Friday, July 13, 2007

The kabuki correction

-- by Dave

Every time I watch Bill O'Reilly's lame "correction" of his insanely misbegotten reportage about pistol-packing gangs of lesbians, it feels like I'm like watching an art form taking birth.

It's a form of the non-correction correction, a direct descendant of the non-apology apology. But it has a certain high-art quality, a gambit so outrageous you can't help but kind of stand back and admire it in frustration.

I mean, there was O'Reilly mouthing platitudes about how there was never any intent to demonize gays and lesbians (really? then what was the intent?) and conceding that "maybe we went a little too far" in suggesting that what they had found constituted some kind of ominous national trend. At the same time, he was adamant that "this was a legitimate story."

Well, no, it wasn't. Even the greenest J-school student would have examined the basis for the story -- an assault on a man in New York in which dubious assertions were made on all sides, a garbage piece of reporting at a Memphis station for which the station itself later issued a correction and an apology, and a report about 8th-grade bullying in Philadelphia that had nothing to do with gangs -- and concluded there was no "there" there. Had the student proceeded, an "F" would have been the outcome.

But not in the insane Bizarro Universe that is Fox News and, for that matter, the larger Beltway pundit class. In a normal world in which the standards of integrity and accuracy reigned supreme in journalism, O'Reilly long ago would have been recognized as a buffoon and laughed out of the business.

At the very least, a significant correction acknowledging every facet of the false reportage would be both broadcast and posted on the Fox News website and given prominent display. This is especially important, ethically speaking, in cases in which a minority group is exposed to demonization and ridicule as a result of the bad reportage.

Instead, what we get are scenes like this: the godlike media pundit, rather than concede that nearly every facet of a report he broadcast as credible was in fact a grotesque fantasy built out of whole cloth, conceding minor points but claiming general accuracy in spite of these "flaws." O'Reilly also claimed that Fox posted a correction on its website, but if it did so, it is difficult or impossible to locate. (I've searched the site thoroughly as well as Googled for the "correction" and have come up dry; if any readers can find it, I'd appreciate it.)

Moreover, in watching all this, I get a little shudder of deja vu mixed with a dread sense of prescience: We've seen this before. And you know what? We're gonna see it again.

We most recently saw this with CNN Lou Dobbs in his bizarre non-correction for his misbegotten reportage on disease and immigrants, including his confrontation with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Richard Cohen and Mark Potok.

The similarities are striking -- indeed, in observing these two prominent instances, along with a number of similar incidents over the years, it's clear that they have a distinct form, as though cut from an identical mold. Because of that, it's possible to actually distinguish these kinds of non-corrections from the standard fare, which typically constitute simply ignoring one's critics.

They appear, in fact to be an elaborate kabuki ritual, with certain steps, costumes, and bows required along the way:

-- The feint. This is the "correction" itself, such as it is. Typically this requires the pundit to suggest that some minor transgressions, none of which even potentially affected the overall thrust of the reportage, occurred.

-- The assurance. This involves the pundit assuring both his interlocutor and his audience that he is well-intended and decent, and therefore any minor errors that occur along the way are perforce inconsequential. (Typically delivered with a smarmy, thoroughly insincere sincerity.]

-- The defense. Here, the pundit produces some kind of half-fact, mischaracterization, or non-sequitur that serves to stake the claim that the overall thrust of the reportage is perfectly accurate, no matter to what extent it was built upon the foundation of errors or falsehoods previously admitted. Indeed, the more the reportage was built on those errors, the more ferocious the defense. This partr of the ritual is almost always delivered in a bullying, petulant, intimidating tone, which makes the previous smarminess all the more clearly phony.

-- The attack: The interlocutor is at this point accused of engaging in the same kind of error and smear tactics, forcing him to defend a point that has nothing to do with the pundit's own rotten journalism.

So far, most of these dance rituals also seem to include false claims of having run a normative correction of the original error; both Dobbs and O'Reilly mentioned such corrections in their "corrective" broadcasts for which no evidence of their actual publication appears to exist.

It's possible, thus, to construct a definition:
The kabuki correction: A non-correction by a member of the pundit class in which the pundit engages in an elaborate dance around the facts of his false reportage and never actually touches on those facts or even admits their existence, and winds up accusing his critics of bad-faith behavior in turn. The dance involves an acknowledgement only of lesser wrongdoing, typically involving a distortion of the original offense, accompanied by assurances of moral superiority on the part of the pundit, and finishes with a bullying turnabout in which the accuser becomes the accused. It usually is performed by a major pundit whose power within the media framework is such that their peers, as well as lesser media figures, are inclined to overlook the offense and accept the "correction" at face value.

The genuinely poisonous aspect of this behavior is in its gradual spread among the rest of the media. Once someone like O'Reilly or Dobbs performs this dance successfully, it becomes a model for the rest of the pundit class, as well as a kind of permission for running even the most outrageous nonsense as credible news.

Mainstream journalists love to pontificate about the lack of credibility of the blogosphere, constituted as it is of a pack of dirty fucking hippies with no ethics. But within their own ranks, this kind of journalistic rot is not only ignored, but condoned.

But this is the very reason the political blogosphere exists: because of ordinary citizens' growing outrage over the behavior of our supposedly "fair and balanced" media. And as long as the powerful pundits who hold the media megaphones are allowed to just dance their ways around any kind of accountability, to lie and smear without consequence, its importance and power will continue to grow.

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

Truth & Reconciliation, Part III: Living in An All-White Zone

--by Sara

I'm returning at last to the pile of notes from my week at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Portland at the end of June (so much to blog, so little time!). This post is the follow-on an earlier post on James Loewen, the author of Sundown Towns, who followed his first lecture with a workshop on how people from all-white neighborhoods can research the history of their own towns, and discover for themselves when and how sundowning happened.

