Friday, March 31, 2006

That racism thang

Max Blumenthal has an excellent piece up at The Nation regarding how conservatives have co-opted so much of the longtime white supremacist agenda that now the extremist right is looking for new ways to attract followers:
Back in those good old times, in 1982, explaining the Klan's anti-immigrant advocacy, Duke said, "Every new immigrant adds to our crime problems, our welfare rolls and unemployment of American citizens.... We are being invaded in the southwest as if a foreign army were coming over the border.... They're going to take more and more hard-earned money from the productive middle class in the form of taxes and social programs." And Duke called for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants and harsh penalties for businesses that employ them. "I'd make the Mexican-American border almost like a Maginot line," he said, referring to the militarized barrier France constructed between itself, Italy and Germany after World War I.

At the time, Duke was widely dismissed as little more than a turbo-charged version of the paranoid style--"the Klan's answer to Robert Redford," as reporter Patty Sims described him in 1978. But today his anti-immigration rhetoric sounds not so remote from one of top-rated CNN host Lou Dobbs's fulminations during his daily "Broken Borders" segment. Duke's Klan Border Watch, meanwhile, served as the forerunner and inspiration of the Dobbs-touted Minutemen groups that have proliferated from the Mexico border to Herndon, Virginia, the city that hosted the American Renaissance conference, where disgruntled locals hold regular protests outside a day-labor center. Under pressure from Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, chair of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, and with sponsorship from House Judiciary Committee chair James Sensenbrenner (tough-talking heir to the Kotex fortune), the Republican-dominated House has approved a bill that makes it a felony to be in the United States illegally, mandates punishment for providing aid or shelter to undocumented immigrants and allocates millions for the construction of an iron wall between the United States and Mexico. Duke may have fallen short on the national stage, but his old notions have gained a new life through new political figures.

"Tancredo, he's pretty good. I would probably vote for him for President," Duke told me.

For self-proclaimed white nationalists, however, the mainstreaming of some of their ideas has created new challenges. "Immigration was the white nationalist movement's hot issue, but it's really left beyond them," said Devin Burghart, director of the Building Democracy Initiative at the Center for New Community, a Chicago-based civil rights group. "They've gone through this before, where they've had to reinvent themselves. Now, they're searching for a new issue to take them forward."

The clearest example of the way these far-right memes have invaded the conservative mainstream is provided by Michelle Malkin, particularly in her latest column:
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Autum Ashante, the precocious 7-year-old black nationalist poet, who said white people are "devils and they should be gone." If this daughter of a Nation of Islam activist father had instead been an Aryan supremacist child of a Klan activist, she'd still be all over the network news and pages of pop culture magazines (as a pair of white nationalist teen pop singers, Lamb and Lynx Gaede, have been since last fall). But with rare exceptions, nobody wanted to touch Autum's spoon-fed hatred with a 10-foot-pole. That would be, you know, "intolerant." We have to "respect diversity."

Of course, it always helps to understand that the Nation of Islam is also widely considered to be a racist hate group, and in fact is designated that by the Southern Poverty Law Center. So perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that the daughter of one of the group's leaders is penning racist poetry. And saying so is the opposite of "intolerant."

It should also be noted that her characterization of the treatment of the Gaede twins neglects to mention that their story was originally presented in Teen People without any mention of the fact that they are neo-Nazis.

But the really egregious stuff is what follows:
Aztlan is a long-held notion among Mexico's intellectual elite and political class, which asserts that the American southwest rightly belongs to Mexico. Advocates believe the reclamation (or reconquista) of Aztlan will occur through sheer demographic force. If the rallies across the country are any indication, reconquista is already complete.

The problem is, as I've pointed out previously, the whole notion of "reconquista" as a plot to invade America is just another far-right conspiracy theory that has floated about among extremists for years and is now surfacing, like the fetid turd of an idea it is, in the mainstream punch bowl.

Alex Koppelman at Dragonfire explores this point in some depth:
You might expect Malkin to give her readers some evidence that Aztlan really is "a long-held notion among Mexico's intellectual elite and political class," but she never does.

Why? Because Aztlan and reconquista these days aren't, for the most part, ideas held by Mexicans: they're ideas held by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The myth of reconquista stems from a misreading of one of the founding documents of the Chicano movement, "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan."

In much the same way that the Black Power movement meant the words "Black Power" in a metaphorical sense, that is, as a call to African-Americans to recognize after years of being stigmatized that they too were people with something to contribute to society, "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan" was an appeal to nationalism as a means to achieve a greater self-awareness and self-esteem.

But that's not the way some white supremacists, fearful of a brown mass ready to take over the United States, has interpreted it.

A simple Google search shows that the people talking about Aztlan and reconquista are predominantly not Mexican (though there are some radical fringe groups) but white supremacists.

Moreover, as I explained in some depth, it's really a fairly simple thing to distinguish racist hate groups from ethnic-heritage groups: the former are almost exclusively obsessed with degrading and demonizing "out" groups, while the latter are largely about lifting up and promoting the group they represent (this is, in fact, the chief factor in the SPLC's "hate group" designations). Just as the Klan reveals itself more through its actions than its words, so do groups like MEChA:
For those who would argue that a group like MEChA is only nascent in its racism, and could eventually wreak such horrors if its agenda flamed out of control, it is worth remembering that racist organizations nearly always display their true colors almost immediately. The Klan, as just seen, was violent and terroristic from the start; so, too, were the European fascists, particularly during the fascista and SA years.

And what has MEChA done? Advocate for increasing the numbers of Latinos in higher education. Organize student rallies. Emphasize self-determination.

Here is how one commenter named "cat" on Atrios' boards put it:

MeCHA has been an integral part of student life for decades; many, if not most, of my Chicano friends and acquaintances were involved with it; it was then and probably is now an advocacy organization which worked to bring Chicanos (now Latinos) into the educational institutions, to feed and clothe underprivileged children in the community, including those of the migrant farmworkers, was involved with Caesar Chavez in advocating for better working conditions for the migrant workers, and provided tutoring, mentoring, and fellowship for students, as do many other student organizations.


This view is one expressed consistently by people who have experience with MEChA. Among these is O. Ricardo Pimentel, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, who recently penned a column addressing the current campaign from the right, "California coup plays a race card on Bustamante":

But let us acknowledge that MEChA was born in the racial turmoil and rhetoric leading up to 1969. Its founding historical documents, El Plan de Aztlan and El Plan de Santa Barbara, contain incendiary language.

But the truth is, few joining even back then were thinking of overthrowing government. They were talking about changing society, for the better.

"We all understood the history of MEChA," says Loredo, a MEChA president at Phoenix College in 1987. "We took it in the context of the times, 1969 (the founding year)."

To liberate Aztlan, Loredo and other MEChistas pushed to get more Latinos into college and performed community service. Many, like Bustamante, entered public service.

MEChA elsewhere also led walkouts and protests to form Chicano studies programs and to push for more Chicano faculty hires.


Indeed, Republicans who wish to push the argument that MEChA is racist might want to talk to Mike Madrid, an advisor to the GOP on Latino affairs (and someone for whom this meme is probably the biggest nightmare since Proposition 187), who had this to say in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle:

"It's bizarre to assume this is some kind of radical group, seeking to overthrow part of the United States," said Mike Madrid, who has worked on Latino affairs for the state Republican Party. "It was part of the Brown Beret and Chicano studies movement, but it's mainly a social group and has been for years. To suggest it's involved in paramilitary training or some underhanded conspiracy is ludicrous."

In spite of this, Malkin goes on to argue:
Apologists are quick to argue that Latino supremacists are just a small fringe faction of the pro-illegal immigration movement (never mind that their ranks include former and current Hispanic politicians from L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to former California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cruz Bustamante).

But you'll never hear or read such forgiving caveats in the mainstream press's hostile coverage of the pro-immigration enforcement members of the Minutemen Project—who are universally smeared as racists. For what? For peacefully demanding that our government enforce its laws and secure its borders.

Actually, the Minutemen are not "smeared" as racists for peacefully demanding that our government enforce its laws and secure it borders.

They're accurately described as racists and extremists because their ranks are riddled throughout with racists and extremists, something similarly reflected in their leadership. Because their agenda and their rhetoric is predicated on demonizing Hispanics. Because of their origins in the militia movement. Because their vigilantism is the mark not of civic activists, but of violent extremists.

But then, it's not surprising that Malkin continues to defend the Minutemen while continuing to spread far-right conspiracy theories. After all, this is part of a well-established pattern:
Malkin, in fact, has numerous dalliances with right-wing extremists -- the real ones that she claims conservatives are busy policing.

