Friday, December 17, 2004

That revisionist touch

We learn via Brian Leiter that Antonin Scalia has been engaging in a kind of Holocaust revisionism:
Scalia, 68, addressed the topic of government and its relationship to religion.

In the synagogue that is home to America's oldest Jewish congregation, he noted that in Europe, religion-neutral leaders almost never publicly use the word "God."

But, the justice asked, "Did it turn out that, by reason of the separation of church and state, the Jews were safer in Europe than they were in the United States of America? I don't think so."

As Thom Hartmann points out, fascism was closely associated with religious institutions, which it cynically manipulated for its own purposes. "Separation of church and state" was not what occurred under Nazism.

As a matter of fact, Jews proved to have been much safer in America, where they had, you know, separation of church and state. Somewhat compromised, perhaps, but certainly more pronounced than what was occurring in Germany.

Indeed, you'd think Antonin Scalia would know this full well. After all, as Alan Dershowitz pointed out in Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000, Scalia's father was a member of the American Italian fascist party in the 1930s. Atrios posted a quotes from Dershowitz regarding this subject a few months ago:
He's an interesting guy. His father was a teacher at Brooklyn college when I was there. His father was a proud member of the American-Italian fascist party and got his doctorate at Casa Italiano at Columbia at a time when in order to get your doctorate you had to swear an oath to Mussolini. So he comes from an interesting background and he went to a kind of military school in New York which was a place where many children of fascists were educated.

You'd think a fellow like Scalia, in fact, would be well aware of the integration of the Italian fascist state and the Church, embodied by the Lateran Treaties:
Through the concordat, the Pope agreed to submit candidates for bishop and archbishop to the Italian government, to require bishops to swear allegiance to the Italian state before taking offices, and to forbid the clergy from taking part in politics. Italy agreed to submit its rules on marriage and divorce to make them conformable to the rules of the Roman Catholic Church, and to exempt clergy from military conscription. The treaties granted the Roman Catholic Church the status of the established church in Italy. They also gave the Roman Catholic Church substantial control over the Italian educational system.

Then again, it's very likely Scalia knows full well these facts.

After all, as another Italian observer of fascism put it: "Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak."

The same essay reminds us of an all-too-relevant reminder from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, spoken in 1938:
If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.

It's starting to sound like prophecy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Just don't kill God

I was pleased to hear that someone was making Phillip Pullman's remarkable trilogy, His Dark Materials, into a film.

Now comes the word (via Pandagon) that the film version is going to omit all references to God -- which would be like doing The Lord of the Rings without any reference to Sauron.

The reason? They don't want to offend AmeriBush's delicate religious sensibilities:
Chris Weitz, director of About a Boy, said the changes were being made after film studio New Line expressed concern.

The books tell of a battle against the church and a fight to overthrow God.

"They have expressed worry about the possibility of perceived anti-religiosity," Weitz told a His Dark Materials fans' website.

The story goes on to explain that New Line feared that staying true to the text would render the film "unviable financially." Right. Just like the books, which have sold several million copies.

Pullman, it seems, is working around this:
Weitz said he had visited Pullman, who had told him that the Authority could "represent any arbitrary establishment that curtails the freedom of the individual, whether it be religious, political, totalitarian, fundamentalist, communist, what have you".

He added: "I have no desire to change the nature or intentions of the villains of the piece, but they may appear in more subtle guises."

There are a number of Christian websites which attack the trilogy for their depiction of the church and of God, but Pullman has denied his books are anti-religious.

His agent told the Times newspaper that Pullman was happy with the adaptation so far.

"Of course New Line want to make money, but Mr Weitz is a wonderful director and Philip is very supportive.

"You have to recognise that it is a challenge in the climate of Bush's America."

Now, humanities have never been the strong suit of these alleged "Christians" who despise Pullman's books, so it's very likely that none of these people have ever heard of Milton and Blake. But they are the literary lions on whom Pullman bases much of his work. His cosmology in particular, and his depiction of God, is drawn directly from theirs.

But then, it doesn't take much reflection to see that, in the view of fundamentalists, such Christian mysticism is indeed a kind of blasphemy.

So how long will it be before the folks with pitchforks and torches start demanding that school libraries remove Paradise Lost and Songs of Innocence and Experience?

I suppose it helps that no one is making a movie out of them ...


Sorry about dropping out for the past week. I've been in the middle of a deadline-intensive edit of Strawberry Days, a process that requires a kind of writing mindset that admits and emits no light.

I have, however, been squirreling away little tidbits that caught my attention and which I just didn't have time to write about. So I'll be popping them out over the next few days.

I should warn you all, though, that I will be able to post only lightly during the week before Christmas, since I'm traveling to Idaho and my Web access will be limited.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Eliminationist watch

I have heard a lot of people say that, after the 2004 election, "gays are the new Jews." That struck me as a bit of hyperbole at first.

But maybe not:
...A pro-family activist from Virginia says voters who put Republicans in office should demand that politicians not employ key personnel who don't hold the conservative views that the party promotes. That activist says the Capitol Hill office of Virginia Senator George Allen is a good example. Senator Allen is head of the Republican Senatorial Committee and was a key figure in the GOP's big victories in November. But Joe Glover, president of the Virginia-based Family Policy Network, says something is very wrong. Glover says homosexual publications have outed at least six members of the senator's office as homosexuals. He says one homosexual activist even went so far as to say Allen had the "gayest office on Capitol Hill." Pro-family conservatives, he says, need to make sure Senator Allen hears their voices. "If someone is going to run the day-to-day operations for the Republican apparatus to elect U.S. senators across the country, then dog-gone-it, it better not be somebody who practices a lifestyle that is diametrically opposed to the evangelical Christian base that delivered George W. Bush and the Republicans in the Senate the victory they saw in November," he says. Glover says Allen's executive director recently resigned because he was outed as a homosexual.

Soon enough, it will be illegal for anyone to employ homosexuals. The people have spoken, after all. And definitely, no more man dates.

[Via Salon's Right Hook.]

A liberal war on terror

Peter Beinart's recent piece in The New Republic raises a reasonable problem: Why haven't liberals gotten behind the war on terror, given that most terrorists' political and religious beliefs are diametrically opposed to progressive values?

Good question. And the answer is contained within it, to wit: Liberals have not supported the current war on terror precisely because it does not confront the real nature of the terrorist threat.

Liberals, I believe, would enthusiastically support a "war on terror" that recognized its broad nature, its root sources in radical fundamentalism, and its asymmetrical shape, and responded appropriately. Unfortunately, the DLC-style leadership we've been getting from atop the Democratic party, cheered on by folks like Beinart, has been too timid to articulate that kind of vision.

In the meantime, it should not surprise anyone that liberals are unenthusiastic about the Bush administration's substitute: warmed-over Cold War strategies combined with a megalomaniacal vision of American global hegemony. Moreover, its "war on terror," as I've argued frequently, is manifestly a political public-relations campaign that does not take any serious steps at actually confronting terrorism. We know this isn't a real war on terror because we still haven't caught either Osama bin Laden or the anthrax killer -- and don't show any signs of doing so soon. We know this administration isn't serious about terrorism precisely because we are now spending the bulk of our national energy fighting a war in Iraq that made the likelihood of future terrorist attacks exponentially greater.

Beinart starts out reasonably enough:
On health care, gay rights, and the environment, there is a positive vision, articulated with passion. But there is little liberal passion to win the struggle against Al Qaeda--even though totalitarian Islam has killed thousands of Americans and aims to kill millions; and even though, if it gained power, its efforts to force every aspect of life into conformity with a barbaric interpretation of Islam would reign terror upon women, religious minorities, and anyone in the Muslim world with a thirst for modernity or freedom.

Note, however, the way that Beinart describes the "war on terror" -- that is, as "the struggle against Al Qaeda" and "totalitarian Islam". Nowhere is there a mention, in his discussion of terrorism, of the anthrax killer or Oklahoma City. Nowhere does he evince any awareness that right-wing domestic extremists pose a similarly potent threat to American lives and the national well-being, having committed the second-most lethal terrorist attack on American soil and by far the largest number of terrorist acts within our borders. This blind spot pervades Beinart's essay, but it is only part of what is wrong with it.

Indeed, Beinart veers off into the ditch in short order by getting to the heart of his essay: identifying liberals' antiwar faction as the source of their problem, and urging the marginalization of this bloc.
The challenge for Democrats today is not to find a different kind of presidential candidate. It is to transform the party at its grassroots so that a different kind of presidential candidate can emerge. That means abandoning the unity-at-all-costs ethos that governed American liberalism in 2004. And it requires a sustained battle to wrest the Democratic Party from the heirs of Henry Wallace. In the party today, two such heirs loom largest: Michael Moore and MoveOn.

This is a peculiar formula. Of course, if the Democrats have any grassroots strength now, it is associated with the MoveOn and Howard Dean factions (and mentioning Michael Moore is just silly, since he is a nonentity organizationally speaking). How exactly does he intend to transform the party at its grassroots by excising the people who are its grassroots? If we jettison these folks, as he's suggesting, who do we replace them with? This sounds like a classic formula for self-evisceration.

More to the point, why exactly should we drive out the faction that proved, in fact, to be right about the Iraq war? Perhaps so people like Beinart won't have to be constantly reminded reminded just how wrong they were? has never indicated anything but support for combating terrorism, and particularly for hunting down bin Laden. What the grassroots antiwar factions objected to was a willy-nilly invasion of another country without adequate assessment in the case of Afghanistan, and in the case of Iraq, the unwarranted invasion of another country, one only marginally associated with terrorism and unconnected to 9/11, under false pretenses and without a well-planned exit strategy. And you know what? They were right in most cases.

Very few mainstream progressives opposed the Afghanistan invasion on principle; many questioned its necessity and its planning and execution, questions that remain legitimate in light of the outcome there, with bin Laden and Al Qaeda still at large and the Taliban still a political force. But generally speaking, liberal opposition was very muted and generally limited to the factions that oppose war in any form.

Iraq, however, was a wholly different matter. Many mainstream liberals immediately questioned the rationale for invading Iraq (as well as some mainstream conservatives conservatives who made similar cases) -- and were pooh-poohed by the New Republic crew as a bunch of peaceniks. Then as now, the essence of their attacks on the antiwar factions boiled down to image over substance.

I had some specific experience in this area. I was one of the first journalists to ask whether Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks, and based much of my early reportage on interviews with people like James Woolsey and Laurie Mylroie, who it turned out were also the people directly influencing the White House as well. But the more time I spent on the matter, the more clear it became that the case connecting Saddam to 9/11 was utterly ephemeral, as I explained in one of my first posts at this blog. Even later, it was proven beyond a doubt that Mylroie had been selling everyone a bill of goods.

