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June 3, 2002 | The Nation

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June 3, 2002

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David Cole, Robert Dreyfuss, Amy Bach and Eve Pell on the threat to civil liberties. Plus Gene Santoro on The Band.

Letters


DENNIS KUCINICH--BOY WONDER

Longwood, Fla.

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

ROBERT J. HAVEL


Minneapolis

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

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

JAMES NAIDEN


Sunset Beach, Calif.

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

GEORGE McCALIP



$OCIAL $ECURITY FIX: HR 3315

Washington, DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

PETER DeFAZIO
Member of Congress, 4th District, Oregon


SIMON REPLIES

Carbondale, Ill.

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

PAUL SIMON
Director, Public Policy Institute



STATES LEAD US TO CLEAN ELECTIONS

Conway, Mass.

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

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

CARL DOERNER


Oakland, Calif.; Boston

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

ADONAL FOYLE, CHRIS VAETH



PACIFICA LICKS ITS WOUNDS

Altadena, Calif.

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

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

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

DAVE FERTIG
Interim Pacifica Advisory Board;
KPFK local advisory board


Tarentum, Pa.

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

ROBERT JEDRZEJEWSKI



NATION 'SLAMS' FEMINISTS

Seattle

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

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

EMILY WHITE

Editorials

Twenty-seven years ago, Bella Abzug introduced the first comprehensive gay civil rights bill in the history of the Congress.

The Nation has warned repeatedly that the Bush Administration was
threatening to undermine perhaps the best chance in a generation for a
cooperative relationship with Russia that would make the world safer.
The US-Russian nuclear weapons reduction agreement, announced May 13 and
scheduled to be signed when George W. Bush and Russian President
Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow on May 24, confirms our worst fears--and
indeed may even create new dangers.

An unprecedented kind of cooperation between the two former cold war
rivals is essential because of the disintegration of Russia's Soviet-era
nuclear infrastructures, a development that has made the dangers of
nuclear proliferation and accidents even greater than they were during
the cold war. The only solution is very deep, rapid and irreversible
cuts in the number of nuclear weapons in both countries, along with
taking those that remain off hairtrigger alert. This treaty, which was
virtually dictated to an impoverished and militarily weak Russia by the
Bush Administration, falls far short of that goal--it doesn't even
mention de-alerting--and thus represents a potentially tragic lost
opportunity.

The treaty calls for each side to reduce its strategic warheads from
about 6,000 to between 2,200 and 1,700. On the surface, those cuts may
seem to be "historic," as the White House is claiming. Leaving aside the
fact that the lower numbers are still obscenely high, the reductions are
not to be realized until 2012, and during that ten-year period neither
side is obliged to make cuts on a specified schedule. Since the
agreement also permits either side to withdraw from the treaty with
three months' notice, the United States or Russia could legally carry
out few or no reductions for almost a decade and then abrogate the
treaty before it expires. (The withdrawal clause was also insisted upon
by the habitually unilateralist Bush Administration; because the treaty
was all but imposed on Putin, it's unlikely to have much strong or
lasting support in Moscow in any case.) Worse, reductions made may turn
out to be virtual because neither side, on White House insistence, is
required to destroy its decommissioned warheads--it may store as many as
it wishes, as Washington has made clear it intends to do. Moscow will
almost certainly do the same, and, given the widely recognized lack of
security at its storage facilities, will thus multiply the already
considerable risk of Russia's nuclear devices falling into the wrong
hands--that is, fueling the danger of proliferation that has been
especially alarming since September 11.

Nor will a treaty that does not provide for irreversible nuclear weapons
cuts diminish Moscow's sense of insecurity, already exacerbated by the
Bush Administration's unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty, its
determination to build a missile defense system and its steady military
encirclement of Russia. (By 2003 there will be a US or NATO presence in
at least nine of the fifteen former Soviet republics.) This is hardly
offset by Russia's new quasi-deliberative role in NATO on select issues
and will make Moscow even more reluctant to destroy its nuclear weapons
unless Washington does.

Yet another danger may lurk beneath the misleading facade of the Bush
Administration's "historic" treaty. The agreement does not even mention
the thousands of small, tactical nuclear weapons on both sides. The
omission is ominous in two respects. Such weapons are more vulnerable to
theft and other kinds of proliferation. And, as we learned when the
Administration's new nuclear doctrine was leaked in March, the Pentagon
is devising scenarios for the early use of such weapons and thus for
building new ones. That would require a resumption of nuclear testing,
and Moscow would probably follow suit. The result would be a new and
more dangerous nuclear arms race: The first one built nuclear weapons
not for use but as deterrents; the new race would build nuclear weapons
with the intention of using them.

In announcing the agreement, Bush claimed that it "will liquidate the
legacy of the cold war" and "begin the new era of US-Russian
relationships." In fact, this treaty is more likely to perpetuate and
even increase some of the worst aspects of the cold war. And the "era"
it marks may well be more dangerous than the one we have only barely
survived. The struggle for a truly new era of US-Russian relations and
nuclear security must therefore be redoubled before there are no last
opportunities.

I arrived here in Chile May 8 as a material witness in a criminal
complaint against former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet for the murder
of an American friend just days after the 1973 coup. But by the time the
week was over, I found myself giving face-to-face testimony against one
of the former top officials of the US Embassy in Chile and--in
effect--against former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The last time I had seen former US Consul General Fred Purdy was on the
morning of September 17, 1973, when I and a handful of other young
Americans living here at the time stood nervously outside his office and
pleaded with him for some sort of US protection. Six days earlier
General Pinochet's military had seized power, declared a state of
internal war and unleashed a ferocious and bloody spasm of terror and
murder. But a gruff, impatient and profane Purdy snubbed our plea and
literally pushed us back into the chaotic streets, telling us we had
nothing to fear from the new military regime--and that the US embassy
could and would do nothing for us.

We would soon learn that at about the same hour we were begging Purdy
for help, a truckload of Chilean troops had kidnapped our fellow
American Charlie Horman from his home a few miles away. Within
forty-eight hours Horman was summarily and secretly executed. As
memorialized in the 1982 Costa-Gavras film Missing, his body
wasn't found for another month, and his killers were never identified.
Within days of Horman's execution, another young American friend, Frank
Teruggi, was also seized and murdered by Chilean forces. And Chile was
plunged into the seventeen-year nightmare of Pinochet's military
dictatorship that stamped out at least 3,000 other lives and sent nearly
a million into exile.

Purdy has never admitted he was wrong, and it's likely he still believes
he never made a mistake. US policy-makers from Henry Kissinger in the
1970s to Otto Reich, George W. Bush's top man on Latin America, have
always been quicker to praise Pinochet for his fealty to American-style
free-market economics than to condemn him for his butchery.

Now, however, Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia--the courageous Chilean
magistrate who last year indicted Pinochet on kidnapping and murder
charges--is helping set the historical record straight. At the behest of
Charlie Horman's widow, Joyce, Judge Guzmán opened a formal
criminal probe into the circumstances of Horman's death, including any
US role. As a witness in Judge Guzmán's chambers for three days,
I was asked to confirm under oath that in the wake of the military
takeover, Purdy and the embassy turned their back on Americans in
need--especially Americans thought to have been sympathetic to Socialist
President Salvador Allende, deposed in the coup.

Under Chile's arcane Napoleonic legal system, Purdy, who now lives in
Santiago, was subpoenaed for a careo--forced to be personally
confronted by me in the presence of the judge. Purdy, now 73, may be
visibly aged but he is the same truculent functionary I remember from
that morning twenty-nine years ago. His objections to my testimony were
loud enough to be heard by others in the waiting room outside the
judge's chambers. He vociferously argued that he had done everything
possible to save American lives in the aftermath of the coup and that
Horman could not be rescued, primarily because he had never sought the
help of the embassy. In recent declarations to the Chilean press, Purdy
had claimed--with no substantiation--that Horman might have been picked
up because he was friendly with an armed ultraleft group. So here we
were, back to 1973. According to Purdy, honest people had nothing to
fear from the Chilean military.

But Judge Guzmán was clear. "I have to tell you, Mr. Purdy," he
said calmly, "there are indications you were involved in a cover-up and
that you have not been fully forthcoming with the investigation." Judge
Guzmán then officially declared Purdy inculpado--a
"suspect"--in his investigation.

Thus Purdy becomes the first former US official to face possible
criminal penalties in a case arising from the 1973 Chilean coup.

Infuriated by the judge's ruling, Purdy stomped from the chambers and
angrily confronted a waiting claque of courthouse reporters. With TV
cameras rolling, Purdy--pressed to explain his behavior in 1973--grabbed
a reporter by the arm and shouted in an odd Spanish-English mix,
"Momen-fucking-tito!" Purdy's indignation, featured
prominently in Chilean newscasts, takes us to the moral center of this
story. Purdy was shocked that a US official might actually be held
responsible in a foreign court for crimes perpetrated by US policy. The
obscure Purdy is now an important symbol in the quest for international
justice. If the "Pinochet principle" established that former heads of
state lack immunity from human rights violations, then so do ex-consuls
general.

Purdy was caught in Guzmán's net only because he retired here and
could not escape a Chilean subpoena. But Guzmán's bigger targets
are sixteen other former US officials, including US Ambassador to Chile
Nathaniel Davis and Kissinger. More than a year ago, Guzmán
requested that Washington make these officials available. Only by
questioning them can anyone begin to answer key questions like what the
US government did or did not know about the murder of its own citizens
and to what degree functionaries like Purdy were following a State
Department line of cover-up for the Pinochet junta. So far Washington
hasn't responded to Guzmán's request. Kissinger told a British
audience in late April that while "it is quite possible mistakes were
made," a certain number of errors are inevitable and "the issue is
whether, thirty years after the event, the courts are the appropriate
means by which determination is made."

Some pieces of the Horman puzzle that have emerged from thousands of
pages of recently declassified documents indeed point to some level of
US involvement. "There is some circumstantial evidence to suggest US
intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman's death,"
reads one State Department memo, obtained by the National Security
Archive. "At best it was limited to providing or confirming information
that helped motivate his murder by the GOC [government of Chile]. At
worst, US intelligence was aware that GOC saw Horman in a rather serious
light and US officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of
GOC paranoia."

