Thursday, December 29, 2005

Korematsu, Coulter, and Bush

Back when Ann Coulter worked at MSNBC -- about the same time that I worked at capturing and producing the Web outtakes of her and other pundits' on-air pronouncements -- I remember that we often used to identify her in the ID line as a "Constitutional Law Expert" or "Constitutional Attorney."

I'm not sure why we did that: She has no known scholarly expertise in constitutional law, having never published anything in the way of a serious or academic exposition on the subject. She did once work as a litigator at the right-wing Center For Individual Rights in Washington, which has old connections to the white-supremacist Pioneer Fund, and whose racial goals raise disturbing questions about Coulter's background. But it remains an open question whether she ever dealt with constitutional-law issues in the courts. In any event, usually the "consitutional expert" description applies to folks like Richard Posner or Laurence Tribe, people who actually have the background and experience, and thus the expertise.

However, I've observed during Coulter's ascent that it doesn't really matter what label she uses, because her role in the conservative movement is pretty well-defined by now, even as it was back then: Chief Firebomb Thrower. She's at the cutting edge of the movement, and as such is an uncannily accurate predictor of the direction the entire American right is about to take.

Now, I first noticed this during the runup to the Clinton impeachment brouhaha: behind the reasonable moniker of "constitutional law expert," Coulter was twitching and foaming at the mouth about the president's supposed abrogations of the law. It wasn't the blow jobs, she insisted, it was the lawbreaking. Funny how that standard changes with the times, isn't it?

Anyway, her "constitutional attorney" pose was purely for the purpose of fomenting impeachment. Skip forward seven or eight years, and it's clear that she's still using the same schtick, but the apparent purpose is profoundly disturbing.

Check out this passage from her most recent column extolling the virtues of George W. Bush's domestic-spying program:
In previous wars, the country has done far worse than monitor telephone calls placed to jihad headquarters. FDR rounded up Japanese -- many of them loyal American citizens -- and threw them in internment camps. Most appallingly, at the same time, he let New York Times editors wander free.

Note the following about the Japanese internment:

1) The Supreme Court upheld the president's authority to intern the Japanese during wartime;

2) That case, Korematsu v. United States, is still good law;

3) There are no Japanese internment camps today. (Although the no-limit blackjack section at Caesar's Palace on a Saturday night comes pretty close.)

It's one or the other: Either we take the politically correct, scattershot approach and violate everyone's civil liberties, or we focus on the group threatening us and -- in the worst-case scenario -- run the risk of briefly violating the civil liberties of 1,000 people in a country of 300 million.

Other than the gratuitous and crude racial stereotype, and the eliminationist "humor" that is not merely a recurring feature but a defining obsession of Coulter's schtick, the most remarkable aspect of this analysis is her claim that Korematsu v. United States is "good law."

A lot depends, of course, on your definition of "good law." If it simply means that the ruling in question has never been overturned and is, in at least a technical sense, in force, then Coulter is right.

But if, by "good law," you mean rulings a court would uphold today as valid, then that's another matter altogether.

It is in fact something of an article of faith in legal circles that Korematsu is one of the Supreme Court's three great historical mistakes, ranking alongside Dred Scot and Plessy v. Ferguson in the annals of bad law.

In fact, every single member of the current Supreme Court has indicated that they consider Korematsu to have been improperly decided, including Antonin Scalia. Any attorney bringing a case before the current Supreme Court and arguing with Korematsu as their foundation would certainly lose.

Recall, if you will, the questioning about Korematsu that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts underwent during his confirmation hearings:
FEINGOLD: Do you believe that Korematsu was wrongly decided?

ROBERTS: It's one of those cases that I don't think it's technically been overruled yet. But I think it's widely recognized as not having precedential value. I do think the result in that case -- Korematsu was actually considered the exclusion, not the actual detention, but the exclusion of individuals based on their ethnic and racial background from vast areas.

And it's hard for me to comprehend the argument that that would be acceptable these days.

FEINGOLD: It's often included, if you list decisions that are sort of considered some of the worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court with Plessy v. Ferguson and Dred Scott and others. Is that a fair characterization of your view of Korematsu?


Of course, Eric Muller has written often and lucidly on the Korematsu matter, including his commentary on the Roberts hearings. Greg Robinson, writing at Muller's blog, elucidated what I think is final word on Korematsu:
Finally, the nicest thing that can be said about the Korematsu decision is that it reflects the Court's historic deference to the Army and Executive in times of war, and not a reasoned agreement with the government’s evidence. Indeed, during the 1980s federal judges overturned the convictions of Korematsu and the other Japanese American defendants because of a pattern of government misconduct and tampering with evidence during the trials. As was discovered in the early 1980s, when West Coast Defense Commander General DeWitt drafted his Final Report, he explained that his reasons for instituting mass removal was the alleged impossibility of telling a loyal Japanese American from a disloyal one. This draft, which set forth DeWitt's authentic recital of the reasoning underlying his policy of mass removal, was suppressed by Assistant Secretary of War McCloy. McCloy ordered DeWitt to destroy all copies of his draft and to prepare a new one which would present the claim that evacuation was necessary only because there was otherwise insufficient time to determine the loyalty of individuals. Similarly, the FCC and other government bodies had informed the Justice Department that General DeWitt's claims that Japanese Americans had engaged in shore-to-ship signalling, which lay at the center of his case for evacuation, were unfounded. Rather than report this to the Court, the Justice Department concealed this evidence from the Justices.

Put simply, the deference of the Court to the executive branch in wartime that Korematsu exhibited was predicated on deceptiveness from the Justice and War departments that in turn sought to obscure the nakedly racist nature of the claim of "military necessity." That is to say, when the Courts so abjectly defer to such wartime powers, the executive can expand all its powers to unimaginable heights simply on its say-so, whether truthful or not.

And it's important to remember that there were those at the time who saw through this deception, as Muller explained awhile back [see the Aug. 24 entry, "Ditching the "Hindsight" Justification"]:
Hindsight, as we know, is the perception of the nature of an event only after it has happened. Underlying the hindsight critique is an implicit assertion that the judgment we form today they could not have formed back then.

But this is so obviously wrong in the case of Korematsu that one wonders why Posner even bothers. At least two of the nine Justices on the Korematsu (Murphy and Roberts), and very arguably a third (Jackson), saw that the order removing Japanese Americans from the West Coast was racist in 1944. J. Edgar Hoover saw it as unnecessary and U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle saw it as illegal (as applied to U.S. citizens) in January of 1941, when it was being considered. Prominent syndicated columnists, most notably the Washington Post's Merlo Pusey, publicly condemned the internment while it was ongoing.

To say that the racism in the exclusion program is visible only to us today is false. Plenty of people -- including people very close to FDR himself, and a third of the Supreme Court -- saw it back then. Hindsight may be 20/20, but some people had damn good vision back then too.

Indeed, let's remember exactly what it was they saw, because those dissenting views actually reflect the bulk of the thinking of today's judiciary. First, there was Justice Murphy's dissent:
That this forced exclusion was the result in good measure of this erroneous assumption of racial guilt rather than bona fide military necessity is evidenced by the Commanding General's Final Report on the evacuation from the Pacific Coast area. In it he refers to all individuals of Japanese descent as "subversive," as belonging to "an enemy race" whose "racial strains are undiluted," and as constituting "over 112,000 potential enemies at large today" along the Pacific Coast. In support of this blanket condemnation of all persons of Japanese descent, however, no reliable evidence is cited to show that such individuals were generally disloyal, or had generally so conducted themselves in this area as to constitute a special menace to defense installations or war industries, or had otherwise by their behavior furnished reasonable ground for their exclusion as a group.

Perhaps even more prescient was Justice Robert Jackson's dissent:
But if we cannot confine military expedients by the Constitution, neither would I distort the Constitution to approve all that the military may deem expedient. That is what the Court appears to be doing, whether consciously or not. I cannot say, from any evidence before me, that the orders of General DeWitt were not reasonably expedient military precautions, nor could I say that they were. But even if they were permissible military procedures, I deny that it follows that they are constitutional. If, as the Court holds, it does follow, then we may as well say that any military order will be constitutional and have done with it.

