Ad Policy

September 2, 2002


  • Features


  • ‘America’s Army’ Targets Youth

    The universe of online computer games is home to 200,000 players at any time. It's also where you can find the newest innovation in military recruiting.

    Jacob Hodes and Emma Ruby-Sachs

  • Turkey, Israel and the US

    In a 1996 Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies paper prepared for Binyamin Netanyahu, the authors---including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, now, respectively, chair of the De

    Jason Vest

  • Fight-Back in Bolivia

    In 1998 the World Bank notified the Bolivian government that it would refuse to guarantee a $25 million loan to refinance water services in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba unless the local government sold its public water utility to the private sector and passed on the costs to consumers. Bolivian authorities gave the contract to a holding company for US construction giant Bechtel, which immediately doubled the price of water. For most Bolivians, this meant that water would now cost more than food. Led by Oscar Olivera, a former machinist turned union activist, a broad-based movement of workers, peasants, farmers and others created La Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y de la Vida (the Coalition in Defense of Water and Life) to deprivatize the local water system.

    In early 2000 thousands of Bolivians marched to Cochabamba in a showdown with the government, and a general strike and transportation stoppage brought the city to a standstill. In spite of mass arrests, violence and several deaths, the people held firm; in the spring of that year, the company abandoned Bolivia and the government revoked its hated privatization legislation. With no one to run the local water company, leaders of the uprising set up a new public company, whose first act was to deliver water to the poorest communities in the city. Bechtel, meanwhile, is suing the government of Bolivia for $25 million at the World Bank's International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.

    Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke

  • Water Apartheid

    In South Africa, the only country in the world where people's right to water is actually written into the Constitution, the townships surrounding cities like Johannesburg and Durban have become hotbeds of resistance to water privatization. More than 10 million residents have had their water cut off since the government implemented a World Bank-inspired "cost recovery" program (which makes availability dependent on a company's ability to recover its costs plus a profit)--something that never happened in the worst days of apartheid. More than 100,000 people in Kwazulu-Natal province became ill with cholera recently after water and sanitation services to local communities were cut off for nonpayment.

    Water is at the heart of every fight in this country, where the population is growing four times faster than the water supply and where women collectively walk the equivalent of going to the moon and back sixteen times a day to fetch water for their families. Access to water is a deeply political issue. Six hundred thousand white farmers consume 60 percent of the country's water supplies for irrigation, while 15 million blacks have no direct access to water. Labor unions like the South African Municipal Workers Union work with township activists to organize neighborhood-by-neighborhood resistance, re-hooking up the water supply and pulling out water meters. Such actions are a growing sign that citizens are prepared to challenge by action, when they cannot by law, injustices often originating with foreign-owned firms but implemented by their own governments.

    Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke

  • Who Owns Water?

    Privatization must be stopped, and water declared the common property of all.

    Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke

  • State Judges for Sale

    In the 39 states that elect appellate judges, politicization of the bench is growing.

    Michael Scherer

  • The Men From JINSA and CSP

    They want not just a US invasion of Iraq but "total war" against Arab regimes.

    Jason Vest

  • Beauty Tips and Politics

    Hot media news: Women want hard-hitting reports on issues that affect them.

    Lauren Sandler

  • Editorials

    An Open Letter About Emergency Contraception

    The one thing that activists on every side of the abortion debate agree on is that we should reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

    Katha Pollitt and Jennifer Baumgardner

  • The Soul of the Worker

    I was born into the House of Labor. My father was a Teamster who drove a truck for thirty-five years. He died with his first retirement check in his pocket, uncashed.

    Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich

  • Stirrings in Kabul

    Several weeks on from the loya jirga national council, the streets of Kabul have an extra bustle. Whereas in January the place was deserted by 6 pm, now the curfew has been extended to midnight, and it costs only $5 to buy the password that can allow your taxi to careen through checkpoints into the early hours. The chaotic rhythms of Indian music waft over jingling bicycles and tooting cars, while chai khanas, ubiquitous teahouses, are full--as are the growing number of restaurants, frequented by the thousands of foreign aid workers and other internationals. Increasing numbers of women cross through the center of town, adorned with a light head scarf rather than the stifling blue nylon burqa. Fresh life is palpable.

    But not far below the surface, the loya jirga has changed little in the country. The suave President Hamid Karzai ostensibly presides with new legitimacy over a more representative administration. But except for juggling one of the ethnic Tajik-run power ministers, the so-called Panjshiri mafia of the old Northern Alliance mujahedeen fighters remains firmly in control, not only at the top but among the practical levers of control such as police chiefs, secret service heads and army commanders.

    Without his own power base, Karzai is seen by some as less a real chief executive than a liberal opposition figure against his own Cabinet--offering no apparent strategy for securing and unifying the fractious country. "The only question," according to Paul Bergne, a former British special envoy to Afghanistan, "is whether this is because he has no interest, or simply a reasonable interest, in staying alive." Especially with the exclusion from power of former King Zahir Shah, the majority Pashtuns, concentrated in the south, where the Taliban emerged, feel disfranchised and demoralized. Rubbing salt in the wound, pictures of the martyred Ahmed Shah Massoud, the rebel leader killed by the Taliban on September 9, adorn every checkpoint, office and street corner, and even prayer mats on sale in the city markets.

    Soon after the loya jirga, Vice President Haji Qadeer, an ethnic Pashtun, was gunned down in front of his office by two assailants, who escaped easily. The United States quickly agreed to provide American soldiers to serve as bodyguards for a somewhat panicked Karzai--doubtless a prudent security measure, but one viewed as shameful by Afghans worried that their leader is Washington's puppet. Meanwhile, public anger over continuing deaths of Afghan civilians at the hands of US rocket fire--such as the 175 casualties at a wedding in the tense southern province of Oruzgan--compelled even Karzai himself to complain. Separate UN and US investigations into the incident have been launched, amid speculation that the reports will never be released or that the most damaging conclusions--including alleged American removal of evidence--will be redacted. International troops are seen as essential for keeping the local fighting at bay, but Pashtuns bitterly question why the bulk of civilian casualties appear to be among Pashtun-majority areas in the south.

    The overwhelming majority of the country's 20 million-odd people are still poor, ill and unemployed. Basic statistics confirm that the country remains at the bottom ranking of many development indexes, whether infant mortality, girls' enrollment in primary education (under 10 percent), annual deaths from diarrhea (85,000) or chronic unemployment, which cannot even begin to be measured.

    Afghan officials--facing growing pressure from their own constituents--have been raising ever sharper alarms about the pace of aid payments. According to the US special envoy, only around one-third of the $1.8 billion in aid pledged for the year at an international donors' conference in Tokyo has been released. Kabul earns tax revenues of less than 15 percent of its $600 million annual budget. As a result, most aid has been spent either on humanitarian needs or simply on the daily costs of government. There have essentially been no major reconstruction works that would pump funds into the economy and rebuild the country's devastated infrastructure.

    The first postwar administration in any society is inevitably problematic. Without any conditions for democracy--too many guns and recalcitrant warlords, no free press or civic institutions for independent organizing, no functioning economy--establishing a legitimate and representative administration is not easy. As the Bush Administration insists, enormous changes have indeed taken place. Whatever the problems, conditions are vastly improved from the circumstances of only a few months ago--when the country was plagued by severe persecution and increasing food shortages with seemingly no hope. Indeed, some Afghans respond sharply to any probing questions about the costs and benefits of the US intervention. "Those are questions for a Western perspective," remarked a senior local editor. "For us, we are glad the Taliban are gone."

    Yet the risks of an unattended Afghanistan remain high. The transitional administration faces an enormous challenge, aiming to pave the way for truly democratic elections in 2004 while striving to balance conflicting and often violent local interests, and struggling to sustain international support. The core conflict, however, may be between America's pursuit of Al Qaeda and Afghan democracy itself: The US military directly supports many Afghan warlords as allies in its effort to stamp out Al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts. Continuing that policy will have a devastating effect on efforts to establish democratic central government and a meaningful civil society. This is especially true considering that, despite US training efforts, the establishment of an effective Afghan national army is years away, and Washington and other Western governments repeatedly reject Afghan calls--recently joined by Senators Joseph Biden, Richard Lugar and Barbara Boxer--to extend the international security assistance force to major cities other than Kabul.

    As a result, the government's authority effectively ends at the capital's edge. As a result, too, peace could be short-lived. As BBC regional specialist Behrouz Afagh-Tebrizi notes, "There is a consensus to avoid a return to war, but there has not been any change in political culture. Unless the unresolved conflict between the warlords of the 1990s is transformed into a purely political struggle, it is not hard to see Afghanistan descending back into violence."

    Anthony Borden and J. West

  • Iraq: The Doubters Grow

    This past week confirmed that the American political establishment is not united in support of the Bush Administration's policy of forcible "regime change" in Iraq. Odd as it may seem, the strongest expression of doubt came from a key member of the GOP's right wing, House majority leader Dick Armey. Expressing concern that an unprovoked attack on Iraq would violate international law, Armey was quoted as saying that such an attack "would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation." Meanwhile, Armey's colleague across the aisle, Carl Levin, voiced the thinking of many of his fellow Democrats when he argued that "containment of Saddam is so far working."

    Armey and Levin are just two of a number of important political actors--including several prominent senators, forces within the military and worried figures on Wall Street--who have recently expressed qualms about the proposed military invasion. These voices need to be amplified and reinforced by others if the United States is to avoid a potentially disastrous intervention in the Middle East.

    Arguably the most important doubters, because only Congress is empowered by the Constitution to declare war, are the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. At their July 31-August 1 hearings on Iraq, chairman Joseph Biden Jr. and other committee members--while taking pains to make clear that they, too, think Saddam Hussein must go--emphasized that the aim of the hearings was not to rally support for or against an invasion but rather to raise questions and concerns. "Here we have a situation [about] which, clearly, we need to know much more," Republican Senator Richard Lugar explained in his opening remarks. Intense questioning of possible US moves is essential, he added, because "the life of the country is at stake."

    Another significant indication of elite concern was articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post reporting serious divisions within the US military and business class over the merits of the proposed invasion. If these articles are accurate--and there is no reason to assume otherwise--many senior military officers fear that US intervention will produce chaos in the Middle East and lead to a costly, dangerous and long-term American occupation of Iraq. Likewise, senior corporate officials are said to fear a drop in consumer spending resulting from rising oil prices, as well as a heightened risk of terrorism.

    None of these groups can be described as flat-out opponents of an American invasion. Most would probably support the President--even cheer him wildly--if US intervention was thought certain to result in a speedy, casualty-free occupation of Baghdad and the replacement of Saddam with a democratic, pro-Western, peace-seeking regime. The problem, in their eyes, is that Bush can guarantee none of this. And while readers of The Nation might wish to raise more fundamental issues--such as whether the United States has a legal or moral right to initiate a unilateral assault--the concerns among the country's elite deserve widespread public attention. They can be compressed into nine critical questions:

    1. Why engage in a risky and potentially calamitous invasion of Iraq when the existing strategy of "containment"--entailing no-fly zones, sanctions, technology restraints and the deployment of US forces in surrounding areas--not only has clearly succeeded in deterring Iraqi adventurism for the past ten years but also in weakening Iraq's military capabilities?

    2. Why has the Administration found so little international support for its proposed policy, even among our closest friends and allies (with the possible exception of Britain's Tony Blair), and what would be the consequences if Washington tried to act without their support and without any international legal authority? Isn't it dangerous and unwise for the United States to engage in an essentially unilateral attack on Iraq?