The Chileans might have been paranoid, but Washington was coldly
calculating. The Nixon Administration found it more compelling to
support Pinochet's regime than to fully investigate and solve the murder
of its own citizens. In early 1974, shortly after Horman and Teruggi's
bodies had been found and Pinochet's blood orgy was rising to fever
pitch, the State Department official in charge of Latin America, Jack
Kubisch, had a private meeting with then-Chilean Foreign Minister Adm.
Ismael Huerta. A confidential US Embassy cable to the State Department
reports that in that meeting "Kubisch raised this subject [of Horman's
murder] in the context of the need to be careful to keep relatively
small issues in our relationship from making our cooperation more
difficult."

The multilingual Judge Guzmán exudes erudite refinement. The son
of a well-known poet, bearded and partial to blazers and regimental
ties, Guzmán seems more the country squire than crusading
magistrate. But his patience and polish, his deliberate
even-temperedness, have led not only to indictments of the
once-untouchable Pinochet but also of fifty-five other Chilean officers.
As he ushered me into his chambers, he stopped first to shake the hands
of several suspect former and active police officials he had cited who
were waiting in an adjacent room. "Sometimes it is very difficult to
have to treat these men you know are criminals and murderers as
gentlemen," he said. "But that's why we have laws to punish them."

In accord with those laws, Guzmán says that if the United States
doesn't act soon on his request to gather testimony from Kissinger and
other US officials, he'll have no choice but to file for their
extradition to Chile. Kissinger could satisfy Guzmán's request by
testifying before a US judge, who would ask the questions Guzmán
wants answered. Guzmán doesn't want to indict Kissinger; he only
wants to hear his testimony on these supposedly "relatively small
issues." But there's a better way: Kissinger should get on a plane to
Santiago and spend a few hours with the judge to help clear up these
crimes. And he can be sure that Judge Guzmán will, at all times,
treat him strictly as a gentleman.

"I have concluded that we should attempt to achieve normalization of our
relations with Cuba," Jimmy Carter proclaimed in a secret Presidential
Directive shortly after taking office in 1977. With that signed order
Carter became the first and only US President to make a rapprochement
with Fidel Castro's revolutionary government an explicit goal of US
foreign policy. Although his Administration succeeded in negotiating the
creation of "interest sections" in Havana and Washington, Carter's
objective "to set in motion a process which will lead to the
reestablishment of [full] diplomatic relations" eventually fell victim
to the cold warriorism of his national security advisers.

Twenty-five years later, when Carter became the first US President to
travel to Cuba, meet Castro and address the Cuban people, he again
called for normalization of relations. His historic five-day visit, May
12-17, has dramatically renewed the national debate on US policy toward
Cuba.

What the former President described as "an opportunity to explore issues
of mutual interest" has mobilized almost every conceivable interest
group--commercial, political, humanitarian--across the ideological span
on a gamut of contentious issues relating to Washington's approach to
Havana. As the Pope did during his visit to Cuba in 1998, Carter has
astutely managed to simultaneously draw attention to the archaic nature
of the forty-year US embargo on trade and travel, to the merits of civil
dialogue, and to human rights and democracy.

Carter's trip was carefully scripted to balance competing political
interests as well as his own multifaceted personal agenda. Before he
announced his travel plans, Carter dispatched emissaries to Washington
to discuss with numerous NGO and lobbyist organizations the merits of
such a visit; he then received a comprehensive intelligence briefing
from the Bush Administration and a steady flow of delegations and
specialists at the Carter Center in Atlanta, who shared their expertise
on Cuban issues. Pro-dialogue coalitions like the Cuban American
Alliance Education Fund issued statements signed by numerous grassroots
organizations in "full support [of Carter's] initiative for dialogue."
The rabidly anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation criticized
him for entering into "discussions with the Cuban regime, thereby giving
[it] a measure of legitimacy."

In Cuba, Carter's schedule included three meetings with Castro, two
state dinners, a baseball game and visits to Havana's most prestigious
schools, laboratories and hospitals, as well as meetings with Cuba's
leading dissident, Elizardo Sánchez, and Oswaldo Paya, the
organizer of the Varela Project--a petition drive to reform political
and economic structures. Most significant, in a live nationally
televised address to Cuban citizens from the University of Havana,
Carter carefully underscored the themes of changing both US policy and
Cuba's socialist political system. US-Cuban relations, he said, had been
"trapped in a destructive state of belligerence for forty-two years,"
and he called on Washington to "take the first step" by lifting the
embargo on trade and travel. At the same time, he called for the
"fundamental right" of free speech and association in Cuba, and for
Cubans to be allowed to "exercise this freedom to change laws peacefully
by a direct vote."

For the Cuban government, what Carter said was far less important than
the spirit of recognition and mutual respect in which he said it. As the
only one of the ten US Presidents Castro has faced over the past
forty-three years who has come to the island, Carter got the red carpet
treatment--symbolic and real. A Cuban band played "The Star-Spangled
Banner" when he arrived, and Castro made it clear that there were no
conditions on his visit. "You can express yourself freely whether or not
we agree with part of what you say or with everything you say," Castro
stated in the reception ceremony at the airport.

When Castro first issued his invitation to Carter to visit Cuba, in
October 2000, George Bush had not yet been elected. Now, with a White
House that, as the Wall Street Journal recently described it,
"sees a President whose bacon was saved in Florida in 2000 by the
Cuban-American vote," Carter's trip has taken on a whole new political
cast. Since the Administration could not find any grounds to block his
visit, it tried to undercut Carter by sending Under Secretary of State
John Bolton to the Heritage Foundation to proclaim, "Cuba's threat to
our security has been underplayed" and to allege that Castro had "a
limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort"
that Cuba was sharing with "rogue states." Carter exposed this canard,
and infuriated the Administration, by using his visit to Cuba's leading
biotech facility, on May 13, to share the results of his pre-travel US
intelligence briefing with Cuban scientists and the US press corps: He
had asked the CIA if there was any evidence that Cuba was sharing any
information that could be used for terrorism, "and the answer from our
experts on intelligence was no."

The Bush Administration clearly fears the impact of Carter's trip. In an
effort at damage control, the White House promptly scheduled a speech in
Miami on May 20, at a fundraiser for brother Jeb's re-election campaign,
in which President Bush will express his presidency's hostile policy
toward the Cuban government and, lest US citizens get ideas from the
Carter visit, outline plans to further restrict travel to Cuba.

In tact and in substance, the Carter trip stands in stark contrast to
Bush's political diatribe. His visit cannot help but contribute to the
momentum on Capitol Hill, and throughout the country, to rethink
Washington's retrograde approach to Havana. This past fall Cuba made its
first cash purchase of US foodstuffs in forty years. As trade barriers
are slipping, a bipartisan coalition in Congress--the Cuba Working
Group, led by Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake--has organized a task force
to begin breaking up the embargo piece by piece. Its first focus is on
an amendment to the Treasury appropriations bill to free travel to the
island--legislation that is likely to get a significant boost from
front-page New York Times photos of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter
walking through charming Old Havana.

"The point is that engagement is more likely to encourage Cuba in the
direction of reforms than unrelenting confrontation," says Wayne Smith,
who served as the Carter Administration's first chief of the new US
interest section in Havana from 1977 to 1981. That point is obviously
lost on Bush. But it isn't lost on his predecessor in the Oval
Office--or on the majority of Americans, who believe that diplomatic
dialogue is far more likely to advance US interests than pandering to a
constituency in Florida to get the President's brother re-elected as
governor.

As a Russian studies major at Yale in the 1970s, I observed Soviet
"elections" that were conducted more fairly than the 2002 Yale
Corporation's board of trustees election. Why is the Yale Corporation so
threatened by the candidacy of a prominent New Haven pastor who cares
about Yale and its workers?

The last time a prospective trustee was nominated by petition was almost
forty years ago, when William Horowitz became Yale's first elected
Jewish trustee. Back then 250 signatures were required for ballot
qualification; that has since been raised to 3 percent of eligible
alumni--some 3,200 signatures today. The Rev. Dr. W. David Lee, an
African-American pastor of one of New Haven's largest churches and a
graduate of the Yale Divinity School, gathered 4,870 signatures. If
elected, he would be the only New Haven resident other than Yale's
president to sit on the corporation's board.

But he is also supported by Yale's employee unions, and the
university--one of America's great institutions of higher learning--does
not like that. Normally, the Standing Committee for the Nomination of
Alumni Fellows of the Association of Yale Alumni nominates two or three
alumni to stand for election. This year, apparently threatened by Lee's
grassroots efforts, the committee nominated only one, Maya Lin, creator
of the Vietnam War memorial, around whom the Yale Corporation and its
allies could rally.

As an alumnus, I received no fewer than six mailings--from the alumni
organization, from wealthy Yale alumni, from former corporation board
members--all criticizing Lee for failing to identify who paid for his
mailing, for his "aggressive campaign" and for his "ties to special
interests, labor unions."

In a campaign flier (containing no disclosure of who paid for it), the
Association of Yale Alumni quoted comments from Lee critical of the
university. It is not surprising that a minister of a large church at
which many Yale employees worship might at times express substantial
differences with a university that pays many of those workers less than
a living wage.

As if the Yale Corporation had not already made its interests known,
even the ballot package--paid for by the university and sent to all
voters--was slanted in favor of the corporation's candidate. The
official publication intimates support for its favored candidate from
"over 700 alumni," including the Association of Yale Alumni, the
officers of Yale college classes and Yale clubs and other alumni
associations. The other candidate, the Yale Corporation stated in the
ballot package, was "nominated by petition"--(as though Lee's 4,870
signatures did not indicate the support of those alumni).

Reminiscent of elections conducted in one-party states, the corporation
refused to allow an observer to be present when the ballots are counted.
It is not in the Yale bylaws, he was told.

It is unfortunate that Yale, which has produced so many national
leaders, has earned a widespread reputation for its antiunion activities
[see Kim Phillips-Fein, "Yale Bites Unions," July 2, 2001]. To all but
declare war on Yale's workers and its union, and on an outstanding young
New Haven leader, can only exacerbate city-university tensions and roil
Yale's already troubled labor-management waters.

How could one pro-worker candidate who aspires to a lone seat on a board
of nineteen of America's most influential people unleash the fury of an
entire university hierarchy? Why do powerful people--the kind who sit on
Yale's board--feel so threatened by a local minister? Why can't one of
the world's most prestigious universities--with a multibillion-dollar
endowment--pay its workers a living wage?

For God. For Country. For Yale.

