We're pleased to announce that Jamie Lincoln Kitman's special report, "The Secret History of Lead" (March 20, 2000), has been awarded the Investigative Reporters and Editors' highest honor for 2000: the IRE Medal. The IRE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting, singled out Kitman's revelations of continuing sales of leaded gas to the Third World after it was banned in the United States in 1986 and said that his report "reads like a classic turn-of-the-century muckraking piece.... The research manifested here is nothing short of breathtaking." The article was made possible by a grant from the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.
The prevailing view of the Bush Administration's expulsion of some fifty Russian diplomats in retaliation for the Robert Hanssen spy scandal has been that it was a throwback to cold war days when the great game of tit for tat was the normal way of doing things. But the apparent recrudescence of the cold war mindset should be cause for concern. The only alternative interpretation--that Washington hasn't any better ideas for dealing with Moscow--is equally troubling.
For one thing, the size of the expulsions was excessive. One would have to go back to 1986 to find comparable numbers. Also, they come on the heels of a stream of in-your-face pronouncements by Administration figures--Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for example, calling Russia an "active proliferator" and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, saying it is "willing to sell anything to anyone for money"--and the loud insistence that the ill-conceived National Missile Defense scheme must go through regardless of Moscow's (or China's or Europe's) objections.
In fact, America does need a new Russia policy after the Clinton Administration's failures. Russia should be our number-one security worry--not because of its strength or aggressiveness but because of its weakness. Its economy has collapsed, its military is demoralized. But it remains a nuclear power equal to the United States. Indeed, the difference between now and cold war times is that the Soviet state was in control of its nuclear devices. Now, it sits atop a crumbling nuclear infrastructure, with poorly maintained reactors, vulnerable stockpiles and a dangerously degraded control system over missiles that remain, like our own, on hair trigger alert. The possibility of an accidental launch triggering a nuclear exchange has never been greater.
The reversion to mindless cold war games obscures these new threats and makes even more difficult the US-Russian cooperation needed to deal with them. That each side will spy on the other is a fact of international life and should not be used as a pretext for further distancing. Washington's priority should be working more closely with Moscow to make the latter's nuclear armaments more secure. The cold war is over. It is frightening that the Bush people show no signs of comprehending this.
On March 26, PBS carried something that has become increasingly rare in our media-besotted land: genuine journalism. The program was an explosive investigation by Bill Moyers and his staff of a decades-long program by the chemical industry to hide the life-threatening dangers associated with the use and production of their products. People were dying who did not have to die; they were living with debilitating illnesses and receiving no compensation from the companies.
The industry did everything it could to discredit Moyers. It set up a website, wrote angry letters to PBS and accused Moyers of a biased presentation--before having seen the program.
One would think that a story of this magnitude would interest others in the mainstream media. One would be wrong. In the Washington Post, media columnist Howard Kurtz focused on the controversy between Moyers and the companies. The New York Times, however, reviewed the program as if taking orders directly from the chemical industry. "Have we perhaps grown up in a perverse sort of way and now accept that spectacular progress like that of the last half-century cannot be achieved without tradeoffs?" wrote Neil Genzlinger. "Nothing good, be it democracy or more durable house paint, comes without a price."
No one on the program argued against tradeoffs or democracy. The issue Moyers presented was quite simple: Do companies have the right to lie and mislead their workers and the public about the potentially harmful effects of their products? If tradeoffs or democracy were the issue, then the victims of these companies would at least have been given the relevant information about the likelihood that they might contract cancer or other life-threatening diseases as a result of their exposure to toxic chemicals. Yet, as Moyers reported, that information was deliberately withheld or covered up by the companies.
People died or were permanently disfigured as a result of the coverups Bill Moyers exposed. Yet the Times likened acceptance of (slow) murder by corporations for profits to growing up. It's hard to know which is more offensive: the actions of the corporations or the willingness of journalists to act as apologists for them.
All signs point to an all-out drive by the Bush Administration to slot judicial conservatives into the eighty-nine current vacancies on the federal bench. The recent to-do about ending the American Bar Association's role in screening nominees was a smoke signal to the conservative base that only the "right" kind of judges henceforth need apply. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales grumbled that the ABA, which has been screening nominees since the Eisenhower Administration, "takes public positions on divisive political, legal and social issues." In fact, ABA's screening committees eschew political judgments, instead evaluating the candidates' ethics, competence and judicial temperament.
