Saturday, October 18, 2003

A divider, not a uniter

From the Jackson Clarion-Ledger ...

GOP bigwig (and Mississippi gubernatorial candidate) Haley Barbour, refusing to ask the Council of Conservative Citizens to take down a picture from its Web site showing him gripping and grinning with leaders of the white-supremacist organization:
Barbour said in an interview Thursday that white supremacist and anti-Semitic views on the CCC site are "indefensible," but he does not want to tell any group it cannot use his picture or statements.

"Once you start down the slippery slope of saying 'That person can't be for me,' then where do you stop?" Barbour said. "Old segregationists? Former Ku Klux Klan like (Sen.) Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.? You know?

"Once you get into that, you spend your time doing nothing else," Barbour said. "I don't care who has my picture. My picture's in the public domain. It gets published in newspapers every day."

Barbour sounds more and more like one of those good ol' Southern sheriffs who trots out all kinds of reasons why there was only one guard at the jail when the lynch mob arrived. (And I love how Republicans wave the magical and transparent Robert Byrd wand whenever their own congenital racism comes bubbling to the surface.)

As anyone with a grain of decency knows, the real reason Barbour should ask to have his photo removed is to repudiate any association with the group. Of course Barbour can't choose his supporters -- but he does have a say in whether those supporters can use his image to promote their cause. If, say, the Council of Conservative Pedophiles endorsed him, would he be so blithe?

The problem, as Barbour well knows, is that by allowing his name and image to be associated with an apparent endorsement of this supposedly "indefensible" group, Barbour lends credence to furthering its agenda. His wink-and-nudge response only makes all too clear that none of this bothers him; he is too busy currying the votes of white supremacists -- and by doing so, giving them a level of mainstream credibility they would otherwise not enjoy.

None of this is terribly surprising. Barbour, after all, has been wearing a Confederate flag on his lapel and has otherwise generally been gleefully injecting the issue of the flag into the campaign. (Recall, if you will, the earlier revelations that the Barbour campaign was identifying potential supporters by asking poll respondents how they voted on the flag issue.)

As I've noted previously, the Confederate flag is quickly becoming a symbol of the deeply divisive national cultural war, one with clear elements of racial intimidation and white resentment attached to it.

Barbour is running like his commander-in-chief -- paying lip service to "inclusiveness," and doing everything he can to divide us. Of course, this should come as no surprise either, considering Barbour's well-established track record as a political scam artist.

Generation gap

Georgie Anne Geyer has an interesting piece on the rift between Bush Sr. and his AWOL son, embodied by Bush Sr.'s decision to give the 2003 George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service to none other than Sen. Edward Kennedy, easily the current president's most voluble critic on the Iraq war:
Bush Sr.'s 'message' to Bush Jr.

Geyer points out the remarkable differences that have emerged between the two presidents' ruling styles:
W has given way to a radical right that abhors international coalitions and manners; he mocks the world and denies any need for its help. He has led the Middle East to the nadir of its hope and possibilities, and he has led the United States to a moment in history in which we face asymmetric warfare from one end of the globe to another.

And above all, he has replaced his father's courtesy and good graces with an almost proud rudeness and scorn for others.

Why? I'll leave the question of "killing the father" to the psychiatric thinkers. Meanwhile, the tension between these two men reveals itself daily.

One also has to wonder what Bush Sr. -- being a former CIA chief himself -- thinks about the current White House's outrageous handling of the outing of Valerie Plame.

[Thanks to Shaw Kenawe at Atrios' comments for the heads-up.]

The right kind of terrorist

Imagine the following scenario:
Federal agents arrest a Muslim man, a member of a radical sect, living in Michigan on gun and drug charges. When they search his home, they discover a bunker containing a cache of weapons and explosives worthy of an army: an anti-aircraft gun capable of firing 550 rounds per minute up to four miles away, machine guns, explosives, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and booby traps. Investigators also find pictures of President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with scope cross-hairs drawn over them.

How do you suppose the media would handle that story?

My guess that if it didn't lead the evening news, it would be reported on it. It would at least be above the fold in many newspapers, and almost certainly would be a hot topic of conversation among the nation's radio talk-show hosts. Michael Savage would have a field day.

But what happens when, instead, the circumstances are identical, and the suspect is a white man associated with a militia unit?

It gets buried in the Grand Rapids Press. And that's about it.

