Saturday, June 02, 2007

Steve Gilliard, 1966-2007

--by Sara

It's not news to anyone that the Internet is an emotionally complicated place. It binds us tightly to people we may never see in person. It makes us care about things that are farther away than we might ever imagine. It gives us communities in which we can celebrate and grieve things that those we share our meatworld homes with may not understand.

I'm coming up hard against all those walls today. My birthday -- the last one of my forties -- dawned with the news that one of my favorite online friends-I've-never-met, Steve Gilliard, died this morning in a Manhattan hospital.

It was not unexpected. Steve was already on kidney dialysis, and had survived a previous heart surgery. So those of us who were part of his blog's lively online community were deeply concerned when took ill in late February with a heart valve infection. A valve replacement surgery followed; and when he came to, it became clear that he'd had a stroke during the operation. From there, things went downhill, with moments of hope cycling with despair.

In terms of grandeur and prestige within Blogtopia, The News Blog was similar in many respects to Orcinus -- a down-home two-person blog with a strong perspective, loyal following, and Technorati rankings right in the same range. It was my second online home after this place -- a home I shared with a group of regulars who were as eclectic and lively as the subjects Steve covered, and whom I came to regard as some of my best online friends.

Gilley's main contribution to the progressive conversation was his incredible depth as a military historian. That was the blood and bone of his blog -- careful explanations of strategy and tactics, illustrated with annoted satellite pictures of Baghdad neighborhoods showing what our troops were facing, and interlaced with stories from other wars throughout history in which troops had found themselves in similar situations. It was the kind of interpretive, explanatory war reporting Americans used to get before Vietnam: here's where we're going, what we're doing, what we hope to achieve. And, too often, Gilley's analysis -- simply by showing us the players, the field, and the scoreboard -- also showed us with perfect clarity why we were going to lose.

His blogging voice was brash and authoritative -- just what you'd expect from a lifelong New Yorker. We gave him no end of shit for the bold pronouncements and predictions he'd occasionally issue, which would often enough turn out to be dead wrong. But when he wrote about New York politics (he was merciless on Giuliani, and it's one subject on which we will be poorer without him), he had a way of making even an expat on the opposite coast care about the local political oddities of the Big Apple. Reading Gilley on NYC was like reading Molly Ivins on Texas. You could only sit back, mute, at the gobstopping wonder of it all.

Earlier in his career, Gilley worked for several years in Silicon Valley; and he and his blogging partner, the lovely and talented Jen, made scathing critiques of the tech industry's overhyped anything-goes corporate culture. As an African-American man, Gilley knew the same lesson that I'd learned as a woman there: Any time an employer starts making the office "more like home," it's because they never intend to let you go home. The day they put in the gym and hire a chef for the employee cafeteria, your life, as you once knew it, is over.

Beyond that: any time a company starts making noises about how the "old rules don't apply" to them, it means they have no intention of respecting the values those old rules represented. Those of us who depend on scrupulous attention to those traditional employment rules to protect us from abuse, exploitation, and discrimination should not welcome this announcement as happy news. It means they're going to screw you. Gilley knew -- and was gutsy enough to say right out loud -- that rich white West Coast boys with Stanford engineering degrees can be every bit as racist and sexist in their business practices as any southern cracker.

We had several rather heated arguments about this before he convinced me he was right. I don't think I ever conceded the point outright, but he got me to re-think those years of my life, and frame them in a way that helped me get some peace. I'll always owe him for that, and I regret that I didn't thank him for it.

What happened to The News Blog after Gilley took ill was one of the more remarkable experiences I've had in my online life. Within hours, TNB's commenter community seamlessly stepped up and found a way to keep the thing going -- and then kept it up, day in and day out, for nearly four months. Part of it was that we didn't want to lose each other's good company; but most of it was that we knew the blog was Steve's life and livelihood, and we wanted him to have it to come home to when he got well.

Steve, of course, didn't make it easy. He took all the access and account information with him into his initial coma. But a system emerged as Jen found workarounds, and a volunteer webmaster stepped in, and all of us took turns submitting stuff that we thought was in keeping with Steve's vision of the blog. Two of us emerged as the blog's strongest voices, launching what should by rights become stellar blogging careers (Lower Manhattanite and Hubris Sonic, let me know where you land); but we all chipped in with the usual mix of tech and humor and Steve's signature food blogging to keep several posts going up per day.

A lot of blogs have meatspace metaphors for the kind of "place" they are -- whiskey bars and whaling shacks and public streets and cozy salons. TNB had been, perhaps, a sort of busy midtown coffeehouse with a raucous group of regulars. But when Steve went into the hospital, it transformed into a 24-hour vigil of close friends hanging out in the waiting room of a Manhattan hospital, keeping each other fed and entertained while worrying, praying, and waiting together for the news.

And today, we got the news we dreaded most. Gilley is gone. The News Blog has gone dark. Jen told us from the first week that it would be closed down if Gilley died, and I expect she'll stick to that.

And the rest of us are left counting our losses. There are too few African-American voices in the progressive blogosphere anyway, but Steve's was simply irreplaceable. I've lost an online community I valued deeply. We'll mourn together for a while, and then scatter. It's the way of things in the online world: the feelings we have for people are very real; but sometimes, we're forced to reckon with the reality of just how ephemeral the connections that bind us are. The contradiction is not one that is sitting comfortably today.

It is the most beautiful of June evenings here in Vancover. My family's getting ready to take me out. We'll take a walk through the rhododendrons and heron rookery in Stanley Park, then find a seaside restaurant for dinner, and maybe go see a movie or take in the scene down on Robson Street. For a few hours, we'll celebrate what's been achieved in 49 years -- a loving and sturdy marriage, handsome children, a comfortable home, work that suffices, money enough, more good things to come.

