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October 22, 2007

This Is Who We Are
Posted by Patrick at 01:00 PM * 143 comments

Jonathan Schwarz, “We Can Only Keep America Safe By Coercing Tons Of False Confessions And Then Lying About It.”

Read it, follow all the links (it’s just a few).

This is who we are: torturers, thugs, and the accomplices of worse torturers and thugs. Nor will this change after 2008.

It’s a nice day, if you ignore the screaming.

Comments on This Is Who We Are:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 05:46 PM:

What screaming? There is no screaming. It's just the wind.

#2 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:11 PM:

This is a timely entry indeed. If anyone's interested, I just posted my review of Charlie Savage's new book "Takeover," which comes to similar conclusions.

#3 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:17 PM:

Holy cow.

It's reprehensible. Immediately after reading this, I found a story on the new Terrorist Buster logo, based on the ghostbuster logo for a CIA counter-terrorist group.

The kitsch, plus the torture makes me shudder. These guys not only threaten and torture, they think they're cute while they do it.

Torture Busters Logo Story.

#4 ::: Brenda von Ahsen ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 07:08 PM:

It's hard not to despair.

"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." Orwell

#5 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 07:16 PM:

On way to fight back is by telling stories. Compelling, damning stories that counteract the poisonous spin of shows like 24. (There are people who defend torture by citing situations in 24. Chuckleheads.)

#6 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 07:27 PM:

Nor will this change after 2008.

This is the part that reduces me to despair. Because it's right. The Democratic candidates are clearly signaling that they'll continue the imperial executive, the aggressive wars, the torture...

So what do we do? We saw how third parties work out in 2000. But the Democrats sure are working hard to resurrect the Tweedledee & Tweedledum argument, however buried I thought it was.

So what do we do?

The question brings to mind something I read -- and alas, I forget the context, author, everything entirely -- about how the notion that every problem has a solution is a very typical American conceit, and (of course) wrong.

Maybe there's nothing we can do.

In which case, I guess, the thing to do is run and hide. "Government is big, we are small; we are only free when we fall through the cracks." (quoting from memory...)

#7 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 07:47 PM:

This makes me sick.

Is this legal? I've always been under the impression that police interrogators were allowed to lie or say anything they like to suspects without fear of reprisal.

#8 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 07:59 PM:

#7 Harry: "I'll make it legal."

#9 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 08:07 PM:

But was he lying? I suspect not.

Despair despair despair

#10 ::: Brenda von Ahsen ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 08:27 PM:

What do we do?

I don't know, fight it as best one can. Get money out of politics I suppose. Yeah, like that's gonna happen.

Isn't this just a timeless struggle between power, which always seeks to expand it's self, and our better impulses? It's part of a cycle, the great wheel grinds us all in the end and it grinds exceedingly fine. (Looking at things as abstractions seems to help)

#11 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 09:14 PM:

It's just like you liberals to push these lies. You can't possibly hear somebody scream during waterboarding; they've got a faceful of wet cloth to muffle any noises.

#12 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 09:38 PM:

It certainly isn't who *I* am, or, for that matter, who any of the regulars on this blog are.

There are people who are willing to commit horrible attrocities and do whatever it takes to get away with it. And some of them have managed to get government jobs.

But that's a reflection on them, not me.

#13 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 10:47 PM:

I figured someone would say "It's not who I am."

But these people exist in a system. And part of that system is that we're here doing this, instead of doing something else that might get in their way.

Being in a great big hurry to say "Their fault, not my fault, no reflection on me" is unseemly.

#10: All that sounds good, except I have the nagging suspicion that viewing atrocities as part of a "great cycle" is one of the ways we make them feel less atrocious. I do it too, but I'm coming to think it's a dodge.

#14 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 10:58 PM:

Why is it that I get the impression that Thomas Jefferson might have felt upset by this?

#15 ::: Brenda von Ahsen ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 11:15 PM:

"And some of them have managed to get government jobs."

We voted them into office. America voted for Bush twice and I think someone said the the only reason the war is unpopular is because we are losing. If it was clear that we were winning the majority would be all for it. Bush's crime is not that he is a murderous sociopath, but that he is an incompetent murderous sociopath.

"I do it too, but I'm coming to think it's a dodge."

I agree. Think of it as a technique to avoid being paralyzed by despair. The world is a mess, it's always been a mess and always will be. One is best off cleaning up your own little corner, your own sphere of influence, and maybe encouraging others to do the same.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 11:21 PM:

Brenda von Ahsen #10: If we let the wheels grind and do and say nothing then we are complicit. We must speak, and we must act. There is a duty to say no to such things.

#17 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 11:28 PM:

I don't think we've "seen how third parties work out" any more than we've "seen how Communism works out": I think we've seen a number of failed attempts.

But we do derive information from the failures: namely, it's not possible to get to a more-than-two-party system from a two-party system in the ways we've tried recently.

It might work better if, for example, one or the other party disbanded and folded itself into a couple of different factions.

#18 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 11:30 PM:

OK. Here's my take:

If this was really us, we wouldn't be outraged by it.

If it was really us, the bastards most responsible wouldn't be doing their damndest to hide the depth of the atrocities and use weasel words to disguise their deeds.

I don't believe in pendulum swings and great cycles. Tyranny and cruelty have to be actively fought. I think "not in my name!" is a lot more effective battle cry than "this is who we are."

#19 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 11:35 PM:

#19: "This is who we are" is a cri de coeur against one of the basic diseases of the age, which is American exceptionalism.

#20 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 11:40 PM:

Fragano @ 16: But that brings us back to the question she asked, which is the least answerable point and probably the most important.

What do we do?

Our free speech has been carefully redirected into a 'free speech zone', physically and aetherically -- a cordoned-off area where people wave signs, out of range of the management's delicate feelings.

Blogs are part of the free speech zone.

What can we do that doesn't stay behind the velvet rope?

#21 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 11:41 PM:

Patrick@13: But these people exist in a system. And part of that system is that we're here doing this, instead of doing something else that might get in their way.

That each of us as individuals are part of a social system does not justify collective blame, which is what "This is who we are" constructs.

I agree each of us (or myself, at the very least) have not done everything humanly possible to put an end to this sort of madness. But that is not the same as saying "I am them. They are me. This is who we are."

Maintaining individualality, individual responsibility, individual integrity, while operating within a relationship with others is rather difficult. It's hard enough doing it in something one-on-one like a marriage. Often relationships break down when one person either submerges themselves and their identity too far into the relationship, or one persion witholds from actually engaging in relationship. Multiply that complexity by several orders of magnitude to get a person operating within the relationship that is their citizenship within a nation.

I don't mean to say that torture is acceptable in any way. I don't mean to lessen the suffering that the victims of torture go through. I don't mean to lessen the the responsibility that the tortorers bear. Nor do I even mean to lessen the fact that there is more I could do within the system to try and put a stop to my government committing torture. (or for that matter, that there comes a point where it might be time to break the system, the political bands that make the system, but that's another matter entirely)

But individual action comes from individual integrity and individual responsibility within the system. And collapsing each individual's responsibility into one big collective responsibility blurs the options.

I am not them. They are not me.

Being in a great big hurry to say "Their fault, not my fault, no reflection on me" is unseemly.

I didn't say it wasn't my fault.

They are responsible for the outcome of their actions. I am responsible for whatever inactions I have committed that allowed this torture. But certainly no action on my part endorsed this brutality.

And I'm left with a continuation of my government torturing people, and me with what appears to be no visible options to make any further difference. Not that I'm blaming my lack of further action on anyone but myself. But I am open to suggestions on what else to do that might make a difference.

#22 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 11:48 PM:

We get told to write or call our congresspeople.
We do that, and we're ignored, or, worse, lied to. (Do they seriously believe that we'll buy that they have no position or know nothing about a bill or a candidate, on the day it comes to a vote? Or that at least some of us know which votes are important and which are window-dressing? Or that we're familiar with the Constitution and the oaths that they swear when taking office (and seem to prefer ignoring afterward)?)
Where do we go from here?

#23 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 11:52 PM:

P.J. Evans: Yeah, pretty much.

I'd love to vote with my feet, but Britain and the EU just aren't very open to immigration.

#24 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 11:52 PM:

Brenda@15: We voted them into office.

no, we didn't.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing to be gained around something like this by pointing a finger around the room and saying "this is all our fault".

Think of it as a technique to avoid being paralyzed by despair.

It's also possible to be paralyzed by blame.

#25 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 12:05 AM:

Greg #21: Thanks for the good points.

Recognizing that something is alien is the body's first step in rejecting it.

I, too, have not done enough.

#26 ::: Max Kaehn ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 12:41 AM:

Like P J Evans in #22, I harangue my congresscritters. I give money to the organizations that mount opposition to these abuses of our rights, like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. And I support the Center for Voting and Democracy to try and make third parties viable, and Public Campaign to try and weaken the feedback loop between money and getting elected, and exhort my friends and coworkers to do the same when they complain about the lousy set of choices we have. I’ll send e-mail to my congresscritters for lots of causes, phone them for the ACLU and the EFF, and I’ll show up in person to harangue my city councilcritters when electoral reform is on the agenda.

#27 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 12:58 AM:

And:

The Southern Poverty Law Center

Amnesty International

The League of Woman Voters

They're all getting checks this year.

