Monthly Archives: April 2007

See Me

If you are in New York City tonight, come check me out at the Brecht Forum at 7:30. I’ll be discussing the anti-immigration movement on a panel sponsored by the North American Congress on Latin America. Info is here.

I may be discussing the same topic on Democracy Now! tomorrow. Still waiting for confirmation…

The Contrarian Delusion: How Hitchens Poisons Everything

tony_phoney.jpg Update: KKK paypal and friend of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, Tony Perkins, has orchestrated the hacking of this post. In doing so, he has drawn greater attention to his links to and ideological support for white supremacists. The photo of Christopher Hitchens posing with the Family Research Council’s Witherspoon Fellows was scrubbed from FRC’s site today out of fear that I would link to it again. Not only does the FRC want to suppress Perkins’ links to white supremacists, it wants to suppress its own association with Hitchens. This begs the question: who embarrasses Perkins more, the Klan or Christopher Hitchens?

Christopher Hitchens has made a career out of offending polite society. Among his greatest hits are his observation that women aren’t funny, his pooh-poohing of the Haditha massacre, and his defense of the jailed Holocaust denier David Irving, who he hailed as a “great historian.” More recently, Hitchens has volunteered himself as the licker of Wolfowitz’s comb, claiming that the corrupt World Bank president “did nothing wrong.”

Hitchens has cast these seemingly untenable positions as “contrarian,” lending himself not only an air of intellectual bravado, but a veneer of integrity as well. Despite his myriad personal flaws and political contradictions, Hitchens has managed to appear principled by trafficking in opinions that consistently outrage conservatives and liberals alike. He poses as a maverick, an intellectually macho literary gun-slinger who loves nothing more than provoking the indignant howls of the madding crowd. For Hitchens, everything is sacred, and therefore, everything is fair game.

Those who have followed the trajectory of Hitchens’ career knew it was only a matter of time before he set his sights on religion. What better way to piss off (and on) the masses than to unleash a full-frontal assault on God himself? So to great fanfare and perhaps nobody’s surprise, Hitchens has produced “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” an atheist manifesto intended to supplement Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion,” and (New Age torture fanatic) Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith.”

Hitchens spares no sacred cows in his latest work. He blasts religion as a form of child abuse, claims Jesus Christ never lived, and declares that those who give their children bar mitzvahs are “planning your and my destruction and the destruction of all hard-won human attainments.” The requisite attacks on Islam, so satisfying to his newfound neocon pals, are also featured at length.

Hitchens’ book might be mean-spirited and even bigoted; little more than a barely legible screed larded with predictable arguments and a scattershot of pretentious literary references, but who can say its author is unprincipled? This is contrarianism, right?

Please.

“God Is Not Great” represents little more than the disingenous posturings of a certified fraudmeister who has openly cavorted with the most reactionary elements of the Christian right. If Hitchens had any principles at all — if he truly feared the cultural and political consequences of the encroachment of religion into public life — he would have used his still-considerable influence to support organizations and causes that shore up the wall between church and state and which defend the rights of non-believers. Instead, Hitchens has done exactly the opposite.

In the Fall of 2005, Hitchens gladly accepted the invitation of the Family Research Council to speak before its Witherspoon Fellows. Hitchens subsequently regaled an audience of young Christian right cadres with excerpts from his book, “Thomas Jefferson: Author of America.” For attending Hitchens’ lecture and participating in several similar events, the FRC’s Witherspoon Fellows received academic credit for study at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, a school that has placed 150 of its graduates in Bush administration posts.

Presumably Hitchens was aware of the mission of the James Dobson-founded Family Research Council. How could such an intellectual giant be unaware of the FRC’s charge to “promote[] the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society?” How could Hitchens have missed the FRC’s many “Justice Sunday” rallies staged at mega-churches and telecast across America to advance the confirmation of George W. Bush’s most theocracy-minded judicial picks? (To my knowledge, these rallies occured well after happy hour). And how could Hitchens have been ignorant to the FRC’s vitriolic crusade to ban abortion and undermine gay rights?

Regarding FRC President Tony Perkins’ ties to white supremacists, I would like to paraphrase Scripture and say, forgive Hitchens for he knows not what the hell he is doing. My well-publicized report detailing how Perkins once purchased the phone bank list of former Klan leader David Duke for the price of $82,500 and how he headlined a 2001 fundraiser for the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens had only been out for a few months. Maybe Hitchens was too busy dancing with Wolfowitz to read it.

But there is no excuse for Hitchens’ hypocrisy. With the release of “God Is Not Great,” Hitchens owes his readers an explanation for his appearance at the Family Research Council, the nerve center of a theocratic movement determined to weaken the foundations of constitutional democracy. Hitchens must explain why he accepted the FRC’s invitation to speak and whether he was paid for his appearance.