Columns

Likud says it does not anticipate
That Palestinians will have a state.
So they, in turn, are meant to stop this shrying,
And try to make their peace with occupying.

Right in the wake of House majority leader Dick Armey's explicit call
for several million Palestinians to be booted out of the West Bank, and
East Jerusalem and Gaza as well, came yet one more of those earnest
articles accusing a vague entity called "the left" of anti-Semitism.

This one was in Salon, by a man called Dennis Fox, identified as
an associate professor of legal studies and psychology at the University
of Illinois. Leaving nothing to chance, Salon titled Fox's
contribution "The shame of the pro-Palestinian left: Ignorance and
anti-Semitism are undercutting the moral legitimacy of Israel's
critics."

Over the past twenty years I've learned there's a quick way of figuring
just how badly Israel is behaving. There's a brisk uptick in the number
of articles accusing "the left" of anti-Semitism. These articles adopt
varying strategies. Particularly intricate, though I think
well-intentioned, was a recent column by Naomi Klein, who wrote that "it
is precisely because anti-Semitism is used by the likes of Mr. Sharon
that the fight against it must be reclaimed." Is Klein saying the global
justice movement has forgotten how to be anti-anti-Semitic? I don't
think it has. Are all denunciations of the government of Israel to be
prefaced by strident assertions of pro-Semitism?

If this is the case, can we not ask that those concerned about the
supposed silence of the left about anti-Semitism demonstrate their own
good faith by denouncing Israel's behavior toward Palestinians? Klein
did, but most don't. In a recent column in the New York Times
Frank Rich managed to write an entire column purportedly about Jewish
overreaction here to news reporting from Israel without even fleeting
reference to the fact that there might be some factual basis to reports
presenting Israel and its leaders in a bad light, even though he found
time for abuse of the "inexcusable" Arafat. Isn't Sharon "inexcusable"
in Rich's book?

So the left gets the rotten eggs, and those tossing the eggs mostly
don't feel it necessary to concede that Israel is a racist state whose
obvious and provable intent is to continue to steal Palestinian land,
oppress Palestinians, herd them into smaller and smaller enclaves, and
in all likelihood ultimately drive them into the sea or Lebanon or
Jordan or Dearborn or the space in Dallas-Fort Worth airport between the
third and fourth runways (the bold Armey plan).

Here's how Fox begins his article for Salon: "'Let's move back,'
my wife insisted when she saw the nearby banner: 'Israel Is a Terrorist
State!' We were at the April 20 Boston march opposing Israel's incursion
into the West Bank. So drop back we did, dragging our friends with us to
wait for an empty space we could put between us and the anti-Israel
sign." Inference by Fox: The banner is grotesque, presumptively
anti-Semitic. But there are plenty of sound arguments that from the
Palestinian point of view Israel is indeed a terrorist state, and
anyway, even if it wasn't, the description would not per se be evidence
of anti-Semitism. Only if the banner had read "All Jews Are Terrorists"
would Fox have a point.

Of course, the rhetorical trick is to conflate "Israel" or "the State of
Israel" with "Jews" and argue that they are synonymous. Ergo, to
criticize Israel is to be anti-Semitic. Leave aside the fact that many
of Israel's most articulate critics are Jews, honorably committed to the
cause of justice for all in the Middle East. Many Jews just don't like
hearing bad things said about Israel, same way they don't like reading
articles about the Jewish lobby here. Mention the lobby and someone like
Fox will rush into print denouncing those who "toy with the old
anti-Semitic canard that the Jews control the press." These days you
can't even say that the New York Times is owned by a Jewish
family without risking charges that you stand in Goebbels's shoes. I
even got accused of anti-Semitism the other day for mentioning that the
Jews founded Hollywood, which they most certainly did, as recounted in a
funny and informative book published in 1988, An Empire of Their Own:
How the Jews Invented Hollywood
, by Neal Gabler.

So cowed are commentators (which is of course the prime motive of those
charges of anti-Semitism) that even after Congress recently voted
full-throated endorsement of Sharon and Israel, with only two senators
and twenty-one reps voting against (I don't count the chickenshit
twenty-nine who voted "present"), you could scarcely find a mainstream
paper prepared to analyze this astounding demonstration of the power of
AIPAC and other Jewish organizations, plus the Christian right and the
military industry, which profits enormously from military aid to Israel,
since Congress has stipulated that 75 percent of such supplies must be
bought from US firms like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

The encouraging fact is that despite the efforts of the Southern Poverty
Law Center to drum up funds by hollering that the Nazis are about to
march down Main Street, there's remarkably little anti-Semitism in the
United States, and almost none that I've ever been able to detect on the
American left, which is of course amply stocked with non-self-hating
Jews. It's comical to find the left's assailants trudging all the way
back to LeRoi Jones and the 1960s to dig up the necessary anti-Semitic
gibes. The less encouraging fact is that there's not nearly enough
criticism of Israel's ghastly conduct toward Palestinians, which in its
present phase is testing the waters for reaction here to a major ethnic
cleansing of Palestinians, just as Armey called for.

So why don't people like Fox write about Armey's appalling remarks
(which the White House declared he hadn't made) instead of trying to
change the subject with nonsense about anti-Semitism? It's not
anti-Semitic to denounce ethnic cleansing, a strategy that, according to
recent polls, almost half of Israelis now heartily endorse. In this
instance the left really has nothing to apologize for, but those who
accuse it of anti-Semitism certainly do. They're apologists for policies
put into practice by racists, ethnic cleansers and, in Sharon's case, an
unquestioned war criminal who should be in the dock for his conduct.

Stop the Presses

The essential mystery of the 2000 election has always been this: How in
the world did George W. Bush ever get close enough to invite the
Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to give him his
"victory"?

Of course, he couldn't have done it all by himself. Al Gore ran away
from one of the most successful economic records of any Administration
this century and could not seem to articulate a single compelling reason
that he should be President. Bush was also mightily aided by Ralph
Nader, whose spoiler candidacy commanded just enough support to swing
battleground states for the Republicans while failing to come even
remotely close to the 5 percent, matching-funds goal that was his
professed inspiration. But the biggest piece of the puzzle is still
Bush. He may have "grown" in office, but the fact is he had some of the
skimpiest qualifications for the job of almost any successful candidate
in our history, while Gore's were among the best. Moreover, his
political views were well to the right of most voters on almost
everything, while Gore's were well within the national consensus. By any
conventional calculation, Bush should have lost in a landslide.

The obvious answer to the paradox is that Bush sold his personality, not
his politics. But how? Are people just stupid? Don't they realize that
it doesn't matter if one candidate is a likable cutup and the other one
a superior stiff when it comes to stuff like global warming, a patients'
bills of rights, Social Security, the right to choose, etc.? Well,
that's one answer. But a more compelling one is that the so-called
liberal media, contrary to its nonsensical reputation for favoring
Democrats, failed to inform the public of the two candidates' political
and ideological differences, and the implications those differences held
for the nation's future.

The release of two different kinds of campaign documents--Ambling
Into History
, a book by New York Times reporter Frank Bruni,
and Journeys With George, a film by former NBC News producer
Alexandra Pelosi--shed considerable light on just how the media managed
to spend millions upon millions covering the candidates while reporting
next to nothing of value to voters. Ambling is a memoir of a
love-struck reporter. The journalist charged with covering the campaign
for the newspaper that sets the agenda for most of the elite media
focuses with laserlike intensity on every nod, wink, smile and
profession of alleged "love" that comes his way from the candidate. But
we hear barely a word about the candidate's pollution- and
fat-cat-friendly policies as governor of Texas or his lies and
dissimulations when it came to environmental protection, affirmative
action, issues of corporate responsibility, healthcare policy and the
like. If you want to know the exact number of seconds that George and
Laura Bush danced at every one of their nine Inaugural Balls, then the
intrepid Mr. Bruni is your man. If you have any interest in what Bush
might have been doing at his desk the following morning, well, where did
you get the silly idea that a New York Times reporter should
concern himself with boring stuff like that?

The willingness of the Times bigfoot to treat the election as the
equivalent of a junior high popularity contest signaled to the rest of
the media that contentless coverage would be the order of the day. The
net result, as Pelosi shows us in her fascinating but nauseating
documentary--to be broadcast on HBO in November--is a press corps that
follows its campaign masters like a litter of newborn puppies. They wait
open-mouthed for Karl Rove or Karen Hughes to drop a tender morsel of
warmed-over baloney into their mouths, wagging their tails in
appreciation after every feeding.

The clowning frat boy who plays the Republican presidential candidate in
the Pelosi movie does turn out to be a genuinely congenial fellow. If
you've been wondering why it is that everybody seems to like this
guy--and how he has managed to forge so many lifelong bonds with people
irrespective of his apparent doofus-like qualities--then this movie will
provide a painless seventy-six-minute education. The filmmaker--the
daughter of House Democratic whip Nancy Pelosi--hates Bush's politics
but likes him personally, and so can we. She tells audiences that
Journeys is a documentary about process and that the candidate
himself is unimportant. But that's nonsense. Bush is a star. If Pelosi
had had the misfortune to be assigned to Al Gore's press plane, this
movie would have sucked.

But like Ambling, Journeys is more valuable for what it
shows than what it tells. Over and over we hear the reporters criticize
themselves for the emptiness of their coverage as they express a kind of
wearied contempt for the snowmobile rides and other pseudoevents that
substitute for substance. But over and over again, they submit without
apparent protest. They regurgitate the campaign's baloney sandwiches and
watered-down Kool-Aid--without even bothering to convince themselves
that it's really steak and champagne. In between feedings, they ask the
Man for his autograph, laugh at his jokes and seek, without much
success, to justify the effects of their collective lobotomy to Pelosi's
pitiless focus.

Unlike Bruni, Pelosi demonstrates considerable professional
self-awareness (which is why she felt compelled to quit her job and
leave the field entirely after the campaign). Early on, she gives us
the Financial Times's Richard Wolffe speaking excitedly about
covering "the greatest story in the world...big issues, big stakes; it's
a big game, but it's important." A little later he admits, "Most of our
time is spent doing really stupid things, in stupid places with stupid
people." If you want your mystery summed up in a single sentence, it
would be hard to outdo Wolffe: "The Gore press corps is about how they
didn't like Gore, didn't trust him.... Over here, we were writing only
about the trivial stuff because he charmed the pants off us."

