Saturday, October 27, 2007

Jews for Nazis

-- by Dave

I was on David Goldstein's radio show last night and, in between segments, we wound up chatting briefly on the subject of anti-Semitic Jews. Not being Jewish, I'm not very comfortable wrestling with the issue -- but Goldstein, being very Jewish, has no compunction about it at all. He said he's looking forward to talking about them when the subject arises, and he thinks it will a lot in the coming year.

Well, I'm not sure if this quite qualifies as an anti-Semitic Jew -- maybe just Batshit Crazy. All you have to do is give her blog a quick visual scan to figure out that Pam 'Atlas' Geller Oshry is a little, er, unstable. (Yes, I'm talking about her, ah, iconic logo, among other items.) But leaping to act as a shrieking-harpy apologist for one of the best-organized neo-fascist organizations in Europe? An outfit that has never apologized for its Nazi past (and present)? I don't think "holy shit" quite covers it.

I mean, she's actually managed to make Chuckles the LGF Clown look sane and rational in all this -- no mean feat. Sadly, No! has all the details.

Watching the Watchmen on the Walls

There's been a flood of movement conservatives accusing liberals of being Nazis lately, most recently Debbie Schlussel and Michael Savage. Most of it has been barely concealed projection. We can hardly wait, of course, for Jonah Goldberg's contribution to the claim, though it looks we may be waiting awhile. Newspeak can be tricky, after all.

But the most striking use of the "liberal Nazis" meme I've yet heard -- striking, that is, for the Bizzaro World inversion of reality it reflected -- came this weekend from Vlad Kusakin, the Sacramento-based editor of a Russian-language newspaper called The Speaker. Kusakin went on a rant about the "liberal media" and the 120 or so people gathered outside the meeting hall in Lynnwood, Wash., where he was speaking to a group calling itself the Watchmen on the Walls.

Describing the gay-bashing murder this summer of a young Sacramento man named Satender Singh by a thuggish clutch of young Russian immigrants, Kusakin said through an interpreter: "To our sorrow, this incident is used to suppress Christians. This reminds me of Nazi Germany." Then he went on to compare the Singh murder to the burning to the Reichstag in 1933.

Later, he returned to this them: "The media started saying the Slavic rallies for people who are not accepting unnatural laws had caused this. Doesn't this remind you of Nazi Germany? It does me."

The crude irony in all this, of course, is that the Watchmen on the Walls themselves are associated with a wide range of violent gay-bashing embodied by street thuggery and hate crimes, which reminds a lot of people of the Brownshirts who paved the way for Nazi rule in Germany, as well as Italy's Blackshirted squadristi. Even more disturbingly, they -- and conferences like the one in Lynnwood -- represent a coalescence of American fundamentalist Christians and international street thugs motivated by a theocratic thirst for power.

A recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center explored this phenomenon in some detail:
A growing and ferocious anti-gay movement in the Sacramento Valley is centered among Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking immigrants. Many of them are members of an international extremist anti-gay movement whose adherents call themselves the Watchmen on the Walls. In Latvia, the Watchmen are popular among Christian fundamentalists and ethnic Russians, and are known for presiding over anti-gay rallies where gays and lesbians are pelted with bags of excrement. In the Western U.S., the Watchmen have a following among Russian-speaking evangelicals from the former Soviet Union. Members are increasingly active in several cities long known as gay-friendly enclaves, including Sacramento, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

The report touched off a mild furor in the Seattle area this week because of the Watchmen's convention in Lynnwood planned over the weekend, and helped prod local gay-rights and church groups to come out in the rain and protest outside. They outnumbered the convention-goers Saturday (only about 40 people attended the morning session, though the late-afternoon and evening numbers came closer to a hundred), and clearly rattled them; the Watchmen had not been protested before.

One of these was Pastor Joseph Fuiten -- who in the past has argued that non-Christians should be considered illegal aliens -- who in addressing the audience Saturday chose mostly to complain about coverage of the Watchmen and claim that they're just benign Christians standing up for decency:
When Channel 5 reported tonight that you have declared war on homosexuals they are inciting people to violence. Have you declared war? War is violent! Channel 5 accused you of being violent and many will believe their accusation.

How many Russians have been killed over the years by atheists?

Stalin killed at least 20 million in the name of atheism but no one ever says that secular people are violent.

Hitler was a pagan, and apparently a lot more. He killed probably 8 million in his gas chambers and caused the deaths of millions more.

Do they ever object to pagans, occultists, and whatever else?

The "whatever else," in case you're wondering, happens to be homosexuals. One of the key figures in the Watchmen organization on the West Coast (and internationally) is Oregon's Scott Lively, author of a work of Holocaust revisionism titled The Pink Swastika, which posits that Hitler and other Nazis were secretly homosexuals, and that indeed both the Nazi regime and the Holocaust were products of a homosexual conspiracy. Lively attended the convention in Lynnwood and spoke to reporters outside.

As it happens, this is the same Scott Lively who told an audience at a Watchmen gathering in Novosibirsk, Russia, earlier this summer:
There is a war that is going on in the world. There is a war that is waging across the entire face of the globe. It’s been waging in the United States for decades, and it’s been waging in Europe for decades. It’s a war between Christians and homosexuals.

This is a war you haven’t seen yet. You’ve only seen a little bit of it, because Russia had been protected against the homosexual movement by the Communists. One of the few good things that the Soviet Union did is that it stopped the sexual revolution from infecting the Russian people. But all across the West, the sexual revolution changed the culture of the nations. The sexual revolution embraces the idea that there should be no limits on sexual conduct.

And this is the design of the Devil to destroy civilization, because civilization is based on the natural family. One man and one woman united in marriage bringing children into the world and training them to replace them in the next generation. That’s the foundation of civilization and the heart of Christian living.

And in the United States where the sexual revolution began, it was the homosexual political movement that designed this strategy to attack Christianity. The homosexual movement teaches sexual freedom, and its first target is the heterosexual people. The homosexual activists stayed hidden but they taught this philosophy through their activists. And out of the philosophy came the principalities and powers that is destroying the West: The pornography industry, the abortion industry, and the destruction of marriage through divorce.

These things are the product of a way of thinking. They deny the Truth of God. They deny the design of God for human beings. And their purpose is the change the cultures of the world.

Now, the homosexual movement has been winning this war in the United States, and it has been winning this war in Europe. And we’re looking at the future collapse of Western civilization. And Watchmen on the Walls is an organization to fight against this collapse. Watchmen On the Walls is an organization of men and women with courage, who will stand on the Truth of God and without compromise demand that the culture will follow the guidance of God. That marriage and family must be held at the highest level.

Lively isn't the only one to call it a war. So is the Rev. Ken Hutcherson, the Kirkland-area pastor who was Saturday's second speaker. In January, he told the Seattle Times, "We better wake up. This is a war."

The rhetoric, however, is not merely relegated to a war mentality, but in fact is overtly eliminationist. One of Hutcherson's cohorts, quoted in the same Seattle Times piece, compares them to a disease:
"I consider myself more American than those who were born in this country who are destroying it," said Wade Kusak, host of a Russian-language radio show in Sacramento and publisher of newspapers there and in Seattle.

It's no coincidence, he said, that states with growing evangelical Slavic communities are the most liberal, full of people "trying to destroy our families."

That's why God "made an injection" of Slavic evangelicals. "In those places where the disease is progressing, God made a divine penicillin."

This kind of talk is rife throughout the Watchmen movement, especially among its leadership. According to the SPLC, Lively talks constantly about "the enemy," and Watchmen leader Alexy Ledyaev (a fan of The Pink Swastika) writes about "homosexuals" as being the first wave of a global anti-Christian front: "The first devastating wave of homosexuality makes a way for the second and more dangerous wave of islamization [sic]," writes Ledyaev." One gay activist in California, according to the SPLC report, was told: "You have to understand, we equate homosexuals with thieves, adulterers and murderers. ... You are an abomination."

Indeed, Lusakin told the Saturday audience: "For Slavs, it will not end they accept the homosexuals. In America, they are plotting the complete destruction of Christians." After he spoke, the gathering's master of ceremonies, Andrew Prakasam, prayed that "this abomination would be destroyed, and all discrimination would be destroyed."

