The death on January 23 of the French philosopher and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu came as the American chattering classes were busy checking the math in Richard Posner's Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline--an unintentional parody of sociology in which Posner presents a top-100 list ranking writers and professors according to the number of times they turned up on television or Internet searches. Bourdieu, whose heaviest passages crackled with sardonic wit, would have had a wonderful time exploring this farcical project, which takes for granted that Henry Kissinger (No. 1), Sidney Blumenthal (No.7) and Ann Coulter (No. 74) are in the Rolodex because they are leading the life of the mind--why not include Dr. Ruth or, as one wag suggested, Osama bin Laden? In tacitly conceding the fungibility of celebrity even while decrying it, Posner confirms Bourdieu's gloomy predictions about the direction modernity is swiftly taking us: away from scholarship and high culture as sources of social prestige and toward journalism and entertainment.
Bourdieu himself argued that scholars and writers could and should bring their specialized knowledge to bear responsibly and seriously on social and political issues, something he suspected couldn't be done on a talk show. His involvement during the 1990s in campaigns for railway workers, undocumented immigrants and the unemployed, and most recently against neoliberalism and globalization, was the natural outgrowth of a lifetime of research into economic, social and cultural class domination among peoples as disparate as Algerian peasants and French professors, and as expressed in everything from amateur photography to posture. It's hard to think of a comparable figure on the American left. Noam Chomsky's academic work has no connection with his political activities, and it's been decades since his byline appeared in The New York Review of Books or the New York Times. One friend found himself reaching all the way back to C. Wright Mills.
Bourdieu, who loved intellectual combat, called himself "to the left of the left"--that is, to the left of the ossified French left-wing parties and also to the left of the academic postmodernists aka antifoundationalists, about whose indifference to empirical work he was scathing. Reading him could be a disturbing experience, because the explanatory sweep of his key concept of habitus--the formation and expression of self around an internalized and usually accurate sense of social destiny--tends to make ameliorative projects seem rather silly. Sociology, he wrote, "discovers necessity, social constraints, where we would like to see choice and free will. The habitus is that unchosen principle of so many choices that drives our humanists to such despair." Take, for example, his attack on the notion that making high culture readily available--in free museums and local performances--is all that is necessary to bring it to the masses. (In today's America, this fond hope marks you as a raving Bolshevik, but in France it was the pet conviction of de Gaulle's minister of culture, André Malraux.) In fact, as Bourdieu painstakingly demonstrated in Distinction, his monumental study of the way class shapes cultural preferences or "taste," there is nothing automatic or natural about the ability to "appreciate"--curious word--a Rothko or even a Van Gogh: You have to know a lot about painting, you have to feel comfortable in museums and you have to have what Bourdieu saw as the educated bourgeois orientation, which rests on leisure, money and unselfconscious social privilege and expresses itself as the enjoyment of the speculative, the distanced, the nonuseful. Typically, though, Bourdieu used this discouraging insight to call for more, not less, effort to make culture genuinely accessible to all: Schools could help give working-class kids the cultural capital--another key Bourdieusian concept--that middle-class kids get from their families. One could extend that insight to the American context and argue that depriving working-class kids of the "frills"--art, music, trips--in the name of "the basics" is not just stingy or philistine, it's a way of maintaining class privilege.
Although Bourdieu has been criticized as too deterministic--a few years ago The New Yorker characterized his views, absurdly, as leading "inexorably to Leninism"--he retained, in the face of a great deal of contrary evidence, including much gathered by himself, a faith in people's capacities for transformation. He spent much of his life studying the part played by the French education system in reifying class and gender divisions and in selecting and shaping the academic, technocratic and political elite--the "state nobility"--that runs France, but he believed in education; he railed against the popularization and vulgarization of difficult ideas, but he believed in popular movements and took part in several. In one of his last books, Masculine Domination, he comes close to arguing that male chauvinism is a cultural universal that structures all society and all thought; he is that rare man who chastises feminists for not going far enough--but the book closes with a paean to love.