But Bush himself puts it best, just before kissing Pelosi in pursuit of
her (meaningless) vote in the California primary: "If I lose," he
playfully smirks, "you're out of work, baby. You're off the plane."

A recent front-page story in the Boston Globe proclaimed that New
England leads the nation in Ritalin prescription levels. Somewhat to my
surprise, the prevalence of Ritalin ingestion was generally hailed as a
good thing--as indeed it may be in cases of children with ADHD. But to
me the most startling aspect of the Globe's analysis was the
seeming embrace in many places of Ritalin as a "performance enhancer."
Prescription rates are highest in wealthy suburbs.

While the reasons for such a statistical skewing need more exploration
than this article revealed, what I found particularly interesting was
the speculation that New Englanders have a greater investment in
academic achievement: "'Our income is higher than in other states, and
we value education,' said Gene E. Harkless, director of the family
nurse-practitioner program at the University of New Hampshire. 'We have
families that are seeking above-average children.'"

Aren't we all. (And by "all," I mean all--wouldn't it be nice if
everyone understood that those decades of lawsuits over affirmative
action and school integration meant that poor and inner-city families
also "value education" and are "seeking above- average children"?) But
Ritalin, after all, works on the body as the pharmacological equivalent
of cocaine or amphetamines. It does seem a little ironic that poor
inner-city African-Americans, who from time to time do tend to get a
little down about the mouth despite the joys of welfare reform, are so
much more likely than richer suburban whites to be incarcerated for
self-medicating with home-brewed, nonprescription cocaine derivatives.
If in white neighborhoods Ritalin is being prescribed as a psychological
"fix" no different from reading glasses or hearing aids, it's no wonder
the property values are higher. Clearly the way up for ghettos is to
sweep those drugs off the street and into the hands of drug companies
that can scientifically ladle the stuff into underprivileged young black
children. I'll bet that within a single generation, the number of
African-Americans taking Ritalin--to say nothing of Prozac and
Viagra--will equal rates among whites. Income and property values will
rise accordingly. Dopamine for the masses!

Another potential reason for the disparity is, of course, the matter of
access to medical care. Prescriptions for just about anything are likely
to be higher where people can afford to see doctors on a regular
basis--or where access to doctors is relatively greater: New England has
one of the highest concentrations of doctors in the country. But access
isn't everything. Dr. Sally Satel, a fellow at the American Enterprise
Institute, says that when she prescribes Prozac to her lucky
African-American patients, "I start at a lower dose, 5 or 10 milligrams
instead of the usual 10-to-20-milligram dose" because "blacks metabolize
antidepressants more slowly than Caucasians and Asians." Her bottom line
is that the practice of medicine should not be "colorblind" and that
race is a rough guide to "the reality" of biological differences.
Indeed, her book, PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting
Medicine
, is filled with broad assertions like "Asians tend to have
a greater sensitivity to narcotics" and "Caucasians are far more likely
to carry the gene mutations that cause multiple sclerosis and cystic
fibrosis." Unfortunately for her patients, Dr. Satel confuses a shifting
political designation with a biological one. Take, for example, her
statement that "many human genetic variations tend to cluster by racial
groups--that is, by people whose ancestors came from a particular
geographic region." But what we call race does not reflect geographic
ancestry with any kind of medical accuracy. While "black" or "white" may
have sociological, economic and political consequence as reflected in
how someone "looks" in the job market or "appears" while driving or
"seems" when trying to rent an apartment, race is not a biological
category. Color may have very real social significance, in other words,
but it is not the same as demographic epidemiology.

It is one thing to acknowledge that people from certain regions of
Central Europe may have a predisposition to Tay-Sachs, particularly
Ashkenazi (but not Sephardic or Middle Eastern) Jews. This is a reality
that reflects extended kinship resulting from geographic or social
isolation, not racial difference. It reflects a difference at the
mitochondrial level, yes, but certainly not a difference that can be
detected by looking at someone when they come into the examining room.
For that matter, the very term "Caucasian"--at least as Americans use
it, i.e., to mean "white"--is ridiculously unscientific. Any given one
of Dr. Satel's "Asian" patients could probably more reliably claim
affinity with the peoples of the Caucasus mountains than the English-,
Irish- and Scandinavian-descended population of which the gene pool of
"white" Americans is largely composed. In any event, a group's
predisposition to a given disease or lack of it can mislead in making
individual diagnoses--as a black friend of mine found out to his
detriment when his doctor put off doing a biopsy on a mole because
"blacks aren't prone to skin cancer."

To be fair, Dr. Satel admits that "a black American may have dark
skin--but her genes may well be a complex mix of ancestors from West
Africa, Europe and Asia." Still, she insists that racial profiling is of
use because "an imprecise clue is better than no clue at all." But let
us consider a parallel truth: A white American may have light skin, but
her genes may well be a complex mix of ancestors from West Africa,
Europe and Asia. Given the complexly libidinous history of the United
States of America, I worry that unless doctors take the time to talk to
their patients, to ask, to develop nuanced family histories or, if
circumstances warrant, to perform detailed genomic analyses, it would be
safer if they assumed that, as a matter of fact, they haven't a clue.

We live in a world where race is so buried in our language and habits of
thought that unconscious prejudgments too easily channel us into
empirical inconsistency; it is time we ceased allowing anyone, even
scientists, to rationalize that consistent inconsistency as
"difference."

Articles

The United States has a $6 trillion national debt, a growing deficit and is borrowing money from the Social Security Trust Fund in order to fund government services.We can no longer afford to pro

Osmín, a Cuban trucker, is living in Florida legally--but that
didn't matter to the department of motor vehicles. When he was stopped
on May 2 by a policeman who wanted to see the permit for a job he was
working on, as well as his license, he handed over all the necessary
papers. Although they were in order, he was sent to the driver's-license
office because the document granting his temporary stay will expire
later this month. When dutifully checking in at the DMV the next day, he
explained that his application for permanent residency is pending,
allowing him legal stay until it is resolved. But the clerk, guided by
the governor's new antiterror restrictions, didn't understand the
intricacies of his immigration status. He confiscated Osmín's
license--good until 2007--and sent him home, unable to drive and unable
to work. "I feel very bad," said Osmín (who didn't want to have
his last name used out of fear it might harm his residency application)
the following workday, stuck inside. "I have to pay my bills, I've lost
a complete day of work and I don't know when I'll get my license back."

Spurred on by post-September 11 fears, more than a dozen states, from
Colorado to Delaware, have passed or are considering restrictions on
issuing driver's licenses to noncitizens. Some, like Georgia, Minnesota
and New York, may tie license expiration dates to the expiration of
immigration papers, as Florida, New Jersey and Kentucky do now.
Florida's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles now sends
records of all its transactions to the FBI every night. A Michigan bill
would authorize DMV staff to contact federal authorities if there is
"reasonable cause" to believe an applicant is an illegal alien. Even
legal refugees from Bosnia or El Salvador can get tripped up in the new
red tape. "If you make it difficult for people to get a driver's
license, you're going to get a lot more people driving without a
license, and we might have more uninsured drivers on the road," says Ben
Johnson, associate director of the American Immigration Lawyers
Association. "Getting tough on driver's-license law isn't going to make
the country any safer."

Declaring his state's enlistment in a "war against illegal immigration,"
South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon introduced legislation to
have local cops enforce federal immigration laws. Florida is working
with the Immigration and Naturalization Service on a groundbreaking plan
to deputize police officers as INS agents. "This gives police another
legal hook to justify their profiling and will prevent illegal
immigrants from reporting crimes against them," says Dan Kesselbrenner,
director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers
Guild.

Heightening surveillance of foreign students, bills pending in
California, Minnesota and Georgia, and a new Virginia law, would require
colleges to report noncitizens to the INS if they repeatedly miss class
or withdraw. An Oklahoma measure would prevent noncitizens from
enrolling in flight school. "While everybody's in the patriotic mood,
people's tolerance level is a little bit lower," says Lena Lee, a
research assistant for South Carolina's House of Representatives,
describing a bill to restrict university enrollment of students who come
from a "state sponsor of international terrorism" as determined by the
US Secretary of State. "The rush is on to get the legislation out.
People are kind of blindly doing it--with good intent."

Oklahoma's Joint Homeland Security Task Force even brought up blocking
foreign students from certain courses. Representative Bill Paulk, a task
force member, said legislators are particularly worried about nuclear
design and computer classes. "Obviously," he said, "there are some
courses you would not want foreigners to take."

A camera system in the nation's capital is making civil libertarians
nervous.

State officials rush to declare their own versions of the "war on
terror."

From Padua's Piazza Insurrezione, where I was standing at 11 in the
morning on April 16, the general strike--Italy's first in twenty
years--looked and sounded like a great success. More than 70,000 people
were already jammed inside the mid-sized square along with their broad
union banners and thousands of flags. Three immense vertical
standards--one for each of the labor confederations--loomed over the
crowd. The noise was deafening: drums, horns, gongs, a PA system on the
electronic equivalent of steroids and 70,000 voices cheering each
announcement:

"We're ten million strong! More than half the labor force is striking
against the antidemocratic policies of Silvio Berlusconi's center-right
government! Three-hundred thousand are marching in Florence, two-hundred
thousand in Rome..."

The demonstrators in Padua--a university town forty minutes west of
Venice--weren't just striking, they were celebrating. Gathering together
70,000 adversaries of Berlusconi in the heart of the miracolo del
nord-est
--the economic miracle of Italy's conservative northeast
where small- and mid-scale manufacturers have produced one of Europe's
greatest concentrations of wealth--was a miracle in itself. The union
banners identified the protesters: eyeglass assemblers from Santa Maria
di Salva, carpenters from Iesolo, leather workers from Verona (most of
them African immigrants), poultry processors from San Martino, hospital
workers and schoolteachers from Venice. But students, university
professors, insurance brokers and television producers also carried
union banners. Thousands of others--teenagers, homemakers, young
professionals--marched with family and friends.

The unions called the strike to protest a reform that would undermine
the 1970 Workers' Statute, the key guarantee of labor rights in Italy.
That's why Sabina Tonetto, a 26-year-old software consultant from the
town of San Donà di Piave, said she was in the piazza. Yet the
company she works for doesn't come under the statute's jurisdiction;
it's too small. And with her skills, she said, "I run no risk of being
laid off." She stayed away from work as a matter of principle: "Certain
things"--the Workers' Statute--"must not be touched. All of us have to
do our part."

