We knew that Danny Kohl's "GM Foods--Another View" [April 16], on genetically modified organism (GMO) technology used in food production, would provoke controversy, and we weren't disappointed. Below are edited versions of some of the letters that flooded in.
East Ryegate, Vt.
GMO technology epitomizes the contempt for life that is the basis of science and capitalism. Asian children do not need bioengineered "golden rice" to meet their vitamin A requirement. As the World Bank has acknowledged, eating leafy greens daily does the job, cheaply and efficiently, as Asian families have done for millennia. So why the vitamin A deficiency crisis? It was the Green Revolution, which came from the United States in the sixties, that destroyed families' access to a diversity of field greens. Its "miracle" monocultures displaced cultivated greens from grain fields, while its herbicides killed off the wild greens ("weeds") traditionally harvested along with crops.
Vitamin A deficiency, the most easily and cheaply remedied of the deficiency diseases, signals environmental degradation and poverty. GMOs will remedy neither. Food-based education projects, however, are already helping 3 million people in India combat vitamin A deficiency through home gardening and also by increasing diversity in their diets, to combat the malnutrition of which vitamin A is symptomatic. But few are willing to acknowledge the role of science and technology in degrading the environment and impoverishing the multitudes.
We in the First World face a moral challenge, which is to acknowledge that in our contempt for life, in our claim to be "conquering nature," we are destroying humanity and nature, in effect cutting off the branch on which we sit.
Danny Kohl's suggestion that genetically altered "golden" rice is the answer for the condition of 2 million children at risk of vitamin A deficiency-induced blindness reveals a tremendous naïveté. Vitamin A deficiency is a symptom, a warning sign of broader dietary inadequacies associated with poverty and with agricultural change from diverse cropping systems to rice monoculture. People do not have vitamin A deficiency because rice contains too little vitamin A but because their diet has been reduced to rice and almost nothing else. A magic-bullet solution that puts beta carotene into rice--with potential health and ecological hazards--while leaving poverty, poor diets and extensive monoculture intact, is unlikely to make any durable contribution to well-being.
Kohl argues that the development of golden rice was "supported entirely by the public sector and philanthropic funds." He fails to mention that all rights have been granted to corporate giant Astra Zeneca, which plans to market it in industrialized countries as a "nutraceutical" (food containing a pharmaceutical agent), while making it available free of extra charges above normal improved-seed costs to those poor farmers in the Third World who can demonstrate that their annual rice sales are below a magic threshold ($5,000 was suggested). Should the farmers bring their tax returns to the seed shop? Most peasant farmers have never paid taxes and probably don't have an identity card or proper title to their land. Nor do they usually buy expensive seeds, preferring to save their own for the next planting. And who would administer this anyway? Get serious.
PETER M. ROSSET
Food First/Institute for Food
and Development Policy
Danny Kohl's call to separate ideology from science or empiricism isn't possible--or desirable. All science occurs in a context; no empiricism is free from ideology. Biotechnology is no more value-free than nuclear power or automobile technology. Starvation is a social disease--caused mainly by poverty, poor food distribution and the conversion of farmland to other purposes. The pursuit of technofixes for hunger, even by well-intentioned scientists, as Kohl proposes, will lead us right back to the golden rice and Starlink messes we have now. The plight of the planet's 800 million starving people can't be addressed by science, absent the real world of political context. Did we learn nothing from the mistakes of the Green Revolution?
Kohl accuses critics of "indiscriminately rejecting GMO technologies," when that rejection is in fact frequently careful, responsible and science-based. The ceaseless promotion of a science that is not ready for prime time deserves more, not less criticism. While Dr. Kohl might well long for a pure examination of this infant science without messy ideological debates, it just can't be done.
Council for Responsible Genetics
When African delegates to a United Nations conference saw images of starving African children used in Monsanto ads claiming that genetic engineering is critical to feeding the poor, they wrote in response, "We...strongly object that images of the poor and hungry from our countries are being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environment friendly, nor economically beneficial to us.... We do not believe that such companies or gene technologies will help our farmers to produce the food that is needed in the 21st century. On the contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for millennia and that it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves."
Danny Kohl says yellow rice comes from a team of scientists whose sole intent is to bring it freely to the poor. In fact, the lead scientist on this team is a former Novartis researcher who currently holds an interest in dozens of Novartis plant patents. Although the rice was developed with public money, Novartis (through Syngenta, a company it formed in alliance with another gene giant, Zeneca) holds the rights to sell the rice, and a company spokesperson told the Financial Times, "We see it doing particularly well in Japan." The Rural Advancement Foundation International, which works with small farmers worldwide, rightly exposed this ripoff as "millions of dollars of public funding [being] surrendered to a multinational corporation."
Scientists have found yellow rice an unlikely solution to the problem it pretends to address. Dr. Marion Nestle has written in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, "Food-based approaches to improving vitamin A status seem especially desirable. The addition of one or two nutrients to an existing food does not constitute a food-based approach."
The real problem the industry seeks to address is not malnutrition but public opinion. The propaganda value of yellow rice has been immeasurable, as industry has shamelessly used it in an attempt to quell growing US distrust of its experimental foods. Faced with a PR meltdown, the biotech/chemical industry is desperately plying the same message it promoted when its pesticides were first exposed as threats to the environment and our health. When Rachel Carson's Silent Spring brought the dangers of DDT to a national audience, the chemical industry responded with a PR blitz centered around its claim that poor people would starve without pesticides. Monsanto, one of the leading chemical polluters of the past century and infamous for its cover-ups (see www.chemicalindustryarchives.org/dirtysecrets/anniston/1.asp) today is the leading force behind the genetic engineering of our food. While proponents of this experiment distract us with unsubstantiated arguments about future wonders, Americans are unwittingly eating Monsanto's genetically engineered products in thousands of foods from our supermarket shelves. Like Monsanto's chemicals, none of these altered foods have been the subject of long-term study for their effects on the environment or our health.
Like other apologists for this industry, Kohl argues that economic and political solutions to problems of hunger "will not happen soon," implying that it is faster, easier and safer to alter millions of years of evolutionary ecology than to address the man-made inequalities that have been perpetrated over the past few decades.
Yellow rice has been in development for nearly ten years and is still several years away from even small field trials. After more years of research and millions of dollars, what will these researchers achieve? They hope the rice will have beta carotene that humans can assimilate, in quantities that matter, without side effects that harm the environment or human health. Meanwhile, every year and dollar spent on this rice is a year and dollar not spent on projects that truly address sustainable solutions to poverty and hunger.
Greenpeace Genetic Engineering Campaign
The fundamental point upon which the GMO debate pivots is the matter of public trust--trust of government, researchers and corporations that they will be cautious not reckless, generous not greedy, humble not arrogant. While there may be a few geneticists scattered throughout the world working toward knowledge and technology "free of costs and restrictions on property rights," they will unfortunately always be in the overwhelming minority. Moreover, the knowledge created even by well-intentioned geneticists can turn on its creators and those it is designed to benefit. And we cannot put the GMO genie back in the bottle once we have released it. The promise of GMO technology today reminds one of the promise of nuclear power a half-century ago. Better our efforts were devoted to fighting the underlying causes of poverty and malnutrition.
DAREL E. PAUL
Professor Kohl is right about one thing: Corporate control over agriculture and over scientific research agendas is perhaps the most important issue underlying the debates over genetically engineered food. But having acknowledged this, he proceeds to outline a research agenda tailor-made to benefit his corporate benefactors.
Certainly there is a great deal of scientific knowledge to be brought to bear on the problems of hunger and malnutrition. But why is the question always "How can we address these problems through genetic engineering?" and almost never "What is the most appropriate course of scientific research to address human needs?"
A February 3 article in the British magazine New Scientist offered a very different approach to using science to aid the world's poor. Using an impressive array of very low-tech interventions--trap crops for common pests, polycultures replacing monocultures, changing planting times and patterns, etc.--farmers in Africa have been increasing yields by up to 100 percent. That's a huge advance beyond the marginal-yield advantages that Monsanto and the other biotech companies brag about incessantly.
The biotech industry supported the development of "golden" vitamin A rice to the tune of $100 million. Even if the beta carotene content could someday be increased fivefold, as Kohl suggests, it will still take 3 or 4 pounds of rice a day to satisfy a person's nutritional requirements, and that is only if other nutrients are in proper balance. There's much more beta carotene in traditional crops, from leafy green vegetables to squashes, melons and mangoes. The key is helping people regain the ability to feed themselves, exactly what the companies that have brought us genetic engineering are most threatened by. In emergencies, vitamin A supplements are available for just a few pennies.
Biotechnology does offer one clear advantage--to corporations--over more traditional low-tech solutions: the ability to "invent" new varieties of plants and animals that companies like Monsanto can patent and claim proprietary rights over. While the results of more traditional agricultural research often remain in the public domain--where they properly belong--genetically engineered varieties are subject to the most stringent "intellectual property" rules of the WTO. Farmers all over North America are finding this out the hard way, as they face severe legal penalties even when their crops are contaminated with Monsanto's proprietary genes due to cross-pollination.
For twenty-five years, the narrow agenda of genetic engineering has dominated scientific discussions in the public and private domains, corrupting scientific discourse while enriching those researchers who are most willing to feed at the corporate trough. It's time for a more honest discussion of how science can best benefit human health and well-being.
Biotechnology Project Director
Institute for Social Ecology
Danny Kohl argues that judgments on biotechnology should be based on facts rather than supposition. As a family farmer, I couldn't agree more. But is industry willing to make its GMO research available to farmers and consumers? No. Much like Big Tobacco, it spends millions on PR campaigns and resists all efforts to involve the government in the research, testing and regulation of GMOs.
For family farmers the promise of GMOs stands in stark contrast to the reality. For three decades US farmers have been told that if we are to survive we must (1) produce for the global marketplace, (2) reduce costs and (3) become more efficient. How does this play out with respect to GMOs?
