Saturday, February 21, 2004

Gibson outtakes

By way of corroborating the analysis of my previous post, here are some noteworthy outtakes from Hutton Gibson's recent interview with Steve Feuerstein:

About screening The Passion for the pope:
GIBSON: And anyway somebody said why do you suppose he (the Pope) approved the movie? I said what do you think he would say when it comes out and he disapproved it.

The ones that we have there (in the Vatican) are all involved in the (Jewish) plot.

The need of the Vatican endorsement wasn't, it just wasn't needed at all. The only reason they went over is that the ADL had threatened to take the film over and show it to them. They would have to steal it to do so ... they did already. One of the guys in the office said why don't we take it over to the Vatican and show it to them anyway cause they wanted to see it and they did want to see it. And Mel said "OK let's take it over and show it to them." They were not after any accolade. They just wanted to take it away from the ADL who was going to go in there and put some pressure on like they can and get a condemnation of it.

No, no we had no idea of helping out the Vatican in any way. You see here we have what we call a hostile witness. As Mel said while they were on the way over, "What is he going to say is he going to condemn it because when it comes out he'll show what a big ass he is." What the heck could he say? The Jews were going to take it to the Vatican ... this was the argument from one his producers there, Steve McEveety. Mel said "Go ahead. Let us do it." The ADL might have even taken a few shots themselves and shown the Pope something that was not in the film. There is nothing these guys would not do...

On what motivates the Jews
GIBSON CONTINUES: They are the people with an eye for eye and tooth for a tooth. They must have revenge. You know they (the Jews) caused the Roman persecutions too. They called attention to the fact that the Christians were refusing to offer incense to the emperors when the emperors became gods. The Jews were notable for getting the wood to burn the Christians...a labor of love you could say.

To a Jew a Christian commits idolatry every time he looks at a crucifix and says a prayer. You know there in control and they're going to get in control the way things are going. Because they get all of our people...They killed several generations of us Americans (referring to WWWI, WWII)...The Jews weren't in the army much in WWI that because they were fomenting a revolt in Russia. America had no right to fight in foreign wars (in reference to WWI and WWII).

Where we're headed
GIBSON: We're going to have to do something now in this country because that government is useless. There's a line in the Declaration of Independence where somebody abolishes or sets aside or misgoverns, it is our privilege the constitution, it is the people's obligation to abolish that government. I think there is a way... There is a bloodless way to do it if we can swing it: secession. Just get all states to secede from the government and leave it there high and dry.

The alternative is eventually they are going to clamp down on us and we are going to have the same terror and we are going to have to revolt with a gun or we are going to face the same (governmental) terror ... We're going to have to do something fairly soon, because the longer it goes, the more power they get and the less we have.

I think that if these beliefs are part of the fabric of The Passion, then its purpose just became a little clearer, too.

Max's Mad Dad: Beyond the facade

Just in time for Wednesday's release of The Passion of the Christ, who should hit the headlines again but Hutton Gibson, father of Mel:
Gibson father: Holocaust mostly 'fiction'

... According to a transcript released by the network, Hutton Gibson said, "It's all -- maybe not all fiction -- but most of it is,'' when asked about his views on the Holocaust.

He added: "They claimed that there were 6.2 million (Jews) in Poland before the war and after the war there were 200,000, therefore he (Hitler) must have killed 6 million of them. They simply got up and left. They were all over the Bronx and Brooklyn and Sydney and Los Angeles.''

... In this latest interview, Gibson said Jews want to take over the world. He did not know why Jews would want to achieve that, but said "it's all about control. They're after one world religion and one world government.''

The New York Daily News version of the story contains even more details:
"They're after one world religion and one world government," Hutton Gibson, 85, said in a radio interview that will air Monday night.

"That's why they've attacked the Catholic Church so strongly, to ultimately take control over it by their doctrine."

... "They claimed that there were 6.2 million in Poland before the war, and they claimed after the war there were 200,000 - therefore he must have killed 6 million of them," he said. "They simply got up and left! They were all over the Bronx and Brooklyn and Sydney, Australia, and Los Angeles."

He said the Germans did not have enough gas to cremate 6 million people and that the concentration camps were just "work camps."

"It's all -- maybe not all fiction -- but most of it is," he said.

Gibson repeatedly smeared prominent Jews as money-grubbing power-mongers.

"Greenspan tells us what to do. Someone should take him out and hang him."

He even belittled the Pope's reported endorsement of "The Passion," recounting how Mel referred to the pontiff as an "ass."

Gibson reserved most of his vitriol for Judaism, asking: "Is the Jew still actively anti-Christian? He is, for by being a Jew, he is anti-everyone else."

I don't think Mel's denials that his father is an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier will leave anyone convinced any longer. Not that they should have in the first place.

Indeed, it's not really so clear any longer that Mel's own denials that he is anti-Semitic are very credible.

There's one thing to keep in mind when talking about racists, anti-Semites and white supremacists: They nearly all deny those characterizations of themselves. The denials typically run like this:
-- "I'm not a racist. I don't hate other races. I just don't like to be around them."

-- "I'm not an anti-Semite. I don't hate Jews. I have many Jewish friends. I just think there are some rich Jews who secretly conspire to rule all of society."

-- "I'm not a white supremacist. I think other races are fine. I just think they should be separate."

Some of you who've read In God's Country may remember David Trochmann, co-leader of the Militia of Montana and one of the people responsible for the Ruby Ridge fiasco. (Trochmann was believed to have been smuggling guns over the Canadian border, and ATF was trying to get a bead on him, so they tried putting the squeeze on Trochmann's good friend Randy Weaver.) He's something of a well-known Christian Identity adherent as well, and when I met him -- at a militia meeting in Maltby, Washington, in February 1995 -- I wanted to ask him about rumors that the Trochmanns were setting up Identity Bible studies in western Montana.
Dave Trochmann has the same kind of intense demeanor as his brother, but there's something vaguely unsettling about him. I've known men like him, that hard-eyed working-class kind of man, and they are not people you want to mess with. If you do, they'll fix you and anybody close to you. It's hard to believe that Randy is his son. Randy, a skinny, dark-haired twentysomething, is doe-eyed and easygoing, a little jittery like all the Trochmanns, but you get the feeling he'd find it possible to like you even if you were a liberal.