Bourdieu's twenty-five books and countless articles represent probably the most brilliant and fruitful renovation and application of Marxian concepts in our era. Nonetheless, he is less influential on the American academic left than the (to my mind, not to mention his!) obscurantist and, at bottom, conservative French deconstructionists and antifoundationalists. Perhaps it is not irrelevant that Bourdieu made academia and intellectuals a major subject of withering critique: You can't read him and believe, for example, that professors (or "public intellectuals," or writers, or artists) stand outside the class system in some sort of unmediated relation to society and truth. The ground most difficult to see is always the patch one is standing on, and the position of the intellectuals, the class that thinks it is free-floating, is the most mystified of all. It was not the least of Bourdieu's achievements that he offered his colleagues the means of self-awareness, and it's not surprising either that many decline the offer. His odd and original metaphor of the task of sociology holds both a message and a warning: "Enlightenment is on the side of those who turn their spotlight on our blinkers."
In the modern Greek dictionary, the word "Filipineza" means "maid."
If I became the brown woman mistaken
for a shadow, please tell your people I'm a tree.
Or its curling root above ground, like fingers without a rag,
without the buckets of thirst to wipe clean your mirrorlike floors.
My mother warned me about the disappearance of Elena.
But I left her and told her it won't happen to me.
The better to work here in a house full of faces I don't recognize.
Shame is less a burden if spoken in the language of soap and stain.
My whole country cleans houses for food, so that
the cleaning ends with the mothers, and the daughters
will have someone clean for them, and never leave
my country to spend years of conversations with dirt.
When I get up, I stand like a tree, feet steady, back firm.
From here, I can see Elena's island, where she bore a child
by a married man whose floors she washed for years,
whose body stained her memory until she left in the thick
of rain, unseen yet now surviving in the uncertain tongues
of the newly-arrived. Like the silence in the circling motions
of our hands, she becomes part myth, part mortal, part soap.
In the next few weeks the Senate will hold hearings and vote on legislation that would outlaw the cloning of human embryos, either for the purpose of medical experimentation or the birth of a human being. The House already passed a similar bill in July. Until now the cloning debate has been viewed in Washington and the media as a classic struggle pitting social conservatives, antiabortion activists and the Catholic Church against the scientific community and progressive forces, with Republicans lined up on one side and Democrats on the other. Below the surface, however, another reality is beginning to take shape. Although reluctant to acknowledge it, some social conservatives and some left activists find common ground on the cloning issue [see Ralph Brave, "Governing the Genome," December 10, 2001]. An example of this convergence is a statement issued by sixty-seven prominent left progressives on January 23 supporting legislation to outlaw the cloning of human embryos.
The progressives backing this legislation worry that the market for human eggs that would be created by such research will provide unethical incentives for women to undergo health-threatening hormone treatment and surgery. They are also concerned about the increasing bioindustrialization of life by the scientific community and life science companies and are shocked that clonal human embryos have been patented and declared to be human inventions. On the other hand, few, if any, on the left oppose research on adult stem cells, which can be taken from people after birth and which have proved promising in animal studies and clinical trials. This approach poses none of the ethical, social or economic risks of strategies using embryo stem cells.
What about cloning a human being? Most members of Congress on both sides of the aisle would oppose a clonal birth. But for many in Congress, and in the scientific community and the biotech industry as well, opposition is solely based on the fact that the cloning technique is still unsafe and could pose a risk of producing a malformed baby. Far fewer members of either party would be against cloning a human baby were the procedure to become safe and reliable. After all, argue proponents, if an infertile couple desires to pass on their genetic inheritance by producing clones of one or both partners, shouldn't they be able to exercise their right of choice in the newly emerging biotech marketplace? Moreover, we are told not to be overly concerned, because even though the clone will have the exact same genetic makeup as the original, it will develop differently because its social and environmental context will be different from that of the donor.
What unites social conservatives and progressives on cloning issues is their commitment to the intrinsic value of life and their opposition to what they perceive to be a purely utilitarian perspective on biotech issues. To be sure, the social conservatives and left activists differ in the "life issues" they embrace and champion. The former crusade for what they regard as the rights of the unborn and family values and rail against infanticide, euthanasia and pornography. The latter speak out on behalf of the poor, women, abused children, fellow animals and the global environment. Both groups come together in opposition to cloning--but for different reasons.
Many on the left argue that with cloning the new progeny become the ultimate shopping experience--designed in advance, produced to specification and purchased in the biological marketplace. Cloning is, first and foremost, an act of production, not creation. Using the new biotechnologies, a living being is produced with the same degree of engineering as we have come to expect on an assembly line. For the first time in the history of our species, we can dictate, in advance, the final genetic constitution of the offspring. The child is no longer a unique creation--one of a kind--but rather an engineered reproduction.
