For People Who Think

December 30, 2009

The Devil Made Him Do It…Or at Least Had a Hand In It!

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 5:42 pm

It should come as no surprise that the kid was a whiner.

Ever since 9/11 I’ve had people ask me how the Islamist terrorists can murder innocents and be willing to kill themselves in the process. The answer is that people who become fanatics in any cause have common personality characteristics that reveal a stunning degree of self-fixation. The 23-year-old Nigerian arrested in the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an American airliner is a textbook example.

There’s an Islamic Forum website called “gawaher.com”. The Washington Post reviewed 300 online postings under the name “farouk1986.” That’s a combination of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s middle name and birth year. The postings contain Abdulmutallab’s deepest thoughts and feelings about love and marriage, his college ambitions, his horror of standardized testing and his inner struggle as a devout Muslim between liberalism and extremism. In postings between 2005 and 2007, he struggled to find friends online through Facebook and in other Islamic chat rooms: He wrote, “May Allah reward you for reading and reward you more for helping.”

A U.S. government official says that federal intelligence officials have not independently confirmed the identity of the posting’s author, but a good many of the biographical details in the writings match up with the would-be bomber’s biography. Farouk1986 wrote of being born in 1986 and having attended a fancy British boarding school in Togo. The postings also make reference to visits to Britain, the United States, Egypt and Yemen – all places that intelligence officials know Abdulmutallab visited. Farouk1986 wrote about considering applications to U.S. and British universities, including University College London, where Abdulmutallab enrolled in a three-year mechanical engineering program. Farouk1986 also wrote about his family’s wealth. Abdulmutallab’s father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, retired this year as chairman of First Bank of Nigeria.

So, the would-be bomber was Farouk1986, all right, and, yes, he was a conspicuous whiner. In the postings, Farouk1986 complained that he had no one to talk to, “no one to consult, no one to support me and I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do.” Farouk1986 wrote often of his desire to study engineering at either Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley or the California Institute of Technology. He also wrote that he was disappointed with his performance on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. “I tried the SAT … It was a disaster!!!” He ultimately entered University College London. A classmate of his there, Fabrizio Cavallo Marincola, 22, told the Washington Post that Abdulmutallab graduated in May, 2008, after producing “the bare minimum of work … “He was pretty quiet and didn’t socialize much or have a girlfriend that I knew of.”

Abdulmutallab is the youngest of 16 children and the son of the second of his father’s two wives. He wasn’t used to being in charge of much of anything. Birth order traits aren’t necessarily destiny, but youngest children often are babied because the parents know that this is the last one. Psychologists say that youngest children often lack the drive of their older brothers and sisters and fail to develop sufficient levels of self-sufficiency. Last born or youngest children are more likely to be “loose cannons”, according to an article in Time magazine (“The Power of Birth Order”, Oct 29, 2007). Youngest children are more likely to be adventurous.
We don’t know for sure if any of this applies to our would-be bomber. We do know that he was susceptible to the fictions spread by jihadist websites, radical imams, Arab news stations and books — and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes — that falsely claim that America, in a conspiracy with the Zionists, has declared war on Islam for the purpose of oppressing the Muslim world.

He was willing to eagerly swallow all that despite the fact that for two decades U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims from injustice and disaster. We’ve done it in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Pakistan after the Earthquake, Indonesia after the tsunami, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was willing to swallow it all even though most of the Muslims being killed today die at the hands of jihadist suicide bombers. He was willing to accept, against all available evidence, that 9/11 was the work of the Jews and that America’s unprovoked assault on Islam is the dominant motif in the world, and that the Muslims are the real victims.

Not that we’ve been perfect. A U.S. naval vessel shot down an Iranian airliner by mistake, killing a good many innocent people. Abu Ghraib spurred deep anti-American resentment. The fact is, though, that American soldiers and politicians have expended blood and treasure in copious quantities to give Arabs and Muslims a chance to elect their own leaders and to successfully enter the modern world. Despite all that, our would-be bomber bought the entire jihadist line. Why? How?
A wonderful thinker and writer, the late Eric Hoffer, explained in a fascinating little book, The True Believer, how people with certain personality traits can be swept up in myth and fiction and dedication to mass movements to the point where they’re willing to surrender reason, logic, their own identities and even their own lives – and the lives of others – to the sacred cause. The book was written in 1951 as a means of explaining the appeal of the Nazi movement. What Hoffer wrote about the personality types drawn to fanatical movements is as valid today as it was then. A few of Hoffer’s observations:

“Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.”
“Unity and self-sacrifice, of themselves, even when fostered by the most noble means, produce a facility for hating. Even when men league themselves mightily together to promote tolerance and peace on earth, they are likely to be violently intolerant toward those not of a like mind.”

