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June 09, 2005

Comments

This post reminds me of my earliest encounter with America-criticism.

My high school European History teacher was a very old-school professor, top-down, authoritative--and confrontational. He loved provoking us with contrarian viewpoints; some of the conversations were Socratic, but he truly meant some of his criticism of our ignorance and chauvinism. His complaint that he was teaching a class filled with "tranquillized garden-slugs," on the other hand, we did not take so seriously.

So one day we all got fed up with this WWII refugee who seemed to prefer anywhere but here and asked: "So, Mr. C, if you're so down on America, why do you stay?"

And he stopped. And he thought very seriously. Then he said: "Your Bill of Rights is a very good thing. No other country has such a strong statement of rights."

That exchange has stuck with me, even during my most critical moments. Our bill of rights is indeed a wonderful thing, one that gives me satisfaction to remember when I consider my passport photo, one that gave me some backbone when arguing international politics with my French (ex)partner's family during 2002-04, and one that I would be terribly sad to be curtailed.

Thanks, hilzoy, for an eloquent post, which, pace Charles, I think expresses some big ideas indeed.

Would you accept a 1% greater risk that you and your family would be killed in a terrorist attack if in exchange you were assured that no innocent men were taken from their families, tortured, and killed?

horrible hypothetical.

we weren't given that choice - W chose for us.

Charles & Slarti: I believe that "bad PR" was the entire point of Charles' post here, linked to from here. Also note, Charles, that if you're calling for a retraction, it's Sulla you need to see about it: he attributed your views to Von, which struck me as unfair.

Jeez, Jes, I hate to say it, but I think that this sentence from the linked Redstate post contradicts you:

Why [do conservatives have to confront this issue]? First, because our mistreatment of prisoners/detainees is wrong. Second and less importantly, because it's bad politics

You may be of the opinion that the political angle is what CB was really going after; I might even be inclined to agree, were I in an uncharitable mood. But the text is the text, and objectively, your characterization of his post is not accurate.

"we weren't given that choice - W chose for us."

No, we (meaning the citizens of the US) were given that very choice, not as individuals, but collectively. If there was 99% opposition to any of these policies, they would have never seen the light of day (or the light of the dungeon, or whatever). Bush's mandate is fractured and besieged, but he still definitely has one.

The problem is what to do when there's a disagreement. DaveC honestly points out that he would not increase the risk of his family's loss by 1% in exchange for the freedom and live of other innocent people. I (meaning my family, of course) would. If 51% or so agree with me, Dave has to live in a world of risk he consider unacceptable. If 51% or so agree with him (and evidently they do), children have to be raped with flourescent lights in exchange for a safety I neither deserve nor desire.

St: Really, I don't want to get into an argument about it here - I agree with Slarti that the linked post on ObWing would be a better place for it, and I'll shift it there by quoting your post, okay?

It's not a flippant question. . it's a terrible one.

Yes it is. 1% is too high a number for me. I can't answer the question right now, and may never have a good answer.

DaveC, I appreciate the honest difficulty you have in answering the question, so here's some thoughts to make it a bit easier. Note that sidereal did not ask if you would accept a 1% chance of being killed in a terrorist attack in exchange for ensuring no innocent was arrested, tortured & killed. The question was "would you accept a 1% greater risk." To evaluate that increase in risk, we need to determine what your baseline risk is. Some quick googling & calculations give the following results:

In 2001 your chance, as an U.S. citizen, of being killed by terrorism, was roughly .001%. A 1% increase in that risk would have made your chance .00101%. In just about any other recent year besides 2001, your risk would have been more like .00001% as a base line, .0000101% if you accepted the extra risk. (The previous sentence presumes that you travel outside the country. If you stay in the U.S., your chance of being killed by terrorism most years is just about zero.)

For comparison purposes, in most years you are anywhere from 5 to 10 times more likely to be killed by lightning than by terrorists. You are almost 1500 times more likely to be killed in an auto accident.

Even if sidereal's theoretical tradeoff was much more drastic - say you doubled your chance of being killed by terrorists in exchange for not torturing and killing innocent people - you would still be in much more danger from lightning.

Does that make the choice any easier?

If Hilzoy truly wants change, then I expect her to tell me how. Where is the constructive strategy, what are the big ideas, what are the tactics, what are the priorities, etc. You can't just say "we have no power so we're not obligated to provide solutions." Well, how are you going to get your power back without them? "No" and "anti" aren't good enough.

Hilzoy's post certainly speaks for me. (I might add that as a naturalized citizen I see the US as more of a gift than an inheritance. That may heighten my appreciation. Think of the difference between growing up wealthy and inheriting millions and growing up poor an winning the lottery).

You ask for big ideas. Some - the most important - are plainly implied in the post. Stop the torture. Stop the renditions. Stop the illegal detentions. Why is "No" not good enough on these issues? It is in fact the only decent position.

Why is anything other than "Bulls**t!!" the appropriate response to Bush's claims of unlimited authority? Are we supposed to compromise? "It's OK to lock people up like you want, as long as they're Muslims?" Is that your idea?

More. Hilzoy complains about the deficit. Gee. That's not tough. Repeal the big tax cuts. Stop the manic race to cut even more. Call it "No" and "anti" if you like, but the way you get the budget under control is to raise taxes. Talk about cutting spending if you prefer. But I dare you to keep the arithmetic honest and produce a set of cuts that is both big enough to make a significant dent and politically acceptable. Until you do I will ask you where your ideas are. In fact, let me ask where the Administration's ideas are?

Iraq? I admit I have no great idea what to do. Neither does Bush. Which of us is more culpable for lack of a good plan, do you think?

So no, I don't accept that the post is just a rant. And I don't accept that we are just saying "No." Nor do I accept that it's wrong to be oppose destructive policies. Given the current state of affairs, I suspect that the most useful thing the Democrats can do is obstruct Bush.

Anderson,

I think you may be missing Bob McManus' point.

