Saturday, September 09, 2006

Hewitt: A lying liar

Digby has an excellent post holding up right-wing pundit Hugh Hewitt as an example of the pathology of movement conservatives, particularly their open mendaciousness in dealing with the uproar over The Path to 9/11.

Digby pretty much says it all ("Nobody in this entire episode has behaved with less integrity, less dignity or less probity"), and the Hewitt post that he focuses on is indeed a festering pile of falsehoods and distortions. But this one particularly stood out for me:
It isn't like we don't know that Monica was a distraction and Madeleine Albright a less-than-brilliant Secretary of State (how about that late lurch towards North Korea?) John O'Neill was in fact fired; there were warnings that were ignored about the African embassy bombings, and no response followed the Cole attack and the American ambassador to Yemen was an obstruction to that investigation, Massoud was assasinated by al Qaeda. These are not debatable subjects. They are facts.

Actually, the facts are that John O'Neill wasn't fired; he retired:
O'Neill Decides to Retire from FBI

He hears about a job opening as head of security at the World Trade Center. It would mean a significant salary increase, but also it would mean leaving the FBI. By this point, however, O'Neill realizes his chances for a promotion were severely hurt by the briefcase incident. In addition to career problems, entertaining foreign visitors and O'Neill's lifestyle had left him in debt. The job at the World Trade Center would give him a chance to pay off that debt.

When did this happen?

In July 2001.

When George W. Bush was the president.

The 'fascism' meme, v. 3.2

Continuing the expansion of the right's projection strategy in smearing their opposition as coddlers of fascism, we see the latest version from Sister Toldjah, who labels critics of The Path to 9/11 thus:

It's obviously a term she intends to propagate; it pops up again in the course of asking, "Am I living in some alternate reality here?"

Answer: Yes, obviously.

As NoMoreMisterNiceBlog points out, the political pressure being applied to ABC rather clearly mirrors that which was brought to bear on CBS for its made-for-TV movie on the Reagans:
Insidious pressure -- bet that didn't strike the good Sister as "Republofascist".

I'm no fan of censorship. But demanding that a network, as a steward of the public airwaves, live up to the responsibilities that lie therein, as well as its own basic standards of truthfulness, is not censorship. Raising our voices in protest, and applying what little political power we possess, is simply democracy in action.

Not that we can expect right-wingers -- especially those with an animus towards democracy -- to discern this. Indeed, we can expect even more deliberate confusion like this.

Wonder how long before we hear the term uttered by Rush Limbaugh?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Not On Our Own

by Sara Robinson

Americans are notorious for our sturdy belief in our own self-sufficiency -- a myth that obscures an essential fact that should be giving us considerable hope right now. The good news is this: When push comes to shoving America back on the path of its own democratic ideals, we're not in this alone. In fact, we've got the weight of the world on our side.

A story by Nicholas Watt and Suzanne Goldenberg in today's Guardian makes the point:

European watchdog calls for clampdown on CIA
· UK is urged to take lead in monitoring agents
· Scathing attack on Bush, 'the King John of USA'

The head of Europe's human rights watchdog yesterday called for monitoring of CIA agents operating in Britain and other European countries, after President George Bush's admission that the US had detained terrorist suspects in secret prisons.

Terry Davis, secretary general of the Council of Europe, said CIA agents operating in Europe should be subject to the same rules as British agents working for MI5 and MI6.

"There is a need to deal with the conduct of allied foreign security services agents active on the territory of a council member state," Terry Davis said. "In the UK there is parliamentary scrutiny of the intelligence services but there is no parliamentary scrutiny of friendly foreign services. The UK should be in the lead on this issue."

As part of this process, diplomatic immunity should be reviewed. "Immunity should not mean impunity," he said.

Mr Davis also called for a ban on the transport of suspects in military aircraft. At the moment the prohibition applies only to civil aircraft.

The former British Labour MP was scathing about President Bush. "Why does the US need to keep people in secret prisons? I thought that was settled by Magna Carta. But King John is alive and well and running the USA.

"There is a smoking gun. We know where it is - it is in the hands of George Bush. His fingerprints are on the gun."

Mr Davis's remarks came as the man leading the Council of Europe's investigation into the secret CIA prisons dismissed Mr Bush's admission as "just one piece of the truth". In an attempt to step up pressure on the US and European governments to come clean on the prisons, the Swiss senator Dick Marty said: "There is more, much more, to be revealed...."

...Other senior figures in the Council of Europe, who plan to intensify their investigations into allegations that Romania and Poland played host to many of the prisoners, also criticised the US. Rene van der Linden, president of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, said: "Our work has helped to flush out the dirty nature of this secret war which, we learn at last, has been carried out completely beyond any legal framework.

"Kidnapping people and torturing them in secret, however tempting the short-term gain may appear to be, is what criminals do, not democratic governments. In the long term, such practices create more terrorists and undermine the values we are fighting for."

Sometimes, those of us working from inside the American system feel like we're pulling back an outgoing riptide with our teeth and fingernails. When even Mickey Mouse has been co-opted by Dominionists, and starts trying to feed us Happy Meals of blatant right-wing propaganda on network TV, it's hard not to feel daunted by the sheer momentum of the forces that have been set in motion against us.

Articles like this one remind us that we have allies -- that, in fact, most of the powerful countries in the world are on our side, and rooting for us. The US media hasn't talked much about the role that the European Union played in getting the black sites closed; but the above article makes it clear that they threw their weight around quite a bit, providing the push that supported the internal pull of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

Here's another account, this one from Dafna Linzer and Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post (emphasis mine):

Hamdan "forced our hand," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett, the only administration official who agreed to speak on the record. "We knew there was going to have to be some acknowledgment that they were in our hands." Also, he said, the intelligence value of interrogations had diminished to the point where the administration thought "we could bring them to justice."

