Saturday, February 12, 2005

Noxious academics

One of the most striking right-wing witchhunts of recent vintage is the campaign against University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who had the temerity to question the conventional American wisdom about the Sept. 11 attacks by arguing that we had it coming.

A number of prominent right-wing bloggers and their various hangers-on have been howling for Churchill's head, demanding the university fire him for making these statements. Few of them, it seems, have any respect for free speech, let alone the precepts of academic freedom.

Most of all, they also are putting their grotesque hypocrisy on display.

Now, the central thrust of Churchill's remarks -- that the American imposition of its aggressive self-interest in the Middle East has played a major role in fomenting terrorism there, and more of the same will not ameliorate that milieu, but rather worsen it -- probably should not be controversial, except that it runs smack into the popular post-9/11 mythology of America as Innocent Victim. Even more pointedly, his comparison of America's current aggression to its historical treatment of American Indians is one that has been made here too, as well as by such noted Indian spokesmen as Tim Giago. None of those raised any eyebrows at the time (though it may be simply that no one has gotten around to crucifying us yet).

Most of all, Churchill's remarks are important insofar as they point out the gross discrepancy in American perceptions of the actual misery they are inflicting upon the Iraqi people. With some estimates of civilian deaths nearing 100,000 in Iraq, we are rapidly approaching the point of having killed as many innocent Iraqis in a few years as Saddam did throughout his reign. The consequences of this suffering will rebound against us for many years to come. Yet most Americans remain blithely self-blinded to it; the only number that matters to them is the number of American soldiers killed there.

Nonetheless, there are real and significant problems with Churchill's thesis. It is not only devoid of any compassion for the victims of 9/11, it is profoundly wrong-headed in the nature of key arguments it makes about those attacks. I think Anthony Lappe put it best at Common Dreams:
Churchill, no matter how he later tried to spin it, was clearly trying to do something more than "shock the yuppies." He was pinning a target on the backs of a very specific group of people, the "technocrats," and saying they deserved what they got that clear September morning. It was a vicious, sloppy polemic that he deserves to be called out on. To argue that a commodities trader (which many WTC victims were) deserves to pay with his life for buying pork bellies low and selling them high is simplistic, unprogressive, and I dare say, fascist -- even if, as he later tried to argue, he was merely applying America's standards back on itself.

It's one thing to criticize Churchill, and he richly deserves much of it. It's quite another to foment for his removal from his university seat and to likewise threaten anyone willing to give him a forum for his views. One is well within our rich tradition of free speech; the other runs counter not only to free speech but to academic freedom.

Because Ward Churchill is hardly the only academic in America with genuinely repulsive views that deserve renunciation. Indeed, there are a number of right-wing professors who could face similar academic firing squads if the punditocracy chose to raise their cudgels against them.

For instance:

-- James Everett Kibler, a University of Georgia English professor. A founder of the secessionist and white-supremacist League of the South, Kibler is mostly noted for his outspoken admiration for defenders of slavery and white upper-class rule.

-- Thomas DiLorenzo, an economics professor at Loyola College in Baltimore, who promotes a historical view of Abraham Lincoln as a wicked man "secretly intent on destroying states' rights and building a massive federal government."

-- Clyde Wilson, a University of South Carolina history professor. Wilson is another League of the South founder, and remains an unapologetic neo-Confederate. He says the only thing wrong with The Birth of a Nation is that it was too sympathetic to Lincoln.

-- Donald Livingston, a philosophy professor at Emory University. He has recently been focusing his work on "the philosophical meaning of secession." According to the SPLC, at a 2003 "Lincoln Reconsidered" conference, "he said that 'evil is habit-forming' and no habit is as evil as believing that Lincoln acted out of good motives."

And that's just the currently active neo-Confederates working in Southern universities. Some of those no longer active in academia include Grady McWhiney, now retired as a University of Alabama professor;

Outside the South, there are a number of problematic professors of various kinds, notably eugenics sympathizers and Holocaust deniers.

These include Kevin MacDonald, a Cal State-Long Beach evolutionary psychologist who testified on behalf of David Irving at his libel trial in London. MacDonald has argued "that anti-Semitism can be understood as a natural byproduct of a Darwinian strategy for Jewish survival," and insists that "Jewish behavior must be part of any adequate explanation of the recurrent persecution of Jews."

