In Michigan, it's a battle over school vouchers. In Alaska the fight is over medical marijuana. Nebraskans are being asked to outlaw civil unions. In Colorado, Amendment 25 would impose a twenty-four-hour waiting period and antiabortion propaganda on women wanting to terminate a pregnancy. These are just a few of the dozens of state initiatives and ballot measures that voters will face on November 7.
The overwhelming majority of them are in the Mountain West and on the Pacific Coast--and most are rollbacks led by conservatives. "There are some good progressive initiatives," says Amy Pritchard of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. "But progressives are mostly on the defensive." Because initiatives generally don't get the same attention that candidates do, voters tend not to focus on them until the last minute, if they focus at all, making outcomes hard to predict.
Once again California is the bloodiest and costliest of ballot- initiative battlegrounds. As much as $50 million is being spent by both sides on Proposition 38, which would widely introduce school vouchers. Silicon Valley multimillionaire Tim Draper is bankrolling the pro-voucher forces, but stiff opposition from teachers' unions and elected officials seems to be dominating. (A similar plan in Michigan could win, however.)
A similarly salutary role was not played by many of these same officials on another California measure. Cooked up by the bipartisan political establishment, Prop 34 would short-circuit real campaign finance reform by enacting a measure that is a reform in name only. In San Francisco, a creative Proposition L would close legal loopholes that allow dot-coms and other gentrifiers to turn low-income residential and industrial neighborhoods into gilded offices and condo villages. Prop 36, a measure that would reverse the logic of the failed drug war by substituting treatment for incarceration of nonviolent users, seems to be gaining the upper hand, with substantial support from several groups backed by financier George Soros. Opposition to the measure ranges from prosecutors to the otherwise liberal actor Martin Sheen.
Alaskans appear to be poised to approve a cannabis decriminalization law that would also grant pardons to people convicted under state marijuana laws and make them eligible for restitution. Nevadans, too, will be voting on whether to approve medical marijuana--as well as whether to ban gay marriage. In Arkansas and Massachusetts, conservatives are championing antitax initiatives.
Oregon's menu of twenty-six ballot measures is a nightmare for progressives. The militantly antigay Oregon Citizens Alliance has collected more than $170,000 to promote Measure 9, which would ban public schools from teaching anything that promotes or sanctions homosexuality, but opponents have raised about six times that amount. Meanwhile, progressives are also having to spend resources to oppose measures 92 and 98, which would restrict the ability of unions to collect money to use for political purposes from more than 200,000 unionized workers.
The good news from the Northwest is that Oregon is one of two states (Missouri is the other) where voters have a chance to approve clean-money campaign finance reforms. In the past few years, four states--Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Arizona--have approved such laws. In each, the special-interest-funded opposition barely put in a showing, but that has changed. "We have always been David and the other side the Goliaths," says Public Campaign executive director Nick Nyhart. "In the past Goliath never came to play. Now he's out in force."
An Oregon radio campaign tries to tar the reformers as fronts for eco-terrorists and neo-Nazis. In Missouri, corporate opponents are threatening to spend $2 million to defeat the measure; to date Anheuser-Busch has led the charge with a $25,000 contribution, followed closely by KC Power & Light, Hallmark and the Missouri Association of Realtors. "It's crucial that these two measures pass," says Nyhart. "Clean money is an idea that has been winning, and we don't want to lose the momentum." In both states, the battle is tight and likely to go down to the wire. (Readers who wish to contribute can contact Missouri Voters for Fair Elections at 314-531-9630 and the Oregon Campaign for Political Accountability at 503-796-1099.)
What's a political campaign without politicians calling each other liars? This one's been marked, however, at the presidential level, by strategic civility, a pious avoidance of "personal attacks." Nevertheless, the GOP's most effective line of attack on Gore has been impugning his personal credibility by blowing up his gaffes and recycling hoary myths. You know them: that Gore claimed he invented the Internet (he didn't but gave it early legislative support), that he exaggerates when he says he did chores on his father's farm (his father made him work his butt off), that he claimed to be a model for a character in Love Story (he never claimed it, and Erich Segal, the author, said the character was partly modeled on him), that he claimed to have discovered the Love Canal pollution (no, but he held hearings on it and other toxic dumpsites). These radioactive lies about lies have had a long half-life and enabled George W. to sow further innuendo in the debates by harping on Gore's "stretchers" and "fuzzy math"--even as he blithely spreads misinformation of his own (check out the article by Professor George Gerbneremail@example.com).
BUSH'S LATE SHOW CONFESSION
After George W. Bush recently appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman, there was much media commentary regarding Letterman's Russert-like questioning of the governor on issues like pollution in Texas and oil drilling in Alaska. But what largely went unnoticed was that Letterman forced Bush to acknowledge that his support of capital punishment was based on a less-than-solid foundation--the belief that executions deter crime. Letterman pressed him: How could he be sure? "It's a hard statistic to prove," Bush said. Hard statistic to prove? So Bush is supporting executions even though his prime justification for capital punishment has not been proved. At last, the plain talk Bush has promised.