Loewen's an eager evangelist for people who are interested in doing this research, since he believes that America will never fulfill its promise as a diverse and equal society until it starts coming to terms with its own past. And since this past is evident in the faces of every all-white community in America -- almost every one of which, Loewen asserts, is white by conscious individual and governmental choices that are now very sordid bits of long-forgotten history -- bringing these facts to light is a crucial part of the reconciliation process.

So, how do we get started? Between his two talks, Loewen offered some general thoughts on the ways racism still presents itself throughout our society, usually in ways so ingrained and subtle we hardly even see it. That's this post. After that, he provided specific research suggestions for people wanting to pursue the history of their own towns further. That'll be the next one.

Fresh Thinking On Discrimination
Loewen was emphatic that the first thing we need to do is get over the sense of paralysis so many of us feel. "We can't wait until we get ourselves right on race before we go do things. If we do, we'll never do anything." Loewen draws a clear distinction between prejudice, which is an attitude; and discrimination, which is prejudiced expressed in actions. We may not be able to eliminate our own internal prejudices; but there's a lot we can do to put an end to discriminatory actions -- once we're sensitized to them.

For example, Loewen challenged his audience to consider why they choose the neighborhoods they do. "If you live in an all-white neighborhood, you're part of the sundown problem," he said. If we want to live in a diverse, well-integrated society, that intention needs to be part of our housing choices.

For those selling a house in an all-white neighborhood, Loewen cautions that real estate and rental agents, employers, and others involved in the process of choosing homes have successfully perpetuated sundown neighborhoods by "steering" -- the practice of aiming whites to the "right" neighborhoods, and people of color to "other" neighborhoods. This process is also at work in the ways they market houses -- the media their ads appear in, for example. To change this, we need to ask our seller's agents pointed questions about how they intend to market our homes, to whom, and through what media. We need to make it explicitly clear that we're interested in attracting buyers from non-white groups. And those of us who are buying need to make it equally clear that we'd prefer to buy in a well-integrated neighborhood.

He also encouraged non-white members of the audience to consider buying houses in all-white neighborhoods, reminding us that "it only takes one black family to take a town off the list of sundown towns." And all of us, he said, should openly call into question the prestige that our culture still assigns to all-white neighborhoods. "Stigmatize them. They don't deserve that prestige. 'Greendale. Isn't that an all-white neighborhood? Why on earth would you want to live there?'" he laughed, wrinkling up his nose in distaste.

Next, Loewen held aloft a copy of the SkyMall catalog -- that ubiquitous rag stuffed in every pretzel-crumbed airline seatback pocket in the country. "This may be the most important catalog in the US today," he thundered with the dark zeal of an Old Testament patriarch, his white Amish beard adding to the effect.

Loewen told us he'd been collecting and tracking SkyMall catalogs for the past three years, collecting data on the first 100 photos in each issue that featured people's faces. And, excluding company presidents (who often figure in SkyMall ads), Loewen found exactly zero non-white faces in the catalog in all that time. "Just this month, I found the first ad with a colored face -- an African-American couple in a picture frame. That same issue also showed a young girl who may have been either Asian or Latina. But this is the first time I've seen this in three years...I think this is an outrage."

"What this says is that it's OK to do this," he continued, pointing out that most white people who look at SkyMall will utterly fail to notice that they're in an all-white media zone. Loewen readily grants that the publisher probably doesn't have racist motivations -- but, even so, it's producing racist results. This, he says, is the kind of thing we can productively be bugging airlines and catalog publishers about -- though he cautioned us not to expect results. In response to his complaint to US Airways, one of the airlines that carries SkyMall, he got a letter explaining that "the catalog could not be racist because US Airways has an anti-racist policy." The person writing the letter seemed to assume that "having a policy" automatically makes the entire company a racism-free zone, and thus absolved from any further action.

Taking the Fight Local
Loewen, who lives in Washington, DC, is also mightily annoyed at the name of the city's NFL team -- "The Washington Redskins." "This is a lingering part of a long-standing pattern," he said. "It's flatly indefensible." He pointed out that a handful of newspapers around the country, including the Portland Oregonian, won't refer to the team by that name in their pages. "It's just 'the Washington team.' We can ask our own local papers to adopt this same policy."

Likewise, we need to challenge companies that give economic support to sundown towns by moving operations into them. "Take Greenburg, Indiana," said Loewen. "Honda's building a plant there. You have to wonder: are they doing this because it's a sundown town? Or despite that? We need to be asking them questions like this. What are they doing about it? How does this affect their non-white employees? Will they be hiring non-white workers?" Companies will only start considering this as an important criterion when we start making it clear that we expect them to.

For some reason, Loewen notes, governments at all levels often site new prisons in sundown towns -- a practice that ensures that mostly-minority prison populations will be guarded by mostly-white guards. And, in too many of these cases, "every person on the staff is not just white, but white racist." As Dave has written elsewhere, prisons are already a major breeding ground for racism of all stripes throughout the country; putting them somewhere other than all-white towns and insisting on an integrated CO staff may be one way of making them far less fertile.

Finally, we need to hold the schools accountable for what they teach our kids. "History is the worst-taught subject in US schools," said Loewen (who should know: his previous bestseller was Lies My Teacher Told Me, which cataloged the inaccuracies routinely taught in American history classrooms). "There are more teachers in history classrooms teaching out-of-field than you find in any other subject -- especially in the South and the Midwest. In fact, a striking number of history teachers are sports coaches." The upshot, says Loewen, is that kids don't get the kind of in-depth history education they need to be effective citizens.

