April 28, 2010

The Inconsistency of Tea Bag Nation

Over at Ephphatha Poetry, Tim Wise has a very thought-provoking post entitled Imagine If the Tea Party Was Black.  It's well worth reading the whole thing - the volume of examples he provides is, after all, instrinsic to the argument he makes - and it is a trenchant commentary on both the state of race relations in the United States and the preferential treatment accorded the almost all-white Tea Party movement.  He begins thus:
Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters - the black protesters - spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government. Would these protester - these black protesters with guns - be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.
He then provides something on the order of 9 or 10 further thought experiments in a similar, eye-opening vein, and concludes with this:
In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of color. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech, and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behavior, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of color?

To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.

And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, there is this report on the Tea Party Tax Day protest in East Valley, near Phoenix, Arizona, which mentions two of the featured speakers at the event.  The first was Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, who not only has close ties to white supremacists, but a long track record of anti-immigrant activity, most recently manifested in his efforts to pass the draconian new law in his state that requires the police to stop and demand proof of citizenship from anyone they suspect of being in this country illegally.  Likewise, there was Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a proud supporter of said new law, who has ties to racist organizations of his own, and a well-earned reputation for a selective, ethnicity-based law enforcement.  In Arizona, at least, the Tea Baggers appear to be just fine with government oppression, as long as it's leveled at Hispanics.

As I described in No, They're Not Mainstream, when examined closely, it's pretty clear the Tea Parties are about the expression of frustration with political powerlessness rather than a serious, consistent approach to issues.  Since a good portion of their anger about taxation is, in fact, aimed at a president who has actually cut taxes for most Americans, the allegedly small-government Tea Party's embrace of bigoted, authoritarian law enforcement figures in Arizona shouldn't be surprising - it's just more of the same hypocrisy.

Bill Maher agrees:

April 23, 2010

Scott Roeder: Not Just a Killer, but a Whining Coward

Earlier this year, militant anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder was convicted of first degree murder for assassinating Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller. Mr. Roeder strode up to Dr. Tiller while the victim was working as an usher during a Sunday church service, and shot him in the head.  The killer confessed to the crime, stating that he acted because he believed "preborn children's lives were in imminent danger," and was sentenced to life behind bars without the possiblity of parole for 50 years.

Thursday, Mr. Roeder filed a habeas corpus petition for immediate release from prison, claiming that his rights had been violated repeatedly throughout the trial:
In the 24-page petition - seven of the pages handwritten - Roeder said that the judge’s imposition of a $20 million bond “along with a suggestion that I might enact ‘more’ violence if I make bond demonstrates heightened disregard for the presumption of my innocence.” He also said that after his arrest, the judge “made a public spectacle of me, forcing me to appear on television without the assistance of counsel or court clothes …”

Roeder complained that the names and addresses of his visitors and correspondents had been made public by the jail “and that some of these have been subjected to questioning by the police power as a consequence.”

In another claim, Roeder said that prosecutors had “made libelous allegations against me.” For example, he said, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston told the judge that a reasonable person would believe that he had engaged in “alleged acts of American terrorism.”

Roeder argued that he should be released because his attorneys “disparaged me in public behind my back” and deprived him of a fair trial. Roeder also complained that he wasn’t allowed to use a necessity defense, arguing that killing Tiller was justified because he was saving the lives of unborn babies.

“I would have been acquitted had counsel been allowed to pursue a necessity defense,” he said.
This hits close to home.  The fiancee of one of my closest friends was murdered by an anti-abortion activist because she happened to be a receptionist at a Planned Parenthood clinic, and I remember vividly how utterly devasted he was by that horrible act.

Whatever one may feel personally about abortion, it is legal in the United States, and killing another human being because one disagrees with that reality is wholly unjustified and completely criminal.  Scott Roeder is getting everything he deserves, and his complete lack of remorse - not to mention his missing sense of irony - is the best possible indication that he is exactly where he should be.  He is a murderous, whining coward, and he should never be free to walk the streets again.

April 18, 2010

No, They're Not Mainstream

Last Thursday was Tax Day, and with Tea Party outrage continuing to to be a significant story in most media, the New York Times and CBS News decided to get under the hood of the movement to see what makes it tick, releasing a National Survey of Tea Party Supporters.  It's interesting reading.

