Knute Berger

A Spoiler on the Right?

It's weird to hear people describe your politics, especially if you're at all difficult to categorize. Over the years, I've had people introduce me as conservative, liberal, and libertarian. They're all partly right. In my midteens in the late 1960s, I looked around for a political movement to join, something more sustaining than anti-Vietnam War marches. I was raised a Dan Evans Republican, supported Bobby Kennedy for president, shook hands with both Richard Nixon and Henning Blomen, the Socialist Labor Party candidate for president in 1968. I searched vainly for a home with both the Republicans and Democrats.

In the early 1970s, I read an article in The New York Times Magazine about the "New Right," student activists who rejected the socialism of the New Left and embraced the principles of civil liberties and the free market. I was intrigued, especially since they were adamantly opposed to the draft. It was around that time the Libertarian Party was formed, and I soon had a chance to check them out. In 1972, as a student newspaper reporter, I attended a Libertarian meeting in a back room at Ozzie's on Lower Queen Anne. The few attendees sat in a small dark cave at a big round table talking endlessly about Ayn Rand and the virtues of selfishness. They seemed obsessed with the joys of the Darwinian jungle, though none of them looked like winning specimens in that race to self- reliance. The men were like Lenny in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men"; the women like Dr. Evil's mistress, Frau Farbissina. If this were an Agatha Christie novel, I'd have been rooting for the killer.

I decided that day that this was a party I would never join.

A lot of libertarians feel that way. They're not exactly the joining type, most being focused on leave-me-alone-ism. Millions of votes are cast for Libertarian candidates, but there are only some 25,000 card- carrying, dues-paying party members. One is Michael Badnarik, 50, a former computer programmer from Austin, Texas, who is the party's 2004 candidate for president. He came by the Seattle Weekly offices to chat on Monday, Aug. 16.

Badnarik describes organizing Libertarians as herding cats or nailing Jell-O. He says there are approximately 150,000 self-identified Libertarians in the country. In 2000, Libertarian Party candidates garnered more than 3 million votes nationwide. He was quoted in one newspaper saying about his core constituency, "It's not being a Libertarian that makes them independent and cantankerous. It's being independent and cantankerous that makes them libertarian." He should know. He didn't get his party's nomination until the third ballot, and even then, Badnarik admits, he won because he was everyone's second choice.

But he's an articulate standard-bearer with a mission: to convince voters that they don't have to pick the lesser of two evils every time out. His goal isn't to win the election, obviously, but to steer the party on a course to become a factor in the election. In polarized Red-Blue America, the tiny percentages that third-party candidates command can be crucial. In short, Badnarik wants to prove that two can play Ralph Nader's game.

He argues that he's neither left nor right but a "second dimension" that adds something new to the political mix. Libertarians believe in the free market, slashing taxes, cutting government spending and regulation, and defending civil liberties. This plays to both the right and left, depending on where you focus. Badnarik can emphasize parts of the party's platform that will be music to both Red and Blue ears. In North Carolina, he can emphasize law and order and gun rights (Libertarians are strong Second Amendment supporters). When asked about the death penalty by the Wilmington, N.C., Star News, he sounded like a promoter of vigilante justice when he replied, "In my opinion, the best place to initiate the death penalty is at 2 a.m. at the ATM when someone comes up to take your money." In San Francisco or Seattle, he can emphasize his opposition to the drug war, rail against banning gay marriage, promise to bring the troops home from Iraq immediately, and pledge to rescind the Patriot Act. In our discussion, he bashed Bush more than Kerry. It's not that he's inconsistent or pandering – it's just that the Libertarian philosophy cuts the pie in a wholly different way.

