'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
Barbara Kingsolver, renowned author of The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer, wrote this call-to-action against the profound threats the new administration poses to
VILLARAIGOSA IN LA
Labor Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa's raucous victory party at Union Station on April 10 was rife with the symbolism of a Los Angeles undergoing radical change since the election eight years ago of Republican Mayor Richard Riordan. Throngs of unionized Latino workers chanted "¡Sí Se Puede!" and the candidate addressed the crowd in English and Spanish. Villaraigosa won more than 30 percent of the primary vote, topping a crowded field in the LA mayoral race. Organized labor poured hundreds of thousands of dollars and battalions of foot soldiers into this unabashedly progressive campaign. Though he didn't enter electoral politics until 1994, Villaraigosa has forged a citywide multiracial coalition that could power him to victory in the June 5 runoff against moderate Democrat James Hahn. (Also in a runoff: ex-state senator Tom Hayden, vying for a council seat.)
ECHOES OF FUJIMORI
Former Peruvian President Alan García came literally out of exile to finish a surprising second in the primary round of voting. He will face front-runner Alejandro Toledo in May's runoff. But with either man, Peruvians can expect little relief from the radical free-market economy left behind by the Fujimori regime. Toledo promises even "more privatizations." And García says he has learned from the "mistakes" of his social-democratic past.
ON THE WEB: firstname.lastname@example.org
Go back in history and read original Nation reporting from the early 1950s on legislative and judicial attempts to block black enfranchisement in Florida and Georgia. Also read Terry Allen's web-only article examining some changes on the government's official Fish and Wildlife Service website, and check out April's Death Row Roll Call (www.thenation.com).
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
Taking a leaf from the Chinese, David Horowitz presented an apologize-or-nothing ultimatum to the editors of the Daily Princetonian. The paper ran one of Horowitz's flaky ads attacking reparations for African-Americans (see Victor Navasky, "Publish or Speech Perishes," April 23), but in the same issue ran an editorial criticizing the ad. Now Horowitz refuses to pay his $1,007.50 ad bill unless the paper apologizes for the editorial. For Horowitz, it seems, free speech runs only one way.
With former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic finally under arrest, the time is right for a wider look at the Balkans. George W. Bush should seize the moment to deal expeditiously with the many outstanding Balkan problems he inherited from the Clinton Administration. The 1995 Dayton agreement, which ended the Bosnia war, is effectively dead. Montenegro, encouraged to seek independence as a way to undermine Milosevic, may now attempt to do just that, which in turn could touch off another ethnic war. The Kosovo problem remains unresolved. Most troubling, another war has started in Macedonia.
The explosive potential of Macedonia should not be underestimated. It is arguably the most fragile country in Europe, as Bush's father recognized in the last days of his presidency. He warned Milosevic that the United States would intervene militarily against Serbia "in the event of a conflict caused by Serbian action" in Kosovo. His real concern was that a Kosovo conflict could spill into Macedonia, involving Greece and Turkey. At the time, Albanians in Kosovo had set up a parallel government, as well as education and health systems, in response to Milosevic's repression. A similar attempt by the Albanians in western Macedonia was crushed by the Slav Macedonian majority. But the dream was that there they would unite with Albania in a Greater Albania.
Macedonia's instability involved more than its ethnic mix (two-thirds Slav Macedonian, one-third Albanian). None of Macedonia's neighbors wanted it to exist. Bulgaria claimed that Macedonians were ethnic Bulgarians; Serbia insisted they were "southern Serbs"; Greece argued long and loudly that they had stolen the name of an ancient Greek state. All could be drawn into a war if the Macedonian state were to collapse.
To give the Macedonian Slavs their due, they've tried in recent years to include the Albanians in the political process and have made some concessions. But their collective insecurity has made their gestures only grudging. Few Albanians have ever been given responsible positions in the police or the army, and educational opportunities in the Albanian language are limited.
Bush has said he doesn't want US troops used as peacekeepers. The fact is that US forces are currently doing just that in three Balkan countries, and it would be impossible to withdraw them without triggering more wars. Perhaps the only viable idea is to convene an international conference. With the fall of Milosevic, all the Balkan countries are now ruled by representative governments. They are all economically exhausted, and they badly need the engagement of the outside powers. General satisfaction with the shape of Balkan borders is, of course, impossible to achieve. But some adjustments and compromises are possible. Some suggestions:
§ In Bosnia, an adjustment could be made to help that unhappy land survive as a viable state with the capital Sarajevo an open city belonging to all three communities, rather than a Muslim-controlled city, as it is today.
§ Macedonia could become a civil state belonging to all its citizens--not just the Slavs, as now. Perhaps it could adopt a language policy like Canada's, requiring that anyone holding a government job speak both Macedonian and Albanian.
§ Montenegro and Serbia could make a constitutional arrangement satisfactory to both. But this means the end of Clinton's ally, President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro, whose pro-independence government has been financed by Washington.
§ The most difficult problem remains Kosovo, and here small adjustments may not be acceptable so soon after a bloody war. Why not divide the territory, giving a larger chunk to Albania and a small northern portion to Serbia? The idea has long been debated by both sides, even though neither is prepared to propose it. At least it should be presented to the government of Serbia and to Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo.
Steps like these are doable, especially if taken at an international conference, and would offer face-saving protection for the politicians. But Europeans have to come to the conference table with some big carrots. One of them is the prospect of European integration. EU membership, with its restraining power, would ease security concerns. Some sort of associate membership with a timetable and rules and regulations could first be required, imposing more discipline in the region and making borders more porous.
The United States would have to play the role of honest broker rather than taking sides, as it has tended to do. Washington should also take part in the economic reconstruction of the Balkans, not least because US bombs have destroyed much of the infrastructure in Serbia and Kosovo. In the long run this could well be cheaper than the current peacekeeping and aid expenditures. Who knows? It just might work.
Resident Bush's budget brandishes the camouflaged conservatism that is the hallmark of this disingenuous Administration. It advertises a 4 percent increase in discretionary spending that's in reality virtually a freeze, after taking into account inflation and population growth. Since spending on the military is going up, the amount actually committed to domestic programs is cut by 4.7 percent in real per capita terms. Bush boasts an 11 percent increase in education funding, but much of that simply counts money committed in last year's budget. And the increase is offset by deep cuts in expenditures for job training and displaced workers, even as the economy slows.
Much of the budget is fraudulent, knowingly so. Spending must be squelched to afford Bush's tax cut while paying down the debt. But the President isn't serious about cutting popular programs. So he calls for deep cuts in farm programs, which he knows Republican senators will block. He ends subsidies to US shipbuilders, which he knows Senate majority leader Trent Lott will reverse. Otherwise, the largest losers are environmental, renewable energy and energy conservation programs. Bush's answer to the energy crisis is to drill on every jot of federal land that might hold oil. His prescription for those concerned about global warming is presumably a little more arsenic in their water. The real military budget remains a mystery, awaiting the Defense Secretary's "strategic review." Yet, even the defense marker used in the current budget returns the military to its cold war average.
Democrats and moderate Republicans are boasting that they've already abandoned the Bush budget and are falsely declaring victory because they knocked a quarter off his tax cut. Congress will surely add money to education, restore funds to children's health and disability programs, and protect farmers (read, agribusiness). And it is likely to double the funds Bush earmarks for a prescription drug benefit in Medicare. We will witness a furious debate over these numbers, with Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate facing off against the remorseless Tom DeLay and his conservative majority in the House.
Lost in this scrapping is any mention of the real opportunities facing the nation. Years of economic growth have generated potential government surpluses--$5.6 trillion at the most recent estimate. Now, with the economy slowing, we have the chance to invest in making the country better and help jump-start the economy at the same time. Bush's most disingenuous claim is that his budget "takes care of our needs." In reality, it merely assumes that all needs are met and projects a continued decline in federal domestic discretionary programs to their lowest levels as a percentage of GDP in history.
Instead, we could truly address the disgraceful truth that in this rich nation one in six children is raised in poverty and deprived of the healthy, fair start vital to equal opportunity. Now we have the resources to rebuild an aging and overburdened infrastructure--witnessed daily in the power blackouts, collapsing sewers and aged water systems, overburdened airports, deferred toxic waste cleanups. Now we can redress the growing shortage of affordable housing and insure that every American has access to healthcare. We could even meet the international standard for foreign assistance and lead the world in providing real debt relief for the poor nations and in launching a humane response to the AIDS pandemic. All these are within reach--but are ruled out by a bipartisan consensus that more than half the surplus ($3 trillion over ten years) must be used for debt reduction in the name of "saving" Social Security and Medicare. Bush would consume the rest of the projected surplus (if not more) with his tax cuts, about 40 percent of which will go to the millionaires in the richest 1 percent of the nation. Democrats seem ready to declare victory if they can trim Bush's ten-year tax cut by 25 percent and spend the savings primarily on a prescription drug benefit.
