Why now? Why, one year after September 11, is the Bush Administration
attempting to overthrow decades of precedents and precepts of
international law, along with the best traditions of US foreign policy,
in a relentless push to war? As high-level officials try to sell the
Administration's case to the American people and the President prepares
for an appearance before the UN General Assembly, the White House
continues its attempt to restrict the debate on Iraq to details of
timing and tactics while ignoring the basic question of whether an
invasion of Iraq should be considered at all.
Elsewhere in this issue Stephen Zunes provides a detailed refutation of
the points the Administration has used to argue for war. The arguments
are debatable at best, spurious at worst--like the innuendo that Iraq is
linked to Al Qaeda (in fact, Osama bin Laden regards Saddam Hussein as
an apostate); that "containment has failed" (since the Gulf War, Iraq's
military capabilities have weakened significantly and the regime poses
little or no threat to its neighbors, who oppose invasion); or that
inspection cannot adequately determine whether Iraq is developing
weapons of mass destruction (from 1991 to 1998, inspectors destroyed
much of Iraq's stockpile of chemical and bioweapons). One could go on,
but the point is that all along, this Administration has followed the
Alice in Wonderland logic of the Queen: sentence first, verdict
The White House has sought to justify the right to mount an attack by
the new Bush doctrine of pre-emption--or anticipatory self-defense. But
this country is a member of the United Nations, which was founded to
prevent wars of aggression. And under that body's charter, the United
States can use force only in response to an attack on itself, or if
approved by the Security Council. Otherwise, the Administration has no
right to take this country into war--or even to threaten the use of
The Administration has found this doctrinal deviation a difficult sell
even among its closest allies and thus has begun to search for new ways
to bestow some international legitimacy on its actions. Hence the talks
with Prime Minister Tony Blair, out of which has come a plan for a
Security Council ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to meet British-American
terms unconditionally or face "severe consequences." In short, the
Administration, with British support, may have devised the perfect
pretext for war: a UN demand for the reintroduction of inspectors into
Iraq that Saddam will likely not accept. The Administration is hoping
its plan will provide enough of a UN cover to gain French, Russian and
Chinese support, or at least acquiescence.
Those who question the need or legitimacy of a war against Iraq should
not be fooled. What incentive does the Administration's commitment to
"regime change" give Iraq to readmit inspectors, especially when the
inspectors could, like the last group, use the inspections for US
espionage purposes? Washington should instead announce its support for
inspections insulated from improper influence and pledge to abide by the
With the executive branch committed to war, those who morally oppose an
invasion of Iraq--because of the suffering it would inflict on US
soldiers and Iraqi civilians, because of its potential to destabilize
the region, because it would distract this country from the brokering of
an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, because a war in Iraq would
detract from the campaign against Al Qaeda and from pressing domestic
needs--have only Congress to turn to. That prospect doesn't offer much
comfort, since the Democratic leadership in the Senate appears ready to
write the Administration a resolution authorizing military action,
albeit with some conditions.
If Congress abdicates its role, it will harm not only the country but
itself. Bush's claim of the right to make pre-emptive war would give him
and future Presidents the authority to determine when a threat exists
and to take action on that threat without subjecting it to debate or to
verification by other branches of government. The principle of
Congressional oversight of the most fundamental decision government can
make--whether to send its sons and daughters into danger--will have been
entirely abandoned. And because Congress is the only arena where the
people's concerns can be aired, the structure of democracy itself will
suffer a grievous blow. Even if UN inspections find that Iraq is trying
to develop an advanced bomb program, there are ways of responding short
of war. A Congressional vote for pre-emptive assault would create a
damaging precedent, abrogate the UN charter, imperil the Constitution
and transform the President into an imperial overlord.
Write, call, act now (see the box on page 5). Americans who oppose the
war and this unconstitutional expansion of power must make their voices
In January, when George W. Bush's pollster warned that "Enron is a much
bigger story than anyone in Washington realizes," White House political
director Karl Rove informed the Republican National Committee that this
fall's election would have to be about national security rather than the
economy. Rove wasn't practicing political rocket science; he was merely
echoing the common-sense calculations of veteran Republican strategists
like Jack Pitney, who says, "If voters go to the polls with corporate
scandals at the top of their list, they're probably going to vote
Democratic. If they go [thinking about] the war on terrorism and taxes,"
Republicans have the advantage. Now, with the election that will set the
course for the second half of Bush's term less than two months away,
Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, National Security
Adviser Rice and every other Republican with a talking-head permit is
busy making the improbable case for war with Iraq.
Rove's sly strategy appears to be working. On September 4, the day
Congress returned from its summer break, the Dow Jones average plunged
355 points. Yet the next morning's headlines talked about how Bush would
"put the case for action in Iraq to key lawmakers." Whether Bush
actually believes that the war he's promoting is necessary--or even
marketable--there's no question that Republican prospects are aided by
the fact that he's talking about Saddam Hussein rather than Enron,
WorldCom, Harken, Halliburton, deficits, layoffs and 401(k)atastrophes.
There is, however, some question as to why Democrats are allowing Rove's
scenario to play out so smoothly. Along with those questions comes the
fear that unless the supposed party of opposition finds its voice soon,
Democrats could squander opportunities not only to stop a senseless and
unnecessary war but also to hold the Senate and wrest control of the
House from the right in November.
So far, however, most of the coherent Congressional challenges to the
Bush strategy have been initiated by Republicans worried about the
threat a war would pose to the domestic economy (House majority leader
Dick Armey) or who actually listen to the State Department (Jim Leach, a
key player on the House International Relations Committee). While Bush
and Rove have had trouble keeping their GOP comrades in line, they've
had more luck with Democrats. Only a handful of Democrats, like
Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich, have echoed Armey's blunt
criticisms of the rush to war. A few more have chimed in with practical
arguments against the Administration line, a view perhaps best expressed
by Martin Sabo of Minnesota, who says that "to move into a country and
say we're going to topple the government and take over the
government--and I think inherent in that is also 'run it'--is not
something we have ever proved very capable of doing."
But House Democratic opposition has been muddled by the fact that
minority leader Dick Gephardt has positioned himself as an enthusiastic
backer of "regime change" in Iraq. One senior member of his caucus says,
"You can pin most of the blame on Gephardt. If he hadn't been so
enthusiastic about going to war when the Bush people brought this up in
the first place, I think they would have backed off." Acknowledging that
Gephardt's position could make it difficult to hold off a House vote in
October, Kucinich says, "I think it could all come down to how Daschle
handles the issue."
Senate majority leader Tom Daschle is not doing Bush as many favors as
Gephardt--Daschle at least says Congress needs more information. But the
Senate's leader has yet to echo likely 2004 Democratic presidential
candidate Senator John Kerry's suggestion that a policy of containment
would be sufficient to manage any threat posed by Iraq, let alone to
express the steady skepticism of Senate Armed Services Committee chair
Carl Levin, who left a meeting at which Rumsfeld tried to make the case
for war and said, "I don't think [the Administration] added anything."
Daschle's caution is rooted in his concern that a misstep on issues of
war and patriotism could jeopardize his continued leadership of the
Senate. It's a legitimate worry; his one-seat majority could well be
endangered if flag-waving appeals take hold--as they have before--in
Senate battleground states like Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Georgia,
North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Daschle's own South Dakota.
But Daschle's caution is not making things easier for Democrats in those
states. It has simply left him playing Karl Rove's game when he should
be saying what most Americans know: that in the absence of any credible
evidence of an immediate and quantifiable threat from Iraq, Congress
should not get bogged down in this issue. Moving aggressively to shift
the focus from Iraq to corporate wrongdoing and economic instability
would be smart politics for Daschle and the Democrats. More important,
calling the President's bluff on Iraq would slow the rush toward a
senseless war while freeing Congress to debate genuine threats to
George W. Bush's decision to "involve" the United Nations in his plans
to attack Iraq does not indicate a conversion to multilateralism on the
road to Baghdad. Washington's continuing campaign to neutralize the
International Criminal Court and its disdain for the Kyoto Protocol are
only part of the evidence that this would at best be a very expedient
There are sound pragmatic political considerations behind the shift to
the UN track. The President's father and James Baker have almost
certainly reminded him that it was Security Council Resolution 678
mandating military action to expel Iraq from Kuwait that was crucial to
winning the bare majority for a war powers resolution on Capitol Hill.
And even Tony Blair, assailed internally by opposition from his own
party and public, and externally by his European colleagues, now wants
some form of UN blessing--or excuse--for the crusade against Baghdad.
So what form will the Administration's use or abuse of the UN take?
There is little or no chance of a Security Council resolution
authorizing invasion to effect a change of regime. While Russia, China
and France have all told Iraq it should admit weapons inspectors, none
of them can countenance explicit support for an enforced removal of the
Iraqi government, which would go against one of the most fundamental
principles in the UN Charter. Instead, diplomats on the Security Council
anticipate a US-inspired resolution setting a deadline--most speak of
four weeks--for Baghdad to admit inspectors unconditionally, probably
warning of "severe consequences" if it does not. The Administration's
nightmare would be Saddam having a belated moment of rationality and
allowing the inspectors in, but it's reasonably confident that Baghdad
will oblige by refusing.
The Administration's confidence seems to be justified. Iraq's current
ambivalent gestures--wanting Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC, the inspection
unit, to come for talks but still declaring its refusal to admit his
inspectors--is exasperating even some of Iraq's best friends, while the
refusal to admit inspectors for the past two years has eroded the little
support it had from other countries. The Security Council set up UNMOVIC
in 1999 in response to criticisms made about its predecessor, UNSCOM. A
later resolution, 1382, represented the high-water mark of sanity for
the Bush Administration, since it actually mandated the end of sanctions
after the inspectors had completed their timetabled examination and
certification that Iraq was not producing weapons of mass destruction.
In supporting the resolution, Colin Powell went much further than the
Clinton Administration in offering what was termed "light at the end of
the tunnel"--an end to sanctions in return for compliance with
resolutions, rather than the regime change demanded by Clinton's UN
ambassador, Madeleine Albright. UNMOVIC's new inspectors have also been
carefully insulated from the allegations of undue Anglo-American
influence that dogged their predecessors.
It is against this background that the Administration is working hard to
make sure that there is no veto by France, Russia or China--and no doubt
the US determination that Muslim separatists in the west of China are
"terrorists" has helped mollify Chinese opposition. Even French
President Jacques Chirac in his recent statements is moving toward
acceptance of some kind of UN authorization for coercing Iraqi
compliance, while Putin's US-friendly stance suggests that Russian
opposition will be muted.
But even if Washington heads off vetoes, it still needs nine yes votes
to win--and Syria is certain to vote against. For political legitimacy
the British and Americans must win by more than a bare majority, which
is why a diplomat representing one of the ten elected members on the
Security Council said, "We're expecting to feel the grip on our
testicles any day soon"--the traditional US route to hearts and minds in
international forums, and no more so than with this Administration. In
the end, it is likely that Washington will get its deadline, since the
vote will be on Iraqi compliance, not "regime change"--although in a
last act as friends of Iraq the Russians may negotiate a slightly longer
Once the United States has its deadline and if Iraq plays into its hands
by defying the UN, then Washington has at least two options. One, which
seems increasingly likely as US diplomacy gets to work on the council
members, is a resolution that in some euphemistic measure calls down
"severe consequences" on Saddam's head if he fails to comply with a
demand to accept inspectors. The alternative would be a simple
determination that Iraq has failed to comply, after which the United
States and Britain will claim authority from the original Gulf War
resolutions to use military means to enforce the inspection and
disarmament demanded by the resolutions.
In both cases, it allows the Administration to shift some of the blame
for "warmongering" onto the UN, as a duty of the global community rather
than as US aggression. Internationally, it transforms what would have
been a flagrant breach of international law--the unilateral overthrow of
a sovereign government--into a move to assert UN authority, the
consequence of which may be the downfall of a little-loved dictator.
Ariel Sharon may yet rescue Saddam Hussein with more assaults on
Palestinians, allowing the Arabs to contrast starkly the different
outcomes of egregious defiance of the United Nations by Israel and Iraq.
Or Iraq's president may yet decide that survival with inspectors is
preferable to martyrdom surrounded by half-finished projects for mass
military mayhem. But it is a reasonable supposition that shooting will
begin in some form sooner or later. And if Bush has his way on Capitol
Hill, sooner than the November elections.
It's been known that Jack Welch is worth $900 million and that he
draws a $9 million annual pension from General Electric. But it turns
out that GE also pays for Welch's car and driver, his floor seats to
Knicks games, VIP seating at Wimbledon, his box at the Metropolitan
Opera, his boxes at Red Sox games and at Yankee games, fees to his four
country clubs, satellite television at his four homes and more. And to
think Welch's employment contract used to be praised as simple, clear
and good corporate governance. That myth was dispelled on September 5
when Welch's wife, Jane, filed divorce papers. "It is appalling to me
that Jack Welch's flowers are being paid for by retired firemen and
teachers who are the GE shareholders and don't know this is going on,"
Nell Minow, an expert on corporate governance, told the New York
Times. Imagine how appalled we'll all be if it turns out that the
rest of GE is run this way.
AL QAEDA--BOON TO BUSINESS
Thank God for the war on terrorism, ExxonMobil's lawyers must be
thinking regarding a case in which the oil company is being sued by
villagers in Aceh province in Indonesia. In a lawsuit filed under the
Alien Tort Claims Act, the villagers charged that Indonesian military
troops, allegedly paid by the company and guarding an ExxonMobil
facility committed human rights abuses, including murder, torture,
sexual crimes and kidnapping [see David Corn, "Corporate Human Rights,"
July 15]. As part of its legal strategy, ExxonMobil requested that the
Bush State Department declare whether the lawsuit would impede the war
on terrorism--and the department complied. At the end of July, State
notified the federal judge in the case that "adjudication of this
lawsuit at this time would in fact risk a potentially serious adverse
impact on significant interests related directly to the ongoing struggle
against terrorism." How? State said the Indonesian government, which
maintains a partnership with ExxonMobil, might respond to the lawsuit by
curtailing cooperation with the United States. So here's an easy way for
corporations to get off the hook: Raise the prospect that holding a business
accountable will ruffle the feathers of a potential ally in the war on
terrorism. (Remember, Al Qaeda has a presence in an estimated sixty
nations.) Days after State weighed in, Unocal, facing a similar suit for
its actions in Burma, asked a California court to seek a similar letter
from State, and the judge agreed. The plaintiffs in the ExxonMobil case
have filed a motion challenging the State Department letter, asserting
it presents no legal grounds for dismissal, and the judge has not ruled
on the matter. Will a consequence of the war on terrorism be a
get-out-of-lawsuits-free card for US corporations accused of abuses
HONORING NORMAN LEAR
The perennially youthful political activist turned 80 in July, and in
September the organization he was instrumental in founding, People for
the American Way, held a tribute dinner for him in Los Angeles. Lear is
also launching his Declaration of Independence road trip. He's sending
the original copy of the Declaration he purchased all over the country
so people will have a chance to take a close look at the primal charter
of our liberties. What better reminder in these times? Congratulations
to Lear and to PFAW for fighting the good fight in a good cause.
FLORIDA LEGAL FALLOUT
The results of the great Florida finagle of November 2000 are there in
the White House for all to see; they also continue to play out in the
courts and elsewhere, long after Bush v. Gore. One suit, NAACP
v. Harris, was recently settled before trial. ChoicePoint, a
defendant whose list of convicted felons and the deceased on the voter
rolls was reported to be riddled with errors, agreed to do another
run-through using more accurate criteria, and to give the NAACP $75,000
for "past and future efforts to further the electoral opportunities of
Florida's minority voters." [See Gregory Palast's "Florida's Disappeared
Voters," February 5, 2001.] The Justice Department recently disapproved
Florida's proposal for a new method of cleansing the rolls of the
convicted; apparently the plan was held to be too voter-unfriendly
because it placed the burden of proving one's eligibility on the voter.
