The rise and fall of the house of Enron should trigger comprehensive investigations--civil, criminal and Congressional. The full scope of relations between Enron and its cronies in the Bush Administration must be dragged out into the sunlight. Miscreants should be prosecuted, and fundamental reforms enacted to bring corporations back to public accountability.
Desperately trying to put a lid on the cascading scandals, White House spokesmen have insisted that since Bush officials did nothing when Enron chairman Ken Lay warned them about its impending collapse, there is no political scandal, only a financial one. Don't fall for that.
The largest scandal, as Robert Borosage suggests on page 4, is not just what was done illegally but what was done legally--for example, the failure of Bush Cabinet members to warn small investors and employees that Enron was going down and that its executives were bailing out. Or the slick way Enron gouged billions from Western energy consumers while its planted head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Pat Wood, ignored the pleas of Western governors for price controls. Or Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's torpedoing of the Clinton Administration's attempt to regulate offshore tax havens, a direct benefit to Enron, among others. Or Enron officials' six meetings with Vice President Cheney to help shape Bush's energy plan. What is Cheney hiding by refusing to reveal the names of those FERC met with?
Clearly, the full range of Administration contacts with Enron should be probed. This will reveal how crony capitalism works and what must be done to curb it. Congress must begin the hard task of rebuilding the legal framework for corporate accountability. As William Greider writes on page 11, Enron's demise reveals that all the supposed checks on executive plunder--accountants, stock analysts, independent board members, regulatory agencies--were either short-circuited or inactive. We need bold reform now. And Congress should take a close look at pensions, boosting defined-benefit plans and returning 401(k) plans to the supplement they were intended to be. And of course Enron once again illustrates the corrosive corruption of big-money politics.
With the House and the White House in Republican hands, Democrats in the Senate, sadly, will have to take the lead in ferreting out the facts and defining the necessary reforms. "Sadly" because too many Senate Democrats mirror Republicans in pocketing corporate bucks and parroting the deregulation/privatization line that comes with them. The chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, Joseph Lieberman, was leader of the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council and a founder of New Democrat Network, the proud recipient of Enron contributions. Last year Lieberman blew off the probe of Enron's connections to the California energy crisis. He now has another chance to show if he stands with his voters or his contributors.
Enron's bankruptcy is the largest in US history, but it is not unique. It is a product of the conservative offensive to unfetter corporations by dismantling hard-won public protections. Given that freedom, Enron's executives--and their brethren--gouged consumers, fleeced investors, even betrayed their own employees. It's time for Congress and the people to put an end to Enronomics and call corporate marauders to account.
One of the old school of the British colonial service, a man with the irresistible name of Sir Penderel Moon, wrote a book about the end of empire and titled it Divide and Quit. At whose expense was this extremely dry joke? Look around the global scene today, and you will find the landscape pitted with the shards of that very policy.
Zero built a nest
In my navel. Incurable
Longing. Blood too--
From violent actions
It's a nest belonging to one
But zero uses it
And its pleasure is its own.
(from The Quietist)
The limits have wintered me
as if white trees were there to be written on.
It must be purgatory
there are so many letters and things.
Faith, hope and charity rise in the night
like the stations of an accountant.
And I remember my office, sufficiency.
The stains of blackberries near Marx's grave
do to color what eyes do to everything.
Help me survive my own presence, open to the elements.
Fog mist palloring greens, no demarcations,
but communitarian gravestones.
Celts lost to Anglo Saxons who endlessly defended marks.
Guerrilla war, terror:
the tactics for landless neo-realists.
When The Majestic was about to be released--it's the movie, you will recall, in which Jim Carrey plays a blacklisted screenwriter who suffers from amnesia--someone asked me to tote up the other films that touch on the Hollywood inquisition. I eliminated the allegories, such as Johnny Guitar, and the pictures that deal with other branches of show business (the music industry in Sweet Smell of Success, television in A King in New York and The Front) and calculated that all of two features--The Way We Were and Guilty by Suspicion--pay attention to the blacklist.
The number is also two with The Majestic included.
Talk about suffering from amnesia! Of course the movie industry feigned ignorance when the witch hunt was on--among its other unmentionable traits, the blacklist was illegal--and you can see how a certain forgetfulness was convenient afterward. But as Hollywood moved into the 1970s and '80s, with new corporate masters taking over the studios and old decision-makers dying off, the subject of the blacklist might have seemed ripe for exploiting. The industry has always loved to dramatize itself; and here, lying unexplored, was an episode that had convulsed all of Hollywood, and much of America with it.
Two films--if you feel generous toward Carrey, three. But now the count has risen significantly with One of the Hollywood Ten, the most honest movie of its very small group and arguably the best. It is not, however, an American picture. To our shame, it has taken a Welsh writer-director, Karl Francis, and producers based in Britain and Spain to film the true story of a blacklisted couple, Herbert Biberman and Gale Sondergaard, and their making of that remarkable movie, Salt of the Earth.
Since even Nation readers might be unaware of these events--and since truthfulness is a large part of Francis's merit--here's a quick synopsis:
Biberman was called before HUAC in 1947, among the committee's first group of unfriendly witnesses. Until that time his work as a writer and director had been so sparse, and so lackluster, that no one could have rationally accused him of transmitting ideology through the movies. That he had an ideology was unquestionable; Biberman was a committed Communist. But his greatest distinction was his marriage to Sondergaard, a hard-working, Oscar-winning actress.
Citing his First Amendment rights, Biberman refused to testify before HUAC, whereupon he was charged with contempt of Congress and sent to prison. When Sondergaard insisted on standing by him, she too was blacklisted. She found herself, upon his release, running a household of the dual unemployed.
It was at this point that their friends and fellow blacklistees Michael Wilson and Paul Jarrico came up with the idea of making an independent film about a labor uprising in New Mexico. The members of Local 890 of the Mine-Mill Workers, most of them Mexican-American, had gone on strike against Empire Zinc, demanding the same pay and conditions as Anglo workers received. The company's response was to get an injunction against the union, forbidding the miners from picketing. But the injunction said nothing about the miners' wives. In a brave and ingenious improvisation, the women came forward to walk the line, and did it so effectively that Empire Zinc finally settled.
Wilson turned this episode into the screenplay for Salt of the Earth. Jarrico took on the producer's duties, and Biberman signed on as director. Sondergaard had expected to play the lead--she was the cooperative's only bankable property--but at Biberman's request she stepped aside in favor of a Mexican actress, Rosaura Revueltas. Most of the other parts, including the male lead, were also cast with an eye for authenticity (and budgetary restraint), with the people of Local 890 playing themselves.
I said that One of the Hollywood Ten is a rare movie. Salt of the Earth is unique. It would have stood alone in its era just for having been made by movie industry veterans, but shot on location and acted by a largely nonprofessional cast. But, even more extraordinary, Salt of the Earth was a story about the problems of Mexican-American workers, as told by a Mexican-American woman. You'd have trouble finding such a movie today, when independent filmmaking is well established in America. Salt of the Earth was released in 1954.
Of course, neither unique nor pioneering is a synonym for good. And though the filmmakers faced extraordinary hardships, those, too, must remain external to any judgment of Salt of the Earth. The government deported Rosaura Revueltas in the midst of production, discouraged labs from processing the film, accused the crew of wanting to spy on atomic secrets at Los Alamos, kept theaters from booking the completed Salt of the Earth and warned projectionists away from showing it. This was an impressive show of force to mount against one little movie; but the harassment, in itself, doesn't justify what you see on the screen.
Biberman and his many collaborators justified Salt of the Earth. They managed to imbue the film with the feelings of a living community: at house parties and on picket lines, in the saloon and the church. Scenes percolate with the natural interplay of friends and neighbors, giving rise to a barely suppressed boisterousness. (The ruckus breaks into the open after the women are arrested for picketing. They mount a protest in their cell, with undisguised glee.) The ease of the group interaction makes up for the occasional awkwardness in individual performances--an awkwardness that at any rate has its own charm. And no excuses are needed for Revueltas, with her finely nuanced movements toward self-assertion; for the pace of the film, which keeps building and building; or for Biberman's eye, which seems to have been delighted with every face, landscape feature and stick of furniture in New Mexico.
To the eyes of present-day viewers, who may be accustomed to strains of neorealism developed everywhere from Italy to Iran, Salt of the Earth looks surprisingly good. It is not a based-on-a-true-story movie but something more valuable: the chief American prototype for those films that are simultaneously fiction and documentary. As for the virtue of its uniqueness: Doesn't a special honor accrue to the one film to have done something that was well worth doing?
I believe One of the Hollywood Ten has earned a similar distinction--though its internal, cinematic merits are entirely different. That's as it should be. The two films take entirely different approaches to their medium.
Biberman and his partners made a movie that barely acknowledges the existence of the entertainment business; the only evidence of pop culture in Salt of the Earth is a radio, bought on the installment plan. One of the Hollywood Ten, by contrast, reminds you at every turn that you're watching a movie, and that movies are (among other things) a business and a site of ideological contest. Francis opens his film with a prologue set in 1937, in which he tosses up two opposing forms of movie politics: the opening in New York City of Triumph of the Will, and the announcement by Gale Sondergaard (in the midst of the Academy Awards broadcast) of the formation of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. Once Francis jumps into 1947, he continues this theme, showing the HUAC hearings as newsreel fodder (which they were). Everybody in One of the Hollywood Ten is playing for the camera and the microphone.
It's fitting, then, that Francis's movie should feature three star performances. The biggest of them is Jeff Goldblum's, as Biberman. Much of the usual Goldblum shtick is in evidence: the talking with dark eyes unfocused, the bursting forth of little phrases after unpredictable, Miles Davis pauses. But, also as usual, Goldblum feels his way deep into the character. He shows us Biberman as a chronic empathizer, someone who's always draping his big hands reassuringly over anyone he talks to. The voice is low, patient, thoughtful; and then, when Biberman doesn't get his way, he jumps without transition to a full bellow.
Greta Scacchi, as Gale Sondergaard, makes good use of a certain brittleness in her screen personality. Here she's playing a Hollywood star of the old school--a woman with perfectly groomed vowels, who keeps her well-powdered face turned toward the key light in any room--which allows her to find authentic feeling, even gutsiness, within her pose. But the movie's biggest star turn, the one that steals One of the Hollywood Ten, is Angela Molina's performance as Rosaura Revueltas. Molina looks older than Revueltas did in Salt of the Earth; whereas Revueltas had smooth, freckled features, Molina's face is lined and sunken. When Molina begins to play Esperanza, the central character in Salt of the Earth, her eyes take on the outsize look of hunger. And the voice! Molina puts a weariness, and a wariness, all her own into Esperanza's lines, using intonations that cut into your bones.
One of the Hollywood Ten thrives on these performances, and on Francis's fascination with movies themselves--how they're made, how they work on their audiences. (In one of the picture's truest moments, Biberman bubbles over with enthusiasm at his own cleverness, talking about the best way to shoot and edit Salt of the Earth.) Where the movie strays from these strengths, it also falters. Among its several glaring faults, One of the Hollywood Ten gives us an FBI agent who is so monotonally nasty that he seems to have strayed in from a bus-and-truck tour of Les Miz, and a Gale Sondergaard who is indomitably firm, except when she's not. When her husband tells her she won't play the lead in Salt of the Earth--her husband, who wouldn't have gotten to direct the picture without her intervention--she needs only a brief walk on the beach to calm her down. And, of course, there's music on the beach. There's music everywhere in One of the Hollywood Ten, poured out of a can of creamed corn.
