Friday, November 21, 2003

The other kind of terrorists

To hear right-wingers tell it, the most immediate threat of terrorist violence to Americans is from Al Qaeda. Uh-huh.

Of course, as 9/11 showed, international terrorists are indeed capable of inflicting a great deal of harm. But the ongoing threat is from our own homegrown crowd:
Suspected abortion clinic bomb plotter arrested

This guy wasn't just a fat fantasist. He was a former Army Ranger, and he clearly meant business.
On Tuesday, Jordi and an FBI source bought gasoline cans, flares, starter fluid and propane tanks -- including a large one filled with propane gas, the affidavit said. The source also provided Jordi a .45-caliber pistol, silencer and empty magazines in exchange for $200, the affidavit says. Jordi was arrested later that day.

The affidavit said Jordi had discussed with an FBI source possibly using C-4 plastic explosives, propane tank bombs or pipe bombs and had studied bombing methods throughout the fall.

According to the Miami Herald, he was an admirer of abortion-doctor killer Paul Hill, as well as Eric Rudolph:
Initially, the informant said Jordi told him he was willing to take his time, praying and preparing -- for years, if necessary -- before waging a bombing campaign.

But later, the FBI says, Jordi seemed anxious to act quickly, talking about bombing abortion clinics, gay bars and churches that weren't strongly opposed to abortion, as well as trying to assassinate President Bush and former President Clinton.

... Estranged family members have said that Jordi became increasingly impassioned about a bombing campaign after the capture of Eric Rudolph in late May. Rudolph, who is accused of orchestrating a bombing campaign against abortion clinics, gay bars and the Atlanta Olympics park, disappeared into the Appalachian Mountains for five years before law enforcement officials finally caught him.

How many more guys like this are out there? Hard to tell for certain, but they are outr there.

Of course, right-wingers also have been telling us that the real anti-Semites these days are antiwar protesters. Uh-huh.
Fire destroys Holocaust museum: Arson suspected in Terre Haute blaze

The cowards are clearly from the extremist right:
Fire investigators have not concluded that the fire was arson, but Kor is convinced it was. "Remember Timmy McVeigh" was spray-painted on a wall at the entrance to the one-story brick building.

McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was executed at a federal prison outside Terre Haute in 2001.

"These are hateful people, people who have nothing to contribute to society except destruction. What a pitiful life, that people get up in the morning to go out and destroy. They are cowards," said Kor, 69, who lived through the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

Hours after the fire, Kor visited the charred building. The heat had melted some of the more than 1million pennies schoolchildren had collected over the years in remembrance of the Holocaust's estimated 6million Jewish victims.

Check out the second photo accompanying this story, which shows the grafitti clearly.

[A tip o' the Hatlo Hat to Maia Cowan.]

Partisan hypocrisy

The Bush administration then:
"What I want to say to my Democratic friends in the Congress is they need to be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions as were made by some today that the White House had advance information that would have prevented the tragic attacks of 9/11. (Applause) Such commentary is thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war. "

The GOP now:
"After months of sustained attacks against President Bush in Democratic primary debates and commercials, the Republican Party is responding this week with its first advertisement of the presidential race, portraying Mr. Bush as fighting terrorism while his potential challengers try to undermine him with their sniping."

Apparently it's only "political" if Democrats use concerns about the "War on Terror" for electoral advantage.

The shit deepens

It seems only fitting that this headline should appear in the right-wing Newsmax:
Gen. Franks Doubts Constitution Will Survive WMD Attack

Might this just set up the pretext for something many of us suspect has been coming since Sept. 11? Nothing like sending up the meme as a trial balloon first.

Franks says -- in, of all places, the magazine Cigar Aficionado -- that if terrorists obtain and use weapons of mass destruction, "... the Western world, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we’ve seen for a couple of hundred years in this grand experiment that we call democracy."

