Cape May Courthouse, N.J.
Alexander Cockburn should show respect for, and knowledge of, the facts. In his May 7 "Beat the Devil" column, "Justice Scotched in Lockerbie Trial," he shows neither.
He starts by praising a report critical of the trial presented to a conference of the Arab League by Hans Koechler, whom he describes as "a distinguished Austrian philosopher." Distinguished for what? Certainly not for his knowledge of Scottish law. Koechler's report is bizarre. He doesn't even seem to know that in a Scottish court the judges do not introduce evidence. Koechler proposes that there was a conspiracy to convict Libyans, which included the United States, Britain, the Scottish court and even the Libyans' defense lawyers. Koechler has wandered out onto the grassy knoll, and Cockburn is trotting right along behind him.
Koechler was "one of five international observers at the trial" appointed by Kofi Annan. He was a representative of something called the International Progress Organization. A second observer appointed from the same organization was Robert Thabit. Koechler acknowledges that he worked with Thabit. Shortly before his appointment as trial observer Thabit had been a lawyer for Libya's UN mission. Cockburn was either unaware of this or just forgot to mention it.
Cockburn characterizes the testimony of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci--who was supposed to identify one of the accused Libyans as the man who bought clothes found in the bomb bag in his shop--as so confused he could barely recognize the accused when he was pointed out in court. We would bet a considerable sum that Cockburn didn't see the Gauci testimony. We did. He was an excellent witness, clearly a man trying his best to accurately describe an event that had taken place over a decade earlier. Not only did he point out the accused Libyan in court, he picked him out of a lineup ("parade," the Scots call it) shortly before the trial opened. In 1991 Gauci picked out a photo of the accused as the man resembling the purchaser of the clothes from twelve photos shown him. Earlier, in 1989, Gauci assisted a police artist in preparing a sketch and in compiling an image of the purchaser. Both images looked strikingly like the accused Libyan looked at the time. This also seems to have escaped Cockburn's notice.
Cockburn says that prosecutors produced "a document" indicating that a bag from Air Malta was loaded onto Pan Am 103 at Frankfurt. Actually, there were two documents: They were the baggage-loading records from Frankfurt. Cockburn counters that there was "firm evidence from the defense" that all bags from the Air Malta flight had been accounted for. The defense presented no evidence at all on that point. It just said that all the bags had been accounted for, and even Cockburn must be aware that evidence is not what comes out of a lawyer's mouth.
That's an impressive number of errors for a short column. The Lockerbie trial was long and complicated, and there was a ton of evidence. Cockburn may know this, but he doesn't care. He appears to believe that if there is evil in the world, the United States is behind it. He can truly paraphrase "the terrible Lord Braxfield": "Let them bring me Americans, and I'll fiddle the facts."
Parents of Theodora Cohen, murdered in the terrorist bombing of Pam Am 103
I don't expect to agree with every Nation article, but I do expect meticulously accurate facts. I can address only some of Alexander Cockburn's most flagrant falsifications here. He thinks "the prosecution's case absolutely depended on proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Megrahi was the man who bought the clothes" used in the lethal suitcase from a Maltese shop owner. He also claims that "in nineteen separate statements to police prior to the trial the shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, had failed to make a positive identification of Megrahi" and that "Gauci was asked five times if he recognized anyone in the courtroom. No answer. Finally, the exasperated prosecutor pointed [out the accused].... 'the best that Gauci could do was to mumble that 'he resembled him.'"
Gauci did not mumble when he identified Megrahi--the first time he was asked to do so in court. The only number five that can reliably be associated with Megrahi is the number 5 he wore in the police lineup in April 1999 when Gauci pointed him out as the man who came into his shop in December 1988. The number nineteen is the number of photographs Gauci was initially asked to look at on September 14, 1999, in police headquarters in Floriana, Malta. As for the correct number of times Gauci actually met with police and looked at photographs, according to the Opinion of the Court, it seems to be six.
What is Cockburn's source? My sources for the facts are: the transcript of the testimony Gauci gave on July 11, 2000; the Opinion of the Court delivered by Lord Sutherland on January 31, 2001; my transcribed remarks of a speech Alistair Campbell, QC, gave when he spoke to the US families in Baltimore on March 5, 2001, during the posttrial briefings of the crown team; and the recollections of other family members who heard that testimony.
Cockburn seems unaware that the prosecution's case against Megrahi was also based on the coded passport issued to him by the Libyan Security Service, the ESO, for which Megrahi worked; the tickets for every flight he took; the records of every hotel he stayed at in Malta in December 1988. Nor does he seem aware that the prosecution team was able to use Megrahi's own words against him by playing the film interview he gave to Pierre Salinger in 1991, in which he lied about his ESO membership and denied staying in the Holiday Inn, Malta, December 20, 1988. Megrahi used his false passport five times in 1987. The next time he used it was December 20-21, 1988, to travel to and from Malta and Tripoli. He never used it again.
I have a passionate need to see justice done in the murder of my husband, Tony Hawkins, and 269 other souls. The evidence as revealed in the Lockerbie trial has convinced me that: 1. The debris trail from Lockerbie leads to Libya; 2. These two men are guilty of assembling the bomb and starting it on its journey; 3. They were not mere soldiers taking the rap for the higher-ups; 4. That of the two, Megrahi was clearly in charge of this operation, Fhimah providing the necessary assistance and access to Air Malta; 5. They clearly did not act on their own without the complete assistance and approval of the Libyan government, i.e., Qaddafi.
What was incomprehensible was not the guilty verdict but the not guilty verdict. It should have been not proven. The case against Fhimah was not as strong as that against Megrahi. I don't know who Cockburn believes to be responsible for this act of terrorism, but he shouldn't use his column to create confusion about this case or to increase the suffering of the families who are still fighting for justice for the people they love.
Editor, Truth Quest (newsletter published by The Victims of Pan Am Flight 103)
For years the Cohens described the Scottish media in extremely unflattering terms, sending multiple faxes to editors if they even suspected a publication was going to challenge "the official version." Thus, in July 1991, they protested the possible inclusion of the Syrian flag among those of other Gulf War coalition members at a Washington victory parade, on the grounds that the Syrian government had murdered their daughter (the favored line of official US leakers at that time). When Washington decided to shift the blame to Libya they became no less clamant in their denunciations of Qaddafi and indeed of anyone, like distinguished Scottish law professor Robert Black, who attempted to negotiate an agreement under which the two Libyans could stand trial in a neutral country. Certainly, the group of US relatives suing Libya for some $4 billion as responsible for the bombing has every reason to dislike any questioning of the verdict.
Hans Koechler is indeed a distinguished Austrian philosopher who by now probably knows a lot more about Scottish law than the Cohens. Those sitting through the entire trial in Zeist, Holland (which the Cohens, contrary to their misleading insinuation, attended a relatively sparse number of times), recall that Koechler was present for almost the entire proceedings. Thus Koechler may know, as the Cohens do not, that while Scottish judges cannot introduce evidence, they can rule on what evidence is or is not admitted.
Less prejudiced critics might pause to reflect that, since they had brought the indictments, there obviously was a conspiracy by the US and British governments to convict the Libyans. Collusion in such an agreement by the judges and the defense, William Taylor QC (counsel for Megrahi), can only be inferred, but it is not absurd for Koechler to make that inference. The judges found Megrahi guilty solely on the basis of some very shaky circumstantial evidence, and the normally tigerish Taylor, in the opinion of many legal observers, put up an astonishingly feeble performance in his crucial cross-examination of Tony Gauci, the only witness who could link Megrahi to the suitcase bomb. Nevertheless, Gauci was hardly "an excellent witness." Engelhardt has no basis in claiming only six meetings between police and Gauci, who was interviewed by innumerable Scottish, US and Maltese law enforcement groups, as well as prosecution and defense lawyers. On a reasonable count, the number of such interviews goes well into the double digits. The judges themselves admitted in their verdict, "On the matter of identification of the first accused, there are undoubtedly problems," and "We accept of course that he never made what could be described as an absolutely positive identification."
In fact, when Gauci gave evidence on July 11 last year, he was asked several times by the crown counsel if he could identify anyone in the court as the man who had bought the clothes from his shop that were later found in the suitcase containing the bomb. He failed to do so, and only when asked if the person sitting next to the policeman in the dock was the man in question did he grudgingly reply: "He resembles him a lot." On an earlier occasion, when shown a photograph of Mohammed Abu Talb, a Palestinian terrorist whom the defense contended was the real bomber, Gauci used almost the same words, declaring, according to his brother, that Talb "resembles" the clothes buyer "a lot." Gauci's identification of Megrahi at the identity parade just before the opening of the trial was with the words "not exactly the man I saw in the shop. Ten years ago I saw him, but the man who look [sic] a little bit like is the number 5" (Megrahi).
It is highly likely that the evidence of identification of Megrahi, its unsatisfactory nature and the comments by the trial judges will bulk large in the appeal this coming fall. However Gauci's testimony may have later appeared in a transcript or on a video recording, two relatives who were physically present at the courtroom testimony have confided that they found Gauci far from confident in his identification.
Whether Megrahi had a false passport, or stayed in Maltese hotels, or was there on December 20-21, 1988, is irrelevant--grassy knoll territory, if you will. Is there evidence that links him to the bomb? That's the sole pertinent issue. That's why Gauci's testimony is crucial. As I noted above, even the judges admitted that identification was squishy. As for Fhimah, the judges would doubtless have preferred to opt for a "not proven" verdict, but there was no evidence of any sort against him, apart from testimony of the prosecution's supergrass Giaka, who was on the CIA's payroll before, during and after the bombing, but who failed to mention the alleged role of Megrahi and Fhimah in the bombing to his paymasters until 1991. Even the judges called him a liar. The prosecution described Fhimah in indictments and thereafter, up until almost the end of the trial, as a Libyan intelligence agent, then dropped the accusation.
As far as the baggage is concerned, the prosecution's sole achievement was to demonstrate that it was theoretically possible for a bag from the Air Malta flight to have found its way onto the Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to London that connected to Flight 103. The fact remains that there is no conclusive evidence that this transfer occurred. When Granada TV broadcast a documentary asserting such a transfer as a fact, Air Malta sued and extracted damages.
On July 1 Larry Summers--the Wunderkind economist who ran the Treasury Department under President Clinton--takes over as president of Harvard University.
The urban rebellion in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood that followed the April 7 death of yet another black man, Timothy Thomas, at the hands of police shocked city residents. Mayor Charlie Luken lamented the "violence" as "unthinkable" and at a press conference pleaded for it to stop. At times like these it is vital to think clearly about how social problems, especially violence, are defined. In Cincinnati the media identify the core problem as "police-community" relations. But reducing the myriad and interrelated forms of violence in the inner city to a problem of police-community relations misses an opportunity to understand such issues in a deeper and more systemic sense. We need to understand how violence has been waged against people of color for a very long time.
Since the late 1940s a series of moves on the part of government and the private sector have reinforced an American form of apartheid. Ushering in the explosion of the suburbs for the white middle class, the Federal Housing Authority's liberalization of the mortgage market, its regulations favoring new construction of single-family detached houses and its appraisal process helped insure that neighborhoods continued to house the same social and racial classes. Under "urban renewal," many black neighborhoods were razed to make way for freeways, sports arenas and corporate redevelopment. Global restructuring of the economy then gutted the black working class's job base in the manufacturing sector.
Add to these the rise to power of neoconservatives, who divest the state of responsibility for meeting social needs, evidenced by rollbacks of affirmative action, the elimination of welfare and cutbacks in housing, combined with more punitive measures like increases in police forces and prison-building and a continued militarized economy.
The "hypersegregation" of blacks in the inner cities is now a structural reality. As sociologists Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton note in American Apartheid, "One-third of all African Americans in the United States live under conditions of intense racial segregation.... No other group in the contemporary United States comes close to this level of isolation within urban society."