"It begs the question: Then what? No matter the readability and deft turns of phrase, her post is still a rant. A well-written rant, but still a rant it is. The venting may make her feel better, as well as the readers who agree with her, but where does it go after that? Nowhere. If Hilzoy truly wants change, then I expect her to tell me how. Where is the constructive strategy, what are the big ideas, what are the tactics, what are the priorities, etc. You can't just say "we have no power so we're not obligated to provide solutions." Well, how are you going to get your power back without them? "No" and "anti" aren't good enough"

There have, in fact, been a number of solutions or steps towards a solution proposed, many of them proposed by me or hilzoy on this blog. There is Senator Jay Rockefeller's proposal that the Senate Intelligence Committee investigate extraordinary rendition, which committee chairman Pat Roberts refuses to allow a vote on. There are the calls by Amnesty and numerous other human rights groups for an independent commission with strong powers to gather evidence, akin to the 9/11 Comission, and a special prosecutor, to investigate all the various allegations of abuse and torture. There is the ACLU FOIA request on torture, which has produced many useful documents already and which will probably produce more before the litigation finishes. There are the attempts to subpoena relevant government documents and hold further hearings on the subject; these have been proposed numerous times by Democrats in Congress, but all subpoenas and most requests for hearings have been voted down on a party line vote. There were calls for the resignation of, and attempts to avoid promoting officials responsible for the interrogation policies; the calls for resignation have fallen on deaf ears and most of the relevant nominees have been confirmed in largely party line votes. (The exception to this is William Haynes' Circuit court nomination.) There have been proposals to simply de-fund Guantanamo, like Senator Robert Byrd's amendment to the appropriations bill; I am wary of that because I think the administration would simply send the detainees to a worse prison further beyond the reach of the law (Amnesty chose the wrong word from Solzhenytsin--our detention system is not a gulag, but it is an archipelago; Amnesty's biggest mistake was probably focusing on only one island, and not the worst one at that.) There is Durbin's anti-torture amendment forbidding the use of funds for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the U.S. military, which was finally passed; but unfortunately that only restates existing law that is going unenforced. The part of the proposal that might have had a legal effect, a prohibition on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by members of the CIA, Durbin has not been able to pass. There is H.R. 952, Congressman Edward Markey's bill closing two of the loopholes that allow for extraordinary rendition: the reliance on assurances not to torture from Syria and Uzbekistan, and the argument that its fine to send people to be tortured as long as they are captured overseas. There is S. 654, Senator Leahy's very similar anti-rendition legislation. Two legal changes I would support would be to create a private right of action and waive sovereign immunity in cases like Maher Arar's, where a detainee wants to sue the U.S. government for violations of its legal obligations that led to his torture; and to amend the anti-torture statute to change the mens rea requirement from "specific intent" to cause severe pain or suffering to "intent, knowledge, or severe recklessness manifesting an extreme indifference towards human life" for the crimes of torture, complicity in torture, and conspiracy torture.

There have also been attempts to formulate more comprehensive interrogation policies. That link is a report by a commissions led by two of my former professors, which formed the basis for legislation on interrogations proposed by Representative Jane Harman of California. I don't agree with all of its recommendations but I agree with most of them.

Here's the thing about virtually all of these proposals: they don't stand a chance in hell of passing Congress (the only place where Democrats in Washington can really try--the administration has simply ignored all this). Not while the Republicans are voting against every single one of them along strict party lines. Most of them cannot even get a committee debate or vote. To my knowledge all of the subpoenas have been rejected, and the nominees confirmed, without a single dissenting vote from a Republican in Congress. Most of the bills lack a single Republican co-sponsor.

If we're talking about a subpoena, you just need a majority on a comittee--but again, that has not yet happened, not one single Republican has broken ranks even in the immediate aftermath of Abu Ghraib, when this was not all "old news". If we're talking about legislation, it's even harder. Most of these bills have not even received a committee hearing. If they get a hearing, they still have to win a committee vote to get to the Senate floor. If they get to the floor they will need the support of at least six Republicans to pass; so far they have zero. In the House they will not get to the floor without Hastert and DeLay's consent, which will simply not happen in the current political climate.

Some of the bills can be passed as amendments in the Senate, but if they are not in the House version in the bill, and sometimes even if they are, they will be simply stripped out in conference committees controlled by DeLay, Hastert, the administration and to a lesser extent by Frist.

If a bill has little chance of passing both houses, you can imagine the chances of legislation authorizing a special independent investigation.

Further, it is not clear that a law by Congress would settle this issue anymore than the Supreme Court decisions in Hamdi and Rasul have. The administration has taken the legal position that in his capacity as Commander in Chief, the President may violate the laws against torture if he deems it necessary for national security. They have never repudiated this position. The memo retracting much of the Bybee "Torture Memo" was silent on this issue. The attorney general refused to repudiate this position and was extremely evasive in answering questions about it during his confirmation hearings. If that is still the administration's view, none of these Congressional statutes are going to guarantee the end of abuses anymore than the Anti-Torture Statute, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the non-detention act, the Foreign Affairs Reform and Reconstruction Act, etc. etc. prevented the abuses up to this point. The Executive has a sweeping power of classification which it can use to prevent violations of these laws from coming to light. All administrations have used the classification power to their political advantage, and this one has been especially likely to do so. Violations of these laws are prosecuted by the executive branch--either the Department of Justice or the military. If the military refuses to prosecute anyone above a certain rank, or the DOJ refuses to prosecute anyone at all--Congress' next remedy is impeachment. That simply will not happen, as you surely know.

(In contrast to all this, by the way, most of these policies could be ended in a matter of hours, days, weeks, or at most months by the orders of the President of the United States.)

Not long ago I got the chance to hear Edward Markey, the Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts who has been most vocal in opposing rendition, speak on this issue. What he said was this: my bills isn't going to pass, not without a major change in public opinion on these issue. News stories would help, if there were a series of stories above the fold--but there have been news stories. New information about the abuses would help, and the human rights groups were working to collect it--but we know an awful lot of information about this already. Perhaps there would be some new revelation that would finally shock the Republican majority of Congress into action, but he would be quite surprised. "This Republican majority is very hard to shock", he stated.

The only way out he could see, he said, was for the American people at large to know about these things, and care, and demand that they end.

As far as I can tell, hilzoy's posts is an unusually eloquent and effective attempt to make people know about these things, and care, and demand that these things end--or at least to make them understand why she feels the way she does about them. She is doing, unusually well and unusually eloquently, exactly what Markey, and the members of Amnesty and ACLU present at the same event, suggested that we do.