As the Bush administration had made it clear it intended to invade Iraq, it seemed simultaneously clear that it simply had failed to make any kind of valid case for doing so. And many of us said so.

There were five major substantive objections to the invasion of Iraq:

-- Its rationale was predicated on questionable assertions about the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

-- It seemed similarly predicated on an assumption that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

-- There seemed to be little or no planning for the post-invasion environment, particularly an extended occupation.

-- It would destabilize Iraq, creating an environment ripe for inviting fresh terrorist activity.

-- And most of all, as I pointed out at the time, it would seriously dilute our ability to actually fight the war on terror.

Looking back, all five of these objections were not only well grounded, they proved prophetic. All five are now the essence of what has gone wrong with the invasion.

But those of us looking for liberals to lead the charge in giving voice to these objections found no one -- particularly not the TNR and DLC crowds -- to provide that leadership. So they allied themselves, naturally, with the antiwar progressives who were already geared up in opposition.

As Atrios suggests, the blame lies not with grassroots organizers like MoveOn and Howard Dean, but the Democratic Party leadership. At a time when thoughtful liberals needed someone from the top to step up and oppose the war, they were ignored instead by the John Kerrys and Hillary Clintons who opted to give Bush the green light.

Things haven't gotten any better since. None of the Democratic candidates were able to articulate a cogent approach to the war on terror, particularly not John Kerry. Part of the problem is that the mainstream, pro-defense Democrats have proven to be as hidebound in their thinking as the antiwar folks like Moore and MoveOn, only on opposite sides of the aisle. Neither side seems ready to step outside the box.

The key to winning any war, whether amorphous, cold, or real, is contingent on one's ability to objectively assess the facts on the ground. When your assessments are constantly twisted by politics, ideology, and public relations, you lose that ability. The Bush "war on terror" is doomed to fail because it has made itself ideologically incapable of recognizing the real nature of terrorism itself.

The result has been a "war on terror" that is recognizably a sham. Kevin Drum has noticed some of this as well:
-- The Republican party has made it as clear as it possibly can that the war on terror is not vital enough to require either bipartisan support or the support of the rest of the world. They've treated it more like a garden variety electoral wedge issue than a world historical struggle.

-- Things like Tom Ridge's sales pitch for duct tape, along with the transparently political color coded terror levels, have made the war on terror fodder for late night TV. It's entirely predictable that anyone who was even a bit skeptical in 2002 now views the war as trivial at best, and comical or Machiavellian at worst.

It's arguable that liberals are foolish to let all this prevent them from seeing the totalitarian danger for what it is. But it's hardly surprising. The fact is that compared to fascism and communism, Islamic totalitarianism seems like pretty thin beer to many. It's not fundamentally expansionist, and its power to kill people isn't even remotely in the same league.

Bottom line: I think the majority of liberals could probably be persuaded to take a harder line on the war on terror -- although it's worth emphasizing that the liberal response is always going to be different from the conservative one, just as containment was a different response to the Cold War than outright war. But first someone has to make a compelling case that the danger is truly overwhelming. So far, no one on the left has really done that.

I don't think, though, that the threat needs to be overwhelming for it to be compelling. There are many reasons liberals should be in the front lines fighting the war on terrorism, a few of which Beinart points out, and some of which he misses. The problem is that the war we're currently fighting has little or nothing to do with terrorism, other than making it more likely.

The liberal response can't just be different: It has to be effective. It has be based on a rational consideration of the facts on the ground and must jettison ideological blinkers of all kinds. Most of all, it has to take a realistic measure of the actual nature of terrorism.

The first recognition has to be that terrorism is an asymmetrical threat: that is, unlike conflicts between nations, it involves an attack by a small entity (perhaps only a handful of people) against a large nation. Likewise, the danger terrorist acts represent are outsized compared to the scale of the organization undertaking them.

The essence of terrorism is undermining citizens' sense of security, their belief that their government is capable of protecting them adequately. As P. Terrence Hopmann explains:
Asymmetrical conflict succeeds by playing on such fears. Terrorism strikes at innocent civilians going about their daily lives. It also flourishes on flexibility and uncertainty. The terrorist has the advantage of choosing the time, place, and means of attack. The targets are mostly symbolic, chosen for maximum psychological impact. The goal is to disrupt the lives of all. In fact, the capacity to instill in ordinary people the fear that they can be attacked anytime and anywhere, while doing just about anything, is the most important weapon terrorists have.

It's important to remember that such threats cannot be dealt with by ordinary military means. Of course, those who commit such horrendous acts of terrorism as those carried out on September 11 must be found and brought to justice, one way or another. But the classic riposte of retaliation against the homeland of the aggressor may not only be meaningless, it may be dangerous, creating additional terrorists who are even more dedicated and self-sacrificing than those who went before. And as long as the terrorists continue to find fertile soil on which to operate anywhere in the world, they will be able to survive, to react flexibly to circumvent whatever security measures the United States and other countries put in place, and to find new means to deliver terror at times and places of their own choosing.

The Bush administration has dealt with terrorism in a classic symmetrical response, sending the military out into action against other nations. But terrorism is not state-based; it floats about the fringes of whatever places it finds a foothold under the various circumstances that inspire it. This is pretty much everywhere, including the United States.

Any serious war on terrorism will take domestic terrorists just as seriously as it does those from abroad. One need search no further than the anthrax attacks for an example of how terrorist attacks, both internation and domestic in origin, can piggyback off each other in attaining their goals. Differentiating them in terms of threat assessment only leaves us vulnerable to attack from the faction that is deemed the lesser.

This in turn entails a serious assessment of domestic-terror threats. The Bush administration has deemed eco-terrorism the most significant source of domestic terror -- a clear skewing of priorities, considering that eco-terrorists have to date only committed property crimes, while fundamentalist right-wing terrorists have a long and bloody history of killing people, and have shown little inclination to stop this. (At the same time, mainstream liberals need to take eco-terrorists seriously, which they often do not; the fact remains that not only are these people committing acts of violence, their attacks on scientific research are every bit as regressive as any Bible-thumper's attempts to impose creationism on local schools).

Short of simply trying to rub out anyone who might be deemed a terrorist -- the Bush Doctrine approach -- it's clear that any effective war on terrorism has to be predicated around enhancing our intelligence-gathering capacities. The central component of this has entail our capacity to infiltrate radical groups with the potential to commit terrorist acts. As we saw in the 1995-2000 period, this approach was phenomenally successful in short-circuiting a large number of domestic terrorist attacks.

Some preventative measures are also fairly obvious from the asymmetrical nature of the threat. One of these is a real tightening of our borders and particularly our ports, which remain vulnerable to a scenario under which terrorists place bombs in an uninspected container.

Next, there has to be an understanding of what is fueling terrorism. The Center for Proliferation Studies describes the identifying features of modern terrorists, particularly when it comes to wielding chemical and biological weapons:
The six characteristics we identified are: charismatic leadership, no external constituency, apocalyptic ideology, loner or splinter group, a sense of paranoia and grandiosity, and defense aggression. Of these six characteristics, the two that were present in all of the cases of actual CBW use warrant thorough examination: no outside constituency and a sense of paranoia and grandiosity.

Over the past 15 years and more, the great generator of terrorist acts around the world has been the phenomenon that embodies the commingling of all these traits: radical religious fundamentalism. The forms this takes range from the right-wing domestic terrorists of the Patriot movement to the Al Qaeda fanatics who struck on 9/11. (A variant on this is Tim McVeigh, who was closer to a neo-Nazi than a fundamentalist; but he clearly shared their apocalyptic worldview and urge to defend "traditional" values.) All of them have one key trait in common: an abiding hatred of modernity and progressive values.

So progressives indeed have a clear and compelling interest in opposing terrorism. Central to their support, indeed, is confronting the core of what is driving the phenomenon. The left naturally will readily confront radical fundamentalism, as long as it's made clear that's what we're dealing with.

What's been missing, however, is either a recognition or at least acknowledgement of this aspect of the problem from the right and its toadies on the left. Since American fundamentalism is primarily associated with the mainstream right, it probably shouldn't surprise anyone that the Bush administration has assiduously refused to frame the modern terrorist threat (including, notably, Al Qaeda) as primarily a right-wing phenomenon -- even though that is clearly what it is. And the ever-timid "moderate" leadership of the Democratic Party has been too polite to point it out.

Beinart, indeed, attacks the antiwar left as "the softs" who, like their counterparts of the early 1950s, tended to see the only potential threat to America as emanating from the right, blinding itself to communism. What he ignores, though, is the fact that Al Qaeda-style terrorism is in fact a radical right-wing movement. This is part of the reason why the "Islamofascism" label, while not entirely accurate in terms of what constitutes fascism, is nonetheless substantially close to the truth.

Beinart and Drum are right in pointing out that progressives have done a poor job of articulating a vision for a progressive war on terrorism. But blaming antiwar liberals is a convenient way of scapegoating the bloc that so far has been right in this whole debacle. The problem has been an utter lack of vision from the current Democratic leadership, and progressive leadership generally, including folks like Beinart, Drum, and the TNR. They have bought too readily into the right-wing paradigm of what a war on terror should be about.

They've also bought into the right-wing paradigm of what's wrong with liberalism: namely, the antiwar left. This is self-serving not just for those on the right but for the liberal hawks who now seem too chagrined to acknowledge that they were wrong and -- gulp -- Michael Moore was right.

Kevin Drum put the hypocrisy inherent in this position on display the other day responding to Atrios:
And evading the issue by constantly implying that no one who supported the Iraq war is morally qualified to criticize those who opposed it doesn't really help matters.

This has it exactly backwards. No one is saying the Beinarts and Drums of the world don't have anything to contribute. What Beinart is explicitly saying is the reverse: That the Michael Moores and MoveOn folks have no value to the party.

So really, what doesn't help matters is evading the issue by implying the people who opposed the Iraq war -- that is, the people who were right -- not only are unqualified to contribute, but must be evicted from the ranks of liberalism. That, in fact, is the opposite of an honest conversation.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Matthew Shepard and hate crimes

I've been a little slow responding to the recent revisionism by ABC News' 20/20 regarding the murder of Matthew Shepard -- so far, Eric Muller, Atrios, and David Ehrenstein have all weighed in admirably.

Certainly there is serious reason to call into question ABC News' ethics. As John Wierick points out, its participation in this project was a violation of the agreement between Aaron McKinney (one of the two men who killed Shepard, and whose interviews form the basis for this report) and the Shepard family, who agreed not to pursue the death penalty.

And, as Muller has pointed out, there was nothing new uncovered in this report. It was already well established that McKinney and Russell Henderson were amped by drugs and looking for someone to rob.

