Saturday, December 06, 2003

Projecting violence

Glenn Reynolds links approvingly to this classic bit of conservative projection from Gerard Van Der Leun, "Where Bush Hate is Heading." In it, Van Der Leun inflates a toss-off line from Eminem into evidence of the growing virulence and potential violence underlying "Bush hatred."

These posts raise a few questions:

-- Since when, exactly, did the notorious homophobe Eminem become an official spokesman of liberalism?

-- Indeed, I thought that, according to John Leo, conservatives are supposed to be the "cool cats" among young people today. Wasn't Andrew Sullivan just telling us that Eminem is one of those "realist" "South Park Republicans"?

-- Were Reynolds and Van Den Leuven likewise concerned -- nay, alarmed! -- when such genuine conservative spokesmen as Jesse Helms and John Derbyshire made similar remarks aimed at the Clintons? What were their reactions when Ann Coulter, in her 1998 book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors, suggested the only viable discussions for dealing with Clinton came down to whether we should "impeach or assassinate"?

-- Where, exactly, were Reynolds and Van Der Leun a couple of weeks ago when nationally syndicated conservative columnist Kathleen Parker approvingly quoted an anonymous military man's wish that the nine Democratic presidential candidates be "lined up and shot"?

Oh, that's right. "Rowdy Yates" would never bite the hand that strokes his ego.

Problem is, the Parker column is only one example of many instances of the escalation of antiliberal rhetoric into outright (and violent) eliminationism. As discussed earlier, the instances of this behavior range from prominent conservatives like Ann Coulter to Parker to any number of lesser lights. It appears in conservative blogs like the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler, Mark Byron, and IMAO, and is a staple of the commentary at such Websites as Little Green Footballs and Free Republic. It is also becoming a staple of letters to the editor.

Indeed, continue reading the commentary to Van Der Leun's post: It is rife with the desire to do violence unto liberals, including one such post from the owner of the Rottweiler site, and another that explicitly fantasizes about someone inserting a gun into Eminem's mouth and pulling the trigger.

I've also pointed out that there is no real parallel to this behavior from the left. Moreover, as Misha (who is prolific in posting this kind of hatred, including a recent contribution here) rather ominously point out, it is the folks on the right who tend to have all the guns in this country.

What is particularly interesting about this kind of projection by conservatives is that it then (as the comments indicate) becomes a pretext for even further eliminationist rhetoric against liberals -- and eventually, for exactly the kind of "acting out" of rhetoric that Van Der Leun foresees from liberals.

[Thanks to reader Jeff K. for the tip.]

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Exposing journalists

Hey, maybe reporters covering the Bush White House are starting to get a clue. Or maybe not.

But there's one thing that Bush's recent trip to Iraq should have reminded every working journalist covering this administration: Take them at their word at your own risk. Caveat emperor.

The skill with which the White House hid Bush's Thanksgiving trip to Iraq was especially noteworthy for the extent to which reporters were gulled by the press office. They made fools out of everyone covering Bush, and did it with some apparent glee.

Indeed, as CBS's Mark Knoller observed, by relying on White House officials, he had been "filing radio reports that amounted to fiction."
"Even as President Bush was addressing U.S. personnel in Baghdad, I was on the air saying he was at his ranch making holiday phone calls to American troops overseas," Knoller said. "I got that information from a White House official that very morning."

Any journalist doing their work honestly must ask: To what extent is that happening in other regards? To what extent am I allowing that to happen?

It should be clear that the White House lies without remorse. Indeed, they're rather proud of this episode. How much longer are the battered wives of the White House corps going to put up with this?

And what the public will wonder is this: Just how many "fictional" reports have been emanating from the White House, gullibly transmitted by the press corps, since 2001 -- all in the name of "national security"?

Grudgingly, though, you have to admit one thing: When it comes to manipulating the press, and the public along with it, these guys are pros. You also have to wonder if that wasn't part of the purpose of the exercise: To display to all the world just how completely the press was at their mercy. And to remind reporters of it, too.


I've been savoring Pandagon's delicious "Twenty Most Annoying Conservatives" and found myself reflecting on No. 19, John Leo and Brian Anderson, for their indefatigable efforts to assure us that conservatives were now officially "cool" -- by citing, among other sources, South Park.

For some reason, when I read John Leo's columns these days, my memory harkens back to the CHiPs "punk rock" episode.

Empowering extremists

It appears that Army officials have been checking out the far-right American Border Patrol, reportedly to review their "Border Hawk," which is a remote-controlled model airplane equipped with a camera.

You can see the technology -- as well as the Army officers' backsides -- at the American Patrol Web site.

Potentially, this could even involve the Department of Homeland Security, which is considering use of the same technology.

Your taxpayer dollars at work.

America: The global view

Perhaps the most thought-provoking letter I've received since opening the blog came today from Pedro, a Brazilian who posts regularly at Billmon:
Although The Yorkshire Lad may have overstated the case against the United States, I would like to say that, from a foreigner’s point of view, much of what he says rings true. We are presently -- even in my country, Brazil, which is fairly pro-American -- simultaneously appalled and scared. The main source of amazement, however, is not Mr Bush himself but the fact that a good part of the American people still stand behind him. Bad presidents can be replaced. But what can you do when a whole country seems to have lost its bearings?

I also agree with The Yorkshire Lad that Mr Bush stands a good chance of being reelected next year. All it takes is one or two more photo-ops like the recent one in Thanksgiving, plus a pullout from Iraq in the near future or, failing that, a reduction in American deaths. It can be done. The media will forget Iraq as it has forgotten Afghanistan. A few thousand more un-Americans will have been killed in the process, but that doesn’t seem to count. Forgive me if I am being cynical here, but that’s the way things appear to work in your country.