Recent census data show that Cincinnati is the ninth most segregated city in the United States, with Over-the-Rhine, about 77 percent black, being its poorest neighborhood. This extreme social and spatial isolation exacerbates the effects of poverty, making it difficult to sustain neighborhood institutions and social organizations. These trends take a particular form in Cincinnati. Consider that in 1996, at the request of an alliance of corporate, business and city power, the Urban Land Institute came to Over-the-Rhine bearing gifts of a homeownership agenda for a community where approximately 75 percent of the population have incomes well below the reach of the rental market, let alone homeownership. Consider Cincinnati Pops director Erich Kunzel's "dream" to build the Greater Cincinnati Fine Arts and Education Center near Music Hall, which, after originally promising no displacement, called for the removal of the Drop Inn Center, the area's largest homeless shelter and lead institution in the Over-the-Rhine People's Movement.
And consider the motion passed by the City Planning Commission last July not to fund additional low-income housing units on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine, a motion that discriminates against a particular race and class and ignores the city's own Consolidated Plan, which identifies the need for 30,000 affordable housing units. Further, city records show that between January 1995 and the first quarter of 2000, 60 percent of the $8 million invested by the Department of Neighborhood Services in housing programs in Over-the-Rhine supported market-rate rather than affordable housing development.
Last, consider the mayor's about-face decision last summer not to support the $4.5 million tax-credit package of ReSTOC, a community-based, nonprofit housing cooperative, intended to finance construction of economically mixed housing in Over-the-Rhine, a project that qualified for state funding. The mayor then forced ReSTOC to sell one of the buildings in its package to a private owner to develop dotcom enterprises.
These examples of institutional violence have one thing in common: the way they market Over-the-Rhine as an idealized version of itself, effectively erasing it as a place for poor people of color. Revitalization efforts are selling an image that has no place for the poor who actually live there. "Development" means attracting people of higher incomes to live and play and work.
I am not suggesting that the neighborhood keep out newcomers, including people of higher means. The point is that the city fights to deny resources to community-based organizations while promoting renovation that caters to white, wealthier residents. And in this process, the buildings and urban ambience are sold like a stage set to folks who want to consume an urban night out. Over-the-Rhine is being Disneyfied, and this requires pushing people who don't fit the postcard image out of the way. No wonder Over-the-Rhine residents feel resentful.
Gentrification is often advocated as an antisegregation measure. This may be true in the short run, before poor residents are displaced. But community development today is rarely conceived outside the ideology of corporatism, with its lingo of public-private partnerships, enterprise and empowerment zones, tax incentives, and abatements and deregulatory legislation, all of which are ploys to advance privatization and subordinate social movements to the interests of business and the profit system. Community development has been reduced to a kind of plea bargaining with the powers that be, and thus what gets constructed as hope within the community is the desire to have a little more money funneled in its direction. That community institutions persist at all in these circumstances is an amazing testament to their perseverance in meeting desperate need.
Urban disruptions like the rebellion in Cincinnati are indictments of entrenched patterns of police-community relations and community development. Gentrification that produces displacement is an act of violence. Economic development that neglects to provide jobs for Over-the-Rhine residents is an act of violence. Building stadiums and supporting corporations at public expense while closing inner-city schools are acts of violence. We should not be surprised when communities erupt in righteous anger against the bonds of their oppression.
Vermont, as John Kenneth Galbraith once observed, is the only state in the union represented in Congress by a Democrat, a Republican and a Socialist, who all vote more or less alike (that is, liberal). Scratch the Republican label, otherwise his point holds. This small state of delicious anachronisms has once again worked its magic on the leaden cynicism of big-time power politics. Let's hear it for Vermonters, who send people of distinctive quality to speak for them in Washington.
And let's hear it for Jim Jeffords and his truth-telling. The larger meaning of his defection is that, in a single stroke, he cut through the smoke and spin manufactured by Bush's White House to obscure the radical nature of its right-wing agenda and rang the gong on those media suck-ups who compliantly portrayed this new President as the moderate middle. The senator's action even obliquely rebuked Democrats for the limpness of their opposition. Thus, Jeffords effectively resolved the dissonance between the establishment version of business as usual in Washington and what citizens at large are perceiving with growing alarm and anger. People distant from Washington, it turns out, were not wrong about Bush. Thanks, Senator, for blowing his cover.
The governing classes should rather quickly digest the truth of what Jeffords was telling them, starting with Bush but including Democratic leaders. If the President is a more formidable character than we assume, he will take seriously the senator's warning that he is on track to become a one-term President like his father. He might begin by looking close around him, assigning blame and getting real distance from his lousy counselors. Karl Rove, the political adviser mentored by the late Lee Atwater, embodies hard-right arrogance and small-town, get-even tactics--an approach regularly expressed for him by the Wall Street Journal's hit man, columnist Paul Gigot, who in April urged the White House to "get even privately" with Jeffords for his mild dissents on tax cuts and education. The Senate GOP leader, Trent Lott, comes from the same school. His crude manipulations of regular order--firing the Senate parliamentarian, pocketing the campaign finance bill after the Senate passed it--reflect the cynicism of one-party rule found in Mississippi and originally practiced by segregation Democrats. Bush needs new eyes and ears in Congress--people who understand that this representative institution is bigger than the Sunbelt.
George W. is further endangered by his adolescent dependence on Vice President Cheney, a 1970s politician whose grasp of present issues like energy and the environment is not only tone-deaf to public attitudes but so outdated that even leading industrialists admit his remedies are wrongheaded. In short, without a major shift in strategic direction the Bush presidency is in long-term trouble, too deep for the usual cosmetics. We doubt he is up to it, even if he recognizes the danger.
Democrats, meanwhile, have the chance to make themselves over--if they will shake off the accommodationist mush, recognize they are engaged in a deadly fight over the future and appreciate that the abrupt Senate makeover challenges them to be as bold as Jeffords. Thanks to him, the new majority has been given critical leverage: the ability to block the right wing's capture of the federal judiciary, the platform to launch a fresh activist legislative agenda and an opening to begin the hard politics of canceling major portions of Bush's just-enacted tax-cut boodle. Democrats can stall and dilute and even kill the right's agenda, but they do not have the power to legislate. What they do have is the luxury of testing new frontiers--advancing an agenda of big ideas that can be long-term winners, forcing this conservative President and his right-wing camp followers to block them or run for cover. Big ideas mean taking risks, of course, but they would begin to reconnect the party with its own tattered ideals and neglected constituencies: Universal health insurance and a step-by-step plan to achieve it, starting at the state level. Challenging market power with renewed inquiry into whether antitrust doctrine really protects the small but vital elements of enterprise from monopolistic domination. The deteriorated condition of work and wages, not only for the working poor but across a broad spectrum of occupations. The inequity of the tax code, as explored from the ground up.
The alternative--more of the same--means piddling along halfheartedly with too-cute positions that are easily rolled by a dedicated opposition. The Democrats' sorry debacle in the tax-cut debate should have taught them that they don't win by going halfway toward the right's zealotry--they merely lose bigger. Ambitious politics can set the stage for more ambitious governing. The Jeffords message, in that sense, is threatening to both parties--another invitation to independent figures, from Jesse Ventura to John McCain, to step clear of tired party labels and truly upend the status quo.
We don't wish to overinterpret the import of one politician's change of heart. The Senate remains composed of the same 100 men and women who enacted Bush's reactionary comfort-the-wealthy tax bill and who will no doubt enact other odious measures, with the assistance of turncoat Democrats. Still, the poetic drama--an obscure and diffident senator from a very small state shocking the system with truth-telling--does renew our sense of hopefulness. The conservative hegemony is living on borrowed time. Right-wing nostrums are no longer convincing to most people, but they're not yet challenged by an aggressive progressive agenda, and an alternative vision has yet to find a confident voice. Our optimism may still sound premature, but the boldness of Senator Jeffords encourages us to believe that things really are changing--perhaps changing faster than the rest of Washington understands.
SMITING INTERNET SMUT
The American Library Association and the ACLU are mounting a legal challenge to the Children's Internet Protection Act, which requires public libraries and schools to install filtering software on computers or forfeit federal funds--supposedly to protect tender minds from porn on the Internet. But Nancy Kranich, president of the ALA, writes that filtering software is flawed, blocking legitimate information. The programs, pushed by the religious right, let through 25 percent of the porn sites while blindly stopping 20 percent of the "benign" sites with double entendre names like Super Bowl XXX, the Mars Exploration site (MARSEXPL)--and Mother Jones! Since there are an estimated 3 billion benign sites, this means that more than 600 million of them are unavailable to library patrons of all ages.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
We've learned that Jennifer Berkshire's report on the White House serving of GE food, quoted here last week, was a joke. We weren't the only ones fooled. Alternet, where the story appeared, reports that "a number of environmental leaders and scores of readers called and emailed...outraged about the 'inaccuracies'" in the article. In the May 22 Alternet, satirist Berkshire is at it again, reporting on the White House's new energy plan, which will conserve electricity by giving schoolkids cold breakfasts and tapping into the "power of prayer."
It's fitting that the first senator to become an independent in more than thirty years hails from Vermont, the state with the most advanced independent politics in the nation. Vermont gave maverick Republican John McCain a solid victory in the 2000 presidential primary--nearly half those voting were self-described independents, and one in seven said that campaign finance reform was their top concern. The Vermont Progressive Party, which has tenaciously focused on the needs and interests of average people, is firmly entrenched in Burlington, the state's largest city, and its gubernatorial candidate, Anthony Pollina, got 10 percent of the vote last year in a hard-fought three-way race.
Thus, Senator Jim Jeffords's decision was helped enormously by the political space for an independent path that had already been created back home and by the steady pressure from the state's Progressives, which kept the local center of gravity far to the left of the Bush-Gore mainstream. Says Pollina, "Jeffords is a smart politician, and he recognizes that Vermonters are really fed up with politics-as-usual, big-money-driven, major-party politics." Indeed, two-thirds of Vermonters polled said they approved of Jeffords's move, and his approval rating topped President Bush's by almost twenty-five points.
The question of the moment is whether more independents are about to come out of the Senate cloakroom. Conditions for such surprises are favorable and getting more so by the year. Since 1990 we've seen a remarkable proliferation of these free birds. Not only has Vermont's Representative Bernie Sanders become a Congressional institution, independents and third-party candidates have been elected governor in four states--Maine, Alaska, Connecticut and, most spectacularly, in Minnesota. After Ross Perot got nearly 20 million votes in 1992 as an independent, press speculation about the possibility of other maverick candidacies has become a fixture of pre-primary presidential coverage. Recall the fuss over Colin Powell in the fall of 1995 and the hyperventilating over Jesse Ventura, Warren Beatty, Donald Trump et al. in the fall of 1999. There's a market for outside-the-box politics, and demand is rising while supply is tight.
Even with all the barriers imposed by the two-party duopoly--discriminatory access to the ballot, unequal campaign financing, closed debates--public support for Congressional outsiders ticked upward throughout the 1990s. In his indispensable newsletter, Ballot Access News, Richard Winger reports that the vote for non-major party candidates for Congress rose to more than 4 percent of the popular vote in 2000, a level not seen since 1992, when anti-incumbent sentiment last peaked. Before that, you have to go back to 1938, when strong third parties in a few states skewed the total higher, to find such a strong expression of discontent with the duopoly.
Between 1990 and 1998 the proportion of voters registered as independents or third party increased more than 50 percent, while the percentage of registered Democrats and Republicans fell. Voter statements of their political preference--a looser definition than party registration--show the same trend. About 35 percent of the electorate identifies as independent, according to the University of Michigan's National Election Studies. Anecdotal evidence from the implementation of the motor-voter law suggests that a higher proportion of new voters are registering as independents, and the tilt is most pronounced among people under 30.
