Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘lesser evils

All the Midweek Links

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* Both In Focus and The Big Picture visit the 2012 Paralympics.

* Michelle Obama did great last night, but the story of a sick little girl named Zoey whose ability to live was saved by the ACA hits a bit closer to home.

* Who’s going to be the lesser evil in 2012 2008 2004 2000 1996 1992 1988 1984 1980 1976 1972 1968?

* On reporting poverty. Related: Melissa Harris-Perry talks poverty on MSNBC.

Mitch Hurwitz Talks to Vulture About Reviving Arrested Development.

* The unsuccessful self-treatment of a case of “writer’s block.” These results have since been confirmed.

* The real affirmative action: Researchers with access to closely guarded college admissions data have found that, on the whole, about 15 percent of freshmen enrolled at America’s highly selective colleges are white teens who failed to meet their institutions’ minimum admissions standards.

* How many people have died because Walter White got cancer? And a Breaking Bad Fermi problem: What is a good approximation of how much money Skyler had in the storage unit when she showed Walt how she stopped counting it?

A portrait of David Foster Wallace as a midwestern author. And more. Words David Foster Wallace’s Mom Invented.

* Report: Student Debt Is Holding Back The Housing Recovery. Are you interested in student debt now, old people?

* In North Carolina, Obama’s 2008 Victory Was Ahead of Schedule.

* Getting spicy: Hacker Group Claims to Have Romney’s Tax Returns.

* BREAKING: Rachel Carson Didn’t Kill Millions of Africans.

* BREAKING: Social Security Administration to arm illegal immigrants with hollow-point bullets to murder taxpayers. Wake up, sheeple! The truth is out there.

* Erin DiMeglio is a third-string high-school quarterback.

* And for the kids: How We Got to Mars. The lives of the cosmonauts. HTML5 Map of the Firefly ‘Verse. And a lost interview with Ray Bradbury:

The Ones Who Walk Away from Obamalas

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Having made the mistake of perusing the MetaFilter thread on the institutionalization of Guantánamo Bay, it’s hard not to become disheartened as literally the most flagrant violation of Obama’s campaign promises yet becomes immediately normalized by supporters as “realism” and “politically necessary.” Even the rhetoric of betrayal is misleading; as Glenn Greenwald’s reporting makes clear it was always thus:

It is true that Congress — with the overwhelming support of both parties — has enacted several measures making it much more difficult, indeed impossible, to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the U.S. But long before that ever happened, Obama made clear that he wanted to continue the twin defining pillars of the Bush detention regime: namely, (1) indefinite, charge-free detention and (2) military commissions (for those lucky enough to be charged with something). Obama never had a plan for “closing Guantanamo” in any meaningful sense; the most he sought to do was to move it a few thousand miles north to Illinois, where its defining injustices would endure.

The preservation of the crux of the Bush detention scheme was advocated by Obama long before Congress’ ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. It was in May, 2009 — a mere five months after his inauguration — that Obama stood up in front of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives and demanded a new law of “preventive detention” to empower him to imprison people without charges: a plan the New York Times said “would be a departure from the way this country sees itself.” It was the same month that the administration announced it intended to continue to deny many detainees trials, instead preserving the military commissions scheme, albeit with modifications. And the first — and only — Obama plan for “closing Guantanamo” came in December, 2009, and it entailed nothing more than transferring the camp to a supermax prison in Thompson, Illinois, while preserving its key ingredients, prompting the name “Gitmo North.”

None of this was even arguably necessitated by Congressional action. To the contrary, almost all of it took place before Congress did anything. It was Barack Obama’s position — not that of Congress — that detainees could and should be denied trials, that our court system was inadequate and inappropriate to try them, and that he possessed the unilateral, unrestrained power under the “laws of war” to order them imprisoned for years, even indefinitely, without bothering to charge them with a crime and without any review by the judiciary, in some cases without even the right of habeas review(to see why claims of such “law of war” detention power are so baseless, see the points here, especially point 5).

In other words, Obama — for reasons having nothing to do with Congress — worked from the start to preserve the crux of the Bush/Cheney detention regime. Even with these new added levels of detention review (all inside the Executive Branch), this new Executive Order is little more than a by-product of that core commitment, and those blaming it on Congress either have little idea what they’re talking about or are simply fabricating excuses in order to justify yet another instance where Obama dutifully “bolsters” the Bush War on Terror template. Indefinite detention and military commissions are continuing because Obama worked from the start for that goal — not because Congress forced him to do so.

On Twitter Traxus dug out an 2009 piece on “Where Obamaism Seems to be Going” whose cynicism seems a remarkably prescient encapsulation of the last two years:

But here’s the catch-22: The left version of the lesser evilist argument stresses that it’s unrealistic and maybe unfair to expect anything of the Dems in the absence of a movement that could push them, and no such movement exists. True enough, but where is such a movement to come from if we accept the premise that the horizon of our political expectation has to be whatever the Dems are willing to do because demanding more will only put/keep the other guys in power, and they’re worse?

They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.

This is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding; and most of those who come to see the child are young people, though often enough an adult comes, or comes back, to see the child. No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened at the sight. They feel disgust, which they had thought themselves superior to. They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.

The terms are strict and absolute; there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child.

Often the young people go home in tears, or in a tearless rage, when they have seen the child and faced this terrible paradox. They may brood over it for weeks or years. But as time goes on they begin to realize that even if the child could be released, it would not get much good of its freedom: a little vague pleasure of warmth and food, no real doubt, but little more. It is too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy. It has been afraid too long ever to be free of fear. Its habits are too uncouth for it to respond to humane treatment. Indeed, after so long it would probably be wretched without walls about it to protect it, and darkness for its eyes, and its own excrement to sit in. Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it. Yet it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendor of their lives. Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free. They know compassion. It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science. It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children. They know that if the wretched one were not there sniveling in the dark, the other one, the flute-player, could make no joyful music as the young riders line up in their beauty for the race in the sunlight of the first morning of summer.

Now do you believe them? Are they not more credible? But there is one more thing to tell, and this is quite incredible.

At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or a woman much older falls silent for a day or two, then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman.

Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow- lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.