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    Nation Notes

    With this issue Adam Shatz, becomes literary editor. Adam, whom readers already know as a contributor to these pages, has worked at the New York Times Book Review, Lingua Franca (where he edited the books section) and The New Yorker. His articles on politics and culture have also appeared in the Village Voice, The American Prospect, The New York Review of Books and the New York Times. Welcome, Adam. Art Winslow leaves to devote more time to his own writing, both fiction and nonfiction. Art and this magazine go back a long way--1983, to be precise. He's worked here as assistant copy editor, copy chief, associate literary editor, executive editor, literary editor. Art made a distinctive and lasting contribution to The Nation in all of these capacities. We're glad to say that he'll continue the association as a contributing editor. Hail, Art...

    the Editors


  • Letter from Ground Zero

    In the past 200 years, all of the earth's great territorial empires, whether dynastic or colonial, or both, have been destroyed. The list includes the Russian empire of the czars; the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Habsburgs; the German empire of the Hohenzollerns, the Ottoman Empire, the Napoleonic Empire, the overseas empires of Holland, England, France, Belgium, Italy and Japan, Hitler's "thousand-year Reich" and the Soviet empire. They were brought down by a force that, to the indignation and astonishment of the imperialists, turned out to be irresistible: the resolve of peoples, no matter how few they were or how poor, to govern themselves.

    With its takeover of Iraq, the United States is attempting to reverse this universal historical verdict. It is seeking to reinvent the imperial tradition and reintroduce imperial rule--and on a global scale--for the twenty-first century. Some elements, like the danger of weapons of mass destruction, are new. Yet any student of imperialism will be struck by the similarities between the old style of imperialism and the new: the gigantic disparity between the technical and military might of the conquerors and the conquered; the inextricable combination of rapacious commercial interest and geopolitical ambition and design; the distortion and erosion of domestic constitutions by the immense military establishments, overt and covert, required for foreign domination; the use of one colony as a stepping stone to seize others or pressure them into compliance with the imperial agenda; the appeal to jingoism on the home front. True, American officials state at every opportunity that they do not intend to "occupy" Iraq. But then the British in the nineteenth century said the same thing. Two years before the liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone ordered the conquest of Egypt he declared that his heart's desire was an "Egypt for the Egyptians." The liberal imperialist Lord Palmerston said in 1842 in defense of his gunboat diplomacy, "It is, that commerce may go freely forth, leading civilization with one hand, and peace with the other, to render mankind happier, wiser, better." When it came to rule, the British preferred, wherever possible, not "direct rule" but a sort of covert domination called "influence"or "indirect rule" or "paramountcy" (the British were as richly inventive of euphemisms as the United States is today). Then as now, imperialism, in the words of the great anti-imperialist Ernest Hobson, was "floated on a sea of vague, shifty, well-sounding phrases which are seldom tested by close contact with fact."

    It was one thing, however, for Europeans, in newfound possession of modern tools of technical and organizational superiority, to subjugate "backward" foreign peoples in 1700 or 1800 or 1900. But can it be done again, in our century, in the wake of that project's universal rejection by the peoples of the earth? So far, the outlook is unpromising. The United States vowed to bring about "regime change" in Iraq. The phrase has rightly been criticized as an outrageously mild euphemism--a vague, well-sounding, shifty phrase if there ever was one--for an extremely violent act; but now it turns out that the expression defined a deeper problem. If I am going to change the oil in my car, I must, before I remove the old oil in the crankcase, have new oil ready to put in. Otherwise, my car will quickly overheat and break down on the road. This is roughly the condition of Iraq two weeks after the destruction of its former government. The United States, it turns out, forgot to bring a new government with it when it set out from Kuwait to Baghdad. The troops brought plenty of MREs (meals ready to eat) but no GRR (government ready to rule). American forces had no intention of becoming a police force, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told the press. Did the Administration perhaps take its own slippery rhetoric about not occupying Iraq too seriously? The result was a vacuum of authority soon filled by nearly universal looting. Many Iraqis made clear their hatred of the old regime and their joy at its disappearance; but it appears that they had little more confidence in the invader. Finding themselves caught between local misrule and foreign rule, did they perhaps decide that they had a momentary opportunity to grab something for themselves and set about sacking their own country? A journalist, upon arriving in an Iraqi city, described it as "prelooted." Did the Iraqis, in anticipation of foreign exploitation, "preloot" their whole country?

    The United States thus achieved Regime Removal but not the promised Regime Change. There were, we can now see, no plans even to keep order in Iraq, much less to administer it, or organize a government there. The famous war plan was much discussed; the peace plan, it appears, did not even exist.

    This became clear when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to the raging anarchy in Iraq as "untidy," and America's new viceroy in Iraq, retired Gen. Jay Garner, newly arrived in the city of Nasiriyah from the Hilton hotel in Kuwait, likened events to the American constitutional convention of 1787, remarking rhetorically, "I don't think they had a love-in when they had Philadelphia." Does he really think that mayhem in Iraq, including the extinction of the better part of the country's cultural treasures, has any resemblance to the deliberations by which Washington, Franklin and Madison framed the Constitution of the United States? Is such a man fit to run a country?

    So far, the American military giant has proved to be a political pygmy. The Shiite cleric Abdel Majid al-Khoei, who was imported into Iraq from London by the "coalition" forces, was promptly hacked to death by local people. The gathering of Iraqis invited by the United States to meet at a US military base has been boycotted by the country's most important political groups. In Mosul, American troops have fired upon an angry mob, killing seven. "It's a show of force, but people don't understand it," a soldier in Mosul told the Times. "They're not grateful."

    Before the war began, it was often said that winning the war would be easy and winning the peace hard. And it was surely always clear even to the war's opponents that the United States could drive its tanks from Kuwait to Baghdad, whereupon the regime of Saddam Hussein would dissolve. Yet was it ever certain that what followed the conventional engagements would be a peace? With every day that passes, "the peace" looks more like another war.

    Jonathan Schell

  • In Fact

    FRED J. COOK

    Ralph Nader writes: It's doubtful there has ever been a better, more dauntless and more unsung investigative reporter than Fred J. Cook. For Nation readers from the 1950s through the 1980s, Fred blazed wide pathways with his exposés of New York City corruption, the abuses and follies of the CIA and the FBI, and the waste and overreaching of the military-industrial complex. These and other subjects were nearly journalistic taboos before Cook's lucid muckraking and synthesis of ideas and trunkloads of "disparate" information, supplied him by the Nation's legendary editor, Carey McWilliams, broke them into print. Other reporters followed him and expanded the public's right to know about secret government and the corporate state. Publishers produced longer book versions of Cook's reportage reaching wider audiences. Young reporters, including myself, were inspired to open new areas of injustice shielded from public scrutiny. Fred's last books were on the oil industry giants, the Ku Klux Klan and his autobiography. He told me how disappointed he was that reviewers had ignored the books. Their sales were small. Even journalism schools showed no interest in the life story of a small-town reporter who gave pride to his often-cowed profession. After these unrequited efforts, Cook turned in his typewriter and went into quiet retirement. Cook and McWilliams were possibly the greatest reporter-editor team in post-World War II journalism in our country. They stand as a luminous model challenging the trivialization of the news by a press in indentured servitude to corporate supremacists.

    KUDOS TO KLAWANS

    Nation movie critic Stuart Klawans has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Our congratulations.

    NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW

    Representative Scott McInnis announced that he has asked the Veterans Affairs Department to stop purchasing tombstones from Imerys, a French company that's the main supplier of headstones for national cemeteries. "It's obviously inappropriate," McInnis said, "for a company owned by French interests to be supplying headstones for the VA when the French have done everything in their power to undermine the very troops from whose sacrifice they now stand to profit."

    the Editors

  • Democracy Tested

    The US military was deployed, the Bush Administration tells us, to bring democracy to Iraq. But the military brass and the Administration have apparently parted company on what democracy means in the United States, as the Supreme Court arguments on April 1 in the University of Michigan affirmative action cases made clear.

    Solicitor General Ted Olson, arguing on behalf of the Administration, attacked the Michigan law school admissions program as "constitutionally objectionable" for naming racial diversity as a goal, "an end in and of itself," in admissions. Several Justices quickly interrupted, directing Olson's attention to the "military brief" filed in the case.

    In that brief, three former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, two former defense secretaries and retired heads of the military academies endorsed affirmative action as essential to national security in a multiracial democracy. "The military," they said, "must be permitted to train and educate a diverse officer corps" to circumvent the morale problems and communication bottlenecks of the Vietnam era, when a virtually all-white officer corps commanded large numbers of black and Latino troops.

    The military brass were clear on this: Democratic authority, and thus military effectiveness, depends upon admissions procedures that recruit and select a diverse group of potential leaders. Democracy as a whole, like national security in particular, depends upon genuine, representative leadership throughout the ranks.

    The mission of public colleges and universities is also a democratic one: to train leaders who can work with diverse groups of people, to provide students the skills to participate in civic life, and to encourage graduates to give back to the community, which, through taxes, made their education possible. To perform this democratic mission, public colleges must be able to select a racially, ethnically, geographically and economically diverse class of students who will enhance the educational environment while they are in school and contribute to the public good after they graduate.

    The Solicitor General and other opponents of affirmative action treat admissions decisions to public colleges and law schools as if scarce slots can be allocated based on individual merit unrelated to the sacred democratic values that are at stake. And whenever race becomes an issue, a multifaceted, democratic view of merit suddenly collapses into a fealty to a "neutral" testing regime.

    In fact, SAT and ACT scores often measure little more than the social capital students bring to a single, timed test. The relationship of scores to parental wealth far exceeds the relationship between test scores and grades in college or success after graduation. Poorer students and students of color, who on average perform less well on these standardized tests than their richer and whiter peers, can do just as well academically and professionally when given the chance. Evidence from Texas shows that those admitted because they graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class have higher grades as college freshmen than those who are admitted based on their test scores. Even more important, a study of Michigan's graduates found the black and Latino lawyers were those most likely to serve underrepresented communities and to fulfill public citizenship obligations generally. Students with the highest test scores, by contrast, are less likely to give back to the community that subsidized their education. Apparently high scores communicate a sense of entitlement without responsibility.

