a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The white supremacist roots of Glenn Beck’s ideology

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th October 2010

Last weekend I went to the “One Nation” march — a rally designed at least in part as a rebuke to Glenn Beck’s 8/27 event at the Lincoln Memorial, hijacking the date and meaning of the March on Washington 47 years earlier.  At least one “Tea Party” advocate stood alone (and unmolested) among the swirling crowd near the Washington Monument on their way towards the event.  His sign had words to the effect “I’m with the Tea Party .  But I’m not racist, I don’t hate.”

Maybe not.  Few people like to think they’re racist.  Many people try not to be.  But we’re not usually the most objective judges of whether we’ve succeeded.

More to the point here, when their leaders — by intent, by ignorance, or by intentional ignorance — misrepresent the history of race in America that they claim to be explaining, the practical effect is racist.  Listen to the ‘MediaMatters’ tape excerpt of the October 1 Glenn Beck show, starting at 2:14:

…I would like to propose that the president is exactly right when he said “Slaves sitting around the campfire didn’t know when slavery was going to end, but they knew that it would.” And it took a long time to end slavery. Yes it did. But it also took a long time to start slavery. And it started small, and it started with seemingly innocent ideas. And then a little court order here and a court order there, and a little more regulation here and a little more regulation there, and before we knew it, America had slavery. It didn’t come over on a ship to begin with as an evil slave trade, the government began to regulate things because the people needed answers, they needed solutions. It started in a courtroom, and then it went to the legislatures. That’s how slavery began. And it took a long time to enslave an entire race of people and convince another race of people that they were somehow or another “less” than them. But it can be done. I would ask you to decide: are we freeing slaves, or are we creating slaves? That’s a question that must be answered.

Hokaaay.  There’s a whole discussion one might have about how all this is delivered — the weary would-be freedom rider’s ‘yes it did,’ the oddly mocking, skeptical ‘evil slave trade.’  But it’s the content that concerns me here: where in God’s name does Beck come up with this stuff?

W.C. Skousen and the Lost Cause
The answer appears to be that ‘in God’s name’ is about right: it may be largely from one Willard Cleon Skousen (1913-2006).  National Review Online’s Mark Hemingway described him as “by turns an FBI employee, the police chief of Salt Lake City, a Brigham Young University professor, consigliore to former secretary of agriculture and Mormon president Ezra Taft Benson and, well, all-around nutjob.” (emphasis added)

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Why win when you can lose: tax debate postponed to after election

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th September 2010

First they said they wouldn’t.  Then they said they would.  Now they say they won’t.  In a move that may be one of the last nails in the November coffin for Democrats, the debate about which Bush era tax cuts, if any, to extend has been postponed until after the election.  Lori Montgomery reports (“Tax-cut vote likely set for after elections,” Washington Post):

Democrats said they are counting on the pre-election impasse over taxes to ease when lawmakers return to Washington in mid-November for the first of two work periods before a new Congress is seated. Senate Democrats, who control 59 seats, will need to unite their caucus and win the support of at least one Republican to overcome a potential GOP filibuster. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, said that will be easier after the elections.

“In a September session, it’s hard to separate anything you do from politics,” said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) “And the politics ultimately triumphed. We didn’t get much of anything done. And that’s why I think, ultimately, members of the Senate have decided the best thing to do is go home, particularly those who are running.”

The thing is, debating the justice and wisdom of extending Paris Hilton tax cuts was an eminently reasonable and necessary debate to have if growing deficits are truly a concern. But set aside that it would have been good policy — it would have been great politics.

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Matthew 25:42

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th September 2010

Earlier this month, Scott Horton asked an interesting question: “When Is Offering a Drink of Water a Crime?” The answer, it would seem, is once Eric Holder’s Justice Department finds enough judges like Jay “Waterboard ‘Em” Bybee to help them out with that:

Last August, I reported on the case of Walt Stanton, a graduate student at Claremont Theology School who, with a group called “No More Deaths,” deposited bottles of water at points in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, an 18,000-acre area on the Arizona-Mexico border. Stanton and his group have no particular position on the illegal immigration issue—they just think that the immigrants shouldn’t die from dehydration. The Justice Department, however, saw the offer of a drink of water as a criminal act, and brought charges. In the absence of any clear criminal statute that would cover the situation, the prosecutors argued that Stanton’s act of Christian charity was in fact “criminal littering.” Under heavy pressure from the feds and a federal magistrate who made his intention to convict plain, Stanton agreed to 300 hours of community service in lieu of a prosecution.

