Spyhopping the Right.
David Neiwert is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. He is the author of Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community (Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, June 2005), as well as Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crime in America, (Palgrave/St. Martin's, 2004), and In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest (1999, WSU Press). His reportage for MSNBC.com on domestic terrorism won the National Press Club Award for Distinguished Online Journalism in 2000. His freelance work can be found at Salon.com, the Washington Post, MSNBC and various other publications. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Sara Robinson has worked as an editor or columnist for several national magazines, on beats as varied as sports, travel, and the Olympics; and has contributed to over 80 computer games for EA, Lucasfilm, Disney, and many other companies. A native of California's High Sierra, she spent 20 years in Silicon Valley before moving to Vancouver, BC in 2004. Her lifelong interest in the social effects of authoritarianism have most recently led her to pursue the MS in Futures Studies at the University of Houston. She's also a student member of the Association of Professional Futurists, and member of the Accelerated Studies Foundation advisory board on social and cultural issues. For fun, she raises kids and travels. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara's recent series:
Cracks in the Wall: Parts I, II, and III.
Tunnels and Bridges: Parts I, II, III, and IV, plus a Short Detour.
Dave's recent series:
The March of the Minutemen
Intro: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Other books by Dave [limited availability]:
"The Rise of Pseudo Fascism": An essay
Available in Adobe PDF format here
Support independent journalism:
Suggested $5 donation
Original posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.
"The Political and the Personal"
"Bush, the Nazis and America":
Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An Exegesis
[Suggested $5 donation]
[In HTML: Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X,, XI, XII, XIII, XIV and XV. See explanatory note.]
[Also available in HTML, and with art, at Cursor.]
Orcinus Principium No. 1
Orcinus Principium No. 2
Thursday, June 24, 2004
I'm off for a weekend away again.
In the meantime, be sure to check out my friend John McKay's excellent work at archy regarding the holes in the Saudis' story about how Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin was apprehended. [Scroll down; permalinks appear busted.]
Good news, bad news
Some actual good news emerged from the White House today:
- Solicitor General Ted Olson resigns
There are no reasons given, but one has to wonder if the lousy advice the president received regarding the torture of prisoners might have played a role.
On the other hand, there may be a strategic angle to this as well. Now Olson is once again free to roam in the private sector, where his havoc-wreaking skills are well established. Don't be surprised to see him popping up attached to the Bush campaign somehow.
The GOP duck blind
We have known for some time -- since at least Bush v. Gore -- that the Scalia-led conservative faction of the Supreme Court is politically corrupt: It reaches decisions based on not on the law but on what will best serve their movement's agenda, and they will bend the law to extraordinary lengths in doing so.
So today's ruling refusing to open the records of Dick Cheney's energy task-force consultations to the public kind of reiterates the point for us:
- Why do the president and his advisers need to be shielded from document searches by groups such as the Sierra Club? The justices answered that question by stressing "the paramount necessity of protecting the Executive Branch from vexatious litigation that might distract it from the energetic performance of its constitutional duties."
It added that "all courts should be mindful of the burdens imposed on the Executive Branch in any future proceedings."
Of course, previously, there was the Jones v. Clinton ruling:
- Petitioner's predictive judgment finds little support in either history or the relatively narrow compass of the issues raised in this particular case. As we have already noted, in the more than 200 year history of the Republic, only three sitting Presidents have been subjected to suits for their private actions. See supra, at 9-10. If the past is any indicator, it seems unlikely that a deluge of such litigation will ever engulf the Presidency. As for the case at hand, if properly managed by the District Court, it appears to us highly unlikely to occupy any substantial amount of petitioner's time.
