Friday, May 04, 2007

Obama and the Race Zombies

-- by Dave

It really shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose, that Barack Obama's run for the presidency is bringing out innate racism of so many right-wingers these days. After all, so many of them have had to suppress their Inner Theodore Bilbo for so many years now, it's bound to come squirming out when given the opportunity -- and nothing draws them out like liberal blacks running for political office. Making it the presidency drives them into another sphere altogether.

So far, we have been regaled with the oft-repeated "Hussein" note, the Fox smear of Obama's Muslim background, followed by Limbaugh's astonishing riff on "Barack the Magic Negro". That these reflect a barely concealed racial animus mixed with general white xenophobia should be obvious, and notably, these are all occurring on a national scale, within ostensibly mainstream media sources.

For right-wing audiences, cues like this signal just how far they can take things themselves. So on the public level, the result of this kind of talk is a regular outpouring of old-fashioned racist bile, permission having been granted by leading right-wing voices.

That may be why CBS has had to disallow comments on any of its Web stories about Obama:
Today informed its staff via email that they should no longer enable comments on stories about presidential candidate Barack Obama. The reason for the new policy, according to the email, is that stories about Obama have been attracting too many racist comments.

"It's very simple," Mike Sims, director of News and Operations for, told me. "We have our Rules of Engagement. They prohibit personal attacks, especially racist attacks. Stories about Obama have been problematic, and we won't tolerate it." does sometimes delete comments on an individual basis, but Sims said that was not sufficient in the case of Obama stories due to "the volume and the persistence" of the objectionable comments.

You also have to wonder if a similar problem was afoot with the recent announcement that the Secret Service was now protecting Obama.

This trend is what I've been calling the "new racism", which is all about
staking out positions that, if not overtly racist, at least seek to resurrect some of the hoary mythology of the era of white supremacy. As with most of right-wing race rhetoric of the past twenty years, it's all done with a certain level of plausible deniability, couched in "jokes" or abstrations that let the speakers feign indignation when the racism is pointed out; the current trend is only slightly more overt in its racism, but the underlying sentiments aren't hard to read.

It's a step beyond wink-and-nudge racism -- or, perhaps, more like that point in the winking and nudging when the winker begins nudging harder and harder.

We get it, we get it.

A lot of it is building off memes that have been floating about the right for some time now: racism is a dead letter and doesn't really exist anymore, multiculturalism is a travesty, and efforts to defeat racism are racist themselves.

This resurgent racism likes to cloak itself in the pretense of rebellious individualism standing up to the oppression of overbearing "political correctness," or else in academic-sounding terms that fling about misinformation regarding the sciences and sociology to construct a pseudo-rationale for what they euphemistically like to call "race realism."

But pull the cloak aside, and the same old, decrepit racism of a century ago is there, festering like a decaying zombie who refuses to die.

And as the summer goes on, and the presidential campaign picks up steam, and Obama solidifies his already formidable position as a front runner ... well, expect to see a lot more of those zombies crawling the streets of our public discourse.


-- by Dave

If George W. Bush vetoes the just-passed hate-crimes law approved by the House, as expected, it will be only the third such veto he's issued since becoming president. The first two were the stem-cell research bill and the Iraq appropriations bill. It gives us, if nothing else, a clear window into his priorities: feeding the base comes first.

In any event, I've been trying to figure out exactly what the White House's rationale for opposing the legislation really is. According to the Los Angeles Times report on the vote, the rationale for the veto is described thus:
In its veto threat, the White House said that state and local laws already addressed hate crime and that the bill would treat crime victims differently from others.

"The administration believes that all violent crimes are unacceptable, regardless of the victims, and should be punished firmly," the administration said. The White House contended the bill also raised constitutional concerns.

All of these claims are demonstrably false.

-- There are, as I noted previously, seven states without any hate-crimes laws at all, and others are dubiously written and even more dubiously enforced. Only a little over half the states include provisions for sentence enhancement for bias-motivated crimes involving sexual preference, and fewer still include provisions for gender or disability. The reality is that hate-crimes laws on the state level are a hodge-podge that are erratically enforced at best and widely varying from one state to the next.

-- There is nothing in this legislation, or in any extant hate-crimes law, that would treat one class of victims differently from another; everyone, after all, has a race, a gender, an ethnicity, beliefs regarding religion, a sexual preference, and they are all protected equally under these laws. What determines whether a crime is motivated by bias is the presence of a group animus and the selection of a victim based on that animus. What does occur under the law is that some perpetrators are treated differently -- but then, that is a normative aspect of criminal law. The criminals who cause greater harm are punished accordingly, and it is fairly easy to demonstrate that hate crimes indeed inflict such greater harm.

-- Many hate crimes (nearly a third of those reported to the FBI) are in fact not violent but are property crimes or threats and intimidation; the White House's attempt to frame the issue as one involving simply violent crime again runs aground on the reefs of reality.

