On May 8 twenty-three jubilant, grubby Harvard students left the offices of university president Neil Rudenstine after a twenty-one-day sit-in, the longest in Harvard's history. The students had demanded that the university pay its workers what the City of Cambridge had determined was a living wage--now the minimum for all municipal employees--$10.25 an hour. A university committee had ruled against a similar proposal a year earlier, but this time, after the sit-in drew three weeks of coverage critical of the university in the local and national media, the administrators gave ground, agreeing to reopen serious discussion.
Several commentators pointed out the incongruity of privileged Ivy Leaguers taking up such a blue-collar cause, but what the coverage often missed was that the Harvard sit-in was part of a growing movement on US campuses emerging from a burgeoning alliance between student activists and organized labor.
A significant factor in the Harvard students' victory was the support of local and national unions. The carpenters' local and the Boston office of the progressive, union-backed group Jobs With Justice organized a community march in support of the students. The dining-hall workers' union, itself in the middle of contract negotiations, listed amnesty for the student protesters among its demands and twice held rallies outside the president's office. In the last week of the sit-in, AFL-CIO leaders, including president John Sweeney, staged a 1,500-person rally at Harvard, and AFL-CIO lawyers helped shape the students' final agreement with the administration.
Across the country, according to Jobs With Justice, living-wage campaigns are now active on at least twenty-one college campuses, and those at Wesleyan and the University of Wisconsin/Madison have already claimed victories. Meanwhile, students elsewhere are working on related campus labor issues, like outsourcing, benefits and organizing nonunion workers--not to mention the catalyzing cause of sweatshops.
The AFL-CIO's student outreach program, Union Summer, has played a key role in turning simmering concerns on campus about sweatshops, globalization, the decline in real wages and the growing gap between rich and poor into effective campaigns. Union Summer, which was part of Sweeney's platform when he was campaigning for the AFL-CIO presidency in 1995, gives 200 interns--mostly, but not exclusively, college students--a small stipend and a few days' training in labor history and organizing, and then sends them out for monthlong stints with labor campaigns around the country.
After a month talking with people who work twelve-hour swing shifts and support a family on $6.50 an hour, the students often feel that returning to sheltered college life is no longer an option. "It was a transformative experience for me," says Dan Hennefeld, a Harvard graduate who's now employed by the garment and textile workers union, UNITE, and who attended the first Union Summer in 1996, after his freshman year. "It made me want to be in the labor movement," he says. When Hennefeld got back to Harvard that fall, he helped start a group called the Progressive Student Labor Movement, which became the driving force behind the recent sit-in (three of the organizers were also Union Summer grads).
The nearly 2,000 graduates of Union Summer have played a major role in spreading awareness of labor issues on campus. In addition to those at Harvard, student labor leaders at Duke, Brown, Georgetown and the universities of Tennessee, Connecticut and Wisconsin are all Summer alums. To make room for an increasing number of applicants, the AFL-CIO is offering three specialized, ten-week internships this summer: Seminary Summer for future religious leaders (mostly seminarians, novices and rabbinical students), Law Student Union Summer and International Union Summer, now in its second year, which places a few college students in organizing campaigns in such countries as Egypt, Mexico and Sri Lanka.
During their brief stints the interns are schooled in organizing techniques and tactics. "I'm blown away by how smart and focused the student leaders today are," says Paul Booth, currently assistant to the president of AFSCME and one of the writers of the 1962 Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society. And, he adds, they've taken to heart an essential principle of today's campus activism: organizing campaigns around the school itself. Students understand, Booth says, that "they ought to be getting the institutions they relate to to do things that are meaningful."
Says Harvard's Hennefeld, "We realized early on that we wanted to focus on Harvard and the way it fits into labor issues. That potentially made the most sense to students, and it seemed the most effective use of whatever power we had." As on many campuses, this school-focused work quickly centered around their colleges' connection to overseas sweatshops, where underpaid workers turn out the sweatshirts the students wear to advertise their privileged status. These targeted antisweatshop campaigns have so far convinced seventy-eight colleges to join the Workers' Rights Consortium, the strictest of the independent groups that monitor conditions under which university garments are made.
For many antisweat student activists, the transition to campus labor issues seemed only natural. "While we were doing our antisweat work, we talked to a lot of people who said, You've got to look at what's going on here. It would be hypocritical not to," says Becky Maran, one of the leaders of UConn's successful wage campaign. "With the energy and momentum from winning [the antisweatshop] campaign, we felt we had the strength to move on."
Students' domestic labor campaigns have taken a variety of forms. At the universities of Pittsburgh and Utah, student labor groups have latched on to pre-existing citywide living-wage campaigns. At Harvard and Johns Hopkins, located in cities that had already adopted a living wage, student campaigns have focused on pressuring their administrations to adopt the city's wage floor. And at the University of Tennessee, where "right to work" laws make a living wage at best a distant goal, labor campaigns have used the mere idea of a living wage to encourage workers to organize. Recent UT graduate Anna Avato, now an AFL-CIO organizer, says that after a media campaign was launched, "Workers were calling us and saying they wanted a meeting. By the end of the week, we had 150 workers at our first action." Within a year, the UT campus workers had formed an independent union, put an end to forced overtime and, in May, fended off a subcontracting threat.
On many campuses, activism that started as a living-wage struggle has spiraled off in other directions. Harvard students, with their newly strengthened ties to campus labor, are helping out with upcoming contract negotiations and continuing to organize among those janitors and dining hall workers still without a union. At Wesleyan, where a union wage fight for campus janitors was won a year ago, students have spent the past year working with the bus drivers of Middletown public schools to pass a Middletown living-wage ordinance. At Johns Hopkins, where a seventeen-day sit-in in March 2000 convinced the administration to pay its workers a living wage a year earlier than planned, students have been working on a half-dozen campaigns, allying themselves with locals of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE), UNITE, the service employees' union (SEIU) and ACORN, a grassroots organizing group. At UT, with the independent campus workers' union up and running, students have taken a back seat to the workers themselves, helping to recruit new members and keeping up the pressure on the administration.
No matter what economic justice issue these campus efforts focus on, the thread that ties them together is their collaboration with labor. Encouraged by the students' successful campaigns, their enthusiasm and their ability to attract media attention, local and national unions are showing increased interest in working with student groups. UNITE pledged $25,000 to United Students Against Sweatshops to get it started in 1997 and continues to collaborate with USAS on ways to expand antisweat work. Jobs With Justice has joined the progressive United States Students' Association to form the Student Labor Action Project, which advises campus labor campaigns across the country and puts them in touch with local unions. And SEIU is planning an effort to bring young organizers, SEIU staff and student leaders together for discussions about how to reach out to more students.
Campus leaders, for their part, are eager to learn from the organizing experience of their union partners, as well as to get involved in real-world struggles for economic fairness. While such collaborations can be tricky--neither the student movement nor organized labor wants to give up its independence--both students and labor recognize the potential benefits. Dan DiMaggio, a Harvard freshman who participated in the sit-in, says that it "definitely galvanized workers. We went to a union negotiation the other night, and they gave us a standing ovation as they were about to receive their final offer." He adds, "The unions are very receptive to this idea of working together, and if the unions work together, that's pretty serious. If the unions and the students work together, that's pretty serious too."
Civil wars do not start overnight. You do not simply wake up one morning in what has been a peaceful country only to discover organized armed forces trying to destroy each other. One of the great insights of genuine conservatism (not the vulgar market fundamentalism that tries to pass for sound political philosophy today) is that human beings have a strong yearning for order and stability, and will put up with unfairness, even gross injustices, rather than risk violent chaos. Even when civil wars seem to emerge suddenly into the world news--as in, say, Sierra Leone in the nineties or Sri Lanka the previous decade--closer inspection invariably reveals many years of groundwork, of deteriorating economies, weakening governments, ethnic or social discrimination, of a cycle of earlier riots, vicious repression, attempted or successful coups, revenge.
Civil wars are rare as well. What is surprising about the world today is not how many there are but how few. In the early 1990s, people on both the left and the right warned that some combination of globalization and its disruptive changes, worsening unemployment and inequality, the rise of ethnicity and the end of the cold war international system meant that killing of the sort taking place in the Balkans, say, or Somalia, was likely to spread widely. Yet there is no pandemic. There are a half-dozen or so conflicts in Africa (a continent of fifty-odd nations), and a few more in south and central Asia. And Latin America, which was ripped during the 1980s by violence in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru and by an earlier dirty war in Argentina, is basically peaceful. Except for Colombia.
We are lucky to have an on-the-spot look at the war there from one of the best and most experienced Latin American correspondents around, Alma Guillermoprieto, as part of her important and topical new book, Looking for History. She includes a brief but touching description of a "lively and doll-eyed" young guerrilla named Claudia, whom Guillermoprieto met in San Vicente del Caguán, the small town on the edge of the rainforest in southern Colombia that is the main base for the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The FARC, in existence since 1964, is the largest left-wing insurgency in recent Latin American history and is the main target of $1.3 billion in American aid to the government, most of it military.
Guillermoprieto notices that Claudia "had taken to bumping up against me and squeezing me...with a persistence I was beginning to find alarming until I thought to ask how old she was. 'Seventeen,' she answered. And how long had it been since she'd seen her mother? 'Four...no, five years,' she said."
Claudia is one of the 2 million Colombians already displaced by the growing civil war. Something has gone dramatically wrong in a country when a 12-year-old has to leave her mother and join a guerrilla army. Soon fifty American-made helicopters will join the Colombian military that is already trying to kill her.
Guillermoprieto is an indispensable corrective to the cool and fragmented mainstream reporting from Colombia, which, following the conventions of the genre, does indeed set down some of the facts. We do learn, approximately, of the rising number of political deaths (some 6,000 last year), the deepening economic crisis (20 percent unemployment) and the surface area of coca plants supposedly eradicated.
But we miss many of the human truths. Colombia is not a chess game in which various armed forces move around a map, advancing and retreating. Nor is it an intellectual debate, in which bureaucrats from the US government and Washington Post editorial writers (the Post favors American intervention) cleverly score points. It is a terrible civil war, one that is getting worse. It did not start quickly, and it will not end quickly, and before it does, many 17-year-old girls will die.
