The airborne S%$t goin' on already qualifies January as a tough month, and it's only a few days old. The years 2004 is off to a fast start with Mounties in the air, Howlin' Howie claiming that Jesus is a Dem, and TSA's chief guy at Dulles being arrested for DUI at the height of the terrorist alert on New Year's Eve.
The year didn't start with a bang, and for a while it looked like it just might. And we're not in the clear yet, by any means. We've been Orange since 21 December, and -- despite appearances -- the mess in the air is actually getting better. You'd never know it from the headlines. Flights have been canceled, rerouted and generally thrown into a mess. F-16s have escorted more than one airliner to its landing field, and at this writing, certain flights from London are still being delayed because of specific concerns about passengers.
The alert that began four days before Christmas is different from the ones before. We have had lots of pretty color-coded alerts, and when this one hit, it looked like all the others. A tail-covering exercise designed by lawyers who only wanted their bosses to be able to say they had warned us before something really bad happened. In this case, as usual, local authorities found out about it by watching Fox and CNN. Nobody at D'OHS told them anything other than "be tense, so you can die stressed out." Everyone was ready to ho-hum it when other signals were received.
There were specifics about flights to the U.S. from London, Paris and Mexico City. One report said that a whole bunch of al Qaeda operatives had moved from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, some to attack the Saudis and others -- some of whom are believed to have British and American passports -- were on the move to hijack airliners to try for another attack like 9-11. (So why, if we knew where they were, didn't we just whack 'em there and save everybody a lot of trouble?)
Reports added that those on the move were also moving quantities of shoulder-fired missiles and other munitions. And it kept getting more serious. The intel was good enough that some of passenger lists were flagged because people on the terrorist watch lists were on them. The French, of course, blew the whole thing. Instead of letting people show up to be grabbed at the boarding gate, flights were canceled early and the suspects apparently said, "fromage, les gendarmes" and took a powder.
It's no better in London or Mexico City, but it is in Canada. British Air canceled several Heathrow to Dulles flights for mixed reasons. Some of the BA pilots apparently refuse to fly with armed air marshals aboard. (There are EUnuchs in Britain as well as France). Mexico's prez, Vicente Fox, is still so desperate to get his people out of Mexico and into the U.S., he's protesting that there's no real threat. How he would know -- the Mexicans aren't in the loop on intel for more reasons than space allows to list here -- is beyond me.
The Canadians responded to the new alerts by putting undercover armed Mounties on many flights. Good for them. Arming pilots is the last line of defense, but having trained undercover people armed and on the aircraft is another strong defense. Our Federal Air Marshals are now -- each month -- aboard more flights than they were in the whole life of the service before now. We'll never be entirely safe in the sky, but we're doing a whole lot better than we were on 9-11.
Loose Canons has made a lot of fun of Tom Ridge and his Homeland Insecurity Department, and most of it is unfortunately justified. Now, there's a new air of seriousness about his actions. When the specifics came out, he reported to Dubya who reportedly asked him if he'd let his son fly on one of the suspected aircraft. Ridge had the guts to say no, and the actions he took were right. Canceling flights, increasing security at the airports and doing everything necessary to disrupt and interdict terrorist attacks is his job. It's a lot better to be inconveniencing a few hundred people than having another 9-11. Homeland Security is still an awful mess, but the fact that we have gone so far without another attack means they are doing something right.
THE WORST NEWS, OF COURSE, came from home, and from the TSA.
The intel guys thought an attack was most likely to occur on New Year's Eve. That's why there were snipers and chemical sniffers overlooking Mayor Bloomberg's cigar-free party in Times Square. In the Washington area, we had air combat patrols flying, and security was tight. Apparently so was Mr. Charles Brady, who was arrested for DUI at about 0100 on New Year's morning. Mr. Brady is the acting chief of the Transportation Security Administration unit at Dulles.
According to the Washington Post, Brady was arrested on Route 28, one of the main local roads into Dulles International Airport. The Post report said that Brady was supposed to be on duty at that hour. Whether he was on duty or off, someone at that level of authority and responsibility was subject to instant recall to duty that night. By drinking at all during the night we expected things to go wrong, he violated his duty and responsibility to the American people. If it is found that he was drinking, whether or not he was drunk enough to be convicted of DUI, he should be fired forthwith. Can't somebody impose adult supervision on TSA? It's not like the National Endowment for the Arts. What TSA does -- or, at least, is supposed to do -- is actually important.
THE POLITICAL PIGS WERE FLYING the other day. The Dems are injecting religion into the presidential race? I thought they were for outlawing even the mention of God in public. No, it's just the pander bears' latest performance. Howlin' Howie thinks he has a lock on the nomination, so he's still stumbling around trying to make like a moderate. His first misstep -- he said he wanted to represent everybody, including guys with rebel flags on their pickups -- sent him and the other candidates into paroxysms of political correctness. Failing to get any Southern votes that way, Dean is trying the alternate gambit for the Lower Latitudes: he's claiming God is on the side of the Libs.
Last week Dean said, in essence, that Jesus was the prototype for a liberal Democrat. Wesley Clark -- still playing his stand-in role for Miz Hillary -- reflexively joined the pander parade when the subject of religion came up. Clark is more credible than Dean, which isn't saying much. "I'm spiritual," said Clark. "I'm religious. I'm a strong Christian and I'm a Catholic but I go to a Presbyterian church. Occasionally, I go to a Catholic church, too." I guess he goes wherever there are more votes any given Sunday morning. It's too bad the Republican side is getting advice from someone who may be more spiritual than the good general, and is definitely a good deal wackier.
Pat Robertson, having been under political sedation since advocating use of a tactical nuke on the State Department, revealed this week that God told him Mr. Bush would win in a landslide in November. So, Pat, does that mean we shouldn't worry and just stay home on 2 November? (Can someone please tell this guy to shut up at least until 3 November?)
Other spiritually-minded folks are opining about the latest Jacques-asses' move. France has passed a law forbidding Muslim girls from wearing their head scarves in schools and public institutions. Just to be fair, they've also outlawed Jewish yarmulkes and "oversized" crosses. In the Saudi government-controlled English language paper, Arab News, one Khaled Bartafi condemned the French action on Sunday: "Muslims everywhere, please take note," he wrote. "France, our champion at the UN, has finally joined the Anglo-Saxon crusade." Wait one damned minute. Don't we have anything to say about this? Who says we'd let them join?
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