On Friday, the Watchmen issued a statement that said in part:
[W]e are especially focused against homosexuality, because those who practice this self-destructive vice, and have organized themselves into a political movement, are the chief enemies of the natural family.

We do not promote or condone violence.

We do not apologize for opposing homosexuality because it is morally, physically, psychologically and socially wrong, unnatural and harmful. This is self-evident to the vast majority of the citizens of the world, whom we represent.

We reject the suggestion that our view is hateful. While we know that some people hate homosexuals, we don't. We view homosexuals like we view alcoholics: unfortunate people trapped in a bad lifestyle. Like alcoholics, they should have the right, if they reject therapy, to enjoy privacy in their own homes. But they should not be allowed to publicly recruit others to their lifestyle. Public advocacy of homosexuality should be, like public drunkenness, culturally discouraged to minimize its impact on society.

Of course, the comparison of homosexuality to alcoholism, drug addiction, and other social ills has been around a long time. So, for that matter, has eliminationist rhetoric, which as I've explained previously, has a long history of preceding and accompanying eliminationist violence. It doesn't necessarily always cause it, but it plays an important role in preconditioning violent people to act out in hateful ways.

George Baker, the editor of Seattle Gay News, was one of the protesters out standing in the rain holding signs Saturday, and this was very much on his mind too.

"I worry that when you have a bunch of adults up there at this kind of event spouting this sort of venom, it's going to have a really toxic effect on the young people in the audience," he said. "This sort of conference gives the younger generation permission to act on these violent impulses."

Indeed, there were a number of young people at the convention, mostly young Slavic men. They too were rattled by the protesters, and lined up along one of the rails on their second-story balcony outside the meeting hall to watch them through the convention center's glass atrium, muttering and taking pictures. Some of the young protesters, people their own age, saw them and formed a small cluster that waved and smiled at them; this seemed, if anything, to fluster them more.

Certainly there are signs that the rhetoric is having an effect on the streets -- even beyond the Eastern European states where the Watchmen have their largest following, and where street thugs have assaulted gay-rights advocates and threatened their rallies. The Satender Singh killing in July was perhaps the best known of these.

The Watchmen have been ardent in denying their rhetoric was involved, but have largely responded by distorting the facts of the event; Lively has suggested it was mostly Singh's fault for being drunk and lewd in public, while Kusakin, at Saturday's talk, insisted it couldn't have been a hate crime because Singh wasn't really gay (which is in fact irrelevant when it comes to bias crimes). The reality of the crime was that Singh and his friends were being relatively quiet and were singled out for harassment by the trio of Russians; attempted to leave peacefully, and then were told: "We just want your faggot friend." At which point one of the men sucker-punched Singh, who hit his head on the pavement and died.

A similar case occurred here in Seattle three years ago, when a group of young Russian evangelicals brutally assaulted a gay man named Micah Painter in the Capitol Hill district, where they apparently went in search of "faggots" to bash one warm June evening. Eli Sanders at The Stranger wrote an amazingly good piece about the case that examined all the men's backgrounds, including the perpetrators' involvement in the Russian evangelical community in Bellingham. Especially revealing, I thought, were his interviews with some of those community leaders:
Kids can be cruel," said a graduate of the Bellingham public schools who attends Slavic Baptist and didn't want to be named. "I got this a lot: 'Go back where you came from.' Some kids learn to deal with it and stay away from kids who pick on them. And some kids learn to deal with it by beating them up."

Walter Ilyan, a respected religious leader in Bellingham's Russian and Ukrainian community, agreed: "Kids always will take a poke at you. That's exactly what happens with all of our Slavic people." But with the encouragement of their churches and their parents, "they go hang out with their own people. And things cheer up." Sticking together has another bonus: strength in numbers. "If one boy comes and starts making fun of the Russian boy, then the other Russian boys can beat him," Ilyan said. Sensing that his statement echoes the circumstances surrounding the beating of Micah Painter, Ilyan moves to correct himself: "They could protect themselves."

... The line between intolerance and incitement is approached, but not overtly crossed.

"According to the Bible," Ilyan told me, "[being gay is] an abomination--That person is going to be damned forever."

"But," he added, "we teach our children no fighting."

The Watchmen are similarly in denial about the consequences of what and how they preach. They insist that all they're doing is trying to engage in dialogue, but the reality is that the viciousness -- the base dehumanization and demonization -- in what they're saying is naturally going to provoke the targets of that rhetoric to respond. This isn't dialogue; rather, it's like a village lunatic wandering about the town square poking people in the eyes with a sharp stick, and then proclaiming himself the victim when they respond angrily.

The Watchmen, though, clearly believe that they can put a benign face on their agenda to mask the ugliness beneath. The convention Saturday was glitzy and strange; the affair kicked off with a rock band playing schmaltzy "Christian" hard rock with a schmaltzy light show, all done in Russian (except for the singalong chorus, "I am a friend of God"). In between, MC Andrew Prakasam kept the banter light and Vegaslike, cooing steadily that "We don't anybody. We love everybody."

Hutcherson's talk was similarly soothing, following the "hate the sin but love the sinner" reasoning common among fundamentalists, but clearly belying his own war-oriented rhetoric and the talk of gay "abomination" pervasive among the Watchmen.

"I don't believe all discrimination is wrong," he said. "I discriminate based on what is right. God discriminates too.

"Today, disagreement means hate. If I disagree with you, I hate you. Evidently, God is the biggest hater in the world. The first thing we Christians need to take back is the right to disagree."

Of course, if it were only disagreement -- and not condemnation and eliminationism -- that Hutcherson and the Watchmen on the Walls were proffering this weekend, no one would have minded. But it wasn't.

The odd thing about hearing this kind of lame rationale from Hutcherson is that he is an African American man. As it happens, I've listened to a sermon that used nearly identical logic -- that discrimination isn't about hate if God commands it in the Bible -- at least once before. It was delivered by the late Rev. Richard Butler at the annual Aryan Nations Congress in Hayden Lake, Idaho. And he was talking about black people and Jews.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fueling the fires

-- by Dave

So Glenn Beck wants to know: Where did these crazy environmentalists get the idea that global warming had anything to do with these fires in southern California?

Maybe from data provided by the real world (obviously an alien environment for Beck):
Last year, a study in the journal Science found that "large wildfire activity increased suddenly and markedly in the mid-1980s, with higher large-wildfire frequency, longer wildfire durations, and longer wildfire seasons." The greatest increases were in forests of the Northern Rockies, but was seen throughout the west The pattern of western fires matched what would be expected not from changes in land use--mostly logging and ranching--but from climate change.

Specifically, a warmer world caused by the accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases produces alternating deluges and droughts. The extra heat causes greater evaporation, but the water vapor remains in the atmosphere longer, or travels farther, before falling--in buckets. The result is alternating wet and dry years. In wet years, vegetation grows like mad. In drought years, that vegetation becomes tinder, exactly what southern California is now experiencing. As the scientists said, "an increased incidence of large, high-severity fires may be due to a combination of extreme droughts and overabundant fuels."

And no, it's not just a matter of media attention or the ubiquity of fire video on YouTube. The scientists found that the frequency of wildfires beginning in the mid-1980s was nearly four times that of 1970 to 1986, "and the total area burned by these fires was more than six and a half times its previous level." It's real, and it's going to continue.

. . . and get worse. Just as this season we call summer is now slipping well past Sept. 21, so the fire "season" is busting out of its former bounds. The average time between the reported first wildfire and the last in any given year increased by 78 days (64%), comparing 1970 to 1986 with 1987 to 2003.

Another factor is snowmelt, which has been dissipating in the west (with dire consequences for water supply, but that's another story). The earlier the snowmelt, the worse the wildfire season, because if the snowpack holds on into late spring or summer it releases its water slowly and gradually, reducing the flammability of vegetation. But if the snow has all melted by early in the season, much of it is lost to runoff rather than retained in the soil, where it would dampen the flammability of vegetation. Also, the warmer the summer--another consequence of climate change--the worse the burn: warmer temps, by increasing the rate of plants' evapotranspiration, make brush more flammable.

OK, well, what about Michelle "My Pants Are Permanently Afire" Malkin's claim that it's all environmentalists' fault for having the temerity to challenge the Bush administration's forest-thinning plans?