SUE THE BASTARDS, RALPH
Shayna Cohen reports: Hours before Ralph Nader was denied entry into the third presidential debate, in St. Louis, he filed a lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates, saying that it used "threat, intimidation, and coercion" in denying him access to debate premises in Boston less than two weeks earlier. Claiming that the CPD violated both the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act and the First and Fourteenth amendments, Nader's suit charges that his exclusion was based on "his expression of his views" and the expectation that he would disrupt the debates as a "point man for the protests" (which he neither attended nor organized). Nader was barred from participating in a prearranged, postdebate, onsite Fox newscast viewed by potential voters. Although the CPD is a private, nonprofit corporation, the Boston debates were held in a public university; were financially backed by numerous city and state officials and departments; and were secured by a public police force over which, the lawsuit claims, the CPD asserted "improper influence" by instructing it to implement the unconstitutional exclusion. The Nader campaign already has a suit pending against the FEC in the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, outlining the CPD's fundamental structural illegality. These lawsuits are the first steps in what Nader heralds as the total disintegration of a CPD that, by its abuse of its own authority and of Nader's civil rights, has "sowed the seeds of its own future political destruction." To replace it, Nader calls for a People's Debate Commission in which unions and community organizations will sponsor numerous debates of varying formats. Protesters in Boston heeded this call, holding "street debates" in which a range of national problems were addressed.
NO MIRTH IN THE BALANCE
"Al Gore distills in his single person the disrepair of liberalism in America today, and almost every unalluring feature of the Democratic Party. He did not attain this distinction by accident but by sedulous study from the cradle forward." Thus unambiguously do Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn and frequent collaborator Jeffrey St. Clair stake out the terrain in opening their brief against the Vice President. Political handbook rather than full-blown biography, it effectively paints Gore as a walking sandwich board for Democratic Leadership Council values, tapped for higher office because Bill and Hillary saw in him "a kindred soul in political philosophy, hewing to the pro-corporate, anti-union positions...which together they had founded and nurtured." From his family connections to Occidental Petroleum to his education partly under Martin Peretz (from Peretz's pulpit at Harvard, not The New Republic), Gore's background is shown with no mirth in the balance but his "propensity to boast excessively" demonstrated at every turn. The authors, wearing their hearts on their pens, chronicle Gore's role in fighting against graphic rock lyrics but for NAFTA, his boardroom brand of environmentalism, his evolution from "centrist realism" to (stretcher alert) "pragmatic progressivism." He's "never been a political Boy Scout," they write. On their honor.
The fundamentals in the Middle East have changed so drastically--unalterably--that the recent agreement at Sharm el Sheik was just a strip of gauze on a gaping wound. The complacent assumption of many in Israel and the United States that the "peace process" was moving irreversibly forward has been drastically shaken.
An enormous gulf opened between the two peoples sharing the same land. A troubled Israeli columnist wrote in Yediot Ahronot, "It was only two weeks ago that we were buying furniture in Ramallah, gambling in Jericho, importing vegetables from the West Bank villages and reading about the Palestinians' intention to build six new duty-free malls for Israelis along the border with the autonomous areas." (Note the one-sided view of Palestine as a consumers' haven.) "Where was this [anger] concealed so that we didn't see it?" The answer came from a Palestinian social worker: "For fifty years, we have lived together, yet I do not believe the Jews really know anything about us.... Young men cannot find work. Nearly half of all Arabs in Nazareth live below the poverty line.... Why is anyone amazed that everything has exploded?"
How could any reasonable person not have believed that the visit of Ariel Sharon, escorted by 1,000 policemen, to the Temple Mount--also known as the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim holy site--would provoke the Palestinians? As Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz, Sharon did not care if he offended the Palestinians--"he went up ignoring their existence completely. He went up for internal political reasons, without giving a thought to how his behavior might affect them." Sharon is loathed by Palestinians for the brutal war in Lebanon and for loudly championing the policy of pushing ever more settlements into their space.
It is true that Sharon's visit was not the "real" cause of the riots. They were ignited by long-smoldering outrage over the failure of the Oslo process to deliver any tangible benefits to Palestinians. One of the greatest of the longstanding provocations, along with the humiliating Israeli military presence, is the ongoing encroachment of Jewish settlements on Palestinian space, which has continued unabated under the Barak government.
In the short term the violence must be stopped; in the longer term, all sides--but particularly the United States and Israel--must absorb the lessons of this round of violence before they go about trying to restart peace talks. The Israelis must face the fact that it is wildly unrealistic to maintain sovereignty over East Jerusalem, overwhelmingly inhabited by Palestinians determined to contest that sovereignty. The United States must face the fact that it has failed to convince the Palestinians that it can be a fair and honest broker (about $5 billion annually in military and economic aid to Israel, an occupying power, has always made that claim rather hollow). Arafat concluded that trilateral negotiations (Israel, the United States, the Palestinians) left him isolated, called on to make compromises that would be politically fatal to him. The Arabs' insistence on Secretary General Kofi Annan's participation in the Sharm el Sheik talks signaled the need for an expanded UN role in the region. The European Union, Jordan, Egypt and other Arab states must play a greater part as well.
To regain its credibility as broker, the United States should involve the UN, the EU and the Palestinians in the preparation of its report on the causes of the violence. Israel must cease its reliance on military force, which exacerbates tensions and keeps youthful Palestinians raging in the streets. Arafat has a role in cooling the violence, but he cannot do it until religious fanatics on both sides are reined in. Beyond that, two estranged peoples must somehow be reconciled. With time, the wound can be healed. It must be.