And I'll resolve more firmly to drop some weight, watch my blood sugar, get those heart checkups...and keep blogging. If we're going to fill the silence left by the loss of Steve Gillard's great big voice, we're all going to have to keep ourselves strong, stay healthy, and learn to speak up a whole lot louder for what's right.

Updated with corrected information on Gilley's health. He had a lot of health issues; but he wasn't diabetic, as was previously reported.

Update II: Commenter Republic of Palau makes an excellent point that's worth everybody's attention. If you want to do one constructive thing in memory of Gilley -- sign your damned donor card.

Steve's family will no doubt have other suggestions in the days ahead, and we'll respond to those, too. But this one's easy. Just go do it.

Man of the Hour

--by Sara

Ron Paul seems to be the man of the hour -- the real winner of the GOP debates to date, the darling of Americans on both sides of the bar who prefer their political talk straight-up and undiluted.

He's everywhere, it seems. I haven't read a comments thread in the past two days that didn't include at least one or two people making passionate statements of undying affection for the man. More surprising, I was on the table last week at my physical therapist's office (finally getting a two-year-old knee injury put right) here in Vancouver -- and even he couldn't stop asking questions about him. "He's all my progressive friends talk about. What can you tell me?"

When a minor American political figure even gets Canadians talking, he's definitely not minor any more.

What I can tell you -- what all of us need to know before we run out and sign on for a summer of Ron Paul Love Feasts -- is that Paul has some long-standing ties to early-90s Patriot groups -- and some ugly attitudes on race and equality -- that should give us all long and serious pause. Diarist phenry at Daily Kos lays out the particulars here and here.

According to phenry, Paul's newsletter, The Ron Paul Political Report (renamed The Ron Paul Survival Report in 1993, in a bid to pander to the militia audience that was peaking that year) was a Patriot movement must-read, full of helpful advice on tax protest, gold-backed currency, urban race war and other pet legal and social theories of the extremist right. While content is very hard to come by now (Paul has scrubbed much of what was on the Web, and refuses to release the newsletter to the media), phenry dug up a few choice samples, including:

* A 1992 screed on African-American"racial terrorism" in Los Angeles, in which Paul insists that "our country is being destroyed by a group of actual and potential terrorists -- and they can be identified by the color of their skin."

* Another 1992 article, this one asserting that "complex embezzling" is "100% white and Asian;" and noting that young black male muggers are "unbelievably fleet-footed."

* A Houston Chronicle citation from 1996, in which he asserts that Barbara Jordan was a "fraud." Paul wrote: "Everything from her imitation British accent, to her supposed expertise in law, to her distinguished career in public service, is made up. If there were ever a modern case of the empress without clothes, this is it. She is the archetypical half-educated victimologist, yet her race and sex protect her from criticism."

In the second post, phenry outlines Paul's connections to various white supremacists groups. In 1996, Paul was one of only two candidates endorsed by Christian Identity leader Larry Pratt (who had previously worked with David Duke, and resigned from Pat Buchanan's team when his Identity role became public). Paul refused to repudiate the endorsement; and Pratt has stepped forward again with a quasi-endorsement of Paul's current campaign.

Through the 90s, Paul was also a regular on the far-right talk circuit. He spoke to Texas secessionists in 1995 on the "once and future Republic of Texas"; has appeared on a radio program affiliated with the Council of Conservative Citizens; and is a frequent speaker at John Birch Society functions -- the group has given him a perfect 100 in its legislative rankings. These days, those who monitor CCC, David Duke, and Stormfront say they can't get enough of him. They know he's one of their own.

Those of us who are interested in getting to a sane and functional immigration policy should also reflect on the fact that he stands right next to Tom Tancredo on that issue.

Which brings us to the Big Question: How can someone who's been such a darling of the extremist right for over 20 years now become the Next Big Thing on the left as well?

Straight talk is powerful. Americans are addicted to it -- and, too often, addled by it. We've seen this before with Ross Perot and John McCain, two other right-wing candidates who charmed us with their apparent penchant for telling us uncomfortable but necessary truths. (And to give the man his due: pointing out that 9/11 was the inevitable outcome of decades of monstrous US foreign policy was a very necessary truth.)

But -- as we learned the hard way on both those earlier occasions -- just because someone can cut through the political drivel and speak with some clarity now and again, it doesn't mean they're someone we should dump our principles and better judgment out the window for, and rush right out and follow. The fact is that Ron Paul has built a political career pandering to the far fringes of the proto-fascist right. There's twenty-plus years of documentary evidence that he does not believe in democracy as we progressives understand it. No amount of disarming straight talk should blind us to that core fact.

Update: Several apologists note that Paul now claims that the newsletter was written by a ghostwriter -- as though this somehow absolves him of responsibility for over a decade of hate speech.

This argument, all on its own, should be enough to disabuse anyone of the idea that Paul is a "straight talker." The newsletter went out under his name. If he didn't read the copy first, he should have. He owns the words in it -- either because he wrote them, or he bought and paid for them to be written for his own purposes. To claim now that he's somehow not responsible is like a politician saying, "That thing I said? I don't really believe it -- it's just something my speechwriter cooked up." Or a businessman claiming he's not party to a contract because his lawyer, acting as his agent, signed it for him.

Either argument would be laughed out of court. Paul deserves to be laughed off the public stage: either he means what he says, or he doesn't.

You may think you like what you see today. But, given what we already know, it may be wise to do your homework before you decide this man is worthy to hold power in America. And the media needs to be asking serious questions about his past, probing him to see if he's still committed to bringing about that New World Order he spent so much of his early career promoting.

