Saturday, November 01, 2003

The New Yellow Peril

A heads-up for the coming election year, from my friend Jon Markman:

China is no job-stealing bully

Essentially, the administration is going to try to blame the high U.S. unemployment rate on the Chinese. They are going to claim Beijing is violating World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund rules by “manipulating” the renminbi through complex currency transactions in a blatant attempt to keep it undervalued. A purposefully undervalued currency makes a country’s exports cheaper than they would otherwise be, providing an unfair trade advantage.

You won’t have to wait long to see how this plays out. On Capitol Hill Thursday, the Bush administration’s stance toward China will come into potentially explosive view in testimony that could affect everything from the prospect of financial stability in Asia to the value of tech stocks on Wall Street and the price of pajamas in Arkansas.

The venue will be Treasury Secretary John Snow’s required annual testimony to the Senate Banking Committee on trading partners’ currency practices. For years, this has been just another obscure date on the congressional calendar, but since the political wing of the White House decided that President Bush’s standing in industrial states would improve if he blamed the decline in U.S. jobs on China, the secretary’s appearance has taken on a new level of importance.

Of course, this is nothing more than scapegoating. (The sign on Bush's desk should read: "The Buck Stops Somewhere Over There.") The lingering unemployment rate is largely a product of the Bush administration's pathetic handling of economic policy, especially its emphasis on tax cuts (and concomitant structural debt) and its refusal to engage in any kind of serious job-creation stimulus.

This is the economic equivalent of emphasizing a missile-defense strategy and cutting back on counterterrorism, which was the Bush policy before Sept. 11. One wonders, likewise, when we're going to have what Paul Krugman calls our "Wile E. Coyote moment."

None of this surprises me terribly. (One of my favorite aphorisms: "A recession is the Republican way of shortening the lift lines at the ski hill.") Lord knows most of the Republicans I know were not exactly enamored of the (at times ridiculous) worker's market that existed before Bush's election, especially at the height of the Tech Bubble. Most conservative businessmen's preferred M.O. is the Wal-Mart way, which is largely what we've gotten since Bush's election.

Ironically, Wal-Mart is one of the companies that stands to lose a great deal if Bush pursues this course -- though it will be American consumers and Wal-Mart workers who have to bear the brunt of the costs.

In any case, Republicans have been making bogeymen out of China for the past several years, embodied in the phony Wen Ho Lee and campaign-finance scandals. Of course, Bush's lame performance in the showdown over the airmen captured by the Chinese in April 2001 did not exactly impress upon anyone his leadership skills. Even conservatives called Bush's behavior a clear sign of "weakness."

More to the point, as Markman suggests, this is a ploy that has serious ramifications for national security. China ostensibly is a major partner in America's "war on terror," particularly in keeping it under control in Asia. It also is one of our most significant bulwarks in dealing with North Korea:
In short, China is more bogeyman than bully in its trade relationship with the United States. An attempt to vilify it over the loss of manufacturing jobs is short-sighted, giving fuel to critics who believe that the Bush administration has progressed from a militarization of its foreign policy to a criminalization of its trade policy.

President Bush is walking a tightrope as he balances an economic policy bent on antagonizing China with a foreign policy that desperately needs China's help on North Korea. At the moment, it seems aggression is winning out over diplomacy.

And politics over national security.

Identity politics and the GOP

If there were any question that Republicans are openly playing white-based racial politics in Mississippi now, the cat should be out of the bag.

Unsurprisingly, though, the Democratic dogs are doing little more than rolling over and sniffing their crotches about it.

The trend has been manifesting itself increasingly over the past couple of months, embodied in the way former Republican National Committee chair Haley Barbour has played footsie with the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, as well as the use by both Barbour and the GOP's candidate for lieutenant governor of the Confederate flag as a symbol of their campaigns. As I've noted previously, that flag is not just a symbol of "Southern heritage" but of white supremacism and racial intimidation everywhere, and the use of the flag makes clear that the GOP is aligning itself politically in that direction.

Confederate banner back in Miss. politics

Barbour and the GOP are now openly embracing the symbol:
In a TV ad airing in recent days, GOP nominee Haley Barbour said Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove had "attacked" the state flag when he pushed for a flag design change in the 2001 referendum.

Barbour's campaign office in Yazoo City has also been distributing "Keep the Flag. Change the Governor" bumper stickers ahead of the Tuesday ballot.

"Our campaign is not paying for them, but our volunteers just love them," Barbour said in a recent interview.

Recall, if you will, that when the news first emerged that Republicans were dredging up the flag issue in the campaign, party officials denied they were doing anything other than identifying potential voters:
Jim Herring, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, said the telephone question about the state flag is being asked as part of a voter-identification effort.

"It is not unusual to ask people how they voted on various issues," Herring said. "That's pretty much it. That's what you call voter-identification calls."

Uh huh.

Republicans have been pretending, ever since Trent Lott was officially wrist-slapped and sent down to the second team on the Senate bench, that their days of courting white supremacists, a la the Southern Strategy, are now officially over. The GOP is the party of inclusiveness, they tell us. And in a way it's true; why, if the Republicans refused to pander to white supremacists, they'd really have no place to go. It's just too bad that no one with colored skin wants to share that Big Tent with them.

