Friday, May 28, 2004

The politics of terror

We knew all along that the Bush campaign would stop at nothing, stooping to even the most outrageous smear, to defeat John Kerry this November. Now it's happening.

It's becoming clearer every day that one of the chief Republican talking points emerging in the campaign is the suggestion that a vote for Kerry is a vote for Al Qaeda -- because, purportedly, the terrorists secretly want Bush defeated, since Kerry is "soft" on the "war on terror." Of course, a cornerstone of this ploy is the belief that the so-called liberal media will gladly transmit this smear.

Atrios recently caught one of the more egregious examples of this meme being broadcast on CNN's Wolf Blitzer program.

Yet, as Matt Stoller observes, what's really Newspeakish in an utterly Bizzarro kind of fashion about this particular instance of the smear is that it turns on its head what at least one purported Al Qaeda faction has actually said, to wit:
The statement said it supported President Bush in his reelection campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than the Democratic candidate John Kerry, as it was not possible to find a leader "more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom." In comments addressed to Bush, the group said:

"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization."

"Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected."

Avedon Carol goes into more detail about this aspect of the smear:
I haven't said much about this because, frankly, I don't see any mileage in it, but let me say for the record that when Al Qaeda announces that they'd prefer Bush to win the election, I don't necessarily believe they are being facetious. For one thing, they tend not to lie very much about their beliefs and plans, and for another they already know from experience that when they tell the truth about what they are up to, no one in the administration pays any attention. They provided an announcement on the radio that they were going to make a big hit on us in 2001 and left more breadcrumbs than Hansel and Gretel, and no one followed it up. Their MO isn't lying, it's open boastfulness. Why should they lie? Is it going to make a difference?

Winston Smith makes an important point along similar lines:
I, like many others, however, believe that the Bush administration has botched the conflict with al Qaeda. In fact, I cannot imagine any plausible course of action that could have been more disastrous. This administration was so eaten up with derision for the Clinton administration that it ignored their warnings about al Qaeda. They ignored their own PDBs indicating that an attack in the U.S. was imminent, and consequently did nothing to prevent 9/11. After 9/11, the administration radically overreacted. It first pushed for passage of the Patriot Act, doing bin Laden's work for him by undermining the very liberal principles that he is trying to destroy. Then the administration squandered the good will the rest of the world had for us after 9/11, alienating our allies and, in fact, the rest of the world by -- among other things -- attacking Iraq on obviously trumped-up charges about WMDs, and by announcing that anyone who wasn't with us was against us. Worse, by failing to commit enough and the right kind of troops at Tora Bora Bush allowed a cornered and wounded bin Laden to escape our grasp.

Stunning, astounding, incredible as those failures are, they all pale in comparison to the Administration's greatest error. Failing to decapitate al Qaeda at Tora Bora was a blunder of historical proportions, but the reason the administration failed to do so is even more astounding: they wanted to preserve our troops for an attack elsewhere. If the planned attack had been against a more dangerous enemy, then this would have been rational. But, of course, it wasn't. Even had we allowed bin Laden to slip away merely because we didn't want to commit enough troops, or because we didn't want to undertake such an expensive effort, this would have merely been an act of astounding incompetence. But instead the administration withheld troops in order to strike elsewhere. And, again, if the country we ultimately attacked had merely been unconnected with bin Laden in any way, this action would have merely been tragically idiotic. But no. The Bush administration allowed bin Laden to escape so that we could attack one of bin Laden's enemies, the man bin Laden himself called "a bad Muslim."

Still, while a clear case can be made (mostly for the sake of rebutting the Kerry smear) that Al Qaeda is far more likely to actually hope Bush, not Kerry, wins, it's worth noting that neither the Kerry camp nor any Democrat -- not even a pundit -- has not resorted to this argument, even by inference.

Both sides, of course, can argue all day over which side will be more effective in winning the war on terror. That's a legitimate debate. But when you begin arguing that the enemy supports your opponent, you've descended into the lowest sewers of politics.

As Kerry himself observed in Seattle yesterday, "We may have an election here in America. But let there be no doubt: This country is united in its determination to defeat terrorism," adding:
"This is my message to terrorists: As commander in chief, I will bring the full force of our nation's power to bear on finding and crushing your networks," he said. "We'll use every resource of our power to destroy you."

