Friday, November 09, 2007

One good hoax deserves another

[Imasge courtesy Vanity Fair.]
-- by Dave

EnergySmart has the goods on Rush Limbaugh's latest misadventure:
Breaking news: “proof” that global warming is entirely a natural event published in a definitive looking (okay, at first glance) site with The Journal of Geoclimatic Studies. (The links are down. Great Beyond has links to the cache material.) According to a paper on the website, “saprotrophic eubacteria living in the sediments of the continental shelves fringing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.” In other words, humanity had no role. Well, this paper began to run the lines of the Climate Denier branch of the Flat Earth Society. DeSmogBlog has a run of some of those who chose to run with this fantasy. Well, for these Flat Earthers, one problem: none of the authors existed.

Well, add Rush to the list of Flat Earthers caught, well, caught flat-footed. Yes, “America’s Truth Detector” has such a good nose for fraud that we can expect that Brooklyn Bridge salesmen have had a good time with him.

One of big names from the Climate Denier branch of the Flat Earth Society, Roy Spencer, has even apologized to Rush for being so gullible to bite on this fraud. Poor Rush. Poor Roy.

Limbaugh has since apologized, sort of -- on his site, his sub-headline to the Spencer correction/apology reads, "Rush suspends himself," whatever that means. Considering we're talking about a guy with an Oxycontin thang and a penchant for discreet trips to the Caribbean, I'm not sure I wanna know.

You've also got to love why the hoaxsters pulled this stunt:
Its purpose was to expose the credulity and scientific illiteracy of many of the people who call themselves climate sceptics. While dismissive of the work of the great majority of climate scientists, they will believe almost anything if it lends support to their position. Their approach to climate science is the opposite of scepticism.

It's also the opposite of science. Science, of course, is about assembling evidence and testing hypotheses and finally reaching conclusions after the arduous process therein. The Limbaugh approach is to first reach a conclusion, and then go looking for evidence to support it -- even if it's a hoax.

Which tells you all you need to know, namely: that Limbaugh himself is a hoaxster of the first order.

Drawing the line

-- by Dave

There's a very fine line, sometimes, between bellicose but protected free speech and unprotected, criminal speech, i.e., threatening and intimidating speech. Certainly, we've been exploring that line in up-close detail since the rise of the Internet.

Everyone remembers the case of Neal Horsley and the "Nuremberg Files" case, in which the names and home addresses of abortion providers were posted along with "Wanted" posters. That site was eventually shut down, though it has since resurfaced without the threatening material.

Still, it's clear these people never give up:
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal judge ordered an anti-abortion activist to remove Web site postings that authorities said exhorted readers to kill an abortion provider by shooting her in the head.

District Court Judge Thomas Golden granted an injunction Thursday seeking the removal of postings on Web pages maintained by John Dunkle. The injunction, sought by prosecutors in August, also bans him from publishing similar messages containing names, addresses or photographs of health clinic staff members.

Prosecutors said one posting targeted a former clinician for the Philadelphia Women's Center, and that she later stopped providing reproductive health services because she feared for her life.

Dunkle, of Reading, said Thursday that the postings had been removed.

...One posting, which featured the provider's name, photo and address, stated that "while it does not sound good to say go shoot her between the eyes, it sounds even worse to say let her alone."

Dunkle has said he did not write the message on the blog, but that he did post it.

Did I forget to mention that these people call themselves "Christians"?

The Minutemen's fence scam

-- by Dave

We've been reporting for quite awhile now about how the Minutemen have devolved into a moneymaking scam, fueled in no small part by Chris simcox's PR makeover, which brought about a rift withing the movement once it became clear the money being donated was not being spent as promised, and eventually has resulted in an outright implosion.

Indeed, where is it being spent? That's the remaining mystery.

Well, the mainstream media are finally beginning to catch up. Yesterday CNN aired this report, which you can watch above. It's a bit too sympathetic to the Minutemen's proclaimed "cause" for my tastes, but it does get down to the real issue:
Many Minuteman state and national leaders said that the fence proposal was a complete surprise to them.

"All of a sudden we hear, 'We are going to build a fence if the government doesn't build it!' We all looked at each other and said, 'What!'" said David Jones, a former Minuteman member.

Donations started flowing in. One man actually mortgaged his home and contributed more than $100,000. And on Memorial Day of last year, there was a groundbreaking ceremony on John Ladd's Arizona ranch. But what the Minutemen were building was not a tall, Israeli-style fence.

Former member Bob Wright said, "It wasn't until they actually started the ceremony that it became clear. It was gonna be a cow fence!"

It was a five-strand barbed wire fence that would keep Ladd's cattle in and keep Mexican cattle out. Ladd said he is happy with the fence. But some Minuteman leaders were stunned. In their first-ever interview, these former Simcox lieutenants told CNN they believed that the groundbreaking was a ploy by Simcox to raise even more money.

As a group, these leaders started to question Simcox about how donations were being spent. They wanted to him to provide specifics as to how much money was being raised and how it was being used.

"To this day, we still don't know how much the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has raised. We don't have a clue, not a clue," Wright said.

They said they wanted to know why the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps was not spending money to help volunteers patrol the borders.

"We needed equipment, and we were not getting equipment," Jones said.

They demanded that Simcox meet them in person to address their concerns and answer their questions. They say he refused to meet with them and subsequently fired them.

Simcox now says that he never promised to build the high-tech security fence on Ladd's ranch. And he insists the barbed-wire fence really does protect the country.

Then what exactly was all the hoo-hah about when they announced the kickoff for the project?

You've gotta love how Simcox refused to meet with any CNN reporters and claimed the whole thing was a big smear. Rrrrrrighhhht.

I had to pause thinking about the donor who mortgaged his home and donated $100,000 to the fence. As much as it might be tempting to dismiss it as a harsh lesson well deserved, it's still disturbing -- a lot of these people are earnest and well-meaning ordinary people who think they're doing the right thing, misguided as that may be. But now they've learned: These guys have no shame.

