I would hope it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: I do not condone the acts of the ALF or, to the extent it's extant, the ELF. Arson is a crime and should be prosecuted. Flooding, vandalism -- not cool. Graffiti, well, it's a menace. To deem one's cause more worthy than a living, breathing human being is the ultimate in jackassery. As yet, ELF has not gone there. But destroying people's stuff is also jackassery. A distinctly lower-order form of jackassery, but jackassery nonetheless. Only a jackass indulges in jackassery. And let's face it. Somebody's going to get hurt. The more the feds inadvertently (?) publicize ELF, the more ELF will attract attention and self-proclaimed membership. Eventually it will attract a crank who will injure or kill someone. My sympathy for that crank is nil and I'm all for throwing the book at him. My concern is not whether "eco-terrorism" should be morally or legally condoned -- it obviously shouldn't. My concern is whether it is particularly significant, in terms of threats to the health and welfare of Americans. It seems to me the Bush administration is using it quite crassly, for political purposes, in a manner all out of proportion to the real danger it poses.
This raised my eyebrow: [U.S. Attorney Karin] Immergut said a pledge by the defendants to never reveal each other's identities to law-enforcement officials made the investigation more difficult. But investigators persuaded some alleged participants to act as informants, providing details of the crimes. ... [40-year-old Arizona bookstore owner William C.] Rodgers, who also was identified by federal prosecutors as the mastermind of the 1998 arson at Vail, Colo., but was not charged in connection with that crime, committed suicide last month in an Arizona jail. From the indictment, Rodgers appeared to be a key figure in the cell, allegedly involved in many of the most high-profile crimes.
It doesn't seem to me that the ELF and the ALF should always be spoken of in the same breath. The Animal Liberation Front is decades old and well-established in over 20 countries. The Earth Liberation Front didn't really appear on the radar until 1998, when a Vail ski resort was torched. There are questions about the communique in which ELF claimed responsibility. There are questions about the authenticity of ELF website. There are questions about whether the ELF exists as an organization in any ontologically robust sense. In general, the animal-rights movement has a much longer and more storied history of violent direct action than the environmental movement. Lumping them together as one amorphous threat is driven as much by the political needs of the powers-that-be as by events on the ground.
If the executive branch was trying to distract attention from Osama Bin Laden's latest taped message and the NSA spying scandal with this "eco-terrorism" business, they failed pretty miserably. When Gonzalez and Mueller took questions, only the final two were about the Milk Jug Brigade. QUESTION: On the environment and eco-groups, how big a blow is wrapping up these people that you've got indictments against -- how deep do you think the support goes for these kinds of acts? MR. MUELLER: If you read the indictment and you see the listing of the actions that have taken place at the hands of this group over a period of time, you get some understanding of the impact of this investigation and this indictment. In terms of identifying and arresting those who were principly responsible for something like 17 -- over 15, as the Attorney General pointed out, acts over the last few years in this arena. So, I think it's fair to say it was a substantial blow. A blow to who, though? To what? Membership in the Earth Liberation Front seems to require one thing: Saying so. These fruitcake hippies said they acted in the name of ELF, but how is throwing them in jail a "blow" to ELF? It's not like ELF is an organization with upper management you can remove. It's just a name. Any angry malcontent who wants to can claim to act on its behalf. The ELF is an idea, not a gang. Now that the federal government has made it famous, I'm sure it will begin attracting a broader array of malcontents, one of whom eventually will be willing to injure another human being, and then we're off to the races. It's not coincidence that this administration has declared war on an opponent which can by definition never be defeated, can never surrender, because it is an abstraction. The war will last in perpetuity. So when Gonzalez starts pushing for special "wartime" powers on behalf of the FBI and ATF, he will in effect be working to permanently expand the powers of the executive branch. That is, after all, his one true mandate from his bosses. Witness:
I'm looking over this "eco-terrorism" stuff. Some stray thoughts. Why always "shadowy"? Can we find a new adjective for our bogeymen? Is this what shadowy means? Who is the leader of the ELF? This is what has caused problems for law enforcement trying to put an end to the group's activities. There is no Osama bin Laden of the ELF [ed: Yesima bin Burnin?], there are no "lieutenants," and no hierarchical structure at all. It may even be a misnomer to call the ELF a "group." This misnomer has nonetheless been deemed a "vast eco-terrorism conspiracy." It earned a press conference graced by both Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Gonzales thanked law enforcement at all levels for "their continued determination to help protect Americans from the threat of terrorism, both foreign and domestic." Foreign. Domestic. Hey, it's all the same stuff. But what distinguishes setting fire to buildings with crude milk jugs full of gasoline from simple crime? Gonzalez's formulation was careful: They "worked together with extensive planning to influence the conduct of government and private businesses through the use of coordinated force, violence, sabotage, intimidation, and coercion." Mueller stuck to Rumsfeldian koans: "But terrorism is terrorism, no matter what the motive." To me that sounds uncomfortably like "terrorism is whatever the hell we feel like calling it, including maybe ... yeah you, the shifty-eyed guy in the back. You a terrorist, chump?" But maybe I'm just paranoid.
In other news, vegans to eat 30 cows in 30 days Leaving London this week, a pair of drivers set off on a trip around the world, pledging to use fewer than 50 tanks of …
I've come to see it as my duty to relay to you the wisdom conveyed by the Mustache of Understanding, NYT foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman, who remains cloistered behind the stupid Times $elect subscription wall. Tom is on a tear lately (see here and here), playing up green issues in the world's most influential print venue. Today's column: "The New 'Sputnik' Challenges: They All Run on Oil." Here's the good bit:
I've always thought that if I had to move back to my home state of Tennessee, I'd kill myself live in Chattanooga. It used to be one of the most polluted cities in the country. I remember driving through it on the way to Atlanta -- it was nasty, dirty, bleak, and oh my god, the smell. A real shithole. But in the last 20 or 30 years, the city has completely turned around, and now it's one of the most forward-thinking, progressive cities in the Southeast. Sprol has a great piece on the transformation: While most cities, nationally and globally, make an effort to reduce negative affects on the environment; few (if any) have attained the level of success enjoyed by Chattanooga. Here, industry is not the enemy, but instead has offered viable and effective solutions. Here, the citizen and the government official aren't at odds. Rather, they work together to creatively address the environmental challenges the city has faced. Chattanooga has become one of the few cities designated as an EPA attainment city. This has been due, in large part, to combined efforts of Chattanooga citizens and city officials. An inspiring read.
Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism puts out a journal called Nieman Reports. The latest issue is about news coverage of intelligent design and global warming. You can download the entire issue (PDF), or the section about global warming (with multimedia; without multimedia -- both PDF). I've only read a couple of the bits, but they're quite interesting. (via Tim Lambert)