While Kerry appears so far to be taking the high road, the Bush camp clearly is already throwing its smear machine into high gear. The "Democrats are traitors" theme has been circulating for some time now (see especially Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity), and in recent months that has mutated into the suggestion that Al Qaeda wants Bush to lose. The repetition of the meme on CNN, now focusing specifically on Kerry, was in fact only a minor iteration of what will likely be a major GOP theme this fall.

More significant, actually, was the recent manipulation of the nation's concern with terrorism by Attorney General John Ashcroft, when he made headlines with dire warnings of an imminent terrorist attack this summer.

At least one pundit -- Newsweek's Eleanor Clift -- was astute enough to pick up on the warning's real purpose:
What was the subliminal message of John Ashcroft's stepped-up terror warning earlier this week? It's that if the terrorists want to disrupt the presidential election, that must mean they're for Democratic candidate John Kerry.

... You don't have to be ultra-cynical to suspect the timing of Ashcroft’s dire pronouncements. Bush is in a jam over Iraq, and the exit strategy is changing the subject, or at least broadening it from Iraq to the wider world of terror, where Bush clings to a narrow lead over Kerry in voter confidence. It’s fishy that police departments in the target cities of Los Angeles and New York weren’t notified and learned along with the public about the newest vague threats from television. This was hardly breaking news. Six of the seven names Ashcroft revealed as likely terrorists have been known to the FBI for months, some for as long as two and a half years.

Of course, it turns out that this isn't the half of it. NBC News is reporting that Ashcroft depended on threats from a group that no one believes is a serious terror threat:
[T]errorism experts tell NBC News there's no evidence a credible al-Qaida spokesman ever said that, and the claims actually were made by a largely discredited group, Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, known for putting propaganda on the Internet.

"This particular group is not really taken seriously by Western intelligence," said terrorism expert M.J. Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, an international policy assessment group. "It does not appear to have any real field operational capability. But it is certainly part of the global jihad movement -- part of its propaganda wing, if you like. It likes to weave a web of lies; it likes to put out disinformation so that the truth is deeply buried. So it is a dangerous group in that sense, but it is not taken seriously in terms of its operational capability."

The group has claimed responsibility for the power blackout in the Northeast last year, a power outage in London and the Madrid bombing. None of the claims was found to be credible.

"The only thing they haven't claimed credit for recently is the cicada invasion of Washington," said expert Roger Cressey, former chief of staff of the critical infrastructure protection board at the White House and now an analyst for NBC News. Cressey also served as deputy to former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke.

A senior U.S. intelligence official previously told NBC News that this group has no known operational capability and may be no more than one man with a fax machine.

Friday, Ashcroft's spokesman blamed the FBI, and the FBI admitted claims that terrorists were 90 percent ready to attack came not from al-Qaida, but from the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades' statements.

First Chalabi, now this. Gullibility isn't exactly an asset when it comes to making serious strides against terrorism, is it?

But even more troubling is the prospect of the Bush administration manipulating public fears for political purposes. (I've written previously for MSNBC about Ashcroft's propensity in this regard.) The last thing the nation needs is a wolf-crying White House exploiting a serious threat for spurious ends -- especially when dealing forthrightly with the very real threat of terrorism, and the providing the public with accurate information about it, should be its first priority.

But then, as we know now (thanks to Richard Clarke), the fact that politics trumped protecting the public was what got us into this mess in the first place.

Incident in Vancouver

An ominous incident up in Vancouver, B.C., should have people on edge, since it could be the harbinger of another domestic-terrorist attack:
Vancouver bus quarantined after mystery substance found

VANCOUVER - As many as 19 people were quarantined Tuesday after a suspicious substance was discovered on a Vancouver bus.

A hazardous materials team cordoned off the transit bus and removed the substance. The express bus had arrived at Vancouver's Waterfront Centre from Richmond.

Eventually nine people were hospitalized, but all were released the next day. According to witnesses, a man spoke to the driver just before exiting the bus, and shortly afterward people fell sick:
At one point, a man getting off spoke to the driver.

"He said how's your day going," Horton recalled.

"And the bus driver said good. Then the man said 'it won't be for long.'

