Saturday, May 19, 2007

Another bullying male

-- by Dave

One of the interesting aspects of the immigration debate is the way that authoritarianism is really the driving mindset underlying most of the nativist opposition to Latino immigration. It comes creeping out and reveals itself in odd moments, most typically when the nativists are challenged on the moral grounding of their crusade.

Probably the central example of this is the nativists' insistence on calling undocumented workers "illegal aliens", a phrase clearly intended to cast these immigrants both as The Other and, most especially, as lawbreakers. The phrase becomes a way of negating any recognition that perhaps the nation's dysfunctional immigration laws, which render millions of hardworking contributors to the national economy noncitizens, might actually be the problem.

The nativists are intent, of course, on the emphasis on the legal status of these immigrants because it becomes a club with which to bash them -- and moreover to justify all kinds of measures against them, most especially rounding them up, incarcerating and deporting them. So, for example, when someone points out the demonization and scapegoating inherent in this sort of approach to immigration -- a facet of their behavior that decidedly casts them as the ethical and moral reprobates they are -- they leap into full-fledged reflexive authoritarianism: intimidating, bullying, smearing, and generally shoving their opponents rhetorically to the ground.

We saw this recently in Lou Dobbs' reaction to being challenged by Air America talk-show host Laura Flanders last week over his frequent use of the term "illegal aliens" to describe undocumented immigrants. It occurred early the week before, on Dobbs' May 8 broadcast (about 1:40 remaining in the video above):
DOBBS: Well, I appreciate it. Thank you, Joe. Laura Flanders, let's talk about Mitt Romney at ...

LAURA FLANDERS, AIR AMERICA: I wanted to come back for a minute to the L.A. story, the last two stories. I think if Dr. King were alive today, he would be talking about what happened on L.A. on May 1st. When you talk about abuse, 240 rounds of rubber bullets and tear gas.

We've gone from legal punishment of illegal aliens to physical punishment, and it's not helped by language like yours, Lou, talking about these [marchers] as being illegal aliens...

DOBBS: Laura, Laura, Laura, that's ridiculous.

FLANDERS: They're not aliens, they're people. And the vast majority of people at these marches are utterly legal. They're not aliens, Lou. They're people, and you're dehumanizing them with that language.

DOBBS: And you're absurd to suggest such a thing.

FLANDERS: I don't think so.

DOBBS: You're being absolutely absurd.

FLANDERS: Let's talk about people. You said they're families ...

DOBBS: You talk about people.

FLANDERS: ... they're peaceful families, so why not introduce them that way.

DOBBS: You want to talk about 250 million Americans in this country and their families, people who actually support laws in this country and you're telling me illegal immigration should be condoned ...

FLANDERS: No. I'm saying when you use language like illegal aliens as opposed to families, many of them legal ...

DOBBS: What do you want to call them? Undocumented workers.

FLANDERS: You're dehumanizing people which is making it easier to fire batons at them ...

DOBBS: Laura ...

FLANDERS: Lou, I like you ...

DOBBS: You may like me, but you're being extraordinarily short-sighted and obfuscatory.

FLANDERS: Dr. King would be saying let's not call people aliens.

DOBBS: Dr. King, if you presume to speak for Dr. King, you are of greater intellect and spirit than me and I certainly would never presume to do so and I will leave that as your final comment because we have used up our time. Laura Flanders, thanks for being here ...

MCINTYRE: I'd like to speak for Gandhi, Lou.

DOBBS: Joe Madison, Doug McIntyre, thank you. Thank you very much, Laura, for being here. Doug, Joe.

MADISON: Thank you.

Note, first of all, that this occurred at the end of the same broadcast in which Dobbs castigated pastors who used their pulpits to weigh in on the immigration debate, and even went so far as to run an insta-poll asking viewers: "Should churches and religious institutions that engage in political activity have their federal tax exemption revoked? Yes, no." Of course, no one but Lou Dobbs or his staff (especially Casey Wians) has even remotely proposed taking such a step, since it would constitute an obvious infringement on pastors' free-speech rights. But even suggesting it is a kind of intimidation attempt, and it has produced a predictable outcry even from the fundamentalist right.

Moreover, note that Dobbs makes no attempt here to address the substance of Flanders' point. No, the problem is with her -- she's being "short-sighted and obfuscatory." Huh?

Anyone want to bet Dobbs' wife has heard that charge? It sounds like the old "you're just being a sentimental woman" line that was the stock in trade of men in the 1950s.

What brings that to mind is watching the video of this exchange; the transcript doesn't really give you the full sense of what Dobbs does to Flanders here -- the finger jabbing, the scowling intimidation, the furious impugning of her argument (equating it with "condoning illegal immigration").

But apparently, it all escalated when the cameras went off. Recall what Mark Potok told me yesterday:
The day after he went after me, which was last Monday, I saw him with this woman from Air America. I only saw a few minutes of it, but it was unbelievable. He was simply screaming at her. It looked like Rivera vs. O'Reilly on immigration. He was simply shouting her down. And this was over an extremely minor point -- she was trying to make the point that calling people 'illegal aliens' is a pejorative, and comes off that way, which I think is pretty undeniable. And Dobbs was just screaming at her.

Laura told me later, he followed her, first, into the dressing room, and then almost into the ladies' room, yelling at her! It was unbelievable.

Potok's characterization of the on-air confrontation with Flanders wasn't quite accurate; it's clear from the tape that although he's clearly trying to intimidate her, he doesn't scream at any time. Certainly, it's far from the O'Reilly-Rivera exchange, in which it appeared that O'Reilly was about to gouge Rivera's eyes out.

But as to the off-camera bullying -- with Dobbs following Flanders into the Green Room and then to the door of the ladies' room -- I e-mailed Flanders herself to confirm the story, and she answered: "Yeah, it's all true."