Excellent post, Katherine. Any chance of putting it up on the front page?

Anderson,

I think you may be missing Bob McManus' point.

Oh, quite likely, though it's always a bit more helpful to hear *how* I'm missing the point, then it is to go back & try to enlighten myself. Thanks though, and due apologies to McManus if that's the case.

Charles,

Perhaps you could read Katherine's thorough and informative comment on what is being attempted, on what constructive steps have been proposed, and what has happened to these proposals, and then reconsider your criticism of the post.

Also, perhaps you could stop complaining about "gulag," and start complaining about Republican obstructionism.

Wow, I just read Katherine's comment, and where CB's "rant" comment was standing, there's this smoldering crater a mile wide and unfathomably deep.

Not so deep, I predict, that we won't hear a tiny voice crying out that if the Democrats weren't just using the torture issue for political advantage, the Republicans would be against torture too. But only time will tell.

Hilzoy,

-“If this administration were sacrificing our honor for wealth and strength, we'd be having a different sort of argument.”

Whose wealth and strength are we talking about? I am not so sure that the Administration is not doing just that, at least in the minds of many of its members and benefactors. Wealth and strength is precisely what they are after. I am not convinced that a sure conclusion can be reached at this time that America has lost wealth and strength. We may have to wait to see if America’s involvement in the Middle East works in its favor against China.

-“we will have failed to act in the face of enormous challenges, including the emergence, for the first time, of countries whose internal markets are as large as ours”

I don’t understand, “failed to act.” The challenges presented by such nations explain a great deal about our presence in the Middle East, and the larger, though less visible, focus on China.

I did not mean to suggest that the effects we see are Hamiltonian, but that the thinking and motivation of the Administration and the Neo-cons was. This side is part of America as well, not just some recent right turn but part and parcel of America’s “noble experiment.”

-“and, in the process, we will have sacrificed our ideals.”

We may sacrifice the Jeffersonian ideals but perhaps not the Hamiltonian ones.


Laura,

I’m no fan either. The Neo-cons make some valid, or at least arguable points, but what I find so distasteful from Hamilton and his ideological heirs is their misanthropy, or, if that’s too strong a term, contempt of other people.

In 2001 your chance, as an U.S. citizen, of being killed by terrorism, was roughly .001%. A 1% increase in that risk would have made your chance .00101%.

The problem with this is that it is stating that only 3000 people out of 300,000,000 were killed, but the effects were much broader than the raw numbers suggest.

Katherine: I am wary of [shutting down Gitmo] because I think the administration would simply send the detainees to a worse prison further beyond the reach of the law

AP: The United States would rather have detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp imprisoned by their home countries, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.

Anderson,

Sorry. I think what Bob McManus was getting at is that the culpability or power of the president is not as linear or as simple as one might suspect. Did you see Oliver Stone’s film “Nixon” where the protester confronts Nixon at the Lincoln Memorial about just how much control is in the hands of the president? I think this gets at Bob McManus’ point. We often lay things at the feet of leaders because they are more visible than abstract forces or institutional machinations (it also lets us put a human face on the issue and lets us think that we are more in control of our world than may be the case). Because this approach proves an accessible way to get a handle on a problem does not mean that such an appreciation is accurate or all-inclusive.

You’re right, focus on these other factors does tend to disperse anger or criticism, which is why it can be a good idea to take your perspective on blaming “one man.”

"I think you may be missing Bob McManus' point."

I don't think Anderson entirely missed my point, to the extent it has one. Cause he said this.

"I don't understand at all the implication that our anger and blame should be so dispersed as to be meaningless." ...Anderson

Question: if umm, how shall I put this, if Bush fell off the wagon and was discovered in the Oval Office surrounded by twenty bottles of Yukon Jack, and sent off to dry out, and Cheney took over under the 25th, how much would actually change? There would be some change, my guess is a more "activist" foreign policy and less social agenda.

It takes a lot of people to make policy, and a whole lot more to implement it and sustain it. Katherine above talks about the complicity of the Republican Congress. They, let me assure you, are not acting in ways that guarantee their non-election. Ten CIA agents or military interrogators walking into the NY Times might change the policy. Facts are, that ten Republican Senators could make Bush's days a living hell. Twenty contributors could spoil a few dinners. There are lots of checks and balances, which are not currently working.

"So dispersed as to be meaningless." It is only when the responsibility is maximally dispersed that it becomes meaningful. To go Zennish, if only Bush has responsibility, there is no responsibility and no accountability. I am reminded of Beirut, when Reagan took "full responsibility". End of story, nothing happened, impeach me or screw off.

"Anger and blame so dispersed...." Mea maxima culpa. I hate Bush, but that is personal. I don't hate Cheney or Rumsfeld or DeLay or Tacitus or Lileks. Honest. I hate policies and behavior, and sorry to say, sometimes I hate some abstract called "all Republicans". That is self-indulgent, agreed. Sometimes I hate all humans, not excepting myself. That may be wisdom.

Point is, each and every Republican, each and every Democrat, has some influence and some responsibility for torture, for policy. You will never reach Bush. You may reach your Senator or Congressman or neighbour. And they can change things.

Katherine, an excellent post, as always. Before you engage more with Charles, you might want to read more. If you look back at a recent post which he has authored, so that you can understand his position more:

"Amnesty Travesty Part III: Should conservatives beat 'em by joining 'em?"


He also contributed some to the thread under the post:
"The Things We Throw Away", by Von (who goes by the nickname 'not a conservative', which is important, if you'd seek to understand some of the people here).


This will help you integrate better with the culture. The primarly lesson is probably that Charles, Von, Sull and Slartibartfast take their English language very, very seriously. For example, they get far more outraged over the use of the word 'Gulag' by Amnesty International, than by everything which Bush has done.

Since you are writing about sensitive matters like 'detention', 'interrogation', 'stress positions', you might easily offend their sensitive natures.

However, don't worry about, you know, actually raping somebody or having a dog chew on them, or beating them and hanging them by their wrists until they die, even after the guards figured that they were probably innocent. They are morally very tough, and understand about omlets and eggs and all of that.

