Saturday, November 03, 2007

Macho Men

-- by Dave

Digby has up a great post about how the boys in the Village are all hopping aboard the GOP Que Es Mas Macho Train. She observes:
Indeed, the entire Republican campaign strategy can be said to be one big gender card --- the only people they believe matter in this country are delicate, insecure creatures who are so sensitive that they have to be pampered and pandered to like a bunch of overfed princes who like to play cowboy and don't want to share their favorite binky.

Aw, c'mon, Digby. Dontcha know that these really are a bunch of macho men? Just watching them in action takes me back to the '70s:
Body...wanna feel my body?
Body...such a thrill my body
Body...wanna touch my body?'s too much my body
Check it out my body, body.
Don't you doubt my body, body.
talkin' bout my body, body,
check it out my body

Every man wants to be a macho macho man
to have the kind of body, always in demand
Jogging in the mornings, go man go
works out in the health spa, muscles glow
You can best believe that, he's a macho man
ready to get down with, anyone he can

Hey! Hey! Hey, hey, hey!
Macho, macho man (macho man)
I've got to be, a macho man
Macho, macho man
I've got to be a macho! Ow....

Macho, macho man
I've got to be, a macho man
Macho, macho man (yeah, yeah)
I've got to be a macho!

Body, its so hot, my body,
Body, love to pop my body,
Body, love to please my body,
Body, don't you tease my body,
Body, you'll adore my body,
Body, come explore my body,
Body, made by God, my body,
Body, it's so good, my body

You can tell a macho, he has a funky walk
his western shirts and leather, always look so boss
Funky with his body, he's a king
call him Mister Eagle, dig his chains
You can best believe that, he's a macho man
likes to be the leader, he never dresses grand

Hey! Hey! Hey, hey, hey!
Macho, macho man
I've got to be, a macho man
Macho, macho man
I've got to be a macho! (all right)

Macho, macho man (yeah, yeah)
I've got to be, a macho man
Macho, macho man
I've got to be a macho! All Right!

Body, body, body wanna feel my body,
Body, body, body gonna thrill my body,
Body, body, body don'tcha stop my body,
Body, body, body it's so hot my body,

Every man ought to be a macho macho man,
To live a life of freedom, machos make a stand,
Have their own life style and ideals,
Possess the strength and confidence, life's a steal,
You can best believe that he's a macho man
He's a special person in anybody's land.

Hey! Hey! Hey, hey, hey!
Macho, macho man (macho man)
I've got to be, a macho man
Macho, macho man
I've got to be a macho! (dig the hair on my chest)

Macho, macho man (see my big thick mustache)
I've got to be, a macho man
Macho, macho man
I've got to be a macho! (Dig broad shoulders)

Macho, macho man (dig my muscles!)
I've got to be, a macho man
Macho, macho man
I've got to be a macho!

Macho, macho man
I've got to be, a macho man
Macho, macho man
I've got to be a macho! HEY!

These same Village People are the "wise men" whose macho seems to require that we nuke Iran or something similar. To live a life of freedom, machos make a stand. A wide stand, evidently.

Of course, I think Sara has had few words about these fellows before.

Friday, November 02, 2007

When the cameras are off

-- by Dave

Pam Spaulding has a nice rundown on the racist rant by Dog the Bounty Hunter released by his son for public consumption this week.

The cable "reality show" star was taped at a time when he thought the cameras were all off:
Duane "Dog" Chapman: I'm not taking the chance on some motherf**ker. I don't care if she's a Mexican, a whore,'s not because she's black. It’s because we use he word n***er sometimes here.

I'm not going to take a chance ever in life for losing everything I've worked for for 30 years because some f**king n**er heard us say n***er and turned us into the Enquirer magazine. Our career is over. I'm not taking that chance at all, never in life. Never. Never.

If Lyssa [his daughter] was dating a n***er we would all say F*ck You. . .and you know that. If Lyssa brought a black guy home ya da's not that they're black, it's none of that. It's that we use the word n***er. We don't mean you fucking scum n***er without a soul. We don't mean that shit. But America would think we mean that. And we're not taking a chance on losing everything we got over a racial slur because our son goes with a girl like that. I can't do that Tucker. You can't expect Gary, Bonnie, Cecily, all them young kids to [garbled] because 'I'm in love for 7 months' - fuck that! So, I'll help you get another job but you can not work here unless you break up with her and she's out of your life. I can't handle that shit. I got 'em in the parking lot trying to record us. I got that girl saying she's gonna wear a recorder...