As to the whole matter of liberals vs. conservatives, or whatever you may call it, I would like to point out that this whole discussion is just one more endogenous American game which makes no sense whatsoever to the rest of the world. No matter who wins next year or which trend prevails in the long run, Americans will continue to be Americans -- a race of mostly benign aliens who conquered the Earth with their superior technology but are still unable to understand what makes the rest of us tick. It is precisely this American alienness, previously a source of discreet and slightly envious amusement, which has become scary in recent times.

To us un-Americans, an American conservative is a guy who doesn’t give a damn about you because you are a foreigner, whereas a liberal is a guy who makes an earnest effort to give a damn about you even though you are inferior. The first are offensive, the second are offensively condescending. Of course, it is very difficult to notice this when you are immersed in the culture, but it does happen all the time. Take, for instance, Mr Bush’s visit to Iraq -– an apparently harmless stunt -- and try to look at it from the other side of the fence: this guy secretly flies into my country to celebrate an American national holiday at the time of the Eid, a very important Muslim date; he speaks of Thanksgiving as if we knew what it is about; he makes no mention whatsoever to Ramadan, which obviously means nothing to him; he issues advice and stern warnings to Iraqis; and he has the gall to call the Iraqis present at the dinner "our guests" in their own country.

What I am trying to drive at here is that underneath all this American meddling with world affairs there is never a premise of equality. The whole American debate, even at its most liberal -- just read the blogs -- is totally self-referential and usually takes for granted that everybody else ultimately just wants to become American (or else destroy "our freedoms" out of spite). In their innocence and single-mindedness, Americans are either blind to diversity or view it as threatening. I, a Brazilian, could walk on the streets of Baghdad and have a cup of coffee with an Iraqi; we could, in spite of our profound differences, exchange views and share our experiences. The average American can't, because for an American the ultimate experience is being American; all the rest is irrelevant. It is very hard to breach this wall. This would be inconsequential if we were able to just ignore the Americans and leave them to themselves, but can become quite worrisome when they aggressively try to shape the world to their own image.

Unfortunately, this is not a political issue that can be solved replacing Republicans with Democrats; it is rather a cultural matter which requires a great shift of perception. Americans have become dangerous to the world lately not because they are evil, but because they don't understand others and, therefore, fail to understand themselves or the way they are seen by others. It is my impression that what was particularly shocking for Americans on 9/11 was not the attack itself, but the realization that people could harbor such a murderous hatred of the United States. (Unfortunately, instead of increasing awareness, this led to greater denial, which is why the same mistakes are being repeated in Iraq.) There is a great book by Graham Greene, "The Quiet American," in which an American consul in Saigon (pre-Vietnam war), full of noble intentions, makes a great deal of damage without ever realizing it. That's precisely what is happening today.

Please forgive me for such a long rant. I am writing to you because I have been feeling quite worried lately with the way things are going. I have a young daughter and I want her to live a long and peaceful life. I do believe the United States run the risk of becoming a "soft" media-controlled totalitarian state or worse. On the other hand, I feel -- for the first time -- that there is a great deal of perplexity around, which is a positive sign. In my opinion, the only way to effect a lasting change is to take a step back from the self-centered inter-American debate and accept the fact that we’re all in this together. Power feels good, but happiness is better.

Thanks, Pedro. (Some of Pedro's Billmon posts, which are similarly excellent, can be found here andhere.)

More personal, more political

Steve at EdgeWyse has an excellent and thought-provoking response to "The Personal and the Political."

Mostly, Steve is taking the conversation in the direction I hoped to go, which is: OK, I was speaking more or less from the gut, from my instinct and experience, but where do we go from there? Do we just toss up our hands and fight? Or do we keep finding ways to reopen the dialogue?

I'm with Steve: We need to find a way to converse. And the means for grappling with the problem are known to us:
The socially corrosive effects of a bitterly partisan polarization of the population are well studied and understood, as are those structural systems that either encourage or discourage such polarization (see Lijphart's "Patterns of Democracy"). Scienfific techniques such as Linguist George Lakoff's "Framing" can be applied to good effect on the populace at large by dissenting groups and individuals. Further, once we get past this period we can take corrective action to prevent the reoccurence such as better financed independent media (NPR+PBS) and electoral reforms such as Instant Run-off Voting or Proportional (aka Full) Representation that encourage cooperating coalitions rather than bitter partisan dichotomies (see again Lijphart or

Similarly, in individual relationships, neurological and cognitive studies have empirically revealed ways that hatred can be prevented or eliminated in the same way that phobias can be successfully treated as diseases (see pulitzer prize winning science journalist Rush Dozier Jr.'s "Why We Hate"). Although somewhat less rigorously empirically verified, other techniques such as Marshall Rosenberg's "Nonviolent Communication Techniques" are more easily, universally applicable and comprehensive.

The rest of the post explores some further ideas that may help along the way. Read it. I'll be adding my two cents shortly.

Tracking violence

Benedict Spinoza has an outstanding post examining the rising threat of violence inherent in both the rhetoric and the behavior of conservatives and Bush defenders generally. He cites an especially chilling example in which the object of the implied threat was a Catholic priest, and then zeroes in on what the real problem is, namely:
[T]he idea that violence is becoming an acceptable element of civil discourse. Of course, detractors will be quick to suggest that I am some sort of conspiracy nut; that it is silly to think that these commentators actually want such violence to occur (they claimed the same during Vietnam), and sillier still to think that they are in alliance with any that might eventually perpetrate such violence. There is of course no such conspiracy, but that is not the point. The point is that by constantly using violent imagery, these commentators seek to desensitize others to the idea of violence against US (and other) civilians. This desensitization takes many forms, and I would suggest that both this incident with Father Dear and the Miami incidents are warning signs that this violence meme is taking hold.

