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  • Politics September 11, 2002



    San Francisco

    Far-right populist Jean-Marie Le Pen's upset in the first round of French presidential voting was variously ascribed to rising xenophobia in Western Europe, a crisis of the French left, rising crime rates in France and other possibilities. Doug Ireland, in "Le Pen: The Center Folds" [May 13], subscribes to all three. Yet the evidence doesn't necessarily corroborate these explanations. Instead, what we saw was a major breakdown of France's two-round runoff method of electing the president.

    A full 64 percent of voters supported candidates other than the two who advanced to the runoff. Many left voters, looking to send a message of dissatisfaction to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round, split their support among seven candidates. Together, left-leaning candidates, led by Jospin, garnered more than 40 percent of the vote--and divided, none polled enough votes to make the runoff. Le Pen, with 17 percent of the vote--a mere 250,000-vote increase, virtually the same popular vote he won in his other failed presidential runs--benefited from this vote-splitting.

    Jospin learned what Al Gore knows all too well: In a plurality electoral system, spoiler candidates and split votes can plague the results. France's use of instant runoff voting rather than a two-round runoff would have prevented its electoral meltdown. With IRV, left voters could have sent a message to Jospin by awarding their highest rankings to other candidates but would have had the option of ranking Jospin as one of their runoff choices. During the ballot counting their votes would have coalesced around Jospin as their front-runner, who would have made it to the instant runoff over the marginalized Le Pen, who has very little runoff support from any other parties or candidates.

    Yes, electoral systems do matter--sometimes dramatically. Just ask Al Gore.

    Center for Voting and Democracy


    New York City

    I've long favored instant runoff voting, but Hill's suggestion that there has been no marked increase in French racism and its political expression is shockingly ostrichlike. Hill's facts are wrong: The parties of Jospin's governing coalition--Parti socialiste, Parti communiste, les Verts and Mouvement de radicaux de gauche--together polled only a little more than 26 percent. Hill's claim that the 10.5 percent won by three anti-Jospin Trotskyists and the 5.5 percent won by the Pôle republicain (which asserted that there was no real difference between Jospin and Chirac) should be included in the score of the left "led" by Jospin could only be made by someone ignorant about French politics. Le Pen got nearly 1 million votes more than he did in '95 (while the governing parties of left and right together lost some 5.5 million votes, as I pointed out).

    Hill may not think that's a significant increase, but the French obviously did--daily demos poured more than 500,000 of them into the streets after Le Pen's victory to oppose his racist program, which includes setting up special "camps" for immigrants and special trains to deport them; and nearly all major parties, unions, media, sports stars, the patronat (MEDEF) and even the Catholic Episcopate called for an anti-Le Pen vote in the runoff.

    Those who, in their obsession with process, exclude the content of politics from their considerations do so at our peril. The increasing demand in France for replacing the Gaullist constitution of the Fifth Republic does nothing to address the root causes of mounting racism while allowing politicians to pretend to have responded to the electoral evidence of France's racial fracture. And the most visible expression of this demand--the Committee for a Sixth Republic (C6R) led by Socialist deputy Arnaud de Montebourg--sadly does not include IRV in its proposals.




    In "The Coup That Wasn't" [May 6] Marc Cooper contrasts Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez with former Chilean President Salvador Allende, saying, "Chávez has failed to produce much of the radical change he promised." Cooper needs a wake-up call. This is 2002, a time when the constraints on economic policy in Latin America are greater than ever. Never has capital been more mobile and more capable of disciplining governments that attempt to embark upon radical change. If Allende were governing Chile today, he'd recognize the constraints and think twice about nationalizing one industry after another, as he did in the early 1970s.

    Considering the constraints the Chávez government has had to operate under, it has achieved some notable reforms. In a recent interview with Le Monde Diplomatique editor Ignacio Ramonet, Chávez lays out some of his government's achievements: "We have lowered unemployment...created more than 450,000 new jobs.... Venezuela has moved up four places on the Human Development Index. The number of children in school has risen 25 percent. More than 1.5 million children who didn't go to school are now in school, and they receive clothing, breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks. We have carried out massive immunization campaigns in the marginalized sectors of the population. Infant mortality has declined. We are building more than 135,000 housing units for poor families. We are distributing land to landless campesinos. We have created a Women's Bank that provides micro-credit loans. In the year 2001, Venezuela was one of the countries with the highest growth rates on the continent, nearly 3 percent.... We are delivering the country from prostration and backwardness."

    Cooper makes no mention of this, nor does he say anything about the hundreds of thousands of poor Venezuelans who descended upon Caracas in defense of their temporarily ousted president. Most scandalous is Cooper's repetition of the coup plotters' version of events, as he claims that Chávez "turned police and armed supporters against peaceful protesters...provoking a shootout that injured scores and killed more than a dozen." Cooper never points out that this version of events is highly contested. Several witnesses to the bloodshed, including former Fulbright scholar Greg Wilpert and Kim Bartley, an Irish filmmaker, contend that unidentified snipers initiated the carnage, shooting into crowds of pro-Chávez demonstrators that had surrounded the Presidential Palace.

    Repeating the coup plotters' version of events and invoking Salvador Allende's good name are shameful.



    It has been claimed that Latin American governments opposed the coup in Venezuela. This is not accurate. Some governments denounced the coup (Argentina, Brazil), but other countries welcomed it (Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, among others). The OAS did not call for a return of the Chávez government; instead it called for the holding of elections as soon as possible, a de facto recognition of the coup.

    In fact, it was part of the coup plan to use the OAS as a way of legitimizing itself. In fact, the coup government invited the OAS head, Cesar Gaviria (from Colombia), to go to Venezuela to help with the "transition to institutionality." The OAS, however, was overtaken by events. The coup lost power, and by the time Gaviria arrived in Caracas, Chávez was back in power.

    So we should not be fooled. The OAS was going to be used by Washington and the coup plotters. The "defense" of constitutionality by the OAS took place after Chávez was returned to the presidency.



    Woodland Hills, Calif.

    The global economic constraints described by Justin Delacour are indeed real. And if, as he suggests, Allende would today have to think twice about nationalizing foreign firms, then how can he defend Chávez's record? Instead of enacting authentic reform, Chávez chose the posture of a loud-mouth demagogue, only narrowing his parameters by rattling the cages of his very powerful adversaries. His playing pattycake with Saddam and Qaddafi and hide-and-seek with the ignoble Colombia guerrillas pissed off Uncle Sam and elicited laudatory editorials from Havana's Granma--and it put food on the table for exactly nobody and created jobs and housing for just as few.

    Chávez might as well have nationalized the entire Venezuelan economy, for nothing could have further alienated his domestic financial and investment elites than his hypercharged revolutionary, but hollow, bluster. Yet Chávez imposed the same budget-slashing austerity of any neoliberal IMF adjustment program. Indeed, the only statistics I need to rebut Chávez's self-congratulatory list of accomplishments quoted by Delacour are the myriad pre-coup polls showing the Venezuelan president's popularity plummeting to around 30 percent. It seems the Venezuelan poor don't read Ignacio Ramonet and are ignorant of their impressively improving status.

    As to who shot whom on the day of the botched coup: Wilpert, Delacour's star witness, has written in online accounts that armed Chávez supporters were involved in the bloodshed that took more than a dozen lives. Chávez has as much as admitted the same. That other forces may have been involved in the firefights--unnamed rooftop (or were they grassy knoll?) snipers, uniformed police acting on behalf of the opposition, sectarian squads, etc.--is still unclear. What is certain is that armed bands of Chávez supporters were present at an otherwise peaceful rally and were directly involved in the lethal mayhem. In an authentic civilian democracy, the president of the republic does not tolerate armed gangs, even of his own supporters. And they certainly don't show up, ready for action, at opposition rallies. In short, your enemy's enemy should not always be considered your friend. It's possible for both the US government and the Chávez administration to have similar if not equal disdain for democratic rule.

    Professor Nelson Valdes is an always astute observer of Latin American affairs, but on this issue he's a tad off the mark. I fully share his suspicion as to the depth of democratic commitment to be found among OAS members. That said, during the thirty-hour period that President Chávez was displaced by Pedro Carmona, virtually no Latin American government recognized the latter's administration. This continental balk was hardly a dramatic rupture with Washington. But the gesture certainly contributed to the vacuum that eventually sucked the usurpers from power.



    Valhalla, NY

    Ralph Brave scores points off Francis Fukuyama by ridiculing the concept of human nature Fukuyama attempts to defend in his brief against genetic engineering and the "posthuman future" ["The Body Shop," April 22]. It's true that as part of an effort by some social conservatives to derail the uses of cloning and related biotechnologies to fabricate designer human embryos, Fukuyama falls into genetic determinism and other varieties of essentialism to characterize what he would like to preserve. But does the fact that human nature is changeable mean, therefore, that the production of humans should be handed over to commercial interests? Draw the line wherever you want and the technological-medical imperative will eventually roll over it. If you don't mind someone making stem cells from twelve-day clonal embryos, how about better stem cells from two-month clonal fetuses, transplantable livers from six-month clones, or bone marrow from clonal newborns engineered never to develop brains? If you don't mind parents genetically engineering their offspring so as to not develop hemophilia, how about to not be less than average height, to have perfect pitch, greater upper body strength?

    Brave seems to think technology is, uncomplicatedly, something "we" produce to satisfy "our" needs. Thus the automobile industry has always just given us the vehicles we demanded, the fuel industry just wants to keep us mobile and comfortable indoors and the processed food companies just want to feed us. As we sit in traffic jams contemplating the climatological and health costs of such technological advances, we might also think about the consequences of adopting Brave's laissez-faire prescription for biotechnology, which looks as strange in the pages of The Nation as Fukuyama's technological skepticism does coming from the author of The End of History.



    Davis, Calif.

    I used to feel heartened when Stuart Newman stepped forward as a scientist expressing concerns about genetic technologies. But his blatant misreading of my review now worries me. Nowhere do I advocate a "laissez-faire prescription for biotechnology," or that "production of humans should be handed over to commercial interests" or "clonal newborns engineered never to develop brains." Although Newman says it is impossible to "draw the line" to prevent unethical biomedical practices, it is done every day. Otherwise even Newman's own research into the cellular and molecular mechanisms of vertebrate limb development would be suspect.

    On the serious issue of clonal embryos for stem cell research, the potential ability to create genetically matched tissues or organs to treat disease and injury is no small matter. The current need of transplant patients to use antirejection drugs for their entire lives, drugs that suppress the immune system, making them unable to defend against infection or cancer, is a treatment compromise that needs remedy. Criminalizing both the research to address this and the resulting therapies themselves, as Newman, Fukuyama and George W. Bush advocate, is what I would label "strange."



    Oakland, Calif.

    Christopher Hitchens reminds us that of the three religions of Abraham--Islam, Christianity and Judaism--Islam is the only one that admits the legitimacy of the other two ["Minority Report," April 15]. A further reminder: The reason Jews have been able to pray at the Wailing Wall for nearly 500 years is that Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Successor to the Prophet, Commander of the Faithful, Shadow of God upon Earth, ordered his chief architect to construct a porch for them to pay their duty to God at the most visible surviving portion of their ancient temple.


    Wilmington, Dela.

    Christopher Hitchens, admired for his analysis of modern-day events, should be a bit more careful in his examination of earlier ones. The enlightened paradise of Muslim Spain may have indeed been dealt its death blow by Ferdinand and Isabella, but its much-vaunted tolerance ended many years before, in the twelfth century, when power was seized by the Almohads, a fanatical Islamic sect from Morocco, which does bear comparison to the Taliban. They waged a campaign of terror on all Christians and Jews, especially those with political power. Many Jews fled to the more tolerant Christian Spanish kingdoms to the north, while others fled to more tolerant Islamic kingdoms. Among those who fled southward was the powerful family of Maimonides, which hailed from Córdoba but could suffer the brutal regime no longer. So it is a bit disingenuous of Hitchens to hold Maimonides up as a symbol of Muslim tolerance. Even in its best periods, Islamic history is no less checkered than our own.


