risky business…

Posted on Wednesday 25 February 2009

an equation used in the quantification of risk

In the kaleidoscope of issues whirling around over the recent roller-coaster months, it’s been almost impossible to rise above the particulars. Sitting around at the beach soothed by the regularity of the waves and the tides has given me a few moments out of the fray to think back over these disquieting times – times we hoped to be free from, but which will unfortunately haunt for years.

I found myself thinking about an observation I made over my career. The thing I noticed was easy to see. Paranoid people are mistrustful of everyone, yet their histories are filled with some of the most disreputable people on the planet. How could people who distrust everyone be so vulnerable to flim-flam artists and con-men? The answer to the question is easy to figure out. Reasonable people are put off by the constant suspicions of a paranoid person and get away from them. Crooks, on the other hand, don’t mind. They’re experts at telling people what they need to hear to do their mischief. So paranoid people who have no real intuition about trustworthiness are easy marks for criminal types and opportunists. The paradox is that the very people who are obsessed with the riskiness of life are at the most risk.

When I think back over the Bush era, it’s all about risky business. Like many have said, they were paranoid out of the gate. Their tax cuts were risky. Ignoring warnings about al Qaeda was incredibly risky. After 911, using the country’s grief and anger to move on Iraq, lying outright about the reasons was risky. Outing Valerie Plame, then trying to cover it up was beyond risky. Their non-responses to Katrina, he housing bubble, and the oil bubble were very risky. But the one that was over the top was the U.S. Attorney matter. They actually thought they could get away with firing U.S. Attorneys who wouldn’t go along with their "voter fraud" fraud. And when they lost the mid-terms, meaning they could no longer block Congressional Investigations, they went ahead with the plan anyway. It was an amazingly bad call that emptied the Justice Department in the process. The arrogance of the plan was off the charts – just off the charts.

They risked everything, over and over. And a lot of it was of the paranoid variety. They listened to conspiracy theorist Laurie Mylroie at A.E.I. They followed Amhad Chalabi, a con-man of historic proportions. They took crazy people seriously – John Bolton, Douglas Feith, Bradley Schlozman, John Yoo. They surrounded themselves with some serious lightweights – Alberto Gonzales, Harriet Miers, Scooter Libby, Michael Brown ["Brownie"], [and George W. Bush himself]. But more than anything, they risked trying to change the fundamentals of America and our place in the world, and I don’t even know if they thought about what they were risking.

In their "legacy tour," their paranoia was on the front burner. They touted all the things they prevented, all the stuff that they thought might happen that didn’t. In the meantime, the country is choking on the obvious things they overlooked, didn’t see, ignored. They governed with their paranoid fears, listened to the  lunatics and lightweights, and avoided advice from people with genuine expertise. They started out ignoring al Qaeda. In the end, they ignored our economy, and their almost non-existent fiscal policy lead to another preventable 9/11 9/18. Paranoid people never have intuition about real risk, and they don’t know it. That’s the tragedy – that they don’t even know it…

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