Of greater significance, petitioner errs by presuming that interactions between the Judicial Branch and theExecutive, even quite burdensome interactions, necessarily rise to the level of constitutionally forbidden impairment of the Executive's ability to perform its constitutionally mandated functions. "[O]ur . . . system imposes upon the Branches a degree of overlapping responsibility, a duty of interdependence as well as independence the absence of which `would preclude the establishment of a Nation capable of governing itself effectively.' " Mistretta, 488 U. S., at 381 (quoting Buckley, 424 U. S., at 121). As Madison explained, separation of powers does not mean that the branches "ought to have no partial agency in, or no controul over the acts of each other." The fact that a federal court's exercise of its traditional Article III jurisdiction may significantly burden the time and attention of the Chief Executive is not sufficient to establish a violation of the Constitution.
Decisions like these, for the Scalia crowd, are as easy as shooting ducks at a country club. You just get to pick and choose your targets.
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Rush Limbaugh, on his June 17 broadcast:
- The [9-11 Commission] report said that Mohamed Atta did meet with an Iraqi Intelligence Agency, or agent, in Prague on April 9th of 2001. We've known this for a long time.
9/11 commission, in its "Statement 16":
- We have examined the allegation that Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague on April 9. Based on the evidence available -- including investigation by Czech and U.S. authorities plus detainee reporting -- we do not believe that such a meeting occurred.
Via Media Matters and Salon.
I'm starting a new Hall of Shame for the World's Dumbest Men. My list so far:
- Ethan Hawke
Pretty good start so far, don't you think?
Terror in the eye of the beholder
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Paul Krugman decides to tackle the William Krar case:
- Noonday in the Shade
It hits most of the right notes, particularly:
- Strangely, though, the attorney general didn't call a press conference to announce the discovery of the weapons cache, or the arrest of William Krar, its owner. He didn't even issue a press release. This was, to say the least, out of character. Jose Padilla, the accused "dirty bomber," didn't have any bomb-making material or even a plausible way to acquire such material, yet Mr. Ashcroft put him on front pages around the world. Mr. Krar was caught with an actual chemical bomb, yet Mr. Ashcroft acted as if nothing had happened.
Incidentally, if Mr. Ashcroft's intention was to keep the case low-profile, the media have been highly cooperative. To this day, the Noonday conspiracy has received little national coverage.
Krugman notably wonders if Ashcroft's ideological bias has affected his judgment. There are two components to answering this:
-- The Krar case.Actually, as I've argued previously, I think the problem in this instance is administration-wide. The Bush regime systematically downplays domestic terrorism (anthrax terrorist, anyone?) because the first tenet of its "war on terror" is the contention that terrorism is a state-based problem, thus our continuing preoccupation with military solutions. Ashcroft's mindset regarding domestic terrorism is of a piece with this.
-- The eco-terrorism "threat". While there can be little doubt that eco-terrorists are a serious problem who should not be minimized regarding the threat they present to people's property and work (short view: They are idiots, but so far have not killed anyone, luckily), we're talking about a significantly greater scale of threat when it comes to right-wing extremists, whose lethality has been thoroughly established over the past decade.
Yet a little over a week ago, the news channels were all aflutter with news of the terrorist threat posed by eco-terror sympathizers, whose most threatening subsequent behavior involved bicycling in the nude.
Indeed, as I've noted previously, the FBI's skewed priorities on domestic terrorism are really fully on display when it keeps insisting that eco-terrorists are the most significant terrorist threat Americans face. On this score, Ashcroft's ideological bias could not be more clear.
Krugman too has noticed this, of course:
- The discovery of the Texas cyanide bomb should have served as a wake-up call: 9/11 has focused our attention on the threat from Islamic radicals, but murderous right-wing fanatics are still out there. The concerns of the Justice Department, however, appear to lie elsewhere. Two weeks ago a representative of the F.B.I. appealed to an industry group for help in combating what, he told the audience, the F.B.I. regards as the country's leading domestic terrorist threat: ecological and animal rights extremists.
It is also worth noting that this is not the first time that the Krar case has been discussed in the pages of the New York Times. Daniel Levitas had an op-ed piece a few months back as well.
But so far, no reporter or editor has deigned the subject fit for the Times' news pages.
Bill Keller, care to comment?
