Tina K. Russell

June 18, 2009

The One I Feed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:46 am

This is what Bill Moyers said after a report on the man who, last year, walked into a Unitarian church with the intention of killing “liberals,” murdering one congregant before being subdued. With the murders of an abortion doctor and a Holocaust museum guard, and questions of the media’s role in these crimes, I feel it is even more important to heed Moyers’s words.

Bill Moyers Journal . Transcripts | PBS
We may never know what finally triggered the killer’s rage, unless he chooses at his trial or later to tell us. But not for a moment do I think any of the talk show hosts mentioned by the police would have wished it to happen.

We asked several radio hosts to come on this broadcast and talk about the story; they either declined or didn’t return our calls. The issue of course is not their right to say anything they want on the air. The First Amendment guarantees their free speech as it does mine. Government shouldn’t be the arbiter of what the Bill of Rights leaves to one’s own sense of fair play.

Watching that report, however, I was reminded of a story from folk lore about the tribal elder telling his grandson about the battle the old man was waging within himself. He said, “My son it is between two wolves. One is an evil wolf: anger, envy, sorrow, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is the good wolf: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The boy took this in for a few minutes and then asked, “Which wolf won?” His grandfather answered, “The one I feed.”

So, too, America’s public life. The wolf that wins is the wolf we feed. Media provides the fodder.

December 12, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:48 am

Op-Ed Contributor – Grand Theft Nautical – NYTimes.com
There was some semblance of law and order in 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union, loosely linked with Al Qaeda, took over much of the country and imposed Shariah law. Though there were cruel tradeoffs, the Islamists virtually eradicated piracy. The crime was a capital offense punishable by beheading.

When Ethiopian forces, supported by the United States, replaced the Islamists with an ineffective transitional government in 2006, piracy returned with an intensity not seen since the 17th century.

It is evident that no nation can impose its will on Somalia; the colonial British and Italians learned the hard way. And certainly no nation can force Somalis to stop the best business in town. But if the West really hopes to eliminate the scourge of piracy in these strategic shipping lanes, then it should consider involving the courts union, the only entity that has proved it could govern the country, and its militant wing, Al Shabaab, in a new government.

If there is movement to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan, then there should be some effort to talk to the fundamentalists in Somalia. If the Islamists were permitted to form a viable, functioning and effective government, this shattered land might be able to return to the community of nations — and supertankers will be able to deliver oil to the United States without fear of getting hijacked.

Yes, you read it here first. Who needs human rights when we have cheap oil?

I’ve written here before that I don’t think the West should be obsessed with keeping the “Islamists” out of power in Somalia; I don’t approve of religious rule or Sharia law, but it’s not my place to decide what governments other countries should have. (That, and bloody, endless wars hardly advance the stated aim of upholding human rights.) The concept of international intervention is hotly contested, but I think we can all agree that it’s the sort of drastic step with such dramatic consequences that it should only be used in international emergencies, such as genocide. If we fired our guns on every country with a miserable human rights record, we’d have to start with Saudi Arabia and China on down, a mess that would hardly justify itself.

This op-ed writer, though, takes the opposite extreme; we should endorse cruel, abusive regimes in the interest of stability. We should help them come to power. (I should note that the sort of desperation caused by war, the kind of war advocated by militant idealists and interventionists, is what helps extremists come to power, but that’s a separate subject.) Yes, yes… that’s why the West installed or helped install the Shah in Iran (twice!), Pinochet in Chile, the Taliban in Afghanistan, etc. In fact, he doesn’t even discuss any human need for stability, speaking only of a need for safe, cheap passage for oil tankers. Anything else would be unacceptable!

I need a shower.

October 7, 2008

Teen girl terrorists

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:19 pm

(UPDATE: Changed embed link to be less terrible. PBS, get your act together. Sorry for all those afflicted with the autoplay.)

FRONTLINE/WORLD . Rough Cut . Sri Lanka: A Terrorist in the Family | PBS
Inside the life of a female suicide bomber

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This video is heartbreaking in every way you can imagine. I really recommend watching it; it’s really depressing, but it’s also informative. These girls are just like me… and that makes it all the more sad.

October 4, 2008

And here I thought they just hated our freedoms

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:27 pm

Here’s security guru Bruce Schneier on the motivations for terrorism. I added emphasis to the key sentences, but you really oughta read the full article. (Schneier is discussing a paper published this year in International Security.)

Security Matters: The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists
Conventional wisdom holds that terrorism is inherently political, and that people become terrorists for political reasons. … It’s assumed, for example, that people join Hamas to achieve a Palestinian state; that people join the PKK to attain a Kurdish national homeland; and that people join al-Qaida to, among other things, get the United States out of the Persian Gulf.

