Saturday, February 22, 2003
A lot of readers have been perplexed by the name I gave this blog. I've been promising to explain, so here it is:
I conceived of this Weblog primarily as a journal for getting down in print, and sharing with the general public, a lot of the information I have in my source files. These files, as I think you'll see as we go along, cover a pretty broad and eclectic range of issues and histories, many of them intertwined.
Of course, some of my common subjects will be in the areas about which I have written, or am writing, books or articles: the extremist right in America, white supremacy and its history, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, hate crimes, domestic terrorism, and the Oklahoma City bombing. Sometimes I'm going to post on Native American issues. At others I'm going to post on the Sonics and Mariners. I might even write about child care. And sometimes it will be about killer whales, known by the Latin name Orcinus orca.
See, my primary beat, through a long string of different newsrooms, has always been the Pacific Northwest. My family goes back here several generations, and I've never left. I like to write about the people and the landscape and the connection between them. That includes the politics and the culture, as well as the journalism, since that's the field in which I've worked for the past 25 years or so. I've never been comfortable with provincial writing that only sees the Northwest as an isolated region; I've always understood that the region has its own place in the world, and so I like to write about the broader national issues that resonate here and have their own connection here as well. My idea has always been to connect the world to the Northwest and vice versa.
Along the way, I hope to use the journal to participate in the kind of spirited debate that one encounters in the 'blogosphere.' I have observed that much of the common posting style in many blogs is quick and snarky, and I think you'll find this blog's style is not exactly the opposite, but close. My posts can be long. If you want quick hits, I only occasionally do that kind of thing (mostly drawn from some of my more interesting news connections). People who read this blog generally have to kind of like sitting down and reading. I know that's going to limit my audience, but I'm not doing this to draw a gazillion hits a day.
So, why a killer whale?
It has mostly to do with the fact that ultimately this is a personal journal, and I want the blog's identity to reflect not only the Pacific Northwest, but also my own personality, and the kind of style of writing and journalism I do. Orcas fit.
Now, I'm not going to get all crystal-healing-groovy on you here, but in addition to many histories of the West I also have read a lot of Native-American religious studies and oral histories over the years, part of having worked on a number of reservations as a reporter. (One of my great-grandmother's cousins was John G. Neihardt, the sometimes-discredited author of Black Elk Speaks; after reading the nasty things Sherman Alexie wrote about him, I'm a little reluctant to claim him, but hey -- at least the interest seems to run in the family. Heh heh.)
At any rate, many Native American religious systems feature the belief in spirit animals, a creature who represents our inner natures. They believe everyone has one, and often the purpose of a spirit quest was to encounter this animal. I sometimes like to fancy that if I have such a thing, it is an orca.
Of course, I know this really is presumptious on my part. Spirit animals are supposed to reveal themselves to you, and I can't say that an orca has ever communicated with me in any fashion other than giving me a once-over. More to the point, I'm not Native American. Though my grandmother Rose is supposed to have a large dose of Native ancestry, which she won't talk about, and which none of us have ever successfully tracked down. My Mom says it's Cherokee, but nobody really knows for sure. Let's face it -- I'm about as white as an Idaho boy can be. I was blond until I was 37 or so, and could probably still pass for Aryan at the Nations. Pretending I have some connection to Native Americans would be like pretending I have natural rhythm. Not. Besides, also among my ancestors are those who made their fortunes by more or less stealing Indian lands. And I never went on a spirit quest, except for maybe that time that I ... oh well, better not talk about that. Youthful exuberance, you know.
Anyway, I spend a lot of my free time these days sea kayaking. It's a nice thing for a 46-year-old married guy with a fast-growing 1-year-old to get into. It's wonderful exercise and even better mental and spiritual therapy. I especially like hanging out in the Puget Sound in the summer. And the "peak experience" in a kayak, even more than a long rewarding paddle to a remote spot in the San Juans, is encountering orcas in the wild.
Orcas can be surprising creatures, appearing in all kinds of waters, pursuing all kinds of prey. The local resident orcas are almost strictly salmon eaters, while the transient orcas who prowl in and out of Puget Sound are known to pursue nearly anything, seals and sea lions included. Moose and deer that swim between islands in the Vancouver Island/British Columbia archipelago have been known to disappear under the water when orcas are present.
They do not, however, mess much with humans. In fact, even though they sit atop the oceanic food chain, and are actually some of the most vicious and powerful predators in the world, the only time they have been known to attack humans is when they are being held captive. And even that is rare. There was one recorded accidental attack on a surfer, who evidently was mistaken for a seal and promptly released after a chomp on the leg. They seem, if anything, rather curious about us.
This is one of the incredible things about encountering them in the wild. They are huge creatures, weighing up to 13 tons, but extremely graceful, and powerful and precise swimmers. In a stationary kayak -- it's important not to paddle into them, not to harass them, to rap on the hull of your boat so they know your location, and to simply let them come to you, if they're going to -- they will glide gracefully under and around you. If they do stop, they'll spy-hop up and examine you. Believe me, you know you've been looked over when an orca does it.
So having a killer whale as a spirit animal is an entrancing thought to me. In fact, I'm sure it's outright wishful thinking. I wish I could be just one ounce as cool as an orca.
Mind you, I don't have much patience for the crystal-healing crowd who hang out in the San Juans and anthropomorphize orcas. It takes the whaleness out of them. Orcas need to be respected for being the uniquely amazing creatures they are. They are incredibly intelligent, but it's not a human intelligence, and trying to think of them in human terms loses the point.
Let me tell you a little about what we know about the orcas who populate the Puget Sound. They have been some of the most carefully studied marine mammals on the planet, and have given us an amazing window into their world.
There are about 80 of them currently residing in the Puget Sound. When I first started studying them, about 10 years ago, there were nearly 100. They are in serious trouble, which is why you'll find me writing about them from time to time here. To learn more about what you can do to help, start out at these Websites:
Center for Biological Diversity
The Orca Conservancy
The Orca Recovery Campaign
Orcas have entirely matriarchal societies; their social structure is built around the mother of the family. The males, which are the larger and stronger and clearly the chief hunters, will spend their entire lives with their mothers. They generally live about as long as humans, though the females live longer. The matriarch of the J Pod, the largest of the Puget Sound pods, is nearly 80 years old.
'Killer whale' is actually a misnomer -- though they certainly are prolific, efficient and ruthless killers, they are not whales. They actually are the largest member of the dolphin family. And like their smaller cousins, their intelligence is legendary. They have huge brains; indeed, their cerebral index (the size of the brain proportional to the body) is larger than a human's.