Malkin cites an article -- from the industry-funded anti-environmentalist "think tank" Heartland Institute, natch -- claiming that citizen appeals of Forest Service plans were gumming up the industry's plans to thin forests:
The GAO examined 762 U.S. Forest Service (USFS) proposals to thin forests and prevent fires during the past two years. According to the study, slightly more than half the proposals were not subject to third-party appeal. Of those proposals subject to appeal, third parties challenged 59 percent.

Appeals were filed most often by anti-logging groups, including the Sierra Club, Alliance for Wild Rockies, and Forest Conservation Council. According to the GAO, 84 interest groups filed more than 400 appeals of Forest Service proposals. The appeals delayed efforts to treat 900,000 acres of forests and cost the federal government millions of dollars to address.

Well, Bush's forest-thinning program was fine within the parameters of genuine forest-thinning efforts in areas where it's needed, and environmentalists said so at the time. But like everything else Bush touched, it actually was a money-making front for his friends in Big Business, the timber industry in this case, which used forest thinning plans as a cover to begin logging in a large number of tracts where it wasn't necessary -- but where there were plenty of profits to be had.

It's useful to remember, after all, that forest thinning isn't necessary or even desirable in the wet forests of the far western Northwest, where a damp regime still prevails and fires historically have only occurred every 300-500 years. That's why they call them "old growth" forests. But that, as it happens, is where the Bush administration decided to create a large number of those "thinning" programs that resulted in the lawsuits that Malkin decries. In the meantime, I'm doubtful that very many, if any, of the appeals of the Forest Service thinning operations involved any of the tracts in southern California that are now ablaze.

No, the chief problem with the California tracts is that, after passing his Healthy Forests Initiative, Bush didn't even bother to fund it. Money that should have been going to forest thinning was being diverted to, as Dick Cheney would say, "other priorities."

This was made crystal-clear in a recent National Resources Defense Council report:
Entitled ‘Safe at Home: Making the Federal Fire Safety Budget Work for Communities,’ the report was prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). It notes that federal funding for state and local community fire protection programs has been slashed from $148.5 million in Fiscal Year 2001 to $85 million proposed by the Bush administration in the fiscal 2008 budget.

“They’re slashing resources for crucial fire protection measures at the very same time that the number of people whose homes and livelihoods are at stake is soaring,” said NRDC Senior Policy Analyst Amy Mall. “Communities are being left to their own devices when it comes to basic prevention and protection. Officials should be putting public money where the public lives.”

In total, only three percent of the $2.6 billion federal fire budget is dedicated to supporting state and local fire departments, which are where people turn to most often for information and assistance about proven methods of protecting local homes and communities from wildfires. A much larger share of federal fire prevention money goes to subsidize private timber company logging in remote, uninhabited areas away from the homes and businesses at risk.

Another piece from lays this out as well:
Funding for the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, unveiled by President Bush in 2003 with much fanfare, remain hundreds of millions of dollars beneath levels authorized in the legislation -- an assertion Rey disputes.

A boost in federal money for tree thinning in the San Bernardino National Forest after the 2003 fires dissipated as more resources were dedicated to the war in Iraq and Katrina relief efforts.

Constraints put on the way some money could be spent kept officials from using it in the most efficient and strategic manner.

... Five years ago, drought had taken hold in the West, and it unmasked the consequences of a century of misguided fire-suppression policies. Efforts to stop every fire had altered the forests' natural cycle of fire and re-growth, leaving them unnaturally dense with trees.

Lack of rainfall weakened the trees, making them susceptible to attack from bark beetles. The beetles weren't new to the forest, but the abundance of dying trees caused a beetle population explosion, leading to still more tree deaths.

As tree mortality grew exponentially, so did the threat of catastrophic fire.

However, even more significantly, it's evident that someone in this administration ordered plans to deal with it buried:
Zimmerman knew all of these things during a period in 2002 and early 2003 when he forwarded his report to supervisors in the Agriculture Department, which oversees national forests. He knew there would be no easy solution.

He said it would take a lot of money and a lot of time to return the forest to health -- $300 million at $30 million a year for 10 years, to adequately reduce the fire danger facing the tens of thousands of residents in Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear, Idyllwild and other forest communities.

In the months before the October 2003 fires, Zimmerman was told during a conference call to shred the document, he said during an interview this week.

He declined to identify the Agriculture Department official who gave the order but said other Forest Service officials were with him on the call.

"We just looked at each other," Zimmerman said. "We were incredulous."

Meanwhile, where were environmentalists in all this? They were backing the brush-clearing -- but they wanted it done right, and not just as a scam for the timber companies to make off with valuable trees:
Rich Fairbanks with the Wilderness Society, a conservation group, agrees that thinning projects are important and should be better funded.

But Fairbanks, based in Idyllwild, said forest managers must go one step further and have a "good, solid, aggressive cleanup after the thinning," which would include prescribed burns.

Darn those environmentalists. Funny how they have the nasty habit of being right time after time. Bet it makes blood shoot out of Glenn Beck's eyes just thinking about it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Usual Suspects

--by Sara

It must be lovely to be a right-winger. When it comes time to assign blame for anything -- hurricanes, Abu Ghraib, Pete Stark -- you can keep your beautiful mind spotlessly untainted by simply pulling out your list of Usual Suspects, picking one or two or a handful, and then slinging the invective in that general direction. No messy facts required; not a moment wasted in reasonable reflection. It's all right there on the list. You can aim your hate in a few easy seconds, and then get right back to your squash game. It just saves so much time for other things....

Last year, in the throes of l'affaire Foley, we actually kept score of who got blamed as the various excuses emerged over the course of a week or so. Apart from its tedious predictability, watching them fling the blame here and there had roughly the same entertainment value as watching monkeys flinging poo. You could see their mouths moving as they hurled it with everything they had, silently praying this one would stick to something that didn't smell Republican. (In the end, of course, that's about all it stuck to.) By the end of that fling-filled week, the finally tally of attempted targets looked like this:
The Democrats
The GOP Gay Cabal
The Catholic Church
Nancy Pelosi
Eve Ensler
Bill Clinton
Tolerance and diversity training
The pages themselves
Their parents
And, as we stood by and kept count, our intrepid commenters made up a handy list of Suspects To Be Named Later, so we'd have it ready to hand when the next conservative blamefest started up:
Secular Humanism
Al Qaida
Organized labor
The Liberal Media and
George Soros who not only counts for himself but also
The International Zionist Conspiracy
The Freemasons
The UN Oil for Food program
Hybrid Cars
Industrial Hemp
Hugo Chavez
Harry Potter
And here we are. Today, right on schedule, with the Bushies once again trying to do a quick fly-over maneuver to evade responsibility, the blame for the San Diego fires has already started falling thicker than the layers of ash on Escondido. Which means it's time, once again, to start rounding up The Usual Suspects. Let's get started.

Michelle Malkin is out front today blaming environmentalists. According to Bustardblog:
Today, Michelle "Just Make stuff up" Malkin explains how the left is to blame for the fires in California:

Environmentalists blame global warming for the problem, but guess who’s standing in the way of a solution?

Litigious environmentalists

Needless to say it's a sleazy smear from start to finish.

Actually, the start is not so bad. The first quote is a simple description of what is happening from Yahoo news. Her second quotation comes from a regional newspaper, and she is pretty selective. It starts:

Wildfires thrive in hot, dry weather. But the conditions also contribute to the die-off of trees, which must compete for water in forests that have become unnaturally dense because of a century of misguided fire suppression. Once dead and brittle, the trees become more fuel for catastrophic fires.

She ignored the two sentences immediately before those sentences:

The increased severity and length of fires seasons comes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports a clear pattern of temperatures nationwide. The hotter weather is coupled with predictions of decreased precipitation in the Southwest..

Another sentence in the same short article she forgot to quote:

The nation's worsening fire seasons are, in part, a consequence of global warming and are likely to get more severe unless forest managers step up tree removal efforts and prescribed fire programs, a group of scientists testified Monday before a congressional panel.

For her money quote, the one she uses to "prove" that the fires are the fault of environmentalists, she goes to a thoroughly corrupt source for an article it published more than four years ago. The quote comes from the Heartland Institute, a foundation financed in large part by tobacco, oil and auto interests. Not surprisingly, the "scientists" of the institute consider Al Gore and Global Warming fraudulent. Their favorite "environmental scientist" is of course funded by Exxon. The institute also promotes school choice, "free market health care," and defends smoking. They assert that:

The public health community's campaign to demonize smokers and all forms of tobacco is based on junk science.

