Thursday, April 28, 2005

The March of the Taliban

If you think the concern about the effects of the right's attack on church-state separation might be overblown, take a gander at what a Republican legislator down in Alabama has cooked up: a bill to ban books from public school libraries that are either written by gays and lesbians or contain references to them:
Republican Alabama lawmaker Gerald Allen says homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle. As CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports, under his bill, public school libraries could no longer buy new copies of plays or books by gay authors, or about gay characters.

"I don't look at it as censorship," says State Representative Gerald Allen. "I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children."

Books by any gay author would have to go: Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal. Alice Walker's novel "The Color Purple" has lesbian characters.

Allen originally wanted to ban even some Shakespeare. After criticism, he narrowed his bill to exempt the classics, although he still can't define what a classic is. Also exempted now Alabama's public and college libraries.

A reminder: This kind of narrow-minded insanity isn't just relegated to the South. But it certainly seems to enjoy a kind of cutting-edge quality there.

The Great White Peril

Y'know, by Gar, there may be some good come out of this Minuteman thing yet.

Fresh after hanging up their lassos and sidearms and calling it quits by declaring victory well before the end of their originally avowed 30-day vigil, the Minuteman Project's organizers, according to the Washington Post, are turning their sights northward to the Canadian border:
Minuteman Project leaders said their volunteers this month alerted federal authorities to more than 330 cases of illegal immigrants crossing into the United States over a 23-mile stretch of Arizona's southern border. Now they plan to extend their patrol along the rest of the border with Mexico and are helping to organize similar efforts in four states that neighbor Canada.

"In the absence of the federal government doing its mandated duty to secure our borders, we will pick up the slack. Reluctantly," said Chris Simcox, a Minuteman co-organizer who also operates Civil Homeland Defense, another Arizona group that monitors illegal immigrants.

"We shouldn't have to be doing this," Simcox told reporters in Washington, where he was to meet with lawmakers Wednesday. "But at this point, we will continue to grow this operation _ also to the northern border."

Simcox offered no timeline on when the Canadian border patrol _ to be organized in Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota and Vermont _ might begin. But he said he hoped to start patrols near San Diego, Calif., by June and along the rest of the Mexico border by October.

I read this and I thought: At last! Someone is going to make us face up to the real threat facing this country! Maybe now we can begin talking about the Great White Peril!

Now I know that all this talk by the Minutemen about clamping down on the Canadian border too is in most regards a kind of cover for the campaign's claims to be primarily concerned about the threat posed by terrorists crossing our supposedly loose borders. After all, the only known terrorist who entered the United States via a border crossing -- Ahmed Ressam, whose case is well known locally -- did so from Canada.

But let's be honest here: The real cause that fueled the Minuteman Project was immigration, not terrorism. That's evident from the focus on the subject at the group's Web site, as well as places that championed it, from VDare to American Patrol to the Aryan Nations (which, in fact, actually lauded the 9/11 attacks). And if you talked to people on the ground at the Project, it was pretty clear what was driving them too: the Brown Peril.

So we should be equally frank about what the objectives should be for any planned watch along the Canadian border: stopping the similarly noxious flow of white illegal immigrants from the north.

After all, these people are whiter than white. They like hockey and curling and ice fishing and eat lots of cheese. They come sneaking here over the border in silent hordes and pretty soon, they start taking over. Nobody talks about it, but the evidence that it's happening is everywhere.

I mean, look around at all these American cities near the Canadian border: White people. Lots of white people everywhere. And way too many of them still saying, "Eh?" And why are there all those cheese shops?

They're infecting our popular culture, too, by exporting Canadian-ness over the borders. Why, exactly, are we playing hockey (when it's not on strike) in Florida and California nowadays? Doesn't that seem suspicious to you?

And then there's the music scene. For awhile Canada exported hippie subversives like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, then homosexual subversives like k.d. lang. Now, however, they're responsible for the most insidious cultural invasion of all: Celine Dion. It doesn't get much more hair-raisingly white than that. (Indeed, it seems like grounds for invading their country, executing their leaders, and converting them to Christianity, but that might be a bit over the top.)

Oh, I know it's not "politically correct" to point out this kind of cultural pollution. But it's happening, slowly, surely, and demonstrably to the detriment of our society.

It's time somebody did something about it. Of course, completely sealing off the Canadian border will entail manning some of the most rugged and frigid territory in America, a landscape that will make the Arizona desert seem like a Sunday in the park. It'll require lots of high-tech equipment and well-trained, fit participants.

But hey, I'm sure the Minutemen will be up to the task. They were successful before, right?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Caught up in the tide

After all that talk about "black-robed tyrants" and hints that any violence directed their way might be well earned, the prominent Republicans involved in the new right-wing attack on the judiciary backed down -- a bit -- at "Justice Sunday" last weekend.

