Sunday, February 28, 2010

We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change


By Al Gore
The New York Times
February 28, 2010

It would be an enormous relief if the recent attacks on the science of global warming actually indicated that we do not face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it.

Of course, we would still need to deal with the national security risks of our growing dependence on a global oil market dominated by dwindling reserves in the most unstable region of the world, and the economic risks of sending hundreds of billions of dollars a year overseas in return for that oil. And we would still trail China in the race to develop smart grids, fast trains, solar power, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources of energy — the most important sources of new jobs in the 21st century.

But what a burden would be lifted! We would no longer have to worry that our grandchildren would one day look back on us as a criminal generation that had selfishly and blithely ignored clear warnings that their fate was in our hands. We could instead celebrate the naysayers who had doggedly persisted in proving that every major National Academy of Sciences report on climate change had simply made a huge mistake.
I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion. But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes in the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In fact, the crisis is still growing because we are continuing to dump 90 million tons of global-warming pollution every 24 hours into the atmosphere — as if it were an open sewer.

It is true that the climate panel published a flawed overestimate of the melting rate of debris-covered glaciers in the Himalayas, and used information about the Netherlands provided to it by the government, which was later found to be partly inaccurate. In addition, e-mail messages stolen from the University of East Anglia in Britain showed that scientists besieged by an onslaught of hostile, make-work demands from climate skeptics may not have adequately followed the requirements of the British freedom of information law.

But the scientific enterprise will never be completely free of mistakes. What is important is that the overwhelming consensus on global warming remains unchanged. It is also worth noting that the panel’s scientists — acting in good faith on the best information then available to them — probably underestimated the range of sea-level rise in this century, the speed with which the Arctic ice cap is disappearing and the speed with which some of the large glacial flows in Antarctica and Greenland are melting and racing to the sea.

Because these and other effects of global warming are distributed globally, they are difficult to identify and interpret in any particular location. For example, January was seen as unusually cold in much of the United States. Yet from a global perspective, it was the second-hottest January since surface temperatures were first measured 130 years ago.

Similarly, even though climate deniers have speciously argued for several years that there has been no warming in the last decade, scientists confirmed last month that the last 10 years were the hottest decade since modern records have been kept.

The heavy snowfalls this month have been used as fodder for ridicule by those who argue that global warming is a myth, yet scientists have long pointed out that warmer global temperatures have been increasing the rate of evaporation from the oceans, putting significantly more moisture into the atmosphere — thus causing heavier downfalls of both rain and snow in particular regions, including the Northeastern United States. Just as it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees, neither should we miss the climate for the snowstorm.

Here is what scientists have found is happening to our climate: man-made global-warming pollution traps heat from the sun and increases atmospheric temperatures. These pollutants — especially carbon dioxide — have been increasing rapidly with the growth in the burning of coal, oil, natural gas and forests, and temperatures have increased over the same period. Almost all of the ice-covered regions of the Earth are melting — and seas are rising. Hurricanes are predicted to grow stronger and more destructive, though their number is expected to decrease. Droughts are getting longer and deeper in many mid-continent regions, even as the severity of flooding increases. The seasonal predictability of rainfall and temperatures is being disrupted, posing serious threats to agriculture. The rate of species extinction is accelerating to dangerous levels.
Though there have been impressive efforts by many business leaders, hundreds of millions of individuals and families throughout the world and many national, regional and local governments, our civilization is still failing miserably to slow the rate at which these emissions are increasing — much less reduce them.

And in spite of President Obama’s efforts at the Copenhagen climate summit meeting in December, global leaders failed to muster anything more than a decision to “take note” of an intention to act.

Because the world still relies on leadership from the United States, the failure by the Senate to pass legislation intended to cap American emissions before the Copenhagen meeting guaranteed that the outcome would fall far short of even the minimum needed to build momentum toward a meaningful solution.

The political paralysis that is now so painfully evident in Washington has thus far prevented action by the Senate — not only on climate and energy legislation, but also on health care reform, financial regulatory reform and a host of other pressing issues.

This comes with painful costs. China, now the world’s largest and fastest-growing source of global-warming pollution, had privately signaled early last year that if the United States passed meaningful legislation, it would join in serious efforts to produce an effective treaty. When the Senate failed to follow the lead of the House of Representatives, forcing the president to go to Copenhagen without a new law in hand, the Chinese balked. With the two largest polluters refusing to act, the world community was paralyzed.

Some analysts attribute the failure to an inherent flaw in the design of the chosen solution — arguing that a cap-and-trade approach is too unwieldy and difficult to put in place. Moreover, these critics add, the financial crisis that began in 2008 shook the world’s confidence in the use of any market-based solution.
But there are two big problems with this critique: First, there is no readily apparent alternative that would be any easier politically. It is difficult to imagine a globally harmonized carbon tax or a coordinated multilateral regulatory effort. The flexibility of a global market-based policy — supplemented by regulation and revenue-neutral tax policies — is the option that has by far the best chance of success. The fact that it is extremely difficult does not mean that we should simply give up.

Second, we should have no illusions about the difficulty and the time needed to convince the rest of the world to adopt a completely new approach. The lags in the global climate system, including the buildup of heat in the oceans from which it is slowly reintroduced into the atmosphere, means that we can create conditions that make large and destructive consequences inevitable long before their awful manifestations become apparent: the displacement of hundreds of millions of climate refugees, civil unrest, chaos and the collapse of governance in many developing countries, large-scale crop failures and the spread of deadly diseases.
It’s important to point out that the United States is not alone in its inaction. Global political paralysis has thus far stymied work not only on climate, but on trade and other pressing issues that require coordinated international action.

The reasons for this are primarily economic. The globalization of the economy, coupled with the outsourcing of jobs from industrial countries, has simultaneously heightened fears of further job losses in the industrial world and encouraged rising expectations in emerging economies. The result? Heightened opposition, in both the industrial and developing worlds, to any constraints on the use of carbon-based fuels, which remain our principal source of energy.

The decisive victory of democratic capitalism over communism in the 1990s led to a period of philosophical dominance for market economics worldwide and the illusion of a unipolar world. It also led, in the United States, to a hubristic “bubble” of market fundamentalism that encouraged opponents of regulatory constraints to mount an aggressive effort to shift the internal boundary between the democracy sphere and the market sphere. Over time, markets would most efficiently solve most problems, they argued. Laws and regulations interfering with the operations of the market carried a faint odor of the discredited statist adversary we had just defeated.

This period of market triumphalism coincided with confirmation by scientists that earlier fears about global warming had been grossly understated. But by then, the political context in which this debate took form was tilted heavily toward the views of market fundamentalists, who fought to weaken existing constraints and scoffed at the possibility that global constraints would be needed to halt the dangerous dumping of global-warming pollution into the atmosphere.

Over the years, as the science has become clearer and clearer, some industries and companies whose business plans are dependent on unrestrained pollution of the atmospheric commons have become ever more entrenched. They are ferociously fighting against the mildest regulation — just as tobacco companies blocked constraints on the marketing of cigarettes for four decades after science confirmed the link of cigarettes to diseases of the lung and the heart.

Simultaneously, changes in America’s political system — including the replacement of newspapers and magazines by television as the dominant medium of communication — conferred powerful advantages on wealthy advocates of unrestrained markets and weakened advocates of legal and regulatory reforms. Some news media organizations now present showmen masquerading as political thinkers who package hatred and divisiveness as entertainment. And as in times past, that has proved to be a potent drug in the veins of the body politic. Their most consistent theme is to label as “socialist” any proposal to reform exploitive behavior in the marketplace.

From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption. After all has been said and so little done, the truth about the climate crisis — inconvenient as ever — must still be faced.

The pathway to success is still open, though it tracks the outer boundary of what we are capable of doing. It begins with a choice by the United States to pass a law establishing a cost for global warming pollution. The House of Representatives has already passed legislation, with some Republican support, to take the first halting steps for pricing greenhouse gas emissions.

Later this week, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman are expected to present for consideration similar cap-and-trade legislation.

I hope that it will place a true cap on carbon emissions and stimulate the rapid development of low-carbon sources of energy.

We have overcome existential threats before. Winston Churchill is widely quoted as having said, “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes, you must do what is required.” Now is that time. Public officials must rise to this challenge by doing what is required; and the public must demand that they do so — or must replace them.

Al Gore, the vice president from 1993 to 2001, is the founder of the Alliance for Climate Protection and the author of “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.” As a businessman, he is an investor in alternative energy companies.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Strange Days

Glenn Beck's authoritarian manifesto


By David Sirota

Let’s pause and give thanks to Glenn Beck.

No, seriously -- because that's what he's due.

We owe this talk-show-host-turned-political-leader gratitude for using his televised keynote address to the Conservative Political Action Conference to so frankly outline what the conservative movement has become -- and why it repulses so many Americans.

