Saturday, March 27, 2004

A political hate crime

[I have decided to delete this post for now. The story cannot be confirmed, and I have no desire to be disseminating false information. I'm leaving its position here so the discussion about it can continue.

I spoke today to Sgt. Connie Locke, the Atlanta Police Department's liaison to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. She says she monitors cases like this closely and would -- or should -- have been immediately notified in an assault case like this, and was not. Moreover, she says she personally walked the case down to APD's database center and searched for an assault case like this one and came up empty.

There is still the possibility that the case simply hasn't been directed her way yet, or that it is actually being investigated by another authority, such as Fulton County.

In the meantime, the alleged victim's friends are hoping to provide some kind of substantiation, but it has not been forthcoming.

I'm giving this case another week or so to settle out, since it is still possible that tangled wires have kept it from surfacing. I'm being restrained for now because of this possibility. But I'll post some more thoughts on this later, when the matter is definitively settled.

For now, I'll simply apologize to my readers for abrogating my own standards for ascertaining the veracity of material sent to me in the process of getting this story up on the Web.]

Friday, March 26, 2004

Rice and the Ted Olson Effect

Speaking of Condoleeza Rice's reluctance to testify under oath, it's worth noting the last paragraph of this AP account:
But White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales said that in order for presidents to receive the most candid advice from their staffs, "it is important that these advisers not be compelled to testify publicly before congressional bodies such as the commission."

As the story earlier notes -- and this quote makes quite clear -- the White House is depending on arguments about executive privilege to insulate Rice from having to testify. This is questionable at best, of course, since National Security Advisers have a long history of testifying before congressional bodies. It's just that for this administration, any such appearances are considered a capitulation.

It will be interesting, then, to see whether the 9/11 commission decides to insist on making her testimony both public and under oath. If it does, count on the White House to fight tooth and nail.

That's because Bush's solicitor general (and clearly the chief driver of the administration's legal policy) is none other than Ted Olson, whose history includes an independent counsel investigation into his behavior over asserting executive privilege during the Reagan administration.

What was especially noteworthy about that previous episode was the fact that Olson's advice about the privilege assertion was fundamentally unsound, from start to finish.

Olson, you may recall, essentially forced EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford to assert executive privilege over a set of documents that Congress was requesting in its investigation of alleged wrongdoing (later proven) within the EPA:
The Dingell panel issued a subpoena on Oct. 22, and within three days, Olson was putting the finishing touches on a memorandum to President Reagan recommending he assert executive privilege over the documents. During meetings to discuss the memo, Burford's position was again voiced: "Be sure these documents are worth it before we go through this."

Olson ignored that advice. His final memo to Reagan on the matter, dated Oct. 25, 1982, stated without qualification that the documents contained no evidence of wrongdoing by administration officials, which is one of the legal conditions for asserting executive privilege. It also informed Reagan: "The Administrator [Burford] concurs in this recommendation."

But in fact, Olson and his staff had failed to ascertain whether either assertion was true. In reality, Burford was far from concurring. She later testified that she failed to see how Olson could have been unaware of her reluctance -- that her hesitancy had been obvious, and that she had suggested that Olson explore alternatives to asserting privilege. There's no evidence, however, that Olson and Burford had ever discussed the issue directly; they had never met face to face.

The biggest flaw in Olson's Oct. 25 memo, however, was the statement that the documents he was seeking to keep from investigators contained no evidence of wrongdoing. In fact, Olson's staff had not even conducted a thorough review of the documents Dingell wanted -- some 51 pieces in all -- and would not do so until Dec. 9, well after executive privilege was asserted. There had been a preliminary review in early October, and even then red flags had been raised; the OLC lawyers forwarded them at that point to Dinkins' attorneys for more detailed review. There is no indication that review was ever completed; Dinkins conducted a cursory check and then apparently let the matter lapse.

Over the next few months, it became immediately clear that the assertion was fatally flawed, especially after the documents had been finally reviewed and in fact evidence of criminal wrongdoing was found among them. In spite of this, Olson pressed ahead with a bizarre and unprecedented lawsuit against Congress:
When the full House cited Burford on Dec. 16, he and his team responded with an extraordinary civil suit in federal court contesting the constitutionality of Congress' contempt powers, charging that the invocation of privilege was proper and that the contempt citations should not stand. The suit, however, had a short shelf life; it was dismissed by the court on Feb. 1.

The Olson team's effort was "without a doubt the sloppiest piece of legal work I had seen in 20 years of being a lawyer," Burford later wrote in her memoirs. It only cited in its support nonbinding opinions from a single case -- former President Richard Nixon's suit against the House Judiciary Committee -- and Burford notes that no factual defenses were raised.

Olson was later investigated for likely perjuring himself in later testimony before Congress on this matter. But in spite of that, he was never forced to reckon the fact that he had given President Reagan profoundly bad advice and sent him on a quixotic attempt to overreach the powers of the executive branch.

As I put it back in 2001:
Olson's ... single-minded effort to assert executive privilege actually overlooked what the law permitted, and it wound up costing President Reagan dearly. One is only left to wonder what dubious legal tangles he has in store for President Bush's agenda.

Now that he is advising Bush in an even more powerful capacity, Olson's fetish for expanding executive-branch powers -- especially through executive-privilege assertions -- has been apparent through most of this administration's tenure; the most worrisome of these have been the powers obtained through its assertion of the right to declare citizens "enemy combatants" and to incarcerate them under military tribunals.

But if the White House tries to assert executive privilege for Rice -- who has, of course, been all over the networks and talking to reporters left and right -- before the 9/11 commission, it may find itself in the same strange no-man's land that Olson concocted for Ronald Reagan back in 1983.

