Saturday, February 15, 2003

Confronting the inevitable

Light posting today, but here's another link definitely worth reading, from the Better Rhetor:

Shock & Awe/Build & Heal: Past and Future Fact in Iraq
But if we go this way, commit to war, then some things become inevitablly and inescapably certain: Appalling numbers of people will die, and a great many of these dead will be children. Some will be killed outright, as the missiles fly in during what the Pentagon triumphally calls Shock and Awe, and others, perhaps many more, will die of starvation and related diseases in the privations to follow. If they do not die, these children, they may be damaged emotionally and psychologically for the rest of their lives. This is the certainty to which we commit if we act against the possible.

Code Yellow, at least

From Zizka: Terror Alert!
The unnamed White House source, Ari Fleischer, laughed and said, "This is SO yesterday's papers. I don't know why Zizka even bothers. A simple look at the calendar will show that the Clinton penis investigation had nothing to do with the failure to respond appropriately to the Oklahoma City threats. Everybody knows that it was the later al Qaeda non-investigation which was impeded by the penis hunt."


Friday, February 14, 2003

Bush's Tax Increase

"It will raise people's taxes by $4-5,000 a year."

For those of us in the middle class, that's the bottom line of the Bush administration's proposal to eliminate the income tax and replace it with a national sales tax.

This estimate comes from Robert McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice, a tax watchdog organization that has been piling up the evidence that Bush's tax plans are nothing short of disaster for the nation. I chatted with McIntyre this afternoon and will post some more excerpts from our conversation this weekend, as I try to explore the ramifications of this proposal -- which are more profound than any domestic policy yet proposed by Bush, though it seems hardly anyone in either the press or the blogosphere has figured this out.

This is not merely a radical plan. It is one that will literally turn the nation's economic clock back to 1900 -- the days when the middle and lower classes were completely at the mercy of the nation's corporate leaders -- with a much lower standard of living, much longer hours for nominal pay, and virtually without any real upward social mobility.

Moreover, as McIntyre points out, in order to replace current federal revenues with this plan, the government will have to impose a tax rate of between 40 and 50 percent.

In the meantime, another economist (who goes by the pseudonym Angry Bear) has written me about this proposal -- and in fact has been inspired to start his own blog, in no small part because of it.

Here's the core of his opening post on the matter:
There are a number of reasons, including social justice, why a regressive tax is not a good idea, but that's a topic for a later post. Instead, the question is why a consumption tax is worse than an income tax. First, it will surely cost more than it is expected to. Why? Because naively setting the target consumption tax in a revenue-neutral fashion will actually lead to a decline in revenue. A consumption tax increases the cost of the final good to the consumer, meaning that for any price that stores charge, consumers buy less after the tax is imposed than before. Most states have sales taxes around 8%. To replace all income taxes with consumption taxes would require a federal consumption tax of at least 15% on top of the states' 8%. So things will change from the scenario in which, when a store sells a DVD player for $100, the consumer pays $108 to a situation in which the consumer pays $123. Consumers care about price after tax, not before (question: can you buy a $100 DVD player with only a $100 bill?)! So what happens when the effective price to consumers goes up? They buy less DVD players! But the government can not collect sales (consumption) taxes on unsold DVD players. As an economic aside, some, but not all, of the impact of the tax would be borne by sellers. In the current example, the retail price might fall to $95 ($5 less for stores) and the after tax price to consumers would be $95*1.23=$116.85 (an $8.85 increase). Stores get less and consumers pay more, as a result the total volume of goods traded will fall. More generally, any move to a consumption tax that proposes a neutral tax rate, one such that

"(the value of all goods sold * proposed rate) = Income Tax Revenue"

will not generate the same revenue as under the income tax because it fails to account for the fact that the volume of commerce will fall (economists call this "dead weight loss"). If this tax is actually pursued, look for this factor to be ignored by Fleischer, Rove, et al.

There's more; be sure to read it, and add Angry Bear to your regular reads. (I've added him to my blogroll too.)

This weekend I hope to tackle more of the details of the disaster that awaits, as well as some of the broader ramifications of the plan.

Much ado about not very much

After going over the recent AP stories (Part 1 and Part 2) about Oklahoma City carefully, and comparing notes with colleagues, I have to say I'm more perplexed than ever.

It appears the AP writer, John Solomon, "uncovered" material that those of us who've been doing ground-level research on it since Day One have known since very, very early in the investigation, then combined it with J.D. Cash's questionable conspiracy-oriented material -- the thrust of which, as anyone familiar with Ambrose Evans-Pritchard knows (readers of Gene Lyons' work may recall the name), was essentially a milder variation on the Patriot theories that the bombing was actually an inside job ordered by Bill Clinton; Pritchard's Oklahoma City theories relied heavily on Cash's work.

How did the AP come to think it had anything new here?

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center had these thoughts:
You know, some of this stuff is interesting, but very, very little is new, and what there is certainly doesn’t amount to real proof. I’m not one who believes that every conspirator was necessarily caught -- there are a great many tantalizing suggestions that they were not -- but I also don’t think that this EC/ARA [Elohim City/Aryan Republican Army] scenario is anywhere near proven. It doesn’t inspire confidence when the writer of this series, for instance, confuses Aryan Nations (he wrote Aryan Nation) with the Aryan Republican Army. And I also can’t quite understand the breathless nature of some of this reporting. He acts like the McVeigh call to Elohim City is something he just discovered, via the FBI teletype that is quoted in several of these stories. Well, as most on this list will recall, that came out early on, in the months after the bombing. I personally went to Elohim City with a number of other reporters (I was with USA Today at the time) and heard Millar talk about that call. There are a number of other matters reported in this series in a tone that suggests a major scoop. I’m not dissing the series, but I fail to understand how AP’s A-wire can treat this like a major revelation. It certainly is not.

Unfortunately, as Mark is all too well aware (he is himself a former reporter and covered the OKC bombing for USA Today), what is carried on the AP wire -- because it literally appears in thousands of newspapers around the world -- becomes Writ Large, and in effect becomes a kind of reality. Particularly disturbing to me is the way the AP played up Cash as a kind of hero.

Talk Left notes McVeigh attorney Stephen Jones’ recent remarks on the case, which appeared in the second AP piece. What struck me as odd about these remarks is that Solomon neglected to mention that Jones has previously argued that the co-conspirators were probably Middle Eastern terrorists -- not the ARA or someone from Elohim City.

And then there have been all the Jayna Davis/Laurie Mylroie theories about a possible Iraqi connection getting all kinds of media play -- which were spun from Jones’ concoction -- notably in the Washington Times.

What's going on here?

Well, a lot of it has to do with the investigation itself. As I've explored in some depth in Salon, there are still some very important unanswered questions about the case. Some of them -- particularly the credibility of, and the circumstances surrounding, the eyewitness identifications of McVeigh and Nichols during the bomb-building phase in Kansas -- cut deeply against the government's own conclusions. (Mark mentions this in his note, and I know my colleague Kevin Flynn at the Rocky Mountain News feels passionately about this.) They are embodied, in fact, by the jury's finding in the Terry Nichols case.