I asked Dave about the Identity Bible studies. Any truth to that?

"Well," he said, looking about before answering, "you know, we're not white supremacists. We just think the races should be separate."

I'd heard the distinction made before.

"We just don't believe in race mixing," Trochmann said. "It's the laws of Nature. You don't see robins and sparrows mating, do you? We don't have a bunch of spobbins flying around."

I started explaining the genetic distinction between race and species, but realized it was a useless argument here.

"We don't hate other races," Randy said. "We just don?t think they should mix. That's all Identity means to us." I let it go at that, and we wandered off to other topics, and eventually back into the meeting hall.

Later, Trochmann's brother John -- the real force behind MOM -- gave the same kind of evasions:
"What the hell does Identity mean? To identify your ancestry? Blacks can have their 'Roots' on television, and have a whole series about it. But a white man can't find out what his ancestry is? That's all it means to me. It doesn't tie anything with anything.

"I know where I came from, I know my ancestry. That's all it means to me. It shouldn't be Identity anyway. I mean, Jewish people have their identity, everybody has their identity. Yet certain people -- it's taken so out of context it's absolutely ridiculous. Including those that claim this word Identity and take it for something that it isn't. It may be that's what they think it means. But it doesn't mean that to us. At least to me."

Of course, Identity beliefs have a great deal more than mere racial separation or white heritage going on. At their core, as many of you already know, is the belief that white people are the true children of Israel (having descended from the lost tribes, you see). Today's Jews are mere pretenders to the title and are in fact directly descended from Satan himself, while worshiping a Satanic religion. Nonwhite minorities are soulless "mud people."

If you spend enough time with these folks, eventually it becomes clear that these are in fact their beliefs. But then they heatedly deny that these beliefs constitute racism or anti-Semitism -- they are just what they are.

Which is why Mel Gibson's own responses to questions about his father's beliefs have been very interesting so far. Mel denies that he's an anti-Semite -- and then turns around and parrots Holocaust-denial rhetoric. He not only defends his relationship to his father -- as the AP story above notes: "Asked in media interviews whether he shares his father's views, Mel Gibson has said that he loves his father and will not speak against him" -- but says his faith is based on what his father taught him:
"My dad taught me my faith, and I believe what he taught me. The man never lied to me in his life."

Of course, on previous occasions, such as his 1995 interview in Playboy, Gibson has indicated a belief in conspiracy theories clearly based on his father's beliefs:
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about Bill Clinton?

GIBSON: He's a low-level opportunist. Somebody's telling him what to do.


GIBSON: The guy who's in charge isn't going to be the front man, ever. If I were going to be calling the shots I wouldn't make an appearance. Would you? You'd end up losing your head. It happens all the time. All those monarchs. If he's the leader, he's getting shafted. What's keeping him in there? Why would you stay for that kind of abuse? Except that he has to stay for some reason. He was meant to be the president 30 years ago, if you ask me.

PLAYBOY: He was just 18 then.

GIBSON: Somebody knew then that he would be president now.

PLAYBOY: You really believe that?

GIBSON: I really believe that. He was a Rhodes scholar, right? Just like Bob Hawke. Do you know what a Rhodes scholar is? Cecil Rhodes established the Rhodes scholarship for those young men and women who want to strive for a new world order. Have you heard that before? George Bush? CIA? Really, it's Marxism, but it just doesn't want to call itself that. Karl had the right idea, but he was too forward about saying what it was. Get power but don't admit to it. Do it by stealth. There's a whole trend of Rhodes scholars who will be politicians around the world.

PLAYBOY: This certainly sounds like a paranoid sense of world history. You must be quite an assassination buff.

GIBSON: Oh, fuck. A lot of those guys pulled a boner. There's something to do with the Federal Reserve that Lincoln did, Kennedy did and Reagan tried. I can't remember what it was, my dad told me about it. Everyone who did this particular thing that would have fixed the economy got undone. Anyway, I'll end up dead if I keep talking shit.

And then there was his response when pressed, by Peggy Noonan, about the Holocaust. First, Gibson denied that his father was a Holocaust denier. Then he went on:
"I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

As I mentioned previously, the strange thing about this recitation is how closely it mirrors the rhetoric of Holocaust deniers, especially when they're trying to soft-pedal thenature of their arguments.

Indeed, most Holocaust revisionists, like their fellow right-wing extremists, heatedly deny that they are "denying the Holocaust." They just don't believe that six million Jews were killed -- the numbers were more like 500,000, they say -- and the gas chambers were a hoax. And gee, when you put it in the larger context of the war in which millions more died, the Jews' losses were not particularly greater than anyone else's. They falsely equate the Holocaust roundups and exterminations with war casualties, which obfuscates the reason why the Holocaust was in so many ways a more horrific event than the war itself.

That is the standard David Irving line of reasoning. And to hear Mel Gibson uttering it -- while using his mainstream image for the kind of cover that makes this thinking sound reasonable -- does not exactly encourage anyone hoping that he proves not to be an extremist.

So while it's fine for Gibson to claim vehemently he is not anti-Semitic, that isn't persuasive evidence in itself, given the wealth of evidence suggesting that he is in fact. What's been strange about Gibson's denials hasn't so much been what he has said, though that's problematic enough. It's what he hasn't said. At no point has he ever actually explained his own thoughts regarding these controversies. His spokesmen have simply said that he and his father "don't agree on everything." And Gibson has warned interviewers away from interfering with his relationship with his dad.

