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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.

    Our Readers

  • 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?


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  • 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.


    Matt Bivens and Our Readers

  • Politics May 23, 2002



    Cambridge, Mass.

    William Schulz, in his respectful but selectively critical review of "less than two of [Shouting Fire]'s 550 pages," misses the point of my proposal regarding torture warrants ["The Torturer's Apprentice," May 13]. I am against torture, and I am seeking ways of preventing or minimizing its use. My argument begins with the empirical claim--not the moral argument--that if an actual ticking bomb case were ever to arise in this country, torture would in fact be used. FBI and CIA sources have virtually acknowledged this. Does Schulz agree or disagree with this factual assertion? If it is true that torture would in fact be used, then the following moral question arises: whether it is worse in the choice of evils for this torture to take place off the books, under the radar screen and without democratic accountability--or whether it is worse for this torture to be subjected to democratic accountability by means of some kind of judicial approval and supervision. This is a difficult and daunting question, with arguments on all sides. In my forthcoming book Why Terrorism Works, I devote an entire chapter to presenting the complexity of this issue, rather than simply proposing it as a heuristic, as I did in the two pages of Shouting Fire on which Schulz focuses. Schulz simply avoids this horrible choice of evils by arguing that it does not exist and by opting for a high road that will simply not be taken in the event that federal agents believe they can actually stop a terrorist nuclear or bioterrorist attack by administering nonlethal torture.

    Schulz asks whether I would also favor "brutality warrants," "testilying" warrants and prisoner rape warrants. The answer is a heuristic "yes," if requiring a warrant would subject these horribly brutal activities to judicial control and political accountability. The purpose of requiring judicial supervision, as the Framers of our Fourth Amendment understood better than Schulz does, is to assure accountability and judicial neutrality. There is another purpose as well: It forces a democratic country to confront the choice of evils in an open way. My question back to Schulz is, Do you prefer the current situation, in which brutality, testilying and prison rape are rampant, but we close our eyes to these evils?

    There is, of course, a downside: legitimating a horrible practice that we all want to see ended or minimized. Thus we have a triangular conflict unique to democratic societies: If these horrible practices continue to operate below the radar screen of accountability, there is no legitimation, but there is continuing and ever-expanding sub rosa employment of the practice. If we try to control the practice by demanding some kind of accountability, we add a degree of legitimation to it while perhaps reducing its frequency and severity. If we do nothing, and a preventable act of nuclear terrorism occurs, then the public will demand that we constrain liberty even more. There is no easy answer.

    I praise Amnesty International for taking the high road--that is its job, because it is not responsible for making hard judgments about choices of evil. Responsible government officials are in a somewhat different position. Professors have yet a different responsibility: to provoke debate about issues before they occur and to challenge absolutes. That is what Shouting Fire is all about.



    New York City

    Neither I nor Amnesty International can be accused of having closed our eyes to the reality of torture, police brutality or prison rape. Of course, some authorities may utilize torture under some circumstances, just as others choose to take bribes. The question is, What is the best way to eradicate these practices? By regulating them or outlawing them and enforcing the law? That an evil seems pervasive or even (at the moment) inevitable is no reason to grant it official approval. We tried that when it came to slavery, and the result was the Civil War. Had we applied Professor Dershowitz's approach to child labor, American 10-year-olds would still be sweating in shops.



    Princeton, N.J.

    Christopher Hitchens argues that "suicide murders would increase and not decrease" if a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians moved closer to reality ["Minority Report," May 13]. This claim seems to bolster Sharon's cataclysmic "war on terror" in the occupied territories: If terrorists seek to destroy peace and only feed on Israel's generosity and sincerity, surely Sharon is correct to eliminate "terror" as a precondition for negotiations?

    In fact, the Oslo process has moved the Palestinians further from the goal of a viable state, and the Israeli left's best offers to date (at Camp David and Taba) envisage the annexation of the vast majority of settlers to Israel in perpetuity along with blocs of land, which would fatally compromise a nascent Palestine. As for Hitchens's observation that the first suicide bombings coincided with the Rabin/Peres government: How does this undermine the explanation that Israel's prolonged oppression has created and fueled the bombers? Rabin and Peres imposed a curfew on Palestinians rather than Israeli settlers after the murder of twenty-nine Arabs by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron early in 1994 (the first suicide bombing was in response to this); they sent death squads into the West Bank and Gaza to kill militants and those who happened to be in their vicinity (the wave of suicide bombings in the spring of 1996 followed one such assassination); and they greatly expanded the settlements, contributing their share to the broader trend of illegal settlement expansion that's doubled the number of Israelis living across the Green Line since 1992.