Update II: Commenter Hume's Ghost provides this link demonstrating Ron Paul's more recent Patriot connections. I've replaced the image at the top of this post with the 2004 photo of Paul with Dr. Ron Clarkson of The Patriot Network. The caption on this photo pretty much says it all:
AS many of you know, Congressman Ron Paul from Texas is one of the most conservative members of Congress and very sympathetic to the patriot's cause. Here we find Dr Robert Clarkson with Congressman Ron Paul in Columbia, SC at Libertarian-Patriot Banquet on April 2, 2004.
Yes, sir. Paul's their boy.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dobbs on the rampage

-- by Dave

So how does CNN's Lou Dobbs handle the latest round of criticism regarding his obdurate claim that he's been perfectly accurate in his reportage on immigration?

Well, rather than finally issue a correction, as he should have, he's continuing to wrestle the facts and obscure what he actually reported with yet another broadcast attacking his critics (see here for a breakout of the transcript). Though along the way, he manages to make a confession or two -- of sorts.

Note that, for Dobbs, this is all about him and not his misbegotten reportage:
Today's New York Times column is primarily a personal attack on me, focuses on an ad-lib on the set of this broadcast uttered more than two years ago by Christine Romans on a number of cases of leprosy in this country. An unscripted ad-lib, not a report by the way -- we've never done a report on leprosy until we had to set this record straight a couple of weeks ago. That's over four and a half years of reporting on that issue.

Actually, Dobbs reasserted the false statistics as "factual" as recently as three weeks ago. And nowhere in this entire diatribe does Dobbs clear the air and explain to his audience that the leprosy statistics he cited -- 7,000 cases -- referred to a thirty-year period, not a three-year period. He claims that a separate report did so, but if it did, it was (a) buried, and (b) completely inadequate as a correction.

Dobbs goes on to actually confess that he was wrong to use Madeleine Cosman as a source:
That columnist also said I gave air time to white supremacists, and mentions one by name, Madeleine Cosman, who wrote the article that Christine Romans used as a source for her later leprosy statement.

The fact is, I made a mistake, and I've said we would never have used her as a source if we had known of her controversial background two years ago, at the time of the offending ad-lib. But the columnist fails to note that his own paper wrote a glowing obituary of Madeleine Cosman when she died last year.

Oh, really? When he did he say this?

Because just last May 7, this was what Dobbs and Romans said:
DOBBS: And there was a question about some of your comments, Christine. Following one of your reports, I told Leslie Stahl, "We don't make up numbers." And I will tell everybody here again tonight, I stand 100 percent behind what you said.

ROMANS: That's right, Lou. We don't make up numbers here. This is what we reported.

We reported: "It's interesting, because the woman in our piece told us that there were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years. Leprosy in this country."

I was quoting Dr. Madeleine Cosman, a respected medical lawyer and medical historian. Writing in The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, she said: "Hansen's disease" -- that's the other modern name, I guess, for leprosy -- "Hansen's disease was so rare in America that in 40 years only 900 people were afflicted. Suddenly, in the past three years America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy" -- Lou.

DOBBS: It's remarkable that this -- whatever, confusion or confoundment over 7,000 cases. They actually keep a registry of cases of leprosy. And the fact that it rose was because of -- one assumes because we don't know for sure -- but two basic influences: unscreened illegal immigrants coming into this country primarily from South Asia, and the -- secondly, far better reporting.

ROMANS: That's what Dr. Cosman told us, Lou.

DOBBS: And, you know, in talking with a number of people, it's also very clear, no one knows, but nearly everyone suspects, there are far more cases of that. It is also, I think, interesting, and I think important to say, one of the reasons we screen people coming into this country is to deal with communicable diseases like leprosy, tuberculosis. The fact is, if we would just screen successfully, all of those diseases can be treated effectively, efficiently, and relatively quickly.

ROMANS: And that's why we raised the question in the first place, asking some tough questions about this. And, you know, 7,000 cases -- active cases of leprosy -- by no means is 11 million, as [Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Project director] Mark Potok suggested.

DOBBS: But you can't say that to people so interested in the truth, as Mr. Potok obviously isn't.

So, when exactly did Dobbs admit that using Cosman was a mistake? Or is he just obfuscating again?

Finally, simply admitting that Cosman was a bad source for the story isn't enough; as a journalist, it requires a broader examination of the story itself and its factual underpinnings. This was the same case when Dobbs ran a map taken from white supremacists and then simply apologized for using them as a source, when in fact the entire story was built out of race-baiting garbage from precisely the same sources.

But just as Dobbs' fraudulent "Aztlan" reportage was never corrected, neither, evidently, will be his fraudulent leprosy reportage.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The far right's coming wave

-- by Dave

The other day Rick Perlstein was ruminating about domestic terrorism and just what it means:
I go back and forth about what level of alarmism is appropriate when discussing the possibility of right-wing violence. On the one hand, reviewing it in the New York Times Book Review, I found Chris Hedges predictions in American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America irresponsibly vague and abstract. On the other hand, when a reporter named John Cloud published a profile of Ann Coulter on the cover of Time magazine that found her little more than a kicky diversion from boring politics as usual, I sent him an angry, even patronizing, letter:

The last time figures like Coulter were being mainstreamed for public consumption in this way was 1994-95. People like Gordon Liddy—who, recall, was "joking" to his listeners to shoot federal agents in the head.

This pushed the limits of the acceptable far to the right, and vulnerable, nutty people felt licensed to blow up buildings because of it.

There will be right-wing violence in the next year. Of that I have no doubt. And people who've served to push the limits of the acceptable far to the right by mainstreaming people who spew hate rhetoric, talk violence, and make things up will bear some measure of responsibility.

