“The Diction Debates”: To Cynical Republicans, “An Act Of Terror Is Different Than A Terrorist Attack”
Marc Ambinder explained this morning that Benghazi is “a debate about post-tragedy diction.” That’s certainly bolstered by recent Republican arguments, nearly all of which have to do with the timing of various choices of words.
If you’re thinking that genuine political controversies are supposed to deal with more meaningful issues than diction, you and I are on the same page, though congressional Republicans and much of the political world are on a very different page.
Take Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example. On Sept. 12, 2012, President Obama described the Benghazi attack as an act of terror. McCain yesterday insisted that those comments don’t count: “The president didn’t call it an ‘act of terror.’ … He condemned ‘acts of terrorism.’”
“The president sent a letter to the president of Libya were he didn’t call it a terrorist attack even when in real time the president of Libya was calling this a pre-planned Sept. 11 terrorist attack,” Issa said. He added, “An act of terror is different than a terrorist attack.”
This is amusing, in a pathetic sort of way, and not just because of Issa’s rhetorical framework. It’s also striking because it’s shining a light on what Republicans consider truly important about this story: which officials used the words Republicans like and when.
Ambinder added, “The Diction Debates aren’t real because the opponent insists he/she knows about the motivation for using/ not using certain key words.” That’s also true — McCain, Issa and others are quite animated over which official used the word “terror” on which day.
But all of this serves to remind us that the political world has defined “scandal” down to a meaningless level. Watergate dealt with crimes committed by a president. Iran-Contra dealt with a White House that sold arms to a sworn enemy to finance an illegal war. The Plame Affair, the U.S. Attorney purge, and illegal warrantless wiretaps dealt with systemic wrongdoing at the highest levels.
In 2013, though, we’re apparently stuck with, “An act of terror is different than a terrorist attack.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 13, 2013
Authorities say that the two brothers who allegedly bombed the Boston Marathon were probably “self-radicalized.”
The media have embraced this catchy term, partly because of the assurance it seems to offer: Don’t worry, folks — Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev weren’t recruited and deployed by al Qaeda or any other terrorist group; they hatched their own plot with no tactical help from abroad.
That might well be true, but little comfort can be taken from it.
Some of the most notorious acts of political violence in our history were carried out by pissed-off loners or impromptu zealots who belonged to no organized cabal.
By modern definition, Lee Harvey Oswald was self-radicalized. So was Sirhan Sirhan. Ditto for hermit Ted Kaczyinski, the Unabomber.
And who was more self-radicalized than Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the creeps who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995?
Everyone who sets out to create blood-soaked headlines finds a way to rationalize it. Murder in the name of God, Allah or patriotism is the oldest excuse in the book.
Once caught, the killers seldom admit they did it just for a sick thrill. OK, I’m a loser and my life is crap, so I decided to do something really outrageous.
Self-radicalized terrorists can be scarier than organized cells, because the cells are easier to track and their agendas are less opaque. They wave their hatred like a flag.
In Boston, the older Tsarnaev brother and apparent mastermind of the bombings was loving life until three years ago. According to interviews with friends and family, Tamerlan’s dream had been to become a professional boxer and earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
He wore flamboyant white fur and snakeskins, and trash-talked his opponents in the ring. He was a good fighter, too, twice the Golden Gloves champ of New England.
Then the rules changed. Tamerlan wasn’t allowed to box in the Tournament of Champions because of his immigration status — he was a legal permanent resident, not a full U.S. citizen.
Disappointed, he quit boxing. He didn’t work a regular job. His wife, a healthcare aide, paid the family’s rent. The Tsarnaevs also received food stamps and welfare payments.
Tamerlan tried community college but soon dropped out. He grew a beard and became increasingly interested in Islam, the religion of his Chechen and Dagestani heritage.
Last year he went back to Dagestan for six months without his wife and daughter, a trip being scrutinized by the FBI and Russian authorities. So far, though, Tamerlan hasn’t been connected to any terror group that has targeted America.
His path to Boylston Street, as presented in law enforcement’s scenario, is at once amateurish and harrowing: Older brother returns to the States and enlists his impressionable younger brother, a pot-smoking college student with good grades, plenty of friends and no known hostility against this country.
Together, the two of them assemble bombs from an Internet recipe using kitchen pressure cookers, fireworks, nails, ball bearings and remote control mechanisms from toy racecars. Then they go to the marathon, place the devices in the crowd and stupidly hang around to watch the detonations.
A professional operation it was not. The brothers had no idea there were video cameras all over the place. No disguises, no getaway plan, no fake passports, no money, no plane tickets, no car (Dzhokhar’s was in a repair shop).
This, we are told, is the new face of terror. Spontaneous and rudimentary.
A disgruntled young athlete, his career stymied, violently attacks the country that he’d once hoped to represent in the Olympics. Maybe Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been “self-radicalized” into an Islamic fanatic.