Coming days after an anti-tax terrorist kamikaze-attacked a government facility in Texas, and following Republicans like Sen. Scott Brown and Rep. Steve King expressing sympathy for that terrorist's grievances, Beck's homily stands as the moment's most forthright manifesto on the right's authoritarian objectives.

Beck began his speech posing as a libertarian against "big government." Notice that most Republican icons are now doing this, though not all resemble Beck -- not all of them previously pushed the big-government Patriot Act or the even-bigger-government bank bailout.

From there, Beck worked up a drenching sweat, criticizing Theodore Roosevelt's notion that we should make sure the accumulation of wealth is "honorably obtained" and "represents benefit to the community."

His porcine complexion verging on crimson, Beck called that concept of "community" a "cancer" that "is not our Founders' idea of America" -- somehow forgetting the notions of community and solidarity inherent in the Founders' "Join or Die" motto.

But ignorance, no matter how embarrassing, doesn't get in Beck's way. To wild applause, he labeled this alleged tumor of "community" the supposedly evil "progressivism" -- and he told disciples to "eradicate it" from the nation.

The lesson was eminently clear, coming in no less than the keynote address to one of America's most important political conventions. Beck taught us that a once-principled conservative movement of reasoned activists has turned into a mob -- one that does not engage in civilized battles of ideas. Instead, these torch-carriers, gun-brandishers and tea partiers follow an anti-government terrorist attack by cheering a demagogue's demand for the physical annihilation of those with whom he disagrees -- namely anyone, but particularly progressives, who value "community."

No doubt, some conservatives will parse, insisting Beck was only endorsing the "eradication" of progressivism but not of progressives. These same willful ignoramuses will also likely say that the Nazis' beef was with Judaism but not Jews, and that white supremacists dislike African-American culture but have no problem with black people.

Other conservatives will surely depict Beck's "eradication" line as just the jest of a self-described "rodeo clown" -- merely the "fusion of entertainment and enlightenment," as his radio motto intones. But if Beck is half as smart as he incessantly tells listeners he is, then he knows it's no joke.

In a melting-pot nation of slave descendants and immigrant refugees haunted by ancestral memories of despotic violence, Beck is deliberately employing coded and menacing language, warning his opponents not to believe Sinclair Lewis' refrain that such horror "can't happen here." Beck wants adversaries to know that it can and it will -- to them, and at his movement's hands.

Really, the threat isn't even veiled. To understand it, just ponder comparisons. For instance, ask yourself: What is the difference between Beck's decree and that of Rwanda's genocidal leaders in the 1990s? The former broadcasted a call to "eradicate" the "cancer"-like progressives; the latter a call to "exterminate the cockroaches." Likewise, what separates Beck's screed from a bin Laden fatwa? They may employ different ideologies and languages, but both endorse the wholesale elimination of large groups of Americans.

And so we finally see tyranny's hideous image within our midst: It’s not a tightly cropped mustache in a beige uniform; it’s a clean-shaven baby face in a suit -- a rodeo clown with a chalkboard who unfortunately speaks for modern-day conservatism.

We should thank him, at least, for admitting what his movement truly wants.
________________________________________________________
David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books "Hostile Takeover" and "The Uprising." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at OpenLeft.com. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.
© 2010 Creators.com

Thursday, February 25, 2010

When Democrats take power, paranoia blooms


Ignorant, frightened people are notoriously easy to fool. Enter Glenn Beck and a host of other fast-talkers

By Gene Lyons
Feb. 25, 2010

The first great rule followed by all American politicians and most journalists is to flatter the people about how smart and savvy they are. The reality, of course, is that much of the electorate is so poorly informed that it's a wonder our political system works as well as it does, which many think is hardly at all.

Last week, CNN released a poll showing that 86 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government is "broken." I admit my first reaction was to wonder subversively, "How would they know?" A contemporaneous Pew survey of the public's "political news IQ" showed that on one of the most heavily reported issues of 2009-10, only 32 percent knew that the Senate healthcare bill passed without a single Republican vote; 26 percent understood that a supermajority of 60 votes is required to break a GOP filibuster.

In short, they haven't got a clue.

"Democracy," H.L. Mencken wrote, "is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." Back in early 2003, with war fever against Iraq heating up, another survey showed that something like 19 percent of Americans could locate that nation on a world map. No wonder the Bush administration found it easy to persuade two-thirds of the population that Saddam Hussein masterminded the 9/11 attacks. He was the designated villain destined to confront Bruce Willis in hand-to-hand combat at the end of the movie, was he not?

Surveys like CNN's are basically marketing tools. To about half of the 86 percent, government is "broken" because their side lost the last election. To others, because somebody close to them lost his job. News networks promote the idea of "crisis" as a ratings builder. Otherwise, viewers might be tempted to watch basketball on ESPN -- where nobody pretends to take seriously the opinions of fans unfamiliar with zone versus man-to-man defenses.

Ignorant, frightened people are notoriously easy to fool. Manipulated by demagogues who assure them of their innocence and wisdom, in troubled times they're tempted by conspiracy theories and miracle cures. So it is with many citizens interviewed in New York Times reporter David Barstow's extraordinarily revealing article "Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right."

After months of attending meetings and interviewing tea party members across the country, Barstow describes a movement "led by political neophytes who prize independence and tell strikingly similar stories of having been awakened by the recession. Their families upended by lost jobs, foreclosed homes and depleted retirement funds, they said they wanted to know why it happened and whom to blame."

Enter Glenn Beck, the fervid Fox News talker oddly fixated upon President Woodrow Wilson, "an evil S.O.B." who gave us the "blatantly unconstitutional" income tax in 1913. Never mind that the law was specifically enabled by the 16th Amendment, enacted and ratified under Wilson's GOP predecessor, William Howard Taft. To the former drive-time DJ's enraptured listeners, it's evidence of a worldwide conspiracy against people like them.

Enter a host of fast-talking buncombe artists. "It is a sprawling rebellion," Barstow writes, "but running through it is a narrative of impending tyranny ... from the concern that the community organization Acorn is stealing elections to the belief that Mr. Obama is trying to control the Internet and restrict gun ownership.

"WorldNetDaily.com trumpets 'exclusives' reporting that the Army is seeking 'Internment/Resettlement' specialists. On ResistNet.com, bloggers warn that Mr. Obama is trying to convert Interpol, the international police organization, into his personal police force. They call on 'fellow Patriots' to 'grab their guns.'"

Some are mobilizing citizen militias behind a former Arizona sheriff who promises to save the nation from "utter despotism." Barstow interviewed earnest grandmothers who spoke melodramatically about giving their lives for their country. "Members of her family," one acknowledged, "think she has disappeared down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories."

Well, it's up to the poor woman's family to do an intervention, isn't it? What we have here is less a political than a community mental-health problem. We've seen it all before. Paranoia blooms whenever Democrats take power in Washington. Remember militiamen fearful of U.N. black helicopters during Bill Clinton's first term? Remember "backward masking"? Procter & Gamble accused of Satanism? Same thing. To an excitable minority, particularly in the South and intermountain West, apocalyptic fads are encoded in their religious DNA.

For the Obama administration, the best policy is steady as she goes. As Charles Mackay put it as long ago as 1841, "Men ... go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." As the economy gradually improves, Interpol cops fail to appear, guns aren't confiscated, the Internet percolates along and internment camps fail to materialize, most tea partiers will gravitate quietly back to TV evangelists and conservative Republicanism.

After all, these fantasies aren't the kinds of things anybody wants to talk about at work.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com.

© 2010, Gene Lyons. Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Paranoid States Of America

12-Year-Old Girl Arrested For Doodling A Week After 25 High Schoolers Arrested For Food Fight

File this under “Seriously Fucked Up”: While most of America has been hiding under the covers afraid they might have to confront the ghost of Joe Stack, shooing him away by pretending he was something else–”He was a Tea Bagger!”/”He was a liberal!”/”No he was a psychopath!”–anything to avoid seriously talking about how profound and how widely popular his suicide-dive-bombing was…here’s a story that’s a little easier to chew on. It comes to you live from Kiddie Land, where there’s a war on pitting thousands of police and the full force of the law Surging against pre-pubescent doodlers, food-throwers, and tardy students.
Earlier this month, at a New York junior high school, a 12-year-old girl named Alexa Gonzalez pulled out a green magic marker during class, and doodled, “I love my friends Abby and Faith.” The teacher sent her to the principle, who promptly called the “Zero Tolerance” police. The next thing Alexa knew, New York City’s finest burst into the principle’s office, pulled the girl’s arms behind her back, cuffed her, and frog-marched across the quad, so that all her fellow students and teachers could see her bawling her eyes out on her way to the police station. That’ll teach her.
Alexa is a much better person for it, as reported on CNN [1]:
“They put the handcuffs on me, and I couldn’t believe it,” Alexa recalled. “I didn’t want them to see me being handcuffed, thinking I’m a bad person.”Alexa Gonzalez missed three days of school because of her arrest.
She spent those days throwing up, and it was a challenge to catch up on her homework when she returned to school, she said. Her mother says she had never been in trouble before the doodling incident.
Throwing up and traumatized–sounds kind of like what you’d expect from a Guantanamo Bay inmate who’s not cooperating. But America isn’t in its most imaginative–or smart–mood these days, so I guess the thinking is, “Works well in Abu Ghraib, why fix somethin’ that ain’t broke.”
For New York City’s school system, that translates into Surging with an additional 5,000 truancy cops whose job is to root out doodlerists and truants and the like. Unfortunately, with all the budget problems, paying all those cops–poorly trained cops, I might add–means no money left for school counselors, who number just 3,000, or almost half the number of these new counter-doodling cops.

