Michael Maiello's picture

    Stupid Americans

    It seems that the mainstream reaction to the latest from Wikileaks has been something along the lines of, "this isn't new," by which the speaker means either that they already knew this stuff or always suspected it and that there's no value in having their suspicions confirmed by evidence.  If the speaker already knew, it just means they're fine keeping the public in the dark about how foreign policy is conducted.  But the second sentiment, along the lines of "didn't you always think Karzai was corrupt?" or "Didn't you always suspect that the Saudis would love for us to bomb Iran?" is really just thoughtless.  Could you imagine Einstein dismissing experimental results confirming relativity on the grounds that he'd already done the math?

    I mean, seriously, how stupid are we?

    Another story from the stupid that's bugging me is that Somalian teenager Mohamed Mohamud that the FBI caught trying to set off a bomb in crowded public square in Portland.  There was never any bomb, of course.  The FBI had been reading his emails for over a year and then spent five months egging him on and enabling his actions right up to the indictment.  I was flipping through CNN tonight and heard John King actually asking some one if this is some sort of new al-Qaeda strategy, by which he must have meant radicalizing troubled American teenagers and turning them into terrorists.

    I think it's safe to say that's not a new al-Qaeda strategy.  They are not going to beat us by converting our emo teens into killers.  The whole line of inquiry is just damned stupid.  What John King should have been asking is why the government went the undercover sting route when there were clearly other, better options.

    The government found out about this kid a year ago when his father called Homeland Security to warn them that his motor mouth son was talking jihad and that he was afraid the kid would skip the country and join some real bad guys in Pakistan or Yemen.  It was, as best I can tell, a call for help from an educated man (he's an engineer at Intel) worried that his son, just turned 18, was spiraling out of control.  They make pills for this kind of thing.  There are therapists who could probably have brought the kid back into some sort of reasonable relationship with reality and his fellow man.  But instead they put him on the no fly list (a good idea) and read his emails (okay, fine, had to assess the situation) and then decided to see how far they could push him so they could land the biggest indictment.  They got "attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction."  He's so over.  But he could have been saved instead of ended.  Nobody even asks why he wasn't saved.  I know, he's not the most sympathetic character.  But what's being hailed as a Homeland Security threat strikes me as a major social failure.

    In other stupid news, the President decided to freeze the pay of federal workers.  It's not something anyone in his party asked him to do.  Good, hard working people will now not get raises they deserve and their living standards will be diminished even though everyone assures us that inflation is low.  It's basically cruelty packaged as responsibility.  I know times are tough and that a lot of private sector workers haven't gotten raises either.  That's a problem.  Private sector workers deserve better.  But I'm not entirely sure how this helps them.  Or maybe it's just a rhetorical trick.  Obama orders the government to make the first sacrifice and now everyone will just have to understand when it's their turn.  It's the worst possible time for it, of course, but how many times can we have that discussion?  Against all evidence and competent advice, the President is now convinced that dealing with the debt is of immediate importance.   I hope we don't suffer too much for this stupidity.


    The story of the kid from Portland seems to say the Feds have so much time on their hands they have to spoon feed young Jihad aspiring Muslims, and give them a mission to get an arrest. 

    The case brings to mind the total impotence of al Qaeda over the last ten years to produce anything more than incompetent guys trying to light their shoes or underwear in planes.  The precision planning, timing and pinpoint execution of the lethal box cutter multiple hijackings of 9/11, all without the foreknowledge of any of our top intelligence agencies, or any palpable reaction that day from the Bush administration, appear all the more unique and remarkable.

