Adventures in the Entirely Predicable

Some things are predictable, and the mass shooting in San Bernardino wasn’t the usual and almost daily mass shooting in America. It wasn’t an angry white man shooting up a black church or a Planned Parenthood clinic, or an unhinged young white man shooting up a schoolroom or a movie theater or a mall. This was a young Muslim couple and this was a well-planned attack, even if their motives were unclear. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik aren’t talking – they’re dead – and Slate’s Josh Keating notes this:

The U.S.-born Farook, of Pakistani heritage, had traveled to Saudi Arabia earlier this year, returning with his wife, Malik, whose nationality is still unknown. Farook was a practicing Muslim but, according to acquaintances, rarely discussed his religion. Likely anticipating a backlash, the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles quickly organized a press conference with Farook’s brother, Farhan Khan, and urged the public not to jump to conclusions. “Is it work? Is it rage-related? Is it mental illness? Is it extreme ideology? We just don’t know,” said Hussam Ayloush, director of CAIR in Los Angeles. …

Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online extremist activity, noted on Twitter that the Jihadist Internet has been “mostly quiet,” in contrast to the chatter after most explicitly jihadist attacks, which have been celebrated by supporters online. U.S. officials also noted to Reuters that the attack “differed in key ways from attacks like those perpetrated by the group known as Islamic State or other Jihadists.” Generally those attacks target symbolically significant locations – Times Square, Fort Hood, a Muhammad cartoon contest – rather than a little-known location like the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. And while it is still early in the investigation, Farook and Malik also don’t appear to have left any statement or clue as to their motivation, also unusual for an ideologically motivated terrorist attack. Farook, who worked at the county health department, had reportedly angrily left a holiday party after an altercation before returning with weapons and tactical gear, but it’s also not clear if or how that was connected to the shooting.

As terrorist attacks go, this was a strange one. What was the point? Still, as the Washington Post notes, the reaction was predictable:

After Wednesday’s massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., which killed at least 14 people and wounded at least 21 others, Democrats redoubled their calls for stricter gun control laws. Party leaders moved Thursday to force Senate votes on measures to expand background checks for gun shows and online purchases and to prevent people on the terrorist watchlist from purchasing firearms.

“No matter what motivation these killers, these murderers, had, we can say one thing for certain: They should not have been able to do this,” Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton said Thursday while campaigning in Manchester, N.H. “I don’t believe we can stop every incident of gun violence, but we sure can stop a lot of them.”

But those votes failed amid opposition from the National Rifle Association and Republicans, who said the focus should be on tighter gun regulations, focusing instead on the need to step up antiterrorism efforts. President Obama said Thursday that the FBI had taken over the San Bernardino case because of possible terrorism connections.

And then things fell in place:

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Obama said lawmakers need “to see what we can do to make sure that when an individual decides to do someone harm, we make it a little harder for them to do it – because right now, it’s too easy.”

While campaigning, Hillary Clinton focused in part on barring people on the government’s no-fly list from being able to purchase weapons, as they can now. “If you are too dangerous to fly in America, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America,” she said.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) cast it as a Second Amendment issue. “People are saying, you know, this no-fly list,” he said on MSNBC Thursday morning. “‘Don’t let a person who’s on a no-fly list get a gun.’ Well, there are people who arbitrarily placed on those things. Sometimes people are put on there by a mistake. And we would deprive of them of their constitutionally protected due-process rights.”

That argument will go on forever, but at a forum of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group of powerful really rich Republican fundraisers led by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, things got more pointed:

“I assure you it is an act of terror,” said former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, later warning that this was just the beginning. “We have to be prepared because the world is breaking down.”

Carly Fiorina took aim at the likely Democratic nominee. “Hillary Clinton was tweeting about gun control while we learned that radical Islamic terrorists have been building pipe bombs,” she said.

And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spent nearly his entire 30-minute speech talking about the implications of Wednesday’s attacks. “For the first time since 9/11,” he said, “we’re going to have to confront the loss of American life on American soil to terrorist conduct.”

And this:

Former New York Governor George Pataki said we don’t know for sure whether the shootings in San Bernardino “involved terror or not”, but it was a “horrible, horrible planned assault”.

What we do know, he continued, was that the bombings at the Boston Marathon, the shooting at the US Army base at Fort Hood and the foiled assault at an art exhibit in Garland, Texas – all of which have happened during Barack Obama’s presidency – were “carried out by radical jihadists here in America”.

The US should not let First Amendment protections of free speech stand in the way of confronting this “warped view of jihad”, Pataki continued, comparing a ban on inflammatory Islamic rhetoric to prohibitions on yelling “fire in a crowded theater”.