I'll be trying to obtain more details from Flanders about just what Dobbs was saying and how threatening she found it all, but for those of us who have worked around male authoritarians, none of this is particularly new. We've all known jerks like Dobbs who find women who undermine their authority particularly threatening, and their extreme overreactions to these women of course reveals a profound insecurity on their part.

It's also a common feature of right-wing authoritarians generally: a fetish for so-called "masculine virtues," including the ability to physically intimidate and "put women in their place," is innately part of these kinds of personalities.

And inevitably, it is reflected in the politics they pursue. Dobbs' anti-immigration diatribes are nothing if not fully loaded vehicles for a politics of fearfulness, a fear of change and a fear of disaster. That's how authoritarians rule: by fear. And women, it seems, are always among their first targets.

[Note: Laura Flanders will be at Firedoglake tomorrow at 10 am PDT for the book salon, talking about her new book, Blue Grit.]

UPDATE: Flanders, commenting at FDL, relates this:
I meant to say: he flipped. It was as if no one had ever challenged him on the use of the word "alien" before. He followed me into the make up room berating me, "How dare you ..." then down the hall and to the elevator. His point: it's a government term. My point. It's dehumanizing no matter what. Being a government term doesn't make it better. It was dehumanizing vs. Germans and Italians too and he has a megaphone he's using to beat immigrants with. He wouldn't give way, but neither would I. In the end to his credit, when I said "i guess i won't be back any time soon" he invited me right back, which he did.

One point of historical detail: The term "illegal aliens" was introduced as a "government term" in the 1920s, when it referred primarily to Asian immigrants, during the nakedly racist campaign to excluse immigrants from Asia, culminating in the Immigration Act of 1924.

Friday, May 18, 2007

'An astounding performance'

-- by Dave

I had a long chat earlier today with Mark Potok, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, about his recent appearance on Lou Dobbs' CNN newshour (along with SPLC President Richard Cohen) to confront Dobbs about his phony statistics regarding leprosy and immigration, as well as the larger tenor of Dobbs' coverage of the immigration debate. Here's a transcript:

DN: For starters, I noticed that at one point you were trying to point out to Dobbs that you weren't the only ones pointing out what shoddy journalism this was, that there were others pointing it out as well, and he didn't seem to want to let you make that point because he interrupted at that point and went blathering off on a tangent.

Potok: No, I just thought he talked right over me at several key points. I mean, look -- it was an astounding performance. It was a complete and utter bait and switch. He presented a completely new story before we were allowed on the air, and then he defended those numbers. He created a straw man which he then knocked down.

The fact is -- Dobbs tried to tell us at one point that we were working from the same official statistics. That is an outright falsehood. Lou Dobbs and his reporters never relied on the statistics. Their report was based 100 percent on the word of, as they say, the "respected" Dr. Madeleine Cosman, a fringe nut on the extreme right.

That was my biggest disappointment in the piece was that we could not get Cosman in there, because he, in my view, simply lied about that.

Really, I found it an amazing performance. Dobbs ultimately realizes that his numbers cannot be defended, so he creates another set of numbers and tries to portray himself as defending those.

And the whole leprosy debate is merely symbolic of Dobbs' reporting and propagandizing in general. And that's where we were never really allowed to go. The fact is that he makes claims like this fairly routinely, or allows others to make them on his air.

So I don't think Lou Dobbs is a member or a sympathizer of the Council of Conservative Citizens, but the fact that he used their map shows where his information comes from.

I kept wanting to say to him, 'Lou, if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas, and Madeleine Cosman is a flea.'

DN: The Council of Conservative Citizens report is a classic example of what goes on with Dobbs' reportage. You know, the whole Aztlan thing is basically something concocted by Glenn Spencer [a notorious white supremacist].

Potok: That's right -- cooked up by Spencer, pumped up by various hate groups, and then the larger anti-immigration movement. And Dobbs is -- it's not that he's a member of the CofCC, but when he sets out to illustrate an imaginary conspiracy, big surprise! He winds up taking a map from an openly white supremacist Web site. Because those are the kinds of lunatics that believe this garbage.

DN: And then the only thing he corrected, as it were, was using their information, rather than the entire thesis of the report, which was based on the same garbage.

Potok: It's not like you're going to find a legitimate Aztlan map.

DN: The entirety of the report on Aztlan was built out of this specious material, and he never corrected that.

Potok: No, no, and he won't face it at all. It's quite a performance.

I saw him last night talking about the immigration agreement, describing Washington as, you know, wholesale out of their mind and so on.

DN: And as Richard Cohen pointed out, one of the issues that in fact is coming out of the immigration debate is the effect that this kind of rhetoric is having on the ground, that is, in terms of the stark rise of hate crimes.

Potok: That's right. We weren't quite able to get this out, but look, federal hate crime statistics show anti-Latino hate crime up 23 percent between 2003 and 2005. California statistics, which are particularly well kept, show a rise of 43 percent of anti-Latino hate crimes in the same period.

Dobbs absolutely will not look at where this kind of rhetoric goes. Just a few days ago, an anti-immigrant zealot apparently tried to burn down the day labor center in Gaithersburg, Maryland. A couple of weeks ago a man was sentenced to life in prison in Arizona for murder because he and two relatives went out looking for a Mexican to kill and in fact were successful.

You know, the week before that, a militia in Alabama was busted, and the feds said they had a plot to machine-gun Mexicans in Alabama. This is stuff you will never, ever, ever hear on Dobbs' show.

We ran a search just for fun on the phrase "hate crime" for his show for the last two years, and it hasn't had a mention on his show in two years.

DN: And at the end of his show he asked you to find instances where he was bashing immigrants, and as I pointed out, there's really no shortage of those.

