Returns and correctives
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Sorry for dropping out for the past week. I was traveling and thought I'd be better able to get online than it turned out I actually was. I've got a lot of material in the pipeline, so expect me to kind of make up for it in the next week or two.
While I was out, I found out that not only had I filed one post last week predicated on what turned out to be false information -- not exactly a common occurrence here -- but evidently two such posts. Even though in both cases I was working on ostensibly reliable information from credible mainstream sources, I'd like to give my readers a heartfelt apology. I certainly expect better of myself.
The first case is particularly aggravating: it turns out that the student who claimed he'd been visited by Homeland Security investigators after checking out Mao's Little Red Book was a complete hoax. The reason it's aggravating is that the larger point I made in the post -- that not only is it easy for rogue surveillance lacking any kind of oversight to morph into an actual assault on the civil liberties of ordinary citizens -- remains valid, as other evidence continues to demonstrate. Digby has a lot more on this. As ReddHedd at firedoglake points out, the evidence keeps coming in from sources like James Bamford at the New York Times and William Arkin's blog in the Washington Post, as well as my hometown paper, the P-I, "all detailing ways in which the NSA is said to have been deployed far beyond what its mission has traditionally been, and all without any third party oversight because the Bush Administration deliberately chose to move forward without it."
This is an important thing for the public to understand, and the evidence for it doesn't need to be tainted by hoaxes. The "Little Red Book" fit in so neatly with everything else we're discovering about this expansion of executive power that I didn't treat it with the skepticism it probably deserved.
Then there's the matter of the Washington Times' purported link to bin Laden's decision in 1998 to stop using his cell phone, cited by President Bush and the 9/11 commission. The Washington Post and Jack Shafer at Slate pretty thoroughly debunk this story, though as Shafer notes, the facts they raise don't necessarily disprove whether such a connection existed: it remains entirely possible that bin Laden's decision to drop the use of the phone was sparked by the publication of the information in the Washington Times. On the other hand, the internal NSC assumption that this was the case, according to Daniel Benjamin, may not have been accurate either. It's clear, in any event, that the release of the information was not the product of a leak.
My mistake was reasonable enough, having originated from an otherwise largely credible work by a couple of well-regarded counterterrorism experts. And I obviously wasn't alone in doing so: even the Washington Post itself had referred to the 1998 Times story as the source of what was termed "a major intelligence setback" -- though, as Shafer explains, the information had already been made public a couple of years before that.
Mea culpa. Now, on to the good stuff. Hopefully hoax- and urban-myth-free.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
As predictable as ever, right-wingnuttia is all aflutter with charges that the New York Times damaged national security by revealing that the Bush administration, in defiance of federal statutes, has been spying on American citizens without warrants.
It always helps, of course, when President Bush himself makes that charge on national television:
- My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. You've got to understand -- and I hope the American people understand -- there is still an enemy that would like to strike the United States of America, and they're very dangerous. And the discussion about how we try to find them will enable them to adjust.
Acting on cue, the right-wing Wurlitzer is rumbling into action. Helping lead the charge, as always, is the Washington Times, which headlined its lead story today: "Bush calls leak 'shameful'".
Even before Bush spoke, right-wing blognuttia was pushing this line, including such luminaries as PowerLine and Michelle Malkin, plus the usual cast of thousands. Similarly, right-wing columnists like NRO's James S. Robbins weighed in along identical lines.
But then, remember the incident that Bush used to illustrate the problem in his press conference:
- Let me give you an example about my concerns about letting the enemy know what may or may not be happening. In the late 1990s, our government was following Osama bin Laden because he was using a certain type of telephone. And then the fact that we were following Osama bin Laden because he was using a certain type of telephone made it into the press as the result of a leak. And guess what happened? Saddam -- Osama bin Laden changed his behavior. He began to change how he communicated.
