“Four More Years Are Unthinkable”

Another Republican admits the truth. He is Miles Taylor, former Chief of Staff of the Department of Homeland Security. His job included trying to keep the president informed about national security issues.

He also expressed his views for The Washington Post:

After serving for more than two years in the Department of Homeland Security’s leadership during the Txxxx administration, I can attest that the country is less secure as a direct result of the president’s actions.

Like many Americans, I had hoped that Dxxxx Txxxx, once in office, would soberly accept the burdens of the presidency — foremost among them the duty to keep America safe. But he did not rise to the challenge. Instead, the president has governed by whim, political calculation and self-interest.

I wasn’t in a position to judge how his personal deficiencies affected other important matters, such as the environment or energy policy, but when it came to national security, I witnessed the damning results firsthand.

The president has tried to turn DHS, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, into a tool used for his political benefit. He insisted on a near-total focus on issues that he said were central to his reelection — in particular building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. Though he was often talked out of bad ideas at the last moment, the president would make obviously partisan requests of DHS, including when he told us to close the California-Mexico border during a March 28, 2019, Oval Office meeting — it would be better for him politically, he said, than closing long stretches of the Texas or Arizona border — or to “dump” illegal immigrants in Democratic-leaning sanctuary cities and states to overload their authorities, as he insisted several times.

Txxxx’s indiscipline was also a constant source of frustration. One day in February 2019, when congressional leaders were waiting for an answer from the White House on a pending deal to avoid a second government shutdown, the president demanded a DHS phone briefing to discuss the color of the wall. He was particularly interested in the merits of using spray paint and how the steel structure should be coated. Episodes like this occurred almost weekly.

The decision-making process was itself broken: Txxxx would abruptly endorse policy proposals with little or no consideration, by him or his advisers, of possible knock-on effects. That was the case in 2018 when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced, at the White House’s urging, a “zero tolerance” policy to prosecute anyone who crossed the border illegally. The agencies involved were unprepared to implement the policy, causing a disastrous backlog of detentions that ultimately left migrant parents and their children separated.

Incredibly, after this ill-conceived operation was rightfully halted, in the following months the president repeatedly exhorted DHS officials to restart it and to implement a more deliberate policy of pulling migrant families apart en masse, so that adults would be deterred from coming to the border for fear of losing their children. The president was visibly furious on multiple occasions when my boss, then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, refused.

Top DHS officials were regularly diverted from dealing with genuine security threats by the chore of responding to these inappropriate and often absurd executive requests, at all hours of the day and night. One morning it might be a demand to shut off congressionally appropriated funds to a foreign ally that had angered him, and that evening it might be a request to sharpen the spikes atop the border wall so they’d be more damaging to human flesh (“How much would that cost us?”). Meanwhile, Txxxx showed vanishingly little interest in subjects of vital national security interest, including cybersecurity, domestic terrorism and malicious foreign interference in U.S. affairs.

How can you run a huge organization under those conditions? You can’t. At DHS, daily management of its 250,000 employees suffered because of these frequent follies, putting the safety of Americans at risk.

The president has similarly undermined U.S. security abroad. His own former national security adviser John Bolton made the case so convincingly with his recent book and public accounts that there is little to add, other than to say that Bolton got it right. Because the commander in chief has diminished America’s influence overseas, today the nation has fewer friends and stronger enemies than when Txxxx took office.

Txxxx has also damaged the country in countless ways that don’t directly involve national security but, by stoking hatred and division, make Americans profoundly less safe.

The president’s bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic is the ultimate example. In his cavalier disregard for the seriousness of the threat, Txxxx failed to make effective use of the federal crisis response system painstakingly built after 9/11. Years of DHS planning for a pandemic threat have been largely wasted. Meanwhile,  more than 165,000 Americans have died.

It is more than a little ironic that Txxxx is campaigning for a second term as a law-and-order president. His first term has been dangerously chaotic. Four more years of this are unthinkable.

Unquote.

The numbers are getting too big to comprehend, but, as The New York Times reported this week, “the true coronavirus toll in the U.S. has already surpassed 200,000”.

Homeland Insecurity

From Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Even in the hazy, flag-waving days surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack on the United States [Note: when America had a nervous breakdown], there was something about [our] rush to create a massive state apparatus called the Department of Homeland Security that made some people’s skin crawl — and not just the usual patchouli-scented, granola-sated, leftist suspects.