That was 2005, and there wasn't any right-wing violence (that made the news at least) in 2006. I was wrong.

On the other hand, I'm even more confident that if John Kerry had been elected president, the Secret Service would have been burdened with assassination attempts of a degree unprecedented in history. There is an astonishingly sizable population in America that doesn't consider any Democratic president legitimate - "not our president" was a right-wing refrain from the moment of Bill Clinton's inauguration; no less than a United States senator, Jesse Helms, said that if the President visited North Carolina he ought to wear a flak jacket ("Who will rid me of this meddlesome president?." In the case of Kerry, the situation was complicated by the existence of plenty of mentally unbalanced former special forces officers convinced the man was literally a Manchurian candidate.

Digby also had some thoughts on this:
I predict that we are going to see a remarkable resurgence of rightwing violence if the Democrats take full control of the government. These people are always surprisingly cooperative when the government is run by Republicans and then rediscover their "anti-government" beliefs when Democrats share or dominate the government. I can't imagine why that would be.

We will also, sadly, see veterans involved in this. Aside from the PTSD they will come home to a world that isn't very understanding. How could we be? They've been in hell. I suspect that some of them will be attracted to the rightwing militia (or worse) unless the government makes some very aggressive moves to help these people out and provide every kind of counselling and support they can think of. The last thing we need are hardened Iraq veterans finding solace with the rightwing terrorists.

A lot of this, of course, will be familiar territory for longtime readers of this blog. My own sense all along has been that the far right went into a kind of dormancy during the GOP reign because they felt their issues were being addressed; most average militiamen voted for Bush, as near as I can tell. I've noted previously that many militias dropped off the map after the 2000 election, and the former leader of at least one of them -- Norm Olson of the Michigan Militia -- said it was because most of his troops were happy with Bush's election and felt that their former issues (particularly their hatred of the United Nations and their gun-control paranoia) were being addressed, as in fact they were.

Certainly the trend of the past couple of decades has been that the right-wing extremists tend to ease up more when Republicans rule the roost, and become much more virulently active when Democrats are in charge. This fits in with a much longer pattern, dating back to the 19th century and even before, of the extremist right acting as a kind of cultural and political wedge to separate working-class people from the progressives whose interests they actually share, especially in terms of curbing the effects of corporate and rampant capitalist behavior. The far right, by appealing to people's baser instincts and especially their fears, has a long history of encouraging working-class people to reject progressive values on purely visceral cultural grounds.

And in fact these factions are often well financed, sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes not, by the corporate and business types whose interests they are serving in a much broader sense. In the 1990s, we saw a lot of militia organizing taking place under the auspices of phony "grassroots" organizing that actually was being underwritten by wealthy, extremely conservative, and politically aggressive business interests; in western Washington, the chief culprits were the construction and development interests who exploited the extremists, ginning them up with a dozen fresh plates of cockamamie conspiracy theories, as a wedge against environmentalists.

There were also figures like Richard Mellon Scaife, who in addition to exploiting old far-right segregationists in Arkansas and elsewhere in the South, also underwrote a number of "softer" Patriot organizations, such as Joseph Farah's WorldNetDaily. His newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, regularly ran editorials and "news" stories promoting a bevy of Clinton-related conspiracy theories, notably the "Vince Foster was murdered" nonsense, as well as various "New World Order" pieces; both, you may recall, were favorites of the militia movement.

So I think it's a fairly easy prediction that looming Democratic rule, already manifesting itself in Congress and likely to consolidate with the presidency next election season, will produce an upswing in far-right activity, particularly the spread of conspiracy theories, fearmongering, and bogus smear campaigns. As Perlstein noted a little while back, that has been the essence of the conservative movement's appeal for the better part of four decades now anyway. It's what they bring to the political table.

The problem with the right-wing extremism we've seen during the 21st century so far really hasn't been the extent to which it is prone to erupting in violence, precisely because they see conservative rule as being to their benefit, and the things that drive them to extreme action such as violence are less prevalent. Notably, among these things is that the conspiracy-mongering drops a great deal regarding the government.

During Clinton's tenure as president, it reached a real fever pitch precisely because there were so many mainstream right-wingers promoting it (this is part of the previously noted pattern of the corporate right using the far right as a wedge bloc). Now, during Bush's tenure, they mostly have gone away, though there are still some conspiracy theorists around -- notably the 9/11 crowd, which is largely a bizarre intermingling of left- and right-wing extremists; and the "Reconquista" conspiracy theorists such as Michelle Malkin.

No, the real problem with the far right has been its ability to insinuate itself back within the mainstream during the years of Republican rule in this new century, building on the bridges created during the surge of hateful rhetoric and envelope-pushing that characterized the conservative movement in the 1990s. The extremist right, particularly its racist/paranoid factions, have long been seeking this kind of resinsertion; certainly, the militia movement of the '90s was a direct manifestation of this effort. The result has been a steady rightward drag of mainstream conservatism, to the point that now it is virtually unrecognizable as anything genuinely conservative.

So far this century, we've seen a real growth of far-right rhetoric, and the march of its agenda, manifesting itself in such shapes as the Minutemen -- who are in fact almost direct descendants of the '90s militias -- and various cultural eugenicists posing as "immigration reformers" and twisting the national debate on immigration in truly perverse directions; Christian "Dominionists" who want to turn the United States into a theocratic state; and most of all, a real culture of totalism fueled by an increasingly ugly tide of eliminationist rhetoric.

The incidents of domestic terrorism coming from the far right have meantime been bubbling along at a low level, present like background noise that everyone pretends not to notice: the anthrax killer, William Krar, one abortion clinic bomber arrested mid-plot, while another was caught after his bomb misfired.