The left also warns that cloning opens the way to a commercial eugenics civilization. Already life science companies have leaped ahead of the political game being played out in Congress and the media by patenting human embryos and stem cells, giving them upfront ownership and control of a new form of reproductive commerce, with frightening implications for the future of society. Many on the left worry that human cloning, embryonic stem cell research and, soon, designer babies, lay the groundwork for a new form of biocolonialism, in which global life science companies become the ultimate arbiters of the evolutionary process itself.
Neither the social conservatives nor the left activists are entirely comfortable with the new alliance, and they will continue to disagree in many areas. But on biotech issues both of these groups will increasingly break ranks with their traditional political affiliations--the social conservatives with market libertarians and the left activists with social democratic parties.
The biotech era will bring with it a very different constellation of political visions and social forces just as the industrial era did. The current debate over cloning human embryos and stem cell research is already loosening the old alliances and categories. It is just the beginning of the new biopolitics.
(With apologies to Stephen Foster)
The Enron hearings stretch ahead,
Until the final soundbite's said.
Oh, doo-dah day.
Pols will posture night,
Pols will posture day.
They'll show the voters just how tough they are,
Browbeating some CPA.
They'll talk of all the laws they'll make,
And meanwhile they're still on the take.
Oh, doo-dah day.
Pols will posture day,
Pols will posture night.
The guy who's shmeered them for a dozen years
Now is the guy they'd indict.
ABOUT THAT AD...
In light of Norman Finkelstein's effort to peddle his vituperative book by taking out advertisements in The Nation [see page 17] calling me a liar, I have asked The Nation to print the letter I sent to Finkelstein prior to the publication of his attack on me, pointing out the numerous errors in his work. I'll let fair-minded readers decide which of us is the liar. Shame on Verso for descending to such a level of venomous and blatantly false sensationalism just to make a buck. I only hope The Nation is charging premium rates for the ads. Finally, to be called a liar by Norman Finkelstein is like being called a traitor by Osama bin Laden. It means you must be doing something right.
New York City
Since you were courteous enough to provide me with a prepublication copy of your proposed text labeling me, among other things, a hypocrite, a coward, a falsifier of documents and a shakedown artist and calling for my disbarment, I will provide you the reciprocal courtesy of a serious response, without the venom. Before dealing specifically with your material, though, I want to correct an apparent misapprehension about my relationship with what you call "the Holocaust industry." I have never met Edgar Bronfman or any member of his staff. I did not attend the dinner that opens your chapter. I have never represented the Claims Conference. Indeed, before this litigation, I had never even heard of it. For most of my career, I have been at odds with many Jewish organizations because, as an ACLU lawyer, I represented Nazis--and everyone else--in free speech cases.
In fact I was drawn into the Swiss banks case by a specific request from Chief Judge Korman, who, because of my academic reputation and my earlier work in his court challenging unconstitutional restrictions on access to the ballot, asked me to organize the plaintiffs' Executive Committee and to serve as co-counsel for all plaintiffs. My career has been as a civil rights/civil liberties lawyer and an academic. I spent eleven years on the full-time legal staff of the ACLU, eventually serving as ACLU National Legal Director during the Reagan years. Thus, while I have no quarrel with your right to criticize my work and my judgment, I do object to your inaccurate effort to cast me as a participant in some larger conspiracy. I am simply an experienced constitutional lawyer who was asked by a respected federal judge to take on a difficult case. Once I accepted Judge Korman's invitation to work on the Swiss bank litigation for deeply personal reasons, I fulfilled my duties as a lawyer to the best of my ability.
Your claim that I played a major role in developing the legal theories underlying the Swiss bank cases is true. My June 16, 1997, memorandum of law, together with the four amended complaints I filed on July 30, 1997, set out the legal arguments against Swiss banks. Your characterization of the legal theories as a "shakedown" is, however, completely false. The contract, bailment and constructive trust legal theories underlying the demand for the return of Holocaust-era bank accounts are conventional and universally acknowledged. The international law theories underlying the demand for the disgorgement of unjust enrichment obtained by Swiss banks through knowingly dealing in Nazi plunder and knowingly financing slave labor camps, while more controversial, fall comfortably within precedents in this circuit upholding international law claims against foreign defendants. If you took the time to read my June, 16, 1997, memorandum of law, you would see that the legal theories are very carefully developed. The best test of the validity of my theories is that the banks elected to pay $1.25 billion rather than face them in court.