    So the the 11/15-20/03 Istanbul truck bombings, the 3/11/04 Madrid train bombing, the 5/29/04 Khobar massacre in Saudi Arabia, the 7/7/05 London transport bombings, the 11/9/05 Amman hotel bombing, the April 11, 2007 Algiers bombing. none of those floated your boat like knocking down two big western phallic symbols? How about the work of the brothers in Lashkar-e-Taiba in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, aided by a Pakistani-American scout? That failed to impress too? They could ask, how about our al-Sahbab brothers in Somalia, you're not impressed with what they've done in country? Their latest goal to stymie the international air freight system, too pedestrian? You didn't get a kick out of them telling Sarkozy he had to talk directly to Osama if he wanted his hostages back, and no they weren't going to give him the phone number? You're not impressed that they regularly scare embassies into shutting down?  Geez every hit can't be like a Hollywood movie scriptwriter's dream. Even their 2009 deadly double agent suicide trick against the top CIA in Khost didn'd make it for you? You really know how to hurt a jihadi's feelings.


    I meant a follow up attack in America, which we were told to expect after 9/11 from 'sleeper cells'.

    Even world wide the casualties and destruction on Bush's watch on 9/11 have not been even minimally approached anywhere in the world in a single attack.

    You were impressed by the London and Madrid bombings? Seriously?

    THAT is the top-notch handiwork of al Qaeda? 

    Actually, your personal Oedipal issues aside, attacks in other parts of the world don't really float my boat like being attacked personally. There have always been places far less stable than America. You couldn't possibly have selected a better poster child to highlight the fact than Somolia. A CIA FOB fronting as an Aid Organization actively engaged in a war zone would come in as a close second I imagine.

    Also, if you are going to be listing what appears to be a Kashmir-related IIS operation in Mubia (did you miss the other attacks over the years in that conflict?) ... you should probably also include the Mossad assassination in Dubai as a high-profile recently coordinated attack. But this brings up another interesting point. It's always surprising to me how little discussion focuses on the fact that Kashmir issues lie at the heart of regional destabilization from which a direct line can be drawn to the 9/11 attacks. Yet, discussions of operations in that conflict are lazily lumped in with any and all not-officially-state-sanctioned violence worldwide and used in an essentially mindless fashion as an indicator that it's a scary scary world out there ... POLICE STATE!!!!!!!!!

    There are an awful lot of people out there with an awful lot of causes. You seem to think that everyone who is Muslim is in on the same mission of "Jihad" or something. Turns out, in a population of 1.5 billion spread across countless nations - not every instance of violence in the Muslim diaspora has anything to do America. Nor do many contributions from Christians or Hindus for that matter.


    Don't you have to be male to have Œdipal issues?

    The case brings to mind the total impotence of al Qaeda over the last ten years to produce anything more than incompetent guys trying to light their shoes or underwear in planes.

    Apparently, the underlying goal is not so much to blow planes out of the sky as it is to bankrupt and scare the US.  According to the new English language al-Qaeda magazine, Inspire, written by a Pakastani-American now associated with AQ in Yemen:

    The goal of what it dubbed Operation Hemorrhage, the authors said, is not just to bring down aircraft, but to force Western governments to spend huge sums for new security measures, further burdening their faltering economies.

    "We will continue with similar operations and we do not mind at all in this stage if they are intercepted," one article said. "It is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy … in exchange for a few months of work and few thousand bucks."


    Death by a thousand paper cuts seems to be a winning strategy for AQ.  Our fearless leaders keep trumpeting the so-called successes as Destor details in this post, when in fact the so-called war on terror was lost a long time ago.  We're just too dumb to know it or too driven by the 24 hour news cycle to admit it.

    Worked quite well for The French Resistance during WWII and The Vietcong as well.

     I like the theme of these piece. It could be a good regular feature.

    Especially if he keeps the "Ameriicans" spelling.

    Whatever, Donaal!

    There's a show up here called "Talking To Americans," where they interview politicians, Ivy League students and profs, as well as people in the streets. The reporter tells them about Canada's great advances, such as extending schooling up through Grade 8, moving to a 24 hour clock, ending the practice of setting our old people out on ice floes to die, etc.

    Huckabee was famous for congratulating us that Canada's Parliament buildings - which he believed were made of ice, in the shape of an igloo - were to be preserved under a dome. He actually discussed it with his aides.

    Here's Vilsack's moment in the sun.