Or maybe he was just furious because a lack of U.S. citizenship papers had kept him out of the biggest boxing match of his life. Maybe it was that simple.
Tamerlan is dead, and Dzhokhar might or might not reveal the motive for the bombing. Clearly, though, it wasn’t the act of two crazy persons.
Cold and twisted? Obviously. But not crazy.
Even more sobering is the ease with which the brothers put their plan in motion. These days, anybody with a laptop and a grudge can arrange a massacre on a shoestring budget.
You don’t need fake IDs. You don’t need special training. You don’t even need to be very smart.
All you need is the one dark impulse.
By: Carl Hiaasen, The National Memo. May 7, 2013
“Who’s Doing The Terrorizing?”: Lindsey Graham Pulls A Page Straight Out Of The Bush-Cheney Playbook
Apparently on Friday, before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended, Sen. Lindsey Graham was already torquing up the hysteria by taking the position that Tsarnaev not receive his Miranda warning before being interrogated. Graham–who, not to imply anything from this, is one of those lucky men who can go into any barbershop and the get the exact look he wants simply by saying, “I’d like the Adolf Hitler haircut”–tweeted “If captured I hope [the] Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as [an] enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.” He then added “The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights telling him to ‘remain silent.’”
The Brothers Tsarnaev will never be known as anything but terrorists, but Boston certainly doesn’t look like a town that has been terrorized to me. Defiant? Sure. Inspired? Definitely. There’s a kind of a civic euphoria arising from the realization that town came through this blow with strength and intelligence and courage. From the first responders on Monday, to the individuals who opened their homes to stranded runners, to the full-throated expression of patriotism that infused the way Bruins fans sang the national anthem, to an exemplary performance by the law enforcement authorities, Boston has a lot to be proud of. They don’t look terrorized to me.
It’s the Lindsey Grahams who are terrorizing people by suggesting that this threat maybe might possibly be so enormous that we have to deny Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his rights as an American citizen. This is a page straight out of the Bush-Cheney playbook, the idea that we have to start throwing away our most important values and traditions in order to be secure.
It’s nonsense. Denying Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his rights won’t improve my safety. Let’s face it: if I really wanted to improve my safety, I would lose twenty pounds.
By: Jamie Malanowski, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 21, 2013
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-The Worst) has some helpful suggestions for the Obama administration and, I guess, the thousands of FBI agents and police officers currently searching for Boston Marathon bomb suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in case any of them follow him on Twitter: Don’t read Tsarnaev his rights, if you catch him alive, because terror:
The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights telling him to “remain silent.”
— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) April 19, 2013
If captured, I hope Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.
— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) April 19, 2013
If the #Boston suspect has ties to overseas terror organizations he could be treasure trove ofinformation.
— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) April 19, 2013
Graham wasn’t done, telling the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin (sigh): “This is Exhibit A of why the homeland is the battlefield.”
That is just the worst, dumbest, least helpful, wonderful (and totally predictable) response to a terror attack, Senator Graham. Making America “the battlefield” is sort of the point of terrorism (well, the point is also “killing Americans” and often “somehow causing America’s foreign policy to change in a way that is actually the opposite of the way that terrorism always makes America’s foreign policy change” but most terrorists aren’t great strategic thinkers, that is why they fucking bomb civilians).
So Tzarnaev is an American citizen, and while he may be a terrorist, terrorism is a crime. In America, when we arrest people for crimes we are required to inform the criminals that they have certain rights under the Constitution — the Constitution is this old list of rules that people like Sen. Lindsey Graham claim to revere — and we do this not just to make the criminal justice process fairer but also so that prosecutions don’t fall apart because of police misconduct.
This “don’t read terrorists their rights” line is weird nonsense even if you do think “terrorism” is a magical word that turns crime into super-crime-where-the-Constitution-doesn’t-count. Tsarnaev may be doing poorly in college, but he’s presumably watched enough television that if police tell him his rights he will not be surprised to hear them.
Anyway, Graham doesn’t even have to worry because the Supreme Court and the Justice Department have already basically rolled back Miranda to the point where once you say “terror” you basically only have to read someone their rights if you feel like it.)
Graham also told Rubin that it would be “nice to have a drone up there” because yeah what is impeding this investigation so far is that no one has access to any airborne cameras. IF ONLY WE HAD AIRBORNE CAMERAS.
This will remain the dumbest response to this week’s chaos until John McCain urges war with Russia and/or Liz Cheney urges war on Chechnya.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, April 19, 2013
Tragedies amplify the human tendencies toward both selflessness and assholishness. From a distance, watching horrible things happen (and happen, and happen) on TV, it can be much easier to see the assholishness. Yesterday an asshole planted bombs at the Boston Marathon — the Boston Marathon, for chrissakes — and today three people are confirmed dead with many, many more injured, in some cases horrifically.
