The following is a detailed analysis of the work of Jesse Sanes and Rebecca Poswolsky (JESSBECKY), two individuals with close ties to the Hampshire College Population and Development Program (POPDEV). They have posted various blogs on assorted websites, but most frequently on the pro-open-borders/anti-free-speech (POBAFS) website Imagine2050.org, the character-assassination subsidiary of the Chicago-based Center for New Community. In responding to the work of these two activists, I am willing to honestly provide examples in valid context. JessBecky, on the other hand, are perfectly happy to say anything they want to if it supports their POBAFS ideology. In so doing, they are clearly following in the political footsteps of Dr. Betsy Hartmann, a professor at Hampshire College, who has played a central role in their evolution as POBAFS activists. As such, I write here today not just in opposition to their political methods, but to several key ideological premises underlying the work of the Hampshire College Population and Development program (POPDEV), which substantially impedes the progress made by real environmentalists who are fighting against incredible political headwinds thanks to Ms. Hartmann’s scientifically bankrupt activism.
I’ll discuss Ms. Hartmann in more detail later on, but for now you need only know that she believes that overpopulation is a myth, that the U.S. should have open borders and keep them open to all comers. Furthermore, her political activism aims to oppress open debate among liberals, providing substantial political cover to right-wing opponents of international and domestic support for family planning programs, to opponents of safe, legal and unhindered access to abortion, and to the uber-wealthy who benefit the most from America’s high rate of legal and illegal immigration. And one more thing: she has a decades-old legacy of accusing anyone who disagrees with her of being a racist, a eugenicist, or a misogynist–or in many cases, some combination of the three.
I would like to give credit where credit is due: Thanks to Laird Wilcox for the excellent analysis provided by his brief but excellent book: WATCHDOGS: A Close Look at Anti-Racist “Watchdog” Groups. Although this book was published in 1998 and therefore precedes by more than a decade most of the material addressed below, its analysis of common themes and logical fallacies in anti-racist propaganda since the 1930’s very accurately captures the weakness and political gamesmanship evident in the work of Sanes, Poswolsky and many others, especially as it is presented on the Imagine2050 website.
I first heard of Jesse Sanes when he wrote a blog attacking a brief opinion piece I had submitted to the Montpelier (Vermont) Times Argus. I don’t argue that Jesse’s response was terribly personal, but his writing clearly distorted my own words and views. His writing in response to my own work is not of the deeply mean-spirited name-calling subspecies that he and Rebecca have launched at other good activists. It is, however, so weak in its reasoning that it demands attention along with other selected examples of Jesse’s work.
To wit, the article he wrote about my views is entitled “The ‘Problem is Driven Chiefly by Immigration.’” Astute readers will note that there is here an internal quote; I have placed quotation marks around the title of Jesse’s blog, and within those quotation marks are internal quotation marks indicating their use in both the headline and the body of Jesse’s Blog. Jesse was quoting from my essay in his headline, but he did so with clear intention of distorting what I had said. This, with emphasis added, is my original statement: “Here in the United States our population problem is driven chiefly by immigration, both documented and undocumented.” In quoting part of this sentence, Jesse has taken my words about the “population problem,” and skipped the word “population,” hidden it from his readers, so that it seems that I meant to say that all of our problems should be blamed primarily on immigrants.
I can’t help but wonder how Jesse came to this particular phrasing as he quoted from my work. Perhaps he considered excerpting this kernel: “ . . . our population problem is driven chiefly by immigration.” But right away this causes a problem for Jesse. Jesse is a population denier, insisting that population growth does not contribute to nor amplify in any significant way the difficulties we face as a country and as a global community. So if he quotes me as describing the “population problem,” he will be lending credence to my view that population growth is a significant driver of environmental harm. But he can’t just say “Problem is Driven Chiefly by Immigration,” can he? No, that sounds clunky, so he changes the word “Our” to the word “The,” skips the word “population,” and then encloses the rest of my words in quotation marks. Quite a lot of contortion, don’t you think?
But Jesse goes further in this piece, and this example has me, frankly, unsure of what was going on in his mind. In my original essay, I had quoted a factually accurate statement by Jeremy Beck of NumbersUSA. As Jesse, Rebecca and Betsy Hartmann are all too ready to point out, NumbersUSA was founded with the participation of John Tanton, who is related to the progressive populationist movement much the way that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was tied to candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. In this piece, Jesse followed the formula in predictable fashion, pouncing on my quote from Jeremy Beck to initiate the Tantonization Incantation whereby, through an elaborate string of guilt-by-association, he suggests that the organization which I serve, the New England Coalition for Sustainable Population, is tied to racists that we have never met and whose views we publicly reject. But then Jesse goes further, suggesting that the numbers that I quoted in that same article had originated with NumbersUSA, an attribution which is neither stated nor implied in my original.
For the record, here is the numerical statement I made regarding the extent to which immigration contributes to U.S. population growth. “U.S. population will more than double from 203 million in 1970 to 439 million in 2050 and immigration will cause 82 percent of all U.S. population growth between 2005 and 2050.” Feel free to read my original essay, and you will see there is no even vaguely casual link between Beck and the statistics that follow a few sentences later. The source of these numbers is, in fact, the Pew Research Center, and the 2008 report they published is very widely known in both populationist and open-borders circles. So I am inclined to suspect that Jesse knew very well the source of those numbers when he wrote, incorrectly, that “ . . . the numbers Powell used to illustrate his view of immigration are supplied by the Tanton Network, . . ..”
