Saturday, January 10, 2004

The Immigration Nexus

The uproar over George W. Bush's proposal for immigration reform has revealed a significant rift within the American right -- namely, between its corporatist element, whose primary interest lies in exploiting the low wages that immigrants provide, and its ideological element, which sees immigrants as part of a brown tide on the verge of permanently swamping the majority white culture.

The Bush plan comes down squarely on the side of the corporatists -- unsurprisingly, since those interests throughout his administration have held sway in nearly every aspect of governance. That in turn has spurred the intense anger of the ideological right, who are hotly denouncing Bush's "betrayal of America."

Witness, for instance, the following diatribe from the Federation of American Immigration Reform:
"The White House is pandering to ethnic lobbies in the hope of attracting a few more votes in November, and to an assortment of business interests seeking a massive labor subsidy at the public's expense. The only people whose interests are left out of this proposal are the overwhelming majority of Americans who work hard, obey the law, pay taxes, and seek a quality education for their kids," said Stein.

And then there's this response, from Peter Brimelow's VDare organization, which variously describes Bush's proposals as "treasonous," "idiotic," and the product of "moral arrogance, deceit, disinformation and disregard for the democratic process." VDare also carried this piece by noted racist Samuel Francis, who opined:
It's Mr. Bush who is wrong, of course. America has no responsibility to foreigners, let alone to foreigners who have broken our laws to get here. It has a responsibility to its own people and its own identity and interests.

Note how closely these responses parallel the views of the extremist American Patrol (which, of course, also carries links to the VDare and FAIR material at its Web site). The group's Web site describes the Bush plan thus: "Insane Bush Amnesty will Sacrifice U.S."; "Mexicans Cheer Bush Surrender Plan; Bush Outlines Plan to Surrender Southwest U.S. to Mexico".

None of this should be a great surprise. As the Southern Poverty Law Center reported a couple of years ago, most of these anti-immigration groups are at their core deeply racist, operated and promoted by people who are adept at appearing "reasonable" but whose bigotry lies just beneath the surface. More recent reports from the SPLC have further uncovered the cauldron of racial hatred that underlies groups like Brimelow's VDare and FAIR, which was prominently on display during recent counterdemonstrations involving the pro-immigrant Freedom Ride:
[W]hat really got under JustPiper's skin seemed to be the Freedom Riders, not the neo-Nazis from White Revolution. "[T]hese banditos kept screaming obscenities and threats at us," she claimed. "Lemme tellya, they were just coming with signs like cockroaches!"

D.A. King of the Georgia Coalition for Immigration Reduction — a group that says it does not cater to "persons who believe their race to be superior to others" — had a similar reaction after protesting a Freedom Ride stop outside Atlanta.

"I got the sense that I had left the country of my birth and been transported to some Mexican village, completely taken over by an angry, barely restrained mob," King wrote on the hard-line anti-immigration Web site (see Keeping America White). "My first act on a safe return home was to take a shower."

Groups like FAIR, VDare, and American English like to pose as mainstream organizations offering "thoughtful" proposals for reforming U.S. immigration policy, but in reality their core -- ideologically, financially and programmatically -- is the same bigoted, racist Nativism that has plagued the nation since the time of the Know-Nothings. They are, in essence, all about putting pearls on a pig.

The danger, however, is that the ideological element has been rapidly gaining in both influence and numbers within the larger conservative movement -- thereby representing one of the most significant incursions of right-wing extremism into the mainstream since the rise of the Clinton-hate nexus in the 1990s.

This should have been painfully evident a few weeks ago, when MSNBC's Joe Scarborough hosted the leader of one of the nation's most notorious "academic" hate organizations -- Jared Taylor of American Renaissance -- in an hourlong hatefest devoted primarily to bashing immigrants and stoking irrational fears about what Pat Buchanan calls "The Death of the West."