Junk sources are what Malkin relies on for her posts.
Think Progress, on the other hand, caught Fox News trying to blame, uh, Al Qaida:
This morning on Fox News, hosts of the show Fox and Friends blamed the wildfires in California on a new culprit: al Qaeda. They pointed to a 2003 FBI memo, which raised the possibility that al Qaeda may try to set wildfires around the western United States. They also noted that men in a “hovering helicopter” saw “a guy starting one of these fires.”....Later in the segment, host Steve Doocy acknowledged that in memo, al Qaeda didn’t even mention California. “They mention Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming,” he added.
Over at Pandagon, Pam Spaulding quoted closeted gay fundamentalist firebrand James Hartline blaming (who else?) Teh Gay:
They shook their fists at God and said, “We don't care what God says, we will issue our legal brief to support gay marriage in San Diego!” Then Mayor Jerry Sanders mocked the Christian vote and signed off on this rebellious legal document to support same-sex marriage.

And then the streets of La Jolla under the Mt. Soledad Cross began to cave in.

They shook their fists at God and said, “We don't care what the Bible says, We want the California school children indoctrinated into homosexuality!” And then Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law the heinous SB777 which bans the use of “mom” and “dad” in the text books and promotes homosexuality to all school children in California.

And then the wildfires of Southern California engulfed the land like a raging judgment against the radicalized anti-christian California rebels.

How low will we go?

Why won't they listen?

Why won't they stop their madness? The Bible says that in the last days, the nations will rebel against God until He can't take it anymore. Was it all worth it? Were the few years of sexual immorality worth the eternal destruction and earthly chaos it brought? How low will we go?
Add in Glenn Beck's outburst the other day, and our new 2007 San Diego Fire list of Usual Suspects now includes:
Hollywood liberals
Al Qaida
Stay tuned -- and don't forget, you're invited to play along at home!

Spreading the ignorance

-- by Dave

Sometimes I'm not so sure how well this whole blogosphere thing is going to work out. According to Carnegie-Mellon, the nine most influential blogs in the country are right-wing entities -- though you have to wonder about any list of this kind that somehow manages to omit DailyKos and HuffingtonPost.

And then there's the No. 2 blog on the list, belonging to Don Surber. The negative value of blogs really hits you over the head when you go exploring here. For instance: Discussing the horrendous Megan Williams case, Surber decided to offer his thoughts on hate-crime laws. It's an exercise in wanton ignorance, and it does nothing but help spread stupidity.

See, for instance, his thesis about hate-crimes laws:
Of course, hate crimes legislation is poppycock. All crimes of violence are hate crimes.

Of course, this is itself utter poppycock. To begin with, there are many, many crimes of violence that occur not because of hatred but because of a reckless disregard for human life, which is not the same thing at all. People often kill not out of hatred but out of carelessness and venality.

But even more important, most people who write about hate-crimes laws are aware that the term is something of a misnomer; what we call "hate crimes" are in fact known in the law as "bias crimes" -- crimes committed with a motivation of bias (racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, or gender) against the perceived class of the victim.

And to suggest that all violent crimes are bias crimes is, well, just plain ignorant. Crimes are committed out of a plenitude of motivations, and ethnic/religious/sexual biases constitute only a narrow band of them. Evidently, Surber is unaware of this.

He goes on to display even more ignorance:
Crime is the last segregated business in America. Most black crime victims are victims of blacks. White criminals generally pick white victims. If you are killed by a person of another color, does that make you more dead?

It seems that Surber labors under what's becoming an increasingly common misconception about how hate-crime laws work. They're not about interracial crime or, more generally, inter-identity crime. They're about, once again, bias crimes.

Suggesting that interracial crimes are innately hate crimes is one of the ways the race-baiting right muddies the waters about race, and it obviously works, because people like Surber subscribe to it.

A hate crime hasn't occurred simply when a person of one race commits a crime against someone of another. This, of course, occurs all the time.

It's only a hate crime when the victim is intentionally selected specifically because of their ethnic, religious, or sexual identity.

So, for the sake of intellectual honesty, let's try recasting Surber's question in terms of how the laws actually work:
If you are killed by a person of another color because he was biased against your color, does that make you more dead?

Of course it doesn't. What it does do, however, is erect a threat within the community against all other persons of that color.

Hate crimes are message crimes: They are intended to harm not just the immediate victim, but all people of that same class within the community. Their message is also irrevocable: they are "get out of town, nigger/Jew/queer" crimes.

That's why bias-crime laws are about imposing stiffer sentences on their perpetrators: they cause more real harm to the community. This principle -- greater harm brings stiffer punishment -- is a basic element of criminal law.

Moreover, the question becomes somewhat moot, as I've explained previously, at the upper end of the criminal spectrum, and may well in this case too:
Even though most of the nation's attention to hate crimes comes in notorious murder cases like the killings of James Byrd and Matthew Shepard, hate crime laws themselves have relatively little impact on such cases. They are sentence-enhancement laws, and there isn't much enhancement you can get at the upper end (though prosecutors are known to use the laws to leverage stiffer sentences both in plea bargaining and in regular courtroom convictions). But that's relatively irrelevant to the value of the laws themselves; annually, only 2-3 percent of all bias crimes reported to the FBI are murder.

Conversely, as we've seen in recent weeks, bias crimes remain at the heart of our nation's great divides, particularly because of the failure of the law-enforcement apparatus to appropriately enforce the laws against them. This mounting failure contributes to the divide by enhancing the already deep mistrust.

Now, that does raise the question of whether and how West Virginia law should be applied in the Williams case (which was the point of all this discussion). I recommend Raging Red's thorough analysis.

Surber's solution? Just build more prisons:
What we can do is recognize that there are awful people of all colors who deserve to go to prison. Not for rehabilitation, but to keep them from preying on others.

The best way to prevent another torture case is to build another prison so that we do not have to let violent criminals out due to a lack of space. W.Va. should raise the food tax back to 6 percent if necessary.

Well, that's a terrific ipso facto solution. It presumes that most crimes involve people with criminal records -- even though, for instance, a substantial portion of bias crimes are committed by people with no or only minor criminal records. The idea, of course, is to find ways of creating an environment in which the crimes don't occur to begin with.

Now, it's true that bias-crime laws -- reflecting the crimes themselves -- are admittedly in large part message laws. That isn't a bad thing in itself. As Frederick Lawrence observes in Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes and American Law, the general purpose of punishment itself is to send a message. He cites a report of the British Royal Commission on Capital Punishment:
Punishment is the way in which society expresses its denunciation of wrong doing: and in order to maintain respect for law, it is essential that punishmen inflicted for grave crimes should adequately reflect the revulsion felt by the great majority of citizens for them ... The ultimate justification for any punishment is, not that it is a deterrent, but that it is the emphatic denunciation by the community of the crime.

Interestingly enough however, in the case of bias crimes, sending the message in fact is a form of deterrent as well.

Think about the message sent by bias-crime laws: the community stands up to condemn the bullies who seek to oppress and deny ordinary American freedoms to whole minority groups within the community. That's not a bad message to send.

Particularly not in a situation where, as in the case of most bias-crime perpetrators, studies have shown that they believe they are acting on the unspoken wishes and values of their communities. When they violently proclaim, "Get out of town," it's important for the town to stand up and say: "They don't speak for us."

Bias-crime laws send the message NO: violence, threats, and intimidation with an eye toward elimination is not what the community wants. It starkly undermines the rationale that perpetrators like to erect for themselves when committing these acts. And it undermines the groupthink that often is in play in these crimes. That's why it's in the community's vital interest to send that message.

Unfortunately, it will never happen as long as ignorance like Surber's spreads.


Here are some collected posts, chronologically arranged, on bias crimes, for anyone who wants to better understand the laws and the crimes:

Hate crimes: A response

Who needs hate-crimes laws?

Hate crimes, democracy, and freedom

Should we repeal hate-crimes laws?