Potok: It's quite easy. You mentioned the Spencer stuff. Think about this guy: They've had Spencer on a number of times, at least two times I know of. You know, Spencer was arrested for shooting up his neighbor's garage in a paranoid midnight fantasy about immigrants coming to get him. That has never appeared on Lou Dobbs' show.

Chris Simcox has been on over twenty times at this point. This is a guy who has talked about the Chinese Army maneuvering on the Mexican border. A nutcase, like Madeleine Cosman, like Glenn Spencer.

DN: Look, we're both journalists -- we both worked as mainstream reporters and editors for many years. And I'm utterly baffled by this kind of behavior, and moreover, that somebody can actually get away with this with their reputations and careers intact. Basically publishing and then asserting that the falsehood was true.

Potok: Well, he looked for any kind of exit. He extremely disingenuously tried to say that they had never said there were 7,000 new cases. Then in a truly incredible television moment, he puts on the tape that shows definitively that that's precisely what they said. And then he tries to get us to agree that we're all talking about the same figures. It was like speaking from one dimension to another -- it was bizarre. Talk about aliens.

DN: This is something that bloggers are always on about -- that the reason for the existence of a demand for blogs is the public's growing awareness that their large, supposedly mainstream media are failing them, especially in terms of reporting truthfully and accurately.

Potok: I heard this from Leslie Stahl, and I've heard it from Dobbs directly on the phone -- Dobbs makes a big deal out of separating the hour into a half-hour of news and a half-hour of 'editorial'. That's the biggest bunch of hogwash I've ever heard. The separation is invisible to all but CNN employees, no doubt. It all looks the same to anyone else. And it was just last night, in his rant about the new immigration deal, that he went after everyone in Washington who was for this bill as a bunch of mindless lunatics -- in the news half of his show. The show is just propaganda from start to finish.

It is a weird situation that CNN would allow this, really. It really is disappointing that CNN says nothing about this, feels no obligation to the truth at all. What we said in the letter is really true -- this really is demonizing. It is not a nice thing to say about a group of people, that they are bringing leprosy to your doorstep, and it is certainly precisely the kind of statement that leads to hate crimes. These people are dirty, they're disgusting, they're coming to do you harm -- not to mention to ruin your economy and steal your job.

I wonder what's going on with Dobbs. I thought he had been somewhat wounded last week. The day after he went after me, which was last Monday, I saw him with this woman from Air America. I only saw a few minutes of it, but it was unbelievable. He was simply screaming at her. It looked like Rivera vs. O'Reilly on immigration. He was simply shouting her down. And this was over an extremely minor point -- she was trying to make the point that calling people 'illegal aliens' is a pejorative, and comes off that way, which I think is pretty undeniable. And Dobbs was just screaming at her.

Laura told me later, he followed her, first, into the dressing room, and then almost into the ladies' room, yelling at her! It was unbelievable.

One other thing you should know, because it's really quite something, is that the Family Research Council attacked him on Sunday. They sent a letter very similar in tone to ours -- the headline was, 'Tell Lou Dobbs: Pastors aren't second-class citizens.' They set up on their Web site a thing for followers to send e-mails. This was because Dobbs the prior week, after the back and forth with us, Dobbs said something to the effect that churches that make statements on immigration should lose their 501(c)3 status, their tax-exempt status. Which is an incredible statement -- I mean, this is probably the only time in my entire life I will ever agree with Tony Perkins, but he was right. Why shouldn't a pastor be able to speak on immigration? As long as that pastor is not endorsing this candidate or that one, they absolutely have the right to speak on that matter, just as I do.

But of course, Dobbs has been beating up on the Catholic Church for a long time. Last week he made the mistake, apparently, of generalizing that to all churches. So now he's getting it from the left and the right.

All these people had been in our office. Christine Romans was in our office, along with four other Dobbs staffers several years ago as we tried to explain to them what we saw in the anti-immigration movement.

You know, for a long time, we tried to work with rather than against Dobbs. An example of this was when Joe McCutchen was named to head up the Protect Arkansas Now initiative, the Prop 200 lookalike organization in Arkansas. And we pointed out all that stuff about his being part of the Council of Conservative Citizens and American Renaissance and had written all these anti-Semitic letters, and so on.

The point is, we called Dobbs and told them, 'Look, this McCutchen guy is an anti-Semite, and here's the evidence.' And what happened is that they did in fact cancel an appearance by McCutcheon. But do you think anything was ever said about any of this on Dobbs' show? They in other words used us to avoid looking stupid, but they did not take the greater point -- which was that quite a few people like this are in the leadership of this movement.

So really, we were aiding and abetting their whitewashing of the news, so that got old pretty quickly, and ultimately it came to a conflict.


More on all this soon.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Lou Dobbs vs. reality

-- by Dave

Lou Dobbs, who remains adamant that his phony numbers on leprosy were accurate, seems to be taking journalism into uncharted territory -- namely, reporting false and misleading information, and then asserting baldly afterward that it is perfectly accurate ... and seemingly getting away with it.

It's also important to understand this case as part of a larger narrative that scapegoats Latino immigrants, promulgated by Dobbs on his nightly CNN program. And when similarly called on that, Dobbs remains adamant that he's done nothing untoward.

We got a concentrated look at that on Wednesday's Dobbs show, when he invited Richard Cohen and Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, two of his fiercest critics in this matter, to appear. He then proceeded to bluster and blow smoke for twenty minutes or so, interrupting his guests when they began pressing him and responding with nonsequiturs. More to the point, when called on his phony numbers, he tried to claim that he hadn't reported what in fact he had quite plainly reported.