Bob is doubtless more correct than I am; still, some thoughts:

Question: if umm, how shall I put this, if Bush fell off the wagon and was discovered in the Oval Office surrounded by twenty bottles of Yukon Jack, and sent off to dry out, and Cheney took over under the 25th, how much would actually change?

But who (1) accepted Cheney as VP and (2) continued to rely on him, and acquiesce in his becoming so powerful as VP?

As for the Republican senators & their misplaced loyalties (as so witheringly illuminated by K. above), quite right. And I live in Mississippi, so I have no shortage of senators & congressmen to loathe.

The single person most responsible remains Bush, even if that doesn't get the others off the hook. So, a matter of emphasis?

You know, Hilzoy's post had an effect on me that she might not be so happy with, but I will note it here as a possible discussion point. I have been considering, for some time, the idea of taking Japanese citizenship. It would be "relatively" easy for me, by virtue of my ancestry and my current situation. However, the one thing that has held me back was that one is supposed to, after a period of about 5 years, revoke the other citizenship. Many people don't do that (a sort of don't ask, don't tell policy), but I've always held off because they might ask and I would be faced with a choice of either revoking my US citizenship, or saying 'whoops, you guys caught me, here's the Japanese passport' (which one might realize is not a good bureaucratic survival strategy) Hilzoy's post makes me think that the first option is not so bad.

Note that this is not doing a revival of A man without a country here, and I'm not going to be like Iain Banks, who cut up his passport and mailed it to Tony Blair. I have to admit that who I am has never been predicated by what the cover of my passport is. I also realize that even if I take Japanese citizenship, I will never be 'Japanese' and one could argue that I am taking this line because of the value of the outsider stance that allows one to criticize and but not actually do anything.

It's interesting that Anderson notes that he is from Mississippi, as am I. Perhaps my feelings might be different if I really felt that I could 'go home'. At any rate, I wonder what other responses are to this. At any rate, I'm off for the day, so if this generates any responses, I will answer in about 12 hours.

Lily,

-“Bush and Rumsfield were aware that the war was a choice, not a necessity”

I think a good argument can be made that the war was a necessity, which may then actually back up the claims by the Administration that they had no choice. How is the Military Industrial Complex, a very important part of our economy and instrument of power projection, to go on without war? (You may like to check out Paul Virilio’s work, especially “Pure War” and the “technical surprise” at the beginning of the last century in relation to maintaining a war economy in peacetime.) That war is the health of the state is a tenet of Neo-conservatism (e.g. see Aaron Friedberg’s “In the Shadow of the Garrison State: America’s Anti-Statism and Its Cold War Grand Strategy”*). Maintaining the health of the MIC, and by extension the health of the state, is one way to make the war against Iraq defensible.

*Friedberg’s book is only recommended as an example of Neo-con thinking. As a serious academic work it is garbage: he omits what does not support his thesis and misrepresents some of his sources to get them to say what he wants. In layman’s terms, he’s lying.

-“Now we are supposed to believe that invading Iraq and creating a democracy there (which was not part of the original arguament) will somehow promote democracy elsewhere”

It is a curious thing that so many Americans take as an article of faith the idea that democracy can be spread or bequeathed. While some aspects of a political system or ideology may be transferable, forms of government arise from historical factors and the particulars of time and place. Have we forgotten Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union? How is American style democracy to be imposed on a nation with no tradition of rule of law and faith in courts? Or the other way around: Imagine an attempt at imposing communism in America. There would not even be the language to discuss it much less the institutions, values, traditions, or ideas to support it. I seriously doubt that American institutions and values are timeless and universal (a commonality of both the Left and the Right – the question being mainly whose methodology has the greater potential for the success of such efforts), though it may make some Americans feel better to think so.

Don't give up lj. I was at a fundraiser for a private school in DC a couple of months ago, and the speaker was Rev. Jackson. Among other things, he said that although things might look kind of bleak, we are winning the battle of ideas. Comparing his own childhood to that of his grandaughter (a student at the school) made this crystal clear.

You know, it's been very interesting having much the same discussion today as is in hilzoy's post with a couple of dogmatic young men in shackles in Gitmo. They actually seem to have understood our explanation of why we were there, and, as surprising, so did several of the Navy enlisted men who were guarding them. They'll have to be saints to forgive the US for the treatment that have suffered, but it's not too much to expect that they'll go home -- when they go home -- with some small understanding about the ideals upon which our country was founded. (Neither Saudis nor Yemenis will go home as part of diplomatic deals. No, they'll go home because the pen actually is mightier than the sword).

Both clients are articulate and engaged. Smart, but thus far much of what they've seen of our culture has not been the best we have to offer.

Perhaps you could read Katherine's thorough and informative comment on what is being attempted, on what constructive steps have been proposed, and what has happened to these proposals, and then reconsider your criticism of the post.

I agree that Katherine offered a detailed post on what the Democrats are doing constructively. The questions you have to ask yourselves then, are (1) are you getting the message out, (2) are the people hearing your message and (3) when people hear the message, are they convinced? To me, the answers are "no" to (1) and (2) and "I don't know" to (3). Does this mean that you give up? No. Does this mean that you play the victim and tell everyone how mean and nasty those Republicans are? No. Does this mean long sorrowful posts of lament and litany? No. What you do is step back in, focus your message, get it out, redouble your efforts, debate your point of view and do your goddamdest to persuade others that your answers are the right ones. If you lose today, you go back, figure out how to do it better and try to win tomorrow. Ask yourselves this, do American voters really want to hear woeful messages of "fiscal disaster" or "breaking our military" or "squandering our freedom", without hearing the punchline and without hearing your way out of this sad picture? Of course not. What you do is tell the American people that you have a plan to aggressively win this war (and then spell it out) without descending to detainee maltreatment, that we can get more help from Europe and the Muslim world by stopping the practice of extraordinary rendition, that you can restore fiscal sanity by ridding marginal rate cuts for incomes over $200,000, that you'll put reasonable brakes on the growth of non-discretionary spending, that you'll negotiate face-to-face and hard-bargain Kim Jong Il and the Iranian mullahs, that your plan for Social Security is better (and then actually lay out a plan). But what are we hearing on June 9, 2005? None of the above. I know what it's like to be in a party totally aced out of power. I've been there. Ask yourselves, how did Republicans do it? Gloom and doom didn't work, hope did.