How do the Libertarians become a factor? By affecting the outcome of the election. While Nader is widely blamed for tipping the 2000 election to Bush (or the Supreme Court that appointed him), the Libertarian impact might also have been felt closer to home. Former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton blames Libertarian candidate Jeff Jared for his defeat that year by Democrat Maria Cantwell, saying he siphoned off critical conservative votes in an election that was settled by about 2,500 votes. (Ironically, Nader has also tried to claim credit for getting Cantwell elected.) Polls have indicated that both Republicans and Democrats vote for Libertarians, but the party seems to draw more from the GOP. Badnarik says he's polling at 5 percent in New Mexico, a key swing state, and 1 percent to 1.5 percent in four key upper Midwestern states, pulling enough Republican and independent voters from Bush to make a tiny – but possibly critical – difference.

If he can be blamed for the outcome either way, it will be a successful year for the Libertarians and Badnarik – especially since polls also show that 80 percent of the American people have never heard of the Libertarian Party (see their booth at Hempfest). They might live to be reviled by Republicans – as Nader is by many Democrats. That will be a sign that at last, they matter.

Dead End America

National Geographic recently ran satellite images of suburban sprawl in America. From high above, the cameras captured a network of lights that fill the corridors and river valleys with tendrils reaching onto the plains and deserts where once there was only darkness. From the sky, the settlement pattern looks like microbes taking over a petri dish--let's hope it's not anthrax.

America is becoming The Suburban Nation. Once there were cities, villages, farms, and wildlands. Today, most Americans live in sprawl. It is not by accident but by design. The suburbs were invented in the early industrial age as a place for home and family. A successful man wanted to protect his loved ones from the filth of factories, muddy streets, saloons, and madding crowds, so he built his castle on the quiet tree-lined lane of a town at the end of the Interurban line. In the 20th century, some modern thinkers like Frank Lloyd Wright imagined a populist landscape where every American lived in equality in vast low-density grids covering the prairies. At the New York World's Fair of 1939, visitors were told that the "world of tomorrow" was a sprawling blanket of modern subdivisions linked by commodious freeways. After World War II, Americans began building and populating exactly that landscape--and on it goes.

The suburbs are still popular, largely because they are safe. Safety, in fact, is their greatest commodity. Gated developments protect against the outside world; covenanted communities offer the security of neighbors willing to conform, who will mow their lawns and won't paint their homes an unsettling shade of gamboge. SUVs and minivans protect families who travel that paved Möbius strip that leads to an infinity of soccer matches. Suburbs are monuments to defensive living: life without surprise, without risk, without variety.

The War against Terrorism will complete the process of shaping The Suburban Nation. The events of Sept. 11th have emphasized for many people the danger inherent in cities: despite Mayor Rudolph Guiliani cleaning up the streets of New York--some would say suburbanizing them--the nation's best big city mayor couldn't make the world safe for skyscrapers, or the people who work in them. USA Today estimates that 81 percent of the World Trade Center victims were men; median age 39. They were largely suburban dads who rode the Interurban every day to do their duty in the dangerous city. If the city isn't safe for dads, it isn't safe for anyone, it seems.

The values that have caused the suburbs to blossom have seized the national consciousness. People are staying home, turning inward, and renting from Blockbuster. Polls show we are willing to surrender our individual rights for the promise of protection. We will carry national ID cards and will support the detention and deportation of suspicious aliens and strangers. Senators call for a Homeland Security force to patrol our streets. Others call for us to spy on one another. We demand more border guards and tougher immigration laws.

America once welcomed the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free; now we are accelerating the process of becoming the world's premier gated community. Forget making the world safe for democracy, we must make America safe. Period.

But there is danger in allowing fear to become our driving force, in making America as sterile as a strip-mall Starbucks. The Suburban Nation ought to remember that "cul de sac" is just a fancy word for "dead end."

WTO to Hide Out in Qatar

A way to ensure no deaths for anti-globalization protesters is simply to see to it that there are no protesters. That is what the World Trade Organization is doing as it prepares for its summit in November. Earlier this year, the WTO announced that the host for the upcoming round of trade negotiations will be Doha, Qatar, the capital of a remote oil and gas sheikdom located on a tiny thumb of desert poking into the Persian Gulf. The obscure, secure kingdom is surrounded by a moat of water, save for a mainland border it shares with Saudi Arabia; across the gulf is Iraq.

