Saturday, November 18, 2006

Personal irresponsibility

Well, we've been waiting awhile, but Michelle Malkin has finally weighed in on the matter of the Freeper fan turned domestic terrorist who sent anthrax hoax letters to a bevy of Malkin's favorite liberal targets.

Malkin put up a nonsequitur of a post at her blog, but the meat of her response is contained in one of her Hot Air segments in which, among other things, she proclaims: "I do not condone violence. I have never condoned violence." (Really? What exactly do you call invading Iraq, killing thousands of Iraqi civilians in the process?)

The essence of her argument, though, lies in comparing Chad Castagana, her ardent admirer, to would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr., and herself to Jodie Foster, who you may recall was the object of Hinkley's affections:
I have no idea who this loon is. I do not condone his actions or any actions like his by anyone else.

Uh. Michelle. No one said you did. But as for what you call Keith Olbermann's "flying leap of logic" in making the connection between your rhetoric and Castagana's actions, you continue thus:
It's no different than the hero worship that John Hinkley had for Jodie Foster. It's no less absurd to attribute Castagana's actions to Ann or Laura Ingraham or me than it is to attribute Hinkley's to Jodie Foster.

No, Michelle, what's absurd is you comparing yourself to Jodie Foster.

Or, maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe, somewhere that I hadn't read, Jodie Foster spent several years before the assassination attempt on Reagan demonizing Reagan and other conservatives in the press as the essence of evil itself, and wishing someone would shut him up.

Maybe Foster spent five years before the attempt publicly fomenting hatred of Reagan, labeling him a treasonous bastard and the root of all the nation's ills, and we somehow just didn't hear about it.

Maybe I missed the part where she wished aloud that someone would commit an act of domestic terrorism against him.

Or maybe it was in one of those unpublished scripts for Taxi Driver. Who knows?

What we do know is that, unlike Jodie Foster, the Termagant Triumvirate of Malkin, Coulter and Ingraham have done precisely that for the past five years and longer. Their entire raison d'etre, it seems, has revolved around pushing eliminationist rhetoric aimed at liberals.

And that reason, and no other, is why the domestic terrorism committed by Chad Castagana is connected to them.

As I've said repeatedly, this is not necessarily a matter of legal culpability, because there is no direct connection between their words and Castagana's acts. But because there is a clear, common-sensical connection -- that is, he heard the hatemongering and constant demonization of liberals and rather plainly decided to act upon it -- there is also a rather clear moral culpability on their parts.

When you're in media work -- and especially when you have a nationally prominent platform -- you not only have freedom, you have responsibility. And chief among those responsiblities is not to abuse your power in a way that harms your fellow citizens or inspires others to harm them:
You can use your megaphone to lie shamelessly. You can use it to smear the good name of public officials. You can use it to rewrite history. And you can use it to intimidate the "little people" who don't possess the same kind of power.

Because these potential abuses exist, a sense of ethics is obligatory for anyone who possesses this power. It's why the Society of Professional Journalists has a Code of Ethics that abjures such behavior.

Violating the Code won't get you fired per se, but it certainly brings into question your professionalism and honor. It also brands you, forever, as deeply irresponsible.

Particularly when it comes to using that power to attack ordinary citizens and subject them not just to ridicule but actual threats and potential violence.

But just as she has before, Malkin, of course, is running far and fast from this responsibility.

The cop-out that some of these actors might be mentally unstable -- which was evidently the point of comparing Castagana to Hinckley -- is simply another evasion. Because these people never act in a vacuum. There is almost always someone who inspired them.

The case of David Lewis Rice is still stark in the memory of Seattleites, and it is a classic illustration of the problem:
On Christmas Eve 1985, Charles and Annie Goldmark were at home with their sons Derek, 12, and Colin, 10, preparing for a holiday dinner when the doorbell rang. It was Rice, a 27-year-old unemployed transient, posing as a taxicab driver delivering a package. He brandished a toy gun and forced his way into their home, then set about using chloroform to render all four Goldmarks unconscious. He then proceeded to kill them slowly, using a steam iron and a knife that he used to insert into at least one of the victim's brains. Annie was pronounced dead on the spot, Colin pronounced dead on arrival, while Charles died there a short while later; Derek finally succumbed 37 days later.

But Rice wasn't just a deranged loony -- though he probably fit that description too. He also was a deranged loony who had been set into action by the malicious lies of a group of right-wing haters, whose venom became his inspiration, as the HistoryLink piece explains:

David Rice, a former steel worker from Colorado, joined an extremist group in Washington called the Duck Club. Although the Duck Club was almost defunct, the Seattle chapter still functioned. The group convinced Rice that Charles Goldmark was Jewish and a Communist. (Charles Goldmark's parents, John and Sally Goldmark, had won a highly publicized libel case in 1964 when they were accused of being Communists.)

As James Aho described it in his book This Thing of Darkness:
... Ed Fasel [fictitious name] was head of the local Duck Club chapter. It was from Ed that Rice received the tragic misinformation that Charles and Annie Goldmark were leading Seattle Communists. In the course of discussions concerning local subversives and crooks who were presumably frustrating Rice's efforts to secure a job, Fasel, mistaking Charles for his father John, related to Rice that the Goldmarks had been investigated and that Charles was "regional director of the American Communist Party." Rice took this to mean that Charles was the "highest obtainable target I could reach, the greatest value informationally." After handcuffing the Goldmarks, Rice intended to interrogate them about the next person in the conspiratorial hierarchy, possibly to preempt at the last moment the impending invasion of alien troops [a conspiracy theory to which Rice subscribed, not entirely different from the "Reconquista" theory that Malkin promotes].

What occasioned Fasel to dredge up a name associated with an event that had occurred two decades previously in another part of the state? In a Seattle Port Commission election during the summer of 1985, one of the candidates was Jim Wright, a Republican. Wright's campaign manager was none other than Ashley Holden, a defendant in the Goldmark trial. [Holden had been a leading torchbearer in the McCarthyite "Red fever" that swept Washington state in the late 1940s and '50s, and had been one of the people who falsely accused the Goldmarks in print of being part of the Communist Party.] Upon discovering this unusual link, the Seattle media jumped on it, and the name "Goldmark," with its unfortunate connotations, "got out again," to use one informant's phrase.

In my interview with him, Holden convincingly insisted that he knew nothing of the Duck Club nor any of its members. "I deplored the murder," he said. "There is no question," he went on, parroting local wisdom, "Rice was demented."

Ashley Holden offered the same lame defense as Malkin. So did "Fasel," whose real name was Homer Brand. But everyone in Seattle knew what they had done. There were no legal consequences for them, but there were social consequences. The men were moral lepers, and were shunned by decent people thereafter to the end of their lives (Holden died in 1994; Brand just died this year at the age of 78.)

But Malkin wants us to think that her hatemongering has no effect on her audience. She tells her Hot Air viewers:
Bullcrap. I don't have readers and I don't have acolytes. I have readers and I have audience members who think for themselves and who are responsible for each of their own actions.

Sure. We're all just independent actors. And Mohammad Atta was just responsible for his own actions too, right? No one else?

How about Naveed Al Haq? When he went on a shooting rampage at the Jewish Federation in Seattle, Malkin was eager to blame it on Muslim hatemongers. Indeed, she eagerly posited that a whole panoply of shooters was actually the work of a larger Muslim conspiracy.

Yet the reverse logic is what Malkin uses in denying any responsibility in this matter, saying that Olbermann is using "the most desperate rhetoric to discredit and stifle our voices" and claiming he was trying to "slime me as some sort of domestic terrorist". (Actually, Michelle, he was trying to slime you not as a domestic terrorist, but as someone whose reckless rhetoric helped set one off. Accurately, too, I might add. Which makes it precisely a non-smear.)

In both the Hot Air segment and the responsive post at her blog, she mentions the matter of Oklahoma City and Timothy McVeigh:
As I note, speciously blaming conservative pundits for domestic terrorism is old hat. Remember when the left blamed Rush Limbaugh and talk radio for the Oklahoma City bombing?

It wasn't just the left: it was, quite specifically, President Clinton. And it's worth remembering exactly what he said:
In this country we cherish and guard the right of free speech. We know we love it when we put up with people saying things we absolutely deplore. And we must always be willing to defend their right to say things we deplore to the ultimate degree. But we hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see -- I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today.

Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility on the part of the American people.

If we are to have freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, and, yes, the freedom to bear arms, we must have responsibility as well. And to those of us who do not agree with the purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia, I remind you that we have freedom of speech, too, and we have responsibilities, too. And some of us have not discharged our responsibilities. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.

If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable. So exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake.