He goes on:
It means the potential of a weapon of mass destruction and a terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western world – it may be in the United States of America – that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event. Which in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution. Two steps, very, very important.

The problem is, Franks may well be right. Anyone who has studied the history of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II know well just how easily the public can be frightened into surrending constitutional rights in times of great national duress, especially if it is perceived that those rights mostly benefit "someone else," and if doing so will make the rest of us "safe" -- regardless of whether such claims are bogus. In reality, such an action will mean only one thing: The terrorists will have won.

Also worth observing is this concluding note:
"I doubt that we’ll ever have a time when the world will actually be at peace.”

Ah yes, that classic fascist theme: "Life is eternal warfare."

[Thanks to Patrick Purcell for the heads-up.]

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Brownshirt Barbie

By now, all the Kewl Kids on the conservative voting bloc are bound to have their own Ann Coulter Action Figure.

But wait! Now, by popular demand, there's the special Brownshirt Edition!

This incredibly lifelike stick-action figure looks just like the real-life anorexic Ann Coulter, and best of all . . . it sounds like Ann, too! [Though in reality we just went to the local methamphetamine-rehab center and found one of her many sound-alikes.]

Push the button on the figure, and you'll hear such "Coulterisms" as:
"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."

"We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too."

"They are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America’s self-preservation, the difference is irrelevant. Fifty years of treason hasn’t slowed them down."

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

"I thought I was here to talk about my book. I thought I was here to talk about my book. I thought I was here to talk about my book. I thought I was here to talk about my book. My book has 35 pages of footnotes!"

"God said ... rape the planet -- it’s yours. That’s our job: drilling, mining and striping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars -- that’s the Biblical view."

"I have to say I’m all for public flogging."

"I think [women] should be armed but should not [be allowed to] vote."

"Liberals hate America, they hate flag-wavers, they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam, post 9/11. Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do. They don't have the energy. If they had that much energy, they'd have indoor plumbing by now."

"My libertarian friends are probably getting a little upset now but I think that's because they never appreciate the benefits of local fascism."

This highly disposable doll comes in a display box with information highlighting Ann's unique contributions to America's creeping fascism. It also features the lyrics to "The Horst Wessel Song," which plays whenever you raise her right arm in a salute.

Best of all, the new Brownshirt Edition features a lifelike vibrating feature that will bring hours of ecstacy, Ann-style, to her many female admirers. So don't forget to buy replacement batteries!

Coming soon: The Inflatable Edition!

Gay marriage, the Bible, and miscegenation

As I've noted previously, both the religious right and its political wing, the Republican Party, have made it clear that they intend to make gay marriage a major issue in the 2004 election, especially now that the Massachusetts high court has overturned the ban on such unions:
Last week, Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, said for the first time that a federal marriage amendment may be "addressed in some form or fashion" in the GOP's 2004 platform, and he indicated that White House and Republican Party officials now are assessing the possible impact of a decision by the Massachusetts court. Gillespie asserted that gay advocates are practicing "religious bigotry" and "intolerance" by demanding Americans condone same-sex marriage.

... Gay marriage could emerge as an important wedge issue that Republicans could use in 2004 to woo traditional Democrats, particularly Roman Catholics. "I can write Bush's commercials right now, attacking Howard Dean for signing the civil-union bill," said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron and a specialist in voting trends of religious groups.

And one of the primary arguments raised by these opponents is that God opposes such marriages, and that "it's in the Bible." Or, as the nice folks at Concerned Women for America put it:
Homosexual marriage will always be an abomination to God regardless of whether a clergyman performs the ceremony. When God calls something unholy, man cannot make it holy or bless it.

You can find similar arguments at Focus on the Family, Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, and particularly Baptist News, which provided the following commentary:
The gay agenda will never win biblically and theologically.

In Leviticus 18:22 and in Leviticus 20:13 homosexuality is referred to as being an abomination to God. An abomination is an outrage, a disgrace, and is detestable to God. This is what God says homosexuality is.