I concede that it’s possible that Jesse was honestly unaware of the origin of those numbers. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe this, for Jesse has written extensively about the issue of immigration and its impact on U.S. population growth. If Jesse didn’t know about these widely-cited statistics, then he is clearly not as well informed about these issues as his rabid activism would suggest. So the less-forgiving explanation would be that he knew very well the origin of my statistics, and that he was being intentionally misleading when he claimed that I had gotten them from NumbersUSA. I can see just two plausible explanations: either he didn’t know the true source of these widely published and much-discussed numbers, which means he’s just an uninformed bully, or he did know the origins of my numbers but intentionally claimed they originated elsewhere.
So which is it, Jesse: Are you an uninformed bully, or are you a liar?
If Jesse doesn’t take the opportunity to respond on the blog I have created for the sole purpose of allowing him to defend his work, I think we can safely assume that that the second explanation is the valid one. And anyhow, the clearly dishonest way that he titled his article, and plenty of other examples, suggest that Jesse is happy to lie in the service of the POBAFS agenda. But let’s leave Jesse alone for a bit, and in the meantime let’s take a look at the other key figure addressed here in Part One.
Rebecca Poswolsky is, as I have already mentioned, a smear artist. She is also almost certainly a liar. Of course, in a court of law, I believe that this challenge to her credibility could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt without a key witness, and I’m pretty sure that Rebecca will decline to provide the name of that person for soon-to-be-apparent reasons. So let me begin by qualifying that label, giving Rebecca a choice just as I have given Jesse a choice. If Rebecca is not an outright liar, then she is at the very least a biased and intellectually lazy writer who has taken on faith the statements of people who ARE liars and whom she certainly would have known to have credibility problems. Before I get to the specific case about her willingness to either lie or to write the lies of others without verification of their statements, I’d like to share with you some ways in which Rebecca Poswolsky has publicly smeared the characters of good people with whom she disagrees.
Take, for example, the piece she wrote about Philip Cafaro in February of this year. Cafaro is the recently-appointed president of Progressives for Immigration Reform. It seems that Poswolsky is hell-bent on running down anyone associated with this organization, and Cafaro is no exception. In the February editorial, Poswolsky writes:
Cafaro is a professor at Colorado State University where (sic) teaches environmental ethics. That’s right, ‘ethics.’ His close alignment with the anti-immigrant movement and reductionist politics should not be regarded as a simple concern, as his completely ridiculous claims are solely backed by other anti-immigrant groups and reports. Nothing ethical here.
Already, we can see that the editorial standards of the Imagine2050 website are different from those of any reasonably legitimate news and opinion outlets–different in the sense that such standards simply don’t exist. Rebecca Poswolsky accuses a professor at Colorado State University, a PhD with a quarter century resume of environmetnal activism, of being unethical. Had Professor Cafaro behaved inappropriately with young female students? With young male students? Had he been implicated in a grade-selling scandal? Had Rebecca notified the Colorado State University administration about the unethical ethics professor in their midst? There was no such information to be found, unless, of course, it is unethical for college professors to disagree with Rebecca Poswolsky. If this was a real news outlet offering such harsh accusations about a faculty member of a major state University, such an accusation would not reach the public without examples to support it, even if such analysis were significantly flawed. But even the pretense of credibility does not seem to be a concern at Imagine2050.
Like everything Rebecca writes, this is not in any sense a challenge to the relevant facts as much as it’s an attack on the characters of those with whom she disagrees. In Watchdogs, Wilcox writes, “The primary function of Watchdog organizations seems to be to call people names in the hope of defaming, discrediting, marginalizing, stigmatizing or neutralizing them.”
After accusing a University professor of being unethical, she then goes on to unethically misrepresent what that professor has written. She quotes one line directly from a 2010 Cafaro editorial about the Gulf oil spill, “In recent years, most growth in U.S. greenhouse emissions has come from immigration-driven population growth. (emphasis added)” Further down, she summarizes his article, “So according to Cafaro, population and immigrants are to blame not only for the BP oil spill, but also for greenhouse emissions as well.” This clearly misleads her readers, virtually all of whom haven’t seen Phil’s essay, in which he wrote, “Immigration is not one of the direct causes of the BP oil spill in the Gulf.”
Phil then itemized what he sees as the direct causes of the oil spill. “These include failures in safely maintaining and operating the rig by BP and its partners; their unwillingness to shut it down in the face of clear indicators that things were going wrong; federal regulators’ failure to properly oversee these operations; and perhaps most important, a willingness to pump oil under extreme conditions that are inherently risky and dangerous.” In spite of Phil’s clear listing of the guilty parties, Rebecca portrays him as arguing that immigrants are solely to blame for the oil spill. “Such accusations,” she writes, “are not only offensive to real environmentalists who attempted to hold BP responsible . . . .. they are just plain off the mark.” Rebecca was kind enough to link to the article she was challenging, but she must not think much of her readers, as she plainly assumes they won’t open Cafaro’s article and discover how blatantly she has misrepresented his statements. I’ll leave it to all those environmentalists who were offended by Phil’s absolution of BP’s responsibility to try and convince me that I should ever believe anything Rebecca ever says again.
