Saturday, October 23, 2004

Balkin' Malkin

I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise to any student of history who has read In Defense of Internment, but Michelle Malkin has now established, beyond any serious doubt, that no one should believe a word that comes out of her mouth or her keyboard.

At her appearance at a bookstore in Puyallup last month, Malkin discussed the historians who objected to her multiple appearances on national television in which she was allowed to promote her revisionist history regarding the internment of Japanese Americans without anything remotely resembling an opposing or balancing viewpoint.

Malkin boasted to the audience: "I've been openly engaging the other side in debate."

She went on: "Their approach has been to censor me. As if the other side hasn't had equal time already!

"What are they afraid of?"

I was there taking notes. Begging the question of how having someone to provide factual counter to her afactual nonsense constituted censorship, I thought it would be interesting to see just how openly Malkin in fact was willing to engage the other side in debate.

So I approached her during the signing that followed her talk, introduced myself, and asked her if she'd be willing to be interviewed by phone sometime in the next few weeks.

She said yes, and gave me her e-mail address.

A little while later, I wrote her at that address and asked how and when we could set up the interview.

She responded by asking me to just submit the questions in writing by e-mail.

I wrote back and said that, as a journalist, she should know that wasn't acceptable. An e-mail exchange is not an interview, and should never be considered an acceptable substitute. (This is so for a variety of reasons, including the fact that there is simply no assurance for the reporter that the person responding in the e-mail is in fact the interview subject.)

I received no answer for several weeks. After waiting what seemed like a civil period, I wrote her again last week and asked if we could set up the phone interview. Still no response.

So on Thursday, I sent her a final request, and warned her I'd take the matter public if I didn't hear back.

She responded this time:
Despite knowing that you have expressed extremely hostile views of me on your blog, I politely agreed to schedule an interview with you after you came to my book-signing in Puyallup. As I wrote to you in my Sept. 23 e-mail, I wanted to do the interview with you via e-mail. You chose not to send me your questions. End of conversation. End of story.

So it's clear that Malkin has in fact gone back on her word and is refusing to submit to the interview.

It's worth noting, of course, that she characterizes my discussion of her work as "extremely hostile" toward her personally, which is an interesting way of putting it.

I think it's fair to say I was outraged by her book. I think it's fair to say I have criticized her work and her methodology sharply, even harshly. I think that criticism is fully deserved. There is an amoral and cynical quality to her work that is, on the basis of ethics alone, truly reprehensible. I have described her work as a "contemptible enterprise."

The mendacious nature of In Defense of Internment was recently exposed by Dan Koffler at Finnegans Wake, whose rigorous logic exposed the utter falsity of Malkin's claim that she's only defending internment then, she's not defending it now.

[Be sure, while you're at it, to check out the compendium of information about Malkin's work recently compiled by the fine folks at Densho.]

In any event, "hostility" usually implies a nasty personal element, and I've been careful to avoid that. I have focused almost entirely on her work, its methodology, and the quality of it (or lack thereof). I haven't suggested that Malkin is a wretched person, and in fact I've chided those critics who characterized her as "self-hating." As I've mentioned before, I've had professional contact with Malkin dating back to the early 1990s, before she was well known, and my experience has been that she is no monster but just a human being, if a horribly misguided one.

No, when I think of personal hostility, I think of people who describe specifically named mentally handicapped individuals as "witless." Maybe that's just me.

But what's most striking to me about Malkin's refusal to do a phone interview is that she's suggested that time constraints are her chief reason for backing out. But the interview, as I told her, would only require about 30 to 45 minutes of her time. If I were to submit the questions to her in writing, and she were to respond even half-adequately, the writing time involved would almost certainly take up a good deal more time than that. Phone interviews, in my experience, are always less time-consuming than written responses to questions.

It's clear that Malkin has other reasons for not wanting to do an interview.

So I have to ask: What is she afraid of?

[Hat tip to Eric Muller for the Koffler and Densho links.]

Friday, October 22, 2004

The great misleader

It seems George W. Bush has been less than forthcoming about some completely-out-of-character inner-city volunteer work he performed in 1973:
Former workers dispute Bush's pull in Project P.U.L.L

Careful observers of Bush's autobiographical claims know that he has described himself as having "worked" at a project voluntarily, when instead it appears he was forced to put in community-service time as compensation for some kind of legal difficulty:
"I was working full time for an inner-city poverty program known as Project P.U.L.L.," Bush said in his 1999 autobiography, "A Charge to Keep." "My friend John White ... asked me to come help him run the program. ... I was intrigued by John's offer. ... Now I had a chance to help people."

But White's administrative assistant and others associated with P.U.L.L., speaking on the record for the first time, say Bush was not helping to run the program and White had not asked Bush to come aboard. Instead, the associates said, White told them he agreed to take Bush on as a favor to Bush's father, who was honorary co-chairman of the program at the time, and Bush was unpaid. They say White told them Bush had gotten into some kind of trouble but White never gave them specifics.

"We didn't know what kind of trouble he'd been in, only that he'd done something that required him to put in the time," said Althia Turner, White's administrative assistant.

"John said he was doing a favor for George's father because an arrangement had to be made for the son to be there," said Willie Frazier, also a former player for the Houston Oilers and a P.U.L.L. summer volunteer in 1973.

... Turner, who said she has avoided reporters for years, agreed to be interviewed only after phoning her pastor for advice.

When she hung up the phone, she turned to a reporter: "My pastor says if you found me, I should tell the truth."

Even then, Turner was hesitant. About 15 minutes into the interview, she asked if the reporter would accompany her to her pastor's home because she needed her support. Once there, she talked in detail for the first time while her pastor, Theresa Times, of Bless One Ministries, and five people who had been attending a prayer meeting listened.

"George had to sign in and out -- I remember his signature was a hurried cursive -- but he wasn't an employee. He was not a volunteer either," she said. "John said he had to keep track of George's hours because George had to put in a lot of hours because he was in trouble."

A White House spokesman, unsurprisingly, denied that Bush volunteered because he was in trouble.

It's worth noting, of course, that this is roughly the same time frame when Bush was missing in action at the Texas Air National Guard. A connection between the two seems not only possible, but likely.

[Via Suburban Guerrilla.]



A would-be Republican political sign thief got his just desserts in the Denver area recently:
A Lakewood Republican stealing campaign signs late one night got nabbed when he ran across a low- hanging driveway chain, fell face first onto a pilfered sign and the concrete and knocked himself unconscious.

Randal Wagner, 50, was loaded into an ambulance, treated at Lutheran Medical Center for abrasions and facial cuts and issued a summons.

Wagner, who unsuccessfully tried to steal a "Dave Thomas" congressional sign that evening, had signs for other Democratic candidates in his Toyota pickup, Wheat Ridge police reported.

"I did a very stupid thing," Wagner said Monday, admitting theft of the signs. "I got caught up in the political passions of this highly contested election."

Wagner said that he and his wife, Jan, who was driving their pickup that night, "want to apologize to the people" they have offended.

"Everybody has a right to express their political opinions," Randal Wagner said.

Jan Wagner, who was not cited, said she did not want to discuss what happened. She also is a Republican.

Oh, and speaking of just desserts ... it seems someone pasted Ann Coulter with cream pies in Arizona last night.

Someone named Professor Bainbridge (who doesn't even have the courtesy to link to the post he cites) mentions this incident in taking me to task for my remark about "small acts of nastiness and mean-spiritedness" (in Part 4 of "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism").