In general, Tea Party supporters are older, wealthier, and more educated than average; they are also religious, Republican, gun owners, and deeply conservative:

Alright so far, but as the report digs into an examination of Tea Party activists - defined for the survey's purposes as people who attend rallies and/or donate money to the cause (and who represent about 4% of the U.S. population) - things become a little disturbing.  As one might expect, among activists, certain trends are more pronounced:

Leaving aside for a moment their affinity for the execrable Beck and Palin, of late, the Tea Party has been trying to separate itself from its most extreme elements.  It is telling, however, that 1 in 4 supporters of the movement - and 1 in 3 activists - believe that violent action against the government is justified.  Relatively moderate elements of the Tea Parties might be unhappy about the perception that there is a connection between their movement and the revival of militias and acts of political violence in this country, but there is clearly a greater willingness toward physical, anti-government confrontation among their ranks than in the general population.

Also troubling is the fact that only a minority of Tea Party supporters acknowledges that President Obama was born in the United States - in other words, they subscribe to the idea that he is a foreigner illegally occupying the White House.  Worse stiil, there is the matter of the substance of many of their arguments against taxes in the United States - the supposed core beliefs of the movement - which simply don't match up with reality.  John Perr at Perrspectives has an excellent post that dissects this problem, and which he boils down to 10 Inconvenient Truths for Tax Day:
  1. Over 95% of Working Households Got Tax Cuts
  2. Only 2% of Tea Baggers Know Obama Cut Their Taxes
  3. ...and 52% of Tea Partiers Think Their Taxes are Fair
  4. ...and Think the Federal Tax Level is Over Double What It Is
  5. 1% of Families Earned 24% of All Income...
  6. ...and 57% of All Capital Income
  7. 400 Richest Taxpayers Saw Incomes Double, Tax Rates Halved
  8. Only 1 in 500 Families Pay the Estate Tax
  9. Corporate Taxes Have Plummeted as a Share of GDP
  10. The U.S. Loses $345 Billion a Year to Tax Evasion and Fraud

In fairness, the general populace also doesn't have a firm grasp on federal spending, with a recent poll from The Economist indicating a strong preference for cutting spending rather than raising taxes.  The problem with that?  Nothing in and of itself, but there is no consensus about what to cut, except in the case of foreign aid, which amounts to less than 1% of the federal budget.  Still, for a group as outraged as the Tea Partiers, it would seem that a stronger grasp of the facts around which it rallies might be expected.

So, where does that leave us?  To my mind, the New York Times/CBS News survey does indeed undermine blanket generalizations of the Tea Party movement as a bunch of drooling fools with anger management issues and poor spelling skills.  However, there are also a number of viewpoints captured by this data that clearly indicate thinking well outside the mainstream, and there is a vivid disconnection from hard facts in several key areas.

I think Andrew Sullivan expresses the proper perspective well in a post called Why I'm Passing On Tea:
And this is why, despite my own deep suspicion of big government, I remain unmoved by the tea-partiers. Their partisanship and cultural hostility to Obama are far more intense, it seems to me, than their genuine proposals to reduce spending and taxation. And this is largely because they have no genuine proposals to reduce spending and taxation. They seem very protective of Medicare and Social Security - and their older age bracket underlines this. They also seem primed for maximal neo-imperial reach, backing the nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, favoring war against Iran, etc. Only Ron Paul, peace be upon him, extends his big government critique to the military-industrial-ideological complex.

So they are truly not serious in policy terms, and it behooves the small government right to grapple with this honestly. They both support lower taxation and yet bemoan the fact that so many Americans do not pay any income tax. They want to cut spending on trivial matters while enabling the entitlement and defense behemoths to go on gobbling up Americans' wealth. And that lack of seriousness is complemented by a near-fanatical cultural alienation from the modern world.

In my view, this confluence of feelings can work in shifting the public mood, as seems to have happened. When there is no internal pushback against crafted FNC propaganda, and when the Democrats seem unable to craft any coherent political message below the presidential level, you do indeed create a self-perpetuating fantasy that can indeed rally and roil people. But the abstract slogans against government, the childish reduction of necessary trade-offs as an apocalyptic battle between freedom and slavery, and the silly ranting at all things Washington: these are not a political movement. They are cultural vents, wrapped up with some ugly Dixie-like strands.

