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April 11, 2014

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Sullivan thinks there is a significant portion of the right which thinks gay marriage is OK because he uses "conservative" and "the right" rather differently than the current Republican politicians. When he uses it, it means essentially what it meant in the US circa Ronald Reagan. (Or what it meant in Britain while he lived there.)

Today, of course, a Republican politician with Reagan's record in office would be lucky to merely be denounced as a RINO. (C.f. the revision of the tax code under Reagan. He was particularly proud of the fact that it provided that those making low incomes would pay zero Federal income taxes. Try selling that view of the "takers" to the Republican base today!)

Discussions of the humanitarian imperative to invade Iraq were frequently trotted out in response to questioning the intelligence, or observing the reluctance to pursue the inspection regime in good faith. At that point, the critic was a monster who wanted the Iraqi people to suffer under the lash of a genocidal dictator in perpetuity

This is an argument that former prime minister Blair still deploys on a regular basis in an effort to confound his critics.

I will refrain from rehearsing my opinion of Blair.

From Charlie Pierce, the leakers are at it again:

Some of the report's other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include: the CIA used interrogation methods that weren't approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters; the agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program; the CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program; the agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General's Office.

The CIA is a disease. It needs to be put down.

That, while true, is like looking at the secondary tumor in your arm, and declaring it a disease, while resolutely defending the main tumor in your torso that it spread from.

Government is a disease. The problem we face is that it can't as yet be cured, the most anybody has ever found a way to do is achieve a temporary remission.

We managed, by means of severe surgery, to get an extended remission in the US. It lasted long enough that some people have forgotten that it's a disease they're looking at, and, now that it's turning virulent again, are in denial about what is really going on.

The CIA? Torture and lies? That's what government really is.

How do you manage to make it through the day Brett?

How do you manage to make it through the day Brett?

government contracts?

Government is a disease.

zzzzzz.....

with all due respect.

Government is a disease

you be sure to let us know the second the armchair anarchists of the world accomplish anything that improves the life of any but their own.

(...or if you know someone who can teach me English grammar this early in the AM)

((...or if you know someone who can teach me how to handle English grammar this early in the AM) see what i mean?)

...any but their own.

That's the whole idea. The problem started when a guy got punished for 'not my brother's keeper' by the self-appointed authority of the time. The same authority that kicked his family off the property they had lived on since (almost) the beginning of time for violating a contract they had not even signed and had no part in formulating.

I have to wonder. If government is a disease, why is it that it is found in some form or another in every human group? Without exception. And when it falls apart (think of Somalia), things are a disaster until it gets pulled back together.

Now you can argue that it is possible to have too much government as well as too little. And probably everybody here would agree with you in principle -- while disagreeing about where the happy medium is.

But to just proclaim that "government is a disease" suggests that any and all government is bad. (After all, what disease can anyone name which it is good to have?) And from your other comments, it is clear that you do believe that there are some legitimate functions of government. So why make sweeping statements that you don't believe yourself? Surely you aren't just looking to start an argument for its own sake....

Government is a disease.

You are disagreeing with some fairly august personages on this point, Brett. People like Madison and Jefferson. Oh, and Lincoln.

Brett's an idealist - ISTM, IMO, AFAICT, etc. He has highly theoretical, normative preferences for How Things Should Be. Government voilates those preferences in any number of ways, mainly by restricting what he can do and mandating what he must do, as matters of law, and by putting power in the hands of other (likely untrustworthy) humans who will abuse it, whether in keeping with the law or otherwise.

This model ignores that many, if not most, of the things he'd like to do would be impossible in a world without government and that other people would be able to do even worse things to him without government than they can with it - (again) ISTM, IMO, AFAICT, etc.

The benefits are invisible and the costs are plain to see.

You could trim all the discussion between bobbyp's comment about CIA torture and HSH's:

The benefits are invisible and the costs are plain to see.

And it would be perfect descriptor for the shroud of secrecy that protects the security apparatus.

I'm not sure we see all the costs.

just want to second hairshirt's 10:51.

