Saturday, September 15, 2007

Albion's Seed I: The Puritans 1620-1640

--by Sara

Though earlier groups tried to settle the Chesapeake several decades earlier (and failed, for reasons we'll see in the next post), the first group of English settlers to make a go of it were the Puritans, who came from East Anglia to settle up New England between 1620 and 1640.

From East Anglia to New England
The Puritans were middle-class Calvinist mercantilists in the Dutch Reformed model -- not surprisingly, since East Anglia looks directly across the Channel onto the Netherlands, and many of the Puritans had family and business ties there. Though they'd been comfortably settled in the region for generations, that all changed between 1630 and 1641, the "eleven years' tyranny" when Charles I tried to rule England without a Parliament. This led to economic and social chaos across England, which worsened in East Anglia when the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to deal with the upheaval by stepping up persecution of the region's Puritan heretics. During those 11 years alone, over 80,000 Puritans pulled up stakes and moved on. One-quarter of these eventually landed in the new Puritan colony of Massachusetts, safely beyond the reach of the Anglican menace.

Back home in East Anglia, they'd built tidy salt-box homes around green town commons. Everything about them -- their clothes, homes, and churches -- was unpretentious and practical, reflecting their Calvinist thrift and their love of simplicity and order. Their cuisine was the same stuff that gives English food a bad rep to this day: boiled everything, from mutton to cabbage to peas. (Peas porridge cold, nine days old was a common staple food. It's what's for breakfast.)

Happily, their new home on the rocky coasts of New England was very similar in terrain and climate to the one they'd left behind. They promptly re-created the same gabled villages, and set about their familiar trades: fishing, whaling, sailing, and trading. The Norfolk Whine became the Yankee twang; their peas porridge and stewed mutton turned into Boston baked beans and the New England boiled dinner; their simple, durable furniture is now a classic American style; and their plain-but-practical clothes are still sold today at Brooks Brothers and LL Bean. They may have left home; but, like the other three groups, they also brought a lot of it with them -- and we're all still living with it to this day.

Contractual Obligations
Along with these enduring customs and folkways, though, they also brought very definite (and equally enduring) ideas of family, community, and the social contract. At the heart of these ideas was a strong focus on mutual obligation -- an order based on expectation that people would fulfill their designated roles within the family and community, and derive their identity from their relationships to the larger whole. It's been said that Protestant guilt is all about duty. For that, we can thank the Puritans.

Women, though not remotely equal, had an easier time of it in New England than elsewhere. They were considered partners in their husband's businesses, explicitly entitled to love and respect, and legally protected from spousal abuse. Marriages were contractual agreements entered into after long courtships, and women had a lot of freedom to negotiate their side of these arrangements -- a right that prefigured the region's early embrace of feminism.

Relationships between the generations were also viewed as a covenant in which children were expected to hold up and be worthy of the family name; parents were expected to manage the family's resources so a legacy could be left; and elders were attended to with utmost respect. Because of these tightly-defined social roles and expectations, the Puritans had the highest literacy rates, the lowest divorce rates, and the lowest rates of out-of-wedlock childbirth (which was virtually unheard of, due to the brutal social sanctions against it) in the New World. On the literacy and divorce fronts, those figures hold steady in New England to this day.

In the Puritan view, children were born wicked, and raising them meant breaking their will until they were able to sublimate their own desires to those of the family and community. Elders were viewed as cherished saints, entitled by their wisdom to govern. In another holdover from East Anglia (the most literate region of England at the time), education was prized as both a cultural as well as a religious advantage. Unusually for the time, inheritances were typically divided in ways that ensured every child, male and female, got something.

Through it all, Puritans held up a high level of cooperation, kindness, and harmony as their familial ideal. Fischer describes the results as "a complex web of mutual obligation between husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants. The clarity of this contractual idea, the rigor of its enforcement and especially the urgency of its spiritual purpose, set the Puritans apart from other people -- even other Calvinists -- in the Western world."

For the Common Good
This idea of all relationships as contractual obligations extended into Puritan views of community and government, resulting in what Fischer calls "ordered liberty." Individuals could only have privileges. Rights belonged to institutions and governments -- and chief among them was the right of the institution to do what it must to maintain civil order and see to it that people met their responsibilities. While that attitude led to draconian excesses like witchburnings and shunnings, it also gave the Puritans a strong sense of obligation to take care of the weakest among them, and see to it that nobody went without.

The New England town meeting persists as a symbolic artifact of the unity with which Puritans tried to manage shared burdens. It's the physical expression of this idea that "freedom" rightly belongs to the entire community acting together. Individual liberties only exist in relationship to the duties and obligations people take on within the larger whole.

Economically and socially, the Puritans were as enamored of rank as any English of the era -- but they went well out of their way to eliminate English-style extremes of rich and poor. The distribution of property in East Anglia had been the most egalitarian in England, and they radically improved on this tradition by deliberately preventing both the highest and lowest classes of the English ranking system from taking hold in their colonies.

John Winthrop famously told would-be immigrants with titles leave them in England: there was no place for a separate aristocracy in his colony. Instead, the Puritans established a social hierarchy based on age and "usefulness" -- one in which each individual had to earn a place on his or her own merits. Even servants (called "help") were entitled to respect, and the lines between them and the higher orders were flexible and thin. (Fischer argues that African slavery wasn't economically viable, because the slaves proved exceptionally vulnerable to disease in New England's cold climate -- a historical truth that's since evolved into a convenient fiction explaining away the presence of African-Americans in many places since.) Puritan communities were willing to make investments in their poor (and kept intrusively close watch over them in return), because the whole community bore the costs and the shame when a household failed. To fund the common good, the Puritans taxed themselves more aggressively than any of the other groups -- another tradition that's carried on in New England to this day.

The sense of community obligation was so strong that it was over half a century before the Puritans even considered commissioning full-time law enforcement. However, those obligations were enforced by a level of institutional violence that's still the stuff of legend. Puritan judges were endlessly creative in their brutality, raising public torture and humiliation to a ritualized art form that later Americans, including the Founders, regarded as barbaric. And thus was order maintained -- with no sheriff required.

Ordered Liberty
Fischer notes that New England writers and oraters used the word "liberty" in four different senses, each of which still colors our current understanding of the word.

The first sense was communal liberty, which applied only to institutions and never to individuals. It was always spoken of as "the liberty of Boston," or "the liberty of America" -- the freedom of communities to rule themselves. This definition reinforced the idea that the needs of individuals must be subordinated to the needs of institutions, which have a superior right to impose their will.