To remedy this, he says, "visit your local school and see how history is being taught. Review the books. Talk to the teachers. Find out what the kids are learning about both national and local racial history. What's being slid under the rug? How are our kids going to be smart about racism if their education slides the topic under the rug?" Rather than do this on our own, he says, this is a good project for a service group or a church committee, or simply an interested group of parents or citizens.

The real fun, though, according to Loewen, is getting down into your local history and finding out just how your neighborhood, town, or county came to be all-white in the first place. He gave very detailed directions for how to do this, which will be coming up in the next post.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pink Pistols: Ready, Fire, Aim

-- by Sara

The right wing has perfected the art of the great, fluffy, confectionary fantasy. They take one or two muddled factoids, add a generous gallon or two of their own scrambled preconceptions, whip it all up into an airy froth, then flash-bake in the heat of their rage until the thing inflates like a giant souffle -- which they then serve up to their media audience piping hot in the hopes that it will be completely consumed before it collapses.

The whole "lesbian gangs with pink pistols" silliness was a perfect example of this baker's art in action. At the remove of a few days, now that the whole thing has cooled into a sticky and embarrassing mess, I'd like to wind up our coverage of this with a look at the real-world facts that supported (and, ultimately, didn't support) Billoworld Baking's bizarre but fact-free confection of a story.

About those Lesbian Gangs
As those who've been following our coverage may remember, this story was cooked up by "Fox News Crime Analyst" Rod Wheeler, who got on Bill O'Reilly's show a couple weeks ago and raised the perfervid specter of 150 lesbian gangs roaming the Washington, D.C. area -- and God only knows how many in other cities -- packing pink pistols and raping girls in order to convert them to homosexuality. He further claimed that this was the beginning of a horrific national trend that O'Reilly's viewers needed to be aware of.

Boggled by this preposterous claim, our friends at the SPLC went to work almost immediately to nail down the facts regarding these "gangs." Late last week, they issued an Intelligence Report -- which, predictably, found that Wheeler's story was bogus in almost every detail:
Gaithersburg, Md., Detective Patrick Word, president of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Gang Investigators Network, an intelligence-sharing organization of 400 criminal justice professionals in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, said there is no evidence whatsoever of a lesbian gang epidemic in his region. "Our membership reports only one lesbian gang," Word told the Intelligence Report.

Sgt. Brett Parson, a member and former commander of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, also questioned Wheeler's numbers. "We have 150 to 175 total gangs in the D.C. area, and out of those only nine where the predominance of members are female," he said. "You simply can't make the jump that they are lesbians. I think it is fair to talk about violence and female gangs. But to sensationalize or marginalize a community by making a statement like that seems irresponsible."

Confronted by the Intelligence Report, Wheeler was unable, in several phone and E-mail exchanges over a two-day period, to specify a single law enforcement agency or officer, police report, media account or any other source he relied upon for his D.C. area lesbian gangs claim. But he insisted that his report was accurate and that any law enforcement officer who disagrees is "out of touch." "For some reason or other, these organizations don't lay it on the line because they don't know what is going on on the streets," said Wheeler. "This is a serious crisis and the so-called experts are missing it."

The only specific instance of actual violent lesbian gang activity that Wheeler cited on "The O'Reilly Factor" was a May 19 attack on a 15-year-old boy who was stabbed near a transit station in Prince George's County, Md. "And the police found out that it was a group of six women who identified themselves as being members of a lesbian gang that actually attacked this young man," Wheeler told O'Reilly.

According to a June 15 article in The Washington Post, however, two of the three individuals arrested in that assault were teenage males, though the article did note that, "Metro officials said the fight was between two gay and lesbian gangs that operate in Maryland."

An extensive Internet search seeking to verify O'Reilly's assertion in the introduction to Wheeler's interview that a lesbian gang called Dykes Taking Over is "terrorizing people" in Philadelphia turned up only one possible source. WCAU-TV, a local NBC affiliate in that city, reported in 2004 that a small group of 8th-grade girls at a West Philadelphia middle school were allegedly "bullying, groping and harassing" other girls in gym class with "gay remarks." The report made no mention of the 8th-graders using pink pistols or other weapons.

Similarly, O'Reilly's introductory mention of a Tennessee lesbian gang called Gays Taking Over that is "involved in raping young girls" appears to have been based solely on a highly dubious Feb. 28 television report from WPTY-TV, an ABC affiliate in Memphis, Tenn. Featuring dramatic "reenactments" of high school bathroom rape scenes shot in grainy black-and-white footage, the lengthy segment's vaguely salacious claims about local high school girls being raped and "sodomized" with "sex toys bought on the Internet" was based almost entirely on the lurid musings of a single Shelby County gang officer.

Titled "Violent Femmes," the sweeps-week segment was so thinly sourced and grotesquely sensationalized that it's difficult to believe that any professional journalist found it to be credible. And it wasn't. Under intense pressure from local gay and lesbian activists, the affiliate's station manager finally admitted that WPTY-TV's reporters had neither independently verified the gang officer's overheated claims nor obtained any documentary evidence such as arrest records or written police reports to substantiate their tale. As the station grudgingly conceded, "Our investigation did not turn up widespread violence in schools due to this."

The third case O'Reilly referenced, the assault on 29-year-old Wayne Buckle in New York City last August, did actually occur. Buckle was whipped with belts and stabbed by women who identified themselves as lesbians. But there is no evidence the women are members of a criminal gang, and O'Reilly failed to report that the attack was prompted, according to the New York Daily News, by Buckle spitting, cursing, and flicking a cigarette at the women after one of them rebuffed his sidewalk sexual advances.
It's obvious that Wheeler concocted his tale by connecting some very flimsy dots, and then tried valiantly to arrange them all into a picture that he could sell to O'Reilly's audience. And O'Reilly, ever on the lookout for a new outrage that will pander to his viewers' prejudices, jumped onto the bandwagon without a second thought or a moment's question.

