June 21, 2003

The Southern Cone

When I worry that America's politics may come to look like Argentina's, I'm worrying about what will happen a generation hence when voters say, "You never told us that the tax cuts meant that it was unlikely we would get our social security benefits. We want our social security benefits. Now you politicians figure out a way to give them to us."

When Jim Henley worries about America's politics coming to look like Argentina's, he is worrying about something worse: secret arrests and secret detentions (accompanied by warnings to the family that if they make a public fuss the suspect will be transferred to Guantanamo).

Unqualified Offerings: ...What has the appeals court authorized?

Secret detentions.

Please say those words aloud. "Secret detentions." Now use them in a sentence:

The US government engages in the practice of secret detentions.

The US government has broadly asserted its right to engage in the practice of secret detentions.

A federal appeals court has affirmed that the US government may engage in secret detentions.

Here's a more complex sentence, for the bonus section: There is nothing in the logic of Judge David Sentelle's affirming opinion that the United States government may engage in secret detentions that would limit the practice to illegal aliens, naturalized aliens or foreign visitors to our shores. And another: With its decision allowing the US government to engage in the practice of secret detentions, a federal appeals court has left citizen and non-citizen alike at the mercy of federal discretion.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The question is not "Do terrorists deserve the same rights as ordinary criminals?" The question is "Are terrorist suspects terrorists?" That's exactly congruent with the question "Are criminal suspects criminals?" We have centuries of experience on what can go wrong trying to answer that question, and developed an elaborate system of rights and procedures to minimize the potential for disaster - depriving the innocent of the liberty, property and even lives. We know that politicians, bureaucrats, law enforcement agents and intelligence operatives are human and fallible - that such people have lied, bungled, covered up lies and bungling, been gripped by a fever of wrongheaded enthusiasm and arrogance. From LA to Tulia to Boston, these human actions have devastated innocent people, in the case of Tulia an entire innocent town. We can be absolutely sure that terrorism investigations will lead to similar incidents and likely already have.

In the cases of Tulia and Boston, proceedings were public enough that the malfeasances came to light (eventually). The appeals court says the only light shining on terrorism cases will be the interrogator's.

This is wrong...

Posted by DeLong at June 21, 2003 06:28 AM | TrackBack


Brad: In this respect, Argentina's politics are in better shape than ours. There are no longer any disappearances and torture sessions in Argentina, and those members of the former military junta in Argentina who are still alive are now universally despised in their own country. Whether this will happen in the US is another question altogether.

Posted by: andres on June 21, 2003 01:06 PM

... And yet we wouldn't be here on either account if America had a responsible press. The only bright spot is that it seems it is slowly waking up: sort of asking about the lies made in the run-up to the war, how the easiest campain to be is claiming the life of a boy a day since war has officially been declared won, and how in the name of the defense of freedom this goverment is slowly striping its own population of its fundamental and hard-won constitutional liberties... And yet, this criticism is so muted that it probably only speaks to the convinced and goes below radar for the rest of the voting population. If only the President did something more serious, like get a BJ in the Oval Office...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on June 21, 2003 09:15 PM

Hey, as long as we liberals win in '04 secret detentions are OK with me. How long does a Supreme Court Justice have to be missing before we can replace him?

(Note to FBI: extreme sarcasm intended here.)

Posted by: Andrew Lazarus on June 22, 2003 10:05 AM

Off topic, I guess: Brad has hit on what I think of as the flaw in Grover Norquist's devious plan.

Grover starves the government by tax cuts, intending to get it to the point where he can drown it in the bathtub.

The voters say, "You never told us that the tax cuts meant that it was unlikely we would get our social security benefits. We want our social security benefits. Now you politicians figure out a way to give them to us."

Some ambitious politician says, back to the 70% top tax bracket.

Now you've got a LOT of angry seniors--the baby boom--who are being presented with a choice between massive tax hikes for the rich or eating cat food during their retirement. They'll choose (a). Norquist will be foiled. (Probably some bad consequences will result, too--don't know the economics.)

Why does Norquist think it will be easier to get rid of Social Security as the baby boom gets closer to retirement? If folks want their benefits now, before they get them, they're going to want them a lot more when they do get them.

(Oh, and Jim is right. Thesis: David Sentelle is responsible for the majority of the wickedness in the world today.)

Posted by: Matt Weiner on June 22, 2003 06:06 PM

what is more shocking is that the majority of american citizens don't seem to care (or even know who the hell Sentelle is).