They also have an extremely sophisticated form of communication. It's probably not appropriate to call it a language, at least not as Steven Pinker might define it, but it's close. Of course, they have extremely sensitive sonar capabilities (that big melon atop their heads is a sound sensing device) but their communication seems to be a separate thing: a concatenation of clicks, whistles and chirping songlets that imparts a seemingly broad range of information. Sometimes, according to one researcher I know, these take the form of long-distance "sound bubbles" that appear to capitalize on the considerable sound-transmitting power of water.
Scientists have of course not come close to decoding this communication, but they have been able to observe patterns and learn a great deal about the whales from this alone. For starters, they quickly determined that the Puget Sound residents had a completely distinct "language" from that used the transient orcas who also ply these waters. (Subsequent DNA tests determined they had not interbred in several thousand years.)
Moreover, they also determined that the Puget Sound residents were closely related, both in "language" and genetics, to the resident "northern population" orcas who frequent the waters of between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. However, they also appear to observe a sort of "border" (north of the Fraser River) which the two populations never cross. If they interbreed -- and genetic samples suggest they do -- then it probably occurs during the winter, when many of the pods of both northern and southern populations head out to the open waters of the Pacific west of Vancouver Island, where their activities are entirely mysterious.
The rest of the year -- from late spring, through summer and into the autumn -- orcas can be found in all kinds of waters around the Puget Sound. (The J Pod in fact historically has remained in the Sound year-round, but in recent years as the fish population has continued to decline, that pattern has changed, and they have been spotted in various coastal waters during the winter as well.) In the summer especially, when the salmon runs are still reasonably healthy, they will appear, sometimes in huge "superpods" the sight of which will make your jaw drop: The orcas romp and play, and the sight of successive breaches, as they leap out of the water and come crashing down on their sides, can be a life-changing experience.
But more likely, if you encounter orcas, it will be in pods of about 7 to 15 orcas. And though some locales are better than others for seeing them, they really are capable of appearing just about anywhere they feel like.
They'll surprise you that way: Just popping up, sometimes just briefly, sometimes longer. It can be a little startling. But it's always something you're glad you experienced.
That, in a nutshell, is what I hope for this blog: It plies all kinds of waters, and pops up in all kinds of places. I hope it's intelligent and thought-provoking. I hope it surprises you. I hope it makes you aware of the bigger world around you.
Of course, I also don't mind playing off the popular image people have of orcas, either. You know: They're big. They're friendly. They're nice. Playful. Even polite. It takes a lot to make them angry. But if you fuck with them, they have a lot of big teeth and will bite your ass off and swallow it.
Friday, February 21, 2003
So, was race a prominent social issue back before World War II?
Well, judge for yourself:
[Front page of the Seattle Star, July 29, 1919]
[Front page of the Seattle Star, July 30, 1919]
The two images above were part of the anti-Japanese agitation that arose after World War I along the Coast, and which resulted in the passage of a variety of "Alien Land Laws" that forbade "aliens ineligible for citizenship" -- i.e., the Japanese -- from either owning land or leasing it. The agitation culminated in the passage in 1924 of the so-called Asian Exclusion Act, which forbade immigration from Japan.
OK, so that was well before Pearl Harbor. What about then? Was race on people's minds as they debated the internment? Or were they only concerned about "national security"?
- "This is a race war! The white man’s civilization has come into conflict with Japanese barbarism. ... Once a Jap always a Jap. You cannot change him. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. ... I say it is of vital importance that we get rid of every Japanese, whether in Hawaii or on the mainland ... I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, and Hawaii, now and putting them in concentration camps... Damn them! Let’s get rid of them now!”
-- Rep. John Rankin, D-Mississippi, speech before Congresss, Dec. 15, 1941
OK, how about during the war?
[Common 'joke' card passed around during the war.]
[Sign from a community near present-day Kirkland, Washington, taken circa 1944.]
OK, OK. How about after the war?
This was a pamphlet widely circulated at anti-Japanese meetings that arose along the coast in 1944-45, organized to prevent Nikkei evacuees from returning to their former homes after the concentration camps closed. Schuyler’s core arguments were not very distinguishable from those offered twenty years before by the exclusionists:
- As a nation we stand prejudiced against orientals. This is something which our bleeding-heart idealists have overlooked. They claim our basic laws, the principles upon which America rests, are unanimously in favor of regarding all men as equals. The fact remains, however, that according to our statute books all men are created equal except those with yellow skins. Any race, color or creed, say our laws, may become naturalized citizens of our country except the Japanese, Chinese and Hindu. These are judged unfit for assimilation in our society.
Mind you, we on the Pacific Coast are glad of it. What irks us is the loop-hole in our Constitution through which orientals may purchase the farm next door to us and defy us to kick them out. The loop-hole is this -- all babies are created equal providing they are born in the United States. The Japs, Chinese and Hindus are no exception to this rule. Oriental babies born here are automatically American citizens. ... Obviously this is a contradiction of principle which cannot be justified within the bounds of either religious or political idealism.
For Schuyler, in keeping with the anti-Japanese tradition, the tenets of white supremacism and pseudo-scientific racial eugenics were paramount:
- The dividing lines between the races are necessary to prevent mixed breeding. The white race does want to survive!
There is no dodging it. This is a white man’s country. The white man runs it. And he is not going to let his own rules of behavior drive him from his own soil. So, as long as we remain a people of spirit we will refuse to sanction the mixing of colored blood with ours. Japanese in America will never be the social equals of the whites for the simple reason that they are not assimilable. Germans? Italians? Jews? Yes. We can assimilate any of the whites. But the colored races are different. We reserve the right to reject from our midst those who are not patently assimilable.
... We feel complete moral justification in regarding ourselves, right here in our own country, as socially and politically superior to other races.
... Is it not high time that we forget this idealistic tosh about the equality of man, remembering that Jefferson himself didn't mean it, and just become practical for a change? We do not want Japs living next door to us, setting inhuman standards in agriculture and business, mixing socially and sexually with our young people and making ours by very reason of their presence a racially intolerant community. Religious and political idealism notwithstanding, we who have lived among Japs know that the two races should not attempt to fraternize. We know that Japs can never live happily in a predominately white community, any more than whites can live happily in the presence of a Jap minority -- unless they inter-breed and thus become in the end equals in fact as well as in theory.
That is the basic issue involved in this Jap problem. In returning these people here after the war we are, in fact, proposing to mix with them sexually as time passes. Meanwhile and until our white society becomes shot through with Jap faces, the Jap minority will be a constant source of social irritation. It is imperative, therefore, that this question be settled now.
His final solution: Designate a passel of Pacific islands permanent territories of the United States, and then remove all persons of Japanese descent to this new permanent homeland. Of course, no one of Japanese blood would be permitted to become a permanent resident of the mainland afterward.
So, gosh, I dunno. Does that sound like race was on people's minds "back then"?
Listen to the soldiers
Thursday, February 20, 2003
I note that Sgt. Stryker has a new propaganda-remix image up and is displaying it proudly. While he's at it, here's another one.