    Hitchens's promotion of a "culture war" between religious extremists and secular opponents of "thuggery and tribalism" obfuscates the reality of Israel's prolonged and enduring oppression of Palestinians. His argument that a more generous Israeli policy would lead to more Palestinian violence, meanwhile, serves to legitimize Sharon's current tactics. How did such a clearsighted commentator become so myopic? Perhaps if Hitchens stopped looking at every situation through the lens of the "war on terror," he'd regain his former clarity of vision.



    Washington, DC

    I share Eric Alterman's admiration for the work of biographer Robert Caro ["Stop the Presses," May 6]. But why does Alterman feel compelled to refer to Lyndon Johnson as a "thoroughgoing racist"? Johnson was a white man born in 1908 in the most racist region of the most racist country on earth. He was born in a time and place where racism was accepted as part of the atmosphere, where lynching was commonplace, where black people led lives of unimaginable degradation (see Leon Litwack's Trouble in Mind, a portrait of the early twentieth-century Jim Crow South, which has to be read to be believed).

    Of course, given his background, political ambitions and ineligibility for sainthood, Johnson used racist language and shared racist assumptions. Who from that time and place, wanting what he wanted, did not? But what distinguishes Johnson, at all stages in his public career, was his relative lack of public racism. Johnson was a New Deal Congressman from 1937 to '48 who never strayed from loyalty to the national Democratic Party even though conservative Texas Democrats were in revolt against it from 1944 onward. Of course, running for the Senate against a Dixiecrat in 1948 as Southern resistance to civil rights was beginning to build, he opposed the Truman civil rights program. That was the minimum required to be elected to Texas statewide office. Given the pathological ferocity of Johnson's ambition, sticking with Truman for re-election, as Johnson did, took guts that year. As a senator, Johnson was never identified as a leader of the Southern bloc or as an enemy of civil rights. Again, especially in public, he said and did the political minimum to pay homage to the racist consensus. Caro evidently describes his involvement in the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the forerunner of all the other civil rights laws to come. Texas black and Hispanic voters never doubted that, given the alternatives, LBJ was their man.

    Johnson later became the greatest civil rights President in history, pushing through the epochal changes in the laws, appointing Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court and going so far as to vet prospective federal judges with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Blacks who worked with him, like Roger Wilkins, remember him fondly while acknowledging his ancestral racism, which he tried, not always successfully, to transcend. But if Johnson is a "thoroughgoing racist," where does that leave Richard Russell, James Eastland or Strom Thurmond--or Richard Nixon, for that matter? What about Barry Goldwater, who was probably less "racist" than Johnson but was an opponent of all civil rights legislation and was the leader of the forces of unrepentant segregation (i.e., racist murder and oppression) in 1964?

    As with Abraham Lincoln, also now under renewed attack on similarly ahistorical grounds, to describe Johnson as an extreme racist flattens the historical landscape and renders the fierce conflicts of a past age meaningless. There is nothing wrong with honestly describing anybody's racial views, including those of Lincoln or Johnson. But in studying history, context is everything. And in studying Lincoln or Johnson, what matters most is not the ways they shared their contemporaries' racial attitudes but the ways they did not, as reflected in their words and actions.



    New York City

    There's a bit of hyperbole in Peter Connolly's thoughtful letter, and I disagree with his point about it taking guts to stick with the Democratic President, but by and large I think his criticism is on the mark, and I appreciate it. He is right. Context is everything. Johnson may have been a racist, but unlike most politicians in his time and place he was not a "race man." That's an important distinction, and I wish I had considered it.


    Eric Alterman, William F. Schulz and Our Readers

  • Politics May 16, 2002



    Longwood, Fla.

    I just finished Studs Terkel's valentine to Dennis Kucinich ["Kucinich Is the One," May 6]. In the '60s I was on the copy desk of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, back when you edited with a thick black pencil and would cut and paste copy, literally, using big shears to cut and goo in a white coffee mug to paste. Dennis was a copy boy back then. He was a smartass--my emphasis is on "smart." Anyone with an ounce of brains could see that he was destined to be much more than a factory worker or, worse, a Midwestern newspaperman. Studs, I'm with you. I'd love to see Dennis debate Dubya. Go, Dennis, go.