Numerous countries in Europe and Asia have banned the use of GMOs because of consumer concerns, which in effect have closed markets to US farmers using GMO seeds. In fact, many European and Asian countries have begun to market GMO-free products and are paying farmers premiums for crops grown with conventional seeds.
Crops grown with GMO seeds are far more expensive to produce. In 1999 a GMO soybean system cost farmers about 50 percent more than comparable conventional seed and weed management systems. A recent Nebraska study found that GMO soybean yields were 11 percent lower than their conventional seed counterparts and concluded that genetic engineering, not farming practices, was responsible. Similar studies have shown 12 percent and 20 percent yield reductions in GMO cotton and canola, respectively. For the farmer, GMOs mean fewer markets, higher costs and reduced performance. For more information call toll-free (877) 968-FARM (3276).
Missouri Rural Crisis Center
Earthcraft Farm, Bringhurst, Indiana
Danny Kohl shares the hubris of his corporate master Monsanto that we can tamper with life at the basic level of the creation of novel species, and we can understand and control the consequences. What scientists today get corporate funding to keep track of the world's biodiversity with a view to its preservation? The life-and-death sciences have no concern about biodiversity, except to exploit little pieces of it and to turn them into commodities for profit.
And what about human societies in the next year, or next ten years? What is the impact on poor farmers and on native and indigenous people? Maybe they want to preserve and grow natural and traditional varieties of crops, free from genetic pollution. Maybe they have too much reverence for nature to fathom the arrogance of redesigning life. Maybe they just need land to grow food on so that they can feed themselves. But these political solutions "will not happen soon," thinks Kohl, and so he recommends an interim technofix, just like all the other technofixes, the ones that destroyed much of the resource base of viable communal agriculture.
We have an organic vegetable farm, and we sometimes use Bt, a natural biopesticide. Bt is now genetically engineered into many food plants so that they express toxin in every cell, all the time (in its engineered form, Bt does not quickly biodegrade, as it does in natural form). Since there are Bt crops in our area, we expect Bt-tolerant insects to develop and render Bt ineffective, thus making it more difficult to grow food organically. Corporate scientists have predicted this outcome for years. Corporations figure they can sell more toxic pesticides, and scientists count on working on the next technofix.
Monsanto recently won a lawsuit against a Canadian farmer who had Monsanto's GE canola growing in his field without having purchased its proprietary technology. Pollen drift from nearby GE fields ruined his crop and his livelihood. The international repercussions from this and similar outrages are just beginning.
JIM ROSE and SIGNE WALLER
Since a point-by-point response isn't possible in this limited space, I'll try to respond to some themes. For a point-by-point response, visit www.biology.wustl.edu/faculty/kohl.html, then click on the link, GM Food The Nation/April 21, 2001.
Clearly, there is more than one reasonable opinion about the potential for golden rice to make a significant contribution to improving vitamin A nutrition. Some of the reasons the jury is still out were included in my article.
Brian Tokar is correct that for people with no other source of vitamin A, satisfying the Recommended Daily Allowance would require consumption of impossible amounts of rice. (Benefits to vision occur far short of RDA, by the way.) But benefits are not "all or none." Peter Rosset of Food First is, of course, correct. Golden rice is not the solution. The empirical question is whether it can make a significant contribution to improving public health. While many find vitamin A supplements an attractive alternative, it is not inexpensive. In 1994 the World Bank estimated the cost to be 50 cents per person per year (two doses, including administration costs). South Asia might have 1.25 billion people. If only 1 of every 12.5 people (children and adult women) requires supplements, that's $50 million per year.
But the golden rice project is important beyond its possible contribution to alleviating suffering. It suggests one model for allowing scientists to escape the iron grip of profit potential that determines which crops and diseases are addressed. And escaping industry's demand for profit is the task I consider to be the most important. In the case of golden rice, public sector (Swiss and EU science agencies) and philanthropic (Rockefeller Foundation) funds allowed scientists to pursue a product that did not have sufficient profit potential to interest a biotech multinational.
It is true, as Charles Margulis and Rosset say, that a multinational was granted the rights to market golden rice in the developed world in exchange for work done on obtaining waivers of the seventy intellectual property rights agreements that otherwise would have restricted free distribution of seed. I'm comfortable with this trade-off, since it will allow seeds to be distributed without royalties in the Third World. This collaboration with industry after the hard, basic science has been done does not change the fact that there was not enough profit potential to induce any corporation to attempt to develop the product from scratch. Other aspects of the venture worth emulating are the role assigned to public agencies, like the Indo-Swiss Collaboration in Biotechnology, and the commitment to cross the trait into local varieties, among others.
If, as Margulis writes, in the past the lead scientist (I assume he means Ingo Potrykus) held patents along with a multinational, then I'm surprised Margulis doesn't welcome Potrykus into the light of public interest from the darkness of corporate co-patent-holder. Or does Margulis consider Potrykus to be beyond redemption? I could not agree more with Margulis's assessment that the biotech industry has shamelessly tried to turn golden rice into the poster child for the industry, especially since, contrary to the claim of Tokar, no industry money was spent to support its development. But I am puzzled by the apparent conviction that the golden rice project is somehow compromised by the industry offensive. Surely, we should denounce industry's shameless attempt, but why should their unprincipled effort to co-opt this publicly financed effort reflect badly on the product?
The product should be evaluated for what it is. Many predict it will fall far short of making a contribution to improved public health. If it turns out that way, so be it. But the logic of "my enemies' friends are my enemies" leads to strange places. One small indication that the biotech industry has succeeded in focusing attention on golden rice is that none of the letter writers mentioned my claim that science might contribute to improving cassava.
I admit to also being puzzled by the "either/or" paradigm presented in comments by Beth Champagne, Tokar, Rossett and Darel Paul. I think it's great that 3 million people in India are improving their lives with home gardens, even if (and I do not mean this sarcastically) that is only about 0.25 percent of the people at risk for vitamin A deficiency. I think we should vigorously support any strategy with promise for improving life for poor people, even if it is only an incremental improvement, recognizing that for the most part such projects do not compete for the same funds, such as money made available for science from the European Biotech Program. I absolutely agree that vitamin A deficiency, like hunger, is the result of poverty. GM foods will not cure poverty. The empirical question is whether they can make any contribution to human welfare without major changes in the social structure.
Clearly, Martin Teitel is correct that "all science occurs in a context." There can be no better example than the influence corporations have on the science agenda. What I had in mind when I mentioned "empirical, not ideological" questions were questions like those I asked in my essay; e.g., would golden rice be accepted by consumers, would the yield be less than the parental varieties into which it was crossed, etc. An extreme example of an ideological stance is the statement by Champagne that "contempt for life...is at the basis of science and capitalism." If this leads Champagne to reject all products of science, then we simply disagree. I, for one, am glad that my grandchildren have been immunized against disease, even if some corporation made a profit from it. (Immunization raises issues of benefit/cost ratio, but that's another story.) I'm glad that biotechnology techniques have resulted in bacteria that produce adequate insulin with consistent properties, a far better medicine than that isolated from pig and cow pancreas.
In my editorial, I called for increasing the stringency of the regulatory environment, including requiring multinationals to do the hard scientific work of making it virtually impossible for engineered genes to escape from the GM crop, a problem raised by Jim Rose and Signe Waller's letter. I did realize that this put at risk my status as a "hero of Monsanto," which a number of letter writers assigned to me. So it goes.
'YO MAMA' IS A BIGOT
New York City
Arthur C. Danto contends that Renee Cox's Yo Mama's Last Supper is not anti-Catholic and deserves First Amendment protection ["In the Bosom of Jesus," May 28]. He should listen to the artist's own words and then reread the First Amendment. Renee Cox, debating me on CNN and other media outlets, made it clear that her art is designed to attack the Catholic Church. Her claims ranged from "the Catholic Church is all about money...about big business" to "40 percent of the slaveowners in the South were Catholic." As far as the First Amendment is concerned, she has a constitutional right to show her bigoted work. What she doesn't have is a right to the public purse. If taxpayers' money can't be used to further one's religion, how can it logically be permitted to be used to denigrate it?
Director of Communications
New York City
My article on Renee Cox's Yo Mama's Last Supper concerned a photograph, rendered controversial by some ill-considered remarks by Mayor Giuliani to the effect that it was indecent and anti-Catholic. The burden of my analysis was that it is neither. Scully's letter is not about that picture, but about some ill-considered remarks the artist is alleged to have made on CNN. They have no bearing on the work or on First Amendment policies.
Scully's letter reminds me of nothing so much as the transcript of the trial in which the painter Paolo Veronese was brought up before the Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition in Venice in 1573 for having depicted Mary Magdalene in what is described there as "The Last Supper, which Jesus Christ took with his disciples in the house of Simon." The inquisitors wished to know whether Veronese felt that it was "fitting at the Last Supper of the Lord to paint buffoons, drunkards, Germans, dwarfs and similar vulgarities." Veronese said, "I paint pictures as I see fit and as well as my talent permits"--and he cited the precedent of Michelangelo, who painted "Our Lord, Jesus Christ, His Mother, St. John, St. Peter, and the Heavenly Host. They are all represented in the nude--even the Virgin Mary--and with little reverence."
The Holy Tribunal was an anticipatory version of the Decency Panel under Giuliani's counterreformation in New York. There was, of course, no First Amendment at the time. My own view is that a fair amount of tax money in Veronese's Venice went into the suppression of images; it instead goes into supporting their exhibition in New York today, for the larger intellectual benefit of our society, whatever the collateral opinions of the artists who make them.
One incidental issue puzzles me. In view of profound biblical paintings by such Protestant artists as Rembrandt, by what right do critics like Giuliani or Scully infer that images treating biblical incidents in ways they find displeasing are anti-Catholic rather than simply anti-Christian? It was the strategy of the Counter-Reformation to use images to strengthen faith. It was one strategy of early Protestantism to destroy images, based perhaps on the same psychology. By Rembrandt's time it was recognized that the church ought not to exercise a monopoly on religious representations. The taxpayers' money supports institutions that house painting after painting intended in their time to further the artists' religion, whether Catholic or Protestant. Where did Scully get the idea that this is contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment?