We are about to witness a debate about priorities in Washington. But none of the alternatives debated will address our challenges or our opportunities. If progressives in the Democratic Party are to serve any function, it's time for them to find their voice.
When NAFTA was adopted in 1993, Chapter 11 in the trade and investment agreement was too obscure to stir controversy. Eight years later, it's the smoking gun in the intensifying argument over whether globalization trumps national sovereignty. Chapter 11 established a new system of private arbitration for foreign investors to bring injury claims against governments. As the business claims and money awards accumulate, the warnings from astute critics are confirmed--NAFTA has enabled multinational corporations to usurp the sovereign powers of government, not to mention the rights of citizens and communities.
The issue has exquisite resonance with the present moment. On April 20 thirty-four heads of state gather in Quebec City to lead cheers for a Free Trade Area for the Americas. The FTAA negotiations are designed to expand NAFTA's rules to cover the entire Western Hemisphere. The Quebec meeting should provide good theater but not much substance. Tony Clarke of the Polaris Institute, in Ottawa, says the meeting is intended to be "a face lift for the whole global agenda, by portraying free trade as democracy." Protesting citizens will be in the streets, challenging 6,000 police and Mounties, with an opposite message: Democracy is threatened by the corporate vision of globalization.
Chapter 11 of NAFTA should become a defining issue for FTAA negotiations. Many, including Clarke, vice chairman of the Council of Canadians, believe corporate governance was and is the FTAA's intent. "There is a conquering spirit at the heart of all this," he says, adding that the corporations' attitude is: "We have to get into every nook and cranny of the world and make it ours."
Chapter 11 provides a model of how this might be accomplished. The operative principle is that foreign capital investing in Canada, Mexico and the United States may demand compensation if the profit-making potential of their ventures has been injured by government decisions--"tantamount to expropriation." Thus, foreign-based companies are given more rights than domestic businesses operating in their home country. For example:
§ California banned a methanol-based gasoline additive, MTBE, after the EPA reported potential cancer risks and at least 10,000 groundwater sites were found polluted by the substance. Methanex of Vancouver, British Columbia, the world's largest methanol producer, filed a $970 million claim against the United States. If the NAFTA panel rules for the company, many similar complaints are expected, since at least ten other states followed California's lead. The federal government would have to pay the awards. California State Senator Sheila Kuehl and others have asked the US Trade Representative to explain how this squares with a state's sovereign right to protect health and the environment.
§ In Mexico, a US waste-disposal company, Metalclad, was awarded $16.7 million in damages after the state of San Luis Potosí blocked its waste site in the village of Guadalcazar. Local residents complained that the Mexican government was not enforcing environmental standards and that the project threatened their water supply. Metalclad's victory established that NAFTA's dispute mechanism reaches to subnational governments, including municipalities.
§ In Canada, the government banned another gasoline additive, MMT, as a suspected health hazard and one that damages catalytic converters, according to auto makers. The Ethyl Corporation of Virginia, producer of MMT, filed a $250 million claim but settled for $13 million after Canada agreed to withdraw its ban and apologize.
§ The Loewen Group Inc., a Canadian operator of far-flung funeral homes, lodged a $750 million complaint against the United States, claiming that a Biloxi, Mississippi, jury made an excessive award of $500 million when it found Loewen liable for contract fraud against a small local competitor.
§ Sunbelt Water Inc. of California has filed the largest and most audacious claim--seeking $10.5 billion from Canada for revoking its license to export water by supertanker from British Columbia to water-scarce areas of the United States.
§ Canada's Mondev International is claiming $50 million from the United States because the City of Boston canceled a sales contract for an office building with a shopping mall. Boston invoked sovereign immunity against such lawsuits and was upheld by a local judge and the Massachusetts Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal. So the company turned to NAFTA for relief.
"When just the threat of a Chapter 11 action may suffice to wrest a financial settlement from a government, investors have unprecedented leverage against states," Lydia Lazar, a Chicago attorney who has worked in global commerce, wrote in Global Financial Markets magazine. Mexico, Canada and the United States effectively waived the doctrine of sovereign immunity, she explained, when they signed NAFTA.
As many as fifteen cases have been launched to date, but no one can be sure of the number, since there's no requirement to inform the public. The contesting parties choose the judges who will arbitrate, choose which issues and legal principles are to apply and also decide whether the public has any access to the proceedings. The design follows the format for private arbitration cases between contesting business interests. With the same arrogance that designed the WTO and other international trade forums, it is assumed that these disputes are none of the public's business--even though public laws are under attack and taxpayers' money will pay the fines. The core legal issue is described as damage to an investor's property--property in the form of anticipated profits. The NAFTA logic thus establishes the "regulatory takings" doctrine the right has promoted unsuccessfully for two decades--a retrograde version of property rights designed to cripple or even dismantle the administrative state's regulatory powers. "NAFTA is really an end run around the Constitution," says Lazar.
The fundamental difference in Chapter 11, unlike other trade agreements, is that the global corporations are free to litigate on their own without having to ask national governments to act on their behalf in global forums. Clearly, some of the business complaints so far are more exotic than anyone probably anticipated. These initial cases will set precedents, however, that major global firms can apply later. If nobody stops this process, the national identity of multinationals will become even weaker and less relevant, Lazar points out, since they have status to challenge government as "an open class of 'legal equals.'"
In Canada a private lawsuit was filed recently challenging the constitutionality of Chapter 11, since Canada's Constitution states that the government cannot delegate justice to other bodies. The Canadian government, itself embarrassed by the cases against it, expressed doubt that Chapter 11 should be included in the hemispheric agreement, though it appears to be backing away from outright opposition. In US localities, the cases are beginning to stir questions, but lawmakers and jurists are only beginning to learn the implications.
Does George W. Bush understand what he is proposing for the Americas? Did Bill Clinton and Bush the elder understand the fundamental shift in legal foundations buried in NAFTA's fine print? They knew this is what business and finance wanted. As the public learns more, the smoking gun should become a focal point in this year's trade debate, confronting politicians with embarrassing questions about global governance. Who voted to shoot down national sovereignty? Who crowned the corporate investors the new monarchs of public values?
As John Lantigua recounts on page 11, the Florida election travesty looks even seamier in retrospect than it did at the time. Worse yet, as secretaries of state from across the country tell us, the crisis is national. The recent review by the Chicago Tribune of Illinois undervotes reminds us that the dark side of democracy exposed in Florida was just business as usual across America on Election Day. What would Martin Luther King Jr. think if he heard that the Voting Rights Act had not guaranteed access to the polls for all Americans--that barriers and outright intimidation continue to deny the vote to millions? Would he agree with those who say we should move on to other legislative issues? Or would he reaffirm the centrality of the vote in a democracy and call for renewed voting-rights drives, condemning--as he did in 1963--those who prefer "a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice"?
Although the intensive coverage of the Florida debacle touched off a spate of articles on reform and vows of change among the political class, Congress has thus far displayed little stomach for effective action--witness the abandonment of plans in the House to form a bipartisan commission on election reform after Republicans insisted on controlling it. The presidential silence on electoral reform has been deafening, though hardly surprising. The Administration would prefer the reform talk to go away, because it raises rude reminders of Bush's lack of a mandate for the hard-right direction in which he's taking the country.
Beyond the political considerations of the moment, the GOP traditionally favors a "closed" electorate, with disproportionate numbers of upper-income and ideologically motivated conservatives favorable to its candidates. (Unlike in Europe, voting is still a class act in this country: Two-thirds of voters with incomes above $50,000 exercise their franchise, compared with only one-third of those making less than $10,000.) The Democrats offer little comfort in this regard, though they stand to benefit the most when the dispossessed augment the voting rolls. Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe promised he would make voting rights a priority, but so far we've seen little action beyond a few fundraisers. Where is the full-court press from Democratic Congressional leaders for hearings, legislation and voting-machine upgrades? Where is pressure on Attorney General Ashcroft to enforce the spirit of the Voting Rights Act by Senate Democrats who voted to confirm him?