Guillermoprieto started off her American journalistic career at the Post, where she (along with Raymond Bonner of the New York Times) courageously reported on the 1981 El Mozote massacre in El Salvador, in which the American-backed army slaughtered nearly 1,000 people. The Reagan Administration denied the killings for years. Then she went off to write one of the great books about how poor people in the Third World live. Samba (1990) is her dazzling account of a year spent with Mangueira, one of the samba "schools" in a slum of Rio de Janeiro, preparing for the fierce music and dance competition that takes place at Carnaval. You learn about more than just the contest, interesting as that is; you get to know fascinating people and are introduced to an entire way of life.
Since then, Guillermoprieto, thoroughly bilingual and bicultural, has reported from all over Latin America for The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. Looking for History is the second collection of her articles, following The Heart That Bleeds (1994). This time around, she deals almost exclusively with Colombia, Cuba and Mexico.
Her firsthand reporting on Colombia could not be more timely. One of Bill Clinton's most evil legacies is Plan Colombia, the military assistance program that will fail in its purported aim--to reduce the drug problem in North America--but that is already adding to the violence farther south [see Marc Cooper, "Plan Colombia," March 19].
Arguably her most valuable work is based on her visits to territory held by the left-wing FARC. Back in 1986, she met the reclusive FARC leader Manuel Marulanda, whose nickname is Tirofijo, or "Sureshot," in a remote spot in the Andean foothills, and last year she visited the group's present main base in San Vicente.
She is unsentimental about the FARC, pointing out that it raises funds by kidnapping civilians, a clear violation of international humanitarian law. The guerrillas also freely admitted to her that they are connected to drug production but insisted that they do not grow or traffic coca themselves, only "tax" the people who do in the areas they control.
Colombian small farmers plant coca to survive economically, not because they want to poison Americans, Guillermoprieto asserts. "Colombia had found what most developing countries lack," she writes, "a cheap crop that can produce levels of employment, return on investment, and national growth that only industrial goods normally provide." World prices for other primary commodities--like coffee, Colombia's other major export--continue to stagnate, a grim fact of life in the Third World that the cheerleaders for globalization usually ignore. She also emphasizes that drug production is by no means limited to areas controlled by the FARC or the ELN (National Liberation Army), a different (and sometimes rival) left-wing group. The right-wing paramilitares--who have been growing in recent years and who, according to Human Rights Watch and other monitoring groups, are responsible for three-quarters of all human rights violations in Colombia--are much more deeply implicated in the drug trade, getting significant financial support from the smaller and more numerous trafficking networks that replaced the infamous Medellín and Cali cartels of the 1980s. Yet Plan Colombia's coca defoliation efforts so far have concentrated on the FARC areas in the south, not in rightist-controlled territory elsewhere.
Probably Guillermoprieto's most important point is one invariably left out of the pro-Plan Colombia editorials and State Department briefings: that the FARC did try to advance its cause peacefully, back in the 1980s, forming a legal party called the Unión Patriótica. The group ran candidates in mayoral elections in 1988, winning in eighteen locales. "Thirteen of these mayors were subsequently assassinated, often after having been forced to resign," she reports. "No one has ever been charged with these murders, but it is widely assumed that members of the military, which has historically operated more or less independently of the chief executive, and sometimes at loggerheads with it, played a role."
She continues with an understated but quite astonishing summary: "By 1992, 3,500 UP militants and leaders of the legal party, including two presidential candidates, had been assassinated (although only a handful of those murders have ever been brought to trial). The guerrillas had lost nearly all of their urban, better-educated, politically minded leaders." Even so, as she reports, the FARC has not turned into a fanatical messianic movement like the Khmer Rouge, nor is it enslaved in a cult of personality, like Peru's Shining Path, now thankfully in decline after years of spreading terror in the Andean highlands.
Colombia's president, Andrés Pastrana, apparently recognizes that the guerrillas have deep roots in parts of rural Colombia, and he has been making what Guillermoprieto (and other observers as well) regard as genuine efforts to negotiate. But Colombia's central government is weak, and the right-wing paramilitares, with the collusion of key elements of the army and police, are undercutting his efforts by invading and terrorizing areas in which the left has support, and by murdering more labor leaders and human rights activists. The government did in fact recently stage a raid on a northern paramilitary stronghold, Montería, seeking information on the largest right-wing paramilitary army, the United Self-Defense Forces, but the move will do little to slow the rapid growth of the armed right. (Up-to-date information is available at www.colombiareport.org.)
Guillermoprieto is hopeful that Colombia's worsening polarization might be slowed by a massive grassroots movement for negotiations. In October 1999, a nationwide march for peace attracted 5 million people--a significant showing in any country, but in a country of 40 million, astounding.
Plan Colombia will add to the killing, however. Last August, President Clinton waived human rights requirements in American law so he could disburse the aid--because he knew the Colombian military could not otherwise qualify. The psychological impact will be even greater than the money, significant as that is to a Third World army. Colombia's generals and colonels understand exactly what they are being tacitly told: Crush the left-wing guerrillas by any means, pretend to move against the right-wing paramilitares, and America will look the other way.
Colombia could be on the road to an even more bloody reprise of El Salvador. There, several billion dollars in US aid promoted a twelve-year war in which 75,000 people died, including Archbishop Oscar Romero, other Salvadoran priests and American nuns murdered by right-wing death squads. Yet the Salvadoran government could not defeat the guerrillas and had to reach a negotiated settlement in 1992. Without American dollars, the war would have ended much sooner.
Guillermoprieto's reporting on Cuba is also gloomy, but for very different reasons. The island's impressive and undeniable advances in social welfare are stained by the fact that its leader is a tiresome and sometimes vicious megalomaniac. She reminds us of the disgusting Ochoa trial of 1989, a tropical repeat performance of Stalin's 1930s Moscow show trials. (Fidel Castro almost certainly ordered a general and national hero named Arnaldo Ochoa framed and then executed for drug trafficking, possibly in part because Castro feared Ochoa's popularity--and he televised the trial.) After the brave human rights activist Elisardo Sánchez gave an American reporter details about the show trial's aftermath, he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, where he joined hundreds of other political prisoners; Guillermoprieto suggests that Castro cynically uses them to bargain with the outside world.
Cuba has survived economically since the collapse of the Soviet Union partly from increased tourism, which has now far surpassed sugar as a foreign exchange earner. But not just run-of-the-mill tourism. Guillermoprieto explains, without sensationalizing, that "the island has become an established part of the world sex tour circuit." The revolutionary government has become a de facto pimp, because "how [else] could Havana hope to compete with the likes of Martinique, Santo Domingo, Curaçao, or Cancún? Not on the basis of its shabby hotels, limited food supply, or terrible flight connections, certainly."
The tone of Guillermoprieto's reporting suggests she is personally disappointed. She respects Cubans who are still loyal to the revolution, and she is careful to make a distinction between their genuine idealism and power-madness at the top. But she notes that consumerism is growing, encouraged by tourists and visiting exiles bearing gifts. Consumptionism is a real force all over the world, one the left has historically gravely underestimated (and often too harshly dismissed). But it may have special potential here, as a safe outlet for human expression in a country whose one-party state stifles independent grassroots organization and cultural freedom.
Guillermoprieto then turns to Mexico, and finishes her remarkable book with optimism. She portrays a defining epoch in Mexican history, which opened with the Zapatista uprising on New Year's Day 1994 and reached one culmination in the July 2000 election of the first opposition president in the country's modern history, Vicente Fox.
Once again, Guillermoprieto has done her legwork, visiting the Zapatista home area in the southern state of Chiapas and interviewing Subcomandante Marcos sitting in a car in the middle of the night. She provides a much needed revisionist view of the Zapatistas, recognizing their importance without romanticizing them. She starts off with some genuine globalist analysis, not the unreflective cheerleading in the mainstream press, by pointing out that the collapse of the world coffee price in 1989 increased human misery among the small growers in Chiapas, aiding the insurrection (the same kind of economic pressure that induces some rural Colombians to turn to coca).
But she points out that the first reports that the Zapatistas constituted a huge avenging army of the poor were greatly exaggerated; "it turned out that they had no military strength and were in reality an armed pressure group." The Zapatistas survived because the Mexican public was tiring of the ruling party, the PRI (the oxymoronic Institutional Revolutionary Party), and would not have tolerated a military crackdown.
In early 1993, The Economist said that the PRI president, Carlos Salinas, "has a claim to be hailed as one of the great men of the 20th century," an honor the magazine conferred for his supposed courage in trying to impose market fundamentalism on Mexico. This judgment, typical of the mainstream world press at the time, was already more than a little starry-eyed; Salinas had almost certainly stolen the 1988 election. In time, though, this hero had to flee Mexico. Guillermoprieto reports that he had become "the person most deeply hated by most Mexicans," because of his links to corruption, drug trafficking and possibly murder, and because of his responsibility for the catastrophic collapse of the Mexican economy following the devaluation of the peso at the end of 1994 (which required a US bailout of nearly $50 billion).
Guillermoprieto does describe this economic debacle, but she might have devoted even more attention to it. "Transparency" is one of the buzzwords of market fundamentalism, the idea that governments and businesses should provide a free flow of information so people can make informed decisions. What actually happened was that the Mexican government, Wall Street and the US Treasury Department essentially cheated the Mexican people out of a free election in August 1994 by holding back key information about the deteriorating economy until after the ruling party's candidate had won. Then, too late, Mexico devalued, causing $5 billion in investment to leave within days, triggering a serious depression and making necessary a bailout of the (just privatized) banking system that is costing the Mexican people proportionally much more than the S&L rescue did here.
Mexico's story does have a happier tenor, at least for now. Vicente Fox, a maverick from the right who is nonetheless not afraid to listen to his high-ranking leftist advisers, seems set to consolidate democracy. The old ruling party is still reeling, having just lost a gubernatorial election in Yucatán, one of its former strongholds. Guillermoprieto credits the left's standard-bearer, the honest and courageous Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, with making change possible by breaking with the ruling party and then continuing the fight for democracy even after being robbed of the presidency in the 1988 election. Millions of Cuauhtémoc's supporters, seeing he would fall short this time around, cast strategic votes for Fox.
During one of Guillermoprieto's visits to the Zapatista base area in southern Mexico, some of the campesinos, or rural poor people, reversed roles and asked her: "Were there many campesinos in this city I wrote for, New York? I informed them that in truth, there were very few left. That was too bad, one of them said--they had wanted to send their regards. 'But in any case,' [one] added, 'please convey our very best greetings to the people you know in that place.'"