"I said to the lady beside me 'Well wasn't that rude.' "

Horton said she doesn't remember anything else about the man.

Const. Sarah Bloor said they are looking for a non-white man of average height and build, between 20 and 25 years of age, with short dark hair and a thin moustache.

The "brown pellets" that were initially suspected turned out to be harmless:
The mystery deepened at news brown pellets found on the bus were a harmless mixture of thyme, mud and mugo pine, a tiny pine cone found in Vancouver.

The hazardous materials team originally believed the pellets might be to blame for people's symptoms.

Now, Health Canada has been brought in to help investigate.

The incident underscores two important points:

-- Terrorists using chemical agents will have a difficult time making effective attacks, since these agents tend to disperse readily. This was something the Aum Shinriko cult discovered back in the mid-1990s, when it tried several different agents in attempting terror attacks in Tokyo that largely failed, at least until it settled on an enclosed space, namely, the Tokyo subways.

-- The public remains extremely vulnerable to terrorist actions of this kind because of the difficulty in detecting the presence of the chemical agents, as well as the people who might wield them, beforehand.

Standing up

Following up on the post about white-supremacist recruitment in the Portland area, it seems some 200 people showed up in Tigard to stand up to the haters:
City officials and experts said the rally, the first of its kind in Portland's suburbs, was necessary to make the group feel unwanted and to thwart its efforts to gain members among area residents and high school students.

"They'll take the path of least resistance," said Randy Blazak, a Portland State University professor who studies hate groups and spoke at the rally at Cook Park near Tigard High School. Blazak said it was particularly important for suburban leaders to take a stand against such groups because of the dramatic racial and economic change in their communities.

"The suburbs are where it's right in your face," he said. "The suburbs are the front lines of the changing face of America."

The rally was just a start, of course, because these people do not just crawl back under their rocks. They are fairly determined, and in fact seem to have discussed ways to disrupt the rally:
The group continued to distribute fliers the morning of the rally, Wolf said. The fliers distributed Thursday lashed out against liberal whites who, in a cartoon, were portrayed as self-haters who embraced diversity only under the influence of Jewish-controlled media.

In each incident the literature promoted a local group called the Tualatin Valley Skins and their local-access cable shows that air in Washington County, part of Clackamas County and 12 cities.

A man who gave the name Jim Ramm answered an e-mail request to the group's Web site for an interview. He explained the flier distributions were part of the process of initiating new members.

"It ain't just three or four people," he said. "We feel hate is good." Plans to disrupt the rally were discussed on the group's Web site. But members of the group, if present, did not reveal themselves at the rally.

These kinds of community efforts to stand up to white supremacists, nonetheless, are essential, because they eventually are the most effective way of blunting the work of haters, including those who operate in their traditional strongholds.

My friend Jerry Mitchell, for instance, recently filed an excellent report on the efforts of people in Philadelphia, Mississippi, to regain their tattered good name some 40 years after the notorious killings there of three civil-rights workers:
Desire to right wrong unifying force: Philadelphia residents seek new image for city

PHILADELPHIA — Dozens of residents here stood together Wednesday, black, white and Choctaw, united in the belief the killers of three civil rights workers in 1964 should be tried for murder.

For too long, they said, their town has been tarred with the brush of hate for what happened here on June 21, 1964, when a group of more than 20 Klansmen killed Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman because they helped African Americans register to vote.

For too long, they said, their town has borne the brunt of national criticism for the slayings that prompted international outrage.
For too long, they said, their town has remained silent.

"We want to once and for all call for justice," said Leroy Clemons, co-chairman of the Philadelphia Coalition, a 30-member, multiracial task force dedicated to racial reconciliation and commemorating the 40th anniversary of the killings.

Some of you may remember who Jerry Mitchell is, by the way. He's the reporter whose amazing work has led to the reopening of decades-old cases involving civil-rights-era murders, including Medgar Evers'.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Ted Olson and Abu Ghraib

Many others have remarked on Al Gore's recent speech denouncing President Bush. It's a great speech, maybe a landmark, because it crystallizes the opposition to Bush and the need to end this "long national nightmare."

In rereading it, it seemed to me that the really core issue that Gore zeroes in on is the torture at Abu Ghraib and how it represents the utter moral collapse of American stature abroad wrought by this administration. I especially noted these remarks:
He [Bush] promised to "restore honor and integrity to the White House." Instead, he has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon.