Of course, Democrats nationally have been notable for their silence on this matter, just as they were slow to pick up on the Trent Lott affair. One would think the GOP's open associations with neo-Confederates and their ilk would be worth pointing out. Evidently they are all listening to pollsters telling them that alienating those Southern voters who support the Dixie flag will hurt them in the 2004 election.

At least Derrick Jackson at The Boston Globe has been paying attention:
Barbour campaign shows GOP's racist side

As Jackson observes, it's not as though national Republicans have been distancing themselves from Barbour, as they did David Duke in Louisiana, though in reality Barbour's campaign has differed little in the nature of its appeal or its politics. Everyone from George W. Bush to Dick Cheney to Ari Fleischer to J.C. Watts has been coming to Mississippi to pat Barbour on the head. Indeed, Bush is touring there today, and his remarks were interesting:
"I'm proud to stand with this man ... He's proud of this state, and that's the kind of governor you need — somebody who relates to people from all walks of life."

This frankly seems like a coded reference to Barbour's wink-and-nudge refusal to take have his picture removed from the CofCC's Web site:
"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."

Derrick Jackson sizes it up about right:
Perhaps the problem is that it is unrealistic to expect Barbour to fully renounce the CCC if he has not fully renounced his own past. When he ran for the Senate in 1982, a New York Times report said:

"The racial sensitivity at Barbour headquarters was suggested by an exchange between the candidate and an aide who complained that there would be `coons' at a campaign stop at the state fair. Embarrassed that a reporter heard this, Mr. Barbour warned that if the aide persisted in racist remarks, he would be reincarnated as a watermelon and placed at the mercy of blacks."

Barbour's refusal to reject the CCC's use of his photo suddenly brings his own history back to life. It raises the question of how much he clings to it and how much he feels his white voters need to desperately hold on to a tragic past and a segregated future to feel good about themselves. If Barbour will not let go of the photo, it is up to the GOP to take it out of his hands. Otherwise it may win the Mississippi State House, but continue to lose the hearts of decent thinking Americans. The GOP will once again crush any hope or optimism that Americans can walk into a polling place without race being the silent lever in the voting booth.

What's remarkable about all this is the way it's taking place in the face of increasing attacks on the "identity politics" practiced by minority-interest groups, such politics being divisive and contrary to the notion that "we are all Americans." These attacks are especially favored by conservatives, of course, but are also popular with the "contrarian liberal" and the "libertarian" crowds, embodied by folks like Mickey Kaus and Glenn Reynolds.

What is clear is that "identity politics" is simply a code for "non-white interests," a symbol for attacking minorities when they try to assert themselves against white supremacism, and "we're all American" is just a code for the preeminence of white culture.

Atrios had an incisive post about this the other day:
[C]ritics seem to always blame the victims of bigoted identity politics for its existence. The biggest practioners of identity politics are white people, though one rarely hears it lablelled as such -- being the dominant power group, what whites do is simply "normal,"as opposed to "special interest politics"or "identity politics." ...

One day, perhaps, with a bit more pro-creative racial deconstruction, a bit more blurring of the clear lines between racial/and ethnic groups, and most importantly a bit more enlightenment and a bit less racial demagoguery by politicians wanting to exploit bigotry, "identity politics" as such may go away. Plenty of immigrant groups who were lumped together -- Poles, Hungarians, Irish, Italians -- have largely transcended their original status as downtrodden ethnic groups. But until it goes away we should stop pretending it emanates from minority groups. It doesn't.

"Identity politics," though it was not called that then, was an invention of 19th-century white supremacists who, along with their acolytes, continued to employ such divisions with abandon through most of the first half of the last century. Their heirs continue to do so, but in less nakedly racial terms.

Now we have attacks on affirmative action, the "welfare state," hate-crimes legislation, and various aspects of civil-rights law, all under the umbrella of combating "identity politics." And consistently, there has been one primary source for this resurgence of white supremacy camouflaged as "normal" politics: the conservative movement generally, and the Republican Party specifically.

Black leaders often criticize the Democratic Party for its abysmal lack of leadership at times like these, pointing to such failures as indicative of the party's tendency to take black voters for granted. Certainly, there's little doubt that Democratic silence on these issues not only empowers the bigots, it also saps the energy from the party's base.

Democrats really need to ask themselves whether they want to be courting the votes of people inspired by the Confederate flag, or the same minorities for whom that flag is a symbol of oppression and intimidation. And if the latter, it is well past time for them to speak up about what is happening in Mississippi.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

The other Nichols

One of the more bizarre claims being made by James Nichols (brother of Terry Nichols) in his federal lawsuit against Michael Moore is the contention that "Moore libeled him by linking him to the terrorist act" [the Oklahoma City bombing].

Just for the record, from the criminal complaint against Timothy McVeigh:
9. A check of Michigan Department of Motor Vehicle records shows a license in the name of Timothy J. McVeigh, date of birth April 23, 1968, with an address of 3616 North Nan Dyke Road, Decker, Michigan. This Michigan license was renewed by McVeigh on April 8, 1995. McVeigh had a prior license issued in the state of Kansas on March 21, 1990, and surrendered to Michigan in November 1993, with the following address: P.O. Box 2153, Fort Riley, Kansas.

