Saturday, January 11, 2003

Newspeak Watch

Conservatives in the past five years have become masters of Newspeak, the Orwellian twisting of language that not only propagandizes but actually distorts reality. As a character in 1984 puts it: "You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right…But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party."

Put another way: "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it."

Indeed, the basic agenda of the Bush regime is now neatly summed up by the three core truisms of Newspeak:

"War is peace."

"Ignorance is strength."

"Freedom is slavery."

In recent weeks, we've been getting the newest permutations of Newspeak from conservatives:

"Opposing class warfare is class warfare."

"Attacking racial prejudice is race baiting."

We'll be on the outlook for more Newspeakisms as they arrive. Expect this to be a regular feature of this blog.

Saddam's allies

Does opposing war with Iraq "objectively" place a person in Saddam's camp? Hardly.

I'll use my own case as a clear example.

Back in September 2001 -- just 10 days after the terrorist attacks -- I published one of the first discussions anywhere in the press of the possibility that Saddam was behind the 9/11 attacks. Here is the story (you need Salon Premium subscription to read the whole thing). It largely was ignored, and indeed Iraqi complicity in the attacks was discussed very little at all -- at least until the Bush administration made it the centerpiece of their 2002 election drive.

I've been tracking the activities of the Iraqi government for a number of years now, inspired in no small part by Amnesty International's steady reports of human-rights abuses. Iraq represents one of the worst tendencies of American foreign policy of the past half-century -- namely, our propensity to create long-term monsters (from Somoza to Pinochet to Noriega to Saddam to Osama bin Laden) in the name of propping up our short-term interests.

It's been clear for some time that the Iraqi intelligence agency is a real threat both at home and abroad; its Soviet-style activities are emblematic of a horrendous dictatorship. The increasing signs of cooperation between Saddam and Islamic fundamentalists have been especially troubling.

With those trends in mind, I wrote the Salon piece clearly open to the likelihood that Saddam indeed provided logistical and other support for the Al Qaeda attacks. As the story demonstrates, there is an evidentiary trail from the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 to that of 2001.

However, making that connection clearly hinges on a central piece of evidence -- namely, ascertaining whether Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 attack, is in fact an Iraqi intelligence agent. This is the primary thesis of Laurie Mylroie's book Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America, and it's very plausible.

However, it has never been nailed down. As the article recounts, there have always been two simple ways of determining whether or not Mylroie is right: first, obtaining the real Yousef's student papers in Britain and comparing fingerprints and other evidence on them with evidence from the Al Qaeda terrorist who calls himself Yousef currently in prison at Florence, Colo.; and second, contacting Yousef's former classmates in Britain to have them help determine whether or not he is in fact the person they knew in the mid-1980s.

Gathering this evidence has always been the simplest, most concrete means of connecting Iraq to 9/11. And in the months subsequent to the Salon article's publication, it has become increasingly clear that this evidence simply doesn't exist. If it did, it would have been gathered, and the facts publicized by the Bush administration, which has sought to connect Saddam to Al Qaeda through multiple means, none of which have been substantiated. (Indeed, one of the other pieces of evidence I cited in my article -- the alleged meeting between Mohammad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague -- has since been largely disproven.)

I'm still open to the likelihood that Iraq has become allied with Al Qaeda and was indeed involved in 9/11. (I think Osama bin Laden's post-9/11 suggestions on videotape that someone else, intent on 'revenge,' masterminded and triggered the 9/11 attacks are worth remembering.) But despite my predisposition, it's clear to me that the case simply has not been made.

And without that evidence, there simply is no sound case for going to war with Iraq.

I'm not the only one who thinks the Bush administration has failed to make its case. A recent Los Angeles Times poll found that 72 percent of Americans do not believe Bush has made an adequate case for war against Iraq. And there are other thoughtful critics of the Iraqi regime who are similarly unpersuaded -- Scott Ritter and Josh Marshall, for example. And let's not forget Amnesty International, which has been particularly outspoken about the Busheviks' willingness to use the cause of human rights as cover for its war.