Another election-related suit, Johnson v. Bush, brought by the
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU (brennancenter.org) on behalf of some
600,000 disfranchised felons, was dismissed by a federal judge but will
be appealed. The Democratic and Republican parties were required by law
to report to the IRS the donors of postelection money they collected to
challenge the Florida results in the courts. The Democrats filed long
ago, but the Republicans waited until the last possible day, July 15.
Their total of $13.8 million was four times what the Dems pocketed. Two
of the biggest contributors: Enron and Halliburton. Is that why the
Republicans kept their report under wraps for so long?
MANDELA: THE USA IS A THREAT TO PEACE
Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, gave an interview to
Newsweek on September 9. Among his comments: "The United States
has made serious mistakes in the conduct of its foreign affairs, which
have had unfortunate repercussions long after the decisions were taken.
Unqualified support of the Shah of Iran led directly to the Islamic
revolution of 1979. Then the United States chose to arm and finance the
[Islamic] mujahedin in Afghanistan instead of supporting and encouraging
the moderate wing of the government in Afghanistan. That is what led to
the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the most catastrophic action of the
United States was to sabotage the decision that was painstakingly
stitched together by the United Nations regarding the withdrawal of the
Soviet Union from Afghanistan. If you look at those matters, you will
come to the conclusion that the attitude of the United States of America
is a threat to world peace. Because what [America] is saying is that if
you are afraid of a veto in the Security Council, you can go outside and
take action and violate the sovereignty of other countries.... Scott
Ritter, a former United Nations arms inspector who is in Baghdad, has
said that there is no evidence whatsoever of [development of weapons of]
mass destruction.... But what we know is that Israel has weapons of mass
destruction. Nobody talks about that. Why should there be one standard
for one country, especially because it is black, and another one for
another country, Israel, that is white.... If the United States and
Britain go to the United Nations and the United Nations says we have
concrete evidence of the existence of these weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq and we feel that we must do something about it, we would all
support it." (Full text at www.msnbc.com/news/806174.asp.)
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr. assured skeptics that the
timing of the effort to sell the invasion of Iraq was intentional, not a
response to rising doubts. "From a marketing point of view, you don't
introduce new products in August," said Card.
The political establishment is not united behind the Bush
Administration's policy of forced "regime change" in Iraq. The rest of
the world, and a good part of the American public, are also unconvinced.
Make your voice heard. Write your elected officials in Washington urging
them to show restraint and respect for international opinion (contact
information at www.congress.com). Help make the war against Iraq a key
issue in this fall's Congressional elections--see how in ten steps at
the website of the National Network to End the War Against Iraq, an
umbrella group of more than seventy peace and justice, student and
faith-based organizations (www.endthewar.org).
Sign an online petition opposing US adventurism in Iraq. One such
petition is sponsored by moveon.org, the citizen action group that in
1998 collected the signatures of more than a million people opposed to
the impeachment of President Clinton. Add your name to the Campaign of
Conscience Peace Pledge to Stop the Spread of War to Iraq, organized by
the American Friends Service Committee and the Fellowship of
Reconciliation, among others (www.peacepledge.org). Participate in one
of the antiwar marches and protests scheduled coast to coast. You can
find information on upcoming events at www.unitedforpeace.org, a new
site launched by Global Exchange. If you're planning an event or
teach-in, check out the Iraq Speakers Bureau (www.iraqspeakers.org), a
project of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, which provides access
to policy experts, diplomats, former UN officials, human rights
activists and public health researchers.
See The Nation's special antiwar web page (www.thenation.comdirectory/view.mhtml?t=040307), where you can find a complete collection of relevant
Nation material. Also included are a list of nine critical
questions that can be clipped or copied for inclusion in letters to your
representatives, friends, newspaper editors and others, and a series of
activist and educational links.
he Powers That Be constantly try to keep the progressive majority
divided: workers against environmentalists, enviros against farmers,
farmers against consumers, consumers against workers, and around and
around it goes. As we squawk and squabble with each other, they scoot
off with ever more of our money and power, laughing all the way.
It's when we break this self-defeating circle that we put a little
progress back in "progressive," much to the consternation of those
Powers That Be, as we've seen recently with coalition efforts to pass
everything from living-wage ordinances to public financing of elections.
It's never easy to forge such coalitions--about like trying to load
frogs in a wheelbarrow--but it's essential to the development of a true
progressive movement that can be stronger than our separate parts.
If you were to map out a rational coalition strategy for a movement, you
probably wouldn't start by trying to link farmers and farmworkers, two
groups that have a long history of animosity and conflict. But
organizing a movement sometimes has less to do with rationality than it
does with creativity and opportunity, and, as Guadalupe Gamboa puts it,
"In times of trouble is when people are open to new ideas."
A Different Way
Lupe Gamboa is a regional director of the United Farm Workers of
America (UFW), and from his base in Washington State this grassroots
union leader knows plenty about times of trouble. The number-one crop
there is apples, mostly produced around the central Washington towns of
Wenatchee and Yakima. The apples are picked and packed by some 60,000
farmworkers, of whom 95 percent are Mexicans, averaging only $7,000 a
year in pay, with no benefits. They live in cramped and often squalid
housing, are constantly exposed to pesticides and suffer everything from
ruined backs to early death as they toil in one of America's most
So, time to strike against the apple growers, right?
No, says Gamboa and the UFW, we need a different way, because family
farmers are not really the power in this multibillion-dollar industry.
Indeed, farmers are suffering too, typically getting less money for
their apples than it costs to produce them, which means they're being
squeezed out of business. It's not that they're inefficient producers
but that, ironically, both the apple farmers and workers are literally
at the bottom of a food chain controlled by massive, monopolistic
middlemen dictating prices from far-away corporate headquarters.
In the big-business fresh-apple economy, those who do the most get the
least, which is perverse since, after all, an apple is an apple. From
tree to you, very little has to be done to it. Yet only a pittance of
what you pay in the supermarket trickles back to the actual producers.
Here's how today's apple dollar is sliced: Workers get 4 cents, the
farmer gets 7 cents, wholesalers and transporters take 21 cents and then
comes the hog. The retailers, dominated by Wal-Mart and Safeway, grab 68
cents of every dollar.
These powerhouses have consolidated and nationalized their purchasing
operations, eliminating regional buyers that dealt with individual
growers. This further concentrates the big chains' buying power.
Wal-Mart, now the largest grocery chain in the United States, proudly
proclaims that it offers "Low Prices, Always," but those low prices (and
high profits) are derived from its ability to bully the last dime from
suppliers and extract the last ounce of toil from labor. Someone down
the line always pays for Wal-Mart's cutthroat practices, and in apples
those someones are the hard-hit farmers and the oppressed farmworkers,
neither of whom Wal-Mart's ruling billionaires have to look in the eyes.
"Up to now we've been fighting with the employers," says Lupe Gamboa,
"but it's time to take on the retailers." Taking them on, however,
includes a positive and creative initiative that UFW is proposing: Fair
Trade Apples. Rather than surrender to the top-down restructuring of the
industry, the Fair Trade campaign creates an economic partnership among
the union, willing growers, retailers and consumers.
A Nickel's Worth of Fairness
At the heart of the plan is a Fair Trade price premium that would come
back to the growers and workers. Retailers would pay a bit extra per
pound, either eating this small increase or passing it along to us apple
buyers. Fair Trade Apples would bear stickers with the UFW's black eagle
symbol, certifying to consumers that these fruits allow the farmer to
earn a fairer return and workers to earn a fairer wage. As little as a
nickel-a-pound premium could make the difference, a negligible sum on a
high-volume, highly profitable grocery item.
The Fair Trade process begins in the orchards, where growers would agree
to a union contract assuring better wages, a small pension and safety
and health protections for apple workers. In turn, the farmers get an
able and stable work force, a certified UFW label on their apples that
carries special clout with consumers, and a premium price. Grocers get a
premium product that can generate extra sales and a ton of community
The key is you and me. As retailers have learned from organics, fair
trade coffee and no-sweat garments, there's a growing market of
consumers who care about how products are produced--care to the point
that they'll pay more if necessary. UFW is betting that we'll also be
there for apples, and it's planning a grassroots campaign through
churches, campuses, unions, consumer groups and other networks.
One grower of organic apples is on the verge of signing the first
contract, and some two dozen co-op grocers on the West Coast and in
Minnesota are prepared to be the first retailers to market them. If it
works with apples, it can work with other crops, solidifying the
farmer/farmworker coalition and bringing a measure of progress to fields
long barren of justice. To offer your support, contact the Fair Trade
Apple Campaign at (206) 789-1947 or email@example.com.
American labor still pays lip service to the idea that it seeks "bread
and roses too"--a higher standard of living, plus the chance for workers
to enjoy some of the finer things in life. In reality, the famous
rallying cry of the 1912 textile workers' strike in Lawrence,
Massachusetts, is no more than a faint echo in today's unions. Few offer
what anyone would call a rich cultural experience for their members.
Most of the labor movement is no longer rooted in immigrant communities
or working-class fraternal associations of the sort that once supported
folk music, dance, theater and even literature in foreign-language
newspapers like the Forward, the Yiddish daily. Postwar
assimilation and suburbanization, the decline of indigenous
working-class radicalism and the rise of "mass culture" and
entertainment have left American workers with little claim to a culture
of their own. Beset with many current problems (including threats to
their very survival), unions are not inclined to embrace the additional
challenge of making drama, poetry or music--in new or old forms--part of
their internal life again.
The one AFL-CIO affiliate that has attempted this, on a large scale, is
the union of New York City hospital and healthcare workers, best known
by its number--1199. Now part of the Service Employees International
Union, Local 1199 launched a cultural program called Bread and Roses in
1979, with labor and foundation funding. Since then, B&R has
sponsored an impressive stream of union musicals and documentary films;
exhibits of paintings, poster art, murals and photography dealing with
workplace themes; poetry and writing classes for workers, oral histories
of their struggles--all of which help foster membership solidarity and
connection to the union.
Not for Bread Alone is the story of that effort and a brief
history of the union behind it, as told by 1199's longtime publicist,
campaign strategist and cultural impresario, Moe Foner. The book also
traces Foner's own career as a labor PR man par excellence and contains
much useful advice for today's "union communicators." The author was a
scrappy, streetwise hustler of the press who couldn't type but had on
his desk one of the most formidable Rolodexes in the labor movement. A
product of left-wing politics and CIO unionism in its Big Apple heyday,
Foner was far more effective than the AFL-CIO's current crop of
blow-dried, inside-the-Beltway "media consultants" (whose idea of"party
work" is introducing labor clients to the Democratic candidates served by
their firms, so that union treasuries and political action funds can be
milked simultaneously). Foner displayed a different kind of political
savvy, in countless picket-line battles and major lobbying efforts. As
journalist Jack Newfield says, he "could publicize like P.T. Barnum,
organize like Joe Hill and network like Bill Clinton."
For example, Foner's pioneering work on 1199 campaigns among private,
non-profit hospital workers--who didn't have the right to bargain with
management forty years ago--provides a good model for any union trying
to make organizing rights a higher-profile issue today. Not for Bread
Alone also reminds us about the important role played by the Labor
Leadership Assembly for Peace--the anti-Vietnam War coalition launched
by Foner, 1199 and their union allies in the late 1960s.
The author completed this memoir, with the assistance of former 1199
news editor Dan North, shortly before his death in January at age 86. As
the book recounts, Foner was born into a Jewish working-class family in
Brooklyn that produced not one, but four radical activists. A member of
the Communist Party from the mid-1930s "until the Khrushchev revelations
in 1956 about what went on under Stalin," Moe--along with his twin
brothers, Jack and Phil--was victimized by an early purge of leftists
from higher education. All three were forced out ofteaching or
administrative jobs at City College of New York (CCNY) in 1941. (The
resulting controversy led the highly musical Foners to change the name
of their dance band--already popular on the Catskills small-hotel
circuit--to "Suspended Swing.")
Despite their dismissal, Phil and Jack went on to have distinguished
careers as academic historians. Henry Foner--youngest of the four and
then a student at CCNY--joined the Furriers Union and later became its
president. And the author, for much of his forty-year union career,
became the living embodiment of the cultural politics that developed
during the period of the Popular Front, when American liberals and
radicals united to oppose fascism abroad and support Roosevelt's New
Deal at home. Some of the best material in Foner's book is, thus, like a
collection of old photos in a family album, faded but fascinating
because of what it reveals about the social and political milieu of a
now largely deceased generation of labor activists who managed to
survive both McCarthyism and the self-inflicted wounds of the Communist
In the 1930s and '40s, Foner observes, the left created "a vigorous
cultural life that became part of its mass appeal."
The most famous writers...appeared in the New Masses magazine,
which was close to the Communist Party. The Daily Worker had
great cartoons by people like Robert Minor, William Gropper, and Art
Young, but artists from the New Yorker also appeared there.
This was the era of the experimental Group Theater and...Waiting for
Lefty, the Clifford Odets play about striking taxi drivers.... The
International Ladies Garment Workers Union had already put on its
immensely successful musical revue, Pins and Needles, and on a
smaller scale, the American Student Union put on a musical every year.
One of them, called Pens and Pencils, was a takeoff on the Marx
Brothers.... There was a Theater Arts Committee that had a cabaret to
support the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. And the YCL [Young
Communist League] was always putting on skits and shows.
Foner was hired in 1947 as education director for a department store
union. Many Manhattan store clerks of that era--like waiters and
waitresses today--were aspiring actors. So when Foner put out a call for
auditions for the union's first theatrical venture--a seventeen-song
musical review called Thursdays 'Til Nine--400 members showed up.
Through his dance band and party connections, Foner also "had access to
an unusually large number of creative people who were, because of their
political beliefs, more than happy to participate for little or no money
in union cultural events." For music, lyrics or other help, he tapped
show-business talents like Millard Lampell, later a successful Hollywood
screenwriter; playwrights Arthur Miller and Norman Rosten; film
producer/director Martin Ritt (who went on to win an Oscar for Norma Rae); comedians Sam Levinson and Irwin Corey; actors Jack Gilford and Zero
Mostel; and future TV writer Mel Tolkin.
Although professionally written and produced, Thursdays 'Til Nine
drew on the job experiences of store workers themselves and provided
humorous commentary on contemporary labor issues (in numbers like "The
Taft-Hartley Rumba"). Thousands of members applauded its performances,
and Foner's singular career was launched. The show cost only a few
thousand dollars, but in return it "reaped immense rewards in good
publicity, education on labor issues, and membership pride in their
These positive results became a hallmark of Foner productions for his
later union employers as well. The store workers soon merged with
District 65, another "center of left unionism in New York," whose
stewards were deployed in Peekskill in 1949 to protect Paul Robeson when
a right-wing mob attacked one of his concerts. At District 65, Foner ran
educational, social and cultural programs for 20,000 workers in retail,
wholesale and warehouse jobs. One of the first things he did was start a
nightclub on the top floor of the union's lower Manhattan office
Each week, a different group of members would be in charge of selling
400 tickets at fifty cents each. Rank-and-file committees would set up,
check coats, wait on tables, serve drinks, etc.... I'd line up a band.
And every Saturday night, I'd get a guest star to perform for free....