We've asked it before, but really need to be asking it again: Why is this man still on the air?

About Pink Pistols -- The Group
Yes, there really is a group called the Pink Pistols. It's a gay shooting club with 46 chapters in 32 states. "I have no idea how many members we have," sighs spokesperson Gwen Patton. "Somewhere between seven and ten thousand. It's hard to know, because there are no dues and no membership forms. You're a member if you say you're a member."

Founded in 2000, Pink Pistols is one response to the very real threat of gay-bashing. Its chapters hold events at local gun ranges to teach GLBT members gun use and gun safety; helps members choose and purchase appropriate firearms; and walks them through the process of getting legal carry permits in places where they're available. Well aware of the deep conservatism of American gun culture, they also see themselves as ambassadors bridging the wide gap between the gun and gay communities.

According to Patton, this defensive knowledge has served quite a few of the group's members well. "One of our members stopped a home invasion -- she and her partner were "the gay couple in town," and this guy was just out of rehab and hit them because he thought they had money. She ended up shooting him in the neck. Another member -- this was before he joined Pink Pistols -- used a gun to protect himself from a bashing. Some guys followed him out of a bar, intent on doing some damage. He turned around and pulled out a .38. They said, "Holy shit, he's got a gun!" -- and ran off. And these aren't the only cases -- there are plenty more."

Patton is bemused by the fact that her group has suddenly found its way into the news, and can trace the origin of much of Wheeler's misinformation to articles that have been published over the past two months. She recalled the Dykes Taking Over article in the Philadelphia paper in June; and WPTY-TV's subsequent coverage. Not long after that, re notes, the Arcadia College newspaper did their own take. "That article talked about a group of girls who weren't a gang, but just sick of being picked on.," said Patton. "The article was also about the reactions of straight kids who don't like it that the gay kids are standing up for themselves."

Around the same time, Patton got word of an article in the National Observer that talked about a new marketing trend among some handgun manufacturers, who are trying to appeal to women by making guns with pink accessories. Patton found this so funny that "I did a quick member survey to see if anyone had bought one. Only one person answered the survey saying they had a pink gun -- but I think that may have been a goof."

"The National Observer article had one brief sentence at the end mentioning our group. What I think happened is that Mr. Wheeler grouped us all together, because he saw the name of our organization at the bottom of that article.

"And then I started getting phone calls -- first from Radar Online, saying Bill O'Reilly had had this guy on. I had to explain to the reporter that we're not criminals, we're a law-abiding group focused on self-defense, and we abhor this kind of thing."

Patton's generously charitable about Wheeler's mischaracterization of her group. "I don't think Mr. Wheeler was deliberately telling falsehoods. I think he was probably under deadline, got a little rushed, and misspoke. I give him the benefit of the doubt -- these things happen. He just got a little ahead of himself. And the fact that he belongs to a church in Maryland that's rabidly anti-gay has nothing at all to do with it."

Interestingly, stressed Patton: "At no time has Fox, Mr. O'Reilly's show, or Mr. Wheeler talked to us directly." She has made it clear, on her blog and elsewhere, that her group is still awating an apology.

About Pink Pistols -- The Guns
Like the Pink Pistols gay shooters, actual pink pistols do really exist. Patton has found two sources for them -- for anyone who wants one, which is apparently a very limited market. "The gun manufacturers do this to market to women," she says. "And it doesn't work."

There are persistent rumors that Glock makes a pink 9mm pistol. Like so much about this story, this isn't exactly accurate -- but it's not entirely wrong, either. The Glock 9mm is made with a number of ceramic components, which some third-party ceramics coating companies are customizing with colorful patterns. (One good example is here -- no pink guns, but it's quite obvious these people could readily produce one if asked.)

According to Patton, the Israeli manufacturer Bul recently made a pink pistol as well. "The lower part of the weapon is made of a fuschia-colored polymer. I know people who bought them as goofs, because they're such an ugly thing. Nobody wants to buy these." She noted that Charles Daly, a large gun distributor, liquidated the last of them at fire-sale prices -- and, due to their unpopularity, probably won't be making any more.

According to a 2003 press release, the Brady Center for Handgun Control is deeply concerned about the trend toward brightly-colored pistols, fearing that guns will be mistaken for toys by curious children.

Cleaning Up The Mess
This episode has probably put a bullet, so to speak, in Rod Wheeler's career as the "Fox News Crime Analyst." The SPLC report notes that Wheeler has made over 500 appearances on MSNBC, Court TV, and Fox. His personal website (which is now down) featured endorsements from Bill O'Reilly, who hailed Wheeler as "America's most recognized and trusted authority on crime analysis and law enforcement"; and Tony Snow, who beamed, "We turn to Rod Wheeler to help us better understand and solve some of these terrible crimes in America." Nice references for a guy who only spent seven years doing actual police work: the SPLC found a 1994 Washington Post article describing how Wheeler's career as a cop ended when a drug test turned up positive for marijuna. Wheeler still maintains that the samples were mixed up and that he was "exonerated." However, he also never returned to the force after that.

Somehow, I doubt we'll be turning to him much any more. All that remains at is one apologetic paragraph:
"During the O’Reilly Factor segment on June 21st, while engaged in a discussion on Lesbian gangs, I inadvertently stated that gang members carry pistols that are painted pink and call themselves the "Pink Pistol Packing Group." I was not referring to the gay rights group 'Pink Pistols' who advocates for the lawful rights of gays to carry weapons for protection. Further, I mentioned that there are "over 150 of these gangs" in the greater Washington DC area. What I actually meant is that there are over 150 gangs in the Washington DC area, some of which are in fact lesbian gangs. Lastly, I mentioned in the segment that there is this "national epidemic" of lesbian gangs. A better choice of words would have been to say that there is a growing concern nationally, and especially in major urban areas, of increased gang activity, which includes some lesbian gang activity.