Fortunately, the lives of Guillermoprieto's campesino friends in Mexico are improving, however slowly, without real civil war; genuine land reform is even coming to Chiapas. The friends Guillermoprieto has in Colombia are not as lucky.
Strange as it may seem, Timothy McVeigh and George W. Bush shared the same analysis of McVeigh's execution Monday morning, June 11, in Terre Haute. The Oklahoma City bomber, intoned Bush, "met the fate he chose for himself six years ago"--the perfect mirror of McVeigh's own vision of himself as "the master of my fate," in his citation of William Ernest Henley's "Invictus."
The notion of "fate"--a predetermined outcome--sanitizes state-sponsored killing even as it fulfills McVeigh's megalomaniacal delusions. But fate had nothing to do with it. Death sentences are a matter of caprice rather than legal predetermination, as evinced by the twenty-one of twenty-three federal death-row inmates remaining in Terre Haute whose "fate" was to be born nonwhite. Myth: "The severest sentence for the gravest of crimes," as Bush declared that Monday, employing McVeigh as a handy fig leaf for a federal death row even more racially out of kilter than its state counterparts. Reality: The capital trial norm remains "the death penalty not for the worst crime, but the worst lawyer," in the words of litigator Stephen Bright.
One salient political and legal fact received scant consideration Monday: Because it was a federal execution, McVeigh's killing was the first in two generations on behalf of all of us. But "all of us," or even the majority of us, no longer support the death penalty. The government has gone back into the killing business at the very moment when the national capital punishment consensus has eroded, as indicated by polls showing support for death sentences slipping below 50 percent if replaced by life terms without parole. McVeigh's execution was supposed to turn this trend around. Instead, the FBI's documents blunder and the generally sordid spectacle from Terre Haute only fed public unease.
Sanitizing was pretty much the universal order of business Monday. The news media made much of their sensitivity to Oklahoma City's survivors. But only the Daily Oklahoman consistently noted the diversity of survivor opinion on McVeigh's execution, and among broadcasters only KWTW, an Oklahoma City station, reported that nearly a third of the 325 people who had reserved chairs for the closed-circuit telecast elected not to show up. And only the Chicago Tribune has bothered to report--in an interview with an anesthesiologist shortly before McVeigh's original execution date in May--that lethal injection deaths like McVeigh's are often far more painful than they may appear to witnesses. The closed-circuit telecast of McVeigh's killing also offered powerful ammunition against the argument from some leading abolitionists that public broadcasts of executions would lead to widespread outrage against them. "It was such a peaceful death. That made it more palatable," witness Archie Blanchard said on NBC, after confessing that before the telecast it had been "hard to think about being there."
Also missing from press coverage was any recognition of McVeigh's forgotten conspirators. Not John Doe #2, but the wide range of "mainstream" right-wing politicians and broadcasters and publishers and gun lobbyists who exploited the Branch Davidian deaths in Waco with wild conspiracy theories, ratifying McVeigh's delusional rage and naming his enemy. Just a few of those sharing collateral guilt: the National Rifle Association, which not long before Oklahoma City called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms "jack-booted government thugs, federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens"; Representative Helen Chenoweth, who declared that America's national parks had been taken over by the United Nations; Senator Bob Smith, who temporarily dropped his GOP affiliation in favor of the paranoid, antigovernment populists of the US Taxpayers Party; and antichoice fanatics who pointed the way to Oklahoma City with their abortion clinic bombings in the early nineties. It is easier to treat Tim McVeigh as an inexplicable aberration who can be evicted from history than to recall just how widely evident were obsessions like his.
President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft now turn their attention to Juan Raul Garza, scheduled for execution on June 19. In between, Bush traveled to Europe, arriving in Spain, which was in an uproar over a falsely convicted Spanish citizen recently released from Florida's death row. America's death penalty has for years baffled our European partners, but it is only now becoming a serious diplomatic and political issue. France is refusing to extradite Buffalo abortion doctor shooter James Kopp until prosecutors agree to spare him from capital charges, and Germany is suing the United States over the execution of a German national who was never informed of his consular rights. In Ireland, voters on June 7 overwhelmingly approved a referendum permanently abolishing capital punishment from the country's Constitution. Capital punishment now isolates the US abroad as it divides Americans at home. The McVeigh execution, instead of marking a new era of federalized capital punishment, may turn out to be the high-water mark before the long-overdue retreat of the capital punishment tide.
Now that Timothy McVeigh has been executed, I suppose we're all supposed to stop talking about it--to "enjoy closure," a bit like the election.
But McVeigh's execution was troubling on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin. It was alarming to watch the procedural impatience, the official "just get it over with" mentality, despite defense lawyers' not having had a chance to go through more than 4,000 pages of FBI documents that no one disputes ought to have been turned over before McVeigh's trial.
It was distressing to hear the semantic shiftiness of our President as he described the event. To us individualists at home, he said that it was McVeigh who "chose" this method of reckoning; to a European audience it was "the will of the people in the United States." Like some libertarian Pontius Pilate, Bush washed his hands of any responsibility, skillfully uncoupling the role of the executive from execution. It's bad enough to have a death penalty; it is positively chilling when the chief poohbah shrugs it off as though helpless, assigning federally engineered death to forces beyond him.
It was incredible to see anti-death penalty commentators apologizing constantly, always having to blither "of course no one condones his actions"--as though arguing for life imprisonment made one the squishiest, most bleeding-heart of moral equivocators. As a New York Times commentary observed, "Experts said it was the wrong case to debate--many people who do not approve of the death penalty wanted Mr. McVeigh to die."
Yet if one really wants to test the commitment of a civilization to its expressed principles of justice, the McVeigh case is exactly the right case to debate. There was little question as to his guilt (even if the question of conspiracy remains an open one in some quarters), his crime was inexpressibly reprehensible and he maintained a demeanor of controlled, remorseless calculation to the end. In other words, it is precisely the dimension of his evil that presses us to consider most seriously the limits of state force. The question is whether we want to license our government to kill, rather than just restrain by imprisoning, the very worst among us.
Much recent debate about capital punishment has focused on probabilities: the repeated demonstration that "beyond a reasonable doubt" is a matter of considerable uncertainty and outright error. I have recommended before Actual Innocence by Jim Dwyer, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, and I do so here again. These lawyers' work with the Innocence Project has led to dozens of releases from death row and to calls for moratoriums in states where pro-death penalty sentiment once ran high.
There is also the question of disparate impact, particularly upon minorities and the poor. "There are no racial overtones in [McVeigh's] conviction," wrote the New York Times in an editorial. Perhaps that's true if considered in a vacuum, but certainly not with regard to its procedural legacy. If the FBI couldn't get right the most important and supposedly most careful investigation in its history--and still no stay was granted--then there is no hope in any other case. McVeigh's "nonracial" fate, moreover, will surely be invoked highhandedly in all those more routine, less highly scrutinized cases. The fact that of the remaining federal death row inmates only two are white is, according to John Ashcroft, merely "normal." For more on this aspect of the debate, I recommend reading Legal Lynching: The Death Penalty and America's Future, by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. and The Nation's own Bruce Shapiro. Forthcoming from The New Press, it is an eloquent argument against the inequity of the death penalty's administration and makes a compelling case against its violent irreversibility, its unredeemable finality as pursued by prosecutors, judges and juries who are, after all, far from all-knowing or divine.
One of the saddest parts of the McVeigh saga was listening to the endlessly amplified testimonials of those survivors and family members whose sentiments were premised on vengeance being "mine" rather than the Lord's. One woman wished the electric chair had been used, because it would have been more painful. Another said, "I think bombs should be strapped on him, and then he can walk around the room forever until they went off and he wouldn't know when it would happen."
Such traumatized expectations led to predictable disappointment. "I really wanted him to say something," said one witness. "I wanted him to see me," said another. "I thought I would feel something more satisfying, but I don't," said a victim's son. "For him just to have gone asleep seems unfair." This sort of desire for "more" leaves us poised on the edge of an appetite for re-enacted violence and voyeurism. Given the horrific losses McVeigh's crime incurred, this primal hunger can be almost seductive--a howl of mourning very hard to resist, never mind debate. But it is dangerous if it allows us to lose sight of the fact that the debate we must have is, again, about the limits of state force, not about devising the perfect mirror of each victim's suffering.
But the bottomlessness of that individual trauma is not something we can afford to ignore either. For a wise and extremely moving reflection on this dimension, I recommend Susan Brison's Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self, forthcoming from Princeton. Brison, a Dartmouth College philosophy professor who was raped, strangled and left for dead, analyzes the post-traumatic stress syndrome that still colors her life and reflects on the resilience needed to carry on. "Trauma," she writes, "destroys the illusion of control over one's life. It fractures the chronology of a life's narrative--not in the way a stopped watch makes time look like it's standing still, but like the thirteenth chime of a crazy clock that throws everything that came before into question."
"9:03" reads an inscription on the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Would that we could undo that awful moment in Oklahoma City by sacrificing McVeigh's one life for all the others, but the difficult paradox of healing is having to live on and through that wilderness of grief with no illusion of control.
New York City
Doug Ireland's offhand comments about the Working Families Party's role in the upcoming municipal elections in New York City were inaccurate and hurtful ["Those Big Town Blues," June 4]. He wrote that the WFP "could have played a role in recruiting Council candidates" but did not because the progressive unions took no initiatives and ACORN was distracted by its fight against the Edison Corporation.
Speaking for two affiliates of the WFP--ACORN and SEIU/1199--I say that this is dead wrong. We have been involved in a marvelous WFP-initiated process that has included scores of neighborhood and borough meetings, a remarkable series of interviews with more than 100 potential candidates, worksite presentations on the issues by WFP workplace captains, the ongoing recruitment of neighborhood captains and much more. We had more than 1,000 people at a WFP mayoral forum and have won concrete commitments on our living-wage bill from candidates across the city. Until the WFP, there was no group trying to pull together a community-labor-religious coalition to move ideas, people, money and energy in contests from Nassau County to Niagara Falls.
The WFP slate for this year's city elections will have more union members, community activists and progressives than any slate in memory. We hope Nation readers will vote for, work for and send money to all the WFP-endorsed candidates for primaries and the general election.
SEIU State Council, WFP
New York City
As first-time candidates for public office, we want to say that the Working Families Party and its affiliates have been absolutely essential to our being taken seriously. The WFP endorsement opens doors, and its activists do real work on campaigns. The WFP is the only party that asks tough questions on issues.