    The authors of a Century Foundation study, Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose, call the overreliance on a single indicator such as test performance "skinny merit." Through dependence on test scores, higher education has become a gift the poor give to the rich. Poor people pay taxes for rich people to attend elite public colleges and universities where graduates gain, through networking and credentialing opportunities, a large share of coveted posts in the public and private sectors.

    Carnevale and Rose studied the family fortunes of students at the 146 most selective colleges and universities. We are, Carnevale says, creating "an inequality machine" with a "brutally efficient sorting" system that allows students from the upper quartile of income in the country to fill three-fourths of the slots at these schools, while only 3 percent of students come from the bottom quartile. That ratio was borne out in the research that produced the Texas 10 percent plan. Historically, 75 percent of each freshman class there was filled by students from 150 suburban and private high schools, in a state with 1,500 public high schools. At Michigan's flagship university, high schools in the most affluent suburbs also dominate the freshman class. Affirmative action diversifies the student body, at least around the margins, by race and income. While whites from the highest income quartile have cornered the admissions market at selective schools like Michigan, black and Latino beneficiaries of affirmative action hover around the middle of the economic indicators.

    Democracy means access for all of the people, not just the elite. Yet it is the military--rather than higher education--that is performing the essential democratic function of breaking down rigid class and race barriers. As Representative Charles Rangel points out, blacks and Latinos, as well as working-class whites, are disproportionately represented among the enlisted ranks.

    Taxpayers subsidize public colleges to provide a representative group of future leaders, to train those leaders in democratic citizenship, and to enable them to problem-solve in a diverse society with a knowledge-based economy. Even those who are ambivalent about the "diversity rationale" should understand the democratic imperative for robust rather than "skinny" merit in rationing access to higher education. "If you have an all-black army and an all-white law school," University of Michigan law professor William Miller told the New York Times, "something's not right. The democracy, the risks and benefits, simply have to be better distributed."

    A dynamic and democratic view of merit in higher education admissions assures access to blacks and Latinos to selective public colleges and law schools, trains potential leaders to serve all segments of the society and legitimizes our democracy. The military brief cites the chasm between the racial composition of officers and enlisted soldiers as a "blaring wakeup call" that racial diversity is "critical" to "our national security." The democratic stakes in the Michigan cases are just as high.

    Lani Guinier

  • The Kurds Take a City

    By 9 am on April 10, the day Kirkuk fell, columns of Iraqi troops who were supposed to be defending the city fled to the Baghdad Garage, the main transportation terminal, and stripped off their uniforms and boots. Barefoot, they fled south to the capital. By noon, the looting in Kirkuk had begun. In the multiethnic Arab, Turkmen and Kurdish city, it was primarily the Kurds who smashed the windows of the state-owned supermarket and hurled bolts of pink fabric, carpets, cooking oil, desk chairs and rice over the fence. The more ambitious went to the airport, hijacked Iraqi tanks and careered around the liberated town.

    "I used to drive a tank in the Iraqi Army," Nawzan Barzilini, 32, shouted down from his new acquisition. "I came this morning to fight for Kirkuk, but the soldiers ran away." Barzilini is one of the thousands of Kurdish fighters, peshmerga, who unexpectedly poured into Kirkuk that morning long before the Americans arrived. Many, like Barzilini, were not following orders. He said he simply picked up a Kalashnikov and followed his comrades as they rushed in. He argued that liberating the city was his duty as a Kurd and that he was entitled to the spoils of the Baathist regime.

    In the early hours, the stunned locals didn't realize the Iraqis were gone until truck after gun-mounted truck of peshmerga in yellow and green bandannas rattled into the city, accompanied by a handful of journalists. I watched the faces of dazed Kirkukis change from shock to jubilation to frenzy as they surrounded our cars, clamoring onto the hood. One man, Jabar, thrust his head in a car window and said in English long out of use, "I love the USA." Children held up bunches of yellow flowers and Kurdish flags as the adults covered their mouths with their hands and ululated.

    At first, it was easy to laud Kirkuk's liberation as a model for the peaceful transition of power in Iraq. The city's walls are scrawled with "Thank you Mr. Bousch." The city's frightened Arabs made their way into the streets. One Arab man driving a truck from an oil refinery was pulled from his car and shot in the street, but it was an isolated incident. A Kurdish passerby stopped to cover him with a blanket. For the most part, Kirkuk seemed to have avoided the sudden violence of Mosul. Yet as the days passed, the presence in Kirkuk of men like Barzilini--part fighter, part looter--threatened the calm. Kirkuk's Arabs and Turkmen have become furious at all the looting by lawless men claiming to be peshmerga, and they're beginning to fight back. Turkey's anxiety over the Kurds is also rising, and the transition of control over Kirkuk's oilfields promises additional complications.

    Turkey's refusal to let the United States use it as a staging area for the war produced some unintended consequences. The slow arrival of US forces in Kirkuk gave the Iraqi Army there time to watch events unfold in the south and to surrender without much bloodshed. But it also left the United States dependent on a Kurdish fighting force. The day the city fell, the Americans were nowhere to be seen. Protecting the oilfields fell to a force of 700 Kurdish fighters, who could do little as Northern Oil, an Iraqi-owned company, was looted and the smoke from a series of fires lit the horizon. Only at nightfall did the 173rd Airborne arrive. "It was like the Los Angeles riots," said one American soldier as he patrolled the burning fields the next morning.

    For now, Kirkuk's oil is in US hands. Though Turkish observers have yet to arrive, the peshmerga have begun pulling out of the city without incident. After their unscheduled invasion, even the Kurdish fighters are trying to sound diplomatic.

    "We are happy to let America control the oil," says Brigadier Rostum, a senior commander of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's military force. "Even if they keep most of it and we benefit only a little bit, it will be the first time that Kurds receive anything from oil. Besides, this is not about oil, it's about freedom." But this is still the first week, and, even so, ripples are beginning to disturb Kirkuk's surface.

    As the peshmerga claim to pull out, the Arabs are calling for blood. They feel that they were victims of Saddam, too, so why, they ask, should they now be victims of Kurdish looting? In Mosul, angry vigilante groups have set stones in the road to check cars against incoming Kurds. It is not yet clear whether street fighting here will be next. Soon, 120,000 Kurdish families, displaced since 1991, will start to return home, and political assertions by Turkmen groups, supported by Turkey, will begin to emerge--and what good will gratitude be then? Rebuilding Kirkuk in this brittle political climate will show whether a coalition between hostile ethnic groups is at all possible in Iraq.

    The battle for Kirkuk raises questions about Syria as well. While the city fell easily, there were some fierce pockets of resistance by fedayeen loyalists and foreign mercenaries. As Kurds in the north of the city spent the afternoon tugging down statues of Saddam, near the former secret police headquarters a cluster of fighters refused to surrender. Finally, after a gun battle lasting several hours, the peshmerga advanced to find several dead bodies of the fedayeen. One was still alive, though badly beaten, his black tunic covered in blood. As he sat on the curb, several peshmerga discussed whether to kill him. The man held his head in his hands as this conversation went on, saying only that he had come from Syria fifteen days earlier to fight for Saddam.

    The Bush Administration's claims about the presence of chemical weapons in Syria smack of propaganda, but the presence of these Syrian fighters in Kirkuk may be spun by Washington as evidence of a relationship between Syria and Saddam.

    In the short term, Kirkuk has descended into a stunned sense of order, but these quiet days are likely to give way to explosions of older, deep-seated resentments. Already Arabs are accusing the incoming Kurds of brutality reminiscent of fascism. The United States in its limited role as policeman can maintain order for now, and helped set up a governing committee of six Kurds, six Arabs and six Turkmen that will soon begin to meet, offering at least a fig leaf of transethnic cooperation. But whether, in the long term, any occupying force can mediate the longstanding ethnic divisions is an open question. The challenge before Washington is whether it has the will and the way to establish the presence necessary to truly rebuild the city and not just keep an uneasy peace.

    Eliza Griswold

  • Are We Safer?

    The Bush Administration and its cheerleaders in the media are claiming that the "remarkable success" of the US war in Iraq proves its opponents were "spectacularly wrong"--even, some charge, unpatriotic. Intimidated by these allegations and the demonstration of overwhelming American military power, many critics of the war are falling silent. Indeed, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, no doubt speaking for several of the party's presidential candidates, has rushed to urge that "the war...not be on the ballot in 2004."

    But critics of the war have no reason to regret their views. No sensible opponent doubted that the world's most powerful military could easily crush such a lesser foe. The real issue was and remains very different: Will the Iraq war increase America's national security, as the Bush Administration has always promised and now insists is already the case, or will it undermine and diminish our national security, as thoughtful critics believed?

    In the weeks, months and years ahead, we will learn the answer to that fateful question by judging developments by seven essential criteria:

    (1) Will the war discourage or encourage other regional "preemptive" military strikes, particularly by nuclear-armed states such as, but not only, Pakistan and India?

    (2) Indeed, will the Iraq war stop the proliferation of states that possess nuclear weapons or instead incite more governments to acquire them as a deterrent against another US "regime change"?

    (3) Will the war, and the long US occupation that seems likely to ensue, reduce the recruitment of young Arabs by terrorist movements or will it inspire many new recruits?

    (4) With or without more recruits, will the war decrease or increase the number of terrorist plots against the United States, whether at home or abroad?

    (5) Will the war help safeguard the vast quantities of nuclear and other materials of mass destruction that exist in the world today, and the expertise needed to operationalize them, or make them more accessible to "evil-doers"?

    (6) In that connection, will Russia--which has more ill-secured devices of mass destruction than any other country and which strongly opposed and still resents the US war--now be more, or less, inclined to collaborate with Washington in safeguarding and reducing those weapons and materials?

    (7) Finally, considering the rampant anti-Americanism it has provoked, will the war result in more or fewer governments willing to cooperate with--individually or in multinational organizations like the United Nations--George W. Bush's stated top priority, the war against global terrorism?

    It is by these crucial (and measurable) criteria that the American people, and any politician who wants to lead them, must judge the Administration's war in Iraq and President Bush's own leadership. Those of us who were against the war and continue to oppose the assumptions on which it was based fear that future events will answer these questions to the grave detriment of American and international security. As patriots, we can only hope we are wrong.