And in recent months, especially as the prospect of the voting public giving movement conservatives the boot loomed larger, we've seen cases like Chad Castagana, in which formerly mainstream conservatives -- self-admittedly inspired by the hateful rhetoric of people like Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin -- have crossed over into actual domestic terrorism, inspired not just by hatred of the government but hatred of liberals.

Thus, Perlstein's mistaken prediction regarding terrorism from the right: if Kerry had actually posed a more clear threat to conservatives' stranglehold on government in 2004, it is in fact likely that there would have been more violence emanating from that faction. But he did not, and the threat never arose; as it was, the right was content to confine itself to merely ugly rhetoric without backing it up by action.

So what about the change of course in 2006? My sense, from talking to members of the far right, was that two factors were involved in their restraint: for one, most were taken by surprise by the suddenness and magnitude of the political shift in Congress; and for another, many of them had been enervated by the overpowering evidence that the war in Iraq had gone South, and along with it their belief in Bush as a leader and the conservative movement as worthwhile investment of their devotion.

Some of that is likely to still be in play in the 2008 election cycle -- along with the real division that has arisen on the right regarding immigration, with mainstream corporatist Republicans lining up behind Bush's "moderate" proposals (which actually just exacerabate the existing problems within the current broken system) and the arch-conservative faction adopting a rather nakedly nativist agenda.

The real systemic problem looming in all this is the long-term ramifications of the conservative movement's increasing adoption of a genuinely extremist agenda. As I've been saying all along, the real threat posed by the clearly fascist tone of so much mainstream rightist rhetoric this decade hasn't been the immediate outbreak of actual violence, but rather the organic conditions it creates on the ground and its ramifications for the longer term. The faint-hearted, cowardly brand of pseudo-fascism proferred by the mainstream currently may well metastasize, eventually, into the cruel and violent version of outright fascism that arose some 80 years ago, given the right conditions.

Digby's warning on this point is, as always, on the money: the faction to watch here is the returning veterans of the Iraq war. I've contended since early in the conflict that the war would prove to be the Timothy McVeigh Memorial Finishing School: the extreme stresses under which we are now placing these soldiers, especially in the form of multiple tours and forced reenlistment, is eventually going to produce a bumper crop of damaged citizens, some of whom are going to be extremely vulnerable to the "stab in the back" meme that's become a major note in the right-wing drumbeat on the war.

If all that falls into place, we will actually be reproducing the conditions that existed in Italy and Germany in the post-World War I vacuum: a motivated bloc of asngry returned veterans, molded into totalist thinking over a long period, and organized into lawless packs of street thugs eager to expel the "traitors" who had stabbed them in the back. These factions, known respectively as the Blackshirts and the Brownshirts, became the foundations of real fascism.

So it's going to be up to progressives to seize this bull by the horns. They're going to have to anticipate an increasingly violent political environment, and understand that their most effective strategies in defusing it lie in turning the violence into a moral victory (particularly when it's demonstrated that far-right factions are the instigators) and in undermining their appeal by working hard to champion the interest of the same working-class people the extremists depend upon for recruitment.

Digby is right that this is a conversation we need to be having. Unfortunately, it happens to revolve around a political force -- the extremist right -- that few people care to acknowledge, let alone confront. Because of that, it has managed to creep itself into a position of significant influence in our lives, both political and personal. It's time the rest of us awoke to that reality.

Lou Dobbs' ethics

-- by Dave

Mainstream journalists like to complain that bloggers frequently promulgate bad information and then fail to own up to it when exposed. It's one of the reasons that blogs are supposedly unreliable sources of information.

But they really haven't a lot of room to make this accusation as long as they continue to ignore the continuing antics of Lou Dobbs, who as Media Matters observes, still hasn't corrected his nakedly false reportage on the rates of leprosy infection associated with illegal immigration. Indeed, he's been dodging the issue by claiming that his figures were correct all along.

At least the New York Times' David Leonhardt is raising the issue:
I have been somewhat taken aback about how shameless he has been during the whole dispute, so I spent some time reading transcripts from old episodes of "Lou Dobbs Tonight." The way he handled leprosy, it turns out, is not all that unusual.

For one thing, Mr. Dobbs has a somewhat flexible relationship with reality. He has said, for example, that one-third of the inmates in the federal prison system are illegal immigrants. That's wrong, too. According to the Justice Department, 6 percent of prisoners in this country are noncitizens (compared with 7 percent of the population). For a variety of reasons, the crime rate is actually lower among immigrants than natives.

Second, Mr. Dobbs really does give airtime to white supremacy sympathizers. Ms. Cosman, who is now deceased, was a lawyer and Renaissance studies scholar, never a medical doctor or a leprosy expert. She gave speeches in which she said that Mexican immigrants had a habit of molesting children. Back in their home villages, she would explain, rape was not as serious a crime as cow stealing. The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps a list of other such guests from "Lou Dobbs Tonight."

Perhaps more to the point, Dobbs has a history of citing these white supremacists as credible, while failing to explain to the audience their background. Among such Dobbs guests is Glenn Spencer, the head of the racist American Patrol, whose theories on immigration -- including a conspiracy theory about a Mexican "invasion" and a plot to return the Southwest to an "Aztlan" -- Dobbs has reported on as credible.

Perhaps the most notorious of these instances involved Dobbs running a map of "Aztlan" taken from the Web site of the racist Council of Conservative Citizens. Dobbs apologized for using the CofCC as a source -- but never retracted or corrected the substance of the story itself, which was not just factually bogus but outrageously inflammatory as well.

