Monday, May 16, 2011

Games People Play


Over two decades ago, Osama bin Laden decided he was going to take down the Great Satan, aka, The United States. Despite what is in retrospect some pretty inept security, it took him and Al Qaeda until September 11, 2001 to make the big splash they’d been working toward. His goals were based on some central tenets: he needed to morally confuse and befuddle America, he had to bankrupt the American economy, and he wanted to diminish America in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Now that bin Laden has taken  a bullet to the eye courtesy of Navy Seal Team Six, it’s become popular to sit back and gloat about how America has won it’s personal battle with ObL. You just know he died scared, wishing for a few more moments before his brain was turned into a gray and red slurry, don’t you?  But things aren’t really as rosy as all that. And while bin Laden certainly cannot take credit for all our continuing ills, they’re no less real for that fact.

Consider the moral aspect.

While I am not judging, America greeted the demise of bin Laden as though Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck just exploded a world-killing meteor. We displayed a bloodlust, perhaps justifiably, but one that parallels that shown by many of the fanatics who oppose us so vehemently. Fat talking-heads gripe that Obama won’t show pictures of bin Laden postmortem, then complain that talking about his porn stash compromises national security. Senators decry a president’s adulterous inclinations just hours after getting oral sex in the back of their cars from mistresses. And even the most religiously zealous among us go blind to the WWJD billboards and cheer torture, revenge killings, and covert assassinations.

Now look at the economy.

We were already on a careening  crash-track before bin Laden ever signed off on the 9/11 attacks. Unfettered, and unregulated, greed on Wall Street led to exotic mortgage instruments and a runaway real estate bubble that doomed the economy the day the first NINJA loan was funded. We deemed many companies “too big to fail” and handed them billions of dollars to stay afloat. We sank over $3 trillion into a “war” in Iraq that was misguided, based as much on a son’s attempt to validate his daddy’s past aggressions as it was on a desire to strike back at an Axis of Evil. We continue to bankroll a similar debacle in Afghanistan, the mountainous Killer Of Empires. And we’ve forked over more than $11 billion to Pakistan alone in the name of fighting terrorism. Pakistan, of course, has done little toward that end, in fact harboring bin Laden for several years, and has instead used the billions to build hundreds of nuclear warheads to likely one day strike at India, bringing on a very real slice of Armageddon. Oh, and to keep things interesting, we continue to subsidize oil companies with billions as they record record revenue and profits perfectly well on their own.

And how do we look to the rest of the world?

This is certainly subjective. We will always have our fans, and our detractors. For every England, there’s a France (Ungrateful bastards, right?), and so on. More importantly, though, how do we compare with the rest of the world? Well, we hold our own in racism, but that could be considered subjective as well. So let’s consider metrics such as life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy, and math comprehension. We crack the top ten in one of those, life expectancy, and fall woefully short in the others. Infant mortality comes as little real surprise, as we’ve never given much more than lip service to those not yet of voting age. But it still speaks pretty poorly of us. And the other two, based on our obscene failures in education, result from two fundamental miscalculations. First, we can’t seem to understand that it is possible to correlate one fewer $4o0 ball peen hammers bought by the Pentagon to ten additional textbooks given to our schools. Second, in the wake of leaving our economy in the hands of those who had the highest incentive to abuse it, we’ve decided to make public services, including education, the illogical scapegoats, gutting funding and guaranteeing that we won’t be reading or adding numbers any more effectively in the near future.

American companies hire almost 80% of their technical professionals from other countries because, in the words of one staffing chief, “they’re smarter.” Since 2001, we’ve increased the anti-terrorism bureaucracy to the tune of three whole Pentagons worth of new office space.  And we kill, abuse, marginalize, and hate people different than us, all while holding some holy book that, at least in some parts, tells us that’s exactly what we shouldn’t do. And as one final stake in the heart, Conan The Barbarian is divorcing his Kennedy squeeze.

So no question, there’s no way you could say bin Laden was a winner in the end. But pending further review, it’s not clear what we’re winning, either.

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