Of course, the problem here is not merely the innate anti-Semitism of Hutton Gibson's belief system, and potentially Mel's as well. It is its overarching extremism -- which, as I've explained previously, is popularly called "traditionalist" Catholicism, but in fact is a strange, very narrow and very radical brand of specifically heretical Catholicism.

Among these beliefs, incidentally, is the notion that all popes since Vatican II have been heretics and "anti-popes." (This is one of Hutton Gibson's primary theses.) And it's worth noting that in this latest interview, the elder Gibson claims that Mel -- after seeking the pope's blessing for his film, and failing to get it -- called the pope an "ass."

The problem isn't the latent anti-Semitism in the film. The problem is its radical Catholicism, of which the anti-Semitism is only a small part.

The next time a reporter sits down with Mel Gibson -- and hopefully, it will be someone more astute than Diane Sawyer or Peggy Noonan -- they need to skip the anti-Semitism questions and ask Mel himself:
-- "Mel, do you believe the current pope is a legitimate authority?"

-- "Mel, is the Roman Catholic Church true to its origins?"

-- "Mel, how many Jewish people do you believe died in the Holocaust?"

-- "Mel, you've mentioned that you're up against 'forces of evil' with this film. Can you identify who the 'evil' ones are?"

-- "And while we're at it, Mel, do you believe that a small cabal of wealthy people is trying to control the world? If so, who are they?"

Somehow, though, I get the feeling that Gibson won't allow himself to be interviewed by anyone who might ask these kinds of questions. He's too cagey to let himself be cornered on this. Not when he can just get away with hiding behind his "son's respect for his father" facade.

In the meantime, it's becoming much clearer that The Passion is going to be a huge hit with the evangelical set when it's released Wednesday. You have to wonder how many of them will realize they're being exposed to an extremist Catholic version of the meaning of Christ's crucifixion.

Probably not many -- since it happens to correspond with their own increasingly Manichean brand of Christianity.

UPDATE: Here's a transcript of the Hutton Gibson interview.

About town

I caught Eric Alterman's talk at Seattle's Town Hall on Tuesday night and got him to sign my copy of his new book afterward. He didn't seem to be in a chatting mood so I didn't stick around, but I thought it worth mentioning something he brought up during the question-and-answer session.

According to Alterman, when the Democratic primaries are wrapped up, the nominee -- presumably Kerry -- will be starting at Ground Zero, while George W. Bush will be flush with about $400-$500 million in his warchest.

Interestingly, Alterman says, Democratic strategists believe they'll be competitive against that obvious advantage by raising about $190 million.

This underscores, for me, the extent to which the essence of this election really comes down the moneyed classes vs. the rest of us.

And it especially underscores the extent to which everyone is going to have to pitch in and make a real difference this year.

By the way, be sure to pick up a copy of Alterman's book, The Book On Bush, (co-written with Mark Green) which contains just about everything you need to know to explain why the man needs replacing. Now.

Also seen this week: The Battle of Algiers, the documentary-style recreation of one of the more grim episodes in the history of the West's relationship with Islam -- namely, the escalating war of terrorism between France and occupied Algeria in the 1950s and early '60s. The film was released in 1965, and is stunning for no other reason than that it has the look of a very real documentary, only a few years after the actual conflict (Algeria became independent in 1962).

Anyone wondering what we're doing in Iraq -- and how we're ever going to extricate ourselves from this morass -- will want to watch this film. Certainly it's a textbook model of how to screw up your occupation of foreign nation.

But as Walter Addegio noted in the San Francisco Chronicle, the chief reason to see it is to enjoy some truly marvelous filmmaking.

[Thanks much to Nick Collecchi for the pass.]

Friday, February 20, 2004

Jobbing the numbers

Hot on the heels of WMD and AWOL comes the latest body blow to George W. Bush's credibility -- namely, his administration's prediction that the economy would create 2.6 million jobs in the coming year.

My friend and ex-colleague Marty Wolk explores this for MSNBC:
Misstep on jobs figure could haunt Bush:
White House report seen as damaging economic credibility

Like the previous cases, this widening of Bush's credibility gap will almost certainly play a role in the coming election:
Almost since the moment the projections were issued in the annual report of the White House Council of Economic Advisers Feb. 9, administration officials have been scrambling to explain -- and then distance themselves from -- the numbers.

By this week the numbers flap had ballooned into a full-fledged political issue, weakening White House credibility on an issue that is likely to top the agenda in this year's presidential election.

"The White House is put in a very awkward position," said Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. "I think they are in a no-win situation here."

If the administration stands by its projection that the economy will create at least 2.6 million jobs this year, it opens itself to criticism month after month as job growth falls short of the mark, as most forecasters expect, Jacobs said. Yet if the administration repudiates its projection or issues new, lower figures, Democrats will pounce.

"The Democrats have just been handed a great advertisement to run," Jacobs said.

It would be fun to see a chart comparing the actual numbers with the Bush projections. Running prominently on national TV.

Not that Republicans aren't trying to make the best of it, mostly by pretending once again that up is down:
Bush himself, when asked about the job projection, stayed away from the details, saying only, "I think the economy's growing, and I think it's going to get stronger."

That's the 2004 version of "fuzzy math."
But Marc Racicot, chairman of Bush's re-election campaign, dismissed the projection as nothing more than a "theoretical discussion by an economist" -- even though it was contained in a White House report that is submitted to Congress and required by law.

Well, Lord knows we wouldn't want to listen what the president's economists are telling him, would we?

Brad DeLong has been all over this case, as has Kash at Angry Bear, while Max Sawicky has blogged in about this matter too.

Political hate speech

You know, I'm perfectly aware that my concern about violent, eliminationist rhetoric aimed at liberals leaves me susceptible to accusations of paranoia by the conservative set, who find it easier to dismiss such talk than address the underlying facts, anyway. This was, I gather, the point of the decidedly unfunny troll who posted a "death threat" in my comments the other day.

