April 16, 2013

A few reactions to Topic A from Boston

It's too bad the cable news people (Rachel & Chris & Chris & Lawrence) feel compelled to tell us what the tragedy "means" before they even tell us what happened.  They're in such a rush to package everything, to give everything a logo, that they skip over the factual details that may hold the actual answers they pretend to seek.  However, I have an uneasy feeling that MSNBC and CNN and Fox are not going to be able to give this one a "clothing label" (Shoe Bomber, Underwear Bomber) and be done with it.  This terrorist operation does not have the Keystone Kops kharacteristics of the Times Square terrorist who managed to lock himself out of his own car (bomb), nor is it one of the entrapment scenarios the FBI concocts from time to time where they recruit a bunch of incompetent jihadists to participate in a half-ass, dead-end plot that the FBI rushes in to disrupt at the last second (before the plot was about to fail).

No, what this incident seems most like, what it calls to mind, is an IED set off in Baghdad.  The talking heads seem loath to confront that possibility, and for understandable reasons.  That's not something they want to get into.  They want a corporate "handle" for this incident that makes it titillating and exciting and above all heroic and self-congratulatory, to confine it to the current news cycle, so Americans can pay attention for a couple of days, feel good about themselves, and then move on with their lives.  So Rachel Maddow will talk earnestly to MSNBC's go-to terrorism experts who will discuss in general what motivates people to blow up other people while carefully avoiding any explanation that sounds too serious. Or too likely to provoke any soul searching on our part.

But think about it: if you've read accounts of how improvised explosive devices are used in Iraq and Afghanistan, they seem exactly like what happened yesterday at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  A bomb, maybe in a backpack casually left behind, is planted somewhere (watching the news for several hours last night, I was never able to find out exactly where, but one runner's account reported in the New York Times suggested one of the bombs was in a Starbuck's).  The bomb contains high explosives and a detonating device, maybe a garage door opener which can be signaled with a cell phone.  The bombs detonate a few seconds apart.  This could result from a signal from one cell phone or maybe two, from a lone jihadist or maybe a team.  Logic suggests that more than one person was involved.  One or more operatives to walk along the crowded sidewalks with backpacks, armed and ready to blow, while their co-conspirators wait a safe distance away with cell phones.

It's easy, really, and what's always amazed me is that, given the phenomenon the CIA calls "blowback" (anti-American sentiment from our many wars in Muslim countries), this sort of thing doesn't happen more often, even routinely, the way that mass shootings with automatic weapons have become routine in American life.  In part, it has seemed to me that the fatal flaw for the jihadists is their preference for the spectacular or the unnecessarily difficult: 9/11 illustrates the preference for the Big Score, but the Shoe Bomber and the Underwear Bomber demonstrate the fallacy of attempting a terrorist attack in circumstances where (a) the actual detonation process becomes obvious to those around the terrorist and (b) the operative becomes emotionally overwhelmed because he knows he's going down with the plane.

If the hypothesis is correct, that yesterday's tragedy was a jihadist operation involving remote-signaled IED's, then we now have a helluva problem on our hands.  For one thing, the perpetrators are no doubt still at large.  For another, it presents us with the disquieting feeling that the War on Terror (TM) has come home.  Our "liberal" news outlet, MSNBC, doesn't quite know what to do with that. They can "oppose" the Iraq War, for example, once general public opinion has made it safe to do so, but they can't begin talking about logical consequences of having fought the war in the first place. Such as the likelihood that jihadists would come over here and start detonating IED's in Boston and other American cities exactly as they've shown they can do in Muslim war zones.

Instead, Rachel Maddow "interviews" Ron Suskind, who assures everyone that the bombers "cannot win" because of some peerless quality the American people supposedly possess where we cannot be frightened or intimidated, and next year's Boston Marathon will be bigger and better than ever, et cetera.  Just don't start talking about "blowback."  We prefer the "lone American nut" thesis.  We prefer the randomly pathological to the logically political, because that way we're always right, and we don't have to entertain any uneasy thoughts about how maybe we should have seen this coming.

Time will tell.  In the meantime, the MSM will blather on about this incident's "place in history" and the rest of it.  I thought, oddly enough, that the real star of last night's news shows was a young trauma surgeon at Mass General named Peter Fagenholz.  He answered reporters' questions cogently, directly, after a long day in which he had performed six emergency operations on grievously wounded civilians.  No speculation from him.  He was humble and obviously supremely competent. Tellingly, he acknowledged the help he'd gotten from a fellow surgeon who had spent tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and who was familiar with the kinds of injuries the docs dealt with all day yesterday.

April 14, 2013

Guest Post: Rob Urie on Obama's Latest Sell-Out

Whenever I see a Rob Urie post on Counterpunch, I hasten to read it.  Mr. Urie is described as an "artist and political economist," an interesting combination that seems to produce lapidary prose and brilliant insight.  He is much better than I have been about explaining how it all fits together economically, but then composition is the essence of art.  He addresses such questions as why, precisely, Barack Obama, for example, is so utterly "Hopeless (TM)" as a liberal leader and little more than a clueless stooge of Wall Street lobbyists.  If you read enough of Rob Urie, you might give up your tendency to post Facebook pleas to Mr. Obama "to do the right thing."  He is never going to do the right thing, and it doesn't matter if he's given a third term.  With that, I turn the floor over to Mr. Urie.  His analyses are dense and intellectual, and presented often at a high level of abstraction, but I think it's all there: a true comprehensive overview in the manner of the great social theorists.