[Be sure to read not just this, but also his previous post, "An invitation to violence," which addresses the same problem from the angle of the police response to the FTAA protesters in Miami, which, as Avedon Carol points out, was helpfully financed with a large chunk of change from the $87 billion approved to fight the "war on terror."]

Still tracking anthrax

Responding to last night's post about the anthrax case, Tristero writes in to observe:
Towards the middle/end of the article, the author notes a lot of disputes over the notion that the anthrax was particularly "well-made." Frankly, the new theory could be merely political change of focus rather than new scientific evidence.

There is simply no way to tell what theory's more likely without reading the Science report carefully and I suspect, even then, the chemistry issues are so complex that only an expert in the field would be able to assess the evidence:

Matsumoto writes that U.S. intelligence officials briefing experts from other NATO countries told them that the anthrax powder contained polymerized glass, which "leaves a thin glassy coating that helps bind the silica to particle surfaces."

But as the Science article notes, other scientists advising the FBI have concluded that the anthrax powder contained no additives. In a briefing on Capitol Hill late last year, Matsumoto writes, FBI scientist Dwight Adams suggested that the element silicon was naturally present in the spores and that no silica was added.

A similar dispute continues over experiments at the Army's Dugway Proving Ground to try to reproduce the powder in the letters using various kinds of equipment. The goal was to "reverse-engineer" the mailed anthrax to try to figure out how it was made.

Government sources familiar with the work told The Sun in April that the Dugway researchers felt they had succeeded in reproducing the powder and concluded that it was made with relatively inexpensive equipment and limited expertise.

Others familiar with the work, including former United Nations bioweapons inspector Richard O. Spertzel, said the powder made at Dugway did not float as freely as the powder mailed to the senators.

Whether changing scientific conclusions have reduced the FBI's focus on Hatfill is uncertain. Any change of strategy might have resulted from the arrival of a new assistant FBI director in charge of the Washington field office, which is running the anthrax investigation.

My friend Paul deArmond also writes in to observe, along the same lines:
Read carefully, the muddle on particle size and additives still exists:

* The particle size distribution of the Senate letters is still murky. I frankly don't believe the Frist report of "1.5 to 3.0 uM" because it's too narrow and too small (essentially no clumps bigger than four spores.) The Alibek report of 1-100 uM is fuzzy because Alibek says he only saw a very small number of electron photomicrographs (could have been cherry-picked to mislead).

* The issue of additives is still up in the air. There are conflicting sources, but the weight of evidence is on the side of there being some additive.

Long story short, the quality of the anthrax is more likely due to the knowledge and experience of who made it. There is no evidence of any super-duper exotic equipment needed.

The Science article is problematic because it states conflicting evidence but doesn't resolve the issues. The particle size problem is black, or white, no wait it's black. Same deal with the additives. There was a letter to the NYT and WP from Alibek and Meselson saying they had seen electron photomicrographs of the Senate sample that showed no "fumed silica." This wasn't mentioned in the article (maybe because Alibek and Meselson have credibility problems -- Meselson was wrong about the Sverdlosk incident and later got it right) but it deserved mention. So the Science
article has some problems of emphasis.

There has long been very substantial evidence that the early and late mailings were physically very different. I'm now leaning towards two batches because of the dog that didn't bark in the night -- no controversy over additives in early mailings.

Now here's the zinger. Assuming there were two different processes used to prepare the final product, were they both from the same fermentation run? Scott Shane suggested to me in a phone conversation that the second batch was re-centrifuged and reduced to dry powder from what was left over from the first mailings. There is no certainty that this happened like this, but Scott seemed to suggest that it was likely. Why, I don't know and he wouldn't say. If so, the attacker had access to a lab (centrifuge, dryer, bio-containment and all that stuff) DURING October 2001.

This lab would not have to be very big. I figure that 4' x 4' x 8' would be sufficient to contain all the equipment based on the descriptions of various processes. Scott has repeatedly referred to the existance of a "tabletop" weaponization process.

One of things that is unfortunate about the Science article is that it gave away far too much technical details. Not enough that anyone would be able to reconstruct the process on the public information, but enough that it might give a little help to somebody who was already a long ways down the road.

I'll keep posting on the case as news emerges, or as my superb letter-writers keep sending me material.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Why domestic terrorism matters

Apropos of last night's post about the white supremacists who had put together a lethal poison-gas bomb that they planned to detonate somewhere in the United States:
At least one weapon of mass destruction -- a sodium cyanide bomb capable of delivering a deadly gas cloud -- has been seized in the Tyler area.

This means, of course, that we have now found more weapons of mass destruction in Texas, in the hands of domestic terrorists, than we have in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Notably, this is the second such case already this year, and both have been cracked due to sheer blind luck. Another would-be domestic-terrorism attack was recently prevented because relatives and friends grew concerned. One has to wonder how long we're going to stay lucky.

It is important to keep in mind that the same folks who brought us Oklahoma City are still out there, still looking for opportunities to strike. And they have explicitly recognized that the post-Sept. 11 environment is ripe for taking action that benefits them.