Of course, once it got out, the Dog was very remorseful and claimed he was taped "out of context":
My sincerest, heartfelt apologies go out to every person I have offended for my regrettable use of very inappropriate language. I am deeply disappointed in myself for speaking out of anger to my son and using such a hateful term in a private phone conversation. It was completely taken out of context. I was disappointed in his choice of a friend, not due to her race, but her character. However, I should have never used that term. I have the utmost respect and aloha for black people – who have already suffered so much due to racial discrimination and acts of hatred. I did not mean to add yet another slap in the face to an entire race of people who have brought so many gifts to this world. I am ashamed of myself and I pledge to do whatever I can to repair this damage I have caused.

Here's one thing about being a white guy: You hear a lot of "private" talk from other white guys who assume you're on the same side of the fence as they are and feel free to start spewing, especially when they've had a few drinks, or they're (ahem) "angry," and this is the kind of shit they spew.

Unfortunately, the only thing I ever seem capable of expressing to them is my utter bafflement why they think I would ever be on their side. Mind you, guys like this are in the far minority, but there are more of them floating around out there than you'd think.

I'm reminded of how the Washington State Militia, who were in the process of building pipe bombs and planning their deployment before they were busted back in 1996, were captured doing so on videotape. The kind of hate talk that flowed freely when they thought no one was watching was remarkable -- especially for a group that was trying to sell a public image of being a big "neighborhood watch" operation. Hmmm. Where else have we heard that claim?

Those Weblog Awards

-- by Dave

Well, Orcinus is included in the Weblog Awards' finalists for "Best Liberal Blog" this year, the first time we've been so honored. When I look at the rest of the list (one of which, Firedoglake, I also post at), I feel really very honored. Though to be honest I'm not sure popularity contests like this matter much (I think the Koufaxes, which seem to have faded away, were much more meaningful), but it's still fun to be included in the action. I certainly won't blame my readers if they're torn.

Vote early and often! And have fun.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Max strikes again

-- by Dave

Speaking of the Values Voters, our intrepid friend Max Blumenthal paid them a visit:
On October 20 and 21st, I attended the Value Voters Summit, a massive gathering hosted by the Colorado-based Christian right mega-ministry, Focus on the Family, and its Washington lobbying arm, the Family Research Council. With the pro-choice Rudy Giuliani leading in the race for the Republican nomination and the threat of another Clinton presidency looming, the stakes for the Christian right were high.

As you can see from the footage, it seems clear that the overtly political faction of the religious right is becoming more and more like the fanatical conspiracist right of the militia/Patriot movement of the 1990s. Max notes this too:
If anything, the movement seemed more extreme and paranoid than it did four years ago. Rev. Lou Sheldon, dubbed "Lucky Louie" by his former paymaster Jack Abramoff, told me that homosexuality is a "pathological disorder" and "a groove" that is difficult to escape from. He proceeded to passionately defend his friend, Senator Larry Craig, from allegations of homosexuality.

Star Parker, a former welfare cheat who had multiple abortions, claimed to me that abortion is the leading cause of death among African American women between the ages of 25 and 34. Then she described her wish for the forced quarantine of all "sodomites." Parker was not a lone wacko milling around in the hallway; she was a speaker invited by the Family Research Council.

Neoconservative activist Frank Gaffney appeared at the Summit as well. Before a standing room audience, Gaffney exclaimed that "by not being bigoted and not being racist, [George W.] Bush has embraced Islamofascists on several occasions." Phyllis Schlaffly echoed Gaffney's comments, declaring that there are too many mosques in America.

You'll note, of course, the obvious eliminationism coursing through all this talk -- yet another clear indication of the political religious right's increasing fanaticism and xenophobia.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The spiral tightens

-- by Dave

When guys like Lou Dobbs go spewing their racist venom on national television, I'm sure it never crosses their minds that there might be consequences for the hate they spew. First, they deny adamantly that it's hateful, sort of like "who you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

But most of all, they don't care. This is about ratings. Lou Dobbs is selling outrage on his broadcasts, by God, and too bad for anyone who's the target of it.