... And again, I want to repeat what I said about Osama bin Laden, the man who ordered the attack that killed 3,000 Americans. We were listening to him. He was using a type of cell phone, or a type of phone, and we put it in the newspaper -- somebody put it in the newspaper that this was the type of device he was using to communicate with his team, and he changed. I don't know how I can make the point more clear that any time we give up -- and this is before they attacked us, by the way -- revealing sources, methods, and what we use the information for simply says to the enemy: change.
What Bush conveniently neglected to mention to his audience was that it wasn't the New York Times, nor any other organ of the "mainstream media," that published this information.
It was the Washington Times.
As I have pointed out several times, this incident was described in some detail in Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon's The Age of Sacred Terror, both having worked on counterterrorism in the Clinton administration.
According to Benjamin and Simon, the turning point when al-Qaeda became America's greatest enemy was not on Sept. 11, 2001, but rather on Aug. 20, 1998 -- the day President Clinton launched missile strikes against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and the Sudan, the latter being a pharmaceutical plant at al-Shifa that was being used to develop chemical weapons. From pp. 260-261:
- For a brief moment, the operation appeared to be a qualified success. Al-Shifa was destroyed. Six terrorist camps were hit and about sixty people were killed, many of them Pakistani militants training for action in Kashmir. The Tomahawks missed bin Laden and the other senior al-Qaeda leaders by a couple of hours. This in itself was not a great surprise: no one involved has any illusions about the chances of hitting the target at exactly the right time. The White House recognized that the strike would not stop any attacks that were in the pipeline, but it might forestall the initiation of new operations as the organization's leaders went to ground.
The months that followed, however, were a nightmare. The press picked apart the administration's case for striking al-Shifa, and controversy erupted over whether Clinton was trying to "wag the dog," that is, distract the public from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The Washington Times -- the capital's unabashed right-wing newspaper, which consistently has the best sources in the intelligence world and the least compunction about leaking -- ran a story mentioning that bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones." Bin Laden stopped using the satellite phone instantly. The al-Qaeda leader was not eager to court the fate of Djokar Dudayev, the Chechen insurgent leader who was killed by a Russian air defense suppression missile that homed in on its target using his satellite phone signal. When bin Laden stopped using the phone and let his aides do the calling, the United States lost its best chance to find him.
According to a later Washington Post report, the Washington Times piece was in fact later determined to be "a major intelligence setback."
But did any of you hear any of these right-wing pundits now braying "treason" at the New York Times complaining back in 1998, when the Washington Times in fact genuinely harmed our national security interests, in a way that later contributed to thousands of American deaths?
Er, no. They were all too busy playing the same damned "wag the dog" game.
Funny how things work over there in Conservative Land. If a conservative mouthpiece actually harms national security in the pursuit of attacking a liberal president or policy, well, then, that's just good old hardball politics. Just ask Valerie Plame.
And besides, you can always just give it a few years. Then, when everyone's forgotten who actually caused this security breach and why, a smart, Orwellian conservative figurehead can always use the incident later to bash the "mainstream media" for doing its job.
On the other hand, if the mainstream media catches a conservative president breaking the law by spying on American citizens, then suddenly the alarms are being sounded about the press harming national security (mostly under a bunch of scenarios stolen from bad TV scripts).
Killing the message
Monday, December 19, 2005
One of the real signs of Republicans' growing extremism is what Chris Mooney calls their "War on Science," because it reveals a mindset in which factual reality is discarded and replaced with one constructed out of whole cloth.
As always, this constructed reality comes into conflict with the real world, at which point its adherents typically try to assert themselves by outshouting the messengers or shutting them up.
In the case of the attacks on science, we know what happens next, inexorably: a slow-motion disaster for the public. In some cases, as with stem-cell research, real advances in medicine are forestalled. In others, as with the intended imposition of "intelligent design" curriculum in our schools, it means a serious degradation of the sciences in public education. In yet others, as with the management of endangered species like salmon, it results in massive degradation of our national resources and natural heritage.
Exhibit No. 25846 in this ongoing debacle is the recent decision by Sen. Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican, to cut funding for one of the major sources of data that is currently available on Columbia River salmon.