Max Abrahms, a predoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, has studied dozens of terrorist groups from all over the world. He argues that the model is wrong. … [S]even tendencies are seen in terrorist organizations all over the world, and they directly contradict the theory that terrorists are political maximizers:

Terrorists, he writes, (1) attack civilians, a policy that has a lousy track record of convincing those civilians to give the terrorists what they want; (2) treat terrorism as a first resort, not a last resort, failing to embrace nonviolent alternatives like elections; (3) don’t compromise with their target country, even when those compromises are in their best interest politically; (4) have protean political platforms, which regularly, and sometimes radically, change; (5) often engage in anonymous attacks, which precludes the target countries making political concessions to them; (6) regularly attack other terrorist groups with the same political platform; and (7) resist disbanding, even when they consistently fail to achieve their political objectives or when their stated political objectives have been achieved.

Abrahms has an alternative model to explain all this: People turn to terrorism for social solidarity. He theorizes that people join terrorist organizations worldwide in order to be part of a community, much like the reason inner-city youths join gangs in the United States.

I always suspected this was true, and I’m happy to be vindicated by a fancy-pants social scientist. There must be a deceptive allure to being able to see the world in black and white. It’s like when you’re a kid, and you grow up watching the Autobots fight the Decepticons, and then you grow up and things are not so simple. There must be something comforting in being able to say “we’re good, they’re bad, kill them all.”

…Then again, Abrahms seems to be arguing that the motivations for joining a terrorist group are even shallower than that: there’s a motivation, often, to join a group simply for the sake of joining a group. Abrahms (and, in turn, Schneier) argues, rightly, that any effective counterterrorism strategy must include ensuring that other, better groups are available for young people to fall into. (That’s part of why I’m proud to belong both to a church and to the open-source community, both institutions that give people a place to use their skills and hobbies for the betterment of all while at the same time having fun.) (Abrahms and Shneier also mention more direct counterterrorism strategies that should prove to be effective, such as using the social dynamics of a terrorist group to get them to turn on one another, and to crack down on hate crime to avoid creating dangerous situations.)

I hope we use the principle of “creating better groups” to fight gang violence in our inner cities, too. It means a lot to have a place where you feel you belong and can form friendships, and it’s important that such a place is not in the business of killing people. Anyway, I hope all those of you who belong to a church or a club or something can make this a goal.

July 24, 2008

The Worst of the Worst

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:14 pm

Op-Ed Columnist – Madness and Shame – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
Donald Rumsfeld described the detainees at Guantánamo as “the worst of the worst.” A more sober assessment has since been reached by many respected observers. [New Yorker journalist and author of The Dark Side] Ms. [Jane] Mayer mentioned a study conducted by attorneys and law students at the Seton Hall University Law School.

“After reviewing 517 of the Guantánamo detainees’ cases in depth,” she said, “they concluded that only 8 percent were alleged to have associated with Al Qaeda. Fifty-five percent were not alleged to have engaged in any hostile act against the United States at all, and the remainder were charged with dubious wrongdoing, including having tried to flee U.S. bombs. The overwhelming majority — all but 5 percent — had been captured by non-U.S. players, many of whom were bounty hunters.”

Holy living–! Of course, it’ll take more scrutiny (and meaningful trials) to determine how many wrongdoers there really are at Guantánamo, but I’d always been generous and imagined at least one half. Eight percent? As cynical as I have become, I never thought it was as bad as that.

Let me be clear that even if Guantánamo had a 100 percent success rate it would still be deplorable, as we should be treating even the worst prisoners humanely, showing the difference between us and them. (Besides that, wars become intractable if lasting hatred forms through abuse of prisoners. Securing victory is difficult and costly if the enemy fights to the bitter end.) However, we should not hold a person who is innocent longer than is necessary for a fair and speedy trial, and I do not think military tribunals and seven-year waits succeed on either count.

I should discuss the central argument of Guantánamo’s defenders: that we are in a time of war, and different rules apply. First of all, it is true that different rules apply in war, and I do not see those rules, such as the Geneva Conventions on holding prisoners of war, being applied. (Breaking those rules in a time of war endangers the safety of our soldiers.) Second, a “war on terror” is a propaganda win for al-Qaida, giving them dignity, as soldiers, that they do not deserve. They are criminals, and only when they are brought to justice as such will the case be settled. Declaring war rallies recruits to their cause and makes it harder to fight their toxic influence.