    Our Readers

  • Politics September 11, 2002

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    In response to advertisements in The Nation for my book The Holocaust Industry, you took the unprecedented step of both effectively calling me a liar and providing Burt Neuborne with maximum space to defend himself ["Letters," Feb. 18]. In this brief rejoinder I will ignore Neuborne's witless comparison between me and Osama bin Laden. I will also not engage Neuborne's professional history. It bears notice, however, that a distinguished civil liberties record doesn't preclude--as the example of Alan Dershowitz vividly testifies--gross lapses in the name of tribal solidarity and for personal enrichment. Rather, I want to focus on the central question: Did Neuborne serve as lead counsel in a campaign to blackmail Switzerland?

    A committee headed by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, exhaustively investigated the main charges against Switzerland. In his letter, Neuborne alleges that the committee's findings "validated the core allegations underlying the Swiss bank litigation." Consider, however, the Volcker committee's central findings:

    (1) The lawsuits alleged that the Swiss banks systematically denied Holocaust victims and their heirs access to their bank accounts after World War II. Yet, the Volcker committee found that "for victims of Nazi persecution there was no evidence of systematic discrimination, obstruction of access, misappropriation, or violation of document retention requirements of Swiss law";

    (2) the lawsuits alleged that the Swiss banks systematically shredded documents to cover their tracks. Yet, the Volcker committee concluded that "no evidence of systematic destruction of account records for the purpose of concealing past behaviour has been found";

    (3) the lawsuits alleged that the Swiss banks pocketed $7 billion to $20 billion left in the accounts of Holocaust victims. The Volcker committee was unable to provide a monetary value for Holocaust-era dormant accounts. Since publication of the committee's report, however, new official data have become available. The value of accounts belonging to Holocaust victims thus far totals all of $10 million in current values with accrued interest. This figure is unlikely to climb anywhere near the $1.25 billion extracted from the Swiss banks in the final settlement (let alone the $7-20 billion initially demanded) after all the accounts are examined. Reporting on these findings, the Times of London headline read: "Swiss Holocaust cash revealed to be myth."

    Indeed, the world's leading authority on the Nazi Holocaust, Raul Hilberg, has explicitly charged that the Holocaust industry conjured up "phenomenal figures" for the monetary value of Holocaust victim assets in Swiss banks and then coerced the banks into submission. "It was the first time in history," he goes on to observe, "that Jews made use of a weapon that can only be described as blackmail." No amount of liberal posturing by Neuborne can alter the fact that he played the pivotal role in a blackmail campaign.



    Santa Cruz, Calif.

    Every now and then a major Hollywood film centers its plot upon the defense of the First Amendment. Imagine the surprise of Nation readers when Stuart Klawans dismisses The Majestic with three paragraphs of pure, if shallow, contempt! ["Films," Jan. 21] Don't be fooled, though. This film is the best of the season, and Jim Carrey is at the top of his form. The more you know about the real Hollywood Blacklist, the more you'll be able to appreciate the subtleties that seem to have eluded Klawans.




    John Nichols's "Huey Freeman: American Hero" [Jan 28] was immensely useful. I would like to add a feminist dyke cartoonist, Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For, which appears in alternative papers. Bechdel's main character, Mo, who works at a women's bookshop, cries foul over Bush, flag-waving, big-box stores (e.g., Bunns n Noodles, Bounders n Muzak, Papaya Republic, Baby Gag) and the general straight and gay cultural/political landscape is not to be overlooked. Readers can find her on the web at


    Our Readers

  • Politics September 11, 2002

  • Politics September 5, 2002

    How 9/11 Changed Our Lives

    How 9/11 Changed Our Lives

    Hundreds of readers, aged 16 to 94, replied to our request for letters detailing how September 11 changed (or didn't) "your views of your government, your country, your world, your life." Many responses are personal: A husband and wife separate; family members no longer speak to one another; a woman searches for, and finds, her biological father--all impelled by the fallout of that day. New Yorkers--and others--report sleeping less soundly; a Brooklyn man leaps from bed in the night at the sound of crashing booms, rushes to the window... and finds it's a thunderstorm. A woman recovering from a Caesarean section watches the towers fall from her hospital room and wonders what sort of world her son, born the day before, will grow up in. A reader whose 9/11 birthday has become a deathday vows to light a candle this birthday "in hope for our world that one day 9/11 will become a day that...changed us for the better." Below is a selection.
          --The Editors

    Rolla, ND

    Largely because of my age--75--September 11 didn't change my life one iota. Except for this: My reaction to the fascist foragings of John Ashcroft and the dude who sponsored him, "Shrub," has been to rejoin the ACLU after an absence of twenty-seven years.


    Columbus, Ohio

    How has my life changed since September 11? My life goes on much the same--except that I'm not living in America anymore. In America, people are not disappeared. In America, cherished constitutional rights are not abolished with the stroke of a pen. In America, disagreeing with the government doesn't make you a terrorist. In America, ordinary citizens don't have to wonder whether their e-mail is being read and phone conversations taped by government agents. In America, there is no Ministry of Truth (for telling lies) or Ministry of Love (for making war). America doesn't wage unending war. America doesn't casually threaten first-strike use of nuclear weapons. I see the nation I love, in its fear and rage, stinging itself to death like a scorpion.


    New Haven, Conn.

    Our government's militaristic response to the crimes of 9/11 and the failure of the Democratic Party to challenge Bush's flawed and self-serving war on terrorism pushed me, after thirty-four years as an active antiwar Democrat, into working for the Green Party in our November 2001 municipal elections. Today, I am a Green Party candidate for the US House of Representatives.

    Unlike the "Arthur Andersen Democrats" and the "Enron Republicans" against whom I'm running, I am a patriot who is not afraid to challenge the so-called Patriot Act, which guts the Bill of Rights, or the "war" on terrorism, which has killed hundreds of innocent civilians, created more terrorists, earned more profits for military contractors and made the world safer for oil companies but more dangerous for the rest of us. Vote Green in November.


    Valparaiso, Ind.

    September 11 changed my life because of the government's immediate response and continuing abuse of it as an excuse to erode civil liberties. So what have I done? I subscribed to The Nation for the first time ever (I'm 25), and so far have given away three gift subscriptions. I began giving money monthly to environmental and pro-choice organizations, as well as regular donations to the ACLU. Motivated by John Ashcroft's total disregard for the Constitution, I will be going to law school in the fall of 2003 to join the ranks of those who work on the side of justice that strengthens and protects civil liberties.


    Alexandria, Va.

    I was in the Pentagon on September 11. Our office was on the opposite side of the building, and as we filed out none of us guessed how horrible it was until we saw, from the parking lot, the columns of smoke. That first evening, amid the shock and sense of loss, I thought, "This is what blowback really means." No one can excuse Al Qaeda's murderous hatred, but I now realize that this terror network was made possible by the arms and money we provided the Afghan mujahedeen during our demented anti-Soviet crusade. Those Americans who supported these thugs and psychopaths should be ashamed. Whenever I see that antidrug ad that claims that buying pot helps terrorists, I am reminded that our own cold war "patriots" helped to slaughter 3,000 people, and tried to kill me at my desk.


    Dania, Fla.

    Prior to 9/11 I spent my 83 years maturing in a cocoon spun by America's fuzzy, heroic image. While well aware of its flaws, I had been sustained by an aura of essential good will as we fought fascism, rebuilt Europe, forgave former enemies. My cocoon erupted on 9/11, and I emerged irate but deeply troubled by the vision of an America that would justify such an attack. I realized our Marshall Plan spirit had morphed into a superpower mentality, where political problems are solved by bombs rather than sweet reason: Witness Vietnam, Baghdad, Panama City, Belgrade, Afghanistan. With knee-jerk enthusiasm we've obliterated infrastructures and dealt out "collateral damage" to poor nations. No wonder we've become a target for organized hate. Can we curb our arrogance and revive our image as people of good will before we self-destruct?


    Bristol, Vt.

    I am of the generation that reached maturity in the 1960s and '70s. A time of struggle and pain, yes, but also of hope. We marched, fought, demanded a new world paradigm. Comes Reagan and my righteous generation finds greed. What then happened to that promise? Sweet upward mobility; the dawn of our renunciation. The 2000 election fiasco. A leader takes power by judicial coup and not a whimper from the streets, and I cannot comprehend. I am lost.

    September 11. Our hand is forced. The time for intelligence, discussion, debate, understanding, reflection has come, yes?

    No. Wrong again. Now we love our fear. Good versus Evil this is, and we joyfully surrender our liberties, our humanity and embrace a permanent state of war with an omnipotent, omnipresent enemy. Our new paradigm: sadism. I am not prepared for such a savage reversal of fortune. I am ashamed.


    Los Angeles

    After the savage attacks on September 11, I felt scared, angry, confused. Days later, I found my way to an interfaith service at All Saints Church in Pasadena. I was deeply moved by the scriptural readings, prayers and songs offered by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others. Out of that healing event, we created Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (, which has been the center of my personal efforts to contribute to greater understanding and lasting reconciliation between people of all nationalities and beliefs. At a study group arranged by ICUJP, I sat next to an African-American Muslim teacher. He turned to me and said he didn't have a Torah. I responded that I didn't have a Koran. At the next meeting, we exchanged our holy scriptures. It brought us closer together, and we have become friends.


    Bellingham, Wash.

    After the initial shock/grief came the stunned recognition of the despair and deep hatred felt against the United States, then finally the gut-wrenching knowledge that the vast majority of US citizens love being hated. They shower approval on the Administration and Congress for every piece of legislation that increases US killing power, entrenches inroads on constitutional freedoms and inflicts economic and physical handicaps and health hazards on all the populations of the planet.

    The Pentagon/Administration response to the "act" was so fast, the erosion of civil liberties so quickly and deftly accomplished, flags blanketed the continent so speedily and providentially--I can't help but think that the act of terrorism was not only expected but that contingency plans had been prepared months, perhaps years in advance--a Stalinist-type master plan. These duplicitous plans have been welcomed and incorporated into everyday living with hardly a ripple to indicate a residue of thoughtfulness or alternative possibilities.

    Yes, I am changed. I am ashamed of my country and bitterly acknowledge that there is no prospect of new directions.

    K.W. LEW

    Englewood, NJ

    September 11 changed my life by directing my 94-year-old, still-functioning wits and remaining energies from the sheltered smugness of an assisted-living home out again into the real world with a determined campaign to compel G.W. Bush to answer this key question: Why were no jets commanded to divert those three lethal hijacked planes after each had appeared off-course on radar and all failed to obey the orders of air controllers? Why, Mr. Bush?



    Liars! From the very top on down, my government does not know the meaning of the word "truth." In light of the billions of dollars we spend on electronic communication monitoring installations at Menwith Hill, Britain, and at several sites in the continental United States, we taxpayers have been deceived. Our NSA claims to have worldwide monitoring capabilities over all electronic communications.

    It is inconceivable that with all the electronic communications before 9/11, some intelligence was not deciphered and passed on to the appropriate officials. When, where, by whom was the necessary intelligence intercepted, interpreted, analyzed, collated and forwarded to the responsible agencies and parties? Polygraphs everyone?

    Colonel, US Army, retired

    Glenford, NY

    September 11 has reinforced all my negatives: suspicion of government motives; frustration at the perpetuation of failed policies; horror at the immense war budget; fear of nuclear proliferation; opposition to oppressive and domineering globalization; anger at support given to repressive regimes while raving and ranting at Cuba; despair that an equitable Middle East solution cannot override oil interests; and finally, that we are doing absolutely nothing to address the grievances of "terrorists" while eroding our own democracy and allowing degradation of the environment.