After nearly two dozen meetings of senior policymakers on the detainee issue, Bush convened his principal advisers at the end of August to make a final decision.

Several had moved far away from the impassioned defenses of secret prisons that they had mounted a year earlier.

Rice had had a series of conversations with Bush on the detainee issue, but at that National Security Council meeting she made her final pitch for a change in policy.

In front of her colleagues, according to several who attended, she said that it was important for the United States to bring the issue to closure, both on foreign policy grounds and moral grounds. She noted that the secret sites were having a corrosive effect on the nation's ability to win cooperation on a range of intelligence issues. Rice urged the president to resolve the issue rather than hand it off to his successor.

The president agreed.

"This is a paradigm shift for the administration," said one senior official who was involved.

The core of Rice's argument appeared in the penultimate paragraph of the president's speech.

"America is a nation of law," Bush said. He added that he had heard the concerns of other world leaders about the administration's detention policies. "I'll continue to work with the international community to construct a common foundation to defend our nations and protect our freedoms."

Translation: We're absolutely astonished to find that 1) we are not as powerful as we thought, 2) all these little civilized countries actually care about this trivial human rights nonsense, and 3) we're getting bruised noses from all the doors being slammed in our faces when we try to get any cooperation from them. As a result, we're in a "paradigm shift" that's forced us to acknowledge the rule of law -- at least this in this instance.

That "Old Europe/New Europe" split that Rumsfeld mentioned so blithely in the early moments of the war counts for more than most Americans understand, too. One of the things I noticed when visiting Greece back in June is how much infrastructure the city had built for the 2004 Olympics. All Olympic towns go through a certain amount of pre-Games reconstruction and cleanup (I'm seeing it again now as Vancouver prepares for the 2010 Winter Games), but the sheer quantity of huge new projects built in Athens was out of all proportion to anything I've ever seen.

It qualifies as a bona fide Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World. They built several massive new stadia, and restored some historic ones as well. Several entire towns on the western coast were redeveloped, connected with a tram, and furnished with mile upon mile of world-class water sports venues. Downtown, city squares were refurbished, and the National Anthropological Museum (damaged in a 1999 earthquake) was totally rebuilt. A new museum was built on the Acropolis; restoration work began on the Parthenon. A huge new modern airport was built on the outskirts. And, underneath it all, Athens got a gorgeous new subway -- which also turned out to be far and away the largest archaeological dig in history. That project alone unearthed hundreds of thousands of exquisite antiquities, plus entire churches, palaces, and villages that had to be surveyed, relocated, and often restored.

How on earth could a country of only 11 million people possibly afford all this? I asked my hostess. The answer: Attica was rebuilt with money from the European Union, which is pouring vast sums into rebuilding the neglected southern and eastern countries that are being brought into its orb. Among these countries being modernized through EU largesse are Rumsfeld's "New Europe" partners, including Poland (a recent EU inductee), and Romania (which is at present a candidate for future induction).

What's going on here is a 21st Century Marshall Plan, in which the EU provides these countries with money and resources -- and exacts adherence to the EU's standards of democratic governance in return. For these junior members and wannabees to send a few hundred troops to the US's absurd "Coalition of The Willing" charade was one thing. But it appears Brussels has put them on notice that operating secret CIA jails for the Americans is a violation of EU law -- one that has serious consequences for their future funding and standing within the union.

There was a time when America also used the promise of good roads, clean water, and restored civic treasures as a positive incentive to coax countries out of tyranny and into democracy. Many of the EU's founding members owe their current prosperity to those long-ago efforts. It's ironic that, even as the democratic fire seems to be dwindling to embers here, these countries that our grandparents once rebuilt with American money and American ideals are now returning the favor by keeping the light burning for us in these dark and lonely times.

We need to remember that we have more friends out there than we know -- not just in Europe, but everywhere in the world people value democracy. And in this increasingly interlinked world, America is far more dependent on the goodwill of these countries than anyone in the Bush Administration seems willing to admit.

That's a huge force in our favor. In the end, it's the one that may make all the difference.

Covering their tracks

Digby pointed out the other day the fundamentalist organizations who appear to be behind the bogus ABC "docudrama" The Path to 9/11 -- most notably, the cultlike Youth With A Mission, whose founder, Loren Cunningham, is the father of the film's director.

Since then, a number of others, notably EarlG at Democratic Underground and SheWhoMustBeObeyed at DU, have done even more digging on this aspect of the film's origins. Mark in NC at DKos rounds it up:
The film was tentatively titled "Untitled History Project" and from this came the name of the Production Company, UHP Productions. (you can confirm this via IMDB..)

Obviously even the tentative name given to this film during it's 2+ years of production illustrates that this film was intended to re-write the history of 9/11.

... One of the goals of this Film Institute is to "help filmmakers, actors, technicians, etc. realize their God given potential and purpose in perhaps the most influential sphere of modern culture - film and television."

In a brochure for The Film Institute found on a YWAM members live journal, the organization describes itself as "An Auxiliary organization of University of the Nations, a non-profit entity designed to facilitate and launch University of Nations students into the film and television industry. The Film Institute provides internships, apprenticeships, scholarships, and the production of culturally relevant films that will cause awareness and resources for current issues."

Rick Ross reported awhile back that the Cunninghams had become involved with Christian Reconstructionism, the fundamentalist movement to install a theocratic state in America:
As of 1988, Loren Cunningham (according to Gary North) "began studying Reconstructionist writings…with the intent of incorporating 'dominion' or 'kingdom' [a belief that the Christian Biblical principles] theology into the ideological training given to YWAM missionaries. (page 206)."

But what's especially interesting is the way these supposedly forthright Christians are now busy covering the tracks connecting them to The Path to 9/11. All this snooping is obviously making them nervous.

