Saturday, February 01, 2003

The Bush Apocalypso

Here's a piece everyone should read, from The Progressive:

Bush's Messiah Complex

A picture emerges from the President's public statements--and even from such adulatory accounts as Bob Woodward's Bush at War and David Frum's The Right Man--of a President on a divine mission.

Call it messianic militarism.

He may have discarded the word "crusade," but it's a crusade that he's on. As former Bush speechwriter Frum puts it, "War has made him . . . a crusader after all."

While there's nothing wrong with a President trying to make the world a better place, when the man in the Oval Office feels divinely inspired to reshape the world through violent means, that's a scary prospect.


"Bush is very much into the apocalyptic and messianic thinking of militant Christian evangelicals," [Chip Berlet] says. "He seems to buy into the worldview that there is a giant struggle between good and evil culminating in a final confrontation. People with that kind of a worldview often take risks that are inappropriate and scary because they see it as carrying out God's will."


"What I hear is a holy trinity of militarism, masculinism, and messianic zeal," says Lee Quinby, professor of American Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. "It does follow the logic of apocalyptic thought, which has a religious base but is now secularized in the militaristic mode. Apocalyptic thought always has an element of instilling helplessness and promising victory in the face of that powerlessness. In this instance, Bush plays up the vulnerability we feel because of terrorism or Saddam Hussein and then accentuates the military as the assurance that our helplessness will be transformed." This kind of thinking, says Quinby, is "dangerous because it prepares a nation for war without thinking about the impact on civilians and on the U.S. soldiers."


This is way too much power to give to anyone, and George W. Bush has the arrogance that comes with such power. "I do not need to explain why I say things," he told Woodward. "That's the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."

When his crusade goes terribly wrong, as it is likely to do, Bush will owe a lot of people an explanation.

I'm predicting he will refuse to give it. This is, after all, the "Who cares what you think?" president. And when pressed, he and his cohorts seem likely to resort to the kind of thuggery we saw in Florida, but probably amplified.

Speaking of gullibility ...

This isn't quite as bad as l'affaire Lott in terms of racial insensitivity, but it is a case of gross fraudulence on the part of the GOP. It deserves getting wide play.

The African American Republican Leadership Council represents conservatives' best efforts to attract black voters to their cause. (Of course, it's interesting how they frame this at their Web site -- not so much an appeal to black Americans to the virtues of the GOP, but this: "The mission and purpose of the African American Republican Leadership Council (AARLC) is to break the liberal democrat stranglehold over Black America.") It is hard to tell exactly to what extent the AARLC is an official adjunct of the GOP (the AARLC does not appear on the RNC's links page at its official Web site), but the connection at least to the Republican cause could not be more clear.

It's been observed previously (by Josh Marshall and Atrios) that the AARLC is not exactly a paragon of racial sensitivity, offering abject apologies for Lott ("It was lighthearted, it was humorous," was how political-affairs chief Kevin Martin described Lott's now-infamous remarks). Moreover, the AARLC's "Advisory Panel" is comprised mostly of conservative white males, some of whom (particularly Paul Weyrich) are notorious for promoting white nationalism.

In today's Washington Post, Gene Weingarten takes a hilarious look at the AARLC that's worth reading all on its own:

Below the Beltway

Amid the laughs, this tidbit stands out:

The honorary chairman of the panel is listed as former U.S. senator Edward W. Brooke III, a Republican from Massachusetts. So I called up Brooke, who confirmed the important fact that he is black.

Alas, he is not in any way associated with the group. He said he'd never heard of it and had no idea why his name was on the site.

In other words, someone in the Republican camp, in devising the GOP's outreach for black Americans, became so desperate to place a black person -- any black person -- at the head of this operation, that they chose a former senator and just plugged in his name. Without asking his permission to do so. Or even making him aware of the existence of their work. Assuming that Brooke would be a good "boy" and play along if anyone asked. And assuming that the public would not be any the wiser.

The cynicism is breathtaking. It's hard to tell for whom these Republican officials have less respect: Sen. Brooke, or the American public. In either case, they are being scammed.

This is precisely the same mindset that was at work when White House officials "leaked" to the Washington Post the tale that Condoleeza Rice had played a large role in Bush's decision to attack affirmative action at the University of Michigan. Of course, as noted earlier, it turned out that was a lie.

Just how stupid does the GOP think blacks are? How stupid does it think the rest of the public is? Pretty damned stupid, apparently.

Here's how Weingarten's piece concludes:

A mere week after I called Kevin and expressed my concerns that this Web site seemed, y'know, a little Uncle Tomish, suddenly the site was changed. Now, in addition to Bush and Reagan, there are also pictures of Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. And there is an announcement that the AARLC salutes its new national director, a black Republican named Sherman Parker.

I reached Parker, 31, in Jefferson City, Mo., where he had just been sworn in as a first-term member of the Missouri House. He was a little surprised to find out that he was the new national director of the AARLC, because, he said, he hadn't agreed to take the job yet, and, in fact -- though he had spoken to the group about representing it -- he was still unfamiliar with its goals and had never seen the Web site.

[Credit, as always, goes to Atrios for spotting this.]

Friday, January 31, 2003

About gullibility

The story from Australia just below reminded me of the several years I spent examining conspiracy theories by way of doing background research for In God's Country. One of the things that makes this work so interesting is exploring the mechanism whereby people -- educated, seemingly well grounded, thoroughly decent and mostly intelligent people -- come to believe in demonstrable nonsense. [I'll be talking about this in greater detail in the series on fascism.] Sometimes it can happen on a large scale, as it is at Coogee Beach.

One of my favorite research finds is an essay by Nahum Z. Medalia and Otto N. Larsen from American Sociological Review in its April 1958 edition. It has the unwieldy academic title, "Diffusion and Belief in a Collective Delusion: The Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic," but it makes in part for an amusing read:

Beginning March 23, 1954, Seattle newspapers carried intermittent reports of damage to automobile windshields in a city 80 miles to the north. Police suspected vandalism but were unable to gather proof. On the morning of April 14, newspapers reported windshield damage in a town about 65 miles from Seattle; that afternoon cars in a naval air station only 45 miles from the northern limits of the city were "peppered." On the same evening the first strike occurred in Seattle itself; between April 14 and 15, 242 persons telephoned the Seattle Police Department reporting damage to over 3,000 automobiles. Many of these calls came from parking lots, service stations, and so on. Most commonly, the damage reported to windshields consisted of pitting marks that grew into bubbles in the glass of about the size of a thumbnail.