We dare to be optimistic. Presidential elections are mile markers on a very long road. Our side does not expect to win according to conventional measures; it could hardly be otherwise, since our political objective is the radical reconstruction of US society. This election may shift governing power to new hands, though within a narrowing band of the possible. The returns may reveal something about the nation, though that information is unreliable when half the electorate has opted out of voting. Meanwhile, we seek to rehabilitate America's collapsing democracy, to mobilize systematic confrontation with the harsh economic inequalities, to construct a movement that is both powerful and attentive to human concerns and suffering, the suppression of liberties, the destruction of nature. These matters and others are not going to be resolved by one election or several of them. Yet Election 2000, despite its sorry qualities, turns out to be important--perhaps even pivotal for us.
We hold out the proposition that something promising and positive is under way in the dispirited political landscape, and we should determine to make the most of it. After the past two decades of loss and retreat, it takes nerve to sound so hopeful. Ralph Nader, much as many of us might wish for it, is not going to become the next President. If Al Gore does, the radical vision still remains far distant from the levers of power. On the morning after, if George W. Bush has won, we will be gearing up for familiar battles against the right-wing agenda. And yet people on many progressive fronts do recognize the changing circumstances before them, and they are in a still-fragile process of inventing smart new politics to engage the possibilities. Our endorsement goes first to this spirit of renewal.
The promise can be glimpsed in the precious few bright spots of the campaign--especially the resonance of Nader's voice--but also in the political system's continuing failures. A new movement of allied concerns surfaced in the protests in Seattle a year ago, and yet neither major-party candidate dared even mention globalization when the two men met in face-to-face debate. Their awkward silence suggests our growing presence. If Nader draws enough voters to carry the Green Party over the 5 percent hurdle for ballot recognition, that vehicle provides concrete opportunity. If Democrats manage to win back majority control of the House, or even the Senate, their victory multiplies opportunities for educating and agitating on new issues. A Bush victory would be a terrible setback to our optimism, no way around it, but if Gore manages to win the White House, despite his weaknesses, the center-right moves a little bit our way and, in any case, becomes the object of purposeful leveraging.
These new prospects did not originate from any clever slogans; they reflect the harsh contradictions visible in people's lives and shifting sensibilities across the nation--the general disgust with corporate money's overbearing influence on public decision-making, the fragile desire for a new and more humane internationalism, the growing but unfocused anger at government's failure to act on any of the largest problems. These and other discontents are the opportunities for our side, if people will assume optimistically that many fed-up Americans are at last ready to listen to heretical analysis and fundamental solutions. The fog is lifting, though not yet gone.
If we take the long view and our optimism is grounded in reality, this opening requires some changes in us as well, both in temperament and strategy. The test of a first-rate intelligence, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one's head at the same time. For this election and in the politics beyond, we think our readers must learn to juggle similar tensions, between the pragmatic and the idealistic--accepting that long-term allies will disagree and coalesce at different junctures, that politics can be both inside and outside in pursuit of the same goals.
In that spirit, we embrace Nader's ideas and creative idealism and hope that his strong showing will rattle the windowpanes throughout American politics. However, to realize the openings before us, we warn that there is greater urgency to preventing Bush and company from capturing all three branches of government for the right-wing agenda. In the long view, such tensions are symptoms of forward progress. We can learn to live with them.
Ralph Nader has already accomplished a greater victory than even some of his original supporters imagined possible--he has made our side visible again. Even a two-minute TV burst from Nader provides a stunning catalogue of the neglected grievances in American life and corrupted governance as well as the plausible remedies. He does not talk down to voters. Nader's idealism, starting from his earliest consumer crusades more than thirty years ago, is based upon the conviction that Americans at large are eager for serious discussion of public ideas and fully capable of grasping the complexities. One shudders deliciously at what a three-way debate would have been like if the corporate-owned debates commission had allowed it (the commission is already one of the big losers of Election 2000, and the agitation should start now, not in 2004, to blow up its monopoly on political discourse).
Despite minimal media coverage, Nader connected the spirit of Seattle with a much larger audience of Americans--filling halls of 10,000 and more with people, many of them young, who paid to hear him talk. When did that last occur in US politics? Pat Buchanan's right-wing version of insurgency was effectively eclipsed by Nader; even Gore paid backhanded tribute by discovering that this election is about "the people against the powerful." The point is, Nader started something new and potentially sustainable, both as an alternative soapbox and as electoral leverage on regular politics, especially that of the Democrats (whose Congressional candidates may benefit from the new, young voters Nader draws into the process). The future will depend entirely on what people decide to make of it. In the meantime, Nader has articulated the superstructure of progressive thinking--a work in progress, to be sure, but already brimming with big ideas.
In the spirit of positive thinking, we observe first that Al Gore wisely abandoned his New Democrat playbook on many issues in order to connect with the natural constituencies of his own party. His attacks on big oil, big insurance and other malefactors sounded a bit clunky, to be sure, and, although he attacked Bush's tax cut for the wealthy, Gore evaded a fuller discussion of economic inequality since, as everyone knows, it deepened dramatically while he was Vice President. But the Democratic candidate is a smart and capable man who, at different points in his career, has displayed a forward-looking vision on great public problems, like the ecological crisis. Still, no one who has watched the abrupt changes in his campaign persona can have any confidence that the progressive Al Gore would emerge in the White House. The promise, though limited, lies in the fact that Gore has uttered the requisite words on a wide range of subjects, from universalizing healthcare to establishing labor and environmental rights in global trade agreements. As President, Gore would have to choose between the people who elected him and the DLC moneybags who financed him. It's another opening for popular mobilization.