Just a few blocks away, the stalls in the farmers' market in Piazza
della Frutta and the shops along Via Dante and Corso Garibaldi were open
for business. Well-dressed pedestrians perused the displays of
handcrafted shoes, silk scarves and designer jackets--variations of what
they were already wearing. The espresso bars were serving up sandwiches,
pastries and pricey chocolates. The streets were peaceful. Nothing in
the shoppers' demeanor, nothing in the merchants' conversation,
connected to what was happening nearby. The noise from Piazza
Insurrezione didn't carry. For anyone who wasn't right there, the
general strike might as well not have taken place.

That's Italy today. While much of Europe has been shifting rightward,
Italy tilted somewhat faster and farther and is now precariously poised,
its citizenry both evenly and deeply divided. About half voted
free-marketer Berlusconi into office in May 2001. His supporters include
the business elite and some workers disillusioned with the left, but
most are small and medium-sized manufacturers, store owners,
professionals and self-employed craftspeople. They are numerous in
Italy, prosperous and happy to have Berlusconi as long as he doesn't
raise their taxes. The other half of the citizenry is outraged by a
prime minister who aims to undermine the labor movement, dismantle the
public sector and foil the prosecutors who have indicted him for
corruption.

After nearly a year of collective depression and political paralysis,
anti-Berlusconi citizens are starting to mount a credible opposition,
coalescing around the left wing of the labor movement but reaching
beyond to include intellectuals, students, media figures and ordinary
people who are getting involved for the first time. Since January not a
week has gone by without a rally or march or strike bringing anywhere
from 3,000 to 2 million people into the piazzas. The protests are
uniting generations and social classes. So far they've remained loose
enough to attract independents and broad enough to incorporate both the
center and left.

According to Valentino Castellani, a left Catholic and former mayor of
Turin, "The healthy parts of society are finally saying, 'Enough! This
can't go on.'" For Luciano Gallino, a prominent sociologist, the social
protest movements that have sprung up in the last few months represent
"an awakening of civic passion."

Berlusconi provoked the uprising by refusing to modify a series of
"reforms" custom-designed to protect his vast business empire and shield
him (and several Cabinet members) from prosecution for corruption. The
naked self-interest, the almost outlandish specificity of the
legislation, was too much for many Italians to take. One law (already
passed by Parliament) decriminalized the falsification of financial
statements in the private sector. This let Berlusconi off the hook
because he was under indictment for that crime. A second law, also
enacted, makes it difficult for Italian prosecutors to use "letters
rogatory," the standard instrument for obtaining evidence from another
country. This conveniently sabotaged a case in which Berlusconi was
accused of bribing judges, a case that depended on evidence from Swiss
banks.

Another law, which has passed the Chamber of Deputies, states that
owning a business does not constitute a conflict of interest for a prime
minister as long as he or she does not run the business. Since
Berlusconi has turned over the administration of his enterprises to
members of his immediate family, he would not have to sell any of his
holdings, which include three of Italy's four private television
networks, the nation's largest publishing conglomerate, Mondadori, and
an advertising agency that dominates the national market.

Although the left unions have been fighting Berlusconi's policies from
the start, the spontaneous street protests began in response to a reform
that would allow the government to exert political pressure on the
judiciary. When judges and prosecutors staged a walkout, two professors
at the University of Florence called on citizens nationwide to support
them. The response was overwhelming and persistent. By February a rally
in Milan's Palavobis sports facility, which holds 12,000, drew a crowd
of 40,000. That same month, leftist film director Nanni Moretti (Caro
Diario
, The Son's Room) set off a political revolt when he
spoke to a rally in Rome's Piazza Navona organized by the center-left
Ulivo (Olive Tree) coalition. Instead of making the predictable rally
remarks, Moretti lambasted the coalition leaders, who were standing next
to him, for focusing on petty internal power plays rather than offering
an alternative to Berlusconi. He claimed that he no longer identified
with their politics. The crowd's wild applause and the ensuing debate,
which went on for weeks in the newspapers, embarrassed the Ulivo
leadership into admitting they had lost touch with their constituency.

In March the girotondi ("ring-around-a-rosy protests") began.
Resurrecting a feminist tactic of the 1970s, protesters, holding hands,
circle around a building that figures in one of Berlusconi's reforms. If
they are protesting his control over 90 percent of the airwaves, they
circle around the state broadcasting headquarters; if they are
protesting steps toward privatizing education or healthcare, they circle
around a school or hospital. Girotondi are taking place all over
Italy--often initiated by grassroots groups, announced just a few days
ahead of time, and advertised through leaflets and by word of mouth. In
addition to citizen protests against Berlusconi's reforms, there are
frequent demonstrations against corporate-led globalization and racist
treatment of immigrants.

According to Nicola Tranfaglia, dean of the humanities faculty at the
University of Turin and one of the opposition's prominent intellectuals,
"These movements don't trust the political parties. They are similar in
some ways to 1968, but then it was young people. Today you see people of
all ages."

What anchors this spirited civic engagement is the labor movement--more
precisely, the largest and most left-leaning of the three union
confederations, the Italian General Confederation of Labor, or CGIL. "In
just three months, the CGIL has pushed the center-left so there's a
tougher opposition and greater unity," Tranfaglia said.

If any one issue unites the opposition to Berlusconi, it is the attack
on the Workers' Statute. Berlusconi wants to drop Article 18, which
stipulates that if a judge finds that an employer has fired a worker
unfairly, that worker can choose to go back to his or her job or accept
a money settlement. Italians in the opposition see Berlusconi's move as
an attack on basic individual rights. L'articolo 18 non si tocca
("Article18 cannot be touched") has become the central slogan of the
protest movement.

Berlusconi and his allies in the most powerful business organization,
Confindustria, argue that Article 18 creates labor market rigidity; as
long as it stays on the books, they say, employers will refuse to hire
additional workers, the economy will produce no new jobs and investors
the world over will shun Italy. Sociologist Luciano Gallino thinks this
is nonsense. "Eliminating Article 18 has nothing to do with creating
jobs. It's the first step in labor market deregulation. It would open
the door to creating a class of the working poor"--a phenomenon that
Italians on the left see as typically American. Berlusconi's attack on
Article 18 serves another purpose: "He is trying to split the labor
movement," former Mayor Castellani said. Everyone in the opposition
would agree.

Italy has had three politically diverse and competing union
confederations since the onset of the cold war. Their ability to
cooperate is endlessly fluctuating. The Italian Confederation of Workers
Unions (CISL) is the second-largest confederation, the most willing to
compromise with Berlusconi's government and the least interested in
defending Article 18. The smallest confederation, the Italian Union of
Labor (UIL), was also inclined to bend on Article 18. But Sergio
Cofferati, secretary general of the CGIL, refused to budge an inch. He
ended up rescuing the entire opposition.

Cofferati is the new hero--patron saint says it better--of Italy's left.
When the other two confederations refused to support a protest march to
defend Article 18, Cofferati insisted that the CGIL hold the
demonstration by itself. Over a million people converged on Rome on
March 23 in the largest rally since the Second World War. Cofferati also
called for the general strike on April 16, and his March triumph
embarrassed the other unions into going along. By the time of the April
25 Liberation Day rallies and the May Day rallies, 200,000 people were
showing up wherever he spoke. The crowds chant "Sergio! Sergio!" no
matter who else is standing on the stage, senior citizens break through
the security lines and throw themselves into his arms, teenagers line up
for autographs.

Cofferati's second and, by statute, final term as head of the CGIL ends
in June. The opposition activists are begging him to lead the
center-left coalition of parties. But he has decided to return to
Pirelli, the giant rubber and tire company where he worked as a
technician two decades ago--to do what, he won't say. He claims that he
has no intention of withdrawing from politics. In April, he helped found
"Aprile," a group that will coordinate the work of the large left
faction within the party of the Left Democrats. But he'll make no bid,
yet, to lead the left formally.

Berlusconi may have made a mistake by going after Article 18. Two of the
several parties in his coalition--the National Alliance (the
ex-neo-Fascists) and remnants of the old Christian Democrats--have
criticized his hard line. Whereas Berlusconi considers himself a
conservative in the mold of Britain's Margaret Thatcher, the other two
parties are less ideologically pure free-marketers. It is difficult to
predict Berlusconi's next move. Some Cabinet members hint that he would
like to find a face-saving compromise on Article 18. His labor minister,
however, claims he will fight the unions to the end. If the reform
becomes law, the unions have vowed to collect signatures for a national
referendum. Organizing for a referendum to revoke the law on letters
rogatory has already begun.

With the right and far right in Europe gaining ground, the ongoing
protests in Italy look like a hopeful sign. But Berlusconi still has the
upper hand. He is the first head of government in post-Fascist Italy
ready and able to disregard "the piazza" and impose his will through his
solid majority in Parliament. "Berlusconi is setting up a regime for
himself. He's not a fascist. He's populist and authoritarian. A
Peronist. Liberal democracy in Italy is in danger," Nicola Tranfaglia
said.

On May 26, about 11 million Italians will vote in local and regional
elections. Although these contests do not necessarily mirror public
opinion on national issues, everyone will interpret them as a showdown
between Berlusconi and the opposition. The center-left has a chance to
improve its standing. The far-left Communist Refounding party has agreed
to cooperate with the center-left coalition--something it refused to do
in last year's election, thereby assuring Berlusconi's victory.

In the meantime, citizens are rallying in the piazzas, collecting
signatures and marching around buildings. As a result, most Italian
small-d democrats would agree with Luciano Gallino when he says, "I'm a
little less pessimistic."

In anticipation of the Second Coming, evangelicals leap to Israel's
defense.

As the shock of September 11 fades, courts are standing up for civil
liberties.

Fear still haunts the Arab and Muslim communities of Southern
California.

September 11 is being used as a reason to build up police intelligence
units.

On Friday, September 15, four days after the terrorist attacks, an
18-year-old Moroccan boy received an unusual request from his school
guidance counselor: Come see me as soon as you can and bring your
passport. On Monday, well before his 8 am class, the boy climbed the
steps to James Monroe High School in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and
handed over papers showing that his visa had expired. A half-hour later
he was waiting anxiously in the school security office. He didn't know
the police were going to handcuff him and take him down to the station.
"I was upset I had already missed the first period, Virginia
Government," said the young man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity
in a phone call with his lawyer listening in.

