Friday, March 09, 2007

'It Can Happen Here'

Joe Conason has already had an enviable authorial career. The Hunting of the President (cowritten with Gene Lyons) is really the definitive text on the Clinton impeachment saga and is even still a monument to the kind of skeptical journalism that is, sadly, practiced still in only a few quarters. Big Lies was a similarly worthy addition to the library of texts documenting the voluminous mendacity of movement conservatism.

His most recent -- It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush -- takes Conason to another level: It's a genuinely important book, perhaps the most important to be published this year.

The subject of It Can Happen Here -- an obvious play on the title of Sinclair Lewis' anti-fascist novel It Can't Happen Here (discussed previously at this blog here) -- is the growth of authoritarianism, both among leaders and followers, embodied by the American conservative movement. It has real significance for our national discourse, both for the short and long terms.

As Conason puts it in the book's introduction:
Bolstered by political impunity, especially in a time of war, perhaps any group of politicians would be tempted to abuse power. But this party and these politicians, unchecked by normal democratic constraints, proved to be particularly dangerous. The name for what is wrong with them -- the threat embedded within the Bush administration, the Republican congressional leadership, and the current leaders of the Republican Party -- is authoritarianism.

The most obvious symptoms can be observed in the regime's style, which features an almost casual contempt for democratic and lawful norms; an expanding appetite for executive control at the expense of constitutional balances; a reckless impulse to corrupt national institutions with partisan ideology; and an ugly tendency to smear dissent as disloyalty. The most troubling effects are matters of substance, including the suspension of traditional legal rights for certain citizens; the imposition of secrecy and the inhibition of the free flow of information; the extension of domestic spying without legal sanction or warrant; the promotion of torture and other barbaric practices, in defiance of American and international law; and the collusion of government and party with corporate interests and religious fundamentalists.

These issues have been raised before, most notably by John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience, which for all of its virtues also fell somewhat short in fully confronting the implications of the depths that it plumbed -- particularly in recognizing the fascist shape of the shadows within those depths.

Conason, as the book's title suggest, does not shy away from this discussion but confronts it directly -- observing that George W. Bush's campaign for the presidency and subsequent reign has more than a passing resemblance to Buzz Windrip's. Lewis's famous aphorism -- "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross" -- is in fact reflected in the entire appeal of the modern conservative movement. Whereas Dean believes that fascism is a long ways from manifesting itself in America, Conason recognizes unflinchingly that fascist elements long latent in the American psyche are coming increasingly to the fore.

He explores the trends enabling these elements in subsequent chapters: the unprecedented power grab of the executive branch under Bush, the willing complaisance of the corporate mainstream media as an administration mouthpiece, the unholy marriage between the corporatist and religious right, the Nixonian viciousness at play in the administration's radical theories about executive power.

All of these subjects have been explored in some depth on an individual basis previously (see, for example, Glenn Greenwald's superb How Would a Patriot Act?), though even in these areas Conason brings a great deal of fresh reportage to the table here, notably in exploring the roles played by neoconservatives such as Leo Strauss and Michael Ledeen in transforming the conservative movement and its agenda. Where It Can Happen Here excels, however, is in wrapping these threads together into a cogent portrait of an American body politic in real danger of being overwhelmed by the worst of human nature.

What sets Conason's book apart particularly is its initial focus on an aspect of conservative rule under Bush that has gotten all too little attention from his peers in the press and among the pundits -- namely, the effects of a state of perpetual war, as now exists in the form of the "war on terror," on democratic institutions and subsequently on the ability of democracy itself to survive. James Madison's warning -- "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare" -- rings with a specially ominous note in this context. Most of the first chapter, titled "The 'Post-9/11 Worldview' of Karl Rove," explores not just the Machiavellian motivations for those in power to encourage a constant state of national fearfulness, but also considers its broader effects on the mental and political state of the nation.

It should be noted that this aspect of Conason's text, which predicates much of the argument that follows, has been conveniently overlooked almost entirely by his critics, including Jacob Heilbrunn's review in the New York Times which dismisses It Can Happen Here as needlessly alarmist:
It's also the case that Conason's alarmism inadvertently buys into Bush and Cheney's own hokum by attributing a kind of implacable and infallible power to the administration. Whatever its intentions, however, the hallmark of the administration hasn't turned out to be Machiavellian cunning but sheer ineptitude. Rather like the American cold warriors who insisted that the Soviet Union was vying for world domination even as it was going poof in the late 1980s, Conason seems reluctant to recognize that the conservative movement has been heading toward collapse. Far from consolidating a right-wing dictatorship, Bush's actual political legacy may well turn out to be resuscitating American liberalism.