    Heey, I waas geettting too liike iit thaat waay.

    Somebody fixed it for me!  Dagblog has service, I tells ya!

    I was gonna change it to Stoopid Ameriicans.

    I hereby give you permission to follow your whims when they strike you.  Nothing I write is Shakespeare.

     But what's being hailed as a Homeland Security threat strikes me as a major social failure.

    I wish it had struck me that way as well, as in hindsight it seems like an obvious issue to raise. Thanks for a very thought-provoking essay, Destor!

    I agree that framing this as major social failure is interesting.  In a fundamental way I would agree that there is usually a collective responsibility when our youth end going to the violent extremes, whether is it connected with Islam or Neo-Nazis or gangs like the Bloods and the Crips.  Yet I would add that the mention of medicinal pills and therapy as answer demonstrates just how difficult this problem is to deal with.  I doubt any of us deep down want the government to be able to determine that based on one's radicalized politics an individual is in need of mental health treatment.  I.E. Let's track down those environmental activists blocking the logging roads, give 'em some lithium, and send 'em off to basket weaving classes at some secure institution because we know that eventually they'll be setting housing start up locations on fire. 

    Unfortunately the solution to the problem is creating fundamental changes in the paradigms to which our "at-risk" youth (and adults) are exposed and assimilate.  Creating those fundamental changes requires collective action in the manner which we generate and respond to the unfolding cultural discourse in this country.  In other words, it ain't going to happen overnight.  And we can see areas where we are taking a backward direction (Pakrk51 comes to mind).  One area is how we collectively see therapy and therapists, how the process is protrayed in all the medias, which usually amounts to ridiculing it when it is not an outright attack. 

    That so many individuals turn to violence as a means to solve societal problems (and at least subconsciously to meet some pyscho-emotional need) is in end in part (and I emphasize in part) the problem and responsibility of all Americans, stupid or otherwise.  Whether that violence is directed toward women, gays, the non-believers, the kids at the local high school or just whoever happens to be handy.  Domestic violence, rape, gay bashing, kids shooting their classmates, attacks motivated by religious ideology etc etc etc is happening because the violence is inherent in the very discourse of our day to day lives.  Individuals generate identities that require the peripheralization, domination, and eventual elimination of those that are not-them, the not-them that threaten the individuals by their mere existence. (All of which is an over-simplification of the process.)

    If we are able to see the "Portland bomber" as social problem, as one of "us," rather than a "not-us," we will definitely make a major step forward.  But I won't hold my breath for this to happen.  Whether it is a bomber or some kid shooting up the high school, the usual response to find a way to characterize them as "monsters" or something else that disconnects any identification with the violent perp.  Given how Islam is demonized in this country, this response is all too easy when it comes to someone like the kid in Portland.

    Great points.  I was worried when I was writing this that I'm straying into "A Clockwork Orange."  I don't mean catch the kid in a butterfly net, send him to bellevue and quiet him with narcotics.  More like, when his father called Homeland Security did he expect a security response or did he expect help, as in "please help me guide my kid down another path because the one he's on is headed somewhere bad."  This requires a more thoughtful response than "let's read his emails and see how far we can push him."

    But nowhere in this whole mess did anyone stop to think that the kid was redeemable or even worth the effort.  As you say, they saw him as "the other."  He ceased to be a human and became the embodiment of the supervillain sleeper cell we've all learned to fear.

    You're right though, we deal with school shootings the same way.  Somebody writes a violent short story and the police are called.  Nobody stops to think "are we dealing with a troubled kid, a potential murderer or the next Bret Easton Ellis?"

    Funny you should mention that. I just finished a library for a local community college, and have been following this story about a kid who wrote about his addiction to killing in their school paper. After school officials read it, they suspended him from classes pending a psych evaluation.


    He was a military vet wasn't he?  I thought his "addiction to killing" was a consequence of his time at war.  Never read the piece but it struck me as more symbolic than threatening when I saw it described.