On the evening of the 15th, the Mayor of Seattle declared the damage was no longer a police matter and made an emergency appeal to the Governor and to President Eisenhower for help. Many persons covered their windshield with floor mats or newspaper; others simply kept their automobiles garaged. Conjecture as to cause ranged from meteoric dust to sandflea eggs hatching in the glass, but centered on possible radioactive fallout from the Eniwetok H-bomb tests conducted earlier that year. In support of this view many drivers claimed that they found tiny, metallic-looking particles about the size of a pinhead on their car windows. Newspapers also mentioned the possibility that the concern with pitting might have sprung largely from mass hysteria: people looking at their windshields for the first time, instead of through them. On April 16, calls to police dropped from 242 to 46; 10 persons called the police on the 17th, but from the 18th on no more calls were received about the subject of the pitting.

... On June10th, the University of Washington Environmental Research Laboratory, assigned by the Governor in April to investigate the pitting, issued its report. This report, prepared by a chemist, stated that there was no evidence of pitting that could not be explained by ordinary road damage: "The number of pits increases with the age and mileage of the car." The puzzling little black particles found on many automobiles turned out under analysis to be cenospheres, formed by improper combustion of bituminous coal. According to the report, "Cenospheres are not new to Seattle. They have been observed in years past and they can be observed in cars in downtown Seattle today. They are incapable of pitting windshields by impact or otherwise." In its key passage the report concludes:

"Although there is a considerable body of testimony from reputable witnesses to the effect that windshields were pitted by some mysterious cause in the space of a few minutes or hours during the 'epidemic,' it has
not been possible to substantiate a single one of these statements by scientific observation. Actually, the observed facts tend to contradict such statements.

People bend reality to make it fit their fears. This was the same dynamic that was at work in Seattle 12 years before, when hysteria about Japanese-Americans swept the coast in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and led ultimately to internment camps.

News of the gulllible

Is this the Australian version of "moral clarity"?

The fathers, the sun and the holy post

Hundreds of believers flocked to the Coogee Beach headland yesterday to witness what they say is an apparition of the Virgin Mary.

Scores more hiked up the cliff path to touch, kiss and pray to the post which over the past few days has been transformed into something of a shrine, with pictures of the virgin, rosary beads and flowers piled around the white-washed fence.

Some wept, others sang, most prayed. As the sunlight reflected off a crook in the fence throughout the afternoon, hundreds claimed they could discern the shape of a veiled figure, and most agreed it was "Our Lady".

Well, it's nice to know that mass credulousness isn't just an American thing. Australians, they see the Mother of God in a fencepost. Americans, they see a President in a fencepost.

[Thanks to Mark at Pineappletown for the heads-up.]

Voices needed

Public comment invited on orca rescue strategy

I'll be posting more on this in the coming week. But the long and short of it is this: Puget Sound's orcas -- the only resident orca population in the lower 48 states -- are fast becoming seriously endangered. The Bush administration, via NMFS, is refusing to list them as endangered, despite the fact that they are the classic example of an "indicator species" (they reside atop the food chain in these waters). When I was first studying orcas about 10 years ago, we had about 98 members of the local population. We're now down to the mid-70s.

Here's more about it at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Pitch in if you can.

More anti-Americanism

Pretty soon the whole world is going to be in George Bush's doghouse ...

Mandela: U.S. wants holocaust

Former South African president Nelson Mandela has slammed the U.S. stance on Iraq, saying that "one power with a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust."


Receiving applause for his comments, Mandela said Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are "undermining" past work of the United Nations.

"They do not care. Is it because the secretary-general of the United Nations is now a black man?" said Mandela, referring to Kofi Annan, who is from Ghana.

Takedown! Ooof!

Of course, one can only imagine the president's bold and morally clear reaction to such criticism:

"Who cares what you think?"

Tailgunner Glenn

Reynolds' latest smear job:

Going to a march organized by Communists doesn't make you a Communist, any more than going to a march organized by Nazis makes you a Nazi.

But knowingly going to either one makes you icky.

If this is so, then, as I've previously pointed out, knowingly contributing your name and reputation to far-right, white nationalist anti-American theocrats like the Unification Church and its Washington Times makes you downright slimy.

That's how guilt by association works, Glenn.

Iraq and OKC

Via Roger Ailes, it's come to my attention that Frank Gaffney at the Washington Times continues to flog the (anti-Clinton) conspiracy theory that the Oklahoma City bombing was actually masterminded by Saddam Hussein, this time in the form of an almost pathetic editorial (it even gets the date of the bombing wrong) urging President Bush to make these theories the centerpiece of selling his war campaign against Iraq:

Bush's hour to shine

The case for implicating Saddam and his operatives in the latest and most deadly attack upon us is even more compelling, though, when added to evidence that points to his complicity in earlier terrorist acts — the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1996 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Tonight, sitting with the first lady, are two intrepid women who have done pioneering work ferreting out and calling attention to this evidence: an internationally recognized specialist on Iraq and best-selling author, Dr. Laurie Mylroie, and television-reporter-turned-independent investigator, Jayna Davis of Oklahoma City. I would ask you to join me in saluting them for pursuing leads that neither the federal government, prosecutors or the media have done enough to date to investigate.

Roger adds this:

Sorry, Frank. The empty chair had more credibility than you and those other two idiots combined.

Just for the record, I happen to have many good reasons to be skeptical about the government's official story in the Oklahoma City bombing, and happen to believe that some important revelations may yet come out of Terry Nichols' trial, depending on its outcome. See the story I did for Salon, "The mystery of John Doe 2" [Salon premium]

I happen to agree with Roger's assessment of Jayna Davis, though I don't necessarily agree with his view of Laurie Mylroie. The latter was for a long time a serious and well-respected Middle East analyst, and in fact was Bill Clinton's adviser on Iraq during his 1992 campaign. I thought her investigation of the Ramzi Yousef case was compelling enough to write this (though as I've mentioned previously, I've gone through a serious reassessment of that information since).

These theories, of course, were part of Tim McVeigh's trial. Mylroie did investigative work for McVeigh's lawyer, Stephen Jones, and it is from Jones' theories -- which he wrote about extensively in his book Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy (either Iraqi or Al Qaeda operatives are the "others unknown" of Jones' title) -- that Mylroie's and Davis' own renditions are spun. (Hm. Wonder why the Times doesn't lionize Jones along with the two women?)

The theory's basics are this: Terry Nichols' visits to the Philippines ostensibly to get a wife also included Al Qaeda training sessions in bombmaking, and in fact the entire OKC bombing was masterminded by Iraqi intelligence agents working through Al Qaeda in the islands. It then goes on to place great credibility in eyewitnesses who swore they saw swarthy Middle Easterners in downtown Oklahoma City in the vicinity of the bombing.