You've got to love Craig's explanation, which is a classic case of projection:
- "Data cloaked in advocacy create confusion," Craig said on the Senate floor this month, after successfully inserting language in an energy and water appropriations bill that bans all future funding for the Fish Passage Center. "False science leads people to false choices."
It sure does. And it's quite clear that Craig's definition of "false science" is "any science that runs counter the policies I wish to promote."
- "Idaho's water should not be flushed away on experimental policies based on cloudy, inexact assumption," Craig said in a news release.
Nor should taxpayers' dollars be flushed away on ridiculously expensive, and plainly ineffective, measures like the barging of salmon smolt currently favored by the Bush administration.
And, like all good Republicans these days, Craig distorted and falsified the record while justifying the line cut:
- On the Senate floor this month, he justified elimination of the Fish Passage Center on the grounds that "many questions have arisen regarding the reliability of the technical data" it publishes. Craig quoted from the report of an independent scientific advisory board that in 2003 reviewed work done by the Fish Passage Center.
But one of the report's authors, Charles C. Coutant, a fishery ecologist who retired this year from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said Craig neglected to mention that the board found the work of the center to be "of high technical quality."
"Craig was very selective in reflecting just the critical part of a quotation from the report," said Coutant, who has worked on Columbia River salmon issues for 16 years. "It did give a misleading impression about our board's view of the Fish Passage Center."
Craig also said on the Senate floor that "other institutions" in the Northwest now do "most" of the data collection work done by center. He said getting rid of the center would reduce redundancy and increase the efficiency of regional fish programs.
But according to another recent independent scientific assessment of the work of the center, there was little duplication of data collection between the center and other organizations; it recommended that the center continue to receive funding to meet a substantial need in the Northwest for information on salmon survival.
Fish and game agencies in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, Indian tribes with fishing rights on the river and the governors of Oregon and Washington have all said that eliminating the Fish Passage Center is a bad idea that would reduce the quality of information on endangered salmon.
As Chris Mooney points out:
- Craig's "scientific" rationales for killing this scientific agency don't add up. It's clear that this was about politics -- and about appeasing Craig's political allies in the hydropower industry.
Paul Vandevelder explained in the P-I the other day just how grotesque a piece of bad government this move by Craig really is. The significant point is that cutting out the center means silencing one of the real sources of actual data that proved, beyond any question, that the Bush salmon recovery efforts were failing. It's an effective way of silencing your critics:
- Scientific data gathered by an independent agency, the Fish Passage Center, showed that the BPA's strategy of trucking and barging fish around dams has been a $3 billion boondoggle. Under the care of BPA hydrologists, fish survival rates have plummeted. In June, the judge set aside the projected loss and ruled in favor of the fish. Within days, Idaho Sen. Larry E. Craig (named "Legislator of the Year" by the National Hydropower Association) inserted language into a Senate energy bill that would "zero out" funding for the Fish Passage Center.
The FPC, as it is known, was established in 1984 after Congress passed the Northwest Power Act, a toothsome law that put salmon protection on an "equal footing" with power generators, barge operators, ratepayers and irrigators. For more than 20 years, the FPC has collected and distributed scientific data to state, tribal and federal fisheries biologists and the courts. The center's longtime manager, Michele DeHart, admits that data has put politicians between a rock and a wet place by proving, conclusively, that the hydro-power infrastructure kill fish.
Nevertheless, "I guess I am flabbergasted," says DeHart, whose agency is now scheduled to vanish in March. "We are biologists and computer scientists, and what we do is just math."
The rider that Craig attached to the Senate energy bill is a shot across Redden's bow. As the man responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act on the Columbia and Snake rivers, Redden relies on scientific data to make sound decisions. "I think it would be a drastic mistake for them (Congress) to yank the subsidy from the center (FPC) which has been giving out neutral information for many years," said Redden at a hearing on Sept. 30. "I hope that does not happen."