In Romans 1:26-28, the Bible says that "God gives them over," meaning that he lets sin run its course with the homosexuals. Their rejection of God's truth has now resulted in them being given over to their vile passions, letting it run its inevitable course toward the judgment of God. This debauchery exists when women are engaged sexually with women and men are engaged sexually with men. Then God gives them over to a debased mind, which means He gives them over to the depths of their degenerate mind and lifestyle, which is not fitting to God at all. In other words, God lets their sin run its course with them.

Of course, mainstream fundamentalists are not the only ones to cite these passages from Scripture to support their views. So, for that matter, do Christian Identity fundamentalists, who go on to argue (from these same passages) that the Bible demands that homosexuals be put to death. And as always, the Rev. Fred Phelps makes the same arguments.

The BP commentator goes on to say:
Upon the authority of God's Word, the Bible, due to its inspiration being of God alone, and its infallibility as pure as God, and its impression can be made upon all of the world and even in this culture, the Bible gives no sanction to homosexuality at all. Never does God approve of it at all. He never calls it an alternate lifestyle. God is against civil unions of homosexuals. God is against same-sex "marriage." God is against the ordination of homosexuals into the ministry. Never, never, and never does God give any credibility to any issue or act of the gay lifestyle. Therefore, same-sex "marriage" is an abomination to God and any matrimony ever performed to do it is unholy, ungodly and will receive the judgment of God. Same-sex "marriage" is nothing more than an attempt to redefine one of the holiest ordinances of God, marriage between male and female. It is an attack against marriage and family.

What's interesting about these arguments is that precisely the same arguments were raised for years by bigots who wished to prevent interracial marriage, otherwise known as "miscegenation."

"The Bible is against it" was a common argument favoring anti-miscegenation laws for much of the first half of the 20th century. This theme was a favorite at Ku Klux Klan rallies, and indeed the Bible was used to justify any number of lynchings of black people after the Civil War. As Philip Dray observes in At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America:
Sociologist Orlando Patterson has explained the obsessive, riualized killing of black males in the 1890s by suggesting that the South's dominant fundamentalist Christianity combined with its Lost Cause ideology to create a belief system in which the black man was perceived as an enemy within Southern society -- the cause of a humiliating defeat in war and an ever-expanding threat, via miscegenation, to its perpetuity and survival. The black man of the 1890s, particularly one who was sexually, physically, or intellectually threatening, became a logical sacrificial scapegoat in a region mournful of its past and anxious about its future. Patterson writes, "After the trauma of Appomatox, the Southern community had to be restored in the most extreme compact of blood, and its God propitiated in the most extreme form of sacrifice known to man. ... It takes little imagination, and almost no feeling for the workings of the religious mind, to understand how, as the flames devoured the flesh and soul of each Afro-American victim, every participant in these heinous rituals of human sacrifice must have felt the deepest and most gratifying sense of expiation and atonement."

Another classic example of the commingling of religious belief and bigotry to attack miscegenation was Charles Carroll's 1900 bestseller, The Negro a Beast, or "In the Image of God," which blended Biblical interpretations and the pseudo-science of race that was popular at the time to assert that blacks were not really human at all. Carroll asserted they were not part of the "Adamic family" that came from the Garden of Eden, an argument that was a precursor to the current Christian Identity belief system that blacks and other minorities are soulless "mud people." Carroll illustrated the book with provocative drawings, such as one depicting a virginal white bride accompanied at the altar by a gorilla-like black man in a tuxedo. Among its central passages was this:
Woman is the great stronghold, the vital point, of the Adamic Creation. Hence, as along as the marriage relations of the pure Adamic females of a nation, or continent, is confined to pure Adamic males, the pure Adamic stock of that nation, or continent, cannot be absorbed and destroyed by the amalgamation.

This Biblical mythology enjoyed a long life not only in American culture, but elsewhere. Adolf Hitler, in fact, also referred to scriptural passages in developing his own racial theories.

