Saturday, January 02, 2010

"Temper Tantrums"

David Brooks has a strikingly breezy column on the Nigerian bomber:

Now we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved. We seem to be in the position of young adolescents — who believe mommy and daddy can take care of everything, and then grow angry and cynical when it becomes clear they can’t. ...

[W]e shouldn’t imagine that these centralized institutions are going to work perfectly or even well most of the time. It would be nice if we reacted to their inevitable failures not with rabid denunciation and cynicism, but with a little resiliency, an awareness that human systems fail and bad things will happen and we don’t have to lose our heads every time they do.

Look, the circumstances make this case unique. This is someone who paid cash for a one-way ticket from one of the most notorious airports in the world. He had recently been to Yemen. He checked no bags and had a seat next to the airplane's skin, over the wing and above the fuel tank. He was already on a watch list, and his own father -- a credible, prominent figure in his country -- begged us to be on guard. If the age of diminished expectations has reached the point at which stopping such a person is now considered a once in a million shot, feasible only in the event of some unlikely confluence of New York Mets victories and Halley's comet, we're in deep trouble. Would Brooks write the same column if the same person -- same circumstances, same missed warning signs -- had just detonated a nuclear device in a U.S. city? Why is this any different?

The column by Brooks is even stranger in light of what he wrote in March 2007 (my bolds):

Today the big threats to people’s future prospects come from complex, decentralized phenomena: Islamic extremism, failed states, global competition, global warming, nuclear proliferation, a skills-based economy, economic and social segmentation.

Normal, nonideological people are less concerned about the threat to their freedom from an overweening state than from the threats posed by these amorphous yet pervasive phenomena. The “liberty vs. power” paradigm is less germane. It’s been replaced in the public consciousness with a “security leads to freedom” paradigm. People with a secure base are more free to take risks and explore the possibilities of their world.

People with secure health care can switch jobs more easily. People who feel free from terror can live their lives more loosely.

This was an important column for Brooks. In it he denounced the "Goldwater-Reagan glory days" of limited government as a dead end for conservatism, and urged a more proactive model in which individual freedom flows from the state's ability to provide various forms of "security." How viable is that model if Brooks is willing to so casually cast it aside the moment the state fails its easiest test?


Anonymous Pete said...

Brooks, a conservative fraud, makes the usual presumption of "enlightened" liberals that somehow government has the "ability" to efficiently and effectively fulfill its constitutionally mandated responsibilities. Where is the evidence that such "ability" exists?

1/02/2010 8:41 AM  
Blogger mrmetrowest said...

It pains me to agree with David Brooks, but this column should be read by everyone. Yes, letting the hot pants bomber fly into the US, when the UK managed to ban him, demonstrated robust incompetence. The problem is that any system is only as good as the people implementing the system, and you simply are not going to get good performance 100% of the time.

You strive for it. When you fall short, you analyse the failure and try to improve. What you don't do is panic and start lopping heads to satisfy the peanut gallery. It should be obvious to any intelligent observer that we in the US are saddled with media whose business model requires nurturing threats of various kinds, with Islamic boogeymen a special favorite.

It's hard to imagine what might have happened in 1941 had news and entertainment been as conflated as they are today. US incompetence certainly contributed to the debacle at Pearl Harbor, but the response was not to sack the entire chain of command, beginning with Roosevelt.

Part of emotionally maturity is understanding that life's risks cannot be reduced to zero. We face measurable risk each time we get in a car, risk far in excess of that posed by terrorists. What has the politics of hysteria gained us?

1/02/2010 10:21 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Pete, I think Brooks is saying the exact opposite.

1/03/2010 11:01 AM  
Anonymous KAIMU said...


Its looking like your blog is being "terrorized". As I read the above post about the new IPhone accessories and then the Japanese porn in the comment section of your last article and then you have that Stalinist Russian propaganda in about six other posts.

What has happened and why are those posts allowed?

1/03/2010 12:35 PM  
Anonymous KAIMU said...


I agree that terrorism is an issue and in the same light government "failures" are also on the rise. It seems that as debt grows in America, not only on the private side but especially on the US Treasury side, more and more capital is being diverted from "protecting" Americans, which is a US CONSTITUTION mandate, to protecting insolvent banks and the US FED.

Maybe the "talent" over at CitiBank is more expensive and perhaps we need to pay TSA agents on that same level ... Yet "talent" does not fly on public jets, they have their own private jets. OBAMA, dude, every US citizen needs to fly on a private jet! DO IT! Its the only way to beat this airline terrorism. How many private jets could the US Treasury have bought for its citizens with $1.5TRIL? Plus the "new" jobs at Boeing! HEY ... two birds with one stone man! Yeah!!

In reality what is happening is the same as the USSR. When massive debt and "monopoly" servicing diverts public funds to the elite priorities then public infrastructure breaks down. So not only are we faced with failed "security" at airports, but also roads and bridges and electrical grids will start to fail as well. Then I wonder when will we face failed security on the internet, one of the most important of all US infrastructures. The cost to service the "debt" is siphoning huge sums of money from infrastructure. All past Superpowers succumb to the same dynamic, so why should America be any different? We failed to adhere to US CONSTITUTIONAL values and we all voted for the "free lunch". We are discovering the hard way nothing is "free". No need to get angry just ... GET EVEN!