As I pointed out awhile back:
Of course, Clinton did not name anyone, even though the voices he probably had more in mind were those belong to the likes G. Gordon "Head Shots" Liddy and some of the more vicious Patriot types like Chuck Harder, who constantly hawked Patriot conspiracy theories outright, alongside a full dose of rhetoric about the violent resistance of federal agents. But in fact Clinton used very general terms probably because he recognized the reality as well, which was that characters like Limbaugh and his fellow movement arch-conservatives have been irresponsible as well -- perhaps not to the same degree, except for the fact that the reach of transmitters like Limbaugh is so massive.

And the bitter truth, for people like Limbaugh, is that Clinton was right: Words have consequences. When you carefully tailor memes and ideas that promote an essentially extremist worldview to fit a mainstream audience, you're spreading poison into the community that can have extremely violent consequences. Anyone who's read American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing has a pretty clear picture of how closely McVeigh's hatred of the government was fanned by both extremist and mainstream voices. And it was to all these voices which Clinton alluded.

Limbaugh's protests notwithstanding, it is not hard to see that while, of course, Limbaugh cannot be blamed directly for Oklahoma City, neither can he be wholly absolved. Whining does not relieve him from the responsibility for his words. Timothy McVeigh, and the wave of Patriot domestic terrorists who followed him, did not occur in a vacuum. They were creatures in a milieu in which Limbaugh and other ostensibly "mainstream" media, political and religious figures helped transmit and reinforce extremist ideas that, when nursed with a violent predisposition, became extremely volatile in real life.

... If nothing else, Oklahoma City should at least have been a signal to Limbaugh that it was time to tone down the rhetoric, to stop demonizing government employees and federal officials. That, as we have seen, has never occurred. Anti-government bile is still a constant of his radio rants, as anyone reading the transcripts at Web sites like Rush Transcript can see for themselves. ...

However, since the election of George W. Bush, Limbaugh's anti-government venom is largely reserved for liberal officials. In general, Limbaugh has now shifted his focus from demonizing the government to demonizing anything liberal. Of course, this sentiment has always been part of his schtick, but in recent months he has been stepping it up another notch. Not only are liberals to be opposed politically, they are in fact treasonous. This was explicit in his attacks on Sen. Tom Daschle, the leader of the Senate Democrats, and was a continuing theme as antiwar protests grew in volume and intensity, referring to dissenters as, among other things, "anti-American, anti-capitalist Marxists and Communists."

This is extremely dangerous talk, and not merely because it is divisive. It actually threatens to simultaneously harden the growing alliance between extremist and mainstream conservatives, and create a milieu in which violence against dissenters becomes acceptable. It is when we see this kind of coalescence that we are in real danger of seeing fascism blossom in America.

Unfortunately, people like Chad Castagana have inched us all a little farther in that direction. And for that, we can thank a lot of people who have contributed to a larger atmospher of hatefulness and venom directed at American liberals. Foremost among them is Michelle Malkin.

That's so because Malkin, and Coulter, and Ingraham, and the bulk of the rabid-right pundit class, are all fundamentally irresponsible. We know that. So in the end, it's really no surprise that they should run from any responsibility for it as well.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Home to roost

Have you noticed how conservatives -- you know, the folks big on "personal responsibility" -- squeal like little mandrakes whenever someone calls attention to their culpability in engaging in irresponsible rhetoric that specifically encourages violent and criminal behavior? Especially when the chickens come home to roost?

Rush Limbaugh started this back in 1995 when he protested that the anti-government hate-mongering in which he had specialized for the previous five years had nothing whatsoever to do with the Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building -- and Bill Clinton saying so was just an attempt to silence him.

Nowadays, you've got guys like Rick Moran whining the same tune: "That's just a smear." Even when whacked-out Freepers who are expressly fans of Coulter and Malkin commit acts of domestic terrorism against the same liberals those two constantly demonize.

Well, here's the thing: To be a smear, the charge has to be untrue. Otherwise, it's simply a matter of straight accountability.

And anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see that there's a causal connection there. It may not be a matter of legal culpability, but there is a larger moral culpability at issue here that is inescapable.

Now comes today's news that someone sent a batch of poisoned cookies to the Supreme Court:
The news: Each justice on the United States Supreme Court received in the mail "a wonderful package of home-baked cookies" that contained "enough poison to kill the entire membership of the court."

Which, I'm sure the Rick Morans of the world will tell us, has no possible connection to the following remark from Ann Coulter earlier this year:
"We need to put rat poison in Justice Stevens' creme brulee. That's just a joke, for you in the media."

As I wrote at the time:
I've noticed that, for some strange reason, doing away with liberals is a recurring joke for Coulter. Not just recurring -- it's a defnitive obsession.

Take, for instance, all the "jokes" reported in a talk in Texas from Coulter before a hostile college audience:

"This free speech thing is a canard. ... How about not letting traitors teach at universities? Yes, I realize I've just proposed firing the entire Harvard faculty. These institutions can be shaken -- look at Dan Rather. He's out. Or, as I look at it, one down, two to go. We're going to need a much bigger trophy case for all these stuffed heads."

"Some liberals have become even too crazy for Texas to execute, which is a damn shame. They're always saying -- we're oppressed, we're oppressed so let's do it. Let's oppress them."

"Liberals have been attacking America for 30 years and now we've got to hit back."

Among her other notable "jokes" were the time she wished that journalists were targeted by the military, or the time she urged Clinton's assassination as a topic of public discourse, or of course the infamous wish that Tim McVeigh had driven his truck bomb up to the New York Times Building.

Or some of her other notable bon mots:

"We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too."

"They are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America's self-preservation, the difference is irrelevant. Fifty years of treason hasn't slowed them down."

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

"I have to say I’m all for public flogging."

"I think [women] should be armed but should not [be allowed to] vote."

"Liberals hate America, they hate flag-wavers, they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam, post 9/11. Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do. They don't have the energy. If they had that much energy, they'd have indoor plumbing by now."

"My libertarian friends are probably getting a little upset now but I think that's because they never appreciate the benefits of local fascism."

Why, exactly, do we continue to let these hatemongers spew their bile over the national airwaves? Why, exactly, are they not relegated to the far fringes of our discourse?

Because we're just now starting to see the results of allowing them onto the national stage.

NOTE: Yes, it's true that the poisoned cookies were sent in 2005, and Coulter's remark was in January of this year. The point is this: Coulter is one of the leading luminaries in a sustained program of demonization against liberals and government generally -- including so-called "judicial activists" -- for several years now. The "poison" remark was only the capper in a long series of attacks by Coulter on these judges. It was reaching a real fever pitch at the time the poison cookies were sent.

Kewl Kidz and Queen Bees

Sara Robinson

The image of the mainstream media as a gaggle of adolescent Kewl Kidz giggling and sneering in high school hallways has been in circulation as a stock lefty blogger meme for a few years now. But I don't know that anyone's really stopped and taken a look at the deeper implications of that analogy -- or the possible solutions it might point to, especially what we know these days about "relational aggression," which is what this precise form of bullying is called when it happens in schools.

Bullying between boys has been a concern of vice principals as long as there have been schoolyards to fight in and windows to break. But it's only been the past 15 years or so that thoughtful psychologists and child development experts, mostly women, have taken a look at the very different ways girls bully each other. Where boy bullying is hard to ignore, given how often it leads to physical aggression and outright violence, girl bullying is far more subtle and therefore easier to shrug off. Yet the effects on girls are no less devastating; and the wounds cut so deep that many women will be emotionally and socially disabled by them for the rest of their lives.

The Parenting Perspectives website provides a concise description of this devastating style of coercion and abuse:
Acts of relational aggression are common among girls in American schools. These acts can include rumor spreading, secret-divulging, alliance-building, backstabbing, ignoring, excluding from social groups and activities, verbally insulting, and using hostile body language (i.e., eye-rolling and smirking). Other behaviors include making fun of someone's clothes or appearance and bumping into someone on purpose. Many of these behaviors are quite common in girls' friendships, but when they occur repeatedly to one particular victim, they constitute bullying.

Increasingly common is another form of harassment termed “cyber bullying”—using e-mail and websites to harm someone. Cyber bullies use personal websites and instant messaging to spread rumors about classmates over the Internet. Cyber bullies might also use classmates or “friend's” PIN numbers and pass codes to send embarrassing e-mails. Sometimes it is easier to engage in cyberbullying than more direct acts because the bully never faces the victim. This form of harassment is also very fast--an instant message posted at night may spread through an entire school before the first class period….

Relational aggression tends to be most intense and apparent among girls in fifth through eighth grade. This type of behavior often continues, although perhaps to a somewhat lesser degree, in high school.…

The usual motivation behind acts of relational aggression is to socially isolate the victim while also increasing the social status of the bully. Perpetrators might be driven by jealousy, need for attention, anger, and fear of (or need for) competition. One reason girls choose this type of bullying rather than more direct acts of harassment is that the bully typically avoids being caught or held accountable. Girls who appear the most innocent may indeed be the most hostile in their actions. These bullies are often popular, charismatic girls who are already receiving positive attention from adults. Because of their positive reputations, these girls may be the least likely suspects. Thus it can be very difficult to identify the perpetrators of acts of relational aggression, and victims can suffer for long periods of time without support.
Rosalind Wiseman, whose Queen Bees & Wannabees is one of the bibles on relational aggression (the other is Rachel Simmons' Odd Girl Out), says that Queen Bees are generally the girls who have bought most heavily into "media bombardment" to look pretty and cool. She provides the following list of traits for the garden-variety relational bully:
--Her friends do what she wants them to do.