#28 ::: Brenda von Ahsen ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 01:45 AM:

Greg @24
I stand corrected. I wasn't trying to lay blame though. Merely pointing out that America as a whole is much more conservative than perhaps we sometimes realize. Large numbers of people believe in a young Earth and in angels. Probably a good number of people still believe that Saddam had something to do with 9-11.

#29 ::: annalee flower horne ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 01:58 AM:

This may have been a horrid miscarriage of justice, but I think that's all the more reason for us to admit that it is us. The BBC produced a documentary a while back called "Five Steps To Tyranny" as part of their Human Rights/Human Wrongs series. Through interviews, reviews of past experiments, and new experiments of their own, they established a set of five simple steps that could turn any human being into someone capable of committing human rights abuses.

It's very easy for us to say "wow, this is awful. I would never be capable of doing something like that." But the fact is, we're all capable of it. The right pressures --being faced with someone different from us, establishing an 'us vs. them' dynamic, and mandates or even just approval from people in authority, to name three of the five-- can turn almost anyone into a monster. The framers of the US Constitution knew the same thing. That's why they built such a comprehensive system of checks and balances into our government structure.

This didn't happen because a couple of foxes managed to sneak into the hen-house. If that were the issue, then getting rid of the foxes would get rid of the problem. This happened because we as a nation have allowed a gaping hole to form in the fence that's supposed to keep the foxes out-- an imperfect analogy because we are ourselves the foxes. Or at least we can become them. And that's why it's so important that we focus on creating a system that prevents people from stepping over the line instead of one that simply punishes them after they do.

#30 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 02:14 AM:

Brenda von Ahsen @ 15

I think someone said the the only reason the war is unpopular is because we are losing.

Too flaming true. The only reason there was an outcry against Vietnam was that "our boys" were being drafted into it, and we could see them getting killed on the nightly news. The only reason there is now an outcry against Iraq is that we're getting our heads handed to us, and our leaders can't seem to figure out that we know that. And notice that outcry about Afghanistan is pretty much limited to the people who warned against Iraq in the first place.

@ 28
Probably a good number of people still believe that Saddam had something to do with 9-11.

33% of Americans, according to the NY Times

#31 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 03:28 AM:

Back at the end of January, 2006 I read a blog post called "Reality Is A Thug". It's not accessible online right now AFAIK — I'm hoping the author might repost it to the 'live' site. *KOFF*

It does sometimes help at times when things seem very bad to think on't; or look at the copy I have, but I'm reluctant to post it up in full.

#32 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 09:17 AM:

Greg #21: Hear, hear!

There's one thing I can see to do with this. We need to be really clear about this:

There will come a reckoning for these crimes against humanity. Those responsible, high and low, will be tried, and if found guilty, they will be executed or sentenced to life without parole. If there are legal reasons why we cannot try these crimes in our legal system, then they will be handed over to duly constituted international courts for trial. There is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity, and "I was following orders" is no defense. People found to have known about the crimes, or in a position where they should have known, and who still took part or assisted in them will be impeached or fired or cashiered, and will never work for the federal government in any capacity again. Lawsuits from the victims will be permitted against the individuals who carried out these crimes. Those responsible for abductions, imprisonment, and torture on foreign soil will be handed over to those countries for trial upon request, subject only to making sure those countries won't use torture.

It may be that the people responsible will retain political or other power for many years, which will protect them from prosecution. But, like Agosto Pinochet and Erich Mielke, there will come a day when they don't have that power, and they will face justice, even if that's just spending the last years of their lives hounded by prosecutors and courts, while their memories and minds fade and their health fails.

We won't forget. It really *wasn't* done in our name, in the same sense that the crimes of an embezzler or powerful mobster weren't done in our name. When we are able to, we will see them prosecuted for those crimes.

#33 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 09:21 AM:

Some thoughts I've found pertinent, tho' often very challenging:
"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel (Nobel Peace Prize 1986)

And attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr:
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends."


#34 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 09:21 AM:

The core problem is that waging illegal wars and eroding civil rights in the name of security has no downside for the people pursuing these policies. It's still quite possible to built a lucrative career on advocating torture or aggressive war. Even the few who have been fired from the administration like John Bolton then get to be a highly paid media whore. Nor are the people doing the torturing or starting illegal wars get punished, unless they're low level scapegoats like Lynn England.

More and more often I think people have to die before the downward spiral America is in will end. Or perhaps the Argentine example of how to deal with torturers needs to be followed more. (Actually, at my bleakest, I think it's best for the rest of the world if America went through another civil war; yes, I know that's stupid.)

Not that I'm advocating violence, of course.

#35 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 09:37 AM:

America voted for Bush twice

Actually, no we didn't... even with all the gerrymandering, plus massive electoral fraud targeted at swing districts, and collusion from mutiple levels of government, he couldn't manage to eke out more than a "technical" majority.

#36 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 09:38 AM:

Brenda@28: I wasn't trying to lay blame though.

I didn't think you were, but I wanted the words you use to match what you are trying to accomplish.

What work I've done coaching people in relationships, I've found that a rather large chunk of what's causing problems is that the individuals are speaking in ways that don't line up with what they're committed to in the relationship, and they just don't realize it.

Alice and Bob are married. Alice says something to Bob to try and help their relationship but uses the collective "we". Bob hears the comment as an attack and gets defensive. Things spiral inward and downward quickly. I get a call, and spend some time sorting out what people are committed to having happen (stay married, get divorced, whatever), while sorting out with each person what their individual responsibilities are.

Usually my goal is to get the couple to take on individual responsibility in a powerful way and then the relationship is simply nothing more than what each individual can bring as a gift to each other.

But a lot of what I do is ask questions and listen, and then flag things that people say that aren't lined up with what they're committed to.

#37 ::: Chacounne ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 10:08 AM:

Stefan at 5

I completely and absolutely agree. My husband was a Vietnam vet and a POW, who was tortured by his North Vietnamese captors. He suffered from his injuries for over thirty years, until his fatal heart attack two years ago.

After he returned home, the doctors had to remove all of his toenails three times to try to get rid of the bamboo infection from the torture. It didn't work and he still had the infection when he died. He never got a full nights sleep. My nights are still haunted by his screams. There was never enough food in the house to satisfy the hole that the food deprivation left.

It has become my mission to be Dan's voice, to explain how torture affected his life. I will go anywhere, anytime to help stop torture as the law, policy and practice of the United States.

EVERY American MUST stand up and tell their representatives :
NOT IN MY NAME!
NEVER IN MY NAME!
and they need to keep saying it until the torture stops.

Torture is ALWAYS wrong, no matter who is doing it to whom.

For Dan,
Heather

#38 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 10:49 AM:

albatross, Augusto Pinochet*, Ferdinand Marcos and Idi Amin all died in bed, in comfortable conditions, with the best of care, surrounded by supporters, and unconvicted of crimes. Neither was Pol Pot brought to trial, nor did PW Botha get more than a fine for avoiding the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. There are probably further examples, but those immediately spring to mind. We can hope for something close to justice, but I don't know that it's all that likely. It is a long & difficult road. Still; "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."

*My intense, if distant, dislike of Baroness Thatcher deepened to something much closer to disgusted revulsion on observing her reaction to Pinochet's attempted extradition.

#39 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 10:54 AM:

37 Chacoounne

Thank you, from all my heart, for sharing those painful words.

When John McCain said at the Republican debates 'in my experience, torture does not work' it was his opponent who got the applause lines.

We have become a world where people believe the plot lines of '24' more than they do the testimony of top FBI and military interrogators: that the data we have on terrorists is entirely tainted, and unusable, due to its extraction under torture.

Torture a man, and he'll say anything: KSM has 'admitted' responsibility for every Al Quaida operation there ever was, including some he couldn't possibly have been involved in. And we can't put him on trial.

Torture a man, and he'll never trust you, and you've lost the chance to really get into his soul.

We British used forced internment and torture on the IRA in the mid 1970s. All it did was breed harder, tougher urban guerillas, and more hatred for us in the Catholic community in Northern Ireland.

Once again, thank you. I wish the media would report more stories like yours.

Sincerely

J

#40 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 11:23 AM:

Epacris 38: My intense, if distant, dislike of Baroness Thatcher deepened to something much closer to disgusted revulsion on observing her reaction to Pinochet's attempted extradition.

I was unsurprised by that filthy slimeball's reaction to the attempt to extradite her good friend Pinochet. They're two of a kind; the British people just had more effective means* of restraining the fascist impulse than the Chilean people did. (Also Thatcher didn't have the CIA to assassinate her predecessor for her.)

It is my fervent hope that Thatcher will soon become even more similar to Pinochet, at least in one respect; and when she does, I will do a proper Irish jig to celebrate.

As you might be able to tell, I have hated the Bad Baroness for much longer. If you can't figure out why, Google "Bobby Sands, MP" and read what you find.

*Stemming from such things as a long history of entrenched democracy, of removing oppressive leaders (like Cromwell) or reducing their power (like King John), and of respect for human rights (at least for some classes**).