Newspeak of the Week
Responding to the below story (which he brought to my attention), my friend John McKay writes:
- Why is it that those who are most eager to put American troops in harm's way characterize it as "supporting our troops"? I think that those of us who are reluctant to get our troops killed for the political advantage of a dim-witted rich kid have the best claim to supporting them. Obviously, I just don't get it.
That is, of course, because this is the latest permutation of Newspeak emanating from the right in recent weeks, especially as protests against Bush's so-far inexplicable war mount and his approval and re-elect numbers plummet:
Supporting our troops means willingly sacrificing them for Our Leader's ego.
And its corollary:
Opposing the war means hoping our troops fail.
As always, the purpose of both these iterations is to render meaningless the basic concept of supporting our troops -- that is, of ensuring that their lives are being spent only when absolutely necessary, under unmistakable circumstances, and for a clearly understood and commonly approved purpose (as was, say, Pearl Harbor). This is the meaning most veterans I know would give it. Without that purpose, we have another Vietnam, at least in terms of what it will do to this country internally.
Can I get a side of ignoramus?
And super-size it
BEAUFORT, North Carolina (AP) -- You can get fries with your burger at a restaurant here, but just don't ask for french fries.
Neal Rowland, the owner of Cubbie's, now only sells his fried potato strips as "freedom fries" -- a decision that comes as Americans watch French officials back away from support for possible war in Iraq.
"Because of Cubbie's support for our troops, we no longer serve french fries. We now serve freedom fries," says a sign in the restaurant's window.
Rowland said his intent is not to slight the French people, but to take a patriotic stance to show his support for the United States and the actions of President Bush.
Peking Duck says exactly what I've been wanting to say about MSNBC's hiring of Michael Savage, but am still too enraged to put down properly:
- This still gets my heart racing. Never mind the obvious anti-gay hatred and stereotyping. The sheer hubris and hypocrisy of forgetting everything you've said in the past in order to effectively and treacherously smear your enemy -- it was, for me, simply unprecedented.
I'll have more about Savage in a few days -- more like next week -- when I (finally!) return to the series on fascism.
Damn. I may be giving up on my Sonics season tickets.
I've held them since 1996, because I love watching Gary Payton. In my view, he is the only player in the NBA who brings it every night. And that makes him worth the price of an NBA ticket.
But trading him with Desmond Mason? For Ray Allen and a no-name? Man, that's pure, unadulterated idiocy. Rick Sund, the GM, is doing to the Sonics what he did to the Pistons. And I don't know if I can stand to support it any longer.
When history is doomed to repeat itself
[The front page of the Seattle Star, July 26, 1919. That's Miller Freeman on the right.]
[Warning: This is a ridiculously long post. But I hope you find it interesting anyway.]
CPO Sparkey, meet your ideological forebear: Miller Freeman.
Sparkey, writing at the blog of Sgt. Stryker, has been working feverishly to justify the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Most of these arguments, of course, appear to be in the service of the growing conservative tide to at least preserve the option to do the same thing to Muslim-Americans in the wake of Sept. 11.
Notably, Sparkey has been making the patently ridiculous argument that race wasn't a major concern of Americans in 1942. It was, of course -- just not in the way it is today. Instead, race was a major concern voiced mostly by white bigots who were focused on maintaining the lily-white "purity" of American culture. [See my previous post on this subject.]
Moreover, Sparkey argues, the internment occurred not because of racism, but because of legitimate "national security" concerns. What doesn't seem to occur to him is that these concerns were inextricably bound up with deeply entrenched racist beliefs.
In support of his position, Sparkey has argued the following:
- Unlike the attitudes towards the Black Americans, whose slavery was justified on the reed of racial superiority, the attitudes held by most pre-war Americans toward the Japanese was different. In talking to many of my parents' generation and reading what I have, the prejudice the average American felt wasn't racist in that the Japanese were inferior, but just the opposite, seeing the Japanese as a very capable resourceful people that looked different, behaved different, and believed different.
This argument has a more-than-familiar ring to it. Indeed, Sparkey is reproducing almost exactly the attitudes voiced at the time -- and as logic goes, it could not be more hollow.
The most vivid example of this can be found in the arguments offered by a gentleman named Miller Freeman, who was one of the founding fathers of what is now the large Seattle suburb of Bellevue, and one of the most influential Republicans of his time in Washington state.
Freeman was probably the foremost agitator in Washington against Japanese immigration from early on, beginning in about 1908, and he remained that way until his death in 1956. He was the founder of the Anti-Japanese League of Washington; he led the fight to pass the state's anti-Japanese Alien Land Laws in 1921; and he was, of course, one of the leading proponents of internment in 1942. He also happened to be an old friend of Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, the Western Command general who was the person primarily responsible for the internment.
Here’s a passage from my forthcoming book, Strawberry Days: The Rise and Fall of the Bellevue Japanese-American Community:
- There was one central reason why Freeman saw Japanese immigrants as a greater threat than any other: the "Yellow Peril." Like many of his contemporaries, Freeman ardently adopted a conspiracy theory holding that the Japanese emperor intended to invade the Pacific Coast, and that he was sending these immigrants to American shores as shock troops to prepare the way for just such a military action. As his counterpart in California, James Phelan, put it in 1907, the Japanese immigrants represented an "enemy within our gates." Freeman frequently cited a 1909 book promoting this theory, Homer Lea's The Valor of Ignorance, which detailed the invasion to come and its aftermath.
Freeman saw the rising rivalry over Alaska’s salmon fishery as an early salvo in this coming war. He declared in the pages of Pacific Fisherman: "If we follow the false doctrines preached by the pro-Japanese press, we will soon be making Japan a present of the Pacific Coast in order to preserve our friendly relations and build up a large American-Japanese commerce for Nippon steamships to handle."
Driven by fears of an invasion, Freeman's career soon moved into a military phase. After reading a 1910 article in Harper's Weekly calling for the formation of a Naval Militia in Puget Sound, he sprang into action. Freeman contacted the Secretary of the Navy and offered to spearhead the drive to form just such a body, comprised of ships provided by the Navy and a phalanx of yachting volunteers. He organized a meeting at the Seattle Yacht Club and lined up a muster roll and sent their names off to the Navy. In short order, the state Legislature made the naval militia an official entity, and Freeman was named its commander. The Navy provided the militia with an aging, modestly seaworthy ship dubbed the Cheyenne, and Freeman spent the next several years organizing drills and preparing for the Japanese invasion.
Such an event was nearly inevitable, in Freeman's view. He warned his recruits that they should enter the naval militia fully expecting to see battle action. "I want to warn you all that a conflict of arms with Japan is highly probable," he told the Seattle Times, adding: "The safety of the nation is in the people and the people must be aroused to action if our coast is to be saved from devastation by a foreign enemy."