    Stephen F. Cohen

  • Tomorrow in Baghdad

    Even before US forces could establish order in the cities of Iraq and bring humanitarian relief to its people, the Bush Administration unleashed a barrage of threats against Syria, accusing it of aiding Islamic fighters in Iraq and possessing chemical weapons. Administration officials suggest they are sending an appropriate warning to Iraq's neighbor that certain behavior will not be tolerated. To millions of Arabs watching the events unfolding in Iraq, however, these actions are confirmation that the United States has a larger agenda in the Middle East that has little to do with the security and well-being of the Iraqi people.

    Instead of rushing on to threaten its next potential target of pre-emptive war, the US should focus its energy on the reconstruction of Iraq, since it will be judged for years to come by how well it handles that task. Judging by the first weeks, there are reasons to worry that the Administration has failed to understand the nature of that challenge. If it wishes to legitimize US military action, it will have to draw on international support to bring order to the Iraqi people and to make good on its claim that it will bring them democracy. Yet Richard Perle revealed the arrant indifference of Administration hawks when he said recently, "What we have won on the battlefield is the right to establish consistent policies that are for the benefit of the people of Iraq." Uncle knows best.

    After the regime's authority collapsed, seething ethnic and religious rivalries and festering hatreds boiled over. In a cultural atrocity unparalleled in our age, looters vandalized the priceless antiquities in Baghdad's National Museum and burned the National Library, where reposed the records of the world's most ancient civilization. The US government had been repeatedly urged by museum directors, archeologists and cultural leaders to protect Iraq's archeological treasures as required by international law. Yet the commanders who had immediately posted guards at the Iraqi oil ministry somehow were unable to find soldiers to stop vandals from plundering the irreplaceable heritage of humankind. (Nor were they able to protect hospitals from pillagers of desperately needed medical supplies.) The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon had expected before the war that Saddam's fall "would usher in a period of chaos and lawlessness," yet it chose to go with a light, fast-moving invasion force unequipped to deal with civil disorders. Order is slowly being restored, but the explosion of destructive anarchy and lack of coherent US policies has stirred up distrust among the Iraqis, whose support will be needed to restore services and build a stable government.

    Although the US military rapidly secured Iraq's oilfields before Saddam's troops could burn them, its technical specialists were unable to locate any weapons of mass destruction during more than three weeks of war, when they could have menaced US soldiers; nor was any evidence uncovered of Iraqi links to Al Qaeda. Thus the claimed basis for the invasion has yet to be established. Of course, WMDs may well be unearthed, but the question remains: If Saddam didn't (or couldn't) use them in self-

    defense, how can it be said he would have pre-emptively launched them against America or Israel?

    If such weapons are found, under the Chemical Weapons Convention they should be verified and destroyed by international inspectors. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency should also be allowed to return to Iraq and continue their work in accordance with the nonproliferation treaty.

    Those who opposed the war must refuse to be browbeaten or silenced by the gloating "I told you so" chorus on the right (and center) and must continue to hammer at the false premises that underpinned the war. The reality is Bush deceived the American people when he said the war was necessary to national security, and in so doing he has abused the powers of his office, undermined the Constitution and flouted public opinion. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll showed that a majority of Americans oppose Bush's pre-emption doctrine. It has no basis or justification in international law--as Arab and world opinion, and Kofi Annan, agree. And it sends a message to states facing US threats that they should quickly acquire nuclear weapons in self-defense.

    The only claim of legitimacy the Administration can make for the war it misled America into is that it was a humanitarian war to liberate an oppressed people. But to sustain such a claim to a skeptical world, the Administration must prove that its intentions for Iraq are honorable, and it can do that only by inviting the UN Security Council's full involvement--political as well as humanitarian--in the reconstruction of Iraq.

    Beyond that, the Administration should cool its threats against Syria. It must rejoin the international community and work with it to bring democracy, freedom and human rights to Iraq, and peace to the entire region--starting with a vigorous push to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    the Editors

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  • Columns

    Did Bush Deceive Us in His Rush to War?

    Now that the war has been won, is it permissible to suggest that our emperor has no clothes?

    Robert Scheer

  • Bush Goes AWOL

    One of the many maddening feats of this Administration is that in choosing to fight the war on terror by going to war with Iraq, George W. Bush has inspired new terrorist threats to the United States--according to the official testimony of his own CIA--where none existed. At the same time, he purposely starves those localities and institutions on which the complex and expensive task of terrorist protection ultimately falls.

    The Economist compares New York City to Atlas, bearing the weight of the world on its shoulders. Already reeling from a massive deficit, declining income and the economic aftershocks of 9/11, the city must pay an estimated

    $1 billion a year for emergency and counterterrorism costs. Bush could care less. After attempting to stiff New York entirely, Congress has finally agreed to kick in about $200 million, far more than Bush proposed. My shaken city can ill afford to make up the difference. It already has 4,000 fewer cops than it did two years ago but must assign more than a thousand of those remaining to the terrorist beat. It may shutter forty fire companies. Massive layoffs, tax hikes and cutbacks in every kind of social service are in the offing. And Gotham is hardly alone. Enhanced security measures cost the nation's cities an estimated $2.6 billion in the fifteen months after 9/11.

    But as with Vietnam, "W" is AWOL and Cheney has "other priorities." They have not merely ignored "homeland" protection, they have sabotaged it. Shocking, yes. But don't take my word for it. A January Brookings Institution report explains, "President Bush vetoed several specific (and relatively cost-effective) measures proposed by Congress that would have addressed critical national vulnerabilities. As a result, the country remains more vulnerable than it should be today." A Council on Foreign Relations task force chaired by Gary Hart and Warren Rudman concurs: "America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil," it warns.

    Power plants constitute obvious terrorist targets but are frequently operated by private or semiprivate corporations unwilling to pay to protect them. According to Brookings, the Administration has done nothing--repeat, nothing--to help or encourage "private-sector firms--even ones that handle dangerous materials--toward improving their own security." Last year, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review discovered a frightening series of security lapses at three separate chemical plants in Houston and Chicago, which, if attacked, could endanger 1 million people each. The New York Daily News found one plant in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where an attack could threaten the lives of more than 7 million people (including, um, mine). And it employed virtually no security at all. Spencer Abraham, Bush's Energy Secretary, worried in a March 2002 letter to OMB director Mitch Daniels that firms "are storing vast amounts of materials that remain highly volatile and subject to unthinkable consequences if placed in the wrong hands." However, he added, due to insufficient funding, "the Department now is unable to meet the next round of critical security mission requirements.... Failure to support these urgent security requirements," he concluded, "is a risk that would be unwise." Nevertheless, The New Republic's Jonathan Chait reports, Bush agreed to propose a mere 7 percent of what Abraham said would be needed just to get started.

    Chait has more: Bush refused to compensate healthcare workers injured or killed by the smallpox inoculation program. His budget is squeezing the Coast Guard, in charge of port security. He is starving "first responders"--the very heroes of 9/11 to whom he dishonestly promised so much. And the Customs Service got not a single penny in new funding in the Administration's budget. With everyone losing sleep over "loose nukes" falling into terrorist hands, Bush even tried to cut overseas nuclear security funding by 5 percent.

    How does he get away with it? Quite easily, apparently. In the Orwellian universe of the "liberal media," Bush can inspire new terrorist threats, ignore the ones we already face and evade responsibility for both because he is "tough" enough to spit in the face of world opinion.

    In a sensible media universe, Chait's cover story, "The 9/10 President," would have set off a journalistic firestorm. But the only place I've seen it picked up is in Paul Krugman's invaluable New York Times column. Using the Homeland Security Department's original spending figures, Krugman took Chait one step further on April 1, arguing that Bush's plan to spend seven times as much per capita on protection for Wyoming as for New York--where, need I point out, a few more obvious terrorist targets are located--"was adopted precisely because it caters to that same constituency" that enabled Bush's "election." Krugman puts the Rove/Bush strategy thus: "Even in a time of war--a war that seems oddly unrelated to the terrorist threat--the Bush administration isn't serious about protecting the homeland. Instead, it continues to subordinate U.S. security needs to its unchanged political agenda."

    This is an eerie moment in American political history. George W. Bush was defeated in the popular vote by his more liberal opponent but rules from the most extreme wing of his party. He campaigned as a fiscal conservative but has pushed tax cuts that will create a deficit larger than any in US history. As a candidate, he articulated the need for a "humble" foreign policy but now conducts it with a degree of hubris that makes Lyndon Johnson look like the Dalai Lama. His hypocrisy, in other words, is so great as to be almost unfathomable, and yet he has somehow managed to convince the media to admire him for his "moral clarity."

    Thanks to Bush & Co., America is hated the world over as never before. Deficits are exploding, unemployment remains high, the stock market is still in the tank and interest rates are poised to take off. The country is headed to hell in a handbasket from so many directions one can barely keep track. And yet the increasingly Foxified media tell a story only of heroism: of the US military, of the American people and of the President of the United States, who has so far managed to avoid service to either one.

    Eric Alterman

  • Pride and Prejudice

    How do we know the economy is in bad shape? Unemployed white male hotshots are back in the news. "This man used to make $300,000 a year," reads the New York Times Magazine's cover. "Now he's selling khakis." The grim black-and-white cover photo shows a resentful-looking bald man with a clipboard and Gap tag, sporting a Silicon Alley hipster's five-day-old beard. He's "interactive industry pioneer" Jeff Einstein, one of three men profiled in "Commute to Nowhere" by Jonathan Mahler who lost their high-paying jobs when the New Economy tanked and have had trouble resigning themselves to the kinds of jobs that are left: selling pants for Jeff; substitute teaching in the public schools for Lou Casagrande, a former information-technology consultant (at $100,000 a year); and volunteering as a "networking" coordinator for Tom Pyle, who'd left the stressful life of banking ($200,000) for the calmer waters of the nonprofit sector ($100,000), only to be laid off within six months.

    After more than a year holding out for the next big thing, their wallets are thin, their cars are falling apart, their self-esteem is wilted and their marriages aren't in such great shape either: jeff takes the Gap job only because his wife finally threatens to evict him if he doesn't start helping out with the rent. (Just between you and me, I suspect he could have done better but took the Gap job just to spite her.) It's all about masculinity, Mahler informs us. Women have been as likely to lose their jobs as men in the current climate, but "for most women, survival trumps ego; they simply adapt and find some job." I like that "simply." No cover story there.

