Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bias crimes: At the heart of the divide

-- by Dave

The Jena 6 marches and their aftermath took a lot of people by surprise, and not just liberal bloggers (myself included). I think the folks most taken aback were the wingnutosphere and their audience, i.e., comfortably smug white conservatives, the kind who think The Bell Curve "made sense" -- embodied by John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly -- who were all, "Wha? Huh? What racism? I thought racism didn't really exist anymore!"

Somewhat serendipitously, the marches took place just before the Senate made its historic vote passing a federal hate-crimes law that appears doomed to a George W. Bush veto -- typically, on the flimsiest of rationales. No one in the media or among the pundit class seemed to notice (indeed, the hate-crimes vote barely appeared on the radar), but there actually was a profound connection between the two events.

Most of the debate over this bill has focused so far on its addition of a bias against gays and lesbians to the categories of hate-crime motives. This is what has gotten the religious right into an uproar, claiming -- quite illogically and falsely, as Rick Perlstein has explained in some detail (as have I -- that somehow laws against bias crimes somehow create "thought crimes."

What's been obscured in this uproar is the reality of what the bill would actually accomplish -- namely, federalizing a broad range of bias crimes involving violence against not merely gays and lesbians but blacks, Jews, Muslims, even whites and Christians.

Mind you, the legislation is carefully written to emphasize helping local law enforcement do its job -- provide training, help identify bias crimes, provide funds for strapped prosecutors -- and it specifically defers to local jurisdictions. At the same time it makes it possible for federal authorities to move in when local law enforcement fails to do so, particularly in any of the seven states that have no bias-crime law.

What that means is that if the act were somehow to survive Bush's veto, travesties like the all-too-archetypical handling of the murder of Sasezly Richardson in Indiana a few years back -- Indiana has no hate-crimes law, and so his killers were not charged with that -- would not be as likely to occur. (The same is true in Wyoming, where Matthew Shepard, for whom the law is named, was murdered.) Prosecutors and cops would cease being quite so likely to dismiss crime scenes as potential bias crimes, and treat obvious hate crimes as just "boys being boys."

This is what was happening in Jena, where the prosecutor gave the following excuse for treating white kids involved in the escalating racial tensions differently than blacks:
District Attorney Reed Walters, who is prosecuting the case, said Wednesday that race had nothing to do with the charges.

He said he didn’t charge the white students accused of hanging the nooses because he could find no Louisiana law under which they could be charged. In the beating case, he said, four of the defendants were of adult age under Louisiana law and the only juvenile charged as an adult, Mychal Bell, had a prior criminal record.

“It is not and never has been about race,” Walters said. “It is about finding justice for an innocent victim and holding people accountable for their actions.”

Of course, as Steven D at Booman notes, this is a prosecutor who believes Jena was narrowly spared a horrific rampage by violent black thugs only by the grace of Jesus' hand. Sounds like he and Bill O'Reilly would have a great time together at a black restaurant.

But even presuming the best of intentions on the part of this prosecutor, there's really no escaping the fact, as Jeralyn at TalkLeft has detailed, that he absurdly overcharged the young black men involved in the beating that resulted in their arrest at the center of the controversy. Perhaps even more importantly, he turned a real blind eye to the criminal misbehavior of the town's young white men that played a real role in the escalating racial tension in Jena. As I already noted:
Actually, of course, the young white men who hung the noose could be charged with a number of crimes under Lousiana statute, particularly criminal intimidation and threatening with a bias motive, i.e., a hate crime. But like a lot of white prosecutors, it's easier to see such behavior as "boys will be boys" when the perps are white than when they're black.

Even giving Reed Walters the most generous benefit of the doubt, it's clear that both he and the law officers at the scene of the nooses slung over the "white tree," as well as subsequent confrontations (including one in which a young white man brandished a gun and had it wrested away from him by some of the black men he was pointing it at -- resulting in the arrest of the black men for "theft" of the gun), failed to identify or investigate these incidents as potential hate crimes.

But then, they're hardly singular in that regard. Indeed, the under-investigation and under-reportage of bias crimes is a widespread national problem. I published a piece earlier this week at Crosscut examining the extent to which Seattle police may be mishandling bias crimes when they encounter them, and as I explained then:
Crimes go unreported and uninvestigated all the time, of course, but when it happens with bias crimes, the result is especially poisonous for the larger community. Bias crimes are understood by experts to cause greater harm than ordinary crimes on three levels: the immediate victim, who typically sustains extraordinary psychological harm in addition to the extreme levels of violence that often occur in such cases; the minority community that is the larger target of the crimes, the underlying intent being to terrorize and drive them out; and the larger community, which then must wrestle with a blackened reputation and the internal animus and ethnic distrust created by the crimes.

So when police fail to respond adequately, the victim feels isolated, the target community believes it is not getting justice and can't trust authorities to provide it, and the larger community finds whatever bridges exist between ethnic communities are crumbling under the weight.

As the piece explains, even a progressive city like Seattle whose police officials publicly endorse the serious pursuit of bias crimes can have problems handling them appropriately:
The underreportage of bias crimes is a widespread national problem. Some of the experts who've studied the issue say that while FBI statistics report about 8,000 bias crimes annually, the actual number might be closer to 50,000 a year. The problem is most severe in rural areas, where bias-crime prosecutions are a genuine rarity, but even in urban areas like Seattle bias crimes go unreported and uninvestigated fairly routinely.

A 2000 Department of Justice study looked at the underreporting of bias crimes and identified some of the causes:

-- Fear of negative publicity, especially the kind that can damage a community's reputation, often motivates officers and prosecutors to quietly treat obvious hate crimes as their lesser "ordinary" counterparts.

-- Confusion about the definition of hate crimes and which acts need reporting, particularly arising from the many differences among various state laws and the murky federal statutes.

-- Miscommunication between local and state reporting agencies, with the latter often reporting a bias crime simply as its parallel crime.

-- "False zeroes," or the reporting of zero crimes within a jurisdiction that in fact failed to report at all, which further skews the data regarding the actual rate at which hate crimes occur.

-- The natural reluctance of victims (especially gays and lesbians who may fear being "outed," or immigrants who might fear deportation) to report hate crimes or pursue charges, and the common failure of law-enforcement officials to either recognize or deal appropriately with this reluctance.

-- A significant lack of training in identifying and investigating hate crimes, as well as in handling victims of the crimes. The smaller the department, the less likely it is to offer such training, which generally translates into severe undertraining in rural areas.

-- A hostility to, or ignorance about, the concept of hate-crime laws, and a general over-eagerness to dismiss the bias aspects of crimes as a mostly "political" determination.

This last factor is especially potent among beat officers whose choices at the scene of a crime can determine what evidence is gathered and what direction an investigation takes. There is a certain level of resistance to bias-crime laws among law-enforcement officers, largely fed by a lack of understanding and training. Because bias-crime laws are often portrayed — falsely, and usually by opponents — in the media as creating "special rights" and "protected categories," many police officers tend to see them as unnecessary genuflecting to the gods of political correctness and are reluctant to pursue evidence of them.

Prosecutors are vulnerable to similar biases and misconceptions as well. And in rural and suburban places -- places like Jena -- the problem is exponentially worse.

I examined this problem in some detail in my second book, Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crimes in America:
Perhaps the most significant feature of the DOJ's study's findings, from a larger cultural perspective, was that there was a close correlation between reporting of hate crimes and the level of training provided (some 75 percent of agencies that reported hate crimes also offered training, while less than 60 percent of the non-reporting and zero-reporting agencies offered any)—and simultaneously, found a correlation between hate-crime training and the size of the agency. The smaller the department, the less likely it is to provide such training—and likewise, less likely to report hate crimes.