    Reading the piece I think we can say that at the very least someone should reach out to him to help with what he is perceiving as an addiction.  I would say that it was call for help on his part. 

    I know you weren't calling for the butterfly net approach, but being the stupid americans that we are, we have decimated our mental health infrastructure in this country.  The primary driving force is of course money, but its fueled in large part because we don't have a good collective understanding of mental health and illness.  It is one of those issues so many people just want to go away.  Look at how long it has taken for people to somewhat accept depression.  Even now in some circles one would be best not to talk about suffering from such an ailment.  One consequence of all this that when someone does need a reaching-out-to, either there is no one there or, if there is, they don't know how. 

    When criminal acts are involved there are the crazies and the monsters, or with the Ted Bundys of the world, the crazy monsters.  We don't see how any of them as really redeemable.  We just prefer they are locked up and forgotten so that "normal people" can get on with our lives.   Unfortunately to start a serious discussion is merely to play into the conservative talking points about how those evil liberals just want to coddle the monsters, crazy or otherwise, and let them back on to the streets.  Which is part of what we I was talking about when I mentioned that there has to be some shifts in the discourse in this country.  We can't even really address the problems anymore, in part due to the politicalization of the issues. 

    But the story does remind me of an incident many moons ago when I was working on a community college book of fiction and poetry from submissions.  We got a poem written from the point of view of the Green River Killer and it freaked us out (he was big news in the area at the time).  I remember our professor-advisor tweaking on us for suggesting we might want to contact the "authorities," how we stomping on free expression, etc.   In the end we listened to her and we didn't contact the authorities, nor did we included it in the book.  But I always wonder.

    I don't think you can really apply individual psychology to the institutional level like that. Law enforcement/national security/whatever-this-amorphous-mess-is is a totally different society and they box people differently. I think this is true pretty much of any industry - when individuals are engaged "on the job" they view life based on the context (I think this can probably explain how/why those in the financial industry would behave the way they do ... and think it's sane). But the "how does society view [X] people/situations" and "how are [X] people/situations approached by law enforcement" are parallel questions. Probably the answer to the first impacts the second in a way somewhat analogous to how QE2 is supposed to impact desired aspects of the economy (though, only loosely).

    At this stage when someone attracts the attention of "security" the security side isn't analyzing it so much as individuals being "the other". In the situation, anyone outside their team is "other" - they are seeing scalps. Prizes. Targets. For the cop-class participant, it's the collar (or contextual analogue within the organizational society). For the DA/DoJ it's the convictions rate - and successfully prosecuting "dangerous" crimes. That's what they hang on the wall, brag to their peers about and in the case of the DA-types, build political careers on. Which is really where all this churns into a vicious cycle.

    It takes us viewing folks as the "other" for those with ambitions (just focus on political ones) to get maximum value from successful arrest/prosecution actions. If a successful action provides political benefits for the players - the politicians/ambitious reward the most beneficial outcomes both tangibly (funding, etc.) and intangibly (status, promotions, awards, etc.). I'm probably not putting it well, but the whole aligned motivation of everyone involved is to keep pumping more money into the "other at the gates" hysteria and providing examples both of why this is reality - and how these great folks are saving us.

    Sure, the National Security Team is worried about sleeper cells and whatever - of course they do many worthwhile things. But they don't need someone to embody a supervillain in order to see a target as a potential trophy and focus on fattening up their kill rather than helping that trophy redirect to safer habitat where taking the shot couldn't be justified. So, I guess one way to look at the question is how do we make it so that there is political (and financial?) benefit in successfully helping someone expressing alienation and radicalization find productive outlets for their dissatisfied energy? Right now there is an institution built around reinforcing those feelings, providing focused direction and finally enabling with a "mission" in order to bag the target at the end based purely on the benefit derived from successfully doing so.


    So, I guess one way to look at the question is how do we make it so that there is political (and financial?) benefit in successfully helping someone expressing alienation and radicalization find productive outlets for their dissatisfied energy?

    The only way that we can achieve this political benefit benchmark is not only receptive to this kind of response but are making demands for it.