Indeed, the entire thrust of ABC's "revelations" -- that it was all a drug binge, not a hate crime -- reveals how little the reporters who worked on this understand not just bias crimes but criminal law generally. One factor, such as drug use, does not cancel out another, such as a bias motive. They often in fact appear together and work in conjunction.

There's an even more significant problem with the 20/20 report, however: It is signficantly factually flawed.

The flaw is not so much in what it reports, but what it intentionally omits.

Consider, for instance, the ABC account of how Shepard's murder came to be considered a hate crime:
Just hours after Shepard's battered body was discovered, and before anyone knew who had beaten him, Shepard's friends Walt Boulden and Alex Trout began spreading the word that Shepard was openly gay and that they were concerned the attack may have been a gay-bashing.

Boulden told "20/20" in an interview shortly after the attack in 1998, "I know in the core of my heart it happened because he revealed he was gay. And it's chilling. They targeted him because he was gay."

Prosecutor Rerucha recalls that Shepard's friends also contacted his office. Rerucha told "20/20," "They were calling the County Attorney's office, they were calling the media and indicating Matthew Shepard is gay and we don't want the fact that he is gay to go unnoticed."

Helping fuel the gay hate crime theory were statements made to police and the media by Kristen Price, McKinney's girlfriend. (Price was charged with felony accessory after-the-fact to first-degree murder. She later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor interference with police officers.)

Price now says that at the time of the crime she thought things would go easier for McKinney if his violence were seen as a panic reaction to an unwanted gay sexual advance.

But today, Price tells Vargas the initial statements she made were not true and tells Vargas that McKinney's motive was money and drugs. "I don't think it was a hate crime at all. I never did," she said.

Former Laramie Police Detective Ben Fritzen, one of the lead investigators in the case, also believed robbery was the primary motive. "Matthew Shepard's sexual preference or sexual orientation certainly wasn't the motive in the homicide," he said.

"If it wasn't Shepard, they would have found another easy target. What it came down to really is drugs and money and two punks that were out looking for it," Fritzen said.

As I've mentioned, this account is absurd on its face. All bias crimes in fact are acts (including, say, robbery) which are already crimes and which are committed with a bias motive.

But more importantly, it omits other central pieces of evidence which established clearly that it was no mere "theory" that McKinney had committed a gay hate crime.

I discussed the Shepard case in Chapter 9 of Death on the Fourth of July. Here are the facts I laid out there:
Shepard, a twenty-two-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was openly gay, and was somewhat flamboyant about it, at least by Laramie standards. Hanging out in a local bar the night of October 6, he managed at least to attract the attention of two local rednecks, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who were looking for someone to rob, and picked Shepard because he was gay. They told Shepard they too were gay and offered to give him a ride home in their pickup truck, and Shepard accepted.

McKinney later gave multiple, conflicting accounts of what happened that night. He told a police detective that Shepard had not made any advances toward him at the bar, but that Shepard put his hand on McKinney's leg inside the pickup, at which point McKinney told him: "Guess what? We're not gay. You're gonna get jacked." From prison, he wrote to a friend that he started beating Shepard in the car because of an even more naked advance:

"When we got out to where he was living, I got ready to draw down on his ass, and all of the sudden he said he was gay and wanted a piece of me. While he was 'comming out of the closet' he grabbed my nuts and licked my ear!! Being a verry drunk homofobic [sic] I flipped out and began to pistol whip the fag with my gun, ready at hand."

Later, at trial, McKinney attempted to claim that Shepard had in fact made an advance on him at the bar, whispering a sexual proposition into his ear and then licking his lips suggestively. The humiliation he felt at the advance, he claimed, spurred a violent rage that made him want to beat Shepard. (The judge, however, struck down this testimony.)

Whatever the sequence of events and motivations, the three men wound up southeast of town in a remote area near the Sherman Hills subdivision. McKinney and Henderson robbed Shepard and tied him up with rope. As Shepard begged for his life, McKinney proceeded to beat him severely, ultimately pulling out a gun and pistol-whipping him over the head. They left him to die, in the freezing night air, leaned up against a wooden rail fence.

It was in that pose that two mountain bikers found him, some twelve hours later, at first thinking he was a "scarecrow" someone had propped up on the fence. (Their original description created a popular image of Shepard strung up on the fence like a crucified martyr, though in fact his arms were tied behind him and he was seated on the ground.) Though he probably should have either bled to death or succumbed to hypothermia, he was barely alive. He lingered for another five days at the Laramie hospital before he finally died of his injuries.

As you can see, the 20/20 report substantially omits evidence that was produced at the time establishing McKinney's bias motivation. And indeed, McKinney not only did not deny the existence of this bias, he positively embraced it at trial by attempting a "gay panic" defense.

Incidentally, Fritzen was not the lead investigator in the case. That honor went to a fellow named Rob DeBree. And DeBree has significantly repudiated the "crystal meth" theory.

Here's what he told Beth Loffreda, author of Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of an Anti-Gay Murder, regarding the attempt by McKinney's defense team to paint him as being under the influence of crystal meth:
Rob DeBree too was unimpressed by the argument -- he told me quite forcefully that the murder didn't look like any meth crime he knew.

In his confession to DeBree, McKinney had denied using meth the day of the murder, and while McKinney had been arrested too late for the police to confirm this through blood testing, DeBree felt certain that for once he had told the truth. Obviously it's unsurprising that the lead investigator would disagree with the defense, but DeBree had some compelling reasons on his side. "There's no way" it was a meth crime, DeBree argued, still passionate about the issue when I met him nearly six months after the trial had ended. No evidence of recent drug use was "found in the search of their residences. There was no evidence in the truck. From everything we were able to investigate, the last time they would have done meth would have been up to two to three weeks previous to that night. What the defense attempted to do was a bluff." ...

There are other serious problems with the report. It omits the fact that McKinney has now changed his story at least three times, and probably more, raising serious doubts about his credibility anyway. It also omits the fact that other detectives in the case testified at trial that the victim was selected for violence, and was beaten especially severely, because he was gay. Their testimony was based on their actual conversations with McKinney and Henderson.

And the piece's later attempts to defend McKinney by tainting Shepard's reputation (claiming he also was a crystal-meth user) should be beneath even the lowliest cops-and-courts reporter, let alone a national news organization. Even if true, whatever Shepard's habits, he did not deserve to die for them.

This story has a distinct Foxcist stench -- which means that it is not interested in the truth, it's propaganda for an agenda. An agenda which is, of course, left unstated during the program, but is implicit in the pattern of omitted evidence and facts.

For the explicit version, JoAnn Wypijewski laid it all out for us in an L.A. Times op-ed:
So was Shepard's murder a hate crime or was it something else? "20/20" comes down on the side of something else, amplifying the meth connection, which I first reported in Harper's in 1999, and exploring Laramie's drug subculture, through which Shepard seems to have become acquainted with McKinney. Some gay advocates of hate crime laws have already blasted the network for raising the question. Michael Adams of Lambda Legal Defense says ABC is trying to "de-gay the murder."

Scrapping over the nature of Shepard's victimhood is the wrong debate. Whatever his killer's degree of homophobia, Shepard is dead. Powerless to restore him, society is obligated to ask what is owed to the living -- to gay people, who have suffered ages of abuse, and also criminal defendants. Tinkering with criminal law is a backward step in countering the deep cultural realities of homophobia, racism, sexism. Prosecuting murder as a hate crime only lets the rest of us think we're off the hook, while it tramples on justice.

You see, the problem isn't people who like to seek out gays for special violence and then visit it upon them. It's the laws that are intended to punish these people -- that's the problem.


Hate-crime laws, as I explain in my text, are indeed relatively new insofar as they are now on the books. But attempts to pass laws like them date back to the anti-lynching laws of the 1920s and '30s.

And the reality is that they represent the kind of law that should have been on the books long ago, because they play a substantial role in protecting individual freedoms for all Americans. This isn't tinkering: It's righting an omission.

Keep in mind that hate crimes historically represent an unofficial attempt at oppressing minorities -- in the case of lynching, it in fact was a cornerstone of the Jim Crow system of racial oppression. They are clearly special "message" crimes whose primary intent is to deprive whole groups of Americans of their right to partake of democracy, and they clearly create substantially more harm across all sectors of society than ordinary crimes. As such, they deserve harsher punishment.

Underlying Wypijewski's argument is one of the persistent myths about hate crimes, namely, that the laws on the books now should be adequate to punish them. I address this in Chapter 11:
This myth arises from one of the realities about hate-crime laws: they only exist on the books as laws dealing with a special category of crimes with which we already are well familiar (murder, assault, threatening, intimidation, vandalism, etc.) -- that is, a hate crime always has a well-established "parallel" crime underlying it, upon which is added the layer of motivation by bias (racial, ethnic, etc.). Thus, opponents argue, the laws for those parallel crimes should be adequate for punishing perpetrators. (If this argument sounds familiar, it is; the identical points were raised in the 1920s and '30s by opponents of the anti-lynching legislation that was the NAACP's raison d'etre during its early years.)

Are hate crimes truly different from their parallel crimes? Quantifiably and qualitatively, the answer is yes.

The first and most clear aspect of this difference lies in the breadth of the crimes' effects. Hate crimes attack not only the immediate victim, but the target community -- Jews, blacks, gays—to which the victim belongs. Their purpose today, just as it was in the lynching era, is to terrorize and politically oppress the target community. Hate-crime laws resemble anti-terrorism laws in this respect as well—adding, in effect, punishment because more than just the immediate victim is targeted and affected, and thus greater harm is inflicted.

But this is only one aspect of the greater harm inflicted by hate crimes than their parallel crimes. There are several more, and they are substantial.

-- The violence quotient. Hate crimes are much likelier to be violent than other crimes, on two levels. First, bias crimes involve physical assaults at a significantly higher rate. A study based in Boston found that out of all hate crimes reported to police, fully half of them were assaults—well above the average of 7 percent of all crimes generally. Second, serious physical harm is far more likely to be inflicted on hate-crime victims; the same study found that while physical injury occurred in only about 30 percent of all assault cases nationally, they were present in almost three-quarters of bias-crime cases.

The personal trauma levels. There is also a singularly greater level of harm from bias crimes' impact on the emotional and psychological well-being of the victim. As Frederick Lawrence observes in his Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes and American Law:

The victim of a bias crime is not attacked for a random reason—as the person injured during a shooting spree in a public place—nor is he attacked for an impersonal reason, as is the victim of a mugging for money. He is attacked for a specific, personal reason: his race [or religion, or sexual preference]. Moreover, the bias crime victim cannot reasonably minimize the risk of future attacks because he is unable to change the characteristics that made him a victim.

