Monday, April 22, 2013

Dzhokhar Tsarnaevs Was an Equal Partner, Not a Little Brother Led Astray

This is now the narrative of the Marathon bombers: Older brother Tamerlan struggled to adjust in America, didn't make many friends, kept to himself, was a serious person, and eventually became a radicalized jihadist. Younger brother Dzhokhar's personality and experience was the opposite  He was easygoing, described as something of a class clown, captain of the wrestling team, scholarship winner, went to parties, smoked weed. The narrative being built in the media is that socially awkward Tamerlan led friendly Dzhokhar down a path toward evil. Tamerlan led the way and influenced his younger brother to follow.

Fuck that. Even if it were true, that's just as bad, if not worse.

I have an older brother, and I love him, but if he ever hinted at killing innocent people, I wouldn't tag along. I'd do everything I could to convince him to rethink such a crazy idea, and stop him if he didn't. Dzhokhar was either too much of a pussy to do this, or he was an equal partner in the plot.

Back when they were known as Suspect #1 (Black Hat) and Suspect #2 (White Hate), you can see from their body language how different the brothers' personalities were.

Tamerlan is serious, like he's on a mission. He's hidden his face with sunglasses and a hat to make him almost unidentifiable. Dzhokhar is casual, carrying an explosive packed with shrapnel by just one strap of his backpack. His hat backwards, his face visible (why didn't Tamerlan exert that alleged control he had over Dzhokhar and make him cover his face?). Dzhokhar looks nonchalant as he's about to commit murder. He struts. He's quite happy with what he's about to do.

And they both watched the bombs go off. They didn't leave, they stayed to watch what they were doing, watch the carnage, watch the death, and enjoy it. And then they strolled away.

Dzhokhar's behavior after the Marathon doesn't suggest that he's some kind of lackey, just doing what big brother says. He seems relaxed, completely fine with what he had done. Regret free. Guilt free. They didn't try to get out of town. He even attended classes at UMass-Dartmouth during the week. On Thursday, the day before the FBI released pictures of him as a suspect, he tweeted:

He shows no remorse for what he did or fear he'll be caught for it. They had 72 hours to get out of town, maybe go to Canada, maybe go to Russia. Instead, they hung around Cambridge. Relaxing.

Dzhokhar might have been a friendly, outgoing guy. He apparently brought that carefree attitude to how he viewed human life. He didn't care about it. His carefree demeanor is more like a sociopath than someone with a domineering big brother. He wasn't an innocent young man corrupted by the "influence exerted" (a phrase I'm tired of hearing) on him by his older brother. This was an equal partnership. He was INSPIRED by radicalism. He loved what he was doing and why. Leading up to the Marathon, he was quite proud of what he and his brother were scheming.

Five weeks before the bombing:

Not "rebels," but "rebel." He enjoyed the role of rebel that he was assuming.

A week before the bombing:

These are tweets written in the days that these two built their bombs, wired triggering devices, stuffed pressure cookers with nails and ball-bearings. They likely tested them, and decided where/when to drop them, as these tweets went out.

We've heard a great deal about Tamerlan's politics, but none about Dzhokhar's. The portrait being painted of Dzhokhar is that he didn't have any political opinions whatsoever. At least none that are apparent on the surface. When in fact, it seems like he had some very bizarre ones.

That's an interesting political opinion. Doesn't seem easygoing at all.

On his Vkontakte page (Russian version of Facebook), he shared two videos on April 9th, less than a week before the Marathon. Here's one, which on his page had Russian (or possibly Chechen) subtitles instead of English. It's very graphic, very emotional.

The other video is a 4 minute clip from a TV show of a blind boy being interviewed. I can't understand what that videos is actually about (it's in Arabic, with Russian subtitles). At the very least Dzhokhar seems to be very emotionally invested in events in the Islamic world. Six days later he left a bomb on Boylston Street.

What disturbs and perturbs me about that Syrian video of bodies and crying mourners is that he seems so sympathetic to the suffering of these people, then he decides to make other innocent people suffer and go through the same horrible experience. What a hypocrite. What a fraud. This guy is an asshole. He sees no value in human life, particularly non-Muslim human life. He wanted us to die because of his political motives. He was angry and decided to resolve that anger by stuffing a pressure cooker with nails and ball-bearings that would shred flesh, shatter bones, and tear through arteries. How selfish can you get? He was upset, so strangers had to suffer for it.

He wasn't led astray by Tamerlan. Dzhokhar proudly went down that path with his brother, as equals, with his hat backwards, head held high, and a douchey carefree look on his face.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Big Tobacco and Big Government: Both Taking Advantage of Cigarette Addiction

Thanks to a recent spam phone call and a brief monologue delivered by a man who sounded like he'd been smoking two packs an hour since he was 7, I've recently become aware that the Massachusetts State House will soon be voting on a measure that will raise the tax on cigarettes to $3.51 a pack. This is an increase of $1. And it, coupled with a 3 cent per gallon tax increase on gasoline, will help generate $500 million in revenue. This money will be used to fund "transportation improvements" such as paying for the MBTA's annual losses.

Health enthusiasts might love this tax increase. These vice taxes are always sold as efforts to improve general health and welfare.

Except they're not. We can argue about the merits and effects of such taxes, but one disturbing, disgusting fact tarnishes them. They are solely an effort to raise revenue. The motivation isn't health, it's dollars. The Government is doing exactly what Big Tobacco does: They're making money by charging people more for an addictive product. Marlboro and Massachusetts, using the same business model.

How is that right?

And the money raised by these taxes doesn't go to reduce tobacco addiction, or to pay for the healthcare of smokers. If tobacco tax increases were balanced with increased tax credits for nicotine patches, gums, and addiction support groups, then the health aspects of tobacco taxes would be valid reasons to support them. But credits don't raise money for the Government.

There would be logic to tobacco taxes if they paid for the increased cost in healthcare that smokers cause. Instead, the extra $1 that John Q. Smoker will pay for his pack of Marb Reds will pay the MBTA's inability to support itself.

Instead of trying to help people quit smoking, let's take their money. And instead of trying to fix the MBTA's problems, let's just have smokers pay for them.

And Governor Patrick doesn't want to stop the taxes there. Taking a cue from the colonial Governors that were in office before the British evacuated Boston, Patrick wants to raise even more money for a number of pet projects. He wants to replace part of I-91. With all apologies to Springfield and Western MA, who cares about I-91? Is it a priority? Is that really where our money needs to go to? And he has an even grander scheme to expand the commuter rail. Railroad expansion drove the economy back in 1850, why not now in 2013? And seeing as the MBTA is already operating at a deficit, maybe we shouldn't add to their costs and responsibilities. Especially since Deval's plan would cost upwards of $3 billion.

We have, in Massachusetts and in the nation, governments that do not spend responsibly. They extract money from us every day, and we painfully give it up. Every hour we work, every gallon of gas we use to get to work, every item we buy. The Government takes what we strive for, study for, work our asses off for, and throws it around like confetti. They spend on everything and anything they want. Governments have the luxury and the power to take what they want from us. Until we don't let them. Until we demand Governments that spend responsibly.

Unfortunately, the politician who promises more services and benefits will always defeat the politician who promises less. And as long as the Government focuses its tax increases on isolated and specialized groups like smokers, gun owners, and the rich, most people won't bat an eye.