As a longtime working journalist, this utter lack of accountability among powerful figures in the mainstream media -- a trend dating back to the 1990s, when the New York Times itself was able to simply ignore the damning exposure of Jeff Gerth's shoddy Whitewater reportage by Gene Lyons in Fools for Scandal -- is both infuriating and disheartening, because it does in fact damage the credibility of us all. It is the primary reason, I believe, for the existence of the blogosphere, particularly the media critique that has existed on the left side of the aisle.

As Leonhardt goes on to explain:
The most common complaint about him, at least from other journalists, is that his program combines factual reporting with editorializing. But I think this misses the point. Americans, as a rule, are smart enough to handle a program that mixes opinion and facts. The problem with Mr. Dobbs is that he mixes opinion and untruths. He is the heir to the nativist tradition that has long used fiction and conspiracy theories as a weapon against the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Jews and, now, the Mexicans.

There is no denying that this country's immigration system is broken. But it defies belief -- and a whole lot of economic research -- to suggest that the problems of the middle class stem from illegal immigrants. Those immigrants, remember, are largely non-English speakers without a high school diploma. They have probably hurt the wages of native-born high school dropouts and made everyone else better off.

More to the point, if Mr. Dobbs's arguments were really so good, don't you think he would be able to stick to the facts? And if CNN were serious about being "the most trusted name in news," as it claims to be, don't you think it would be big enough to issue an actual correction?

Note that when Leonhardt began to corner Dobbs on these points -- particularly the racial and ethnic cast of the reportage -- Dobbs responded simply by shutting down: "You've raised this to a level that frankly I find offensive." This was the same defensive posture he raised with Laura Flanders.

The favorite whine of Dobbs and his nativist cohort is that "it's not fair that you can't discuss illegal immigration without being accused of being racist." But as we explained before, the problem isn't discussing illegal immigration. Indeed, I think everyone involved would love to have a discussion on immigration without racism rearing its ugly head.

But racism is rearing its ugly head when Dobbs and Malkin and the whole pack of "immigration reformers" treat white-supremacist propaganda as reliable information and parrot talking points from those white supremacists as well.

Pointing out that they're doing it isn't the problem. Pretending that they're not is.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Future of Fundamentalism: A Scenario

-- by Sara

A perspicacious commenter, Grep Agni, asks a great question in the previous thread:
This post and the one on Falwell suggest that the religious right will continue to seek power in the secular sphere. The final part of the Falwell article is especially clear:

Still, it was Falwell who gave American Evangelicals their first taste of political power -- and, having acquired that taste, it's doubtful they'll ever fully retreat into their quiet corner again.

Are you no longer predicting that the fundamentalists will become quiescent for a generation or two, or have I misunderstood?
I do strive for some consistency, so I'm going to seize on this as an opportunity to unpack this apparent discrepancy, and reflect a bit on the scenario approach in the process.

Grep notes that I've presented two somewhat different scenarios on the possible future of fundamentalism in America. One of these (discussed here, for one example) suggests that fundies may be heading into the same kind of retreat they've always beat when one of their periodic political forays comes to a disappointing end. The other, laid out in the Falwell post and the one just below this one, suggests the possibility that they won't go away at all -- and may move to engaging the larger culture in a more active and virulent (and violent) way in the years ahead.

Futurists long ago gave up trying to predict anything. (Anybody who tells you, "this is how it's going to go down -- bet the farm on it" is a fortuneteller, not a futurist.) Instead, we often use a storytelling approach that posits a variety of scenarios -- typically three to seven -- that cover the widest possible range for how given situation might play out.

If your scenarios are good ones, you can look back on them in time, and realize that while no one scenario was dead-on accurate (though there's typically one in the batch that proved somewhat more prescient than the rest); most of what did come to pass was predicted in bits and pieces across the various scenarios. Thus: if your plans account for the full range of scenarios, you're likely not to be terribly surprised by whatever does eventually come your way.

So, as a general rule, the actual future lies somewhere in the give-and-take between the various scenarios -- although it's always wise to expect a one or two completely unforseeable wild-card developments in the mix besides. In this case, I've come down to two strong scenarios, one suggesting a fundamentalist retreat and the other suggesting resurgence. So, as a thought exercise, it might be worthwhile to ask: Where are the connections and synergies between these two stories? What would a hybrid scenario look like?

First, let's start by taking stock of the past and present dynamics at work in this situation.

* We know fundies have always been with us. They've always a been a powerful voice in the American cultural dialogue (though they come and go from the political one -- more about this below), and it's unreasonable to expect that that's going to change within our lifetimes. (Many futurists, yours truly included, are quite convinced we're on the cusp of the biggest epistemological transformation the West has seen in 500 years -- fodder for another post -- and that fundamentalism will be particularly challenged by it. (After all, they're still trying to get themselves over that last one; and frankly, it's not going well.) But this shift will take a couple of centuries to play out; and in the meantime, they won't be going anywhere.)

* We also understand now, beyond a doubt, that the authoritarian right is implacably opposed to the very notion of constitutional democracy -- some subgroups more than others; but Altemeyer's work makes it clear that deep distrust of popular government is inherent in all conservative worldviews. Which means, by liberal lights, these people need to be kept as far away from the levers of power as possible.

Historically, it's evident that our worst moments as a nation almost all resulted when our native authoritarians somehow got let off the leash. Given what we're up against in this century, letting them loose this time could be fatal for us all. The whole world is running on thin margins now. We can no longer count on having have the deep reserves that are always required to clean up their messes and repair the damage done.