“It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from their sense of inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them. They feel our generosity as oppression.”
Hoffer wrote that the most dedicated members of fanatical mass movements tend to be people like Abdulmutallab, whose sense of isolation and lack of self-worth make them desperate to take actions that illustrate their value to others, and especially to the cause. Hoffer wrote: “The individual’s most vital need is to prove his worth, and this usually means an insatiable hunger for action. For it is only the few who can acquire a sense of worth by developing and employing their capacities and talents. The majority prove their worth by keeping busy.”

But why us, you ask? Why do these people hate us after all we’ve done for them? Again, Hoffer summed it up perfectly. For a mass movement to take root and prosper, generally in people who’ve never accomplished much in life and figure that they never will, the mass movement must be directed at an enemy. For the Nazis, the enemy was the Jews. For much of the Muslim world it’s still the Jews, but it’s also the people that the Jihadists view as the enablers of the Zionists – us. Moreover, we in the West are accomplished and rich, even in these hard economic times, while the Muslim world – which took just pride in its prosperity and scientific and cultural accomplishments five centuries ago in comparison to the relatively primitive West – has sunk into tribalism, failure and despair.

“Mass movements,” Hoffer wrote so long ago, “can rise and spread without belief in a God — but never without belief in a devil.
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December 6, 2009

Democrats…Wake UP & Save Middle Class America

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 7:09 pm

Imagine that you’re stuck in a bog of quicksand. You’re sinking at a nerve-jangling rate. Then the quicksand beneath your feet begins to harden up. You’re still sinking, but not as quickly. Would that circumstance prompt you simply to relax and stay where you are? Or would you make a heroic effort to pull yourself out of that bog?

That’s where we are in this country with regard to unemployment. The national unemployment rate edged down to 10 percent in November from 10.2 percent the month before. Non-farm payrolls fell by just 11,000, the Labor Department said Friday, compared to an average of 135,000 jobs lost every month for the past few months and 600,000 lost back in January. That’s a sign that employers are starting to throw workers overboard at a slower rate, and that’s good.

Here’s the rest of the picture, though. This country has about 15.5 million people out of work. About 6 million of those people have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. From the standpoint of politics, all this indicates that Democrats may be headed for some serious butt-kicking in the 2010 congressional elections. The Cook Political Report, generally considered the most respected observer of congressional races, recently gave Republicans a 35%-40% chance of recapturing both Houses. The likely forecast, even if the job picture gets radically better in 2010 – which nobody deems likely – is that the Democrats probably will retain only a 10-15 seat majority in the House and a five seat margin in the Senate. Only one in four Americans approves of this Democratic-controlled Congress, according to the latest Gallup poll. That’s the same low level of three years ago, just before control of both Houses shifted from Republicans to Democrats.

What this means – politically, at least – is that the Democrats had better begin to provide some serious new incentives for job creation and bank lending as they also put forth more detailed and forceful commitments to deficit reduction and a more forceful stance towards Wall Street. Doing nothing further in any of these areas is not good enough when Goldman Sachs forecasts just 2% real economic growth for 2010 and when the Federal Reserve staff projects just 2.8% improvement. That’s just not enough growth to meaningfully lower the sky-high 10 per cent unemployment rate and the 17 per cent underemployment rates we’re suffering today.

A recovery that weak reflects the troubled financial condition of households and the American banking system. For households, this manifests itself in the rising personal savings rate. It’s now up to 5% from zero just a year ago, as households reduce spending and pay down debt. It also reflects dismal consumer confidence levels. None of this bodes well for consumer spending, which represents 70% of our GDP. Total business credit outstanding has declined for 11 consecutive months. With both bank lending and consumer spending so pallid, the party in power simply must take action to spur both lending and employment.

The first priority has to be fast-acting incentives to create jobs. I like the idea of either direct subsidies to employers to hire, as the Germans have done, and/or a new jobs tax credit — maybe a $5,000 employer credit for each job created over its current baseline employment. Over two years, that could create up to 1.5 million jobs, according to the experts. The Democrats also need to create a temporary mechanism for guaranteeing business loans, perhaps in the form of some sort of insurance policy administered through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, so that they can be securitized and sold.

