Sunday, November 11, 2007

Trust Us, We're Big Brother

By Cernig

I respect and admire James Joyner's work - but today he's way off track. In attacking what he describes as "an incredibly hyperbolic piece" from Frank Rich today, he writes:
As Dave Schuler aptly noted in a recent exchange, “a difference in degree is, indeed, a difference in kind.”

Bush is pushing the envelope on presidential power in a way that it hasn’t been done in quite some time (the last major war the country was involved in) but he has neither the aspiration nor the ability to become a dictator. America is much less free than I’d prefer, but we’re clearly a “free country” by comparison with virtually every other society in the history of the planet.
This is exactly the kind of intellectual dishonesty James accuses critics of Bush of indulging in. "It's illogical, Captain."

If there actually was a difference in kind, there would be no need to talk so much about the exact measure of difference in degree.

James himself writes "the mess at Abu Ghraib and the questionable practices at Guantanimo aren’t in the same league as the outrages perpetrated by our enemies." True, but they also are in some kind of related league on a spectrum of inhumanity, not of a different kind entirely.

Or how about this?
As Congress debates new rules for government eavesdropping, a top intelligence official says it is time that people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information.
It's not the first time Kerr has said something like this, as Steven Taylor points out:
One can find similar statements about privacy not being anonymity in a speech he gave on October 23, 2007 (text here [PDF]). In that speech he speaks of the need to protect privacy and the only aspect of that protection that I find in the speech is as follows:
Protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won. Anyone that’s typed in their name on Google understands that. Instead, privacy, I would offer, is a system of laws, rules, and customs with an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured. And it is that framework that we need to grow and nourish and adjust as our cultures change.
I'm entirely in agreement with Taylor's own comments on this:
Of course, the fact of the matter is most, if not all, of the information one can find out about me on Google is stuff that I, directly or indirectly, placed on the internet myself. That’s all well and good, but when one speaks, as he did to the Senate, about redefining privacy in the context of FISA reform and domestic intelligence gathering, I find that to be a chilling concept. The notion that the problem can be fixed by additional bureaucratic structures is hardly comforting.
It's a case of "trust us, we're Big Brother."

James seems aware of this contradiction in his own thinking, for he writes:
Now, I’m not going to argue that “we are at a time of war and thus, special circumstances dictate what happens.” Indeed, I broadly agree with Rich that we’ve sacrificed far too much freedom for far too little gain. I was against the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and find things that few others seem to object to, like government agents forcing me to undergo searches despite not having even a whiff of reasonable suspicion, clearly in violation of the 4th Amendment, in order to board a private airplane absolutely outrageous. I’ve consistently opposed torture, rendition, the declaration of citizens as enemy combatants, and all manner of steps taken in this war.
I can only imagine that, emotionally if not logically, James is squaring this particular intellectual circle with liberal doses of patriotic pride in his nation. If America is emotionally different from Pakistan, then of course the two situations are of different kinds - in emotional basis if not in kinds of events.

But perhaps James should remember that a considerable portion of those to his extreme Right see things rather differently. They are quite prepapred to see the U.S. as equivalent to Pakistan and to take the same course as Musharraf. Accusations of liberal treason segue quite comfortably into a Musharraf-style State of Emergency in their minds.

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