These are all signs of turbulence in the electorate. The Democratic and Republican parties are not as solid, or dominant, as they seem. Their ties to average voters through local political clubs and chapters have almost disappeared, replaced by manipulative TV ads driven by consultants and expensive market research. Add the weakness of their current leaders--their inability to articulate a clear philosophy or to govern effectively on behalf of anyone but the well-off, their petty feuds, negative attacks and their subservience to special interest campaign contributors--and you can see why there's widespread disenchantment among voters and a yearning for authentically democratic representation and strong, honest leadership. As more politicians see that there is less to be lost and more to be gained from maverick behavior, there will be more eruptions of independents.
For ten days in mid-May, I lectured in Italy promoting the translated version of my recent book, The Story of American Freedom. Among other things, the book relates how in the past generation US conservatives have "captured" the idea of freedom, identifying it ever more closely with low taxes, limited government and the ability to choose among a cornucopia of goods in an unregulated global marketplace. Little did I anticipate that on the day I arrived, Silvio Berlusconi's coalition of right-wing parties, calling itself La Casa delle Libert (the House of Freedoms), would triumph in Italy's national elections.
Berlusconi's victory was good for me in that it inspired a flurry of interest in the history of the idea of freedom and larger-than-expected audiences for my talks. But it is very bad for Italy. Berlusconi is one of Europe's richest men, with a history of corruption, conflicts of interest and alliance with some of the most retrograde elements in Italian life. For the first time since World War II the country's governing coalition will include parties that consider themselves the heirs of Fascism. But to Americans, what may be most striking is how his campaign's program, tactics and imagery were consciously borrowed from this side of the Atlantic.
Like Ronald Reagan, Berlusconi described himself as a "great communicator" and promised to "revolutionize" Italy by liberating the power of free enterprise. Like Newt Gingrich, he announced with much fanfare a Contract With Italians, which boiled down his campaign to a few simple points, including tax cuts, privatizing state enterprises and law and order (a thinly veiled appeal to anti-immigrant sentiment). And like George W. Bush, he portrayed himself as a compassionate conservative. Berlusconi's contract, unlike Gingrich's, promised to raise state pensions and combat unemployment through highway construction and other public works.
Berlusconi "Americanized" Italian politics in other ways as well. He poured his personal fortune into the campaign, outspending the incumbent center-left Olive Tree coalition ten to one. He mailed a brief autobiography to every family in Italy (some 12 million copies in all). Titled An Italian Story, it was a quintessentially American rags-to-riches tale. Every Italian, he insisted, could follow in his footsteps; his wealth should be an inspiration to others, not a source of concern. But more than specific programs and electoral tactics, Berlusconi brought to Italy the moral-political outlook of American populist conservatism, something quite different from the traditional European right oriented toward state, church and social hierarchy. Like Reagan, Berlusconi rooted his appeal in broadly shared images and values derived from the mass media and consumer capitalism.
It is significant that Berlusconi's wealth rests in large part on ownership of television networks, shopping malls and a major soccer team. For his is a politics that identifies freedom with the private realm of personal wish fulfillment without any sense of public participation or collective empowerment. Far better than his opponents, Berlusconi understands the political dynamics of a society knit together not by traditional organizations like unions and churches rooted in local communities but the dream world of mass culture and mass consumption.
If the Italian right has emulated America, the left in this country might well learn from the problems of its Italian counterpart. Since the end of the cold war, the European left has been almost obsessively concerned to demonstrate its legitimacy and respectability. It has become suspicious of idealism of any kind, considering it naïve, old-fashioned and politically dangerous. In response to Berlusconi's utopia of private freedom, the Olive Tree coalition offered little more than an image of competent, corruption-free administration. The left's aura of managerial competence appealed to middle-class voters in Italy's prosperous northwest, and the Olive Tree did well in the old (and aging) communist strongholds of central Italy. But Berlusconi swept the less economically developed south and did especially well among young voters, who found his vision of a new, privatized Italy more appealing than the left's promise of good government. Young Berlusconi supporters interviewed by the newspaper La Repubblica described the left as old, even "geriatric," and Berlusconi as young and dynamic. "He's one of us," declared an unemployed youth, of Italy's richest man.
As in the United States, the defeated coalition has directed much recrimination toward a small group of independent voters, in this case the Refounded Communists, which remained outside the Olive Tree umbrella and whose 5 percent of the vote exceeded Berlusconi's margin of victory. But in both countries, it is far easier to blame a tiny cadre of voters for the defeat than to look candidly at the weaknesses of campaigns characterized by an absence of courage, vision and idealism or to think creatively about how to regain the political initiative. A good place to start would be to try to recapture the language of freedom--linking it, as it has been in the past, with ideals of participatory democracy, social justice and the willingness to combat the depredations of the unregulated capitalist market. The idea of freedom is too important to be surrendered to the Berlusconis of the world.
Oh, sure, blame it on Texas. It's all our fault Jim Jeffords walked. Many, many people in Washington are assuming "the Texans" in the White House are responsible for this massive screw-up. Whereas everybody in political Austin assumes it. It's often hard to discern the difference between Texas Tough and Texas Stupid.
Bosco, a black labrador retriever owned by Tim Stillman of Sunol, a small community near San Francisco, has been Mayor there for over eight years--after getting more votes than two humans!
--Ripley's Believe It or Not!
Moms, Dads, Kids of All Ages! If you are bored with life down on the farm, step right this way. If you are hankering for a taste of the out-of-the-ordinary with a dollop of the just-plain-weird--well, have we got the head-spinning, and spine-tingling, and stomach-churning show of a lifetime for you!
Amazing feats of courage! Watch as... Democrats vote to confirm archconservative Theodore Olson as Solicitor General. Contemplating their imminent majority status, they "decided they did not want to defeat the nomination as the first exercise of their new power."
Balancing acts with no safety net! Did you know... that the Solicitor General's function includes presenting all Justice Department cases, including civil rights cases, to the Supreme Court on behalf of the American people? (Since the Supreme Court ruled recently that there is no individual right but only a government interest in pursuing disparate impact discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, it will be Attorney General John Ashcroft's job to decide whether to prosecute such discrimination at all!)
Divine revelation! Have you heard... that Attorney General Ashcroft has publicly assured the National Rifle Association that his Justice Department will interpret the Second Amendment of the Constitution as guaranteeing a right to individuals--not just a collective right--to possess firearms? Believe it or not, this view has absolutely no grounding in federal or Supreme Court jurisprudence of the past 119 years! Incredibly, this would put owning a gun on the same unregulated constitutional basis as freedom of speech or religion!
Watch as Holy Men make the wall between church and state disappear before your very eyes! Your heart will race when you witness... a United States Senate hearing exploring the merits of George W. Bush's plan to provide federal funding to religious groups providing social services! Assemblies of God minister John Castellani, while testifying about his drug treatment program, Teen Challenge International, has already disclosed that some Jewish clients who had gone through the program had joined his church, thus becoming what he called "completed Jews." Coming soon to political theaters near you: Experienced, inside-the-Beltway guides will take you to the exotic habitats of the "finished Negro," the "terminated homosexual" and the "well-done wife."
Fasten those seatbelts!... Now that the Supreme Court has said it's OK to formally arrest citizens for minor offenses including traffic violations, let's see what happens as Justice Souter's "common sense" standard guides police officers in making such arrests!
Just plain common sense!... In West Orange, New Jersey, a group of ten black high school boys and girls were stopped, handcuffed and pat-searched as they were shopping for prom dresses and tuxedos. Civil rights groups protested. Authorities promised to investigate but continue to maintain that suspect profiling is not in and of itself intentional discrimination, though it may indeed have a disparate impact on minorities.
Wow!... In Washington, DC, nine middle-school students were taken on a "preventative" field trip to jail where they were strip-searched and shown how prisoners are shackled and handcuffed to "show them what would happen if they were arrested."
Gasp!... In Afghanistan, the Taliban's Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice began requiring Hindus to wear yellow patches on their clothing supposedly as a way of "protecting" them from harassment by Islamic religious police.
Truth is stranger than fiction!... New York City's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tried to appoint his divorce lawyer to a Decency Commission whose function will be to purge New York's publicly funded museums of vulgar, obscene, feces-smeared displays!
Kids! Can you connect the dots to help Bosco find his way back to the beginning?
Point E. "Give me one example that proves evolution. One example! You can't." --Tom DeLay, Republican from Texas and majority whip, who advocates a more "God-centered" America devoted to "the Constitution and to Absolute Truth that has been manipulated and destroyed by a liberal worldview."
Point D. The Louisiana legislature refused to pass a resolution that would have called for rejection of Darwin as racist, arguing that his theories "advocated the notion of superior and inferior races." Opponents argued that it was an "indirect way to support creationism."
Point C. The Louisiana legislature instead approved a resolution condemning racism and the idea of superior races with no mention of Darwin or evolution.
Point B. According to a leaked report from the German government, Qaddafi has declared he's given up terrorism because he's worried about the growth of fundamentalist extremism in the world.
Point A. Senator James Jeffords of Vermont leaves the Republican Party to become an independent.
Disclaimer: We at Bosco's Big! Best! Believe It or Not! make no representation or guarantee as to the higher powers that have brought such a miraculous paradox to pass. As we maintained during last month's magical manifestation of the Mona Lisa as she materialized upon sixty-five pieces of ordinary whole wheat toast, sometimes the "how" of the world remains a mystery wrapped in faith and coincidence, beyond the realm of science.
For years, estates of wealthy men were taxed--
The sort of thing that spoils a nice goodbye.
The tax will disappear by 2010.
And then the rich will find it safe to die.
The leftists organizing in Vermont since the 1970s prepared the ground for James Jeffords's jump, and he never would have done it without them. In the 1970s and 1980s Democrats howled with fury when Vermont's Progressive Party said that no matter what the short-term consequences, the important political task was to build a radical, third-force movement in the state.
In 1988 this progressive coalition backed Bernard Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, in a run for Vermont's single Congressional seat. Democratic liberals raised the "wrecker" charge, saying the Sanders intervention would cost the Democrats votes and put in a Republican. It did. Then, two years later, Sanders ran again against the incumbent Republican and won. Creative destruction worked.
Without decades of work by radicals, nourishing the propriety of independent politics in Vermont, would Jeffords ever have jumped the Republican ship and handed control of the Senate back to the Democrats? I don't think so.
A couple of weeks ago someone sent me an article by Todd Gitlin and Sean Wilentz, published in an obscure journal called Dissent. Since Gitlin's prime political function for years has been to fortify respectable opinion about the impropriety of independent thinking, I knew what to expect, particularly since he was in harness with Wilentz, a truly hysterical proprietarian.
Sure enough, it was an attack on those who voted for Ralph Nader, tumid with a full-inventory parade of every cliché from the past forty years about the folly of radical hopes. Want a taste?
Numbers aside, there is a deeper force at work, behind the delusion that the masses hanker for radical change that Gore would not give them--a purist approach to politics. This all-or-nothing approach, allergic to democratic contest and compromise, is rooted equally in American self-righteousness and traditional left-wing utopianism. It is as if by venting one's anger, one were free to remake the world by willing it so...
Yup, this pompous cant translates into the single, finger-wagging admonition, "You should have voted for Al Gore," the latest variant on Gitlin's one-note career sermon about voting for Hubert Humphrey in 1968. (What is it about these Humphrey lovers? Vermonter Marty Jezer, another sermonizer about main-chance political propriety, recently lashed out at CBS in his column in the Brattleboro Reformer for what he denounced as excessively hostile and prejudicial interviewing of baby-killer Bob Kerrey! The lust to be respectably "fair," whether to HHH or Kerrey, leads to some astonishingly ridiculous postures.)