For anyone needing a handy collection of my posts on the Krar case, here they are chronologically:
The wrong kind of terrorist
Why domestic terrorism matters
Cyanide bombers: an update
Missing the threat
More on Tyler
Missing the connections
'The American Taliban'
Domestic terror in perspective
The politics of power
I'm sure everyone's been following the brouhaha over the Enron Tapes and what they reveal about the tactics of the now-mostly-defunct-but-still-thrashing-about energy giant. And make no mistake, what the tapes confirm is what was perhaps already clear: a corporate culture so reptilian, so deeply devoid of ethics and so far outside the law, that it now has its own special wing reserved in the depths of Business Hell.
What's especially worth observing about the tapes, though, is what they say about the bigger picture. Thomas Leavitt at Seeing the Forest explains:
- The Enron Tapes and the Snohomish vs. Enron hearing aren't just about a few potty mouthed "bad apples" at Enron engaging in opportunistic exploitation of regulatory loopholes (as Enron's PR people would like you to believe). They highlight a fundamental problem of our system of governance: the balance of power between corporations and the average human citizen is way out of whack. This is a point that those of us on our side of the issue would be well served to bring to the fore.
Enron lobbied our legislators and regulatory agencies with the conscious and deliberate intent of creating a non-transparent marketplace full of inefficiencies that they could then exploit (see Dr. Carl Pechman's testimony, quoted in previous posts). AND OUR LEGISLATORS AND REGULATORS LET THEM GET AWAY WITH IT... or rather, they did not intervene, because they saw nothing unusual in the process as it happened. This doesn't always result in disaster (apparently New York state managed the deregulation process better), but it happens way too often.
... This goes beyond partisan ideology -- what we are talking about here is the fact that elements of corporate America have systematically subverted our government's regulatory apparatus for private gain. This happens over and over and over again, regardless of which party is in power, at any level. In this particular instance, it just happened to go sour in a very big, and very public way.
(Be sure, by the way, to check out the compilation of Enron-tapes material at Leavitt's own blog.)
Leavitt's point is important, because deregulation and the "magic of the marketplace" have become mindless panaceas for politicians at nearly all levels of government, both Republican and Democrat. And the results are plain to see: "Deregulation," particularly in the energy industry, is a grotesque failure, an open invitation for private corporations to ransack the public's pocketbook.
It's not surprising that this has happened. Opponents of deregulation have been consistently attacked by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and other conservative mouthpieces as "socialists," and over the past 15 years a mythology has built up around the notion that "getting government out of business" is an unrelievedly good thing.
The result has been that the last real bulwark of the public interest has turned out to be government regulators, particularly small, local- and state-level agencies who remain bound by law to stand up for the public.
For these most recent revelations, the nation has the Snohomish County Public Utilities District, just north of Seattle, to thank. And a fine public service it was. If nothing else, we learned that the fraudulent "energy crisis" of 2000 was actually just Enron gouging the public on West Coast for about $1.1 billion.
What's especially worth noting about the PUD case is what it demonstrates about the power of Enron's scurvy crew to keep inflicting damage well after their supposed demise. The PUD obtained the tapes as part of its defense in a lawsuit filed by Enron against the agency after it cut off its contracts with the energy giant in the wake of the gouging. As Joel Connelly points out, Enron continues to rip off consumers by filing these outrageous lawsuits. David Horsey has this one right.
Outrageously enough, the Bush administration's Justice Department only reluctantly released the tapes after being forced to do so by the courts. And it continues to do so with even more extensive material. Fortunately, the state's congressional delegation is on the job on this on. Sen. Maria Cantwell is demanding some action be taken by Ashcroft and Co. -- including, most recently, e-mails written by Enron employees that are being hidden by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. (Of course, Cantwell has also fired off a letter to Bush "asking that he do everything possible to provide relief to Washington state consumers who have been gouged by Enron while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to protect them from Enron's market manipulation." As Shrek would say: Yeh, right. Like that's ever gonna happen.)