The most vivid instance of this is her long association with VDare, which has been designated a hate group by the SPLC, and for good cause:

Fast forward to 2003. Once a relatively mainstream anti-immigration page, VDARE has now become a meeting place for many on the radical right.

One essay complains about how the government encourages "the garbage of Africa" to come to the United States. The same writer says once the "Mexican invasion" engulfs the country, "high teenage birthrates, poverty, ignorance and disease will be what remains."

Another says that Hispanics have a "significantly higher level of social pathology than American whites. ... In other words, some immigrants are better than others." Yet another complains that a Jewish immigrant rights group is helping "African Muslim refugees" come to America.

Brimelow's site carries archives of columns from men like Sam Francis, who is the editor of the newspaper of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, a group whose Web page recently described blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity."

It has run articles by Jared Taylor, the editor of the white supremacist American Renaissance magazine, which specializes in dubious race and IQ studies and eugenics, the "science" of "race betterment" through selective breeding.


As I've said before, Malkin's In Defense of Internment is likewise of a piece of this same willingness to indulge views that are by any measure bigoted, and in some cases, extremist, by ignoring the latent bigotry and its broader ramifications.

These are hardly the only instances. Let's not forget her link in a blog post to an anti-immigrant site operated by an extremist Holocaust-denial organization. (The link is still up.)

Then there are the Minutemen, hailed by Malkin as "the mother of all neighborhood watch programs", and defended with regularity on her blog. As I've observed numerous times, the Minutemen are a magnet for the most extreme racists and xenophobes in America, and their claims to be "weeding out" such extremists are so much hooey.

After all, not only is the Minuteman Project directly descended from the militia movement, the Minuteman leader have a history of extremism. And they haven't changed their stripes, their media makeover notwithstanding. Jim Gilchrist, one of the Minuteman Project cofounders, is currently running for Congress under the banner of the far-right Constitution Party -- which itself is closely bound up with promoting the militia movement. And then there are the charming folks who show up for Minuteman parties.

Given Malkin's extraordinarily high tolerance for right-wing extremism -- indeed, her open participation in advancing their agenda -- it's probably not any wonder that the presence of right-wing extremism, and its positive embrace by the mainstream conservative movement, is simply left out of her narrative.

After all, if you think racial hygienists like Jared Taylor and Steve Sailer and the rest of the VDare gang are "normal," well, then what "real extremists on the right" remain for people like Michelle Malkin to denounce?

Malkin has never explained her continued association with VDare, and it's plain why. Much of her career of the past five years has been built on these associations. Playing a bogus race card is a handy way of disguising that.

Perhaps Malkin can spare us the lectures on racism -- at least until she explains her own behavior. Maybe then we'll have some sense whether she actually understands what racism is about.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Freemen, 10 years later


[FBI headquarters at the Garfield County fairgrounds, March 1996.]

Really, it doesn't seem like it was ten years ago that I was freezing my ass off standing out in the eastern Montana plains watching a lot of other journalists do nothing but freeze their asses off, waiting for something, anything to happen at the Freemen compound near Brusett, just outside of Jordan.

But damn, it was. Anything since then has been fun in comparison, so that may explain why time has flown by.

The Billings Gazette has put together an excellent retrospective on the 81-day standoff (still the longest in law-enforcement history) that brings us all up to date on some of the characters in the drama.

The elderly ranchers on whose property the standoff occurred served their sentences and have returned to the county, but the property is no longer theirs. Most of the radical "Freemen" themselves who were responsible for the standoff are still in prison, though a few are due to get out soon. (See the sidebar on the main piece.)

Be sure to check out the reminscences of my friend Clair Johnson, who covered the standoff from start to finish (unlike me, who spent only 14 days or so there). I relied on Clair's reporting a lot for my book on the standoff, In God's Country. Clair's talk comes with a nice slide show.

Certainly, the thing I remember best about the standoff were the journalists I met on my first day in Jordan who'd had their gear hijacked by the Freemen. They'd made the mistake of driving down the road past the Clark place, where the Freemen had put together a sentry post (complete with shooting positions) atop a hill overlooking the road, from which they would drive down and harass people. It was still there the following summer when I photographed it:


The other memorable part of this was watching the Freemen in court, expounding on their constitutionalist gobbledygook and frazzling the nerves of the normally decorous federal judges. You can get an idea for what I'm talking about by reading one of the many signs they posted around their properties. This photo is of a sign taken from the original Freemen compound near Roundup (click on the image for a larger version):



In any event, the Gazette package is a worthy reminder that it really wasn't all that long ago that right-wing extremists were talking about revolution, threatening and sometimes killing federal officials, law enforcement officers, and innocent bystanders, attacking mainstream American values, and committing acts of domestic terrorism serially.

It's also worth remembering that they really haven't gone away, either. It seems that Democratic presidents in particular inspire their deepest paranoias; the next one is pretty certain to bring them back out of the woodwork, and perhaps stronger than ever.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Blast from the past

I was reading all about Alec Baldwin's run-in with Sean Hannity last night when I got one of those little shots of deja vu all over again:
On Sunday evening, at the suggestion of a friend of mine who works inside the NY radio broadcast community, I guest-hosted Brian Whitman's talk show on WABC radio, which was, ultimately, hijacked by talk-show host Sean Hannity, who called in and demanded to be heard. He was accompanied by another ABC Talk Radio host, Mark Levin, someone I had never heard of before that evening.

After some back and forth between myself and Hannity, most of it predictable, Levin made a comment connected to my divorce proceedings. I turned to Whitman, who knew that I was due to depart the show no later than 8:30 PM New York time anyway, and told him I had to go. I thought that Levin, whoever he may be and whatever code he does or does not operate by, had crossed a line and I was under no obligation to continue in that vein.

Alec Baldwin may not remember Mark Levin, but I sure do.

Levin was one of the Republican right's chief talking heads during the Clinton impeachment, especially on MSNBC, where I was working at the time. One of my jobs at the Web site entailed downloading video from our cable shows and putting them up on the site. Levin was on. A lot.

Levin is George Costanza with an endless vicious streak. He's the embodiment of shrillness. He scowls, he sneers, he yells, he bugs his eyes out, his face turns red, he interrupts incessantly, and he makes the nastiest comments imaginable. Most of all, he exudes a simmering but deep-seated hatefulness. If he were a dog, he'd be an ugly poodle-chihuahua mix in a perpetual roid rage. It's hard to imagine anyone more repellent.

And as someone who was tracking what was said on TV and comparing it to the published facts, it was also clear that he was a congenital liar. He had no compunction whatsoever about repeating any kind of falsehood on the air if it would hurt Clinton and advance the cause of impeachment. This included, of course, a lot of nasty personal insinuations about the Clintons' private lives.

Nowadays, as SourceWatch explains, he's the head of Rush Limbaugh's "legal division" (whatever that is). But he also has a history: He was former Attorney General Edwin Meese's chief of staff, and was Meese's attorney during the Iran-Contra investigation.

He was also closely attached with Ted Olson during the 1990s. And as Meese's chief of staff, he also was directly involved in the machinations that got Olson and Edward Schmults off the legal hook regarding their misleading and likely perjurious testimony before Congress.

Nowadays, he even has a fan Web site. And of course, now that a Republican holds the presidency, he finds the opposition to President Bush "far more shrill" than he can remember. I spent a week chortling to myself about that one.

And more recently, he's been busy leading the right-wing attack on the judiciary, even publishing a book with a title (Men in Black Robes) that echoed similar titles from the extreme-right Posse Comitatus folks. Obviously, Sandra Day O'Connor is not one of his fans.

Baldwin got a taste for how viscerally nasty guys like Levin, and so many of these right-wing figures -- including Hannity -- really are. And I bet if he hung around Bill O'Reilly long enough, he'd start to see that side of him as well.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Those criminal immigrants

TalkCheck recently caught KVI-AM radio talk-show host John Carlson -- the 2000 Republican nominee for governor of Washington state -- regurgitating more right-wing scapegoating nonsense regarding Hispanic immigrants, with a nice scent of race-baiting to boot:
CARLSON: I think what bothers people is not that we have Mexicans up here working, but that we have a lot of them staying, and we've seen a rise in crime and the affect on schools and other things, and taxpayer dollars and things like that.

As TalkCheck notes:
There's nothing new about using immigrants as scapegoats for a variety of society's ills, but Carlson managed to break entirely new ground by accusing them of causing a problem that doesn't even exist. Since the mid-nineties there's been nothing but good news about the crime rate in Washington State. In fact, statistics show that violent crime decreased by 30% from 1992 to 2000, a period that saw sustained increases in illegal immigration. Property crime fell by 16% over the same timeframe.