Then there was Glayde Whitney, a Florida State University psychology professor who liked to teach his students the basic precepts of white supremacy, i.e., that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. Whitney also was a subscriber to Holocaust-denial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Most notably, he was closely aligned with David Duke, the notorious white supremacist, and wrote the foreword to one of his racist screeds. Whitney died in 2002, much to chagrin of right-wing extremists everywhere.

Now, most of these so-called conservatives who are attacking Ward Churchill -- who is indeed Native American -- are quick to deny that there is any racist component to their attacks on him (even though one could use the popular right-wing logic labeling as "racist" Democrats who questioned Alberto Gonzalez and Condoleezza Rice to suggest otherwise). Indeed, they piously invoke their feelings of repulsion towards racism whenever it seems to suit their purposes to do so.

So why are they not every bit as eager to expel these radical academics from our midst? Their silence has been longstanding; if anything, you'll find so-called mainstream conservatives actually defending thinkers like this (see, e.g., the long-running right-wing apologia for Charles Murray's repulsive theories about race.)

Personally, I think the principles of academic freedom are paramount in all these cases. But then, I'm not a right-winger.

[For more on the history and nature of right-wing extremism in academia, be sure to check out the rest of the material available at the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism.]

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The bigger target

From civil rights to the environment, it's become abundantly clear since 9/11 that the conservative movement has no compunction about promoting its larger agenda under the rubric of promoting "national security" and "preventing terrorism." There has been no area of policy in which this has been more clear than immigration.

The pretext for pushing right-wing immigration policies has been the notion that the 9/11 hijackers did so by manipulating the nation's immigration system. This has led to atrocities like Michelle Malkin's book Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores, arguing that "huge waves of terrorists are floating across the border."

In Congress, Rep. James Sensenbrenner -- yes, that James Sensenbrenner -- is doggedly fighting to get his proposed immigration reforms related to the "terrorist threat" passed after they were rejected last fall:
House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. on Wednesday introduced a package of immigration and security measures that were dropped from the sweeping intelligence overhaul approved by Congress last month.

One of those provisions is aimed squarely at the 10 states, including Wisconsin, that grant driver's licenses to undocumented residents.

Sensenbrenner's bill would not strictly ban such licenses. But the federal government would accept as valid identification (for boarding an airplane or entering a federal building) driver's licenses issued only by states that require proof from applicants that they are in the country legally.

Sensenbrenner said the measure is needed to prevent terrorists from using driver's licenses to penetrate the country's security defenses.

According to the Washington Times report, Sensenbrenner is justifying the reforms by claiming that allowing illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses was responsible for the terrorist attacks:
"The 9/11 hijackers could have used their passports to board the plane, but only one did. And why was that? Those murderers chose our driver's licenses and state IDs as a form of identification because these documents allowed them to blend in and not raise suspicion or concern," he said.

Mind you, the driver's licenses are not the only focus of the bill:
Mr. Sensenbrenner's new bill includes four of the provisions that he fought for but which were dropped from the final intelligence overhaul bill last month.

The bill would fill a gap in the fence on the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, would extend the law so that terrorism-related grounds for excluding someone from entering the United States also become grounds for deportation for those already here and would revamp the asylum system to make it easier for judges to deny a claim for asylum.

However, as valabor's diary at Daily Kos points out, the language of that particular portion of the legislation empowers the director of Homeland Security the power to waive any existing law as he sees fit, under the rubric of national security. Nor would any such decision be reviewable by the courts. [Raw Story has more.]

Certainly, that's a remarkable expansion of federal powers all for the purpose of building a three-mile section of border fence. But then, that's par for the course for this bill: It claims to be about one thing (stopping terrorism) when it's abundantly clear there's a much bigger agenda in play here.

That's also clear in its major focus, which as the Times story explained, is "to crack down on illegal aliens' ability to obtain and use driver's licenses":
The measure requires that any driver's license used as a form of identification to a federal official, such as a Transportation Security Administration screener at an airport, meet national standards that include a check on whether the holder is in the country legally.

The bill doesn't force states to change their laws, but makes driver's licenses from such states inadmissible for federal identification purposes.