After all, their agenda is to create as much social chaos as possible -- to so disrupt society, and divide it, and create as much terror and fear as possible, that eventually people come to believe (as they do) that democracy is a failure, that it cannot keep them secure; and so, they believe, eventually the white populace will swarm to their authoritarian agenda when that becomes clear. That has been their agenda for some time, and was the driving purpose of Oklahoma City.

They clearly see the chance now to piggyback off the Al Qaeda and anthrax attacks as prime opportunities for creating serious chaos. Consider, if you will, one of the last radio addresses made by the late William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, remarking on the post-9/11 environment:
"Things are a bit brittle now. A few dozen more anthrax cases, another truck bomb in a well chosen location, and substantial changes could take place in a hurry: a stock market panic, martial law measures by the Bush government, and a sharpening of the debate as to how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place."

This is one of the reasons the focus, from both the media and from the upper levels of government, on international terrorism generally and Al Qaeda particularly is terribly short-sighted.

What Sept. 11 -- especially viewed in conjunction with Oklahoma City -- demonstrated irrevocably is that the threat of terrorism to America's well-being is not merely substantial but multi-faceted. Trying to tackle the problem on only one front merely leaves another exposed.

I like to cite Robert Wright's superb thinkpiece, "A Real War on Terrorism," a lot, and will do so again here. Wright points out that Al Qaeda and radical Islamic fundamentalism are really only one facet of the problem facing America and modern democracies for the next half-century and more:
For the foreseeable future, smaller and smaller groups of intensely motivated people will have the ability to kill larger and larger numbers of people. They won't have to claim that they speak on behalf of a whole religion. They'll just have to be reasonably intelligent, modestly well-funded, and really pissed off. It may be hard to imagine a few radical environmentalists, or Montana militiamen, or French anti-globalization activists, or Basque separatists, or Unabomber-style Luddites, killing 100,000 people. Yet what makes this plausible is exactly what makes radical Islam such a formidable long-term threat: two enduring aspects of the evolution of technology.

First, there is the much-discussed growing accessibility of massively lethal munitions—in particular, nuclear weapons and biological weapons. (Chemical weapons, though called a "weapon of mass destruction," really aren't. They're horrible, yes; but a chemical attack by a dozen terrorists can't kill hundreds of thousands of people, as the nuclear or biological equivalent can.)

Of the two, biological weapons are in a sense spookier because the threat is so deeply ingrained in commercial progress. The things it takes to make biological weapons—fermenters, centrifuges, and the like—are in buildings you drive by routinely: hospitals, universities, pharmaceutical plants. Every year they grow in number, along with the number of people who know how to use them. And, as if it weren't scary enough that these things are essentially unregulated, the march of progress keeps creating new regulatory challenges. In July scientists announced they'd created a polio virus using mail-order DNA and a recipe available on the Internet. Hmmm ... maybe someone in the government should look into this mail-order DNA business!

If last fall's anthrax attacks were indeed, as some speculated, perpetrated by an American trying to sound a useful alarm, he/she chose a lousy germ for the job. Anthrax, though scary, is a pale harbinger of impending bio-disaster. It isn't contagious, so it's basically the equivalent of a time-release chemical weapon. Smallpox, Ebola—not to mention as-yet-unknown designer plagues—could kill millions, even tens of millions.

I could go on about the various advances that are making massively lethal attacks a layperson's sport, ranging from the already available poor man's cruise missile to the nanotechnology in Bill Joy's fevered-but-not-entirely-crazy nightmare. But the basic problem is widely recognized—Thomas Friedman called it the "superempowered angry man" in his 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree—even if its magnitude is underestimated and a solution to it remains unarticulated.

The second technological force behind Proposition 1 is less widely understood: the diverse threat posed by information technology. For starters, there is the obvious value of infotech in orchestrating a terrorist attack, both in the planning and execution phases. (Mohamed Atta, while awaiting takeoff on American Airlines Flight 11, used a cell phone to keep in touch with his troops.) Less obvious but more important, there is the use of ever-cheaper, ever-more-powerful information technologies to mobilize constituencies.

Wright's whole piece is worth reading and remembering. And, as he suggests, cases like the cyanide bombs are worth significant attention.

Especially if, as the CBS-11 report puts it, "unknown co-conspirators may still be free to carry out what appeared to be an advanced plot," and if in fact "more potentially deadly cyanide bombs may be in circulation."

I don't know about you, but that worries the bejeesus out of me. More, even, than the threat of an Al Qaeda attack.

P.S. There has been an arrest in the case of the Holocaust museum arson in Indiana. The suspect, as you can see, is a real piece of work.

Tracking anthrax

I'm a little late posting this, but it's worth a broad audience. Scott Shane is the only journalist out there who's seriously covering the anthrax terrorist case:
Additive use could shift theory in anthrax case:
FBI's interest in Hatfill seems to have dropped off

Adding fuel to a debate that has simmered among scientists since the 2001 anthrax attacks, an article published today in Science magazine says that the deadly spores mailed to two U.S. senators contained sophisticated additives to make the powder float more freely in the air.

If confirmed, such a technical innovation might be an important clue in the seemingly stalled FBI investigation, narrowing the field of potential suspects to people with access to such additives and expertise in using them.

It would point away from an alternative possibility: that a person with modest scientific skills working alone in a home lab could have made the powder, which killed five people and sickened at least 17 others in October and November 2001.

The latter possibility appears to have been the leading theory guiding FBI agents who over the past 18 months have sunk huge amounts of manpower into investigating former Army biowarfare expert Dr. Steven J. Hatfill.

