« Storm Clouds | Main | Hasten the Day! »

August 14, 2005

Partisan Stupidity

A condensed and not-entirely-fair version of something that's driving me batty on the comment thread of this entry:

Me: The Bush adminstration's argument that foreign nationals in airports have almost no rights is appalling.

Commentor #1: Well, that's because you're a left-leaning partisan.

Me: No, I would find the argument appalling if it were made by liberal government as well.

Commentor #1: You're clearly parroting the verbiage of your undergraduate professors.

Me: I went to the University of Chicago, which is a conservative political powerhouse. I suspect they would be appalled too. But this isn't about partisan politics.

Commentor #1: Aren't we just exaggerating -- for purely partisan purposes?

Me: Not really, and again, this isn't about partisan politics, and I wish you'd stop saying it was.

Commentor #2: I'm not Commentor #1, and this is absolutely about partisan politics.

Me: [expletive deleted]

My question: Have people been so well-trained to think of everything in partisan terms that they simply can't conceive of another model in which to think? Is the idea that someone else might be thinking of something in non-politically partisan terms is so foreign at this point that they literally can't wrap their brains around it? What the hell is wrong with people? When did independent thinking become so goddamned difficult?

Mind you, some of this line of questioning is due to simple irritation: I get annoyed when I state something and people then repeatedly suggest that I don't actually mean what I've just stated. Not to get all hoity-toity about it, but, you know what, I've been a professional writer for fifteen years, and I have a degree in the philosophy of language. I know how to use words. So there's a pretty decent chance when I say something like, oh, that my contempt for the Bush administration has less to do with its conservative politics than with its authoritarian streak, which is largely independent of classically conservative thought, and that I would oppose the same authoritarian tendencies in a "liberal" government as well, that I actually mean exactly what I've just written, and that flouncing along to say "oh, well, you're really just a partisan hack and you don't really mean what you just wrote" might actually offend me. And saying it four or five times in sequence -- after I've corrected you each time -- might actually cause me to think you're a friggin' moron. So, yes, irritation is definitely a causative factor here.

However, it goes beyond that. Watching people apparently just not get that there's a mode of political thought outside the banally partisan is appalling. It's depressing to see people fly back to that mode of thinking, like a homing pigeon batted out of a holding cage, because they apparently can't conceive that anyone could think otherwise; they simply don't believe you when you suggest your mode of thinking plots out off the right-left political axis.

Is it a failure of the imagination or simply cynicism? I mean, I'm on record saying that I would rather be in the company of rational conservatives than irrational liberals; I'm on record hating everyone's politics equally. For God's sake, I'm even on record saying that I think George Bush is probably himself a nice enough guy, and I've been the first to note when I think he's done something right. I have a fairly extensive track record of independent political thought; is it really that hard to believe it when I say my loathing of the Bush adminstration's attempt to suggest foreigners in airports have no real rights is essentially independent of the GOP, the Democrats, Fox News and the New York Times, the National Review and the Nation, DailyKos and LittleGreenFootballs?

Can one not suggest one would like to stand up for the moral ideals one believes the nation should stand for (in this case, not nabbing foreigners out of airports and detaining them without food or due process, and then shipping them off to another country to be tortured) without such an idea being dismissed has partisan hackery? You know what I would say to a conservative who agreed that we shouldn't be depriving foreigners of due process and shuttling them off to Syria to be tortured? Thank you. You know what I would say to a liberal who thought it was perfectly fine (because, after all, that foreigner's not a citizen)? Piss off.

And you know what else? I know there are conservatives who think it's wrong and I know there are liberals who think it's perfectly okay. And you know why? Because it's not a partisan issue. It's a conceptual issue, of how the United States should be, and how it should present itself to the world. That concept cuts across party lines and political boundaries, and I'm proud to stand with anyone of any political creed who thinks on this subject as I do. We may disagree on the particulars of how the US should be run, but we agree on the idea of what the US should be. Rather sadly, it doesn't seem to be the same idea the current adminstration has, but perhaps time and an election or two will fix that. One may hope.

In the meantime, if you want to accuse me of partisanship, make sure you understand what I am partisan about. As a hint, it's not about the left or the right. I leave it to you to figure it out from there.

Posted by john at August 14, 2005 03:11 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.scalzi.com/mt2/mt-tb.cgi/3280

Comments

Burns! | August 14, 2005 05:37 AM

Suggesting that you are not engaging in partisan politics on this issue is clearly just another partisan tactic.

Hack. Commie. Party line-toer. 'merica hater.

(We must label any view point opposing our own as partisan politics, or the evil-doers have won.)

Mris | August 14, 2005 07:24 AM

One of the things that has frustrated me most in this argument is that a conservative I know finally articulated why she thought this was all partisan. "The Republicans [that is, Republican politicians] don't run around hoping to ship innocents off to be tortured!" I think this is true. I think that most conservative politicians really, really hope that the laws and rulings they support will not lead to the torture of innocents. The problem is, I don't really care what they hope and intend, I care what they do. And I can't see why more of my conservative friends and family members see it as out of line and partisan to look at what a bill or ruling or whatever actually permits instead of what they wished it would say if we had the magic guiltometer they wish we had.

Andrew | August 14, 2005 08:58 AM

Sadly the experiences you write about are as likely to come from a left-wing ideologue as a right wing one.

I went to law school in the 80's and was progressive. For I time I was a member of and active in the New Democratic party; for Non-Canadians that is our version of the Socialist/Social Democrat/Labour party. Change the subject from detention of foreign nationals to something else (e.g liberalized trade rules) and you were branded a partisan hack for the right.

Eventually I decided that partisan politics at the activist level is the preserve of those who don't think for themselves, but merely parrot the party line. I am much happier now being decidedly a-political; I vote in every election for whatever candidate I feel like voting for.

Cheers
Andrew

Rob 'Autographedc Cat' Wynne | August 14, 2005 09:02 AM

From my quotes file, I noted:

"Sometimes I think the "blogosphere" functions as a machine for reassuring righties that all left types are as crazy as the ditziest college lesbo-vegan,
and reassuring lefties that all right-wingers are barely suppressed maniacs who live on ammunition and raw meat."

--Patrick Nielsen Hayden

And honestly, the mainstream news is getting almost this bad. After the election, I realized that actually keeping up with everything was making me severely depressed, and dropped most of the blogs I was reading and stopped obsessively following the news. I still catch NPR in the afternoons for a short bit most days, and I still read those blogs which are consistantly interesting and not entirely about politics, but by and large I decided to focus on my own life and the people immediately connected to it and spend less time worring about what was going on "in the world".

Now, some months later, I have two observations about this:

1) I'm happier as a rule than I was before. Clearly this was a good decision for my mental health.

2) I feel a sense of loss, because I let them drive me out of the arena. Unfortunately, I don't know that I anymore have the strength of will to maintain the moral outrage necessary to be a useful advocate of change.

Ultimately, I'm tired.....no, more than tired, bone-weary, of partisan bickering. I'd like to see a real debate of ideas among our leaders, rather than personal demonizing. And until that happens, I think I'll just spend time being with the people I love and hope that it all works out of for the best.

For better or for worse, I'm disengaged. :/

Dean | August 14, 2005 09:42 AM

Someone should point out to Todd and Brian that their stubborn insistence that you are engaging in partisan politics is itself partisan politics. Note that my saying so can't be partisan because I'm Canadian, and my only stake in this whole affair is that I'd like it NOT to be possible for officials in your country to haul me off a flight and ship me off to an arbitrary third country for 'questioning'.

But to the question at hand:

I think that the natural human mode is one of polarization. We're a tribal organism, and that tribalism is expressed a million different ways: the wariness we feel around strangers, the wearing of sports team jerseys, the concept of the nation.