Common threads and logical fallacies
As mentioned above, Laird Wilcox’s Watchdogs accurately provides insight into all of the material I have seen on the Imagine2050 website. In the forward to his book, Wilcox describes his own evolution from an eager participant in the left-wing radicalism on college campuses in the 1960’s to a widely respected authority on extremism at both ends of the political spectrum:
What I did not realize at that time was the peculiar attraction of “anti-racism” as an ideology that could be adapted to explain all things and justify almost any course of action. Simply said, there are careers, status, jobs and influence to be had as long as racism exists. There is also the peculiar utility of anti-racism to function as a carrier for extreme ideologies which without such cover would be instantly exposed. As specific problems are solved new problems are defined and created to keep the movement alive (emphasis added).
Indeed, there is an anti-racist industry entrenched in the United States that has attracted bullying, moralizing fanatics, whose identity and livelihood depend on growth and expansion of their particular kind of victimization.
Although he wrote these words in the late 1990’s, Wilcox had presciently described the so-called “greening of hate” mythology that drives so much of Imagine2050’s agenda today. According to these activists, many in America’s contemporary environmental movement have been seduced by racist thinking. In this manufactured narrative, green activists have somehow been brainwashed into thinking that all of the world’s ecological issues would simply fade into the distance if we could just accomplish two things: 1) keep America’s population predominantly white, and, 2) coerce women of color in the developing world to have their tubes tied. The issue of population growth and its impacts on our planet’s ecological health are, in this view, merely rationalizations for supporting coercive family planning programs and sealing the borders in defense of white dominance of the nation and the planet. And anytime a progressive comes out in support of an open dialogue about the problems caused by America’s unsustainable population growth, Jesse Sanes, Rebecca Poswolski and other POBAFS smear-artists-in-training will post a blog to the effect that the progressive in question is actually a racist in green clothing.
These activists are forwarding a narrative about the scourge of “ECORACISM” that fits Betsy Hartmann’s long running effort to shut down any acknowledgement of the challenges created by population growth. As Hartmann wrote in a 2010 article entitled “Greenwash: Nativists, Environmentalism and the Hypocrisy of Hate,” she sees the U.S. environmentalists’ concerns as the result of “ . . . an organized right-wing movement against immigrants that cloaks itself in green language to lure environmentalists into the fold.”
Along the same lines, in September 2011, Jesse Sanes described Dave Foreman, the author of a new book on population growth, as a leader of “ . . . an organization that helped pioneer the current anti-immigrant co-optation of the environmental movement.”
And Rebecca Poswolsky, in a newsletter published by POPDEV at Hampshire College, writes “It is well documented that there are segments of the environmental movement that focus primarily or partially on population control as the crucial site of changing human’s damaging relationship to natural resources and wild spaces (emphasis added).”
I find it interesting that Poswolsky acknowledges that some populationists “focus primarily or partially on population control.” This is quite a concession for a person who has written so many articles distorting the statements of populationists to obliterate any reference to a partial causality. She has repeatedly portrayed Cafaro and a number of other populationists–who have explicitly clarified that they see population growth as just one of several contributing factors—as identifying population growth as the only cause of our planet’s myriad environmental challenges.
In the article discussed above, Poswolsky purposefully excluded any reference to Cafaro’s explicit clarification of population growth as “partially” contributing to demand for oil and the resultant spills and other environmental harm. Nor does she convey the concept of partial responsibility when she describes the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) as “a carefully crafted entity whose mission is to achieve the goal of zero immigration to the U.S. by targeting immigrants as the cause of economic, population and environmental problems. (emphasis added)” Her willingness to acknowledge claims of partial causality, in the Hampshire College piece, are entirely inconsistent with her other work. Perhaps the explanation lies in the standards for accuracy that the POPDEV program, as a unit of an academic institution, has to at least pretend to respect. At Imagine2050, Rebecca clearly feels no pressure to acknowledge her opponents’ explicit reference to the interactions of multiple factors other than population.
Again, this is a pattern anticipated by Wilcox:
Like most of the issues that watchdog groups concern themselves about, the concepts are never made quite clear. No precise agreed upon definition of obscenity, pornography, subversion, racism or anti-Semitism exists, nor are watchdogs generally willing to admit to degrees (emphasis added).
For the most part, these concepts exist in a black-and-white world, with no intermediate shades of gray. One either is, or is not, and the decision is to be made by a biased and interested party whose career and ideological interests benefit from the discovery of offenders and heretics.
I could go on, and you may wish to browse through the various materials produced by Hartmann and JessBecky and see for yourself how adamantly they attempt to formulate this intangible mythology of the “co-optation of the environmental movement.” What you really need to appreciate about these three, however, is that the backstop of their activism is the belief that population growth plays no significant role in our current environmental problems. This core belief drives their activism and their mean-spirited suggestions that anyone who calls for slowing population growth must be motivated by racism.
In an article for Imagine2050 in September 2011, for example, Sanes wrote, “overpopulation is not a real global threat.” Poswolsky, as a Center for New Community Field Organizer, contributed to a “satirical tabloid” that describes population growth as “today’s equivalent of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.” And in the forward to Too many people?, a book by Ian Angus and Simon Butler, Betsy Hartmann refers repeatedly to “the myth of overpopulation.”