Harry Belafonte was just breaking in then, and he'd come down and sing
in his dark glasses. We were packing them in, the place was always full.
On Saturday mornings, District 65 also had a "kiddy program," which
featured sing-alongs with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, dance programs
conducted by Guthrie's wife, Margie, and magic shows by Doc Horowitz,
who brought along his daughter, a "terrific ventriloquist and puppeteer"
who acted as emcee. Her name? Shari Lewis, later the star of one of the
1950s' most popular children's TV shows.
In 1952 Foner moved to 1199, where he spent three decades--editing the
union newspaper, aiding strikes and organizing campaigns, advising union
founder Leon Davis and eventually creating Bread and Roses. At
midcentury, the union was quite different from what it is today; now it
has more than 200,000 members, most of whom are black, Hispanic and/or
female. When Foner was hired by Davis, a radical immigrant from Russia,
1199 had only 5,000 members and was overwhelmingly composed of Jewish
men working as pharmacists or clerks in New York City drugstores. But,
as Foner notes, 1199 had campaigned since the late 1930s for the hiring
of black pharmacists and was one of the first unions anywhere to
celebrate Negro History Week. When 1199 began organizing primarily
nonwhite hospital workers in the late 1950s--which led to its explosive
growth over the next twenty years--the union already had a strong record
of support for civil rights.
Commitment to that cause was symbolized by 1199's close relationships
with leading black artists and entertainers. Then relatively unknown as
actors, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis (who contributed a loving foreword to
this book) became lifelong friends and collaborators with the author.
The couple directed or performed in a series of productions at 1199's
annual "Salute to Freedom." Much later they helped Foner create Bread
and Roses' best-known musical review, Take Care, which used
humorous songs and sketches to tell the story of hospital workers' daily
lives, their frustrations on the job and hopes for the future.
In 1199's initial hospital organizing and strikes, the union tried to
fuse civil rights and working-class consciousness. Several vivid
chapters in Not for Bread Alone describe how its "Union Power,
Soul Power" campaigns were built--first in New York, then in Baltimore,
Philadelphia and Charleston, South Carolina, site of an epic 113-day
walkout aided by Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young and
other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The
photographs accompanying Foner's memoir confirm the breadth of the
union's political alliances--with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr.,
Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Adam Clayton Powell.
If the 1960s and early '70s were years of triumph for 1199, they
culminated in a decade of byzantine internal feuding. Leon Davis
suffered a stroke in 1979 and decided, after nearly five decades as
president, to turn over the reins to Doris Turner, an African-American
and former dietary clerk who headed 1199's hospital division. At the
same time, the union's founder tried to realize his longtime dream of
creating "one big union for all healthcare workers" by merging 1199 with
SEIU. Neither the merger nor the internal transfer of power proceeded as
planned. Instead, the union was plunged into a terrible "civil war,"
replete with "bitter elements of racism, sexism, red-baiting, violence,
For a majority of 1199 members, two things eventually became clear:
Turner was an incompetent autocrat and their union had become a "busted
Stradivarius." Turner purged all staff critics, surrounded herself with
goons, moved the union to the right politically, engaged in vote fraud
to win re-election and then, in 1984, led "one of the most inept,
unplanned, and disastrous strikes in New York history." To get the union
back on track, Foner and other 1199 veterans joined forces with Dennis
Rivera, a staff organizer from Puerto Rico recently fired by Turner.
They created a dissident group called "Save Our Union," which ran a
slate headed by Georgianna Johnson in a federally supervised rerun
election for 1199 officers. Johnson narrowly defeated Turner, but her
presidency was only slightly less troubled. She was soon ousted by her
former backer, Rivera, who has led 1199 in New York since 1989 (and
engineered its long-delayed affiliation with SEIU three years ago).
On the subject of 1199's "self-destruction"--what Foner calls "the most
heart-breaking experience" of his life--Not for Bread Alone is
both unreflective and unrevealing. "To some extent, we all played out
events based on our backgrounds, and mistakes were made. But the union
survived," the author writes. Elsewhere, Foner admits that "the whole
affair had disturbing overtones" but claims, unconvincingly, that during
the union's 1989 leadership race he "was removed from the day-to-day
running of 1199, and [has] only a hazy idea of the details."
As a history of 1199, then, Not for Bread Alone is best read
along with Leon Fink and Brian Greenberg's Upheaval in the Quiet
Zone (which Foner, to his credit, helped the authors research,
despite its dissection of various 1199 flaws). Upheaval appeared
thirteen years ago, when the union's bloody and embarrassing leadership
succession fight was still unresolved. Yet it remains the definitive
study of what went wrong then--and its analysis is just as relevant
today, in light of 1199's recent right turn, under Rivera, into the camp
of Republican Governor George Pataki, a questionable ally for any
"progressive" trade union.
Fink and Greenberg criticize Davis not only for his disastrous choice of
Turner as heir apparent but also for functioning as a "charismatic
patriarch" whose "unquestioned authority verged on benevolent
despotism." According to them, even the 1199 bylaw reforms championed by
Save Our Union failed to address the problem of overly centralized
decision-making in a "local" union far larger than most national ones.
"Without provisions for an elected 'chief delegate' at each hospital or
elected area directors, there is still no structural accommodation to
pluralistic power centers within the union and little place for leaders
of the future to spread their wings," they contended. "Communication as
well as decision-making will still be formulated in a room at the top."
The local's history and internal politics aside, the main question
raised by Foner's memoir is whether Bread and Roses offers a viable
model for cultural programming elsewhere in labor. Or is it too much a
product of New York City exceptionalism--a unique expression of 1199's
interracialism and now-fading political traditions, including its
Popular Front alliance with artists and entertainers long in the orbit
of the Old Left?
B&R has, from the beginning, inspired other labor arts initiatives.
Just as 1199 once tried to spread its unique brand of hospital unionism
elsewhere in the country (with varying degrees of success), Foner helped
organize, in 1980, the first in a series of Bread and Roses cultural
festivals in Lawrence, Massachusetts, which have been held there on
Labor Day weekend ever since. For almost as long, the Labor Heritage
Foundation in Washington has hosted an annual Arts Exchange and
Conference on Creative Organizing, which brings together union activists
and entertainers. LHF also sells poster art, videos and CDs of union
music to help publicize the work of labor choruses and individual
singer-songwriters. At the local level, however, few unions have the
kind of membership base and staff support--or access to foundation
funding--that has kept B&R afloat for nearly twenty-five years.
(During his period of forced exile from 1199 during the mid-1980s, even
Foner found it hard to reproduce his past successes while working
part-time for a small Meat Cutters local in Queens.)
According to Esther Cohen, Bread and Roses' current director, the
project continues to achieve its founder's goal of providing
professional-quality programming and opportunities for creative
expression by 1199 members themselves. B&R's permanent art gallery
at union headquarters currently hosts eight exhibits a year, on topics
ranging from Haitian culture and Dominican religion to the lives of
Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson and Pennsylvania coal miners, and the
death-row experiences of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Once a month, Cohen reports,
the gallery becomes "a cozy nightclub" and cafe, with entertainment
provided by 1199 rank-and-filers. More than 150 members recently signed
up for a creative-writing workshop as well; and as part of an amateur
photography program called "Unseen America," Bread and Roses is helping
scores of its members--and other immigrant workers--record and display
scenes of workplace and community life rarely shown in the mass media.
However, in the issue of New Labor Forum that recently published
Cohen's account of B&R activity, the Queens College magazine also
bemoaned the fact that most professionals in the arts are no longer
stirred by "the plight of working people and the intoxicating promise of
their liberation." According to NLF's editors:
For two centuries, until now that is, there was always a cultural
alternative, a point of opposition that said no to the callous
calculations of the marketplace.... While many kinds of people and
institutions have, at one time or another, joined the opposition, the
labor movement was always part of the picture, sometimes at the center
of the canvas. No more.... The labor movement is at a cultural dead end.
It has been defeated in the struggle for the hearts and minds of our
Such funereal observations were not part of Moe Foner's game. He was
ever the optimist, the union survivor and upbeat promoter of new ideas
and causes. If still on the job at B&R, he'd be on the phone right
now buttonholing talent for its next production, badgering reporters to
cover it and rallying members to fill every seat in the house--while
organizing labor opposition to US intervention in Iraq on the side! He'd
also be applauding the role played by hip-hop stars in the mass rally of
New York City teachers (and thousands of their music-loving students)
held in late May during contract talks between Mayor Bloomberg and the
United Federation of Teachers. Better than some activists in his field,
the author knew that if "labor culture" is going to be sustained, it
must be periodically renewed--that Ossie and Ruby must finally give way
to the likes of Sean (Puff Daddy) Combs, Jay-Z, LL Cool J, and Erykah
Badu, all of whom graced the platform of the UFT.
As New York City union historian Joshua Freeman observed, in another
recent exchange about the future of labor-oriented art and
entertainment: "There is no going back in time, and no reason to do so.
The strength of mid-century New York left culture lay in its organic
relationship to the needs and tastes of the city's working class. It
remains for another generation, in its own way, to build a new culture
of labor and the left."
Soon after the surrender of Nazi Germany, the reporter Martha Gellhorn
made her way to Dachau. There she interviewed a recently liberated
doctor who told her how the Germans immersed inmates in icy water for
hours at a time to determine the human body's ability to withstand
"Didn't they scream or cry out?" asked Gellhorn. The doctor smiled.
"There was no use in this place for a man to scream or cry out. It was
no use for any man ever."
For Fred Inglis, professor of cultural studies and author of People's
Witness: The Journalist in Modern Politics, the exchange and the
article that surrounds it are great examples of what journalism should
be. It bears witness, it is "truthful" and "faithful to the facts," and
it matches a story with "adequate feelings and moral judgment." Gellhorn
is the first of a long procession of journalists who march through this
book over the course of the twentieth century. The best of them, in
Inglis's view, fight the good fight for democracy, decency and
international solidarity. The worst bow to the pressures of the market
or fawn before the powerful. Together, their lives teach lessons about
the purposes of journalism and its place in the history of what the
historian Eric Hobsbawm has popularized as the short twentieth century,
the period stretching from the beginning of World War I in 1914 to the
fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Inglis insists that the purpose of journalism is about more than
providing objective information. He conducts a respectful but pointed
debate with Phillip Knightley, author of The First Casualty: From the
Crimea to Vietnam: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth
Maker. Where Knightley criticizes generations of war correspondents
for partiality, errors and becoming little more than government
propagandists, Inglis treats objectivity as an impossibility. Truthful
reporting is possible, Inglis argues, but the search for the facts and
their presentation can't be separated from values and beliefs. "The
moral view is always somebody's, located somewhere," Inglis writes,
adding later that "the best journalists square their human allegiance
with their feeling for truth."
In showing how journalists responded to war, revolution, the Depression
and the cold war, Inglis charts a ragged story that identifies the
reciprocal relationship between journalists and their time. Themes that
structure other histories of journalism--the quickening speed of
communications, the growth of freedom of expression, professionalization
of the press--receive less attention. More important for Inglis is how a
journalist in a particular time and place balanced ideals and
expedience, and helped to move the world toward more cruelty or less.
His method is to present a series of biographies, grouped according to
events or themes. With a few exceptions (such as the Italian journalist
and political theorist Antonio Gramsci) those chronicled here are
British or American. Gellhorn's story illuminates the moral lessons of
covering the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Walter Lippmann's life
suggests the challenges of retaining intellectual integrity amid the
American rise to globalism and Lippmann's own proximity to the heights
of power. Harry Evans's career at the Times of London shows what
happens when an intelligent and crusading editor meets with the purse
and politics of a Rupert Murdoch.
The length of the biographies varies, from more than two dozen pages for
the broadcaster Edward R. Murrow to a few sentences for the murdered
Irish reporter Veronica Guerin. The longer biographies in People's
Witness provide rewarding lessons, but the short ones can be too
brief to be satisfying.
The sources for People's Witness are generally published
biographies, memoirs and collected articles. (The book contains some
unfortunate errors. James "Scotty" Reston is rendered as "Sonny." Arthur
O. Sulzberger of the New York Times is presented as "Sulzbeyer."
And Ben Bagdikian is identified as Ben "Bagdikim.") Fresh material for
the volume comes from the author's interviews and own analytical
insight. Some of the book's most memorable lines are in its summary
passages, as when Inglis describes Alistair Cooke as "tranquilly
reactionary," and Norman Mailer, on the eve of writing The Armies of
the Night, as one who "had done everything a dustjacket could
Yet People's Witness is more than a collective biography that
extols engaged journalism and criticizes conventional ideas about
objectivity. What makes this book valuable is not one life story or
another but its historical perspective--the place of journalism from
World War I to 1989.
Inglis's story is largely an international narrative, framed mostly by
British and American experiences during World War II and the cold war.
The book's chapter on World War II, revealingly titled "The Blessed
Simplicity of Action," argues that for many journalists the war provided
a way of reconciling reporting and antifascism. In the story of Edward
R. Murrow, Inglis finds broadcasting that closed the distance between
Britain and America with vivid details and high ideals. During the
bombing of London, Murrow told listeners how "shrapnel clicked as it hit
the concrete road nearby." Covering the Normandy invasion, he said it
was possible to imagine hearing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" above
the roaring motors of Allied bombers.
Things get messier during the cold war. Some American reporters, such as
I.F. Stone, maintained their independence. Others uncritically accepted
government lines. In discussions of coverage of the Korean War, Vietnam
and more, Inglis's dual perspective--British and American--provides a
second line of sight on America's global struggle with Communism. For
many American readers, the book is likely be an introduction to
Commonwealth journalists--John Pilger and James Cameron, for
example--whose perspectives have departed from the standard frames found
in the US media.
For all its cruelty and bloodshed, and for all the confusion that has
appeared since its end (especially since September 11, 2001), the short
twentieth century was a remarkably good period for journalism. The years
from the end of World War II to the end of the cold war, in particular,
saw a flowering of public service broadcasting, muckraking, dissenting
critics, samizdat publishers, adventurers reporting from
hellholes and reporters' efforts to hold democratic countries to their
best values. Why?
Part of the explanation has to do with historical circumstances. As
People's Witness suggests, memorable journalism opposes something
in the name of something better. (American journalists today may
subscribe to a belief in "objectivity," but some of their most revered
forebears--Jacob Riis, Lincoln Steffens, Jessica Mitford--have been
muckrakers with a pronounced political purpose in their work.) During
World War II and the cold war, journalists in Britain and America had a
great choice of adversaries--from fascists to Stalinists to citizens of
democratic countries who trampled their country's best values in the
name of fighting Communism. Even if the early years of the cold war were
marked by an excessive faith in government sources among American
journalists, once conflict broke out within government over the Vietnam
War, journalists began to expand and enrich public debate.
As communications professor Michael Schudson has observed, news gains
power in societies when people believe that if they are armed with
knowledge, they can influence the course of events. America in the era
of the civil rights movement was such a place, and it produced great
journalism that connected the demands of the oppressed with the
consciences of the many.
In the same period, the successes of social democracy--or at least the
mixed economy--gave journalists breathing room from the kind of economic
pressures that afflict them today. In the extraordinary thirty years
after World War II, in Western Europe and North America, nations
concluded that the market was not to be the measure of all things.
Activist governments were willing to provide everything from national
health insurance to grants for artists. In journalism this meant
financial support for public broadcasters who were, at least in theory,
independent of both the political pressures of the state and commercial
pressures of advertisers. The best work of the British Broadcasting
Corporation and the Public Broadcasting Service testifies to the
enduring validity of this idea. Among private broadcasters, specifically
in American television, federal regulations required fairness and public
service in broadcasting--a requirement that fostered, in thoroughly
commercial networks, the creation of substantial news and documentary
units. The death of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 led to the decline of
public service broadcasting. People's Witness offers yet more
proof that journalists, whatever their party affiliation, have a strong
interest in the maintenance of societies where the profit motive does
not always rule.