We are all tribal, and that's what partisan politics amounts to. Todd and Brian attack because they perceive that you have attacked their tribe (they, should they read this, will probably get all bent out of shape and call me ridiculous, but tough shit).

I've written something about this, but I can't find it at the moment. The thing that I've noticed about American politics is how strongly it is polarized, how completely both factions give in to their tribal impulses. People on the left aren't just lefties with different opinions, they are traitors. People on the right aren't just conservatives who don't think the same way as you do, they're Nazis.

That mindset sees absolutely everything in partisan terms. If they're on the left, the mainstream media are tools of corporate America, ignoring the abuses going on in Iraq and the rape of... well, insert location of choice here. If they're on the right, the mainstream media is practically working in collusion with the enemy, and are trying to defeat the US in Iraq.

I'm not saying things aren't partisan in Canada and elsewhere: they are. But what is different in the US is the virulence of the tone, the degree to which people are willing to give in to their tribal instincts. In Canada, somebody like Ann Coulter, for example, would probably be considered a nut rather than a commentator. She's just an example: there are others on both sides who are equally irresponsible. I pick Coulter because she's probably the best known.

Sue | August 14, 2005 09:59 AM

It's all part of the death of civil discourse. Go outside sometime and you'll hear a strange, faint sound. It's the sound of the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves.

Dearth Verbose | August 14, 2005 10:05 AM

Please notice that the comments which offended you are not directed at the ideas you were discussing, but instead, are directed at you personally. This is a tried and true technique of people who are unable to deal with those ideas directly. Instead of attacking the ideas, they attack the person. Such people are to be simply ignored. There’s always a few of those around.

theeviljwinter | August 14, 2005 10:06 AM

Ideology is the opiate of the people.

And America seriously needs to go to Betty Ford.

Todd | August 14, 2005 10:21 AM

John:

Thank you for considering the issue in more depth. In retrospect, my remarks about your undergraduate education and real motives were off-topic, and I hereby "strike them from the record." There was, I think we can agree, a bit of mud-flinging on both sides of yesterday's debate.

On the larger issue of whether or not the U.S. has become a "totalitarian country" because of cases like Mr. Arar: I acknowledged several times that Mr. Arar seemed (based on the facts presented in the NYT) to have been treated unfairly. I would be all for sending him a nice check at taxpayer expense.

At the same time, I think we have to consider the context in which Mr. Arar (and other Islamic males) are receiving additional scrutiny. As I noted yesterday, Islamic terrorists have succeeded in killing thousands of Westerners in terrorist attacks in recent years. We cannot simply wish this fact away or ignore it. This means that we need to apply more scrutiny to Islamic groups, and yes, in some cases, individual Islamic males who board planes and buses. If the procedures that caused Mr. Arar his problems keep terrorists off of planes, then I am all for continuing them.

As for the expansion of Executive powers: FDR and Truman both denied the right of organized labor to strike (during WWII and Korea). Johnson put FBI wiretaps on anti-war radicals during the Vietnam conflict. Clinton applied a *very* heavy hand at Waco and Ruby Ridge on domestic dissidents who were potential terrorists. Given the context of the threat we are facing and the aforementioned historical precedents, I don't think that the Bush Administration is going over the top. You are of course entitled to disagree on this point.

Perhaps I spoke too hastily in calling you a liberal. It is, however, my opinion that many liberal commentators criticize the current security measures as if they were occurring in a vacuum, without acknowledging the threat we face. Your remarks about "totalitarism" seemed remniscent of such arguments.

While I am sure that you are not a supporter of terrorism, the overall bent of your blog would lead one to believe that you are more enraged by Mr. Arar's case than you are over the terrorist attacks that prompted the extra security measures in the first place. While you have expressed disapproval for those who "hijack the peaceful religion of Islam" [paraphrase] for violent ends, you are clearly more emotional when attacking Bush and Ashcroft. This is the subtlety that led me to question your true motives.

John Scalzi | August 14, 2005 10:28 AM

"Sadly the experiences you write about are as likely to come from a left-wing ideologue as a right wing one. "

Yes, this is axiomatic. If you think everything is partisan, it doesn't matter where on the partisan spectrum you reside.

Dane | August 14, 2005 10:43 AM

Independent thought is a partisan side. Yielding to logic from an unrestrained mind gives creedence to it...and in so doing weakens the position of the party.

Personally I am okay with that...but then I'd like to think I am part of the Independent-thought Party.

Vote your conscience in 2008. Between us and them, I choose me.

David Klecha | August 14, 2005 10:54 AM

Todd:

The problem is not whether one incident or another "engages" you more or less, in this case it is whether or not the incident of Mr. Arar heralds an erosion of civil rights.

The vast, vast majority of Muslim males did not kill thousands of Westerners, and they were not involved in such. To deny them civil rights, even foreign guests, smacks of totalitarianism any way you slice it, and could herald further erosions with the "successful" application of this policy as a precedent.

Striking the balance between freedom and security requires a very careful touch, as has been discussed ad nauseum since 2001. It strikes me, and others, that the Bush administration is not going about this carefully, rather throwing half-baked solutions at perceived problems and hoping to achieve results.

This is not the sort of approach that makes me feel very comfortable, though specific policies such as this can appeal on a more visceral level. The problem is, terrorism is not going to be solved by thumping our chests and shedding tears over the lost and denying rights to the distant cousins of the killers. It must be thought out better than it has, with an approach to root problems (as well as the targeting of specific, known actors), or it is doomed to failure.

The question is not a partisan one; it is at once one of rights and freedoms, but also of strategy. To ignore both is to walk blindly down a dark alley, and we'll be lucky if it only garners us a headache and an empty wallet.

John Scalzi | August 14, 2005 11:02 AM

Todd:

"While I am sure that you are not a supporter of terrorism, the overall bent of your blog would lead one to believe that you are more enraged by Mr. Arar's case than you are over the terrorist attacks that prompted the extra security measures in the first place."

Mmmm, no. I think the overall bent of the blog has been consistent with what I originally wrote on September 14, 2001:

But here and now, yes, let's go have a war. The murder of several thousand of our people is an excellent reason to hunt down the perpetrators, kill 'em dead and then hunt down any other folks who'd like to repeat the performance. I don't believe we need to have World War III to do this; I don't believe in tossing out every single one of my civil rights to do it; I'm not keen on making Afghanistan a permanent holding of an American Empire. I believe we should fight smart, fight hard, and then we should clean up after ourselves. Hey, the Marshall Plan did wonders for the Germans, and we turned their country into raw pavement. I'm all for that kind of war.

There are a number of other times I've been rather clearly less than sympathetic to anyone who suggests we should be doing less than lodging a bullet in the skull of those who killed our own.

However, as noted above, I firmly believe this can be done without greviously wounding civil rights, both mine and those of others. I am rather fiercely protective of civil rights because I am aware historically that once they are taken away they are usually difficult to get back, and by its deeds and actions, I am convinced this adminstration is not particularly concerned by this, and I don't find this fact in the slightest bit trivial.

One can be simultaneously enthusiastic about hunting down and eradicating terrorists and vehemently opposed to what appears to be an arbitrary carving up of civil and human rights by the administration; they are not opposing thoughts.

What is true enough is that recently I've written more about my dislike for the Bush administration than my dislike for terrorists, but the reason for that is simple: Bush's actions are proximate in the time stream. And as I've also said time and again, one should not assume that one entry here needs to cover all the bases. I'm not going to preface everything I write about Bush by saying "As you all know, I hate terrorists and blah blah bah," because among other things, it's boring to write.