OK, so I'm going to write this verrrry sloowwwly, just so everyone can understand:

I've never claimed that nastiness and mean-spiritedness is the sole purview of the right. I've remarked on several occasions about such acts from the left as well, and have made clear that there's simply no excuse for it, regardless. The idiots who attacked Coulter should be charged with battery, just like that Bush supporter in Portland should have been.

I am fairly confident, however, that if we were to catalog all of these acts, both big and small, over the past four years, the list on the right side of the aisle would be considerably longer, and considerably nastier, than that on the left. And there's a reason for that: Unlike the nastiness on the left -- which is often reactive -- the impetus for that on the right is being encouraged (and in some cases directly fomented) by people in positions of national leadership of the conservative movement.

This ranges from figures like Rush Limbaugh (who fantasizes about killing all liberals except for a few to be kept in museums) and Ann Coulter (who argues in favor of "a little local fascism" and thinks Tim McVeigh should have targeted the New York Times Building) to Dick Cheney, who tells a senator on the floor of the Senate to go fuck himself -- and then not only refuses to apologize, but recommends such discourse as a feel-good measure.

This is only a small and partial list; as regular readers know, this kind of behavior has become so commonplace on the part of both media figures and political leaders on the right that it has become nearly unremarkable -- especially, it seems, to people like Bainbridge. And there is simply no correlative behavior from anyone on the left in any kind of similar position, media or otherwise.

Bainbridge mentions Hitlerian tactics in this context. Well, if we're going to be dealing in analogies, perhaps he is unaware, as a point of history, that Hitler's fascists regularly pointed to violence on the part of Communists and Socialists -- which were disproportionately played up and publicized by the German press in contrast to the acts of the Sturmarbeitelung -- as justification for their own massive campaign of violence ... which, of course, was being perpetually encouraged by media and political figures at the top of the party.

Mote in the eye, indeed.

UPDATE: Bainbridge has now rewritten the post and linked directly to me. Its original text referred to me as "someone named David Neiwert," which inspired the rejoinder. He's also deleted the link to Brian Leiter's original post.

A house made of straw

If you want a classical case of conservative buffoonery, check out this post that responds to my ongoing series on "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism" in the time-tested right-wing fashion: Erecting a straw man and then playing with it for about 20 paragraphs.

Thanks to Instahypocrite, who linked to it, it's been driving a lot of traffic my way today. Hey, I'm always up for more traffic.

But you know, I'd actually be delighted if an honest conservative wanted to tackle my thesis by actually engaging my arguments. But then, "honest conservative" is increasingly becoming an oxymoron.

In the process, of course, they only prove my point: The conservative movement is no longer capable of winning anything on the merits of its powers of reason. It's all built on an appeal to emotions, and especially anti-liberal derision.

[For a little added fun, check out Dean Esmay's comments in the thread below. The post he's referring to is this one. Decide for yourself whether or not Esmay has a reading-comprehension problem, or is just projecting a guilty conscience.]

Asleep at the wheel

So Team Bush is once again trying to suggest that terrorists want Kerry to win with an unintentionally hilarious ad comparing terrorists to wolves.

Without any hint of awareness of the blatant hypocrisy, its text argues that Kerry voted to cut intelligence funding "after the first terrorist attack on America" (referring, in fact, not to 9/11 or Oklahoma City, but the 1993 World Trade Center bombing). This from an administration that, in the late summer of 2001, presented a budget that cut funding for counterterrorism work.

Indeed, the evidence is overwhelming that before Sept. 11, this administration was asleep at the wheel when it came to terrorism. And its competence in confronting the problem since then has worsened exponentially. This was confirmed in devastating detail by both Richard Clarke and the 9/11 commission.

Thomas Bonsell, an intelligence veteran, chimed in recently in a Seattle P-I op-ed titled "Blame the 'leadership' failures" that's well worth reading, because it points out where the real blame for 9/11 lies:
Had leaders combined the discoveries by the two FBI agents with the CIA report, a clear picture of the 9/11 attacks would have emerged. Not doing so was leadership failure, not intelligence failure.

To be valuable, intelligence from domestic sources must be coordinated at the top; that would entail U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft at the Justice Department. Intelligence from foreign sources must be coordinated at the top at the Pentagon by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The coordinated intelligence then must be combined at the highest level-- the White House.

All three failed. That is leadership failure, not intelligence failure.

... Americans should know that so-called strong and steady leadership in the war against terror is of no value when the leaders are incompetent.

We deserve better.

The Kerry campaign needs to respond by pointing this out, time after time.

Of course, I'm still waiting for them to start running ads featuring the 9/11 widows who provided the final impetus for overcoming Team Bush's attempts to prevent the formation of the 9/11 commission in the first place. Or doesn't anyone realize that these are the ultimate "security moms"?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Dismantling democracy

If you thought Florida in 2000 was a debacle that inflicted a grievous wound on American democracy, just wait. Thanks to Team Bush, the 2004 election is shaping up to make that look like a tea party.

Think Florida times 10. And then think about the shambles that will remain of our democratic institutions afterward.

Of course, we've long observed the Republican party's growing hostility to the democratic process, evidenced not just by the Florida debacle but a whole host of subsequent events -- the Texas redistricting, the California recall, and many more.

This week in the Village Voice, Rick Perlstein has penned a must-read survey of the damaged state of things now, and the long-term consequences, titled "The End of Democracy: Losing America's birthright, the George Bush way". A key quote:
Thomas Mann is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, noted for his deliberateness of manner, his decency, and his near religious devotion to the ideal of bipartisan comity. Now, he says, "I see the damage to our system and our sense of ourselves as a democratic people as really quite substantial. . . . The consequences of both the policies and the processes have been more destructive of our national interest and our democratic institutions than any president I know." When someone as level-headed as Tom Mann begins to worry for the future of our democracy, that's news.

Perlstein goes on to discover that not only does this problem loom for America, but the Loyal Opposition Democrats -- led by a cadre of spineless consultants -- evidently have no intention of seriously directly confronting it.

The likelihood of election-day problems -- and a protracted post-election legal battle, in which Team Bush once again attempts to litigate its way into the White House -- is growing especially evident in the litany of indications that the GOP is engaging in a widespread campaign of Florida-style dirty tricks in battleground states around the country.

The state most likely to be this year's Florida is Ohio. Already, we have the state's Republican Secretary of State refusing to comply with a federal judge's order to deal appropriately with inconsistent provisional-ballot rules:
With the Nov. 2 election fast approaching, Carr had suggested that Blackwell file two possible directives: one that complies with Carr's ruling and another if Blackwell wins his appeal.

But Blackwell filed only one proposed directive Monday, and Carr determined it did not comply with his order. The judge called that "inexplicable.''

"Ignoring this court's clear command is one thing; it is another thing, and under the circumstances even more blameworthy, to leave Ohio's election officials utterly without guidance about how to apply HAVA's provisions,'' Carr wrote.

That's not all. It seems that a team of GOP operatives working in South Dakota was forced to resign over electoral hanky-panky. The problems in South Dakota were so pronounced that the Republican former governor, Bill Janklow, publicly denounced the GOP get-out-the-vote campaign as one in which workers were being encouraged to cheat.