The second usage referred to an individual's "liberties," which were specific privileges granted to a person by virtue of their station in life. One had the "liberty" to fish in the town's creek (a right denied to others); gentlemen had the "liberty" to avoid being whipped as a punishment for most infractions (a sentence which was often inflicted on the lower ranks). In this context, "liberty" was a class distinction: one person's "liberty" always came at the price of another person's restraint.

The third notion was "soul liberty" -- the freedom of both individuals and communities to serve God according to their own consciences. In the earliest days, of course, this meant the freedom to do exactly what the Calvinist preachers told you to do, other circumstances be damned -- and also the liberty to vigorously persecute anyone who didn't agree with you. But in time, "soul liberty" evolved to the more modern freedom of individual conscience that allowed their descendants to embrace the widest possible vision of religious liberty.

The fourth Puritan ideal of liberty was reflected in the Massachusetts Poor Laws, enacted shortly after the colony was founded. Later, Roosevelt articulated them clearly as the Four Freedoms: freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Under this definition, liberty meant the right to have one's basic needs met, and to live life with as much dignity as possible, regardless of one's means. A community that allowed people to starve on its watch was failing to hold up its end of the social contract -- and also failing in its duty to God.

The Puritan Legacy
As the country settled up, the Puritans' descendants tended to move out across the northern tier of the expanding country. Their footprint is particularly noticeable in the Pacific Northwest, where many New Englanders eventually migrated. The Puritan notion of "ordered liberty" still shapes the governing styles and social priorities of the coasts, large cities, and river valleys. (The inland areas are another story for another post.)

And Puritan ideals still crop up in our political conversations today, as well. When conservatives invoke "states' rights," the rights of capital, or the sovereign freedom of America to do as it likes, they are drawing on the Puritan concept of communal liberty -- the superior right of institutions against those of individuals. When economic royalists assert a greater right to do as they please -- helping themselves to what they want, and breaking laws that they think don't really apply to them -- they are exercising their "liberties" in the second sense, taking what the Puritans would have regarded as fair advantage of their well-earned (at least in their own minds) superior station.

And when either side charges the other with "political correctness," or "witchhunts," they're simply invoking those intrusive old Puritan judges who used the whip and the gallows to promote ideological conformity on behalf of "the common good."

But we liberals should be able to counter these preposterous claims, since we are the majority heirs to the Puritan legacy. When we assert our freedom of conscience in matters of religion or politics; the right to be heard in the public square; the need to flatten out the socioeconomic extremes in favor of the common good; or the essential dignity of the individual and our mutual responsibilities as a society, we're invoking the legacy of our Puritan ancestors, too.

It's ironic that New England and the areas its descendants pioneered are now America's liberal strongholds -- and, that those narrow-mined old prudes ended up spinning the warp threads on which much of American liberalism was eventually woven. But, given their enduring fondness for the common good, social harmony, sharing, and education, that slow shift may have been inevitable. The Puritans' cultural descendants are alive among us, and we hear their voices whenever anyone modestly and cogently reminds us that we exist within the context of the larger whole, and have obligations to each other that we cannot ignore if we are to survive.

Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America

-- by Sara

I don't know how this book got away from me for as long as it did. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by Brandeis history professor David Hackett Fischer has been on the shelves since the late 80s; yet, somehow, I missed it entirely until someone (I think it was Anne Lamott, but I can't find the link) mentioned it in a Salon article last winter.

I got it. I read it. It was one of those books that truly, deeply, rearranges the way you interpret the things that go on in this country. No one theory explains everything, of course: history, even more than science, is notoriously immune to all attempts at a Grand Unified Theory of Everything. But this book sheds a stunning amount of light on why America is the way it is -- and, especially, the way we are with each other when it comes to topics like racism, authority, values, liberty, power, and the boundaries of who we are as a people.

Getting at the whole thing is likely to take several posts, so this discussion is destined to become an informal series of weekend maunderings until we've talked it through. In the next few posts, I'll simply lay out the essence of Fischer's argument, which will be the starting point for a round of deeper discussions.

This is a big book, upwards of 900 pages (not including 100+ pages of source notes). But most of the book comprises scrupulously detailed documentation of what is, in essence, a very simple thesis.

When we think of early America, we think of "The British" in monolithic terms. The first English settlers are usually portrayed as a handful of adventurers, religionists, and opportunists from one small and rather homogeneous island nation -- bringers of a common-enough language, religion, and culture who worked together to create the basic cultural matrix into which every subsequent group of immigrants eventually had to fit. It turns out, though, that this is just another high-school textbook oversimplification -- one that deafens us to some very important historical machinery that's still grinding on noisily in almost every facet of American culture today.

"The British" who came to America may have been subjects of one crown; but Fischer's exhaustive sociological study shows that they were actually four separate groups, each radically different from the others in terms of class, culture, religion, values, and goals. They arrived in four separate waves, each of which originated in a different part of England and came to dominate a specific part of the Colonies. And in the differences between them, Fischer argues, you can hear the origins of the essential American discussion about liberty, power, rights, and values. It turns out that the very arguments we're having in the blogosphere today started long ago in Puritan town halls, Virginian drawing rooms, Quaker meetinghouses, and Appalachian hollows. Incredibly, the issues are the same; the values, priorities, and worldviews behind them have hardly changed; and even the cultural identities of the people doing the arguing are in many cases largely intact. It's not an exaggeration to say that these four groups are still duking it out wherever Americans gather to discuss their common fate to this day.

Before we get started, I'd like to speak to the apparent Anglocentricism of Fischer's thesis. Albion's Seed was intended to be the first of several books (which, sadly, have not yet materialized) studying the folkways of all the major ethnic groups that have contributed to the American blend. He had plans to discuss the contributions of the Native Americans, Africans, Germans, Scandinavians, Mexicans, Italians, Eastern Europeans, and so on -- which means he's quite clear that the English were not the end-all and be-all of American culture as it currently stands. No historian of Fischer's stature could (or would) ever deny that we've all left our marks.

However, the historical fact remains that the English were here first. And that simple primacy gave them the power all pioneers have to frame the national discussion, and establish the baseline society with which all later arrivals will have to negotiate if they're to find their place. Notably: many of them did this by casting their lost with one of the four existing English cultural groups. The Irish, Mexicans, and Native Americans joined up with the more tribal Borderers; the Germans and Scandinavians blended in seamlessly with the pietist Quakers; African-American freemen found a sort-of home among both the Puritans and Quakers. None of these arrangements were entirely smooth; but they did, over time, serve to reinforce and extend the four cultural patterns established by the English.