In any event, Todd, if you or anyone else wanted to know if I was more enraged by the actions of Bush than by the actions of the terrorists, rather than just assuming I was, you could have asked. I would have given you an answer.

sxKitten | August 14, 2005 11:13 AM

Todd: I think you've missed the main thing that bothers most of us about the situation. I haven't seen anyone arguing that the US doesn't have a right to protect itself from terrorists. Where most of us have a problem is the statement, by a US government lawyer, that not only is it perfectly OK to arrest people who are passing through a US airport on their way elsewhere, but that they "can be detained without charge, denied the right to consult a lawyer, and even refused necessities such as food and sleep." and that, at best, they "have the right not to be subjected to gross physical abuse.""(CBC news
)

Arresting a suspected terrorist? Yeah, I'm pretty much OK with that, even given your current administration's ability to interpret evidence (WMD, anyone?). But the rest of it scares me more than just a little bit. It's carte blanche to do whatever you want, short of murder, to people who's only crime may be that they're not American.

Dean | August 14, 2005 11:15 AM

While I am sure that you are not a supporter of terrorism,

Just as I'm sure you're not an actual Nazi, Todd.

(Big hint: I'm being deliberately ironic here, Todd.)

I'm not going to dignify this particular stupidity any further.

the overall bent of your blog would lead one to believe that you are more enraged by Mr. Arar's case than you are over the terrorist attacks that prompted the extra security measures in the first place.

Oh for God's sake. I mean, come ON. You can't be this thick, can you?

Should anyone who comments preface their remarks by just how outraged they are over the attacks? Is someone's right to hold an opinion qualified by their degree of hurt?

There is a difference between a vicious, deliberate act of violence by an outlaw organization and what was done to Mr. Arar. And whether it causes your head to explode with rage or not, thinking people are right to be more concerned over what happened to Arar than what happened at the WTC.

Heretical, yes. But no matter what anybody says, you CANNOT PREVENT TERRORIST ATTACK. You can't. The experience in Israel proves this. Babbling about racial profiling and homeland security won't change it. If Al Quaeda (or whoever) want to launch an attack, they will.

On the other hand, Arar was deliberately and deceptively shipped off to a third country where US officials knew he would be tortured. He was a Canadian citizen, and instead of being 'deported' here, he was sent to Syria, which, oddly enough, is now supposed to be a hotbed of terrorism, and might be next on the invasion list. It is to my shame that my country, Canada, participated in this travesty.

The difference is that what was done to Arar was done by official policy, and the administration is arguing that it should continue to have the right to do so. This attempt to prevent judicial oversight, combined with the setting up of an offshore prison in Cuba and disturbing stories of severe prison abuse out of Iraq and Afghanistan, it should make the average American nervous. Hell, it makes me nervous, and I don't have to live there.

Dean | August 14, 2005 11:22 AM

In any event, Todd, if you or anyone else wanted to know if I was more enraged by the actions of Bush than by the actions of the terrorists, rather than just assuming I was, you could have asked.

You shouldn't have to justify this. It is absurd. Your right to comment on something as important as this is not predicated on your degree of outrage over another issue.

The veiled language in Todd's accusation is this: you display insufficient fervour in your condemnation of the terrorist attacks, and therefore you don't have the right to an opinion.

John Scalzi | August 14, 2005 11:35 AM

Dean:

"You shouldn't have to justify this."

I don't see it as justification; merely clarification. I have been writing the Whatever since 1998, after all. That's a lot of ground to cover. Also, as a practical matter, my stats tell me the large majority of readers have started coming to this place in the last couple of years (specifically, since 3/03, when I moved to Movable Type and added comments). So, you know. He may have missed things.

Hao | August 14, 2005 12:52 PM

Todd:

"As for the expansion of Executive powers: FDR and Truman both denied the right of organized labor to strike (during WWII and Korea). Johnson put FBI wiretaps on anti-war radicals during the Vietnam conflict. Clinton applied a *very* heavy hand at Waco and Ruby Ridge on domestic dissidents who were potential terrorists. Given the context of the threat we are facing and the aforementioned historical precedents, I don't think that the Bush Administration is going over the top. You are of course entitled to disagree on this point."

Historical precedents are a bad justification for present action. Nixon tried to cover up Watergate only to be pardoned by Ford. Does this mean all presidents are allowed to pull shady actions like that and get away with it?

You also noticeably left out the internment of over a hundred-thousand Japanese and Japanese-Americans during WWII, who were later apologized and paid reparations to.

As mentioned by Dean, there is no way to prevent terrorist attacks. No security system is 100% effective. Terrorists are already the most determined to break through security systems to cause damage at any cost. (eg. suicide bombers) Personally, I don't think the extra security is really going to stop future attacks, and I'm certainly unwilling to part with my basic civil rights (and those of foreign nationals in our airports) to implement it, when it has problems with corruption, lax enforcement, and Geneva convention violations.

Next you're going to say that because Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused the end of WWII (partially true), the US is then justified in using nuclear weapons to end future full-blown conflicts.

Harry Connolly | August 14, 2005 12:53 PM

I don't see it as justification; merely clarification.

You miss the point, John. This is the latest tactic on blog debates: You accuse someone of having a ridiculous, repellant position and force them to defend themselves.

It doesn't matter if the accusation is baseless. It doesn't matter if they made it up out of thin air. All that matters is that the other guy feels that they have to clarify their position and prove that no, they aren't fucking apologists for terrorists.

Todd and people like him will never ask your opinion, not when they can throw around baseless, insulting accusations.

John Scalzi | August 14, 2005 01:09 PM

Harry Connolly:

"This is the latest tactic on blog debates: You accuse someone of having a ridiculous, repellant position and force them to defend themselves."

The latest? Indeed not. This tactic has been around as long as people have been online (and indeed long before that: "When did you stop beating your wife, Senator?"). However, to suggest that Todd is doing this would imply he exhibits a level of rhetorical Machiavellianism that I don't think is in evidence. He's not rhetorically manipulative as far as I can see (or, at the very least, if he's trying to be he's not doing very well at it), he's just stuck in a conceptual rut.

If popping up examples of how my thinking is not strictly partisan cracks his skull open to the concept that such a thing might be possible, then I'd like to think I'm doing God's work. If it doesn't, then I'll be happy to call him a tool again and have done with him.

Ian Mathers | August 14, 2005 01:23 PM

Todd:

"additional scrutiny" /= shipping a Canadian citizen to SYRIA.

Please stop making it sound as if what we're objecting to are reasonable measures. A little additional scrutiny, minus the gross infringement of a human being's rights, that's fine. But that's also not what happened.

NB. - before someone tries to bring this up as a mitigating factor, I am aware of the shameful partial complicity of elements of the Canadian government in Arar's case. I'm just as enraged with them, if not more, and it's not a mitigating factor at all - what the US did and is now arguing they are allowed to do is wrong, whether or not another government agreed with them at the time.

mythago | August 14, 2005 01:27 PM

I don't think you have to paint Todd as a Machiavellian mustache-twirler to note the rhetorical games he's playing. Of course he could merely be aping those tactics because on some level, he's absorbed them from other partisans--but I give him the benefit of the doubt for being intelligent rather than stupid. Intelligence suggests deliberation.

At the same time, I think we have to consider the context in which Mr. Arar (and other Islamic males) are receiving additional scrutiny.

The issue, as you're well aware, is not "additional scrutiny." The issue is not whether Mr. Arar was detained at the airport while his papers were checked, or whether he was turned back to Canada.

What's going on is that he was detained in abusive conditions and shipped to Syria, a country of which he is not a citizen, out of American or Canadian custody; and the government's response to this is to argue that Mr. Arar should not even be allowed to present his case against the government to a court.