The consequences of refusing to take action of this sort go beyond the political. We now live in a country where one in five Americans is unemployed or underemployed. One in nine families can’t make the minimum payments on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans – and one in four children — is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings. Overall, it has reduced American wealth by $12 trillion.

Middle-class Americans have been falling behind economically for decades. We’ve gone from the 1960s, when median family income jumped by 33% adjusted for inflation, to the first decade of the 21st Century, when the typical family has seen an adjusted income increase of just 1.6%. The rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer and the middle class has shrunk as too many working families were unable to hold it all together. By the early 2000s, families were spending twice as much adjusted for inflation on mortgages as they did a generation before, and they were paying that high price for a house that was, on average, only 10 percent bigger and 25 years older. They also had to pay twice as much for their health insurance. Meanwhile, the wages of the average fully-employed male have been flat since the 1970s. Families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and some other items, but middle-class families have over the past few decades spent all their savings – or lost them in stock market crashes — and have gone deeply into debt to pay for college, to cover serious medical problems and just to keep their heads above water for another week, another month.

Now, with slow economic growth predicted with sky-high unemployment rates, the very existence of the American middle class – its long-term survival — is threatened. The small holes in the boat have grown into gaping fissures, with water gushing in at a snappy rate, and the politicians are spending their time snapping at one another rather than working together to solve the real problems affecting real people.

Meanwhile, the financial industry grew fabulously prosperous by selling debt to middle class families who could no longer afford to pay cash. At the same time the banks have brought in hundreds of billions of dollars in fees made possible by deceptive terms buried in the fine print of incomprehensible credit contracts. And when “creative banking” triggered a full-blown economic crisis, the bankers rushed to Washington with their hands out. They were bailed out with tax dollars that came largely from people struggling desperately to make ends meet. And, all the while, the big wheels at those banks kept their jobs and retained their staggering bonuses.

Regardless of what the politicians and the Wall Street bankers seem to think, people aren’t stupid. Yes, they’re angry, but more than that, they’re scared, and with good reason. They understand that the rules they’ve played by don’t apply to Wall Street bankers in $2,000 suits. They understand that no politician views any American family as too big to fail. They recognize that their economic security – the very way of life of people who fight to pay bills every month, instead of having their accountants pay them quarterly — is under ferocious assault.

The America of 2009 has plenty of rich and super-rich, but it has far more families who did all the right things and who understand that without jobs they and their children will never enjoy decent educations, meaningful work, economic security or the prospect of even a few years of retirement. Tens of millions of once-secure middle class families now watch as their debts pile up and lie awake at night fretting over whether a pink slip or a bad medical diagnosis will reduce their lives to rubble.

Plenty of direct job creation could be done. Along with the new business tax credit for hiring the government also could give money to states and cities to hire people to paint schools, board up vacant homes, staff child-care centers and reopen library branches. The estimated cost: $35 billion for a year – or, to put it another way, the slightly lower price than sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. The government could pay people lower-than-market wages, maybe $8 an hour, and reserve the jobs for those who really can’t find better work. Instead of extending unemployment benefits over and over, the government could help people develop job skills that would give taxpayers something in return. The experts estimate that the cost of this would be about $30,000 for each job created, compared with the $92,000 per job that the White House estimates its approach under the current stimulus law is costing. And taxpayers would be able to see clearly that the spending was putting people to work — instead of questioning, as many are now doing, the reliability of the job totals that the White House is attributing to the stimulus.

We did this sort of thing in the 1930s with the Works Progress Administration, launched in 1935, and the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put unemployed people to work building trails, fighting forest fires and so on. We have a history of finding ways to help people who’ve been knocked down by the economy get back on their feet. The question is whether we now have the political will to make it happen. I don’t know the answer to that.

This much I do know: Unless the politicians get serious about job creation the middle class – and all those worthy middle-class values that have shaped American society – will continue to erode. We’ll end up with more out-of-wedlock babies, more crime, more drug use and more underclass pathological misery for as far down the road as any of us can see in an increasingly competitive world economy. What’s at stake in this glacier-slow recovery with high unemployment is the very fabric of American society, which is shredding at a breakneck pace.

It’s hard to imagine how any politician with any speck of decency could find any more important purpose for the money we’re borrowing from the Chinese.
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