The limitation under which courts always will labor in examining the necessity for a military order are illustrated by this case. How does the Court know that these orders have a reasonable basis in necessity? No evidence whatever on that subject has been taken by this or any other court. There is sharp controversy as to the credibility of the DeWitt report. So the Court, having no real evidence before it, has no choice but to accept General DeWitt's own unsworn, self-serving statement, untested by any cross-examination, that what he did was reasonable. And thus it will always be when courts try to look into the reasonableness of a military order.

In the very nature of things, military decisions are not susceptible of intelligent judicial appraisal. They do not pretend to rest on evidence, but are made on information that often would not be admissible and on assumptions that could not be proved. Information in support of an order could not be disclosed to courts without danger that it would reach the enemy. Neither can courts act on communications made in confidence. Hence courts can never have any real alternative to accepting the mere declaration of the authority that issued the order that it was reasonably necessary from a military viewpoint.

Much is said of the danger to liberty from the Army program for deporting and detaining these citizens of Japanese extraction. But a judicial construction of the due process clause that will sustain this order is a far more subtle blow to liberty than the promulgation of the order itself. A military order, however unconstitutional, is not apt to last longer than the military emergency. Even during that period a succeeding commander may revoke it all. But once a judicial opinion rationalizes such an order to show that it conforms to the Constitution, or rather rationalizes the Constitution to show that the Constitution sanctions such an order, the Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens. The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.

For more on the background of the Korematsu case, see this brief history.

As I've previously explained, the World War II internment-camp rulings continue to play an important role in the actions of the Bush administration after 9/11:
What the Japanese-American internment revealed for the first time was a hole in the traditional checks and balances of constitutional powers. In wartime, the total deference to the executive branch would lend it nearly comprehensive powers. The post-Sept. 11 response has opened another dimension to this: If wartime -- as in the "War on Terror" -- becomes itself a never-ending enterprise, then the executive branch's power becomes potentially illimitable.

... Legal scholar Anita Ramasastry explored the dangers posed by the Bush policies last year in a FindLaw commentary that pointed out that while the White House so far has relied on another Supreme Court precedent, Ex parte Quirin -- which dealt with German military operatives arrested on American shores -- to justify its actions, these also closely resemble the Korematsu matter: "[In] both cases, the government arrogated itself the right to detain -- and detain indefinitely -- without court review of its decisions as to who should be detained."

It's understandable why the administration would avoid raising Korematsu in its defense. Its historical standing and the near-certainty of its being overturned should it come before the court again should be enough to steer most attorneys clear of leaning upon it for any kind of support.

On the other hand, as the Center for Constitutional Rights’ legal scholars have argued (in a report titled "American Justice on Trial: Who Loses in the Case of Military Tribunals?"), the Ex parte Quirin decision upon which the government is relying "simply cannot be credibly stretched to cover the present circumstances given current facts and the clear principles of the international law of war" -- and pointed out that it, like Korematsu, is now "widely recognized as an abysmal model of fairness and justice."

That hasn't stopped the right from citing Quirin in defense of the Bush administration's initiatives, as Cass Sunstein has done continuously. But as Armando points out, not even Quirin can be credibly stretched to cover the gross expansion of presidential powers represented by the NSA domestic spying that Coulter and the rest of the right is now leaping to defend. In fact, it specifically prohibits it.

No, as Coulter evidently recognizes, the only ruling that does that -- the one that accedes powers so sweeping that in fact it grants the executive branch the ability to ignore 14th-Amendment requirements for equal protection under the law -- is Korematsu.

Which, evidently, is the reason that Coulter hopes to resurrect its legacy today, much as she has attempted to resuscitate the reputation of Joe McCarthy. Just as defenders of the internment plans did in early 1942, before it became reality, Coulter suggests that any such program that so grossly violates the civil rights of citizens would only involve a mere handful, "1,000 people in a country of 300 million."

But then the reality was that the Korematsu ruling imposed no such limits, which is why it wound up involving 120,000 people in a population of 132 million.

ReddHedd at firedoglake sums up the situation neatly:
The President has made an extraordinary power grab with all of this, using war powers arguments as justification for stepping well outside the standards of legal precedent in national security matters built up over years and years. This Presidential Activism (hat tip to Jeralyn for the term)is something that must be either reconciled or condemned by members of Congress over the course of oversight hearings -- but members of Congress should know that we will be watching what they do, or don't do, as will the ghosts of the patriots who fought so hard to make this nation free in the first place.

Of course, with people like Coulter leading the charge from the right, those patriots will continue to be cast as "traitors" and "appeasers." That's part of the price.

But if the right's bottom line is making Korematsu "good law," then it should be clear that their aim is nothing short of a dictatorial presidency with the limitless powers granted him during "wartime."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Returns and correctives

Sorry for dropping out for the past week. I was traveling and thought I'd be better able to get online than it turned out I actually was. I've got a lot of material in the pipeline, so expect me to kind of make up for it in the next week or two.

While I was out, I found out that not only had I filed one post last week predicated on what turned out to be false information -- not exactly a common occurrence here -- but evidently two such posts. Even though in both cases I was working on ostensibly reliable information from credible mainstream sources, I'd like to give my readers a heartfelt apology. I certainly expect better of myself.

The first case is particularly aggravating: it turns out that the student who claimed he'd been visited by Homeland Security investigators after checking out Mao's Little Red Book was a complete hoax. The reason it's aggravating is that the larger point I made in the post -- that not only is it easy for rogue surveillance lacking any kind of oversight to morph into an actual assault on the civil liberties of ordinary citizens -- remains valid, as other evidence continues to demonstrate. Digby has a lot more on this. As ReddHedd at firedoglake points out, the evidence keeps coming in from sources like James Bamford at the New York Times and William Arkin's blog in the Washington Post, as well as my hometown paper, the P-I, "all detailing ways in which the NSA is said to have been deployed far beyond what its mission has traditionally been, and all without any third party oversight because the Bush Administration deliberately chose to move forward without it."

This is an important thing for the public to understand, and the evidence for it doesn't need to be tainted by hoaxes. The "Little Red Book" fit in so neatly with everything else we're discovering about this expansion of executive power that I didn't treat it with the skepticism it probably deserved.

Then there's the matter of the Washington Times' purported link to bin Laden's decision in 1998 to stop using his cell phone, cited by President Bush and the 9/11 commission. The Washington Post and Jack Shafer at Slate pretty thoroughly debunk this story, though as Shafer notes, the facts they raise don't necessarily disprove whether such a connection existed: it remains entirely possible that bin Laden's decision to drop the use of the phone was sparked by the publication of the information in the Washington Times. On the other hand, the internal NSC assumption that this was the case, according to Daniel Benjamin, may not have been accurate either. It's clear, in any event, that the release of the information was not the product of a leak.

My mistake was reasonable enough, having originated from an otherwise largely credible work by a couple of well-regarded counterterrorism experts. And I obviously wasn't alone in doing so: even the Washington Post itself had referred to the 1998 Times story as the source of what was termed "a major intelligence setback" -- though, as Shafer explains, the information had already been made public a couple of years before that.

Mea culpa. Now, on to the good stuff. Hopefully hoax- and urban-myth-free.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

How revealing

As predictable as ever, right-wingnuttia is all aflutter with charges that the New York Times damaged national security by revealing that the Bush administration, in defiance of federal statutes, has been spying on American citizens without warrants.

It always helps, of course, when President Bush himself makes that charge on national television:
My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. You've got to understand -- and I hope the American people understand -- there is still an enemy that would like to strike the United States of America, and they're very dangerous. And the discussion about how we try to find them will enable them to adjust.

Acting on cue, the right-wing Wurlitzer is rumbling into action. Helping lead the charge, as always, is the Washington Times, which headlined its lead story today: "Bush calls leak 'shameful'".

Even before Bush spoke, right-wing blognuttia was pushing this line, including such luminaries as PowerLine and Michelle Malkin, plus the usual cast of thousands. Similarly, right-wing columnists like NRO's James S. Robbins weighed in along identical lines.