And until the government takes another, longer, more thorough look at answering those questions -- including, I must add in all fairness, those raised by both the Carol Howe story and J.D. Cash's work -- then they will be out there.

Or, it could broker a deal with Terry Nichols to spill his guts in exchange for dropping the capital case pending against him in Oklahoma. That might work too. I am growing doubtful, however, that anyone in the Justice Department has either the cojones or the insight to pull that one off.

My friend Suzanne James puts it best:
For those of us who live within the bomb planning and building epicenter and who've spent a great deal of time doing *primary* research, there are simply far, far too many unanswered questions.

While any investigation typically leaves unanswered questions, the particular patterns of unanswered questions and apparently unexplored avenues is suspect and will remain so until those who assisted McVeigh and Nichols are identified and prosecuted.
We should already know that conspiracy theories thrive in an environment in which the government holds information back. That seems to be happening here as well.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

They Stoop to Smear

Talk Left managed to interview Gary Hart, and certainly helped clear the waters that were being muddied by the suggestions from conservatives he had made veiled anti-Semitic remarks in a recent speech on American foreign policy.

Hart must be making someone nervous -- and perhaps it was that speech, which was very insightful -- if they're stooping to that kind of level to smear him. And the accusations themselves reveal not only a certain defensiveness, but something else.

What's that they say? -- "Dirty minds see dirty things."

A little white rice -- and a black bean

My friend Dan Junas, the semi-retired political researcher/analyst, sends a missive regarding my earlier post about Bush's declining polls. He points out that I referred to Bush's "approval ratings" when the poll I cited actually was about Bush's re-elect numbers. As Dan says:
It's an important distinction, because in wartime (or post 9/11) a respondent is more likely to support the President, but that does not necessarily translate into a vote. When I see polls that reflect Bush's approval rating, I find myself asking, "What's his re-elect number?" because I see that as a more accurate gauge of genuine political support. The political consultant's rule of thumb is that when a candidate's re-elect number drops below 50%, he's in trouble.

The point is, Bush is doing much worse politically than pundits are acknowledging. An unbiased press (as if!) would report that he is in deep political trouble.

He is getting relatively high approval ratings because he is commander-in-chief. But we know his approval ratings on economic issues are low, and the low re-elect number indicates to me that voters (who are much more important than people who simply answer polling questions) are giving more weight to economic issues. That's an underlying dynamic that is not going away for W.

Americans also have serious problems with a war that does not meet with international approval. Politically speaking, going without U.N. approval risks stirring quite a backlash. If the war is short and (from the U.S. point of view) sweet, W's ratings may get a bump. But Paul [de Armond, a mutual friend and another political analyst] told me he saw polling that indicates that if occupation is to last more than three months (the Administration is admitting it may take up to two years), support drops off the cliff. So whether or not W. gets the international approval that he needs to avoid backlash, the long occupation creates another underlying dynamic -- like the economy, which in turn would be drained by the cost of the occupation -- that undercuts W.'s political position.

Even guarding against wishful thinking, I'd say Bush is in a very perilous political position. Especially when you also consider the political risk of backing down.

Of course, as the Mexicans say, there is always a black bean in the white rice, and in this case it's the pathetic state of the Democrats that keeps me from betting my retirement account on a Bush defeat in '04.

Well, I'll take another few helpings of that white rice anyway.

Bush's Declaration of Class War

War with Iraq? How about war upon the working class?

There should be little doubt about the nature of the Bush regime's proposal to eliminate the income tax and replace it with a national sales tax: It is all about making the rich richer, and shifting more of the nation's tax burden onto the backs of the middle and lower classes.

Not only that, Bush's proposal -- by eliminating any progressive features of the tax code, and replacing them with an openly regressive system like the sales tax -- threatens to create a permanent crater in the nation's fiscal infrastructure. The long-term consequences of this act are to create a permanent underclass of citizens for whom upward mobility is a phantasm. The result, in other words, is the Latin Americanization of the United States.

It is really very simple: Bush has declared open class war upon the rest of us.

And it's going unnoticed because of Bush's other war.

I'll be writing more about this in the coming days, but let's start out by examining the core documents in this declaration. They are in this report, from the president's Council of Economic Advisers:

2003 Economic Report of the President

Most of this is economic gobbledygook, not the kind of thing average citizens are likely to grasp. The key phrases are euphemisms, particularly the use "consumption tax" -- which is nothing less than a national sales tax.

The key information appears in Chapter 5:
The major objectives of tax reform are to reduce complexity, improve economic incentives, and address fairness. The central theme that brings these objectives together is that household and business decisions should depend on the tax code as little as possible. Taxing all income, but taxing it only once, is a key ingredient of many reform plans. This would involve broadening the tax base while lowering tax rates. Some efforts have also focused on a shift from taxing income to taxing consumption or consumed income.
Some opponents of reform argue that taxing consumption rather than income would necessarily place a relatively heavier tax burden on lower income taxpayers. Conventional distributional analysis typically considers a snapshot of taxpayers' economic well-being at a particular point in time. Research has shown that, when a longer view is taken, differences in well-being, whether measured by income or by consumption, tend to be not as great, because of the fluidity of household incomes over time. Also, analyses of the distributional effects of moving to a tax based on consumption rather than income often do not recognize that a substantial portion of capital income, which is earned primarily by higher income taxpayers, is taxed under both income and consumption tax principles. The distributional effect of moving to a consumption tax looks considerably more progressive when the taxation of a substantial portion of capital income under a consumption tax is taken into account. Indeed, both an income tax and a consumption tax levy tax on the extraordinary (or what economists call supernormal or inframarginal) returns to capital.
Consumption, rather than income, has been suggested as another potential tax base. As discussed above, one rationale is the claim that consumption is more closely related to a taxpayer's well-being than annual income. Also, by taxing consumption rather than income, the tax system would not distort taxpayers' decisions about how much income to save. In contrast, because the income tax includes the return to saving in the tax base, it taxes future consumption (that is, current saving) more heavily than current consumption. Under an income tax, current consumption is tax-favored relative to future consumption, thereby discouraging saving.

These are the basic rationales. As we'll explore in the coming days, they are based on assumptions that are manifestly false. And like most such proposals, upon close examination it becomes clear that they're only pseudo-intellectual cover for the desire of the wealthy to free themselves from their historic tax responsibilities.

The agenda, ultimately, is to wipe out the gains the working and middle classes made during the long struggle for labor and human rights earlier last century, and the flowering of the American consumer economy that accompanied it -- all of which were built upon a foundation of progressive taxation.

All just so that the rich can stay rich -- and the rest of us can stay poor.

The Age of the Tax Barons

So long, progressive taxation. Welcome to the Empire of the Rich. Abandon all hope, ye mere working stiffs who live here.

While everyone is busy talking about the impending war with Iraq, the Bush regime has quietly trotted out probably its most radical economic proposal yet:

Eliminating the income tax. And replacing it with a national sales tax.