    Nantes, France

    September 11 is an American hegemonical construct, a good guys vs. evil vision that is as much a part of American cultural imperialism as McDonald's or the latest Hollywood movie. Sycophantic French politicians and intellectuals (like Bernard Henri-Levy) quickly proclaimed that "we are all Americans." The result has been a frustrating diversion from the real issues. To limit the discussion to terrorism--who has the world's biggest arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons? Who refuses to sign any treaty outlawing them, or landmines for that matter? Who--and for good reason--refuses to reject genocide or pre-emptive nuclear strikes? The biggest threat to world peace today is not minuscule terrorist groups but the US government. As an American who has lived in France for the past twenty years, for me September 11 epitomizes the self-centered worldview of too many of my countrymen.



    I have not felt so alienated from this country since Nixon was elected to a second term after Watergate and all his misdeeds in Southeast Asia. I was so devastated by the instantaneous deaths of so many people, and then so appalled by the nationalistic frenzy, the lust for revenge and the level of pure propaganda in the mainstream media. So much emotional manipulation, so little cogent analysis. Having Bush in the White House made it all much harder for me, given his general ignorance of foreign affairs and his entourage of cold warriors. I have never appreciated the alternative press, especially The Nation, so much.


    North Bend, Ore.

    I'm a Democrat and former Green Beret with a BA in political science and get my news primarily from ABC, NPR and BBC radio. After Al Qaeda spectacularly murdered a couple thousand Americans, we "brought death" to Afghanistan in retaliation, belying "Clinton's weakening" of our forces. That twice as many Afghan citizens died collaterally, many Americans died from friendly fire and Al Qaeda apparently returned to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, might bear investigation. No?

    On the home front, our Attorney General has, modestly, hidden Justice, and God knows what else, but the anthrax murders remain unsolved. Our National Security Adviser's patent culpability for the attack's success is unremarked upon. Republicans' malfeasance, ideological incoherence and compassionless corporatism, ever more glaring, go unchallenged. Do most Americans still want a national health plan? Yes?

    Nothing has changed, nor will it unless Democrats fix Dumbya and try a testicular implant (metaphorically speaking, of course!).


    Long Beach, Calif.

    September 11 is a lot about the enemy from without. But the enemy from without will never, try though it may, extinguish the American experiment. We Americans, on the other hand, are armed and capable of such a result. As I fear us more than them, September 11 has little changed my life.


    St. Louis

    I am of Indian origin and before September 11 learned to avoid racism by presenting myself in a relentlessly middle-class fashion. And if the precise diction, discreet deodorant and the late-model four-door sedan proved insufficient, then out came the race card. "Is my race a problem?" I would ask with a faint British intonation. I felt a sense of entitlement in challenging the closet racial profiler to deny his own prejudices.

    But 9/11 changed all that. My identity as a comfortably assimilated immigrant who moves easily among various cultures, languages and geographical regions has been shown to be a fragile myth. To the security guards at the malls, airports and theme parks around the country, I look like the sister of the nineteen hijackers. My cosmopolitanism, my ability to read ancient Tamil love poetry, my advanced degrees become irrelevant in the face of such appalling culpability.


    Harrisonburg, Va.

    "We'll never be the same," broadcasters kept pronouncing while replaying jets slamming towers. That sounded so false, from people worried about their makeup surviving marathon airtime. (Do I seem cold?) My firstborn son died from an auto accident on August 11, 2001. I don't expect to be the same. A month later, I felt families' desperate waits, dwindling hopes. Not the urge for revenge; I lacked that option. Leaders who scare me more than bin Laden jumped to exploit the revenge rush, while the "commentariat" lock-stepped in boosting an amorphous war, blowing off civil liberties. My faith in journalism tanked. I'm a freelance reporter. An apparent economic fallout from 9/11 was the folding of a little alternative magazine I wrote for. I still feel powerless, but better since visiting a conference to interview peacebuilders from several continents. Their spirits moved me. Accustomed to danger, children dying, they hadn't given up.


    Flat Gap, Ky.

    Everything changed with the Supreme Court's appointment of George W. Bush, not with the events of September 11. Like a bicycle ride along a peaceful country road when a pack of dogs run out from nowhere and bite your ankle, any sense of security is now an open wound. Even the dogs on your own front porch become suspect and you lose your trust.


    Omaha Indian Reservation, Macy, Neb.

    On September 11, Ariel Sharon said all Americans are Israelis, learning that terror can strike anywhere, anywhen. With equal conviction, Yasir Arafat might have said all Americans are Palestinians, compelled to retaliation and pre-emption. Although these metaphors are apt, neither is accurate.

    Rather, it may be said with supreme justification that all Americans are Native American Indians, living under occupation by a hostile government ever ready to liquidate our life, liberty, property--our pursuit of happiness--in conducting an endless, self-righteous campaign.

    Presaging the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has extraordinary powers, employing DOJ, FBI, CIA and military enforcement and investigations. Intelligence responsibilities are debated, ignoring our experiences: Feds rarely uncover evidence; they create it, solving mysteries and preventing disasters only by expropriating the work of others. Their goals are to destroy, not protect; to master, not serve. Heed us, America. Our plight is yours--our history, your future.

    Chief Judge, Omaha Tribal Court

    Legnica, Poland

    I'm a 73-year-old retired American academic who witnessed the events of September 11 on CNN here in Poland. Initial reactions: outrage, angry "patriotism" and a powerful helplessness. As reason replaced reaction, those feelings diminished.

    The attack? Inevitable. Built on US ignorance and arrogance and exclusion. Why do they hate us? Years of ruinous intervention and destabilization of Third World countries, especially those seeking self-determination in leftist political movements. September 11 unleashed religious and political fundamentalist zeal, a manic frenzy of "security" threatening constitutional safeguards.

    Polish officials assured me of protection. As an Arab-American, would I suffer abuse at home? Life-change? Yes. 9/11 sharpened my sense of responsibility for others. Sadly, the hatred that generated the attacks has not provoked objective intellectual examination of cause, has only brought a violent reactionary backlash effect. The conscience of America remains where it was: anesthetized by greed, racism, nationalism and impotent leadership.


    Media, Pa.

    I drive tractor-trailers, tankers. I could do great harm to thousands of people without learning or buying a thing, with a good chance of getting away and doing it again. The fitful inspections of a few trucks after 9/11 are long gone. Since neither means nor opportunity need restrain anyone's hand for long, I was naïve enough to hope that 9/11 might launch some citizen debate on applying the golden rule to the rest of the planet. Our collective reaction to 9/11 has taught me that self-interest and intelligence are not as intertwined as I had hoped.


    Cazadero, Calif.

    September 11 haiku:
       among the rubble
       the chickens come home to roost
       waking us up now


    Brooklyn, NY

    I am a songwriter and visual artist, and I thought I would go home that evening to document the day in words and images, but I found I couldn't. I just watched the smoke rising, from my window in Brooklyn. I found that there were experiences too deep for words or songs. That night I wrote in my journal:
      I have no songs to sing, until I can sing all songs
       I try to speak, but I have no voice until I can have all voices
       I would call on God but I think that God will only answer
       to all of his names, spoken as one.


    Princeton, NJ

    There were oblique benefits. There was commercial-free network TV for four days after 9/11. The twin towers had been the worst hazard of all on the Atlantic flyway, and during three decades of autumn and spring migration on a few mornings, fallouts of thousands of shorebirds and passerines lay on the asphalt below them.

    The worst did not occur. If planes had been flown into the Indian Point and Three Mile Island reactors, probably failing to penetrate the containment chambers but destroying the surrounding cooling systems, there could have been millions dead and dying after meltdown.

    And there was unintended bathos. In the hours following, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf suggested that it might have been the Montana Militia.


    Ithaca, NY

    What surprises and disappoints me is how little has changed since the terrorist attacks. I thought the horrific death and destruction on our own soil so clearly demonstrated hatred and resentment toward us that we would work ceaselessly to implement an evenhanded approach to Israel and Palestine. I thought our leaders would ask us to make some sacrifices, and we'd give up our SUVs and other aspects of our everyday life built on oil gluttony and being beholden to Saudi Arabia. I thought a successful attack with box-cutters would highlight the stupidity of "missile defense" and we'd begin to change how we spent our defense dollars. I thought we'd finally acknowledge we need transportation diversity and begin creating a healthy passenger rail system with less dependence on air travel. I thought we'd become less unilateral and work harder to build alliances and honor treaties. I was so wrong.


    Stony Brook, NY

    September 11 has not changed my life. It has accentuated and invigorated my desire to return home, to Jaffa, Palestine, as soon as possible. I am a graduate student at a US university, and I have not felt as strong a desire to return to my culture, national history and values as in the aftermath of what has become an American right to a moment in time called "9/11."

    I came to this country with as little animosity as possible for a Third World colonized citizen, hoping to refute all I had learned as a child. I am about to leave with repugnance, wrath and hopelessness toward an arrogant, brutally hypocritical, mass-destructive autocracy, the United States of America, governed not only by its political head but by its willfully ignorant people.


    Daytona Beach, Fla.

    Having come to America from the Philippines, a country colonized by Spain and the United States and then brutalized by the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, I learned early the meaning and the beauty of freedom. The longer I lived here, the better I appreciated how precious freedom has been in all its manifestations.

    Then came September 11. In a matter of minutes, I learned that the thing I have held as so sacred in my life could also be fragile. Why, why? How could there be so much hate when America is the one country that has welcomed people of all colors, races and religious creeds to share in its blessings of freedom?

    September 11 taught me more than ever that America is worth fighting and dying for; that out of the ashes, we shall emerge stronger and more united, and that my adopted country will continue to be a shining beacon for the rest of the world.


    Salem, Mass.

    I lost my brother to murder in 1984. Some people reacted with dismay that my opposition to the death penalty didn't change. Did they think this principle was based on some bizarrely naïve idea that people never commit terrible crimes? Or was it that the closer to home a perpetrator strikes, the harsher the appropriate punishment? A family conflict erupted after the murder: Was it legitimate to try to understand how these two young men had arrived at the point of committing this crime, to examine the social web of race and class in which they and my brother intersected, or was such an examination tantamount to offering an excuse for what they'd done?

    Change the details, and precisely these same tensions have characterized the public debate following September 11. I hope we Americans can work through them patiently and thoughtfully, as my family and I have had to do.


    Gays Mills, Wisc.

    The events of 9/11 have strongly reaffirmed my commitment to my intentional community, Dancing Waters Permaculture Co-op, created to remove land from the debt cycle through collective ownership. Using consensus decision-making, our collective is a nonviolent attempt to demonstrate an alternative to the capitalist, consumerist ideology that the terrorists symbolically targeted when they attacked the World Trade Center.


    Bristol, Vt.

    The worst thing was going out into my yard while the towers were burning. My cats were there, our garden was a jungle and the Vermont day was so beautiful it hurt. My heart was pounding. I wondered if these simple things that brought me such joy would even exist for another month, another week, another hour.

    Unfortunately, with the White House occupied by people who make Dr. Strangelove and General Ripper look normal, I still wonder how long we will have our freedom or our lives. I can't say I am optimistic, but miracles can and do happen. Love must happen on earth, or none of us will survive.


    Garfield Heights, Ohio

    Having been involved with the movement to shut down the WHISC/SOA for several years, I sat in a bus stop in Cleveland after my school was evacuated on September 11 with the terrible feeling that these attacks were some sort of repercussion of US foreign policy.

    As the antiwar movement began to take shape, I became involved as soon as possible. I feel that a change in US foreign policy of militarization and neoliberal economics isn't just needed, it is imperative to the survival of this country, and possibly the world.

    I participated in the antiwar demonstrations on September 29, and many more since then. September 11 changed my life in the sense that I now feel that being a single-issue or armchair activist isn't enough, that I must be involved in what I believe and educated and involved in other people's struggles.