But we knew that already. One would like to think these disappointed Minutemen might apply what they've learned to a reconsideration of the whole project, but I'm not holding my breath.

[Raw Story version here.]

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Ideas on how to talk back

-- by Dave

So the other day I was musing about the Dog the Bounty Hunter video tape and I observed:
Here's one thing about being a white guy: You hear a lot of "private" talk from other white guys who assume you're on the same side of the fence as they are and feel free to start spewing, especially when they've had a few drinks, or they're (ahem) "angry," and this is the kind of shit they spew.

Unfortunately, the only thing I ever seem capable of expressing to them is my utter bafflement why they think I would ever be on their side.

After this sparked some discussion in the comments thread, I went on to add:
I said this, of course, as an acknowledgement that this kind of response really is inadequate. It doesn't come close to conveying the depth of my feelings about this kind of talk and what it reveals. In my youth, of course, I was much more likely to get up on my higher moral ground and lay into someone, but I also found that did more harm than good. So my default response now is milder and more hopeful of keeping the conversation going, but, I think, too tepid. Besides, this is usually the point when conversation becomes fruitless.

So I asked for some suggestion from others who've experienced something similar to talk about how they've handled it. It made for a very lively comments thread, including the somewhat predictable appearance of one of our regular racist trolls (pretending to be a damsel in distress). Aside from that, it made for some great commentary.

I've culled what I thought were some of the best responses and am posting them here. Please feel free to chime in here, of course, and I'll again post some of the best commentary.

See also the onrunning discussion at Slacktivist.

Well... one thing I think helps is to establish the difference between an outraged, angry "that's not funny!" and a puzzled, troubled, "uh... that's not funny...".

I've seen a few rightwingers who, when the stupidity or nastiness of their position is revealed, fall back on the tired, old "it was a *joke*" defense.

One of those times was Glenn Greenwald questioning someone who had called one of the SCOTUS judges the biggest "nancy boy" (I think that was the term), and the response was "It. Was. A. Joke."

Well, it wasn't funny. I mean, what, are the words "nancy boy" so ridiculous and fun to say that you could laugh, like "whoop-de-doodle-doo!" Well, no. Was it directed at a big, rough, tough, ceegar-chompin' brute, who always called less "manly men" disparaging things like "nancy boys" so it was funny by contraries and irony? No.

It was an attack, plain and simple. It wasn't a joke, it wasn't intended to be laughter producing. Even if one could argue that it was deserved, it was not a joke.

And it should earn a person some mild contempt... if you've got a bug up your butt, say you've got a bug up your butt. Don't claim you're just trying to keep the bug warm for winter.

If you're going to attack, stand your ground and be proud; if you can't, maybe the attacking behavior is something you shouldn't be proud of, you know?

Anyway... I think one part of a comeback is to steal the cover of "it's just a joke!" when it clearly isn't.

Major Woody
This wouldn't work in every context, probably, but once I got into a game of pool in a bar with one of the other patrons, who I had never seen before. He started ranting about "The Jews", how they were greedy, owned everything, you know the drill.

After a couple of minutes, he realized I wasn't really responding, and said, "You're not Jewish, are you?" to which I replied, "Actually, I am."

Well, his jaw dropped, and he started literally stammering, saying that he didn't mean anything, and he was only joking. I said, "That's OK, I was joking too, I'm not Jewish," at which point he became angry and called me an asshole. If I'd really been thinking, I could have just dropped the old schoolyard jibe "it takes one to know one," but I missed that opportunity.

I have had to deal with openly racist in-laws throughout my marriage (goodness knows how my husband survived his childhood, but I'm glad he did). After the umpteenth spew of racial slurs at a family gathering, I informed my husband that the next time it happened I would gather our sons and he had five minutes to join me in the car or he was walking home.

After doing this the in-laws got the hint and at least I don't have to hear it as often any more. My oldest son, whose grandfather is full-blood Cherokee, once amused himself at his step-grandmother's expense by pointing out after a rant about "dirty, long-haired, drunk unemployed Indians" that his grandfather had always to his knowledge had short hair, he's not been unemployed in forty years, he doesn't drink, and he both swims and bathes every day. Amazingly, she didn't get the hint. Son gave "the signal", and we all left.

Racism...if I reflect long and hard enough, shapes so much of our culture, at least in my view of it. Even when you think you are "white enough", it can pop up unexpectedly. So my red hair and freckles give away the Irish in me, and I remember dating back in the day, in the late 80's and the father of one guy made a comment that i had "farmer's hands" and wasn't I Irish? Another guy's dad made a similar comment, and we dated a bit on the sly. Fast forward, twenty G-D years, and when I married my current husband and was pregnant with our first child, my Father-in-law (Dutch-American) lamented the children would look Irish. For the first couple years he mentioned how blond they were, and cute. UGH!!!

My adopted stepmom is Italian-American and her mother told me stories about how she quit school in sixth grade because of the merciless taunts that she was a "wop". My (step)mother has spent her entire life self-conscious of her dark Italian features, and my sister, going to a private high school in Philly was too white for the Italian cliques, and too dark for the white girls.

My Dad's side of the family is all from Mississippi. This brings us into contact with all manner of talk, it is sad, really, it goes too deep for words. Some people are good, and that is where you have to go for positive nourishment of anti-racist development. Forget about saying things in social circles, but there can be some headway.

There is a certain Japanese Restaraunt along the Coast that I had heard rumored not to serve blacks. One night, we happened to take our family there, and while we were waited on i notice a couple black women come in and wait to be seeted, which took a while, but I chalked it up to a busy night. Once they were seated, no one came to get their drink order, no one came to take their order at all. Although other patrons came and were seated and their orders taken. When our appetizers came, i mentioned to the waitress that the ladies had been waiting a while, and she barely nodded. Still no one came to get their order. When she came again I mentioned it again and asked her not to bring my dinner until they had been taken care of. They still sent no one and brought our tables dinners. At that point, in a loud voice, I said I am not eating this here, I don't want it if you cannot serve those ladies who have been waiting forty minutes to be waited on.