    In his admirable eloquence espousing Dennis Kucinich for national office, Studs Terkel says that three Ohioans became President after Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81): William McKinley (elected in 1896), William Howard Taft (1908) and Warren G. Harding (1920). There's one more: James Garfield, elected in 1880 but assassinated only months after taking office.

    I have long admired Kucinich. If there's a bandwagon for his national ambitions, I'd like to know where to sign up. Here in Minnesota, where Paul Wellstone has his hands full this year against a slippery Republican, I'm looking for a national progressive leader, and Kucinich just might be that person.


    Sunset Beach, Calif.

    Kucinich for President? Sounds better than condemning Congress to pruning the Shrub for four more years. But why not go all out? Put Jim Hightower on the ticket with him. Then Dubya just might not be able to take Texas for granted. And if you think a Kucinich-Bush debate would be a first round knockout, how would you classify Hightower-Cheney?



    Washington, DC

    I agree with many points made by former Senator Paul Simon ["Social Security Fixes," April 29]. While Social Security is projected to face modest financial challenges in several decades, it is emphatically not in crisis. And I agree that privatization will make Social Security's shortfall much worse.

    However, I strongly dissent from Senator Simon's support for reducing cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). I also want to build on the point Simon raised about the cap on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax.

    I have introduced legislation, HR 3315, the Social Security Stabilization and Enhancement Act, that has been certified by the Social Security actuaries as restoring seventy-five-year solvency to the program (for more information, see HR 3315 includes a provision to eliminate the cap on wages (currently $84,900) subject to the Social Security payroll tax, as Simon suggests. All wages are already subject to the Medicare payroll tax. It only makes sense to do the same for Social Security. However, my legislation does retain the cap for determining benefit calculations, which makes it much more progressive and still entitles all contributors to a benefit. These changes equal 2.13 percent of payroll, more than enough to solve the projected Social Security financing deficit of 1.87 percent of payroll.

    My legislation also exempts the first $4,000 in wages from the Social Security payroll tax, but not from calculation of benefits, so there's no benefit cut. The bottom line is that 95 percent of Americans would get a payroll tax cut.

    HR 3315 also includes a provision allowing aggregate investment of a portion of the Social Security Trust Fund in equities other than government debt, to increase the rate of return received by the Trust Fund without the individual risk and administrative complexity of privatization. Unfortunately, while the response from Oregonians about HR 3315 has been overwhelmingly positive, it has been tough to interest progressives inside the Beltway.

    I encourage Senator Simon to reconsider his support for lowering the CPI and thus reducing the COLAs of Social Security beneficiaries. The current CPI does a poor job of measuring inflation faced by seniors. Because seniors spend much of their money on healthcare, they are especially vulnerable to the annual increases in the medical costs, which run far above the rate of inflation. Rather than lowering COLAs for seniors because some economists argue the CPI overstates inflation for the general population, it makes more sense for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate a separate CPI for seniors. In fact, the BLS has calculated an experimental index based on seniors' consumption habits since 1984. It shows that seniors face an average inflation rate 0.4 percent higher than the general population. That argues for increasing seniors' COLAs, not lowering them.

    Member of Congress, 4th District, Oregon


    Carbondale, Ill.

    Peter DeFazio is an excellent Congressman, and his proposal is an improvement over where we are now. The actuaries disagree with his conclusion that we face "modest financial challenges in several decades." DeFazio may be correct, but when it comes to the basic income of so many millions of Americans I would err on the side of caution. His proposal to eliminate the cap but retain the ceiling on benefits is good. Exempting the first $4,000 of income makes our tax system more progressive, which I like, but reduces the long-term benefits of buttressing the system, which I do not like. The CPI should be accurate, and recent increases in healthcare costs for seniors may offset the failures to consider substitution, generic drugs and other factors that also must be calculated. But accuracy should be the goal, and that may involve a slight slowing of growth of benefits.

    Director, Public Policy Institute


    Conway, Mass.

    Is John Nichols ["Campaign Finance: The Sequel," April 29] unaware that, in addition to Maine, Arizona and Massachusetts, Vermont has an effective Clean Elections law? The 2000 gubernatorial campaign of Progressive Party candidate Anthony Pollina under that law came within one percentage point of forcing the election to be decided by the Vermont legislature. Nichols's reference to clean money election roadblocks erected by Massachusetts House speaker Tom Finneran begs amplification. Finneran's demagoguery, like that of Tom DeLay in Washington, defines the clean money struggle. The problem is not the buying of favors but politicians extracting money to maintain their abusive and undemocratic power.