    3. Is the United States prepared to accept significant losses of American lives--a strong possibility in the projected intense ground fighting around Baghdad and other urban areas?

    4. Is the United States prepared to inflict heavy losses on Iraq's civilian population if, as expected, Saddam concentrates his military assets in urban areas? Would this not make the United States a moral pariah in the eyes of much of the world?

    5. Wouldn't an invasion of Iraq aimed at the removal of Saddam Hussein remove any inhibitions he might have regarding the use of chemical and biological (and possibly nuclear) weapons, making their use more rather than less likely?

    6. Are we prepared to cope with the outbreaks of anti-American protest and violence that, in the event of a US attack on Iraq, are sure to erupt throughout the Muslim world, jeopardizing the survival of pro-US governments in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and further inflaming the Israeli-Palestinian crisis?

    7. Can the fragile American economy withstand a sharp rise in oil prices, another decline in air travel, a bulging federal deficit, a drop in consumer confidence and other negative economic effects that can be expected from a major war in the Middle East? And what would an invasion mean for an even more fragile world economy and for those emerging markets that depend on selling their exports to the United States and that are vulnerable to rising oil prices?

    8. Even if we are successful in toppling Saddam, who will govern Iraq afterward? Will we leave the country in chaos (as we have done in Afghanistan)? Or will we try to impose a government in the face of the inevitable Iraqi hostility if US forces destroy what remains of Iraq's infrastructure and kill many of its civilians?

    9. Are we willing to deploy 100,000 or more American soldiers in Iraq for ten or twenty years (at a cost of tens of billions of dollars a year) to defend a US-imposed government and prevent the breakup of the country into unstable Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite mini-states?

    So far, the Bush Administration has not provided honest or convincing answers to any of these questions. It is essential, then, that concerned Americans ask their Congressional representatives to demand answers to these (and related) questions from the White House and hold further hearings to weigh the credibility of the Administration's answers. It is vital that our representatives play their rightful constitutional role in this fateful decision. The American public clearly would welcome such moves: A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that while a majority support the President at this point, they want him to seek authorization from Congress and approval of America's allies before going ahead. And when asked whether they would favor a ground war if it were to produce "significant" US casualties, support plummeted to 40 percent and opposition rose to 51 percent. If you worry about the future of America, clip or copy these nine questions and include them in letters to your senators and representative. In addition, get involved locally: Help organize a teach-in, write a letter to your newspaper, raise the subject at civic meetings.

    the Editors

  • Going Down the Road

    The Water Profiteers

    Jim Hightower

  • In Fact…

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    the Editors

  • Reforming the Teamsters

    Even shrunken from its high point, the Teamsters union is a major force in the American labor movement--for both good and ill. On the plus side, building on its celebrated UPS strike of 1997, the union just negotiated respectable wage increases for full-time workers, though as BusinessWeek concluded, the agreement "doesn't deliver for part-timers." On the downside, Teamsters' failures to organize effectively hold back organized labor's drive to grow. In any case, much of the credit for the rise from its nadir under mob control goes to a 1989 consent decree with the Justice Department, which has removed hundreds of mob-influenced or otherwise corrupt leaders and given members the right to elect major officers directly. Now Teamsters president James Hoffa Jr. has made ending the consent decree and its institutions--like the Independent Review Board (IRB), which investigates and punishes corruption--his top priority.

    That would be a bad move. It would risk undoing the good that pressure from federal oversight has wrought, including gains in formal democracy that surpass those at many other unions, such as last year's revision of the constitution to mandate direct elections by members. But neither the IRB nor internal union efforts at reform have yet succeeded in establishing "a culture of democracy within the union," which the judge overseeing the Teamsters identified as one of the two main goals of the consent decree. Hoffa's internal structure to investigate and punish corruption, RISE (Respect, Integrity, Strength and Ethics), so far has only codified rules and done historical research, and Hoffa plans to put it in action only after government oversight ends. Union democracy experts, like professors Clyde Summers of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Michael Goldberg of Widener Law School, as well as the Association for Union Democracy, argue that RISE is not sufficiently independent to do the job and that top Teamsters brass could easily override it. The Teamsters are certainly not the only union lacking a robust democratic culture, but the Teamsters' unique history makes it crucial that reforms are solidly secured.

    The risks of backsliding are not just theoretical. In May the IRB permanently barred from the union two of Hoffa's closest associates, William Hogan Jr., president of Chicago's Joint Council 25, and Dane Passo, Hoffa's former Midwest campaign manager and special assistant. They were disciplined for trying for two years to force the Las Vegas local to permit a mob-linked labor broker (of which Hogan's brother was vice president) to provide low-wage, nonunion workers for convention setup work, thus threatening to undermine the Teamsters contract and displace union members.

    Although the IRB did not reprimand Hoffa, he was distressingly close to the corrupt deal-making. He knew the character of Hogan, who was Hoffa's initial pick as running mate until the IRB charged Hogan with nepotism and corruption. Passo had a history of physically attacking dissidents. Hoffa also admitted receiving a "general overview" of the proposed deal in a Chicago lunch meeting with Hogan and the broker's president. He agreed to Passo's requests to put the local into trusteeship and later to fire the assistant trustee and then the trustee when they resisted the deal. But in March 2001 Hoffa rebuffed Hogan's bid to negotiate the Teamsters' convention-industry contract in Las Vegas "because of the background of all the things that have happened with the IRB," he told investigators. Attorney Matt Lydon, who is appealing Hogan's expulsion, said, "I don't know of anything that was kept secret from Hoffa or anyone else about what [Hogan] was doing."

    Union spokesman Brian Rainville argues that the initial aim of the consent decree has been accomplished, and that continuing it simply costs too much. But much of the expense would have occurred under any regime that conducted democratic elections and investigated internal wrongdoing. The Teamsters must demonstrate that RISE can do the job and establish a final review board independent of Teamsters officialdom before the IRB can be eliminated. "Of course, the Teamsters should become a union like other unions," said Teamsters for a Democratic Union organizer Ken Paff. "Rather than just complain about the IRB, prove you can do it. Clean up your own house."

    IRB decisions have not been beyond criticism. Supporters of former president Ron Carey, for example, say that Carey's acquittal last October on federal charges that he committed perjury in denying that he knew about the scheme to embezzle union funds for his election raises questions about the IRB's decision to expel him from the union. But without some independent outside force, there would have been less progress in reforming the Teamsters.

    Ultimately, democracy should make the Teamsters and the labor movement stronger. The union's desperate focus on ending the consent decree is doing the opposite. It has partly driven their courtship of Republicans, from their full-throated but failed support for Bush's plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Hoffa's recent vote against funding the AFL-CIO's successful political mobilization, because he wants to give 30 percent of his support to the GOP. Also, unlike unions such as the letter carriers and utility workers, Hoffa supports Bush's controversial Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS), which would try to turn UPS workers into government informers. Although a new dues increase will boost funds for organizing and strike pay, members have more reason to worry about proliferating multiple salaries for officers and about the decline in organizing victories and expenditures than about the costs of federal oversight. Ending the consent decree wouldn't have salvaged a failed organizing strike against the ruthlessly antiunion Overnite, but it might have let a sweetheart deal undermine Las Vegas Teamsters. Democracy, including ferreting out corruption, is worth the price, and democracy in the Teamsters still needs outside help.

    David Moberg

  • The Women’s Enron

    The recent news about the harmful effects of hormone replacement was played in the media as a health story, but it is much more than that. In fact, it may be the hot-flashiest corporate scandal to date: Let's call it Estron.

    If other corporate scandals have been about fudging figures, this one is about fudging science--something that seems to have been surprisingly easy to do. And such is the corporate culture that we have apparently preferred to believe the drug companies rather than the women's health advocates who have been lobbying for decades simply to get the scientific evidence to back the companies' claims. The director of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), Dr. Wulf Utian, called the bad news about hormones a bombshell, but it really isn't. Information has been slowly accumulating about hormone replacement therapy's risks, even as Wyeth and other manufacturers have been pushing their product as an elixir for a widening group of symptoms. In recent years, this potentially carcinogenic drug has been marketed with the nonchalance of a vitamin pill: HRT advertising suggests that almost no woman over 50 couldn't benefit from it somehow.

    Estron is the latest in a long line of scandals pitting women's health against the interests of Big Pharma--scandals like the sale of faulty Dalkon Shield contraceptives, which caused infertility, and medications like DES, which caused severe illnesses in users and their children. What all these cases have in common is that--like the manufacturers of menopausal hormones--the drug companies, in their rush for profits, insufficiently tested their wares before selling them to millions. What these scandals suggest is that somewhere in the swampy landscape of medical research funding, unhealthy relationships incubate between medical practitioners and the drug-company reps who manage to dazzle them with quasi science and quasi truths. The industry spends around $15 billion a year to promote its products--more than it spends to develop them. Clearly, even those doctors who resisted the luxury-cruise-lectures approach to sales found themselves suckered in.

    The manipulation of HRT's scientific credentials began back in the mid-1960s, when Wyeth paid gynecologist Dr. Robert Wilson to extol its new wonder drug, estrogen replacement. In an evocatively named book, Feminine Forever, Wilson declared that by replacing the estrogen lost at menopause, women would remain attractive and easier to live with. Over the decades since, Wyeth and other hormone manufacturers have revised dosages and combinations to fit new medical revelations and poured billions into sophisticated propaganda to get their message out. The message is that menopause is not a natural life stage but a disease--estrogen deficiency--and it will make you old. HRT is the cure, and it will keep you young.

    In recent years the manufacturers have claimed protective qualities for HRT way beyond its original ambitions. First, it promised (and delivered) relief from menopausal symptoms. Next came claims for protection against heart disease in women already affected, and then in healthy women. Then came its role as a treatment against osteoporosis, which, manufacturers warned (falsely), becomes an instant risk at the moment of menopause (it's a gradual risk over many years).

    The truth is that the manufacturers didn't exactly know what HRT did or didn't do, because they never ran a big, randomized national study stringent enough to meet medical standards. For more than twenty years, the companies used observational studies showing that women who took hormones were healthier, but they didn't look at why: Was it that the hormones themselves made women healthier, or that health-conscious women were more likely to take hormones to begin with? There were many other uncertainties. Yet calls to answer these questions, from women's health groups and even from prominent politicians like Pat Schroeder and Olympia Snowe, went unheeded.

    For all the hype, there has been plenty of evidence, both scientific and epidemiological, that estrogen, named a carcinogen by the FDA two years ago, is not a wonder drug for everyone. Thirty percent of prescriptions for estrogen remain unfilled, and the growing search for alternative menopause products shows that increasing numbers of women are uncomfortable with the prospect of a lifetime of swallowing synthesized horse urine. And for all the spin, there has also been accumulating evidence of serious side effects. As early as 1975 the FDA identified links between estrogen and higher rates of uterine cancer. (Wyeth responded by adding another product, progestin, to offset the risk.) In 1990 the Nurses Health Study reported that women on estrogen faced a 36 percent greater risk of breast cancer. That same year the FDA refused to approve Premarin as a treatment to prevent heart disease, because the company's evidence didn't convince them. The 2000 HERS study, actually funded by Wyeth, found that hormone therapy increased risks in heart disease patients in the first few years. (Wyeth countered that long-term, it works.)