The women at the table watched all this and got up and went to ask for management, they smiled at me as they went, and tried to sort it out, but they knew darn well what was going on, I knew it, and my family was patient, however a bit uncomfortable about the situation. All in all they know how I feal about the situation.

I was born here, I didn't come back just to see the same old South that can't get it's head out of it's ass long enough to see that all their racist tendencies and impulses keeps us all in poverty of mind and spirit, not to mention in body, and I damn well can't stand that a Japanese family first generation who wasn't here for slavery, wasn't here for Jim Crow, and all that can co-opt all that racist shit just to make brownie points in Biloxi Mississippi.

I find that the puzzled, troubled "that's not funny", coupled with an eye-roll and an exasperated sigh, works wonders. Your mileage may vary.

I straight laugh at people, call them "Strom Thurmond" and "David Duke", tell them to go down to city hall and have a fruity-ass white pride parade in front until they feel good enough about themselves to not spout 150-year old stereotypes.

This kind of thing makes regular people pretty uncomfortable, but fuck 'em! I'm not gonna let their backwards-ass 1903 attitudes make me or any of my friends uncomfortable!

I had a friend I'd know for many years, who became wingnuticized after 9/11 and began sending me all these racist jokes and emails, usually targeting Muslims but also hitting Mexicans pretty hard, which was really stupid, as my partner is Latino as she well knew.

I originally just deleted these things and went on about my life. I must note here that she and her husband had done me many favors and helped me out a lot when I was a struggling single parent, and I owed them some debt of gratitude. So I tried to condition her not to send me this stuff. When she sent me an actual funny non-racist email, I would respond with an email saying "That was funny!" or something along those lines. I would reply to egregious false emails by pointing out the obvious problems with them, politely but firmly. This didn't work. Finally I sent her an email saying, "Please don't send me racist, bigoted emails." She responded by saying, you guessed it, "Didn't mean to offend. Sorry, just a joke." Not two weeks later she sent me another. I blocked her email address, and haven't spoken to her since.

Often the problem with dealing with this sort of thing with friends and family is that they've done good things for you. They've been there through dark times. It's easier to get tough with people who, as my mom used to say, "Ain't buying your beer." You have to take a stand, of course, otherwise it's hard to live with yourself. Still and all, it isn't easy. I don't know that there is a good way to do it. It's better to change hearts and minds than to simply ban people from your life, but sometimes you just can't reach them. It's sad. I have no close family and alienating people who in every other way have been good friends is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Dr. Loveless:
We do need to come up with the right way to parry "It was a joke." If it is, they've got a juvenile sense of humor, and need to grow up. Because, as it is, they're not acceptable in adult company.

I once had the presence of mind to say, "So is 'pull my finger,' but that stopped being funny when I was 12."

The "only joking" gambit is a hard one to parry, for several reasons. First, it immediately puts you in the defensive position of being "too politically correct" or "not having a sense of humor." Second, attempts at rebuttal too often devolve into nitpicking metadiscussions about what constitutes humor. Third, and last, sometimes people really are only joking, and folks who live and breathe progressive activism sometimes do have trouble finding their funnybones. (As an example, I personally found Al Franken much funnier before he became so deeply political.)

That third point has burned me on many an occasion, actually. I admit to having a sense of humor that is often warped and tasteless to many; however, if someone takes serious offense at something I've said, I do make an effort to re-examine it and make apologies if necessary. Nobody's perfect.

So ultimately, maybe the best way to combat the "only joking" meme is to keep our own comedic skills fine-tuned and using them proudly. My acquaintances all know that I enjoy making people laugh, so none of them would ever try to cover up their own bigotry by telling me it was only a joke. They know that shit won't fly.

I found that a simple "I'm really surprised that you would say something like that." worked wonders for my boss who loved a good racist "joke". Might have been why he didn't give me my raises as promised, but that was a small price to pay for no longer listening to his filth.

Didn't do a thing for his racist ideology,however. He'd take the good old boys into the other room, making pointed remarks about "somebody doesn't have a sense of humor."

Might have been why he lost me, the best office manager he ever had.

I was a little behind the curve after not-work today (WGA strike) so I posted my lame comeback over on the original comments.

The updated version: setting: donut shop (no, not for me, for Ms. Jack's personal day), full o' white dudes GenX and mostly older, topic was immigration (hooboy).

When I came in they wanted to include me, knowing the strike was on, and somehow this was the fault of the "damned wetbacks" and "beaners." I know, completely bizarro-land crap. Now, the owner who included me is a neocon-lite but honestly I hadn't ever heard him speak like that before, ever in nearly eight years knowing him.

I gave him a 4 count stare (I was fed up and it was all I could think of, other than throwing the goodies at him). He got quiet. I said, "you need to think before you open your mouth." then I left. Even quieter place than during my stare-down.

The comeback totally sucked but, I just am not going to be quiet anymore around that kinda shite. I'm taking notes here... thanks for the comebacks so far.

As I mentioned in the earlier thread I hear all kinds of racists comments, mostly about Indians, here in Montana. I have never understood why they think that an anthropologist who works with American Indians would be sympathetic to their views, but it always comes as a surprise to them when I object. I sometimes get it from students, which means I have to be diplomatic and simply point out their errors of fact and logic. In other contexts, I am less restrained. My standard conversation stopper is simply to tell them that my son is Indian. Tends to end the conversation rather abruptly.

abject funk:
Gotta say, the best comeback of this thread is..."You are proud to have that opinion? Please explain."

Racists, while not self-aware in general, are generally conscious enough to know when they have been called an asshole and yet have no reasonable recourse to violence in the face of a normal and polite question.

"You want a piece of me?!" simply will not stand up in the face of this simple question. It is brilliant because it is non-violent, and also because it requires the person to offer some reasons in order to further the discussion. Finally, it make abundantly clear that the racist attitude is messed up, and if any other like-minded non-racists are around, might offer them a bit of courage to back you up on "purely intellectual" grounds.

I fall back on a two stage response.