The real meaning of Gonzales's words is that the Bushites want a free hand to appoint their own ideologues. Conservatives crave revenge for the 1987 Senate rejection of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, whom four members of the ABA's fifteen-member standing committee found "not qualified." This split decision by the usually unanimous committee gave ammunition to Bork's opponents. Gonzales let the word go forth that in selecting nominees he and John Ashcroft will heed the Federalist Society and kindred far-right legal groups whose acolytes honeycomb this Administration.
Bush further heartened his right-wing supporters by blocking Clinton nominees for the bench like Roger Gregory, who had been given an interim appointment to the Fourth Circuit. (He's the first African-American to enter Jesse Helms's segregated preserve.) Meanwhile, other solidly qualified Clinton nominees have been left dangling by the Judiciary Committee, including James Klein, the able DC public defender; Helene White (whose nomination was stalled for more than 1,500 days) and a score of others for whom Senator Orrin Hatch refused to hold hearings.
The Bushites' court-packing drive is a grade-A rush job. For one thing, the roll Bush is on is petering out with his tax plan seen by a wider public as too friendly to the rich. Then, too, if an enfeebled Strom Thurmond exits the stage, control of the Judiciary Committee would shift to the Democrats, and then it's a whole new ball game.
If ever there was a time for mobilizing a counteroffensive, this is it. Bush has no mandate to add more weight to an already rightward-tilting federal bench. The Supreme Court's patently political ruling in Bush v. Gore has shaken its credibility. There is a growing constituency for judicial integrity and against a rollback of individual rights. Public-interest groups are tuning up. Some that will be in the thick of the fight: National Women's Law Center, National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, People for the American Way, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (for more information contact Marcia Kuntz at the Alliance for Justice, 202-822-6070; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Progressives must also apply pressure on Democratic senators to stall the Bush drive to stack the bench. Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman's suggestion that no Bush Supreme Court nominees should be approved is on the mark. Democrats should demand the same privilege that Hatch claimed of vetting all lower court nominees before their names become public.
Let's heed the admonition of Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice: "Fight early, fight often and fight to win."
Adrian Wilson can't make a lobbying trip to Albany anytime soon: The New York State Department of Corrections does not escort its prisoners to the state capital for teach-ins. But his story--typical of the 22,000 nonviolent drug offenders in New York's cellblocks on any given day--could serve as the centerpiece of the campaign now under way for the long-overdue repeal of the notoriously punitive Rockefeller drug laws. In 1983 Wilson, an African-American, then 29, was arrested for drug possession--his first offense--and prosecutors offered him a plea bargain that would have required him to undergo electroshock treatments and eight months' incarceration. Wilson chose instead to exercise his constitutional right to a trial. Convicted of possessing four ounces of cocaine, instead of eight months he faced a mandatory prison term of fifteen years to life.
No single moment in the history of US criminal justice matches the destructive impact of the New York legislature's 1973 session. That was when Governor Nelson Rockefeller set the tone for a national wave of prison-packing schemes with the drug laws that bear his name. As Wilson's case illustrates, the Rockefeller drug laws combined two regressive criminal justice policies into a new and potent brew: They prescribe imprisonment rather than treatment for drug offenders, and they establish mandatory minimum sentences and give the power to decide sentences to the prosecutors, who choose charges, rather than to the judges hearing cases.
The outcome, repeated thousands of times daily around the country: Nonviolent drug offenders like Wilson get punished not in proportion to any presumed threat to society but for daring to inconvenience prosecutors with a trial. With built-in incentives for police and prosecutors to concentrate on low-level users and with racial discrimination an inevitability, the Rockefeller drug laws are the ancestor of just about every regressive criminal justice policy since enacted--three-strikes laws, federal sentencing guidelines and zero-tolerance police sweeps.
With the cost for imprisoning Rockefeller drug offenders topping $710 million per year, Governor George Pataki has at last proposed a package of reforms reducing minimum drug sentences and expanding treatment. Assembly Democrats--many of whom have dodged the issue for years until Pataki opened the door--have upped the ante, proposing more sweeping discretion for judges and more money for drug treatment. The Correctional Association of New York and a broad array of activist, religious and legal-reform groups have launched a Drop the Rock campaign (kicked off with a March 1 forum in Manhattan co-sponsored by the Nation Institute), which on March 27 will bring thousands to Albany for a day of teach-ins and citizen lobbying. Only a handful of district attorneys, worried about losing their sentencing leverage in plea bargains, are holding out for the Rockefeller status quo.