-- Finally, there are no known constitutional concerns with this legislation. It fits well within the framework provided by the Supreme Court over the years regarding bias crimes, from Wisconsin v. Mitchell to Virginia v. Black, which have consistently found that the sentence-enhancement framework of bias-crime laws fits well within established criminal law in this country. No one in the House debate, that I'm aware of, raised constitutional issues. So what are these unnamed "constitutional concerns"?

Well, c'mon: We know what the real concern is. The Washington Times headline spelled it out for us: "House approves gay hate-crime law". The faggots are coming! The faggots are coming!

Now, Andrew Sullivan, as I mentioned in the previous post, is saying that the White House's rationale is different than the one we've been given publicly so far, namely: "But the one truly incoherent position is that hate crimes laws are fine for all targeted groups except gays." While I think you can find this position on the right (particularly among certain fundamentalists), I haven't found any evidence yet that Team Bush is actually arguing it -- though it must be said that what has emanated from the White House so far is every bit as incoherent.

But then, Sullivan's own argument regarding bias crimes is not exactly a model of thorough reasoning either:
There are, I think, two coherent positions on hate crime laws. The first is opposition to the entire concept, its chilling effect on free speech, its undermining of the notion of equality under the law, and so on. That's my position. I oppose all hate crimes laws, regardless of the categories of individuals they purport to protect.

But hate crimes have no known "chilling" effect on free speech any more than our current and longstanding laws against threatening and intimidating speech do generally; nor do they undermine the notion of equality under the law any more than the normative application of varying punishments according to the egregiousness of the crime, a standard aspect of all criminal law, does generally.

Sullivan's reasons for opposing hate-crime laws are based on assumptions that are almost as airless as Bush's. Meanwhile, he describes the other side of the equation thus:
The other coherent position is the view that hate crimes somehow impact the community more than just regular crimes and that the victims of such crimes therefore deserve some sort of extra protection under the law. The criteria for inclusion in such laws is any common prejudice against a recognizable and despised minority.

Sullivan simply has this part wrong. The laws are not constructed to give the victims "extra protection under the law" -- though that may well be one of its effects -- but rather are written to give the perpetrators extra punishment under the law. Hate crimes do not just "somehow" impact the community more than just regular crimes -- they quite reasonably have been demonstrated to in fact harm the community to a greater extent than the ordinary crimes they resemble (see here for more on that).

These laws don't exist simply because of agitation by victim-oriented civil rights groups; they exist because the crimes and their poisonous effects on communities are real, because communities and their law-enforcement apparatuses must deal with them, and because the laws were intended to help them do so.

So the criteria for creating categories of bias crimes isn't simply "any common prejudice against a recognizable and despised minority," but rather is the hard fact that this prejudice is motivating various criminal acts intended to terrorize those minority communities. That is, the mere existence of the prejudice is insufficient; the reason to pass a law such as this is that the prejudice is manifesting itself in the form of various criminal acts.

The theory behind all bias-crimes law is grounded in the hard reality of their existence; they represent a normative social response to a serious problem that, left unconfronted, can inflict real long-term harm, in this case in the form of the massive dead-weight loss of freedom that bias crimes inflict on millions of Americans. Frederick Lawrence, the eminent hate-crimes expert and author of Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes in American Law, testified before the House back in 1999 describing the core of this theory:
A bias crime is a crime committed as an act of prejudice. Prejudice, in this context, is not strictly a personal predilection of the perpetrator. A prejudiced person usually exhibits antipathy towards members of a group based on false stereotypical views of that group. But in order for this to be the kind of prejudice of which we speak here, this antipathy must exist in a social context, that is, it must be an animus that is shared by others in the culture and that is a recognizable social pathology within the culture.

Hate crimes are just such a social pathology, one that only a society intent on defending its ancient prejudices can ignore, and it would do as at considerable expense to its social fabric and general well-being. As Lawrence has explained elsewhere, it is normal for the law to attempt to address these pathologies, and as such the logic of bias-crime laws can be applied even to very localized pathologies, e.g., the kinds of simmering group feuds that occur within any community. If the local community chooses to pass its own bias-crime law creating a category designed to address that pathology, it should be well within its rights to do so.

On a national scale, there is a moral and ethical imperative to do so. And there is no question that the House's bias-crime law in fact addresses pathologies that have been well identified. Crimes motivated by racial, religious, ethnic, and sexual hatred have been well documented as a serious and systemic problem, and the laws punishing them harshly are also well within the normal purview of criminal law (especially since crimes are never a form of protected free speech).

This is why one of the White House's other dodges on its opposition to the bill is also quite groundless -- namely, their claim that "the bill leaves other classes, such as the elderly, the military and police officers, without similar special status." But crimes motivated by bias against the elderly, the military, or police have not been reported to occur on any kind of large scale; there is no data indicating such a trend, and there is no identifiable social pathology resulting, either. Why pass a law to combat a problem that doesn't exist?

On the other hand, it is unquestionable that the need for a federal hate-crimes bill, particularly one like this designed to emphasize federal support for local and state law enforcement, has been building for a long time. The most obvious problem, as I've detailed here and in my book Death on the Fourth of July, is the horrendous record of underenforcement of the hate crimes laws we do have on the books.