The cornerstone of the theory is the testimony of a Filipino government informant named Edwin Angeles. Angeles was the real thing -- in fact, he had achieved an unusually high official status in the Islamic radical group Abu Sayyaf, even though he had been hired to penetrate it. He was directly involved in a series of Abu Sayyaf terrorist acts that included some fatalities, but when he was caught, he immediately flipped -- basically saying to the cops, 'Hey, don't send me to jail -- I'm your guy!'

Angeles then went on to regale the police with the long saga of his time with Abu Sayyaf. Apparently the cops began intimating that he might face charges despite his informer status; it was at this point that Angeles began telling them about the American "farmer" who had attended Al Qaeda bombmaking sessions with none other than Ramzi Yousef in attendance. (Yousef, FWIW, figures prominently in Mylroie's exegesis; the cornerstone of her theories is that Yousef in fact is an Iraqi intelligence agent.)

Angeles' testimony was never corroborated. He was gunned down by unknown assassins as he left a mosque in 1998.

I investigated the potential of an Iraqi connection in the activities of the far right immediately after 9/11, and spent about six months pursuing leads. This was among the angles I pursued heavily.

I was forced to conclude that Angeles' testimony was unreliable -- he seemed to be inflating the story as he went along, and parts of his tale were later proven false -- and there was almost zero evidence beyond it. I interviewed Michael Tigar, Terry Nichols' first attorney, and he told me that he had spent thousands of dollars and many months having Nichols' activities in the Philippines investigated thoroughly. (A good defense attorney could use information like that to derail at least a death sentence, which eventually, you will recall, is what Tigar managed for his client.) He was absolutely adamant that there was nothing to the story -- that Nichols did not travel to the same areas, and was not in the country at the times that Angeles said he was there.

I did uncover only one actual case of the clear involvement of a far-right figure with Iraq: Fred Phelps, the pastor of the gay-hating Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, has made two trips to Iraq for the express purpose of denouncing America's 'sodomite policies.' Because Phelps operates under the cover of a church, it's hard to tell whether he went on Saddam's dime or not -- or whether, indeed, Westboro Baptist operates with healthy helpings from Saddam's largesse (as one of the church's local critics suspects).

Of course, you may also recall that Phelps was among the Americans who actually celebrated 9/11, declaring gleefully on his Web site, "The Rod of God hath smitten fag America!"

Finally, an important point to remember about this conspiracy theory: Even if it does prove true, it does not exonerate by any means either Tim McVeigh or Terry Nichols -- and by extension, the cause of white supremacy and white nationalism, the latter of which is a cause commonly featured on the pages of the Washington Times (and thus, one imagines, the motivating force behind its promotion of these theories). Indeed, implicating Iraq in OKC only casts white nationalists in a more treacherous and treasonous light.

Incidentally, this scenario is like a white-supremacist fantasy come true. Neo-Nazis and other violent supremacists have long wished that "real" terrorists (i.e., Al Qaeda) would take them seriously enough to form an alliance, but to the best knowledge of everyone who monitors the far right, this has never happened.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

It's a Newspeak kind of week

Via the Daily Howler, this story in the Washington Post was noteworthy:

Medicare Plan Short On Details

A day after his State of the Union address, President Bush took his agenda for the year on the road, starting with ambitious and expensive changes to Medicare. But the White House remained conspicuously silent about exactly how it wants to redesign the insurance program for the elderly even as the president traveled to the Midwest to begin selling the idea.

In reality, there is no plan. My, isn't that bold!

Which leads us to the underlying message:

Empty rhetoric makes a viable plan.

Brings to mind our war plan.

But mostly, it brings to mind this passage:

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security.

Pickering and racism

Nick Kessler makes an accurate point about the New Republic's editorial on Charles Pickering:

TNR simply declares that Pickering enjoys strong support within the Mississippi African-American community, without even mentioning the opposition of these prominent Mississippi African-American organizations.

This is correct. Pickering's nomination in fact is opposed by most of the African-American organizations in the state. However, there are in fact African-American individuals who support Pickering's nomination, contrary to Avedon Carol's contention that this claim by the Pickering camp is merely spin.

These include Hattiesburg City Councilman Henry Naylor, an executive board member of the Forrest County NAACP; Laurel Councilman Thaddeus Edmonson, former present of the Laurel/Jones County NAACP; and U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate. All wrote letters in support of Pickering’s nomination. Pickering is also supported by such diehard Democrats as former Gov. William Winter (who served on President Clinton's advisory commission on race) to Attorney General Mike Moore.

That said, I am not as quick to clear Pickering of racism as TNR. As I've noted previously, his behavior in the now-infamous 1992 cross-burning case -- as well as his apparent hostility to the majority/minority districting system [pdf file] -- raises many questions about how thoroughly he's reformed his views from his segregationist beginnings, dating to the days in the late 1950s when he was writing briefs on how to keep Jim Crow laws alive.

Look, when you're dealing with something like racism, especially in the South, it's important to leave room for the fact that people genuinely change. The question in the case of someone like Pickering is: How much did he change? Certainly his behavior in the 1990s suggests someone who, like Trent Lott, never fully shed the attitudes with which he was imbued as a younger man. But unless actual evidence of that exists -- as it obviously did in Lott's case -- then the arguments for it are problematic at best.

That's why this line of argumentation against Pickering strikes me as a disaster -- because it is, essentially, an evidentiary quagmire. Worse yet, it is the kind of thing that is very easily depicted as a "groundless smear" campaign by the GOP -- a message that sells well not so much with blacks but with the suburban whites who are the main targets of the Republicans' supposed 'big tent' strategy.

Again, I think it's more important to raise questions about Pickering's lack of good judgment -- as well as his apparent lack of integrity in answering questions during his nomination proceedings less than honestly -- than to try to resolve the issue of whether or not the man is racist. The latter seems like a doomed strategy.

[On edit: I should point out that Matthew Yglesias twice has made essentially the same argument: here and here:

I wish the Democrats would stop coming up with all kinds of "reasons" for opposing Bush's conservative nominees. Part of the job of a liberal Senator is to oppose the nomination of conservative judges, just as part of the job of a conservative president is to nominate conservative judges. There will be some compromises, some wins, some losses, some more elections, etc. and the country will be fine.