A bias crime thus attacks the victim not only physically but at the very core of his identity. It is an attack from which there is no escape. It is one thing to avoid the park at night because it is not safe. It is quite another to avoid certain neighborhoods because of one's race. This heightened sense of vulnerability caused by bias crimes is beyond that normally found in crime victims. Bias-crime victims have been compared to rape victims in that the physical harm associated with the crime, however great, is less significant than the powerful accompanying sense of violation. The victims of bias crimes thus tend to experience psychological symptoms such as depression or withdrawal, as well as anxiety, feelings of helplessness, and a profound sense of isolation.

-- Harm to the community: All crimes, of course, harm the broader community in which they occur. They create fear and uncertainty about citizens' personal security, and add to a climate of civil distrust. However, bias crimes create, in addition to these harms, a further level of injury to a community in a democratic society: They violate the underlying egalitarian principles of equality for all citizens, and they profoundly disturb whatever harmony may exist in a modern, heterogeneous society. Hate crimes may not be as profound an offense in a non-democratic society, but they represent a gross violation of basic American legal and cultural institutions.

This harm is especially evident in small rural towns -- such as Ocean Shores, or Jasper, or Laramie, or Hayden Lake -- which are often dependent to some extent on tourist dollars, and whose names can be permanently blackened by a hate crime committed in the back yards. Not only can the economic effect be widespread, the community itself must grapple for years with questions about its basic integrity; the cloud may lighten, but it never completely goes away. Small towns are especially vulnerable because they rarely have a law-enforcement department capable of adequately handling such crimes, which can create conditions in which a series of incidents can escalate into full-blown violence, as they did in Ocean Shores.

Wypijewski also makes a significant error in suggesting that, under proposed federal laws, Shepard's murder would have been prosecuted as a hate crime. Again, she betrays a gross misunderstanding of the phenomenon.

The reality is that bias-crime statutes (which are usually sentence-enhancement laws) are typically not very helpful when it comes to murder cases, especially those involving horrific killings like Shepard's or James Byrd's in Texas. The perpetrators are likely to face the death penalty in an any event -- and how can you enhance that sentence? At best, a prosecutor may be able to push his case to a death-penalty threshold because of hate-crime circumstances surrounding a given case.

But only about 2-3 percent of all hate crimes involve murder. The vast majority of them involve assaults and lesser violent crimes, property crimes, threats and intimidation. And within that spectrum, there is clearly not only room for, but a need for, sentence enhancement.

In this respect, Matthew Shepard was a poor representative of the typical hate-crime victim. Most victims of violent gay bashing survive -- but they are rarely left unscarred, both without and within. And Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were punished about as harshly as they would have been had there been a law on Wyoming's books or in the federal statutes. Of course, they can thank the Shepard family -- upon whom Aaron McKinney and ABC News have just spat -- for that.

Indeed, the prominence of Shepard's case was more a matter of timing, appearing at a time when cases like his were coming before the national consciousness. As I explain in Death on the Fourth of July:
Certainly, there had been any number of anti-gay hate crimes committed over the preceding year that warranted the public's attention. The previous January in Springfield, Illinois, three men had kidnapped, robbed and assaulted a visiting man from Washington, D.C., because they believed (incorrectly) that he was gay. In Honolulu that August, a group of teenagers beat a heterosexual man to death at a public shower because they thought he was gay. In September in Fresno, California, a transgender woman named Chanel Chandler was stabbed to death with a broken beer bottle, and her apartment set on fire in an attempt to hide the body; two young men whose fingerprints showed up were questioned by police, but the prosecutor dropped charges when the pair refused to waive their right to a speedy trial and his evidence, including DNA work, had not arrived in time. Charges were never re-filed.

For that matter, a steady drumbeat of news about vicious crimes directed against gays and lesbians had been getting increasing play in the nation's headlines for the previous decade. The sport of "gay bashing," in which groups of young men from rural or suburban areas would invade urban gay districts and commit brutal assaults, often with baseball bats, became something of a legend during the early 1990s; though the incidents were real enough, many of them went unreported because of gay men's reluctance to report the beatings to police.

By 1998, even though only twenty-one states had hate-crimes laws against gays, lesbians, or bisexuals even on the books (Wyoming was one of seven states with no hate-crimes law at all), such crimes made up 11.6 percent of all hate crimes reported to the FBI, the third-highest such category. Since twenty-nine states were out of the picture, and many of the crimes went unreported anyway, the numbers could at best only hint at the levels of gay-bashing that were happening in reality. Indeed, one study, conducted in 1991, estimated that better than 50 percent of all gays and lesbians in America had been subjected to physical attacks motivated by their homosexuality. As early as 1987, a Department of Justice report had observed that "homosexuals are probably the most frequent victims of hate crimes." The same report noted: "Many victims of bias crimes do not report incidents because they distrust the police, feel that the incident is too minor or that the police cannot do anything about it, have a language barrier, fear retaliation by the offender or—in the case of gays and lesbians—fear public exposure."

What really stood out about these crimes was their viciousness. These weren't merely assaults: they entailed torture, mutilation, castration, sexual assault, and extremely severe beatings, and they were very likely to end in death. Gay-related homicides are notable for the "overkill" that pervades the attacks; a 1995 study found that in more than 60 percent of the homicides, there was evidence of "rage/hate-fueled extraordinary violence" that included "dismemberment, bodily and genital mutilation, use of multiple weapons, repeated blows from a blunt object, or numerous stab wounds."

In this respect, Matt Shepard was an ideal symbol of the phenomenon of gay-bashing hate crimes. The viciousness of the attack against him was fueled not merely by crystal methamphetamine but by homophobic rage. ABC News' reporters seemed to believe the two factors were mutually exclusive, rather than complementary.

That omission appears to be quite intentional. The underlying agenda appears to be to undermine public support for hate-crime laws.

Why? After all, Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert killed a Senate-approved federal hate-crime law recently, and paid no political price for it whatsoever. With an even more conservative Senate running the show, there is now almost zero prospect of a federal hate-crime law passing anytime soon.

One has to wonder if a larger rollback is in the works. So much for "compassionate" conservatism.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Climate change

The administration that brought you Abu Ghraib and Fallujah is now in the process of instituting a similar respect (or lack thereof) for fundamental human rights on the domestic scene.

The nomination of Alberto Gonzalez -- who played a key role in creating the climate of self-justification that led this administration to see itself as above the Geneva Conventions -- was the clearest signal to date of this fact.

But the reality is that the Bush administration has been steadily undermining civil rights in this country all along, from the privacy invasions latent in the Patriot Act to the coddling of the neo-Confederate wing of the Republican Party. It has been steadily creating a climate in which many of the real gains of the 1960s and '70s are being eroded, both politically and culturally.

This was made clear in a recent study, as reported by the Associated Press, that found enforcement of civil rights laws has plummeted since Bush took office:
Federal enforcement of civil rights laws has dropped sharply since 1999 even though the level of complaints received by the Justice Department has remained relatively constant, according a study released Sunday.

Criminal charges alleging civil rights violations were brought last year against 84 defendants, down from 159 in 1999, according to Justice Department data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, at Syracuse University.

In addition, the study found that the number of times the FBI or other federal agencies recommended prosecution in civil rights cases had fallen by more than one-third, from over 3,000 in 1999 to just more than 1,900 last year.

Federal court data also show the government has sought fewer civil sanctions against civil rights violators.

The TRAC report itself contains details about the sources of this disparity:
One possible explanation for the recent decline in civil rights enforcement actions is that the American people have become more law abiding in this area. While there unfortunately is no way to track such unlawful actions, the Justice Department does monitor the number of civil rights complaints that have been received each year by the government. These complaints have not declined but remained steady at about 12,000 a year for the last five years.

Another possible explanation for the slumping number of referrals and prosecutions in the civil rights area is that terrorism and the events of 9/11/01 forced the Bush Administration to divert its investigators to national security matters. While this may well be a factor, it must be noted that the decline found in civil rights enforcement does not match the trends chalked up by the government for many other enforcement areas.

... The data show that one factor driving the disparate trends is the very different way that the various categories of cases are dealt with by US Attorneys and their assistants. In FY 2003, for example the prosecutors chose to file formal charges in almost all (90%) of the immigration cases presented to them by the investigative agencies. When it came to civil rights, however, they only prosecuted 5%.

As the report's conclusion suggests, this trend represents the first real reversal of the government's commitment to defending the civil rights of the nation's minorities.

This not only sends a signal, it's fully consonant with the political and cultural climate the GOP is creating for the 21st century: intolerant, pinched, with an undercurrent of malice. As in the larger cultural war, the conservative approach to civil rights is to reverse the gains made forty years ago.

On the ground, this plays out in small ways, some of them seemingly innocuous, or perhaps just "isolated incidents." And these run the spectrum.

On the more "respectable" end of things, there's a steady patter of revisionism regarding well-established conventions about civil-rights issues, ranging from Michelle Malkin's defense of the Japanese American internment to the recent ABC News 20/20 report attempting to recast the Matthew Shepard murder as primarily a drug-induced crime and not a hate crime (more about that soon).

This helps create a climate in which, further along the spectrum, the voters of Alabama can vote to retain segregationist language in their state constitution, and hardly an eyebrow is raised.

The dynamic also plays out on the fringes and their interplay with the mainstream. As I've argued before, the spread of white-supremacist ideology among young people is one of the hidden but very real products of this climate.

And so in Newsweek this week you can read about The Hot Sound of Hate, the sudden popularity of neo-Nazi skinhead music among teenagers.

And as the lines begin to blur, and the intolerance and revisionism spreads, and we forget what the struggles of the 1950s and '60s were about, we move closer to the unspeakable itself.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Holiday break

I'm off to Montana for a five-day Thanksgiving visit. My Web access will be sketchy, so don't look for a lot (if anything) till I get back.

I am planning to put "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism" together into a single PDF file that will appear after I get back. In the meantime, here are links to all seven parts:
Part 1: The Morphing of the Conservative Movement

Part 2: The Architecture of Fascism

Part 3: The Pseudo-Fascist Campaign

Part 4: The Apocalyptic One-Party State

Part 5: Warfare By Other Means

Part 6: Breaking Down the Barriers

Part 7 [Conclusion]: It Can Happen Here

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The Dean draft

Joe Trippi, the old Howard Dean hand, posts the following at MSNBC:
Finally the Democratic Party seems to be in complete denial that it needs to reform itself from the bottom-up. Forget about putting anyone in the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee who is carrying water for any of the potential 2008 nominees. Forget about putting anyone in as Chair of the Party who is a figurehead, a symbol, or a placeholder. What the Party needs is someone who is committed to building a vibrant, energized party from the grassroots up to make gains in the House and Senate in 2006, and who will continue to build a party of ideas so that whoever wins the 2008 nomination is leading a modernized Party that can win the Presidency.

In other words -- stop the gamesmanship, and the politics as usual -- and put some outside the box thinking in place to build a new party from within.