As it turns out, Stanton should have stood his ground. Some of Stanton’s colleagues pushed the case and appealed their conviction. Now the Court of Appeals has handed down its less-than-astonishing decision: leaving purified water in sealed containers for human consumption is not “littering.” The convictions were overturned, and the Justice Department was given a smackdown.

One judge on the panel saw things differently: Jay Bybee. He argued that the statute, which prohibits “littering, disposing, or dumping in any manner of garbage, refuse sewage, sludge, earth, rocks, or other debris,” was actually intended to criminalize Samaritans who offer a drink to illegal immigrants.

Well, so things didn’t pan out for the executive branch this time.  But they may just need to wait a while — because the percentage of Republican-appointed federal judges has actually been *increasing* during Rahm Emanuel’s tenure.  Again, Scott Horton:

Few things count more towards a president’s “legacy” than this, since judges have lifetime tenure. But, as the Associated Press shows in a study published this weekend, under the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, the G.O.P.’s already strong grip on the federal judiciary has actually tightened:

A determined Republican stall campaign in the Senate has sidetracked so many of the men and women nominated by President Barack Obama for judgeships that he has put fewer people on the bench than any president since Richard Nixon at a similar point in his first term 40 years ago. The delaying tactics have proved so successful, despite the Democrats’ substantial Senate majority, that fewer than half of Obama’s nominees have been confirmed and 102 out of 854 judgeships are vacant. Forty-seven of those vacancies have been labeled emergencies by the judiciary because of heavy caseloads.

With the Obama appointment process essentially stagnated, and the judges leaving the bench largely those who were appointed by Carter and Clinton, the G.O.P.-appointed percentage of the bench has actually risen.

This performance is inexplicable in light of the enormous Democratic majority in the Senate, which at times has hit the 60 votes needed to preclude procedural measures against nominees. It reflects a dramatic failure of management by senate Democratic leaders like Patrick Leahy and Harry Reid, but it also points to a White House that is simply oblivious to the nominations process. On this measure, Rahm Emanuel is the worst performing White House chief of staff in recent memory.

So maybe Emanuel, Holder, Obama et al — together with Republicans in Congress and the Jay Bybees of the judicial branch, of course — will soon be able once again to make helping people dying of thirst a crime again, and I guess that’s the way it should be.  Hard to square with this, though:

for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.  Then shall they also answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me.

CREDIT: Biblical reference via Facebook comment by Andy Famiglietti.
EDIT, 9/16: Verse number corrected.  Blush.

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“If you don’t live here, it’s none of your business”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd August 2010

A closer look at Rand Paul’s campaign contributors

In The Fall and Rise of Rand Paul (Jonathan Miller, Details Magazine), Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul reveals appalling ignorance about the environmental calamity of mountaintop removal mining (MTR):

“I think they should name it something better,” he says. “The top ends up flatter, but we’re not talking about Mount Everest. We’re talking about these little knobby hills that are everywhere out here. And I’ve seen the reclaimed lands. One of them is 800 acres, with a sports complex on it, elk roaming, covered in grass.” Most people, he continues, “would say the land is of enhanced value, because now you can build on it.”

“Let’s let you decide what to do with your land,” he says. “Really, it’s a private-property issue.”

…something between indifference and diffidence about the role corporate wrongdoing played in the Big Branch mine disaster earlier this year:

“Is there a certain amount of accidents and unfortunate things that do happen, no matter what the regulations are?” Paul says at the Harlan Center, in response to a question about the Big Branch disaster. “The bottom line is I’m not an expert, so don’t give me the power in Washington to be making rules. You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You’d try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don’t, I’m thinking that no one will apply for those jobs. I know that doesn’t sound…” Here he stumbles, trying to parse his words properly but only presaging his campaign misstep. “I want to be compassionate,” he concludes, “and I’m sorry for what happened, but I wonder: Was it just an accident?”