The next post sketches out the story of each of those four groups. Later posts will look at the way their beliefs and interactions continue to affect American politics and culture, and the implications of this for some of the specific questions we address in this blog.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Here come the bulldozers

[Ted getting his life together, post-9/11. Courtesy Washington Post.]

-- by Dave

So Harry Reid says he's going to block any nomination of Ted Olson as the new Attorney General.

But then, he also swore once that a bill to renew Bush's domestic-wiretapping program would never pass, either. Er, mebbe not.

And besides, George W. Bush isn't the kind of president who would take a vow like that as a warning. He'd take it as a challenge.

Which is why it's probably worth paying attention to the already-building campaign to push Olson through.

We got an early glimpse of it yesterday on Tucker Carlson's show -- featuring, as we predicted, Victoria Toensing, Ted and Barbara's old pal herself -- to do just that (video here):
CARLSON: So of all the people --and I don’t mean this against Ted Olson, who I think seems like a very smart, decent person -- but of all the nominees whose names you could float, potential nominees whose names you could float out there, his has got to be close to the top on the polarizing list among Democrats. Democrats don’t like him.

Why would the White House say this, that he’s under consideration?

TOENSING: Well, maybe the White House is getting really smart about who they would consider for attorney general.

Look, the next attorney general cannot have—cannot afford to have to spend time with legal training wheels. You can have one second where you have to learn who does what in which department at the Justice Department. And by good fortune, Ted Olson has that criteria, and in addition to being one of the best legal experts in our country.

I mean, I don’t know, if you remember it, but Ted was back in the Reagan Justice Department...


TOENSING: ... and then he was solicitor general on 9/11, and had to deal with all the issues as solicitor general that the new attorney general is going to have to deal with.

CARLSON: I think he’s a superior guy and I think he would be far better than Alberto Gonzales. Not that that’s saying much.


CARLSON: My only point is a political one. His name, because he was involved or perceived to be involved in anti-Hillary and Bill Clinton activities during the ‘90s, his name is one that resonates with almost all Democrats.

TOENSING: But, Tucker, we have gotten past that.


TOENSING: I mean, that was an issue—because I was working on his nomination for solicitor general—that was an issue then. But I think by now, there has to be some honest Democrats in the Senate who know that when Ted was solicitor general, he was a superb lawyer and he was not partisan. As a matter of fact, Senator Feingold praised Ted for his argument in McCain-Feingold—and oh by the way, Ted won the case, too, before the Supreme Court. So that makes—that may not endear him to many conservatives, but Feingold is one of the most liberal senators...

CARLSON: He certainly is. But Feingold is also I think, in contrast to a lot of the people on the Hill, a man of principle. Feingold goes against his own party when he disagrees with them...


TOENSING: You just need a few of those, you know.

CARLSON: So here is—I don’t know—here’s what some senators are saying. Harry Reid, the leader of Senate Democrats. “Ted Olson will not be confirmed,” he says. “He’s a partisan. The last thing we need is a partisan.”

Then you go over to the Republican side. Orrin Hatch. “I have been warned by a number of Democrats, they are not going to let that happen. The White House, if they put forward Olson’s nomination, don’t understand the people up here.” They’re rolling over already. I mean, if Orrin Hatch says, don’t do it...

TOENSING: Well, I mean, I’m not sure what Orrin Hatch could have said right after that, but you know, I’m going to be here to support Teddy, because I know how strongly Orrin backed Ted for solicitor general back in the 2000, 2001.

CARLSON: Does the White House want to fight on this, do you think?

TOENSING: I don’t know, you know. They’re not telling me whether they want to fight or not.

But here is one of the most important factors for Ted Olson, and that is, he really cares about the Justice Department, and the people who work there know that.

I mean, why else—why else would he even consider taking the position?


TOENSING: He’s just—he’s just gotten his life back in order. His wife was killed on 9/11, and he just married a wonderful woman, Lady Booth. He’s making more money than he would be making as attorney general in his private law practice. He doesn’t need his resume ticket punched, for goodness sakes.

The only reason he would consider taking this job is because he cares so much about the department and about the morale and about the reputation. Isn’t this what the Democrats want?

CARLSON: Then, why is the White House—I think you make a really strong argument. I just have seen this White House again and again kind of hang out its allies to dry here a little bit. Why would they float his name?

TOENSING: Well, they finally have an A-team—they have an A-team all put together there.


TOENSING: I mean, at the White House. With Ed Gillespie...

CARLSON: Right...

TOENSING: So finally, maybe they have people who are there who know that it’s important to get a good attorney general.

CARLSON: But just as a procedural matter, just quickly, they know—they have to know that you float Ted Olson’s name out there and people like Harry Reid are going to go bonkers, right?

TOENSING: Harry Reid is going to go bonkers over any Republican who is strong enough to be attorney general.

CARLSON: But why doesn’t someone from the White House go over to Harry Reid’s office, and in private say, here is the guy we’re thinking about, here is the case for him. You know, why float this on the AP wire, where Ted Olson is likely to get—certain to be criticized?

TOENSING: You have got to bring somebody—you bring Gillespie here to ask him that, but I’m just telling you, you couldn’t find a better candidate than Ted Olson. Who meets the criteria that I just talked about?

CARLSON: I don’t know.

TOENSING: No training wheels...

I wonder if Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats can see what's happening here. Olson's defenders are already building the theme -- which is already being picked up by the larger media in reporting on this -- that their opposition to Olson is purely a matter of partisanship. Of course the Democrats are lining up against him; they're only doing it for base political motives.

Never mind that Olson has a long history of giving misleading testimony and distorting facts, often and remorselessly enough to disqualify him as the nation's Attorney General. He's done it twice before Congress -- first in 1984, when covering up his own bad legal counsel for the Reagan White House in the Rita Lavelle scandal, and again before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2001 during his confirmation hearings as Solicitor General -- as well as before the Supreme Court. Why, apparently, that's all in the past now, since Olson lost his wife on 9/11 and has since has pulled his life together, as Toensing reminds us. Sniff.

Unless Democrats can figure out a way to change the perception about their reasons for opposing Olson, Harry Reid may be forced to watch another one of his promises get the BushCo bulldozer treatment.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ted Olson and the pushovers

-- by Dave

Why is it that foulmouthed left-wing bloggers seem to be the only people who have noticed that there's a peculiar set of political rules ruling the Beltway, particularly within media circles, these days?

Here's what we've noticed: For some reason, Democrats must be the model of decorum and civility and moderation and bipartisanship when it comes to governing; any deviance from this script brings on fainting spells and finger-wagging. Meanwhile Republicans can be as vicious and nasty and ruthless and nakedly partisan as they please, and their "toughness" is merely celebrated.