Failing in the present

Boys will be boys

Falling down on hate crimes

Hate crimes: Muddying the waters

Hate crimes: Progress at last


Hate crimes and the law

Still bashing Matthew Shepard

It's what they do

[Photo by Michael Browning / AP]

-- by Dave

Following up on the case of the abduction of a black woman by six white people in rural West Virginia, the AP's Shaya Tayefe Mohajer has an excellent follow-up featuring an interview with the victim:
For days, the 20-year-old black woman was allegedly tortured, beaten, forced to eat feces - rat, dog and human - and raped by six white men and women who held her until Sept. 8.

A passer-by heard cries from the shed where she had been kept, and Logan County sheriff's deputies found her hours later.

Seated in a rocking chair in her mother's living room, about 50 miles from that shed, the slight woman says she was outnumbered by people who just wanted to hurt a black person.

"They just kept saying 'This is what we do to niggers down here'," she recalls.

... "They braided some switches together and beat me across the back when I was pickin' peas out the field. They tore my clothes off of me and everything, and then they took me up to the lake and they said that was the place they were going to cut my throat and throw me in, and I was never coming back to see my family again," she said.

I couldn't help reading this and feeling a chill. It reminded me of the stories people would tell from the lynching era, of anonymous black bodies floating by on local rivers, just so many more uncounted corpses atop the already considerable toll that mounted during those years. And you have to wonder how many cases like this have occurred in which the perpetrators have simply gone uncaught, because the disappearances were simply shrugged off.

As pdxWoman notes, disappearances have a way of getting the shrug treatment unless they happen to involve young middle-class white women.

Hungry Blues has more on the incident, including an on-the-money consideration of Williams' past history with one of the perpetrators.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The 'adjustment' in San Diego

[Photo by Andrew Gornbert / EPA]

-- by Dave

The scale of the wildfires in California is a daunting reminder of man's helplessness in the face of nature's power. But it's also a reminder that there are real costs that arise from global warming, and from continuing to do nothing as we continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The costs so far in the San Diego area alone: $1 billion and rapidly rising. The Bush administration is scurrying to provide disaster relief, but so far no one is talking about the big gorilla in the room: the role of global warming in these and hundreds of other wildfires throughout the West.

It's been a memorable fire season already in Idaho and Montana, as well as in Oregon. Now it's hitting home in California, where the substantially larger population is now at increasing risk.

In all of these areas, the trend has been similar: unseasonably warm winters and spring have meant a vegetation buildup in wild areas that have turned into massive tinder boxes as the heat of summer has dried them up, making them increasingly vulnerable to out-of-control fire regimes.

And we've known for some time that global warming has been playing a significant role in all this:
The size and ferocity of these wildfires plaguing the West right now -- many growing in size every hour -- astonishes even experienced fire chiefs like Mat Fratus of the San Bernardino City Fire Department.

"I had talked to people who had been in the fire service their entire career, and not only this fire, but fires in preceding years, because of the drought, because of the fuel conditions, they produced fire behavior, flame links, intensities that we had never really experienced before," Fratus said.

"And everything we had to throw at it, we did. And it just seemed to burn right through us," Fratus said.

... Today's wildfires are part of a worsening pattern most everywhere.

Since 1970, the number of major wildfires has soared not only in North America but around the world.

Scientists report that global warming means mountains lose winter snowpack weeks ahead of time, from the Himalayas to California Sierras.

"The snow is melting earlier in the year at very regular intervals now, and we're getting much longer fire seasons. It dries out much more than before," said Anthony Westerling, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The economic cost of these new fires is many billions of dollars. No one knows exactly how much, except that the rapid new development seems bound to make it much worse.

"Some of our fastest growing areas are going to have the biggest increases in fire frequency in the future driven by temperature increases from climate change," Westerling said.

Darkening this picture is the recent news that these wildfires are spewing mercury into the atmosphere at an alarming rate.

And as I noted then, these are all part of the very real costs that the Bush administration cynically calculated back in 2002 that the public could just grin and bear:
Recall that when the EPA first acknowledged the reality of global warming back in 2002, it nonetheless refused to recommend any action to change course:

But while the report says the United States will be substantially changed in the next few decades — "very likely" seeing the disruption of snow-fed water supplies, more stifling heat waves and the permanent disappearance of Rocky Mountain meadows and coastal marshes, for example — it does not propose any major shift in the administration's policy on greenhouse gases.

It recommends adapting to inevitable changes. It does not recommend making rapid reductions in greenhouse gases to limit warming, the approach favored by many environmental groups and countries that have accepted the Kyoto Protocol, a climate treaty written in the Clinton administration that was rejected by Mr. Bush.

A few days after the report was issued, Bush dismissed it outright -- for even acknowledging the reality of the phenomenon. But White House policy afterward has been geared toward doing as little as possible to lower carbon emissions because, after all, we can just "adjust."

Now we're starting to see a little bit of the big price we'll be paying for those "adjustments."

In San Diego, I think, we're starting to get a glimpse of the much bigger price we'll be paying. And more is on the way.

As the Scientific American explained in its piece yesterday:
The world may finally acknowledge that global warming is a major environmental hazard. But new research shows that reducing the main greenhouse gas behind it may be even more difficult than previously believed. The reason: the world's oceans and forests, which scientists were counting on to help hold off catastrophic rises in carbon dioxide, are already so full of CO2 that they are losing their ability to absorb this climate change culprit.

"For every ton of CO2 emitted [into] the atmosphere, the natural sinks are removing less carbon than before," says biologist Josep "Pep" Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project—an Australia–based research consortium devoted to analyzing the pollution behind global warming. "This trend will continue into the future."

Looks like Glenn Beck -- who has decried global-warming science as the concoction of a "New World Order" conspiracy -- is going to have a field day finding new segments of the country who'll be getting their fiery just desserts. Funny how that works -- especially when the reality is that it's his own special brand of ignorance-mongering that is helping to fuel the flames.

UPDATE: Sure enough: Beck is blaming the environmentalists:
Last night, CNN Headline News host Glenn Beck blamed California’s massive wildfires on the “damn environmentalists” and their “bad environmental policies.” He also claimed that global warming has nothing to do with the situation, stating, “[I]f I hear global warming one more time, blood is going to shoot out of my eyes.”

To prove his points, he brought on R.J. Smith of the Exxon-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute and Chris Horner, author of the Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism. Horner — who is also a senior fellow at CEI — predictably argued that “[g]lobal warming is not a likely suspect” for the fires and Smith said that “the greens have made things worse by stopping all [fuels] management.”

There is a special hell that will be waiting for Glenn Beck someday.

UPDATE II: EnergySmart has more.

Running them out

-- by Dave

We can now add to the list of New Sundown Towns the fine folks of Prince William County, Virginia, whose passage of anti-illegal-immigrant statutes recently had its intended effect.

That is, its intended message -- Latinos Not Welcome Here -- was apparently quite the success:
It appears the message has already been received: Terrified that new policies will lead to mass deportations, illegal immigrants and the many legal immigrant relatives and friends who live with them have been moving out of Prince William ever since July, when county supervisors first approved the plan's outline.

The size of the migration is difficult to measure, particularly during a year when slumping housing prices and skyrocketing foreclosures have led many residents to move for purely economic reasons.

Still, signs of the growing climate of fear are everywhere.

At the Freetown Market, a convenience store in a heavily Latino section of Woodbridge that offers U-Haul trucks for hire, one-way rentals have jumped from between 10 and 20 a month just before July to about 40 a month today.

In the same strip mall, at a money-transfer store where the customer line to pay utility bills once snaked out the door, business has slowed so dramatically the past three months that one clerk has been let go and the remaining one spends most of her time on the computer, e-mailing gloomy updates to relatives back home in Guatemala.

A few doors down, staff workers at the IMA English language academy will soon be taking the American flag decorations off the walls and moving to a smaller space, because the number of students has plummeted from 350 to about 60 since July.

"There is a mass panic," said the academy's owner, Roberto Catacora. "Those who haven't already moved away don't dare step outside their houses."

Although one of the new measures directs county police to check the immigration status of only criminal suspects, many immigrants think that all Latinos will be subject to random sweeps, Catacora added.

The effect on his once-bustling academy was palpable on a recent weeknight, when all but one of the six classrooms were deserted.

And of course, it's not just illegal Latinos who get this message -- which in fact was exactly as its authors intended:
Several real estate agents who serve Latino immigrants predicted that more people will reach the same conclusion as Ramirez now that the Prince William Board of County Supervisors has given final approval to the anti-illegal immigration measure.