Some green shoots of reform are breaking through the cracks outside Washington. Bills calling for instant-runoff voting have been introduced in a dozen states. Proportional voting bills are in the hopper in Alabama, Illinois and Georgia. New Mexico's legislature has restored ex-felons' right to vote.
A host of organizations with direct interest in electoral reform are forming coalitions for change but none of them will get very far unless they're backed by a public outcry raucous enough to be heard inside the Beltway. Voting is too important to be left to the politicians; it must combust at the grass roots into a prairie fire.
To this end, more efforts at education--like the National Commission on Election Reform, headed by Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, which is currently holding hearings at presidential libraries around the country--are important. But education without an activist base demanding and demonstrating will remain a Socratic seminar. Instilling in the young the same idealism that inspired the voter drives of the sixties is one approach being tried by Democracy Summer. This program aims to enlist and train young volunteers to work with voting-rights organizations this summer (see www.democracysummer.org).
The Nation/Institute for Policy Studies' Progressive Challenge lays out a useful checklist of objectives for any electoral reform effort, including strict enforcement of the Voting Rights Act to end disfranchisement, instant-runoff voting, proportional representation, voting rights for former prisoners, elimination of bureaucratic hurdles that discourage participation, nonpartisan state election commissions and the abolition of the Electoral College (see www.votersbillofrights.org).
When Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 he said, "The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls that imprison men because they are different from other men." Those walls still stand. A nation in which only 40 percent of the electorate votes is not even half free. Our overriding goal must be--ever more democracy.
This is not going to be a column blaming Ralph Nader and the Greens for the daily disasters of the Bush Administration, so don't stop reading--yet. That column has been written dozens of times, in every shade of emotion with which the words "I told you so" can be uttered, and I think it's been pretty well established that Tweedledum and Tweedledee are at best fraternal rather than identical twins. Or are there readers out there who think the Gore Administration would be proposing a budget that would end contraceptive coverage for federal employees while angling for a huge tax cut for the richest 1 percent? If so, you won't have any problem washing your delicious school-lunch salmonellaburger down with a big glass of arsenic-laced water from one of our fine mining and timber states.
Nader's assistant called me recently to say that he had been misquoted last summer in Outside, which had him hoping for a Bush win. But those who thought the Democrats deserved to die seem to have gotten their wish. I mean, where is Al Gore? I've been an adjunct professor myself, and the duties are not all that taxing. He could be going on the Sunday morning talk shows every week, rallying opposition to Bush's onslaught against the environment--the Kyoto treaty was supposedly his baby, after all. Maybe he read Alexander Cockburn's column in the testosterone-addled New York Press claiming global warming is bunk, and now thinks it's good that Bush slammed the door on the treaty and the Europeans are just crybabies. Clinton's off riding elephants in India, Hillary voted for the bankruptcy bill, nobody wants to pay to make sure votes get counted in poor neighborhoods (remember when voting booth upgrades were definitely on the agenda, whoever won Florida?), and the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, which was going to start the arduous process of getting big money out of electoral politics, has morphed into a measure that doubles the Republican hard-money advantage while abolishing soft money, where the Democrats had edged ahead. Thanks a lot, Senator Feingold! And you too, Senator Wellstone! Now advocacy organizations like the ACLU and NARAL will be barred from running issue ads for sixty days before the election. Forget the First Amendment: Let them buy their own radio and TV stations like the right-wingers do.
None of this cowardice, confusion and collapse is the fault of Ralph Nader or the Greens: Would the Republicans be quivering in fear if they were the ones out of power? Still, the political landscape we confront today does call into question some of the arguments that were made for the Nader candidacy. You will remember that I expressed a certain skepticism about these claims last spring and summer, for which I was belabored with e-mails from Nation readers for months. The Last Marxist often points out that progressives don't like to analyze their past enthusiasms in the light of history, preferring to move right along to the next glorious cause. So let's go to the videotape and see what happened:
§ I said the Greens would do poorly because that's the general fate of progressive third-party and symbolic presidential candidacies; for the decreasing number of Americans who actually vote, the two parties are not identical and each offers concrete rewards to its constituency. Perhaps nonvoters would bring a new set of concerns and demands to the electoral table--that was the thinking behind the motor voter bill--but to register nonvoters on a massive scale and get them to the polls was quite beyond the capacities (or radar screen) of the Greens. What happened: Nader polled 2.7 percent.
§ I said that history suggested presidential candidacies did not build movements, as many supporters claimed Nader's run would do. I noted the rapid descent into nutty irrelevance of the most successful third-party candidate in modern history, Ross Perot, and his Reform Party. A party that cannot attract large sums of money and cannot deliver favors to its supporters is just not in the game. What happened: The Greens tool along at the same modest level as before, with eighty-one mostly low-level elected municipal officials thinly scattered around the country. Nader claims he is shut out by the media--surprise--but media never built a movement. Can you imagine Eugene Debs or Bob La Follette, to whom Nader is often compared, letting Rupert Murdoch or the Washington Post decide whether his message gets out or not?
§ I pooh-poohed the Greens' somewhat contradictory prediction that Nader would attract new voters who would not have gone for Gore but would vote for "good Democrats" lower down on the ticket. Why would voters drawn to the polls by a candidate who spent months bashing the Democrats turn around and vote for them? What happened: Despite much spin on both sides, Nader votes were probably a wash for down-ticket Dems. There was no major influx of new voters lured by Nader. Youth voting went down.
§ I took issue with the argument that the Nader candidacy would push the Democratic Party left. As the Greens themselves have observed in disclaiming responsibility for Bush's win, thirteen times as many registered Democrats (13 percent) voted for Bush in Florida as for Nader (1 percent). Nationally too, many more Democrats voted Republican than voted Green. So if you were thinking of running for President as a Democrat, where would you look for votes? Left to the Naderites, or right to the Dems and moderate Republicans who voted for Bush? Answer: Joe Lieberman's already exploring his options for 2004.
* * *
Speaking of past enthusiasms, the Teamster-turtle alliance isn't looking too good: Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa Jr. supports Bush's proposal to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. According to the New York Times, Hoffa said drilling would help stabilize the economy and create employment, including 25,000 Teamsters jobs at a time when the nation appears near recession. Turtle soup, anyone?
They'll check for salmonella, kids,
It's safe as mozzarella, kids,
Light up a panatella, kid.
You've nothing more to fear.
Give thanks for this new fella, kids.
Sing praises a cappella, kids.
Let Bush be your umbrella, kids.
Compassion's finally here.
It was touching to see Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger back on the tube again during the Hainan confrontation, with Brzezinski recommending to Jim Lehrer's audience that Kissinger be appointed supreme envoy and mediator for the resolution of the crisis. He wasn't completely clear on the credentials Kissinger would be employing: his usual ones as middleman and facilitator for US corporations in China (and chief justifier of the Tiananmen Square bloodbath in 1989) or his consummate skill as a handler of touchy moments on the Asian mainland.
Let's not begrudge Dick Cheney his $36 million income last year.
Sure, it dwarfs the puny $744,682 reported by the President, but George
W. Bush represents old money, and he knows better than to be too showy,
particularly when you're running for office as a Joe Six-Pack kind of
guy. Better to roll over the income from inherited money into
Cheney didn't have time for such accounting niceties. Bush caught him
right in the middle of a tax year with that Vice President nod, and
remember, Cheney was only supposed to be advising Bush on the best choice
for Veep. How was Cheney to know he'd be forced to recommend himself as
the most qualified?
Still, just because he had become Vice President didn't mean he had to
take a vow of poverty. As Cheney told CBS News at the time, "I'd like not
to give away all of my assets to serve the public." And why should he,
since there's no law limiting the assets of federal office-holders or any
requirement that they give up their acquired wealth? Cheney had only to
look as far as Bush, who merely put his in a blind trust, no questions
Huge financial assets are now the norm for leaders of our
representative democracy, and it wasn't unexpected that the mostly
wealthy members of the Senate recently voted rich people like themselves
an enormous tax cut, albeit not as large as the one Bush wanted for
himself and his pals.
Cheney's assets are only at risk of taxation if he wants to leave a
huge amount to his heirs without paying additional taxes. Soon, even that
will no longer be a problem because Bush and Cheney are sensitive to the
unfairness of the estate tax to ordinary people like themselves, and they
want to eliminate it.