A Bureau of Justice Statistics report back in 2005 laid this out in stark terms:
The real number of hate crimes in the United States is more than 15 times higher than FBI statistics reflect, according to a stunning new government report.

Hate crime statistics published by the FBI since 1992, based on voluntary reports from law enforcement agencies around the country, have shown annual totals of about 6,000 to 10,000, depending on the year. But the new report, "Hate Crimes Reported by Victims and Police," found an average annual total of 191,000 hate crimes. That means the real level of hate crime runs between 19 and 31 times higher than the numbers that have been officially reported for almost 15 years.

"It's an astounding report," said Jack Levin, a leading hate crime expert at Northeastern University. "It's not necessarily completely accurate, but I would trust these data before I trusted the voluntary law enforcement reports to the FBI."

... The report, which inferred hate motivation from the words and symbols used by the offender, found that just 44 percent of hate crimes are reported to police. Other hate crimes don't make it into FBI statistics for an array of reasons: police may fail to record some as hate crimes; their departments may not report hate crime statistics to state officials; and those officials may not accurately report to the FBI.

According to the new report, hate crimes involve violence far more often than other crimes. The data showed 84 percent of hate crimes were violent, meaning they involved a sexual attack, robbery, assault or murder. By contrast, just 23 percent of non-hate crimes involved violence. Other studies have suggested that hate-motivated violence, especially against homosexuals, is more extreme than other violence.

The report also showed that 56 percent of hate crime victims identified race as the primary factor in the crimes they reported. Ethnicity accounted for another 29 percent of the total. Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation were 18 percent of the total. Given that the best studies indicate about 3 percent of the American population is homosexual, this means that gays and lesbians are victimized at six times the overall rate.

The dirty secret about hate crimes is that they're part of the way we've always done things in this country. When whites wanted to engage in a campaign of racial eliminationism, it always began with crimes: a beating here, a lynching there, a church arson over there. Pretty soon the target community got the message and moved out; and if they didn't, well, then they would be driven out, and the "sundown" signs went up on the town borders.

Naturally, though, we don't talk about these things when it comes to discussing hate crimes in America today. We don't want to talk about the reality of the violence and terror that these crimes inflict on their targets and pretend that the need for the laws is built out of the same ephemera as the arguments against them. No. It's much easier to throw up paper-thin rationales and then pretend that they make sense, even as they peel and crumble.

UPDATE: TRex at Firedoglake has more.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Hate crimes: Progress, perhaps

-- by Dave

The course of the campaign to effect a federal hate-crimes law has, to date, followed the nearly identical path of the anti-lynching laws that Congress failed to pass in the early 20th century (a failure for which the Senate a couple of years ago apologized): At every crucial moment, right-wing conservatives have risen up to block its passage, despite the legislation's overwhelming favor with both the public and the rest of Congress.

Recall how, the last three times out, Republican leaders in the House used parliamentary maneuvers to kill a Senate-approved version. In that last case (in 2004), it was clear that their intent was to keep any hate-crime bill from crossing President Bush's desk, because he was certain to veto it -- a politically risky move in an election year.

Well, the House today passed the Hate Crimes Prevenation Act, whose details are nearly identical to the legislation killed the last two times in the House. It is almost certain to pass the Senate -- which means that Bush is going veto it, which he has vowed to do:
Just hours after the White House issued a veto threat Thursday, the House voted to add gender and sexual orientation to the categories covered by federal hate crimes law.

The House legislation, passed 237-180, also makes it easier for federal law enforcement to take part in or assist local prosecutions involving bias-motivated attacks. Similar legislation is also moving through the Senate, setting the stage for another veto showdown with President Bush.

... The White House, in a statement warning of a veto, said state and local criminal laws already cover the new crimes defined under the bill, and there was "no persuasive demonstration of any need to federalize such a potentially large range of violent crime enforcement."

This is, in fact, a distortion of the reality to the point of falsehood. Some seven states have no hate-crimes law at all, and others (such as Alabama and Hawaii) make a point of refusing to enforce the laws they do have. Others do not include gender, disability, or most particularly sexual orientation -- and it is the inclusion of this last category that of course is the source for the White House's opposition. That's because the religious right has staked out this position, and Bush is heeding their call:
... But Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, warned that the true intent of the bill was "to muzzle people of faith who dare to express their moral and biblical concerns about homosexuality." If you read the Bible in a certain way, he told his broadcast listeners, "you may be guilty of committing a 'thought crime.'"

"It does not impinge on public speech or writing in any way," countered Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., pointing out that the bill explicitly reaffirms First Amendment and free speech rights.

Indeed, as I recently observed, the "rights" that these religious leaders claim to be defending are simply the right to commit an act that is already a crime, as are all hate crimes -- and there is no such right. Nor is a crime a form of permissible free speech.

In any event, Bush is also following his own stated ideology; back in 1999, he remarked: "I've always said all crime is hate crime. People, when they commit a crime, have hate in their heart. And it's hard to distinguish between one degree of hate and another."