Amid a week's worth of terrorism alerts, the regime ran it up the flagpole last week in a Washington Post story:

Bush Report Hints At New Tax System

Though its thrust was not exactly clear in the text:
The document also departs from the staid, academic tone of past reports to detail what amounts to an endorsement of a simpler tax system aimed at taxing consumption while leaving savings and investment to accrue interest tax-free.

Well, at least George Will was kind enough yesterday to provide us with a brief translation, sort of:
And in a budget-related document, the administration floats the idea of scrapping individual and corporate income taxes in favor of a consumption tax.

What is a consumption tax? It's Newspeak for a national sales tax.

Of course, no story on a Bush initiative would be complete without the obligatory description:
"This one is more daring" than past reports, said Daniel J. Mitchell, an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "But that's because the president's agenda is really rather bold in terms of tax reform."

[See this post for our handy translation of this particular bit of Newspeak.]

Where is this proposal emanating from? Its primary proponents are an outfit called Americans for Fair Taxation. Their chief champion in Congress is a Georgia Republican named John Linder, who introduced a so-called 'Fair Tax' bill on the first day of this year's session.

Note that the group boasts that its proposals are viewed seriously by the White House:
Key lawmakers and activists who support fundamental tax reform and specific tax replacement initiatives are watching a consumption tax plan being reviewed behind closed doors by the Bush administration.

Judging by events of the past week, this boast is not idle.

Two years ago -- in a piece that likewise roasted the Bush campaign's tax proposals -- Robert McIntyre debunked the "Fair Tax" in unmistakable terms:
The wackiest witness of all had to have been Leo Linbeck, Jr., Texas multimillionaire and head of a group called Americans for Fair Taxation, which wants to replace all income taxes, estate taxes, and payroll taxes with a national sales tax. Linbeck claims that he can do all this, and provide rebates to the poor to boot, with a sales tax rate of only 23 percent.

Baloney. That 23 percent tax rate is both dishonest and impossible. For one thing, when Linbeck says 23 percent, he actually means 30 percent. He came up with the 23 percent figure by dividing the sales tax by the cost of a purchase plus the tax. So if the tax on a $100 purchase is $30, Linbeck prefers to call it a 23 percent "tax inclusive rate" ($30 divided by $130).

And that's only the beginning of Linbeck's credibility problems. Almost a third of his sales tax revenues are supposed to come from taxes the government will pay to itself. For instance, build a road, and pay yourself a tax. Buy some planes, and pay yourself some more. That's silly. So is his idea that we could draw a quarter of the remaining sales tax revenue from taxes paid on things like church services, free care at veterans' hospitals, and a variety of hard-to-tax financial services like free checking accounts.

More to the point, of course, is that a sales tax is the most regressive kind of tax, while an income tax can be at least reasonably progressive. The supposed "fair tax" actually will shift the majority of the tax burden almost completely off the shoulders of the wealthy and onto the backs of the middle class and poor.

Well, at least someone at the Post is paying attention, even if his first name isn't Howard.

Finding the Warts In Bush's Tax Plan
Had Bush run on a platform to eliminate all taxes on investment income and to make America safe for inherited wealth, we'd be discussing the budget proposals presented last week by President Gore. But by turning up the heat slowly, Bush has gotten the inheritance tax all but eliminated and has a good chance to get Congress to enact the rest of his program.

They say frog legs taste like chicken.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

The unbearable gravity of wealth

I'm about a day behind everyone else in posting this article, but it's something I wanted to kind of chime in about. It's from Dave Johnson (who recently outed himself as the Issues Guy at Seeing The Forest) of the Commonweal Institute, writing about the financing of the far right by a handful of wealthy folks:

Who's Behind the Attack on Liberal Professors?

The upshot of Johnson's analysis finds a mere handful of wealthy conservatives are actually responsible for an outsize quantity of the conservative "thought" that gets spread around the countryside. The chief suspects: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Richard Mellon Scaife, Joseph Coors's Castle Rock Foundation and the Olin Foundation.
So it turns out that every single right-wing source mentioned in their article owes some portion (if not all) of their livelihood to a very small core group of funders. In my experience, this is not atypical among conservative opinion-makers. It appears that the majority of the conservative experts and scholars writing newspaper op-ed pieces, books and magazine articles, and even the organizations that generate the "talking points" and position papers used by TV pundits and radio talk show hosts, are directly funded by, or work for organizations supported by this core group of funders.

This pattern of concentrated, interlinking financial backing is not found when you look into who is funding people and organizations that would not describe themselves as "conservatives".

One of the important things to note about the activities that all of these wealthy conservatives are busy funding lately has to do with intimidating dissent from the conservative party line. The arguments they raise do not address the points raised by the dissenters, but merely impugn the patriotism of the dissenters, and attempt thereby to silence them by raising the specters of the "war on terrorism" and "national security."

Johnson's article focuses on the attempts to stifle dissent emanating from academia and threaten the livelihoods of liberal antiwar protesters within the ivory tower. But these attacks are also occurring on a broader base against liberals generally, and are becoming increasingly threatening in tone.

These include:

-- William Bennett's Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, which has vowed to "take to task those groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the war we are facing."

-- The recent letter (signed and then disavowed by Tom DeLay) from the National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation that called labor unions a threat to national security and accused firefighters and policement of exploiting the 9/11 tragedy for their personal gain.

-- Paul Weyrich and his Free Congress Foundation, which are currently in the process of whipping up war hysteria on two fronts: Framing the war on terrorism as a cultural conflict between Islam and the West; and attacking multiculturalism and liberalism generally as the source of a "fifth column" that is enabling Islamic terrorists' attacks on America.

-- Ann Coulter's frequently broadcast antics, including her calls for the "physical intimidation" of liberals and her suggestion that Tim McVeigh should have bombed the New York Times building instead.

-- Borderline extremist "transmitter" organizations like WorldNetDaily and NewsMax, as well as such talk-radio appendages as Michael Savage, come right out and call liberals traitors to America and vow to "do something" about them.

Of course, Johnson points out how the wealth behind these propaganda campaigns has given a handful of people an extraordinary amount of power over the national discourse:
Now, after 30 years of effort, this core FSFG has built a comprehensive ideological infrastructure. There are now over 500 organizations, with the Heritage Foundation at the hub, all funded by this core group. David Callahan's 1999 study, $1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s, found that just the top 20 of the organizations spent over $1 billion on this ideological effort in the 1990s.

... The right-wing movement's messages are orchestrated and amplified to sound like a mass "movement" consisting of many "voices." Using "messaging"--communication techniques from the fields of marketing, public relations, and corporate image-management--the movement appeals to people's deeper feelings and values. Messages are repeated until they become "conventional wisdom." Examples include lines like "Social Security is going broke" and "public schools are failing." Both statements are questionable, yet both have been firmly embedded in the "public mind" by purposeful repetition through multiple channels. This orchestration has been referred to as a "Mighty Wurlitzer, " a CIA term that refers to propaganda that is repeated over and over again in numerous places until the public believes what it's hearing must be true.

As a study by the People for the American Way, has put it: "The result of this comprehensive and yet largely invisible funding strategy is an extraordinary amplification of the far right's views on a range of issues ..."