10. Further investigation shows that the property at 3616 North Van Dyke Road, Decker, Michigan, is associated with James Douglas Nichols and his brother Terry Lynn Nichols. The property is a working farm. Terry Nichols formerly resided in Marion, Kansas, which is approximately one hour from Junction City.

11. A relative of James Nichols reports to the FBI that Tim McVeigh is a friend and associate of James Nichols, who has worked and resided at the farm on North Van Dyke Road in Decker, worked and resided at the farm on North Van Dyke Road in Decker, Michigan. This relative further reports that she had heard that James Nichols had been involved in constructing bombs in approximately November 1994, and that he possessed large quantities of fuel oil and fertilizer.

In other words, there is clear reason to connect James Nichols to the Oklahoma City bombing -- since McVeigh listed Nichols' farm as his home address, and McVeigh had in fact lived there. Not only had he lived there, he more than likely was significantly influenced by James Nichols' long-established radical beliefs.

There's a good deal more to it. As Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck reported in American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing:
Federal agents descended on Michigan's Thumb on April 21, scouring the countryside for information that might link James Nichols to the bombing. They conducted a raid on his farm, finding some bags of fertilizer containing ammounium nitrae, a fifty-five gallon drum of fuel oil, and some potential bomb ingredients, including fuse line and blasting caps.

Investigators talked with his associates, neighbors, and critics. One Decker man reported having seen the Nichols brothers experimenting with small bombs, made in plastic soft-drink bottles with fertilizer, bleach, and other chemicals. This witness recalled a man named Tim who lived at the farm for a time, carried a handgun, and often wore camouflage clothing. A second neighbor reported that men working on the Nichols farm had experiment with small bombs ...

James Nichols was arrested, but the FBI wasn't able to construct a sound case against him, and its charges were dropped. It turned out later that an informant had told the FBI that as early as December 1988, James Nichols -- who believed the popular far-right conspiracy theory that the American government was secretly responsible for downing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie earlier that month -- talked about blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City with a "megabomb," and at one point even drew a sketch of a building like the Murrah. However, no one was able to corroborate this account.

Since then, James Nichols has mostly kept a low profile -- he did attend Terry Nichols' trial in Denver, and spoke irregularly to reporters, contending throughout that both were innocent. He has given other interviews since. (Especially noteworthy is this interview with a Fox reporter who mostly threw him softballs, during which Nichols continued to claim that both McVeigh and Terry Nichols were set up by the government.)

Recently he made news again when the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that he had joined ex-Posse Comitatus leader James Wickstrom's Christian Identity cult in Michigan:
Nichols took the oath of Aryan warriorhood in a deceptively modest setting: a ramshackle furniture store in the tiny town of Essexville, Mich., just up the road from his farm.

About 90 white supremacists from different parts of the country had gathered there for the Feast of the Tabernacles, a high holy day on the Christian Identity calendar. The man behind the Feast was James Wickstrom, an Identity pastor who has long been one of America's most outspoken racist leaders.

The two-day event featured violent speeches by some of the most extreme voices of Identity, which teaches that whites are God's true chosen people, while Jews are the "spawn of Satan" who must — along with homosexuals and soulless "muds," or people of color — be done away with.

On Day Two of the Feast, after listening to a series of calls to exterminate the Jews, Nichols walked up to a makeshift altar in the back of the furniture store and dropped cents into a basket — two helpings of the Old Testament "soldier's ransom" of cents, paid to ensure God's protection. Nichols spoke his name out loud, then told the rapt Aryans that he had come on behalf of his brother, too.

Facing a Confederate battle flag pinned to a pegboard wall behind the altar, Nichols bowed his head, raised his arms Pentecostal-style, and pledged himself and Terry to eternal battle.

Ralph Daigle, an elderly ex-convict and Identity pastor, placed his fingertips on Nichols' forehead, anointing him for the struggle ahead.

After asking Yahweh (God) to make the Nichols brothers great warriors in the cause, Daigle addressed the congregation, reminding them Terry Nichols, now serving a life sentence, was unjustly imprisoned by "the Jew."

James Nichols lowered his arms and got a congratulatory handshake from Wickstrom, well-known for his furious, red-faced calls for "a perfect hatred" against the "Jew-nited States."

As Mark Potok put it in an interview for the Flint Journal:
"James Nichols, among many other people, always denied the Patriot movement was racist. This shows clearly the racist and anti-Semitic strain that always ran through the movement."

What's perhaps most surprising is that any lawyer would actually take Nichols' suit. It certainly should not survive the initial summary-dismissal requests.

Nice projection on your forehead, lady

Salon's recent interview with the abysmal Camille Paglia actually gave us a pretty good encapsulation of its subject in the subhed:
("what a phony!") ... ("the hair!") ... ("a monster") ... "delusional narcissist" ...

Camille Paglia is a classic product, like Andrew Sullivan, of the cult of narcissism. Why anyone takes either of them the least seriously is beyond me. It's one thing to be interesting because you're contrarian; but narcissists are contrarian because it's interesting. There's a layer of manipulativeness to the very structure of their thought -- not to mention an utter vacuousness of content -- that makes their opinions congenitally meaningless.


Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Bizarro file libel suit too!

Speaking of ridiculous lawsuits:

James Nichols sues Michael Moore

Nichols, you may recall, escaped prosecution, though there were in fact many questions that lingered about the extent of his involvement with his brother Terry's participation with Tim McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing.

I can't imagine Nichols filing this as a nuisance suit -- I'd guess he really does intend to sue.

This is one case where discovery -- particularly when it comes to examining James Nichols' involvement in Oklahoma City -- would be very, very interesting indeed.

In any event, while Bowling for Columbine is an uneven film, the segment with Nichols is priceless. Moore essentially just let Nichols ramble. (This was my own favorite interviewing technique with right-wing extremists.) The strange thing about Nichols' suit is that he really can't claim Moore distorted his words.



Donald Luskin is threatening to file a libel suit against Atrios for comments made on his boards and for calling Luskin a "stalker."

Funny thing about that. Luskin himself says he "stalked" Krugman.

What's especially bizarre about this case is the spectacle of a guy who makes his living making personal attacks on a respected economist -- many of which, frankly, border on the libelous -- turning around and suing someone for being critical of his behavior. Then again, we've always known that conservatives can dish it out, but can't take it.

Luskin has just proven definitively that he has no business being a blogger himself. He has earned a complete freezeout from the rest of the blogosphere -- because, of course, we now all run the risk of being sued by the guy for even mentioning his name or opining on his work, not to mention allowing others to comment on it. Anyone who links to this cretin henceforth should be shunned as well.

For what it's worth, I have extensive experience with nuisance lawsuits like this; as Atrios himself notes, these kinds of things are a common way for right-wingers to harass and intimidate their critics. I've been subjected to similar threats multiple times over the course of my career, all of them on equally specious grounds.

It does mean that Atrios is going to have to go out and hire a reasonably good libel lawyer to file a response, which will cost money in itself. I trust he'll set up a defense fund, and all of Blogville ought to chip in to fight this one. Moreover, if Luskin does manage to learn his identity, and then reveals it, Atrios himself will have ample grounds for a countersuit.

I'm fairly confident Atrios will find that he will only need for his lawyer to file a reasonable response (which won't be difficult) concluding with the note: "We look forward to discovery."

I don't think I've ever heard back from my would-be harassers (the list includes a former U.S. senator) after those letters.

[Edited to correct status of threatened suit.]

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Hiding from the past

Can anyone tell me why, though we have a national Holocaust Museum (which is, incidentally, a place every American should visit), a museum devoted to slavery does not even exist?

Oh. Wait. I know why:
Deep South slave shrine stirs old hatreds: Plans for a unique museum are placed on hold in the face of death threats from white supremacists, reports David Rennie in Gulfport, Mississippi

... Dr Jones would like to see the museum set up in the South. "That's going to take someone mighty brave, even prepared to cost themselves a political career."

Rip Daniels, a businessman and broadcaster and the Pettys' most prominent black backer, fears the costs for the couple could be still higher. "What Jim has here is heresy," he said. "These objects show that African Americans did not acquiesce, that they did not submit graciously."

Mr Daniels, who owns a local radio station and is one of its presenters, believes that defiant white Southerners are increasingly denying the reality of slavery.

"When you talk to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, they don't talk about actual historical events, they talk of the 'southern gentleman', of how he must have been."

To Mr Daniels, whites have two choices. "They can justify their ancestors, or they can accept that they participated in a horrible episode of American history" he said. "As an African-American, I have to accept that some of my ancestors were in chains."

Rip Daniels has received death threats himself, including a postcard of a lynching, with the message, "You're next".

[Incidentally, the Pettys ought to be aware that there is in fact a plan in place to build a National Slavery Museum in Virginia.]

It's unsurprising that neo-Confederates would want to suppress this kind of exhibit (note, for instance, this attack on the notion, authored by white supremacist Jared Taylor). After all, they've been telling us for years that whites' treatment of their black slaves was mostly benevolent and loving.

It's a myth that in fact enjoys a life well outside the South, and is enjoying a certain resurgence in "mainstream" conservative circles:

Pair to give their ‘biblical’ defense of practice at U of I conference

... "Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity," the booklet reads. "Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world."

As a pastor, Wilson said he'd seen too many Christians take bits and pieces from the Bible to suit their needs. He said good Christians apply all the Bible's teachings in their daily lives.

"I was watching a television program where Jerry Falwell was making an argument against abortion, 'The Bible tells us not to do this thing,' " Wilson said. "A critic comes back with, 'Well, the Bible says this too,' and Falwell says, 'Yes but that doesn't really apply anymore.' I have long believed that we should not be embarrassed by anything in the Bible. You find many Christians who use the 'that was then, this is now' argument. When Falwell used that argument, he lost the point he was trying to make about abortion."

Wilson used the Bible's view on homosexuals as another example.

The Bible indicates the punishment for homosexuality is death. The Bible also indicates the punishment for homosexuality is exile.