Cornered Condi

[From the Associated Press]

Jeez, no wonder Bill Cosby didn't want to sit next to her. And all along I thought it was just that he had the good sense to resist providing the Bushites with yet another of those handy photo props.

Possible caption: "I'll never testify under oath! What do these bastards want, the truth?"

[Of course, please post your own caption.]

Thursday, March 25, 2004


Looks like the Good Ship Lolli-Bush is about sustain another gaping hole in the hull of its credibility, thanks to Eric Boehlert at Salon:
"We should have had orange or red-type of alert in June or July of 2001"

A former FBI translator told the 9/11 commission that the bureau had detailed information well before Sept. 11, 2001, that terrorists were likely to attack the U.S. with airplanes.

The money quote:
Edmonds is offended by the Bush White House claim that it lacked foreknowledge of the kind of attacks made by al-Qaida on 9/11. "Especially after reading National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice [Washington Post Op-Ed on March 22] where she said, we had no specific information whatsoever of domestic threat or that they might use airplanes. That's an outrageous lie. And documents can prove it's a lie."

And this was a witness called by Charles Grassley, of all people.

Off the talking points

Boy, these guys are asking for trouble:
Retired brass urge delay in U.S. antimissile shield

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- A group of 49 retired U.S. generals and admirals is urging President George W. Bush to postpone the scheduled deployment this year of a multibillion dollar missile shield and spend the money instead on securing potential terror targets.

In a letter to be released at a news conference Friday, the officers, including retired Admiral William Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1985 to 1989, described the complex technology as untested and a poor use of scarce defense dollars.

"As you have said, Mr. President, our highest priority is to prevent terrorists from acquiring and employing weapons of mass destruction," said the letter made available to Reuters.

They should talk to Richard Clarke about what happens when you run afoul of the preordained agenda of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et. al.

Pretty soon we'll be hearing that Admiral Crowe is just bitter because he's not the chair of Joint Chiefs anymore.

Beyond bad taste

George W. Bush's capacity for tasteless exploitation seems quite bottomless now:
Bush pokes fun at himself at dinner

... There was Bush looking under furniture in a fruitless, frustrating search. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," he said.

John Kerry has the appropriate response:
That's supposed to be funny?

If George Bush thinks his deceptive rationale for going to war is a laughing matter, then he's even more out of touch than we thought. Unfortunately for the President, this is not a joke.

585 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the last year, 3,354 have been wounded, and there's no end in sight. Bush Turned White House Credibility into a Joke George Bush sold us on going to war with Iraq based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But we still haven't found them, and now he thinks that's funny?

At The Nation, David Corn gives us a little historical perspective on this:
Even if Bush does not believe he lied to or misled the public, how can he make fun of the rationale for a war that has killed and maimed thousands? Imagine if Lyndon Johnson had joked about the trumped-up Gulf of Tonkin incident that he deceitfully used as a rationale for U.S. military action in Vietnam: 'Who knew that fish had torpedoes?' Or if Ronald Reagan appeared at a correspondents event following the truck-bombing at the Marines barracks in Beirut--which killed over 200 American servicemen--and said, 'Guess we forgot to put in a stop light'. Or if Clinton had come out after the bombing of Serbia -- during which U.S. bombs errantly destroyed the Chinese embassy and killed several people there--and said, "The problem is, those embassies -- they all look alike."

Yet there was Bush--apparently having a laugh at his own expense, but actually doing so on the graves of thousands. This was a callous and arrogant display. For Bush, the misinformation--or disinformation -- he peddled before the war was no more than material for yucks. As the audience laughed along, he smiled. The false statements (or lies) that had launched a war had become merely another punchline.

Also worth reading: Bob Fertik's take at

Of course, it's also worth remembering that this isn't the first time that Bush has made tasteless jokes that come at the expense of American dead and wounded:
"You know, when I was running for President, in Chicago, somebody said, would you ever have deficit spending? I said, only if we were at war, or only if we had a recession, or only if we had a national emergency. Never did I dream we'd get the trifecta."

Actually, it's not so much Bush's tastelessness that is revealed in these jokes. It is his utter lack of good judgment. It bespeaks a president who is unable to comprehend the consequences of his own decisions. All of which makes his unfitness for the office so starkly manifest.

Right-flanking the Sierra Club

My ballot for the Sierra Club Board of Directors -- the object of a takeover attempt by anti-immigration extremists -- arrived in the mail the other day.

It's an interesting ballot (you can read it in a PDF file here) more for the number of candidates who say they are running solely to raise voters' awareness of the takeover attempt. It certainly doesn't hurt that the issue has raised a few headlines in the national press, notably this report from the Washington Post:
Immigration Issue Sparks Battle at Sierra Club
Groups Vie to Reshape Nonprofit's Board

The most notable aspect of this campaign has been the way groups like the far-right VDare (run by Peter Brimelow) have helped recruit new "members" to the Sierra Club specifically for the purpose of voting for the slate being supported by the club faction calling itself "SUSPS," formerly Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization. As I've noted before, SUPS is little more than a front organization for anti-immigrant groups who have extensive ties to white nationalist and supremacist organizations and activities.
"The Sierra Club is the most prominent and influential group in America in terms of environmentalism," said Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, who said the center got involved because it discovered hate groups were urging followers to vote in the board election. "That's why it's seen as a prize. The aim is to hijack the credibility, the reputation, the membership and the finances of a very important political player."

There are three SUPS candidates on this ballot: Richard Lamm, the former Democratic governor of Colorado; David Pimentel, a renowned entomologist; and an African-American man about whom little is otherwise known named Frank Morris.