    Oxford, Ohio

    The first news I received of the attacks came from my government teacher. The tragedies of that day shocked me more than any event in my seventeen years. Something else that happened was almost as surprising to me. Alongside pictures of toppled buildings came pictures of people in other countries holding vigil for America. That people all over the world cared that much about America surprised me. I knew that we have friends and allies, but it never seemed they were that close to us. We don't seem to feel as much solidarity with others. Instead of doing our part in the world, we do things such as not participating in the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court. It seems we only act when our interests are threatened. America is shown great friendship by other countries--we need to learn how to give friendship back.


    Mt. Pleasant, SC

    September 11 made me, an 18-year-old living in the suburbs, much more cynical, and that's difficult to do. When our leaders had an unprecedented opportunity to lead, all I got was a bunch of talk (unless a behemoth military budget counts as "leadership"). And when I expected citizens to be shaken from their 1990s isolationist, stock-market-is-booming delirium, all I got was the irony of an SUV with huge American flags posted all over it. I really don't intend to sound rude or coldhearted; I was just as shocked, saddened and outraged when I saw the CNN footage. But unity and resolve are not jingoism. And a just response is not unilateralism and carpet-bombing. If the so-called Bush Doctrine is all the "change" I can expect from our leaders (and the willful submission of others, Democrats), then I wish I was ignorant enough not to care. The biggest tragedy of 9/11, aside from the appalling loss of human life, is one of missed opportunity on the part of the government and the failure of its citizens to call them on it.


    Alexandria, Va.

    I cannot identify with the notion that "nothing will ever be the same again." That's a young person's view. For those of us pushing 60, the world turned on its head when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were killed. With them died the strong possibility of social change. By the time Reagan took office, many of us had stopped caring. I know I did.

    Oddly, September 11 has made me care again. Not the attacks, which were an outrage, but the federal government's response--the so-called war on terrorism, with its shameful trampling of civil liberties, its reckless threats to engage in war against Iraq and its self-righteous moralizing about "goodness" here and "evil" there. I feel an urgent need to work for peace and nonviolence once again.


    Price, Utah

    My quest to tell the truth led me in midlife to my dream career. I became a reporter for my hometown newspaper. There wasn't a lot of hard news, but the opinion page allowed me to explore broader issues and excite discussion in my community. That all ended on September 11, when exciting discussion became unpatriotic. Censorship and my ensuing protest cost me my job. Mainstream media, I learned, is often the purveyor of silence.

    But I have become the resister of silence. I print copies of antiviolence fliers from my home computer to plaster on windshields, and I have discovered independent media. The little girl who was afraid of the sound of her own voice spoke to a crowd on the steps of the State Capitol at a peace rally on April 20. The small-town reporter spoke the truth, and her voice was heard around the world.

    Orwell said, "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." On September 11 this middle-class, middle-aged middle American became a revolutionist.


    Berkeley, Calif.

    The horrifying events of September 11 and the mushrooming horrors unleashed (war, racism, loss of civil liberties) have changed me. Disgusted by the vapid rhetoric of patriotism, I realized how profoundly I prize this continent and its progressive heroes and how repulsed I am by nationalism everywhere. I ache for a transformed world but am more uncertain how we will get there. We cannot be cast forever as sacrifices in someone else's nightmare: Bush's "limited nuclear war," religious fundamentalisms' apocalyptic wet dreams, capitalism's age-old werewolf hunger.

    As a lesbian, feminist, Marxist-humanist, I know that Bush, bin Laden, Sharon and Hamas would certainly agree to hate and silence me. So part of my struggle is to live: fiercely cherishing lovers, friends, allies and the beauties of this vital planet.


    Stanford, Calif.

    September 11 and its aftermath have made me afraid for this country. The attacks were tragic evidence that an America once loved and admired around the world is now an object of hatred. Instead of asking why, the Bush Administration and a complaisant Congress used the event as an excuse to kill more innocent people in Afghanistan, justify a bloated military budget, harass immigrants, jail suspects without charges, institute domestic spying and erode civil liberties in the name of "security." I worry about the callous brutality shown when our leaders debate over when and how to launch a war on Iraq, but show no concern for the thousands of Iraqi people who are certain to be killed in such a war. In short, I am afraid that in waging George Bush's open-ended "war on terrorism" America will become the most dangerous terrorist of all.


    Chapel Hill, NC

    As I watched the towers fall on TV from my home in Prescott, Arizona, on September 11, I shed tears not only for the horror and tragedy of the attacks, but also in anticipation of the reaction of our government at home and abroad. Later I headed two hours north to my favorite cathedral, the Grand Canyon, for some solitude, silence and perspective. I quit my job and now find myself back in my native North Carolina, about to embark on a PhD program in political science.

    People hear what I'm doing and say, Good luck changing the system. I say, Well, thank you. Because if at any age I ever lose my idealism and vision for global social, economic and environmental justice, I pray someone will put me on a bus to the canyon for a little perspective.


    Claremont, Calif.

    I have been stunned by how a coup d'état can take place in America. The combination of irregular presidential election, traumatic terrorist attack, administrative control by radical conservatives and the intimidation and cowardliness of the opposition have achieved incredible changes. Our country now has an endless war policy, unilateral withdrawal from international agreements, illegal detentions, threats to constitutional rights and theft of the people's resources for military ends. The well-oiled evince a voracious appetite for world domination and homeland insecurity. I feel like an alien in my beloved land, now a place of nightmares.

    Can we wake up and reclaim our freedom? I work toward a community of communities across this land who dream a new vision and turn fear, suspicion and greed into generosity and justice for all.


    Hawley, Mass.

    After the horror let go of my throat I thought, that's it, thirty-five years of work for peace and equality down the tubes. Our leaders will now have license to bomb anywhere, anytime, void the Bill of Rights and shoo away dissent with the flag. They won, we lost.

    But wait. History doesn't change course in a day. The world a year after the attacks looks a lot like the world before 9/11. Liberty imperiled as always, hard cheese for poor people and poor societies, our leaders choosing which tyrants to support and which to overthrow, the rich in power. But the loony system they rule is weaker, not stronger, than a year ago--is bumping into its own homemade contradictions. If anything, the terrorists deepened its confusion. I'm ready to rise up once more against it.


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  • Politics July 3, 2002

    Paul Wellstone & the Greens

    Paul Wellstone & the Greens

    Northfield, Minn.

    I was shocked to open my Nation and read the ill-informed and superficial June 17 "Beat the Devil" column, "The Future Wellstone Deserves," by Alexander Cockburn, who isn't generally ill-informed or superficial.

    To begin, there is no one--no one--in Washington more efficient than Wellstone in supporting green issues. Why is there no drilling in ANWR today? The answer: Paul Wellstone. As a freshman senator on the Energy Committee he made a scathing attack on the Johnston-Wallop bill, put forth by chairman Bennett Johnston on behalf of the oil companies. Of course, Wellstone didn't win many of his points against the powerful Johnston then, but he stood firm on ANWR and won that one, and that victory has given us a dozen years of no drilling.

    As for healthcare, it is simply not true that he has abandoned support of single-payer health. But insurance is not the only health issue: Wellstone has worked for several years to gain parity for mental health insurance, and this year the Wellstone-Domenici bill finally passed in the Senate; and what about his success on the domestic violence bill? As for campaign reform, Wellstone is working on Clean Money-Clean Elections Bills, which promise reform far better than the swiss-cheese bans on soft money.

    As for the statement about "some timid Greens...backstabbing McGaa": If Cockburn were in Minnesota, he'd realize that no backstabbing is necessary; McGaa is already self-destructing with progressives.


    Sequim, Wash.

    "The suggestion that progressive politics will now stand or fall in sync with Wellstone's future is offensive," says Alexander Cockburn, who apparently has not realized that the principal sequitur of the election is control of the Senate. If the Democrats lose a single seat, control will pass to the Republicans. George W. Bush could, as he has promised, appoint Supreme Court Justices in the image of Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia. Progressive politics would have to cope with a reactionary Court for the next quarter-century. Like Cockburn, I have differences with Wellstone and every other Senate Democrat. Unlike Cockburn, I realize the price we would all pay for handing the Senate to the GOP.

    D.C. MOORE

    Bentonville, Ark.

    Yes, Minnesota Greens may mess up Paul Wellstone's chances for re-election and end up electing a Republican in his place. But Wellstone needs to realize something--he's clinging to a party that doesn't represent the same things he does. Jim Jeffords jumped ship, and Wellstone can do the same. Why not ask the Minnesota Greens if he can join them and if Ed McGaa would graciously step aside and let him run as their candidate? Let's abandon the Democratic Party the same way they've abandoned us and stand behind a party that cares about the things that matter most in our lives.


    Kelso, Wash.

    Our warmongering Administration appears to have both barrels aimed at Paul Wellstone, a senator who stands up with the courage of his convictions. Why don't we dig into our wallets and send our $5, $10 or $50 to Wellstone's campaign and give him and the Administration of sleaze an overwhelming message that we're not going to take it anymore?


    Keene, NH

    On my desk I had a check for $50 for the Wellstone Senate campaign. Then I read Alexander Cockburn's column, and I ripped it up. Wellstone may be a liberal, but unlike Abourezk, Metzenbaum and Feingold, he's no fighting liberal! No one wants to see the Senate go Republican, but perhaps we in New Hampshire can send Jeanne Shaheen. She has never advertised herself as the savior of the left, but if in one stroke she can get rid of the troglodyte Bob Smith and prevent the possibility of a "Senator Sununu" her value to the left will far exceed Wellstone's.


    Tempe, Ariz.

    Like Cockburn, I'm disappointed that Wellstone didn't stay firm in his commitment to a single-payer national health program, but as a Congressional contender once told me: "The only way you can be sure a candidate agrees with you on every issue is to run yourself." As a result of Cockburn's column I'm sending Wellstone another contribution.


    Manchester, NJ

    So, Alexander Cockburn thinks that Minnesota voters should deny Senator Wellstone a third term because he isn't perfect. Well, who is? Senator Feingold, of whom Cockburn seems to approve, voted to confirm Ashcroft as Attorney General! In 2000, while I voted Green for President and Representative, I voted for Jon Corzine, a Democrat, for senator. Perhaps he isn't perfect either, but if I and others in New Jersey hadn't done that, we might now have a Republican Senate and twins of Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas on the Supreme Court.



    The future Paul Wellstone deserves is to retire after two terms, as he promised Minnesotans when he first ran for office. In 1996 Wellstone voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, nullifying the chance for same-gender couples to have their marriages (or civil ceremonies) recognized by the federal government. Wellstone boasts of his advocacy for working families. But his voting record indicates that he is not willing to give legal recognition to working families headed by same-gender couples.


    Lynnwood, Wash.

    Senator Wellstone says, "I am a civil rights senator." If and when Wellstone takes a more honest and humane stance on US foreign policy--i.e., even Iraqi and Palestinian civilians have civil rights, and Israel does not deserve full support for its inhumane policies--I might believe some of the rest of his rhetoric. Until then, I will believe he is for civil rights for some (in this country) but not others (not in this country, particularly if Arab).


    Salem, Ore.

    Alexander Cockburn didn't point out Wellstone's greatest failing: a no-show as the Congressional Black Caucus needed just one senator to challenge the Florida "election" results. How progressive is it to ignore the voting rights of African-Americans, much less stand silent as this coup went forward?



    I find it odd how cannibalistic some in the progressive left can be. Before Alexander Cockburn was so quick to highlight Wellstone's "failures" he should have read John Nichols's May 27 Nation article, which accurately highlighted Wellstone's role as one of the few true fighters against the regressive legislation continually proposed by the Bush White House. And there is nothing "supposed" about the irresponsibility of Minnesota Greens in this race. It's one thing to vote for Ralph Nader over Al Gore but entirely another to say a Green is needed in Wellstone's Senate race. Cockburn and those like him need to end the cannibalism. If the left can't come together behind Wellstone, one of our strongest leaders, then maybe we do deserve to be marginalized. Minnesota Greens should remember that, as Winona LaDuke said, Paul Wellstone is your friend.