Honor? He decided not to honor the Geneva Convention. Just as he would not honor the United Nations, international treaties, the opinions of our allies, the role of Congress and the courts, or what Jefferson described as "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind."

… The soldiers who are accused of committing these atrocities are, of course, responsible for their own actions and if found guilty, must be severely and appropriately punished. But they are not the ones primarily responsible for the disgrace that has been brought upon the United States of America.

Private Lynndie England did not make the decision that the United States would not observe the Geneva Convention. Specialist Charles Graner was not the one who approved a policy of establishing an American Gulag of dark rooms with naked prisoners to be "stressed" and even -- we must use the word -- tortured -- to force them to say things that legal procedures might not induce them to say.

These policies were designed and insisted upon by the Bush White House. Indeed, the president's own legal counsel advised him specifically on the subject.

Many others have zeroed in on this legal advice given to the president as being the real nexus of the problem, the turning point at which the administration descended into the abyss. Most notable has been Eric Muller at Is That Legal?, who has called for an investigation into how the Department of Justice's legal team came to give Bush this advice, and the possibility that Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement may have misled the Supreme Court when arguing the matter earlier this year. Salon picked up on this point as well and explored it thoroughly, concluding:
By failing to inform the Supreme Court about the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the interrogation policies the administration has adopted, the Justice Department -- inadvertently or intentionally -- prevented the justices from possessing information highly relevant to the question of just how much they should trust the administration.

In the words of the Bush administration, none of that really matters. As Clement told the Supreme Court on April 28, "The fact that executive discretion in a war situation can be abused is not a good and sufficient reason for judicial micromanagement and overseeing of that authority."

When the Supreme Court begins handing down decisions this summer, the executive will learn if the judicial branch agrees.

Muller also picked up on a memorandum that linked the advice to the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel.

However, as Mart Lederman pointed out in Muller's comments:
I think the problem lies less with Clement's answers to the Court, and more with OLC's (and DOJ's) legal conclusions and (perhaps most importantly) with the fact that the Executive adopted whose conclusions (presumably) against the strong objections of career attorneys in State and elsewhere, without consulting Congress, and without a public debate concerning the meaning of the conventions.

However, I think that while the initial paper trail points to the OLC, there has to be at least one significant suspect as the actual source of this legal stratagem, namely, Solicitor General Ted Olson -- Clement's boss, and the architect of nearly the entirety of the Bush administration's legal strategy in the war on terrorism.

Recall, if you will, that the New York Times reported some time back that Olson had been selected to head up a special team of lawyers whose task was to "oversee all court challenges to the government's policy of detaining terrorism suspects indefinitely on an American military base in Cuba, administration officials said today." But -- following the recent Times tradition of burying its lead in the final two paragraphs -- the story also ended with this nugget:
The Bush administration announced last week that it decided that the Geneva Convention applied to Taliban prisoners held in Cuba but not to detainees belonging to Al Qaeda. It said that although the United States did not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, Afghanistan was still a party to the convention. Al Qaeda, it said, is an international terrorist group, not a party to the treaty and therefore undeserving of inclusion.

The announcement means that the Taliban prisoners will have legal rights that will be denied to the Qaeda members. Both groups have been denied prisoner-of-war status, which allows the United States to try them before military tribunals.

Of course, Digby has already pointed out (citing a Newsweek piece) that Olson was almost certainly involved in the high-level discussions about how to deal with suspected terrorists:
The president's men were divided. For Dick Cheney and his ally, Donald Rumsfeld, the answer was simple: the accused men [the Lakawanna Six] should be locked up indefinitely as "enemy combatants," and thrown into a military brig with no right to trial or even to see a lawyer... "They are the enemy, and they're right here in the country," Cheney argued, according to a participant. But others were hesitant to take the extraordinary step of stripping the men of their rights, especially because there was no evidence that they had actually carried out any terrorist acts...Cheney and Rumsfeld argued that in time of war there are few limits on what a president can do to protect the country. "There have been some very intense disagreements," says a senior law-enforcement official. "It has been a hard-fought war."