    And people have been trying to warn us. As far back as the mid-1990s, The Menopause Industry, by Australian reporter Sandra Coney, presented heavily researched evidence of uterine bleeding, gallbladder disease and increased cancer rates in hormone takers. In 1997 breast cancer specialist Dr. Susan Love's Hormone Book returned to the link between HRT and increased breast cancer risk and came under attack for raising an alarm. Earlier this year Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women's Health Network, published The Truth About Hormone Replacement Therapy, outlining many other discrepancies between hormone hype and science. The medical establishment barely paid attention.

    Finally, the scientific evidence that we have now, based on two large randomized trials, is definitive, according to one of the study's leaders, Dr. Deborah Grady. The trials have shown that not only does HRT do more harm than good for women with existing heart disease, but it doesn't protect healthy women either; in fact, during the trial it increased incidence of heart attacks, breast cancer, strokes and blood clots--enough to have caused the study to be abandoned three years early. And yet belief in the hormone was so strong that researchers feared it would be unethical to put women on placebos.

    How is this possible? Dr. Utian of NAMS has admitted that many different parties--from the drug companies to their paid researchers and spokespeople to the prescribing gynecologists--have had a vested interest in the success of hormone replacement, and for them, he told the New York Times, the issue is about more than data. For them, Utian said, truth is opinion. But that seems a risky precept for physicians to work with. It sounds like something Arthur Andersen would say.

    Sue Woodman

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  • Columns

    Business Is Safe but Baseball Strikes Out

    Everyone, from President Bush on down, seems to agree that major league baseball players are overpaid prima donnas who don't deserve the huge paychecks they get, let alone have a right to strike

    Robert Scheer

  • Simplistic Hunt for Evil in a Complex World

    Doomed by the incoherence of a foreign policy defined largely by biblical notions of the struggle between good and evil, the Bush Administration thrashes about in its hunt for the devil.

    Robert Scheer

  • The Mayor of My Hometown

    It's only August, but I'll go out on a limb and congratulate the Village Voice's Keith Harris for what I feel confident will stand the test of time as the stupidest comment of the year. "Because his vision of rock and roll is so grand, Springsteen requires a popular consensus as surely as any invasion of Iraq. And as we've learned yet again, nothing sparks phony consensus like national cataclysm. Maybe that's why, for the past few days, a nagging thought has burrowed into my brain that I wish was merely the snide aphorism I initially took it for: If there hadn't been a September 11, Bruce Springsteen would have had to invent one."

    Like an Ann Coulter bestseller or a Rush Limbaugh radio rant, Harris's review is idiotic but instructive. Aside from its self-evident (and self-incriminating) silliness, what galls about the comment is its willful forfeiture of the common cultural ground upon which Bruce Springsteen plies his trade. Does 9/11 belong only to George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld? Is American popular culture the exclusive preserve of Spielberg, Bruckheimer and Britney?

    While managing to keep both feet planted in the mainstream, Springsteen has done more than any American artist to give voice to the American "other" that pop culture would prefer to forget: the humiliated Vietnam veteran, the fired factory worker, the hunted illegal immigrant, the death-row inmate, the homeless person living beneath the bridge and Amadou Diallo, a West African immigrant, accidentally murdered by forty-one shots from New York's finest. With his 1994 AIDS ballad "Streets of Philadelphia," Springsteen became the first heterosexual rock star ever to sing in the voice of a homosexual man, in a work that--as Ann Powers, who was then writing brilliant music criticism in, uh, the Village Voice, observed--succeeded in crossing "the barriers of class, race, and gender."

    Springsteen is vulnerable to criticism on any number of grounds, artistic and commercial, but his willingness to offer solace in troubled times strikes me as pretty low on that list. Springsteen was literally stopped in his car after 9/11 by someone who cried out, "We need you." Monmouth County, where he lives, lost 158 people in the towers. He played a couple of local benefits. He read, repeatedly, about the meaning of his work to his fans in the New York Times's "Portraits of Grief." He called a few widows, shared their stories and made a record. It's what he does. "I have a sense of what my service to my audience is going to be," he explains. "It's the true nature of work in the sense that you're filling a place. And that place comes with its blessings and its responsibilities." So sue him.

    It is a separate question as to whether one thinks the art that emanated from this impulse is wholly successful. With regard to The Rising, I can argue the point either way. But to take issue with the very idea that art can be a balm to those in pain--or, as Springsteen puts it, "music is medicine"--is cynicism itself. And to the degree that this is at all representative of leftist attitudes, it speaks for an impotent and self-defeating left: too smug and self-satisfied to engage the culture of the common people, preferring instead to smirk on the sidelines.

    Granting both its sincerity and its (inconsistent) genius, The Rising does nevertheless raise some complicated questions about art, politics and commerce. One has to go back to 1984--to Springsteen's own Born in the U.S.A.--to find a rock record that was marketed as energetically to mainstream America. After decades of relative reclusiveness, Springsteen is suddenly everywhere in the mass media: taking over the Today show in Asbury Park, on David Letterman two nights in a row, ditto Ted Koppel, on MTV, Saturday Night Live, simultaneous covers of Time and Rolling Stone; long interviews with the New York Times, the LA Times and USA Today. I half expected him to duet with Elmo or Big Bird over breakfast. It should surprise no one that the record entered the charts at No. 1 in eleven countries.

    The problem arises--just as it did with Born in the U.S.A.--when the work's cultural signification overwhelms its artistic essence; what Nietzsche, in Twilight of the Idols, termed "the thing itself." The dilemma for anyone who seeks to use popular culture to communicate a message at odds with its market-driven heart of darkness is: who's using whom? Did Springsteen accidentally empower Reaganism back in the mid-1980s as he simultaneously denounced it? Is he somehow cheapening the individual tragedies of which he writes and sings by performing these haunting melodies at the ungodly hour of 8:30 am in the happy-talk context of a Today show beach party?

    Matt Lauer asked Springsteen whether he feared being accused of exploiting the tragedy of 9/11, and Springsteen told him to listen to the music and make up his own mind. The same might be said of his willingness to embrace (and exploit) America's mighty mass-marketing machine.

    The answer has to be a personal one. In Asbury Park, I did some random interviewing of people who had traveled many hours, and waited on overnight lines, in the hope of seeing Springsteen perform four songs in the Convention Hall for the Today broadcast. I spoke to a firefighter who had gone into the burning buildings, a 16-year-old girl who was repaying her mom for waiting ten hours on line to get 'NSync tickets, a woman with her 5-year-old son, who, back in '85, enlisted her entire family in a weeklong wait for tickets. Nobody mentioned Matt or Katie. Nobody mentioned the marketing campaign. Nobody even complained about the all-night wait and the uncertainty that they would be allowed inside the hall. They were there for Bruce because Bruce was there for them. In the midst of what Springsteen accurately terms "a theater of humiliation on TV and on the radio, a reflection of self-loathing," they had created a community around something better. This was their hometown.

    (Don't forget, while those Nation folks are on vacation, www.altercation.msnbc.com.)

    Eric Alterman

  • Sour Thoughts for Dog Days

    Let's start with Cynthia McKinney. Don't you think that if Arab-American or African-American groups targeted an incumbent white, liberal, maybe Jewish, congressperson, and shipped in money by the truckload to oust the incumbent, the rafters would shake with bellows of outrage?

    Yet when a torrent of money from out-of-state Jewish organizations smashed Earl Hilliard, the first elected black Representative in Alabama since Reconstruction, you could have heard a mouse cough. Hilliard had made the fatal error of calling for some measure of evenhandedness in the Middle East. So he was targeted by AIPAC and the others. Down he went, defeated in the Democratic primary by Artur Davis, a black lawyer who obediently sang for his supper on the topic of Israel.

    At that particular moment the liberal watchdogs were barking furiously in an entirely different direction. Ed McGaa, a Green candidate, has had the effrontery to run in Minnesota for Paul Wellstone's Senate seat. Such an uproar! Howls of fury from Marc Cooper and Harold Meyerson lashing McGaa for his presumption. Even a pompous open letter from Steve Cobble hassling the Minnesota Greens for endangering St. Paul. Any of these guys think of writing to Artur Davis, telling him to back off, or to denounce him as a cat's-paw of groups backing Sharon's terror against Palestinians? You bet they did.

    Then it was McKinney's turn. A terrific liberal black Congresswoman. Like Hilliard, she wasn't cowed by the Israel-right-or-wrong lobby and called for real debate on the Middle East. And she called for a real examination of the lead-up to 9/11. So the sky has fallen in on her. Torrents of American Jewish money shower her opponent, a black woman judge called Denise Majette. Buckets of shit are poured over McKinney's head in the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    Here's how it's been working. McKinney sees what happened to Hilliard, and that American Jewish money is pumping up Majette's challenge. So she goes to Arab-American groups to try to raise money to fight back. This allows Tom Edsall to attack her in the Post as being in receipt of money from pro-terror Muslims. Lots of nasty-looking Arab/Muslim names fill Edsall's stories.

    Now just suppose someone looked at names in the pro-Israel groups funding Majette, who by mid-August had raised twice as much money as McKinney. Aren't they supporting the terror that has US-made F-16s bombing kids in Gaza? What's the game here? It's a reiteration of the message delivered to politicians down the years, as when Senator Charles Percy and others went down: Put your head over the parapet on the topic of Israel/Palestine, and we'll blow it off. And when blacks denounce the role of outside Jewish money in the onslaughts on Hilliard and McKinney, there'll be an avalanche of hysterical columns about the menace of black anti-Semitism. Just you wait. It's a closed system.

    Next sour thought: Yes, Katha, you did raise a little stink re McKinney, in overly decorous but still commendable terms right here in The Nation. Which reminds me, here's what I wrote to a fellow angered over a piece by Ellen Johnson we'd run in CounterPunch, criticizing you for saying Dennis Kucinich's position against abortion rendered him ineligible as the progressives' future champion:

    "Hi Matt, I'm forwarding yr note to Ellen, but allow me to say that I think your reaction is too hasty. Ellen raised some very serious points about the monoptic way NOW and leading feminists address the abortion issue. I think it is right to emphasize that we should battle for social conditions where abortion ceases to be regarded by many progressives as a prime indicator of freedom and liberation for women.

    "Surely you cannot regard the killing of fetuses as somehow an intrinsically 'good thing.' The real friends of abortion are the Malthusians who want to rid the world as much as possible of the 'over-breeding' and disruptive poor, particularly minorities....

    "More generally, I think liberal women's groups gave Clinton the pass on savage assaults on the poor because the Clintons unrelentingly preached commitment to abortion.... we ran the piece because we think it's high time to get beyond bunker liberalism, where progressives huddle in the foxhole, holding on to 'choice' as their bottom-line issue, with a sideline in telling black teen moms that they are socially irresponsible. Best, Alex Cockburn"

    More sourness: The ILWU? That's the West Coast longshoremen. Their contract expired on July 1. The contract is being extended on a daily basis. The employers are playing tough, well aware that the Bush high command has told ILWU leaders that Bush will not hesitate to invoke Taft-Hartley, bring in troops if necessary and destroy the ILWU as a bargaining agent for the whole West Coast. Tom Ridge, calling in his capacity as chief of Homeland Security, has done some heavy breathing in the ear of ILWU leaders about the inadvisability of a strike at this time.

    The ILWU's coastwide contract was won in the 1934 strike, along with the hiring hall, which replaced the old shape-up system, in which the boss could keep out organizers and anyone else. These are bedrock issues, for which strikers fought and died that year in San Francisco and Seattle. The West Coast longshoremen stand as a beacon of what union organizing can do. Of course, the Bush White House yearns to destroy it, maybe using the War on Terror as pretext. If ever there was a time for solidarity, this is it.