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  • Politics June 27, 2002



    Jefferson Valley, NY

    When I took my copy of The Nation from my mailbox today, I was appalled at the cover showing George W. Bush, in hunter's garb, over the caption "Clueless?" The Nation has long been a debater of ideas, home for such writers as Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal and Jim Hightower. This cover is a personal attack on the President of the United States and does little to debate his policies. They're certainly open to debate, but they are the product of the President and a group that includes Ms. Rice and Messrs. Powell, Cheney, Rumsfeld and O'Neill--not a "clueless" bunch at all. Let's debate policies, political philosophies and economic theories and leave personal ridicule to others.



    I am shocked and dismayed at the glaring copy-editing/proofreading error on your cover. The question mark after "Clueless" is such an egregious mistake it is hard to find words to express my dismay. After all, if anyone at The Nation has even the smallest shred of a doubt that Shrub is clueless...well, there's no hope; we're doomed.


    Enfield, Conn.

    Cartoon fans might appreciate a different caption on your June 10 cover: "Be vewy quiet. I'm hunting tewwowists."


    Marshall, Mich.

    An alternate caption might be: "George W. Fudd: 'Is that you, Osama, you wascawwy Awab?'"


    Carthage, NC

    Thank you for the picture of King George II attired for the hunt. It joins the collection of pictures of people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Ronald Reagan on my dartboard. I took the liberty of deleting the question mark following the word "clueless."


    St. Cirq Souillaguet, France

    Your amusing cover picture of a clueless Bush was a great success in our village, reflecting as it did a widely held French opinion of the man. One neighbor went further: "If it's true that your President has an 80 percent approval rating, should one then assume that a majority of your citizens are equally dimwitted?" I was unable to answer.



    Liberty Hill, Tex.

    Matt Bivens's excellent "Fighting for America's Energy Independence" [April 15] and the ensuing "Exchange" [June 17] covered many important bases but requires a post-mortem.

    The idea of a 110-by-110-mile solar field in Nevada providing all our nation's electricity is seductive, but it ignores the fact that unless generation is located near the consumers, you need wires to transmit it. West Texas has the nation's largest wind farms, with plenty more capacity. The problem is that the people who want to use that electricity live in Dallas, 500 miles away. Transmission constraints, not economics or politics, have slowed the growth of wind energy. Building high-voltage power lines where people live is problematic; the financial and political challenges of moving tens of thousands of solar megawatts from Nevada to, say, New York, are daunting to the point of fantasy.

    The big green solution includes a combination of commercial-scale renewable power (primarily wind and geothermal), decentralized clean energy (mainly rooftop solar and stationary fuel cells, with the excess sold back into the grid) and the three-legged stool of conservation, efficiency and demand response. A staggering percentage of generation plants are built solely to accommodate demand on midsummer weekday afternoons. Demand response, or peak load management, teaches us that the availability (not to mention cost) of electricity isn't always the same. California's legendary rolling blackouts are largely a result of inefficient use of the grid and can be avoided if consumers shift their consumption away from the peaks. People have learned to make phone calls and plane trips off-peak; we can use electricity the same way. This relieves wire congestion and delays the need for new power plants, accelerating our charge to the day when clean energy is overabundant.



    Washington, DC

    Paul Wattles is correct that getting electricity down transmission lines would make it impractical to power America on solar electricity harvested across 12,000 square miles in Nevada. I never meant to suggest we try. My observations that Nevada could gather enough sun to power America--and that the Dakotas and Texas alone could also produce enough windpower to do that--were purely illustrative. The point is that our nation is rich in wind and sun, the technologies to harvest them are finally here and working, and yet we aren't moving forward as smartly as we could--in part thanks to our government's bizarre insistence on showering huge subsidies on oil, gas, coal and nuclear power while giving tiny sums to renewables and sniffing that they aren't "market ready."

    Some of the best winds are remote from population centers, and new transmission lines can cost more than $1 million per mile. Electricity gets wasted when sent long distances down such lines, and stringing new lines is unpopular--people don't want to live near them. And wind and solar power are intermittent--churning out wattages only when the sun shines or the wind blows.

    So these are all challenges--and it's striking how many of those challenges are finessed by the hydrogen fuel cell. Wind- or solar-generated electricity can now be stored as hydrogen (by using that electricity to "zap" water, which releases hydrogen). John Turner of the National Renewable Energy Laboratories observes that hydrogen made from the sun or the winds could be trucked or pipelined out of remote areas at a lot less cost and a lot more efficiency than hanging new power lines. A Dakota-to-Chicago hydrogen pipeline, anyone? Unlike transmission lines, it could even be buried.

    Finally, I accept much of Wattles's "big green solution," but one small quibble: I'm all for more efficient air conditioners; I'm less enamored of training people to turn them off when it gets hot. Like berating people who drive gas-guzzling SUVs, it's a distraction and a political nonstarter. People have indeed learned to make phone calls off-peak--i.e., when it's inconvenient. But they don't like it! So why focus on it as the solution, when there is a much more positive vision--one that has room for an emissions-free hydrogen-fueled SUV? Yes, even one with a flag on it.



    Brooklyn, NY

    "Hear, hear!" to Michael Lerner's "Jews for Justice" [May 20]--the best opinion piece I've read on the Middle East morass, and the only one brave enough to admit that Jews are themselves mostly to blame for the recent surge of anti-Semitism around the world--at least insofar as they participate, support and/or remain silent about Israel's arrogant, apartheidlike policies. It makes me especially sad and angry that in their eagerness to placate the conservative Jewish lobby, the most prominent Jewish voices in American public life today (Dianne Feinstein and Joseph Lieberman) refuse to recognize this, instead going blindly forward with their We-Are-a-Victimized-People and Israel-Can-Do-No-Wrong stance. I thank God nightly that my ancestors immigrated to America.


    San Diego

    I suggest Rabbi Lerner move to Gaza and see how much "love" he will get from the Palestinians; or maybe he should move to Syria and share the "love" the other Arab countries have for Jews. He can preach "love" and equal treatment there, if they let him.


    New York City

    No one can quarrel with Rabbi Lerner's call for a Jewish voice to speak out for justice for Palestinians (and Israelis). But he is not correct in saying that there have been no pro-Israel alternatives to AIPAC, no organized voices that would speak out for the end of the occupation and the violence, for a Palestinian state as well as for security and acceptance for Israel.

    There are such voices. One is Americans for Peace Now. APN has been working hard for this agenda for many years, at the grassroots level, in Washington and in Israel, with a very large coalition of peace activists there. They speak to the US Jewish community, they speak to other Americans, they speak to Palestinians and they speak to power. New voices mean new strength for this agenda, so welcome to the Tikkun Community. But they are not voices in the wilderness.


    Jupiter, Fla.

    I am delighted to read some constructive ideas on the Israel/Palestine quagmire. As Rabbi Lerner proposes, a good place to start is with a "big stick" wielded by an international effort to impose some separation and order. However, I also think a "carrot" is essential to effect a change of mind. I propose a Marshall Plan for Palestine--a model for the Middle East. They need democracy, schools, infrastructure, small business financing--all the basics for a progressive, prosperous country. When there is prosperity for all, reasonable people don't want to rock the boat. The religious fanatics would become increasingly irrelevant. Peace in the area would thus be reinforced. The United States should lead the effort, as we have much to gain. We'd be the good guys for a change.


    Brooklyn, NY

    I have never felt the urge to respond to anything I've read on the Internet, but I want to show my admiration and gratitude to Michael Lerner. His is about the only sane and objective Jewish voice on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis I've heard. More power (and media outlets) to you for recognizing the suffering of and injustices done to the Palestinians. It really hurts to see so many turn a blind eye to the root cause of the violence. As an Arab-American I am heartened to read this article and hope that it reaches Jewish and non-Jewish Americans and helps them realize the moral obligation of the United States to help solve this crisis.


    Topanga, Calif.

    Although I admire Michael Lerner's courage (I understand that he has been getting death threats) and strongly agree with his opposition to Israel's armed occupation of the Palestinian territories, I regret that he seems unwilling to face the most difficult moral dilemma presented by the state of Israel and its very disturbing history, which must be resolved by both Jews and non-Jews. Is there any moral justification for supporting a state that is fundamentally dedicated to the welfare and power of one religion and its believers over all others? Is there any moral justification for supporting a state that has repeatedly invaded its neighbors, killed thousands of nonbelligerents, destroyed housing, agriculture and civil infrastructure and confiscated the land and property of others without compensation? Is there any moral justification for supporting a state that has repeatedly violated international law and UN resolutions while scorning world opinion and humiliating the leadership of the United States, without whose aid it would not exist? Finally, is support for Israel truly an expression of solidarity with fellow Jews or is it a profound betrayal of centuries of Jewish tradition, from Hillel to Einstein, which has always celebrated human dignity, justice and peace?



    For an upcoming Anniversary Issue, send letters of not more than 150 words exploring how the events of September 11 changed your views of your government, your country, your world, your life. Please e-mail (preferred) or write "9/11 Letters," The Nation, 33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003. Deadline: August 1.

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  • Politics June 20, 2002



    Cambridge, Mass.

    In his excellent June 17 piece on Stephen Jay Gould, John Nichols mentions the Science for the People movement and our involvement in it, and by implication incorrectly places Steve and me in leading roles. Neither Steve nor I was a founder of Science for the People, nor were we in any sense leading actors in it. True, we did each write an occasional piece for the Science for the People Magazine and were members of SftP study groups--for example, the Sociobiology Study Group--and we each appeared at some SftP public functions and press conferences and helped write some of its public statements. We were, however, much less responsible and active in the movement than many others who devoted immense amounts of time and energy to it and who kept it going for so many years.

    It is important to understand the nature of the Science for the People movement. It came out of the anti-elitist, anti-authoritarian movement of the 1960s and was committed to participatory democracy and lack of central organization. Like many others, Steve and I separately became adherents of the movement precisely because of its anti-elitism and participatory nature, as well as for its political orientation. We all struggled very hard to prevent those outside it from picturing it falsely and conventionally as being composed of leading persons and their allies. If, despite everyone's best efforts, there were some people who from time to time were forced into leading roles, Steve and I were never among them.



    Philadelphia; New York City

    Liza Featherstone in "The Mideast War Breaks Out on Campus" [June 17] mentions a number of Jewish groups critical of Israeli policy in the occupied territories, including Rabbinical Students for a Just Peace, the group of 108 students from seven rabbinical seminaries (not only the Jewish Theological Seminary, as indicated in the article) who recently sent a letter asking American Jewish leaders to recognize the suffering of the Palestinians and to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

    As two of the organizers of this letter, we wish to clarify that our goal is both, as Featherstone indicates, to be "outspoken critics of Israeli policy" and to support Israel's right to a secure existence within its pre-1967 borders. Discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generally suffers from a lack of nuance. Both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine activists routinely vilify the other and ignore the mistakes and abuses committed by those they support.

    As future rabbis who have spent significant time living in Israel, we speak out of deep love for Israel and concern for Israel's continued security. We are committed to creating a Zionist, pro-Israel voice willing to criticize Israeli policy, out of a desire to guarantee Palestinians the right to live in dignity in their own state, and to insure the security of Israel. Our views may appear radical within the context of an American Jewish community that offers unqualified support for the Israeli government, but they are in no way inconsistent with the mainstream Israeli political debate, which has always allowed for a greater range of opinion than does the US pro-Israel community.



    Havertown, Pa.

    I agree with Katha Pollitt that being childless can be as voluntary a choice for women as for men ["Subject to Debate," May 13] and that we sometimes make choices "unconsciously" by giving a goal a low priority and then getting to the point where it is no longer achievable. But I'd like to make one point: Successful, high-achieving women might consider the "marriage strategy" of successful, high-achieving men. If you want a fulfilling marriage and a high-powered career, choose a spouse who is willing to put your career ahead of theirs--someone who loves you enough to "hitch their wagon to your star."