The first and most critical step in reclaiming the Democratic Party is going to involve wresting it out of the hands of the clearly incompetent and out-of-step DLC folks and giving some fresh blood a chance -- and the first battle on that front is going to be naming a new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. I think we all have a pretty good idea who Trippi has in mind for this role: his old boss.

And you know what? Trippi is right.

There are a number of non-DLC people who might make better DNC chairs than Dean from an administrative or even ideological standpoint. But none of them are capable of unseating the DLC figureheads. None of them have the proven ability to put together a grass-roots organization and voter base. And none of them would have the ability to create a new coalition that crosses ideological lines.

I liked Dean in the primaries even though I figured he would get steamrolled in the general. Among other things, he remains the only candidate among the Democrats who articulated a vision of revitalizing the party's rural roots and finding a way to speak to working-class people again.

More to the point, that fact suggests the extent to which Dean is inclined to reject the stale approach to politics that has made the Democratic Party is moribund as it now finds itself. He's clearly the best first step in changing that.

To that end, please spend the time to visit the Web site created by Driving Votes featuring an online petition to encourage Dean to step up to the plate.

There's also a Draft Howard Web site that provides the latest on the effort to enlist Dean's leadership.

Democrats need to start from the ground up. Dean's the guy to do it.

Intelligence on their designs

Science and fundamentalism are natural enemies, because they represent diametrically opposite models for understanding the world.

Fundamentalism begins with articles of faith, gleaned from Scripture, for which it then goes in search of evidence as support -- ignoring, along the way, all contravening evidence.

Science begins with the gathering of evidence and data, which are then assembled into an explanatory model through a combintation of hypothesis and further testing. This model must take into account all available facts, including contradictory evidence.

They are, in other words, 180 degrees removed from each other in how they affect our understanding of the world. One is based in logic, the other in faith. As methodologies go, they are simply irreconcilable.

Moreover, it's clear that the fundamentalists who are rapidly gaining complete control of the American government's reins of power fully recognize this natural emnity -- and intend to use their rising power to curtail the influence of science on society: in government, in the schools, and in the media.

To do this, they are resorting to a combination of logical fallacies and propaganda techniques.

The key piece of illogic is one that has especially lodged itself in the media in recent years: The notion that a demonstrably true fact can be properly countered by a demonstrably false one -- and that the two, placed side by side, represent a kind of "balance" in the national discourse. This is the Foxcist model of Newspeak, in which "fair and balanced" comes to mean its exact opposite.

[Linnaeus points out in comments that the logical fallacy at work here is the argumentum ad temperantiam: "If two groups are locked in argument, one maintaining that 2+2=4, and the other claiming that 2+2=6, sure enough, an Englishman will walk in and settle on 2+2=5, denouncing both groups as extremists."]

We've seen this dynamic play out constantly in the media over the past eight years or so: during the Clinton impeachment fiasco (when any kind of false rumor about Clinton got media play under these circumstances) to the 2000 election (from "Al Gore invented the Internet" to "machine counts are more accurate than hand counts") to the 9/11 commission hearings (notably Condoleezza Rice's testimony that the Aug. 11 Presidential Daily Briefing warning of pending Al Qaeda attacks contained just "historical information" and "did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks") to the 2004 election (especially the way the media depicted the fact-driven reports on George W. Bush's military record as the counterpart to the Swift Boat Veterans clearly specious claims').

Now this model of illogic is being applied to our education system. Specifically, it's being used to inject religion into our schools' science education curriculum.

The most recent example of this came last week when the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania decided to include so-called "intelligent design" programs in their schools' science curriculum.

The chief advocates for "intelligent design" in the schools is a Seattle-based outfit called the Discovery Institute, which had its origins in the 1990s as a conservative/skeptic science-oriented think tank, but which in recent years has transformed its stance from skeptical to a full-fledged embrace of creationism.

Natasha at Pacific Views has been blogging a lot the last week or so about Discovery, notably with this post, followed by this one. Some of this plays off my old friend Danny Westneat's column about Discovery and the way it is using the nation's schools as the battleground for their debate. Natasha notes:
Science is founded on asking questions, even about long-established ideas. Yet a truly 'tough' question is one that's based on evidence, and a question that's asked out of uninformed antagonism doesn't merit the respect of being described that way. So in this, they are certainly making progress in getting their message out, but that message doesn't contain a single "legitimate scientific criticism."

Evolution Blog recently offered a detailed explanation of this:
The great Columbia University genetecist Theodosious Dobzhansky famously said "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." What did he mean by that?

In a trivial sort of way there are many things in biology that make perfect sense even without evolution. The structure of DNA, the mechanics of the Krebs cycle, the skeletal structure of the water buffalo, all of these facts can be understood without any reference to Darwin or his theories.

But of course, the same could be said for any branch of science. Brute facts can be learned and understood without any reference to theory at all. Plainly, this is not what Dobzhansky had in mind.

What he intended was that evolution is what transforms biology from a chaotic menagerie of unrelated facts into an actual science. For example, the fossil record shows a clear pattern to life's history. We begin with the simplest sort of one-celled organisms around 3.5 billion years ago, and move gradually through more complex single-celled organisms, simple multicellular organisms, and on and on through fish, amphibians, reptiles and humans. Along the way we find numerous examples of transitional series in which, for example, the reptilian skull seems to transform itself gradually into the mammalian skull. Without evolution we must simply accept this history as a brute fact. Intelligent Design offers no explanation of it, and the Young-Earth Creationists offer an explanation (that the patterns in the fossil record represent the different abilities of animals to escape the rising waters of Noah's flood) so clearly at odds with the facts that it can't be taken seriously. Salvador, if you reject evolution, tell me how I am to understand the fossil record.

Wired also recently ran a piece about the Discovery Institute titled "The Crusade Against Evolution" that surveys the breadth of Discovery's successes elsewhere:
Several months after the debate, the Ohio school board voted to change state science standards, mandating that biology teachers "critically analyze" evolutionary theory. This fall, teachers will adjust their lesson plans and begin doing just that. In some cases, that means introducing the basic tenets of intelligent design. One of the state's sample lessons looks as though it were lifted from an ID textbook. It's the biggest victory so far for the Discovery Institute. "Our opponents would say that these are a bunch of know-nothing people on a state board," says Meyer. "We think it shows that our Darwinist colleagues have a real problem now."

But scientists aren't buying it. What Meyer calls "biology for the information age," they call creationism in a lab coat. ID's core scientific principles -- laid out in the mid-1990s by a biochemist and a mathematician -- have been thoroughly dismissed on the grounds that Darwin's theories can account for complexity, that ID relies on misunderstandings of evolution and flimsy probability calculations, and that it proposes no testable explanations.

As the Ohio debate revealed, however, the Discovery Institute doesn't need the favor of the scientific establishment to prevail in the public arena. Over the past decade, Discovery has gained ground in schools, op-ed pages, talk radio, and congressional resolutions as a "legitimate" alternative to evolution. ID is playing a central role in biology curricula and textbook controversies around the country. The institute and its supporters have taken the "teach the controversy" message to Alabama, Arizona, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, and Texas.

The key to Discovery's success is in twisting science's own precepts against it, imposing the same illogical pseudo-egalitarianism -- "all ideas are equal in value" -- so that it distorts the work of science by giving false facts an equal footing with true facts:
Of course Meyer happily acknowledges that Woese is an ardent evolutionist. The institute doesn't need to impress Woese or his peers; it can simply co-opt the vocabulary of science -- "academic freedom," "scientific objectivity," "teach the controversy" -- and redirect it to a public trying to reconcile what appear to be two contradictory scientific views. By appealing to a sense of fairness, ID finds a place at the political table, and by merely entering the debate it can claim victory. "We don't need to win every argument to be a success," Meyer says. "We're trying to validate a discussion that's been long suppressed."

This is precisely what happened in Ohio. "I'm not a PhD in biology," says board member Michael Cochran. "But when I have X number of PhD experts telling me this, and X number telling me the opposite, the answer is probably somewhere between the two."

An exasperated Krauss claims that a truly representative debate would have had 10,000 pro-evolution scientists against two Discovery executives. "What these people want is for there to be a debate," says Krauss. "People in the audience say, Hey, these people sound reasonable. They argue, 'People have different opinions, we should present those opinions in school.' That is nonsense. Some people have opinions that the Holocaust never happened, but we don't teach that in history."

As with the media phenonmena of the past decade, this is what happens when you engage in this kind of false "balance": When falsehoods are given equal consideration with demonstrable facts as merely the "other side" in a debate, the falsehoods win, because they gain credibility they would otherwise never have.

Even the normally reserved National Geographic Society decided it was time to address the matter head-on last month with its lead article, "Was Darwin Wrong?" The answer, simply and resoundingly, is "no."

But science isn't really the question here. P.Z. Myers points out that the Discovery Institute is not engaged in science -- its purview is propaganda.

Specifically, it's a form of card stacking:
Propagandist uses this technique to make the best case possible for his side and the worst for the opposing viewpoint by carefully using only those facts that support his or her side of the argument while attempting to lead the audience into accepting the facts as a conclusion. In other words, the propagandist stacks the cards against the truth. Card stacking is the most difficult technique to detect because it does not provide all of the information necessary for the audience to make an informed decision. The audience must decide what is missing. The Institute for Propaganda Analysis suggests we ask ourselves the following question when confronted with this technique: Are facts being distorted or omitted? What other arguments exist to support these assertions? As with any other propaganda technique, the best defense against Card Stacking is to get as much information that is possible before making a decision.

There's another important aspect to propaganda as well: When it's being deployed, it is always in the service of a larger and often hidden agenda. In the case of the Discovery Institute and the "intelligent design" curriculum, it's just a matter of following the money.

One of the chief funders of Discovery (and the first entity on its Board of Directors) is a fellow named Howard Ahmanson. Ahmanson is a major figure in the Christian Reconstructionist movement, whose agenda is to convert American government to a theocratic system as a "Christian nation".

Ahmanson is nothing if not diverse. Among Ahmanson's other projects has been the directorship of the Rutherford Institute, which gained some notoriety as the providers of Paula Jones' legal team in her harassment suit against Bill Clinton; and his connection to the controversy over electronic voting systems by virtue of his ownership of a major touch-screen system provider.

But Discovery has been a major recipient of Ahmanson's funds, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer explained a couple of years ago:
Ahmanson, whose family made billions in the savings and loan business, was associated at times with Christian Reconstruction, a radical faction of the Religious Right that sought to replace American democracy with a theocracy based on biblical law and under the "dominion" of Christians. For years, the Orange County multimillionaire served on the board of the Chalcedon Foundation, the movement's think tank.

Ahmanson gave Discovery $1.5 million to help start its Center for Science and Culture. Fieldstead & Co., which is owned by Ahmanson and his wife, Roberta, has pledged $2.8 million through 2003 to support the institute's work.