And, of course, as Johnson points out, this apparent "consensus" and the seeming "broad trends" are nothing other than a carefully manufactured illusion.

I've mentioned previously that it has long been apparent that the extremist right in America -- the neo-Nazis and skinheads, tax protesters and "Patriots," gay-bashers and anti-abortion radicals -- are being quietly funded by some very wealthy right-wing "sugar daddies." These people may not necessarily share all the views of these extremists, but they deliberately underwrite their causes as a way of creating "wedge issues" -- mostly racial and class issues that serve to keep the working class firmly entrenched in the conservative camp -- that help drag the national center rightward and start a million fires that keep liberals busy extinguishing them.

As with Johnson's 'Four Sisters,' their money grossly distorts the national body politic by exerting a strong gravitational pull rightward, and helps put a broad array of extreme agendas into play in the mainstream, when they might otherwise be relegated to the fringes. The real danger, as I've been discussing, is that the commingling of all these elements in an anti-liberal right -- especially one that is being whipped up with the kind of rhetoric that traditionally escalates into physically violent reaction -- may bring about a genuine coalition of corporatism and proto-fascism, all bent on destroying liberals.

I'll be trying to get into this more in the next couple of days, with (I'm hoping) the latest installment in my series on fascism.

Crossed wires

This came across the AP newswires today:

U.S. Had Data Hinting of Okla. Bombing
Two federal law enforcement agencies had information before the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing suggesting that white supremacists living nearby were considering an attack on government buildings, but the intelligence was never passed on to federal officials in the state, documents and interviews show.

The bulk of this story is not necessarily new. Most of its outlines have been known for awhile, and were published in Kerry Noble's excellent Tabernacle of Hate: Why They Bombed Oklahoma City, which details very clearly how and why the white supremacists targeted the Murrah Building, especially on April 19.

I explored the Carol Howe matter among the other stories that I sifted through en route to preparing this piece for Salon. As I mentioned there, Howe's story was full of holes; there were many good reasons for law-enforcement officials to view her information with skepticism, and there still is. Kerry Noble, on the other hand, is highly credible.

What is new here is the confirmation of the failure for this information to be properly channeled to the agencies that would have been affected. As TalkLeft astutely points out:
We think the main value to the article is not in concluding that the white supremacists and separatists were involved in the 1995 OKC bombing, but that there is a dismal failure of communications between and within law enforcement agencies in this country when it comes to locating and sharing information about possible attacks.

I couldn't have said it better. There's more; go read it. I'll offer some further thoughts on these issues regarding law enforcement in upcoming posts, especially as this story develops.

Defending ignorance

Is That Legal is reporting that North Carolina Republican Rep. Howard Coble has refused to meet with three of his colleagues (all Asian-Americans) regarding his remarks claiming that the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was justified.

[Is That Legal -- which correctly points out that "The silence of the Republican leadership has been deafening. And disturbing" --
remains the center of information in the blogoshere regarding this dust-up. Be sure to check out his documents related to the internment decision.]

Now it's becoming clear why Coble is digging in his heels: We learn via Yellowworld that in 1988 Coble not only voted against reparations for Japanese-Americans, but led the floor fight in the House against the measure, saying: "I do not believe that this Government can make restitution for every wrong committed by it during a time of global war."

As it happens, Coble was not the only North Carolina Republican who opposed the reparations measure. Leading the fight against it in the Senate was none other than the just-retired Jesse Helms. Helms, who argued strenuously that the internment was justified because of the intercepted "Magic" cables which revealed plans for a Japanese intelligence network on the Coast, offered an amendment to "provide that no funds shall be appropriated under this title until the government of Japan has fairly compensated the families of men and women killed as a result of the ... bombing of Pearl Harbor." (Of course, this argument manages to repeat the original mistake, that is, confusing American citizens with Japanese nationals.)

Helms' argument regarding the prewar "Magic" intelligence, as noted earlier, is receiving fresh life in the right-wing side of the blogosphere, as conservatives apparently are eager to defend Coble's woeful and willful ignorance. But the "Magic" cables, as I mentioned, have ultimately proven irrelevant, in no small part because they actually did play a role in the early phases of the internment.

Quoting John Hersey from his essay, " 'A Mistake of Terrifically Horrible Proportions' " (from the book Manzanar):
With great speed and efficiency, beginning the very night of the attack, the Justice Department arrested certain marked enemy aliens of all three belligerent nations. Within three days, 857 Germans, 147 Italians, and 1,291 Japanese (367 of them rounded up in Hawaii, 924 on the continent) had been rounded up. The arrests were made on the basis of remarkably thorough -- though in some cases inaccurate -- prior information that had been compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Military Intelligence Service. With respect to the Japanese, it was evidently of enormous help that United States cryptologists has, a year earlier, in an intiative called Magic, broken all the Japanese diplomatic codes and ciphers. Intercepted Magic messages had designated certain Japanese patriotic organizations in the United States as potential sources of intelligence for the enemy, and many of the Japanese aliens arrested in the first sweeps were leaders of those groups.

Indeed, this -- and the fact that he knew the evidence of Japanese-American espionage and sabotage was nonexistent -- was a large part of why J. Edgar Hoover opposed the internment. According to Hoover, all of the potential spies had in fact already been identified and arrested by the FBI.

Recall too that, as Personal Justice Denied points out, the "Magic" cables, in devising ways to create this intelligence network, actually recommended that members of the Nikkei community be used for espionage only as a final resort, because they would be highly likely to raise suspicions and wind up getting caught and perhaps betraying the network. The cables instead suggested recruiting whites to perform the espionage.

And that's pretty much what happened. By war's end, exactly ten people had been convicted of spying of for Japan. All of them were Caucasians.

Using Helms' argument, then, we apparently should have been rounding up every white person on the Pacific Coast and interning them first. After all, we couldn't have been able to separate the would-be spies from the innocent, right?

Catching a clue

I see via Atrios that Eugene Volokh is disturbed by the latest episode of the Washington Times' utter lack of ethics, and wonders why those on the left aren't up in arms about it. Both Atrios and Mark Kleiman correctly point out that this episode is nothing new; those on the left are probably unconcerned because they know that this instance is utterly in character.

Indeed, the pertinent question isn't why the left isn't jumping all over the Times for this, but why the ostensibly responsible mainstream right lends the paper even a shred of credibility in the first place. After all:

-- The editor-in-chief to whom Volokh refers, Wesley Pruden, has a long history of advocacy for the neo-Confederate movement and sundry "Southern heritage" causes (his father was a notorious arch-segregationist and leader of the white-supremacist Capital Citizens Councils in Arkansas) -- including interviews in the neo-Confederate magazine Southern Partisan and attending United Daughters of the Confederacy functions. And Robert Stacy McCain, the paper's assistant national editor, as Michelangelo Signorile has detailed, has a similar background, including associations with the white-supremacist American Renaissance magazine. Indeed, the rhetoric of these two combines to make Trent Lott look like Morris Dees.