ARTHUR C. DANTO
Art Winslow is absolutely correct in his analysis of today's art environment ["The Wind She Blows," June 11]. If we continue losing independent art spaces we'll end up with mediocre art, and artists and intellectuals will be outcasts. But all is not gloomy! Here in San Antonio last May 15 the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center won an important legal battle. Federal Judge Orlando Garcia courageously ruled that our mayor and city council violated the US Constitution and Texas's Open Meeting Act when they conspired to defund the center's art projects. Read the ruling at www.nysd.uscourts.gov/courtweb/pdf/D05TXWC/01-05845.PDF.
ANTONIO C. CABRAL
THE MISSING LINK
New York City
Thanks to everyone who wrote in to recommend more "sites for sore eyes" ["Full-Court Press," June 4], as well as those of you who added to the count of obscene and abusive letters in support of Ralph Nader. Of the many recommendations I received, I am happy to add those below to the list of intelligent and occasionally funny places to go on the web for political good sense and, in the case of Consortium News, investigative reporting. Happy surfing.
SINS OF THE FATHER
Dusko Doder is right to correct the Greek Press Office's extremely partial account of Greece's relations with Macedonia ["Letters," June 4]. But he is wrong to blame Foreign Minister George Papandreou for the sins of his father, Andreas. Papandreou the younger has made serious efforts to move Greek foreign policy beyond the paranoid nationalism fostered by Papandreou senior. With Prime Minister Costas Simitis, he helped to broker the peaceful removal of Slobodan Milosevic despite the Serbian dictator's considerable popular support in Greece. Simitis and Papandreou have also been constructively involved in efforts to resolve the current crisis in Macedonia--it is, after all, in their interest to do so. The cause of peace in the Balkans is best served by giving credit where credit is due.
For the record, the Greek government never quite claimed, as Doder says, that "Macedonia has been a part of Greece for 3,200 years." At the peak of nationalist hysteria in the 1990s, posters of archeological artifacts from Greek Macedonia with the legend "Macedonia: Three thousand years of Greek history" were displayed for the benefit of foreign visitors. There were also posters proclaiming "Macedonia was Greece ever," obviously Englished by some subversive mole.
THE CRIMSON & THE BLACK
Why are people surprised that Harvard is not acting in a socially just fashion [Benjamin L. McKean, "Harvard's Shame," May 21]? After all, the Harvard Corporation (which just inducted its first minority member and until a few years ago was an all-men's club) to its lasting shame never divested from South Africa (although it later gave Nelson Mandela an honorary degree). And when we alumni/ae successfully elected four petition candidates to the Board of Overseers on a prodivestment platform, the big U responded by changing the rules to make it far more difficult to elect someone not on the official slate.
It took a student strike back in 1969-70 to get the university to establish an African-American studies program. And, as the recent New York Times story on NYU's belated award to those protesting the collegiate sports world's "gentlemen's agreement" pointed out, Harvard, too, in the 1940s honored an opposing team's request not to field a black player. There's much more.
We can hope that Harvard will do the decent thing by way of a living wage for its employees, but I wouldn't count on it.
Poverty & Race Research Action Council
CAN WE AFFORD DAYCARE?
It seems I'm a rare bird indeed: a feminist who doesn't think that daycare is necessarily a fabulous thing, particularly for kids under 2 ["Subject to Debate," May 14]. Katha Pollitt is correct, as usual, that the National Institute for Child Health and Development's recent study purporting to link immersion in daycare with aggressive behavior probably can't infer causality but will be used to hurt moms who want to work outside the home. But political agendas aside, let's face it: It's widely considered better, developmentally speaking, for children up to 2 (the age when they really have something to gain from socializing with their peers) to interact one on one with their caregiver.
In my house, the care of my infant daughter is split; my husband and I both have part-time jobs (mine offers benefits). For children's sake, I'd like the childcare debate to include a discussion of how to give more part-time workers access to health insurance and how to convince conservatives and progressives alike that except for breastfeeding, dads can do everything for children that moms can.
Thanks to Katha Pollitt for succinctly pointing out why research into the effects of daycare is misdirected. The investigations should rather focus on the pay rates for daycare workers and the difficulty all but the very rich have in finding daycare or preschools that come close to the care provided in France and other enlightened countries. I have been a teacher's aide in a school where a high percentage of the kids qualified for free lunch, and I've also worked in a suburban school. You can guess which kids showed the most hyperactivity and aggression. (It wasn't the ones who had been going to the best preschools.) Searching for preschools for my own two children, I realized that my whole salary wouldn't cover the cost of the schools that met my standards. The bottom line is money--for parents, for state-run daycare with well-paid, qualified teachers, for family leave.
WHY, IT'S A SILVER BULLET...
Way out here in the Arizona desert, this cowgirl had been waiting for someone to ride to her rescue. Wasn't too long ago the guys in the white hats looked to win the shootout at the OK Corral. Then they were ambushed. Ever since, daily scans of the horizon turned up nothing but coyotes.
Then out of nowhere, in a cloud of dust, rides the Lone Ranger: Senator Jim Jeffords! God bless you, sir. May you ride tall in the saddle and turn the right-wing stampede before it carries all of us over the cliff.
New York City
Doug Ireland's offhand comments about the Working Families Party's role in the upcoming municipal elections in New York City were inaccurate and hurtful ["Those Big Town Blues," June 4]. He wrote that the WFP "could have played a role in recruiting Council candidates" but did not because the progressive unions took no initiatives and ACORN was distracted by its fight against the Edison Corporation.
Speaking for two affiliates of the WFP--ACORN and SEIU/1199--I say that this is dead wrong. We have been involved in a marvelous WFP-initiated process that has included scores of neighborhood and borough meetings, a remarkable series of interviews with more than 100 potential candidates, worksite presentations on the issues by WFP workplace captains, the ongoing recruitment of neighborhood captains and much more. We had more than 1,000 people at a WFP mayoral forum and have won concrete commitments on our living-wage bill from candidates across the city. Until the WFP, there was no group trying to pull together a community-labor-religious coalition to move ideas, people, money and energy in contests from Nassau County to Niagara Falls.
The WFP slate for this year's city elections will have more union members, community activists and progressives than any slate in memory. We hope Nation readers will vote for, work for and send money to all the WFP-endorsed candidates for primaries and the general election.
SEIU State Council, WFP
New York City
As first-time candidates for public office, we want to say that the Working Families Party and its affiliates have been absolutely essential to our being taken seriously. The WFP endorsement opens doors, and its activists do real work on campaigns. The WFP is the only party that asks tough questions on issues.
The three districts we are running in--Far Rockaway and East Elmhurst in Queens, and Flatbush in Brooklyn--are not known for producing progressive leaders on the City Council. If that changes this year, and if instead there is an ACORN member (Sanders), an ex-cop turned NYCLU board member (Monserrate) or a human rights activist (Vernet) elected--it will be due in part to the persistence and support of the Working Families Party.
JAMES SANDERS JR.
31st council district candidate
21st council district candidate
45th council district candidate
Last fall The Nation ran a piece by Micah Sifry that began: "Today, for the first time in years, the political center of gravity in New York State is shifting." He went on to argue that some substantial portion of this welcome development was due to a hard-working, well-run, complex formation called the Working Families Party.
We're not perfect, but I cannot accept Doug Ireland's characterization of the party as "little more than a liberal adjunct of the Democratic Party." The challenge for a fusion party in our winner-take-all system--a challenge Sifry captured in his piece last fall but that eluded Ireland entirely--is how to be both independent and relevant. It's easy to be independent and irrelevant, but that's not our game.
The Nation tries to walk that same line and no doubt appreciates how difficult it can be. On balance, the WFP has done solid work building chapters, recruiting candidates, running issue campaigns, winning elections, training staff and so on. None of it is glamorous, but it's the very heart of what's needed to build power.
Executive director, WFP
New York City
Doug Ireland argues that the combination of term limits and the new campaign finance program has not, with a few exceptions, generated a "bumper crop of exciting, nontraditional candidacies" for this year's City Council elections. But take a closer look, and you'll find that in district after district, throughout the five boroughs, the field of candidates is crowded with "exciting, nontraditional" contenders--candidates who, were it not for the 4-to-1 matching program, would not be able to run competitively.
The three races identified by Ireland--Arthur Cheliotes, Steve Banks and Ydanis Rodriguez--are only the tip of the iceberg. All around town, activists who have worked in the movement and earned their stripes are running, and running to win--executive director of New York State's largest tenants' rights organization, Joe Heaphy; founder of St. John's University's first gay student organization, Jimmy Van Bramer; founder of the Latino Officers' Association, Hiram Monserrate; former chair of the New York State Women's Political Caucus, Gale Brewer; founder of the community development credit union Neighborhood Trust FCU, Mark Levine; immigrants and immigrants' rights activists like Kwong Hui, Morshed Alam and Margaret Chin; civil rights activists like Charles Barron and Rocky Chin; public interest attorneys like Brad Hoylman; ACORN leader James Sanders Jr.; the lead plaintiff on the historic Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, Robert Jackson; and the list goes on--they are all a part of the progressive movement, and they are all running. And to Citizen Action of New York, they are all proof that campaign finance reform is working in New York City.
Want further proof that the 4-to-1 matching program is working? Ask these "exciting, nontraditional" candidates where their contributions are coming from. The candidates, who have traditionally been left out of our electoral process because of a lack of personal wealth or access to people with money, are raising their campaign funds from people just like themselves.
You can see the strength of these grassroots campaigns as the many "exciting, nontraditional" candidates and legions of their volunteers are descending upon the streets of the city to collect signatures to get on the ballot. The grassroots movement is not absent in New York City, and after this historic election cycle, it will be even stronger.