    Final sour thought, on Paul Krugman. Krugman? He has just conceded that maybe neoliberal policies haven't worked too well in Latin America. Look it up. It's in his New York Times column for August 9, "The Lost Continent." He spent 184 words on the matter. "Why hasn't reform worked as promised? That's a difficult and disturbing question."

    Gee Paul, since you constitute the entirety of the Democratic Party's opposition to Bush, I know you're busy as hell. But since your crowd supervised a good deal of the economic destruction of Latin America, and your economic faction offered the basic rationales for that devastation, I sure hope you return to the problem. Maybe you won't be so snooty about opponents of "free trade." Maybe you'll even have a quiet word with Tom Friedman.

    Alexander Cockburn

  • The Accidental Commoner

    Al Gore is a man of the people.
    At least, that's the case as we speak.
    The earth-toney Harvard elitist,
    Though gone, could return by next week.

    Calvin Trillin

  • Books and the Arts

    What Are They Reading?

    THE EMPEROR OF OCEAN PARK.
    By Stephen L. Carter.
    Knopf. 657 pp. $26.95.

    Jon Wiener

  • The Mayor of My Hometown

    It's only August, but I'll go out on a limb and congratulate the Village Voice's Keith Harris for what I feel confident will stand the test of time as the stupidest comment of the year. "Because his vision of rock and roll is so grand, Springsteen requires a popular consensus as surely as any invasion of Iraq. And as we've learned yet again, nothing sparks phony consensus like national cataclysm. Maybe that's why, for the past few days, a nagging thought has burrowed into my brain that I wish was merely the snide aphorism I initially took it for: If there hadn't been a September 11, Bruce Springsteen would have had to invent one."

    Like an Ann Coulter bestseller or a Rush Limbaugh radio rant, Harris's review is idiotic but instructive. Aside from its self-evident (and self-incriminating) silliness, what galls about the comment is its willful forfeiture of the common cultural ground upon which Bruce Springsteen plies his trade. Does 9/11 belong only to George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld? Is American popular culture the exclusive preserve of Spielberg, Bruckheimer and Britney?

    While managing to keep both feet planted in the mainstream, Springsteen has done more than any American artist to give voice to the American "other" that pop culture would prefer to forget: the humiliated Vietnam veteran, the fired factory worker, the hunted illegal immigrant, the death-row inmate, the homeless person living beneath the bridge and Amadou Diallo, a West African immigrant, accidentally murdered by forty-one shots from New York's finest. With his 1994 AIDS ballad "Streets of Philadelphia," Springsteen became the first heterosexual rock star ever to sing in the voice of a homosexual man, in a work that--as Ann Powers, who was then writing brilliant music criticism in, uh, the Village Voice, observed--succeeded in crossing "the barriers of class, race, and gender."

    Springsteen is vulnerable to criticism on any number of grounds, artistic and commercial, but his willingness to offer solace in troubled times strikes me as pretty low on that list. Springsteen was literally stopped in his car after 9/11 by someone who cried out, "We need you." Monmouth County, where he lives, lost 158 people in the towers. He played a couple of local benefits. He read, repeatedly, about the meaning of his work to his fans in the New York Times's "Portraits of Grief." He called a few widows, shared their stories and made a record. It's what he does. "I have a sense of what my service to my audience is going to be," he explains. "It's the true nature of work in the sense that you're filling a place. And that place comes with its blessings and its responsibilities." So sue him.

    It is a separate question as to whether one thinks the art that emanated from this impulse is wholly successful. With regard to The Rising, I can argue the point either way. But to take issue with the very idea that art can be a balm to those in pain--or, as Springsteen puts it, "music is medicine"--is cynicism itself. And to the degree that this is at all representative of leftist attitudes, it speaks for an impotent and self-defeating left: too smug and self-satisfied to engage the culture of the common people, preferring instead to smirk on the sidelines.

    Granting both its sincerity and its (inconsistent) genius, The Rising does nevertheless raise some complicated questions about art, politics and commerce. One has to go back to 1984--to Springsteen's own Born in the U.S.A.--to find a rock record that was marketed as energetically to mainstream America. After decades of relative reclusiveness, Springsteen is suddenly everywhere in the mass media: taking over the Today show in Asbury Park, on David Letterman two nights in a row, ditto Ted Koppel, on MTV, Saturday Night Live, simultaneous covers of Time and Rolling Stone; long interviews with the New York Times, the LA Times and USA Today. I half expected him to duet with Elmo or Big Bird over breakfast. It should surprise no one that the record entered the charts at No. 1 in eleven countries.

    The problem arises--just as it did with Born in the U.S.A.--when the work's cultural signification overwhelms its artistic essence; what Nietzsche, in Twilight of the Idols, termed "the thing itself." The dilemma for anyone who seeks to use popular culture to communicate a message at odds with its market-driven heart of darkness is: who's using whom? Did Springsteen accidentally empower Reaganism back in the mid-1980s as he simultaneously denounced it? Is he somehow cheapening the individual tragedies of which he writes and sings by performing these haunting melodies at the ungodly hour of 8:30 am in the happy-talk context of a Today show beach party?

    Matt Lauer asked Springsteen whether he feared being accused of exploiting the tragedy of 9/11, and Springsteen told him to listen to the music and make up his own mind. The same might be said of his willingness to embrace (and exploit) America's mighty mass-marketing machine.

    The answer has to be a personal one. In Asbury Park, I did some random interviewing of people who had traveled many hours, and waited on overnight lines, in the hope of seeing Springsteen perform four songs in the Convention Hall for the Today broadcast. I spoke to a firefighter who had gone into the burning buildings, a 16-year-old girl who was repaying her mom for waiting ten hours on line to get 'NSync tickets, a woman with her 5-year-old son, who, back in '85, enlisted her entire family in a weeklong wait for tickets. Nobody mentioned Matt or Katie. Nobody mentioned the marketing campaign. Nobody even complained about the all-night wait and the uncertainty that they would be allowed inside the hall. They were there for Bruce because Bruce was there for them. In the midst of what Springsteen accurately terms "a theater of humiliation on TV and on the radio, a reflection of self-loathing," they had created a community around something better. This was their hometown.

    (Don't forget, while those Nation folks are on vacation, www.altercation.msnbc.com.)

    Eric Alterman

  • Gilded Age II

    How did it all start? What triggered the 1990s political corruption, its inequality in wealth and its stock market bubble? This is the decade that Kevin Phillips rails against in his historical epic of how the rich get richer and the poor get further in debt.

    Arguably it all started in Silicon Valley, with a little help from the Department of Defense (which pioneered the epochal breakthroughs--transistor and Internet--that sparked the electronics revolution). Given the government's basic research, such private companies as Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Apple, Intel and Cisco generated creative, profitable products using new technologies. As the intellectual property of these well-managed companies began to rise, their stock prices began to rise, as did those of their suppliers, buyers, competitors, financial consultants, management analysts, lawyers and accountants. Even the stock prices of companies unrelated to high tech began to soar.

    The frenzy struck executive salaries. Top-notch high-tech managers made a lot of money because their pay was tied to stock options. As their company's stock price skyrocketed, so did their salaries. Soon other corporate leaders--good, bad and indifferent--tied their own salaries to the price of their company's stock. The financial markets regarded stock options as a way to make managers more "efficient" using the litmus test of stock-price performance. In practice, some managers cooked the books and inflated stock prices by making risky short-term investments and acquisitions. Long-term investments in new plant, equipment, research and intellectual property, necessary for permanent jobs, became an afterthought.

    As Phillips shows, the greed of corporate America was such that in the 1960s, the pay of corporate CEOs was "only" about twenty-five times that of hourly production workers. In the 1970s, the ratio was around thirty to one. It rose from ninety-three times in 1988 to 419 times in 1999. Between 1990 and 1998, the wages of ordinary workers barely kept pace with inflation or grew at single-digit rates. Meanwhile, top executives of America's biggest corporations enjoyed compensation increases of 481 percent! (Appalled by the eye-popping numbers on executive pay, Paul Krugman referred to Wealth and Democracy in one of his columns in the New York Times.)

    With so much money sloshing around, contributions by business to politicians increased. With more campaign funding, deregulation resumed where Reagan left off, and upper-bracket tax rates mellowed. Phillips shows that the effective federal tax rate (income and FICA, or Social Security and Medicare) for the top 1 percent of families fell from 69 percent in 1970 to about 40 percent in 1993, with plenty of loopholes remaining. Over the same period, the tax rate for the median family increased from 16 percent to 25 percent. Between 1950 and 2000, corporate taxes as a percentage of total tax receipts fell from 27 percent to 10 percent while FICA (mostly paid by the middle class) jumped from 7 percent to 31 percent.

    Regulation was critically lax in the accounting industry's scandals, as we now know. Phillips's book predates news of this disgrace, but he anticipates most of what happened. Deal by deal, the Big Five all began to relax established auditing norms; otherwise they would have lost big customers to one another. When chairman Arthur Levitt Jr. of the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed to investigate, the Big Five went to Washington. The SEC was called off the job; the Clinton Administration caved in. As for the telecommunications sector, now bleeding billions from overcapacity, its relations with the government were similar to those of the railroads in the robber-baron age. In the late nineteenth century, railroad tycoons were given free access to land worth millions of dollars; in the 1990s, the telecommunications industry was given publicly owned electromagnetic spectrum worth billions of dollars. Phillips shows that, among the top thirty billionaires reported by Forbes for 2001, eight were in high-tech electronics, including software, and eight were in media.

    So, starting with Silicon Valley, one can tell a story about the 1990s that may be flat-footed but that at least moves from cause to effect in a linear fashion. This, however, is not the story that Kevin Phillips chooses to tell. Or maybe it is, but his writing style is so roving, rambling and roundabout that it is difficult to find a coherent story anywhere, although the parts are sure to be found somewhere, and are often juicy. He aims a shotgun rather than a rifle at the fin de siècle's cast of cruddy characters.

    Phillips doesn't start in Silicon Valley because, at heart, he is an antitechnologist. For Phillips, technology merely makes mischief. "From early textile machinery to the Internet," he writes, the early stages of major innovations have generated rising social and economic inequality almost as a matter of course." (But how about the millions of jobs created in textiles and the Internet at a slightly later stage?) Elsewhere he states: "We can likewise doubt that technology has outweighed representative government, effective markets, and English-speaking freedoms in achieving the economic leadership of Britain and then the United States." Really? Phillips's dismissal of technology as a major factor in the economic hegemony of first England and then the United States is strange because he shows contempt for the alternative explanation--an obsessive love of market forces and laissez-faire. Technology is bad in Phillips's view simply because it breeds speculation. There are no heroes.

    Notwithstanding Phillips's chaotic style and his neglect of the real economic forces that govern wealth accumulation and distribution (such as technology), he does a big service for his readers by providing them with bytes of information on wealth inequality and democracy's warts.

    Phillips, historically a card-carrying Republican, regards his reformist, liberal politics as nothing strange. It follows in the footsteps of great past Republican reformers like Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Phillips considers Franklin D. Roosevelt one of the team because--his affiliation to the Democratic Party notwithstanding--he was rich but a reformer of radical scope (responding, one might add, not necessarily to his conscience but to social unrest). For most Republicans, Phillips has nothing kind to say. "The Democrats," he writes, "were the more important incubators of the Internet mania, but the underpinning economic spirit was the market-deifying, tax-cutting, and assets-aggrandizing conservatism given its head in the eighties. This part of the framework was more Republican."