Obscured by the numbers are their real-world ramifications for the American cultural landscape: the smaller the town, the smaller the department. This means in turn that, geographically speaking, the problem of hate crimes going not only underreported but uninvestigated and unprosecuted is most widespread in rural America. This coincides with the prevalence of anecdotes of unpursued bias crimes emanating from rural precincts. This in turn, makes the problem even more acute, since these same small towns may be the communities most vulnerable to suffering severe damage at the hands of hate-crime perpetrators.

Most significantly, this phenomenon in fact reflects the perceptions many minorities have of small, rural towns: that they are not safe for people of color or for gays. That if trouble were to erupt, there would be no one to help them, and law enforcement officers would be unsympathetic. That if someone were to commit a hate crime against them, there is a not unreasonable likelihood the perpetrator would get away with it.

The fear and suspicion with which rural denizens regard cities and their dwellers is a well-established American archetype. What is often less observed, but is equally true, is the sheer dread that rural America raises in the minds of those minorities whose populations are largely centered in urban areas. When they leave their familiar surroundings for the so-called heartland -- where some 83 percent of the population nationally is white -- it is often with real fear about what might befall them.

It is a mistrust bred partly of myth and partly of reality. Its consequences, whatever its cause, are profound on a broad scale, because its chief effect is to widen the already formidable cultural gap between white America and the rest of us.

I go on to describe an African American woman who is a Seattle Times columnist -- a brave and thoughtful person -- and her 2000 column detailing the abject fear she felt upon approaching the Idaho border. As I explain:
Perhaps of equal significance are the real-world ramifications of this fear for both minorities and the places they fear to visit: an impoverishment of the nation's democratic underpinnings. As expert Donald Green points out, hate crimes succeed in making the nation indeed a smaller place for people like Lynne Varner.

"I think if you had to kind of step back and ask, 'Does hate crime pay?,' you'd say yes," Green says. "If the point of hate crimes is to terrorize the population into maintaining boundaries between these perpetrators and the victimized populations, at least in some areas—certain parts of town, certain parts of the country, et cetera—you know, certain kinds of romantic relationships, whatever—then it does succeed in that. Because people really do feel that they have to constrain their behavior lest they open themselves up for attack. You know, gay men don't often hold hands in public. Black and white couples don't form spontaneously to the extent that you might expect based on their daily interactions.

"There are a lot of instances like that—and you know, we all probably have interactions with people who, when they're invited to a certain part of town, say, 'Oh, I better not go there.' From my standpoint, you tend not to attract much notice from policymakers, but I think of that as a massive dead-weight loss of freedom.

"Even if you say, 'Ah, well, they would have spent their money in this restaurant, maybe they'll spend their money in some other restaurant,' and so it's a wash, just the fact that people feel less than free in a free country is a tragedy."

Green also argues that even seemingly insignificant incidents—the kind police are prone to ignore or de-emphasize—can contribute to the cumulative effect. "If you see a swastika on an overpass, you say, 'Well, you know, it's just a bunch of kids blowing off steam, it doesn't really mean anything,' but when you start to think about the kind of cumulative effects that that would have on a variety of people, both perpetrators and victims, then the result is considerable.

"And that's why I think that, while there's a segment of the law-enforcement community -- and even people like me in an unguarded moment -- that will say that in some respects the hate crimes laws have been a flop, the laws in fact have a substantial basis in theory. And that theory is that if you could somehow put a value on that dead-weight loss in freedom, it actually would be a significant sum. And therefore it does pay society to deter this kind of activity."

Bias-crime laws are a way for society to make clear its condemnation of such acts, recognizing them as more heinous than simple crimes because they cause greater harm. Indeed, pretending as opponents do that a cross burned on the lawn is the same as being egged and toilet-papered, or that a gay-bashing rampage by young thugs is the same thing as a bar fight, simply tries to pretend away the truly hateful and terroristic element of the former of these, as though it doesn't exist. But it does exist, and its effects poison our society and make a joke out of our self-belief in ourselves as an "equal opportunity" society.

This, in the end, is the single clearest reason why progressives should avidly support a federal hate-crimes law: These are crimes whose primary purpose is to disenfranchise, to expel, to deny the most basic rights of association and opportunity to millions of Americans of all stripes. Civil libertarians need to come to grips with the fact that these crimes are real, their effects are real, and they represent, as Donald Green argues, a real "massive dead-weight loss of freedom" for those millions of Americans.

Americans lose their freedoms not just through government oppression; an honest appraisal of our history forces us to recognize that there is a substantial track record of Americans losing their freedoms (up to and including their lives) through the actions of their fellow citizens: the genocide of Native Americans; the long reign of terror of the "lynching era" and associated "sundown towns" that infected the entire nation; the expulsion and incarceration of Asian Americans; the long-running campaign of vicious hatred directed against gays and lesbians.

Hate crimes are an integral part of that history, and laws intended to punish their perpetrators with stiffer sentences are an important blow for the cause of very real and substantial freedoms for millions of Americans. Trying to argue that, in some esoteric sense, they constitute "thought crimes" that somehow deprive us of our freedoms (to what? commit crimes?) turns this reality on its head.

Yet progressives haven't yet figured out that framing hate-crime laws as a defense of people's civil liberties is precisely the argument that will instantly deflate the long-running "thought crime" argument. In all the debate over the legislation, I haven't seen the point raised once.

As long as small-town -- and even big-city -- law-enforcement officers labor under misconceptions about bias-crime laws and fail to properly identify, investigate, or prosecute them, places like Jena are going to fester. And this is where the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act comes in -- because its primary mission is to help local law cops and prosecutors do their job well -- by providing logistical and investigative support, grants, training, and other kinds of assistance.

It's important to fight for this law because it's a fundamental way of dealing with the racial divide in places like Jena -- and indeed, for the greater share of the American landscape. If the training available to small-town cops and prosecutors weren't enough to have helped them identify the bias crimes mounting in their midst, then at least the victims would have then had the option of seeking help from federal authorities, who could determine whether the case was properly handled by local authorities.

Without this kind of action, ethnic and other minorities are never going to trust that they will have access to equal justice in America. The already know, all too well, that racism and its ugly wounds continue to fester here, contrary to the comforting self-delusions of the O'Reillys and Gibsons of the world. Confronting bias crimes as the profoundly antidemocratic and unAmerican act they are is really only a decent first step in healing those wounds.

Hate-crime laws, as Death on the Fourth of July explains, are indeed relatively new insofar as they are now on the books. But attempts to pass laws like them date back to the anti-lynching laws of the 1920s and '30s.

And the reality is that they represent the kind of law that should have been on the books long ago, because they play a substantial role in protecting individual freedoms for all Americans. This isn't tinkering: It's righting an omission.

Keep in mind that hate crimes historically represent an unofficial attempt at oppressing minorities -- in the case of lynching, it in fact was a cornerstone of the Jim Crow system of racial oppression. They are clearly special "message" crimes whose primary intent is to deprive whole groups of Americans of their right to partake of democracy, and they clearly create substantially more harm across all sectors of society than ordinary crimes.

They are, as Ted Kennedy has forcefully argued this week, real acts of terrorism directed at American citizens. If 9/11 outrages us, then so must these smaller acts that spring from the same wellspring of unthinking hatred. It's time, finally, to take seriously the important job of standing up to them.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bias crimes: The moment of truth

-- by Dave

Something momentous happened yesterday, but you'd never know it from reading the mainstream press or watching the cable news networks.