Notably, this reliance continues today among racist extremists. The white-supremacist Vanguard News Network, for instance, rather recently featured an essay titled "What Does the Bible Say About Racemixing?"

And it's probably worth noting that these beliefs float around the edges of even nominally "mainstream" fundamentalists.

Some conservatives, notably Jeff Jacoby, try to distinguish between the anti-miscegenation laws and the widespread ban on gay marriages by arguing that the former forbade marriages because of an immutable characteristic such as race, while the latter is based on a "choice." This is, of course, far from clear, since the scientific evidence of a hard-wiring component to homosexuality keeps mounting. But even if being gay is simply a matter of intention, society does not discriminate against the right to marry based on such decisions. After all, religion likewise is largely a "choice," but people are not forbidden to marry simply on the basis of that status.

Moreover, it is abundantly clear that scriptural passages are perhaps the poorest foundations on which public policy can be based, since (as the above examples demonstrate) they can easily be distorted to justify the most base kinds of prejudice.

Finally, it must be observed that not everyone agrees that the Scripture forbids gay marriage. But then, according to the fundamentalists who thump their Bibles to justify their hatred of gays, these kinds of folks aren't "real Christians" anyway.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Radio Free Orcinus

My interview with Ian Masters at Background Briefing on Los Angeles' KPFK-FM last Sunday is now available online at his site. It all went pretty well, I thought.

I appear at about the 42-minute mark of the broadcast. Be sure to stick around to listen to the thoughts of Bernard-Henri Levy, who is on for the better part of the hour after I'm on. He corroborates a number of my observations, and has a number of keen insights of his own.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Scaife Attack: The Mainstream Churches

Every close observer of the political right in the past decade is well aware that the ascension of the "conservative movement" has been largely fueled by a handful of billionaires who have poured large chunks of their fortunes into a bevy of right-wing think tanks, non-profit foundations and various "nonpartisan" organizations whose raison d'etre has been to promote various conservative causes.

For the most part, these groups' activities have confined themselves to the political and legal realms, pushing for everything from Bill Clinton's impeachment to the concept of the so-called "law and society" school of legal thought.

Now, however, they are moving into the churches.

Many non-churchgoing folks tend to lump all Christians in with fundamentalists, in no small part because the latter have a penchant for self-promotion and have come to dominate Christian faith in the popular realm, as well as a peculiar tendency to claim for themselves the mantle of "true Christianity." But the reality is that many mainstream churches, particularly Protestants, are overt advocates for progressive causes, and have been for generations.

The right-wing sugar daddies who fueled the rise of conservatism are now taking the same poisonous tactics of personal attacks and smear campaigns that have proved so effective in the political realm into these same churches -- with the clear intent of silencing their traditional liberalism.

The main instrument in this effort is the Institute of Religion and Democracy, which already has helped wreak havoc among Episcopalians by fueling the hysteria about the recent ordination of a gay bishop by the church.

That is only one facet of its campaign. In the United Methodist Church, the IRD is attempting similar tactics, fanatically persecuting a handful of open homosexual ministers for coming out of the closet. The most notorious instances of this have involved a couple of gay pastors at a Methodist church in Seattle roughly a half-mile from my home.

This is somewhat personal for me; I was baptized and raised United Methodist, and at one time came close to following the path of one of my chief role models, the pastor of my church, into the ministry. I attend a different United Methodist church in my neighborhood, but the fellowships of the two congregations are close. Everyone in the congregations knows the two ministers in question were both highly effectively and much beloved.

What's especially noteworthy about the IRD is where its money comes from. Media Transparency has the goods on their sources, which reads like a who's who of right-wing political foundations: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Coors family's Castle Rock Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and most of all, the ubiquitous Scaife Foundations, whose funding comes from the fortune of the biggest right-wing sugar daddy of them all, Richard Mellon Scaife. [More on Scaife below.]