Every time I think the irony meter is pegged once and for all....

And if you're on the other side, you scream, "Gulag! Newsweek! Gulag! Amnesty!" over and over as loudly as you can in hopes of preventing anyone from hearing anything else.

What you do is tell the American people that you have a plan to aggressively win this war (and then spell it out) without descending to detainee maltreatment, that we can get more help from Europe and the Muslim world by stopping the practice of extraordinary rendition, that you can restore fiscal sanity by ridding marginal rate cuts for incomes over $200,000, that you'll put reasonable brakes on the growth of non-discretionary spending, that you'll negotiate face-to-face and hard-bargain Kim Jong Il and the Iranian mullahs, that your plan for Social Security is better (and then actually lay out a plan).

Presuming you think all of those things are good ideas -- and I don't know if you do or don't -- why do you support a political party that has absolutely no intention whatsoever of pursuing any of them, and in fact intends to pursue the precise opposite of most of them?

I'm just stunned by how no part of this task seems to be your job, Charles. Who are your Senators? Are you involved in any way with your local Republican party committee? What is stopping you from organizing a visit to your Congressional representative's office with some other constituents to push him/her to support Markey's bill? Have you written a letter to the editor, or to any of your Congressional delegation?

I'm just stunned by how no part of this task seems to be your job, Charles.

You misunderstand. Charles' job is to get out in front of Katherine and yell about Newsweek, Amnesty International, swift boats in Cambodia, and the like while she tries to make herself heard.

And Charles, precisely what on God's green earth do you think Katherine has been working her behind off at doing? Are you ever, just for a moment, ashamed of posting this kind of stuff? How is it possible for you to affect this more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone when you know perfectly well that you and people like you are precisely the reason why Katherine and people like Katherine have trouble getting the message across?

I'm just stunned by how no part of this task seems to be your job, Charles

That's by design: always try to make it your political opponents be the ones who have to jump through the hoops.

What are our force multipliers for a guerrilla war?

I can think of two: intelligence and cooperation from the civilian population. Both require knowledge (including language skills) and actions that "win hearts and minds."

Judging by results, it appears we are deficient in these areas.

And when that fails, we can always restart operation Phoenix

And after the '04 elections, they aren't merely Bush policies; they are the policies of every Republican who voted for them.

Not true, they are the policies of every American!

Charles: A lot of other people have posted about the positive policy proposals one could make. I'll just add: I thought that a lot of my post was positive. It was, among other things, a love song to my country, and I thought I came out fairly strongly for a bunch of things, most notably the ideals that it was founded on. But if it came off as a rant, I'm not sure what else I can say.

But who (1) accepted Cheney as VP and (2) continued to rely on him, and acquiesce in his becoming so powerful as VP?

As for the Republican senators & their misplaced loyalties (as so witheringly illuminated by K. above), quite right. And I live in Mississippi, so I have no shortage of senators & congressmen to loathe.

The single person most responsible remains Bush, even if that doesn't get the others off the hook. So, a matter of emphasis?

The single most important person is the American citizen who is either to lazy, to stupid or to ignorant to get informed and vote, the citizen who voted to put these scumbags in office so that they could get a tax cut or bash gays and minorities.

Hilzoy - Thank you for this post. Very well done, indeed.

hilzoy: Thank you.

Ask yourselves this, do American voters really want to hear woeful messages of "fiscal disaster" or "breaking our military" or "squandering our freedom", without hearing the punchline and without hearing your way out of this sad picture?

So what you're saying is... when someone screws up this country, possibly beyond repair, the fault is with the people who tried to stop them because they can't suggest a remedy within the miniscule paradigm of the destroyer.

Seriously: does that make the slightest bit of sense whatsoever?

At what point can we expect the American people to wake the hell up, do their homework, and start to realize the tragedy (and travesty) we're in? At what point are the American people going to accept responsibility -- and demand real accountability -- for those who have sinned against them, and for those who have sinned in our names?

At what point can we expect the American people to wake the hell up, do their homework, and start to realize the tragedy (and travesty) we're in? At what point are the American people going to accept responsibility -- and demand real accountability -- for those who have sinned against them, and for those who have sinned in our names?

Sometime after WWIII or the Great Depression (part II), which ever happens first.

when someone screws up this country, possibly beyond repair

Thanks for arguing for limited government!

I'm mad a Bush for making the government bigger, but a large number of conservative / libertarian web sites cover that pretty well, so I'm not gonna do it here.

I remember when Andrew Sullivan was urging every day "Don't go wobbly". Now, he's practically one of those wobble-head dolls that are carictatures of professional ball-players.

lj, if your kids identify as Japanese, and you are happy with them growing up there, then why not? You're living there. I wouldn't take offense at you renouncing US citizenship because I have more of a problem with conflicts of dual citizenship. If you are happy where you are, go for it.


I'm turning Japanese. I think I'm turning Japanese. I really think so.

Ah, sorry. Couldn't resist.
But I wouldn't look forward to being gaijin in my own country for the rest of my life.

Charles Bird: "What you do is step back in, focus your message, get it out, redouble your efforts, debate your point of view and do your goddamdest to persuade others that your answers are the right ones."

With no consideration that your answers might be otherwise? The William F. Buckley method of discourse?

hilzoys post - not a rant, but an invocation.

* * *

The United States of Omelas. But not nearly as nice. What a thing to look forward to!

Hilzoy mumbled: "We were talking about the war, and one of them said: how, exactly, is America better than Saddam Hussein? That's an idiotic thing to say, I replied. We don't just throw people in prison for no reason and torture and kill them. At that point someone asked: are you sure?

I cannot describe to you (those of you who have not felt it) what it was like to think: no, I am not sure. Not at all."

Hilzoy, if you don;t not understand the difference between Saddam's Iraq and today's USA, then you have most dramatically demonstrated your utter lack of basic intelligence. I suggest you go to Iran or Iraq, and find out first hand... if you live to tell the story. You have a degree in Philosophy...? From where... Mickey Mouse College of Wannabees?

hilzoy, if you will permit me...