In America, the journalists of 1945 to 1989 also enjoyed the benefit of
reporting for a society characterized by mass media and mass politics.
Particularly in television, journalists could act with the confidence
that they were reaching large segments of their fellow citizens. Today,
in the age of 24/7 cable television, when the public is subdivided into
niche markets, much news and journalism can seem to be both ubiquitous
and insubstantial. Then came September 11.
From journalists, in Inglis's view, the good journalistic responses to
9/11 combined individual survivors' stories and "what they could count
on as the trustiest of their national values," finding its heroes in
self-sacrificing firefighters. Some of the worst reactions, he argues,
came from elements of the left--which he would normally support--that
failed to recognize the flaws in radical Islamism and the virtues of
Western democracy. He identifies three journalists whose work can help
bring us into an uncertain future: Seymour Hersh, who "discovers what we
could not possibly discover for ourselves, and tells us what it is";
Tim Judah, whose reporting from the Balkans and then Afghanistan "moved
easily between the obligatory self-deprecation of being there and
the sure deployment of big strategic tropes"; and Michael Ignatieff, who
calls for an internationalism with a strong sense of both ideals and
Is this enough? As People's Witness suggests, journalism as an
institution rises and falls with the currents of its time. Journalists
as individuals sometimes do better. Since economics triumphed over
politics, it is harder to envision a solution to the market pressures
that deform public and private broadcasters. This book, for all its
virtues, has no obvious solution to that problem.
But in the lives of journalists, and in Inglis's ruminations on the
meaning of journalism, possibilities emerge. In the face of Pentagon
media managers who would censor war news in the name of keeping up
morale on the home front, journalists will need Knightley's dogged
insistence on independence and truth. In the face of the kind of men who
murdered Daniel Pearl, journalists will need Inglis's stouthearted
vision of reporting that stands for democracy and decency, and against
cruelty and sectarianism. But without a new version of the ideals and
structures that serve to protect public service journalism, will this be
William Eastlake once gave William Kittredge a piece of advice about
writing as a Westerner. Never allow a publisher to put a picture of a
horse on the cover of your novel: "The people who buy it will think it's
some goddamned shoot-up. And they'll hate it when it isn't."
For more than a century, picking up a "western" meant caressing a myth.
The plot rarely varied. Decent folk who'd left behind the corrupt
world--always somewhere to the east--came to a land of primeval beauty
and promise and set about turning a little chunk of it into a nice,
prosperous garden. But there were a few corrupt souls lurking in the
vicinity, and before long they showed themselves: heedless savages,
horse thieves, men with pistols on their hips. The good folks had no
choice but to confront the bad guys on their terms--often with the aid
of a mysterious and taciturn stranger on horseback. Violence,
regrettable but necessary, ensued. The good guys were wounded. The bad
guys were killed. Our happy homesteaders returned to taming the
wilderness, cultivating their corner of paradise, a little less innocent
but having earned in blood their claim to the land. The taciturn
stranger was saddled and gone by morning, having left neither a card nor
a silver bullet.
Louis L'Amour wrote more than a hundred works of fiction along those
lines, 260 million copies of which are moldering on cheap pulp paper all
over the world. In the second half of the nineteenth century alone,
1,700 novels about Buffalo Bill were published. Our appetite for the
myths of law-bringing and wilderness-taming is as old as America itself.
The pulp western simply spruced it up with big hats, six-guns and blue
roan appaloosas. Hollywood seized on the concept and tinkered with its
variations for more than thirty years; John Wayne had one of the longest
runs of any male movie icon of the past century.
This is the seductive mythology serious writers in the West have to
grapple with as they set out to write the much messier, much less
uplifting story of the true Western experience. They also face an
Eastern literary establishment that is often indifferent or
unsympathetic to their aims. Norman Maclean couldn't find a major
publisher to bite on his masterpiece, A River Runs Through It.
"These stories have trees in them," he was told. And in a snotty review
in these very pages, Edward Abbey was called "puerile" and "dopey" and
was accused of arrogance and xenophobia.
Not that every literary effort to come out of the West deserved
canonization. Kittredge published a collection of stories, We Are Not
in This Together, that borrowed much from the old myth--except the
happy ending, which leaves a rather curdled vision. Despite a laudatory
foreword from Kittredge's friend Raymond Carver, the stories contain a
predictable mix of unfaithful women, barroom hijinks, cold-blooded
killings, guns and knives and whisky and tight-lipped men who, when they
deign to speak, do so not with or even at but past one another.
"My stories were mostly imitations about old men and wounded boys,
reeking of sorrow and sad romance about the ways love is bound to fail,
and could never have been enough anyway," Kittredge eventually admitted.
Thankfully, in 1978, Terry McDonell of Rocky Mountain Magazine
asked Kittredge to write an essay on the theme of "redneck secrets."
Kittredge said he had no idea how to write an essay. A friend who sat in
one of Kittredge's writing workshops at the University of Montana told
me that Kittredge recounted McDonell's advice this way: Give me five
scenes or anecdotes strung together with your own bullshit philosophy.
Five hundred words of anecdote, 200 of your own bullshit, scene,
bullshit, leading to a summation or revelation. It's that easy.
And for Kittredge, it was; turned out he could bullshit better than
most, and in a rugged, poetic and wholly Western prose style. He's since
written mostly nonfiction, looking at the West as a set of true stories
that deserve telling in all their complexity. Like this, from his very
first essay: "A Redneck pounding a hippie in a dark barroom is
embarrassing because we see the cowardice. What he wants to hit is a
banker in broad daylight."
Yee-haw! Now we're getting someplace.
Kittredge's first essay collection, Owning It All, published in
1987 and just reissued by Graywolf, is one of the quintessential books
to read if you want to understand the ferment of the modern West. He
followed that with Hole in the Sky, a memoir that recounted his
youth and early manhood on his grandfather's ranch in southeastern
Oregon, a backlands enclave in a "huge drift of country...pretty much
nonexistent in the American imagination," where "we knew a history
filled with omissions, which can be thought of as lies." Kittredge took
it as his duty to fill in the omissions, most involving violence done to
Native Americans, and he told his own story with astonishing candor: boy
buckaroo, teenage dandy, self-pitying young man, a ranch kid in a
swampland version of Eden that he and his family ultimately ruined
through a combination of greed, pesticides, overly ambitious irrigation
schemes and an overweening lust for property.
Over something like three decades my family played out the entire
melodrama of the nineteenth-century European novel. It was another
real-life run of that masterplot which drives so many histories,
domination of loved ones through a mix of power and affection; it is the
story of ruling-class decadence that we fondle and love, that we reenact
over and over, our worst bad habit and the prime source of our sadness
about our society. We want to own everything, and we demand love. We are
like children; we are spoiled and throw tantrums. Our wreckage is
All of this from a book with a horse on its cover.
Hole in the Sky placed Kittredge in a blossoming tradition of
Western writers who can be thought of as anti-mythological. They begin,
not surprisingly, with women--Willa Cather (read Death Comes for the
Archbishop) and Mari Sandoz (Old Jules)--and continue with
writers such as A.B. Guthrie, Wallace Stegner, Ivan Doig, Marilynne
Robinson and Denis Johnson, whose novel Angels is among the
bleakest visions of the urban West ever committed to paper. And that's
merely a few of the white folk from the mountains and plains, a list
that leaves off the interlopers, Texans, Californians, poets, Hispanics
(Rudolfo Anaya, Jimmy Santiago Baca) and Native Americans (N. Scott
Momaday, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich) who have
enriched the region's literature.
Stegner dreamt of a West that had "a civilization to match its scenery,"
and no other writer did more to bring that transformation about. His
influence can be felt all over a fine anthology edited by Kittredge,
The Portable Western Reader, which Stegner didn't live to see but
would have appreciated as a marker of how far the storytelling culture
of the region had come. "The Westerner is less a person than a
continuing adaptation," he wrote. "The West is less a place than a
process." On the evidence of his new book, Kittredge is in total
In Southwestern Homelands, he tells stories from thirty years of
tooling the freeways and back roads of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New
Mexico, mostly with his longtime love Annick Smith (another fine writer)
and often with a set of golf clubs in the trunk. He goes in search of
history and the earthy flux of the present, and he's as fine a travel
companion as a reader could hope for. I'm with him for all but the golf.
It helps to have friends to show you around an unfamiliar land, and
Kittredge had some good ones, including Eastlake, Abbey and Doug
Peacock, the renowned grizzly-bear expert and model for George Hayduke
in Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang. Eastlake once told Kittredge a
perhaps apocryphal tale in which he and Abbey drove the Southwest's
Interstate highways, felling billboards with a chainsaw. Whether or not
the tale is true--don't you like to think so?--it symbolizes the tension
at the heart of the region's history. What is progress? What are its
costs? And, to paraphrase Charles Bowden, can we not imagine a future in
which we have less but are more?
Everywhere Kittredge goes, these questions haunt the air. At Chaco
Canyon the Anasazi built immaculate pueblos across four square miles
between 1025 and 1100 AD. "The houses were fitted together from tons of
red stone cut in quarries and mortared into tapered load-bearing walls,
five stories high on the curving back side of Pueblo Bonito. Tens of
thousands of pine timbers were cut and trimmed with stone axes in
mountains sixty miles away and brought to Chaco by people without horses
or wheels." They built irrigation systems to channel rainwater toward
domesticated crops. Abruptly, around 1150, they abandoned all of it. To
this day, no one knows for certain why. Drought? Enemy siege? Whatever
the cause, their attempt at constructing a secure homeland failed. The
Anasazi drifted to the north and west. In Canyon de Chelly, they built
cliff houses accessible only by ladders, which they pulled up when they
One millennium later, dreams of an impenetrable fortress persist.
Phoenix, another human settlement fed by diverted water, spreads on the
landscape like a malignant tumor; its gated communities might be
compared to ancient fortified pueblos. One severe or prolonged drought
would also send that city's inhabitants scurrying to more hospitable
climes to the north and west. Aridity, as Stegner incessantly pointed
out, is the defining characteristic of the West. In some distant future,
tourists may gawk at the splendid, dune-covered ruins of Phoenix or
Albuquerque the way we seek out the spooky grandeur of abandoned cliff
The Glen Canyon Dam, on the Colorado River, is among man's most
ambitious efforts to compensate for a lack of rainfall. It flooded what
Kittredge calls "one of the most exquisite runs of landform on earth," a
labyrinth of canyons formed by 10-million-year-old sand dunes compacted
by wind and carved by running water. Abbey once wrote, "To grasp the
nature of the crime that was committed imagine the Taj Mahal or Chartres
Cathedral buried in mud until only the spires remain visible." Kittredge
consoles himself with the thought that canyons and species don't last
forever. I'm surprised it doesn't make him happier to think that dams
are even more ephemeral.
Gated communities, seething barrios, cross-border maquiladoras, crimes
against humans and nature--that's one side of the coin. On the other:
spicy food, entrancing native ceremonies, breathtaking landscapes,
hummingbirds flitting among the saguaro and art that soars into
timelessness, from the overcommodified Georgia O'Keeffe to Mogollon
Mimbres pottery. The exquisite care taken in crafting the Mimbres bowls,
decorated with imagery that made use of communal symbols and stories,
might even be a valuable example for careless book editors. In the
middle of a very moving passage, we find Kittredge viewing "my mother's
powered face that last time before she was interned." You might be
forgiven for momentarily thinking she was a robot on her way to prison
But if you hang with him, you discover him working through one of the
keystone moments of the book. "On Second Mesa, in the village of Walpi,
a man came up while I was walking the balustrade around the edge of the
mesa, and offered to explain the Hopi beliefs. I imagined he was hitting
on me, running some scam, and I turned away." His failure to connect
gnaws at him; he keeps brooding over Walpi until he settles on a
"message" from the ancients: "Be communal, join up, share your goods,
and once in a while give your sweet time away, no charge, pro bono, and
you'll be as close to home as you're likely to be." He could have merely
bought a trinket or a piece of Native art and moved on. Instead, and
despite his failure to connect at first, he was driven to seek some
cross-cultural pollination to take with him as he returns to his own
homeland in Montana. Which ought to be one of the points of travel for
anyone who does it seriously. "Intimacy with otherness is close to
impossible without taking some time to stop playing the game of
anthropologist," he writes. In other words, open up, drop your guard,
talk to strangers. The world awaits: desert and mountain, laughter and
tears, bedrock and paradox.
From the chair where I write this, in a fire lookout tower in the Gila
National Forest of southwestern New Mexico, I can see nearly 100 miles
in all directions. The landscape is multifarious: austere desert to the
east, rising into pinyon and juniper on the foothills and up to peaks
covered in aspen and ponderosa pine, before falling away to mesas and
grassland river valleys to the west. Hard to recall that just a month
ago I was a cog in the corporate journalism machine, a rearranger of
commas, scourge of the split infinitive. "Flight involves a spot of
reinventing the sweet old psychic self," Kittredge writes. Amen.
Everything out my window sings to my soul the way Beethoven's
Archduke Trio speaks to Kittredge's when he's on the road. Yet
the feature I find most intriguing from my perch is a man-made one on
the edge of Silver City: a giant open-pit copper mine that looks like a
gaping wound in the earth. Just above it, at the end of a shelf of
exposed rock, a solitary spire looms. The locals called it the Kneeling
Nun, and through my binoculars I can see why: It resembles the shape of
a woman wearing a habit, bowed in supplication to an ancient altar of
I like to think whoever named it also saw our need for forgiveness. All
across the West, man-made monstrosities punctuate the landscape--dams,
clearcuts, open-pit mines, oil refineries. Some of us silently seethe,
some of us protest, others work quietly toward a new definition of
progress. As we dream and argue our way toward the homeland of the
future, we could do worse than to take our cues from an old boy from a
ranch in the backlands of Oregon, a man who himself learned to take a
few cues from the ancients: "Everything evolves. Nothing lasts. Don't
destroy that which your people depend on. Take care, and plan for the
seventh generation, the long future."
Walking at a good New Yorker's clip, you would need about fifteen
minutes to go between Film Forum and the World Trade Center site: a
straight shot down Varick Street from three cozy screening rooms and
fresh-made popcorn to the remains of a mass grave. I sketch this
geography to suggest what September 11, 2001, meant to the Film Forum staff, and to clarify the meaning of their decision to commemorate the other September 11 attack: the one that killed Salvador Allende in 1973.
The calendar links these two events, and so too does the roughest kind
of arithmetic. About as many people died at the World Trade Center as
were snatched up and murdered by the Pinochet regime. Because the United
States helped install and maintain that dictatorship, you might imagine
that Film Forum is also connecting these Septembers politically. You
would not be entirely wrong; after presenting Patricio Guzmán's
new documentary, The Pinochet Case (on view through September
24), the theater will continue its Chilean theme by showing The
Trials of Henry Kissinger. But if you know the Manhattan streets,
you will realize this schedule doesn't mean to explain--or, worse, to
excuse--the criminals who destroyed the Twin Towers. Rather, the Film
Forum staff have added sorrow to sorrow, looking beyond themselves and
their neighbors to others who are neglected at this moment. Generosity
inspires this programming choice, along with hope--precisely the
qualities that shine through The Pinochet Case.