This is merely to say that no one has yet made a masterpiece about the Hollywood blacklist. Karl Francis has made a good, intelligent movie about the subject, and a largely truthful one. Let's see somebody try to top him.
One of the Hollywood Ten has just been shown in the New York Jewish Film Festival, presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize of $10,000, awarded annually for the most outstanding book of poems published in the United States by an American, is administered mutually by the Academy of American Poets and The Nation. In the past decade, winners have been David Ferry (2000), Wanda Coleman (1999), Mark Jarman (1998), Robert Pinsky (1997), Charles Wright (1996), Marilyn Hacker (1995), W.S. Merwin (1994), Thom Gunn (1993), Adrienne Rich (1992), John Haines (1991) and Michael Ryan (1990). This year the award goes to Fanny Howe for her Selected Poems. Jurors were Elaine Equi, Bob Perelman and Ann Lauterbach, who contributed the following essay. Other finalists for the award were Your Name Here, by John Ashbery (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Republics of Reality 1975-1995, by Charles Bernstein (Sun & Moon); Atmosphere Conditions, by Ed Roberson (Sun & Moon); Plasticville, by David Trinidad (Turtle Point); and The Annotated 'Here' and Selected Poems, by Marjorie Welish (Coffee House).
In the days and weeks following the events of September 11, one poet, one poem by one poet, seemed to come into circulation: W.H. Auden's searing "September 1st, 1939." Set in New York, the poem's narrator, chastened by events into chill eloquence, speaks in slow rhymes, as formally reassuring as they are devastating in content. Like other Modernists, Auden cultivated a poetics of narrative statement that gave public voice to private perception. It is a voice that turned the unruly emotions of sorrow, fear and rage into ideas of order. But just as hot war tactics and cold war rhetoric feel outdated and dangerous in our terrible new world, the pacifying sonorities of Auden seem strangely out of tune.
On the evening of September 10, my colleagues and co-judges, Elaine Equi and Bob Perelman, and I met at my loft on Duane Street in TriBeCa to converse about our choices for finalists for the Lenore Marshall Prize. Over the summer, we had each read more than 200 books, some, but by no means all, of the collections of poetry published in 2000. These books were written by poets of national stature and poets of only local repute; they included hefty life-works and first slim volumes. It was a daunting task, by turns exhilarating and infuriating. To choose from among them the "most outstanding" tested not only our individual judgments but our shared belief in a poetics responsive to the contemporary moment.
The six finalists, John Ashbery, Charles Bernstein, Fanny Howe, Ed Roberson, David Trinidad and Marjorie Welish, are remarkable writers. Together, they have contributed immeasurably to contemporary poetry in America: expanding formal range, resisting reductive subjectivity and its narrative claims, attending to the exigencies of both language and world. To chose one from among them seems arbitrary, but there is only one prize to give. We have awarded the Lenore Marshall Prize for the most outstanding book of 2000 to Fanny Howe for her Selected Poems.
Fanny Howe is the author of more than twenty books (poetry and fiction) published by some of the most adventurous and enduring small presses in America. This beautifully designed and produced book is the third in a series called New California Poetry from the University of California Press, edited by Robert Hass, Calvin Bedient and Brenda Hillman. Until recently, Howe was professor of American writing and American literature at the University of California, San Diego. She has now retired to her native New England.
Howe works in sequences of poems made of minimally punctuated short lines. The individual poems are untitled. This notational, almost diaristic format gives the impression of a seamless intimacy and urgency, as if the reader were present at the act of writing. A spare tonality moves against the density and complexity of her vision, where a classical lyric voice is annealed to a spiritual quest buffeted and embattled by resisting political and social realities. This tension is what gives the poems their power.
Small birds puff their chests and feathers
With the pleasure that they know better
High morning clouds unload themselves
On the world. Blue peeps through
Sunny boys have spacious souls but killers
Build war zones in the sky where they go to die
Blue poems. Blue ozone. A V-sign
Sails into the elements: an old ship
Named Obsolete though Lovely is easier to see
Now visualize heaven as everything around it
(from Introduction to the World)
Howe's diction is not conventionally poetic, not dressed up, not avuncular, not pretty. It is peculiar, compelling and provocative, with moments of absolute clarity adjacent to moments of mere glimpse. This quixotic, pulsating quality lends a sensuous mystery and scale to the landscape of her work, as if the lines were emanating from a lighthouse whose signal is intensely bright one moment and scanning the horizon at the next. There is an asymmetrical oddness and frailty to her cadence that contributes to the dissonance between private and public event:
If goals create content stealth creates form
The air force hits space
with the velocity of a satanic wrist
How to give birth to children under these conditions
Favor the ghost over the father, maternalist
Howe stitches into a single poem materials from diverse, often divergent, experience. Affective language is laid beside statement but is not subsumed by it. The voice is personal, but there are no invitations here to bear witness to the concrete details of a life; or rather, that life's details are drawn through the poem as a thread in a variegated fabric. In a world strewn with bare facts, Howe's reflective meditative lines are consoling, not for their content, which is as charged with pessimism as Auden's, but because they invite us, or remind us, to attend. The poems act on us like pilot lights, igniting the receptive synapse of language. Like all true poetry, her work is difficult to excerpt, impossible to paraphrase. Howe is compelled by the distinction between, and proximity of, History and story; her work brings us to the threshold of accountability.
Laughter--or slaughter--outside the door
And inside she was dying
To join in. So she had to go out
--a physical body
With subjective needs
Wing with the post-Christians. Her brow a headline
Reporting news of weather & mood
From masters of the military & amorous arts
Hide in her little close
Off the runway, or step into their story
(from The Quietist)
On the dust jacket, one person compares Fanny Howe to Emily Dickinson, a comparison all too easily invoked for writings by women. But in this case, there is justification. Like Dickinson, Fanny Howe animates her work with an austere logic, in which aspects of a unique response, spiritual, emotional and intellectual, are held in an uneasy, necessary relation. She makes demands on her readers. If those demands are met, the rewards are as inestimable as they are real.
On December 10, Marc Herold, a professor of economics at the University of New Hampshire, released a report about civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Relying on news accounts from India, Pakistan and Europe, the study put the number of civilian deaths from US air raids at 3,767. Such a high toll, the report stated, resulted directly from the Pentagon's tactics: the decision to rely on high-altitude air power, the targeting of infrastructure in urban areas and the repeated attacks on heavily populated towns and villages. The report, Herold asserts, documents "how Afghanistan has been subjected to a barbarous air bombardment which has killed an average of 62 civilians per day" since the war began on October 7.
Herold's report has received wide coverage in Europe. An article in the London Times stated that while conservative estimates put the total figure of civilian deaths at around 1,000, "it may be considerably higher. One recent unofficial report by an American academic said that the death toll among civilians could be closer to 4,000." Using Herold's figures, some writers have asserted that more civilians have died in Afghanistan than did in the September 11 attacks, a development, they said, that undermines US claims to be fighting a just war.
In the United States, by contrast, the Herold report has received scant attention. The network newscasts, the newsweeklies and most top dailies have largely ignored it. More generally, they've had little to say about civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The New York Times, which in its "Portraits of Grief" has so carefully memorialized the lives of the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center, has run little about the innocents who have perished in Afghanistan. Rather, it has applauded the Pentagon's performance in the war. In a front-page article headlined, "Use of pinpoint air power comes of age in new war" Eric Schmitt and James Dao wrote that the conflict in Afghanistan "will be remembered as the smart-bomb war." As they explained it, "Satellites, electronic-eavesdropping planes and human ground spotters worked together more reliably than ever, enabling distant commanders to direct warplanes to targets with stunning speed and accuracy." The "relatively small number of civilian casualties" that resulted, they stated, "helped the United States maintain the support of friendly Islamic nations."
Such an analysis closely follows the Pentagon line. When asked about reports of civilian casualties, Donald Rumsfeld has vigorously denied them. "I can't imagine there's been a conflict in history where there has been less collateral damage, less unintended consequences," he has said.
The US air raids do seem to have been remarkably accurate. But, in even the most precise campaigns, bombs inevitably go astray, and even those that do hit their mark can cause unintended damage. Hamid Karzai, the pro-American head of Afghanistan's interim government, has himself expressed concern about the mounting civilian toll. And in early January, a UN spokeswoman condemned a bombing raid on Qalai Niazi, a village in eastern Afghanistan, in which, she said, fifty-two civilians had died. The Pentagon, citing intelligence reports, insisted that the village was full of Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders. When Edward Cody of the Washington Post went to investigate, he found wads of bloody hair and flesh pounded into the ground and children's shoes scattered about the rubble of blasted-out houses. Based on this as well as eyewitness accounts, Cody concluded in a front-page article that many villagers had indeed been killed in the incident.
In an admirably evenhanded account in the Post (one of the few papers to scrutinize the issue), Karen DeYoung, referring to the Herold study, stated that "many with long experience in such assessments are skeptical of any firm accounting." However, she added, those observers "are equally skeptical of the Pentagon's virtually routine denials, no matter what the source." DeYoung went on to quote a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, who said that the organization had buried "hundreds" of bodies around each of several battle sites, although it sometimes had a hard time distinguishing civilians from combatants. "Unfortunately, I fear that there have been quite a few civilian casualties from all sides," the spokesman said.
Curious about Herold's report, I downloaded it from the Web (pubpages.unh.edu/~mwherold). Its twenty-seven pages include quotes from eyewitnesses, excerpts from news accounts, photos of maimed civilians and charts and tables laying out the day-by-day toll. Interspersed throughout is Herold's own analysis, which immediately made me skeptical (he calls the US bombing "criminal" and accuses the "mainstream corporate media" of "lying"). But what about the substance of his report? In an effort to check it, I chose one incident from his list, an October 11 bombing raid on the village of Karam, west of Jalalabad. The Taliban, Herold relates, claimed that 200 civilians were killed in the attack; the Pentagon dismissed that as vastly exaggerated. Herold, relying on a half-dozen news sources, concluded that 100 to 160 civilians had been killed. Via Nexis, I found several clips on the incident, written by journalists taken to the village. They found convincing evidence that many civilians had been killed; exactly how many, though, no one could say. From this Herold's estimates seem to be on the high side but substantial enough to warrant a closer look.
Why have American reporters been so reluctant to explore so important a matter? No doubt the remoteness of the sites in question has been a factor, but even more important, I believe, have been the Pentagon's aggressive denials, plus the general popularity of the war. Back in October, as images of leveled villages began appearing on American TV screens, CNN chairman Walter Isaacson sent a memo to his staff ordering them to balance clips of civilian destruction in Afghanistan with reminders of the Taliban's harboring of terrorists, saying it "seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan." In a period in which a lot of video was coming out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Isaacson told the Post's Howard Kurtz, "You want to make sure people understand that when they see civilian suffering there, it's in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States." Clearly, concerns about appearing unpatriotic continue to inhibit the press's efforts on this score.
Even if Herold's figures do turn out to be accurate (and he has since raised the estimated toll to more than 4,000), it could still be argued that given what the United States has accomplished in Afghanistan--the overthrow of the Taliban, the routing of Al Qaeda, the restoration of some freedoms, the start of a long reconstruction campaign--the price paid in terms of civilian casualties has been low. It could also be argued that as part of the rebuilding effort, the families of Afghan victims should receive special assistance, much as have the victims of September 11. At the very least, we need to know how many such victims there are.