    But wait. Those $10-an-hour jobs, the ones we're supposed to pity the men for having lowered their masculine dignity to take, look kind of familiar, don't they? They're the "good jobs" women on welfare are encouraged to get, the ones that are supposed to transform them from mooching layabouts to respectable, economically self-sufficient, upright and orderly citizens. (Of course, both Tom and his stay-at-home wife recoil at the possibility that she may have to get a job. I guess this is because, unlike poor single mothers, she's a "homemaker.")

    What happened to all those homilies about personal responsibility and the dignity of a job--any job--that were trotted out to justify forcing welfare mothers to work off their checks at subminimum wage by cleaning toilets in public parks or scraping chewing gum off subway platforms? Somehow, those sermons don't apply to Mahler's guys, but only to those single mothers of small children who get up at dawn for long bus rides to jobs as waitresses or hotel maids or fast-food workers--jobs that one calls "menial" at the risk of being tarred as an elitist snob by welfare-reform enthusiasts. The point is not so much work--the exchange of labor for pay and benefits--but work experience: work as behavior modification. For Mahler's subjects, work is about masculine identity, so a low-status job is worse than none. Poor women apparently have no dignity to be affronted.

    Take the first job you can get and be glad you have it is the philosophy of welfare today. If you are poor and had the bad judgment to become a single mother, well, no education and training for you. The welfare reauthorization bill, approved by the House and soon to be voted on by the Senate, raises the percentage of welfare clients who must work from 50 to 70 percent and ups work requirements for single parents from twenty to forty hours a week. This is much more even than the norm for working mothers, which is thirty-one to thirty-five hours. A proposal by House Democrat Ben Cardin that education and training count toward that total was rejected along party lines. In New York City, where unemployment is 8.6 percent, and half of welfare clients didn't graduate high school, Mayor Bloomberg vetoed a similar set of modifications from the City Council. (The Council overrode his veto, and he has threatened a legal challenge.)

    Is there a middle-class person in America who doesn't understand the relation of education and skills to self-support in the twenty-first century? You'd almost think the people who write the welfare laws don't want poor women to earn a middle-class income--just to adopt the imaginary middle-class sexual values embodied in abstinence classes and marriage promotion schemes, which welfare reauthorization funds to the tune of $50 million and $300 million a year, respectively.

    Maybe I lack sufficient regard for the male ego, but I found it hard to shed a tear for the men in Mahler's profile. They may have lost their dreams of financial glory, but this is not exactly King Lear. By the standards of normal life they're not doing so badly: They live in safe suburban neighborhoods, with food on the table and good schools for the kids. Indeed, Jeff's wife earns $80,000 a year, which puts the family in the top third of US household incomes before he's sold a single pair of jeans. At the end of the piece, we learn that Lou and Tom have come to terms with reality and are planning to become public school teachers. This is hardly a tragedy. In fact, it will likely be the first really useful and important work either has ever done.  

    Zora Neale Hurston, a great writer who made quite a bit of money in her time, ended her days as a cleaning lady. That's what I call tragic. All over America, single mothers with nothing like the advantages or prospects of Jeff, Lou and Tom are being told to sink or swim, and their children along with them. That's tragic too.

    * * *

    Once again, the Bosnian Initiative Frankfurt, a German human rights group, is providing "vacations from war" for displaced children and teens of all Bosnian ethnicities. Through their generous donations over the years, Nation readers have become a mainstay of this wonderful project, which last year provided two weeks of summer camp on the Croatian seacoast for an astonishing 1,500 children. (This year, for the second time, the group hopes to bring a hundred Israeli and Palestinian kids together as well.) It takes $130 to give one child respite from war and its aftermath, but donations of any size are appreciated. Checks made out to Bosnian Initiative Frankfurt can be mailed to me at The Nation, 33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003, and I will forward them.

    Katha Pollitt

  • On The Halliburton Corporation’s Iraq Contracts

    A lot of folks die.
    At last the war ends.
    The world is made safe
    For Dick Cheney's friends.

    Calvin Trillin

  • Books and the Arts

    What Are They Reading?

    "The Moviegoer," by Walker Percy

    Christopher Swetala

  • Reel Men

    The film begins with a federal marshal intoning "This is a very difficult time for our country" and ends with the singing of the national anthem, performed before Rudy Giuliani himself. Between these moments comes a journey of emotional healing, undertaken by an average American Joe (or Dave, actually) who can rightly describe himself as "a pretty nice guy." Too nice, perhaps. Although this quiet hero lives underneath an Army recruitment billboard, Dave has grown used to letting others push him around. He can--he must--learn to stand up for himself. So must we all.

    I affirm that the preceding paragraph is entirely descriptive and contains no interpretation, except for that "So must we all" part, which is hard to avoid. Such is the message delivered to a troubled America by Anger Management, the movie in which Adam Sandler shows the way toward national renewal by getting angry, and also really feeling his lust for Jack Nicholson. I recommend it to everyone.

    Now, I know there are skeptics among you. Some dismiss all Hollywood movies as commercial products, incapable by nature of rising to the level of art. (When art lovers want to watch moving images these days, they turn to Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle. Barney has taken to embedding DVDs of his films into limited-edition sculptures, which then sell for the price of a nice vacation home.) Others admit that Hollywood movies may occasionally become artlike; but since the medium is collaborative and famously prone to compromise, there are people who doubt that an Adam Sandler comedy can mean anything, except in the haphazard, semiconscious way that calls for ideological decoding. That Anger Management might develop a coherent argument, point by point--that it might think--is itself unthinkable.

    So let's put Anger Management to the test. Granted, it is twice over a genre picture: a buddy movie (meant to combine the audiences of two stars) and an Adam Sandler vehicle (which operates by its own now-familiar rules). If this were fast food, it would come with fries. But then, maybe we're the ones who shouldn't be too fast.

    The story casts Sandler as a 35-year-old corporate drone who abruptly finds himself enmeshed in a legal proceeding fit for Josef K. Presumed guilty from the start--and of what, exactly?--he is remanded to the custody of one Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson), a therapist who specializes in treating the criminally enraged. This sentence seems not so much unjust as inexplicable, since it's handed down to a man whose bland, blinking face is an apology made flesh, whose tenor voice barely has the strength to force itself through his nose. I might carelessly laugh at the judge's decision and pass on; but I prefer to factor its incongruity into the first proposition the movie sets forth, a proposition that again recalls Kafka: It is absurd to treat a punishment as a cure, or a cure as punishment.

    The movie arrives at the next stage in its argument approximately one reel later, when Nicholson moves in with Sandler, the better to perform "full contact" therapy (or punishment). This is the moment when Nicholson strips away his tweedy, professorial disguise to don a black beret and shades, so that he may revert to his image as a cinematic lord of misrule. The proposition here, I suppose, is that the person given power over you to punish or cure might turn out to be a fraud or madman. Sandler reasonably fears this possibility, which the audience, too, is led to entertain, given the predatory looks that Nicholson keeps stealing at his charge--predatory in a lounge-lizard way, I mean. No sooner has Nicholson settled into the apartment than he's bedding down naked with Sandler, demanding to see his penis, forcing him to sing about being gay and taking him cruising for transvestite hookers. Third proposition: The fraud or madman given power over you wants immediate access to your body. Or maybe he won't be satisfied until you want access to his.

    By the way, did I mention that Sandler fears sudden, unprovoked assaults below the waist, perpetrated by other men? That's why he's always scanning the perimeter for danger, in a shlemiel's version of post-

    September 11 anxiety; and that's why it's interesting that this alertness to criminal threats (at a very difficult time for our country) should temporarily be resolved into a psychological problem, through the force of Nicholson's assaults.

    Let's say there's a rupture of personal boundaries. (As description, this is a fair minimum.) Such interpenetration is evidently needed before Sandler can question himself seriously, so that he may wonder, for the first time, whether he does need help. Self-questioning is also needed to make criminal guilt go away. Once Sandler begins to yield, Nicholson willingly announces his patient's innocence, in a speech that may be insincere but makes an impressive racket. Through a form of sexual submission, Sandler has changed himself from a potential terrorist (a ticking bomb, as they say) into a loyal American, which in this context means being a nut-case pure and simple.

    But as I said, "pure and simple" is only temporary. Like a bright teenager who's just picked up some Freudian jargon, the movie goes through a phase of explaining everything psychologically and then, fortunately, moves on. I think it would have been unsatisfyingly simple just to say that wars are made by homophobes who obsess over basket size; and the screenwriter of Anger Management, David Dorfman, apparently agrees with me, since he complicates the argument during a third act that sometimes plays shakily but is always worth thinking about. To complete its train of reasoning, Anger Management reintroduces the motif of crime, forces Sandler to act in a civic arena and demands that his problems be solved not through private candor but by public speech.

    Without giving away too many of the jokes, I can say that this conclusion involves a significant relaxation of official vigilance against surprise attacks, accompanied by an assertion of the ties of community; and by a stroke of cinematic integrity, both these actions are conveyed through a well-known convention of the Adam Sandler movie, the celebrity cameo appearance. As the famous faces pass by, you're left with the impression that everyone in New York City, Dave excepted, had already known Dr. Buddy Rydell. Now Dave, too, is at home in the big group, which functions (to Kafka's astonishment) as a kind of benevolent conspiracy.

    Q.E.D. I need add nothing more than that I laughed out loud about thirty times, or approximately once every three minutes, with background smiles and chuckles left unclocked. Peter Segal directed, efficiently for the most part, with an obvious determination to put Sandler and Nicholson together in the frame as often as possible (not a foregone conclusion, in today's buddy pictures). The fine supporting cast is headed by the ever-welcome Marisa Tomei as Dave's long-suffering girlfriend.

    Did I mention he has a girlfriend? Did I say he's accused of being a chronic woman-beater? It occurs to me that my point-by-point reading of Anger Management is coherent but incomplete. So go--fill in the blanks.

    Christopher Guest's comedies are pretty much free of celebrity cameos, but they, too, seem like community affairs, since they're made with an ever-widening circle of friends. A core group that includes Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, Parker Posey and Larry Miller worked with Guest in Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, two mock documentaries about low-grade forms of show business. Now these performers, joined by about a dozen other lunatics, are helping Guest make not-quite-loving fun of yet another orphan genre of the entertainment business: folk music.