Now, note that Dobbs at no time ever addressed using Madeleine Cosman as the primary source for their claim that there had been a surge in leprosy cases to over 7,000 in recent years. Instead, they pointed to an earlier news report from Bill Tucker that included the following information:
DR. WILLIAM LEVIS, HANSEN'S DISEASE CLINIC: In the last 30, 40 years we've had 7,000 by registry figures that are maintained, but it's likely to be significantly more than that because not all states require, including New York State, are requiring reporting of the disease. So it's underreported. So that's a minimal figure.

Now, compare that to what Christine Romans said in the Dobbs report:
It's interesting because the woman in our piece told us that there were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years.

Levis, the respected figure that Dobbs later touted several times, in fact said something radically different than what Dobbs and Romans reported. It's hard to tell if they are mathematically and logically impaired, or just figuring that their audiences are.

Moreover, it's hard to read or hear this without getting the clear impression that suddenly, the number of cases of leprosy have risen to 7,000 in recent years. And yet Dobbs later says this:
Mark, Richard, gentlemen, you know we never said they were new cases. What we said in point of fact was that there are 7,000 cases on the active -- active leprosy register. You also ...

Which is, of course, a complete mischaracterization of what Romans actually said.

It's perhaps useful to understand that reporting that there are 7,000 names on the register does not mean that there are currently 7,000 active cases of leprosy. In fact, the number is not terribly meaningful in terms of the current levels of infection, because leprosy is in fact highly treatable with a Multi Drug Therapy (MDT) regime consisting of rifampicin, clofazimine, and dapsone:
MDT remains highly effective and patients are no longer infectious after the first monthly dose.] It is safe and easy to use under field conditions due to its presentation in calendar blister packs. Relapse rates remain low, and there is no known resistance to the combined drugs. The Seventh WHO Expert Committee on Leprosy, [22] reporting in 1997, concluded that the MB duration of treatment—then standing at 24 months—could safely be shortened to 12 months "without significantly compromising its efficacy."

Meanwhile, look at how Dobbs reports some other statistics:
DOBBS: Let me cite them for everybody one more time and if we've got that graphic I'd like to do that, which in, by the way, in your publication you said the cases have been declining. Since 2000, they have in fact been doubling, rising from 76 to 110, to 133 to 131, 166 and you just listened to one of the most foremost experts in Bill Tucker's report say to you that they are absolutely, absolutely understated and significantly so.

Did Dobbs say "doubling"? From 133 to 131? Really? What, did he graduate from Regent University or something?

Dobbs isn't simply obtuse about numbers; he's similarly thick about the very basic matter of factual accuracy. Witness, for instance, this exchange with Cohen:
DOBBS: Can I ask you gentlemen, we have just about four minutes left, have you ever once heard me say anything against immigration, failing to support higher immigration if it's a matter of public policy? Have you ever heard me be anti-immigrant even once or am I anti-illegal immigration?

COHEN: Lou, I think you've done it many times. I think that when you make false claims about immigrants that that's being anti-immigrant. I don't see any way around it. It's not the case that one-third of the persons in federal custody as you said are illegal immigrants to use your words. Twenty-seven percent of the persons in federal custody were born on foreign soil, some here lawfully, some not and only 12 percent of those were -- had committed violent crimes. So to suddenly say that 33 percent ...

DOBBS: I thought you said it was an unknowable statistic just a moment ago, Richard?

COHEN: No, I didn't say that.

DOBBS: I misunderstood you.

COHEN: You did. I said 27 percent of the persons in federal custody were born on foreign soil. We do not know how many are here lawfully and how many aren't but we do know that 12 percent of those ...

DOBBS: The federal prisons are not allowed to ask their country of either origin or their immigration status, correct?

COHEN: Right. That's right.

DOBBS: So those statistics you've just cited are rather interesting in light of that.

COHEN: Well, I don't know where you got the 33 percent of all -- everyone being an illegal immigrant, Lou.

DOBBS: Those are the estimates ...

COHEN: You were the one who made the claim.

DOBBS: Right. COHEN: You were the one who made the claim and I think it's a misleading claim, Lou.

DOBBS: Do you? To what end?

COHEN: The point is, Lou, that these are the kinds of claims we hear a lot. A few years ago one of your reporters also characterized the National Academy of Science's study of the effects of immigration on this country. Your reporter said with you, you know, nodding your sense, that what the report concluded was that there was an up to $10 billion annual cost -- I'm sorry, $100 billion and in fact what it showed on -- no, $10 billion, in fact what it showed is it was a $1 to $10 billion net positive.

DOBBS: Well, in point of fact your statistics are every bit ...

COHEN: These kinds of things outline the constant stream of misinformation. DOBBS: Please. First, Professor Jorge Borjas at Harvard University as you well know has done extensive research on the cost in terms of suppressed wages in this country of excessive immigration, both legal and illegal. And in point of fact. That number is $200 billion.

COHEN: That doesn't justify mischaracterizing a government report.

DOBBS: That's $200 billion a year. In point of fact, the four principle industries in this country that are hiring illegal aliens, the largest among them, construction followed by landscaping, leisure and hospitality, hotels and restaurants, all have experienced declines in wages. There is no shortage of labor.

And in point of fact or otherwise those wages would be rising, and it has declined as a result of exploitive employers. So I'm going ask this question. Do you believe I'm anti-immigrant or do you believe I'm anti-illegal immigration?

Dobbs' answer -- blowing smoke from a different study to justify misleading reportage, a classic nonsequitur -- is then capped by a diversion into a topic that's really all about him: Is he unfair to immigrants? The preceding babble is thus effectively buried, and we've moved on to the playground aspects of the matter. But Dobbs does say this:
DOBBS: I think that you can find perhaps in the record some basis for either declaring me either anti-immigrant or anti-illegal immigration, but I do think that using me and my name, frankly, as some sort of fund-raising tool is egregiously unworthy of both your tradition and your work in most areas and I do not for one moment comprehend it. I hope we can have further discussions.