“The word ‘homeland’ is a strange word,” George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told staffers in a memo after some floated the idea of combining federal functions around immigration, customs, domestic intelligence, and law enforcement into one vast department even before 9/11. “‘Homeland’ Defense sounds more German than American.”

The USA had functioned just fine for 226 years without a Department of Homeland Security, and the decision to create DHS was never cast in stone. Even the hawkish Bush administration wasn’t sure it was needed — politically, the pressure came from centrist Democrats . . . eager to show their post-9/11 cojones. Yet once planted in the ground, DHS has grown wildly like choking, invasive kudzu, causing even the libertarian, Koch-Brothers-funded Cato Institute to call it wasteful and declare “Americans are not safer.”

Donald Rumsfeld was very wrong about many, many things . . . but his qualms about a homeland-security state on U.S. soil were right on the money. The bureaucratic waste and the nation’s failure to confront its real threats from stronger hurricanes to a global pandemic have been bad enough. But the real risk of creating a state-security force was that it would follow the beaten-down, jackbooted pathway of every state security force before it and get turned against the American people.

It would be trite and arguably wrong to label as “unthinkable” the scenes out of Portland, Ore., over the last several weeks involving unbadged and anonymous federal agents hiding behind their dark visors and layers of camouflage. They fire choking tear gas at protesters demanding racial justice, or just-barely-less-than-lethal rubber bullets that can fracture skulls. Meanwhile their comrades take activists off the streets in unmarked vans, or arrest them so a judge can order them to avoid protests . . .

These DHS agents from militarized units within Customs and Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have become a kind of secret police accountable only to [the president], some 3,000 miles away, and his appointed lackey now running DHS — even as public officials in Oregon . . . begged them to leave.

. . .  The first wave of serious-but-threat-obsessed Republicans who initially ran Homeland Security for Bush 43 [claimed] to be shocked by the nightly footage out of Portland. “It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention into one of my cities,” Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor who was Bush’s initial DHS Secretary, told a radio interviewer. . . . A U.S. government agency waging war on American people was never the idea!

It never is … at first.

“This is an experiment that has failed and needs to be radically rethought,” Elizabeth Goitein told me. She is co-director of the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice . . . [She urges Congress] . . . to insist on major reforms, as well as the naming of a permanent secretary after acting chiefs for the last 15 months.

Those of us who warned about a Portland-style scenario in . . . the early 2000s were called alarmists, cranks, dirty [bleeping] hippies and much worse. The November 2002 vote to consolidate 22 federal agencies into the massive, now-240,000-employee DHS passed the Senate 90-9, as few listened to then-Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold . . . warn we were “weakening protections against unwarranted government intrusion into the lives of ordinary Americans.”

To be sure, the 3,000 deaths on 9/11 exposed flaws that required a major tune-up. The CIA and the FBI didn’t talk to each other, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) was caught flat-footed, and airport security — then close to nonexistent — needed the overhaul that’s been a bumpy success in the 19 years since. But the massive changes wrought by DHS — largely in response to an international terrorism threat that now seems greatly diminished — were just part of a broader “homeland security” mind-set. It saw every problem in America, from desperate refugees on the border to marginalized people demanding jobs and justice, as a nail to be jackhammered by a harsh, militaristic response, powered by armored personnel carriers (APCs) and private prison cells.

Just as Feingold tried to warn us, the homeland-security state began spying on everyday Americans from Day One, first demanding to see your library card and moving up to bulk collection of your emails, enabled by fear-inspired bills like the Patriot Act that seem impossible to get rid of once they’re on the books.

The panic-stricken notion that al-Qaeda would throw America a curveball by attacking some remote town in Idaho or the Pumpkin Festival in Keene, N.H., which obtained one of the Pentagon’s surplus APCs, was the spark that led to the rise of the militarized warrior cop wielding those spare weapons of war. I’m pretty sure it was Chekhov who advised writers never to introduce body armor or rubber bullets in Act One unless someone’s going to use them in Act Three — even if Act Three is Americans marching against systemic racism.

The surge of new, young recruits who signed up to become Border Patrol or ICE agents in post-9/11 America found there weren’t that many al-Qaeda terror plots to thwart — but they fostered an authoritarian culture that found other outlets (no group more enthusiastically backed [the president’s] 2016 election than the union representing Border Patrol agents) and shared a distrust of immigrants, liberals, and dissent.