"So death is not the minimal punishment for a homosexual," Wilson said. "There are other alternatives."
Such as concentration camps, no doubt.

One wonders what would happen were Doug Wilson to wander into the museum planned by the Pettys. No doubt he could conjure up a biblical explanation for it all.

The GOP Reality Filter

[Today's David Horsey cartoon in the P-I.]

George Nethercutt is not particularly enjoying the publicity he's been receiving over the following remarks:
"The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable. ... It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day."

Now he's claiming he was misquoted. Sort of. Actually, he's whining that the Post-Intelligencer, which first reported the remarks in an Oct. 14 story, "deliberately distorted" what he said, according to today's story.


Well, here is the full text of Nethercutt's remarks:
"So the story is better than we might be led to believe in the news. I'm just indicting the news people, but it's, it's a bigger and better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day which, which heaven forbid is awful."

And here is exactly what the P-I reported:
"The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable," Nethercutt, R-Wash., told an audience of 65 at a noon meeting at the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.

"It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day."

He added that he did not want any more soldiers to be killed.

Spot the distortion there?

If you didn't, let me explain.

In the Bizarro World that is Planet GOP, a "fair and balanced" account deliberately omits key elements of any Democratic politician's remarks deemed controversial, mostly in a way to paint them as treasonous; or it puts words into their mouths they did not actually say. A "distorted" account, on the other hand, accurately reports both the context and the remarks themselves made by Republican politicians (see Trent Lott) that later prove deeply embarrassing.

Just in case you were wondering.

That's the same filter, incidentally, in which Patty Murray's naive but essentially correct remarks about Osama bin Laden building schools and winning sympathy among Muslims is deemed "bizarre and uninformed," but the suggestion that the handful of schools being built in Iraq -- which, because of violence and a faltering infrastructure, no one can actually attend -- are more significant than the deaths of American soldiers and Red Cross volunteers ... well, gosh, that's just downright insightful.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Gay marriage, gay rights, and the hate-crime nexus

John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and a major civil-rights figure, wrote an eloquent and important essay that appeared in the Boston Globe the other day titled, "At a crossroads on gay unions":
We are now at such a crossroads over same-sex couples' freedom to marry. It is time to say forthrightly that the government's exclusion of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters from civil marriage officially degrades them and their families. It denies them the basic human right to marry the person they love. It denies them numerous legal protections for their families.

This discrimination is wrong. We cannot keep turning our backs on gay and lesbian Americans. I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I've heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.

Atrios followed up with a provocative post that said in part:
Now, I'm all for practical politics -- if you can't win elections all the principles in the world don't matter much. But, it isn't Democrats who are making this an issue, frankly, it's Republicans. They're making immoral homos the centerpiece of their '04 election strategy. Democrats can either be on the right side of this issue, or the wrong side. If they're on the wrong side, it won't win them any votes. Just as MSNBC can't out-Fox Fox, the Democrats can't out-gaybait the Republicans.

There are limits to this thesis, it should be noted; I'm certain that a few political pollster types will argue that while coming out for gay marriage will not gain you any votes, it will lose them for you.

I think they are wrong and Atrios is right -- though of course, it all depends on how the Democrats handle their response.

I think if they mealy-mouth the issue of gay marriage (a la Bill Clinton's absurd "don't ask don't tell" compromise on gays in the military) they will in fact lose votes on the issue.

But if they frame the issue in a way that casts into high relief the fetid, steaming bigotry that lies at the core of the GOP demagoguery, then I believe they will gain votes.

The first step, of course, is to be unrepentant and aggressive in support of at least civil unions for gays, following Howard Dean's example (rest assured the presence of Dean in the forefront of the Democratic candidates is a large part of the GOP's decision to attack on the gay-rights front). It will be important to frame it largely as a fairness issue. The campaign really has to zero in on the basic injustice of the ban on gay unions. That highlight alone should be enough to cast into fairly sharp relief the GOP's basic bigotry on the matter.

More to the point, there is another gay-rights-related issue latent out there that would cast a national spotlight on Republican bigotry toward gays -- namely, hate crimes.

There currently sits before Congress a bill that enjoys majority support in both the House and the Senate which would create, for the first time, a bona fide federal hate-crimes law. The bill, which enjoys bipartisan support (its current leading sponsor is Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon), actually would contribute substantially to addressing the problem of hate crimes in a material way.

There's only one problem: The Republican leadership will never allow it to pass.

And there is only one reason for this: Naked bigotry against gays.

Recent history

The legislation in question, titled the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, originally was drafted in 2000. It has twice passed out of the Senate but has died in the House. It was offered again this summer and currently sits in the Judiciary Committee, under the care of Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a longtime opponent of the bill.

The bill's previous history is very telling.

The legislation originally was titled the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and it was sponsored in 1998 in the Senate by Ted Kennedy, D-Mass, partly in response to the James Byrd in Texas killing that spring, and it picked up impetus that fall with the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming.

It is important to understand that the reasons for the legislation go well beyond two headline-making crimes. Foremost is the general weakness of both state and federal hate-crimes statutes, the latter particularly. Though the 1994 Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act was the first attempt to provide for federal prosecution of the crimes, it is an extremely limited law, kicking in only if a hate crime is committed on federal property or during the commission of a federal activity, such as voting in a national election. It has hardly ever been used in actual prosecution because of its weakness.