Allen Brill at The Right Christians posted about this back in July, and the trend has not gone away. (Allen has also posted about the connection of this same cast of characters to the potential manipulation of voting technologies.) Furthermore, as Chip Berlet recently detailed in the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, these same groups have a long habit of advocating not merely conservative causes but many that are in fact part of the extremist right.

Andrew J. Weaver's recent piece for the Martin Marty Center, "The Fighting Methodists," attempted to assess the reasons for this assault on the mainstream churches:
The answer is that, although the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Episcopal Church total only about 14 million in membership, they have been and remain a powerful and influential voice for moderate and progressive social values in American society. Almost 30 percent of the members of the U.S. Congress belong to one of these three denominations as well as disproportionate numbers of well-educated and progressive leaders who advocate for the poor, civil and human rights, environmental protection, and a responsible foreign policy. The activities and leadership of mainline Protestant churches are linked to the social conscience of the nation and contribute to civil discourse.

The Methodists -- particularly those of us who are proud of the church's tradition of standing up for progressive causes as part of the ministry of Christ -- are beginning to fight back. Notably, a group of church members is raising the alarm about the threat to the church. They have compiled a text titled United Methodism At Risk: A Wake-Up Call, which observes:
Only now is the depth and scope of the threat emerging clearly. Those within the denomination who value and affirm diversity within the church have viewed these groups as simply having one perspective among many. They have trusted that all persons of good faith --liberal or conservative, evangelical or otherwise-- must be part of the dialogue as we seek to understand God's truth and to manifest that in our daily living.

We can no longer afford to think in such terms. To continue to view "conservative renewal groups" as but one voice among others is naively to risk waking up in a vastly different church one day soon.

The ultimate goal of these groups is to control The United Methodist Church. Their strategy is to attain top leadership positions in the denomination. One tactic they use is spreading misleading and inflammatory charges about groups and individuals to United Methodists across the country. They indulge in character assassination and seek to drive the church apart by the use of wedge issues, calculated to cause dissension and division. Their desire is to impose not to dialogue.

One of the more bizarre attacks on church progressives detailed in the book, by the way, is this cautionary tale of a pastor accused of contributing to occultism.

As Weaver observes:
It is time, in other words, for "fighting Methodists" to make a comeback lest their tolerance and Christian charity be turned against them and used to undermine their churches and further the social ends of the right wing's radical ideology.

The issue is one that should not merely raise concerns among Methodists, or Episcopalians, or any kind of churchgoers. It should raise major alarms among even secular folk with no attachment to any faith -- because it is a significant sign of just how far the right is willing to go to control our beliefs.

Freedom of religion affects every American. And politically driven attacks on it, funded by corporatists with no real interest in anything other than crushing liberalism -- especially in the guise of "faith-based" organizations who seek to turn religion in America into a monoculture -- is every bit as insidious as if the government itself attempted to control the churches.

More about Scaife

Richard Mellon Scaife is one of the more insidious characters to emerge on the American scene in generations, in no small part because he wields his fortune like a club. There is little doubt he bears a deep animus toward liberalism. More important, Scaife (along with the Bradley, Coors and Olin folks) has been one of the major players in the dominance of the conservative movement in America today.

Here are a few handy links for more info on Scaife:

Scaife's many foundations. The Washington Post also has a page devoted to stories about Scaife's activities.

A CNN profile of Scaife from the impeachment brouhaha.

Chip Berlet's earlier report on Scaife's activities.

A Southern Poverty Law Center report on Scaife's funding of the far-right, anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Here's a Scaife Web page from the Religious Freedom Coalition.

An inside view of Scaife's operations, including the revelation that he was behind the so-called "Jesus freaks" of the early '70s.