What ban? Maybe the guy from Texas can explain:

Texas Senator Ted Cruz took the stage at the presidential forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition and called for a moment of silence for the victims of the San Bernardino shootings. Then, while acknowledging “the details of what happened are still unclear”, he said that he is “deeply concerned” that the events in California are “another manifestation of radical Islamic terrorism here at home”.

He said the San Bernardino shootings, along with the Paris attacks last month, “underscores that we are in a time of war”.

“Whether or not the current administration realizes or wishes to acknowledge it,” Mr Cruz continued. “Our enemies are at war with us. I believe this nation needs a wartime president to defend it.”

What’s he talking about? The only Republican who matters now had to explain:

President Obama’s refusal to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” indicates that “there is something going on with him that we don’t know about,” Republican front-runner Donald Trump said Thursday, an ominous comment that echoed Trump’s history of questioning Obama’s birthplace and airing of false claims that he practices Islam.

The comment, delivered at a forum of Republican Jewish fundraisers and activists in Washington, was made in response to the rampage in San Bernardino. It was one of several remarks and themes in Trump’s improvised speech on Thursday that showed his ability to make provocative statements that would likely land other presidential candidates in trouble, but seem routine in the context of Trump’s campaign. …

“Radical Islamic terrorism,” he added. “We have a president who refuses to use the term. Refuses to say it! There is something going on with him that we don’t know about.”

Maybe Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, or not:

The White House avoids using the phrase to keep from alienating the world’s billion or so Muslims, including Americans, as well as the leaders of crucial allies in the Middle East.

The world’s billion or so Muslims don’t matter? Our crucial allies in the Middle East don’t matter? And this Trump fellow wants to be president? Fareed Zakaria tries to straighten things out:

The most recent act of horrific violence in the United States – in San Bernardino, Calif. – was reportedly perpetrated by a Muslim man and woman. There are about 3 million Muslims in the United States, almost all of whom are law-abiding citizens. How should they react to the actions of the couple who killed 14 people on Wednesday?

The most commonly heard response is that Muslims must immediately and loudly condemn these acts of barbarity. But Dalia Mogahed, a Muslim American leader, argues eloquently that this is unfair. She made her case to NBC’s Chuck Todd.

“According to the FBI, the majority of domestic terrorist attacks are actually committed by white, male Christians. … When those things occur, we don’t suspect other people who share their faith and ethnicity of condoning them. We assume that these things outrage them just as much as they do anyone else. And we have to afford that same assumption of innocence to Muslims.”

Zakaria agrees with that:

Muslims face a double standard, but I understand why. Muslim terrorists don’t just happen to be Muslim. They claim to be motivated by religion, cite religious justifications for their actions and tell their fellow Muslims to follow in their bloody path. There are groups around the world spreading this religiously infused ideology and trying to seduce Muslims to become terrorists. In these circumstances, it is important for the majority of Muslims who profoundly disagree with jihad to speak up.

But it is also important to remember that there are 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet. If you took the total number of deaths from terrorism last year – about 30,000 – and assumed that 50 people were involved in planning each one (a vastly exaggerated estimate), it would still add up to less than 0.1 percent of the world’s Muslims.

And just as all Christians don’t agree on everything, there’s this:

The writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a tough critic of Islam. She divides the Muslim world into two groups: Mecca Muslims and Medina Muslims. (The Koranic revelations to Muhammad made in Mecca are mostly about brotherhood and love; the ones in Medina have the fire and brimstone.) She estimates that 3 percent of the worldwide community is radical Medina Muslims, the other 97 percent being mainstream Mecca Muslims. Now, 3 percent works out to a large number, 48 million, and that’s why we spend lots of time, money and effort dealing with the threats that might emanate from them. But that still leaves the other 97 percent – the more than 1.55 billion – who are not jihadists. They may be reactionary and backward in many ways. But that is not the same as being terrorists.

Thus there is no need to be stupid about this:

Imagine a Bangladeshi taxi driver in New York. He has not, in any meaningful sense, chosen to be Muslim. He was born into a religion, grew up with it, and like hundreds of millions of people around the world in every religion, follows it out of a mixture of faith, respect for his parents and family, camaraderie with his community and inertia. His knowledge of the sacred texts is limited. He is trying to make a living and provide for his family. For him, Islam provides identity and psychological support in a hard life. This is what religion looks like for the vast majority of Muslims.

But increasingly, Americans seem to view Muslims as actively propagating a dangerous ideology, like communist activists. It’s not just Donald Trump. Republican candidates are vying with each other to make insinuations and declarations about Islam and all Muslims.