Bill Frist did his best to sound moderate, especially after his earlier intemperate remarks about Democrats attacking "people of faith". I guess when people like Ted Olson and Charles Krauthammer are telling you that this whole line of attack is a bad idea, Republican leaders have decided to step back from the brink and reconsider where their old friends on the extremist right are carrying them.

There's one little problem, though: They're too late. They've created a beast they think they can control. I wonder if they're about to get a rude awakening.

No doubt a lot of their hesitation has to do with the kind of image the Republicans have gotten out of their association with the extremists driving the attacks on the judiciary, from Terri Schiavo to "Justice Sunday." That is, they're beginning to look a lot like the folks with their eyes rattling around in their sockets screaming for Judge Greer's scalp.

Columns like Colbert King's in the Washington Post probably helped:
The statement by one of the sponsors of tomorrow's event, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is an example of the Holy War that is being launched by the right. In one of the most outrageous smears to be uttered by a so-called religious leader, Perkins said that "activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups . . . have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms." That is an unmitigated lie that should not be allowed to stand.

Which judges are out to rob Christians of their heritage? That is religious McCarthyism. Perkins should name them, provide evidence of their attempted theft of "our Christian heritage" or retract that statement with an apology. Don't count on that happening.

Of course, it didn't happen. As Max Blumenthal reported in The Nation, the conference -- Frist's seeming meekness notwithstanding -- was a wall-to-wall attack upon the integrity of the judiciary. Moreover, Perkins was in fact the figure who benefited most from the attention lavished upon the conference by ostensibly "mainstream" Republicans like Frist:
Four years ago, Perkins addressed the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), America's premier white supremacist organization, the successor to the White Citizens Councils, which battled integration in the South. In 1996 Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,000 for his mailing list. At the time, Perkins was the campaign manager for a right-wing Republican candidate for the US Senate in Louisiana. The Federal Election Commission fined the campaign Perkins ran $3,000 for attempting to hide the money paid to Duke.

It also became clear that Perkins has national aspirations, and intends to use the anti-judiciary campaign as his springboard:
On Justice Sunday, Perkins introduced Frist as "a friend of the family." "I don't think it's radical to ask senators to vote," Frist said from a giant screen above the audience. "Only in the United States Senate could it be considered a devastating option to allow a vote." His face then disappeared, and Perkins returned onstage to urge viewers to call their senators.

But there is more at stake here than the fate of the filibuster. With Justice Sunday, Perkins's ambition to become a national conservative leader was ratified; Bill Frist's presidential campaign for 2008 was advanced with the Christian right; and the faithful were imbued with the notion that they are being victimized by liberal Democratic evildoers.

Of course, a claim of persecution and martyrdom is central to the campaign. Christians are being singled out and persecuted for their beliefs, "Justice Sunday" believers were told time and again. The federal judges being filibustered by Democrats were chosen just because they were Christians, they were told. See, for instance, the sympathetic report at the Baptist Press site on the speech by R. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in which he described nominee Charles Pickering as just such a victim:
The Senate Judiciary Committee thought Pickering was radical because he believes Christians should base their worldview on the teaching of Scripture, Mohler said. Senators who opposed Pickering focused on comments he made while serving as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.

"That (Pickering's view) is normative Christianity," Mohler said. "That is what it means to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and to be a Christian incorporated into the body of Christ and to be a faithful believer in the church.

"He (Pickering) was speaking as a Christian to fellow Christians about our Christian responsibility, but in the views of some radical secularists, that invalidates him from serving on the federal bench. And we as Americans had better hear that as a wakeup call because if it is judge Pickering now, it will be you and me tomorrow."

Of course, what Mohler describes has little to do with why Pickering's nomination was held up. As I've explored a couple of times, the problems with Pickering's appointment had a great deal more to do with the tremendously bad judgment he has displayed in several key cases, including a cross-burning case that reverberated with his past connections to white citizens' councils -- not to mention his less-than-forthcoming testimony on those subjects.

But hey, a few facts never stood in the way of a good martyrdom story before, so why stop now?

But as Blumenthal describes, there is indeed a great deal at stake: namely, the very shape of jurisprudence itself, which would be transformed by these religious fundamentalists into a kind of legal fundamentalism. It would have dramatic ramifications for Americans across a broad variety of issues from gay rights to abortion to birth control to scientific research to basic matters of privacy, perhaps even to segregation -- and ultimately, for the heart of their campaign, the separation of church and state.

See, for instance, these key passages from the BP News story:
Mohler singled out two pivotal cases from the past 35 years: the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, which established a "constitutional right" for abortion on demand, and the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case, in which judges overturned anti-sodomy laws.