So what did Team Bush do with these miscreants? As Josh Marshall reported last week, they sent them to head up the effort in Ohio:
Today comes news, however, that Russell -- still under investigation in South Dakota -- has been reassigned to run President Bush's get-out-the-vote operation in Ohio. Russell will now "lead the ground operations" for Bush in Ohio, according to an internal Republican party memo obtained by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

And Russell's bringing along with him to Ohio three of the five other GOP staffers who had to resign in South Dakota and are similarly under investigation in that state.

The Argus-Leader report details this:
When South Dakota Republican Party Chairman Randy Frederick announced the resignations of Russell and five others Monday evening, he said the state party has a "zero-tolerance policy."

But an internal Republican Party memo obtained by the Argus Leader said Russell would be going to Cleveland "to lead the ground operations" for President Bush and Vice President Cheney there.

South Dakota isn't the only place where decent Republicans have raised red flags. In New Hampshire, there was a denunciation of similar misbehavior made by former Sen. Bob Smith, an ultraconservative Republican. This time, it involved the activities of one Jim Tobin, who with a group of other GOP operatives was involved in organizing the election-day jamming of Democratic GOTV phone lines in that state -- a criminal activity. Once again, Josh Marshall points out, "The guy who helped organize election tampering last cycle gets appointed by the Bush campaign to run their election operation this cycle."

Of course, it doesn't exactly help that, as the Nashua Telegraph pointed out, the Ashcroft Justice Department dragged its feet bringing this matter to light.

Similar tactics are cropping up in battleground states around the country. Recent news reports detailed Republican attempts to relocate polls in black-majority precincts in Philadelphia, unsuccessfully. In western Pennsylvania, Republican operatives have been signing up new voters -- but not if they're Democrats:
"We were told that if they wanted to register Democrat, there was no way we were to register them to vote," said Michele Tharp, of Meadville, who said she was sent out to canvass door-to-door and outside businesses in Meadville, Crawford County. "We were only to register Republicans."

This latter tactic, in fact, has been cropping up wherever Republicans have attempted to sign up new voters. It's been reported occurring in Oregon and Nevada as well.

The nexus of much of this activity, as Salon reported, is the GOP consultancy Sproul and Associates:
During the past week and a half, several former employees, elections officials and others across the country who've had dealings with the firm have revealed to various local media outlets Sproul's methods for boosting GOP registration in key swing states. The accounts allege that Sproul's workers were encouraged to lie, cheat and, according to Eric Russell, a former Sproul employee in Las Vegas who first told his story to a local television station last week, even destroy the registration forms of Democrats who'd registered to vote with Sproul canvassers. Sproul has denied those charges, variously challenging the veracity of its former employees; but taken together, the stories are compelling, and they may provide an early glimpse into the kinds of shady tactics Republicans are using to win at the polls this year.

For a useful overview of all these Republican vote-fraud efforts, be sure to check out Steve Gilliard's handy rundown.

What really caught my attention, though, was a sidebar Perlstein wrote for the Village Voice piece about a very recent federal court ruling on voting rights:
It's easy to vote absentee in Illinois if you meet certain qualifications, like being out of your home county on Election Day. It's also easy if you don't meet those qualifications: You just lie. In fact, greasy machine pols have been known to exploit the present system to cast "votes" for their entire block. Juliet Alejandre is one person who didn't qualify, and who wasn't prepared to lie. Going to school full-time and working nights, the single mother says that the last time she tried to vote she left much of the ballot incomplete because she was terrified her unminded toddler would fall off the stage upon which the booths sat. So with three other working moms, Alejandre sued in federal court to order the state legislature to revisit its horse-and-buggy absentee statute to make reasonable provisions -- whether by extending voting hours, changing absentee requirements, or instituting a universal vote-by-mail system like the one that's worked well in Oregon.

This past Friday, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit, a prominent conservative intellectual and vocal Bush supporter, handed down a capricious, flippant dismissal of the complaint, ignoring key portions of its argument and simply inventing others. (The plaintiffs wanted the court to "decree weekend voting," he fantasized, wondering whether a federal court would soon "have to buy everyone a laptop, or a Palm Pilot or Blackberry?")

Bad enough if it only affected Illinoisans. Here's the scary part: Posner worded his ruling in such a way to make it difficult for anyone to challenge any voting statute passed by any state legislature anywhere.

The decision is diabolical -- a perfect counterpart to this season's Republican strategy of drowning voting-rights complaints in a sea of moral relativism. One example: A goal of the plaintiff's case was to stop existing fraud by making Illinois's vague and antiquated absentee regulations more uniform and fair. Instead, Posner argued that the plaintiff's commonsense request for a second look at the statutes opened the door to fraud.

The bottom line: Posner's precedent gives much more discretion to states like Ohio and Florida to take action to restrict voting opportunities, especially for working people. And it was handed down, conveniently, two weeks before Election Day.

It's worth noting that Posner's ruling was handed down with unusual speed -- suggesting he reached it in time for the election. You can read the ruling here [PDF file] and the relevant briefs here.

It probably shouldn't surprise us, though, that Posner's precedent will make it more difficult to challenge states when they restrict voting opportunities, especially working people and low-income voters. That is, after all, the cornerstone of nearly all the Republican vote-suppression tactics.

And it certainly shouldn't surprise us that it is Posner who is doing this. He is, after all, one of the foremost defenders of the Supreme Court's corrupt Bush v. Gore ruling.

Posner has authored no less than two books defending the ruling -- not on the basis of its legal grounding, which even he admits is shaky at best. Rather, Posner argues that the Court made a "pragmatic" decision aimed at reducing the turmoil and potential violence that loomed if the decision on who would become president were forced to drag out in the manner prescribed by the Constitution.

As Sanford Levinson observed:
But, of course, the very basis of the "pragmatic" defense of Bush v. Gore is that such a development would have been accompanied by significant political turmoil, perhaps widespread disorder, and that avoiding such political chaos was a value of fundamental importance.

It's worth remembering that only one side in the Florida debacle threatened violence and turmoil, and that was the Republican side. Obviously, as we saw in the aftermath, Democrats were not inclined to have responded violently to a Bush presidency; but Republicans had already rioted to shut down voting in Miami, and were responsible for ugly demonstrations that forced pro-Gore demonstrations to shut down in Palm Beach. Nearly the entirety of violent rhetoric and behavior around the Florida fight emanated from the right.

Posner's "pragmatic" argument, as such, is an apparent self-interested capitulation to mob rule. Under his formulation of things, the Republicans on the Supreme Court acted as they did so that Republicans would not resort to violence to get their way.

Moreover, Posner conceded in his book Breaking the Deadlock that in fact a majority of voters in Florida had punched their ballots for Gore. So in essence the Court's "pragmatism" actually overturned the democratic result and thus disenfranchised thousands of voters. Posner clearly approves of this.

Paul Horwitz, in a review of Posner's second book on the case, Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy, observes:
Posner also offers a pragmatic defense of the Supreme Court's work in Bush v. Gore -- one that is less convincing than his attack on Clinton v. Jones. He aptly calls Bush v. Gore "the most execrated modern decision of the Supreme Court." The opinion itself, Posner admits, is "at worst . . . a very bad decision."

But he nevertheless defends it on pragmatic grounds. He sees it as a reasonable response to a potential political crisis -- in which former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers would have become Acting President, and the nation would have been paralyzed by bitter political struggle.

Greg Morrow has observed that this argument is just plainly wrong:
Avoiding a potential constitutional crisis is indeed a pragmatic and reasonable goal. However, Bush v. Gore wasn't it. We hadn't exhausted the statutory remedies for the circumstance, let alone the constitutional remedies -- remedies which we knew worked because they had worked in previous cases!