But instead we get a lot of silly character debates. I mean say Pickering was a racist. Say he gathered his kids around the dinner table and treated them to diatribes about the evils of black people. But say he knew something like that would ruin his career as a judge so he kept it out of his public life and managed to decide every single case correctly — that would be a pretty damn good nominee as far as I can see. But in fact he's a judge who will decide many cases wrongly, and that's a great reason to oppose someone.

Rush, Newspeak and fascism: III

One of the problems with the easy bandying of the term "fascist" nowadays is that, by being loosely attached to figures who are only conservative -- including people like Rush Limbaugh and George W. Bush -- it obscures the actual mechanism by which genuine fascism manifests itself. It also lends itself to hysteria when what's really needed right now is cool-headedness and focus.

Let’s take a hard look today at the actual nature of fascism, by way of understanding not just who really fits the description in today's world, but how much danger to the nation in the post-9/11 environment they actually represent.

First, a definition -- which, as I mentioned, is much easier in the case of communism than it is for fascism. Indeed, as my friend John McKay points out, the work of defining fascism has spun its own cottage industry of competing models.

The first attempts to study fascism were mostly from a Marxist point of view, which predictably explained it primarily as a reaction against the “communist revolution.” In many ways, that’s what it was -- though of course, it was also a great deal more. Many of these early studies, not surprisingly, reduced fascism to an aggressive form of capitalism. In the years after World War II, when fascism had largely been eradicated as a form of governance, studies of it expanded the definition considerably and created a far more realistic, nuanced and accurate understanding of it.

The bulk of these studies essentially defined it descriptively -- that is, as a series of various traits that were found to be pervasive to fascist systems. (This was the approach Umberto Eco attempted in the essay I linked to earlier.) The best-known example of this approach is Stanley Payne’s work, which offers a “typological definition” of fascism:

A. The Fascist Negations:
-- Antiliberalism
-- Anticommunism
-- Anticonservatism (though with the understanding that fascist groups were willing to undertake temporary alliances with groups from any other sector, most commonly with the right)

B. Ideology and Goals:
-- Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state based not merely on traditional principles or models
-- Organization of some new kind of regulated, multiclass, integrated national economic structure, whether called national corporatist, national socialist, or national syndicalist
-- The goal of empire or a radical change in the nation’s relationship with other powers
-- Specific espousal of an idealist, voluntarist creed, normally involving the attempt to realize a new form of modern, self-determined, secular culture

C. Style and Organization:
-- Emphasis on esthetic structure of meetings, symbols, and political choreography, stressing romantic and mystical aspects
-- Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and with the goal of a mass party militia
-- Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use, violence
-- Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing the organic view of society
-- Exaltation of youth above other phases of life, emphasizing the conflict of generations, at least in effecting the initial political transformation
-- Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command, whether or not the command is to some degree initially elective

Payne’s approach is useful, in the same way that Eco’s is -- it contains important descriptive information that helps us get a sense of the multifaceted phenomenon that fascism in fact is. (Payne’s typology is also a good deal more systematic and logically coherent than Eco’s.) But these approaches share a similar flaw -- that is, a number of the traits described in these systems also can clearly describe not only communism, which is by its nature apposite to fascism, as well as other political ideologies. In that sense, it’s clear these traits tend to be endemic to totalitarianism broadly -- they’re going to be woven into what is fascist, but they won’t be unique to it.

Much wrangling has ensued (Payne’s Fascism: Comparison and Definition was published in 1980). The long and short of it is that the consensus (and debate) since the early 1990s has tended to revolve around the work of Oxford poli-sci professor Roger Griffin.

Griffin has essentially managed to boil fascism down to a basic core he calls palingenetic ultranationalist populism. (Palingenesis is the concept of mythic rebirth from the ashes, embodied by the Phoenix.) One of Griffin’s essays on fascism opens with this useful definition:

Fascism: modern political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Despite the idealistic goals of fascism, attempts to build fascist societies have led to wars and persecutions that caused millions of deaths. As a result, fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence.

In general, I’ve found all these studies, while often competing in nature, to be useful each unto themselves. (Another text I’ve obtained, an English translation of Harald Ofstad’s Our Contempt for Weakness: Nazi Norms and Values -- and Our Own, which is not generally available, has also proved very insightful and helpful, but it’s hard to recommend since few readers can get it.)

It’s clear that Griffin’s work gives the most concrete handle on fascism as a phenomenon, while the other systems offer useful descriptive traits that clearly complement Griffin’s central concept. Most of all, the tripartite components of Griffin’s core -- palingenesis, ultranationalism and populism -- are above all unique to fascism and appear mostly secondarily if at all in other forms of totalitarianism.

What is particularly useful about Griffin’s model is that it does not, like Payne’s and Eco’s, necessarily draw on the manifestation of a fully matured fascism for its examples. Thus, using these older analyses, we’re inclined to see fascism only as it replicates these older and mature forms. And as we already noted in this post, Pierre-AndrĂ© Taguieff makes an important point in this regard: “Neither ‘fascism’ nor ‘racism’ will do us the favour of returning in such a way that we can recognise them easily.”

Griffin recently assessed the potential for a resurgence of fascism in an article in the British antifascist magazine Searchlight:

Paper tiger or Cheshire cat? A spotter’s guide to fascism in the post-fascist era

As Griffin points out, if we look for fascism using the Payne or Marxist models, we’ll mostly be looking for it as a mature phenomenon:

Certainly any definition that stresses the style, policies or organisation of interwar fascist regimes -- the charismatic leader, the uniformed choreography of "aesthetic politics", the territorial expansionism or Kafkaesque agencies of ministerial propaganda and state terror -- makes contemporary fascism dwindle to practically microscopic insignificance.

But …

If fascism is defined in terms of a core ideology of ultra-nationalism that aspires to bring about the renewal of a nation's entire political culture, then the picture changes. The features so firmly associated with it in the popular historical imagination cease to be definitional. Instead they can be seen as external and time-bound manifestations of the central ideological driving force that is its only permanent feature: the war against the decadence of society and the struggle for national rebirth.

If we think of fascism in these terms, a much clearer picture of it emerges. For one thing, we can recognize its antecedents throughout history, while also perceiving how the forces of industrialization and modernization shapes these ancient impulses into the clearly modern phenomenon that it is. More to the point, we get a much clearer picture of the actual presence of latent fascist forces at work around the world.

For one thing, it tends to confirm the characterization of Islamic fundamentalists as “Islamofascists,” but makes clear that there is one important difference: while fascism has typically sought to achieve “national rebirth” by fusing a mythologized notion of “traditional values” with modernist idealism, Islamists are irrevocably antimodern in their worldview.