The prospect of slowing down this campaign appears dim -- especially considering that George Bush has a long history of pandering to the Reconstructionists.

For more information, be sure to also check out the work by P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula, and by Chris Mooney, both of whom have been tracking the Discovery Institute closely.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The last Indian war

I have a new post up at The American Street on the latest right-wing plans to do away with Native American treaty rights. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Keyword: privacy

The near-complete conversion of the federal judiciary -- including the Supreme Court -- and the Justice Department into Federalist Society enclaves looms closer and more certainly on the horizon. It's time for progressives and Democrats to start thinking about what they're going to be dealing with as a result -- and figuring out how they're going to oppose it.

Judging from the Federalist Society's known agenda, abortion and reproductive rights are almost certainly first on the target list. Coming in a close second will be rights for gays and lesbians, including housing and employment discrimination.

There will be a whole host of others as well: broadening executive power in the now-endless "war on terror"; undermining international law; and gutting environmental law.

But the first two -- abortion and gay rights -- are at the heart of the current "culture war," and are almost certain to be the focus of the institutionalization of the "Bush mandate." And they share something: Both, in the end are about individual freedom.

Digby has been remarking on this, and the need for Democrats to make these kinds of freedoms the centerpiece of their appeal. As Digby notes, progressive bloggers from Oliver Willis to Atrios to Matt Yglesias have made similar arguments.

I think that their instincts are right, but I also think it will be important to frame this in a way that will directly undermine the campaign the right is prepared to wage against these freedoms. Because they will, as always, frame these as "moral" issues and indeed a matter of "freedom" (that is, the freedom to bash gays and attack abortion providers). Generically framing it as about "freedom" on our side may not be enough.

It needs to be about the foundations of the "individual freedoms" we're discussing here. And key to both of these is a phrase that ought to become a liberal mantra: the right to privacy.

I pointed out during the campaign that Bush's judiciary nominees were by nature almost certain to overturn Roe v. Wade because of their adherence to the Federalist Society dogma of "strict construction":
The "strict constructionists" who favor overturning Roe v. Wade, for example, do so on the basis of the argument that the right to privacy -- which forms the foundation of that ruling -- doesn't exist. You see, because this basic right is not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution, even though it is woven into its very fabric, these judicial activists of the conservative stripe claim that it's not innate to the rights Americans enjoy.

Taking away the right to privacy, of course, has ramifications well beyond abortion. And so when George Bush tells Americans that he intends to appoint these "strict constructionists" to the bench, they need to ask in return whether George Bush believes in the right to privacy.

Because the judges he wants to appoint don't. For most Americans -- who cherish their right to privacy -- that is a paramount consideration.

Some of those ramifications include undermining basic reproductive rights -- including, for instance, the right to contraception. The "right to privacy" found in the "penumbrae" of the Bill of Rights by the Burger Court in Roe v. Wade in 1973 was actually predicated on a Warren Court precedent set eight years before in Connecticut v. Griswold -- which was, in fact, a case about a woman's right to obtain contraceptives.

The right to sexual privacy also is a significant cornerstone for gay and lesbian rights, as well, particularly in overturning anti-sodomy laws -- though much of the current right-wing attack seems more to zero in on basic 14th-amendment rights to equal protection under the law. As a secondary theme to champion as a counter the right-wing onslaught, progressives could do worse than this one; Americans are likely to respond to appeals to their sense of fair play, if it's framed the right way.

But the right to privacy -- in all its many ramifications -- is something most Americans like to think they innately have as a natural right, the kind protected in the Ninth Amendment.

And making clear that Bush and his judiciary intend to attack that right is something progressives need to begin doing now -- before the rulings start coming forth.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Feeding us the mandate

The way a lot of liberals respond to suggestions that devoting some energy to revitalizing the Democratic party's rural roots, you'd think that doing so required repudiating some of their most deeply cherished values -- rather than, in fact, simply living up to them.

The most significant of these involves confronting the problem presented by modern corporate agribusiness and its vertical and horizontal integration of the nation's farm production. Democrats -- who at one time championed the "little guy" and, before that, represented the Jeffersonian ideal of the "citizen farmer" -- have been too content for too many years to cozy up to the money and power that agribusiness represents, while the economic regime that resulted has gradually driven the family farm to near-extinction.

But if Democrats are cozy with these interests, they're models of probity compared to Republicans. There hasn't been a corporate agriculture initiative come down the pike that hasn't found a Republican sponsor. What's been especially noteworthy is the way the GOP has greased the skids for big business to belly up to the table traditionally set for family farmers, especially when it comes to such programs as land conservation setasides and crop subsidies. The 1995 "Freedom to Farm Act" was the classic example of this.

Similarly, Republicans have at every turn provided the legislation that has opened the floodgates for market monopolies by agribusiness in seed supplies as well as distribution. They also enable the increasing monopolization of nearly all areas of agriculture, notably pork production.

These are policies that harm entire communities. Overturning and reforming them are natural issues for progressive Democrats. But so far, they have failed to pay anything approaching serious attention.

John McKay points us to this story about just such an opportunity:
Telling consumers where their meat, fruit and vegetables came from seemed such a good idea to U.S. ranchers and farmers in competition with imports that Congress two years ago ordered the food industry to do it. But meatpackers and food processors fought the law from the start, and newly emboldened Republicans now plan to repeal it before Thanksgiving.

As part of the 2002 farm bill, country-of-origin labeling was supposed to have gone into effect this fall. Congress last year postponed it until 2006. Now, House Republicans are trying to wipe it off the books as part of a spending bill they plan to finish this month.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he expected the Senate to agree to repealing the measure, whose main champion two years ago was Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

"I can't find any real opposition to doing exactly what we want to do here," Blunt said.

President Bush never supported mandatory labeling. Chances for repealing the law improved when Daschle, still his party's leader in the Senate, was defeated for re-election Nov. 2.

"For Republicans to deny Americans the opportunity to 'buy American' at the grocery store is anti-consumer, anti-farmer and anti-rancher," Daschle said Wednesday.

Obviously, Republicans are still gorged on their cotton-candy "mandate". This issue is one that pits them against both consumers and independent ranchers -- and aligns them, as always, with agribusiness:
The issue divides cattlemen and other livestock producers. Many of the bigger livestock and feedlot operations, as well as food processors, do not want mandatory labeling.

Producers in favor of mandatory labels believe consumers will prefer U.S.-grown food over foreign imports. The law requires companies to put country-of-origin labels on meat, vegetables and fruit.

"We really feel that country-of-origin labeling is one of the key things we need to keep ourselves competitive in that market. I understand the trade-offs," said Doran Junek, a rancher in Brewster, Kan. Junek also is executive director of the Kansas Cattlemen's Association, an affiliate of R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America.

Consumer groups say the issue is whether buyers have a right to know where their food came from.

At some point, of course, Republicans' hubris will lead them to overreach, and this could be one of those cases, if Democrats were astute enough to pick it up.

But then, the story includes this note:
Democrats acknowledged there was not much of an appetite to wage a battle over it.


It's not as though Republicans don't hand Democrats a number of ways to peel off rural votes. The question, in the end, comes down to competence in the face of those kinds of opportunities.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Home is where the hate is

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

-- Rodgers and Hammerstein

I like to take my 3-year-old daughter to a lot of different playgrounds around town. One of the things I like about doing this in Seattle is that she gets to meet a lot of different kinds of kids of all different colors; it is, for one thing, a real contrast to my own upbringing in lily-white Idaho Falls, where I can't remember ever seeing an African American until I was about 7 years old.

It's obvious, too, that race is meaningless to the innocent. Fiona plays with anyone who wants to have fun with her, and they do likewise. Their different features are no more meaningful than hair and eye color -- which is to say, not much at all. This is true not just in the playground but at her Montessori preschool too; her "best friends" there are two Asian girls and a very cute blonde boy, and a young African girl is part of their circle of chums.

Where do children learn to hate? Most of the time, it's from their parents.

They aren't learning it in the curriculum taught in schools. Most educators, both public and private, work hard to weed out prejudice and bigotry in their students, and modern curricula often include tolerance-oriented teaching. In some cases, the drive for tolerance reaches absurd PC heights -- but it certainly beats the alternative.

Especially since, by all indicators, racial and religious bigotry are still alive and well in America, even if they have been forced to retreat to the shadows. Take, for instance, recent problems in Grays Harbor County, Washington, where minority service members have been forced to relocate because of harassment, and minority children in the local schools have been forced to endure assaults and racial epithets. This county is, of course, also the setting for the events described in Death on the Fourth of July.

A number of the events in Grays Harbor involve young children who have clearly picked up racist beliefs in their upbringing. And the odds are high that those beliefs come from the home.

In some cases, there are parents who specifically cultivate such attitudes in their children. This can, of course, create real conflicts in schools where tolerance is being taught. Indeed, many of the parents who harbor these attitudes find themselves chafing under the public-school system and withdraw their children to home-school them.

Generally speaking, I think home schooling can be a terrific idea for certain families -- especially if the parents are diligent, well educated themselves, and cultivate education not as the union card it's often treated as within the system, but a lifelong process of self-advancement and cultivation. The results of sound home schooling speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, home schooling in America also has a distinct downside: It can act as a cover for abusive and hyper-controlling parents, particularly those with extremist political, religious and cultural agendas. The Andrea Yates case in Texas was really only the tip of this particularly iceberg.

The Akron Beacon-Journal recently reported on one of the more troubling aspects of home schooling's dirty little secret:
Racists can use home schools to train youths

The story opens with a horrifying anecdote that is familiar to many: The home-schooled child who refuses to participate with minority children. It goes on to explore the subset of white supremacists who populate home schooling's fringes:
... Home schooling has a strain of racism running through it that may reflect similar ideas held by others in the broader society. There are no studies or numbers to put racism and home schooling in perspective, but home-schooling laws that ensure that parents have the freedom to make socialization choices for their children also allow some families to completely withdraw from society.

In Texas, a librarian told the Beacon Journal that some home-schooling parents objected to the book selection on the shelves. They lobbied the library to bring back older editions -- books that depicted the United States in the 1950s, prior to the landmark 1964 civil rights legislation.

That idea is espoused on a number of racist Internet sites, where people who have a common hatred of minorities -- especially of African-Americans and Jews -- converse.

Stormfront, a white supremacist organization, has a Web site on "education and home schooling." The overriding theme is to home-school to avoid exposure to other cultures.

Among the discussions is one in which a member suggests stealing and destroying books from the public library -- a popular resource for home schoolers -- to eliminate material that portrays the United States as anything other than a white, Protestant culture.

The piece also features a sidebar [registration req'd] that describes some of the white supremacists who take the home schooling route.