What was at issue during the campaign was not Cheney's assets or his
income but his future stock options in Halliburton Co. These being tied
to the rise and fall of Halliburton stock, presented a potential conflict
of interest because, as Vice President, it was conceivable that he could
influence stock prices. Under considerable pressure, Cheney decided to
donate those stock options to charity, but he was left with a bit more
than a hair-shirt.
Even after taxes, Cheney cleared more than $20 million in 2000. If the
Bush tax cut had been in effect last year, Cheney would've saved another
couple of million, to which he obviously feels entitled.
Don't forget, Cheney was playing catch-up after years in the public
sector, first as a congressman and then as Defense secretary. As it
turned out, he only had about five years in the private sector to cash in
his chips, and he didn't really know much about the energy business. When
he hired on to serve as the CEO of an oil services firm, he knew he would
have to justify the big bucks he was getting paid.
Fortunately for him and Halliburton, it all worked out in the end.
For the Texas-based Halliburton, there initially was some concern.
Only two years ago, with the company's stock floundering, the board of
directors chastised Cheney for the company's poor performance. But then
came the presidential election, and those same directors must have
figured they had died and gone to heaven after Cheney got the Veep nod.
That's when the board of directors turned around and rewarded him with an
incredibly lucrative severance package providing the bulk of his reported
$36 million income in 2000.
Can you blame them? Most of Cheney's working hours last year were
devoted to seizing the White House for the most avidly pro-Big Oil
presidency in US history, and servicing Big Oil is what Halliburton Co.
is all about. That and construction projects around the world that an
anti-environmental Administration now seems all too eager to facilitate.
Quite an impressive record for an executive who was just learning the
business. They knew the guy would be good; after all, as a congressman he
had one of most pro-industry voting records. And it was Defense Secretary
Cheney who had made the decision to privatize logistical support
facilities for the military, which gave Halliburton's subsidiary, Brown &
Root, huge construction contracts for the US military at bases
throughout the world.
Of course, as the former Defense secretary who'd saved Kuwait, where
Halliburton has huge contracts, Cheney was already known to be an
effective player. But how could Halliburton have known Cheney would be
this good? Not only did he help elect another Texas oil guy as President,
but if you look at the short record of the Bush-Cheney Administration,
when it comes to opening the environment for energy exploration, even
that most pristine area in Alaska, these guys know no limits.
Indeed, they must be guffawing down in Texas to have two good old boys
running the White House without a scintilla of shame. It's been oil money
Otto Reich is the vice chairman of Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production or WRAP, a clothing-industry front founded about a year ago to undermine the growing antisweatshop movement.
GOP hawks want containment; others favor more trade and more toughness.
Angry over the Florida debacle, African-Americans may retaliate in 2002.
Pauline Kael (that scamp) once called the Italian neorealist classic The Earth Trembles "the best boring movie ever made." Today the earth is inundated with Iranian neo-neorealism, a wave of arguably boring good movies with cheapo production values, aleatoric docu-dramaturgy, dewy but not innocent
amateur actors and a piercing concern for the downtrodden.
Not that Iran is in a retro film renaissance. The scene's three heavy directors (Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Jafar Panahi) and their progeny bring fresh goodies to the neorealist party: a passion for puzzles with half-matching pieces, an eye for color and design, a love of the found object and the hidden theme. Their what-is-reality narrative games resemble our old-time Modernist religion without actually growing out of it. Iranian film is proof, in fact, that similar evolutionary leaps occur in isolated populations.
It's also fruitfully incestuous. The patriarch Kiarostami put Iran on the map with movies like Close Up (1990). It could be titled Becoming Mohsen Makhmalbaf--it's a hall-of-mirrors movie using the people from the real-life case of a guy who was tried for impersonating the country's second-most-respected director. The hoaxer's victim told the impersonated director, "Mr. Makhmalbaf, the other Mr. Makhmalbaf was more Makhmalbaf than you are." Makhmalbaf went on to mess with his own identity in A Moment of Innocence (1996), starring himself and a cop that he actually stabbed as a young revolutionary in 1974. Puckishly, they re-enact the stabbing, coaching teens to play their younger selves. This brilliant film makes the political intimately personal.
But Iran's biggest hit came from the number-three director, Kiarostami's ambitious assistant, Panahi. His 1995 The White Balloon avoids bizarro-world storytelling, though it's written by Kiarostami. Simply, it follows 7-year-old Razieh (the formidably whiny Aida Mohammadkhani), who stalks the streets of Teheran (actually a picturesquely preserved traditional exurb) seeking a fat goldfish for New Year's Day. She confronts a cross section of society--snake charmers, a tailor, a solicitous soldier. The scenes have an offhand beauty, and the composition is careful: Razieh loses her goldfish money down a sewer grate with vertical bars neatly framed by the horizontal bands of a metal shutter and a patterned brick wall. Panahi is an artful dodger of censorship: If you were a credulous government censor, you might not notice that the snake show is like forbidden cinema ("I wanted to see what it was that was not good for me to watch," says Razieh), or that her sitcom dad, shouting in the shower that his kid got him soap instead of shampoo, is a tyrant. That soldier who comforts the kid is kind--if that's how you think of authorities--or unsettlingly intrusive if not.
Panahi blew it with his follow-up, the slapdash slab-of-life drama The Mirror (1997). In it, a girl (Mina Mohammadkhani) wanders a poorly photographed town after her mom forgets to pick her up from school, getting rides in buses and cars and listening to garrulous grownups gab, mostly about social issues. Kiarostami is a virtuoso of the car-ride philosophizing scene; Panahi is unconvincing in impersonating his style. The girl throws a tiff, doffs her costume, shouts at the suddenly visible camera crew, "I'm not acting anymore!" and goes home. The film mumbles itself to sleep. Kiarostami speaks of a spontaneous, "half-created" cinema, but this is half-assed. Maybe Panahi should leave the Pirandello stuff to the other guys.
But then, he should make more movies like his latest, the first big Iranian/Italian neo-neorealist movie, The Circle. (The Italians put up much of the dough; it's Panahi's show.) Even if you want to strangle all the critics who sold you on sitting through the more excruciatingly non-goal-oriented Iranian flicks, you may love The Circle as much as I do. Granted, we've all cut Teheran's Tinseltown way too much slack because it's so noble, the ultimate indie insurgency untainted by the Great Infotainment Satan, issuing urgent bulletins from a cultural battlefront that makes the Bush Administration look like Weimar. But The Circle is great in purely formal terms, quite apart from its searing social/political critique. Panahi is not quite in Satyajit Ray's league, but now he's in the same ballpark.
The Circle opens the way The White Balloon did: with credits on a black screen and the scene set by sound--jangly, upbeat street sounds in The White Balloon, foreboding shrieks of childbirth here. A square window in a stark white door slides open, framing a nurse in a white room wearing a white nunlike getup. A woman symmetrically clad in black anxiously asks about her daughter, the new mother. "It's a girl!" exults the grinning nurse. Disaster! "The in-laws will be furious. They'll insist on a divorce," says the new grandma. "They want a boy." The camera tracks the mourning grandma making her circuitous way past the inquiring in-laws and out of the hospital. It feels like a slow-motion prison breakout.
She passes two actual prison escapees anxiously huddling in the street, Nargess (radiant 18-year-old movie newcomer Nargess Mamizadeh) and the slightly older Arezou (Maryiam Parvin Almani), both draped in black. The camera (wielded by Bahram Badakhshani with more fluid grace than cinematographer Farzad Jadat displayed in The White Balloon) lets grandma make her stately way offscreen and focuses on the young women, picking up their jittery energy. A man in the street sexually taunts them. In the background, cops round up another female; the convicts whip on chadors and hunker down behind a car. They mean to light out for the territory, Nargess's paradisaical hometown, but they need bus fare. Arezou leads Nargess to a sinister-looking building and has her wait at the foot of a circular stairway; Arezou ascends, goes off with men and returns with cash.
Arezou proceeds to tell Nargess she must make her freedom ride: "I couldn't handle seeing that your paradise might not exist," says the despairing Arezou, whose name means "hope." Nargess ("flower"), boards the bus bound for the central terminal, braving the big city on a solo mission, like the kids in The White Balloon and The Mirror. The implicit feminist revolt in those films is here right out in the open; the soldier comforting the girl in The White Balloon has become the prowling Javerts of the police state. When Nargess impulsively buys a shirt for her hometown beau, the shopkeeper asks a soldier to model it for size; girlish amusement at his discomfiture but also terror of his power play across her face. As she's about to board the final bus home, she sees police and flees instead.