So the question is not whether New York will reform but if reform will go far enough. Pataki's plan would not give judges any more discretion for Class B felonies, the most commonly charged drug offenses in New York, and would actually increase some minimum sentences. Pataki would allow prosecutors to handpick the offenders tracked into treatment--a certain recipe for abuse and another usurpation of the proper authority of judges. Perhaps most important, Pataki has so far come nowhere near proposing a budget for drug treatment commensurate with the need. Drug-law reform without a commitment to drug treatment is a half-measure, similar to the 1980s deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients with no system of community mental healthcare in place.
New York, which for years styled itself as a pioneer in criminal justice policy, is now playing catch-up to states like California, whose voters last November overwhelmingly approved a treatment-over-prison referendum for first- and second-time offenders, or Colorado and Nevada, which have passed medical-marijuana measures. But the Rockefeller laws are the founding charter of the failed war on drugs, and their repeal would turn state reform tremors into an American earthquake. In immediate impact on the lives of the poor and people of color, and as a long-term shift in national priorities, there will be no more important campaign this year. It's time to Drop the Rock.
We are pleased to announce that Maria Margaronis and D.D. Guttenplan, who have been contributing editors to the magazine since 1998, will serve as our London bureau. Margaronis, a former Nation associate literary editor, was a senior editor of the Village Voice Literary Supplement and taught for five years at the New School for Social Research. Guttenplan, a former senior editor at the Village Voice and staff writer at New York Newsday, is the author of The Holocaust on Trial, an account of the David Irving-Deborah Lipstadt libel case, to be published in May by Norton.
Augmenting our editorial board is Tony Kushner, already a contributor to our pages and author of one of the quintessential Broadway plays of the nineties, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. This two-part epic won about every major theatrical award, including two Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize.
Joining our masthead as a contributing editor is Robert Dreyfuss, who has written frequently for this journal and for Rolling Stone, Mother Jones and The American Prospect, with particular emphasis on campaign finance, lobbying and money in politics.
This is not about profits and patents; it's about poverty and a devastating disease." That statement did not come from AIDS activists struggling to provide sub-Saharan Africa's 25 million HIV-positive people with access to life-extending medications. It came from the executive vice president of Bristol-Myers Squibb, which recently announced it would slash prices on its two AIDS drugs and forgo patents on one of them. A week earlier, Merck & Co. said it would lower prices on its two AIDS drugs not just in Africa but, pending review, in other heavily affected countries as well.
What's going on is not a change of heart on the part of "Big Pharma"--which John le Carré describes in this issue as a group of "multibillion-dollar multinational corporations that view the exploitation of the world's sick and dying as a sacred duty to their shareholders." Far from being a humanitarian action, the price reductions represent an attempt to preserve patent rights by diffusing international pressure for generic manufacturing. Revealingly, neither BMS nor Merck has withdrawn from a suit against the South African government brought by thirty-nine pharmaceuticals seeking to prohibit importation of generic drugs, which they claim would violate their patents.
The Indian generic manufacturer Cipla announced in February that it would sell the entire AIDS triple-therapy combination at $350 per person, per year, and other generic manufacturers, in Thailand and Brazil, currently offer AIDS drugs at a fraction of multinational prices. By comparison, the Wall Street Journal reported that a combination of AIDS drugs from BMS and Merck would cost between $865 and $965 per person, per year. If those prices were multiplied by the number of AIDS patients in, say, Zimbabwe, a relatively prosperous country by African standards, the total would come to about 20 percent of its GDP. And that sum doesn't include the investments in healthcare infrastructure needed to distribute and monitor the drugs' use.
But even if poor African countries could somehow find the money to pay the high patent-protected prices of the drug giants (the $26.6 billion a year it would cost to provide all Africa with AIDS drugs is no more than about a third of what Bush's tax plan would give to America's wealthiest 1 percent), that would not be the end of their problems. Rather, such a course would lock them into exclusive trade agreements with multinationals and put them at the continual mercy of Western foreign aid budgets. As new treatments are developed, Africa would have to negotiate new price reductions, country by country, company by company.