An equally important aspect of the problem with hate crimes is that they represent an unfunded mandate. Because they are special crimes and they present special challenges, training law-enforcement officers in recognizing and handling them is an essential component of making them effective. And yet such training hardly occurs at all in most police departments in America, mainly because the states and the federal government do such a poor job of making it available, even though the politicians at those levels have been busily passing these laws.

The HCPA proposed to address both those issues, the former especially, by rewriting the federal law to expand the ability of federal agents to investigate the cases when necessary, and moreover to bolster the ability of the feds to give local agencies financial and investigatory assistance. Those local jurisdictions, after all, are where the vast majority of hate-crimes cases arise.

However, the bill also included "sexual orientation" among the categories of possible bias motivations. In other words, it expanded the law to make violent gay-bashing a hate crime, potentially a federal one. The religious right, ever alert to the "homosexual agenda" and its evil designs, promptly went to work.

The Family Research Council issued an "Action Alert" warning that the HCPA was a threat to the First Amendment: "Hate crimes legislation could severely restrict Americans' freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of religion. This legislation would give the government the power to interpret and classify certain speech, thought, theology, and moral belief as unlawful or contributing to crime. Will pastors, priests, rabbis, and other religious leaders who preach and teach against homosexual conduct be prosecuted for inciting a hate crime?"

Nonetheless, the Christian conservatives' campaign against the bill was relatively quiet, indicating their intention to resort instead to conservatives' control of Congress to win. A parade of testimony from both sides -- supporters included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Psychological Association, the Anti-Defamation League, and various gay-rights organizations -- was heard over the course of the summer. By that fall, however, it was becoming clear that the bill was fated to linger in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was then controlled by Hatch.

The Shepard murder appeared to change all that. Suddenly, in mid-October, both senators and representatives found their offices deluged with letters and phone calls urging that the bill be allowed to move to the floor for a vote. For awhile it appeared that public demand might force a vote. But, reportedly under pressure from the Christian Coalition, GOP Majority Leader Trent Lott announced on October 20 that the Senate would not have time to consider the bill before its annual November-December recess. The Republican leadership in the House, curiously, seemed to claim credit for the bill's demise; a memo from the House Republican Conference attacking hate-crimes laws as part of President Clinton's "big-government agenda" called the death of the legislation "a win for conservative priorities."

Despite the setback, however, the legislation was anything but dead. The following March of 1999, identical versions of the Hate Crimes Protection Act were reintroduced in both the House and Senate to great fanfare. The House version had 118 co-sponsors, while in the Senate thirty-one co-sponsors signed on. Vice President Al Gore and Assistant Attorney General Eric Holder both issued statements of support, along with the usual phalanx of civil-rights and gay-rights group. The support for the legislation was even broader than before, including a coalition of law-enforcement officers and prosecutors who argued that the law provided them with vital tools for adequately coping with these kinds of crimes.

Among the early witnesses offering supporting testimony for the bill were the family of James Byrd, and Judy Shepard, Matthew's mother, who observed: "There is no guarantee that these laws will stop hate crimes from happening. But they can reduce them. They can help change the climate in this country, where some people feel as though it is OK to target specific groups of people and get away with it."

The battle thus joined, the religious right pulled out its big guns and began firing away. The Family Research Council opined that "it is unconstitutional to elevate a category of sexual behavior to a legally privileged status," and argued that the law "punishes a criminal who commits a violent crime against a homosexual more severely than if he committed a crime against a non-homosexual."

"We call it the Thought Crimes Act," said Robert Regier, a policy analyst at the FRC. "All people are equal under the law, and no one deserves more protection than another because of their sexual behavior. … Passage of this bill is nothing short of telling us what to think. In effect, it supercedes the jurisdiction of the church. They should leave the judgment of our minds and hearts to God, and let the government judge our actions and behavior."

This time around, the legislation did not stall in the Senate -- rather, it proceeded out of the Judiciary Committee, and proceeded over the summer to move toward a floor vote. In July, it was folded into the Commerce, State, and Justice appropriations bill, approved by a wide margin, and forwarded to the House.

This set off alarms among its opponents, who began working feverishly to block passage in the House, where preliminary estimates suggested it would pass handily. On September 11, 2000, the Christian Coalition released an action alert urging its members to defeat the HCPA, since it would infringe on the "free speech of Americans who view homosexuality as immoral." The Traditional Values Coalition chimed in that "the elevation of such a lifestyle into a protected group is a government endorsement of that lifestyle."

As it turned out, they had little to fear. Lying in wait for the bill were the Republican leaders of the House, particularly Majority Leader Dick Armey and Majority Whip Tom DeLay, both Texans with an oft-articulated animus toward the so-called "homosexual agenda." Despite broad and bipartisan support for the measure even among their own ranks, they managed to maneuver it to death--removing it from the Senate appropriations bill and sending it to the House-Senate conference committee, where it was dropped altogether on a straight party-line vote. Later that month, President Clinton vetoed the appropriations bill in part because it omitted the hate-crimes legislation, but he eventually capitulated and signed a budget bill that did not include the HCPA provisions.