**Respect for the human rights of the "lower" classes is a comparatively recent phenomenon, there as here.

#41 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 11:27 AM:

I think the following part of the story should be emphasized. From pages 8 and 9 of the unredacted opinion:

Higazy then gave Templeton a series of explanations as to how he obtained the radio.
First, he admitted that he stole the radio from J&R, an electronics store. Then he recanted this
story, and explained that he found it near J&R. Higazy next denied ever seeing or possessing the
radio. Templeton allegedly banged on the table and screamed at Higazy: "You lied to me again!
This is what? How many lies?" Higazy then lied again, this time telling Templeton that he
found the radio on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Higazy recalled that Templeton "turned so red I thought he was going to hit me." Templeton accused Higazy of being a liar, and
said that he would "tell Agent Sullivan in my expert opinion you are a terrorist." Finally, Higazy
told Templeton that he had stolen the radio from the Egyptian military and had used it to
eavesdrop on telephone conversations.

Templeton is teaching Higazy what to say. Whether Templeton means to or not, he is seeking a confession that will confirm his preconceptions, not gathering new information. Remind me how often we were assured that, unlike the Soviets, Americans would never use torture in this way?

#42 ::: Ariel ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 11:47 AM:

Brenda von Ahsen @ 15: Bush *isn't* a mudering sociopath. Sociopaths suffer from a particular set of psychiatric symptoms, which can be conducive in some cases to very scary behaviour. While you can certainly make an argument for deceitfulness, lack of remorse, and aggressiveness in public policy, from everything I've seen Bush doesn't have any of the sociopath symptoms in his personal life. He's just an ordinary person, not a mentally ill psycho.

I say this not just because I like being precise about mental illness, but because it's critically important to understanding what's going on in this country. This isn't "we elected someone who is inherently evil/unstable/ill". We elected a *perfectly ordinary guy* with some odd ideas about policy, who took full advantage of the political environment handed to him by 9/11 to run with those policy ideas. From a certain perspective, he's actually exceptionally competent: he's great at getting branches of the government to do what he wants, if not at having those policy ideas turn out to be effective.

This can happen again. This can happen again in the same "conservative" direction, or with a wild swing towards a liberal nanny-state, or anything in between. The problem isn't the President. The problem is the system that is allowing the President to so dramatically and single-handedly shape America's government and policy.

#43 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 12:14 PM:

A J Luxton #20: We write, and we organize, and we teach. That is what we can do. We reject being kept in the 'tame pets', er, 'free speech zone'. And we do not shut up.

#44 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 12:19 PM:

42 Ariel

You've hit the nail on the head. American democracy proved transparently vulnerable to a couple of determined guys with particular notions of executive power. The Constitution offered little or no defence, ditto the Supreme Court or the Congress.

There are things about Dick Cheney that appear a bit sociopathic, it has to be said. But only in the Karl Rovish 'I am so much smarter than the rest of you' wonkish kind of way. Which was repeated by the neocons in the lead up to the Iraq invasion (read the Financial Times interview with John Bolton this weekend for a reprise of that).

What I suspect is the truth (see Russ Altmeyer's work on Authoritarian personalities)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-wing_authoritarianism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_dominance_orientation
http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/


is that many Americans have an authoritarian personality disposition. And such really don't see the problem with torturing the 'guilty parties'. It's the rest of us who have qualms about this.

When you get Socially Dominant personalities, like Bush and Cheney, allied with, and leading, authoritarian ones, you have a recipe for endless mayhem.

What Bush does have, and I have it from a friend who is an ex alcoholic with AA, and another who worked with alcoholics in a homeless shelter for 3 years, is the distracted attention of a guy who isn't quite there, apparently quite common in middle aged alcoholics. Even discounting the common rumours among the press corps that he is again drinking, it was instantly obvious to them that he had damaged himself with alcohol. He is not quite the full shilling.

#45 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 12:24 PM:

There are stories about Bush and his lack of empathy going back to when he was in college, if not earlier. I tend to believe that there's more wrong than just his drug problems - and alcohol abuse is a drug problem.

#46 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 12:25 PM:

Lest anyone think I am picking on Americans.

Poland just voted out of office its (highly illiberal, anti semitic, anti gay) Prime Minister. Hurrah-- young people who had never bothered to vote swarmed the ballot box (many actually live abroad) and tossed him out, although his twin brother remains president.

Switzerland is about to give a far right anti-immigrant party 29% of the vote. And Denmark has elected such a party to government. Flanders (or at least Antwerp) gives a similar party similar levels of support.

In Britain we had the grandson of a Jewish Romanian refugee from the Iron Guard and the Holocaust, run a campaign for Prime Ministership on an anti-asylum platform.

So the US is not alone in these tendencies.

#47 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 12:25 PM:

In another thread, a few of us briefly mentioned Jo Walton's Farthing and Ha'penny (both Tor books). The second one addresses that "What can we do against tyranny?" question better than most I've seen, and my review (for the December issue) tries to discuss that, hopefully without spilling too many beans about plot developments. Not trying to tout my own thing here -- you should go straight to Jo's work, without bothering to wait for a columnist's opinion.

#48 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 12:40 PM:

45 PJ Evans

Before he killed himself, Hunter Thompson gave an interview in Rolling Stone where he said that he found a frat brother of Bush that Bush *branded*.

Now HST is hardly a reliable witness, but the image was quite vivid.

And this would support what you say, although Bush already had substance abuse problems at that time.

The other famous story about Bush was about Bush at the Harvard Business School. Where he kept slamming the captain of the rival basketball team, until finally the guy turned on him and the 2 teams had to pull them apart-- he had made the guy that angry in an intra-mural (first v. second year) game. Bush's reaction was 'ya gotta show him who's on top'.

#49 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 01:25 PM:

Re: Bush's personality type. During the second campaign, a New Yorker "Talk of the Town" piece (I think by Hendrik Hertzberg) called him a narcissist, and I could hear the mental click as all the traits and behaviors fit into a coherent pattern. I'm sure that mental-health folk have other ways of parsing his personality (per what's already suggested here), but this one grabbed me hard, since it fits with people I've encountered all my adult life.

(FWIW, the other phrase that comes to mind every time I contemplate our current state of public life is "monkey politics," but that's just a personal favorite.)

#50 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 01:26 PM:

All are examples of systems with no real checks or balances.
Criminey.

#51 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 02:20 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden writes:

I figured someone would say "It's not who I am."

But these people exist in a system. And part of that system is that we're here doing this, instead of doing something else that might get in their way.
Being in a great big hurry to say "Their fault, not my fault, no reflection on me" is unseemly.
Exactly so. I keep waiting for someone to come around with a uniform and a legitimate contract for me to sign, and them saying to me: "Hey, remember that oath about defending the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic? This is your margin call, buddy. Time to suit up."

No one ever does. I'm still waiting. Some of us think it's important to have a legal document or reasonably certain quality in hand before we escalate beyond writing polite yet ineffectual letters to oblivious members of Congress and sending meager contributions to marginalized political action groups. This is, I'll admit, a part of the overall problem, but— let's be honest— it's quite an intractable one.

At least, I know I'm still free. In the mean time, yes— this is who we are. I wish I weren't part of this. I don't know what else to do.

#52 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 02:22 PM:

JK Richard @ #50, Or a system where the checks and balances are systematically being removed, often quietly, while their defenders are looking at shinier things. That's the whole point of Takeover, Savage's book.

I know I mentioned it above; it's really worth the two-three hours of reading to get a better feel for what's been happening to the legal structure of our government.

#53 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 02:30 PM:

Blast. The link I wanted to use was this one.

#54 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 02:30 PM:

It does not make me feel all warm and fuzzy when the speaker of the house forces a member of the same party to apologize for speaking the truth about the president, and several members of that same party, however marginally members they are, vote for censure. Especially when the other party has said the same, or worse, without consequences of any kind.

#55 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 03:17 PM:

PJ Evans #45:

You will likely find Bush's mother at the root of his empathy problems. One cold, heartless person. A low, but massively telling, point was her comments post-Katrina.

#56 ::: Varia ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 03:51 PM:

apologies for invoking Godwin; I can't figure out a way to say this that doesn't.

Does anyone remember a piece on NPR maybe a month ago, about photographs found (I think they were sent to the Smithsonian? or a museum?) of SS officers in their free time - Goebbels just hangin' out with his men - and rank and file officers out picking blueberries with their girlfriends, before they went back to a normal day at the office torturing and killing "enemies" of the German state? The point is, it is us; these men and women weren't sociopaths or some foreign entities we can conveniently distance ourselves from by claiming they are inhuman. They are human beings in exactly the same way as volunteers for Amnesty International or the judges in the Truth and Reconciliation councils were. All of these capabilities are differences of degree, not of kind.

The question is, how do you encourage people to follow their compassion, rather than their fear?

#57 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 04:11 PM:

56 Varia

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ordinary-Men-Reserve-Battalion-Solution/dp/0141000422

The book above makes precisely this point. They were a bunch of ordinary, middle aged Germans equivalent of American National Guardsmen. They weren't by and large, Nazis. They could have requested other duties: that option was explicitly offered to them by their commanding officer.

Yet they killed over 30,000 Jews in the first phase of the Holocaust, in occupied Poland.

Ordinary guys.

Altmeyer, in his book, links in to this.

#58 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 04:13 PM:

49 Russell Letson re Bush's personality

One problem is that pretty much all politicians are narcissists. You have to have that kind of self regard to survive the scrutiny and intensity of modern politics.

Maybe GWB is an extreme case, though.

#59 ::: Matt W ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 04:27 PM:

Discussion seems to be missing one point.

There are finite resources available; I'd prefer FBI agents to have a priority of finding terrorists rather than coercing false confessions.

#60 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 04:30 PM:

Varia @ #56, it was on The News Hour.