…and some astonishing ignorance about the state he hopes to represent as a Senator:

Rand Paul and I are trying to remember why Harlan, Kentucky might be famous. That’s where Paul is driving me, on a coiling back road through the low green mountains of the state’s southeastern corner, in his big black GMC Yukon festooned with RON PAUL 2008 and RAND PAUL 2010 stickers. Something about Harlan has lodged itself in my brain the way a shard of barbecue gets stuck in one’s teeth, and I’ve asked Paul for help. “I don’t know,” he says in an elusive accent that’s not quite southern and not quite not-southern. The town of Hazard is nearby, he notes: “It’s famous for, like, The Dukes of Hazzard.” (links added)

But it’s the way he summed up his libertarian purism for a meeting in Harlan, Kentucky that I’d like to focus on particularly.  Again, it was in reference to mountaintop removal; here’s how Nola Sizemore of the Harlan Daily Enterprise reported his remarks:

I think some of these people complaining about [mountaintop removal] need to come and take a look at it. I say, if you don’t live here, it’s none of your business. Ask the people who live here about it.

Paul said he can’t see why residents of Louisville and Lexington should have any say in what people do with their land in other areas. He said he hadn’t heard any complaints from people who live here. (emphasis added)

Maybe because the ones who are against MTR know it’s a waste of time showing up at your events, Mr. Paul.  At any rate, they’d be right to suspect he doesn’t think it’s any of their business either, once they got a look at where his campaign contributions are coming from.  As Greg Skilling of the Louisville Independent Examiner puts it,

“Rand Paul believes almost everything should be handled at the state and local level – everything except for campaign fundraising.  A quick look at Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports filed by Rand Paul’s campaign and it becomes immediately clear that Kentuckians are vastly outnumbered on the donor list by people who live outside the Bluegrass State. Like his father Ron, Rand Paul has used the Internet to successfully solicit out-of-state campaign contributions from individuals.

Skilling identifies out-of-state PAC contributions from Sarah Palin’s PAC, Duke Energy, and the like, but left his analysis at “vastly outnumbered.”  So I had a closer look at those FEC reports, and specifically at the breakout of individual vs. committee and in-state versus out-of-state contributions.  The resulting summary sheet can be seen here.*

The upshot: over 76% of all contributions to Rand Paul’s Senate campaign — nearly 75% of individual contributions and nearly 92% of political action committee contributions —  are from out of state.  Those donors don’t live in Kentucky either, but I guess Rand Paul figures it’s their business anyway who should be its next senator.  Or maybe he doesn’t, but takes their silver anyway:

Unamuno’s “San Manuel Bueno, Mártir” is, he says, “a great short story. It’s about a priest who doesn’t really believe in God but feels he needs to protect his parishioners from this disbelief, that it’s too much for them.” This calls to mind another favorite story of Paul’s, Somerset Maugham’s “Rain.” “Once again about a conflicted priest,” he says. Priests in a crisis of faith, I point out, appears to be a theme with him. Lightly, he says, “I went to a Baptist college. I had to have an outlet.”

There’s something especially galling about so-called libertarian candidates who — whodathunkit? — wind up consistently protecting the interests of big business in the guise of protecting local control or individual rights.

Do I have a problem with out of state contributions to a Senate candidate?  Of course not — I do it myself all the time.  But I don’t go around saying “if you don’t live here, it’s none of your business” either.  I know people in other states who have to work in unsafe mines or live downstream from MTR runoff need help from individuals like me, and from the federal government, if they’re to have a chance against well-financed corporations — and their glib spokesmen like Rand Paul.

* I can send the full workbook to readers on request. In a nutshell, the FEC data must be copied in pieces and pasted to an Excel workbook as HTML. Functions of the form “=IF(MID($B21,1,2)=”KY”,$D20,0)” then isolate the two-letter state designation for individual contributions, and tally the contributor or his/her dollar contribution to a new column — “KY” (Kentucky) or “elsewhere”. Addresses were not provided in the initial committee tallies, but there were few enough that I could find the home state of each committee “by hand.”

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David Frum and a Tale of Two Spotlights, Maybe Three

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th March 2010

Last Sunday, conservative and former Bush speechwriter David Frum had the temerity to criticize Republican strategy in the wake of the health care and insurance reforms passed on Sunday.

Last Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal lashed out at him, claiming he “now makes his living as the media’s go-to basher of fellow Republicans, which is a stock Beltway role.”