I'm so pleased that you think Mr. Arar should get a check. Perhaps you'll also suggest that instead of jailing rapists, we merely force them to pay their victims the going rate they'd have paid a prostitute.

JonathanMoeller | August 14, 2005 01:45 PM

"My question: Have people been so well-trained to think of everything in partisan terms that they simply can't conceive of another model in which to think?"

Yes.

"Is the idea that someone else might be thinking of something in non-politically partisan terms is so foreign at this point that they literally can't wrap their brains around it?"

Also yes.

"What the hell is wrong with people?"

Several excellent books have been written on this subject, along with legions of poor ones; the consensus is that something should really be done about it.

"When did independent thinking become so goddamned difficult?"

As a popular activity, it'll probably never beat out NASCAR, literary criticism, and televised news.

Though it is nothing new. Look what happened to the guy who voted against Andrew Johnson's impeachment.

John Scalzi | August 14, 2005 01:45 PM

Mythago:

"I don't think you have to paint Todd as a Machiavellian mustache-twirler to note the rhetorical games he's playing."

I see he's attempting certain rhetorical maneuvers. I don't think he's actually being disingenuous, however. I just don't think he reasons very clearly (one can be intelligent and still argue poorly). And I think one of the reasons for his poor arguing skills is the lack of conceptual framework outside a partisan context.

Additionally I think he undervalues the significance of the government trying to brush off someone who they allowed to be tortured by saying he doesn't have standing to complain, and to incidentally suggest that foreign citizens have no real rights in our airports. Fortunately others seem happy to explain to him why that's a problem.

mythago | August 14, 2005 02:06 PM

To be pedantic, the government isn't saying (as far as the article seems to suggest) that Mr. Arar doesn't have stnading to sue--but that the government has super-double-secret evidence, which the judge isn't cleared to know, that they're right and so the case should be dismissed. Which is actually way worse.

OneWeeFactAgain | August 14, 2005 02:26 PM

Todd said: "Clinton applied a *very* heavy hand at Waco and Ruby Ridge on domestic dissidents who were potential terrorists."

Oh really? Todd, as I suggested in the previous thread, you have been listening to too much rightwing propaganda. Bill Clinton was not President when the Ruby Ridge incident occurred. Some dude whose name begins with a 'B" and ends with "ush" was. I understand that those of your apparent political persuasion like to blame Clinton for everything, but let's try not to live in completely, egregiously fact-free unreality zone, ok?

(I harp on this because it is just a perfect example of how the rightwing has convinced itself that Clinton and the "liberals" are responsible for every bad thing under the sun, even to the point of ignoring very recent historical facts. It's frightening, actually, the extent to which blatant untruths are accepted as gospel by a certain segment of the population.)

Todd, Google is your friend - please check the date of the Ruby Ridge incident, and then check the date of Clinton's first inauguration. And then reflect on what you learn and do us all a favor and ask yourself what else they've lied to you about...

Steve Brady | August 14, 2005 03:49 PM

Come on, let's not make it too difficult for him.

The incidents at Ruby Ridge occured in August of 1992.

In August of 1992, Bill Clinton was the Governor of Arkansas.

Ruby Ridge is in Idaho.

That's some long reach for the Governor.

You can see how the lie became truth by clicking this:

http://pinkchimp.blogspot.com/2005/04/ministry-of-truth-meets-mighty.html

bill blum | August 14, 2005 03:56 PM

John's just an apologist for In-n-Out, and can't stand that White Castle has taken the high ground here in the Midwest.

John Scalzi | August 14, 2005 04:30 PM

Let us never speak of White Castle again.

Dean | August 14, 2005 05:32 PM

It may just be me, but 'In-n-Out' sounds sort of dirty.

pecunium [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 14, 2005 05:55 PM

If the procedures that caused Mr. Arar his problems keep terrorists off of planes, then I am all for continuing them.

Quite apart from the morality of the issue at hand (sending someone to be tortured, just because he happened to be passing through, and making up for it later, with a check) the problem is we can't say this is the case.

As for the thousands killed: so what?

We (at least I) accept a high level of deaths from the private ownership of firearms. We call this the price of doing business; i.e. we say we value the freedoms attached to that private ownership enough to accept the collateral damage.

I, for one, am more than willing to accept the risk of someone figuring out how to attack us, in exchange for living in a free country.

Honestly, the greater terrorist threat is from white males who are citizens (The FBI says it's stopped something like 60 plots in the past few years, of those self-same white males). Given the things being discussed (shoot to kill, on suspicion, exporting people passing through [not planning to enter the U.S.] to third countries [and saying we get to choose which countries get them, recall that Mr. Arar was a Canadian citizen when we, without telling Canada, shipped him to Syria, black-bag jobs in the U.S., with the only oversight being the Director of the FBI... which is what the Rules Committee got put into the new; permanent, PATRIOT Act, and so on).

So, saying one is willing to give up essential liberties for percieved safties, well that's a bad trade-off.

It is, however, my opinion that many liberal commentators criticize the current security measures as if they were occurring in a vacuum, without acknowledging the threat we face.

Feel free to call me a liberal. I used to be centrist, with a slight tilt to the right. The nation's politics have shifted, and the present administration has, to some degree, radicalized me. On the other hand, I've been publishing my thoughts political for the past 20 years, and, all in all, I have't changed my core beliefs that much.

I see too many of those who agree with, or are just willing to accept,the policies I disagree with, acting as if the problems of terrorism (which isn't new) somehow make the entire idea of civil liberties, "quaint" to quote the Atty General.

Espcially in times like this they need to be defended, and pointing out that other presidents have abused them in the name of "national security" doesn't make the Alien and Sedition act, nor the later examples of the same, nor the abuse of Executive Power any more palatable.

Just because Cain killed Able, and leaders have been supressing citizens and subjects doesn't make it right, and I shan't agree that previous wrongs excuse present ones.

As for the assertion that I am more enraged by the treatement of Mr. Arrar than I am by the causes for his abuse and (in my mind) criminal mistreatement, you are right.

The people who commit terrorists acts are outside of my country. They don't commit atrocities in my name. Just as I am more offended, because I am a Roman Catholic, when a priest commits a crime, esp. a violation of trust; stemming from the relationship between pastor and flock, than I am when a Presbetyrian minster does, so too am I offended when evil deeds are done in my name.

Criminal behavior is criminal bahavior; making me complicit in heinous behavoir, well I want no truck with it, and will say those who taint me, by doing such things in my name, and, "for your own good," get nothing but my scorn, and that only if I am being generous.

TK

John H | August 14, 2005 06:05 PM

In addition to the fact that Ruby Ridge occurred in 1992 (prior to Bill Clinton), the standoff in Waco began in February 1993 (one month into the Clinton administration) when the Branch Davidians shot and killed four ATF agents trying to serve a warrant to David Koresh. After seven weeks the FBI tried to end the standoff by storming the compund, only to have a massive fire break out inside, killing 80 of the cult members (including 25 children).

It's impossible to pin Ruby Ridge on Bill Clinton's administration, and only the most cynical (or partisan) conservative could blame Clinton for what happened at Waco.

Bill Blum | August 14, 2005 07:20 PM

I'm glad I'm not the only one who's bothered by people who see the world thru partisan-filtered glasses...

Scott | August 14, 2005 08:55 PM

I have stopped all political discussions with a friend of mine, because he has become incapable of listening to anything that doesn't directly support his opinions. All discussion, commentary, and evidence which may impinge on his current beliefs is summarily dismissed as "Bush hate" or "Liberal Media Hackery" or whatever. He has grown a boundless capacity to not pay attention to what's happening. I sometimes wonder if he has a magic 8-Ball to tell him which of his pre-canned "there's no reason to believe that" responses he'll give.