(Particularly noteworthy in the above AI press release is this: "The US and other Western governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and ignored Amnesty International's campaign on behalf of the thousands of unarmed Kurdish civilians killed in the 1988 attacks on Halabja." Indeed, after those attacks -- cited by Bush Jr. as central evidence to the 'evil' Saddam represents -- the first Bush administration actually sold the Iraqi regime more arms.)

However, the skepticism of all these folks, according to the growing chorus of conservatives, makes us anti-American, pro-Saddam traitors.

One wonders where all these conservatives were in 1998, when Bill Clinton was bombing Saddam. Oh, that's right -- they were accusing him of "wagging the dog." Trent Lott, then the Senate Majority Leader, clearly undercut the nation's military interests (and gave genuine 'aid and comfort' to Saddam) when he announced that he would not support Clinton's actions, accusing him of taking the action for political purposes. Wonder how those remarks would fly now.

Finally, it is worth noting that there are indeed Americans who are objectively, and openly, allies of Saddam. However, nearly all of them are right-wing extremists.

Fred Phelps, the gay-hating pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, has made two trips to Baghdad for the express purpose of denouncing America's moral standards; the trips probably were financed by Saddam himself, and there are reasons to believe Phelps has been underwritten by Saddam. And then of course, there's the Timothy McVeigh faction. Wonder why conservatives aren't concerned about these folks.

Friday, January 10, 2003

The Orcinus principium

A core operating principle of this blog:

Americans who accuse their fellow citizens of sympathizing with the enemy merely for dissenting from the nation's war aims are objectively anti-democratic.

As I mentioned below, the anti-dissent rhetoric from the right since Sept. 11 has grown increasingly worrisome. If you're Patty Murray or Tom Daschle, you already know that raising thoughtful questions about the administration's handling of the "war on terrorism" will bring swift accusations of being unpatriotic.

Probably the keynote for this theme was sounded by John Ashcroft in December 2001, when he warned in testimony before the Senate: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends."

Since then, this line of attack has become a staple of conservatives. It's a standard feature of Rush Limbaugh's schtick, not to mention other right-wing ideologues like Michael Savage. We've already seen plenty of this in the Blogosphere, led notably by Glenn Reynolds' contention that antiwar folk are "objectively" on Saddam's side.

Let's be clear about this: Democracy is not a sport. We are not rooting for a football team here. Questioning the behavior of our leaders, and declining to support their every action, doesn't make you a traitor.

In a democracy, we are best served by having an open and lively debate on the direction we take as a nation. This does not change in wartime. Indeed, in a war such as this one, where our democratic institutions are being directly challenged by right-wing religious fanatics, it is even more important to preserve the right to speak freely.

It's quite clear that those who accuse dissenters of "aiding the enemy" are interested primarily in quieting any dissent, and shutting down any kind of thoughtful debate. They argue, like football cheerleaders, that it's more important to present a unified front than it is to keep core democratic principles alive and vibrant. (At least, this is their argument, though in the case of Bush supporters, one can't help but believe their core motives are base partisanship.) They're the same kind of folk who try to claim that "America is a republic, not a democracy" -- thereby revealing their own animosity to democracy itself.

Put another way, they are actually aiding and abetting those terrorists who hope to destroy America's democratic institutions.

The truth of the matter is that an open debate enables Americans to participate in the direction the nation takes, so when we do take action, it deepens our resolve, and makes our unity genuine instead of artificially imposed upon us.

Many on the American right like to compare G.W. Bush to FDR. But during World War II, FDR was under regular attack from those on the right who questioned his every move. It began with the right-wing demands to intern Japanese-Americans, to which FDR quickly acceded. It continued throughout the war, with regular accusations that FDR's administration was infiltrated by communists, and later, that it was coddling Japanese-Americans because the administration had failed to make life in the concentration camps severe enough for their tastes -- they wanted the "Japs" to be punished. Perhaps the most bellicose of these was Martin Dies, the founder of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.