If the solutions lie with generic manufacturing (not just for AIDS medications but for a slew of vital drugs for malaria and other ills), then circumventing existing international patent regulations is a necessity. The trial in South Africa over compulsory licensing is one crucial test of the viability of this option. Another potential plan would be for the National Institutes of Health to give patents owned by the US government on publicly funded AIDS drugs to the World Health Organization, thereby licensing it to oversee generic manufacturing. Why not, in fact, let governments underwrite the entire cost of drug research--rather than, as now, underwriting substantial amounts of the research, which drug companies then exploit--and do away with patents altogether?
Whatever the recourse, and despite the well-publicized gestures by multinational pharmaceutical companies, the solutions to Africa's AIDS epidemic lie in sustainable competitive drug production, not momentary self-interested charity.
'FREELANCE' DOESN'T MEAN FOR FREE
The case of Tasini v. New York Times, which the Supreme Court will hear soon, turns on technical language in copyright law, but it has raised a larger issue between historians and freelance writers, whose work might be said to be the raw material of history. The freelancers, led by Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union, challenge the Times's and other newspapers' claim that they have the right to post articles on databases like Lexis-Nexis without compensation to the writers. The writers argue that they should be cut a share of the revenue generated by this recycling of their work. The publishers and databases say that Internet or CD-ROM compilations of newspaper articles are simply an extension of the original publication, as permitted by copyright law. If the writers win, the publishers fear they'll be vulnerable to lawsuits by ink-stained wretches and so will be forced to excise freelance articles from their databases. That specter haunts the historians, who bemoan the loss of this material from the historical record. We respect the historians' farseeing dedication to historical truth, but we also believe writers deserve compensation in the here and now. As George Bernard Shaw told Sam Goldwyn, who made an unsatisfactory offer for the screen rights to his plays: "The trouble, Mr. Goldwyn, is that you are only interested in art, and I am only interested in money."
UPDATE: WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS
Doug Ireland writes: Paris became the first national capital to choose an openly gay candidate for mayor, in the second round of municipal voting on March 18 (see Frédéric Martel, "Retour du Socialisme?" March 19). Socialist Bertrand Delanoë led the "plural left" coalition to a resounding victory, giving the left a sizable governing majority on the municipal council (which actually elects the mayor), carrying two-thirds of the city's arrondissements against a divided right (although the two conservative tickets' scores, if combined, would have given the right a majority of votes cast). About half of the 10,000-plus crowd that celebrated Delanoë's victory in front of the Hotel de Ville were gay. Lyons, France's second city, also fell to the left for the first time since 1957. But where the right was united, it won: Forty cities and towns with incumbent left governments passed to the conservatives. All this spells trouble for Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in next year's presidential and legislative elections. Biggest winner: the Greens, who scored heavily everywhere in the first round of voting, becoming the second-largest force in the left coalition.
PREGNANT WOMEN'S RIGHTS
The Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a South Carolina public hospital's policy of requiring women in a prenatal care program to take drug tests (see Rachel Roth, "Policing Pregnancy," October 16, 2000). If the women (mostly poor and African-American) tested positive, they were threatened with arrest unless they entered a treatment program. Some thirty women landed in jail. Writing for the 6-to-3 majority, Justice John Paul Stevens ruled that the policy was an unconstitutional search and seizure. It's no secret that the fetal-rights groups inspired the policy. The Supreme Court's decision affirms the proposition that pregnant women do have rights--even if they are poor and black.
