Friday, January 27, 2012

Civil liberties v. civil rights (by Suzie)

What do you think when you hear the phrases "civil liberties" and "civil rights"? I hope a discussion of the differences will shed light on why Glenn Greenwald and others considered progressive have praised Ron Paul.

Definitions vary, but "civil liberties" generally refers to rights guaranteed by the government for all citizens, while "civil rights" describes laws passed to remove barriers that keep certain groups from enjoying the same liberties that others have.

Civil liberties are concepts; civil rights pertain to practice.

The Bill of Rights was meant to limit the power of the federal government to infringe on the rights of white men who owned land. Movements for civil rights often end up giving more power to the federal government.

Thus, it's not surprising that libertarians -- and I count Greenwald among them -- would praise at least some of Paul's views while people like me don't want to give any credibility to a man whose actions would remove civil-rights protections.

As I've written before, some men fear government the way I fear men. I keep my windows shut on a warm Florida night, and it's not because I fear a black ops team is going to leap in and assassinate me. Government entities have threatened me at least twice for not naming sources, but they've never tried to rape or kill me. If you're a man, don't 'splain to me how it's the evil State that robs me of my freedom.

Amnesty International and other human-rights organizations have come to understand that government doesn't just restrict liberty by its actions, but also by its inaction.

Although the First Amendment made my career possible, I don't worship it the way Greenwald and others do. I understand that "free speech" means "free from many government restrictions," but other than that, you're on your own, pal. Violence and the threat of violence, great gobs of money, etc., control speech.

Defend free speech, but please don't pretend there's no link between speech and actions. Example: Pornography is propaganda.

To better understand these issues, let's look further at Greenwald's views. Salon, which publishes his columns, calls him "a former Constitutional and civil rights litigator." Out magazine elaborates:
By the third year of law school, he was working for a large law firm. But realizing that representing Goldman Sachs would have destroyed him psychologically, he set up his own firm, which represented several neo-Nazis and other unpopular clients.
I hope someone will point out his significant civil-rights cases. The only mention I found was his suing his landlord over discrimination. Perhaps his most unpopular client was Matthew Hale, "pontifex maximus" of a white-supremacist church engaged in a "racial holy war." Church members had committed racial violence before, and their holy books encouraged violence. Read what the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks white-supremacist groups, says about Hale.

One of his friends and followers, Benjamin Smith, was a character witness for him in his application to join the Illinois Bar. Two days after Hale was rejected, Smith went on a shooting spree, killing two people and wounding nine others.

Hale was sued on behalf of two Jewish teens and a black minister who had been shot. The Center for Constitutional Rights and others helped, and Greenwald defended Hale. (Irony alert: In Anderson v. Hale in 2001, a U.S. district court found that Greenwald "recorded telephone conversations with various third party witnesses, without disclosing to those witnesses that they were being recorded.")

In 2003, Hale was arrested "on charges that he had solicited someone to kill a federal judge," who presided over another case against him. In April 2005, he was sentenced to 40 years. (Two months earlier, a man, not tied to Hale, had killed the judge's husband and mother.)

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune ran a commentary by current and former officials with the Anti-Defamation League. Greenwald responded:
Once we head down the road of holding people legally responsible for the consequences of expressing their beliefs, meaningful 1st Amendment protections would quickly cease to exist. For instance, individuals who espouse pro-life views could be held responsible for the murder of abortion doctors on the theory that pro-life speeches "incited" these murders. Black leaders who rail against white racism can be blamed for race-motivated, black-on-white crime. People who condemn homosexuality can be blamed for gay-bashing attacks. Those who speak out against the extremism of Muslims could be held responsible for hate crimes against Muslims.

The vast majority of people find Hale's racist beliefs to be odious and evil. Far more odious, and far more dangerous, is the belief that criminalizing certain viewpoints by calling them "hate speech" is something that can be done while still retaining our 1st Amendment freedoms.
I'm wary of criminalizing "hate speech," too, but Hale didn't simply speak in a hateful manner, [ETA] as the ADL commentary points out. A better comparison would be a crime boss who says another group needs to go, without specifying what should be done and who should do it. I might characterize opponents as misguided, but I would never suggest they were more odious and dangerous than neo-Nazis. (Credit goes to the Reid Report for pointing me toward this case and other writing.)

Feminists may see parallels with anti-abortion extremists, as Greenwald did. Amanda Robb had a terrific piece of investigative journalism in 2010 in Ms. Magazine on Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller, and those who supported Roeder. Although he pulled the trigger, she argues, he didn't act alone.