My concern here is not that some activists are unwilling to acknowledge the significant role that population growth plays in our planet’s deteriorating environmental health, but rather it is the methods that these three and others have used to denigrate the motives and values of those with whom they disagree. Still, readers should not forget that, when all the cards are on the table, the POBAFS attacking the populationists are grounded in an irrational and extreme denial of the implications of a global population that has surged from one billion to seven billion in less than a century, and which is likely to continue growing beyond 10 billion in another four decades. In perpetuating this denial, they are decidedly at odds with the majority opinion of the scientific community, much as those who deny the existence of man-made climate change are at odds with the weight of scientific consensus.
I find it helpful, in the excerpt from Wilcox above, to hear that I am not alone in seeing the character flaw we know as racism as a continuum of attitudes rather than a quality that is either present in its most virulent form or altogether absent from a given individual’s personality. In my experience, racism, like sexism, like environmentalism, like socialism, is best understood as a quality that exists to varying degrees in almost everyone. There are many mildly racist individuals that we encounter in our daily lives and might even consider to be good people. And yes, there are hard-core racists who believe in keeping the races apart, and even some who would readily participate in violence against people of color. There are even racists who occupy the other extreme of the continuum, who so adamantly abhor bias against people of color that they hold biases against Caucasians.
The POBAFS activists encourage no such appreciation of the subtleties and the universality of some degree of racist belief-systems, however, as the perception of racism as an either/or aspect of human personality is essential to their ability to manipulate liberals. I believe that they fully appreciate that even the most progressive and outspoken multiculturalists are conscious of some degree of lingering racism within their worldviews, no matter how small and powerless it might be in affecting their daily interactions with others. The ability to poke that well-tamed and dormant kernel of vestigial fear is enough to keep liberals from objectively considering the realities of current U.S. population growth.
Wilcox, elaborating on this in a section of his book called, “Irrational Guilt as a Manipulator,” quotes at length from another book, The Age of Propaganda, published in 1991:
The power of guilt to persuade . . . stems, as with most emotional appeals, from its power to direct our thoughts and to channel our energies. When we feel guilty, we typically pay little attention to the cogency of an argument, or to the merits of a suggested course of action. Instead, our thoughts and actions are directed to removing the feeling of guilt—to somehow making things right or doing the right thing. We fall into the rationalization trap.
I think this sheds a lot of light on the success that the POBAFS movement has had in suppressing open debate about both global and domestic population growth and immigration. If everyone is racist to varying degrees, then suggesting that a certain line of argument is shaped by racist beliefs is likely to trigger some degree of guilt in the minds of those who might otherwise recognize some truth in that line of reasoning. Obviously, programs aimed at reducing population growth in the most rapidly growing countries of the less-developed world will, by default, lead to slower growth in the populations made up of people of color. When population deniers suggest that such programs are motivated by racism or eugenicists, progressives who feel guilty about their own racist hang-ups, no matter how insignificant in their politics and lifestyle, are less likely to consider the rational arguments at hand. The progressive populationist, therefore, is rarely given a fair hearing in the minds of liberals, thanks in large part to the activism of Betsy Hartmann and her legions of followers, who see racist sentiments as the primary driver in every major population program on the global stage.
All of which makes it a truly heroic act, in my eyes, to speak out on the need to reduce immigration in spite of the internal queasiness that many of us experience as we reason our way to this conclusion. And what troubles me most about the work of JessBecky is their willingness to attack the character of good people who have, I am sure, spent a lot of time reflecting on the tradeoffs. As much as it pains me to describe Ann Coulter as an insightful person, I am reminded in this debate of her recent remark about conservative African-Americans. Appearing on Sean Hannity’s show on the Fox network during the scandal about GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, Coulter said, “our blacks are so much better than their blacks” because (rhetorically addressing conservative African Americans) “You have fought against probably your family, probably your neighbors… that’s why we have very impressive blacks.”
I know that Ann Coulter is notoriously lax about telling the truth and no slacker when it comes to ad-hominem attacks. But I do see valid parallels between the intellectual struggle, and the risk of alienation from friends and family, that some African-Americans go through in opposing policies that many believe to be in the bests interests of the black community, and the struggle that I and many other environmentalists have faced before realizing that our unprecedented rates of immigration are driving unsustainable U.S. population growth. In both cases, there is an internal resistance to accepting what their logical minds tell them is the least harmful path.
Most environmentalists are liberals to the core, and as such they don’t easily embrace support for policies that negatively impact the material prospects of people of color. Those environmentalists who are now calling out for reduced immigration, therefore, have likely come to that position only after substantial soul-searching. That certainly applies to my own evolution as a progressive populationist. But if you are a serious environmentalist, and if you are not willing to let the politics of the moment over-ride the objective consideration of the implications of population growth, you come to a point where you have to make some hard choices. In this case, environmentalists need to choose between the multiculturalist pipe dream of an America that welcomes any and all people who would choose to live within its borders, on the one hand, and the scientific reality that our unprecedented immigration is wreaking irreparable harm on the global ecosystem and altering the climate cycles upon which humans and all earthling life forms depend.