But then, remember the incident that Bush used to illustrate the problem in his press conference:
Let me give you an example about my concerns about letting the enemy know what may or may not be happening. In the late 1990s, our government was following Osama bin Laden because he was using a certain type of telephone. And then the fact that we were following Osama bin Laden because he was using a certain type of telephone made it into the press as the result of a leak. And guess what happened? Saddam -- Osama bin Laden changed his behavior. He began to change how he communicated.

... And again, I want to repeat what I said about Osama bin Laden, the man who ordered the attack that killed 3,000 Americans. We were listening to him. He was using a type of cell phone, or a type of phone, and we put it in the newspaper -- somebody put it in the newspaper that this was the type of device he was using to communicate with his team, and he changed. I don't know how I can make the point more clear that any time we give up -- and this is before they attacked us, by the way -- revealing sources, methods, and what we use the information for simply says to the enemy: change.

What Bush conveniently neglected to mention to his audience was that it wasn't the New York Times, nor any other organ of the "mainstream media," that published this information.

It was the Washington Times.

As I have pointed out several times, this incident was described in some detail in Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon's The Age of Sacred Terror, both having worked on counterterrorism in the Clinton administration.

According to Benjamin and Simon, the turning point when al-Qaeda became America's greatest enemy was not on Sept. 11, 2001, but rather on Aug. 20, 1998 -- the day President Clinton launched missile strikes against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and the Sudan, the latter being a pharmaceutical plant at al-Shifa that was being used to develop chemical weapons. From pp. 260-261:
For a brief moment, the operation appeared to be a qualified success. Al-Shifa was destroyed. Six terrorist camps were hit and about sixty people were killed, many of them Pakistani militants training for action in Kashmir. The Tomahawks missed bin Laden and the other senior al-Qaeda leaders by a couple of hours. This in itself was not a great surprise: no one involved has any illusions about the chances of hitting the target at exactly the right time. The White House recognized that the strike would not stop any attacks that were in the pipeline, but it might forestall the initiation of new operations as the organization's leaders went to ground.

The months that followed, however, were a nightmare. The press picked apart the administration's case for striking al-Shifa, and controversy erupted over whether Clinton was trying to "wag the dog," that is, distract the public from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The Washington Times -- the capital's unabashed right-wing newspaper, which consistently has the best sources in the intelligence world and the least compunction about leaking -- ran a story mentioning that bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones." Bin Laden stopped using the satellite phone instantly. The al-Qaeda leader was not eager to court the fate of Djokar Dudayev, the Chechen insurgent leader who was killed by a Russian air defense suppression missile that homed in on its target using his satellite phone signal. When bin Laden stopped using the phone and let his aides do the calling, the United States lost its best chance to find him.

According to a later Washington Post report, the Washington Times piece was in fact later determined to be "a major intelligence setback."

But did any of you hear any of these right-wing pundits now braying "treason" at the New York Times complaining back in 1998, when the Washington Times in fact genuinely harmed our national security interests, in a way that later contributed to thousands of American deaths?

Er, no. They were all too busy playing the same damned "wag the dog" game.

Funny how things work over there in Conservative Land. If a conservative mouthpiece actually harms national security in the pursuit of attacking a liberal president or policy, well, then, that's just good old hardball politics. Just ask Valerie Plame.

And besides, you can always just give it a few years. Then, when everyone's forgotten who actually caused this security breach and why, a smart, Orwellian conservative figurehead can always use the incident later to bash the "mainstream media" for doing its job.

On the other hand, if the mainstream media catches a conservative president breaking the law by spying on American citizens, then suddenly the alarms are being sounded about the press harming national security (mostly under a bunch of scenarios stolen from bad TV scripts).

Nice racket.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Killing the message

One of the real signs of Republicans' growing extremism is what Chris Mooney calls their "War on Science," because it reveals a mindset in which factual reality is discarded and replaced with one constructed out of whole cloth.

As always, this constructed reality comes into conflict with the real world, at which point its adherents typically try to assert themselves by outshouting the messengers or shutting them up.

In the case of the attacks on science, we know what happens next, inexorably: a slow-motion disaster for the public. In some cases, as with stem-cell research, real advances in medicine are forestalled. In others, as with the intended imposition of "intelligent design" curriculum in our schools, it means a serious degradation of the sciences in public education. In yet others, as with the management of endangered species like salmon, it results in massive degradation of our national resources and natural heritage.

Exhibit No. 25846 in this ongoing debacle is the recent decision by Sen. Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican, to cut funding for one of the major sources of data that is currently available on Columbia River salmon.

You've got to love Craig's explanation, which is a classic case of projection:
"Data cloaked in advocacy create confusion," Craig said on the Senate floor this month, after successfully inserting language in an energy and water appropriations bill that bans all future funding for the Fish Passage Center. "False science leads people to false choices."

It sure does. And it's quite clear that Craig's definition of "false science" is "any science that runs counter the policies I wish to promote."
"Idaho's water should not be flushed away on experimental policies based on cloudy, inexact assumption," Craig said in a news release.

Nor should taxpayers' dollars be flushed away on ridiculously expensive, and plainly ineffective, measures like the barging of salmon smolt currently favored by the Bush administration.

And, like all good Republicans these days, Craig distorted and falsified the record while justifying the line cut:
On the Senate floor this month, he justified elimination of the Fish Passage Center on the grounds that "many questions have arisen regarding the reliability of the technical data" it publishes. Craig quoted from the report of an independent scientific advisory board that in 2003 reviewed work done by the Fish Passage Center.

But one of the report's authors, Charles C. Coutant, a fishery ecologist who retired this year from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said Craig neglected to mention that the board found the work of the center to be "of high technical quality."

"Craig was very selective in reflecting just the critical part of a quotation from the report," said Coutant, who has worked on Columbia River salmon issues for 16 years. "It did give a misleading impression about our board's view of the Fish Passage Center."

Craig also said on the Senate floor that "other institutions" in the Northwest now do "most" of the data collection work done by center. He said getting rid of the center would reduce redundancy and increase the efficiency of regional fish programs.

But according to another recent independent scientific assessment of the work of the center, there was little duplication of data collection between the center and other organizations; it recommended that the center continue to receive funding to meet a substantial need in the Northwest for information on salmon survival.

Fish and game agencies in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, Indian tribes with fishing rights on the river and the governors of Oregon and Washington have all said that eliminating the Fish Passage Center is a bad idea that would reduce the quality of information on endangered salmon.

As Chris Mooney points out:
Craig's "scientific" rationales for killing this scientific agency don't add up. It's clear that this was about politics -- and about appeasing Craig's political allies in the hydropower industry.

Paul Vandevelder explained in the P-I the other day just how grotesque a piece of bad government this move by Craig really is. The significant point is that cutting out the center means silencing one of the real sources of actual data that proved, beyond any question, that the Bush salmon recovery efforts were failing. It's an effective way of silencing your critics:
Scientific data gathered by an independent agency, the Fish Passage Center, showed that the BPA's strategy of trucking and barging fish around dams has been a $3 billion boondoggle. Under the care of BPA hydrologists, fish survival rates have plummeted. In June, the judge set aside the projected loss and ruled in favor of the fish. Within days, Idaho Sen. Larry E. Craig (named "Legislator of the Year" by the National Hydropower Association) inserted language into a Senate energy bill that would "zero out" funding for the Fish Passage Center.

The FPC, as it is known, was established in 1984 after Congress passed the Northwest Power Act, a toothsome law that put salmon protection on an "equal footing" with power generators, barge operators, ratepayers and irrigators. For more than 20 years, the FPC has collected and distributed scientific data to state, tribal and federal fisheries biologists and the courts. The center's longtime manager, Michele DeHart, admits that data has put politicians between a rock and a wet place by proving, conclusively, that the hydro-power infrastructure kill fish.

Nevertheless, "I guess I am flabbergasted," says DeHart, whose agency is now scheduled to vanish in March. "We are biologists and computer scientists, and what we do is just math."

The rider that Craig attached to the Senate energy bill is a shot across Redden's bow. As the man responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act on the Columbia and Snake rivers, Redden relies on scientific data to make sound decisions. "I think it would be a drastic mistake for them (Congress) to yank the subsidy from the center (FPC) which has been giving out neutral information for many years," said Redden at a hearing on Sept. 30. "I hope that does not happen."