This is, of course, blithering nonsense:
This meme -- favored by everyone on the right from Bush to Dick Armey to Jerry Falwell -- is partially a product of the confusion that arises from calling these crimes "hate crimes" (they are in reality "bias-motivated" crimes; "hate" quite literally has nothing to do with them, in the eyes of the law). But even without that misunderstanding, this notion is transparently baseless.

Only a little reflection, after all, can produce a long list of crimes that lack anything resembling a hateful element -- embezzlement or securities fraud, say, or drunken driving, or insider trading. I'm willing to wager that abandoning your Texas Air National Guard unit is a crime, and the only hateful elements I can see in that are an abiding contempt for your fellow servicemen and their willingness to live up to their commitments.

More to the point, the recognition that not all crimes are alike is a basic tenet of law. Bias-crimes statutes recognize, like a myriad criminal laws, that motive and intent can and should affect the kind of sentence needed to protect society adequately -- that is, after all, the difference between first-degree murder and manslaughter. Intent and motive can be the difference between a five-year sentence and the electric chair.

Attempting a sort of zero-sum analysis that makes the outcome (in the case of homicide, a dead person) the only significant issue in what kind of sentence a perpetrator should face (the death sentence vs. a prison term) would overthrow longstanding legal traditions of proportionality in setting punishment, effectively eliminating the role of culpability -- or mens rea, the mental state of the actor -- as a major factor. Or, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously put it: "Even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked."

Does anyone remember, by the way, how Republicans tried to make a martyr out of Bush for the NAACP's ad campaign in 2000. The NAACP highlighted Bush's callousness in dealing with the family of James Byrd even as he vetoed a hate-crime bill in Texas:
Reality notwithstanding, Republicans in short order turned the NAACP's attack ads into a liability for Democrats, accusing the civil-rights group of "reprehensible" behavior for linking Bush to the Byrd killing. By the time the election rolled around in early November, it had become conventional wisdom in the press that the ads "implied that George W. Bush killed James Byrd." Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter featured the meme in her later book, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, suggesting that Bush's support for the penalty should have mollified his critics, but instead, "they would not rest until the killers were found guilty of 'hate' and forced to attend anger-management classes."

The harsh truth is this: Bush and his cohort on the religious and mainstream right, for all their oft-espoused love of "freedom" and "liberty," simply don't care about the very real freedoms of millions of Americans -- not just gays and lesbians, but people of color, of foreign extraction, of varying faiths, of the "weaker sex," and people with disabilities. Because these are the people whose freedoms are systematically and violently harmed by haters and the violent thugs who feed off their bile.

Hate crimes, as I have often remarked, are one of the important ways our freedoms can be taken away by our fellow citizens rather than the government. Laws against them are designed to defend those freedoms while keeping our other cherished freedoms -- notably freedom of speech -- fully intact.

We should have learned this lesson over the failure of the anti-lynching laws -- which were defeated under the cover of nearly identical arguments, all similarly specious. As with the current crop, these arguments really are just cardboard facades that cover the real reason for the opposition -- namely, plain old-fashioned bigotry.

The White House's position, moreover, is simply incoherent -- it's no longer opposed to hate-crime laws in general, but just doesn't think they should cover gays and lesbians. As Andrew Sullivan (with whom I generally disagree on this subject) observes, that's simply noxious: "[T]he one truly incoherent position is that hate crimes laws are fine for all targeted groups except gays."

This is what's remarkable about the looming defeat of this legislation (it seems unlikely the House Democrats can muster enough votes to override a veto): Bush and his fellow conservatives like to portray themselves as tough on crime, but they get all mushy-headed and soft on crime when it comes to certain kinds.

If this is how Bush panders to his base, then I guess we've got a much clearer picture of just who that base is.


Bradford Plumer at The Plank has more, as does John at Americablog.

For the text of the HCPA, see here. More videos from the House can be found here.

Here's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's statement:
Hate crimes have no place in America and all Americans have a right to feel safe in their community. Though there has been a federal hate crimes law since 1968, hate crimes continue to be widespread and persistent - more than 113,000 hate crimes have been documented by the FBI since 1991. In 2005 alone, there were 7,163 reported hate crimes.

H.R. 1592 is focused on enhancing the resources of state and local law enforcement to prevent and prosecute hate crimes. All too often, state and local law enforcement alone are unable to meet the challenge of hate crime prevention and prosecution. Underfunded and understaffed, state and local law enforcement desperately require federal assistance to address this challenge. That is why this bill authorizes the Department of Justice to provide state and local law enforcement agencies technical, forensic, prosecutorial and other forms of assistance in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. It also authorizes the Department of Justice to provide grants to state and local law enforcement agencies that are investigating hate crimes. The bill closes gaps in federal law to help combat hate crimes committed against persons because of their race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The bill only applies to bias-motivated crimes of violence and does not impinge freedom of speech or religious expression in any way.

Hits all the high notes.

