistically likely, given the demographics of the civil service -- whenever the truly incompetent also happen to be nonwhite. (Oh, the stories I could tell!)

Agreed -- absolutely! -- that a Federal Airport Security Cops Corps MUST have the flexibility to discipline and summarily fire. And if the compromise required to create such a body is that it must not be unionized, so be it.

On the other hand, United Airlines' disciplinary action seems unduly harsh, since their screeners did, after all, catch two of Gurung's knives at a security checkpoint and discovered the rest of his armaments in a routine search of his carry-on luggage. In other words, the multiple-tiered screening system worked! I need to see more details [UPDATE: CNN has the details here], but it sounds as if some of the fired screeners have been made into public scapegoats on the premise that they failed to catch all of Gurung's weapons at the first checkpoint -- even though they may well have been following their established (if obviously inadequate) procedures to the letter. Surely anyone fired under such circumstances deserves some form of grievance hearing -- if not through a union, than by some mechanism less brutally expensive than litigation!

The oft-stated reason for federalizing airport security is simple and fundamentally true: Government must intervene wherever ordinary market forces work against the public interest. This is precisely the dynamic at work here. Left to their own devices, our private-sector airlines -- most of which are now battling for their very survival -- will continue to pay minimum-wage or low-bid rates for untrained, unchecked, unmotivated rent-a-cops. If Congress simply passes unfunded mandates to dictate improved quality control, the airlines will cut corners elsewhere. (Fewer safety inspections, anyone?)

To the Tom DeLays of the world, who would obstruct the swift establishment of a Federal Airport Cops Corps solely on grounds that Enlarging the Federal Payroll is Always a Bad Idea, I would ask this: What, exactly, is wrong in principle with an elite force of nonunionized federal employees answerable to a central command structure under a single, rigid set of performance standards -- with swift and severe consequences for failure to perform, but with some manner of recourse or appeal in case of unwarranted disciplinary action?

There is already a precedent for hiring federal employees under such terms. And if he's going to be intellectually consistent, DeLay ought to be at the forefront of obstructing all Defense funding because we haven't privatized the U.S. Army!

A "COLONEL" OF TRUTH

Like most Internet-based urban legends, this one sounded convincing -- and there is a kernel of truth at the core of this story. But first, here's the original text, as it came in this morning's e-mail:

[From the Oliver North Senate Hearings, fifteen years ago.]

There was Ollie - before God and country - being grilled by a senator who asked him, "Did you not recently spend close to $60,000 for a home security system?"

Oliver replied, "Yes I did, Sir."

The senator continued, trying (successfully) to get a laugh out of the audience, "Isn't this just a little excessive?"

"No sir," continued Oliver.

"No. And why not?"

"Because the life of my family and I were threatened."

"Threatened? By who."

"By a terrorist, sir." [peals of laughter from the floor of the Chamber.]

"Terrorist? What terrorist could possibly scare you that much?"

"His name is Osama bin Laden."

At this point the senator tried to repeat the name, but couldn't pronounce it. A couple of people laughed at the attempt. Then the senator continued, "Why are you so afraid of this man?"

"Because sir, he is the most evil person alive that I know of."

"And what do you recommend we do about him?"

"If it were up to me I would recommend a team of assassins be formed to eliminate him and his men from the face of the earth."

The senator disagreed with this approach.

This story not only sounded good, it even came in from a trusted source -- a friend who swears he got it directly from someone in the CIA, honest to god. But something about the chronology stunk. In 1986, when North was putting up that security fence, Osama bin Laden was still just a rich Saudi expatriot punk, who was providing only logistical and "humanitarian aid" to the Afghan resistance from the Pakistani border. Al Qaeda was not yet even in a gleam in his eye, and bin Laden represented about as much of a terrorist threat to Oliver North as did my Aunt Gilda and her local chapter of Hadassah.

Sure enough -- a quick check of the record, and it turns out that the terrorist who struck such fear into Oliver North's heart was none other than Abu Nidal, the mastermind behind, among other crimes, the Munich massacre of Israelís Olympic athletes. Here is a Google cache copy of Time Magazine's narrative record of the incident. An excerpt follows:

A committee counsel came to ask North about the nearly $14,000 security system he had installed at his suburban Virginia house, a setup that was paid for by Major General Richard Secord. North delivered a magnificent aria in which he described how the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal had targeted him for assassination. He told how Nidal's group had brutally murdered Natasha Simpson, 11, daughter of an American journalist, in the Christmas 1985 massacre at the Rome airport. "I have an eleven-year-old daughter," said North, melodramatically. He offered a challenge. "I'll be glad to meet Abu Nidal on equal terms anywhere in the world, O.K.? But I am not willing to have my wife and my four children meet Abu Nidal or his organization on his terms."

After that performance, the committee for the moment dared not ask about the snow tires that North was said to have purchased using some of the money from the Iranian arms sales.

Note that, while the author of the e-mail hoax was spinning his yarn, he also overstated the value of the security system fourfold. Here is further documentation of the North hearings by the Federation of American Scientists. If I can find an actual record of the transcript online, I'll post a link later.


Sunday, November 04, 2001

HIS WATCH COSTS MORE THAN MY CAR, THAT'S WHAT HIS NAME IS

Mugger, aka Russ Smith, the free-paper despot of the New York Press and bon-vivant gourmand blowhard, makes this observation and gets in one more completely irrelevant dig against the Clinton administration on the way:

One of the difficulties we face is that both the media and government are in over their heads on the anthrax/smallpox question. Itís akin to Bill Clintonís Justice Dept. persecution of Microsoft in the late 90s, when the government pretended to understand an industry it knew nothing about and, employing the politics of class warfare, demonized Bill Gates, an extraordinary entrepreneur. As a result of that prosecution, the current recession began.

Agreed -- they're all in it over their heads. Wiser pundits than I have observed that Tommy Thompson -- hired to help sell Bush's domestic health care agenda -- has already made so many absurd and uncomforting public utterances that he should be promoted to Ambassador to Sri Lanka immediately. But --

What was that about Clinton's overreaching Justice Department bringing down the economy of the entire nation? Oh. I see. If only Microsoft had been allowed to break the law with impunity -- then all those money-losing companies, built on wing-and-a-prayer business models, like contentville.com, egghead.com, eyada.com, kozmo.com, pets.com, thestandard.com, suck.com, webvan.com, theglobe.com, balducci.com, fandom.com, urbanfetch.com, etoys.com, govworks.com, planetrx.com, furniture.com, angryman.com -- and maybe even Midway Air -- would have achieved profitability and their employees would be thinking about how to spend their fat Christmas bonuses right about now. Damn that Janet Reno!!!