When they propose cuts in Medicare, means-testing Social Security, a raising of the retirement age and a cut in defense spending, I'll take them seriously and wish them well.

Until then, I'll treat them with the condescending contempt they have thus far deserved.

April 13, 2010

Contempt for the Dead in Oklahoma

In my last post, Rightwing Populism and Unintended Consequences, I discussed how purveyors and followers of overheated, right wing anti-government rhetoric were in the process of disenfranchising themselves and diminishing their own political influence by refusing to participate in the 2010 Census.  All in all, watching people unclear on the concept of elections and frustrated with being out of power push themselves further away from political influence is somewhat amusing, but there is a very serious side to all of the anger and paranoia coming from America's hardcore conservatives.

In Oklahoma, the confluence of obliviousness to the past and present-day feelings of persecution are being mixed into a particularly noxious brew.  Fifteen years ago next week, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols - two men vehemently opposed to what they perceived as tyranny by the government - detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  The resulting blast tore off the side of the structure and snuffed out the lives of 168 people, including 19 children under the age of six.  This event, the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil until 9/11, certainly seems like something that ought to remain indellibly burned into the psyche of all Americans, especially citizens of the Sooner State.

For some, it unquestionably was; today, there is a beautiful and deeply moving memorial at the former site of the Murrah Building. But for many younger Oklahomans, the lessons of April 19, 1995 remained untaught and unlearned. Amazingly, it is only this month that a state law was put in place requiring that the Oklahoma City bombing be taught as a required subject in public schools.  Up until March of this month, McVeigh and Nichols' act of cowardice was an unknown quantity for high schoolers, as Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial found out:
Watkins said she was confronted by a disturbing truth last year during a speech at her alma mater, Cleveland High School, in Pawnee County.

"As I looked out at the 250 or so high school students, I could just see this blank stare, like I was almost speaking a foreign language," Watkins said. "I mean, they had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned the Oklahoma City bombing."

If newer generations can be forgiven their ignorance, however, their elders cannot.  While long-delayed progress is being made in teaching one of the most significant events in the state's history, efforts to fan the flames of radical conservatism in Oklahoma are as intense as ever:
Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.

Tea party movement leaders say they've discussed the idea with several supportive lawmakers and hope to get legislation next year to recognize a new volunteer force. They say the unit would not resemble militia groups that have been raided for allegedly plotting attacks on law enforcement officers.

"Is it scary? It sure is," said tea party leader Al Gerhart of Oklahoma City, who heads an umbrella group of tea party factions called the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance. "But when do the states stop rolling over for the federal government?"
It is striking that there are members of the Oklahoma Legislature who support this action, and it is equally striking that the stated intent of this initiative is an absolute sham.  The only manner in which such a volunteer force would "not resemble" anti-government whack-jobs like the Hutaree will be if it is recognized by the state.  It's purpose - to oppose by force of arms what an extreme fringe considers federal tyranny - is identical.

All of this empty-headed posturing would be pathetic enough if the Sooner State weren't taking in over thirty percent more in federal aid than it contributes in tax dollars - making it one of the biggest welfare queens in the Union - but when Oklahoma's own tragic history with regard to right wing extremism is considered, it's nothing more than disgraceful contempt for the dead.

April 7, 2010

Rightwing Populism and Unintended Consequences

Among those unclear on the concept of democracy and the consequences of elections, anti-government fervor is boiling away at a level not seen since the Clinton Adminsitration.  Last week, for instance, Congressman Ron Paul - a leading light among self-styled libertarians - declared that the passage of health care reform meant gun-toting federal agents will be showing up to shoot people who don't sign up for medical coverage.  Or something:
16,500 armed bureaucrats [are] coming to make this program work.  If it was a good program and everybody liked it, you wouldn’t need 16,500 thugs coming with their guns and putting you in jail if you didn’t follow all the rules.
This sort of baseless, paranoid stupidity would be amusing if the overheated rhetoric from the leadership of the American right wing wasn't demonstrably fomenting genuine acts of violence by its extremist rank and file.  In the immediate aftermath of the health care bill's passage, for example, Mike Vanderboegh, the former head of an organization calling itself the Alabama Constitutional Militia, decided he and his followers needed to send a message:
Vanderboegh posted the call for action Friday on his blog, "Sipsey Street Irregulars." Referring to the health care reform bill as "Nancy Pelosi's Intolerable Act," he told followers to send a message to Democrats.