Stage one requires the blankest most uncomprehending stare you can manage. Practice in front of a mirror if you need to.

Now say "I'm sorry? I'm not sure I understood what you just said."

It's interesting how many people will back and fill to get away from the bigoted thing they just said if they suspect you won't join the amen choir.

In those cases they don't take the offered out and DO repeat it I just say "I don't care to listen to such language." Then walk away.

I have a firm rule that racist language is not ever used in my home, and I've actually asked offenders to leave. It's not open for debate.

"We do not use that kind of language in this house. I'm going to have to ask you to leave now."

One night it was the husband of a very good friend. When he started to try to defend himself I said "I'm sorry, I'm really too upset to discuss this right now. I'm asking you to leave. We can discuss this another time."

He went storming into the next room and told his wife what had just happened. To her credit she promptly turned and asked another party guest if they would give her a lift home and handed her husband their car keys.

I have no idea what was said once she got home but he called and apologised profusely the next day.

I got one person to stop forwarding those 'the country's going to hell and it's all because of all the damn Mexicans' rants to an email list I'm on by mentioning that my grandchildren are half Mexican-American. And the Mexican American side of their family has been here for four generations.

The only times where I think I really got through to the person is where I wasn't angry, but generally amused and rational about the offensive statement. In both case, I was able to rephrase what they were saying so they could hear how ridiculous it seemed. In one case, I had a sympathetic audience, so there was a great deal of laughter, which was shaming. In the case without an audience, I was able to remind him that they worked with black and white men in a factory, and he knew for certain that there were people he could trust, and people he couldn't, and that didn't have a damned thing to do with race.

It doesn't always work. I lost a casual friend forever after she decided to confide in me how the Jews were in control of everything. I couldn't hide my horror, but my quiet attempts to persuade her that this just wasn't true had no effect on her.

I'm blue-eyed and blond-haired, and it's more common than not that people believe I share their racist beliefs, especially about Jews and blacks. Usually it's just taxi drivers and the like, so I don't spend the effort to persuade them. I have noticed the frequent pattern that people will fervently apologize if you identify yourself with the group being attacked (e.g., "my wife is Jewish"), but I haven't been able to use it successfully to persuade them. It only triggers some kind of politeness reflex.

In truth, I haven't tried that hard, either: these are highly emotionally charged conversations. It takes a lot of energy to pursue this topic. Even if a person deserves insulting or shaming, it is hard to insult or shame someone to their face. In modern times, no one, racist or not, wants to be thought of as a racist or bigoted.


I'm working the counter at our local McDonald's. (I could switch hit back then - make the burgers and run a cash register while not looking like a combo of sweat and grease - it's a talent age hasn't always allowed me to retain as the years pass on.)

Bubba comes to the counter, comes straight to me. I'm the only white person working at the counter. I take his order, special order so we have time to wait (quiet time at work, not too many customers).

He starts looking at the black workers, almost all ladies, and gives me a "they think they're so cool" look. I know what he's doing, and I cut him cold. "These are good workers here", I say, straight at him. He knows what I'm implying, because he has on his telephone company jumpsuit - "They're just as good as you are, and I know people treat you like shit more often than not just because of what you do - you wanna be accused of the same thing?"

I can hear him mentally backpedal back just a step or two, but then he brightens up and says, "Maybe, but you wouldn't want one to marry your sister, would you?"

And since my oldest sister was dating a black guy, I just smiled and said, "Well, that may actually be happening in a year or so..."

He was pretty stunned after that - my acceptance of it all, whith a smile on my face.

With the parrying 'It was only a joke' thing, here's my view:

That 'only joking' strategy works on a simple principle: people who are trying to get away with acting offensive rely on the fact that nice people are frightened of being rude. And it's rude to call someone a liar.

Hence, saying 'It was a joke' puts your nice listener in an awkward situation: rudely calling them a BS-er, or accepting their version of reality.

To my mind, demanding that somebody accept something ridiculous is ruder than saying they're lying when they are. And here's the other thing: you don't actually have to call someone names or insult them to make your point, not when they're that much in the wrong. Neither do you have to get angry; in fact, it works better if you speak calmly and politely. All you have to do is accurately describe what they're doing; it'll be plenty strong enough.

The conversation goes like this:

'I find what you just said very offensive.'

'Oh come on, it was just a joke.'

'No, I don't think it was. I think you said it because you assumed I'd agree with you because we're both white/male/Christian/upside-down, and now you find that I don't, you're back-pedalling because you don't want to hear me tell you I'm offended.'

Just flat-out describe what they're doing to them. Let them hear how they look from the outside.

Someone over at Slacktivist made a pretty good point about the joke thing. Their argument was that in the mind of the idiot telling it, what they've said really IS a joke, so if you tell them it isn't then maybe they'll shut up, but they've written you off as a crazy who doesn't get it. I thought there was something in that, so I had another idea I wanted to share with you all.

How about coopting them, and acting like they're on the side of goodness the whole time. "Hey, that's pretty funny, but there's all kinds of backwards idiots around here who actually believe this shit when they hear it. You tell a joke and in their heads they're going "right on," and assume everyone supports them in this crap. Don't give aid and comfort dude, even just being funny." The only really graceful thing for them to do at this point (assuming they're not the type who feels at liberty to just punch you) is agree or change the topic. If they agree, you actually have a win, which is way better than any of the outcomes you have possible from the icy stare, or the "that's not funny".

Also while I'm shooting my mouth of here [waves hello everybody], there's an online magazine which some social psychology grad students have set up that explains a lot of what we've found in a way that's meant to be entertaining for a lay audience. There's a couple on prejudice. this is a pretty fun one about why we hate and why we THINK we hate (not so much always the same thing), and this one is a video of a Scientific American Frontier program with Alan Alder, in which he talks to a Harvard prof, Mazarin Banaji, about hidden implicit prejudice.

Thanks to those who participated, especially those whose comments I didn't manage to put up but who played a big role in keeping the conversation rolling.

