CAMPAIGN FINANCE UPDATE
As the Senate geared up for a debate on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill (McFein for short), which bans soft money, Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli was again grumbling about how the bill is flawed because it doesn't close down the issue-ad loophole. He's essentially right, but that's no reason to vote against McFein, which does close another big loophole. If McFein passes, some soft money might be diverted to issue ads, but some would not, its sponsors believe. Sparking more valid concerns is a provision in the bill that bars corporations and unions from spending money on issue ads within sixty days of an election. That worries labor because the plan does nothing to curb individual spending on such ads. There are plenty of wealthy people with pro-corporate axes to grind. So even if corporate funding of issue ads is banned, the pro-business message will flood out in ads paid for by well-heeled individuals. Labor has few individual supporters with such deep pockets. The unions also oppose raising the $1,000 cap on hard money. Campaign reform groups are wobbling on this one, with some risking a compromise that would index hard-money limits to inflation. But any increase in the hard-money limit makes it easier for wealthy special interests to buy influence and access and does nothing to open up the system to ordinary Americans.
EXTRA! GORE WINS FLORIDA! HELLO?
The Palm Beach Post's recount of undervotes--hanging, dimpled, pinhole chads--gave Al Gore 784 additional votes in Palm Beach County. If the same recount method were followed statewide, Gore would win overwhelmingly. The butterfly ballots, on which confused voters marked both Gore and Pat Buchanan, cost Gore some 6,600 votes, the Post estimated; another 2,908 voted for Gore and Socialist David McReynolds.
RUN JEB RUN
There has been speculation recently that Jeb Bush may not run in 2002 because of "family concerns." We hope he stays the course. It would be democracy's loss if he didn't give African-Americans and other Floridians a chance to register a protest against the electoral shenanigans last fall.
YOU CAN ALWAYS TELL A HARVARD MAN...
Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, named as Harvard's new president, is on record as saying that Africa is "under-polluted." This phrase, Jon Wiener reminds us, appeared in a 1991 memo Summers wrote while he was chief economist for the World Bank. In it he recommended that the bank encourage "more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs" (less developed countries). He went on to give three reasons: (1) The cost of sickness caused by pollution--in terms of lost wages--is lower in the LDCs, since their average wages are so low, (2) LDCs are "under-polluted" by industry and (3) demand for a clean environment for health and aesthetic reasons is small in countries with high mortality rates. After the memo became public, Brazil's secretary of the environment wrote Summers, "Your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane."
BUSHISM OF THE WEEK
In a talk to Treasury Department workers: "The way I like to put it is this: There's no bigger issue for the President to remind the moms and dads of America, if you happen to have a child,
be fortunate to have a child."
THE CREDITORS' BALL
The bankruptcy bill passed by the House denies bankruptcy protection to small borrowers who get in over their heads. The bill contains a special provision exempting American partners in Lloyd's of London from having to pay their share of the insurer's added costs from payouts on recent disasters. The bill also protects wealthy deadbeats' real estate holdings in Florida, Texas and other states that local laws have made into bankruptcy havens. Those laws allow the wealthiest debtors to convert their hidden assets into lavish homes, immune from seizure.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
Another of Bush's conflict-of-interest Cabinet members can join Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, the man from Alcoa, and the boys from Big Oil. Say hi to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who served on the board of directors of Northwest Airlines. Nothing to do with the untimely sixty-day cooling-off period Bush slapped on the mechanics' union at Northwest.
In the near future we plan to expand our faith-based initiative, Holy Terror Sandblasting and Demolition Corp. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani finds much merit in our proposal for a workfare program in which homeless people (men only, naturellement!) would be trained in medieval theology, art criticism and the use of explosives. Please send dollars and the floor plan of the Brooklyn Museum. Or else.
Dear Professor DiIulio,
With medical costs going through the roof, you'd think there'd be a better way. And now, with the Lord's help, there is! Our idea is to buy up struggling inner-city hospitals and turn them into profit centers--no doctors, no nurses, no fancy-shmancy machines and best of all, no messy malpractice suits. Just the blessed healing power of prayer, provided 24 hours a day at bedside by recovering drug addicts as part of their therapy. It's total win-win--the government saves, the patient is saved--if not in this world, the next. And that's the world that counts, right?
Rev. Tommy Johnson
Pentecostal Holiness Church, Memphis, TN
People say communism is just another religion, and they're right! We have everything the other faiths have--an all-encompassing worldview, sacred texts, meetings (and how!), schisms, excommunications and declining numbers and influence. We'd like to reverse that last item with funding for our workfare proposal: First, we provide welfare mothers a crash course in job readiness, parenting skills and the works of Karl Marx. Then, we get them jobs in daycare centers, where they pass their new "faith" on to the next generation, hopefully in time for the stock market crash. Don't count us out--a god that failed is still a god.
The Communist Party, USA
Dear Brother in Christ,
Did you know the Chicago Archdiocese has an exorcist on staff? Our faith-based initiative, The Exercist, would get this superbly trained but underutilized man out of the apse and into the community, where he'd help the so-called mentally ill get their sillies out with a carefully graduated low-impact aerobic workout that goes beyond head swiveling and projectile vomiting to get at the real nitty-gritty of diabolical possession! Then, everyone cools down with a sharing session, novena and group hug: because admitting you're possessed by the Devil is half the cure!
Hope to hear from you soon,
Msgr. George O'Reilly
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago
Dear Prof. DiIulio,
For ten years we've been trying to get our own public school district so our kids wouldn't have to go to school with goyim. The courts keep turning us down. Then we wanted buses with only male drivers and sex-segregated seating, and the self-hating Jewish liberals said no to that too. So we would like to become a Faith-Based Initiative with ourselves as clients. Our project is, we stay in our own town and only talk to each other. Because that's what G-d wants. Eventually we hope to get NEA funding as a conceptual art project ("The Choice: Chosen People Choose Themselves"), but a starter grant from your office would really put us on track.
Let us know,
Rabbi Shlomo Greenblatt, Kiryas Joel, NY
Ever wonder what's really behind that weird weather of recent years ? Hint: It's a long time between burnt offerings. How about paying some deadbeat dads to slaughter a herd of oxen and throw those fabulous thighbones on the barbie? Everybody benefits: They learn the meat business, you get fruitful harvests, favorable winds and calm winedark seas, and we get a decent meal. Reply soonest--the wife is pushing me to zap you with a thunderbolt.
Death Row Dad is a moving story of one father's embrace of capital punishment--despite his own imminent execution! While his ACLU lawyer tries frantically to turn up new evidence even as his own marriage unravels, and beautiful crusading nun Helen Prejean pleads with the governor for a stay, Leroy, who is in fact innocent, wants only that his son renounce his homosexual lifestyle and accept Christ as his personal savior. Soon the whole prison--even the crusty warden and a pair of racist guards--is praying for Leroy to get his wish. Jack, I promise you, when Leroy looks up from the gurney just before the lethal injection, sees his son standing there with his new girlfriend, and rejects the last-minute stay of execution ("I reckon the Lord is waitin' for my sorry self"), the audience won't know whether to cheer or go down on its knees. Morgan's people think yes for the lead, Julia's very interested in doing the nun. A major studio is ready to greenlight the minute your office comes through with co-financing.
Talk to you after the prayer meeting,
How about a grant where I become a lay minister and practice laying on of hands? There's a whole heck of a lot of lonely women out there with big spiritual needs. I mean, really big.
Educators have long known the rap sheet on the SAT, the college entrance exam that millions of young people have taken as a rite of passage for some seventy-five years. Since its inception, the SAT has become among the most scrutinized and controversial of standardized tests. And yet, the exam--and the mental testing culture that has sustained it in the United States--has been remarkably impervious to the attacks on it over the years.
Recently, however, the SAT suffered a body blow when the president of the University of California system proposed dumping the exam. Don't expect colleges and universities to defect from the SAT en masse--it's too deeply entrenched for that. But in announcing his far-reaching proposal in February, UC president Richard Atkinson legitimized open discussion of a heretofore taboo subject for large and selective universities: whether they (and society) would be better off without the test.
Atkinson, an eminent cognitive psychologist, knows well the list of particulars against the exam in question, the so-called SAT I "reasoning test." As the progeny of the first intelligence test commercialized in the United States, the SAT has proven to be a weak predictor of a student's actual performance in the first year of college; after that, its usefulness vanishes completely. Moreover, the SAT has proven to be a vicious sorter of young people by class and race, and even gender--and has served to sustain the very upper-middle-class privilege that many of the exam's supporters claim to oppose. The latest figures from the College Board, the SAT's sponsor, show that a test taker can expect an extra shot of fifteen to fifty points on his or her total SAT I score for every $10,000 that Mom and Dad bring home. Call it the Volvo Effect: a boost that peaks out at the highest levels of family income. Being white, on average, confers an extra 200-point advantage over a black test-taker. Atkinson hopes that replacing the SAT I with the SAT II subject tests will lessen such disparities and more accurately reflect what students study in high school. In fact, scores on both exams are powerfully correlated with each other, and UC's own data show that the SAT II also sorts harshly by class, race and gender. More helpful, Atkinson intends to revamp the entire UC admissions process by requiring campuses to evaluate applicants more comprehensively than under the old numerical formulas, judging a high school student's achievements in light of his or her social and economic circumstances.
The SAT's shortcomings have become especially vivid in recent years, as courts, voters and policy-makers in several states, including the UC Board of Regents in 1995, have ordered public universities to dismantle their affirmative action programs. Post-affirmative action, UC's most selective campuses have seen freshman acceptance rates wane for blacks and Hispanics. Meanwhile, the state's Hispanic population is forecast to skyrocket from about 11 million in 2000 to 18 million over the next two decades. Hispanic high school graduates will surge 74 percent over the next decade, while numbers of white graduates are expected to grow just 2 percent.
In light of these trends, the usual justifications for the SAT's continued dominance as a gatekeeper to UC would no longer wash. Yes, since 1968 the admissions test has been a bureaucratically convenient way to sort and weed large numbers of college aspirants. Yes, UC's relatively high SAT scores made it look good in the test-score fashion show put out by US News & World Report. Yes, the test was a common yardstick. But it was also a crooked one, inflicting enormous social costs.