In 1999, at an N30-eve pep rally in Seattle, Michael Moore -- the lefty filmmaker, not the WTO's globalization cheerleader -- revved up a crowd of Teamsters and turtles by shouting from the stage: "Seattle? What were they thinking?" Indeed, the WTO seemed to have bought the sales pitch from Seattle's civic leaders touting the city as a world-class free-trade center -- a kind of Singapore without the paddling. Lost was the fact that Seattle is also been a hotbed of alternative culture and boasts a long (and occasionally violent) history of labor and political activism. Seattle proved to be a lion's den of anti-globalization forces, as the WTO soon learned.

In response to the Seattle protests, the WTO promised to be more open, inclusive, and transparent. Many leaders, including then-President Bill Clinton, claimed to have heard the voices of protest on the streets. In response, they've demonstrated their new resolve by holding their open meeting in a closed country.

In fact, you could not pick a place that is more un-Seattle, nor one that better fits the protesters' image of the WTO as an outfit eager to exploit workers and advance the cause of big business at the expense of other values. Most of Qatar's workers are imported from other Arab countries or India. They do not have the rights of citizens, and labor unions for all workers are outlawed. Qatar is a monarchy. There is no constitution and are no political parties. Protests cannot be held without government sanction; other than an anti-Israeli demonstration last year, they virtually never happen. There is no religious freedom to speak of, though they have not executed any Christian converts since the 1970s. Qatar is eager to do bidness by continuing to develop its energy and petrochemical resources: It has an embassy in Washington, DC, of course, and its only U.S. consulate is, appropriately, in Houston.

The Qataris are working with the WTO to limit access during the summit. Qatar has virtually no tourism. No one can get into Qatar without an in-country sponsor -- usually an employer. For visitors, a hotel could act as your sponsor: if you have a reservation, you would be granted a visa upon arrival. But during the November 9-13 summit, all hotel rooms in Qatar are booked, reserved for WTO delegates and accredited media. To get a hotel room -- and therefore a sponsor and a visa -- you must be pre-approved by the WTO. Media are also screened by the Qatari government. If you pass muster, you're assigned a hotel room. Then you can make a flight reservation. Don't waste time looking for great deals: Qatar is not a frequent flyer destination.

In short, not only are protesters being squeezed out, but the media are being restricted to those sanctioned by the WTO, not to mention outlets that can afford the expense of sending staffers halfway around the globe. The cheapest hotel rooms are more than $100 per night, with no guarantee that you'll get them.

Globalization protesters worry that the lesson police and civil authorities have learned from Seattle, Washington, DC, Quebec, Genoa and elsewhere is to get tough, and crack heads -- or worse. The dead -- and the missing -- in Genoa are testament to that trend. But a more insidious response is to preempt protests from the beginning by finding summit sites that are in effect open-air backrooms, safe from scrutiny, safe from dissent, safe from the clang of democracy. While the G-8 prepare for their next meeting in the wilds of Alberta, the WTO will be setting the trend by hiding in a country where the local McDonalds (yes, Qatar has them) will be safe from the black blocs, and where the delegates won't have to listen to anything but the sound of their own voices.

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The Great White Myth of Kennewick Man

Five years ago this July, an ancient skeleton was found on the banks of the Columbia River during a hydroplane race near Kennewick, Washington. When the bones turned out to be a major archaeological find, the remains of a 9,000 year-old prehistoric man, a political, legal, cultural, and racial battle ensued. Just who was Kennewick Man, who owned his bones, and what should be done with them?

The Indians and Federal government have argued that the law -- specifically, the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act -- gives local tribes, including the Umatilla, Colville, Yakama, and Nez Perce, the right to have the bones, and the right to dispose of them in any way they choose. The Indians have dubbed Kennewick Man "the Ancient One" and claim the right to rebury him according to their traditional practices with or without further study. But a group of prominent scientists has disagreed, choosing instead to challenge the law in Federal court, where arguments are being heard this week and a ruling is expected later this summer. They want to study the bones, which they argue are potentially of great scientific value. They also argue that Kennewick Man is so old, he cannot be properly affiliated with any modern-day tribe. In essence, they say, Kennewick Man is no Indian -- even if he might be a native American.