Heilbrunn, a noted neoconservative himself, is like nearly every supposed "serious thinker" on the right side of the political aisle these days -- so eager to escape the contagious necrotic effects of George W. Bush's political agenda that he concocts a kind of reinvented history that paints Bush as simply incompetent and not so Machiavellian, as though the two traits were somehow mutually exclusive when in fact they were deeply symbiotic in creating the Bush malaise. It's what Digby calls the "incompetence dodge":
Incompetence has nothing to do with it. In fact, they are quite competent at doing exactly what they want to do --- gain power, do whatever they want for a few years, lose office, harrass Democrats rinse, repeat.

The seemingly twinned notions that Bush was insufficiently conservative or failed to carry out the neocon agenda to every jot and tittle are simply, purely, 180-degree revisionist nonsense. At every turn, Bush adhered to conservative-movement dogma, shaped by neoconservatives, in nearly every regard. Likewise, the concomitant claim that Bush has somehow killed the conservative movement -- which, despite these easy characterizations, actually has a continual ability to come back from the dead that would make Freddie Krueger proud -- seems to have emerged from a Bizarro Universe oblivious to the reality that Bush's Iraq "surge" and his executive-branch power grab are simply proceeding apace, as though the 2006 election had no meaning whatsoever.

What Heilbrunn's review reflects, moreover, is one of the key points of Conason's warning -- namely, the complicity of the major mainstream media, particularly organs like the New York Times, in enabling the metastasis of the authoritarian cult called the conservative movement. Rather than employing someone not from a sector singled out for criticism in the book -- a description that does not fit the neoconservative Heilbrunn -- the Times' review section picked someone almost certain to deal the book a negative review. I suppose this represents an improvement of sorts -- neither The Hunting of the President nor Big Lies were deemed worthy of review in the Times, which in the case of the former particularly reflected the overpowering arrogance of the "Paper of Record."

The media's complicity lies mainly in ignoring the deeper implications of the nature of conservative rule in America. Fortunately, there are still reporters like Joe Conason out there doing the jobs we're all supposed to be doing.

Joe Conason will be signing books tonight at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (17171 Bothell Way NE), beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


by Sara
This week, two of the right wing's most extreme voices are learning the hard way that eliminationism no longer pays nearly as well as it used to. And the left wing is proving its skill with a new tactic in the war against eliminationist pundits. To coin a phrase, we might call it "getting Spockoed."

First, Michael Savage sent Media Matters a letter accusing them of "stalking," which would be funny if it weren't so predictable (a conservative shucking personal responsibility for his own public rantings…where have we seen this before?). Apparently, Mr. Weiner (uh, Savage) got on the air after the Oscars with a homophobic rant about Melissa Etheridge, in which he called her gay marriage "digusting" and "nauseating" and a form of "child abuse."

In his rabid lather, Savage apparently forgot that he and Ms. Etheridge are both represented by the same talent agency, CAA. Which, understandably, felt the need to take sides in this dispute -- especially after Media Matters dutifully recorded Savage's rantings and brought them to their attention. And which, also understandably, chose to respond by standing with its new Oscar winner and with its gay talent in general.

So Mr. Savage was unceremoniously dropped from his spot with the world's top agency. And he's blaming Media Matters for all this. After all, it couldn't be anything he said himself that caused all the ruckus; it's just those "scum-sucking vermin," those "left-wing rats," who insisted that he be held accountable for polluting the public airwaves -- and the public discourse -- with his hateful verbal sewage.

There was, of course, a parting shot, featuring that old-time eliminationist invective that earns Savage millions each year:
You ought to be happy, you liberal SOBs, that I am only a talk-show host. You ought to thank God that I have no avariciousness in my soul. You ought to thank God that I'm not power mad like you liberals, because if I ever ran for office, I can guarantee you, you wouldn't be in business too long. I can guarantee you you'd be arrested for sedition within six months of my taking power. I'd have you people licking lead paint, what you did to this country.
Curiously: he can't quite figure out what it is about this that we find so offensive. Perhaps his new agent (if he finds one) can explain it to him.