Just this morning, Sen. Patrick Leahy laid out in an L.A. Times op-ed what the Senate Judiciary Committee hoped to see from any forthcoming nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales as the nation's Attorney General. It's straightforward and thoughtful, largely in line with the bipartisan tone Democrats have adopted in making clear what they're hoping for from the White House in the wake of the mess over the firings of nine U.S. Attorneys that resulted in Gonzales' resignation. It concludes:
The president begins this process. Through his choice for attorney general, he can be a uniter or a divider. For the sake of the Department of Justice and its vital missions on behalf of the American people, this would be an excellent time to work with us to unite the nation.

"Work with us" has been the byword for Democrats on the nominee. But this same morning, a New York Times report gave us a clearer picture of the White House's idea of working with Democrats:
The White House is closing in on a nominee to replace Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, with former Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson considered one of the leading candidates, administration and Congressional officials said Tuesday.

Reports of Mr. Olson's candidacy suggested that President Bush, in choosing the third attorney general of his presidency, might defy calls from Democrats and choose another Republican who is considered a staunch partisan to lead the Justice Department. Mr. Gonzales is departing after being repeatedly accused of allowing political loyalties to blind him to independently enforcing the law.

"Clearly if you made a list of consensus nominees, Olson wouldn't appear on that list," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who led the Judiciary Committee effort to remove Mr. Gonzales. "My hope is that the White House would seek some kind of candidate who would be broadly acceptable."

Nominating Ted Olson is nothing short of a sharp stick in the eye to Democrats. Because they don't come any more partisan and power-grabbing and ruthless than Ted Olson. There isn't a more consummate Bush insider than Olson.

Olson's name was floated as a potential AG last March, when it first appeared that Gonzales was in trouble, and as I noted at the time, such a nomination would essentially be asking to replace Gonzales with Gonzales On Steroids, especially when it came to the executive-privilege claims the White House used to protect itself during the congressional investigations into the USA firings.

But then, as Tom Schaller observed at the time:
The GOP understands that real power has less to do with election results than legal maneuvering. In fact, conservative lawyers worked hard during the last decade to limit presidential power, before promptly reversing course after Mr. Bush won ...

And there's no one who understands this better than Ted Olson, who has a long and sordid legal career devoted largely to Nixonian manipulation of the law on behalf of Republicans. The classic example: Olson complained bitterly about the independent-counsel laws as being open to abuse when he was himself the subject of an IC investigation in the 1980s (a matter I explored in some detail for Salon). Yet in the 1990s, he was an ardent advocate of abusing the IC statutes in pursuit of President Clinton, as Joe Conason reported in some detail as well.

Those early years, as I reported, also raise considerable doubts about Olson's subsequent reputation for his superb legal acumen. His attempts to claim executive privilege for the Reagan White House -- which resulted in political disaster for Reagan -- were later described by a prominent Republican involved in the mess as "without a doubt the sloppiest piece of legal work I had seen in 20 years of being a lawyer."

Of course, much of the country remembers Olson as George W. Bush's advocate before the Supreme Court in the 2001 Florida election fight, wherein he also distorted and fabricated his way to one of the most dubious legal victories in history. When he was subsequently nominated to be the nation's Solicitor General, he once again distorted and misled his way through Senate confirmation hearings, effectively covering up his ugly partisan role in the Clinton witch hunt.

Subsequently during his tenure as SG (which ended in 2004) he played a key role as the White House's legal architect, and almost certainly was the brains behind its wide-ranging grab of executive powers:
Certainly in many other areas -- particularly the aggressive assertion of executive powers in setting up military tribunals and designating citizens "enemy combatants," as well as various surveillance powers under the so-called Patriot Acts -- the Bush White House has displayed all the signs of attempting to reacquire powers lost to the executive branch in the 1970s … a belated "Nixon's revenge," as it were. There is a high likelihood that Ted Olson has been one of the guiding lights in these acquisitions.

"Executive privilege" is especially an area near and dear to Olson's heart. And it is clear, from his record, that Olson believes such privilege should be nearly illimitable -- unless, of course, the president is a Democrat.

What his record especially suggests is that Olson may very well lead the Bush White House on a merry goose chase, attempting to extend executive privilege into areas where it was never intended, and where almost certainly legal mischief could turn up afoot. It has the makings of a real train wreck.

This is especially the case now, with a Roberts Court that likely would give this White House wide deference on such claims. With Olson in charge of the Justice Department, the White House would have a wide berth to pursue these executive-privilege claims with impunity.

Compare, if you will, Olson's track record with the criteria Leahy offers in his op-ed:
* Experience and sound judgment grounded in respect for the law and for the vibrant framework of checks and balances among co-equal branches of government.

* A proven track record of independence to ensure that he or she will act as a check on this administration's expansive claims of virtually unlimited executive power.

* The commitment and the personal attributes needed to regain credibility and the respect of the public, Congress and the Justice Department's workforce.

* A willingness to apply the law without fear or favor, without regard to partisan politics, and to stand up to the White House when necessary. The attorney general is the people's lawyer, not the president's.

* A commitment to restore vigilance and vitality to a civil rights division that has been run onto the rocks by misdirection and by shameful -- possibly even illegal -- efforts to replace dedicated career attorneys with applicants who were improperly hired for their political loyalty to the Bush administration.

* A respect for Congress' oversight role. At its best, the confirmation process can be a clarifying moment. It can also be a catalyst for resolving problems like the White House's refusal to provide witnesses and documents that are needed to answer questions about the U.S. attorneys scandal and the warrantless wiretapping program.

Now, there are many Republicans, good loyal conservatives, who would fit this description more than adequately. But if Olson really is the nominee -- and it's hard to say whether this is a mere trial balloon -- then it would be hard to envision someone who less meets the qualifications. On nearly every count, Olson fails, sometimes spectacularly.

We'll see if Olson is indeed the nominee; but even if he isn't, the fact that he's one of the favorites sends a message. The White House's response to Leahy and the Democrats is loud and clear, and one we've heard before: Go fuck yourselves. You want us to replace Gonzales, a reliable right-wing lackey? Fine; we'll give you a right-wing consigliere.

If Olson is nominated, watch for the Beltway media in the following days to briefly wring their hands about this rather naked poke in the eye but eventually come around to the conclusion that Bush's nomination is "bold" and represents his "resoluteness" or some such nonsense. Then the right-wing Wurlitzer will kick in and start reminding us what a swell fellow Ted Olson really is (I think you can hear Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing winding up their grinders even as we speak).