    As an object of satire, this would seem to be as unnecessary as it gets. Searching for some reason for the existence of A Mighty Wind--a title to bring out the sixth-grader in all of us--you might imagine that Guest wants to laugh at those paunchy, graying people who still look back, with earnest nostalgia, on their acoustic-strum youth.

    I'm talking to you, hypocrite Nation reader--my lookalike! My brother!

    But then, what Guest has always liked best in his characters is their unstoppable, otherworldly belief in themselves, or rather in an image that no setback or indignity can shatter. With grinning amazement at such optimism, Guest now presents the ultimate show of the self-deluded: a reunion concert in New York City featuring three folk-music acts of the 1960s. They are The New Main Street Singers (a sweater-wearing "neuftet" featuring John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey); the love-bird duo of Mitch & Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara); and the less-than-stellar Folksmen (Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer--the same guys who were Spinal Tap, now playing identical roles relative to one another but performing ditties about the Spanish Civil War, or a train wreck in a coal mine).

    All three acts are delectable, as are the showbiz oddities who gather around them; but the most engaging of all are Mitch & Mickey. In a departure from the previous movies, which featured balanced ensembles, Guest has made this duo the focus of A Mighty Wind. The disadvantage is unevenness; sometimes the film sags, when it turns to characters who aren't fully developed. The benefits are two performances of contrasting, demented intensity from O'Hara and Levy. As Mickey, O'Hara seems to vibrate slightly from keeping in check her rage against Mitch. After decades of separation, he remains to her the most powerful figure in the world. To the audience, he's a guy who shuffles through the movie in a daze, popping his eyes at the phantoms that hover before his face and swallowing his words like spoonsful of codeine-laced cough syrup, never quite understanding what Mickey's so upset about.

    You should know that the climactic concert, sung and played by the actors themselves, was recorded as a live performance. A wonderful decision. It gives you all the fun of participating, without the embarrassment of actually being there.

    Stuart Klawans

  • Class Struggle

    In a nation that nominally eschews class distinctions as unbefitting our supposed classlessness, whose elected officials decry any protest over government largesse to the rich as "class warfare," real Americans--most of whom are suckers, it turns out--spend untold amounts of time, cash and effort obsessing on a tiny number of elite colleges that really, really don't want the vast majority of them as members.

    Never mind, though. For an increasing number of baby boomer parents, it's never too early to stick kids on the Harvard- or-bust fast track. It starts with Mozart and Shakespeare in the crib, and then it's off to the $8,000-a-year and up nursery school that admits toddlers on the basis of IQ tests (performance on which is heavily influenced by the educational attainment of the child's parents). The proper nursery school inexorably leads to the high-powered kindergarten and prep school and eventually to thousands of dollars more in fees for college consultants and standardized testing tutors.

    Before a child can say "meritocracy," he or she is embarking on an overseas adventure to New Guinea that will lead, by design, to that killer college application essay that wows admissions counselors from Harvard, Yale or Princeton for its originality and sense of social and democratic purpose, a tonier version of the Miss America contestant's "I'm for world peace" speech.

    If all the time and effort devoted to this enterprise were about a child's or young person's love of learning, creativity and personal development, I for one would be considerably less cynical. But the elite college admissions game--under the near-tyrannical guidance of US News & World Report's annual ranking of the nation's "best" colleges--is all too often about the pursuit of prestige at almost any cost, a game that perpetuates the big lie that one can't find a decent education at anything less than a Brand Name school.

    I was excited to read Jacques Steinberg's new book about elite college admissions, The Gatekeepers, anticipating a breath of fresh air on the subject from the New York Times education reporter. As he introduces himself and his book, we learn that this son of a Massachusetts anesthesiologist sees himself as a sort of accidental alumnus of the Ivy League, who pleads ignorance as to how he got admitted to Dartmouth in the early 1980s. But he obviously owes a lot to his very assertive mom, a former nurse, who on the family's exploratory visit to the Dartmouth campus grabbed her son by the collar after an admissions officer's spiel and strode to the front of the room to magisterially inform the official, "We're the Steinbergs." The rest, as they say, is history.

    Steinberg strikes me as a lucky man indeed. After joining the Times and becoming a national education correspondent, he attended the 1999 conference of the National Association of College Admission Counseling in Orlando, Florida. While there, he was approached by William Hiss, an administrator at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Hiss wondered whether Steinberg would like exclusive access to the selective college's admissions process, noteworthy in that it does not require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. Although Steinberg and his editor, Ethan Bronner, were intrigued by the idea, they declined Hiss's offer in favor of a less "anomalous" college--i.e., one that continued to rely on gatekeeping tests like the SAT.

    After being turned down by several colleges for the kind of exclusive, total-access deal the Times wanted, Steinberg found what would seem a perfect match. At Wesleyan, located in Middletown, Connecticut, midway between Hartford and New Haven, college officials agreed to provide the reporter unfettered access to its admissions process from fall 1999 to spring 2000, culminating in the Times's series of articles upon which The Gatekeepers is based. Wesleyan agreed not to meddle in Steinberg's stories, gave him access to individual students and their families and allowed him to observe any and all meetings in its admissions deliberations--in other words, a reporter's dream assignment. (It couldn't have hurt Steinberg's cause that his boss, Bronner, graduated from Wesleyan in 1976, as one discovers in the book's acknowledgments.)

    It's all very cozy and well connected in these pages, with lucky people and impressive degrees from prestigious institutions to spare. When we meet Steinberg's featured "gatekeeper," a Wesleyan admissions officer named Ralph Figueroa, a Los Angeles native who ends up in Middletown after a stint working admissions at Occidental College in LA, I'm thinking, cool choice. This ought to be interesting, a Mexican-American man with a working-class background (the rebel in me hopes), now an insider shaking things up at one elite private college in comfy New England.

    Instead, we learn that the 34-year-old Figueroa's dad was a lawyer and graduate of Loyola Law School; that his mom earned a master's degree in education, and became a mover and shaker in an organization called Expanded Horizons, a nationally recognized program (held in high regard by Ronald Reagan and his Education Secretary, Terrel Bell) that helped Mexican-American kids prepare for college. The family frequently took their children on trips to colleges like Pomona, Occidental and Caltech. The grooming and preparation paid off for the Figueroa clan. Ralph graduated from Stanford--he turned down Harvard, Yale and Princeton--and went on to UCLA Law. His several siblings also attended elite schools, including UCLA Law and Stanford Law, and one sister, like himself, would find a niche in admissions at Caltech.

    As if adopting the same mesmerizing tricks as the colleges themselves, holding out the impossible dream of an elite college education to the masses in order to up their application counts (which improves selectivity rankings), Steinberg and his publisher pitch this book as "required reading for every parent of a high school age child and for every student" who is applying to college. But it's easy to imagine ordinary parents and their kids--the overwhelming majority of whom attend ordinary public high schools that aren't even remotely on the map of "feeder" schools highly regarded by elite colleges--being completely intimidated by this book. I could scarcely find one person in these pages, whether an admissions officer or student, whose parents weren't at least modestly well educated or who didn't have some connection to either a brand-name college or elite prep school. Most of the admissions officers at Wesleyan were either Wesleyan grads or had connections to other elite schools (a fairly common trait, from what I can tell, among the admissions staffs at elite private colleges). In fact, I was able to find just one student in Steinberg's world whose parents had not attended college, a most admirable young New Yorker named Aggie. But even she managed to find her way out of a downtrodden public school in New York City to the Oldfields School, a venerable girls' prep school in rural Maryland.

    But let's be real. Readers of this book will more likely be the well-educated parents and high-flying students who do attend schools that are "on the map," and for whom prestigious colleges and personal connections to those schools are all part of the entitlement package; people for whom "state university" is a dirty word. And though Steinberg is skillful at telling the stories of Ralph and a handful of young people who apply to Wesleyan and other highly ranked colleges, I can easily imagine sophisticated readers sighing a collective, "So what?" There's very little in Steinberg's highly detailed narrative that such readers won't already have surmised about the competitive admissions game.

    When highly selective colleges talk about their admissions process to prospective students, they like to convey the notion that there are no formulas, no tricks, no standard combination of grades or test scores that will insure one's admission. It's standard advice that Steinberg, who calls the process "messy," would undoubtedly agree with. True, there may be no magic formulas, but colleges like Wesleyan do pass their judgments about individuals under some mighty formulaic parameters. Readers probably won't be surprised to learn that Wesleyan admissions officials watch their ranking in US News & World Report like nuclear plant operators monitoring reactor heat levels. In fact, Steinberg describes one seasoned admissions officer, Greg Pyke, whose task is to keep running tabs on median SAT levels and other indicators of the admitted class important to US News, in order to insure that the college improves upon its previous year ranking.

    The most revealing aspects of the process can be gleaned between the lines of Steinberg's account. For example, many students and parents who buy into this game have long known that test scores play a very important, if not decisive, role in it. Recent surveys by the National Association of College Admission Counseling confirm this. According to NACAC's December 2001 survey, fully 86 percent of admissions officials rated test scores as of either considerable or moderate importance, just slightly below the importance the gatekeepers attach to grades in college prep courses (89 percent).

    As competition for admission has intensified and acceptance rates have declined at elite private colleges in recent years, the weight attached to gatekeeping tests has also increased, according to a recent report by the Association for Institutional Research. Meanwhile, private colleges have soured on high school grades, arguably a more egalitarian indicator of merit and once the most important criterion in admissions, this despite the well-known correlation between SAT scores and the educational and income levels of one's parents.

    Steinberg, like the admissions officers who are his subjects, is rarely as explicit about these matters as the data presented in those surveys. But parents and kids who know the game won't bat an eye at how heavily colleges rely on gatekeeping tests, their claims to the contrary notwithstanding. For example, Wesleyan admissions officers seem to think that a 50- or 100-point difference in SAT scores among two candidates means something significant about their future academic performance in college, a patently false use of test scores. Steinberg, ever nonjudgmental, allows such assumptions to pass virtually unchallenged, although they have been powerfully refuted in numerous studies. Bates, the SAT-optional college that first approached Steinberg, discovered no differences between the academic performance of Bates students who declined to submit SAT scores when applying, and that of SAT-submitters, whose test scores were, on average, 160 points higher.