It also confirms that such forces are at work in the United States -- though not, importantly enough, in the form of such mainstream GOP figures as Rush Limbaugh and George W. Bush. We may hear such folks from time to time refer to the theme of national rebirth, but not frequently enough that it’s become a major theme yet; and their nationalistic and populist tendencies are well-known, but both are mitigated to some extent.

However, as noted in the first post of this series, there are enough similarities between these figures and the behavior of historical fascists to throw up a warning sign. And as we’ll see, they do indeed play an important role in the potential for a resurgence of genuine fascism in America.

Griffin argues that current day fascism is “groupuscular” in nature -- that is, comprised of smallish but virulent, potentially lethal and certainly problematic “organisms”:

After the war the dank conditions for revolutionary nationalism "dried out" to a point where it could no longer form into a single-minded slime mould. Since party-political space was largely closed to it, even in its diminutive versions, it moved increasingly into disparate niches within civic and uncivic space, often assuming a "metapolitical" mode in which it focussed on changing the "cultural hegemony" of the dominant liberal capitalist system. … Where revolutionary nationalism pursued violent tactics they were no longer institutionalised and movement-based, but of a sporadic, anarchic, and terroristic nature. To the uninitiated observer it seemed that where once planets great and small of ultra-nationalist energies had dominated the skies, there now circled an asteroid belt of fragments, mostly invisible to the naked eye.

Surveying the American scene, it is clear that just such a movement already exists. And in fact, it had already inspired, before 9/11, the most horrendous terrorist attack ever on American soil. It calls itself the “Patriot” movement.

You may have heard that this movement is dead. It isn’t. And its potential danger to the American way of life is still very much with us. That’s what we’ll talk about next.

[A tip o’ the Hatlo hat to Farmer for the heads-up on the Searchlight article.]

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Amoral obfuscation

Michael Kinsley (sharp as ever) catches this bit of Kafkaesque logic in Bush's SOTU:

And tell us again why we're about to invade Iraq but we're "working with the countries of the region" to pinion North Korea, which is further along the nuclear trail and can't even be bothered to lie about it. Bush's "axis of evil" coinage last year and recent flagrant North Korean nose-thumbing made it almost impossible for Bush to avoid addressing this logical conundrum. His solution was artful but mysterious: "Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean Peninsula, and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq." He seems to be saying here that the United States should have invaded and conquered North Korea years ago. But as Bush sets it out, the "lesson" of Korea seems to be that if you don't go to war soon enough, you might have a problem years later that can be solved through regional discussions. That doesn't sound so terrible, frankly. Regional discussions can be grim, no doubt, but they're more fun than a war. So, what exactly is this lesson the Korean experience is supposed to offer?

Also noteworthy:

Bush is getting terrific credit for the purity and determination of his views on this subject. But either his own views are dangerously simplistic or he is purposely, though eloquently, misleading the citizenry.

See, again, this week's Newspeak of the week regarding "moral clarity."

And suddenly dolphins appeared

Peggy Noonan waxes euphoric on the SOTU:

Suddenly his tone changed and something like his focus and concentration changed. And suddenly it was Iraq, and suddenly he was making the case that seemed to me so strong that it seemed new.

And it seemed in an odd way family-based, as if he were talking about mom and pop and saying this is not about geopolitical abstractions. This is about keeping us safe. Let me tell you what we know from intelligence, from British reports, from American reports, from people who are in jail now. So that was big stuff. Big.

Sure it was. After all, the base message is clear:

"War is peace."

Or, as Brian Zick writes by e-mail: "A war initiated to preemptively prevent war, to preserve peace."

The very word "war," therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist. The peculiar pressure that it exerted on human beings between the Neolithic Age and the early twentieth century has disappeared and has been replaced by something quite different. -- Orwell, 1984

Another note on fascism

I'm swamped with work today and won't have time to finish my planned post on fascism till tomorrow. In the meantime, I thought I'd offer some thoughts from my very old friend John McKay, who dropped an e-mail responding to yesterday's post:

Defining Fascism is a very slippery business. I spent most of a graduate seminar a decade ago studying and dissecting this question. There is no agreed upon and authoritative one-sentence definition for Fascism. In fact, fighting over one is a still-healthy cottage industry that provides employment for plenty of historians and political scientists. My own take on it is to emphasize two points that lead to this slipperiness.

The first is a point you already made: Fascism is mostly reactive in nature. It is more defined by what it is against than by what it is. First and foremost, it is anti-liberal. This is not necessarily the same thing as being conservative. We too often define political positions as a scale between two polar opposites, when reality is broader and sloppier than that. So, while Fascism is a thing of the right, it is not just extremism beyond normal conservatism. Next, it is anti-pluralist, which usually means nationalist, racist, and/or unilateralist. Fascists don't like to share.

Second, it is not just one thing. There have been many forms of Fascism. The popular image of Fascism is simply Nazism. Some scholars debate whether Nazism is one variety of Fascism or a separate (though related) phenomenon. I lean toward the variety school. During its heyday in the thirties, there were scores of Fascist parties in over a dozen countries. These evolved from earlier political movements and some survive in successor movements. The use of pronouns like proto-, post-, and neo- helps a little in sorting them out, but only a little. One reason for its persistence is its mutability. Most political societies can produce a fascism.

John, of course, is right about all this. We'll get into more detail tomorrow.

On your knees

Filtering through the post-SOTU detritus, I particularly noted this AP story:

Bush speech short on facts

In his State of the Union speech, Bush left Americans to take those points on faith, or to choose not to, at least a while longer.

Isn't that great: The first faith-based presidency.

Newspeak of the week

I swear that if I hear another pundit yammer about how Bush displays "moral clarity" -- one of the most regurgitated of the GOP talking points these days, and certainly one of of its most strangely meaningless -- I'm going to unplug my TV. I'm not sure what I'll do if it keeps appearing in my newspaper. Especially from columnists I used to respect.

What's obvious is that it's the favored way of depicting Bush among those who have a deep need these days for "moral clarity." I'm not really sure what exactly is moral about threatening to invade another nation on pretexts as flimsy as those Bush has presented us with so far. But then, I've always been one of those oddballs who thought ethics were more important than morality anyway.

All this spinning and propagandizing, of course, is the smoke and fog that inevitably emanates from Newspeak. Here's at the heart of what we're being told:

Smug self-certainty is moral clarity.

