Boston Marathon Bombings Reopen Security Debate

Smile! You're on security camera! 

Do you want to be secure, or private? Do you want to reduce crime, or just fear it? Which is worse, a national security state, or a war of all against all? Who do you think defends liberty better, civil authorities, or the American Civil Liberties Union? Do you want a regulatory or a libertarian society? Who can best keep citizens secure, trained government law enforcement, or state and local officials? Do you want spend money to alleviate things decades of research have proven are linked to violence–poverty, poor education, and unemployment–or complain about your taxes? Do American military ventures cause more harm than good?

Don’t like the choices? Neither do I. But we better start thinking about our answers to these questions. As the April 15 tragedy at the Boston Marathon revealed once again, an open society is an intoxicant that sets free the good, the bad, and the ugly. Americans delude themselves if they think that the bad and the ugly are rare aberrations–nearly every day brings new tales of how the beacon of liberty has been used to ignite fireballs of horror. We must face the reality that we are a nation of 314,000,000 people occupying nearly 9.8 million square miles. We can thump our chests and spout threats against terrorist sand lawbreakers, but what former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge told New England Cable News is true: it’s “impossible” to defend the United States against all attacks–the nation is simply too big and too open to defend 100% of the time.

This is the first time I have agreed with Ridge on anything. That said, there are some things we can do to reduce terror and violence. Alas, they come with strings attached. They include:  

            --Security cameras: Boston has twice failed the security test. (Two of the 9/11 planes left from Logan.) It–and the rest of urban America–needs to become more like London, where hundreds of cameras monitor crime and traffic. This won’t be popular with those paranoid of Big Brother government, and it is intrusive. But, if you’ve ever used the Internet, a cell phone, or mail order you already have less privacy than you think. Recording public life isn’t foolproof, but banks have been videotaping us for years and they capture 40% of all robbers. If that sounds low, compare it to murder, where more two three fail even to yield an arrest, or rape, which has a 3% conviction rate. Big public events such as the Boston Marathon should have cameras operational along the entire route 365 days a year.

            --Real transport security: Just friggin’ do this! Every person who flies or takes a train or bus undergoes a full body scan and every single bag gets x-rayed. If you can’t stand the idea of somebody seeing your body on a screen or receiving a pat down, stay home. No more random checks. No more false modesty. Everybody gets scanned. Now.

            --Mandate the monitoring of rightwing groups: We’ve spent lots of effort going after lefties and Muslims in the past decades, but we spend almost nothing on domestic surveillance of the ideological right, though it has a bloody track record. It’s time for the FBI to bird-dog dangerous characters lurking in the NRA, Operation Rescue, survivalist groups, the Tea Party, and fundamentalist churches.   

            --No more offense from the Department of Defense: Foreign adventurism, nation building, insurgency funding, and other forms of aggressive interventionism have yielded little but heartache and unbalanced budgets. Pull the plug on Iraq and Afghanistan, stop giving military aid to foreign governments, don’t arm anybody’s civil war, and eliminate foreign aid for nations on the U.N. human rights watch list. It’s one thing to respond when attacked, but the U.S. military should become a purely defensive force, except in the case of…

            --Setting up a U.S. Carbinieri. Let’s follow Italy’s example and place armed, uniformed military personnel on American streets. This makes more sense than allowing any paranoid fool who wants to play cop buy a gun. (Did someone say “George Zimmerman?”) Police unions don’t want a national military police force, but cash-strapped cities can’t afford more cops and the ones they have won’t go into the projects, ghettos, and high-crime areas. Let soldiers earn their combat stripes in Kansas City, not Kandahar.

            --Write and enforce a national hate crimes law. The First Amendment was never intended to give hate groups and provocateurs a get-out-of-court-free card. Fox News pundits are already fanning the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment, though no one knows who bombed the Boston Marathon. The Internet reeks of the stench of hate- group Websites. We must be careful not to lapse into mindless censorship, but we might consider that any group whose intent is clearly to deny the civil liberties of others has none of its own that must be protected. Don’t let groups like the ACLU defend the KKK; shut it down! (President Grant did in 1871 and the KKK was out of business until 1922.) And use the FCC to enforce truly “fair and balanced” media standards. Pull the plug on remarks intended only to polarize and incite.

            --A reregulated capitalist economy. Free trade is the biggest fraud Wall Street has ever perpetuated on American workers.  We’ve gutted the national wage structure to empower modern-day robber barons, union busters, lawless investors, and Walmart importers. Domestic economic consequences aside, pegging U.S. foreign policy to the demands of global capitalists has meant that our government cooperates with dictators, power brokers, and vulture capitalists around the globe that fleece and oppress their own citizenry while the U.S. takes the blame. I’m not an isolationist, but Jimmy Carter’s practice of linking trade to human rights was a noble one in need to revival. So too is the notion of reining in runaway capital, ending tax breaks for outsourcing, and investing in new regulated domestic ventures that cannot be moved at stockholder whims. These have the added advantage of reducing the perception abroad that Americans are swashbuckling pirates performing rapine with contracts instead of cutlasses.

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