While awaiting Hitchens’ response, I will pray that in the future his version of the Straight Talk Express designates a driver.

Israeli Anti-Semitism

Paging Abe Foxman:

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Rabbi Avraham Levine never imagined that years after immigrating from Russia to Israel he would fall victim to a brutal anti-Semitic attack in the heart of the Jewish state.

But less than three months ago, he was beaten up by teenage skinheads as he walked home in the city of Petah Tikva on Tel Aviv’s outskirts.

“They jumped on me, beat me and cursed my mother in Russian, then they returned with sticks and beat me up. My arm was broken but only God saved my life,” said Levine, 38, who arrived in Israel from Russia in 1995.

“They shouted ‘Zhids leave Russia!’ In Russia, I would hit someone if he said ‘zhid.’ How can someone do it in Israel?” he said.

Hitchens Still Dancing With Wolfowitz

Hitchens left the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in a petulant frenzy:

Christopher Hitchens, the writer and Vanity Fair columnist, walked out of the dinner at about the time Mr. Little got around to his Ronald Reagan impression.

“The event was disgraceful, so lame and mediocre that it is beyond parody,” he said later. “It is impossible to decide which is more offensive: the president fawning over the press or the press fawning over the president. It expresses everything that the public means when they talk about inside-the-Beltway and access journalism.”

But later on…

Mr. Hitchens didn’t storm out of the city. He stormed back to his house, where he co-hosted (along with fellow Vanity Fair contributor Todd Purdum and former Clinton aide Dee Dee Myers) the magazine’s post-dinner party, a much sought-after ticket.

Mr. Hitchens, a one-time pariah for his support of the Iraq invasion and his savaging of Mother Teresa, still serves as something of a social arbiter in Washington. And following the strange-bedfellows theme, Paul Wolfowitz, the embattled World Bank president, was chatting amiably in a roomful of journalists at Mr. Hitchens’ home.

Disgraceful indeed.

Hitchens, Still Dirty Dancing With Wolfowitz

I had a strong suspicion Hitchens would leap to his boy Wolfowitz’s defense. Finally here it is.

Some choice lines:

The relationship between the two of them is none of my damn business (or yours), but it has always been very discreet…

Aha, you say, but why did Wolfowitz take so long to release these nonincriminating internal memoranda? Who acts so defensively if they have nothing to hide? I have no private information to impart here. But it could be that two grown-up people, both with previous marriages and with growing children, did not feel much like undergoing yet another round of “disclosure.”

I Thought Cho Seung-Hui Did It

Franklin Graham thinks otherwise:

Evangelist Franklin Graham said Cho Seung-Hui, the killer at Virginia Tech University, was “filled with evil,” and that Satan is responsible for Monday’s mass killings of 32 people at the Blacksburg, Va., campus.

The Enablers of Imus: A Study in Careerism

Mahatma Ghandi called forgiveness “the virtue of the strong.” Certain presidential candidates and political insiders pride themselves on forgiveness. They are so forgiving, in fact, that they were willing to forgive Don Imus, the nationally syndicated radio kingpin with a long and well-documented history of bigoted remarks.

Last week, as public pressure for the resignation of Imus increased in the wake of his characterization of Rutgers University’s women’s basketball team “nappy headed ho’s,” the I-Man received a much-needed boost from an old friend.

“He has apologized,” Sen. John McCain said of Imus. “He said that he is deeply sorry. I’m a great believer in redemption.”

mccain “I’m a great believer in redemption.”

For decades, Washington’s political class has relied on Imus and his massive audience of politically independent white males for notoriety and book sales. McCain is no exception. He has been one of the most frequent and favorite of Imus’ guests since his maverick 2000 presidential run earned him national name recognition. Imus’ impending departure from the national airwaves threatened to deprive McCain of a key platform going into the ’08 primaries. McCain was determined to protect that platform, whether or not it simultaneously served as a constant launching pad for the crudest of racial slurs.

Only one prominent Republican denounced McCain for defending the indefensible. Michael Steele, the black former Maryland gubernatorial candidate, told the right-wing webmag Newsmax, “In my view, [McCain's defense of Imus is] not presidential. I don’t know the kind of advice that he’s being given right now, but as a candidate, I wouldn’t touch it. I wouldn’t go near it. In fact, I would make it very clear that there is no place in our dialogue in this country for those kinds of remarks.”

(In 1983, McCain joined ranks with then-Rep. Dick Cheney to http://www.rawstory.com/news/2007/Sen._McCain_once_against_King_holiday_0115.html”>oppose designating Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday.)