Freeman sturdily denied that his campaign was driven by racial animus, saying that he "harbors no enmity toward the Japanese. They are a wonderfully bright people, frugal and industrious. But they are Orientals. We are Caucasians. Oil and water do not mix."
... Despite his contentions that he had no prejudice against the Japanese, this racial separatism was a cornerstone of Freeman's argument as he presented it in the pages of the Star. He voiced it largely by sprinkling his writing and speeches with popular aphorisms: "The Japanese cannot be assimilated. Once a Japanese, always a Japanese. Our mixed marriages -- failures all -- prove this." "East is East, and West is West, and ne'er the twain shall meet." "Oil and water do not mix."
And his conclusion became a political benchmark: "It is my personal view, as a citizen, that the time has arrived for plain speech on this question. I am for a white man's Pacific coast. I am for the Japanese on their own side of the fence. I not only favor stopping all further immigration, but believe this government should approach Japan with the view to working out a gradual system of deportation of old Japanese now here."
Freeman's views were quite typical of the time. Back then, economic competition was viewed as being part and parcel of racial competition -- a contest, it must be noted, that was almost solely instigated by whites who viewed Asians with repugnance and fear. There was also a significant sexual component to this fear; much of the agitation against Japanese was couched in terms of the "protecting the purity of our wives and daughters" sort of rhetoric that was also frequently inveighed against African-Americans, and in fact was used to justify the lynching phenomenon that was occurring concurrently.
Sparkey goes on to offer the following:
- The odds are just as good that Miss Yamashita didn't even go to school with Jimmy or Teddy, but to an all-Japanese High School funded, staffed, and propagandized with Yen from Tokyo, and there was a 1 in 5 chance of her being educated in Japan. Encouraged by Tokyo, the Japanese community in the United States was insular, keeping to their own language, separate schools (or additional schools at the end of the regular school day); forming and joining a wide and varied array of clubs and associations (ranging from the notoriously pro-fascist Silver Shirt Society to the relatively benign Japanese American League); patronizing their own newspapers, stores, and businesses.
Of course, Eric Muller at Is That Legal? has already pointed out that this is just flat-out false:
- Sparkey, there were no all-Japanese high schools funded by Tokyo along the West Coast. The Nisei (American citizens of Japanese ancestry) went to the public high schools in their communities, alongside all of the other American kids in their communities of various races and ethnicities. What I think you are referring to was the after-school programs in Japanese language and culture that many Nisei attended--at which (as you would expect with kids) most Nisei learned very little Japanese language and very little Japanese culture, in just the same way as my kids learn very little Hebrew and very little about Judaism at the after-school Hebrew School program I send them to.
Indeed, Sparkey's argument again almost perfectly replicates those raised by the anti-Japanese agitators of the time, presented not only during the internment debate but also during the debates favoring the Alien Land Laws and the 1924 Asian Exclusion Act, which had no small role in eventually bringing about World War II (as I've explained previously).
Here's another explanatory excerpt from Strawberry Days:
- The Issei were also concerned about the growing gap between them and their children. Since many of the immigrants themselves had little education and were nearly helpless when it came to learning English, their first solution was to educate their children in Japanese language and culture as a way of strengthening communication as well as ties to their heritage. A Japanese language school had been started in Bellevue in 1921, but was shut down amid the Alien Land Law agitation. Though the main intent of the Issei was simply to close the language and cultural gap between themselves and their children, the schools consistently were a source of suspicion in Caucasian communities along the Pacific Coast, in no small part due to anti-Japanese propaganda claiming that the Nisei children were being indoctrinated into emperor worship and forced to swear loyalty to Japan. Those suspicions, at least in Bellevue, were utterly groundless; none of the Nisei can recall any lessons even remotely approaching such topics, other than geography and history lessons about Japan incidental to learning the language.
A second language school opened in 1925 and held at an Issei home in the Downey Hill area until 1929, when community leaders organized the first Japanese language school at a building in Medina, at 88th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 18th Street. Asaichi Tsushima was the first teacher.
Around the same time, leaders of the Japanese community began making plans to build their own center for gatherings. By 1930, they had built the Japanese Community Clubhouse at 101st Avenue Northeast and Northeast 11th Street and dedicated it in late July of 1930. It had 16-foot-high ceilings to accommodate the basketball court the builders installed as its main floor. Some 500 people, including the leading citizens of Bellevue, attended.
The language schools were consolidated at the clubhouse, which soon became the hub for the segregated community. The Seinenkai meetings were held there. And the language lessons at the schoolhouse, which initially were held only on Saturdays, were expanded to daily hour-long sessions after school.
The sessions weren't always popular with the young Nisei. Many of them, the boys especially, hated trudging the extra mile or so to the schoolhouse while all their classmates got to have the Saturdays off. And they weren't really interested in learning Japanese. They, after all, wanted to be Americans. Most of them recall being good students at regular school, but poor students in Japanese.
"I used to pack my lunch, go over there, get in fights, learn how to throw a baseball," recalls Alan Yabuki, whose parents operated a greenhouse in the Yarrow Point area. "That's what I used to do."
Tom Matsuoka did not make his children attend the Japanese school. "He says, 'I want you guys to be able to learn English, speak it well, because this is where you are going to live. Don't want to get muddled up in this' -- a lot of these people speak in mixed idioms once in awhile," recalls Ty Matsuoka.
"Oh, but those kids just go for eating lunch, that's all," says Tom now. "They don't learn nothing.They talk the English all the time back and forth, you know."
Still, Matsuoka chipped in and helped drive the teachers for the school from the ferry dock to the school, since by 1932 he had a car, which was frequently pressed into service chauffering youngsters and their mentors to and from activities of all kinds. "Mrs. Tajitsu and Mrs. Takekawa, they used to come teach at the Bellevue School on Saturday," Tom recalls. "And so they come on the ferry, and somebody have to go on the ferry and pick them up, and take them back to the ferry after the school. [But] I never sent the kids, and had nothing to do with the Japanese school."
In spite of this reality, the myths about the purposes for the school, as well as where their funding originated, persisted, and wound up playing a significant role in the debate over the internment in 1942. Proponents of rounding up the Japanese pointed to these schools as centers for indoctrination in emperor-worship and probable hotbeds of sabotage and espionage. And just as whites' economic concerns were bound up with false racial stereotypes, so now were the concerns about "national security" regarding their Japanese neighbors.
Among the foremost of these voices, of course, was Miller Freeman. He was the most prominent civic leader to step up and advocate internment during the Tolan Committee hearings in Seattle in 1942, which essentially rubber-stamped the decision already made by FDR to intern the entire Nikkei community. The presence of the schools played a major role in his arguments.