#61 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 05:15 PM:

Chacounne @ 37

Thank you for using your personal pain as a public rebuke for this kind of behavior. It would be very easy for a person in your position to simply blame all the injury your husband sustained on just those individuals or the government that committed the acts. It says a lot about your character that you chose to speak out against those acts when performed by anyone, including your own government.

#62 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 08:44 PM:

Something to post on my door and bulletin board, I think. Although I expect that it will be ripped down on my campus, as were my articles about the Jena 6 and my colleagues' articles about torture, domestic violence, and immigration. Still, I can post as much as they can destroy. Funny thing ... most of my students aren't even registered to vote. We raised them, too.

#63 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 11:04 PM:

Valuethinker@57: They were a bunch of ordinary, middle aged Germans equivalent of American National Guardsmen.

I'm not sure what this shows, other than that humans are capable of terrible things. But "capacity" is different than "identity". We are not torturers simply because we are capable of torture. You have to actually torture someone to get that label.

Which is seems to reflect more collapsed distinctions between them and us, those who do and those who don't.

The first distinction is simply a matter of action, who does what. People within the government commit torture. We oppose this through various means, but it isn't enough to stop it within the system of representation. Certainly, one can argue that we could do more, and we are ultimately responsible for those inactions. But that is not the same as torture.

The second distinction is the difference between capacity versus actuality. We all have opposable thumbs to hold a gun and shoot someone. But we are not all guilty of murder because some homosapien committed murder and we're homosapiens. To collapse that distinction is to ignore the subjective, the intent, the committement of those who are diametrically opposed to torture.

Now, I don't have any problem whatsoever in shining a spot light on the "24" styled crap that people in our government have done. Nor do I have a problem with discussing that there is more we could do to stop it.

But what I have a problem with is the lack of distinction between those who have gladly committed torture and those who oppose it but haven't found a way to get the government to stop it.

It's misleading and undermines the concept of personal integrity to say that I am them and they are me simply because I am capable of torture. It's an attack on the concept of personal committment to say that I am them and they are me simply because these people who torture have jobs in my government.

spotlight the past with a respect for personal responsibility and accountability. Illuminate the future with a respect for personal committment. That's all I ask.

#64 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 11:37 PM:

Greg London #63: Spotlight the past with a respect for personal responsibility and accountability. Illuminate the future with a respect for personal commitment. That's all I ask.

That's very quotable, Greg. Well spoken.

#65 ::: jayskew ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 12:03 AM:

Contact your representative and tell them to support HR 3835, the American Freedom Agenda Act of 2007. It *repeals* the Military Commissions Act, and that's just a start. No dicking around with editing the MCA: just repeal it.

I also just sent money to Chris Dodd for fighting ex post facto telco immunity for wiretapping while Obama and Clinton do nothing.

More generally: don't just sit there whining; do something.

#66 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 01:45 AM:

ValueThinker @#44: American democracy proved transparently vulnerable to a couple of determined guys with particular notions of executive power.

While I agree with Ariel's that Bush is (among other issues) a malignant narcissist, this wasn't just two guys, that took over the country.

Read up on People For A new American Century -- they're a think tank, who were formally established in 1997, but their founding roster and alliances, and the prior histories of same, are pretty revealing. Basically, they're the official face of a long-standing conspiracy to take power in America in pursuit of the "neocon" agenda. Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfield (among others) were early members and leaders. (While they're also a target for "conspiracy madness", the official records are bad enough....)

#67 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 03:56 AM:

66 David

Oddly I don't (entirely) blame Project for a New American Century for this.

PNAC is a pro Israel thinktank with ambitious plans to remake the Middle East (and a belief that China is the next great strategic rival). Classic neocon. It's about the US assertion of power in the international frame. A lot of the neocons are ex radicals and ex Democrats: the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic party.

What's happened domestically in the US is darker. I don't think PNAC, for all that it is filled with some very dark people, was about torturing people and violating rights of habeas corpus.

The neocons are not the conservatives. In a sense, both sides were using the other, and trying to use the Christian fundamentalists, for their own ends.

#68 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 04:01 AM:

63 Greg

I was responding to Varia's point about the ordinariness of human evil, and the capacity for.

I'm not equating those who do evil with those who do not, but I do point out that when it came to the Holocaust and the Germans, the number of resisters was very small compared to the number of people who went along with it. Even in the occupied countries, that was true: yes Sofia was different, yes lots of brave French and Dutch people died to save Jews, but even in the occupied countries, the Germans found lots of able assistants, and most people stayed neutral.

What I get out in the netroots is that people think we 'should' torture terrorists. Just like we do on '24'. The world is more like a Daily Mail reader than it is like an Independent reader, to stereotype.

What we as outraged citizens in democracies do about this, I'm not entirely sure. I do write to my MP, for all the good it does. The rendition flights flew through our airports.

#69 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 04:43 AM:

On both sides using the other: At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, there were all sorts of people - Prussian junkers, industrialists, bankers, the other parties in the Reichstag who allied with them, and so on - who thought they could use the Nazis, and within a certain limited scope, they were right. But guess who got used most?

#70 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 10:08 AM:

Valuethinker @#67: I don't think PNAC, for all that it is filled with some very dark people, was about torturing people and violating rights of habeas corpus.

Agreed, PNAC as an organization wasn't a driving force. My point was more that it brought together most of the folks who turned out to be the major "players", and gave them an occasion to get their heads together, collect like-minded people, and coordinate their efforts against legal and human obstacles. Thus, the "official face", of an effort that reached well beyond their formal membership.

The good news is, just because they're a conspiracy doesn't mean they get everything their own way. The bad news is, they've long since passed the point of "do not summon what thou cannot put down".

#71 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 10:09 AM:

#32, albatross: "There will come a reckoning for these crimes against humanity. Those responsible, high and low, will be tried, and if found guilty, they will be executed or sentenced to life without parole."

Oh, nonsense. Franco died in bed--and is buried in a monument built by the forced labor of Republican soldiers.

No "reckoning" happens unless someone makes it happen. Got a plan? See anyone else with a plan? I don't.

#37, Chacounne: Thank you for saying this.

#42, Ariel: Actually, I think there's plenty of evidence that GWB is a sociopath, but it really doesn't matter all that much. The problem isn't that a particular president is a screwball; the problem is that our deeply warped political culture rewards and exalts screwballs.

#63, Greg London: Will you please knock it off about "personal integrity." I'm perfectly clear on the fact that neither I, nor you, nor anyone in this comment thread has committed or authorized acts of kidnapping and torture. To that extent we can all enjoy a big two-minute happy thought about our personal superiority to Charles Graner and Richard Cheney. But it's not a dire threat to anyone's all-important "personal integrity" to point out that we're all part of a system that puts monsters in charge--and will continue to do so, as long as our political activity consists largely of ineffectual gestures.

In the end, worrying overmuch about "personal integrity" becomes yet another way to imagine that, at root, it's All About Us. It's not all about us. It's about people who are having the bones in their hands crushed, so our politicians don't have to say they made a mistake. So that we can feel we've been "resolute." So various bad economic actors can make a buck. So that we don't have to mess up our lives or do anything of consequence. So we can go to our own graves brimming with our all-important self-regard.

#72 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 10:39 AM:

PNH @ 71

I don't have a plan, certainly, failing the standard, "vote 'em out of office". That doesn't seem likely, given that many Democrats in office, and especially Clinton, seem quite enthusiastic about the powers they stand to inherit.

So if I can't get rid of them, I'm going to at least publically deny my support for their actions, and try to convince others to do so. The louder we are, the more likely it is we can have some effect on the situation. So go out there and be a flaming Liberal, if that's what it takes.

I think it's time for a full-page ad in the New York Times:

President Bush's Government Tortures People to Cover Its Mistakes
Is that what you want your government to do?

and signed by as many people as are willing. I'll put up money and my signature for that. Anyone else?

#73 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 11:23 AM:

"So what do we do?"

It's time to start playing the long game, where we look towards victory in the next generation, or even the generation after. Work for electoral reform. Support primary opponents to conservative Democrats, especially conservative Democratic senators. Undertake non-violent activism and civil disobedience. Concentrate on environmentalism. I would like to be contrarily hopeful, but all the short-term hopes I see at this point depend on luck or grace. Which do sometimes come--I won't despair of them. But I won't count on them, either.

Caw! Caw! Caw!

#74 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 11:55 AM:

Bruce 72: if you're serious, and your ad will also present some of the evidence, I'm in. I'll throw a couple hundred bucks at it, too.

I'd advocate telling people what they should do about it, if I had any idea myself. Joining good organizations like the SPLC, ACLU, and PAW is a good start.

#75 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 11:56 AM:

For those of you with Representatives, one small step is to urge passage of the act described by Matthew Yglesias here.

Otherwise, in political terms I'd have to go with Atrios' answer: more and better Democrats.

#76 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 12:07 PM:

Bruce Cohen (STM) #72: I'm in.

#77 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 12:11 PM:

Generation Overwhelmed

I found this interesting. Does this ring true for other people? Or does it simply feel like the writer is making excuses? The foremost reason I can see for the absence of action -- or at least, the absence of most action except that of writing checks to worthy causes, and blogging -- is that taking serious action in opposition to the dominant culture tends to engulf and transform one's life. One example: the men and women who choose to be part of the Catholic Worker movement. The folks who join that cause are seeking transformation, but most of us are not, we just want to live our comfortable lives and oh yes, stop the war and end torture.