In other news: The context of our current dangers, and threats from terrorism are the same threats and dangers from terrorism the world has been facing since... umm... 10K BC or so, give or take a million years.

There are a lot of determined people who want to hurt and/or kill and/or enslave us.

Various time throughout history people have responded in a wide assortment of ways. Somehow, I thought this country was founded on the concept that the response "form a police state" wasn't fundamentally correct. I guess I was educated some crazy liberal hippies.

Do you think that the average African American female living in South Central Los Angeles is at significantly greater risk today, with the global terrorism situation than she was 10 years ago? Why is it that now police-statism is the correct answer? I'm honestly not trying to conflate racism with the Executive Response. Please believe me when I tell you (now) that my point is that a lot of people have been in a lot of danger from violent criminals for a long time, and we all agreed then that the response was to continue being a free liberal democracy. I think that it's the correct answer now as well.

Ted Lemon | August 15, 2005 12:28 AM

Nicely put, John.

As for why this kind of politics exists, I don't see any need to wander off into the savannah of yesteryear to explain this. The problem is that people are desperate on both sides. We see things being badly broken, and we have no friends to vote for. All we have are people with whom we disagree somewhat, and people with whom we disagree more than somewhat.

And we imagine that if only the people with whom we disagree with less could be elected, that somehow everything would get better. For some people, that's Bush, and I suspect a lot of them are feeling pretty depressed. Not responsible, just depressed. How can you feel responsible when you had Bush and Kerry to choose from? That's like saying that you're responsible for the fact that food rots if you don't refrigerate it.

So anyway, we get desperate, and we start backing our cockamamie asshole to the hilt, even though he wasn't who we would have preferred, because at least he's Not That Other Guy.

I think it is from this that the sense of complete division in the U.S. comes. It's not that we all really disagree on everything. It's that we are all fucked, and we disagree on which kind of fucked is worse.

Brian Greenberg | August 15, 2005 01:22 AM

Wow...I guess I touched a nerve, huh?

I'm going to take a shot at explaining myself here, and John - if you think I still don't get it, or the post offends you, then please delete it, and I'm happy to drop the matter entirely.

We're all in basic agreement on the Arar case - Mr. Arar got screwed over by over-zealous government officials. It shouldn't have happened, and while reparations will never take back what was done to him, he deserves whatever he gets.

My beef is when people (not just you, and in fact, not even especially you) make the leap and suggest that this is "how the United States treats foreigners that transfer through American airports" and that this is proof that America is just a god-awful place, and that the current administration is evil incarnate. It's not, we're not, and they're not.

Once that line of discussion begins, reasonable debate over what actually happened all but vanishes, and is replaced by hyperbole. And the purpose of that discussion strikes me as nothing more than to pin yet another thing on the current administration, in hopes that the sheer volume of accusations leaves an indelible stain.

So I'm glad that you'd be just as angry if a liberal government took the same actions. I would join you in that anger, as I do now. But if you declared that the liberal government "stood for nabbing foreigners out of airports and detaining them without food or due process, and then shipping them off to another country to be tortured," I'd probably call you partisan again (although I'd do it very, very carefully...)

pecunium [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 15, 2005 01:37 AM

My beef is when people (not just you, and in fact, not even especially you) make the leap and suggest that this is "how the United States treats foreigners that transfer through American airports" and that this is proof that America is just a god-awful place, and that the current administration is evil incarnate. It's not, we're not, and they're not.

But, as evidenced by the brief the Atty General's office filed, this is how we treat foreigners who transfer through our airports. The things we claim the right to do to them are heinous. They are the sort of thing we threated to go to war over (in fact we waged a police action against the Barbary States because they did abused our diplomats, tickled them to death. Had Arar died in Syria we'd have been guilty of a worse crime than that, as we shipped him off on suspicion, the Barbary States felt the message they were relaying was offensive).

Is the present administration evil inarnate, maybe not, but the things they have done, and the things they claim the right to do certainly make such a case defensible.

TK

Jeff Porten | August 15, 2005 02:43 AM

Brian --

If I can attempt to summarize your argument in a rather rude fashion, you seem to be saying, "Shit happens. That doesn't make us shitty."

What I would argue is: yes, yes it does. It doesn't particularly matter if we deport one foreign national or 10,000, from the point of view of what kind of people we espouse ourselves to be. What's notable is that we're not debating the politics of deportation -- we're debating the politics of deportation without due process.
What matters is whether we deport zero persons or one, and whether we claim the right thereto.

Now, I can't speak for Todd, but I know you and I have had numerous debates about authoritarian policies where there were thousands of examples. The post-9/11 incarcerations come to mind. To stretch the point slightly, I can include the thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq. In this case, sure, you can point to only one Canadian who was deported to Syria. But you know full well that there is no shortage of individual anecdotes across a range of civil liberties spectra that show the authoritarian bent of this government.

Does that make America a bad place? Does that make us worse than everywhere else? You'll note I haven't moved yet. But dammit, my first right as an American citizen is to hold my nation to the higher standards upon which it was founded. By that measure, I don't give a damn whether other places are worse. I only have to judge whether we are as good as we claim to be -- and perhaps later ask whether we are falling short of what we could be. As I said when I had my innings on the big board, some of this was once what Americans considered worth dying for.

Yes, I'm liberal, and yes, I take my turns as a partisan hack. So yes, I'm more sensitive than you are to the transgressions of this government. But what stuns me -- about almost everyone on my right, not just you -- is how deep the shit can get without anyone noticing the stench.

Mark Ensley | August 15, 2005 03:14 AM

Um... if we're trying to spread American rights to the rest of the world, shouldn't we then offer those right to, say, the rest of the world?

Pardon my partisan simplification... and don't diss the Castle...

No, I have not read the entire thread.

Mark Ensley | August 15, 2005 03:34 AM

And, if you make the universe of political discourse annoying enough, eventually most of the rational folks will drop out.

John Scalzi | August 15, 2005 03:46 AM

Brian Greenberg:

"But if you declared that the liberal government 'stood for nabbing foreigners out of airports and detaining them without food or due process, and then shipping them off to another country to be tortured,' I'd probably call you partisan again (although I'd do it very, very carefully...)"

And you would still be wrong. If I am equally opposed to nabbing foreigners out of airports and detaining them without food or due process, and then shipping them off to another country to be tortured, regardless of the nominal political leanings of the current American government of the time, then by definition my issue with such a thing is not partisan. Indeed, I am hard pressed to imagine any political context in which nabbing foreigners out of airports and detaining them without food or due process, and then shipping them off to another countryto be tortured is somehow okay, relative to my expectations regarding how the United States is supposed to conduct itself. This is as anti-partisan a subject as it gets. If words are to mean anything, they have to mean something, and "partisan" doesn't mean what I feel on this subject.

"My beef is when people (not just you, and in fact, not even especially you) make the leap and suggest that this is 'how the United States treats foreigners that transfer through American airports' and that this is proof that America is just a god-awful place, and that the current administration is evil incarnate. It's not, we're not, and they're not."

Well, but, the thing is, we did treat at least one foreigner this way at one of our airports, didn't we? That's why some government lawyer got up in front of a judge an asserted this appalling thing in the first place: Because that particular foreigner is complaining, and seeking redress for these actions (and the government, for its part, wants to suggest he can't).

Now, if the government did do this thing when it wasn't clear it could -- thereby necessitating that government lawyer to stand up in front of a judge and posit this heretofore undefined "right" of the government -- what on earth suggests to you that the government won't do it again if a judge agrees that it can?

So, in fact, we do treat foreigners this way at our airports, and we are attempting to leave open the possibility of doing it again. I harbor no illusions that this means it'll be open season on every foreigner who lands in one of our airports -- the uncountably vast majority of visitors will continue to go unmolested -- but the capacity for error and plain mischief in this regard is not a positive thing.

