Friday, December 26, 2003

How to end terrorism
It’s Christmas and, infused as I am with the spirit of good will and giving, I’m going to give the Bush administration the secret to getting reelected. I’m going to tell them how to end terrorism by the end of the summer.

It’s probably no surprise to you, dear readers, when I tell you that the administration has gone about its War on Terror all wrong. From day one they have been charging 180 degrees in the wrong direction. And unnecessarily so. There is a tactic that they have consistently misapplied in the War on Terror. It is a tactic that is well tested, effective, inexpensive, and philosophically consistent with the values demonstrated by the administration. Redefine terror out of existence.

This is hardly a new technique. Governments and administrations of all stripes have massaged statistics almost as long as statistics have existed. Look at unemployment. The government doesn’t even try to count the actual unemployed. They count those who apply for Unemployment Insurance. They count them only as long as they qualify for the program. They do not count those who don’t seek out the program. They do not count those who don’t qualify for the program. Even then, they calculate adjustments for a long list of categories that might qualify to collect Unemployment Insurance but aren’t counted into the officially announced statistics. Every administration tinkers with the numbers. It goes without saying that almost all adjustments reduce the number of unemployed.

I’ve been unemployed about two dozen times in my life. Most of those times I was carried over to the next job on savings or by freeloading off my sisters. Only during one of those times did I file for unemployment. So, I was only part of the statistics that one time. Had I remained unemployed three weeks longer, I would have disappeared off the other end and ceased to be counted, even though I would still have been unemployed.

Other statistics are similarly adjusted in the name of making the party in power look more effective and responsive to peoples needs than it really is. The technique is simple, change the definition of a problem to reduce the scope of that problem. Just Tuesday The Wall Street Journal reported an incident of this (quoted in the American Prospect online):
The Bush administration released a pair of much-awaited reports on the quality of American health care, after extensive revisions that made the findings more upbeat than some experts thought justified.
Some outside health-care advocates suggested that the two studies were toned down and delayed until after the Medicare overhaul and prescription-drug bill passed Congress for fear Democrats might seize on the reports to press for greater funding for quality initiatives, possibly complicating Republican efforts to pass the bill.

Last August, just as everybody was leaving for the Labor Day weekend, the Bush Environmental Protection Agency (who really shouldn’t even be allowed to use that name) announced that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Voila, in one shot they reduced the amount of pollution produced by the United States by an order of magnitude. In that same spirit the administration and its supporters have redefined logging as fire prevention, affirmative action as racism, and gay rights as religious persecution.

Obviously, the current administration understands the technique and has no qualms about using it. But for some reason they blow it when they get to terrorism. Instead, they keep expanding the definition of terrorism.

To be fair, they didn’t start this. Sometime around 1990, the FBI began investigating Earth First as a terrorist organization. About this time logging industry public relations people and Wise Use property rights activists began using the term “eco-terrorist” to describe any crime in the name of the environment, whether it be tree-spiking, moving survey stakes, arson, pie-throwing, tire-slashing, or graffiti. The mainstream media indiscriminately accepted the term and have used it ever since. Needless to say, if the Clinton administration was merely unwilling to object to the term, the present administration has enthusiastically continued its use.

Last March, a Republican Oregon State Senator, upset at anti-war protesters in Portland, introduced a bill in the legislature that would have made blocking traffic a crime punishable by life in prison. Section one of John Minnis’ proposal (Senate Bill 742) stated:
A person commits the crime of terrorism if the person knowingly plans, participates in or carries out any act that is intended, by at least one of its participants, to disrupt: (a) The free and orderly assembly of the inhabitants of the State of Oregon; (b) Commerce or the transportation systems of the State of Oregon; or (c) The educational or governmental institutions of the State of Oregon or its inhabitants.

In August, John Ashcroft took to the road to push the “Victory Act.” This Orwellian named gem contained significant parts of the wish list of expanded powers that had earlier been leaked as “Patriot Act II.” Among other things, the Victory Act would have elevated a whole raft to drug crimes (including possession) to the level of terrorism. They even created a catchy name for these crimes: narcoterrorism.

At this point, it seem the goal of the Right is to reclassify everything they disapprove of as terrorism (unless you’re an Ann Coulter reader, then you’d rather call all nasty things treason). This reminds me of a Mad magazine gag from the sixties where they proposed simplifying the courts by having one penalty for all crimes: assault and battery—ten years at hard labor, littering—ten years at hard labor, burning down the orphanage—ten years at hard labor, spitting on the sidewalk—ten years at hard labor. Only now if you monkeywrench a bulldozer, you’re an eco-terrorist; if you score some pot for your mom’s glaucoma, you’re a narcoterrorist; if you protest against a Ten Commandments monument at the courthouse, you’re a secularoterrorist; and if you call John Ashcroft an idiot, you’re objectively pro-terrorist.

This trend is not only dangerous, insulting, and un-American, it’s counter productive. How can Bush go before the American people and claim we’re winning the War on Terrorism if, by their own policies, there is more and more terror every day? They’ve tried out the line that more terrorism means we’re winning, but that line of argument doesn’t seem to be that effective. They need a big chart with a jagged line headed down towards zero and victory.

They can only get that result two ways. One is by actually ridding the world of terrorism. That’s just not possible. Aside from the obvious fact that the world will always have angry and alienated young people ready to die for a cause, we’ve been on the loosing side of a technological race ever since the introduction of gunpowder (appropriately enough during the crusades). Prior to that, killing was a personal business where the skilled guys with swords always beat an equal number of unskilled guys with sharp sticks. Gunpowder made it possible for a small number of people, with limited skills (light fuse, run), to inflict large casualties on the authorities. On 9/11, those 19 young men killed approximately 150 times their own number.

The other way is to just define terror out of existence. Sure, a couple people at the Justice Department seem to understand that. They do their best to keep the numbers down by charging white guys who try bomb Planned Parenthood clinics only with weapons violations. But that’s not enough. The whole administration needs to get behind this. Monkeywrenching needs to go back to being vandalism. Drug smuggling needs to go back to being a controlled substances violation. At each step, the administration pulls out the chart, points out the drop in terror crimes, and, with a straight face, credits their policies and moral clarity for the drop.

I'm offering this advice in the spirit of goodwill and too much eggnog. This is a sure-fire plan to beat terrorism. That is, if you really want to beat terrorism. If you have some reason to want to keep the public in a state of anxiety and emergency... well, I won't speculate. That would just be giving aid and comfort to our enemies.

No comments: