Monday, May 26, 2014
I guess it all depends on what the meaning of jerk is:
Friday, January 04, 2013
Sacrificing humans on the (Jonathan) Alter of "rational" centrism
So Jonathan Alter is once again scolding the liberals for failing to endorse the conservative agenda. He writes:
The president already has his hands full dealing with angry and unrealistic Republicans. Now he’s getting reacquainted with their counterparts on the left -- a less ideologically inflexible bunch but not necessarily any more susceptible to reason...
That's interesting, don't you think? According to Alter, the president's first principle is to compromise. So when he makes a promise, it's really just an opening bid. I think we knew that, but I haven't see it expressed so starkly before and with such fawning admiration.
Before the campaign, liberals were hardly hesitant to express their disappointment with the president. Recall the liberal unrest of 2009 when Obama, bowing to congressional pressure, failed to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and neglected to support a public option in the Affordable Care Act.
Liberals crying “kill the bill” came dangerously close to derailing landmark health-care reform for which they had been fighting since the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party Convention of 1912. Obama rightly complained in response that too many of his supporters were letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Now we’re about to see such imperfection under assault again. While Obama won strong Democratic backing for the so- called fiscal-cliff deal in both the Senate and the House, a chorus of liberal critics rose up to condemn his compromises.
They were particularly incensed that he agreed to raise the threshold on income subject to a higher tax rate from his oft- stated preference of $250,000 per family to $450,000 per family. Some news stories reported that Obama broke a campaign promise by abandoning the $250,000 level.
A few liberals even complained that Obama violated his principles by compromising. They must not have listened to him all year. One of his most important -- and most frequently stated -- principles is that compromise is essential to governing.
Having said that “not everybody gets a hundred percent of what they want” from negotiations, Obama surely would have doomed these and future negotiations by clinging to every jot and title of his opening offer
But the good news is that while the liberals are once again ruining everything, the stolid Republicans are back in the Village's good graces, due to their "pragmatism" in allowing a vote to come to the floor:
Perhaps Republicans, too, have now been forced to take the plunge into pragmatism. One achievement of the fiscal-cliff deal was that it violated the “Hastert Rule,” named for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, that required “a majority of the majority” Republican caucus to proceed on legislation. Instead, Republicans split on the vote and the bill passed with Democratic support.
They did their part like the good citizens they are, in "allowing" taxes for the very richest among us to rise to the onerous levels they were just a decade ago. Now the hippies had better get their act together and "allow" the old, the sick and the vulnerable to suffer. That's what we call compromise in the Village:
Just as Republicans must learn to live with tax increases, Democrats must learn to live with -- and vote for -- changes in entitlements. They should keep in mind that reforms such as a chained consumer price index, which alters the inflation calculation applied to Social Security, and means testing the benefits of wealthy retirees, do not threaten the social safety net...
Can you hear the glee in his voice when he says "imagine how they will feel when Obama starts making tough choices on spending cuts." Obviously, he's getting in shape for some old-fashioned hippie punching.
If liberals are disappointed in Obama’s fiscal-cliff deal, imagine how they will feel in late February when he starts making tough choices on spending cuts. Liberals need to think harder about what their own long-term deficit reduction plan would be. Raising more revenue is necessary. It’s not sufficient.
But as with most Villagers he's uninformed. Liberals have many plans out there, starting with this one. And then there's this one. And many liberals favor major cuts to defense and the bloated, unaccountable Homeland Security Apparatus rather than the phony penny ante trims to those programs favored by politicians. Others subscribe to the odd notion that since Social Security has no effect on the deficit numbers it's ridiculous for it to be part of the discussion at all. Still more believe that the problem is a lack of growth exacerbated by austerity measures that are counterproductive. Virtually everyone agrees that the major contributor to the deficit in the future is health care costs which will be made even worse by throwing people off of Medicare which, despite its flaws, is the most efficient health care program in the country.
And then there are those crazy nuts who think that our still ridiculously high unemployment is contributing to the fact that the government deficit is high. That doesn't include Jonathan Alter, of course, who says that Americans should suck it up and accept he fact that we will have painfully high unemployment (and obviously, lower growth) forever:
CHRIS HAYES: Yes. That‘s exactly the point. I mean, I feel like I agree obviously. I mean, when you look at that job, that sort of famous job chart that shows, you know, the Bush administration, the Obama administration, you know, we clearly, the bleeding has been stopped, the patient is under hemorrhaging.
Big of him to admit that nearly 10% official unemployment was a bad thing. But he's clearly accepting of the fact that we will have unemployment at levels previously considered catastrophic going forward. Why? I can't tell you and I'll bet neither can he.
But I feel like, what‘s happening is there is a kind of normalization that‘s going around, sort of very subtly rhetorically on both sides and this comes to the White House I think, as well that we‘re going to just have to kind of accustom ourselves to levels of unemployment that in a historical perspective or totally, totally anomalies and unacceptable.
JONATHAN ALTER: Well, you know, they‘re right. We are going to have to accustom ourselves to some higher than, you know, old normal percentage of unemployment. You know, I don‘t know whether it‘s seven percent, six percent, whatever. We could have an argument about that. But clearly 9.7 percent is not tolerable.
I think we can see the pattern here, however, can't you? Whatever liberals are upset about, even high unemployment, is something that Alter inevitably rejects for a more "even-handed" approach. (Or should I say, "balanced"?)
Oh, and by the way, in case you forgot, Alter, who laughably identifies himself as a liberal, showed his truest of true colorswhen he wrote this:
In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts turning to ... torture. OK, not cattle prods or rubber hoses, at least not here in the United States, but something to jump-start the stalled investigation of the greatest crime in American history. Right now, four key hijacking suspects aren’t talking at all.
COULDN’T WE AT LEAST subject them to psychological torture, like tapes of dying rabbits or high-decibel rap? (The military has done that in Panama and elsewhere.) How about truth serum, administered with a mandatory IV? Or deportation to Saudi Arabia, land of beheadings? (As the frustrated FBI has been threatening.) Some people still argue that we needn’t rethink any of our old assumptions about law enforcement, but they’re hopelessly “Sept. 10”—living in a country that no longer exists.
One sign of how much things have changed is the reaction to the antiterrorism bill, which cleared the Senate last week by a vote of 98-1. While the ACLU felt obliged to quibble with a provision or two, the opposition was tepid, even from staunch civil libertarians. That great quote from the late Chief Justice Robert Jackson—”The Constitution is not a suicide pact”—is getting a good workout lately. “This was incomparably more sober and sensible than what some of our revered presidents did,” says Floyd Abrams, the First Amendment lawyer, referring to the severe restrictions on liberty imposed during the Civil War and World War I.
Fortunately, the new law stops short of threatening basic rights like free speech, which is essential in wartime to hold the government accountable. The bill makes it easier to wiretap (under the old rules, you had to get a warrant for each individual phone, an anachronism in a cellular age), easier to detain immigrants who won’t talk and easier to follow money through the international laundering process. A welcome “sunset” provision means the expansion of surveillance will expire after four years. That’s an important precedent, though odds are these changes will end up being permanent. It’s a new world.
Actually, the world hasn’t changed as much as we have. The Israelis have been wrestling for years with the morality of torture. Until 1999 an interrogation technique called “shaking” was legal. It entailed holding a smelly bag over a suspect’s head in a dark room, then applying scary psychological torment. (To avoid lessening the potential impact on terrorists, I won’t specify exactly what kind.) Even now, Israeli law leaves a little room for “moderate physical pressure” in what are called “ticking time bomb” cases, where extracting information is essential to saving hundreds of lives. The decision of when to apply it is left in the hands of law-enforcement officials.
Short of physical torture, there’s always sodium pentothal (“truth serum”). The FBI is eager to try it, and deserves the chance. Unfortunately, truth serum, first used on spies in World War II, makes suspects gabby but not necessarily truthful. The same goes for even the harshest torture. When the subject breaks, he often lies. Prisoners “have only one objective—to end the pain,” says retired Col. Kenneth Allard, who was trained in interrogation. “It’s a huge limitation.”
Some torture clearly works. Jordan broke the most notorious terrorist of the 1980s, Abu Nidal, by threatening his family. Philippine police reportedly helped crack the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (plus a plot to crash 11 U.S. airliners and kill the pope) by convincing a suspect that they were about to turn him over to the Israelis. Then there’s painful Islamic justice, which has the added benefit of greater acceptance among Muslims.
We can’t legalize physical torture; it’s contrary to American values. But even as we continue to speak out against human-rights abuses around the world, we need to keep an open mind about certain measures to fight terrorism, like court-sanctioned psychological interrogation. And we’ll have to think about transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies, even if that’s hypocritical. Nobody said this was going to be pretty.
digby 5/26/2014 09:30:00 PM