But it ripples, you know. And while no one can ever make a direct connection, you know that this environment they're creating is also creating people like this:
A Casper man who threatened to kill illegal immigrants coming into Arizona will spend six-and-a-half years in federal prison for firearms violations, according to court records filed Tuesday.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge William Downes on Oct. 23 sentenced Richard Serafin to 18 months imprisonment for possessing unregistered firearms, another 60 months for possessing firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence.

Downes also sentenced Serafin to three years supervised release with conditions that include paying child support, participating in substance abuse treatment, abstaining from alcohol and being submitted to searches.

On Aug. 3, a jury convicted Serafin of one count of possessing firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence after a week-long trial in federal court in Casper.

The week before, he pleaded guilty to the possession of unregistered firearms -- two AR-15 type rifles with barrels less than 16 inches -- and desired to go to trial on the other charge.

It's one thing when they start forming vigilante border-watch outfits like the Minutemen; even when they start making videos in which they act out their fantasies about shooting a Mexican.

It's quite another when they start stocking up on silencers:
In March 2006, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began investigating Serafin after the Atlanta office of the agency learned he illegally bought a silencer over the Internet from Germany, Special ATF Agent Steve McFarland wrote in court documents.

McFarland found Serafin's last known address was in the 2200 block of South Richard Street in Casper. The agent conducted a Google search, which indicated Serafin was a member of an anti-government militia type group.

McFarland, operating undercover, contacted Serafin via the Internet and expressed an interest in learning more about militias.

The two met on Nov. 2, and Serafin explained his racist views and how he ran a militia, McFarland wrote.

They met again on Dec. 12 at his house in the 1200 block of West 13th Street, whereupon Serafin sold McFarland a handgun and showed him some other weapons including two sawed-off AR-15 .223-caliber rifles, and a fully automatic Fabrique Nationale, FAL, .308-caliber assault rifle, McFarland wrote.

In January, he told the undercover agent he intended to travel to the Mexican border and harm illegal immigrants after drug runners allegedly burned down his brother's house in Arizona, McFarland wrote. "He added that he has a 'bad feeling' about what might happen in Arizona, once he gets there. Serafin also said that there may be fewer illegal Mexicans coming into the U.S. after he is there."

He was arrested on Feb. 7 after selling one of the AR-15 rifles to McFarland while armed himself.

This is the second militia-related bust in which the plan was to kill Mexicans; the first we're aware of was the arrest of five militiamen in Alabama last May who were planning a terrorism spree against Latinos.

It looks like this character was a militia of one. But you know that if some of them are taking steps like buying silencers, there are going to be some doing likewise who aren't caught. Again, just tiny numbers of people. But as Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols proved, you don't need a lot to wreak hell on earth.

Hope those ratings are worth it to Lou. Because he's not only making a living parody of himself, but his karmic payback is gonna be a bitch.

The Two Evangelical Futures

drawing by Art Spiegelman

--by Sara

Over the past year, my maunderings on the fate of the Religious Right in America have gone off in two apparently opposite and contradictory directions. On one hand, I've been making the argument that Evangelicals are undergoing a significant cultural shift, which is changing the face of fundamentalism as we've known it for the past 30 years; and that this may be an occasion for some sunny optimism concerning the future of our democracy. On the other, I've been writing dire reminders that religious authoritarians have been with us from the beginning, and will be with us always -- and these posts have been clouded with warning, caution, and despair.

Contrary to appearances, this is not evidence of incipient schizophrenia on the part of your loyal reporter. Rather, I presented both scenarios because both of them are substantially true. And the future they point to is not one that's either/or. We're now entering new era that's going to be increasingly both/and for a while; and if we're going to read the signs properly, we need to understand the dynamics of the new dialectic that's emerging.

One The One Hand....
On the "new day dawning" side, there's been a lot of buzz this week over David Kirkpatrick's article in the New York Times about the changes that lie ahead for Evangelicals. It's a well-researched, insightful article, and essential reading for anyone who's concerned with the interplay between religion and politics. And it strongly supports the best-case scenario. Kirkpatrick points out that the old guard is passing, and the new guard isn't interested in governing their flocks by manipulating the same old hot-button issues. He's mostly right, and we need to understand why. Taking the long futures view, there are a couple large-scale forces at work that will continue to support this trend.