My first memory of Muhammad Ali is from February 1964 in Miami's funky Fifth Street gym, just after the Beatles had departed from a memorable photo shoot.
Ali was still in the ring shouting his pre-rap couplet, "Save your money and don't bet on Sonny!" "Sonny" was Sonny Liston, the surly champion and 7-1 betting favorite, whom I'd heard the day before dismiss his challenger as a "virgin" and a "faggot." Ali had just turned 22.
I am old enough to remember when Ali was underestimated, reviled and exiled, called a coward and a traitor, and referred to as "Clay" by all the best papers, long after he had changed his name, when those same papers had no difficulty calling Robert Zimmerman "Bob Dylan."
When Ali shocked the world and vanquished the invincible monster Sonny Liston, the arena was half empty, because so few fans gave him a chance to survive the first round, much less prevail. Only Ali's front-row faction of American black royalty had faith in him that night--Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Sugar Ray Robinson.
But today Ali is universally beloved as he turns 60 (January 17), basks in the glow of Michael Mann's superb new movie about his life and sees rapper Will Smith impersonate him to perfection, down to the shoulder dip in the ring and the lower register of his voice in repose.
The once-reviled Cassius Clay has come to be perceived as America's Buddha, our Dalai Lama, who personifies peace and harmony. Ali at 60 is the most famous face on the planet, and probably the most loved person, if a democratic election were held that included Africa, the Islamic world, America and Vietnam.
His trembling hands and muted speech from Parkinson's disease only make him seem more revered, vulnerable and heroic; he is not afraid to display his impairment to the world. He has a serenity that allows him not to hide.
What happened is that America has changed more than Ali since the 1960s.
Like all mortals, Muhammad Ali has made his mistakes and said his share of stupid things, to which I will return. He did have a mean streak of venom he used against his best black opponents. And he did betray and abandon his teacher, Malcolm X, out of blind loyalty to the cult racketeer Elijah Muhammad.
Ali is what he is today, I think, primarily because of his draft resistance and opposition to the Vietnam War. This is what made him bigger than sports, and allowed him to endure so long after his career ended and to become an international icon.
This is what made him come to personify principle and sacrifice for all times. He gave up his championship, surrendered his prime athletic years between 26 and 29, and lost millions of dollars in earnings. He sacrificed all this--without being given any due process--to become a conscientious objector to an unjust war that was still popular when he took his formal stand in April 1967. He had moral courage equal to his physical courage.
The transcendent meaning of what Ali did was memorialized by literature professor and boxing scholar Gerald Early, in his essay "Tales of the Wonderboy." Recalling his reaction as a young boy to Ali's simple act of defiance, Early writes:
When he refused, I felt something greater than pride: I felt as though my honor as a black boy had been defended, my honor as a human being. He was the grand knight, after all, the dragon slayer. And I felt myself, little inner-city boy that I was, his apprentice to the grand imagination, the grand daring. The day that Ali refused the draft, I cried in my room. I cried for him, and for myself, for my future and his, for all our black possibilities.
Michael Mann, who directed the film Ali, told me, "The draft resistance was it for Nelson Mandela. When the cast had dinner with Mandela, while we were filming in Mozambique, Mandela told us that what Ali was willing to lose in order to oppose the war was the defining thing about him."
Jack Johnson was a sophisticated, apolitical hedonist. Joe Louis was a modest patriot. Michael Jordan will not do anything controversial. Jackie Robinson became a Republican and campaigned for Richard Nixon against Jack Kennedy in 1960.
Muhammad Ali is the most socially significant athlete in American history. He invented himself out of the cultural and political currents of the early 1960s--black pride, rock and roll, popular entertainment, anti-authority rebellion, generational self-expression and wrestling.
I once asked him where he got his early arrogant, bombastic performance art. He replied, "Little Richard, Gorgeous George and Liberace. George told me I could fill arenas by selling tickets to fans who would pay to see someone shut my big mouth."
When Ali upset Liston and won the heavyweight championship, he ignited a transformation in the consciousness of a generation. He consolidated a radical shift in black consciousness in America and, later, in the world. And he changed the popular culture of media and celebrity with the force of his personality. No football game ever did all that.
On that sea-changing night in Miami, the most mythic prize in sports passed from the Mafia, which owned Liston and used him as a strikebreaker, to this liberated, uninhibited black man, who kept saying, "I don't have to be what you want me to be."
The new champ announced the next morning that he was a member of the Nation of Islam, briefly taking the name Cassius X, and then Muhammad Ali. This was a lot for America to digest in twenty-four hours.
Ali's actual relationship to the Nation of Islam seems mysterious to this day. He never obeyed all its practices. He was promiscuous with women. He kept the white Angelo Dundee as his trainer, Ferdie Pacheco as his doctor and Bundini Brown as his camp cheerleader, even though Bundini was a black Jew who chased white women. Ali never displayed any hostility toward white people. He dumped Don King as his promoter in 1976 for Bob Arum, a Jew from Brooklyn. It is possible that his religious conversion was initially more of a social awakening, his way of asserting black pride and solidarity.
Ali quietly quit the Nation of Islam in 1975, to become a follower of a more inclusive Islamic faith, the brand that Malcolm X embraced in the last nine months of his life, after his pilgrimage to Mecca.
Ali once confided to me that he didn't become "a devout, true believer in Allah" until the mid-1980s, "when my career was over, and miniskirts went out of style."
The Greatest was the first rock-and-roll heavyweight champion. His rebellious heroes growing up were Sam Cooke (who was in the chaotic ring with him after he beat Liston in Miami), Lloyd Price, James Brown, Chubby Checker, Fats Domino and the exhibitionistic, uninhibited Little Richard. Ali moved to the backbeat with invincible confidence and vanity.
There are two distinctive assets underlying Ali's protean originality.
One is very simple--he loves people in a gargantuan, Babe Ruth kind of way that was never bogus. He likes to be around people, in crowds, signing autographs for free, joking with kids, performing his corny magic tricks. Ali always had a color-blind enthusiasm for humankind, even when he appeared to be in his most fervent Nation of Islam phase.
In Muhammad Ali, the definitive oral-history biography by Thomas Hauser, there is a revealing quotation from the champ, who says,
All my life I admired Elvis Presley. When I was in Las Vegas, I heard him sing, and it was a thrill to meet him.... But I felt sorry for Elvis, because he didn't enjoy life the way he should. He stayed indoors all the time. I told him he should go out and see people. He said he couldn't, because everywhere he went, they mobbed him. He didn't understand. No one wanted to hurt him. All they wanted was to be friendly, and tell him how much they loved him.
Ali proves the wisdom of the old Beatles message--the more love you give, the more love you receive.
Ali's second secret asset--and this is just my intuition--is that he possesses an almost mystical capacity to absorb energy and inspiration from the external world, and then filter it through his politicized rock-and-roll imagination. This helped make him special as both a fighter and a figure in history.
Ali drew strength and extra reserves of resolve from being black, from Allah, from being beautiful, from being a rebel and an outsider, from being underestimated, from Africa, from being booed by bigots, from being cheered by white hippies for opposing the Vietnam War, from having Lloyd Price and James Brown with him in Africa when he beat George Foreman to regain his crown on the soil of his ancestors.
Ali believed that if he could beat Liston or Foreman or Frazier, that would inspire a junkie to get off drugs, a child to survive a terminal illness, a welfare recipient to get a job, a drunk to go to rehab. He believed his life could change other lives, that his fate was linked to the fate of the masses, that if he won a fight, that could motivate a derelict to rise out of the gutter.
He believed he was on a divine mission, and that Allah would not allow him to lose a mere athletic competition. Malcolm X told him before the Liston fight that Muslims felt no fear, and Ali lived this way.
In his most desperate moments, when he was blinded by a foreign substance from Liston's "juiced" gloves, or exhausted against Frazier in Manila and feeling "next to death," Ali was able to draw confidence, desire and serenity from the external world beyond the ring and the gym.
He put this mystical faith into words--once on film, for Leon Gast's camera at his Deer Lake training camp, just before he left to meet the unbeaten Foreman in Africa, as the heavy underdog at 32. His soliloquy did not make it into the wonderful documentary, When We Were Kings, that Gast and Taylor Hackford put together. But it is in the outtakes. Sitting on the steps of his cabin, Ali speaks directly into the camera, with an honest self-exposure: "I am fighting for God and my people. I am not fighting for fame or money. I'm fighting for me. I'm fighting for the black people on welfare, the black people who have no future, black people who are the wineheads and dope addicts. I am a politician for Allah."
Then he added wistfully, "I wish Lumumba was here to see me. I want to win so I can lead my people."
Ali's rebirth has inevitably generated its own backlash, most notably Mark Kram's half-excellent book Ghosts of Manila, published last June. The book gives Joe Frazier all the respect and poetry he is due. But it goes on to claim that Ali was just a dupe of the Nation of Islam in his draft resistance.
Kram argues that Ali didn't know what he was doing when he refused induction, that he was being manipulated, and may have feared being assassinated by the Nation. Kram compares Ali to the empty simpleton Chauncy Gardner from the Jerzy Kosinski novel Being There, whose vague clichés were mistaken for deep insights.
"Seldom has a public figure of such superficial depth been more wrongly perceived," Kram writes of Ali.
This is a caricature of a complicated history. The Muslims wanted Ali to keep fighting so they could continue to make money off him; Herbert Muhammad, the Messenger Elijah Muhammad's son, was his manager, who took a third of all his ring earnings and a third of all his commercial-endorsement contracts. At the same time, the Messenger was--in theory--opposed to boxing as an enterprise.
When I asked Ali about this in 1991, he said, "If anybody used anybody, I used the Nation. They didn't make me do anything I didn't want to do."
What is not generally known (or remembered) is that the Muslims repudiated and banished Ali during his exile from boxing, when he was at his lowest ebb of earning power and legitimacy. On April 4, 1969, the Messenger published a statement in the Muslim newspaper that said:
We tell the world we're not with Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali is out of the circle of the brotherhood of the followers of Islam...for one year. Mr. Muhammad Ali shall not be recognized with us under the holy name Muhammad Ali. We will call him Cassius Clay.
The way the Nation exploited Ali is well told both in the film Ali and in one of the most sensitive books about Ali--Redemption Song, by Mike Marqusee (Verso).
The small reason the Messenger stripped Ali of his holy name was explained by the late Philadelphia Muslim minister Jeremiah Shabazz in Hauser's oral biography. Jeremiah was a large and much-feared figure in the Nation. He started Ali's conversion to Islam before Ali met Malcolm, he was a confidant of Elijah Muhammad and he maintained close ties to Ali. He told Hauser:
In early 1969, Ali was questioned on a television program about whether or not he'd go back to boxing. And Ali said something to the effect of, Yeah, I'd go back if the money was right. And that comment angered the Messenger, because to him, it was like Ali was saying he'd give up his religion for the white man's money. The Messenger sent for Ali, and I went with him to Chicago. I was there when the Messenger told Ali he was taking his name back and suspending him from the faith, that he didn't want to be involved with anyone so weak as to go crawling on hands and knees to the white man for a little money.
The Nation of Islam had no control over Ali after this brutal excommunication.
The rebuttal to Kram's depiction of Ali as a manipulated Muslim dupe is even further complicated. Ali's reaction to being reclassified as 1-A and thus eligible for the draft went through a process. It began on that first day of reclassification (February 17, 1966), and it evolved over the next few months, as his emotions changed and as the tactics of his lawyers changed.
Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times was present on that first day, and his observations are quoted at length in Redemption Song. Lipsyte heard Ali whine at first about how he could be drafted out of all the thousands of eligible kids in Louisville. Ali kept asking, "Why me?"
Lipsyte felt that in those first hours, as media calls poured in, Ali's attitude was "self-centered." Also, Ali did not seem to know where Vietnam was on the map.
But at the same time, also on the first hectic day, Ali was humming to himself Dylan's antiwar anthem "Blowin' in the Wind." And on this first day Ali did say to a reporter perhaps his most famous line--"I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong."
In that moment Ali began to change the world more than the world was changing him. This quote resonated and took on a life of its own.
Lipsyte has been a supporter of Ali in general, but is critical of his first, peevish response to being made eligible for the draft. He remembers Ali's anger over being reclassified for the draft on the basis of the recalibration of the intelligence-test standards, so that Ali's result was now counted a pass without his being retested. (Tom Hauser thinks Ali flunked the test legitimately because of his poor math skills.)
On that first day, Lipsyte heard Ali whine that his tax payments were paying for "three jet bombers and lots of bullets."
But within a few months Ali's selfish emotions subsided, and he grew into a critic of the war. He read, watched television and saw gory photos of the carnage in the newsmagazines.
The FBI certainly did not regard Ali as a brainless dupe. They began surveillance of him in early 1964, after he was observed with Malcolm X. An FBI memo dated July 25, 1967, recommended intensified surveillance of "Clay." Five of his phone calls were illegally recorded by the FBI, including one with Martin Luther King Jr., whom he called "brother."
By the end of 1966, Ali's opposition tothe war was more advanced than that of most senators. He told the great photographer Gordon Parks, "How can I kill somebody when I pray five times a day for peace?"
This is not to suggest that Ali had the complex global sophistication of I.F. Stone or Norman Mailer, or the towering moral authority of Martin Luther King Jr. He was still a fighter, not an intellectual or a foreign policy expert. But he was the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, and whatever he said or did got on television and into millions of homes with draft-age children. The combination of principle and position made him dangerous.
Ali became a willing symbol, catalyst and martyr to the antiwar movement. He may have started out selfish and irritable, but he evolved into a serious man, a fearless American dissident who made the racist J. Edgar Hoover anxious and angry.
At first, Ali's lawyers argued that his Army induction would be an "undue financial hardship" on his family. But a month later they began to invoke his religion as alternative grounds for refusing to fight in the war.
Another historical detail that is often neglected is that the original hearing officer for his Louisville draft board (retired Judge Lawrence Grauman) actually ruled in favor of Ali's conscientious objector claim. But Grauman was overruled by the all-white draft board.
Ali's draft refusal seemed to be intuitive and authentic. Whether or not he was capable of shooting anybody, he certainly wouldn't kill any Vietnamese on behalf of a government that, in 1966, oppressed black people in his own country and in his own discriminatory hometown of Louisville. His quarrel was with his own government, which was the implication of his Vietcong remark.
Ali's feelings about the war were strong enough, and clear enough, for him to speak at an antiwar rally in Los Angeles on June 23, 1967, with Dr. Benjamin Spock. Ali told the crowd of about 20,000:
"Anything designed for peace and to stop the killing, I'm for 100 percent. I'm not a leader. I'm not here to advise you. But I encourage you to express yourself."
Ali's stand against killing wasn't vindicated until the Supreme Court threw out his conviction and five-year sentence on June 28, 1971, in an 8-0 ruling. The High Court agreed that his draft resistance was rooted in his religious faith.
This exoneration came three months after Ali lost to Joe Frazier. Years later he acknowledged to me, "I wasn't ready for Joe after only two tune-ups. But I felt I had to take the fight when I did because I needed the money. I assumed I was going into prison in a few months, and had no choice on the timing of the fight."
(The only major historical inaccuracy I noticed in the film Ali is that the Supreme Court exoneration is portrayed as coming before the loss to Frazier.)
Ali's first fight after his three-and-a-half-year exile from boxing was in Atlanta, against Jerry Quarry in 1970, because the local politics were favorable to Ali. There was no boxing commission in Georgia. And a local black state senator named Leroy Johnson cut himself in for a piece of the promotion. Johnson controlled enough black votes to be able to force the mayor, Sam Massell, to let Ali fight in his jurisdiction. An injustice was cured, and State Senator Leroy Johnson made a nice piece of change.
Ali had his blemishes, and committed his blunders, as a young man swept up in the wildest conflicts and largest personalities of the 1960s.
When he sided with the cranky, despotic Elijah Muhammad against Malcolm X, it left Malcolm naked to his enemies for the kill. If Ali, as the new heavyweight champion, had remained loyal to his mentor, and continued to lend his public support to Malcolm, history might have gone in a different direction. Malcolm might not have lost his power base. Louis Farrakhan might not have taken his place.
Ali shows the champion sobbing in remorse when he learns that Malcolm has been murdered (by Nation of Islam assassins), as Al Green sings Sam Cooke's soul masterpiece, "A Change Is Gonna Come," on the rising soundtrack.
The way Ali deployed his verbal skills to dehumanize Joe Frazier was indefensible. He used his wit and vocabulary to redefine "black authenticity," to cast his rivals as less black than himself, to rob them of their true identity. (Interestingly, he was never cruel to white opponents like Jerry Quarry and George Chuvalo. He did not try to mess with their minds.)
He called Frazier an "Uncle Tom" and a "gorilla" and the "white man's champion." Frazier experienced these racial insults as a personal betrayal, since he had befriended Ali during his years away from the ring, offered to lend him money and campaigned to get Ali his license back, so they could fight and make money together.
The taunting positioned Ali favorably among intellectuals--black and white--but it was essentially the tactic of an artful politician, campaigning for votes. Black laborers and cops tended to favor Frazier. It was Frazier who had the more impoverished origins, the darker skin color, the more African features, the black trainer and the black doctor. Frazier was pure blue-collar work ethic, a proud warrior from the slums and fields who was subservient to nobody.
In an interview in the early 1990s, Frazier told me: "I had to swallow a lot of razor blades when the butterfly ran his mouth. He grew up nice in the suburbs and says he learned to box when somebody stole his bicycle. I didn't have no bicycle! When I was 12 years old my family was sharecroppers in South Carolina. One day the bossman told me the mule had just died, and I had to replace the mule in the fields. I'm a lot blacker than the butterfly."
"I don't have to be what you want me to be" endures as Muhammad Ali's credo of self-creation, social defiance and historical significance.
The moral of his imperfect life remains: redemption through suffering, emancipation through courage, vindication through adherence to principle. Whenever he got knocked down, he got up, which is the best any of us can do.
Yet there is also the inescapable element of Greek tragedy to Ali's physical decline over the past twenty years. The same gift the gods gave him has also partially destroyed him. He was most renowned for his speed and speech, and now both those gifts are disfigured beyond recognition. He could survive astonishing punishment and still win, but this bravery eventually betrayed his body.
But what Muhammad Ali accomplished in his youth under two different names, both in the limited boxing arena and in the unlimited world arena of values and consciousness, changed history forever--and for the better.
"Court rise!" begins D.D. Guttenplan's courtroom thriller The Holocaust on Trial. "With the clerk's shout we stop talking and struggle to our feet. David Irving v. Penguin Books Ltd. and Deborah Lipstadt opens on a gray morning at the height of London's flu season." Unlike other courtroom thrillers, in this story the defendants are on trial not for murder but for libel. David Irving, the historian and author of such highly praised works as Hitler's War, took to court when an American academic named Deborah Lipstadt wrote a book terming him "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial" and charging that he bent historical evidence "until it conforms with his ideological leanings and political agenda." (Among Irving's claims was that no Jews were killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz, which was merely a slave labor camp. It is that thesis that ultimately brought the opponents to court.)
Irving's contention that the label "Holocaust denier" was a professional death sentence and erroneously applied, and Lipstadt's defense of the claims she made in Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, shape Guttenplan's book. The trial took place over a three-month period in 2000, with Irving representing himself before a judge but no jury. Guttenplan, who with Maria Margaronis heads The Nation's London bureau, not only followed the trial but conducted extensive interviews with the principals, both before and after judgment.
The trial's implications extended far beyond the libel question. "Where does our knowledge of the past come from? How is it transmitted? Do documents deserve greater weight than the testimony of witnesses?" asks Gutttenplan. And politically, "Does a history of persecution create any entitlement--for example, to legal protection from those who would deny that history? What is the proper response to hate speech?... What is the connection between hate speech and racial violence? Is the protection of free speech always a good thing?" The judge, by the way, found for Lipstadt and Penguin, calling Irving "a right-wing pro-Nazi polemicist" and his falsification of the historical record "deliberate."
Murray Tepper, the star of Nation "Deadline Poet" Calvin Trillin's new novel, drives a dark blue Chevy Malibu. Rather, he parks it--in coveted spots all over Manhattan--at nightfall to read the New York Post, "which he still considered an evening paper, even though it had been coming out in the morning for years." Using various signals, including a finger-wag he perfected overseas to ward off prostitutes and beggars, Tepper wordlessly informs hungry parking-spot-searchers that no, he isn't going out.
Sixty-seven-year-old Tepper's got a garage spot, of course. But using it means he's "given up." For years he relished meeting the challenges of alternate-side parking on the Upper West Side: "As he moved down the street, looking for a spot...he'd say 'Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday'... He'd listen intently for the sound of an ignition being turned." Now, he looks for good spaces with meters.
One day, while parked outside a Lower East Side deli, Tepper meets a young "sort of reporter" who wants to do a story on him. The article, "Quiet Wisdom in a Chevy Malibu," appears in the East Village Rag, and Tepper becomes a minor celebrity.
A line forms nightly outside his window; strangers want to talk. Asked by one man if he has a few minutes, Tepper replies from his spot on 78th: "I've got more than a few minutes. It's Tuesday, a little after six-thirty, and this place is legal until Thursday at eight." Many "wanted to tell him about something in their lives that they found irritating or even infuriating." Tepper's simple, sage advice: "There's always something."
Control-freak Mayor "Il Duce" Ducavelli, nearing a bid for re-election, does everything he can to stop Tepper, and eventually gets him ticketed. But in a final scene at City Hall, when Tepper shows up for a hearing, it's clear whose side the voters of New York City are on: "Tepper isn't going out, Tepper isn't going out," they chant. Little do they know, their hero is about to sell his car.
What would the government have to do to convince you to get married when you otherwise wouldn't? More than pay you $80 a month, I'll bet, the amount Wisconsin's much-ballyhooed "Bridefare" pilot program offered unwed teen welfare mothers beginning in the early nineties, which is perhaps why then-Governor Tommy Thompson, now Health and Human Services Secretary, was uninterested in having it properly evaluated and why you don't hear much about Bridefare today. OK, how about $100 a month? That's what West Virginia is currently offering to add to a couple's welfare benefits if they wed. But even though the state has simultaneously cut by 25 percent the checks of recipients living with adults to whom they are not married (including, in some cases, their own grown children, if you can believe that!), results have been modest: Only around 1,600 couples have applied for the bonus and presumably some of these would have married anyway. With the state's welfare budget expected to show a $90 million shortfall by 2003, the marriage bonus is likely to be quietly abolished.
