Yes, Brian Beutler, the Bundy Bunch Are Terrorists

Brian BeutlerI am usually in agreement with Brian Beutler. But he was wrong yesterday, No, the Bundys Aren’t Terrorists. The crux of his argument is this, “The men took no hostages, and aren’t threatening to commit acts of violence against civilians.” That’s not actually true as a factual matter. This is not a sit-in where the men are chaining themselves to radiators. They are well armed and have been very clear that they will use violence against government officials if they try to dislodge them. These government officials are not military. There is no war going on. They are civilians.

What’s more, Beutler claimed, “Nobody is being terrorized by the Oregon occupiers.” Uh, yes they are. I am being terrorized — and for a very concrete reason. I used to hang out with a bunch libertarianish people who were just itching for revolution. I know just what these guys are thinking. Either everything ends peacefully and they get a bunch of attention and free snacks. Or they become martyrs hoping to set off angry white gun freaks all over the nation to return the country to its true owners: people like them. They imagine statues of themselves put up like they are the Nathan Hales of the Second Revolutionary War. Trust me: I know these people.

Would anyone have had a problem calling civil rights protesters terrorists if they had occupied lunch counters with shot guns?

It greatly concerns me that law enforcement has to worry that this will turn into another Waco siege and Ruby Ridge. This faction of the extreme right wing dates back to the white supremacist Posse Comitatus. These people have been spitting bile for decades. Where do you think Ted Nugent’s impotent threats against the president come from? These people represent a nationwide tinder box. And they are right to think that if the military comes in and starts killing white militia men, it could get very ugly very fast. And this does concern me — a lot. All of these weekend revolutionaries have their copies of The Anarchist Cookbook, and they are ready to thrust themselves into the imaginary world of Red Dawn.

Terrorism doesn’t have to include acts of violence. In fact, terrorism works mostly through the lack of violence — making people uncertain when it’s going to happen. If there is constant violence, it isn’t terrorism; it is war. One reason that Israel doesn’t crack down on illegal settlements is because of the as of yet non-violent terrorism of Israeli settlers. The fear is that if they are required to follow the law, they will start bombing. That’s terrorism.

Or think about it this way. Imagine your next door neighbor had a crack house and he told you that if you ever called the police, he and his friends were going to storm your house and kill your family. Okay, by Beutler’s definition, that would be terrorism because it was stated explicitly. But what if your next door neighbor just implied it. Isn’t this what the mob does? It isn’t, “I’m gonna burn down your house”; it’s, “It’d be a shame if your house burned down.” The Bundy bunch are very much using terrorist tactics; it’s implied in what they are doing.

What are we to call the Bundy Bunch if not terrorists? Aren’t the New Black Panthers called terrorists? Would anyone have had a problem calling civil rights protesters terrorists if they had occupied lunch counters with shot guns? I think that Beutler is doing what I too often do around here: grope for something contrary to say. The Bundy Bunch are terrorists. It may turn out that they are also a bunch of cowards who won’t live up to their rhetoric. But listen to these guys and what they and their predecessors have been saying for decades. They are either revolutionaries or terrorists. And given the amazing amount of freedom and democracy in this country, I don’t see much of a case for “revolutionaries.”

Why There Are So Many Lefties at the Academy

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman wrote a really interesting article that I have a couple of things to add to, Academics and Politics. Now we all know the old complaint that college professors are liberal. And it is largely true. Should this concern us? Only if it should concern us that most people on Wall Street are conservative. People who gravitate toward knowledge as an end in itself will understandably lean left. It isn’t a conspiracy.

More and more, I believe that political orientation is really about culture. Being a conservative is really not about particular policies but about an outlook on life. This is something I’ve noticed from countless conversations with conservatives where we are very much in agreement about most things — especially economics. When I was in the academy, the conservatives I knew were like I was at the time: libertarian oriented — not wanting to have government interference. They were generally radically liberal on social issues.

But as liberal as the academy may have traditionally been, it has gotten much more so over the last 25 years. As you can see in the following graph taken from the Higher Education Research Institute, in 1990, roughly 40% of college faculty called themselves liberal and an equal number called themselves moderates. Roughly 20% called themselves conservatives. Today, 60% call themselves liberal, less then 30% call themselves moderates, and only 10% call themselves conservatives.

College Faculty Political Leanings

Krugman’s idea is the obvious one: the academy didn’t get more liberal, the conservatives got more conservative. He also mentioned the Republican Party’s general dismissal of global warming and evolution by natural selection. I would go further. The Republican Party is anti-intellectual. What’s more, they think the only purpose of education is to create a better workforce for IBM and GM. They don’t even think education is a matter of creating good citizens. Look at how common the desire is to eliminate the Department of Education. They want education to be controlled locally so that, among other things, students can be taught that African slaves were “immigrants.”