Tribal scapegoats

Here's an editorial worth pondering, from Indian Country:
Beware the anti-Indian media message: A twisted story can become legend

The editorial details the way tribal rights -- and the gradual economic recovery of the tribes, largely through gambling operations -- are becoming the scapegoat for the states' budget troubles. Particularly notable was the way the Schwarzenegger campaign demagogued on the issue of Gray Davis' associations with tribal operations in the recent recall campaign:
California tribes are now "it;" suddenly it's open season on Indians, who are getting accused of getting more than their "fair share." Reality: state governments' budget deficits point to a national short-fall of $22 billion in this budget year and $54 billion in the next. Legislators are salivating over Indian money. Both nationally and state by state (California leads in this), voters and legislators have been excusing their own tax bases. Now, they want the Indian tribes, who are just beginning to grow and prosper under their inherent right of self-government, to pay the penalty for their state’s poor choices and often times, poor management.

Particularly noxious, as the editorial points out, was a recent Wall Street Journal piece by Alan Murray that traded in some of the most appalling stereotypes of Indians, not to mention factual misconceptions:
Murray dismisses all of Arnold’s ideas for reducing California’s deficit, "[b]ut one, [it] is step four: Get our fair share of Indian gaming revenue." (WSJ, October 14, "Schwarzenegger Has One Useful Idea: Tap Casino Money"). Every other Arnold idea turns out to be "vague," "fuzzy," "meaningless," except taxing the Indian revenues from tribal gaming. "The Villain," behind the tree," writes Murray, playing on the title of an early Arnold movie, "turns out to be an Indian."

Why must it be so?

Because, "American Indians don’t pay taxes. They live in autonomous regions."

Actually, of course, as the editorial points out, most Indians do pay taxes of some kind or other, and only a portion of the Native population lives on reservations anyway. It is true that a number of those who do live on reservations pay few taxes -- but that is because they continue to live below the poverty line.

I'm familiar with this argument from many years of reporting on tribal issues from various reservations around the inland Northwest (especially the Shoshone-Bannocks and the Flathead-Salish, as well as a more recent stint with the Makah). Whites with barely concealed racial and economic motives (the two are often intertwined, and have been for most of the past two centuries) make similar -- and similarly false -- claims in the various efforts that have been made over the years to eradicate tribal treaty rights. The courts, fortunately, have been the chief bulwark against these efforts.

In spite of the obviously oppressed state of American Indians, the scapegoating of tribes for all kinds of ills has continued apace -- in the Northwest, for instance, they are often blamed for depleted salmon runs, and white "property rights" activists who live on reservations are notorious for taking the tribes to court in hopes of eliminating the tribes' control of their lands.

It probably should not surprise anyone, then, that when Indians actually began climbing out of their economic hole, that their white neighbors would choose to attack them for their success. (It is somewhat reminiscent of the lynching-era phenomenon in which well-off blacks in particular were targeted as "uppity.")

Finally, the editorial raises an important point:
Murray rounds out the article with a continued attack on the tribes’ relationship with ousted Governor Davis, accusing the tribes of buying Davis with a $1 million campaign contribution. Again, the bogus assertion is of something dishonest being done by the tribes, who in contributing to politicians are in fact working within the system as well as they can, just like everyone else in the country. They get labeled as an interest group but in fact the "so-called" interest group syndrome is basically the country’s political system. What Murray calls a "sweet deal" compacts for the tribes were the result of pretty tough bargaining, from a governor who understood that the tribes come backed up with a federally-recognized jurisdiction and governmental sovereignty based on 200 years of agreements, litigation, legislation and continuous case law. Which is entirely proper, because this is the actual history and the only logical positions of Indian tribal nations in this country.

Indeed, this is a rhetorical trick that appears throughout Republican campaigns: Liberal or nonwhite advocacy is labeled a "special interest," while all those corporate contributions from the likes of Enron are just "politics at work."

This scapegoating of a minority group is part of a disturbing pattern that is starting emerge from the California Republican camp now in control of California -- and, as the Murray piece suggests, elsewhere as well. I'll have more on that in the coming week or two.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Republican Newspeak Zones

Dave Lindorff had a terrific piece in Salon the other day about the so-called "First Amendment zones" that are being deployed wherever President Bush and Vice President Cheney appear these days:
Keeping dissent invisible [Premium story]

What is remarkable about these "zones," however, is that -- in contravention of their name -- they are actually about suppressing citizens' free-speech rights. While most Americans believe the entire country is a "First Amendment zone", the Bush White House is herding its opponents into fenced-off areas well away from anywhere the president might see or hear them, which means there is no interaction between them and Bush for the media to record. Some of them are set up as far as two miles away.