Like all Newspeak, of course, it's important to remember that its function is to render the core concepts themselves meaningless. In this case, morality and clarity are both nullified.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Rush, Newspeak and fascism, II

Now, I know a quick reading -- the kind Rush Limbaugh prefers, prone to miscomprehension and mischaracterization -- might suggest otherwise, but I really wasn’t trying to argue the other day that Limbaugh is a fascist.

It is uncanny just how closely he and his conservative-movement cohorts fit the description provided by Umberto Eco’s 14 points, traits of what he calls “Ur Fascism.” But therein lies the problem: Eco’s essay is useful, but not authoritative by any means, since the study of fascism isn’t really within his field of academic expertise. And it has some flaws, not the least of which is that some (not all) of the traits he describes as endemic to fascism could be ascribed to other totalitarian philosophies as well, notably communism.

More to the point, it’s easy to plug in someone like Limbaugh and make them out to be fascist with Eco’s system, and yet I don’t believe that’s an accurate description of the Formerly Larded One’s politics. A more serious examination of what really comprises fascism will reveal why -- though neither does it clear Limbaugh and his cohorts.

At the same time, I think it’s important that Americans of all stripes -- liberal or conservative -- understand what fascism is, because it is above all else innately anti-democratic, and anti-American in spirit. So I’m making a plea, particularly those on the left who have used the term willy nilly for making unfortunately shrill partisan political points (I have absolutely no hopes of persuading those on the right), to cease abusing the word “fascism,” learn what it means, and apply it only when it’s appropriate.

Part of the problem is that the reactionary nature of fascism does not lend itself to easy definition. Unlike Marxism, fascism does not spring out of a body of ideological texts, and as such is not readily enumerated as a systematic philosophy. Fascism originally was a reaction against Marxism, and in its early years was essentially defined as “extremist anti-communism.” There were very few attempts to systematize the ideology of fascism, though some existed (see, e.g. Giovanni Gentile’s The Philosophical Basis of Fascism). But its spirit was better expressed in an inchoate rant like Mein Kampf.

I mentioned in the above post, BTW, that I would be attempting a “scholarly” discussion of fascism here, but I should clarify that: I’m just a journalist, not a scholar, nor do I pretend to be one. But I read a lot of scholars’ work, and that’s what I’ll be citing here specifically. None of these ideas regarding the core of fascism are my own. What follows is mostly drawn from a body of academic work on fascism that’s broadly accepted as the important texts on the subject, and I’ll urge anyone interested in examining the matter seriously to read them. I’ll list them at the end of the post.

The core of my interest in fascism is closely connected to my work in trying to understand the motivations of right-wing extremists, because my experience was that in most regards many of these folks were seemingly ordinary people. And I was furthermore intrigued by the historical phenomenon of the Holocaust, particularly the problem of how (a la Daniel Goldhagen) a nation full ordinary people could allow such a monstrosity to happen.

It has always seemed to me that Americans view Nazism almost as some kind of strange European virus that afflicted only the Germans, and only for a brief period. This, by way of rationalizing that It Couldn’t Happen Here. But it also seems clear to me this is wrong; that the Germans were ordinary, ostensibly civilized people like the rest of us. And that what went wrong in them could someday go wrong in us too.

I describe some of this in the Afterword of In God’s Country, reminiscing about a professor’s midafternoon lecture:

When he was a young man, he told us, he served in the U.S. Army as part of the occupation forces in Germany after World War II. He was put to work gathering information for the military tribunal preparing to prosecute Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. His job was to spend time in the villages adjacent to one concentration camp and talk to the residents about what they knew.

The villagers, he said, knew about the camp, and watched daily as thousands of prisoners would arrive by rail car, herded like cattle into the camps. And they knew that none ever left, even though the camp never could have held the vast numbers of prisoners who were brought in. They also knew that the smokestack of the camp’s crematorium belched a near-steady stream of smoke and ash. Yet the villagers chose to remain ignorant about what went on inside the camp. No one inquired, because no one wanted to know.

“But every day,” he said, “these people, in their neat Germanic way, would get out their feather dusters and go outside. And, never thinking about what it meant, they would sweep off the layer of ash that would settle on their windowsills overnight. Then they would return to their neat, clean lives and pretend not to notice what was happening next door.

“When the camps were liberated and their contents were revealed, they all expressed surprise and horror at what had gone on inside,” he said. “But they all had ash in their feather dusters.”

That story neatly compresses the way fascism works: in a vacuum of denial.

The gradual mechanism by which this phenomenon gradually crept over Germany was vividly described in "They Thought They Were Free" a book by Milton Meyer about “how and why ‘decent men’ became Nazis”:

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

So if it could happen to the Germans, it could happen to us. But how are we to tell if it is happening, since it seems to happen so gradually that the populace scarcely recognizes it?

Well, it’s possible to turn to history for guidance, but therein lies another possible mistake. If we think that we can only identify the rise of fascism by the arrival of its mature form -- the goosestepping brownshirts, the full-fledged use of violence and intimidation tactics, the mass rallies -- then it will be far too late. Fascism sprang up in fact as a much more atomized phenomenon, arising at first mostly in rural areas and then spreading to the cities; and if we are to look at those origins, then it’s clear that similar movements can already be seen to exist in America.

Moreover, fascism as we will see springs from very ancient sources, and its tracks have appeared throughout history. And it adapts to changing conditions. As the French specialist on the extreme right Pierre-André Taguieff puts it:

Neither "fascism" nor "racism" will do us the favour of returning in such a way that we can recognise them easily. If vigilance was only a game of recognising something already well-known, then it would only be a question of remembering. Vigilance would be reduced to a social game using reminiscence and identification by recognition, a consoling illusion of an immobile history peopled with events which accord with our expectations or our fears.

What’s necessary for assessing the genuine potential for fascism in America is identifying the core components of fascism itself: the ancient wellsprings from which it came and which remain with us today. Then we need to see how we are doing in keeping those forces in check.

I’ll talk about what comprises this core of fascism tomorrow.

Suggested reading:

The Nature of Fascism by Roger Griffin

Fascism: Comparison and Definition, by Stanley Payne

A History of Fascism, 1914-45 by Stanley Payne

Fascism: Past, Present and Future, by Walter Laqueur

Corrections and second thoughts

First, a correction that is making me gnash my teeth:

Contrary to what I reported in this post, Rush Limbaugh did not refer to the antiwar protesters as "fascists."

Here's the actual quote that was mischaracterized in my secondhand reference:

"It's beyond me how anybody can look at these protesters and call them anything other than what they are: Anti-American, Anti-Capitalist Marxists and Communists."