Note: Once again, I've noticed the debate at the above-linked sites regarding hate crimes has invariably wandering into the standard disinformation being peddled. As something of an antidote, I'd like to offer these links for deeper background on hate crimes, the laws against them, and the rationale for those laws.

Letter to the L.A. Times

When hate hits home

Bigotry and freedom

Hate crimes: The big picture

Failing in the present

Should we repeal hate-crimes laws?

The GOP, gays, and hate crimes

Hate crimes, democracy, and freedom

Hate crimes: A response

Who needs hate-crime laws?

The newest J Pod baby

-- by Dave

I was out on San Juan Island on Wednesday, conducting interviews for an upcoming feature story on whale watching for Seattle magazine. I happened to drop by at Lime Kiln State Park, where the watching can be spectacular in the summer but is much more sporadic the rest of the year. It was very quiet, but the rainy skies cleared out and those few of us there were just enjoying the sunshine.

All of a sudden, who should drop by but our old friends the J Pod, led by Ruffles and Granny. And who should be tagging along but the pod's newest member, a calf designated J42.

Its first official sighting: Wednesday at Lime Kiln. It was hanging with a female presumed to be its mother.

So here are a couple more shots of the little one:

There were several juveniles with the pod, including one who breached repeatedly near one of the whale-watching boats:

All in all, a very rewarding day. Welcome, J42: May you ply these waters for many more years.

UPDATE: Kari Koski of Soundwatch informs me that the calf's mother is J16, aka "Slick." This is Slick's fourth calf, which indicates a reasonably good likelihood of survival for J42 (firstborn calves are particularly susceptible to toxin transferrals from the mother's body fat). The Center for Whale Research has more.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The New World Order redux

-- by Dave

We already knew that Glenn Beck was a real piece of work, but his latest outburst wades directly into extremist waters:
"Al Gore's not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization. The goal is global carbon tax. The goal is the United Nations running the world. That is the goal. Back in the 1930s, the goal was get rid of all of the Jews and have one global government." He continued: "You got to have an enemy to fight. And when you have an enemy to fight, then you can unite the entire world behind you, and you seize power. That was Hitler's plan. His enemy: the Jew. Al Gore's enemy, the U.N.'s enemy: global warming." Beck added: "Then you get the scientists -- eugenics. You get the scientists -- global warming. Then you have to discredit the scientists who say, 'That's not right.' And you must silence all dissenting voices. That's what Hitler did."

Hoo boy. Where to start?

It might be helpful first to observe that Beck's analogy -- asserting some kind of equivalence between Nazi eugenics and the campaign to confront global warming -- is not only laughably absurd, it is a mind-numbingly vicious smear that makes Rush Limbaugh's demonization of environmentalists look positively civil by comparison. Which may have been Beck's intent here: the farther he pushes the envelope of the discourse, the farther right the "center" moves.

It must also be pointed out that Beck's comparison grotesquely minimizes the suffering of the Nazi regime's millions of victims, who were the subjects not merely of a eugenics that deemed them fit for elimination but also a nonstop campaign of demonization (rather similar in nature to Beck's own attacks on the left). No environmentalist has attempted to scapegoat any group of people or argue for their extermination. To date, there has been no proposal to criminalize anyone -- rather, the campaign against global warming has been about trying to find ways to simply modify the way we act (particularly the way we consume the planet's resources). Fabricating an analogy between these actions and the street thuggery, concentration camps, and mass murder perpetrated by the Nazis pretends that the discomfort some people may feel at being reminded that they are harming the planet is just the same as the horror that faced the victims of the Holocaust.

Almost secondarily, the comparison of the science of global warming with eugenics reveals just how poorly Beck understands science. Eugenics was always considered a "soft" social science, and the underlying data used to support it was always thin, narrowly obtained, and, at base, spurious. In contrast, the multitude of disciplines with evidence supporting the reality of global warming (from biology to meteorology to hydrology, and everything in between), as well as the massive amounts of hard data supporting the science, make it clear to anyone who understands science just how serious the problem really is.

Finally, there's the underlying story that Beck is weaving here: "The goal is the United Nations running the world." Gee, where have we heard that before? Ah, that's right: the American far right -- specifically, the John Birch Society and the militia/Patriot movement. The whole "New World Order" conspiracy theory was predicated on the risible claim that the United Nations was intended to create a One World Government (or, in the neo-Nazi version, Zionist Occupied Government).

And as anyone with a knowledge of the history of these conspiracy theories knows, they are deeply rooted in the very same "Jewish conspiracy" theory promoted by a number of anti-Semites in the early half of the 20th century -- most notoriously by Hitler, but also by such American figures as Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin. Indeed, the anti-Semitic tendencies of both the Birchers and the militiamen has also been well-documented.

So Beck is attempting a neat trick here -- broadcasting and mainstreaming the far-right belief in a sinister U.N. conspiracy to enslave mankind, while simultaneously casting that supposed conspiracy as identical to the very forces that historically have persecuted the people scapegoated by such theories. It's Newspeak, of course: Beck is at once nullifying our understanding of the Holocaust and its meaning and the nature of the effort to confront global warming, muting the reality of mass murder even as he twists science to mean something it never did.