The first is simple demographics. The existing far-right religious coalition first congealed around people's fear of the social changes brought by the 1960s and 70s. Many of those changes were centered around gender roles, sexuality, and family structures -- which is precisely why the religious right's backlash aimed very specifically at issues like controlling sexuality, shoring up rigid gender roles, and limiting the definition of "family" to one tight script with no deviations (or deviants) allowed. These topics were deliberately chosen as a calculated response targeted to the passions of that moment in time.

These messages are losing their impact for one simple reason: that moment is over. It's all ancient history now. Nobody under 40 remembers the '70s; increasingly, the old-style culture war is an obsession that's only shared by the aging members of the congregation. After all, you can't scare the kids with a boogeyman they grew up living next door to, and learned to get along with better than their elders ever did. As the recent Barna study revealed (and Obama is learning the hard way), over 80% of them see the old anti-gay crusades as simply hateful. While they may never come to terms with abortion, and some are still quite committed to traditional family structures, they're understandably reluctant to throw their energies into the ancient, narrow political battles that have left their elders feeling cynical, defeated, and used. Their generation has its own challenges, and Kirkpatrick notes rightly that they're far more eager to engage those instead.

This is an old and familiar cycle in American Protestantism. Any number of firebrand sects, from the Quakers to the Methodists, have emerged in a blaze of theological passion tailor-made for the issues of the day -- only to find their relevance dimming as times changes, and other issues emerged. It's very typical for these sects to either go mainstream or vanish entirely within three or four generations. The core ideas that made their voices so essential in one moment make them irrelevant in the next. They reach a point where they either re-invent themselves and find some new and more compelling messages, or they die.

A second force at work here is the natural lifecycle of fundamentalist movements. Karen Armstrong writes that, throughout history, fundamentalisms end in one of two ways. The vast majority of movements fall apart due to internal schism, or are betrayed by their (what we would now identify as high-SDO) leadership, long before they ever achieve their goals. But the handful that succeed in acquiring real social or political power face another problem. These movements are, by definition, based on utopian idealism rooted in a literal interpretation of ancient scripture. Unfortunately, when they're finally put in charge, reality bites back hard: there's always a day of hard awakening when they realize those old texts provide almost no useful advice for governing a modern society.

I've said before that the surest cure for fundamentalism is a big, healthy dose of Life In The Real World; and Armstrong corroborates that this same principle works for governments and movements as just well as it does for individuals. Historically, putting fundies in charge always forces them to moderate their positions and reconnect with the complexities of the reality-based world. Suddenly, you hear die-hard Biblical literalists talking about how important it is to interpret scripture in light of the cultural context of its time. People who thought they were going to rule by the word of Jesus suddenly realize just how many of those words were about taking care of other people, including non-believers. They realize that good policy requires good research (and good science, and good history); and that responsible, accountable people don't have the luxury of behaving like emotional six-year-olds. Armstrong says that a big sobering dose of reality moderated the politics of post-revolutionary Iran within just three or four years. People expected the mullahs to actually govern, not just pontificate. And they realized, quickly, that they had to stop being so heavenly-minded if they were going to be any earthly good.

Here in the US, history will remember the Bush years as the explosion that resulted when a wide variety of right-wing utopian fantasies collided with reality. Within the religious right, they're now having to make serious choices about how they're going to wield their new-found power; and work through complex moral arguments about what those scriptures mean in dealing with real-world issues. Nothing, it turns out, is remotely as black-and-white as they thought it was. Learning to see reality in all those messy shades of gray is, in the end, how all successful radical movements eventually calm down and join the mainstream.

On The Other Hand....
It's not all happy news, though. While the softer core of fundamentalists will likely be swept off into the mainstream, we're still left with Bob Altemeyer's bald fact: at any given time, about 25% of the population has right-wing authoritarian tendencies. And the harder core of those people -- the 12% who organize their whole lives around their addiction to anger -- are not going anywhere. Indeed, some of the old-line leaders already working overtime to install some new Pavlovian drool bells on these people, buttons can be pressed at will to stimulate the two-minute hate that gives their followers their daily buzz and keeps those donor checks rolling in.