For instance, there are the two since-removed posts from the now-defunct Web site by a YWAM couple named Mark and Krista Harris. Fortunately, the posts are still available via the Google cache:
As we have looked around, we've noticed a lot of big-mouthed giants running around, but not many young warriors brave enough to stake everything on God.

So that's what we've decided to do. Starting in July, along with our 'normal' discipleship efforts in YWAM, we will officially join The Film Institute - a new auxiliary branch of Youth With A Mission focused on tranforming film and television from the inside out. TFI's first project is a doozy: simply being referred to as: The Untitled History Project, it is already being called the television event of the decade and not one second has been put to film yet. Talk about great expectations!

Our goal is to help filmmakers, actors, technicians, etc. realize their God given potential and purpose in perhaps the most influential sphere of modern culture - film and television.

Then there's the now-scrubbed report on the YWAM Website:
Mark Harris spoke following Braulia and showed a DVD clip by film director David L. Cunningham, who together with others has formed a YWAM auxiliary called The Film Institute (TFI). One goal of TFI is to fast-track UofN School of Digital Film interns, placing them within the film industry, not to give them jobs, but so that they can begin to impact and transform Hollywood from the inside out.

As Digby originally observed, it's becoming manifestly clear that ABC is being used as a propaganda organ for would-be fundamentalist theocrats. It's also clear that not only are these theocrats rather baldfaced liars, they're sneaking liars who creep away back under their rocks rather than face up to their operations.

UPDATE: TPM Muckraker has more.

MAJOR UPDATE: Wow. Max Blumenthal has more, lots more. Seems the YWAM operation is part of David Horowitz's Hollywood cabal:
In fact, "The Path to 9/11" is produced and promoted by a well-honed propaganda operation consisting of a network of little-known right-wingers working from within Hollywood to counter its supposedly liberal bias. This is the network within the ABC network. Its godfather is far right activist David Horowitz, who has worked for more than a decade to establish a right-wing presence in Hollywood and to discredit mainstream film and TV production. On this project, he is working with a secretive evangelical religious right group founded by The Path to 9/11's director David Cunningham that proclaims its goal to "transform Hollywood" in line with its messianic vision.

... Nowrasteh's conservatism was on display when he appeared as a featured speaker at the Liberty Film Festival (LFF), an annual event founded in 2004 to premier and promote conservative-themed films supposedly too "politically incorrect" to gain acceptance at mainstream film festivals. This June, while The Path to 9/11 was being filmed, LFF founders Govindini Murty and Jason Apuzzo -- both friends of Nowrasteh -- announced they were "partnering" with right-wing activist David Horowitz. Indeed, the 2006 LFF is listed as "A Program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center."

Since the inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1992, Horowitz has labored to create a network of politically active conservatives in Hollywood. His Hollywood nest centers around his Wednesday Morning Club, a weekly meet-and-greet session for Left Coast conservatives that has been graced with speeches by the likes of Newt Gingrich, Victor Davis Hanson and Christopher Hitchens. The group's headquarters are at the offices of Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture, a "think tank" bankrolled for years with millions by right-wing sugardaddies like eccentric far right billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. (Scaife financed the Arkansas Project, a $2.3 million dirty tricks operation that included paying sources for negative stories about Bill Clinton that turned out to be false.)

With the LFF now under Horowitz's control, his political machine began drumming up support for Cunningham and Nowrasteh's "Untitled" project, which finally was revealed in late summer as "The Path to 9/11." Horowitz's PR blitz began with an August 16 interview with Nowrasteh on his FrontPageMag webzine. In the interview, Nowrasteh foreshadowed the film's assault on Clinton's record on fighting terror. "The 9/11 report details the Clinton's administration's response -- or lack of response -- to Al Qaeda and how this emboldened Bin Laden to keep attacking American interests," Nowrasteh told FrontPageMag's Jamie Glazov. "There simply was no response. Nothing."

Go read it all. Nice job, Max.

The other 'Path to 9/11' lie

While most of the attention regarding ABC's The Path to 9/11 "docudrama" has focused on the bogus scene in which Clinton officials are depicted as letting Osama bin Laden go despite having him in their clutches -- a truly mendacious bit of right-wing propaganda -- there's another scene, apparently in the film, that deserves every bit as much attention and careful scrutiny.

That's the sequence described in the Salon review of the program:
Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice gets that fated memo about planes flying into buildings, and makes it very clear to anyone who'll listen just how concerned President Bush is about these terrorist threats -- despite the fact that we're given little concrete evidence of the president's concern or interest in taking action.

"That fated memo" in question is, of course, the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing memo that became the subject of extensive wrangling between the 9/11 Commission and the White House, which was intent on keeping it from being made public.

The purported scene in Path to 9/11 (which may turn out to be among the sequences the network is currently scrambling to correct) is in fact contradicted directly by Rice's own testimony:
Rice told the commission Thursday that the briefing included mostly "historical information" and that most of the threat information known in the summer of 2001 referred to overseas targets.

Perhaps more to the point, there was clear testimony that Rice and Bush both largely ignored the memo:
Former counterterrorism aide Richard Clarke had testified two weeks before that the White House had ignored warnings about bin Laden's terrorist organization. Clarke said the Bush administration, including Rice, was aware of al Qaeda threats but did not treat them as "urgent."

In other words, rather than treating the memo with any urgency, Rice, Bush, and Co. all viewed the memo as ranting from Clarke, who had been demoted when Rice arrived as National Security Adviser in early 2001.

Rice's focus, in fact, during weeks leading up to Sept. 11, was on promoting a missile defense system, not terrorism. She had been prepared the morning of the attacks, in fact, to deliver a speech on "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday" -- which was focused almost solely on a missile system.

What did the memo say, exactly? Well, it was titled "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S." and read thus:
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Laden implied in U.S. television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and "bring the fighting to America."