Craig attempted to explain his action in a speech to the Senate, in November, by claiming that data gathered by the FPC is "cloaked in advocacy" and that "false science leads people to false choices." Inexplicably, neither Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden or Washington Sens. Patty Murray nor Maria Cantwell, challenged Craig's nonsensical assertions.
Two decades of scientific data supports neither the BPA's recovery strategy nor the senator's make-believe world. When the spill concluded last September, the FPC announced that smolt survival rates in the lower Snake River were the "highest recorded in recent years," a year-over year jump from 30 percent to 74 percent. Craig finessed that embarrassing detail in his speech to the Senate. Nor did he mention that the BPA actually reduced its late summer wholesale rates by 1.6 percent thanks to surplus power sales that exceeded forecasts by $20 million.
No wonder they want to kill the messenger: they want to kill the message. That's how you maintain that constructed version of reality.
But the real version of reality, as always, has its own way of asserting itself. And it can be very, very painful when it does.
The action-hero presidency
Sunday, December 18, 2005
I used to wonder, back when George W. Bush was doing things like flying in a fighter jet onto aircraft carriers while wearing well-endowed jumpsuits, and then getting action figures made to commemorate the event, how many times he had been watching Air Force One. Because it was self-evident that Bush was going to model his presidency not after his famously wimpy father, but after Harrison Ford.
You've seen Air Force One, right? I thought the movie was a clever idea: the president as action hero. Personally, I most liked the climactic scene where a really pissed-off Ford finally shoves the evil terrorist Gary Oldman out the back end of a plane. Boy, talk about satisfying.
And then there was the speech he gave:
- Never again will I allow our political self-interest to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right. Atrocity and terror are not political weapons. And to those who would use them, your day is over. We will never negotiate. We will no longer tolerate and we will no longer be afraid. It's your turn to be afraid.
Sounds like ... a George W. Bush speech.
Of course, like all action films, Air Force One is terribly cheesy in execution, and all slathered with the usual moral fable: the instinctive action of the hero is always superior to the overwrought intellectualism of his enemies, not to mention their morally feeble enablers.
It's the same in every action film: In addition to the actual enemy, the hero must also overcome the limp-wristed hang-wringers who think too much: they worry about things like constitutional rights and whether or not the enemy is being mistreated. Sometimes these people are politicians or law-enforcement officials; sometimes they're members of the media. But it's always the same: They're nearly as noxious as (and sometimes share the fate of) the enemy himself.
Clint Eastwood was especially good at films like this: Dirty Harry is a classic of the genre, replete with an interfering DA who handcuffs our hero at every turn. Bruce Willis also made a lot of flicks like this; the first two Die Hard films featured both FBI agents and local reporters who cause trouble for our hero.
Then there are more recent permutations, particularly on network TV (think action shows like 24) in which the hero is forced to push the boundaries of what's legal in order to achieve results -- especially when it comes to saving thousands of lives from a terrorist attack.
Now, to hear folks on the right talk, you'd think that George W. Bush was indeed cut in the mold of Harrison Ford and Kiefer Sutherland, with a dash of Bruce on the side. Don't these wimps complaining about his surveillance of American citizens without warrant or oversight know we're in a war on terror?
I mean, what good is the Constitution if all it does is enable evil terrorists to endanger the lives of us all? Right? We should be able to pick and choose whose rights we protect, because you never know when someone is gonna set off a nuke in your kids' playground.
It's too easy to say that George W. Bush and his cult of defenders on the right have watched too many of these action films. Rather, what is more noteworthy is that this public response taps directly into those well-established sentiments about heroic action. It's actually rather a brilliant stroke: Republicans are appealing to an American public already profoundly propagandized by a steady diet of Hollywood-produced action flicks and revenge melodramas. Movies in which such niceties as civil rights are readily discarded in the pursuit of justice.