The Newspeakish name given these zones is especially ironic, considering that one of the principal features of the zones is their content orientation. (For those interested, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled against hate-speech laws, for example, because of their "content orientation", which the courts have found violates the First Amendment.) In case after case, it is clear that pro-Bush supporters are given the traditional treatment of being allowed to voice their opinions anywhere they like, and as close to Bush as they choose. Anti-Bush demonstrators, however, are being herded into fenced-off areas.

As Lindorff reports:
At a hearing in county court, Det. John Ianachione, testifying under oath, said that the Secret Service had instructed local police to herd into the enclosed so-called free-speech area "people that were there making a statement pretty much against the president and his views." Explaining further, he added: "If they were exhibiting themselves as a protester, they were to go in that area."

Mind you, this doesn't necessarily appear to be the Secret Service's idea. This is something coming from the White House (and frankly has Karl Rove's fingerprints all over it). Lindorff writes:
Wolf also raises the possibility that White House operatives may be behind the moves to isolate and remove protesters from presidential events. He says that while he cannot recall specifically whether they were present with the Secret Service advance team before last year's presidential Labor Day visit, "I think they are sometimes part of" the planning process. The Secret Service declined to comment on this assertion, saying it would not discuss "security arrangements." The White House declined to comment on what role the White House staff plays in deciding how protesters at presidential events should be handled, referring all calls to the Secret Service.

Asked specifically whether White House officials have been behind requests to have protesters segregated and removed from the vicinity of presidential events, White House spokesman Allen Abney said, "No comment." But he added, "The White House staff and the Secret Service work together on a lot of things." While the Secret Service won't confirm that it is behind the pattern of tight constraints placed on protesters at public appearances by Bush and Cheney, the ACLU claims that mounting evidence suggests that this is exactly what is going on.

It is clear, in fact, that suppression of dissent in this fashion is purely a Republican motif. The Secret Service did not conduct itself in this fashion during Bill Clinton's tenure.

When did "First Amendment zones" first appear? The earliest form of them, unsurprisingly, was at George W. Bush's inauguration.

Though they went largely ignored by media, there were thousands of protesters in Washington that day, making it (fittingly) the largest Inaugural protest since 1973. Indeed, of the 300,000 estimated to be present, well over two-thirds of them were there to protest Bush's illegitimate ascension to the presidency.

My friend Maia Cowan was present, and she recalls that "the protest groups were split among different venues; they weren't allowed to have one big protest in one big place. (My guess was that the president-to-be didn't want anybody seeing how many protesters were there.) There were attempts to keep the protestors away from the parade route, including penning people up so that they couldn't even go back the way they came when they were blocked from going forward toward the parade."

Maia has collected a bunch of links at her Web site, Failure is Impossible, related to the First Amendment zones.

It appears that their first actual use was in Billings, Mont. , at a March 26, 2001, Bush appearance in which Yellowstone County sheriff’s deputies "set aside an area for protesters about 100 feet from the box-office window in front of the building. The area was away from the path of most people entering Metra to hear the president."

The first time the name "First Amendment zone" appears to have been used was in Tampa, Florida, on June 4, 2001, when protesters were fenced in two miles away from Bush's appearance. Three people were arrested for violating police directives to remain behind the fence.

And since then, they have been deployed in nearly every public appearance which Bush has made, including during his fleet fundraising visit here in Seattle two months ago.

Because they are purely a Republican enterprise, the use of these zones should become an issue in the 2004 election, if Democrats are smart about it.

I'm presuming that Democrats will not ask the Secret Service to set up "First Amendment zones" for their appearances or in any way try to separate protesters from supporters. (If they do, they'll deserve to lose.) It is likewise nearly certain that Bush and Cheney will use them.

And every Democratic candidate should point that out at every opportunity they get.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Confederate flag in the Northwest

From my neck of the woods, so to speak ...

One arrest over alleged racial slur at meeting

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – A 14-year-old girl was arrested Monday and accused of yelling a racial slur and threatening to hang a classmate during a meeting at Meridian High School near Bellingham, Wash., according to Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo.

The meeting was called by school administrators in response to reports that nooses were found hanging from a tree at the school and some students displayed Confederate flags.

The source of the dispute, it seems, is an in-school debate over the Confederate flag. It appears there is a contingent of neo-Confederates at the school who are promoting it as a symbol of white heritage. Some have been sporting it on their cars. But school rules prohibit the flag, a prohibition that has court sanction:
The courts took away students’ choice. Judges said the Confederate flag did not belong at school.

