Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sirota goes all in on the "incompetent or liar" argument

OK...so its David Sirota and he's an idiot with an acute case of Obama Derangement Syndrome. I should probably ignore him. But he's taken something we see pretty regularly to an extreme. So I'll just use him as a test case to make a point.

Sirota dusts off the argument of "either he's incompetent or a liar" and applies it to President Obama. Of course President Obama is too smart to be incompetent - and so he is, by default, a liar. The line about incompetence vs liar made sense when President Reagan said he didn't know about Iran/Contra. But its not like President Obama is suggesting he doesn't know about NSA surveillance. What it comes down to in Sirota's case is that he's using it as a tool to try to stop people from considering the President's arguments. In other words, its a rhetorical device used to distract rather than engage.

So lets take Sirota's three examples and break them down. First he suggests that President Obama said the FISA court is transparent. Here's what the President actually said in speaking about warrants issued by FISC.:
It is transparent...that's why we set up the FISA court. Look, the whole point of my concern before I was president...has always been not that we shouldn't do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather, are we setting up a system of checks and balances...
He didn't say - as Sirota suggests - that the FISA court was transparent. He said the process was transparent. As I pointed out recently, the President admitted during his press conference a week ago that he had assumed - like all presidents since the Church Committee (when the FISA court was formed) - that court and Congressional oversight of intelligence programs were sufficient transparency as a system of checks and balances on the executive branch.

The conversation Sirota wants to avoid by creating this distraction is that we are now in the midst of creating a new historical precedent of including the American public in the conversation. That is a leap forward by this President that Sirota won't acknowledge.

His second example is the President saying "we don't have a domestic spying program." Sirota is referring to the telephone metadata collection program. The crux of the issue here is how one defines "spying." As we've already seen, the Supreme Court has been pretty clear on that question. If Sirota wanted to engage the questions that are actually on the table, he might talk about whether or not this program that allows the NSA to track who is talking to known terrorists and get warrants to review the content of their communications (something that might have alerted the government to the activities of the 9/11 hijackers in this country) is something we want to continue.

Finally, Sirota suggests that the President lied when he said the NSA programs were not being "abused." Of course he's basing that on the recent developments about the number of compliance violations noted in the latest Snowden leak. This is yet another word game Sirota is playing. When the President suggested there was no abuse, I'm sure he wasn't including the computer/human errors that were documented or that 70% of the compliance violations included foreign targets who had entered the US unbeknownst to NSA and were therefore now considered "US persons."

I can only suggest that Sirota has a different definition of the word "abuse" than I do. Usually I assume that word includes things like Hoover spying on Martin Luther King, Jr.  But once again, we are distracted from the whole discussion about adequate systems and safeguards that would prevent both compliance violations and abuse in an attempt to paint President Obama as a liar.

I'll grant that perhaps Sirota suffers from the same dysfunction as Greenwald in starting any discussion with the assumption that your opponent is lying. It then makes sense that whenever there is disagreement, you simply call them a liar.  But its really just a way of shutting down any meaningful discussion and therefore becomes a tool to ensure epistemic closure...blocking out any information that might challenge what you already believe. This is ultimately what separates the ideologues on both the left and right from the pragmatists. Their loss.

5 comments:

  1. Sirota is the Khardashian of journalists -- a superficial idiot who's desperate for attention. You put more thought into writing your post than he has in all of his writings combined.

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    1. I know. That's why I wrote that first paragraph.

      I just hope folks will remember this next time one of the ODS types accuses PBO of lying.

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  2. Some of the most level headed writing on the internet happens here, Smartypants. I thank you for that. This historical precedent of including the American people in the discussion is what the President wanted when he started the discussion in May. However, because the media is so bad at their job we had to wait for Snowden leaks so the media could get the headlines they crave. Therefore, Snowden gets all the credit instead of the President with people like Sirota. To me, it's almost like Snowden played right into the President's hand. Not in the way he would have like but we're having the discussion. Maybe it doesn't matter to the President whether he gets the credit or not...but like you I want people to give him the credit he deserves.

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  3. It always amazes me the intellectual lengths (depths?) folks'll travel to misapprehend someone's words when they've decided that person's an enemy. This doesn't seem to be just a feature of ideologues either; anyone who's had on line arguments has seen it happen once positions become entrenched. It's a tendency I think we should all guard against, but it's sadly so prevalent among the sharpest social and political critics... ("Sharpest" in their outrage, mind you, not necessarily in their analytical skills.)

    Anyway, good post as usual Smartypants. Thanks for not stopping after those first two sentences.

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