It is noteworthy that in the ballot, only Lamm is really forthcoming about his position vis a vis the immigration issue, and even then the reference is brief and somewhat oblique. Here's what he says:
My priorities are wilderness and biodiversity loss caused by habitat destruction and resource extraction -- overpopulation and overconsumption are critical root causes. Our country's population is exploding, 44 million added since 1990 alone, driven by rising fertility and record immigration. The Club's population programs -- global and domestic -- must be strengthened.

Pimentel, on the other hand, says almost nothing about the issue:
Concurrently, our agricultural land, natural areas, biodiversity, and water and energy resources are under increasing pressure. We must courageously address America's surging environmental problems and thereby equitably manage our resources for all generations.

And Morris is even more oblique:
Rapid population growth exacerbates all these problems and must be addressed.

However, in Q&As posted on the Sierra Club Web site, at least Lamm and Morris are more forthright, stating up-front that they oppose the Club's current "neutral" stance regarding immigration. Pimentel, however, claims that he holds "a neutral position on immigration."

There are currently two board members, Paul Watson and Doug LaFollette, elected under the SUPS banner. Three more could bring the faction actual control of the Club's agenda -- and decidedly for the worse. As a recent Oregonian profile of Paul Watson noted:
"We're only three directors away from controlling that (Sierra Club) board," Watson told an animal-rights gathering last September. "And once we get three more directors elected . . . we'll change the entire agenda of that organization."

What's worth observing about the SUPS coalition is that it seems to be itself constituted of two decidedly different factions: one of far-right white nationalists, the other of far-left animal-rights extremists who think the Club is far too mild in orientation, since it admits and even caters to hunters and fishermen like myself. The extremist orientation of this faction is self-evident in their seeming embrace of so-called "eco-terrorism," embodied in Watson himself:
Robert Cox, a former Sierra Club president who sits on the board with Watson, says club members grilled Watson about his takeover comments and past eco-militant statements at the last national meeting.

"He put a very good spin on his statements," Cox says. "I think Paul walks right up to the border of condoning violence but seems to duck when he's called on it."

Indeed, this propensity manifests itself in nearly every aspect of Watson's life, including his wife's:
In February, Watson's wife, Allison Lance Watson was indicted on four counts of lying to a grand jury investigating the May 2000 arson of an Olympia timber operation. Investigators allege a truck she rented was used by her friend in the crime. She is free pending an April 19 trial.

I've mentioned previously that I had some firsthand experience with Watson during the brouhaha over whaling on the Makah Indian Reservation. I've also mentioned that I was unimpressed with him -- because of his strangely egocentric, highly theatrical kind of environmental activism, which seemed more intent on putting on a show than in resolving the issue intelligently and in a way that respected the Makahs' treaty rights. But then, reading his views of himself in this interview, it's fairly clear why: Watson -- how can I put this nicely? -- is a frigging fruitcake.
"We live in a media culture, so that when Sean Penn becomes me, he'll be more me than I've ever been," he says. "And not only that, but what was not acceptable will become acceptable. Society might frown upon what you do, but when they make a motion picture about you then, hey, it's OK."

He smiles. "It even worked for Bonnie and Clyde."

These kinds of far left/far right coalescences are not terribly common, because the two are so constitutionally different in so many regards that they rarely can stand to share the same air.

But they do happen. The most noteworthy of recent vintage was the appearance of white nationalists under Pat Buchanan's banner at the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle. (Another case that springs to mind regionally is that of Johnny Liberty -- real name: John Van Hove -- who still sells right-wing "constitutionalist" monetary theories to hippies at Northwest barter fairs.) When the personalities involved are the right kind, as they are here, then it's often possible.

The bigger picture of what's happening here, though, is the most important aspect of all this, because it fits in so neatly with the conservative movement's longtime campaign to "defund the left."

The most public aspect of this effort, as this piece by Bill Berkowitz explains, is to undermine the ability of unions and liberal advocacy groups to make use of federal funding to further their causes. This has been an important, if little-noticed, component of the right's strategy for some time now.

As this 1993 piece by my friend Daniel Junas explains:
Defunding the left, in fact, is the central principle of Norquist's long-term strategy. In Norquist's view, cutting taxes would reduce the size of government, which, in turn, would reduce the number of public employees whose union dues or personal efforts might help elect progressive candidates.

"Every time you nick the budget," Norquist has said, "somewhere a Democratic precinct worker loses his job."

Although controlling Congress is a paramount concern, Norquist and his Republican allies are also pursuing this strategy at the state level, placing a great deal of emphasis on gaining control of governorships and state legislatures. And Americans for Tax Reform has helped sponsor and fund numerous anti-tax ballot initiatives in the states.

Given this agenda, organized labor in general and public employee unions in particular represent the chief obstacle to Norquist's strategy for consolidating Right Wing/Republican dominance of Congress and the statehouses. Besides the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association is one of Norquist's prime targets. Consequently, school "choice" -- i.e. vouchers or charter schools, which would weaken public education as well as the NEA -- is one of Norquist's prime issues. On this issue, Norquist has forged an alliance with the religious right, which favors vouchers as a means for aiding parochial schools. In California, the official sponsors of the anti-worker initiative were previously active in conservative school board politics in Orange County, as well as the 1993 vouchers initiative campaign. And in Washington state, the legal strategy against the Washington Education Association is being pursued by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a local think-tank which has close ties to the religious right and which supported a charter schools ballot initiative in 1996.

One of the trademarks of this campaign is the way the right finances a number of initiatives -- ranging in content from anti-tax to land use to education to "right to work" -- aimed at forcing the traditional groups who provide so much of the infrastructure of establishment liberalism to devote their energies to fighting these brushfires instead of concentrating on enacting their agendas. It drains their coffers and their energies, and often acts as a real wedge that alienates the organizations from the public.