    Men have always felt free to marry for love and emotional support and to choose women younger, poorer and less educated than themselves. Women could broaden their "eligibility pool" in a similar way.




    We applaud Jan Goodwin's "An Uneasy Peace" [April 29] on the perilous situation for Afghan women and the crucial need for basic security. However, we were dismayed by her characterization of the Afghan women's organization RAWA as having "garnered considerably more publicity in the United States than it has credibility in its own country." Both sides of this comparison are oversimplified and dangerously misleading.

    RAWA (, an indigenous organization founded in 1977, has indeed become better known in recent years, but not only in the United States, and not for superficial reasons (as Goodwin suggests by setting "publicity" against "credibility"). Rather, RAWA's website (since 1997) and its dogged work for humanitarian relief, underground education and documenting fundamentalist atrocities have broadened its international exposure.

    Goodwin's statement also implies that RAWA lacks credibility in Afghanistan. Certainly, jihadis, Taliban and other extremists will say RAWA members are whores and communists, because they oppose RAWA's goals (e.g., secular democratic government) and very existence. Among Afghan refugees, however, RAWA is said by many to be one of the few organizations that keeps its promises and is respected because it is Afghan and has remained active in Afghanistan across two decades of conflict. People in both Afghanistan and Pakistan speak highly of its schools, orphanages, hospital, income-generating projects and views. However, many inside Afghanistan do not know when they have benefited from RAWA's help, since threats and persecution have made it impossibly dangerous for RAWA to take credit for much of its work.

    This is indeed a pivotal moment for human rights in Afghanistan, including women's rights. It would therefore be a grave mistake to misrepresent a major force advancing these goals: RAWA is, unfortunately, the only independent, pro-democracy, humanitarian and political women's grassroots organization in Afghanistan.

    As a factual correction, while Sima Samar is a former member of RAWA, she was not among the founders.



    New York City

    Concerning RAWA's credibility, I was surprised that Anne Brodsky, who was handling press and helping to host the RAWA representative during her tour of the United States last fall, failed to disclose that connection.

    Western feminists may be able to identify with what RAWA has to say, but as I mentioned in my article, the group lacks credibility and acceptance in its own country. Part of its marginalization has to do with its inability to make alliances with other Afghan organizations of any stripe. RAWA is also not the only humanitarian and political women's organization in Afghanistan, and to suggest so is to insult the many Afghan women who have risked their lives to work in these arenas through twenty-three years of conflict. Sima Samar was indeed a founding member of RAWA but since breaking with the organization some years ago has been disavowed by them.




    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Senator McGovern's "Questions for Mr. Bush" [April 22] speaks to my heart. Bravo! We do have fascist madmen in the White House, and phrases like "Axis of Evil" and "War on Terrorism" are going to be the end of us. I am relieved that there are still intelligent men in the world working for the good.


    Melrose Park, Pa.

    I voted for George McGovern in 1972, but I cannot agree with some of the views in his editorial. He wonders if the Bush Administration's bunker mentality suffers from paranoia, if the Bush team has become obsessed with terrorism and if terrorism may replace Communism "as the second great hobgoblin of our age." These questions reflect a deep skepticism about the severity of the threat from Al Qaeda, a skepticism shared by many writers for The Nation and close to denial in its pervasiveness. Millions of other Americans, however, realized soon after September 11 that our immense infrastructure is vulnerable precisely because it is so large and diverse. Dams, bridges, tunnels, 103 nuclear reactors, airports--all these and more must now be guarded against mega-terrorism.

    Senator Ted Kennedy has co-sponsored funding for measures against bioterrorism, while Senators Tom Harkin, Carl Levin and Paul Sarbanes have chaired major hearings. Gary Hart chaired a commission two years ago that warned of attacks such as September 11. These former colleagues of Senator McGovern appear to believe that the terrorist threat is not a hobgoblin, but all too real.


    Catonsville, Md.

    George McGovern was my hero when he ran for the presidency, oh so many years ago. A more decent and capable man would be hard to imagine. The weakness in his bid may, in fact, have been his honesty and kindness--commodities not in much demand in a system that worships money and power. McGovern argues for the nexus of poverty, oppression and violence. He is far too generous in giving the Bush team the benefit of the doubt that they will learn on the job and improve policies. I started with Truman, and in my lifetime the presidency has never been occupied by a smaller figure.


    St. Paul

    I so wish George McGovern were our President right now.




    If Fidel Castro rises to George W. Bush's challenge to hold "a real election" and "to count [the] votes" ["In Fact...," June 10], will Bush also challenge him to figure out a way to take office even if the people don't elect him?


    Our Readers

  • Politics June 13, 2002

    The Morass in the Middle East

    The Morass in the Middle East

    Shreveport, La.

    Thanks to Richard Falk and The Nation for daring to defy the party line in the American media when it comes to Middle East coverage ["Ending the Death Dance," April 29]. Keep up the good work.


    Dundee, Mich.

    Except for its criticism of the Bush Administration, Richard Falk's article contains more sophisticated nonsense than almost anything I've read. Bush is wrong, Sharon is wrong and Arafat stands by as young women prostitute themselves as mass murderers. Meanwhile, Falk and The Nation raise sophistry to new heights.



    Even in the Arab press it would be hard to find such distortions, misleading statements and open justification of suicide bombers as are in Richard Falk's article. For example:

    (1) Falk justifies suicide bombers as the "only means still available" for the Palestinians. One can only react to such an endorsement of suicide bombers with outrage.

    (2) Then he equates the suicide Passover bombing at Netanya with the Israeli incursion in the West Bank. The Israeli incursion may have been wrong, but not all wrongs are moral equivalents. The suicide bombings have no possible justification and are sheer terror.

    (3) Falk says Arafat did not opt for terrorism. What a distortion. Arafat's history of terrorism, from hijacking in 1968 to Munich in 1972 and thereafter is documented beyond contradiction. Has Falk forgotten Arafat's financial support for and public tribute to "martyrs"?

    There are numerous other distortions in the article, but worst of all is Falk's blatant justification of suicide bombers. Just what is Falk's affinity for terrorists?


    Durham, NC

    Richard Falk says, "surely the United States is not primarily responsible for this horrifying spectacle of bloodshed and suffering." Such a view is typical of coverage of the conflict across the spectrum of the US press, from left to right. If we look solely at the actions of the United States, it is clear that this country is backing the occupation of Palestine with great vigor and enthusiasm. Last December, the Defense Department signed off on a sale of fifty-two F-16 fighter jets and 106 million gallons of jet fuel to Israel through the Foreign Military Sales program, earning Lockheed Martin $1.3 billion and Valero Energy $95 million.

    If this doesn't constitute a green light to Prime Minister Sharon for the siege of Ramallah, then it certainly enables it. There is some controversy over whether Iran is backing the Palestinian Authority with military aid; it's beyond dispute that Israel is armed to the teeth with US-made weapons. If President Bush is genuine in his call for an Israeli withdrawal, then he should suspend military aid to Israel immediately. Of course the violence is not beyond our control.

    Senator Jesse Helms, once head of the Foreign Relations Committee, stated in 1995: "Israel is at least the equivalent of a US aircraft carrier in the Middle East." There is no mystery here. Israel's military aggression guarantees the maintenance of US global domination. As long as we keep silent about the crimes committed in our name, Palestinians and Israelis alike will continue to die.


    Wayne, Pa.

    Richard Falk begins on a false premise and goes downhill from there. He claims simplistically that many analysts fault Arafat and the Palestinians because Ehud Barak at Camp David made an offer Arafat should have accepted. Actually, the argument is not that Arafat should have accepted the offer but that Arafat should have negotiated and made a counteroffer. Any counteroffer at all would have been welcome. Instead, Arafat made a fool of Barak and President Clinton and crushed the hopes that political moderates in Israel would be the driving force for peace. Falk treats the most significant gesture on Israel's part toward peace as rather trivial and similarly downplays Arafat's present attempt to make Israel bargain against itself through targeting innocent women and children.

    Falk apparently feels that sophisticated people will agree that the Palestinians have no choice but to send suicide bombers into churches and marketplaces. However, there are certain tactics that cannot be rationalized as part of a bargaining process. The Palestinians can bargain by using publicity, civil disobedience, general strikes, boycotts, marches and other peaceful methods to help obtain their goals and popularize them. Instead, they violate the most fundamental notions of civilized behavior. No one can endorse wholeheartedly Israel's fiercely violent response. However, we can understand it and agree that it is necessary for the self-defense of its citizens.



    Richard Falk ignorantly states that the Oslo agreements concerned 22 percent of the original British Mandate over Palestine, leaving 78 percent to Israel. The original mandate over Palestine also included what is now Jordan, which was essentially created by Winston Churchill when the British client Sharif Hussein was booted out of Mecca. Will Falk say next that the Six-Day War was a war of Israeli conquest? Or that there was a Palestinian national consciousness in 1948? You should be embarrassed.


    New York City

    Thank you for Richard Falk's bold and clear analysis of the current morass in the Middle East, which provides some much-needed corrections to the mainstream media's narrative of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It was high time someone pointed out that Sharon is at least as much an obstacle to peace as Arafat.

    Indeed, nothing in Sharon's career, or in his actions since his visit to the Temple Mount, suggests that peace is remotely a priority for him. His only goal is to expand Israeli settlements so that the prospect of a contiguous, viable state within which Palestinians can live in dignity becomes ever more slim. He is basically continuing the same colonialist project that he helped initiate as agriculture minister.

    It is amazing that in this country, for the most part, people react with such horror to the suicide bombings (which are indeed deplorable) but take no notice of the Israeli settlements. The settlements are the original violence to which all Palestinian action is a retaliation. To pretend that violence originates with the Palestinians and that Israel only retaliates out of necessity is a grotesque reversal of causality.

    One hopes that Falk's bold piece will give at least a momentary pause to many who are otherwise committed to perpetuating the official lies.


    Washington, DC

    How long can pernicious myths persist? Richard Falk writes, "It was Sharon's own provocative visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque that started the second intifada." This is a blatant deception. On December 6, 2000, the semiofficial Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Ayyam reported as follows: "Speaking at a symposium in Gaza, Palestinian Minister of Communications, Imad Al-Falouji, confirmed that the Palestinian Authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, this in accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself. Mr. Falouji went on to state that Arafat launched this intifada as a culminating stage to the immutable Palestinian stance in the negotiations, and was not meant merely as a protest of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount." Why does Falk ignore the damning statements of a Palestinian government official in an article that purports to get at the reality behind the image?


    Pensacola, Fla.

    Thank you for Richard Falk's intelligent and balanced piece, which places blame and responsibility for the madness in the Middle East right where it really belongs--with Sharon. I am sick of the lies that assault us endlessly in the nonexistent daily "news." Sharon is a butcher and an intransigent, blind criminal whose actions could easily cascade into World War III and destroy everyone on earth just to fulfill his own sick, narcissistic sense of destiny. The parallels to Hitler are now unavoidable.


    Austin, Tex.

    Superb! If only all American media had the guts to address the blatant hypocrisy and bias the US government employs when dealing with the Israel-Palestine crisis. Richard Falk has done an outstanding job of delineating the injustices perpetrated by the Israelis and has revealed another side to the story that should be reported on a far greater scale.



    Princeton, NJ

    I anchor my response in a personal observation. My whole intention in "Ending the Death Dance" was to focus on the need for a fair solution that brings peace and justice to both peoples. As a Jew I am profoundly concerned with the future and well-being of the Jewish people. To consider me "a self-hating Jew" because I am critical of the Israeli government or of certain interpretations of Zionism is absurd, as if being an opponent of the Vietnam War made me "a self-hating American"! The most vital premise of democracy and cosmopolitanism is that conscience trumps both obedience to the state and tribal loyalties, and that international law should be respected to the extent possible, especially by one's own country.