Then, there's Ann Coulter, who is positively on a tear this week. On March 2, of course, she got up at CPAC and called John Edwards a "faggot." This is, of course, business as usual for Ann -- but, like Savage, this time, her words went on the record.

As they also did the very next day, March 3, when she got up in front of Dr. James Kennedy's "Reclaiming America for Christ" conference, and announced that she can "understand" the assassination of doctors who perform legal abortions. Talk2Action's Fredrick Clarkson described the scene:
In demagogic fashion, Coulter first presented the shocking view -- and then wink, wink -- said she didn't really mean it; but in doing so, still held fast to the argument that leaders of the underground Army of God have used for years to justify the murder of abortion providers -- which she calls "a procedure with a rifle…."

"…Those few abortionists were shot, or, depending on your point of view, had a procedure with a rifle performed on them. I'm not justifying it, but I do understand how it happened...."
It's quite possible that Coulter has been out there saying this stuff to conservative groups, every week, every day, for years, without ever being called to account for it. But those days are clearly over.

Coulter's being Spockoed courtesy of the Human Rights Campaign, which claims it's written 20,000 letters to seven newspapers carrying her column. So far this week, at least three of them have already dropped it; and HRC says they're not done yet. (Coulter claims that her column is carried by over 100 papers; but HRC's researchers could only find seven. The others may be too small to be picked up by Lexis-Nexis.) In a mailing to their members, HRC made it crystal clear what's at stake here:
"Coulter’s use of the demeaning and harmful word 'faggot' is so beyond the pale that anyone who uses it should not be given a platform as a respected voice in the political discourse of our country. ... The news media has a responsibility to not simply become an avenue that allows Ann Coulter the opportunity to broadcast her vile slurs."
Over at Street Prophets, commenter Vagrarian reports that the damage is spreading.
Major corporations are pulling ads from her website, including Verizon, AT&T, and Sallie Mae.

As of writing, four newspapers have dropped her column, finding her vicious personal attacks and over-the-top rhetoric unsuitable, unsavory, and unacceptable. The editor of the Times of Shreveport, LA, said, "This isn't some liberal vendetta. If it was, we would have dropped her long ago....she's simply worn a hole in the welcome mat."

The HRC has launched a protest.

And a cadre of conservative bloggers, including a number of gay Republicans, has issued an open letter to CPAC organizers, asking that she never be invited back to the event, and basically kicking her out of the conservative movement (as far as they're concerned).

Reportedly she's losing fans at a rapid rate; people are rejecting and repudiating her hate-filled rantings. Her career seems to be on the verge of a meltdown.

To which I say: Too bad. You reap what you sow.
(Curiously, some of these papers have said that they're on the lookout for another female conservative columnist to fill Coulter's size 11 stilettos on their pages. Paging Michelle Malkin...)

Shrill, dissonant, and increasingly playing false notes, the Mighty Wurlitzer -- which has belched out the right wing's gaseous chords day in and day out for a quarter of a century -- has finally begun to run out of hot air. Coulter and Savage are going down. O'Reilly's numbers are in free fall. Creating our own progressive media machine was the first phase of regaining control of the national conversation (and that work will be ongoing). But the second phase -- which is now beginning -- will see us using our power to re-draw the parameters of the national discourse, and re-define what is and is not acceptable political debate. Without the hatemongers and potty-mouths throwing tantrums that foreclose all adult conversation, we might finally get down to discussing the real obscenities -- poverty, global warming, Iraq, bad immigration policy, and all the other horrors this administration has left unaddressed.

It's predictable that, as their popularity starts to fade, the right-wing bloviators will attempt to regain their audiences by doing more of what made them so popular in the first place. Turning up the outrage -- and outrageousness -- always worked before. It'll work now (won't it?) if they just go out and push the dial all the way to 11.

And I say: let 'em bring it. They don't realize that the landscape has changed around them -- and that even their allies in management and the ad agencies have limited tolerance for bad behavior. Liberals understand eliminationist rhetoric now for the danger it is -- and we're learning where to push, and how, and who, to exact a severe career price from anyone who engages in it. The harder they turn it up, the faster we can get them gone.

Getting Spockoed. We're getting better at it. They better get used to it.

Update: Media Matters confirms that the headcount on HRC's spockoing campaign on Coulter is now up to five. They've assembled a full list of papers that carry Coulter's column, including e-mail addresses of their editors, for those of you who'd like to play along at home.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Kauffman's Rules: The Final Seven

by Sara

I've been on the road since Friday, and plagued by a lack of time and funky Internet access for most of that. But I seem to have found a quiet corner with reliable wifi, and some time to finish this mini-tutorial on thinking systemically and realistically about the situations we find ourselves in.