The real argument for Gore is named Bush, and it's the most compelling case. The implications of a Bush victory are well understood across many vital issues (one of Nader's rare false notes was to assert that these are inconsequential differences). The Gore-Bush agendas are indeed overlapping on many central matters--monetary policy, the death penalty, the failed drug war, to name a few--but that doesn't tell the whole story. Gore promises, for instance, to listen to labor, environmentalists, human rights advocates and other protest voices on reforming the global system. Bush's leading foreign policy adviser, on the other hand, proclaims, "The Seattle agenda is a real threat." Bush embraces the continuing crusade against women's right to choose abortion, among other retrograde social positions, while no one doubts Gore would appoint Supreme Court Justices who would defend Roe v. Wade and other civil liberties.
While Bush appears an amiable lightweight, his blank, meek expression merely accentuates the question of who really owns this man. The answer is obvious from his Texas record and personal heritage. Tearing up Social Security delivers the money to Wall Street brokerages. His "compassionate conservatism" extends to shielding insurance companies and drug manufacturers from public wrath, plus old friends in oil and the military-industrial complex. His education experiments, if they proceed, are destined to gut the financing of public schools. It's a long and devastating list, which candidate Gore failed to illuminate fully. Bush's handlers, on the other hand, understood that the son could not run like the father or as a born-again Newt--that revolution is over. At the end of the day, however, the right-wing legacy rules. Bush's White House would obediently vet its legislative agenda and appointments not only with corporate America but with Trent Lott and Tom DeLay, the hard-right caucuses in the Senate and House, the TV Bible-thumpers whose piety is rooted in intolerance.
In another season, when our insurgent values have accumulated more momentum and self-confidence, we might see things differently. This time around, we believe the practical priority of keeping the Bush squad from winning power takes precedence, while we also urge that, if possible, progressives help Nader score a blow to the status quo. For the larger progressive community, the tension can be resolved by following the logic of Texas columnist Molly Ivins. Her rule: Vote with your heart where you can, and vote with your head where you must. In states where either Gore or Bush has a commanding lead, vote Nader. In the states too close to call, vote Gore. In either case, the imperative is to end Republican control in Congress by electing Democrats, also vital to the prospects for progressive change.
The question Election 2000 poses for the ranks of left-labor-liberal-progressive outsiders is: Despite occasional clashes over their different directions, can the radical-to-moderate critics of the decayed status quo learn how to pursue a politics in which radical idealism coexists with heads-up pragmatism? As Nader has said, "There are millions of progressives in this country--the problem is, they've never met each other." That captures the larger, long-term challenge, regardless of the election's outcome. If the fragmented progressive community can begin working together, developing inside-outside electoral strategies, doing the hard work of engaging alienated citizens in the conversation, things will look very much better four years from now. Despite its disappointments, Election 2000 might yet turn out to be the progressive moment--when we stopped backing up and started moving forward.
If Ralph Nader can make it here in old New York--as he did at his October 13 Madison Square Garden rally, which pulled a full house of 15,000 paying supporters--he can make it anywhere, right? Young people were in evidence, among them Nation interns and staff; also a significant number of gays, women and minorities, to whom Nader reached out, criticizing the drug war, capital punishment and environmental racism. The singer Ani DiFranco confessed to intern Kristi Abrams that she had agonized about attending: "If you are poor, the difference between Gore and Bush could be life and death." But after Nader called her the fourth time to urge her to come, she followed her instincts: "[Saying no] didn't feel right to me. I need to be the voice. I need to follow my heart."
The major media have paid very little attention to a story by Robert Rogers about George W. Bush's apparent grounding by Air National Guard. Rogers, a former commercial and National Guard pilot and airline industry consultant, acquired Bush's service records under a FOIA request. These show that, contrary to reports that he simply "gave up" flying in 1972, two years before the end of his six-year commitment, he was grounded because of "failure to accomplish annual medical examination." Given Bush's history of alcohol and drug use, Roberts theorizes that Bush may have either failed the drug test recently instituted by the Pentagon or chosen to avoid the physical. The truth lurks in service records not released under Rogers's FOIA request. Rogers calls on Bush to open up all his file and end speculation about this curious event. The story was published on the web at www.democrats.com.
Karyn Rotker writes: Thanks in large part to Wisconsin's Republican governor, the self-styled welfare reformer Tommy Thompson, the state has been lavished with national attention for its conservative social policy experiments. But nobody has taken much notice of an independent audit released this past summer showing that the private companies managing Wisconsin's welfare program have misused public funds--jacking up administrative costs while slashing benefits for the poor. In particular, Maximus--a for-profit company also embroiled in welfare-contract scandals in New York--charged Wisconsin millions of dollars to pay for its national corporate operations. It billed the state for company social events. It poured welfare money into advertising, from public relations campaigns to fanny packs sporting the Maximus name. Meanwhile, another welfare contractor, Employment Solutions--a nonprofit created by Goodwill Industries, whose executive director is a former Thompson aide--reportedly billed the state for expenses incurred while attempting to get a welfare contract in Arizona. Perhaps most egregious, the private firms have shoddy records in providing services to clients. Maximus stands has violated federal law with its sex discrimination in job placement practices. The state refuses to impose educational requirements on caseworkers, and it gives private contractors a financial incentive to reduce welfare rolls. In Wisconsin, "corporate welfare" has taken on a whole new meaning.