In fact, Olson has employed this argument since 9/11. He contended in a Washington Post piece that the president's wartime powers were virtually limitless when it came to deciding who was an enemy combatant:
In a recent legal brief, Olson argued that the detention of people such as Hamdi or Padilla as enemy combatants is "critical to gathering intelligence in connection with the overall war effort."

"There won't be 10 rules that trigger this or 10 rules that end this," Olson said in the interview. "There will be judgments and instincts and evaluations and implementations that have to be made by the executive that are probably going to be different from day to day, depending on the circumstances."

Olson also argued that this power lay solely with the executive branch, and was not the purview of the courts:
…"At the end of the day in our constitutional system, someone will have to decide whether that [decision to designate someone an enemy combatant] is a right or just decision," Olson said. "Who will finally decide that? Will it be a judge, or will it be the president of the United States, elected by the people, specifically to perform that function, with the capacity to have the information at his disposal with the assistance of those who work for him?"

It's probably worth remembering that Olson also has an established record of hostility to the institutions of international law as well. This was clear in an interview with the far-right Webzine NewsMax shortly after 9/11, when he was flogging the last book of his late Clinton-hating wife, Barbara, who was one of the victims of the terrorists:
In an exclusive interview Monday with, Ted Olson said, "She felt that when American citizens signed on to a court that didn’t embrace American constitutional values, [there was a great] risk to American citizens where everything that we have fought for and stood for over 200 years [would no longer apply].

"They [should] have a court and they [should] have a list of rights and privileges that people have when they’re accused of crimes."

But that’s not the way the ICC works, says Mrs. Olson's book. As Olson told NewsMax, "They will not be controlled by judges bound by the American constitutional system. It won’t be an independent judiciary, bound by the sort of standards that apply in this country."

Nonetheless, Clinton, knowing full well of the ICC's flaws, went ahead and signed it anyway, Mrs. Olson points out.

"So our military people or intelligence people fighting a war against terrorists … might someday find themselves in front of an international criminal court not run according to U.S. constitutional standards," Olson observed. "She was very worried about that, and many people are worried about it. But I think Barbara is one of the few that have spoken about it."

… So here is an international court made up of strangers from foreign lands who have no concept of constitutional protections. They are able to reach out and try Americans for any number of charges, no matter how trumped up they may be. In a word, they can be railroaded. We ask out uniformed military people to protect us. But this treaty, if it is ever ratified, says we cannot offer them the very constitutional protections that they are fighting to defend.

It's more than likely that this hostility played a role in whatever advice Olson gave the president regarding adherence to the Geneva Conventions as well.

Olson, of course, was also more than willing to play the Manichean with-us-or-against-us card in his legal arguments, with open imputations that opposition to this power grab amounted to treasonous aid and comfort to the enemy:
Citing precedents from World War II, the Bush administration warned the Supreme Court this week that granting Guantanamo Bay detainees any access to courts would undermine the war on terrorism and aid enemy forces.

Such a ruling "not only would be very damaging to the military's ability to win the war," but would "no doubt be highly comforting to the enemies of the United States," Solicitor General Theodore Olson wrote in a final brief before the court hears a historic Guantanamo case next month.

Longtime readers of my work will recall that I profiled Ted Olson for Salon back when he was still a nominee, emphasizing his career in the OLC for the Reagan administration, when he was the subject of an independent counsel's investigation for perjury. You may also recall my assessment of the quality and integrity of Olson's advice:
Ultimately, Olson's complete record reveals a troubling portrait of a counselor willing to risk everything -- including the credibility of his president, and his political colleagues' careers -- in pursuit of a highly charged partisan agenda that seems more calculated to bolster his own reputation than the cause of the office he serves, and a lawyer who makes ironclad assertions that later turn out to be false and misleading. It is a record that raises serious questions about his judgment and competence -- as well as demonstrating the capacity for evasion and dissembling now being questioned in the Senate.

And I concluded:
Olson's actual record in that period raises doubts about even this answer. His single-minded effort to assert executive privilege actually overlooked what the law permitted, and it wound up costing President Reagan dearly. One is only left to wonder what dubious legal tangles he has in store for President Bush's agenda.

Unfortunately, that concern has come home to roost.