Officer Jim Shelhorse, public information officer for the Fredericksburg
police, said the police never suspected the boy of terrorist activity.
And the boy's lawyer says that he had a pending application to extend
his visa, which meant that he was free to be here. But such distinctions
were lost on the police and school. And by the time his visa did expire
on December 4, the boy was already imprisoned in an Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS) detention center in Arlington, Virginia. "I
am treated like a criminal," he said in a phone interview from the
detention center this winter. "I am with drug dealers and gun dealers.
They are not mistreating me but I am not comfortable."

The way the school guidance counselor turned in this student is just one
example of how, post-9/11, ordinary citizens have become watchdogs
policing the gateways to this country. Whereas the INS used to be solely
responsible for enforcement, others now eagerly participate in that
task. In fact, this activity has been encouraged: Weeks after the
terrorist attacks, the Bush Administration asked people to report
suspicious activity at the same time that it announced plans to use
immigration laws to fight terrorism, giving the impression that
immigration is everyone's business. Then, in December, a month after the
Justice Department asked police around the country to track down and
interview some 5,000 Middle Eastern men, the INS announced it was
placing 314,000 immigrants wanted for deportation on an FBI database
used by nearly all police agencies to check criminal charges. Now even a
local police officer writing a traffic ticket can determine that a
violator is subject to a deportation order and presumably make an
arrest. And on January 31 President Bush announced the creation of a
national volunteer agency called Citizen Corps to engage "ordinary
Americans" in reporting suspicious activity to the authorities. The
government will also expand the "Neighborhood Watch" program, in which
people report their neighbors' suspected terrorist connections.

As critics point out, when ordinary citizens or the police and FBI do
the INS's work, they don't know what they are doing. The result is both
inefficiency and discrimination. "It discourages immigrants from
providing information when they are the victims," said Lucas Guttentag,
director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "And it creates this
population that is exploited, denied protections of the law to the
detriment of society as a whole." The problem isn't new. In 1997 the
police in Chandler, Arizona, conducted a sweep of illegal immigrants as
part of an effort to "beautify" the rumpled agricultural town. Working
with the Border Patrol, police approached people on the street based on
the "lack of personal hygiene" and "strong body odor common to illegal
aliens," according to police reports leaked to the press. Police then
asked to see ID and immigration papers. Among the 432 people caught in
the "Operation Restoration" dragnet were scores of US-born Hispanics who
sued the city for discrimination.

Federal immigration officers undergo a seventeen-week residential
program that includes instruction on how to legally arrest someone on
grounds like fraudulent document production. Lacking such training,
police in Chandler often wrongly concluded documents were fakes and
arrested people anyway. "There has to be a reasonable, particularized
suspicion of wrongdoing," said Stephen Montoya, a civil rights lawyer
who represented the Chandler plaintiffs. "It can't just be because you
speak Spanish." In the case of the high school boy, the school guidance
counselor had little reason to ask for papers besides his national
identity. The boy's lawyers have argued that the school had no
jurisdiction to ask for immigration documents, and that a high school
student can't be denied basic education because he is an undocumented
immigrant. But the immigration judge rejected those arguments. (School
officials declined to comment.)

Legally, the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant
Responsibility Act makes it easier for law enforcement to collaborate
with the INS and request information from the government. And though the
law doesn't require schools to report immigration violations, "drawing
the line is very difficult for individual citizens," says Peter Schuck,
a Yale Law School professor. In the past, however, courts have struck
down laws encouraging citizens to become INS snitches. California's
Proposition 187, which attempted to recruit social workers and
government bureaucrats to report immigration violators so they would be
denied access to public services, was declared unconstitutional by
federal courts.

Ironically, some of the post-9/11 policies actually obstruct
antiterrorism efforts by discouraging people from cooperating with
authorities. When the Justice Department asked 5,000 Arab-American men
to come forward, it was unclear whether the men were putting themselves
at risk of being turned in to the INS. "That's not a good law
enforcement strategy," said Ben Johnson, associate director of advocacy
at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Perhaps even more disturbing, alerting the government because someone
appears swarthy or wears a turban is now considered acceptable behavior.
"What is wrong with calling the FBI?" said Father James Mueller, a
priest in Queens, New York, when I asked if he had any regrets about
making a report on Rafiq Butt, a 55-year-old Pakistani, after neighbors
saw six Middle Easterners go to an apartment he shared with three other
Pakistani men. Butt died in detention of a heart attack. In another
case, on November 13, FBI agents wearing biohazard gear swooped into the
home of two Pakistani men; their neighbors reportedly suspected them of
manufacturing anthrax after they saw them dumping a cloudy liquid (soapy
water from a clogged sink) and handing over a silver canister (a food
dish for a friend) outside their home. The men said they understood.

The Virginia high school student was similarly charitable. He came to
this country by himself last year trying to escape what he would only
describe as discrimination based on his sexual orientation. A Queens
mosque helped him with a place to stay and he eventually met a friend
who offered him his country house in Fredericksburg while he completed high school. He had only attended the school for three days when
he was arrested. "This happened because of one person," he said. "The
majority of people treated me very good. The students were nice. They
showed me the whole school. They were helpful. The math teacher liked
me. It was Algebra II. I had it when I was in eighth grade. I did the
exercises very fast." At press time he was out on bond, living with a
foster family in Washington, working on getting his GED and waiting for
a July asylum hearing. His future plans are to attend college and major
in finance, perhaps in Canada.

Books & the Arts

Poetry

As if to move a flexible sphere from here
to there with unassisted head and foot
were natural and obvious. As if
a dance could always bow to resolute
constraint and never be danced the same way twice.
As if whistles and cheers, the hullabaloo
of fervent gazers were all the music needed
to keep its players' goals in tune. So that
as they weave, dodge, collide, collapse in breathless
haystacks--and rise and fall and rise again--
we're made, if not one, then at least whole.

Book

For more than a century, a recognizable pattern existed among those
migrating to New York City: They came first either through Ellis Island
or up from the American South, and more recently via JFK. As the
newcomers quickly helped build larger communities, they began to occupy
distinct places in the mental and physical geography of the city.

Yet the fastest-growing migration of the past few decades into the city
severely complicates the demographic pattern to which most New Yorkers
are accustomed. Mexican migrants, whose (counted) ranks nearly tripled
to 275,000 between 1990 and 2000, are indeed coming in significant
numbers, but they are staying for quite varying amounts of time and
inhabiting quite varying parts of the city. Spatially, there is no
Mexican equivalent of the Puerto Rican neighborhoods of the Bronx, or
the Dominican enclave in Washington Heights. That the vast majority of
those who come across the Rio Grande are undocumented also suggests that
it may be a while before the Mexican community will have a direct voice,
either politically or via organized labor, in city affairs.

Enter Jimmy Breslin. Yes, the same pugnacious figure familiar to New
Yorkers for his four decades as a muckraking columnist, and to national
audiences most recently for his intro to Spike Lee's Summer of
Sam
. Could there be a better guide to the new pattern of immigration
than Breslin? From a scholarly standpoint, the answer would obviously be
yes--the recent work of Arlene Dávila and Agustín
Laó-Montes, Nancy Foner and others is a good place to start. Such
scholarship shows that the current wave of immigration fits no one mold,
with some groups, particularly Mexicans, establishing a transnational
pattern of going back and forth to their home countries, thus making it
impossible even to identify a single unified process of Latino
immigration. But from the perspective of gritty, everyday, street-level
New York, or at least that fast-disappearing world of tough talk and
no-nonsense reporting, Breslin has no match as a firsthand observer of
the newcomers' place in the city's social hierarchy. Ultimately, the way
Breslin, an older, working-class Irish-American, grapples with the new
migration tells us more than a little bit about the changing meaning of
the American dream.

Breslin's new book, his eighth nonfiction work, tells of The Short
Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutiérrez
. Gutiérrez, an undocumented Mexican
laborer, died in a 1999 construction accident in the Hasidic
neighborhood of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. For Breslin,
Gutiérrez's story not only typifies the hardships that Mexican
migrants face in coming north but shows how harsh the working conditions
are when they arrive. Gutiérrez, in other words, hardly lived the
life of a latter-day Horatio Alger. Instead of fortune, the city
provided only loneliness and a gruesome but entirely preventable death
in a cement foundation.

Gutiérrez's tragic demise sets Breslin on course to discover the
origins of what would otherwise have been yet another mostly forgotten
existence. Breslin goes to central Mexico, to the small town of San
Matias (near Puebla), to recapture Eduardo's life and surroundings
there, and then follows his tortuous journey north across the border,
before arriving in Brooklyn. In the process, Breslin accomplishes twin
goals: to show how Mexican migrants are increasingly making their way
well beyond the Southwest, steadily transforming the demographics of
Midwestern and Northeastern cities; and, more dramatically, he
illustrates how that migration probably has more in common with the
Middle Passage than with any of the heroism now accorded to the
immigrant journey through Ellis Island.

Breslin opens with a series of outsider's observations of life in
impoverished San Matias. Ninety percent of Mexican children will never
go to school beyond the sixth grade, and instead go to work, which in
places like San Matias is sporadic and pays almost nothing. Thus, as a
result of stories told by relatives and others within their community,
the young of San Matias live their lives with pictures of American money
in their heads. And "such poor, dark-skinned children," Breslin
observes, soon become the young adults who are migrating along with
counterparts from India, China and elsewhere to become New York City's
new majority, by which he essentially means people of color.

Getting here from San Matias is no mean feat. After hearing from his
girlfriend Silvia's brother-in-law of construction work in Brooklyn that
paid $6 or $7 an hour (to undocumented Mexicans), less than one-third of
what unionized American workers receive, Eduardo was tempted to go
north. After Silvia, only 15, told him that she was headed for Texas,
Eduardo, four years older, had even less reason to stay home. Breslin
then vividly re-creates both journeys, supplementing the two stories
with documentation of parallel dangers that Mexican migrants experience
every day: dangerous coyotes (smugglers), rattlesnakes, heat exhaustion,
drowning in the Rio Grande, suffocation in a tunnel leading to Tijuana,
getting hit by a train in Texas or a car in San Diego, local police,
airport security and, above all, the Border Patrol. Thus harrowed, both
Silvia and Eduardo nevertheless do land safely: the former in Bryan-College Station, Texas, where she works at both the Olive Garden and a
barbecue joint; and the latter initially at JFK, only after being
delivered COD by a coyote on a flight from Los Angeles.