It's important, of course, to keep in mind that these people are a minority:
Scott Somerville, an attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, acknowledged that there are racists in the home-schooling community.

"They are not welcome here, and they know it," he said. "We're trying to build a strong, unified, intelligent and effective home-school movement so that the crazies feel very much marginalized."

He acknowledged that fringe elements of society -- such as unreconstructed Confederates and militia members -- home-school, but he said they are a small percentage of the overall movement.

"That's the challenge of trying to advance a vision of liberty where parents have the freedom to do what's good for their children," Somerville said.

Obviously, that same freedom allows people to brainwash their children, if that's what they want to do. That's not a right that should be taken away -- but it is, nonetheless, a real problem.

Clearly, a line needs to be drawn at preventing abusive situations, and authorities need to do a better job of monitoring this aspect of home schooling. But in the end, hate that is taught at the home can only be undone by society at large -- a functioning society that puts the lie to the dogma of racism and unteaches hate by enunciating clear ethical values and setting a clear example.

That work, as always, is incrementally slow, painful, and difficult. It is also, for a democratic society, imperative.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Healing the heartland

People listen to their radios a lot in rural America. Maybe it has something to do with the silence of the vast landscapes where many of them live; radios break that silence, and provide the succor of human voices.

If you drive through these landscapes, getting radio reception can sometimes be iffy at best, especially in the rural West. Often the best you can find on the dial are only one or two stations.

And the chances are that what you'll hear, at nearly any hour, in nearly any locale, is Rush Limbaugh. Or Michael Savage. Or maybe some Sean Hannity. Or maybe some more Limbaugh. Or, if you're really desperate, you can catch one of the many local mini-Limbaughs who populate what remains of the rural dial. In between, of course, there will be a country music station or two.

That's what people in rural areas have been listening to for the past 10 years and more. And nothing has been countering it.

If Democrats want to come to terms with what happened to them in the last election, they're going to have to confront this reality and its larger implications and ramifications. Chief among the implications is the hard truth that Democrats have largely abandoned rural America, and in so doing have ceded the field to right-wing propaganda and even extremism. Among the ramifications is the fact that at some point, Democrats are going to have to start fighting back on rural turf.

Doing so will not, as some have suggested, require them to compromise their core beliefs -- it will just require them to rethink their priorities and perhaps, in the process, rediscover their identity.

What the dominance of right-wing propaganda in talk radio has meant has been a relentless campaign of hatred and demonization directed at liberals, one specifically geared toward a rural audience. And it has worked, largely because Democrats have blithely done little or nothing to counter it.

The radio talkers, Limbaugh and Savage especially, feed their audiences a steady diet of venom and bile. Liberals look down on people in farm country, they are told, constantly. They don't share your values. They have nothing but contempt for you. As far as they're concerned, you all can just go extinct.

It has to be understood that rural America is hurting, and has been for a couple of decades now. Visit any rural community now and it's palpable: The schools are run down, the roads are falling apart, the former downtowns have been gutted by the destruction of the local economies and their displacement by the new Wal-Mart economy.

People living in rural areas increasingly feel that they have become mere colonies of urban society, treated dismissively and ignored at best, the victims of an evil plot by wealthy liberal elites at worst.

Liberals, largely due to their increasing urban-centric approach to politics, have mostly ignored the problem. And conservatives have been busy exploiting it.

It's important to understand that they have been doing so not by offering any actual solutions. Indeed, Republican "solutions" like the 1995 "Freedom to Farm Act" have actually turned out to be real disasters for the nation's family farmers; the only people who have benefited from it have been in the boardrooms of corporate agribusiness, which of course bellied up first to the big federal trough offered by the law. Even conservatives admit it has been a disaster.

No, conservatives have instead employed a strategy of scapegoating. It isn't bad policy or the conservative captivity to agribusiness interests that has made life miserable in rural America -- it's liberals. Their lack of morals (especially embodied by Bill Clinton), their contempt for real, hard-working Americans, their selfish arrogance -- those are the reasons things are so bad.

These audiences are feeding on a steady diet of hate. And as with all such feedings, they never are sated, but only have their appetites whetted for more. So each day, people come back to get a fresh fill-up of hate.

This line of scapegoating succeeds because it offers clear, simple, black-and-white answers for many rural Americans that intuitively resonates. It also provides them with an outlet for the feelings of resentment many harbor. If the prevalence of red counties in rural America wasn't evidence enough, the outpouring of contempt for the "blue states" after the 2004 election was just the most recent manifestation of how well right-wing propaganda has succeeded.

It is their strength. It is also their vulnerability, because it is cosmetic to cover a shallow record of negative achievement.

Karl Rove is famous for going after liberals' strengths; liberals should consider doing the same in return.

Unfortunately, the response of many blue-staters has not exactly been helpful. Somewhat unsurprisingly, they have in some cases returned the contempt with contempt. These have ranged from suggestions of blue-state secession and flights to Canada to rebuking the South in no uncertain terms. Some of this reaction is silly, and most of it is understandable catharsis, but liberals have to understand that it only fuels the dynamic at work here.

One of the keys to this dynamic is that both sides have been portraying the conflict in terms of broad stereotypes of urban, suburban and rural dwellers. When the red-state ideologues view the political landscape, they see pockets of godless, atheistic crypto-socialists populating the blue urban centers. For blue-state ideologues, the results of the 2004 election are proof that rural America is populated largely with gun-toting, Bible-thumping moralists who condone bigotry.

It's clear that conservatives have neither the incentive nor the intention of breaking this cycle; after all, they have benefited from it. It is indeed entirely by their design. If liberals are interested in breaking the cycle, they're going to have to discard their stereotypes.

It's essential to understand that rural America is not monolithic. There will probably always be a contingent of liberal-haters in farm country, and there's little anyone can hope to do overcome their hatred. What we don't need to be doing is ceding the field to them.

Especially because, while it's undeniable the stereotype is built out of real-life examples, the bulk of rural America does not fit this description. Most of them are sincere and well-meaning people of good will who will listen to reason. The problem is that they haven't been hearing or experiencing enough of it, particularly not from liberals.

Chris Clarke observed the other day that too much of the dialogue directed coming from urban dwellers is suffused with broad-brush stereotypes, complacency, and smug disdain:
When the red-staters talk about the elitism of people in the cities and on the coasts, at least SOME of them aren't using the word "elitism" as a cryptic Christian code-word for "smart." Somewhere between a third and half of the people in those red states voted with you in this last election. You're not going to win without them, ever. Getting the GOP out of power will require that you lower yourselves and talk to some of us... and I don't mean "hi, I'm Geoffrey, and I've come to Ohio from Ann Arbor to tell you how to vote next week." We know how to vote. What we'd like is to be taken seriously as allies.

I raised some eyebrows last week by arguing that the first step liberals need to take in defusing the cycle of demonization lies in, as the sociologist James Aho puts it, "relinquishing our claim to moral superiority." This was sometimes misconstrued as suggesting a kind of unilateral disarmament, and a capitulation to the demand for obseisance to right-wing "moral values."

One of my tougher critics was the always-astute serial catowner, who posted this response:
The odd thing about this post is that David has spent 90% of his effort describing a right-wing that very creatively makes their own "liberals" to bash. David then concludes by saying liberals have to break this impasse by being better.

Frankly, I've heard this before. Black people were supposed to "overcome" the stereotypes and prejudices used to bar them from equality.

... So, fine, talk about 'values' and how liberals need to be more sensitive, but remember there's a real world out there with real problems we created pushing us into a corner. We may need to hear some plain talking before we get out.

What I'm arguing, though, is not that liberals need to be better than conservatives -- in fact, that presumes a certain kind of moral superiority. This presumption is exactly what is wrong with the liberal approach to dealing with conservatives: it fuels the conservative characterization of liberals as elitists, and simultaneously gulls liberals into passivity and genteel, even timid notions about how to fight back. Plain talk is indeed what is needed.

It's not that liberals need to be better than the hate-mongers on the right; it's that they need not to become like them. This requires a kind of self-knowledge that helps us to more clearly understand the nature of our opposition as well. And that understanding is the key to defeating them.

In this regard, I especially think of something Bertrand Russell wrote back in 1951, discussing the twin evils of Nazism and Communism and their inclination to engage in torture:
I do not think that these evils can be cured by blind hatred of their perpetrators. This will only lead us to become like them. Although the effort is not easy, one should attempt ... to understand the circumstances that turn men into fiends, and to realise that it is not by blind rage that evils are defeated. I do not say that to understand is to pardon; there are things which are for my part I find I cannot pardon. But I do say that to understand is absolutely necessary if the spread of similar evils over the whole world is to be prevented.

James Aho also discussed this in This Thing of Darkness:
By grasping the details of how we construct an enemy, we are positioned to see that many of our battles are gigantic jousts with our own illusions. This can be a painful realization, particularly when the costs in treasure and human lives are counted. But the pain may be seen as a necessary injection to inoculate us against a particularly virulent plague, political anthrax, carried by hate mongers -- a plague that respects no nation, race, or religion. Having said this, however, we should never forget that the enemy is a mysteriously paradoxical phenomenon. It has both a subjective and an objective face. While failing to acknowledge our own culpability in creating enemies puts us at risk of becoming executioners, being blind to the objective facticity of evil contains the danger of rendering us its victims. As Albert Camus said, our task as human beings is to be neither victims nor executioners. This requires the courage to renounce both the extreme of punctilious rectitude that perceives only those evils external to itself, and the extreme of romanticism that reduces evil to an internal and solely subjective event.

This path is a difficult one to tread, especially when violence enters into the equation. Then it becomes imperative that aggression be met head-on.

Even absent violence, there is no excuse for failing to respond to hate-mongers, because silence in the face of their lies and distortions amounts to acquiescence. This is true not just of facing down radical right-wing extremists like the Montana Freemen and the Aryan Nations, but the steady stream of hate that has been directed over the airwaves at liberals over the past decade and more.

Liberals need to punch back, hard. And they need to stop believing that being nicer about it is going to win the debate. Of course, civility is always called for when the discussion is civil; but there are times when the gloves of civility have to come off. The line, I think, has to be drawn when eliminationism and violence -- even intimations of them -- enter into the picture. The response needn't be ugly, but it needs to be sharp, hard, and unmistakable.

It would be tempting to think the best way to counter the propaganda stream demonizing liberals would be to erect a similar media network in rural America and begin broadcasting a counter-message, similarly tailored to agrarian sensibilities. Certainly, that's a pleasing thought, and it no doubt would have certain beneficial effects. However, it would take years of work and capital outlays to construct such a counter -- and its effects, in the end, would likely be more cosmetic than substantive. If someone were to attempt such an enterprise, I would certainly encourage it; but in the meantime, there are more effective ways of gaining ground.