More interestingly, a number of different studies have found that there is no causal relationship between immigration and crime. In fact, those studies have shown that border states actually have a lower crime rate than non-border states.

Ah, but why should we let a few facts stand in the way of a nice ethnic wedge issue?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The immigration conundrum


When you get half a million people marching in the streets to protest Republican immigration policies, you better believe that the political pot is beginning to bubble in time for the 2006 election.

It presents a real conundrum for conservatives, and a real opportunity for progressives. That was clear from the events that sparked this weekend's protests:
Saturday's rally, spurred by anger over legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last December, was part of what many say is an unprecedented effort to organize immigrants and their supporters across the nation. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is to take up efforts Monday to complete work on a comprehensive immigration reform proposal. Unlike the House bill, which beefed up border security and toughened immigration laws, the Senate committee's version is expected to include a guest worker program and a path to legalization for the nation's 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants.

The Associated Press report of the rally noted that the legislation "would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally. It also would impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, require churches to check the legal status of parishioners before helping them and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border."

The Republicans in Congress who spearheaded these measures -- particularly Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin -- represent a resurgent Cro-Magnon wing of the party, one that is threatening to swamp the genteel grip of corporate conservatives whose approach to immigration is decidedly different, if equally poisonous.

The Cro-Magnon approach, embodied by vigilantes like the Minutemen, is to blame the pawns. Their policies are predicated on the laughable idea that we can build a fortress wall around the country and just keep people out, a pretty notion that quickly runs aground on the reality that no wall can contain the larger forces driving illegal immigration. They consistently scapegoat the emigres while ignoring -- and indeed abetting -- those same larger forces.

Mind you, this is an easy issue to whip up public sympathy with majority whites. Latino immigration is creating huge demographic shifts across the country, and as with all such waves of immigration, it's creating real cultural frictions, especially as assimilation bogs down in the sheer mass of the wave.

So what the American far right is doing is appealing to white Americans' base racial instincts: associating the immigrants with crime and disease, accusing them of being part of a "conspiracy," complaining that they're polluting white culture. These are all significant features of the rhetoric used by both the Minutemen and their supporters in Congress.

But as Max Blumenthal points out, these ham-handed attacks on Latinos seem to have awakened the sleeping giant of the American Hispanic vote:
In passing HR 4437 and whatever draconian and utterly counter-productive bill emerges from the Senate, the congressional Republicans have become their party's worst enemy. They have cast their white, Southern base in conflict with the Latino constituency the RNC and the Bush White House realize they must win over if they are ever to achieve a so-called "Republican majority."

The Cro-Magnon approach is repellent enough on its own merits, but the other side of the Republican coin on immigration is the Bush plan to create a "guest worker" program that is nothing less than the realization of corporate America's wet dream of having a labor force that cannot vote. It would create a permanent underclass of disenfranchised workers, and would forever change the very nature of immigration as we have historically known it in America, severing it from citizenship.

This two-headed approach to immigration is like being given a choice of refreshing beverage: arsenic or strychnine. You pick.

It's all part of the ongoing Latin Americanization of the United States, in which the standard of living and the economic and political power of the middle and working classes is consistently driven downward and held there. As PZ Myers puts it, "The Republican agenda is to turn the United States into a third-world shithole."

What's especially insidious about this is that, contrasted with the jingos of the far right, Bush's program looks downright moderate in comparison. But it may be more destructive and, well, evil. As James K. Galbraith explained some time ago:
This program will permit any employer to admit any worker. From any country. At any time. The only requirement is that it be for a job Americans are not willing to take. But it is easy to create such jobs: Cut wages. Terminate the unions. Lengthen the hours. Speed up the lines. Chicken farmers have known this for years. Bush's plan is a blank check for every bad boss this country has.

... For millions of citizen workers, what would happen? The answer is clear: Bad bosses drive out the good. Good bosses will turn bad under pressure. The terms of our jobs would get worse and worse. Who would want a citizen worker? A bracero will be so much cheaper, more loyal, and under control. And who among us, in our right mind, would want to look for work? Unless, of course, we needed to eat. Or pay the mortgage. I am not exaggerating: This is a threat to us all.

Even the centrist Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post castigates the broad-reaching effects of Bush's plan:
Guest workers would mainly legalize today's vast inflows of illegal immigrants, with the same consequence: We'd be importing poverty. This isn't because these immigrants aren't hardworking; many are. Nor is it because they don't assimilate; many do. But they generally don't go home, assimilation is slow and the ranks of the poor are constantly replenished. Since 1980 the number of Hispanics with incomes below the government's poverty line (about $19,300 in 2004 for a family of four) has risen 162 percent. Over the same period, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty rose 3 percent and the number of blacks, 9.5 percent. What we have now -- and would with guest workers -- is a conscious policy of creating poverty in the United States while relieving it in Mexico. By and large, this is a bad bargain for the United States. It stresses local schools, hospitals and housing; it feeds social tensions (witness the Minutemen). To be sure, some Americans get cheap housecleaning or landscaping services. But if more mowed their own lawns or did their own laundry, it wouldn't be a tragedy.

The most lunatic notion is that admitting more poor Latino workers would ease the labor market strains of retiring baby boomers. The two aren't close substitutes for each other. Among immigrant Mexican and Central American workers in 2004, only 7 percent had a college degree and nearly 60 percent lacked a high school diploma, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Among native-born U.S. workers, 32 percent had a college degree and only 6 percent did not have a high school diploma. Far from softening the social problems of an aging society, more poor immigrants might aggravate them by pitting older retirees against younger Hispanics for limited government benefits.

Moreover, Samuelson notes that many moderate liberals and middle-class voters almost reflexively support the Bush plan, even though it's obviously poisonous to their interests:
Business organizations understandably support guest worker programs. They like cheap labor and ignore the social consequences. What's more perplexing is why liberals, staunch opponents of poverty and inequality, support a program that worsens poverty and inequality. Poor immigrant workers hurt the wages of unskilled Americans. The only question is how much. Studies suggest a range "from negligible to an earnings reduction of almost 10 percent," according to the CBO.

It's time, indeed, for progressives to come up with their own plan for dealing with immigration -- one that goes beyond the scapegoating and the narrow business interests and realistically and fairly comes to grips with the issue.

The negative effects of unbridled immigration on American workers is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how liberals should be thinking about this. They need to understand that mass employment of illegal immigrants is open ground for gross exploitation and civil-rights abuses. It also corrodes the value of citizenship. As Samuelson has noted elsewhere, the current wave "is increasingly sabotaging the assimilation process."

As Bill Sher at Liberal Oasis explained awhile back, it's not only possible, but imperative, that liberals develop a plan of immigration reform that embraces their values and effectively resolves the problems.

The answer, it must be noted, is not to be found in the reforms currently favored by many moderate Democrats embodied in the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which essentially just extends the current flaws in policy. As Paul Donnelly explained in one of my threads here awhile back (from this post):
[I]t essentially accelerates the core problem of the current mess to escape velocity. We're now trying to manage immigration by backlog, and when that gets to be too much, we make more exceptions (like 245(i), or amnesty) instead of new rules that will work. The McCain-Kennedy proposal is for 400,000 "temporary" visas a year, plus dependents that brings the total up to about a million annually), ALL of whom will eventually be eligible for green cards -- except, you see, there ain't but 87,000 green cards a year available in these employment-based slots, which McCain-Kennedy doesn't even attempt to address.

So, if we're going to discard the traditional, interest-driven approach, where do we begin?

Getting a clear view of the big picture with immigration is essential. As with many previous waves of immigration, there is a strong "push-pull" dynamic at work in our relationship with Mexico: there are conditions there pushing them over our borders, combined with a strong demand pulling them here.

The latter is most obvious to us here. The big gorilla on our side of the fence is American business' demand for cheap labor, which creates the opportunities many immigrants seek:
"There is a demand for cheap labor and since immigrants have a need to survive, they are willing to provide that supply of labor. It is a complicated topic, but we will not reduce the amount of undocumented immigration without eliminating the demand (for) cheap labor," Rodriguez said.

The most significant contributors to this demand are:
-- Agribusiness, which has been the chief exploiter of immigrant labor for decades, but whose use of undocumented workers has exploded since American farming has become vertically and horizontally integrated under the Big Five food corporations.

-- The construction industry, which makes billions of dollars annually on the backs of illegal workers, and simultaneously exposes them to an array of abuses.