The Sierra Club campaign is somewhat unique in the way it attacks the organization -- but undermining it from within, instead of attacking it from without. In an election year, when environmental issues should be playing a major role, the Sierra Club is being forced to confront forces that have infiltrated its own ranks instead of playing a major role in the public debate over the Bush administration's multiple failures on the environment.

Just having to deal with this problem is a major distraction for the Sierra Club, regardless of the outcome. Moreover, if the SUPS candidates succeed in gaining election, there is certain to be a large-scale negative reaction from within the Club, and much of its funding may well dry up and blow away almost overnight.

Why, Grover Norquist couldn't have dreamed up a better scenario.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

When the bullets fly

Via a World O' Crap post at Sadly, No comes this item from the periphery of the conservative movement, proferred by a real piece of work named Paula Devlin, who adopts an interesting view of property rights -- one, it must be noted, that is not significantly different than that promoted by the Montana Freemen, the militia movement and other right-wing extremists -- in a piece titled "Serfdom, American Style":
The globalists, via the UN, concocteed the scheme called Agenda 21 that purports to restore this nation to its pristine condition prior to the arrival of Columbus. Our politicians, since they have their nests feathered, think this is fine and go right along with it. Forget about the will of the people or Constitutionality. If that's what the globalists want, that's what will happen and the people will be conned into believing these schemes will provide them a benefit. They could not be more wrong.

If anyone thinks they own their own piece of real estate, think again. You are renting it from the local taxing authority who will repossess it if you miss a payment. You cannot do what you wish with it, especially if an imaginary endangered critter might have crossed it before the last ice age. You cannot defend yourself against intruders, rapists or robbers. (Invite them in, give them coffee and ask them nicely to wait until the sheriff arrives from the donut shop.) You get to pay through the nose for all the "services" of government, which boil down to them telling you what you can and cannot do with what you own.

It wasn't so long ago property owners could shoot trespassers. Now the trespassers have all the rights, especially illegal immigrants. They should not even have legal standing. Property owners who have illegals on their property should shoot them on sight and ask questions later.

As it just so happens, of course, this is precisely what the radicals at Ranch Rescue -- as well as other border "militias" -- have in mind as well.

Well, at least one rancher on the border seems to have taken the sentiments of Paula Devlin and her ilk to heart, at least to some extent. While he won't take pot-shots at illegal immigrants -- who he says are mostly harmless -- he has indeed taken to slinging a few rounds in the direction of the smugglers he says come rumbling through his property. And he's paid a price for it:
Echoes of the Wild West in one man's border war

... Kozak said he does not blame the illegal entrants who frequently walk through the gullies around his cabin, leaving him alone on their journey north.

His concern is the trucks racing across his land, their loads covered in tarps and the tail lights disconnected to avoid the attention of federal agents.

First he put up gates to try to stop the smugglers. After three $200 gates and spending hundreds more for fences and posts, Kozak gave up because they were simply knocked over by the trespassers.

Kozak moved on to other barricades, made of wood and barbed wire with danger signs.

That's when the shots started. The shooting then was random, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents told him they were happening because he was trying to stop drug loads.

Kozak responded with his own warning shots.

But Wednesday, when a maroon truck drove across his property, something in Kozak snapped.

He opened fire on the truck with his rifle, placing three rounds in the hood.

The truck raced away.

Meanwhile, Kozak parked his own truck sideways on the road to block their return path and went inside to fix himself a pot of coffee.

That's when the shooting started.

The first bullet hit the wall, destroyed the kettle on the stove. The next bullet went into the water heater, followed by three more shots that ripped into the house. One bullet hit a photo album, passing through 20 pictures before stopping.

Kozak took cover, grabbed his rifle and went out the front door. The shooters were gone.

His travel trailer, set up sideways on the smuggler's route, was on fire. It's now a melted ruin of ash.

"That's the first time they ever unloaded that many rounds," he says. "They gave me a message and said, 'Don't shoot at us any more.'"

It would be easier to feel sympathy for this rancher if he were to cooperate more fully with the Border Patrol, but he may have his own reasons for being leery.

But also worth noting: The same rancher wants nothing to do with Ranch Rescue, either.

This story is a classic case of how the extremist right finds a way to thrive: It injects itself into situations in which the government is actually failing its citizens, and not coming up with any realistic solutions either. In that sense, the situation for border communities in the current decade is not unlike that facing farmers in Middle America in the 1990s: the genuine grievances are going unaddressed, and when that happens in a democracy, then extremists find fertile ground for recruitment.

[Thanks to reader James Wilson for the tip.]

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Clarke, Clinton and terrorism

It is almost astonishing -- but not really, when you think about it -- the extent to which the White House is attacking former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke for speaking out about the Bush administration's multiple failures in coming to grips with terrorism both before and after Sept. 11, 2001.

None of the attacks so far have attempted to counter even a single one of Clarke's facts. Indeed, on one key factual point -- Clarke's Sept. 12 encounter with Bush in the Situation Room, in which Bush pushed him to find Iraq culpable in the attacks -- the Bush people, astonishingly enough, are claiming that Bush "doesn't recall" that meeting. Of course, the fact that Clarke claims to have at least three other eyewitnesses to the meeting has perhaps prevented Bush from simply claiming that Clarke is lying.

No, all of the attacks so far have been about Clarke's character. They can't attack him on facts, so they impugn his motives -- a classic ad hominem response that reveals the depths of their desperation.