The focus shifts to the story of an older, sadder, wiser escaped convict, Pari (veteran actor Fereshteh Sadr-Orafai, who also appeared in The White Balloon). For some reason not explained (Iranian directors like to keep you guessing about plot points), Nargess tracks Pari to her father's house. "Tramp!" yells Pari's père. "Consider Pari dead!" Abruptly, Pari's brothers roar up the tiny tunnel-like alley on a motorbike to the dad's door. The beefy duo, a Tweedledum and Tweedledee of evil, strong-arm their way inside and (if I catch their drift) demand to redeem their sister's disgrace by beating her bloody. Shouts and scuffles are heard inside; the door bumps open and shut as if in a cyclone. It's the film's creepiest scene, with a claustrophobia worthy of Kafka.
Panahi makes a virtue of his limitations, and I'm not sure they're strictly budgetary or governmental. (The censors never got their mitts on this one.) We should be careful about imposing a Western (or Upper Wide Side) Freud trip on him, as the clever critic Georgia Brown did in teasing out sexual symbols in The White Balloon. Remember what Linus said in Peanuts when someone suggested that because he'd drawn a figure with its hands behind its back, it revealed he had deep psychological demons? "I did that because I myself can't draw hands." I think Panahi put the fight behind that door because he couldn't stage a fight scene to save his life. But he manages to convey conflict in sneakier ways. And compared with the subtle, orchestrated tension of The Circle, joining the fight club would be boring.
Pari flees and looks up her jail pal Elham (Elham Saboktakin), a nurse at a hospital with gates like bars. Pari, it turns out, is pregnant. She can't get the OK for an abortion from her dad, and her lover was executed, so he can't sign. But Elham won't help: She lives in terror enough to begin with, that her doctor husband will find out about her past--she can't even visit his hometown in Pakistan because they'd check her at the border. The husband appears behind the women's locker-room door, voicing suspicions. Pari should get lost, fast...
Which she does, and meets Nayereh (Fatemeh Naghavi), who is cowering behind a car watching her blubbering daughter being comforted by strangers--Nayereh hopes they'll adopt her and save the child from some unnamed calamity. (The unemphatic unspecificity of the disasters in The Circle rescues them from sentimental issue-of-the-weekism.) The little-girl-lost scenes in The White Balloon and The Mirror are retrospectively cast in a stark new light, as well.
Stunned, a zombie, Nayereh abandons her child and walks along a dark street followed by the implacable camera. Her stricken face is a constant; only the background changes. It's a wonderfully evocative long take in a movie full of long takes, a little like the alley-of-corruption scene at the end of Catch-22, only not pretentious. Nayereh trusts the kindness of a stranger in a passing car. "How about a lift?" Don't do it, Nayereh, he's a rapist! But he's a vice cop instead. She's booked on suspicion of prostitution.
Gradually, since the first scene, the chase-movie cinematography has yielded to the statelier pace of despair. In the earlier chase scenes, the young women's chadors billowed in the breeze like Supergirl's cape; but Nayereh in flight seems as immobile as the statue at Clover Adams's tomb. A hard darkness slowly grips the film. The cinematic style of The Circle closes in in a way that reminds me of the increasing formal rigidity of each stanza in Auden's elegy for Yeats. By the end, it's full of spectral resignation.
The last scene is a dark visual echo of the first. The camera pans across a black circular cell, past the three escapees we've met, up to a square window in an institutional door. A man inside asks whether Solmaz Gholami is in there--no, it seems she's been transferred to another cell. Solmaz is the unseen mother in the first scene (it's also Panahi's daughter's name). In Persian, the name means "eternal."
If Gen. Augusto Pinochet had not been arrested in England on the night of October 16, 1998, the truth about his crimes would never have been fully revealed and democracy in Chile might have remained in a state of arrested development.
Eight years after Pinochet relinquished power, he still cast a long shadow over Chilean society. The Senate was stacked with his supporters. The Chilean courts lacked true independence. Painfully little progress had been made in restoring democratic rights to the importance they had enjoyed before the military takeover. Although a majority of Chileans hoped that Pinochet would stand trial for the atrocities committed during his rule, the "Senator for Life" benefited from parliamentary immunity and a 1978 amnesty that the military had granted itself. In the face of Pinochet's lingering power, the elected government quickly abandoned its pledge to seek derogation or annulment of the self-amnesty law. Indeed, despite a highly regarded report by a government-sponsored truth commission, proof of Pinochet's own role in the worst atrocities remained largely circumstantial.
Pinochet's arrest by British police, and his seventeen months of humiliating detention, changed all that, unleashing a renewed debate in Chile about the legacy of the military government and rekindling hopes of justice for Pinochet's thousands of victims. Previously timid Chilean judges began looking for chinks in the dictator's legal armor. After decades of silence, Pinochet's former collaborators stepped forward to tell of his role in covering up atrocities, revelations that have had a snowball effect.
The number of criminal cases against Pinochet jumped to dozens, then hundreds. By the time British Home Secretary Jack Straw sent Pinochet back to Chile, ostensibly on health grounds, the myth of his immunity had been totally shattered.
The reinvigorated Chilean courts skirted the 1978 military self-amnesty by ruling that prosecutions of ongoing "disappearances" are not barred, because the crime continues as long as the fate of the victim is concealed. Pinochet could thus be prosecuted for his role in the "Caravan of Death," a helicopter-borne military group that executed and "disappeared" seventy-five political prisoners shortly after the 1973 coup. In a historic ruling last August, the Chilean Supreme Court lifted Pinochet's senatorial immunity. Months later he was formally indicted by a Chilean judge for murder and disappearances and placed under house arrest, something that would have been simply inconceivable two years ago.
At several stages, Pinochet's shrill and seemingly powerful supporters--the military, the wealthy and the principal newspapers they own--sought to create an institutional crisis with gestures of defiance; but each time they backed down in the face of government and popular support for the rule of law.
When Pinochet was questioned about the Caravan of Death by the investigating judge, a historic act in itself, he seemed to pass the buck down the chain of command. This prompted Joaquin Lagos, a retired general who commanded a prison visited by the caravan, to go on television in January--the first time he had told his story publicly. He was graphic: "They took out [the victims'] eyes with knives, broke their jaws, their legs and then killed them." He said he reported the killings in writing to Pinochet, who rather than reprimanding the murderers asked Lagos to alter his report. A week later, Chilean newspapers published a document bearing Pinochet's signature with orders to cover up the torture of a political opponent.
According to Roberto Garretón, a leading Chilean human rights lawyer, "October 16 [Pinochet's London arrest] was fundamental, so that we could at last complete our transition to democracy."
The Pinochet case has inspired victims of abuse in country after country, particularly in Latin America, to challenge the transitional arrangements of five and ten years ago, which allowed the perpetrators of atrocities to go unpunished and, often, to remain in power. These temporary accommodations with the ancien régime did not extinguish the victims' thirst to bring their former tormentors to justice. In Guatemala, a powerful UN-sponsored truth commission report issued in 1999, which charged that the military, with US support, committed acts of genocide against Mayan Indians, has spurred victims to seek redress in the courts of both Guatemala and Spain. In Argentina, years after amnesty laws put an end to "Dirty War" prosecutions, eleven officials, including four members of the military juntas, are either in jail or under house arrest for "baby-snatching," the theft of the children of disappeared mothers; and just weeks ago, on March 6, an Argentine judge boldly struck down the 1987 amnesty laws as a violation of both the national constitution and international law.
At the same time, Pinochet's London arrest reflected, and strengthens, a new (though uneven) international movement--spurred by the twin genocides of the 1990s in Bosnia and Rwanda, and facilitated by the end of the cold war--to end impunity for the worst abuses. After the creation of United Nations tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, in 1998 the UN voted overwhelmingly in Rome to establish an International Criminal Court to prosecute future genocides, crimes against humanity and serious war crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. The United States, after failing to win a 100 percent guarantee that no US soldier or policy-maker would ever be prosecuted, was one of only seven countries to oppose the Rome treaty. President Clinton did sign the treaty, however, to remain involved in the court's formation, and though the Bush Administration may be less willing to play along, much less ratify it, the ICC is sure to have the needed sixty ratifications (it now has twenty-nine) within a few years.