-- The paper has promoted a wide range of groundless conspiracy theories for which it has never straightened the record, let alone apologized, ranging from Patriot-style "New World Order" claims and cockamamie "tax protest" theories to the "murder" of Vincent Foster to the Oklahoma City bombing. Indeed, Wesley Pruden himself was responsible for the paper publishing and promoting the utterly groundless smear about Bill Clinton's supposed black "love child," which the paper later refused to correct or retract.

-- Finally, as noted here previously, the Times' grossly unethical behavior may have played a significant role in the string of intelligence failures that ultimately resulted in the 9/11 attacks.

The pertinent question remains: When will the Eugene Volokhs of the world finally acknowledge that conservatives' "paper of record" is journalistically irredeemable?

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Aid and comfort to the enemy

[Originally published 1/26; being republished due to technical difficulties.]

Speaking of the Rev. Moon's operations, here's a question worth pondering:

Did The Washington Times help cause 9/11?

With evidence now in hand, there's little doubt now that the Moonie-owned newspaper's flagrant irresponsibility in fact cost the United States its best shot at taking out Osama bin Laden before his infamous attack on America.

This is an excerpt from The Age of Sacred Terror, the marvelous study of fundamentalist-inspired terrorism by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, who both were leading counterterrorism officials in the National Security Council. It comes amid a description (pp. 260-261) on the Clinton administration's bombing of six Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and a poison-gas plant at al-Shifa near Khartoum, Sudan, in 1998:

For a brief moment, the operation appeared to be a qualified success. Al-Shifa was destroyed. Six terrorist camps were hit and about sixty people were killed, many of them Pakistani militants training for action in Kashmir. The Tomahawks missed bin Laden and the other senior al-Qaeda leaders by a couple of hours. This in itself was not a great surprise: no one involved has any illusions about the chances of hitting the target at exactly the right time. The White House recognized that the strike would not stop any attacks that were in the pipeline, but it might forestall the initiation of new operations as the organization's leaders went to ground.

The months that followed, however, were a nightmare. The press picked apart the administration's case for striking al-Shifa, and controversy erupted over whether Clinton was trying to "wag the dog," that is, distract the public from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
The Washington Times -- the capital's unabashed right-wing newspaper, which consistently has the best sources in the intelligence world and the least compunction about leaking -- ran a story mentioning that bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones." Bin Laden stopped using the satellite phone instantly. The al-Qaeda leader was not eager to court the fate of Djokar Dudayev, the Chechen insurgent leader who was killed by a Russian air defense suppression missile that homed in on its target using his satellite phone signal. When bin Laden stopped using the phone and let his aides do the calling, the United States lost its best chance to find him.

[A later Washington Post story confirmed that in fact the Times story was "a major intelligence setback."]

Way to go, Washington Times! Um, whose side did you say you were on?
[Post moved; technical difficulties.]

Just wondering

I noticed this is in Bush's speech to the National Association of Religious Broadcasters yesterday:
Last week, our nation lost seven brave Americans -- brave souls, six Americans and one Israeli citizen, aboard the space shuttle Columbia. Laura and I went to Houston. We were so honored to meet the families. There's no question in my mind they are finding strength and comfort because of your prayers and because of the Almighty God.

Wasn't Kalpana Chawla the first Sikh in space?

[Update: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Electrolite sends in this info, from the Sacramento Bee:
Chawla was a Hindu but also reportedly visited Sikh temples.

Now, exactly which 'Almighty God' was comforting Chawla's family?]

Monday, February 10, 2003


From Howard Kurtz's sycophantic profile of Bill O'Reilly, which somehow manages to omit O'Reilly's on-air meltdown last week against an antiwar protester, as well as his on-air use of a racial slur:
And O'Reilly doesn't pussyfoot around with conspiracy theorists.

Bong! That would, once again, make you wrong, Howie! What do we have for a booby prize, Johnny?

For the sake of the audience, let's roll the tape, courtesy of the fine folks at WorldNetDaily, which is where O'Reilly's online column originally appeared, and with whom O'Reilly has had a long association. WND, you may recall, displayed their own credibility back in 1999 by running numerous articles -- such as this one by the editor -- suggesting that the impending Y2K "apocalypse" was going to be the Clinton administration's pretext for declaring martial law. WND has long been a clearinghouse for a number of other "New World Order" style conspiracy theories.

This is from a piece dated March 21, 2001: Oklahoma City blast linked to bin Laden
A former investigative reporter for the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City last night told Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly she has gathered massive evidence of a foreign conspiracy involving Saudi terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in the 1995 bombing of the federal building that killed 168 people.

This wasn't the only time O'Reilly touted this theory. From a story by Newsmax (another conspiracism-rich publication) later that year:

McVeigh's Trial Attorney Alleges FBI Blocked Conspiracy Probe
During an interview Monday night on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor," host Bill O'Reilly asked Jones whether he believed McVeigh had acted alone.

It is worth noting, however, that this time O'Reilly at least interviews the source of all these theories -- McVeigh's attorney, Stephen Jones.

It has remained an O'Reilly favorite. From a Fox transcript of May 8, 2002:

Are the OKC Bombing & 9/11 Linked?

I've discussed this theory previously, and explained why it holds no more water than any of the theories promoted by a variety of conspiracists about Oklahoma City. Simply put, the evidence is not there.

Then again, viewed through the cockamie lenses of HowieVision, it all starts to make sense: If Rush Limbaugh is "mainstream," then surely Jayna Davis is not a "conspiracy theorist".

So why doesn't the Washington Post report, or give any credibility to, her claims?

[A side note: You'll note that for the 2002 piece, O'Reilly interviews, and gives great credence to, the views of one Larry C. Johnson, who is the former deputy director of the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. Under Bush fils, of course.

Well, here is Larry C. Johnson, holding forth on the subject of the threat of terrorism:
Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal. They are likely to think that the United States is the most popular target of terrorists. And they almost certainly have the impression that extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism.

None of these beliefs are based in fact. ...

It is time to take a deep breath and reflect on why we are so fearful.

... Terrorism is not the biggest security challenge confronting the United States, and it should not be portrayed that way.

Title of the article: "The Declining Terrorist Threat."

Date of publication: July 10, 2001.

Yep, a real font of credible and insightful analysis, that one.]

Falsifying history

CPO Sharkey at Sgt. Stryker's Daily Briefing believes he is delving into "real" historical research by devoting an amazing amount of energy attempting to cast the decision to intern Japanese-Americans as not the product of a half-century of undiluted (and historically irrefutable) racism (a thesis he calls "outrageous"), but rather a series of intelligence intercepts made at the time called the "Magic" cables, which were 1941 Japanese diplomatic cables deciphered by American cryptanalysts.

The good sergeant should avail himself of at least a copy of Personal Justice Denied: The Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, which in fact does address the "Magic" cables quite thoroughly (pp. 471-475):
In fact, review of the "Magic" cables does not alter the Commission's position. Rather, it confirms the views expressed by the Commission. Personal Justice Denied devoted several pages to analyzing the American intelligence views of Japan's espionage, sabotage, and fifth column capabilities on the West Coast in late 1941 and 1942. Several relevant points were made in that discussion. First, the intelligence sources reviewed assumed that Japan had a modest number of intelligence agents and perhaps potential saboteurs on the West Coast in 1942. Second, people familiar with the intelligence activities of Japan believed that the Japanese intelligence network employed many who were not ethnic Japanese. Third, the intelligence experts believed that any threat of sabotage, espionage or fifth-column activity was limited and controllable and did not justify mass exclusion of the ethnic Japanese from the West Coast. Nothing in the 'Magic' cables contradicts these basic points.