While no one has argued that Kennewick Man is -- or was -- a Native American in the modern sense, the general consensus is that today's Indians have all descended from North America's early inhabitants, the paleo-Indian hunters who came across the land bridge from Asia after the last Ice Age and slowly populated the continent. But part of the scientific interest in Kennewick Man stems from the fact that long-held notions about how the Americas were populated are being revised: There is now substantial evidence that there may have been many migrations during and between ice ages, going back not just 12,000 or so years ago, but perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 years. Kennewick Man and his ilk may be part of a much more complicated story that we don't know much about yet. Some have suggested that these early immigrants to the Americas may have come not only on foot but by skin boat, and there is some evidence -- tool designs, for example -- that suggests some may have shared their origins with inhabitants of a prehistoric Europe.

This last possibility has added major fuel to the Kennewick Man fire. The first scientist to examine the bones, anthropologist James Chatters, reported that Kennewick Man's skull exhibited "caucasoid" characteristics -- a politically charged word that many interpreted to mean "caucasion," or "white." Indeed, Chatters says that he at first thought he was inspecting the skeleton of a white settler. The possibility that 9,000 years ago, white men were wandering around the Americas fed both the controversy and public interest -- even though no one credible was explicitly making the claim that Kennewick Man was a white man (though the Asatru Folk Assembly, a Northwest neo-pagan group associated with white supremicists, also sued over the bones). It didn't help matters when Chatters released an image reconstructing Kennewick Man's face that showed him to be the spitting image of British actor Patrick Stewart, famous for playing starship captain Jean-Luc Picard on the Star Trek Next Generation TV series. Funnily enough, Vine Deloria, Jr. has pointed out that Kennewick Man/Picard is also the spitting image of an 1833 portrait of Chief Black Hawk. In any case, Chatters' words and images had indelibly set the image in peoples' minds that Kennewick Man was a caucasian -- or at the very least, a proto-white man rather than a proto-Indian.

That bit of mystery suggested that the scientists who wanted to study Kennewick Man and sample his DNA had a valid reason for doing so -- to see if he was white or not -- and made the Indian opposition look as if it was trying to mount a cover-up. For the Indians' part, not only were white scientists trying to desecrate the remains of one of their distant ancestors, but they were blatantly trying to undermine Native American identity and beliefs -- which include a mythology that doesn't recognize that their ancestors were migrants from anywhere including Asia, let alone Europe.

Native American skepticism about science is understandable. White science claims to be the antithesis of mythology -- but what is a hypothesis? It is a mini-scientific myth, a for-instance or a what-if that suggests we try a truth on for size until it no longer fits. Many of the questions science asks itself �many of the positions it posits for testing -- come from deeply rooted cultural and political beliefs. In the 19th century, scientists believed that racial characteristics were all-important, and that the study of bones would tell them what we all needed to know about each race -- including why others were inferior. That science has been thoroughly discredited, but not until hundreds of thousands of Indian bones had been robbed from graves, collected from bounty hunters, measured and stored in museums -- most of them without the permission of the individuals, families, and tribes involved. David Hurst Thomas, curator of anthropology at the Museum of Natural History in New York, last year wrote a superb book on the sordid history of archaeology and Native Americans, appropriately titled Skull Wars. In light of this background, it's difficult to suggest that anyone approaching Kennewick Man in the name of science would be doing so without having -- or being thought to have -- a larger agenda. And when that agenda explicity includes re-looking at the origins of Native Americans, one can understand why the debate around Kennewick Man has been so volatile.