This news is highly significant, well beyond the Hatfill matter, since the question of additives in the highly sophisticated anthrax that was released had remained murky for some time. It means the case is narrowing even further -- and the FBI in reality had a pretty narrow frame of suspects anyway.

Frankly, I have always considered the chief suspects in the Ayaad Assaad matter to be among the most significant, partly because the MOs matched so closely, along with the apparent motives. More to the point, they remain potential suspects, because at the government lab where they worked (and from which they potentially obtained the anthrax), they had access to samples produced by these sophisticated additive techniques.

In any event, it's heartening to know that, according to Shane, the anthrax case is still on the FBI's front burner. The media may be clueless, but as long as real progress is being made by investigators, the sooner we can get this killer behind bars where he belongs.

P.S. Be sure to review Warbaby's summation of the anthrax case's relevance at World In Conflict.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The wrong kind of terrorist

Can anyone tell me why this story is not leading the evening newscasts?
CBS 11 Investigates Poison Gas Plot

Federal authorities this year mounted one of the most extensive investigations of domestic terrorism since the Oklahoma City bombing, CBS 11 has learned.

Three people linked to white supremacist and anti-government groups are in custody. At least one weapon of mass destruction - a sodium cyanide bomb capable of delivering a deadly gas cloud - has been seized in the Tyler area.

Investigators have seized at least 100 other bombs, bomb components, machine guns, 500,000 rounds of ammunition and chemical agents. But the government also found some chilling personal documents indicating that unknown co-conspirators may still be free to carry out what appeared to be an advanced plot. And, authorities familiar with the case say more potentially deadly cyanide bombs may be in circulation.

Imagine if these had been Muslims.

The political and personal mailbag

I've really been flooded with e-mail about "The Political and the Personal," none of it, you'll be glad to hear, of the hateful variety, though some were critical. If you've written and haven't heard back from me, please be patient -- I'm hoping to get to everyone sooner or later. But I've been really bad about answering my e-mails diligently since this summer anyway. (Bad blogger! Bad blogger!) Sometimes I just get swamped.

I've always been blessed with unusually smart correspondents who have shaped a lot of the analysis I've tried undertaking here, and in this case my humble (if ridiculously long) post served as a springboard for some very keen thoughts that, I think, dramatically advance the conversation I wanted to stir. Some of these I mentioned yesterday at some of the blogs I cited.

One I managed to overlook was a thoughtful post from Bruce at Jus Cuz:
[T]there is a movement afoot that lives and breathes anti-liberalism. But the joke is that there is no liberal hegemony. They look upon benign culture and see fire breathing liberals; in the media, in the colleges, in the government, in the schools. They fail to recognize that what they see as liberalism is nothing more than modern society. A blossom of equality, freedom of speech and a dimunition of religious dogma. ...

While I was still studying (and I still do!) the dynamics of this movement I constantly wondered, "who are they talking about"? I might be a liberal, but I hardly felt that the picture of liberalism they painted was representative of my views. It wasn't, of course. It was a fantasyland. So I took the position that "there were no liberals". At least how they were depicted by this movement. I still believe this. The "enemy", as depicted, is indeed a monstrosity, but it doesn't actually have corporal form. Its a figment, created for the purpose of ridicule. The "liberal" is a crudley fashioned boogeyman crafted from out of context quotes and the stupidity of random individuals. Its nothing more than a carefully designed punching bag, in a fight you are guaranteed to win.

And some were in personal e-mails, samplings of which I'd like to share.

Mary at The Left Coaster writes in:
It really is personal with so many of us. I'm always so amazed at how many conservatives seem to be totally oblivious to the extreme damage done to our country and our world by the rightwing radicals. How many normally sensible people are either bought off by what they get from this administration (that selfish corporate/small business owner/entrepreneur class) or convinced that the "moral" issues the Bush espouses are the critical moral issues? The way that the right wing uses selfish interest to compromise people is one more thing that is so nasty about them and their tactics. They really do bring out the worst in people. Very much like Milosevic in Serbia, they have mastered the politics of resentment and hate. They are definitely poisoning our country with their extremist language and incitement to hate and it is so clear that when that type of emotion gets out of control, the consequences are very bad -- witness Chile and Serbia and Rwanda.

Anyway, it is very good to see your thoughts on this. In my opinion, repeating this message (they are not only malicious, but even worse, incompetent) over and over again is going to be the only way to make sure the "average" American really gets to understand the danger. I'd feel much better if we got some of the more credible Republicans starting to sound the alarm as well. Yet it important that people like yourself express the problem in very clear and eloquent language -- it helps the rest of us that are also trying to stand up to the thugs and hopefully allows some of the conservatives some other information that eventually helps them understand the monster they are feeding.

Just Ducky Farm writes:
A perspective you may have missed:

You can substitute this registered Independant 'conservative' for the word liberal through most of what you have written and still be correct (at least from my perspective.)

I have usually considered myself conservative (and have been accused of it by 'liberals' back when it was not in style) but basically agree with your own (probably mislabeled) liberal viewpoint.

I think the fringe elements currently running this country are hanging on by their fingernails and will be replaced -- if we can find a way to propagate these kind of discussions.

John at Bliss Puppet writes in to supplement his posts there by observing:
I'm interested in the idea that some bloggers have begun to draw lines in the sand, i.e., they are beginning to acknowledge that the Republican party is not just engaged in same ol', same ol'. Rather they are, to borrow Krugman's word, "revolutionary" and (probably?) trending toward some form of anti-democratic totalitarism.

I agree, though it's an incrementalist revolutionarism; they're satisfied to do it in small steps. They're boiling us like frogs.