What the "Magic" cables show is an effort by Japan to develop an intelligence capability in the United States made up of both non-ethnic Japanese and ethnic Japanese. In fact, in sending instructions about who should be used in such an effort, the cables emphasize groups other than the Issei and Nisei [because they would be less likely to raise suspicions] ...

Among the more than 4,000 "Magic" cables in 1941, only a very small number reflect the collection of intelligence which was not clearly public information or data obtainable by legal observation ...

Next, there is no indication in the "Magic" cables of a sabotage or fifth column organization. The likelihood of sabotage and fifth column aid in case of an attack were, of course, major arguments advanced in support of the exclusion. ...

One reason that the documents were not located and reviewed is that there is no clear evidence that they played any part in the decision to issue Executive Order 9066 or to pursue the policy of exclusion and detention of the West Coast Japanese. ...

[The report then cites the congressional testimony of internment architect John McCloy, who indicated no known intelligence or evidence about sabotage or espionage actually played a role in the decision: "Whether it was espionage or not, I can't say. But this wasn't such a motivating factor with us ... There were suspicions and rumors but that's as far as I can go."]

In sum, the "Magic" cables confirm the basic analysis presented by the Commission.

It should also be abundantly clear that Sharkey's contention that "It was the decrypts of Japanese diplomatic traffic that convinced FDR, his cabinet, and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court that drastic action had to be taken" is patently false. As the commission says, there is simply no convincing evidence the cables played any role in the decision at all.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

That librul bias

Atrios calls it:

Racial Bias in Media Reporting of Terrorist Activity
David Neiwert just suggests it, but I think it's impossible to not come to that conclusion. This arrest of the white supremacists should be major news in a terrorism-obsessed country. The FBI says this is major and that the information they stole and distributed poses a serious threat.

I can't say that I disagree. I don't think there's any evidence of a conscious racial bias per se, but the outcome certainly suggests one of those unconscious racial/ethnic biases that, once upon a time, newspaper editors were scrupulous about avoiding.

As Al-Muhajabah later wryly observes in Atrios' comments:
I was just imagining the news coverage if Muslims had been caught doing the same thing the Davilas were. That seems to answer the question about bias.

This is exactly correct.

The roots of hate

[An anti-Japanese poster used in the 1920 campaign. From A More Perfect Union.]

First, an update on the Howard Coble front: Eric Muller over at Is That Legal? is posting hard copies of the documents surrounding FDR’s decision to intern the Japanese-Americans during World War II. Just in case there was any question whether Coble was wrong, despite his continuing defiance. Muller’s blog is Information Central on this matter.

Monkey Media Report raises an important point about the role that FDR’s personal views of the Japanese, which were egregiously racist, may have played in his decision to intern them:
Oddly, none of the bloggers I've read who are diligently documenting Coble's wrong-headedness have bothered to mention the highly relevant fact of FDR's extraordinarily insulting views on race-mixing, discussed here Thursday. It's a strange absence, given the diligence with which everyone's been digging up information. Is the notion that FDR's racism might have played a role in the internment really that far beyond the pale? I sure don't think so.

He also includes a great quote from FDR that pretty clearly sums up his attitudes:
The argument works both ways. I know a great many cultivated, highly educated and delightful Japanese. They have all told me that they would feel the same repugnance and objection to having thousands of Americans settle in Japan and intermarry with the Japanese as I would feel in having large numbers of Japanese come over here and intermarry with the American population.

This is an important point because Roosevelt certainly was not alone in these attitudes. In fact, they were so commonplace as to be considered at the time “common sense” -- indeed, they had a significant niche as a formative influence in the labor movement, and so were extremely common among liberals. And the internment itself cannot be explained without accounting for the central and ultimately decisive role played in it by the widespread stereotypes and false racial conceptions that had been part of the conventional wisdom for the preceding 50 years and more.

Anti-Asian agitation originated in California as part of the decline in the 1870s of the general fortunes of the treasure hunters who still were flooding the landscape; the Chinese typically did not compete with whites, but were convenient scapegoats for the frustrated anyway. Indeed, the early labor movement in California, during that decade particularly, was almost single-mindedly organized around anti-Chinese sentiment. The Seattle Chinese Riot of 1886, in which six people were shot by troops trying to maintain order, was actually organized by a coalition of labor unions and left-wing utopianists. All this agitation culminated in the passage in 1882 of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

A belief in the supremacy of the white race -- and the need for racial segregation -- was an often explicit, and always implicit, feature of the inflamed rhetoric aimed at excluding the Chinese. Speakers at rallies appealed to “racial purity” and “Western civilization” and described Asians in subhuman terms and simultaneously posing the most dire of threats, with a none-too-subtle sexual undertone. Moreover, agitators claimed, they were innately treacherous. Typical was this screed from a Knights of Labor pamphlet, “China’s Menace to the World,” by Thomas Magee, distributed in San Francisco in 1878.:
By his industry, suavity and apparent child-like innocence, seconded by unequaled patience and the keenest business ability, the Chinaman is always the winner. Let white men set over him whatever guards they may, he can surpass them in threading the by-ways of tortuousness. Dr. S. Wells Williams, in his standard work on China, "The Middle Kingdom," makes these remarks on the untruthfulness of the Chinese: "There is nothing which tries one so much, when living among them, as their disregard of truth; or renders him so indifferent to what calamities may befall so mendacious a race. An abiding impression of suspicion rests upon the mind toward everybody here, which chills the warmest wishes for their welfare. Their better traits diminish in the distance, and the patience is exhausted when in daily proximity and friction with this ancestor of sins."

With American borders closed to Chinese immigrants after 1882, demand for the cheap labor they had produced along the Pacific Coast rose, and other Asians fit the bill nicely. This was particularly the case for the Japanese. Four years after the Chinese Exclusion, the government of Japan opened its doors outward and allowed its citizens to emigrate to America.

Within a short span of time, anti-Japanese agitation arose to take the place of its predecessors; indeed, many of the same voices were first to raise the fresh protests. Again, they were a popular scapegoat, and also became convenient targets for newspapers and politicians.

The Democratic mayor San Francisco at the turn of the century, James Phelan, was one of these. He was the featured speaker at the first mass rally against the Japanese, organized on May 7, 1900, in San Francisco largely by local unions, and he had a long political career built on bashing Asians, culminating with a seat in the U.S. Senate (1914-20). At that 1900 rally, he sounded a note that would continue to ring for nearly half a century:
The Japanese are starting the same tide of immigration which we thought we had checked twenty years ago .... The Chinese and the Japanese are not bona fide citizens. They are not the stuff of which American citizens can be made. ... Personally we have nothing against the Japanese, but as they will not assimilate with us and their social life is so different from ours, let them keep at a respectful distance.