MICHELE J. MAGLIONE
Citizen Action of New York City
New York City
I did not have space to list every nontraditional Council candidate, so I picked three with an even chance of winning. But Michele Maglione's list is somewhat deceptive. For example, Margaret Chin, Rocky Chin and Brad Hoylman are all running against one another in the same district. Gale Brewer, whatever her other qualities, has been a longtime patronage employee of the Manhattan Borough President's office--a very traditional path to elective office (and Ronnie Eldridge, the term-limited sterling progressive whose seat Brewer is seeking, has yet to make an endorsement in the race, a clear indication of her unhappiness with all three contestants). One is left with only ten districts in which the kind of candidate I described is present--of a total of fifty seats (I wouldn't call that a bumper crop). Only half of those on Maglione's list have a real chance of winning; it is possible that next year's Council will have a bloc of independent/progressive members no larger--perhaps even smaller--than the old one.
I have great respect for Dan Cantor's talents, energy and integrity, and Bertha Lewis has been an admirable leader of ACORN. As to the WFP, I broke the story of its creation in a lengthy, enthusiastic Village Voice article before its official public founding. At WFP events I was approached by a number of people, mostly young, who said they'd been inspired by my article to get active in the new party. I think that gives me some standing for the mild reproofs to the WFP in these pages.
Brother Cantor quotes my friend and sometime co-author Micah Sifry and suggests I walk The Nation's "line." Well, I've always had trouble following anyone else's "line"--I prefer to think for myself. But Sifry's article also said: "How not to be a mere adjunct of the Democratic Party...is a complicated problem that is rooted in the forces that birthed the WFP, and it is not an issue that is about to go away. Certainly the party's early and enthusiastic endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the Senate race puts the matter front and center. What kind of progressive third party gets into bed with a First Lady who once said, 'There is no left in the Clinton White House'?"
Consider the following: The WFP, to its credit, conducted a vigorous campaign for the primary item on its state legislative agenda, an increase in the minimum wage; the party held a press conference that starred Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver standing in front of a huge WFP banner. But just weeks before, Silver, at the behest of the hotel and restaurant lobbies, personally rammed through an amendment exempting more than 100,000 of New York's poorest-paid workers--those dependent on tips for a living--from the minimum wage law (a deal documented by Andy Hsiao in the Voice), with nary a peep of public protest from the WFP. Surely all those waitresses and waiters are members of "working families." Should Silver, therefore, be held out by the party as a progressive icon for stiffing them?
This year the WFP endorsed Bill Thompson for comptroller. Thompson got his job as president of the Board of Education in a deal with Rudy Giuliani that included opposing the multicultural Rainbow Curriculum and shredding meaningful safe-sex education. Since our city's school population is overwhelmingly kids of color, and with the front pages just having bannered the latest reminders of an appalling AIDS epidemic among black youth that's been known for some time, it is clear that Thompson--who is African-American--sold out his own community's kids for political advancement. Some kids of "working families" thus deprived of lifesaving information will die as a result. Stomach-turning? The WFP didn't think so. Human Rights Watch just came out with a 207-page report, Hatred in the Hallways, a study of school homophobia in seven states--including New York--where levels of violence and discrimination against gay kids are so great they cannot learn, a situation that the Rainbow Curriculum was designed to counter by teaching tolerance. Thompson won't get my vote.
Finally, my article clearly acknowledged that the WFP was one of two "significant" sources of support for progressive candidates. But the 100-plus interviews Lewis and Gaspard mention were of already-existing candidates, not WFP-generated ones. Right now the WFP is a ballot line, not a full-fledged political party, and it is dominated by the labor leaders who pay the bills, not a broad "community-labor-religious coalition." I hope one day it becomes large and diverse enough to act with more independence, and to rethink its criteria for endorsements. Until then, I stand by my assessment.
New York City
Win McCormack's sophisticated examination of conservative tactics in the last election was fascinating ["Deconstructing the Election," March 26]. Such sophistication is not necessary to an understanding of conservative intellectual resilience in defending the interests of the dominant economic powers. 'Twas ever thus. There is only one consistency in conservative analysis of the role of government: It is to follow its historical role of protecting the dominant interests and transferring wealth from those who have little to those who have much.
I'm glad the web-based version of your magazine is free. Otherwise I'd be forced to ask for a refund, not to mention punitive damages for the waste of my time (and, undoubtedly, a number of brain cells) caused by reading this article. I'll spare you my opinions and critique. Let's just paraphrase Foucault and say that this is the kind of writing that gives bullshit a bad name.
I am sympathetic with Win McCormack's applying poststructural analysis to the presidential election, but he makes a glaring mistake. The quote he attributes to Michel Foucault, that Derrida is "the kind of philosopher who gives bullshit a bad name," was in fact uttered by UC Berkeley professor John Searle, who made the statement in a 1983 article in the New York Times Book Review.
New Haven, Conn.
I hope I may be pardoned if I quibble, in prepostmodern fashion, over a minor point. I have it on good authority that the wonderful remark on Derrida being the sort of philosopher "who gives bullshit a bad name" comes not from Foucault but from Richard Rorty. But, of course, if the interpretation and recounting of all "texts" really is indeterminate, it perhaps doesn't matter all that much anyway.
JOSHUA L. CHERNISS
The "bullshit" quote is postmodernly elusive. Richard Rorty is fairly certain he never said it. John Searle admits to using it but not to originating it. In his article, McCormack relied on the rarely correct Dinesh D'Souza, who attributed it to Foucault. Scholars pronounce it "un-Foucauldian."
St. Peter, Minn.
I enjoyed Win McCormack's review of the Florida debacle and appreciate seeing the crisscrossing issues brought together in one place. But I was annoyed by his harping on "irony" and hints that Baker & Co. were secret advocates of the "postmodernism" Lynne Cheney castigates. Two errors: 1. Foucault's rejection of objective neutrality is premised on the principle that there's no such thing as objectivity independent of somebody's constructive work--nothing counts as "neutrality" in that sense; rising above subjectivity is an essential impossibility, not one based on human fallibility. This isn't at all the same as James Baker's claim that people are fallible and cannot arrive at objective truth, which nevertheless exists and is better approximated by nonpartisan machines than biased people.
2. There's nothing ironic about Republicans behaving the way they say they don't. It's a nifty example of Foucault's power theory, but you'd hardly expect Lynne Cheney to embrace Foucault. Not unless you find it "ironic" that capitalists are still behaving the way Marx said they do even as they pronounce Marxism dead and discredited. That's what Marx said they'd do. Lynne Cheney writes in a way Foucault anticipates even as she attempts to discredit him. Nothing ironic there.
RICHARD A. HILBERT
Win McCormack's article reminded me of Nixon winning elections by calling his opponents communists and later saying he knew they weren't communists but he had to win. As someone who was at the Inauguration protests in Washington and in several other protests, I was especially interested in the parts about the paid Republican protesters in Florida. I encountered Republican protesters here at the governor's mansion during the election fiasco--nasty, horrible, meanspirited people. When we protested the presence of the Fortune 500 group and Vicente Fox at U Texas, we were held back by a horrifying force of police in riot gear. Our protest community is notoriously peaceful, but no one was protecting us. The police got to try out their new toys--like rubber bullets--against some college students at Mardi Gras, causing several injuries and terrifying us all. Despite strong objections at a city council meeting, the police got a large raise, a toothless oversight committee, no civilian review and were sent on a junket to Seattle to learn crowd control! If we protesters had tried anything nearly as threatening as what Republicans staged in Florida, the police would have caused a bloodbath, and the media would have blamed us.
Win McCormack effectively conveys the tendentiousness, hypocrisy and even demagogy that characterized the Republicans' strategy in Florida. But I take exception to his claim that we require Foucault's concept of "a battle among discourses" to properly understand this historical event. Tendentiousness, hypocrisy and demagogy have characterized political rhetoric since well before the birth of poststructuralist philosophy. They have been analyzed with great acuity by, among others, Machiavelli, who advocated deploying them prudently, and Jürgen Habermas, whose ethics of discourse repudiates them.
McCormack wrongly invokes the term "discourse" to describe the position of one party in a two-party or multiparty controversy. Discourses for Foucault are analogous to what we might call the "paradigm" (Foucault would say "discipline") within which a controversy occurs. A Foucauldian approach to the Florida deadlock, therefore, would involve studying the underlying social, political, economic and cultural relations of power that determined which truth claims were accepted as valid.
It is true, as McCormack notes, that a subjectivist or relativist epistemology underlies this approach to the study of the relationship between power and ideas. But the fact that James Baker raised the problem of "individual subjectivity" on the canvassing boards in no way confirms Foucault's theory of power, as McCormack claims. To assert that election officials may be subjective is a far cry from demonstrating the validity of the proposition that everything is subjective. At most, McCormack may be able to claim that widespread acceptance of Baker's argument would demonstrate that some number of people have embraced a Foucauldian theory of power. This, of course, would no more confirm the theory than does Baker's charge of bias on Florida's canvassing boards.
Ultimately, we do not require Foucauldian concepts to understand what happened in Florida. George Bush personified hypocrisy by contesting the constitutionality of a voting procedure he signed into law in Texas; the US Supreme Court's justification for stopping the manual recount was manifestly tendentious; and Baker's claim that a prolonged electoral struggle would undermine US international standing was demagogic. Foucault can help us understand how networks of power determine whether these discursive acts come to be accepted or rejected. But to understand the corruption that pervaded GOP strategy in Florida, we need only to have been paying attention.
McCormack turns out to be prophetic of future postmodernisms by the more right-wing elements of the Establishment. Writing for an undivided Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas informs us, "It is clear from the text of the [Controlled Substances] act that Congress has made a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception"--a nice reminder that "power is knowledge."
The idea of different lenses through which history can be viewed and refracted (and twisted) was satirized by E.M. Forster in his seminal (hell, downright ovular) 1909 dystopian satire "The Machine Stops"; and the malleability of the past and the social construction of knowledge and the universe would be no news to George Orwell's O'Brien in 1984 or to the Stalinists, Nazis and other totalitarians he represents. No one knew that power is knowledge better than the authoritarians and totalitarians of the first half of the twentieth century, and later.