Rx FOR THE DRUG COMPANIES
Nation Associates are taking action against Big Pharma (see John le Carré, page 11) by bombarding the CEOs of multinational drug companies with protest letters, signing Internet petitions and supporting legislation to stop sanctions on countries that import or produce generic versions of patented drugs. To find out more about Nation Associates, e-mail email@example.com
"Ishall never be able to forget," writes Christopher Hitchens of the poems of the slain Wilfred Owen, "the way in which these verses utterly turned over all the furniture of my mind; inverting every conception of order and patriotism and tradition on which I had been brought up." With Owen's war poems in mind, Hitchens observes that the dead soldier "has conclusively outlived all the jingo versifiers, blood-bolted Liberal politicians, garlanded generals and other supposed legislators of the period. He is the most powerful single rebuttal of Auden's mild and sane claim that 'Poetry makes nothing happen.'" Thus does our "Minority Report" columnist introduce the subject of his collected meditations on writers in the public sphere, Unacknowledged Legislation. Rather than setting out to treat overtly political scribes, Hitchens focuses on writers as they encounter public life. He disputes the Stendhalian view of politics in the novel "as a pistol shot in the middle of a concert" or "a stone tied to the neck of literature." While conceding that the directly politicized writer is someone we have come to distrust and the surreptitiously politicized one "is no great improvement" (he offers as example Tom Wolfe), Hitchens contends that when the parties of state agree on a matter, it is the individual pen that creates "the moral space for a true argument"--whether Paine, Douglass and Howells, or Mailer, Lowell and Vidal. This is the extended argument of his own that Hitchens advances over a span of thirty-five essays and reviews, culled from the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, Dissent, Vanity Fair, Harper's, the New York Review of Books, The Nation and elsewhere. We are treated to both insight and anecdote as Hitchens attempts to tease out the Platonic forms, as it were, of Wilde and Orwell and Raymond Williams and Vidal and Rushdie and Bellow and Kipling and Eliot, Isaiah Berlin, Allan Bloom, Martha Nussbaum and Norman Podhoretz, O'Brian (Patrick), O'Brien (Conor Cruise) and others. Along the way he parses the line that "divides pseudo-objectivity from propaganda," tells us how Whittaker Chambers fired the young Bellow as the future Nobelist began working for Time, bemoans the lack of a "Blake or Camus or Koestler to synthesize justice and reason with outrage" and holds up Wilde in firebrand fashion to "encourage us to think that the bores and the bullies and the literal minds need not always win. May he induce us to rise from our semi-recumbent postures."
The corporate class is flying high in Washington. With George W. Bush--CEO style and all--in the White House and the Republicans controlling Congress, the business community has been exploiting its enhanced clout. Workplace safety rules, ten years in the making and designed to prevent a million or so injuries a year, were scrapped in a few hours of Congressional action. A signal was sent: We Are Business. Hear Us Roar. At the same time, House Republicans rammed through the central provision of Bush's tax cut for the rich. And in another early action, the House approved a bankruptcy bill that favors creditors, among them MBNA America Bank, one of the largest issuers of credit cards and--coincidence? ha!--one of the largest corporate donors to Bush and the GOP in the election. But surely the most egregious display of corporate power was Bush's decision to reverse a campaign pledge to seek reductions in the carbon dioxide emissions of the nation's power plants after the coal and oil industries objected. Congressman Henry Waxman rightly called the move a "breathtaking betrayal" of Bush's promise to fight global warming.
All this activity has emboldened corporate lobbyists to plan other assaults. They want to rewrite privacy rules regarding medical records, beat back environmental and land-use regulations, open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, limit corporate liability for dangerous products, deep-six the federal lawsuit against the tobacco industry and undo the Clinton ban on road-building in 60 million acres of national forest. And don't forget tax breaks. Bush told the K Streeters who eyed the Bush tax package for special-interest tax breaks to keep their mitts off. But there's a tacit deal in the air. If the corporate crowd helps Bush win his tax cut this year, next year he'll help them get theirs.
None of this is a surprise. Bush and the Republicans are merely following the law of supply and demand: Donors supply campaign money, then they demand. Bush set records in terms of pocketing corporate donations, and Congressional Republicans--particularly those in the House under the leadership of majority whip Tom DeLay--have perfected the pay-to-play, in which they hit up the business community for campaign cash and then allow its representatives to participate in drafting legislation.
Which brings us to campaign finance reform. The Senate is poised to consider the McCain-Feingold bill, a modest initiative that would ban federal soft-money contributions and at least inconvenience the high rollers. Yet some Democrats are skittish, realizing that their party has become as dependent on soft money as the GOP. And labor is nervous about a provision that would limit issue ads. Regardless of the outcome of this debate, we need extensive reform going beyond McCain-Feingold, along with a fight-back on the GOP initiatives. Opposition to those initiatives does exist, including a coalition of 500 organizations working to combat the Bush tax cut. That, plus a spirited grassroots effort, could stop the Bush agenda while pushing progressive alternatives.