The problem really is a systemic one, rooted in the phony myth of deregulation. As things now stand, we're saddled with a federal oversight agency absolutely wedded, ideologically and otherwise, to even further deregulation -- even though the notion of improved efficiency in energy markets and delivery through divestment of public ownership has proven, over and over again, to be not a dream but a nightmare.
Enron is only one example. The same fiasco has occurred on a smaller scale throughout the country, sometimes with equally disastrous results, sometimes with only minimal harm. But nowhere has deregulation proven to provide even a margin of benefit to consumers. It has so far only been a gigantic bonanza for energy companies.
One of the real small-scale disasters was the demise of Montana Power, which through deregulation decided to get out of the power-generation business; the company actually was renamed Touch America and relaunched itself as telcom player, only to be shortly dashed on the rocks of reality and bankrupted. (One of the best accounts of this is the Missoulian project Generations of Power.)
Even in states where deregulation supposedly has worked, the savings to consumers have been minimal, and the choices are nearly nonexistent, as my good chum T.M. Sell explored in depth in this Salon piece on deregulation.
The chief reason, as Sell explains, is that after an initial burst of activity, the power providers have begun drying up. So even in states like Pennsylvania, touted as deregulatory successes, the only savings have been to major power consumers, while residential consumers are left holding the bag:
- [T]he biggest reason for the lack of real competition, critics say, is that there's simply no money to be made in selling residential electricity at competitive prices. Firms that rushed into the power-supply business rapidly discovered that a high-cost, low-margin business with customers who use very little of your product won't pay the bills, let alone turn a profit. And residential customers buy all of their power at the wrong times -- morning and evening off-peak periods.
... Today, in all the deregulated states, there isn't much of anybody who's offering any electricity at any price to the great mass of consumers, unless they're factory owners or an aggregation of customers with enough leverage to work a deal. While deregulation has meant savings for large customers, residential customers appear to be saving money only where states have mandated rate cuts, and all of those rate caps are eventually scheduled to expire. Most residential customers in the 17 actively deregulated states aren't shopping for power, and few energy suppliers are trying to serve the residential market.
The real problem is that, as Sell later explains, the problems brought to the surface by the Enron manipulations haven't gone away:
- Critics also point to another potential problem of a market-based electricity system: reliability. Under the old system, plants that will supply power during periods of peak demand could be built into the rate base and made economically feasible.
"We're about to throw all that away for a slogan," says utility consultant Merrill Schultz. Under the new system, Schultz and others point out, there's a positive disincentive to have a plant that may operate only on a few cold mornings a year. First, you can't charge people for it when it's not operating. And second, the mere presence of such plants ought to tend to depress the price of electricity. In a purely profit-driven market, nobody wants that.
"It's not very profitable to sink a couple of hundred million dollars into a power plant unless you have customers you can count on to buy from you," Odisio says.
Meanwhile, big chunks of the country say their disaster plan is to import power from Ontario. Last summer's power meltdown ought to at least call that notion into question.
FERC spokesman Bryan Lee says the answer is regional power pool planning, which would make it easier for states to push through new transmission lines, among other things.
For all its faults, the old, regulated system had its virtues. People got power, and utilities were profitable, and reliability, considered over the whole system, was outstanding.
Merrill Schultz, who did most of his work in the West, watched the California debacle with much dismay, and he worries it will be repeated. The emphasis in the industry has gone from public service to competition.
"I was fooled by the precipitous change of proud independent operators into greedy marketers," he says. "All those people did whatever they could to make big bucks and no longer cared about reliability or performance."
In other words, thanks to the manifest failures of government regulators, we are faced with the prospect of further brownouts and blackouts this summer, thanks once again to a system that we know is broken and no one is fixing.
In another column, Joel Connelly points out that the root of the problem at this point lies with enforcement -- which is to say, the remarkably laissez-faire Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
But then, this should surprise no one. This administration is clearly content to let the "magic of the marketplace" just magically make billions of consumer dollars disappear while its cops gaze skyward and whistle a tune. Whether it's the Justice Department or FERC, the unified front it has presented so far should leave little doubt whose side it is on.