    Nichols correctly concludes that McCain-Feingold falls far short of reform, as will any such window-dressing initiative in Congress. Change, as Pollina said during his campaign, will have to come from the states, and it's time other states join these four, which have set this country on a historic course of true reform.


    Oakland, Calif.; Boston

    John Nichols is correct to highlight a new "sense of possibility" since the passage of McCain-Feingold. Campaign finance reform finally does have the public's attention, and full public funding is on the horizon. Equally important, the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, the Greenlining Institute and others have done the critical work of redefining campaign reform as a civil rights issue. Still, the movement has been missing an important element, present in most other successful US movements for justice: the creative grassroots action of college students. Democracy Matters is a new campus-based organization that is mobilizing popular pressure from college students to get private money out of politics (



    Altadena, Calif.

    Susan Douglas's "Is There a Future for Pacifica?" [April 15] posits two polarized factions at war over the Pacifica Foundation radio network, then reasonably urges us to bring a unified Pacifica to bear upon common foes. In fact, people from all sides of the recent disputes are now working together to advance its mission for antiwar, cross-cultural, community-based free-speech programming. Why the unity? Magnanimity and openness. This is the first transition of power in Pacifica's fifty-three years that has not resulted in a purge. Some have left, but nobody's been fired, and the few who left got agreeable severance packages. Those remaining enjoy the rejuvenated community involvement.

    But there are lessons. Many who haughtily "avoided the fray" carefully protected their own personal privilege and airtime, even while the foundation's coffers were being openly looted. Conversely, others sacrificed jobs, money and personal privilege to gain broader community control over Pacifica. Equating these two cheapens the sacrifices of some and unfairly assuages the guilt of others. But that's history to learn from, not to relive.

    The issue now is not who did more but who is doing anything now and what still needs to be done. So instead of staying above the fray, those interested in Pacifica should jump in with both feet and help realize its potential. Unlike our predecessors, we welcome all who support Pacifica's mission, even those who once barred us from entering the stations.

    Interim Pacifica Advisory Board;
    KPFK local advisory board

    Tarentum, Pa.

    Your magazine is thin enough. Please don't waste any more space on Pacifica.




    In her review of my book Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut ["The Fishnet Fallacy," April 15], Elaine Blair accuses me of neglecting to talk about "what the rest of the school is thinking" when spreading rumors about these girls. In her reading (skimming?) Blair seems to have missed entire sections dedicated to the stories of kids who spread rumors. In fact, the whole book is built around my own memory of spreading rumors. While Blair wants to know what the kids were "thinking," the point of Fast Girls is that they weren't thinking--which is why I use words like "irrational" and "unconscious" throughout the book. Blair ends her slam by launching into her own memory of a girl who fit the "slut story." While this memory was clearly triggered by my book, and while Blair even borrows my language to fill it out ("the site of the slut's continuous re-creation, the high school hallways"), she still insists I haven't done my job.

    It's interesting to consider Blair's review alongside other slams of feminist writing in The Nation (Katha Pollitt on Carol Gilligan, Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels on Naomi Wolf). Maybe it's a vast left-wing conspiracy: It seems whenever a feminist writes a book, The Nation runs a review that says she shouldn't have.


    Our Readers

  • Politics May 2, 2002



    New York City

    As a longtime admirer of André Schiffrin's publishing programs, I was disappointed by a conspicuous omission in his coverage of developments in the book industry ["The Eurocrush on Books," Dec. 31, 2001]. The single most significant technological development to affect publishing since, arguably, the paperback revolution is the maturing of print-on-demand technology. Print-on-demand publishing, when applied to deep backlist (i.e., older) books, means that publishers need not put a book out of print or overprint it by the hundreds or thousands. Presses can now simply meet demand as it arises, whether a single copy or a hundred. Print-on-demand technology renders the economies of scale that have so fettered publishers--particularly such publishers of serious nonfiction as university presses and Schiffrin's New Press--largely obsolete, to the advantage of all.

    At Oxford University Press, we have breathed new life into literally thousands of dormant books, much to the delight of our authors and of readers and booksellers everywhere. We, and many other presses, both commercial and academic, are simply applying new technologies to do what we do best: publish good books and, now, with print-on-demand, keep them available ad infinitum.