I apologize for any misunderstanding this may have caused."
Let's give the final word to Rashad Robinson, the senior director of media programs for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) -- the man who went on the O'Reilly show last week to try to set things straight . From the SPLC report:
[Robinson] said that while he wasn't pleased to see the inflammatory "Violent Femmes" segment used as a source for a national television "report" on Fox News, "I wasn't startled."

"The sad truth is that sensationalized, undocumented, fear-driven reports about [gays and lesbians] preying on children are proven to be a ratings winner, and the station managers and news producers know that because they're reporting about gays and lesbians they don't have to be as concerned about backing up their sensationalism with actual facts and figures....The O'Reilly segment essentially reported a national epidemic of lesbian gangs preying on young girls without offering up one solid figure or one credible source. This type of reporting creates a climate of homophobia and fear and perpetuates dangerous stereotypes of gay people and definitely helps feed into a climate of anti-gay discrimination and violence, which is a true national epidemic, but not one you're likely to see reported with such zeal by Bill O'Reilly."

Update: Commenter A Hermit hops into the wayback machine (nothing ever really goes away on the Internet), and comes up with Wheeler's old endorsements page. Go look: it's a virtual rogue's gallery of people whose questionable "news judgment" is on full, incriminating display. (Rita Crosby calls Wheeler "the best homicide detective I've ever met." Wheeler worked homicide? Really? When? Boy, there's a claim I wouldn't take at face value...)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pink Pistols: A Second Shot

-- by Sara

Billo, God love him, wanted to make it right. Really. So he went to GLAAD and got a GBLT spokesperson -- Rashad Robinson, a black gay man with a Muslim name, just so nobody would fail to get the point about the kind of un-American types who dare to oppose him -- to come on the show and discuss how the pink-pistol lesbian story got so far off the rails.

Watch the "correction" turn into a pathetic attempt at self-vindication. Billo admits he got "a little carried away with that," but also assures us that he's "not afraid of the lesbians when I go out tonight." (News flash, Bill: They're not afraid of you, either.) But, as the film rolls on, it becomes more and more clear that he just can't accept any facts that might make him wrong. Robinson did a great job, and kept on pitching until the final second. But Billo, in the end, couldn't help himself. He just had to holler over him, rather that allow his guest to confuse the issue with actual facts.

If this is what passes as a "correction" in Billoworld, then the last doubt is gone: the "no-spin zone" was never anything but a "reality-free zone."

h/t to Watching Those We Chose.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Tancredo's traction

-- by Dave

Well, if you read the polling and the conventional wisdom, it's clear that Mitt Romney has just about sewn up the Iowa caucuses on the GOP side of the aisle. After Romney, apparently, because of the way John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have sunken from sight, it's wide open to the remaining field, including a number of second-tier candidates.

I wondered awhile back if Rep. Tom Tancredo, the most successful and prominent nativist since Millard Fillmore, might be the one to emerge from the pack and claim the "dark horse" role in the GOP race coming out of Iowa. Judging from the reportage by Mark Barabak in the Los Angeles Times this weekend, it seems as though he is indeed building momentum there:
A three-day Iowa swing, after the Senate bill's collapse last week, was a triumphal lap of sorts. But it was also a test: Would victory stoke the forces that helped kill the legislation? Or, Tancredo wondered, would followers say, "Geez, we've won the day. Let's go home now."

He needn't have worried. The people who burned up talk radio and filled the Internet with their fury, who blitzed the White House with their faxes and e-mails, who crashed the Senate switchboard with their indignant phone calls are still spitting mad.

"People want something done," said Al Manning, 50, the owner of a sandwich shop in Waterloo who drove more than 250 miles to hear the congressman speak twice over the weekend. "We need to stop the inflow of illegals, and we need to deal with the ones that are already in the country."

Those sentiments were echoed in numerous interviews at Tancredo campaign stops and a Des Moines presidential forum that drew hundreds of conservative activists. (Of the six candidates who spoke, Tancredo received the best reception, coming and going to standing ovations.)

This kind of reception is eerily reminiscent of Barry Goldwater's early campaigning in 1960 on behalf of the then-nascent conservative movement. As Rick Perlstein explained in his book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, these early appearances ignited an eventual brushfire that led to his actual nomination four years later.

Goldwater sparked audiences in large part because he was skilled at delivering the idea that complex problems could be answered with neat and simple solutions -- a gift that Ronald Reagan later perfected. Likewise with Tancredo:
Some look at the immigration issue and see a complicated and confounding tangle of interests and emotions. Not Tancredo.

"I have a solution," he told a Friday night crowd of about 100 at the Quality Inn in downtown Des Moines. "It's a radical one. Scary. Enormously controversial." Then he paused and spaced his words for effect. "It's called: Enforce ... the ... law."

Of course, these neat and simple solutions have the toxic problem of neatly and simply overlooking hard realities; Tancredo's notion that we can simply induce 12 million people to "go back" by drying up their ability to make money ignores several hard facts, notably:

-- The effort to "enforce the law" as it stands is certain to result in a broad range of atrocities, of which creating concentration camps for the detainees is only one. Even more important is that the effort will break families apart; we know it will do this because it's already happening now.

-- The economic effect of removing 12 million people from a workforce in which the unemployment rate is already only 4 percent, and dropping, is incalculable. But rest assured that if Tancredo were to have his way, there would be many more jobs lost by white people than would be gained.