"International justice" is already beginning to be a plausible backstop when national justice fails or a perpetrator flees. In Sierra Leone and Cambodia, the UN is preparing to sponsor tribunals together with local authorities. Former dictator of Chad Hissène Habré was arrested on torture charges last year in his Senegalese exile. (The Senegalese Court of Final Appeals ruled in March that he could not be tried there, but human rights groups are now seeking his extradition to stand trial in Belgium.) The Mexican government has agreed to extradite to Spain an Argentine naval officer accused by Judge Baltasar Garzón of torture. A Dutch court is pressing charges against former Surinamese military strongman Desi Bouterse for the 1982 killing of fifteen government opponents. Shadowy Peruvian spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos was surprised to find that in the post-Pinochet world he was denied exile even in Panama, which had acquired something of a reputation as a safe haven for the world's washed-up dictators. (Raoul Cédras of Haiti and Jorge Serrano of Guatemala are there now; in the past it hosted the Shah of Iran.) On March 20, in a landmark ruling, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said that the amnesty laws of Peru violated the American Convention on Human Rights.
Like Chile's prosecution of Pinochet, Serbia's recent arrest of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic on corruption charges also illustrates the dynamic interplay between international and national justice. Milosevic's indictment by the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal, and the international pressure on Serbia to act, certainly facilitated the dramatic move--and like the arrest of Pinochet, the showdown in Belgrade has further weakened Milosevic, who is sure to be discredited even more as details of his crimes emerge. Of course, prosecuting Milosevic in Serbia on corruption charges can never provide justice for the hundreds of thousands of non-Serb victims of wartime atrocities in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, and the international community is right to insist on Milosevic's transfer to The Hague to face trial for his worst crimes.
All these events have revived the debate over what has become known as "transitional justice"--or, as Ruti Teitel phrases it in her book of that name, "How should societies deal with their evil past?" Teitel's book offers a historical and comparative analysis of the problem and, while dense and at times repetitive, raises the key practical, legal and moral dilemmas facing transitional regimes. "What emerges," she writes, is a "pragmatic balancing of ideal justice with political realism." Focusing on the role of the law itself in times of transition, Teitel observes that "legal practices bridge a persistent struggle between two points: adherence to established convention and radical transformation.... the jurisprudence of these periods does not follow such core principles of legality as regularity, generality, and prospectivity--the very essence of the rule of law in ordinary times."
At the heart of the matter is whether to prosecute those who have committed atrocities. Most people would agree that leaders who organize mass murder, torture and the like should be brought to justice. The history of the past fifty years, however, reveals that until very recently, butchers like Pinochet, Idi Amin, Ferdinand Marcos, Anastasio Somoza and Mengistu Haile Mariam were less likely to end up behind bars than a squeegee man from the streets of New York. In Teitel's words, "transitional practices show trials to be few and far between, particularly in the contemporary period." The reason was sometimes pragmatic--these tyrants were offered a way out to induce them to hand over power without making their people suffer further. As Teitel notes, the legal and practical questions are also not trivial. Often the courts are so corrupted that a fair trial is impossible. When the crimes were committed at the regime's outset, there are problems of statutory limitations. It is impossible to prosecute all the perpetrators in criminal regimes, but selective prosecutions can also create injustice.
Enter truth commissions. They were first established in places like Argentina and Chile, where deniable disappearances made truth the first order of the day. But it is South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission that, "though flawed in many ways, has set a high standard for future commissions," in the words of Robert Rotberg in his excellent introduction to the subject in Truth v. Justice, an engaging collection of essays mainly about South Africa. The contributors examine the TRC and debate the fundamental moral question suggested by Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson: Can one "sacrifice the pursuit of justice as usually understood for the sake of promoting other social purposes such as...reconciliation"?
The TRC was an explicit political compromise between the broad amnesty that apartheid leaders sought and the prosecutions proposed by the African National Congress, which would have antagonized any hope of a peaceful transition. The ingenious solution was to keep the prosecution option open (some were indeed conducted) but grant individual amnesties for those who came forward and told the truth about their crimes, in public and often on television. This quasi-penal process encouraged confession and transparency. As Ronald Slye says in his essay in Truth v. Justice, the TRC's was "the most sophisticated amnesty undertaken in modern times, if not in any time, for acts that constitute violations of fundamental international human rights." The TRC process has been rightly challenged because it focused not on the apartheid system itself, including massive displacements and the pass system, but on "excesses" that even apartheid considered criminal, like murder and torture. And while there were a number of dramatic examples of victimizers and victims embracing, there was no requirement that the perpetrators atone or ask forgiveness to obtain amnesty. A respected poll showed that two-thirds of South Africans believed that the TRC investigations led to a deterioration of race relations. Nevertheless, "it can safely be said that South Africa is a better country in light of the accomplishments" of the TRC, as Richard Goldstone writes in a short essay in his book. The TRC's major accomplishment, says Goldstone, a leading South African judge who went on to become the first prosecutor of both the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals (about which he also writes), is that no one now can deny the worst manifestations of apartheid.
Yet the human rights movement now faces a "South Africa problem": While the TRC amnesty-for-truth process merits respect as the most honestly designed transitional arrangement short of "real" justice (i.e., prosecution), most of its counterparts around the world are producing or promising a lot more amnesty than truth. The conditions in South Africa, particularly the credible threat of widespread prosecution, which brought all manner of perpetrators forward, are hard to replicate elsewhere, especially in the developing world. At the same time, prosecutions, as we have seen, are much more politically possible than just five years ago.
Yet it seems that because of South Africa, the international community has become blindly besotted with truth commissions, regardless of how they are established and whether they are seen as precursors or complements to justice or, very often now, as substitutes for justice.
According to Priscilla Hayner in Unspeakable Truths, her useful analysis of truth commissions around the world, they are "fast becoming a staple in the transitional justice menu of options." Truth commissions can indeed produce important results. They can uncover hidden abuses and lift the veil of denial, help a fractured country come to grips with its past, provide a platform for victims and propose structural reforms. But to be as effective as the TRC, truth commissions must be independent, well resourced and endowed with subpoena power; must hold public hearings when necessary; and must be able to name the accused publicly. Few commissions today meet these criteria.
Commissions can also lay the groundwork for reparations to the victims in a way that trials probably cannot. My own experience bears out Hayner's observation that "especially for the very poor, the possibility of receiving financial assistance seems to be a primary reason to come forward to give testimony." In Chile the families of those listed by the commission as killed or disappeared (but not those tortured) receive monthly checks for life. In Argentina, litigation before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has resulted in payments to families as well as to those wrongly detained or exiled. As Hayner points out, however, "in very poor states, or where hundreds of thousands of persons were killed or disappeared, substantial individualized monetary compensation may simply not be feasible." Indeed, the compensation recommended by the El Salvador and Haiti commissions has never materialized. Even in South Africa, victims remain frustrated in their attempts to win meaningful compensation.
"Reconciliation," on the other hand, even if it could be defined, is too contested an ideal on which to base policy. Many victims, particularly in Latin America, see "reconciliation" without contrition by the perpetrators (or their punishment) as a cruel joke. Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky, who spearheads the campaign to overturn Argentina's amnesty law, says that "to try to impose reconciliation between the families of the victims and their executioners would be sadistic from an individual point of view and irrelevant for society. The only solid base on which to build the future is for all citizens to accept the law and its procedures." This echoes David Crocker in Truth v. Justice: "It is morally objectionable as well as impractical for a truth commission...to force people to agree about the past, forgive the sins committed against them, or love one another." On a more practical level, Hayner quotes Argentine activist Juan Mendez as saying that in his country reconciliation "was a code word for those who wanted nothing done."
Yet to many international donors, reconciliation is a feel-good idea, while justice, as we are seeing now in Chile, is a potentially messy affair in which there are not only winners but losers. But the perpetrators of atrocities should be losers. Hayner defines truth commissions as bodies that "investigat[e] politically motivated or politically targeted repression that was used as a means to maintain or obtain power and weaken political opponents." If the leaders used repression to empower themselves, then in an ideal transition they are disempowered, something that trial, conviction and punishment does most effectively.
In the best of cases, of course, truth commissions can lead to justice, and the two are naturally complementary. Hayner correctly notes that in Argentina and Chad the facts compiled by truth commissions were later used by prosecutors. But Hayner, who is regularly consulted in the establishment of truth commissions, too easily brushes off the charge that there is no trade-off between truth and justice. She quotes a Guatemalan minister of defense: "We are fully in support of a truth commission. Just as in Chile: truth, but no trials." (In fact, the Guatemalan truth commission has given impetus to justice efforts.) Into the early 1990s, truth may have been the best the victims could hope for. Today it is increasingly seen by abusive governments as a soft option for avoiding justice.