Mind you, it matters little that the reality is that 24-type situations, in which life-and-death issues hang on questions of torture and surveillance, are so extremely rare that their likelihood is nearly nil. Moreover, the system of justice is designed so that considerations like preventing the deaths of innocents can be readily taken into account later.
These "annoying" laws exist for a reason fundamental to the very foundations of modern society: This is a nation of laws, not men. And while it's easy and convenient to discard those principles in the flimsy context of a movie, doing so in real life has profound and lasting complications.
I think what you can say is that the Bush team is cynically manipulating public sentiment for the sake of pushing the limits of presidential power. It's a brilliant move, really, tapping into an aspect of the psyche that has been preconditioned by a hoary myth that has been perpetuated over the years by Hollywood: the notion that the action-driven hero's instincts for "saving lives" are superior to careful reasoning and principled restraint.
But it sure is weird for a bunch of people who make a living out of deriding "Hollywood values."
They're making a watch list ...
Saturday, December 17, 2005
... checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty and nice ...
Big Brother is coming to town:
- NEW BEDFORD -- A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."
Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.
The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.
The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.
"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."
Although The Standard-Times knows the name of the student, he is not coming forward because he fears repercussions should his name become public. He has not spoken to The Standard-Times.
... The student told Professor Pontbriand and Dr. Williams that the Homeland Security agents told him the book was on a "watch list." They brought the book with them, but did not leave it with the student, the professors said.
Dr. Williams said in his research, he regularly contacts people in Afghanistan, Chechnya and other Muslim hot spots, and suspects that some of his calls are monitored.
"My instinct is that there is a lot more monitoring than we think," he said.
Dr. Williams said he had been planning to offer a course on terrorism next semester, but is reconsidering, because it might put his students at risk.
Plainly, this kind of anecdote underscores the ease with which programs aimed strictly at stopping terrorists (or those with a "clear link" to terrorists) can be expanded into areas having little to do with terrorism.
And that really is the issue, isn't it, with the the program uncovered in the recent revelations about the Bush administration's surveillance of American citizens through the National Security Agency? (Though it must be pointed out that, for now, it's difficult to ascertain whether the UMass surveillance was conducted under the same program as the NSA work.)
This raises really significant constitutional issues, and raises the immediate question of whether the Bush administration is intentionally provoking a constitutional crisis. Today's analysis in the Washington Post points out:
- Bush's constitutional argument, in the eyes of some legal scholars and previous White House advisers, relies on extraordinary claims of presidential war-making power. Bush said yesterday that the lawfulness of his directives was affirmed by the attorney general and White House counsel, a list that omitted the legislative and judicial branches of government. On occasion the Bush administration has explicitly rejected the authority of courts and Congress to impose boundaries on the power of the commander in chief, describing the president's war-making powers in legal briefs as "plenary" -- a term defined as "full," "complete," and "absolute."
... Congress asserted itself in the 1970s, imposing oversight requirements and passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said FISA "expressly made it a crime for government officials 'acting under color of law' to engage in electronic eavesdropping 'other than pursuant to statute.' " FISA described itself, along with the criminal wiretap statute, as "the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . may be conducted."
No president before Bush mounted a frontal challenge to Congress's authority to limit espionage against Americans. In a Sept. 25, 2002, brief signed by then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, the Justice Department asserted "the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority."
The brief made no distinction between suspected agents who are U.S. citizens and those who are not. Other Bush administration legal arguments have said the "war on terror" is global and indefinite in scope, effectively removing traditional limits of wartime authority to the times and places of imminent or actual battle.
"There is a lot of discussion out there that we shouldn't be dividing Americans and foreigners, but terrorists and non-terrorists," said Gordon Oehler, a former chief of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center who served on last year's special commission assessing U.S. intelligence.
By law, according to University of Chicago scholar Geoffrey Stone, the differences are fundamental: Americans have constitutional protections that are enforceable in court whether their conversations are domestic or international.
Bush's assertion that eavesdropping takes place only on U.S. calls to overseas phones, Stone said, "is no different, as far as the law is concerned, from saying we only do it on Tuesdays."