Slipped into the spending authorization bill for intelligence agencies was a measure that makes it a felony to disclose classified information. Under the bill anyone who leaks such information, regardless of whether national security is harmed, could be prosecuted. The potential chilling effect on whistleblowers was clear to many Republicans and Democrats alike, who sounded alarms. Even flaky Representative Bob Barr called it an official secrets act.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
Matthew Glavin, head of the Southeastern Legal Foundation--a right-wing group and self-appointed morals cop, which most recently brought suit to disbar President Clinton in Arkansas--pleaded guilty to a charge of public indecency. An undercover federal officer spotted him indulging in the sin of Onan al fresco, on a trail in the Chattahoochee National River Park near Atlanta. Glavin then made advances to the officer, who arrested him. No doubt pornography brought him to his low state--probably reading the steamier passages of the Starr report.
New York City
The Nation acknowledges that military and civilian trials in Peru violate due process of law in terrorism cases, that thousands of innocent people have been convicted and that thousands remain in prison in Peru today after political trials. Presumably it agrees that DINCOTE, the Peruvian antiterrorism police responsible for those convictions, are about as restrained and trustworthy as the elite national police that served Pinochet in Chile, the military governments in Argentina and Guatemala in the seventies and eighties and similar other police states.
Why then did The Nation choose to use its resources and invest its credibility to challenge Lori Berenson's innocence by relying on what are allegedly DINCOTE documents [Jonathan Levi and Liz Mineo, "The Lori Berenson Papers," Sept. 4/11]? The Nation was told that Peru planned to nullify Lori's military tribunal conviction and sentence to life imprisonment on the basis of a petition she filed in December 1999, and that The Nation was being used by DINCOTE to support charges against Lori for a new show trial.
Jonathan Levi misleads his readers by implying that the Berensons and I questioned only the authenticity of the records. If he will listen to the tape he made of our interview, he will hear it was the reliability of the papers, not merely their authenticity, that we challenged. We told The Nation that DINCOTE leaked the papers, "never before seen by the public but obtained by The Nation," precisely to spread false information about Lori in its pages, which reach so many of Lori's supporters, at the very time Peru would nullify Lori's military trial and begin yet another propaganda campaign against her in a new show trial in civilian courts, a trial that is itself illegal and not capable of fairness. The military tribunal, after a nine-month delay, nullified Lori's conviction and began the new proceedings just as the Nation cover story with its picture of Lori was being distributed.
The article accepts as gospel the false DINCOTE allegations of fact even where Lori has had the rare opportunity to state the opposite. The article refers repeatedly to Lori's "testimony," "deposition," "transcripts," suggesting there exist exact verifiable statements by Lori. But there are no transcripts, depositions or verbatim testimony, there is only what Levi claims a DINCOTE file they will not disclose contains. Who believes DINCOTE? Nor is it accurate to say that the papers "shed new light." All the false claims about Lori have been leaked to the press and printed repeatedly.
Levi has refused to permit the Berensons, or me, to see the papers he has. This places him in the same position as DINCOTE, which he concedes refused to provide copies of the documents "even to her lawyers," and in the same position as the Fujimori government, which has refused to provide any documents to the Berensons, Lori's counsel or the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Levi said he is "especially afraid with the trial coming up" to provide Lori a copy of the documents, because that would "have us working for the defense." Incredible. He is working for DINCOTE. He claims to have "sources intimately familiar with [its] workings." We ask only for a copy of the false papers with which Levi challenges Lori's innocence, not the source for the papers.
Aside from the moral outrage of promoting DINCOTE propaganda, the Nation article is patently cheap and demeaning to Lori Berenson. In a single sentence, asserting how "most ordinary Peruvians" feel about Lori, Levi writes that she "is a Beauty who slouches...toward Latin America, only to turn into a terrorist Beast, eyes wide open." Why the triple play on a fairy tale, a Didion book title and a prurient movie? Why the repeated references and allusions to sex? Above all, why is Levi, who has never met Lori, compelled to deny the possibility that she acted from inner qualities of goodness, even greatness, as he observes heroines in "classical tragedy" to do? Instead, he argues that she is doing the reverse: "She seems to be translating her fall into a theatrical grandeur." Lori has spent nearly five years in life-threatening prison conditions without a trial by any civilized standard on false charges in complete isolation, where any effort at "theatrical grandeur" can be seen by no one. All while the controlled press in Peru demonize her daily and The Nation serves DINCOTE's cause here in the United States.
Levi seems to know little about Peru, or Lori's case, except what DINCOTE and people within its sphere of influence told him. Lori's Peruvian lawyer in the military trial, who has not represented her for years, despite Levi's assertion that he still does, "although he is not as active as he once was," was never present during her nearly nine days of intense interrogation and sleep deprivation when Lori was alone in the tender hands of DINCOTE. On the day the statement DINCOTE prepared was given to her to sign, he saw Lori for the first time but was never able to talk with her in private before, during or thereafter. From time to time he has made statements harmful to Lori for whatever reason, which Levi joins the Peruvian press in repeating with glee.