Freeman lived in Bellevue, and his activism naturally had a local angle as well. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he organized a local committee of white civic leaders to determine what to do about all the Japanese in their midst, who comprised about 15 percent of the population and were quite visible, since they operated most of the farms in the area.
For the first meeting of this committee, Freeman summoned a group of mostly younger Nisei men to stand before the city fathers and face the music. One of the attendees later described it to me as Freeman telling them that they were going to get "the shitty end of the stick."
I reconstructed this meeting from minutes that Freeman’s secretary took at it:
- "I am coming now to certain recommendation I want to suggest to you for consideration, which in view of your own background and training you may at first find it difficult to accept or even clearly understand, but I think we should face these things frankly," Freeman said. "These are not suggestions of the committee, but of myself.
"1. You should sever all connections with the Japanese Government -- that includes disbanding any pro-Japanese organizations designed to promote the Imperial Japanese government interests. There can't be any half-and-half business -- must be 100 percent.
"2. Stop all relationships with Japanese consular representatives.
"3. Stop using the Japanese language."
Kanji Hayashi, one of the only Issei at the meeting, interrupted, trying to explain to Freeman that he misunderstood the position of the Nisei. In halting pidgin, he told the gathering that "some people have the idea some of them are under obligation to the Japanese government, but that has never existed -- they have no relations with the Japanese Consul. The first generation cannot become citizens of this country and their country (government) must look after the welfare of those people. What they did was just to take care of them."
"Let us put an end to all that," declared Freeman.
(In fact, one of the facets of the "Yellow Peril" mythology was the notion that Japanese children born in the United States were automatically given dual citizenship in Japan, and that the Emperor considered all the Nisei to be his subjects. There was only a grain of truth to this; dual citizenship was indeed granted automatically until 1924, at which time the Japanese government altered its policy, allowing Nisei to gain such status only if their parents registered their names at a Japanese consulate within two weeks of their birth.)
Freeman then continued with the remainder of his points: "Now, I think that all Japanese language school should be stopped."
"Already stopped," Kanji Hayashi volunteered.
"You have had it up to now."
"May I ask now," Freeman queried, "what was the purpose of running those schools and the older people requiring that the younger people go to the Japanese schools?"
"Just teach them the Japanese language, that is all," Hayashi explained. "No other purpose, I think."
"Our feeling is that they were propaganda schools to teach loyalty to the Japanese empire," Freeman said. "I think we should stop all Japanese-language newspapers and publication in this United States of America. English is the language of this country. Use English and English papers."
Tok Hirotaka piped up: "Because our parents couldn”t speak English, so they had to teach children something about Japanese."
"I am going to suggest it was the business of older people to talk English rather than Japanese," Freeman replied.
"I wish someone could have told them before, we couldn't," said an exasperated Hirotaka. "People like Mr. Hayashi -- his children never did go to Japanese school, but they (the old folks) don’t all understand English like he does; or Mr. Takano. My mother is 65 -- here 40 years, longer than she was in Japan, but she can't talk English very well. Rest of us all talk English at home, but to her I still talk Japanese."
"I suggest that in the future no longer should older Japanese insist that these young students be raised and trained in the ways of the Japanese and their language," Freeman said.
Hayashi tried to explain why the Issei found the language so hard: "Japanese language is entirely different from other nations" and it is awfully hard for people to get mastery of it."
"English language is not hard to learn," replied Freeman.
"Italian or Swedish understand English better than Japanese," said Hayashi.
It's probably worth noting, of course, that Freeman was also a major landholder and developer in the Bellevue community; and after 1942, with the Japanese removed from their farmlands, he was free to proceed with his plans to convert the town into a lily-white suburb, which is what it was, until recently.
Now, with the growth induced by the Microsoft campus next door and the phenomenal growth of the tech industry on the Eastside, it again has a significant minority population -- about 10 percent Asian.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Bigots have always sought various means of seemingly reasonable arguments to hide their racial prejudices. But their reasoning never stands up to factual scrutiny. And unfortunately, even people who truly harbor no anti-Asian bigotry have been known to buy into their rationalizations -- though sometimes for other, perhaps equally questionable, motives.
The return of the anti-abortion terrorists
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Here's a disturbing trend:
Plot to attack clinic detailed
- A Ku Klux Klan leader charged with firearms violations told an undercover informant that he had converted his car into a suicide bomb, authorities said yesterday.
David Hull, 40, of Amwell, Washington County, was arrested last week by federal agents who said he built pipe bombs and had attempted to obtain hand grenades for an abortion clinic bombing.
Police: Woman fired on abortion clinic
- Police charged a Cherokee County woman with misdemeanor damage to real property Thursday after she was accused of firing a .12-gauge shotgun into an Asheville abortion clinic. No one was injured.
Both Asheville police and FBI agents have questioned Murphy resident Brenda Kaye Phillips, 44, about the early morning shooting at Femcare, 62 Orange St. in Asheville.
Four years ago, police discovered a partially exploded bomb outside the same clinic.
Many of us who have observed the Bush administration's wink-and-nudge act with anti-abortion activists have feared that it would eventually encourage the extremists among them -- who largely were quiet during the 2000 campaign and have been largely subdued since then -- to resume their former activities. That may be starting to happen.
Other Republicans in key positions have made plain that the domestic terrorism engaged in by the American right would not be viewed as part of Bush's "war on terrorism." Florida Republican Porter J. Goss, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, explicitly said so during hearings on the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The trouble is, 'terrorism' is a very broad word, and it lends itself to a lot of mischief for people who would abuse common sense," Goss said. He then cited bombings of abortion clinics. "To me, that's not the kind of terrorism I'm talking about."
"That's criminal law enforcement," Goss said. "But it would fit most broad definitions of terrorism because the purpose [of those attacks] is to scare people."
Of course, the primary purpose of the 2001 anthrax attacks -- which are widely understood to be acts of terrorism -- clearly also was to scare people, but that point appears to have eluded Goss and the rest of the Republicans.
Eric Muller has a somewhat gentler and more thoughtful response to CPO Sparkey's nonsense at Is That Legal?:
- So of course, Sparkey, race today plays an open role in policy debates and in public discussion and in popular culture in ways that were either very new or not yet existent in the early 1940s. But it is just wrong to say that racial issues were just “on a slow simmer” (Sparkey’s words) at that time, and that race did not play an important—and overt—role in public discussion and debate.
This is the underlying point I was trying to make when I said that CPO Sparkey's contention that race wasn't a major topic in the 1940s was laughable. But of course, Muller expresses it very well and clearly. There's a good deal more, of course. Go read it.
Finally, I owe both CPO Sparkey and Sgt. Stryker an apology for originally posting my criticism as though they were the same person; in fact, Sparkey is just one of the people who posts at Stryker's blog. My bad. I'm still a bit new at the blogging game and have tended to assume every blog is authored by one person, as this one is. Of course, I stand by the remainder of the post.