All of this makes the progressive populationist a truly rare bird, for when you see a true liberal who publicly states that he thinks that U.S. population growth is unsustainable, and that immigration policy must be adjusted to bring that growth down, they could not be a true progressive if they had come to that realization without undergoing an excruciatingly uphill effort to make peace with that reality. That, however, is not how the POBAFS activists want you to see these populationists, and they have devoted a lot of ink and online pixels to portraying the populationists as unquestioning disciples of the racist mindthink.
Guilt, however, is not the only emotion whose heartstrings are plucked relentlessly by the POBAFS. They also know that most American liberals have some personal familiarity with legal immigrants, and perhaps also with illegal immigrants. In addition to the echoes of racist guilt felt by members of the liberal community, there is also a set of personal relationships, often heartfelt friendships, that provide ripe fodder for the logical fallacy known as the “appeal to emotion.”
Appeal to emotion is a potential fallacy which uses the manipulation of the recipient’s emotions, rather than valid logic, to win an argument. The appeal to emotion fallacy uses emotions as the basis of an argument’s position without factual evidence that logically supports the major ideas endorsed by the elicitor of the argument.
We saw a lot of appeal-to-emotion arguments in the public debate about the Iraq War, when proponents of the war (a policy) would accuse those who disagreed as failing to “support the troops” (brave and honorable human beings). In much the same vein, you can peruse mountains of smear articles on the Imagine2050 and the Hampshire College Population and Development (POPDEV) program websites, and you will find very few instances of the words “anti-immigration,” or “reduced immigration.” Instead you will find many statements about people who “blame immigrants,” or “scapegoat immigrants,” or oppose “women of color.” Just as the war supporters consistently referred to the good people involved and avoided referring to the bad policy of an unjustified war, the POBAFS adhere to this manipulative language deployment with a cultish consistency.
All American progressives know at least a few immigrants, and most of us like the immigrants that we know. In appealing to those emotional connections, the POBAFS activists are essentially arguing, “If immigrants are our friends, anti-immigrant activists must be our enemies. Enemies cannot be trusted to tell the truth, so we must disbelieve anything the anti-immigrant environmentalists say.”
It’s helpful to appreciate the extent to which these activists are willing to deny the frightening implications of global and domestic population growth. It is clearly a case of science taking a back seat to politics, and readers may want to compare this population denial to the recent report of the Royal Society, which is described on its web page as “a Fellowship of the world’s most eminent scientists,” and the world’s “oldest scientific academy in continuous existence.” In contrast to the population denialism inherent in the words and works of Betsy Hartmann, Jesse Sanes and Rebecca Poswolsky, the Royal Society’s reports lists the need to slow and stabilize population growth as one of three core challenges faced by humanity today.
Many oft-invoked logical fallacies in the POPAFS arsenal fall into the category of “red herrings,” defined by Wikipedia as, “a clue or piece of information which is intended to be misleading, or distracting from the actual issue.” The “greening of hate” mythology, which attempts to change the subject from the problems of U.S. growth to the motivations of people calling attention to those problems, is only the most prominent and oft-repeated red herring in this arena, but there are others. For example, POBAFS will often argue that Americans are responsible for the poverty and environmental collapse in the sending countries. I don’t deny that there is some degree of truth in this claim, and other progressive populationists, in my experience, are not in denial about the economic and environmental harm of American policies past and present. But it’s also largely beside the point. Even were this assumed to be the only cause of poverty in other countries—a very big and flawed assumption–it does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that unlimited U.S. immigration is an effective remedy. Rather, this red herring is so constantly invoked because it has the power to trigger feelings of guilt in progressive Americans who readily acknowledge that their own lifestyles are a part of the problem, and for whom a high rate of immigration seems to offer some degree of relief from those feelings of guilt.
Another prominent red herring is the argument that Americans are terribly wasteful consumers. Again, this is a factually correct point, one that populationists readily accept in spite of the fact that the POBAFS constantly accusing them of ignoring it. What this argument does not offer, however, is a credible consideration of the cause and effect that explains how increasing the number of people living the American lifestyle leads to anything but an increase in America’s disproportionate consumption and waste. If the POBAFS activists agree with populationists that the American lifestyle is wasteful and excessive, how does increasing the number of people living that wasteful and excessive lifestyle move us toward a smaller ecological footprint as a country?
POBAFS don’t put a lot of energy into drawing out their reasoning far enough to make this flaw readily apparent. They generally provide just enough detail to invoke the above-mentioned feelings of guilt among liberals, who do indeed participate in this wasteful lifestyle to some degree, even if they conscientiously recycle and perhaps even drive Priuses. But if 310 million Americans are living this wasteful lifestyle and generating too much carbon dioxide and gobbling up a disproportionate share of resources needed by developing countries, how does one argue that 400 million Americans, as we will likely see in the next few decades, would somehow produce a smaller carbon footprint or a more equitable distribution of resources? POBAFS never say; their goal seems to have less to do with bringing down the disproportionate waste and resource consumption exhibited by the U.S than with shutting down the reasoning skills of tormented liberals. With the potent cluster of internal, tinder-dry guilt always ready for a spark to incite a firestorm inside their minds, most progressives easily fall prey to this diversionary tactic.