Not that this -- or any amount of facts, logic, and reason -- is likely to persuade either Tancredo or the angry whites who are lining up to vote for him in rural places like Iowa. As I've previously noted, many of these rural areas are the same lily-white regions that deliberately drove out their black populations a century ago, and they've become accustomed to having all-white towns.

So rather predictably, a lot of Tancredo's support comes from people who obviously are concerned foremost with defending white privilege:
Iowa, which hosts the first contest of the 2008 presidential campaign, seems an unlikely source of agitation over illegal immigration. Latinos make up about 4% of the population. But that represents a significant increase: Since 1990, Iowa's Latino population has more than tripled.

Many Latino immigrants — legal and illegal — work in the meatpacking plants, transforming parts of rural Iowa into communities that could pass for neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Orange County or Phoenix.

"All over Iowa you see pockets of these changes and that makes people nervous," said Steve Grubbs, a GOP pollster and former chairman of the Iowa Republican Party.

Or as Goldford put it, "People say, 'I grew up in this town. Why do I see Spanish signs everywhere?' "

Crime and drug abuse are nothing new in rural Iowa. But the problem has become worse in some places, and that has fueled the immigration debate.

"I knew when they started coming here we were in for trouble," Diane Watson of Altoona said of the growing Latino population. She left California more than 30 years ago after seeing "what happens when they move in five and six families in one home."

A vote for Tancredo is one way for Watson to register her upset. He won her over with his tough-but-amiable talk at the Quality Inn. "I think he's an honest man," she said. "He wants to protect our country."

But Watson, 63, her pink sleeves pushed up to show an armful of charm bracelets, is ready to do more.

Toss a "big net" over any illegal immigrants you find, she said, and "shoot, I'll drive a busload of them back ... I mean, they're criminals."

Tancredo can talk out his ass all he likes about how he can just induce illegal immigrants to return of their own accord. His followers know the score: in the end, it's going to come down to making them "go back" forcibly. It's all very simple to them too: These people are criminals, though of course none of them would describe anyone who committed any other civil violation -- say, getting a speeding ticket -- that way. But the name of this game is demonization, after all.

Hell of a way to run for president. But if Millard Fillmore could do it, why not Tom Tancredo?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Getting It Right on Hate Crime

--by Sara

From Martha Deller at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Three men in jail over bomb at church

Three Burleson men who belong to a "radical Christian activist group" were in the Johnson County Jail on Friday night after a church deacon caught two of them attempting to ignite an explosive device on Independence Day at a church under construction in north Burleson, authorities said Friday.

Dayton Lee Calaway, 19, and Michael Philip Plaisted Jr., 18, were arrested Wednesday night near the Victory Family Church after they got bogged down in mud as a fleet-footed deacon chased them from the church in the 400 block of Northwest John Jones Drive, police said.

Two other people drove away, the deacon told officers.

An explosive device in a glass container was found propped against the church door. The suspects apparently tried to detonate the device twice before being interrupted by the deacon, police and Burleson Fire Marshal Stacy Singleton said.

As authorities were investigating at the church, they were notified of a fire on undeveloped land behind a north Burleson residential subdivision. A nearby resident reported seeing a vehicle drive away.

On Thursday, Jered Michael Ragon, 18, voluntarily went to the police station for questioning after Calaway and Plaisted implicated him, police Detective T. Catron said. Police called a MedStar ambulance because Ragon's feet were burned, and a emergency medical crew treated him at the station.

Ragon had gotten gasoline on his feet as he tried to destroy evidence from the church fire in the field, and his feet were burned, Catron said.

Calaway, Plaisted and Ragon face charges of arson at a place of worship, a first-degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, Singleton said.

They remained in the Johnson County Jail in Cleburne on Friday night with bail set at $30,000 each. Ragon also faces a charge of tampering with evidence; bail was set at $5,000.

The glass container from the church and evidence found in the field have been sent to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lab for analysis, Singleton said. The ATF and the U.S. attorney's office are reviewing the case to determine whether federal charges will be filed, he said.

Search warrants served Thursday night and Friday morning at Ragon's and Plaisted's homes uncovered evidence that was also sent to the ATF lab, police said.

Cmdr. Chris Havens, the Police Department spokesman, said the suspects boasted about belonging to a leaderless group of 10 or 15 who share a belief that society has become too focused on self-improvement and self-gratification and has lost focus on the glorification of God.

"They admit to being Christian and being brought up Christian, but they believe there should be one denomination and one church, not multiple denominations," Havens said.

"They did not say they had a name for their group, other than they were a radical Christian activist group. That was the way they explained their group," he said.

The suspects said the group has three levels of involvement: Bible study, consensual fighting and destructive acts. Because one of their beliefs is free thought, however, participation in all three levels is not mandatory, they told police.

The three admitted to being in a core group of seven that created the explosive weapon as a test to draw attention to the demise of society and to see whether the device would work, Havens said.

"They believe that the past generations have accumulated trash and are responsible for making younger generations clean up their mess," he said. "They're trying to make a statement and get society's attention regarding that."

That's why two of the men said they were involved in an earlier fire in a recycling bin at CentrePoint Church on Alsbury Road, Singleton said. That fire burned the materials in the bin but did not damage the church, he said.

None of the men has a criminal record, he said.

A fourth suspect, a juvenile, was not arrested because the others said he was not involved, Havens said.

Authorities are trying to learn the identities of the others in the core group, he said.

"We put them in the category of a domestic terrorist group," Havens said. "We hope to discover the names of other individuals involved and if other devices have been prepared along with any plans they may be talking about to further their cause."

Burleson police have no evidence to link the group to an arson fire and vandalism two weeks ago at the Bethesda Baptist Church of Saginaw, Singleton said.