"This is not something that only affects the undocumented," agent Rosie Vilchez said. "Because in the same family, it's so common to have some people who are citizens, some people who are residents and some who are undocumented. And those with papers are going to do whatever is necessary to protect those without."

Within hours of the board's vote, Salvadoran-born Aracely Diaz instructed her real estate agent to put her townhouse on the market.

Diaz, a supermarket checkout clerk, was one of nearly 400 people who waited for hours to comment on the bill during the marathon pre-vote session that stretched into Wednesday's wee hours.

"Even after they passed that July resolution, I had hope that [the supervisors] would change their minds," said Diaz, 37, who has legal status but worries about relatives who do not.

Now, she noted bitterly, "I'll be selling at a loss. But I don't care. I no longer have any affection for this place that treats us this way. I just want to get out."

And who could blame her?

If past history is anything to go by, the white burghers of Prince William County will rue the day they passed these laws. It's not just the prolonged legal battle that is certain to ensue, costing their taxpayers millions. It's not just the deeply negative economic impact, as folks in Carpentersville, Ill., and Hazelton, Pa., and Stillmore, Ga., have learned to their everlasting regret.

No, it's that Prince William County will be known henceforth as a Sundown County -- a white racist enclave that no one with any basic sense of human decency (especially when it comes to racial issues) would want to have anything to do with.

As the New York Times observed this week:
Think of America’s greatest historical shames. Most have involved the singling out of groups of people for abuse. Name a distinguishing feature — skin color, religion, nationality, language — and it’s likely that people here have suffered unjustly for it, either through the freelance hatred of citizens or as a matter of official government policy.

We are heading down this road again. The country needs to have a working immigration policy, one that corresponds to economic realities and is based on good sense and fairness. But it doesn’t. It has federal inertia and a rising immigrant tide, and a national mood of frustration and anxiety that is slipping, as it has so many times before, into hatred and fear. Hostility for illegal immigrants falls disproportionately on an entire population of people, documented or not, who speak Spanish and are working-class or poor. By blinding the country to solutions, it has harmed us all.

... The new demagogues are united in their zeal to uproot the illegal population. They do not discriminate between criminals and the much larger group of ambitious strivers. They champion misguided policies, like a mythically airtight border fence and a reckless campaign of home invasions. And they summon the worst of America’s past by treating a hidden group of vulnerable people as an enemy to be hated and vanquished, not as part of a problem to be managed.

The most recent casualty of this misguided eagerness to inflict harm on "illegals" was the DREAM Act, which went down in the Senate today -- mostly because there were too many Democrats and "moderate" Republicans anxious not to appear "soft on illegals."

These people aren't just hurting themselves along with their intended victims. They're hurting the whole country.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Watching and Worrying

View Larger Map

-- by Sara

OK, this is the most intelligent use of the Web I've seen this week.

KPBS in San Diego has built a Google Maps mash-up showing, in real time, the current emergency status of the entire San Diego area -- burned areas, evacuation zones, which roads are open and closed, where the evacuation centers are, all of it. (The map above is live; click through to get the full-sized page.)

If there's someone in the area you're worried about, all you need is a street address. (Don't try to enter it on the mash-up page; the search function is disabled. Open a separate regular Google Maps page, and enter the address of the place you want to check on. Then, when you've found it, switch back to the mashup page, and locate it by eye to see what's happening there.) Click on any of the map icons to get details about what's going on at that location.

I found my sister's house this way. It's OK -- just a few blocks outside the edge of a yellow zone. Unfortunately, it's also downwind of the biggest part of the biggest fire. She's not going home tonight, but at least she's still got a home to go to...for now, anyway.

The number of evacuees has now topped half a million and is still growing, which makes this (according to the San Francisco Chronicle) the second biggest evacuation in American history after Katrina. As you can see on the mashup, a lot of the evacuation centers are now simply full. Schools were closed today, and will be for a while.

The good news? The Chronicle quoted a local fire spokesman saying that the fire could be under control "as soon as November 1."

It's going to be a very, very long week.

Unfortunately, there aren't similar maps (yet) for the Orange County or northern LA County fires. I'll be watching for one -- my mom's in the path of the Malibu fire -- but if you find it first, let me know.

Update -- more maps

US Forest Service California statewide fire map
Google Map mashup showing all of Southern California (fire locations only)
Another San Diego Google Map showing burned structures, with links to video

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Price of Hating America

A home in Poway, CA goes up in flames

-- by Sara

"I think there is a handful of people who hate America. Unfortunately for them, a lot of them are losing their homes in a forest fire today."
-- Glenn Beck, October 22, 2007

My sister is spending tonight on a couch in a friend's apartment. She, her partner, and her two kids got up at five o'clock this morning, packed up whatever they could fit in into the car, and drove away from the apartment that has been their home for over a decade.

Tonight, with brushfires raging throughout the hills of eastern San Diego, there is no way of knowing when they will be able to return -- or if there will be anything left to return to. By tomorrow morning, that couch may be the only home she has.

They are just four of over a quarter million San Diegans who have been forced to evacuate their homes over the past two days.

My sister is a nurse. A highly skilled one, who supervises other nurses in an obstetrical and neo-natal ICU. If you ever had a preemie who lived, it was because someone like my sister kept watchful eyes and skilled hands on that baby, every second, keeping it fed and breathing and loved for however many days and weeks it took for its survival to be assured. (And yes, she went to work today, because that's where she belonged.) She's a stalwart of her union, a loving and fierce mother, and a pillar of her Presbyterian church. She believes in prayer, the Second Coming, creationism, and homeland security.

And Glenn Beck thinks she deserves to lose her house because she "hates America."

Words fail.

Win or lose, my sister will probably view the outcome as a blessing from God; or a sign that she is being tested by him. But, either way, I don't think either God or my sister will thank Beck for presuming to insert himself into that exchange -- let alone attempting to interpret it on behalf of either.

But as long as we're interpreting messages, just what are you saying here, Glenn? That people who live in California's fire-prone areas are somehow more likely to hate America? Would that be all 38 million Californians (considerably more than "a handful"); or is God aiming these fires to smite specific ones in particular? And if so, why would he choose San Diego County -- one of the most Republican areas of the state? Could it be because it's actually Republicans who hate America? (OK -- now we're getting somewhere. But it's probably not where you meant to be.)

OK, snark mode off. Last week, it was the Frosts and Wilkersons. Now, it's a nice Christian Republican nurse in nice Christian Republican San Diego. Who also happens to be my sister. Who may, as I write this, be losing her home and all its contents.

And all Glenn Beck can think of to say is that she somehow had it coming.

Please: Why is this man still on the air?

Crossposted at Group News Blog

Watching some more

-- by Dave

My post on the Watchmen on the Walls is up at The Big Con. Here's the opening:
There's been a flood of movement conservatives accusing liberals of being Nazis lately, most recently Debbie Schlussel and Michael Savage. Most of it has been barely concealed projection. We can hardly wait, of course, for Jonah Goldberg's contribution to the meme, though it looks we may be waiting awhile. Newspeak can be tricky, after all.

But the most striking use of the "liberal Nazis" meme I've yet heard -- striking, that is, for the Bizzaro World inversion of reality it reflected -- came this weekend from Vlad Kusakin, the Sacramento-based editor of a Russian-language newspaper called The Speaker. Kusakin went on a rant about the "liberal media" and the 120 or so people gathered outside the meeting hall in Lynnwood, Wash., where he was speaking to a group calling itself the Watchmen on the Walls.


Watching the Watchmen

-- by Dave

I spent Saturday in Lynnwood covering the Watchmen on the Walls gathering at the local convention center. I'll be filing a written report later today at The Big Con.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share some photos.

There were about 150 protesters outside. Attendees inside numbered well under a hundred. It was wet and rainy, but spirits were unusually good.

A group of the younger attendees watched the protesters with evident disgust from the upper-level walkway outside their gathering hall.