Actually, it concretely discriminates against any regular citizens from any of those 10 states who wants to travel by air, because it will mean they won't be able to use their driver's licenses to fly. They'll need to get a passport, at least until their state changes its laws to conform to the new federal requirements.

In Washington state (one of the 10), the requirements for obtaining driver's license revolve around establishing a person's actual identity, and his ability to drive. This is a pragmatic and practical policy for a state in which illegal immigrants comprise a substantial portion of the farm labor. Requiring proof of citizenship is not only obtuse and impractical, it would guarantee that illegal immigrants would be driving without adequate exposure to basic driving standards.

As a report from the Neward (N.J.) Star Ledger points out:
Angela Kelly of the National Immigration Forum said placing restrictions on driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants will not stop them from coming into the country or from driving. "But if they don't have a license, they won't be able to get insurance and they won't know the rules of the road," Kelly said.

More to the point, Sensenbrenner's claims are in fact largely bogus, as a report from the National Immigration Law Center explains:
Sensenbrenner also has asserted that the 9/11 terrorists were able to carry out their attacks because, collectively, they were able to obtain 63 state driver’s licenses. His claim has been widely circulated by anti-immigration groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and in Congress. But the claim is contradicted by both a 9/11 Commission staff report and a fact sheet recently issued by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project (9/11 PDP), a nationwide public education campaign created by the ten members of the 9/11 Commission (a description of the 9/11 PDP can be found on its website:

The fact sheet makes clear that the claims Sensenbrenner has made about the number of licenses the hijackers obtained before 9/11 and the conclusions he draws from their use by the hijackers are both incorrect. The fact sheet reports that, in fact, the hijackers obtained only 13 (not 63) driver’s licenses, and that 2 of those were duplicates. According to the fact sheet, they also had 21 U.S.A.- or state-issued ID cards. However, the fact sheet itself is somewhat misleading in including so-called U.S.A. ID cards in this number. These are not government-issued ID cards; they are cards made by a private company that sells deceptively real–looking ID cards. So the number of government-issued ID cards was actually somewhat lower than the number cited by the commission and far lower than the number cited by Sensenbrenner.

... The commission concluded, as the 9/11 PDP fact sheet puts it, that "stronger immigration enforcement to catch terrorists who were exploiting weaknesses in America’s border security" and "greater attention to terrorist travel tactics and information sharing about such travel" are needed. According to the fact sheet, "[W]e did not make any recommendation about licenses for undocumented aliens. That issue did not arise in our investigation, as all hijackers entered the United States with documentation (often fraudulent) that appeared lawful to immigration inspectors. They were therefore 'legal immigrants' at the time they received their driver's licenses." The fact sheet notes that all of the hijackers could have obtained driver's licenses, even under the restrictive provisions pushed by Sensenbrenner, because they had valid visa documentation to show to state department of motor vehicle officials.

When you clear away the bullshit, the purpose of the legislation is clear. This isn't about keeping terrorists out. It's about keeping Latinos out.


The right wing pundit class, both in the mainstream media and blogosphere, is all aflame with fake outrage over Eason Jordan's remarks at Davos about journalists supposedly being targeted by American soldiers.

Rather than waiting to see (1) exactly what it was that Jordan said, and (2) whether or not he has any evidence or can otherwise back up the remarks, the rabid right wants its pound of flesh now. We allow no anti-Americanism around here! (Just ask Ward Churchill.)

What has proceeded apace is a classic right-wing blogosphere witchhunt. Some have even put together an "Easongate" blog. It's obvious that, after "Rathergate," right-wing bloggers have concluded that the way to make a name for yourself is to take down someone from the "MSM," even if it's a little-known executive for a cable network. They're calling for his dismissal, as are members of the D.C. conservative pundit class.

These people aren't outraged. They're hunting pelts.

The most interesting example of this came earlier this week on CNBC's Kudlow and Cramer show, when Ann Coulter [MSN software download req'd] had this to say about the dustup:
Kudlow: I've got a couple of seconds before the break, when you guys are all going to come back -- Ann, I just wanted to give you first whack at this: Eason Jordan, top news executive at CNN -- I mean, to me, this is absolutely incredible, this guy says, at a big conference in Davos, that the U.S. military is deliberately targeting and assassinating American journalists? Huh?! He still has a job? Huh?! You got a take on that?

Coulter: Would that it were so.