    Deeply ingrained beliefs in the power of cognitive screens like the SAT and about the importance of good grades in AP courses were not the only things at the top of Wesleyan's gatekeeping criteria. There were two additional ones, earmarked by a manila folder. "If an applicant was the child of an alumna or alumnus, a dark orange square was added," Steinberg writes. "If an applicant had identified him- or herself as a member of a minority group, a yellow circle was added. These details were considered too important for a reader to overlook, and the coding system was designed to ensure that they were given due attention."

    Within these strictures Wesleyan's gatekeepers exercised a small degree of wiggle room, and Steinberg does his best work describing the difficult process of selecting a class of some 700 students from about 7,000 applications. Grateful, perhaps, for the access Wesleyan gave him, he writes admiringly of the gatekeepers' studious commitment to be fair and objective. But parents with high-school-age children are likely to be appalled at the inconsistencies, and even arbitrary nature, of some of the judgments made by Figueroa and his colleagues. The SAT, for instance, which is often described by admissions officials, the College Board and the Educational Testing Service as a "common yardstick," looks more like a magic stick out of Alice in Wonderland, meaning whatever Wesleyan's gatekeepers want it to mean, depending on whether the applicant is a member of a minority group, an athlete or a member of the Wesleyan "family." Isn't meritocracy grand?

    Meanwhile, Andrew Fairbanks, a former Wesleyan admissions official, has given us a very different account of elite college admissions, in a book written with Christopher Avery and Richard Zeckhauser, both professors at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. While Steinberg uses character and nar- rative to reveal the inner workings of one college's admissions process, the authors of The Early Admissions Game: Joining the Elite seek to expose this often-deceitful and manipulated game in order to make it more fair to all comers. Indeed, they say they hope to arm more students and parents with information on how the game is played, and therefore help to reduce the unfair advantages the present system affords well-connected and affluent students. Although the book is focused on a detailed investigation of early admissions programs, its reach is far broader, if only because early admissions has become such a key element of competitive college-recruitment efforts in recent years. As one student who was recently admitted to Harvard told the authors, "That's just how you apply to Harvard."

    Although the writing lacks the journalistic polish of Steinberg's account, and although the organization is at times disjointed, readers seeking solid information about elite college admissions will find The Early Admissions Game refreshingly frank. Other readers concerned about restoring some equity to the process will also appreciate the book's generosity of spirit and suggestions for reform.

    The authors present a devastating portrait of elite college admissions--and early admissions in particular--as an elaborate and complicated "game" in the most literal meaning of that word, played by colleges seeking competitive advantages over rivals, students seeking to maximize their opportunities for entry into prestigious colleges and school counselors striving to maintain the reputations of their "feeder" schools in terms of their efficiency in placing students at highly ranked colleges. As in all competitive games, the various players often have little incentive to be forthcoming about their tactics and every incentive to conceal strategic information from public view. Not surprisingly, the authors suggest, the winners of the game tend to be privileged students who have access to highly skilled counselors with information pipelines to elite college admissions offices.

    At the center of the book is a social scientific investigation that makes powerful analytical use of admissions data at elite colleges spanning several years and including some 500,000 college applications, which reveals a fascinating statistical portrait of early admissions. (Early admissions programs include both "early decision" ones, which permit just one early application and bind students to that college if they are admitted, and "early action" programs, which allow multiple applications and do not bind students to colleges that accept them early.) In public, most institutions are quick to reassure students and parents that there's no advantage to applying early as opposed to waiting to throw one's hat into the "regular" admissions pool. But the advantages afforded early applications are considerable.

    Consider Princeton. One need only note the increasingly small number of openings remaining from the regular admissions pool to see why many students who don't walk on water might find it in their best interest to apply early. Of the 2,000 students admitted in one recent year at Princeton, for instance, only 500 had applied during the regular admissions cycle. The rest were either early applicants or "hooked" applicants (underrepresented minorities, athletes or children of alumni).

    At Princeton, which runs an early decision program, the authors estimate that while its acceptance rate from the regular applicant pool was slightly below 20 percent, the college's acceptance rate for early applicants ballooned to well over 50 percent. The same pattern held for virtually all the highly selective colleges in the authors' study. At Columbia, for example, more than seven in ten students who applied early were admitted, compared with about three in ten students applying during the regular period.

    When colleges concede such glaring differences in their admissions rates, they explain that early applicants tend to be more attractive candidates in terms of test scores, grades and other factors. The authors easily destroy this canard by comparing early and regular admission rates for students with similar credentials. Applying early to elite colleges, they demonstrate, produces the equivalent of a 100-point SAT boost for early action applicants and a 190-point boost for early decision applicants. For the time-strapped student oddsmaker, the game presents some interesting choices. Spend $1,000 on an SAT prep course, or apply early? "Which is easier?" the authors ask. "To submit an early application? Or to master the trombone to the level of all-state orchestra or become a semifinalist in the Westinghouse Science Competition?"

    So what's in it for the colleges? Why give early decision applicants the equivalent of nearly 200 points on the SAT? Part of the answer, it seems, is that they have an Enron problem. The unfortunate fact of elite college admissions in the era of US News & World Report is that the magazine's annual ranking of the nation's best colleges now rules this marketplace with an iron fist. The magazine operates under the fiction that college quality is tantamount to median SAT scores, acceptance rates and other more arcane measures such as "yield" rates, defined as the percentage of the admitted students who decide to enroll--which might be more accurately dubbed the "prestige index." In any case, colleges have discovered how early admission programs easily permit them to manipulate numbers in order to elevate, however marginally, their US News rankings. For example, an early decision applicant will almost certainly enroll, thus instantly boosting the college's yield rate.

    Who takes most advantage of early admissions and its generous payoffs? Primarily children from affluent families, students for whom a college's financial aid offer isn't a deal breaker. Because early decision programs in particular lock needy students into a single college, they are unable to compare or negotiate financial aid packages among schools. The authors contend that colleges also exploit the monopoly power granted through early decision programs in order to hold down their financial aid budgets. Furthermore, students with access to good information about early admission programs, including their improved chances of admission, also gain. And, again, such students tend to be affluent. Reliable information, the authors found, is a function of whether students attend public high schools where many students do not go to college or elite private schools and highly regarded public schools where most students do attend college.

    Among the most compelling passages in The Early Admissions Game is its description of the elaborate, back-channel "slotting" operations by which highly skilled and well-connected high school counselors work hand in hand with elite college admissions officers to place students. To outsiders, such collaboration might be scandalous, but for some students recently accepted to places like Harvard and Yale whom the authors interviewed, it's rather ho-hum. Listen to Mira (Harvard '98): "My counselor has a good relationship with the Harvard admissions office. He handpicks people for admission and tells Harvard who to admit." Or Dan (Yale '98): "If I wanted to attend Yale, [the counselor] would get me in."

    No book could paint such a damning portrait without offering suggestions for reform of a system that produces such inequitable results. The authors discuss various options, including the frequently suggested proposal that colleges agree to a ban on early admission programs. That's not likely to fly, the authors argue, because any given college would have great incentive to violate the ban by picking off its competitors' most promising applicants. "If we gave it up," Harvard admissions dean William Fitzsimmons suggested, "other institutions inside and outside the Ivy League would carve up our class and our faculty would carve us up."

    As an alternative to the current system, the authors propose to set up an independent, Internet-operated clearinghouse, through which students could state their first preference for college without a binding commitment. The clearinghouse would share the information among all participating colleges in order to preclude any deception. Colleges, which currently spend a great deal of money on statistical models trying to predict which students will ultimately enroll, could rely instead on the students' stated preferences. Such a simple, relatively inexpensive solution would also diminish the importance of the sorts of back-channel slotting operations that now give privileged applicants such an advantage in the early admissions game.

    Meanwhile, however, there's little reason to hope the game will become more equitable anytime soon. Elite colleges appear eager to install early admissions programs as fixtures for building and managing their entering classes. As of December, for example, the University of Pennsylvania had already filled nearly half its freshman class with early admits. At Yale and Columbia, more than 40 percent of entering classes was already spoken for. Millions more high school students from increasingly well-educated families will continue to place their hopes and dreams on a tiny fraction of colleges that admit an increasingly smaller percentage of those who apply. At Harvard, for example, the acceptance rate of 11 percent in the year 2000 was nearly half what it was in 1990. By midyear, testing companies had reported surges in registrations for taking entrance exams, with ACT Inc. boasting its biggest gain in thirty-five years.

    All this in a nation where nearly 40 percent of adults believe they currently are, or will be, among the richest 1 percent of Americans. Who knows, maybe we'll all get lucky.

    Peter Sacks

  • The Anatomy Lesson

    Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle

    Arthur C. Danto

  • Letter from Ground Zero

    In the past 200 years, all of the earth's great territorial empires, whether dynastic or colonial, or both, have been destroyed. The list includes the Russian empire of the czars; the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Habsburgs; the German empire of the Hohenzollerns, the Ottoman Empire, the Napoleonic Empire, the overseas empires of Holland, England, France, Belgium, Italy and Japan, Hitler's "thousand-year Reich" and the Soviet empire. They were brought down by a force that, to the indignation and astonishment of the imperialists, turned out to be irresistible: the resolve of peoples, no matter how few they were or how poor, to govern themselves.

    With its takeover of Iraq, the United States is attempting to reverse this universal historical verdict. It is seeking to reinvent the imperial tradition and reintroduce imperial rule--and on a global scale--for the twenty-first century. Some elements, like the danger of weapons of mass destruction, are new. Yet any student of imperialism will be struck by the similarities between the old style of imperialism and the new: the gigantic disparity between the technical and military might of the conquerors and the conquered; the inextricable combination of rapacious commercial interest and geopolitical ambition and design; the distortion and erosion of domestic constitutions by the immense military establishments, overt and covert, required for foreign domination; the use of one colony as a stepping stone to seize others or pressure them into compliance with the imperial agenda; the appeal to jingoism on the home front. True, American officials state at every opportunity that they do not intend to "occupy" Iraq. But then the British in the nineteenth century said the same thing. Two years before the liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone ordered the conquest of Egypt he declared that his heart's desire was an "Egypt for the Egyptians." The liberal imperialist Lord Palmerston said in 1842 in defense of his gunboat diplomacy, "It is, that commerce may go freely forth, leading civilization with one hand, and peace with the other, to render mankind happier, wiser, better." When it came to rule, the British preferred, wherever possible, not "direct rule" but a sort of covert domination called "influence"or "indirect rule" or "paramountcy" (the British were as richly inventive of euphemisms as the United States is today). Then as now, imperialism, in the words of the great anti-imperialist Ernest Hobson, was "floated on a sea of vague, shifty, well-sounding phrases which are seldom tested by close contact with fact."