-- Wal-Mart, whose employment practices involving undocumented workers are nearly as abusive as those of the day-labor market, all driven by the demand for those low, low prices.

It doesn't help, of course, that Democrats are as often fully in bed with these corporate interests as Republicans are. Severing that relationship -- or at least permanently altering it -- is going to be essential to any kind of effective reforms that progressives might concoct.

But we're also going to have to come to terms with the "push" from the Mexican side of the border. At some point, we're going to have to begin behaving more like real neighbors when it comes to our neighbors to the south, instead of treating them like the second-class humans as so many Americans are wont to do. Certain imbedded American attitudes -- particularly the notion that poor people are poor because they're lazy and won't work hard enough -- linger in our economic policies and our cultural prejudices. The result is that we come to think of the pervasive poverty of so many Mexicans' daily lives as almost "natural" instead of the atrocity it is.

Marcela Sanchez at the Washington Post went into this in some detail awhile back:
This truth is so obvious it seems a cliche and yet it remains mostly absent from the current debate on how to reform U.S. immigration. For all the talk around the country of border enforcement, guest worker programs, employer sanctions and driver's licensing restrictions, the sad fact is that none of these "solutions'' addresses the root of the problem -- a persistent and large U.S.-Mexican income disparity.

Even the most comprehensive and progressive immigration reform proposal in years, introduced this month by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., is more concerned with making U.S. immigration policy more humane than dealing with income disparity between the United States and Mexico. The bill crafts a guest worker program -- creating new visa categories and quotas and a secure identification system for employers -- but only provides a vague indication that income disparity might be a problem worth taking on.

There have been some ideas put forth for tackling this disparity. Robert Pastor at Newsweek described one such potential solution, particularly in the wake of the economic disaster that NAFTA has proven to be for Mexican workers:
What they should do is think far more boldly. The only way to solve the most pressing problems in the region -- including immigration, security, and declining competitiveness -- is to create a true North American Community. No two nations are more important to the United States than Canada and Mexico, and no investment will bolster security and yield greater economic benefits for America than one that narrows the income gap between Mexico and its North American partners.

Bridging that gap was supposed to be one of the many benefits that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would deliver. And indeed, since NAFTA took effect in 1994, trade and investment among the United States, Mexico and Canada have nearly tripled, making North America the world's largest free-trade area in terms of territory and gross domestic product (GDP). Yet the income gap has widened: the annual per capita GDP of the United States ($43,883) today is more than six times that of Mexico ($6,937).

NAFTA has been inadequate in other ways as well. The agreement made no provisions for cushioning economic downturns like the Mexican peso crisis of 1994-95. It created no credible institutions that operate on a truly regional basis. Thus, after terrorists struck New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration unilaterally tightened security on its international borders while Ottawa and Mexico City reverted to their traditional ambivalence toward Washington.

Illegal immigration has increased and if anything, NAFTA has inadvertently fueled immigration by encouraging foreign investment near the U.S.-Mexican border, which in turn serves as a magnet for workers in central and southern Mexico. As a result, the number of undocumented Mexican workers who live in the United States has skyrocketed in the NAFTA era, from an estimated 1 million in the mid-1990s to about 6 million today. One of every six undocumented immigrants is under 18 years old, and since the mid-1990s the fastest growth of the population has occurred in states like Arizona and North Carolina that had relatively small numbers of foreign-born residents in the past.

An effective program of immigration reform will recognize this dynamic and -- in direct contradistinction with the Republican programs -- seek equitable solutions based on the principle that immigration is inseparable from citizenship, that the goal of immigration is to enhance the pool of citizens and make lives better both here and abroad; that a sound immigration policy will benefit people on both sides of the border.

I think Donnelly's outline of a reform program would be an excellent place to start. His thesis:
"Immigration policy fails because America promises more than it delivers. That blurs legal and illegal, permanent and temporary; outlawing marriages, exiling families and dragging down wages. But foreigners should be legal when they are wives, husbands, kids or employed siblings of legal permanent residents and even citizens: we promised. Failing to deliver makes enforcement nearly impossible, it erodes citizenship and inspires bad ideas like replacing the Ellis Island model with a German-style guest worker plan severing immigration from citizenship.

"So replace the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act with a point system that combines family and employment and other VALUES. Stop subsidizing employers, enough exceptions like amnesty: let's make rules that work. Aim immigration at citizenship by the accumulation of what we WANT in new Americans. Start with green cards for spouses of permanent residents just as for citizens, but recognize that sibling immigration is essentially a hiring network, and that when workers have "temporary" jobs for five years, they ARE permanent -- and ought to be on the path to citizenship. Accelerating Americanization is key."

To which I'll add:
-- Crack down on American corporate behavior -- both in its thirst for cheap labor, and in its constant export of American jobs. Corporations who hire mass numbers of undocumented workers should be held culpable for their lawbreaking and forced to pay fines they can't simply shrug off, as they do. And too many of those who export American jobs to places like Mexico often do so in a way that actually depresses wages in those countries; these kinds of predatory practices should be made illegal.

-- Build support for programs to ameliorate the wage disparity between the two nations: explore the possibility of a North American Community. Reform the provisions of NAFTA so that they help Mexican workers earn decent livings. Don't drive down the American standard of living. Rather, abide by the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats -- including those of our neighbors.

Progressives need to put together a program of immigration reforms now. It need not necessarily be these particular reforms, but we need to begin talking and thinking about it before the summer arrives so that, when elections come, everyone knows where Democrats stand on the issue.

Because if they can do that, those 500,000 people are just the beginning of the tide that will join them in that cause.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Rage and eliminationism

A significant facet of the mental makeup of movement conservatives is the belief that, because their motives are pure and their cause is just, they are allowed to "bend the rules" when necessary. It's a classic case of the ends justifying the means. Lying, cheating, stealing: these are all justifiable if done with a pure heart, for the cause.

This is what fuels so much of the rampant corruption in conservative ranks: the lying over WMDs, Plamegate, the Abramoff scandal, and now the NSA wiretaps scandal. And that's just the short list.

It's been around a long time, too. After all, David Brock's Blinded By the Right is essentially a history of this facet of the right-wing mindset in the 1990s.

The problem is, the rest of the world isn't quite ready to go along with them. They're not so convinced that lying and stealing with a pure heart for the cause of conservatism isn't still just lying and stealing.

So when guys like Ben Domenech get caught cheating and stealing and lying, their response isn't to reflect on the ethical foundations of conservatism. No. Of course not. Perish the thought. Their reflex is to blame liberals. Right, Glenn and Michelle?

When right-wingers get caught out, it's always somebody else's fault, usually the people who do the catching. The end result of this reaction is not reflection and reform, but rage.

And when right-wing rage comes out, as surely as night follows day, you know what's next: eliminationism.

So, rather predictably, over at Domenech's former haunts at RedState, you could read the following remark:
I repeat: Should the entire American Left fall over dead tomorrow, I would rejoice, and order pizza to celebrate. They are not my countrymen; they are animals who happen to walk upright and make noises that approximate speech. They are below human. I look forward to seeing each and every one in Hell.

This comment was offered not by an anonymous RedState commenter, but by one of the site's editor/contributors, the pseudonymous Thomas Crown.

Of course, the bitterness spills over even to those on his own side who were insufficiently supportive, and he actually makes an interesting point along the way:
To those conservatives who couldn't wait to find wrongdoing where none existed: Gee, funny you didn't get all hyped up about this with Bob Bork. Or Sam Alito. I guess maybe your common sense detector -- or decency reserve -- only kicks in when it gets you something you want?

You're all dead to me, as well. Too bad: One lady in particular was a favorite writer of mine. Ah, well.

Gee, it's not hard to guess who that might have been ... but then, Thomas is not alone in this sentiment, either.

What's funny about this is that previously in another thread, a commenter named Catsy complained about behavior of commenters at RedState, including:
Advocating or expressing approval of harassment, arrest, immprisonment, torture, or death of liberals and Democrats. Really, there's just no defense whatsoever for this, and yet it's not at all uncommon for me to see people joke about it. Guess what? My family's armed, and it's not funny.

And the same sainted Thomas replied:
That's a bannable offense, and I'm quite serious. If you know somewhere that's happened, I'm more than interested.

I might wonder if he's reported himself for banning yet, but then, I'm sure this is another one of the cases where it's best to "bend the rules."

Give him another few weeks and a couple of deeeeeep breaths, he'll probably revert to the standard right-wing claim that these remarks were "just a joke" anyway.