    Oxford University Press


    Pasadena, Calif.

    Gee, it's heartening to see reviews of poetry by women, especially those working in an experimental vein [Eileen Myles, "Not Betsy Rosses," March 11]. I hope The Nation plans more coverage of the subversive issues that these poets explore: power, ideology and subjectivity at the levels of syntax of everyday language, (non)aestheticized ideas of composition and the disruption of, to paraphrase the poet Martha Ronk, the easy-to-digest, like breast milk or nostalgia--in effect, the Romantic project that has dominated US literary consciousness.

    It may be useful to readers of Dodie Bellamy's Cunt-Ups to go beyond Myles's characterization of it as a book that "uses overtly sexual texts, her own and ones written by others" to turn to the author's statement in Issue 7 of Chain, the premiere literary journal of experimental poetry, where Bellamy wrote, "I used a variety of texts written by myself and others, including the police report of Jeffrey Dahmer's confession (which I bought on eBay).... I cut each page of this material into four squares. For each Cunt-Up I chose two or three squares from my own source text, and one or two from the other sources. I taped the new Frankenstein page together, typed it into my computer and then re-worked the material. Oddly, even though I've spent up to four hours on each Cunt-Up, afterwards I cannot recognize them--just like in sex, intense focus and then sensual amnesia. They enter the free zone of writing; they have cut their own ties to the writer. She no longer remembers them as her text." Then Bellamy asks provocatively: "Is the cut-up a male form? I've always considered it so--needing the violence of a pair of scissors in order to reach nonlinearity," and she devilishly continues by claiming that her finished poems remind her of Adrienne Rich's "Twenty-One Love Poems," which begin:

    Whenever in this city, screens flicker
    with pornography, with science-fiction vampires

    and concludes by dedicating her Cunt-Ups to Rich and "to Kathy Acker, who I was reading when I started the project and who inspired me to behave this badly."



    Mendocino, Calif.

    Taline Voskeritchian's fine review "Lines Beyond the Nakba" [Feb. 11] points out that there are almost no translations of Mahmoud Darwish's poetry in English but doesn't mention that Darwish's prose is also his poetry. I would like to recommend Memory for Forgetfulness/August, Beirut, 1982 to readers who wish to learn more about the blending of Darwish's prose, poetry and poetic sensibilities. In the introduction to his translation, Ibrahim Muhawi, following talks with the poet, points out that Darwish does not distinguish aesthetically between prose and poetry. This will become readily apparent while reading one of the world's great meditations on life in the face of death.



    Ossining, N.Y.

    Hats off to The Nation and Meredith Tax for giving Ursula Le Guin her due ["In the Year of Harry Potter, Enter the Dragon," Jan. 28]. When Harry Potter failed to grab me, I wondered if I had a wizard allergy. To test the idea I turned to A Wizard of Earthsea. It delighted me, and it taught me that, as Tax notes, "style is key in fantasy." Tax's discussion of the literalness of most modern fantasy is right on target. Certainly "fantasy" films (e.g., Star Wars) have contributed to this hard-edged realism, with their need to fill every frame with concrete detail. Although I wish Le Guin riches in royalties, I like to think of her work as defying translation to film. Thanks for telling us about Tales From Earthsea. I plan to request it for my seventy-fifth birthday.



    Albany, N.Y.

    John Leonard's "The Jewish Cossack" [Nov. 26, 2001] is a truly wise and erudite review of Isaac Babel's life and work against the background of the epic nightmare of Russian literature in the twentieth century. However, when he mentions that Bruno Schultz was murdered about the same time as Isaac Babel, some may not be aware that Bruno Schultz, a Jew like Babel, who brought radical and fresh depth to the Polish language, was shot by the Nazis in a ghetto in eastern Poland. His death has to be properly assigned to the other murderous ideology of Europe.


    Brookline, Mass.

    As the author of Tangled Loyalties, a biography of Ilya Ehrenburg, I would like to clarify several aspects of the friendship John Leonard alludes to between Isaac Babel and Ehrenburg. After citing Ehrenburg's loving remarks about Babel in his memoirs, Leonard implies that Ehrenburg "wouldn't say so in public until it was safe," as if Ehrenburg would acknowledge his closeness to Babel only once Stalin was dead. But it was Ehrenburg, during the First Soviet Writers' Congress, in 1934, who defended Babel for publishing so little. In 1939, following Babel's arrest, only Ehrenburg's secretary came to Babel's Moscow wife, Antonina Pirozhkova, and gave her money.