Does all effective political action require that we become revolutionaries? I am beginning to think, in our time, yes.

#78 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 12:29 PM:

I'll look into the logistics of such things tonight; some of the sites I need to get to (including the Times) are blocked from me here at work. Unless the Powers That Be have a problem with it, I'll report on this thread, and we can discuss further actions, and what such an ad should say.

If anyone knows of other groups of like-minded people or organizations who might be interested in participating, please either contact them, or send me names, and I will contact them.

#79 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 12:35 PM:

Lizzy L @ 77, it definitely struck a chord with me. I feel like I find myself so overwhelmed by the horrors in the news that all I want to do is curl up and cry. And when I try to do some good, I don't know where to start, or what to do. Do I tutor at the Literacy Council, or work the soup kitchen, or volunteer at the BGLT Community Center, or work as a Planned Parenthood clinic escort, or build houses with Habitat for Humanity, or... what? I only have so much time and money, and I don't know where to put it so it will be most useful--too often I find myself not doing anything at all. And hating myself for the inaction.

#80 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 12:37 PM:

Also, Bruce--I'll sign it. And put money up as well.

#81 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 12:39 PM:

The foremost reason I can see for the absence of action -- or at least, the absence of most action except that of writing checks to worthy causes, and blogging -- is that taking serious action in opposition to the dominant culture tends to engulf and transform one's life.

I don't take action because I don't think it will make any difference.

When I was younger, I read about civil rights marches, and thought that if I cared about something, I could help change the world. But now, I don't believe that anything I do will make any difference.

Voting? Even if I vote in a Democrat, they'll follow the Republicans once they get into office. And that's assuming my vote isn't eaten deliberately by the machines. We know how easy it is to hack the voting machines, that the company making them has a declared political bias, that there were reports of errors... and did anything ever come of it? My vote is meaningless.

Marching? Like all of the marches against the war have done anything. I guess it might make me feel better if I joined, but no one who actually makes decisions cares. The only people it impresses are the people who already agree with me.

Giving money? To whom? I give money to Doctors Without Borders, and know that at least somewhere that's making a small difference. But I don't see any reason to donate to politicians so they can send out political spam and then do whatever the hell they want when they get into office anyway.

I honestly don't see anything I can do that would make any difference. So, yes, I feel overwhelmed. I feel hopeless. I spend a lot of time trying not to think about current events because it just reminds me of how many people out there are so damn sanguine about torture and environmental destruction and wholesale murder because, hey, if it's us doing it, it must be okay!

People keep sneering at me and my generation and telling us to vote. Or march. Or write letters. Or give money. Well, I tried all of that, and look at how much good it did. The people who have the power don't care if I vote or give money or write letters or march, they will not change anything they're doing because of it, and marching more and writing more letters and giving more money isn't going to change that.

#82 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 12:46 PM:

Lizzy L #77: Oh my word yes. That article spoke almost entirely for me as a dude in his mid-20s.

I see so many calls for people to act, and so few suggestions for what to actually do. I go to protests, and feel exactly as the article described. I read political blogs, and am told that I'm ignoring the real world. I give what little money I can afford to, and am told that it's not enough and that giving money doesn't work anyway. What can I do?

#83 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 12:56 PM:

alsafi 79: I didn't read the article, but your comment here matches how I feel, pretty much exactly.

#84 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 01:55 PM:

I'd bet that the people who say we need to give more money and go out in the streets and volunteer more don't have rent or mortgages or jobs. Just lots of free time.

And I do give money - when I can - and write letters. What are we supposed to do when our elected representatives ignore us? Or, worse, when they lie to us about what they'll do?

#85 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:00 PM:

PJ Evans: Then you ask the people who aren't even giving a little money or calling their representatives to do the same as you. More people doing a little is probably more effective than you alone doing a lot.

Oddly, this doesn't necessarily mean going a lot out of your way. These subjects do come up at work, or home, or schools.

Fade Manley:

If the US government didn't care who marches, why would they regularly shuffle protestors off the main path and into "protest zones" where fewer media will see them or report them?

Bush scraped by on the vote, twice, *even with almost certain cheating*. Why, then, do you think more active voters couldn't swing things farther?

Unlike in Canada (Sorry, personal argh lately), your parties don't actually require someone to vote party line all the way down the line, and rtepresentatives have been known to change their intended vote when enough noise is made. So your solution when your candidate doesn't vote as you like is to make less noise, not more?

Your one charity doesn't solve all the world's problems at once, so you don't think giving money helps? (You'll notice those above in this thread who mentioned donations have not been talking about giving money to a candidate, but to groups in support of voters rights.)

I'm terrible at getting off my duff in support of political causes, or charitable causes, and I understand the despair you can feel from seeing your solo effort make so little difference.

But then I remember that there are hundreds of thousands of other people who are using the same reasoning I am to do nothing. And I see what happens when each and every one of us keeps doing nothing. *That's* when the real despair kicks in, that so many good people can sit and do nothing when their colelctive effort would help. And the only way I've found to circumvent that deeper despair is to do something. Give money. Write a letter. Leave juice for the Oak Table at church. Speak up when someone says they have no problem with torture, even if it's just water cooler talk. ESPECIALLY if it's just water cooler talk.

#86 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:02 PM:

I'm old enough to see the "long game" as the only game for most ordinary people, though there are clearly situations that trigger immediate and even intemperate actions. But for the most part, the world is not well served by revolutions or spasms but by patient, consistent attention to whatever is right in front of us. Heroic virtue (to use a term from my Catholic upbringing) is the way of the saint (and sometimes the martyr), but it is by definition not the way for everyone. Somebody has to raise the kids, get the crops in, keep the sanitary systems operational, fight the fires, and so on. In their copious spare time, they also need to keep an eye on what the politicians and power-brokers are doing--though there is ample evidence that said P&PBs don't much care what most of us think of them and will respond to nothing less than being removed from power at the next change of regime. Which means that one of the things ordinary non-heroic folk can do is outlined in the John Ford quotation at the top of this blog's main page--with the codicil that "bearing witness" includes civic activities. You do what you can and hope for the best. And if it gets too much and you need to hide under the bed for a while, I for one am in no position to judge you.

#87 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:11 PM:

Bruce @72, I'd be in. Although I think it's worth discussing what the goal of such an ad would be -- simply to inform people, or to call them to some kind of action as well? And if the latter, what action?

#88 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:18 PM:

Patrick #71:

Fair enough. This is something I'm committed to. I'd like to see some of the people running for office interested in holding those guys responsible for their crimes, but I haven't seen much of that.

Sometimes, you're outvoted or outgunned, even when you're right. I suspect this is where we are on this issue right now--I think the majority of Americans are pretty comfortable with torturing terrorism suspects, massive wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, etc., because they're pretty sure it will never be done to them or their loved ones. I'd oppose it even if I believed that, but I don't think me and mine are immune. Give prosecutors and cops this tool, and they'll use it to get confessions (as they did in this case) and plea agreements and convictions.

I suspect the way this will become unacceptable to most voters is that we'll see some cases where people "like us" are tortured. Probably this will build up for years and years, and then will explode into some big scandal, and everyone will agree that it was always a bad idea and they were always against it.

As an aside, not all the torturers get away unpunished:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7059335.stm

#89 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:21 PM:

Lizzy L @ 77

Does all effective political action require that we become revolutionaries?

Yes. Certainly any action that's expected to change the way status quo politics works.

alsafi @ 79

I agree with that article. Now remember that I'm a boomer, one with perhaps a little more track record of activism in the 60s than a lot of us. My opinion of Friedman's argument is that it's a crock. We faced this same problem of too many issues to deal with; as I've said before on ML, the only reason there was so much activism about the Vietnam War is because it directly affected the lives of a lot of the young people who had time and energy to protest.

And there's a debilitating argument that's given credence by a lot of people that promotes apathy: that if you can't solve all the problems, you shouldn't solve any of them. And that's a crock too.

Fade Manley @ 81

You may very well be right that there's nothing we can do. And I won't reproach you for not wanting to bash your against the wall yet again. I'll just explain why I'm taking some action.

I am sick and tired of having my tacit approval assumed for acts I do not condone. I am sick and tired of discovering that my will and benefit (in the form of the government of the US, which derives its power in part from me) are used as excuses for the commission of criminal, not to say insane, acts of violence against innocents.

I am angry about what's being done in my name and I want to set the record straight that I did not and do not and never will condone those actions. I want to persuade other people to speak out so it's clear to the world that we're not just blindly following these bozos who are trying to bring down our world for their own personal benefit.

If I can help change things so these acts are no longer committed, that's great. But I won't stop protesting those acts until they stop.

#90 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:30 PM:

Russell at 86, thank you for that comment. We cannot all join the Peace Corps. I don't mean to suggest that it is wrong for people to want to protect themselves and their families. I also have a job (several jobs), and a mortgage.

I am moved by alsafi's comment at 79 that zir doesn't know what will be most useful. I think there are many useful choices. Feed the hungry, visit the sick, shelter the homeless, etc. All these are good. It is the willingness to do it -- to choose, to act in spite of the mutter from the dominant culture which says, "Don't bother, go to work, live your life, let us distract you with Missing White Women and Islamofascists! Look! Pedophiles Live Next Door to You! never mind those people dying in the next street" -- that feels revolutionary to me now.