Compare this, if you will, to the mass tut-tut coming from the Beltway over's tough treatment of Gen. Petraeus for his report to Congress. And even more pointedly, it's worth noting Democrats' response to the assault -- namely, to cower and run from their own best advocates.

These, then, are the Bush Rules in action: Only Democrats have to be civil. "Bipartisanship" means acceding to the conservative agenda. And Republicans can be as vicious as they like, because then we'll just call it "toughness" or, if it's really ugly, "just a joke."

You'd think by now that Democrats would have figured out they're being played for patsies, that the calls for "civility" are just an obfuscatory demand for capitulation and a cover for the right to indulge in the lowest and meanest kind of discourse. But judging from the past week's events, it's clear they haven't.

So while I'd like to believe that Ted Olson finally will get the major public scrutiny he deserves -- particularly for his long history of misleading testimony before Congress, probably not a trait one would want in an Attorney General -- I'm also reminded that the last time Leahy and Co. had him in their sights, they wound up being outmaneuvered by Senate Republicans.

But then, they'll at least be applauded for their civility, won't they?

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

Death Wish

-- by Sara

It's no secret that the newspaper industry has fallen on very hard times. Their readership is ebbing as fast and visibly as the tide recedes before a tsunami -- quarter after quarter, there's less water underneath for them to stay afloat on, and everyone in the business knows there's a bigger disaster yet to come.

In the face of this, you'd think that they'd do everything they could to attract and hold those of us who are most likely to keep our subscriptions current: the educated, informed middle and professional classes who have a lively interest in the world, and enough income to be of interest to their advertisers. These days, "educated and informed" very often translates to centrist-to-progressive political leanings: the reason they call it "liberal education" is that the more of it you have, the more liberal you tend to become. Any paper wanting to stay in business in today's climate would get very tight these people, and do whatever it took to keep them on board.

One of the first things you'd do toward that goal is pack your op-ed page with a rich supply of centrist-to-progressive political opinion -- preferably balanced with a 50/50 mix of well-regarded, thoughtful conservative writers. (Jonah Goldberg does not qualify.) With all voices represented, the page projects a fairness that lends credibility to your entire paper. It sets up a real back-and-forth dialogue that leaves readers feeling well-informed, and gives them lots to talk to their friends about. And it keeps your other pack of can't-lose-'em readers -- the older folks who are lifelong newspaper readers, and who tend to be more conservative -- on the subscription lists as well.

What you would not do, on the other hand, is load up your op-ed page with a bunch of cranky conservative blowhards who make your paper sound exactly like everybody's angry old Uncle Louie after he's finished the first six-pack. (On the other hand, if you wanted to piss younger and middle-aged blue-chip readers off -- possibly badly enough to cancel their subscriptions for good -- that might be your first step.)

You'd think this would be a no-brainer. Evidently, it's not.

We can only assume that America's newspaper editors have a death wish, though. Because, it turns out, this is precisely what they've done. According to a comprehensive Media Matters study released yesterday, the vast majority of the country's papers have, in defiance of their own best interests, purged progressive and centrist columnists in overwhelming favor of conservative ones. "The results show that in paper after paper, state after state, region after region, conservative syndicated columnists get more space than their progressive counterparts," say the study's authors. "As Editor and Publisher paraphrased one syndicate executive noting, 'U.S. dailies run more conservative than liberal columns, but some are willing to consider liberal voices.'"

We knew long ago that we lost AM radio. But when it came to our daily paper, I suspect most of us were suffering in silence, figuring that it was just our own local rag that made our corn flakes settle with that familiar bilious burn every morning. (The Nexium people should pay royalties to Cal Thomas and Kathleen Parker.) Somewhere out there, other people were starting their day with bigger, better papers, which were no doubt more fairly balanced. Surely. It had to be.

Well, no. The summary of the Media Matters study makes it clear that newspaper editors across much of the country have written off the interests their liberal readership:
-- Sixty percent of the nation's daily newspapers print more conservative syndicated columnists every week than progressive syndicated columnists. Only 20 percent run more progressives than conservatives, while the remaining 20 percent are evenly balanced.

-- In a given week, nationally syndicated progressive columnists are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of 125 million. Conservative columnists, on the other hand, are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of more than 152 million.

-- The top 10 columnists as ranked by the number of papers in which they are carried include five conservatives, two centrists, and only three progressives.

-- The top 10 columnists as ranked by the total circulation of the papers in which they are published also include five conservatives, two centrists, and only three progressives.

-- In 38 states, the conservative voice is greater than the progressive voice -- in other words, conservative columns reach more readers in total than progressive columns. In only 12 states is the progressive voice greater than the conservative voice.

-- In three out of the four broad regions of the country -- the West, the South, and the Midwest -- conservative syndicated columnists reach more readers than progressive syndicated columnists. Only in the Northeast do progressives reach more readers, and only by a margin of 2 percent.

-- In eight of the nine divisions into which the U.S. Census Bureau divides the country, conservative syndicated columnists reach more readers than progressive syndicated columnists in any given week. Only in the Middle Atlantic division do progressive columnists reach more readers each week.
So, to recap: They eliminate progressive columnists, create op-ed pages that undermine their own credibility and alienate their most influential readers -- and then wonder and whine that their readership and revenue are tanking. Go figure.

Fortunately, out of all the media, local newspapers are easily the most responsive to consumer pressure. Compared to most things, fixing this particular inequity should be relatively quick and easy.

Local Democratic parties buy a lot of newspaper ads come election season (and small dailies rely heavily on this money). County leaders might meet with publishers, and tell them that if they don't start including Democratic-friendly views on their op-ed pages year-round, their election-season income is going to reflect that fact. (With off-year elections looming, this might be a good season in which to announce this.) Other progressive groups, like MoveOn, can point out that they represent X number of educated, affluent subscribers -- who will unsubscribe en masse if policies don't change. Progressive businesses can also call their sales reps, point out the discrepancy, and threaten to withhold their advertising until it changes. ("I don't want to support a paper that doesn't represent my views.") A coordinated push by a number of groups on several of these fronts can make a publisher see the writing on the wall in a matter of a few weeks. Get your netroots and liberal friends together this week, and you could be reading E.J. Dionne in your local gazette by Halloween.

We deserve to have op-ed pages that represent the full range of views present in the community. Liberals are no longer a minority in this country, not when 70% of Americans agree with our views on everything from the war to the environment to civil rights. It's time for our newspaper op-ed pages to reflect that fact -- for their own good, as well as ours.