    Ehrenburg was in Paris when Babel was arrested, but he was not in Paris for convenience, as Leonard implies. As Stalin was negotiating with Hitler, Ehrenburg's articles stopped appearing in the Soviet press; he was too much the Jew and the outspoken opponent of Fascism. Following the signing of the Nonaggression Pact, Ehrenburg lost the ability to swallow solid food for eight months and prolonged his stay in Paris to protest Stalin's new alliance. Leonard seems to think Ehrenburg was never that vulnerable. But in the spring of 1940, his dacha in Peredelkino was taken, and he was publicly condemned as a defector, leaving his daughter Irina the subject of abusive late-night phone calls that could have come only from one source.

    Leonard also refers to Ehrenburg's troubling encounters with Evgenia Gronfein, Babel's first wife, who lived in Paris for many years. It was cruel for Ehrenburg, in 1956, to tell her so abruptly about Babel's other widow and daughter in Moscow and to ask her to sign a statement that she and Babel were divorced, which wasn't true. I am convinced that he wanted to preserve Pirozhkova's status as Babel's legitimate widow (and heir) in Moscow. He always brought her copies of Western editions of Babel's works (I saw scores in her Moscow apartment in 1984), just as he brought foreign editions of Doctor Zhivago to Pasternak's family. Pirozhkova remained devoted to Ehrenburg, in part because of his solicitude for her and her family. When he died in 1967, she sat with his widow at the funeral and often stayed with her at the dacha. Ehrenburg could not save Babel, but, next to Babel's wives and children, he did more to preserve his memory and make his work available to generations who were supposed to have forgotten him.




    Thank you, thank you, thank you, to Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels, for their review of Naomi Wolf's latest excretion, Misconceptions (oh, the delicious irony of the title that is apt in unintended ways) ["The Belly Politic," Nov. 26, 2001]. I urge women and friends of women everywhere to send this review to anyone interested or implicated in the debate about essentialist views of pregnancy and motherhood. Wolf's book is as pernicious as it is narcissistic, for two reasons: She is (was?) considered a feminist, and it is hard to argue with the authority of experience. If a writer speaks with the authority of the first person, especially the persuasive and pseudo-confessional narrative of self-discovery, it is usually cited as hard proof. The last thing women need is for a high-profile so-called feminist to start spouting essentialism. Her book can, and no doubt will, be used against women who try to put forward a different narrative of pregnancy. Here's a book by one of you feminists, we will be told. Read this and it will make you see what you should be feeling. If a feminist admits she has cuddle hormones and needs a man, then that must be what is best for all women, right? Wolf may not have intended for her narrative to be used against women who argue for a different experience of pregnancy, but that's exactly what will happen, and she must take responsibility for how her book will be used in the ongoing motherhood debates.



    Santa Monica, Calif.

    My 88-year-old writing partner, Irv Brecher, had a rough week, losing two friends. And then he went to the Milton Berle funeral without me, the bastard. Jan Murray spoke ("way too fucking long," said Irv, "not offended" that he wasn't asked), and Red Buttons said some things. Rickles too. Larry Gelbart read a wonderful tribute.

    "It was a show," Irv said. "It went two and a half hours, and then we all went over to the Rainbow Room for a feast at 4 o'clock."

    Irv said both Gelbart and Sid Caesar came over and asked him why he didn't speak, since Milton Berle gave Irv his first job writing gags for him at the Loews State Theater in Manhattan, in March of 1933. Here's what Irv told me about his friend Milton: "He was, after all, 93. He had a great life. He was an original, outstanding at his craft, and he taught them all. I might not be here if it weren't for him. Your life turns on not only what you do, but what everyone else does."

    About being at the Hillside cemetery Irv said, "The way it is these days, when I go there I leave the motor running."

    "Are you going to Billy Wilder's funeral?" I asked him. (Irv and Billy took morning walks together around Holmby Park in Westwood for years. I wondered if they talked about writing and great filmmaking, etc. He told me no, "Wilder did birdcalls mostly, and the birds sneered at him.")

    "No," Irv replied. "I'm not going to his funeral. And I'm trying to arrange not going to mine either." I was wondering what Red Buttons had said when Irv told me this about life and death: "When you're 88, time is of the essence. At my age, hurry."