That happens, but something is new here:

What is most bizarre is to hear this anti-Muslim rhetoric described as brave truth-telling. Trump insists that he will not be silenced on this issue. Chris Christie says that he will not follow a “politically correct” national security policy. They are simply feeding a prejudice. …

This is the first time that I can recall watching politicians pander to mobs – and then congratulate themselves for their political courage.

That is what we have now, and the New Yorker’s William Finnegan notes that Donald Trump is the master at this:

Trump keeps raising the stakes. Back in June, on the day he announced his plans to run for President, he seemed to veer wildly off script as he accused Mexico of sending “rapists” to plague the United States. It was such a random, lurid, unsubstantiated slur that it felt like a blip of derangement. Major business partners, including NBC and the PGA, severed ties with Trump. But he obviously knew what he was about. He was soon rising in the polls, overtaking poor lumbering Jeb Bush, and he basically hasn’t looked back since. On practically a daily basis now, he shocks a lengthening list of ethnic minorities, and the bien-pensant, while delighting his millions of fans.

That means he won’t ever stop:

On Wednesday morning, for instance, Trump was on Fox News vowing to commit unambiguous war crimes when he becomes Commander-in-Chief. In the bombing campaign against the fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, “we’re fighting a very politically correct war,” he said – a strategy he considers a mistake. “You have to take out their families.” He said it three times: “You have to take out their families.” Even Slobodan Milosevic knew better than to talk like that in public.

Trump, to be fair, would also concentrate on the oil fields held by ISIS. “I have a plan,” he told an Iowa rally. “I would bomb the shit out of them.” Big cheer! “I would just bomb those suckers. And that’s right, I’d blow up the pipes; I’d blow up the refineries; I’d blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left. And you know what, you’ll get Exxon to come in there, and in two months, you ever see these guys? How good they are, the great oil companies? They’ll rebuild that sucker brand new. And I’ll take the oil.”

These victories-by-bombing promises are crowd-pleasers. And so, unfortunately, is torture. At a rally in Ohio last week, attended by thousands, Trump confirmed that he would bring back waterboarding. “You bet your ass, in a heartbeat,” he said. Indeed, he would do “more than that.” He rejected a Senate Intelligence Committee report, part of which was released last year, which found that harsh interrogation techniques used by the Bush Administration had failed. “Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work,” Trump said. “If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they’re doing to us.” The “they” who “deserve” torture in this appalling formulation can probably remain unspecified for now.

But everyone knows who he means:

They will no doubt be Muslim. Along with Latino immigrants, African-Americans, and refugees – particularly Syrian refugees – Muslims are the objects of an abundance of Trump fearmongering.

So we get this:

His rally crowds respond to the anti-Muslim message and sometimes amplify it, without objection from Trump. The candidate even encourages loudmouths in his audiences to say more than he thinks prudent. In Macon, Georgia, on Monday, according to the Times, a man shouted out that President Obama was a “dumbass.” Trump, thrilled, said, “I didn’t say it, I didn’t say it.” Then he told the Obama critic, “Go ahead, say it again – louder.” The man obliged. At that same Georgia rally, Trump complained that his critics have no sense of humor. So what if he mocks a disabled reporter’s congenital ailment and then falsely claims he has never met the man? Some people can’t take a joke.

Still, he sometimes stumbles:

First the campaign announced that a hundred black preachers would publicly endorse Trump for President at a press conference. When it became clear that a hundred African-American preachers willing to endorse him do not exist, the press conference was abruptly cancelled. Trump blamed the Black Lives Matter movement – its members must have intimidated his preachers, many of whom were reportedly conservative televangelists. But some of the ministers who found their names on an event flier said that they had never agreed to come. Corletta J. Vaughn, the senior pastor of the Holy Spirit Cathedral of Faith, in Detroit, told the Times, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” When she saw herself listed as an attendee, Vaughn thought, “That would kill me. My constituency would murder me. There is no way in the world I can do that.”

In the end, there was a private meeting at Trump Tower with a smaller number of preachers. Trump emerged triumphant, declaring that there had been “great love in the room” and “many, many endorsements” of his candidacy. The ministers told a different story. Endorsement cards had been handed out, with pressure to sign them applied, unsuccessfully, by Trump aides.

People did not appreciate Trump’s unfounded and insulting remarks about intimidation by the Black Lives Matter movement. Indeed, Trump was asked to apologize for the physical assault of a Black Lives Matter protester by white men at a Trump rally in Alabama. (Trump had ordered the protester ejected. Afterward, on Fox News, the candidate, seeming unconcerned, said, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”) Trump declined to apologize. Great awkwardness in the room might have been a more apt description. The ministers who attended were criticized by more progressive African-American community leaders. Only one minister—Darrell Scott, from Cleveland, who had helped organize the meeting—publicly endorsed Trump. The campaign claimed a second endorsement from the meeting, but that person turned out to be a local Republican Party official from Georgia, not a man of the cloth. Still, he got to fly home to Georgia on Trump’s private jet.