There is one bit of data presented by Krugman that is startling. If you look at the general population, 35% are Republicans or lean Republican, and 52% are similarly inclined toward the Democrats. For science professors, the numbers are 12% for Republicans and 81% for Democrats. But if you think about it for a moment, it isn’t surprising. Nor is it surprising that this trend started around the time that Bill Clinton became president. What does the Republican Party stand for? Any good ideas that it once had have been co-opted by the Democrats. We now have a moderate party and a proto-fascist party. It isn’t surprising that well informed people would skew heavily toward the Democrats.

I think there are actual issues that liberals and conservatives can debate. But in this country, there really aren’t. The conservative movement has gone off the rails.

But here’s something that a person of Krugman’s stature can’t say: it’s also about intelligence. Republicans love to publish books about what idiots liberals are. They’re compensating. They know that the more education and knowledge a person has, the more liberal they become. This causes conservatives to say things like a comment I recently got, “You’re what my father always called an educated idiot.” That was the extent of his argument. I was wrong just because and all my book learning didn’t mean a thing to him because he thought with his gut.

I think there are actual issues that liberals and conservatives can debate. But in this country, there really aren’t. The conservative movement has gone off the rails. So it’s hard for people who think for a living to miss this fact. Republican economic policy is wrong. Sure, you can find intelligent analysis from Greg Mankiw, but what Republicans want to do is the same thing they’ve done for four decades now and it never works as advertised. Republicans are simply wrong about global warming. Republicans are wrong about foreign policy. These aren’t opinions; these are factual claims. And on foreign policy, even they know they are wrong, because they talk tough, but when pressed, they admit that they would do nothing different from what the Democrats would do.

If we had the Republican Party of the early 1970s, I can see intelligent people differing over policy. But today, there are only three reasons to be a Republican. First, you might be stupid and ignorant. Second, you might be a hateful bigot. Third, you might be rich. That’s it. It isn’t surprising that PhD physicists skew heavily toward the Democratic Party.


I haven’t read the study, so I can’t say. Another factor could be that colleges are using so many more adjuncts, who get paid next to nothing. Poor people skew liberal as well. I suspect if you polled college administrators, you would find that they are far more conservative.

Morning Music: Geeshie Wiley

Skinny Leg Blues - Geeshie WileyI’ve got to make this quick, but I’ll come back to it later this week. I first learned of Geeshie Wiley during a library performance by Eric & Suzy Thompson. At that performance, Suzy did her version of the Wiley tune, “Skinny Leg Blues.” But on an album, she did Geeshie Wiley’s best known tune, “Last Kind Word.” In fact, I use the introductory guitar part for the fade music of my videos.

Geeshie Wiley is more myth than woman. She seems to have been an itinerant musician, traveling around in the early 1930s with the other great female blues guitarist, Elvie Thomas. Thomas was about a generation older. She also seems to have kept Wiley in check. There are stories. For example, it is possible that Wiley killed her husband (probably in self defense).

In March of 1930, the two went into a recording studio in Wisconsin and recorded the two songs already mentioned along with two that Thomas sang: “Motherless Child Blues” and “Over to My House.” They returned a year later and recorded two more songs. I’ll discuss those when I get around to Thomas. I do tend to think that Thomas gets short shrift because there is less myth about her. We even have a picture of Elvie Thomas!

But to give you some idea of the legend of Geeshie Wiley, let’s listen to “Skinny Leg Blues.” I’m not absolutely sure what the lyrics of the song are. But as much as I can make out, it is one of the most violent songs I’ve ever heard. What’s so amazing is how calm she is about it. She lays it out: she’s little, but you should be afraid. If you see her coming, you shouldn’t run — that would be pointless. But you might want to pull down the shades so that you aren’t embarrassed when she cuts your throat. It’s an amazing song:

Anniversary Post: Four Freedoms Speech

Franklin Delano RooseveltOn this day in 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his Four Freedoms speech. It was actually the 1941 State of the Union address. It’s a good list:

  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

Now let’s think about these Four Freedoms in a modern context. Freedom of speech is still pretty good here. It has taken a beating over the years, but I don’t think it is any longer true that someone would get thrown in jail for passing out anti-war pamphlets. Just the same, I wonder if any subversive speech started to get traction, whether the government wouldn’t find that it was like shouting fire in a crowded theater.

Freedom of worship is certainly under attack — but not as the conservatives say. It is under attack from conservatives themselves. See, for example, pretty much anyone who is running to get the Republican presidential nomination.

In general, in the US, we don’t care about freedom from want. This is the country of the myth of the rugged individual. And on the right, everyone has fallen under the spell of Ayn Rand. If you want in America, they claim, it is your own damned fault. It has nothing to do with a rigged system. And we completely ignore the way our system is set up to help those who already have a great deal of money. Republicans claim to care about redistribution of income. But they only care about it when the redistribution goes down. When it goes up (which is most of the time), they don’t even believe it exists.

As for fear, well, I think we are the most fearful people on the planet. Both parties push fear, but the Republicans are the ones who make a brand out of it. And it’s amazing to think: they’ve managed to convince their base that the bravest thing is to be constantly afraid.

If FDR were alive today, he would weep. Of the Four Freedoms, the two we had are roughly the same; and the two we didn’t have are even further away from us.