Round Two

However, while this ignominious end for the HCPA left its supporters stunned and shellshocked, the impetus they had gained, combined with how close to succeeding they actually were, kept their long-term hopes alive. They did not, perhaps, quite expect history to keep repeating itself. But it did.

Sporting many of the same, bipartisan sponsors as the HCPA, Kennedy in the spring of 2000 introduced the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act. It featured the same amendments to federal laws as the HCPA, expanding hate-crimes categories to include sexual orientation and broadening the laws' investigatory scope. True to its name, it also contained language emphasizing the primary role of local and state agencies in handling hate crimes -- and perhaps just as important, it included funding for federal grants to help local hate-crimes prosecutions, as well as for training law officers and prosecutors to identify and investigate the crimes.

In June, it passed the Senate by a wide margin, 57-42, and proceeded to the House, attached once again to another appropriations bill, this time the Department of Defense Authorization Act. Again, it enjoyed broad, bipartisan support; House members in September passed a resolution by a forty-vote margin (232-192) instructing joint-body conferees to include the bias-crimes language in the DOD bill.

But once again, the bill ran into the tandem team of Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, who succeeded on October 5 in stripping the legislation from the authorization bill.

Kennedy refused to give up, however, and reintroduced the LLEA the following March of 2001, replete with fifty-one original sponsors, even though its prospects in the narrowly GOP-controlled Senate appeared dim. But then, on May 24, Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords announced he was leaving the GOP and registering as an independent, which suddenly gave Democrats a one-vote majority in the Senate and control of both the committees and the legislative agenda.

For a time, it appeared that a bona fide federal bias-crime law was finally about to become reality. Since it was no longer forced to pass out of the Senate attached to an appropriations bill, it stood a far better chance of passage in the House as well. Kennedy pressed forward with the bill, gradually shepherding it through the Judiciary Committee to the Senate floor.

Faced with the prospects of the bill's passage, the religious right stepped up its rhetoric, denouncing the legislation again as "anti-Christian" and unconstitutional. Some of the fresh arguments raised against the legislation bordered on the bizarre, including intimations of an evil gay conspiracy to destroy America's moral fiber.

In the Senate, the opposition -- which knew it lacked the numbers to prevent passage -- shifted tactics, choosing instead to amend the bill to death. Republican senators began filing numerous modifications ranging from Senator Bob Smith's attempt to add pregnant women to the class of potential victims to amendments regarding defense issues and human cloning. By June 11, some nineteen different amendments had been filed, nearly all of them frivolous in nature.

Democrats decided to hold a vote cutting off debate -- which turned out to be a fatal move. Two of the Republican cosponsors of the bill, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and John Ensign of Nevada, reneged on their commitment and voted to allow the amendments to pile up, while another five Republicans who had voted for the bill in 2000 did likewise. In the end, the cutoff failed, and the bill returned to the Judiciary Committee, where it continued to languish.

That November, Republicans retook control of the Senate, and the LLEA returned to the tender mercies of Orrin Hatch. The LLEA was revived in 2003 in the Senate, this time under bipartisan cosponsorship headed up by Gordon Smith. But it remains bound inside the Judiciary Committee, and no prospect is in sight of its ever escaping -- nor, for that matter, of its ever surviving the House in any event.

Frank remarks

Indeed, as Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who would handle the bill in the House should it ever emerge from the Senate, told me in an interview that DeLay would certainly kill it again: "The problem in the House is that the Republican leadership is determined not to do anything or allow anything that’s supportive. And the way the rules of the House work, unlike the rules of the Senate, they’re in total control. As long as the Republicans are in control of the House, you’re not going to see, I’m afraid -- or at least, not for the foreseeable future -- but they won’t allow either the hate-crimes bill or ENDA or virtually anything else that’s supportive of the position of non-discrimination to go forward, and they have total control."

Frank made an important point in that interview:
The Republican leadership -- look, they’re worried about their base, and a large part of their base is very homophobic. Things have evolved. They don’t want to do much gay-bashing anymore, because they know that face has cost them something. But they are firmly against and will never allow anything supportive.

Are they trying to attract the gay vote?

No, but they do know -- well, some of them are, I mean, the Log Cabin people try to basically say, look, they’re not calling us names -- but what they’re trying to do is attract the votes, I think, of people who are gay and very conservative economically. But even more, I think, it’s not so much the gay votes, they know by now that since so many of us are out, what’s at play here are not just gay and lesbian people but millions of our relatives and friends. They understand it’s not a good idea to call somebody’s kid an asshole -- even if the person isn’t happy that the kid’s gay. So they’re really trying to answer to the general public.

Gay rights used to be a wedge issue used by the Republicans against the Democrats -- that is, they would force Democrats to vote on these issues because then they would feel that the general public being anti-gay and the Democratic primary electorate being pro-gay, we would be caught in the middle. Now that’s reversed.

Indeed, the polling data on including gays and lesbians in any kind of federal hate-crimes law is strong across the board. It's one of those issues where the average American, given the right framework and an understanding of the basic issues of fairness involved, knows the right thing to do. And as Frank suggests, there has been a gradual sea change in attitudes about gays -- an especially about bigotry against them.