The three districts we are running in--Far Rockaway and East Elmhurst in Queens, and Flatbush in Brooklyn--are not known for producing progressive leaders on the City Council. If that changes this year, and if instead there is an ACORN member (Sanders), an ex-cop turned NYCLU board member (Monserrate) or a human rights activist (Vernet) elected--it will be due in part to the persistence and support of the Working Families Party.
JAMES SANDERS JR.
31st council district candidate
21st council district candidate
45th council district candidate
Last fall The Nation ran a piece by Micah Sifry that began: "Today, for the first time in years, the political center of gravity in New York State is shifting." He went on to argue that some substantial portion of this welcome development was due to a hard-working, well-run, complex formation called the Working Families Party.
We're not perfect, but I cannot accept Doug Ireland's characterization of the party as "little more than a liberal adjunct of the Democratic Party." The challenge for a fusion party in our winner-take-all system--a challenge Sifry captured in his piece last fall but that eluded Ireland entirely--is how to be both independent and relevant. It's easy to be independent and irrelevant, but that's not our game.
The Nation tries to walk that same line and no doubt appreciates how difficult it can be. On balance, the WFP has done solid work building chapters, recruiting candidates, running issue campaigns, winning elections, training staff and so on. None of it is glamorous, but it's the very heart of what's needed to build power.
Executive director, WFP
New York City
Doug Ireland argues that the combination of term limits and the new campaign finance program has not, with a few exceptions, generated a "bumper crop of exciting, nontraditional candidacies" for this year's City Council elections. But take a closer look, and you'll find that in district after district, throughout the five boroughs, the field of candidates is crowded with "exciting, nontraditional" contenders--candidates who, were it not for the 4-to-1 matching program, would not be able to run competitively.
The three races identified by Ireland--Arthur Cheliotes, Steve Banks and Ydanis Rodriguez--are only the tip of the iceberg. All around town, activists who have worked in the movement and earned their stripes are running, and running to win--executive director of New York State's largest tenants' rights organization, Joe Heaphy; founder of St. John's University's first gay student organization, Jimmy Van Bramer; founder of the Latino Officers' Association, Hiram Monserrate; former chair of the New York State Women's Political Caucus, Gale Brewer; founder of the community development credit union Neighborhood Trust FCU, Mark Levine; immigrants and immigrants' rights activists like Kwong Hui, Morshed Alam and Margaret Chin; civil rights activists like Charles Barron and Rocky Chin; public interest attorneys like Brad Hoylman; ACORN leader James Sanders Jr.; the lead plaintiff on the historic Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, Robert Jackson; and the list goes on--they are all a part of the progressive movement, and they are all running. And to Citizen Action of New York, they are all proof that campaign finance reform is working in New York City.
Want further proof that the 4-to-1 matching program is working? Ask these "exciting, nontraditional" candidates where their contributions are coming from. The candidates, who have traditionally been left out of our electoral process because of a lack of personal wealth or access to people with money, are raising their campaign funds from people just like themselves.
You can see the strength of these grassroots campaigns as the many "exciting, nontraditional" candidates and legions of their volunteers are descending upon the streets of the city to collect signatures to get on the ballot. The grassroots movement is not absent in New York City, and after this historic election cycle, it will be even stronger.
MICHELE J. MAGLIONE
Citizen Action of New York City
New York City
I did not have space to list every nontraditional Council candidate, so I picked three with an even chance of winning. But Michele Maglione's list is somewhat deceptive. For example, Margaret Chin, Rocky Chin and Brad Hoylman are all running against one another in the same district. Gale Brewer, whatever her other qualities, has been a longtime patronage employee of the Manhattan Borough President's office--a very traditional path to elective office (and Ronnie Eldridge, the term-limited sterling progressive whose seat Brewer is seeking, has yet to make an endorsement in the race, a clear indication of her unhappiness with all three contestants). One is left with only ten districts in which the kind of candidate I described is present--of a total of fifty seats (I wouldn't call that a bumper crop). Only half of those on Maglione's list have a real chance of winning; it is possible that next year's Council will have a bloc of independent/progressive members no larger--perhaps even smaller--than the old one.
I have great respect for Dan Cantor's talents, energy and integrity, and Bertha Lewis has been an admirable leader of ACORN. As to the WFP, I broke the story of its creation in a lengthy, enthusiastic Village Voice article before its official public founding. At WFP events I was approached by a number of people, mostly young, who said they'd been inspired by my article to get active in the new party. I think that gives me some standing for the mild reproofs to the WFP in these pages.
Brother Cantor quotes my friend and sometime co-author Micah Sifry and suggests I walk The Nation's "line." Well, I've always had trouble following anyone else's "line"--I prefer to think for myself. But Sifry's article also said: "How not to be a mere adjunct of the Democratic Party...is a complicated problem that is rooted in the forces that birthed the WFP, and it is not an issue that is about to go away. Certainly the party's early and enthusiastic endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the Senate race puts the matter front and center. What kind of progressive third party gets into bed with a First Lady who once said, 'There is no left in the Clinton White House'?"
Consider the following: The WFP, to its credit, conducted a vigorous campaign for the primary item on its state legislative agenda, an increase in the minimum wage; the party held a press conference that starred Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver standing in front of a huge WFP banner. But just weeks before, Silver, at the behest of the hotel and restaurant lobbies, personally rammed through an amendment exempting more than 100,000 of New York's poorest-paid workers--those dependent on tips for a living--from the minimum wage law (a deal documented by Andy Hsiao in the Voice), with nary a peep of public protest from the WFP. Surely all those waitresses and waiters are members of "working families." Should Silver, therefore, be held out by the party as a progressive icon for stiffing them?
This year the WFP endorsed Bill Thompson for comptroller. Thompson got his job as president of the Board of Education in a deal with Rudy Giuliani that included opposing the multicultural Rainbow Curriculum and shredding meaningful safe-sex education. Since our city's school population is overwhelmingly kids of color, and with the front pages just having bannered the latest reminders of an appalling AIDS epidemic among black youth that's been known for some time, it is clear that Thompson--who is African-American--sold out his own community's kids for political advancement. Some kids of "working families" thus deprived of lifesaving information will die as a result. Stomach-turning? The WFP didn't think so. Human Rights Watch just came out with a 207-page report, Hatred in the Hallways, a study of school homophobia in seven states--including New York--where levels of violence and discrimination against gay kids are so great they cannot learn, a situation that the Rainbow Curriculum was designed to counter by teaching tolerance. Thompson won't get my vote.
Finally, my article clearly acknowledged that the WFP was one of two "significant" sources of support for progressive candidates. But the 100-plus interviews Lewis and Gaspard mention were of already-existing candidates, not WFP-generated ones. Right now the WFP is a ballot line, not a full-fledged political party, and it is dominated by the labor leaders who pay the bills, not a broad "community-labor-religious coalition." I hope one day it becomes large and diverse enough to act with more independence, and to rethink its criteria for endorsements. Until then, I stand by my assessment.
It's been six years since Dogme 95 nailed its ten-point "Vow of Chastity" to the door of world cinema. Lars von Trier's gang of four Danish film rebels flung an inkwell at the father of Hollywood lies, calling for an end to auteurist indulgences, corrupt special effects, duplicitous props and sets, backslider's reshoots and the devil's tricks with camera and soundtrack. As pious as my Lutheran Grandma Dyveke, they demanded an overnight reformation. And now they've finally unveiled the fourth film from the movement, Kristian Levring's The King Is Alive. Apparently, nothing takes longer than absolute spontaneity.
It took the Dogme-ticians only 150 seconds to devise each of the ten rules of the Vow of Chastity, and from the start they were fully prepared to violate them all. Dogme directors are expected to submit a list of their "sins" in making their films-- the parts of the Vow they've broken. Yet their playfulness about the creative process is also dead serious. They view their allegiances the way Mary McCarthy was said to regard marriage. They need a worthy ideal to be unfaithful to.
Von Trier remains the high priest of the movement, even though 1998's The Idiots, his only film made under formal Dogme rules, was by far the worst of the four. An encounter-group-grope movie, whose big nude scene he directed in the nude, The Idiots is completely overshadowed by his great, albeit grandiose, proto-Dogme epic Breaking the Waves, about a simple country girl (Emily Watson) whose crippled husband manipulates her into having sex with thugs who kill her, and the semi-Dogme musical Dancer in the Dark, about a simple country girl (Björk) manipulated by a suicidal man into killing him.
But even when they're not strictly Dogme-tic, von Trier's films make the world safe for certain Dogme qualities: a restless, handheld camera; jolting edits; a grainy look; a love of ugliness; an ensemble cast gradually reverting to savagery; a burning urge to live in the moment; and a Sade-esque compulsion to put a stink up God's nostrils.
Thomas Vinterberg's 1998 The Celebration was the first hit Dogme flick. In place of von Trier's gathering of orgiasts getting in touch with their inner idiots, Vinterberg stages a family reunion at which the son rebukes the patriarch for raping him and his sister as kids. To me, it was smug, sentimental, bad Bergman pastiche, but the film world ate it up and clamored for more.
What they got was Søren Kragh-Jacobsen's 1999 Mifune, a screwball comedy. To make a genre movie overtly violates the eighth commandment of the Vow--"Genre movies are not acceptable"-- but the constraints of spontaneous filmmaking can make Dogmeteurs revert to narratives more generic than Hollywood's. No problem: Be it ever so sinful, Mifune is humane and fresh where von Trier and Vinterberg are lumbering and sulfurous. It's a gas--a giddy, romping shaggy-dog tale wherein a Copenhagen businessman revisits his ramshackle family farm in the country, ruled by his beguiling half-wit brother (Jesper Asholt), an aficionado of samurai films and crop-sculpting aliens. Kragh-Jacobsen calmed down the Dogme shaky-cam and made a virtue of available light sources. The film has champagne spirit on a beer budget.
For my money, Kragh-Jacobsen was the top Dogme dog, but Levring's The King Is Alive has given me second thoughts. It looks sensational, walks the minimalist tightrope with balletic brio and, like many good things, begins in sin. A closeup of a face on a bus yields to a shot of a bus from above, rolling down a bleak road; this image gives way to a glimpse of coldly remote mountains. Clearly, Dogme-flouting technology was involved--you're not supposed to use tripods, let alone aerial shots. But Levring honors the spirit of the law: The movie is about the human-scale consequences of confrontation with implacable nature.