    Our Readers

  • Politics April 25, 2002



    Rocky River, Ohio

    I was unable to digest William Greider's "Enron Democrats" [April 8]. It's important to know about Dems who had Enron ties, but to consider them unacceptable as presidential candidates is nonsense. Any potential candidate will have liabilities, but comparison on issues is what's necessary. Progressive Democrats always manage to damage potential candidates who aren't "perfect," which makes a unified response to the right impossible. Let me introduce you to the real world. It's OK to feel guilty that these Democrats did not do the right thing, but shooting ourselves in the foot is not the way to relieve our guilt. It just might be the way to support the right wing.


    Issaquah, Wash.

    William Greider is right on: We do have a problem of viable candidates in the Democratic Party. Here's a list of those I believe could get the job done, based on speaking ability and intact ethics: John Kerry, Russ Feingold, Mark Udall, Dennis Kucinich and Chaka Fattah. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt may be qualified but won't get the votes, and our erstwhile ex-VP has taken far too much money from Enron to even be considered.



    "Enron Democrats" explains why I left the Democratic Party in the early 1990s. As near as I can tell, the main difference between Democrats and Republicans in economic matters is that the Democrats feel sheepish about doing the bidding of big business while the Republicans consider it a virtue.


    New York City

    I enjoyed William Greider's article, including his mention of Terry McAuliffe's overlapping role at Global Crossing. The political intricacies of Global Crossing are astonishing, given its five-year history relative to Enron's seventeen-year one.

    Global Crossing isn't simply the fourth-largest US telecommunications-industry bankruptcy; it leads the list of telecommunications bankruptcies of more than $60 billion filed just in the past year. This list includes ancient darlings like Exodus, Winstar, PSInet and 360 networks. It may grow to include Qwest and Worldcom as the SEC and Congressional investigations gain steam. It may also include XO and Metromedia, tottering under heavy debt. A major Democratic Party cause of this meltdown was Bill Clinton, who signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Republican Tom Bliley, chairman of the House energy and commerce committee at the time (and buddy of Leo Hindery, ex-CEO of Global Crossing) helped. Both lobbied the WTO to pass their 1998 telecommunications liberalization rules, which allowed the globalization of deregulated networks.

    Global Crossing's Republican ties also include co-chairman Lodwrick Cook's $862,000 election gift for George Bush Senior's 1988 presidential campaign while he was CEO of ARCO, the seventh-largest oil company. Republican ex­Defense Secretary William Cohen sat on Global Crossing's board as he helped pass key defense initiatives enabling growth of its fiber optic networks. Global Crossing Development gave more than 62 percent of its $1.33 million political donations to the GOP. Gary Winnick and Cook are trustee and board member, respectively, of the George W. Bush Library foundation. Campaign finance reform may help untangle future corporate-government ties but will unfortunately not undo the myriad of past bipartisan damage.



    Worcester, Mass.

    Katha Pollitt was dead right in identifying and roundly criticizing the hypocrisy and immorality of contemporary religion, from Boston's Cardinal Law to violent fundamentalists of all stripes ["God Changes Everything," April 1]. The question, however, is what all this tells us about the nature of religion in general; and my hunch is that it tells us very little. A
    lot of people use their religion to justify all sorts of horrible things; but a lot of people use their religion to justify all sorts of progressive, positive things.

    "God changes everything" for Rabbis for Human Rights and for the West Bank settlers, for engaged Buddhists working for peace and ecology and for Buddhists who fight with Hindus in Sri Lanka, for courageous Christian peacemakers like the Mennonites and Sant'Egidio and for Osama bin Laden. The problem is not with religion; and the problem with religious violence and suppression is violence and suppression, not religion. I imagine Pollitt would be irritated if we talked about how "the secular changes everything" and by implication lumped Stalin with Eugene Debs, Margaret Thatcher with Robin Morgan, and Henry Kissinger with Ralph Nader. The secular IMF, World Bank and WTO can match the destructiveness of any crazed Islamic, Jewish or Christian fanatic. In our tortured time, religion has not cornered the market on sin, nor secular politics, on virtue.


    Kingston, R.I.

    God and his/her/its adherents can be blamed for much human misery, but they've had lots of help from nonbelievers. There is Nicolae Ceausescu, Idi Amin, Jonas Savimbi, Slobodan Milosevic, Roberto D'Aubuisson, Gen. Rios Montt (a born-again Christian but not killing in God's name), not to mention Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, the rulers of Red China. And those are just a few of the twentieth-century butchers. None of these blood-stained "leaders" benefited their compatriots, nor was any god the inspiration for their murderous acts. Clearly, human beings don't need a deus ex machina to take the blame for their violence.