Some said flying the Confederate flag was offensive, but some students believed it was not racist.

Why would the Confederate flag be an issue in northwestern Washington? Because it is a symbol of white supremacism for people well outside the South as well. This is why phony arguments about its meaning are only cover for the stark reality that anyone -- particularly anyone of color -- who is confronted by the flag knows all too well: The Confederate flag is meant to intimidate -- to trumpet the values of white supremacy. The "heritage" which it harkens back to is mostly rife with the charred corpses of lynched innocents.

Whatcom County has a history of right-wing extremism: The Washington State Militia, whose trial In God's Country covered in detail (and which was the subject of Jane Kramer's excellent Lone Patriot: The Short Career of an American Militiaman) was based in rural Whatcom. In recent years there have been cross-burnings aimed at immigrants, and death threats aimed at peace protesters. The Patriots who filled the ranks of the WSM are still very much at large in the county, and their effect keeps bubbling to the surface.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Counterspinning Plame

Everyone, it seems, is starting to get the picture about the nature of the White House response to the outing of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative: namely, that it intends to try to spin its way out of any consequences for the matter by claiming that no criminal acts occurred -- flying in the face of the reality that someone on the Bush team leaked an undercover CIA operative's identity to Robert Novak and several other reporters, a crime (with extraordinarily damaging consequences) regardless how you cut it.

So far, Josh Marshall, Mark Kleiman, Atrios, Kevin Drum, Thomas Spencer, Tresy at Corrente and Christian Crumlish have all reached this conclusion.

Christian rather neatly sums up the White House's emerging spin points:
So there you have it, an innocent chance burning of an agent's cover (oopsie!), and then "fair game" to go after an administration critic's family (just politics as usual), capped by the leak to the Washington Post (betrayal!). I can see it now. How long before we hear that's their story and they're sticking to it.

Accompanying the White House spin, of course, is the predictable chorus from his media apologists: Pay no mind, move along, folks. The Plame matter is a mere "partisan" affair that will evaporate when the smoke clears.

If Republicans have proven incredibly incompetent at running the country, they at least have continued to display a knack for ruthless hardball politics and manipulation of the media. That the media more often than not seem all too happy to oblige is another matter.

Facts are to spin like garlic to vampires: effective, but only in well-coordinated bunches. Anyone interested in seeing justice done in the Plame matter -- which is to say, anyone interested in the integrity of national security and the rule of law -- will have to counter the spin of Bush apologists with some talking points of their own.

To that end, the following points strike me as the most significant:

A: The Plame affair matters.

It matters because a significant national security asset in the war on terrorism was badly compromised. Contrary to the conservative spin that Plame's outing didn't matter because "everyone" in the Beltway knew she was CIA (and, in some permutations, that she was only an analyst and not an operative), in fact Plame's status was a closely held secret, for overwhelmingly important reasons, as the New York Times explained:
[W]ithin the C.I.A., the exposure of Ms. Plame is now considered an even greater instance of treachery. Ms. Plame, a specialist in nonconventional weapons who worked overseas, had "nonofficial cover," and was what in C.I.A. parlance is called a Noc, the most difficult kind of false identity for the agency to create. While most undercover agency officers disguise their real profession by pretending to be American embassy diplomats or other United States government employees, Ms. Plame passed herself off as a private energy expert. Intelligence experts said that Nocs have especially dangerous jobs.

"Nocs are the holiest of holies," said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former agency officer who is now director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. "This is real James Bond stuff. You're going overseas posing as a businessman, and if the other government finds out about you, they're probably going to shoot you. The United States has basically no way to protect you."

Moreover, her exposure has widespread ramifications for the war on terror, as Warren Strobel reported Friday:
Training agents such as Plame, 40, costs millions of dollars and requires the time-consuming establishment of elaborate fictions, called "legends," including in this case the creation of a CIA front company that helped lend plausibility to her trips overseas.

Compounding the damage, the front company, Brewster-Jennings & Associates, whose name has been reported previously, apparently also was used by other CIA officers whose work now could be at risk, according to Vince Cannistraro, formerly the agency's chief of counterterrorism operations and analysis.

Now, Plame's career as a covert operations officer in the CIA's Directorate of Operations is over. Those she dealt with -- whether on business or not -- may be in danger. The DO is conducting an extensive damage assessment.