Of course, I'd probably feel the same way myself if I didn't keep having occasion to document it. I've been troubled by what I saw in the Flathead Valley in 2002, and concerned that the trend is spreading. I'd probably dismiss it as alarmism too -- indeed, I'm quite certain I wouldn't write the things I do -- if it didn't keep turning up.

Here's a recent e-mail from a reader of, weighing in on the Web site's not-inconsiderable role in keeping alive the controversy of George W. Bush's military record:
From: "Baker, J." []
To: []
Subject: Comments . . . Date: Wed, 18 Feb 2004 22:33:11 -0500

You people are beyond evil. George W. Bush will be re-elected to a second term, and hopefully it will drive die-hard idiotic leftists to commit suicide, that would be the bonus round!

Instead of bitching about how much you hate George W. Bush and how he stole the election and went AWOL from the National Guard, why don't you rotten cocksuckers spend your time and money and offer up a candidate who isn't a god-damned America-hating lunatic?

You people are utterly useless to humanity and wholly better off dead, burning in eternal damnation.

Ya know, I think it's too bad that we can't follow Saddam's model of dealing with opposition - just open up mass graves and start torturing, maiming, and murdering liberals and leftists by the millions - toss them into the ground, and fill the holes up with dirt. I would love to volunteer for such duty!

Eat shit and die, all of you!

J. Baker

And then there are strange incidents like this.

Talk like this has always been around, of course. But what concerns me is the volume and breadth of it. It's ranging from everyday encounters and e-mails like this to "best-selling" pundits like Sean Hannity and Michael Savage. And I don't expect it to improve if the Kerry-vs.-Bush poll numbers maintain their current status. Indeed, listening to right-wing talk radio, I'm beginning to detect a real fear, sometimes bubbling up in little frantic moments. This makes them, in my estimation, very dangerous.

While I'm on the subject, I also want to weigh in on the reaction to these kinds of assaults from liberals as well, with the understanding that I may alienate some of my good friends and readers in the process.

I understand that liberals have been subjected to a relentless barrage since, really, 1994, and by this stage of the game many of them, myself included, are in a fighting mood.

But the atmosphere, due to the nature of the rhetoric being encouraged on the right, really calls for cool heads at this juncture.

I understand the desire to want to fight back. But I don't think it behooves anyone in the liberal camp to use the rhetoric of violence, in any shape or fashion right now.

Most of what I've seen so far is of the decidedly harmless variety. Some liberal commenters, for instance, on certain threads I read have devised, satirically, a "duck pit" into which all conservative minions will be cast on the day of liberal reckoning, there to be nibbled to death by a thousand hungry ducks. My friend Atrios the other day said he'd respond well to a campaign appeal based on taking Tom DeLay "out back and kicking his ass."

In any other environment, I wouldn't worry about that kind of semi-violent talk; it's part of the rough and tumble of political jousting. Lord knows I know exactly how Atrios feels. But things seem awfully volatile to me now, to the point that I think liberals need to stick to the high road and eschew any sort of in-kind response to this rising tide of violence.

I'm not advocating backing down in any fashion, of course; but it will be important, for the sake of winning, to beat them with a combination of coolness and steel.

When they talk about "doing away with liberals," the right response is: "We don't wish to do away with you. But we will beat you at the ballot box. And if we have our way, you'll never be allowed near the reins of power again."

When they smear our candidates, it will be important to respond with a rigorous critique of the conservative agenda that makes clear just how disastrous their reign has been for the nation.

It will be important to make irrevocably clear this election the difference between liberals and conservatives. Where conservatives threaten violence and discord, liberals need to respond with firmness and healing. The mass of voters out there will not have to be told who the "real Americans" are.

Talking tough may feel good, but it can be a two-edged sword. There are ways for liberals to make known their fierce determination without playing the right-wing's violent little game. That's their trap; let them thrash in it.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Crossfire in the Culture Wars

In the ongoing ascent of the neo-Confederate movement, one of the key battlefields has been in one of the nation's oldest heritage groups, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which has a history of sincere devotion to preserving Southern heritage, largely free of racist tint.

In recent years, however, neo-Confederate extremists, mostly from the secessionist League of the South, have been striving through a war of attrition to take control of the group. It bubbled up recently in this Orlando Sentinel piece [registration required]:
Racist accusations roil heritage group

As the story documents, a lot of longtime leaders and members are fleeing the SCV in droves because of this gradual takeover:
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, Hilderman insists, is being taken over by racists.

"These people are dyed-in-cotton neo-secessionists out to turn the SCV into an extreme right-wing political-action committee," said Hilderman, a retired police captain who lives in Eutawville, S.C.

...Kyle VanLandingham, a sixth-generation Floridian now living in Texas, ended his 25-year membership in the Sons in late 2002.

"The major reason I left the SCV is because it has been infiltrated by racist and bigoted groups, especially the League of the South," he said. "I believe there are many good and honorable people in the SCV, but the radical elements in the organization are growing in influence and power."

The League of the South, as is their wont, soft-pedals its core positions, which include a modern secession by Southern states, as well as a propensity for minority-bashing.

The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report has been tracking this development for awhile now. Their 2003 report, "A House Divided," provides a thorough background for the current dispute. Further reportage from the SPLC can be found here, here and here.

AWOL: Corrections, clarifications, amplifications

It's come to my attention, thanks to a critic in my comments, that in my post on the circumstances under which George W. Bush skipped out on his flight physical, I have the date wrong regarding the decision by national headquarters to deny Bush permission to transfer to Alabama.

According to the most recent releases available, the actual date the denial was issued was July 15. See this PDF file (scroll down) for the document, which was generated by the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, which is the national headquarters for assignments.

[In the only previously available version of this document, the date was obscured, leading its owner to incorrectly identify the date. Other reports carried the same incorrect date.]