    It was one thing, however, for Europeans, in newfound possession of modern tools of technical and organizational superiority, to subjugate "backward" foreign peoples in 1700 or 1800 or 1900. But can it be done again, in our century, in the wake of that project's universal rejection by the peoples of the earth? So far, the outlook is unpromising. The United States vowed to bring about "regime change" in Iraq. The phrase has rightly been criticized as an outrageously mild euphemism--a vague, well-sounding, shifty phrase if there ever was one--for an extremely violent act; but now it turns out that the expression defined a deeper problem. If I am going to change the oil in my car, I must, before I remove the old oil in the crankcase, have new oil ready to put in. Otherwise, my car will quickly overheat and break down on the road. This is roughly the condition of Iraq two weeks after the destruction of its former government. The United States, it turns out, forgot to bring a new government with it when it set out from Kuwait to Baghdad. The troops brought plenty of MREs (meals ready to eat) but no GRR (government ready to rule). American forces had no intention of becoming a police force, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told the press. Did the Administration perhaps take its own slippery rhetoric about not occupying Iraq too seriously? The result was a vacuum of authority soon filled by nearly universal looting. Many Iraqis made clear their hatred of the old regime and their joy at its disappearance; but it appears that they had little more confidence in the invader. Finding themselves caught between local misrule and foreign rule, did they perhaps decide that they had a momentary opportunity to grab something for themselves and set about sacking their own country? A journalist, upon arriving in an Iraqi city, described it as "prelooted." Did the Iraqis, in anticipation of foreign exploitation, "preloot" their whole country?

    The United States thus achieved Regime Removal but not the promised Regime Change. There were, we can now see, no plans even to keep order in Iraq, much less to administer it, or organize a government there. The famous war plan was much discussed; the peace plan, it appears, did not even exist.

    This became clear when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to the raging anarchy in Iraq as "untidy," and America's new viceroy in Iraq, retired Gen. Jay Garner, newly arrived in the city of Nasiriyah from the Hilton hotel in Kuwait, likened events to the American constitutional convention of 1787, remarking rhetorically, "I don't think they had a love-in when they had Philadelphia." Does he really think that mayhem in Iraq, including the extinction of the better part of the country's cultural treasures, has any resemblance to the deliberations by which Washington, Franklin and Madison framed the Constitution of the United States? Is such a man fit to run a country?

    So far, the American military giant has proved to be a political pygmy. The Shiite cleric Abdel Majid al-Khoei, who was imported into Iraq from London by the "coalition" forces, was promptly hacked to death by local people. The gathering of Iraqis invited by the United States to meet at a US military base has been boycotted by the country's most important political groups. In Mosul, American troops have fired upon an angry mob, killing seven. "It's a show of force, but people don't understand it," a soldier in Mosul told the Times. "They're not grateful."

    Before the war began, it was often said that winning the war would be easy and winning the peace hard. And it was surely always clear even to the war's opponents that the United States could drive its tanks from Kuwait to Baghdad, whereupon the regime of Saddam Hussein would dissolve. Yet was it ever certain that what followed the conventional engagements would be a peace? With every day that passes, "the peace" looks more like another war.

    Jonathan Schell

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  • Letters

    Tim Robbins v. the Hall of Fame

    Hinsdale, Illinois

    Please convey to Mr. Robbins my appreciation for his position on Bush and the invasion of Iraq. He and Susan Sarandon are putting their necks on the line, and showing great courage. This is a lonely time for those who oppose Bush's policies. I myself, a Vietnam vet (1966-69), have had my patriotism questioned; when they find out my past, they shut up--but why should that make a difference? Woody Allen made a movie about the McCarthy era, and I recall watching it in a rather condescending frame of mind, thinking "what was the matter with those people in the 1950s? How could they be so persecutorial?" Well, those times are back. We all have to fight this now. Robbins and Sarandon, by being famous, give strength to others.

    RICHEY HOPE


    Richmond, Virginia

    It is truly deplorable that such institutions as the Baseball Hall of Fame are run by people who have no more tact than to use this sacred institution as an instrument of their own political views to force their opinions on the baseball-loving public. I guess we can only hope that future Hall of Famers will also share Mr. Petroskey's political views for fear that they will also be subjected to such actions. And thank you, Mr. Robbins, for dispelling the notion that it is "un-American" to disagree with the war. Indeed, there is nothing more American than the airing of dissent of popular views in a public that seems wholly unresponsive to public debate. I guess we can only hope that our local cinemas don't subscribe to the same brand of "patriotism" that Mr. Petroskey seems to favor. I for one like being able to choose the movies I watch regardless of the political backgrounds of the creators.

    DAVID MULLEN


    Shelter Island, New York

    Thank you for bringing attention to the Tim Robbins vs. the Baseball Hall of Fame flap. I worked at the museum for nearly a decade, just prior to Mr. Petroskey's arrival. I'm more surprised by the brazen political nature of Mr. Petroskey's letter than I am by their decision to cancel the event. This is a very conservative institution, run by a conservative family within a conservative community. I think that just a few short years ago Mr. Robbins would have had to do a bit more reading between the lines. Democrats in Congress, celebrities and average citizens are being intimidated. Conservatives are bolstered by the arrogance and attitudes of Mr. Bush and his regime, and all debate and dissent is trampled under the guise of patriotism and the need to "support our troops." Attending my daughter's volleyball game at a local high school the other day, I was shocked to see a poster on display in the lobby which reads, "America, Love it or Leave it." It's deja vu all over again.

    FRANK CIRILLO
    former director of exhibits and design, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum


    Flint, Michigan

    As a current member of the Army Individual Ready Reserve who was activated for the first Gulf War, I find Mr. Petroskey's comments and actions to be utterly ridiculous.

    I am sick and tired of neoconservative couch potatoes using members of the military as weapons to further their own agenda. We have not only the right, but the responsibility to question our leaders. This is a democracy (actually it's a republic). This is not Saddam Era Iraq, where the leader's word is law.

    At the conclusion of this war, we will probably put on trial and execute members of Saddam's former regime that unquestioningly "stood behind their president and the troops." They will not be allowed to use that trite phrase as an excuse for the atrocities they have committed. Petroskey should stick to a subject that hopefully he knows something about...baseball.

    During the first Gulf War my friends supported me in two ways. My prowar friends joined military family-support groups and my antiwar friends hit the streets. Both were trying to help me in their own way and both greeted me warmly upon my return.

    When we fight and die, we do it for democracy and freedom. The men and women who serve should not be discouraged by Mr. Robbins's comments. They should, however be scared by Mr. Petroskey's actions. It is clear that he seeks to do through the private sector what the goverment could not. He seeks to prevent Mr. Robbins from exercising his constitutional right to free speech. He hides his criminal acts, by dying them red, white and blue.

    It is Mr. Petroskey and those like him who threaten to undercut our armed forces. And, at the risk of being labeled unpatriotic, I find that I cannot stand behind the President's savage and unwarranted cuts in veteran's benefits. As a former officer in the Texas Air National Guard, he should be ashamed.

    CHRISTOPHER GIL


    Port Angeles, Washington

    I was astounded at the childish action taken against Tim Robbins (cancellation of the screening of Bull Durham on the occasion of its fifteenth anniversary), a fine actor and articulate critic of the Bush war on Iraq, by Dale Petroskey, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. What on earth possesses so many of our self-proclaimed "defenders of democracy and freedom" to become small-minded, insulting and abusive when those freedoms are actually exercised? For the record, I appreciate everything that Mr. Robbins said--except for that part about the '69 Mets. To me it's the '88 Oakland A's that rank up there with apple pie and the flag.

    TIMOTHY L. HOCKETT


    Bowling Green, Ohio

    As an American citizen and a baseball fan, I find it insulting that the president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Dale Petroskey, would issue a de facto gag order to Tim Robbins for expressing his political views. I find it intriguing that a man who worked as an assistant press secretary in the Administration of Ronald Reagan would intimate that actors have no business in the political arena. While I consider myself a patriot, if patriotism means the irrelevance of the First Amendment, then count me out.

    MATT STUART


    Forsyth, Montana

    It is refreshing to see organizations standing up and holding "actors" responsible for what they are saying from their highly visible platform.

    Tim Robbins doesn't represent baseball fans or the majority of the American people. While he challenges President Bush (and others) for not serving in the military, he neglects to say he isn't a veteran either. I am...and I very much support our Commander in Chief, President Bush. If the decision had been made during the Clinton Administration to control the problems in the Middle East, then President Bush wouldn't have to clean up the mess.

    Hopefully, Tim Robbins will get the point that he represents only about 20 percent of the American people. The very same people who are voicing their opinions because of the stand our current and former Presidents should have made to protect our freedom.

    Freedom will continue to ring, but with no thanks to Tim Robbins.

    LARRY J. TRICKEL
    SGM (Ret), US Army


    Munich, Germany

    My deepest respect for Mr. Robbins for his letter to the head of the Baseball Hall of Fame (or rather "Shame"). News from the USA sounds more and more like historical pieces from Germany in the 1930s. Unbelievable!

    RALPH MOELLERS


    New Orleans, Louisiana

    I just want to thank Tim Robbins for utilizing his position in the public eye to say what needs to be said. I can only hope the Baseball Hall of Fame feels a shred of embarrassment for its behavior. I am from a family of die-hard Chicago Cub fans and we are all outraged by Mr. Petroskey's blatant misuse of a national institution--baseball!

    PHOEBE KESSLER


    Brisbane, Australia

    I found this conflict between Tim Robbins and Dale Petroskey interesting. The scary thing seems to be that the propaganda of the mainstream media, including here in Australia, seems to be obvious as just that to some and not at all obvious to others. Petroskey's may be a political statement to protect himself, but I wonder if he has simply bought all the patriotic huff and puff that seems to be muddying truth, logic and common sense. The same thing happens here in Australia, especially this expression of belief in free speech on the one hand but the denial of it in practice.