How, exactly, does CNN justify broadcasting this crap? Or are guys like Beck meant to outflank Fox on the right? If so, they need a reminder of just how far right that means.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Why Global Sovereignty Matters

-- by Sara

Dave's discussion of the Utah Republican Party's resolution "warning that Satan's minions want to eliminate national borders and do away with sovereignty" brings up a perennial right-wing boogeyman that hasn't seen a lot of time out of the barn lately. But, since we're likely to hear more wingnut railing against "one world government," let me explain why that idea deserves a strong liberal counter.

One of the principles of systems theory is that we should avoid the tragedy of the commons. Wherever you have a resource that's unregulated by either a market or a government, people will inevitably wander into it and start taking as much of it as they can physically carry away. Eventually, the resource -- a pastureland, a forest, a watershed, whatever -- will be depleted to the point where the use of it is lost to everyone. The only solution to the commons tragedy, in all times and places and at whatever scale, is to set up some kind of regulatory boundary around the resource that limits and allocates shares, controls access, and manages it with an eye toward future sustainability.

All of us -- even conservatives -- are pretty clear on this concept where small, localized resources are concerned. Though we may have philosophical disagreements over whether the county government or a private company will do a better job of maintaining the common roads and water reservoir, most of us recognize that there needs to be an authority in charge -- one with boundaries of influence large enough to fully control and sustain the domain, and sufficient clout to enforce its will in the face of powerful people who may want game the rules and take more than their fair share.

Looking back over the course of US history, one lasting mark left on our body politic by WWII was that the scale of our commons management domains took a quantum leap. Before the war, "state's rights" had been an article of faith, because most of our common wealth was managed at the state level (as it still is in Canada). The Roaring 20s happened in no small part because the newly-emerging corporate order could profit handsomely by taking undue advantage of a virtually unregulated interstate commons. It had gotten to the point where the largest corporations were rich enough to bully state governments into giving them whatever they wanted, or threaten to go elsewhere -- a clear sign that business was now operating at a scale where state government wasn't big enough, strong enough, or organized to put a meaningful boundary around corporate behavior. Structurally, this was an underlying cause of the "tragedy of the commons" we now recall as the Great Depression.

FDR put an end to that, through policies and programs that transferred important state business-regulation functions into federal hands -- first in the name of ending the Depression, and then in the name of ending the war. This new regulatory infrastructure, designed specifically to create a government power boundary big and strong enough to manage and control the newly-expanded business commons, is the main reason that conservatives despise Roosevelt to this day. (Whenever you hear a conservative hollering about "small government," odds are good that they're really advocating the disregulation of a commons so they can exploit it for personal profit.)

Over the past four decades, we've begun to struggle with another quantum shift in scale. We've come to realize that oceans, arable land, aquifers and watersheds, and the entire atmosphere represent a global commons that every one of us depends on. At the same time, business roams the planet taking what it wants -- just as it roamed America in the 20s -- making unimaginable profits and creating irreversible damage (global warming, anyone?) because there's no one entity big and powerful enough to put a boundary around its activities and regulate its behavior.

National governments, like the state governments before them, are now simply too small and too corruptible to effectively manage the problems that we're facing. Which means that, in the decades ahead, our survival will almost certainly depend on creating global authorities to oversee the commons at a global scale -- in other words, the conservatives' dreaded "one world government."

One of the (often legitimate) complaints against FDR's government was that it was often very hierarchical and hence heavy-handed in implementing its edicts. Back in that generation, people still had very Victorian ideas of how power flowed; and military-style hierarchy was all they really knew. And because the anti-one-world-government grognards still understand power and hierarchy this way, it's fair to guess that much of their fear stems from the thought that they'll be subordinated to leaders who don't meet their specific criteria for legitimacy -- always a hot-button issue for authoritarians. For ideological conservatives, the only way to have a world government is to subjugate nations (and nationalism, which is the right-wing religion) to a world dictator -- an anti-Christ who will present a clear and present danger to their sense of freedom. For economic conservatives, a world government will once again restrict their "right" to make profit whenever and wherever they will.

In moving toward global governance, we need to be aware of these fears -- and resist the vision that they represent. All of us should be concerned about the potential loss of local sovereignty -- democracy depends on us being able to choose who leads us, and where -- but we shouldn't buy into the conservative vision that this will be inevitable.

Liberals, after all, know better. Since the Sixties, we've come to a more organic understanding of how things in the world are naturally organized. We understand that power can be decentralized in webs and networks; and that people can be effective in loosely-organized, self-determining cells; and that these cells, in turn, can be integrated into much larger and more effective systems than anything a hierarchy can handle. Organizationally, what works for bacteria colonies also works for Al-Qaeda -- and will almost certainly work as a system for managing our global commons as well.