Kudlow: That what were so?

Coulter: That the American military were targeting journalists.

Kudlow: (Laughter) Oh no! Don't go there! (More laughter.)

This, of course, follows Ann's previous remarks wishing that Tim McVeigh had targeted the New York Times Building. At some point, it should become clear to everyone that she's not really joking at all.

So, as long as we're wondering why certain figures still have jobs, what about Lawrence Kudlow? How long do you suppose any liberal pundit would last if he chortled loudly after one of his liberal guests wished "jokingly" that American soldiers had targeted journalists? Or, for that matter, that the 9/11 terrorists had crashed their plane into Fox News headquarters?

I know, I know. I just don't have a sense of humor.

I wonder why.

[Note to Kudlow: From all reports, Jordan didn't refer to American journalists being targeted. Most of his later remarks seem to suggest he had Al Jazeera and other journalists in mind. Not that facts seem to be your strong suit anyway.]

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Criminalizing dissent

This Kos post from Rakkasan caught my eye:
Then I said "Senator you've been holding state office for 10 years, the same amount of time republicans have had control of both houses of goverment. You were term limited from the House as majority party whip and now you're a senator. During that 10 years of talking about how you're against abortion the abortion rate has not only remained legal, but has actually increased. During that 10 years you have never put forth a bill to ban abortion, ban gay marriage, or provide school vouchers on demand. These are issues important to Christian conservatives but in all this time nothing has been done. Again, Senator, why should Christian conservatives continue to support republicans since the only time they talk about these issues is when they're trying to get elected to office?"

I was expecting to be at the very least pelted with rotting vegetables but to my surprise there was dead silence in the crowd as they awaited his answer. He mumbled something about democrats creating the problems and it taking time to undo it, but while I was listening to his answer two men took me aside and asked me to leave or they would have me arrested for disturbing the peace and trying to incite a riot. I laughed saying I found out what I wanted to know and that I would leave on my own.

So, let's see now: Asking tough questions of your state senator is tantamount to "disturbing the peace and trying to incite a riot"?

I guess we should have seen this coming: First it was antiwar dissenters being threatened with arrest for wearing T-shirts saying, "Protect Our Civil Liberties." Now merely asking making a Republican officeholder squirm is enough to bring down the law.

Interesting times we live in, eh?

[Hat tip to Kitsap Pundit.]

More frivolity

For a revealing sample of the Republican "common touch" when it comes to those "frivolous asbestos claims," see this excerpt from An Air That Kills: How the Asbestos Poisoning of Libby, Montana Uncovered a National Scandal:
When he came to Libby, campaigning for reelection in the fall of 2000, the Lincoln County GOP put on a gala reception for him at the VFW. But at one table a less festive group that included Les and Norita Skramstad, Gayla and Dave Benefield and Bob and Carrie Dedrick waited quietly to talk to Burns about the issue they cared about most -- asbestos.

Finally, Burns came out of the back room at the club, where he was meeting with local Republican officials and sat down at the table. Immediately Carrie Dedrick began asking him to help the victims in Libby. At that, Burns did not respond to Carrie, but instead looked directly across the table at Gayla. He shook a big finger in her face, and said, "Little Lady, when you stop tearing me down is when I start doing something to help the people of Libby."

Gayla got her own finger -- "The pointer, honestly," she would say later -- wagging right back in the senator's face. She replied, "Sir, I have not been on your ass or on TV talking about this, for six months, and you have done nothing in those six months, so don't try to use that as an excuse."

Burns tried another tack, telling the group that he had gotten W.R. Grace & Company to provide millions for medical screening. In the same firm, polite voice, Gayla said, "You are mistaken. Grace is not paying for the screening. Our tax dollars are."

At that point, Senator Burns decided to cut his losses, and got up and walked out of the room. Les had gotten up from the table earlier, and just happened to be standing quietly nearby when Burns came through the door and growled to an aide, "I had to come all the way here to put up with this shit?"

Burns, of course, carried Lincoln County handily in 2000, as did Bush in 2004. You have to ask: What kind of moral values were these folks voting for, anyway?

Ah well. Perhaps the only thing more astonishing than the Republican mendaciousness in posing as the party of "common people" is the Democrats' incompetence at revealing their pose for the fraud that it is.