What's postmodern now is the degree to which "the best lack all conviction": the degree to which twenty-first-century intellectuals lack the ontological and epistemological foundations from which to argue that Congress might just, concerning medical marijuana at least, be in error, cruel and--in a nontheoretical formulation--full of shit.
RICHARD D. ERLICH
D'outre-Tombe [Beyond the Grave], France
Imagine my post-mortem shock at seeing my name on the cover of The Nation, somehow linked with the slogan "History Is Entirely Subjective." Am I not among those who pointed out in the 1960s that "Man" is a recent invention, and one fast approaching its end? If you want a slogan from my work, how about this one, spoken by an anonymous voice at the end of The Archaeology of Knowledge: "Discourse is not life; its time is not your time. In it, you will not be reconciled to death; you may have killed God beneath the weight of all that you have said. But don't imagine that, with all that you are saying, you will make a man that will live longer than he." "Entirely subjective" indeed!
I am gratified by the voluminous amount of mail that arrived in reaction to my article. I will respond to only one point, as I think that will enable me to expand and clarify my central thesis.
It may be true, as Jason Neidleman contends, that ultimately we do not need to deploy a Foucauldian intellectual apparatus to grasp the basic structure of what happened in Florida. However, I was more concerned with Republican or conservative intellectual superstructure. Conservatives have for some time now been claiming that their movement possesses a moral and intellectual integrity superior to that of their political and ideological adversaries and have repeatedly cited the widespread embrace of "decadent" postmodern (by which they mean poststructuralist) theories in liberal academia as partial evidence of that. Convincing the public of this putative superiority is much of what they have in mind when they speak of fighting, and winning, the "cultural wars" and is the very goal of tracts like Lynne Cheney's Speaking the Truth and Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education. In that context, the fact that their behavior in Florida, from the rough-and-tumble street level all the way up to the hushed, august chambers of the Supreme Court, reveals them, on their own chosen terms of discourse, to be intellectually and morally inconsistent and bankrupt seems more than noteworthy and was, ultimately, my real point.
A VICTIM OF THE WAR ON DRUGS
Your editorial on "The Worst Drug Laws" [April 9] was excellent. It's long past time to reverse the damage done by the war on drugs as well as the damage it has done to the rights of all Americans.
I am 39, have always been gainfully employed and have used drugs recreationally since my teen years. Never had I run afoul of the law or victimized anyone except maybe myself. I am currently doing my third year of a twelve-year sentence on drug charges (Health & Safety Code violation) in a California prison, even though I had no criminal history. The first person I was in a prison cell with was convicted of manslaughter. He was sentenced to six years. Go figure.
There is no way I can convince myself that this should be called a free country. This experience has opened my eyes, though--not to the dangers of drugs but to the dangers of an out-of-touch and out-of-control government.
WHO KILLED KYOTO?
Ross Gelbspan ["Bush's Global Warmers," April 9] quotes my colleague Tom Wigley as saying that my "statements on [climate models] are a catalog of misrepresentation and misinterpretation." The University of Virginia's promotions committee, the dean of the faculty and the provost must think otherwise!
More to the point, however, is that it was Tom's own calculation that killed Kyoto. In 1998 he demonstrated that if all signatory nations complied completely with the protocol, the reduction in realized warming by the year 2050 would be 0.07 degrees C (and 0.14 degrees C by 2100). The cost runs around 2 percent of GDP per year, according to the Energy Information Administration (under the Clinton Administration). That figure assumes the strictures on carbon sequestration and emissions trading that the European Union held us to at The Hague this past November.
The mathematics works out rather simply: If one assumes the UN's mean expectation of 2.5 degrees warming in the next hundred years (a number that is demonstrably a bit too high), Kyoto prevents one twentieth of it (an amount that will never even be measurable with precision), at an enormous annual cost. That's why Bush quit Kyoto. It has nothing to do with an industry conspiracy, which you seem so fond of, and everything to do with Tom Wigley's calculation.
PATRICK J. MICHAELS
Senior fellow, Cato Institute
As his coal-industry funders have long appreciated, Pat Michaels has a special talent for generating much confusion with very few words. Michaels undermines and misstates the projections of twenty-first century warming by the more than 2,000 scientists who compose the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who project the world will warm from 2.5 to 10 degrees in this century.
Assuming the mantle of economist, Michaels declares the cost of complying with the Kyoto Protocol to be "enormous." In so doing, he ignores the far more professional estimates of the insurance industry. Munich Re-Insurance estimates the coming costs of climate impacts will amount to $300 billion a year in the next several decades. The largest insurer in Britain, CGNU, says that, unchecked, climate change could bankrupt the global economy by 2065.
Finally, in assuming to speak for the White House, Michaels asserts that Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol because its costs are too high for its low goals. In fact, Bush said he withdrew from the protocol because it "unfairly" exempts developing countries from the first round of carbon cuts--and because the "science is unsettled."
If, as Michaels suggests, Bush were to take his guidance from such pre-eminent scientists as Dr. Tom M. L. Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the United States would be leading the world's efforts to curb global warming--instead of fashioning energy policies designed to plunge us even deeper into a climate hell.
THE WHO (PLAYS A MEAN PINBALL)
Robert James Parsons is incorrect in his "The Balkan DU Cover-Up" [April 9] on a number of counts. He claims that the UN system is under pressure "to keep the lid on DU contamination investigations." Concerned about possible public health consequences of the use of DU munitions and aware of concerns voiced by governments and the public, the World Health Organization has, on the contrary, undertaken a number of activities related to this issue. These include a field mission to Kosovo, a meeting with an Iraqi delegation of scientists on further cooperation and future action, publication of a fact sheet on DU, an appeal to donors to fund WHO work on DU and health in affected countries and a forthcoming monograph on DU.
The WHO monograph on DU was never expected to be released in December 1999. A document of some 200 pages, encompassing a review of a large amount of the best available scientific literature on uranium and DU, this work was undertaken only in autumn 1999. Studies of this scope take more than a few months to complete.
The four-page WHO fact sheet on DU (www.who.int/inf-fs/en/fact257.html) is consistent with all m ajor reviews recently conducted on the possible health effects of exposure to DU and is not contradictory. WHO intended to release its fact sheet together with its monograph on DU, but because of intense public concern about DU early this year, the fact sheet was issued earlier than planned. The fact sheet was never "quietly canceled."
The 1959 agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) does not affect the impartial and independent exercise by WHO of its statutory responsibilities, nor does it place WHO in a situation of subordination to IAEA. The above-mentioned DU-related activities were all undertaken independently by WHO, without any approval or influence whatsoever by the IAEA.
Parsons writes that "WHO radiation safety standards [are] designed for measuring a brief 'one event' source of radiation." In reality, WHO radiation safety standards cover both short- and long-term effects. WHO may conduct a field investigation only if the government authorities request it and if funding is provided by donors. Two such requests were made in January 2001; WHO replied positively and took action rapidly.
DR. RICHARD HELMER
World Health Organization
If WHO was "concerned about possible public health consequences of the use of DU munitions," it certainly has been discreet about making that concern known. The field mission and meetings with the Iraqi delegation of scientists, etc. have all taken place since mid-January, whereas the alarm bells concerning Kosovo were first sounded by Bakary Kante's preliminary assessment in May 1999. The problem in Iraq was brought before the world's public long before that, largely by the Gulf War veterans.
Further, once the Iraqi government had finally made up its mind officially to seek help from WHO (in November 1999), WHO did not respond to Iraq's letter until the end of July 2000. WHO headquarters in Geneva claims that it was misplaced at the Middle East Regional Office. Such a politically hot document, received after years of waiting and conjecture as to just what the Iraqis were intending to do about the DU problem, could never have been simply mislaid without knowledge and approval from WHO's highest echelons.
The WHO monograph is not a monograph at all, as acknowledged by Ann Kern, WHO's executive director for sustainable development and healthy environments, but a review of some of the available literature on the chemical and radiological toxicity of uranium, obviously selected for its lack of treatment of the subject of nonsoluable, ceramic-like DU particles--the source of the threat to health and the environment.
The fact sheet was, indeed, not canceled. But an earlier one was. WHO did it quietly, with the result that I, as well as a Dutch journalist, Saskia Jansens, a longtime veteran of DU inquiry, kept having to ask about its progress until Gregory Hartl, WHO's principal spokesman, finally admitted that it would never see the light of day. We did not go quietly upon hearing the news in August 1999, barely two months after the fact sheet had been announced as in the works. The result was an announcement that WHO was undertaking a "generic" study of DU, to be focused exclusively on its chemical toxicity as a heavy metal and thus entrusted to the direction of Barry Smith, a geologist. The study has been rechristened a "monograph."
Dr Michael Repacholi, WHO coordinator for occupation and environmental health, sustainable development and healthy environments, announced at a January press conference at UN headquarters here in Geneva that the scope of the generic study had been extended to include radiological toxicity and also stated that in addition to a review of literature, there would be actual testing of people, such as urine analysis. He then claimed, in an April 26 press conference on release of the "monograph," that it has always included radiotoxicity and chemiotoxicity, but he admits that it is only a review of literature with no clinical or field studies ever intended.
The four-page WHO fact sheet is at stark variance with the draft of the canceled one. The latter dealt with DU as a source of internal, constant radiation, DU in the form of ceramic-like, inhalable particles that have been let loose on the planet by the thousands of billions where DU munitions have burned on contact with their target. The later fact sheet deals with DU as natural uranium, soluble in the human body, hence easily, often quickly, eliminated.