Of course, there will be complaints that Atkinson's tossing the SAT will lead to the ruination of a great university: As UC opens the floodgates to hordes of the academically unfit, standards will plummet. We've heard it before, as when the University of Texas system enacted its "top 10 percent" law after the 1996 federal appeals court ruling in the Hopwood case, which ordered the state's universities to end their affirmative action programs. Beginning in 1997, any Texas high school senior graduating in the top 10 percent of her class earned automatic admission to Texas public universities--regardless of SAT scores. Did this produce the collapse of a great university? Hardly. At the flagship University of Texas, at Austin, SAT scores of students admitted under the top 10 percent law, as expected, fell markedly compared with their peers from pre-Hopwood days. And yet, their classroom performance actually bettered their pre-Hopwood counterparts (that is, those in the top 10 percent who did meet the SAT threshold), holding steady even in engineering, business and science. To top it off, by 2000, enrollments of Hispanics and African-Americans had been restored to their pre-Hopwood levels.
Ultimately, UC's faculty senate and the Regents could dash Atkinson's hopes for a new era in the university's approach to college admissions. Nevertheless, he has accomplished something of unquantifiable benefit by helping to pry open a badly needed debate about the meaning of merit in American higher education. Will we be a nation that judges young people based on what they have accomplished and what they've overcome to do so, or by how well they fill in bubbles on a standardized test that is itself of questionable merit?
Ariel Sharon's election as Israeli Prime Minister insures a prolonged pause in progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. While awaiting his successor, politicians and commentators could occupy their time constructively by adopting a new "language of peace." Dangerously misleading terminology remains a major obstacle to a resolution of the conflict.
It is normal practice for parties to a dispute to use language that favors them. In this regard, Israel has been spectacularly successful in imposing its terminology not simply on Israeli and American consciousness but even on many Arab parties and commentators. It has done so not simply in obvious ways like use of the terms "terrorism," "security" and "Judea and Samaria" but also in more subtle ways.
There is much talk of "concessions" being demanded from and offered by Israel. This word suggests the surrender of some legitimate right or position. In fact, while Israel demands numerous concessions from Palestine, Palestine is not seeking any concessions from Israel. What it is insisting upon is "compliance"--compliance with agreements already signed, compliance with international law and compliance with relevant UN resolutions--nothing more and nothing less. Compliance is not a concession. It is an obligation, both legally and morally.
The concept of "compliance" is well entrenched in Iraq's case. Partial Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions is rarely hailed as a "concession"--"painful," "far-reaching," "unprecedented" or otherwise. In Iraq's case, anything less than full compliance is deemed "defiance"--at least by the United States. Notwithstanding Israel's eventual full compliance on its Egyptian, Jordanian and Lebanese borders, most Israelis still believe, with the encouragement of successive US administrations, that peace with Palestine can be achieved without compliance. This is most unlikely--but how many more, on both sides, will die before the logic of "compliance" replaces the false generosity of "concessions"?
The Palestinian territories conquered by Israel in 1967 are frequently referred to as "disputed." They are not. They are "occupied," illegally so. While sovereignty over expanded East Jerusalem is explicitly contested, none of the world's other 192 sovereign states have recognized Israel's sovereignty claim, and Palestinian sovereignty over the Gaza Strip and the rest of the West Bank is, in both literal and legal senses, uncontested.
Israel has never even purported to annex these territories. Since November 15, 1988, when Palestinian independence and statehood were formally proclaimed, the only state asserting sovereignty over those portions of historical Palestine that Israel occupied in 1967 (aside from expanded East Jerusalem) has been the State of Palestine.
Commentators on all sides speak of Israel "ceding" territory to Palestine or to "the Palestinians." This word suggests a transfer of land by its legitimate owner. Israel can withdraw from occupied Palestinian lands, but the only land it could legitimately cede would be land inside its internationally recognized, pre-1967 borders (a possibility discussed in pre-election peace negotiations). Indeed, Israel continues to insist that Palestine cede to Israel indisputably Palestinian lands forming part of the meager 22 percent of historical Palestine that Israel did not conquer until 1967. How fair, reasonable and genuinely peace-seeking is this?
Misleading language has been particularly destructive with respect to Jerusalem. For years, Israeli politicians have repeated like a mantra that "Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli sovereignty." Understandably, most Israelis believe that Israel currently possesses sovereignty over Jerusalem. It does not. It possesses only administrative control. While a country can acquire administrative control by force of arms, it can acquire sovereignty (the state-level equivalent of title or ownership) only with the consent of the international community.
The position of the international community is clear and categorical: Israel is in military occupation of East Jerusalem (including the Old City, site of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount) and has only de facto authority over West Jerusalem. The refusal of virtually all countries (even including the United States) to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel's capital vividly demonstrates the refusal of the international community to concede, yet, that any part of the city is Israel's sovereign territory.
There can thus be no question of Israel "relinquishing" or "transferring" sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem. Indeed, the only way that Israel will ever acquire sovereignty over any part of the city is by agreeing with Palestine on a basis for either sharing or dividing it (or doing a bit of both) that is recognized as fair and accepted by the international community.
This distinction is of fundamental intellectual and psychological importance for Israeli public opinion. There is a world of difference between being perceived as the Israeli leader who achieved Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem for the first time in 2,000 years and being perceived as the one who relinquished some degree of Jewish sovereignty over the city.
One word that has been too rarely used in connection with the "peace process" is "justice." For obvious reasons, it is never used by Israeli or American politicians as a component of the "peace" they envision. Yet a true and lasting peace, as opposed to a mere temporary cessation of hostilities, is inconceivable unless some measure of justice is achieved. It is high time for all involved to recognize and speak clearly about these fundamental realities. Peace may depend on it.
While Stephen Schwartz does a good job of tearing apart the Venona book by Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, he praises the Venona book by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr ["A Tale of Two Venonas," Jan. 8/15]. But neither book questions the accuracy of the decryptions. All the authors take for granted that the National Security Agency has published a true decryption of the Soviet cables. This assumption is quite remarkable in view of the past history of the NSA, which has not given scholars the opportunity to check the decryptions' accuracy.
The NSA's identification of the individuals with cover names is another questionable area. For example: The cover names Antenna and Liberal, which the NSA said identified Julius Rosenberg, were initially assigned to one Joseph Weichbrod, and it was only after David Greenglass, Julius's brother-in-law, was arrested, that the NSA said, Oops, we made a slight mistake. Strangely, I, a bona fide convicted spy, could not be found anywhere among the hundreds of identified spies, but this was not for lack of their trying.
In a very candid May 13, 1950, memo, which the FBI never thought would see the light of day, it writes of Venona: "The fragmentary nature of the messages themselves, the assumptions made by the cryptographers, in breaking the messages themselves, and the questionable interpretations and translations involved, plus the extensive use of cover names for persons and places, make the problem of positive identification extremely difficult." One would never know this from the way all the authors write about the decrypted Venona cables.
The important question of why the NSA brought the FBI into the project must be examined. Certainly the FBI did not have decryption expertise beyond that of the NSA. The FBI's role was to try to match their files against "the fragmentary nature of the messages." And as an example of their expertise in this game one need look no further than the Weichbrod case cited above. I have tried to obtain some decryptions relating to my case that were available before the FBI entered the arena, but without success. A half-century later the NSA maintains that allowing me to see these files would expose their decryption methods.
It is the fundamental questions relating to the NSA's decryptions that seem to be off-limits to those who write about Venona.
To flog one untrustworthy book about Venona with another, as Stephen Schwartz did, raises doubts about his entire discussion. Of course the Herbert Romerstein book, given its authorship, is not credible. But Schwartz's chosen weapon against it, a book by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, has likewise failed the test of probity and accuracy.
Consider, for example, how Haynes and Klehr treat the cases of three New Dealers: Lauchlin Currie, Harry Dexter White and Alger Hiss. Currie, a Canadian and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Harvard, was the first professional economist to serve in the White House. Haynes and Klehr use Venona decrypts of Soviet World War II cablegrams to traduce Currie as a spy for the Soviet Union. In the process, Haynes and Klehr get their facts wrong, withhold relevant facts and weigh evidence from one side only. They suggest that Currie tried to kill the Venona project before it revealed Soviet cable traffic, but they withhold the facts that expose their claim as incredible, if not absurd. They falsely assert that Currie fled the United States and renounced his citizenship, when actually he returned to Colombia on a two-year contract to advise the government on implementing the recommendations of a World Bank mission, married a Colombian and was unable to renew his passport because he was residing mainly in Colombia (a basis for nonrenewal for a naturalized US citizen at that time). For more, see Roger Sandilands, "Guilt by Association? Lauchlin Currie's Alleged Involvement with Washington Economists in Soviet Espionage," History of Political Economy (Fall 2000).
Harry Dexter White was an assistant secretary of the Treasury under FDR and Truman. In 1941, when Russia was hard pressed on its western front against Nazi Germany, KGB Gen. Vitaly Pavlov met White for lunch in a Washington restaurant to ask for increased US pressure on Japan to deter it from attacking Russia's Far Eastern borders. Recounting the event in Operation Snow (1995-96), Pavlov describes White as a patriotic American and "never one of our agents." Haynes and Klehr characterize White's meeting with Pavlov (whose first name they get wrong) as "clandestine" and, based on dozens of Venona documents they misconstrue out of context, name White "A Most Highly Placed Spy." For further details, see James Boughton, "The Case Against Harry Dexter White: Still Not Proven," forthcoming in History of Political Economy (Summer 2001).
As for Alger Hiss, Haynes and Klehr assert that Venona confirms his guilt because he was "Ales," the cover name of a spy described in a Venona cablegram. Facts that virtually preclude such an identity (among others, that Ales was a military-intelligence group leader and obtained only military information, whereas Hiss was charged with acting alone and obtaining only nonmilitary State Department information) Haynes and Klehr simply ignore. They also assert that Alger's brother Donald spied with him, but they do not disclose that even Alger's accuser, Whittaker Chambers, denied that Donald was a spy, nor is there a shred of evidence that he was. For more in point, see my article "Venona and Alger Hiss" in Intelligence and National Security (Autumn 2000) and on the website of British Universities Film & Video Council, www.bufvc.ac.uk, under "publications" and "viewfinder."