This doesn't significantly alter the scenario I described in that post: That Bush applied for the transfer to a non-flying unit and cleared out of Texas for Alabama regardless of whether his superiors in the Guard would allow that (and by superiors, I mean those at HQ). Indeed, even the now-retired Colonel who recommended he give it a shot knew it was unlikely to succeed, according to an interview he gave for this Washington Post story from 2000:
The personnel officer in charge of Bush's 147th Fighter Group, now-retired Col. Rufus G. Martin, says he tried to give Bush a light load, telling him to apply to the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron in Montgomery, Ala.

Martin said in an interview that he knew Bush wasn't eligible for the 9921st, an unpaid, general training squadron that met once a week to hear lectures on first aid and the like. "However," he said, "I thought it was worth a try. . . . It was the least participation of any type of unit." But Air Force Reserve officials rejected the assignment, saying Bush had two more years of military obligations and was ineligible for a reserve squadron that had nothing to do with flying airplanes.

Well, certainly Col. Martin knew there was a strong likelihood that HQ would order Bush to stay put in Texas. As previously mentioned, Air Reserve officials guard their pilots zealously; this portrait of a lax Air Guard environment in which Bush could simply dump his flying status at will has the distinct ring of apologist fantasy. Certainly it runs counter to the testimony of the retired generals who have weighed in on the case, as well as numerous veteran pilots.

Could Bush have not known that his application was likely to be rejected? It's possible -- but only if Col. Martin (he was then a major) had failed to inform him of this at the time he recommended approval of the transfer. (A document of his recommendation is dated June 5, 1972.) Did Martin in fact fail to inform Bush of this? Bush seems to say so, according to the Post story:
Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said Bush didn't know that when he applied.

I guess it depends on who you believe.

Nowhere, of course, is there a scintilla of evidence that any of these officers green-lighted Bush to skip his flight physical -- the deadline for which was in mid-July, just about the time he was getting word that the Alabama transfer was a no-go. But that's because, as I've emphasized before, skipping out on your annual flight physical is simply viewed as unacceptable behavior for any military pilot, at least not one who's serious about meeting the requirements of his oath. Recall, if you will, those two retired generals who were cited in that Boston Globe piece of last week:
Two retired National Guard generals, in interviews yesterday, said they were surprised that Bush -- or any military pilot -- would forgo a required annual flight physical and take no apparent steps to rectify the problem and return to flying. "There is no excuse for that. Aviators just don't miss their flight physicals," said Major General Paul A. Weaver Jr., who retired in 2002 as the Pentagon's director of the Air National Guard, in an interview.

Brigadier General David L. McGinnis, a former top aide to the assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, said in an interview that Bush's failure to remain on flying status amounts to a violation of the signed pledge by Bush that he would fly for at least five years after he completed flight school in November 1969.

"Failure to take your flight physical is like a failure to show up for duty. It is an obligation you can't blow off," McGinnis said.

I grew up in an aviation family myself, and while we weren't strictly military, I had enough exposure to the military pilot culture to say that jibes with everything I know firsthand as well.

However, I will say my earlier characterization of Bush as not having consulted his superiors before running off to Alabama was inaccurate. Obviously, he was in touch with at least his immediate superior, Martin. What I meant to emphasize is that he moved to Alabama, evidently intent on blowing off the physical -- and it is extremely unlikely any of his superior officers advised him to do that.

Though perhaps some enterprising reporter could simply ask Dan Bartlett, next time he pops his head up, just which officers told Bush he could skip the physical. Or that being suspended was no big deal.

Because it's clear that, after being denied, in mid-July, transfer to the Alabama postal unit (the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron, the so-called "postal unit") young Mr. Bush should have high-tailed it back to Texas, gotten his physical and continued to serve as he was sworn to do, at least until such time as he was able to obtain official approval for a transfer.

As it happened, he didn't even apply for that until a full month after being suspended from flight service. Does this sound like someone who took his flying duties seriously?

And finally, all this raises the question that someone really needs to ask Dan Bartlett: If Bush was serious about fulfilling his oath and being removed from suspension, why didn't he take his physical once he got back to Texas?

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Quick hits

Light blogging today, sorry ... a day museuming with the Princess has worn me out.

But here is some recommended reading from around the Web:

Rob at FoolBlog has a terrific post titled "Vietnam, Iraq, and a Privileged Duty," which manages to put a real-world context to the often abstract questions about Bush's military service.

Retrogrouch has an interesting letter from a military man who seems to have nothing but contempt for civilians who exercise their free-speech rights -- and a worthy response.

Lambert at Corrente comes "to bury Howard, not to praise him."

Two new blogs of note, both added to the blogroll: WebDems and Matthew Gross.

Sugar In the Gourd notes some strange manipulations of George W. Bush's military records, especially regarding the redaction of James R. Bath's name from some versions.

Tasha at LiveJournal preps for an interview with Dave Sim. I'm looking forward to reading it. (Being an inveterate Cerebus collector.)

Robert Dreyfuss and Jason Vest have assembled a compelling portrait of the "stovepiping" of crappy Iraqi National Congress "intelligence" in the runup to the invasion titled "The Lie Factory". It originally ran in Mother Jones.

I'll try to be back in action tomorrow, including a brief report from attending Eric Alterman's talk at Town Hall on Tuesday.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004


Well, I'm truly honored.

Orcinus won one of the prestigious 2003 Koufax Awards, for Best Series.

The winner was my 15-parter, Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An Exegesis. Winning in this category was special, considering that I was competing against some of the bloggers I most admire. Dwight also posted some very nice comments from readers about the piece (you can read it there).

The series is available on the blog: Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X,, XI, XII, XIII, XIV and XV. See also my explanatory note.

The nice folks at Cursor also published it, in a highly readable and accessible format complete with art. Highly recommended for reading it online.