Outrageously enough, Scarborough repeated the performance again recently, hosting Taylor in a discussion of Bush's immigration reforms. [Transcript here.]

What was remarkable about both of these performances, of course, was the utter failure of MSNBC to inform its audience about Taylor's background, or the fact that American Renaissance has an appalling history of advocating the notion that blacks and other minorities are intrinsically inferior to whites in every regard. Instead, Scarborough treated Taylor as though he were some kind of respected authority and a bona fide intellectual. In the first appearance, efforts by the program's token "other side" to point out his naked racism were given the cable chloroform treatment -- at one point, Scarborough even ordered the mikes shut off for the two pro-immigrant spokesmen.

In the most recent appearance, the underlying bigotry of the anti-immigrant position was encapsulated in this response from Taylor:
TAYLOR: We‘re just making it easier and more attractive for people who should stay home to come here. It will have no effect, other than encourage yet others to come and break the law to come in.

They will have the idea they, too, will get an amnesty. We are opening up a door that will result in a flood. Already, look, we have one-fifth of the population of Mexico living here. How much of Mexico do we wish to have, especially given that Mexicans are three times as likely as whites to commit violent crimes? There‘s not a single school district in the country where Mexicans perform at the level of whites and Asians.

There‘s not a single majority Mexican neighborhood that Mr. Griswold would probably want to live in. Why would we want to increase the proportion of Mexicans already here?

And then there was this charming exchange:
GRISWOLD: You need to get out and see this country.

TAYLOR: Hey, then you name one yourself. Name one Mexican neighborhood you‘d like to live in.

This is typical. These are people who say, OK, this is great. I don‘t care if these Mexicans are going to live 20 or 30 in a house, because it‘s not my daughter who's going to look across the back fence and see them urinating in their yard. No, I'm happy to get a guy who can mow the lawn for $2 an hour and that‘s all I care about. This is a much bigger question.

Scarborough's only counter to this vile bigotry was that Taylor was offering "stereotypes that you may not agree with."

This exchange was similar to those on Taylor's previous Scarborough appearance. Buchanan's presence on that program was especially noteworthy, since his most recent book is entirely predicated on arguments from "academic" racists like Taylor and Glayde Whitney, who have been arguing for years that American culture is on the verge of being overwhelmed by nonwhites with no respect for "white America." Indeed, numerous footnotes in The Death of the West cite work by Taylor, Whitney and others of their ilk. And as I noted previously, this was the entire focus of David Duke, the nation's most prominent white supremacist, for most of the 1990s.

But then, this is an act Buchanan has been perfecting for years, transmitting ideas and agendas from the extremist right into the mainstream, ranging from welfare reform to Clinton hatred. Buchanan was even explicit about this once, writing in a 1989 column that, when Duke ran for the Louisiana state legislature and shared a phone with the Klan, national Republican leaders were overreacting to Duke and his Nazi "costume": "Take a hard look at Duke's portfolio of winning issues, and expropriate those not in conflict with GOP principles." Buchanan added that Duke was correct to attack "reverse discrimination against white folks" and crime committed by the "urban underclass." He praised Duke for walking "into the vacuum left when conservative Republicans in the Reagan years were intimidated into shucking off winning social issues." The column concluded: "The GOP is throwing away a winning hand, and David Duke is only the first fellow to pick up the discards."

That is not the case any longer. This strategy is reaching a real, and genuinely dangerous, fruition in the nexus of immigration reform. As the Scarborough episodes suggest, this nexus means a real empowerment of white supremacists, since not only are they gaining real influence within the mainstream, but they are being accorded treatment that makes their radical beliefs out to be ordinary, acceptable and even the best policy for America.

Fortunately, the Bush administration to date continues to align itself with the corporatist element that, for its own reasons, has long resisted the Nativist element in American society. But as the ideological anti-immigrant right gains in power, influence and real numbers, this bulwark -- not particularly great in the first place -- is in real danger of crumbling.