Joe, to me there is a big difference between being able to say "we never do that" and where we are today. It is the difference between the moral high ground versus simply a matter of degree.

You might respond, as we have seen from others, that "oh, but in our society when we find abuses we investigate and bring the guilty to justice," but that rings a little hollow lately, as the evidence continues to mount that there is tacit approval of "taking the gloves off."

Can you in all honesty say that President Bush takes it his moral duty to root out all our use of torture, to ensure beyond doubt humane and correct treatment even of the guilty? I can't.

Joe, I'd suggest you take a gander at the posting rules and banning policy. Perhaps you should consider modifying your extremely rude tone if you wish to continue posting comments here.

This isn't that kind of blog - for now at least.
:\

Hi, Joe!
How embarassing for you.
You'll probably want to read the passage you quoted again, but more carefully.

Have you ever been to Iran or Iraq?

If hilzoy were to go to Iraq and not come back alive, would that still be Saddam's fault? He's been in custody for a while.

Hilzoy, from one who is not a US citizen and hopes never to live there, this is as fine a piece of writing as I have seen in years. It is nice to see that not everyone in the US has their head in the sand. Congratulations and thank you.

Never been to this site before. Tremendously impressed, both with Hilzoy and the commentators. So, there really are such things as intelligent, principled conservatives still alive in the U.S.

Joe -- I take it phrases like "the obvious fact that we are not, and I hope will never be, in Saddam's moral universe" just flew right over your head.

Everyone else -- thanks.

Anarch,

-"the greatest being the related notion that factuality itself is open to subjective interpretation and hence can only be differentiated by political ramifications."

Same as it ever was? ;)

"Every time I think the irony meter is pegged once and for all...."

Posted by: DaveL

Excellent notion, DaveL! There are several people here who could earn lucrative living as irony meter testers. I think that we know who they are, so I don't have to name names.

"So what you're saying is... when someone screws up this country, possibly beyond repair, the fault is with the people who tried to stop them because they can't suggest a remedy within the miniscule paradigm of the destroyer."

Posted by: Anarch

Ya gotta admit, Anarch, for those presently running our country, and the many who voted to continue those policies, that's a very comforting philosophy.

For those who read the book 'Shards of Honor', by Bujold, remember the old Emperor? He's done a lot of nasty things, including starting a war just for the purpose of killing his son. Now he's dying. He comments to the protagonist that "I'm an atheist. A simple faith, but one that comforts me more these days." The protagonist later said about him "...praying with every breath that there is no God.".

Of course, our leaders have that beat - they know in their hearts that there is a God, and the *understands* their need to do everything which they did.

Thank you. The power and beauty of this post is demonstrated by the comments, which are mostly thoughtful and intelligently arguing all sides of the question. I congratulate you for what you've accomplished, and thank you for bringing tears to my eyes.

Thanks for the comments, all. I should make it clear, the act of taking Japanese citizenship does not seem to necessarily demand that I revoke my US citizenship. For some people, it seems to be 'don't ask, don't tell' (however, if you make yourself too conspicuous, apparently, it will be pointed out that you have to choose) However, technically, I would have to revoke one within 3 years of taking the Japanese passport. So basically, I'm not 'giving up' on the US, but I'm more gambling that I can keep both (sorry DaveC, that puts me precisely in the category that you don't like). Previously, the gamble was too high (you know, never gamble something that you are not comfortable losing). However, we are rapidly reaching the point where it would not fuss me so much. Sidereal's point about being a gaijin in one's own country is a good one, but certainly going back to the US, I feel like a gaijin, so it's not all that startling a feeling.

As for how my kids identify themselves, they are 6 and 11 months, so it's not really set yet.

btw, I dated a person who did a double degree in Japanese and law, and she said that the Vapors tune convinced her to do it, because on the B side was Here comes the judge...

DaveC - "The problem with this is that it is stating that only 3000 people out of 300,000,000 were killed, but the effects were much broader than the raw numbers suggest."

True, but sidereal's question, which you found so challenging, was just concerned with the chances of death, so that's what I focused my statistics on.

The 9/11 attacks also inflicted a fair amount of financial damage, so we could rephrase the question as "Would you accept 1% greater financial expenditures by the U.S. due to terrorist attacks and the war on terror if in exchange you were assured that no innocent men were taken from their families, tortured, and killed?" To my mind, that question is easier than the original.

The 9/11 attacks also engendered quite a bit of fear and anger in the American public. (Much as the abuse and murder of innocent prisoners is engendering anger in the Musliim world.) Here the question changes though. It's not "would you accept 1% more fear and anger...", rather it's "would you be willing to give up some of your fear and anger, if in exchange you were assured that no innocent men were taken from their families, tortured, and killed?"

Does that cover the issue more thoroughly?

By the way, don't forget that "only 3000 people out of 300,000,000 were killed" on the worst year of our entire national history for terrorism. Most other years, the number is "only 12 people out of 300,000,000", or "only 30 people" or "only 8 people". That's why, even if you accepted a doubling of the risk from terrorism, you'd still be more likely to be killed by lightning.

I hope none of this comes across as snarky. From what you've written, you seem to be making a good faith effort to balance the demands of morality against the demands of safety for you and yours. The problem is that as human beings, we aren't wired to be naturally very good at assessing and comparing real risks. (Consult a good cognitive psych researcher for more details on that subject.) I'm just trying to make the point that you put yourself and your family much more at risk by driving on the freeway than you would by having the government respect the human rights of those it suspects of terrorism.

Charles is "on the record against torture," but thinks it's the Democrats' job---not the job of Republicans like himself, although their party holds power---to do something about torture.

The second chapter of James comes to mind; here's what it says about being "on the record against poverty":

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
When the self-proclaimed "on the record" crowd is as loud about Republican obstruction of the struggle to stop America from abusing & torturing her prisoners, as they have been about AI's diction, then their being "on the record" will mean something.

(I'm a Democrat; my so-called representatives don't care what I think.)

why do you support a political party that has absolutely no intention whatsoever of pursuing any of them, and in fact intends to pursue the precise opposite of most of them?

Because, in toto, Republicans views remain closer to my own than Democrats, Phil, despite some areas where there are significant differences.