Although welfare reform was sold to the public as promoting work, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of l996 actually opens with the declaration that "marriage is the foundation of a successful society." According to Charles Murray, Robert Rector and other right-wing ideologues, welfare enabled poor women to rely on the state instead of husbands; forcing them off the dole and into the rigors of low-wage employment would push them into marriage, restore "the family" and lift children out of poverty. That was always a silly idea. For one thing, as any single woman could have told them, it wrongly assumed that whether a woman married was only up to her; for another, it has been well documented that the men available to poor women are also poor and often (like the women) have other problems as well: In one study, 30 percent of poor single fathers were unemployed in the week before the survey and almost 40 percent had been incarcerated; drugs, drink, violence, poor health and bad attitudes were not uncommon. Would Murray want his daughter to marry a guy with even one of those strikes against him? Not surprisingly, there has been no upsurge of marriage among former welfare recipients since 1996. Of all births, the proportion that are to unwed mothers has stayed roughly where it was, at 33 percent.
Since the stick of work and the carrot of cash have both proved ineffective in herding women to the altar, family values conservatives are calling for more lectures. Marriage promotion will be a hot item when welfare reform comes up for reauthorization later this year. At the federal level conservatives are calling for 10 percent of all TANF money to be set aside for promoting marriage; Utah, Arizona and Oklahoma have already raided TANF to fund such ventures as a "healthy marriage" handbook for couples seeking a marriage license. And it's not just Republicans: Senator Joe Lieberman and Representative Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, are also interested in funding "family formation." In place of cash bonuses to individuals, which at least put money in the pockets of poor people, look for massive funding of faith-based marriage preparation courses (and never you mind that pesky separation of church and state), for fatherhood intervention programs, classes to instruct poor single moms in the benefits of marriage (as if they didn't know!), for self-help groups like Marriage Savers, abstinence education for kids and grownups alike and, of course, ingenious pilot projects by the dozen. There's even been a proposal to endow pro-marriage professorships at state universities--and don't forget millions of dollars for evaluation, follow-up, filing and forgetting.
There's nothing wrong with programs that aim to raise people's marital IQ--I love that journalistic evergreen about the engaged couple who take a quiz in order to qualify for a church wedding and call it off when they discover he wants seven kids and she wants to live in a tree. But remember when it was conservatives who argued against social engineering and micromanaging people's private lives and "throwing money at the problem"?
Domestic violence experts have warned that poor women may find themselves pushed into marrying their abusers and staying with them--in a disturbing bit of Senate testimony, Mike McManus of Marriage Savers said domestic violence could usually be overcome with faith-based help. Is that the message women in danger should be getting? But there are even larger issues: Marriage is a deeply personal, intimate matter, involving our most private, barely articulated selves. Why should the government try to maneuver reluctant women into dubious choices just because they are poor? Even as a meal ticket wedlock is no panacea--that marriage is a cure for poverty is only true if you marry someone who isn't poor, who will share his income with you and your children, who won't divorce you later and leave you worse off than ever. The relation between poverty and marriage is virtually the opposite of what pro-marriage ideologues claim: It isn't that getting married gives feckless poor people middle-class values and stability, it's that stable middle-class people are the ones who can "afford" to be married. However marriage functioned a half-century ago, today it is a class marker. Instead of marketing marriage as a poverty program, how much better to invest in poor women--and poor men--as human beings in their own right: with education, training for high-paying jobs, housing, mental health services, really good childcare for their kids. Every TANF dollar spent on marital propaganda means a dollar less for programs that really help people.
The very fact that welfare reformers are reduced to bribing, cajoling and guilt-tripping people into marriage should tell us something. Or have they just not hit on the right incentive? As a divorced single mother, I've given some thought to what it would take for me to marry against my own inclination in order to make America great again. Here's my offer: If the government brings Otis Redding back to life and books him to sing at my wedding, I will marry the Devil himself. And if the Devil is unavailable, my ex-husband says he's ready.
Exile is the best school of dialectics.
Peter Gay emigrated from Germany when he was a teenager and worked his way through the American academic system, taking a doctorate at Columbia University and then setting out on his career as a historian. It has lasted more than fifty years so far--at Columbia and, eventually, Yale. (Now emeritus, Gay directs the New York Public Library's Center for Scholars and Writers.) His first book, which appeared in 1952, examined Eduard Bernstein and evolutionary socialism. From there, Gay proceeded to cultivate a long and fecund engagement with the French Enlightenment, translating, anthologizing and interpreting key texts, and in doing so establishing himself as a major figure in the field. He also wrote a history of Puritan historians in America, which only added to his reputation for being prolific and self-reflexive. Toward the end of the 1960s his interests shifted, and Gay began to study the Germany of his youth. The move resulted in an instant classic, Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider.
Gay's timing was excellent, as the zeitgeist in America had generated enthusiasm for the anti-establishment fulminations of German Expressionist art. Compact, lucid and informative, Weimar Culture had a ready audience both outside and inside academe. But while Gay admired innovators like Kandinsky and Rilke, he hardly celebrated Expressionism in general. Indeed, here is where we first see Gay's impatience with, even disdain for, the Modernist "revolt" against bourgeois culture. He wrote about "the danger of the movement's commitment to passion." And Gay heaped approbation on what was so often the object of its scorn, arguing that Weimar democracy had a chance against Nazism only "because there were republicans who took the symbol of Weimar seriously and who tried, persistently and courageously, to give the ideal real content."
Yet Gay was still years away from The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, his five-volume attempt to rehabilitate nineteenth-century bourgeois culture. He seemed to be up to something altogether different, in fact. In the mid-1970s, Gay began to use an interpretive tool that often functions as a sledgehammer in theories of Victorian society: psychoanalysis.
Of course, Freud himself was in some ways thoroughly bourgeois. He worked assiduously and enjoyed family picnics. And, unlike many of the critics who have appropriated his thought--for example, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse--Freud subscribed to moderate political values. Gay has made much of this point. In Freud, Jews and Other Germans, which appeared a decade after Weimar Culture, Gay not only employed Freudian concepts to understand history, he also discussed the founder of psychoanalysis under the heading "the bourgeois as revolutionary." A decade later, Gay invoked this oxymoron again in his greatest scholarly achievement, a biography of Freud.
In his new book, Schnitzler's Century, Gay asserts--to no one's surprise--that "bourgeoisophobes," who anathematize nineteenth-century bourgeois culture as grimly repressive, are misguided: For it was bourgeois thinkers who enabled us to penetrate into the deep structures of sexuality, meaning that there must be more to this culture than Victorian squeamishness and hypocrisy. Witness Freud. Witness also turn-of-the-century Vienna's most successful playwright, Arthur Schnitzler.
According to Gay, Schnitzler, like Freud, recognized the ubiquity of sexual drives in psychic life; indeed, Freud himself praised Schnitzler's psychological acumen. And, a medical doctor who often reproached himself for being slothful, Schnitzler, too, had certain bourgeois sensibilities. But Schnitzler is no Freud in Gay's book; Gay bluntly contends that between the two, there is only one epoch-making thinker: Freud. So why did Gay call his new book Schnitzler's Century? The fact that he had put Freud's name in the subtitle of his multivolume history of bourgeois culture may be one reason. More important, despite his various bourgeois tendencies, Freud is too extraordinary, or not representative enough. The possessive form in Gay's title does not suggest that Schnitzler captured the essence of Victorian culture but rather that, while not at all average, Schnitzler's mind and lusty life are emblematic of his century. Gay's title makes a statement about Schnitzler's times, not about Schnitzler's art.
But Schnitzler's art matters. Again, it undermines the myth of bourgeois prudery. Schnitzler's stories and plays about Vienna evoke a world of small lies and swirling concupiscence. The dark comedy La Ronde is the most familiar example. Written in 1894, the play was deemed too racy for the Viennese stage, and the first performance of it took place in Berlin more than twenty-five years later. La Ronde consists of ten one-acts. In each case there are two characters, a man and a woman; the center of the action, a sexual encounter, has been omitted, and prevaricating dominates the dialogue. One partner always moves on to the next one-act. The prostitute who is with a soldier in the first one-act rounds out the play by reappearing with a count in the final one-act. Dream Novella, whose premise Stanley Kubrick borrowed for Eyes Wide Shut, broods over similar themes, including dishonesty and too much honesty in the bedroom, and lust circulating recklessly though different social spheres.
Schnitzler's writings abound with autobiographical references, and therefore, along with his letters and diaries (in which Schnitzler kept an exact and prodigious record of his orgasms), his art can be used to document the sexual openness of a real bourgeois experience. But Gay works with it sparingly. Schnitzler himself moves in and out of Schnitzler's Century, helping to introduce Gay's arguments and occasionally to illustrate them. As Gay writes in his preface, "He will appear in each of the chapters that follow, sometimes briefly as an impetus to broader investigations, sometimes as a participant."
Gay's main organizational conceit is that Schnitzler's Century is the biography of a class. Yet the book is actually the biography of classes--the middle classes. Gay stresses that bourgeois culture in the nineteenth century encompassed an array of lifestyles, from the penury of struggling shopkeepers to parvenu opulence. His claim makes sense, of course, but it creates logistical difficulties. How to tell so many stories in a single book? And, in fact, Schnitzler's Century has very little narrative development. To get that you would have to read the books that it is supposed to synthesize, The Bourgeois Experience. In Schnitzler's Century Gay presents material from the most diverse regions of bourgeois culture. He helps us to see, for example, the variegations in Victorian sexology. However, he does not show us how sexology in the Victorian era changed, and why. Schnitzler's Century might address a century, yet its approach is mostly synchronic. Gay fits this century into a large frame and points to its parts--Schnitzler, Dickens, theosophy, German Romanticism--as though they belonged to one complex portrait, which he sets up as a triptych. He begins with the "Fundamentals," or basic living and working conditions. In the other two sections, "Drives and Defenses" and "The Victorian Mind," Gay analyzes different areas of the bourgeois psyche.
Drawing on such sources as good and bad novels, the letters of famous politicians and of everyday people, newspapers, cookbooks, the writings of eminent scientists (Darwin, Rudolf Virchow), the writings of quacks and self-help manuals, Gay offers many lurid instances of sensuousness in bourgeois culture. But sometimes he goes over them too quickly. For example, he writes, "Here is a Parisian petty bourgeoise, a dressmaker, name and age unknown, writing to her lover in 1892: 'I am compelled to acknowledge to myself, 'I love you,' and I won't forget the night of love I spent with you. Dear friend, you must have noticed with what freedom I abandoned myself. I was not at all embarrassed by your presence for the first time. It must be that I am greatly taken with you, and that I'm almost convinced that I will experience happiness in your arms.'" According to Gay, the quotation bespeaks the earthy communication and relatively guilt-free legitimate pleasure among Victorians. Certainly the letter is passionate. And for just that reason the cautious phrase, "I'm almost convinced that I will experience happiness in your arms" has a jarring effect. After so much rapture, why "almost"? Why hit the brakes in an otherwise full-speed-ahead love letter? Many things could have prompted her to--including the very Victorian sexual unease that she supposedly did not feel. Gay does not stop to consider this possibility.
No doubt he avoids involved analysis because he wants to make his book readable. And it is that. It is also admirably balanced. While Gay celebrates the polychromatic side of Victorian society, he also acknowledges its industrialized grayness. He discusses other nineteenth-century ills as well, such as imperialism and the emergence of racist anti-Semitism. Here his debt to Freud is at its most obvious: Gay views these problems as effects of our aggressive drives. Yet elsewhere Gay distances himself from Freud, arguing that Freud generalized unduly about the links between common neuroses and sexual restrictions in bourgeois culture.