And if you want to print it out and read it in a hard copy -- or share it with friends -- you can get it in a nicely formatted PDF file. If you're downloading the PDF, I've been asking for a $5 donation to help defray bandwidth costs and to generally support my little independent-journalism effort. The button is in the upper-left blue box if you feel like pitching in -- but it's only a request, neither a demand nor even an expectation.

Finally, I'd like to say a sincere and deeply felt thank-you to all the folks who voted for the series -- especially considering the quality of the competition. (To be honest, I'd also held out hope for winning in the "Best Post" category for "The Political and the Personal," but considering the quality of writers I was up against, I'm not surprised in the least. And the winner, Billmon's "What a Tangled Web We Weave," was a true classic.)

Congrats, of course, to all the other winners -- notably Atrios, the "Beatles of the blogosphere", who walked away with Best Blog and Most Humorous Post.

And many, many thanks to MB and Dwight Meredith at Wampum for all the hard work they put into the awards -- gathering and tabulating nominations, and then doing likewise for the main event. Awards are usually thankless tasks, so let's all extend our gratitude to these selfless servants of the lefty side of the blogosphere.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Why AWOL matters

A lot of people -- conservatives especially, who are eager to talk about anything other than George W. Bush's military record, but liberals too, who would rather we could talk about important things like the Valerie Plame affair, -- are wondering what's the big deal with "the AWOL question."

After all, they reason, it was thirty years ago, right? Hasn't the statute of limitations on political stupidity, as Peggy Noonan recently put it, expired for Bush?

The problem, however, isn't George W. Bush's behavior in 1972. It is his behavior, and that of his administration and his campaign officials, in the very recent past that is at issue here.

Because the AWOL matter, first of all, demonstrates clearly that Bush has been lying to the American public about his behavior then, in an attempt to cover it up; and secondarily, in an extension of the first behavior, his military records appear to have been tampered with. The latter, we hardly need remind the critics, is a violation of federal law.

At the same time, the gross character flaw that the AWOL matter reveals is also very much part of what we have gotten from this presidency. There is no sense of accountability to the public anywhere in this administration; if something goes wrong [Can you say, "Weapons of mass destruction?" I knew you could.] it places the blame elsewhere. It falsifies budget figures and misleads the public about the grotesque debt load its deficits are placing on future generations. And it distorts intelligence estimates so that it can convince the public to participate in a war it had planned even before winning election. It bullies its opponents, and traffics in the most transparent way in keeping the public in line by fanning its fears of terrorist attack.

This is a presidency sold to the public on the phony image of Bush as a man of superior character -- a straight shooter, a veteran, a man who understands and respects duty and honor. (This was meant to contrast with Bill Clinton and, by extension, Al Gore.) But as we have explored at length previously, Bush's family connections are not any source of superior character; and as the AWOL episode demonstrates rather starkly, his personal history gives no evidence of having developed it either.

This personal character of Bush's has been a cornerstone of his entire governing style. Should we go to war? Trust Bush -- he's a "good man." Economy's in the dumpster? "He's working hard to make things better." Wrecking the environment? "How can you impugn our motives?" Valerie Plame? "That's just politics."

This style gives way to the kind of arrogance that can dress Bush up in a flight suit and send him jetting out to the deck of an aircraft carrier, in way specifically designed to emphasize his own phonied-up service record, for the sake of a photo op prematurely announcing "Mission Accomplished." It's what lets Bush get away with posing for all the world as a veteran "war president" with a real respect for the suffering of average soldiers. And it's what lets him and his minions get away with impugning the motives and patriotism of the people who question his leadership.

That style of governing goes out the window when the "duty and honor" guy turns out to have disobeyed orders, violated his oath and kissed off his duty by skipping his physical and unilaterally taking off for Alabama (where it seems increasingly unlikely he even put in any time). It crumbles when the people currently running the administration evade and attack rather than answer simple questions, and others baldfacedly lie in trying to maintain the facade. This is behavior that is quite current. And as Atrios points out, it is increasingly apparent that Bush's files were indeed "scrubbed" for public consumption.

AWOL matters because it reveals how this administration not only has no respect for the truth, but it lies -- repeatedly, without conscience, and so far without consequence.

The AWOL matter is only the first consequence. Once it has become clear that the president's credibility deservedly is nearly nonexistent, then a number of other issues -- Plame, the economy, the environment -- come into much clearer focus.

Before Bush's critics walk, they have to take those first steps first.

[Juan Cole has some further thoughts.]

The terrorists at home

On the domestic terrorism front, a couple of updates:
Ex-Ranger pleads guilty in abortion-bombing plot

A former Army Ranger inspired by anti-abortion activists pleaded guilty Friday to devising a plot to blow up abortion clinics and gay bars nationwide.

Stephen John Jordi, an evangelical Christian from Coconut Creek with a flaming cross tattooed to his right forearm, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted firebombing.

In stark contrast to his agitated, grizzled appearance after his Nov. 11 arrest, Jordi was calm and clean shaven during the brief hearing at U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale.

Notably, like the Texas cyanide bomb case, this case was broken not because of an emphasis on antiterrorism investigations by the FBI, but because of outside circumstances: some of the man's sibilings became concerned about what he told them he planned to do.
Estranged siblings said Jordi had become increasingly impassioned about a bombing campaign after the arrest of Eric Rudolph last May.

Rudolph, who is accused of orchestrating a bombing campaign against abortion clinics, gay bars and the Atlanta Olympics park, disappeared into the Appalachian Mountains for five years before he was captured last May.

Like Rudolph, Jordi was planning to embark on a firebombing campaign targeting abortion clinics, gay bars and churches that refused to take a tough stance against abortion.

Authorities said Jordi was banking on survival skills he learned in the Army so that he could hide in the mountains between bombings, like Rudolph.

Jordi also corresponded last year with Florida Death Row inmate Paul Hill, who was convicted for the 1994 murders of a Pensacola abortion doctor and his bodyguard.