#91 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:34 PM:

There's also that you get fatigued and have to rest from the fight sometimes.

I am, yet again, ticked off at DiFi, who talks Democrat and votes GOP far too often. We're stuck with her - unless she resigns or something - until the 2012 election (assuming that there is one).

I don't know how long we can keep from falling over the cliff-edge that we're teetering on.

#92 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:42 PM:

Oh, and I forgot to mention the biggest distraction: stuff. Buy More Stuff. Own More Stuff. You Need This Stuff. Your Life Will Be So Much Easier If You Purchase [this] Stuff. You Must Have This Cool Stuff. Etc.

#93 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:46 PM:

Here's a small something people can do. Chris Dodd (my good senator, as opposed to the disgusting Holy Joe Lieberman) has promised to filibuster the bill giving retroactive immunity to the telecoms for their past lawbreaking with regards to Bush's illegal wiretapping if it gets out of committee and if the leadership violates Senate protocol by not honoring the hold he has placed on any such legislation.

He will do the filibuster if it comes to that, but it's much better not to have it be necessary. On his website he has a list of the members of the Judiciary Committee. Ten votes are needed to stop it getting out of committee in the first place, which would be the easiest solution. Senators on the committee are from Alabama, Arizona, California, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin. There are links on the page to call them now. I've already communicated my support to Senator Dodd, but If you live in any of these states, how about calling yours up?

I am miserably unhappy that Dodd's campaign for president is essentially going nowhere - email like the following makes me proud of my Senator (a pleasant change of pace here):

"I'd like to see a little more spine, frankly, on these issues. People tell us they want to lead, but a little leadership right now would certainly be welcomed on these questions.

"I don't want to, but I'm not afraid to do this alone."

Let him know he isn't alone!

#94 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:47 PM:

Lenora Rose @ #85,

These days, the only reason I bother to vote is so that I can ignore the "If you didn't vote you're not allowed to complain" idiots. (Apparently before I was 18 years old, I was not supposed to voice an opinion on politics.) I don't think it matters in the slightest that I do vote. I don't think that more people voting against the people in power will do anything but make them step up te voting fraud.

The money I give to charities matters, but since I'm being told repeatedly that just giving money is a sign of being morally bankrupt and not engaged enough, it doesn't exactly give me any warm fuzzies to do so. I give money knowing that it's never going to be enough, that people will always be angry at me for not giving more, that having a job that allows me to give money means I'm somehow not dedicated enough to the cause because I'm not out giving my entire career to charity.

I have seen changes made in governments before. I was in a country where a president was so corrupt people took the streets and threw rocks and protested and demanded a change. The man fled the country.

And what happened? A few presidents and coups later, it's all the same corruption. There was a woman in her sixties who worked for us part-time as a maid because her husband, a retired police officer, wasn't getting his pension. The local police chief wouldn't give it out unless the man agreed to give kickbacks to the chief, and the man didn't. The same corrupt government officials stayed in office, aside from the president. Oh, and the president who fled the country? Settled comfortably with his embezzled millions in another country that was happy to let him stay.

Small changes don't work. Big changes don't work. I don't even bother calling for a revolution because it doesn't change anything any more than the marches do.

Making less noise is not my "solution." It's my response to realizing that making noise isn't doing a damn thing. Maybe when other people make noise they make changes in the world; when I do it, I just end up with a sore throat and more depression.

#96 ::: Ronit ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 07:29 PM:

Susan @93, I called too.

Glenn Greenwald has been leading the campaign against telecom amnesty, and his comments today seem to be worth reproducing in this thread:

Most importantly, it has been a good last week for the ability of Americans without armies of lobbyists to make Democrats responsive. All of this is an issue at all -- and these candidates are talking about telecom amnesty and taking a stand against it -- because so many people demanded they do so that they had no choice but to respond.

#97 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 08:02 PM:

Fade: Clinton, Bush.

The difference is just one person.

At least a half a million people are dead because I can't write Clinton, Gore.

One person can make a very big difference.

Ken Macleod, I'm talking to you.

#98 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 08:32 PM:

Patrick@71: To that extent we can all enjoy a big two-minute happy thought about our personal superiority to Charles Graner and Richard Cheney.

First of all, if you can find one reference in any of my posts telling people to enjoy a "two minute happy thought", I'll eat my flat hat.

Second of all, putting "personal integrity" in scare quotes (three times even) and talking about "personal integrity" as if it were some sort of Barney-Dinosaur we-should-all-be-happy touchy-feely thing is a strawman that completely misrepresents everything I said.

To quote some bits of a few early posts:
0: It's a nice day, if you ignore the screaming.
1: There is no screaming. It's just the wind.
4: It's hard not to despair.
6: reduces me to despair.
7: This makes me sick.
9: Despair despair despair
12: It certainly isn't who *I* am

It would seem that this thread is gladly running down the rabbit hole of despair. And my first post was trying to get away from feelings, from the guilt and the despair, and get people to look at what has happened and what they can do, because, as you said, this isn't about us. This isn't about how we can wallow in misery as some sort of self flaggelation, some form of penance for not stopping torture. This is about the guy whose hand bones were crushed by an interragator.

Not that saying "I haven't done enough" should be read by anyone as a "Happy Happy" thought, but, god forbid people are happy and doing something to stop torture.

The "generation overwhelm" link, I think, points to something that feels to me is happening here. There have been injustices going on in the world forever. Like one of the quotes on the front page says: You're in the wrong universe for fair. Nothing you do will likely ever change that the universe is not fair, at least within our lifetime.

If that makes you despair, that's your choice. The problem with despair is it generally indicates inaction. And if the thread is doing nothing but reinforcing a conversation of despair with everyone who reads it, and no one does anything, then is it really about the guy with the broken bones in his hands, or is it about us sitting around and talking about our feelings?

I didn't talk about my feelings. I talked about the fact that I haven't done enough to stop torture. I talked about how I am not the people who do torture. I talked about my own personal responsibility, what I have and have not done, and what I can do in the future.

The response was to put "personal responsibility" in scare quotes, accuse me of trying to feel "happy" because I didn't embrace the "despair, all ye who enter here" theme, and turning an accounting of responsibility into some sort of claim about "moral superiority".

Which says to me, its way more about how we feel, and whether or not I'm willing to despair than being about what we do or anything else.

#99 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 08:36 PM:

Bruce@72, I'm in. Put me down for $100.

#100 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 09:21 PM:

Bruce @72 - I'm in as well. I'm not sure how much, yet (I have major expenses this month, and a publishing company that still hasn't gotten me the check they owe me, nigh unto two months after final draft delivery), but I'm in.

#101 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 11:03 PM:

Bruce: $100.00

#102 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 11:11 PM:

Valuethinker: McCain lost the last vestiges of respect I was holding for him when he sold out his “principles” to endorse the tortures Bush wanted to enshrine in the law. Mind you that was a thin shred of respect.

He lost all the rest when he actively endorsed Bush. He could have stood up to the Swift-Boat Boys, but that would have been risky. He could have said, “The Bush campaign is doing to Kerry what they did to me,” but that would have required moral courage (not the physical which makes it possible to bear up under torture).

He didn’t have it. A real “maverick” would have endorsed Kerry, and taken the risk that he would lose, and be put out of the Republican pasture.

If he had, Bush would have lost.

DavidS: That’s what I’ve been telling people of for years. They won’t believe it. If you’d like, I’ll explain why they won’t believe it.

Bruce Cohen (StM): I’m in. Broke, but you can use my name, rank, and position (so long as it doesn’t advocate a political position. If it does, you have my name). I can think of a few people/organisations, who might want to help.

About it being “us”. I don’t know. I keep asking myself at what point do I refuse? When do I take my rifle from the rack and take it home; to resist the gov’t in obedience to my oath? These were questions I pondered when I joined the National Guard (in re secession by Calif., primarily).

And I don’t know the answer. I have ammunition (but no shotgun rack for the mattress). I know there are some things up with which I will not put, but what of the slow burn to terrible obedience? I’ve pulled myself back from the brink of torture, but what of mere oppression?

#103 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 11:13 PM:

The main thing I think about Friedman's argument is that he's arguing in bad faith. People did march against the Iraq war (both of them). I was one of those people. Friedman, on the other hand, was a war booster (both times). He was a big part of the reason that the antiwar protests didn't have any effect on the national media discourse.

Y'all know the classic definition of chutzpah, right? This is a good example of it.

#104 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 11:55 PM:

Bruce:
In. I'll figure out how much later. End-of-month stuff comes first.

#105 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 02:23 AM:

Thank you, all of you who want to opt in to the ad. Money I'm not too worried about; I'm sure we can get enough. Signatures, well, they take more guts than money does, because you're hanging yourself out for the enemy* to see, and so I value them more.

It will take me a few days to run down the information we'll need. Tonight turned out to be about other things; Eva just had dental surgery and I needed to go out and get some food and medicine for her. I'll report as I find out more.

* They are our enemy, all those who want to take our country away from us and give us a prison to live in.

#106 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 08:13 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #72: I can't manage $100 but I can put up something.

#107 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 09:21 AM:

from everything I've seen Bush doesn't have any of the sociopath symptoms in his personal life

Well, I didn't see him shove firecrackers up frogs and light them, but the guy who did was a friend and thought the story was cute, so I'm guessing it happened.

By all accounts, his mother is a less-charming version of the Mary Tyler Moore character in Ordinary People.