After all, that's what the folks at Stop the ACLU did this week in posting a Photoshoped picture of Albert Einstein writing the following formula on a blackboard:
Rope + Tree + ACLU Lawyer = Pinata

The picture, of course, appears with the following "disclaimter":
For those who are too stupid to understand, the below picture is satire. It is a joke. We do not actually advocate murder in any way here at STACLU.

Hee haw! Of course! What a knee-slapper! Obviously, this is just another example of that refined right-wing elimination humor.

I'm sure it would be OK for someone on the left, at no risk of being labeled "unhinged," to Photoshop the same picture with some other formulas. Oh, like this one:
Stake + Fire + Right-Wing Blogger = Roast Weenie

Or how 'bout:
Block + Ax + Rich Republican = Justice

Har de har har! See? Fantasizing about executing your fellow Americans is such fun! And if you call it a "joke," you can say damned near anything!

Most of all, it's a great way to vent the rage that comes when you're caught "bending the rules" for that truly just cause.

[Hat tip to ThinkingMeat.]

Friday, March 24, 2006

Domenech redux

Something that Jim Brady told Salon [via Atrios] caught my eye:
He explained that Post editors read "basically everything he'd written" during the past few years and spoke to many people who had previously worked with Domenech -- "both people he referred us to and people we found on our own," Brady said.

If so, then that means that they had to have read his Red State posts under the pen name Augustine, including Domenech's characterization of Coretta Scott King as a "Communist" (in commentary on her funeral, no less); he also said that judges were worse than the KKK, and called Post columnist Dan Froomkin an "embarassment" and "a lying weasel-faced Democrat shill ... I just have this specific and deep-rooted dislike for everything Dan Froomkin says and does. He's one of the dozen or so people in the world that I just detest ..." (See Alex Koppelman's rundown for a complete collection of Augustine's writings.)

Yet before he resigned, the Post's editors obtained from Domenech an abject apology for the King remark:
"I regret using the term because I think it's been way overblown," Domenech said. But he said King worked with organizations affiliated with communists in the 1950s and 1960s. Brady called it "a silly comment" but said he is satisfied with Domenech's admission of error.

So, which is it, exactly? Did the editors know about these "silly comments" and hire him anyway? Or had they somehow overlooked the Augustine posts? Could Domenech have been less than forthcoming with them about being Augustine?

Because the main thing these posts demonstrate, above everything else, is extraordinarily poor judgment. That alone should have raised red flags.

All this, of course, was well before plagiarism questions arose (and I'm not sure a standard background check would have found them anyway). But in addition to the red flags evident in the Augustine posts, there were others, particularly the clear evidence that he manufactured a quote he attributed to Tim Russert. Brendan Nyhan's piece discussing this was readily available through a simple Google.

All in all, the explanations for the Post's poor vetting process do not hold up.

Those blogger ethics

I suppose we ought to give Michelle Malkin credit for her seeming forthrightness in condemning Ben Domenech's plagiarism. But it's all explained through the Bizarro World prism of right-wing martyrdom:
I cheered for Ben, the editor of my last book at Regnery, when he announced his new position. I criticized unhinged bloggers on the Left who leveled vicious ad hominem attacks against him. It's clear, as the good folks at Red State (which Ben co-founded) note, that his detractors were on a search-and-destroy mission from the get-go.

But now the determined moonbat hordes have exposed multiple instances of what clearly appear to me to be blatant lifting of entire, unique passages by Ben from other writers. It is one thing to paraphrase basic facts from a wire story. But to filch the original thoughts and distinctly crafted phrases of a writer without crediting him/her--and doing so repeatedly--is unacceptable in our business. Some of the cases occurred while Ben was in college; he is blaming an editor for these transgressions. But at least one other incident involved a piece he wrote for NRO after he graduated. The side-by-side comparisons of these extensive passages is damning.

Yes, that's right: Domenech was Malkin's editor on Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild, which was to serious political discourse what In Defense of Internment was to serious history: a right-wing comic book without the pictures.

Moreover, it was comically afactual, combining astonishingly thin evidence with assertions that were hilariously disconnected from reality, including the following:
"[T]he truth is that it's conservatives themselves who blow the whistle on their bad boys and go after the real extremism on their side of the aisle."[p. 9]

And while conservatives zealously police their own ranks to exclude extremists and conspiracy theories, extremism and conspiracy theories have become the driving force of the Democrat Party. [p. 169]

Book editors, in my experience, can have a real impact on how a book is shaped. The best editors are tough editors who challenge your assumptions and assertions. But Malkin seems not to wonder if, perhaps, the judgment exercised by her ethically challenged editor at Regnery might have affected the quality of her book.

On the other hand, anyone who's read Unhinged (or just flipped through it, which because it's so thin is substantially the same thing) can tell you that this is a text that fully bears its editor's mark -- especially visible now that we know more about him.

But I'm even more put off by Malkin's hypocrisy in dismissing Domenech, because it's not as if she doesn't have some ethical skeletons in her closet.

Particularly, regular readers will recall that Malkin's own ethics came into question late last year when she apparently admitted that her husband, Jesse, has posted material on her blog under her byline. As I explained at the time:
As Matt Stoller says, what, exactly, is a "handful"? Are we talking just one or two? Or a dozen or more? A hundred? Why else mention the number you've actually posted?

Because the issue, in the end, is a serious one regarding Malkin's professional ethics: Did she post material under her name that was written by someone else without informing her readers?

It appears that the answer, from Malkin's own admission, is yes.

If so, why? What conceivable reason could she have for not giving Jesse Malkin his own byline on those posts he wrote?

Of course, Malkin never deigned to answer. But then, she's been studiously pretending that I don't exist for some time now.

Malkin's ethical breach isn't exactly on the same level as Domenech's -- but it does underscore her longstanding lack of professionalism. Fortunately, the Washington Post hasn't invited her to join their staff, either.

Yet.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

New depths in wankerdom

OK, while everyone's busy making fun of Jeff Goldstein and Ben Domenech, be sure also to check out the recent exploits of SuperFrenchie vs. a right-wing "comedian" -- or is that just "whiny ass titty baby"? -- named Alex Kaseberg:
Alright, that's when things got interesting. His response:

If you e-mail me again I will get a restraining order from the police that will go on your record.

We have a couple things cowards like you third world pussy country don’t have called freedom of speech and protection from harassment as a result.

Seriously, you are an ugly, ungroomed, smelly asshole fucking coward.

You email me again and see if I am kidding.


Ouch, I’m scared! My response:

I see!

Looks like I touched a nerve ... apparently, there are limits to your sense of humor. Happy to hear that.

And you're either a complete idiot or you have no idea what it means to publish your email address on a public web site!


Now the guy is seriously threatening. I don't know what sort of web site he went to, but he comes back with that:

This was from the FCC. See, you win a couple wars, you got some power. I cut and pasted this from their e-mail:

"Gaoland.net at Boulogne-Billancourt 86.64.11 has just been notified by the United States to an agent at the Federal Communication Commission and will be sanctioned for International Internet freedom of Speech harassment, re: the FCC Internet Protection act of 1997. As a result, an investigation has begun and your Internet access will be suspended immediately until a judgment can be reached within three to six months. Any attempt at contacting Mr. Kaseberg again will result in further charges and a possible permanent suspension as well as possible a criminal charges."


My response:

Just checking if my Internet is still working ...

Pfew! It's still there

By the way, you know where Boulogne-Billancourt is, right?

LOL.

Really, you have to read the whole thing to believe it. [Via Sadly, No!]

Strategery trumps principle

You can get a good look at just what's wrong with the Democratic Party by perusing Joan Vennochi's latest offering, which takes Russ Feingold to task for his proposed censure of President Bush:
Bush will never again be on an election ballot. Republicans in Congress will, as will a crop of presidential candidates whose last name is not Bush. Shouldn't they be the Democrats' focus? Those in Congress can be held accountable in 2006 and 2008. At this point, Bush answers to history.

One would gather from this line of reasoning that, once he wins his second term, any president is immune from accountability. Why, he can run amok if he chooses.

Sure. Just ask Dick Nixon and Bill Clinton if that's the case.

But Vennochi -- after the obligatory sniff at "lefty bloggers" -- continues:
Current polls and surveys show people think as little of Bush as they do of Congress. Democrats should be thinking of ways to change that. They need to increase their own favorability ratings at the expense of the opposition. Handing the opposition a weapon to use against Democrats is counterproductive. But censure, even impeachment, are seductive.