At the wheel of the bus is Moses (Vusi Kunene), a gentle black African whose name is a gag--he's about to get his passengers horrifyingly lost in the desert, because the compass on his dash is busted. Moses pulls the bus into the best Dogme set you ever saw: a tiny ghost town called Kolmanskop. A globe-trotting director of TV commercials, Levring knew just where to find an exceptionally evocative set--crucial when you're forbidden to construct one to your specifications. It's an abandoned mining burg in the Kalahari, maintained by the Namibian government as a museum, and so it helpfully contained old-fashioned kerosene lamps, mining tools, weathered furniture and rooms half filled with sand spilling through the open doors, driven by winds hauntingly captured by Levring's multiple microphones.
Though the Vow is a bit muddled concerning precisely which bits of technology are forbidden, I think those many mikes constitute another sin, illustrating an intriguing contradiction of Dogme. The quest to capture the true moment clashes with its low-tech strictures: You better your odds of nailing spontaneous greatness with more and better technology. In the interview on the DVD of Dancer in the Dark, von Trier says he shot the musical sequences with 100 cameras, but would have preferred 1,000, and looks forward to the day when technology permits 10,000 cameras. Will the Vow be altered to accommodate technology's inexorable march? Maybe; but the Dogme-ticians won't lose sleep over their crimes. Sin boldly! That's the Dogme spirit.
When Moses discovers that Kolmanskop's gas tanks are all dry, the passengers panic. A take-charge Aussie (Miles Anderson) strides up to the sole human in town, an old African (Peter Kubheka), viewing the proceedings from some mysterious otherworld. What's he doing there, unthinkable miles from nowhere? Waiting for an ensemble to arrive so he can comment on them in portentous voiceover. (He's not the most successful character in the film.)
The Aussie passes on the old man's wisdom: The only food in town is a cache of tinned carrots, some poisonous, and to survive, they must learn to drink dew. "Above all, we stay positive and we keep our spirits up!" (Positive? Doesn't he know he's in a Dogme film?) Then he marches into the desert for help. The others are to wait five days for his return, then start picturesquely blackening the sky with burning tires to attract airplanes, because if he's not back, he's dead.
A shot of a roomful of sand yields to footsteps in the desert. Efficiently, Levring has placed us with the protagonists in one hell of a Jack London jam.
The tourists know just what to do: They freak out. Guzzle hooch, start arguments and bonfires, jump and jive in the flames and shadows. The prospect of death makes them horny, and very pissed off. Several cordless cameras roamed while the cast went on a wild chase, each to find the depths of his or her own character, none ever certain when on or off camera. It kept them honest. The twenty-minute setups permitted by location shooting and state-of-the-art videocams enabled Levring to get around the no-reshoots rule: He kept rewriting scenes and then shooting them in altered forms, merging rehearsal and performance, until he got pure takes. And who needs makeup (a Dogme no-no), when for six weeks you've got the sun to bake faces and whittle away at bodies until they resemble contestants on TV's Survivor?
What passes between the passengers is not embedded in any structured story, and the emotions don't make much naturalistic sense. A big woman (Janet McTeer) unhappily married to a bland man (Bruce Davidson) lashes her husband with cat-o-nine-tails insults and tries to provoke Moses in an ugly racial come-on. An angelic party girl (Jennifer Jason Leigh) with excelsior for brains and a Walkman instead of a mental life tries to make nice with an irascible French intellectual (Romane Bohringer), who heaps contempt in French on the uncomprehending kid.
Watching the group get ever more nasty, a grizzled old Brit tourist (David Bradley) murmurs, "Is man no more than this?" He gets the notion to jot down what he can remember of King Lear and get the others to enact it, to pass whatever time they've got left. The ragged, fragmentary scenes don't add up to a play-within-a-play; Shakespeare is just another existing light source under which to study characters. It works better than, say, Gus Van Sant's hippified Shakespeare in the otherwise exemplary My Own Private Idaho; Levring doesn't attempt to update the Bard, and he's not aiming at a large thematic statement or strained parallel. He more modestly uses bits of Lear to spotlight aspects of character. "Howl! Howl! Howl!" spoken by the old Brit dramatizes his grief, the Leigh character's self-destruction and the death of his own long-lost daughter. The Brit's half-remembered Lear is, like the mining town, a timeless found ruin occupied by a Dogme 95 fairy tale.
Why does The King Is Alive live, even though it's so artificial and disconnected? It creatively unleashes the actors while preventing the usual scene-stealing games. The scenes don't exactly add up, but they are riveting while they last, and the countdown to calamity or rescue provides a sustaining tension in place of a plot. The voluptuous curves and lurid lights of the desert are stunningly photogenic, and the cheap but sophisticated equipment achieves operatic effects. This may be Dogme's best shot.
But does it really do what the revolutionaries set out to do in 1995? Does it truly "force the truth out of...characters and settings"? No, because there is no single "truth," and only a narrow zealot would claim to find one. Like all the Dogme films, its real sin is to do what they promise: to "regard the instant as more important than the whole." Ultimately, and however salubrious its influence on moviedom, Dogme film is a dead end, because in art, the whole is more important than the instant.
But my God, does it have its moments.
On July 1 Larry Summers--the Wunderkind economist who ran the Treasury Department under President Clinton--takes over as president of Harvard University. "A fitting choice," editorialized the New York Times. But fitting in what way?
So far, Summers has maintained an eloquent silence on the activists who seized his future office for three weeks to demand a living wage for Harvard service personnel. Harvard may have an endowment of billions at its disposal, but Summers, who failed to respond to my requests for an interview, is unlikely to embrace the living-wage drive.
After all, if everyone were paid a living wage, where would we store hazardous waste? A decade ago, while chief economist of the World Bank, Summers put forward arguments for a "world-welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste" in an internal bank memo that expressed the value of a human life as the sum of its future earnings. "The costs of health-impairing pollution depend on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality," Summers wrote. So if pollution takes five years off the life of the average, well-paid American, that is more significant than the same pollution prematurely killing off the average someone in Mexico or some other lower-wage country. Wrote Summers, "The economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable, and we should face up to it."
Yes, it's a ten-year-old memo, and Summers has apologized for his suggestions, saying they were ironic and intended to push colleagues to think outside the box. But don't feel bad about asking him whether "impeccable logic" dictates that the death of a Harvard janitor paid $6 an hour matters less on some level than if the janitor is making $10.25. That's just one of the harsh questions Harvard's braver souls ought to be asking.
Here's another: Why did Summers, while he was a top official at Treasury, so ardently embrace the corrupt sell-off of Soviet industries? Russia's privatization czar, Anatoly Chubais, oversaw "auctions" of the oil companies, nickel mines and other crown jewels of Soviet industry that were openly rigged. How openly? The privatizers invited some of Russia's newly minted tycoons to organize the auctions--and then let those tycoons reject high bids and crown themselves the winners.
Long after those rigged auctions were over, Summers was praising their organizers as an "economic dream team" and was on a friendly first-name basis with them in official letters. That was consistent with the Clinton Administration's see-no-evil approach to Boris Yeltsin's boys--one that Summers helped design.
Summers's critics may find new ammunition in a Justice Department lawsuit brought against Harvard over its work on Russian privatizations. In United States of America v. the President and Fellows of Harvard College, Andrei Shleifer, Jonathan Hay, Nancy Zimmerman and Elizabeth Hebert, the Justice Department accuses a team from Harvard of having "defrauded the United States out of $40 million"--the amount paid to Harvard's Institute for International Development to work on Russian economic policy in tandem with reformers like Chubais. The Justice Department says that Shleifer and Hay, who ran Harvard's Russia project, secretly bought large personal stakes in Russian oil companies and in "GKOs"--wildly high-interest Russian treasury bills. Harvard University's endowment, by the way, was also heavy in GKOs. In other words, Harvard and its representatives were investing in areas they were being paid to help design and regulate.
Justice's ninety-eight-page civil complaint also says the Harvard team arranged for USAID to pay hefty salaries to people who worked on Hay's or Shleifer's private business projects (or those of their wives, Zimmerman and Hebert); some of those people rarely showed up for work "other than to collect their pay or for the free lunches." And the complaint says that "numerous" Harvard officials knew of these and other abuses, but those who complained were either ignored or, if they worked under Shleifer and Hay, bullied into silence.
Summers does not figure in the Justice Department's complaint, but he has for decades been a mentor to Shleifer. As an MIT professor, he hired Shleifer, then a Harvard undergraduate, as a research assistant, beginning what the Journal of Economic Perspectives described as "a long period of close friendship and mutual education." Even after Shleifer's work in Russia had come under investigation, Summers continued to embrace it--for example, writing in a blurb for a book Shleifer co-wrote on privatization that the authors had done "remarkable things in Russia." Now, as Harvard president, Summers will have to deal with the fallout from the legal case involving Shleifer--who still holds tenure at Harvard--and whatever further embarrassing details it may reveal.
Even then, the lawsuit involves only a portion of the Harvard-Russia relationship. Of equal interest is how the Harvard project and the Russian reformers cooperated to win control of the US government's aid money. And this is a story Summers should know intimately--the ins and outs of Russian economic policy-making were a major part of his brief at Treasury, while the Harvard-reformer nexus involving his friends Shleifer and Chubais has been chewed over by Congressional and General Accounting Office investigators.
Government money is usually handed out through a bidding process, but according to a GAO investigation, aid money to Russia broke that model. The GAO--the budgetary watchdog of Congress--says Harvard not only received tens of millions without any bidding, it also won "substantial control over the U.S. assistance program [for Russian economic policy-making]." Here's how it worked: The Harvard team befriended "reformers" like Chubais. (Friendship in action: When Yeltsin briefly fired Chubais over the rigged oil company auctions, the Harvard team used USAID money to hire Chubais, paying him $10,000 a month to be a "consultant.") USAID approvingly noted the "deep relationship of trust" between Harvard and the reformers, and cited it as a reason to give Harvard more aid money while sidelining projects run by other institutions. On rare occasions when USAID did dare to award money to a non-Harvard-approved organization, the reformers would nix it: For example, when a team from Stanford won a USAID competition to work with Russia's Federal Commission on Securities--a commission designed by Shleifer and Hay--the "reformer" heading that commission balked. Stanford lost that contract, and later Harvard was given money to do much the same work.