The utter emptiness of the effort to support some level of guilt is found in Levi's repeated references to the one exposure to the Peruvian press just before her sentencing that was forced on Lori, in which she courageously and angrily spoke with passion about her concerns for the poor and about the absence of social justice in Peru. She also expressed the opinion that the MRTA is a revolutionary movement, not a terrorist group. Can the expression of a single opinion in less than twenty words be a crime? Levi thinks so. He refers to the "contempt in that face" from the film clips, although he has never seen her face. Lori was very angry for good reasons. Peru claims her words are the crime translated as "apology." It carries a lengthy prison term. Levi distinguishes the fate of an Italian woman who was convicted like Lori--but according to them on "more hard evidence"--and who was released after seventeen months, based on her claim of innocence, but Lori has always insisted she was innocent. Apparently he never saw the film clips of the Italian woman, who appeared far more agitated than Lori.
Levi called the Berensons to congratulate them when they heard Lori would get a new trial. But surely even he knows such a trial will not be fair. We can ignore the outrageous and repetitious claims of DINCOTE against Lori carried in The Nation. They are false. Lori will tell the truth if she is forced into a public show trial, and the truth will keep her free in spirit and someday make her free in body.
It is more difficult to ignore the role of The Nation in using its pages to support false DINCOTE propaganda planted to poison US opinion about Lori. A majority of Congress has demanded Lori's release from prison because Lori's parents, despite all the propaganda from Peru and the "Washington Peru policy," have persuaded them Lori is innocent. The Nation has not helped truth find its way out.
Perhaps the Nation Institute will now investigate how this happened.
LEVI & MINEO REPLY
New York City; Cambridge, Mass.
It's sad to watch such a historic defender of human rights as former Attorney General Ramsey Clark so willfully misread our report on his client, Lori Berenson. This misreading starts even before our story begins. Throughout his letter Clark attributes the article solely to Jonathan Levi. In fact, the byline was shared by Levi and Liz Mineo. Clark writes: "Levi seems to know little about Peru or Lori's case." Mineo, a full partner in the research and writing of the piece, was not only born in Lima but lived there for more than thirty-five years and worked (as her bio indicated) as an investigative reporter for a variety of newspapers and magazines, including El Comercio, a newspaper that the Berensons have lauded for its fair coverage of their daughter's case.
Clark makes some strong claims about our journalistic integrity and the motivations behind our story, but he fails to provide any evidence to support them. We reported in the article that Berenson's own lawyer in Peru, Grimaldo Achahui, signed the DINCOTE record of her interrogation and later confirmed its authenticity. Clark attempts to disparage Achahui by declaring that he "has not represented [Lori] for years" and that "he has made statements harmful to Lori." In fact, his last action on her behalf was filing Berenson's appeal to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 1999, and as recently as August the Berensons themselves referred to Achahui as Lori's Peruvian lawyer. The only statements of his that we repeat pertain to his verification of Lori's testimony to DINCOTE and his opinion that her sentence was unfair.
Clark writes, "The article accepts as gospel the false DINCOTE allegations of fact...." Perhaps Clark missed the following sentence: "The story that emerges from the documents is one of unusually hasty police surveillance, negligent interrogation and reckless reliance on one witness whose testimony was neither challenged nor corroborated. The documents give a crude demonstration of how hyperinflation can be applied to a police charge, raising Berenson, in its final pages, from the obscurity of a minor suspect to the limelight of a major leader of the MRTA." Our aim was to examine all received truths about the case. To that end, we conducted interviews with dozens of people in Peru, including former and current members of DINCOTE as well as former and current members of the MRTA and educated observers within the diplomatic and business community. Nowhere did we represent the DINCOTE documents as the record of a fair and balanced judicial process. Although we described discrepancies between Berenson's story as it appears in the documents and other available evidence, we also clearly showed grave inconsistencies in the government's case against her.
It is Clark who displays a striking ignorance of Fujimori's Peru. Although anti-regime journalists (including Mineo and many of her former colleagues) have been harassed and threatened by the government, they continue to operate with vigor. Like journalists everywhere, they routinely use anonymous government sources in their work. We came upon the documents in question through sources within DINCOTE who, in our judgment and that of other independent journalists in Peru, were reliable.
Moreover, contrary to Clark's implication, our article, which was published five days before the announcement that the military charges against Berenson had been dismissed, fairly represented the Berensons' fear that their daughter would be retried in civilian court on the charge of collaboration with terrorism, which carries a sentence of twenty years. (She had previously received a life sentence for "treason against the fatherland and conspiracy to overthrow Congress.")
Clark seems most angry that, after our article appeared, we would not show him the documents. An associate of Clark's asked for the documents on a Monday because Lori was due to be examined by the civilian judge on Wednesday. Once the new legal process had begun, we would have risked compromising our credibility as journalists by showing Clark or his associates the documents. We believe that the Peruvian court was wrong to withhold these documents from Berenson and her attorneys. But one does not have to be a lawyer to understand the difference between a judge and a journalist.
In Clark's view, since we were not willing to work for him and the Berensons, we must be working for DINCOTE. It is a charge that is beneath Clark, a veteran of the struggle during the dark cold war days of this country, when loyalty was painted red or white, and if you weren't on our side you were on theirs. Although we feel great sympathy for Mark and Rhoda Berenson and can only hope that our parents might fight so tirelessly and energetically if we found ourselves in Lori's position, we react with an appalled sadness to Clark's slander.