Michael J. Woods, who was chief of the FBI's national security law unit when Bush signed the NSA directive, described the ongoing program as "very dangerous." In the immediate aftermath of a devastating attack, he said, the decision was a justifiable emergency response. In 2006, "we ought to be past the time of emergency responses. We ought to have more considered views now. . . . We have time to debate a legal regime and what's appropriate."
Bush already has appeared to declare himself beyond the law on numerous fronts, most notoriously on his attempts to ignore the Geneva Conventions regarding torture. It is not just a recurring theme: It's a standard MO. "Very dangerous," indeed.
You know, I was around when most Americans realized that Richard Nixon was a threat to the nation's well-being, and I remember what happened then. I don't think it will happen to George W. Bush, but I thought that about Nixon, too.
Atrios and Digby have it exactly right regarding the broader ramifications of the recent revelations that President Bush ordered domestic spying on Americans without any kind of oversight or review: Bush almost certainly broke the law.
But this is perfectly in keeping with a pattern of power acquisition this administration demonstrated early on, and has maintained steadfastly throughout, particularly in its decision to invade Iraq, as well as its expansions of executive power in the form of military tribunals and "enemy combatant" declarations. Indeed, we'd had hints of the administration's animosity to limits on such surveillance all along.
It all brings back something I wrote almost three years ago:
- Joan Didion makes a noteworthy point:
- "I made up my mind," he had said in April, "that Saddam needs to go." This was one of many curious, almost petulant statements offered in lieu of actually presenting a case. I've made up my mind, I've said in speech after speech, I've made myself clear. The repeated statements became their own reason: "Given all we have said as a leading world power about the necessity for regime change in Iraq," James R Schlesinger, who is now a member of Richard Perle's Defence Policy Board, told The Washington Post in July, "our credibility would be badly damaged if that regime change did not take place".
This encapsulates Bush's entire approach to governance. In Bush's view, the president has -- by virtue of holding the office, even without the actual mandate of the voters -- almost godlike powers, able to decide the fate of entire nations by virtue of his election, or in this case, installment by court fiat. (It's becoming clear why they hated Bill Clinton so much -- liberals aren't supposed to possess such power.)
Or, as Bush told Bob Woodward: "I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
This approach is clear not merely in such brusque asides as "Who cares what you think?", but also in the administration's refusal to hand over documents related to Enron and Halliburton's influences in the Oval Office, as well as a host of domestic issues ranging from the environment to economic and tax policies. It also plays a major role in Bush's messianic militarism.
Most of all, it's an important part of the administration's aggressive acquisition of new and wide-ranging powers for the executive branch. Most of this is being masterminded by Solicitor General Ted Olson, who has been making it his mission since the mid-'80s, when he worked for Reagan's Justice Department, to overturn the losses of executive power that came with the post-Watergate reforms of the 1970s.
But the powers this administration has been acquiring go well beyond even that range (much of which had to do with executive privilege and open governance). They now extend into entirely new areas, wrought mainly by Bush's "Military Order" that allows the administration to arrest and detain American citizens as "enemy combatants" without counsel or even notification of arrest -- powers that appear to have been dreamed up by Kafka, but in fact were a product of the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II (I hope to have more available soon about that point in an article I've written).
The administration's assertion of these powers flows out of Bush's godlike view of himself, and his minions' simultaneous promotion of that view. That was especially clear in Olson's explanation for the Washington Post (in a Dec. 2 story by Charles Lane titled, "In Terror War, 2nd Track for Suspects," which is no longer available online) why Bush, and not the courts, should be given these powers:
- "At the end of the day in our constitutional system, someone will have to decide whether that [decision to designate someone an enemy combatant] is a right or just decision," Olson said. "Who will finally decide that? Will it be a judge, or will it be the president of the United States, elected by the people, specifically to perform that function, with the capacity to have the information at his disposal with the assistance of those who work for him?"
