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Monday, November 19, 2007

Think You Know America?

The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example. I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment. I call on all nations to speak out against torture in all its forms and to make ending torture an essential part of their diplomacy. I further urge governments to join America and others in supporting torture victims' treatment centers, contributing to the UN Fund for the Victims of Torture, and supporting the efforts of non-governmental organizations to end torture and assist its victims.

--George W. Bush, Statement by the President, United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 2003

This is one of the things that gets me about torture apologists. They're nearly all Bush supporters, yet their rhetoric isn't anything like the president's. Bush tortures, Bush should be allowed to torture, and, when Bush says he doesn't torture, Bush isn't telling the truth. By arguing in favor of things like waterboarding, these people are arguing that President Bush is a liar. When President Clinton was a liar, it was the worst thing that ever happened in human history and Clinton had to be impeached. But, now that Bush is a liar, they're cool with it.

So, the rule is lie about a blowjob, get impeached. But lie about freakin' torture and you're golden. Apparently, Bill should've tortured Monica before, during, or after -- then he'd be all right. Leather gear, whips, and chains optional.

With the Democrats caving in and approving Michael Mukasey -- Bush's nominee for Attorney General who wouldn't say whether waterboarding was torture -- we're hearing about a "torture debate." But the truth is that there's a "torture debate" in the same way that there's a "global warming debate," a "stem cell debate," and a "we never really landed on the moon debate." There's a small group of nuts and everyone else. In a saner world, this would be presented exactly that way. But we don't live in a sane world, we live in a 24-hour news cycle with networks competing for ratings. That many of the news networks have their own agendas doesn't help any either. So we're presented with a fading controversy and told it's still kicking, when the fact is that the debate is nearly dead.

The same is done with questions of civil liberties. Is it better to be safe, but not free, or free, but not safe? Never mind that people who aren't free are rarely safe -- if a lack of civil liberties equals safety, then the arrested lawyers in Pakistan are the safest people in the world. But, in both the cases of torture and oppression, we're shown a debate that seems to be vigorous and ongoing. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

A poll by Belden Russonello & Stewart for the American Civil Liberties Union found:

-Eighty one percent of respondents want the next president to "make it clear that the policy of the United States is to oppose torture and follow the Geneva Conventions."

-Seventy three percent want the next president to "work with Congress to establish a legal definition of 'enemy combatant' rather than leaving it up to each president to decide."

-Just under 60 percent want the next president to "require the government to get a court warrant to listen to the telephone calls of people in the U.S."

Before you call bias on an ACLU poll, consider this -- according to the report, "From late August through early September, [BR&S] conducted a telephone survey of 800 likely presidential election voters, including 279 Democrats, 275 Republicans and 184 Independents." A statistically even split between dem and GOP -- despite the fact that fewer voters identify as Republican these days. If anything, Republicans are over-represented and the poll is biased to the right.

I'd point out that any of those percentages would represent a landslide in an election. This isn't a debate, it's a bunch of crackpots making a lot of noise.

When I saw those numbers, I immediately thought of another poll I'd commented on that showed that the global warming debate is likewise over -- even among republican voters. Yet we're constantly presented a "debate" that's supposed to be raging out there someplace.

The reasons for these false controversies are many. In the case of FOX News, it's the fact that this particular media outlet is a right wing propaganda network. Other networks may have similar agendas (they're all corporate-owned, making climate reporting suspect, for example) or are obsessed with "telling both sides of the story" -- even though one side is a bunch of froot loops who represent the opinion of a small minority.

And, thinking about it, I don't have a huge problem with this "both sides of the story" approach. It wouldn't be a problem if they accurately represented our views. But they don't. When some right wing fool shows up on a talking head show and starts saying, "Huzzah for torture!" we aren't told that few people agree. What we're told is that this is some big debate that's splitting the nation. You may hate torture, but your neighbor may think it's fine.

It'd be interesting to see a poll taken that asks respondents' opinions on issues and their estimates of how many others agree or disagree with them. I'd be willing to bet good money that the average person believes that there are one helluva lot more people for torture or skeptical about climate change than there really are. I think that, in terms of their fellow countrymen's opinions, the American public is very poorly informed.

Of course, there's no way the media would conduct that poll. If everyone knew how settled the issues were in the public mind, people would flip over to the Food Network whenever some free market moonie from the Cato Institute was denying global warming or when some dope from the Heritage Institute was cheerleading for waterboarding. And worse, if everyone knew how contrary our perceptions of these phony "controversies" were to reality, we'd realize just what a crappy job the media had done in informing us. We would realize we'd been misled.

Which leaves it up to people like me to take up the slack. How lousy are things when you have to rely on bloggers to get an accurate description of your own damned country?


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Station Note: Tomorrow's my birthday, Thursday's Thanksgiving, and Congress is on break, so I'll probably take a little break until Friday. Enjoy your holiday, folks.