Sympathetic as the author is to the courage and struggles of those who
endure such hardship in coming north, there are still some troubling
dimensions to Breslin's account, particularly in his somewhat simplistic
choice of terms to describe the process. He so often uses "the Mexicans"
as the subject of his sentences that one begins to fear Buchananesque
calls for big walls along the border (fortunately, they are not there).
Breslin also far too simplistically refers on many occasions to how
Mexican migrants are lured by The Job, and at one point riffs: "They
come across the riverbanks and the dry border, those people who want to
work, who want to scrub floors and clean pots, or mow lawns." Yet as his
own telling of Silvia's double shifts in El Paso and of Eduardo's later
job-hopping in New York suggests, the specific work matters much less
than the simple fact of a paycheck. Migrants seeking wages who will
accept the least-desirable work is surely more accurate than talk of
Mexicans who want "The Job," but then again, drama is Breslin's primary
concern.

Once away from the airport, Eduardo enters a frighteningly impersonal
city, and here Breslin emphasizes the changing meaning of the
contemporary immigrant experience: "Once, they came in dreadful old
ships, from Magilligan in Northern Ireland, from Cobh in southern
Ireland, from Liverpool and Naples and Palermo and Odessa.... Those able
to stand always scoured the horizon for the first look at a city where
the streets were decorated, if not paved, with gold." The numbers of
subsequent nonwhite migrations, particularly those of Puerto Ricans and
Dominicans, are missing from Breslin's litany, which illustrates the
degree to which the traditional mythology of immigration into New York
City needs to be rewritten continually. But here as elsewhere, Breslin
should be indulged, for the experience of Mexican immigrants in New York
is skewing more than a few familiar demographic patterns.

Eduardo's experiences in Brooklyn illustrate some of the unique features
of contemporary Mexican migration. He settles with a handful of others
from San Matias in Brighton Beach, an area whose Eastern European Jewish
identity grew rapidly with the influx of Russian and Ukrainian
immigrants in the early 1990s. On a few occasions, he and a friend would
go to Sunset Park, an increasingly Latino neighborhood and one of the
few areas of the city with a visible Mexican presence. Indeed, as the
ongoing research of John Mollenkopf and others demonstrates, even though
their ranks are growing rapidly, Mexican migrants are tending to favor
heterogeneous ethnic neighborhoods rather than grouping together.
Breslin's re-creation of Eduardo's life in the city may help explain one
of the reasons this is so. As Eduardo and his roommates drink a few
beers after a long day's work, they reminisce of home and discuss plans
to go back. That so many do go back and forth, perhaps, diminishes the
necessity for those who stay to form distinct neighborhoods of their
own.

Those working here as undocumented laborers also face conditions hardly
conducive to sticking around. Despite repeated building-code violations
elsewhere in the neighborhood, a slumlord named Eugene Ostreicher was
able to continue building in South Williamsburg, using undocumented
Mexican laborers like Eduardo. While working for Ostreicher in November
of 1999, Eduardo poured cement on the third and top floor, which was
supported by only three flimsy, improperly fastened beams; the structure
soon collapsed, and Eduardo drowned in cement three floors below.
Breslin thus takes aim at a variety of targets: Ostreicher, who was slow
to face punishment, and whose cozy relationship to City Hall (via Bruce
Teitelbaum, ex-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's liaison to the Hasidic
community) had allowed him to keep building despite past violations; the
city's Department of Buildings, a bastion of frightening corruption and
inefficiency; and, to a lesser extent, the construction unions, which
allow the use of nonunion labor. Some of Breslin's examples do seem
tangential, like his discussion of a phony Pell Grant scheme run by
Ostreicher's Hasidic neighbors, or of Mayor Giuliani's war on sex shops.
But there is no doubting Breslin's crusading spirit, and he's always
good for a memorable barb or two--as when he reminds us that pre-9/11,
Giuliani did "virtually nothing each day except get into the papers or
to meet girlfriends."

As the book closes, with Eduardo dead and Ostreicher facing minimal
punishment at best, the meaning of the former's sweet dream is
uncertain. He came to New York with a desire only to make enough money
to go home, perhaps with Silvia. But now he is sent home in a casket
paid for by the Red Cross and the Central Labor Trades Council, the
latter doing so to "get into the newspapers." Though by no means the
first group to come to America with the primary goal of making money in
order to take it back home, Mexican migrants find a labor market that is
increasingly transient, unregulated and brutal. Still, despite the
hardships, they are helping to create a new, transnational version of
the American dream. It is a story that we all need to consider, and
Jimmy Breslin has successfully helped open the door.

Our most cherished national symbols--from the Pledge of Allegiance to "America the Beautiful" to Lady Liberty's poetry--are rooted in liberal ideals.

Book

One of the things we do not do well in this country is learn from our mistakes. This is particularly true in the strengthening and rejuvenating of cities.

Music

When I first saw The Last Waltz in 1978, I almost walked out,
although I was a fan of both director Martin Scorsese and The Band. I
admit I was one of the folks whose tickets for the original 1976 show at
San Francisco's Winterland were refunded by impresario Bill Graham in
light of the scheduled movie shoot, when he decided to have a Thanksgiving sit-down dinner precede the concert, which translated into a then-hefty $25 price tag.

Twenty-four years and a new DVD version have changed, or at least made
subtler, some of my reactions. But I still think two of Scorsese's
typical dynamics are in play: seeking out America's underbellies, and
monumentalizing or sacramentalizing them. And so The Last Waltz
teeters between grit and awe--perhaps unintentionally but tellingly,
like rock itself at the time and rock history ever since.

When it premiered, Pauline Kael famously dubbed The Last Waltz
"the most beautiful rock movie ever." As a formalist she had a point.
With seven cameramen, including Vilmos Zsigmond (later famous as a cinematographer) and Miklos Rozsa (who came to be known as a composer), Scorsese professionalized the deliberately
nonprofessional documentary sensibility of D.A. Pennebaker and the
Maysles. Now that seems a fitting sign of the times: Mainstream rock had
been professionalized, from the boring arena-ready music itself to the
new national distribution systems, while pop sputtered with the
industry's search for commercially viable trends, like disco. Almost in
answer, new forms of folk art appeared. Breakdancers hit urban streets
and Bruce Springsteen prowled stages toward apotheosis with shows that
exploded somewhere between Elvis, an r&b revue and West Side
Story
. It was another return to the do-it-yourself folk aesthetic
underlying evolutionary developments in American popular culture.

So now The Last Waltz gives me a kind of double vision: It's an
elegy to The Band that is also, perhaps unwittingly, an elegy to an era.
The sense of reverence toward the motley parade of music stars trooping
across its lenses is intercut with open-eyed realism during the best of
the connecting interview segments--though those too are frequently
tinged with Scorsese's romanticism.

When Music From Big Pink (Capitol) came out in 1968, its album
cover was a painting by Bob Dylan. Dylan had hired the quintet, then The
Hawks, renamed The Band, for his revolutionary 1965-66 tour, which they
spent making garage grunge of his songs while being booed by folk
purists who wanted acoustic Dylan rather than the post-"Like a Rolling
Stone" model. (Bob Dylan Live 1966 [Sony] is the official version
of long-available bootlegs.)

After his 1966 motorcycle accident, Dylan had pretty much disappeared
from view, and there were regular rumors of his death or disfigurement.
But the smartest word was he'd been hanging out at Big Pink, a
nondescript house at the foot of Woodstock's Overlook Mountain, jamming
and writing songs with The Band. (These would soon surface as bootlegs;
selections have been remixed and officially reissued on The Basement
Tapes
[Sony] intercut with material by The Band alone.) Dylan
encouraged them to find their artistic vision. No surprise, then, that
Music From Big Pink opened with one Dylan track, "Tears of Rage,"
and closed with another, "I Shall Be Released."

Dylan's near-invisibility only augmented his cultural aura, a marketing
lesson his widely disliked, thuggish, Svengali-esque manager, Albert
Grossman, absorbed and soon applied to his latest clients, The Band.
Inside their double-sleeved first album were pictures of the members:
Five guys dressed like extras in an early Hollywood western, visual kin
to the road-warrior hoboes and evicted tenant farmers who peopled The
Grapes of Wrath
and Guthrie tunes. Their mothers and fathers and
kids. Their house, Big Pink, every band's dream--a clubhouse to jam and
practice and record in, surrounded by a hundred acres of mountain
meadows and woods. The Band, though, like millions of post-Beatles and
post-Dylan American kids picking and singing in their cellars and
backyards, still had to keep the volume down for fear of riling the
neighbors.

Nestled in Big Pink, playing cards and getting stoned and writing and
working out new stuff, as well as tweaking old bar-band tunes and hymns
and pieces of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music,
Dylan and The Band forged a remarkable creative symbiosis. Thanks to
their Dylan-paid salaries and a rent that, depending on whom you
believe, was somewhere between $125 and $275 a month, The Band played
musical chairs with instruments as they groped for fresh ideas. As
Robbie Robertson, The Band's chief songwriter and guitarist, has
shrewdly observed, "Sometimes the limitation of the instrument can
provide originality."

Improvising was key to their artistic process, as their shortcomings or
imaginations prodded them from instrument to instrument, lineup to
lineup, to find what worked with the tune at hand. The result was
contemporary folk music, new-minted yet old-sounding, with strains of
Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, rockabilly and soul. It wobbled
foggily somewhere between jug bands and Stax-Volt, surreal wet dreams
and revival meetings.

Robertson's guitar stayed mostly low profile, rearing for occasional
stabbing outbursts; he rarely sang. The three vocalists were startlingly
different, but found offbeat ways to blend. As Robertson has observed,
"A lot of the time with The Band they were somewhere between real
harmonies and, because of our lack of education in music, they would be
things that just sounded interesting--or they would be the only thing
the person could hit."

Levon Helm's singing was gritty and soulful and at times sardonic; he
doubled on drums and mandolin. Rick Danko had a clear, yearning tenor,
played bass that burbled like a McCartney-esque tuba, sawed a backwoods
fiddle and strummed guitar. Richard Manuel doubled on engagingly
ramshackle drums and pounded what has been described as "rhythm piano";
as for his voice, Robertson has said, "There's a certain element of pain
in there that you didn't know whether it was because he was trying to
reach for a note or because he was a guy with a heart that'd been hurt."
Garth Hudson was classically trained, said he learned to improvise from
playing at his uncle's funeral parlor and invented one after another
"blackbox," the kinds of soundshapers so integral to the era's musical
sensibility. Hudson didn't sing, but the sounds he made became The
Band's sonic glue, as they fitted parts together that breathed, leaving
spaces float, stepping into others, with the sort of interlocking
discipline found in, say, the jammed-out music of Count Basie, Muddy
Waters or Booker T. & the MGs. Not surprisingly, they cut their
first two albums mostly live in the studio. (See The Band [Rhino]
for an informative, if talking-head-heavy, video history of the making
of the group's first two records.)