Of course, Ted -- who argued Bush v. Gore before the Supreme Court -- well knows that to hold the presidency, one needs not even be actually elected.
One need only have an unquenchable thirst for power. Perhaps the most dangerous such thirst in American history.
And looking more dangerous all the time.
The Minutemen's father figure
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Suzy Buchanan and David Holthouse of the Southern Poverty Law Center went a-digging into the personal history of Minuteman leader Chris Simcox, and their final report reveals plenty of troubling information.
The portrait of Simcox that emerges is of a paranoid self-promoter who sees himself as an overlooked genius finally coming into his own. He also is prone to extremely unstable behavior:
- Court records obtained by the Center's Intelligence Project show Simcox's second ex-wife, Kim Dunbar, filed an emergency appeal in September 2001 to obtain full custody of their teenage son because she feared that Simcox had suffered a mental breakdown and was dangerous.
Dunbar declined to be interviewed for this article, but her sworn affidavits speak for themselves. In one, Dunbar testified that throughout their 10-year marriage, Simcox was prone to sudden, violent rages.
"He once took a knife from the kitchen and threatened to kill himself," she testified. "When he was angry, he broke furniture, car windows, he banged his head against the wall repeatedly and punched things."
Dunbar said that when their son was 4 years old, Simcox slapped him so hard that a mark remained on his face for two days. Another time, she testified, she grabbed her young son in her arms and jumped out a window because Simcox was throwing furniture at them.
After such episodes, she said, Simcox would become despondent. "He would stare at walls, mumbling to himself." In the affidavits, Dunbar said she repeatedly pressured Simcox to seek professional help and even tried to have him hospitalized. But he persistently refused treatment.
"Eventually," she said, "the only thing I could do was file for divorce."
Simcox and Dunbar initially shared custody of their son. There was no legal dispute until shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, when Dunbar suddenly filed a flurry of emergency appeals.
"While Chris has always been prone to strong opinions and ranting behavior, this last episode has gone even farther," she told the court. "I am convinced he has had some kind of mental lapse and I am now, more than ever, afraid for my son to be in Chris' care."
Dunbar grew frightened after Simcox left her a series of bizarre voicemail messages beginning that Sept. 13, in which he went on angry diatribes about the Constitution, patriotism, and impending nuclear attacks on Los Angles, and talked about training their 15-year-old son in the use of firearms.
"I will begin teaching him the art of protecting himself with weapons," Simcox said in one recorded message he left for Dunbar. "I purchased another gun. I have more than a few weapons, and I intend on teaching my son how to use them." Simcox added, "I will no longer trust anyone in this country. My life has changed forever, and if you don't get that, you are brainwashed like everybody else."
In phone conversations with his son that his ex-wife recorded and submitted to the court as evidence of Simcox's mental instability, he challenged the boy to become "a man and a real American."
"You better stop playing baseball, buddy, and you better do something real, 'cause life will never be the same," Simcox thundered. "I'm going to go down to the Mexican border and sign up for the government for border patrol to protect the borders of the country that I love. You hear how serious I am."
It's also quite clear that Simcox is motivated less by real concerns about border security than about the influx of Latinos into the United States:
- In January 2003, while on patrol with Civil Homeland Defense, Simcox was arrested by federal park rangers for illegally carrying a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun in a national park. Also in Simcox's possession at the time of that arrest, according to police records, were a document entitled "Mission Plan," a police scanner, two walkie-talkies, and a toy figure of Wyatt Earp on horseback.
Two months later, in a speech to the California Coalition on Immigration Reform, a hate group whose leader, Barbara Coe, routinely refers to Mexicans as "savages," Simcox offered a dire warning to his audience.
"Take heed of our weapons because we're going to defend our borders by any means necessary," he said. "There's something very fishy going on at the border. The Mexican army is driving American vehicles -- but carrying Chinese weapons. I have personally seen what I can only believe to be Chinese troops."