So here they are: Draper Kauffman's last seven rules on reality hacking:

21. Remember the Golden Mean. When people face a serious problem, they tend to overvalue anything that helps solve it. They mobilize their energies and fight hard to solve the problem, and often keep right on going after the problem is solved and the solution is becoming a new problem. When most children died before their tenth birthdays, a high birth rate was essential for survival and societies developed powerful ways to encourage people to have large families. When the death rate is reduced, a high birth rate becomes a liability, but all those strong cultural forces keep right on encouraging large families, and it can take generations for people's attitudes to change.

Like the man who eats himself to death as an adult because he was always hungry as a child, people tend to forget that too much of something can be as bad as too little. They assume that if more of something is good a lot more must be better--but it often isn't. The trick is to recognize these situations and try to swing the pendulum back to the middle whenever it swings toward either extreme.

What Kauffman is describing here is a feedback delay. Systems often fall apart because the feedback mechanisms that keep them within an optimal range don't return current information; or because there's a disconnect between the feedback mechanism and the rest of the system that keeps that information from being acted on in a timely way. Creating a feedback delay is one of the better ways there is to wreck a functioning system.

Unfortunately, one of the greatest weaknesses of democracy is that has a stronger structural tendency toward feedback delays than most other forms of government. In monarchies or oligarchies, you only have to convince a few people to take action; and once they're convinced, things happen. But in a republic, you have to convince everybody -- and they have to convince their representatives -- and that takes time.

A lot of us knew a decade ago that global warming was going to be a defining issue of our time. In this case, the feedback delays are killing us.

22. Beware the empty compromise. There are also times when the middle ground is worse than either extreme. There's an old, old fable about an ass who starved to death halfway between two bales of hay because it couldn't make up its mind which one to eat first. Sometimes you just have to choose, because a compromise won't work. The only way to tell is to examine the entire system carefully and try to anticipate what the results of different decisions will be.

Twenty-two rules in, it's still amazing to me how many of these rules W violated on his way to Iraq. (Which, I guess, proves that he doesn't listen to his cousins -- Draper Kauffman's mother was Prescott Bush's sister -- any more than he does the rest of us.) The road to Iraq was a succession of empty compromises; and the longer we're there, the more of them seem to crop up.

23. Don't be boiled frog. Some systems are designed so that they can react to any change that is larger than a certain amount, but they can't respond to changes that are below that threshold. For example, if a frog is put in a pan of hot water, he will jump right out. But if he is put in a pan, of cool water and the water is then gradually heated up, the frog will happily sit there and let itself be cooked. As long as the change is slow enough, it doesn't trigger a response. Sometimes a country can use this tactic to defeat an enemy in a patient series of small steps. Each step weakens the opponent a little bit, but is "not worth going to war over" until finally the victim is too weak to resist an attack. (These are sometimes called "salami-slicing tactics". "Divide and conquer" is another version of the same thing.) While a healthy system shouldn't overreact to small changes, it has to be able to identify and respond to a series of small changes that will bring disaster if allowed to continue.

Rule 19 said that loose systems are often a good thing, because they can adapt. But, sometimes, you can adapt yourself right out of existence…or at least a perfectly decent Constitution.

24. Watch out for thresholds. Most systems change pretty gradually. But some systems are designed to switch abruptly from one kind of behavior to a completely different kind. Sometimes this is a defense against the "boiled frog" problem. ("He's meek as a lamb until you push him too far. Then you'd better watch out!") In other cases, it's a way of avoiding "empty compromises" (#22). But most often it's because the system, or a subsystem of it, has exhausted its reserves for coping with some pressure on it. This can be disastrous if you are relying on a system that has seemed able to absorb a lot of abuse and it suddenly collapses as a result of something apparently trivial. Democracies, market economies, and natural ecosystems are all prone to behave in this way. They seem so sturdy that we can kick them around, interfere with subsystem after subsystem, increase the load more and more, and they will always bounce back. But we can never be sure which straw is going to break the camel's back.

Actually, if we're watching the right spots closely and interpreting feedback correctly, we can get a pretty good idea of just how close we are to loading that last straw. The trick, of course, is figuring out which spots are the right ones, and reading the feedback rightly.

