Tuesday, January 11, 2005

January 10, 2005

Suckered into Going For Broke?

While Bush administration Neocons like to remind us regularly that the US won the Cold War, they seem to have forgotten why and how we won it. They do remember – and like to remind us – that it was Ronald Reagan who finally crushed the Evil Empire (AKA, Soviet Union.)

But how did he do it? Did he bomb them? No. Did he occupy them? No. Did he scare them into surrendering? Nope.

Answer: He broke them, not militarily, but financially.

Reagan convinced the Soviets that he was going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to build a missile defense shield over the US, effectively defanging the Soviets and making them vulnerable to a US first strike to which they could not respond.

The Russians bit and spent themselves into national bankruptcy trying to figure out how to counter a threat that did not, and a quarter century later still has not, materialized.

The reason I offer this little memory jogger is because that’s exactly how al Qaida intends to defeat the West – by convincing us that we have to spend larger and larger hunks of our national treasures protecting ourselves against every imaginable terrorist threat.

And, it’s working. Just listen to all the hand wringing these days from public officials and major media every time something bad happens.

When I say “bad” I don’t mean just the occasional terrorist incident. A train jumped the tracks last week in South Carolina releasing chlorine gas. Nine people died. It was an accident. Not a terrorist within two thousand miles of the place. The train jumped the track, as so many US trains do, because US rail companies refuse to spend the kind of money required to keep their roadbeds up to European standards. US rails are an international joke. Nevertheless, within a day of the S.C. accident talking
heads on CNN and other news channels were not talking about the disgraceful condition of the US rail infrastructure, but obsessing over “what if” terrorists start targeting trains. Within hours those thumb-sucking media speculations had smoked out members of Congress to pompously declare more money needs to be spent – not on new tracks – but on additional rail security.

There now seems there is no natural disasters, accident or Act of God that cannot be spun into a terrorist threat for which we are unprepared. A flood? What if terrorists bombed Hoover Dam? Two-dozen homes under construction in Maryland burn to the ground and the first suspects are “eco-terrorists.” (Turns out it was a local redneck with a screw loose.) Customers of a hamburger joint come down with e-coli poisoning and the US Secretary of Heath and Human Services gets on TV and rambles on about how easy it would be for terrorists to poison our food supply.

So, just what the fig is going on?'

Three things:
  1. The attacks on 9/11 shocked Americans accustomed to watching (and causing) that kind of trouble from a safe distance. Mainland US had never been attacked before that. So, seeing 3000 people killed in a major US city like that was quite the little wake up call for Americans. And like all newcomers to an idea, we are still trying to size it – is it a big deal, a really big deal or the end of civilization as we know it? This process would be easier if it were not for the next two phenomena.
  2. Public officials at all levels of government – from the White House all the way down to the 2-person fire district in Dog Patch, Nebraska, are playing the terrorism card for all it’s worth. After almost years of budget cuts the nation’s “first responders” suddenly became America’s unsung and under-funded heroes after 9/11. All they had to do to get new fire trucks, more personnel, more money was to get on the evening news and mention that they were unprepared to respond to a terrorist attack if one should occur in their town, city, hospital, school, daycare facility, even public sewer districts. The next morning a few million bucks would show up in the mail. Four years have passed since 9/11 and the gambit still works. But, without a real terrorist attack to point to, they glom onto everyday catastrophes turning them into “but what if” terrorist incidents. For the White House terrorism has become the Swiss Army knife of excuses, from explaining the crappy economy to the budget deficit. For Congress terrorist funding has replaced pork barrel dam and highway projects. (Kha-ching)
  3. None of the above would be possible if it were not for the media, which has become the handmaiden of the fear mongers, by helping create and maintain this national terrorism hysteria. Before the media had terrorism to chew on they boosted ratings with “if it bleeds it leads,” crime stories, live auto chases and celebrity trials. But post-9/11 Americans now had attention calluses so thick nothing less than death and destruction on a mass scale – or at least the threat of it – could capture an audience. So, any public official willing to get in front of a CNN or FOX camera and say something scary became “the” get for the industry. And, the scarier the better. (Kha-ching)

The above compound; a scared public, cunning and self-serving public officialdom and a pathetically needy and increasingly shallow media – has created a self-perpetuating national hysteria.

Is terrorism a real problem? Of course it is. It’s just not as big and all consuming, do-or-die problem that we are making it. All kinds of things kill humans around the world every day and terrorism is one of the least deadly among them. Just ask the people of coastal Southeast Asia these days.

Bin Reagan ?
Now, back to how we won the Cold War. Their leaders convinced the people of the Soviet Union that the US, under Ronald Reagan, was out to get them. So, they had to spend whatever it took on their national security or risk losing the Cold War. So, the country diverted already scarce national treasure to defenses against the myth of Reagan’s Star Wars system. And that was that for the Soviet Union.

Now we risk a similar fate, unless we get a grip and put terrorism into a bigger and more realistic perspective.

For example, if you really want trains to stop falling off the tracks, fix the friggin tracks. Maybe with a solid rail infrastructure Amtrak trains would actually reach their destinations more often, and on schedule too boot. If a terrorist should blow the occasional train off its tracks we will deal with it. But the other 99.9999999% of trains out there will never be attacked by anyone will go about their business in their full and upright position.

Bin Laden is al Qaida’s Ronald Reagan. He has figured out how to scare the powerful US into wasting billions – eventually trillions -- of dollars chasing terrorist shadows while our education, healthcare and national infrastructure crumble. Just by getting us to chase his terrorist’s minion into briar patch Iraq, he succeeded in getting us to throw another $200 billion a year down a rat hole. (A rat hole that has always been a rat hole and will remain a rat hole no matter how many US dollars and US lives are throw into it.)

In this regard Bin Laden is a crafty rascal -- which is more than we can say for the Elmer Fudd President chasing him from hole to hole.

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