After U.S. missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -- -- service.

An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told - - service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative's access to the U.S. to mount a terrorist strike.

The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden's first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the U.S.

Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself, but that in ---, Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaydah encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaydah was planning his own U.S. attack.

Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation. Although Bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993, and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.

Al Qaeda members -- including some who are U.S. citizens -- have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks.

Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were U.S. citizens, and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s.

A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a ---- service in 1998 saying that Bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.

Those last two paragraphs utterly demolish Rice's claim that the information was purely "historical" and did not specify potential threats.

In fact, here's how Rice described the White House's assessment of the memo in her commission testimony:
The briefing item reviewed past intelligence reporting, mostly dating from the 1990s, regarding possible al Qaeda plans to attack inside the United States. It referred to uncorroborated reporting that from 1998 that terrorists might attempt to hijack a U.S. aircraft in an attempt to blackmail the government into releasing U.S.-held terrorists who had participated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. This briefing item was not prompted by any specific threat information. And it did not raise the possibility that terrorists might use airplanes as missiles.

What was the White House's response? Well, here's how Rice described it:
Despite the fact that the vast majority of the threat information we received was focused overseas, I was concerned about possible threats inside the United States. On July 5, chief of staff Andy Card and I met with Dick Clarke, and I asked Dick to make sure that domestic agencies were aware of the heightened threat period and were taking appropriate steps to respond, even though we did not have specific threats to the homeland.

Later that same day, Clarke convened a special meeting of his CSG, as well as representatives from the FAA, the INS, Customs, and the Coast Guard. At that meeting, these agencies were asked to take additional measures to increase security and surveillance.

Throughout this period of heightened threat information, we worked hard on multiple fronts to detect, protect against, and disrupt any terrorist plans or operations that might lead to an attack. For instance, the Department of Defense issued at least five urgent warnings to U.S. military forces that al Qaeda might be planning a near-term attack, and placed our military forces in certain regions on heightened alert.

The State Department issued at least four urgent security advisories and public worldwide cautions on terrorist threats, enhanced security measures at certain embassies, and warned the Taliban that they would be held responsible for any al Qaeda attack on U.S. interests.

The FBI issued at least three nationwide warnings to Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies, and specifically stated that, although the vast majority of the information indicated overseas targets, attacks against the homeland could not be ruled out.

The FBI also tasked all 56 of its U.S. field offices to increase surveillance of known or suspected terrorists and reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities.

The FAA issued at least five Civil Aviation Security Information Circulars to all U.S. airlines and airport security personnel, including specific warnings about the possibility of hijackings.

The CIA worked round the clock to disrupt threats worldwide. Agency officials launched a wide-ranging disruption effort against al Qaeda in more than 20 countries.

However, in reality, as we later determined, Rice's testimony was at best misleading if not downright fallacious:
Rice, testifying before the Sept. 11 commission Thursday, said that those 70 investigations were mentioned in a CIA briefing to the president and satisfied the White House that the FBI was doing its job in response to dire warnings that attacks were imminent and that the administration felt it had no need to act further.

But the FBI Friday said that those investigations were not limited to al-Qaida and did not focus on al-Qaida cells. FBI spokesman Ed Coggswell said the bureau was trying to determine how the number 70 got into the report.

... [Rice] said the briefing memo disclosed that the FBI had 70 "full-field investigations under way of cells" in the United States. And that, Rice said, explained why "there was no recommendation [coming from the White House] that we do something about" the flurry of threat warnings in the months preceding the attacks.

But Coggswell Friday said that those 70 investigations involved a number of international terrorist organizations, not just al-Qaida. He said that many were criminal investigations, which terrorism experts say are not likely to focus on preventing terrorist acts. And he said he would "not characterize" the targets of the investigations as cells, or groups acting in concert, as was the case with the Sept. 11 hijackers.

In addition to these investigations, Rice told the panel that FBI headquarters, reacting to alarming but vague intelligence in the spring and summer of 2001 that attacks were imminent, "tasked all 56 of its U.S. field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists" and to contact informants who might provide leads.

That, too, is news to the field offices. Commissioner Timothy J. Roemer told Rice that the commission had "to date ... found nobody, nobody at the FBI, who knows anything about a tasking of field offices." Even Thomas Pickard, at the time acting FBI director, told the panel that he "did not tell the field offices to do this," Roemer said.

So let's review the entirety of the Bush administration's real-life response to the memo:

-- The problem is handed off to Richard Clarke (if anyone in the White House could have been accurately described as warning everyone they knew of an imminent attack, it was Clarke).

-- The intelligence agencies involved send out a handful of warnings and the State Department beefs up security abroad.

-- The FAA sends out some warning fliers.

-- Rice prepares her missile-defense speech.

-- Bush takes nap, clears brush, remains resolutely on vacation. Finally ends vacation and returns to his leadership role by reading My Pet Goat to Florida schoolchildren.

Somehow, I don't think that's going to be depicted very accurately in Path to 9/11 either.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Bush, Bush world

Now that ABC has become a full-fledged propaganda organ for right-wing ideologues, I think it's fair to assume we'll be seeing similar changes throughout its parent company, Walt Disney.

Imagine, if you will, some of the new rides at Disneyland:

-- The Clintonhorn (as your rollercoaster descends the slightly crooked penis-shaped mountain, scary Bill Clintons with glowing red eyes jump out at you).

-- Space Media Mountain (another rollercoaster, this time with a dizzying array of meaningless media feeding frenzies -- O.J. Simpson, Natalee Holloway, JonBenet Ramsey, Brad and Angelina, Tom and Katie, J-Lo and Ben -- come whirling past in a mind-blowing rush).

-- Haunted White House (while the ghosts of presidents past hover approvingly over a George W. Bush lookalike, the phantoms of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky come popping out of various hiding places, leaving semen stains in their wake).