July 23, 2008

Rearranging the org chart on the Titanic

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:23 pm

Op-Ed Contributor – The Risk of Too Much Oversight – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
To appreciate the challenge we face, it is important to remember that the Sept. 11 terrorist attack was a classic “low-probability, high-consequence” event. In the pre-9/11 era, if experts had generated a list of risks to our country — various terrorist attacks, hurricanes, contagious diseases and so on — they probably would have concluded that terrorists flying planes into skyscrapers and government buildings was unlikely, in light of the security and logistical obstacles the terrorists would have to overcome. While those experts would have acknowledged that such an attack would have grave results, before 9/11, relatively few people worried about such low-probability, high-consequence security events. After 9/11, however, many people began thinking about a broad range of such attacks.

Not surprisingly, when people started to focus on bad things that might happen to us, they identified a seemingly infinite catalogue of worrisome possibilities: nuclear, chemical and biological terrorist attacks delivered by planes, ships, cars or other mechanisms; conventional explosives on mass transit systems; gunmen in public places; cyber attacks on computer and communication networks; and natural hazards like earthquakes and hurricanes. This is just a sliver of the ever-evolving list of homeland security concerns.

But resources are limited and it’s not possible to do everything, so we need to think carefully about the risk: the likelihood of the event and the consequences if it were to occur. Ideally, we would be able to rationally rank homeland security risks, and resources would follow. Though some prioritizing efforts are under way, the process has been made unnecessarily difficult.

I’m glad that this person recognizes the danger in what Bruce Scheier calls “movie plot” security (that is, the monastic delineation of everything that might happen). Prioritization would be an improvement, but I’m not sure it would still be the best.

Perhaps the DHS could organize all possible threats into broad strokes–like hijackings, bombings of population centers, espionage, infrastructural attacks, etc–and ensure that the related agencies are doing their jobs. That is, it would be impossible for the DHS to pick one plot–say, Snidely Whiplash blowing up a dam–out of a hat in time to prevent one in progress. But, the agencies responsible for the dam could be responsible for ensuring the structure is resilient and the security is sound. In turn, Homeland Security could make sure that this work is taking place and proceeding well.

You cannot predict every terrorist attack, but every terrorist needs tools to carry them out, and those common threads–a train station, an airplane, a dam–can be secured to ensure such plots, known or yet to be invented, could be prevented. In the meantime, experts at the DHS could watch the terrorist chatter like hawks, and indeed prioritize the likely methods and trouble spots for the benefit of other agencies. The DHS could in turn check that these agencies are fulfilling their responsibilities, and send liason officers to offer support and expertise.

Turf wars are common in government, and my impression is that the DHS tries to be a jack of all trades, ensnaring them further in multi-front battles. A support organization at the nexus of government security matters could be more effective than one lording over government with a heavy hand. An agency with the CIA and FBI whispering in its ear may be more effective than one fumbling to interlocute or aspiring to the status of a third player. Then again, I may have misinterpreted how the DHS works. I simply doubt that their reputation as a staggering and understaffed bureaucracy is entirely unfounded, and we’re all stinging from the department’s first major test: Hurricane Katrina.

July 17, 2008

“They were killing me. I had to tell them something.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:44 pm

Op-Ed Columnist – The Real-Life ‘24’ of Summer 2008 – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
After 9/11, our government emphasized “interrogation over due process,” Ms. Mayer writes, “to pre-empt future attacks before they materialized.” But in reality torture may well be enabling future attacks. This is not just because Abu Ghraib snapshots have been used as recruitment tools by jihadists. No less destructive are the false confessions inevitably elicited from tortured detainees. The avalanche of misinformation since 9/11 has compromised prosecutions, allowed other culprits to escape and sent the American military on wild-goose chases. The coerced “confession” to the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to take one horrific example, may have been invented to protect the real murderer.

The biggest torture-fueled wild-goose chase, of course, is the war in Iraq. Exhibit A, revisited in “The Dark Side,” is Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an accused Qaeda commander whose torture was outsourced by the C.I.A. to Egypt. His fabricated tales of Saddam’s biological and chemical W.M.D. — and of nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda — were cited by President Bush in his fateful Oct. 7, 2002, Cincinnati speech ginning up the war and by Mr. Powell in his subsequent United Nations presentation on Iraqi weaponry. Two F.B.I. officials told Ms. Mayer that Mr. al-Libi later explained his lies by saying: “They were killing me. I had to tell them something.”

Oh my God, that makes me want to cry. Torture is unspeakably bad; that’s established. It’s just amazing exactly how counterproductive it’s been for us, resulting in justice delayed, justice denied, terrorists running free, and the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocents.