The right kind of terrorist

Remember the case of Michael Breit, the would-be terrorist who compiled an arsenal as well as a hit list of liberal "traitors," along with a detailed plan for killing them?

You know, the case in which we were wondering why neither the media nor the Attorney General seemed terribly concerned about what seems to be a fairly clear-cut case of domestic terrorism?

Seems the judge initially handling his case wasn't too worried about him, either:
Weapons keeper, list released

ROCKFORD -- A judge has ordered the conditional release of a Rockford man who kept a hit list of high-ranking U.S. officials and celebrities, such as former Attorney General Janet Reno and filmmaker Michael Moore.

Michael Breit, 20, faces federal explosives charges. Police found the hit list in his apartment last month along with an arsenal of firearms, knives, bomb-making materials, ammunition, such books as "The Anarchist Cookbook" and "The Turner Diaries," and threatening personal writings and drawings.

There were seven names on the list: Reno, Moore, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, Sarah Brady, Rosie O'Donnell, U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle and Dan Ortiz, whom court documents say is a political supporter of presidential candidate John Kerry. Each name had the word "marked" written next to it. Breit allegedly told investigators that meant "marked to die."

U.S. Magistrate Judge P. Michael Mahoney, who denied Breit's release pending charges last month, reversed his decision Monday afternoon after hearing testimony from the man's mother, Leslie Breit, and grandfather, Gordon Breit, both of Rockford.

That certainly is an interesting list, isn't it?

Imagine if, say, it had been a Muslim man caught with a similar plan, but targeting John Ashcroft and Rush Limbaugh. Think that might make the evening news?

In any event, another judge with obviously better sense shortly thereafter overruled the magistrate and ordered Breit to remain in jail.

[Thanks to Travis and Shari for the heads-up.]

Standing up

It isn't often that I read a column -- particularly in the Oregonian -- and find myself agreeing with nearly every word. But Rick Bella hit one out of the park this week:
Confront hate in community; don't ignore it

Bella describes the recent resurgence of neo-Nazi/skinhead activity in the Portland area, and concludes thus:
Several times this year, racist fliers and CDs have been distributed in Tigard in an apparent effort to recruit young people to the cause. Other efforts have hit Tualatin, Sherwood and Beaverton.

Meanwhile, the Tualatin Valley Skins have been pumping out their local-access shows to 121,000 cable subscribers spanning Washington County, part of Clackamas County and 12 cities.

At least six times a week, "Resistance Rock Radio" airs a potentially deadly brew of high-energy heavy metal tunes and "white pride" lyrics. The effect could be intoxicating to young people desperate to belong to something and looking for convenient scapegoats.

Another six or eight times a week, "Freedom of Thought" runs on cable-access channels, serving up neo-Nazi lectures over clips of lovable puppies, kittens and zoo denizens. It would be easy for the unaware to miss the attempt to link the ugly with the beautiful in the viewers' subconscious.

Several people have contacted me to complain about the shows. But there is little that Tualatin Valley Television can do.

"Believe me, if there was a way to keep them off the air, I would," said Marci Hosier, TVTV executive director. "But what they are doing is protected under the First Amendment, and we can't censor shows. That's not what public (access) television is all about."

So let me suggest the opposite:

I think you should watch the shows so you can appreciate exactly what we're up against.

In fact, I think you should tune in with your kids and then discuss the shows with them.

I think you should go to the Tualatin Valley Skins' own Web site -- Count how many times you see Hitler's face, how many times you see minorities blamed for everything. Count how many times "white pride" is used as an excuse for resenting everyone else.

Then, I think you should take a walk in the park -- make that Cook Park at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, where police, city and school officials are holding an anti-hate rally.

I'm not sure what may turn the tide, but I know nothing will change if we pretend this isn't happening right here.

If you live in the Portland area and have the time, follow Rick's advice and show up at Cook Park tonight to make a statement.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The White Peril

Regular readers may recall my concern that the Latino-bashing that arose in last fall's California recall election had the potential to provoke serious racial tensions and ultimately violence.

Now, out of the San Diego area comes an extremely disturbing story that fits into a pattern I've been seeing with potentially far-reaching implications:
A growing racial divide at Temescal Canyon

In the 10 days since a campus melee and fights erupted at Temescal Canyon High School, the racial and ethnic divides separating many students have grown even wider, more than a dozen students said last week.