-- Terrorists of the Middle East (as your Hummer guides you through a desert wasteland, various brown terrorists with gleaming eyes and boxcutters clenched in their teeth come jumping out at you).

My favorite, though, will probably be the ever-charming boat ride into "It's A Bush World," wherein an array of little brown terrorist puppets, clutching bombs and guns, representing countries from around the world, threaten ridegoers as they endlessly sing:
It's a world of terror, a world of fears,
It's a world of death, and a world of tears
There's a reason we care
To make sure you are scared
It's a Bush world after all

It's a Bush world after all
It's a Bush world after all
It's a Bush world after all
It's a Bush, Bush world

There is just one scapegoat for every ill
It's that president whose name was Bill
When the world hates your guts
Blame it all on his putz
It's a Bush world after all


Personally, I'm looking forward to getting an autograph from Hillary the White Witch.

[Hat tip to Tom Tomorrow for the Bush image.]

Saving whales, losing humanity

Last month, a tragedy occurred in these waters when a traditional tribal canoe participating in the annual ceremonial greeting of the tribes in Seattle capsized en route, resulting in the drowning of a tribal chief named Jerry Jack.

Chief Jack was head of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nations, which resides largely in the Nootka Sound area of western Vancouver Island, B.C. He had previously been involved in the efforts to protect the young killer whale Luna, who was killed this spring by a tugboat propellor.

It seems that the boat that capsized in heavy chop near Dungeness Spit was the same canoe used by the Makah Tribe of Neah Bay in its gray-whale hunt of 1998-99, which I reported on for Salon. And though the report was filed before the Makahs did finally succeed in killing -- and essentially wasting -- a gray whale, I did observe that the situation was being aggravated by the high-handedness of the environmentalists involved, most notably Paul Watson's Sea Shepherd Society.

At one time, I very much admired Watson, particularly his bravery in confronting industrial whalers around the globe. But observing him up close -- particularly the cultlike self-righteousness with which he envelops himself -- led me to reassess that. It seemed to me that Watson, in the pursuit of his Higher Cause, had lost his grip on his humanity; like most ideologues, his ideas -- and evidently, the whales themselves -- has become more important than people. His subsequent activism against immigration, including an attempted takeover of the Sierra Club, only deepened that judgment.

So it was with sickened unsurprise that, as I was perusing the Sea Shepherd site recently, I found this commentary from Watson regarding the death of Chief Jack:
"What goes around apparently comes around," said Captain Paul Watson. "In my opinion that boat was cursed the moment the harpoon left it and entered the body of the whale. There was nothing traditional about that kill."

"We do extend our sympathies to the family of Chief Jerry Jacks," continued Captain Watson. "His death was a tragedy and a loss to his people. Unfortunately, the traditional hunt went hand in hand with the loss of Makah whalers. Both whales and men died in the days when the hunt was a necessity for the Makah. The sea has now claimed a life for the one that the Makah whalers took. The Buddhists would call this karma; the whales would call this justice."

Justice? Really? A chief of a non-whaling tribe largely unaffiliated with the Makah dies, and that's Watson's idea of justice? Does Watson believe all Native Americans need to pay for the death of that whale?

Watson's lip-service "sympathy" for Chief Jack's family rings nothing but hollow in the company of the remainder of his commentary -- commentary that tells us much more about Paul Watson than it does the whale hunters.

Fortunately, at least, the tribal members themselves were able to find deeper meaning in the death of Chief Jack. By contrast, you almost have to feel some pity for those people who, like Watson, could only respond with the meanest, hardest parts of whatever soul they possess.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Projecting fascism

[Image courtesy of Old American Century, with a hat tip to Max.]

Donald Rumsfeld's Aug. 29 speech to the American Legion was a real watermark for the Bush administration, since it finally made official the government's embrace of the "war critics are treasonous appeasers" theme that has been circulating in the right-wing bloodstream for the past several years.

But it was also noteworthy because it became the launching pad for the administration's open embrace of the term "Islamofascism" as a way not only to describe the terrorist threat these officials use to justify every one of its monstrous policies, but to smear the good citizens whose consciences lead them to oppose those policies. As if on cue, the rest of the administration -- including Bush himself -- and their amen chorus in the pundit class began using it endlessly in media appearances, though they had actually been circulating it for some time.

The tactic, beyond its mere scurrilousness, reeks of desperation, and most of the public can smell it. And some of the left-wing response -- perhaps most notably Keith Olbermann's -- has been exactly what this kind of gutter tactic deserves.

"Islamofascism" is also, as I've pointed out a couple of times, a generally inappropriate term. This is especially so because fascism, as we have known it historically, only arises from a democratic state in a state of decay or crisis. Indeed, fascism, as I've explored in some depth, is a specific pathology constituted of a constellation of certain traits, only some of which are described by Islamic radicalism, and some of which are specifically repudiated by it. Perhaps they intend "Islamic totalitarianism," which would be accurate; but fascism is a very specific kind of totalitarianism, and what we see in the Islamic world today does not fit the description.

As the New York Times' Alexander Stille pointed out awhile back, regarding the contention by Bush apologists like Christopher Hitchen and Paul Berman that Al Qaeda's attacks of Sept. 11 are comparable to Hitler's threats against Czechoslovakia:
This interpretation does not sit well with most experts on Islam. "Fascism is nationalistic and Islamicism is hostile to nationalism," said Roxanne Euben, a professor of political science at Wellesley College. "Fundamentalism is a transnational movement that is appealing to believers of all nations and races across national boundaries. There is no idea of racial purity as in Nazism. Islamicists have very little idea of the state. It is a religious movement, while Fascism in Europe was a secular movement. So if it's not what we really think of as nationalism, and if it's not really like what we think of as Fascist, why use these terms?"