The chief lesson I've learned from this is to maintain for this blog the same kind of standards I'd hold myself to when publishing elsewhere. I received information from a normally reliable source that Limbaugh had referred to the protesters as "fascists and anti-American," and this quote was reproduced on a partisan Web site, Take Back the Media, that normally is reasonably accurate. I actually questioned the veracity of the quote before I published the piece, but my sources were a bit slow getting back to me. After writing the piece, feeling confident, I went ahead and hit publish -- something I never would have done at a newspaper or online newsroom. When the actual quote finally arrived, of course, I lived to regret it.

All that said, even with this quote in hand, all I'd really have changed in the post is the discussion of how in this instance Limbaugh has conflated leftists with fascists. As I reported, of course, he has confused this issue in fact on previous occasions. Moreover, the main thrust of the piece -- which is that if we take a serious look at the known traits associated with fascism, our friend Mr. Limbaugh comes closer to fitting the description than anyone on the left -- would not be affected in the least (though of course it loses a little of its punch).

Of course, since this inaccurate use of "fascism" originated with anti-Bush activists, it does at least underscore another point I made, namely: "In many respects, leftists are most responsible for this degradation; it became so common to lob the word at just about anyone conservative or corporatist in the 1960s and 1970s that its original meaning -- describing a very distinct political style, if not quite philosophy -- became utterly muddled, at least in the public lexicon."

So I'll be talking some more very shortly about what fascism means and why it's important to use the word carefully and thoughtfully, not as a haphazard epithet.

Secondarily, I would be remiss in failing to point out that the actual quote from Limbaugh does corroborate the point I made about the increasing strategy on the right to identify liberalism and multiculturalism as "anti-American" and ultimately a product of Marxism, making it a 21st-century version of the old "Commie" slander. And this is indeed a proto-fascist kind of tactic, as described neatly by Umberto Eco.

More on all this above.


Second thoughts: My friend Joel S. writes regarding this post (which contains a quote I've since seen duplicated elsewhere) with a valid observation:

I saw the article from Capitol Hill Blue and wondered if you were aware that CHB has approximately the politics and veracity of Newsmax. For the longest time, it was stated to be part of DC Comix and was a Clinton-bashing broadside sheet. I wrote to DC Comics and said that they shouldn't allow the names of Superman and Captain America to be besmirched by association with that rag.

At the moment, CHB is carrying a story claiming "'We have most of the pieces of the puzzle in place,' an FBI source confirmed to Capitol Hill Blue late Thursday. 'Most of this has come together in the last 36 hours but we now feel comfortable telling the President we can document both the existence and location of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. -- Minor problem, I would say, with the FBI being cited on an issue of foreign intelligence.

Anyway, when CHB cites an anonymous source, I think one should get a 10 pound bag of salt for seasoning. Doubtless Bush feels that everyone who doesn't agree with him is a traitor, but the probability that people in the White House, much less the Joint Chiefs, talk with Doug Thompson is IMO very small.

I actually agree with this assessment. As someone who worked many years in many newsrooms, I should know better. It's always been a standard of mine as an editor to take a very hard look at the use of anonymous sources and as a reporter to avoid them altogether, if possible (you'll find very, very little of it in my work). Readers should always be very leery of reporting that relies heavily on anonymous sources; they may in fact just be creatures of the reporter's imagination.

Moreover, CHB is indeed an unreliable source, and I won't use them again. I'll also be more selective about the sources I do cite in the future, or at least more careful in pointing out their unreliability at the time. Consider the veracity of the quote in that post questionable at best.

Monday, January 27, 2003

No kidding

You may think I was just joking about the return of child labor.

Not really. Y'see, hand in hand with all those folks agitating for the demise of public schools is a passel of right-wingers who are arguing simultaneously for privately owned schools. It's all about the magic of the marketplace and how much better and more efficiently private enterprise can operate, dontcha know.

Problem is, the people who have tried to get into the private-school business have found that, well, it isn't quite so easy or magical after all. Take, for instance, the leading company in this arena: Edison Schools Inc., whose stock is now trading for around $1.27, just a tad off its high two years ago of $33. Truth is, they're about to go belly-up -- and in fact were they not so incredibly well connected politically, they probably would have disappeared some time ago.

Well, care to guess how they hope to maybe balance their budgets? That's right: Put the little buggers to work!

Edison founder has work-study idea

In reported remarks, Whittle suggested that students could work in school offices or on technology systems, giving them a better educational experience and, in the process, saving the schools some money.


"He [Whittle] thinks we should think about... having kids experience work within the context of school," Tucker said. "There's lots of research about how to give kids more responsibility. He thinks Edison schools need to think more about creating experiential learning, create real work experiences for kids."

Sure. And if they happen to be in the vicinity of some coal mines, well, hey ...

Recommended reading: Big Trouble, by J. Anthony Lukas.

Next up: Bring back child labor!

In case there was any doubt that the conservative movement has gone completely over the edge:

Laura Schlesinger: Close the public schools

For example, our public-school children hear that the Founding Fathers are not to be revered. They were greedy, patriarchal oppressors who were in it for the money and the power. America is not a noble experiment in freedom and equality. That was the cover story, as we stole the land from the indigenous people. America wasn't recently attacked by terrorists. America is the terrorist!

Furthermore, there are no such things as great books, since all the books we were misguided enough to think of as great, were written by those same old white male misogynists from the evil empire of Western culture. What's just as great is any diary written by any woman, slave or Native American and recently discovered in someone's trunk. And woe to anyone who disagrees.

Please, can anyone tell me where there are public schools that actually teach like this?

A shortage of teachers, a kaleidoscope of standards, endemic failure, annual budget shortfalls, states taking over local school districts and guns in the classroom are unavoidable signs of public-school collapse. I think Oregon may have the right idea. They are looking to shorten the school year by 15 days. How long before it's clear to them and to us, that we should simply close them altogether?

The conservative agenda in 2003: Let's return to 1903! Or better yet, 1803!

It's worth noting, of course, that Oregon's schools mostly have been suffering from the widespread ill effects of a series of anti-tax measures passed by the Hate Gummint crowd. You know, the people who actually bother to listen to Laura Schlesinger.

[A tip o' the Hatlo hat to TBogg for the heads-up on this.]

Rhetorical thuggery alert

Thanks to a heads-up from Atrios, we've spotted a gross violation of the Orcinus Principium:

Hillary Clinton has audacity to question Boy King

Sen. Clinton's appraisal of our real situation vis a vis national security is of course clear-eyed and on the money. But Republicans -- rather than respond to the substance of her speech -- resort reflexively to their anti-democratic impulses:

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said Friday that the Bush administration's top priority is homeland security and that Clinton's criticism only exposes the country to more terror.