-- She can argue anyone down, including friends, peers, teachers and parents.

-- Her comments about other girls are about the lame things they did.

-- She doesn't want to invite everyone to her birthday party, and if she does, she ignores some.

-- She's charming to adults.

-- She makes other girls feel "anointed" by declaring them special friends.

-- She is affectionate to one person to show rejection of another, like throwing her arms dramatically around one girl to emphasize the exclusion of another.

-- She does not take responsibility when she hurts another's feelings.

-- She seeks revenge when she feels wronged.
Some people never outgrow this. Some boys give up overt physical bullying for this more subtle style. A disproportionate number of these appearance-obsessed kiss-ups grow up to work in the media, where they can make or break careers, argue people down on camera, deliver the news about lame things people did, pick and choose whom they're going to favor with their attention, charm people with influence, destroy others with impunity, and take revenge on anyone who questions their right to power.

So it's small wonder why the Kewl Kids behave this way. They're the Mean Girls, all grown up and now concentrated in an industry that plays to the very worst in their already shallow personalities. And they're running exactly the same social games they did when they were eleven…only by this time, they've had 30 years to master them.

The work on identifying relational aggression and understanding the behavior of Queen Bees has also given victims, parents, and schools some rudimentary tools for putting a stop to this form of bullying. Generally, girls on the receiving end of this treatment are encouraged to:
-- Learn to stand up and speak up for themselves in assertive ways that make them both non-violent, and yet not a victim.

-- Draw a firm, bright definition: Friends are people who are nice to you. People who are not nice to you are not your friends.

-- Keep a record of bullying events in a journal.

-- Cultivate friendships outside of the school arena, beyond the reach of the queen bees.

-- Form alliances with other victims of bullying, and work together in mutual support.

-- Seek the support of the school and parents in creating a strong, coordinated response to instances of bullying.

These steps may also point to some effective strategies for liberals seeking to change the culture of bullying that's come to characterize the media response to our spokespeople and ideas. Specifically:

Get Assertive -- As I noted in the post below, the Kewl Kids must always be met with assertive speech and action that denies them the right to take space, energy, and dignity from us -- and, at the same time, increases the risk that any attempt to humiliate us may result in their own on-camera humiliation. Bullies of all stripes tend to pick soft targets. Consistenly setting strong boundaries and defending them will make us far less interesting to pick on.

Choose Your Friends -- We need to start keeping careful accounts, as the Republicans once did, between those who are our friends, and those who are not. Kewl Kids who don't treat Democrats with respect should find that they have a harder time booking Democratic leaders for their shows, and don't get invited to private events held by influential Democrats. This wouldn't have been much of a sanction before the election; but if they want to cover Congress now, they are going to have to stop smirking, or lose access to all but the most public and official events.

Keep Records -- Blogs have played a powerful role in serving as the progressive movement's institutional memory. In this matter, we (particularly blogs like the incomparable Daily Howler, the indispensable Media Matters, the irreplaceable Crooks & Liars -- and, dare I say it, this one) are the left wing's comprehensive journal of bullying events, documenting past acts of aggression that need to be kept in mind as we deal with these people in the future. And we should continue to be at least as dogged in documenting every smirk and snigger in the future as we have been in the past.

Pursue Other Friendships -- The media sometimes appear to be the only power in the political universe (and they'd certainly like us to think so); but the world is full of many power players, many of whom don't appear anywhere on the media's radar. The Democrats' real power is in the alliances the party forms with its natural allies, both here and abroad. The bigger and stronger that network of alliances, the more quiet pressure it can bring to bear on the media to force a little change of attitude. All that has to happen is for everyone in that network to understand that the campaign for media respect is a core party priority, and the message will carry from there.

Form Alliances -- Our version of "forming alliances with other victims of bullying" is to do what the GOP did: Form a corps of a million or two rabid letter-writers, who don't let the least whisper of a slight against any Democrat at any level see print anywhere from the local shopper sheet to the New York Times without triggering an overwhelming negative response. We can be polite, of course; but those making the news decisions need to know that the days when they can slight us with impunity are over.

Unite to Change the Environment -- On a larger level, we need call this bullying explicitly and loudly for what it is, and not be shy about pointing it out wherever we see it. The above-mentioned sites have long been on the job; but it needs to be everybody's job for a while until the Kidz get their attitude back on straight. And we need our own talking heads to continue getting more and more aggressive at pushing back when they're being subjected to it, as Clinton did. They need to know that whenever they start that shit, the smackdown will be usually instant, frequently humiliating, and never worth the risk.

I've been arguing that "adult supervision" is one of the most important frames for us to be working right now. As long as the MSM continues to behave like a bunch of trivial, self-centered pubescent girls, it won't take too much conscious effort to make our spokespeople look like serious grown-ups by contrast. The victory begins when we start insisting that there are more adult and worthy things to talk about than hair, clothes, parties, who's going with whom, and who's got the better ratings. Queen bees regard anyone with power who'll return a phone call as a "friend" -- so as soon as they see that there are grown-ups in charge exercising authority and setting standards, their natural kiss-up reflex will kick right in, and the eye-rolling should stop forthwith.

Back in the 70s, the GOP coined the phrase "liberal media" to combat what they saw as the mainstream media's queen-bee assault on their values. It's high time we mounted a similar campaign pointing out that junior-high social rules and behavior are beneath the dignity of the national media of a great nation. It's also a grossly immature misuse of power that diminishes the ethical and cultural stature of a great profession. The Kewl Kidz need to either grow up, or go home.

Bring On The Angry Liberals, Redux

Sara Robinson
As Digby points out: We're ten days post-election, and the Kewl Kids are already "partying like it's 1999." Every nasty insinuation about the Democrats they spent the 90s perfecting is being dug out of bottom drawers and gym lockers, as the Kewl Kidz gear up the sneering and snide whispering campaign, to make sure none of us get to feeling too good about ourselves.

Back in late September, when Bill Clinton bitch-slapped Chris Wallace for going into this exact same high school act, I wrote:

The truth of the matter is that we are never, ever going to make our message or delivery perfect enough that it can't be butchered by the MSM. Ever. Whatever we do, it will always be wrong. That's their storyline, and they are sticking to it to the end. Anybody who thinks we're going to change that status quo by simply having better manners or eating more cocktail weenies with them is delusional. These people are not our friends.

The first step in dealing with this situation is acknowledging that cold and immutable reality, accepting it, and deciding how we're going to respond to it.

When it comes to the left, the mainstream media have exactly two all-purpose storylines going. We will always be portrayed as either spineless wussies, or angry loonies. The only choice we have here is to decide which one we're going to play to.

Given that choice, I'll go for angry loony every day of the week...Let go of the fear. Accept that they're gonna say what theyre gonna say. Stop apologizing for anything. And let's bring on the angry Democrats.

Of course they're going to paint Clinton as an out-of-control loony. Being who they are, they cannot do otherwise; only a pluperfect fool would expect them to. They're following the storyline, and we have no choice but to let them.

These people are not our friends. We need to tattoo that on our representatives' foreheads, so they see it every time they look in the mirror. Back in the 70s, when the GOP were the media's angry loonies, they played into it without apology. By their analysis, there was plenty wrong with the country, and their rage was totally justified. (As the bumpersticker says: If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.) Their willingness to look angry made them look strong, full of conviction, and worthy of respect. At the same time, fear of the growing horde of furious right-wing letter-writers eventually conditioned every news editor in the country to involuntarily wince before saying anything nasty about these people.

This was a huge part of how the Republicans turned the PR tide in their favor in the late 70s and early 80s. It will work for us now -- but only if we consistently, reliably, choose firm defiance over spinelessness every time, and make it clear that they're taking the risk of devastating public humiliation every time they open their giggling mouths.

The MSM is going to have is own narrative for exactly as long as we let them have it. Clinton's smackdown was important, because it was the first time in ages that a Democrat deliberately forsook the usual spineless wussie choice, and unapologetically opted for to display a well-focused flash of fury instead. Going forward, that's the posture we need to have.

Yeah, they'll hate it. They'll yell and squeal and say all kinds of nasty things about us -- for a while, anyway. The Kewl Kids always hate it when the grownups start messing with their games. They say all kinds of nasty things behind the teacher's back, and start slam books dissing the vice principal. They're adolescents. That's what they do.

