Saturday, December 24, 2005

Cal Thomas isn't very bright

After several years, we've just recently started receiving the local paper again, the Florida Times-Union. I was reading the opinion page last Thursday and had the misfortune to stumble across Cal Thomas' column, titled War on terrorism requires new methods, not naivete.

It's amazing that guys like this, who rehash tired arguments, don't check their facts, and show a complete lack of logical thought processes have this kind of national forum.

The gist of the column is that Bush was justified in using the illegal wiretaps because, if you invoke national security, then you can do anything you damn well please. Or something like that. Here are a few of his more ridiculous statements.

Talking about the New York Times anonymous sources - Just once it would be nice if the anonymous would leak something beneficial to their country. Obviously, his opinion of what's beneficial to our country differs from mine, but beyond that, what the hell is he talking about? The reason people leak information is to report that something is wrong. Happy news is announced in press conferences, not by anonymous sources.

Then he trots out another tired argument - But civil liberties mean nothing if you're killed by a terrorist who has manipulated the constitution to achieve his or her objectives. The Senate's refusal to extend the Patriot Act increases the likelihood that more of us will die sooner than we expect. No, civil liberties mean nothing if they're subject to the unchecked whims of a chief executive. The argument that our safety requires the suspension (or abolition) of liberty has never been demonstrated satisfactorily. But the dangers of giving unlimited powers to the government have been seen throughout history.

Then he makes an unwarranted assumption - Those relatively few who were spied on and had their cell phones monitored must have demonstrated their intention to aid in another terrorist attack on U.S Soil. Really, they must have, huh? I'm glad Cal is satisfied. That's the problem with this whole scenario. Letting the executive branch authorize surveillance with no oversight invites abuse. In this scenario, we're required to trust that the people in power are working in our best interests. And if they're not? Since it's secret, we won't even know enough vote them out of office, (without a whistleblower). I haven't seen much that leads me to trust that this administration has America's best interests in mind.

Then a factual error - Waiting for a judge to give permission to monitor a suspect's cell phone often takes too long. That may be the case, but as has been widely reported, FISA gives the authorites the ability to tap a phone and get the warrant after the fact. Therefore, time is no longer a concern. In that case, the only reason to ignore the requirement to get a warrant is that you think you may not get one. Or you're drunk with power. By all accounts, these warrants are extremely easy to get and are never denied, so if there was a concern about getting the warrant approved, the intelligence need must be seriously questionable.

Then he heads off into part two of his column, condemning McCain's bill banning the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody. One wishes our enemies would adopt such a standard, but they won't because they are more interested in winning than behaving nicely. The major flaw in McCain's thinking is similar to what one sees in our dealings with Israel and her enemies. It is that what we do affects what the other side does and if we will be "humane" to them, they won't blow us to smithereens. That is dangerous wishful thinking and there is no evidence to support it. These and other statements in the column show that Cal clearly supports torture, he thinks it's essential to winning. There are three major flaws in his argument. First, the idea that treating people humanely is only done to get reciprocal treatment for our own soldiers and citizens from the other side. If you've ever read Cal's columns, you know he's a conservative Christian. I'm not a Christian, but I believe that treating people humanely and loving your enemies is one of the central teachings. People should be treated well, not for the hope of any reward, just because it's the right thing to do, it makes us better people. Second, Cal, like all his ilk, make the assumption that everyone we detain is guilty. Where do they get this idea? In actual fact, the vast majority of the people we detain are innocent. We've heard that, especially in Iraq, young men are picked up by the truckload when sweeps are done. If we torture or even stop short and use humiliation and degradation, we are invariably going to harm innocent people. My guess is that people like Cal Thomas don't care about innocent Iraqis. They'll say they do, if cornered, but their positions show otherwise. Third, torture doesn't work. It's widely known that forceful interrogation is not an effective or reliable tool. Look at how many false confessions are forced out of people in this country. And that's with the checks and balances we have in place for our own citizens. Basically, Cal just buys the argument without examination, that if the bad guys behead our hostages, then we must do the same to them.

So you call us naive, Cal? Those of us who hold the U.S. to a higher standard? I think for naivete, you need to look in the mirror.

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John Howard said...

Good post. I like to do things like that to, ripping apart silly arguments. The sad part is that it will be wasted on anyone who doesn't see all this as common sense in the first place.

Anyway, that really shows the difference between you and me, there's no way I could have gotten through that entire post without saying fuck, or calling the guy an asshole. Probably illustrates your superior education.

Chris Howard said...

I know, it's preaching to the choir. But I read these kinds of crap opinions all the time, so it's nice to have a place to vent my frustraton. If any rabid Cal Thomas fans wander by, I'm sure I won't get a rebuttal, just some run of the mill hate comments.

As for profanity, I didn't want to copy your style. But the temptation was there. Also, I wanted to make an attempt to answer his arguments, such as they are, rather than attacking him, (which he makes so easy).

Toast said...