"We don't have anything that leads us to believe they've been anywhere else right now," he said.

When fascism comes to America, this is precisely what it will look like: cults that incite violence, firebombed churches, the young men caught up in a noble cause; the emphasis on national purification; the hostility toward religions (even other Christian groups) that don't hew to their orthodoxy; the belief that the world is corrupt ("accumulated trash") and the only answer is eliminationist violence against those they believe are doing the devil's work.

And we cannot count on all of them to be this inept. The only mistake these guys made was not in testing their device somewhere more remote before inflicting it on their local churches. If they are connected to other groups, this event may simply be an additional point on an upward learning curve -- one mistake the next group won't make again.

On the plus side, the Burleson Police deserve all kinds of credit for doing everything right. It's heartening to know that there are police commanders, even in deepest Texas, who recognize domestic terrorism when they see it -- and are willing to put those words to it, flat out, in the media. The fact that they're also not immediately dismissing this as an "isolated incident," but looking for ties between this group and others (and this crime and others like it) shows a level of awareness of how these groups work that's been too often lacking in the handling of similar events.

And the fact that the crime itself -- arson against a place of worship -- is backed up by a serious law carrying stiff penalties demonstrates once again how important hate crimes laws are in protecting everyone's rights. The same laws that protect synagogues and mosques are now being brought to bear to defend the Victory Family Church and its members. These young men were trying to "send a message." Thanks to that law, Burleson has a potent means of responding with a message of its own: You do not speak for us, we do not support what you did, and anyone who does likewise had better be prepared to sacrifice a few decades of his life in return.

If more police departments continue to handle proto-fascist eruptions like this one with the same knowledgeable competence, it will go a long way toward keeping these small events from becoming the national norm.

Sunday Rant: Why Do People Hate America?

Ziauddin Sardar

-- by Sara

Glenn Greenwald has a perceptive take on the new Pew global polling data which shows steep declines in worldwide admiration of America through the Bush years. Greenwald notes that some bloggers attribute this to better information networks ("the pre-Internet era was not the Dark Ages," he counters) or post-Cold-War shifts in perception; or to our own hubris in believing in a fantasy of America The Good that nobody else really ever bought into.

But, says Greenwald, none of these is quite right. America's high standing in the postwar world was indeed real. And the reason it persisted for so long was simply this: "the good that the U.S. did in the world outweighed the bad." Nobody ever really thought we were flawless or blameless; but they did tend to trust our essential goodness of heart, and admire our foundational values. We could be stupid and thoughtless on an epic scale; but even then, the rest of the world usually understood that we were, somehow, trying to accomplish something worthwhile. And, though our blunders were many and sometimes catastrophic, it happened often enough that our initiatives really did make things better for our intended beneficiaries.

The discussion around Greenwald's post might be amplified with another perspective: that of British futurist Ziauddin Sardar, an orthodox British Muslim of Pakistani parentage who is one of the UK's more visible public intellectuals. In recent years, Sardar has made a career out of explaining the Muslim world to the Brits, mediating and translating between the Western and Near Eastern cultures on the pages of the Observer and The New Statesman and frequently on BBC news shows as well. (It's interesing that nowhere in the US media do we have a similarly trusted Muslim media figure who can help us bridge the most important cultural chasm of our times. Wonder why that is?) A iconoclastic outsider, Sardar is unsparing in his critiques of both cultures, issuing insights, warnings, and alternatives on either side that have made him indispensable to a European audience that increasingly sees itself caught in the middle.

In 2003, Sardar (with co-author Merryl Wynn Davies) wrote a small book called Why Do People Hate America?. It was a rampant bestseller across Europe, and did much to frame the popular argument overseas for the current resentment people feel for this country. In the book, he explains the animus behind the 9/11 attacks to a wondering Western world, accusing the US of four kinds of imperialism which he describes as existential, cosmological, ontological, and semantic.

Existentially, he says, "the US has simply made it too hard for other people to exist. In economic terms, this is a stark reality for the majority of the world's population…the US has structured the global economy to perpetually enrich itself and reduce non-Western societies to abject poverty." The good intentions Greewald invokes were, with increasing frequency over time, exposed as not much more than a mask for a new form of colonialization -- and recently-liberated former colonies didn't take long to react badly to that piece of the agenda. This disenchantment accelerated through the 90s, as those who once admired our commitment to human rights soured on us, and as globalization proceeded apace and "democracy" increasingly became a euphemism for policies that supported multinational corporations in their rape of the non-American world. On this front, American credibility abroad started tanking during the Reagan years, and has been in free fall ever since. Too many people have figured out that their very existence, as states and as individuals, continues only at our pleasure.

Cosmologically, Sardar argues, America has essentially taken on the role of global God. "America is seen as the prime cause of everything. Nothing seems to move without America's consent; nothing can be solved without America's involvement." By its sheer overweening omnipresence, says Sardar, America has colonized the future of the entire world. Taking over the role of all-seeing, all-knowing planetary power, it has infused the country's actions with an unbounded hubris that has, in turn, created fear and loathing everywhere else.

Of course, we don't see ourselves this way. To Americans, "freedom" means, more than anything, the freedom to choose the future that you desire, and enjoy every opportunity to pursue it. Our Founders recognized that this "pursuit of happiness" was a fundamental good, and an essential quality of a healthy democracy. The suggestion that we've effectively foreclosed that option to the citizens of most of the other countries on earth seems incredible on its face.