Last Wednesday, David Frum was forced out of his position at the American Enterprise Institute.  Like others, I had a good time with the news, suggesting a paragraph on the AEI “About Us” page be rewritten as

“The Institute’s community of scholars is committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening free enterprise. AEI pursues these unchanging ideals through independent thinking, open debate, reasoned argument, and by firing anyone who disagrees with us.”

Scott Horton, in What Frum’s Firing Tells Us About Politics Today, writes that event

…tells us a good deal about AEI and the current dynamics within the Republican camp. In today’s AEI, policy experts aren’t there to do analysis and give advice—they’re there to serve as made-to-order propagandists. Differing views are not wanted.

And that’s true.  But what’s also interesting is how little Frum’s views differed from a Republican Party’s of not so terribly long ago, and how embarrassing they could and should have been for Sunday’s victors, not its vanquished.  For the centerpiece of what Frum wrote was this (emphasis added):

“This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.  Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big.

And it’s true — even Nancy Pelosi and liberal columnist E. J. Dionne tout the Republican antecedents of the current legislation, identifying its ancestors in Heritage Foundation proposals of the early 1990s, the 1996 Dole campaign, and of course (however much he now hates to admit it) Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care bill of 2006.  And they celebrate that.

Imagine two spotlights illuminating a stage, one with blue light, one with red; there’s some overlap, and a small bluish dog squats there, producing small bluish dog output.  To its right, a tethered Doberman gnaws on a couple of bloody bones, with older ones gnawed clean and abandoned stage left.  When the Doberman’s occasional snarls frighten the little blue dog, it invariably wags its tale and briefly assumes a submissive posture.

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Good for a grin

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th July 2009

  • What We Really See: GOP Senators Question Sotomayor (Oliver Willis)

    >> …Now, I’m a-looking here at your papers and such and I see where you sez, that you’re a wise latin-a.
    >> Well actually Senator, that pull quote misrepresents the full context of what I was saying…
    >> Well I gotta say ma’am, I’m mighty unnerved. Powerful unnerved by the sen-ti-ments you got here on this paper.

    While the script is great, it’s the “Dukes of Hazzard” stills captioned by each line that elevates this to high art.

  • Similarly, What are we being asked during our confirmation hearings? (Brando, “Circle Jerk at the Square Dance”)

    12) Why do you hate white people?
    11) Let me elaborate: why do you hate white guys?
    10) Given that 106 white men have served on the Supreme Court, do you feel that you’re receiving preferential treatment?
    9) Related question: if Latinas are so wise, how come they have never served on the Supreme Court?
    4) If you were a tree, would you be the kind of tree that would let a white family build a house out of her?

    3) If you had a cat trapped in a tree, would you let a white firefighter get the cat out of the tree? Follow up question: what color is your cat?
    2) We noticed that you’re wearing a white cast on your ankle. Do you find plaster racist? What about white bones?
    1) Why are you so obsessed with race?

  • Caption contest:

    1) Oh the humanity
    2) Hit and bun
    3) I was dreaming that I was driving this big wienermobile into this little garage, and when I woke up I was.
    4) You should see the mayonnaise spill inside.

THE COMPLEAT “Good for a Grin” and “Heh !ndeed” posts
CREDITS where due: Brando, Wienermobile, and ‘hit and bun’ via Lori Learned Robinson, Goldman Sachs update via Steve Bremner, reassurance that futuristic military robots will not kill and eat me via Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

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The DemAIPAClican Party

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 15th May 2009

There’s obviously a lot else going on, but I’ll post this because it hardly requires further comment.  From Al Kamen’s “In the Loop” column in the Washington Post this morning:

…House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sent out a “Dear Colleague” e-mail Tuesday asking for signatures “to the attached letter to President Obama regarding the Middle East peace process.”

The letter says the usual stuff, emphasizing that Washington “must be both a trusted mediator and a devoted friend to Israel” and noting: “Israel will be taking the greatest risks in any peace agreement.”

Curiously, when we opened the attachment, we noticed it was named “AIPAC Letter Hoyer Cantor May 2009.pdf.”

Kamen’s title: “Now, that’s lobbying.”

You know, it’d be cheaper if we just set up a web site called, say, on an AIPAC server and populated it with 535 little avatars called “HoyerMD5,” “CantorVA7,” and so forth.  There’d be e-mail blasts, a “congressional record” blog, people could vote for their favorite avatar, the works.