So what you're saying is... when someone screws up this country, possibly beyond repair, the fault is with the people who tried to stop them because they can't suggest a remedy within the miniscule paradigm of the destroyer.

You haven't understood what I've written, Nate.

But if it came off as a rant, I'm not sure what else I can say.

It was as I wrote about it at 3:07. Part love letter to country, part lament, no real answers. At least think about it when you're penning future posts.

I think Charles' point is that it's easy to criticize, but that the Administration has a job to get done that's complicated, messy and very, very important. In other words, criticizing is a luxury. I don't think he's agruing that Republicans are not responsible for solving the problem, just that criticizing without solutions is not all that helpful.

I don't totally disagree, except to point out that silence = support, in this case. Also, letting the adminstration hide behind its (perhaps technically correct, but still relatively immoral) "outrage" over the use of the word "gulag" when that abuse of the language stunningly pales in comparison to the abuse of innocent human beings is something Republicans should not do. When Bush and Cheney dismissed the report as "offenseive" or "absurd" Republicans should have said, "Er, wait a minute, there. It's OK for us citizens to say the use of the word is hyperbolic, but you fellows don't have that luxury. You should be embarrassed, and the only thing I want to hear coming from your quarter is what the hell you're doing about the absuses, not lame excuses."

One more thing: being "on record against torture" is not the end of one's obligations as far as I'm concerned, especially when one devotes more energy and effort to being on record against the opponents of torture, or can't decide whether torture or overly harsh criticism torture is a worse problem. It begins to look more and more like a way to disassociate yourself from the embarrassing policies of the people you help empoewr, without actually doing a damn thing about it. The scandal of atrocities is that they happen. But not for any of the conservatives on this site, seemingly.

Because, in toto, Republicans views remain closer to my own than Democrats, Phil, despite some areas where there are significant differences.

OK, but . . . man, sometimes you have to decide where your priorities lie. I've always been sympathetic to -- and voted for -- the libertarian wing of the Republican party, but once they decided that the most important things to them were catering to a religious-right social agenda, utterly irresponsible fiscal behavior, and poorly-planned military adventurism . . . that's not worth relaxed trade restrictions a higher student-loan interest deduction, you know?

" At least think about it when you're penning future posts.

Posted by: Charles Bird"

Now my irony meter exploded.

that went on the wrong thread. oh well, same difference.

Hilzoy,

I can't believe it took me this long to look at this. You articulated, so thoroughly, what so many of us feel -- what had me http://scrivovivo.typepad.com/bookofdays/2005/05/the_statue_of_l.html =blank>sobbing last month at the old Paul Simon lyric: about "the statue of Liberty sailing away to sea."

Thanks for knowing, and highlighting, the difference between actual love of country -- of the principles this country is founded on -- and the kitsch "patriotism," rooted in images of death and fear of the foreigner, which is churned up by powers that love very little.

> By the way, don't forget that "only 3000 people out of 300,000,000 were killed"

tony,
your problem is that terrorisim is an exponentialy growing threat. it grows because weapons get smaller and cheeper. One day it will be bio weapons that fit in a thimble that you will need to stop or some power greater than nuclear power. It is nonsense to argue that weapons wont get cheaper and easier to use fairly exponentionaly not because of people but because of science.

One day those weapons will inevitably be serious threats to human civilization. You must have a system to keep it under control by then.

otto,

> It is a curious thing that so many Americans take as an article of faith the idea that democracy can be spread or bequeathed.

It is interesting how idealists become pragmatists and pragmatists become idealists in these debates. This is a highly pragmatic judgement looking at effects not goals while on so many other issues the opposite position is taken by the same people.

Don,

> At what point can we expect the American people to wake the hell up, do their homework, and start to realize the tragedy (and travesty) we're in? At what point are the American people going to accept responsibility -- and demand real accountability -- for those who have sinned against them, and for those who have sinned in our names?
> Sometime after WWIII or the Great Depression (part II), which ever happens first.

The problem is that these scenarios are a loss for hte peopel who revel in proposing htem as much as for those they are trying to scare.
By that stage it will be irrelevant what americans think because someone else will be in charge doing exactly what america used to do.

As to torture and war

> "That war is the health of the state is a tenet of Neo-conservatism"

Actually it is more like
1) you can only do as much good as your power will allow
(eg the USA has more potential to do good than the ivory coast so we dont turn to the IC to solve the worlds problems)
2) To be powerful you must accumulate or retain power
3) rules designed to limit your power will limit your power

This is rather like 1+1=2 we can and should take moral positions but at some point if yo uare "pure" you are also entirely neutered.
i.e. If you set yourself no rules you will get the job done in a nasty way - if you have a perfect set of moral rules you wont be able to do anything.

Katherine: "...One more thing: being 'on record against torture' is not the end of one's obligations as far as I'm concerned...."

I'd certainly agree, and I think most reasonable people with any sense of perspective would.

But I feel impelled to speak to a more general point, one driven by cumulative observation, and not any particular post. (Did everyone get that? -- this is a general observation, not a response specifically to Katherine -- everyone clear?)

And that point touches on the fact that while you, Katherine, set a stunning example of effective activism, one that all of us can take as something to try to live up to, and while various folks who regularly comment on this blog engage in various exemplary activities in their lives for causes such as human and civil rights, while we are engaged in, say, posting comments to this, or any other blog, and thus doing a small part to spread our sense of what is important and exemplary, posting either blog entries or comments is, per se, of limited moral import. In any direction.

Yet, of course, endless sound and fury is expended on outrage over what are, in fact, no more or less than passing opinions. People are castigated almost as if they actually were personally engaged in torture, or terrorism, or violence, simply for engaging in verbal debate.

Which is still one thing if people are actually giving opinions as simple and condemnable as, say, personally endorsing torture -- which is still a different thing than personally torturing, although I entirely agree that both are condemnable -- but another thing if they, say, don't merely use as strong language in their condemnation of torture as another feels is warranted.

Which is the point I'm getting at: for all that there are valid things to shout at each other about, I'm unconvinced that another's failure to shout loud enough, in the language one's own self prefers, is one of them.

And it seems to me that that behavior is, unfortunately, endemic in political debate, endemic in America today, and, of course, endemic online. It's not enough to take a position, to say what it is in clear language, and to thencefore clearly state "I agree" or "I disagree."