"[Roe v. Wade] was a wakeup call for Americans to say, 'Now wait a minute; there is nothing in the Constitution about abortion.' By no stretch of the imagination did the founders of this nation and the framers of that document intend for anyone to be able to read those words and find a right to kill unborn children," he said.

" ... [And] does anyone believe that the framers of our Constitution intended for [a constitutional right to practice sodomy] to be there? By no means. If it's not there, how did the court decision get there? By reading into the Constitution what they wanted to find, which isn't there but is constructed there by expanding the Constitution by reinterpretation."

Mohler said that Christians, above all people, should understand the importance of a strict interpretation of the Constitution because of the way in which some have twisted the Bible to "say what it doesn't mean."

"We have seen that pattern (of distorting Scripture)," he said. "God's people have had to learn to discern and say 'no, the text is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. It is what God said it is.' But now there are judges who are using the same exercises of interpretation to find in the Constitution of the United States what is not there."

Now, as I've argued previously, the "strict construction" of which fundamentalists are so enamored is nothing but a new name for old-style "formalism," the approach to jurisprudence that wrought such exemplars of the law as Dred Scott and Plessy v Ferguson. As such, its ramifications for American law could be profound, since widespread adoption would mean overturning an entire slate of progressive innovations of the 20th century and return us to the bad old days of the late 19th century, when robber barons ruled the land.

At the Family Research Council's own site, one can get a sense that just such a radically reactionary course is what they have in mind:
Q -- How have activist judges abused their power?

A -- Judges are abusing their power if they read into the Constitution principles that are not declared by the plain language of the Constitution. For example, the First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." But nowhere does it say that there should be a strict "separation of church and state" at all levels of government, barring any acknowledgment of God. The decision legalizing abortion was based on the "right to privacy" -- but no such right is declared in the Constitution.

That response should make clear the two issues, above all, that are directly in the sights of the religious right:
1. The separation of church and state.

2. The right to privacy.

Of course, most Americans tend to take a right to privacy for granted, but little realize that it exists almost solely, according to Supreme Court rulings, as a Ninth-Amendment "natural right" not enumerated by the Constitution, or as a "penumbra" of other rights that have been written out.

Likewise, they understand that "separation of church and state" -- like "religious freedom" -- exists as a principle of the Constitution, even though the phrase doesn't appear written there. (The educated among us are even aware of the use of the phrase by founders Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in later explanatory letters.)

But what they little understand, for now, is that those rights are in the gunsights of the religious right -- and they are zeroing in even now.

The more thoughtful conservatives remaining in Republican ranks may hesitate for now. But the religious right has built up its impetus, and it seems unlikely that the GOP, in the end, will be able to resist going along for the ride.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Rudolph's plea

Seems I'm not the only one with questions about how the Justice Department handled Eric Rudolph's case. Now we're hearing from the conservative side of the aisle -- namely, Bill Shipp, a longtime observer of the Georgia political scene:
Pardon the paranoia, but something smells about the deal to let killer-bomber Eric Rudolph cop a plea and avoid a trial.

The Justice Department says it decided to spare Rudolph a death-sentence trial in exchange for information about the locations of relatively small amounts of explosives. Bull!

A determined prosecutor might have extracted the map to the dynamite with a promise not to seek the death penalty. And Rudolph's trial could have proceeded.

Former U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander says a trial and death sentence would have made "a martyr" of Rudolph, so waiving the trial was a good idea.

That is a curious position for Alexander, who was the government's chief lawyer in Atlanta when Rudolph planted a bomb at the 1996 Olympics that killed one person and injured scores of others.

If the martyrdom-avoidance defense worked for Rudolph, can you imagine what it might do for alleged Fulton courthouse killer Brian Nichols, the self-proclaimed "black warrior," when he is ready for trial in heavily black Atlanta?

The government says Rudolph set off four bombs -- the most famous one at the Olympics, another at an Atlanta gay bar, a third at a Sandy Springs family-planning office and a fourth at a Birmingham abortion clinic. At the end of his run, he had killed two people, wounded at least 120 and terrified thousands.

He is as much a terrorist as 9/11 plane-hijacker Mohammed Atta or Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Ah, but the problem really is an administration that does not want us to think of terrorists in that fashion, and Shipp explains this as well as anyone I've seen:
Similarly, Rudolph's plea leaves us in the dark about his whole story. To be sure, he may have been as advertised: a government-hating, anti-abortion, survivalist crackpot. Still, we don't know who aided him or why. Who were his mentors and associates? Who helped him choose his targets and on what basis? Who protected him from arrest for all those years? Why did they harbor him when one simple phone call could have put a million dollars in their pocket?

Why did Washington agree to skip a trial that may have revealed the answers to all those questions? One possibility: The Justice Department doubted the ability of its attorneys to deliver a guilty verdict. The prosecutorial record in comparable cases is spotty at best. (The feds nailed McVeigh but struck out with Terry Nichols in the Oklahoma City bombing.)