UPDATE, 5/15: Here’s the letter (posted over at; here’s what MJ Rosenberg and Yglesias have to say about it. Rosenberg: “not one word in the letter that calls on Israel to do anything, not one word about the settlements, the blockade of Gaza, the checkpoints that make it impossible for Palestinians to travel from one village to the next.”

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Senator Arlen Specter (Incumbent Party, PA)

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th April 2009

When I first heard from a co-worker yesterday that Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter might be switching to the Democratic Party, I asked, “But should we take him?” Since then, I’ve joked on facebook that “a Specter is haunting the GOP,” but my doubts about this have only deepened.

In his statement Specter explained that it was Pennsylvania Republican opposition to his pro-stimulus vote earlier this year that proved an “irreconcilable difference” with voters from his former party, but added:

My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.

It’s passing strange that The Nation’s Chris Hayes could cite this, and then write (emphasis added):

It’s possible, indeed likely, that this is merely a semantic shift. Specter will retain his own politics, vote the way he was before and have a D in front of his name instead of an R. He’s hoping he’ll have a clear path to re-election as a Democrat in a blue state. But, it’s also hard not to think that Democrats are in a much better position than they were 24 hours ago.

With all respect to Hayes — who’s probably more of a righteous lefty on his worst days than I am on my best ones: depending on the issues involved (see above) or the Democrats involved, it’s not that hard at all. From the Washington Post’s report (by Kane, Cilizza, and Murray) — with the dispiriting message to peons like myself that the “President Says He Is Pleased With Move but Does Not Expect Senator to Agree With New Party at All Times”:

A handful of Pennsylvania Democrats had been considering pursuit of the Senate nomination, but potential opposition to Specter began to melt yesterday as the would-be contenders learned that he would have support from Obama and practically every leading Democrat in Washington.

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Argumentum ad Talibanum

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th February 2009

Andrew Hofer, a right-of-center online friend who once maintained the fine blog “More Than Zero” and later joined Megan McArdle at “Asymmetrical Information,” used to decry what he called “argumentum ad Talibanum” — he considered it a variety of ad hominem argument usually criticizing Republicans because their attitudes resembled those of the Taliban on certain issues. And Hofer had a point — the comparison could easily be overdrawn, and sometimes it was.

But what if Republicans say the shoe fits?

On Thursday, Republican Congressman Pete Sessions called for a Republican “insurgency” against purported Democratic oppression.  Luckily, there’s a “model out there for insurgency”, as Sessions put it: for his part, he understands insurgency “a little bit more because of the Taliban,” who he believes have set an example “how you go about changing [people] from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message.” (A frontline message that includes squirting acid on schoolchildren’s faces, he neglected to mention.)

Thoreau, commenting in Unqualified Offering (“So, when did you stop stoning your wife?“), comments:

I cannot believe that the Congressman would dare to compare his honorable party to the Taliban.  The Taliban are a bunch of militant religious zealots.  Their base of support is largely rural, uneducated, and deeply religious.  They believe in second class status for women, other ethnic groups, and religious minorities.  They have close ties to all sorts of shady figures in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and their ideology demands violent struggle that would destabilize their entire region.  They are utter hypocrites on morality, simultaneously cracking down on all that they consider sinful while working with drug smugglers.  They have no regard for the civil rights of those that they rule over, and if allowed to regain power they would again devastate the country that they ruined before being forced out of power.

The Republican Party, by contrast….um, yeah.  OK.  Never mind.

Now it would be interesting if Sessions had compared GOP grievances to legitimate Afghan ones — civilian deaths in a counterinsurgency by air war, a seemingly endless occupation rather than a plan with an exit strategy. But he didn’t, and this really is what it looks like — a leader of minority party, crushed at the polls and lacking legitimacy, helping work that party into a rhetorical lather by flirting with the threat of violence — if not yet, this time, quite crossing that line as it’s been crossed in the past. That, too, has been the Republican way.

Maybe the best approach is to laugh Republicans out of the halls of power altogether — coupled with a guarded watchfulness about figures like Sessions.

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Congratulations, GOP…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th January 2009

…on selecting Michael Steele for chairman of the party — a guy who realized his only shot at winning elected office in Maryland was to pretend he was a Democrat.

Steele and Foley: oh yes they are Republicans

Steele: I just have to laugh” at criticism of deceptive sample ballots

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