Craig attempted to explain his action in a speech to the Senate, in November, by claiming that data gathered by the FPC is "cloaked in advocacy" and that "false science leads people to false choices." Inexplicably, neither Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden or Washington Sens. Patty Murray nor Maria Cantwell, challenged Craig's nonsensical assertions.

Two decades of scientific data supports neither the BPA's recovery strategy nor the senator's make-believe world. When the spill concluded last September, the FPC announced that smolt survival rates in the lower Snake River were the "highest recorded in recent years," a year-over year jump from 30 percent to 74 percent. Craig finessed that embarrassing detail in his speech to the Senate. Nor did he mention that the BPA actually reduced its late summer wholesale rates by 1.6 percent thanks to surplus power sales that exceeded forecasts by $20 million.

No wonder they want to kill the messenger: they want to kill the message. That's how you maintain that constructed version of reality.

But the real version of reality, as always, has its own way of asserting itself. And it can be very, very painful when it does.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The action-hero presidency

I used to wonder, back when George W. Bush was doing things like flying in a fighter jet onto aircraft carriers while wearing well-endowed jumpsuits, and then getting action figures made to commemorate the event, how many times he had been watching Air Force One. Because it was self-evident that Bush was going to model his presidency not after his famously wimpy father, but after Harrison Ford.

You've seen Air Force One, right? I thought the movie was a clever idea: the president as action hero. Personally, I most liked the climactic scene where a really pissed-off Ford finally shoves the evil terrorist Gary Oldman out the back end of a plane. Boy, talk about satisfying.

And then there was the speech he gave:
Never again will I allow our political self-interest to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right. Atrocity and terror are not political weapons. And to those who would use them, your day is over. We will never negotiate. We will no longer tolerate and we will no longer be afraid. It's your turn to be afraid.

Sounds like ... a George W. Bush speech.

Of course, like all action films, Air Force One is terribly cheesy in execution, and all slathered with the usual moral fable: the instinctive action of the hero is always superior to the overwrought intellectualism of his enemies, not to mention their morally feeble enablers.

It's the same in every action film: In addition to the actual enemy, the hero must also overcome the limp-wristed hang-wringers who think too much: they worry about things like constitutional rights and whether or not the enemy is being mistreated. Sometimes these people are politicians or law-enforcement officials; sometimes they're members of the media. But it's always the same: They're nearly as noxious as (and sometimes share the fate of) the enemy himself.

Clint Eastwood was especially good at films like this: Dirty Harry is a classic of the genre, replete with an interfering DA who handcuffs our hero at every turn. Bruce Willis also made a lot of flicks like this; the first two Die Hard films featured both FBI agents and local reporters who cause trouble for our hero.

Then there are more recent permutations, particularly on network TV (think action shows like 24) in which the hero is forced to push the boundaries of what's legal in order to achieve results -- especially when it comes to saving thousands of lives from a terrorist attack.

Now, to hear folks on the right talk, you'd think that George W. Bush was indeed cut in the mold of Harrison Ford and Kiefer Sutherland, with a dash of Bruce on the side. Don't these wimps complaining about his surveillance of American citizens without warrant or oversight know we're in a war on terror?

I mean, what good is the Constitution if all it does is enable evil terrorists to endanger the lives of us all? Right? We should be able to pick and choose whose rights we protect, because you never know when someone is gonna set off a nuke in your kids' playground.

It's too easy to say that George W. Bush and his cult of defenders on the right have watched too many of these action films. Rather, what is more noteworthy is that this public response taps directly into those well-established sentiments about heroic action. It's actually rather a brilliant stroke: Republicans are appealing to an American public already profoundly propagandized by a steady diet of Hollywood-produced action flicks and revenge melodramas. Movies in which such niceties as civil rights are readily discarded in the pursuit of justice.

Mind you, it matters little that the reality is that 24-type situations, in which life-and-death issues hang on questions of torture and surveillance, are so extremely rare that their likelihood is nearly nil. Moreover, the system of justice is designed so that considerations like preventing the deaths of innocents can be readily taken into account later.

These "annoying" laws exist for a reason fundamental to the very foundations of modern society: This is a nation of laws, not men. And while it's easy and convenient to discard those principles in the flimsy context of a movie, doing so in real life has profound and lasting complications.

I think what you can say is that the Bush team is cynically manipulating public sentiment for the sake of pushing the limits of presidential power. It's a brilliant move, really, tapping into an aspect of the psyche that has been preconditioned by a hoary myth that has been perpetuated over the years by Hollywood: the notion that the action-driven hero's instincts for "saving lives" are superior to careful reasoning and principled restraint.

But it sure is weird for a bunch of people who make a living out of deriding "Hollywood values."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

They're making a watch list ...

... checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty and nice ...

Big Brother is coming to town:
NEW BEDFORD -- A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

Although The Standard-Times knows the name of the student, he is not coming forward because he fears repercussions should his name become public. He has not spoken to The Standard-Times.

... The student told Professor Pontbriand and Dr. Williams that the Homeland Security agents told him the book was on a "watch list." They brought the book with them, but did not leave it with the student, the professors said.

Dr. Williams said in his research, he regularly contacts people in Afghanistan, Chechnya and other Muslim hot spots, and suspects that some of his calls are monitored.

"My instinct is that there is a lot more monitoring than we think," he said.

Dr. Williams said he had been planning to offer a course on terrorism next semester, but is reconsidering, because it might put his students at risk.

Plainly, this kind of anecdote underscores the ease with which programs aimed strictly at stopping terrorists (or those with a "clear link" to terrorists) can be expanded into areas having little to do with terrorism.

And that really is the issue, isn't it, with the the program uncovered in the recent revelations about the Bush administration's surveillance of American citizens through the National Security Agency? (Though it must be pointed out that, for now, it's difficult to ascertain whether the UMass surveillance was conducted under the same program as the NSA work.)

This raises really significant constitutional issues, and raises the immediate question of whether the Bush administration is intentionally provoking a constitutional crisis. Today's analysis in the Washington Post points out:
Bush's constitutional argument, in the eyes of some legal scholars and previous White House advisers, relies on extraordinary claims of presidential war-making power. Bush said yesterday that the lawfulness of his directives was affirmed by the attorney general and White House counsel, a list that omitted the legislative and judicial branches of government. On occasion the Bush administration has explicitly rejected the authority of courts and Congress to impose boundaries on the power of the commander in chief, describing the president's war-making powers in legal briefs as "plenary" -- a term defined as "full," "complete," and "absolute."

... Congress asserted itself in the 1970s, imposing oversight requirements and passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said FISA "expressly made it a crime for government officials 'acting under color of law' to engage in electronic eavesdropping 'other than pursuant to statute.' " FISA described itself, along with the criminal wiretap statute, as "the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . may be conducted."

No president before Bush mounted a frontal challenge to Congress's authority to limit espionage against Americans. In a Sept. 25, 2002, brief signed by then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, the Justice Department asserted "the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority."

The brief made no distinction between suspected agents who are U.S. citizens and those who are not. Other Bush administration legal arguments have said the "war on terror" is global and indefinite in scope, effectively removing traditional limits of wartime authority to the times and places of imminent or actual battle.

"There is a lot of discussion out there that we shouldn't be dividing Americans and foreigners, but terrorists and non-terrorists," said Gordon Oehler, a former chief of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center who served on last year's special commission assessing U.S. intelligence.

By law, according to University of Chicago scholar Geoffrey Stone, the differences are fundamental: Americans have constitutional protections that are enforceable in court whether their conversations are domestic or international.

Bush's assertion that eavesdropping takes place only on U.S. calls to overseas phones, Stone said, "is no different, as far as the law is concerned, from saying we only do it on Tuesdays."

Michael J. Woods, who was chief of the FBI's national security law unit when Bush signed the NSA directive, described the ongoing program as "very dangerous." In the immediate aftermath of a devastating attack, he said, the decision was a justifiable emergency response. In 2006, "we ought to be past the time of emergency responses. We ought to have more considered views now. . . . We have time to debate a legal regime and what's appropriate."