In Vermont the Republican Party is pretty much dead. Jeffords should sign up right now as a member of the Progressive Party, with whose political positions he has some things in common. Of course Jeffords, at least in his latest incarnation, is truly an independent, whereas Sanders is effectively a Democrat.
Now let's see how much fortitude the Democrats on the Hill have in contesting Bush and Cheney. They no longer have the alibi of the Republicans' controlling the White House and both chambers. Footnote: The Nation's editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, wishes it to be on record that she takes exception to the description of Dissent as "obscure." I suggest a poll of the American people.
More on the Gandoo Man
In a recent column I described how the Chicago police have declined the request of a gay Pakistani poet to hit his supposed assailant, Salman Aftab, with a hate-crimes charge. Ifti Nasim claims Aftab called him a faggot bottom and lunged at him with a knife. For some of Chicago's gays it's become a very big issue. The Chicago Anti-Bashing Network prompted the ACLU's Pamela Sumner to write a three-page letter to State's Attorney Dick Devine detailing why she felt he should pursue hate-crimes charges in Nasim's case. Devine has refused to do so.
The cops and Devine are quite right. It turns out that the initial quarrel between Nasim and Aftab wasn't about the former's sexual orientation but about an article he'd written. Aftab never attacked Nasim with a knife (though Nasim insists he'd gone to the kitchen to get one). And Nasim put up Aftab's bail money, though he still wants him hit with a hate-crimes charge for calling him an insulting sexual term. The Chicago Anti-Bashing Network supports this position, which only goes to show how dementedly wrongheaded progressives are on the hate-crimes issue.
The Bush Menu
Poor Jenna Bush's travails with the absurd liquor laws of Texas take me back to my gilded youth at Oxford, when even the appearance of sobriety, at least at Keble, was an object of scandal and reproof from the better element. As it admits elsewhere in this issue, The Nation was a tad unfair relaying the claim that the Bush White House has ordered its chef to prepare genetically modified foods on some state occasions. The source of this claim was a piece by Jennifer Berkshire posted on Alternet. The Nation earnestly commented that "the demonstration smells like a paid political announcement for the agribusiness lobby."
I remember reading Berkshire's Alternet piece as an excellent little satire, and Jennifer confirms that this was indeed the case. Satire is always an uncertain weapon. My father once wrote an update of Swift's "A Modest Proposal," this time about inoculating people with the same sort of lethal strain that wiped out rabbits with myxomatosis. When it appeared in Punch furious letters poured in, denouncing him as an advocate of mass murder. Back in my days at the Village Voice I wrote a parody of conspiracy mongering and awoke to hear it being read out as serious news on WBAI by the late Samori Marksman. Since then I've stayed with the unvarnished truth, which is usually far more incredible than anything a satirist could dream up. For evidence see Marty Jezer's onslaught on CBS, noted above.
Wonder why it took ex-Republican Jim Jeffords to alert the national media to the fact that the Bush Administration is run out of the extremist end of the GOP? Writing from inside the belly of the beast not long ago, the Washington Post's White House correspondent John Harris helped crystallize an increasingly unavoidable proposition: "The truth is, this new president has done things with relative impunity that would have been huge uproars if they had occurred under Clinton."
The argument over whether reporters are "liberal" is tired and stale. It's also irrelevant. You'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind to believe that liberals get more generous coverage. Harris focuses on the structural part. "There is no well-coordinated corps of aggrieved and methodical people who start each day looking for ways to expose and undermine a new president.... the liberal equivalent of this conservative coterie does not exist." What he does not say is that in the press itself there is no liberal equivalent to nakedly biased news sources like Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial pages, the Washington Times, the New York Post, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge and The McLaughlin Group, which dictate punditocracy discourse and cable schmoozathons.
Add to this the rapid decline of what constitutes verifiable "news" among our most high-minded journalistic institutions. Harris gingerly notes that his colleagues "may have fallen a bit out of shape at the hard work of examining, exposing, and critiquing public officials as they go about making the decisions that affect national life." Oh yeah, that. Now throw in the natural tendency of Beltway reporters to write for sources rather than for their readers. At least before the Jeffords switch, those sources were almost exclusively Republican and conservative.
Consider the news coverage of the China "crisis," as has an intelligent examination in the Columbia Journalism Review. The media wanted inside "ticktock" coverage, and the White House complied. Harris's Washington Post presented readers with a twenty-six-paragraph, front-page analysis replete with inside anecdotes designed to make the President appear somehow simultaneously in charge and comfortable with delegating details. He "peppered" his advisers with questions about Bibles and exercise. Bush "grilled" Condoleezza Rice. He set "redlines" for negotiators regarding possible concessions. Never mind that no Post reporters were there during the events they so breathlessly reported as fact. To question the official version handed out by the President's propaganda machine is no longer part of the job description. (And let's not even go into why these aides wanted to portray their boss, as the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland observed, as "a know-nothing, fundamentalist fitness freak.")
An equally egregious example can be found in the media coverage of the alleged vandalism perpetrated by Clinton aides before their departure from the White House. Washington Post gossip Lloyd Grove originally broke the nonstory, as Bush officials pretended to pooh-pooh it while privately stoking it. What began as a few missing W's on keyboards soon mushroomed into--according to a page-one Post report by Mike Allen--"sliced phone and computer lines, obscene messages left in copy machines and champagne flutes missing from an Air Force jet." Lurid reports were aired by Tom DeFrank in the New York Daily News, Andrea Mitchell on NBC News, Matt Drudge, Tony Snow, Fred Barnes, Paula Zahn, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, William Kristol, Tom Schatz, Oliver North and Brit Hume on Fox.
Apparently, no one thought to ask the Bush White House if there was any evidence for these claims. When GSA investigators looked into the matter, they found, "The condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy." The GAO also looked into it and found "no record of damage that may have been deliberately caused by the employees of the Clinton administration." Not surprisingly, this news went buried or unreported. Mitchell's employer, NBC, ignored it; the Post ran a wire service report on page 13.
Mike Allen and Andrea Mitchell did not return my call seeking their reaction to the news. Tom DeFrank told me he is "deeply puzzled" and plans to do more reporting on it. The respective reputations of Matt Drudge and Fox News speak for themselves. But you get the point. At least until Jim Jeffords upset its applecart, the Bush Administration, and the conservative movement supporting it, controlled its press coverage so effectively, it owned just about all the marbles in the game. And as every kid knows, it's the guy with the marbles who gets to decide the rules.
* * *
Did former New York Times executive editor and anti-Communist hysteric Abe Rosenthal squash an article that shed light on the guilt of the Rosenbergs for fear of offending the judge who sent them to their deaths? Ronald Radosh makes this shocking claim in his memoir, Commies, citing as his source Ed Klein, then editor of the Times magazine. Radosh's article, commissioned by the magazine and written with Sol Stern, concurred with the judgment that Irving Kaufman had illegal ex parte communications with the likes of Roy Cohn during the trial. But Kaufman had been promoted to the US Court of Appeals, which heard many First Amendment cases, so Rosenthal killed the piece, insisting that the Times "could not afford to run a piece that might inflame Kaufman to vote against the paper in an important press case."
Rosenthal did not (surprise, surprise) return my call, but Klein informs me that the Radosh version is "flat-out false." There was no "shocking late-night call" from Klein to Radosh and no admittance that "Abe killed it." (Indeed, even if true, what editor would be stupid enough to admit such an order to a writer?) Unfortunately, much of Radosh's memoir appears to exist only in his imagination. Conspiracies abound, wild charges are tossed about and the public record is contradicted sans evidence. A great many of Radosh's failures in life are blamed on a large and powerful pro-communist conspiracy controlling virtually every important cultural institution in America. Who knew?
What if First Daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush had been caught
lighting up a joint? Would the respectable media play down that story the
way they have the Bush children's illegal purchases of alcohol?
Hardly, because marijuana is an officially proscribed demon drug while
alcohol is a mainstay of the culture, promoted incessantly as an
essential ingredient of the good life.
Marijuana use, the drug war zealots insist, despite considerable
evidence to the contrary, leads inevitably to the harder stuff. That's
why the US Supreme Court won't risk the health of dying cancer patients
with a few tokes of physician-prescribed pot. But those margaritas that
the Bush girls grew up to prefer, heck that's just child's play,
something all college students do and soon grow out of.
Not so their father, unless you think abusing alcohol until the age of
40 is still child's play. Had he hit someone on that night when he was
arrested for DUI, it might have undermined George W.'s charmed ascension
to the presidency.
Sorry, but I'm with the tabloids on this one. It is big news that the
commander in chief of the drug war has not been able to control his own
daughters' illegal behavior.
Obviously, Bush has not followed his own advice, offered while
announcing the revving up of the drug war, that parents take more
responsibility for their children's conduct.
Should the Bush children have gone to church more often to be exposed
to those faith-based anti-drug and alcohol programs that the President
embraced? Did the Bush parents always know where their children were?
Perhaps the Bush twins were permitted to watch too many Hollywood movies.
Imagine the vituperation that would have been visited upon the Clinton
family if Chelsea, like Jenna, had used the Secret Service to pick up an
underage boyfriend, accused of public intoxication, from jail. But when
it comes to family values, Republicans' messed-up personal lives are
chuckled off as just another American-as-apple-pie growing up experience.
Did not the President's mother elicit howls of laughter from her
Junior League audience when she made passing reference to her son's
alcohol addiction on the very day that her granddaughters were charged
with breaking the law? "He is getting back some of his own," Grandma Bush
said, with more than a trace of wonderment that her son George W., the
underachiever and, by his own admission, often inebriated prankster, is
now the President of us all.
But alcoholism wasn't really funny for George W. or he wouldn't have
had to go cold turkey and work white-knuckle hard these past fifteen years at
staying sober. Alcoholism is one of the nation's leading problems and
when then-Gov. Bush signed a "zero tolerance" law in 1997 on underage
drinking, the reason offered was that Texas led the United States in
More than 100,000 people die each year from alcohol, so controlling
its use is of public importance. This guy as governor and President has
responded to problems of substance abuse by acting to throw even more
people into jail although that course has already given us the largest
per-capita prison population in the world. Yet, when his own daughter now
stands but one more arrest away from a possible six months in the slammer
because of the law then-Gov. Bush signed, the President is speechless.
"The President views this as a family matter, a private matter, and he
will treat it as such," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer huffed.
Not so fast.
Alcoholism is the social problem that this President best understands,
and instead of slinking off into silence, he should provide a public
example of what he has claimed parenting is all about.
This is the time to talk honestly to his daughters and the nation
about the lessons of substance abuse, and particularly, whether the tough
law and order approach is just dumb. Unless, of course, he really
believes that his daughter would benefit from six months behind bars for
ordering yet another margarita.
Maybe the drinking age should be dropped to 18 years old, as most of
the Bush daughters' classmates seem to feel. Why make criminals of the
young, most of whom are quite responsible in making their own decisions
about when and what to drink? But isn't that even truer of an adult
cancer patient who uses marijuana to ward off nausea?
The Bush Administration is blocking efforts to rein in offshore banking.
Citigroup proclaims that its "private bankers act as financial architects,
designing and coordinating insightful solutions for individual client needs,
with an emphasis on personalized, confidential service." That is so colorless.
It might better boast, "We set up shell companies, secret trusts and bank
accounts, and we dispatch anonymous wire transfers so you can launder drug
money, hide stolen assets, embezzle, defraud, cheat on your taxes, avoid court
judgments, pay and receive bribes, and loot your country." It could solicit
testimonials from former clients, including sons of late Nigerian dictator Sani
Abacha; Asif Ali Zardari, husband of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of
Pakistan; El Hadj Omar Bongo, the corrupt president of Gabon; deposed
Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner; and Raul Salinas, jailed brother of the
ex-president of Mexico. All stole and laundered millions using Citibank
(Citigroup's previous incarnation) private accounts.