    The Republican pedigree lets Phillips get away with murder. He rants and raves in a way that someone on the left would be skewered for. The result, however, is welcome. It is satisfying to read an analysis of the US economy from the standpoint of greed and conservative morality.

    The history lessons Phillips administers range from Aristotle to the Gilded Age of the 1920s, which he contrasts with Gilded Age II of the 1990s. He examines Holland's tulip mania and its economic decline as a world power, comparing its fall with that of Britain and possibly the United States. In one table, culled from the Wall Street Journal, he lists the wealthiest people of the past 1,000 years, starting with Al-Mansur (938-1002), the Moorish regent of Cordoba, who got rich through plunder, moving to Kublai Khan, ruler of China (1215-94), who got rich from inheritance and confiscation, and ending with Bill Gates (1955-), the US software executive, who got rich on stock ownership in Microsoft.

    Other facts and figures are no less interesting, and some of Phillips's charts are ingenious. To show the "giantizing" of wealth enjoyed by the richest person in the realm, Phillips compares the largest fortune at the time to that of the median family or household. In 1790, the ratio of the richest man's wealth, Elias Derby, to the median was 4,000 to 1. By 1868, the ratio of Cornelius Vanderbilt's wealth (in railroads) to the median was 80,000 to 1. For John D. Rockefeller in 1912, the ratio was 1,250,000 to 1 (in 1940, it fell to 850,000 to 1). In 1962, the ratio for Jean Paul Getty was 138,000 to 1. For Sam Walton in 1992, it was 185,000 to 1. For Bill Gates in 1999, it was the blockbuster, 1,416,000 to 1! Presumably, the ratio increased over time as the United States moved from an agrarian economy to one based on modern transportation (railroads), natural resource exploitation (copper, oil) and then manufacturing, where new product innovations could flourish.

    Compared with other wealthy countries, inequality in the United States is extreme. In the 1990s, the income ratio in Japan of the top fifth of households to the bottom fifth was only 4.3 to 1. (A similar ratio exists in Korea and Taiwan, which, like Japan, had a land reform after World War II.) European social democracies tended to have ratios of 6 or 7 to 1 (5.8 in Germany). The US ratio was 11 to 1 or higher, depending on the source. Presumably this reflected the United States' cowboy capitalism, its rich raw materials, its pioneering technologies and its corporations' ability to mass-produce for a vast domestic market.

    Wealth (which Phillips never defines) is essentially the difference between inflows and outflows of income, which is savings in the case of households and profits in the case of firms. Once wealth is attained, its holder has to figure out what to do with it. Thus, the financial services industry usually expands as wealth expands. In the 1990s the finance, insurance and real estate sector (FIRE) overtook manufacturing in US national income, "enabled by a dozen federal rescues and preferences, begun in the eighties and consummated in the nineties." The thirty richest individuals in 2001 also included eight in finance, investments and real estate--including Warren Buffett, George Soros and Ross Perot. As finance grows, Phillips argues, the likelihood of a technobubble grows exponentially.

    What does it all mean, the rising inequality and "financialization" of the economy?

    Business as usual, insofar as Gilded Age II is merely a catch-up with Gilded Age I. Between 1922 and 1997, the share of total wealth of the top 1 percent of households spiked in 1929 at 44.2 percent, tumbled to 33.3 percent in 1933, reached a nadir of 19.9 percent in 1976 (as profits plunged with the energy crisis) and hit 40.1 percent in 1997 (the estimates are from Edward Wolff). As the stock market boomed in 1997-2000, the wealth of the richest rose further, but atomized with the crash of 2000, into the present. Wealth inequality appears to be wired into the American system.

    Relative increases in the wealth of the rich, moreover, are often compatible with increases in real wages and productivity. The average family's real income increased 30 percent between 1960 and 1968 as the ranks of millionaires swelled. Then came the era of stagflation. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, average hourly earnings, adjusted for consumer prices, fell by 0.5 percent a year from 1978 to 1995. They then rose at a piddling 2 percent a year from 1995 to 2000, in tandem with rising productivity and the "irrational exuberance" of the stock market. Thus, wealth inequality does not preclude modest increases in income for other social classes.

    Yet, inequality matters, depending on the use to which wealth is put. And that in turn depends on the economic and social profile of the accumulating classes. Kevin Phillips, however, is not keen on "class analysis." "'Class warfare'...is a false description," he writes, "a perverse conservative borrowing from Karl Marx," because the United States has had rich reformers and poor Republicans.

    Still, one doesn't have to emulate Karl Marx in the Grundrisse to emphasize that the new American class of rich is different from the railroad barons or the oil money of old. For one, it is extremely well educated. Between 1975 and 1998, the mean annual earnings of US workers with less than four years of high school fell steadily. Those of high school graduates stagnated. Those of college graduates rose slightly. Those of people with advanced degrees soared, particularly after 1990, when the demand for economists, lawyers, accountants and MBAs heated up (as noted by Edward Wolff).

    Investments of the new superrich, therefore, are likely to gravitate toward new technologies in manufacturing and services, and fancy finance. With high educational attainments, the new elite may be expected to command a lot of money and social legitimacy, which the old tycoons never quite managed. A mere college education is no longer a guarantee of upward mobility, as Washington policy-makers still believe. For most ordinary people without a college degree or fancy MBA, the new rich have created a tougher world. Horatio Alger now goes to graduate school.

    The second defining characteristic of the new rich is their internationalism. They hire, produce and market globally, and have mobilized bipartisan political support for operating overseas.

    That all started with strong competition from Japan in the 1980s. Technologically behind the United States, Japan had more government interventions to help business grow (as did Korea, Taiwan, China, India, etc.). The United States regarded this as unfair, and shoved a "level playing field" down everyone's throat--backward and advanced countries have to be equal with open markets, free of government's foul play.

    The financial services sector, with large-scale economies, benefited enormously from Washington's dismantling of developing countries' barriers to foreign banking and regulations of inflows and outflows of "hot," destabilizing money. Deregulation was soon followed by the Asian financial crisis of 1997. The Treasury still publishes a book each year documenting on a country-by-country basis the remaining obstacles abroad to American financial institutions. The pharmaceuticals industry benefited from the extension of patent enforcement to developing countries notwithstanding their need for cheap medicines. The software industry pressed for protection of intellectual property.

    Strangely, Phillips hardly talks about globalization at all. But from stray sentences we can assume he doesn't like it, especially its effect on domestic jobs. Yet lobbying in Washington for protection of jobs that can be provided more efficiently in lower-wage countries is little different in principle from lobbying for tax breaks and deregulation for the rich. They are both a form of political corruption.

    Phillips ends his 470-page book with a tepid recommendation, given the preceding fire and brimstone. It is to end the "democratic deficit," which puts power in the hands of unelected organizations--the judiciary, the Federal Reserve and the WTO. But Washington has a large say in the WTO, controls the World Bank and has a loud voice in the International Monetary Fund. For American business, that deficit is small.

    Is, therefore, American foreign economic policy likely to give the new class of rich the global stability it desperately requires? No, if Kevin Phillips is right and inequality does matter. Internationally, economic inequality among countries has grown like Topsy. As industrialization spread unevenly, the ratio in per capita income of the richest to the poorest regions of the world rose from about 3 to 1 in 1820, to 5 to 1 in 1870, to 9 to 1 in 1913, to 15 to 1 in 1950. Then, as East Asia grew, the ratio fell in 1972 to 13 to 1, but rose steeply to 19 to 1 in 1998, the age of hardball globalism (data are from Angus Maddison, The World Economy). Global distribution of income and wealth is becoming as important to the American rich as domestic distribution, and both are highly skewed.

    Phillips doesn't consider any of this, but that's fine. He makes a real contribution by showing how American politics works, what really goes on behind the fortunes.

    Yech! What a scene!

    Alice H. Amsden

  • Mary McCarthy at 90

    Mary McCarthy would have turned 90 on June 21, a fact that is itself astonishing to those who remember her flagrant youth, when her sharp style made her the most feared and forthright writer in New York. 

     

    Morris Dickstein

  • ‘Murder by Public Policy’

    I am writing this review in the midst of a Chicago heat wave, almost exactly seven years after the heat disaster that killed nearly 800 people in the city. The Chicago Tribune's multicolored weather page adorns the forecast with a special "excessive heat watch" symbol--an exclamation point lodged in a red circle--newscasters earnestly tell us to stay inside and take it easy, and veteran black radio deejay Herb Kent, the Kool Gent, chats on-air about liquor and caffeinated drinks being dehydrating and the need to drink lots of "good old H2O."

    I remember the 1995 disaster well, but for me personally it was a period of intensive work on my last book, cooped up indoors 24/7, with roaring air-conditioning, punctuated by horrified reading of the Tribune's coverage of rolling city power outages and the growing spectacle of hundreds of heat-related deaths, with the bodies piling up and overwhelming the city morgue's capacity. Suspicious of the Tribune because of its long history of rightist and racist slants, I scrutinized the stories to see if the city was, as usual, shortchanging its black South and West sides on services, but couldn't figure anything out. Sociologist Eric Klinenberg, a young Chicago native, was out of the country during the disaster, but has since then more than made up for lost time. His Heat Wave is a trenchant, multilayered and well-written social autopsy of the disaster.

    Since finishing Heat Wave, I've been obsessively asking friends, neighbors, students and colleagues if they were in town in July 1995, and if so, what they remember. Most of my middle-class interlocutors were as insulated as I was, in cooled rooms, and only vaguely remember the period because of media coverage. But many younger people, who were then living on student or first-job budgets, told tales of extreme misery and multiple palliative strategies--double bills at air-conditioned theaters, plunging into Lake Michigan every possible nonworking hour, bunking with better-off friends and relatives, long drives in cars with AC and, of course, all the old tricks with cold water, towels and fans. One conservative young woman described her sudden comprehension, lying sweaty and wretched in her sweltering apartment, listening to neighbors' AC compressors turning on, of the ressentiment and violence of some inner-city dwellers.

    In fact, Klinenberg explains, aside from some vigilante actions against city workers sent to reseal the 3,000 open fire hydrants liberated by kids, poor Chicagoans were far too enervated by the hot, wet blanket enveloping the city to commit mayhem. The real criminals of the heat crisis, Klinenberg makes clear, were the federal, state and local officials who, in the words of Robert Scates, the bitter black thirty-year veteran emergency medical services director, committed "murder by public policy."

    But first we need to come to terms with the epidemiological realities of heat crises. Extreme heat, Klinenberg explains, tends not to be taken as seriously as other weather and human disasters--hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, blizzards, plane crashes. But "more people die in heat waves than in all other extreme events combined," and the '95 crisis has "no equal in the record of US heat disasters." Because the body's defenses "can take only about forty-eight hours of uninterrupted exposure to such heat before they break down," Klinenberg observes, area ambulance services and emergency rooms were soon overwhelmed, and at the height of the catastrophe, half of Chicago's hospitals went on bypass status--turned all new patients away. Most Chicagoans saw the grisly televised scenes of emergency workers falling prostrate with heatstroke, of police cars backed up clear around the block, waiting to deliver cadavers to nine forty-eight-foot refrigerated trucks donated by a local meatpacking firm when the morgue ran entirely out of body-storage space, and heard and read about the record-breaking murderousness of the disaster. But Klinenberg notes that only months after the catastrophe, Chicagoans reacted to his queries with "detachment and disavowal." Not only did they, and the press whose interpretations they were reflecting, wish to relegate the disaster to a nonhappening but many, following Mayor Richard Daley's lead, asserted that the death figures weren't "really real," that "the massive mortality figures...had somehow been fabricated, or that the deaths were simply not related to the heat."