What has been lost in much of the debate around Kennewick Man is the white man's own mythology. The idea that the Kennewick bones may have belonged to a white man doesn't simply spring from only from innocent scientific curisoity, but also from very old impulses that have resonated since 1492 -- perhaps longer. For five centuries, there has been a lingering desire to establish that Europeans or others with whom they identified (Biblical peoples) were here before the Indians -- or, that whites in fact are the Indians. Call it The Great White Myth, one as durable as Eden or El Dorado. Some whites are not merely content with having taken the continent, they want to colonize its history.

After the European "discovery" of American, there was much speculation about the people who lived here. There was also a fascination in the late Renaissance with "recovered knowledge," the belief that the ancients had secreted away wisdom that would be of great benefit today, helping to usher in a new age or renewal, the "great instauration" as Sir Francis Bacon termed it. In that context, the peoples of the New World could in fact be an older version of oursleves. Were they outcasts from the Biblical Eden? Were they survivors of Atlantis, Plato's lost continent? Were they remnants of the Lost Tribes of Israel or survivors of the Great Flood?

When the Elizabethans began looking for historical justifications for their expansionist plans -- you know it as the British Empire -- their wisest men cited as precedents the story of King Arthur, who supposedly sent a large expedition into the Arctic regions which never returned but was thought to have survived and maybe colonized unknown lands. There was the voyage of the Irish monk Brendan. And there was the legend of the Welsh Prince, Madoch, who is said to have established a colony in America somewhere near today's Mobile, Alabama in the year 1170. The colony moved inland, and was lost, but for centuries afterward reports of so-called white or Welsh Indians who were light skinned and blue-eyed filtered out of the continent. The Mandans were said to be descended from the prince's people; the Cherokees had heard of them; on maps, they were referred to as the "White Paduchas." If you think that's farfetched, at least one of the best minds of the late 18th and early 19th century did not. When Thomas Jefferson sent the first American scientific expedition across the continent, he personally asked Lewis and Clark to keep an eye out for them. When the explorers encountered the Salish-speaking Flatheads, they noted their language carefully, believing its gutteral tones to possibly be evidence of vestigal Welsh. Some members of the expedition were sure they had found the Welsh Indians at last.

As the continent was settled, so was the myth of the Welsh Indians. They were never found, though stories about them moved with the frontier -- the last one placing them somewhere in Northern British Columbia. Perhaps they were simply wiped out by smallpox or one of the other innumerable plagues that depopulated the countryside with the European advance. More likely they simply represented a perpetual mirage in the European mind that a kind of deeper, more genuine claim could be made of the land. We were not conquering America -- we were reconquering it, not unlike the way Europeans reconquered the Iberian Peninusla from the Moors -- a task the Spanish completed the same year Columbus bumped into the Americas.

Today, we've explored all the lonesome bits and pieces: there is no place for the Welsh Indians to be hiding, except in history. The evidence is conclusive that the Vikings were in North American about 500 years before Columbus. It shouldn't be surprising that others are trying to push the white window back even further. In the mid-1990s, the Canadian writer Farley Mowat, an early advocate of the idea that the Norse beat Columbus here, wrote a book called The Farfarers which suggests that a people he calls the "Alban" -- which derives from Albion, the ancient Greek name for Britain which means "white" -- came to North American 500 years before the Vikings. In fact, he says, they settled and occupied the Canadian Arctic, probably before the Inuit arrived. White men, in other words, may have been the first Eskimos!

Of course, there's very little proof the Alban ever existed in Europe, let alone North America. Mowat's book is filled with historical musings backed by some archaeological curiosities, but mostly it's projection wrapped in a big wad of wishful thinking. It's that wishful thinking that has resurfaced in the case of Kennewick Man. I admit even I was thrilled that he might have been some kind of wandering Norseman who found his way across the icemass from Norway to Greenland and down through Canada into the Columbia River Basin. What person named "Knute" wouldn't be? But it is, I think, part of an urge we have to look at the place we call home and see our reflections in it, reflections like those in endless carnival funhouse infinity mirrors: the past is us, going on forever.