At this point, Democrats appear to understand the danger of pouring kerosene on the politics of Iraq and national security. Democrats thinking about running for president are another story. In the Senate, Feingold has been on his own.

You would gather from this that the Boston Globe columnist has been living in a cave for the past decade, or else has been viewing the world through a Rove-A-Scope.

Or perhaps she just failed to notice that no matter what Democrats do, Republicans will use it as a weapon. Meanwhile, inaction simply plays into their hands.

When will Democrats figure out that simply sticking to their guns and principles is the only way to deal with this?

Pearl-clutching, salt-sniffing liberals like Vennochi are all about strategy -- which is, frankly, the chief cause for their disempowerment.

Voters do care about principles. Democrats for the past two decades have been about strategy. Republicans, for better or worse, have been clear about at least creating and sustaining the image that they are about principles. Conservative principles may be utter horseshit, but they are principles nonetheless. Republicans thus at least appear to stand for something.

Democrats, well ... they can't even seem to recognize that the president nakedly and defiantly breaking the law regarding the wiretapping of American citizens actually is a principle most voters care about.

When they turn their backs on the Russ Feingolds, they demonstrate all too clearly that deep constitutional principles are really just talking points for them.

Which is why their strategies are doomed to failure. All the strategy in the world can't overcome an empty core. Democrats will not begin winning again until they can demonstrate that they actually stand for something.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Instasmear indeed

Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns and Money catches Glenn Reynolds indulging in yet another easy smear:
As predictably as the tides, via Greenwald I see that Glenn Reynolds has flat-out compared Mearsheimer and Walt to David Duke. Obviously, comparing scholars to a Grand Wizard of the Klan solely for publishing a paper whose conclusions you disagree with--with absolutely no evidence that either of them remotely share Duke's fascist worldview--is beneath contempt, but par for the course where Reynolds is concerned.

This is part of a recurring pattern with Reynolds. You'll recall that Reynolds a couple of years ago also repeatedly smeared MEChA as a racist organization, despite the fact that this was almost entirely a groundless charge. Reynolds compared MEChA to Jim Crow, and also labeled them "fascist hatemongers," and accused them of being both racist and homophobic.

The latter was especially egregious, since Reynolds was forced to correct the post factually: the link he gave was in fact to an anti-Semitic Latino group that has no connection to MEChA. And while he rather mutedly explained this fact, he utterly failed to explain that the charge they were homophobic racists was completely groundless; he also failed to apologize for the smear. But then, Reynolds rarely apologizes even in circumstances that obviously warrant it.

And yet, according to Reynolds, I'm the fellow in the blogosphere with a "tendency to hurl unsubstantiated charges of racism." All because I make it a habit of pointing out right-wingers' blind spots when it comes to domestic terrorism.

And I'm wagering he will neither correct nor apologize for this latest foray. That, too, is part of his pattern. I guess when your ego is as big as all Tennessee and your ethics as big as Bell Buckle, that's how the world works.

In any event, I have a question for the Perfesser:

David Duke also endorsed George W. Bush in the 2000 election. Does that mean the White House "has David Duke"?

The Koufax finals

I've made it to the finals, once again, of Wampum's annual Koufax Awards, though I won't be defending my title for Best Series this year (sob!). Actually, considering my output this year, I'm lucky to be a finalist at all in any category.

The categories are ...
Best Blog, Sponsored/Professional [aka the "Just Happy to Be Here" category ... I mean, check out the competition. Gulp.]

Best Single Issue Blog

Best Expert Blog

Of course, head over to Wampum and check out all the categories and finalists. Also, toss some nickels in their kitty.

I'd never tell anyone how to vote, of course, but feel free to help me out if you're so inclined; the Koufaxes have definitely helped. However, I will give some hints about my own votes: I think Goldy has the most effective local blog I've seen, the General never fails to make me laugh, and Maha is the blog you oughta be reading but might not be. And while firedoglake is the heavy favorite for my old title -- deservedly -- everyone should be sure to check out the work of Lawyers, Guns, and Money, which gives Jane and crew a run for their money.

Nature and children

Spring is beginning to arrive in our little corner of the planet, and I couldn't be happier, because it means my daughter and I can get outside more.

Much of the winter has been dedicated to reading books and playing board games (she's already on her way to being a decent chess player). Mind you, she's a pretty normal child, and she still likes to watch some TV. But what we both like to do best is get outside and do things: visit parks and playgrounds, go to the beach, take hikes in the woods.

I think being out in Nature is just essential to her developmental health. Certainly, her behavior reflects it; she's at her worst when she's been cooped up for days.

I'm not sure if this is just instinctive parenting on my part, but I was pleased to read this piece in Sunday's P-I op-ed section on the importance of nature education to children's well-being, and how being deprived of it is proving to have horrible consequences.

Among them is increasing obesity and a reliance on electronic entertainment. And a lot of it is occurring in a cultural milieu in which parents are constantly being frightened into keeping their kids indoors:
Why is this occurring, even in a state as rich in natural landscapes as Washington? While researching "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," I talked with hundreds of parents across the country who said their children spend less time in nature than they did when they were young. Parents point to diminishing access to natural areas, competition with electronic entertainment, increased homework, longer school hours and other time pressures. Most of all, parents cite fear -- of traffic, nature itself and, most of all, strangers.

I understand that fear and have felt it as a parent. But consider the facts: Violent victimization of children has dropped by more than 38 percent since 1975, according to Duke University's 2005 Child Well Being Index. What has increased is round-the-clock news coverage of a few tragedies involving children. This relative handful of abduction stories is repeated so often that American families are being conditioned to live in a state of fear.

Yes, there are risks outside the home, but there are also risks when we raise a generation of children under virtual protective house arrest. Many educators and health-care professionals are concerned about the dramatic increases they are seeing in childhood obesity rates, attention difficulties and depression. While pediatricians see fewer children with broken bones these days, they report more children with longer-lasting repetitive-stress injuries, related to overuse of keyboards and video game controllers.

The piece goes on to explore programs now under way to try to bolster nature education in Washington state. If it's successful, as I believe it probably will be, it could be a model for much of the rest of the nation:
Healing the broken bond between our young and nature is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical and spiritual health depend upon it. So does the health of the Earth. Conservation-oriented groups are beginning to realize that a generation that has had little or no personal connection to nature is unlikely to produce passionate stewards of the Earth.

It all reminds me of something Hayao Miyazaki told the New Yorker in an interview:
"I'm not jealous of young people," he said. "They're not really free." I asked him what he meant. "They're raised on virtual reality. And it's not like it's any better in the countryside. You go to the country and kids spend more time staring at DVDs than kids do in the city. I have a place in the mountains, and a friend of mine runs a small junio-high school nearby. Out of twenty-seven pupils, he told me, nine do their schoolwork from home! They're too afraid to leave their homes." He went on, "The best thing would be for virtual reality just to disappear. I realize that with our animation we are creating virtual things, too. I keep telling my crew, 'Don't watch animation! You're surrounded by enough virtual things already.' "

As I noted at the time:
This isn't just grousing over "modern ways": it's a recognition that our materialism and desire for convenience and entertainment is leading us down a path where we lose our touch with what it is that makes us human.

Moreover, the right-wing "values" crowd is so eager to tout unbridled capitalism that it never seems to take stock of the fact that such an ethos is driving the very loss of values they're decrying. And I think progressives -- who are, at base, humanists -- should be taking stock of the need for the genuine traditional values we're losing in our rush to modernity as well.

Those values are the things we most want to hand down to our children. But always for them, actions speak much louder than words. And being in nature teaches them so much more than TV programs about nature.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Good Christian hate

Did you know that the theory of evolution was cooked up -- probably by Jews -- as part of a New World conspiracy to enslave mankind? No?

Well, the people agitating for teaching "creation science" in the schools at Dover, Pa., will tell you that if you talk to them long enough.

Not that it came out publicly this week, when Michael Marcavage's Repent America outfit -- whose work in Dover I recently discussed -- sponsored an appearance at Dover Area High School by none other than "Doctor Dino" himself, Kent Hovind. They're much too clever for that -- instead, they keep the banter to a steady stream of trite rhetorical bombs:
Much of creationist speaker Kent Hovind's seminar felt more like a clean stand-up comic show than a religious lecture. Hovind, a creation science evangelist, used terms including "American Communist Lawyers' Union" when referring to the ACLU. He called the Big Bang Theory a "cosmic burp," and said "Charlie Darwin's" lies should be removed from textbooks.

He joked about his former experience as a science teacher for 15 years and said students taught him that "There's not much intelligent life on this planet."