The U.S. Senate passed a federal hate-crimes bill, making it the first time in history that legislation placing bias crimes -- including lynching -- under federal purview has ever passed both houses of Congress.

Federal anti-lynching statutes, you may recall, never made it out of the U.S. Senate because of filibustering Southern Democrats and weak support from the White House. And while more recent Congresses have passed various hate-crime related legislation (specifically, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990, which ordered the FBI to begin collecting bias-crime data, and the 1994 Hate Crimes Sentence Enhancement Act, which applied only to a narrow spectrum of federal crimes), Congress never has enacted a true federal hate-crimes bill.

So Thursday's news should have elicited some significant coverage, shouldn't it?

Well, you could only find the Washington Post's coverage on A4 of the print edition, and you had to comb through to the bottom of its political section Thursday to find the story. Likewise, MSNBC ran an AP dispatch, but it was likewise buried by midday and no longer even findable in its Politics or Race and Ethnicity sections. Likewise at Fox News. On CNN? Not a thing -- though the only peep seemingly to be found on the cable shows was a brief mention on CNN's American Morning broadcast.

At the same time, has anyone noticed how quiet and muted Democrats are about this achievement? What gives?

George W. Bush is what gives. As in, he gives veto.

We've known ever since the House passed this bill that Bush's veto was all but certain. And right now -- with only 60 votes for the bill in the Senate (as Craig Crain notes, it in fact barely made it past the Senate), and only 237 in the House -- Democrats are well short of the two-thirds they'll need to override the veto.

There's been a lot of good talk about the bill. Harry Reid's office issued a thorough and thoughtful statement about the reasons for Democratic support. Ted Kennedy made an especially telling point, based on the fact that Democrats attached the bill to anti-terrorism legislation:
"The defense authorization is about dealing with the challenges of terrorism overseas," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). "This is about terrorism in our neighborhood."

However, the AP report also gives us the press's obvious attitude about the bill:
But given Bush’s veto threat against the provision, it seemed headed for a familiar fate. The Senate in 2004 attached similar legislation to the same authorization bill, but it was stripped out in negotiations with the House.

This may explain why the debate has been so subdued. Indeed, Republicans haven't even bothered to trot out their standard "this law will impinge on free speech rights" or "all crimes are hate crimes" schticks. They know they don't need to:
Republicans were careful not to attack the intent of the legislation, focusing instead on what they said was the “non-germane” nature of the amendment to the overall spending bill.

“There may be a time and place for a hate crimes discussion, but it is certainly not now when national security legislation is being held up,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl of Arizona. “Forcing a vote on the so-called hate crimes amendment shows an utter lack of seriousness about our national defense.”

Retorted Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.: “For some, it never seems to be the right time or the right place.”

No, it seems that regardless of the alignment, there will never be a right time or place to pass a federal bias-crimes law, because that's part of the kabuki game -- including for Democrats.

Frankly, they appear to be resigned to defeat. That's why there's no push to change some of those Republican votes (what about, f'r instance, those "moderate" Republicans like Chuck Hagel or Mike Crapo or Elizabeth Dole -- who all voted against it -- or John McCain, who sat out?). There's no push to make sure that politicians who vote against the bill pay for it at the polls -- even though doing so (painting the opponents as callous people who don't care about minority rights, gay bashings, and are otherwise soft on crime) is a simple no-brainer.

That's why they seem disinterested in overriding the veto, and making both it and Republicans' congressional support for it a campaign issue for the 2008 vote. But I think there are other reasons for the disinterest as well.

Too many Beltway consultant types love to depict bias-crimes laws as "special interest" and "politically correct" legislation that only serve a small band of the electorate. They play off the media stereotypes created by folks like Andrew Sullivan and try to discourage their political clients for pushing this kind of law too hard.

Of course, the reality is that bias-crime bills are designed to protect everyone. White people, Christians, males -- they're all victims of bias crimes as well, and the law is intended to step protection for them, too, by stiffening the sentences for perpetrators.

Perhaps more important, bias-crime laws (as this week's vote suggests) are a natural cause for progressives and moderates alike, because they are not only about defending minority rights, they're about defending law and order and getting tough on criminals who inflict real harm on us all -- especially on our communities in the efforts to heal the ethnic and religious divides within them.

Democrats are frequently accused, with good reason, of taking their minority votes for granted. They know that they can count on minorities to line up behind them in the election, even though when the right-wingers go to the mattresses, they can always be counted on keeping their powder dry and not firing a shot. So they can make grand but ultimately hollow gestures like this week's hate-crimes vote, but never make the real effort needed to make these bills actually succeed.

But this bill is about all of us, not just minorities. If congressional Democrats are not willing to fight for it, they can just add it to their list of mounting failures in asserting their agenda.

If they're smart, they'll take advantage of this unique political opportunity, handed to them once again by George W. Bush on a platter. Next, I want to talk about why it will be critical not to drop it.

Still bashing Matthew Shepard

-- by Dave

Roger Ailes notices that both Andrew Sullivan and the bathetic Andrew Breitbart, who opined in the Los Angeles Times that ABC's revisionist reportage of the Matthew Shepard case was the definitive end of the story and that it wasn't really a hate crime, are once again depicting bias-crime laws as mere "political correctness":
A street in West Hollywood still stands in his name despite ABC News reporting the story false: He was killed by crazed meth addicts for drugs and money -- not because he was gay. Isn't that tragic enough?

Chimes in Sullivan:
And he's right about the Matthew Shepard case, which, even now, is being misleadingly exploited by interest group politics to enact a completely symbolic and utterly irrelevant "hate crimes bill."

And yet Andrew must also know that the Shepard case was not devoid of homophobia, even if it was grotesquely distorted as a pure hate crime by the usual suspects.

Well, this is par for the course for Sullivan, at least, who's demonstrated on multiple occasions that he fundamentally misunderstands bias-crimes laws, and when called on it simply refuses to actually try to understand them. As for Breitbart, well, who knows -- but as I explained in some detail at the time of the report, ABC's reportage was some of the worst I've ever seen on the issue of bias crimes:
Indeed, the entire thrust of ABC's "revelations" -- that it was all a drug binge, not a hate crime -- reveals how little the reporters who worked on this understand not just bias crimes but criminal law generally. One factor, such as drug use, does not cancel out another, such as a bias motive. They often in fact appear together and work in conjunction.

There's an even more significant problem with the 20/20 report, however: It is signficantly factually flawed.

The flaw is not so much in what it reports, but what it intentionally omits. ... [I]t omits other central pieces of evidence which established clearly that it was no mere "theory" that McKinney had committed a gay hate crime.

I go into the Shepard case in moderate detail in my book Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crimes in America:
Shepard, a twenty-two-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was openly gay, and was somewhat flamboyant about it, at least by Laramie standards. Hanging out in a local bar the night of October 6, he managed at least to attract the attention of two local rednecks, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who were looking for someone to rob, and picked Shepard because he was gay. They told Shepard they too were gay and offered to give him a ride home in their pickup truck, and Shepard accepted.

McKinney later gave multiple, conflicting accounts of what happened that night. He told a police detective that Shepard had not made any advances toward him at the bar, but that Shepard put his hand on McKinney's leg inside the pickup, at which point McKinney told him: "Guess what? We're not gay. You're gonna get jacked." From prison, he wrote to a friend that he started beating Shepard in the car because of an even more naked advance:

"When we got out to where he was living, I got ready to draw down on his ass, and all of the sudden he said he was gay and wanted a piece of me. While he was 'comming out of the closet' he grabbed my nuts and licked my ear!! Being a verry drunk homofobic [sic] I flipped out and began to pistol whip the fag with my gun, ready at hand."