    Klinenberg took on the task of explicating what's "really real" with extraordinary energy. He burrowed into public health and press documents, did street-level fieldwork and police ride-alongs in poor neighborhoods, interviewed every possible city, state and private agency official, and many low-level service workers, and thoroughly engaged local journalists on their hour-by-hour decision-making on the framing and coverage of the breaking story. In domain after domain, across institutions, he smashes home his key finding: "The geography of vulnerability during the heat wave was hauntingly similar to the everyday ecology of inequality." Heat disasters in general resonate less with the general public because, unlike other sorts of disasters, they leave property untouched and mostly affect the poor, the frail, the nonwhite--whoever can't afford air-conditioning! The Chicago dead were indeed largely the isolated, elderly and disproportionately black poor, and the city rapidly turned its back on them.

    But the everyday ecology of inequality is not a timeless phenomenon, and Chicago is not Everycity. By the mid-1990s, the US economy had recovered from the Reagan-Bush recession, the market was booming, urban street crime was dropping and American media were hyping an urban renaissance. Mayor Daley capitalized on these national trends with an ambitious program of urban beautification and a massive public relations campaign, suburbanites moved back downtown and tourism revived dramatically. (Klinenberg doesn't mention the role of the 1990s spike in international migration to Chicago, which brought much-needed quality and variety to local restaurant fare, added exotic cuteness to tourist attractions and provided a vast underpaid labor force for booming restaurants, hotels and offices.) During the heat wave, the Daley administration was particularly engaged in "gloss[ing] its image in preparation for the Democratic National Convention of 1996"--felt as a crucial task, given the debacle of the 1968 DNC event, when Daley's father was mayor, with its globally reproduced images of Chicago's finest beating the shit out of middle-class white kids and not a few journalists and Democratic politicians. So it comes as little surprise that Daley viewed the heat wave deaths primarily as "a potential public relations disaster," and Chicago-watchers will not be too surprised to read that the city administration both actively hindered appropriate relief efforts and put most of its energy into an attempt to "spin its way out of the crisis."

    God is in the details, though, and Klinenberg painstakingly lays out for us both the structural and more proximate policies that led to the disastrous Chicago mortality figures of July 1995. Most crucial is the rise of neoliberalism, which Klinenberg rather oddly denominates "reinvented government" and "the entrepreneurial state," in a narrow sociological tradition, rather than connecting to abundant available radical analyses of the phenomenon worldwide. No matter, he names the key shifts: the state's growing divestment of social service responsibilities; the outsourcing and simultaneous downsizing of the remaining functions; the overarching capitalist managerial model of lean, mean efficiency; and the new model of citizens as "active consumers" of public goods, and too damned bad if they lack the knowledge, capacity or energy to do so.

    In the case of the heat wave, the crucial noxious brew involved neoliberal policies with regard to low-cost housing, consumer energy use and social service personnel. Since Reagan, the federal government has been cutting back support for low-cost housing, and the public housing crisis in Chicago was so acute that local activists were unwilling to draw attention to the many code violations in single room occupancy (SRO) hotel units--more than 18,000 rooms had been lost already--for fear that they would "only embolden the political officials and real estate developers who would prefer to convert the units into market-rate family housing." As a result, many frail elderly people literally cooked to death in illegal multiply subdivided "cattle sheds for human beings."

    As well, the traditional down-on-its-luck SRO population had been swollen since the 1970s with the mentally ill dumped onto urban housing markets with the closure of government-operated asylums. Fragile community connections were severed as SRO residents, afraid of the "crazy folk," retreated from common spaces into their tiny rooms, making it ever more likely that those sinking with heatstroke would fail to be discovered until it was too late. In public housing, the Chicago Housing Authority provided no air-conditioning even in common rooms, and in a perverse interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the CHA dumped youthful drug addicts, without rehab services, into well-established senior housing all over the city. Crime in the projects predictably skyrocketed, the collective caretaking bonds the residents had built atrophied as the elderly retreated in terror into their individual units; many lives were lost as a result.

    Air-conditioning may be part of the overarching environmental crisis, but it is a godsend in extreme heat, and for better or worse, working-class and better-off Americans have organized their lives around it in all parts of the country affected by high summer temperatures. Inability to afford winter heating, much less summer air-conditioning, is part of what Klinenberg labels the "everyday energy crisis" of the poor. A 50 percent cutback in the federal low-income energy-assistance program, combined with soaring utility rates, pinched the city of Chicago so badly that it still closes down aid each year at the beginning of the cold season, and provides no AC subsidies at all. The poor elderly with whom Klinenberg visited were so fearful of excessive energy bills that they even avoided using electric lights during the day. In an extraordinary illustration of neoliberal cruelty, as the heat wave deaths were still being counted, the US Senate initiated a vote to end the energy program but settled on skimming off a mere hundred million dollars. In the same session, Congress vastly expanded federal support to insurance companies and homeowners who suffer property damage due to disasters. The final fillip is the new "market model" utility policy that punishes delinquent customers, even the desperately ill, by cutting off not only electricity but water. Klinenberg notes sardonically that this policy is simply not parallel to the money-making efficiency of the car boot: "Water, unlike a car, is a resource that people need to survive."

    Chicago's specific demographic and spatial history greatly magnified the final domain--social services--of murder by public policy. Klinenberg demonstrates that the city, much to my surprise, has significantly higher percentages than the American average both of single residents in general and of elderly living alone. Of course, as he notes, living alone and being without resources are two distinct states. But Chicago lost 1 million people between 1950 and 1990, and for the elderly poor, "aging in place" in neighborhoods devastated first by capital and then by massive population flight--and then colonized by kids working in the only industry left, drugs--is a recipe for dangerous isolation. Add state cutbacks and outsourcing, and you have private agencies on insanely low budgets sending outrageously overworked service providers out to elderly poor clients no more than once a year--and even then, in fear of the druggies, confining their visits to the early mornings.

    North Lawndale is one such "bombed out" neighborhood, and Klinenberg's star turn is a rigorous ethnographic and historical comparison of that Southwest Side area with the contiguous Little Village. Both neighborhoods were founded by Southeastern European immigrants and then tipped minority in the postwar years, and both have similar poverty levels and percentages of poor elderly--but North Lawndale had ten times more heat wave deaths, proportionately, than its southern neighbor. Scholars, politicians, social service people and even residents themselves offered up "racial" explanations, as North Lawndale is black while Little Village is Mexican: Latinos are used to hot weather, they have close intergenerational families, they form tight communities, etc. Klinenberg demolishes all these folk theories with hard facts and careful logic (and not a little sarcasm--black Chicagoans with roots in the Delta don't have close families and aren't used to hot weather?) and forces us to consider variations in urban spatial ecology and their consequences for city-dwellers' daily lives. After all, three Chicago neighborhoods with the lowest per capita heat-wave death rates were majority-black--but not "bombed out."

    The key difference is human density. Little Village is both an entrepôt for the vast Latino migration to Chicago and a safe haven for Latinos gentrified out of other neighborhoods. As one resident said of the neighborhood, "there is no such thing as an empty lot." High populations maintain abundant local business, which in turn guarantees lively street life and thus a safe and interesting public environment in which the elderly can shop, exercise--and cool down in air-conditioned stores during a heat wave. Even the "aging in place" whites left over from Little Village's earlier incarnation fared well in the crisis. Certainly Little Villagers have strong community bonds, especially through the Catholic Church, but North Lawndale residents are organized to a fare-thee-well too. Their church groups and block clubs, though, simply cannot make up for abandoned buildings, empty lots and few stores.

    Klinenberg deals diligently but less successfully with three other domains key to his story. He nails the Daley administration's culpability in an hour-by-hour account of the unfolding disaster and discusses the highly publicized failed snow removal that doomed the 1970s Bilandic administration, but he neglects to mention African-American Harold Washington's brief but significant interim mayoralty of the 1980s. Washington, after all, gained both national fame and notoriety for trying to equalize city resources across rich and poor neighborhoods, and that profoundly race-inflected inequality is the fulcrum of Heat Wave's criticism of current city government. Some of Klinenberg's heroes of the crisis, public health activist Quentin Young and Sid Bild of Metro Seniors in Action, are actually white veterans of the old Washington coalition. And we never really hear about the Daley/developer deals that have stripped the city of affordable housing, which are well documented in radical scholarship and journalism. Similarly, Klinenberg does wonders with the sordid story of the firefighter/paramedic feud--one reason for the city's belated response to the crisis--but doesn't really clue us in that racism is at the root of that one too. Finally, he gives us terrific reporter's-eye insight into the bureaucratic realities that determined the false coverage of the breaking crisis at the Chicago Tribune, but never informs us of the Trib's history of rightist ownership, the structures above the heads of the city editors.

    Klinenberg documents the local media's chastened post-'95 hyperresponsibility to advise the public on individual tactics to mitigate heat danger, and lists the specific ongoing political structures that will inevitably lead to more murder by public policy. But he never quite adds these elements up to their sum total--the heat disaster as an altogether predictable product of neoliberal capitalist shift. Heat Wave connects the dots to tell us an important new muckraking story but doesn't fully recognize the radical urban and national political economy narrative already on the page.

    Micaela di Leonardo

  • The Play’s the Thing

    Like life itself, good movies sometimes change the subject on you in midparagraph. You think you're watching the story of an elderly man in mourning, buoying himself up against grief and then realize he's started to worry about younger women, who have such a distressing preference for younger men. Or you settle down to enjoy a satire about the movie business, only to figure out that most of its characters, though peculiar to Los Angeles, have little or nothing to do with filmmaking.

    As you probably know by now, the not-quite-Hollywood story emerges in Full Frontal, written by Coleman Hough and directed by Steven Soderbergh. The elderly man's predicament is the subject of I'm Going Home, written and directed by Manoel de Oliveira. It's not just the coincidence of an August release that prompts me to put these films together. Although one is a high-art meditation by a nonagenarian Portuguese master, the other a sketchlike quickie by a pop-drenched American, both films express a fascination with playacting: its evasions and distortions, as well as its unforeseeable matchups with reality. Despite the difference in provenance, the two pictures also tell us something about the working conditions of today's more interesting filmmakers.

    More on that later. Right now, I want to rush Michel Piccoli onto the scene, so I can tell you how he first appears in I'm Going Home: doddering at death's threshold and having the time of his life at it.

    I'm Going Home casts Piccoli as Gilbert, a celebrated French actor, who in the opening sequence is onstage in a production of Ionesco's Exit the King--a role that calls for him to stumble about in a cloak that looks like some kid's security blanket, thrown over a grayish pair of thermal underwear. The figure he cuts is ancient, palsied, pathetic; but when he turns his back to the audience to deliver the play's final tirade, Gilbert chews and sucks and spits out his words, roars and rasps and bellows and croons with the self-confidence of a great actor working at full power. Without needing to show his face, without even moving, Gilbert dominates his world.