Jordi and the informant flew to Starke to for Hill's execution on Sept. 3. They were photographed outside the prison with leading members of a militant anti-abortion group called The Army of God.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., the case of the ricin bioweapons attack has clearly turned to its likely domestic source. There was some recent activity in Florida, though the particulars show the evidence, if any, appears mostly circumstantial:
Ricin probe targets man on Southside

A Southside resident who spent years driving trucks and now crusades against what he calls a corrupt industry and a complacent government said Saturday he was questioned by FBI agents regarding the first of three incidents in which the toxin ricin was sent in the mail.

Daniel Somerson said the agents, from the FBI's terrorism task force, asked him in October whether he had sent a letter with ricin inside signed "Fallen Angel." He said he told them he had not even heard about the letter until that moment.

This last remark strikes me as unlikely. Still, Somerson needn't worry about his good name being ruined until he's more openly identified as a suspect. As it is, he's only been interviewed so far.

Of course, no one in a position of authority is referring to either of these cases as "domestic terrorism," though both are exactly that, and rather clearly.

Finally, in the one case that has been trumpeted in the press, my friend Scott North at the Everett Herald headed up a team effort in compiling a profile of Ryan Anderson, the onetime WSU student and militiaman wannabe who has since been arrested for seeking to help Al Qaeda. Their version largely corroborates what I posted previously:
Misfit soldier left trail:
E-mails, chat room posts paint disturbing picture

By February 1996, he complained that he had been trying to sign up with a militia for four months, without success.

"All I want is a little information from a local area commander or something about joining up," he wrote. "I have three rifles. I can supply all my own equipment and ammo, and I have the time for weekend ops and whatnot."

A few days later, Anderson posted messages to a news group catering to skinheads, some of whom openly espoused white supremacist ideas. Others in the group were offended, however, when Anderson signed his message "Seig (sic) Heil."

"Awww .... look ... It's yet another cute little -- and slightly retarded -- Aryan warrior who doesn't know how to spell SIEG ...." one person on the news group replied.

... By spring 1996, Anderson was getting flamed by militia supporters, too. He angered some by suggesting that Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, should be "ripped apart by a pack of starving wolfs(sic)." He wrote that the anti-government Freemen of Jordan, Mont., were criminals.

"I count myself a soldier, and a patriot, but if what Tim McVeigh did was the act of a soldier and a patriot, I'd rather be counted among the cowards and traitors," Anderson wrote. About five months later, he posted the message about his interest in Islam. By September 1997, he claimed to be a convert, and expressed interest in studying in Egypt or Turkey.

Within a few days, however, using the Gunfighter alias, he posted this message on a personals news group: "Old fashioned romantic seeks dangerous woman."

In the message, Anderson likened himself to Lawrence of Arabia and wrote that he was passionate and "a little eccentric."

"Yes, I will admit I am not the usual 'man of the 90s,'" he wrote. "My dream girl must be a tough, independent minded one who can handle herself and isn't worried about acting 'un-lady like.' A girl who can handle a blade or a rifle is definitely my type. I myself am a fencer, aspiring sword fighter and a gun-slinger with an innate ability with old weapons."

Anderson's interest in militias, weapons and skinheads years ago brought him to the attention of people who monitor right-wing groups in the United States.

... Mark Pitcavage, fact-finding director for the Anti-Defamation League based in Columbus, Ohio, said he had one brief Internet exchange with Anderson eight years ago. He doesn't know Anderson, but said his posts seemed to reflect a view of himself as a man of action, and reveal he was something of a "seeker" personality, looking for belonging and meaning.

Those traits have turned up before in people who are drawn to involvement in terrorism and other anti-government acts, Pitcavage said.

Of course, when Michelle Malkin examined Anderson's background for the National Review, all she managed to find was his connections to Muslims. And as this story makes clear, that connection was anything but firm.

Why is it, exactly, that right-wingers habitually associate right-wing extremists with Muslims and left-wing extremists (see, e.g., Instapundit) instead of with right-wingers?

Blood meridian

Trouble has been brewing along the U.S.-Mexico border the past year in Arizona, particularly with the rise of so-called "border militias," right-wing extremists who have penchant for brandishing their hardware and stirring up trouble with property owners along border areas.

Now, according to this story in the Tucson Citizen, it's reaching a point where an international incident -- a tragic one, most likely -- is on the verge of occurring:
Vigilantes targeting Mexican military:

Troops help drug, people smugglers and will be shot, says leader of armed patrol in Douglas.

The story describes how a group of "border vigilantes" is threatening to shoot members of the Mexican military because they believe the army is aiding and abetting drug and people smuggling:
The next time a Mexican soldier sets foot on the small chunk of border property owned by a Ranch Rescue member group, members plan to open fire, their leader said.

"Two in the chest and one in the head," warned Jack Foote, president of Ranch Rescue, a civilian group that patrols in search of illegal immigrants and drug smugglers. He said his group is protecting the rights of property owners.

Chances are rising for an international shootout, thanks to patrols along the Cochise County border by people other than law enforcement, said Douglas Mayor Ray Borane.

"This isn't a game," Borane said. "That's the thing that has always worried me, that these people would cause an international incident and not only hinder relations with Mexico, but that they'd make this area become a hotbed for other organizations like that."

The group that is the cause of these problems is a far-right anti-immigrant outfit called Ranch Rescue, whose activities I have detailed previously at my blog. To recap:
[Ranch Rescue], as the SPLC explains, is "a group of vigilantes dedicated to patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border region in an effort to deter and repel border crossers and trespassers. They conduct paramilitary operations and equip themselves with high-powered assault rifles, handguns, night-vision devices, two-way radios, observation posts, flares, machetes, all-terrain vehicles, and trained attack dogs."

As you can see from the SPLC legal report, one of the members of the Arizona chapter of Ranch Rescue, Casey Nethercott, was arrested earlier this year for assaulting two illegal immigrants in Texas.