Um, well, beyond those instances mentioned by Cohen and Potok on the show, Dobbs in fact has a long and well-documented record of demonizing Latino immigrants and promoting extremist views on his program.

For starters, there was the time he promoted commentary declaring illegal immigration a mortal threat to the nation itself:
Lou Dobbs Tonight - CNN - June 1

Dobbs: The issue, as you said, that the nation would cease to exist, what do you mean by that?

West: Well, the kind of provisions that are in the Senate... and it will be mainly Hispanic. It will be mainly Mexican. -- And so, what the question becomes is, do we want to become a northern section of Latin America? Do we cease to become literally an English- speaking people, become bilingual, and / or Spanish- speaking? And with these questions, you really begin to get at the heart of the matter, a demographic, a newer demographic.

There's also been his afactual reporting on the Minutemen, which he has described as a "neighborhood watch":
Perhaps no one has been more prominent in promoting the Minutemen's image as a group of law-abiding, concerned citizens than CNN's Lou Dobbs, who has made the Minutemen into the symbol of his ongoing campaign on behalf of immigration reform -- meaning he has adopted, essentially, far-right anti-immigrant nativism.

On several occasions, Dobbs' program has featured remarks from Minuteman organizer Chris Simcox, including an extended interview with Simcox that featured some genuinely noteworthy exchanges. Dobbs had reported on his program that the Minutemen were unarmed, and Simcox had to correct this:

DOBBS: And to be clear, you're not permitting any of your volunteers to be armed.

SIMCOX: No, that's not true. I can't do that. We have encouraged them, if you've read our standard operating procedure, that they are to be, again, aware of the laws of the state of Arizona. They're not to carry long arms, because that would make us an offensive -- that would give it an offensive-type attitude.

DOBBS: Well, Chris, let's...


DOBBS: ... be straight up, 1,500 volunteers, untrained, unorganized, and without drill, that is not a reassuring statement that you just made, if you're going to have people with weapons, whether they are sidearms or not.

SIMCOX: Well, Lou, we have -- most of our volunteers are retired law enforcement officers, military veterans, and professional people who -- and not all of them are going to be armed, but the ones that want to be have that right to be.

But we have interaccountability by grouping people together in teams, so that we have people watching each other and making sure that we hold each other accountable. Because this is a political protest, no matter what. We know that. And it would be hypocritical of us to want the government to enforce the laws if we were out there to break the laws.

Dobbs has also been an avid promoter of Pat Buchanan's nakedly racist screed on immigration:
Foremost among Buchanan's media boosters has been CNN's Lou Dobbs, whose proclivity for pushing extremist nonsense into the mainstream has beem previously noted:

"Congratulations on the response to your book," said Lou Dobbs, the CNN anchorman who has made a profession of attacking illegal immigration in story after story after story, as he introduced his old CNN colleague. Dobbs then offered up his own view that President Bush was carrying on an "outright war" against middle-class Americans by allowing illegal immigration. Wrapping up the interview, Dobbs concluded: "The book is State of Emergency. It's No. 3 on the best-selling list. ... I'm going to repeat it one more time. The book is State of Emergency. Pat Buchanan, always good to talk to you. ... [Y]ou've got a lot of readers, so keep it rolling."

Particularly telling is Buchanan's sourcing:

Once again, to make his case in State of Emergency, Buchanan relies on a trove of extreme-right sources. His urgent call for thwarting the "invasion" of non-European immigrants leans heavily on material written by hate group members or postings on hate sites, with citations to nearly every sector of the hate movement, from neo-Nazis to neo-Confederates. He cites the work of white supremacist James Lubinskas; Edward Rubinstein, of the white nationalist think tank National Policy Institute; Clyde Wilson, a board member of the racist and secessionist League of the South; and Wayne Lutton, a veteran immigrant- and gay-hater. Buchanan also quotes Lutton's anti-immigrant hate journal The Social Contract.

But unquestionably the most egregious example of Dobbs' use of extremist material was the time he lifted a graphic from the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens -- a group that Dobbs had the gall to tell Cohen and Potok he finds "reprehensible" without mentioning that he had used their material. Shortly after the CCC graphic ran, Dobbs mumbled his "regrets" for using the CCC as a source. But the "regrets" didn't include reporting a far-right conspiracy theory about "reconquista" as fact. Indeed, note the wording of the "regrets":
A freelance field producer in Los Angeles searched the web for Aztlan maps and grabbed the Council of Conservative Citizens map without knowing the nature of the organization. The graphic was a late inclusion in the script and, regrettably, was missed in the vetting process.

At no point did Dobbs or his reporters ever issue a correction about the phony Aztlan nonsense. The only problem was that they had used an unpleasant source.

As I noted at the time:
[T]he obsession with "Aztlan" -- which, as far as Latinos are concerned, mostly appears in a few relatively obscure '60s-era documents and among a fringe hate group -- has for most of the past decade and longer been almost exclusively the purview of white supremacists: American Patrol, VDare, American Renaissance, the National Alliance, the CofCC, the Barnes Review, and the like.

So when you hear talk about "Reconquista" -- which has not appeared in any MEChA documents or speeches -- the chances are nearly certain that this is where the talk originates. That's who draws up these maps, and touts the claims of an "invasion" incessantly.

Nonetheless, pointing out that racists are the people promoting these hobgoblins just raises a predictable whine: "Can't we talk about immigration without being accused of racism?"

Indeed, that's exactly what Dobbs consistently does whenever he's called on this crap. At some point, you'd think someone -- executives at CNN, other journalists, maybe an advertiser or two -- would catch on.