"We can break their windows," he said. "Break them NOW. And if we do a proper job, if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary."
The result? Vandalism to multiple Democratic party and congressional offices across the country.  Mr. Vanderboegh, the avowed libertarian militiaman behind this action was unapologetic, despite the fact that - wait for it - he lives on government disability payments.

Representative Eric Cantor, the House Minorty Whip tried to claim that "both sides" were behind violence directed at legislators when a bullet hole was found in his office window.  Washington, DC police however, established that it was a random shot fired from a considerable distance and not directed at the Virginia Republican, but that didn't stop Mr. Cantor from trying to blame Democrats for talking about the fact that they're being victimized, rather than blaming the people actually smashing windows.

Meanwhile, a group called the Guardians of the Free Republics sent letters to more than 30 governors stating that if they didn't leave office voluntarily within 3 days, they would be "removed."  No direct threat of violence was reported in the language of the letters, but law enforcement authorities are concerned that they \might be used to justify attacks or intimidation by others.  As if to put that risk in sharp relief, just days later, eight members of a Christian extremist group known as the Hutaree Militia were indicted and jailed for plotting to murder local, state and federal law enforcement personnel, and hatching a follow-up plan to attack the funeral procession of any officer they killed.

All of this amounts to little more than a fevered hatred of being out of power, and a misunderstanding of the function served by elections; it is - despite grandiose rhetoric - unlikely to lead to widespread upheaval that actually threatens the country.  That said, the increasingly eliminationist tone struck by leading Republicans like Sarah Palin, who urged "common sense Americans" to "reload," is deeply irresponsible, and it will be unsurprising to me if there aren't acts of more serious violence in the weeks and months to come that lead to either death or serious injury.

Amidst these causes of concern, however, there is a small ray of, if not sunshine, at least schadenfreudeTea Party panderers and lowest common denominator public figures like Congresswoman Michelle Bachman have been speaking out against the census, ranting that, despite it being a legal requirement spelled out in the Constitution, it is a tool of totalitarianism and citizens should not participate.  Ms. Bachman, apparently unconcerned that she was advising her constituents to break the law, warned that information collected in the census had been used to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II, and boasted that she wouldn't be filling out her own 2010 form.

While this might be great populist fodder, the law of unintended consequences is now rearing its head.  (Not that any of these short-sighted conservative rabble-rousers have ever been accused of planning for the future.)  The Houston Chronicle is reporting that residents of Texas, that conservative bellwether, are completing the census at a rate far below the national average.  As a consequence, the Lone Star State, which has enjoyed dramatic growth in the past decade is in the process of shooting itself in the foot, thanks to hysterical rightwing propaganda:

Texas is counting on the 2010 Census to deliver four new congressional districts, four new Electoral College votes in presidential elections, and millions of dollars in additional federal aid. But, as some elected officials are starting to worry, Uncle Sam can't deliver anything to the rapidly growing Sun Belt state unless Texas residents deliver their forms back to the government.

As of Friday afternoon, only 27 percent of Texas households had filled in and returned their census forms — well below the national average of 34 percent — according to computer data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In Harris County, the response rate is 23 percent. Houston's returns are running at 21 percent.

Contrary to historical trends, some of the toughest challenges facing the agency responsible for measuring the nation's population are not from counting the traditionally undercounted groups such as African-Americans and Latinos. Instead, a new and growing threat to an accurate national head count is coming from anti-government conservatives who may not fill out their forms to protest against “Big Brother” in Washington.
All of this would be funny if it weren't so tragic.

April 2, 2010

If FOX News Had Existed Throughout History...

This is not the newest of images - it's been around a few months - but as the post-health care reform hysteria continues unabated, it struck a chord with me when I ran across it again...