Alexa isn’t the first doodler-terrorist they’ve neutralized. In 2007, NYC cops arrested a 13-year-old girl, Chelsea Fraser, for doodling “Okay” on her desk. Within minutes, Operation Zero Tolerance swung into action:
Fraser was arrested at the Dyker Heights Intermediate School on March 30 along with three other male students. She says she was made to empty her pockets and take off her belt. Then she was handcuffed and led out of the school in front of her classmates and placed in the back of a police car.
“It was really embarrassing because some of the kids, they talk, and they’re going to label me as a bad kid. But I’m really not,” Fraser said. “I didn’t know writing ‘Okay’ would get me arrested.”
“All the kids were … watching these three boys and my daughter being marched out with four — they had four police officers — walking them out, handcuffed,” [her mother] Silva said. “She goes to me, ‘Mommy, these hurt!’”
[She was] taken to the 68th Precinct station house where Silva says they were separated for three hours. “My child is 13-years-old — doesn’t it stand that I’m supposed to be present for any questioning?” Silva said. “I’m watching my daughter, she’s handcuffed to the pole. I ask the officer has she been there the entire time? She says, ‘Yes.’”
The ACLU told CNN about several other doodling-arrests which they are now fighting with a class-action lawsuit. Almost as shocking is the story of a school teacher who was arrested while trying to help one of his students whom the teacher thought was being far too roughly handled. Police arrested the teacher and charged him with assault, although they later dropped those charges.
That’s fine for teachers. But kids can’t be shown any mercy, whether we’re talking about doodling, or food fights. A couple weeks ago in Chicago, police mass-arrested 25 students aged 11-15 following a school cafeteria food fight: [2]
More than two dozen students were slapped with criminal charges in connection with a food fight in the cafeteria at a Chicago charter school.
“The next thing you know I saw a tray fly up in the air, and then I saw an orange fly,” student Jordan Grevious said. ‘Then, I heard the words ‘food fight.’”
But instead of Animal House, these kids are facing the Hot House. And they know it:
They fear some of the kids will have a tough time getting a job or applying for college until their misdemeanor reckless-conduct charge disappears from their records. They’ll appear in court Nov. 30.
“These kids are going to have records for things that they potentially did not even do,” parent Monique Greene complained. “Twenty-seven children up here for a food fight.”
Even the innocent students will face lasting consequences. If the charges are dropped, juvenile records can’t be expunged until the accused becomes 17. Parents are worried this could affect future jobs and college applications.
It’s all part of a meatheaded Zero Tolerance campaign used to terrorize school kids all over the country, part of what’s making this country a meaner place to grow up in. Zero Tolerance doesn’t work, of course. The school shootings in middle-class schools still go on with clockwork regularity, fueled in part by the Zero Tolerance mentality.
Zero Tolerance is worse than a failure; it’s taking a bad situation and making worse, locking both students into what two studies are calling a “Schoolhouse-To-Jailhouse pipeline [3]“:
zero-tolerance policies “are derailing students from an academic track in schools to a future in the juvenile justice system”
this schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track has damaged a generation of children, particularly children of color, by criminalizing trivial offenses and pushing children out of the school system into the juvenile justice system and introducing prison-like secure environments, with drug-sniffing dogs, metal detectors and uniformed law enforcement personnel, thus turning schools into prisons.
And of course, if you feed more and more doodlers and tater-tot tossers into the prison pipeline, that means you produce more and more criminals; and if you create more criminals, well, you gotta do something about all those criminals hitting the streets. Which means: hiring more cops, and training them to attack and pacify any school that’s threatened–like this exercise recently held in Avoca, New York [4]:
Authorities say with school violence on the rise, being prepared for any situation is key.
On Friday, Steuben County law enforcement officers took part of a mock school shooting drill at Avoca High School. The purpose: in case of an emergency, local law enforcement officials in Steuben County want to make sure they are prepared.
“When we get there and have an active shooter we can’t wait for a SWAT team to come. We can’t. We have to go in then and have to know who is going in right or left and how we are going to contain the situation,” says Steuben County Sheriff Joel Ordway.
It’s so insanely counter-intuitive that it borders on black comedy. Or just bad comedy. But that’s how we like doin’ things ’round here these days. The more something fails, the more it will be favored–whether it’s a bank, a pundit, or a policy on doodling and food fights.
_______
About author
Mark Ames was founder and editor of The eXile, the notorious Moscow-based, English-language newspaper shuttered last year after a raid by Russian authorities. He is the author of two books: The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia (together with Matt Taibbi), and Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Glenn Beck is the new Abbie Hoffman



By Michael Lind
Feb. 23, 2010
 
Street theater. Communes. Manifestos. Denunciations of "the system." The counterculture is back. Only this time it's on the right.

Political factions that are out of power have a choice. They can form a counter-establishment or a counterculture. A counter-establishment (a term that Sidney Blumenthal used to describe the neoconservatives in the 1970s) seeks to return to power by reassuring voters that it is sober and responsible. A counter-establishment publishes policy papers and holds conferences and its members endure their exile in think tanks and universities.

In contrast, a counterculture refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the rules of the game that it has lost. Instead of moving toward the center, the counterculture heads for the fringes. Like a cult, it creates its own parallel reality, seceding from a corrupt and wicked society into morally and politically pure enclaves.

In response to the long era of Republican presidential hegemony that began with Nixon, many on the American left adopted the countercultural strategy. Some withdrew to raise rabbits and home-school their children in rural America. Other radicals on the left made pilgrimages in search of utopia to this or that illiberal communist dictatorship -- Mao's China, Cuba, Nicaragua.

Many devoured books by Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn, who taught them that Washington and Lincoln and FDR were all capitalist warmongers and that America was the greatest menace to world peace. They cheered on Jesse Jackson as he denounced an insufficiently multicultural curriculum at Stanford, with too many overrated dead white European males (DWEMs) like Aristotle and Dante and Shakespeare on the reading list, by chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!" Coming at a time when the right was becoming increasingly scholarly and policy-oriented, these antics by the countercultural left backfired by identifying liberalism with the lunatic fringe in the minds of many middle-of-the-road Americans. (It was its association with the countercultural left in the 1960s and '70s that made the word "liberal" so toxic that it has been dropped by the center-left for "progressive"; New Deal liberal programs like Social Security and Medicare remain popular with Republican and Democratic voters alike.)

As the hegemony of conservative politics deepened in the 1980s and '90s, others to the left of center rejected the counterculture and sought to assemble a progressive counter-establishment. This was the project of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and its leaders like Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. In retrospect they made too many philosophical and programmatic concessions to the reigning right of their time. But many groups to their left, like some environmentalist groups and critics of Pentagon spending, followed them in abandoning the moralistic tone of the counterculture and argued on the basis of facts and trade-offs.

Meanwhile, as counterculture was succeeded by counter-establishment to the left of center, the post-'80s right moved toward the fringes. Like T.H. White's Merlin, the American right is aging backward. What was a mature adult has regressed to a spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum. When he founded National Review in 1955, William F. Buckley Jr. said that conservatives wanted to stand athwart history and cry, "Stop!" The post-Buckley right has managed not only to stop history -- the history of conservatism -- but to run the reel backward.

When Buckley came on the scene in the mid-1950s, the American right was dominated by kooks: right-wing isolationists, Pearl Harbor and Yalta conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites and members of the John Birch Society like the palindromical y-named Professor Revilo P. Oliver. Buckley and his movement conservatives, and later the early neoconservatives, struggled to purge the right of crackpots and create an intellectually serious movement capable of governing the country.

And yet the right of 2010 looks like the fever-swamp right of 1950 instead of the triumphant right of 1980. The John Birch Society, which Buckley and Goldwater expelled from the conservative movement in the early 1960s, was a co-sponsor of this year's Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC). Folks who claimed that Eisenhower was a communist now insist that Obama is a socialist. (The conservative historian Russell Kirk had the wittiest put-down of the Birchers: "Eisenhower isn't a communist; he's a golfer.")