As Alex Koppelman put it:
CNN is trying to play this off as an isolated mistake. Don't be fooled: it's not. The fact that Dobbs and reporter Casey Wian showed the CCC map only makes the subtle pattern of racist fantasies given voice on Dobbs' show more visible. (By the way, relatively unnoticed -- the same night Dobbs was citing the CCC, he was leaving unchallenged, even laughing along with, one guest's suggestion that in order to get rid of illegal Mexican immigrants New Yorkers should order pizza and then arrest the delivery person. Thanks, Lou. We'll get right on that.) For months now, Dobbs and Wian have been reporting on "reconquista" and "Aztlan" movements, movements that exist not in the minds of mainstream Mexicans but in the fever dreams of white supremacists. That Dobbs eventually aired material pulled directly from a white supremacist organization should surprise no one -- when you're subtly citing them on a regular basis, the unfiltered truth is bound to bubble up at some point.

It keeps bubbling up, all right. But Dobbs is trying to pretend that the odor emanating therefrom is something other than the racial sewer the rest of us smell.

Back to the Dark Ages

-- by Sara

Orcinus regular Ahistoricality has posted a remarkable piece of Falwell memorabilia over at Progressive Historians. It's a 1981 brochure, published by the North Carolina Moral Majority, that provides one of the best summaries I've ever seen of the educational messages fundamentalist high school kids get from their parents and elders. Here's the text:
Don'ts for students.

1. Don't get into science-fiction values discussions or trust a teacher who dwells on science fiction in his/her "teaching."

2. Don't discuss the future or future social arrangements or governments in class.

3. Don't discuss values.

4. Don't write a family history.

5. Don't answer personal questions or questions about members of your family.

6. Don't play blindfolded games in class.

7. Don't exchange "opinions" on political or social issues.

8. Don't write an autobiography.

9. Don't keep a journal of your opinions, activities and feelings.

10. Don't take intelligence tests. Write tests only on your lessons. Force others to judge you on your own personal achievement.

11. Don't discuss boy-girl or parent-child relationships in class.

12. Don't confide in teachers, particularly sociology or social studies and english teachers.

13. Don't judge a teacher by his/her appearance or personality, but on his/her competence as a teacher of solid knowledge.

14. Don't think a teacher is doing you a favor if he/she gives you a good grade for poor work or in useless subjects.

15. Don't join any social action or social work group.

16. Don't take "social studies" or "future studies." Demand course definition: history, geography, civics, French, English, etc.

17. Don't role-play or participate in socio-dramas.

18. Don't worry about the race or color of your classmates. Education is of the mind, not the body.

19. Don't get involved in school-sponsored or government-sponsored exchange or camping programs which place you in the homes of strangers.

20. Don't be afraid to say "no" to morally corrupting literature, games and activities.

21. Don't submit to psychological testing.

22. Don't fall for books like "Future Shock," which are intended to put readers in a state of panic about "change" so they will be willing to accept slavery. Advances in science and technology don't drive people into shock. It is government and vain-brain intrusions in private lives, which cause much of the unbalance in nature and in people.

23. Don't get into classroom discussions which being: What would you do if....? What if....? Should we....? Do you suppose....? Do you think....? What is your opinion of....? Who should....? What might happen if....? Do you value....? Is it moral to....?

24. Don't sell out important principles for money, a scholarship, a diploma, popularity or a feeling of importance.

25. Don't think you have to associate with morally corrupt people or sanction their corruption just because "society" now accepts such behavior.

26. Don't get discouraged. If you stick to firm principles, others will respect you for it and perhaps gain courage from your example.
There's a lot to comment on here -- and hope you all will -- regarding the ways in which these rules strictly limit self-awareness, imagination, and intellectual growth. (I'm surprised, frankly, that they weren't told to avoid art class altogether.)

But I'm most bemused by the fact that fully a third of these admonitions directly or indirectly tell kids to stay away from any kind of thinking about the future. The Evangelical movement went through a serious panic about futures studies in the 80s and 90s: in fact, the first series of readings my Regent professor threw at me last semester included a couple rather hysterical (in both the unhinged and funny senses of the word) screeds along these same lines.

Their concern goes to the heart of one of the biggest problems Christianity has had with the modern era, which is its total loss of hegemony over people's visions of the future. For 1500 years, people took it as gospel (so to speak) that the Biblical account of creation was a stone literal fact. It followed, quite logically, that the eschatology outlined in Revelation could also be relied on as an equally literal account of how history would end.

Early Christians were so convinced that Jesus was returning Any Day Now that they constructed their entire societies around that fact. It was built right into their calendars, which had the world ending sometime in the 400s. Jesus may have said that "no man knows the day or hour" -- but that didn't stop them from trying to reckon it out anyway. Augustine (who readjusted that calendar to buy the world another couple hundred years) wrote persuasively that they needed to knock off the guessing games, and focus on the world at hand rather than the one to come. But, from that day to this, there's never been a shortage of Christian true believers doing whatever they could to hasten the day.

Through the centuries, this conversation has turned (and, arguably, still turns) on two key questions: What is the essential nature of humanity? And how much influence can it really have over its own future? On the first question, Christianity has taken a dim view of our essential nature: humans are profoundly corrupt and flawed, and therefore morally incapable of doing anything positive in the world. If we try to meddle in the future, we're going to screw up God's plan. As to the second question: Since a deterministic God really runs the show anyway, there's no real point in trying to change anything, now, is there?

These two assumptions -- we can't change the future, and shouldn't try -- put much of the dark in the Dark Ages. These assumptions didn't really change until the Enlightenment turned the lights back on, by affirming that a) yes, humans -- through the use of science -- can indeed understand the world well enough to create positive and useful change; and b) we are intelligent, moral, and inherently worthy beings who are entitled to use our influence to create the world we want. (Looking back now, it's fair to ask: How do we deal with the world that this belief ultimately created? That's another post for another day -- but suffice to say, our accepted answers to those two questions are up for serious review about now.)