If you remember the dangerous immediacy of Guzmán's
now-classic The Battle of Chile, you may be surprised to see
The Pinochet Case begin as a landscape film. Guzmán sets
the tone by showing views of mountains under a clear blue sky, as
glimpsed from a car on a lonely highway. A little time passes before the
car reaches its destination: a site where corpses were dumped. Two fully
clothed men, breathing and fidgeting, lie on the ocher ground to show
where the remains were found. By the very inadequacy of their imposture,
these surrogates hint at a horror you can't imagine; and maybe they
suggest as well that this place belongs to the living. Nothing is left
of the victims except for a few fragments--precious to the forensic
experts--and the memories borne by their families, who have come here
with Guzmán so they can testify to what cannot be seen or heard.
A woman speaks of her missing son, meanwhile fingering a photograph that
she has slung around her neck. A man recalls his missing brother by
reciting a song lyric by Victor Jara: "The spring will come from your
heart." He says the line several times over; and somehow, in this place
of natural beauty and man-made bitterness, he doesn't choke on the
The Pinochet Case belongs to witnesses like these. They sit for
their portraits, singly or in groups, sometimes while the moving camera
seems to caress their faces. They talk about whatever was hardest for
them to endure. (For Nelly, it was admitting that her missing husband
would never use the suitcase she packed for him. For Gabriela, who was
tortured and raped, it was seeing others killed.) Above all, these
witnesses hold out. "My revenge," Luisa says, "is just staying alive."
Not subsisting--staying alive. For Luisa and other witnesses, that meant
compiling data that Chilean society preferred to ignore, pressing
lawsuits that Chilean courts refused to hear, seeking justice that
seemed unattainable even after Pinochet stepped down. Underneath the
forms of democracy, as one witness explains, Chile remained unchanged,
since the thousands who had cooperated in state terror were still
around, still powerful, still unwilling to see their deeds uncovered.
And yet, "The spring will come from your heart." The witnesses went on
expecting justice--and suddenly, in 1998, they got it.
Narrating the story with brisk reverence for its heroes, The Pinochet
Case explains how Spanish prosecutor Carlos Castressana ingeniously
recognized that "crimes against humanity" are by definition the business
of all courts everywhere. Charges of torture and political murder could
therefore be brought against Augusto Pinochet in a Spanish court, even
though the crimes took place in Chile. Judge Baltasar Garzón
accepted this argument and began to hear testimony--quixotically, it
seemed, since no one imagined there would be a trial. But then
Castressana and Garzón had the further insight that if their
court could enter charges, it could also request extradition. They
sprang upon Pinochet during his annual visit to London. All at once, the
Senator for Life found himself under house arrest, while the British
legal system began fitfully to strip away his immunity from prosecution.
Another surprise: While The Pinochet Case is meditative and
leisurely when dealing with the witnesses, it becomes lively and even
raucous when it details the court proceedings in England. Part of this
energy comes from the polyrhythmic demonstrations that sprang up around
Pinochet. (Wherever he was, Chileans and their supporters turned out in
force, to bang on drums and shout "Murderer!") Another part of the
film's energy comes from the personalities of the lawyers--Castressana,
for example, is memorably forceful when he speaks of the historic ties
he feels with the Chileans--and still more is contributed by the
filmmaker himself. Guzmán illustrates the legal tactics with a
chessboard; the political maneuvering with some patched-in footage of
Margaret Thatcher, who paid a courtesy call on Pinochet during his
period of house arrest. "I'm very much aware," she intoned for his
benefit and the camera's, "that it's you who brought democracy to
What kind of laughter should those words arouse? If I know my New York
audiences, a jeer will greet them. We're good at jeering, and Thatcher
deserves it. What haunts me about The Pinochet Case, though, is a
far different expression of amusement: the bright smile of one of the
witnesses toward the end of the movie. She has lived to see Pinochet
humiliated; she knows the history books in her country can no longer
pass over his crimes; and although full justice has hardly been done,
although killers live unmolested all around her, she speaks with a tone
of laughter in her voice, a laughter without spite. The killers, she
says, are ashamed before their children; but we, we are free.
In September 2002, in New York City, The Pinochet Case is a gift.
Short Takes: The Method actor and the sensitive young junkie
emerged together in film history. New versions of the rebellious city
boy, scruffy yet soft and inward-looking, they both elected to hunch
over a pain in the gut, seeming to protect and even savor the inner
flaws that made them writhe.
Half a century later, those figures are still with us, most recently in
a Warner Bros. release titled City by the Sea and in a film from
China, Quitting. Both are based-on-a-true-story movies; both are
exercises in acting. Only one of them touches on the social disaffection
that used to spark these now-mythical types.
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones from a screenplay by Ken Hixon, City
by the Sea stars Robert DeNiro as a police detective whose
long-abandoned junkie son (James Franco) is now wanted for murder. The
dialogue is thick with intergenerational doom; the images with
establishing shots, as the action bounces between lower Manhattan (where
the cop lives and works) and the derelict boardwalk of Long Beach, the
son's all-too-symbolic hangout. But the real locus of interest is the
face and body of DeNiro, who once might have played the son but now has
grown meaty and measured, avuncular if not exactly paternal. You spend
the movie admiring his self-control but waiting for the performance to
start, until it finally does, on schedule, at the very end. Too bad the
acting doesn't benefit the son. The turmoil in this pretty-good picture
serves only DeNiro, helping him say farewell to his Method youth to
settle comfortably into a chair at the beach.
So I prefer Quitting by Zhang Yang, a fiction film in which young
actor Jia Hongsheng, playing himself, re-enacts his years of drug
addiction, his struggles with his family (who also play themselves) and
his time spent in a psychiatric hospital. Directed and performed with a
mercifully light touch, the movie is full of telling details, not just
about the characters but about their world: Jia's contempt for his
parents' "peasant" manner of speech and dress, for example, or his
fascination with Western youth culture, meaning drugs, rock and roll and
Method acting. (On the door of his room hangs a poster of DeNiro in
Taxi Driver.) All this is right on the surface, unlike Jia's
sexual orientation; but if you've got an eye for tight blue jeans and
midriff T-shirts, maybe that theme, too, comes to light.
The biggest story of the biggest primary election night of 2002 echoed
the biggest story of the 2000 election: Florida Governor Jeb Bush,
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and the gang that couldn't
design a ballot straight blew it again. Just as the fierce
indifference--and in some cases outright hostility--of Florida officials
to the practical demands of democracy warped the Sunshine State's 2000
presidential vote, so the "fixes" initiated by Bush, Harris and their
legislative allies have resulted in another election without a result.
As The Nation went to press, the contest between former Attorney
General Janet Reno and wealthy lawyer Bill McBride for the Democratic
nomination against Jeb Bush was too close to call and both campaigns
were readying legal teams.
When Floridians went to the polls September 10 to nominate a Democratic
challenger to Jeb Bush, they were supposed to encounter voter-friendly
ballots, machinery and procedures. Never again would Florida voters be
victimized as they were in 2000 by election systems that even the US
Supreme Court, which awarded the presidency to George W. Bush,
acknowledges violated the Constitution's equal protection clause. That
was the promise of Jeb Bush in May 2001, when he signed reform
legislation and declared, "[We] have resolved the problem. Other states
ought to look at this as a model...."
Bush boasted too soon. Instead of a fix, he and Harris--who quit her job
to run for Congress--cut corners, failed to recognize potential
technical problems and provided inadequate resources and information to
local election officials. The byproduct was such chaos in at least
fourteen counties on Primary Day 2002 that it sometimes made the 2000
presidential vote look like a smooth operation. Poll workers failed to
show up in Broward County and didn't know how to turn on vote-counting
machines in Duval County. An optical scan machine in Union County
registered votes only for Republican candidates. When new, ATM-style
voting machines couldn't be activated in Palm Beach County--home of the
butterfly ballot--frustrated voters walked away. A polling place in
Miami opened five hours late, after more than 500 voters were turned
away. Across the state, voting machinery in dozens--perhaps hundreds--of
precincts failed to operate properly. Problems were so widespread that
Bush finally ordered voting sites to remain open for an additional two
hours, but some precincts failed to get the message and shut their
As in 2000, problems were reported most frequently in heavily Democratic
districts and communities with large minority populations, like Miami's
Liberty City district. And, just as flawed voting systems and procedures
made it virtually impossible to get a precise read on the results of the
2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore in Florida,
so chaos in the 2002 primary voting muddled the result of the
Reno-McBride contest. Reno had to wait for more than an hour for the
computerized voting machine at her Miami-area precinct to function.
"What is it with Democrats having a hard time voting?" Jeb Bush mused,
displaying the same quickness to blame the victims of the state's
incompetence as did Republicans in 2000.
The better question is: What is it with Jeb Bush and the Republicans who
control the Florida legislature that they have such a hard time
reforming a flawed election system that Cuban officials have offered to
send democracy educators to the state? Florida isn't about to accept
that offer anytime soon, so it falls to Congress to intervene. Bush,
Harris and many Congressional Republicans have argued that states are
best prepared to set election standards. But Florida's primary chaos
makes it clear that it's time for Congress to pass uniform national
standards--as proposed by Congressman John Conyers, among others--to
guarantee that all states treat voters equally and that resources are
allocated fairly to low-income and minority precincts.
Congressional Democrats, who have been negotiating compromises on
election reform legislation in a House-Senate conference committee,
should recognize that soft standards will be abused by the likes of Jeb
Bush. And Florida Democrats, who have struggled to mount a coherent
gubernatorial challenge to Bush, ought finally to recognize that
repairing the state's damaged democracy can be a winning issue for their
candidate--if they ever figure out his or her identity.
Mike Dolan, one of the principal organizers of the "Battle of Seattle" three years ago, returned in late August--with Jim Hightower's Rolling Thunder DownHome Democracy Tour--to a changed city. As he juggled cell phones from the stage in Seattle's Petrovisky Park, near the burial site of Jimi Hendrix, Dolan noticed there was no tear gas this time, only sunshine.
There were still dirty tricksters hanging up posters on Broadway, the heart of radical Seattle, warning people to stay home because there was no parking at the event, but 5,000 people turned out, to reflect on the movement they launched at the World Trade Organization conclave in 1999.
The world of BS--"before Seattle"--was a dizzying can-do era of overnight millionaires with fantasies of wiring the planet in a grid of greed. Then came the protests, the greatest civil disobedience of the era, with thousands of people teaching the masters of the universe that they could no longer conduct business as usual, and the fantasy world began to shudder.
With dot.coms bombing and Boeing going, Seattle has lost its artificial luster, returning to the status of a lovely, cultured city instead of the mecca of a global kingdom. Corporate sway over the economy lost its sex appeal when the Nasdaq fell 355 points on a single March day in 2000, Bill Gates lost $10 billion in a week and 25,000 workers were laid off in the software sector. There was the campaign that coerced the public into voting to subsidize the local baseball stadium, and the team's star, Ken Griffey Jr., left anyway. In the same period, Boeing chose the global economy over loyalty to its hometown and announced it was headquartering in Chicago, downsizing production and relocating plants to places like Mexico, China and Malaysia. Even the pump-priming boondoggle of the war on terrorism couldn't save them from the grim morning-after logic of globalization.
Seattle might have salvaged a new identity by taking pride in the rough birth of the movement against corporate globalization on its streets in 1999, rooted in the militant Northwest populist and labor traditions that Hightower's tour echoes today, but the local legacy of that "people's history" remains contested and unclear. Shortly after the confrontations, the police chief resigned. An anti-WTO member of the King County Board of Supervisors was defeated. Mayor Paul Schell never fully recovered from that week, and was defeated for re-election last year under the growing cloud of civic malaise. On the other hand, state representative Velma Veloria who hosted progressive legislators during the WTO protests, is running for re-election this fall, and Nick Licata, who helped house and protect the protestors, remains an energetic force on the City Council. Both Veloria and Licata attended the rally in Petrovisky Park in high spirits. Veloria, in response to Seattle 1999, has formed a legislative oversight committee on the adverse impact of trade agreements on Washington State. (Nation readers who wish to support Velma Veloria should contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
One of those returning to interpret the continuing "Battle of Seattle" was Lori Wallach, the indefatigable, street-talking Harvard trade lawyer who coordinates fair-trade lobbying and activism at cyclone speed from her offices at Global Trade Watch in Washington, DC. Wallach has molded herself into one of the more dangerous enemies of the WTO on the planet, able to wipe out corporate lobbyists in television debates, maintain a laser-accurate understanding of thousands of pages of trade regulations, knit together international alliances, forge and hold together aliances on the left and right, and inspire hope for political reform, while scheming, if necessary, to "ratfuck" her enemies, a term she learned somewhere in the underworld of the planet's largest corporations.
Wallach is not entirely heartened by developments since Seattle 1999, citing the rise of internal disputes over "sectarianism" and "egoism" since the movement reached prime time. The emphasis on localism, and its philosophical corollary of anarchism, limits her role as a prime mover and shaker, while critiques of the whiteness of the movement makes alliance-building both essential and difficult. The alienation of many activists from electoral politics robs political victories, like the recent campaign finance reforms, of their potential energizing potency. The fallout from Ralph Nader's presidential campaign, combined with the failure of most Democrats to break cleanly from the corporate agenda, suggests a treacherous electoral future.
Nevertheless, Wallach is in fine form on this fine day, telling the audience that "Seattle" has become an international code word for the progressive spirit of the American people. When American diplomats and apologists argue with overseas audiences that globalization is good, she says, they are often rebuffed by foreign nationals who simply reply, "Seattle," as evidence that Americans themselves do not agree with the policies their government is trying to impose on other countries.
But, she notes, "the empire has struck back," through strenuous US attempts to cast the Seattle protests as "a fluke." The corporatists will try to make globalization seem as "inevitable as the moon's pull on the tides," but Wallach claims that it is "totally doable to take back what's ours" and that the corporate lobbyists "know what we need to know, that it's all a house of cards."
As evidence, she tells the story, hardly described in the mainstream media, of the Bush Administration's extraordinary efforts to squeeze out a three-vote-margin victory for its "fast track" trade authority in the House of Representatives on July 17. Trumpeted by Bush and the corporate media as an empowering victory for the free trade agenda, Wallach says that "what it took to get 'fast track' through was such an amazing flouting of Congressional rules that it showed our power." The fair trade movement had succeeded, by normal Washington standards, in stifling the Administration's "fast track" campaign until the President himself came to Capitol Hill trolling for votes, knocking on doors and making political horse-trades.
That wasn't enough, however. The House leadership held a closed nocturnal hearing to approve a "conceptual" 300-page bill, employing a rule reserved for occasions of martial law. There were no public hearings and no printing of the bill. Instead, it was e-mailed to House members with a link and set for a vote within twenty-four hours, effectively demobilizing the opposition and flaunting any pretense of an open, democratic process. When the House vote took place, and the Administration's forces still fell short, the leadership declared the clock irrelevent and continued making secret deals with holdout representatives until the three-vote margin was achieved. "It just shows how fragile they are," said Wallach, reminding the crowd to "spank" Washington State Democrats like Adam Smith and Rick Larsen, and "thank" representatives who kept their word to oppose fast track.
Undaunted, Wallach told the crowd to gear up for "Nafta on steroids," the Administration's plan to create a thirty-one-country "free trade" zone in the Americas and expand the WTO, culminating in the September 2003 WTO trade round in Cancun, Mexico. The corporate agenda there will aim to eliminate labor, environmental and public interest regulations across Central and Latin America as well as to privatize services like education, healthcare and water access. These so-called nontariff trade barriers represent protections of the public interest that have been created through years of struggle, thus widening the potential anti-WTO coalition to include, for example, schoolteachers, city officials, municipal water systems and other utilities, and construction workers worried about prevailing wage laws.