I just wonder how much longer conservatives can keep successfully selling their ideology as somehow helpful to average, working-class Americans.
A little bit about blogging
Monday, June 21, 2004
I'm sure I wasn't alone in feeling a little stricken if sympathetic when Hesiod announced he was departing the ranks of bloggers. Counterspin has been a major gathering point and informational source for progressives in Blogville, and a truly great resource for the past couple of years.
Worst of all was the pang of sympathy I felt. It's been increasingly difficult for me to post with great regularity lately, in part because my focus just isn't on writing right now. Death on the Fourth of July is supposed to hit the stands July 1, and I'm gearing up to promote it, while simultaneously I'm now in the editing phase for Strawberry Days. I'm also working on a book plan for my next project. And on top of all this, there's a lot of real-life work facing me this summer (painting the house, some yard projects, that sort of thing).
When Hesiod announced his retirement, I couldn't help but think about doing the same, or at least going on hiatus. Sometimes it's best to step away from work that has become a grind.
But I'm not there yet. The fall election is too soon, and there's too much work yet to be done.
I thought about what I said in my first draft of the Media Revolt Manifesto, about the importance of the role of blogs in the emergence of a newly democratized journalism, and realized that, while I deeply understand why Hesiod stepped away from it, it's going to be vital for the rest of us to keep going.
This is especially the case when it comes to confronting the issues I tackled in the Manifesto -- namely, the subversion and destruction of serious journalism by the Stalinist tactics of the ideological conservative movement.
As many of you may recall, one of the ongoing conversations about the Manifesto that followed involved the question of toning down its unmistakable (and intentional) partisanship. I think this is an interesting discussion, and many of the points raised by critics were sensible, I thought.
Nonetheless, the continuing (and rising) drumbeat of hateful rhetoric, thuggery and violence -- paired with a fresh chorus of complaints from the right about the supposed "hatefulness" from the left -- should leave little doubt that reasoned discussion and normative compromise with the right are a mistake. This is mainly so because, without fail, it is clear that such give-and-take is abused as a "weakness" by these Mayberry Machiavellians, and submitting to this is not an option.
Charles Pierce (with a nice link to this blog) threw down the gauntlet the other day at Altercation:
- All this concern erupted when the left started hitting back a little, and developing institutions and vehicles through which to do it. Well, for the moment, f**k civility. The center cannot be allowed to remain where it is. It has to be shoved back and shoved back hard. And if that means calling out ABC for criticizing Michael Moore's methodology while continuing to employ --nay, PROMOTE -- a corporate fabulist like John Stossel up through its news division, or if it means striking back at the people who go on television with their perpetual wounded victimhood and call people "Nazis," well, I'm sorry, Aaron, that's just the way politics is going to have to be for a while. Take a pill and go sit in a dark room until the vapors pass.
Digby picked up on Pierce's post, and carried it further:
- What the media is really saying, on behalf of the GOP, is that we liberals should should be the punch line of a very old joke: "Two Jews are lined up against a wall to be shot. When one asks for a blindfold and a last cigarette, the other whispers to him, "Don't make trouble."
Fuggedaboudit. Aside from the obvious point that Pierce makes about capitulating at the zenith of right wing power so as to make the center of American politics somewhere to the right of the Third Reich for the next generation, we just have to be prepared for all out political war and we are going to have to be brave enough to take the heat. That goes whether Kerry wins or not --- in fact, it goes especially if Kerry wins.
This is a vital point. Even if the right is defeated this fall -- and that is hardly a given -- it is not going away soon. They are never giving up. The conservative movement is determined to control all levels of government, to convert America to a one-party state, and it has already lined up to carry on with the same nastiness in a new phase, if necessary.