Later, at trial, McKinney attempted to claim that Shepard had in fact made an advance on him at the bar, whispering a sexual proposition into his ear and then licking his lips suggestively. The humiliation he felt at the advance, he claimed, spurred a violent rage that made him want to beat Shepard. (The judge, however, struck down this testimony.)

Whatever the sequence of events and motivations, the three men wound up southeast of town in a remote area near the Sherman Hills subdivision. McKinney and Henderson robbed Shepard and tied him up with rope. As Shepard begged for his life, McKinney proceeded to beat him severely, ultimately pulling out a gun and pistol-whipping him over the head. They left him to die, in the freezing night air, leaned up against a wooden rail fence.

Moreover, as I explained in the post on the ABC report:
[T]he 20/20 report substantially omits evidence that was produced at the time establishing McKinney's bias motivation. And indeed, McKinney not only did not deny the existence of this bias, he positively embraced it at trial by attempting a "gay panic" defense.

Incidentally, Fritzen was not the lead investigator in the case. That honor went to a fellow named Rob DeBree. And DeBree has significantly repudiated the "crystal meth" theory.

Here's what he told Beth Loffreda, author of Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of an Anti-Gay Murder, regarding the attempt by McKinney's defense team to paint him as being under the influence of crystal meth:

Rob DeBree too was unimpressed by the argument -- he told me quite forcefully that the murder didn't look like any meth crime he knew.

In his confession to DeBree, McKinney had denied using meth the day of the murder, and while McKinney had been arrested too late for the police to confirm this through blood testing, DeBree felt certain that for once he had told the truth. Obviously it's unsurprising that the lead investigator would disagree with the defense, but DeBree had some compelling reasons on his side. "There's no way" it was a meth crime, DeBree argued, still passionate about the issue when I met him nearly six months after the trial had ended. No evidence of recent drug use was "found in the search of their residences. There was no evidence in the truck. From everything we were able to investigate, the last time they would have done meth would have been up to two to three weeks previous to that night. What the defense attempted to do was a bluff." ...

There are other serious problems with the report. It omits the fact that McKinney has now changed his story at least three times, and probably more, raising serious doubts about his credibility anyway. It also omits the fact that other detectives in the case testified at trial that the victim was selected for violence, and was beaten especially severely, because he was gay. Their testimony was based on their actual conversations with McKinney and Henderson.

And the piece's later attempts to defend McKinney by tainting Shepard's reputation (claiming he also was a crystal-meth user) should be beneath even the lowliest cops-and-courts reporter, let alone a national news organization. Even if true, whatever Shepard's habits, he did not deserve to die for them.

Sullivan has a long and impressive (not in a good way) history of writing monumentally dumb things about bias-crimes laws, which he likes to bash as one of the ways he can hold up his self-appointed image as an "independent" thinker.

Sullivan, for instance, hopped into the journalistic bed with WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah in claiming the notorious Jesse Dirkhising case as an example of the media's left-wing bias/political correctness, doing so on the loftier pages of The New Republic. Comparing coverage of the Shepard and Dirkhising cases, Sullivan described the discrepancy as "staggering" and concluded that "the Shepard case was hyped for political reasons: to build support for inclusion of homosexuals in a federal hate-crimes law." Meanwhile, he contended, they buried the Dirkhising story because they feared they might excite anti-gay bigotry. "I think there is clearly evidence that many in the media decided we're not going to go there because we know it will feed anti-gay prejudice," Sullivan told ABC News.

However, as I pointed out in Death on the Fourth of July:
There was just one problem: the killing of Jesse Dirkhising was not a hate crime. ... There was, however, no evidence anywhere that the two gay men had acted out of a bias motivation against straight children, nor that Dirkhising had been intentionally selected because of his sexual preference. Neither Brown nor Carpenter had ever evidenced any animus toward straight people, and there was no indication of any desire to terrorize the straight community or "put them in their place."

In reality, Dirkhising's death was a relatively simple if appalling case of child murder -- and indeed, Brown was eventually convicted of, and Carpenter pleaded guilty to murder charges, and both were sentenced to life in prison without parole. There were 1,449 such murders committed in 1999 -- and though the media report such cases locally, they rarely make national headlines, largely because even though every child murder is by nature horrifying, there is no national debate over the wrongness of pedophilia or assaults on children, nor the propriety of stiffer penalties for them. These murders in fact are perpetrated by all kinds of people, though predominantly by heterosexuals who attack young girls. And while some are horrendous enough to catch national attention, there are too many of them to all receive splash coverage. Indeed, in the same month following Dirkhising’s killing, there were noteworthy murder/rape stories in Kansas and Wisconsin involving young girls that received about the same amount of media coverage.

The only conceivable reasons a national editor might have for calling out the case would be either a taste for salacious details or to deliberately portray gays in a grim light (as, indeed, did Farah and the religious right). Focusing on a case like Dirkhising's while comparatively ignoring a thousand other heterosexual child murders reflects a genuine bias, not an imagined one. Farah, Sullivan, and their cohorts essentially chastised their colleagues in the media for their failure to participate in their own rather spectacular display of gay-bashing (which, in the case of Sullivan, is also bizarre).

On another occasion, Sullivan devoted an extended essay in The New York Times Sunday Magazine to the issue of bias crimes without ever once evincing any understand whatsoever of the laws against them.

As I note in DOTFOJ, what Sullivan does is to either exploit or utterly succumb to the rather crude misunderstanding of the laws that arises from the term "hate crime" itself:
Confusion over the meaning of the term "hate crime" is probably the most obvious reason for this. Many advocates of the laws, in fact, argue strenuously for dropping any kind of reference to "hate" because of the tremendous confusion it creates. And legally speaking, they are probably right. While it is true that, almost without exception, any bias-driven crime has a kind of hatred at its core, many non-bias crimes—especially violent crimes such as murders, assaults, and rapes—unquestionably also can be driven by hatred. In other words, contrary to the popular aphorism, not every crime committed in hatred is a hate crime. Nor is hate necessarily a component of a bias crime, though it is rare that it is not; most such cases involve cold-blooded sociopathic or psychopathic personalities, though their acts were clearly bias-motivated. ...

[I]t is difficult to conclude that it is anything besides utter confusion that could drive someone like Andrew Sullivan to compose the following exercise in sheer nonsense, in the course of an exhaustive essay on hate crimes, for the New York Times Magazine (let alone for the Times to publish it):

For all our zeal to attack hate, we still have a remarkably vague idea of what it actually is. A single word, after all, tells us less, not more. For all its emotional punch, ''hate'' is far less nuanced an idea than prejudice, or bigotry, or bias [emphasis mine] or anger, or even mere aversion to others. Is it to stand in for all these varieties of human experience—and everything in between? If so, then the war against it will be so vast as to be quixotic. Or is ''hate'' to stand for a very specific idea or belief, or set of beliefs, with a very specific object or group of objects? Then waging war against it is almost certainly unconstitutional.

If hate-crime laws actually were an attempt to outlaw hate, then there might indeed be real cause to oppose them. As Sullivan suggests, it’s highly unlikely they’d have passed constitutional muster with the Supreme Court. However, the laws currently on the books certainly have done so, and the federal legislation proposed so far hews closely to them. More to the point, even though Sullivan mentions "bias" several times in the 7,657-word piece, nowhere does he evince any kind of awareness that the laws he is addressing deal solely with bias-motivated crimes.