THE EDITORS REPLY
We stand by Jonathan Levi and Liz Mineo's careful reporting for this magazine on the Lori Berenson case. We also share Ramsey Clark's belief that justice is not possible for Berenson in Peru and that she should be released, a view we expressed in an editorial accompanying Levi and Mineo's article and another just after her new civilian trial was announced. The only "truth" we presumed to reveal was that the investigation of her case, her trial and conviction were deeply unfair and the government's evidence against her hopelessly tainted. Therefore, our recommendation was not for her case to be reopened but for human rights advocates to step up pressure on the regime to free her and all those unjustly convicted of terrorism in Peru.
I read with interest the timely report on Lori Berenson, which coincided with the Peruvian government's decision to grant her a retrial. This decision, welcome as it may be by human rights activists and the Berenson family and friends, is, however, seen by large sectors of the Peruvian public as a cynical attempt by a beleaguered government nationally and internationally perceived as illegitimate to improve its relations with the United States. While it makes sense for Berenson's family and well-wishers to portray her at best as totally innocent and at worst as a useful idiot, the documentation provided by The Nation points to a much more conscious collaboration with a guerrilla group intent on forcibly deposing a foreign government. In the United States too, long sentences have been imposed on foreigners convicted of aiding in the planning and/or perpetration of acts of terrorism. The World Trade Center case comes to mind.
As a Peruvian, I find the methods used by my government against the guerrillas excessive and often more criminal than the groups it was fighting. The time has come to re-evaluate many of those actions, in both the military and the legal realms. As scandalous as the lack of due process that led to Berenson's incarceration was, it would be equally scandalous for her to be set free simply because she is a well-represented American at a time when freeing her becomes expedient to the Peruvian and US governments, while hundreds or thousands of others remain indefinitely in jail, sentenced under similar conditions and including the truly innocent.
New York City
That Lori Berenson was denied fair jurisprudence and that our government has not secured her release are both clear. But Jonathan Levi and Liz Mineo's attempts to paint a personal portrait of Lori Berenson (through evidence that may have been completely fabricated or through her "militant" attitude during her press statement, where she was instructed to yell to be heard) miss the point. In an instance of gross human and civil rights violations, it is entirely inappropriate to look for kernels of rationale based on the victim's behavior. That Lori is innocent isn't even the issue here--would you deem it appropriate to examine the behavior of a Jewish storekeeper in Nazi-era Germany in order to find a shred of justification in his subsequent gassing at Auschwitz? Lori's imprisonment, her health problems and the outrageous treatment she has suffered by the Peruvian courts are the issues. I don't care if she's a country club Republican or an Uzi-toting terrorist's moll. She's a human being and an American, and she must come home.
In Serbia people power has swept out another tyrant. In the aftermath the Yugoslav federation's new president, Vojislav Kostunica, the constitutional scholar of strong nationalist leanings who led the surprisingly velvet revolution, faced the tough job of renewing a government that stank of rot from the top down. Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic summed up the fast-changing post-Slobo status quo: "We've done two-thirds of the job, but we used the power of the streets more than the power of the institutions and more the power of the people than of political organizations. Now it's up to us to turn what people chose with their energy into reality."
The task of institutionalizing the revolution presented the new federal president with daunting problems. His moves to oust the pro-Milosevic officials in the Serbian government--the still-loyal secret police, the military, corrupt factory managers, bureaucrats and legislators--and install honest civil servants were complicated by resistance from leaders of the old regime and some generals. But he still had the powerful force of unleashed democratic energy behind him. Given Kostunica's nationalistic sentiments, however, which permeate the Serbian Orthodox Church hierarchy and other institutions to which he claims some fealty, there is a danger of the recrudescence of chauvinistic patriotism, which Milosevic stirred up during his reign and to which elements of the populace remain vulnerable. We can hope at this point that Kostunica will work to keep these emotions within bounds.
Kostunica must also deal with restive Montenegro, which harbors secessionist dreams and, unhappy over the current Constitution, boycotted the elections. And he must confront the issue of the future of Kosovo, whose people suffered greatly at Serbian hands. Hundreds of Albanian political prisoners are in Serbian jails, and Kostunica has the power to pardon them. His attitude toward municipal elections in Kosovo, set for October 24, is crucial. These elections were seen as an important step in UN efforts to establish workable institutions in the province--and by many as part of an irreversible process of readying Kosovo for independence.
The West must give Kostunica and his new-fledged democracy strong support, both diplomatic and economic, including lifting sanctions. Billions of dollars are needed to rebuild the economy that the Milosevic regime ransacked and that sanctions crippled, and to repair the infrastructure damage inflicted by NATO bombs.
That does not, however, mean putting on indefinite hold the reckoning with Milosevic and his henchmen before the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The meting out of justice to indicted war criminals must continue, but the West should give Kostunica running room while persuading him to cooperate with the tribunal.
The Contact Group, led by the United States, France, Britain and Germany, must begin thinking seriously about a broader international diplomatic process to resolve many of the outstanding questions and conflicts of the entire region and to give the Balkans a secure place in the European "house." The Serbs' yearning to be integrated into Europe was a strong motive behind their overthrow of Milosevic.
The crimes of Serbia's leaders, its army and its paramilitaries cannot be forgotten, but the NATO air war left a residue of bitterness among the people. Now, Yugoslav democracy needs to be nourished. The hope of better lives can sustain the Serbs in the arduous task of reconstruction they face in the years ahead.