Your accusation that "hypocrisy and cowardice" explain my failure to have sued the United States for its appalling immigration policy during World War II is ridiculous. If you had done a minimum of research, you would know that I have repeatedly sued the United States in far more challenging circumstances. I was the lawyer who sued the United States several times between 1968 and 1973, arguing that the Vietnam War was illegal. I was the lawyer who sued the United States on behalf of Morton Sobell when the parole board attempted to muzzle him after his release from federal prison. I was one of Daniel Ellsberg's lawyers arguing that the United States lacked power to enjoin publication of the Pentagon Papers. I represented The Progressive magazine when the United States sought to block publication of H-bomb designs. I was counsel in the first wave of flag desecration cases, arguing that the First Amendment protects symbolic use of the flag. I represented homeless plaintiffs in the Supreme Court when they sought to erect a tent city in Lafayette Park across from the White House. I represented the Socialist Labor Party when the authorities blocked its presidential candidate from the ballot. I challenged the effort to prevent Americans from traveling to Cuba. As National Legal Director of the ACLU during the Reagan years, I repeatedly challenged efforts by the United States to cut back on constitutional rights, including efforts to muzzle Palestinian speakers, and efforts to foreclose on family farmers. This year, in Velazquez, I successfully represented federally funded lawyers for the poor in the Supreme Court against the United States when Congress attempted to limit their ability to argue effectively in welfare cases.
The real reason that no suit was brought against the United States challenging its appalling World War II immigration record was not my "hypocrisy and cowardice" but the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Under well-settled law, you simply cannot sue the United States for damages arising out of an immigration decision, even an appalling one. For your information, we never sued Switzerland for its refugee policy because sovereign immunity would have blocked the action. The Swiss asked that refugees be allowed to participate in the settlement, and we agreed.
You seem to imply that it was dishonest of me to have criticized the Volcker audit in my June 16, 1997, memorandum of law while later praising the results of the audit in my subsequent submissions to the Court defending the Swiss bank settlement. But your incomplete description of my June 16, 1997, memorandum badly distorts my position.
The criticism of the Volcker committee audit contained in my June 16, 1997, memorandum was in response to a formal motion by counsel for the Swiss bank defendants seeking to dismiss the Swiss bank litigation as unnecessary because the Volcker audit could be trusted to deal with the problem of Holocaust-era bank deposits without the need for judicial involvement. I argued then--and would repeat the argument now--that a private, nonjudicial audit financed by a defendant can never be a complete substitute for judicial involvement in a difficult case. I noted in the portion of the memorandum you choose to ignore that the lawsuit and the audit should complement each other, and that by working together the two efforts could ultimately achieve a measure of justice for Holocaust victims. I was right. The Volcker audit was enormously valuable in providing the information needed to administer a credible claims program designed to return as many accounts as possible to their true owners. The lawsuit was crucial in pressing the banks to cooperate with the auditors, to provide necessary information to claimants, such as the publication of information concerning 21,000 accounts identified by the Volcker report as "probably" belonging to Holocaust victims, and to establish a credible claims process designed to return accounts to their true owners.
As you know, Chief Judge Korman noted that the Volcker audit validated the core allegations underlying the Swiss bank litigation. You conveniently omit the fact that once the banks' effort to use the audit as an excuse for dismissing the lawsuit failed, extremely close cooperation between the Volcker audit and the lawsuit was achieved. Indeed, Paul Volcker was ultimately appointed by Chief Judge Korman as an officer of the court to supervise the CRT claims process in Zurich designed to return as many Swiss bank accounts as possible to their true owners.
Finally, I note that you have correctly abandoned your untenable claim that Swiss banks did not engage in massive destruction of Holocaust-era bank records.
Your charge that I "flagrantly falsify key documents in published correspondence" is a lie--and you know it. Our exchange of letters in The Nation [Dec. 18 and 25, 2000] makes it clear that I was referring to the figures used by the German foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" in estimating Holocaust survivors. I was responding to your claim that I had overstated the number of surviving Holocaust victims. You challenged my assertion that more than 1 million Holocaust survivors would be benefited by a combination of the Swiss and German funds. I responded by stating that you must be using figures for Jewish survivors but overlooking the large number of non-Jews who suffered in the Holocaust. In making that statement, I was relying on the findings of the German foundation that more than 1 million surviving Nazi slave and forced laborers exist, about three-quarters of whom are non-Jewish. You conveniently ignore the German foundation in your chapter, perhaps because it doesn't support your obsession.