"I just think it was a cheap shot," King said. "It just invites the enemy to attack again."

Speaking of cheap shots!

Isn't it funny how Republicans accuse Democrats of the GOP's own tactics, even in the act of deploying them?

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Tar is a sticky thing

Atrios does a perfectly fine job of responding to Glenn Reynolds' recent rip on an earlier Atrios post. But I wanted to add my two cents' worth to respond to Glenn's post:

And have you ever noticed how it's okay to show religious prejudice against Moonies, but not against fanatical Muslims? Nothing political there. Jeez.

Well, I don't know about you, but I too have a prejudice against fanatical Muslims, particularly those intent on killing thousands of people. This is a no-brainer. Is there anyone in any left-leaning blog who has indicated they don't have this prejudice as well? Good. I think in my previous remarks on fundamentalism that I also indicated a certain, well, unflattering view of Islamists, aka Islamic fundamentalists, for whatever that's worth.

But see, that's not a religious prejudice exactly. That's a basic-humanity prejudice. Now, if you're talking about people who are prejudiced against Muslims and Islam generally, then that's quite a different matter. Or is Reynolds just trying to muddy the waters by equating the two? You decide.

But in any case, I don't think anyone has displayed religious prejudice against Moonies in this debate (certainly not the eliminationist kind that exudes from, say, the smegmatic Michael Savage quadrant of the universe regarding Muslims). The followers of the Unification Church are to be pitied if anything -- for in fact having to endure unimaginable abuse -- and I haven't read any posts indicating anything otherwise.

What many people are quite legitimately concerned about is the activities of the Unification Church's leadership, particularly regarding their stated desire to install a theocratic state in America, with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon at its head. The Washington Times is only one of many facets of its campaign to achieve this end.

Really now, how does Glenn feel about "standing alongside" an operation headed by someone who derides America as "Satan's harvest"? I mean, how much more objectively anti-American can you get?

And let's not forget the Times' complicity both in the fact Osama bin Laden was alive long enough to effect Sept. 11 and in helping to prop up the corrupt North Korean regime that now actually does possess weapons of mass destruction. Just whose side is Glenn on here?

Here's a fact: When you start painting with a broad brush, it's always a nasty surprise to find that others can play the same game.

Pontifex Maximus update

On Friday the Chicago Tribune reported that Matt Hale's arrest came about in large part because his security chief was also an FBI informant.

There was this eyebrow-raiser:

In a Dec. 4 e-mail to the FBI source labeled "assignment," Hale requested that the man find Lefkow's home address, Assistant U.S. Atty. Dave Weissman said.

The following day, Hale and the source had a recorded conversation in which the man told Hale he was working on getting Lefkow's address, Weissman said.

"When we get it, we going to exterminate the rat?" the source asked, according to a transcript Weissman read.

"Well, whatever you want to do basically," Hale allegedly responded.

"The Jew rat," the source said.

"You know, my position has always been that I, you know, I'm going to fight within the law . . . but that information has been provided; if you wish to do anything yourself, you can," Hale responded, according to Weissman.

A couple of observations:

-- If this is the primary evidence in the prosecution's case, it seems pretty weak. This is more in the vein of a "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" enticement to murder, and seems unlikely to persuade a jury, especially considering that it's clear the informant is pushing Hale. However, it's important to remember -- especially in federal cases like this -- that these kinds of prosecutions are built on large sums of evidence, and we haven't begun to see everything that's there. (Today's Tribune story mentions this as well.) Best, as always, to let the jury decide.

-- The really creepy thing about this exchange is that it sounds like we're overhearing Matt Hale flashing back to a conversation he had with Benjamin Smith sometime in the summer of 1999, shortly before July 2.

Aid and comfort to the enemy

Speaking of the Rev. Moon's operations, here's a question worth pondering:

Did The Washington Times help cause 9/11?

With evidence now in hand, there's little doubt now that the Moonie-owned newspaper's flagrant irresponsibility in fact cost the United States its best shot at taking out Osama bin Laden before his infamous attack on America.

This is an excerpt from The Age of Sacred Terror, the marvelous study of fundamentalist-inspired terrorism by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, who both were leading counterterrorism officials in the National Security Council. It comes amid a description (pp. 260-261) on the Clinton administration's bombing of six Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and a poison-gas plant at al-Shifa near Khartoum, Sudan, in 1998:

For a brief moment, the operation appeared to be a qualified success. Al-Shifa was destroyed. Six terrorist camps were hit and about sixty people were killed, many of them Pakistani militants training for action in Kashmir. The Tomahawks missed bin Laden and the other senior al-Qaeda leaders by a couple of hours. This in itself was not a great surprise: no one involved has any illusions about the chances of hitting the target at exactly the right time. The White House recognized that the strike would not stop any attacks that were in the pipeline, but it might forestall the initiation of new operations as the organization's leaders went to ground.

The months that followed, however, were a nightmare. The press picked apart the administration's case for striking al-Shifa, and controversy erupted over whether Clinton was trying to "wag the dog," that is, distract the public from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
The Washington Times -- the capital's unabashed right-wing newspaper, which consistently has the best sources in the intelligence world and the least compunction about leaking -- ran a story mentioning that bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones." Bin Laden stopped using the satellite phone instantly. The al-Qaeda leader was not eager to court the fate of Djokar Dudayev, the Chechen insurgent leader who was killed by a Russian air defense suppression missile that homed in on its target using his satellite phone signal. When bin Laden stopped using the phone and let his aides do the calling, the United States lost its best chance to find him.

[A later Washington Post story confirmed that in fact the Times story was "a major intelligence setback."]

Way to go, Washington Times! Um, whose side did you say you were on?

Coddling those America-haters

Atrios raises an excellent point WRT the matter of "Marxists" leading the antiwar marches in this post today:

For all the talk about how the protesters were "supporting ANSWER" why do my friends on the other side never worry too much about supporting the theocratic aims of Reverend Moon and the Unification Church?

There's little doubt the Unification Church is a more potent threat than Marxism in today's world. For one thing, they have a lot more followers.

And there's little doubt about his motives. He calls America "Satan's harvest" and has vowed to remake it as a theocracy, with himself as head of state: "History will make the position of Reverend Moon clear, and his enemies, the American population and government will bow down to him," he told his followers in a mid-'80s speech. "That is Father's tactic, the natural subjugation of the American government and population."

And as Atrios adeptly points out, the complicity of the GOP in this man's operations goes way, way beyond merely showing up at a demonstration he organized.