* It's also an unfortunate fact that extremists are usually far more energetic and focused in the pursuit of their goals than those of us who are more moderate -- which means it only takes a small number of them to create large-scale changes that affect us all. And, unfortunately, the constant vigilance required to keep them away from those levers is more of a full-time job than most moderate-to-liberal Americans are generally willing to make it. We've got lives apart from them. They, on the other hand, live to dominate us.

* We know the history. On at least three previous occasions, there have been enormous surges of religious fervor in this country -- times when evangelical churches exploded with new members, and then stepped forward to make vast changes in America's culture. In each of these cases, the fire burned brightly for 20-40 years, resulting in new doctrine, new communities, and new institutions; but then began to dwindle as the first generation of True Believers passed on, the practical reality of maintaining those institutions for the long haul set in, and people generally returned to their senses. A cycle-based theory of history suggests that we're nearing the end of one of these resurgences, and that it's not unreasonable to anticipate a coming fundamentalist retreat from national politics.

* On the other hand: this time, there's something different going on. I can't say for sure, but it seems possible that that they've never before built the kind of comprehensive national power structure that they've got under them now. As the previous post details, they've taken a far-ranging generational view this time, chosen their cultural targets carefully, and patiently built up a much larger and more deeply interlocked network of institutions that are working on every front of our society. They're also very carefully bringing up second-generation leadership that may be less given to retreat or moderation than their counterparts in the past were. All this suggests that whatever happens this time may indeed be different than last time.

* We also know this the best and brightest of this second-generation leadership is interested in going its own way -- away from sexual and racial politics, and toward environmental, community, and social justice concerns. While they will not abandon their own principles -- or turn entirely away from the public sphere -- they already seem to be re-interpreting their scriptures in ways that will lead them into very different forms of action in the years ahead.

* Lastly: we know that the American people (including many of their own followers) are finally getting a bellyful of the religious right's increasingly whackadoodle behavior. While their other institutions are still strong, their political machine is in complete disarray, the object of total national disgust. Their leaders know it -- and are, perversely, becoming more publicly extreme, not less, in an effort to marshal the faithful and keep them in line as their political stock tanks. (The thinking is: Fear-mongering always worked before. If it's not working now, that just means we need to do it more and louder. They don't realize that "more and louder" is only driving their own more moderate faithful -- and everyone else -- further away.) This extremism is actively scaring the rest of the country, and there are early signs it's getting those of us who actually like living in a democracy off the couch at last.

After the previous Awakenings, this kind of off-the-deep-end crazy talk has always been a harbinger of a fast-approaching end. Eventually, fundie leaders tip their hands, and everyone sees the hatred, bigotry, and fear that lurks at the authoritarian core. At that point, they become public pariahs, and their movements vanish from the national stage for a good long while.

From this list, it's clear that there are several important things all going at once here. Let's see if there's a way that can tie most of these together into a plausible scenario.

The widespread public disaffection with the religious right is real and growing. The first-generation leaders are dying off; and they're losing unusual numbers of their hand-picked successors (Ralph Reed, Ted Haggard) in corruption and sex scandals. Unless the Democrats really screw it up (always a possibility), they are going to lose the 2008 election -- and with it, most of their power to work their political will on the rest of us. Past history suggests that the religous right won't return as a political force for another 20-40 years; and that the actual length of that exile will depend almost entirely on how thoroughly we manage to discredit them and their ideas. They're falling all on their own; but once they're down, it'll be up to us to make sure they stay there.

However, being out of politics doesn't mean they'll be completely gone from our midst. Those institutions they've built now constitute an entire separate subculture. They've got their own media, schools, arts, resorts, hospitals, nursing homes, malls, and community gathering places. It's entirely possible to live from cradle to grave without ever having to step outside of this carefully-created Christianist reality sphere. Even if this alternate universe loses it worldly power, it doesn't mean its residents will need to ever step outside that bubble if they don't want to. In some form -- the same, or slightly diminished -- this culture will probably continue to carry on along its own separate path. We should not imagine that just because we no longer see them goofing on the air, they no longer exist. FDR-era liberals made that mistake; we should take pains not to repeat it.

Furthermore, they’ve built shadow organizations within our most powerful national institutions -- most notably, Congress, the military, and the legal system. Losing political power will reduce the resources available to this network, hurt recruitment, and weaken its clout; but we can't afford to assume that the whole thing will just vanish on its own. How much of it remains, again, is up to us -- in this case, how effectively we can root out these religious cabals and disentangle them from our public and private institutions. On this front, the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy will last precisely as long as we allow it to.

Also, as noted in the post below, they've already raised several million kids in this cultural hothouse, and carefully indoctrinated them to carry on God's work in spite of Satan's (er, our) efforts. So we need to ask: Where will these kids be in another ten or 20 years?

Statistically, at least one-third of them (perhaps considerably more -- the numbers on this are fuzzy, but we know they're high) will to leave fundamentalism as adults to join us here in the Reality-Based World. And if the Emerging Church movement succeeds -- and given the energy and intellectual quality of its young leadership, that seems likely -- another large chunk will become engaged with a more socially conscious vision of Christianity that has little interest in pursuing theocratic goals. (Internally, EC theology has strong themes of submission and authority. These are more evident in some parts of the movement than others, and not all of them are benign. But, generally, the movement sees itself in active opposition to the highly political Evangelicalism of the recent past, and focuses on goals other than worldly power.)

But, when those two groups have moved on, what remains could be a significant core -- perhaps including those Christian Soldiers mentioned in the earlier post -- for whom their early indoctrination will continue to be the defining fact of their lives. And these are the ones we will need to watch and worry about -- both because they are most likely to become the militants; and because any future re-emergence of religious authoritarianism will almost certainly begin with them.