Bush already has appeared to declare himself beyond the law on numerous fronts, most notoriously on his attempts to ignore the Geneva Conventions regarding torture. It is not just a recurring theme: It's a standard MO. "Very dangerous," indeed.

You know, I was around when most Americans realized that Richard Nixon was a threat to the nation's well-being, and I remember what happened then. I don't think it will happen to George W. Bush, but I thought that about Nixon, too.

Presidential powers

Atrios and Digby have it exactly right regarding the broader ramifications of the recent revelations that President Bush ordered domestic spying on Americans without any kind of oversight or review: Bush almost certainly broke the law.

But this is perfectly in keeping with a pattern of power acquisition this administration demonstrated early on, and has maintained steadfastly throughout, particularly in its decision to invade Iraq, as well as its expansions of executive power in the form of military tribunals and "enemy combatant" declarations. Indeed, we'd had hints of the administration's animosity to limits on such surveillance all along.

It all brings back something I wrote almost three years ago:
Joan Didion makes a noteworthy point:

"I made up my mind," he had said in April, "that Saddam needs to go." This was one of many curious, almost petulant statements offered in lieu of actually presenting a case. I've made up my mind, I've said in speech after speech, I've made myself clear. The repeated statements became their own reason: "Given all we have said as a leading world power about the necessity for regime change in Iraq," James R Schlesinger, who is now a member of Richard Perle's Defence Policy Board, told The Washington Post in July, "our credibility would be badly damaged if that regime change did not take place".

This encapsulates Bush's entire approach to governance. In Bush's view, the president has -- by virtue of holding the office, even without the actual mandate of the voters -- almost godlike powers, able to decide the fate of entire nations by virtue of his election, or in this case, installment by court fiat. (It's becoming clear why they hated Bill Clinton so much -- liberals aren't supposed to possess such power.)

Or, as Bush told Bob Woodward: "I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."

This approach is clear not merely in such brusque asides as "Who cares what you think?", but also in the administration's refusal to hand over documents related to Enron and Halliburton's influences in the Oval Office, as well as a host of domestic issues ranging from the environment to economic and tax policies. It also plays a major role in Bush's messianic militarism.

Most of all, it's an important part of the administration's aggressive acquisition of new and wide-ranging powers for the executive branch. Most of this is being masterminded by Solicitor General Ted Olson, who has been making it his mission since the mid-'80s, when he worked for Reagan's Justice Department, to overturn the losses of executive power that came with the post-Watergate reforms of the 1970s.

But the powers this administration has been acquiring go well beyond even that range (much of which had to do with executive privilege and open governance). They now extend into entirely new areas, wrought mainly by Bush's "Military Order" that allows the administration to arrest and detain American citizens as "enemy combatants" without counsel or even notification of arrest -- powers that appear to have been dreamed up by Kafka, but in fact were a product of the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II (I hope to have more available soon about that point in an article I've written).

The administration's assertion of these powers flows out of Bush's godlike view of himself, and his minions' simultaneous promotion of that view. That was especially clear in Olson's explanation for the Washington Post (in a Dec. 2 story by Charles Lane titled, "In Terror War, 2nd Track for Suspects," which is no longer available online) why Bush, and not the courts, should be given these powers:

"At the end of the day in our constitutional system, someone will have to decide whether that [decision to designate someone an enemy combatant] is a right or just decision," Olson said. "Who will finally decide that? Will it be a judge, or will it be the president of the United States, elected by the people, specifically to perform that function, with the capacity to have the information at his disposal with the assistance of those who work for him?"

Of course, Ted -- who argued Bush v. Gore before the Supreme Court -- well knows that to hold the presidency, one needs not even be actually elected.

One need only have an unquenchable thirst for power. Perhaps the most dangerous such thirst in American history.

And looking more dangerous all the time.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Minutemen's father figure

Suzy Buchanan and David Holthouse of the Southern Poverty Law Center went a-digging into the personal history of Minuteman leader Chris Simcox, and their final report reveals plenty of troubling information.

The portrait of Simcox that emerges is of a paranoid self-promoter who sees himself as an overlooked genius finally coming into his own. He also is prone to extremely unstable behavior:
Court records obtained by the Center's Intelligence Project show Simcox's second ex-wife, Kim Dunbar, filed an emergency appeal in September 2001 to obtain full custody of their teenage son because she feared that Simcox had suffered a mental breakdown and was dangerous.

Dunbar declined to be interviewed for this article, but her sworn affidavits speak for themselves. In one, Dunbar testified that throughout their 10-year marriage, Simcox was prone to sudden, violent rages.

"He once took a knife from the kitchen and threatened to kill himself," she testified. "When he was angry, he broke furniture, car windows, he banged his head against the wall repeatedly and punched things."

Dunbar said that when their son was 4 years old, Simcox slapped him so hard that a mark remained on his face for two days. Another time, she testified, she grabbed her young son in her arms and jumped out a window because Simcox was throwing furniture at them.

After such episodes, she said, Simcox would become despondent. "He would stare at walls, mumbling to himself." In the affidavits, Dunbar said she repeatedly pressured Simcox to seek professional help and even tried to have him hospitalized. But he persistently refused treatment.

"Eventually," she said, "the only thing I could do was file for divorce."

Simcox and Dunbar initially shared custody of their son. There was no legal dispute until shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, when Dunbar suddenly filed a flurry of emergency appeals.

"While Chris has always been prone to strong opinions and ranting behavior, this last episode has gone even farther," she told the court. "I am convinced he has had some kind of mental lapse and I am now, more than ever, afraid for my son to be in Chris' care."

Dunbar grew frightened after Simcox left her a series of bizarre voicemail messages beginning that Sept. 13, in which he went on angry diatribes about the Constitution, patriotism, and impending nuclear attacks on Los Angles, and talked about training their 15-year-old son in the use of firearms.

"I will begin teaching him the art of protecting himself with weapons," Simcox said in one recorded message he left for Dunbar. "I purchased another gun. I have more than a few weapons, and I intend on teaching my son how to use them." Simcox added, "I will no longer trust anyone in this country. My life has changed forever, and if you don't get that, you are brainwashed like everybody else."

In phone conversations with his son that his ex-wife recorded and submitted to the court as evidence of Simcox's mental instability, he challenged the boy to become "a man and a real American."

"You better stop playing baseball, buddy, and you better do something real, 'cause life will never be the same," Simcox thundered. "I'm going to go down to the Mexican border and sign up for the government for border patrol to protect the borders of the country that I love. You hear how serious I am."

It's also quite clear that Simcox is motivated less by real concerns about border security than about the influx of Latinos into the United States:
In January 2003, while on patrol with Civil Homeland Defense, Simcox was arrested by federal park rangers for illegally carrying a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun in a national park. Also in Simcox's possession at the time of that arrest, according to police records, were a document entitled "Mission Plan," a police scanner, two walkie-talkies, and a toy figure of Wyatt Earp on horseback.

Two months later, in a speech to the California Coalition on Immigration Reform, a hate group whose leader, Barbara Coe, routinely refers to Mexicans as "savages," Simcox offered a dire warning to his audience.

"Take heed of our weapons because we're going to defend our borders by any means necessary," he said. "There's something very fishy going on at the border. The Mexican army is driving American vehicles -- but carrying Chinese weapons. I have personally seen what I can only believe to be Chinese troops."

Of illegal immigrants, Simcox added: "They're trashing their neighborhoods, refusing to assimilate, standing on street corners, jeering at little girls walking on their way to school."

He also has been known to inflate his resume:
"When I'm asked by reporters if I'm a racist, I tell them, 'Why don't you go ask my black ex-wife and my biracial children and the members of the racial diversity committee I chaired whether I'm a racist?'" he said at the October conference.

Simcox, evidently, was never the chair of his school's diversity committee. Even more disturbing, however, is what comes next:
"When they ask me, 'Well, what do you have to say to people who call you a racist?' I come back at them with, 'What do you have to say to people who call you a child molester?'"

That's a strange rhetorical device given the accusations leveled at Simcox in the summer of 1998, when his 14-year-old daughter from his first marriage -- prior to his union with Dunbar -- came to live with him in Los Angeles.