    The harsh tone of the critical letters reveals a partisan unwillingness to engage in serious dialogue; denunciation and distortion takes the place of argument and discussion, thus reinforcing the gathering gloom about how to resolve the Israel-Palestine struggle. Take Jerome Shestack's provocative assertion that my analysis displays a "blatant justification of suicide bombers" and an "affinity for terrorists."

    Could I have been clearer than to assert early in the piece that what I write is "not in any way to excuse Palestinian suicide bombers and other violence against civilians"? Far from any alleged affinity for terrorists, I condemned all forms of terrorism, and avoided the distorted effects of treating only antistate violence as terrorism and regarding state violence as "self-defense" and "security." As I argued, George W. Bush has contributed mightily to this lethal distortion of the meaning of terrorism by the way he phrased the post-September 11 campaign against global terrorism.

    I essentially agree with Edward Sweeney's point that Arafat is to be faulted not for rejecting the Barak/Clinton proposals but for his lamentable failure to explain the grounds of his rejection and, even more, for his failure to produce a credible counteroffer, providing the Palestinians and the world with an image on behalf of the Palestinian Authority of a fair peace. Arafat remains an enigmatic figure, as disappointing to militant Palestinians who feel shamed by their leader's deference to Washington as he is enraging to those who expect the Palestinians to accept Israeli occupation of their territories without a whimper of resistance.

    Jeffrey Goldman's comments about the British Mandate of Palestine and its relation to modern Jordan are confusing and wrong. The part of the original Palestine Mandate that has been the scene of the Israel-Palestine struggle has nothing to do with the sovereign territory of Jordan. Jordan occupied the West Bank during the 1948 war, and administered the territory until 1967, when Israel became the occupying power as a result of the Six-Day War, but with the understanding unanimously backed by the Security Council in famous Resolution 242 that Israel was under a duty to withdraw "from territories occupied in the recent conflict." The US government has all along backed this 1967 resolution as the starting point for any vision of peace between the two peoples.

    My point was different and, I feel, important. By removing pre-1967 Israel from the Oslo negotiations, the Palestinians were conceding 78 percent of the territory of the Palestine Mandate partitioned by the UN in 1947, leaving 22 percent available for a potential Palestinian state (that is, 5,897 square kilometers versus Israel's 20,235 square kilometers) and making the presence of more than 200 armed settlements in the West Bank protected by IDF forces radically inconsistent with the agreed goal of a viable Palestinian state. There is a second Palestinian concession that should also be taken into account: In contrast to the modern belief that legitimate sovereign states should be secular, without religious or ethnic identity, the Palestinian leadership has not questioned the Jewish identity of Israel even though it means that the Palestinian minority of over 1 million will remain second-class Israeli citizens indefinitely and that any Palestine that emerges will be an ethnic state whether the Palestinians desire it or not. Israel has not even contemplated comparable concessions to Palestinian aspirations.

    Finally, Jordan Green's argument that the US government has seen Israel, at least since 1967, as a strategic partner in the Middle East is pushing against an open door. My only point was to stress that in the setting of the conflict with the Palestinians, it is Israel that makes the decisions on how to pursue peace and security, and although backed to the hilt by Washington, "primary responsibility" lies with Israel.


    Richard Falk and Our Readers

  • Politics June 6, 2002



    Brookline, Mass.

    His justifiable zeal to defend Palestinian rights leads Alexander Cockburn to call me an apologist for "policies put into practice by racists, ethnic cleansers and, in Sharon's case, an unquestioned war criminal who should be in the dock for his conduct" ["Beat the Devil," June 3]. Since I share Cockburn's criticism of reflexive support for every Israeli policy and I agree with much of what he says about false claims of anti-Semitism, I wish he'd accompanied his identification of my possible inconsistencies with accurate reporting of what I actually wrote. Ascribing to me words I'd never say and views I reject is either sloppy or dishonest.

    My essay in Salon suggested the pro-Palestinian left should address, where it exists, anti-Semitism, superficial argumentation and difficulties of communication. I end with this: "The justice-based left must seek analyses and solutions built on general principles, and reject those that make new forms of oppression inevitable."

    I also say this: I march to protest Israeli policy; Israel has committed past massacres and West Bank atrocities; ending Palestinian oppression is central; the occupation must end; expulsion of Palestinians would amount to ethnic cleansing; the pro-Israel explanation of how Palestinians became refugees in 1948 is unsupported; armed resistance (though not against uninvolved civilians) is legitimate; a Palestinian call for militant nonviolent resistance is welcome. And I say clearly that opposing Israeli policy is not anti-Semitic.

    Cockburn's absolutism is matched by his opposites. A letter to my local newspaper, for which I write a column, claimed that my views would lead to "the destruction of Israel and create a danger to Jews throughout the world." That writer, too, sees only what he wants to see.

    I continue to advocate justice-focused discussion. Please see for more.



    Petrolia, Calif.

    There was nothing sloppy or dishonest about what I wrote. The third paragraph of Fox's letter is fine, and if my column pushed him to make it clear, it served its purpose. I wish he'd written it in his Salon piece.




    Jason Leopold's "White Should Go--Now" [May 27] is built upon lies and unethical reporting. Not only did Leopold unethically list me as an on-the-record source, he attributed comments to me that were never discussed and are absolutely not true.

    In reference to energy contracts signed with major California customers in 1998, the article incorrectly states, "Jestings said he told [Thomas] White that EES [Enron Energy Services] would actually lose money this way, but White said Enron would make up the difference by selling electricity on the spot market...which Enron had bet would skyrocket in 2000." The article continues the lies by stating that "Jestings said he continued to complain to White that the profits declared by the retail unit were not real." These statements were never made to Leopold and are absolutely false. I had significant responsibility for these 1998 contracts and believed that they would be profitable, and therefore I would never have made such statements. Furthermore, if Enron believed the spot market would skyrocket in 2000, it would never have signed long-term, fixed-rate contracts with these California customers in 1998!

    Leopold then states that "Jestings said he resigned from EES in 2000 because he did not agree with the way EES reported profits." Again, this is not true. I resigned in early 1999 for personal reasons and not because of the way EES reported profits. In fact, EES was not making profits when I left.

    It is clear that Leopold is trying to build a picture of cover-up and manipulation by White using statements falsely attributed to me. This is irresponsible reporting at its worst. In my short tenure at EES, I developed great respect for White. He is an honest and ethical man and deserves fair reporting.



    Los Angeles

    During my hourlong conversations with Lee Jestings on not one but three different occasions leading up to the publication of this story, I reminded Jestings that I would be using his comments in print. Simply put, Jestings was well aware that he was on the record. He cannot retract his statements after the fact and then accuse me of being unethical and a liar. I sought out Jestings, and when I found him he chose to respond to my numerous questions about EES and Thomas White. I did, however, mistakenly report that Jestings left EES in 2000.

    Jestings says that EES did not show a profit when he left. However, EES under White's leadership reported that the unit was profitable in 1999 after Jestings left the company. But Enron was forced in April to restate those profits because they were illusory. Moreover, Jestings said during the interview that he had taken issue with EES's use of "mark to market" accounting, in which the unit was able to immediately book gains based on contracts signed with large businesses. Jestings never said during the interview that he believed these contracts would eventually become profitable. But that's beside the point. Jestings said EES's use of aggressive accounting tactics during White's tenure left shareholders believing the company was performing better than it actually was.

    Jestings says White was honest and ethical while he was vice chairman at EES. My report indicates otherwise.



    West Orange, NJ

    There was a critical error in "Relearning to Love the Bomb" by Raffi Khatchadourian [April 1]. Khatchadourian says that so-called mini-nukes of about five-kiloton yield have smaller explosive effects than the US conventional "daisy cutter" bombs. This is clearly wrong. A five-kiloton explosion is equal to 5,000 tons of TNT, while the daisy cutter weighs only 7.5 tons. Even allowing for the development of modern explosives more powerful than TNT, the difference between the weapons, and their relative destructive potential, is of several orders of magnitude. The following excerpt from the Federation of American Scientists' Military Analysis Network ( directly addresses that point.

    "The BLU-82B/C-130 weapon system, nicknamed Commando Vault in Vietnam and Daisy Cutter in Afghanistan, is a high altitude delivery of 15,000-pound conventional bomb, delivered from an MC-130 since it is far too heavy for the bomb racks on any bomber or attack aircraft. Originally designed to create an instant clearing in the jungle, it has been used in Afghanistan as an anti-personnel weapon and as an intimidation weapon because of its very large lethal radius (variously reported as 300-900 feet) combined with flash and sound visible at long distances. It is the largest conventional bomb in existence but is less than one thousandth the power of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb."

    No useful analysis of nuclear policy can be made by equating large conventional bombs with even the smallest nuclear bombs in any way. An analysis of policy and decision-making regarding the conventional/nuclear threshold demands a clear understanding of how very powerful and devastating nuclear weapons are. The author seems to be blurring the lines of allowable nuclear-weapons use far more than the Administration he criticizes.



    New York City

    Let me begin by pointing out that I said "five kilotons or less." Some proponents of new nukes have pushed for weapons of lower tonnage. Others argue that five kilotons is roughly optimal.

    C. Paul Robinson, director of Sandia National Laboratories, demonstrates the debate: "I'm not talking about sub-kiloton weapons...
    as some have advocated, but devices in the low-kiloton range, in order to contemplate the destruction of hard or hidden targets, while being mindful of the need to minimize collateral damage." In April, Benjamin Friedman, an analyst at the Center for Defense Information, wrote: "What is revolutionary about current proposals is the idea of reducing the yield of tactical nuclear weapons to levels approaching those of conventional explosives, to around one-tenth of a kiloton, which would theoretically bridge the gap between a conventional and a nuclear weapon."

    The United States has developed "sub-kiloton" atomic weapons before. One such weapon, the Davy Crockett, contained warheads weighing only fifty-one pounds, with explosive yields near 0.01 kilotons (roughly 10 tons of TNT). We made 2,100 of those between 1956 and 1963.

    When my article was written, it was unclear what size the Bush Administration's defense team envisioned for its nuclear bunker buster. To a degree it still isn't, although some now suggest it could be above five kilotons. However, this doesn't change what's being contemplated: a weapon that appears to avoid the kind of casualties that put current nukes outside the boundary of political acceptability.

    I regret if I seemed to suggest that a five-kiloton nuclear warhead could be smaller in explosive power than the world's largest conventional weapon. That is inaccurate. I attempted to illustrate that on the continuum of weaponry, a gap that appeared inconceivably wide not so long ago is now being pushed closer. As the recent Nuclear Posture Review demonstrates, narrowing that distance is as much a matter of ideas as a matter of tons.

    Raffi Khatchadourian


    Brooklyn, NY

    Katha Pollitt is right on about great white hope Dennis Kucinich ["Subject to Debate," May 27 and June 10]. The boys who disparage abortion rights as a foolish, single-issue orthodoxy don't have a clue. Here's a hint for you guys. "Abortion" is about equitable reproductive health services for women, obviously including the ability to end a pregnancy, but it's also about how we think of women, and how we treat them. Are women valued as the sum of their reproductive parts, or as human beings?

    We know where the fundamentalists stand: Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish fundamentalisms, as well as secular dictatorships, are united on the need to control women's bodies. And now, thanks to Pollitt, we know where Kucinich stands. He moves or he loses.


    New York City

    As co-directors of an organization of the economic left, we second Katha Pollitt's admonition that Dennis Kucinich cannot claim the mantle of an economic progressive while being virulently anti-choice. Reproductive freedom is not just a matter of personal morality, it is a fundamental element of economic justice. No woman can determine her own economic destiny without the freedom to choose whether to bear a child. Progressives looking for champions cannot be so desperate as to overlook such a fundamental right. There are numerous other members of Congress--of course, we'd like a lot more--who understand that reproductive rights are part of the fight for economic justice.

    Citizen Action of New York


    Media, Pa.