The 1959 agreement with the IAEA, was, according to my sources, the reason the initial fact sheet was canceled as well as the reason the generic study had to be confined to DU's chemical toxicity until the public outcry, particularly in Europe, made it necessary to deal with the radiation side. Not surprisingly, that radiation side is dismissed by the "monograph" as of negligible importance. Helmer's statement that "WHO radiation safety standards cover both short- and long-term effects" does not address the question of constant, long-term radiation from an internal source. The long-term effects of "one event" radiation are still effects from "one event" radiation, like a bomb blast, and not applicable to the radiation generated by the ceramic-like particles lodged for years in lung tissue.
As for the statement that WHO may conduct a field investigation only if government authorities request it, one may point out that regardless of the huge and increasing mountain of evidence about Iraq, the WHO never requested an invitation to investigate, as it could have done.
The just-released "monograph" is one more stone in the huge wall of denial about the dangers of radiation that WHO and the UN are party to. Since the "monograph" and a recent UN Environment Program report are supposed to be the last word on the subject for a long time, we still have a long way to go before anything serious is done about what WHO perceived as a major threat to the human species back in the 1950s before the IAEA agreement silenced WHO on the subject of radiation and public health.
ROBERT JAMES PARSONS
WHAT'S GERMAN FOR 'SWEATSHOP'?
Since Jonah Peretti's "My Nike Media Adventure" [April 9] did not mention coverage in continental Europe, I wanted to add to the catalogue of media coverage an article in the March 7 Die Tageszeitung, Berlin. "Mach dir deine Marke selbst," written by Oliver Tolmein, was the first I read of the Nike e-mail incident until I got my copy of The Nation.
DEAD WRONG POET?--II
Response to Deadline Poet Calvin Trillin's "On Bush Breaking His Campaign Pledge to Limit Carbon Dioxide Emissions" (April 9):
Trillin is mad--boy, is he bitter:
Nader, unknowing, has him a-twitter.
So stressed is Cal (it is most alarming),
He confuses ozone with globally warming.
In Kyoto Gore said, "We must make this clear,
We're flexible always, so relax, never fear.
We'll take back our pledge to cut CO
If the money boys tell us it's what we should do."
Now W's gone and studied Al's pages,
And lo and behold, the poetry rages:
"It's Nader that did it, Ralph Nader's to blame.
He said those two are just one and the same."
VIETNAM QUAGMIRE FANTASIES
The history of the Vietnam War as told by David Rudenstine in his review of A.J. Langguth's Our Vietnam ["Vietnam: 'Quagmire' Quackery," March 5] is based on dominant fantasies every bit as misleading as the nonsensical "quagmire" story he and Langguth properly ridicule. One cannot possibly get the history straight if one begins in 1954 rather than 1945, when Washington initiated its first acts of war against Vietnam. To claim that it was "the North Vietnamese" who "defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu" and to present the United States as an ally of "South Vietnam" against "North Vietnam" is to accept Washington's falsification of the entire subsequent history. As the 1954 Geneva Accords recognized, and as the United States was finally forced to acknowledge in the 1973 Paris Peace Agreements, Vietnam was one country, not two. In fact, most of the government leaders of "South Vietnam" came from the north, while the strongest proponents of northern military support for the rebellion against the Diem dictatorship came from southerners in the Hanoi government.
Indeed, Rudenstine chronicles the period of this southern rebellion as though he had never even heard of it, attributing the fall of Diem exclusively to the Buddhist protests of 1963. Diem's fate was sealed as soon as the National Liberation Front came into being in December 1960 and initiated the organized revolution. If this revolution was not threatening the very existence of the Diem regime, then why did Kennedy begin massive chemical warfare in 1961? This was a year before 1962, when, Rudenstine euphemistically and inaccurately tells us, "Kennedy began to increase the number of US personnel in Vietnam." Too bad The Nation devoted four pages to retailing this minor variation of an official history that many of us, for almost four decades, have been exposing as a deception.
H. BRUCE FRANKLIN
New York City
H. Bruce Franklin is exhausting himself boxing with shadows that are not mine. Of course Vietnam was one country. Of course a more exhaustive and thorough history of what became the US war in Vietnam would cause a historian to begin the narrative long before 1954, as A.J. Langguth does, or even before 1945, as Franklin urges. Further, Franklin's suggestion that my review attributed the fall of Diem to the Buddhist protests of 1963 is silly. More important, Franklin misses the focus of my review. Many, like former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, still claim that the war resulted from "mostly honest mistakes" made by US leaders, as opposed to errors of "values and intentions." But as my review makes plain, Langguth's history demolishes the apologists' quagmire thesis, and in so doing raises the profound question of the capacity of the US political order to implement prudent and moral policies. Franklin does not think that issue is worth the ink spent on it. I can't imagine why. The question is poignantly timely given that we now have a President with no defense or diplomatic experience, a Secretary of State who is a general and a Secretary of Defense steeped in cold war ideology.
THE WHOLE WORLD WAS WATCHING
New York City
Jim Russell's "SDS's Other Wars" [March 5] is as uncritical and celebratory of the SDS film Rebels With a Cause as the film is of the organization. No surprise: Russell--like the film-maker and half the film's talking heads--worked in the SDS national office. Young historians (e.g., Jeremy Varon, Doug Rossinow, John McMillian) have been breaking with this archaic, top-down (and, ultimately, factionalist) perspective and have been going beyond the beliefs that many of us held at the time, into a critical history. Leftists who seek to build a new movement have a deep interest in a history that faces the fact that SDS collapsed when it might have grown and in trying to figure out, as Russell and the film do not, why this happened. A triumphal narrative leaves the collapse unexplained. A useful explanation for this tragedy would go beyond the sectarian wars and that convenient deus ex machina, the FBI--which did great damage but cannot be held responsible for so many of our mistakes. There was always conflict within SDS. The film would have been truer and more cinematically exciting had these often intelligent conflicts been presented (cf., Rashomon, Land and Freedom, Arguing the World, even Clint Eastwood's True Crime).
One example of Russell's uncritical and misleading celebration: Writing of SDS in 1965, he speaks of "the beginning of women's activism in the movement," which "added gender to the inequalities of race and class that the organization sought to redress." Redress? Huh? Women's liberation arose in part in rebellion against SDS's often grotesque sexism, while the national office continued to be decorated with cheesecake posters and faux working-class lunks saying, "Our chicks aren't into that petty bourgeois women's lib bullshit" (actual quote, verbatim). Crediting SDS as the birthplace of women's liberation, as do the film and Russell's review, and, ludicrously, seeing it as feminist is a little like saying the Democratic Party should be credited with having given birth to the 1960s antiwar movement or for the recent Nader campaign. Truth counts: The version peddled by the film and by Russell is simply not true.
For an alternative view, see Lemisch, "Students for a Democratic Society, Heroically Portrayed, Before the Inexplicable Fall: Consensus History in a Left Film," Film & History, March. (For info see www.filmandhistory.org; or write us at Utopia1@attglobal.net.)
Jesse Lemisch and Naomi Weisstein appear to be still suffering from a New Left hangover and seem unable to distinguish, since they invoke that great paragon of progressivism Clint Eastwood, the good from the bad and the ugly. The serious issue they raise concerns how to portray in the relatively short space afforded by the film the strengths as well as weaknesses of an organizational experience. Rebels focused on the strengths but not without acknowledging a number of the weaknesses. On balance film director Helen Garvy presented in my estimation a strong, consistent and, yes, nuanced interpretation of the experience, though obviously not that of Lemisch and Weisstein.
Rebels, it is true, sympathetically portrays its subject. Lemisch and Weisstein apparently would have preferred it to be one last settling of scores from their point of view or, if not that, an ideological free-for-all à la the 1969 convention. While this would have produced a film of great interest to some, I suspect that it, like sectarian politics, would have been irrelevant to most.
Neither the film nor I claimed that SDS gave birth to women's liberation. SDS rather was one of the key movement forums within which the ideas were discussed that launched militant activism around women's issues in the second half of the 1960s. It is true that sexism existed within the organization as well as society. But to imply that SDS wallowed in "often grotesque sexism" and stood opposed to the women's movement is ludicrous. If it were so, why would so many strong and committed feminists have participated in the making of this film and spoken so positively of their experiences in SDS? Cheesecake posters in the national office? Not when I worked there or visited, before or after.
Rebels is not without its faults, some of which I mentioned in the review. But the large number of e-mail responses from students indicate that they find the film a useful vehicle for learning about progressive activism then and talking about it now.
THE NLRB THEN & NOW
I was disappointed in Steve Early's review of William B. Gould IV's Labored Relations ["How Stands the Union?" Jan. 22]. As a member of the labor-management advisory committee to the National Labor Relations Board during Gould's tenure as chairman, I was familiar with many substantive and procedural achievements during those years--accomplishments barely mentioned in Early's review.
One such achievement came to light only last year, when reviewing courts fully affirmed 79 percent of the NLRB decisions appealed to them, an unusually high rate of approval. Most of those affirmed decisions were decided by the NLRB under Gould's leadership.
Early's criticism of Gould's impatience with fellow board members and members of Congress misses an important point. Many of the disputes and turf wars recounted in Labored Relations arose when Gould attempted to rouse career bureaucrats from ordinary, comfortable patterns of doing business. Gould's experiences at the NLRB provide another example of how the revolving door between agencies, Congressional staffs and interest-group lawyers often stymies creative problem-solving. The intensity of their resistance to Gould's reforms underscores a point made frequently in The Nation--official Washington is currently a nasty, poisonous place, and one takes a substantial risk in challenging the established order. Gould's meticulous documentation of the price he frequently paid for taking that risk should be praised, not ridiculed.
JOHN L. BARLOW
New York City
Steve Early's review paints a picture of Gould that almost entirely neglects the accomplishments of the Clinton board over the past eight years and forgets what the board has been (or not been) for unions for much of the two decades preceding. In light of the ascendancy of George W. Bush, we may very soon look back on the Gould-Feinstein years with great fondness and nostalgia.