And a group of young people (mostly about the same age) outside spotted them taking pictures and tried to address them. However, there was no interaction between the two sides that I could observe.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Albion's Seed, Part III: The Quakers, 1675-1725

-- by Sara

Part I
Part II

Every Thanksgiving, Americans repeat the ancient schoolbook tale that the English settlers by and large first came to these colonies because they were "seeking religious freedom." But, it turns out, that easy fable really only holds true for the two groups that settled the northern colonies: the Puritans and the Quakers. (The southern Cavaliers and Borderers came mainly for economic and political reasons that had little to do with religion.) And of all four groups, none needed that freedom as desperately -- or had as much to prove to themselves and the world -- as the Quakers. Between 1675 and 1725, they provided the third wave of English migration, bringing over 25,000 plain, upright, thrifty laborers and tradespeople from England's rapidly industrializing midlands, and settling them in the rich and temperate basin of the Delaware Valley.

A New Light
The Society of Friends was founded in England by George Fox in the 1650s, and immediately took England and western Europe by theological storm. It was a religion tailor-made for the continent's emerging industrial middle and working classes. Preaching the dignity of simple living, honest work, community and family, kindness, and thrift, Quakerism elevated virtues that even the poorest wage-earner could afford to cultivate. Furthermore, it told these workers that it was not only unnecessary, but actually immoral, to pay tithes and taxes that supported church hierarchies, buildings, and learned clergy. All souls were equal in the eyes of God, and thus perfectly capable of addressing him without intercession. Everyone has a duty to find truth and meaning for themselves, with the steadfast support of community and family. In God, we all Friends -- fellow travelers supporting each other on life's way.

Of course, their refusal to pay tithes and church taxes instantly put these heretics on the wrong side of the Anglican church, which came after the Quakers with all the viciousness that a 17th century European government could muster. The Quaker home counties were in England's industrial midlands (Fischer notes that the region's thousand-year history of Scandinavian settlement -- which had already inculcated thrifty self-sufficiency as a local character trait-- may have been one reason the Plain Faith found good root there); and it wasn't long before the hundreds of Quaker meetings throughout this area each started keeping a detailed "Book of Sufferings," documenting the seizures, fines, and jail sentences their members endured at the hands of the Crown. Even now, they are terrifying reading. Entire Quaker families and communities simply vanished into the rugged hills of Yorkshire and northern Wales, embracing the rough life of the wilderness in order to escape persecution.

Still, Fischer argues, the forces that pulled the Quakers toward America were at least as strong as those that pushed them out of England. He argues that the Quaker belief system has gone through at least four major shifts in theological focus in its 350-year history, so the Quakers we know now are not quite like Quakers as he describes them back then. In 1675, they were in their second phase, pursuing a vividly idealistic vision of what the world might become if they were allowed to fully live their faith.

When William Penn -- one of the most powerful men in England, and far and away the most noble of all the Quakers -- secured an American land grant from the Crown in the early 1670s specifically to attempt the Great Quaker Experiment, it triggered a Quaker migration that drained entire Midland and northern Welsh counties of their working classes. Meetinghouse collections were taken up to send a steady flow of families from Liverpool to Philadelphia. Over the course of 40 years, England's dwindling Quaker population fed the burgeoning settlements of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.

The circumstances of their migration are important, because in them we find the seeds of the Quakers' most important legacy: our American ideal of diversity, equality, and tolerance; and the concept of reciprocal liberty. From the beginning, the Delaware Valley migration swept in not only English Quakers, but also Welsh, Irish, French, Dutch, and German Friends; and, for good measure, a few thousand Bavarian Pietists (Mennonites, Dunkers, and Amish) recruited by William Penn because they shared similar beliefs about the "new light" that shone in each born-again soul. (The New Light movements were the original proponents of the "born-again" idea -- another legacy of this region.) From the beginning, the Delaware Valley colony peaceably brought together people of many different languages and cultures, and expected them to live together as equals in the eyes of God and the law.

They even welcomed people of other religions. Other religious minorities, including Baptists, Catholics, and freethinkers, realized quickly that the Friends made good neighbors, so Quaker towns were typically full of non-Quakers who admired their way of life, even though they never joined the church themselves. This large subset of sympathizers who weren't formally "Friends," were (even then) referred to as "Friendly." Fischer describes the way in which Quaker beliefs were absorbed by these Friendlies, and thus began to shape the culture of an entire region:
The special teachings of Quakerism in this second period entered deeply into the culture of the Delaware Valley. Friends and neighbors alike embraced the idea of religious freedom and social pluralism. They favored a weak polity and strong communal groups. Most came to share the Quakers' concern for basic literacy and their contempt for higher learning. They also accepted Quaker ideas of the sanctity of property, equality of manners, simplicity of taste, as well as their ethic of work, their ideal of worldly asceticism, their belief in the importance of the family and their habits of sexual prudery. All of the attitudes became exceptionally strong in the folkways of an American region.
A New Caanan
In the Delaware Valley, the Quakers ended up with the very choicest piece of British America. More fertile and temperate than Puritan Massachusetts, and less affected by swamp-borne illness that sapped the Cavaliers in the nearby Chesapeake, the valley turned out to be rich with nuts and berries, hardwoods, and an incredible supply of mineral wealth. Beyond that: the native Lenni Lenape tribes were also far more friendly (if not Friendly) than the Pequots or the Powhatans (which had rained down terror on the Puritans and Cavaliers, respectively). Penn, in his idealism, approached them in peace; and, fortunately for him, they were inclined to return peace in kind.

The upshot was that the Quakers were largely spared the lean and violent early years that had faced the previous two migrations. Working in family and community groups that they'd uprooted intact from England, they found it easy to build homes, establish villages, and set up productive farms and businesses. Penn, unlike the previous colonists, had the good sense to aggressively recruit artisans and tradespeople who could help build up the economy from the beginning. More than any other immigrant group, the Quaker colonists were able to hit the ground running.

Fischer paints William Penn as a complicated man -- visionary, but hardly modern. Penn clearly understood, far better than either the Puritan John Winthrop or the Cavalier John Beverley, what it took to build a successful colony; and he merged that pragmatism with an idealistic vision of "love and brotherly harmony" between the colonists. But, says Fischer:
"Penn never imagined that all people were of the same condition. He expected 'obedience to superiors, love to equals, and help and countenance to inferiors.' There was to be no freedom for the wicked; Penn's laws on sin were more rigorous in some respects than those of the Puritans or Anglicans....

He was not a modern man. He despised the material and secular impulses that were gaining strength around him, and dreamed of a world where Christians could dwell together in love. His vision for America looked backward to the primitive Church, and also to what he called England's ancient constitution. These were not progressive ideas."
Maybe not; but in time, the culture of Penn and the early Quakers supplied much of the character of what we now consider "Midwestern'" America. Fischer traces dozens of familiar Midwesternisms like flabbergasted, cuddle, gumption, spud, and wallop to their roots in the dialects of the North Midlands. Like the earlier immigrant groups, they also replicated their ancestral housing styles, using the valley's handsome fieldstone to re-create the stone cottages of Yorkshire and Cheshire (though the barn out back was usually built in the sturdy style of the German Pietists). While the Puritans baked and the Cavaliers fried, the Quakers preferred the boiled foods that were also common in the Midlands.

Quakers regarded work as a form of worship; and idleness as a cardinal sin. Even social gatherings usually had a "needful" purpose -- barn-raisings, quilting bees, and so on. In their strict utilitarianism, they frowned on dancing, games, idle conversation, and sports -- especially sports that involved cruelty to animals, which included horse racing. A balanced life was important -- but leisure time was better spent on "useful" pursuits like hunting, fishing, and horticulture. To foster this self-sufficiency, they were the first Americans to extend hunting and fishing rights to everyone equally, instead of withholding them as the privilege of a few. Curiously, they were also the first to take up swimming and ice skating just for fun.

Love and Equality at Home
The forthright intelligence and outspokenness American women are known for -- and the extraordinary political and social equalities we enjoy (at least, when compared to other women in the world) -- are another Quaker legacy. Quaker founder George Fox had proclaimed, "Spiritual power was one in the male and the female, one spirit, one light, one life, one power, which brings forth the same witness." It was a profound statement in a time when men in Europe seriously debated whether women had souls at all.

Quaker women preached, went on missions abroad, and endured the persecutions alongside their husbands -- and, sometimes, on their own. Unfortunately, they didn't leave that persecution behind when they sailed from Liverpool: the two other colonies were, if anything, even more heavy-handed in their treatment of these heretics, and the brunt of it fell on women. Massachusetts Puritans, for example, spared no punishment for Quaker women who dared to preach in public. Elderly missionary Elizabeth Hooten was stripped, beaten, and left in the woods for dead by a mob of Harvard students; another, Mary Dyer, was simply hanged.