Over at Talk2Action, Rob Boston of Americans United argues that reports of the demise of the old-line religious right are greatly exaggerated:
One recent poll found that 27 percent of Republican voters would bolt the party if a pro-choice candidate is nominated. It's a good bet these are Religious Right voters, and their defection from the GOP could not help but alter the dynamic of the race.

The recent "Values Voter Summit" is further evidence of the Religious Right's continued power. The turnout of more than 2,000 activists rivaled the numbers the Christian Coalition brought to Washington during its heyday. Every Republican candidate was there, pledging fealty to the Religious Right's pet issues. One wonders why they came to woo a dead movement.

We must also look at resources. A recent report by Americans United found that the nation's top Religious Right groups are better funded than ever. James Dobson's Focus on the Family took in $142.2 million in 2006, a $4.4 million increase over the previous year. Tony Perkins' Family Research Council took in $10.3 million in 2006, an increase of over $900,000 over the previous year.

It is true that some Religious Right leaders have died recently, notably Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy. But movement leaders come and go. Falwell's son, Jonathan, is already working to take his place. (The younger Falwell is mobilizing pastors on behalf of the GOP in state elections next month.) Behind the scenes, figures like far-right pastors Rick Scarborough and Rod Parsley are working to build a national presence.
The money will always be there, as long as there's a Reverend Moon, a Howard Ahmanson, and a Richard Sciafe to fund them. Selling authoritarian hate is a big business in America; and those who do it well will never want for backers.

But money is only half of the survival equation. The other is finding a new red-meat issue. The right wing needs a new boogeyman: it cannot survive without one. The ghosts of their ancient failed campaigns against blacks and gays (and, occasionally, Asians and Jews -- either of whom, for good measure, can also be read as code for "Communist") will always be invoked -- but since those fights are over, they don't generate the emotional heat required to keep the country's current authoritarian leadership in power. They need a fresh target that's worthy of a renewed chorus of eliminationist rhetoric -- some group that can reliably keep those rallies full and those checks rolling in.

For a while, fronted by the Minutemen, they tried to declare war on Mexicans. Unfortunately, they forgot one important criterion for the any hate campaign: you need to pick on someone that the target audience doesn't actually see every day. Too many Americans actually live or work among Mexicans, which makes it much harder to mass-market cartoon stereotypes about them. And (perhaps more importantly) too many of our high-SDO authoritarian class make a handsome living by exploiting them, and don't want that fact to become part of the public discussion. As an issue, Mexican-hating has some limited potential; but it's doesn't generate hysteria and panic on the vast scale that race-baiting and gay-bashing did. Compared to those past campaigns, it's small potatoes. They need something bigger. Much bigger.

And it appears that they've found it. It turns out that there are a billion people to hate -- and even better, they're all way over on the other side of the world where there's no danger that RWA followers will ever meet up with them (unless they're sent as soldiers to kill them) and have their stereotypes challenged. Building on post-9/11 insanity, religious and political authoritarians are working overtime to cement the frame that the entire Muslim world constitutes the new existential threat to America. You can hear it in the pulpits; you can hear it on Fox News. Muslims are the New Frontier in American hate, the coming investment in the authoritarian future, the place where today's ambitious hatemongers are now staking their claim to glory in the decades ahead.

It's a powerful narrative, with a lot of potential for future mischief -- the best bet for a big, gnarly, long-term enemy they've had since they lost the Commies. And there's a significant portion of the younger generation for whom hating ragheads, whom they don't know, has far more appeal than hating gays, whom they do.

This sales job is going to be big trouble if it succeeds. It will justify endless war in the Middle East, which will, very soon now, bankrupt America and destroy any hope we may have for future greatness. (Disaster capitalists, on the other hand, stand to profit handsomely from this meme.) Tagging all Muslims as terrorists not only results in humiliating gaffes and massive injustices; it also blinds us to the fact that people of other races, religions, and nationalities can be terrorists, too -- a wrong assumption that may someday prove fatal. Fanning a white-hot fear of Muslims now will add extra fury to the "stabbed-in-the-back" argument when it's used to persecute liberals at war's end. The more Muslim-hatred they can foment now, the worse this "treachery" will appear to be. So it's very much in our interest to strangle this idea before it takes hold.

