Published on Monday, May 9, 2005 by the Palm Beach Post
Logic Lost, in Bush's Rendition
by Tom Blackburn
|A non sequitur, as fans of the comics pages know, is a conclusion that doesn't logically follow from what came before it. As in: Social Security is running out of money, so we should divert some of the money that is going into it for something else.
We know, of course, who has been spreading that non sequitur. He did it on his 60-cities-in-60-days propaganda blitz to sell private retirement accounts as a replacement for Social Security. In his pre-windup news conference April 28, though, he piled non sequiturs as high as the Capitol dome.
Here's one: "I like the idea of giving someone ownership," he said, referring to his retirement accounts. "Why should ownership be confined only to rich people?"
Rich people, he may not know, don't own their Social Security accounts any more than the rest of us do. They own other retirement instruments, probably own more and better ones than poor people have, but that's because they are rich. They own better cars and houses, too. Nobody, not even the rich, owns Social Security. It's social.
And then there was the slow-motion non sequitur. He started his 60-60 blitz saying that starting private retirement accounts would be better than raising the Social Security withholding tax or cutting benefits. But in his news conference, he made cutting benefits one of his proposals. He called it "directing extra help to those most in need."
What he meant is that the working poor would get approximately the Social Security benefits they do now, but wealthier people would take a cut. One idea he's talking about starts the cuts at incomes around $35,000, which hits the super-rich teachers. Some of the things he says could make sense in some cases but not in his context.
Directing extra help to the poor, if he really meant to do it, could be part of a welfare program, if he were bringing back welfare. But he isn't. It would go against the nature of social insurance, though.
If he wants Social Security reform as his legacy, he is going to have to stop this disconnected babble and open up a logical discussion. But if that issue is dead in its tracks, one of his other answers April 28 becomes more alarming the more you look at it.
The question was what the president thinks of "renditioning," which is the euphemism for sending terror suspects to other countries where the laws against torture aren't as clear as ours and the techniques are developed to a higher level of nastiness. The president began his answer by saying the question is "hypothetical. We operate within the law and we send people to countries where they say they are not going to torture people."
That answer must have surprised Maher Arar and Mamduh Habib. But everyone's mouth should have dropped — but didn't — when the president went on for another 228 words explaining why we send suspects abroad for torture (everything changed on Sept. 11) even while he was seeming to repeat that we don't. A denial in the form of an affirmation is, back to the comics, a non sequitur.
Well, which is it? Human Rights Watch says the Central Intelligence Agency has "rendered" 100 to 150 suspects to countries where torture is routine. That comes from a goody-goody organization, but its credibility rests on a reputation for not going off half-cocked. Mr. Arar, a Canadian software engineer, said he was one of them. Picked up in New York, he was whisked to Syria for a year and says he was tortured there. Mr. Habib, an Australian, was picked up by U.S. agents in Pakistan in 2001, sent to Egypt, where he says he was tortured for six months, and then brought to Guantanamo Bay. He was released to Australia in January. There was no explanation for the stopover in Egypt.
Look closely at what the president said about "renditioning," though, and you see that he never said the countries to which we send suspects don't torture them. He said they "say they don't." He didn't say he believes them or why anyone should.
I am afraid my country has joined the world's despotisms in promoting torture, but it sends the nastiest work out to be done somewhere else as it seems to do with all its jobs these days. What might the non sequitur administration say to that? "But in this country nobody forces you to observe Arbor Day."
© 2005 Palm Beach Post