And if they refuse to -- if publishers continue to choose their personal ideology over their mandate to serve their communities and their own economic self-interest -- then the laws of the free market dictate that they will die a mostly voluntary and entirely deserved death. Sic transit gloria mundi, and bring on the Internet news.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Another ugly race crime

-- by Dave

You all remember how Michelle Malkin led the wingnutosphere on one of its periodic torchbearing mob parties earlier this summer in whipping up racial angst over a particularly ugly black-on-white murder in which the victims were tortured and sexually assaulted. The mini-crusade was so successful that it became the talk of every neo-Nazi and white-supremacist site in the country (especially Stormfront) for the next couple of months.

What Malkin likes to use cases like this for -- as she has numerous other cases involving minorities harming whites, particularly when illegal immigrants (see the Adrienne Shelly case) and Muslims are involved -- is to establish, somehow, that these individual cases demonstrate something broader about the characteristics of the ethnic group to which the perpetrators belong. Namely, that they're innately criminal.

So I wonder if she'll even bother to mention this case (well, actually, I don't):
A black West Virginia woman was sexually assaulted, stabbed, and tortured while being held captive by her white abductors, one of whom told her, "That's what we do to niggers around here." The 23-year-old victim was freed Saturday after cops responded to the home of Frankie Brewster for a "welfare check on a female that was reportedly being held against her will." When cops arrived, Brewster claimed she was the only one home, but then the victim limped to the door and said, "Help me." According to six harrowing criminal complaints, the woman, who apparently had been held for more than a week, had four stab wounds in her left leg, bruised eyes, and had been repeatedly sexually assaulted and humiliated. The woman told police that she was forced to lick Brewster's "toes, vagina, and anal cavity." Brewster's son Bobby forced the woman to eat dog and rat feces, according to one complaint filed in Logan County Magistrate Court. The victim, who is now hospitalized, was raped at knifepoint, choked with a cable cord, and had her hair pulled and cut during the ordeal.

An Associated Press report has more details:
A woman who authorities said was sexually abused, beaten and stabbed while held captive for at least a week was repeatedly called a racial slur during the attacks, the victim's mother said.

Six people, all white, including a mother and son and a mother and daughter, have been arrested in connection with the alleged abduction of the 23-year-old black woman, sheriff's officials said Monday.

Authorities were still looking for two people they believe drove the woman to the home where she was abused, said Logan County Chief Deputy V.K. Dingess.

The FBI, which was asked by the sheriff's department to aid in the investigation, will look into whether a hate crime occurred.

The woman's abductors called her the N-word "every time they stabbed her," the woman's mother told The Charleston Gazette for a story published Tuesday.

The woman underwent surgery for leg wounds, Dingess told the paper.

Deputies found the woman Saturday after going to the home in Big Creek, about 35 miles southwest of Charleston, to investigate an anonymous tip.

One of the suspects, Frankie Brewster, was sitting on the front porch and told deputies she was alone, but moments later the woman limped toward the door, her arms outstretched, saying, "Help me," the sheriff's department said in a news release.

Besides being sexually assaulted, the woman had been stabbed four times in the left leg and beaten, Logan County sheriff's Sgt. Sonya Porter said. Her eyes were black and blue. The wounds were inflicted at least a week ago, deputies said.

During her capture, the woman was forced to eat rat and dog feces and drink from the toilet, according to the criminal complaint filed in magistrate court. She also had been choked with a cable cord and her hair was cut, it alleges.

"The things that were done to this woman are just indescribable," Porter said.

One of those arrested, Karen Burton, is accused of cutting the woman's ankle with a knife. She used the N-word in telling the woman she was victimized because she is black, according to the criminal complaint.

Deputies say the woman was also doused with hot water while being sexually assaulted.

"She wakes up in the middle of the night screaming, 'Mommy,"' the mother told the paper. "What's really bad is that we don't know everything they did to her. She is crying all the time."

Following Malkin's logic, I'd say it was time to start profiling poor white trash and think about locking them up in internment camps, wouldn't you?

Identifying the enemy

-- by Dave

Everywhere you turn, it seems, Republicans are repeating what's clearly going to be their main theme for the 2008 election: Democrats are traitors. They want us to lose in Iraq because they hate Bush so much they're willing to let the terrorists win. Next thing you know, Al Qaeda's gonna be blowing up the Peoria mall.

Something along those lines certainly was the message from Freddie Thompson in his interview with Fox's Sean Hannity the day after announcing his candidacy:
It really depends on which way you lean, Sean. If you’re committed against this war and to do something to further harm the president the way the Democrats seem to be in Congress, then anything that’s a mixed message is going to be seized upon in a negative way. But if you understand that this is part of a global conflict, and if we look weak and divided, and cannot get our own people together toward maximizing the advantages that we have – as we’re making progress in the Anbar province, and we’re making progress in getting some of these local tribal leaders, uh, going from the grassroots up, you might say, what we call it here in this country, and making some real progress on the ground, not necessarily in the capital, enough, but all over the country – if you can capitalize on that, you can really start to change things there. We’ve to take the opportunity to do that. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen. But if we look weak and divided in this country, we’re going to pay a heavy price for it in the future. We’re living in the era of the suitcase bomb, and they’re not going to go away. They’re here now, they’re armed and dangerous, and they’re trying to get weapons of mass destruction.

In an earlier interview with Hannity I saw replayed recently on Fox [still searching for the video], Thompson had gone even farther, saying that the Democrats in Congress were "dangerously close" to "rooting for our defeat" in Iraq.

As Dr. Denny at Scholars and Rogues points out, this is just flat-out fearmongering. It's also a gross distortion of the reality, to wit:

Republicans, both in the White House and Congress, are responsible for creating one of the most catastrophic military screwups in American history, largely through a toxic combination of incompetence, malfeasance, and mendacity. At this point, the actual grownups -- those who understand that the war in Iraq and our continued presence there makes us more vulnerable to future terrorist attack than if we remained, because it has exponentially fueled the underlying causes of terrorist recruitment -- are going to have to wrest control of the matter from them and begin seriously cleaning up the mess they've made.

Of course, Republicans don't want to hear such talk because it's not only the truth, but it makes clear that their looming removal from power is richly, even profoundly, deserved. Evidently their recourse is simple: Shout "traitor" and "stabbed in the back" long and loudly enough and maybe it'll stick. That has been largely their approach to liberal criticism of Gen. Petraeus's "stay the course" report to Congress.

The latest permutation of this meme is to identify liberals with terrorists. Thus we saw, after Osama bin Laden's recent video release, right-wing pundits from David Brooks to Fox News to even CNN's Kelli Arena comparing his remarks to those of a "left-wing blogger."