Importantly, neither FDR nor any of his cronies ever accused Dies or the administration's many other critics of being "anti-American" or "pro-Nazi."

But then, that's perhaps because FDR was a real president.

Scary times

Today's letters section of the P-I demonstrates the increasing bellicosity of the footsoldiers on the right, much of it seemingly culled directly from the Rush Limbaugh program (that happens a lot). Someone advocating resuscitating the TIPS program. Another writer regurgitating Limbaugh's liberal-bashing. But this letter was downright disturbing:

We were hit on our own soil. No more negotiating with those who don't like us or our policies, no more tolerance for their point of view. Now it is first-strike time -- the purpose of which is not negotiation, not to get their attention but to destroy the enemy and remove their infrastructure, their basis of support and whatever else is needed. If another terrorist attack happens on U.S. soil, all bets are off and the line will be drawn in the sand as to whose side you are on.

Translation: 9/11 transformed the United States from the chief purveyor of democracy in the world, a country that relied on capitalism and diplomacy to work with others, to an aggressor nation that will ruthlessly destroy anyone who "doesn't like us." The terrorist attacks, according to this mentality, gave us the excuse we needed to simply pave over any nation who stands in our way. (Though the question arises: Does this mean that the writer also believes we should now go attack North Korea? It seems likely he would answer no, because blind obedience to the president's priorities seem to be more important.)

This is how the Bush Doctrine plays out in the real world. And even more chilling is the writer's implication that even Americans who are not on board with the administration are "against us," and that the next terrorist attack will give rightists the same moral ground to "draw the line in the sand" against liberals or other critics of the administration.

This is the base groundwork that will eventually lead to dissenters being declared "enemy combatants."

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Home run

The Baltimore Sun editorial of this morning nails it:

Southern Strategy

... [T]he Pickering nomination was turned into a symbol. And however much subsequent investigation shows him to be kind to pets and small children, it's still a symbol. It's a symbol of the Bush administration's determination to push for everything it can get, to cram its agenda down its critics' throats. Judge Pickering was the worst of the president's nominations last year, and it was surely no accident that his name showed up on one of the very first messages to the new Congress.

And it symbolizes something else -- that just in case anyone down in Dixie feared the White House was going soft after this Lott business, now there can be no doubts. We're not even talking winks and nods here -- it's more like a billboard.

Gotta wonder if the otherwise clueless Jack White reads the Sun editorial page. He should. Otherwise, he might refrain from penning such utterly foolish lines as this:

Even better, on the theory that confession is the first step to redemption, Bush could deliver a speech acknowledging the G.O.P.'s addiction to race-baiting politics and making it clear that such tactics will no longer be tolerated.

Sure, Jack. Bush could deliver a speech like that. And primates might soar from his posterior region too.

Of course, I saw Niger Innis on MSNBC during the Lott furor, declaiming that perhaps now Mr. Lott could become a great national spokesman for racial tolerance.

As it turns out, he's actually become a spokesman for Insincere Apologists Anonymous.

Coming up: How the GOP is addicted to pandering to right-wing extremists of all stripes.

Bad facts

As he was with l'affaire Lott, Josh Marshall has been simply stellar on the matter of the Bush administration's ham-handed bungling with North Korea. Today's post particularly points out how the hawks have bolloxed this up. It's becoming clear that this administration is more interested in discrediting the Clinton administration than it is in protecting the security of the American people.

I've been watching Josh's TV appearances, and it's also clear that the Republicans don't have anyone who is capable of grasping the basic details of this fiasco. Perhaps that's because they don't really want to grapple with the facts, because they make this administration look so flatly incompetent.

I'm reminded of Gale Norton's defense of the cause of the Confederacy. Dixie had made "states rights" their cause, she said, but unfortunately they used that cause to defend slavery. That was the "bad fact" that tainted their effort.

In this case, the "bad fact" is that the administration has completely bungled its handling of North Korea, and no amount of partisan rhetoric over Clinton's alleged "appeasement" can obscure this fact.