But, eventually, they'll have to learn to live with it. Because what we're really after here is to sound powerful and adults who say what they mean and mean what they say, and have better things to do with their time than play high school cafeteria games. They can afford to goof off with trivialities. We, on the other hand, have a country to run, and are not about to let a bunch of stupid children get in our way.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Abortion causes immigration

Evidently, even Republicans must know that their 700-mile fence on the Mexican border will be ineffective. Because now they're hunting about for the root causes of all that illegal immigration.

And now, a legislative committee in Missouri has found the answer: abortion.
A Republican-led legislative panel claims in a new report on illegal immigration that abortion is partly to blame because it is causing a shortage of American workers.

The report from the state House Special Committee on Immigration Reform also claims "liberal social welfare policies" have discouraged Americans from working and encouraged immigrants to cross the border illegally.

The statements about abortion, welfare policies and a recommendation to abolish income taxes in favor of sales taxes were inserted into the immigration report by the committee chairman, Rep. Ed Emery.

All six Democrats on the panel refused to sign the report. Some of them called the abortion assertion ridiculous and embarrassing.

"There's a lot of editorial comment there that I couldn't really stomach," Rep. Trent Skaggs said Monday. "To be honest, I think it's a little delusional."

All 10 Republican committee members signed the report, though one of them, Rep. Billy Pat Wright, said Monday he didn't recall it connecting abortion and illegal immigration.

Emery, who equates abortion to murder, defended the assertions.

"We hear a lot of arguments today that the reason that we can't get serious about our borders is that we are desperate for all these workers," Emery said. "You don't have to think too long. If you kill 44 million of your potential workers, it's not too surprising we would be desperate for workers."

National Right to Life estimates there have been more than 47 million abortions since the Supreme Court established a woman's right to abortion in its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. The immigration report estimates there are 80,000 fewer Missourians because of abortion, many of whom now would have been in a "highly productive age group for workers."

The abortion connection to illegal immigration was listed under the report's recommendations on federal social policies and potential state legislative actions on illegal hiring.

"Suggestions for how to stop illegal hiring varied without any simple solution," the report states. "The lack of traditional work ethic, combined with the effects of 30 years of abortion and expanding liberal social welfare policies have produced a shortage of workers and a lack of incentive for those who can work."

Here's a copy of the report. Note that among its main recommendations are that resolutions be issued urging the Congress and President to address such issues as:
-- Relationship between social policies and the shortage of willing American workers

Which we later find out means abortion, and its evil twin welfare:
Social Policies -- The committee heard testimony regarding the impact of America's social policies on the perceived lack of employable workers in labor-intensive trades such as agricultural, food and hospitality services, and certain areas of construction. Both witnesses and committee members questioned the effects of losing over 45 million Americans, including approximately 80,000 Missourians to abortion since 1973. Many of those aborted would be in their 20's and 30's today, a highly productive age group for workers. Additional testimony linked the lack of willing laborers to the entitlement and governmental welfare culture that has emerged over the last 50 years. An heretofore unheard of number of individuals and multi-generation families have developed a lifestyle of welfare dependency. The testimony was that many Americans prefer a subsistence income from the public treasury rather than earning a similar or better income as a reward for hard work. Several committee members agreed that today's difficulties in hiring lawful workers are largely the direct result of 50 years of counterproductive social policies.

Also on the committee's to-do list of resolutions:
Revision of the interpretion [sic] of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution as it is applied to citizenship by birth

Aaaiiieee!!! Not the evil anchor babies!

Kind of interesting that it only wants a different "interpretion" of the 14th Amendment, since its language is fairly explicit:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

Fact is, nearly every legal scholar on the planet understands that a mere reinterpretation won't achieve the end the anti-birthright folks intend. If they want to make it so the children of illegal immigrants are barred from citizenship, they'll need to pass an outright constitutional amendment.

Note that one of the chief sponsors of legislation to eliminate birthright citizenship was none other than ... Rep. Mark Foley. Wonder if he knew about this abortion connection.

Yes, folks. Out in the Republican heartland, it looks like we're witnessing yet another manifestation of ... the right-wing Bizarro Universe.

A literary heroine

We all know by now that Chad Castagana, the right-wing anthrax hoaxter, was quite a science-fiction buff, but within a very narrow scope: he evidently hates "leftists" in the field, including Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry. On the other hand, he sounds like the kind of sci-fi fan who has a complete Orson Scott Card collection.

And I'm pretty much betting he hates Ursula K. le Guin.

I was a big sci-fi fan when I was young, and I still read a little of it but not much. A lot of my collection has passed out of my hands, but I assiduously hang onto everything that I own by two sci-fi authors: Philip K. Dick (I have some very cool old Dick paperbacks) and Ursula le Guin.

Both of them, I think, are underappreciated as writers, mostly because they work within a pop genre. To the extent they are appreciated (Dick especially these days), it's for their imaginativeness, which is considerable. But I think both were unusually polished writers; from a pure craft standpoint, I've always admired both of them, particularly for their narrative skills. Both wrote sparsely and yet poetically; and both operated in literary layers that always rewarded further study. To some extent both were influences on my own work. (On top of that, I'm an admirer of the work of le Guin's father, the famed anthropologist Alfred Kroeber.)

Well, Dick died in 1982, so I never got a chance to meet him. And even though le Guin lives just down the road in Oregon, I'd never had the opportunity to meet her, either -- until recently.

My chance finally came last month, when I was attending the awards ceremony at the Seattle Public Library for the Washington State Book Awards. (My most recent book, Strawberry Days, was one of the nonfiction finalists.)

As it happened, le Guin was being honored that night as well with the Maxine Cushing Gray Award, a fellowship for Northwest writers of distinction. As part of the ceremony, she gave the following speech, which I'm reproducing here in its entirety, because I found it so striking and, well, truly inspirational:
Thank you all for the honor given, through me, to Literature by this award. It makes me happy, of course, because writers live on praise; and because it is regional, and I love the Pacific Northwest. But I feel above all that I'm here as a proxy, a stand-in, for Literature. Literature is too busy to come collect her prize, and she's too big to get into the building, even this building which was built for her. Literature is huge — they can't fit her even into the Library of Congress, because she keeps not talking English. She is very big, very polyglot, very old, even older than I am by about 3000 years, and she weighs a lot. When we come to judge civilisations we see how heavy Literature weighs in the balance. Whole peoples are dismissed as 'savage' or 'primitive', meaning they didn't write things down, while others are seen as supreme because they left a literature. Take the Ancient Greeks. If it weren't for Homer and Sophocles and Thucycides, all we'd know of them is that they were awfully good with marble. We wouldn't know that they invented tragedy and democracy. We might not even know that democracy had been invented.

There have been governments that celebrated literature, but most governments dislike it, justly suspecting that all their power and glory will soon be forgotten unless some wretched, powerless liberal in the basement is writing it down. Of course they do their best to police the basement, but it's hard, because Government and Literature, even when they share a palace, exist on different moral planes. Each is the ghost in the other's bedroom. A government can silence writers easily, yet Literature always escapes its control. Literature cannot control a government; poets, as poets, do not legislate. What they can do is set minds free of the control of any tyrant or demagogue and his lies and disinformation.

The Greek Socrates wrote: "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." Evil government relies on deliberate misuse of language. Because literary skill is the rigorous use of language in the pursuit of truth, the habit of literature, of serious reading, is the best defense against believing the half-truths of ideologues and the lies of demagogues.

The poet Shelley wrote: "The imagination is the great instrument of moral good." Believing that, I see a public library as the toolshed, the warehouse, concert hall, temple, Capitol of imagination — of moral good. So here — right here where we are, right now — is where America stands or falls. Can we still imagine ourselves as free? If not, we have lost our freedom.

Thank you for celebrating, through this honor to my work, the invaluable unruliness of literature, the essential liberty of the imagination.

I stood and applauded, and so did everyone else. And then I walked up and shook her hand, and thanked her.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

When did you stop beating your wife?

Glenn Beck to Keith Ellison:
"[W]hat I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies'."

Me to Glenn Beck:
"What I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not fucking donkeys.'"

I'll bet my grounds for asking that question are about as good as his. Maybe better.

Tough week

First comes the Great Repudiation.

Then the bust of one of her "unhinged" fans for domestic terrorism.

Now the return of Trent Lott.

It's just really not been Michelle Malkin's week.

Of course, Malkin is openly dismayed by Lott's Jason-like revival. As well she should be. Not only does it ensure crappy, ethics-deprived leadership for Republicans in the Senate.

It also shoots a gigantic hole in her "conservatives zealously police their own ranks to exclude extremists " theory that was the linchpin for her entire thesis in Unhinged.

Recall her appearance promoting the book on Bill O'Reilly's show, when O'Reilly pushed her for examples on the right policing its own side, and the best she could come up with was ... Trent Lott:
O'Reilly: Do you see mainstream conservatives condemning Michael Savage?

Malkin: All the time.

O'Reilly: You do?