Haynes and Klehr did not originate the practice of misconstruing Venona documents to support faulty conclusions. The practice was begun by the FBI after it joined the Venona team in 1948, and it was subsequently used on countless targets. In the early 1960s, for instance, Venona documents helped convince the CIA's own Venona head man and mole-hunter, James Jesus Angleton, that former governor of New York and ambassador to Russia Averell Harriman was a Soviet agent. Haynes and Klehr merely jumped on the bandwagon thirty years later.
If Schwartz had applied the same critical faculties to the book by Haynes and Klehr that he brought to bear on Romerstein, he would have discovered that both books are thoroughly unreliable.
My review did not address the guilt of Lauchlin Currie, Harry Dexter White or Alger Hiss, aside from saying that the Venona evidence on the last person could not be dismissed. The evidence to which I referred drew a parallel between the movements of Hiss and the agent Ales in Russia.
I am much less interested in the fates of these three bourgeois careerists than I am in those of such dissident revolutionists as Ignacy Porecki-Reiss, Andreu Nin and Leon Trotsky. I have never understood the moral compass of certain US intellectuals who consider the sufferings of White and Hiss, or of the heirs of Currie, to be more compellingly tragic than the assassination of Reiss, the death by torture of Nin or the smashing of Trotsky's brain by an ice ax.
Indeed, there is evidence that the infiltration of Soviet agents into the highest levels of the US government involved something much worse than mere spying; rather, an intent to manipulate the US authorities in support of these terror operations. We see a possible example of this in the interest of Hiss, while at State, in the Robinson-Rubens case.
Lowenthal refers to "the practice of misconstruing Venona documents to support faulty conclusions.... subsequently used on countless targets." I have no idea who the "countless targets" might be, but I know and can sustain the following points on the basis of unchallengeable documentation, witnesses of the time and fully established memoirs by such persons as the Russo-Belgian writer Victor Serge, the Trotskyists Pierre Naville and Gerard Rosenthal, my co-author, the Catalan historian Víctor Alba, and others:
(1) Mark Zborowski, the NKVD mole who infiltrated the Trotskyist movement and murdered Trotsky's son Leon Sedov, while also facilitating the murders of Ignacy Porecki-Reiss, Andreu Nin, Kurt Landau, Erwin Wolf, Hans Freund ("Moulin") and Rudolf Klement, was identified and brought to partial justice in the United States on the basis of Venona.
(2) The related unmasking of the infamous Sobolevicius brothers, Jack Soble and Robert Soblen/Roman Well, who had penetrated the Trotskyist movement before Zborowski, was made possible by Venona.
(3) The positive identification of Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río as the assassin of Trotsky, first made by Víctor Alba (then working as a crime reporter for the Mexican daily Excelsior) was confirmed by Venona.
(4) The extensive infiltration of the US Trotskyist movement by such agents of the Stalinist secret police as Floyd Miller was first revealed in Venona.
(5) The NKVD employment of Spanish Stalinists like Victori Salà, a key figure in the attempted frameup of the POUM, while they were in exile in Mexico during World War II, was exposed by Venona.
(6) The recruitment of US maritime workers--seamen and longshoremen--as Soviet spies is documented in Venona.
(7) The manipulation of important Yugoslav politicians by the Soviet secret police during World War II was disclosed through Venona.
(8) The suspicions of the Moscow secret police center regarding a lead agent, Otto Katz, resulting in his public trial and execution with several others in Prague after World War II, may be traced in Venona.
I independently researched these cases before I'd even heard of the existence of Venona. In addition, all of them involve numerous additional people who figure in Venona. Venona merely corroborated evidence I had amassed and thoroughly analyzed on my own. Using these cases as controls, I have little or no doubt about the decryption and analysis put forward by the National Security Agency and by Klehr and Haynes. I am the first to admit the apparent irony that investigation of these matters was in most cases of virtually no importance to the vital interests of the US government.
I have eaten more than my share of Whoppers in my forty-one years. As a teenager I liked them so much I'd worry about whether I could afford another one while still eating the first. As I got older, my concerns centered less on the cost to my wallet than to my waistline. Today, thanks to two new books, I have a new fear: the prospect of everlasting damnation.
Eric Schlosser's Fast-Food Nation is a frightening and disturbing update of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Spend a few hours with Schlosser and you'll become more intimately acquainted with your ground beef than you ever wanted to be. Consider the people who get the meat into your waiting fingers. The injury rate among meatpackers is the highest of any US occupation. Every year about one-third of all slaughterhouse workers--roughly 43,000 men and women--suffer an injury or an illness that requires first aid on the job. Given the inevitable exchange of blood and other bodily fluids in which these injuries result, their oppression is your health hazard. The same goes for the burger-flippers behind the grill. Fast-food employees are the largest group of low-paid workers in the United States today, earning on average $5.74 an hour. One-quarter of the workers in the restaurant industry are estimated to earn the minimum wage--a higher proportion than in any other US industry. (No wonder the National Restaurant Association is perhaps this nation's most vociferous opponent of living-wage laws.) Again, worker oppression results in consumer health peril. Reading Schlosser, we hear stories of teenage workers serving meat after dropping it on the floor, picking their noses into the food, smoking on the job and watching cockroaches and rats feed and defecate on unprepared foods.
A single hamburger often contains beef from dozens up to hundreds of cattle from as many as six countries. If just one morsel becomes infected with the E. coli microbe, the burger can kill you. For the luckier ones, it can result in kidney failure, anemia, internal bleeding, seizure, stroke and coma. As company lawyers pay victims in exchange for their silence, in the past eight years some half-million Americans, mostly kids, have become seriously ill from E. coli infections. Every week, a few of them die.
I've not even said a word about the economic and environmental destruction the industry routinely wreaks on the farmland it controls, the neighborhood mom and pop operations it destroys, and the evil mind-games it plays with our children. (The McDonald's corporation, the world's largest owner of retail property, is also its leading spender on advertising and marketing, much of it directed at small children.) And forget mad cow.
Still hungry? Peter Singer's new collection, Writings on an Ethical Life, asks you to think again. Singer, whose musings on "speciesism" single-handedly jump-started the animal rights movement a quarter-century ago, wants to know what right you have to be eating what was once a conscious being in the first place. "All consumers of animal products are responsible for the existence of cruel practices involved in producing them. Our moral responsibility should compel us to avoid hamburgers because every time we eat one we are contributing to a cycle of suffering not only of animals, but also of humans, for the grain used to feed the animals we consume is more than enough to end hunger in many less industrialized and affluent countries." (If you want stomach-turning evidence of rampant anti-animal sadism in the beef industry, check out Schlosser's account of a visit to a slaughterhouse "somewhere in the high plains.")
All right, let's say you do decide to transform your life, swearing off not only animals and fish but also dairy. You are now a vegan, and you decide to celebrate by taking your family out to a fancy new neighborhood health-food restaurant serving only the most high-minded meals of vegetables, fruit, nuts and berries. Not so fast, says Singer. The $200 or so you are about to spend on a meal you don't really need would help transform a sickly 2-year-old into a healthy 6-year-old somewhere in the Third World--offering safe passage through childhood's most dangerous years. If instead of going out to dinner, you dial either (800) 367-5437 for UNICEF or (800) 693-2687 for Oxfam and give them your credit card number and 200 bucks, that child will live instead of die. If you go out to dinner instead--well, sorry, but the kid is dead.
OK, now let's say you donated the money--I hope you did--and decide to go out to dinner anyway. Is that enough? Not really, I'm afraid. There are millions more starving kids out there, and I'm guessing you've got more than $200 you don't really need. I know your friends and relatives don't seem to be giving away their extra money, but most people didn't resist the Nazis or Stalinists when they had the chance, either. Does that make it right?
Here's the problem. I can't answer any of these arguments, but I can ignore them. At least I intend to (except for the $200 one--I did stop in the middle of writing this article to fork over $200 to Oxfam). The trouble seems to be that I'm a massive hypocrite. I make sacrifices for my principles but not, apparently, ones involving hamburgers and steaks. I like them too much, torture or no torture, starving kids or no starving kids, E. coli risk or no E. coli risk.
Being an American, you are probably no better. We are the wealthiest people in all human history, and yet our government does not even come close to meeting the extremely modest United Nations-recommended target of a set-aside of 0.7 percent of GDP to overseas aid agencies. Our piddling 0.1 percent is less than one-third of Japan's contribution and a tenth of Denmark's. Don't tell me that these organizations are inefficient at feeding people. Everybody is inefficient at everything. They are good enough. Singer, a vegan who gives away 20 percent of his salary as a tenured faculty member at Princeton, insists that there is "something incoherent about living a life where the conclusions you came to in ethics did not make any difference to your life." He's right. We're living a morally incoherent life, you and I. And as Schlosser demonstrates ad nauseam, it's even pretty stupid from the standpoint of our own self-interest. So how do we justify it?
I wish I knew.
The air now quivers with gloomy assessments of the secrets "compromised" by the FBI's Robert Hanssen, a senior official who stands accused of working for the Russians since 1985. If you believe the FBI affidavit against him filed in federal court, Hanssen betrayed spies working for the United States, some of whom were then executed. Among many other feats, he allegedly ratted on "an entire technical program of enormous value, expense and importance to the United States," which turns out to have been the construction of a tunnel under the new Soviet Embassy in Washington. He also trundled documents by the cartload to "dead drops" in various suburbs around Washington.
It's amusing to listen to the US counterintelligence officials now scorning Hanssen for lack of "tradecraft" in using the same drop week after week. These are the same counterintelligence officials who remained incurious across the decades about the tinny clang of empty drawers in their top secret filing cabinets, all contents removed on a daily basis by Hanssen and the CIA's Aldrich Ames, who deemed the use of copy machines too laborious. In just one assignment, the CIA later calculated, Ames gave the KGB a stack of documents estimated to be fifteen to twenty feet high. Hanssen was slack about "tradecraft" because he knew just how remote the possibility of discovery was. The only risk he couldn't accurately assess was the one that brought him down--betrayal by a Russian official privy to the material he was sending to Moscow.