Sullivan, of course, has jumped onto Breitbart's Shepard-bashing bandwagon because he wants yet another chance to demonstrate his ideological independence on what's traditionally a "gay" issue. It's all very contrived, and most of all, all it really demonstrates is his persistent willingness to sacrifice clear thinking for an image pose.

In the process, of course, he and Breitbart have once again -- following in the footsteps of ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas (who has a history of parroting right-wing talking points) a few years ago -- symbolically exhumed poor Matt Shepard's body, leaned it back up against that fence, and given it a few more whacks. But oh, they look good doing it.

UPDATE: Sisyphus Shrugged has more on Sully.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why Dan Rather is right

-- by Dave

One of the reasons why Dan Rather's lawsuit against CBS over his reportage on George W. Bush's National Guard record is so interesting is that it promises to reveal whole new facets of the story that have yet to come to light.

One of the more interesting possibilities is that Bush himself could be drawn into the legal battle. Paddy at Cliff Schechter's blog reports that Rather is considering calling Bush himself as a witness at the trial. No doubt Bush would fight this tooth and nail -- but as it so happens, there's a recent Supreme Court precedent called Clinton v. Jones which stipulates that a sitting president can be called before a court in a civil case:
Although scheduling problems may arise, there is no reason to assume that the District Courts will be either unable to accommodate the President's needs or unfaithful to the tradition--especially in matters involving national security--of giving "the utmost deference to Presidential responsibilities."

No small irony there, is there?

But probably most interesting, for the sake of setting the larger historical record straight, is the possibility that new information could come forward both confirming, for the public record, the details of what we already know about Bush's service -- namely, that he used his family's influence not only to evade the draft but also the consequences for skipping out on the lesser military commitments he did make.

At the same time, we may learn important new facts about the way our major media networks operate at the top -- and how far backward they'll bend to accommodate the Bush administration and its bullying demands.

Eric Boehlert's must-read take on the lawsuit points out how atrocious the media's response to Rather's lawsuit has been:
Turns out, though, it wasn't the suits at CBS or the right-wing bloggers who busted the biggest vein over Rather's lawsuit. It was mainstream journalists who rushed in to denounce the former anchorman as dishonest, arrogant, bitter, and delusional, all the while making sure not to take up Rather's challenge of addressing the underlying facts of the story surrounding Bush's no-show military service.

As Boehlert later suggests, the eagerness to condemn Rather similarly reflects their eagerness to overlook their own disturbing failures to have adequately reported this story from the day it first began to surface (which is to say, in the summer of 2000).

Joan Walsh has some similar thoughts:
You can debate the wisdom of Rather's using a lawsuit to settle scores with his old network, but too many reporters are, unconscionably and wrongly, insisting that Rather's story about George W. Bush's missing time in the Texas Air National Guard was invalidated by questions about the memos it used to confirm some of the details. The story itself was well grounded: Rather confirmed that Bush had political help getting a coveted TANG slot and then disappeared from his military duties for months at a time. The problem was with the memos the "60 Minutes II" segment used to "prove" higher-ups had complained about Bush's disappearing act; they were never authenticated, and they shouldn't have been used. But that doesn't mean, as the Los Angeles Times has claimed, that the Rather report was "wholly unsubstantiated."

Boehlert goes into this point in more detail:
Keep in mind, I'm not defending CBS' work here. Years ago I detailed the many mistakes producer Mary Mapes and her team made in needlessly rushing their Texas Air National Guard story onto the air, and how holes in the story were not communicated up the CBS chain of command before the report aired. In fact, as somebody who in 2004 wrote extensively about Bush's missing years in the Guard, and who tried to lay out the facts in hopes that the mainstream media would take more interest in the story, I was furious when Memogate broke. Furious because I knew that the press, spooked by the right-wing pitchfork mob that had assembled online, was going to run -- not walk -- away from the story for fear of raising the same ire.

I'll admit that I had a similar reaction to first hearing of the lawsuit. I criticized both Rather and his producer, Mary Mapes, at the time -- and still do -- for their journalistic sloppiness in failing to ascertain the provenance of the Killian documents. As someone who had been carefully shepherding this story over the course of four years and was looking forward to the breakthrough it was finally getting (remember that the story was being discussed in other quarters than just CBS), it frankly angered me that their sloppiness led to the story
being tossed into the pit.

Gene Lyons, too, noted this at the time, saying:
Amazingly, the CBS team reporting on the president's lost year in the National Guard -- and do let's recall that the suspect memos made a neat fit with other signs that Bush took a powder -- never talked to the purported source of the documents even after Burkett changed his story about who it was. That’s incredible.

But if you give Rather's complaint a careful reading, you'll see that there's a fairly convincing explanation for this: Rather and others were being told that the vetting of the documents was being thoroughly handled by none other than the president of CBS News himself, Andrew Heyward.

And yes, this is the same Andrew Heyward who (according to Rather) attempted to suppress the Abu Ghraib prison story. And yes, it's also the same Andrew Heyward who -- unnoted by Rather in the lawsuit, but fully explored by Eric Boehlert -- who a couple of weeks later used the Killian memos debacle as the rather flimsy pretext for killing Ed Bradley's long-awaited report on the Niger documents hoax that played such a critical role in the justification for the Iraq war.

Eli at Firedoglake was one of the first to notice this, and it may prove important. As he notes, the Rather complaint has a lot of interesting details about this, including how Heyward kept Rather busy while he was supposed to be busy "vetting" the documents for the coming report on Bush's military record:
Mr. Heyward instructed Mr. Rather to concentrate on hurricane coverage, stating that he would personally supervise the vetting of the Bush TexANG story and Documents, as he had done with the Abu Ghraib story. Further, he assured Mr. Rather that he would assign other senior CBS News personnel to vet the story, including Betsy West.

And then, once the story had been aired, Heyward ordered Rather to stand behind the story, telling him the network would back him all the way -- even as they were preparing to screw him:
For several days [after the Killian memos were questioned], Mr. Heyward and CBS News determined to stand by the story. Mr. Heyward and CBS public relations executive Gil Schwartz directed Mr. Rather to defend the story in response to media queries, using “talking points” prepared by Ms. Mapes.

Mr. Heyward also directed Mr. Rather not to respond to the accusations of bias made against him personally, assuring Mr. Rather that CBS would defend and stand by him. Relying on these assurances, Mr. Rather complied and did not respond to personal attacks on his journalistic integrity.


On September 20, 2004, Mr. Heyward and Mr. Schwartz decided that CBS should completely change its position and issue an apology for the Broadcast. Although Mr. Heyward himself had undertaken personal responsibility for the vetting of the story, he instructed Mr. Rather to read a public apology, written by Mr. Schwartz, for both Mr. Rather and CBS’s handling of the story. Despite his own personal feelings that no apology from him was warranted, Mr. Rather read the apology as instructed. Mr. Rather also, as instructed, did not publicly defend the story.

From the outside, this has all the appearances of deliberate sabotage on Heyward's part -- and Heyward's closeness to CBS's Republican-loving owner, Sumner Redstone, may help explain why.

Sidney Blumenthal's authoritative piece in Salon also points to this facet of the case:
They heard from some researchers on the "60 Minutes II" staff that before they had been questioned, a CBS executive had told them that they should feel free to pin all blame on Rather and Mapes.

Like all ugly and revealing and truly damning stories about themselves that politicians always try to suppress, this story has taken on a second and third life because of the very efforts to keep it quiet. As Blumenthal concludes:
On one level, the Bush National Guard story is about Bush and the National Guard. On another, of course, it is about Rather's reputation. But on yet another it is about CBS's overwhelming desire to please the Bush White House and censor itself. The White House campaign against Rather has been so successful that many in the national press corps behave as though in mouthing its talking points they are demonstrating their own independent thought.