Does it mean the US is a horrible place to be and that the current administration is pure evil? Of course it doesn't. But it certainly suggests that the US is pulling back from the principles of human and civil rights that it has been understood to stand for, and its more evidence among several other examples that the current administration makes human and civil rights rather less of a priority than certain "security" goals -- which to me is pretty much the definition of an authoritarian bent.

And again, this is neither here nor there regarding partisanship; there's nothing inherently Republican or Democratic about the assertions the government lawyer made in front of the judge or the implications to civil and human rights if the judge buys the argument. There was also nothing inherently Republican or Democratic about carting some foreigner off to Syria to be tortured, based on "secret evidence" no one else can see.

You don't like people trying to stain the current administration, but its actions in this regard aren't good -- and why shouldn't people complain, loudly, when their administration is not doing good? I will fully grant that some people shouting at this administration are partisan, and would hate it no matter what it did. But it does not follow that because some people are indiscriminately partisan, everybody else should be painted with that same brush.

Brian Greenberg | August 15, 2005 09:55 AM

First off, John - thanks for continuing this discussion. I was afraid I had permanently offended you and would no longer be welcome. I'm glad to see I did not. Now, back to the fray:

Jeff Porten:

If I can attempt to summarize your argument in a rather rude fashion, you seem to be saying, "Shit happens. That doesn't make us shitty."

Yes, yes, exactly! Well put.

What I would argue is: yes, yes it does. It doesn't particularly matter if we deport one foreign national or 10,000, from the point of view of what kind of people we espouse ourselves to be.

Damn, we were so close.

By this logic, doesn't our society also condone rape and murder? I mean, thousands of people have raped and murdered American citizens in the recent past, and each of them had a lawyer (often times a representative of the government) espousing some theory about why they should not be punished.

The government screwed up and is being called to the carpet to be held accountable. It's lawyer is trying to get it off the hook. Unless and until I hear the "secret evidence," I think the lawyer is wrong and Mr. Arar should be compensated. But that's a far, far cry from claiming that we're redefining what society stands for...

my first right as an American citizen is to hold my nation to the higher standards upon which it was founded. By that measure, I don't give a damn whether other places are worse. I only have to judge whether we are as good as we claim to be -- and perhaps later ask whether we are falling short of what we could be.

As I've written before, this exact sentiment is what I feel elevates us above other countries. You'll note that I never suggested for a second that we shouldn't be having the debate, or that we should just "let it go" because it was only one guy...

John:


Now, if the government did do this thing when it wasn't clear it could -- thereby necessitating that government lawyer to stand up in front of a judge and posit this heretofore undefined "right" of the government -- what on earth suggests to you that the government won't do it again if a judge agrees that it can? . . . [This] certainly suggests that the US is pulling back from the principles of human and civil rights that it has been understood to stand for

To your first sentence - there is nothing suggesting they won't try it again, whether the judge agrees they can or not. If the judge rules against them, the next argument would just be slightly different. The best we can do (the best we've ever been able to do) is to address each grievance in turn.

To say, though, that any of this represents the US pulling back from the principles it stands for is, IMHO, overly harsh. One does not have to be 100% pure in order to have principles. People break the law and usually pay the price. Some of them are rotten, evil people who have no principles and will continue to ignore the law until they're permanetnly removed from society. But, as you say above, this doesn't mean everyone should be painted with that brush.

And again, this is neither here nor there regarding partisanship; there's nothing inherently Republican or Democratic about ...

OK, I get it now. Seriously. And now that I get it, I see why you were so frustrated with me, and realize how pathetic this is going to sound, but here goes:

You're parsing the words "partisan politics" in two, arguing that your position is political, but not in a partisan way. I considered the phrase to be a single term, and thought you were arguing that your position is not "partisan politics" but rather apolitical in some way.

Clearly, you're making a political argument - emphasizing Bush administration policies rather than the specific incident at hand. I fully concede that this political argument is not technically pro/anti Republican/Democrat.

Although to be honest, I don't think it matters much. And re-reading the thread, I think what Todd was accusing you of in the first place was much more along the lines of what I was saying than what you were saying (of course, I won't speak for him).

Anyway, I hope that clears that up...

John Scalzi | August 15, 2005 10:11 AM

Brian Greenberg:

"You're parsing the words 'partisan politics' in two, arguing that your position is political, but not in a partisan way. I considered the phrase to be a single term, and thought you were arguing that your position is not "partisan politics" but rather apolitical in some way."

Yup. The argument is clearly political (it discusses events in a political sphere), but not partisan (i.e., a left/right discussion).

"I was afraid I had permanently offended you and would no longer be welcome."

Don't be silly. Neither you nor Todd has permanently offended me. It takes rather more than a heated discussion to do that.

Kevin Q | August 15, 2005 11:53 AM

Brian said:

By this logic, doesn't our society also condone rape and murder? I mean, thousands of people have raped and murdered American citizens in the recent past, and each of them had a lawyer (often times a representative of the government) espousing some theory about why they should not be punished.

Are you talking about criminal trials? In such cases, the only representatives of the government are the prosecutors and district attorneys who are arguing that the rapist/murderer should be punished. If the defendant is poor, he might have a lawyer paid for by the federal/state/local government, but that attorney is not a representative for the government, but represents only his client. Anything else would be a conflict of interest, and the attorney could be disbarred. In a criminal trial, the representatives of the government are arguing that the defendant should be punished. The defendant's representative is arguing that he shouldn't be.

In a criminal trial, the defendant might argue "I shouldn't be punished, because I didn't do it." Rarely would he argue that he shouldn't be punished because what he did isn't wrong. However, that's exactly the argument being made by the government in this case: "Yes, we did it, and we'll do it again, because there's nothing wrong with it." Imagine the outrage if a rapist (or his attorney) made that claim in court.

K

Captain Peleg | August 15, 2005 04:23 PM

These days everything is partisan. I'm sure there is a conservative way to brush your teeth and a liberal way to brush your teeth.

We are living in an age where NPR has to present both a conservative and a liberal viewpoint on the age of the Grand Canyon. I can see where basic human rights can become partisan.

Eric | August 15, 2005 04:53 PM

Brian wrote:

By this logic, doesn't our society also condone rape and murder? I mean, thousands of people have raped and murdered American citizens in the recent past, and each of them had a lawyer (often times a representative of the government) espousing some theory about why they should not be punished.

As an assistant public defender, I feel obliged to throw in my $.02 at this point. First, as Kevin correctly pointed out, I get paid by the government, but I don't "represent" the government. I represent my clients. I get paid by the State because the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the VIth Amendment of the Constitution to mean that someone who can't afford counsel in a criminal trial should have appointed counsel to assist in his defense.

Secondly, and this may be why you're not grasping the outrage over the Arar case: at the heart of a criminal proceding is a set of rights enshrined by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution of the United States. When the government brings an accusation against the individual, the individual is cloaked by a set of protections that the Founders considered fundamental to the establishment of an enlightened, free society. Implicit in your claim, Brian, is the idea that people facing criminal accusations are guilty--why else would they be charged?--and the only role of defense counsel is to let the bastards get away with it. But under our system of law, Brian, under these rights that I'm talking about, every single person who has ever been charged with a crime in the United States of America was innocent as a matter of law at the time they were charged. Read that last sentence twice. Every person accused of a crime in this country is innocent until their guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Now, the Arar case isn't a criminal trial. But the Vth Amendment to the Constitution says, "No person shall be... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...." Note two things, here. First, that Amendment V does not apply to citizens, it applies to persons. When the Constitution means "citizens," it says "citizens.". Second thing to note: boxing someone up and sending them to Syria qualifies as a deprivation of liberty. So where is the due process of law? And this is the issue, see? And this is a problem with the Bush administration: when arguing in favor of the PATRIOT act, when arguing in favor of expanded wiretap powers, when talking about how to deal with people locked up at GITMO, the administration has a consistent position--ignore the Bill of Rights, ignore the Vth Amendment. These people have no procedural rights because we say so, and you should trust us when we say so, because there are terrorists out there.