Some kind of global network government is coming. It is as inevitable as global warming, the loss of the fisheries, and the destruction of the topsoil -- the problems it will first be organized to put boundaries around and manage for the common good of all humanity. It does not have to involve pushing all authority for everything up to the highest levels -- just the tasks that are required to sustain the things we truly hold in common. The right wing will resist it mightly (those who derive emotional or financial sustenance from the status quo will always resist the future); though there's also no shortage of people who also want to explode the national boundaries around these commons so they can profit off of them in private markets (a bad idea, but a post for another day). But we on the progressive side need to understand exactly what's at stake, and why -- and refuse to join them in their fear.

Oh, and by the way: I'm back.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Those satanic liberals

-- by Dave

One of the exigencies of eliminationist rhetoric is that ineluctably, by its nature, it is woven out of whole cloth -- it is almost purely fantasy, though sometimes it is wrapped around tiny grains of "fact" that, on closer examination, are mostly perceptions rather than truths.

Witness, for instance, the case of the Utah Republican Party poobah who wentr for the Grand Twofer: casting both illegal immigrants and liberals as the veritable Spawn of Satan his own bad self:
Utah County Republicans ended their convention on Saturday by debating Satan's influence on illegal immigrants.

The group was unable to take official action because not enough members stuck around long enough to vote, despite the pleadings of party officials. The convention was held at Canyon View Junior High School.

Don Larsen, chairman of legislative District 65 for the Utah County Republican Party, had submitted a resolution warning that Satan's minions want to eliminate national borders and do away with sovereignty.

In a speech at the convention, Larsen told those gathered that illegal immigrants "hate American people" and "are determined to destroy this country, and there is nothing they won't do."

Illegal aliens are in control of the media, and working in tandem with Democrats, are trying to "destroy Christian America" and replace it with "a godless new world order -- and that is not extremism, that is fact," Larsen said.

At the end of his speech, Larsen began to cry, saying illegal immigrants were trying to bring about the destruction of the U.S. "by self invasion."

Republican officials then allowed speakers to defend and refute the resolution. One speaker, who was identified as "Joe," said illegal immigrants were Marxist and under the influence of the devil. Another, who declined to give her name to the Daily Herald, said illegal immigrants should not be allowed because "they are not going to become Republicans and stop flying the flag upside down. ... If they want to be Americans, they should learn to speak English and fly their flag like we do."

Senator Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, spoke against the resolution, saying Larsen, whom he called a "true patriot and a close friend," was embarrassing the Republican Party.

"I agree with 95 percent of this resolution but it has some language that is divisive and not inspiring other people to its vision," he said. "This only gives fodder to the liberal media to give negative attention to the Republican Party."

... Larsen was allowed to finish the debate with a one-minute speech.

"If the Democrats take over the country, we will be dead, and we will have abortion and partial-birth abortion and the Republican Party will go into extinction," he said. "Nancy Pelosi and the ACLU would oppose this (resolution)."

As we saw in Montana last week, the spread of vile, hateful rhetoric specifically intended to dehumanize liberals, illegal immigrants and Muslims is hardly relegated to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. That's just where it starts.

[Hat tip to Hartmut in comments.]

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The other kind of terror

-- by Dave

An arrest was made yesterday in the apparent attempt by an Austin man to terrorize a local abortion clinic by placing a nearly complete bomb outside its doors earlier this week:
A 27-year-old Austin man was arrested on Friday and charged with placing an unexploded bomb containing some 2,000 nails outside an abortion clinic in the state's capital.

The explosive device also included a propane tank and a mechanism "akin to a rocket," Austin Police Commander David Carter said.

The device was discovered on Wednesday in the parking lot of the Austin Women's Health Center, police said.

The Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force -- made up of federal, state and local law enforcement authorities -- arrested Paul Ross Evans, who authorities said was on parole for an unspecified crime.

As both zuzu at Feministe and Carpetbagger Report observe, this is a fairly clear-cut case of domestic terrorism. (Kevins Woodshed also has more.) Certainly, it's well within the tradition of domestic terrorists like Eric Rudolph and various other abortion-clinic bombers.

But remember: The FBI has de-emphasized right-wing extremist crimes and displaced them with an emphasis on "eco terror" as far as its chief domestic-terror concern. This is in no small part because this administration is being run by people who don't consider bombings and arson against abortion clinics to be terrorism.

Because of the nature of the ordnance in this case, there's also a connection to previous acts of terrorism -- particularly the appearance both of a nail bomb and a propane-tank device. These same devices appeared in the case of the Spokane-based "Phineas Priests" who believed they were avengers of God who engaged in a six-month spree of bank robberies in the Northwest in 1996.

I describe this gang in some detail in Chapter 6 of my book In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest, and was struck by the similarity of the devices in the Austin case to those used by this gang, particularly in their second attack:
The bomb went off again in Spokane, just a little more than a hundred days after the first explosion: on July 12. It was a duplicate of the first crime: set off a pipe bomb, then rob a bank. In fact, it was even the same bank.

The bomb went off at a new target this time, one nearly as logical as the newspaper: the Planned Parenthood clinic out in the Spokane Valley. What didn't make it quite logical is that, unlike other PP facilities, only birth control and advice are dispensed there -- no abortions are performed. And the clinic was closed at the time.