Among the most interesting of these arguments are those suggesting that both Clarke and, in the bigger picture, Bill Clinton are even more to blame for the Sept. 11 attacks than George Bush, because they had the previous eight years to do something about al Qaeda and didn't.

Nevermind, of course, the role of certain factions of the right in undermining the Clinton efforts to corral al Qaeda. But if we're going to look at the big picture, then Bush has to be part of that as well.

However, there's no doubt that there is blame to be shared by the Clinton administration, on at least a few important counts.

One of the very real proximate causes of 9/11 was the failure of American intelligence, particularly in its multiple handlings of al Qaeda in the years preceding 2001, and especially its ability to gather intel on the ground, from within al Qaeda. Nearly everyone inside the intelligence services recognizes that this had primarily occurred during the Reagan era, when the CIA was heavily bureaucratized and much of its intel-gathering capacity severely diminished. See, for example, this piece in the Atlantic Monthly by Reuel Marc Gerecht, published just before 9/11, about just this subject:
The CIA's Counterterrorism Center, which now has hundreds of employees from numerous government agencies, was the creation of Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, an extraordinarily energetic bureaucrat-spook. In less than a year in the mid-1980s Clarridge converted a three-man operation confined to one room with one TV set broadcasting CNN into a staff that rivaled the clandestine service's Near East Division for primacy in counterterrorist operations. Yet the Counterterrorism Center didn't alter the CIA's methods overseas at all. "We didn't really think about the details of operations -- how we would penetrate this or that group," a former senior counterterrorist official says. "Victory for us meant that we stopped [Thomas] Twetten [the chief of the clandestine service's Near East Division] from walking all over us." In my years inside the CIA, I never once heard case officers overseas or back at headquarters discuss the ABCs of a recruitment operation against any Middle Eastern target that took a case officer far off the diplomatic and business-conference circuits. Long-term seeding operations simply didn't occur.

In this sense, Clinton inherited a serious problem -- and even when confronted with various terrorist attacks, did little to attack it. In some regards, he actually condoned and abetted it. Clinton certainly carries some of the weight of 9/11, and he would probably admit as much in a candid moment.

None of this, however, compares to Bush's pre-9/11 record, which -- as Clarke has revealed in brilliant detail -- was unremittingly a litany of failures to comprehend the real threat that terrorism posed to America, and to focus his energies and the public budget on frivolous diversion, most notably a missile-defense system. Bush's downgrading of the counterterrorism chief's role from a Cabinet-level spot to a subjuncture of the Justice Department is only the signal move of a wide range of missteps that Bush took to undermine the nation's counterterrorism efforts.

The point isn't so much that these efforts (or lack thereof) aided or abetted the 9/11 attackers. There's simply no guarantee that even if Bush had done everything right, he could have prevented the attacks (just as probably nothing Clinton could have done would have effectively prevented Oklahoma City).

The point is that Bush's actions beforehand indicated a very poor grasp of the nature of terrorism -- and his actions afterward have continued to demonstrate that serious lack of judgment.

What especially demonstrates this incapacity is Bush's insistence on an almost obsessively military orientation of the "war on terrorism," which has led us into the clearly diversionary Iraq war. This orientation, as I've discussed recently, has many side consequences, not the least of which is that while we can make real logistical inroads against groups like al Qaeda (and we have), at the same time we substantively contribute to the environment that breeds future terrorism.

Moreover, Bush has simultaneously de-emphasized efforts to confront domestic terrorism, which as OKC established is fully capable of inflicting serious harm as well, and which in a 9/11 environment is capable of even more egregious harm in the way that it piggybacks off of international terrorism (see, e.g., the anthrax attacks). That Bush has done so indicates the extent to which the "war on terrorism" waged by Bush is actually, as previously noted, a political public-relations campaign.

In this regard, perhaps the most amusing of the ad hominem attacks on Clarke are those that accuse him of publishing his book, and taking his criticism of Bush public, for "political" reasons: [Snivel snivel] "He's bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign!"

This reminds me of the way Bush supporters smeared the families of 9/11 victims by suggesting they were just playing "partisan politics."

You know, I think it's undeniable that all of these people are fairly up-front about their desire to see Bush lose re-election.

But then, it's also worth keeping in mind that Richard Clarke was a registered Republican in 2000, just as some of the 9/11 family members are former Republicans as well.

These people didn't reach the point that they have simply because of some kind of gamesmanship that treats politics as a football game with points scored and lost by competing sides. They came to their decisions to denounce the Bush administration because they had all seen, in very tangible ways, just how disastrous this presidency has been for the nation. They understand that replacing him is a fundamental step necessary for the country to win the war on terrorism.

It doesn't seem to cross the minds of the conservatives attacking Clarke and other Bush critics that yes, these people have been politicized -- but politicized for very good reasons. It is more than likely, incidentally, that there are a couple million jobless workers out there who have been politicized for similarly good reasons. They've all seen, in their lives and those of everyone around us, how the Bush administration has made life worse for all Americans.

If being united in the desire to see Bush defeated at the polls makes these people partisan politicos, then so be it.

But when it's someone like Richard Clarke, or the families of the terrorists' victims, who is saying so, then the rest of us are going to listen carefully to their reasons.

Driving the wedge

This weekend in Seattle, methodist Church elders dealt a major setback to the right-wing campaign to divide the churches over the issue of allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the ministry:
Gay pastor can continue ministry

A lesbian Methodist pastor will be allowed to continue her ministry after she was acquitted Saturday in a church trial over her sexual orientation.

After about 10 hours of deliberations, a jury of 13 pastors ruled in favor of the Rev. Karen Dammann, 47, who disclosed three years ago that she was in a homosexual relationship. Two pastors were undecided and the rest found her not guilty of practices "incompatible with Christian teaching."