One lesser-known client, Carlos Hank Rhon of Mexico, has been the object of
a suit by the Federal Reserve to ban him from the US banking business. Hank
belongs to a powerful Mexican clan whose holdings include banks, investment
firms, transportation companies and real estate. Hank bought an interest in
Laredo National Bank in Texas in 1990. Six years later, when he wanted to merge
Laredo with Brownsville's Mercantile Bank, the Fed found that Citibank had
helped him use offshore shell companies in the British Virgin Islands to gain
control of his bank by hiding secret partners and engaging in self-dealing, in
violation of US law. One of the offshore companies was managed by shell
companies that were subsidiaries of Cititrust, owned by Citibank.
The Fed says that in 1993, Hank's father, Carlos Hank González, met
with his Citibank private banker, Amy Elliott, and said he wanted to buy a $20
million share of the bank with payment from Citibank accounts of his offshore
companies, done in a way that hid his involvement. Citibank granted him $20
million in loans and sent the money to his son Hank Rhon's personal account at
Citibank New York and to an investment account in Citibank London in the name
of another offshore company.
Citigroup spokesman Richard Howe said, "We always cooperate fully with
authorities in investigations, but we do not discuss the details of any
At press time, there were reports that Hank had negotiated a settlement
with the Fed, which the parties declined to confirm.
When a renowned abortion doctor opened a clinic in Ocala, Florida, he was seen as a public pest. So local authorities used the courts to get rid of him.
Thefts from other countries pale in relation to the looting of Russia, with
the indispensable assistance of the "Offshornaya Zona." The 1995 "loans for
shares" scheme transferred state ownership of privatized industries worth
billions of dollars to companies whose offshore registrations hid true owners.
More billions were stolen around the time of the August 1998 crash.
Insider banks knew about the coming devaluation and shipped billions in
assets as "loans" to offshore companies. The banks' statements show that their
loan portfolios grew after the date when they got loans from the Russian
Central Bank, which were supposed to stave off default. After the crash, it was
revealed that the top borrowers in all the big bankrupt banks were offshore.
For example, the five largest creditors of Rossiisky Credit were shell
companies registered in Nauru and in the Caribbean. As the debtors' ownerships
were secret, they could easily "disappear." Stuck with "uncollectable" loans
and "no assets," the banks announced their own bankruptcies. Swiss officials
are investigating leads that some of the $4.8 billion International Monetary
Fund tranche to Russia was moved by banks to accounts offshore before the 1998
The biggest current scam is being effected by a secretly owned Russian
company called Itera, which is using offshore shells in Curaçao and
elsewhere to gobble up the assets of Gazprom, the national gas company, which
is 38 percent owned by the government. Itera's owners are widely believed to be
Gazprom managers, their relatives and Viktor Chernomyrdin, former chairman of
Gazprom's board of directors and prime minister during much of the
privatization. Gazprom, which projected nearly $16 billion in revenues for
2000, uses Itera as its marketing agent and has been selling it gas fields at
cut-rate prices. Its 1999 annual report did not account for sales of 13 percent
of production. As its taxes supply a quarter of government revenues, this is a
devastating loss. Itera has a Florida office, which has been used to register
other Florida companies, making it a vehicle for investment in the US economy.
It was the first Cannes Film Festival of the new century, but it felt more like an end than a beginning, as the past returned, in film after film, with weight and insistency. This year marked the fiftieth anniversary of Cahiers du Cinéma, and two of that venerable journal's founders, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette, made fugitive appearances on the Croisette (the beachside thoroughfare where starlets promenade in the shadow of film history) with works in competition, their white hair and grizzled chins at odds with the general carnival atmosphere. Francis Ford Coppola brought a brilliant new version of Apocalypse Now, adding fifty-three minutes and the ghosts of the French occupation of Indochina to his dark and delirious vision of war's insanity, which shared Cannes's top prize, the Palme d'Or, in 1979. And a 92-year-old director, the Portuguese auteur Manoel de Oliveira (who began his career in silent cinema), provided one of the festival's highlights with I'm Going Home, a film about an aging actor (Michel Piccoli), infused with lightness and simplicity.
The awards, announced May 20, confirmed this sense of a film culture unfurling under the banner of memory, as the jury (headed by Liv Ullmann) honored films about a father in mourning (Nanni Moretti's The Son's Room) and a woman (Isabelle Huppert) crushed by her own masochism and the suffocating mass of Austria's musical heritage (Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher). In this year of transition, as festival president Gilles Jacob handed over the reins of artistic direction to newcomer Thierry Frémaux, the world's great cinematic behemoth seemed haunted by the specter of previous generations.
Yet their vitality continued to surprise us. "If filmmaking doesn't kill you, it prolongs your life instead," the nonagenarian Oliveira affirmed in an interview. I'm Going Home opens with Gilbert Valence (Piccoli) on the Paris stage, playing the enfeebled but tyrannical king in Ionesco's Le Roi se Meurt, and surrounded by colleagues and admirers. Backstage, after the performance, his friend and agent George informs him that his wife, daughter and son-in-law have been killed in a car accident. Unlike Nanni Moretti's film, which (despite its considerable accomplishments) strikes a few false, forced notes in its depiction of a family's sorrow, Oliveira handles Gilbert's grief with gentle humor and extreme discretion. The distinguished actor brings his orphaned grandson to live with him, but otherwise continues his daily routine, refusing to acknowledge (even to himself) the magnitude of his losses. Perhaps it's the result of Oliveira's long experience; in this graceful and uncompromising meditation on time and its vicissitudes, he gives the small consolations of life a place beside its great catastrophes.
The actor's life is also the focus of Who Knows, Jacques Rivette's metaphysical farce about an Italian theater troupe performing Pirandello's Come tu mi vuoi in Paris. Camille (Jeanne Balibar), the lead actress and lover of the troupe's director, is French and a former Parisian; as she returns to Paris, she's filled with longing and trepidation over the prospect of meeting Pierre, her ex-lover. Pierre now lives with Marianne, who in turn conceals her own secrets. A precious ring, a cake recipe and an unpublished Goldoni manuscript circulate among a sextet of characters, providing clues to each one's desire. Rivette's magical direction changes this watery plot into wine. The actors inhabit their roles with sparkling vitality; the film buzzes with life, with the strange coincidences, emotional truths, hesitations and intense passions that shape love, in all its complexity.
"It's very demoralizing for a director to see bad films," the notoriously reclusive Rivette admitted at his press conference. "You have the feeling that you've wasted your life on a crummy profession." At 73, he retains the lightning reflexes and fluid gestures of an acrobat, and his deftly magisterial and lovely film belongs to that rare genre of comedy whose effects are more profound than tragedy.
Cannes is perhaps the only place in the world where the fight to view Jean-Luc Godard's latest opus could provoke a minor riot. Security police were called out to handle the huge, unruly crowd of journalists assembled to see his Éloge de l'amour, screening just once for the press in a small room. Those who gained admission found themselves in the presence of a lyrical, melancholy and ultimately puzzling cinematic essay on the relation between film and history. Godard picks through the ruins of the twentieth century, citing its high culture (painting, music, philosophy) and its moral disasters (most notably Auschwitz) in this elusive and fragmentary work, which calls itself a love story but is really a semiautobiographical reflection on the director's nostalgia for, and belief in, a cinema of resistance. The film's few coherent plot points involve a disappointingly facile anti-Americanism, with Steven Spielberg set up as the fall guy (however deservedly) for Hollywood's need to transform history into entertainment, as his fictive company purchases rights to the life story of an elderly couple, French Jews who fought in the Resistance. (Roberto Benigni, the Italian director of Life Is Beautiful, might have served the cause as well. And do Godard's credentials, as either a longtime member of the artistic avant-garde or a citizen of Switzerland, give him any greater claim to this history?) Still, Godard's poignant use of sound and imagery--his lush, black-and-white visions of nighttime Paris and crayon-bright, handheld, digital seascapes--teases you into thinking.
In the festival's curious conjunction of artistic and market considerations, each person's place in the food chain is clearly demarcated, from the color of your press pass (among four levels, white passes claim the greatest privileges) to the amount of time old colleagues will afford you. Sometimes, as at the Godard screening, the promise of Old World cultural capital whips the crowd into a frenzy; at other times, historic occasions and films from marginal locations go relatively unremarked. Only a handful of journalists attended the screening of Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), the first film shot with an Inuit cast and crew, which won the Camera d'Or for best debut feature. Director Zacharias Kunuk's nearly three-hour saga is based upon an ancient Inuit legend about sexual conflicts and vengeance pursued across two generations of nomadic tribespeople on a remote Canadian Arctic island, where Kunuk was raised and still lives. In an extraordinarily beautiful landscape suffused with an unearthly light, women with elaborate facial tattoos and men sporting futuristic-looking sun goggles build igloos, hunt for seal meat, make love and participate in shamanistic rituals. Closely based upon both eyewitness accounts of the first European settlers (who arrived there in the early nineteenth century) and Inuit oral tradition, Atanarjuat shows a sophisticated culture, filled with art and humor, that has survived virtually unchanged for some four millennia.
And while Godard danced around history like a mournful clown, those viewers seeking a cinema of resistance might have turned instead to Sobibor, 14 October 1943, 16 heures, the latest chapter in Claude Lanzmann's piercing, thirty-year exploration of the memory of the Shoah. Sobibor screened out-of-competition, and its inclusion here (alongside an arresting documentary by Abbas Kiarostami on the ravages of AIDS among children in Uganda) marked a welcome expansion of the festival's traditional focus on fiction. The film returns to an episode mentioned in Shoah, Lanzmann's landmark 1985 epic, in which the inmates of the Sobibor death camp carried out the only successful revolt of Jewish prisoners against their German captors.
Sobibor begins with an archival photograph of SS officers saluting the corpses of Nazi officials murdered in the uprising. A strange sense of joy wells up with the knowledge that, for once, the executioners became victims. In 1979, while filming Shoah, Lanzmann interviewed Yehuda Lerner, who was deported from the Warsaw Ghetto at the age of 16 and whose unquenchable thirst for life led him to escape from eight death camps. Six weeks after arriving at Sobibor, Lerner took part in the rebellion organized by Alexander Pechersky, a fellow inmate and Soviet Jewish officer.
Lanzmann maintains both a journalist's surgical precision and an artist's sense of wonder as he questions Lerner, who traces his remarkably suspenseful tale in a vibrant Hebrew, infused with mythic grandeur. The clarity and beauty of his voice contrast sharply with the film's opening panorama of Warsaw--a city of dead monuments and anonymous architecture--and in one surreal sequence, with flocks of geese, whose unendurable cacophony was used by camp officials to cover up the screams of dying prisoners. Shoah rendered the annihilation of European Jewry astonishingly palpable; Sobibor is a hymn to the courage of people who were less than nothing, yet rose up to defend themselves. Lanzmann has titled his film with the place, day and time of the uprising, recalling the question posed by both Rabbi Hillel and Primo Levi, "If not now, when?" And it brings that decisive moment alive to us.
Watching the competition's twenty-three features over the course of twelve days, along with a good number of the twenty-two films included in the subsection called "Un Certain Regard" and the dozens more screening in two sidebar festivals, critics' week and directors' fortnight, alters one's experience of time considerably. A second, imaginary life begins to take shape. How many couples made love and separated, how many cups of coffee and cigarettes were consumed, how many characters died or were murdered onscreen each day? In rare instances, a film manages to impose its own sense of time and reality. Such was the case with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, a wildly idiosyncratic work by a home-grown American surrealist. Lynch deserved his own award but shared the directing prize with Joel Coen (whose highly stylized The Man Who Wasn't There also screened in competition) for his story of two actresses, a sensual, winding, noiresque exploration of both the literal topography and the psychic geography of Los Angeles.