Many futurists think that "the future" as we now understand it was born with these two realizations, which formed the philosophical foundation of modernism. Together, they liberated Westerners from the inevitability of Armageddon -- freeing us to imagine other futures, while also endowing us with powerful new tools to achieve them. The Church no longer owned the historical narrative, from beginning to end. Now, we had new stories about the beginning -- and were free to write our own end.

Traditional Christianity has never really recovered from the hit. The enduring grief over this loss echoes through these wretched bits of advice, which are clearly aimed at insulating the young faithful from any kind of post-Enlightenment understanding of the world. But the ultimate irony here is this: By carefully forbidding their children to learn the lessons of science and history -- which is the central goal of these rules -- the so-called "Moral Majority" also deliberately cripples their ability to act from any kind of authentic moral sense.

Science and history, between them, provide nothing less than our cognitive map of how the entire world works. The power and glory and horror, the inner and outer workings of the universe, the grand attempts and spectacular failures, the possibilities and dangers -- these understandings are essential to our ability to explain and predict the things that happen in the world around us. Our moral judgment depends utterly on clear foresight, which allows us to accurately analyze situations and foresee their likely outcomes. Thus, rules like these -- which deny cause and effect and inhibit pattern-making skills -- actually interfere with the development of effective moral navigation equipment, permanently maiming these students' ability to choose right courses of action.

We're seeing this now, of course. One-sixth of America has voluntarily accepted some version of these rules; and their inability to assess the moral consequences of their choices have already cost us all more than we have even begun to reckon. And because they recognize no past or future, no cause or effect, other than the one in their Bible, it's likely that most of them will never really understand the ways in which they brought these disasters down on us all.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The New McCarthyism

-- by Sara

So here's Joe Scarborough on MSNBC this evening, braying that when people like Don Imus and Opie and Anthony are taken off the air because they cross the line and say offensive things on the air, they're actually victims of "the new McCarthyism."

This is the kind of foamy blather that rapidly congeals into stubborn, hard-to-get-out right-wing talking points, so it's important to wipe it up quickly before it sticks. (Last month, they tried to characterize what happened to Imus as a "lynching." What we have here is apparently a second-generation attempt to get traction on the same idea, using different language.)

For those of you who weren't there and didn't read about it: Back in the early 50s, Joe McCarthy went after people for exercising their Constitutional rights to freedom of thought, speech, association, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government for redress of grievances. Thousands of people (my father-in-law, a UCLA sociology professor, included) got hauled up before Congress and/or fired from their jobs because of nothing more than the magazines they read, the people they befriended, the clubs they joined. Most of these people were not public figures -- they were businesspeople, academics, artists, and professionals. Disproportionate numbers of them were immigrants and Jews. All of them were subject to levels of government investigation that nobody this side of Abu Gonzales could possibly construe as constitutional.

Note, however: Not one of those people got on the public airwaves and made ugly sexual comments about black women -- which is the common thread that connects Imus with Opie and Anthony. (That and the fact that, also like Imus, Opie and Anthony were repeat offenders -- CBS booted them in 2003 for similarly offensive remarks.) But, as Dave has already explained, when you're standing on a public platform that belongs to somebody else, you're subject to having the plug pulled on you if you say things that either the owners or the listeners find offensive.

Scarborough says that if we don't like shock jocks, we should change the channel. But he seems to ignore the fact that if enough people change the channel, those who own the channel are going to get the message. What happens next is not "McCarthyism," or "lynching" or "censorship." It's called the free market -- you know, the same one the right wing is always insisting is the ultimate solution to all our problems.

In this case, they're absolutely right. Opie and Anthony gleefully described the violent rape of Condi Rice. And the free market -- in the guise of their XM bosses -- rendered its judgment on their behavior.

Don't blame McCarthy for this one, Joe. The real culprit you're looking for is Adam Smith.

updated with corrections

That Old-Time Religion

-- by Sara

Well, Jerry Falwell's gone home to Jesus. It does mark the end of an era.

A bit of context is in order. It's important to note that Falwell was hardly a breakthrough phenomenon in the world of broadcast preachers. Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart were already long on the scene when the Thomas Road Baptist Church began broadcasting its Old-Time Gospel Hour in 1968. Kathryn Kuhlman, radiant in her white gowns, was on TV calling in souls every week using a script lifted word for word from the one Sister Aimee Semple MacPherson used back in the 1920s. (The most recent heir to this lineage is Benny Hinn -- also in radiant white -- who still does Sister Aimee's schtick to perfection.). Falwell drew heavily on the same formula that broadcast preachers had used all the way back to Dwight Moody -- testimonies, healings, the big choir, individualized prayer, and the selling of blessed relics. Even the business of starting colleges was nothing new: Moody had done it in the 20s; and Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK graduated its first class the year before Falwell went on the air.

It wasn't the rather typical content of his show that made Falwell the defining TV preacher of his generation. It was his willingness to vault his big old bear-like self over the long-standing legal and theological line that kept preachers from openly engaging in politics. Evangelicals of that generation had been taught all their lives to eschew the things of this world -- to render unto Caesar the things that were Caesar's, and to God the things that were God's. That, very decidedly, meant no politicking. But as the 60s unraveled into the 70s, Falwell had the guts to look his growing (and increasingly terrified) flock in the eyes, and tell them that the only way they'd make an increasingly incomprehensible world right again was to get out into the streets and organize.