It's about intent

At Bullitt Central High School in Shepherdsville, Kentucky (near Louisville), a teen and his mother decided to protest the administration's decision to allow two Muslim girls to don hijabs, traditional head scarves, ostensibly because it violates the school's rather strict dress code.

So the son wore a shirt with the words "FBI" and "Firm Believer In Christ" on it, also in violation of the dress code, and was told he couldn't wear it. So the mother withdrew him from the school and organized a protest.

Pretty soon, the protest metastasized into something else:
School officials and students said Whiteside's protests attracted the attention of the Ku Klux Klan. She was joined outside the school by other men and women, some of whom were clad in white robes and carried Confederate flags and white-supremacist regalia.

Whiteside said she didn't organize any involvement with the KKK, adding that her concerns were being misconstrued by students and school officials as racially driven.

"That got out of hand," she said. "It wasn't a racial thing. It was about equal rights and fairness to all students."

But Farris said if anyone has made the issue a racial argument, it was Whiteside.

Bullitt Central students Charlie Johnson and Cayce Dever, both seniors and student government officers, agreed with Farris.

"I feel they were using the dress code to hit on something broader, and that's hate," Charlie said.

Cayce said that when she participated in a counterprotest last week with other students, including Charlie, she spoke with protesters standing with Whiteside and told them that federal law protected the Muslim students' cultural dress.

"They said I didn't understand because I didn't have white pride," Cayce said.

"I said, 'I have American pride.' "

Though the mother, Mrs. Whiteside, tried to distance herself from the Klan support, she went on to say that she intended to put together a petition urging "equal rights for everyone" -- suggesting, evidently, that ordinary white kids were being discriminated against. (Hmmmm ... where have we heard that before?)

As the other teens at the school point out, the hijabs are well within the spirit of the dress code, which is not intended to stop people from wearing clothes that are part of their religious beliefs -- which, in fact, would be in violation of federal codes. The dress codes are intended to enforce modesty in dress. Hijabs are nothing if not modest.

What Mrs. Whiteside's intent is, however, remains somewhat murkier.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Reading around

Atrios has a follow-up to the recent post here about those "frivolous" asbestos claims. Seems W.R. Grace's culpability in the asbestos poisoning of Libby, Montana, is even more egregious than previously surmised.

Charles Taylor has an excellent and highly informative review of Deborah Lipstadt's account of her trial by trial with David Irving.

Lambert at Corrente finds a Denver Post report with signs of the apparent spread of the extremist doctrine of "jury nullification." (For more on this concept, see my previous post, or see p. 297 of In God's Country.)

Oh yes. I also have a post up at American Street on political correctness after 9/11.


Here, out of Oroville, California, is a story that brings new meaning to the phrase "self-martyrdom":
Oroville racist has himself nailed to cross

An Oroville man attempted to have himself nailed to a cross near the state Capitol to protest the war in Iraq, Sacramento police said.

He identified himself to capital authorities as Greg S. Tremaine, 43, but he is known in Butte County as Greg Withrow.

It's the second time Withrow, a white supremacist, has had himself nailed to a cross in Sacramento.

In the most recent case, he had hoped to be carried around the Capitol on Thursday while nailed to the cross, police spokeswoman Michelle Lazark said.

Paramedics persuaded Withrow to seek medical attention after his friend, a 41-year-old Oroville man, tapped a nail 20 times through his left hand and into a wooden cross, Lazark said.

It's not the first time Withrow has used the self-crucifixion stunt to get attention. He did it in 1987, but that time he claimed he was the victim of an attack:
In 1987, Withrow had been found nailed to a cross in Sacramento, after he had attempted to form a White Student union at a community college.

He went on the national talk show circuit afterward, claiming the attack was in retaliation for abandoning his white-power roots.

He also testified during legislative hearings that resulted in increased criminal penalties for certain hate crimes in California.

But in a lawsuit two years ago seeking to overturn the hate-statutes, Withrow asserted he set up the crucifixion to infiltrate the media and halls of government and increase flagging interest, particularly among white students, in white separatism.

Well, as they say, it takes all kinds ...

Incidentally, Withrow's opposition to the war in Iraq is likely based on positions similar to most white supremacists', that is, that this war is being waged on behalf of Jews generically and Israel specifically. More on that problem soon.