The record of proven failure by US intelligence agencies is long and dismal. To take two of the most notorious derelictions, the CIA failed to predict the Sino-Soviet split and failed to notice that the Soviet Union was falling apart, a lapse the agency later tried to blame on Ames. In the mid-1990s Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch testified to Congress that "taken as a whole" Ames's activities "facilitated the Soviet, and later the Russian, effort to engage in 'perception management operations' by feeding carefully selected information to the United States through agents whom they were controlling without our knowledge.... one of the primary purposes of the perception management program was to convince us that the Soviets remained a superpower and that their military R&D program was robust."
So here was Deutch (himself scandalously pardoned by Clinton after personally perpetrating some of the most egregious security lapses in the CIA's history) claiming that treachery by its man Ames was the reason the CIA failed to notice that the Soviet Union was falling apart. Following that line of analysis, Ames could have entered a plea of innocence on the grounds that in helping the Soviet Union exaggerate its might he was only following official agency policy. One of the prime functions of the CIA in the cold war years was to inflate the military capabilities of the Soviet Union, thereby assisting military contractors and their allies in Congress and the Pentagon in the extraction of money to build more weapons to counter these entirely imaginary Soviet threats.
Back in the mid-1970s CIA Director George H.W. Bush found that the regular CIA analysts were making insufficiently alarmist assessments of Soviet might and promptly installed Team B, a group replete with trained exaggerators, who contrived the lies necessary to justify the soaring Pentagon procurement budgets of the Reagan eighties.
Reviewing this torrent of lies at the start of the 1980s, my brother Andrew Cockburn wrote The Threat, a pitilessly accurate estimate of Soviet military potential based on interviews with sources recruited by Andrew's tradecraft, some of said sources being Russian immigrants, many of them living in Brighton Beach, New York. He described how the US civil and, more serious, military intelligence organizations were grotesquely miscalculating the Soviet defense budget and routinely faking the capabilities of its weapons.
Military experts pooh-poohed Andrew's findings, as did many of the liberal Pentagon watchdogs, who found it too offensively simple to say that Soviet weapons were badly made and overseen by semi-mutinous drunks. But as history was soon to show, Andrew had it right. Against the entire US budget for spying on the Soviet Union's military potential you could set the money necessary to buy The Threat and come out with superior information.
Real secrets, excitedly relayed to one another by the mighty, don't concern weapons but gossip: the exact capabilities of Dick Cheney's heart, the precise amount of cocaine sold by George Bush at Yale and so forth. This was the kind of stuff J. Edgar Hoover kept in his office safe. The nation's real intelligence work is being done by the National Enquirer. We could cut off the CIA's and FBI's intelligence budgets and improve the security of this nation at once.
A final parable, about another US intelligence debacle: failure to predict Egypt's attack on Israel in the Yom Kippur war in October of 1973. A CIA analyst called Fred Fear had noticed earlier that year that the Egyptians were buying a lot of bridging equipment from the Russians. Assessing the nature and amount of this equipment, Fear figured out where the bridges would be deployed across the Suez Canal and how many troops could get across them. He wrote a report, with maps, predicting the Egyptian attack. His superiors ignored it until the onslaught took place. Then they hauled it out, tore off the maps and sent them to the White House, labeled as "current intelligence."
While the Egyptians were planning the Yom Kippur assault, they discovered that the Israelis had built a defensive sand wall. Tests disclosed that the best way to breach this wall would be with high-pressure hoses. So they ordered the necessary fire hoses from a firm in West Germany, putting out the cover story that Sadat was promising a fire engine to every Egyptian village. Then a strike in the West German hose factory held up production into the fall of 1973. As the days ticked away, the desperate Egyptians finally deployed all Egyptian cargo planes to Frankfurt to pick up the fire hoses. The planes crammed the airfield. Frankfurt is a notorious hub for intelligence agencies. None of them noticed.
There were so many brilliant entries to our Name the President Contest that our judges were hard pressed to choose the winning five. (Up to the February 19 deadline the count was over 750, and they're still trickling in, from people who say they know they've missed the deadline but still want to vent their frustrations over the election.) So we decided to turn over the final decision to our readers. The judges have narrowed the field to eight. Vote for your favorite title among those listed on the official absentee ballot displayed on this page (no write-ins, overvotes or dangling chads, please). Address mail entries c/o Name the President Contest. You may vote on our website as well--www.thenation.com. The deadline is April 2. Authors of the five entries with the highest number of votes will win a Nation T-shirt bearing the face of George W. Neuman (disgruntled losers will be able to purchase them from this magazine).
Given the skepticism about judges these days after the way the Supreme Court handed the election to Bush, we decided that the final decision should rest with the people. We pledge that the votes will be counted according to uniform standards and equal protection by a crew of honest, idealistic Nation interns.
Our effort to devise a suitable terminology that encapsulates the illegitimacy of the current White House tenant for readers who could not bear to utter the words "President Bush" prompted brief second thoughts when the Miami Herald announced that its recount of Florida overvotes in four counties showed Bush the winner. But other counts suggest otherwise, and a statewide recount by a newspaper consortium is still under way. We may never know for sure, but we believe Gore would have taken Florida in a fair and properly run election [see David Corn, "The Florida Fog," March 19].
So the contest must go on. Also, we admit to an ulterior motive: posing a cheeky challenge to the mainstream punditry, politicos and politicized lawyers who rolled over when the five Justices on the Supreme Court anointed George Herbert Walker Bush's son President of the United States. The vociferous objection of many Americans to this selection process was evident in the outpouring of responses to our contest, and they deserve to be preserved for the historical record.
Because of the volume of entries, we can print only a sampler of them here, but it should give an idea of their high quality and perhaps provide some irreverent laughter as well. These entries may also be regarded as responses to a sociological survey that reveals what one passionately politicized slice of the American populace thinks about the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Many of the entries clustered around certain themes. In one category that emerged, readers focused on the concept of illegitimacy and borrowed from the precedents of royalty. Thus, Pretender (a lot of Big Chill-generation types suggested The Great Pretender), Pretendant, Usurper, Dauphin and the like.
The royalty motif was popular because of the dynastic aspects of Bush I and Bush II. Most suggestions in this grouping played on George II or George III. The latter takes account of our only other George--Washington--but also harks back to mad George III of Revolutionary War times (one reader said, Now that we have a George III, we should have a revolution). And then there were George the Lesser and Poppyseed.
For some, Bush's II's first name conjured up the popular children's book character Curious George. Variations included Spurious George, Dubious George and Clueless George. And from the realm of rock and roll: Boy George.
Also popular were titles granting Bush only residential rather than full presidential status, e.g., Resident (variants: pResident, pWesident), Occupant (so we may refer to the current Administration as "the Occupation"), Squatter and White Housekeeper.
The Supreme Court's intervention inspired a raft of names: (Supreme) Precedent, Supreme Highness, Our Supreme President, Supreme Chosen One, President Designate, President-Select, Presumptive President, Court-Appointed President. A popular variant was President-with-an-asterisk* (*appointed by the Supreme Court). One entrant suggested Cheney be called Little George's Court-Appointed Guardian.
But more cynical readers ignored even the slightest pretense of legality. To them Bush is Commander or Commandeer(er) and Thief, Cheater of the Free World, President Putsch and El Presidente (a Banana Republican, of course).
The cutoff of the Florida recount tally reminded some readers of the Southern epithet Count No Count or President No Count. Not to mention His Floridancy and Florident.
To some he'll always be Dubya; others spun off variations on that moniker: George Dubious Bush, Dubious Dubya and Dubya-C. Dubya's wayward way with pronunciation spawned His Illegititude and George the Unifactor, among others. His intellectual shortcomings inspired His Dimness, Presidunce, Oaf of Office, Bush Lite, Dim Son.
Then there were the readers who made acronym puns on the term POTUS, such as BOGUS POTUS and PSEUDOPOTUS. (Also, PUS--President of the United States.)
Reflecting the erudition of Nation readers, there was a slew of Latin terms, viz., President Pro Forma, Pro Tem, De Facto and Per Curiam. Not to mention the elegant In Loco Presidentis.
Thanks, readers, for your suggestions. Now, vote for your favorite by April 2. Watch this space for the winning names.
Allegations that President Clinton pardoned Marc Rich partly in return for donations to his presidential library have raised questions about the value of such institutions and the federal appropriations that support them. In raising funds for his library from friends and supporters, Clinton followed a tradition established by Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt and continued by all subsequent Presidents. Private contributors have funded the ten presidential libraries and museums, which with the exception of the Nixon Library were then given to the government. Nixon's library will also become a ward of the National Archives once his papers and tapes are processed and deposited there.
The Clinton flap has exposed all these presidential repositories to public fire. "Why do these white elephants exist at all?" Eric Gibson asked in the Wall Street Journal. Presidential libraries, Gibson complains, have lost touch with the "tasteful beginnings" evident at the FDR site. "Nowadays they look like the fruit of an unholy alliance between the Smithsonian and Graceland--repositories doubling as shrines to a personality cult." FDR's Hyde Park facility "plays up the Hundred Days and plays down the packing of the Supreme Court," Gibson says. "JFK's library celebrates the Cuban Missile Crisis while having strangely little to say about the Bay of Pigs invasion or the Diem assassination."
Gibson's complaint is not without merit. The museum tied to each of the libraries is a forum for celebrating the President's life and Administration. These museums do put their best foot forward, but a country needs people it can look up to. And each of the ten Presidents memorialized in their museums had some--and in FDR's case, considerable--virtues worth remembering.
Gibson believes we would be better off if we housed presidential papers at the National Archives. But if the tens of millions of papers and the thousands of hours of tapes and oral histories in the presidential libraries went into the archives, it would limit the availability of these records to biographers and historians and impoverish the public's understanding of twentieth-century US history and the institution of the presidency. The libraries do a superb job of organizing these vast collections and making them available in a timely fashion to anyone with a legitimate research interest.