Rigging the game so that only Harvard could win sounds like the sort of crony capitalism associated with... well, with Russian privatization. But the Justice Department is going after only the personal behavior of Shleifer, Hay & Co., not the larger issue of how their superiors winked so long at cronyism in Moscow and Washington. Why were the Russian reformers allowed to play Harvard, and Harvard to play Washington, like a yo-yo? That's another question no one should feel bad about asking Summers--who, in one of those quirky ironies of fate, will also technically be on trial if United States v. the President and Fellows of Harvard goes forward.
A baccalaureate should be an occasion to celebrate the present and express optimism about the future, but I must come to you today with very bad news about Russia, my subject of study, and therefore with great alarm about the future. If America's post-cold war triumphalism has led you to believe we are now safer than we were before, I recommend an adage Russians use only partly in jest: "An optimist is an uninformed pessimist."
The bad news is this: Because of what has happened in Russia since the end of the Soviet Union ten years ago, you are graduating into a world more dangerous than ever before. For the first time in history, a fully nuclearized nation is in a process of collapse. The result is potentially catastrophic.
Most of Russia's essential infrastructures--economic, social, technological--are in various stages of disintegration. The state is virtually bankrupt, unable to reinvest in those foundations or even regularly pay the wages and pensions of its own people. The country has been asset-stripped, impoverished and left on the verge of a "demographic apocalypse," as a Moscow newspaper recently termed it. Technology is breaking down everywhere, from electricity and heating to satellites.
In these and other ways, Russia has been plunging back into the nineteenth century. And, as a result, it has entered the twenty-first century with its twentieth-century systems of nuclear maintenance and control also in a state of disintegration.
What does this mean? No one knows fully because nothing like this has ever happened before in a nuclear country. But one thing is certain: Because of it, we now live in a nuclear era much less secure than was the case even during the long cold war. Indeed, there are at least four grave nuclear threats in Russia today:
§ There is, of course, the threat of proliferation, the only one generally acknowledged by our politicians and media--the danger that Russia's vast stores of nuclear material and know-how will fall into reckless hands.
§ But, second, scores of ill-maintained Russian reactors on land and on decommissioned submarines--with the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons--are explosions waiting to happen.
§ Third, also for the first time in history, there is a civil war in a nuclear land--in the Russian territory of Chechnya, where fanatics on both sides have threatened to resort to nuclear warfare.
§ And most immediate and potentially catastrophic, there is Russia's decrepit early-warning system. It is supposed to alert Moscow if US nuclear missiles have been launched at Russia, enabling the Kremlin to retaliate immediately with its own warheads, which like ours remain even today on hairtrigger alert. The leadership has perhaps ten to twenty minutes to evaluate the information and make a decision. That doomsday warning system has nearly collapsed--in May, a fire rendered inoperable four more of its already depleted satellite components--and become a form of Russian nuclear roulette, a constant danger of false alarms and accidental launches against the United States.
How serious are these threats? In the lifetime of this graduating class, the bell has already tolled at least four times. In 1983 a Soviet Russian satellite mistook the sun's reflection on a cloud for an incoming US missile. A massive retaliatory launch was only barely averted. In 1986 the worst nuclear reactor explosion in history occurred at the Soviet power station at Chernobyl. In 1995 Russia's early-warning system mistook a Norwegian research rocket for an American missile, and again a nuclear attack on the United States was narrowly averted. And just last summer, Russia's most modern nuclear submarine, the Kursk, exploded at sea.
Think of these tollings as chimes on a clock of nuclear catastrophe ticking inside Russia. We do not know what time it is. It may be only dawn or noon. But it may already be dusk or almost midnight.
The only way to stop that clock is for Washington and Moscow to acknowledge their overriding mutual security priority and cooperate fully in restoring Russia's economic and nuclear infrastructures, most urgently its early-warning system. Meanwhile, all warheads on both sides have to be taken off high-alert, providing days instead of minutes to verify false alarms. And absolutely nothing must be done to cause Moscow to rely more heavily than it already does on its fragile nuclear controls.
These solutions seem very far from today's political possibilities. US-Russian relations are worse than they have been since the mid-1980s. The Bush Administration is threatening to expand NATO to Russia's borders and to abrogate existing strategic arms agreements by creating a forbidden missile defense system. Moscow threatens to build more nuclear weapons in response.
Hope lies in recognizing that there are always alternatives in history and politics--roads taken and not taken. Little more than a decade ago, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, along with President Ronald Reagan and the first President George Bush, took a historic road toward ending the forty-year cold war and reducing the nuclear dangers it left behind. But their successors, in Washington and Moscow, have taken different roads, ones now littered with missed opportunities.
If the current generation of leaders turns out to lack the wisdom or courage, and if there is still time, it may fall to your generation to choose the right road. Such leaders, or people to inform their vision and rally public support, may even be in this graduating class.
Whatever the case, when the bell warning of impending nuclear catastrophe tolls again in Russia, as it will, know that it is tolling for you, too. And ask yourselves in the determined words attributed to Gorbachev, which remarkably echoed the Jewish philosopher Hillel, "If not now, when? If not us, who?"
In Washington, all politics is personality. Or so it often seems. After the Jim Jeffords jump, the media zoomed in on Senator John McCain and breathlessly penned a new chapter in the Bush-McCain psychodrama. Look, McCain is hosting Tom Daschle at his weekend home in Arizona! Is he about to bolt the GOP? McCain pals, including pundit/publisher/political strategist William Kristol, are meeting to ponder the possibilities of an independent McCain presidential run! Slap the news on the front page!
Ever since Bush whupped McCain in the GOP primaries, the will-he, won't-he game hasn't ceased--although McCain repeatedly pledges fealty to party and dismisses talk of a 2004 bid. But each denial stokes speculation, and much of the accompanying chatter has concentrated on McCain's ego. He can't get over being beaten by a putz. He still resents the dirty tricks pulled by Bush backers. He'll do anything to get on TV. No doubt McCain, like most pols, is driven by personal concerns. During the 2000 contest, he fell in love with leading what he considered (accurately or not) a grassroots movement for reform. Armchair psychology: It was as if McCain believed he was finally the hero he had long been portrayed to be by others. In McCain's mind, his Vietnam story--shot down and taken prisoner, refusing an early release as an admiral's son, then breaking under torture and signing a confession declaring himself a "black criminal" and attempting suicide--is not a heroic tale. "I failed," he once told an interviewer. Clearly, McCain was happy to develop a hero-through-politics narrative.
It's intriguing that McCain is trying to keep this story line alive, not only by hinting and then denying he'll go indy but by adopting a set of stands that are left of center, by conventional reckoning. The McCain soap opera isn't only about ambition and recovered heroism; it's full of policy subplots. McCain has joined Democrats Ted Kennedy and John Edwards to push a patients' bill of rights opposed by the White House, and he has also joined Democrat Joe Lieberman to offer legislation to tighten a gun-show loophole. With Democrat Russ Feingold, he pushed a modest, if problematic, campaign reform bill through the Senate over GOP objections. He even whacked Bush for abandoning the Kyoto global-warming treaty. During debate on the tax bill, he offered an amendment to scale back the tax cut for the wealthiest (the measure lost on a tie vote). Then he was one of two Republicans to vote against the bill. Not even hero-to-Democrats Jim Jeffords did that. (Jeffords had the power to gum up the relieve-the-rich tax bill, yet chose not to.)
McCain has developed a quirky agenda with a liberal leaning. He remains hawkish; he is still officially antichoice. But he's either using the prospect of a move to independence (and the attention that brings him) to push this non-Republican platform or exploiting this non-Republican platform (and the attention that brings him) to create the opportunity for a move to independence. Perhaps both. In any event, it's an encouraging development for Democrats, who, prior to the Jeffords jump, were unable to put forward much of their own message. In a closely divided Senate, a McCain in the spotlight can help them on several key fronts.
The odd sideshow here is Kristol. His associates say he has embraced McCain as a Teddy Roosevelt figure who can champion the somewhat vague but bombastic "national greatness" conservatism Kristol advocates. But McCain's acts of apostasy involve small steps to the left. Does Kristol, who was instrumental in smothering HillaryCare, really crave a strong patients' bill of rights?
McCain's latest shuffles probably bolster the Democrats more than his presidential ambitions. He'd have a tough time fully repudiating Bush and the GOP. At the Republican convention--only ten months ago--McCain said, "If you believe patriotism is more than a soundbite and public service should be more than a photo-op, then vote for Governor Bush.... I know that by supporting George W. Bush, I serve my country well." Can Mr. Straight-Talk Express renounce that statement and not seem an opportunistic crybaby? It's not as if Bush has veered from his campaign positions. To justify an exit from the party, McCain would have to proclaim: I've seen the light--Bush and the Republicans are wrong; I was wrong to support them, and it's time for me to go. Such talk might be too straight to utter. In the meantime, McCain--ambition-driven or policy-driven--has figured out how to do what many Democrats (paging Al Gore) have not: discomfit Bush, shape debates and advance a few policies that tilt left.
With each new look at the November election in Florida, the argument of the Bush Five on the Supreme Court--that manual recounts would lead to the unequal treatment of voters--appears more ludicrous. The election itself was a statewide orgy of unequal treatment. In a draft report, the US Commission on Civil Rights, which investigated election irregularities in the Sunshine State, depicts a voting system rife with bias. "African American voting districts were disproportionately hindered by antiquated and error-prone equipment like the punch card ballot system," the commission notes. Which means more black and low-income voters--who tend to vote Democratic--had their ballots invalidated. The commission confirms what The Nation and other publications have found: The sloppy and inconsistent use of error-laden purge lists prevented eligible voters from casting ballots. "The purge system," the commission observes, "disproportionately impacted African American voters who are placed on purge lists more often and more likely to be there erroneously." In some counties voters of Hispanic or Haitian origin were not provided ballots in their native language--despite federal laws that require it.
There were other inequities. When Secretary of State Katherine Harris ordered a recount, eighteen of Florida's sixty-seven counties didn't recount the votes; they merely checked the math from the original count. In two counties, elections officers shut off the mechanisms on the voting machines that identified errors on ballots and allowed the voter a second chance. Other counties kept these devices on.
According to the commission, "widespread disenfranchisement and denial of voting rights" occurred, but "it is impossible to determine the extent of disenfranchisement or to provide an adequate remedy to the persons whose voices were silenced...by a pattern and practice of injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency." And Jeb Bush, Harris and other state officials were to blame--not for having "conspired to produce the disenfranchisement of voters" but for having ignored the needs of voters. The draft, which Jeb Bush denounced as unfair, notes that it would be appropriate for the Justice Department to investigate whether Florida state and county officials violated the Voting Rights Act. Jeb Bush's office squealed bias and grumbled about the timing of the draft's release.