I will leave to Judah Gribetz the pleasure of demolishing your effort to mischaracterize his remarkable work as a "shakedown" of Holocaust victims. You misstate virtually everything about the allocation plan. In fact, the allocation plan is rigorously designed to distribute Swiss bank settlement funds to individual Holocaust victims, not organizations. In fact, all appeals affecting the ability to distribute are now over, and distribution is about to begin. In fact, the Second Circuit explicitly upheld the limitation of the Swiss settlement fund to targets of the Nuremberg race laws but not to persons who were persecuted on political or national origin grounds because the settlement fund is far too small to cover everyone in Europe. And that's just a few of your mistakes.
I have no illusions that you will alter your chapter to bring it closer to the truth. You appear to be so obsessed with waging your private political war against militant Zionism and the Jewish establishment that you simply cannot see anything except corruption and bad faith. No person or institution is free from actions that would justify criticism. But your stridency and rage prevents your work from playing any constructive role. Rather, you just become fodder for someone else's political obsessions.
In a few weeks, East Timor will be able to celebrate both its independence as a country and its status as a democracy. Elections will have produced a government able to seek and receive international recognition. An undetermined number of Timorese, herded by the Indonesian Army into the western part of the island during the last spasms of cruelty before Jakarta formally abandoned its claim to the territory, will not be able to celebrate. And the entire process is gruesomely overshadowed by the murder of at least a quarter of a million Timorese during the illegal Indonesian occupation.
George W. Bush could not bring himself to mention the name "Enron" inhis State of the Union address. But no one doubted that, when thepresident spoke of the need for greater corporate accountability Tuesdaynight, he was refering to the economic and political scandals that havearisen in the aftermath of the collapse of Houston-based Enron Corp.
Credit Bush with a few calming lines in response to mounting concernsregarding the behavior not just of Enron executives but of members ofhis own administration with close ties to the bankrupt energyconglomerate. It was good to hear the most corporate president inAmerican history tell Congress that, "Through stricter accountingstandards and tougher disclosure requirements, corporate America must bemade more accountable to employees and shareholders and held to thehighest standards of conduct."
But, as Bill Clinton illustrated year after year, State of the Uniontalk comes cheap.
The New York Times's Martin Arnold calls the success of Bernard Goldberg's Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News "perhaps the most astonishing publishing event in the last 12 months." I concur. A number-one best-seller is indeed an impressive accomplishment for a clumsily written screed whose author never even bothers to prove his thesis, much less attempts to convince anyone who does not already know the conservative secret handshake.
Never mind that in their more genuine moments, conservatives from William Kristol to Pat Buchanan admit that the claim of liberal media bias is bogus, cooked up for political advantage. Conservative book buyers, fortunately for Goldberg, are rather late in getting the news. "Just turn on your TV set and it's there," the author, a twenty-eight-year veteran at CBS News, declares. In doing so, he echoes the line of many a know-nothing conservative before him. "There are certain facts of life so long obvious they would seem beyond dispute. One of these--that there is a liberal tilt in the media...," sayeth the editors of the Wall Street Journal. "The fact is everybody knows that Dan Rather is an egomaniacal liberal. Everybody knows that the major news networks lean to the left," chimes in Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online. Never mind, dear reader, that young Jonah was recently signed up by CNN, where he joins liberal Robert Novak and liberal Tucker Carlson as a regular commentator on what Tom DeLay calls the "Communist News Network." He can expect to compete with liberal lunatic Alan Keyes on MSNBC, who replaces liberal criminal Oliver North and liberal miniskirt model Laura Ingraham, and joins liberal carnival barker Chris Matthews, in being given his own show on that liberal network. Thank goodness for the fairandbalanced folks at Fox.