American Terrorists

It's worth noting that while mainstream Republicans like Rep. Porter Goss are in denial about the nature of the anti-abortion radicals who are willing to kill to bring , these activists themselves have now come out in the open about the reality that they are terrorists.

Salon recently carried the text of an article at the extremist anti-abortion group Army of God that not only explicitly admitted that they were engaged in terrorism, but positively celebrated it:
I have heard it said that Christian terrorist Clay Waagner did some things wrong during his 10-month reign of terror and that he does not deserve hero status because he was a bank robber and a car thief. But it should also be noted that this bank-robbing, car-thieving terrorist is directly responsible for saving the lives of 5,000 innocent babies. What great things have brother Clay Waagner's detractors done to qualify them to stand in judgment of his deeds? Prudence would suggest we leave his wartime actions for God to judge and give honor to whom honor is due -- and for those who don't believe a war is going on, it's only because you don't hear their screams. Chalk up another hallelujah and a hip, hip, hooray for the Christian who terrorized the entire nation's abortion industry without firing a shot.

… Most of the time when I leave the killing place my self-esteem diminishes, as I have failed where others have succeeded. Pleading, politics and pandering have done precious little to stop the holocaust against the innocent. But the Christian terrorist is not so inadequate. Dead abortionists don't kill babies, and a fire-bombed death camp can no longer facilitate the holocaust against them.

As cream rises to the top, so the Christian terrorist rises above the huddled masses of churchgoers and the many voices that denounce their violent attempts to defend the innocent from their murderous assailants.

It's just as well to see them coming out of the closet. It seems likely that it is only a matter of time before this crowd starts killing people merely for disagreeing with them as well.

One has to wonder, however, when mainstream conservatives are going to wake up and smell the gunpowder.

Goss is a classic case. As chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he denied that these people were terrorists during hearings on the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The trouble is, 'terrorism' is a very broad word, and it lends itself to a lot of mischief for people who would abuse common sense," Goss said. He then cited bombings of abortion clinics. "To me, that's not the kind of terrorism I'm talking about."

"That's criminal law enforcement," Goss said. "But it would fit most broad definitions of terrorism because the purpose [of those attacks] is to scare people."

[Thanks to J. Puma in comments for the heads-up.]

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Tyler case

The Texas cyanide bomb case made today's edition of the Los Angeles Times:
Case Yields Chilling Signs of Domestic Terror Plot

You'll note that I was interviewed for this piece, though the reporter only quotes the blog. (A truncated version without my quotes appeared in the Boston Globe.)

A couple of points worth noting: Scott Gold, the reporter, largely credits bloggers with keeping the story alive, and that's probably true. Unfortunately, it still hasn't translated into a larger public awareness of the problem, which is the real goal.

Also worth noting is the predicatably defensive and entirely bureaucratic response from Justice Department officials, who manage to elide the fact that international terrorism has overwhelmingly become the focus of FBI and other investigators, largely because of the massive shift of funding and agency emphasis. They may be able to say, as I've previously noted, that philosophically speaking, the agencies recognize the dual threat; what they can't say is that the emphasis from the top has facilitated that recognition.

Finally, I should mention that I'm really not a "former" journalist; I've simply had to forgo daily reporting and article writing for the sake of pursuing book-writing, blogging, and raising a two-year-old.

Happy blogiversary

Today marks the first birthday of Orcinus, which is remarkable, considering I wasn't sure it would even last a month. But here we are -- who knows how many ridiculously long posts and 380,000 visits later.

Of course, I owe a great deal of thanks to the many bloggers and Webfolk who have linked to the site in the past year, particularly Atrios and Media Whores Online. I'm also extremely grateful for the many friendships I've made, especially among bloggers. You know who you are.

I'd probably post more, but I'm on a road trip right now with sketchy Web access and an unfamiliar computer to work with. (In case you're wondering why I haven't been posting much.) Blogging also usually takes a certain amount of concentration that's really difficult to attain in a hotel room.