Roger Kemble at The Yorkshire Lad writes in with a distinctively anti-American slant:
I have just read your article on Smirking chimp. This outsider finds it profoundly disquieting.

(You) . . . "don't really blame (your) friends for this, though of course (you) deeply resent their willingness to adopt such beliefs."

Who exactly do you blame then? [Ed. note: I said in the text that I blamed the media transmitters who fill their brains with this crap.]

You may be interested to read my take on your "friends".

Nearly all US web news "dissident" commentary I read takes as a given that the Bush neo-con rampage started with 9/11. Not so. Indeed, George W. Bush epitomizes everything your USA stands for and has stood for ever since its inception. Your minute men were interested in deposing King George l, for sure, but only so they could to take up his mantle. And they learnt well from the scourge of the British Empire. History tells us Bush and Blair are irrevocably well suited.

Your USA is a scourge on the world: has been for two hundred years. And it has trodden in the face of weaker nations all with the conscious complicity of your "wonderful-hard-working-sincere-yet-deluded-working-class" countrymen.

I will be very surprised if Bush does not survive November 2004. Should his dependent entourage see failure looming they will have no compunction than to declare elections void during wartime or enlist the help of corrupted touch screen voting machines. But really I do not thinq that will be necessary for President George W. Bush is America!

I hope this news doesn't upset you. But until you realize what is happening you will have little hope to change things. The rest of the world wishes you well at the same time it is very, very afraid.

I don't know if the fear that Kemble writes about is real, but I suspect it is. What I do know is that I still believe in Americans' basic decency, and their ability at the end of the day to do the right thing in the voting booth in 2004. I know only too well the history of white people on this continent, and particularly their darker episodes. But that is not a complete portrait of America, and ignoring the power of the millions of Americans who remain of good will is selling them short.

Terry Scott writes in:
You've described the experience many of us had in the Nixon years. I remember my father, raised Republican but a Democratic voter from 1960 on, commenting on Nixon's promise to put 100,000 police officers on city streets: "The Federal government has no business in local policing." That's what I call real conservatism.

Gropinator writes in:
[The essay] very much mirrors my own experience, from an evangelical kid (during summers, I used to attend the AOG church next to I-5 near Green Lake in Seattle) who went to Nixon and Ford rallies with my mom, to the disbelief at the audaciousness since 2000.

Along the way, I knew something was up. When I moved my business, I became active on the local congressional campaign, and got to know some very nice people in the opposing camp -- traditional main street businessmen who would whisper that the anti-abortion nuts didn't represent their party. The ideologues on the other side were another story -- like Helen Chenoweth. We defeated Andrea Seastrand with Walter Capps in a competitive district. In spite of Walter's credentials as a divinity school graduate and chair of the UCSB Religious Studies Dept., the other side called Seastrand "God's candidate." Seastrand lost, at least in part, because she ran a famous over-the-top ad morphing Capps with child murderer/rapist Richard Allen Davis.

That '96 campaign was satisfying because we felt sanity had prevailed over a fringe bit player, and had nudged the system toward the middle. That sense went away, and my internal alarm bell went off with the next congressional election.

Capps was replaced by his widow Lois in a special election only months after our big win. (Mrs. Capps still represents the Santa Barbara region). In the '98 election, we ran against a better packaged opponent. But he was still "God's candidate," even though Mrs. Capps, like here late husband, graduated from Yale's divinity school.

The other candidate tried a last minute deception. He had his campaign volunteers and his phone bank called most of the registered Dems claiming to be "Central Coast Democrats for Honest Representation," with a message design to suppress turnout. I recall the disbelief among our volunteers. We couldn't even imagine being involved in something like that. All of us, volunteers and paid staff alike, would have walked off a campaign that sunk that low.

Yet my respectable cloth coat opponents went right along with it. They weren't even ashamed. That was my own turning point, realizing that active Republicans were just not like the rest of us. They no longer represented the respectable honesty of Eisenhower or the anti-communist thrift of Governor Reagan. Rank and file Republican activists would go along with deceit, or even fraud. So much for the honest competition of ideas.

We have a long haul now. We won't stoop to their level, but don't win much. Like you suggest, many Americans project their sense reasonableness onto people for whom reasonableness is a mere facade. We won’t fight in proportion to the threat because we can’t believe what we see. We’re trapped in a slow motion car wreck.

And finally, John Chapman offers a moving insight:
[The essay] also reflects my own situation with friends, some past and family.

Being an Expat American, returning frequently to the U.S., I find there a situation which is hard to understand and makes me think if this is the same country, in which I was reared, taught values and was educated.

There appears of recent, so much anger and disrespect for the values which made us special and set us apart.

I can only reflect on earlier discussions with my, now deceased, Father, who had been an administrator of one of the Japanese detention camps and later a diplomat in the Foreign Service. In retirement, looking back over many years of service to his country, he steadfastly refused, although a highly intelligent and well educated person, to accept that the decision to move the Japanese Americans into camps was in hindsight, incorrect. When pressed with facts, his answer to me was, if you cannot accept that there was a danger, then you are not patriotic. We could only agree to disagree.

Based on your article, how to find consensus anchored in some general accepted framework of tolerance and principle -- more dialogue, but framed in a consensus of respect and decency?

It would appear that if there is none, the continuing polarization will eventually destroy everything for which we stand.

Longtime readers will recall that I have posted at length on several occasions here about the willingness of the public to shout down anyone who questioned the evacuation of the Japanese-Americans as "Jap lovers," as well as what an abysmal waste the affair was during wartime, and the utter, groundless hysteria on which the internment was justified. And as I mentioned then, the ease with which this travesty occurred amid a supposedly decent society does not give much comfort in our current environment.