Perhaps most disturbing is the view of democracy that Posner reveals in this text. Horwitz sums it up neatly:
Posner contrasts two visions of democracy. One, which he calls "Concept 1 democracy," is familiar enough to readers of law journals: it is so-called "deliberative democracy." In Concept 1 democracy, voters and politicians alike are expected to be civic-minded, debating one another town-meeting-style with the public interest in mind rather than their own selfish ends.

This kind of democracy, Posner argues, is a pipe dream. It is all very well to talk about deliberative democracy in the safe precincts of the "faculty workshop," in which all the participants are equally gifted (or glib) and all agree on the basic premises of the discussion. But, he argues, nothing in the capacity of the American people, or in the varied and intractable nature of their differences, suggests that they are likely to turn our polyglot democracy into a new Athens.

As a result, Concept 1 democrats who acknowledge this state of affairs may be forced to substitute deliberation by elites - especially judges - for popular deliberation. That result is deeply anti-democratic.

For his alternative, "Concept 2 democracy," Posner draws on the work of Joseph Schumpeter. This is a brazenly unromantic vision of democracy - one that treats politics "as a competition among self-interested politicians, constituting a ruling class, for the support of the people, also assumed to be self-interested, and to be none too interested in or well informed about politics."

Not surprisingly, Posner's model of democracy looks not to ancient Athens but to the market, Posner's favorite model. It divides our democracy into two distinct classes: the class of voters-as-consumers, and the "sellers" - the elite class of elected officials and their appointees. These elite rulers market their views to the voters and so compete for electoral advantage.

What Posner advocates is not democracy. It is plutocracy. And if the anti-democratic forces behind Team Bush have their way, they will be able to point to Posner's ruling as the roadmap for installing it.

Our only hope, really, is a massive tide of Americans coming out to the polls on Nov. 2 in such numbers that they overpower the Republican strategy. Democracy itself is at stake.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Shutting them up

It certainly has not gone unnoticed that George W. Bush likes to have, shall we say, very select audiences for his campaign appearances. In fact, his campaign has developed quite a track record for tossing out anyone who appears even remotely inclined not to vote for him. This, evidently, is the new Republican way of engaging the public.

Now it's getting out of hand.

We've always known, of course, that Bush positively dislikes having to even think about, let alone confront, people who might disagree with him or vote against him or -- horrors! -- protest his policies. Remember the fellow who, back in the summer of 2001, told Bush he was disappointed in his work? The response: "Who cares what you think?"

One of the secondary, and less noticed, ways that Bush has managed to avoid all those disagreeable dissidents is to make his public appearances strictly in friendly locales. When he comes to Washington state, for instance, Bush doesn't appear in public, and he doesn't visit Seattle proper -- he visits the wealthy Republican suburbs, GOP-dominated Spokane, and the Fort Lewis military base.

His recent swing into Oregon was much the same way. Rather than visit Portland -- easily the state's largest city -- or other population centers, he's mainly appeared in heavily conservative rural areas.

But even then, the plague of dissent has wormed its way into his presence. Or tried to. And we know what that means.

Shut them up. Beat them up. Arrest them. After all, who cares what they think?

The ludicrous nadir of this style of public interaction came during an appearance in the small town of Central Point, where three schoolteachers were threatened and tossed out of a Bush event for wearing T-shirts that read:
Protect Our Civil Liberties

That's right. There was nothing explicitly anti-Bush about the shirts. Indeed, one has to wonder just what it was about the message that Republicans found so offensive. But one of the GOP staffers at the event found it so:
Voorhies said the three made it through all three checkpoints and assured volunteers who questioned them that they would not disrupt the event. But when Voorhies was on her way to the bathroom, she was stopped by a volunteer who told her she wasn't welcome.

She said this volunteer pointed to her shirt and said it was "obscene."

The teachers' ejections (and accompanying threats) evoked a caustic response from DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, and a confused and defensive response from Republicans:
Tracey Schmitt, a Bush campaign spokeswoman, said no one on the campaign staff "can remember the incident or understand why they would have been removed unless there was reason to believe that they were disruptive or were planning to be disruptive."

Tonia Tong, a Medford schoolteacher who was one of the three women removed from the rally, also participated in the conference call. She said the trio had agreed to remain quiet during the event and had successfully passed three security checkpoints.

But she said a volunteer helping with security stopped one of the three women, Janet Voorhies, when she tried to go to the bathroom. The volunteer told her they were no longer welcome and would have to leave the event. The women said they were escorted out of the Central Point fairgrounds by police officers and threatened with arrest if they did not comply.

That, as it happens, was just the beginning.

The next night in Jacksonville, police fired pepper balls and arrested two people for merely having the audacity to show up and protest the Bush event outside.

Of course, police say they were just trying to get the protesters to move to a different location -- though for some reason, the same request was not made of rowdy Bush supporters who were engaged in verbal exchanges with the protesters. And the people who were shot with rubber bullets have quite a different version of what happened:
When the confusion started, Bush protesters and John Kerry supporters alike were standing in front of the inn at 175 E. California St., chanting "Four more years!" to which Kerry supporters responded "Three more weeks!"

"The gentleman in front of us is telling us to move back into the street, the gentleman in the street pushes me, looks me in the eye and said 'I will take you to jail' -- and I said I am standing here peacefully protesting, with my child," a confused and angry Cerriwen Benton said.

Bush supporter Avis Maddox said the police were trying to get Kerry supporters to behave; when the police asked them to move or get back they didn’t want to do it, she said.

Law enforcement dressed in riot gear swept through the crowd, making them move.

"We were just standing in front of the bank -- just standing there -- when riot police came up Third Avenue and started moving us. They sprayed pepper spray, while I was holding my 16-month-old child in my arms," said Kelly Larson, with her son Ty.

Michael Moss lifted his shirt to show the welts on his lower back from being shot with rubber bullets.

"I was covering an old man who fell down, and they shot me in the back," Moss said.

Richard Swaney, 65, said he had fallen down in the rush and Moss was shot with the pepper balls while trying to help him.

The pro-Bush supporters, of course, revealed their true colors during it all:
When the crowd had been moved to the intersection of California and Fifth streets, tensions remained high; citizens were divided on either side of the street by political beliefs, screaming insults at each other.

[Bush supporter Avis] Maddox said, "It is just not moral the things they are saying. They need to listen to both sides."

Sixteen year old Zack Burgdorf, dressed in military fatigues, shouted, "If you're gay -- go back to Ashland. America's not made for queers."

"Especially not Jacksonville," chimed Maddox.

I'm sure Lynne Cheney would agree. George Bush too.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Rise of Pseudo Fascism

Part 1: The Morphing of the Conservative Movement

Part 2: The Architecture of Fascism

Part 3: The Pseudo-Fascist Campaign

Part 4: The Apocalyptic One-Party State

Part 5: Warfare By Other Means

Americans, particularly fundamentalist Christians, have always had a certain predilection for apocalyptic beliefs. How many times, after all, have you heard that the world was coming to an end soon in the years you've been alive? If you're typical, it's been a lot.

A lot of these beliefs have been bubbling to the surface in large numbers in recent years, particularly as we approached the millennium. Remember all the fears about Y2K? Remember all the conspiracy theories by right-wing extremists that President Clinton intended to use the "Y2K meltdown" to install martial law? Remember the "Y2K survival kits" being sold by Patriot movement types, and the stores of generators and large bags of beans, rice and canned goods that turned out not to be needed?