The tea partiers are the hippies of our time. True, they tend to be relatively affluent -- but so were the hippies. As Tony Hendra once told me, "You had to have a lot of money to take part in the Summer of Love."

Consider the following countercultural features of the emerging American right:

Anti-System Radicalism: Just as the New Left claimed that the New Deal era wasn't really liberal, so the countercultural right claims that the Republican Party from Nixon to George W. Bush wasn't really conservative. '60s radicals like Carl Oglesby denounced John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson as sinister "corporate liberals" in the same way that the radicals of the right claim that the two Bushes, if not the sainted Reagan, were inauthentic "big government conservatives." The radical left had Ralph Nader. The radical right has Ron Paul.

Luddism: A few decades ago it was the countercultural left that opposed science, technology and markets. Now mainstream environmentalists have arguably gone too far in adopting the market rhetoric of cap-and-trade. Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, today seeks to save the environment by means of nuclear power plants, genetically modified crops and urban living.

Nowadays anti-science, anti-technology Luddites are more likely to be found on the right, among opponents of stem-cell research and evolutionary biology. And while the exaggerations and cover-ups of some scientific proponents of global warming undermine the claim that science on this subject is settled, it is clear that many conservatives reflexively believe the opposite of what progressives say on this and other subjects. If Al Gore changed his mind and announced that global cooling was imminent, one suspects many on the countercultural right would immediately warn of rising global temperatures and flooded coastlines. A counterculture inverts not only the widely-shared values but also the agreed-upon facts of the dominant culture they despise.

Street Theater: The eclipse of the countercultural left by the countercultural right is evident in political protest as well. Carnivalesque protest is practically monopolized by the tea-party right in the age of Obama. In the U.S., at least, the street theater of antiwar and anti-World Bank activists cannot compete with the mass demonstrations of the tea partiers. The giant puppets of the left are out. Posters of Obama with a Hitler mustache are in.

Dropping Out: In a letter to other conservative activists in 1999, the late Paul Weyrich, the president of the Free Congress Foundation, called on the right to adopt an explicitly countercultural strategy. "I no longer believe that there is a moral majority," Weyrich wrote. "I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually shares our values."

Echoing the back-to-the-land hippies of the '60s and '70s left, Weyrich called on conservatives to secede from American society and form their own subcultural communities. "And while I'm not suggesting that we all become Amish or move to Idaho, I do think that we have to look at what we can do to separate ourselves from this hostile culture." Weyrich concluded by holding up the countercultural left as a model for the new countercultural right: "The radicals of the 1960s had three slogans: turn on, tune in, drop out. I suggest that we adopt a modified version."

During the freak show at CPAC, the crumbling old conservative establishment sought to prove that it's still relevant by calling for "constitutional conservatism" in its "Mount Vernon Statement." Signed by dignitaries of the old regime like Reagan's Attorney General Edwin Meese, the Mount Vernon Statement is less interesting for its content -- an attempt to reunite the libertarian, religious and foreign policy hawk wings of moribund "fusionist" or "movement" conservatism -- than for its dignified style and invocation of philosophical first principles.

The attempt of the Mount Vernon constitutional conservatives to re-create conservatism as a counter-establishment is almost certainly doomed. Meese and the other signers of the Mount Vernon Statement are to the tea party right what Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and other lions of New Deal liberalism were to Abbie Hoffmann's Yippies. Indeed, in Glenn Beck, the countercultural right has found its own Abbie Hoffmann. In both cases it is hard to distinguish sincere zealotry from self-promoting show business.

The rise of the conservative counterculture may provide the beleaguered Democrats with a stay of execution. A serious Republican counter-establishment, putting forth credible plans for addressing the nation's problems and determined to collaborate with the other party to govern the country in this crisis, would be a greater threat to the new, shaky Democratic establishment than the theatrics of the right's Summer of Love.

Or should it be called the Winter of Hate?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The GOP's "small government" tea party fraud


The GOP's "small government" tea party fraud
The core of the "tea party" movement and actual GOP policies are radically opposed

Glenn Greenwald
Feb. 21, 2010

There's a major political fraud underway:  the GOP is once against donning their libertarian, limited-government masks in order to re-invent itself and, more important, to co-opt the energy and passion of the Ron-Paul-faction that spawned and sustains the "tea party" movement.  The Party that spat contempt at Paul during the Bush years and was diametrically opposed to most of his platform now pretends to share his views.  Standard-issue Republicans and Ron Paul libertarians are as incompatible as two factions can be -- recall that the most celebrated right-wing moment of the 2008 presidential campaign was when Rudy Giuliani all but accused Paul of being an America-hating Terrorist-lover for daring to suggest that America's conduct might contribute to Islamic radicalism -- yet the Republicans, aided by the media, are pretending that this is one unified, harmonious, "small government" political movement.

The Right is petrified that this fraud will be exposed and is thus bending over backwards to sustain the myth.  Paul was not only invited to be a featured speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference but also won its presidential straw poll.  Sarah Palin endorsed Ron Paul's son in the Kentucky Senate race.  National Review is lavishly praising Paul, while Ann Coulter "felt compelled [in her CPAC speech] to give a shout out to Paul-mania, saying she agreed with everything he stands for outside of foreign policy -- a statement met with cheers."  Glenn Beck -- who literally cheered for the Wall Street bailout and Bush's endlessly expanding surveillance state -- now parades around as though he shares the libertarians' contempt for them.  Red State's Erick Erickson, defending the new so-called conservative "manifesto," touts the need for Congress to be confined to the express powers of Article I, Section 8, all while lauding a GOP Congress that supported countless intrusive laws -- from federalized restrictions on assisted suicide, marriage, gambling, abortion and drugs to intervention in Terri Schiavo's end-of-life state court proceeding -- nowhere to be found in that Constitutional clause.  With the GOP out of power, Fox News suddenly started featuring anti-government libertarians such as John Stossel and Reason Magazine commentators, whereas, when Bush was in power, there was no government power too expanded or limitless for Fox propagandists to praise.

This is what Republicans always do.  When in power, they massively expand the power of the state in every realm.  Deficit spending and the national debt skyrocket.  The National Security State is bloated beyond description through wars and occupations, while no limits are tolerated on the Surveillance State.  Then, when out of power, they suddenly pretend to re-discover their "small government principles."  The very same Republicans who spent the 1990s vehemently opposing Bill Clinton's Terrorism-justified attempts to expand government surveillance and executive authority then, once in power, presided over the largest expansion in history of those very same powers.  The last eight years of Republican rule was characterized by nothing other than endlessly expanded government power, even as they insisted -- both before they were empowered and again now -- that they are the standard-bearers of government restraint.

What makes this deceit particularly urgent for them now is that their only hope for re-branding and re-empowerment lies in a movement -- the tea partiers -- that has been (largely though not exclusively) dominated by libertarians, Paul followers, and other assorted idiosyncratic factions who are hostile to the GOP's actual approach to governing.  This is a huge wedge waiting to be exposed -- to explode -- as the modern GOP establishment and the actual "small-government" libertarians that fuel the tea party are fundamentally incompatible.  Right-wing mavens like Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin and National Review are suddenly feigning great respect for Ron Paul and like-minded activists because they're eager that the sham will be maintained:  the blatant sham that the modern GOP and its movement conservatives are a coherent vehicle for those who believe in small government principles.  The only evidence of a passionate movement urging GOP resurgence is from people whose views are antithetical to that Party.  That's the dirty secret which right-wing polemicists are desperately trying to keep suppressed. Credit to Mike Huckabee for acknowledging this core incompatibility by saying he would not attend CPAC because of its "increasing libertarianism."

These fault lines began to emerge when Sarah Palin earlier this month delivered the keynote speech to the national tea party conference in Memphis, and stood there spitting out one platitude after the next which Paul-led libertarians despise:  from neoconservative war-loving dogma and veneration of Israel to glorification of "War on Terror" domestic powers and the need of the state to enforce Palin's own religious and cultural values.  Neocons (who still overwhelmingly dominate the GOP) and Paul-led libertarians are arch enemies, and the social conservatives on whom the GOP depends are barely viewed with greater affection.  Sarah Palin and Ron Paul are about as far apart on most issues as one can get; the "tea party movement" can't possibly be about supporting each of their worldviews.  Moreover, the GOP leadership is currently promising Wall Street even more loyal subservience than Democrats have given in exchange for support, thus bolstering the government/corporate axis which libertarians find so repugnant.  And Coulter's manipulative claim that she "agrees with everything [Paul] stands for outside of foreign policy" is laughable; aside from the fact that "foreign policy" is a rather large issue in our political debates (Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia), they were on exactly the opposite sides of the most intense domestic controversies of the Bush era:  torture, military commissions, habeas corpus, Guantanamo, CIA secrecy, telecom immunity, and warrantless eavesdropping.