It's not just CBS whose appalling behavior and lack of journalistic integrity who is being exposed here. The same can be fully said of all those bandwagon jumpers eager to assure us that Rather's suit is just pathetic and lame.

Mebbe they ought to look in the mirror on that score.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


-- by Dave

If you want to get a glimpse of the consequences for the country should the nativists ever gain control of the nation's immigration apparatus, take a look at what happens when cities try to drive out Latinos by passing ordinances intended to drive them out.

The folks in Riverside, New Jersey, have found out:
A little more than a year ago, the Township Committee in this faded factory town became the first municipality in New Jersey to enact legislation penalizing anyone who employed or rented to an illegal immigrant.

Within months, hundreds, if not thousands, of recent immigrants from Brazil and other Latin American countries had fled. The noise, crowding and traffic that had accompanied their arrival over the past decade abated.

The law had worked. Perhaps, some said, too well.

With the departure of so many people, the local economy suffered. Hair salons, restaurants and corner shops that catered to the immigrants saw business plummet; several closed. Once-boarded-up storefronts downtown were boarded up again.

Meanwhile, the town was hit with two lawsuits challenging the law. Legal bills began to pile up, straining the town’s already tight budget. Suddenly, many people — including some who originally favored the law — started having second thoughts.

So last week, the town rescinded the ordinance, joining a small but growing list of municipalities nationwide that have begun rethinking such laws as their legal and economic consequences have become clearer.

“I don’t think people knew there would be such an economic burden,” said Mayor George Conard, who voted for the original ordinance. “A lot of people did not look three years out.”

Here's a reality check for all those folks up in arms about Latinos "taking away jobs": the unemployment rate has been at about 4 percent -- a low number by any reckoning -- during the same period we've seen the surge in immigration, legal and illegal, from Latin America. That tells us that not only are Latinos filling necessary economic niches, they're contributing significantly to the economic growth we've seen in that same time.

And if we were to fall prey to the nativists' agenda -- which is nothing less than to ship out all 12 million illegal immigrants -- the nation would suffer. Just as small cities that drive out their immigrant workforce suffer significant economic downturns, the same would happen to the U.S. on a larger scale. Immigrant labor, and a vibrant immigrant workforce, is one of the keys to a healthy economic future; it's what will enable us to continue to compete in a global economy.

This is why amnesty makes sense. Failing to fix our broken immigration system is a sure recipe for economic disaster -- as is listening to bigoted right-wing cant.

Resurrecting Nazism

[Photo courtesy of the Guardian.]

-- by Dave

It's been something of an article of faith in Germany for a couple of generations now that the Nazis could never manifest themselves again in the German populace. After all, Nazi organizing and its associated hate speech have been banned in the country ever since it reconstituted itself from the ashes of World War II. Germans surely could remember firsthand the costs of that kind of politics, right?

Well, maybe not:
News that the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) is nudging ahead of the mainstream Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the east German state of Saxony has shocked many Germans.

According to a recent opinion poll by the Forsa Institute, support for the neo-Nazi NPD is at 9%.

The poll suggests that the SPD would pick up only 8% of the vote if there were regional elections, while the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) would still maintain a clear lead at 39%.

The main losers are the Social Democrats, whose support has shifted to the new Left Party, at 27%.

For the last few years, voters in Saxony have turned to the neo-Nazi party because they are disillusioned with mainstream politics and they are increasingly fed up with the region's high unemployment rate.

... "The survey shows that the NPD is a party that has strong support in Saxony. The NPD is accepted as a normal party in some parts of the state," said Manfred Guellner, director of the Forsa Institute.

"Many young, unemployed men support the NPD. They're attracted to the far-right ideology and the sense of belonging, and hope for the future, which the NPD seems to offer them."

And -- imagine our surprise -- this resurgence of Nazism in the former communist half of Germany has come hand in hand with street thuggery and violence:
Alarm about the rise of the far right in Saxony was fuelled by last month's attack on a group of Indian men in the town of Muegeln, near Leipzig.

During a town festival, eight Indian men were chased through the streets of Muegeln by around 50 youths, who are reported to have hurled racist abuse at them, including chanting slogans such as "Foreigners Out!"

The men were beaten up and police are investigating.

The incident dominated the headlines and provoked outrage among many Germans.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attack as "extremely deplorable and shameful".

Well, surely the Germans will find the political will to ban them, as they have before, and crack down on this kind of nonsense, wouldn't they?

Um, maybe not:
Politicians on all sides called for new measures to tackle xenophobia and far-right extremism, particularly in the former communist east of the country.

With many far-right gangs, known as Kameradschaften, operating freely in towns and villages, some politicians have once again demanded that the NPD should be banned.

SPD leader Kurt Beck said he was going to put together a new legal initiative designed to outlaw the NPD.

But other politicians are sceptical about such a move. Although many Germans feel revulsion when they see NPD supporters during demonstrations in city centres, when it comes to a political initiative to ban the party, any attempt degenerates into bickering.

It is a controversial idea because the last effort to ban the NPD, back in 2003, failed.

Germany's constitutional court in Karlsruhe rejected the ban after it established that most of the evidence against the far-right party was inadmissible because it had been collected by government intelligence agents who had infiltrated the organisation.

Here we go again: The impotence of democratic institutions in the face of the Nazis' cynical manipulations of the system, aided by conservatives' wishy-washiness, helped usher in their reign in 1932.

But before Americans go patting themselves on the back, they should perhaps reflect on their own self-certainty that it couldn't happen here, either.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dem ole black debbils

-- by Dave

There's probably nothing more pathetic and unseemly than old white guys trying to advise black people that they just need to police their own, as if their own behavior had nothing to do with the problem. They always seem to want to know why black people can't be more like white people, ignoring the reality that white people more often than not actively resist letting them, even if they wanted to. And who would really want to model themselves after people who often reveal themselves as either hateful or thoughtless bigots anyway?

Take, for example, Fox's John Gibson, discussing the civil-rights marches at Jena, Louisiana:
GIBSON: So, this is -- what they're worried about is a mirage of 1950s-style American segregation, racism from the South. They wanna fight the white devil. I -- you know, there's no -- you can't go fight the black devil. Black devils stalking their streets every night gunning down their own people -- can't go fight that. That would be snitchin'.

A "mirage"? Obviously Gibson is harkening from the "racism no longer exists" school of white apologia.

Never mind that at Jena right now, the white supremacists and neo-Nazis are circling. Indeed, some white supremacists are calling for retaliation.

Not that Gibson would particularly be bothered by this; he has a history of repeating white-supremacist talking points, a fact always reflected by the eager discussions his remarks whip up at white-supremacist sites like Stormfront.

Also, never mind that "racism from the South" is still very much manifested in many places besides merely Jena, and not merely by white supremacists. Take, by way of small example, the state of Georgia, where the hate crimes against Hispanics have been surging dramatically in recent years.

Or you can travel to Forsyth County, where blacks in 1912 were the victims of what Eliot Jaspin calls a "racial cleansing" in his book Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing, and where in 1987 thousands of whites turned out in force to threaten and intimidate black civil-rights marchers. In 2000, of a population of about 120,000 in the county, only 684 of them were black.

And it's because of places like these -- which persist not merely in the South, but throughout the American landscape -- that blacks in America not only believe, but know that racism is very much alive and well in this country (which is why they still march in places like Jena). John Gibson, of course, would have his audience think otherwise.