It's clear that the administration, in this regard, is simply embracing ideas that have been circulating on the right for awhile. But it also goes deeper than that.

The most astute observation regarding this I've seen comes from John Dean, commenting at Firedoglake on Sunday while discussing his excellent book, Conservatives Without Conscience. Someone asked Dean where the administration cooked up "Islamofascism" at "just about the same time you proved to the world that we are enduring proto- fascism?" He replied:
I suspect that they market tested it and found it worked. But a more sinister thought that has occurred to me is that by using the "F" word to describe the enemy they may be trying to immunize themselves. (But that is a thought only, and I have no evidence -- at this time -- that that is the case.)

Dean has hit on exactly what we've been observing about movement conservatives and their increasingly ugly tone in recent: it is part of a sometimes conscious strategy to project their own ambitions onto their opponents:
In other words, for a number of the right's leading rhetoricians, the projection appears to be perfectly conscious: it is a strategy, designed to marginalize their opposition and open the field to nearly any behavior it chooses.

And it is extraordinarily successful precisely because projection, as a trait, is so deeply woven into the right-wing psyche. Those who engage in it consciously set off waves of sympathetic response from their audiences because it hits their buttons in exactly the right spot.

The deep-seatedness of this trait can make it diffidcult, at times, to discern whether the behavior is conscious or not. But it also lends to a certain predictability: One of the best indicators of where the right is heading, I've noted previously, can be found in the very things of which it accuses the left.

So when it starts to accuse its opponents of coddling fascism, you can rest assured that the American right is embarking on precisely that path itself. And considering what we know about fascism historically, this shouldn't be a surprise.

After all, as George Seldes noted, it was Huey Long, "a very smart demagogue," who observed the following:
"Sure we'll have Fascism here, but it will come as an anti-Fascism movement."

This raises the possibility that, in America at least, fascism could arise not the classic European way, that is, through an outside party that gradually gathers strength, but rather, as I've previously suggested, through "the transformation of an existing party into a fascist entity from within -- not necessarily by design, but by a coalescence of political forces already latent in the landscape."
This possibility, actually, is raised by the fact that, as [Robert O.] Paxton describes in detail [in The Anatomy of Fascism], fascism is not so much an ideological "ism" but a constellation of traits that takes on a pathological life of its own. And these traits, as he details, are very much present, historically speaking, in American political life.

In fact, this very mechanism was raised by the one of the significant American fascist "intellectuals" who arose in the 1930s. His name was Lawrence Dennis, and in 1936 -- a year after Lewis' novel -- he wrote an ideological blueprint titled The Coming American Fascism.

Dennis predicted that, eventually, the combination of a dictatorial and bureaucratic government and big business would continue exploiting the working middle class until, in frustration, it would turn to fascism. What's especially noteworthy were the kind of conditions he foresaw for this to happen:

Nothing could be more logical or in the best political tradition than for a type of fascism to be ushered into this country by leaders who are now vigorously denouncing fascism and repudiating all that it is understood to stand for...

And, needless to add, these principles would mean the replacement of the existing organizational pattern of public administration by that of a highly centralized government which would exercise the powers of a truly national State, and which would be manned by a personnel responsible to a political party holding a mandate from the people. This party would be the fascist party of the United States-undoubtedly called, however, by another name...

Yet how infinitely better for the in-elite of the moment to have fascism come through one of the major parties of the moment than to have it fight its way to power as the program of the most embittered leaders of the out-elite. ...

This description has an ominous ring in an era in which the dominant party in power in America is frenziedly declaring war on "Islamofascism" while itself taking on many of the traits of fascism itself. It's unlikely that Dennis' thinking guided any of the intellectuals in today's mainstream conservative movement, though it is worth noting that his work is enjoying a renaissance in the paleo-conservative movement, particularly in such places as The Occidental Review, the far-right publication sponsored by William Regnery.

Rather than being guided consciously (and there certainly is no evidence whatsoever for an ideologically fascist conspiracy), this transformation is occurring almost spontaneously, as the forces that fascism comprises gradually come together under their own gravity.

Chief among the traits driving this phenomenon are A) the utter willingness of movement conservatives to believe whatever their leaders and leading pundits say, and B) the utter willingness of those leaders to say anything, including the notion that their fellow citizens are among "the enemy." They form a symbiosis in which propaganda in defense of the regime is an end unto itself, forming a kind of ideological bubble within which all True Believers may reside, resisting the tug of reality.

Of course, this was a significant component of Conservatives Without Conscience: identifying the right-wing authoritarian impulse within the conservative movement; further distinguishing between the authoritarian followers who fill their ranks, and the manipulative, somewhat sociopathic personalities who lead them; and examining the symbiosis of their complementary impulses.

Much of this analysis was built out of the work of Bob Altemeyer, the University of Manitoba psychologist who specializes in authoritarian personalities. At the FDL salon, Altemeyer added this to Dean's observation:
I just want to add my agreement to what John Dean and others have said about the administration's calling Islamic terrorists "fascists." The first thing I thought of when I read Rumsfeld's speech to the American Legion on August 29th, where the phrase was first used, was "John Dean's book has smacked these guys right in (a very vulnerable place)." It is an old technique in propaganda -- going back to the Big Lie in WWI -- that when you are completely and undeniably skewered, you just take everything that people have pointed out about you and say it's your enemies who are like this. You don't even bother to deny anything; you simply go on the offensive and holler as loudly as you can. Conservatives Without Conscience of course says the Bush administration is taking us down the road to fascism, so the administration sticks the fascism label on America's enemy to try to keep it from sticking on them, and make it seem they are our defense against fascism rather than its very carriers. In this case it is an absurd lie, because whatever you want to say about Islamic terrorists, they certainly are not fascists in any of the various ways the word has been distinctly used in history. But that won't matter at all to the choir of high RWAs for whom the administration made up the charge. If they hear later that someone says President Bush is a fascist-like leader, they'll think "Nonsense. The man's defending us against this."