It was an interesting ruling, because United Methodists (particularly those in the West), with a long history of progressivism, have been among the most tolerant in ministering to gays and lesbians. But the larger church -- particularly those congregations in the South -- have refused any changes in the church's national rules regarding allowing gays and lesbians into the ministry itself. It represented a real conflict between two competing impulses within the church:
Church law prohibits the ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals. But the church's social principles support gay rights and liberties.

"We, the trial court, reached our decisions after many hours of painful and prayerful deliberations, and listening for and to the word of God," the jury said in a statement released after the verdict. "We depended upon the prayers of the whole church, which undergirded our process. We depended on the leading of the Holy Spirit."

Of course, this is only the early stages of this particular fight. See the P-I's story the following day:
United Methodists grapple with gay ban

... But the battle over homosexuality in the Methodist ministry is sure to be rejoined April 27 in Pittsburgh, when representatives of the 117 regional conferences around the world assemble in the General Conference, which meets every four years and determines church doctrine.

Homosexuality has been on the agenda every time since 1972, when the General Conference adopted a committee statement that "homosexuals not less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth. ..." -- but only after a floor vote added the phrase "... although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider the practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

That started what a church panel on homosexuality recently called "a long and painful struggle ... which continues down to the present time."

It should be clear what Methodist progressives are up against. Indeed, the response from church officials in other parts of the country was fairly ominous:
From the other side of the struggle, the Rev. James Heidinger II of Lexington, Ky., said that decision amounted to "jury nullification" of church doctrine.

"It seemed to so many ... that this was an open-and-shut case," said Heidinger, who leads a conservative, traditionalist movement in the church. "There was never any question about what Karen Dammann was involved in. She admitted that.

"I am stunned by the decision of this trial jury. That is a group, clearly, in the annual conference out there in Washington state, where they're really not -- they don't personally, themselves, embrace the church's position on this issue."

And of course, the faction that has fomented this fight from the beginning -- notably, the Scaife-funded Institute for Religion and Democracy weighed in with its own harsh condemnation of the ruling:
"The church trial for the Rev. Karen Dammann in Washington state was farcical," noted IRD United Methodist spokesman Mark Tooley. "Every United Methodist General Conference since 1972 has declared homosexual practice to be incompatible with Christian teaching. Yet a jury of 13 clergy decided the church in fact has no position on this topic."

What was especially striking about the IRD release was the way it sought to marginalize the Western churches, making all too plain just how it intends to use the issue as a wedge to weaken the larger church:
The Western Jurisdiction of the 10 million member United Methodist Church (8.3 million in the U.S.) is the denomination's most liberal region and the most resistant to upholding church teachings about marriage and sex. It is also the fastest declining part of the church and now comprises only about four percent of the church's membership. The jurisdiction comprises the Pacific and Rocky Mountain states, which include some of the fastest growing areas of the U.S. population.

"Here is the irony," Tooley said. "Liberal church leaders, who emphasize tolerance and open doors, are largely unable to attract new converts to the faith. When they succumb to the surrounding secular culture, the secular culture does not embrace them, it merely responds with an indifferent shrug."

In this case, he may be right. The secular left needs to wake up and begin defending its Christian allies -- and too often, it is blind to their very existence.

Monday, March 22, 2004

An excerpt of sorts

For your reading pleasure, may I direct readers to my just-finished three-part series at The American Street, titled "Hate on Fat Tuesday". It's a firsthand account of my experience at the 2001 Seattle Mardi Gras Riots:

Part 1: Blood on the Streets

Part 2: A Twice-Shaken City

Part 3: The Hole in the Law

Most of this text is taken from a chapter of Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crime in America -- due on the shelves in June -- that we wound up excising altogether. (I've included in the third part of the series a capsule description of most of the events of the book, to lend it some context in this version.) It was a bit of an experiment, sort of a twist near the end of the book, which spends most of the preceding 250 or so pages examining the problem of hate crime with an emphasis on rural America, and it didn't work, so we pulled it. It's still a worthwhile piece of storytelling, though, so I've republished it here. Hope you enjoy.

Bad for business

Just call it the magic of the marketplace:
Some companies wary of moving to Utah, citing intolerance

Seems having a reputation for reactionary ultraconservatism is bad for business -- at least when it comes to attracting the best and the brightest to your state:
The state's moral conservatism was in full display during a February debate when two Republicans argued for forcing women to carry to term any fetus conceived of rape.

That "disrespectful" debate and concerns that Utah is too backward for raising children prompted executives of two other companies to separately back off tentative plans to move some operations to Utah, says Democratic state Sen. Ron Allen.

Allen won't identify the companies, which fear product boycotts in Utah, but says they would have brought 2,000 jobs with a corporate headquarters for one and a technology and engineering center for the other.

"I'm not trying to make trouble for Utah. I'm saying we have an image problem. How can we ignore it?" Allen asked. "We need to brand ourselves, and part of that branding is all of us being on the same sheet of music and promoting Utah in a positive way."

It's not just Democrats making this point, either:
Second-term U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, a Republican, last week volunteered yet another example of a company that decided against moving to Utah. Without naming names, he said the chief executive of a New York publishing company told him that the company's mostly single employees balked at relocating to Utah.

Bennett calls the Utah Legislature "a very yeasty place for debate" and its majority Republicans "quite colorful." Asked whether the Legislature too often gets bogged down in ideological passions, he said he "was not going to venture further into that particular swamp" because "I got in enough trouble with the legislators" two years ago blasting GOP-crafted gerrymandering.