America is run by two monopolies that have been in control of our lives for 100 years. These two monopolies tell us how much we can save and spend each day. They tell us how much our mortgage payment and electric bill will be. They tell us what sort of healthcare we need. They tell us what Wars our children must die in. They tell us where we must invest for our future. They tell us what schools our kids can attend. They are now even trying to tell us whether we can afford the air we breath.

The two monopolies I speak of are the TWO PARTY POLITICAL MONOPOLY and the MONEY MONOPOLY. The Dems and Reps have been voted into power for 100 years now. The US Fed was created in 1913, 97 years ago. The US FED controls our money issuance, yet has no US CONSTITUTIONAL mandate to do so. We Americans are locked into 100 year old monopolies. When a monopoly exists there is no competition ... no free markets and most important for us Americans no "representation". Unless you are a member of one of the two monopolies your voice is unheard. We fundamentally have no vote.

Given that track record and our current circumstances maybe we should all consider voting and banking differently, in a manner that does not perpetuate the two monopolies. I have always admired Gandhi and the core of his tactics against the British was simply not to "participate" in EMPIRE. That amazingly enough is exactly what the US Declaration of Independence "requires"(not suggests) WE THE PEOPLE to do when we suffer a "long train of abuses". Simply put ... QUIT PARTICIPATING IN THE MONOPOLY! What can our elected representatives do arrest 300 million people?


1/03/2010 1:18 PM  
Anonymous b. said...

"Would Brooks write the same column if the same person -- same circumstances, same missed warning signs -- had just detonated a nuclear device in a U.S. city? Why is this any different?"

I sympathize, but this is beyond stupid. Would Brooks write the same column if the same person snipped his fingers to destroy the continental US with god-like powers?

To borrow from Schneier, an ass bomber is an ass bomber - an underpants gnome. I don't pay attention to Brooks, do I have to stop paying attention to you?

Greenwald did (pay attention to Brooks), and whatever he found at the NYT, he is getting really close to the core in calling it a "fear-addicted dynamic" here:

The sad truth is that, as I saw in California on 9/11 first hand, terrorism is entertainment. It's not just the keyboard commandos, it is a decaying country full of empty lives, full of people dimly aware how unimportant and irrelevant they have been deemed by their establishment - hollow shells trying to fill that existential void *resulting from lack of opportunity and resources* (your reading of Hoffer seems to be twisted by comparative privilege) by latching on the poisonous "reassurance" that they, too, are threatened and in need of protection. In short, a community in name only, that needs to "get its war on" and has become addicted to the Daily Terror handed out on the piss-yellow pages of what passes as "reporting" - supporting, if not demanding torture at drop of a hint, supporting whatever precision terror can be safely (but not cheaply) unleashed by "joysticks" operated in Las Vegas-based DoD trailer parks.

What you have here is Eisenhower's un-slain dragon (WW2/cold war protection racketeering) mutating into the National Insecurity State of "pax et circenses" - unassailable privatization of public money supported by the convergence of political institution, corporate campaign financing and corporate media entertainment. Full Spectrum Hysteria - a perfect world which is all war and brutality "over there", one nation to serve the private profit, all necessities contrived, all hysterical anxieties titillated, all that desperate boredom entertained.

The issue is security theater, and the very real authoritarian society it feeds and feeds back into. The system worked indeed. You don't want to fix it, you want to end it. If you can't see the Constitution as suicide pact, you do not deserve it.

1/04/2010 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Kilfarsnar said...

You expect consistency from David Brooks? He's a water carrier and lickspittle to the Establishment, nothing more.

I stopped reading him even before I stopped reading Tom Friedman.

1/04/2010 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What most people fail to take into consideration is that the 'safety' of all citizens when it comes to 'terror' has been put into the hands of unskilled, untrained, underpaid, as well as lazy mall patrols.

"According to an incident report, Hwang told airport officials, in broken English, that he arrived at the airport on a Delta flight at about 5 p.m. Saturday.

He spent the night sleeping in the seats near Gate 8 next to the concourse window and next to a support column.

Airport officials said he was waiting on friends, scheduled to arrive at the airport from a flight on Sunday, to return to campus together.

According to the report, Transportation Safety Administration officials left the concourse at 7 p.m. Saturday and two TSA employees walked to the end of the concourse and back to the checkpoint without noticing Hwang.

Another search was conducted at 11:50 p.m. Saturday by airport police and they did not spot Hwang either.

A search done at 3:10 a.m. Sunday morning did not uncover Hwang."

Brooks is not the problem.

1/04/2010 8:28 PM  
Anonymous nickel said...

I'm afraid I have to side with the Brookses and cynics.

There is a certain amount of threat of terrorism, but really, in the US, in the 8 years since 2001 there has been nothing but half-baked plans by untrained, uneducated losers with a grudge, when it wasn't plain entrapment by law enforcement officials.

Sure, investigate how come no one noticed the guy and ask the 5 whys and have heads roll if necessary. But please keep a sense of perspective. You look at the headless chicken antics following the pant-bomber scare and you have to wonder, is this the country that defeated the Axis in WWII?

Lots of people have a keen interest in keeping the security circus going. The warmongering clan needs as big an enemy as possible, so that bombing Yemen seems the inescapable solution to get rid of this existential threat to the US. The security apparatus is as eager as ever to KEEP YOU SAFE.. and incidentally can sell you scanners, cameras, databases, guards, tasers - can you put a price on safety? Then there is the media... Has DEATH IN THE SKY! What is the government doing? ever hurt ratings?

As to how come such a thing could possibly happen, the always readable Glenn Greenwald has an explanation worth reading here.

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