More right-wing terrorism
Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Militiaman arrested in bombing attempt
- A 34-year-old Española militia member was arrested Friday on charges he placed a pipe bomb in the mailbox of Forest Guardians' Santa Fe office in 1999 and set the 5,100-acre Oso Complex Fire in the Jemez Mountains in 1998.
Again, one has to wonder why these kinds of incidents rate so little attention in the post-9/11 environment. Or is it not terrorism if environmentalists and public lands are the target?
Meanwhile, right-wing extremists continue to use 9/11 as an excuse to intensify their bigotry, and wage a little terrorism themselves:
Pride & Prejudice On Desert Border
- "It's an invasion," said Chris Simcox, leader of the newest such group, the Tombstone-based Civil Homeland Defense, which says it is doing what the government has exhorted the nation to do since 9/11: be extra-vigilant about security. "There's too much crime coming over that border, and Americans are being victimized."
To critics, the rise of such groups - Simcox's is the third in southeastern Arizona - is an ugly and dangerous offshoot of 9/11, one that has racists arming themselves in the name of homeland security and drumming up support by preying on fears of terrorism.
"It has intensified incredibly since 9/11. They'll blame immigrants for anything," said Devin Burghart of the Chicago-based Center for New Community, which tracks anti-immigration groups' activities.
One of these days, they're going to kill someone -- if they haven't already.
Maybe they could clean the latrines
State militia group offers its services for unlikely call-up
- "Our system calls for the militia to be called up in times of national need. This sounds like one of those times," he said.
Um, that would be the National Guard.
These guys would be more likely to be a true "fifth column":
- "Militias are historically so anti-government that I don't think you would really want them in the fold," said Robert Snow, an Indianapolis police captain and author of the 1999 book "Terrorists Among Us: The Militia Threat."
"And none of these groups are organized enough so that you could count on them."
Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson said police don't need the militia at this point.
"The different law enforcement agencies are meeting, and we have plans to deal with situations that might arise," he said. "We're not asking for any particular assistance, other than for citizens to report any suspicious activity."
Some militia members have engaged in enough of their own.
In 2001, police in Bloomington arrested two leaders of a militia group for allegedly planning the execution of a third member whom they suspected of betraying them. The plot was blown when the hit man they thought they were hiring turned out to be an undercover State Police officer.
British neo-Nazi converts to radical Islamism
- Midland-based David Myatt, 51, was the political guru behind white supremacist group Combat 18 and has been the leading hardline Nazi intellectual in Britain since the 1960s.
Now the self-confessed Pagan and Adolf Hitler worshipper hails al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as his inspiration and praises the World Trade Center attacks as acts of heroism.
Just in case anyone had forgotten just who, among whites, is in fact most likely to provide "aid and comfort" to the enemy.
Where's the outrage?
Is there a reason that Howard Coble’s remarks about the Japanese-American internment haven’t generated the same kind of outrage as Trent Lott’s similar nostalgia for 1940s-style racism?
You bet. It’s really very simple: Bigotry against Asians, for many Americans -- evidently, many of them Republican -- doesn’t count as real bigotry.
As Eric Muller has been reporting at Is That Legal?, the Republican leadership in the House has steadfastly refused to confront the issue of Coble’s decidedly unenlightened views on the internment, as well as his refusal to apologize for them. And for that matter, as Muller reports, the House Democratic leadership likewise is utterly failing to hold Coble’s feet to the fire (rather like the Senate Dems’ response to Lott’s remarks). Atrios points out that at least one Asian-American congressman, Michael Honda of California, is trying to press the issue, but the lack of concern from the pundits and the press is becoming remarkable.
For Asians, this scenario is all too familiar. It is common for slurs against them to go unremarked or to be merely shrugged off as unimportant. (Mind you, they’re not alone in this. Didn’t anyone else find it strangely hypocritical when, back in 1999, a white aide to Washington, D.C., Mayor David Howard was forced to resign for using the word “niggardly” -- this, in a city that steadfastly roots for a football team that uses an overt racial slur for its nickname?)
The previous most recent case of this, for Asians at least, occurred in December when Lakers star center Shaquille O’Neal, in an interview with Tony Bruno on Fox Sports Radio, made clearly racist taunts aimed at Houston center Yao Ming, the NBA’s first Chinese player. “Tell Yao Ming, ‘ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh,’” he said.
Worse yet, O’Neal merely shrugged off the resulting criticism (much of it originating with the magazine Asian Week) with a distinctly Lott-like disingenuousness: "I said it jokingly," he said, "so this guy [an Asian Week writer] was just trying to stir something up that’s not there. He’s just somebody who doesn't have a sense of humor, like I do.”
And -- following in the footsteps of Republicans before him -- he then issued a classic non-apology apology: “If I offended anybody, I apologize.”
To make matters worse, Bruno continued to play a recording of the taunt several times to his nationwide audience on Dec. 16 and 17. On the latter day, Bruno became an enabler of O’Neal’s bigotry, asserting that Shaq’s comment was “not racist.” He then invited listeners and radio commentators to call in jokes making racist fun of Chinese. For the next few hours, callers offered such knee-slappers as an offer of free bike parking to bolster Chinese attendance at NBA games.
Well, Yao Ming may have accepted O’Neal’s apology -- after all, he has to play against O’Neal, and he is still only a rookie in the league -- but not everyone else was quite so impressed. The Organization of Chinese Americans directed an official letter at O’Neal demanding an apology:
- Your remarks show extreme ignorance and lack of concern over our nation's cultural diversity and how far we have all had to come to overcome dangerous stereotypes. Not only are these anti-Asian sentiments extremely offensive to the growing Asian Pacific American community, but they may incite anti-Asian sentiment that readily leads to racial violence.
The Asian Week writer who started it off, Irwin Tang, made a similar point in his column about the matter:
- Forgive my bitterness. I grew up in Texas, facing those “ching-chong” taunts daily while teachers averted their ears.
Indeed, that very phrase is what caught my attention when I first heard it, because I’d heard it before, in a significantly different context. It arose in a trial I covered in the small Washington town of Ocean Shores about two years ago, in a case involving three young Asian men who were attacked by a gang of young white men who were presenting themselves as racist skinheads on the night of July 4, 2000, in what should have been a clear-cut hate crime (it wasn’t treated that way by local authorities, but that’s another story).
The ringleader of this gang, a 20-year-old named Christopher Kinison, and his friends used that very phrase to harass the three men on their way into a convenience store. As one of the three later testified:
- He said "a man with a Confederate flag," (Kinison), yelled racial slurs at him as the group of white men mocked the trio's language with words like "ching chong" while the three Asian-American men walked by single-file.