As the commission's report and various media investigations show, thousands of Florida voters were the victims of widespread institutional neglect. That neglect may not have been designed as a campaign strategy, but it worked as well as if it had been. Republicans, after all, have long believed that their candidates fare better in races with low turnout. There is no question that Bush's twisted path to the White House was paved by voting-system problems unaddressed by his brother and Harris--and that he got the presidency because of the unequal treatment of Florida citizens.
We're pleased to announce that John Nichols joins national affairs correspondent William Greider and Washington editor David Corn in covering politics and policy from the capital. As part of The Nation's expanded Washington bureau, Nichols will divide his time between DC and the road, telling Washington what Americans think and telling Americans what's happening in Washington. He has written "The Beat" for The Nation for the past year and a half, while serving as editorial page editor of the Capital Times newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. Previously, he was a national correspondent and editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Toledo Blade. Nichols was honored by the Inland Press Association for writing the best editorials appearing in a US daily newspaper, and by Women in Communications International as best columnist at a major daily. He has taught at the University of Wisconsin and is a frequent lecturer on public affairs. Author, with Robert McChesney, of It's the Media, Stupid (Seven Stories), he is currently writing a book for The New Press on the 2000 election, focusing on the Florida recount debacle and democracy issues.
The bombing of a Tel Aviv disco, in which twenty Israelis, many of them teenagers, were killed, was an atrocity of such horror that it seemed to shock both sides into taking steps toward installing a very tentative, precarious cease-fire. In the aftermath Secretary of State Colin Powell ritually urged Yasir Arafat to "take every action necessary to bring those responsible to justice" and continued to defend the Administration's refusal to become directly involved. This posture (barely modified by the dispatch of George Tenet to the region in response to growing international pressure) betrays an ongoing, willful and dangerous blindness to the consequences of US actions and inaction.
As events accelerated to what Powell called "the edge of a very deep hole," Secretary Powell has seemed almost eerily disengaged, intoning with bureaucratic punctilio when asked if he had requested Prime Minister Ariel Sharon not to retaliate, "I have not given that direct comment to the Israeli government." After telling Sharon a month ago to pull his troops out of their brief reoccupation of a sliver of Gaza, he ducked behind Bush's campaign-rhetoric Mideast policy of "Clinton not"--hands off until conditions ripen on their own to create a greater likelihood of an Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement. Yet it is Sharon--whose ruthlessness has been well demonstrated and who is a champion of the Israeli expansionism that's at the root of the Palestinian despair that drives more desperate acts--who should be curbed from using the senseless bombing as a pretext for drastic military reprisal intended to wipe out the Palestinian Authority's institutions.
And so, with no moral leadership being voiced by officials of either party in Washington and a press that is locked in a pro-Israel tilt, the American public casts a plague on both houses.
Of course, the image of the United States as a low-profile "honest broker" is false. The Bush Administration has been following the Clinton Administration's blindly pro-Israel policy since it took office. Last month, it failed to raise the issue of Sharon's deployment of American-made F-16s in a retaliatory strike. In January it increased military aid to Israel; in February it cleared the way for the sale of nine Apache attack helicopters to Israel; in March, it vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for an unarmed observer force.
What the Administration should be talking about is a new policy: putting pressure on Israel, not just the Palestinians. That could mean suspending military help or at least threatening to withhold the hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid that goes indirectly into supporting and expanding the settlements. (Bush Senior issued such a threat, and the pressure helped move then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to the negotiating table.) It should be calling not only for Palestinians to clamp down on terrorist operations but for Israel's adoption of the Mitchell report's proposed freeze on settlements, including no more expansion to accommodate "natural" growth of population, and withdrawal of its troops to pre-September 28, 2000, positions.
Ultimately, US policy must be predicated on the goal of creating a viable, contiguous Palestinian state and, to that end, the abandonment of all the Israeli settlements. This is the only solution that can insure Israel's security as well as the Palestinians' right to self-determination. As Richard Falk, a member of the Nation's editorial board who traveled to the region with a UN mission in February, recently revealed, conditions in the Palestinian territories have badly deteriorated. The mission found that Israeli policies of settlement expansion and bypass roads, destruction of Palestinian houses, commandeering of their land and water, random assassinations of their leadership and denial of access to education, jobs and healthcare have become intolerable. The mission concluded that Israel's use of force against the intifada has been excessive and that its conduct as occupying power and its callous treatment of Palestinian refugees have entailed numerous violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The mission called for an international protective presence in the territories, along with implementation of longstanding UN resolutions and the Geneva Convention.
If these things are not done, and if the Palestinians fail to see that terrorism is not just immoral but increasingly counterproductive, the consequences will be deeper immiseration of the Palestinians and demoralization of Israeli society. Americans should demand action by their government to halt a growing tragedy.
It was, take it for all in all, a near-faultless headline: HENRY KISSINGER RATTRAPÉ AU RITZ, À PARIS, PAR LES FANTÔMES DU PLAN CONDOR. I especially liked the accidental synonymy of the verb rattraper. What a rat. And such a trap. It was in this fashion that the front page of the Paris daily Le Monde informed its readers that on Memorial Day the gendarmes had gone round to the Ritz Hotel--flagship of Mohamed Al Fayed's fleet of properties--with a summons from Judge Roger Le Loire inviting the famous rodent to attend at the Palace of Justice the following day. In what must have been one of the most unpleasant moments of his career, noted Le Monde, the hotel manager had to translate the summons to his distinguished guest. Kissinger left the hotel, surrounded by bodyguards, and later announced that he had no desire to answer questions about Operation Condor. He then left town.
Operation Condor [see Peter Kornbluh, "Kissinger and Pinochet," March 29, 1999, and "Chile Declassified," August 9/16, 1999] was a coordinated effort in the 1970s by the secret police forces of seven South American dictatorships. The death squads of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador and Bolivia agreed to pool resources and to hunt down, torture, murder and otherwise "disappear" one another's dissidents. They did this not just on their own soil but as far away as Rome and Washington, where assassins and car-bombs were deployed to maim Christian Democratic Senator Bernardo Leighton in 1975 and to murder the Socialist Orlando Letelier in 1976. The Pinochet regime was to the fore in this internationalization of state terror tactics, and its secret police chief, Col. Manuel Contreras, was especially inventive and energetic.
Thanks to the efforts of Representative Maurice Hinchey, who attached an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act last year, we now know that this seven-nation alliance had a senior partner. At all material times, those directing the work of US intelligence knew of Operation Condor and assisted its activities. And at all material times, the chairman of the supervising "Forty Committee," and the key member of the Interagency Committee on Chile, was Henry Kissinger. It was on his watch that the FBI helped Pinochet to identify and arrest Jorge Isaac Fuentes de Alarcón, a Chilean oppositionist who was first detained and tortured in Paraguay and then turned over to Contreras and "disappeared." Contreras himself was paid a CIA stipend. Other Condor leaders were promised US cooperation in the surveillance of inconvenient exiles living in the United States.
Judge Roger Le Loire has had documents to this effect on his desk for some time and is investigating the fate of five missing French citizens in Chile during the relevant period. He has already issued an arrest warrant for General Pinochet. But he understands that the inquiry can go no further until US government figures agree to answer questions. In refusing to do this, Kissinger received the shameful support of the US Embassy in Paris and the State Department, which coldly advised the French to go through bureaucratic channels in seeking information. Judge Le Loire replied that he had already written to Washington in 1999, during the Clinton years, but had received no response.
On the Friday immediately preceding Memorial Day, another magistrate in a democratic country made an identical request. In order to discover what happened to so many people during the years of Condor terror, said Argentine Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, it would be necessary to secure a deposition from Kissinger. And on June 4 the Chilean judge Juan Guzmán Tapia asked US authorities to question Kissinger about the disappearance of the American citizen Charles Horman, murdered by Pinochet's agents in 1973 and subject of the Costa-Gavras movie Missing (as well as an occasional Nation correspondent). So that, in effect, we have a situation in which the Bush regime is sheltering a man who is wanted for questioning on two continents.
Partly because I have written a short book pointing this out, I have recently been interviewed by French, British and Spanish radio and TV. Indeed, if it wasn't for that, I might not have learned of Kissinger's local and international difficulties for some days. The Financial Times carried a solid story on the Paris episode, with some background, the day after Le Monde. But in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post--not a line. And where were Messrs. Koppel and Lehrer? They usually find the views of "Henry" to be worthy of respectful attention. I admit my own interest, but I still feel able to ask: By whose definition is Kissinger's moment at the Ritz not news?
It is, meanwhile, practically impossible to open the New York Times without reading a solemn admonition, either from the Administration or from the paper itself. Colin Powell lectures Robert Mugabe. George Bush takes a high moral tone with Serbia. All are agreed that wanted men should be given up to international law. All are agreed that however painful the task, other societies must face their own past and shoulder their own grave responsibilities. For a long time I have found it somewhat surreal to read this righteous material, but the experience of ingesting it now becomes more emetic every day.
The seven Condor countries, groping their way back to democracy after decades of trauma, are making brave and honest attempts to find the truth and to punish the guilty. Time and again, commissions of inquiry have been frustrated because the evidence they need is in archives in Washington. And it is in those archives for the unspeakable reason that the United States was the patron and armorer of dictatorship. There is a heavy debt here. Is there not a single Congressional committee, a single principled district attorney, a single leader in our overfed and complacent "human rights community," who will try to help cancel it? Or are we going to watch while the relatives of the murdered and tortured seek justice by lawful means, and are waved away by armed bodyguards if they even try to serve a scrap of paper on the man whose immunity befouls us all?
The March 14 announcement by the Coca-Cola Company that it is scaling back its aggressive marketing strategy in public schools is a clear victory for opponents of schoolhouse commercialism. But it's unlikely that it will do much in the long run to halt the flow of sugary caffeinated drinks into the hands of schoolchildren. According to one soft-drink-industry insider, Coke has so little control over its independent bottlers and distributors that it couldn't turn off the school spigot even if it wanted to. "Local bottlers can't afford to turn down the contracts with schools, because they know a competitor will step right in--and Atlanta [Coca-Cola headquarters] knows this too," the industry expert told me. Executives at five large Coca-Cola bottling companies all said in interviews that they would continue to sign exclusive contracts with local schools if the schools still want them.