Part of why this fraud has been sustainable thus far is that libertarians -- like everyone who doesn't view all politics through the mandated, distorting, suffocating Democrat v. GOP prism -- are typically dismissed as loons and nuts, and are thus eager for any means of achieving mainstream acceptance.  Having the GOP embrace them is one way to achieve that (Karl Rove:  some "see the tea party movement as a recruiting pool for volunteers for Ron Paul's next presidential bid . . . . The Republican Party and the tea party movement have many common interests").  Additionally, just as the Paul-faction of libertarians is in basic harmony with many progressives on issues of foreign policy and civil liberties, they do subscribe to the standard GOP rhetoric on domestic spending, social programs and the like.

But that GOP limited government rhetoric is simply never matched by that Party's conduct, especially when they wield power.   The very idea that a political party dominated by neocons, warmongers, surveillance fetishists, and privacy-hating social conservatives will be a party of "limited government" is absurd on its face.  There literally is no myth more transparent than the Republican Party's claim to believe in restrained government power.  For that reason, it's only a matter of time before the fundamental incompatibility of the "tea party movement" and the political party cynically exploiting it is exposed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Idiot America: A Q&A with Charles P. Pierce


The three Great Premises of Idiot America:
1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units
2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough
3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it

Question: What inspired, or should I say drove, you to write Idiot America?

Charles P. Pierce: The germ of the idea came as I watched the extended coverage of the death of Terri Schiavo. I wondered how so many people could ally themselves with so much foolishness despite the fact that it was doing them no perceptible good, politically or otherwise. And it looked like the national media simply could not help itself but be swept along. This started me thinking and, when I read a clip in the New York Times about the Creation Museum, I pitched an idea to Mark Warren, my editor at Esquire, that said simply, “Dinosaurs with saddles.” What we determined the theme of the eventual piece—and of the book—would be was “The Consequences Of Believing Nonsense.”

Question: You visited the Creation Museum while writing Idiot America. Describe your experience there. What was your first thought when you saw a dinosaur with a saddle on its back?

Charles P. Pierce: My first thought was that it was hilarious. My second thought was that I was the only person in the place who thought it was, which made me both angry and a little melancholy. Outside of the fact that its “science” is a god-awful parodic stew of paleontology, geology, and epistemology, all of them wholly detached from the actual intellectual method of each of them. The most disappointing thing is that the completed museum is so dreadfully grim and earnest and boring. It even makes dragon myths servant to its fringe biblical interpretations. Who wants to live in a world where dragons are boring?

Question: Is there a specific turning point where, as a country, we moved away from prizing experience to trusting the gut over intellect?

Charles P. Pierce: I don't know if there's one point that you can point to and say, “This is when it happened.” The conflict between intellectual expertise and reflexive emotion—often characterized as “good old common sense,” when it is neither common nor sense—has been endemic to American culture and politics since the beginning. I do think that my profession, journalism, went off the tracks when it accepted as axiomatic the notion that “Perception is reality.” No. Perception is perception and reality is reality, and if the former doesn't conform to the latter, then it’s the journalist's job to hammer and hammer the reality until the perception conforms to it. That's how “intelligent design” gets treated as “science” simply because a lot of people believe in it.

Question: You delve into Ignatius Donnelly’s life story. In 1880, he published the book Atlantis: The Antediluvian World in an attempt to prove that the lost city existed. Yet, you characterize Donnelly as a lovable crank, and don’t take issue with him as you do with modern eccentrics, like Rush Limbaugh. What’s the difference between a harmless crank and a crank in Idiot America?

Charles P. Pierce: Cranks are noble because cranks are independent. Cranks do not care if their ideas succeed—they'd like them to do so—but cranks stand apart. Their value comes when, occasionally, their lonely dissents from the commonplace affect the culture, at which point either the culture moves to adopt them and their ideas come to influence the culture. The American crank is not someone with 600 radio stations spewing bilious canards to an audience of “dittoheads.” The concept of a “dittohead” is anathema to the American crank. He is a freethinker addressing an audience of them, whether that audience is made up of one person or a thousand. A charlatan is a crank who sells out.

Question: What is the most dangerous aspect of Idiot America?

Charles P. Pierce: The most dangerous aspect of Idiot America is that it encourages us to abandon our birthright to be informed citizens of a self-governing republic. America cannot function on automatic pilot, and, too often, we don't notice that it has been until the damage has already been done.

Question: Is there a voice or leader of Idiot America?

Charles P. Pierce: The leaders of Idiot America are those people who abandoned their obligations to the above. There are lots of people making an awful lot of money selling their ideas and their wares to Idiot America. Idiot America is an act of collective will, a product of lassitude and sloth.

Question: What is the difference between stupidity and glorifying ignorance?

Charles P. Pierce: Stupidity is as stupidity does, to quote a uniquely stupid movie. It has been with us always and always will be. But we moved into an era in which stupidity was celebrated if it managed to sell itself well, if it succeeded, if it made people money. That is “glorifying ignorance.” We moved into an era in which the reflexive instincts of the Gut were celebrated at the expense of reasoned, informed opinion. To this day, we have a political party—the Republicans—who, because it embraced a “movement of Conservatism” that celebrated anti-intellectualism is now incapable of conducting itself in any other way. That has profound political and cultural consequences, and the truly foul part about it was that so many people engaged in it knowing full well they were peddling poison.

Question: While writing Idiot America, what story or incident made you the most incensed?

Charles P. Pierce: Without question, it was talking to the people at Woodside Hospice, who shared with me what it was like to be inside the whirlwind stirred up by people who used the prolonged death of Terri Schiavo as a political and social volleyball to advance their own unpopular and reckless agenda. There are people—Sean Hannity comes to mind—who, if there is a just god in heaven, should be locked in a room for 20 minutes with Annie Santa Maria, the indomitable woman who works with the patients at the hospice. Only one of them would come out, and it wouldn't be him.

Question: With the election of President Obama, is Idiot America coming to an end? Or, will there always be a place for idiocy in America?

Charles P. Pierce: Look at the political opposition to President Obama. “Socialist!” “Fascist!” “Coming to get your guns.” Hysteria from the hucksters of Idiot America is still at high-tide. People are killing other people and specifically attributing their action to imaginary oppression stoked by radio talk-show stars and television pundits. That Glenn Beck has achieved the prominence he has makes me wonder if there is a just god in heaven.

Question: Are there any positive signs that we are moving away from Idiot America? If you could create a twelve step program to America back on track, what would be your first suggestion?

Charles P. Pierce: Remember that perception is not reality, that opinion, no matter how widely held, is not fact. An old and wise friend of mine said that the only question that any American citizen is required to answer is “Do you govern or are you governed?” It has to be answered in the former, and that answer has to be continuous. We have to get back to that.
_________________________________________________________
Charles P. Pierce is a staff writer for the Boston Globe magazine, a contributing writer to Esquire and the author of two books. He lives near Boston.

"The Democrats are a timorous collection of trimmers and hedgers, one more bad beat away from whimpering themselves into a gelatinous goo just liquid enough to ooze under the door of some lobbying shop. They couldn't get laid in a whorehouse if they drove up in a Brink's truck. They spent a flat year trying to get one vote out of Olympia Snowe...And the Republicans are simply insane. Poor old John McCain is being primaried by J.D. Hayworth, once the dumbest man in Congress, at the behest of what might be called the lunatic fringe, if it wasn't the very mainstream of the party now. The energy of the party is wholly directed from the ancient, dark heart of American conspiracy theories, where it is not directed at simply standing athwart anything this president wants to do."
~Charles P. Pierce

Friday, February 19, 2010

Terrorism: the most meaningless and manipulated word

The reluctance to apply the term "Terrorism" to Joseph Stack demonstrates how cynically it is used
Glenn Greenwald
Feb. 19, 2010 |
(updated below)

Yesterday, Joseph Stack deliberately flew an airplane into a building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas, in order to advance the political grievances he outlined in a perfectly cogent suicide-manifesto.  Stack's worldview contained elements of the tea party's anti-government anger along with substantial populist complaints generally associated with "the Left" (rage over bailouts, the suffering of America's poor, and the pilfering of the middle class by a corrupt economic elite and their government-servants).  All of that was accompanied by an argument as to why violence was justified (indeed necessary) to protest those injustices:

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the "great" depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn't it ironic how far we've come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn't have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it's "business-as-usual" . . . . Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer. 
Despite all that, The New York Times' Brian Stelter documents the deep reluctance of cable news chatterers and government officials to label the incident an act of "terrorism," even though -- as Dave Neiwert ably documents -- it perfectly fits, indeed is a classic illustration of, every official definition of that term.  The issue isn't whether Stack's grievances are real or his responses just; it is that the act unquestionably comports with the official definition.  But as NBC's Pete Williams said of the official insistence that this was not an act of Terrorism:  there are "a couple of reasons to say that . . . One is he’s an American citizen."  Fox News' Megan Kelley asked Catherine Herridge about these denials:  "I take it that they mean terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to?," to which Herridge replied: "they mean terrorism in that capital T way."