Lynch's film, the Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar and Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang's What Time Is It There? (all French co-productions) proved that there is hope for the future of auteurism, as long as you look beyond the confines of Europe. Filmed in Afghanistan and among refugee communities along the Iranian border, using a style that mixes documentary elements with an improbable visual poetry and humor drawn from the desolation of war and poverty, Kandahar is Makhmalbaf's attempt to give a face to Afghan women, who remain hidden behind the heavy veil of their burkas and the world's indifference.
If Kandahar is a model of social engagement, Tsai's film is a homage to the golden age of art-house cinema, incorporating footage from François Truffaut's classic, The 400 Blows (a 1959 Cannes sensation), into a contemporary Taipei story about the different time zones we inhabit when we look at films, travel to distant countries or mourn the loss of someone. Halfway around the world, Tsai works like an old-style European auteur, writing his scripts in Taipei cafes and working with a limited number of actors, whose roles have evolved over the course of five features focusing on urban anomie, family alienation and Taiwan's restless youth culture. "I'm really a sixties person," the 43-year-old director explained in an interview. "That's why I make these sixties-style films. Luckily, there are a few other sixties people around, who like to watch them."
When, at 13, my rebellious move toward the left coincided with the emerging cold war, a teasing Bronx cousin took to calling me "Ana Pauker." Some boys in my school in the heart of Flatbush also picked up on the "Ana Pauker" routine. Pauker, a Jewish woman who'd become the chief party theoretician in Communist Romania and the sole female leader in the Soviet bloc, was in the news quite a bit in the late 1940s. On the cover of Time, in a spread in Life, the image of Romania's Iron Lady was stout and unsmiling, a monolith with a face of stone, dowdy clothes and unkempt hair. The Pauker taunt wasn't a caveat about Stalinism. It was a nasty dig about a girl's looks when she starts to spout unpopular opinions.
By the time I reached college I'd forgotten Romania's Iron Lady. So had the rest of the world. Purged under Stalin's orders early in the 1950s, Pauker had been arrested and imprisoned. She spent her last years as a shunned person in Bucharest with her daughter's family, dying after a long battle with cancer in 1960.
Three years after her barely noted demise, my own career had progressed to researcher for Newsweek, with volunteer work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Congress of Racial Equality on the side. To my horror, a senior editor who considered himself a wit resurrected the "Ana Pauker" routine. This time I was terrified that the taunt really was about Stalinism or--same thing in those days--about unmasking a red, but Pauker had been out of the news for so long that few of my colleagues caught the joke. The wit concocted a fresh salute, "Mother Bloor of the Eleventh Floor," which was tolerably funny because it didn't quite rhyme.
All this is by way of saying that I am personally grateful to Robert Levy for writing a thoughtful, meticulous biography of the real Ana Pauker that fills the gaps in a mystery that haunted my early radical journey. More important, he reassesses her role in Eastern bloc history and provides answers to many questions about Romania's special conditions in the immediate aftermath of World War II that I had never thought to frame. Ana Pauker: The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Communist explores the impossible contradictions inherent in being an urbane, atheistic assimilationist, and a woman, in a fiercely nationalistic, predominantly peasant, deeply paranoid satellite state. Without gliding over Pauker's serious delusions, desperate compromises and calculating moves, Levy pulls off a surprising feat by offering a credible defense for many of her actions. Comrade Ana, as she was called in party circles, is still being demonized in post-Ceausescu Romania as the malevolent force behind the worst atrocities of the Stalinist era. It's nice to learn, on the basis of Levy's evidence, that she tried her best to stem the tide.
So how did the favorite grandchild of a learned village rabbi in rural Moldavia manage her "galloping climb"--the phrase is Levy's--to pre-eminent female apparatchik of Eastern Europe? Born in 1893, Ana Rabinsohn was the elder daughter of an Orthodox shoket, a ritual meat slaughterer, who settled in Bucharest with his wife and family. The girl was precocious. Encouraged by her mother, a food peddler, Ana broke the sex barrier to attend a boys' heder. After that, the best her impoverished parents could do was to enroll her in a Jewish vocational school, where she picked up the trade of tailoring and mastered enough Hebrew to teach it to others. When Ana was 17 a fellow teacher who became her lover brought her into a socialist workers' club. Soon after, she met the ardent socialist Marcel Pauker, her future husband, and followed him to Switzerland with the dream of becoming a doctor. Forced to abandon her medical studies when their money ran out, a pregnant Ana came home with Marcel, who refused to accept help from his prosperous family. The baby died at eight months from dysentery. Imprisoned three times by the monarchist government during Communist sweeps in the 1920s, Ana had a second baby and was pregnant again when the couple made their way to Moscow and were admitted to the prestigious Lenin School for revolutionary training. Ana's recommendation came from the famous German Communist Klara Zetkin (the woman, I wish to add, whose Reminiscences With Lenin squelched feminism in Marxist orthodoxy), but it was Marcel who appeared to be the rising red star in the family Pauker.
The union apparently fizzled in the Soviet capital. Marcel fathered a child with a Bessarabian woman, while Ana's new baby girl resulted from an affair with a French Comintern organizer close to Maurice Thorez. The infant was stowed in Paris with Thorez's estranged wife while Ana finished the Lenin School's three-year program with honors, winning a number of high Soviet patrons. Sent to Bucharest by the Comintern in 1935 to confer with the outlawed, severely factionalized Romanian Communist Party, she was arrested on the street while leaving a meeting and was shot in both legs during the scuffle. At the conclusion of her publicized trial she was given a ten-year sentence.
Several crucial events took place in the outside world while Ana organized the political cadres in Dumbraveni women's prison in Transylvania: the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 and the infamous Moscow show trials, in which nearly all of the Bolshevik old guard were charged with high treason. Through party documents smuggled into Dumbraveni via a food parcel, Ana also learned that Marcel Pauker had been purged in Moscow for Trotskyist tendencies and oppositionist crimes. Ana swallowed these developments without asking questions. It was dangerous to ask questions; questions implied one was a "wavering element" who lacked the mettle to sacrifice bourgeois personal concerns for the revolution. Her denial was so total that until her last years she refused to believe that Marcel had been shot soon after his purge.
By not protesting the fate of her husband, Comrade Ana had proved her mettle. Her Moscow patrons secured her release from prison shortly before the Nazi invasion in 1941 by trading her for a minor Romanian leader they had conveniently detained. She spent most of the remainder of the war in the Soviet Union directing a "Free Romania" radio station and visiting liberated Romanian towns on Germany's receding Eastern Front. She flew home to Bucharest after Romania's battered collaborationist monarchy surrendered to the Red Army in 1944. At 51, Ana Rabinsohn Pauker was given a directive by Moscow to assume command of Occupied Romania's transition to a Communist regime.
It was Ana, not her Soviet mentors, who worried that her glaring drawbacks--woman, Jew, intellectual--might pose a leadership problem for the ethnic Romanian peasants and workers about to taste the new social order. She proposed that she share the power with Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, a Communist railway worker who'd been in prison for eleven years. Comrade Ana and Comrade Dej would be at ideological loggerheads for most of the next decade, until Gheorghiu-Dej got his orders from Stalin to arrange Ana's fall.
I'm going to take a deep breath here and say that I wish Levy had applied more narrative skills to this published version of the doctoral dissertation that engaged him for twenty years. Ana Pauker: The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Communist is an academic treatise. Levy's strong suits are his exhaustive readings of archival records pried from their reluctant sources--transcripts of party meetings, prison interrogations, self-criticisms, confessions--and a motherlode of original interviews with Pauker's daughters, her son-in-law, her former deputy secretary and others, although where he conducted these interviews, and under what circumstances, Levy does not say.
Still, Ana Pauker is a rip-roaring story that deserves a wider audience than what I imagine to be a small, intense, squabbling group of exiled Romanian scholars. Lots of Americans are knowledgeable about Soviet history, but what do we know about postwar Romania? Probably as much as we know about Bulgaria. I'm not kidding when I say that I found Levy's chapter on the forced collectivization of the peasantry a whiz of a read, not because it echoes a painful story in other Communist countries with which I'm better acquainted, such as Russia, China and Vietnam, but because it is the first account I've seen that reveals an excruciating struggle inside the party. By quoting from transcripts of Romanian Politburo meetings, edgy debates full of scorn and bite, Levy shows that Pauker and what was to be called her faction argued against the craziness of herding the stubborn, individualistic peasants into huge state farms before the state could even offer them tractors to lighten their load. Furthermore, she tried to stall the measures by countermanding many of Gheorghiu-Dej's decrees.
Pauker's "peasantist" tendencies (a right-wing deviation in Communist jargon) were the start of her troubles with Stalin. As it happens, she was sidelined in Moscow while getting treatment for her first bout with breast cancer during the initial roundups, beatings, killings and land expropriations, but even if her vaunted powers of persuasion had been at full strength it's unlikely that she could have stopped the madness. Yet the woman who "couldn't even tell the difference between the wheat and the sickle," as she was later mocked by Nicolae Ceausescu, her former subaltern, had been correct all along.
Of course, the general populace had no inkling that Ana had opposed forced collectivization, criticized the party's emphasis on heavy industry at the expense of manufacturing and housing, warned against the deployment of forced kulak labor on an ill-conceived, grandiose Stalinist project that was ultimately abandoned, the Danube-Black Sea Canal. Under the devilish principle of so-called democratic centralism, inner-party struggles were not made public. The articulate woman who could be so passionate in party debates and rationalize the party line afterward in rousing speeches, never wrote any books or essays to attempt to explain her ideas. As far as disaffected Romanians could tell, Ana was stamped from the classic Soviet mold. Levy reports that a typical joke went something like this:
Passer-by: "Comrade Ana, why are you carrying an umbrella? The sun is shining gloriously in Bucharest today."
Ana: "Haven't you heard the Soviet radio? It's raining in Moscow!"
As a relative latecomer to the Axis machine, Romania had not complied with Hitler's demands to eliminate its Jews. (The reasons appear to have been practical rather than sympathetic; the Iron Guard, its home-grown brownshirts, had been more than eager to do the job.) In consequence, at the end of the war there were more Jews in Romania than anywhere else in Eastern Europe, with the exception of the Soviet Union. Levy cites a figure of 353,000, roughly half the prewar population. By 1947 most of them wanted to leave.
The "Jewish Question" was exceedingly vexing for Romania's Communist Party, whose flip-flops on emigration reflected worries about a brain drain and the loss of skilled workers counterposed to a layering of anti-Semitism that amounted to "good riddance." Obviously the Jewish Question was particularly sensitive for Ana, who fully believed that assimilation and socialism, her chosen path, would solve all the world's problems, including the barely discussed "Woman Question." But Pauker could not turn a blind eye to the need for God and Orthodoxy that infused so many Romanian Jews, including her own kin. Her sister Bella had followed her into the Communist Party, but her brother Zalman, sticking to his Orthodox ways, had leaped at the chance to immigrate to Palestine with his wife and children at the earliest opportunity, in 1944. Three years later Ana pulled her considerable strings to secure an exit visa and safe passage for her Orthodox father.
Brother Zalman was to play a curious role in Ana's life. In 1949, a year after the birth of the State of Israel, Zalman returned to Romania, ostensibly for a family visit but perhaps as a secret emissary to the powerful red commissar David Ben-Gurion had slyly dubbed "The Empress." Israel's manifest interest in opening a back-channel to Pauker was twofold: to secure exit visas for all Romanian Jews wishing to immigrate to the Jewish homeland, and to halt the impending trials of Zionist agitators who were kicking up a fuss inside the country. A third possible interest, as deduced by the conspiracy-minded Communists, was that Zalman would be advantageously situated to glean state secrets. Whatever influence Zalman had on his sister while he lived in her house, demanding kosher food, making do with a tin of sardines, wearing his yarmulke at the table, his presence, Levy writes, would be crucial to the purge and arrest of Ana Pauker and her faction.