Matt Stoller puts it even more forcefully, if that's possible:
- Legitimacy is the key to governance. If an authoritarian government isn't seen as legitimate, it must act incredibly harshly to sustain its rule, or it will fall. The legitimacy of a liberal democracy goes further than this; it relies on an acknowledgement that the opposition has a right to exist, and even, to oppose. When this assumption breaks down, when the loyal opposition finds itself considered treasonous, a slew of terrifying events is set in motion, and ultimately, liberal democracy fights back, or liberal democracy falls. We are in the midst of seeing this struggle play out.
Dick Morris says flat out that to elect Kerry is to elect bin Laden. I fear that Morris's tome is not just his, but is the centerpiece of the Bush reelection campaign. This political attack is not an honorable disagreement that will end after the election. This is a declaration of illegitimacy, a statement that a Kerry Presidency is unacceptable even if the American people find the alternative unpalatable. Morris is echoing sentiments -- from top Republican officials like Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, and others -- that there is a political war raging, and that survival for the other side is not an option. The impeachment and the toxic politics it helped foment will continue, either crushing Democrats further under a second Bush term or preventing governance through impeachment or investigation of a President Kerry.
It's vital, at this point, to keep fighting, and to be prepared to fight for another decade or more. For the foreseeable future, that's what I hope to achieve at my little blog.
However, just for the sake of my sanity, I'm going to be blogging a bit lighter for the next few months. As much as I'd like to post daily, I don't think that will be feasible. I hope you, my readers, are patient with the fits and starts with which you'll be seeing material appear here. I'm going to keep tinkering with the Manifesto for the next couple of weeks, and hope to have a definitive version up at the end of that -- which means I may not be posting a lot during that time.
I'm planning, however, to be fully revved up by the end of September for the home stretch. And of course, for the long fight that remains ahead afterward.
Sunday, June 20, 2004
What I like about Father's Day: Being a father.
Beyond Fahrenheit 9/11
It's looking like a plum year for documentaries, isn't it?
Like many of you, I'm looking forward to the release of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 -- not necessarily for the film itself, but for the reaction to it.
Actually, I find Moore's films to be guilty pleasures. I'm well aware that sprinkled throughout most of them are various factual errors, mostly minor ones, but enough to bring out the censurious editor in me. At the same time, Moore is not only an imaginative filmmaker with astonishing narrative skills, he's also a very clever political provocateur who concocts really hilarious stunts that have the virtue of making his point incisively. I expect 9/11, which hits theaters Friday, will be more of the same.
Perhaps buried in the hoopla over Moore will be The Hunting of the President, the Harry Thomason documentary based on the Joe Conason-Gene Lyons classic about the Clinton Wars. I'm probably even more eager to see it than 9/11, even though its perspective is decidedly more in retrospect. (Atrios has actually attended its New York premiere, the lucky dog, and gives us an early lowdown.)
But the important thing to remember is that THOTP is not ancient history: It's very much about current events. The same people who brought us the impeachment fiasco are now running the show in the Bush administration (see, e.g., Ted Olson). The past is never past.
Getting much less attention, certainly, but also well worth a look are two other documentaries, both of which offer rather nuanced treatment of difficult subjects. I have no idea whether they'll show in Seattle, but I'm keeping an eye out for them.
The first is a film titled The Letter, a documentary about tensions in Lewiston, Maine, after a substantial population of Somali refugees made the city their home. It takes its title from a missive written by the city's mayor to the Somalis, asking them to stop coming.
As Ziah Hamseh, the filmmaker, explained in the article:
- ... "A firestorm erupted when Mayor Larry Raymond of Lewiston sent an open letter to 1,100 newly arrived Somali refugees advising them that the city's resources are strained to the limit and asking other Somalis not to move to the city. Interpreted as a rallying cry by white supremacist groups across the United States. The Letter documents the crossfire of emotions and events that culminated in a hate rally convened by the World Church of the Creator and a counter peace rally with more than 4,000 Lewiston residents supporting ethnic diversity," he said.
Hamzeh said he spent two years in Lewiston filming, and it was dangerous at times.
"The white supremacists, seeing a venue for their own agenda, swooped into town and many ordinary citizens became threatened and fearful. It was dangerous because I was meeting with Neo-Nazis in their homes, but this story and the plight of the Somalis became my obsession. I set out searching for the truth, tracing the events that led to the chaos that engulfed that city," Hamzeh said.