I'm hard pressed to find many points of agreement between myself and Brett as far as public policy goes, but I definitely recognize that his point of view is motivated by an ideal that is at least well meant.

No question that government is a PITA and appears to attract more than it's share of crooks, narcissists, and sociopaths.

I'm just not seeing a realistic alternative.

If you're looking for a disease, I'd probably propose human nature.

We're complicated fallible primates, we are.

By way of contrast, I live in a town that was founded in 1629, and also attend a church first gathered in 1629. A guy from my town was killed in Afghanistan, and a member of his family has gone to war - from the town I live in - in every war since the Revolution.

Late to this story but struck by the lecture I got in Boston two weeks ago from a Spanish guy who was struck by how new everything was, and how we confused 4 or 5 centuries with a long history.

It is a perspective I am sure we in America don't grasp. We think that if we haven't had to deal with a problem for twenty years it is gone away (Russia), to the rest of the world that is a blink of an eye.

Marty, it's the same reason that teenagers want to do everything immediately. A time span that seems enormous to the very young seems like the blink of an eye to those who are significantly older. As with individuals, so also with nations.

"I'm just not seeing a realistic alternative."

I'm not either, which is why I said nobody has found a cure for this disease. Doesn't mean I have to pretend I like it.

What I'm saying is, what pisses you all off about the CIA is that it's everything you really ought to expect of government. They're not some kind of abberation.

russell:

In case I wasn't clear (I don't think I was) I just thought these two thoughts go well together:

the CIA used interrogation methods that weren't approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters; the agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program; the CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program; the agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General's Office. (via bobbyp)

and

The benefits are invisible and the costs are plain to see. (HSH)

To me, that list is pretty much a list of costs. Often justified by security benefits that are never really detailed.

I just thought HSH comment, although not in the direction, summed it up really well.

We think that if we haven't had to deal with a problem for twenty years it is gone away (Russia)

Wait, are you telling me Russia hasn't gone away?

What I'm saying is, what pisses you all off about the CIA is that it's everything you really ought to expect of government. They're not some kind of abberation.

Except no. We can look at plenty of other national governments in developed nations and find no analogue. It is an aberration, and to pretend otherwise is ignoring reality. I suppose you could argue that those other nations don't have CIAs because they freeload off of the American CIA's performance of civilization-critical CIA functions for all the Western world, but that'd be a hard sell, to say the least.

I just thought HSH comment, although not in the direction, summed it up really well.

Agreed.

I wasn't really disagreeing with you, it was just my attempt at being rueful.

Is there a "rueful" emoticon?

What I'm saying is, what pisses you all off about the CIA is that it's everything you really ought to expect of government.

Well OK. So where does that leave us?

You trot out a statement that, surprise, surprise, never seems to make it to your radar screen when it comes to the power you wish to dish out willy nilly to private actors who also (history I believe shows this)have every incentive to abuse unaccountable power in a remarkably similar fashion.

To my way of thinking this makes just about every argument you make on just about any subject painfully and obviously risible.

Ah, yeah, sorry about that. I get it now.

Rueful emoticon would be good. It's hard to believe that humans contain a wider range of emotion than can be readily summed up by the available emoticons.

Government is a disease.

The Belgian Congo was king Leopold's private property.

Discuss.

NomVide:

I don't know that I would call the CIA an "aberration" in national governments. Right of the top my head I jump to MI6 as having notably similar tactics to the CIA.

But you expand your view a little, Russia, Middle East, Africa, etc. Lot's of security services that engage in fairly barbaric tactics.

Indeed, those other security services are where we send the people we want tortured but don't want to do it ourselves.

I know the CIA has coordinated with German security for renditions (I can't recall the case specifically, but I'm sure I could dig it out of Google if you need me too).

I can't recall anything specific about other Western European nations, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was some close coordination with the CIA at some point.

Note, I'm not arguing that this is a necessity of civilization (it's not, it's a horrible abuse of human rights). Nor am I defending the CIA by saying other people do it too (that's no defense of torture). But the CIA is hardly an aberration.

What I'm saying is, what pisses you all off about the CIA is that it's everything you really ought to expect of government.