Putting Gibson's argument into slightly more rational terms, he seems to be saying that blacks ought to worry less about any effects of lingering racism (which doesn't exist anyway, evidently) and worry more about the problems of black-on-black crime.

It seems never to occur to people like Gibson that the two are decidedly interconnected. The plague of black-on-black crime is a product of persistent poverty. And persistent white racism, in subtle and not-so-subtle forms, plays a major role in the continuing impoverishment of African Americans.

First, remember that most studies have found that there is no direct correlation between race and crime rates, especially since there is no evidence of any actual causal relationship. In contrast, there's a strong and distinct correlation between poverty and crime rates, partly because there is a fairly clear causal relationship.

But by pretending that race, and not poverty, is the cause of black crime rsates, most white Americans can avoid confronting the fact of continuing rates of poverty for some racial groups (particularly blacks) that persist largely because of prejudicial hiring practices (see, for instance, the recent study that found that whites with prison records were more likely to be hired than blacks without one) and the persistence of racial residential segregation.

That's where places like Forsyth County come in. They represent the yet-unaddressed persistence of the effects of "Sundown Towns" on the American racial and cultural landscape.

It would be one thing if, in the wake of the Civil Rights Era, Americans living in these former communities actively worked to overcome the segregationist mindset they represent. But instead, the legacy of sundown towns is one that reinforces, generationally, the false stereotypes that created them a century ago. People like John Gibson not only indulge that delusion, they help foster it on a massive scale.

James Loewen, in his book on the subject, observes [pp. 320-321]:
During the past 25 years, while teaching race relations to thousands of white people and discussing the subject with thousands more, I have found that white Americans expound about the alleged character and characteristics of African Americans in inverse proportion to their contact and experience with them. Isolation and ignorance aren't the only reasons why residents of sundown towns and suburbs are so ready to believe and pass on the worst stereotypes about African Americans, however. They also have a need for denial.

The idea that living in an all-white community leads residents to defend living in an all-white community exemplifies the well-established psychological principle of cognitive dissonance. No one likes to think of himself or herself as a bad person, argued Leon Festinger, who established this principle. People who live in sundown towns believe in the golden rule -- or say they do -- just like people who live in interracial towns. ...

What could make living in an all-white town right? The old idea that African Americans constitute the problem, of course. In 1914, Thomas Bailey, a professor in Mississippi, told what is wrong with that line of thinking: "The real problem is not the Negro, but the white man's attitude toward the Negro." Sundown towns only made the problem worse. Having driven out or kept out African Americans (or perhaps Chinese Americans or Jewish Americans), their residents then became more racist and more likely to believe the worst about the excluded groups.

That's why the talk in sundown towns brims with amazing stereotypes about African Americans, put forth confidently with nary an African American in their lives. The ideology intrinsic to sundown towns -- that African Americans ... are the problem -- prompts their residents to believe and pass on all kinds of negative generalizations as fact. They are the problem because they choose segregation -- even though "they" don't, as we have seen. Or they are the problem owing to their criminality -- confirmed by the stereotype -- misbehavior that "we" avoid by excluding or moving away from them.

Of course, such stereotypes are hardly limited to sundown towns. Summarizing a nationwide 1991 poll, Lynne Duke found that a majority of whites believed that "blacks and Hispanics are likely to prefer welfare to hard work and tend to be lazier than whites, more prone to violence, less intelligent, and less patriotic." Even worse, in sundown towns and suburbs, statements such as these usually evoke no open disagreement at all. Because most listeners in sundown towns have never lived near African Americans, they have no experiential foundation from which to question the negative generalities that they hear voiced. So the stereotypes usually go unchallenged: blacks are less intelligent, lazier, and lack drive, and that's why they haven't built successful careers.

As I noted before, sundown towns and their continuing legacy have also had a profound psychological impact on blacks, including the internalization of low expectations, and the exclusion of blacks from cultural capital, as Loewen describes [pp. 353-355]:
Confining most African Americans to the opposite of sundown suburbs -- majority black, inner-city neighborhoods -- also restricts their access to what Patterson calls cultural capital: "those learned patterns of mutual trust, insider knowledge about how things really work, encounter rituals, and social sensibilities that constitute the language of power and success." ...

Making the suburbs unreachable for nonwhites, as I've said before, similarly restricts them from making the social connections that are critical to forming networks that help us find work and move ahead in the workforce. Loewen notes that "the trouble is, these networks are segregated, so important information never reaches black America. ... Sundown suburbanites know only whites, by definition, except perhaps a few work contacts. Thus sundown suburbs contribute to economic inequality by race."

In the case of Gibson, and right-wing Republicans and their mouthpieces generally, that's all dead history. It means nothing. It's similarly meaningless that the Southern Strategy is employed as the heart of a top-down electoral strategy by the GOP to this day. Who cares? That's all ancient history, isn't it?

Well, as Bob Herbert observed today:
This is the party of the Southern strategy -- the party that ran, like panting dogs, after the votes of segregationist whites who were repelled by the very idea of giving equal treatment to blacks. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. (Willie Horton) Bush, George W. (Compassionate Conservative) Bush -- they all ran with that lousy pack.

Racism -- much of it unthinking, thoughtless, and heedless, a product of privileged arrogance and blindness -- is hardly the dead letter that John Gibson seems to think it is. Indeed, he need only take a good hard look in the mirror for evidence of that.

[Note: Jeralyn at TalkLeft has a terrific analysis of the Jena situation from a legal viewpoint.]

Monday, September 24, 2007

Burying the truth about Bush

-- by Dave

The credibility of the Washington Post's editorial page took another hit today with Charles Lane's nasty hit piece attacking Dan Rather -- suggesting he's not in his right mind -- for suing CBS in the aftermath of the "Rathergate" ratfucking. Especially the nut graf:
Finally, no one in his right mind would keep insisting that those phony documents are real and that the Bush National Guard story is true.

On both counts (as with nearly all those preceding), Lane is factually and profoundly wrong. There were plenty of reasons at the time to think that the so-called "proof" that the "Killian documents" were fraudulent was itself mostly fraudulent, or at best fatally flawed. And there are plenty of reasons to believe that the documents may well have been authentic -- including the study by Utah State professor David Hailey [PDF of the study itself here], who concluded that he was "totally persuaded they were typed."

Moreover, Rather's attorneys point out in their complaint (which Lane appears not to have read) the private investigator hired by CBS in the aftermath of the debacle concluded that "the Killian documents were most likely authentic, and the underlying story was certainly accurate."

As Eric Boehlert -- whose contemporary reporting for Salon on the story was authoritative and convincing -- wrote in his book Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush:
Not one of the key facts, all established thourgh Bush's own military records, were altered by CBS's botched National Guard report. But the MSM, having already displayed little initiative on the story, took the 2004 CBS controversy as confirmation that they had been right in 2000 to wave off the issue of Bush's Guard duty; that there was nothing there. Spooked by the angry conservative mob assembled online and that had been taking aim at CBS and its anchor Dan Rather, the MSM in 2004 quickly sprinted away from questions about Bush's service and focused its attention solely on CBS's sins.

The CBS fiasco essentially buried the hard factual reality based simply on the very authentic public records -- namely, that George W. Bush failed to live up to his military commitments in a time of war, and that he and his minions continue to lie about it to this day.

It's important to remember that at the time of the CBS report, there were many reports that reached this same basic conclusion, including Boehlert's, an accounting in the Boston Globe, and even a damning report in U.S. News and World Report.