Malkin: Of course you do. In fact -- again, I think that this is something that the mainstream media does not recognize. It is in fact conservatives who are very outspoken in condemning fringe people, and people who are extremists on the right side of the aisle. The Trent Lott episode for example. A lot of mainstream conservatives were pivotal in decrying Trent Lott's remarks at Strom Thurmond's party.

Hell of a "self-policing" job there.

I wonder if this is why you don't see Unhinged even on the remaindered shelves anymore. It went straight into the dustbin.

What If God Should Lose?

Sara Robinson

There's been a lot of musing in the press the past week over what the election meant to the GOP's religious right base. Reading the chicken bones, many pundits have divined that strange things are afoot. It's obvious that Karl Rove no longer holds the keys to Evangelical hearts; and the election revealed some faultlines that didn't even appear to exist as recently as August. Could this signal the end of the fundamentalist political juggernaut, the opportunity for some real d├ętente and change, and the long-awaited last act of the Culture Wars?

Yes. It could.

In the past, I've talked about the fractures and factions within the movement, especially the gradients when it comes to various individuals' commitment to the underlying authoritarian cause. To recap (and overgeneralize grossly), religious authoritarians come in three basic flavors. There are the amoral, high-social dominance leaders; the hard-core right-wing authoritarian followers; and a much larger group of people who've been drawn into the movement for specific reasons of their own. This election revealed, for the first time in decades, that there's some real daylight emerging between these groups -- and the distance between them is growing.

Garry Wills described the essential conundrum the movement faces in the New York Review of Books this week:

There is a particular danger with a war that God commands. What if God should lose? That is unthinkable to the evangelicals. They cannot accept the idea of second-guessing God, and he was the one who led them into war. Thus, in 2006, when two thirds of the American people told pollsters that the war in Iraq was a mistake, the third of those still standing behind it were mainly evangelicals (who make up about one third of the population). It was a faith-based certitude.

These evangelicals followed God's hand-picked President (selected by divine intervention at the Supreme Court to override the electorate's mistake) into a spiritual war they believed would bring about Jesus' final return. Organized by spirit-filled moral paragons -- men like Ted Haggard and Tom DeLay -- and with the cross of Jesus going on before, they took control of the world's most powerful government; and invested campaign labor, votes, money, prayer, and their own sons and daughters into the cause of defeating Satan on the plains of Baghdad.

And now it is all a shambles, a ruin. The war is a disaster. Their children -- more than anyone else's -- are dying. Victory is farther out of reach than ever. The corruption of their own leaders has been exposed, humiliating them before the nation. Their 30-year effort to purify America's politics has been soundly rejected by the rest of the country. Gay marriage is happening. The end of abortion is not. They are now having to think the unthinkable: What if God should lose?

The coming split in the evangelical right will be fueled by the different ways its various factions adapt to this new reality. The possibilities are likely to take two main forms. On one hand, we'll see the amoral authoritarian leadership fade away, and the hard-core authoritarian followers in retreat. On the other, however, are growing numbers of Christians who are already beginning to moderate -- some of them to the point where we may start seeing them in the progressive mainstream.

Evangelical participation in American government has always ebbed and flowed. The fervor usually emerges, burns brightly for about 20 years or so, then ends in disillusion and retreat. There's good reason to believe that, in the coming year or two, we're going to see widespread rollback, both politically and culturally, that signals the end of this most recent wave.

To see how this might look going forward, let's take a quick look backward. The last Evangelical emergence began just after the turn of the 20th century, when the Holy Spirit touched down in Los Angeles (of all unlikely places). The Charismatic Movement found its strange and ecstatic tongue in an LA warehouse church in 1906. The Scofield Reference Bible -- the first one that really promoted the End Times eschatology -- and "The Fundamentals," the books that put a name and a theology to Protestant Fundamentalism, were both brought forth in 1909. From there, the movement took off and went national.

By 1920, Aimee Semple MacPherson -- founder of the Foursquare Pentacostal churches (also based in LA) -- was touring America with her miracles-and-healings tour (which are recreated in absolutely perfect fidelity by Benny Hinn to this day). The movement's emerging political arm had scored its first victory with the passage of Prohibition. As the 20s began to roar, the whole country seemed to be on fire for the Lord.

But in the latter half of the decade, it all seemed to run out of steam. In 1926, the Scopes Trial provided the era's own version of the Schiavo debacle, forcing the movement's willful ignorance and superstition into the national consciousness. The country took one look, shuddered, and rebelled. That same year, Sister Aimee rigged her own kidnapping as cover for an affair with her sound engineer. As the 20s wore on, movies and radio gradually distracted the vast audiences that had once turned out for tent-show luminaries like Dwight Moody, Billy Sunday and Bob Jones. By 1933, amid the deep real-world concerns of the Depression, Prohibition was repealed, putting the final "amen" on the last Evangelical era. The last holdout was radio evangelist Father Coughlin, a racist demagogue whose souring rhetoric through the 30s mainly served to remind America why these people should be kept out of power at all costs.

They didn't go away. But they did take their subculture out of the public spotlight, and kept to the shadows for the next 40 years.

The 2006 election may prove to be a similar season of reckoning. Their leadership in disgrace, their political ambitions hard aground, their social agenda rejected, their foreign policy discredited for the next two generations, this may be the moment that the hard-core followers decide to beat a strategic retreat from the worldly corruptions of the public sphere, as former Bush aide David Kuo is recommending.

This retreat may gain further momentum as the GOP tries to disentangle itself from its near-total embrace of the fundamentalist cause. Tom Schaller at Salon argues that that backlash against the GOP's tight association with the religious right has put the party at risk of becoming a Southern regional party, with waning influence outside the fundamentalist heartland. As the West, Midwest, and North turn blue, the Republicans' long history of catering to every Evangelical whim will increasingly become a crippling liability.

We'll need to keep an eye on them -- they're not going away, now or probably ever -- but the days in which they had the ears of presidents and senators are behind them, and public attention can now begin to turn toward our growing list of far more pressing issues, many of which Isaiah could never have foreseen.

As the hard-core followers retreat into a shrinking number of red states and counties, the softer core of committed conservative Christians may already be morphing in the completely opposite direction.

In The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong notes that historically, fundamentalist groups who attain political power never actually rule from religious law alone -- at least, not for long. It invariably turns out (to the surprise of the theocrats) that ancient spiritual texts quickly prove to be inadequate handbooks for running a modern state. In the best case -- she cites Iran in the Khomeini years as an example -- wise leaders soon recognize the limitations of religious law, and begin to forsake strict literalism and religious utopianism for a more pragmatic way of governing.

The number of Evangelicals who voted Democratic this year, and the number of religiously conservative rural districts (particularly in the Midwest and West) that turned blue, are a strong indicator that this is already happening. When Pat Robertson cops to the truth of global warming, and pastors start preaching stewardship instead of the Rapture as the correct ecological strategy, you know something essential has shifted.

I've argued in the past that fundamentalists are most likely to leave their narrow black-and-white worldview when something challenges them to open their minds or brings them into direct contact with the larger world. Armstrong argues that the mere act of seizing power can be a very powerful mind-opener for a would-be theocrat. Having taken charge of the country, they're finally forced to reckon with reality in a way they never had to before. They're faced with real responsibilities -- and, very soon, there's the wrenching epiphany that the answers aren't all in the book after all. As they start to grapple with that, black and white start to dissolve into more complex shades -- not just gray, but all the true colors of the world.

Having tasted political power, many of these mobilized Evangelicals will not be retreating from the public stage. However, past history (in this case, that of the Social Gospel movement that fueled American Evangelicalism between the Civil War and World War I) suggests that, once they break through the isolation of the fundamentalist echo chamber, they'll start opening themselves to the deeper messages at the liberal core of their own faith -- which will, for many, lead to a revival and revelation of a whole different order.

If they follow the old form, in a decade we may look around and realize that today's more thoughtful fundamentalists have grown into inspiring and powerful moral leaders, endowed with a new community-mindedness that will lead them to go anywhere and make any sacrifice to create social and economic justice. Faced with the needs of a larger world (and always accustomed to thinking big), they may finally be ready to redefine "family values" in a way that includes living wages, health care, and industrial policies that sustain families. We may not always like the moral conclusions they come to (some of them may never be at peace with abortion or gay rights, for example), but they are here to stay -- and the strict secularists among us are going to need to get used to them. Mostly, their presence in our midst is going to be a better thing for both the progressive movement and America as a whole.

Newsweek's Michael Gerson laid out the implications of this shift last week:

While many evangelicals are impatient with the priorities of the religious right, it would be a mistake to argue that they are disillusioned by politics itself. The new evangelicals are not calling for cultural retreat, but for broader engagement. Politics, at its best, has the goal of serving your neighbor. Those who, in their own personal disillusionment, recommend a "fast" from politics are really recommending a "fast" from the pursuit of justice--which is not an option for Biblical Christians.