"When companies look at relocation, they look at a lot of factors," including state taxes and a region's quality of life, said Fraser Bullock, a venture capitalist and Olympic organizer who helped Utah squeeze a $100 million profit out of the 2002 Winter Games.

Bullock said the games projected a positive image of Utah, "a sense that we're not that different" from others. But he's worried those gains are being eroded by the Legislature's so-called moral message bills.

None of this is really news to anyone who grew up in the archconservative West, because we all know that the best and brightest young people who are from those places eventually flee for more tolerant and civil climates.

Actually, there are those who say that keeping people like us out is exactly the reason that these conservatives cultivate this reputation.

Papers, please

It isn't just Freepers who are resorting to physical intimidation when confronting their political opponents. Now it's elected Republican officials, according to the Washington Post:
A contentious General Assembly hearing on illegal immigration led to a scuffle and shouting match yesterday between two Republican lawmakers and advocates for immigrant rights.

Baltimore County Dels. Patrick L. McDonough and Richard K. Impallaria said they left the hearing to confront four advocates who they said had referred to them as "racists" during testimony on a bill to study the financial impact of illegal immigration.

Advocates from Casa de Maryland said Impallaria turned on one of their lobbyists in the hallway, questioning her immigration status.

"He called me an illegal and said, 'You are probably one of those who broke the law,' " said Natali Fani, 23, a Latina lobbyist for the Takoma Park-based advocacy group. "He was pointing his finger right in my face, and he was yelling. It was really ugly."

Jamie Kendrick, a union leader working with the group, said he intervened, only to have McDonough push him in the hallway of the Lowe House Office Building.

"He physically shoved me aside," said Kendrick, executive director of the Service Employees International Union Maryland-DC state council. "It was kind of surreal. I have been doing this for eight to 12 years and have never seen a delegate come out of a hearing loaded for bear like that, and certainly never saw a delegate physically accost a member of the public like that."

The intimidation tactics were accompanied by the usual Republican racial sensitivity, too:
Kendrick said McDonough also asked to see Fani's "papers." Impallaria denied that anyone asked to see Fani's papers but said he asked whether she was an illegal immigrant. "I wanted to see how this legislation would affect her," he said.

Pretty soon, that will be the standard response to anyone questioning the conservative agenda: "Show us your papers, please."

No AWOL takers

The unanswered questions about George W. Bush's military record continue to go unanswered -- which is becoming, in a way, a kind of answer in itself.

Some of you may recall that, a few weeks ago, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau put up a significant offer: He would pay $10,000 to any National Guard veteran who could step forward and prove that he had served with Bush in Alabama. If no one did, he'd donate that amount to the USO.

Well, the results are in: No one came forward, and so the money is going to the USO:
Alas, none of the over 1600 entries we received qualified for the proferred $10,000.Three carefully and arbitrarily selected runner-ups were posted on the Straw Poll site, where DTH&WP readers passed judgement on them. Here are those submissions, and the prizes they have won -- followed by a generous and representative sampling of the entries that overflowed our in-box. We truly appreciate the efforts of all those who selflessly joined us in our efforts to take the Bush Guard story out of play.

This perhaps shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, a couple of veterans' groups have been offering a $1,000 cash reward for anyone to step forward and establish Bush's presence at the Alabama Guard base since 2000. No one ever has.

Bush's defenders keep pointing to the testimony of one "Bill" Calhoun, who claims he served with Bush in Alabama the summer and fall of 1972 -- even though records clearly show Bush wasn't there when Calhoun says he was. Interestingly, however, Calhoun has never come forward to collect any of these rewards -- perhaps because doing so would mean he'd be at risk of perjuring himself.

And there's a reason no one else has bothered to do so -- the numbers of people who could have served with Bush in Alabama are really quite small, and none of the rest of his fellow veterans can recall Bush arriving at the base at all. That was one of the points of the Memphis Flyer story that interviewed others who were in the Alabama Guard at that time, including two who were looking for Bush to show his face:
Though some accounts reckon the total personnel component of the 187th as consisting of several hundred, the actual flying squadron -- that to which Bush was reassigned -- numbered only "25 to 30 pilots," Mintz said. "There's no doubt. I would have heard of him, seen him, whatever."

Even if Bush, who was trained on a slightly different aircraft than the F4 Phantom jets flown by the squadron, opted not to fly with the unit, he would have had to encounter the rest of the flying personnel at some point, in non-flying formations or drills. “And if he did any flying at all, on whatever kind of craft, that would have involved a great number of supportive personnel. It takes a lot of people to get a plane into the air. But nobody I can think of remembers him.

“I talked to one of my buddies the other day and asked if he could remember Bush at drill at any time, and he said, ‘Naw, ol’ George wasn’t there. And he wasn’t at the Pit, either.’”

The “Pit” was The Snake Pit, a nearby bistro where the squadron’s pilots would gather for frequent after-hours revelry. And the buddy was Bishop, then a lieutenant at Dannelly and now a pilot for Kalitta, a charter airline that in recent months has been flying war materiel into the Iraq Theater of Operations

“I never saw hide nor hair of Mr. Bush,” confirms Bishop. . "In fact," he quips, mindful of the current political frame of reference, "I saw more of Al Sharpton at the base than I did of George W. Bush."

These same veterans, who remember Calhoun as well, are clearly skeptical of Calhoun's story (which is putting it nicely):
Bishop was even more explicit. “I’m glad he [Calhoun] remembered being with Lt. Bush and Lt. Bush’s eating sandwiches and looking at manuals. It seems a little strange that one man saw an individual, and all the rest of them did not. Because it was such a small organization. Usually, we all had lunch together.