The undersigned were members of the NLRB's labor-management advisory committee, formed shortly after Gould became chairman of the NLRB. Early should recall with horror, as we do, the state of the board in 1992 after twelve years of Republican rule. The agency--the board agents and attorneys that union organizers deal with every day--was demoralized, in disarray and unable to fulfill its mission of enforcing the (admittedly weak) NLRA. Rather than concentrate on the gossip and innuendo surrounding the internecine warfare at the headquarters (yes, a large part of Gould's book), Early should have recognized in his review the successful initiatives that reversed in part the board's decline and descent into irrelevancy. Of particular importance was the board's Fieldcrest Cannon decision, which imposed an unprecedented set of remedies (upheld by no less than the Fourth Circuit) on the company in order to insure a free and fair election, which the union ultimately won, in the largest organizing victory in the South in more than twenty-five years. Those remedies have also set the standard for correcting outrageous employer behavior in dozens of subsequent decisions and settled cases.
The advisory committee urged, and the Clinton board adopted, a greater use of preliminary Section 10(j) injunctions, the adoption of a framework for processing cases faster both in the regions and in Washington and adoption of administrative devices to encourage settlements and the use of bench decisions by administrative law judges. As Gould points out, improvements in case handling and reforms dramatically reduced the backlog of cases during his four-year tenure. Finally, as is often the case, it was as much the threat of those devices as their use that encouraged employer moderation.
Early correctly points out that "for tens of millions of workers in the private sector, bypassing the law [and hence the board] is not an option." For the first time in many years, unions during the Clinton years felt they had a chance at a fair shake from the NLRB. While we had our disagreements with Gould and Feinstein, and they appear to have had many with each other, the bitter rhetoric of Early's review obscures some real accomplishments in turning around an agency that remains critical to labor's rebirth.
JOHN L. BARLOW
DUANE B. BEESON
WILLIAM E. CODAY
EUGENE G. EISNER
LEE W. JACKSON
FREDERICK T. KUYKENDALL III
As my review indicated, there were certainly differences between the Clinton-era labor board and its Republican-dominated predecessors. However, to workers fired for union activity, these differences were much less apparent than they might have been to friends of Bill Gould, who served on his "labor-management advisory committee." The effectiveness of labor law and its enforcement must be measured in terms of their impact on workplace organization, not with reference to the greater access or influence that union lawyers or the AFL-CIO always enjoy at the NLRB under a Democratic administration. The continuing decline of private-sector unionization over the past eight years speaks for itself. When the percentage of the nongovernment workforce that is organized begins to rise from its current 9 percent level--rather than sink further every year--we'll have seen real evidence that the board's own "decline and descent into irrelevancy" has been reversed.
As a subscriber, I want to thank you for using recycled paper. According to the Worldwide Institute, US paper consumption rose by 20 kg per person between 1992 and '97--and now stands at 335 kg per person. That places a strain on the world's forests, and processing releases harmful chemicals into the air and water. In addition, the paper we throw away accounts for about 40 percent of municipal solid waste streams. If more of the magazine industry (which uses roughly 25 million trees' worth of paper a year) would insist on recycled paper from its suppliers, it would make a huge difference.
THE FAT CAT IN THE HAT
As the great-grandson of the man from whom the word "maverick" became part of the English language, and as the 80-year-old son of the first Congressman from the South to vote for an antilynching law, I am deeply depressed by your cover showing President Bush wearing a Texas cowboy hat [Feb. 26]. You New York liberals are dirty fighters.
MAURY MAVERICK JR.
'FALSE AND DISTORTED'
New York City
Christopher Hitchens's diatribe on Professor Elie Wiesel's essay on Jerusalem in the New York Times is a false and distorted evaluation based on a two-page essay by a distinguished author of more than forty books ["Minority Report," Feb. 19]. Hitchens does not even mention that Wiesel won the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. Had he read the Nobel committee's citation, he would have discovered that Wiesel was "a witness for truth and justice," and that "his aim is not to gain the world's sympathy for the victims or the survivors. His aim is to awaken our conscience because our indifference to evil makes us partners in the crime." The committee cites "this particular human spirit's victory over the powers of death and degradation." It is for the readers of The Nation to choose between Christopher Hitchens and the Norwegian Peace Committee.
BERNARD D. FISCHMAN
Lewis Steel has had an admirable career as a civil rights lawyer, and I agree with much of what he says in his review of James T. Patterson's book about Brown v. Board of Education ["Separate and Unequal, By Design," Feb. 5]. But from my vantage point as a lawyer who began a forty-five-year career in civil rights as a junior attorney on Thurgood Marshall's staff at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in 1954, I think Steel is wrong on two key points.
First, I believe he is wrong to focus the primary blame for failure to implement the Supreme Court's historic 1954 Brown decision on the "all deliberate speed" remedy decision in Brown II in 1955. While the delays permitted by the Court were a great setback, the real culprits were President Eisenhower and the Congress, in failing to support the 1954 decision and in fact undermining it. Eisenhower said law could not "change the hearts and minds of men" and later allowed that his greatest mistakes were in appointing Earl Warren and William Brennan to the Court. Congress was most notable for being the birthplace of the Southern Manifesto, in which Southern legislators called for resistance to the Court's decision. The abdications of the executive and legislative branches created the vacuum that allowed the era of "massive resistance" to take root.
While Hugo Black later said that had he known in advance about the lack of support he would not have agreed to "all deliberate speed," it is doubtful that the Court, operating without allies, would have been obeyed if it called for immediate compliance. Moreover, Steel mischaracterizes Brown II when he says that it assumed only "personal" and not "group" rights for black children. The Court called not just for the admission of black children to white schools but for a "transition to a racially nondiscriminatory school system." Nor did it imply that whites as a group had a right to delay a remedy. Indeed, the Court said that constitutional principles would not yield "simply because of disagreement with them," a point the Court emphatically reinforced in the Little Rock decision three years later.
Finally on this point, I know of no credible evidence to support Steel's thesis that Chief Justice Warren made a deal that the Court would issue "an all deliberate speed" remedy in return for unanimity in Brown I. The Court did agree to put off the remedy decision for a year, nothing more. And Steel's statement that the author "should have concluded that the second ruling eviscerated the first" exhibits an extraordinary misunderstanding of history. Brown called for the end of the racial caste system that had been erected to replace slavery, and whatever strategic mistakes were made in its aftermath, the decision was the beginning of the modern civil rights era.
Steel's second major argument is that "the Court's failure in the 1960s to confront school segregation, Northern style, doomed the struggle for integration." The question of how to approach segregation in Northern public schools was difficult, to say the least, and involved a dispute between two lawyers--Thurgood Marshall and Judge Robert Carter--who were my first bosses and for whom I have the greatest respect. Marshall believed from a strategic viewpoint that bringing litigation in the North might alienate Northern supporters of desegregation and that it would be unwise to open up a second front when massive resistance had civil rights groups on the defensive on the first front. Carter believed that children were facing problems that could not wait. In addition, while Earl Warren's opinion in Brown stressed educational harm, many lawyers (myself included) believed that the heart of the decision rested on the racial intent of segregation laws. In fact, racial intent in the North underlay much of the segregation that existed, but because it was not reflected in a segregation law, it took time and effort to prove a case. So the Court did not confront the issue until 1973, when it decided the Denver case, issuing a strong opinion for systemwide desegregation.
Unfortunately, by this time many central- city school districts had become almost entirely African-American or Hispanic-American as whites moved to suburbs, where housing segregation served as a barrier to minorities. When the Burger Court treated the city line as an almost impermeable barrier to desegregation, the battle was largely lost. But there is little reason to suppose that the result would have been different if the Warren Court had taken on Northern desegregation earlier.
What strikes me as odd in all this is that Steel, who appears to recognize the entrenched character of US racial discrimination, should think that the Court ever had a magic wand to solve the problem. Progress has come, and it has been very substantial, in part because public officials like Earl Warren and Lyndon Johnson stood up to their responsibilities and made possible Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. But mainly these public acts enabled people to empower themselves. Today, the largest barriers to opportunity are those faced by people of color who live in conditions of poverty and whose lives have been largely untouched by the civil rights revolution. As always, the answers lie in many strategies and forums--in organization and community action, in legislation at every level and, yes, in the federal and state courts. We ought not underestimate the challenge, but it will ill serve the effort if we do not recognize how far we have come and how we have reached this point.
WILLIAM L. TAYLOR
New York City
Before turning to the main point of Bill Taylor's letter, let me clear away the historical underbrush. Contrary to Taylor's belief that there is no "credible evidence" to support my statement that Chief Justice Earl Warren lobbied those Justices who were resistant or hesitating to join his first Brown decision by agreeing to put off the issue of remedy, "allowing the South's segregated school districts time to change their ways," both Mark V. Tushnet in Making Civil Rights Law and Richard Kluger in Simple Justice provide evidence. Kluger describes Warren's lobbying efforts in some detail and states with regard to the last holdout, Stanley Reed, that "the only condition [Reed] extracted from Warren for going along [his law clerk believed] was a pledge that the Court implementation decree [Brown II] would allow segregation to be dismantled gradually instead of being wrenched apart." Kluger, as does Tushnet, states that Warren was constantly meeting with the hesitant Justices individually and that he directed discussions to the concept of the remedy before the merits were decided. As Tushnet concluded, "The Court achieved agreement on the merits in large measure because most justices had a vague idea that they could avoid difficulty by allowing desegregation to occur gradually." Clearly, it was Warren who conveyed that idea.
Out of this understanding the "all deliberate speed" formula emerged in Brown II. While Brown II alluded to group rights as well as personal rights, Jack Greenberg states in Crusaders in the Courts that "the Court spoke with forked tongue."
Now to Taylor's main criticism. Taylor places the major blame for the failure of school desegregation on Eisenhower and Congress and extols Warren's leadership. For me, there is enough blame spiraling throughout our history to make it unnecessary to engage in apportionment. And there is no "magic wand." Only relentless effort can ameliorate, and perhaps one day overcome, the US brand of racism. And like Taylor, I recognize Brown I as an important stepping stone in this struggle.