That was a disaster because Trump didn’t think things through:

African-Americans rarely vote for Republicans these days, let alone for a figure like Trump, who has built his campaign almost entirely on white working-class anger and fear, and is proving attractive to white supremacists. He has a history of racially insensitive remarks, and even his proclamations of friendship are unpersuasive – in 2011, he told a radio interviewer, “I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.” Trump undoubtedly wishes that were true, and it may be that, in his bottomless vanity, he thinks he can charm or bully a few conservative community leaders into helping him create that appearance. For a self-described master dealmaker, it’s a strange failure to grasp basic facts about the people across the table.

That may be a weakness, as Scott Eric Kaufman reports concerning that Adelson forum:

On Thursday, Republican front-runner Donald Trump delivered a speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition in which he essentially praised members of the organization for being a bunch of Shylocks.

“Stupidly, you want to give me money,” he began. But he added that “you’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money,” suggesting that Jews are unwilling to back people whose purse-strings they can’t control, a classic anti-Semitic trope.

In his humble way, he spoke of how much the Jews love him, especially in Israel. “They look at my wall, and it’s loaded up” with awards from Jewish groups, he boasted, before adding that “the Christians are catching up, though, they’re catching up.”

Trump spoke about the infamous $43 million gas station in Afghanistan, asking the crowd, “How many of you think you could have done it for less?” His question was greeted with silence, so he moved on. “I’m a negotiator, like you folks,” he said while discussing what he considers to be the failures of the recent nuclear deal struck with Iran.

“Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals?” he later asked. “Probably more than any room I’ve ever spoken.” You know – because it’s full of Jews.

This was a bit awkward, but not all:

His most powerful misstep, however, occurred when he waffled on the question of whether Jerusalem should remain undivided and the capital of Israel. “I don’t know if Israel has the commitment to make it,” he said. Time’s Zeke Miller said that at that point, “you could hear a pin drop.”

As he concluded, Trump claimed that “I’m a businessperson, I get along with everyone.”

Is that so? Well, at least he’s entirely predictable, and perhaps that should count for something, but Kevin Drum offers an alternative theory of what’s going on here:

This means that Trump has now insulted blacks, refugees, immigrants, Muslims, the disabled, and Jews.

I’m now going to double down on my belief that Trump is running the world’s greatest reality show here. I think he got bored one day and came up with an idea that tickled him: “I wonder just how deranged you can get and still retain the support of the tea party wingnuts?” So he made a $1 bet with some of his Democratic friends and performed a test run in 2012 with his maniacal birther stuff. But all that did was show the depth of his challenge. He’d have to do a lot more than that in 2016. He started off slow with wild claims about immigrant Mexican rapists, knowing it would draw in the rubes. Then he laughably claimed that he’d get Mexico to pay for a border wall. Nothing happened. He insulted John McCain for being a POW. Nothing happened. He started telling obvious lies. Nothing. He lied on national TV and was called on it a few minutes later. Nothing. He all but admitted that he knows diddly about the Bible. Nothing. He called evangelical darling Ben Carson a nutcase liar. Nothing. He claimed that thousands of Muslims in Jersey City celebrated 9/11. Nothing. He mocked a disabled reporter in front of the cameras. Nothing. He suggested taking out terrorist families. Nothing. He appeared on the radio show of a crackpot conspiracy theorist. Nothing. Now he’s insulted an audience of conservative Jews.

Trump is probably frustrated. He’s basically dialed it up to 11 already, and the crowds are still swooning. What does he have to do? Tell a story about how he was abducted by aliens back in the 90s? Promise to nuke Tehran if he’s elected president? Suggest the world would be a better place if we’d never invented any HIV treatments?

Even Trump must be scratching his head wondering what to do next. There’s gotta be something that finally goes too far. Right?

No, wrong – over there on that side of things there seems to be no such thing as going too far. Their constituency is angry, in a state of perpetual outrage, and in no mood to be reasonable about anything. Perhaps it started with Barry Goldwater – extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue and all that – since reinforced by years of Rush Limbaugh during the day and Fox News in the evening and capped with the birth of the Tea Party. Everyone knows what comes next. Whatever happens, dig in to your position and then take it farther than the next guy, to prove you’re serious and worthy. The reasonable man is a coward. This time the issue happens to be a random Muslim couple killing a lot of people in San Bernardino, but with no clear agenda, and gun control – and the entirely predictable happened. We got to see who would take all this to the farthest point, and beyond. So what else is new?

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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