"everything"? silly.

but, as long as we're cynically reducing things to their rawest, most black-and-white caricatures...

the CIA's problem is that it behaves as if it's unaccountable. it's not, but people allow it to act that way for various reasons.

but that is simply politics. and politics occur whenever two people meet regardless of whether it occurs in the context of a formal government, in a business, in a church, on a softball team, or in a family. what makes a person want to avoid holding someone else accountable for something is ... politics. accountability is ... politics.

the CIA's problem is not government. it's politics.

Perhaps I shouldn't have mirrored Brett's use of the term aberration, as it makes it seem a bit too singular. Still, his usage suggests we're silly to view the CIA as unusual, as its behavior is just what governments do. And it's that attitude which had me pointing to the existence of European governments that somehow aren't engaging in that behavior; per Brett, those would be the aberrations, because they're somehow resisting their primal nature by forgoing torture, etc.

Also, complicity in someone else's malfeasance is not the same as doing it yourself.

Also, what cleek said.

Is there a "rueful" emoticon?

Take the emoticon for ennui, add it to the emoticon for apoplexy, and divide them by 2.

#^/

NomVide:

complicity in someone else's malfeasance is not the same as doing it yourself.

True, but I think assisting the CIA in renditions is still pretty bad. If you're point is Western Europeans didn't engage in torture themselves, simply transferred prisoners to where they would be tortured...eh, that's not really that distinct in my moral book.

Also, again, Western Europe isn't most of the world, and there are plenty of security services that engage in barbaric practices.

So I wouldn't consider the CIA "unusual" either.

Also, what cleek said.

I'd agree that cleek was pretty close to bullseye. To me, the CIA does what it does because it is largely unaccountable, at least on the timescale of years. In other words, someone might someday be taken to account, but its so far out it's unlikely to influence behavior.

Not that unaccountability is synonymous with brutality, but that if you have an unaccountable group, they will tend towards corruption. If you allow them to exercise violence, they will overuse violence.

That's not unique to America or any other system of governance. Or any group of more than a few people.

What bothers me about the words "aberration" or "unusual" is that the CIA is acting exactly how I expect they would. How I would expect any group of unaccountable people to act.

Unlike Brett, I don't link it directly to *government* but I do believe it is couple quite closely to *accountability* or lack thereof.

Sorry about my link problems upthread.

My own revision of Brett's point--

When one group of people has power over another group and the second group has no effective means of protest and no powerful allies, there usually will be abuses.

That covers governments and private groups. It explains the CIA--for the most part, the people they hurt are not American citizens (with some exceptions). To the extent that someone reins them in it will be out of altruistic motives. Those can't be counted on.

And returning to my link upthread, it also explains why the US can and does inflict very harsh sanctions on places like Iraq--some Americans will complain, most Americans won't care or will take for granted our right to do such things and will accept any excuse our government trots out. The Iraqis had no powerful allies and no way to exert pressure, so they suffered. I wouldn't expect others to be better than us. On the other hand, the boycott, divestment sanctions movement against Israel (BDS) will never come close to inflicting that sort of pain on Israel (not that I'd want it to) because many more Americans care about Israelis than about Iraqis. There's more accountability there. On the gripping hand (obscure SF reference), fewer care about Palestinians, so we'll keep supporting the occupation.

If government didn't exist, we'd just have warlords and/or armed corporations, so it'd be government again, except a really nasty sort. Something would fill the vacuum.

I just noticed I'm repeating Thompson's point in a slightly different way.

On the gripping hand (obscure SF reference)

I got it. Good one.

Brett is mistaken. Government is not a disease, it is essential. Government, properly done, protects us from each other via codification and enforcement the social compact. However, limiting government overreach is also essential. How and the extent we do that is pretty much the core of the liberal/conservative divide. Subset A of the divide is the differing views of private property and government's role in regulating the use thereof.

What's the gripping hand emoticon?

McKTx, well said at 6:56PM
I would only add that another function of government is to do those necessary tasks that cannot be done by the individual and will not normally get done by privately organized groups.
Again there is a divide about what those tasks are and how far they should be pursued by government.