It was a message that they'd been waiting to hear. Falwell stepped up into the role of Moses, leading dispirited Evangelicals back to the promised land -- a road he insisted ran right through Washington, D.C. His political intentions were implicit in his design for Liberty University, which opened in Lynchburg, VA in 1971. Previous broadcast-preacher colleges were aimed at bringing up missionaries, choir directors, and local pastors; but Liberty soon established departments in law, business, accounting, and communications -- the skills required for the kind of political revolution Falwell had in mind. (It was a formula Pat Robertson would re-create 15 years later across the state at Regent University.)

During the 70s, Falwell -- using his massive direct-mail arm as a lab of sorts -- also narrowed in on gay rights and abortion as the two hot-button issues that would keep the religious right angry, mobilized, and writing those checks -- issues whose staying power led them to dominate the American political discourse for the next 30 years. These efforts eventually coalesced into the Moral Majority. Wikipedia notes that:
The Moral Majority was initiated as a result of a struggle for control of an American conservative Christian advocacy group known as Christian Voice during 1978. During a news conference by Christian Voice's founder, Robert Grant, he claimed that the Religious Right was a "sham... controlled by three Catholics and a Jew." Paul Weyrich, Terry Dolan, Richard Viguerie and Howard Phillips left Christian Voice. During a 1979 meeting, they urged televangelist Jerry Falwell to found Moral Majority. This was also the beginning of the New Christian Right.
Anyone who still wonders if there's racism at work in the religious right should ponder the fact that they had to throw "three Catholics and a Jew" overboard just to get the Moral Majority out of the dock.

The Moral Majority was the first overtly Evangelical political organization America had seen in over 50 years. It's remarkable now to look back and realize how fast it rose on the scene, mobilizing millions of Evangelicals and raising tens of millions of dollars for conservative Republican candidates. In two years flat, it got its preferred candidate into the White House -- and bought itself a front-line spot in the Reagan Revolution that followed.

But the glory faded through the 80s, as Falwell turned from churchbuilding and kingmaking to petty libel battles (most notably the one with Larry Flynt); as the press and the courts began to take notice of the ways in which he blurred the lines of church and state separation; and as politicians turned out to be very happy to take the Moral Majority's money, but less enthusiastic about enshrining its morality as federal law. His attempted turnaround of Jim Bakker's Heritage USA enterprises ended in bankruptcy court; and in 1989, the Moral Majority was absorbed into his friend and rival Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition.

Falwell himself was never much of a political or cultural force after that. But it's arguable that if there's one person without whom the religious right would never have risen -- and the GOP's hegemony would never have been possible -- Jerry Falwell was that guy. By organizing traditionally apolitical Evangelicals into the country's dominant political force, he provided the GOP with the essential base of support that's undergirded everything they've done in (and to) America over the past 27 years.

Jerry's gone. Pat Robertson is old and nuts. James Kennedy is in failing health. The old lions of the Christianist movement are heading off to their heavenly rewards -- leaving a new Evangelical generation to re-organize themselves for other battles, under other leaders who are ready to talk about other things besides gays and abortion --things, perhaps, like peace, justice, and the environment. Ironically, it seems that the same energy that fed the religious right is now toward flowing in a leftward direction. Falwell would definitely not approve, but I suspect Jesus would have been quite pleased.

Still, it was Falwell who gave American Evangelicals their first taste of political power -- and, having acquired that taste, it's doubtful they'll ever fully retreat into their quiet corner again.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My excuse

What I've been doing the last couple of days instead of blogging.

Sorry. Well, not really, but you know what I mean.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Flying the flag

That may look like a Confederate flag someone decided to fly at a community picnic down South somewhere. But it isn't.

It is in fact a special KKK edition of the Confederate flag -- replete with the words "White Power" and "Ku Klux Klan" -- that fluttered over a community picnic in Rapid City, Michigan:
At a May 6 barbecue, organizers served up a T-bone steak, baked potato and all the fixings for just $10. Overhead flapped a Confederate flag that bore white supremacist and Ku Klux Klan markings.

A Klan banner smack in the middle of a northern Michigan, small-town cookout sponsored by the Rapid City Businessmen's Association caused a stir among some who attended. The flag also focused unwanted attention on this spot-on-the-map about 20 miles northeast of Traverse City.

"When we drove into the parking lot and got out of the car, I was shocked and disgusted and wanted to get back in the car," said Dick Ault, of Alden, who said he stayed because a group of friends had gathered there. "Some thought it was a Confederate flag, which was bad enough, but then we saw it was a KKK flag."

The flag included a cross inside a circle, accompanied by the phrases "white power" and "Ku Klux Klan," but its message didn't bother everyone who attended.

"I didn't care one way or another about the flag being up. It's not a big deal," said Tom Tucker, of Rapid City, a cookout volunteer. "Should it have been up? No. I stood the pole up myself. Whoever put the flag up, I don't know, but I put the pole up. If anybody is going to holler at anyone, it should be me."

A tattered American flag arrived with the pole and they couldn't fly that, Tucker said, so someone retrieved another flag to run up the line.

Probably the most noteworthy aspect of the story is the way everyone in the community scrambles to cover for the person who raised the flag. They're all equally quick to deny that the flag's appearance meant anything racial.

The main characterization of the event by locals was that it was all just "funnin'," a joke, something not worth taking seriously since hey, it was one of them, and they're surely not racist.

Well, just so no one has any illusions about this case: This flag is produced for a very narrow constituency and probably was very expensive. Anyone who would own it, as well as fly it, would have to be very serious about the ideology it represents. The local townspeople who defend this person as harmless are covering up for an ugly racist in their midst. They have to be in serious denial about the meaning of this incident to blow it off.

If white people sometimes wonder why minorities sometimes view their protestations off innocence on racial issues with deep suspicion, they need only look at incidents like these for a simple explanation.