Of course, this kind of meme circulation starts at the top and works it way down to the rank and file. Thus here in the Northwest, we recently had a collection of College Republicans running a "humorous" contest at a fund-raising event identifying Democrats with terrorists.

Jim Camden at Spin Control, the Spokane Spokesman-Review's political blog, has the details:
The Washington State College Republicans held a demonstration Thursday on the Pullman campus to allow students to "Vote for Your Favorite Domestic Terrorist."

The choices were not Timothy McVeigh, Erik Rudolph and Ted Kaczynski, who have a pretty clear history of domestic terrorism, but a quartet of liberal public figures whom they don't much like: Jesse Jackson, Hillary Clinton, Michael Moore and Rosie O'Donnell.

The group billed it as a method of "poking fun at these figures," although a previous posting on Spin Control questioned the humor in it.

Asked how the group concluded that these four were candidates for "favorite domestic terrorist," CR President Daniel Schanze explained that all four have a history of making "anti-American remarks."

For example, Schanze said, Moore had the temerity to tell a German newspaper that Americans were "possibly the dumbest people on the planet."

... The others have said things that were condescending to their country or their countrymen, he added. "I think we were just responding equally."

Equating criticism with terrorism seems like a giant leap, even if the group was, as Schanze contends, just trying to inform the voters.

Reminded that domestic terrorism is a serious crime, Schanze seemed to backpedal. They never thought of it that way, he said. The title of the contest was just a come-on, sort of like the headline on a news story, he added.

But headlines are supposed to accurately reflect a story, just as this contest seems to accurately reflect the College Republicans' feelings about people who stray from their view of patriotism. Trying to judge which political opponent is the bigger domestic terrorist goes beyond Love It or Leave It to something akin to Love It or Go to Guantanamo.

The College Republicans were out on Terrell Mall for about four hours Thursday and had more than 150 students cast ballots. More than half marked their ballots for Clinton, with the rest going to Moore, O'Donnell and Jackson in that order.

As for the "humor" intended here, well, Camden probably said it all in his earlier post on this matter:
Used to be "poking fun" meant something between harmless joshing and a practical joke, not something between McCarthyism and accusing someone of a federal felony.

Even if this invidious talk gains traction, I'm hopeful that it won't be enough to overcome the public's anger at Republicans, at least in 2008. But its profoundly divisive long-term effects -- you know we're going to be hearing right-wingers explain away their disastrous rule in coming years this way -- is the kind of material on which fascist movements are built. And that's the real systemic danger that liberals are going to have to face down in the coming years as well.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Compassionate conservatism

-- by Dave

Spocko has yet another sample of the hateful rhetoric that continues to spew over the airways from San Francisco's KSFO-AM, home of right-wing shrieking harpy Melanie Morgan. This time it's from Morgan's sidekick, Lee Rodgers, talking on the anniversary of the Katrina disaster:
Last week while the rest of the country was wondering how the refugees from the Katrina flood were doing, Lee Rodgers of San Francisco radio station KSFO called them sniveling whiners and freeloaders and told them to shut the hell up and "Get off your butt and go to work." (audio link)

Rodgers: This two year pity party has gone on long enough and then some.

Rodgers: But two years later for God's sake people, solve your own bleeping problems, we're sick of hearing about you. And eh, and if you are sick and tired of the whining of the people in or from New Orleans about the government not doing enough for them and doing the rebuilding job for them. Maybe those people down there ought to stop their sniveling and whining and watch an example of self reliance right there in their own community. (audio link)

Rodgers: I don't wanna hear anymore of this crap from people in Louisiana saying "Gimmee, Gimmee, Gimmee." Shut the hell up. Solve your own problems. It's been two years, grow up. (audio link)

Melanie Morgan, the co-host, called New Orleans "a rathole " (excluding the French Quarter). Lee Rodgers call New Orleans a sewer.

Rodgers asks, "Is one hurricane supposed to be a permanent life long ticket on a bleeping gravy train? Come on!" (audio link)

Rodgers suggests that the displaced people, "Get the hell over it!"

Typical conservatives: After creating one of the greatest government foulups in history in both the immediate and the long-term responses to the Katrina disaster -- as the recent Campaign for America's Future report on the subject lays bare in some detail -- it's probably not surprising that they just want their victims to shut up and go away.
Two-years later, what has happened to better the plight of these African Americans? Practically nothing—as too much economic aid has made its way to contractors and developers instead of the people on the ground who need it most. The federal government immediately allocated $27 billion in emergency supplemental funding, an amount that has since risen to over $100 billion. But some of that money, for instance, has found its way to the builders of luxury condominiums near the University of Alabama football stadium—hundreds of miles inland.

Just how bad has it been? Rick Perlstein reports that it's "incompetence by a factor of five". And as Digby described in detail, the root cause of the administration's failure was its Rovean exploitation of every facet of government for political gain, and consistently at the expense of good governance.

No wonder their cheerleaders want us to just shut up. Next comes the hands over the ears and the "La la la la la la I can't hear you!"

Mostly, you have to be impressed with the deep feeling for the plight of their fellow Americans. Is this what they call compassionate conservatism?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Of whales and heritage

[Photo courtesy Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News]

-- by Dave

While I've never eaten any part of any whale myself, I've talked to people who have, including native people for whom whale meat is part of their traditional subsistence diet, as well as some Japanese consumers of the stuff. And the truth about gray-whale meat is that it tastes like shit. Almost literally, I'm told.

This could be because grays tend to get their food from the sea bottom, often close to shore amid the muck. In contrast, humpback whales -- whose meat is indeed considered remarkably tasty -- mostly eat some distance from shore, their diet consisting largely of krill (tiny shrimp) and small fish.

So one of the dirty little secrets of the Makah Tribes' successful 1999 hunt, when they managed to harpoon and eventually kill a gray whale and bring it back to shore for butchering, was that most of the animal (like one that had been accidentally killed a few years before) ended up in the local landfills. According to my sources, most people took a few bites, maybe served a few meals of the stuff, but hardly anyone actually ate their full share of the whale meat. Most folks stored it in their freezers, and then eventually tossed it out after awhile.

In other words, the hunt may have proved a point, but they also wasted that animal -- which, as far as I understand these things, is somewhat the antithesis of the "cultural traditions" the hunt was supposedly intended to revive.

