Sunday, January 8, 2012

Newton's Third as a rationalization for bad policy

There's an argument that I hear and see around for why something that the left is concerned about is really no big deal. It sounds like Newton's Third Law, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So bad policy will be its own undoing. If the NDAA is used to detain someone, there will be suits. The Supreme Court will eventually hear it. Bill Scher gave this argument for why the left should "calm down" about the NDAA. He and his co-host were basically criticizing Cenk Uygur for expressing his doubts about re-electing Obama.

I don't agree with this argument. For one thing, the process that occurs as this reaction plays out is stressful to the individuals involved. It is a kind of de facto punishment. Real News had stories about demonstrators who were detained at the G20 in Toronto. First they were arrested, in the moment. By virtue of being arrestees, they were subject to a low buzz of verbal abuse and degrading treatment by police. This is all in the middle zone between the action and the equal and opposite reaction. So then after a period of time, charges are dropped, or no charges are filed. This activity that can happen *right away* in the moment is actually not a side story, but the main event. There are many other stories of this nature. Democracy Now journalists were arrested at the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, MN. They challenged the police conduct in a federal suit and eventually won a large settlement. The settlement is an equal and opposite reaction, years later. But does their ordeal, in & of itself, work as a chilling effect on others?

Hopefully not, but the point is that real psychological and physical damage to innocent people's lives can be done in this temporal middle zone. In the case of the activist work and court challenges that are going to come against the NDAA, people may die in detention while waiting to find out that that detention is unconstitutional. The notion of a future ameliorating event should not be an excuse or a reason to shrug off new bad policy and bad laws. If the center left is apologizing for these things and the eventual counterweight is their reason why, they ought to be ashamed.

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