If there is a figurative backbone to the POBAFS campaigns described here, it is the tactic of guilt-by-association, also known as the “associative fallacy,” and described on Wikipedia as “a special case of red herring.” Invariably, each article they write includes a paragraph I call the “Tantonization Incantation,” a reference to a man that POBAFS treat as if he’s the redneck progeny of Adolf Hitler. POBAFS would have you believe that John Tanton, an ophthalmologist from Michigan who has advocated for slower immigration since the 1970s, has not only a billion-dollar slush fund for forcefully maintaining America’s white majority, but also the magical ability to control the thinking of the entire environmental movement. They would have us believe that John Tanton, if left unchallenged, would soon have every committed environmentalist in the country showing up at rallies under the cover of darkness, wearing white hoods and robes patterned over with green pinstripes. Only, instead of those greenhouse-gas-generating torches, they would have those little flashlights that only stay lit as long as you keep squeezing the generator grip.
It’s fair to ask whether or not John Tanton is a rabid racist who actively attempts to recruit environmentalists and convert them to his form of hatred, or if he is a committed environmentalist who became embittered by treatment he received at the hands of his political opponents and sought the support of anyone, including certifiable racists, who would join him in his campaign. But it’s also beside the point. What matters here is not what is happening in the mind and heart of John Tanton, but what is in the hearts and minds of the committed environmentalists who have accepted, however reluctantly, the reality that U.S. population growth is unsustainable and is already exacting long-lasting harm on the American and the global environment. For in spite of the premise inherent in the POBAFS accusatory activism–that anyone who calls for reducing immigration must be primarily motivated by racism–there are a lot of good reasons why progressives, including but not limited to environmentalists, might wish to see slower U.S. growth but also be completely at ease with people of other races and cultures within their communities. We rarely hear those arguments in the public square, however, because as soon as progressives speak out about U.S. growth, the POBAFS attack them with their Tantonization Incantation. Like the parade watchers who observed the naked emperor strolling in his parade, most progressives avoid acknowledging these realities publicly for fear of being attacked in similar fashion.
As Wilcox concedes, “Like all witch hunting operations, they occasionally find a real witch.” But even as I concede that John Tanton’s character seems warped and embittered against his enemies to a degree that makes me unwilling to associate with him, that lends zero credibility to the claim that I or any other progressive populationist is motivated by or supportive of a racist worldview.
Wilcox elaborates on the flaws in guilt-by-association mythologies:
If someone has been an active member of an ideological organization for many years, or a regular writer for an ideological publication, or routinely and regularly associates with a particular ideological crowd while professing sympathy and solidarity with them, and this has bona fide bearing on a particular issue, then the “link” or “tie” is probably significant.
This kind of analysis is subject to abuse, however. It has a magical nature, as if one is contaminated or “marked” by the alleged association, through some kind of metaphysical osmosis. For ideological thinkers, a mere hint of “links and ties” may lead to great intuitive links that have no basis in fact.
In short, John Tanton is to the POBAFS movement the exact same thing that 9/11 was for Bush administration: an excuse to say or do anything they want in pursuit of their agenda. Beyond the few who speak out publicly, many more progressives privately acknowledge that our current immigration levels cannot continue without great harm to our national and global environment. But they are letting the POBAFS dominate the debate on population growth. With the threat of these character assassinations so visibly bulging in the POBAFS arsenal, progressives are sure to think twice before hitting “Send” on that letter to the editor.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the weakness of the mythology surround the “greening of hate,” is to contrast it with the way that the progressive community has rejected attempts to tie the politics of Barack Obama with the politics of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and the radical activist William Ayers. In the 2008 election, Republicans devoted millions of dollars in advertising in trying to tie the Democratic nominee to the recorded sermons of Reverend Wright, and progressives rejected these attempts. Likewise, Obama’s truly insignificant associations with William Ayers were dismissed by progressives, who voted for Obama enthusiastically. In the case of the POBAFS efforts to tie John Tanton to various populationist activists, however, the progressives have been far less willing to reject the guilt-by-association attacks.
So what we should be asking ourselves here is not whether John Tanton holds a primarily evil worldview that sees people of color as undesirable, but whether his views have in any significant way poisoned the views of other environmental progressives. If you believe that it’s unfair to hold Barack Obama accountable for the views of Reverend Wright or William Ayers, then is it not also unfair to hold Dave Foreman, or Don Weeden, or William Ryerson, accountable for the views of John Tanton? Conversely, if you do believe that these three individuals should be shunned because of their tenuous ties to John Tanton, then isn’t it fair to say that the Republicans were fully justified in arguing that we should reject Barack Obama on the basis of his ties to Wright and Ayers? Progressives need to see through this guilt-by-association mythology and evaluate the arguments at hand on their merits, not on this mythology created by the POBAFS working with Professor Hartmann.
Of course, if Jesse Sanes could not talk about John Tanton, he wouldn’t have much else to say. Indeed, in the cases where Jesse pretends to support his position on the merits, he does so with only the most perfunctory effort. Take for example, his September 2011 article titled, “#YAWN: Tanton Network’s ‘Progressives’ For Immigration Reform: Immigrants are Stealing American Jobs!!!” He writes in response to an argument offered by PFIR that calls for decreasing immigration levels so that people already in this country will face less competition in the job market. After referring to John Tanton in the article’s title and then invoking the full Tantonization Incantation in the third paragraph, Sanes goes on to mischaracterize the PFIR policy position.
As PFIR claims to be primarily concerned with population/environmental issues, it seems rather odd that its proclamation is designed to be sold as the best response to U.S. unemployment struggles/sluggish economic recovery—i.e. completely seal off all borders because the immigrants are taking American jobs.