25. Competition is often cooperation in disguise. A chess player may push himself to the limit in his desire to defeat his opponent, and yet be very upset if he finds out that his opponent deliberately let him win. What appears to be a fierce competition on one level is actually part of a larger system in which both players cooperate in a ritual that gives both of them pleasure. Not "doing your best" is a violation of that cooperative agreement. Similarly, the competitions between two lawyers in a courtroom is an essential part of a larger process in which lawyers, judge, and jury cooperate in a search for just answers. Businesses cooperate to keep the economy running efficiently by competing with each other in the marketplace. Political parties cooperate in running a democracy by competing with each other at the polls. And so on.

How do you tell cooperative competition from destructive competition? In cooperative competition, the opponents are willing to fight by the rules and accept the outcome of a fair contest, even if it goes against them.' One reason extremist or totalitarian movements are dangerous in a democracy is that they turn politics into destructive competition.

Kauffman wrote this upwards of 30 years ago -- but was prescient about the way in which the right wing has decimated our ability to engage with the right on the same field, under the same rules, for cooperative control of our government. They took their ball, went home, and came back with guns. And, at that moment, any possibility of democracy as usual vanished.

26. Bad boundaries make bad governments. Unlike most cities, St. Louis is not part of a larger county. St. Louis County surrounds the city and keeps it from expanding its city limits. As a result, the communities in the county have become parasites on the city, using the city's commercial and cultural resources but contributing nothing toward the cost of maintaining them. As long as there is a boundary that splits the metropolitan area in half, and no government with authority over the whole area, the county will keep getting richer and the city will keep getting poorer until urban decay completely destroys it. Similar boundary problems afflict states, nations, ecosystems, and economic regions. As a general rule, the system with responsibility for a problem should include the entire problem area; authority must be congruent with responsibility, or commons problem (#27) results.

The CFC/ozone hole problem was a major landmark in human history, because, for the first time, the boundary of both the problem and its solution transcended the boundaries of individual countries. We needed to mount a planet-wide response, and we did.

The fact that we successfully rose to this first-ever global challenge bodes well for our ability to deal with the other challenges that are now rising ahead of us. However, it also means that we're headed into a century in which we'll have extend the strength and reach of our international political, scientific, legal, and other institutions -- because they're the only ones with boundaries large enough to deal with the issues raised by economic globalization, global warming, rogue states, environmental refugeeism, and so on.

27. Beware the Tragedy of the Commons. A "commons" problem occurs when subsystems in a competitive relationship with each other are forced to act in ways that are destructive of the whole system. Usually, the source of the problem is the right of a subsystem to receive the whole benefit from using a resource while paying only a small part of the cost for it. The solution is either to divide the common resource up (not always possible) or limit access to it.

The only real solution to a commons problem is to form a government to regulate access to the shared resource. Much of the violence that the GOP has done to the American body politic over the past 30 years has resulted from the fact that the right wing a) does not recognize the concept of the commons in any way, shape or form (that's what all their talk about privatization is about -- eliminating any commons, anywhere); and b) does not recognize the legitimate right of government to regulate the commons that do exist. These people want to privatize our air and water, and sell it back to us for a price. For them, the only valid function of government is to protect the property rights that allow them to own things, and charge for access to them.

Of course, the Earth is reminding us that this is wrong-headed: nobody can possibly own the atmosphere and the oceans, unless we all do -- and manage them accordingly. It's coming clear now that our very survival depends on creating institutions that are big enough and credible enough to handle this job.

28. Foresight always wins in the long run. Solutions to problems affecting complex systems usually take time. If we wait until the problem develops and then react to it, there may not be time for a good solutions before a crisis point is reached. If we look ahead and anticipate a problem, however, we usually have more choices and a better chance of heading the problem off before it disrupts things. Reacting to problems means letting the system control us. Only by using foresight do we have a real chance to control the system; or: those who do not try to create the future they want must endure the future they get.

Unfortunately, in a democracy, it's very hard to summon the will for change until most of the voters are convinced change is needed. And, in most cases, that's not until they've already felt the brunt of a crisis -- by which point, any action will be strictly reactive, instead of preventative.