    Thank you for a good read in The Nation. Without you and other independent media, we would be overwhelmed with spin and lies (which are probably the same thing).

    EUGENE MOREAU


    Bellevue, Washington

    Regarding your calling for condemnation of the Baseball Hall of Fame over its decision to cancel an appearance by Tim Robbins, isn't YOUR condemnation merely the pot calling the kettle black?

    Tim Robbins has every right to his opinions, but the right of free speech doesn't mean that others are obligated to listen. The Baseball Hall of Fame and its owners also have the right of free association, which they exercised by disinviting someone they considered a boor.

    The left has often called for boycotts of organizations, individuals, and groups which it finds offensive...as is its right. Again, how hypocritical (crybaby-ish, even) to complain when the Left is boycotted.

    I support, and will defend, the right of the Tim Robbins, Martin Sheens, Jeanen Garafolos, Susan Sarandons, et al, among us to have their point of view and to express it without fear of GOVERNMENTAL oppression or physical violence. However, I also support the right of anyone who decides to never watch another movie or otherwise provide financial support for those actors whose views and attitudes they find offensive. How can one feel otherwise if one truly believes in freedom of thought?

    Alan Dershowitz once remarked that we should create a Bill of Rights Club, where members had to agree to support exercises of rights even though they might find the particular exercise repugnant. Based upon the articles I find on The Nation website, I don't think that many on the left would be eligible for membership.

    JOHN CLIFFORD

    Our Readers

  • Letters

    KUCINICH ON CHOICE

    Washington, DC

    In Katha Pollitt's April 21 "Subject to Debate," she mentioned that my vote on the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act will be watched. Considering that I've given this issue much thought over the past couple of years, I hope she will be watching as I oppose the bill when it reaches the House. When the Supreme Court struck down a similar "partial-birth" abortion ban in Stenberg v. Carhart, it affirmed what was said in Roe v. Wade: A woman's health must be preserved. I believe in upholding the right to choose and will oppose legislation, like the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, that restricts the rights guaranteed in Roe.

    DENNIS J. KUCINICH
    Member of Congress
    10th Congressional District, Ohio


    CLUCK CLUCK CLUCK

    Lincoln, Neb.

    I wish Calvin Trillin had used the more familiar "chicken hawk" rather than "sissy hawk" in his April 14 poem on Richard Perle. "Chicken hawk" fits the meter and lacks the whiff of latent homophobia that is surprising coming from the author of the moving and memorable Remembering Denny.

    PAUL SCOTT STANFIELD


    TRILLIN REPLIES

    New York City

    I thank Paul Stanfield for his thoughtful suggestion, but I had consciously decided against "chicken hawk." It actually means a hawk that preys on chickens rather than a chicken that acts like a hawk, and its second meaning (in the American Heritage dictionary, 4th edition) is "a man who seeks out boys or young men as his sexual partners." Also, I'm not ready to give up on "sissy" as meaning (to quote the same dictionary) "a person regarded as timid or cowardly." The other definition is "a boy or man regarded as effeminate," but I don't see that it's doing anybody any favors to equate effeminacy with homosexuality. It seems to me that someone who urges others on to fight wars he is unwilling to fight himself--which is what the members of the Sissy Hawk Brigade did during the Vietnam War--is properly called a sissy, even if, as in the case of Dick Cheney, he played high school football.

    CALVIN TRILLIN


    SEND BOOMERS TO OKEFENOKEE

    Seattle

    Although I agree with the conclusions reached by Jonathan Schell in "American Tragedy" [April 7], I suggest a different interpretation of what brought us to this point. It is all too easy to see this as a usurpation of power and lay it at the feet of the Republicans and the "American military machine," but I believe the root cause came more in the form of an incremental abdication by the generation that seemed to hold so much promise in the sixties, my generation, the baby boomers. They have become the most powerful generation that has ever existed, and like so many before them, as they gained economically they became obsessed with the preservation of their wealth and the self-indulgent lifestyle it provided. Ideals were swapped for SUVs, social concerns for stock portfolios and Botox injections--fueled by cheap energy and damn the consequences.

    It was all too easy to allow Clinton, Lieberman and the rest to consciously (and publicly) move the Democratic Party to the right, disguising Old Republicanism as New Democrats, all too easy to sit back and salve their consciences by relabeling their greed. So now we all pay the price. A good look in the mirror is in order. To quote a rather wise possum, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

    JOHN OLCESE


    THAT LIBERAL MEDIA

    Melrose Park, Pa.

    Eric Alterman ["What Liberal Media?" Feb. 24] and others at The Nation strongly reinforce the idea that the media--owned more and more by corporations and conglomerates--vigorously promote a conservative philosophy. Considerable evidence exists for this idea. But the theory works only with the aid of selective perception--i.e., use every confirmation to strengthen your belief and screen out every instance that contradicts it. In reality, every week, every day, the media provide cogent criticism of our government and our corporations.

    The following public figures who opposed war on Iraq without UN approval have appeared on major talk shows or have written op-eds in major dailies: Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean (a full hour on Meet the Press), Dennis Kucinich, Dale Bumpers, Anthony Zinni, Wesley Clark, Norman Schwarzkopf, Scott Ritter, President Carter, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, George Mitchell, President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, Jessica Matthews (of the Carnegie Endowment), Kofi Annan, the director of Win Without War; liberal military analyst William Arkin, Mike Farrell, Martin Sheen, Sam Hamill (representing 11,000 poets), W.S. Merwin, liberal panelist Carl Jeffers, genocide author Samantha Power, columnist Trudy Rubin, Maureen Dowd, Gwynne Dyer and Al-Hayat journalist Raghida Dergham.

    In addition, the media have heavily covered the antiwar demonstrations here and around the world. A New York Times editorial of March 9 was so full a criticism of Bush's policies that Terry Gross had Philip Taubman on Fresh Air elucidate it. Chris Matthews has vehemently opposed the war and has many liberal guests on Hardball, including Katrina vanden Heuvel and William Arkin. Matthews was relentless in his focus on the risks and imponderables of the Iraq war. On Hardball, Eric Margolis, of the Council on Foreign Relations, commented that the total cost of the war may be $400 billion, not $200 billion, that Iraq will probably degenerate into another Lebanon or Yugoslavia, and "why not alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians" instead?

    After the war began, negative criticism of Bush's policies continued. Joe Conason, Maureen Dowd, Trudy Rubin, Leonard Pitts Jr., Ellen Goodman, Joseph Galloway and many others analyzed the defects of US policies.

    A major brouhaha occurred when Generals McCaffrey, Schwarzkopf and Wallace criticized the US war plan. The major media publicized this debate; mulish Donald Rumsfeld blamed the media for the problem. We have also seen on TV pictures of Iraqi civilians injured by US shrapnel and starving, dehydrated civilians fighting for food and water. The corporate media reported US bombings that killed many civilians. News of an impending humanitarian catastrophe as a result of the war has been widely disseminated by print and TV media. The media also disclosed a poll showing that optimism about the war among Americans declined March 21-22 from 52 percent to 38 percent, a change that sent the White House scrambling for psychological explanations. The US media are certainly not liberal overall, but the left's disgruntled belief that they are incorrigibly conservative is just as certainly mistaken.

    MARK I. SACHAROFF


    ALTERMAN REPLIES

    New York City

    n Mark Sacharoff can find my response in the pages of What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News (Basic). I invite him and the rest of our readers to peruse the opening chapter free at www.whatliberalmedia.com.

    ERIC ALTERMAN


    POOR NEW YORK

    Rochester, NY

    Thanks to Jack Newfield for his wonderful article, "How the Other Half Still Lives" [March 17]. The largesse the World War II "great generation" created through a combination of widely distributed government deficit spending and a vibrant capitalist marketplace has disappeared. The Democratic coalition that produced it was smashed by the Reagan Administration with the tactic of shouting "handout" at any form of public assistance or funding, unless it was for the military or local pork. Instead of seeing poverty as a structural problem, we have lapsed into the nineteenth-century habit of labeling the poor "lazy," the cause of their own destitution. In the meantime, Wal-Mart has replaced GM as America's largest company, with a precipitous drop in wages and opportunity. And to all this, the baby boomers, my generation, have shown their most identifiable quality: indifference. Let's hope that more of us can come to see poverty through the realistic and sympathetic eyes of Jack Newfield.

    MARC A. CIRIGLIANO


    New York City

    No one can be content with the level of poverty in New York City or in our country. But an accurate picture of "how the other half lives" should not be drawn merely from anecdotal material, even if gathered by a reporter as practiced as Jack Newfield. The fact is that under New York's governor, there is good news for low-income workers. For example, according to Census data, for children living with single mothers, the reduction in poverty in New York since 1995 was almost three times the reduction of the economic expansion of the 1980s.

    The same source reveals that in New York, work rates for single parents rose 38 percent in the period following welfare reform--four times the increase of the economic expansion of the 1980s. In 1994 New York invested $77 million in the earned-income tax credit. Now, thanks to the steadfast support of George Pataki, we invest $550 million, a 543 percent increase. The combined federal and state EITC can add up to $5,000 to the annual income of poor working families. Newfield's silence on the EITC is puzzling, as is his silence on the significant increase since 1995 in health insurance coverage for low-income New Yorkers and the tripling of childcare subsidies.

    The facts indicate that Governor Pataki has been "locating the frontier of the possible" in his strategy for shrinking poverty--a strategy that provides solid dollars-and-cents help for low-income working families. The Nation ought to tell the full story.

    BRIAN J. WING
    Commissioner, New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance


    REVENGE OF THE DITTO-HEADS

    Michael Massing, in "The Doha Follies" [April 21], repeated reporter Michael Wolff's claim that Rush Limbaugh played a tape of Wolff and gave out his e-mail address on the air, resulting in the jamming of his inbox with thousands of e-mails. Limbaugh protests that he did not broadcast the address on air. While that may be true, Wolff insists he saw his URL posted on the Limbaugh website and that of the e-mails he read, "hundreds referred to getting the address from Rush."


    JACQUES WAVES

    In "USA Oui! Bush Non!" [Feb. 10] Jacques Rupnik was inaccurately described as a former adviser to Jacques Chirac.

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