If you're a conspiracy theorist, you have another answer. The government is reluctant to dig deeply into Rudolph's background or to identify publicly the forces that inspired him to become a pro-life killer. Letting him enter a guilty plea serves the purposes of the politically-attuned Justice Department as well as the defense. That sounds a bit nutty, you say? That explanation is no nuttier than a leading lawman's assertion that Rudolph's avoidance of trial "finally brings closure" to the case. Surely he is kidding.

One other thing: The government through the media has embedded in the national mind a portrait of terrorists as sinister-looking, bearded Middle Easterners who pray five times a day and have a fondness for taking flying lessons.

The trial of Eric Rudolph might have given us another picture: fair-skinned, clean-cut men claiming to be Christians, wearing fatigues and speaking American English, not unlike you and me.

Taken a step further, a picture might even be drawn of a home-grown terrorist who embraces the culture of life and then uses the tools of the death to protect that culture. The parallels with a president who speaks in defense of the sanctity of life, yet has built his legacy on death penalties and two overseas wars might make the U.S. judiciary a bit too uncomfortable.

It's pretty hard, in fact, to examine this administration's record without reaching the conclusion that it is more interested in marketing the idea of terrorism to the public than it is in actually combating terrorism.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Justice well served

I've spent a chunk of time in Judge John Coughenour's federal courtrooms, particularly during the trials of the Washington State Militia in Seattle and the Montana Freemen in Billings. (See In God's Country for more details.)

He probably has more experience in dealing with far-right conspiracy theories -- particularly so-called "constitutionalist" pseudo-legal theories -- than any other federal judge. He also is the epitome of the "no-nonsense judge": blunt, plain-spoken, impatient with obfuscation. And there's no room for any kind of folderol, whether from attorneys or their clients or jurors.

So I was more than a little amused to read of Coughenour's latest courtroom confrontation with a constitutionalist scam artist in a Seattle P-I report:
Anderson's Ark moved client cash into overseas bank accounts and falsely deducted the funds from income tax returns as consulting or management expenses, the government said. In order to make the deductions look legitimate, Anderson's Ark told its clients to send the money through an Anderson's Ark affiliate to a shell company operated by co-defendant Richard Marks, prosecutors said.

Convicted leaders of the scam included brothers Keith and Wayne Anderson, and Karolyn Grosnickle, who ran the operational headquarters out of a home in Hoodsport in Mason County.

The Anderson brothers and Marks represented themselves in the proceedings, which were notable for lengthy political harangues.

Marks challenged Coughenour yesterday, asking: "What kind of a court are you running here?" He got a quick response from the judge: "I'll have you bound and gagged if you don't stop to listen to me."

Marks proclaimed: "I have repeatedly challenged the jurisdiction of this court. This court is committing treason. You judge, are committing treason ... when you usurp the authority of the Constitution." Then he launched into an incomprehensible monologue challenging the court's jurisdiction, which centered on his true identity being that of a "human being" rather than a "fictitious legal entity."

Coughenour cut him off and asked Corey Smith of the Justice Department's Tax Division for his sentence recommendation. Smith noted Marks' "utter lack of contrition" and recommended 25 years in prison.

The attorney from the Justice Department's Tax Division at the hearing, Corey Smith, boiled it down to the fundamentals:
Smith rose and told Coughenour "some of these Anderson Ark members might look at Mr. Anderson as a slightly odd man. I would submit that is not the case. Mr. Anderson is a financial predator. Mr. Anderson is a professional con artist."

I've described the ways other far-right ideologues are actually running relatively lucrative cons. It's pretty much endemic to the extremist right, in fact. For that matter, it would be fair to say their ideology is a scam as well.

I don't know about Bill Frist, but I happen to think the federal judiciary functions well at serving the American public and the interests of justice. Judge Coughenour is the ultimate example of that. Though the people he just put away, no doubt, are more than happy to partake in all that talk about "black-robed tyrants."

Blogging about

Be sure to check out the new blog from Russ Baker, one of the best independent journalists working today, which he's titled BakerMuckraker. It kind of looks like he's still figuring out the links thing, but the content as always is what counts most ...

eRiposte has finished up his great 15-part series, How the Liberal Media Myth is Created, which recaps information many of us already knew, but puts it together in a cogent way that offers some insight into how to battle the meme. He's also begun a follow-up series at The Left Coaster titled "Why the Liberal Media Myth Persists", with Part 1 and Part 2 already up.

I was pleased to read in the New York Times that the late Will Eisner's final book, The Plot -- which tells the story of The Protocols of the Seven Elders of Zion -- is soon to hit the bookshelves. I've already pre-ordered it.

And I have to say that Abstinence made me laugh. A lot. But it's probably not work-safe.