These changes in evangelicalism should be an opportunity for Democrats. But seizing it would require a philosophic shift. Modern liberalism has defined the belief in truth as the enemy of tolerance because absolute claims of right and wrong lead to coercion. And religious claims, in this view, are the most intolerant of all, and should be radically privatized so no one's morality gets "imposed" on another. It is difficult for liberals and Democrats to appeal to religious people while declaring their deepest motivations a threat to the republic. And it is difficult to imagine the history of the republic if this narrow view had prevailed. How does moral skepticism and privatized religion motivate decades of struggle against slavery, or lead men and women, step by step, toward the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma? If there is really no truth, why believe in, or sacrifice for, the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence?

This problem will not be solved with better, less-awkward religious language. Democrats will need to demonstrate a genuine openness to religious ideals and motivations. They could start by reopening their party to people with pro-life convictions--people who see the protection of the weakest members of the human family as an important measure of social justice. And, heading into 2008, Democratic candidates will have the chance to appeal to the new evangelicals with bold policies.

When it speaks, a new evangelicalism should be distinctive for its tone as well. The goal is not only to stand for Christianity's moral teachings but to emulate the manner of its Founder, who showed that kindness is not weakness, and had more tenderness for moral outcasts than for moral hypocrites.

Often the media miss or ignore this kind of new evangelical leader. There is a tendency to elevate the most irresponsible and strident religious figures, mostly because it makes for better cable TV. This practice reflects a stereotype held by many media decision makers, who view every orthodox Christian as a fundamentalist, and every fundamentalist as a theocrat. The stereotype is unfair and uninteresting. Evangelicalism is both more diverse and more idealistic than its critics understand. And that should be welcome news for Americans, religious and secular alike.

While I can't agree with Gerson on the need to compromise our pro-choice convictions (which I regard as a matter of religious and ethical freedom as well), his larger point is a good one. We've got a Crack in the Wall here, perhaps the biggest one we've had in forty years. Any strategy that positions the Democrats for the long term needs to speak to these people, sincerely and respectfully, in terms that resonate with their faith-based motivations -- and bring them on board for the work ahead. The best of all possible outcomes here is for the right-wing authoritarians to retreat; and the soft-core, thoughtful Christian fundamentalists to open themselves to a theology that repudiates the paranoid excesses of Pauline "spiritual warfare" in favor of the Gospel Jesus who fed the poor, healed the sick, and was hailed as the Prince of Peace.

The God of the GOP has lost. Which means He -- and we -- may finally have some real opportunities for change.

The question of culpability

Last night on Countdown, Keith Olbermann and his guest, John Cook of Radar Online, discussed the Chad Castagana case and the question, already raised here, of the level of culpability that Castagana's right-wing heroes have in matters such as these:
OLBERMANN: For the record, as I understand it, the connection is that the fellow identifying himself as Costanzo posted something about science fiction, which he said was a rewrite of something he’d previously posted on a sci-fi site, which was written by and identified by Castagana. But the Ann Coulter-Laura Ingraham-Michelle Malkin connection is -- how is that best described? Is that hero worship? Or crushes of some kind, or do we know what that is?

COOK: Well, I mean, if he is idolizing them, that sounds like hero worship to me. I mean, I think, you know, these, Ann Coulter and Malkin, you know, they sort of present a kind of rhetorical world view where they have their troops out there, and I think he thought of himself as one of their troops and wanted to live up to their standards.

And I mean, I don't think we can always hold these people responsible for the actions of the least hinged of their followers, but I think it is clear that he was an acolyte of the Coulters and the Malkins, and I think that they clearly enjoy having acolytes, and they clearly sort of issue calls to action -- not necessarily to send threatening powder-filled envelopes to you in so many words, but they certainly exhort their followers to let themselves be known.

OLBERMANN: But to that point, I mean, the part -- it was one thing -- an acolyte is one thing; an emulation is something else. There were students at the University of California at Santa Cruz who protested military recruiters on their campus. Malkin posted their addresses and their personal information on her blog, and then when people harassed the students at their homes, Malkin did the King Henry thing about Thomas Becket, "who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?" I never told anybody to do anything. And then this is the problem, right? You can come out, you can directly encourage people to act violently. Ann Coulter has done that. Or you can do it in this sort of thinly disguised way, the way Malkin has.

COOK: Right. But I think what Malkin wants to do is not to tell people to act violently so much as -- I do think she wants to sort of introduce a kind of thuggish sort of intimidating tone into the political debate, this kind of let's not let them boss us around anymore. I think that's sort of -- she has got a very combative kind of truculent rhetorical pose.

And, you know, I mean, Ann Coulter has said some, you know, absolutely ludicrous things about -- she once said that, you know, "We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, making them realize that they can be killed, too."

When she says that, I don't think she honestly believes -- I don't think she actually wants people who hear those words to go and physically intimidate liberals. I think she says it because she knows that if she says outrageous things, her speaking -- speaker's bureau's fees go up or the next book contract goes up. She is a professional agitator.

Radar Online has more details on Castagana, including a copy of the affidavit.

This was especially noteworthy:
According to the affidavit, Castagana, an "average looking" 39-year-old white guy who lives with his parents in Woodland Hills, attempted to send 13 fake anthrax letters to the aforementioned victims starting in September. We say "attempted" because the first letter, which contained the message, "Do you know Alan Berg? You should. Death to demagogues," and a harmless white powder, was sent to a poor sap on the Upper West Side named Jon Stewart—but not that Jon Stewart. (Alan Berg is the Jewish talk-radio host murdered by white-supremacists in Denver in 1984.)

Evidently, Castagana is not only an admirer of Coulter and Malkin, he also sees The Order as role models.

Then there were the other messages that were sent with the fake anthrax:
To Olbermann: "There are too many demagogues in America. All of you are poisoning the well! Time to give your kind a taste of your own medicine."

To Redstone: "Fuck You Mr Monopolist [sic]"

To Letterman: "more then one way to frag a demagogue... your kind are the real poison [sic]"


I think it's fair to say that Chad Castagana was thoroughly "unhinged."

And who helped unhinge him? Why, none other than the author of "Unhinged." Yes, the same person who claimed that "conservatives zealously police their own ranks to exclude extremists."

It's important to understand, of course, that as John Cook says, you can't blame right-wing pundits like Malkin and Coulter directly for the acts of lone kooks in their audience. Certainly you couldn't make anything stick in a court of law against them on that count.

But neither are they blameless in these matters. Moral culpability lies in the court of public opinion -- and as Olbermann and Cook explored here, blame for the influence of hateful rhetoric on unstable characters can't all be laid at the feet of those actors. Responsibility lies with the people encouraging them to hate as well.

People like Coulter, Malkin, and Limbaugh don't need to be taken to court. What they have earned is to be shunned and ignored as the moral lepers they are.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Well, either Chad Castagana has been a very busy fellow indeed, or he's already inspired a round of imitators. In either event, he's already taken his place in the chain of piggybacked terrorism in a line straight back to 9/11.

Fresh on the heels of yesterday's arrest of Castagana, an avid Freeper who mailed hoax anthrax threats to various liberal figures, including Keith Olbermann, we now learn that Air America has been hit with a similar hoax.

We also have to wonder if last month's hoax anthrax attack on the offices of Bill Clinton was Castagana's handiwork as well. The Clinton threat was not mentioned in any of the reports of Castagana's arrest -- and as it involves a former president, it almost certainly is of even greater interest to federal authorities.

What Castagana's case demonstrates, clearly, is the way terrorism functions. Initial attacks always inspire subsequent rounds of echo attacks that intentionally feed off the terror created by the earlier rounds. It's called "piggybacking," and it has been an explicit strategy of the extremist right for two decades and longer.

The shape of Castagana's threats -- sending white powder in an envelope and including threats suggesting the powder is anthrax -- has been around for awhile. He almost certainly got the idea from its earlier perpetrators, most notably Clayton Waagner, who terrorized hundreds of abortion clinics with similar hoaxes.

Waagner's threats, in turn, piggybacked off the very real anthrax terrorist who killed five people, sickened dozens more, and scared the bejeesus out of the media for a couple of weeks, until they figured out that it most likely was a domestic terror attack.

And the anthrax terrorist, likewise, clearly piggybacked off of 9/11: the attacks occurred two weeks later, and the rampant speculation in the media for quite awhile was that this was another Al Qaeda attack, or perhaps one from Iraq.

Terrorists of all stripes -- foreign and domestic, Islamist and white nationalist, competent and incompetent -- have a symbiotic relationship with each other: one attack creates an "echo" that often has its own idiosyncratic purpose, but simultaneously enhances the intent of the original terrorist attack. The one thing all terrorists have in common, after all, is a general intent: to destabilize public confidence in the government and thus topple it. In the case of far-right domestic terrorists, they hope to present themselves as an authoritarian alternative to a system unable to keep its citizens secure.