The recognition of this likelihood is one of the reasons, I suspect, that movement conservatism's growing adoption of fascist traits is discussed so little on the left: we understand, from experience, that right-wing True Believers not only will never concede that it's occurring, they'll simply project any recognition of its truth right back onto the left. It is, almost certainly, a fruitless conversation to be having with folks on the right.

But it is almost certainly a conversation we need to be sharing among ourselves, because it's critical for coming to terms with what we're up against.

Tunnels and Bridges: A Short Detour

by Sara Robinson

Rules Lawyers
This is a sort of detour off the series -- a side road that opened up while I was writing the seventh part. I'd been picking at this subject for the past week or so; then, interestingly, the same topic popped up in the comments. I finally realized that what I had here was serious omission to Part II, "Listening to the Leavers," which was a field guide to the reasons people finally leave fundamentalist religions. There was one important subgroup I didn't address (perhaps due to my overfamiliarity with it). It merits a closer look before we move on any further.

Commenter Splash filed the first field report:

Im not sure I see much in the way of authoritarians wanting to be like others, wanting to fit in. That may be true for some, but there is a contrarian type who fancies himself a victim of liberal culture, and will resist all the more when he perceives that prevailing norms reflect that liberal culture. They turn contrarianism into a "hip" rebellion and latch onto the conservative "counter-culture." For this type especially, things must happen to them and the shell has to be cracked by circumstances that bring forth both a cognitive dissonance and a way out of the dissonance that is different from, and more attractive than, the contrarian default position.

That default position is the positiion that they have cornered the market, so to speak, on morality - and the smartest of these always seem to cite Kant for support. If time permits i will try to get an analysis of Kant up but if anyone has any thoughts on this, id love to see. Kant seems to be the most widely cited philosophical support for the "objective source of morality is eroded by liberal culture" meme. "We have discovered the very structure of human consciousness, you see, which is the source of all objective morality, and liberals pushing moral relativism are the enemies of Western Civilization." On top of this, for those more disposed to fancying themselves victims, being an outsider is a virtue.

Kant needs to be refuted because his thought provides the intellectual excuse to be contrarian in the face of empirical evidence. My sense is that the smarter RWAs can be tricked into empirical thinking once their Kantian rationalistic attachments have been seriously challenged by factual reality.

And I replied:

I've known way more than my share of these guys, since Silicon Valley is one of their primary native habitats. And my take is that they're at least as driven by their burning desire to fit in as any other RWA. In fact, their feelings of victimization may be rooted in the belief that they were promised an acceptance in liberal intellectual circles that they intensely wanted but never really found.??The most extreme ones were frighteningly bright and well-read, and usually also from very religious family backgrounds. Those two qualities alone guaranteed that it was going to be hard to find a niche among the better-rounded, more secular big city liberals. So they decided that, if they were going to be outcasts anyway, they could at least claim moral superiority. I may be a nerd, but I am RIGHT -- the possessor of Ultimate Truth! -- and that's what really matters in the end.

Kant, yeah. And Aristotle. Also Ayn Rand, for the less evolved sorts. I'm no philosopher, but if you can marshal arguments against the nasty intellectual habits Kant justified, I'd love to hear them.

Having actually dated a few of these in my younger years, I speak from experience: Beware the black-and-white thinker with a high IQ. Fortunately, we are talking about a very small (probably >1%) sliver of the RWA population -- a rare but fascinating subspecies.

It's much too flip, but not altogether inaccurate, to say that what these guys (and they were all guys) needed most was the love of a good woman. In almost every case I can recall, the very best and most healing challenge to their Kantian rationalistic attachments turned out to be the factual reality of marriage and parenthood. There's nothing like the day-to-day -- and often irrational and non-linear -- reality of caring for other people to teach you to take life as it is, and not as you think it ought to be.

My husband is a lifelong board, paper, and computer gamer. This same personality type appears so often among gamers (though, mercifully, not at my house) that there's actually a term for them. They call them "Rules Lawyers." This is the guy (and it's usually a guy -- female versions exist, but they are truly rare) who has memorized every rule in the book, and comes to the game prepared to explore every loophole, argue every detail, and punish every infraction. (Can you say "anal retentive?" I knew you could.)

A lot of very bright people are drawn to fundamentalism and other authoritarian systems because they're committed Aristotelians, on a similar lifelong search for Ultimate Truth. Fundamentalist literalism offers just the kind of hard-and-fast, black-and-white "here's the book -- now go live by it" pre-packaged Truth they're looking for. Their intense fear of ambiguity motivates these people to become tremendous scholars, giving hours a day to their studies. Over the course of years, they absorb the system chapter and verse, can quote it at length, and know all the standard (and even some esoteric) defenses against those who might question their interpretation. The more knowledge of the closed system they have, the more secure they feel.

Those of us who've spent a long time in Blogtopia have run across the secular versions of these guys -- for instance, the hard-core free market True Believers who've read their Strauss (all too well) and their Adam Smith (not nearly well enough). If you get into an argument with them, they'll give you a wild ride -- and you might even learn a thing or two, before you finally walk away shaking your head and wondering how somebody so obviously smart could possibly misunderstand so much about how the world really works.

The interesting thing about these guys is that, committed as they are, their beliefs are often quite brittle, making them uniquely susceptible to change. The day always comes that they trip over a particularly intractable contradiction in their belief system -- the one that cannot be studied, rationalized, or willed away no matter how hard they try. And, because they accepted the system in the first place with the assurance that every word of it was true, finding even one untruth in the mix is all it takes to make their faith in the whole edifice crumble. They were promised perfection. If even small imperfections are found, the whole thing must be scrapped, and something Even More True must be found to replace it.