He went on to call evolution the "dumbest and the most dangerous religion in the history of the earth."

You see, Hovind and his ilk save the "serious stuff" for later.

As earlier coverage of the Hovind seminars noted, Hovind is actually a right-wing extremist with a penchant for promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. And of course, Marcavage denied the charges, in imitable fashion:
Michael Marcavage, whose Philadelphia-based organization Repent America is sponsoring Hovind's visit, said the accusations of anti-Semitism and extremism are unfair.

"He believes that people are from one race, the human race," Marcavage said.

He said some Jewish organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Civil Liberties Union, are targeting Christians because of their faith.

"Those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh are under the spirit of anti-christ," Marcavage added, a reference to 1 John 4:2-3.

Yes, you see: Jews can't help being under the spirit of the anti-Christ. Well, they could if they converted. But otherwise, it's just in their nature. And defending themselves against anti-Semitic smears is of course how they "target Christians."

Actually, Marcavage and Hovind are birds of a feather: far-right extremists trying to pose as nominally normal, mainstream folks. The Southern Poverty Law Center report on Hovind's "Dinosaur Adventure Land" -- a creationist theme park for kiddies -- makes clear that this isn't just generic fundamentalism:
Opened in 2001, Dinosaur Adventure Land sprung from Hovind's Creation Science Evangelism ministry, which began to evolve in the late '80s. CSE sells videos and audiotapes of Hovind's lectures and his debates with evolutionary scientists, along with books on "Evolution and the New World Order." (At least one of them, Fourth Reich of the Rich, alleges a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.)

Hovind also points his followers to Citizens Rule Book, popular among antigovernment "Patriots"; Media Bypass, an antigovernment magazine with strong anti-Semitic leanings; and titles by America's leading authority on tax-dodging, Irwin Schiff, who was indicted on criminal tax evasion charges in March ... Two years ago, Hovind's "fine Christian friend," Joseph Sweet of the Joy Foundation, ran into similar trouble, sued by the feds for allegedly teaching folks how to evade income taxes.

An earlier SPLC report detailed just what comprises Hovind's theological approach:
Do you think the theory of evolution is a Satanic plot to bring about the New World Order? Are you worried that Darwin's idea produced "Communism, Socialism, Naziism, abortion, liberalism and the New Age Movement?" Then Dr. Kent Hovind is for you.

Hovind, who runs the Creation Science Evangelism ministry from Pensacola, Fla., says the whole Bible is literally true and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. While that may seem par for the creationist course, Hovind also sells anti-Semitic books like Fourth Reich of the Rich and has recommended The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a book blaming the world's problems on a Jewish conspiracy.

Environmentalism and income taxes, Hovind says, are designed to destroy the United States and "bring it under Communism." "Democracy," he says, "is evil and contrary to God's law."

So the response he received in Dover, at least according to the local news report, was problematic:
On Friday, he found a receptive audience in Dover.

According to several in the crowd of more than 600, Hovind's charisma and humor got his message across: "The universe was created by God."

"Everybody's fighting over it," Frysinger, a 13-year-old who attends Dover's intermediate school, said of evolution versus creation.

"Actually, what he's saying is true," his brother, Chris Frysinger, 15, said of Hovind's lecture. "He knows what he's talking about. You can hear it in his voice."

Myriah Hartzell, 11, recently stopped attending a Christian school and enrolled in Dover Area School District's North Salem Elementary School because she wanted to be in a larger school that has a football team. She came to Hovind's seminar with her parents and younger brother and said she brought a book along expecting to be bored by the lecture. But she said Hovind was very funny and held her attention.

Most of those who attended, of course, were probably predisposed to listen to Hovind's message favorably -- even if they didn't previously share his views on the New World Order. And thus the far right continues to exert its gravitational pull on mainstream America.

Running on fumes

Michael Leahy has a fascinating profile of the Herndon, Va., Minutemen in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine that at least begins to peel away the layers of the group's motivations and makes clear to what extent they are fueled by the fumes of racial stereotypes.

This comes out particularly in Leahy's discussions with George Taplin, chief organizer of the Herndon day-labor watches:
Meanwhile, it infuriates him that local politicians refuse to admit that the presence of undocumented day laborers has created slums in Herndon, ushering in squalor, crime, danger. Take a ride down Alabama Drive, near the former day laborer site, he says. "Nobody in Herndon will walk around those apartments at night; they're afraid . . . Here's a question: Would [people] walk over to that public park behind [the apartments] where all the drug deals go on at night? Would they let their daughter walk over there at night alone?"

Town authorities deny the park is crime-infested or riddled with drug sales, he knows. But he's convinced it's political denial.

Are you saying that undocumented Latino day laborers are involved in drug deals in the park? he is asked.

"Oh, I didn't say it was," he replies. "I just said, Are you, would you allow--" He pauses in mid-sentence.

There could be Anglos in the park, too, right? he is asked.

"Oh, no," he answers. "I can tell you that. Because no Anglos will go to that park."

So, who is selling drugs there?

"It's part of the Hispanic community. It's probably gang-related. MS-13."

Are day laborers selling drugs in the park?

"I didn't say they were."

(You may recall that the Minutemen have a history of paranoia about MS-13.)

What's especially noteworthy about the piece is that it becomes clear that the Minutemen Leahy interviews are primarily driven by the perception that Hispanic immigrants are bringing crime to their previously "safe" (read: white) neighborhoods. A reliance on ill-grounded stereotypes may or may not be evidence of racism, but it certainly is characteristic of knee-jerk nativists.

The Kingfish's prophecy

Huey Long:
"Sure we'll have Fascism here, but it will come as an anti-Fascism movement."

Lou Rosetto [via Crooked Timber]:
But Iraq is not the war, it is a battle. The war is The Long War against Islamic fascism.

If anything, I believe even more strongly in actively combating Islamic fascism throughout the Global Village. Everyday is Groundhog Day for the anti-war movement, which is stuck re-protesting Vietnam -- while we are confronted by a uniquely 21st century challenge: a networked fascist movement of super-empowered individuals trying to undo 50K years of social evolution. Waiting to get hit by an NBC weapon is not an option. Dhimmitude for me or my children is not peace. Righteous forward defense is a necessity.

The US should persevere militarily until we defeat the fascists in Iraq, as we did in Afghanistan, as we must everywhere. The US's biggest failure has not been on the battlefield -- where we are relentlessly reducing our enemies -- but in waging media war against the Islamists and their fellow travelers on the Left, and in rallying the American people, who are confused, and perhaps angered, that once again we are being called upon to save the world.

(Ahem. You know, last I checked, Islamists were actually right-wing extremists whose fellow travelers in America actually have tended to be Republican. But maybe that's just me.)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

It's about ethics, Tucker

The headline on Tucker Carlson's latest MSNBC blog post is truly appropriate:
A nasty little propagandist (Tucker Carlson)

Yes, he is.

Oh, but like all good conservatives, it turns out he's projecting, this time in Arianna Huffington's direction:
Liberal columnist Arianna Huffington wrote a blog attacking me for not revealing that my father has given money to Scooter Libby's legal defense fund. Her points were absurd, her tone was nasty. The fact that she dragged a member of my family into it made me red-in-the-face mad. I would have loved the chance to tell her this in person, and we tried. Unfortunately, a few hours ago a woman who identified herself as Arianna's quote, "chief of staff" informed us that Huffington would not be coming on the show tonight. That's a shame.

What's even more of a shame is that Carlson couldn't bring himself to follow the basic ethics of blogging and actually link to Arianna's post so that readers could go see for themselves just what it was Arianna wrote. But no, we're supposed to be content with Tucker's characterization of things:
Arianna could have criticized my views about Scooter Libby. That would have been fair. But she didn't. In fact, she didn't bother even to address them. Instead she went immediately for the most personal of attacks, dragging a member of my family into it. As if my father is responsible for what I believe.

Well, since Tucker won't do it, here's Arianna's post. The basic gist of it, as you can see, is that as a journalist, Carlson has an ethical obligation to explain the potential conflict of interest to his audience. And the involvement of Carlson's father with Lewis Libby's defense rather readily falls into that category, as Arianna explained:
But with all he's had to say about the case, there is one thing that Tucker Carlson has failed to mention: That his father, Richard Carlson, is on the advisory committee of the Libby Legal Defense Trust, the GOP-heavy-hitter-laden group that has so far raised $2 million.

Indeed, Richard Carlson was the Early Money Is Like Yeast of Libby defense fund-raisers, having couriered a check to Libby's home the morning he was indicted.