And, compared with today, they'll be driving without brakes. Freed from the cooling, calming influence that more moderate fellow-believers provided back in the day when their churches were big and influential and concerned with their public image; and furious beyond words at their loss of cultural and political influence, there will be nothing to keep them from hurling themselves farther out to the extremes. There, they could readily meet up with white supremacists, anti-environmentalists, anti-choice terrorists, and the other groups on the far-right fringe who've already decided that violence is the answer. The coalitions that might form if the Christian Soldiers move right in large numbers could very well be the catalyzing force of a true American fascism.

As their goals retreat in front of them, the most violent ones of all might step up to avenge the loss, and attempt a return to former glory. What they lack in numbers, they may well make up for in organization, tactical ability, audacity, and the sheer will to destruction. And if the country really goes to hell -- through environmental dislocations or economic disasters, epidemics or terrorist attacks -- their numbers could easily swell again, as desperate people look for new authoritarian leaders to provide certainty in uncertain times. Some of them already envision themselves as warlords, taking rightful dominion in a world approaching its divinely-ordained and long-awaited end.

Like I said: There are a lot of variables in play. Nobody knows which ones will ultimately determine the future. But if we take stock of the possible ways things might go, we can at least make sure we're not surprised or overwhelmed by whatever outcome awaits. And more to the point: we'll be ready to take control of events as they happen, and make the choices that will move us toward the future we'd rather see. As always: so much of how this ends up is, in the end, up to us.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Armies of God

-- by Sara

Kids can create their own Bibleman adventures at home! Energized by the unmatched power of Scripture, the new Bibleman continues to battle wickedness and teach his power secrets to kids. His armor includes the Helmet of Salvation, the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Shield of Faith, and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Measuring 6" high, Bibleman is a collectible, high-quality, and hand-painted action figure. It comes with a toy Bible, Bibleman's yellow Sword of the Spirit, and his confidential U.N.I.C.E. report.

Contains small parts: Not recommended for children under three years old.

In death, at last, Jerry Falwell sowed a bit of what he reaped. The man who spent his entire career preaching "spiritual warfare" finally went to his final rest attended by a would-be warrior of God, who proposed to keep peace at the event by bringing along a bomb.

Bibleman and his kindred have been kicking around fundie culture for a long while. My grandmother cherished a similar figurine -- this one a bronze collectible -- who wore the same sanctified armor. She displayed it proudly on her coffee table: a lovely thank-you bonus for her generous and faithful donations to Pat Robertson's cause in the early years. This was back in the late 70s, but the two Bible passages that described this warrior were already oft-recited favorites of the rising religious right, who savored the righteous militance and vengeance of the words, and heard in them their battle call to the fight for theocratic dominance. They were the text of a thousand TV sermons:
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. [Ephesians 6, 10-17]


He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies
and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due. [Isaiah 59, 17-18]
(Note: Keep these scriptures handy. They're exceedingly useful against right-wingers who insist that Islam is a religion of pure violence -- so unlike Christianity!)

And so it came to pass, in the years that followed, that an entire generation came of age on Bibleman and Teen Mania and Battle Cry and Jesus Camp, with these two passages embedded in their very marrow through years of reading and repetition. Starting in the early 80s, the religious right carefully built a perfect, busy, closed world in which to indoctrinate their boys from babyhood. Cut off from the larger culture, isolated in Christian schools and homeschools, socially sheltered in church youth groups and fundamentalist-run Scout troops, these boys feasted on the glory of the martyr and the holiness of the cause. Proud of their conformity and well aware that independent thinking leads to no good, this cohort is now launching into adult life from places like Liberty, Regent, Oral Roberts, Bob Jones, and a hundred other tiny fundamentalist Bible colleges with equally revolutionary agendas.

To put it starkly: fundamentalist America deliberately set out long ago to raise up an army of Mark Uhls. And now, twenty-odd years later, we are all starting to be confronted with the final product. Of course, with typical disingenuousness, they'll tell you that the "battle" they prepared these kids for is metaphorical -- "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world." But none of us, not even them, can be surprised that a generation of young men who've been drilled in this militaristic mythology since toddlerhood are now arriving at conscription age, jacked up on an incendiary cocktail of testosterone, sexual repression, xenophobia, and a belief that they are Spiritual Warriors who have a special dispensation to use violence to further God's mission.

The success of this program is nothing short of spectacular. We now have literally a million Mark Uhls in America -- young men in their late teens and early twenties raised to sacrifice themselves in the Glorious Cause -- and they've got another few million brothers coming up behind them, equally determined to earn their stripes in the coming Christian jihad.

Not all of them will become freelance security guards packing homemade napalm; but some of the alternatives are even more alarming. According to Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, these young men are already overrunning the military services. Bred-from-birth Christian soldiers, armored in faith, truth, righteousness, salvation, vengeance, and zeal, they are rapidly re-making the pluralistic service culture over in their own image. Most disturbing of all: they are being joined by the increasing numbers of white supremacists who are also being drawn into the service by the promise of military training they can later use in their battle against minorities and liberals. Partisans of constitutional democracy will immediately recognize this as a potentially fatal combination.

From these current trends, it's not hard at all to write a future scenario that has the American military, from top to bottom, looking like more like the Nazi Wehrmacht in another ten years. Christian, racist, convinced of their innate superiority over the civilian heathen and their divinely-ordained right to rule the world, marching under the familiar banner of family, faith, and home, and determined to purify the world for God, they are already taking control of the armament of the strongest army in the history of the world.

And, given that they've spent 30 years carefully amassing that power, it would be absurd to believe that once they've got it, they won't hesitate to use it against whatever "dark forces" their paranoid imaginations can conjure -- both foreign and domestic. Regular readers of this blog will have no trouble assembling a list of their most likely targets.