Several parents say that the racial tensions and the fights have them very concerned that even greater violence may lie ahead.

On May 12, two fights broke out between Latino and white students in the lunch area and hundreds of students then were caught up in a melee, with many throwing bottles, cans and food at one another. Twelve sheriff's deputies and school officials dispersed the crowd.

The following day -- even with 18 deputies patrolling campus -- two more fights broke out, as racial slurs flew between Latino and white students. As a result of the two days of fighting, 18 students have been suspended and eight of them are facing expulsion. No one was arrested on either of the two days, but sheriff's officials said they would be asking the district attorney's office to file battery charges against three boys and possibly against two girls.

Noteworthy is the fact that the "Iron Cross" wear favored, rather innocuously, by skateboarder types all around the country have been converted, in this case at least, into a symbol for white supremacy and real suggestions of neo-Nazi ideological sentiments:
Ryan Canada, 16, was hanging out with a group of other white students during the first of two lunch periods last week. Canada sports close-cropped hair and on Wednesday was wearing a T-shirt with a logo based on the German Iron Cross emblazoned on the front. He said that since the fights, more white students are changing their dress habits as an expression of solidarity with other white students.

"A lot of people are starting to wear (T-shirts with) Iron Crosses and shave their heads," he said. First used as a military decoration in Prussia in the early 1800s, Adolf Hitler restored the award in 1939. Some Latino students say they associate the Iron Cross with white-power groups on campus.

Canada's friend Nathan Hudson, 17, was also wearing a T-shirt with an Iron Cross logo. He agreed that more students -- Latinos and whites -- are gravitating toward groups of their own race or ethnicity.

"There's a lot more whites by themselves and Hispanics by themselves," he said.

But the most significant concern is that the increasing tension and the outbreak of violence in this and neighboring schools appear to have been largely provoked by whites uttering racial slurs and expressing white-supremacist views:
Last September, racial conflict erupted at Elsinore High School when a group of white students carried an American flag onto campus on a pole with inscriptions of swastikas and markings associated with white supremacy.

Students reported the white students marched up and down in front of Latino students at lunch and the Latino students threw food at them. Those incidents followed what some students said were several fights between Latinos and whites on the Wildomar campus in the previous school year.

The immediate trigger for the recent Temescal Canyon fights was a racial slur. Witnesses said that a Latino boy and his girlfriend were walking through the lunch area at noon on May 12. The girl was singing in Spanish when a white boy yelled at her to shut up, using a profanity and a racial slur, said two students who witnessed the confrontation. The Latino boy and the white boy began fighting and another fight and the melee quickly followed, witnesses said.

It's important to observe that a number of racially charged incidents elsewhere -- from Ithaca, Orangetown and Saranac, all in New York, to Newark, Ohio, to Arlington, Washington and Sacramento, Calif. -- have all involved increasing racial tensions in the nation's high schools.

And in the vast majority of these incidents, the tensions have been spurred by the fresh appearance of white-supremacist ideology among the young people involved.

The reason this is an important harbinger, of course, is that these teenagers not only portend rising trends, they also reflect the kinds of sentiments that are being promoted in the larger body politic. White supremacy, these incidents clearly suggest, is being quietly pushed from the fringes toward the center of our national discourse -- which may be the most disturbing trend of them all.

Lying liars

Remember California State Sen. Tom McClintock, leader of the conservative vanguard in the state's recent gubernatorial recall campaign?

That's right, the fellow who scrolled the words "honesty and integrity" across the screen in one of his ads. The one whose senior advisor is a Christian Reconstructionist.

Turns out this moral paragon also likes to just make shit up.
A few weeks ago Sen. McClintock wrote an editorial column built around the following irony:

"This year, nearly 7,500 qualified California residents -- who would otherwise be entering California state universities as incoming freshmen -- are likely to be turned away for lack of funds. Meanwhile, approximately 7,500 illegal immigrants will receive heavily subsidized university educations at a cost of between $45 million and $65 million annually at those same universities."