Awareness Week indeed

-- by Dave

Max Blumenthal strikes again. In which we get to watch David Horowitz remind us once again just who the scariest threat to American democracy really is.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ron Paul and his followers

-- by Dave

I think Atrios, Markos, and Glenn Greenwald are quite right about Ron Paul's recent fund-raising prowess -- it's truly a remarkable feat, and it shows once again the real power of the Internet. As Markos puts it:
This is the single biggest example of people-power this cycle. And as annoying as it is that we're seeing it from a Republican -- and a crazy one at that -- it's nevertheless a beautiful thing to behold.

I think all of us have been wondering when Republicans were going to figure out this netroots fund-raising thing. A lot of it has to do with conservative top-down politics, which is very hierarchical and all about message control -- which is the kind of organizing you see on the right blogosphere. But the Web works best as a free-flowing information medium that taps into individuals' creativity and energy, and the left blogosphere has that trait in spades, which means they've proven much more capable of tapping into the Web's fund-raising potential.

Still, someone from the right was bound to figure this out, and it was almost certainly going to have to be someone from outside the Republican establishment. So Ron Paul it is.

Of course, I can't say I'm too surprised. Anyone who has been critical of Paul online has become well aware just how organized online he and his followers are. Mention his extremist background and the flying monkeys descend en masse.

But unlike, at least, Greenwald in his post, I'm not so sure that this is a largely positive development. In fact, taking in the longer-term picture of where the Republican right is heading, it seems to me a genuinely ominous development with dangerous ramifications.

Let me note, first, that I'm a great admirer of Greenwald's work, and I think the initial thrust of this post was essentially correct -- the Paul story is being absurdly overlooked. But when he writes:
Regardless of one's ideology, there is simply no denying certain attributes of Paul's campaign which are highly laudable. There have been few serious campaigns that are more substantive -- just purely focused on analyzing and solving the most vital political issues. There have been few candidates who more steadfastly avoid superficial gimmicks, cynical stunts, and manipulative tactics. There have been few candidates who espouse a more coherent, thoughtful, consistent ideology of politics, grounded in genuine convictions and crystal clear political values.

Well, we have to part company. Because as I've been explaining in some detail (along with Sara), Paul has so far managed to pull off something of a neat trick: Appearing thoughtful and principled, even though his beliefs and principles are largely derived from the extremist far right -- a fact that he's wisely muted in the campaign. You don't hear Ron Paul talking about the New World Order a lot in the press, largely because no one is asking him about it -- but in reality, he hasn't changed his beliefs appreciably since the days he was touring the militia K-ration banquet circuit.

That is to say, Greenwald is right, so far as it goes: Paul is consistent and coherent within the realm of his belief system, but those beliefs aren't simply the benign libertarianism that Paul has erected as his chief public image, and which Greenwald appears to have absorbed. Paul's beliefs, in fact, originate with the conspiracy-theory-driven far right of the John Birch Society and Posse Comitatus. He's just been careful not to draw too much attention to that reality, even though he has occasionally let the curtain slip.

I would say the vast majority of "Patriot" movement followers and similar far-right extremists, in fact, are actually very wonkish in the same fashion as Ron Paul about their beliefs, and construct arcane and fairly rigorous rationalizations for them, very consistent within their universes, many of them to an impressive degree. But that overlooks, of course, that their founding premises are almost entirely bogus.

Greenwald is hardly alone in missing this element: I think a large number of voters have managed to do so as well.

In one of his updates, Greenwald notes:
I want to clarify what I think is one critically important point in response to some of the comments. Paul's opposition to having the Federal Government involved in things such as education and health care is constitutional in nature. His argument is that the Constitution only permits the Federal Government to exercise explicitly enumerated powers in Articles I and II and, pursuant to the Tenth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution . . . are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Thus, his argument, at least on this level, has nothing to do with whether there would be good or bad results from having the Federal Government exercise powers in these areas. His argument is that the Constitution does not allow the Federal Government to do so, regardless of whether it's desirable. If one wants the Federal Government to exercise specific powers which the Constitution prohibits, then the solution is to amend the Constitution, not to violate it because of the good results it produces.

While there are certainly arguments to dispute Paul's constitutional view (the Supreme Court, for instance, has had to reach to Congress' Article I authority to "regulate Commerce . . . among the several States" in order to "justify" many of these Federal Government activities), the argument that there are "good results" from having the Federal Government do these things -- or that there would be "bad results" if it didn't -- isn't a coherent or responsive reply to Paul's position.

First, it should be pointed out that Paul's positions regarding public education aren't simply relegated to federal concerns -- Paul's position is that there should be no publicly funded education at all. He is, after all, a leading supporter and associate of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, and is one of the signers of their petition proclaiming, "I favor ending government involvement in education."

More importantly, it needs to be pointed out that the reasons for accepting the courts' reasoning regarding Commerce Clause-based federal oversight of various matters are not simply that the outcome is desirable, but that the government's interest under the clause is quite real. It's frankly hard not to see that there is a real interstate interest in federal involvement in civil-rights, labor, and environmental law. Moreover, revoking that involvement in fact would be a genuinely radical step that would overturn years of established law and practice regarding such matters as civil rights.

The far right has been railing about the expansion of government powers under the Commerce Clause since the days of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, when the Clause was used to uphold the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (though there was an animus toward this reasoning dating back to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938). As such, it has been a constant target of various far-right conspiracy theories regarding the structure of American government for many years.

Mostly, so-called "constitutionalists" -- embodied originally by the old Posse Comitatus and various tax-protest groups led by such anti-Semites as Martin "Red" Beckman, and in later years by such "Patriot" groups as the Montana Freemen and various militias scattered around the country -- have been whipping on every example of Commerce Clause-based regulation and federal involvement, because they understand that schackling the federal government's powers is a fundamental part of their larger strategy of returning all political powers to localities, allowing for a return to the "organic" Constitution -- you know, the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which conveniently omits the prohibition of slavery and the equal-protection clause and the federal income tax and women's suffrage.