They’ve been saying this quiet part out loud for years, and it’s getting louder in the George Floyd era. Txxxx’s Pentagon is now training soldiers to see protesters and journalists as “adversaries.” At DHS, it was inevitable that 77 local “fusion centers” that were supposed to help federal, state and local officials cooperate on terrorism would increasingly monitor legitimate dissent like antiwar activists, Occupy Wall Street, or Black Lives Matter. Or that 15 cities, including Philadelphia, would ask the feds for help spying on protests with its high-powered drones.

For everyday Americans who weren’t paying attention as the frog of free speech sat in this pot of boiling water, Txxxx’s immigration crackdown at the southern border should have been the alarm whistle. Again, there were voices back in 2002 that tried to warn us about the militarized, punitive regime that would be created with the formation of ICE, and with viewing immigration not as a social issue but a national security threat.

Goitein told me that some “mission creep” seemed inevitable with DHS, but the arrival of a president without respect for the rule of law has taken things to today’s current dark place. “Customs and Border Patrol — he has let them off the leash, although there’s a culture there that’s predisposed to [his]“strongman” approach.

Bill Ong Hing, now a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, testified back in 2002 against putting ICE under DHS and says today that “Congress created a monster” that conflates immigration and terrorism. Now that monster is putting peaceful protest and legitimate dissent under that same umbrella — and this approach is bleeding down to the local cop on the beat. . . .

Enough already! America had muddled through much of its glorious history without tear gas,or camouflaged robocops — or a massive, now out-of-control Department of Homeland Security . . . one of America’s first great mistakes of the 21st Century.

DHS should be abolished — its component parts rethought, then rebuilt from scratch — not only because the department is wasteful, inefficient, and ineffective against actual threats, but because we’ll be tearing down a neo-fascist mind-set that slowly corrupted America society until it crawled fully formed from the sewers near a Portland courthouse.

It would help in that mission if our policy leaders began to think deeper and realize that DHS wasn’t only one spectacularly bad idea, but symbolic of a militaristic society that can find the directions to send armed forces to Iraq and then to El Paso and finally Portland — yet utterly lacks a moral compass. Yes, even deluded Donald Rumsfeld got one thing right: “Homeland Security” was a dumb concept that sounded worse in the original German.

Question [from a reader]: How can [the president] send troops to Portland without the consent of the governor and mayor?

Answer: Well, that’s the thing. As many of you know, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 aims to bar the government from deploying soldiers on U.S. soil in many (but not all) scenarios — but those green men with the heavy weaponry in Oregon’s largest city [weren’t] “troops,” not technically. There’s no ban on creating these paramilitary outfits in the Department of Homeland Security.

Unquote.

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Staring Down the Barrel of Martial Law

Yesterday, from The Guardian:

The former acting director of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which works under the Department of Homeland Security, has condemned the Trump administration’s handling of protests in Portland by deploying federal agents into the city.

John Sandweg, the former acting director of Ice, who also served as general counsel for the DHS, said Dxxxx Txxxx was using the agency as his own “goon squad”. . . .

From today’s Guardian:

America is “staring down the barrel of martial law” as it approaches the presidential election, a US senator from Oregon has warned as Dxxxx Txxxx cracks down on protests in Portland, the state’s biggest city.

In interviews with The Guardian, Democrat Ron Wyden said the federal government’s authoritarian tactics in Portland and other cities posed an “enormous” threat to democracy, while his fellow senator Jeff Merkley described it as “an all-out assault in military-style fashion”.

In the early hours of Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered again outside the federal courthouse in the city, shooting fireworks at the building as teargas, dispensed by US agents, lingered above. . . . At around 2.30 am, agents marched down the street, clearing protesters with gas at close range. They also extinguished a fire outside the courthouse.

The independent watchdogs for the US justice and homeland security departments said on Thursday they were launching investigations into the use of force by federal agents, including instances of unidentified officers in camouflage gear snatching demonstrators off the streets and spiriting them away in unmarked vehicles.

But Txxxx this week announced a “surge” of federal law enforcement to Chicago and Albuquerque, in addition to a contingent already in Kansas City. The move fueled critics’ suspicions that the president was stressing a “law and order” campaign theme at the expense of civil liberties.