Still, two men wearing black ski masks and camouflage ponchos drove up in a white Chevy van at about 1:30 in the afternoon, broke out a glass door, tossed in a pipe bomb, ran to the van and screeched away. A witness saw a driver with a white beard, as in the first attack. Moments later, the blast rocked the neighborhood. It blew out the clinic’s windows and ripped up its interior. A piece of the pipe from the device flew out of the clinic, over a two-story building and four busy lanes of traffic, and finally landed harmlessly in a restaurant parking lot.

Within minutes the bombers were in familiar territory: back at the U.S. Bank on East Sprague Street, a few miles away from the clinic. This time, three men with masks and ponchos walked in with automatic weapons raised and demanded money. One of them carried what appeared to be a propane tank with some wires rigged to its top, perhaps a large bomb, and set it down on the floor while the other two collected cash.

Bank employees knew the drill. They kept their hands up and handed over the money. Even the customers were familiar with the scene. One of them, Dale McElliott, had been at the bank when it was robbed the first time, and when he pulled into the space at the drive-up window and looked inside and saw arms raised in the air, he knew what was up again. He crept out of his car on his hands and knees and up the line to the other drivers waiting behind him, asking them for a cellular phone to call the police with. One of them did. Another witness, meanwhile, dialed 911 from a nearby pay phone.

It was too late. The bandits shortly emerged from the bank, cool as cucumbers, with the propane tank-bomb and jumped into the car. One witness saw a second car pull up behind the van and follow it away down the arterial, its driver speaking into a cellular phone. The van was found later, abandoned this time in the parking garage of a mall. Again, it was loaded with a device that appeared to be meant to detonate and destroy the van, but which the Spokane bomb squad, thanks to a robot, soon found was not functioning. When police moved inside, they found the other propane device the men had carried into the bank as well.

The target, a women's clinic the bombers apparently believed was committing abortion, was a new twist. There were other differences: Three men instead of two rushed the bank. There was no bomb set off at the bank this time. And, it appeared, there was no note left behind at either location.

Or so it seemed. As they scoured through the rubble of the Planned Parenthood clinic's doorway, where a two-foot crater had been blasted into the concrete and sheetrock was scattered like paper and beebees from the bomb itself rolled around on the floor, investigators found a matchbook with some words scrawled on it in pen, adapted from Psalms 139: "Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men. For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain. Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?"

One of this gang's other bomb devices featured nails rather than beebees as the intended shrapnel material. They were eventually busted outside of Yakima after attempting to rob a Portland bank.

You have to be struck by the recent reappearance of the Phineas myth [Phineas was an Old Testament figure who slew an intertribal couple, an example cited by white supremacists as evidence of God's disapproval of race-mixing] in a speech by Tony Perkins of the Family Resource Council, a thinly disguised Reconstructionist operation opposed to abortion, and wonder about its influence in the recent Austin case. It's not terribly likely that Paul Ross Evans was acting on Perkins' signal, but the resemblance may prove more than coincidental.

But even more disturbing is how the case has been treated in the media -- which is to say, it's essentially been buried. Moreover, as zuzu notes, no one is calling it what it clearly is: domestic terrorism.

That similarly was the case with the recent arrests of six militiamen in Alabama for building an armament of pipe bombs and other devices:
Federal and state agents arrested six men and seized an arsenal of homemade hand grenades and firearms in raids Thursday, including one that forced the shutdown of a school.

The men, members of the self-styled "Alabama Free Militia," had no apparent plans to use the weapons, but the leader was described as a federal fugitive, federal authorities said.

"They just have a beef with the government, and they stockpile munitions," U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said at a news conference in Fort Payne.

Agents recovered 130 hand grenades, a grenade launcher, about 70 hand grenades rigged to be fired from a rifle, a machine gun, a short-barrel shotgun, 2,500 rounds of ammunition, explosives components, stolen fireworks and other items, said Jim Cavanaugh, regional head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Charged in federal court with conspiracy to make a firearm were Raymond Kirk Dillard, 46; believed to be the group's leader; Adam Lynn Cunningham, 41; Bonnell Hughes, 57; Randall Garrett Cole, 22; and James Ray McElroy, 20. Michael Wayne Bobo, 30, was charged with being a drug user in possession of a firearm.

I might have some sympathy for the defense attorneys' contention that these arrests were overblown, given that there is no clear evidence that they actually had formulated any kind of plan to use them.

But the evidence is pretty unassailable that these men, at least some of them, were building bombs. It's difficult to believe that one would build such a device without the intent of eventually putting it to some kind of use. That's why there's a federal law against building them.

It's not as egregious a case as the Austin bomber, but what both of them suggest is a trend toward more domestic terrorism. And despite the misguided rantings of the Debbie Schlussels and Michelle Malkins of the world, the hard reality is that you are far more likely to be blown up by a homegrown terrorist than one from the Middle East.

Of course, acknowledging that this is the case would require a major readjustment of the media's constructed narrative about the "war on terror." So it continues to turn a blind eye, and in the process it profoundly misinforms the public.