At least, that's what a lot of "constitutionalists" think, though it's not clear to what extent Paul concurs with them -- he seems to accept, at least, the legitimacy of the 14th amendment. But if you run through the broad array of kooky theories about the federal government promoted on the far right, you can find any number of Ron Paul's positions -- particularly regarding the gold standard, the Federal Reserve, the IRS, and the United Nations -- floating about there. Notably, Paul also played a significant role in Congress' ongoing failure to confront the growing problem of conspiracy-driven tax protests by diverting the blame to the IRS itself.

But that's who Ron Paul is -- a "constitutionalist" who deals in conspiracy theories and extremist anti-government beliefs. It's who he always has been, and who he is now. It isn't just an accident that Paul very recently spoke to a group with troubling racial ties, or that he attended a Patriot Network banquet in his honor in 2004, or that he gave an interview to a conspiracist magazine the same year. Hell, he's been operating within those same circles since 1985.

The real problem with the success of Paul's candidacy is not only that it helps to legitimize and mainstream his extremist beliefs, but that it also dramatically empowers the very extremist elements that Greenwald dismisses as an insignificant faction of his support.

Glenn writes:
The most illegitimate argument against Paul is the attempt to tie him to the views of some of his extremist and hateful supporters. I referenced that fallacy above, and elaborated on it in this comment.

Therein he writes:
I'm really uncomfortable with judging someone by the support they attract. When The NY Sun wanted to discredit Walt/Measheimer, they did it by asking David Duke if he agreed with their book, and when he said that he did, they published a big article about it, implying that Duke's agreement must mean the argument is racist.

And, of course, a lot of the money that has been donated to Clinton and Obama -- A LOT -- is from the largest corporations that many of their supporters blame for most of the nation's ills. Should Clinton or Obama be responsible for the actions of their corporate donors?

Paul is out there arguing against worldwide organizations as well as clearly oppposing our unbending support for Israel. That is going to attract some anti-semites and other assorted crazies and haters, but that is most assuredly not the same as saying that Paul himself is anti-semitic or hateful.

Connecting a candidate to the views of some of his supporters without more smacks a little of guilt by association (not say you're doing that), and I doubt any candidate is really immune to that sort of thing.

But this isn't "guilt by association" -- first, the argument isn't that Paul is a racist per se, but that he is an extremist who shares a belief system held not just by racists but other anti-government zealots as well. Paul is identified with their causes not simply because he speaks to them, but because he elucidates ideas and positions -- especially regarding the IRS, the UN, the gold standard, and education -- identical to theirs. This is why he has their rabid support. There is an underlying reason, after all, that Paul attracts backers like David Duke and the Stormfront gang: he talks like them.

Second and perhaps most importantly, there are legitimate reasons for anyone to raise objections to Paul's associations, speaking before the Patriot Network, the CofCC, and similar groups -- he's a public official, and he is lending the power of his public office to legitimizing radical-right organizations like this. Think of why it would be wrong to appear before the Klan, or the CofCC, as Trent Lott and Hayley Barbour have done in the latter case.

It's not merely what it implies about your own beliefs and standards -- it's that you've lent the power of your public office to empowering and raising the stature of racists. You of course have the right to do so -- but the public has every right to criticize you for it as well, as it should. After all, what this comes down to is not so much beliefs and values but judgment. One expects, after all, a congressman to display better judgment than to appear before a group of nutcases. Ron Paul didn't, and hasn't, for a simple reason -- he's one of them.

And just as his associations with far-right extremists have empowered those groups -- a favor now being returned in the form of their avid support for him even as he attempts to strategically distance himself from them -- his recent stunning successes mean the further empowerment of these groups. And that is why, over the long term, we ought take much greater pause in considering the value of his success.

So far, Ron Paul has been cagey about his larger agenda and his core belief system, and I think that's helped him tremendously in deflecting talk, in large part because most of the questions have been about racism, which he can readily deflect. I do wonder when someone is going to ask him about the New World Order, though. The response might help open people's eyes to the Ron Paul Reality.


Here are links to our previous reportage on Paul:

The trouble with Ron

Ron Paul vs. the New World Order

Man of the Hour

Six impossible things before breakfast

Return of the New World Order

The real Ron Paul surfaces

No fault of his own

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The implications of legal torture

-- by Dave

Digby notes the tortuous illogic that has reigned so far in the Bush administration's ongoing defense of the use of torture on American prisoners:
He goes on to quote at length from this speech, in which this high level legal counsel finds it impossible to condemn this torture even if inflicted on American soldiers.

That, alas, has been one of the little-observed but overwhelming reasons to oppose any kind of torture for these prisoners, and has been all along, ever since it was outlawed internationally and nationally: that condoning any kind of abuse provides a pretext for our enemies to do the same, or worse, to American prisoners held abroad.

Recall, for instance, that we prosecuted a number of Japanese officers after World War II for committing torture -- including waterboarding -- against American prisoners.

Moreover, even the slightest hint of abuse of American prisoners during the war brought the house down upon anyone thinking of it. For instance, during the efforts to ascertain the loyalties of Japanese prisoners incarcerated during the war -- a subject explored in great detail in Eric Muller's superb new book, American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Loyalty in World War II, -- it happened that some of the interrogators at the Fort Missoula internment camp, where a couple thousand suspect Japanese nationals were being held, began applying abusive techniques, and nearly created an international incident in the process.

Carol Van Valkenburg, in her book An Alien Place: The Fort Missoula, Montana, Detention Camp, 1941-44 describes this in some detail:
While Alien Hearing Boards were investigating the loyalties of the hapless Japanese, Immigration Service immigrant inspectors were busy interrogating many Japanese at Fort Missoula who they suspected were in the United States illegally. Those interrogations created an incident with international repercussions considered so potentially severe the United States government kept information about it under wraps for more than forty years.

The incident began when Herman Schwandt, an inspector in charge of detention and deportation, came to Fort Missoula from Seattle in late March 1942, bringing with him some Japanese who were to be detained in the compound. While in an office building at the fort, he overheard these shouted remarks: "You lying yellow son-of-a-bitch, you have been lying long enough! If you don't tell the truth now I am going to knock your teeth down your throat!"