Now it turns out that while Nethercott awaits trial, his property in Arizona is being converted to a heavily armed compound -- one, perhaps, designed both for "hunting" illegal aliens and for repelling federal authorities. In the meantime, the local sheriff is minimizing the potential threat.

[According to a report from the local weekly:]

The complaints allege the Ranch Rescue compound has constructed observation and guard towers from the remnants of a water tower and windmills, and workers are in the process of completing bunkers, barracks, a helicopter landing pad and indoor weapons range.

These people are Trouble with a capital T.

[Cross-posted at The American Street.]

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Disturbing undercurrents

I've written somewhat at length previously about the disturbing trend toward increasingly violent, eliminationist rhetoric being directed at liberals by some of the more wild-eyed segments of the "conservative movement."

But sometimes, some of the supposedly more upright and "respectable" segments of the right dally in the same waters, in ways that at times seem almost calculated to wink and nudge at the people who take this kind of talk all too seriously.

See, for instance, the latest offering from Peggy "I Believe in Miraculous Dolphins" Noonan, "The Democrats Have Had Their Fun. Now It's Time to Rumble".

Noonan paints a picture of elitist Democrats cruising the countryside in "limousines," while folks in the heartland have only just begun to fight. Throughout the piece, there is a violent subtext to Noonan's description of the coming election conflict -- Republicans are urged to "rumble," "join the battle," get "feisty and peppery, up for the battle." Battle, battle, battle.

As antiliberal rhetoric goes, of course, this is pretty mild. Noonan only hints at suggesting there might possibly be a violent component -- or undercurrent -- in the conservative movement's response should Democrats emerge as the favorites to win in November. (The closest she comes to saying it outright was this strange passage: "On CNN, Jane Fonda fired for her side. By the time you read this, someone will have fired at her. ")

Of even greater concern, though, is the kind of emerging conservative rhetoric that paints liberals not only as "desperate" but evil vermin who deserve to be exterminated. The most vicious recent example of this came from none other than Grover Norquist, in a piece he wrote for the American Enterprise Institute:
"Cornered Rats Fight Hard"

The piece is mostly a diatribe about the superiority of the Bush presidency and the mendacity of Democrats, but it concludes with this strange epigraph:
If the Democrats win the Presidency, they can veto Republican advances. If they lose, they don't eat. The very sinews of their political power will decay with increasing speed. The Democratic coalition will be weaker, shorter, and poorer in 2008 than 2004. This sense of desperation explains the "hatred" and vicious attacks on Bush.

This should not surprise us. Expect the crescendo to grow through 2004. The other team isn't being unreasonable. It is reacting rationally to a real threat to its ability to function. Anything short of placing snipers on the rooftops of D.C. would be an underreaction by the Left.

Cornered rats fight. Hard.

Incidentally, vermin references like Norquist's are a classic hallmark of fascist and white-supremacist propaganda, referring to the enemy in subhuman terms by way of suggesting the need for their extermination. In fact, the eliminationism is fairly explicit in this kind of rhetoric, even if it is not clearly stated.

But even more disturbing is his muddled remark about snipers in D.C.: Is Norquist actually suggesting that "the Left" won't even stop at assassination in its desperation to retain some vestige of power? That nothing short of shooting politicians will succeed for them anyway? Or is there a hint here that maybe some snipers on the rooftops might be needed to keep them in line?

What kind of national dialogue are we having when Sean Hannity can publish a book with a title that equates liberalism with terrorism as one of the great "evils" now confronting Americans? What, do conservatives now expect liberals to play nice when a lying, slandering traitor like Ann Coulter can smear a wounded veteran like Max Cleland, crudely misrepresenting the circumstances in which he lost three limbs -- and pay no consequences whatsoever to her ever-blossoming media/punditocracy career?

I read passages like this, from Rabbi Daniel Lapin -- the right-wing ultraconservative from my neck of the woods -- and wonder whether dialogue is even appropriate at this juncture:
"I am absolutely convinced that God is far from finished with the story of the United States of America," he said by way of summation. "First of all, [there's] the matter of the little battle that must be fought, just as it was in the 19th century." There were, and are, "two incompatible moral visions for this country. We had to settle it then. We're going to have to settle it now. I hope not with blood, not with guns, but we're going to have to settle it nonetheless. The good news is that I think our side is finally ready to settle it. Roll up its sleeves, take off its jacket, and get a little bloody. Spill a little blood. We'll settle it. And we'll win. And then there's no holding us back."

It is not hard to understand why liberals -- and centrists too -- are angry. Most of all, we're angry because of what these ideological powermongers are doing to our country.

And where are all those decent, reasonable conservatives we all hear so much about? How is it that they can remain politely mum when this kind of rhetoric is being inveighed in their name?

Just wondering.

Because, you know, this isn't just a game. Words have real power, and ideas like these, talk like this, all make it much easier for the more unstable and violence-prone actors in society to act out. It produces scenes like a middle-aged Oregon woman being told in a pancake house: "I hate all you f*ing Democrats. You f*ng deserve to be die. Hopefully we can kill the f*ing bunch of you soon..." It unleashes ugliness like the threats directed at a driver with the temerity to sport a Howard Dean bumper sticker while driving through the rural South.

Of course, maybe that's what they intend. Maybe that's why both Noonan and Lapin compare the 2004 election to the Civil War. Why give the Grover Norquists the benefit of any doubt? At this point, the ruthlessness of the pack of ideologues who have taken over our political system is apparent at every turn, and no tactic -- no smear campaign, no intimidation -- regardless of its destructiveness, should surprise anyone on the other side.

But let there be no mistake this time around -- the forces arrayed against the conservative movement are in fact quite united in their determination to remove this gang from power.

The next six months will be fascinating to watch. Let's hope it doesn't take a frightening turn.

[Thanks to mondo dentro for the Norquist link.]

[Cross-posted at The American Street and updated here with Lapin material. Thanks to Bryant at Population One.]