Blogging about

Slacktivist expands exponentially on everyone's database regarding the Institute on Religion and Democracy, with a must-read post about its previous divisive intrusions on mainstream churches.

Richard at Peking Duck has a nice takedown of the WSJ's reptilian James Taranto.

Responding to an excellent Digby post, Chris Andersen at Interesting Times has some terrific insights about the road ahead. I'm also taking Chris's pledge. (Via Leah at corrente.)

CincyDemo has a great post about some not-so-embedded reporting in Baghdad.

And Sam Smith has a great essay up at The Progressive Review titled "Handling the Bullies". [Thanks to Dan Chambers for the tip.] Here's the opening graf:
For many years now, the Republican right has engaged in a politics of cultural bullying that is the direct descendent of the southern segregationists. It is based on anathematizing a minority in order to solidify its own political base around false assumptions of purity and superiority. It is an illusion that deceives much of its own constituency into thinking that ultimately minor cultural differences are more important than such issues as economics, healthcare or public education. Thus it is not only mean, it is masochistic. One minority ends up being hurt by another that is being conned and hurt in other ways.

Go read it all.

Little glass houses

Via Bob Somerby, we discover that The Washington Times, of all people, is accusing Hillary Clinton of "un-American" behavior:
Republican consultant Scott Reed called the comments "un-American."

"Any member of the U.S. Senate should be supporting our troops 100 percent," Mr. Reed said. "It sounds like Senator Clinton has been stung by the fact that President Bush overshadowed her trip to Iraq and left her as an after-story. So to break into the debate, she's had to take the low road."

Speaking of the low road ...

There's this snippet from Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon's The Age of Sacred Terror, cited a coupla times earlier.

According to Benjamin and Simon, the turning point when al-Qaeda became America's greatest enemy was not on Sept. 11, 2001, but rather on Aug. 20, 1998 -- the day President Clinton launched missile strikes against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and the Sudan, the latter being a pharmaceutical plant at al-Shifa that was being used to develop chemical weapons. First, there's this, on pp. 260-261:
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.

Real Americans, these folks.

The glass house that is The Washington Times evidently has no fear of throwing stones -- because no one has the stones to throw back.

A little Sermon on the Mount, anyone?

From Russ Baker at, a piece about our friends the Traditional Values Coalition, one of the most vociferous opponents of a federal hate-crimes bill:
The Post described the Orange County, California-based group as "a public policy organization that says it has more than 43,000 member churches." While the TVC is nominally a coalition, and can claim, superficially, to represent many churches, it is actually an umbrella for a variety of initiatives and affiliated groups that personally benefit the family of TVC's ethically-challenged founder and chairman, the Rev. Lou Sheldon.

Sheldon's TVC publicly campaigned against "card clubs" seeking approval in five cities, without revealing that his own son Steve was being paid $156,000 to rally churches against card clubs by competing gaming interests that wanted the field to themselves. This was discovered by investigators for California's Fair Political Practices Commission. Sheldon himself received a $10,000 consulting fee from a coalition funded largely by Nevada casinos.

Sheldon also committed a biblical-strength sin, betraying one of his own constituent ministers. The Reverend Steve Anderson, at the time a TVC board member, was engaged in exposing dubious contracting practices by a powerful California waste company, Taormina Industries, in his hometown of Colton, California. Unbeknownst to Rev. Anderson, while Sheldon was providing him with "guidance" in his struggle against Taormina (which had launched a vicious campaign to silence Anderson), Sheldon was quietly accepting money and computing resources from Taormina's owner -- and adding him to TVC's own board. (You can read the full story of Anderson's battle with Taormina here.)

"The whole Sheldon family is using TVC as a sham ministry," Anderson says. "They claim to represent thousands of churches, but, from being in good standing on the inside from 1994 to 1996, I can say it's a lie. Lou has switched to lobbying politicians and groups instead of ministering in actual churches. He's a lobbyist among politicians, yet claims to be a minister of the Gospel. Lou's latest sham is to be leading the war against homosexuals, in light of the recent Supremes decision. Follow the money. It's not from mainstream churches backing him. Just hatemongers!"

Of course, a little Scripture might be appropriate at this point:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Back in the saddle

Whew! Well, that was a nice break.

Writing is an appetite, and I rather gorged myself, Thanksgiving-style, on last week's, ah, longish post, which whetted my need to blog for awhile. As many of you have gathered, it was something of an expiation anyway -- I was getting out a lot of things that have been building up for quite awhile. I hope you all will excuse my prolonged silence; I was busy enjoying family over the holidays and cooking and eating turkey.

I've been kind of stunned -- since it was probably a more personal post than I usually write, and I thought its appeal would be limited -- at how broadly it seems to have resonated. I've heard from all around the blogosphere and elsewhere. The response has been overwhelming and of course gratifying -- not to mention edifying.

In addition to the usual suspects at Atrios, Talk Left, Sideshow, Tristero, Hackenblog and American Samizdat, there was a lively discussion at Smirking Chimp and a few other forums as well. Jesse Berney at put up a nice post that also drew some interesting discussion. Folks at such sites as Kimmitt's, Articulate Babble, Liberal Arts Mafia, The Left Half of My Brain, Just a Bump in the Beltway, Tugboat Potemkin, EP Rants, Bliss Puppet, Scott Slemmons, EdgeWise, Lex Alexander, Real Art, Naked Furniture, and Fables of the Reconstruction all chimed in as well. And there were even a few conservative responses, notably those from Dean Esmay and Balloon Juice.