But, according to Sardar, this is indeed how the small nations of the world experience us. They want our money and support in order to advance. They desire access to our markets, and stable, durable democratic governments modeled after ours. There was a time when we gave such aid generously, in the name of global stability and keeping Communism at bay. Now, it comes with so many strings attached that to accept aid from the US (or its proxies, the IMF and WTO) is to put your nation and its future generations into economic and political bondage. Even worse: like the Russians, even if you decide you don't like our terms and don't want us in your country, if you've got something we want, you won't have much choice about whether or not we're there. And even if we do leave you alone, don't ever doubt that Big Brother is still watching your every move.

Again, this cosmological imperialism started taking off in the late 80s, and has accelerated to this day. Now, in most of the rest of the world, you can't do anything -- build a dam, feed your peasants, protect your collapsing environment -- if someone in the US has other ideas about what should happen. If you can't justify it in terms of American interests, forget about it.

Ontologically, Sardar points out that America's tendency to divide the world into "good" and "evil" -- while holding itself up as the sole defining exemplar of "good" -- only exacerbates the hypocrisy other nations perceive when the US commits grave wrongs or fails to live up to its own ideals. At the same time, this unwarranted belief in our own perfection gives Americans a tin ear for valid criticisms coming from other quarters.

As Greenwald notes, this wasn't always the case. The world has never been particularly blind to America's flaws; but as long as the good we did outweighed the bad, they were willing to give us the benefit of the doubt. Besides, for most of the postwar era, the choice was between us and the Soviets -- and most people knew whose side they preferred to be on.

Ironically, the Cold War forced us to be our best selves -- if only to play up the very real differences between Us and Them. Taking the high road, whenever possible, allowed us to burnish our image as the international Good Guys, and thus project our soft power around the world. And the desire to keep other nations close and retain our influence encouraged us to listen to them closely, and treat them like more like family -- as successful empires have always done with their member states.

But, when the Cold War ended, we lost all our incentive to Do The Right Thing. As the world's sole remaining superpower, it was too easy to start just doing what we wanted, and justifying it anyway we pleased. The "family" aspect of our empire turned abusive and ugly. And, since we were deep in the conservative phase of our own political cycle at the time, there was also no shortage of power-hungry social dominators standing ready to capitalize on this historic opportunity by seizing the levers of power and aiming the US toward a future based on their own fear, hubris, and greed -- and no strong progressive side to stop them. The Cold War enemy was gone; but the imperative to carve the world up into "good" and "evil" persisted. We have now chased the conservative movement's demons all the way around the world; and, as so often happens when people pursue their own shadows, we have become the thing we most despise in the process.

Fourth and finally, Sardar says, America insists on wielding semantic power to control the very definitions of words like democracy, justice, freedom, human rights, fundamentalism, a free press, terrorism, and so on. In doing this, it deprives other nations of the right to envision and develop their own indigenous versions of these concepts for themselves. They're only allowed to use these words as we define them. And, as a result, the very discourse of human rights, both here and abroad, has become very pinched and narrow.

We find it hard to accept that Muslim nations might develop their own forms of religious democracy that include the imams as a fourth branch of government -- and yet such democracies have existed in the Muslim world for 1500 years. We've developed a view of justice that privileges property and capital; in other parts of the world, justice may be defined in ways that privilege other values, such the health of the community or its common holdings, or the rights of future generations. Even liberal Americans can be rather fundamentalist in their insistence that these words have only one meaning -- our meaning -- and anyone else who doesn't share that precise definition is wrong. If we are going to have any kind of productive discourse about our global future, Sardar insists, we're going to have to let go of this semantic hegemony.

Furthermore, Sardar points out, when the US imposes its definitions of these concepts on other nations, the results are usually wildly inconsistent, varying according to pattern that can only be interpreted as opportunistic. To American leaders, "human rights" means one thing when heroic Chechen "freedom fighters" are struggling against Russia; and quite another when an important trading partner like China brutalizes its own people. The hypocrisy of these fluid definitions has done much to destroy other nations' trust in America's vaunted moral authority. Sardar believes that by seizing the power to define the way core human ideals are both envisioned and expressed, and then corrupting those definitions, America has deprived other countries of the epistemological means to name and claim their own futures.

Based on Sardar's observations, it seems clear to me that Greenwald is right. There was an American Age in which our nation was held in very high regard around the world, trusted and admired in spite of its obvious flaws. The above arguments -- Sardar's and mine -- make it clear that much of our loss of standing in the world can be traced to the end of the Cold War, and the directions in which the right wing of this country has steered us for its own purposes in the nearly two decades since.

It was one thing when our errors were well-meaning, and people knew they could trust our intentions. But after 1990, our underlying good motives became far less clear; and, at the same time, the errors began to appear far more deliberate and egregious. And from 2000 forward, as the Bush years rolled on into 9/11 and then Iraq, the world's other nations were forced to abandon the fantasy that the American people, as distinct from their leaders, were basically of good heart and could be trusted to do the right thing eventually. Electing Bush -- twice -- has only confirmed what they had increasingly suspected through the 90s: that the amoral quest for global power they were seeing from American-backed institutions-- both governmental and private -- was proceeding with the full sanction and blessing of the American people. At that point, all confidence vanished.

It's been all downhill ever since. And the worst part is this: Our decisive role in fighting World War II earned us a run of global goodwill that we coasted on for the next 50 years, even as our actual policies grew increasingly less peaceable and benign. And, on the flip side, the bad karma of our decisive role in Iraq (and in trashing Kyoto, and abandoning the International Criminal Court, and the fact that we now build Soviet-style gulags and torture people in them) is going to cling to us for the next 50 -- no matter what or how much we do to make up for it in the decades ahead.

Those who remember America The Good are passing, leaving the world in the hands of those who only have memories of America the Evil. Any PR person can tell you that a good reputation lost takes Herculean efforts to regain. Of all the battles that await us, this one may be the hardest -- and, realistically, it's one we probably shouldn't expect to win in our lifetimes.