Hale's reach

There's been an extraordinary amount of bad journalism surrounding Matt Hale's arrest.

Some facts: It is untrue that the World Church of the Creator has "thousands" of members. It is not true that the organization is "rapidly growing." And it is certainly not true that, as Nicholas Kristof recently described it in the New York Times, Hale is "the face of hate" for America.

The truth is that WCOTC has been headed for the dumpster for the past two years.

Here are two pieces that give a more realistic assessment:

Fuhrer's little flock has seen better days [sidebar]

His World Church of the Creator "has been crumbling beneath him for the last year and a half,'' said Devin Burghart, who monitors hate groups for the Oak Park-based group Center for New Community.

Members of Hale's church, now numbering less than 200 by Burghart's estimate, feel that Hale has been preoccupied with winning a fight to obtain a law license and clumsily embroiled in a trademark dispute. "The organization is in chaos,'' said Burghart, with schisms forming and other white-supremacist groups skimming off Hale's followers.

Racist Accused of Plot on Judge

"This may well spell the end of the World Church of the Creator," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "This group has been on the ropes for a year. They have had two major splits. They lost the right to use their name....

"I spend every day looking at people like Matt Hale," Potok continued. "I have rarely, if ever, found anybody quite so vile as Matt Hale. He's gotten away with many things up until now. Perhaps never again."

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

The Hale-GOP thing

Here's an excerpt from from an interview Matt Hale gave a columnist for the Greenwich Village Gazette Aug. 8, 2000:

The caller also told me that he was now leaning toward Bush and that his victory in November would give him and the white-supremacist movement "cause for celebration and hope."

The man calling himself Mr. Hale told me that he was persuaded by Bush after watching both party conventions this summer.

"The conventions left me with the impression that the Democrats actually mean it when they say they want a diverse tent and the Republicans are like 'OK, this is a way to get some votes so let's go throw bait to the blacks.' So they trot out their yard (N-word) for show and dress them better than black democrats could ever dream of."

Bush was endorsed by Hale, David Duke and Don Black of Stormfront. This is not to imply that Bush is racist. Rather, it is clear that he makes enough gestures that are interpreted by extremists as sympathetic to gain their votes.

The other kind of terrorism

Some stories worth following:

Matt Hale arrested for plotting federal judge's death

Matt Hale, the controversial leader of the racist World Church of the Creator, was arrested this afternoon at the Dirksen Federal Building and accused of conspiring to kill a federal judge.

Hale, 31, of East Peoria, asked “an individual” between Nov. 29 and Dec. 17 last year to kill U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, who ruled against him and his group in a recent court case, prosecutors alleged, providing few other details. The individual was not named.

Hale had been scheduled to appear before Lefkow today for a contempt hearing and possibly faced going to jail for failing to follow the judge’s orders.

Hale’s organization had blasted the judge on its Web site, using anti-Semitic and racial slurs to urge its white supremacist members to “show the k--- and n----- - loving judge that the jailing of . . . Hale will not stop our Church of the Creator!”

Mark Pitcavage at the ADL offers an appropriate reminder: "Law enforcement agencies in areas where there are WCOTC members/supporters should be very vigilant, as violent retaliatory incidents have occurred in the past when WCOTC suffered reverses (Benjamin Smith being the best example, and the alleged Judge Lefkow incident that sparked Hale's arrest being another)."

No apprehensions in first militia border patrol

TOMBSTONE -- The Tombstone-based Civil Homeland Defense began patrolling for illegal Mexican border crossers Saturday, but no apprehensions or incidents were reported.

Chris Simcox, organizer of the volunteer group and publisher of the Tombstone Tumbleweed, planned to start armed patrols this weekend, including one with invited media today.

Simcox left for the patrol early Saturday morning, said Kate Hargrave, assistant editor of the Tumbleweed.

This is a real mess waiting to erupt. We've seen a real increase in Patriot-oriented groups being coddled by officialdom in the past few years, the other notable case being the Klamath River dispute.