The reality, it turns out, is that no one actually keeps track of how many people "might be turned away" from the state's colleges, and no one knows how many receive the so-called "subsidies."
University and college administrators could not provide more than rough conjecture about the number of students who would receive the exemption when AB 540 was making its way through the Legislature. In part this was because no one knew whether the law would bring out of the woodwork candidates who wouldn't even apply to the UC or Cal State systems if they had to pay the full nonresident freight.

In any event, the numbers floating around were in the hundreds, not thousands.

McClintock couldn't even explain where he concocted these numbers:
So where did Sen. McClintock's statistics come from?

Last week he told me that he thought they came from the Office of the Legislative Analyst, Sacramento's nonpartisan analytical body. But that office says it has never produced any such numbers. McClintock also says he's unsure whether his figure of 7,500 illegal immigrant students includes those at the community colleges; given that there are more than 1 million community college students, that's a lot of wiggle room.

This leaves the possibility that Sen. McClintock seized on the figure of 7,500 because it so handily matches the number of qualified UC applicants denied admission this year because of enrollment cutbacks. The implication, plainly, is that illegal immigrants have stolen opportunities that should go to citizens and law-abiding newcomers.

That's certainly the narrative line that grabs people's attention. "I find it appalling that the illegal immigrant population can get into our university system easier than can the children of people whether legal immigrants or born and bred in the United States," one exercised reader wrote the Daily News.

The trouble is that it's a fabrication.

To begin with, AB 540 doesn't give anyone, illegal immigrant or otherwise, preferential admission to a state university or college. Each has to qualify academically like anyone else. Moreover, McClintock's tally of 7,500 prospective university freshmen "turned away for lack of funds" doesn't cover both UC and Cal State — it refers to an option UC alone has given those students to spend two years at a community college in return for guaranteed enrollment as juniors. Suggesting they were turned away because their slots were taken by "7,500 illegal immigrants," especially when UC has reported granting waivers to no more than 93 "potentially undocumented" students, is slicing the baloney pretty thick.

The fundamental untruth in McClintock's column is the intimation that a subsidy to illegal immigrants helped cause the financial crunch in California higher education. In fact, there is a reason for the fiscal crisis at UC, Cal State and the community colleges, and Sen. McClintock is partially responsible: It's the refusal by the Legislature and governor to close the state's budget gap by levying enough taxes to pay for all the programs they like.

Especially noteworthy is the way McClintock's propaganda panders to an increasingly thick atmosphere of anti-Hispanic bashing on the part of conservative whites in California. For the kinds of results this rhetoric can be expected to produce, see the story above.

Continuing the conversation

Mark D Lew at Benzene 4 has posted an extended response to the comments to his thoughtful letter I posted previously discussing the the Media Revolt Manifesto.

I'll have many more comments that tie in these responses as well as others in a similar vein. But for now, two quick observations:

-- Anyone who thinks that, for example, "Travelgate," "Filegate," "the Mena plot," "Vince Foster's murder," "the Paula Jones affair" and yes, even "Whitewater" -- all of which, I must point out, were widely flogged in the mainstream press, not to mention the focus of endless right-wing frothing -- were genuine scandals and not pseudo-scandals concocted almost solely for political advantage or out of paranoid hatred of Clinton simply has not examined the evidence fully. I'm not interested in exploring all the details of these scandals in any manifesto, but I'm quite comfortable asserting that these were phony affairs ginned up out of whole cloth and on the thinnest evidence; they certainly did not deserve even a quarter of the half-life they enjoyed in the so-called liberal media. (On Whitewater, I recommend Gene Lyons' largely unrefuted Fools for Scandal as a primer.) And in all these cases, they really were examples of shallow and thoughtless media pack behavior at its worst.

-- I am far from convinced that nonpartisanship at this point is even constructive. I specifically wrote the manifesto as a call to arms for liberals, who at this point are most reliably the serious opponents of the kind of perversion of the national discourse that has resulted from the conservative propaganda campaign of the past decade. I've watched too many self-described centrists who succumb (either as consumers or practitioners) to the phony sort of "he said/she said" reporting that passes for "balance" in today's journalism, which in turn has provided cover for both Bush's policies and his destructive presidency, not to mention his continuing mendacity. I'm not sure that the usual tepid support from waffling centrists is even desirable. The thrust of the manifesto was along the lines of a call for serious energy: lead, follow, or get out of the way.

But mebbe I can be convinced otherwise.