"Tears of Rage," written by Dylan and Manuel, kicked Music at Big
Pink
off-kilter from the start. Manuel's eccentric r&b cry and
falsetto staggered dangerously, seductively around the confessional
lyrics; Robertson's treated guitar approximated organ tones; Hudson's
winding, churchy organ swelled and subsided; and a drunken Salvation
Army-ish horn section (courtesy Hudson and producer John Simon)
punctuated the flow over the spare, Booker T. & the MGs-style bass
and drums. Simon has observed of the distinctively moaning horn blend,
"That's the only sound we could make." The rest of the album was a bit
uneven but ear-opening, challenging, even wonderful. "To Kingdom Come"
bounced airily, blearily beneath Manuel's vocals; "The Weight" mixed
Curtis Mayfield guitar licks into a surreal gospel setting; "Long Black
Veil" tipped its classicist hat at Lefty Frizell; and "Chest Fever" was
an instant radio hit, with its swelling, skirling, gnashing organ and
nightmare-incoherent lyrics.

With Grossman behind them, The Band--or at least Robertson, who was
rapidly becoming primus inter pares--learned to use reticence and
image to enhance their music. Like Wynton Marsalis a decade later in
jazz, they self-consciously looked back to tradition. "We were rebelling
against the rebellion," Robertson has said. "It was an instinct to
separate ourselves from the pack." That instinct drew the attention of
the nascent rock press, which became their champions: Outlets like
Rolling Stone, co-founded by jazz historian Ralph J. Gleason,
fused the old fanzines and more critical and historical perspectives.
These new media helped make The Band counterculture heroes.

As did the lyrics, which were increasingly written by Robertson.
Enigmatic and vaguely religious and poetic, full of questions and
retorts that didn't necessarily mesh, painting realistic scenes and
Dadaist laments, they clearly owed a great deal to Dylan. Robertson had
also been reading Cocteau, thinking in terms of movies, wanting to
replicate what he's called Dylan's disruption of song forms.

The look and sound, the entire presentation of The Band, evoked a notion
of authenticity that has underscored writing about them ever since,
usually to contrast them with the countercultural rebellion. As
Grossman, who knew show business, surely understood, this was both an
iconic extension and an ironic inversion of the folk revival's would-be
purity. For the counterculture, and show business, were The Band's home.
They were outriders on Dylan's panoramic influence, mountainside avatars
of the Jeffersonian "back to the land" ideal that recurred in the
Woodstock generation's ideology. As Greil Marcus rather romantically
noted of their early music, "It felt like a passport back to America for
people who'd become so estranged from their country that they felt like
foreigners even when they were in it."

When The Band (Capitol) followed Music From Big Pink in
1969, it cemented the group's reputation and enhanced their Dylanesque
mystique of invisibility: Refusing to tour, partly because of Band
members' car crashes and flipouts, they watched promoters' offers climb
from $2,000 a show to $50,000.

The Band were in the midst of recording their second album far from the
Catskills, in Hollywood at Sammy Davis Jr.'s pool house, which they'd
converted into a studio, when they decided to resist no longer. But
before they debuted onstage at Winterland in April 1969, Robertson got
such a bad case of nerves (he has always claimed he had the flu) he
stayed in bed for three days of rehearsal, and had to be hypnotized to
go onstage.

Since they'd been musically weaned in roadhouses and spent such care on
recording live, it's always been one of the odder ironies of The Band's
career that they were erratic, often uncomfortable performers.
Unconsciously extending the folk revival's ideology, reviewers tended to
explain their unevenness as an emblem of honest authenticity, which, in
the ways of do-it-yourself, folk-culture amateurism, it sometimes was,
though this was somehow also the culture The Band was posited to be
different from. "A lot of mysticism was built up around The Band,"
Robertson has said. "These guys up in the mountains...." At any rate,
the quality of their concerts was as fully unpredictable as that of
their putative opposite numbers, the Grateful Dead.

From Winterland they hit the Fillmore East, where I can testify they did
at least one good show; then they finished recording at the Hit Factory
in New York City. The Band still stands as their masterpiece.
Loosely built around a harvest-is-in, carnival-is-in-town feel, it's
incredibly consistent and divergent at the same time, the strength of
their studies and abilities ramifying its depth and breadth. Their brand
of self-consciousness of sources and sounds marked one key difference
between rock and earlier roll and rock.

From "Across the Great Divide," with its bouncy rhythms, yearning Manuel
vocal, bleary horns and slippery guitar fills, to "King Harvest (Has
Surely Come)," the surprisingly downbeat rural closer that cuts in
snapshots of union struggles, it has a rare scope and power. "Up on
Cripple Creek," with its bump-grind rhythms and allusion to an old folk
tune, was all over FM radio, as were the hoedowns-in-your-basement "Rag
Mamma Rag" and "Jemima Surrender." "The Unfaithful Servant" gave Danko's
aching tenor a Dylanesque vehicle, while "The Night They Drove Old Dixie
Down" told a moving tale of one Southern family's Civil War hardships.

After this album, the madness and musical unevenness accelerated. In
early 1970, The Band made the cover of Time--a rarity then. The
group's substance abuse, especially Manuel's and Danko's, deepened,
particularly when they were off the road, as they were for months at a
time. Robertson had become the dominant figure--embarking on
self-education, dealing with Grossman, writing first most, then all the
songs, disciplining the others into rehearsing and recording. The
relatively equal distribution of ability at the heart of The Band's
music was coming unbalanced.

Perhaps they'd just hit the natural limits of their talent. Or maybe
they were trapped by the ghosts of folkie authenticity they and Grossman
had conjured. Whatever the cause, most of their later albums sound more
airless, stale, fussy, strained. It was as if they were confined
conceptually to an inelastic, increasingly romanticized and nostalgic
space and mode. (To Kingdom Come [Capitol] offers two CDs that
cull much good and some indifferent material from all their recordings.)

But they didn't go straight downhill. The music they made when they
rejoined Dylan onstage in 1974 was fierce, as if he once again sparked
their creative fires. Their several tours with the Grateful Dead, though
the pairing confused many reviewers, was a study in similarity and
contrast that sometimes sparked great things. (In 1970, Danko told Jerry
Garcia, "We thought you were just California freaks, but you're just
like us.") And on the albums, individual songs--"The Shape I'm In,"
"Stage Fright," Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece"--displayed the old
dexterous touches. Overall, though, creatively everyone but Robertson,
whose muse was drying up anyway, seemed content to coast--after all,
women, booze and money were plentiful. The ambitious songwriter, who'd
begun producing other artists' records and thinking about movies,
finally decided to pull the plug in high style. Hence The Last
Waltz
.

There are beautiful sequences in The Last Waltz, and the best are
those of The Band itself. Scorsese's desire to work tight means fewer
establishing shots than some (including me) might want, but the
aesthetic does reflect The Band's subtle, intimate music. At its best,
the film can be stunning. "Stage Fright," for example, shoots Danko from
almost 360 degrees, lit only by an overhead spot, creating gorgeous
interplays of shadow and light, heightening the song's lyrics. "Mystery
Train," to which Paul Butterfield adds harp and vocals, has a similar
self-conscious beauty, which jars with the raggedy unison singing. The
Staples Singers joining on "The Weight," in a sequence filmed after the
show itself, aurally demonstrates The Band's vocal debts to them. For
Emmylou Harris's turn on "Evangeline," another postshow scene, Scorsese
fills the soundstage with blue-lit smoke, which feels hokey but redeems
it a bit visually with arresting camera angles that frame the stark,
lovely geometries of Hudson's accordion, Danko's fiddle and Helm's
mandolin.

A concert film is ultimately about the music, however. The Last
Waltz
translates The Band's broad tastes into a narrative punctuated
by interviews and special guests onstage. But the frame is only as
strong as its content. Eric Clapton? Ron Wood and Ringo Starr? Dr. John?
Neil Diamond? Joni Mitchell? Even Muddy Waters? Broad-based roots,
far-reaching sounds, all spokes in the wheel of the 1960s rock
resurgence that Scorsese's narrative contextualizes and justifies via
the interviews. But there's little about the performances of these
artists that is special. No particular chemistry emerges to make this a
moment--except that it's The Band's Last Waltz. I found myself wondering
if part of The Band's artistry consisted of its ability to disappear
musically. (The companion four-CD set, The Last Waltz [Rhino],
has state-of-the-art sound and a bunch of added music--most of it,
unless you're a completist, better left unheard.)

Certainly The Last Waltz makes clear why The Band ended. Though
Scorsese tries to balance his time with the five members, Robertson's
hooded eyes enthrall him. It's palpable that Robertson is surrounded by
good-timey, undisciplined mates who have trouble articulating or
finishing their stories, and often steps into the breach. (Helm is
incisive talking about music and cultural roots; the others work in a
haze of fractured sentences, bits of cynicism and mysticism, and defer
to Robertson.)

Robertson had become the group's de facto manager, its public face, more
and more the businessman, the guy who had the vast bulk of the
publishing income and royalties from all that collaborative imaginative
work that made the songs timeless. He was also the sole producer of
The Last Waltz. He wanted out; if the movie is unclear what the
others wanted, the fact is that the rest, minus Robertson, re-formed in
various configurations over the years.

Aside from The Band's own sequences, the best moments in The Last
Waltz
belong, fittingly, to Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, the two
front men who helped catalyze their chemistry. Hawkins is wonderfully
unselfconscious during his rave-up version of "Who Do You Love," cueing
and teasing The Band as if a dozen years hadn't passed between them.
Dylan, at the film's end, leads The Band through "Forever Young," making
it their gentle envoi. Watching him goose them through his abrupt
transition to the snarling reworking of the Rev. Gary Davis's "Baby, Let
Me Follow You Down," one of the electric tunes they'd rattled audiences
with in that now-legendary 1965-66 tour, offers us a glimpse into the
chemistry of their fruitful relationship, and the perfect closing
bookend to The Band's career.