Schwandt reported what he had overheard and the Justice Department immediately launched an investigation. What caused apprehension in Washington, however, was a formal complaint filed with the State Department in June 1942 through the Spanish consulate in San Francisco. The International Red Cross had been told of claims of mistreatment when a representative visited Fort Missoula. It was reported to the Spanish ambassador, whose embassy acted on Italy's behalf since diplomatic relations between the United States and Italy were severed when war was declared. The United States government was particularly concerned that any mistreatment be stopped because it feared reprisals against Americans held in enemy countries if word of the mistreatment spread.

Eventually, the Justice Department investigation showed that a number of Immigration Service interrogators, trying to determine whether certain suspect prisoners were in the United States legally, took to slapping, punching, pushing and otherwise physically and verbally abusing their subjects. In the end, two inspectors -- both Koreans who were fluent in Japanese -- were fired and several others reprimanded, and the matter was all hushed up.

But now we have an administration that claims it can torture prisoners because we've given them an extralegal "enemy combatant" designation. Yet what no one seems to have noticed is that, in the process, they are implicitly giving the green light for our enemies to do the same -- which they no doubt will do, and worse.

And they just don't seem to care. So much for "support the troops".

Monday, November 05, 2007

Village of the Damned Idiots

-- by Dave

Now, I know all this talk about "the Village" is probably a reference to the psychotically self-enclosed culture envisioned in M. Night Shymalan's film of the same name, though naturally the reference springs to mind a multitude of other icons.

But after watching this weekend's latest in village idiocy, I was suddenly reminded of yet another movie. Indeed, it seems like we're living through it.

I mean, haven't we seen this before?
As the movie opens, all of the inhabitants (including the animals) of the sleepy American village of Beltway suddenly fall unconscious, and anyone entering the village also loses consciousness. The military arrives and establishes a cordon, and sends in a man wearing a biological isolation suit, but he falls unconscious and is pulled back by a safety rope. The man awakens, reporting a cold sensation just before passing out. At nearly that very moment, the villagers regain consciousness, seeming otherwise unaffected. The incident is referred to as a "senior moment," and no cause is determined.

About two months later, all women and girls of childbearing age who were in the affected area are discovered to be pregnant, sparking many accusations of infidelity and premarital sex. The accusations fade as the extraordinary nature of the pregnancies is discovered. All of the women give birth on the same day, and the doctor doing the bulk of the deliveries reports on the unusual appearance of the children, who all have to be taught to breathe and in general are unusually stupid. As they grow, it becomes clear that they also have a powerful telepathic bond with one another. They all know exactly what each other is thinking and, above all, it becomes imperative that they all think exactly alike, including patently false information. This ability to know each others' minds leads them into the unbreakable delusion that they know what the rest of the country is thinking.

Three years later, the village mayor, Bill Clinton (Owen Wilson), attends a meeting with the National Security Agency to discuss the children. There he learns that Beltway was not the only place affected, and followup investigations had revealed similar phenomena in other areas of the world.

In a township in northern Australia, thirty infants were born in one day but all died within 10 minutes of birth for failing to figure out how to breathe.

In an Inuit community in Canada, there were ten children born. Irretrievably stupid children born to their kind violated their taboos, and all of them were killed.

In Irkutsk, Russia, the men murdered all of the children and their mothers.

In the desert plains of north-western China, the children survived and were being employed as food- and toy-quality manufacturing inspectors.

The Beltway children, as we see, have become quite sinister. Although only three years old, they are physically the equivalent of children four times their age or more. They use a lot of big words that make everyone believe they're actually adults, but in fact they are blindingly, unfathomably idiotic, and their powers only make the stupidity exponentially greater. Not only that, their very presence and mental manipulation powers make anyone who sees or hears them be overcome with stupidity themselves.

Their behavior has become increasingly unusual and striking. They dress impeccably, always walk as a group, speak in a very adult way, are very well-behaved... but they show no conscience or love and demonstrate a coldness to others. Moreover, they begin to display powers of media manipulation that allow them to assume control of the village. All of this has had the effect of most of the townspeople fearing and being repulsed by them. They begin to exhibit the power to read minds when expedient, or to induce people to do incredibly stupid things they'd never otherwise do, the latter accompanied by an alien glow in the children's eyes. There have been a number of villagers' deaths since they were born, many considered unusual (such as the suicide of a top adviser to Mayor Clinton). It is the opinion of some that the children are responsible. This is later confirmed when they are shown convincing the public that Clinton (whom they dub "the Clenis") is the source of all evil in the universe and a child molester to boot; they further use their mentat powers to convince the village to replace Clinton with an incompetent, spoiled frat boy whose eyes make a similar glow, and then convince them he's a bold and fearless leader when disaster results, and further make them declare war on another village that had nothing to do with the disaster.

Clinton's wife Hillary, comparing the children's resistance to reasoning with a brick wall, decides to try to rescue the village from their madness by running for mayor. In the climactic scene, she confronts the children in a public debate where they attempt to convince the public that she's hiding her advice to her husband when he was mayor and the center of all evil in the universe. The evil Maureen accuses her of being a vile woman and a feminist to boot. "You came in and wrecked this place before, and it's not your place to wreck!" shrieks Sally, one of the children's leaders. Their sheer blinding stupidity finally tears open a temporary hole in the universe and the village collapses in upon itself.

The final scene is ambiguous and could be interpreted as the survival of the children in non-corporeal form. Their eyes are superimposed over the smoking black hole where the village once stood and move out of shot.

Boy, talk about deja vu all over again.

Talking back

-- by Dave

A couple of days ago, while musing on the fall of Dog the Bounty Hunter due to the racist rant revealed in a video tape, I remarked:
Here's one thing about being a white guy: You hear a lot of "private" talk from other white guys who assume you're on the same side of the fence as they are and feel free to start spewing, especially when they've had a few drinks, or they're (ahem) "angry," and this is the kind of shit they spew.