I was especially encouraged by the kinds of smart discussions of the essay at such sites as Population: One, who says:
The right doesn’t have a monopoly on hatred in this country. Thirty years ago, our domestic terrorists were the left-wing Weathermen and the Symbionese Liberation Army. Thirty years from now, radical environmentalists may embrace terrorist tactics wholeheartedly.

But that’s then. This is now. I am a minarchist, and I have great sympathy for those who feel the government has too many tendrils in private life. This does not stop me from thinking that violence is the wrong solution for the problem as it exists in America today. And when I look around to see where the violence comes from — today, now — I see the terrorist right.

Marstonalia also offers some keen insight, reflecting on how the conservative movement has affected the court system:
One of the things that amazes me about the rhetoric of conservative movement types nowadays is that they still have the audacity to continue to use the trope of "liberal activist judges," thirty-five years after there has been a genuine liberal in the White House to do any appointing. It's one of those time-worn phrases that has been used to whip up good old American populist resentment. Judicial power is an important issue, to be sure. Still, take a look just at the Supreme Court's federalism jurisprudence, or the more restrictive turn in takings law, or the area of sovereign immunity. ...

The trope of a "liberal activist judiciary" is tired. Repeating it over and over does not make it true. But it is part of the inertia of political movement rhetoric that it gets used long past its usefulness for describing the world.

James Benjamin at The Left End of the Dial had this to say:
In the meantime, if you are a conservative reading this blog I have a challenge: the next time your peers diss moderates and liberals as traitors, cowards, terrorists, and whatever other ad hominem epithets that they like to use, stand up and tell them that they're wrong for using those epithets. Call up talk show hosts and let them know that their barrage of verbal bile is not tolerable any longer. If you see someone harrassing protesters (even if you strongly disagree with what the protesters are up to), make some noise and let those harrassing know that they are in the wrong (at least with their chosen tactics). In other words, prove to me that you and I are on the same page with regards to the ideals that have made the US a great nation, even if we disagree on the some of the details. Do so, and in time I won't look suspiciously when I see an (R) beside a candidate's name. Do so, and your party will eventually regain my respect. But treat me like an enemy, and I am left with no choice but to fight back.

And of course, I especially appreciated Digby's take, in no small part because he runs one of my favorite blogs:
David reluctantly concludes that they either implicitly endorse the increasingly blatant eliminationist rhetoric and strongarm tactics or they don't give a damn. But I actually think it's something else.

I think they are actually more afraid of these jack-booted bullies than we are. They are, as Hesiod once memorably said, "battered GOP moderates." Like an abused spouse they know that nothing pisses off the Lord of the Manor more than lip from his own family. ...

It isn't easy being a liberal Democrat in this political landscape. But, it's even harder being a Republican rebel.

I agree with Digby that my suggestions only scratched at the surface regarding the reasons for conservatives' failures to resist this slide into violent language and discourse. Another, it must be said, is the unique power of movement ideologues to buy into any kind of rationale that enables them to pretend as though this were merely politics as usual, or moreover, that liberals are not only every bit as bad, they are in fact worse in their drive to destroy conservatives. Mostly, they simply decline to address the worsening nature of the rhetoric and the fact that it is emanating exclusively from the right, and they particularly ignore the specific evidence of it.

These traits have been rather clearly on display in the two samples of conservative links to the post -- Balloon Juice doesn't even attempt to address the facts or the evidence, so he attacks me ad hominem (I'm now a paranoid fantasist, it seems). The more thoughtful Dean Esmay compares my post, unfavorably, to a classic case of conservative projection from Orson Scott Card, and then suggests that we've somehow arrived at opposing conclusions after examining the same data sets. But we haven't: Card doesn't even mention what is at the heart of my thesis: the increasingly violent nature of rightist rhetoric, and its encroaching eliminationism -- nor would he, since there really is no parallel to it on the left, and Card's kind of thinking is of the kind that likes to neatly arrange the world in a "if the right does it, the left must do it too" sort of balance. In reality this balance simply doesn't exist, and elides the fact that the left and right are distinctively different in natures.

Esmay, by contrast, is more reasonable, but like Card seems not to remember the entire 1990s, when Republicanism became typified not by a constructive polity but by visceral hatred of Bill Clinton, a hatred that has since been genericized to include all liberals. Yes, the liberal response since then has grown more strident -- for every action, after all, there is an opposite and equal reaction. But it is largely in response to the kind of nastiness that has been directed at them in large daily doses ever since the rise of Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990s. The whining over Bush's election -- based on a set of facts that may be in dispute, but which are facts in any event -- does not even come close to the bottomless (and factless) venom we heard directed at Clinton from the right, including those who questioned his legitimacy merely because he only won a plurality. Funny how we never hear that argument anymore, isn't it?

More to the point, no conservative is willing to reckon with this point: It is Republicans who have clearly demonstrated that you can succeed by tearing your opponents down. That has, after all, clearly fueled their rise to power. That same success only militates for Democrats to play the same kind of hardball.

Of course, I want the rift to be healed. That is, after all, the reason behind the post. I want to be able to go back to voting a split ticket; I don't think a monopoly by either party is a healthy thing. But I don't think any healing's going to happen until conservatives realize that liberals and left-leaning moderates will not be rolling over for them any longer. The rise of violence, and the increasing use of the "dissent is treason" theme, is forcing us to draw a line. When they understand that we're willing to fight back, maybe we can have some old-fashioned civility.

But so far, the evidence is not exactly mounting in their favor.

I'll try to get to some of my many e-mails on this topic tomorrow.