While these people almost never return to an authoritarian belief system once they've left it, their burning desire to find Ultimate Truth may not leave them for years, if ever. In the meantime, they'll be extremely susceptible to latching on to other authoritarian systems that promise them the certainty they seek. Those '60s radicals who made the leap from Communism to neo-conservatism may look like they've made a 180 -- but, in reality, they were simply exchanging the comfort of one all-encompassing ideology for that of another. They're still True Believers; they're just reading different books now, and wearing different clothes. One common story is the former fundie who declares his atheism, makes a meticulous study of logic and the scientific method, and embraces radical skepticism as the New True and Only Way. New ideology; same dogmatic mental habits.

When they finally come vaulting over the wall (and it happens fast for this group -- their preferred mode of transport seems to be the trebuchet), greeting them with a gentle "We told you so" isn't totally out of place -- in fact, they expect it, and almost welcome it. Former fundies of this stripe spend a lot of time in the early months re-tracing their logical tracks, combing the Bible looking for errors and contradictions, trying to figure out where they went wrong. (It's a grueling process to watch, but a necessary step before they can really come to terms with their loss and let go of it.) We may expect very bright people who are leaving RWA political movements to have the same impulse -- in fact, many are having it right now, as their complicity in the Iraq War hits home. "Where did I get it wrong?" is a painful question to ask; but some of the bravest and most honest ones are now sincerely interested in hearing our side of the story.

For this group, we need to be welcoming and ready to share our worldview with them -- patiently, honestly, and with compassion. These people are looking for new authorities. When we respect their intelligence and give them solid answers, we provide them with a comfortable landing zone -- and stand a good chance of establishing ourselves as these people's new credible authorities in the short run.

But we also need to realize that getting them to accept our ideas as their new dogma doesn't define a victory here. In the long run, real freedom only comes when they can let go of the need for authoritative answers altogether.

These are the ones most discomfited by liberal moral ambiguity, and our enjoyment of colors other than black and white. In the reality-based world, no rules -- not even the laws of physics -- are hard-and-fast. They're all general guidelines at best. As this particular subgroup of Leavers learns to trust themselves and others, they may eventually relax, let go of the need to explain and control everything according some Unified Field Theory, and take life as in all its messy glory. It's only at that point that their escape is truly made good.

That's the detour. Now that that's out of the way, we can get back on the main road.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Dr. Bob Has The Map

by Sara Robinson
It's been long enough now that nobody probably remembers this, so let me recap:

"Cracks In The Wall" and "Tunnels and Bridges" found their genesis in John Dean's summer blockbuster, Conservatives Without Conscience. Dean, in turn, based his book largely on the work of Dr. Bob Altemeyer, the University of Manitoba social psychologist who has spent the past several decades researching the social contour of authoritarianism.

Yesterday, both Dean and Altemeyer were at Firedoglake's Sunday book club discussion. Several participants asked Dr. Bob (as he likes to be called) what the odds are that right-wing authoritarian (RWA) followers can actually change their beliefs. Here's his reply:

Is there really nothing that we can do to change authoritarian followers? Well as I said, some things seem to work. I mentioned how high RWAs want to be like everyone else in many regards. Another thing that “works,”–and this truly astounds me–is that authoritarian followers do get affected by their experiences when you’d swear there was not chance. So I have found, both in surveys and in an experiment I ran one time using myself as the “target,” that once high RWAs meet a homosexual or learn that someone they knew was a homosexual, their attitude toward homosexuals becomes more favorable. (I’m not gay, but I told a class of my students one year that I was for the purpose of this experiment.) So despite all their preconceptions, the highs saw reality and changed. Another thing that works is higher education. Students at my large public university drop in RWA scale scores about 10% on the average over the course of a 4-year undergraduate education. But the students who drop the most are the ones who came in being very high. (I don’t think it’s the profs who cause this to happen, but simply the highs meeting a much wider variety of people than ever before.)

But as John Dean mentioned, normal approaches to changing someone’s mind (reason, discourse, exposure to scientific evidence) do not work with authoritarian followers, but instead provoke a dogmatic response. (The comment from the person from Cincinnati who says the conservatives he knows will change slowly, but not if they are treated with disrespect and humiliated) applies here, I think.) The dogmatism goes back to the way the followers have formed their beliefs, which has basically been to copy the beliefs of the authorities in their lives. They really don’t know why those are the right ideas; they’re taking other people’s word for it. Most people have done more figuring-things-out-for-themselves, so when they get challenged they can go back to the reasons they believe what they do. And if better reasons leading elsewhere come along, why not follow them? But the high RWA is poorly equipped to handle such a challenge. He can respond with the counter-arguments he has been inoculated with, but if they get swatted aside he is lost. And not only is that particular point lost, but the whole shooting match is now in jeopardy because of the simplistic way (”It’s all right or it’s all wrong”) he thinks. So dogmatism is his best defense, and he’s perfectly willing–as I suspect many of you have found–to end an argument he has lost by saying, “OK, you believe what you want, and I’ll believe what I want.”

That's a pretty strong corroboration of what I've been saying here. "High RWAs" are those who score high on Dr. Altemeyer's scale of right-wing authoritarian orientation -- the committed followers. As we've seen, reason doesn't reach them. But, he goes on to say, the very recipe I've been describing -- education, exposure to other people, better skills that enable them to process complexity, and experience in using and trusting their own judgment -- does.

And, yes, says the good doctor: RWA followers have more mental flexiblity than we tend to give them credit for. Just because they don't have great reasoning skills, it doesn't mean they're incapable of acquiring them.

It's a nice confirmation: we really do have good reason to hope that, with the right kind of support, these people can be persuaded to join the reality-based world.