Stalin's increasingly anti-Semitic paranoia has been exhaustively reported. Citing the scholar Arkady Vaksberg, Levy suggests that the despot acquired a special phobia about Jewish women, convinced that gossiping Jewish wives of a number of major Soviet figures had brought details of his personal life, such as his wife's suicide, to the West's attention. Women in general had begun to annoy him. He no longer saw the use in keeping one or two in positions of power to impress the imperialist camp. In any event, Pauker's opposition to some of his favorite schemes was enough to do her in.
In April 1951, while Gheorghiu-Dej was in Moscow for an ideological tuneup, he was awakened at 2 in the morning and summoned to the Kremlin for one of Stalin's famous middle-of-the-night dinners. During the repast, the despot allegedly wailed, "Dej, how many times did I tell you to get rid of Ana Pauker, and you didn't understand me? If I were in your place, I would have shot her in the head a long time ago." A member of the entourage recalls that at least one person in the Dej faction cried on the plane all the way home.
Ana was not shot in the head, nor did she undergo the humiliations of a craven show trial like Rudolf Slansky in Prague, where a whole generation of Jewish Communists stood accused of an International Zionist Conspiracy. Providence, in the form of Stalin's death in 1953 from natural causes, intervened.
Levy rings in the usual experts--Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Solzhenitsyn et al.--in an attempt to explain why Pauker did not wake up screaming as she witnessed her youthful dream of idealistic communism turn into a nightmare. Perhaps the truest clue can be found in a willful statement made by the California Communist Dorothy Healy, whose allegiance to the American CP outlasted the loyalty of most of her disillusioned comrades: "I'm not going to let those bastards have the party."
After a period of disorientation when she was stripped of her power, Pauker regained her crusty defiance, conceding nothing, refusing to grovel. It hurt that none of her old comrades from the ministries had the courage to pay her a visit, but she understood the danger, and the rules. Her family reports that she secretly expected a miraculous reversal, a full vindication, perhaps even another chance. The good ideology would triumph, decent folk would assert themselves, things would "get better."
Instead, as Levy writes, the fall of Ana Pauker was a significant step in the process that fated Romania to the ultimate horrors of the Ceausescu regime.
On April 26, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced the creation of a memorial for the soldiers who died during France's bloody war against the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), which ended in humiliating defeat and the loss of the empire's most prized possession. It was among the most savage of colonial wars: Of the 1.7 million French soldiers who served in Algeria from 1954 to 1962, 30,000 never returned; between 300,000 and a million Algerians were killed, and hundreds of thousands were placed in concentration camps, where torture was routine. Until two years ago, when it finally acknowledged having fought a war in Algeria, the French government referred to the conflict as les événements--the events.
In case there were any doubts as to what these young men died defending, there was Paul Aussaresses, an 83-year-old general wearing an eye patch and the cross of the Legion of Honor. In an interview with Le Monde last November, Aussaresses confessed, without a note of remorse, to torturing and executing Algerian militants. Even so, no one, certainly not Jospin, was prepared for the incendiary memoir that Aussaresses was to publish ten days later.
The book, Special Services, Algeria 1955-1957, has riveted the French, stirring long-suppressed memories of the "war without a name" and generating calls for an official declaration of repentance and judicial action against its author. It is a remarkable document, both for what it reveals of France's crimes in Algeria and for what it reveals of the miscarriage of justice that took place after the war.
When Aussaresses arrived in Algeria in 1955, he was a hero, having carried out a series of daring intelligence missions across enemy lines for de Gaulle's Free French forces. In Algeria, he quickly acquired a mastery of the very tactics that he had feared would be applied to him had he been caught by the Gestapo. Electrodes to the eyes and testicles, half-drownings, beatings--he stopped at nothing in his efforts to get his suspects to crack. After torturing and killing his first Arab, he writes with a disturbing detachment that calls to mind Camus's Mersault: "I thought of nothing. I had no regrets over his death--if I had any regrets, it was because he did not talk."
Aussaresses's book sheds light on some of the most important unresolved mysteries of the war, notably the deaths of Larbi Ben M'Hidi, an FLN leader, and of Ali Boumendjel, a prominent Algerian attorney. The French have always maintained that both men committed suicide. In fact, Aussaresses meticulously arranged their deaths--and, one suspects, many others--to look as if they were suicides. Boumendjel, he reports, was thrown from a rooftop after having been tortured for forty-three days. Aussaresses drove Ben M'Hidi to a farm outside Algiers, where the prisoner was strangled to death.
The historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, an early opponent of the war, told Le Monde, "One must take this book for what it is, the memoirs of an assassin." True enough. But Aussaresses was not alone. He was no more a rogue agent than the Vichy collaborators Maurice Papon and René Bousquet were--or than Bob Kerrey and his men were in the jungle of Vietnam. Aussaresses is well aware of this fact. In torturing and executing suspects, he says he was simply employing the "special powers" that he had been granted in 1956 by the government of Socialist Prime Minister Guy Mollet, with the support of the Communist Party. According to Aussaresses, François Mitterrand, Mollet's justice minister, had "an emissary...in the person of the judge Jean Berard, who covered for us.... I had the best possible relationship with him and I never hid anything from him."
Aussaresses's book has inspired widespread revulsion; 56 percent of the French have expressed support for an official apology and legal action against officers who ordered torture. Prime Minister Jospin, who insists that torture was "an aberration," has firmly rejected the idea of a parliamentary inquiry, proposing further "scientific research" by historians. President Jacques Chirac, who served in Algeria and says he is "horrified" by the book, has initiated proceedings to strip the general of his uniform.
Unfortunately, nothing more is likely to come of the indignation roused by Aussaresses's book. There is a ten-year statute of limitations on war crimes in France, and the broader definition of "crimes against humanity" applies only to abuses committed since 1994. The generals of Algeria also enjoy the protection of amnesties granted in 1962 and 1968. In mid-May, a French court threw out a suit against Aussaresses for "crimes against humanity" by the International Federation for Human Rights. The general's actions, the court opined, are "in all likelihood covered by the amnesty of July 31, 1968." It will require extraordinary audacity for any French politician to challenge these legal obstacles. Meanwhile, Paul Aussaresses can talk about his crimes, which are also France's crimes, without fear of punishment. His freedom is a grim reminder that when nations fail to settle their accounts with torture, it is torturers who have the last laugh.
What sticks in my mind more than any particular accomplishment of the supersecret National Security Agency is its mammoth size. Only a few miles from my home, I now know, exists a secret Orwellian town where tens of thousands of people live and work. It is surrounded by barbed-wire fences, massive boulders and thick cement barriers, all hidden by tall earthen berms and thick forests. Armed police patrol the boundaries of Crypto City, as this restricted area near the sleepy hamlet of Annapolis Junction, Maryland, is called. Telephoto surveillance cameras peer down. Heavily armed commandos dressed in black and wearing special headgear are on standby in case of trouble.
Beyond lies a forbidden city unlike any other on earth. Its main business is global eavesdropping; its mission is to obtain secrets about foreign enemies and friends alike, and to identify terrorist threats, drug trades, illegal arms sales and so on, all by intercepting voice, phone and radio communications. Using math, cryptology, statistical and other techniques, the NSA can break any code or cipher. The raw material is collected by its spyplanes, ships, satellites and through various other technical means, then is processed by the largest, most powerful electronic brain on earth.
More exact details of this forbidden city remain secret. County officials say they have no idea how many people work there, and no one will tell them. But James Bamford, in his Body of Secrets, offers some clues. The city's post office distributes 70,000 pieces of mail a day; there are more than 37,000 cars registered there. The local police have more than 700 uniformed officers and their own SWAT team. The city's consumption of electricity--to power six acres of computers, twenty-five tons of air-conditioning equipment and more than a half-million lightbulbs--costs nearly $2 million per month. In case of power outages, its own power-generating plant can quickly produce enough wattage for a community of more than 3,500 homes. It has its own fire department as well as twenty-three separate alarm systems and 402 miles of sprinklers, feeding 210,000 sprinkler heads. There are theaters, a bank, kindergartens, fitness centers, gas stations, clubs (even its own Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Employees--"GLOBE"--club). Religious services are held in an unbuggable room, where priest and minister have security clearance far above Top Secret.
At the heart of this community is the NSA headquarters; with 3 million square feet of floor space, it could accommodate the entire US Capitol building four times over. The headquarters building almost metaphorically represents the NSA as well: From the outside, it looks like a stylish modern office building of dark one-way glass. But the real building is hidden under this reflective glass and is protected by a skin of orange-colored copper and unique windows--a thick outer pane, five inches of sound-deadening space, a thin copper screen and an inner pane. The protective shielding is designed to keep all sounds--and indeed any type of electromagnetic radiation--from getting out. It is used throughout much of the city to keep what is said to be the largest body of secrets ever compiled.
Created at the height of the cold war, the NSA was to be the eyes and ears of the Central Intelligence Agency after the Communists drew an impenetrable "iron curtain" around their borders and effectively put human spies out of action. Its very existence has been so highly classified that few people outside the top echelons of government knew much about it. Until, that is, Bamford's first book, The Puzzle Palace, was published in 1982.
Body of Secrets is more than an update of Bamford's previous effort. It includes an engaging and informed history of signals intelligence during World War II, chronicling the breaking of Japan's ciphers and Britain's success in cracking Germany's code. After the war's end, the United States insisted on hosting the opening session of the United Nations in San Francisco to enable it to "eavesdrop on its guests," Bamford says. "Like cheats in a poker game they [the Americans] were peeking at their opponents' hands." For a few years after 1945, the United States also read encrypted Soviet communications. But one Friday in 1948--it is still known as Black Friday among intelligence watchers--all Soviet ciphers went dark. Just as the Americans had successfully penetrated secret Soviet networks, so the Russians had penetrated the Army Security Agency. After that, Washington apparently knew little about Communist intentions. In 1950, when the North Koreans invaded the South, Washington was caught by surprise. Ditto on China's entry into the war. With the Russians having just exploded a hydrogen bomb, the situation was getting more perilous. The loss of effective intelligence work prompted the Director of Central Intelligence, Walter Bedell Smith, to tell the National Security Council that he was "gravely concerned" by "ineffective" intelligence operations. President Truman, on Election Day 1952, scrapped the Pentagon-run operation and created in its place a new agency to be largely hidden from Congress, the public and the world.
Bamford, an accomplished journalist, weaves a narrative about the NSA that includes sympathetic portraits of key players and detailed accounts of such highly publicized events as the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and the capture of the spy ship Pueblo by North Korea. There are many heretofore undisclosed tidbits of information. President Eisenhower, for example, was personally micromanaging each U-2 high-altitude surveillance flight over Russia but refused to admit it after Francis Gary Powers was shot down in 1960. Further, Eisenhower instructed his Cabinet officers to lie about it while testifying under oath. The famous Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which officially plunged the United States into the Vietnam War, was passed by Congress on the strength of Robert McNamara's "unequivocal proof" of a North Vietnamese attack on a US ship; that "unequivocal proof" turned out to be a "major blunder by NSA, and the 'hard evidence' on which many [in Congress] based their votes for the war never really existed."
Beyond this there is Bamford's somewhat speculative account of an Israeli assault on the US spy ship Liberty during the 1967 Middle East war. Bamford argues that it was a coldblooded action by Israel but offers no evidence of the culpability of the Israeli political leadership. The attack may well have been sanctioned by an Israeli military commander, but it is hard to imagine the top Israeli politicians signing off on such a risky venture, which carried enormous potential dangers for their state.
The NSA is only one component of the US intelligence community, and for a good deal of its existence it has been subservient to the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Its business was to collect raw information that was then analyzed by other agencies. The Director of Central Intelligence--head of the CIA--supervised the whole process. All along there has been, to be sure, a good deal of institutional and bureaucratic rivalry among the agencies, which is presented by Bamford in readable and dramatic fashion. Underlying these rivalries is a doctrinal issue: the conflict between old-fashioned, cloak-and-dagger human intelligence (humint) versus high-tech signals intelligence (sigint). The NSA, which spends the lion's share of the $30 billion annual intelligence budget, reflects America's predilection for gadgetry and high tech.