However, mythology about the Court ill serves us. As our highest judicial body, our constitutional court and one of the organs of government that made Jim Crow possible in the first place, the Supreme Court had an obligation to attempt to undo its separate-and-unequal handiwork promptly. By folding up its tent and retreating after Brown I, the Supreme Court sent a message that it would look the other way with regard to one of the most critical bulwarks of racism--school segregation. That gave support to those who engaged in resistance. Even during the Little Rock confrontation, the Supreme Court in 1958 failed to indicate that "all deliberate speed" must come to an end.
Finally, Taylor appears to say that Thurgood Marshall soft-pedaled Northern school segregation to avoid alienating supporters when Robert Carter began to attack it. This statement strikes me as highly unlikely. When Carter opened up the second front against Northern school segregation, Marshall was already sitting as a federal circuit court judge and would in all likelihood have refrained from talking about cases that might have come before him. Perhaps Jack Greenberg, who had taken over the leadership of the NAACP LDEF and steered clear of Northern-style segregation, may have held this view, and this may be the cause of Taylor's confusion. In Crusaders in the Courts, however, Greenberg says only that while he felt Carter's approach "was entirely logical," he thought it "wouldn't wash." As Taylor notes, Carter believed "that [black] children were facing problems [centuries of segregation and discrimination] that could not wait." To Carter, losing those children in inferior schools for another generation without trying was little different from trying and losing, as he explained to me with more than a little hint of impatience. Even when we did lose in the lower federal courts during those years, Carter maintained his belief that eventually the Supreme Court would take one of our cases and do the right thing. It was not to be.
To this day all of us, but especially African-Americans, suffer because of the Court's contribution to our nation's failure to do little more than superficially desegregate our schools.
LEWIS M. STEEL
REFORMER IN THE DELLS
A postscript to Frances
Fox Piven's excellent "Thompson's Easy Ride" [Feb. 26], on the
elevation of Wisconsin Governor (and die-hard welfare reformer) Tommy
Thompson to Health and Human Services Secretary: Wisconsin's
independent Legislative Audit Bureau recently released a report
showing that Employment Solutions, one of the "nonprofit" private
agencies running the Milwaukee welfare program, spent more than
$370,000 of Wisconsin's TANF [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families]
money on things like staff time and expenses trying to get welfare
contracts in Arizona, and legal fees to determine whether its
lobbying would jeopardize its nonprofit status and staff
Employment Solutions also made "incentive
payments" averaging more than $9,600 each to eighty-four staff
members in 1999 (a total of more than $800,000). Its director, a
former Thompson aide, got bonuses of nearly $100,000 from 1997 to
'99. As has been its pattern, the state never bothered to set
standards for private contractors' use of incentives--even though the
bonuses came out of welfare funds, not the contractors'
The response of Wisconsin's
Department of Workforce Development? No further investigation
necessary. Meanwhile, Employment Solutions claims to be out of money
to fund portions of the current TANF system, like a loan program for
families in crisis situations. The state itself is running out of
money to fund its childcare subsidy program. It's clear who's
benefited from Thompson's welfare reform.
I must respond to
Frances Fox Piven's inaccuracies and bold misinterpretations of the
Wisconsin Works (W-2) program. There is a reason former Wisconsin
Governor Tommy Thompson was easily confirmed as HHS Secretary with no
opposition by Republicans or Democrats. He has made the necessary
investments in people who are making the transition from welfare to
Piven makes a big mistake saying benefits were cut
under the W-2 program, when in fact they have increased dramatically.
In 1996 the state spent $141 million on childcare, transportation and
other employment services for people participating in work programs
under AFDC. In 2001 the state is budgeted to spend well over $350
Is it true that the amount spent on cash benefits
has been reduced? Certainly. That is the whole premise behind W-2, to
help people make the transition from cash assistance to independence
while providing them with the necessary supportive services to make
that change. These investments in supportive services have paid off.
A recent study indicates that 76 percent of people who left welfare
since the inception of W-2 did so because they got a job or had other
income that allowed them to leave public assistance. The department
was also able to obtain the earnings for just over 13,000 of those
22,000 families and determined that 69 percent were receiving between
$34,000 and $38,000 in income and benefits, based on monthly,
All indications are that children in
Wisconsin are better off since W-2 began. Infant mortality rates have
dropped and the rate of child abuse and neglect has decreased, along
with juvenile crime rates and domestic abuse incidents. And in
contrast to Piven's statement, foster care placements have remained
stable since W-2 was implemented. She also fails to point out that
Wisconsin consistently ranks among the top ten states for having the
lowest number of children living in poverty.
W-2 is all
about hope--hope for the future and hope for a better life. And it
has succeeded beyond even the most optimistic expectations.
Wisconsin Department of
New York City
Fuzzy math and funny numbers. Jennifer
Reinert, secretary of the Wisconsin department that runs TANF, claims
that families formerly on welfare in that state now earn $34,000 to
$38,000 a year. What planet is she living on? Indeed, if we pause
over Reinert's misleading sentences, we can figure out that her
numbers apply to less than one-fourth of these families. Even for
this minority, she appears to be adding in the cash value of such
benefits as Medicaid, which certainly can't buy food or pay the rent
(and maybe adding in their share of missile defense too). More
soberly, we know from other studies, and in particular a study
undertaken by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, that on
average families lose income when they leave welfare, even without
taking into account their added costs in work-related
As for all that money spent on work-related
services for welfare recipients, only a fraction of eligible families
are actually receiving help for childcare, for example, and much of
the money is soaked up by the private companies Wisconsin is relying
on to administer its programs.
The bad news about
Wisconsin, and similar "welfare reform" programs elsewhere, is only
beginning to trickle in. The deluge of supplicants for help from food
pantries and shelters is part of the bad news. And in Wisconsin,
there is the alarming reversal in black and Hispanic infant mortality
trends. The state has gone from having one of the best records in the
country to one of the worst. And since Wisconsin was a pioneer of the
new welfare regime, these statistics should be taken as a grim
warning for other states.
I thank Karyn Rotker for the added information in her letter.
FRANCES FOX PIVEN
PORN TO BE MILD?
part of Mark Cromer's "Porn's Compassionate Conservatism" [Feb. 26]
is based on incorrect information. While the industry list of no-no's
Cromer refers to does exist, its contents were never meant as a basis
for self-censorship of adult videos. As one prominent producer
(Christian Mann of Video Team) explained to me for my article in the
March Adult Video News, the list came about after a group of
XXX producers asked their attorney what sort of material on video
box covers had caused legal problems in the past, and the list
was the result.
Mann told me (since confirmed by several
other producers) that most of what is on the list will continue to
appear in the videos--including the much-discussed "no black men,
white women"--and most consider the idea that such material would
disappear to be ludicrous. The logic behind the list was that police
rarely bring VCRs when they raid adult video stores; they look at the
box covers before seizing the tape(s) and preparing a
The reason for not censoring the videos
themselves is simple: Just about every item on the list has appeared
in videos from every company for the past twenty years, and
they make much of their income by selling those "catalogue" videos.
While one or two companies have announced plans to recall and edit
certain titles, the vast majority have no plans to do so. However,
when the government comes after the companies with obscenity charges,
it is by no means limited to seizing new releases. As long as a video
is still being sold, it is ripe to be busted. Whether it's a 2001
release or a 1981 release, it can be the subject of
Mann pointed out that the list, by its very
nature, cannot be enforced. Video companies are free to ignore it,
and several have announced plans to do so, while others plan to
follow some of it. My sources within the Larry Flynt organization
tell me that Flynt intends to follow the list's recommendations with
some of his magazines and videos but not others, which my source
assumed would then become test cases for the new enforcement
There is little consensus among producers on what
to do to protect themselves from possible federal prosecutions, just
as thevideo stores have no strategies for the much more common
prosecutions at the local level. They simply rely on their attorneys
and all too often fail to take the attorney's advice. Sorry to throw
a wet blanket on what seems a very juicy story--Porn Censors
Itself--but the facts simply don't fit the theory.
MARK KERNES, senior editor
Adult Video News--AVN Publications
To state, as AVN's
Mark Kernes does, that the production guidelines recently issued by
some of the biggest porn companies in the nation "were never meant as
a basis for self-censorship of adult videos" is both illogical and
simply wrong. The fact is, producers from a variety of major
companies (myself included) were instructed specifically to stop
shooting various sex acts and were provided with guidelines to use
when making adult videos. I don't know what Kernes calls that, but it
smacks of self-censorship to me.
Kernes claims that self-censoring videos is pointless because of the huge number of
older videos already on the market, many of which feature the same
acts now being cut. The fact is, some companies have been butchering
their old, classic titles for years now, in a sad effort to ward off
prosecutions, well before Bush/Ashcroft. A concrete example of this
would be the films Honeypie and Vanessa: Maid in
Manhattan, both re-edited and released back into the market with
entire "offending" dialogue tracks cut out--thus in some scenes the
performer's mouth is moving in eerie (and pathetic)
Porn has indeed been censoring itself for years, particularly after the Meese Commission opened fire and highlighted
some of its more fringe elements. Thus, scenes depicting adult-age
incest, rape scenes and other fantasy fare have all been wiped from
the adult filmmaker's palette. One major company--as the election
began to shape up for Bush--cut a scene featuring a pregnant white
female and a black male out of a tape altogether. That's
self-censorship, a pure reaction to fear of being
The president of another major video company known
for its softer, more mainstream fare openly speculated that he may
fold his firm's line of explicit videos rather than risk legal
problems. That's extreme self-censorship. Kernes is correct when he
notes that some companies will not follow the guidelines and that the
guidelines themselves are being revised even now. That doesn't change
the cold, hard fact--which my article detailed--that the industry has
recoiled with the swearing-in of Bush and the confirmation of
Ashcroft and is scrambling to avoid prosecution. Artistic and sexual
freedom are clearly taking a back seat to financial
While Kernes may feel he has thrown a wet
blanket on a juicy story--he has not. He does, however, seem to have
that blanket draped rather snugly over his head, blinding him to the