In any event, thanks very much to all those readers who have taken the effort to drop by. I'm hoping the next year povides even more blog-worthy material.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Invading the churches

Must-read of the day, from Sid Blumenthal's chip off the old block Max:
Avenging angel of the religious right

It's a profile of Howard Ahmanson, who (as previously noted) is also tied up with the Diebold voting-machine problem. Mostly, Blumenthal lays out the big picture regarding Ahmanson's plans for the right-wing domination of the nation's churches as well as its politics:
The Episcopal Church split is only a small part of Ahmanson's concerted efforts to radically transform not only American religion, but the nation's moral culture and, thereby, the country itself. His money has made possible some of the most pivotal conservative movements in America's recent history, including the 1994 GOP takeover of the California Legislature, a ban on gay marriage and affirmative action in California, and the mounting nationwide campaign to prove Darwin wrong about evolution. His financial influence also helped propel the recent campaign to recall California Gov. Gray Davis. And besides contributing cash to George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, Ahmanson has played an important role in driving Bush's domestic agenda by financing the career of Marvin Olasky, a conservative intellectual whose ideas inspired the creation of the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Of course, I've discussed this at length previously, particularly the involvement of the Institute of Religion and Democracy, which Blumenthal describes vividly:
The institute is directed by Diane Knippers, an evangelical Episcopalian and syndicated columnist who also happens to be a founding member of the Anglican Council and its acting executive director. She is the chief architect of the institute's Reforming America's Churches Project, which aims to "restructure the permanent governing structure" of "theologically flawed" mainline churches like the Episcopal Church in order to "discredit and diminish the Religious Left's influence." This has translated into a three-pronged assault on mainline Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopal churches. With a staff of media-savvy research specialists, the institute is able to ply both the religious and mainstream media, exploiting divisive social issues within the churches.

"The larger framework for the challenge to the Episcopal Church is the ongoing right-wing effort to get control of the mainline denominations," says Alfred Ross, president of the Institute for Democratic Studies, a New York think tank that monitors anti-democratic political movements. "As the right looks to consolidate different squares on the chessboard, the mainline churches occupy key positions on that board."

Reportage like this is fundamental to the health of our democratic institutions, because it clearly exposes the thinking and machinations of the people driving the increasingly extremist conservative movement.

Monday, January 05, 2004


Pete McCloskey, the kind of Republican I used to vote for, hit the nail on the head recently in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times [free registration required]:
Republicans Are at Risk of Becoming an Endangered Species

What's particularly on-target is that McCloskey calls out the Bush administration's stealth campaign against the Endangered Species Act:
The administration has stopped designating "critical habitat" for listed species except under court order. It has stopped adding to the list of threatened and endangered species unless ordered to do so by a judge. It has moved to exempt the Forest Service from abiding by the law on the pretext of fire prevention. It is working to weaken the requirement that endangered species be protected from pesticides.

And that list barely scratches the surface. The assault on the law is widespread and relentless.

The administration and its comrades in arms argue that the law is ineffective, expensive and in need of drastic overhaul. In truth, they are acting as agents for the timber industry, the mining industry, land developers, big agriculture and other economic interests that sometimes find their profits slightly decreased in the short run by the need to obey this law.

This last point is important to stress, because conservatives and business interests constantly stress the jobs that will be lost to species protection. Yet the ESA was an explicit recognition that the long-term national interest is best served by restraining such short-term demand (and utlimately real shortsightedness).

This is not the only front in which the Bush administration is behaving outrageously on the environmental front, with consequences directly affecting the Pacific Northwest. There is, of course, his "Healthy Forests Initiative," which promises to achieve the spectacularly anti-logical result of making old-growth forests less prone to fires by clearcutting them (you see, they call them "old growth" precisely because they are wet forests that rarely have fires). Or his recent bulldozing of Clinton's roadless-area initiative. Most recently, it's become apparent that the administration is about to reignite the Northwest timber wars, with of course the predictable political calculation thrown in for good measure:
"It's an ugly Christmas and early New Year's list out there that seems to be on the horizon from the Bush administration, and I doubt that I know of everything that's on deck," said Bill Arthur, the Sierra Club's Seattle-based deputy national field director.