I don't know Greenwald's current views on abortion, but in 2005, he didn't mind the government imposing some restrictions. On his blog Unclaimed Territory, he argued that it wasn't good strategy to oppose Samuel Alito's Supreme Court confirmation because of his dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Greenwald wrote:
A law requiring a woman to notify her husband before she can abort her baby (not that she obtain consent of her husband, and not that she notify the father of her baby -- only that she notify her husband, if she has one) -- does not seem that it would greatly offend very many people beyond the hard-core, absolutist pro-choice minority, which is going to oppose Alito no matter what.
Two months later, in a list of the 10 worst Americans, he included Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who authored Roe v. Wade.
With a single, intellectually flimsy judicial opinion, [he] did more than anyone else to inflame and render irresolvable America’s paralyzing and internally destructive culture war.
Greenwald said the list included names from commenter Hypatia, and he didn't agree with all of her choices. This gave him plausible deniability. Although he published the list, he could argue that he disagreed with the inclusion of Blackmun, and I have no way to contact Hypatia to prove otherwise.

This post was one reason I chose "hermeneutics" to describe my attempt to figure out what Greenwald does or does not believe. His writing reminds me of food critics who write with an invisible I, such as: “The truffled hummingbird wing pleased the palate,” or old-style journalists who write, "One might believe that X lied." If someone says the writer called X a liar, the writer can say, no, some people might believe that, but I'm not expressing my opinion.

Greenwald has written that he was neither liberal nor conservative and didn't vote in 2000. He supported Bush and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Out magazine says: "In his early days as a blogger, Greenwald supported Democratic candidates who shared his pro-civil liberties views." Was that 2005 when he started Unclaimed Territory? I read through those posts and didn't notice much support for Democrats. Instead, he argued against gun control and considered "few problems ... more pressing" than illegal immigration.

In 2005, he contrasted Bush and Clinton, saying Bush had remained “steadfast” in refusing to cave to the pressure of “the preening, hubristic, status-obsessed Washington media elite.” Among these elites, Greenwald included investigative journalist Seymour Hirsch, who won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the My Lai Massacre, and later exposed torture at the Abu Ghraib prison.

On CNN, Hersch had said generals were worried that Bush wasn’t listening to them and others, including himself. They worried about an escalation of air strikes and the death of civilians. (Is Greenwald now an elite for wishing that Obama would listen to him?)

In the following, Greenwald had links to whom he was referencing. I'll put them in brackets.
Ever since he took office, Bush has refused to play by many of the long-standing rules of the Washington game. He doesn't fire his cabinet secretaries and aides when editorial boards and other politicians demand that he do so. [Donald Rumsfeld] The appearance of as-yet-unproven scandals doesn't cause him to dump whomever is said to be associated with them. [Karl Rove]
In 2006, he wrote that, in the past, "conservatives vigorously opposed every proposal to expand government investigative and surveillance power on the ground that such powers posed intolerable threats to our liberties."

He criticized Bush for expanding presidential powers, saying: "It has long been clear that there is nothing remotely 'conservative' about this Administration, at least in the sense that conservative ideology has stood for a restrained Federal Government which was to be distrusted."

In 2005, he wrote about Scooter Libby leaking information on CIA agent Valerie Plame: "It is illegal to disclose classified information to individuals who are not cleared to receive it. Period." Now he considers Bradley Manning and Julian Assange heroes. He has "blinding contempt" for Adrian Lamo, who turned Manning in to the FBI. If someone thinks wrongdoing has occurred, why is it heroic to go to WikiLeaks but horrid to go to the FBI? Why do Assange fans tell writers that we must assume he's innocent, and yet, talk about Manning exposing "war crimes," even though no one has been convicted, to my knowledge?

Greenwald has accused the government of torturing Manning, but at least the government didn't make him eat his own vomit, as Max Hardcore did to women in porn videos. I realize that sounds flippant, but it underscores what gets called torture. For example, plenty of men beat and rape their partners, and restrict their movements, but the media rarely calls that torture. This story is an exception because authorities used the word.

The Reclusive Leftist wrote about Greenwald's defense of Max Hardcore and torture porn. (Here's what I wrote.) She linked to the Feminist Law Professors, in which Ann Bartow criticized Greenwald.

"You’re the one who is drowning in misogyny and contempt for women," he responded, because he thinks women who say they consented should be believed. But Ann and others noted that fear and financial need may influence what porn actresses sign and what they say. A woman may give consent initially, but change her mind later. Would Greenwald want us to assume she consented, even if she's struggling and crying? The right to consent to certain sex acts, but not others, and the right to withdraw consent are at the crux of the sex-crime accusations against Assange.

In 2006, Greenwald criticized Austria for imprisoning David Irving for denying the Holocaust in print.
I know from debating these issues that there are handfuls of people on the Far Left who will defend free speech restrictions of this sort on the ground that the right of people to be free from feelings of "intimidation" or "discomfort" outweighs the rights and virtues of free expression. And there are people on the Far Right who favor their own pet restrictions on free expression, whether it be prosecuting people for burning flags or prohibiting the expression of ideas they claim are "pornographic" or "obscene."
But outside of these fringes and aberrational viewpoints, the notion that the Government can define a set of ideas which is criminally prohibited, and which can serve as a basis for criminal prosecution, is sharply distasteful and even infuriating to most Americans.
[Indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens is] at least as repulsive to core American political values as imprisoning people for expressing prohibited ideas. Very few Democrats have actually tried to make Americans aware of these matters, and to the extent that this case has been made at all, it’s been made most potently by conservatives.