#108 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 10:24 AM:

Terry@102: When do I take my rifle from the rack and take it home; to resist the gov’t in obedience to my oath?

It's a hard call because war isn't the clean cut solution to any problem that the neocons make it out to be. Civil war is a horrific thing. Unfortunately, that means the time for that sort of action is only when things have gotten so bad that the horrors of a civil war are better than the horrors of the current government.

One must not succumb to the all too human tendancy to see a problem and want to do something, to do anything, to fix it; to succumb to the notion that when social structures fail to solve the problem, then those structures must be torn down to clear the way for physical action. It's exactly that sort of thinking that other people used to justify torture, who told themselves that clearly the whole due process thing was a hindrance to stopping terrorists, and if we just start torturing some of them, we'll finally be safe.

This tendancy, I think, is the source of a lot of people's despair when they see their government committing torture and don't see anything they can do to directly stop it. We feel the need to do something direct to stop it. But the social structures of due process, election cycles, the way political representation works in a democracy, and so on, get in the way of any chance for an immediate fix to the torture problem.

Breaking down those structures requires civil war, and most people who see torture as fundamentally wrong are also the sort of people who are not fooled by the neocon propaganda that war is a clean cut solution to any problem. Which means we're in a position of limbo, knowing that our government tortures people, knowing that torture is wrong, knowing that civil war is a horrific alternative, and so being unable to do anything direct to change it.

So despair sets in for some people.

Which I think on some levels goes all the way back to the illusion that some people convince themselves of, that there must be something they can do to solve every problem cleanly and quickly.

Life isn't fair. That is a fact that is completely out of anyone's control. Thinking you can do something in the face of any of the world's unfair-ness is going to lead to despair. If people can give up that illusion, then they're left with doing things that will make a difference, even if it's a small difference and doesn't immediately solve the problem. But it requires people live with unfairness while they work to make it go away.

#109 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 02:14 PM:

julia (and since that's my name too, it took me three tries to get the lower-case "J"), a long-time friend had the ill-luck to spend a day with Barbara Bush, showing her around an institution for mentally challenged teenagers of which my friend was an administrator. She went into the experience thinking, as was common during the elder Bush's administration, that Barbara was a nice woman; at the end of the day she had nothing good to say about the first lady ever again.

"...a less-charming version of the Mary Tyler Moore character in Ordinary People" is perhaps too kind.

#110 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 04:13 PM:

Bruce@72, add me in for money and signature please.

My small story: raised in a police state, complicit in torture long before the age of reason, each day of my adult life was lived in a thin but constant fog of shame and guilt. Although my membership in the oppressing class was wholly involuntary, it was worn on my skin, ineluctable. Among the complex of reasons for leaving S Africa, one of the more powerful motivations was knowing that my taxes went to support a government that tortured in my name. There was no way to vote the bums out, the courage of my convictions led straight to jail and I didn't have those. I thought it couldn't happen here. Again I'm waking up in the morning and wondering if what I can do is enough: again I have to find out how much courage I really can muster. How much do I owe myself and my family, and how much to common humanity ?

#111 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 04:21 PM:

Bruce, I can sign, depending on what it says, but I can't contribute much money. I figure between a few online petitions, and a few posts at liberal blogs, they're watching me anyway. (That is not a jocular statement. I really do think my name is on a list somewhere, and a dossier is assembled.)

#112 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 04:42 PM:

I signed the letter to Reid about telecom immunity, and wondered what that would do to my travel plans if I ever need to fly anywhere.

#113 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 04:55 PM:

Nancy C. Mittens @ 111

I'm sure there are very few US residents who post on this site that don't have a dossier on. Last I heard, the FBI was maintaining over 100,000,000 files on Americans; it's probably way higher now. I know for a fact they have a file on me, and am certain they have one on my wife. We've both been involved with government security at one time or another.

#114 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 05:05 PM:

There are people who probably have files just because someone in their family had a clearance at high level. (I remember my father calling home to ask for birthdates for his siblings, in order to fill out the paperwork for one of those.)

#115 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 08:53 PM:

Terry #102:

I assumed there was some kind of interesting explanation for McCain's support for Bush, perhaps some kind of promise for support for McCain's presidential campaign in 2008. Because it sure looked to me like McCain had a lot to pay W back for after 2000, and if he'd felt like unloading on W, Kerry might have won.

#116 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 09:50 PM:

Bruce, I can sign. I'm not sure about money -- I'm in the Medicare Plan D donut hole and will be until the end of the year.

#117 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 10:23 PM:

Bruce,

I'll sign, too, and throw in some money.

#118 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 10:40 PM:

To clarify, I will proudly sign and contribute a chunk of cash.

#119 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 12:13 AM:

albatross: My explanation is right there, McCain is a moral coward.

Greg: Yeah, civil war is a terrible option. If it comes, well I've made my beds.

#120 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 12:22 AM:

Bruce, count me and the spouse in for money and signatures. I'd add the cats, but they take inspiration from George Foreman, Chang's cat.

#121 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 12:37 AM:

Terry, you're too kind; he's a power-hungry suckup who still wants to be the POTUS candidate of a party that values loyalty above any of the qualities desirable in a POTUS (by us, not its leash-holders).

Bruce: I'm in; $100+.

#122 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 12:58 AM:

CHip: That's all part and parcel of his cowardice.

He was afraid to create a winning Kerry because he thought that would hamper his shot at replacing Bush.

So he sold out everything he's stood for (at least in his public persona) and lost his apparent status as a maverick, thus torpedoing his only hope of gaining the White House.

If he'd had guts, he could have backed Kerry, done subtle undermining in the Senate and then run as the best alternative to the failure he created.

But he was afraid of Rove.

#123 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 06:38 AM:

Terry, #122: sensible people are afraid of Rove. And Rove probably needs to be afraid of Valerie Plame; he just doesn't know it yet. (Have you seen the reviews of Fair Game? Talk about a bad enemy!)

As to bringing your rifle home...violence plays into these people's hands; they are looking for an excuse they to declare martial law.

Back to the grind...

#124 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 07:02 AM:

Randolph Fritz - #123
As to bringing your rifle home...violence plays into these people's hands; they are looking for an excuse they to declare martial law.

So does an absolute stance of non-violence, to be honest. I sometimes wonder how much of their brash and bold behavior specifically is because they feel safe - after all, the Left (as a "political side", and not necessarily indicting or condemning any particular member) has done quite a job over the years of disarming itself (and America in general).

In the eyes of some on the Right, the Cultural Revolution as an actual violent incident would be just fine, because they've managed to convince most of the people (both military and civilian) with guns that they are on the side of the gun owners/holders.

#125 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 12:18 PM:

Scott, #124: You're right, a lot of the wingnuts believe that the left is weak and unarmed, but as far as I know that more wingnuttery than reality--an "absolute stance of non-violence" is the position of a tiny minority. So far as I am concerned the wingnuts are letting their perception of superior firepower blind them to strategic realities domestically, just as they are internationally. It is, however, important not to give these people excuses to declare martial law; they may do so eventually regardless, but they will do so more quickly if they can spin incidents of violent resistance into a public perception of a terrorist uprising. There is also a real risk of a dissolution into factional violence--the USA is a very heavily-armed and well-trained place, and a serious civil war here would be bloody beyond anything the world has seen. Non-violence, on the other hand, has a chance of success--in the widest sense, non-violence--peace--is after all the goal. If it fails, well, I think we would still be better off than we'd be after a failed violent strategy.

Welcome to the long game.

#126 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 02:27 AM:

Randolph: There's a political point I'm making when I say, "bringing my rifle home" which is to say I would be taking the rifle the Gov't issues me, and walking away from that service, to actively resist them. It would be (probably) how I respond to unlawful orders to enforce Martial Law.

It was more metaphor than plan (though an M-16A2 would be handy).

#127 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 09:15 AM:

Randolph @ 125

The microwave heat-em-up thing that they've been working on - and about ready to field, I understand - would make for real problems, even unarmed.
They say it's not intended to damage anyone, but that's what was said about rubber bullets.
I can't see this administration RTFM before using their shiny new toys.

#128 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 09:35 AM:

Terry, #126: oh I see. Sorry.

PJEvans, #127: unh-hunh. Though I suspect it is likely to fail in field deployment, it could do a lot of harm while failing.

#129 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 12:46 PM:

P J Evans: If they field that thing, expect to see more real violence. It doesn't have the range of rifles, and rifles will be able to knock it out of action.

It might not come soon, but the backlash will come. And, for all that I was making a political point about a specific rifle, it's not the only weapon out there. Millions of guns in private hands.

I don't think the backlash will be immediate, but when it comes, the level will be stepped up, pretty damned fast.

#130 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 02:05 PM:

Terry, #129, "Millions of guns in private hands."

That's why I keep talking about non-violence; if it comes to violence, things will go ill. There is no widely accepted opposition leadership, so thousands (!) of instant paramilitaries will form, and dispute the leadership. I can't see any outcomes that are likely to be improvements over the current United States, even as debased as it is.

"There is no way to peace; peace is the way."

#131 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 02:48 PM:

The phrase "the former United States" as used in V for Vendetta now seems prophetic.

#132 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 02:57 PM:

Randolph #130:

Yes, this is my thought, too. I used to see a lot of libertarians arguing that a collapse of civil order, or even a civil war, would lead to greater liberty in the end. But as far as I can see, the main question would be whether we'd end up with a religious police state or a secular one.