Wyden said in a statement: “The violent tactics deployed by Dxxxx Txxxx and his paramilitary forces against peaceful protesters are those of a fascist regime, not a democratic nation.”

Speaking by phone, he said: “Unless America draws a line in the sand right now, I think we could be staring down the barrel of martial law in the middle of a presidential election.”

Military control of government was last imposed in the US in 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In current circumstances it would entail “trashing the constitution and trashing people’s individual rights”, Wyden warned.

The senator recalled a conversation with a legal adviser for the head of national intelligence.

“I asked him again and again what was the constitutional justification for what the Txxxx administration is doing in my home town and he completely ducked the questions and several times said, ‘Well, I just want to extend my best wishes to your constituents.’
“After I heard him say it several times, I said my constituents don’t want your best wishes. They want to know when you’re going to stop trashing their constitutional rights.”

Txxxx has falsely accused his election rival, Joe Biden, of pledging to “defund the police” so violent crime will flourish. Democrats condemn Txxxx for a made-for-TV attempt to distract both from Black Lives Matter protests and his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, now killing more than 1,000 Americans a day.

“I wish the president would fight the coronavirus half as hard as he attacks my home town,” Wyden said. “I think he’s setting up an us-against-them kind of strategy. He’s trying to create his narrative that my constituents, who are peaceful protesters, are basically anarchists, sympathisers of anarchists and, as he does so often, just fabricate it.
“Txxxx knows that his [coronavirus] strategy has been an unmitigated disaster. The coronavirus is spiking in various places and he’s trying to play to right wing media and play to his base and see if he can kind of create a narrative that gives him some traction.”

The Portland deployment, Operation Diligent Valor, involves 114 officers from homeland security and the US Marshals Service, according to court documents. Local officials say their heavy-handed approach, including teargas and flash grenades, has merely enflamed demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice. The justice department-led Operation Legend involves more than 200 agents each in Kansas City and Chicago as well as 35 in Albuquerque. [Its stated purpose is to target] violent crime.

Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, has vowed to resist the federal intervention.
“We’re not going to allow the unconstitutional, state-sanctioned lawlessness we saw brought to Portland here in Chicago,” she said on Thursday.

Merkley offered words of advice.

“I would say that you probably don’t believe that these federal forces will attack protesters if the protesters are peaceful and you will be wrong because that’s exactly what they’re doing in Portland,” he told The Guardian.

“This is an all-out assault in military-style fashion on a peaceful-style protest. The way to handle graffiti is put up a fence or come out and ask people to stop doing it, not to attack a peaceful protest but that’s exactly what happened. It’s very clear what the president is trying to do is incite violence and then display that violence in campaign ads. And I say this because that’s exactly what he’s doing right now. This is not some theory.”

Unquote.

VOTE.

Secretary Nielsen Bullshits. Senator Booker Speaks.

Before today, very few people could identify Kirstjen Nielsen. She has been the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security for less than six weeks. But that means she is a senior official in the Trump administration, responsible for enforcing our immigration laws and making sure nobody travels to America with a bomb in their underwear. The Department of Homeland Security was created in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack.

Now Secretary Nielsen will be well-known. She testified (under oath) before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Here’s the brief exchange that will make her famous:

Senator Leahy: “Norway is a predominantly white country, isn’t it?”

Secretary Nielsen: “I actually don’t know that, sir. But I imagine that is the case.”

It’s certainly peculiar that she wasn’t sure, or wasn’t willing to admit, that most Norwegians are white, especially since her position involves protecting America’s international borders; she attended the meeting at which the president made his infamous comment about Norwegian immigrants being preferable to those from Africa and Haiti; she has the ultra-Scandinavian name of “Kirstjen Nielsen”; and she isn’t seven years old.

I’ve recounted this vignette (one more moment in that ongoing story “America, How Could You Possibly Have Done This?”) to provide some context for something else that happened at today’s Judiciary Committee hearing. Senator Cory Booker was there. He used to be the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, an old industrial city that our president must think is a shithole. Now he represents New Jersey in the U.S. Senate. He could have asked Secretary Nielsen questions, but chose instead to make an eight-minute speech. The whole thing is worth listening to. He speaks with such intensity that it goes by quickly.

Senator Booker may be our president one day. What an upgrade that would be!