"It's our sense that the Bush administration, knowing that 2004 is upon them, is trying to get as many things out the door as they can to weaken the environmental agenda, but buy some distance in time between when they do the deed and Nov. 2," Election Day.

But as I've discussed previously, the real test of the administration's assault on the ESA may come down to a subject obviously dear to my heart: namely, the fate of the Puget Sound's resident orcas.

The recent court ruling slapping down the administration's attempts to prevent the J, K, and L pods from being being listed as a threatened species under the ESA were especially important, if for no other reason than that the government's case was so outrageously flawed.

I attended a community forum about listing the whales three years ago on San Juan Island, organized by local researchers and activists. A biologist from National Marine Fisheries Service was in attendance too and I talked with him for awhile. He seemed very sympathetic to the problem and was reeasonably encouraging, though cautious of course.

That was then, under a different administration. The now, as the Earthjustice lawyers who won the recent ruling described was this:
In response to the dramatic decline of the Southern Residents, the Center for Biological Diversity and 11 co-petitioners filed a petition to list the this orca group under the ESA on May 1, 2001. The Fisheries service reviewed the petition and on July 1, 2002, determined that this population of orcas was indeed a discrete population. NOAA Fisheries also found that they were in danger of extinction. However, the agency determined that the whales didn’t meet a third criterion – that the whales are “significant.”

The plaintiffs argued that this imperiled population of orcas is distinct both genetically and geographically and has been for thousands of years. Yet, NOAA Fisheries claimed that the Southern Residents were insignificant by ignoring this genetic distinctiveness; refusing to consider their unique language, family histories, and foraging patterns; and concluding that other orcas would recolonize Puget Sound if the Southern Residents are extirpated – even though the last time that occurred was after the last Ice Age. This logic flew in the face of 30 years of studies done on the Southern Residents, which now are the most studied and best-known marine mammal population in the world.

In lieu of listing the Southern Resident Community of orcas under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries announced last summer that they would go the route of designating the population as a “depleted stock” under a different statute, the Marine Mammal Protection Act. While this was seen as a step in the right direction, environmentalists argued that the depleted tack taken by the agency short-changed the Southern Residents critical protections, inadequately addressing the threats facing the whales and their habitat.

“The ‘depleted’ designation is only useful to address threats such as unsustainable harvest levels and fishery bycatch. But we know that neither of these threats are impacting the Southern Residents,” said Brent Plater of the Center for Biological Diversity. “NOAA Fisheries was using this as a way to deflect attention from its inaction on salmon declines and the risks of a catastrophic oil spill, which even their own scientists agree is the most immediate threat to the long-term survival of these whales.”

The reality is that, in the big scheme of things, orcas are a true indicator species (unlike, say, the spotted owl) because they reside atop the food chain. They are typically a highly opportunistic species capable of adapting to a broad range of conditions; when they become troubled -- and at this point, it is now an open question whether the Sound's orca population is any longer sustainable genetically speaking -- that is a real warning bell for the health of the entire ecosystem. [For more on the bigger picture of this, I can't recommend enough the P-I's recent award-winning series, Our Troubled Sound.]

The ESA, incidentally, recently turned 30 years old. Unfortunately, it is now itself endangered. Not overtly, of course. That would draw too much negative press. What's happening is that it is being systematically gutted so that it becomes a hollow law.

I wish McCloskey were right about the political ramifications for Republicans -- but hardly anyone in the press is paying any attention to this. Certainly none of the Kewl Kids have noticed. But then, why would they?

[McCloskey link via Kicking Ass.]