This is the true nature of the terrorist beast, not the purely Islamist creature who lurks in the imaginations of the right-wing blogosphere. As I've said before:
Thanks to a combination of technology and increasingly virulent and violence-prone forms of extremism, it's now possible for just a tiny number of people -- in some cases, one or two -- to wreak major damage, killing hundreds, even thousands of innocent civilians. That was as true of Oklahoma City as it was of 9/11.

It's too bad it took an attack committed by a previously small faction of Islamic extremists -- who, as it happened, were both foreigners and brown-skinned, unlike the Oklahoma bombers -- for us to declare a "war on terror." The question I've always had is this: Why didn't we declare it after April 19, 1995, instead of September 11, 2001? Because it was the former date that actually hailed the arrival of this threat on our doorsteps.

Unfortunately, it is that same lack of perspective that allows us to pursue wars of power, invading other nations under false pretext, all in the name of the "war on terror." It's this same failure to understand the nature of the beast that leads us to blithely create a cauldron for breeding a fresh generation of terrorists in Iraq.

When Democrats get ready to step up and present their own battle plan on the "war on terror," let's hope they bring that understanding to the table.

In the meantime, we all can probably look forward to a fresh round of white-powder-in-the-mail stories, all inspired by exploits of Chad Castagana. That's the way it always seems to work.

Cognitive dissonance

Sigh. Heavy, Al Gore-kinda sigh.

It seems Rick Moran has some cognitive problems, beyond even his continuing difficulty in spelling the name of someone he devotes an entire post to attacking. To wit:

-- He doesn't seem to get that we're tweaking Malkin for her constant, and sometimes instantaneous, leaping aboard the vaguest news account as evidence of a domestic jihadist terror conspiracy, not one of which has panned out. There's also a point lurking here regarding her entire "Unhinged" thesis. Well, subtlety has never been a Moran strong suit, but then, there was nothing particularly subtle about this point. (And of course, we're still waiting ....)

-- He can't seem to distinguish between the hateful harpies who are leading lights of the right and the ordinary conservatives who may or may not listen to them. Which is, of course, the entire distinction I made in urging restraint. But refusing to apply a broad brush doesn't render everyone blameless.

-- He doesn't get that calling these haters to account for the acts that spring from their rhetoric -- if by nothing else than openly expressing our moral outrage, and publicly shaming the entities who give them a megaphone -- is hardly an attack on their audience. Unless, of course, the audience agrees with them.

-- Moran also wants to believe that there's no connection -- none whatsoever -- between prominent conservatives who spew hateful rhetoric urging or suggesting violent actions against, and ultimately the elimination of, their political opponents, and kooks who then go out and act out this eliminationism by mailing death threats against the very targets these people constantly demonize.

Sort of the right-wing version Happy Fuzzy Wuzzy Bunny World.

And yes, I am one of those people who think that talk radio had a role in bringing about the Oklahoma City bombing and that Rush Limbaugh et. al. doth protested too much. It's true that they had no direct connection to the attack, but you had to be blind not to see that there was a straight-line path connecting the venom that people like Limbaugh spewed, on a constant basis, against government officials and federal law enforcement, and the burned-out shell of the Murrah Building.

In case I wasn't clear enough before: There are always degrees of culpability when it comes to the consequences of hateful speech. Some of them are simply moral and not legal. But it seems that on the right, one is supposed to be excused from moral culpability. Not sure why.

Gavin has more.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Terrorists heart Dems

Hindrocket wonders, "Are Terrorists the Democrats' Biggest Fans?:
But isn't a reasonable starting point for that engagement the fact that the terrorists are delighted that the Dems have won, and are convinced that the Dems' policies, as the terrorists understand them, will benefit the jihadis? Don't the Democrats have some obligation to face up to the fact that the prospect of our disengagement from Iraq--and if that isn't their "new direction," then what in God's name is?--is viewed with glee by the enemy?

Gee, I dunno. Do you suppose the Iranian hostage takers were Ronald Reagan's biggest fans back in 1980?

The same radical Islamists Bob Gates reportedly held secret negotiations with during the 1980 campaign?

Just wondering.

But then, I don't have to wonder why guys like Hindrocket believe a single word of the propaganda that comes out of the Islamist radicals' mouths. They are, after all, what you would call selectively gullible.

Sara's Sunday Rant: When We Come Home

Sara Robinson

Mr. R and I spent much of this weekend on the road between Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR. We made the six-hour drive each way to fetch our new, long-awaited red Prius. (Fun fact: Although I didn't know it when I ordered the car back in August, this makes me the second person writing for this blog to drive a red Prius. Which, I guess, means we can declare the red Prius as the Official Pace Car of Orcinus. Memo to Dave: is it time to contact Toyota about getting a sponsorship deal?)

The red car made an eye-catching contrast against western Washington's last burst of yellow and orange fall color -- and the beautiful deep indigo of its politics. It was great being back on American roads in the wake of last week's election. Everywhere we stopped up and down I-5, we notice the palpable signs of relief, a subtle lessening of stress, a certain tentative optimism emerging. Like maybe we've got half a chance of pulling America out of this tailspin after all.

The spirit was so infectious that, by the time we hit Seattle on the northward run, we were having a lively old-marrieds discussion about what it would take for us to consider a return to the U.S. At present, we're committed to stay in Canada until 2008 -- the year that our eldest graduates from her IB high school program, Mr. R and I both finish our masters' degrees, and we all attain Canadian citizenship. (And there's another important election in there, too.) But after those milestones are passed, the option of returning will open up for us again. We've always looked at fall 2008 as a major reconsideration point -- and, suddenly, for the first time, it's looking like we might have an honest-to-God choice to make when the time comes.

I suspect our personal list of terms and conditions reflects the hopes that many progressive Americans have for this Democratic Congress, so I thought I'd share the things we'd like to see happen in the next two years. Bear in mind that this is a very personal list. I'll look forward to reading your additions and amendments in the comments.

1. Iraq -- By late 2008, America needs to be out of Iraq -- or well on its way down the road to disengagement. As the parents of teens, we'd also look closely at the odds that our children would be subject to a draft in the years ahead -- though, once they have Canadian citizenship, they'll always have the option of coming north again in the future.

2. Voting -- A strong federal law enforcing one clear standard for voting systems across the country. Either voting machines will be abolished in favor of hand counts (which still work fabulously in Canada); or machines will run on standardized code that any citizen can review (as in Australia), and provide a verifiable paper trail of all votes. Extra points if this federal law also sets out explicit, non-discriminatory, easy-compliance guidelines for voter ID, rather than leaving it to the states to come up with their own bizarre voter-triage schemes.

3. Torture -- We will need to see strong signs that the country has examined and accepted its role in committing torture crimes, and is actively repudiating US involvement in torture anywhere on the planet.

4. The Wages of Crime -- Iran-Contra happened, in large measure, because Richard Nixon was allowed to fly away to San Clemente instead of being frog-marched away to a federal prison. From that, the GOP learned that that the vast rewards of running criminal governments far outweigh the practical risks, especially as long as Presidential pardons are in the offing. The whole Bush administration, in turn, is happening because Iran-Contra only reinforced that lesson. Crime pays, often in billions. In the end, a few poor schmucks will have a few bad years of media humiliation and white-collar prison time before retiring to cushy think-tank jobs to write their memoirs. In the long run, though, nobody will really be any the worse for wear.

We can't come home to a country where criminal mobs are allowed to govern with impunity. Which is why our homecoming will depend a great deal on the trajectory of various House investigations over the next two years. We need to see Bush and Cheney personally called to account, either by the US or by an international court. We need to see war profiteering exposed, and real restitution being made. We need to see people trading in their Brioni suits for orange jumpsuits, and years of real prison time, and public humiliation so total that no PR flack will ever be able to rehabilitate their good names.

5. Global Warming -- We need to see substantive signs that the US is dealing honestly and effectively with its greenhouse gasses. Under Harper, Canada's proud participation in Kyoto has been reduced to a painful national joke. If the US isn't making bold strides to reduce its emissions load by 2008, it may be too late for everyone - no matter where they live -- to escape the coming changes. In which case, we might as well just stay put.

6. The USA PATRIOT Act -- will need to be substantially amended, if not scrapped, so that it conforms to Bill of Rights. We'll also want to see legislation passed returning supervision of all wiretapping to the FISA court. And Congress and the Supreme Court should make it clear that executive privilege does not give the President power to abrogate the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights.

7. Homeland Security -- will need to be overhauled. The prospect of passing through a US airport is literally enough to make my husband break out in hives. (And the thought that we could avoid much of this by driving a high-mileage car factored largely into the purchase of the Prius.) It's about teaching Americans to tolerate increasing levels of government intrustion and coercion -- lessons we must resist learning with all our might if we're going to continue as a democracy.

Anybody who reads Bruce Schneier knows that the TSA's border and airport procedures are almost entirely theatrical productions; and that anyone who's seriously determined to get dangerous items through this flimsy line of defense can do it without too much resistance. In the meantime, the vast holes in our port security remain. The Democratic Congress needs to focus on giving us real-world, expert-level security, and not merely humiliating political rituals designed to give the gullible an illusion of safety.