Sierra Leone, in a somewhat different context, illustrates the folly of trading justice for truth. The brutal civil war waged by the rebel Revolutionary United Front was characterized by the most revolting abuses I have personally witnessed, including the rebels' signature atrocity of cutting off the arms of civilians. A peace agreement signed in July 1999 included, with South Africa in mind, a blanket amnesty and a truth commission. In a historic move, the UN, under pressure from rights activists, backed away from the pact's amnesty, but no steps were actually taken to bring the perpetrators to justice. Not surprisingly, within months the rebels were at it again. Only when they made the mistake of attacking UN peacekeepers, however, was rebel leader Foday Sankoh arrested, and a UN-sponsored tribunal is now being established to try Sankoh and his henchmen.
Truth commissions can also divert international attention and scarce resources from justice efforts. In Haiti, where I worked with President Aristide's minister of justice, we were explicitly told by international donors that they could not fund a special prosecutor's office--the government's priority--because they were supporting a truth commission (whose report, published years after its completion, only confirmed what people already knew about coup-era repression).
It is true that trials are more demanding and costly than truth commissions. Criminal guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. It's one thing to say that thousands were killed under Pinochet; it is harder to prove his personal guilt in a particular case. But because most commissions rely on victim testimony, they fail to infiltrate the repressive apparatus, which, as we are now seeing in Chile (and as any prosecutor of organized crime knows), is the best way to establish the individual responsibility of top officials. And while truth commissions can elicit broader historical truths than trials, the value of this will depend on whether the crimes were carried out in a manner designed to evade responsibility (say, by disappearances or death squads) or whether, as in Bosnia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, they were incited and practiced in the open.
At least where they are politically possible, there are other powerful reasons to use trials. Truth-telling, however complete, simply does not adequately address the gravity of many crimes. As Aryeh Neier has argued, the results of a truth process would not have been commensurate to the criminality that took place in Rwanda or Bosnia. Trials are a foundational and forward-looking affirmation that no group, including public officials and the armed forces, is above the law and that the new democracy will not tolerate such behavior. (Teitel argues that they are, at the same time, backward-looking.) Indeed, trials can emphasize that a transition to democracy has been successful by demonstrating that the ancien régime is too weak to impede them. Trials also enable victims to establish or recover their dignity as holders of legal rights. In Haiti, the total impunity with which a small elite literally got away with murder and plunder for generations had left the poor majority assuming that they had no rights. Trials can also (if conducted fairly) juxtapose the meticulous rules of due process with the conduct of the accused. While it was a rich irony that Pinochet, whose war tribunals conducted sham trials and ordered the summary execution of political opponents, would take advantage of the full measure of British rule of law for well over a year, it was precisely in honor of the rule of law that he was prosecuted.
The argument that if perpetrators are threatened with prosecution they will not relinquish power, or will undermine a new democracy, deserves attention. In some negotiated transitions, such as South Africa, this may be true and should impose a responsible caution. In most cases, however (think of Cédras and Duvalier in Haiti, Stroessner in Paraguay, Idi Amin in Uganda, Mobutu in Zaire, Suharto in Indonesia), bloody despots are overthrown or leave kicking and screaming when their time is up anyway. Last year, it was widely argued that to induce Slobodan Milosevic to step down, he should be assured that he would not be prosecuted. No such assurances were made, and he not only gave up power, he is now being prosecuted domestically and is likely to stand trial one day before a war crimes tribunal. Fears of destabilization are often brandished by successor governments that would rather accommodate the ancien régime than invest the political capital in disempowering it further. In Chile, forebodings expressed by opponents of Pinochet's arrest (including the elected government) that "reopening old wounds" would threaten the country's democracy were revealed to be largely a bluff--democracy has in fact been strengthened. In Argentina in 1987, after trials of the top generals threatened to spread to more junior military officers, rebellious officers began a mutiny. In a tense moment for the young democracy, civilians surrounded the barracks and some 200,000 people gathered in the Plaza de Mayo to support the constitutional order. Rather than capitalizing on this public outpouring to strengthen civilian control, President Raul Alfonsín asked the throngs to go home and then halted further prosecutions. While it is hard to second-guess a president with solid democratic credentials faced with a very real revolt, it is undeniable that his path of lesser confrontation led to spiraling military demands, including the eventual pardons of those already convicted, and the consequent weakening of democratic institutions.
While the House of Lords was hearing arguments that would lead to its famous decisions that Pinochet was not immune from torture charges, South Africa's last apartheid president, F.W. de Klerk, was across London releasing his autobiography. "Would an apartheid criminal who has been granted an amnesty...be liable to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity in a non-South African court?" asks Richard Goldstone in For Humanity. Goldstone has "no doubt that such a prosecutor [of a foreign court or the future ICC] should not be inhibited by national amnesties. In international law they clearly have no standing and would not afford a defense to criminal or civil proceedings before an international court or a national court other than that of the country that grants the amnesty. That does not mean that in deciding on an investigation or prosecution, the prosecutor will not take into account" the circumstances of the amnesty. Goldstone sensibly proposes that "an international prosecutor ignore self-amnesties of the kind granted to General Pinochet," which unfortunately are the norm around the world. On the other hand, he suggests that it would be appropriate in the South African case for the prosecutor, in the exercise of his or her discretion, to take into account the fact that the individual amnesties were granted pursuant to a scheme "approved by a democratically elected legislature--a legislature that is representative of the victims of apartheid."
One area begging for a truth commission is US support for atrocities abroad. Because the US public would not have countenanced open and notorious American support for crimes against humanity, there was usually, as in Nicaragua or Chile, a layer of deniability, either about the crimes or about US support or, as in East Timor in 1975, a virtual news blackout. The national truth commissions in El Salvador, Chile and Haiti were disappointingly silent on US complicity. Their counterparts in Guatemala and Chad were less shy. As a result of recent Pinochet-driven disclosures, the fuller US role in undermining Chile's democracy and then in knowingly supporting Pinochet's crimes is coming to light. Proving the individual criminal (as opposed to political) liability in specific abuses of high-ranking American policy-makers such as Henry Kissinger may not be easy and prosecutions politically unlikely (especially as Dr. Kissinger now watches where he travels). But a full airing of US cold war support for abusive forces in places like Chad, El Salvador, Greece, Haiti, Indonesia and Nicaragua (and direct US atrocities in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) by an officially appointed nonpolitical panel could establish an important historical record, promote a measure of accountability and, if the United States were ready to apologize (as Clinton recently did to Guatemala), foster a kind of reconciliation with the countries whose people suffered the abuses.
"These pieces are not confessions," Meghan Daum declares in the foreword to My Misspent Youth, an anthology of articles she wrote for The New Yorker, Harper's and other magazines. Nonsense. Maybe, as she claims, "a few of the stories I tell never even happened," but the first time I read her book, I finished it in a single afternoon, mesmerized and spluttering, because all the essays have the flavor of confession.
They taste, that is, like a hot fudge sundae: salty sweet. Or more exactly, they taste like an inside-out hot fudge sundae: sweet, then salty. The surface is chilly, pale, slick, sugary. Beneath is a dark hot goo, like half-coagulated blood. The difference, in texture and temperature, is exhilarating, and probably not good for you.
Just over 30, Daum has been anthologized in The KGB Bar Reader and championed by Thomas Beller, the novelist-scenester-editor of the literary journal Open City. Until she decamped last year to Nebraska (she writes about her new life there in the latest issue of O), Daum was as urbane a writer as they come. Like Joan Didion, to whom she is often compared, she is a nonfiction switch-hitter: an empathetic reporter and a provocative autobiographer. (The reported essay on flight attendants reprinted here, which Open City rescued after a men's magazine killed it, is a gem.) She owes her fame, however, to her confessions. In print she has admitted to unsafe sex, inventoried her debts and spending habits, and chronicled her waitership at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, much the way David Sedaris chronicled his elfhood at Macy's SantaLand. In the first person lies her weakness--and her strength.
In "Creative Writers and Daydreaming," Freud explained that the egotism of most daydreams repels everyone except the person who dreamed them up. In successful literature, however, the same fantasies manage to be pleasing, because great writers are able to short-circuit the reader's envy and contempt to trick readers into identifying with daydreams they would ordinarily roll their eyes at. When Charles Dickens or Jane Austen share their fantasies, you enjoy them as if they were your own.