And Plame's exposure may make it harder for American spies to convince foreigners to share important secrets with them, U.S. intelligence officials said.

... "This is not just another leak. This is an unprecedented exposing of an agent's identity," said former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski, who's now a prosecutor in Royal Oak, Mich., and who also did CIA training with Plame.

As Josh Marshall has pointed out, the damage to America's intelligence on weapons of mass destruction may well be massive, and very well could result in the deaths of CIA assets abroad -- not to mention the extent to which it exposes the entire American populace to an increased likelihood of attack by terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

It matters because the deliberate exposure of an undercover agent's identity in a way that grotesquely compromises national security and the potential deaths of agents abroad constitutes outright treason.

And no, we're not talking about Ann Coulter's nearly hallucinogenic version of treason, but the Aldrich Ames kind of treason. The real thing that earns people prison terms.

It matters because the culpability for the leak goes right to the heart of the Oval Office. The sources of the leak appear to be within the inner circle of the Bush White House, including chief of staff Karl Rove, who has been identified by Jospeh Wilson, Plame's husband, and reporters as one of the administration officials who contacted them after the Novak column's appearance and exacerbated the effects of Plame's original exposure by explicitly encouraging its further spread.

The fact that these matters reach the highest levels of government is underscored by the reports that the White House, according to the Boston Globe, is reserving the option of resorting to "executive privilege" claims to shield some of its documents from the Justice Department investigation:
If the White House asserts a claim of executive privilege, [law professor Thomas] Sargentich said it would be a strong sign that the investigation is heading to the highest levels of the Bush administration, given that the claim can only be used to shield the president's decision-making process.

If the White House indeed resorts to this audacious tactic, it will be a tacit admission of the president's possible involvement.
B: The timing of the phone calls to reporters is irrelevant.

Contrary to the White House's emerging spin point, the difference between calls placed to reporters about the Plame leak before and after the Novak columns is ultimately inconsequential. As Mark Kleiman says: "Information does not stop being classified because someone else improperly reveals it."

Rep. John Conyers, in calling for Rove's resignation last week, made this point clearly:
The law states that even if you lawfully knew of Mr. Wilson's wife's status, you were obliged to come forward and report the press leak to the proper authorities -- not inflame the situation by encouraging further dissemination. 18 U.S.C. § 793(f). Larger than whether any one statute can be read to find criminal responsibility is the issue of whether officials of your stature will be allowed to use their influence to intimidate whistle-blowers.

It must be also noted that the White House's spin point here is severely undermined by other facts -- namely, two separate reports in the Washington Post that show several other reporters besides Novak were actively contacted by the leakers: The first, on Sept. 29, which reported:
Another journalist yesterday confirmed receiving a call from an administration official providing the same information about Wilson's wife before the Novak column appeared on July 14 in The Post and other newspapers.

Sunday's Post story carries the point even further:
That same week, two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to least six Washington journalists, an administration official told The Post for an article published Sept. 28. The source elaborated on the conversations last week, saying that officials brought up Plame as part of their broader case against Wilson.

"It was unsolicited," the source said. "They were pushing back. They used everything they had.”

It should be clear that the spread of the leak both before and after the Novak column was substantial.
C: The White House's conduct in responding to the leak so far constitutes at least an abject failure to live up to the responsibilities of its office, and perhaps an actual coverup.

Once the leak occurred -- on July 16 -- President Bush had an obligation to investigate the matter immediately and to find the persons responsible and deal with them appropriately (at the very least, dismissing them, if not turning them over for prosecution). Instead, the White House continued to actively pursue the spread of the leak with even more reporters.

No investigation was ordered until the CIA, in late September, filed a criminal referral in the matter with the FBI. And even then, the White House dragged its feet -- waiting a full day before ordering staff to recover the relevant documents, and then filtering them through White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez. Subsequently, the president himself has made clear that finding the original source of the leak is a low priority, warning that the leakers may never be found.

What is clear instead is that the White House is focused on finding the identity of the "senior administration official" whose information given to the Post has directly undermined the Bush team's emerging claim that "no classified leaks occurred." This in essence is an attempt to intimidate any dissenters within the Oval Office -- and possibly to get them to change their testimony. And that, in turn, may constitute obstruction of justice.

The Bush White House's behavior is rapidly approaching the impeachment stage. But if its spin succeeds, it may in the end escape any accountability for damaging the nation's security and placing us all at greater risk. And that will be the most egregious scandal of all.