The liberal response instead should be geared toward a reality that people in rural and urban areas alike respect: that actions speak louder than words.

If people in rural areas believe that urban liberals look down their noses at them, it's largely because they have little contact with them. They're buying into conservative distortions, of course; but liberals do nothing to counter the charges, either in the media or on the ground, in the way they affect rural dwellers' personal lives.

Urban liberals too need to look in the mirror in this regard. The prevailing attitude in reality is more one of benign ignorance, laced with the scent of moral superiority. The manifestations range from the indulgence in demeaning stereotypes of rural life to a presumption of liberals' own moral and intellectual superiority. These attitudes are conflated by conservatives into one of malevolent contempt toward rural life. As long as the Left condones these attitudes and even fosters them, the more it feeds the dynamic.

What is especially ironic and unfortunate about the way urban liberals relate to their rural brethren is that it has blinded them to the natural alliances, and the shared values, that have informed progressive politics for more than a century. In essence, it has cut them off from one of their historic constituencies, and in the end an essential component of their own identity.

While liberals' chief claim to moral superiority mainly rests on championing the rights and needs of the disenfranchised and downtrodden, one of the most significantly and consistently disenfranchised segments of the American economy of the past 20 years has been the rural sector. If rural dwellers who see their way of life under assault wonder why liberals do not seem to consider their cause a worthy one, they probably cannot be blamed for concluding that they simply live in the wrong place, lead the wrong kind of lifestyle, and are not the right color. It may not be the whole truth, but there is some truth to it.

More to the point, urban liberals should be concerned about what's happening to rural America, because it directly affects their lives as well. The corporatization of agriculture and the accompanying gutting of local rural economies first of all affects urban dwellers' food sources; even as genetically modified foods are being pushed into the food chain, the actual supply of traditional hybrid strains of crops and the genetic diversity they represented has been decreasing dramatically, since many of these resided within the purview of smaller family farms.

Moreover, corporate farms are rapidly becoming a major source of pollution, a problem that affects every locality. Unsurprisingly, the current administration relies on "voluntary compliance" when it comes to regulating this pollution.

The overarching theme that progressives should adopt regarding rural America is one aimed at reviving the family farm. In economic terms, this means adopting a Schumacheresque "small is beautiful" kind of capitalism that encourages an environment in which individual family farms can operate successfully on a smaller scale, one that allows them to grow crops organically and sustainably. In political terms, it means coming into direct opposition to corporate agribusiness -- stripping them of their oversized place at the federal trough, closing the huge tax loopholes that allow them to devour whole tracts of land, dismantling their horizontal and vertical integration of the agricultural economy. It also means confronting "the Wal-Mart economy," the spread of which has done so much to devastate rural small businesses.

Kevin Carson posted in one of my earlier threads on this subject some suggestions on encouraging family farms and saving rural towns:
1) stop enforcing patents on GM [genetically modified] crops. Many free market people, myself included, consider "intellectual property" to be an illegitimate state grant of monopoly privileges to big business. Without the ability to charge monopoly prices, most of the stuff Monsanto comes up with wouldn't even pay for itself in a free market.

2) do away with FDA labeling restrictions that prohibit identifying GM food, or specifying that organic food is grown without sewage sludge, etc. There would be a much greater market for genuinely organic food if people could see on labels what kind of crap they're buying. Agribusiness is rabidly in favor of legal restrictions against such free flow of information, so we know how sincere the GOP's commitment to "free enterprise" is. Monsanto is one of the most adamant supporters of "food libel laws" and restrictions on labeling.

3) Eliminate all other government subsidies to agribusiness. Environmental subsidies to hold land out of production go almost entirely to the big corporate farms, who have enough land they can afford to let it be idle.

Most crop subsidies are targeted to crops that are grown mainly by big agribusiness, and not family farmers.

And large-scale government irrigation projects, especially the dams, provide subsidized water far, far below cost to big agribusiness. If it weren't for such subsidies to plantation farms in areas with inadequate rainfall, and the full cost of providing the water were reflected in the cost of produce, it simply wouldn't pay to ship produce across the country. You'd see a lot more smaller-scale agriculture in high rain areas like Massachusetts growing food for local and regional consumption.

4) Ditto for transportation subsidies. They are really a subsidy for distribution costs, a way of underwriting the inefficiency costs of large-scale production, and encouraging the concentration of capital and centralization of production. This is true of spades for agribusiness. It's only profitable to truck food from plantation farms across the country, instead of growing it where we live, because the shipping costs are reflected in our tax bills instead of in the cost of food.

All these things are examples of how big business gets rich sucking on the taxpayer tit; and they are anathema to the core values of rural state people, if their attention could be drawn to how far Republican practice differs from Republican preaching.

These are excellent starting points. The larger picture should be to create a cogent and comprehensive rural-revitalization program that emphasizes the independent farmer and the economic and cultural health of rural towns. And then to make it a major focal point of Democrats' national agenda.

In more pragmatic political terms, Democrats need to get to work in revitalizing their own political networks in rural areas. Progressives, as Chris Clarke says, have always been part of the rural landscape -- but in pursuing an urban-centric political strategy that has focused on harvesting votes from locales with the largest numbers of voters, Democrats have over the past decade or more largely abandoned these people to their own devices.

The result is that, by failing to involve and empower their rural counterparts, urban liberals proceeded to pursue a series of environmental policy initiatives that, instead of obtaining a rural consensus, became edicts handed down from on high in the urban ivory towers.

Cecil Andrus, the longtime Idaho governor, former Interior Secretary and godfather of the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, tried to warn party leaders against pursuing this course in the 1990s. In 1994, he and a group of Western governors met with President Clinton and his advisers to discuss the party's approach to rural issues, particularly those in the West. Andrus bluntly warned Clinton that, if his administration didn't take rural people's concerns seriously, and continued to send signals of being out of touch with Western issues, they risked becoming a permanent minority party in the West. Democrats' insistence on representing an urban perspective was a real problem, he warned.

At the end of the meeting, Al Gore reportedly took Andrus aside and gave him a chewing-out, telling him: "We think you're the problem."

The 1994 results -- in which the GOP took control of the House and Senate, and swept to their now-entrenched dominant power role in western states -- of course proved Andrus right. And the myopic worldview of Clinton, Gore and the rest of the Democratic Leadership Council contingent has, through the missteps of 2000, 2002, and 2004, led us into our current quagmire.

It's time for that style of leadership to come to an end for Democrats. Instead of being the party of the blue states and hoping to nibble off enough moderate voters in suburban districts, Democrats need to see themselves once again as a national party that represents the interests of all the nation. And championing the cause of their disenfranchised rural brethren is one of the most direct and simple ways of achieving this.

Organizationally speaking, one of the most critical steps for doing this requires not a lot of real expense but a major shift in priorities: cultivating a vibrant and potent network of rural progressives. Democratic party officials need to begin cultivating young progressives in rural areas and empowering them, especially if they look politically promising. This requires not only a certain amount of fiscal support but logistical and rhetorical assistance as well.

It's hard to overstate the powerful effect a campaign appearance by John Kerry would have had in a place like Idaho -- where he owns a vacation home, but hardly seems to actually visit or have any contact with the residents. It says everything you need to know about the DLC approach to the 2004 campaign that, during one of Kerry's springtime visits to Sun Valley, the Blaine County Democratic Party held a major Kerry fundraiser in Ketchum, raising several hundred thousand dollars -- and Kerry couldn't be bothered to drop in and make even a brief appearance.

Of course, there's almost no chance that Kerry actually would have carried Idaho even if he had campaigned there. But an appearance, with a minimal amount of effort, would have been a powerful stimulant for the progressives who live there; it would have signaled that, at the very least, they would not be abandoned by the party this time around.

The signals that rural progressives have been getting from Democratic leadership for a decade have all been negative: We won't visit your state, or provide you with campaign funds, or support your initiatives, because you don't have enough votes. Young progressives interested in advancing in the party tend, under these circumstances, to move to urban locales, since it is clear they will never succeed by staying in places like Idaho.

If liberals hope to turn the tide, these signals have to end. And the converse message needs to become a party centerpiece.

Jeff Alworth at The American Street tackled this point last week:
Why does this matter? For decades, the GOP have created suspicion among rural Americans toward urban America. They've shifted the focus from class to culture, turning themselves from "them" into "us." Democrats stupidly play into the hand, regarding rural Americans as dimwitted crackers who are bent on cutting down all the forests and putting up Wal-Marts. Let me tell you something -- guys in the bar in Salmon, Idaho are never going to side with a bunch of liberal Portlanders who think they're crackers. So they vote for Bush, even though they know he's a bastard, because at least he's a bastard in a way that's comprehensible to them. The devil you know and all that.

Until Democrats recognize that my Dad is the heart of their constituency, until they start think of him as "us," they're always going to alienate rural America. FDR used the language of the "little guy" to find common ground. Jerry Falwell stole rural loyalties by using the language of religion to find common ground. If we're going to get back our bedrock constituency, we're going to have to go back to our roots, find ourselves, and embrace our rural brethren. That's where we will find common ground on the "moral values" question.

The larger point, of course, is to shift the focus from supposed cultural differences back to the vast common ground. Rural people, just like urban and suburban folk, value good schools, good jobs, sound infrastructure, social amenities, a vibrant and healthy culture. When we talk to rural Americans, those are kinds of things we should be talking about -- because, for many of them, these are things they have been losing, while the rest of the country seems to be gaining.

There will be inevitable differences. We won't always see eye to eye on some subjects, especially when they are products of differences in religious beliefs: abortion, gay rights, evolution. What has to change is how we react to these differences. Instead of dismissing people as hopeless ignoramuses for disagreeing on these matters, liberals need to operate from a basis of mutual respect for differing but sincerely held beliefs.

Of course, this respect will not always be reciprocated. This will be especially the case for the hard-core right wing that has an entrenched presence in rural America. Those are not the people whose minds can be changed. And in these kinds of cases, liberals should feel no compulsion to be "sensitive." Indeed, failing to stand up to them with appropriate strength is a recipe for getting bulldozed, as liberals have for the past decade.

But for the bulk of rural Americans, when liberals come up against these kinds of "moral values" friction points, there are two ways to effectively respond: 1) deflecting the conflict by emphasizing the common ground in real-life issues like saving farms and jobs; and 2) stressing their own deeply held moral values, including fairness and inclusiveness, as the basis of their positions -- thereby refuting the charges of amorality with which they are regularly accused by the right.

In the end, it is this inclusiveness that should inform and drive the liberal rural campaign. For too long, rural Americans have felt excluded -- left behind, as it were, while urban economies have benefited from the rise of new technologies and globalization. Conservatives have exploited this rift. Liberals will benefit from healing it.