All of this underscores, yet again, that Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and most manipulated word in the American political lexicon.  The term now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor, especially his or her religious identity.  It has really come to mean:  "a Muslim who fights against or even expresses hostility towards the United States, Israel and their allies."  That's why all of this confusion and doubt arose yesterday over whether a person who perpetrated a classic act of Terrorism should, in fact, be called a Terrorist:  he's not a Muslim and isn't acting on behalf of standard Muslim grievances against the U.S. or Israel, and thus does not fit the "definition."  One might concede that perhaps there's some technical sense in which term might apply to Stack, but as Fox News emphasized:  it's not "terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to . . . terrorism in that capital T way."  We all know who commits terrorism in "that capital T way," and it's not people named Joseph Stack.

Contrast the collective hesitance to call Stack a Terrorist with the extremely dubious circumstances under which that term is reflexively applied to Muslims.  If a Muslim attacks a military base preparing to deploy soldiers to a war zone, that person is a Terrorist.  If an American Muslim argues that violence against the U.S. (particularly when aimed at military targets) is justified due to American violence aimed at the Muslim world, that person is a Terrorist who deserves assassination.  And if the U.S. military invades a Muslim country, Muslims who live in the invaded and occupied country and who fight back against the invading American army -- by attacking nothing but military targets -- are also Terrorists.  Indeed, large numbers of detainees at Guantanamo were accused of being Terrorists for nothing more than attacking members of an invading foreign army in their country, including 14-year-old Mohamed Jawad, who spent many years in Guantanamo, accused (almost certainly falsely) of throwing a grenade at two American troops in Afghanistan who were part of an invading force in that country.  Obviously, plots targeting civilians for death -- the 9/11 attacks and attempts to blow up civilian aircraft -- are pure terrorism, but a huge portion of the acts committed by Muslims that receive that label are not.

In sum:  a Muslim who attacks military targets, including in war zones or even in their own countries that have been invaded by a foreign army, are Terrorists.  A non-Muslim who flies an airplane into a government building in pursuit of a political agenda is not, or at least is not a Real Terrorist with a capital T -- not the kind who should be tortured and thrown in a cage with no charges and assassinated with no due process.  Nor are Christians who stand outside abortion clinics and murder doctors and clinic workers.  Nor are acts undertaken by us or our favored allies designed to kill large numbers of civilians or which will recklessly cause such deaths as a means of terrorizing the population into desired behavioral change -- the Glorious Shock and Awe campaign and the pummeling of Gaza.  Except as a means for demonizing Muslims, the word is used so inconsistently and manipulatively that it is impoverished of any discernible meaning.

All of this would be an interesting though not terribly important semantic matter if not for the fact that the term Terrorist plays a central role in our political debates.  It is the all-justifying term for anything the U.S. Government does.  Invasions, torture, due-process-free detentions, military commissions, drone attacks, warrantless surveillance, obsessive secrecy, and even assassinations of American citizens are all justified by the claim that it's only being done to "Terrorists," who, by definition, have no rights.  Even worse, one becomes a "Terrorist" not through any judicial adjudication or other formal process, but solely by virtue of the untested, unchecked say-so of the Executive Branch.  The President decrees someone to be a Terrorist and that's the end of that:   uncritical followers of both political parties immediately justify anything done to the person on the ground that he's a Terrorist (by which they actually mean:  he's been accused of being one, though that distinction -- between presidential accusations and proof -- is not one they recognize).

If we're really going to vest virtually unlimited power in the Government to do anything it wants to people they call "Terrorists," we ought at least to have a common understanding of what the term means.  But there is none.  It's just become a malleable, all-justifying term to allow the U.S. Government carte blanche to do whatever it wants to Muslims it does not like or who do not like it (i.e., The Terrorists).  It's really more of a hypnotic mantra than an actual word:  its mere utterance causes the nation blindly to cheer on whatever is done against the Muslims who are so labeled.

 UPDATE:  I want to add one point:  the immediate official and media reaction was to avoid, even deny, the term "terrorist" because the perpetrator of the violence wasn't Muslim.  But if Stack's manifesto begins to attract serious attention, I think it's likely the term Terrorist will be decisively applied to him in order to discredit what he wrote.  His message is a sharply anti-establishment and populist grievance of the type that transcends ideological and partisan divisions -- the complaints which Stack passionately voices are found as common threads in the tea party movement and among citizens on both the Left and on the Right -- and thus tend to be the type which the establishment (which benefits from high levels of partisan distractions and divisions) finds most threatening and in need of demonization. Nothing is more effective at demonizing something than slapping the Terrorist label onto it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right



By David Barstow

SANDPOINT, Idaho — Pam Stout has not always lived in fear of her government. She remembers her years working in federal housing programs, watching government lift struggling families with job training and education. She beams at the memory of helping a Vietnamese woman get into junior college.

But all that was before the Great Recession and the bank bailouts, before Barack Obama took the White House by promising sweeping change on multiple fronts, before her son lost his job and his house. Mrs. Stout said she awoke to see Washington as a threat, a place where crisis is manipulated — even manufactured — by both parties to grab power.

She was happily retired, and had never been active politically. But last April, she went to her first Tea Party rally, then to a meeting of the Sandpoint Tea Party Patriots. She did not know a soul, yet when they began electing board members, she stood up, swallowed hard, and nominated herself for president. “I was like, ‘Did I really just do that?’ ” she recalled.

Then she went even further.

Worried about hyperinflation, social unrest or even martial law, she and her Tea Party members joined a coalition, Friends for Liberty, that includes representatives from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, the John Birch Society, and Oath Keepers, a new player in a resurgent militia movement.

When Friends for Liberty held its first public event, Mrs. Stout listened as Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff, brought 1,400 people to their feet with a speech about confronting a despotic federal government. Mrs. Stout said she felt as if she had been handed a road map to rebellion. Members of her family, she said, think she has disappeared down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories. But Mrs. Stout said she has never felt so engaged.

“I can’t go on being the shy, quiet me,” she said. “I need to stand up.”

The Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent, a force in Republican politics for revival, as it was in the Massachusetts Senate election, or for division. But it is also about the profound private transformation of people like Mrs. Stout, people who not long ago were not especially interested in politics, yet now say they are bracing for tyranny.

These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve.

Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.

Loose alliances like Friends for Liberty are popping up in many cities, forming hybrid entities of Tea Parties and groups rooted in the Patriot ethos. These coalitions are not content with simply making the Republican Party more conservative. They have a larger goal — a political reordering that would drastically shrink the federal government and sweep away not just Mr. Obama, but much of the Republican establishment, starting with Senator John McCain.

In many regions, including here in the inland Northwest, tense struggles have erupted over whether the Republican apparatus will co-opt these new coalitions or vice versa. Tea Party supporters are already singling out Republican candidates who they claim have “aided and abetted” what they call the slide to tyranny: Mark Steven Kirk, a candidate for the Senate from Illinois, for supporting global warming legislation; Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, who is seeking a Senate seat, for supporting stimulus spending; and Meg Whitman, a candidate for governor in California, for saying she was a “big fan” of Van Jones, once Mr. Obama’s “green jobs czar.”

During a recent meeting with Congressional Republicans, Mr. Obama acknowledged the potency of these attacks when he complained that depicting him as a would-be despot was complicating efforts to find bipartisan solutions.

“The fact of the matter is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party,” Mr. Obama said. “You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, ‘This guy’s doing all kinds of crazy stuff that is going to destroy America.’ ”

The ebbs and flows of the Tea Party ferment are hardly uniform. It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure. Not everyone flocking to the Tea Party movement is worried about dictatorship. Some have a basic aversion to big government, or Mr. Obama, or progressives in general. What’s more, some Tea Party groups are essentially appendages of the local Republican Party.

But most are not. They are frequently led by political neophytes who prize independence and tell strikingly similar stories of having been awakened by the recession. Their families upended by lost jobs, foreclosed homes and depleted retirement funds, they said they wanted to know why it happened and whom to blame.

That is often the point when Tea Party supporters say they began listening to Glenn Beck. With his guidance, they explored the Federalist Papers, exposés on the Federal Reserve, the work of Ayn Rand and George Orwell. Some went to constitutional seminars. Online, they discovered radical critiques of Washington on Web sites like ResistNet.com (“Home of the Patriotic Resistance”) and Infowars.com (“Because there is a war on for your mind.”).

Many describe emerging from their research as if reborn to a new reality. Some have gone so far as to stock up on ammunition, gold and survival food in anticipation of the worst. For others, though, transformation seems to amount to trying on a new ideological outfit — embracing the rhetoric and buying the books.