But there's even more at stake. It's possible that the ultimate success or failure of the new, re-directed authoritarian right will directly depend on how well they can sell the fear of the Muslim boogeyman in the months ahead. Without it, they will have no control over their followers -- and hence, no political leverage. Right now, they're still rolling it out; it hasn't spread too far even within far-right circles yet. If we can contain it while it's still a fringe idea, the implications for our future political discourse will be truly world-changing.

Americans are notorious for succumbing to the appeal of the boogeyman as a means of self-identification; sometimes, it seems our entire sense of ourselves has always depended on having an enemy to contrast ourselves with. It's time to recognize that this soul hunger for an enemy to hate is a classically authoritarian instinct; and throughout our history, nobody but authoritarians have ever profited from indulging it. If the dominant culture confidently rejects the new enemy they're offering now, we'll go a long way toward cutting off the right wing's ability to influence our future.

Kirkpatrick is right. The soft core RWA followers are finally melting away (as I predicted they would a year ago), finding ways and means to re-join the real world and re-engage with American society. But Boston's right, too: the hard core is going nowhere. It will be smaller -- and without the soft-core to keep them in touch with real-world concerns, it will be far more rigid and angry, too. Ironically, our best hope may be that the more extreme they become, the more anathema they'll be in the eyes of the rest of America. Nobody serious will want to be seen with the crazies.

This discussion about "whither the religious right" will keep unfolding over the next several months, as people look for signs and wonders indicating the arrival of one predicted future or the other. But the clear-eyed course is the one that refuses to pick. Both stories are true. Both factions are in the process of re-negotiating their places in American society, and both will inevitably undergo large-scale changes as a result. It's in the way those re-negotiations unfold, and the choices that get made, that the real future of the religious right will be written.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

That sinking feeling

-- by Dave

Somehow, considering that Exxon has managed to avoid paying damages still, 18 years after the Exxon Valdez disaster -- and despite the lingering damage -- you just knew this was going to happen:
Top Court to Hear Exxon Valdez Case

By MARK SHERMAN – 15 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether Exxon Mobil Corp. should pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages to victims of the huge Exxon Valdez oil spill that fouled more than 1,200 miles of Alaskan coastline in 1989.

The high court stepped into the long-running battle over the damages that Exxon Mobil owes from the supertanker accident in Prince William Sound that was the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef, cracking its hull and spilling 11 million gallons of oil.

Hundreds of thousands of seabirds and marine animals died as a result.

It is a case filled with superlatives. The award, even after it was cut in half by a federal appeals court in December, would be the largest punitive damages judgment ever. A jury in Alaska awarded $5 billion in damages in 1994 and the company has been appealing the verdict ever since.

Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, Texas, is the world's largest publicly traded oil company and last year posted the largest annual profit by a U.S. company — $39.5 billion. That result topped the previous record, also by Exxon Mobil, of $36.13 billion set in 2005.

Arguing against Supreme Court review, lawyers for the plaintiffs, some of whom have died, said the damages award is "barely more than three weeks of Exxon's net profits."

The plaintiffs still living include about 33,000 commercial fishermen, cannery workers, landowners, Native Alaskans, local governments and businesses. They urged the court to reject the company's appeal, saying, "After more than 18 years, it is time for this protracted litigation to end."

Gee, wonder how they're going to rule on this one:
Exxon said that even if the court finds some money is due, it should rule that the $2.5 billion award violates the Constitution because it is too large. The justices said they would not consider that argument when they hear the case early next year.

Justice Samuel Alito, who owns between $100,000 and $250,000 in Exxon stock, did not take part in the decision to accept the appeal.

Here's the full story behind the original $5 billion ruling.

This is a court that's already overturned an $80 million judgment against Phillip Morris. Indeed, the court in its current composition is weighted heavily toward corporate interests. It's largely a Bush court, after all.

This is one of the things that most angers me about conservative rule. In a healthy system, this case would be decided purely on the merits of the law. That's how most of us expect our court system to work.

But under conservative rule, with the courts now dominated by the Federalist Society, the whole system has become rigged. We know the outcomes even before they're officially issued. It's impossible to have any reasonable faith in the integrity of the Bush courts.

Just another reason to boot them out next year. Who knows, Alaskans might even vote Democratic.

The war criminals

-- by Dave

A lot of people are distressed by the realization that the traditional remedy for a presidency as misbegotten as the one we're currently enduring -- impeachment -- simply isn't going to happen, at least not as a political reality and given the time frame remaining.