The whole issue of race was inextricably intertwined with economic competition for people like Phelan, as some of his later remarks make clear:
“The Japanese question with us is not today a race question, but a labor question. The Japanese have established restaurants in the districts where working men live, and as they are not union establishments, union men are warned away. The same would be true of a non-union restaurant conducted by whites. The Chinese question has been solved by the restrictions of the immigration of coolies and the Chinese now are never molested.

"As soon as Japanese coolies are kept out of the country, there will be no danger of irritating these sensitive and aggressive people. They must be excluded because they are non-assimilable; they are a permanently foreign element; they do not bring up families; they do not support churches, schools, nor theatres; in time of trial they will not fight for Uncle Sam, but betray him to the enemy.

Note that he was saying this in 1907.

And then there was the press. In early 1905, the San Francisco Chronicle -- previously the model of Republican restraint, but in the midst of a fierce newspaper war with William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner -- began running a series of shrill articles decrying the growing presence of Japanese in the city’s midst. The headlines shrieked:




The campaign continued for months, with Hearst joining in the campaign and eventually outdoing the Chronicle in sensational viciousness in their coverage of the "Yellow Peril." Amid all this the Asiatic Exclusion League was born in San Francisco, dedicated to repelling all elements of Japanese society from their midst. Its statement of principles noted that “no large community of foreigners, so cocky, with such racial, social and religious prejudices, can abide long in this country without serious friction.” And the racial animus was plain: “As long as California is white man’s country, it will remain one of the grandest and best states in the union, but the moment the Golden State is subjected to an unlimited Asiatic coolie invasion there will be no more California,” declared a League newsletter. As one speaker at a League meeting put it: “An eternal law of nature has decreed that the white cannot assimilate the blood of another without corrupting the very springs of civilization.” Anti-Japanese organizations soon sprang up everywhere in the coastal states.

The essence of the “Yellow Peril” was 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 Phelan put it in 1907, the Japanese immigrants represented an “enemy within our gates.” Agitators frequently cited a 1909 book promoting this theory, Homer Lea’s The Valor of Ignorance, which detailed the invasion to come and its aftermath. After Pearl Harbor, this book was frequently cited by anti-Japanese agitators as having been “prophetic.”

This agitation continued well into the next decade, when Phelan and his cohorts passed a succession of “Alien Land Laws” in all of the coastal states and a number of inland states as well (the first was passed in 1913 in California; they were still being approved by legislatures as late as 1924). These laws forbade “aliens ineligible for citizenship” -- Japanese immigrants were already forbidden by law from naturalization -- from owning or leasing farmland. Since nearly 70 percent of the Japanese population by this time was employed in agriculture, the laws’ intent was plain.

Underlying all of the anti-Japanese campaigns of the early 1900s were the bedrock principles of white supremacism. The widespread belief that white people were the consummate creation of nature, and that they were destined to bring the world civilization and light, went essentially unquestioned. And it was supported by popular literature and self-proclaimed “scientists” who used the questionable methodology of the day to lend an academic veneer to longstanding racial prejudices.

Among the most popular of the time were Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant, who boasted credentials from Harvard and Yale universities respectively. They approached the matter of race ostensibly from anthropological and biological perspectives, but in fact largely did little more than clothe white supremacism in pseudo-scientific language. Wrote Grant, in his 1916 tome The Passing of the Great Race:
“We Americans must realize that the altruistic ideals which have controlled our social development during the past century, and the maudlin sentimentalism that has made America ‘an asylum for the oppressed,’ are sweeping the nation toward a racial abyss. If the Melting Pot is allowed to boil without control, and we continue to follow our national motto and deliberately blind ourselves to all ‘distinctions of race, creed, or color,’ the type of native American of Colonial descent will become as extinct as the Athenian of the age of Pericles, and the Viking of the days of Rollo.”

And as Stoddard would later write in The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy -- a 1922 work complete with admiring introduction from Grant -- the real threat was not blacks in the South, but Asians: “There is no immediate danger of the world being swamped by black blood. But there is a very imminent danger that the white stocks may be swamped by Asiatic blood.”

Both of the men’s books were national bestsellers that underwent multiple printings. And their core arguments -- which became entwined with deeply cherished beliefs about the nature of race -- became the heart of the battle to exclude the Japanese. Ultimately the issue was couched, like many racial issues of the preceding century, in the terminology of eugenics, a popular pseudo-science that saw careful racial breeding as the source of social and personal good health. Thus many of the campaigns against non-whites cast the race in question as not merely subhuman but pernicious vermin who posed a serious threat to the “health” of the white race. As James Phelan, arguing for exclusion in California, put it: “The rats are in the granary. They have gotten in under the door and they are breeding with alarming rapidity. We must get rid of them or lose the granary.”

It’s also worth noting that these attitudes played a significant role in the war itself. The final blow against the Japanese came in 1924, Congress passed a bill that would limit immigration to a 2 percent quota for each nationality, but further prohibiting the admission of any “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” The bill easily passed the House, but once in the Senate, the provisions were altered to allow for a Japanese quota as well. However, Republican Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts then stood up in the Senate and denounced a letter from the Japanese ambassador -- which had warned of “grave consequences” for relations between the two nations -- as a “veiled threat” against the United States. Lodge led a stampede of support for the House version of the bill, and the era of the Gentlemen’s Agreement was over. Signed shortly afterward by President Calvin Coolidge, complete Japanese exclusion was now the law.

The next day mass protests exploded across Japan, and the talk thereafter among the Japanese turned to the view of an inevitable war. The American ambassador in Tokyo and the Japanese ambassador in Washington both resigned. There were anti-American boycotts and demonstrations -- one set off by a suicide on the steps of the U.S. embassy -- throughout Japan, as well as mass prayer meetings. The ill feelings did not subside for more than a generation.

As The Encyclopedia of Japanese-American History puts it:
Reaction to the law in Japan was bitter and angry, while reaction in the United States was mixed, varying by region. … Since the passing of the bill meant the rejection of even a token quota amounting to no more than a couple of hundred persons, Japan viewed the legislation as a serious affront. Militarists in Japan could and would use the exclusion act as evidence of America’s feelings about Japan and as ammunition in arguing for a more aggressive military build-up.

Pearl S. Buck observed at the time that the bill’s passage also tolled the death knell for what was then a nascent pro-democracy movement among moderates, and assured the ascendancy of the militarists.

FDR’s racist editorials were certainly part and parcel of the same attitudes that helped wreak the war in the first place. And in the context of the post-Pearl Harbor environment -- particularly with a general in charge of the Western Command who was familiar with The Valor of Ignorance and demonstrably prone to believing the worst of the conspiracy theories about the Japanese -- it becomes clear these attitudes played a formative and decisive role in the public’s “common sense” belief that the “Japs” posed a dire sabotage and espionage threat against them. FDR, in that respect, was only acting on racial prejudices that were extremely common.