    Northampton, Mass.

    Too bad Andrea Yates wasn't a priest. Had she been, the Catholic Church would have moved her quietly to another town where she could have begun another family; she would have been assured a living wage and become a pillar of spiritual and moral leadership until the next time her psychosis overtook her. She would have had the backing of a powerful and moneyed patriarchal institution pressuring the community to suffer her crimes in silence. Instead, the delusional Mrs. Yates will pay dearly for killing her children in an attempt to save them from the devil, while those sane priests who harm children for pleasure will be flanking Cardinal Law at the bake sale to pay off their legal debts.


    South Orange, N.J.

    Every time I read Katha Pollitt I have one comment, and "God Changes Everything" was no exception: Amen.



    Los Angeles

    In "The Politics of Ethics" [April 8], Randy Cohen levels two laughable and false charges against Reason magazine. First, he asserts that Reason is "right wing," lumping us in with the weekend Wall Street Journal, The American Spectator and National Review. That Reason is right wing is news to me. We have praised vulgar culture as liberatory, argued that illegal drugs can be used responsibly and should be legalized, and raised serious civil liberties concerns regarding the war on terrorism. We support gay marriage, open immigration, choice and human biotech--none of which was particularly popular on the right the last time I checked. To be sure, we're not left wing, either; authoritarianism, wearing a Che beret or a bishop's miter, leaves us as cold as Lenin's corpse. But I'd expect a professional ethicist to understand that American politics is not simply the bipolar, manic-depressive spectacle it often seems to be.

    Second, Cohen mischaracterizes Reason's critique of his column. "There was something particularly vituperative about these screeds," writes Cohen of his detractors en masse, also referring to "the virulence of these attacks." Make no mistake: In 1999 Reason panned his "Ethicist" column as trivial, but the critique is made in measured tones, with ample evidence. Unless Cohen believes that to criticize him is inherently virulent and vituperative--alas, a position held by windbags irrespective of ideology--I'd say he's mistaken. In fact, I'm tempted to say he's willfully mistaken. The alternative is that he's simply delusional. (Nation readers can judge for themselves by reading the Reason column at

    editor in chief, Reason


    New York City

    It seems to me that the only people absorbed by the precise taxonomy of Reason are its editors and its readers, assuming it has readers. What insensitive American was it who, when asked what his countrymen think of Canada, replied: "Well, er, we don't"?



    Brooklyn, N.Y.

    Like Jonathan Schell ["Letter From Ground Zero," April 1], I too was born, raised, live in and love New York City and am worried about the destruction of this incredible place and its people. But he offers no prescription for having the iconic city of the Western world de-targeted by terrorists. Instead he frets about the Nuclear Posture Review, which will "inspire those targeted to do likewise to us."

    Aren't we already targets of these nations, as they finance and supply terrorists? The difference between a fuel-laden plane crashing into a skyscraper and a nuclear weapon detonating in a shipping container is one of the magnitude of destruction; it is not a question of motive or intent. The intent to destroy us is already present, as it was in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and in every attack before and since.

    Leo Szilard was right; nuclear weapons will eventually be available to all. During the cold war, the Soviet Union had a lot to lose in a nuclear exchange, just as we did--the primary reason a nuclear war never occurred. But the ghettos of the Middle East, Africa and every other poor place on earth produce people who feel they have nothing to lose. The terrorists and some of their state sponsors are not interested in our world. They don't just want to be left alone or to get along, they want us gone. We face nihilistic, theologically extreme enemies. No amount of negotiation will yield the results they seek, so we will not be de-targeted.

    The prescription must have three components: a strong defense, a renewed commitment to nonproliferation and a long-term commitment to lifting the poor out of their misery. A strong defense requires us to signal potential enemies that they will lose everything, including their states and lives, if they are governments supporting terrorism (the reason the Nuclear Posture Review was leaked), and we must capture or kill terrorists. Nonproliferation must be pursued not because it is effective but because it is right. And while not generally effective, the treaties and negotiations surrounding nonproliferation may be useful tools. A long-term commitment to lift the poor out of their misery will require us to change the way we interact with the world, and it will require the rise of local leaders who have the best interests of their people in mind, another factor we must gently nurture.


    Our Readers