Most of these fears receded to just below the surface after Y2K turned out not to be the apocalypse after all. But then came the advent of the "war on terror" on Sept. 11, 2001.

The scenes that played out on our television screens that day, and in the ensuing weeks, were like something out of an end-of-the-world movie. They were so intense in nature that at times they seemed surreal. It is almost natural, really, that they inspired a fresh wave of apocalypticism.

In truth, the scenes constituted a real psychological trauma for nearly all Americans. Trauma produces real vulnerability, especially to manipulation.

And the conservative movement, reveling in a tidal wave of apocalyptic fears, proved adept at manipulating the public in a way that stoked their fears and made them positively eager to participate in an ultimately totalitarian agenda. Indeed, the exploitation in many ways bears all the earmarks of psychological warfare -- waged, in fact, against the American public.

The renowned psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, in his Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World, provides an incisive analysis of the state of the post-9/11 American psyche and the Bush administration's unmistakable manipulation of it for their own political purposes:
As a result of 9/11, all Americans shared a particular psychological experience. They became survivors. A survivor is one who has encountered, been exposed to, or witnessed death and has remained alive. The category extends to those who were far removed geographically from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, because of their immersion in death-linked television images and their sense of being part of a painful national ordeal that threatened their country's future as well as their own. How people deal with that death encounter -- the meaning they give it -- has enormous significance for their subsequent actions and for their lives in general.

Lifton identifies certain common themes in the psychology of survivors:

-- Death anxiety, especially pronounced for people who witnessed the attacks or associated deaths personally, and which includes a fear of recurrence:
By and large, the nearer one was to the attack -- whether at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon -- the greater one's death anxiety. The fear level in New York City differed considerably from that in most other parts of the country, as indicated by studies of trauma symptoms there. But elements of death anxiety span the United States, affecting leaders and ordinary people alike, linking the two in what could be called a common pathway of vulnerability. However muted, such anxiety and vulnerability do not disappear.

-- Death guilt, or "survivor guilt" which "has to do with others dying and not oneself."
Death guilt has to do with our sense of responsibility, as cultural animals, to help others stay alive, even when they are strangers. We can speak of an animating form of guilt, as some Vietnam veterans experienced, when self-condemnation is transformed into a sense of responsibility to oppose violence and enhance life. But death guilt can be volatile and destructive when suppressed, and can be transformed instead into impulses toward further violence.

-- Psychic numbing, "the inability, or disinclination, to feel, a freezing of the psyche."
Immediate psychic numbing can later give way to enhanced sensitivity and responsiveness, or it can extend into depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior.

The repeatedly televised images of planes crashing into the Twin Towers, powerful as they were, could seem wildly fantastic, almost imaginary "virtual" in their distance from individual death and suffering. Subsequent images did convey pain and loss but the coverage, as intense as it was, proved narrow, providing little in the way of cause or meaning. One could say that Americans were brought into the 9/11 experience in a way that was both vividly actual and unreal. Yet struggles with feeling and not feeling took place nationwide.

-- Suspiciousness: in which survivors are "alert to issues of authenticity."
All of this is part of a struggle to overcome the counterfeit universe to which survivors were exposed during their death encounter, a universe of moral inversion in which large-scale killing and absurd dying were the norm. They can find it extremely difficult to believe in the efforts of anyone, certainly those of uncomprehending outsiders, to restore a moral universe. In the process, some survivors can become newly aware of ethical distinctions in their lives, but many others experience instead profound suspiciousness toward the outside world and a deep reluctance to engage in cooperative enterprises.

-- Finding "meaning and mission" from the ordeal:
The survivor mission is a form of witness. In what one says and does, one is retelling the story of the death encounter, elaborating a new narrative from it. One can be energized by it in ways that contribute to society. But there can be false witness as well.

Lifton then illustrates this "false witness" with the case of the American soldiers who participated in the 1968 massacre at My Lai, themselves survivors of exceptional violence, who were exhorted the night before the massacre to seek meaning in their comrades' deaths through body counts of "gooks."

Much of the American response to 9/11, Lifton says, has "been a form of false witness":
America has mounted a diffuse, Vietnam-style, worldwide "search and destroy mission" on behalf of the 9/11 dead. Here, too, we join the dance with our al-Qaeda "partner," which brings fierce survivor emotions and considerable false witness of its own.

The survivor's quest for meaning can be illuminating and of considerable human value. But it can also be drawn narrowly, manipulatively, and violently, in connection with retribution and pervasive killing.

Lifton then goes on to examine these traits not only in the context of the public reaction but in that of American leadership, Bush particularly. He limns, quite correctly, the following in Bush:

-- Anxiety and belligerence, noting that "when leaders respond belligerently, they may tap the potential of their people for amorphous rage."

-- A sense of "failed enactment," particularly in the context of Bush's manifest failure to respond to multiple warning signs.

-- Selective numbing and feeling, the epitome of which is Bush's invasion of Iraq, which turned a blind eye to such deadly reverberations of the war as increased terrorist recruitment, new forms of Middle East chaos, and the acceleration of nuclear-weapons programs in nations who might readily conclude that having them would deter a U.S. invasion.

-- Suspiciousness, one of the hallmarks of Bush's foreign policy and especially his dealings with the United Nations.

-- The grandiose mission of "defeating evil itself" through the "war on terror."
With 9/11, everything fell into place for him. He became a confident "wartime president." He and his speechwriters were unfortunately accurate in their initial labeling of his approach to terrorism as a "crusade." That word suggests a Christian holy war (deriving as it does from the Latin crux, or cross), which is the kind of mission the president seems to have imagined himself on. ...

This was by no means the only form of survivor mission possible for an American president or the American people. Combating terrorism has to be part of a survivor response, but the task could have been undertaken with greater restraint in the use of force, and with a focus from the very beginning on international cooperation. The survivor mission embarked on by Bush and his survivors strongly affected the meaning structures of Americans in general. While many have drawn more reflective and nuanced meanings from 9/11, there has been little encouragement from above for any deviance from the narrowly grandiose presidential survivor mission.

... [The occupants of the White House] remain committed to a prior vision of American world dominance, now energized and in their eyes legitimized by their 9/11 survivor mission.

Rather than helping Americans overcome the trauma of 9/11, then, the Bush administration -- by wallowing in the worst attributes of the survivor's syndrome -- has in fact ensured that the nation has not healed, nor even begun to do so. And it is clear that a political agenda has been in play every step of the way:
This administration, at its worst, has wavered between excessive secrecy and sudden, dire warnings of the "inevitability" of terrorist attacks with weapons of mass destruction on our soil -- warnings that often seem timed to deflect embarrassing criticism about official measures taken to prevent or prepare for terrorism. On other occasions, the administration has spoken in more even tones. But there remains much uncertainty about the connection between what the administration says and what it does about terrorism, and the relationship of these words and actions to the dangers Americans perceive themselves to face.

Americans therefore have been left with a mixture of enthusiasm, confusion, anxiety, and anger in relation to the official survivor mission their government has embraced in their name following upon 9/11.

Lifton particularly examines the National Security Strategy -- known unofficially as the "Bush Doctrine" -- announced by the White House in 2002 and finds its essence an apocalyptic vision of world domination:
The Bush administration's projection of American power extends not only over planet Earth, but through the militarization of space, over the heavens as well. Its strategists dream of deciding the outcome of significant world events everywhere. We may call this an empire of fluid world control, and theirs is nothing less than an inclusive claim to the ownership of history. It is a claim never made before because never before has technology permitted the imagining of such an enterprise, however illusory, on the part of a head of state and his inner circle.