Questions about whether Clinton exchanged donations to his library for pardons can serve at least one useful purpose. Let's avoid future allegations of this kind by providing federal funds to build and administer all future presidential libraries. A nation with a $1.96 trillion national budget can afford to be generous in support of historical studies.
It's not as if the country is so well informed about its past that we can take historical knowledge for granted. A survey in the New York Times of 556 seniors at fifty-five leading colleges and universities revealed that these young people knew more about Beavis and Butt-Head than about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Where 99 percent of those surveyed could identify the TV cartoon characters, 40 percent could not correctly name the fifty-year period in which the Civil War occurred. Only one student in the survey answered all of the thirty-four high-school-level questions correctly; the average score was a troubling 53 percent.
Lawmakers, who will surely object to providing money for presidential libraries, especially for an opposing party's President, would do well to reflect on John Dos Passos' assertion, "In times of change and danger, when there is a quicksand of fear under men's reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present."
Full federal funding for presidential libraries should bring with it new rules of control over papers and artifacts. All the libraries currently include privately donated materials with access restrictions. Two examples at the JFK Library are cases in point: Recently donated Joseph P. Kennedy papers are made available only to applicants approved by a screening committee; a 500-page Jacqueline Kennedy oral history is closed until after the death of both of her children [see David Corn and Gus Russo, page 15]. Limitations on access imposed by private parties should become obsolete. Under federal national security and privacy rules, papers are already carefully reviewed before being made available. Special access should become an anachronism. Like the country's history, a taxpayer-supported institution is the property of all its people. Access to presidential materials should be as wide as possible.
We learned a few things from Dan Burton's hearings into the Clinton pardons. We learned that Bill Clinton's pardon of billionaire expatriate Marc Rich was no last-minute rush job. According to testimony by White House aides and lawyers, Rich's pardon application was the subject of multiple White House meetings over a span of weeks, with White House lawyers opposing clemency for Rich every step of the way. Clinton, always his own worst enemy, alone assented to the lobbying efforts of Rich lawyer and former White House counsel Jack Quinn.
We also learned that Burton, while filling a few nights' bandwidth on the scandal-dependent cable news channels, would evade every attempt to place the pardon controversy in perspective, rejecting repeated requests by Democrats to call witnesses and solicit evidence on pardons past. This is not to make excuses for Bill Clinton, but Burton's refusal to examine past abuses of the presidential pardon starkly reveals an inquiry called merely to humiliate and punish a political enemy and those who worked for him, rather than to explore policy questions.
If Congress were serious, these hearings would necessarily address pardons by Clinton's predecessors, starting with Bush the First. Poppy Bush's pardons of Caspar Weinberger and other Iran/contra felons have been widely discussed but still deserve closer scrutiny: Not only did Weinberger & Co. break federal laws, abuse high office and deceive Congress; their pardons gave every appearance of protecting Bush himself from investigation. Then there is Armand Hammer, who in 1989 gave $100,000 to the Republican Party and another $100,000 to the Bush-Quayle Inaugural Committee just weeks before Bush pardoned him for illegal campaign contributions. And now comes Time.com's special report on Bush's last-minute pardon of Edwin Cox Jr. for bank fraud after James Baker wrote a note to the White House counsel, with a copy to Bush, describing Cox's father as "a longtime supporter of the President's." The elder Cox later pledged at least $100,000 to the Bush presidential library. CNN followed up with a report that the Cox family was a substantial contributor to the Bush family's campaigns and the GOP, including $31,500 to George W. Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.
The point is that Clinton's pardons of Rich et al. are scarcely unique outrages. Clinton exercised his unreviewable pardon power in ways that reveal much about his character but provide no hint of illegality. So what is the purpose of further hearings, beyond retribution? Surely not some constitutional amendment aimed at curtailing presidential pardons, which despite the abuses by both Clinton and his predecessors remain the only tool for a courageous executive to correct a serious injustice (a category for which a few of Clinton's pardons qualify).
The Clinton pardon fiasco does raise some important issues. Quinn invented a giant loophole in the law barring revolving-door influence-peddling in order to lobby his former boss. And cash for clemency remains an outrage whether it's about Marc Rich or Armand Hammer. But such pardons are scandalous in the same way that Congressional legislation friendly to corporate donors is scandalous. The pardon flap matters primarily because it further erodes public confidence that anything in our constitutional democracy can survive the polluting power of big-money donations.
Future Marc Rich-type pardons can be cured only by radical campaign finance reform--a far cry from the partisan dart-throwing on display in Dan Burton's hearing room.
New information recently uncovered at the National Archives reveals that subsidiaries of the Eastman Kodak company traded with Nazi Germany long after America had entered the war. A number of US firms have been identified previously as having been involved with the Nazi regime; most recently IBM was cited in a lawsuit filed in early February. The archive documents also provide a glimpse of the attitudes of some US and British government officials during that period who were unwilling to impose any sanctions against the firm, recommending instead that Kodak continue trading to preserve its market position. Though there is no current evidence that Kodak headquarters in Rochester, New York, exercised direct control over its operations in Germany during the war, it did control branches in neutral Switzerland, Spain and Portugal--all of which did business with the Nazis, providing markets and foreign currency.
Kodak's Swiss branch bought photographic supplies from Germany in 1942 and 1943 for 72,000 wartime Swiss francs, from occupied France for more than 24,000 Swiss francs and from Hungary (a German ally) for 272,000 Swiss francs. For 1943 alone, these transactions were described by the American Embassy in London as "fairly substantial purchases from enemy territory." "The idea that he has been helping the enemy seems never to have occurred" to Kodak's Swiss manager, noted Howard Elting Jr., a US vice consul in Switzerland, in November 1943. "I pointed out to him that our sole interest is to shut off every possible source of benefit to our enemies, regardless of what American commercial interests might suffer."
But other officials disagreed. In early 1942 Kodak's branch in Spain imported items from Germany worth at least 17,000
Reichsmarks. In March 1942, more than three months after America had declared war on Germany, Willard Beaulac, chargé d'affaires at the American Embassy in Madrid, recommended to the Secretary of State that Kodak headquarters be given "an appropriate license" for its Madrid subsidiary to import "films, chemicals, spools, and other supplies from Germany." He reasoned, "Shutting off of German sources of supply would seriously embarrass the company without serving any useful purpose since the demand for services in the Spanish market which could not be met by Kodak would simply be taken over by its German and Italian competitors. The position of these competitors in this market would thereby be considerably strengthened and the recapture of the business by Kodak after the war greatly handicapped." An official at Britain's Trading With the Enemy Department in 1943 agreed that Kodak should "continue to get supplies from Germany so that the market may not be lost to German competition." (But licenses were not granted. Kodak executives had known that licenses were required. Their branch in Turkey had been given a British license in 1940 to import from Hungary. It was revoked in February 1942.)
A.D. Page, legal adviser to Kodak in London, told the British government in 1943 that Kodak branches "have been able to obtain some goods from Kodak factories in Germany, France and Hungary," which he said "resulted in their being able to maintain the Kodak name alive in their territories and to supply their customers with more goods than they would have been able to do had they been limited to purchasing from England and America only."
Kodak's Portuguese subsidiary helped the enemy in still another way: It sent its profits to the company's branch in the Nazi-occupied Hague in mid-1942, a dispatch from Kodak Lisbon to the general comptroller in Rochester revealed. No penalties for Kodak's trade with the enemy were ever imposed by the United States or Great Britain, according to available records.
German historian Karola Fings discovered that in 1941 Kodak had transferred its German operations to two Kodak trustees and an attorney to represent Kodak's interests in case of war with America: Carl Thalmann, supervisory board chairman of Kodak's German operations; Hans Wiegner, a board member; and Gerhard A. Westrick, a German attorney who acted as an intermediary between US corporations and the Third Reich. (Wilhelm Keppler, Hitler's personal economic adviser, was dubbed "a Kodak Man" by US military intelligence for his close business and personal connections to the firm, Edwin Black writes in IBM and the Holocaust. Once Hitler had come to power, Keppler advised a number of US firms on letting their Jewish employees go.)
Kodak's revenues and employees in Germany increased during the early years of the war as the company expanded to manufacture triggers, detonators and other military hardware. "Business doing well," Thalmann cabled Rochester at the end of 1942. The branch in occupied France also thrived. In May 1943, C. de Julian, a former staff member of Kodak in Italy and son of the Kodak manager in Madrid, wrote to Kodak executives: "Anticipating that the Management would surely be interested to know the state of affairs of the French Kodak Company, I succeeded in getting a permit to stop in Paris." He reported that the branch had made so much money during the war that it had purchased real estate, a coal mine and a rest house for the staff.
In Germany Kodak used slave laborers, according to Fings and Roland Wig of the Milberg Weiss law firm, which has been active in Holocaust-related lawsuits. At Kodak's Stuttgart plant, there were at least eighty slave laborers, and at the Berlin-Kopenick factory there were more than 250 slave laborers. Asked to comment, a Kodak spokesman said that in recognition of its use of slave labor, Kodak had contributed $500,000 to the German fund for the victims of forced labor, adding: "I have every confidence that Kodak did not do business with any enemy country during the war and that it cooperated fully with US government regulations and sanctions. At no time was Kodak in violation of any proscriptions from the US or UK war offices. The Swiss subsidiary was never notified to stop trading. Once it received notification it stopped."
The US State Department declined to comment. A spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington said he was unable to respond without a search of the documents.
Kodak was not the only US firm that maintained relations with the enemy; others involved included Standard Oil, ITT and Ford [see Ken Silverstein, "Ford and the Führer," January 24, 2000]. To set the historical record straight, Kodak and the others should divulge the full extent of their wartime transactions with Germany and the Axis nations. And the US government should release all files that pertain to any trade with the enemy by American companies.
On a related subject, Professor Saul Friedlander, the historian who chairs the commission investigating Bertelsmann's Nazi past, said that a final report, which could be as long as 500 pages, is expected to be released by the end of the year.