In separate interviews with the Intelligence Report, two of Simcox's former colleagues at Wildwood and his first ex-wife gave the same account. They said that Simcox helped his daughter get a job babysitting for a Wildwood School employee and that one night, Simcox's daughter showed up unexpectedly at her employer's house, visibly upset, alleging that her father had just attempted to sexually molest her.

"He tried to molest our daughter when he was intoxicated," said Deborah Crews, Simcox's first ex-wife and the girl's mother. "When she ran out, he tried to say he was just giving her a leg massage and she got the wrong idea."

Contacted by the Report, Simcox refused to answer four direct questions about the molestation allegations. "I would never answer those questions to you. You can't ask those questions," he said. "You're on a witch hunt and you're trying to discredit our movement, which is to secure the borders. ... My personal life has nothing to do with anything that goes on here."

No charges were filed against Simcox, but Crews said she and her daughter immediately broke off all contact with him.

"He's a drastic, chaotic, very dangerous guy," said Crews. "I'm surprised he hasn't shot anybody yet. I see him on TV and I have to turn if off, because it makes me sick to see him getting all this attention."

If this is someone's idea of the leader of a "neighborhood watch," I'd be watching my neighborhood very closely indeed.

Koufax time

The fine folks at Wampum are asking for nominations for the annual Koufax Awards. I've been exceptionally fortunate the past couple of years to win for Best Series. I don't think I'm likely to keep a streak like that going: the competition this year in all the categories seems tougher than ever. Which is a great thing.

This year, I'd just like to remind everyone to be sure to pitch in. At the same link above, you'll find the Wampum "Make a Donation" button on the right-hand side. Click it and give.

Contests and quizzes

Say, if anyone's interested, you can go vote in the annual Weblog Awards, which are run by Wizbang, so I take them with about a mine of salt. Orcinus is a finalist in the Best of the Top 250 category.

I normally ignore those silly online quizzes that wind up giving you a chance to pigeonhole yourself along various themes. But I was kind of intrigued by the "What is Your World View" quiz at QuizFarm. Here's what it came up with for me. It's surprisingly accurate:

You scored as Cultural Creative. Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative
















What is Your World View? (updated)
created with

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Attacking science

The read of the day is Chris Mooney's review of the most recent bit of Regnery Press mendacity to hit the bookshelves, namely, Tom Bethel's Politically Incorrect Guide to Science.

The book, evidently, is nothing but a compendium of right-wing anti-science bullshit, and Mooney details the multitude of problems with it. His conclusion:
Overall, then, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science is a very saddening and depressing read. While they have undoubtedly made mistakes, and certainly nourish individual biases just like all the rest of us, scientists in universities and in government have generally worked very hard and have--thanks to the scientific process--come up with a great deal of important and relevant knowledge. But along comes someone like Bethell and, in a book that's likely to be read by a lot of people, radically distorts and undermines their conclusions and findings, while whipping up resentment of the scientific community among rank-and-file political conservatives. That Bethell is finding such a ready audience underscores the severe threat to the role of science in modern American life and, most importantly, in political decision-making.

So, what is it about Regnery that makes it such a repository of fraudulent writing?

I suppose it could have something to do with its origins.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Comments policy

I've had a pretty open comments policy for most of the existence of this blog. Generally, I stick to a handful of restrictions:

-- No libelous or threatening remarks.

-- No vicious, intimidating or misogynist attacks on other posters.

-- No off-topic posts.

Having had a recent infestation of naked racists in my comments, however, I've decided I will no longer let these boards become a sounding board for racists to trumpet their propaganda. I'm willing to allow reasonable discussion, but not overt racism, sexism, or homophobia intended merely to antagonize.

So consider this a new rule:

-- No blatant racism, misogyny, or religious, ethnic, or sexual bigotry.

Posters who do so will be deleted and banned.

Those racists who have posted here in recent days have been deleted and banned.

Blind spots

What's missing from this picture?

Glenn Reynolds posts the following:
MORE SYDNEY BEACH RIOTS: It's like Paris Down Under.

Hint: The same thing was notably missing at Hugh Hewitt, who headlined his link to the coverage of the suburban riots thus:
Will the French Riots Move to Australia?

Well, just in case these fellows, or their readers, need a clue, here's what's missing from their picture of the situation in Australia:

See, at first glance, Reynolds' post seems not to make any sense: How could the white riots that broke out Sunday in Sydney somehow resemble the riots in France, which involved young men of Middle Eastern descent who have not been allowed to assimilate into French society? Surely Reynolds doesn't think that angry white Aussie skinheads are analogous to angry French Muslims?

Or is he suggesting, like Lucianne Goldberg (via Atrios) that this is nothing but a "WASP riot" -- and thereby, somehow, not merely justifiable, but lauadble, something long overdue?

Ah, but he's not, you see: The link in Reynolds' post takes you to a Pajamas Media report regarding the reactive riots targeting whites in Muslim neighborhoods.

In fact, it's clear that those are the only riots that are of interest to both Reynolds and Hewitt. Nowhere on their sites is there any mention whatsoever of the large-scale white race riots that began Sunday and are now spreading elsewhere in Australia. You know, the riots that are directly the cause of the suburban riots they're all worked up about.

Their positions seem to be like Michelle Malkin's: If whites riot against Middle Easterners, and some Middle Eastern neighborhood respond violently, then the fault obviously lies with the Middle Easterners. All the racial friction, it's clear, is a product of those evil Muslims.

At least, that seems to be what they're saying, but it's hard to say for sure, because they're all incredibly incoherent.

Now, before anyone gets their shorts in a bunch, let's be clear: I'm not suggesting that any of these fine right-wing hacks are racists. As I explained at length the last time out, I reserve the term "racist" (or accusations of a similar nature) for people or organizations who actively engage in the denigration of people of other races, and who specifically trade in hateful talk and discriminatory actions toward them.

The issue here is something I talk about a lot at this blog: The big blind spots so many Americans -- particularly right-wing Americans -- have when it comes to the wellsprings of violence in the world: They are almost congenitally incapable of seeing right-wing violence when it rises up and slaps them on the forehead.

Instead, they wind up trying to avoid the subject by logical convolutions that produce utter incoherence of this kind. (That was, after all, the very point I was making when Reynolds last decided I was accusing him of racism.)

So, just in case there's any question: there are no doubt all kinds of racial tensions in Australia these days, but the mass violence that has broken out in recent days is being fueled by right-wing whites, many of them being led by neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.

After all, it was the right-wing Australia First party that was handing out booze and anti-immigrant propaganda at the beach to help fuel the riots. And it was a right-wing radio talk-show host who was helping foment the riots over the public airwaves, rather like what we saw in Rwanda:
The riot was still three days away and Sydney's highest-rating breakfast radio host had a heap of anonymous emails to whip his 2GB listeners along. "Alan, it's not just a few Middle Eastern bastards at the weekend, it's thousands. Cronulla is a very long beach and it's been taken over by this scum. It's not a few causing trouble. It's all of them."

Sunday's trouble did not come out of the blue. It was brewing all week on talkback radio — particularly on 2GB.

Radio doesn't get much grimmer than Alan Jones' efforts in the days before the Cronulla riot. He was dead keen for a demo at the beach — "a rally, a street march, call it what you will. A community show of force."

He assured his huge audience he "understood" why that famous text message went out and he read it right through again on air. "Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge. This Sunday every Aussie in the Shire get down to North Cronulla to support the Leb and wog bashing day ..."

Daily he cautioned his listeners not to take the law into their own hands, but he warmed to listeners who had exactly that on their minds.

Last Thursday Charlie rang to suggest all junior footballers in the Shire gather on the beach to support the lifesavers. "Good stuff, good stuff," said Jones.

"I tell you who we want to encourage, Charlie, all the Pacific Island people because, you want to know something, they don't take any nonsense. They are proud to be here — all those Samoans and Fijians. They love being here. And they say, 'Uh huh, uh huh. You step out of line, look out.' And, of course, cowards always run, don't they?"