Despite an agreement (steadily unraveling) to call off issue groups supporting him in the New York Senate race, Rick Lazio's loyal band of Hillary-haters is on the march. Witness the urgent e-mail just dispatched by the Conservative Leadership PAC to the faithful. Sounding a note of alarm, if not panic, the PAC warns that Hillary is leading by 9 points in the polls. That's because "the establishment media have protected Bill and Hillary Clinton from the worst of their CRIMES, CORRUPTION and COVER-UPS" (their caps). Also, candidate Lazio has been soft on Hillary. He can't fulminate about the aforesaid "crimes" lest that same "establishment media" denounce him for running a negative campaign. The conservative PAC will do it for him. Its long list of Hillary's crimes includes Whitewater, threatening grand jury witnesses, calling on the IRS to harass her critics, "the use of Air Force planes to wage her Senate Campaign" and serving on the board of the Children's Defense Fund. The PAC promises to raise $6 million in stop-Hillary money.READERSHIP SURVEY
Making the rounds on e-mail these days is an "analysis" of the typical readers of newspapers: "The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country. The New York Times is read by people who think they run the country. The Washington Post is read by people who think they ought to run the country. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't understand the Washington Post. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country if they could spare the time. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country as long as they do something scandalous." Here's Fred Siegel's emendation: "The New York Post is read by people who are sure that a liberal conspiracy is running the country." And our addition: "The National Enquirer is read by people who believe space aliens are running the country." Any others?BULLISH ON BUSH
An investors' newsletter, Oil & Energy Investment Report, predicts a Bush victory in the presidential race and says now's a great time to stock up on oil service stocks. Here's why: "The secret to profiting from the Bush-Cheney ticket is simple: follow the trail of money from the big, politically well-connected oil companies that the new administration will owe favors to." The O&E Investment Report goes on to say, "Like his famous father before him, [George W.'s] political career has been molded, crafted, and sponsored every step of the way...by Big Oil." (This sounds like a Ralph Nader speech.) The newsletter provides a list of contributions to Bush from the oil and gas companies, which he owes big time. And the payback? On the pretext of reducing US dependence on foreign oil, W. will decimate environmental regulations, dole out big tax breaks for oil and gas exploration and open up protected areas. So buy into Bush and make your fortune!NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
Asked by Howard Kurtz whether CBS's news coverage of Survivor crossed the line between news and entertainment, Steve Friedman, producer of The Early Show, replied, "That line is long gone.... to compete you've got to compete. And we are in this to win. And we will use this show to help us win."
It took twelve years for the FDA to approve mifepristone--also known as RU-486--and most of that time had less to do with medicine than with the politics of abortion. Still, the late-September decision was a tremendous victory for American women. In approving RU-486, the FDA showed that science and good sense can still carry the day, even in an election year.
The long delay may even backfire against the drug's opponents. In 1988, when mifepristone was legalized in France, it was a medical novelty as well as a political flashpoint. Today, it's been accepted in thirteen countries, including most of Western Europe; it's been taken by more than a half-million women and studied, it sometimes seems, by almost as many researchers. By the end of the approval process, the important medical professional organizations--the AMA, the American Medical Women's Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists--had given mifepristone their blessing; impressive percentages of Ob-Gyns and family practitioners said they would consider prescribing it; thousands of US women had taken it in clinical trials and given it high marks, with 97 percent in one study saying they would recommend it to a friend. Against this background of information and experience, the antichoicers' attempt to raise fears about the drug's safety sounds desperate and insincere.
In a normal country, RU-486 would simply be another abortion method, its use a matter of personal preference (in France it's the choice of 20 percent of women who have abortions, while in Britain only 6 percent opt for it). But in the United States, where abortion clinics are besieged by fanatics and providers wear bulletproof vests, mifepristone's main significance lies in its potential to widen access to abortion, especially in those 86 percent of US counties that possess no abortion clinic, by making it private--doctors unable or unwilling to perform surgical abortions could prescribe it, and women could take it at home.
It is unlikely, however, that Mifeprex, as the drug will be known when it comes on the market, will prove to be the magic bullet that ends the war on abortion by depriving antichoice activists of identifiable targets. The nation has been retreating from Roe v. Wade for a quarter-century, and a good portion of the patchwork of state and local regulations intended to discourage surgical abortion will apply to Mifeprex as well: parental notification and consent laws (thirty-two states), waiting periods (nineteen states), biased counseling and cumbersome reporting and zoning requirements. States in which antichoicers control the legislatures will surely rush to encumber Mifeprex with hassles, and small-town and rural physicians in particular may find it hard to prescribe Mifeprex without alerting antichoice activists. Doctors are a cautious bunch, and the anticipated flood of new providers may turn out to be a trickle, at least at first. Abortion rights activists should also brace themselves for a backlash from their hard-core foes: Just after the FDA's decision was announced, a Catholic priest crashed his car into an Illinois abortion clinic and hacked at the building with an ax.
But in the long run, Mifeprex will make abortion more acceptable. In poll after poll Americans have said that when it comes to terminating a pregnancy, the earlier the better. Mifeprex, which has been approved for the first forty-nine days after a woman's last menstrual period--when the embryo's size varies from a pencil point to a grain of rice--may well prove not to arouse the same kinds of anxieties and moral qualms as surgical abortion. Then, too, Americans are used to taking pills. That, of course, is what the antichoicers are afraid of.