PAYBACK AND ROLLBACK TIME FOR LABOR
It's grimly appropriate that the legislative weapon Senate Republicans (joined by six anti-labor Democrats) used to kill OSHA's ergonomics regulations--the Congressional Review Act (CRA)--is a holdover from Newt Gingrich's Contract on America. Passed in 1996, the CRA is a ten-megaton regulations-buster that enables Congress to obliterate a federal rule by a majority vote with minimal hearings and debate. Once voted down under CRA, a new rule on the same subject needs authorization by an act of Congress. (Labor Secretary Elaine Chao promised to consider new rules, providing cover for wavering legislators, while Ted Kennedy's call for further discussions was spurned by GOP senators, nostrils flaring at the scent of total victory.) The attack on OSHA's rule, which orders employers to eliminate ergonomic hazards after an employee is diagnosed with a workplace-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)--like back injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injury, tendonitis--was a top priority of business lobbying groups. In the truncated debate GOP senators recited a parade of horribles (the regulation would cost astronomical sums to implement, was not backed by scientific opinion, did not deal with a real problem) and cast the rules as another Clinton eleventh-hour regulation (actually the standard was first proposed by Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole in 1990 and issued last year after nine weeks of public hearings and testimony by hundreds of witnesses). The Bureau of Labor Statistics says every year more than 600,000 workers suffer serious job-related MSDs. The AFL-CIO reports women suffer 64 percent of repetitive motion injuries, even though they are 46 percent of the work force and 33 percent of all employees who are hurt on the job. The GOP House leadership immediately rammed the bill through to give George W. Bush a famous victory. Since W. took office, labor has been dealt a series of blows for its support of Al Gore. Bush has issued executive orders hurting union political activities and revoking a rule requiring union contractors on federal projects. Congress's OSHA standard repeal, however, is surely the most painful defeat--literally--to real workers.
BUSHISM OF THE WEEK
Speaking in Omaha on February 28, during his tour to tout his tax plan: We "understand how unfair the death penalty is, er...the death tax."
ON THE WEB: firstname.lastname@example.org
President Bush's determination to give the superrich an eternal tax shelter by repealing the estate levy has revealed contradictions in the nonprofit sector and confusion about what it values and where it stands. Read Mark Rosenman's web-exclusive "Charity for All" at www.thenation.com.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
Among the revelations attending the Robert Philip Hanssen spy flap was that the FBI does not administer lie detector tests to veteran agents. One worry, apparently, is that electronic prying might elicit embarrassing personal data. We suggest that what's the practice at the FBI, guardians of the nation's internal security, should apply to private-sector polygraphing.
VOTE FOR THE UNION LABEL While plotting his campaign for mayor of Los Angeles, former California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa said, "We will only succeed if we can pull together the broadest possible progressive coalition--labor, environmentalists, women, Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, community activists." It was a tall order for a former Service Employees union organizer who entered politics only in 1994 and who faced a half-dozen prominent opponents for the top job in America's second-largest city. But as the April 10 primary approaches, Villaraigosa is building the coalition he envisioned. Early backing came from the National Organization for Women, the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, United Teachers of Los Angeles, the Stonewall Democratic Club--the largest gay and lesbian Democratic club in the United States--and such progressive leaders as State Representative Jackie Goldberg, US Representative Hilda Solis and the Rev. William Campbell of LA's historic Second Baptist Church. Then Villaraigosa was endorsed by the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, whose commitment to activist politics is being watched closely as a possible model by national AFL-CIO officials. "We won't settle anymore for politicians who simply vote right; we want committed, activist leaders who march with us on the picket lines, who see themselves as part of a movement for justice for workers," says secretary treasurer Miguel Contreras, who helped engineer critical labor support for Solis and Goldberg in the 2000 Democratic primaries. He adds, "We have a chance to make history by electing the first union mayor in the history of Los Angeles."
BLUE-GREEN ALLIANCE If Villaraigosa wins in LA, he won't be the only labor-backed activist mayor in southern California. Mike Feinstein, a key player in the California Green Party, has parlayed a big November win for an at-large Santa Monica City Council seat into selection by the council as mayor. With solid backing from Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights--one of the nation's savviest local political groups--Feinstein placed first among thirteen candidates for four council seats. Feinstein ran especially well in low-income neighborhoods, where the Greens touted his record of support for organizing drives at the city's oceanfront hotels and an endorsement from Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 814. Feinstein is using the largely ceremonial mayor's post as a bully pulpit to advocate a living-wage ordinance establishing a mandatory $10.69-an-hour pay rate in the city's tourist district. "In Europe, there are a lot of examples of Greens and unions working together," says Feinstein. "I think we're providing an American model that's good for Santa Monica and useful for the whole country."
GETTING A JOB FOR LABOR AFL-CIO president John Sweeney has long argued that the best way to give working people a voice at the local, state and national levels is for union members to run for and win elected office. That's exactly what Paul Plesha did after LTV Steel announced that the taconite mine on Minnesota's Iron Range, where he had worked for twenty-eight years, would shut down. A United Steelworkers of America activist, the soon-to-be-unemployed millwright entered a nonpartisan race for a seat on the St. Louis County Commission and topped a field of twelve candidates in February voting. Plesha, a Democrat, beat his closest challenger, an aide to Senator Paul Wellstone, with a campaign that emphasized his blue-collar roots. "I know what it's like to carry a lunch pail to work," he said. Though he sought a local office, Plesha did not hesitate to address national and international trade issues--no surprise, since his union sent one of the largest grassroots delegations to the anti-WTO protests in Seattle. "I cut my teeth on the fight against NAFTA, and I've recognized ever since then that the pain we're feeling in these parts has everything to do with these trade deals," says Plesha. "I realized when we lost that fight that what's been missing from our politics for too long--at every level--is the voice of labor." Along with 1,400 other LTV Steel workers who lost their jobs, Plesha will be collecting unemployment until he is sworn in on March 13.
REAL PAYCHECK PROTECTION Ever since labor stepped up its political education and mobilization efforts in 1996, business lobbies have pushed for so-called paycheck-protection measures that would impose on unions complex administrative burdens designed to make it difficult to use union funds for political purposes. California voters rejected the scheme in 1998, and Oregon voters did the same in 1998 and 2000. But the fight goes on in legislatures across the country. In South Dakota AFL-CIO unions, rallied outside the state Capitol in Pierre on a blustery February day and succeeded in convincing the Republican-controlled House to reject "paycheck deception," 44 to 25. Labor has also beaten back similar proposals in North Dakota and Mississippi but lost a legislative fight in Utah (a court challenge is expected). The Montana AFL-CIO continues to battle a determined Republican effort to keep the legislation alive in that state. A frustrated Montana AFL-CIO president Don Judge bemoans the fact that "good ideas have gone by the wayside" as unions have been forced to defend "labor's ability to represent our members."
Unchastened by the widespread denunciation of their election decisions, the Supreme Court's conservative bloc seems determined to continue using its one-vote majority to ram through an assault on Congressional power. Two recent cases illustrate how indifferent the conservatives have become to traditional notions of the separation of powers, fidelity to constitutional and statutory text and their own rhetoric about judicial restraint. This time the victims were the disabled and the environment.
In 1995 Patricia Garrett, a director of nursing at the University of Alabama Hospital, was demoted after taking time off for lengthy breast cancer treatment. She sued the state for damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and won in the lower courts. In February, however, the Court's five conservatives ruled that the Eleventh Amendment barred her suit and dismissed it (University of Alabama v. Garrett).
In six decisions since 1993, the five conservatives have ruled--usually over angry dissents by the other Justices--that suits against a state are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which authorizes Congress to enforce rights guaranteed by that amendment by "appropriate legislation," has, however, been held to override the Eleventh Amendment. Garrett tried to use that precedent. The 5-4 majority refused. As they read the legislative record supporting the ADA, Congress had not shown a need for the law.
The Eleventh Amendment merely denies federal courts the authority to hear suits against a state by residents of another state. The conservative majority has, however, interpreted it to incorporate the ancient and now-discredited sovereign immunity doctrine, the notion that "the king can do no wrong." As a result, state governments do not have to compensate their victims for state misconduct, no matter how egregious. And the conservative majority has applied this even to suits by a state's own residents, as in the Garrett case, and to suits in state courts for state violations of federally created rights, despite the express language of the amendment limiting it to suits by out-of-staters in federal courts.
As for Section 5, Rehnquist recognized that it grants Congress leeway in deciding how to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, particularly when it comes to finding the facts and shaping a remedy. But then he cavalierly dismissed thirteen Congressional hearings, a report by a national task force that took testimony in all fifty states, census results and other studies as well as about 300 examples of state discrimination against the disabled, all cited in Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent. Even if all this did show a pattern of discrimination, Rehnquist wrote, Congress hadn't proved that the discrimination was "irrational," which he has defined elsewhere as "patently arbitrary." To comply with such a rule, however, Congress would have to evaluate the evidence for each of the instances of discrimination it relies on, an obvious impossibility and never before required of a legislative body. As a result, states can now violate Congressionally created rights for the elderly, pregnant women, the mentally retarded, the mentally ill and others with impunity, for they know they won't have to pay anything if sued.
Some six weeks earlier, the conservative Justices used a different technique in their campaign to undermine federal authority. Under the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps of Engineers regulates the discharge of landfill into "waters of the United States." In 1986 the corps issued a regulation, the migratory bird rule, which read the statute to include all wetlands used as habitat by migratory birds. When some Chicago suburbs tried to convert an isolated gravel pit that had become a pond used by migratory birds into a waste disposal site, the corps refused to allow it.
In another opinion by Rehnquist, the five conservatives struck down the corps regulation (Solid Waste Agency v. US Army Corps of Engineers). The pond was not connected to navigable waters, and for the majority this raised "significant constitutional and federalism questions" about whether Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce gave it jurisdiction over such sites. To avoid deciding the question, the majority said the Clean Air Act was not intended to authorize the migratory bird rule.