Of illegal immigrants, Simcox added: "They're trashing their neighborhoods, refusing to assimilate, standing on street corners, jeering at little girls walking on their way to school."
He also has been known to inflate his resume:
- "When I'm asked by reporters if I'm a racist, I tell them, 'Why don't you go ask my black ex-wife and my biracial children and the members of the racial diversity committee I chaired whether I'm a racist?'" he said at the October conference.
Simcox, evidently, was never the chair of his school's diversity committee. Even more disturbing, however, is what comes next:
- "When they ask me, 'Well, what do you have to say to people who call you a racist?' I come back at them with, 'What do you have to say to people who call you a child molester?'"
That's a strange rhetorical device given the accusations leveled at Simcox in the summer of 1998, when his 14-year-old daughter from his first marriage -- prior to his union with Dunbar -- came to live with him in Los Angeles.
In separate interviews with the Intelligence Report, two of Simcox's former colleagues at Wildwood and his first ex-wife gave the same account. They said that Simcox helped his daughter get a job babysitting for a Wildwood School employee and that one night, Simcox's daughter showed up unexpectedly at her employer's house, visibly upset, alleging that her father had just attempted to sexually molest her.
"He tried to molest our daughter when he was intoxicated," said Deborah Crews, Simcox's first ex-wife and the girl's mother. "When she ran out, he tried to say he was just giving her a leg massage and she got the wrong idea."
Contacted by the Report, Simcox refused to answer four direct questions about the molestation allegations. "I would never answer those questions to you. You can't ask those questions," he said. "You're on a witch hunt and you're trying to discredit our movement, which is to secure the borders. ... My personal life has nothing to do with anything that goes on here."
No charges were filed against Simcox, but Crews said she and her daughter immediately broke off all contact with him.
"He's a drastic, chaotic, very dangerous guy," said Crews. "I'm surprised he hasn't shot anybody yet. I see him on TV and I have to turn if off, because it makes me sick to see him getting all this attention."
If this is someone's idea of the leader of a "neighborhood watch," I'd be watching my neighborhood very closely indeed.
The fine folks at Wampum are asking for nominations for the annual Koufax Awards. I've been exceptionally fortunate the past couple of years to win for Best Series. I don't think I'm likely to keep a streak like that going: the competition this year in all the categories seems tougher than ever. Which is a great thing.
This year, I'd just like to remind everyone to be sure to pitch in. At the same link above, you'll find the Wampum "Make a Donation" button on the right-hand side. Click it and give.
Contests and quizzes
Say, if anyone's interested, you can go vote in the annual Weblog Awards, which are run by Wizbang, so I take them with about a mine of salt. Orcinus is a finalist in the Best of the Top 250 category.
I normally ignore those silly online quizzes that wind up giving you a chance to pigeonhole yourself along various themes. But I was kind of intrigued by the "What is Your World View" quiz at QuizFarm. Here's what it came up with for me. It's surprisingly accurate:
| You scored as Cultural Creative. Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.|
What is Your World View? (updated)
created with QuizFarm.com
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
The read of the day is Chris Mooney's review of the most recent bit of Regnery Press mendacity to hit the bookshelves, namely, Tom Bethel's Politically Incorrect Guide to Science.
The book, evidently, is nothing but a compendium of right-wing anti-science bullshit, and Mooney details the multitude of problems with it. His conclusion:
- Overall, then, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science is a very saddening and depressing read. While they have undoubtedly made mistakes, and certainly nourish individual biases just like all the rest of us, scientists in universities and in government have generally worked very hard and have--thanks to the scientific process--come up with a great deal of important and relevant knowledge. But along comes someone like Bethell and, in a book that's likely to be read by a lot of people, radically distorts and undermines their conclusions and findings, while whipping up resentment of the scientific community among rank-and-file political conservatives. That Bethell is finding such a ready audience underscores the severe threat to the role of science in modern American life and, most importantly, in political decision-making.
So, what is it about Regnery that makes it such a repository of fraudulent writing?
I suppose it could have something to do with its origins.