That horrible situation, though, led to a great deal of examples of how Boston, and much of the U.S., is a pretty damn nice place full of impressive and great people. There was amazing journalism from Boston journalists, and a heroic response from Boston first responders, paramedics, doctors and surgeons. Boston blood banks filled up immediately and the Red Cross and Google both helped people find their loved ones. The Internet and the press even acquitted themselves reasonably well. It was amazing to see, within hours of the attack, eyewitness video from amateurs and professionals. The live stream of WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, was compelling, restrained and informative. Fox News’ Shepard Smith was incredibly composed and also very careful not to speculate irresponsibly. The Boston Globe dropped its pay wall and put its heartbreaking and useful liveblog on the front page.
It wasn’t all good. There was no reason for Neil Cavuto to interview Joe Arpaio, at any point yesterday, and yet that happened. This was a particularly obnoxious reminder that Fox News can only turn off its shtick when a grown-up, like Shepard Smith, is running the show. (Smith returned to anchor coverage later, thankfully.) CNN’s political reporters were similarly unable to break out of their self-created shell of inanity and just react like human beings, with Wolf Blitzer and company fixated on the semantics of the president’s brief statement. The New York Post, always happy to out-ghoul the competition, was running poorly sourced bullshit all day.
That poorly sourced bullshit tends to stick around, too. The “Saudi national” “person of interest,” the New York Post’s “law enforcement source” and the “explosion” at the John F. Kennedy library. These are the random bits of information, usually false, that circulate during disasters and, inevitably, lead to conspiracy theories. This isn’t a brand-new, Internet-created problem. Morsels of misinformation broadcast on TV or the radio in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and even the Kennedy assassination survive forever.
We still know next to nothing about what happened yesterday. The “ball bearings” that doctors are finding in victims might just be shrapnel. It seems now that there weren’t any additional unexploded devices in the area. People should probably be clearer, in the future, about the unreliability of information from emergency services scanners. Now we’ll see if the press jumps on every law enforcement lead and manages to convict innocent people in the court of public opinion, as has happened way too many times in the past following bombings and terroristic violence. Basically, be skeptical of what you see and read over the next few months.
Weirdly and probably inappropriately, I kept thinking yesterday of the 2007 incident in which Boston police closed the trains and the Charles River because a guerrilla marketing firm placed a series of LED ads for “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” around the city. It seemed at the time like the height of ridiculous post-9/11 paranoid hysterical overreaction. These were effectively LITE-BRITEs with cute cartoon aliens on them, but because they matched some idiotic police description of the characteristics of IEDs they were treated as a threat. I did not hold back in mocking them. Now, following an actual IED attack on Boston, it’s an embarrassing memory.
But here’s the thing: In terms of “sophistication,” the bombs that went off yesterday could hardly have been any more powerful than the bomb that exploded on Wall Street in 1920, which killed 38 people and injured 143. More people, many more, could die or be confirmed dead in this attack, but right now tornadoes in Mississippi and Missouri last week were just as deadly, and MBTA trains are deadlier. Whoever it turns out did this and whatever their motive, he or they sucked at being a terrorist. That is something that should be made clear, loudly and forcefully, this week. This guy was an embarrassment to terrorists and as a result we will not be terrorized.
Here is what I’m hoping happens, next: I hope Americans as a whole do nothing, besides find and punish the person responsible. As Bruce Schneier says, if we acknowledge that terrorism isn’t an existential threat to the American way of life, or to our freedom, or anything else, we can take reasonable steps to mitigate the threat without freaking out and, say, getting every flight with people who look Middle Eastern grounded, banning backpacks from public spaces or launching any wars. There is no way of stopping dedicated assholes from putting crappy little bombs in trash bins on street corners. Thankfully, it barely ever happens in the United States.
So while I feel a great deal of affection for the city of Boston and its residents today, and while I might be listening to the Modern Lovers and remembering how great the whole Mark Wahlberg arc in “The Departed” is, and while we all have every reason to be incredibly pissed off at the asshole that killed at least one child and hurt so many more innocent people, it is our responsibility to that fine American city to help it get back, as soon as possible, to normal.
Which is why as an American, and a resident of New York, I am most looking forward to when Boston returns to despising us and our stupid city and the goddamn overpaid, ancient Yankees, and we return the sentiment. That will be a return to normalcy and a message that this asshole didn’t accomplish a damn thing. In the first round of the NBA playoffs, beginning this weekend, the Boston Celtics will face the New York Knicks. There will be patriotism and solidarity on display, and certainly a tribute to the victims of yesterday’s attack. That’s understandable. Let’s also hope there is a healthy amount of booing, vulgar heckling and signs referencing Cheerios sneaked into the arena. Let the cops catch the asshole that did this; we have lives to live.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, April 16, 2013