Taking time out from the 200-300 talk-radio programs that regularly feature authors of the conservative publishing house Regnery, which published his book, Goldberg appeared on Jeff Greenfield's Communist CNN program, where he told his host, "I could give you right now, Jeff, about 100 examples of liberal bias in the media that are current." Yet over the course of 230 pages, he manages to string together little more than one idiotic accusation after another. Goldberg reports, "Everyone to the right of Lenin is a 'right-winger' as far as media elites are concerned." He explains that the news bias comes from the same "dark region that produces envy and the unquenchable liberal need to wage class warfare." He insists, "If CBS News were a prison instead of a journalistic enterprise, three-quarters of the producers and 100 per cent of the vice-presidents would be Dan's bitches." Just about the only piece of actual news Goldberg produces is unproven and, I'm guessing, imaginary. According to the author, CBS News president Andrew Heyward once told him: "Look, Bernie, of course there's a liberal bias in the news. All the networks tilt left.... If you repeat any of this, I'll deny it."
Taking the conservative ideology of wealthy white male victimization to new heights, Goldberg pretends he has broken his pledge of omertà and suffered the horrifying consequences. He wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal attacking his colleagues. "So what happened?" he writes. "Well, as Tony Soprano might put it to his old pal Big Pussy Bompensiero in the Bada Bing! Lounge: Bernie G. opened his mouth to the wrong people--and he got whacked."
It's heartbreaking until you discover that while Goldberg admits that Heyward had every right to fire him for violating the terms of his contract, instead the boss whom "Bernie G." is either betraying or libeling in these pages found him a nice cushy job at 60 Minutes II and allowed him to serve out his time to qualify for a higher pension. Call me a liberal, but I believe the term "whack" carries a slightly different connotation among Mafia dons.
As for Dan's "bitches," this is likely a fantasy as well. The anchorman, according to Goldberg, "practically kissed Fidel Castro in front of the whole evening news staff when the dictator showed up at CBS News studios." Did I mention that Goldberg (though he'll probably deny it) "practically" beat my dog, raped my cat and exposed himself to a potted plant in front of the entire Nation staff? He "practically" did all this, by the way, before "practically" admitting that his book was cooked up in a few spare minutes to milk money from ignorant people willing to pay to see their prejudices confirmed. Go ahead, Bernie, "whack" me; baby needs a new pair of shoes.
* * *
Speaking of liberals, George Will offered up yet another example recently of why the word "journalist" is considered so vicious an epithet among social scientists. Will has long been obsessed with education spending, which he finds wasteful and counterproductive. This leads him to twist arguments and statistics so shamelessly that one of his columns actually served as the subject of an article in the Journal of Statistics Education demonstrating how not to analyze SAT data.
Will's most recent foray into the topic is an almost perfect rewrite of a column he wrote a year ago. Writing on the Bear Left website (www.bear-left.com), Tim Francis-Wright notes that the College Board website contains at least three pages of warnings to journalists seeking to use state-level data, which Will ignores. He not only abuses the figures to denigrate the effects of investing in education, he constructs his entire argument on precisely two data points: test scores as reported by North Dakota and the District of Columbia. The divorced pundit distorts the implications of this tiny, intellectually immaterial comparison to support his own biased belief in strong nuclear families as the key determinant of educational success. Surprise, surprise.
* * *
And speaking of the liberals at Enron, I could not follow this story were it not for the energetic reporting of the folks at Media Whores Online (www.mediawhoresonline.com) and the thoughtful analysis at Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo website (www.j-marshall.com/talk). Check 'em out.
Throwing the book at people is nothing new, but in our post-9/11 world the screws are tightening. Take San Francisco, whose District Attorney is Terence "Kayo" Hallinan, a progressive fellow. Indeed, in his 2000 re-election bid Hallinan survived years of abuse in the San Francisco Chronicle for supposedly being altogether too slack a prosecutor, with poor conviction rates and kindred offenses betokening softness on crime.
Yet this is the same Hallinan who's hit two gay AIDS activists with an escalating barrage of charges, currently amounting to forty-one alleged felonies and misdemeanors, all adding up to what he has stigmatized in the local press as "terrorism." That's a trigger word these days, as Sarah Jane Olson, a k a Kathleen Soliah, recently discovered when a judge put her away for twenty years to life for actions back in the 1970s.
Held in San Francisco County Jail since last November 28 are Michael Petrelis and David Pasquarelli. Neither man has been able to make bail, which Hallinan successfully requested to be set at $500,000 for Petrelis and $600,000 for Pasquarelli.