Tea Party leaders say they know their complaints about shredded constitutional principles and excessive spending ring hollow to some, given their relative passivity through the Bush years. In some ways, though, their main answer — strict adherence to the Constitution — would comfort every card-carrying A.C.L.U. member.

But their vision of the federal government is frequently at odds with the one that both parties have constructed. Tea Party gatherings are full of people who say they would do away with the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax and countless agencies, not to mention bailouts and stimulus packages. Nor is it unusual to hear calls to eliminate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. A remarkable number say this despite having recently lost jobs or health coverage. Some of the prescriptions they are debating — secession, tax boycotts, states “nullifying” federal laws, forming citizen militias — are outside the mainstream, too.

At a recent meeting of the Sandpoint Tea Party, Mrs. Stout presided with brisk efficiency until a member interrupted with urgent news. Because of the stimulus bill, he insisted, private medical records were being shipped to federal bureaucrats. A woman said her doctor had told her the same thing. There were gasps of rage. Everyone already viewed health reform as a ruse to control their medical choices and drive them into the grip of insurance conglomerates. Debate erupted. Could state medical authorities intervene? Should they call Congress?

As the meeting ended, Carolyn L. Whaley, 76, held up her copy of the Constitution. She carries it everywhere, she explained, and she was prepared to lay down her life to protect it from the likes of Mr. Obama.

“I would not hesitate,” she said, perfectly calm.

A Sprawling Rebellion

The Tea Party movement defies easy definition, largely because there is no single Tea Party.
At the grass-roots level, it consists of hundreds of autonomous Tea Party groups, widely varying in size and priorities, each influenced by the peculiarities of local history.

In the inland Northwest, the Tea Party movement has been shaped by the growing popularity in eastern Washington of Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas, and by a legacy of anti-government activism in northern Idaho. Outside Sandpoint, federal agents laid siege to Randy Weaver’s compound on Ruby Ridge in 1992, resulting in the deaths of a marshal and Mr. Weaver’s wife and son. To the south, Richard Butler, leader of the Aryan Nations, preached white separatism from a compound near Coeur d’Alene until he was shut down.

Local Tea Party groups are often loosely affiliated with one of several competing national Tea Party organizations. In the background, offering advice and organizational muscle, are an array of conservative lobbying groups, most notably FreedomWorks. Further complicating matters, Tea Party events have become a magnet for other groups and causes — including gun rights activists, anti-tax crusaders, libertarians, militia organizers, the “birthers” who doubt President Obama’s citizenship, Lyndon LaRouche supporters and proponents of the sovereign states movement.

It is a sprawling rebellion, but running through it is a narrative of impending tyranny. This narrative permeates Tea Party Web sites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos. It is a prominent theme of their favored media outlets and commentators, and it connects the disparate issues that preoccupy many Tea Party supporters — from the concern that the community organization Acorn is stealing elections to the belief that Mr. Obama is trying to control the Internet and restrict gun ownership.

WorldNetDaily.com trumpets “exclusives” reporting that the Army is seeking “Internment/Resettlement” specialists. On ResistNet.com, bloggers warn that Mr. Obama is trying to convert Interpol, the international police organization, into his personal police force. They call on “fellow Patriots” to “grab their guns.”

Mr. Beck frequently echoes Patriot rhetoric, discussing the possible arrival of a “New World Order” and arguing that Mr. Obama is using a strategy of manufactured crisis to destroy the economy and pave the way for dictatorship.

At recent Tea Party events around the country, these concerns surfaced repeatedly.

In New Mexico, Mary Johnson, recording secretary of the Las Cruces Tea Party steering committee, described why she fears the government. She pointed out how much easier it is since Sept. 11 for the government to tap telephones and scour e-mail, bank accounts and library records. “Twenty years ago that would have been a paranoid statement,” Ms. Johnson said. “It’s not anymore.”

In Texas, Toby Marie Walker, president of the Waco Tea Party, stood on a stage before several thousand people, ticking off the institutions she no longer trusts — the federal government, both the major political parties, Wall Street. “Many of us don’t believe they have our best interests at heart,” Ms. Walker said. She choked back tears, but the crowd urged her on with shouts of “Go, Toby!”

As it happened in the inland Northwest with Friends for Liberty, the fear of Washington and the disgust for both parties is producing new coalitions of Tea Party supporters and groups affiliated with the Patriot movement. In Indiana, for example, a group called the Defenders of Liberty is helping organize “meet-ups” with Tea Party groups and more than 50 Patriot organizations. The Ohio Freedom Alliance, meanwhile, is bringing together Tea Party supporters, Ohio sovereignty advocates and members of the Constitution and Libertarian Parties. The alliance is also helping to organize five “liberty conferences” in March, each featuring Richard Mack, the same speaker invited to address Friends for Liberty.

Politicians courting the Tea Party movement are also alluding to Patriot dogma. At a Tea Party protest in Las Vegas, Joe Heck, a Republican running for Congress, blamed both the Democratic and Republican Parties for moving the country toward “socialistic tyranny.” In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican seeking re-election, threw his support behind the state sovereignty movement. And in Indiana, Richard Behney, a Republican Senate candidate, told Tea Party supporters what he would do if the 2010 elections did not produce results to his liking: “I’m cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show. And I’m serious about that, and I bet you are, too.”

Turning Points

Fear of co-option — a perpetual topic in the Tea Party movement — lay behind the formation of Friends for Liberty.

The new grass-roots leaders of the inland Northwest had grown weary of fending off what they jokingly called “hijack attempts” by the state and county Republican Parties. Whether the issue was picking speakers or scheduling events, they suspected party leaders of trying to choke off their revolution with Chamber of Commerce incrementalism.

“We had to stand our ground, I’ll be blunt,” said Dann Selle, president of the Official Tea Party of Spokane.
In October, Mr. Selle, Mrs. Stout and about 20 others from across the region met in Liberty Lake, Wash., a small town on the Idaho border, to discuss how to achieve broad political change without sacrificing independence. The local Republican Party was excluded.

Most of the people there had paid only passing attention to national politics in years past. “I voted twice and I failed political science twice,” said Darin Stevens, leader of the Spokane 9/12 Project.

Until the recession, Mr. Stevens, 33, had poured his energies into his family and his business installing wireless networks. He had to lay off employees, and he struggled to pay credit cards, a home equity loan, even his taxes. “It hits you physically when you start getting the calls,” he said.

He discovered Glenn Beck, and began to think of Washington as a conspiracy to fleece the little guy. “I had no clue that my country was being taken from me,” Mr. Stevens explained. He could not understand why his progressive friends did not see what he saw.

He felt compelled to do something, so he decided to start a chapter of Mr. Beck’s 9/12 Project. He reserved a room at a pizza parlor for a Glenn Beck viewing party and posted the event on Craigslist. “We had 110 people there,” Mr. Stevens said. He recalled looking around the room and thinking, “All these people — they agree with me.”

Leah Southwell’s turning point came when she stumbled on Mr. Paul’s speeches on YouTube. (“He blew me away.”) Until recently, Mrs. Southwell was in the top 1 percent of all Mary Kay sales representatives, with a company car and a frenetic corporate life. “I knew zero about the Constitution,” Mrs. Southwell confessed. Today, when asked about her commitment to the uprising, she recites a line from the Declaration of Independence, a Tea Party favorite: “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Mr. Paul led Mrs. Southwell to Patriot ideology, which holds that governments and economies are controlled by networks of elites who wield power through exclusive entities like the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations.

This idea has a long history, with variations found at both ends of the political spectrum. But to Mrs. Southwell, the government’s culpability for the recession — the serial failures of regulation, the Federal Reserve’s epic blunders, the cozy bailouts for big banks — made it resonate all the more, especially as she witnessed the impact on family and friends.

“The more you know, the madder you are,” she said. “I mean when you finally learn what the Federal Reserve is!”

Last spring, Mrs. Southwell quit her job and became a national development officer for the John Birch Society, recruiting and raising money across the West, often at Tea Party events. She has been stunned by the number of Tea Party supporters gravitating toward Patriot ideology. “Most of these people are just waking up,” she said.

Converging Paths

At Liberty Lake, the participants settled on a “big tent” strategy, with each group supporting the others in the coalition they called Friends for Liberty.

One local group represented at Liberty Lake was Arm in Arm, which aims to organize neighborhoods for possible civil strife by stockpiling food and survival gear, and forming armed neighborhood groups.

Also represented was Oath Keepers, whose members call themselves “guardians of the Republic.” Oath Keepers recruits military and law enforcement officials who are asked to disobey orders the group deems unconstitutional. These include orders to conduct warrantless searches, arrest Americans as unlawful enemy combatants or force civilians into “any form of detention camps.”

Oath Keepers, which has been recruiting at Tea Party events around the country and forging informal ties with militia groups, has an enthusiastic following in Friends for Liberty. “A lot of my people are Oath Keepers,” Mr. Stevens said. “I’m an honorary Oath Keeper myself.”