Scaife is clearly prone to believing far-right conspiracy theories. For instance, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported this amusing tale:
Tribune-Review Publisher Richard Mellon Scaife ordered editors to keep coverage involving the Pittsburgh Pirates off the front page and once dispatched a reporter to northern Pennsylvania to follow up a tip that the Russian military had invaded Allegheny National Forest, according to a report in an upcoming issue of Brill's Content magazine.

… The reporter assigned to investigate reports of Russian troops was Joe Mandak. Mandak yesterday confirmed the Brill's Content account and said he spent a day traveling in the state's northern counties, asking local residents about Russian troops being stationed in the forest and the troops' family members being assigned to jobs at area Wal-Marts.

"Everybody looked at me with a blank stare," Mandak said yesterday.

Mandak said editors made it clear the assignment had come from Scaife.

Karen Rothmeyer wrote a profile of Scaife in Salon that thoroughly outlined his pursuit of Clinton. Rothmeyer a few years before had penned a thorough and devastating profile of Scaife for Columbia Journalism Review titled "Citizen Scaife, including this sidebar, which includes the following nugget:
A few minutes later he appeared at the top of the Club steps. At the bottom of the stairs, the following exchange occurred:

"Mr. Scaife, could you explain why you give so much money to the New Right?"

"You fucking Communist cunt, get out of here."

Obviously Scaife is a deeply religious fellow with a keen interest in Christian principles. His version of the Bible must somehow omit that line about the eye of the needle.

One other thing: People who criticize Scaife have a nasty habit of winding up dead. And so, interestingly, did the only person to successfully interview him: John F. Kennedy Jr.

Not that I'm paranoid or anything. Just observing.

[Thanks to Tamara Baker for bringing this to my attention.]

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Helping out on 'Manifestly Unfit'

I'm in the process of writing Part 1 of "Manifestly Unfit: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush," which as I promised when starting out, is very much a reader-participation project.

[Big thanks, by the way, to JP the Great for getting me the URLs to the Saturday Night Live skits.]

As indicated at the end of the Intro, Part 1 is going to key off on George W. Bush's inauguration, since that seems like a logical place to start a review of his presidency. (I'm going to delve Bush's past in more detail in a couple of subsequent chapters, including the 2000 campaign, but the bulk of the essay is going to focus on his tenure as president.)

The next post is going to focus on the way Bush's high-handedness asserted itself from the outset -- his absolute refusal to even acknowledge the, er, unusual circumstances of his ascension to the Oval Office, and the distinct lack of any olive branch to the opposition. Simultaneously (and very much part of this), it will observe the initial appearances of what were to evolve into "First Amendment Zones," mainly through the strange herding of the thousands of protesters in Washington on the day of the event. I also plan to discuss the Bush v. Gore ruling that hung over the day.

So I've got a couple of requests of any readers who might want to contribute:

-- I'd like to hear from anyone who was in Washington to protest and can describe the handling of protesters there, especially if they were mistreated, abused, intimidated or silenced. (I'd also like amusing anecdotes about contact with Republicans.) I already have substantial information in this regard, but frankly (especially considering the atrocious way the story was handled in the press), there can never be too much information about this.

-- I'm planning to focus much of my discussion of Bush v. Gore on Vincent Bugliosi's The Betrayal of America, which was an expansion of his terrific essay in The Nation, "None Dare Call it Treason." I'm also familiar with Richard Posner's defense of the ruling and will briefly discuss it as well. I think Bugliosi's book is generally sound, and I also plan to refer to some good FindLaw articles as well; but if anyone else can point me to any further examinations of the ruling that raise additional points, I'd very much appreciate it. I'd also like to know if anyone has actually managed a better defense of the ruling than Posner's. I'd like to be fairly thorough and well grounded, at least at the research level, though of course not all of it will make its way into the piece.

Thanks! I hope everyone's enjoying the piece so far. I've been distracted by other issues for a bit, and haven't had a lot of blogging time anyway, so the project has begun more slowly than I intended. But I hope in the next few weeks to start building up a head of steam on it, so to speak.