And want them they do. The sad reality is that public school officials are so thoroughly addicted to the cheap fix of soda money that they've become a chief ally of the soft-drink industry and a driving force behind school commercialization. In Ohio recently, local school officials defied a state order to stop peddling soda and candy to students while breakfast and lunch are being served (a violation of federal law) because it would have cut into their profits. The state is now threatening to withhold federal money from the schools. And in Maryland, school administrators and organizations like the National Association of Secondary School Principals joined forces with the bottlers, the vending machine lobby and companies like Channel One and Frozen to squash a bill aimed at limiting commercialism in Maryland public schools.
The measure--The Captive Audience/Stop Commercialism in Schools Act of 2001--would have required school boards to ban commercial advertising in schools, restrict soda and candy sales and prohibit the purchase of textbooks with commercial logos. "The lobbyists kicked my ass," said Democratic State Senator Paul Pinsky, the measure's chief author. Pinsky noted that his bill went down to defeat one day after Coke's announced policy changes and only after Coke lobbyists had checked back with the home office on how to proceed.
A similar scenario is shaping up in California, where a bill that would effectively ban sales of soda and junk food in state schools is facing opposition from school officials and the California-Nevada Soft Drink Association. Ironically, the measure was drawn up in cooperation with leading child nutrition experts and school nutrition directors, who increasingly find themselves on the opposite side of school-health issues from their bosses.
Through contracts with Coke and Pepsi, some schools are raising as much as $100,000 a year, money that pays for things like band uniforms, field trips, team sports and computer rewiring. But in exchange schools become indentured to the corporations. Typically, the contracts require that schools sell a set quota of soft drinks each year (with cash incentives for selling more). This transforms schools from the status of being mere custodians of vending machines into active sales agents for soda. In Colorado Springs in 1998, for example, school officials sent teachers a letter urging them to allow students to drink Coke in class and suggesting that they keep soda machines on twenty-four hours a day [see Manning, "Students for Sale," September 27, 1999].
There can be no solution to the commercialization of public education until public schools are adequately and equitably funded. The Bush Administration will offer little help. Education Secretary Rod Paige signed a $5 million, five-year contract with Coca-Cola while superintendent of the Houston public schools and has proposed no solutions to the school funding crisis.
Consequently, parents and community activists should encourage local school boards to find other solutions to their budget problems. One obvious solution is higher taxes, an option that school districts are loath to propose. But as Andy Hagelshaw, the director of the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, points out, none of the approximately 250 exclusive cola contracts in effect nationally pay out more than $10 to $15 extra per pupil per year, less in bigger school districts. Surely, paying $10 a year more in school taxes is a good investment if it helps eliminate corporate hucksters and exploitation in schools. There are other funding alternatives as well, many of which the center helps schools adopt and implement: For example, instead of relying on the soda subsidy, many school districts are negotiating beneficial arrangements with smaller local businesses that contain no advertising or commercialism. Nationally, the Algebra Project, which produces a math curriculum and provides teacher training to urban schools, has accepted corporate underwriters who receive nothing in return except a brief mention in an annual report.
The failure of educators to think critically about the impact of school commercialism on the quality of schools is a terrible ethical lapse. It's time for the education establishment to think twice before it sells out its students to the highest bidder.
Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. And for much of the spring it seemed possible that America's second-largest city would elect as its mayor a progressive Latino who at one time had a tattoo that read, "Born to Raise Hell." Antonio Villaraigosa hailed from the barrio, marched with striking workers, replaced municipal bromides about economic development with a call for "economic justice" and asked the right questions about the drug war, immigration and a tattered safety net. The high school dropout who parlayed a second chance into the Speakership of the California Assembly sought to build a rainbow coalition of the left in a rapidly diversifying city.
So Villaraigosa's 53-to-47 loss Tuesday to City Attorney James Hahn, the colorless scion of the city's best-known political family, was more than just another municipal dream deferred. It was a reminder to progressives in LA and nationally that coalition politics is always easier said than done. Villaraigosa's army of 2,500 union volunteers tripled Latino turnout from just eight years ago, but African-American voters--many loyal to the moderately liberal Hahn because of his father's long advocacy for communities of color, and others worried about losing political clout in a city that is 47 percent Hispanic--gave Villaraigosa barely one-third of their votes. And suburban Anglo voters were scared off in droves by a relentlessly anti-Villaraigosa campaign that portrayed the former president of the Southern California ACLU as soft on crime. Last-minute Hahn mailings to suburban neighborhoods sought to link Villaraigosa to a cocaine dealer and warned, "Los Angeles just can't trust Antonio Villaraigosa." Shelly Mandell, president of the LA National Organization for Women, said, "I've never seen anything worse done to a good person."
The viciousness of the final phase of the campaign was not typical of Hahn, whose record and rhetoric suggest he will be a more liberal leader than outgoing mayor Richard Riordan. But Hahn will never be the movement mayor Villaraigosa would have been.
The election was "a gut check," said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute. LA didn't quite have the guts to embrace what the Los Angeles Times described as "the audacity of [Villaraigosa's] aspirations for the city." (Nor, if a close unofficial tally holds, did it have the guts to elect the audacious Tom Hayden to the City Council.) But in a year when New York, Detroit, Cleveland and other major cities--all experiencing their own demographic and political shifts--will elect mayors, opportunities remain for progressives to make the rainbow real. The challenge, and it is a big one, will be to recognize that the rainbow does not just appear; it must be created. And it must be strong enough to withstand the politics of fear and division that can dash even the most audacious aspirations.
Memo to editors of campus papers: When the next right-wing ideologue shows up with an ad full of nonsense, just take the money and print it. That way, they will not be able to pose as the victim of "political correctness," they will not get millions of dollars' worth of free publicity and their ideas will not acquire the glamour of the forbidden. By the same token, you will not look afraid of debate and controversy, nor will you have to explain why you rejected their ad while printing something equally false, offensive or stupid on some previous occasion.
Never mind that the people accusing you of censorship practice it themselves: In an amusing riposte to David Horowitz's flamethrower ad opposing reparations for slavery, Salon's David Mazel proved unable to place an enthusiastically pro-abortion ad in papers on conservative campuses; and as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out, the Boston Globe, which editorialized against students who rejected the Horowitz ad, itself rejected an ad criticizing Staples, a major advertiser, for using old-growth forest pulp in its typing paper. So there, and so there! But you're in a better place to make such arguments stick if you can stand--however cynically and self-servingly--on the high ground of free speech yourself.
Just as Horowitz faded, having shot himself in the foot by refusing to pay the Daily Princetonian after it printed his ad but editorialized against it, up comes the soi-disant Independent Women's Forum--you know, that intrepid band of far-right free spirits funded by the ultraconservative Sarah Scaife Foundation--with an ad in the UCLA Daily Bruin and Yale Daily News urging students to "Take Back the Campus!" and "Combat the radical feminist assault on Truth." The IWF charges "campus feminism" with being "a kind of cult" in which "students are inculcated with bizarre conspiracy theories about the 'capitalist patriarchal hegemony,'" a fount of "Ms./Information," "male-bashing and victimology." Brainwashing isn't exactly what comes to mind when I think of the revolution in scholarship that has produced such celebrated historians as Linda Gordon, Ellen DuBois, Joan Scott, Rickie Solinger, Leslie Reagan and Kathy Peiss. The sweeping, paranoiac language gives it away--this is IWF member Christina Hoff Sommers speaking from her perch at that noted institution of higher learning, the American Enterprise Institute.
The bulk of the ad consists of a list of "the ten most common feminist myths" and the "facts" that supposedly prove them false. Much of this is lifted from Sommers's Who Stole Feminism?, a book that attempted to deploy a few gotchas against hyperbolic statistics and questionable studies to deny the significance of violence, sexism and discrimination in women's lives. I mean, how important is it that "rule of thumb" may not derive, as some feminist activists believe and some newspapers have printed, from an old legal rule permitting husbands to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb (Myth #4)? Feminists did not make this folk etymology up out of nothing--actually, according to Sharon Fenick of the University of Chicago, writing on the Urban Legends website, it probably goes back to the eighteenth century, when the respected English judge, Francis Buller, earned the nickname "Judge Thumb," for declaring such "correction" permissible. That it was legal for premodern English husbands to beat their wives within limits is not in dispute (in her book, Sommers obscures this fact by omitting the Latin phrases from a passage in Blackstone's Commentaries); nor is the fact that wife-beating, regardless of the law, was, and sometimes still is, treated lightly by the legal system under the rubric of marital privacy. Thus, in 1910 the Supreme Court, in Thompson v. Thompson, barred wives from suing husbands for "injuries to person or property as though they were strangers." (I learned this, and much else relating to the history of American marriage, from Yale feminist historian Nancy Cott's fascinating Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation.)
And what about Myth #2, "Women earn 75 cents for every dollar a man earns." That doesn't come from some man-bashing fabulator squirreled away in a women's studies department. It comes from the US government! The IWF argues that the disparity disappears when you take education, training, occupation, continuity of employment, motherhood and other factors into account--but even if that were true, which it isn't, to overlook all those things is itself advocacy, a politicized way of defining sex discrimination in order to minimize it.
And then there's #1, the mother of all myths: "One in four women in college has been the victim of rape or attempted rape." The IWF debunks this number, which comes from the research of Mary Koss, by citing the low numbers of reported rapes on college campuses, but the one-in-four figure includes off-campus and pre-college rapes and rape attempts. Are Koss's numbers the last word? Of course not. In 1998 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among all women, one in five had experienced a rape or attempted rape at some point in her life. In January the Justice Department released a report claiming that 3 percent of college women experience rape or attempted rape per school year, which does add up over four years.
Does irresponsible, lax or even slanted use of facts and figures exist in "campus feminism"? Sure--and out of it, too. (Try economics.) But what does that have to do with women's studies, a very large, very lively interdisciplinary field of intellectual inquiry, in which many of the supposed verities of contemporary feminism are hotly contested? The real debate isn't over the merits of this study or that--in social science "results" are always provisional. Now that the IWF has thrown down the gauntlet, feminist scholars should call for that real debate--Resolved: Women's lives were more seriously studied and accurately understood when almost no tenured professors were female. Or, Resolved: Violence against women is not a major social problem. Or, Resolved: If women aren't equal, it's their own darn fault.