Good old Cal Thomas, still hacking along after all these years. True fact: The very first letter to the editor I ever got published (in the Albany Times-Union) was a response to a Thomas column back in 1991. I don't even remember what it was about now. I think it might have had something to do with Gulf War I or the '92 presidential campaign. In any event, suffice to say he was a moron back then too.

beakerkin said...

As usual you have zero idea of what you are talking about. You would pull out your hair if you knew the protections criminals are currently afforded. Please don't tell me about something I do each and every day.

On a more serious note any time I make a determination I must provide a full account to opposing counsel. I have zero problem with this as they are serving their clients.

There are plenty of examples where I can not correct mistakes, read files or act on information. Each and every printout is sent to the shredder the same day.

I am not worked up about sending mobile radiation detection units outside Mosques or Bowling alleys.
National safety is not a joke and international calls were never protected. Were you this worked up about the 500 FBI files of GOP activists found in the White House
and that scandal was tied to Hillary not Bill Clinton. Did you lift your voice about the abuse of the RICO act against groups you disagreed with ?

John Howard said...

Who said anything about protections for criminals? We're talking about spying on people who have not been charged with anything, have not been accused of anything, and possibly haven't even done anything wrong. You're willing to trust te President that he's only using this power on suspected terrorists, but I just don't have that kind of faith in the guy. If that's all he's doing, why not do it the legal way? What do you have against checks and balances and accountability? If he's got nothing to hide, he shouldn't mind. Isn't that the argument you wingnuts use anyway?

Civil Liberties are not a joke either, beakerkin. Why are you so willing to give yours up?

And spare me the argument that if somethig has been done before, particularly by a Democrat. I don't know all the details of what you're talking about. But how I might feel or have felt about some other situation shouldn't influence how I feel about this one. The bottom line is that was our President is doing is illegal, and it's wrong, AND it doesn't help protect anyone, anyway. If Bill Clinton ever did the same thing, or anything similar then it was wrong for him to do it too. Unlike how you guys worship Bush, I hold the people I vote for to the same standards of right and wrong.

Toast said...

Were you this worked up about the 500 FBI files of GOP activists found in the White House
and that scandal was tied to Hillary not Bill Clinton.

No, because that was a fake scandal, like all the other fake scandals the nutjobs on the right ginned up about the Clintons. Bush's illegal NSA program, on the other hand, is an actual scandal, a violation of the Constitutional separation of powers, and an honest-to-goodness impeachable offense.

Shakespeare's Sister said...

Good post, Chris.

Chris Howard said...

Thanks Shakes.

And I've never written a letter to the editor, but Cal Thomas certainly raises my blood pressure. He's one of those guys who generally makes me crumple up the editorial page in disgust.

Nice to see you again, Beakerkin. You say I don't know what I'm talking about, but you didn't respond to any of my arguments.

Although I didn't touch on this, I'd be 100% behind granting the same protections to enemy combatants, detainees or whatever you want to call them, that we grant to American citizens accused of a crime.

beakerkin said...

Chris dead wrong.

First up Toast . The abuse of FBI files by the Clinton administration
was a more serious crime then Watergate. Unlike you I have to look into the databases routinely and know the restrictions on classified information.

Lawbreaking and abuse of power is okay as long as you agree with the administration who does it. The RICO act was designed to be used against the mafia but the Clintons used it against the pro life movement ( I am pro choice) and nobody said a word.

John terrorism is asymetrical warfare and not a law enforcement issue. International calls were never protected at all according to Mark Levin. Levin's bio shows that he would know a thing or two about these situations.

Public safety trumps Civil Liberties and external radiation sweeps of Mosques is in no description an unreasonable search.
Even the most vehement second amendment advocates do not think you have a right to a nuclear device.

Law enforcement works on profiles and risk assesment as it is an excercize in futility to search everyone. If some people are on the short end of that stick let them blame the perpetrators. I have been stopped 16 times in six months in Northern Vermont and it didn't kill me. NYC residents sometimes run drugs up to these areas and my Kangol hat and accent fit a profile along with my license plates. I proceed with the stop do as I am told show my badge if asked and go about my business.

Chris Wrong

Protections under the current law are reserved for lawful combatants.
They were never meant for those who do not serve in an army without structure. That being said I do not advocate physical torture.
However panties on the head if done under supervision is fine. I would also include being permited to only watch Lifetime Movies and Yentyl and listening to Vanilla Ice
and Shower me with your Love.

Unlawful combatants and participants in asymetrical law enforcement are not entitled to legal representation or Miranda rights. A person who robs a bank has not declared war on the USA. A person who severs heads or smacks planes into buildings has.

The government made a huge error in the 1993 case. The conspirators
should have been treated to a military trial. The bombing of the WTC in 93( I am a survivor) was not a criminal act it was asymetrical warfare.

Chris unlike you I deal with classified information daily. You have zero idea how much protection and restriction the government places on its use. Anytime a file is printed it must be shred. I can not discuss the information with coworkers or even my supervisor. Rarely if I act on information my supervisor may look and offer a second opinion or in my case a more experienced strategy.