What is instead demanded is that to be a valid position, it has to have lots of impassioned adjectives. It has to convey passion, spirit, and emotion. It has to fulfil a model of a ritual denunciation.

But that's not, to my eyes, actually something that's particularly morally superior. It's, too often, a demand for emotional ritual, and that's all. This is understandably personally satisfying to gain, and unsatisfying to deny, but I'm not convinced, nonetheless, that it's a moral demand, or a demand anyone is entitled to see fufilled.

To be very clear here: I have many and varying differences of opinion with, in no particular order, von, Charles, and Sebastian. But when any of them, in their own individual language, do state clearly that they condemn torture (and that "state clearly" part is essential, and not to be glossed over), or a particular set of acts by the U.S. government, I think it's at least sometimes dubious for anyone to then hammer at them for not meeting a more rigorous set of required points, particularly given, aside from my prior reasoning, that a) when addressing a crowd, people's demands will always be varied and somewhat contradictory; and b) it's generally counter-productive to try to persuade people by making them feel defensive and pushed into ritual responses.

But, then, part of my opinion about this comes from generally finding -- and I repeat, generally, as in not directed at anyone specific, which I say because that's what I mean -- breast-beating condemnations of other people for not being as morally perceptive as ourselves rather repellent, no matter that's it's an understandable temptation that we all feel, and likely pretty much all engage in to some degree from time to time. God knows I do.

GeniusNZ,

Thanks for your insightful comment. Yes, AI gets an idealistic criticism while spreading democracy gets a pragmatic one. Your point has been very helpful.

GeniusNZ,

-“As to torture and war”

When I first read this I thought that you must have misunderstood my attitude and understanding (the paragraph I wrote was not meant to be an attack on the neo-cons – liberals as well as neo-cons (and the rest of the political spectrum) are legitimate parts of what America is)): yes, yes, I know what you are saying. I see that the miscommunication was the result of my poor expression. “War is the health of the state” is a tenet not limited to, or the creation of, neo-cons. Nor is this process, this relationship as simplistic as the catch phrase reduces it to. I meant that it is more boldly presented, more evident in their political philosophy, and sought to make a connection to the Administration and a possible defense of the war.

-“If you set yourself no rules you will get the job done in a nasty way - if you have a perfect set of moral rules you wont be able to do anything.”

Indeed. The man of action versus the inertia of sitting with one’s hands folded. On another post I took what I meant to be a friendly poke along these lines at what I saw as a call-to-arms by Felixrayman.

I was ambivalent prior to invading Iraq. So I wrote Bush a letter which stated -

Dear President Bush,

I offer this suggestion. Before you commit yourself and the nation to war with Iraq, find the silent place within and ask, "Is this for my highest good and the highest good of all concerned?"

The answer is within. Be patient. Wait until your heart answers. Then take right action.

Simple, yet complex.

(end of letter)

I don't believe that any sane man or woman could rightly argue that the invasion was for the highest good of all concerned. Of course, argue we will.

As for myself, the existence of the Downing Street memo coupled with the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction lead me to conclude that Bush and gang are a danger to this nation.

To make matters worse, just think what steps this administration will take should another 911 occur on their watch.

PDK - the madman and his constant rejoinder... "The empire never ended."

Um, make that PKD.

One more thing, I think the tipping point for impeachment starts
here.


"Are the people in Texas, Arizona and California better off because the US won what were somewhat unjust wars against Mexico? I would say yes. Are Eastern Europeans better off even though the US murdered people in the Cold War. I would say yes again."

No they are not. When you buy freedom or safety or any other benefit with other people's lives, you have bought a false benefit and sacrificed precious things in return. Losing the position of right, you don't deserve anything you have won. You do not deserve your safety or freedom and have no right to have them protected in the future. You've become what you used to have the right to censure. No-one is better off after taking someone else's life for their own benefit - they've captured a temporary illusion of a prize and sold their soul in return.

WOW! Awesome, moving, wonderful writing and reading (More things we throw away). Thank you to www.linkmeister.com/blog/ for the link. Definitely will add you to my blogroll, so glad I stopped by!

Damned trackback pings. Sorry for the multiple hits.

Gary:

That was a brilliant post.

Oh, gee, thanks, Slart. Truth be told, I was rather disappointed that it was otherwise utterly ignored and not a single response made. I had rather hoped for at least a tad of discussion, although having it tattooed on everyone's inner eyelids would be acceptable, as well. But that's only because everyone who disagrees is moral scum.

I can't believe that Slarti called it a post and not a comment...

I can't believe that Slarti called it a post and not a comment...

I can't believe Gary let him get away with that...
;-)

I can't believe you guys are focusing on my commenting on it, when there's so much good stuff to discuss in Gary's comment. If you're not agreeing with the maximum amount of vehemence possible in an HTML-based forum, then you must be completely opposed to what he's saying.

8P

Well, I didn't comment on it because Gary is specifically avoiding any particular post or comment, and I didn't want to make this a meta-discussion about rhetoric in threads. But...

I think that part of the breast-beating part comes from a process where any giving of an inch is taken as a loss of face. Thus, people tend to go full tilt. This is not a 'ritual denunciation', this is the dynamic that develops out of the positions that people take into the conversations.

The fact that "People are castigated almost as if they actually were personally engaged in torture, or terrorism, or violence, simply for engaging in verbal debate." is a sign that people take these ideas seriously. This is not like debate club, where you are assigned a position and regardless whether you agree with it or not, you defend it, this is a discussion where people bring their heartfelt beliefs, and when comments are selectively answered, or answered with empty snark, you can expect anger flowering into increasingly baroque adjectives. (or vice versa) It is not a measure of the validity of one's position, but it is a measure how seriously people take things (as they should).

This is not to say that there is not some merit to what Gary says, but the idea that this is a ritual denunciation, which suggests a formulaic response that doesn't partake any of the actual emotions of the writer misses the point.

Jeff -
You could argue IF the invasion had occured as the most optimistic scenario then it would have been for the good of all (eg no more sadam etc). and that the fairly bad result is a result of a mis-calculation.
The biggest miscalculation is to have allowed the goal of many opposing the war to be just to MAKE it a miscalculation.

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