March 24th, 2003

Geeking about Civil Disobedience

I've been following the flap about the anti-war protest in front of the Oscars ceremony yesterday with some interest.

In broad outline, there were a lot of protesters and a lot of cops. Some of the protesters went in a (physical) direction the cops did not like; the cops ordered them back. According to the protesters, they moved to comply. The cops weren't satisfied with the speed of their response, and started beating people with clubs.

My first response was to nitpick their technique: Some of the protesters had still cameras; if there were any videocams there, their wielders have yet to make them known. There may be some discussion as to the proper function of cops, and to what degree bashing the heads of unarmed protesters falls within that function. But let's keep on the subject of civil disobedience, and how to do it right.

The cops are going to pretend that they were responding to attacks from the protesters. It's not impossible that some of the protesters were that crazy, but I doubt it; it takes a colossal level of stupidity to attack armed and armored trained troops when you are unarmed, unarmored, untrained, and outnumbered. In addition, it's not what they were there to be doing anyway; the protesters *did* have their own briefings, and "nonviolent" was one of their primary principles.

But I'm diverging from the subject again. If the protesters had brought along more videocameras, they would have sufficient evidence to back up a legal action against the LAPD and the State of California. The various aspects of Government involved will have a tremendous motive to discredit and ignore the protesters, but they still have some shreds of integrity left, and would find it hard to ignore a reasonably complete video record. Rodney King is one example.

Some of the pictures do show cops beating people. That's not sufficient, because the cops will argue that, yes, they did beat people, but they had reasonable provocation to be doing so. In order to be sufficient, the video record would have to show the cops giving their initial order, the group's attempt to comply, and the cops attacking the retreating group.

This doesn't address the basic point the protesters were protesting: The war in Iraq.

I'll go do the homework if someone needs to see it, but I think we can take as given that Saddam Hussein was a classic Evil Dictator, who wanted to Take Over The World, wasn't big enough to do so, and thus spent his time beating up anyone he could reach. Taking him out is a service to humanity, fine.

Given that, King George II did what is quite arguably the worst possible political job of doing so. The Europeans and Arabs are now concerned that he's a bigger threat to world freedom than Hussein ever was. Problem is, they're right: Hussein may have had more malevolent intentions, but he never had the capabilities. Georgie does; he's just proven he can destroy a foreign country without going through normal procedures and without paying attention to the people whose opinions he does ask.

The situation isn't entirely unsalvageable, but I suspect Georgie isn't interested in salvaging it. To do so, we'd have to rebuild Iraq, set up an impartial representative government, and get the hell out. There are a few more qualifiers on that; the rebuilding would have to be fairly prompt and efficient, and we'd have to be fair about that, too. And after we got out, there would have to be material proof that we were in fact out, and not simply exercising our influence behind the scenes.

We could do the latter by allowing the reconstituted Iraqi government to take action demonstrably against the best interests of the US, and limiting our response to the appropriate level of official protest, without military response. Say, nationalizing an oil company or something. We're not there yet.

The first condition we may have already blown. According to yesterday's paper, Georgie has already publicly committed to restricting the contracts for rebuilding to American firms. Given the contacts both he and his VP have with the Texas oil industry, I don't see any way for him to disprove a conflict of interest at this point, even if in some way I cannot perceive there actually *is* a rationale for the restriction beyond improving his personal power base.

What I'm more concerned with is the rapid erosion of civil liberties. It looks like Georgie's strategy is to whip up enough emotional fervor for war in general that he can impose martial law at home, and it looks like he's succeeding.

A lot of what used to go over a back fence now goes over the Internet. Grandpa managed to get out of Germany in the '30's because the family had resources that didn't show up in the official systems of the time. If I have to get out this time, I'll have to do it without resources, and cut off from my primary source of communications. I'm not happy about this.

And I promised myself I'd limit myself to an hour a day of sorting my belly-button lint, and I'm ten minutes over and I've got stuff to do.

Good day, y'all.