Freud is not the hero of Schnitzler's Century. If the book has a guiding spirit it is Freud's American colleague, the psychologist and philosopher William James. In Gay's brief account of James his tone becomes effusive. He calls James the noblest exemplar of the Victorians' spiritual needs and states that James takes pride of place in these pages. Second, and more important, Gay focuses on the part of James's career that bears an affinity with his own project: James's will to believe. Just as James worked his way through modern doubt to a considered religious faith, Gay seems to be attempting to achieve a kind of erudite belief in the bourgeois world of yesterday, and in its transformation of the world. Gay adverts to many of Victorian society's horrific moments--like ritual-murder trials and cheering at executions. But he resolutely underlines what he sees as its humane successes, such as labor and voting reforms and the spread of cultural literacy. Indeed, although Gay does not sketch the development of nineteenth-century bourgeois culture, he leaves us with images of progress. For example, a section of Schnitzler's Century that begins by enumerating the casualties of capitalism ends with the sentence: "More than ever before, the middle classes could spend money and time in pursuits more elevated than chasing wealth and make room in their daily schedules for listening to music, looking at art, and attending the theatre." Gay thinks, or rather, has decided to think, that things got better.
This generally sanguine attitude plays a greater role here than it did in the various volumes of The Bourgeois Experience, which, notwithstanding its much larger size, deals more narrowly with the question of bourgeois sexuality. In fact, Schnitzler's Century might connect more profoundly with My German Question, the memoir that Gay wrote several years ago, than it does with its explicit antecedents. My German Question defends the bourgeois Berlin milieu in which Gay grew up. It was, Gay insists, a vital culture, whose demise was far from inevitable. And by professing his belief in the overall value of Victorian culture and its possibilities, Gay extends this defense. Read My German Question and Schnitzler's Century together, and Schnitzler's Century will read that much more like a vastly learned existential reckoning. This is what makes it a powerful book, not its pummeling of tired ideas about middle-class prissiness.
Still, Schnitzler's Century would be stronger if Gay had taken on more formidable opponents. He could have found them among his fellow refugees from Nazi Germany. Consider just a few examples. During the West Coast stage of their exile, in the mid-1940s, Horkheimer and Adorno traced the rise of Nazism to blind spots in Enlightenment rationality. Years later Hannah Arendt saw Eichmann's neat, bureaucratic countenance, rather than Hitler's psychotic gaze, as the real face of fascism. Meanwhile, Marcuse had been exploring the connections between the libidinal demands of bourgeois culture and the orgy of Nazi violence that almost destroyed it. And with his studies on the interplay of bourgeois sexuality and nationalism, George Mosse did more than anyone else to perpetuate this kind of analysis.
In doing more than anyone else to defend bourgeois culture, Gay attacks the sort of criticisms that Steven Marcus raised in his famous study The Other Victorians. Leaning on a small body of sources, Marcus made far-reaching claims about the tortured character of Victorian sexuality. Gay easily piles up texts and facts that militate against them. He rejects Freud's arguments about bourgeois repression on the same grounds: insufficient evidence. But for the most part Freud articulates these views in essays on culture, theoretical speculations that he did not try to prove empirically. Needless to say, elsewhere Gay does not hold Freud to the same positivistic standard.
Furthermore, Gay ignores the rich literature on the cultural construction of sexuality, much of which is inspired by Foucault's unfinished History of Sexuality. Such works--Thomas Laqueur's well-researched book Making Sex is a persuasive example--challenge Gay's basic assumption about sexuality: that it exists, more or less as we understand it, beyond our invented world of concepts. After all, Gay presupposes as much in asking whether the Victorians gave their sexuality room to breathe. The more critical approach to sexuality, which has led to readings of Victorian society that differ dramatically from Gay's, should have received at least some attention. And the same goes for the writings of Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse. Obviously, Gay could not have taken into account every influential antibourgeois utterance. But engaging with such vigorous arguments would have given his own historiographical inversion just the sort of resistance it lacks--or would need in order to be satisfying. On numerous other levels, however, Schnitzler's Century remains impressive. Anyone interested in Victorian culture should appreciate the colorful sources Gay has gathered together; anyone interested in the writing of history should appreciate the elegance with which he arranges them. Writing about one of Schnitzler's early plays, a Viennese reviewer exclaimed, "How well everything is set up! How gracefully the characters are handled!" He could have been describing Schnitzler's Century.
The pirate ship has sunk beneath the waves.
The swabs who haven't gone to wat'ry graves
Row desperately, though all of them now know
Their water and their food are running low.
They row their wretched boats and curse their lot.
Receding in the distance is a yacht
That carries all their officers, who knew
The ship was doomed but didn't tell the crew.
The officers stand tall. They saw their duty:
Desert the ship by night and take the booty.
If you believe President Bush, Kenneth Lay--one of his top financial backers and his "good friend"--was merely an equal-opportunity corrupter of our political system, buying off Democrats and Rep
Just a few return from dust, disguised as roses.
What hopes the earth forever covers, what faces?
I too could recall moonlit roofs, those nights of wine--
But Time has shelved them now in Memory's dimmed places.
She has left forever, let blood flow from my eyes
till my eyes are lamps lit for love's darkest places.
All is his--Sleep, Peace, Night--when on his arm your hair
shines to make him the god whom nothing effaces.
With wine, the palm's lines, believe me, rush to Life's stream--
Look, here's my hand, and here the red glass it raises.
See me! Beaten by sorrow, man is numbed to pain.
Grief has become the pain only pain erases.
World, should Ghalib keep weeping you will see a flood
drown your terraced cities, your marble palaces.
It's that time of the decade again; time to ask the time-honored question, "Whither the Public Intellectual?" We did it in the 1980s when Russell Jacoby first published his still-well-regarded jeremiad, The Last Intellectuals. We did it again in the 1990s with the discovery of Harvard's "dream team" of black intellectuals (currently in the news again). The circus is back in town because America's most prolific celebrity jurist and legal theorist, Richard Posner, has just published a highly publicized study of the topic, with the imprimatur of Harvard University Press.
The book is a decidedly curious artifact. It purports to be a rigorous analytical study replete with graphic depictions of regression analyses and lengthy tables of mathematical equations. Posner deploys a market-based model to fashion an indictment of contemporary public intellectuals for their neglect of genuine academic research in pursuit of fame. Moreover, he argues, they have deliberately confused the general public with claims of omnicompetence--all in the service of an egoistic fantasy of "speaking truth to power."
A felicitous writer with a marvelously caustic wit, Posner can be a pleasure to read. The iconoclastic brilliance that has earned him unparalleled intellectual influence in the legal profession--along with an entertaining New Yorker profile--is occasionally on display in these pages. Too bad he chose to place it in the service of so fundamentally flawed an enterprise. Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline is to public intellectual life in America what The Bell Curve was to genetics and intelligence: an incompetent political tract dressed up in pseudoscientific clothing.
The book's centerpiece is a list of those Posner deems to be the top 546 public intellectuals in America, ranked by mentions in the media, the web and scholarly publications, followed by another list of the 100 public intellectuals most frequently mentioned in the media. Both are pure nonsense.
Admitting that the construction of any such list is necessarily a subjective enterprise, Posner has nonetheless proven himself to be a profoundly deficient craftsman. Even with so bloated an assemblage, he manages to exclude, among others, Paul Berman, Alan Ryan, Ian Buruma, Simon Schama, David Kennedy, Tzvetan Todorov and Robert Hughes. These "public intellectuals" belong not merely on a list of 546 but on any competent grouping one-tenth its size. The quality of his methodology, moreover, is laughable. According to Posner, the nation's most prominent public intellectuals when judged by media mentions are Henry Kissinger, Pat Moynihan, George Will, Larry Summers, William Bennett, Robert Reich and Sidney Blumenthal. Aside from perhaps Kissinger, and even more generously--though no less deplorably--Bennett, not one of these people's media recognition is a function of his role as "public intellectual." Moynihan was, until last year, a prominent politician. Will is a media pundit and a Republican Party flunky. Summers, Reich and Blumenthal were all, during the period under study, either Cabinet members, close advisers to a President involved in fractious and heavily covered political battles or both.
The further one travels down Posner's list, the nuttier it looks. He divides his list into Jews and non-Jews, adding that Jews have a harder time getting quoted in the media than do minorities. But as intellectuals rarely offer up their religious affiliation when pontificating on say, impeachment or civil society, his data on this distinction can be no better than those used by my late bubbe and zayde when they played this game (and leveled similar complaints). Moreover, he does not bother tabulating scholarly citations of the works of nonacademics like Nicholas Lemann or Doris Kearns Goodwin or even George Kennan or Walter Lippmann, although each has written key works in their respective fields. He does not include John Rawls at all, whom he acknowledges to be the most influential political philosopher alive, for reasons he attempts to explain but then contradicts. And what can any list say about anything when Ann Coulter and David Horowitz are said to outrank Isaiah Berlin and Garry Wills? To the reader it says you are wasting your time with this stupid book.
Since Posner is obviously not a stupid man, we have to wonder what is really going on. How curious, for the conspiratorially minded, that the work suffers--in extremis--from exactly the foibles Posner attributes to public intellectuals: namely, the pretense of scholarly expertise in a field in which the author fails to demonstrate even rudimentary competence. Writing an entire book and getting Harvard to publish it is an awfully elaborate means of proving this point. (Then again, Alan Sokal's wonderful hoax of the smart/stupid editors at Social Text also seemed unthinkable until he pulled it off.) There's also the fact that Posner includes himself in the indictment. Hmmmm.
A more likely explanation, unfortunately, is the political one. Posner says he was inspired to write the book after reading what he deemed to be the inferior contributions of the professoriate to the debate over the Supreme Court's decision to end the Florida recount and hand the 2000 election to George W. Bush. This explains the singular attention he pays to two prominent public intellectuals: the historian Sean Wilentz, who organized a number of efforts to prevent that antidemocratic outcome from achieving the legitimacy the media have since accorded it (following his equally spirited opposition to Clinton's impeachment); and legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin, who eviscerated Posner's apologia for the Court in The New York Review of Books. Both come in for criticism more befitting a beheading than a scholarly disagreement.
While Posner evinces little sympathy for Straussian virtuecrats like Robert Bork and Gertrude Himmelfarb, he is most unabashed in his criticism of those intellectuals who continue the venerable tradition of speaking up for social democratic values in the face of an almost totally corporatized public sphere and money-driven political discourse. Fortunately, given the slipshod nature of his "scholarship," the only scholarly reputation upon which this book inflicts any lasting damage is that of its author.
Conspiracy is going mainstream. Paula Zahn of CNN went into wide-eyed mode as she parleyed with Richard Butler, former head of the UN inspection team in Iraq, latterly part of the wipe-out-Saddam lobby and now on the CNN payroll, coyly described by the lovely Paula as "ambassador in residence." On January 8 they were discussing the hot book of the hour, Ben Laden: la verité interdite ("Bin Laden, the Forbidden Truth''), by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, which has just appeared in France.
ZAHN: Start off with what your understanding is of what is in this book--the most explosive charge.
BUTLER: The most explosive charge, Paula, is that the Bush Administration--the present one, just shortly after assuming office, slowed down FBI investigations of Al Qaeda and terrorism in Afghanistan in order to do a deal with the Taliban on oil--an oil pipeline across Afghanistan.