    Controlling it is another matter. While this opening sequence plays out--Oliveira has the nerve to prolong it for an astonishing fifteen minutes--three agents of mortality come calling for Gilbert. "I can't hear you. Your words scare me," he protests from the stage, when the dark messengers peep into the theater. At that, they withdraw; but they don't retreat. Taking up positions in the wings, they wait to pronounce their doom, while Gilbert, as king, seems to hold them off with a whine: "I never had time." But once the applause sounds, he can no longer evade the news; and so these fates in their business suits tell him that his family has died in a car accident--wife, daughter and son-in-law, all at once. Despite the close attention the camera has been paying to Gilbert, we don't see him receive this blow. Oliveira discreetly allows the information to reach him when he's out of the frame. Then Gilbert clatters down a staircase and is gone.

    The sight of his back disappearing through the stage door may remind us: We haven't seen Gilbert until now, only his version of the king. It takes another minute until we get our first look at the man himself, out of costume and makeup; and the close-up reveals what we'd expect: someone with the head of a glum Humpty-Dumpty. As the next sequence starts, Gilbert is discovered staring at nothing, with a slight frown. Yet almost at once, with only a small shift in camera setup, he is utterly transformed: We now see he's posed behind the window of a cafe, where he smiles and chats when the waiter comes by.

    Under the weight of loss, it seems, Gilbert means to keep up his urbanity. The next section of I'm Going Home shows how he does it. He strolls the Paris streets, buys handsome new shoes, signs his autograph for excited young women, plays Prospero in The Tempest (where he ignores the smile of a fellow cast member, another young woman). Doesn't he need companionship, his manager wants to know. Gilbert rejects the question, perhaps more angrily than is needed. He has his grandson, he says. He's content.

    This is hubris, of course; and Gilbert will pay for it by accepting a part in a film version of Joyce's Ulysses--a French-American co-production that is impeccably high-minded and already foundering. In a staggering refusal to act his age, he signs on for the role of Buck Mulligan. In English. With three days till shooting starts. At first, Oliveira spares us the sight of the result, just as he turned the camera elsewhere when the terrible news was announced. Gilbert is owed that much kindness. But the audience is owed the truth; so then we see Gilbert struggle with ribald young Buck, only to have grief settle on him finally like the cloak of a tattered king, ancient, palsied and pathetic.

    This is the second time in recent years that Oliveira has used theater people as his characters for a story about age and loss. He did it before in Journey to the Beginning of the World, with Marcello Mastroianni as his surrogate; but that picture was sweeter, more rustic and elegiac. Although I'm Going Home has some sugar of its own, spun out of its deliberately touristic views of Paris, it comes much closer to heartbreak. This is, at last, a movie about the impossibility of imagining your way out of old age. It's a theme that Piccoli acts with great beauty and sorrow; one that Oliveira directs with the exquisite sureness a filmmaker may attain in the eighth decade of his career.

    Distributed by Milestone Film and Video, I'm Going Home is beginning a US theatrical run at Film Forum in New York.

    The people in Full Frontal live in Los Angeles, and so their idea of irredeemable old age is 40. The plot's conceit is that a producer who is facing that awful birthday has invited all the other characters to his party. Some are currently shooting a movie for him; others are hangers-on, who nevertheless have contributed something of their lives to his production. Carl (David Hyde Pierce), a wretched employee of Los Angeles magazine, banged out the movie's screenplay in his spare time. Carl's energetically aggrieved wife, Lee (Catherine Keener), is meanwhile banging the movie's male lead.

    The story of Lee and Carl is told as if it were a documentary, shot on digital video with voiceover narration. These scenes generally look a bit crummier than they might have. When Soderbergh shoots a tryst in a hotel room, first making the lovers' bodies into a pulsing kaleidoscope, then snapping the image into focus with a brutally unadorned close-up of Keener, you see how magical he can be with video. Most of the time, though, he doesn't want magic. The "real people" in Full Frontal tend to look decomposed, even ghostly, in the buzzing light; whereas the "movie characters" (played by Julia Roberts and Blair Underwood) inhabit a schlock-cinema world that's as persuasive as it is preposterous, since it's shot in sparklingly clear 35-millimeter.

    It's good fun to watch how reality warps as it crosses into movie--to see, for example, how Blair Underwood first embodies everything that threatens Carl, then turns into his heroic fantasy double. But this is only the first layer of playacting in Full Frontal. Lee, who works as a corporate personnel officer, uses her exit interviews as a form of psychodrama (one in which somebody gets fired, but no one is cured). Her sister Linda (Mary McCormack) goes around town under an assumed name (she's a masseuse) and makes online dates using a chat-room identity. The producer, it turns out, is about to stage a real-life imposture; and everybody has a more than casual interest in porn.

    Considering how many fabulations abound in Full Frontal, you will perhaps forgive Soderbergh for not savaging the lies of the movie business, as some critics have assumed he should have done. He seems to feel that the urge to satirize Hollywood is itself in need of satirizing; and so he has one of his characters liken a movie mogul to Hitler, not just in passing but onstage, in a theater production, so you can judge whether such comparisons might be, shall we say, overstated. This subplot of Full Frontal yields the film's funniest moments (Nicky Katt's improvisatory turn as the Bel-Air Führer outproduces The Producers); but it also underscores a point. The real producer in Full Frontal (David Duchovny) is almost a blank. So, too, are the movie-star characters, who may be the least interesting figures in the picture.

    The thick, complicated people in Full Frontal are office workers and a veterinarian and Lee and Carl, who perhaps read too much of themselves into the pretty void of the movies. Lee might be the ultimate Catherine Keener role; what other actress could turn an inflatable globe into the tool of a dominatrix, and really enjoy it, and simultaneously be alarmed by her own craziness? Pierce, meanwhile, takes the role of Carl as a gift, savoring every one of the man's screwups and continually finding the decency that underlies them. Pierce is playing someone who is derided for drinking his beer out of a glass. When he later removes a frosted mug from the refrigerator and considers whether to use it, Pierce makes that decision into just enough of a victory to save his day.

    For some of Soderbergh's moralizing critics, though, this is not enough. They complain that the director of Ocean's Eleven is being pretentious by working fast and cheap. Perhaps these same critics have not yet forgiven Roberto Rossellini for defiling his art with Ingrid Bergman--or is it Bergman they can't forgive, for having left Hollywood for Rossellini? I'm perpetually amazed at the way some people really want big-money movies to be trashy (perhaps so they can be safely sneered at), while imagining that small-budget filmmakers have a duty to remain pure, and inconsequential. In the actual film world, though, Oliveira casts John Malkovich in I'm Going Home, and Soderbergh adopts a few Dogme 95 rules (just the ones he likes) to make Full Frontal. That doesn't mean that Oliveira is a sellout or Soderbergh a poseur. It just means that film culture continues to exist on the art-house level, where a certain internationalism flourishes. That's a good thing for filmmakers who choose to keep their eyes and minds open, and it's a good thing for us moviegoers.

    Otherwise, we'd all have to go home.

    Short Takes: Merchant of uplift M. Night Shyamalan gives us his latest message from Beyond in Signs, the story of a self-defrocked Pennsylvania minister and his strangely geometric crops. It seems that God has killed the minister's wife, then dispatched to Earth a plague of carnivorous extraterrestrials, who trample the fields and make screen doors creak; but all is well in the end, since these events move the minister to reaffirm his faith. Untold millions carried off so that one can be saved? I'd say God's methods are inefficient--which might be why Mel Gibson has to waste all his deadpan humor on an ultimately lifeless starring role. In its story and methods no less than its setting, Signs is nothing but corn.

    Blood Work documents the latest stage in Clint Eastwood's aging, in which he collapses while chasing the bad guy and undergoes heart-transplant surgery, yet still remains Clint enough to smooch with the raven-haired babe. The story in which he accomplishes these feats follows classic whodunit rules, which means that the murderer must be in plain view throughout. Unfortunately, the screenplay, by Brian Helgeland, supplies only one possible suspect. Even people who move their lips while reading will figure out the solution before Clint gets to it; which is strange, because he doesn't seem to have wasted much time directing the picture. The actors knock around loose in the frame, line readings fall into silence and the mind drifts back to In the Line of Fire, when Clint was feeling his age but hadn't yet checked into intensive care.

    Stuart Klawans

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  • Letters

    Greens at the Crosswords

    Greens at the Crosswords

    Micah Sifry's August 1, 2001 Nation Online article, "Greens at the Crossroads," sparked a number of letters from many of those active in the Green movement. We've published six of them below along with a reply from Sifry.

    New York City

    Micah Sifry gets some things right. The Minnesota Greens' decision to run a candidate against Paul Wellstone is wrong; at this moment retaining a Democratic Senate is an important part of progressive strategy. And while Ralph Nader has helped the Green Party grow, the Greens must stop hanging on his celebrity and build on their own candidates and issues. But in contending that the Greens are too far left and should stick to economic populism, Sifry misconstrues the party's nature and purpose.

    Unlike most electoral parties, the Greens are a hybrid--a social movement as well as an electoral vehicle. Instead of reflecting the "left wing of the possible," whose boundaries have become so narrow that yesterday's centrists are today's liberals, we have a vision of change that seeks to expand people's idea of what's possible and persuade them to act on hope rather than despair. This vision includes proposals for economic democracy that entail a strong anti-corporate position; the Greens are on the cutting edge of campaign and electoral reform. But our concerns are far broader. Our signature issue, ecological sanity, marks us off from virtually every other formation in American politics. We take the global context seriously: We are the only party to argue that the crisis of global warming requires radical changes in our way of life, especially democratic transnational institutions that confront rampant oligarchic capitalism. And unlike the economic populists who disdain social radicalism because they believe it is "divisive," the party is feminist and opposes the death penalty and the war on drugs. In short, the Green Party aims to become an alternative to the two major parties, not a single-issue organization.

    Sifry seems to think the Green Party should exercise centralized political discipline over local organizations. But decentralization is the hallmark of a democratic social movement. The results are inevitably messy and contentious. (Indeed, from my perspective, some Greens are too cautious about distinguishing themselves from politics as usual.) But this does not mean the Greens are fated to remain marginal. Opponents of Green politics may use decisions like Minnesota's as an excuse to discredit the party as such, but most of our potential constituents are capable of understanding that we are not a monolith.

    This is a moment of turbulence, when many elements of conventional wisdom are in doubt. It is the Greens' role to deepen those doubts and convert them into action.

    STANLEY ARONOWITZ
    (The writer is Green Party candidate for Governor of New York State.)


    New Haven, CT

    For the record, however Micah Sifry chooses to describe or analyze the relationship between Ralph Nader and the Green Party, he should have included some crucial facts. For example, since the November 2000 elections, Ralph Nader has headlined about thirty-eight fundraisers for the Green Party and its candidates, including seven joint fundraisers for the national and one of the state Green parties. This has helped Greens to raise over $200,000. When the fundraisers have been with the national party, Nader has also allowed the use of his donor list for that state, to assure that the fundraisers have had the best turnout possible. As part of those thirty-eight fundraisers, Nader has headlined fundraisers for the Green Party in conjunction with each of the Democracy Rising super-rallies. Democracy Rising also shares the list of the DR attendees with the state Green Party where the Democracy Rising event is held.

    JACK UHRICH
    Finance Director, Green Party of the United States (title for identification purposes only)


    Madison

    For the record, the relationship between Ralph Nader and the Green Party is as good as it's ever been. While Micah Sifry would not be incorrect to point to strains in that relationship, it is surely an overstatement to proclaim, as he did in "Greens at the Crossroads," that the relationship is "dysfunctional."