(Kinison also stood at the window, rapped on it and drew his finger across his throat as they were inside the store; one of them stole a paring knife off the shelf for protection. When Kinison assaulted his brother as they were trying to leave, he pulled it out and stabbed Kinison to death. The jury voted 10-1 to acquit, and the prosecutor did not refile charges.)
Of course, one couldn’t expect O’Neal to know this. But he, like many other Americans, clearly has no idea, and clearly doesn't care, how such taunts sound to the ears of Asians -- how much fear, anger and resentment they engender, with due cause.
Moreover, as Tang observed:
- If a white player had, for instance, made monkey sounds to taunt a black player, it would have been a national controversy.
Indeed, it isn’t hard to imagine what would occur if a white athlete were to make similarly bigoted remarks about minority players on other teams. Remember John Rocker?
However, the refusal to criticize Shaq isn’t merely because he is black, though undoubtedly that plays into the thinking that allows someone like Bruno to assert that the remarks weren’t bigoted.
I found a simple encapsulation of this mindset the other day at the blog of Sgt. Stryker:
- Unlike the attitudes towards the Black Americans, whose slavery was justified on the reed of racial superiority, the attitudes held by most pre-war Americans toward the Japanese was different. In talking to many of my parents' generation and reading what I have, the prejudice the average American felt wasn't racist in that the Japanese were inferior, but just the opposite, seeing the Japanese as a very capable resourceful people that looked different, behaved different, and believed different.
I would argue that this attitude has not changed significantly in the intervening years. As John Tateishi, president of the Japanese-American Citizens League, put it when I interviewed him last week about the Coble affair:
“When Coble made that statement, what I recognized is that kind of age-old attitude about Japanese-Americans as perhaps exotic, certainly foreign, can’t be understood and they certainly are not one of us. And so because we don’t know them, this was a necessary act.”
Moreover, many Americans simply accept this bigotry for similar reasons. And there’s a real pernicious quality to this thinking, because it implicates their thinking about all minorities.
Ignoring bigotry about Asians in fact underscores white Americans’ unspoken attitudes about blacks as well. That is, they know that there is now a great social stigma attached to expressing commonly held views about blacks -- that they are stupid and lazy and inclined to criminality, especially. So of course they don’t dare to express it, even if they may privately believe it. And even if they don’t believe it, they’re perfectly aware that this is the baseline view of African-Americans.
But when it comes to Asians, they don’t hold those particular views. Thus, by this logic, their attitudes about Asians can’t be bigoted -- even though these views are that they are inscrutable and untrustworthy and, ultimately, insect-like.
As Tateishi put it to me:
“It happens so often in this country, that if you’re not white, you’re not seen as a real American. But we’re interlopers in this country even after four or five generations.
“I get people with accents, you know, European accents, saying to me, ‘Go back to where you come from.’ Well, I tell ‘em, ‘Hey, I came from L.A., I hated L.A. I left L.A. for a reason -- I don’t want to go back there. And by the way, where are you from?’
“A lot of this comes down to race. And Coble’s comments are precisely that. It was a comment about race. And it was a comment about how he views us as Americans. And even though he issued a statement regretting his comment, it’s not good enough. He still doesn’t see what’s wrong.”
And apparently, for that matter, neither do very many Americans.
Still falsifying history
Monday, February 17, 2003
Speaking of Sgt. Stryker, I’ve been forced to conclude that its author, CPO Sparkey, is either compulsively dishonest or someone who purposively limits his samples of history to those that reinforce his worldview. His recent distortions of history are really starting to pile up:
-- He reiterates the argument, frequently proffered by conservatives, that “Hitler was a Socialist.” Of course, that notion is not merely ahistorical, it is a form of Newspeak, as I’ve explained previously.
-- He defends his limited posts from the “Magic” cables with a long, convoluted and ultimately quite unconvincing rationalization. All the while, of course, his argument elides the point made here previously: That in fact the “Magic” cables not only discussed using Japanese-Americans as agents, but many more of them placed a high priority on the use of Caucasians primarily for this work -- a fact that, by the logic employed by Sparkey and other defenders of the internment, would have militated for rounding up all white people along the Pacific Coast. Why doesn’t Sparkey show us those cables?
-- Moreover, he also continues to ignore another pertinent fact regarding the Magic cables, also pointed out here previously: The FBI had in fact used the intelligence gathered from the cables to arrest about 1,500 Issei within the first few days after Pearl Harbor; FBI director J. Edgar Hoover opposed the internment because he believed any threat indicated by these cables had already been effectively dealt with.
-- He refuses to present even a scintilla of evidence that the cables had anything to do with FDR’s decision. He quotes at length the later testimony by internment architect John McCloy defending the decision. But McCloy’s own testimony indicates he was unaware of the “Magic” cables; and it is likewise clear that FDR signed off on the internment not by his own initiative but by that of McCloy and his cohorts. Though FDR was aware of the Magic cables, there is nothing in any of the documents regarding his discussions with others within the chain of command that they influenced his thinking at all. Instead, it’s clear the primary rationalization for the internment came from Lt. Gen. John DeWitt’s finding of “military necessity” -- which of course was built upon an amazing paucity of evidence and a large mountain of racist stereotypes.
-- He continues to deny that racism played a major role in the decision to intern Japanese-Americans, and even makes this suggestion:
- Race as an issue was, at best, a local phenomenon, but not one the Nation's leadership was concerned about.
Even before Sparkey posted this rather laughable notion, of course, it was not only thoroughly debunked here, it’s also been effectively refuted at Eric Muller’s blog, Is That Legal? as well as at Monkey Media Report. It is abundantly clear that the racist stereotypes to which not only FDR but most of the rest of the nation subscribed were in fact prerequisites for the internment. Americans believed that Japanese-Americans would betray them because racist propaganda had been assuring them of this for the preceding half-century.
-- Finally, even if everything Sparkey said were accurate (and obviously it isn’t), then why has he been unable to answer the most basic question of all: Does wartime justify the suspension of the basic American right to a presumption of innocence?
Because even if the “Magic” cables were the primary source of the motivation to intern the Nikkei, they at best showed that only a tiny portion of that community were a sabotage/espionage risk. That would mean the United States incarcerated 70,000 citizens based on the presumption that a few of them were guilty of spying.
This isn’t, as Sparkey likes to flatter himself, a “New Historical” approach. It’s simply flat-out historical revisionism -- the same kind, frankly, practiced by the Holocaust-deniers at the Institute for Historical Review.
Bush's Class War: Back to the Future
Sunday, February 16, 2003
It’s becoming increasingly apparent on a broad range of issues that the Bush administration intends to turn back the nation’s social clock by a century or so. This is no more evident than in the regime’s push to replace the corporate and personal income tax with a national sales tax.
I had a conversation about this Friday with Robert S. McIntyre, the economist who heads up Citizens for Tax Justice and writes the “Taxonomist” column for The American Prospect.