Kennewick Man offers an incredibly rich opportunity for everyone to seek these reflections for themselves. Native Americans can cloak him with a wise, spiritual persona that reflects their ways -- traditions that may not have come into existence until 5,000 years after Kennewick Man was dead and buried. Scientists can pose as wise men too, standing up against Native American "creationism" in the name of the truth, yet perpetuating their own myth of objectivity. And Euro-Americans can tap into a longstanding yearning to belong in a place we took from its inhabitants, a land dripping with the irony of a history we hope will prove that whites are the real "native" Americans, as if that would justify all we have done.

Thou Shalt Not Tolerate

Earlier this month, the Taliban -- the Islamic fundamentalist sect that controls Afghanistan -- ordered the destruction of Buddhist statues and relics throughout the country, including several large 3rd and 5th century statues that stand over 100 feet high.

"These idols have been the gods of the infidels," the Taliban declared, "and are respected even now and perhaps may be turned into gods again." Despite howls of protest from western countries, museums curators, UNESCO, and many fellow Muslims, the Taliban's armed forces commenced the destruction of the Buddhas, blasting away at them with canons, tanks, and bombs. In doing so, they were carrying our the irreversible orders of their religions and political leaders.

The Buddhas are being destroyed not because they are unimportant or disrespected, but precisely because they are seen by the Taliban -- and nearly the entire international community -- as powerful and important religious images. While the voices of tolerance argue that they should be preserved, the forces of religious fundamentalism have prevailed.

Many in the West have decried the Taliban's vandalism. One museum professional I know called the acts of destruction a form of "savagery." Others have said it is typical of Muslim intolerance. Islam, said the Rev. Jerry Falwell recently, is a faith that "teaches hate."

Before joining the chorus of those condemning the Taliban, let's consider religious intolerance closer to home. Christian intolerance for one. There is a strong move in America to post the Biblical 10 Commandments in courtrooms, schools and other public places and civic spaces. In fact, in 1999 Congress passed the 10 Commandments Defence Act amendment that would permit this -- though the law is Constiutionally questionable. Many Americans consider the 10 Commandments a no-brainier -- basic rules of behavior we can all agree upon. Pope John Paul II calls them "the universal moral law valid in every time and place."

But the 10 Commandments are first and foremost a religious document. The 1st Commandment states "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," clearly saying that there is no room for worship of any other than the Judeo-Christian god, a statement of intolerance that hardly is inclusive of other religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and many other of the world's faiths.

The 2nd Commandment goes further: "Thou shalt make unto thee no graven images..." God goes on to pledge to punished those who worship such graven images "visiting iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the 3rd and 4th generation."

So let's see, if you don't worship the Old Testament God, and if you make religious idols, God's wrath will be brought down upon you, your children, your grandchildren and your great grandchildren. Sounds a lot like the Taliban to me. Perhaps, indeed, they are simply doing God's work.

The tension between the religious tolerance that we profess, and the religious doctrines we are taught is palpable. Examples are everywhere, and they're not just the Jerry Falwells. Earlier this year, a Presbyterian minister from Chicago dared to suggest at a religious conference that, while good Christians would attain salvation and go to Heaven, perhaps a merciful God had also designed other paths to salvation for Jews, Muslims, and other non-believers. His tolerant, broad-minded remarks uncorked a firestorm of controversy within the church and he was accused of heresy, for Presbyterian doctrine teaches specifically that salvation is only possible for Christians: the earth's other four billion inhabitants are on the fast-track to hell.

So when we consider Islamic "savagery" related to Buddhist relics, I suggest we also consider another phrase found centuries ago on the wall of a ruined fort on the frontier of New France: "Nous somme tous sauvage" an anonymous French Indian fighter had carved. "We are all savages."

Instead of focusing our moral outrage on a cult in Afghanistan, we ought to consider the ramifications of creeds that support our own potential for "savagery" here at home.

I think that would be a useful "faith-based" initiative.