Recent events in Latin America along with corporate scandals in this country, Wallach thinks, "show that our analysis has been right." For example, Argentina was "the poster child, the model" of the corporate globalizers, but it now lies in ruins, the victim of International Monetary Fund policies which included demands that Argentina repeal its curbs on bankers who funnel money out of the country on the grounds "that the law chilled the investment climate there." The crisis is spawning new resistance movements as well, like the successful Bolivian "water war," which has blocked a government plan to sell its water rights to the Bechtel corporation. The spread of sweatshops and maquiladoras has peasant organizers conspiring and resistance mounting from southern Mexico to Central America.
"This trade stuff didn't get handed down by God like they think. If it doesn't work, it's time to throw it out and take back what is ours. The only way they can win is by our remaining calm," Wallach finishes. The crowd in Petrovisky Park gets the message, deeply and clearly. The spirit of Seattle is alive, carried in Wallach's words and, more important, in the confidence and memory of the crowd, in their commitment to vote, march, organize, campaign. As she spoke and they responded, it seemed to me that Seattle deserves a monument to the 1999 protests to reflect its progressive heart alongside the empty glory of the Space Needle, the Boeing hangars and the stadium that Junior left behind.
After all, I recalled, King County was persuaded to change its name to Martin Luther King Jr. County. Why not a monument to the Battle of Seattle in this city of the failed dotcom and defense contractor dreams? Someday perhaps, but for now the living monument of its creative, committed activist community will have to do.
Admiral James Loy, the nation's top aviation security official, confirmed at an August 22 press conference what thousands of immigrant airport screeners have dreaded for nearly a year. Loy promised that the Transportation Security Administration would without question meet the Congressionally mandated deadline to replace America's 30,000-member screener force with government-trained federal employees.
For Loy to accomplish this task, the TSA must remove an estimated 8,000 immigrant screeners from security checkpoints by November 19 because they fail to meet the new citizenship requirement. "The law of the land is the law of the land," Loy replied, when asked how the TSA justifies the impending shakeout at a time when the agency is scrambling to train and place an additional 16,000 employees at airports nationwide over the next eleven weeks.
Indeed, Loy is merely obeying the demands of Congress. Signed into law following a post-September 11 flurry, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act created the TSA and charged the agency with placing airport security under federal jurisdiction. Section 111 of the ATSA requires US citizenship for all screeners, which sets the absurd precedent that immigrants can join the military (no citizenship required) but not scan sneakers at airline security posts.
Both the TSA and members of Congress offer careful replies when it comes to explaining the reasons for the citizenship requirement. An aide for Senator John McCain, one of the ATSA's main proponents, did not want to comment on the provision's rationale. The Justice Department, however, came close to touching on the truth in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of nine screeners trying to keep their jobs. "It bears repeating that the ATSA was passed in the aftermath of an attack on the US by non-citizens, who penetrated the US aviation system," the motion stated.
The case, Gebin v. Mineta, names Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and his former No. 2, John Magaw (who was replaced by Loy), as the defendants. Federal Judge Robert Takasugi promised a decision on the case in early June but still has not issued a ruling.
All nine plaintiffs are noncitizens, lawfully living in the country as permanent residents. The lead plaintiff, Jeimy Gebin, believes that her three years in the US Army should be enough to allow her to stay employed at Los Angeles International Airport. Erlinda Valencia, a leader of the San Francisco airport's screening force, is another plaintiff. Two years ago Valencia's security firm honored her when she detected a toy hand grenade and two weeks later, a loaded handgun. But federal attorneys argue that the government can do as it pleases with its "alien guests," and that Congress acted rationally when, in the interest of airport security, it required screeners to formalize
their "loyalty" and "commitment" through citizenship.
The situation between the government and immigrant screeners begs the comparison of Japanese-Americans who were fired from their jobs after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and were then herded into internment camps. Ironically, Secretary Mineta and Judge Takasugi were among those interned.
In addition to being unfair to immigrants, dismantling experienced screening units at the nation's 429 commercial airports could itself be a major security risk. By the November deadline, 80 percent of San Francisco International Airport's 915 screeners will be forced out of their jobs because they are not citizens. Washington-Dulles will also lose 80 percent of its existing force;
Los Angeles International Airport will lose 40 percent; and Miami
International Airport will lose 70 percent. Even worse, their replacements
are being whisked through the training process: one new screener working at the Norfolk, Virginia, International Airport told Alan Gathright of the San Francisco Chronicle that he received only fifteen minutes of explosive detection training. There is also the matter of how the remaining 40,500 screeners waiting to be hired will complete the federally mandated 100 hours of classroom and onsite instruction before they begin work in late November.
While it is true that most federal employees and civil servants must be US citizens, screeners arrived on the job without this requirement; and the ATSA does not "grandfather" exemplary workers into the applicant pool for a federal screening position. "I am a legal immigrant. Now they are trying to make me a second-grade citizen," said Ashok Malakar, a San Francisco screener who is only a year from naturalization. "That is discrimination."
LE PEN IN FRANCE...
Far-right populist Jean-Marie Le Pen's upset in the first round of French presidential voting was variously ascribed to rising xenophobia in Western Europe, a crisis of the French left, rising crime rates in France and other possibilities. Doug Ireland, in "Le Pen: The Center Folds" [May 13], subscribes to all three. Yet the evidence doesn't necessarily corroborate these explanations. Instead, what we saw was a major breakdown of France's two-round runoff method of electing the president.
A full 64 percent of voters supported candidates other than the two who advanced to the runoff. Many left voters, looking to send a message of dissatisfaction to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round, split their support among seven candidates. Together, left-leaning candidates, led by Jospin, garnered more than 40 percent of the vote--and divided, none polled enough votes to make the runoff. Le Pen, with 17 percent of the vote--a mere 250,000-vote increase, virtually the same popular vote he won in his other failed presidential runs--benefited from this vote-splitting.
Jospin learned what Al Gore knows all too well: In a plurality electoral system, spoiler candidates and split votes can plague the results. France's use of instant runoff voting rather than a two-round runoff would have prevented its electoral meltdown. With IRV, left voters could have sent a message to Jospin by awarding their highest rankings to other candidates but would have had the option of ranking Jospin as one of their runoff choices. During the ballot counting their votes would have coalesced around Jospin as their front-runner, who would have made it to the instant runoff over the marginalized Le Pen, who has very little runoff support from any other parties or candidates.
Yes, electoral systems do matter--sometimes dramatically. Just ask Al Gore.
Center for Voting and Democracy
New York City
I've long favored instant runoff voting, but Hill's suggestion that there has been no marked increase in French racism and its political expression is shockingly ostrichlike. Hill's facts are wrong: The parties of Jospin's governing coalition--Parti socialiste, Parti communiste, les Verts and Mouvement de radicaux de gauche--together polled only a little more than 26 percent. Hill's claim that the 10.5 percent won by three anti-Jospin Trotskyists and the 5.5 percent won by the Pôle republicain (which asserted that there was no real difference between Jospin and Chirac) should be included in the score of the left "led" by Jospin could only be made by someone ignorant about French politics. Le Pen got nearly 1 million votes more than he did in '95 (while the governing parties of left and right together lost some 5.5 million votes, as I pointed out).
Hill may not think that's a significant increase, but the French obviously did--daily demos poured more than 500,000 of them into the streets after Le Pen's victory to oppose his racist program, which includes setting up special "camps" for immigrants and special trains to deport them; and nearly all major parties, unions, media, sports stars, the patronat (MEDEF) and even the Catholic Episcopate called for an anti-Le Pen vote in the runoff.
Those who, in their obsession with process, exclude the content of politics from their considerations do so at our peril. The increasing demand in France for replacing the Gaullist constitution of the Fifth Republic does nothing to address the root causes of mounting racism while allowing politicians to pretend to have responded to the electoral evidence of France's racial fracture. And the most visible expression of this demand--the Committee for a Sixth Republic (C6R) led by Socialist deputy Arnaud de Montebourg--sadly does not include IRV in its proposals.
...AND CHÁVEZ IN VENEZUELA
In "The Coup That Wasn't" [May 6] Marc Cooper contrasts Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez with former Chilean President Salvador Allende, saying, "Chávez has failed to produce much of the radical change he promised." Cooper needs a wake-up call. This is 2002, a time when the constraints on economic policy in Latin America are greater than ever. Never has capital been more mobile and more capable of disciplining governments that attempt to embark upon radical change. If Allende were governing Chile today, he'd recognize the constraints and think twice about nationalizing one industry after another, as he did in the early 1970s.
Considering the constraints the Chávez government has had to operate under, it has achieved some notable reforms. In a recent interview with Le Monde Diplomatique editor Ignacio Ramonet, Chávez lays out some of his government's achievements: "We have lowered unemployment...created more than 450,000 new jobs.... Venezuela has moved up four places on the Human Development Index. The number of children in school has risen 25 percent. More than 1.5 million children who didn't go to school are now in school, and they receive clothing, breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks. We have carried out massive immunization campaigns in the marginalized sectors of the population. Infant mortality has declined. We are building more than 135,000 housing units for poor families. We are distributing land to landless campesinos. We have created a Women's Bank that provides micro-credit loans. In the year 2001, Venezuela was one of the countries with the highest growth rates on the continent, nearly 3 percent.... We are delivering the country from prostration and backwardness."
Cooper makes no mention of this, nor does he say anything about the hundreds of thousands of poor Venezuelans who descended upon Caracas in defense of their temporarily ousted president. Most scandalous is Cooper's repetition of the coup plotters' version of events, as he claims that Chávez "turned police and armed supporters against peaceful protesters...provoking a shootout that injured scores and killed more than a dozen." Cooper never points out that this version of events is highly contested. Several witnesses to the bloodshed, including former Fulbright scholar Greg Wilpert and Kim Bartley, an Irish filmmaker, contend that unidentified snipers initiated the carnage, shooting into crowds of pro-Chávez demonstrators that had surrounded the Presidential Palace.
Repeating the coup plotters' version of events and invoking Salvador Allende's good name are shameful.
It has been claimed that Latin American governments opposed the coup in Venezuela. This is not accurate. Some governments denounced the coup (Argentina, Brazil), but other countries welcomed it (Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, among others). The OAS did not call for a return of the Chávez government; instead it called for the holding of elections as soon as possible, a de facto recognition of the coup.
In fact, it was part of the coup plan to use the OAS as a way of legitimizing itself. In fact, the coup government invited the OAS head, Cesar Gaviria (from Colombia), to go to Venezuela to help with the "transition to institutionality." The OAS, however, was overtaken by events. The coup lost power, and by the time Gaviria arrived in Caracas, Chávez was back in power.
So we should not be fooled. The OAS was going to be used by Washington and the coup plotters. The "defense" of constitutionality by the OAS took place after Chávez was returned to the presidency.
Woodland Hills, Calif.
The global economic constraints described by Justin Delacour are indeed real. And if, as he suggests, Allende would today have to think twice about nationalizing foreign firms, then how can he defend Chávez's record? Instead of enacting authentic reform, Chávez chose the posture of a loud-mouth demagogue, only narrowing his parameters by rattling the cages of his very powerful adversaries. His playing pattycake with Saddam and Qaddafi and hide-and-seek with the ignoble Colombia guerrillas pissed off Uncle Sam and elicited laudatory editorials from Havana's Granma--and it put food on the table for exactly nobody and created jobs and housing for just as few.
Chávez might as well have nationalized the entire Venezuelan economy, for nothing could have further alienated his domestic financial and investment elites than his hypercharged revolutionary, but hollow, bluster. Yet Chávez imposed the same budget-slashing austerity of any neoliberal IMF adjustment program. Indeed, the only statistics I need to rebut Chávez's self-congratulatory list of accomplishments quoted by Delacour are the myriad pre-coup polls showing the Venezuelan president's popularity plummeting to around 30 percent. It seems the Venezuelan poor don't read Ignacio Ramonet and are ignorant of their impressively improving status.
As to who shot whom on the day of the botched coup: Wilpert, Delacour's star witness, has written in online accounts that armed Chávez supporters were involved in the bloodshed that took more than a dozen lives. Chávez has as much as admitted the same. That other forces may have been involved in the firefights--unnamed rooftop (or were they grassy knoll?) snipers, uniformed police acting on behalf of the opposition, sectarian squads, etc.--is still unclear. What is certain is that armed bands of Chávez supporters were present at an otherwise peaceful rally and were directly involved in the lethal mayhem. In an authentic civilian democracy, the president of the republic does not tolerate armed gangs, even of his own supporters. And they certainly don't show up, ready for action, at opposition rallies. In short, your enemy's enemy should not always be considered your friend. It's possible for both the US government and the Chávez administration to have similar if not equal disdain for democratic rule.
Professor Nelson Valdes is an always astute observer of Latin American affairs, but on this issue he's a tad off the mark. I fully share his suspicion as to the depth of democratic commitment to be found among OAS members. That said, during the thirty-hour period that President Chávez was displaced by Pedro Carmona, virtually no Latin American government recognized the latter's administration. This continental balk was hardly a dramatic rupture with Washington. But the gesture certainly contributed to the vacuum that eventually sucked the usurpers from power.
BRAVE'S NEW WORLD
Ralph Brave scores points off Francis Fukuyama by ridiculing the concept of human nature Fukuyama attempts to defend in his brief against genetic engineering and the "posthuman future" ["The Body Shop," April 22]. It's true that as part of an effort by some social conservatives to derail the uses of cloning and related biotechnologies to fabricate designer human embryos, Fukuyama falls into genetic determinism and other varieties of essentialism to characterize what he would like to preserve. But does the fact that human nature is changeable mean, therefore, that the production of humans should be handed over to commercial interests? Draw the line wherever you want and the technological-medical imperative will eventually roll over it. If you don't mind someone making stem cells from twelve-day clonal embryos, how about better stem cells from two-month clonal fetuses, transplantable livers from six-month clones, or bone marrow from clonal newborns engineered never to develop brains? If you don't mind parents genetically engineering their offspring so as to not develop hemophilia, how about to not be less than average height, to have perfect pitch, greater upper body strength?
Brave seems to think technology is, uncomplicatedly, something "we" produce to satisfy "our" needs. Thus the automobile industry has always just given us the vehicles we demanded, the fuel industry just wants to keep us mobile and comfortable indoors and the processed food companies just want to feed us. As we sit in traffic jams contemplating the climatological and health costs of such technological advances, we might also think about the consequences of adopting Brave's laissez-faire prescription for biotechnology, which looks as strange in the pages of The Nation as Fukuyama's technological skepticism does coming from the author of The End of History.
STUART A. NEWMAN
I used to feel heartened when Stuart Newman stepped forward as a scientist expressing concerns about genetic technologies. But his blatant misreading of my review now worries me. Nowhere do I advocate a "laissez-faire prescription for biotechnology," or that "production of humans should be handed over to commercial interests" or "clonal newborns engineered never to develop brains." Although Newman says it is impossible to "draw the line" to prevent unethical biomedical practices, it is done every day. Otherwise even Newman's own research into the cellular and molecular mechanisms of vertebrate limb development would be suspect.
On the serious issue of clonal embryos for stem cell research, the potential ability to create genetically matched tissues or organs to treat disease and injury is no small matter. The current need of transplant patients to use antirejection drugs for their entire lives, drugs that suppress the immune system, making them unable to defend against infection or cancer, is a treatment compromise that needs remedy. Criminalizing both the research to address this and the resulting therapies themselves, as Newman, Fukuyama and George W. Bush advocate, is what I would label "strange."