And Tucker Carlson's connection to Libby's defense fund isn't just familial. A quick scan of the Libby website shows that Scooter's high-powered pals appreciate the things that Richard's boy is saying.

In a section titled "What You Aren't Hearing About Scooter Libby," a cobbled version of Tucker Carlson's "What the hell is this investigation about" quote is prominently displayed, just under pro-Libby blurbs from President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

But while Carlson has mentioned the legal defense fund on the air and on his blog (including chiding Cheney for not donating to it), he hasn't seen fit to offer up an "in the interest of full disclosure" type disclaimer. Speaking of which: In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Richard Carlson for a number of years, and have always found him to be a very charming and gracious man. In fact, he's blogged on the Huffington Post. And if he wants to give his money to Scooter Libby, that's certainly his right.

See, Tucker, transparency is as easy as that.

Of course, I'm not telling Tucker Carlson anything he doesn't already know. In fact, during a recent debate with Eric Alterman at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Carlson said, "[News outlets] should not allow reporters to cover things where their interests are at stake." Their interests? Their fathers' interests? Their children's interests? Bottom line: it's so easy to be above board and up front about these things. And it's so important, especially for someone like Tucker who doesn't just toe the Republican Party line -- including on big issues like the war in Iraq.

Guys like Carlson, who have never been actual working journalists but have sprung, like bowtied Venuses from the warped Rovian half-shell, seemingly whole at birth onto the stage of national political punditry, don't understand such things as journalistic ethics, though.

Carlson might want, every once in awhile, to actually read Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which might give some clues about the basic standards of behavior of those of us working the craft. Especially these clauses:
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

It's truly amazing how journalists like Carlson, unburdened by the weight of ethics, quickly make themselves out to be martyrs at the hands of those nasty liberals when actually confronted about it.

Unless ethics have suddenly become equated with liberalism, that's not exactly Carlson's problem.

Friday, March 17, 2006

W is for Incompetent

Culled from the latest Pew Research polls on George W. Bush's presidency:
Currently, 48% use a negative word to describe Bush compared with just 28% who use a positive term, and 10% who use neutral language.

The changing impressions of the president can best be viewed by tracking over time how often words come up in these top-of-the-mind associations. Until now, the most frequently offered word to describe the president was "honest," but this comes up far less often today than in the past. Other positive traits such as "integrity" are also cited less, and virtually no respondent used superlatives such as "excellent" or "great" ­ terms that came up fairly often in previous surveys.

The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is "incompetent," and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: "idiot" and "liar." All three are mentioned far more often today than a year ago.

Is it OK if we call him an unpopular president now?

[Note: "Incompetent" is how this blog has described Bush since its first week, and it has remained a consistent descriptor ever since. Most of all, I'm still wondering why Democrats failed to emphasize this in the 2004 campaign, since it was painfully clear even back then.]

The Minutemen's mission

The Minutemen, it seems, are stepping up their activities in Washington state, with plans not just for an April border watch but also for protests at day labor sites:
The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps plans to begin protesting in front of businesses suspected of employing illegal immigrants throughout Washington state.

The new protest plans would move the organization off the border and into cities and towns for the first time, worrying Hispanic leaders and others about the group's intentions.

The plans, confirmed by Seattle Minuteman organizer Spencer Cohen, would have volunteers suggest job sites across the state believed to employ illegal immigrants. Minuteman volunteers would wave protest signs and potentially take photographs of suspected illegal workers to post on the Internet.

You also have to love the assurances that the leadership gives:
For now, Cohen continues to collect information on potential protest sites from Minuteman volunteers and has no timetable for holding the demonstrations. He also said he personally would discourage protesters from carrying firearms, even if they had state concealed carry permits.

"Although we are accused of being racist vigilantes, that's just not the case," Cohen said. "We are basically like an inner-city neighborhood watch."

Uh-huh. Sure.

Sharing the blame

Michael Parfit, whose ultimately unsuccessful work in protecting the lost killer whale Luna from harm I described earlier, has penned an eloquent and insightful piece describing the aftermath of the young orca's death:
We had flowers with us. Slowly we began to throw them into the sea. They floated away behind us on the easterly breeze as we were carried west by the current. I had told a newspaper reporter that we would throw flowers and say goodbye. But we only managed the first part.

And whom shall we blame for this great loss? The heart weeps and the heart seethes, and the heart demands to exact a price from those who have caused it pain, in the vain hope that some kind of relief can be purchased by what the broken heart imagines is the more deserved pain of another.

In the press and on websites we have seen a pouring out of recrimination. We find that both terrible and understandable. We are often overwhelmed by waves of anger and desires to blame. Our pain at this loss is greater than we had ever imagined it would be, and the bursts of anger we feel are more intense than is in any way justified. In fact, I found to my dismay that I threw some of the flowers hard, as if hitting out at the water for withholding our friend.

As part of the grieving process, Parfit also examines his own culpability:
One thing must be said now. You did not read about everything I did. I could not be altogether honest, because I was afraid that if I was I would be officially forbidden to continue. I will be honest now. I did not make a habit of playing with Luna, but on several occasions I led him away from problem encounters. Most of these were with fish farms. In the last few months he has caused damage and concern at those places, and when I came past and saw Luna engaged in that kind of activity, and then saw Luna come toward my boat, I did not speed away. I let him follow. Usually I then led him across the bay, then motored slowly up Zuciarte Channel toward the open ocean, to see if he would follow.

Usually, when I got into Zuciarte, Luna chose not to go any farther. Once, however, he followed me up Zuciarte to within two miles of open water, which I found hopeful. I had many daydreams about a reunion at the mouth of the Sound if he could just learn to headquarter out there instead of behind stone acoustic barriers in Mooyah. But after that one time he didn’t go that far again.

Once I did lead him to the sea. He was far out of Mooyah, around on the west side of Bligh Island. I had been looking for him for hours and was quite worried. Do you remember the photos of his recent breech? It was that day. I saw a spout and then the breech. What a relief it was! When he came down from the big jump he did stealth whale right over to me and started playing with the boat. I could see the edge of open water in the distance, and decided that I’d just leave the motor turned off. I drifted at about two knots all the way out to Yuquot. I was looking straight up at the lighthouse when he finally left and headed back into the Sound.

This told me that getting him to the sea regularly would not be hard. Unfortunately I felt that I had so pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in leading him out those two times that I did not seriously try it again. Now I wish I had done differently. But there are many wishes.

The point of all this is that I found it extraordinarily easy to get him out of troublesome situations. Although I didn’t do this very often, I knew how straightforward and effective it could be.

... The point of all this is that I know I might have been able to head off the accident that killed him. After all, I was the guy who had taken on keeping him safe. I knew how to do it, and had done it before, and was concerned about the risks. And I had made a commitment to our own hopes for Luna. I had also made at least a moral commitment to all of you who have read our reports and had your own hopes for a long life for this boisterous sweetheart whom Lisa Larsson, in her grief, calls our brave little whale. Though I was constrained by law from doing all that I wanted to do for Luna, I had promised that I would be around to give Luna help when he needed it, and was willing to bend the law when necessary to get that job done. I was the one on watch.

But on the day that mattered, I wasn’t there. I had tied up the boat and had gone down to our home near Victoria for a few days. There were things we had to get done at home and I thought it was going to be more important to be around all the time later in the season. There are few sadder words to me right now than these: I wasn’t there.

Parfit, however, is wise enough to recognize that he couldn't have played God in the end, and that Luna's death was a tragic convergence of many actions and inactions, many presences and many absences:
I think that in learning to accept whatever blame is legitimately mine, and in shedding the vanity of taking on too much, I find that I cannot escape my pain by laying blame on others. The reality of this tragedy is that it was a specific event, an accident, which had no direct cause in policy or negligence. It could have happened anywhere at any time, even after a reunion. I can absorb some of the blame, because it indeed happened on my watch. Beyond that, blame is just guesswork and slander and unworthy of the character of the loved one we have lost.

We can surely seek lessons, as Fred Felleman has done so calmly in his essay. And we have to accept that we all share responsibility here. We all cared, but we failed to find agreement, and we failed to learn what Luna really needed. We just failed. But we have to accept also that one of the costs of freedom is risk, and Luna was free and took risks. Could we have lessened those risks? Perhaps. But wherever he was we could not have eliminated them, even by taking away his freedom, where a different set of risks would have come into play. You can lock your child in the bedroom away from fast cars, but then he dies of loneliness or the flu you bring him.

Be sure to also read Fred Felleman's essay on the lessons learned, as well as Howard Garrett's and Susan Berta's excellent op-ed from the P-I.