Sources: Although some of these guidelines are associated with particular people, it is impossible to trace most of the concepts back to specific originators with any confidence. Rules 1, 3, and 5 were either coined or popularized by Barry Commoner. Rules 2, 14, 16, and 27 are associated with Garrett Hardin. Number 4 is associated with Commoner and science fiction author Robert Heinlein, among others. Number 6 is an old idea, but the words apparently come from humorist Will Rogers. Number 7 is associated with Jay Forrester. Number 9 is also an old idea; it has been emphasized by Isaac Asimov, Paul Ehrlich, Hardin, Forrester, and Donella Meadows, among others. Number 15 is a quote from John Platt's book, The Step to Man. The Boulding quote in number 17 is from The Meaning of the 20th Century. Most of the rest are "in general use"--i.e., not especially associated with an originator or a popularizer. They have generally been paraphrased or re-stated for this list.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Coulter, the right, and gays

If nothing else, you have to admire Ann Coulter's tenaciousness -- one might call it psychotic denial, but hey -- in defending her recent ugliness at CPAC, wherein she displayed herself, once again, as the flaming bigot we've known her to be for some time now. My, how surprising.

But Coulter wants to assure us she isn't expressing any kind of anti-gay bigotry by using a well-known anti-gay slur. That's because, in real life, Coulter has a lot of gay friends, including Matt Drudge. So you could find her hiding out on Fox and vaguely backtracking while going on the attack, accusing liberals of engaging in Soviet-style thought control tactics in denouncing her use of the slur. Best of all, she tried to paint the slur as, well, not a slur, but a taunt, as though they were mutually exclusive:
"'Faggot' isn't offensive to gays; it has nothing to do with gays. It's a schoolyard taunt meaning 'wuss,' and unless you're telling me that John Edwards is gay, it was not applied to a gay person."

Pam Spaulding nailed this claim to the wall rather handily, noting that the word "faggot" makes a frequent appearance in the perpetration of hate crimes:
Again, this is less about Coulter than it is about the fact that she is a proponent of homophobia (and clearly schoolyard bullying) if she is going to spew it's a harmless word without a specific and well-known meaning.

People die, lose their jobs, are beaten and harassed because of homophobia. Is this what the GOP and the conservative movement stand for? That's fine with me, just don't try to pretend that's not what Coulter is saying.

Ah, but it's all just a joke, Pam. We've heard that before with Coulter.

Earlier, Coulter had actually tried to claim that the conservative movement is pro-gay by a bizarre misrepresentation of their position regarding crimes against gays:
Well, you know, screw you, I'm not anti-gay. We're against gay marriage. I don't want gays to be discriminated against. I mean, I think we have, in addition to blacks, I don't know why all gays aren't Republicans. I think we have the pro-gay position, which is anti-crime and for tax cuts. Gays make a lot of money, and they're victims of crime. I mean, the way -- no, they are. They should be with us. But the media portrays us.

Actually, the media tends to give conservatives a pass on their anti-gay bigotry by writing it off to "religious beliefs," as though such a thing could justify any kind of bigotry. It's not so easy when it comes to secular conservatives like Coulter, who have to make all kinds of bizarre contortions, such as this, to justify the actual record of movement conservatives when it comes to anti-gay crimes.

Lane Hudson saw some hope from this passage:
Hmmmm.....was that a tacit endorsement of including gays, lesbians, and transgenered folks in hate crimes law? I think it is!

So, the real story is that the right wing devil herself has endorsed pro-gay legislation. She may have even inadvertantly suggested that she was in favor of the Employment Nondiscrimation Act.

No, actually, I expect that Coulter will make the usual movement-conservative bleatings about hate-crime and antidiscrimination laws being about political correctness and shutting down opposing discourse (she has before), and therefore would not endorse a federal hate crimes law like the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act. But but but you see, in Coulterland, the GOP wants to get tough on enforcing the laws on the books, you see. That would benefit gays more than a hate-crimes statute.

Well, just for the record, let's recall that in fact the GOP has killed a federal hate-crimes law not once but three times in the past six years. And their reasons for it revolved around opposition to including sexual preference among the categories of bias crime:
That didn't matter. What mattered to Republicans was the freedom to bash gays.

Oh, we know they hide behind phony and nonsensical arguments like "all crimes are hate crimes" and "these laws create thought crimes." But let's get real about what's really happening here: These laws are not being passed because the Republican leadership -- including George W. Bush -- is determined not to allow any improvement in the laws for gays and lesbians.

The reality is that Republicans have established credibility with their base -- especially fundamentalist Christians -- by making emotional appeals to their "values"; this is, as many observers have noted, an essential element of their ability to persuade working-class people to vote for an agenda clearly at odds with their own self-interest. And, after abortion, attacking the "homosexual agenda" is easily the most prominent and flagrant of these "values."