Now it's happened again, after two rogue whaling boats harpooned and killed a migrating gray whale who happened to pass near shore yesterday morning; it wandered off and sank somewhere in the Pacific after authorities intervened. The hunt was neither permitted by the federal government nor was it sanctioned by the tribe. What seems to have happened is that some of the yahoo elements involved in pushing for a hunt decided they had a right to kill the whale even without such sanction -- and perhaps were trying to push the envelope in order to get some progress on their long-negotiated return to whaling.

Well, it's certainly true that the Makah Nation has a treaty right to hunt and kill whales. It's one of the very few American tribes that does. As I explored in my 1998 piece for Salon on the situation, the Makahs' whaling push is occurring at an unusual nexus of the fight over treaty rights and the desire of some nations to resume whaling as a commercial enterprise. But that doesn't mean any tribesman has the right to go out and kill himself a whale.

The tribes have pushed hard to go hunt another whale, but it's occurring in an environment in which scientists are increasingly concerned about the health of the eastern Pacific gray-whale population, whose numbers have been declining amid signs of malnutrition. Killing another gray whale at this juncture probably is an environmentally irresponsible thing to do in such a context, especially for a creature that only recently has climbed off the endangered-species list. (Humpbacks, which in fact were the Makahs' traditional whale-hunt object -- though grays apparently were harvested in lean years -- actually pass by Neah Bay much farther offshore and are still very much an endangered species, so hunting them is out of the question.)

Much of the push has come as advocacy for reviving the tribe's heritage as whalers, which seems a reasonable, even admirable enough objective: the evisceration of their heritage has played a significant role in the oppression of native peoples in America since they came into contact with whites. Reviving that heritage has been an important part of many tribes' efforts to combat the poverty and alchoholism that afflicts so many modern reservations.

And the resumption of a ritualistic tribal hunt did have at least some palliative effect on the tribe, as Robert Sullivan rather richly describes in his book about the 1999 incident, A Whale Hunt. To what extent it actually revived the tribe's cultural heritage, however, remains something of an open question.

As I noted in my 1998 piece:
Traditional Makah whalers -- who were chosen braves from a few select families -- underwent rigorous preparation for the hunt that included long steam-lodge sessions and enduring nettle treatments. But only a few of the modern Makah hunting group are partaking of such rigors; they were chosen mainly for their strength. Several enjoy party-animal reputations, guys in desperate need of something constructive to do -- but hardly the leading young men of the village.

There is a reason the old Makah hunters were considered so heroic: The hunts were extraordinarily dangerous, requiring the highest level of skills as canoeists and harpoonists. None of the current group of Makahs has displayed any of these skills. In fact, they are such poor canoeists that they plan to have the traditional cedar canoe towed by powerboat to the whale's vicinity -- at which point they plan to row out to meet the beast, armed with their paddles, harpoons ... and, of course, the traditional high-powered rifle that will perform the final dispatch.

The Makahs' defenders explain away their variance from original traditions as a necessary accommodation to modernity, saying that modern Makah have the same right to modern weaponry as anyone else. Be that as it may, it's also clear from descriptions of traditional hunts that the whole enterprise was bound up with an appreciation for, even a love of, the animal being hunted. Warrior purification, according to these accounts, was about making a man worthy of taking the life of such a great beast; and when a whale was caught, they believed it gave itself up to them as a gift to the tribe, and it was honored at the subsequent feast accordingly.

This was mostly lacking at the 1999 hunt, and it was strikingly absent from yesterday's whale killing. The perpetrators -- a number of men working in two boats -- did nothing to honor this whale when they shot and harpooned it. They just wasted it.

They may have believed they were standing up for their rights as Makah, but all they effectively did was demolish whatever moral high ground the tribe may have occupied by claiming the hunt was about their tribal heritage. It was a simple act of provocation and hooliganism, the kind of act that historically has always rebounded against native people.

What will happen, of course, is that this killing will play into the hands of the Makahs' many critics, including the execrable Paul Watson, who charged like a grandstanding bull into the china shop of the situation in 1998 and drove the tribes into a rigid defense of their right to kill a whale. And their decision to do so had much less to do with reviving their heritage than with defending their legal rights.

Because whatever one may say about reviving tribal heritage, those goals remain fuzzy and amorphous at best. The one really concrete aspect of any tribe's efforts to improve the daily lives of its people, however, lies within its treaty rights.

Treaty rights, which have the binding power of constitutional law, are the cornerstone of any tribe's economic and social well-being, as well as their ability to defend and restore their proud heritage. The environmental activists involved in the situation in 1998-99, when the sides were taking shape in this battle, focused on dismissing the tribes' cultural concerns while ignoring the very real matter of the Makahs' treaty rights -- and thus earned a fully deserved reputation on the reservation as arrogant and disrespectful.

The Makahs are not a wealthy tribe. Because they are stuck in the most remote corner of the lower 48 states -- driving to the reservation can be a real ordeal -- their ability to partake in the recent casino bonanza enjoyed by so many other of their fellow Northwest tribes is virtually nonexistent. (It must also be something of a blow to their traditional pride; the Makahs were a powerful and wealthy tribe, in no small part because of their superior skill as mariners, before the white man's arrival.)

And you can't help but see, when you drive around the reservation lands, that they are just as susceptible as anyone else to economic demands; over the past generation, they've allowed large tracts of their traditional forestlands to be utterly wiped out in clear-cutting operations that are noteworthy for their lack of sound conservation practices, but which no doubt have provided tribal members with some form of incomes. Tribal heritage is cheap talk compared to the need to put food in people's mouths.

Still, there is nothing good to be had from wasting animals, particularly not one so sentient and graceful as a gray whale. That alone should give tribal members pause, especially now that one has been wasted so wantonly.

There is middle ground to be had in this fight, but it requires the whales' advocates to acknowledge that the Makah treaty rights are the critical factor in this situation, as they are in the case of Inuit whale hunts as well (which seem not to draw the same kind of protest, mostly because those are true subsistence hunts). Those treaty rights are a real economic asset and not to be lightly dismissed.

And it will require the tribes recognizing that they live in a big world in which the killing of a great sentient beast like a whale sharply conflicts with the values of their neighbors.

Finding that middle ground, I suspect, will require coming up with a way to allow the Makahs to exercise their right to hunt, and to do so in a way that benefits them economically and socially -- but perhaps nonlethally for the whales. That, however, will also require coming up with real economic incentives to do so.

Whether the warring factions ever come to such terms is speculative at best, and under the current circumstances, it's unlikely. The death of this gray whale could become an opportunity for a change in the dialogue -- or it could become just another notch in the escalating conflict at our northwesternmost corner.

And as always, it seems that innocents, like unsuspecting migrating whales, are the victims of the crossfire.