... Yet a sense of megalomania and omnipotence, whether in an individual or a superpower, must sooner or later lead not to glory but collapse. The ownership of history is a fantasy in the extreme. Infinite power and control is a temptation that is as self-destructive as it is dazzling ...

Lifton's diagnosis: Bush and the conservative movement have propelled the nation into a potentially disastrous, perhaps even fatal, mindset:
In speaking of superpower syndrome, I mean to suggest a harmful disorder. I use this medical association to convey a psychological and political abnormality. I also wish to empathize a confluence of behavior patters: in any syndrome there is not just a single tendency but a constellation of tendencies. Though each can be identified separately, they are best understood as manifestations an overarching dynamic that controls the behavior of the larger system, in this case the American national entity.

The dynamic takes shape around a bizarre American collective mindset that extends our very real military power into a fantasy of cosmic control, a mindset all too readily tempted by an apocalyptic mission. The symptoms are of a piece, each consistent with the larger syndrome: unilateralism in all-important decisions, including those related to war-making; the use of high technology to secure the ownership of death and of history; a sense of entitlement concerning the right to identify and destroy all those considered to be terrorists or friends of terrorists, while spreading "freedom" and virtues seen as preeminently ours throughout the world; the right to decide who may possess weapons of mass destruction and who may not, and to take military action, using nuclear weapons if necessary, against any nation that has them or is thought to be manufacturing them; and underlying those symptoms, a righteous vision of ridding the world of evil and purifying it spiritually and politically.

As Lifton has observed elsewhere, the ascendant apocalypticism has manifested itself in popular culture as well, most notably in Mel Gibson's controversial film version of The Passion, the defense of which earlier this year was a significant conservative-movement cause.

Lifton observed then that the film celebrates the violence of apocalypticism in a way fully consonant with the mindset promoted by the conservative movement in the wake of 9/11:
It is violence that cannot be transcended by compassion and love. Rather, the camera is enthralled by every detail of cruelty, every vicious blow, every bloody wound. Precisely these brutal images are what the camera loves. The violence itself becomes transcendent, hyper-real. And this display of sadism is in the service of an ideology of purification.

The Passion of the Christ, then, says a good deal more about the violence of the present-day apocalyptic imagination than it does about the experiences of Jesus in the first century. Hence the crude depiction of a sadistic Jewish rabble demanding crucifixion. Within a Christian apocalyptic narrative, Jews tend to be featured either as foils for world redemption who must gather in Israel and convert or be annihilated, or as the evil perpetrators depicted in the film who, in collusion with the devil, reject and kill the true messiah.

The problem of The Passion of the Christ goes far beyond the individual psyche of Mel Gibson, or even questions of biblical interpretation. The crucifixion here becomes a vehicle for a contemporary mentality that is absolute and polarizing in its starkly violent vision of world purification -- a vision that fits well with an apocalyptic, all or nothing "war on terrorism."

The primary vehicle for spreading this apocalyptic version of reality has been the media, which have largely converted (as we saw in Part 4) into propaganda organs for the conservative movement. It's important to understand this mechanism and how it continues to affect the body politic.

Primarily, propaganda succeeds by taking advantage of the public's limited ability to absorb all the details of the often complex problems that confront modern society. As Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aroson explained in Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion:
Given our finite ability to process information, we often adopt the strategies of the peripheral route for simplifying complex problems; we mindlessly accept a conclusion or proposition -- not for any good reason but because it is accompanied by a simplistic persuasive device.

Back in the 1930s, the short-lived Institute for Propaganda Analysis came up with the seminal catalog of these persuasive devices (since superseded by more complex catalogs) that remains a useful guide even today. These propaganda techniques are:

-- Name Calling, or hanging a bad label on ideas or persons.

-- Card Stacking, or the selective use of facts or outright falsehoods.

-- Band Wagon, or claiming that everyone like us thinks this way.

-- Testimonial, or the association of a respected or hated person with an approved or despised idea, respectively.

-- Plain Folks, a technique whereby the idea and its proponents are linked to "people just like you and me."

-- Transfer, or an assertion of a connection between something valued or hated and the idea or commodity being discussed.

-- Glittering Generality, or an association of something with a "virtue word" to gain approval without examining the evidence.

It isn't hard to see each and every one of these techniques being wielded, in some cases overwhelmingly, by the conservative movement in their defense of the Bush "war on terror" and, for that matter, nearly every aspect of their agenda. The very justification for the invasion of Iraq, in fact, is a classic case of "card stacking," while the nation simultaneously has been inundated with glittering generalities about Bush's "strength and resolve," bandwagon clarion calls, assertions of being "just plain folks," and testimonials both in favor of the Bush agenda and attacking that of liberals. Likewise, name-calling and transfers have been rampant in the attacks on liberals, along with plenty of card stacking.

The clearest case of the Bush administration's resort to propaganda techniques was the career of the thankfully short-lived Office of Strategic Information, which was closed down shortly after it became clear it was preparing to disseminate outright disinformation in support of the Iraq invasion.

But the OSI's demise was certainly neither the beginning nor the end of the administration's use of propaganda to obtain public support for its misbegotten invasion. Indeed, as the situation has grown progressively worse in Iraq over the past year, the campaign has intensified, to the extent that it is now clear this is no ordinary disinformation campaign.

It has, in fact, all the earmarks of psychological warfare.

Typically, such operations by the American military and its civilian cohort have been relegated almost strictly to overseas campaigns; most of the techniques were designed for that purpose. But there has always been an element of it aimed at the home front as well.

The development of psychological-warfare techniques by the American military dates back to the 1920s, though they did not become an explicit part of military strategy until after 1945 and the end of World War II and the onset of the Cold War, in which they played a major role. Christopher Simpson, Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare 1945-1960, describes in detail the often secretive development of these techniques.

Simpson, through a series of FOIA requests, managed to obtain a number of key documents from the military bureaucracies responsible for creating psych ops. One of the more revealing of these documents read:
Psychological warfare employs all moral and physical means, other than orthodox military operations, which tend to:

a. destroy the will and the ability of the enemy to fight

b. deprive him of the support of his allies and neutrals

c. increase in our own troops and allies the will to victory

Psychological warfare employs any weapon to influence the mind of the enemy. The weapons are psychological only in the effect they produce and not because of the nature of the weapons themselves. In this light, overt (white), covert (black), and gray propaganda; subversion; sabotage, special operations; guerrilla warfare; espionage; political, cultural, economic, and racial pressures are all effective weapons. They are effective because they produce dissension, distrust, fear and hopelessness in the minds of the enemy, not because they originate in the psyche of propaganda or psychological warfare agencies.

Simpson goes on to explain that
psychological warfare and psychological operations encompass this range of activities, as specified by the Army and the National Security Council. Several points should be underlined. First, psychological warfare in the U.S. conception has consistently made use of a wide range of violence, including guerrilla warfare, assassination, sabotage, and, more fundamentally, the maintenance of manifestly brutal regimes in client states abroad. Second, it also has involved a variety of propaganda or media work, ranging from overt (white) newscasting to covert (black) propaganda. Third, the targets of U.S. psychological warfare were not only the "enemy," but also the people of the United States and its allies.