Subset A of the divide is the differing views of private property and government's role in regulating the use thereof.

Slaves were "private property" once. Hardly anyone, nowadays, would argue that government "over-reached" in regulating slavery out of existence. But plenty of people did, in the early days of the Republic. And some of them were no doubt "liberals" by the definition of their day.

So the line between over-reach and proper regulation is obviously not fixed by some set of eternal logical principles. It is where it happens to be at the moment. As always, the people who want to move the line one way call themselves conservative; the people who want to move it the other way call themselves liberals.

The divide is real. The notion that either side's position is based on any set of permanent principles is at best ahistorical.

--TP

I just noticed I'm repeating Thompson's point in a slightly different way.

Honestly, I liked your version better. Well said.

I actually found myself agreeing with McKinney and thompson, so I think I'll start drinking early tonight.

Well put.

"Gripping hand" is from a Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle SF novel It refers to some asymmetric aliens called Moties with three hands, the largest being the gripping hand. So some people in the novel have been saying "on the one hand, on the other hand, on the gripping hand."

I liked the two Motie novels. We might be heading for a political system like the ones in the novels--one can only hope our fabulously wealthy aristocratic rulers have the same sense of noblesse oblige (sp?) that most of the ones in the novels do. I sorta doubt it.

True, but I think assisting the CIA in renditions is still pretty bad. If you're point is Western Europeans didn't engage in torture themselves, simply transferred prisoners to where they would be tortured...eh, that's not really that distinct in my moral book.

No argument that it's awful morally... but as a practical matter, having organizations that are merely willing and able to turn a blind eye to malfeasance or even passively assist is leaps and bounds better than having organizations that are willing and able to initiate the malfeasance. They're both staffed with bad people (if you prefer, corrupt people), and to continue the theme upthread, the only difference between them might ultimately how accountable they're being held. But as a practical matter, I'd much rather have the former than the latter if forced to choose.

Also, again, Western Europe isn't most of the world, and there are plenty of security services that engage in barbaric practices.

...and I don't protest this at all. Again again, my reason for mentioning to Western Europe is to point out that this is not an intrinsic part of government, or even security services. As someone upthread put it more eloquently than I could hope to: "Unlike Brett, I don't link [CIA-style malfeasance] directly to *government* but I do believe it is couple quite closely to *accountability* or lack thereof."

"Passively assist" DNE "ship a prisoner to". Unless maybe you want to say the guys running the trains to the death camps were "passively assisting" in the Holocaust. Now, maybe the people fueling the plane, not knowing who was on it, or to what end, were "passively assisting". Not the guys who booked the flight, and made sure the victim was on it.

"my reason for mentioning to Western Europe is to point out that this is not an intrinsic part of government,"

Any more than sharp teeth and an appetite are an intrinsic part of a tiger. You can pull all his teeth, declaw him, and put him on diet drugs, after all!

Look, is it possible to defang the government, to so wrap it in chains that it doesn't do nasty stuff even people who love government have a hard time stomaching? Of course it is!

The problem, I think, comes in when people make the error of thinking the tiger is a kitten, and doesn't NEED to be wrapped in chains, because it's an inherently benign institution.

We wrap the government in chains called a constitution, subject it to incentives to actually do something useful, called elections, because, absent these things, government gets really nasty. Holocaust nasty. Great leap forward nasty. The horrors of the 20th century weren't committed by aberrant governments. They were committed by unfettered governments, governments free to do what they want.

And the government is always trying to slip these chains. Render elections moot by controlling political speech, or arranging for all the candidates to be in agreement. Render constitutions moot by selecting judges who will treat rules like suggestions, and words like silly putty.

And the government's best ally in it's perpetual effort to be freed to be a predator again, is the person who thinks government isn't dangerous, and wants it's limits taken off so it can do more useful stuff.

Including idiots who want the government to be able to run a Panopiticon surveillance state, of the sort that can feed it dirt on it's enemies, a "ham sandwich nation" where everyone can be prosecuted, because there are too many laws to obey them all.