I always thought that people had the real power in a democracy, but I am staggered to find out that Mark Twain had it exactly right (from the Mysterious Stranger)

"Oh, it's true. I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is governed by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelings and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise. Sometimes the noisy handful is right, sometimes wrong; but no matter, the crowd follows it. The vast majority of the race, whether savage or civilized, are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting pain, but in the presence of the aggressive and pitiless minority they don't dare to assert themselves. Think of it! One kind-hearted creature spies upon another, and sees to it that he loyally helps in iniquities which revolt both of them. Speaking as an expert, I know that ninety- nine out of a hundred of your race were strongly against the killing of witches when that foolishness was first agitated by a handful of pious lunatics in the long ago. And I know that even to-day, after ages of transmitted prejudice and silly teaching, only one person in twenty puts any real heart into the harrying of a witch. And yet apparently everybody hates witches and wants them killed. Some day a handful will rise up on the other side and make the most noise--perhaps even a single daring man with a big voice and a determined front will do it--and in a week all the sheep will wheel and follow him, and witch-hunting will come to a sudden end.

Posted by: Suresh Krishnamoorthy on June 23, 2003 06:45 AM

Matt W: except younger Americans largely believe Soc Sec will not be there for them. It is regarded as a Ponzi scheme right now. So the level of popular anger will be muted.

Posted by: JT on June 23, 2003 11:57 AM

Perhaps, but everybody says seniors vote more than anyone else in the U.S. When it comes time to do the big SS/Medicare crunch, there will be even more seniors than ever. Also, a lot of the non-seniors will be related to the seniors who would be screwed, and might wind up having to pick up a lot of the tab. I think these folks would carry the day.

Posted by: Matt Weiner on June 23, 2003 03:03 PM

I have been saying for some time that Bush at al are laying the foundations for fascism. Lots of people think I've gone over the edge and that's cool. But look at this combination:

1. A train-wreck economic plan with realtively few immediate bad effects, but which will hurt many people terribly 10-20 years from now.

2. The Patriot Act, even without its proposed extensions, which give the Attorney General far more arbitrary power than he's ever had before; and the ill effects of this, too, have scarcely been felt yet by citizens. Back-loading the effects is a major, major part of the Bush-Rove plan; these powers are for later use.

3. An open-ended war policy against a nebulous, 1984-style enemy: "terrorism". Rumsfeld has said that it will outlast this administration. And under wartime conditions, we are of course to expect unusual measures.

4. Singularly inane and uninformative media mostly peddling the official line. Who are the real liberals, or the anti-war voices, on the big national media? (Krugman, Begala, and Carville are all centrists; sorry guys, but if you don't know that you flunk. I know a liberal when I see one. He's usually standing slightly to my right, but not too far.)

5. An significant segment of the polity talking angrily about a "cultural civil war" against the rest -- the traitors. Some of these people are highly irrational and threatening: Armageddon Christians, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Savage, the militias and neo-Nazis, the anti-abortion terrorists, and the neo-Confederates.

Someone tell me why I'm wrong. I've heard the snickering and insults already. So tell me where my mistakes are. (No, breaking Godwin's law is not a mistake, and I didn't say Hitler anyway. Mussolini, maybe).

Posted by: zizka on June 23, 2003 09:01 PM

I have to say, unfortunately, that I agree with everything you said.

Posted by: tomtom on June 23, 2003 10:00 PM

I have to say, unfortunately, that I agree with everything you said.

Posted by: tomtom on June 23, 2003 10:01 PM

ziska, while I agree with your overall diagnosis, I think you need to be more detailed about who's doing what. Points 3. and 5. are the work of the Tom DeLayish barbarian grassroots of the Republican party (i.e., the people who think Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, that evolution is a vile concoction of the secular humanist university community, and that Islam is the work of the Devil). These people are being _used_ by Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, et al, who are the real movers behind 1. 2. and 4. (Bush and Powell are glorified press secretaries in comparison). The people who are running the white house want a political system where large corporations write economic policy. In order to achieve this, they are more than willing to give the barbarian grassroots a christian fundamentalist theocracy in exchange for both the votes and the mobilized base.

While I desperately hope that some combination of serious Democrats and popular backlash brings down the current Republican coalition, do not be surprised if it takes some geopolitical or environmental catastrophe on the scale of WWI to bring the current crop of Republicans crashing down. The US has not yet reached fascism but the resemblances to pre-WWI Wilhelmine Germany and pre- WWI Habsburg Austria-Hungary are starting to alarm me more and more as the months go by.

Posted by: andres on June 24, 2003 02:33 PM
Post a comment