Were Democrats to play it smart, they would make passage of the LLEEA a major issue for the summer of 2000 -- the perfect countermove to the GOP's desire to play up the gay-marriage issue.

If progressives can make an issue out of the GOP's anti-gay bigotry within the hate-crimes frame, then that same characterization of Republicans should transfer clearly and simply to their behavior on the gay-unions front.

There is a strategic reason, in the end, as well as a moral one, for doing the right thing.

As Atrios suggests, Democrats need to quit toying with the issue and simply get behind it. And a two-barreled front, it should be obvious, is going to be needed to knock down the Republicans' well-laid propaganda plans.

True colors

The anti-abortion "Christian" right lets down the curtain briefly with this headline in a recent edition of the "Pro Life News" From Covenant News [scroll down]:

D&X Ban Brings Out the Baby Murdering Jews

Maybe they've been reading up on Anne Emmerich ...

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Evading reality

Those with long memories may recall that one of the chief flaws of the Charles Murray-Richard Herrnstein opus The Bell Curve was that it relied in key parts heavily on white-supremacist and eugenicist material from extremely dubious sources, notably the Pioneer Fund.

Now we learn that his latest work -- which ostensibly demonstrates the innate superiority of white Western civilization, mostly by defining "accomplishment" in terms based on white Western values -- is even more egregiously derived. Indeed, its entire thesis is based on a scientific "method" first used by eugenicists more than a century ago, and whose real scientific usefulness is rather limited. Murray, somewhat unsurprisingly, employs it in ways no serous scientist would.

Murray's text, titled Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, uses a method called "historiometry" to obtain its desired results. From the New York Times review:
Historiometry was introduced in the early 19th century by Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian mathematician who analyzed the relationship between age and achievement by studying the careers of prominent French and English playwrights. But it was Francis Galton, an English scientist and pioneering eugenicist, who brought the method into scholarly fashion.

For his 1869 study, "Hereditary Genius," Galton hit upon the idea of using obituaries and entries in a biographical dictionary to show a correlation between reputation, intelligence and heredity. Other studies of eminence followed, but by the late 1930's the approach had fallen from vogue as the social sciences came under the sway of behaviorism.

Galton, in fact, is the father of eugenics, having invented the term. Here's a characteristic excerpt from an 1864 magazine article penned by Galton:
If a twentieth part of the cost and pains were spent in measures for the improvement of the human race that is spent on the improvement of the breed of horses and cattle, what a galaxy of genius might we not create! We might introduce prophets and high priests of civilization into the world, as surely as we can propagate idiots by mating cretins. Men and women of the present day are, to those we might hope to bring into existence, what the pariah dogs of the streets of an Eastern town are to our own highly-bred varieties.

The feeble nations of the world are necessarily giving way before the nobler varieties of mankind; and even the best of these, so far as we know them, seem unequal to their work. The average culture of mankind is become so much higher than it was, and the branches of knowledge and history so various and extended, that few are capable even of comprehending the exigencies of our modern civilization; much less of fulfilling them. We are living in a sort of intellectual anarchy, for the want of master minds. The general intellectual capacity of our leaders requires to be raised, and also to be differentiated. We want abler commanders, statesmen, thinkers, inventors, and artists. The natural qualifications of our race are no greater than they used to be in semi-barbarous times, though the conditions amid which we are born are vastly more complex than of old. The foremost minds of the present day seem to stagger and halt under an intellectual load too heavy for their powers.

What is especially instructive about Galton was the way he devised "scientific" methods that were inimical to the nature of science itself -- that is, they often were constructed in a fashion likely to produce results that supported his original thesis, rather than working (as science must) from data first. Galton's application of historiometry, for example, relied on certain assumptions that later proved untrue. More recent social scientists have adopted historiometry for specialized fields of study, but most of them recognize the limitations of the method.

Not so Murray, who applies it to an absurdly long historical period and applies to cross-culturally, where the comparisons become based on predispositions and biases rather than anything approaching a scientific standard. Note how Murray went about collecting his data:
Borrowing the techniques of Mr. Simonton and other social scientists, Mr. Murray developed inventories of 4,002 significant figures in the arts and sciences by calculating the amount of space allotted to them in standard reference works and assigning them scores on a 100-point scale.

The built-in bias toward Western "accomplishment" should be obvious, since the vast majority of most "standard reference works" are either Western in origin or are derived in form from Western references.

This is not dissimilar from The Bell Curve in its argument that because poor blacks consistently test lower in IQ, a hereditary component must be at work -- while neglecting to take into account the effects of poverty, to wit, the fact that the poor nutrition common among small children from the lower classes directly affects their brain development and thus their IQs.

In other words, if you shut out reality and apply "scientific" methods to limited data, you can prove any point you want to make. Murray, it should be clear by now, is a master of this.

Heavy thinker

I know this is just temporary, but ...

Does it strike anyone else as extremely fitting that, if you go to the site reserved for Ann Coulter's blog, readers are informed that this is where "Ann Coulter speaks her mind" ...

And it is nothing but a blank page?