ALLAH GOD'S CHILDREN
Christopher Hitchens reminds us that of the three religions of Abraham--Islam, Christianity and Judaism--Islam is the only one that admits the legitimacy of the other two ["Minority Report," April 15]. A further reminder: The reason Jews have been able to pray at the Wailing Wall for nearly 500 years is that Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Successor to the Prophet, Commander of the Faithful, Shadow of God upon Earth, ordered his chief architect to construct a porch for them to pay their duty to God at the most visible surviving portion of their ancient temple.
Christopher Hitchens, admired for his analysis of modern-day events, should be a bit more careful in his examination of earlier ones. The enlightened paradise of Muslim Spain may have indeed been dealt its death blow by Ferdinand and Isabella, but its much-vaunted tolerance ended many years before, in the twelfth century, when power was seized by the Almohads, a fanatical Islamic sect from Morocco, which does bear comparison to the Taliban. They waged a campaign of terror on all Christians and Jews, especially those with political power. Many Jews fled to the more tolerant Christian Spanish kingdoms to the north, while others fled to more tolerant Islamic kingdoms. Among those who fled southward was the powerful family of Maimonides, which hailed from Córdoba but could suffer the brutal regime no longer. So it is a bit disingenuous of Hitchens to hold Maimonides up as a symbol of Muslim tolerance. Even in its best periods, Islamic history is no less checkered than our own.
A LAUGH, A CRY...
To Tony Kushner: Thank you so much for your words, for the heart and
soul behind them, for your humor and for bringing tears to my eyes each
time (so far twice) I have read "A Word to Graduates: Organize!" [July
1] I hope to organize more.
PUSHING PILLS FOR PROFIT
I applaud Marc Siegel for exposing the hazards of direct-to-consumer
drug advertising in "Fighting the Drug (Ad) Wars" [June 17]. You might
think that as a women's health advocate I'd welcome direct-to-patient
appeals and an emphasis on prevention. But ads are not unbiased. Their
promises to cure and prevent everything from allergies and depression to
cancer and heart disease downplay--or leave out altogether--the serious,
sometimes life-threatening side effects of the pills they push.
AstraZeneca, the manufacturer of tamoxifen, has urged healthy women to
ask their doctors to prescribe a heavy-duty drug to reduce breast cancer
risk, despite a wide array of dangerous side effects, from endometrial
cancer to deep-vein blood clots. Because the Food and Drug
Administration, still leaderless, is turning its back, new consumer
health coalitions like Prevention First, whose members accept no funds
from pharmaceutical firms, are calling for a ban on these ads. Lowering
the risk of breast cancer, indeed good health generally, is much more
likely to result from clean air and water, healthy food and unbiased
information than from popping pills with life-threatening potential.
BARBARA BRENNER, executive director,
Breast Cancer Action
'THE [UNEXPURGATED] HOUSE I LIVE IN'
I was pleased to see Dick Flacks and Peter Dreier highlight my
grandfather and Earl Robinson's song "The House I Live In"
["Patriotism's Secret History," June 3]. In the wake of the September 11
attacks, the song is making a significant comeback. When I noticed in
November that it had been played on Entertainment Tonight, I
wrote a piece about the song and my grandfather's politics, which
appeared in the February issue of O. Meanwhile, the short 1944
movie by the same name starring Frank Sinatra appears regularly on the
Turner Classic Movie channel, and Michael Feinstein has recorded the
song, the proceeds of which he is donating to the September 11 fund.
One important fact about "The House I Live In" will not be apparent to
those who only see the Sinatra movie or hear his recording. My
grandfather wrote the following lines in one of the verses: "The house I
live in/My neighbors white and black." Flacks and Dreier correctly note
that "the song evokes America as a place where all races can live
freely"--however, that particular line was omitted from the Sinatra
versions, recorded and onscreen. I believe only Paul Robeson's recording
includes those lines.
Readers who want to learn more about my grandfather should see, in the
Spring issue of American Music, a scholarly article by Dr. Nancy
Kovaleff Baker, "Abel Meeropol (a k a Lewis Allan): Political
Commentator and Social Conscience."
New York City
Jack Newfield's June 17 lead article "The Full Rudy" called Rudy
Giuliani "a C-plus Mayor who has become an A-plus myth." What would it
have taken to give him a failing grade?
You might re-examine the pluses you award him (e.g., for the drop in
crime, which began under Dinkins and was pretty much nationwide) and two
minuses the article didn't mention: Giuliani's heartless treatment of
Haitian refugees as a federal officer during the 1980s and the vicious
racism that marked his successful campaign to oust New York's first
black mayor. Newfield could have shed some light on why he and a few
other white liberal journalists supported Giuliani in that campaign.
JOHN L. HESS
Jack Newfield's comment about the former mayor of New York, "They
don't allow this kind of behavior in trailer parks!" is inappropriate
and deeply disappointing in a progressive magazine. Replace "trailer
parks" with "public housing" or "Indian reservations," and you'll see
what I mean. The Trailer Trash stereotype is an expression of bigotry
based on socioeconomic class. That residents of mobile homes are largely
white and rural should not make working-class people fair game for
WHICH WAY TO THE POOL?
In a letter in the July 8 issue, John Bradley presents the appealingly
egalitarian notion that women might "have it all" by following the
strategy of high-achieving men: choosing a man "younger, poorer and less
educated than themselves." I would be much obliged if Bradley could
identify that pool of men who would even consider a date with a woman
older, richer and more educated than themselves, let alone be willing to
marry one, raise her children and tend to her emotional well-being.
AIPAC--SHOW US THE MONEY!
Michael Massing's June 10 piece, "The Israel Lobby," is the first
article I've read in a US publication that even mentions the power of
the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In England, I
listened to a show on BBC radio that dealt with the same subject. It
amazed me that I had to go to another country to get an in-depth
analysis of the relationship between this powerful lobbying group and
Washington. It seems that since 9/11 one has to do this more and more to
get the real story--or any story at all.
Port Matilda, Pa.
While it isn't news that AIPAC is so influential in Washington, it is
noteworthy that the organization and its effect on policy is so
underreported. I can't imagine a story on guns without mention of the
NRA or one on workplace safety without mention of the influence of the
AFL-CIO. And when did an abortion story last appear without position
statements from NARAL and/or Right to Life?
MARK J. STEVENSON
San Rafael, Calif.
Michael Massing is correct: "AIPAC is widely regarded as the most
powerful foreign-policy lobby in Washington." Much of its power lies in
the concealment from the media and therefore from public scrutiny of the
degree of its financial dealings and the political use of this wealth.
Unlike other lobbies, AIPAC keeps its cards close to its chest. Despite
the Federal Election Commission rules requiring lobbies to register with
the FEC and open their books to the public, this behemoth has managed to
do neither. It rules in secret and is so massively involved in
Washington politics that few senators or congressmen will vote on an
issue without ringing up AIPAC to determine which way to vote.
AIPAC, collecting money from over a hundred Jewish PACs, directs just
how it will be spent, pouring millions into the campaigns of candidates
who vote the AIPAC way while funneling millions to the opponents of
those seen as voting out of step with AIPAC.
In an attempt to bring this monster under public scrutiny, in January
1989 then-Under Secretary of State George Ball, then-Ambassador to Saudi
Arabia James Atkins and then-Illinois Congressman Paul Findley filed a complaint with the FEC,
charging AIPAC with failing to register as a political action committee.
After almost nine years, as AIPAC fought this through the courts, the
plaintiffs received a favorable 8-2 decision in circuit court, only to
have the Supreme Court toss the too-hot issue back to the FEC, asking it
to review its decision.
In December 1999 the FEC waffled, citing insufficient evidence. The
surviving plaintiffs have appealed that decision. I refer readers to two
books: Paul Findley's They Dare to Speak Out and The
Passionate Attachment, by George and Douglas Ball.
EDWARD W. MILLER
NOW--HAPPY TO HEAR IT...
New York City
Your April 8 "In Fact..." column carried the following item: "Some
thirty public television stations suspended Bill Moyers's NOW
during pledge drives, apparently on the theory that the program's
controversial stories might offend donors." While we appreciate The
Nation's interest in public television's programming, the
implication of this story is wrong.
We at PBS do not know of any member station that has pre-empted
NOW during pledge drives out of concern that the show might
offend donors. Just the opposite, station and viewer feedback on NOW
has been overwhelmingly positive. Stations frequently alter their
schedules during pledge drives. Such long-running shows as American
Experience, Masterpiece Theatre and NOVA have all been
pre-empted to accommodate the specific formats and objectives of pledge
drives, so it would not be at all unusual for the same to happen with
Senior vice president
Co-chief program executive, PBS
DAVE DOES DAVIS
Thank you, thank you, thank you for Gene Santoro's "Folk's Missing
Link" [April 22]. I first heard Dave Van Ronk at The Catacombs or the
Second Fret in Philadelphia in the early sixties. When I moved to
northern California in 1971 I despaired of enjoying him in person
again--I knew he didn't like to fly--but then I discovered that he,
somehow, had a special relationship with a little club in Davis,
California, called The Palms, in a rundown barn south of the freeway. I
got my semiannual Van Ronk fix there. Now he's gone and the barn is to
be torn down, but I will keep the faith by teaching still more
generations of field-trippers in my ecology courses the tune and lyrics
of "Rompin' in the Swamp." Ave atque vale, Dave.
ARTHUR M. SHAPIRO
THE INCLINED PLANE OF HIS HEAD
Sierra Madre, Calif.
Calvin Trillin is quite right in observing that Dick Cheney has
perfected the art of the tilted head ["Cheney's Head: An Explanation,"
June 24], but I don't think Cheney invented the maneuver. A perusal of
1988 campaign footage will reveal that Michael Dukakis often assumed the
slanted-head position. He was preceded by the master of that maneuver,
the late Rod Serling, who frequently appeared with his head at an angle
in his opening segments for The Twilight Zone.
The war on terrorism was a linchpin of Bill Clinton's foreign policy
rhetoric during his re-election campaign, and at his first post-election
press conference the President has put it high on his list of
international responsibilities. In August at the Democratic convention
the President thundered against so-called rogue states that were out to
spread panic and destruction in the United States. A week later the
Administration proclaimed U.S. missile attacks on Iraq to be a
courageous blow against terrorism. At the United Nations General
Assembly Clinton called upon the members to "isolate states that refuse
to play by the rules we have all accepted for civilized behavior." The
Leader of the Free World is recasting himself as Leader of the Civilized
The rhetoric is seductive. In a chaotic world for which the United
States has yet to articulate clear goals, other than opening up
economies everywhere to private investment, protecting access to cheap
resources and staying top dog in the next century, international
terrorism serves as the successor myth to International Communism. The
idea that the Soviet Union was waging a relentless worldwide struggle to
destroy "the American way of life" was critical for enlisting public
support for almost fifty years of cold war. As easy as it was in those
days to label even anti-Communist reformers as Bolsheviks (Mossadegh in
Iran, for example), designating a brutal Middle Eastern or African
government a rogue state is even easier because the criteria are vague
and they are capriciously applied. (One would think that a state that
has armed, trained, and supplied torturers in other countries and
published manuals for assassins would qualify, but nowhere on the State
Department's list of rogue states has the United States ever appeared.)
The Clinton Adminstration, boasting of its unique role as "sole
remaining superpower," seeks to legitimize its increasingly unilateral
approach to foreign policy by proclaiming the United States the global
avenger of terrorism.
The war on terrorism is being used not only to unite the country behind
a confused foreign policy but also to polish the President's image. Who
dares speak of youthful draft-dodging when the leader of the civilized
world is hurling missiles at rogues in Iraq? Who has the nerve to
question why the United States maintains a military force far more
powerful than that of any conceivable combination of enemies when there
are more than a half-dozen certifiable rogue states threatening the
fragile order of the post-cold war world?
But encouraging a panic about international terrorism has dangerous
consequences. The most obvious is that it creates a receptive political
climate for curbing civil liberties. The country has already been
sufficiently alarmed to enable Clinton and the Republican Congress to
push through the Terrorism Prevention Act, a legislative cocktail
boosting the powers of the federal government to exact the death
penalty, limit appeals of convicts on death row, deport suspect
foreigners and wiretap U.S. citizens--all in the name of making us feel
It is worth remembering the extreme reactions to sporadic violence that
dot our history. A few anarchist bombs sent in the mail to prominent
citizens triggered the Palmer Raids of 1920, when abou t 4,000 people
were arrested in a single night, many without warrants. A spate of
protests, unrest and bombings in the sixties and seventies led to a
burst of domestic spying in the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon eras,
culminating in the infamous COINTELPRO, a vast illegal intelligence
operation aimed at the left, the Black Panthers and those who opposed
the Vietnam War. Public fear of unpredictable violence has been used by
political leaders again and again to justify centralization of
authority, stripping away of citizens' rights, surveillance and
executions. Even as both major-party cadidates condemned Big Government
and promised its disappearance, politicians in both parties call for
still broader government powers and increased expenditure to fight the
global war on terrorism.
A second consequence of the Clinton anti-terrorism posture--it scarcely
deserves to be called a policy--is that it isolates the United States.
As the Adminstration proclaims its duty to act alone against rogue
states, it is infuriating other countries whose help is needed for any
serious effort to reduce the risks of terrorist attacks around the
world. The unilateral decision to punish Iraq has resulted in a collapse
of the coalition that was supposed to guarantee the good behavior of
Saddam Hussein. The heavy-handed measures recently enacted to compel
unwilling allied governments and foreign corporations to enforce U.S.
anti-Cuba policy is already making it harder to secure international
cooperation to discourage and punish acts of terrorism.
But the most disturbing aspect of Clinton's handling of the terrorism
issue is that the President is giving a hyped version of reality, one
that is at odds with the Adminstration's own published reports. True,
deliberate acts of violence designated as being "against U.S. interests"
abroad rose from sixty-six to ninety-nine from 1994 to 1995, and the
number of U.S. citizens killed in such attacks jumped from four to
twelve. Yet according to the State Department's most recent annual
report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism," published this past April,
worldwide deaths due to acts of international terrorism have in recent
years declined, from 314 in 1994 to 165 in 1995.
The report find no evidence that North Korea has sponsored attacks since
1987. Syria, although it "has permitted Iranian resupply of Hezbollah
via Damascus" and "provides safe haven and support" for several
terrorist groups, has not been directly involved in planning or carrying
out any attacks for the past ten years. Hafez Assad's regime "continues
to restrain the international activities of some of these groups." Nor
has Cuba been known to sponsor any international terrorist incidents in
1995. The report concludes that except for Iran, the "premier sponsor of
international terrorsism", the other rogue states largely refrained from
planning, supporting or executing acts of terrorism. Phil Wilcox, State
Department coordinator for anti-terrorist attacks, points out that the
"long-term trend towards a reduction in international terrorism
continues." But Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria
remain on the official list of countries supporting "state terrorism."
No evidence has been produced or even alleged to exist that a foreign
government was involved in the three most publicized explosions of the
past two years in which U.S. civilians were killed: the Oklahoma City
bombing, the downing of T.W.A. flight 800 (if it was a deliberate act)
and the bomb that went off at the Olympics in Atlanta. Saudi Arabian
officials claim to have hard evidence of Iran's complicity in the June
bombing of a U.S. military housing complex in Dhahran, in which nineteen
members of the Air Force were killed, but according to the Washington
Post, U.S. officials are skeptical because the Saudis have not fully
shared the details of their investigation with the F.B.I. The Saudi
government appears to be manipulating the information to serve its
domestic political purposes. Five days before this fall's elections
Defense Secretary William Perry declared, "We have reached no
conclusions about who was responsible."