Republicans also like to talk about the need to live up to the consequences of their actions. And one of the real consequences of the House's refusal to pass this legislation is that more hate crimes will occur.

Here's a reality check for Republicans:

-- We know, from FBI statistics, there are at least 8-9,000 hate crimes committed in this country every year.

-- We also know, however, from Justice Department studies, that these statistics are horribly unreliable because hate crimes are egregiously underreported every year.

-- The magnitude of the underreporting is substantial. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that the number of hate crimes in this country annually approaches closer to 40,000. That means roughly 30,000 hate crimes are going uninvestigated and unprosecuted every year.

-- What all of this underscores is the fact that, even though we passed a law in 1989 ordering the collection of hate-crime data, we still don't have firm handle on the scope and depth of the hate-crime problem nationally. And we won't until law enforcement at all levels -- particularly on the local level -- are adequately trained at identifying and investigating hate crimes.

-- The LLEA's main provisions, as its name suggests, are devoted to enhancing the ability of local police and prosecutors to obtain training in hate crimes.

-- However, it also expanded the federal categories of hate crimes to include a bias against gays and lesbians. For that reason alone, it was killed by the House leadership despite its broad support.

The end result: Tens of thousands of hate crimes that go unreported and uninvestigated, and no end in sight. This problem is especially acute among gays and lesbians, most particularly in rural areas, where their quite reasonable fears of being outed often prevent them from even reporting such crimes. And of course, those same rural areas are nearly uniformly Republican; the coalescence of attitudes with top-down political leadership is hardly accidental.

In other words, Republicans' actions directly make lives more miserable for gays and lesbians and their families, all of whom have to deal with the trauma and tragedy that inevitably results from the violence and intimidation that is the essence of hate crimes.

If Coulter were serious about protecting her gay friends from crime -- the kind of crime where such "schoolyard taunts" as "faggot" are accompanied by extraordinary levels of violence -- she would take a contrarian stand in favor of a hate-crimes law.

But of course, she never will.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the Young Turks' analysis.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sunday funnies

Max Blumenthal has been wandering the CPAC conference and videotaping, with some noteworthy results. Of course, he captures Ann Coulter's ugliness (as well as her inability to respond to a simple question about her hypocrisy regarding the "sanctity of marriage"). Some other highlights include the defensive reactions from Tancredo supporters to pointed questions about their efforts to defend white culture, followed by another Tancredo backer hurriedly hiding his Confederate flag lapel pin.

But my favorite is the opening sequence, wherein Max approaches Malkin with a request to sign a photo taken from the Manzanar Relocation Center.
Blumenthal: Hi, Michelle, I’m Max Blumenthal from The Nation. I love your book, In Defense of Internment, I was wondering, uh --

Malkin: Oh, I don’t think you did.

B. -- can you make this out, ‘To Max’?

M: I’m not going to sign that.

B: Why, what’s the problem?

M: I’m not going to sign that.

B: Well, why not?

M: [lifts head haughtily] I’m not signing.

[Points finger] Let me tell you something since you are filming this. I am all for honest intellectual debate. I have had extensive exchanges with critics of my book. I put up an errata page, I invited the major –

B: You had to put up an errata page?

M: Excuse me -- exactly! I did!

B: So you’ve made a lot of errors?

M: I’ve made a lot of errors and I’ve acknowledged several errors in my book. And I absolutely detest your initiative in trying to smear my work without even reading it, thank you very much.

[Walks away. Max follows her, trying to ask her a question about Jamilgate.]

M: I was wondering if you had learned any lessons, journalistically, from –-
[Malkin disappears into crowd.]

Also note how Malkin described the encounter on her own blog:
Interlude: Two punks from The Nation with a camera stopped by my book signing to ambush me about In Defense of Internment. Have they bothered to read the book? No. I look forward to their butchering of my comments and the predictable unhinged reaction.

Indeed. Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wagn'nagl fhtagn!

All I can add is a note regarding Malkin's claim that she eagerly addresses her serious critics: As one of Ms. Malkin's most persistent and still consistently polite critics, my several extended arguments (including the Afterword of a published book) regarding her work, and the shoddiness thereof, have never even been acknowledged by Malkin, let alone engaged.

Fearless, schmearless. Malkin runs when confronted with the very serious ramifications of her work. Always has, always will.