Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Terror in Arizona: Are We Next? Or Will We Learn?

The real-life version of the crime that played out on the casino’s security cameras last month was as daring as anything dreamed up by Hollywood. But it would have made for a poor movie, as it was neither sexy nor sophisticated. And it presented little physical risk to the thief inside the Bellagio — one of many major casinos that tell unarmed security staff to stand down during armed robberies to avoid violence in a crowd.

To casino security experts, it also shows how casinos are vulnerable to theft at a time when other gambling crimes are rising in the poor economy.

Layoffs have affected many departments of the big casinos, including security and surveillance. Less security, experts say, may have motivated the Dec. 14 incident when an armed thief grabbed about $1.5 million in chips off a craps game in the predawn hours and got away on a motorcycle parked just outside. Moreover, Nevada law doesn’t require a guard by each entrance as they are in many other states or countries with casinos that refuse entrance to children and, in some cases, check IDs.

That’s why casino security consultant Willy Allison says the major Strip casinos, for all their high-tech bells and whistles to track crime, “have the worst casino security in the world.”

“You’ve got a better chance of walking into a hooker at the entrance of some of these casinos than a security officer,” said Allison, who organizes the annual World Game Protection Conference in Las Vegas.

That's from Liz Benston's chilling article in today's Sun about the shortcomings of casino security on The Strip. And remember, we are still most likely the most visited place on earth with over 37 million visitors per year. And Las Vegas Boulevard is the #1 attraction here. As it's been said many times before, we are such an attractive target for prospective terrorists that we can't afford to ignore this.

The video on top is from last month's infamous Bellagio robbery. Thankfully, no one was injured then... But what could have happened if someone with far more sinister motives had attacked? Or if someone with serious mental issues had just lashed out? Or if the robber had just decided to turn violent? Do we really want to see any of these scenarios approach real life?

But you know what? This scares me a little, but there's something else that scares me even more. I'm thinking about what The New Yorker's George Packer wrote on Sunday. (H/T Blog for Arizona)

[F]or the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn't a big-government liberal—he's a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He's also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor. Even the reading of the Constitution on the first day of the 112th Congress was conceived as an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.

This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.) And it has gone almost entirely uncriticized by Republican leaders. Partisan media encourages it, while the mainstream media finds it titillating and airs it, often without comment, so that the gradual effect is to desensitize even people to whom the rhetoric is repellent. We’ve all grown so used to it over the past couple of years that it took the shock of an assassination attempt to show us the ugliness to which our politics has sunk.

Again, I am reminded of what happened last year. A number of Harry Reid and Nevada Democratic events were on The Strip, including the November 2 victory party at Aria. At one point, some "tea party" group was looking to have an election night party there as well.

At some points, it seemed Nevada was precariously close to violent explosion as the Senate campaign was heating up. Even though the vast majority of Nevadans knew better and behaved better, there were always a few on the fringe who lashed out. Have we learned from the bitter campaign of last year and the horrific Arizona tragedy of last week? And are Clark County law enforcement and Strip casinos prepared to fend off someone intent on wreaking violent havoc on Las Vegas?

This morning, we discussed Nevada's lax gun laws and severely insufficient mental health resources. Add cracks in security and increasingly extreme and hateful political rhetoric, and we might have a recipe for disaster.

You know what scares me the most? Maven put her finger on it yesterday.

I’m not going to suggest that such correlations necessarily mean that self-described Tea Party supporters are more violent, or prone to commit or support violent acts against the government. But when there’s enough smoke, reasonable people might be forgiven thinking there is a fire somewhere.

Add to this, the influence of Fox News and similar media outlets, who have undertaken a deliberate campaign of mis-information designed to fan the flames of Tea Party mistrust - because it makes for great ratings, and even greater revenues for them, while their pundits enjoy even brisker book sales and public appearance ticket receipts. It isn’t ideology that drives that train - it’s money. [...]

I’ll tell you what the real tragedy of all this could be. That come a year from now, and nothing has changed. We’ll have ‘moved on’ to the next crisis. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of moving on before having made a good faith and BIPARTISAN attempt to fix what’s wrong.

Even with all the security in the world enveloping The Las Vegas Strip, we may still be in danger... Because of our own hot heads. Again, we must rethink how we do "politics" these days. Without a doubt, there are also issues of gun safety, mental health care, law enforcement, and much more that must be addressed at the local, state, and national levels, all of us "ordinary people" can do something about this... Now.

Steve Sebelius adds much needed sense to the debate raging on cable and on the net.

[N]either Angle nor Palin pulled the trigger on Saturday. Neither Angle nor Palin told Loughner to do what he did.

I wonder if perhaps people such as Angle and Palin — and anybody else who uses the rhetoric of violence in a political context — may want to consider that there are people out there who aren’t quite sane. That these people may interpret that language far more literally than the rest of us, and even act on it, with deadly results. This is especially true in a political and economic environment where desperation is high, reason is scarce and hatred is plentiful.

Following the shooting, the sheriff of Pima County, Clarence Dupnik, blamed the vitriol in the political arena for the tragedy, saying his state (with its anti-illegal immigration law) had become ground zero for that vitriol. “That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences,” he said.

Indeed, our free speech does have consequences. And while those consequences should never be cause for us to circumscribe our rights, they should at least give us pause before we exercise them. This is America, after all, a democratic republic, where we settle our disputes with ballots, not bullets. Or at least, where we should.

And this is exactly what we must remember.

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