Yea, that old chestnut.
Apparently, in Jesse’s worldview, calling something “an old chestnut,” is just as good as offering statistical data or referencing the studies of credible academic researchers.
Well, here’s another “old chestnut,” for you, Jesse. It’s called “the law of supply and demand.” What that law tells us is that when something becomes more plentiful, as the supply of labor has become in this country as our working-age population has increased so dramatically in recent decades, the value of that something decreases relative to other things. So even though you can say things like “Yea, that old chestnut,” in articles that you write for Imagine2050 and pretend that you’ve effectively rebutted a hotly contested question in our country, that doesn’t mean that such responses are adequate for venues where actual debate takes place in a reasonably fair context. It’s little wonder that Jesse, accustomed as he is to writing this ideologically slanted nonsense for the unquestioning editors at Imagine2050, has not branched out to other publications.
Luckily for Jesse, Imagine2050 and its partner POBAFS organization, the Center for New Community (CNC), are absolutely enthralled with the Tantonization Incantation, giving him seemingly limitless internet column inches for material that he would never be accepted by legitimate media outlets. As a Field Organizer for CNC, Rebecca Poswolsky also finds plenty to write about on the pages of these two websites, and just like Jesse, she takes full advantage of their willingness to save money on fact-checkers. And if those they attack request an opportunity to respond in a civil format, the editors at Imagine2050 will dismiss them by claiming that they have no desire to provide a platform for bigots. Adherents of that old chestnut known as the “fairness doctrine” need not apply.
But if Jesse is the champion yodeler when it comes to the Tantonization Incantation, Rebecca Poswolsky’s specialty seems to be the willingness to attack on a mean-spirited and personal level. What is most striking about Poswolsky’s activism, however, is her blatant hypocrisy, as when she writes, in an article published in February of 2011, that any discussion about the environment must “must include women of color and immigrants.” Notice that she wrote “women of color,” rather than “people of color.” This distinction is made readily apparent in the abuse hurled by Poswolsky and other contributors at Imagine 2050 at Frank Morris, an African American man, who has served as the Dean of Morgan State University in Maryland, a historically black institution, and also as the director of the Congressional Black Caucus. This background and a lifetime of service in the cause of civil rights was apparently not enough to earn a level of decency and respect from the Imagine2050 editors, who derided his calls for slowing immigration in the pursuit of a fairer economic climate for impoverished African Americans. In an April 2011 article describing a protest against PFIR, an organization for which Morris serves as on the advisory board, Poswolsky dismisses the views of Morris, claiming that his views are tainted by associations to John Tanton. As I say, it would have been really hypocritical of Rebecca to also claim to be interested in the views of “people of color” after besmirching the politics of this African American who also happened to be a man. But Rebecca’s claim to support the right of “women of color” to express their views on population growth is egregiously at odds with her treatment of Leah Durant, the CEO of Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) and an African-American woman. Ever since Durant assumed her position with PFIR, Rebecca has made it her primary directive to attack this woman of color with mean-spirited falsehoods.
Consider Rebecca’s article from October of 2011 in which she ridiculed PFIR’s second annual meeting in Washington, D. C. After rattling off the Tantonization Incantation in the third paragraph, Poswolsky claimed in the fourth paragraph that PFIR’s conference “ . . . sucked in a paltry twenty-five or so attendees. Compare this to PFIR’s conference last year, it’s first ever, which brought in three times that amount . ….” This quote includes not just one, but two significant inaccuracies. How do I know that? Well for starters, I know that the event was attended not by a “paltry twenty-five” but by 60 registered attendees because I checked with the staff at PFIR. And I know that she was also lying about the previous year’s attendance because I read the article about that earlier conference on Imagine2050’s own website, which reported an attendance of “about fifty.” So I suppose, to be fair, we should ask Rebecca to check her math on this one. Perhaps she really thinks that fifty is “three times” twenty-five. Furthermore, Rebecca goes on to demonstrate her mathematical proficiency a few paragraphs later, when she discusses the presence of “four to five pregnant female protesters,” present during the first hour of the meeting. She invokes mathematical analysis in order to reinforce her claim that the meeting was lightly attended, stating, “It’s not great when roughly 20% of those at your conference are only in attendance because they completely oppose your group.” So if Rebecca is able to calculate that “four or five” makes up “roughly 20%” of 25, why did she state that that fifty is “three times” twenty-five? So which is it, Rebecca, are you mathematically illiterate, or are you just a liar?
But her article about the second PFIR conference also raises a lot of other questions. She implies that she has no prior knowledge of the pregnant protesters, writing, “According to sources, the protesters represent a group of mothers concerned with socially conscious environmental issues.” As you can see, Rebecca provides no further information about the “sources,” but it’s clear that she has connections to those sources, and it’s clear that those sources have connections to those protestors. What’s also very interesting about her reporting on this event, however, is the fact that she includes uncredited photographs from the meeting in the article. These photos were taken as the protesters were leaving the room, an incident that lasted perhaps thirty seconds. I have to wonder how someone managed to be so ready with the camera to snap these pictures, unless they were in partnership with the protestors. Granted, most cell phones include a camera, but I’m pretty sure that most of the cell phones in that meeting, at that time, were tucked away in pockets and handbags with their ringers turned off. If it had been me, and I had not known in advance of an incident worthy of snapping a picture, I would have had to search for my phone, set it to camera mode and point it at the activity in question. All of this would have taken far too much time to capture not only the protesters but Leah Durant in the frame. So clearly, the pictures were taken by someone with foreknowledge of the plan for these pregnant protesters to stand up and head for the door. And since no one else exited the meeting to speak to the protesters as they left, how did that source know, except by prior contact with the protestors, that “concern for the environment” was their purported motivation? In short, Rebecca, do you deny that you had anything to do with the presence of those protestors at the meeting?