Unfortunately, the only thing I ever seem capable of expressing to them is my utter bafflement why they think I would ever be on their side.

I said this, of course, as an acknowledgment that this kind of response really is inadequate. It doesn't come close to conveying the depth of my feelings about this kind of talk and what it reveals. In my youth, of course, I was much more likely to get up on my higher moral ground and lay into someone, but I also found that did more harm than good. So my default response now is milder and more hopeful of keeping the conversation going, but, I think, too tepid. Besides, this is usually the point when conversation becomes fruitless.

I know I'm not alone in experiencing this. Sara noted in the comments: "It might be worthwhile to pick at this and see what others Really Good Comebacks might look like."

Perhaps we could have a discussion here, and I can post some of the more useful responses.

'The politics of the personal'

-- by Dave

The latest installment in my running five-part series at The Big Con is now up: "The Politics of the Personal: The Turning". The opening:
There were two crucial turning points in my relationships with conservatives: December 12, 2000, and September 11, 2001.

When the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Bush v. Gore, it became clear to me that not only had the conservative movement grown into a dogmatic ideology, it had metastasized into a power-hungry, devouring claque of ideologues for whom winning was all that mattered. I also knew, of course, that not everyone who participated in the movement was like this -- but they were all too willing to let those who were run a steamroller over every basic principle of democratic rule -- especially its core of equity and fair play -- in the name of obtaining the White House.

I remember rather vividly, like the day JFK was shot, where I was and what I was doing, the evening the ruling came down. I was in a small harbor town in western Washington, staying with the parents of some close friends (who are themselves good friends) while I covered a manslaughter trial in a nearby town. He is an accountant, she a homemaker, good moderate churchgoing Democrats. We all sat together and watched the bulletins come over the newscasts (I think we were tuned to MSNBC).

And I remember she turned to me and said: "I feel sad. Because I can't vote a mixed ticket anymore." He nodded.

So did I. I knew exactly what she meant.

As I mentioned when the series began, longtime readers will recognize some of this: It's a rewrite/update of a post I wrote back in 2003, which I'm reworking as part of putting my work at Orcinus together into book form. Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Who's Your Daddy?

-- by Sara

Back in August, I wrote post called Leering Old Men: Another Take that sparked a fair amount of discussion around the lefty blogs. The gist of the thing was that authoritarianism -- religious, political, or otherwise -- seems to stunt people's mental, social, and emotional growth; and this is why we see so much stunningly juvenile behavior on the right wing.

While I've done other posts along these lines, this one specifically related Conservative Arrested Development Syndrome (CADS) to the way the Macho Men Dave discusses in the post just below fetishize the outward trappings of masculinity -- even as they're driven to tear down anyone who exhibits the robust inner confidence and character that define a mature adult. Our media kingmakers are nothing more than little boys playing dress-up, I argued, because they have no concept of what it means to be a grown-up -- and being around people who do makes them feel so shamed and humiliated that they can only respond with spiteful derision.

That August piece has turned out to have an extraordinarily long tail, as various other bloggers touch back on it to poke at the wide-ranging implications of this idea. In recent weeks, Paul Rosenberg over at OpenLeft has been working this same territory in a fascinating series I've been meaning to point y'all to. While I described the publicly visible symptoms and effects of CADS, Rosenberg (who obviously has some background in developmental psychology) is digging into the theories of Piaget, Kohlberg, and others to describe, in great detail, the cognitive structures and processes that conspire to produce this whole system of behavior. It's an important contribution, because knowing why they act this way will give us the insight we need to counter them more effectively.

But Rosenberg isn't just dissecting conservative mental processes. At almost every step, his explanations compare and contrast conservative thinking in ways that also explain the liberal cognitive style -- in other words, he also gets at the reasons behind both the real and perceived fecklessness that characterizes so much of the liberal response to conservative misbehavior. We have plenty of bad habits of our own -- habits that the conservatives have deftly learned to exploit to keep us perpetually in lose-lose situations. Until we start choosing to respond in other, better ways (and quite a few alternatives flow easily out of Rosenberg's analysis), nothing is going to change.

It's a tour de force, and I've been absorbing each new installment eagerly. So it was delightful to tune in yesterday for part 6b of the series, and discover that it was almost entirely arranged around the observations I'd made in the Leering Old Men post, which he quoted at length.

And it got me thinking about some other things, too. The issue of conservative sandbox behavior is a longstanding joke; but it's now evolving into a wide and serious discussion here on our side of the blogosphere. We talk about what it will mean to put the grown-ups in charge again; but an important part of being a grown-up is knowing how to effectively motivate and discipline children and keep family life from degenerating into The Lord of the Flies. We're starting to realize, at long last, that our country -- and perhaps the planet -- cannot survive with this pack of tantrum-throwing moral six-year-olds in charge. Yet we've been consistently, remarkably, frustratingly unable to muster the authority necessary to set strict boundaries and make them stick.

And that is, unfortunately, what's required here. Conservative brats are brought up to expect spankings -- and they don't respect any adult who they've decided isn't capable of dishing them out. In the conservative world, for reasons Rosenberg explains, respect equals fear. Unfortunately, being liberals, we don't parent that way. In our world, respect equals trust; and our methods -- docking allowances, grounding, heart-to-heart chats, and time-outs -- only work where that basic bond of respect and trust between parents and kids already exists. They make no impact at all on kids who are in open defiance (or are openly sociopathic), and thus really don't care what happens to themselves or you.

The conservatives don't respect or trust us, because they've reckoned we're not willing or able to give them the kind of strict discipline they crave. Rosenberg's series shows us what's going on on both sides of the dynamic, and how we might alter our behavior and begin to set limits in ways that they will begin to understand and respect.

Go take a look. The linked page is a round-up of all of Rosenberg's work for OpenLeft, but if you scroll down, you'll easily find all the parts of the series. It's brilliant stuff, and a fine advancement on one of the most important conversations we can be having right now.