You don't need to intend the Gulag to enable it. You just need to think you're dealing with Aladdin's genie, when you're really faced with Godzilla.

The problem, I think, comes in when people make the error of thinking the tiger is a kitten, and doesn't NEED to be wrapped in chains, because it's an inherently benign institution.

This, on a thread where people are decrying the CIA's and our government-in-general's horrible, immoral treatment of people in other nations.

The problem, I think, is when people look at things in binary, black-and-white terms, as though you have a choice between only a tiger or a kitten. Are there no Labrador Retrievers anymore?

Slaves were "private property" once. Hardly anyone, nowadays, would argue that government "over-reached" in regulating slavery out of existence. But plenty of people did, in the early days of the Republic. And some of them were no doubt "liberals" by the definition of their day.

I am not sure what point is being made here. Gov't didn't regulate slavery out of existence. It fought a war and during that war it passed a constitutional amendment. I am happy to put my property rights at risk by a constitutional amendment, not so much by unelected regulators.

More to the point, I imagine that some opponents of slavery owned their own homes, and possibly farms, stores or other businesses. I suspect that they, by opposing slavery, did not intend to subject their right to own non-human property to regulatory whim. But, I'm just guessing here. You could be right. Owning other humans really isn't that much different than owning a toothbrush.

I actually found myself agreeing with McKinney and thompson, so I think I'll start drinking early tonight.

If you started early--and I started late--there is a good chance that, despite our time zone differences (among other differences), we were drinking together, albeit several thousand miles apart.

Owning other humans really isn't that much different than owning a toothbrush.

Well, how would you describe the mindset of the average slave owner in, say, 1820?

Owning other humans really isn't that much different than owning a toothbrush.

Do you mean morally? Or philosophically? Or legally? Or what?

In Roman law slaves were things (res) not persons and could never get their human status fully back even when released. Children of released slaves were not affected though. The main difference to later times was that any person could become a slave, so no group was excluded. The racial component was yet absent as far as the status went.

The racial component was yet absent as far as the status went.

The racial component just did a bang-up job of anticipating the need to stop and frisk certain kinds of people.

Can anyone guess why I was just reading about non-Euclidean geometry?

HSH: I'm guessing that this thread triggered the decision to try to slip clear out of this tedious and tendentious dimension entirely.

Well, I only mentioned it on this thread because this is an open thread. I suppose that's a hint, if not a very good one. So, I'll improve it by noting that it wasn't anything from this post that started me on my path to triangles having the sums of their angles equaling less than 180 degrees.

non-Euclidean geometry is a myth and tool of the devil. So, win-win.

No need to be hyperbolic...

Ugh, I would never have taken you for a flat-earth type. But if the earth is a sphere, then geomerty here is non-Euclidian. Just sayin'

Sperical triangles have angles that add up to more than 180 degrees, IIRC. I can think of one in particular that adds up to 270 degrees.

Less than 180 degrees? It turns out CharlesWT has nailed it. Can't imagine the application, though. I haven't seen common applications of hyperbolae since LORAN was in common use.

Triangles can get up to 900° sum of angles (extreme case on the surface of a sphere). Not sure what the minimum is (I think saddle surfaces produce <180°).

Good ol' Brett: And the government is always trying to slip these chains. Render elections moot by controlling political speech ...

... or by passing "voter ID" laws to discourage certain voters.

Those are state governments, mind you, not the hated federal one. And they are Republican-controlled state governments. (The GOP prefers to "win" elections rather than try to earn the most votes.)

So what's Brett's position on "voter ID"? Is he more offended by laws which inconvenience rich donors than by laws which inconvenience poor voters? Would he tolerate a national ID card to "preserve the integrity of the vote"?

--TP

hairshirt: ... it wasn't anything from this post that started me on my path to triangles having the sums of their angles equaling less than 180 degrees.

Then you haven't been paying attention, hsh. How many times have I explained that certain political beliefs are like Euclid's 5th axiom?

--TP

McKinney: I am not sure what point is being made here.

Ahem: "The notion that either side's position is based on any set of permanent principles is at best ahistorical."

--TP

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