The State Department contends that the isolation of rogue states and
increasing international cooperation to apprehend, extradite and punish
perpetrators of political violence is responsible for the decline over
the decade in state-sponsored terrorism against U.S. interests. There
may be something to this, although the more likely explanation is that
in the post-cold war world even unfriendly governments see no advantage
in stirring up the United States. Iran still has a policy of supporting
Hezbollah operations and of assassinating dissidents living abroad, but
neither U.S. condemnation nor sanctions have deterrred the regime from
stepping up its efforts.
Like many other activites in the post-cold war world, terrorism is being
privatized. The evidence supports the view that very few bombers of
public places are now in the service of governments--fewer, certainly,
than in the cold war years. They may work ofr a political movement, a
crime ring, or as more of them are claiming, for God. Practitioners of
violence increasingly work for religious sects and political movements
(largely ethnic and mostly on the right). The private market in
conventional weapons has greatly expanded. The Internet offers
instructions in conventional bomb-making to all users. The Anarchist
Cookbook explains that "making a bomb capable of blowing the walls
out of a building is easy. You can find what you need in grocery stores,
hardwares stores and farm supplies."
President Clinton's message about terrorism is that the problem is of
foreign origin. But in fact most of the acts of random violence that
victimize Americans are committed not by dark-skinned foreigners in ski
masks but by fellow citizens. Over the past ten years bombings and
attempted bombings in the United States have nearly tripled, increasing
from 1,103 in 1985 to 3,163 in 1994. The targets are political or
racial. The New York Times reported in August the over the
preceeding two months "white, lower-middle class suburban people in
Georgia, Arizona and Washington" were arrested as perpetrators or
attempted perpetrators. The rash of bombings of black churches over the
past two years sends a clear racist message. In Spokane, Washington, a
Planned Parenthood office was bombed, and across the West a variety of
government buildings occupied by the hated Forest Service, Bureau of
Land Management and Internal Revenue Service have been attacked.
Some of our home-grown terrorists belong to militias or other
gun-worshipping organizations. These groups have a variety of agendas:
They don't like gun control. They don't like the federal government
messing with their land, or land they think should be theirs. They don't
like paying taxes. They don't like abortions. They hate black people,
Jews, gays, foreigners. They are energized by violence. They have a holy
The shadowy figures who set off bombs in airplanes, office buildings and
shopping malls have succeeded in introducing all sorts of people to the
possibility of their own sudden death. But shoppers and airline
passengers face negligible dangers compared with the daily risks of
living in crime-ridden, despairing neighborhoods in which there are no
jobs. The President would rather talk about Qaddafi, Castro and the
mullahs in Iran, however, than deal with the causes of the violence,
hopelessness and fear that prevail in neighborhoods a few blocks from
the White House. If he wants to revive decaying inner cities he has to
acknowledge that they will not be lifted up by either the Internet or
What constitutes a reasonable strategy to discourage or prevent
terrorist acts is not a technical question. It is a political questions
that involves the weighing of risks and interests. How much freedom and
privacy should be sacrificed in the name of security? That should be a
prime subject for pbublic debate rather than a decision arrived at in
secret negotiations between governments, police, airlines and makers of
sophisticated bomb-detection systems.
We need a less superficial and biased understanding of the problem we
label as terrorism, a calmer assessment of of how much of a threat it is
and a more serious effort to understand its causes. For starters, we
need a much less fuzzy definition. Guerilla attacks, political
assassinations, bombings and kidnappings are lumped together even though
their causes and objectives may be very different, as are strategies for
discouraging them. The United States fired missiles at Iraq for
mistreating people living within its borders and for violating a U.N.
resolution; at least a hundred other countries qualify under this weak
justification for bombing.
Hyped rhetoric, though it may serve the President's purposes, does
nothing to discourage attacks. Indeed, as the Economist has
observed, "The whole point of the terrorist act is to provoke a reaction
disproportionate to the act itself." The more panic a terrorist bomb
sets off, the greater the success. Hamas's triumph in the recent Israeli
election, when it provoked the downfall of Shimon Peres, is a classic
For a terrorist group with one consuming passion (as in Hamas's
determination to derail the Middle East peace process), violence is an
effective weapon because the panic it creates can change public
attitudes in ways that serve the group's goals. But a state, however
heavily armed, is at a disadvantage when it lashes out violently in
response. Airstrikes and economic sanctions are blunt instruments that
neither punish the planners and perpetrators of terrorist acts, who know
how to fade into the night, nor discourage further violence. Both are
far more likely to hurt innocent people and fuel murderous rage against
governments reacting in such a manner. Assassination attempts invite
retaliation in kind even when they do not succeed, and they expose the
emptiness of claims to moral leadership. Exactly because the United
States is so powerful, so wealthy and (because of our extraordinary
dependence on complex technology) so vulnerable to politically inspired
violence, the Administration should be promoting policies that would
make the establishment of a genuine rule of law a real possibility. Of
all nations, the United States has the most to gain in the long run from
delegitimizing violence as an instrument of political change.
But pushing an anti-terrorist policy that seeks to break the cycle of
violence would mean that the United States could no longer set its own
rules or commit acts on the territory of other nations we would brand as
terrorism were they to take place on our own.
Another Inauguration Day approaches, and the country badly needs a more
effective policy, one that better fits reality: State-sponsored
terrorism from abroad is declining. Ideologically tinged home-grown
violence is growing. Our national security policy, based overwhelmingly
on the threat and use of violence, not only legitimizes the violence of
terrorists in their own eyes, and in the eyes of their supporters, it
also advertises the impotence of the United States. The overwhelming
emphasis on instruments of violence as moral, acceptable, indeed
inevitable, guarantors of security creates a self-perpetuating culture
of violence and insecurity.
By continuing to spread weapons around the world, the United States and
its competitors in the arms trade are expanding the opportunities for
anyone with a grievance to bring death, destruction and terror to random
victims anywhere, including here. By ignoring the opportunity to achieve
significant nuclear and conventional disarmament that the end of the
cold war provides, the United States is signalling that despite the
weakness of military adversaries, we will continue to base our security
on the greatest preponderance of military power the world has ever
A demonstration by the United States of a serious willingness to
eliminate nuclear weapons could jolt the world into a radical reversal
of the arms race. Were the next administration to make dramatic
moves--not just promises--to reduce our dependency on violence in the
name of security, it would have an electrifying impact around the world.
The comprehensive test ban, signed in September after almost forty years
of negotiation, could have been the key to a new era of disarmament had
it been preceded by radical cuts in nuclear stockpiles. It still may not
be too late. Would it end "terrorism" as the State Department defines
it? No. But it would help create a climate for a lessening of political
As for domestic terrorism, the conservatives' relentless bashing of
government and the foolish decision of most Democrats to run away from
the opportunity to debate what it is and what it ought to be--giving
bipartisan credibility to the absurd notion that government is something
to demean and hate--create a hospitable political culture for violent,
anarchist fantasies. Ever since the Oklahoma City bombing, pursuit of
the militias by federal authorities is looking more and more like
another exercise in investigative overkill. In its zeal to prevent
terrorism it appears that the government is increasingly basing
indictments on what suspects say rather than what they do, and that
government informants may be encouraging them to engage in criminal
conspiracy. All this strengthens the views of the militiamen that they
have found the right enemy. Armed with the Terrorism Prevention Act, the
Clinton Administration, in the name of national security, strikes out
ineffectually abroad and at home hacks away at our historic freedoms.
During the two-day opera buffa that was the on-again, off-again military coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice played a brief but memorable role. Throughout the long day and night that the democratically elected Chávez was sequestered and the military's handpicked provisional president, Pedro Carmona, dissolved all constitutional institutions--the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office and the national electoral commission--Rice and the rest of the Administration remained approvingly silent while sending spokesman Ari Fleischer out to say in effect that it was Chávez's own fault. Only after the elected president was rightfully restored to office did Rice take to the boards to scoldingly tell Chávez that he, not the coup-makers, should "respect constitutional processes."
Although the coup was denounced by nineteen Latin American heads of state as a violation of democratic principles, the Bush Administration publicly countenanced the military takeover. Not only did Washington demonstrate a radically selective view of the rule of law; it left itself starkly isolated in a hemisphere that has been subject to endless US lecturing on democracy. As Senator Christopher Dodd has noted, "To stand silent while the illegal ouster of a government is occurring is deeply troubling and will have profound implications for hemispheric democracy."
The leading US papers of record so shamelessly parroted the White House in their initial editorials that the New York Times had to apologize. By midweek, Chávez back in power, the Times recanted: "Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how bad he may be, is never something to cheer."
There can be little doubt the Bushies were crestfallen that Chávez didn't get the permanent hook. Venezuela supplies the United States with nearly as much oil as Saudi Arabia. And Chávez has gleefully thumbed his nose at Americans by befriending Castro, warming to Qaddafi and Saddam and playing footsie with the Colombian guerrillas. Indeed, Chávez--a former army paratrooper--rode to power as the embodiment of open challenge to the so-called Washington Consensus of hemispheric free-market economics in 1998. And he has gone out of his way ever since to enrage both the Venezuelan economic oligarchs and the US State Department with regular blasts of red-hot populist rhetoric.
That Washington wanted to get rid of Chávez is undeniable. Prior to the attempted coup US officials met with Carmona and other leaders of the coalition that ousted Chávez; and Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, the Pentagon official responsible for Latin America, met with Gen. Lucas Rincon Romero, chief of Venezuela's military high command in December. Later, during Carmona's brief reign, according to a State Department official quoted by the Times, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Reich phoned Carmona--ostensibly to urge him not to dissolve the National Assembly. The Organization of American States panel now investigating in Caracas should probe the precise scope of any US role in the failed coup.
Whoever masterminded the ousting of Chávez badly miscalculated. The majority of Venezuelan combat unit commanders remained loyal and forced Chávez's return to power. The political alliance that spearheaded the coup--the upper and middle classes supported by the trade union movement--was also short-lived. After the military picked Carmona, a prominent leader of the business class, to run the provisional government, labor--literally overnight--withdrew its support. Within hours of taking over, Carmona found himself isolated, and his house of cards collapsed.
That said, no one should confuse Hugo Chávez with Salvador Allende, the democratically elected Chilean president overthrown thirty years ago by a similar US-supported alliance of the economic upper class and the military. Chávez has failed to produce much of the radical change he promised. He showed little of the respect that Allende did for authentic democratic institutions. Unlike Allende, whose public support increased before his overthrow, Chávez has seen his original 80 percent support drop to just over 30 percent. And Allende never turned police and armed supporters against peaceful protesters as Chávez did, provoking a shootout that injured scores and killed more than a dozen.
Allende spoke to his nation as a professor; Chávez, who staged his own failed coup in 1992, often as a thug. Chávez's undeniable charisma flirts with megalomania, his denunciations of all opposition borders on the paranoiac and his antidote to the hollower forms of democracy is often ham-fisted demagogy. Corruption within his regime, an increasingly autocratic style and an inability to make much of a dent in poverty have swollen Chávez's opposition far beyond the ranks of the pro-American economic elite.
After winning by a landslide in 1998, Chávez moved aggressively to dismantle the old system. The two traditional parties were pushed to the margins, the discredited congress was replaced by a unicameral house, corruption was exposed and punished. Vowing to lift up the two-thirds of the population earning less than $2 a day, and infuriating the economic oligarchy, Chávez issued a series of decrees increasing state intervention in the economy and beginning much-needed land reform. But Chávez's authoritarian ways and his failure to make good on deep reform suggest that consensus-winning alternatives championing social justice and authentic democracy are still works in progress.
Chávez presides over a fractured and volatile Venezuela. The military split is perilous. The class divide has been ripped wide open. Now is the time for Chávez to talk a whole lot less and do a whole lot more. When Gabriel García Márquez met with Chávez earlier in his tenure, the Colombian writer was "overwhelmed by the feeling that I had just been traveling with two opposing men. One to whom the caprices of fate had given an opportunity to save his country; the other, an illusionist who could pass into the history books as just another despot." And just as it seemed Chávez was succumbing to the latter fate, almost magically he has been granted another chance to achieve the former.
FINKELSTEIN REBUTS NEUBORNE
In response to advertisements in The Nation for my book The Holocaust Industry, you took the unprecedented step of both effectively calling me a liar and providing Burt Neuborne with maximum space to defend himself ["Letters," Feb. 18]. In this brief rejoinder I will ignore Neuborne's witless comparison between me and Osama bin Laden. I will also not engage Neuborne's professional history. It bears notice, however, that a distinguished civil liberties record doesn't preclude--as the example of Alan Dershowitz vividly testifies--gross lapses in the name of tribal solidarity and for personal enrichment. Rather, I want to focus on the central question: Did Neuborne serve as lead counsel in a campaign to blackmail Switzerland?
A committee headed by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, exhaustively investigated the main charges against Switzerland. In his letter, Neuborne alleges that the committee's findings "validated the core allegations underlying the Swiss bank litigation." Consider, however, the Volcker committee's central findings:
(1) The lawsuits alleged that the Swiss banks systematically denied Holocaust victims and their heirs access to their bank accounts after World War II. Yet, the Volcker committee found that "for victims of Nazi persecution there was no evidence of systematic discrimination, obstruction of access, misappropriation, or violation of document retention requirements of Swiss law";
(2) the lawsuits alleged that the Swiss banks systematically shredded documents to cover their tracks. Yet, the Volcker committee concluded that "no evidence of systematic destruction of account records for the purpose of concealing past behaviour has been found";
(3) the lawsuits alleged that the Swiss banks pocketed $7 billion to $20 billion left in the accounts of Holocaust victims. The Volcker committee was unable to provide a monetary value for Holocaust-era dormant accounts. Since publication of the committee's report, however, new official data have become available. The value of accounts belonging to Holocaust victims thus far totals all of $10 million in current values with accrued interest. This figure is unlikely to climb anywhere near the $1.25 billion extracted from the Swiss banks in the final settlement (let alone the $7-20 billion initially demanded) after all the accounts are examined. Reporting on these findings, the Times of London headline read: "Swiss Holocaust cash revealed to be myth."
Indeed, the world's leading authority on the Nazi Holocaust, Raul Hilberg, has explicitly charged that the Holocaust industry conjured up "phenomenal figures" for the monetary value of Holocaust victim assets in Swiss banks and then coerced the banks into submission. "It was the first time in history," he goes on to observe, "that Jews made use of a weapon that can only be described as blackmail." No amount of liberal posturing by Neuborne can alter the fact that he played the pivotal role in a blackmail campaign.
NORMAN G. FINKELSTEIN
BLACKLIST FILM--'SEASON'S BEST'
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Every now and then a major Hollywood film centers its plot upon the defense of the First Amendment. Imagine the surprise of Nation readers when Stuart Klawans dismisses The Majestic with three paragraphs of pure, if shallow, contempt! ["Films," Jan. 21] Don't be fooled, though. This film is the best of the season, and Jim Carrey is at the top of his form. The more you know about the real Hollywood Blacklist, the more you'll be able to appreciate the subtleties that seem to have eluded Klawans.
HUEY, MEET MO
John Nichols's "Huey Freeman: American Hero" [Jan 28] was immensely useful. I would like to add a feminist dyke cartoonist, Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For, which appears in alternative papers. Bechdel's main character, Mo, who works at a women's bookshop, cries foul over Bush, flag-waving, big-box stores (e.g., Bunns n Noodles, Bounders n Muzak, Papaya Republic, Baby Gag) and the general straight and gay cultural/political landscape is not to be overlooked. Readers can find her on the web at www.planetout.com/entertainment.