This is not, however, how confessions work. Memoirists don't convince you to overcome your envy and contempt; they expect and plan for those reactions. You can't read Meghan Daum's essays without becoming enraged. If someone tells you that she has been financially compelled to move from New York City to Nebraska because she only earned $40,000 in 1997 and $59,000 in 1998, you will roll your eyes. My patience lapsed when Daum claimed that financial anxiety had blocked her writing by rendering her unable to think "about anything other than how to make a payment on whatever bill was sitting on my desk, most likely weeks overdue." Weeks? And she calls herself a writer? She can't hope that the reader will sympathize; there is another game afoot. Arousal to indignation is in fact one of the pleasures Daum is offering. Of course she's infuriating. In real life, people always are.
Like all real people, Daum has unexamined, often self-serving ideas about herself. Unlike most real people, she writes about them uncensored. When they hurt Daum and those around her, the reader feels anger, as if Daum were a friend who needs a talking-to. But if he's honest with himself, the reader may also recognize a few of his own self-serving ideas among Daum's particularly if he too is a freelance writer who has found it hard to support himself in New York City. This is the hot goo. We all know it's wrong to believe that just because you are a writer, you deserve a high-bourgeois lifestyle and boundless love. And we know it's wrong to think that if you haven't received these prizes yet, it's because you don't yet write well enough. But if you are a writer, this is the sort of nonsense you believe, or used to believe until you were disillusioned. Disillusionment may have improved you as a person, but to spend a little stolen time with the old cheats is nonetheless a sticky, high-calorie pleasure.
If it were up to me, everyone who aspired to make a living as a writer would be obliged, at an early age, to read Thoreau's "Life without Principle," Fitzgerald's "The Crack-Up," Gissing's New Grub Street and Connolly's Enemies of Promise. "My Misspent Youth," the title essay in Daum's collection, may belong in this canon, not for Daum's insight, which is no better than Fitzgerald's, but for her lyricism, which rivals Connolly's.
This is the chilly, pale, slick, sugary surface. Daum says she learned how to write sentences from her father, a music composer. And on the evidence of her prose style, I have no trouble believing her claim that she was in her day the second-best high school oboist in New Jersey, even without practicing. She has the ease of a natural. Note the rhythms in the opening lines of her essay "Toy Children":
Though I had a stuffed-animal collection that rivaled the inventory of a Toys "R" Us, I was a child that hated dolls. By hate, I'm not talking about a cool indifference. I'm talking about a palpable loathing, a dislike so intense that my salient memory of doll ownership concerns a plastic baby whose duty among my playthings consisted solely of being thrown against the wall repeatedly and then smudged with a combination of red lipstick, purple Crayola, and, when available, spaghetti sauce. This was done in an effort to simulate severe injury, possibly even internal bleeding, and this doll, who, if I recall correctly, had eyes that opened and shut and therefore had come preassigned with the name Baby Drowsy, spent most of her time in a shoe box in my closet. This was the intensive care unit, the place where, when I could no longer stand the sight of Baby Drowsy's fat, contusion-ridden face, I would Scotch tape a folded Kleenex to her forehead and announce to my mother that Baby Drowsy had been in yet another massive car wreck.
The sentences here start off compact and declarative. The first two bring to mind the humorously flat disavowals in Frank O'Hara's poem "Autobiographia Literaria": "I hated dolls and I/hated games, animals were/not friendly and birds/flew away." But then, like a beetle lifting its chitin to reveal gossamer wings, out from under these assertions Daum unfolds subordinate clauses full of color and ambivalence, linked with a delicacy that requires the reader's attention but never flummoxes him. She segues from aphorism to excursus as gracefully as Hazlitt, who loved hate in similar cadences: "Is it pride?" Hazlitt wondered. "Is it envy? Is it the force of contrast? Is it weakness or malice? But so it is, that there is a secret affinity, a hankering after evil in the human mind, and that it takes a perverse, but a fortunate delight in mischief, since it is a never-failing source of satisfaction."
But let's get back to the hot goo. Nearly every piece in My Misspent Youth contains an understanding of Daum and the world that is appealing and false. She succeeds in wrecking some of them; others resist her. For a reviewer to set forth exactly why and how Daum has failed to undeceive herself would be a bit like doing the crossword puzzle as a public service. Not quite taking her at her word is part of the reader's fun. But I can't resist a brief look at two issues: love and money.
In her first essay, "On the Fringes of the Physical World," and in her last, "Variations on Grief," Daum describes relationships with men who loved and disappointed her. The first, a sportswriter she calls Pete, failed to live up to the promise of his e-mail courtship, when he wooed her under the America Online moniker PFSlider. The second, a rich, idle aesthete she calls Brian, who died of a respiratory infection at age 22, let Daum down by not having made anything of his short life.
Though the men are different, their relationships with Daum are strangely alike. Both surprised Daum by spoiling her. "He gave me all of what I'd never realized I wanted.... I'd never seen anything like it," she writes of Pete/PFSlider. "I have never in my life allowed a person to cater to my whims the way he did," she writes of Brian. Daum is aware of the lopsidedness. "I slurped up his attention like some kind of dying animal," she writes of Pete/PFSlider. "I liked him because he didn't hold me in contempt for refusing to reciprocate the romantic aspects of his affection for me," she writes of Brian. But in both cases, she is reluctant to relate her longing for attention to the phoniness she experiences later, when she meets Pete face to face and when she tries to mourn Brian. Instead she blames the Internet for disguising Pete's nature (when, in fact, his first e-mail, "is this the real meghan daum?" perfectly reveals the nature of his seduction), and she somewhat mystically links Brian's death to his lack of interest in hard work (when, in fact, Brian had at least one difficult achievement to his credit: He loved a writer unrequitedly).
Compliant phoniness--and its unfailing sidekick, imperfectly muffled rage--is an occupational hazard for writers. They are, after all, people who have made a profession out of saying whatever it takes to get attention. But it is for her commentary on another hazard of the striving writer's life that Daum has become almost famous: unsecured debt--and its unfailing sidekick, a rampaging sense of socioeconomic entitlement.
In "My Misspent Youth," Daum explains that at age 17 she visited a music copyist's prewar apartment at West End Avenue and 104th Street in Manhattan. The copyist had oak floors, "faded Persian rugs...and NPR humming from the speakers." I imagine he had a subscription to The Nation, too. At that moment, Daum imprinted the style of life she wanted, and like the hero of Knut Hamsun's novel Hunger--the one who needlessly starves himself--she insisted on procuring it by writing.
It can't be done, of course--not today, not on the Upper West Side, not without the innovative credit-card use that Bush and Congress are about to consign to the dustbin of history. (Memo to Vince Passaro: Cash out now.) This is no surprise. What redeems Daum's essay from mere self-pity (I failed) or backhanded boast (If I couldn't make it, no one can) is an embarrassing insight, which can be phrased as a question: Would you live in Thoreau's Walden shack if it had wall-to-wall shag carpeting?
Daum would not. "When you get to a certain age you learn what the deal breakers are," she writes. "I was never interested in being rich. I just wanted to live in a place with oak floors." Beneath the humor is an unbecoming truth, rarely spoken aloud. Suffering for art brings socioeconomic compromise, which, in a culture stratified by market segment, looks cheap rather than austere. Literature is a high-bourgeois taste. Even if it brings in only a petty-bourgeois salary, to accept petty-bourgeois taste would feel like giving up hope on it as a profession. Thus carpet, dust ruffles, pantyhose, Maxwell House and Billy Joel give Daum the heebie-jeebies. When she finally runs, it's to Nebraska. She can't afford to stop in Jersey City.
Except for the scorn of Billy Joel, I sympathize. A writer as gifted as Daum deserves to live in a prewar UWS 1BR fully reno w/hdwd flrs & EIK. I can't, however, agree with the conclusion she draws from her exile. (It may, after all, be temporary. Despite "Goodbye to All That," Joan Didion has not made it a point of pride to stay away.) Wanting to live in a place with oak floors does demonstrate an interest in being rich. There's nothing wrong with that. As Samuel Johnson said, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." But if Daum thought it would be evident to a 17-year-old's glance how a writer could pursue wealth with integrity, or combine ambition with gentility, she must have been living in an uptown world.