Simpson explains that nearly all of the knowledge underlying the development of psych-ops techniques is derived from communications studies, in particular the work of the pioneering communications theorists Harold Lasswell and Walter Lippmann. This fact in itself gives us a hint about the elitist underpinnings of the techniques:
Lippmann and Lasswell articulated a very narrow vision that substituted, for communication as such, one manifestation of communication that is particularly pronounced in hierarchical industrial states. Put most bluntly, they contended that communication's essence was its utility as an instrument for imposing one's will on others, and preferably on masses of others. This instrumentalist conception of communication was consistent with their experience of war and with emerging mass communication technologies of the day, which in turn reflected and to an extent embodied the existing social order.

This view of communication as domination has in fact become a central component of communications theory in American academia, and has become woven into the very fabric of modern consumer society. As Simpson explains [p. 20]:
The mainstream paradigm of communication studies in the United States -- its techniques, body of knowledge, institutional structure, and so on -- evolved symbiotically with modern consumer society generally, and particularly with media industries and those segments of the economy most dependent on mass markets. Communication research in America has historically proved itself by going beyond simply observing media behavior to finding ways to grease the skids for absorption and suppression of rival visions of communication and social order.

Clearly, social communication necessarily involves a balancing of conflicting forces. A "community", after all, cannot exist without some form of social order; or, put another way, order defines the possible means of sharing burdens. Lasswell and Lippmann, however, advocated not just order in an abstract sense, but rather a particular social order in the United States and the world in which forceful elites necessarily ruled in the interests of their vision of the greater good. U.S.-style consumer democracy was simply a relatively benign system for engineering mass consent for the elites' authority; it could be dispensed with then ordinary people reached the "wrong" conclusions. Lasswell writes that the spread of literacy

did not release the masses from ignorance and superstition but altered the nature of both and compelled the development of a whole new technique of control, largely through propaganda ... [A propagandist's] regard for men rests on no democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judge of their own interests. The modern propagandist, like the modern psychologist, recognizes that men are often poor judges of their own interests ... [Those with power must cultivate] senstiveness to those concentrations of motive which are implicit and available for rapid mobilization when the appropriate symbol is offered ... [The propagandist is] no phrasemonger but a promoter of overt acts.

This elitist view of the role of communication as a means to control and dominate the masses was at the core of the development of psychological warfare techniques by the American military. For the most part, this was couched in terminology that directed the efforts towards nations with whom we were at war or involved in conflicts.

But at other times, it was clear that the American public was viewed as a potential target as well. This was made manifest by the willingness of psych-ops researchers to use Americans as guinea pigs in their experiments. The classic case of this was an early-1950s project by University of Washington sociologists called Project Revere, which Simpson describes in detail:
Briefly, Project Revere scientists dropped millions of leaflets containing civil defense propaganda or commercial advertising from U.S. Air Force planes over selected cities and towns in Washington state, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Alabama. They then surveyed the target population to create a relatively detailed record of the diffusion of the sample message among residents.

One of the architects of this study was a sociologist named Melvin Defleur, who eventually became one of the leading figures in communications studies and theory, and whose theories on news diffusion are taught in today's journalism and comm-school courses.

Much of the work of these academics in both the fields of communication and psychological warfare is relatively benign and has practical applications. However, it also has terrific potential for abuse, particularly in the hands of a Stalinist movement intent on the use of propaganda techniques as a means for acquiring power -- the situation which America now confronts in the form of the conservative movement.

The war in Iraq and the means of influence used to justify it provide the most stark example of this. As the retired military-intelligence analyst Sam Gardiner recently explained in Salon, the main subject of psychological warfare surrounding the invasion of Iraq was in fact the American public:
The Army Field Manual describes information operations as the use of strategies such as information denial, deception and psychological warfare to influence decision making. The notion is as old as war itself. With information operations, one seeks to gain and maintain information superiority -- control information and you control the battlefield. And in the information age, it has become even more imperative to influence adversaries.

But with the Iraq war, information operations have gone seriously off track, moving beyond influencing adversaries on the battlefield to influencing the decision making of friendly nations and, even more important, American public opinion. In information denial, one attempts to deceive one's adversary. Since the declared end of combat operations, the Bush administration has orchestrated a number of deceptions about Iraq. But who is its adversary?

As Gardiner explains, the use of psych ops has not been relegated strictly to the military. The Bush White House has also engaged in these tactics:
... The White House is also using psychological warfare -- conveying selected information to organizations and individuals to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning and ultimately behavior -- to spread its version of the war. And the administration's message is obviously central to the process. From the very beginning, that message, delivered both directly and subtly, has been constant and consistent: Iraq = terrorists = 9/11.

The president tells us that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here in the United States. But I know of no one with a respectable knowledge of the events in Iraq who shares that view. My contacts in the intelligence community say the opposite -- that U.S. policies in fact are creating more terrorism.

Nonetheless, the American public is largely oblivious to this fact, instead seeing Bush's "strong and resolute" actions as making headway against terrorism. As Gardiner explains, the "repetition of the terrorist argument is utterly consistent with the theory that one can develop collective memory in a population through repetition." This hardly the only time this technique has been used by the conservative movement, either; how many times have we heard talking points reiterated ad nauseam by conservatives (from "It's not the sex, it's the lies" to "Al Gore invented the Internet" to "Kerry is a flip-flopper") until they eventually become accepted as truth?

Gardiner, in an earlier study [PDF file], provides even more detail about the mendacity underlying these manipulations of the American public:
The concepts of warfare got all mixed up in this war. ... [W]hat has happened is that information warfare, strategic influence, strategic psychological operations pushed their way into the important process of informing the peoples of our two democracies. The United States and the UK got too good at the concepts they had been developing for future warfare.

... From my research, the most profound thread is that WMD was only a very small part of the strategic influence, information operations and marketing campaign conducted on both sides of the Atlantic. ... My research suggests there were over 50 stories manufactured or at least engineered that distorted the picture of Gulf II for the American and British people.

It would be one thing if all this manipulation were actually for the benefit of the American public. But it has occurred in fact solely for the benefit of the conservative movement and its agenda -- an agenda that, at its core, is profoundly anti-democratic.

The danger of placing the capacity for employing these techniques in the hands of a movement whose entire raison d'etre is the acquisition of power through any means could not be more apparent. After all, we've seen it happen before, with disastrous -- even apocalyptic -- results.

The communication-as-domination model, you see, was developed by Lasswell and Lippmann in the 1920s and was promptly adopted by none other than Germany's Nazi propagandists, as Christoper Simpson explained:
Lasswell and Lippmann favored relatively tolerant, pluralistic societies in which elite rule protected democracies from their own weaknesses -- a modern form of noblesse oblige, so to speak. But the potential applications of the communication-as-domination zeitgeist extended far beyond the purposes they they would have personally approved. Nazi intellectuals believed to be instrumental in many aspects of communications studies throughout the 1930s, both as innovators of successful techniques and as spurs to communication studies outside of Germany intended to counteract the Nazi party's apparent success with propaganda.

Indeed, the most famous advocate of the use of these techniques in the 1930s was none other than Josef Goebbels, the Nazis' propaganda chief. Another advocate of the Lippmann approach was Otto Ohlendorf, who ran a Nazi office on polling techniques and communications before becoming one of the top commandants of the SS and a genocidal war criminal.