McIntyre probably explained all this best in a recent TAP column:
President George W. McKinley?
- Prior to the 20th century, except under Abraham Lincoln, the federal government relied almost entirely on regressive consumption taxes to pay its bills. This system of high taxes on the poor and middle class and hardly any tax burden on the rich and powerful reached its apotheosis under Republican President William McKinley, who worked with GOP political boss (and Karl Rove hero) Mark Hanna to raise consumption taxes to almost 50 percent on many ordinary commodities in the 1897 tariff bill.
Thanks to such progressive leaders as William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt, that cruelly unfair approach to taxation was eventually abandoned. But as CBS' Dan Rather brashly put it this past election night, conservative Republicans now control "the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Supreme Court." This ominous development may embolden Bush to try to turn back the clock a century or so on taxes.
McIntyre, as it happens, explored this point in even greater detail in his review in The Washington Monthly of Stephen R. Weisman’s The Great Tax Wars:
Tax and Fend
As he explains, this situation was made possible by a government that was wholly in the control of large corporate interests -- the president, the Congress and the Supreme Court were all defenders of Big Business. Sound familiar? Well, the arguments presented in defense of this travesty have an even more familiar ring:
- In 1895, the court considered the newly passed income tax law, which was being challenged by corporate interests. By a 5-4 vote, the court declared it to be unconstitutional. There was no single majority opinion in Pollack v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Co., but rather several opinions, offering conflicting and wholly unpersuasive legal arguments for the decision. But the underlying rationale was clear: The income tax, wrote one justice, is "an assault on capital," a path to "sure decadence," and a "stepping-stone to ... a war of the poor against the rich." (The contemporary conservative tactic of attacking those who favor progressive taxes as indulging in "class warfare" is apparently nothing new.) It would take two decades and a constitutional amendment to undo the decision.
Entrenched business interests fought bitterly in places like New York, where a Republican newspaper argued that the tax would "divide the population into two classes, the class which contributes to the support of the Government, and the class which does not contribute." Again, one hears almost exactly this argument from conservatives today. One GOP lawmaker told The New Yorker's Nicholas Lemann in 2001 that unless Congress passed Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, "[t]he tax code will destroy democracy, by putting us in a position where most voters don't pay for government." The truth, of course, is that ordinary citizens pay dearly for government, not just through their share of the income tax but also through payroll taxes, state, and local taxes, and other levies that fall much harder on them than on the rich. The idea that the wealthy alone carry the burden of paying for government is as wrong today as it was a century ago.
There is in some ways an appealing aspect to “turning back the clock.” Indeed, many Americans are positively nostalgic for “the good old days.” But the reality of everyday life for Americans in 1900 was not quite so golden. In fact, most Americans were by today’s standards dirt poor, and the phrase “wage slave” was not merely a euphemism.
There were no limits on the length of the work week, and in fact the average laborer was often expected to put in between 60 and 80 hours of work per week. There was no such thing as overtime pay. Retirement plans were a distant fantasy. Child labor was very common. People of all sexes and all walks of life were so overworked, and their health care so marginal, that the average lifespan was 47 years (it’s now 75). Life, in Hobbes’ famous phrase, was “short, nasty and brutish.”
That’s the kind of world to which the Bush regime wishes us to return -- all for the sake of further enriching his fellow members of the wealthiest class of Americans.
When I talked with McIntyre, I wanted to explore the practical ramifications of the Bush tax-reform push not merely in terms of what history tells us about such systems, but what it will mean for us in the 21st century.
This recent push, he points out, is of course nothing new: “This has been a goal of the ultraconservatives, even before they put it in [the Council of Economic Advisers’ report].”
And it’s become quite clearly a major focus of the Bush regime’s rhetorical base: “You know: If only rich people had more money, we'd have a better country.”
But just as Angry Bear has been arguing at his blog, this plan will drive the economy into the toilet, perhaps permanently, because the resulting tax rate on goods will become insanely high (I offered some of the details of this point previously). And taxes do not stimulate the activity that they tax; they suppress it. A consumption tax will suppress consumption. An extreme consumption tax will drive it to minimalist levels.
Thus the great consumer society that Americans have known since the 1940s -- and which we obviously have come to take for granted -- will finally come to an end.
Nearly every economist with whom I’ve spoken confirms that, in order to replace the revenues provided by the current tax structure, a national sales tax would have to be in the vicinity of 50 percent. And that means other problems too -- the rise of a huge black market for all kinds of goods; increasingly lax controls over the public-health aspects of these goods; and ultimately, the near-impossibility of actually administering such a tax. Not to mention, of course, what effect the extreme pressure to reduce these taxes will have on the ability of government to provide services and, ultimately, the concomitant effect on the nation's infrastructure.
As McIntyre told me: “It becomes pretty hard to run when you get up to a rate big enough to replace the income tax, because you're going to have to have a 40 or 50 percent rate. That's what scared Bill Archer [the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a fierce advocate of a consumption-tax approach] from ever putting a bill in. He was for it, but he didn't want anybody to know how high the rate would be. He asked his staff to analyze it, and they came back and they said, 'Well, if you taxed everything, you could do it at 42 percent.' He says, '42? Come on, I was hoping for 10.' And they said, 'Well, you've gotta tax everything, you understand.' And he said, 'Like what?' And they started going through this, you know, rents and everything. 'Oh shit!'
“We had exactly the same talk 20 years ago when the supply-siders in the Reagan administration wanted to do the same thing. And when they couldn't go that far, they would say, 'Well, we're going to make income-tax changes based on consumption-tax principles, i.e., tax breaks for investment.’ And that gives you the worst of all worlds.
“Because an income tax that doesn't tax investment income doesn't even end up being a consumption tax, it ends up being a consumption tax full of loopholes, all of them at the high end. You can make the borrowing tax shelters to make the thing not even tax your consumption.”
McIntyre explained this in more detail in the TAP column:
- Without a tax on corporate profits, people could easily avoid taxes on their investment income simply by incorporating their portfolios. And as economists are fond of telling us, an income tax that doesn't tax investment income isn't an income tax anymore; it's a consumption tax. Indeed, it may well be even worse than that. Tax lawyers and accountants will inevitably come up with hard-to-stop schemes to let their wealthy clients go beyond indefinite tax deferral on investment earnings and actually spend the money tax-free -- say, by borrowing against their incorporated portfolios.
Of course, under a regressive system like this, the major tax burden will shift almost wholly off the backs of the wealthy, whose disposable income likely would at least double, to the backs of the middle class and poor, whose own disposable incomes would certainly shrink accordingly.
And in short order, we will indeed return to those halcyon days when Americans workers were caught in the death grip of the wealthy.
As McIntyre puts it: “It's pretty evil. But that's what they are.”