“Maybe we’re all getting old and senile,” Bishop said with obvious sarcasm. “I don’t want to second-guess Mr. Calhoun’s memory and I would hate to impugn the integrity of a fellow officer, but I know the rest of us didn’t see Lt. Bush.” As Bishop (corroborated by Mintz) described the physical environment, the safety office where the meetings between Major Calhoun and Lt. Bush allegedly took place was on the second floor of the unit’s hangar, a relatively small structure itself... It was a very close-quarters situation “ It would have been “virtually impossible,” said Bishop, for an officer to go in and out of the safety office for eight hours a month several months in a row and be unseen by anybody except then Major Calhoun.

In the meantime, Doonesbury again tackled the subject in Sunday's strip -- rather pointedly, I might add.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Ratcheting the violence

The scene in Fresno this weekend may well have given us a preview of the shape of this summer's presidential campaign:
Arrest mars Fresno anti-war rally: Organizer is accused of interfering with a police officer

What the headline doesn't explain -- nor does the story until you get down deep into it -- was that the rally was targeted by members of the Free Republic (whose role as far-right "transmitters" I have discussed previously), which is based in Fresno.

And cops, instead of properly dealing with the instigators, arrested the rally's organizer on the thinnest of pretexts.

At least one Freeper showed up early for the rally and began trying to provoke arguments with members of Peace Fresno, the organizers of the event. Ken Hudson, the group's secretary and a teacher at local elementary school, approached the Freeper and warned him he would call police if he tried disrupting the rally. The Freeper, evidently, persisted, and local sheriff's deputies were called.

Not that Peace Fresno is on any great terms with the sheriff's office. In fact, an undercover deputy infiltrated the group last year, creating quite a local row when this was revealed. The group has filed a civil-liberties claim against the office.

The Fresno Bee story describes Saturday's situation thus:
Hudson called sheriff's deputies to the park and asked them to talk with the unidentified Free Republic representative.

Hudson said he twice asked deputies to move away from a Peace Fresno banner beside the rally stage to talk with the man because the rally was about to start. He denied a statement by deputies that he asked them to leave.

Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Bray said the unidentified man was accused by protesters of trying to incite them and that Hudson's actions kept them from talking with the man about his behavior. Deputy Eric Garringer ordered the arrest because of Hudson's alleged interference.

There are more details at the Peace Fresno Web site:
Ken had this to say about his arrest earlier today: Ken says that he was at Courthouse Park preparing for the arrival of the marchers when he noticed a Freeper who goes by the name of "At Bay." At Bay was going up to event participants and engaging them in hostile conversations. Ken said that At Bay appeared to be attempting to provoke people and he (Ken) called the sheriff. Ken was concerned that At Bay was going to get into a violent confrontation with someone.

The Sheriff arrived and talked to Ken for about 10 minutes. During that time At Bay tried to intervene in the conversation several times. Each time he (At Bay) was told to back off by the sheriff's deputy. Deputy Garringer then went to talk with At Bay. They were standing in front of the Peace Fresno banner, just to the side of the main stage.

It was at this time that the anti-war marchers began to arrive for the rally. Ken says he went over to Deputy Garringer and At Bay and suggested they move from the stage area so the "permitted" rally could begin. Garringer told Ken to back off. Ken took several steps back. He held the permit in his hand and said again that Peace Fresno had a permit to hold a rally here today and asked them to move from in front of the stage area. That is when Ken was arrested.

Accompanying this account was an interesting photo, especially for those of us schooled in police body language:

As the account describes:
This is a picture of At Bay talking with the deputy sheriffs about 15 minutes after the arrest. When they were done talking they shook hands and At Large returned to his work of disrupting the crowd. He told one peace activist that he was there to monitor and photograph the criminals and anti-American scum that attend these events.

At Bay himself later chimed in on the comments on this board, claiming he was just there participating in his First Amendment rights. His account -- since deleted -- conveniently omitted his apparent provocations and attempts at disruption.

But most noteworthy, in my view, was the Freeper sewage that came spilling over onto the comments of the board:
Fuckin Leftist traitors break the law and think they should get away with it?! FUCK YOU YA GODDAMN LEFTIST PUKES AND DON'T EVEN THINK OF FUCKING WITH FREE REPUBLIC MOTHERFUCKERS!


The same commenter later promised:
If I see you or any of your comrades from Dem Underground I will kick the living shit out of you you filthy faggotcunt traitor


These comments were later deleted from the board, along with several responding to the threats.

But I've preserved them here because they encapsulate the right-wing mentality that's floating about out there, stirred up by two years' worth of drum-beating about liberals being traitors and not real Americans, an "evil," as Sean Hannity describes it, on an equal footing with terrorism. The product is a growing eliminationism directed at liberals. The campaign I saw getting its test run in Montana is all primed and ready to go for this summer's presidential campaign.

Last year, in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, we saw an early version of this strategy: Not content merely to hold their own pro-war demonstrations, right-wing radio hosts began inviting their listeners to invade peace rallies, disrupt them, and shout them down. They succeeded in doing so on several occasions. At other times, they did not. Accompanying the campaign was a steady patter of eliminationism and death threats directed at war protesters.

So expect to see a lot more of these kinds of open provocations this coming year: Bush supporters invading and disrupting Kerry rallies; threats of violence directed at anyone supporting the "traitors" and "appeasers"; and eventually, the eruption of actual violence. It's hard to say which side will shoot first (the right-wingers are more likely, since they have the guns, but you never know how these things will play out), but it's looking increasingly like someone's going to get hurt.

Worst of all, it's also looking like law enforcement is going to be part of the problem.

[Thanks to Julius for the Peace Fresno link.]