ZAHN: And this book points out that the FBI's deputy director, John O'Neill, actually resigned because he felt the US Administration was obstructing...
BUTLER: A proper...
ZAHN: ...the prosecution of terrorism.
And that's only the tip of the iceberg. From the American Patriots, through BuzzFlash (which seems to have an umbilical cord to the Democratic National Committee) to ultraleft sites, there's a menu of conspiracy charges that would sate the most indefatigable gourmand. To cite a by-no-means-complete list, we have the charges noted above; we also have foreknowledge by the Bush Administration of the 9/11 attacks, with a deliberate decision to do nothing to thwart the onslaughts.
What else? We have the accusation that members of the US intelligence community, possibly in league with Bush-related business operatives, used their foreknowledge of the attacks to invest large sums in "put options," gambling on the likelihood that the stock value of United Airlines and American Airlines would plummet in the wake of the suicide attacks.
Don't stop there! The Internet boils with accusations that US fighter planes were ordered to stand down on September 11, although there was a possibility these planes could have intercepted and downed the suicide planes. Then there's the role of oil. Innumerable columns begin with the news that the war in Afghanistan is "all about oil." From this premise flow torrents of speculation of the sort made by the two Frenchmen cited above.
Advanced conspiracy theory suggests that the attacks on the trade center were actually designed to silence FBI agent John O'Neill, who had quit the bureau on the grounds that his pursuit of the Taliban and bin Laden had been obstructed by the oil lobby, now controlling the White House through its designated operatives in the form of Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice. O'Neill quit the FBI and became head of security at the towers, and thus a loose cannon to be silenced by the White House/Al Qaeda networks, with the 3,000 other victims thrown in as collateral damage.
The trouble with many conspiracy theories is that they strain excessively to avoid the obvious:
Both under Bush's and Clinton's presidencies the United States has been eager since the fall of the Soviet Union to find some way to assist the hopes of US oil and pipeline companies to exploit the oil resources of the Asian republics, most notably reserves in western Kazakhstan. Similarly consistent has been the US desire not to have oil from Kazakhstan pass through Russia. Until US-Iranian relations are restored, that has left the option of a pipeline from Kazakhstan westward to Baku, Azerbaijan, then to Ceyhan, on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, or a pipeline south through Afghanistan to a Pakistani port.
In tandem with these hopes to ship out Kazakh oil was the desire for a regime in Afghanistan sufficiently stable to allow Unocal to build its line, and sufficiently deferential to the United States to arrest or at least boot out bin Laden. American relations with the Saudis were, as always, predicated on insuring the stability of the regime without burdening it with unpalatable demands. If history is any guide, a lot of this diplomacy was probably clumsily done.
But does this mean that the United States went to war in Afghanistan "for oil"? Surely not. If stability was the goal, then war was a foolish option. The Bush regime hastened into war because America had sustained the greatest massacre on its soil since Pearl Harbor and faced the political imperative of finding an enemy at top speed on which to exact vengeance. This isn't to say there weren't hawks inside the Bush Administration who were lobbying for plans to overthrow the Taliban in early summer, plans of which the Taliban became aware, possibly conniving in the September 11 attacks in consequence.
As for all those mad theories about permitting the September 11 attacks to occur, or about remote-controlled planes: They seem to add up to the notion that America's foes are too incompetent to mount operations unaided by US agencies, or that US agencies aren't vast, bumbling bureaucracies quite capable of discounting warnings of attack.
But there is wheat among the chaff. It's true that someone gambled on those put options, that the profits have remained uncollected and that Buzzy Krongard is an interesting character who did go from the post of vice chairman of Banker's Trust/AB Brown (now owned by Deutsche Bank, which handled many of the put-option bets) to the CIA, where he's now number three. It is true that the anthrax disseminated through the mails almost certainly came at some recent point in its journeys from a US agency.
It is also true that the CIA ushered bin Laden into Afghanistan, and it is true that the CIA was complicit in Afghanistan's emergence in the 1980s as the West's leading supplier of opium and morphine, just as it helped construct the caves of Tora Bora. The US taxpayers underwrote that construction, just as they're underwriting the destruction.
That's not conspiracy-mongering. That's true.
When Washington gets back to business, there will be squawking over presidential appointments. Before the Christmas recess, GOPers were charging Senate majority leader Tom Daschle and the Democrats with slow-walking on George W. Bush's executive branch and judicial appointments. By year's end, about 70 percent of the top 500 major executive branch positions had been filled--which is not slam-dunk ammunition for the Republicans' anti-Daschle campaign. But the delays of two nominations in particular have irritated Republicans: Otto Reich, nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; and Eugene Scalia, nominated to be Labor Department solicitor. Reich, an anti-Castro lobbyist, ran a State Department office during the Iran/contra affair that, according to a government investigation, "engaged in prohibited covert propaganda." Scalia, son of the Supreme Court Justice who greased Bush's slide into the White House, is a lawyer who represents management in labor disputes and is a harsh critic of ergonomics regulations; his nomination has drawn an outcry from labor. Senate Democrats, blocking the pair for reasons of policy and payback, have turned these two nominations into partisan controversies. But there are other nominees who warrant scrutiny.
§ Gerald Reynolds, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Department of Education. Reynolds, senior regulatory counsel at Kansas City Power and Light, is an avowed enemy of affirmative action. He has been affiliated with several conservative interest groups, including the Center for New Black Leadership and the Center for Equal Opportunity, which have waged war on affirmative action and minority set-asides. The position to which he was nominated enforces all discrimination laws covering the nation's public schools and universities. It also oversees Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education programs, including sports. Senator Ted Kennedy has raised "serious concerns" about Reynolds, and civil rights groups have assailed his views on affirmative action and his lack of education policy experience. "While we don't know the nominee's position on all of the issues that are important to Title IX, his very dogged opposition to affirmative action is very problematic for women and girls in education," says Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center.
§ Gaddi Vasquez, Director, Peace Corps. Vasquez, a prominent Latino GOP politico in California, resigned as Orange County supervisor in 1995, months after the county, having misled and defrauded buyers of more than $2.1 billion in risky municipal securities, filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in history. After resigning, he became vice president of public affairs for Southern California Edison. In 2000 he donated $100,000 to the Republican Party. Senator Barbara Boxer, a liberal California Democrat, has endorsed Vasquez, and every Latino member of the California Assembly, Democrats and Republicans, signed a letter supporting his nomination. But a group of outraged former Peace Corps volunteers has been lobbying against Vasquez, arguing that he has no experience in international humanitarian affairs or managing a large agency and that this is not a job for a political hack.
§ Rebecca Watson, Assistant Secretary for Land Management, Department of the Interior. As a partner in a Montana law firm, Watson has represented mining companies yearning to dig up more and more federal land. Previously, she worked for the American Forest and Paper Group, and five years ago she represented a Montana business group battling an initiative requiring mining companies to remove carcinogens from their discharges. Industry groups have hailed her nomination; environmentalists have decried it. "She is a corporate lackey, but she will fit in this Administration like a hand in a glove," says Jim Jensen of the Montana Environmental Information Center. According to Friends of the Earth, which has been campaigning against her, she represented Montana businesses (unsuccessfully) in a 1999 court case that challenged language in the state Constitution guaranteeing a clean and healthful environment.
§ Eve Slater, Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services. Before tagging her for this post, the Bush Administration contemplated nominating Slater, senior vice president for clinical research at Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, to be FDA commissioner. That rankled Senator Kennedy, who protested, "You don't want the fox guarding the chicken coop." The FDA job didn't materialize for Slater, but at HHS she will still have to deal with former industry colleagues.
§ Janet Hale, Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget, Department of Health and Human Services. In the 1980s, as a senior official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Hale was a second-tier figure in a HUD scandal that involved politically connected developers winning big-money contracts and favors from the department. The Wall Street Journal reported that while Hale held one of HUD's highest-ranking positions, she approved waivers of regulations that permitted the construction of a problematic project sought by the former law partner of HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce. Her predecessor quit rather than OK that deal. Hale initialed it and sent the politically wired contract ahead.
These nominations--most of which are for not-so-high-profile jobs--are unlikely to generate the sort of fire and thunder accompanying the Reich and Scalia tussles. But they add new details to the family portrait of a Bush Administration loaded with corporate-friendly and not-so-compassionate conservative appointees.
India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who gathered here with the leaders of the other five South Asian countries for a summit meeting in early January, sat opposite each other at the banquet table. For two hours, while Vajpayee stared impassively down at his plate, Musharraf looked up at the chandeliers and made light conversation with Bangladesh's Prime Minister Khaleda Zia on his right. The leaders of the two nuclear powers of South Asia made no eye contact throughout. A thousand kilometers to the west, their armies were massing at the frontier.
The avuncular Vajpayee, of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), once penned poems in memory of the Hiroshima dead. But it was he who took the subcontinent nuclear by conducting tests in the Rajasthan desert in May 1998. This was an invitation for rival Pakistan--riven with internal angst based on an ideological reliance on Islam since its founding in 1947 and ruled by the military for long periods since--to join the nuclear fold, which it did with its own tests weeks later.
The Kargil miniwar of June 1999, which was the Pakistani military's response to peace moves by the civilian leadership of the two countries, was the first-ever conflict between two nuclear powers. It proved that the nuclear deterrent would not necessarily keep South Asia from conventional war. Since then, the region has walked a tightrope; unforeseen events can rapidly escalate into full-blown conflict, and the bluster of both sides includes the threat of using nuclear weapons.
There is a failure of imagination to consider the impact of nuclear blasts on the densely populated Indo-Gangetic plains, or that missile flying time to targets is measured here in minutes. Such are the proximity of population centers and climate conditions that a nuclear attack on Pakistan could consume India as well, and vice versa.
Meanwhile, even rudimentary confidence-building and de-escalation devices are lacking between the two countries--one a brittle military state whose command and control structures could collapse at a critical moment and the other a democracy egged toward brinkmanship by the arrogance of size and reactionary politics.
The current deep chill has its origins in the belief that General Musharraf is considered the "architect" of the Kargil conflict; in addition, there is the flamboyant Musharraf's upstaging of the aging Vajpayee at every public opportunity. But beyond the matter of personalities, New Delhi has legitimate grounds for anger, for Pakistan has been indulgent toward radical Islamic organizations with the avowed aim of conducting jihad to release Kashmir from India's grasp. It has allowed these militant groups to organize, fundraise and run training camps within its territory. These Pakistan-based external elements gradually displaced the indigenous militants in Kashmir over the last half of the 1990s, and recently even Kashmiri civilians have been targeted by the infiltrators.
Things came to a head on December 13 with the attack on India's Parliament in New Delhi by a militant Muslim suicide squad. An enraged Indian government accused the Islamabad government of involvement in the attack and, with the example of the American war in Afghanistan fresh in mind, hotheads within the BJP called for strikes on Pakistani territory. With one eye on a crucial legislative assembly election in the all-important state of Uttar Pradesh, Vajpayee's government upped the ante, refusing to talk with Musharraf and massing its troops at the border.
Independent of Pakistani designs on the territory, New Delhi is unwilling to consider that the disquiet in Kashmir is due to rejection of Kashmiri aspirations for a modicum of self-rule. New Delhi wants nothing less than total control, even though the Indian Constitution contains unique provisions for autonomy for Kashmir. India decided long ago that it could suffer limited bloodletting in the territory under the mistaken assumption that "letting Kashmir go" will unravel the Indian republic itself.