But I like to cheer them up by reminding that while impeachment may be off the table, but a war-crimes trial is not.

We got a little reminder of this yesterday:
NEW YORK - Donald Rumsfeld, the former U.S. secretary of defense, is facing criminal charges in France for ordering the torture of prisoners in Iraq and at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Last week, some of the world’s leading human rights law groups filed a complaint before a French court charging Rumsfeld with authorizing and ordering torture.

The complaint was registered at the office of the prosecutor of the Court of First Instance in Paris when Rumsfeld was in the city for a talk sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine.

“We will not rest until those U.S. officials involved in torture are brought to justice,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit human rights law firm in the United States.

In filing the complaint against Rumsfeld, Ratner’s group received full support from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the French League for Human Rights, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

“Rumsfeld must understand that he has no place to hide,” Ratner added in a statement after filing the complaint. “A torturer is an enemy of all humankind.”

The charges against Rumsfeld were brought under the 1984 Convention against Torture, ratified by both the United States and France, which has been used in France in previous torture cases.

The criminal complaint states that because of the failure of authorities in the United States and Iraq to launch any independent investigation, it is the legal obligation of states such as France to take up the case.

Ratner and his colleagues in France’s legal community contend that Rumsfeld and other top U.S. officials are subject to criminal trial because there is sufficient evidence to prove that they had authorized the torture of prisoners held on suspicion of involvement in terrorist acts.

“France is under the obligation to investigate and prosecute Rumsfeld,” said FIDH president Souhayr Belhassen. “It has no choice but to open an investigation.”

Of course, Rumsfeld can just do a Kissinger and avoid getting into situations where he might ever actually be hauled before one of these courts. But eventually, the pressure is going to mount for some accountability:
This is the fifth time Rumsfeld has been charged with direct involvement in torture stemming from his role in the Bush administration’s global response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and other parts of the United States.

Two previous criminal complaints were filed in Germany under its universal jurisdiction statute, which allows Germany to prosecute serious international crimes regardless of where they occurred or the nationality of the perpetrators or victims.

The first case was filed in 2004 by CCR, FIDH, and Kaleck, who is an attorney in Berlin. That case was dismissed in February 2005 in response to official pressure from the United States, in particular from the Pentagon, the plaintiffs said.

The second case was filed last fall by the same groups as well as dozens of national and international human rights groups, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and the former UN special rapporteur on torture.

Of course, we've known since early in its tenure about the Bush adminstration's hostility to the international courts. It's not hard, in retrospect, to see why that was.

But then, very early in the "war on terror," the issue of war crimes and torture was being raised. It only reached the public eye after Abu Ghraib, at which time it was becoming apparent that this went far up the food chain at the White House.

Of course, we can't even count on our Congress to stop the torture of prisoners in our hands. But I still hear the wheels of justice churning, and I can't help but believe they will catch up to these characters some day.

Monday, October 29, 2007

'The politics of the personal'

-- by Dave

I have a new post up at Rick Perlstein's place, The Big Con, with an opening a lot of you will find familiar:
There's one thing about growing up in a place like Idaho: If you can't make friends with conservatives, you won't have many friends.

And as my oldest friends can tell you, once upon a time I was myself fairly conservative politically. I come from a working-class Republican family -- my mother's side of the family was in road construction, and my dad's was mostly a farming family, though his father actually was an auto mechanic. Dad himself worked at the local airport for the FAA, and I remember well the Goldwater bumper sticker on the red ’59 Ford Fairlane that was our family car in 1964.

What you're reading, of course, is a reworking of my old post "The Political and the Personal," which when it first appeared in November 2003 caused something of a stir, and it wound up being the runner-up for Best Post in the 2003 Koufaxes. But though it has fallen somewhat out of date since, the themes I remarked upon remain very current indeed.

I'm in the process of putting together a lot of the work I've done at Orcinus over the years into book form -- using the blog work, essentially, as a rough first draft, which is how I've tended to view my work here anyway. Mostly, it's entailed a lot of editing, rewriting, clarifying (it's a little horrifying at times going through your old work and realizing how sloppy first-draft work can be) and updating, which has been the most intriguing and satisfying aspect of the work so far -- things right-wingers are doing today illustrate vividly the disturbing trends I was pointing out four years ago.