Even when you put the paramount humanitarian concerns, of who we are as a nation (and if there’s anything left to defend) aside, torture is a staggeringly unwise military move that prevents us from prosecuting crimes against humanity, silences victims, protects perpetrators, and leads us astray right when we are at our most vulnerable. Torture delivers bad intelligence, torture ruins our credibility, torture turns public sentiment (vital in a war like Iraq) against us, torture ferments lingering resentment that makes it difficult to secure victory, torture radicalizes the wavering, torture makes it harder for us to fight terrorism, and torture puts our own soldiers, and those of our allies, in terrible danger. With all that, torture is unquestionably atrocious and worthless as military strategy. Once you reintroduce the humanitarian concern, of our basic beliefs as American citizens, it becomes an unqualified abomination.

I look forward to the day when we can say once again, as Americans, we do not torture, none of us, anywhere, for any reason. For now, I remain wholly dissatisfied with our leadership as a country.

June 9, 2008

Stop! Do Not Get Hopped on Poppy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:35 pm

Afghan Heroin Suspect Was U.S. Asset, He Says – NYTimes.com

Here’s an interesting story. A preeminent Afghan drug lord is offered a deal by the US government: he’ll be safe if he comes to the States and helps us fight the Taliban by giving us intimate details of their day-to-day operations. He comes to the US and is thrown in the clink, and he’s been there for three years.

It’s weird because, as anyone who has watched Homicide: Life on the Street knows, often you need to trick criminals if you want to catch them. Also, I cannot muster much sympathy for people who build fortunes on the back of human misery. This just provides an interesting dilemma for the United States… do we offer the drug lords deals to help us fight the Taliban? Or do we imprison the drug lords in hopes of cutting off the Taliban’s supply of freely-flowing drug money?

Obviously, with this fella in the big house for three years with no hope of release any time soon, it will be hard to us to convince any other drug lords to come to the States and snitch on their partners in crime. Still, a lot of the problem with the US’s approach to the Taliban is that, previously, we’ve failed to grasp where the Taliban’s money comes from. Osama bin Laden’s family fortune is vast, but the inheritance is split amongst his fifty-or-so siblings. The rest is money from heroin provided by Afghanistan’s vast poppy crop. When fighting homegrown insurgent groups, you may want to attack them at their sustenance rather than head-on. So, I don’t really know where best to fall on this issue.

…You know, colonial America was built on tobacco money, so it’s a bit arrogant of us to presume that Afghanistan’s economy can simply move away from where it has a comparative advantage. However, poppy can also be used to create painkillers, which the world has a shortage of. Who’s with me? Let’s bankrupt the drug lords and the Taliban, while helping people at the same time.

This is why economics is your friend.

April 1, 2008

LimeWire helps the terrorists win

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:53 pm

US Attorney General: Piracy funds terror

Five sentences into a speech on Friday at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Attorney General Michael Mukasey was already waxing eloquent about how technology could help an “international terrorist looking to advance a murderous plot.” Moments later, he was outlining the ways in which “criminal syndicates, and in some cases even terrorist groups, view IP crime as a lucrative business, and see it as a low-risk way to fund other activities.”

You know, I’m sure that some piracy money goes to fund terrorism. Here in the States, there isn’t really any thematic connection between drugs, prostitution, and offing rival gang lords other than the fact that they’re all illegal, and so organized crime can use less-glamorous dirty deeds (drugs and prostitution, as well as gambling until the government got into that racket) to raise money for those one can make one’s name on (offing rival gang lords). I imagine that is the same way with international terrorism, just as al-Qaida uses proceeds from selling heroin to give its recruits flying lessons.

But can we please stop the madness of attempting to correlate every kind of crime with every other kind of crime? I’m sure the dollar that’s in your pocket is naught but degrees away from some heinous act. The fact that criminals can use petty illegal acts to pay for monstrous illegal acts is a strong argument for law and order, but it shouldn’t be an argument for absolutism on any front. If it weren’t drugs, it would be prostitution, it would be money-laundering, it would be loan-sharking, it would be online gambling, it would be any of a bazillion areas that the seedy venture capitalist can choose to try and strike gold in America’s vast criminal underground. Instead of demonizing “That Kid on Napster” who is somehow supporting al-Qaida by downloading old Metallica singles, let’s admit that piracy is not an easy problem to solve and that we cannot afford to be absolutist in dealing with it if we want to expect results.

(Disclaimer: I don’t like piracy. I also don’t like misleading, mean-spirited fearmongering being used to push unrelated policy.)

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