Why this astonishing bail? What it boils down to is that the two accused are dissidents notorious for raising all kinds of inconvenient, sometimes obscene hell about AIDS issues. They've long been detested by San Francisco's AIDS establishment, which Petrelis in particular has savaged as being disfigured by overpaid executives, ineffective HIV-prevention campaigns and all-round complacency and sloth.
They've taken kooky positions. Pasquarelli, for example, believes that HIV doesn't cause AIDS. Petrelis hasn't scrupled to form alliances with right-wingers in Congress when it suits his tactical book. Being attacked by them can be an unpleasant experience. Who wants to get phoned in the middle of the night and be asked whether your wife has got your syphilitic dick in her mouth?
The two were thrown in jail because of an escalating campaign they launched late last year amid calls for an expansion of quarantining laws across the country, prompted by fears of bioterrorism. Petrelis and Pasquarelli took after an SF public health official, Jeffrey Klausner, for seeming to endorse quarantining of people with AIDS. They also assailed the media, notably the San Francisco Chronicle, for relaying what the two claimed were inflated statistics about increases in the rates of syphilis and HIV in San Francisco. The higher the stats, the more dollars flow to various AIDS bureaucracies. The Chronicle claimed tremulously that not only had its reporters been showered with filthy nocturnal calls to their homes but that there had been a bomb threat against the paper.
On the basis of what has surfaced so far, the charges and bail are way out of kilter with the facts of the case. Their severity defies logical explanation, unless we acknowledge the loathing Petrelis and Pasquarelli inspire in San Francisco's respectable element and among some well-known organizers.
Take Kate Sorensen, an AIDS activist who herself was held on $1 million bail for leading demonstrations outside the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia. The DA there took her to trial on three felonies, though she was only convicted of a misdemeanor. Such experiences have not evoked any solidarity with the San Francisco pair. Wrote Sorensen recently, "I will fight for our right to demonstrate. I will fight for our right to free speech. I will fight this police state, but I will not fight for you."
This self-righteous stance was elicited by an open letter of concern addressing the prosecution of Petrelis and Pasquarelli. Organized by the radical gay civil libertarian Bill Dobbs of Queer Watch, the open letter (go to www.openletteronline.com and look under "Politics & Activism," then "Petrelis-Pasquarelli") has been signed by hundreds, including many well-known gay figures like Harvey Fierstein, Scott Tucker, Barbara Smith and Judy Greenspan. The letter questions the motivation for the charges and makes the scarcely extremist demand that the two get fair legal treatment and reasonable bail.
Moderate though the terms of the letter are, it has aroused much fury from the San Francisco gay establishment, whose animus against Petrelis and Pasquarelli was what apparently prompted Hallinan to have the pair charged and arrested in the first place. On November 15 Martin Delaney of Project Inform, Mike Shriver of the mayor's office and fifteen others published a letter in the Bay Area Reporter urging people to pressure Hallinan, demanding "full prosecution of Pasquarelli, Petrelis and their collaborators."
Petrelis and Pasquarelli have a potent posse howling for their heads. "They fucked with the wrong people," said a health official quoted in the San Francisco Examiner on January 23. The "wrong people" include a broad swath of liberals and leftists in and out of government, the AIDS establishment and media figures.
Time was when a decent death threat used to be a badge of honor in the Fourth Estate. Jimmy Breslin recently recalled to Dobbs his glorious "Son of Sam" days, when violent threats were so routine at the New York Daily News that the paper's switchboard operator was wont to ask callers whether they were registering "general death threats" or "specific death threats for Mr. Breslin."
Granted, Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein is a terror survivor of "Attack by Lizard in the LA Zoo," and his wife, Sharon Stone, is the marquee celebrity for one of Petrelis's targets, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, but Bronstein should remember that Daily News phone operator and get off his high horse.
Hallinan's got a radical past and even radical pretensions. He knows as well as anyone that conspiracy charges have long been used to smash protest. And he knows as well as anyone that militant protest is at the cutting edge of social conscience. It's easy to grandstand about the foul tactics, the obscenities, the all-round vulgarity of Pasquarelli and Petrelis, but should this add up to a demand that they be thrown into prison for years? Of course it shouldn't. Judge Parker Meeks Jr. should resist the entreaties of the posse and cut the preposterous bail drastically or release them on their own recognizance. Hallinan should get his sense of perspective back, and drop the drastic charges.