But also in that respect, it’s best to bear in mind Glen Kitayama’s entry on FDR in the Encyclopedia, which observes that FDR had proposed a plan to round up Japanese-Americans as early as 1936:
Roosevelt’s plan served as a blueprint of events to come: special intelligence files were drawn up and concentration camps were used to imprison Japanese Americans. While FDR may not have been the driving force behind the internment, it is clear that he was no casual observer either.

Further reading: The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion by Roger Daniels.

Inside the internment

[Photo courtesy Wing Luke Asian Museum]

A reader named Sara provides even deeper detail on the issue of the "protective custody" theory of the Japanese-American internment raised the other day by Howard Coble:
I wanted to call your attention to T.H. Watkins' biography, Righteous Pilgrim: The Life and Times of Harold L. Ickes: 1874-1952 (Henry Holt, 1990). Watkins had full access to the Ickes diaries housed at Hyde Park, with some materials still held by the Ickes family -- Clinton's aide [Harold] is the son of Roosevelt's Interior Secretary, and he is the Ickes family rep on all the materials.

Ickes has volumes to say about the internment. He opposed it strongly, but then in February 1942, FDR more or less handed off the policy to Ickes, at the recommendation of Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy, as the camps were to be built on Interior Department land that Ickes managed. In effect, what his meant was that Ickes was the person with prime responsibility for the program throughout the war.

According to Watkins, the argument regarding the need to prevent civic disruption only came up once in the near Roosevelt circle as decisions were being made -- and that was in the cover letter Biddle wrote to FDR with the final 9066 internment orders. Biddle did not believe it, but apparently used the argument as it was what could survive legal challenge. Coble and others could probably cite that letter as evidence if he wanted to, but Watkins' exploration of the Ickes material clearly characterizes it as a legal cover argument (see pp. 791-92). I believe at a later date Biddle said precisely this.

One thing very interesting about the forces demanding internment that were ginned up on the West Coast in January-February 1942 is how closely they resemble the right-wing movement that was put together in 1934 to stop the campaign (E.P.I.C.) of Upton Sinclair for Governor. Aside from the national figures such as the Military Command, the heart of the demand for internment is the same set of institutions and personalities who put together the anti-EPIC effort. It is quite useful to understand this, because what in essence you have is a right-wing movement with roots way back in the '20s -- and that hangs nicely together into the Reagan years, that can be re-fitted as needed as the power-center for quite different movements. Its members are not particularly interested in recognition or personal power -- rather they elevate a figurehead as needed to serve their interests. In many respects it is a proto-model for the present Republican national organizational form.

At any rate -- Harold Ickes is an extremely important witness and diary writer on the Japanese internment issue, and managing the camps remained his responsiblity till the end of the War, even though he profoundly disagreed with the policy, and kept looking for ways to subvert it. And in his diary, Ickes was tough and candid about the motivations of those with whom he had to work, and about his enemies (yep folk like John Rankin) whom he roundly hated.

Sara, of course, is correct in every detail (and adds some I was unaware of). There is more on Ickes' role in Page Smith's Democracy on Trial: The Japanese American Evacuation and Relocation in World War II (which is actually a problematic work, but contains a great deal of useful information).

Terrorism American style

I consider it indicative of how flatly blind the mainstream media have become -- and perhaps indicative of a racial bias -- that this story isn't getting play on the front pages of the national dailies. Even the Seattle Times, which carried this report, buried it midway down page B1:

Arrests display homebred side of terror threat

What's really shocking about all this is how much important information they managed to pass on to domestic terrorists:
Davila had told the FBI that he took home boxes of secret documents to study. Up to 15 boxes of security documents — some involving chemical, nuclear and biological-warfare strategies — are missing, federal agents say.

Deborah Davila, a teacher, is believed to have collected at least $2,000 for mailing more than 300 documents to addresses in North Carolina, Texas and Georgia, according to court documents.

Deborah Davila told agents she was told by "a mysterious man" in a phone conversation that one thick envelope of secret papers would reach Kirk Lyons, a North Carolina lawyer who has represented such groups as the Ku Klux Klan, the White Patriot Movement and the Posse Comitatus.

... The FBI has said that the missing documents pose a "huge threat" to the security of the United States and that they would be worth millions of dollars on the black market.

Not knowing where the documents are now, acknowledged FBI Special Agent in Charge Charlie Mandigo, makes the threat even more disconcerting.

Weighing on investigators' minds is a disturbing — if not bizarre — commingling of the radical right and Islamic extremists, with the hatred of Jews binding them together.

I would probably be remiss not to point out that all this corroborates my earlier post on this subject -- though it misses one of my main points, which is that these kinds of terrorists don't hope so much to link up with Al Qaeda as to piggyback on their terrorist acts (a la the anthrax attacks after 9/11).

Moreover, I think this story is a stark reminder that the people in our midst "who hate us" (as North Carolina Republican Sue Myrick put it the other day) aren't always brown-skinned Arabs. Sometimes they're conservative white Christians. The fifth column among us, as I've noted, doesn't necessarily wear a turban.

The next time someone advocates racial profiling to deal with terrorists, remind them of this story.

Out of the past

Just because I like to be able to laugh every now and then at the white supremacists I often find myself writing about, I thought I'd share this ...

Former neo-Nazi speaks about life in the hate lane

This is mostly an interview with Tom Martinez, the informant who was responsible for breaking up The Order. I find it interesting that he's making himself this public. Good for him; it appears he's genuinely repentant. Martinez -- who claimed he was Spanish and insisted on having his name pronounced MAR-ti-nez -- was a genuine lizard of a character who hung out on the street corners of Philadelphia and handed out hate literature, which is how he hooked up with Robert Mathews.

Near the end of the piece, I noted this paragraph:
The Order hired a hitman to kill Martinez during his counterfeiting trial in 1985. Fortunately, he said, the hitman was an undercover FBI agent. "He saved my life."

There's even more to this story. Here's an excerpt from Jess Walter's excellent Every Knee Shall Bow: The Truth and Tragedy of Ruby Ridge and the Randy Weaver Family (pp. 70-71, hardcover):
A few months later [after The Order convictions had finally been completed], [U.S. attorney Ron] Howen was prosecuting Elden "Bud" Cutler, the security chief for the Ayran Nations, who was arrested and charged with hiring a hit man to kill Thomas Martinez, the FBI informant who broke The Order. Unfortunately, the hit man Cutler hired to behead Martinez was an FBI agent who had infiltrated the group.

Howen handled the prosecution. A young attorney named David Nevin, who was raised on the other side of a black neighborhood in Louisiana and who grew up abhorring racism, was Cutler's defense attorney. But to Nevin, Cutler's beliefs -- no matter how awful -- were beside the point. This was a classic case of entrapment, sending an FBI agent to a simple man and coaxing him into paying to have someone killed. But Howen laid out the intricate kind of case he'd participated in with The Order, tying Cutler's beliefs into the conspiracy to kill the informant. Still, Nevin thought he had a chance, until the government played a tape of his client looking at a doctored picture of Martinez that purported to show him after he'd been decapitated. "Goddamn," Cutler said. "You guys really did it." It didn't help Nevin's case that his client wanted a copy of the picture.

Cutler was given a 12-year sentence. He got out in 1998.