Reading statutes narrowly to avoid deciding "significant" constitutional questions is not unusual. But here there are no "significant" constitutional questions. A 1920 Supreme Court decision held that Congress may regulate matters affecting migratory birds, especially since bird-watching and hunting involve millions of people who spend billions of dollars on their recreation. The only way the conservative majority could justify striking down the migratory bird rule was by misapplying the avoidance rule.
Traditional deference to Congress has been replaced with a hostility and distrust not seen since the 1930s. And just as in the thirties, the conservative Justices' repeated blows at Congressional power constitute a major threat to Congress's ability to "promote the general welfare." So far the victims have included battered women, Indians, the elderly, gun control, the environment, the disabled. There will almost certainly be more.
For now, little can be done. But we can do something about the future. George W. Bush was put into office by Justices who have persistently cut into federal power in order to promote right-wing interests. We must persuade senators--of both parties--to block any Justices nominated by Bush who will pursue the same judicial agenda. Otherwise any Congressional or executive efforts to make this a more decent, safer America will be undermined by these Justices for years to come.
Though Bush the Elder was convinced
His boy was now a man, he
Decided, just to hedge his bet,
To furnish him a nanny.
Attentive parents always have
A way of keeping track.
If nanny isn't feeling well,
Will Dad come hurrying back?
NUCLEAR POWER & US
New York City
I would like to provide an update on some remarkable events that followed Joseph Mangano's epidemiological discovery that closing the Rancho Seco reactor in 1989 was followed by an enormous improvement in infant mortality and childhood cancer [Harvey Wasserman, "No Nukes=Better Health," Jan. 29]. Mangano has now found that mortality rates for all age groups in these areas have, since 1989, improved for all diseases mediated by the immune response, so that San Francisco, for example (only seventy miles from Rancho Seco), had in 1998 the lowest age-adjusted mortality rate of any large US county, with extraordinary declines since 1990 in all cancers, including breast and prostate, and in all infectious diseases. Even AIDS death rates in San Francisco by 1998 had declined to the level of 1979.
As a result of local grassroots dissemination of these facts and a generous grant from the CEO of a large San Francisco company, Mangano may soon be able to offer clinical as well as epidemiological proof of the benefits of closing reactors. As national coordinator of our Tooth Fairy Project, which has been finding ominously high levels of bone-seeking radioactive strontium (Sr90) in the baby teeth of about 2,000 children born in recent years that could not be the result of past superpower above-ground nuclear bomb tests, he may soon be able to ascertain the change, if any, in the ratios of Sr90 to calcium in the baby teeth of children born before and after nuclear reactor closings.
Nation readers can give us invaluable support by collecting baby teeth from anyone born in recent years or even from baby boomers born as far back as the bomb test years of the 1950s, for we have found that they have the same incredibly high levels, after correction for the twenty-nine-year half-life of Sr90, that prompted President Kennedy to terminate such above-ground tests in 1963. Please visit our website, www.radiation.org, and/or call (800) 582-3716 for envelopes for baby teeth.
JAY M. GOULD
Radiation and Public Health Project Inc.
Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Harvey Wasserman has again shown how adept he is at picking out a tidbit of bad science to support his views while ignoring the vast storehouse of real science. He claims nuclear power is causing cancers and other health effects, based on a largely debunked study sponsored by an antinuclear group. Not mentioned is the National Cancer Institute study that examined 90,000 cancer deaths near nuclear power plants spanning thirty-four years and found no connection between the operation of reactors and cancer. This is only one of several highly reputable studies that have come to the same conclusion.
Ironically, The Nation recently published Ross Gelbspan's editorial [Jan. 22] on the seriousness of global warming. Any plan to deal effectively with this potentially devastating problem must contain significant levels of nuclear energy, which produces no greenhouse gases. Even the Clinton Administration's strategy to meet the Kyoto goals required substantial electricity production from nuclear plants.
The fair-minded observer must agree that US nuclear plants have been safe sources of electricity. And as we try to find our way out of increasingly frequent power crises, it will probably be an important component for the foreseeable future.
DR. THEODORE M. BESMANN
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
It's great fun when pro-nukers confirm the realities of global warming, even while denying the devastating health and environmental impacts of their brand of radiation poison. No government- or industry-funded study will admit to the connection between nuclear power and cancer. But hidden in virtually all of them is damning hard evidence to the contrary. The cure for global warming lies in wind, solar and efficiency, not in an economically catastrophic technology that kills people and the planet.
And kudos as always to Jay Gould and the vital work done by him and his colleagues in searching out the health impacts of this failed technology. See-no-evil doesn't cut it when the radiation is being dumped into our bodies--and those of our children.
Regarding Ross Gelbspan's "Cool It, World" [Jan. 22], even the Hague proposals rejected by the United States are insufficient. As Mark Hertsgaard writes in his book Earth Odyssey, the pollution in China and India is so extreme that even if the United States and Europe immediately eliminated all greenhouse-gas emissions, the impact would be negligible if nothing changed in China and India. This fact underscores, as Gelbspan correctly notes, the imperative for large-scale technology transfers.
But Gelbspan errs in thinking the recent collapse in climate talks might "set the stage for a truly transformative initiative" in US policy. EPA chief Christie Whitman, an environmental ignoramus, is joined by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, a protégée of the odious James Watt, whose Mountain States Legal Foundation is currently suing Clinton over his creation of national monuments. Norton is dedicated to the unfettered use of private property, while Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham supports the "pollution credits" derided even by Great Britain.
Gelbspan's tenuous optimism about Paul O'Neill at Treasury is curious, given O'Neill's career with two notorious corporate ecocides: International Paper (ten years) and more recently, Alcoa (eleven years). More than forty-seven Alcoa facilities have been cited for environmental violations since 1987, including an aluminum smelter in Massena, New York, which in 1991 was fined the then-largest criminal penalty ever ($3.75 million) for hazardous-waste violations. Last March Alcoa agreed to an $8.8 million settlement with the EPA over dumping inadequately treated waste into the Ohio River between 1994 and 1999. Alcoa's Rockdale smelter is among the most polluted plants in Texas, emitting 104,000 tons of pollutants a year. It is among hundreds of Texas plants still receiving a grandfather exemption from when air pollution laws went into effect in 1971 (thirty years ago!). According to the Los Angeles Times, a legislative effort to change that exemption was defeated "at the behest of the governor, George W. Bush."
Alcoa hired Texas law firm Vinson & Elkins to represent Alcoa on environmental issues. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the firm "contributed more than $200,000 to George W. Bush's presidential campaign, making it the president-elect's third largest donor. In return, Vinson & Elkins got a loophole in Texas environmental regulations that will allow Alcoa to continue pouring 60,000 tons of sulfur dioxide annually into the air, solidifying Alcoa's position as one of Texas' top polluters."
National governments and international lending organizations have subsidized Alcoa's foreign business and boosted its profits while failing to enforce environmental responsibility or require adequate compensation (if such is possible) to populations uprooted or abused by the company. For example, many of the 20,000 people evicted from the island of Sao Luis on Brazil's Tocantins River for an Alcoa refinery and smelter were never compensated (O'Neill earned $36 million in compensation last year), as reported by Terje Langeland in the Colorado Daily. The Machadinho Dam, currently under construction by Brazil and Alcoa (and expecting World Bank loans), will displace 9,000 people. As Treasury Secretary, O'Neill will significantly determine directors and policy at the World Bank and IMF.
Little or nothing in the careers of any of these people hints at recognition of the need for vigorous government leadership in addressing the threat of global warming. Fortunately, there is substantial historical precedent for far-reaching initiatives. The federal and state governments--through expenditures, tax incentives, laws, research or fiat--facilitated railroads and airports, space exploration, computers and the Internet and the telecommunications revolution. Since the United States already leads the world in alternative-energy and related technologies, many American companies could profit enormously from a conversion. But conversion will most readily and with least disruption occur only if leaders embrace with vision and courage something like an Energy Marshall Plan. There are many potentially viable technical and financial options, but Bush's Cabinet choices belie hope of his Administration pursuing any of them.
KELLEN A. CAREY
FULL OF IT?
Thanks for Christopher Hitchens's humorous column about George W. Bush's frequent use of "heart" language to promote his agenda of "compassionate" conservatism ["Minority Report," Feb. 5]. Hitchens applauds the Washington Post's view that the "heart" will be the throbbing organ most favored by the new Administration (in contrast to the one so clearly favored by Clinton). Hitchens also acknowledges that Bush has used this term quite effectively to position himself within the discourse of conservative Christians, whose rhetoric is full of similar appeals to the "heart." Still, Hitchens missed the funniest irony of all: When Bush and his conservative religious allies speak of the "heart," they assign it a meaning inconsistent with biblical usage.
When the New Testament was being written, people had very different ideas about the functions and symbolism of the body's organs. The heart (kardia) was understood to be the center of physical and mental life. The heart, not the head, was the seat of intellect; therefore, a person who claims to be a biblical literalist cannot rightly link the heart with George W. Bush! (It's hard even to write the words "intellect" and "Bush" in the same sentence.)
Fortunately, there is a bodily organ that can be appropriately and accurately linked to Bush in a biblical context. In New Testament times, feelings/emotions were understood to reside in the bowels (splagchna). Compassion, specifically, is said to originate there (see I John 3:17). Well, this makes a lot of sense! When I think of that which emanates from the bowels (given my modern frame of reference), I can easily associate it with Bush and with all he is dumping on the public--especially when he claims to be compassionate. Furthermore, I know how my gut responds to Bush's rhetoric: When I hear it, I feel I need to run--but whether it's for the loo, for office or for cover, I'm not sure.
It feels odd to use New Testament Greek as a tool of ridicule, but I must agree with Hitchens on a final point. As he noted, when we indulge ourselves in the ridiculous, we often awaken to a valid point.
SOA BY ANY OTHER NAME...
Congressman Joe Moakley says that the new name for the infamous School of the Americas, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is "far more difficult to chant outside the gates" ["In Fact...," Feb. 12]. The name might be--but what a perfect acronym! Whisk Away WHISC! Whisk Away WHISC!
NOT BLESSED IN SALT LAKE CITY
Salt Lake City
The pamphlet Allen Lutins referred to on your January 22 Letters page never received "the blessing" of the Salt Lake City School district. It was published by a parent, acting on his own.