The last is a documentary by a former Seattlite named Mike Tucker, who put together a film about life in the 2/3 Field Artillery unit in Baghdad, titled Gunner Palace.
Among the soldiers Tucker interviewed and spent time with was a young man from Kent, a middle-class suburb south of Seattle, named Ben Colgan. A few weeks later, Colgan -- whose parents are antiwar activists -- was killed.
Tucker sent me an e-mail describing the film and hoping my readers give it a look:
- As we are out of the major festival cycle, we decided to go ahead and post a few clips from the film -- scenes that we think are definitive not only of what we have captured, but of the experience. In one scene a soldier does a freestyle rap; in another, a young soldier plays a very electric version of the Star Spangled Banner on the roof of Uday Hussein's Palace.
After Abu Ghraib, after the massive amounts of attention paid to M. Moore's F911, it is our hope that this film is at the center of an American conversation, about who we are and where we are going. We hope to find a middle ground, not division. That's happening right now. On blogs ranging from antiwar.org to military sites, people are embracing the story and the reaction has been, more often than not, surprising.
That's where this ties into the culture war. Over the last week, as people write me -- I just received a letter from the mother of a soldier who died in the unit I filmed -- I sense exhaustion. America has been at war for almost three years. Much soul searching is going on, but there is also much rabid commentary. Ann Coulter thinks Iraq is a raging success; Michael Moore thinks the insurgents are "the Minutemen". To both, I suggest a soft-skinned HUMVEE ride through Baghdad. America is ailing, I hope there is a way to bring the war to the table of a constructive discussion free from stubborn rhetoric.
Of course, in the current climate, I'm not sure how free we can ever be from "stubborn rhetoric." But it's true that the exhaustion is setting in. Which in turn means that perhaps the people who have exhorted us to "support our troops" will realize that the best way to do that is to get them the hell out of Iraq.
Alan Berg and the haters
It was twenty years ago this weekend that Alan Berg, the Denver radio talk-show host, was gunned down in his driveway by members of The Order, a gang of Aryan Nations thugs who robbed banks and targeted Berg for his on-air humiliation of right-wing extremists.
My friend Kevin Flynn at the Rocky Mountain News (who co-authored the definitive book on The Order, The Silent Brotherhood) interviewed Berg's ex-wife (with whom Berg had dined the night he was killed) on the anniversary, and came away with a great piece:
- Fighting racism for 20 years
Neo-Nazi victim Alan Berg's ex-wife calls hate a 'disease'
Like nearly everyone touched by this crime, Judith Berg has been watching the development of hate groups over the succeeding years, their cycles as they wax and wane. And she has an interesting perspective on where we stand currently:
- Berg said the murder of her ex-husband was a watershed event that inspired more hate-movement violence.
"What happened to Alan in the grown-up world has reached into the youth culture," she said. "It opened the door to an acceptance of violence as a means of acting on hate."
The nation's attention is now focused on terror threats from abroad, but Berg thinks the nation should also look inward.
"While our backs are turned toward overseas, hate groups are having a heyday," she said.
"People are very unhappy; they're out of work and jobs are scarce. They're ripe for joining extremist groups. We need to understand what happened to make sure it doesn't happen again."
I think the current down cycle for right-wing extremism is actually masking a lot of activity beneath the surface. White nationalist sentiments are being gradually introduced into the mainstream discourse, especially among younger people. There has also been a real flurry of low-level recruitment -- particularly the distribution of flyers -- that may enjoy only slight success, but which definitely indicate an uptick in proselytization in the mainstream.
The four years after the coming election will be very interesting either way. If Bush is re-elected, expect to see the gradual emergence of these belief systems on the mainstream stage, in keeping with trends of the past four years. If Kerry wins, expect to see an extremely virulent and violent resurgence of the extremist right, because the conditions of the past four years have paved the way for them.