    I agree basically with you on the institutional mindset regarding law enforcement.  The thing that springs to mind is how a number of police departments found that by getting more officers out of their cars, moving among the people, and building positive relationships with a local neighborhood lowered crime, increased cooperation and made everyone's life better.  But these shifts came only after neighborhoods raised their voices about the (perceived) police's attitude toward the neighborhood residents and consquent treatment of them. 

    In other words, as long as the people remain in lynch mode (or continue to be perceived as being so) against anyone who hints at terrorism, law enforcement, and the politicians that support them, will continue to set expectations and reward systems based on capture of the targets rather than rehabilitation of the individual.  Ultimately, if we give up on the hope that those within law enforcement (or political or financial) institutions cannot access their humanity and are not impervious to shifts in societal paradigms, we might as well just pack up our bags, turn out the lights, because the party is definitely over.

    For almost 3 years now, I have held to the hope that Obama was a bright man, with an open mind, someone with the potential to grow up and become the kind of innovative thinker the US desperately needed at this point in its history, most particularly with regard to economic issues.

    I no longer hold this view.

    He's an economic idiot. Really. Based on what we have seen to date, the man is just plain old flat out dull. A fucking moron. That thing the other day, where he was running a seminar on whether this rise in unemployment was "structural?" I'm sorry, but if your mind is questing down that alley, in this time, based on all you presumably have learned to date, you're a goddamn prune. 


    Might as well hire the Portland kid, he's more likely to succeed in his ends than Obama in his.

    He really didn't live up to his intellectual billing, did he?

    Very interesting post, destor. You really caused me to consider the Portland case from a different perspective.

    What was the interest of the government in pursuing this? We assume it was to protect the U.S. and prevent any such violence from occurring such as the attack this kid had allegedly planned for Portland. No brainer, right?

    But then why did "the investigation" need to progress right down to the point of the kid - on the scene - punching numbers in a cell phone. Most assuredly, they must have had enough evidence to go to court and gain a conviction for crimes that would have put this kid away out of harm's reach at a point way short of this.

    One would think that it would have been more beneficial - from an operational point of view - to intercede at some point and attempt to get the kid to work with the agents in helping acquire as much info as possible on whatever domestic networks there might be that are available to "home grown" terrorists. What would there be to lose? You've already got him dead to rights for crimes that will take him out of circulation. THAT objective is achieved. Why not attempt to leverage that for additional gain on the GWOT? And in the process, would it not have been possible to help the kid gain some kind of redemption here? To encourage him to be drawn back from the precipice? To at least provide opportunity to moderate his culpability in this alleged crime?

    I think it's pretty obvious that the desire to stage this dramatic - and fearful! (important, that!) - climax trumped anything else. Who is the terrorist here? The kid? Or the government who used his father's plea for help as a means to manipulate this situation into a terrifying "near miss?" (And don't even get me started on the possibility, as alleged by his friends and defense team, of the kid being set up to perform an act that he might otherwise have never performed.)

    As for the father, I can only begin to imagine the torturous second-guessing that he undoubtedly experiences following the way this played out. Somehow, I picture a father's consideration here that perhaps it might have been a better alternative for this to have been resolved by a little father/son talk on the riverbank, talking about the rabbits. I shudder in horror when I try to place myself in that desperate father's shoes.


    I'm seriously touched by your heartfelt empathy for this father, my friend.

    It can be assumed that the wanna' be bomber's value as a source for intelligence and leads ran out months ago. We will never be completely free from danger originating from within and outside our country.  There has to be a limit as to how much can be expended in order to insure our security.  Even aircraft manufacturers calculate the cost of failures into their design process.  Our security will fail as will aircraft plunge from the sky. bin Laden certainly can't complain on his ROI from 9\11.  Talk about bang for the buck!  We lost far more than treasure on that day!

    And some day the bomb will  go off. He'll decide at the last minute that he wants more independence . So instead of meeting his handler he'll go to the square ahead of time with his own do it yourself weapon.



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