With his defense of Imus, McCain revealed himself as a creature of Washington’s careerist political culture. The one-time maverick had merged with the herd. Indeed, his remarks were echoed almost word-for-word by a potential opponent for the presidency, John Edwards.

“I believe in redemption, I believe in forgiveness,” Edwards said about the Imus controversy last week. As for whether he’d appear on Imus again, Edwards just wasn’t sure. He wasn’t sure whether Imus’ racism merited an unequivocal condemnation. Whether you’re John Edwards or John McCain, you never know. Maybe you’ll need Imus when the campaign heats up.

john edwards “I believe in forgiveness.”

Not to be outdone by his rivals, Rudy Giuliani joined the ranks of Imus enablers. “He seems sincerely sorry about it and seems like someone who will endeavor not to do that again and I take him at his word,” Giuliani stated.

While McCain, Edwards and Giuliani counseled understanding for Imus’ plight, the Washington press corps that had embedded itself with Imus despite his pattern of racism was thrown on the defensive. Appearing on Imus in the Morning a week after the controversy began, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman admonished his buddy not for making explicitly racist comments, but for falling behind the political zeitgeist.

“[I]t’s a different time, Imus.. it’s different than it was even a few years ago, politically,” Fineman said. “I mean, just looking specifically at the African-American situation. I mean, hello, Barack Obama’s got twice the number of contributors as anybody else in the race.” He concluded, “[T]hings have changed. And the kind of — some of the kind of humor that you used to do you can’t do anymore.”

howard fineman “It’s a different time Imus… the kind of humor that you used to do you can’t do anymore.”

In Fineman’s guide to winning friends and influencing people inside the Beltway, going along to get along is rule number one. Imus’ sin in Fineman’s book was not bigotry, but a failure to go with the flow.

For other Beltway media stars who delighted in bantering with Imus, silence was the order of the day. On “Meet the Press” last Sunday, PBS anchor Gwen Ifill grilled Tim Russert and David Brooks about their mum reaction to the controversy. “Tim, we didn’t hear that much from you,” Ifill said, turning to the husky standard bearer of Sunday morning talk. “David, we didn’t hear from you,” she said to Brooks. “What was missing in this debate was someone saying, you know, I understand that this is offensive.”

Whatever white liberal guilt Russert and Brooks had, they left the task of holding Imus accountable to Ifill and the black employees at NBC and CBS. If newsrooms were as racially homogenous as they were in the past, Imus would still be on the air and Glenn Beck would have a show at CNN. Oh, wait… he does.

Even the New York Times’ liberal standard bearer, Frank Rich, appeared compromised by his relationship with Imus. In an uncharacteristically defensive and barely coherent column last Sunday, Rich bemoaned the “media lynching” (“lynching?!”) of Imus, and assured his readers that his friend is not a racist “in real life,” because, as everyone knows, radio is not real.

frank rich “If we really want to have this conversation, it also means we have to have a nonposturing talk about hip-hop lyrics.”

But for some reason hip-hop is. In Rich’s mind, it’s mad real. “If we really want to have this conversation,” Rich declared, “it also means we have to have a nonposturing talk about hip-hop lyrics.” Without citing any offensive lyrics or naming the wack rappers, Rich seemed to suggest that hip-hop — and by extension, black youth culture — had somehow planted the terms “nappy headed” and “ho” on the tip of Imus’ tongue. No word from Rich on whether country star Toby Keith and Willie Nelson’s ode to actual — not media — lynching deserves a “nonposturing talk.”

(By the way, what’s up with Imus’ trademark ten-gallon hat? Where’d he get that from? Certainly not country music.)

It’s hard to predict when you will be confronted with a moral test. The Imus controversy arrived suddenly and challenged the vital interests of the Washington press corps and political pantheon. In the end, they willfully overlooked Imus’ bigotry, advocating forgiveness to protect their platform, their careers — and their paychecks. For the enablers of Imus, it was never about freedom of expression, it was about themselves.

Regent Scrubs its Site

A reader tip from JStraight:

Regent University has scrubbed from its web site any mention of its 150 graduates that work for the Bush administration.

Google cache has a screen capture from April 6 2007 of a Regent University’s “facts” web page where they proudly boast “150 graduates serving in the Bush Administration”

Their current “facts” page has that info removed: http://www.regent.edu/general/about_us/facts.cfm

Hmmm. Isn’t Regent University proud of those graduates anymore?

Good question.

Correction/Update

Several readers, including a Regent law student, have pointed out that Regent did not in fact scrub its website of information regarding “150 graduates serving in the Bush Administration.” That is mostly correct. It appears, however, that Regent did alter that sentence. Currently, the schools website boasts that “150 students have served in the Bush administration.”