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.
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."
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."
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
DENNIS KUCINICH--BOY WONDER
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
In his admirable eloquence espousing Dennis Kucinich for national office, Studs Terkel says that three Ohioans became President after Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81): William McKinley (elected in 1896), William Howard Taft (1908) and Warren G. Harding (1920). There's one more: James Garfield, elected in 1880 but assassinated only months after taking office.
I have long admired Kucinich. If there's a bandwagon for his national ambitions, I'd like to know where to sign up. Here in Minnesota, where Paul Wellstone has his hands full this year against a slippery Republican, I'm looking for a national progressive leader, and Kucinich just might be that person.
Sunset Beach, Calif.
Kucinich for President? Sounds better than condemning Congress to pruning the Shrub for four more years. But why not go all out? Put Jim Hightower on the ticket with him. Then Dubya just might not be able to take Texas for granted. And if you think a Kucinich-Bush debate would be a first round knockout, how would you classify Hightower-Cheney?
$OCIAL $ECURITY FIX: HR 3315
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.
Member of Congress, 4th District, Oregon
Peter DeFazio is an excellent Congressman, and his proposal is an improvement over where we are now. The actuaries disagree with his conclusion that we face "modest financial challenges in several decades." DeFazio may be correct, but when it comes to the basic income of so many millions of Americans I would err on the side of caution. His proposal to eliminate the cap but retain the ceiling on benefits is good. Exempting the first $4,000 of income makes our tax system more progressive, which I like, but reduces the long-term benefits of buttressing the system, which I do not like. The CPI should be accurate, and recent increases in healthcare costs for seniors may offset the failures to consider substitution, generic drugs and other factors that also must be calculated. But accuracy should be the goal, and that may involve a slight slowing of growth of benefits.
Director, Public Policy Institute
STATES LEAD US TO CLEAN ELECTIONS
Is John Nichols ["Campaign Finance: The Sequel," April 29] unaware that, in addition to Maine, Arizona and Massachusetts, Vermont has an effective Clean Elections law? The 2000 gubernatorial campaign of Progressive Party candidate Anthony Pollina under that law came within one percentage point of forcing the election to be decided by the Vermont legislature. Nichols's reference to clean money election roadblocks erected by Massachusetts House speaker Tom Finneran begs amplification. Finneran's demagoguery, like that of Tom DeLay in Washington, defines the clean money struggle. The problem is not the buying of favors but politicians extracting money to maintain their abusive and undemocratic power.
Nichols correctly concludes that McCain-Feingold falls far short of reform, as will any such window-dressing initiative in Congress. Change, as Pollina said during his campaign, will have to come from the states, and it's time other states join these four, which have set this country on a historic course of true reform.
Oakland, Calif.; Boston
John Nichols is correct to highlight a new "sense of possibility" since the passage of McCain-Feingold. Campaign finance reform finally does have the public's attention, and full public funding is on the horizon. Equally important, the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, the Greenlining Institute and others have done the critical work of redefining campaign reform as a civil rights issue. Still, the movement has been missing an important element, present in most other successful US movements for justice: the creative grassroots action of college students. Democracy Matters is a new campus-based organization that is mobilizing popular pressure from college students to get private money out of politics (www.democracymatters.org).
ADONAL FOYLE, CHRIS VAETH
PACIFICA LICKS ITS WOUNDS
Susan Douglas's "Is There a Future for Pacifica?" [April 15] posits two polarized factions at war over the Pacifica Foundation radio network, then reasonably urges us to bring a unified Pacifica to bear upon common foes. In fact, people from all sides of the recent disputes are now working together to advance its mission for antiwar, cross-cultural, community-based free-speech programming. Why the unity? Magnanimity and openness. This is the first transition of power in Pacifica's fifty-three years that has not resulted in a purge. Some have left, but nobody's been fired, and the few who left got agreeable severance packages. Those remaining enjoy the rejuvenated community involvement.
But there are lessons. Many who haughtily "avoided the fray" carefully protected their own personal privilege and airtime, even while the foundation's coffers were being openly looted. Conversely, others sacrificed jobs, money and personal privilege to gain broader community control over Pacifica. Equating these two cheapens the sacrifices of some and unfairly assuages the guilt of others. But that's history to learn from, not to relive.
The issue now is not who did more but who is doing anything now and what still needs to be done. So instead of staying above the fray, those interested in Pacifica should jump in with both feet and help realize its potential. Unlike our predecessors, we welcome all who support Pacifica's mission, even those who once barred us from entering the stations.
Interim Pacifica Advisory Board;
KPFK local advisory board
Your magazine is thin enough. Please don't waste any more space on Pacifica.
NATION 'SLAMS' FEMINISTS
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.