When John called on Tuesday to bluntly recommend vigilante action — "If the police can't do the job, the next tier is us" — Jones did not dissent. "Yeh. Good on you, John." And when he then offered a maxim his father had picked up during the war — "Shoot one, the rest will run" — the broadcaster roared with laughter. "No, you don't play Queensberry's rules. Good on you, John."

Unsurprisingly, with text messages and e-mails stirring the pot, the violence continues to escalate, with more whites attacking more Middle Easterners elsewhere:
Elsewhere, Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio reported Tuesday that a family of Middle Eastern origin was attacked in the western city of Perth by a group of 11 white men, who threw eggs, shouted abuse and kicked their garage door.

The 42-year-old father, who did not want to be identified, said his family was badly shaken by Monday night's incident.

"I don't know if we were mistakenly identified," he said. "What I definitely know is it was something linked to the escalation in New South Wales."

In Adelaide, a taxi driver of Lebanese origin, Hossein Kazemi, was injured when he was punched by a passenger during an incident Tuesday.

"There was some sort of discrepancy and argument over the fare," a South Australian police spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity. "Apparently during the assault, the victim, because he was of Lebanese origin, was taunted about the stuff in Sydney and Cronulla beach."

More violence seemed likely. New text messages circulated Monday, one of which called for more fighting next weekend: "We'll show them! It's on again Sunday."

Another message warned of possible retaliation from Middle Eastern groups.

"The Aussies will feel the full force of the Arabs as one -- 'brothers in arms' unite now," the message said.

Somehow, I get the feeling that our friends on the right will find a way to blame the immigrants for the problems. Because that's what blind spots do to you.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Civil rights in Toledo

[Jeffrey Willis of the Toledo Journal being arrested. Photo by Isis.]

Dealing with neo-Nazis who hold a rally in your community, as I explained last time out, requires a combination of common sense -- keeping the Nazis confined to a single rally area that can be readily secured by police is fundamental -- and finely tuned sensitivities: as important as it may be to secure the free-speech rights of those neo-Nazis, it's equally important to let the larger community exercise its free-speech rights as well.

After bolloxing up the first step last time, Toledo officials appeared this last weekend to have that part figured out, finally: Toledo made it through the weekend without a repeat of the riots that struck the last time.
Surrounded by an undaunted show of police force, the National Socialist Movement's hour-long rally at Government Center began 43 minutes late and ended with 30 arrests, including three news media photographers.

About 170 observers and counterprotesters stood in front of the TARTA bus station on Jackson Street, separated by a row of riot-clad officers, a median with trees, and a line of barriers. They held signs against hate and chanted for the 63 neo-Nazis, some in uniform, to leave.

Authorities reported no injuries or damage after the rally. They and the neo-Nazis said the event was a success.

"Today, it was law enforcement that hit a home run," Toledo police Chief Mike Navarre said yesterday.

Bill White, a National Socialist spokesman from Roanoke, Va., said participants included members of the Ku Klux Klan, Retaliator Skinhead Nation, and the World Church of the Creator.

"I think it went very well, extremely well," he said, despite technical difficulties with a public address system partway through the rally that prompted the group to use a bullhorn.

Yes, it went very well for the neo-Nazis. They were able to put on their show at all kinds of taxpayer expense.

However, it didn't go so well for people who wanted to make known their opposition to the National Socialist Movement's message. It's clear that police ran roughshod over the free-speech rights of average Toledoans in the process:
Terry Lodge, a Toledo lawyer and longtime civil rights activist, said he was upset by what he perceived as police harassment. He noted how people constantly were brushed back by police horses. He also was disturbed by how some people seemed to have been arrested for being too vocal or animated.

"What you have in Toledo is martial law for a day," he said. "The whole business of shoving people back pre-emptively is wrong."

One outsider in the crowd agreed that security went too far.

"It's clearly police intimidation against the people of Toledo," said Shanta Driver of Detroit, who identified herself as a member of the National Women's Rights Organizing Committee.

J. Eaton, 26, of North Toledo said he saw police officers arrest a man after overhearing someone say that it appeared there was "something brewing" between him and others. "They're just abusing their power," Mr. Eaton said.

John Jackson, 21, of West Toledo said the neo-Nazis can spew all the rhetoric they want as long as they don't incite rioting in a black neighborhood again. "Just stay out of the 'hood," he said.

These were not just isolated reports. Throughout the city, activists were angered by police tactics, and with good cause:
"I thought they were heavy-handed, and we thought their use of horses was very intimidating," said Perrysburg resident Kathy Baldoni, who helped organize The Toledo-Area Peace Team.

"Police seemed to arrest people without reason. They were clearly not doing anything that would have provoked an arrest."

Sheriff's deputies from several different Ohio counties rode on horseback through the crowd and pulled out protesters. At one point, a peace-team member, who refused to give her name, laid down in the path of a horse but was not arrested.

Toledo police Chief Mike Navarre said all arrests were justified.

He also said that law-enforcement officials did not want the peace team to attend the event. "I didn't particularly want them to be here," Chief Navarre said. "Numbers create problems for law enforcement."

The Michigan Peace Team joined the Toledo-Area Peace Team at the rally. Members stood poised throughout the crowd, and often pleaded with police officers not to arrest protesters.

A Toledo police officer, who refused to give his name, threatened to arrest several peace team members if they interfered with an arrest.

As always, the indefatigable History Mike's Musings was on the scene in Toledo. He reported from the scene about the police's hair-trigger responses, including the arrests of news photographers like Jeffrey Willis:
Police arrested two photographers at the beginning of the NSM rally in Toledo today.

One was Jeff Willis, of the Toledo Journal. I have not found out what prompted the police to arrest second, unidentified photographer.

I saw Jeff get bumped and step beyond the orange-and-white barricade; perhaps that is why he was arrested. As far as I could see, he was just doing his job.

Mike also has described the absurd costs the Nazis are inflicting on the city of Toledo -- costs that will no doubt escalate with the legal litigation bound to result from the trampling of citizens' free-speech rights.

Mike, in fact, makes a really important point regarding those rights:
I witnessed people being arrested who did not appear to have committed a crime, and received reports of people arrested for sitting in cars trying to warm up outside of the protest zone.

The costs of the freedoms of Toledoans (and those coming from other areas to protest the Nazis) were startling. As repugnant as it may seem to protect the rights of the Nazis to free speech, what about everyone else?

A protester that I interviewed on Saturday at the rally put it bluntly.

"They [the NSM] walked right out the front door of our city hall to shout their hate messages," said Danita Watkins of Toledo. "It's just like the city rolled out the red carpet for them. They are up there acting like they own the city now."

Should a group of people, under the banner of free speech, be allowed to hold an entire city hostage? Should average citizens be denied their right to free speech just because the city believes there might be unrest?

And what if this event had occurred in warm weather, instead of in single-digit wind chills? I would be willing to bet that there would have been four times as many protesters, both inside and outside the "official" protest zone. How many detainees would it take before people would begin to think that the costs in terms of civil liberties to the general public outweigh those of the neo-Nazis?

I don't think the city of Toledo intended to send the message about whose rights are more important that they just sent.

Because it's not a message any responsible civic entity should want to send.

The problem

OK, so thousands of white thugs go on a racist rampage in Sydney ...

... so Michelle Malkin wonders if Sydney is "the next Paris".

In other words, when Middle Easterners riot in Paris, they are the problem.

But when whites go on a riot attacking Middle Easterners in Sydney, it is, once again, the Middle Easterners who are the problem.

I think Michelle Malkin has a problem.

[Edited to reflect the issue is racial, not religious.]

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Flourishing in the dark

[Mark Martin, right, leader of the Ohio branch of the National Socialist Movement, leads his troops in Toledo. Photo by Isis.]

The city of Toledo is now girding for another invasion of their city by neo-Nazis, and it's clear that officials are intent on avoiding a repeat of the disaster that befell them the last time.

Today they filed a lawsuit to force the National Socialist Movement from repeating its performance of October:
The city of Toledo says it will file a lawsuit today in Lucas County Common Pleas Court against the National Socialist Movement and any counter-protesters to a neo-Nazi rally Saturday, seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent them from rallying, assembling, or parading in any other place other than the rally site at Government Center downtown.

