Freedom, Media, Constraint & Law

So compartmentalized is our world that we can hardly tackle any major problem without treading on sacrosanct fields. But I have no credentials and I must speak.

First, what is the freedom that results in displays of arms at Town Halls and the emission of hate speech and hate graphics. It is not the internal freedom that emerges from a spiritual release from one’s burdens. It is not the freedom St. Paul speaks of when he says Christ has set us free. What is it? It appears to be an interpretation of what is permitted by right. Such freedom is necessarily confrontational. No matter how it gets dressed up, a freedom tied to a right, regardless of how preciously it is held, carries with it the statement, I have a right to do this. As such, it is necessarily contextual. It can and does involve an adjudication of rights among potentially conflicting persons and groups.

Second, what is the role of media in spreading hate speech and public displays of hate and threat. Given the “right” to do and say most anything and its extension to anyone with the capacity to publish, online or off, the answer is: it is pervasive. Hate speech and violent threats have been endemic in the U.S.  since the days of Cotton Mather and Shay’s rebellion. But now there are no brakes upon its circulation and display. We delude ourselves if we do not look this fact in the eye and acknowledge that even if we limit our participation, we will always have media that will do what we may regard as inflammatory, despicable or small-minded. The role of media does not exist. Media do what media do and delude themselves talking about their role.

What of constraint? Are there any constraints? Is boredom our ally here? People simply tiring of idiotic posturing and silly display. I would not underestimate that.  Could we hope for a growth of consensus — such as took place when we finally began to abolish smoking? We might gradually concede that the false cry in the theater has wide and obvious application to public behavior that indulges in hate and provocation.  Such constraint might include the behavior of the media. A gradual willingness to stanch the flow of  hateful material.  But here my credulity fades. I do not believe the present crisis will be so easily resolved. The genie that is being unloosed leaves too many questions unanswered.

What is society’s tipping point?

Can a progressive current gradually prevail?

Or is it likely that the back and forth between progress and repression will intensify until even thinking like this becomes impossible?

And what of law?

Shall we increase the perimeter around the President?

Shall we outlaw certain expressions as too inflammatory?

Shall we limit access to certain weapons that have no use beyond the quick killing of a whole bunch of folk in a very short time?

Such questions always suggest the tragedies that give rise to laws of restraint. But notice that these laws have had little success in turning us in a more pacific direction.


My answer will be to support the President and do my best to convince other progressives that the most important task is not to complain loudly about the pace of change. It is to do what is called for every step of the way. Mobilize the grass roots to do the simple things that will win votes and create a body of accomplishment that will eventually convince even wingnuts that their chances of winning by condoning hate and unreason are declining, not increasing.


There was a time when I would have cried loudly for some action from the religious community. But if there is such action today, the media must be ignoring it. If the way the middle goes is the way the nation goes, then this religious community will bear some blame if things go, in a word, south.


MoveOn Torture Ad: Dumb or Smart?

Is MoveOn either being very smart or very dumb?


The condition under which MoveOn would be deemed smart is if it is riding a wave of public sentiment that will see its ad as a majority sentiment, despite its provenance. That would give the organization points for sensing a wave of pubic willingness to have a public prosecutor go for the guy who may have engineered torture and who now has no hesitation in admitting his role and defending it.

The condition under which MoveOn could be deemed dumb would be if the ad was seen as part of a broad movement to polarize the whole torture issue to the point that there could be no victory regardless of what was done, because the possibility of a national consensus would be foreclosed. I think it is probably in the interest of the MSM to take this position and play for a partisan, binary battle in which the rule of law is submerged in a pool of mutual right-left vitriol.

My conclusion is that what MoveOn has done is an inevitable development, just as wingnut Republicans will no doubt hit back by characterizing the torture movement as a radical left plot.

So MoveOn is neither smart nor dumb but predictable.

There is a silver lining:

A polarized brouhaha gives President Obama a golden opportunity to stand above the fray and possibly facilitate a dignified prosecution that will both say no to torture and no to the effort to turn this into a partisan free for all.


The Right To Kill

It is somewhat ironical that this subject generally applies to those who feel they have a choice. The Taliban does not spend much time reflecting on their right to kill. It is conferred, they sense, by the presence of an enemy on their soil, or by the violation of a holy law, or simply by being an “infidel”.

Al Qaeda has likewise never questioned its right to kill, even when its victims are palpably innocent. It could be argued that Al Qaeda, with its roots in the privileged and Bush-revered Bin Laden family, has always operated from choice. But it is choice that seems untinged by conscience or regret. It is the choice conferred by fanatic certitude, aka the very worst, seminal idolatry.

The question of the right to kill is properly addressed to we Americans, and to the President and others for whom these questions are not in the least academic.

The answer was clear enough the other day when Navy Seals dispatched three Somali pirates with three pin-point shots. The shots were designed to eliminate any chance that these pirates could stop the escape of their American hostage.

Was the right to kill so clear that no declaration of war was required? Thinking about it, this was perhaps seen as so transparently justified that no declaration was needed.

What about the prospect of using more drone attacks to accomplish what seems completely beyond the reach of any ground operation in Afpak? Do we need to rethink our evident rejection of the term war on terror? We are, after all, pursuing precisely that, perhaps seriously, for the first time.

I am inclined to think that if the Obama government undertakes to initiate a continuing drone strategy in Afpak, declaring to the world its right to kill with something like impunity, the decision does require interpretation as to whether it qualifies as a police action, in which case no declaration would be sought, or as an act of war, requiring the approval of Congress.

In an earlier post, I suggested that the right to kill may exist in situations where the damage we seek to prevent is comparable to the damage Hitler did after he was allowed to run roughshod over France. Looking at the record of Al Queda, and the chilling prospect of a takeover in Pakistan that could result in the use of viable atomic weapons at will against Western targets, I have little doubt that a clear justification for preventive measures would exist. I say that in the spirit of my mentor, the late Don Benedict, who initially opposed World War Two, spent time in jail as a pacifist, then concluded he must fight, and did. I say it understanding the courage and agony of Bonhoeffer, whose assault on Hitler failed. It was, in any case, too late to ward off the Nazi leader’s worst depredations.

The US has, as a nation, operated with anarchic, and even bullying, impunity in the past around the world, never seeking justification at any point. Now we have a President who is exceedingly strong yet committed to the rule of law.

It will be important to see how Barack Obama deals with this issue if he decides that drone attacks, and similar pinpointed anti-terrorist measures, must proceed in Afpak.


FOX Says Jindal Bombs VIDEO


From Jindal’s speech:

“Democratic leaders say their legislation will grow the economy. What it will do is grow the government, increase our taxes down the line, and saddle future generations with debt. Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need? That is precisely what the Democrats in Congress just did. It’s irresponsible. And it’s no way to strengthen our economy, create jobs, or build a prosperous future for our children.”


Which ignores that 90 percent of the stim will go to private enterprise, that taxes are going down for all but the top two percent, that the President has set a target of 50 percent deficit reduction by the end of his first term. With arguments like these, the Republicans has best not waste their money opposing Democrats.