The discord between India and Pakistan can also be traced to postpartition animosities that grew up after 1947 in particular among the Hindu and Muslim refugees who ended up on either side of the border. More recently, Indian ire against Pakistan has been ratcheted up by neonationalism among the growing Indian middle class, which makes up a large part of the BJP government's Hindu-right base of support. These nationalist emotions have been enhanced by the unifying function of satellite TV, a new phenomenon, and a run of movies from Bombay's escapist film-production machine that are no longer coy about identifying Pakistan as "the enemy."
There are now certain actions that the two protagonists must take, goaded by the international community, including the United States. On both sides there must be a softening of inflammatory rhetoric, a calming of tension and a pullback of the military. New Delhi must talk to Islamabad, however distasteful it finds the prospect. India, as the stronger and larger country, should have the self-confidence derived from its democracy, powerful economy and world standing to show generosity of spirit.
In the medium term, the United States and other powers must continue to pressure Pakistan to withdraw support from the militant groups engaging in Kashmiri jihad. In the longer term, New Delhi and Islamabad must be made to move toward accommodation on Kashmir (read autonomy, self-government, a plebiscite, a freeze or another imaginative solution) and a program of denuclearization.
In March 2000, Bill Clinton, visiting the region as US President, called South Asia the world's most dangerous place. January 2002 finds it a much, much more dangerous place. The resentful, asymmetrical twins of South Asia have faced each other for nearly fifty-five years in an adolescent rivalry that has triggered three major wars and an endless barrage of "minor" clashes. The price of the failure of reconciliation was once high. Now it is apocalyptic.
"Not over my dead body will they raise your taxes," George W. Bush cryptically proclaimed. The press dutifully translated what he really meant, but few commented on the tastelessness of a wartime leader with troops in the field saying he was willing to die for the cause of lower taxes for the wealthy.
Never mind. The President's speech had no high public purpose or occasion. It was a political document, intended to undercut Senate majority leader Tom Daschle's prescriptions for economic recovery the previous day; it had more to do with gearing up for the 2002 Congressional elections than with speeding up the economic recovery. Bush's riposte signaled that the not-so-great debate of '02 is on.
Besides standing foursquare against any tax hikes, Bush offered only the same prescription for economic recovery as he has in the past: Let those at the top of the heap keep more of what they've got. Despite a stratospheric approval rating and a nation united behind him, he reaffirmed his fealty to his corporate underwriters and offered tax cuts for the rich at a time of obscene inequality. His partisan posturing on the stimulus plan showed that he thinks the economy will recover on its own, leaving the swelling ranks of jobless folk on their own.
Although superior to Bush's package, Daschle's was securely in the lineage of Bill Clinton's efforts to be both fiscal conservative and compassionate centrist. It positioned Democrats to campaign, amid economic recession, as the hair-shirt party of "fiscal responsibility," blaming Bush's tax cuts for the vanished (and largely notional) budget surpluses and evoking public nostalgia for the giddy boom of the late 1990s, which actually began heading south before Bush came to town. Daschle's minimalist list of stimulus measures shows a party leader out of touch with real conditions who thinks this downturn is a nonthreatening event that will soon be over, just as the stock-market cheerleaders are forecasting. Wiser heads on Wall Street, however, warn that any recovery will be weak and perhaps transient.
Even if the recession proves less serious than feared, the Democrats should be advocating spending on badly needed long-term projects, from schools to railroads, while pushing for extended and expanded unemployment compensation and health insurance and aid to states hard hit by new national-security costs.
Along with this expansive agenda the Dems should overcome their timidity and make the case for repeal of the bulk of last year's Bush tax cuts, particularly those provisions that benefit the wealthiest Americans. Those cuts will do little to stimulate the economy (even if they operate as promised--a dubious assumption), since they don't take effect for another three to six years. Instead, by assuring a greater stream of revenue from those who can best afford to pay, the Democrats can help forestall inevitable GOP efforts to claim that social programs must be cut to allow for military needs, while at the same time providing funds to address housing, hunger and poverty.
Teddy Roosevelt, whose biography is on Bush's bedside table, may have been less a foe of the malefactors of great wealth than his rhetoric claimed, but he did espouse a progressive agenda of reform, which included antitrust, financial regulation, the eight-hour workday, even a living wage. And Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 outlined an economic bill of rights that would redeem wartime sacrifices and secure the gains in income of the working class. All Bush can come up with is a thank-you note for his campaign donors.
Four months after September 11, Osama bin Laden is on the run and the Pentagon is riding high. Our warmaker in chief, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has been described by the talking heads of cable TV as "a virtual rock star" and "a babe magnet for the 70-year-old set." More important, Rumsfeld's department has become a virtual money magnet, attracting $50 billion in spending increases since mid-September on the way to a budget that could hit $363 billion this year.
The bulk of these new funds have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. The war in Afghanistan is costing $1 billion to $2 billion a month, but most of those expenses will be covered in a supplemental request that the Pentagon will forward to Congress later this year. Meanwhile, spending on systems that have actually proved useful in Afghanistan is lagging far behind expenditures for costly pet projects favored by the White House, key members of Congress, military bureaucrats and major weapons contractors.
For example, ballistic missile defense, a provocative program that has more to do with promoting unilateralist ideology than it does with defending the country, received a $2.5 billion increase in the budget approved by Congress in December. But spending on the unmanned aerial vehicles that have been a critical element of the air war in Afghanistan will increase by just one-tenth of that amount, or $250 million. And despite George W. Bush's campaign pledge to "skip a generation" of big-ticket systems to make way for a leaner, more mobile military force, not a single major weapons system has been canceled.
As a result of Bush's decision to give up the fight for Pentagon procurement reform, tens of billions will be squandered on systems like:
§ the F-22 fighter plane, which was designed to do battle with a next-generation Soviet fighter that was never built;
§ the ninety-ton Crusader artillery system, which is too cumbersome to transport to any of the likely battlefields of the future;
§ heavy combat ships like a next-generation destroyer and a new attack submarine that were meant to shadow Soviet war vessels now rusting in Russian ports.
Add to that Congressionally mandated boondoggles like a provision to spend $20 billion over the next ten years leasing unneeded aircraft from Boeing, and the dimensions of the wasteful spending being approved in the name of the war on terror begin to become apparent.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that more than two-thirds of the respondents expected the war on terrorism to diminish funding for other needed programs, but that more than half of those surveyed felt the sacrifice was worth it. That view would surely change if more people knew how much of the Pentagon's new largesse is serving the needs of special interests rather than the national interest.
ENRON: WHERE DOES THE BUCK STOP?
The Justice Department and several Congressional committees are starting to look under the Enron rock. Representative Henry Waxman has been shooting some trenchant questions at the company--and getting some answers. So far a prominent name has been missing from the potential witness list--George W. Bush. As is well-known, the company's disgraced chairman, Kenneth Lay, was a prime booster of Bush's political career, and he and other Enron executives greased W's rise with nearly $2 million in contributions. Lay personally gave $326,000. As Robert Scheer has been pounding home in his "Column Left" (which appears on www.thenation.com), Bush was good to Enron in return, starting when he was Texas governor, pushing through tax cuts and deregulation measures benefiting the utility. Then there was that 1997 phone call he made to his buddy Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge at Lay's behest, supporting Enron's bid for entree into the state's tightly regulated electricity market. After Bush moved into the White House, the Enron-friendly actions continued. Curtis Hebert Jr., chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was given the boot not long after Lay called him to demand a faster track for Enron's access to the national electricity grid. Hebert was replaced by Pat Wood, a Texan Lay approved of. Dick Cheney as well should be coaxed out of hiding and deposed on those six meetings he or his staff held with Enron representatives, some of which were followed by some policy decisions favorable to the company. And how about presidential assistant Karl Rove's owning $68,000 in Enron stock at the time he spoke with Lay about the latter's FERC "problem"? He sold the stock in June, well before the company tanked. Lucky him. Did others in the Administration with previous ties to Enron own stock? What did they know about the company's financial troubles, and did they know it in time to bail out? Make way for Enrongate.
A leader in the drive for greater government secrecy has been Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose most recent blow was aimed at the Freedom of Information Act. As Ruth Rosen reports in the San Francisco Chronicle (January 7), Ashcroft, in a memo dated October 12 that surfaced only recently, urged federal agencies to resist FOIA requests, considering whether "institutional, commercial and personal privacy interests could be implicated by disclosure of the information." Ashcroft told officials: "When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records." The Justice Department declined comment on Rosen's interpretation of the memo, but Ashcroft's policy can only encourage more stonewalling in the future, thus weakening the FOIA, an indispensable journalistic tool for exposing government and corporate corruption. (In another example of the secretiveness of this Administration, Bush ordered that presidential papers may not be released if present or former Presidents, Vice Presidents or their families object, thus shielding two Republicans, Reagan and Papa Bush, from historical scrutiny. According to The Washington Spectator, Brett Kavanaugh, who drafted the Bush order, previously worked for special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. At that time he argued that President Clinton had no right to withhold any document demanded by Starr's office.)
FOLLOW-UPS: MONSANTO, NARCO NEWS
For decades, with full company knowledge, dangerous PCBs flowing out of the Monsanto factory in Anniston, Alabama, saturated the plant's surroundings, turning rivers an unnatural shade of green, poisoning fish and wildlife and, some say, sickening local residents. In her May 29, 2000, Nation piece, "What Monsanto Knew," Nancy Beiles chronicled the town's long struggle to force Monsanto to admit and compensate for its misdeeds. On January 7, the residents finally got their day in court--along with a flurry of national print and television publicity, including a page-one feature in the Washington Post. We'll keep readers abreast of events as this environmental scandal unfolds.
And in the cause of journalism we're also pleased about a recent ruling by Judge Paula Omansky of the New York State Supreme Court dismissing libel charges against Mario Menéndez, a Mexican journalist, and Al Giordano, editor and publisher of Narco News, an Internet magazine (www.narconews.com), published in Mexico, that reports on corruption and the drug war in Latin America. As Mark Schapiro wrote in his article "Drug War on Trial" (September 17/24, 2001), Narco News ran a story making charges against Banamex, Mexico's second-largest bank, based on articles by Menéndez in Por Esto! a Mexican newspaper. Menéndez had reported, inter alia, that the bank's president was involved with drug trafficking and money laundering. Banamex took him to court in Mexico and lost. The bank then sued Narco News, along with Menéndez, in New York. Again they lost in what is a stirring victory for freedom of speech on the Internet. Narco News has broken important stories on the drug war. If it had lost, a chill could have settled over the web.
GOING FOR THE GREENBACKS
Is the environmental movement falling sway to the revolving-door syndrome prevalent in Congress and federal regulatory agencies? The association is prompted by the news that Lord Melchett, who was head of Greenpeace UK and remains on Greenpeace's board, has become a consultant for Burson-Marsteller, a multinational PR agency popular with dictators burdened by odious human rights records and corporations caught polluting the earth, the seas and the skies. The gadfly group PR Watch (www.prwatch.org) points out that other environmentalists have also sold themselves to PR firms, where, like Lord M., they serve as a valuable front for standard pro-industry propaganda.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
A cultural insight from People magazine re David McCullough's bestselling biography: "Who would have guessed that John Adams would ever be more talked about than Michael Jackson?" Sure you don't mean Andrew Jackson?