If granted, city officials said the restraining order or injunction would prevent the groups from making an unannounced visit in or near residential neighborhoods, particularly those in the vicinity of North Toledo where the Oct. 15 riot occurred.

An earlier profile of Ohio's NSM activists in the Columbus Dispatch [subscription required] describes how these hate groups continue to flourish just out of public view:
Ohio communities haven’t seen this level of activity by an extremist group for years. Gone are the rallies of the late 1990s, when the Ku Klux Klan held protests almost monthly in small towns and bigger cities.

But groups that monitor white supremacists and other extremists say Ohioans shouldn’t be fooled into thinking hate groups have gone away. They've just gone underground.

"Most of these groups don't do rallies. They're more secretive," said Mark Pitcavage, who monitors hate groups for the Anti-Defamation League. "There is still a lot of white-supremacist activity in Ohio."

The Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama monitors 31 hate groups in Ohio, up from 22 in 1998.

These groups were more visible from the late 1990s to 2001 because three Ku Klux Klan groups were the dominant white supremacists in Ohio. And the Klan liked to demonstrate in public places.

Hate rallies were so common that the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation produced a tape to show lawenforcement agencies how to handle them. Concrete barriers and metal detectors were commonplace, as police sought to keep the extremists away from angry counterdemonstrators.

Then those Klan groups fell apart.

Jeff Berry, who led the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan group that rallied all over northwestern Ohio, went to prison. He and some supporters held a television crew at gunpoint until they gave him their tape. He served more than three years.

The head of a second Ohio Klan group moved to Jasper, Texas. A third organization just disintegrated.

Without a dominant leader, extremist groups tend to collapse, Pitcavage said.

"One person often makes the difference. It's someone with the drive or the organizational skills to make it happen. We're not talking about vast social movements," he said.

The groups that remain, however, are more subversive than the Klan. They communicate via the Internet and at meetings on private property.

That doesn’t make them any less dangerous, their watchdogs said.

Anthony Griggs, a research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said his organization is concerned because the Ohio State Skinheads, a statewide group, recently held a meeting in Hocking County in an apparent attempt to unite with other skinhead groups.

"They feel that by working together, their goals will be more easily achieved," he said. "My instinct is they are definitely growing."

... Bill White, spokesman for the Virginia chapter of the National Socialist Movement that organized the Toledo rally, said the monitoring won’t thwart the group's efforts. There are several chapters in Ohio, he said, that will become more vocal.

"Our Ohio unit has become a lot more active in the last few months," he
said. "We will be involved in demonstrations all the time."

The other day, Matt Stoller had a nice in-depth examination of the spread of right-wing extremism, focusing on the Minutemen. But what he observed applies equally to what we're seeing in places like Toledo:

We're seeing a real flourishing of right-wing extremism in no small part because of its increasing absorption into the mainstream right.
I got mad at the researcher I talked to because it was very clear she hasn't studied what bubbles beneath the surface of our politics. The Democratic Party and the liberal base of it is basically a pro-capitalist group who believes in a safety net and collective action to preserve the rule of law and some measure of equality of opportunity. There are extremists, but they are outside the party and most importantly, not on the whole particularly dangerous. The Republican Party base is full of people who believe that vigilante groups like the Minutemen are patriotic, and those that oppose them are enemies of the state. The Republican Party base does things like endorse rape as a legitimate function of property rights, which leads directly to the demonization of women. They embrace their crazies, and defend those who threaten minorities with violence. They even call us unserious on national security because we condemn those who use violence to enforce a racist agenda.

Extremism is an inherent characteristic of human societies, but it is the mark of civilization how one manages that extremism. The left-wing is basically a mainstream movement, and seeks to expel extremists from our coalition. The right-wing is not. Republican Party activists either endorse white supremacy through the use of coded attacks on illegal immigrants, or they legitimize such attacks by disagreeing with the groups but keeping them in the coalition.

I was angry at that researcher for the same reason I bristle at most mainstream political strategists. She is paid to detect the broadest spectrum of feelings, hence the immediate recoil at 'both extremes', but not to actually understand the extremism at the core of the Republican Party. The advice that comes from such research is bad if you are a progressive. Pretend that the leaders of both parties are moderates. Seek extremism in your own party, and disavow it. Don't talk about 'icky' things, like rape, or race, or civilian casualties in Iraq. Don't reverse insane policies like the war on drugs that remove freedom from a substantial part of the populace. That will simply turn off the middle, because they want to believe that what we have now is mainstream, and changes demanded by either side's base are just extreme.

I have a different way of looking at it, aside from chopping the public up into a mainstream that doesn't like icky things, and two politically equivalent extremes. We need to ask all Americans to reach higher, to say that the loss of, say, New Orleans is the manifestation of Republican extremism, and our tolerance of it. We need to draw a direct line between the Minutemen/Free Republic axis of the Republican Party, and Iraq, New Orleans, Scooter, etc. We need to show, explicitly, that the awful events in the past, and the ones to come, are the result of Republican Party's core extremism, and our tolerance of it. Most Americans think they are doing reasonably well, though there is deep anxiety over the clear storm clouds on the horizon. Crafting an overall narrative of extremism on the right, drawing directly from their racist and vicious mainstream activists, as well as the story of our tolerance of this lunacy, is key to explaining the storm clouds.

We need to show the extremism, the tolerance of it, and offer a counter-narrative. We aren't better than the Republicans because our policies make more sense, we are better than the Republicans because America is better than vicious extremism, because Americans are better than our worst instincts. We are setting things right in our own party, in our lives, and we will do so in America. Join us.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Yeeaaarrgh indeed

Whew! When it comes to right-wing eliminationist rhetoric, the temperature just keeps on rising.

This item from Media Matters just speaks for itself:
On the December 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, radio host and regular Fox & Friends guest Erich "Mancow" Muller stated that Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean "ought to be kicked out of America" and "tried for treason" in response to a San Antonio radio interview in which Dean said that the idea that the United States can win the war in Iraq is "just plain wrong." After Muller asserted that Dean should be "kicked out of America," Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade agreed, replying: "Absolutely."

... From the December 6 edition of Fox News' which also featured co-hosts Steve Doocy and E.D. Hill:

MULLER: Guys, I do want to do one serious thing today. Howard Dean ought to be kicked out of America.

KILMEADE: Absolutely.

MULLER: He ought to be tried for treason. He is the enemy. These people, these Dummy-crats -- I'm not a Republican. I'm a Libertarian --

DOOCY: What did he say, Mancow, this time?

MULLER: He said yesterday -- it was late-breaking news -- I, -- I've never done this before in my life -- I was calling radio shows. I've never done that. I called Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes last night [saying]: "You guys gotta get on this. Howard Dean said we're going to lose the war."


MULLER: This is the head of the Democrats!

HILL: Hey, Mancow --

MULLER: These people want every boy to die. They're bloodthirsty animals. Howard Dean is a vile human being. I can't believe it.

KILMEADE: Many people can't. His quote was: "The idea that the U.S. will win the war in Iraq is plain wrong."

DOOCY: Mancow, we have invited Howard Dean on this program many times and he has declined.

MULLER: Because you'll ask him questions. You'll ask him real questions -- and if I sound like I'm ranting and raving and furious, well, it's because I am. But this guy, this guy is bloodthirsty. He is evil. I'm telling you, I really think every time you report another dead body in Iraq, they go, "Hoo hoo, it's perfect!"

I'm sure Michelle Malkin and other right-wingers will now be rushing forth to condemn these "unhinged" remarks soon! Why, just any century now!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A response at last

Well, someone finally responded to my series on Michelle Malkin's latest book, Unhinged.

No, not Michelle. The response comes from Cathy Young, the Boston Globe columnist who has written on Malkin previously.

It's a detailed and thoughtful response, and requires a detailed and thoughtful reply. I've unfortunately been in the middle of writing a long paper on the Minutemen, and will be presenting it at a conference this weekend, but I hope to be back in the saddle by Sunday with something worthwhile.

UPDATE: While you're pondering the topic of eliminationism, be sure to check out Shakespeare's Sister this week, where she's discussing that very subject.