Today's conservative-movement propagandists operate somewhat differently, of course. Instead of manipulating a vulnerable public, traumatized by war and economic depression, by scapegoating Jews and proffering an apocalyptic vision of world domination as a response to the threat to the purity of the Aryan race, today's pseudo-fascists instead scapegoat liberals, and manipulate a traumatized post-9/11 populace through an apocalyptic vision of world domination excused by the supposed threat to American freedom.

It is, like all of pseudo-fascism, structurally similar to the real thing, but different in content and substance in certain key ways. In this way, it appears less menacing.

The danger, however, lies in the way those differences are gradually being eroded.

Next: Breaking Down the Barriers

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The GOP, gays, and hate crimes

I guess I must be horribly out of touch with the Republican version of reality, because I'm still not really certain what the hell impropriety John Kerry was supposed to have committed by pointing out in last week's debate that Mary Cheney is gay. It was, by nearly any plain reading of his remarks, a fairly innocuous comment.

But the ensuing fake controversy is the GOP's 2004 campaign in nutshell: Don't let's talk about Bush's dismal record. Let's talk well-spun trivia -- or flat-out smears -- instead.

And when it comes to sensitive treatment of gays and families of gays, no one can match the record of Republicans -- for wallowing so deep in the gutter of bigotry that they definitively make life quantifiably worse for gays, lesbians, and their families.

Take, for instance, the matter of hate crimes.

Betcha didn't know that the Republican leadership of the House, for the third consecutive time, successfully killed yet another federal hate-crimes law last week, didja?

This was a bill that had been approved overwhelmingly by the Senate in June by a 65-33 vote. The House itself passed a resolution 213-186 instructing the House leaders -- namely, Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert -- to pass the bill through the House Conference Committee.

They ignored it, and last week stripped it out of the Defense Appropriations Bill to which it had been attached, effectively killing it.

This is now the third time DeLay and Co. have pulled this stunt and gotten away with it. They used precisely the same tactic to kill the Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 1999, and to kill its successor, the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, in 2000.

As the Human Rights Campaign explained in its press release:
The measure enjoys strong bipartisan support and is endorsed by more than 175 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations, including: the National Sheriffs' Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, U.S. Conference of Mayors, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and many others.

That didn't matter. What mattered to Republicans was the freedom to bash gays.

Oh, we know they hide behind phony and nonsensical arguments like "all crimes are hate crimes" and "these laws create thought crimes." But let's get real about what's really happening here: These laws are not being passed because the Republican leadership -- including George W. Bush -- is determined not to allow any improvement in the laws for gays and lesbians.

The reality is that Republicans have established credibility with their base -- especially fundamentalist Christians -- by making emotional appeals to their "values"; this is, as many observers have noted, an essential element of their ability to persuade working-class people to vote for an agenda clearly at odds with their own self-interest. And, after abortion, attacking the "homosexual agenda" is easily the most prominent and flagrant of these "values."

Republicans also like to talk about the need to live up to the consequences of their actions. And one of the real consequences of the House's refusal to pass this legislation is that more hate crimes will occur.

Here's a reality check for Republicans:

-- We know, from FBI statistics, there are at least 8-9,000 hate crimes committed in this country every year.

-- We also know, however, from Justice Department studies, that these statistics are horribly unreliable because hate crimes are egregiously underreported every year.

-- The magnitude of the underreporting is substantial. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that the number of hate crimes in this country annually approaches closer to 40,000. That means roughly 30,000 hate crimes are going uninvestigated and unprosecuted every year.

-- What all of this underscores is the fact that, even though we passed a law in 1989 ordering the collection of hate-crime data, we still don't have firm handle on the scope and depth of the hate-crime problem nationally. And we won't until law enforcement at all levels -- particularly on the local level -- are adequately trained at identifying and investigating hate crimes.

-- The LLEA's main provisions, as its name suggests, are devoted to enhancing the ability of local police and prosecutors to obtain training in hate crimes.

-- However, it also expanded the federal categories of hate crimes to include a bias against gays and lesbians. For that reason alone, it was killed by the House leadership despite its broad support.

The end result: Tens of thousands of hate crimes that go unreported and uninvestigated, and no end in sight. This problem is especially acute among gays and lesbians, most particularly in rural areas, where their quite reasonable fears of being outed often prevent them from even reporting such crimes. And of course, those same rural areas are nearly uniformly Republican; the coalescence of attitudes with top-down political leadership is hardly accidental.

In other words, Republicans' actions directly make lives more miserable for gays and lesbians and their families, all of whom have to deal with the trauma and tragedy that inevitably results from the violence and intimidation that is the essence of hate crimes.

Whatever embarassment people like the Cheneys may feel from having their daughter's orientation mentioned on television (and it can't be too great, since they've brought it up themselves) is nothing compared to trying to heal a child who's been brutally beaten by redneck thugs -- if they survived.

It's worth remembering, too, that not only are gays and lesbians the second-most common target of hate crimes, gay-bashing bias crimes are particularly noteworthy for the exceptional levels of violence associated with them. Many studies have observed that gay bashing stands out even among hate crimes (which themselves have an abnormally high violence quotient) for the brutality and viciousness of the crimes, often reaching real "overkill" that includes genital mutilation and extreme forms of pain.

Republicans like to defend their actions with a variety of excuses, particularly by promoting (largely bogus) arguments that do not touch on the matter of sexual orientation -- but instead militate against the entire concept of hate crimes. The most telling of these arguments is the claim that hate-crime laws are an attempt to control "free speech" -- as though an assault or killing were somehow protected speech.

If they truly believed these arguments, they would sponsor legislation to negate all hate-crime laws. They don't of course, because we know the reality: They are opposed to these laws because they are help promote the "gay agenda."

And what's been remarkable is the way the House leadership has quashed the LLEA and other federal hate-crime laws, through crassly anti-democratic backroom measures that clearly overrode the will of the vast majority of Congress. As Barney Frank told Gay City News:
The Republican leadership has made it very clear. They have told us we won't even get to vote on the bill," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of three openly gay members of the House.

Their ruthlessness was on particular display this year for one reason only: It's an election year.

As the News account points out:
Pres. George W. Bush has also indicated he would veto the measure if it did come before him. White House spokesperson Claire Buchan said that the president believes that "all violent crime is hate crime" and doesn’t see a reason for special protections for gay and lesbian people.

It was essential that the Republican leadership ever keep the bill from having to cross Bush's desk this year, because his veto, almost certainly, would have presented itself as a club for Democrats to wield against him in the campaign.

Perhaps they needn't have worried, though, because there is little sign that Democrats were prepared to make an issue out of the hate-crimes legislation. Certainly, they let Bush and the Republicans completely off the hook this year. Because no Democrat in Congress -- not one -- has publicly spoken out to protest the GOP leadership's euthanization of the LLEA this fall.

Neither, for that matter, has a single reporter in the so-called "liberal media." It's been difficult, in fact, to compile any information at all on the demise of the LLEA. It hasn't been reported anywhere in any American media organ that I can find. Certainly not the Washington Post or the New York Times, nor CNN or MSNBC.

The only account available so far was this report from India-based World News, and the HRC press release cited above.

Of course, as I've previously observed, liberals have grown increasingly weak-spined about hate crimes. This year's capitulation may signal that they are on the verge of conceding any change in the law at all.

Republicans, no doubt, view this capitulation with some satisfaction, because it means they have so successfully muddied the meaning of "hate crime" that they are now free to use the term themselves to turn it as a weapon on their liberal opponents.

At the same time, they continue to give gay-bashers the green light for their eliminationist violence.

And that, folks, is a real cause for outrage.