If there is a serious shortcoming in this massive book, it is the failure to provide a critical assessment of the mission for which the NSA was founded: to provide Washington with accurate information on the political, military and economic state of the Soviet Union. For most of the second half of the twentieth century, the NSA had one singular objective: "to break the stubborn Russian cipher system and eavesdrop on that nation's most secret communications," Bamford writes. But there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the NSA ever cracked a single high-level Russian cipher system. That being the case, what are the nation's most precious secrets that Bamford keeps mentioning are held in a fantastic system capable of storing 5 trillion pages of text--a stack of papers 150 miles high--allowing for almost instant retrieval of any piece of information? What is there to be retrieved?
Not much, I suspect. From personal experience I know that whenever the NSA did successfully accomplish something--it managed to decrypt Russian voice communications in the early 1970s and for a long time eavesdropped on the phone conversations of Soviet leaders talking in their limousines--word of its success filtered out. Washington, apart from its almost bottomless appetite for "intelligence," is also a town where anything worth knowing is quickly disclosed by gossiping officials eager to show that they are in the loop. One such official told me in early 1973 about a car accident involving Soviet Premier, Alexei Kosygin. He knew exactly when it happened and where, but nothing more. As a young reporter, I rushed breathlessly to my office, already envisioning it on the front page of the Post the next morning. I had no idea how this information had been obtained; now I know that we would have blown an important intelligence operation had we published the story. But executive editor Ben Bradlee knew it was sensitive enough to require consultations with the Post's legal counsel Joseph Califano and Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms. After protracted haggling the story was scrapped, but not because of Helms's talk about dire consequences: Only if Kosygin was hurt and a leadership change was imminent, Bradlee said, would he run the story.
In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, US intelligence stood accused of having failed in its primary mission. Since few people knew much about the NSA, blame naturally fell on the CIA; critics said it had overestimated the Soviet military threat and not foreseen the economic and political demise of our prime adversary. Stansfield Turner, Director of Central Intelligence from 1977 to 1981, talked about the "enormity of failure" in a 1991 article in Foreign Affairs, in which he alleged that "I have never heard a suggestion from the CIA, or the intelligence arms of the departments of defense or state, that numerous Soviets recognized a growing systemic economic problem." William Odom, NSA director from 1985 to 1988, argued in 1994 that the CIA was superfluous and should be disbanded. "The only serious issue here is whether you want to continue to pay all these people.... I consider...their analytical effort a welfare transfer package," he stated at the Harvard Intelligence and Policy Project, conducted by professors Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.
How did US policy-makers get into such a state of ignorance? Solid though the product of an intelligence service may be, it is only as good as the uses to which it is put. Governments--all governments--gather, conceal, suppress and manipulate "intelligence." American leaders have frequently done so to serve their political objectives. Richard Nixon, under the rubric of "national security," tried to use the intelligence community to hide his involvement in the Watergate scandal; he also used the NSA to secretly target antiwar protesters. In the late 1970s Congress outlawed wholesale, warrantless acquisition of raw telegrams and arbitrary watch lists containing the names of Americans, but the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act did not cover Americans living abroad.
The product, by the late 1970s, was no longer solid. Internal bureaucratic struggles consumed the community. Once an unwanted stepchild of the CIA--the NSA director was initially denied a seat on the Intelligence Advisory Committee--the NSA had in fact grown large and powerful. Its original mandate was to collect intelligence, not analyze it, but by the late 1970s the NSA began hoarding its information. The material it distributed was sanitized, according to then-Director of Central Intelligence Turner, who charged it with "deliberate withholding of raw information from the true analytic agencies. NSA wants to get credit for the scoop."
Under Ronald Reagan, arguably the most zealous cold war President, the intelligence community regained its footing to become once again the chief tool of US foreign policy. Its anti-Soviet activism led to the criminal excesses of the Iran/contra scandal. The chief strategist of malfeasance was William Casey, the first Director of Central Intelligence to be a member of the Cabinet as well. Casey chose as his deputy Robert Gates, a hard-line anti-Soviet analyst. Odom was their soulmate, "an arch-conservative military hard-liner" who wanted the NSA to assume a greater analytical role.
Throughout the 1980s the intelligence community provided Congress and the public with exaggerated accounts of Soviet military and economic prowess. The slick annual Pentagon review called "Soviet Military Power" showed the Russians developing and deploying ever-more dangerous weaponry. America was facing a "window of vulnerability"--a time when the Soviet Union, an indestructible colossus, could start a nuclear war. Paul Nitze and his Committee on the Present Danger speculated that the Russians could win such a war, owing to their extensive civil defense network and capacity to absorb a US retaliatory strike but deliver the final nuclear blow. As late as October 1988, top CIA analyst Robert Gates warned that "the dictatorship of the Communist Party remains untouched and untouchable. A long competitive struggle with the Soviet Union lies before us." When the Senate intelligence panel asked Gates earlier what the intelligence community was doing to prepare American policy-makers for the consequences of Gorbachev's reforms, Gates replied: "Quite frankly, without any hint that such fundamental change is going on, my resources do not permit me the luxury of sort of just idly speculating on what a different Soviet Union might look like."
Yet we all know that in 1989 the Soviet empire was dismantled; in 1991 the Soviet Union itself collapsed, and American leaders were clueless. What went wrong?
Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz, who says in his memoirs that he was "misled, lied to" by the CIA, reveals that Casey had effectively usurped the prerogatives of the Secretary of State and had run an alternative foreign policy. Casey could do so because he controlled the analytical process, the estimates, covert action and counterintelligence. Casey's views, Shultz writes, "were so strong and so ideological that they inevitably colored his selection and assessments of materials. I could not rely on what he said, nor could I accept without question the objectivity of 'intelligence' that he put out, especially in policy sensitive areas."
Gorbachev was initially described as "just talk, just another Soviet attempt to deceive us," Shultz says. "When it became evident that the Soviet Union was, in fact, changing, the CIA line was that the changes wouldn't really make a difference."
Casey and Gates systematically ignored their own specialists and overstated the "evidence" of Soviet arms procurement programs, and the state of the Soviet economy in general, to buttress their argument. Douglas MacEachin, director of the CIA's Office of Soviet Analysis from 1984 to 1989, has testified that the pattern of self-deception was promoted by an Administration eager to rebuild US military power. The intelligence community aided the effort by inflating projections of Soviet military strength.
"Never mind that the Soviet Union never in ten years, from the late 1970s through the entire 1980s, ever lived up to the projections that were made," MacEachin said. "We projected these huge forces, then used those projections as a rationale for our [military] spending, and they never lived up to those projections." Richard Kerr, deputy director for intelligence, took a memo to that effect from MacEachin before the National Foreign Intelligence Board--but it wasn't mentioned, even as a footnote, in the final documents.
The problem here was not one of honest people with strong views having honest disagreements. Rather, it was a blatant politicization of intelligence. Hawks were in charge; those who disagreed were singled out for being "soft" on communism. Robert Blackwell, a high-level CIA official, talked of palpable tension at Langley. "Whether anything was being twisted or reordered upstairs or not, people felt that they were under extra burdens to somehow be very careful about how things were said." MacEachin said the Reagan Administration "thought of us as the enemy." The implication was, he added, "that part of the national threat was that the CIA undercut our ability to rebuild our national forces."
MacEachin's successor, George Kolt, had set up in September 1989 a supersecret contingency planning group "looking at the possibility of the collapse of the Soviet Union and what we do." This was rejected by the higher-ups, however. Robert Gates's views on Russia had not changed. A month before the collapse of the Berlin wall, Vice President Dan Quayle publicly referred to Gorbachev as a "master of public relations" and called perestroika a "form of Leninism."
Gates was consistent to the end. When on August 19, 1991, Kremlin hard-liners mounted a coup attempt against Gorbachev, Kolt called President Bush's National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, saying the coup might not succeed and implicitly suggesting that the White House condemn the coup leaders. Gates saw no reason to hope the coup would fail, and President Bush's initial pronouncements were noncommittal. As Gates explained later, "Based on all prior experience in Russian and Soviet history, when you know at the outset that you've got the KGB and the army and the party all together in a coup attempt, the chances of it not succeeding...are near zero."
Something is obviously wrong with what Bamford calls the largest, best-funded, and "most advanced spy organization on the planet." The entire intelligence community has grown lazy and fat over the years. In the case of the NSA, there is a cozy relationship between it and parts of private industry: Former top NSA officials often end up working for TRW, Honeywell, E-Systems or Booz-Allen & Hamilton. Eavesdropping equipment alone is a $2 billion-a-year market.
Is our money being spent wisely? A former intelligence analyst, Robert Steel, who now runs a private intelligence firm called Open Source Solutions, recently demonstrated to the Presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board that he could produce more usable information more quickly by using open sources and the Internet than the intelligence community could get from its secret work (his demonstration included satellite photography and military orders of battle).
I'm not suggesting outsourcing here. But what is the point of having a powerful spy agency in the sky--eavesdropping on friend and foe alike--when we are caught by surprise by India's nuclear tests in 1998? Or when, as during the Gulf War, we are unable to locate Saddam Hussein's Scuds?
Not so long ago, the United States declared war on terrorism. Yet there are only two references to Osama bin Laden in this book (one of them being that the NSA, "to impress cleared visitors," occasionally plays audiotapes of bin Laden talking to his mom), and other well-known groups suspected of international terrorism are not even mentioned. Perhaps there is a great deal of information about them in 50-100 million documents that the NSA classifies each year--more than all other agencies of the US government combined. But I wonder who reads these documents and evaluates their content. As someone who is bilingual, I seriously question the quality of work of the NSA computers said to translate up to 750 pages of Russian text per hour. NSA language training itself sounds pretty skimpy: Chinese and Japanese take "two years," Bamford reports, but this reads as more than presumptuous to anyone even remotely familiar with Chinese (a literate Chinese uses between 20,000 and 40,000 individual characters, which take many years to learn). Michael Hayden, the current NSA director, does assure us that "There is a whole other addition there [in training] to turn someone who has working knowledge of the popular language into a cryptolingist." Good Lord! Is Hayden kidding us or does he believe this? I hope it is the former.
"That NSA has the technical capability to intercept and store enough information to wallpaper much of the planet is unquestionable," Bamford writes. "What is in doubt, however, is the agency's ability to make sense of most of it."
In the acknowledgments to Body of Secrets, Hayden is the first person on the author's list of thank-yous. Which is an important clue. The NSA is an agency in search of a new mission. Some of its work remains invaluable, especially tactical intelligence needed by the Pentagon. But sigint now has far less strategic value. Moreover, digital communications, fiber-optic cables and powerful encryption software make it nearly impossible for the NSA to dominate the ether the way it did a decade ago. There is also a growing realization in Congress that something is wrong. In 1998 the House Intelligence Committee threatened to withhold funding unless the agency made "very large changes" in its "culture and methods of operation." For several years auditors found that the NSA had ignored laws and regulations, that its financial statements were not in order and that it had mismanaged its expensive high-tech systems. Hayden's attempt at candor may be a way to rally support.
Judging by the book's last chapter, NSA leaders hope that new scientific breakthroughs--fabricating computing devices out of biological entities, using biological processes to manufacture nonbiological devices--will solve their problems. The computer of the future, we are told, is going to be constructed from both mechanical and living parts. It will be 100 billion times faster than the fastest PC today. What that means when it comes to problems of terrorism, international organized crime, arms proliferation, narcotics trafficking, illicit trade and such issues is a mystery.
Just think, though, how impressive it will be!