Legal Counsel is allowed every paper in my possesion. They are allowed a detailed explanation of the methodolgy used. I have zero problem with accountability. The notion that this information is freely available is a farce unless one worked in the Clinton White House.

I respectfuly disagree with you on this one. Privacy is job one where I work.

John Howard said...

Nice job beakerkin of confusing the issue. Anytime you bring up Clinton (who is no longer our President), it does nothing to enhance your argument that Bush is right. Also, nice job of creating strawmen, with the no one said a word about this or that back then (when you obviously have no idea what any of us thought about any situation prior to our thoughts being posted online). Good job also of arguing on baseless assumptions, like that the President is only using this power against criminals, which is not supported by any evidence, and if true would not require any secret program in the first place. I'm glad you're able to assume what we all think about everything without any evidence to support it, but maybe some of us are a little smarter than you give us credit for. Anyway, you said a lot, but still didn't directly refute or even address any of the points or arguments that Chris made in his post, so I'm not sure why you disagree.

Chris Howard said...

Protections under the current law are reserved for lawful combatants.
They were never meant for those who do not serve in an army without structure. That being said I do not advocate physical torture.
However panties on the head if done under supervision is fine. I would also include being permited to only watch Lifetime Movies and Yentyl and listening to Vanilla Ice
and Shower me with your Love.

Unlawful combatants and participants in asymetrical law enforcement are not entitled to legal representation or Miranda rights. A person who robs a bank has not declared war on the USA. A person who severs heads or smacks planes into buildings has.

But see, my point is, I don't care what the law was meant to do, I care about what we should be doing. Your example compares bank robbers and murderers, which, I'm sure you'll agree, is not an equal comparision. How about a person who "severs heads" and an American citizen who rapes and murders young children? The treatment of the American is bound by our constitution and the body of case law and court decisions which describe how citizens accused of a crime must be processed. But say we capture the guy who beheads hostages in Iraq? What rules should guide our treatment of him? His crime is no more heinous than that of the American in our example. What I'm asking is what is our moral justification for treating these two people differently? Both, if guilty, have commited terrible acts. Or, if you like, you can use the oft-cited example of Timothy McVeigh. He drove a truck full of explosives into a federal building, an act not at all dissimilar to flying a plane into a building. The difference here was only of degree.

You say that the bombing of the WTC in 93 was not a criminal act, but an act of asymetrical warfare. I say that this is semantics. Crime is crime, regardless of the motive or the perpetrator. To say otherwise is, to my mind, an excuse looking for a way to treat the criminals differently. Again, I know that legally, US law and international law allows us to treat people differently, to a degree. My point in the comment above is that we should do what's right, not only what's technically legal.

It brings us to the question - Why should we have one consistent set of rules to deal with criminals of any stripe - American criminals, terrorists, unlawful enemy combatants, assymetrical warriors etc...? Because the best rules we have, the rules governing the treatment of American citizens, are in place for one reason - to protect the innocent. It's not about coddling terrorists or letting the guilty run free. It's about making sure that people are innocent until proven guilty and that the methods used to prove them guilty are fair and not corrupt.

Although I don't deal with classified information in any respect, it doesn't really matter since I'm arguing from principles. Many situations are gray in practice, I know that, and public safety may trump civil liberty in a specific case, but we have to make sure that each and every case like that is questioned. What the president has done with his wiretaps doesn't qualify.

By the way, Vanilla Ice sucks, but I like Yentl (I'm secure with my masculinity).

John Howard said...

Word to your mother.

beakerkin said...


Terrorists are not criminals and often work with foriegn intelligence agencies. They should be prosecuted in a military court and given Capital Punishment.

We dis agree but that happens in the real world.

Yentyl is dreadful and Striesand should never be allowed to make another film after that bomb. We could also throw in Battle Field Earth . Internment is not a Country Club and watching Lifetime movies is pure genius.

Chris Howard said...

I've never seen the movie Yentl, I just like the music.

John Howard said...

I've never seen Yentl, but I'm sure it sucks, music and all.

Toast said...

beakerkin: Please explain this:

"March 16 [2000]: Ray concludes FBI files investigation, saying there was no credible evidence that Hillary Rodham Clinton or senior White House officials were involved in seeking the FBI background files of Republicans."

I repeat: It was a made-up scandal.

As it happens, I agree with John that, whether Clinton did anything wrong or not, it wouldn't amount to a hill of beans in terms of a defense of Bush's actions.

Still, I do enjoy pointing out that the right burned up three GOP-appointed special counsels, $70 million, and countless House investigations and they never demonstrated a single illegal act by the Clintons aside from Bill's lying about a blowjob. NOTHING. So it cracks me up when people still -- after the Clintons have been emphatically cleared of all wrongdoing -- still point to the made-up scandals of the right as if they were real. They were not. Period. Drop it.

(Full Disclosure. I was not a huge Clinton fan. Disagreed with him on policy as often as not. But the GOP witch hunt against him was despicable and inexcusable.)