So "The Politics of the Personal," which is running as a five-part series, is essentially the book's introductory salvo, largely wrapping together some of the themes the book will try to tackle. And my old post from 2003 has been a perfect launching pad for this.

I hope you enjoy.

The working title of the book, incidentally, is The Eliminationists: Newspeak and the Rise of the Pseudo-Fascist Right in America.

Those 'illegal' people

-- by Dave

This summer as I was riding a ferry to the San Juan Islands, I found myself going up the stairs to the main deck from my car behind a couple of middle-aged white women who were talking about immigration.

One of them was talking to the other about the immigrants she had seen on television marching for progressive reform. She said: "One of them was holding up a sign that said, 'Illegal does not equal criminal.' And I'm thinking: 'What?'" The other woman agreed that it just made no sense.

If I were a nosier busybody who didn't mind letting people know I was eavesdropping, I'd have piped up: "When you get a speeding ticket, does that make you a criminal?" Ah, but I'm not, so I didn't. L'esprit d'escalier, indeed.

But this is one of the real problems with people like Lou Dobbs, who get all bent out of shape when you point out to them that calling undocumented immigrants "illegal aliens" is a crude form of demonization.

Lawrence Downes in the New York Times has penned the consummate retort, titled after one of the nativists' own favorite sayings, "What part of 'illegal' don't you understand?"
America has a big problem with illegal immigration, but a big part of it stems from the word “illegal.” It pollutes the debate. It blocks solutions. Used dispassionately and technically, there is nothing wrong with it. Used as an irreducible modifier for a large and largely decent group of people, it is badly damaging. And as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, it is detestable.

“Illegal” is accurate insofar as it describes a person’s immigration status. About 60 percent of the people it applies to entered the country unlawfully. The rest are those who entered legally but did not leave when they were supposed to. The statutory penalties associated with their misdeeds are not insignificant, but neither are they criminal. You get caught, you get sent home.

Since the word modifies not the crime but the whole person, it goes too far. It spreads, like a stain that cannot wash out. It leaves its target diminished as a human, a lifetime member of a presumptive criminal class. People are often surprised to learn that illegal immigrants have rights. Really? Constitutional rights? But aren’t they illegal? Of course they have rights: they have the presumption of innocence and the civil liberties that the Constitution wisely bestows on all people, not just citizens.

Many people object to the alternate word “undocumented” as a politically correct euphemism, and they have a point. Someone who sneaked over the border and faked a Social Security number has little right to say: “Oops, I’m undocumented. I’m sure I have my papers here somewhere.”

But at least “undocumented” — and an even better word, “unauthorized” — contain the possibility of reparation and atonement, and allow for a sensible reaction proportional to the offense. ...

Meanwhile, out on the edges of the debate — edges that are coming closer to the mainstream every day — bigots pour all their loathing of Spanish-speaking people into the word. Rant about “illegals” — call them congenital criminals, lepers, thieves, unclean — and people will nod and applaud. They will send money to your Web site and heed your calls to deluge lawmakers with phone calls and faxes. Your TV ratings will go way up.

This is not only ugly, it is counterproductive, paralyzing any effort toward immigration reform. Comprehensive legislation in Congress and sensible policies at the state and local level have all been stymied and will be forever, as long as anything positive can be branded as “amnesty for illegals.”

We are stuck with a bogus, deceptive strategy — a 700-mile fence on a 2,000-mile border to stop a fraction of border crossers who are only 60 percent of the problem anyway, and scattershot raids to capture a few thousand members of a group of 12 million.

The biggest problem with insisting on labeling other people as "illegals" is that it utterly begs the question -- which, with 12 million people now fitting the description, becomes acute -- just how appropriate and workable are the laws that make them so in the first place.

But that's an easy question to overlook when you're firmly on the other side of the divide.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Five Million

-- Sara

At some point late last evening, Orcinus welcomed its five millionth visitor.

There will be s'mores and 18-year-old scotch around this evening's campfire to celebrate.

Thanks, Dave, for taking on the job of creating this place and keeping it running. (And also for letting me hold forth from your porch now and again.)

And the rest of you -- we're glad you're all still here, and hope you'll stick around to help make it ten!