One of the creepier developments along the lines of civil war or turning the troops on the citizens is the increasing use of remote-controlled military hardware. When you have US soldiers driving the tanks and flying the planes, you can't have a coup without convincing most of them to go along and killing the rest. When ownership/control of each tank and aircraft is a cryptographic key that authorizes control of it, you just have to accumulate an army of people able to operate the remote controlled equipment, and get the keys. One day, the president, who is losing in the polls and facing prosecution when he's out of the white house, manages to hand over control of lots of the available military hardware to people loyal to him; when that happens, his inability to get most of the military to go along may not be so relevant.

Realistically, this is a ways off, and there will always be people close in to deal with maintenance and communications failures and such. But I can imagine, in my lifetime, the number of people you need to get on your side to carry off a coup dropping into the hundreds.

#133 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 03:05 PM:

#127 PJ:

What would a cloud of aluminum foil chaff do to such a weapon? You'd need a bit of experiment, but it sure doesn't seem like it would be that hard to work out how to create such a cloud.

#134 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2007, 06:36 PM:

Randolph: I agree. The situation would be horrific, with a strange mix of autonomies (I can see Montana Idaho, etc. stabilising) and a bunch of real collapses (Urbann California) and a few Lebanons.

The "nation" will fail and some strange mix of polities will arise.

Interesting times indeed.

#135 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 12:54 AM:

I wouldn't expect the outcome of a civil war to be either a religious police state or a secular one. Either of those strikes me as an overly optimistic outcome.

If there's one thing the Iraq disaster ought to have taught us: police states are horrible, but some things are worse.

#136 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 10:06 PM:

Randolph @ 125 -
Scott, #124: You're right, a lot of the wingnuts believe that the left is weak and unarmed, but as far as I know that more wingnuttery than reality--an "absolute stance of non-violence" is the position of a tiny minority.

It's not completely wingnuttery - I saw a 2005 Pew research poll that suggests that far fewer people on the Left own a firearm - I can dig up the survey, I think, but the question was simply "do you own a firearm" or something similar (amongst many other political questions) - and the numbers were on the order of about half as many own as on the "right" (which is still far from universal - only a little more than half). While such things are always uncertain (how many are lying? In which direction are they lying?), it is much in keeping with personal observation - those who own firearms tend to be "Right-leaning" - and those who actually practice regularly (guns are not magic talismans) moreso.

Right-wing whackjobs may be over-estimating the ratios to which firepower favors them - but they aren't wholly incorrect.

[snip - bunch of stuff I basically agree with]

Welcome to the long game.

Been there. Playing it (although perhaps not on precisely the same side as you... but, for now, we are fellow travellers). And it is a long game. The hope is that we will be allowed to play it to conclusion.

Part of the problem, I think, is that the Left has effectively ceded certain "playing fields" to the other side(s). Of course the NRA swings right - they can't find many Democrats (let alone Greens or more left-wing politicians) who are in agreement with them. When 2nd Amendment advocates look at the Democratic party, they see people like Schumer and Feinstein. (Not that the Republican party is much better, really - dumb gun laws come from both parties).

Of course the military swings right, for similar reasons (although, in the latter case, it can certainly be said that Tommy is a bit confused, at least at present - but it can also be said that old thought processes can die hard - and the problems we are seeing now in things like the VA, and proper kit for PBIs, and the like, were not exactly well-managed when the Democrats were in office, either).

Additionally,many of the folks joining the military are already right-leaning - because left-leaning folks don't tend to join. (Please note weasel words like "tend" and "lean" and "many" - they are absolutely there for a reason). Which creates a sort of feedback loop - in this case, a lack of familiarity (and lack of dissenting voices) breeds contempt. (and this swings both ways - witness folks who clearly have no idea what either the military life - or the people who live it - are like, or are convinced that the (mostly negative) images they draw from TeeVee are right).

I don't think this is a good thing, honestly - not only does it mean that certain folks are discussing certain topics from positions of ignorance, it means that they lack even the proper frame of reference in which to have the conversation. And it means that the other side has a much more free hand to sculpt and shape those playing fields, and "capture" resources that may be necessary - and certainly are helpful.

To make perfectly clear - nobody sane wants a revolution (of the classic variety). It's the absolute last resort. But just as there are certainly better possibilities - there are worse as well (and I suspect that, Mr. Austern is wrong in this - I absolutely think that a police state - either version - run with modern technology and classic ruthlessness (which Saddam's absolutely was not) would absolutely be worse even than current situations in Iraq).

#137 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 12:04 PM:

Bruce: Can a Canuck add a signature to your ad? I don't have money right now, but I do have pens. (To e-mail me, remove the obvious-to-a-human spamguard.)

Fade Manley: People who tell you giving money is not enough are even more idealistic than I. If more people gave money to their favoured charities more often, we'd see a drastic increase in beneficial works. I work for a non-profit organization -- Not in any capacity that means I'm saving the world by being here but it does mean I've seen firsthand what a sudden jump or cut in budget or donations can do. I've also seen it happen at my church; what a sudden expense, or a surge in donations means. So yes, giving money is good. It's good enough if it's what you have to give.

This is the thing; not everyone can or will be the next version Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi. But everyone can be a part of the big crowd standing with them.

And yes, sometimes things don't work out, or work out only partly, or.... Neither India nor the Phillipines are the countries the people who protested desired.

But, are they better than they would be if nobody had protested? I think in both cases, in spite of current corruption, or unintended side effects, the answer is much more yes than no.

The thing is, protesting at the government in this way - with popular movements, with signs instead of guns, with an intention of non-violence, is a fairly new concept. (And I know someone here is going to cite some ancient Babylonian movement, or something in Roman Jerusalem, or the Diggers, just to prove that broad sweeping statement wrong.... bear with me, you know how the concept blossomed in the last century.) The kinks have not been ironed out. Even those who advocate trying it in all circumstances admit they haven't half figured out what it is good for versus what it simply can't do. Those who succeeded in the immediate didn't always know how to take the results from the movement and ensure things are set up for the long term.

I think it's worth trying again, before the civil war option. I like Bruce's ad idea.

#138 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 12:43 PM:

#137 This is the thing; not everyone can or will be the next version Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi. But everyone can be a part of the big crowd standing with them.

I would count Deacons for Defense among those standing with King and Nehru was in some part the equivalent for Ghandi. See also The Last Detail

#134 (I can see Montana Idaho, etc. stabilising)

obs SF - Interesting to remember that Mr. Heinlein pretty much thought the society shown in Friday was the best that could be expected. I hasten to add not necessarily hoped for or to be encouraged but still a notion that only in enclaves could some form of the freedom found generally in his own youth be preserved.

Finally consider also The Luckiest Man in Denv as predictor of the natural end of water empires.

#139 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 12:57 PM:

It is probably true that left-leaning folks don't tend to join the military. Once consequence of having a universal draft (think WWII) is that left and right are taken equally, and folks of all political persuasions get boots-on-the-ground experience of what the army/combat etc. are really like, as opposed to learning about it from television and movies. It also means that lots of folks of all political persuasions have some familiarity with weapons, which has both negative and positive implications. It's been decades since I touched a gun; I would prefer to never do so again -- but faced with a police state, religious or secular, I will resist it in all the ways I can. And I do not have the temperament of Gandhi.

#140 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 01:09 PM:

Lizzy 139: I feel the same way. However, I suspect that if a police state is implemented here in an all-at-once kind of way, I'll be rounded up well before most of the population knows what happened.

If, on the other hand, it's implemented by inches (as seems to be happening already), it will be hard to know when to start resisting. When the President publicly states that he's above the law, at least for certain purposes? Already happened. When basic civil rights are disregarded? Already happening, every day.

I have an extremely high test for engaging in violent resistance, in part because I'm fundamentally a very law-abiding person (and since Lawrence v. Texas I can't actually think of any laws that I violate on a continuing, intentional basis). But I wonder if I'll keep saying "not yet" until it overlaps "too late."

#141 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2007, 08:53 PM:

Terry Karney @ 129

I've been wondering if the right defense against the "pain beam" might not be the aluminum foil hat.* It would certainly be ironic enough.

* And an aluminum foil jumpsuit and cape too.

#142 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2007, 03:50 PM:

Bruce, #72: Count me in -- at least $50, $100 if I can manage it.

Lenora Rose, #85: Yes, exactly. If everyone who doesn't vote "because my vote won't make any difference" actually went out and voted, you can goddamn BET it would make a difference! If I'm frustrated enough, my response to that is, "Your refusal to vote is making MY vote not make a difference, and that's not acceptable."

And yes, any individual's contribution of money or time to a cause is a drop in the bucket -- but enough drops will fill the bucket sooner or later. You do have to pick the causes that are important to you, and everyone's priorities are different, but that's a good thing in the long run. Also, as noted, you can increase the effects of your contribution by funding a group that fights for your priorities, such as the ACLU.

Apathy, burnout, and the do-nothingism they lead to are the real enemies. Even a little bit is better than nothing.

#143 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2007, 04:52 PM:

Lee #142:

This assumes that the people who don't think voting makes a difference were going to do a good job choosing which side to vote for. If they're just going to go with the most effective 30 second attack ad they saw yesterday, or run to the polls to vote for the Big Strong Manly-Man Who Will Protect US or to save civilization from the scourge of gay marriage, it's fine with me if they stay home.

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