Some of us have a problem with that position. Some of us think process is important. Some of us have no problem deporting a terrorist--as long as you give him the due process of law that everybody on U.S. soil is guaranteed as a matter of the Law on which this great Republic was founded.

pecunium [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 15, 2005 07:37 PM

By this logic, doesn't our society also condone rape and murder? I mean, thousands of people have raped and murdered American citizens in the recent past, and each of them had a lawyer (often times a representative of the government) espousing some theory about why they should not be punished

Ah, but the difference here is the lawyer isn't saying there is some mitigating factor which makes this not a rape. The lawyer is saying not only did his client commit the rape, but has the right to do it anytime he wants.

As a State policy that is abhorrent. It isn't just that those so abused ought to be recompensed (and those who did so held to account) but that we shouldn't be condoning it.

But that's a far, far cry from claiming that we're redefining what society stands for...

If saying we have the right to deport people to third countries, because we claim they aren't in the U.S., aren't going to enter the U.S. and just happen to be in a non-U.S. space we control isn't redefining what our society stands for, then we have a very different understanding of what what society stands for.

TK

Anonymous | August 16, 2005 10:47 AM

In a criminal trial, the defendant might argue "I shouldn't be punished, because I didn't do it." Rarely would he argue that he shouldn't be punished because what he did isn't wrong.

Actually, the defendant might argue all sorts of things, depending on the nature of the crime and the evidence. "I didn't do it" is one. "I did it, but it was OK" is another, and a perfectly valid defense in many cases.

How this analogizes to the case at hand, I don't quite follow.

and that this is proof that America is just a god-awful place, and that the current administration is evil incarnate

In other words, what John said wasn't nice and you're jumping on him because He Hates America. There's partisan politics for you!

Rich G. | August 16, 2005 11:51 AM

Speaking as someone who is both liberal and has enough Meditteranean looks to get stopped in airports relatively frequently (though this thoroughly amuses me, given my Jewish heritage), this whole situation frightens me.

While I highly doubt we'll ever truly become a totalitarian state, the slow erosion of fundamental tenets that this country was built on concerns me greatly. I'm not entirely sure how much of this has been mentioned, but am I the only one who feels that one of the guiding principles during the formation of this country was that all men are created equal? And that that principle means nothing if applied solely to U.S. citizens? "All men except Canadians," doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? Secret evidence and racial profiling is not something that makes me comfortable, especially when applied in a manner that allows the executive branch carte blanch in the treatment of foreign nationals. It's bad enough we've been slowly isolating ourselves from the rest of the world (coalition of the willing notwithstanding), but making virtually any foreign national fear for their safety when deplaning on American soil because, according to our current administration, they have no rights? That seems counterintuitive when countless experts have pointed out that the answer to global terror isn't guns, crackdowns, and bombing a populace back into the stone age -- it's an improved image and bettered understanding of Western values and culture.

Add on the steady encroachment of religious (ie: Judeo-Christian) principles into government and the judicial system, as well as knee-jerk political statements, like the currently proposed anti-flag burning bill John so eloquently ridiculed a while back, and we have a steadily changing state. One that takes a dim view of individual rights in favor of protectionism and Puritanism. I fear our country is going a tidal change -- one that will rip us away from the social and legislative progress America has made since World War II and deposit us firmly into a cultural backwater.

Brian Greenberg | August 16, 2005 02:48 PM

Kevin Q:

In a criminal trial, the defendant might argue "I shouldn't be punished, because I didn't do it." Rarely would he argue that he shouldn't be punished because what he did isn't wrong. However, that's exactly the argument being made by the government in this case: "Yes, we did it, and we'll do it again, because there's nothing wrong with it." Imagine the outrage if a rapist (or his attorney) made that claim in court.

Murderers never argue that they killed in self defense? Rapists never argue that the sex was consensual? I'm no lawyer, but I'm guessing that in many cases, the facts are not in dispute and the argument is over the law & how to apply it.

That's what is happening here. The government isn't suggesting they didn't deport him; they're saying it wasn't against the law to do so.


Eric:

Implicit in your claim, Brian, is the idea that people facing criminal accusations are guilty--why else would they be charged?--and the only role of defense counsel is to let the bastards get away with it. . . . Every person accused of a crime in this country is innocent until their guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Eric - I never implied anything of the kind, and I'm very familiar with the "innocent until proven guilty" model. What I said was "thousands of people have raped and murdered American citizens in the recent past, and each of them had a lawyer espousing some theory about why they should not be punished." That's not inconsistent with there being thousands more who were wrongly accused and acquitted (or even rightly accused and acquitted).

The point I was making was that even the guilty are entitled to a defense, and the fact that we have lawyers to defend them doesn't mean society (or even the individual lawyer) condones their behavior. In the Arar case, we all seem to agree that Arar was wronged, but some are suggesting that the lawyer's argument defending the government's actions are tantamount to establishing US policy with regard to foreigners in US airports. This, despite overwhelming evidence (in the form of thousands of other foreigners who pass through airports every day unmolested) that it is not US policy.

Once this false conclusion is accepted as fact, one can continue to argue that since this is our policy, foreigners should be afraid to come into this country for fear of being randomly detained and deported. Following closely on the heels of that conclusion is the statement that these "changes in US policy" show a radical departure from the core principles on which the Republic was founded.

It all spins out of control extremely quickly.

Rich G. | August 16, 2005 04:02 PM

Brian:

The government's defense of its actions ARE designed to establish legal precedent. If the government came forward and said mea culpa and gave Arar whatever he was demanding, I would be much more likely to view this as an isolated incident. They're not. They're arguing that they had the right to do what they did. That, in fact, they have the right to do whatever they please with whatever foreigner unlucky enough to be suspicious/have secret evidence compiled against them.

mythago | August 16, 2005 05:52 PM

In the Arar case, we all seem to agree that Arar was wronged, but some are suggesting that the lawyer's argument defending the government's actions are tantamount to establishing US policy with regard to foreigners in US airports. This, despite overwhelming evidence (in the form of thousands of other foreigners who pass through airports every day unmolested) that it is not US policy.

Brian, are you really playing dumb here or are you truly misunderstanding the legal case that badly?

The fact that the U.S. has not applied its policy to "thousands of foreigners" is meaningless. As somebod

mythago | August 16, 2005 05:56 PM

I hate my laptop. To continue:

As somebody already pointed out, your logic is tantamount to saying "Millions of Americans are not affected by terrorism, therefore it's silly to say that the average American should care at all about Al-Qaeda."

You are pretending that the goverment is arguing this: "We want to abuse the majority of foreigners entering the U.S." Actually, what the government is arguing is "If we suspect that a foreigner entering the U.S. has links to a terrorist group, we have the right to imprison that foreigner without access to food, much less a lawyer; to deport that foreigner to a country of which he is a citizen, knowing that he will be tortured; and most importantly, we do not have to answer to any court if we undertake those actions erroneously or on bad evidence."

If the U.S. openly implemented a policy of summarily executing .1% of all foreigners attempting to enter the U.S., would you then argue that this policy in fact does not exist because "thousands of foreigners" are not summarily executed?