This revolutionary belief in gender equality was reflected in the Quaker approach to marriage. Equality in marriage was such a strange and difficult concept that Fox ended up writing over sixty essays explaining to his befuddled followers how it should all work out; and then set the community to stand guard over the institution, just to make sure. As a result, Quaker weddings were Byzantine affairs, following a strict 16-step order in which written permissions for the union were collected from both families, and various committees within the congregations of both parties. If you didn't "pass the meeting," you didn't get married. Largely because of these intricate rules, Quaker America had far and away the latest age of marriage, and the highest number of life-long bachelors and spinsters, of any of the four groups. And, while the Friends didn't mind living alongside others -- and even tolerated interracial marriage in some circumstances -- out-marriage to a non-Quaker often resulted in shunning and disinheritance.

All of this community oversight was a container for a happier fact: the Quakers believed in marrying for love. Not lust (Fox was adamant that sex was for procreation only), and certainly not money; but both partners were entitled to mutual respect and companionable love. Quaker writings referred to husband and wife as co-equal "heads of household," and mutually responsible as parents. Again, Fischer traces the acceptance of these ideas to the Scandinavian influence throughout the Midlands, heirs to a Viking culture that had also granted exceptional rights to women in its time.

However, despite their emphasis on love matches, the Quakers also set severe and lingering national standards when it came to sexual inhibition. Pious Quaker couples were known to abstain for years at a time, with the help of separate beds and often bedrooms as well -- which may be part of how the Quakers, alone among the English immigrant groups, successfully controlled and limited their family size. Sex was thought to destroy the higher spiritual union essential to marriage -- a tenet that found its ultimate expression in the Shaker offshoot sect, which was entirely celibate for life. Fischer suggests that America's notorious sexual prudery may have found its start in Quaker Philadelphia.

Quakers childrearing was nothing short of radical for its time. While most of the English world firmly believed that children were born evil and required a firm hand to bring them to goodness, the Quakers thought children were born innocent and good. In the early years, children were loved and doted on -- and carefully sheltered from the harsh realities of life. Later, when they'd acquired the maturity to handle it all, they were given a Quaker education designed to cultivate common sense and reason, teach a trade, and gently discipline the adolescent to submit his or her will to the needs of the larger community. But higher education was rare. Since they didn't need a trained clergy, Quakers were suspicious of universities. You needed to be able to read intelligently, work productively, speak well, and think clearly. Anything more than that was an indulgence unsuited to plain people.

Quakers avoided corporal punishment, preferring positive reinforcement techniques that simply ignored children who misbehaved. Argument and defiance were met with gentleness; visitors of the time were taken aback at the uppity outspokenness of Quaker enfants terribles as they addressed their elders.

Old people were seen as teachers and community leaders -- a bit more equal among equals. Death was a community affair, as a Friend left this world surrounded by friends and family. Funerals were no-fuss, no-frills, no-wake affairs: a simple disposition of a now-useless body. The spirit was one of confident optimism about the afterlife -- which also, in time, made the Quakers susceptible to seances and other rituals to contact the dead.

The Quaker Legacy: Reciprocal Liberty
Thanks to favorable geography, friendly neighbors, good planning, and their own emphasis on charity, thrift, hard work, and equality, the Quaker Experiment quickly succeeded beyond Penn's wildest dreams. Their sterling reputation for honesty and fair dealing -- and a network of family ties that not only reached back to the emerging Industrial Midlands and London, but also covered much of Europe -- allowed the Friends to dominate the new Industrial Age as the leading bankers, managers, and traders in both England and America.

Their open-mindedness and ready acceptance of strangers gave them enormous business advantages over the xenophobic insularity of the Puritans, and the hide-bound classism and condescending unscrupulousness of the Cavaliers. They were trustworthy, careful, and fair; and people preferred doing business with them whenever they had the choice. The Friends' nuanced and original vision of what we now call "soft power" served them incredibly well in a rough and uncertain world. It was the core piece of their success -- and it might serve modern Americans well to go back and study how they did it.

They also opposed the slave trade with implacable tenacity. Abolition efforts began in Pennsylvania within the first decade of the colony -- and continued, without ceasing, until the Revolution. Most of these efforts failed when they ran afoul of the English government, which was heavily invested in the trade. Through it all, the Society of Friends kept up steady social and economic pressure on Pennsylvania's ever-dwindling number of slave owners, and tried to set a better example in their own treatment of free blacks.

The early Delaware residents -- both English Friend and (usually German) Friendly -- took all these traits with them as they moved west through the 18th and 19th centuries to settle up a wide swath of the frontier, stretching from Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois; up to Minnesota and Wisconsin; and all the way out as far as Idaho and Montana. Followed in time by Scandinavians and Germans who were their kindred souls, they built up mines and farms and factories and great industrial cities wherever they went. Though the Quakers' descendants largely ended up over time in Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches, what we now think of as the "Midwestern" character -- modest, plain-talking, straight-dealing, hard-working, fair, and full of optimistic good will -- is a distinctive mark left by the Friends on the American frontier. Their long struggle against slavery is another: two centuries later, the determined grandsons of these peaceable people would form the backbone of the Union Army in the Civil War.

Another legacy is their nuanced and democratic approach toward justice -- a necessary stance, given the diversity of cultures in the Delaware Valley. Democratically-chosen judges and sheriffs dominated as peacekeepers and mediators. After enduring so much at the hands of the English and other colonists, they quickly limited the gallows to traitors and murderers only; and used the lash only on those who'd "invaded the peace" of another. The laws of Pennsylvania granted an unprecedented and expansive set of rights: the right to a jury trial, to a speedy trial, to counsel, and to equal access to evidence and witness. Jails were envisioned as rehabilitation, not punishment. The most serious crimes were those against equality -- abuse of a woman or servant was a very grave offense -- and against property, which was considered an invasion of another's peace.

Fischer also credits the Quakers with establishing much of America's enduring political culture. The Delaware Valley had many varied ethnic and religious groups, but very little in the way of an economic or hereditary oligarchy like those that dominated the earlier colonies. A rough-and-tumble party politics evolved to fill that power vacuum, with a steady level of active engagement by almost everyone. County government, directed by elected commissioners, plus the judge, coroner, and sheriff, held most of the power. The Quaker experience in England left them suspicious of big government and high taxes; all they wanted was a local structure to preserve peace and good order, with as little encroachment and taxation as possible. Americans' deep-seated suspicion of government is another Quaker bequest.

Like the Puritans and the Cavaliers, the Quakers had their own unique idea of liberty, which eventually became an enduring piece of the American conversation. Fischer calls it "reciprocal liberty" -- the egalitarian idea, based on the Golden Rule, that I can only legitimately claim those freedoms for myself that I'm also willing to grant to you. The more liberty we grant each other, the more free we all become.

Their belief in freedom of conscience mandated freedom of religion. Freedom of speech followed naturally from this, and they defended it even when they loathed the ideas being expressed. (After all, we all have the sacred freedom to be wrong.) Their belief in equality of every soul in the eyes of God opened the philosophical door to equal rights for women and minorities. Their deep suspicion of government power resulted in outspoken party politics, strong county governments, faith in good courts, and an enduring animus toward unwarranted taxation. The rights we now associate with the Miranda warning are, almost entirely, attributable to early Quaker law.

Prudish, uptight, and answerable to their community for every moment of their days, you can't fairly say that the 17th-century Quakers were in any sense a liberal people. But in their willingness to meet other people as equals under God -- without regard for race, religion, age, gender, or wealth -- they endowed modern American liberalism with its uniquely expansive sense of equal rights, civil liberty, and social justice.

Perhaps even more important: their extraordinary financial success demonstrated exactly what Penn had hoped to prove -- that a society that dedicates itself to peace, equality, and fairness will soon find itself respected and welcomed around the world. And in doing so, it ultimately secures a level of peace and prosperity for itself that can't be achieved by any other means.

Our worst moments as a nation have always come about when we forgot this. And our best have inevitably happened when we remembered again, however briefly, what it once meant in America to be a Friend.