Ashcroft May Teach Lefties to Love Guns

I have never understood why the left in this country has decided to unilaterally disarm. Why is it that liberal civil libertarians are always gung ho on the constitution, until it gets to the Second Amendment which was what, written in invisible ink?

In trying to stake out some kind of moral high ground, the left has abandoned not a only a basic right, but a potent symbol. Face it, in America, you only get respect if you're packing.

The right has known this for a long time: guns are as American as John Wayne, as righteous as Charleton Heston, as cool as the latest, hipster noir revival film (Snatch comes to mind). But more importantly, the militias, patriots, NRA-nuts, and neo-Confederates comprise an important -- and much pandered-to -- Republican constituency. Their guns, and the money that goes with them, have gained them the attention of the media and the powerful. Unlike Barry Goldwater, their extremism in the defense of liberty has been good politics.

Now one of the big panderers is Attorney General, John Ashcroft, a man who loves to toss around right-wing code words that mean something to the far political fringe. He defends gun rights as a bulwark against the "tyranny" of government and judicial activism, and he extols the virtues of "southern patriots." As the left faces the possible -- even likely -- tyranny of a far-right Republican regime, isn't it time to lock and load?

The left has been reluctant to ally itself with the right on many issues, even when they agree. Notice that few activists have embraced Pat Buchanan for his stance against the World Trade Organization. Partly it's principle, not wanting to associate with racists, anti-Semites, or religious fanatics. It's also partly snobbery, avoiding the trailer trash side of the cultural divide. The result is that many liberals looked the other way at the outrages at Ruby Ridge and Waco, or at the depradations against privacy and police restraint under Attorney General Janet Reno and Bill Clinton. They scoffed when the NRA fundraisers called federal cops "stormtroopers." Well, now that the government is in new hands, is the left having any second thoughts? Does anyone really believe that Ashcroft's ATF will be any more compassionate than Janet Reno's?

It's not like lefty activists have abandoned violence entirely. The Earth Liberation Front and other so-called eco-terrorists are torching trophy homes that sprawl into the last lots of wilderness (or Long Island). The Black Bloc anarchists of Eugene and elsewhere are ever-eager to make a statement by smashing glass at the nearest Starbucks or Niketown. Of course, they don't like to call such acts violence because, they rationalize, acts against property aren't violence, because private property itself is violence. Whatever. The fact remains that some elements of the left are resorting to actions that make simple gun ownership for self-defense, or any other legal reason, seem downright lame. After all, target shooting, it seem to me, is much less violent than burning down a ski resort.

If the mainstream left was honest with itself, it would end its pious moralizing about guns and recognize that violence is sometimes an effective political tool. An even greater tool is the threat of violence.

In Seattle, a group of pro-gun progressives, Democrats for the Second Amendment, got together with a group called Cease Fear to offer NRA handgun training to gay and lesbians. The training was also sponsored by a variety of organizations, including the Microsoft Gun Club, the local Libertarian Party, and the Jewish Defense League. While Cease Fear focuses on basic gun safety training, it was also designed to help people get over the idea that guns are for rednecks only. Jonathan Rauch, in a Salon article called "Pink Pistols," argues that guns can not only protect gays, but empower them the way self-defense has empowered Jews. "Guns can do the same thing for homosexuals: emancipate them from their image -- often internalized -- of cringing weakness. Pink pistols, I'll warrant, would do far more for the self-esteem of the next generation of gay men and women than any number of hate crime laws or antidiscrimination statutes." Rauch wants to make gay-bashing dangerous. To that end, Cease Fear unveiled new T-shirts for last spring's Gay Pride parade: and delta symbol with a fist holding a handgun and the words "Bash this!"

In that spirit, the time is ripe for liberals to overcome their Second-Amendment reluctance, embrace gun rights, praise Gaia and pass the ammunition. It's time to test the tolerance of the Bush administration's new chief law enforcement officer by seeing how far he'll go to protect those who also abhor tyranny, but from the opposite end of the political spectrum.

It's time to say, "Hey Ashcroft, bash this!"

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