Mrs. Stout became an honorary Oath Keeper, too, and sent an e-mail message urging her members to sign up. “They may be very important for our future,” she wrote.

By inviting Richard Mack to speak at their first event, leaders of Friends for Liberty were trying to attract militia support. They knew Mr. Mack had many militia fans, and not simply because he had helped Randy Weaver write a book about Ruby Ridge. As a sheriff in Arizona, Mr. Mack had sued the Clinton administration over the Brady gun control law, which resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that the law violated state sovereignty by requiring local officials to conduct background checks on gun buyers.

Mr. Mack was selling Cadillacs in Arizona, his political career seemingly over, when Mr. Obama was elected. Disheartened by the results, he wrote a 50-page booklet branding the federal government “the greatest threat we face.” The booklet argued that only local sheriffs supported by citizen militias could save the nation from “utter despotism.” He titled his booklet “The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope,” offered it for sale on his Web site and returned to selling cars.

But last February he was invited to appear on “Infowars,” the Internet radio program hosted by Alex Jones, a well-known figure in the Patriot movement. Then Mr. Mack went on “The Power Hour,” another Internet radio program popular in the Patriot movement.

After those appearances, Mr. Mack said, he was inundated with invitations to speak to Tea Parties and Patriot groups. Demand was so great, he said, that he quit selling cars. Then Andrew P. Napolitano, a Fox News legal analyst, invited him to New York to appear on his podcast.

“It’s taken over my life,” Mr. Mack said in an interview.

He said he has found audiences everywhere struggling to make sense of why they were wiped out last year. These audiences, he said, are far more receptive to critiques once dismissed as paranoia. It is no longer considered all that radical, he said, to portray the Federal Reserve as a plaything of the big banks — a point the Birch Society, among others, has argued for decades.

People are more willing, he said, to imagine a government that would lock up political opponents, or ration health care with “death panels,” or fake global warming. And if global warming is a fraud, is it so crazy to wonder about a president’s birth certificate?

“People just do not trust any of this,” Mr. Mack said. “It’s not just the fringe people anymore. These are just ordinary people — teachers, bankers, housewives.”

The dog track opened at 5:45 p.m. for Mr. Mack’s speech, and the parking lot quickly filled. Inside, each Friends for Liberty sponsor had its own recruiting table. Several sheriffs and state legislators worked the crowd. “I came out to talk with folks and listen to Sheriff Mack,” Ozzie Knezovich, the sheriff of Spokane County, Wash., explained.

Gazing out at his overwhelmingly white audience, Mr. Mack felt the need to say, “This meeting is not racist.” Nor, he said, was it a call to insurrection. What is needed, he said, is “a whole army of sheriffs” marching on Washington to deliver an unambiguous warning: “Any violation of the Constitution we will consider a criminal offense.”

The crowd roared.

Mr. Mack shared his vision of the ideal sheriff. The setting was Montgomery, Ala., on the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white passenger. Imagine the local sheriff, he said, rather than arresting Ms. Parks, escorting her home, stopping to buy her a meal at an all-white diner.

“Edmund Burke said the essence of tyranny is the enforcement of stupid laws,” he said. Likewise, Mr. Mack argued, sheriffs should have ignored “stupid laws” and protected the Branch Davidians at Waco, Tex., and the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge.

Legacy

A popular T-shirt at Tea Party rallies reads, “Proud Right-Wing Extremist.”

It is a defiant and mocking rejoinder to last April’s intelligence assessment from the Department of Homeland Security warning that recession and the election of the nation’s first black president “present unique drivers for right wing radicalization.”

“Historically,” the assessment said, “domestic right wing extremists have feared, predicted and anticipated a cataclysmic economic collapse in the United States.” Those predictions, it noted, are typically rooted in “antigovernment conspiracy theories” featuring impending martial law. The assessment said extremist groups were already preparing for this scenario by stockpiling weapons and food and by resuming paramilitary exercises.

The report does not mention the Tea Party movement, but among Tea Party activists it is viewed with open scorn, evidence of a larger campaign by liberals to marginalize them as “racist wingnuts.”

But Tony Stewart, a leading civil rights activist in the inland Northwest, took careful note of the report. Almost 30 years ago, Mr. Stewart cofounded the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations in Coeur d’Alene. The task force has campaigned relentlessly to rid north Idaho of its reputation as a haven for anti-government extremists. The task force tactics brought many successes, including a $6.3 million civil judgment that effectively bankrupted Richard Butler’s Aryan Nations.

When the Tea Party uprising gathered force last spring, Mr. Stewart saw painfully familiar cultural and rhetorical overtones. Mr. Stewart viewed the questions about Mr. Obama’s birthplace as a proxy for racism, and he was bothered by the “common message of intolerance for the opposition.”

“It’s either you’re with us or you’re the enemy,” he said.

Mr. Stewart heard similar concerns from other civil rights activists around the country. They could not help but wonder why the explosion of conservative anger coincided with a series of violent acts by right wing extremists. In the Inland Northwest there had been a puzzling return of racist rhetoric and violence.
Mr. Stewart said it would be unfair to attribute any of these incidents to the Tea Party movement. “We don’t have any evidence they are connected,” he said.

Still, he sees troubling parallels. Branding Mr. Obama a tyrant, Mr. Stewart said, constructs a logic that could be used to rationalize violence. “When people start wearing guns to rallies, what’s the next thing that happens?” Mr. Stewart asked.

Rachel Dolezal, curator of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene, has also watched the Tea Party movement with trepidation. Though raised in a conservative family, Ms. Dolezal, who is multiracial, said she could not imagine showing her face at a Tea Party event. To her, what stands out are the all-white crowds, the crude depictions of Mr. Obama as an African witch doctor and the signs labeling him a terrorist. “It would make me nervous to be there unless I went with a big group,” she said.

The Future

Pam Stout wakes each morning, turns on Fox News, grabs coffee and an Atkins bar, and hits the computer. She is the hub of a rapidly expanding and highly viral political network, keeping a running correspondence with her 400 members in Sandpoint, state and national Tea Party leaders and other conservative activists.

Mrs. Stout forwards along petitions to impeach Mr. Obama; petitions to audit the Federal Reserve; petitions to support Sarah Palin; appeals urging defiance of any federal law requiring health insurance; and on and on.

Meanwhile, she and her husband are studying the Constitution line by line. She has the Congressional switchboard programmed into her cellphone. “I just signed up for a Twitter class,” said Mrs. Stout, 66, laughing at the improbability of it all.

Yet for all her efforts, Mrs. Stout is gripped by a sense that it may be too little too late. Yes, there have been victories — including polls showing support for the Tea Party movement — but in her view none of it has diminished the fundamental threat of tyranny, a point underscored by Mr. Obama’s drive to pass a health care overhaul.

She and her members are becoming convinced that rallies alone will not save the Republic. They are searching for some larger answer, she said. They are also waiting for a leader, someone capable of uniting their rebellion, someone like Ms. Palin, who made Sandpoint one of the final stops on her book tour and who has announced plans to attend a series of high-profile Tea Party events in the next few months.
“We need to really decide where we’re going to go,” Mrs. Stout said.

These questions of strategy, direction and leadership were clearly on the minds of Mrs. Stout’s members at a recent monthly meeting.

Their task seemed endless, almost overwhelming, especially with only $517 in their Tea Party bank account. There were rallies against illegal immigration to attend. There was a coming lecture about the hoax of global warming. There were shooting classes to schedule, and tips to share about the right survival food.

The group struggled fitfully for direction. Maybe they should start vetting candidates. Someone mentioned boycotting ABC, CBS, NBC and MSNBC. Maybe they should do more recruiting.

“How do you keep on fighting?” Mrs. Stout asked in exasperation.

Lenore Generaux, a local wildlife artist, had an idea: They should raise money for Freedom Force, a group that says it wants to “reclaim America via the Patriot movement.” The group is trying to unite the Tea Parties and other groups to form a powerful “Patriot lobby.” One goal is to build a “Patriot war chest” big enough to take control of the Republican Party.

Not long ago, Mrs. Stout sent an e-mail message to her members under the subject line: “Revolution.” It linked to an article by Greg Evensen, a leader in the militia movement, titled “The Anatomy of an American Revolution,” that listed “grievances” he said “would justify a declaration of war against any criminal enterprise including that which is killing our nation from Washington, D.C.”

Mrs. Stout said she has begun to contemplate the possibility of “another civil war.” It is her deepest fear, she said. Yet she believes the stakes are that high. Basic freedoms are threatened, she said. Economic collapse, food shortages and civil unrest all seem imminent.

“I don’t see us being the ones to start it, but I would give up my life for my country,” Mrs. Stout said.
She paused, considering her next words.

“Peaceful means,” she continued, “are the best way of going about it. But sometimes you are not given a choice.”

The New York Times
February 15, 2010