    My weekly ritual of reading the Nation cover to cover on Monday was stymied last week when my postman left my mailbox door open on a soaker of a day. I got home eager for the week's insights only to find a soggy Nation limp in the box. Eek! I ran upstairs and spastically looked for options. My girlfriend with astonishment: "What the heck are you doing?" when she saw me using the hair dryer to dry my coveted pages one by one. Did you ever know how important your work is!


    Alexander Cockburn, Raffi Khatchadourian, Jason Leopold and Our Readers

  • Politics May 30, 2002

    A Clean, Green, Energy Machine

    A Clean, Green, Energy Machine

    Golden, Colo.

    I enjoyed Matt Bivens's April 15 "Fighting for America's Energy Independence," which is important in getting the vision and possibilities of renewable energy sources to the public. I have one small correction. Bivens says, "The Union of Concerned Scientists says 100 square miles in Nevada could produce enough solar electricity to power the nation." The actual land area is more like 10,000 square miles (a square 100 miles on a side) and the photovoltaic panels cover only half that land. My explanation of the calculation of that number is in the July 30, 1999, Science. Since then our energy use has grown, and the area is now almost 12,000 square miles (110 miles on a side)--still not a large area, when compared with the 45,000 square miles of land we've covered with paved roads.

    It is interesting to note, given the Freedom car announcement, that if you wanted to supply hydrogen for 200 million fuel-cell vehicles (current US fleet), you would need an area of only 3,600 square miles. This is not necessarily the way we should do it, but it is important to note that we have the technologies in hand to utilize the solar resource, should we wish to exploit it.

    National Renewable Energy Laboratory


    Matt Bivens's implicit assumption that so-called renewable energies have negligible external costs in relation to nuclear power is an often repeated canard. According to an exhaustive study by the European Union, the externalities of nuclear power are comparable to those of wind- or solar-generated electricity. The study calculates external costs on a euros-per-megawatt-hour basis for several means of generating electricity and finds that the basic premise of Bivens's article cannot be supported in Europe. Naturally, nuclear power also has the tremendous advantage of not being beholden to the weather and being able to provide a reliable base load, night and day, 24/7, 365 days a year. Many US nuclear power plants routinely operate continuously for more than a year without a glitch (see

    Simply put, to produce relatively small, unreliable amounts of electricity, renewable energies must consume large amounts of materials (some toxic, like selenium or cadmium for solar panels), land, natural resources and person-power. Nuclear power produces abundant power from small amounts of material, at small external costs, even when one accounts for the vanishingly small probability of accidents and the cost of waste disposal.



    Matt Bivens does not mention battery-powered vehicles, which have zero pollution and are now available as fleet vehicles (e.g., buses, trucks, rental cars). One company, Electric Fuel Corp. (, has demonstrated an electric bus using zinc/air batteries, which will power a loaded, air-conditioned bus over a full day's bus route.

    While the battery-powered (electric) bus is now available, a vehicle will not be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell in the near future. The current hydrogen fuel cell is many times the cost of an internal-combustion engine, and it is likely that the hydrogen fuel will be generated on board the vehicle from an oil derivative (e.g., methane), which will emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. It is high time that someone recognized the high cost and limited usefulness of the hydrogen fuel cell and the availability (today) of a zero-emission (all-electric) fleet vehicle (see the MIT January/February Technology Review).


    Belchertown, Mass.

    Matt Bivens leaves out the single most effective method of reducing dependence on fossil fuels: increased taxes on all types of fossil fuels (with tax rebates/credits for low-income households). History shows that the only truly effective way to reduce consumption of any good is to raise its price. Increased fossil fuel taxes will get all businesses and consumers to look hard for energy efficiency and alternative sources of energy. Look at the gasoline tax in Europe and then look at the types of cars people drive. Taxes on fuels will drive innovations in efficiency and alternative sources of energy more directly and efficiently than subsidies. Increased taxes will also reflect the true environmental costs of fossil fuels, something the "market" does not do now.


    Sarasota, Fla.

    Here in Florida (one of the most pesticide-polluted states in the nation) it is almost impossible to produce your own electricity with photovoltaic cells because it is too expensive. FP&L, the bandits making electricity, using a very polluting plant, don't want it to happen. Until March 18 you couldn't have a system because it was prohibited, prohibitive and you couldn't connect to the grid. Now you can, but it takes an investment of about $40,000. We subsidize the polluters while the program that offered about $16,000 back to people installing a solar system will not be renewed.

    Florida's governor, like his brother, is not an environmentalist. The only reason he doesn't want drilling along the coast of Florida is that it would be bad for tourism. I hope they will drill along the coast, as close as possible to the pristine beaches. Maybe then people will wake up and abandon their SUVs (Stupid Ugly Vehicles) and start thinking about the legacy they're leaving their kids. (I just exchanged a minivan for a Toyota hybrid.)

    Like most of the country, we are having a drought, but no one wants to force new constructions to install water caption from roofs with cisterns. My roof will collect 90,000 gallons of water a year, more than my wife and I need, with enough left over to irrigate our fruit trees. The stuff we do to our earth is crazy. Future generations will curse us all the way to hell, with good reasons.


    Lincoln, Ill.

    Matt Bivens's article is a "breath of fresh air." With Texas leading the way in windpower plants, and several states following, I am anxious to see the results of the two wind plants that are on the drawing board here in Illinois. To a citizen in a small community of 15,000-plus residents, this seems like a logical and safe way for our state, and our country, to get our energy. The obvious worry is of the reliability of wind to keep the turbines going, but with the billions upon billions the government spends on slowly killing us all, I think we should take a chance on it.


    Shoreline, Wash.

    Your cover graphic perfectly illustrates the behavior of most Americans regarding energy consumption/consumer habits. They're addicts. It says that the masses of Americans indulge in an orgy of consumption while engaging in a level of collective denial that would delight a totalitarian regime. Every day I see them: overweight Americans (usually alone) sucking on cigarettes and gobbling Big Macs while they careen down the ever-expanding highways in their gas-guzzling, pollution-belching SUVs. They're often waving American flags--their statement to the world that they are somehow entitled to binge on the world's finite resources.

    As Bivens points out, we have the knowledge to take another path, of energy independence, a much cleaner environment, a more sustainable economy, lives saved, other countries not exploited, wars averted--but one of reduced profits for the few in power. There's knowledge but lack of will. And such is the denial of the addict who lies, cheats, exploits and is hellbent on self-destruction. Such is the tragedy of the America that is unfolding in the twenty-first century.



    Washington, DC

    Please follow the advice of Boro Malinovic, and check out the Externe research project he cites. There you'll read: "A major EU-funded research study undertaken over the past 10 years has proven that the cost of producing electricity from coal or oil would double and the cost of electricity from gas would increase by 30 percent if external costs such as damage to the environment and to health were taken into account."

    So, this study backs up a key assertion
    of my article: Renewables are already cost-competitive, provided the market gets the prices right. Unfortunately, our market doesn't get the prices right, and instead subsidizes oil, gas and coal with billions of dollars of tax breaks and pork funding out of Washington, and less directly, by shifting to you and me the financial burden for illnesses and property destruction caused by pollution.

    The text then asserts that "nuclear power involves relatively low external costs due to its low influence on global warming and its low probability of accidents in the EU power plants. Wind and hydro energy present the lowest external costs." In other words: Even if you use a very forgiving methodology that assumes no nuclear accidents, wind power still beats nuclear power. Malinovic and Externe are too boosterish in arguing the low probability of nuclear accidents. After all, we have repeatedly heard since 9/11 that terrorists may hit our nuclear plants. And a Chernobyl comes with a helluva price tag.

    Even without acts of malice, our fleet of reactors is aging poorly. Perhaps Malinovic and Externe are unaware of the spate of nozzle cracks at reactors across America that have the NRC frightened; or of the six-inch hole discovered in the reactor vessel head at Ohio's Davis Beese nuclear power plant, where boric acid had eaten through the reactor roof. Yes, in March Ohio was three-eighths of an inch from a chain of possibilities ranging from bad to meltdown. A "vanishingly small probability of accidents"? Then let the nuclear industry buy its insurance on the open market like the rest of us instead of wheedling it out of the government like a bunch of Soviet-era factory directors.

    Malinovic worries about solar power's "large amounts" of toxics, like cadmium and selenium. Irresponsible nonsense. (Whenever a nuclear-power booster frets about "solar-power-generated toxic waste," hold on to your wallet.)

    George Douglas of the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) puts that into perspective. Even if we got a whopping 20 percent of our energy from solar power, he says, we would still come nowhere near to using as much cadmium for that as we do now in cell phone and digital videocamera batteries. In fact, cadmium we now toss away in the form of dead or obsolete rechargeable batteries can instead be recycled into solar panels--where it will sit, inert and safe, for the thirty-year life of the panel. Bottom line: Toxics are already out in the world, and dealt with routinely at levels many times that produced by solar power production. Malinovic is welcome to pursue his concern about cadmium proliferation and launch a campaign to mandate background checks and five-day waiting periods for purchasing cell phones. Perhaps next he will tackle a far scarier menace: the highly toxic and occasionally explosive mix of sulfuric acid--which eats through skin and clothing--with lead dioxide plates and molded polypropylene, otherwise known as the car battery, an institution that will dwarf, for all time, all hazardous-material disposal problems associated with solar power.

    Josh Bruns is hopeful for wind but worried about its being an intermittent power source. This is a drawback for both wind and solar power. But as John Turner of NREL observes, we could use solar-generated electricity to zap water and create hydrogen--which is another way of saying we are technologically prepared to store electricity. The hydrogen generated by wind farms at night could be poured into fuel cells by day, and the fuel cells could churn out electricity for everything from cars to factories. (I gratefully accept Turner's correction and update of the figure I cited from the UCS.) It's also worth noting that we have a grid that mixes electricity generated from all sorts of sources. So as the EPA has observed, a kilowatt-hour of solar PV capacity at work represents somewhere from 1,300 to 5,000 pounds of CO2 kept out of the air each year.

    Bill King says there are zinc/air battery-powered buses on the road, and that's a fine thing. But he is incorrect in asserting there are no fuel-cell vehicles; in fact, fuel-cell-powered buses are everywhere, from California to Chicago to Vancouver. (The January/February Technology Review has tons of articles about the rise of the fuel cell; nothing about zinc/air batteries.) The municipal bus is a very specific animal, however: It doesn't go fast, it has lots of room for monster engine structures, and no one minds plugging it in for several hours overnight. The real test will be personal autos, and the industry and science consensus is that fuel cells are the next step. King is correct in noting the debate over where the hydrogen comes from. Will it be made from water by wind-powered electrolysis? Someday, yes, but later is better than sooner for the oil-and-gas oligarchy. Will it in the meantime be made from hydrocarbons like methane and natural gas? Probably, because, again, that suits the oil companies. Will this happen at a factory--with resulting hydrogen pumped to filling stations and then to cars--or will it happen on board the car itself, with methane or natural gas pumped into the tank and then "re-formed" to hydrogen? Either way, harvesting hydrogen from natural gas or methane creates carbon dioxide pollution. But it creates far less than burning gasoline in internal combustion engines, it doesn't create other automobile exhaust pollutants, and it's still a huge step toward the wind-and-sun-fueled emission-free car.

    I appreciate the ire of Jean Renoux and Glenn Reed and the tax argument of John Mattar. It's good to be pissed off about these things. We are paying extra for the privilege of being made sick; we should demand a refund. But where I part ways with the left is in condemning SUVs, or thinking of ways to make people do what we want by taxing them. There's a much more positive argument to make: Charge the oil and gas companies and nuclear power utilities the full cost of their revenue-generating activities. Let them pay for at least some of the asthma hospital bills, the catastrophic nuclear accident insurance, the cleaning up of uranium mine tailings and for honest-to-goodness post-9/11 security along pipelines, at refineries and at reactor facilities. Phase those charges in at the right pace, and you'll see a pretty smooth market-driven, job-creating transition to a twenty-first-century, clean, terrorist-proof energy infrastructure.


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