In the Land Beyond Outrage

Go ahead, try to get worked up

By Roger Simon
|  Tuesday, Aug 25, 2009  |  Updated 8:00 AM CDT
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In the Land Beyond Outrage

There was a time when blowing up a plane and killing 270 people prompted outrage. What happened?

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Ask Dr. Politics! You ask the questions; we lack the outrage.

Dear Dr. Politics: I am outraged by the release of the Lockerbie Bomber. This guy kills 270 people, including 189 Americans, and now goes free while cheering crowds in Libya strew flower petals in his path. Where is the outrage?

Reply: Unfortunately, outrage no longer exists. Maybe it all got used up. We all now live in the Land Beyond Outrage. Once upon a time, killing a lot of people was considered pretty serious. Now? Not so much.

In 2001, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, was convicted of 270 murders in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and was sentenced to life in prison. Now, just eight years later, he has been released because Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill says Megrahi has only weeks to live due to prostate cancer.

Dr. Politics is tempted to ask: If a mass murderer has only weeks to live, why not just let him die in prison? (And, by the way, Megrahi looked in very good health on TV after his release, walking around all by himself, no hospital gurneys, no wheelchairs.) But Kenny MacAskill — and we admit having difficulty taking seriously any official called “Kenny”— has a different view.

“In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity,” Kenny says. “It is viewed as a defining characteristic.”

It is? Has this guy never seen the movie “Braveheart”? As we recall, the Scots chopped up an awful lot of people because they had it coming. In fact, the Scots chopped up an awful lot of people who didn’t have it coming. We don’t remember “humanity” being anybody’s defining characteristic.

But that was the 13th century and, besides, Kenny has another argument. “Mr. al-Megrahi faces a sentence imposed by a higher power,” Kenny says. “He is going to die.”

Well, heck, Kenny, we are all going to die. So why punish anybody?

Some suggest, however, that it was neither humanity nor fatalism that motivated Kenny. Some suggest the true motivation was the desire by powerful commercial and political interests in the United Kingdom to develop Libya’s vast oil reserves.

And some are now calling for a boycott of Scottish goods, especially of the $610 million in whiskey the Scots sell in this country every year.

Somehow, we think we are more likely to see a boycott of haggis.

Dear Dr. Politics: I forgave South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford when he “hiked the Appalachian Trail” with his Argentine mistress because he said he was doing it for love. But now I read that he has been using state aircraft for pleasure trips. Outrageous!

Reply: Dr. Politics thinks politicians work very, very hard and deserve a few perks.

So we were not outraged when we read an investigation by The Associated Press that revealed Sanford charged taxpayers more than $37,600 for overseas first-class and business-class flights even though state law requires him to fly on lowest-cost travel when he flies commercial.

 

“If you’re going to step straight into business meetings that have significant economic consequence for the people of our state, you need to have gotten some level of sleep the night before,” Sanford said, explaining why he could not fly in coach with the rest of us cattle.

We also were not outraged to learn in a separate AP investigation that Sanford spent $50,000 in taxpayer money to take his kids on state planes to sporting events and thousands more to fly himself to dentist appointments and a haircut.

Sanford, who became famous by making state employees use both sides of Post-it notes and also tried to block $700 million in federal stimulus money from reaching South Carolina, took a state plane on March 10, 2006, to fly from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Columbia, S.C., to get a haircut.

The drive would have taken him three hours, so you can see why he needed a plane. He took off at 2:35 p.m. and made his haircut appointment at 3 p.m. He had no other appointments on his official schedule that day. And the flight cost taxpayers only $1,265.

John Edwards probably told him it was OK.

Dear Dr. Politics: According to The New York Times, the U.S. government hired a private contractor, Blackwater, to assassinate Al Qaeda leaders in 2004. Should I be outraged by this?

Reply: If we were still capable of outrage, we would be. In our opinion, we are never going to be able to bend the cost curve on assassination if we keep jobbing it out. We can remember an era when, if U.S. government agencies wanted to kill somebody, they did it themselves. All expenses over $20 required receipts, and the use of the minibar and movies in the room was strictly forbidden.

When Ronald Reagan got ticked off at Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi in 1986 —- the same Muammar Qadhafi who just greeted the Lockerbie Bomber with hugs and kisses, by the way — for bombing a Berlin discotheque frequented by U.S. troops, did Reagan take out a classified ad looking for private assassins to hit back?

He did not. Reagan sent 33 jets on a bombing raid over Libya, where they dropped 64,000 pounds of explosives on Qadhafi’s living quarters. They missed him, but, hey, not one of those pilots put in for extra expenses. It was their job.

But George W. Bush decided that “targeted killing programs”, as they were called, might best be left to private industry and so Blackwater, which now goes under the name Xe Services LLC, got the contract.

This was all kept secret from House and Senate leaders “in part because then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney had directed the CIA not to reveal the program to Congress,” according to the Washington Post.

But don’t get all outraged. According to a high-ranking intelligence official, the program cost “well under $20 million” and “we never actually did anything.”

Well, that’s a relief.

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