And go look up 'precedent' in a legal dictionary.

mythago | August 16, 2005 05:57 PM

gah--should be 'not a citizen' above

Anonymous | August 17, 2005 01:58 AM

In the Arar case, we all seem to agree that Arar was wronged, but some are suggesting that the lawyer's argument defending the government's actions are tantamount to establishing US policy with regard to foreigners in US airports. This, despite overwhelming evidence (in the form of thousands of other foreigners who pass through airports every day unmolested) that it is not US policy.

Ah, but the entire point of this debate is that it is is policy, and a policy defended by the Gov't. Arguing that it isn't often implemented changes not the least whit of it being policy, it merely says this rapist doesn't do it often.

TK

Jeff Porten | August 17, 2005 05:05 AM

You know, the funny thing is, when Brian and I do this kind of thing by email with a few of our college buddies, he's usually the one in the majority and it's more of a "gangbang on Jeff" situation. Brian, my man, I feel your pain.

I've been cogitating a bit on the meaning of the word "evil". I expect that most people here would reject that term as applied to the current administration, and I'm still trying to determine for myself under which circumstances I'd be willing to use it. But as it happens, I was directed today to a few web sites assessing the notion that 2004 was a stolen election, and I'm reminded that 2000 itself was resolved by the courts under rather shady circumstances. So I wonder about what this means for a democratic state, and then consider that the man who has sworn an oath "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution" is actually taking steps to whittle down its application.

What would I call that? Treasonous? Politics as usual? Evil? I don't know. But I do know that I'm not going to reject the e-word out of hand. Whereas most people seem to agree with Brian that Bush et al. are presumed not evil and any allegation thereto can be summarily dismissed.

Brian: The point I was making was that even the guilty are entitled to a defense

At the point that the defense is taking place, the accused is not guilty. Even if he committed the crime on videotape in front of the jury. Not guilty until found guilty. Yes, I realize that you meant "guilty" in the non-legalistic sense, but the crucial point here is that this is why the people who actually have commited crimes get a lawyer -- because they're not guilty.

Take away the right to the courts and the lawyer, and suddenly people are guilty by presumption, regardless of having committed any crimes. The whole premise of guilt is as a legal structure.

This is also what bugs the hell out of me about the "terrorists". Who is a terrorist? Someone who has committed acts of terror, obviously. But we're supposed to be all about preventing terrorism, so if the act does not take place, then what are the people who intended to act?

I think we'd agree that the guy carrying the bomb is already a terrorist. How about the guy who is just thinking about making explosives? At some point along this line, what we're really talking about is thought crimes as being enough to make you a terrorist.

In the Arar case, we all seem to agree that Arar was wronged

The Arar case is the one we all know about. The government's position is that we're not supposed to know about most of what goes on, on the grounds of national security. This is part of my justification for why I believe these anecdotal cases point to the overarching... dare I say, evil policy, because this administration has taken such great pains to cover up and spread misinformation about their actions. And notably, to discredit the journalists who report on them.

Once this false conclusion is accepted as fact, one can continue to argue that since this is our policy, foreigners should be afraid to come into this country

I think this is a valid conclusion on the part of the foreigner, frankly. I'm going to a conference on terrorism in January, where I'll spend time with people researching the topic, and which has been attended in the past by people working for designated terrorist organizations. (PLO. He gave me his business card.) Do you think I'm going to tell an Arab student attending this conference not to be concerned about visiting the US? Don't be silly.

Doctor Slack | August 17, 2005 02:13 PM

John: after reading a bit of the thread, it's fairly clear to me that you're being trolled by a member of the latter-day movementarian sect that constitutes the core of Bush's electoral base.

The thing to understand here is that this brand of movementarian (who are not "conservatives" really, though they advertise themselves as such) is that -- much like hardcore partisan cadres of revolutionary / counter-revolutionary movements throughout the Twentieth Century -- absolutely everything is not only a political but also a specifically partisan issue to them. They view their role as rhetorically and physically defending their party and their Leader against anything that might work to their disadvantage. The well-being of the Party transcends and supplants independent thinking or indeed any other goal.

While it's obviously a huge concern that a movement this psychotic has managed to gradually hijack so much of American discourse over the past decades, and that they're likely to get more psychotic if their current efforts to institute soft one-party rule fail (though those things are bad enough), there are also hopeful signs. They show no signs of succeeding in giving birth to the mirror-image ultra-partisan "left" that they imagine themselves to be fighting, for example, and that's to the good.

Jim | August 17, 2005 02:33 PM

Brian and Todd: I maintain that I am a libertarian (although I am frequently accused of being a conservative) and a year or so ago I was dumping on Janet Reno about the Waco massacre during a debate here in John's comment area (to the point where John tweaked me with "I think Jim drank the KoolAid.") but I've got to tell you that John is absolutely right on this topic today (both in his definition of partisan politics and in his position on the government's actions).

It would be partisan politics to attack the government's actions with the purpose of hurting the current administration and making things better for the opposition party. Partisan politics is where if the same thing were being done under someone's party's leadership, they would switch their position and resolutely defend and justify their side's actions and attack those who spoke out against it as being mere "political hacks."

Remember, we have always been at war with Oceania.


Adolph | August 18, 2005 10:15 AM

Sacco and Vanzetti. What else is new? The only lesson history has to teach anyone is that people never learn anything. I can't help but laugh at the people that sternly believe that for some reason "those were different times and that's not what is going on now". It's not so different. What has changed? Poor people, angry that the whole world moved without so much as a "how'd you do?" trying to be heard over the sound of money changing hands. I think Edmond Berke had some relevant thoughts on the matter.


I predict very soon we will see innocent people put through some farce of a trial that ends in their execution...seems to be the way things always go. I just hope it's not me. Since I am pale-complexioned, english-speaking and generally moderate in my politics- I think I should be alright. Sucks to be anyone else though. In the mean time I am staying away from large cities, crowded buildings, foriegn cuntries, and people I don't know. I'd go and do something about it (as I've been told is my "moral obligation") but I have enough trouble trying to solve my own insignificant problems.

My general theory is, with moral obligation, if I have the information I am obligated to despense it. If that information could likely get me killed for sharing it...I probably don't have all the facts straight and should go back to my home (nothing to see here). Many others share that view...some call them cowards- most just call them survivors.

Remember- The bullet that killed her child could have been meant for you.

Steve Schwenk | August 25, 2005 11:15 PM

I get annoyed when I state something and people then repeatedly suggest that I don't actually mean what I've just stated

Yes, I feel your pain. It's very much like someone quoting you and repeatedly insisting that you meant things you didn't actually mean, and then calling you an asshole for it, while rejecting out of hand the meaning you assign to your own words. Very, very annoying, indeed, John.

John Scalzi | August 25, 2005 11:18 PM

Well, see, Steve, when you say something like, say, "I hope your kid gets his head blown off in a Republican war," you don't actually leave much wiggle room for interpretation, now, do you. Because, see, what you said was you wanted someone's child to die. And in my book, someone who says they hope someone else's child dies by having his head blown off, you know what that makes them? An asshole.

Or to put it another way, I believe there is another interpretation to "I hope your kid gets his head blown off in a Republican War" about as equally as I believe there was another interpretation of Pat Robertson's quote that we should just go ahead and assassinate Hugo Chavez. I would note that Robertson's subsequent denial that he didn't actually mean what he said was about as compelling as yours was, and for much the same reasons. Pat Robertson's an asshole too, incidentally.

Post a comment.

Comments are moderated to stop spam; if your comment goes into moderation, it may take a couple of hours to be released. Please read this for my comment moderation policies.
Preview will not show paragraph breaks. Trust me, they're there.
The proprietor generally responds to commenters in kind. If you're polite, he'll be polite. If you're a jackass, he'll be a jackass. If you are ignorant, he may correct you.
When in doubt, read the comment thread rules.




Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)