I would like to hear more from Rebecca about all this, and I would certainly like to speak directly with the source of those pictures and the head count that she offered in her description of “ . … a mostly empty conference . . ..” but I doubt very much that she will make this person, or herself for that matter, available to support these statements.
I’m afraid, however, that the inaccuracies go much further, especially when it comes the impetus for the exit of the protesters from the room, and their treatment at the hands of Leah Durant. In her article, Poswolsky claims that they were forcibly removed from the room “. . . for simply asking panelist Ben Zuckerman why mothers and their children were being blamed for environmental degradation.” But the protesters had not asked any such question. The protesters had literally decided that the time was right, had stood up and started singing, and began a march toward the exit. After lying about the sequence of events leading to their departure, however, Poswolsky then claims that they were forcibly ejected by Leah. Using the blurry photographs provided by the unnamed photographer, she provided the following captions:
“Leah Durant pulls a Cheshire grin while personally shoving a pregnant woman from PFIR’s conference.”
“Durant bouncing a concerned mother from PFIR’s racially homogenous conference.”
I cannot in all fairness tell you that Rebecca Poswolsky is intentionally lying here, as I don’t know how the incident was described to her by the source who also took the photographs, but I can tell you that one or both of them are lying about what happened. First of all, the conference was not racially homogenous, and indeed the previously mentioned African- American Frank Morris was on the panel at the front of the room and the Executive Director of the organization was an African-American woman. Nor did any of the pregnant women ask a question of panelist Ben Zuckerman. They walked out of the room voluntarily, while singing a song. And they were not shoved at all. Indeed, they were not physically touched at all as they began singing, rose from their seats, and walked out. I know the real story, and what Rebecca wrote here is completely false.
How do I know this? Well to answer this, I’d like to show you one of the above-mentioned pictures. It’s a little blurry, but in the background you can plainly see, more plainly in than you can see Leah, a man with glasses and a beard who is repositioning a chair bumped out of place as the protestors hastily left the row of seats in front of him.
I suppose I could have left the seats in their state of disorder, but I just can’t stop myself from being helpful in those little ways. If you want a better idea of what I look like, here is a picture of me taken in my own home here in Vermont. And as someone who was very close to the action during this incident, I can tell the world unequivocally that this article written by Rebecca Poswolsky is patently false. Given the kind of distortions and deceptions she has exhibited thus far, it seems pretty likely, as well, that Rebecca knew that she was lying when she wrote this and submitted it to the Imagine2050 webmaster. In fairness, however, I have to allow for the possibility that Rebecca was herself the victim of a falsehood, and that the same person who took this picture had lied about the details of the incident.
What I can say with all certainty, however, is that these women arose from their seats of their own volition, after beginning to sing (This little light of mine, I’m gonna’ let it shine). And they moved toward the door voluntarily without any physical contact from Ms. Durant, and certainly they were not shoved. And Rebecca, in case you don’t believe me, I’ve got witnesses. Over sixty of them, in fact, including the African American security guard.
So in spite of her call for bringing the voices of “women of color and immigrants” into the debate about U.S. population growth and its effect on the environment, those women of color are really only treated with respect by Rebecca and the rest of the smear artists at Imagine2050 if they happen to agree with the POBAFS agenda.
One last point about this kind of activism is the way in which these kinds of materials, when published on the internet, can be used in an insidious form of high-tech character assassination. At the end of each blog posted on Imagine2050, as on most other online materials, are a set of “tags” used to interact with internet search engines to locate material on the basis of a given set of keywords or subjects. Here, for example, is the set of tags applied to the article that Jesse Sanes wrote in response to my Vermont newspaper editorial.
Tags: Curbing Population Growth, Environmental Problems, Famine, Fear Mongers, Green Revolution, Mark Powell, NECSP, New England Coalition for a Sustainable Population, Numbersusa, Overconsumption, Population Growth In The United States, Population Time Bomb, Roy Beck, Sustainable Population, Temporary Solution, The John Tanton Network, The Tanton Network, Tidal Wave, Vermont, Xenophobe
As you can see, the single editorial that I have written for a small Vermont newspaper has now opened me up to scrutiny by people seeking all manner of only distantly related topics, and that is not by accident. Jesse Sanes, working with Imagine2050, has added these tags to this article so that whenever anyone Googles the topic of population growth, or xenophobia, or famine or fear mongering, this slanderous and flawed article might appear in the search results. This kind of technological extension of their smear campaign, attaching tags with far more evil-sounding themes to people who hold no such evil sentiments in their hearts, illustrates the heartless and hurtful extent of the POBAFS activism in their pursuit of open borders regardless of the harm done to the reputations of decent, thoughtful people with whom they disagree.