DAPHNE R. WILLIAMS, director
Salt Lake Education Foundation
When I taught at Ted Bundy's alma mater, one student wrote this report: "He was our babysitter. He was not a very nice babysitter. He would play games and scare us and then say they were just games."
That's the kind of creepy mental peekaboo that made Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (whose saga is partly inspired by Bundy, who was convicted by teeth marks) immortal. But Ridley Scott's movie of the Thomas Harris novel Hannibal is not scary. It's just a game.
Twice, Hannibal's tale has risen to pulp tragedy on camera, in Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986, reissued on a director's-cut DVD) and Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Demme made Hannibal a permanent pop phenom: dark father, demon lover, mind-reading puppetmaster, ruthless icon of will, intellect and appetite--he's a man for our time. Scott's Hannibal repeats pop-culture history as stylish farce. Not that the creator of Alien and Blade Runner has lost his voluptuous touch. There is much to admire in Hannibal, including the penultimate scene that reportedly made Demme, screenwriter Ted Tally and Jodie Foster (who played Hannibal's nemesis, FBI sleuth Clarice Starling, in The Silence of the Lambs) flee shrieking from the sequel project. (Spoiler alert: I'll describe this scene below.) Yet Scott's Hannibal is a diminished thing.
You can get at the heart of these films by comparing their snuff scenes. Manhunter boasts the most haunting opening scene: a killer's-eye view as he (the superb Tom Noonan, star of Buried Child on Broadway) ascends a stairway to a bedroom and shines a camcorder light on a woman's face until she awakens and sees her fate. Later, we see her as the madman himself does--with eerie lights in place of her eyes and mouth, as if she's lit from within by lust and magnesium. That's it--no gore, only horror. Horror is what you think, not what you see.
Demme's immensely humane, deeply moral, emotionally acute The Silence of the Lambs employs a like discretion. When Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins) cuffs and clubs his cop captor, we don't see the biting and bludgeoning directly; we see the cop's face as he grasps what's about to happen, and we see Hannibal's face, spattered with blood and then blissed out on exquisite music. Later, we see a tableau of the crucified cop with angelic wings made from red, white and blue bunting (Demme associates violence with extremist Americanism). It's the idea that's horrific, not really the tastefully distanced atrocity itself.
Both scenes abduct the viewer--carry us into the psycho's world. Hannibal, however, occurs on familiar movie turf. In the spiffy opening sequence, Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore, replacing Foster, acts like every plucky action heroine you ever saw) leads a stakeout at a drug drop in a fish market. The chief druggie pulls a gun from under the baby strapped to her chest and puts a bullet in Starling's leg; Starling puts one in the druggie's skull and rinses the HIV-infected blood off the otherwise unharmed baby on the fish market's cutting board. In the novel, the spray forms "a mocking rainbow of God's promise." Scott, who doesn't give a rip about that baby, focuses instead on the fascinating abstract pattern of the blood in the fish market ice cubes. He has aesthetics in place of the author's bitter religious ethics.
Starling gets blamed for the raid gone wrong, though it was really the sexist cop's fault for drawing his gun too soon. Starling's übersexist boss Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta), a churl she's spurned, exploits her disgrace. But Starling's downfall is a dramatic dead end--empty calories. (There's an almost identical hackneyed Starling-disgrace scene Demme shot and wisely deleted--it's instructive to watch it on The Silence of the Lambs Criterion DVD.) Scott conveys the FBI gal's resistance to sexism with dialogue Hannibal would term "ham-handed"; Demme did it in deft images--Foster entering an elevator of oglers--and smart dialogue that respected each character. Krendler, like lots of Scott villains, has obviousness problems. (If I'd been poor Joaquin Phoenix, forced to utter those lines while everybody else got the good bits in Scott's Gladiator, I'd have fed myself to the lions.) When Hannibal insults Starling in Demme's film, his skill is chilling: "You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube.... You're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling?" It gets under her skin and yours. When Liotta's Krendler insults Starling, it's like watching Peter Boyle tapdance in Young Frankenstein. "Corn pone country pussy," Liotta mutters. "I wouldn't mind having a go at you right now." "In the gym, anytime," Moore tritely replies. "No pads." No more!
Things perk up when we hook up with Hannibal in Florence, where he's living la dolce in an authentic fifteenth-century palazzo, with the view he craved in his Silence of the Lambs dungeon. Boy, does Scott feast his eyes on Florence! Squares alive with wheeling birds, arcades that reach prayerfully to heaven, sunlight on water like molten precious metal, arias afloat in the open air. The quick-cut, jagged black-and-white scenes are still more glorious. He makes us share Hannibal's epicurean idyll, and his glee in killing people he deems "rude." It's not as good as making us sweat with Starling in Hannibal's hellish cell, feel the clamp of his mind-forged manacles, fear the rot of all that is good in us by his infectious nihilism, but it's something. Lecter at large is lesser than Lecter yearning in a cage for the same reason that the only good thing Tim Leary ever wrote was his jailbreak account: Escape gives pressure and structure to a narrative, while endless freedom leads to aimless partying.
There's a $3 million reward on Hannibal's head, which attracts an Italian cop, Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini). Scott adroitly stages Pazzi's Hannibal hunt, which is, of course, Hannibal's Pazzi hunt. The cop looks glum, as well he might, since he's descended from the historical Pazzi who got defenestrated and eviscerated in a way certain to appeal to Hannibal Lecter. When Pazzi goes splat outside the palazzo, it's gross but barely disturbing.
More disturbing is the mistake Scott makes in dramatizing the character who has offered that $3 million reward, the meatpacking billionaire Mason Verger (Gary Oldman). The best duo in the novel is not Starling and Hannibal, it's Verger and his militant sister (AWOL from the movie). Verger is like a Goofus to Hannibal's Gallant--instead of using his wealth to savor the best in life and kill the rude, Verger uses it to gobble drugs indiscriminately and rape children. In a flashback, a younger Verger invites his psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter, home for sex, so he can blackmail him into concealing Verger's addictions. Lecter lets Verger tie himself up and offers a popper. Actually, it's speed, LSD and PCP, enabling Lecter to hypnotize Verger. When the good doctor advises Verger to slice his own face off with a mirror shard, Verger obeys; Lecter feeds Verger's face to his pooch.
Paralyzed yet all-powerful, a ghoul mouthing born-again cant, Verger should be a great monster, a fit antagonist for Hannibal. And he is on the novelistic page, with his hand that moves like a crab, his brutal moray eel and his videocamera trained on captive children whose tears he decants and drinks. On screen, he's just Gary Oldman, in scarface makeup resembling the hero of Sondra Locke's film Ratboy, and sounding like the unholy offspring of Andy Warhol and Jimmy Stewart with his teeth out. Oldman does a good acting job, but it's an impossible job, given the reduction of the role.
And it gets worse! Verger's plan is to nab Hannibal, drag him to his vast estate, Muskrat Farm, and feed him to big killer pigs. The problem: Pigs are adorable onscreen. They have these cute little snoots, and when they eat somebody, it may be formally gory but these creatures are about as scary as the carnivorous rabbits hippety-hopping to devour humanity in Night of the Lepus. The buildup to the showdown is very much akin to Dr. Evil's "unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism" in Austin Powers.
Did you forget about Starling? While all the above is going on, she is trying to stop Pazzi from hunting Hannibal, and then hunts Hannibal herself. Scott is a fine choreographer of actors; one extended sequence of Starling and Hannibal chatting on cell phones while he leads her a merry chase on a merry-go-round is bravura filmmaking. Their twosome, alas, is not toothsome. When at last they meet after unnecessarily slow exposition, the good doctor purrs, "Good evening, Clarice. Just like old times!" It most certainly is not. In Silence of the Lambs, Foster's and Hopkins's faces interacted elementally, like wind and waves, or like fencers' foils crossed, bent, quivering, threatening to snap. Moore and Hopkins get no such quality face time. The script forces them to phone most of it in.
Moore is the genuine article, ambitious, gifted, artistic promise personified. Nobody sounds deeper, darker notes than she has in Boogie Nights and Short Cuts and (heroically, riskily) in Safe. What's wrong with her Starling, then, besides the words? The girl is all class--she lacks trash. "Trailer-camp, tornado-bait white trash," Hannibal calls Starling. But Julianne Moore is nothing of the sort. She's patrician, elusive and otherworldly. Jodie Foster, for all her Francophone Phi Beta ways, convinces the camera she's down-home, earthy, vulnerable, earnest, as pure as the kid in the Coppertone ad grown up uncorrupted.
And Anthony Hopkins? He's still got those odd, hooded bedroom eyes, all twinkly yet somehow immobile as the dead. His vocal instrument still croons, but he's changed Lecter's key this time. Before, comedy was a palate cleanser; this time, it's the main course. Really, his latest Lecter, free to roam, is a lot like Anthony Hopkins is in person: witty, drifty, dreamy, delightful to talk with and remote as a hologram.
The climactic scene in Hannibal is a dream--don't listen to all those prissy critics who dissed it. Starling is stoned on opiates, and Lecter invites her through her wooze to have a friend for dinner. Or rather, an enemy: Krendler. Liotta, at a total loss for the rest of the movie, comes through in this moment of crisis (abetted by a $70,000 Ray Liotta robot doll indistinguishable from the real actor). He wears his baseball cap backwards, lending him an amusingly juvenile aspect. His speech, like HAL's in the last bit of 2001, reverts to childishness, peeling back his character, revealing his inner self, simple as it is. In a shocking shot I sincerely doubt you haven't heard about, Hannibal removes the top of his skull. There are many memorable effects in Ridley Scott's Hannibal: the miasmal mist over Verger's Muskrat Farm, the grain of wood inside Lecter's grandfather clock set against the ribbed pattern of the metal pendulum, the velvety sky enriching the lustrous blues of cop-car cherries crossing a bridge in funereal procession, the final image of the film, an iris shot of Lecter's red eye. But out of all the virtuoso moments, it's that dinner scene that sticks with you. Why? It's the one that plays for keeps.