It's likewise important to remember that, because of the manufactured and utterly phony "Rathergate" controversy, the White House never did answer the questions that CBS raised in the course of its reportage utterly separate from the documents:
Did a friend of the Bush family use his influence with the then-Texas House Speaker to get George W. Bush into the National Guard?

Did Lt. Bush refuse an order to take a required physical?

Was he suspended for "failing to perform up to standards"?

And did he complete his commitment to the Guard?

The established record, of course, shows clearly that the answers to these questions are "yes," "yes," "yes," and NO. Yet this has never been made clear to the public -- and it's actively obfuscated by mendacious nonsense like Lane's.

The CBS report, and the way it fell apart, had all the earmarks of a classic ratfucking. Most of all, it allowed the White House to lie with impunity about Bush's military records afterward, and to continue doing so to this day.

This ratfucking was especially hard for me to take; I had been collecting information on the story since the summer of 2000, and began posting about it back in 2003. After Michael Moore inadvertently awakened the story in early 2004, I began posting on it with great regularity (a sample list can be found here).

The story continues to have real relevance, because it lays bare the character of the cynical manipulator Americans have had as their president for the past seven years. As wrote at the time:
The problem isn't George W. Bush's behavior in 1972. It is his behavior, and that of his administration and his campaign officials, in the very recent past that is at issue here.

Because the AWOL matter, first of all, demonstrates clearly that Bush has been lying to the American public about his behavior then, in an attempt to cover it up; and secondarily, in an extension of the first behavior, his military records appear to have been tampered with. The latter, we hardly need remind the critics, is a violation of federal law.

At the same time, the gross character flaw that the AWOL matter reveals is also very much part of what we have gotten from this presidency. There is no sense of accountability to the public anywhere in this administration; if something goes wrong [Can you say, "Weapons of mass destruction?" I knew you could.] it places the blame elsewhere. It falsifies budget figures and misleads the public about the grotesque debt load its deficits are placing on future generations. And it distorts intelligence estimates so that it can convince the public to participate in a war it had planned even before winning election. It bullies its opponents, and traffics in the most transparent way in keeping the public in line by fanning its fears of terrorist attack.

This is a presidency sold to the public on the phony image of Bush as a man of superior character -- a straight shooter, a veteran, a man who understands and respects duty and honor. (This was meant to contrast with Bill Clinton and, by extension, Al Gore.) ... This personal character of Bush's has been a cornerstone of his entire governing style. Should we go to war? Trust Bush -- he's a "good man." Economy's in the dumpster? "He's working hard to make things better." Wrecking the environment? "How can you impugn our motives?" Valerie Plame? "That's just politics."

This style gives way to the kind of arrogance that can dress Bush up in a flight suit and send him jetting out to the deck of an aircraft carrier, in way specifically designed to emphasize his own phonied-up service record, for the sake of a photo op prematurely announcing "Mission Accomplished." It's what lets Bush get away with posing for all the world as a veteran "war president" with a real respect for the suffering of average soldiers. And it's what lets him and his minions get away with impugning the motives and patriotism of the people who question his leadership.

Bush's re-election campaign was predicated on the notion that he is a straight shooter: "You know where I stand," was his signature line at the 2004 GOP convention. What the Texas Air National Guard episode makes clear, beyond any serious doubt, is that the man is lying manipulator -- one willing to falsify (perhaps criminally) the record about not only his own conduct in the military, but also his war-hero opponent's -- and there is no reason any of us should believe a word that comes out of his mouth. We know where he stands, all right: on the side of George W. Bush, and everyone and everything else is fair game.

Most importantly, it revealed that George W. Bush, the man who is demanding American boys and girls and their families continue making the ultimate sacrifice for their country in a failed and fruitless war built on a foundation of false pretenses -- that man was himself unwilling to even live up to his own modest military commitments, none of which involved so much as even placing himself in combat with the enemy. He continues to lie about that fact -- even as he and his Republican cohort assail the patriotism and integrity of anyone who dares stand up to them.

And guys like Charles Lane are evidently happy to serve as his willing enabler.

Stoking the fires of hate

-- by Dave

It's probably not a surprise that white supremacists -- who see an opening for recruitment in every effort to advance civil rights -- are looking to exploit the Jena 6 controversy in their own inimitable fashion.

First came the word that a neo-Nazi Web site was under investigation by the FBI for purportedly publishing the home addresses of the six young black men involved in the case.

Now there's this report from Abbey Brown at the Clarion-Ledger about how they're exploiting the whites involved with the case too:
The beating victim in the “Jena Six” case has given an interview to a group that has been labeled as white supremacist, but his parents now say they feel duped.

Richard Barrett, who described himself to a reporter as “pro-majority,” said he spent Wednesday evening with Justin Barker and his family. Barrett said his goal was to publicize Barker’s side of the story.

Barker, who is white, was beaten last December at Jena High School, allegedly by six black teens. The charges filed in the case, including attempted murder and conspiracy, drew international attention and sparked a protest Thursday in Louisiana by tens of thousands of people from across the country who said the six teens were being persecuted because of their race.

“People need to realize what is going on, speak up and speak their mind,” Barker told Barrett, editor of a publication called Nationalist.

“I’ve got to work every day,” Barker said, “while the attackers sit there on a couch, or sit on some bench with sleeping-pants on. Something needs to be done.

And who was he giving this interview to?
The Nationalist is a publication of the Nationalist Movement based in Learned, Miss. The organization, Barrett said, was started 20 years ago after a group formed to oppose people marching into all-white Forsythe County, Ga.

That would have been 1987, when a "brotherhood march" intended to encourage racial reconciliation in the county attracted a large crowd of overt racists to threaten and bully a group of about 100 people, mostly blacks from Atlanta. Eliot Jaspin, in his book Buried in the Bitter Waters, describes their behavior [p. 140]:
"Go home, nigger! Go home nigger!"

It began as a few impromptu shouts from the crowd.

"Go home, Nigger ... Go home Nigger ... Go home, Nigger!"

As more joined in and their voices fell into lockstep, a ragged chant was born.



Skinny, bearded men wearing baseball caps, men waving Confederate battle flags, thirty-something women in sweathshirts and jeans, and, here and there, a few children tossed the chant back and forth. They had been waiting for this moment for the better part of the morning, their enthusiasm buoyed by stirring speeches.

"Rug-headed, fat-lipped, kinky-looking, gorilla-smelling niggers," was how one of their leaders described them. "Let 'em know we don't want 'em up here. You can't have law and order and niggers too. I say one's gotta go. Let it be the niggers. I say we give 'em a good, Forsyth County welcome."

Claiming to be descended from these good folks gives you a pretty clear idea what the worldview of the Nationalist is. And of course, the interview largely reflected that -- and their eagerness to exploit the Jena conflict. As Brown's report notes:
Barrett said that Barker and his family are in no way affiliated with his organization and that he is not representing the Barkers in any way.

But the Barkers said they feel a little betrayed.

”He led us to believe he was just down here to find out Justin’s part of the story,“ David Barker said of Barrett. ”He said he was going to the rally just to see what was going on.“

David Barker said Barrett never gave them the impression that he was involved in a white-supremacist organization. Barker said he specifically asked about affiliations with organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan.

”He said, ’No, I’m a lawyer that goes around trying to help families that can’t help themselves,’“ Kelli Barker said.

White supremacists understand that when nonwhites aggressively assert their rights, there's a substantial segment of the white population that find this frightening -- recall, if you will, the scared response of many whites to last year's immigration-reform marches -- so much so that many then ran out and joined the Minutemen, the vigilante response to such fears.

Haters thrive in an environment ruled by the fear they stoke. That's why they are circling over Jena now.