8. Health Care -- We'll come home when we can take the Canadian universal health care cards out of our wallets, and replace them with US ones. As I've said here before: making sure everyone has access to care is a national security issue that the US continues to ignore at its own peril.

9. Education -- Canada has the fourth best public school system in the world, right up there with South Korea, Norway, and Denmark. The US, on the other hand, is languishing down around 20th place. It's not a good omen for the future of a country that wants to guarantee its technological lead into the next generation.

By the time our 2008 decision point comes around, our kids will almost be beyond the point where we'll need to worry about this personally. But if we are to cast our lot with America again, we'll need to see signs that she's willing to invest once more in her own future -- good schools, good infrastructure, good science, and all the other common goods that make a country truly rich.

That covers most of the bases for us. You've got two years, Congress. We left because we felt we no longer recognized the angry, reactive, backward-thinking nation America had become -- and no longer trusted our fellow citizens with our children's future. Give us a proactive, optimistic America that's reaffirming its best ideals and looking ahead toward its own prosperous future again -- and we'll come back and invest everything we can to help you make that happen.

The other kind of terror

We've been steadily adding to our gallery of domestic terrorists in recent weeks, and now we can add the perpetrator of the anthrax hoax letters that were sent to Keith Olbermann and other leading media and "liberal" figures -- which, as I pointed out at the time, is definitively an act of domestic terrorism.

His name is Chad Conrad Castagana:
LOS ANGELES -- A man was arrested and accused of mailing threatening letters laced with white powder to Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, David Letterman and other high-profile figures, the FBI announced Sunday.

FBI agents took Chad Conrad Castagana, 39, into custody Saturday on charges of conveying false information and sending threats via the U.S. mail, the bureau said in a statement.

... Authorities claim he mailed threatening letters to Pelosi, Letterman, New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann.

Some letters included phrases like "Death to Demagogues" and pictures of victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami, authorities said.

Gavin at Sadly, No! has the full rundown on this character. Seems he was a regular Freeper who posted the following bio:
I am a lifelong Conservative Republican .

I have an Associates Degree in the Science of Electronics .

Ann Coulter is a Goddess and I worship Laura Ingraham and Michele Malkin .

English is the langauge of the United States of America- - our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are written in the langauge that expresses our civilized freedoms .

Spanish is the language of Banana Republics, beyond that it belongs in a European country.

Bruce Wilson at Talk To Action points out that Castanaga was also a devout Christian Nationalist who posted the following at Freep:
Liberals and Lefties everywhere in America's institutions are trying to slowly but increasingly ban Christianity from America, from our site, from our discourse !
They have already succeded in banning any sign of Christianity from ourPublic Schools ! !

If THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST were released today for the first time, it would be slapped with an NC-17 rating !

It might also be worth finding out whether this character had any contact with Paula Froelich of the New York Post.

And as Gavin notes, Malkin -- who is quick to proclaim random acts of violence on a jihadist terror conspiracy within our borders, but never seems to worry about actual acts of domestic terrorism -- has so far ignored Mr. Castagana at her site.

As Bruce Wilson and Evan Derkacz point out, it is unfair to smear all conservatives generally with the acts of loons like Castagana. But there is, as I've remarked previously, a level of culpability here as well in cases like these:
What all of these incidents have in common is the mental instability of the actors; and I've explored previously how that affects the way society and the law must deal with the perpetrators. In the case of Buford Furrow, for instance, his mental illness became a mitigating factor in his eventual sentence, as prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty in large part because of it.

Marking off rampages like Furrow's, Huff's, and Haq's as "isolated events" caused by mental illness is a cop-out, however. Because, as the case of David Lewis Rice made all too clear, these mentally unstable types are almost always stirred up and driven to their insane acts by haters of various stripes, the kind whose voices seem each day to be growing louder in our public discourse. These cultural vampires have developed a real knack for inspiring mentally unstable people into horrific acts of violence.

Haters like the people Castagana claims as his heroes -- Coulter, Malkin, Ingraham, just for starters -- are constantly engaging in the worst kind of eliminationist rhetoric directed primarily at liberals. It is simply an inevitability that, when this kind of hate is broadcast to millions of people daily, some of them are eventually going to start acting it out in fashions precisely like this. And worse.

All these figures, of course, have the right to speak as they wish. But the media-industry figures -- the producers and executives who put them on the air, thereby giving them a bullhorn to broadcast it nationally and spew it across our television sets and radios -- are simply being irresponsible.

It's past time, really, to start holding them responsible.

Swimming farther out to sea

In the wake of the Great Repudiation last week, I predicted that the mavens of the conservative movement, rather than awakening to the depths of their repudiation, would remain firmly in denial and insist on moving the Republican Party further to the right.

Well, Rush Limbaugh's "conservatism won" claim has now become the standard talking point among right-wing pundits. See, for instance, CNN's Glenn Beck:
ANNOUNCER: Tonight's episode is brought to you by the Republican Party, abandoning its principles since 2004. And also brought to you by the Democratic Party. Thanks for choosing us, suckers! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!


BECK: Well, it's official now: 28 governorships, the House of Representatives and now the United States Senate are in the hands of these guys. Wow.

To the Republican Party, I can only tell you this: that is exactly what you get when you abandon your principles.

So here's the point tonight. I don`t know about you, but I actually care about the things that I've been fighting for, for the last few years: smaller government, lower taxes, a strong defense, cracking down on illegal immigration. But apparently, the leaders in Washington, not so much.

They're fickle about their own conservative values, and now everything that we have worked to fight for over the last few years, especially if these new conservative Democrats are only being used by the extreme left, everything we've worked for is about to be completely erased.

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings for Beck, but if you look carefully enough at the results from Tuesday night, it's clear that people didn't vote against Republicans because they weren't conservative enough.

They voted against them because they are too beholden to ideological movement conservatives who have been cheerleading them right over this cliff all along -- and turning off every voter in sight.

Reality check for Beck: If you go down your checklist, Republicans haven't been selling out your principles at all. Let's read it again:
smaller government, lower taxes, a strong defense, cracking down on illegal immigration

Now, it's true the GOP has actually been expanding the size and cost of government in recent years, but that in fact is only the natural outcome of pursuing "strong defense," aka the "war on terror," which has ballooned the budget even as Bush was cutting back on education, environmental protections, etc. etc., while simultaneously pursuing a steadfast course of tax cuts -- nearly the sole beneficiary of whom have been the wealthiest class of Americans.

As for "cracking down on illegal aliens," it's true that the Bush administration hasn't been as assiduous on that count as the fine folks at CNN who repackage white-supremacist bullshit and broadcast it to the nation. But there have been plenty of Republicans in Congress who have.

One of the foremost of these, you'll recall, is a fellow who's been on CNN a lot to talk about illegal immigration: Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona. Talk about adhering to conservative principles: he even tried to revive Henry Ford's program of "Americanism," which you may recall was actually a code word for anti-Semitic eliminationism; it was also a favorite program promoted avidly by the Ku Klux Klan.

This got Hayworth, who tried to deny that this was Ford's intent, into hot water with local Jews. He went on to display remarkable sensitivity on this subject late in the campaign by avoiding any and all contact with Jewish audiences, resulting in this noteworthy pronunciation (via Wonkette):
Unable to defend his repeated praise of Henry Ford's anti-Semitic "Americanization" program, U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth bailed on a scheduled campaign appearance Tuesday evening only to send in his place surrogates who repeatedly lectured the audience at Temple Beth Israel in Scottsdale and proclaimed that Hayworth "is a more observant Jew" than those present.

The comment by Jonathan Tratt, a spokesman for the Hayworth campaign, drew loud and angry boos and caused nearly three-quarters of the crowd of more than 200 to walk out in disgust. After the walkout, another Hayworth surrogate, Irit Tratt, stood on the Temple's bimah as she told members of the audience who gathered to ask questions, "No wonder there are anti-Semites."

So how did ol' J.D., who had served six terms already and was widely considered a "safe" Republican, do in this election?

At last count, he was on the losing end of a 6,000-vote margin. And the general assessment was that Republicans' hateful image on immigration was a significant benefit to Democrats.

It's clear to any cognizant non-Kool-aid drinker that the public had had enough of the bile and antics -- and really, the core extremism -- of people like Hayworth. And Beck. And Limbaugh. Malkin. Coulter. Hannity. The list just became too long.

Guys like this, of course, want to force Republicans to swim farther out to sea after this tidal wave because that's the only direction they know. I mean, if Republicans were to wake up and realize what's happened to them -- that their formerly good name has been sullied by years of being led by fanatical demagogues -- folks like Beck, Limbaugh, Malkin, Coulter, and Hannity would shortly be out of demand and out of work.

Ah well. Freedom is a lovely thing. And you folks on the right? Please, feel free to swim as far out to that horizon as you like. Your leaders beckon.