    While it's true that Nader has not agreed to many things the party has asked of him, it is also a fact that he has continued to actively support our growth and development. For example, since the November 2000 elections, Ralph Nader has headlined, at last count, thirty-eight fundraisers for the Green Party and its candidates, including seven joint state/national fundraisers, helping Greens to raise over $200,000. Nader also talks up the Green Party in the media and in his many public appearances.

    It would be unrealistic to expect a historic and powerful figure such as Ralph Nader and a 250,000-member political party such as the Greens to have a smooth relationship. We are grateful to Nader for everything he has done for our party.

    BEN MANSKI
    Co-Chair, Green Party of the United States


    Toledo, OH

    Micah Sifry quotes me and I feel takes my comments very much out of context. I agree in many respects with his analysis of the challenges facing the Green Party. But in regard to the issue of the Minnesota Greens running Ed McGaa, he seems to have done little more than justify his own fear and outrage, and paint anyone who does not share his apprehensions as hopelessly naive and out of touch with political reality. Of course I know who Senators Orrin Hach and Patrick Leahy are and the importance of the Senate Judiciary committee, but was not prepared to compare and contrast them for Sifry. What Sifry did not say in his analysis of the Green Party speaks volumes. He did not say that Badili Jones, an African-American, and I, a Latina, are part of a grassroots of "Citizen Leaders" who are driving the Green Party to become the mechanism for making real the myth of democracy. In addition to being co-chairs of the national Green Party both Badili, in Atlanta, Georgia, and I, in Toledo, Ohio, undertake the bulk of our activism on the ground and in our communities. We are both involved in numerous projects including efforts to address issues of racism and how it has manifested since September 11, 2001. Sifry didn't say these things because he probably didn't know these things, and he didn't know because he didn't ask, and he didn't ask because he was too busy running around acting like "the sky is falling," and blaming it on the Greens. What I expressed to Sifry when he interviewed me in Philadelphia was that both the Democrats and the Republicans have failed the ordinary people of this country and that the Greens should not be expected to insulate the democrats from their mistakes.

    How presumptuous of Sifry to assume that my indifference to his concerns about the Senate race in Minnesota stems from ignorance. As the daughter of migrant farmworkers, as someone who has stood in welfare lines, as someone who has stood in unemployment lines, as someone who has known what it feels like to be hungry in America, I know very well the consequences of continuing with our farce of a democratic political system. And I am far more concerned about the reelection of Cynthia McKinney than I am about Paul Wellstone, and it isn't Greens who are running against her.

    ANITA RIOS
    Co-Chair of the Green Party of the United States


    East Windsor, NJ

    Micah Sifry laments that the Greens "risk being hobbled by their own impatience." Just two years after our first major presidential campaign, nine months after being recognized by the Federal Elections Commission as a national party, one week after our first-ever midterm convention, the article holds us to awfully high standards of political maturity. I guess we could take that as a compliment of sorts, but I can't help feeling that Sifry is the one who's showing impatience.

    He mentions "promising Green candidates in places like Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Texas," but cites a single problematic situation in Minnesota as evidence that "the Green Party is at risk of being fixed in the public's mind by the choices of its most flamboyant branch"--and he devotes more than half the text of his article to oy-vaying about that particular situation!

    The movement for Green politics in the United States is clearly in its infancy. Based on reasonable standards of comparison (for instance, relative to initiatives like the Reform Party, New Party, Labor Party, and Citizens Party) the Greens are showing exceptional potential and impressive growth in all measurable areas: number of activists, registrants, votes, candidacies and electoral victories.

    Constructive, empathetic criticism is most welcome, but we hope Sifry and all who wish to see a progressive challenge to the only-two-choices system will maintain some perspective. Even better--join up and help us achieve the standards we all agree to be desirable and ultimately attainable. We're on the road toward becoming America's third significant political party.

    STEVE WELZER
    Green Party of New Jersey


    Toledo, OH

    Working with Anita Rios closely, as I do here in Ohio, I am not surprised that she did not profess to an intimate familiarity with Patrick Leahy or Orrin Hatch nor their possibly different approaches to running the Judiciary Committee of the US Senate.

    What would surprise me is if Anita had not talked passionately about the need to empower the disenfranchised in this society. Nor provided details of the challenges Greens face in organizing grassroots opposition to corporate power. Opposition such as the rally Anita helped organize near Toledo the weekend after the national convention to urge the final and complete shutdown of the damaged Davis-Besse nuclear power plant on the shores of Lake Erie.

    I also am not surprised that Sifry chose a comment by Anita that supported his thesis regarding Greens' supposed lack of strategic vision.

    As for surprises, know now that you should not be surprised if we who fight in the trenches on a regular basis ignore the tut-tutting of armchair politicos who profess to offer guidance on the "proper" path. If the Greens eventually gain national power it will not be because we artfully finessed conflict and setbacks. We will have gained national power because we fought the tough conflicts and overcame setbacks and defeated, in an upset of millennial proportions, the entrenched powers that are sucking the lifeblood from this nation.

    PAUL DUMOUCHELLE
    Convener, Green Party of Ohio


    SIFRY REPLIES

    New York City

    Since readers can easily find my original article online, I'm not going to reiterate all my arguments here, but just respond to what I see as the key points made by these letters.

    1. Steve Welzer says I'm being impatient with the Greens, who are still in their infancy. Maybe yes, maybe no. As I see it, the Greens were in their infancy all through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, when organizers in a few states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine and New Mexico in particular) began building the electorally oriented state parties that became the core of the Association of State Green Parties (formed in 1997) that eventually absorbed its rival Greens/Green Party USA and became the Green Party of the United States in 2001. Some state parties are obviously much younger than others, having been spawned by the Nader campaigns of 1996 and 2000.

    2. Besides, if the goal is to grow out of one's infancy, the question has to be: By what strategy? Steve is right to point to the Greens' growth and potential--all of which I noted at the beginning of my article. But new/minor political parties are incredibly fragile flowers. Stanley Aronowitz's wise letter suggests that he knows this. However, he misreads me when he says that I favor "centralized political discipline over local organizations." I don't (and in my book I criticize Ross Perot for trying to do exactly that to his Reform Party). The Greens of Minnesota are welcome to make whatever political choices they want: That is, as Anita Rios put it, what democracy looks like. But the rest of us, including Green activists and leaders throughout the country, can also either welcome those choices or criticize and attempt to revise them. That is not "centralized political discipline," but vibrant democratic discussion--another hallmark of a democratic social movement. And even though it is ultimately for Minnesotans to decide the US Senate race, since that race may well tip that body back into Republican hands, it is inevitably a question that Greens everywhere must face: Do you want your party to have that impact this year? Here's how the Miami-Dade Green Party answers that question (for the full text of their letter to the Minnesota Greens, click here): "We are a political party. So 'political fallout' is a perfectly valid factor in making decisions. Political fallout affects both our present and our future. The loss of a progressive voice. The loss of other potential allies to the Greens. And given the close split of the Senate, this could give Bush the full ultra-conservative control he seeks. We say, let Greens run for every state and local office we reasonably can. Let's get our best candidates and run for federal office as well. But let's pick and chose where that would most help us, and not hinder either Green Party image nor growth (they are intimately tied together)--and where it will not permit this nation to slide further down the slippery slope of repression."

    3. Stanley makes a second criticism of me, that I believe the Greens have moved too far left and should stick to economic populism. Let me clarify on both points. I think the pressures of post-2000 Democratic whining, 9/11 and the war are impelling the Greens to push certain issues with a left style that may feel good and right to many core party activists, but will hinder the party's potential growth--especially at a moment when the party's anticorporate message couldn't be more in tune with popular sentiment. During the Green Party's convention in Philadelphia, I participated in a workshop on outreach to nonprogressives where Dean Myerson, the party's national coordinator, made a telling point. Greens, he said, need to recognize the difference between being activists, engaged in pushing their own issues, and organizers who seek to draw more people into the party by finding out what issues will move them. It's the difference between choosing to emphasize the plight of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the plight of low-wage immigrant workers, or stopping plutonium-laden rockets from being shot into space versus stopping CEOs from gorging themselves with stock options. I don't think party organizers should drop their social vision (feminism, opposition to the death penalty, war on drugs, antimilitarism, etc) at all, but I question whether they should lead with it. Stanley is doing this with his own campaign for governor of New York: focusing on a "tax and spend" agenda that seeks to rebuild the state's public infrastructure with the help of those most able to pay for it, and telling Greens that he's a meat-eater who thinks war can sometimes be justified. If Greens want to participate in their own marginalization, they can keep using language and picking issues that set them apart from less politically active Americans. My study of the rise and growth of third parties in contemporary politics suggests to me that what matters to most voters is not how a challenger positions him- or herself on some right-to-left checklist, but how well he or she connects to people's desire for a better life and shows how to carry them forward.

    4. Jack Uhrich and Ben Manski both say that Ralph Nader has done lots of good things for the Green Party since 2000. I don't dispute that at all. But their letters confirm my basic point: The relationship is dysfunctional. It's all on Nader's terms. The party is the subject of his decisions at every turn, never the other way around. Part of this is a reflection of the Greens' problems with formally empowering their own leaders (as a result they have lots of behind-the-scenes jockeying and tension). But most of it is a result of Nader's reluctance to be bound to anything he doesn't control. He says that he isn't a Green because he doesn't want to be drawn into internal party disputes. But, to take a current example, that hasn't stopped his latest comments on the Wellstone race, where he dismissed the Green Party's candidate as unlikely to get even a few thousand votes, from being interpreted as an intervention in the party's affairs. Hidden, unresolved conflicts between the Nader staff and the Green base continue to fester. If you doubt that, take a look at democracywrithing.org, a critique posted by Maine Green Party activists unhappy with the top-down nature of Nader's "Democracy Rising" rallies. One could argue that none of this is any better that the actual relations between any top Democrat and their party, of course. But I don't think Greens want to brag about being as bad as the major parties on this score.

    5. Anita Rios is right that I didn't ask her about her local activism; I didn't have time, nor is it clear to me what that has to do with her role as one of the party's five national co-chairs. (I did do a longer interview with Badili Jones, one of her co-chairs, earlier in the weekend). I didn't ask her to "compare and contrast" Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy, but to tell me if she thought it would make a difference if the Senate was controlled by Ds or Rs, and then followed up by asking if it made a difference if the Senate Judiciary Committee was controlled by Hatch or Leahy. Her letter makes clear that she doesn't see a meaningful difference. As for Paul Dumouchelle's letter, I read only rhetoric of a peculiarly messianic kind. Parties grow or stagnate because of many things, including the decisions made by their leaders. They have to finesse conflict and articulate a strategy, not just a vision. At this time in our nation's history, we desperately need smart third-party strategies. My intention in writing this article (as well as my book) was to try to ask some hard questions about that problem. Hopefully, the discussion will continue.

    MICAH L. SIFRY


    In responding to comments on his article "Greens at the Crossroads", Micah Sifry made a major misstatement of fact: "As I see it, the Greens were in their infancy all through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, when organizers in a few states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine and New Mexico in particular) began building the electoral oriented state parties that became the core of the Association of State Green Parties (formed in 1997) that eventually absorbed its rival Greens/Green Party USA and became the Green Party of the United States in 2001." Sifry's statement here is generally weak as a piece of historical analysis but that is not my concern. What is my concern, is that his statement that the Green Party USA has been absorbed by the Association of State Green Parties/Green Party of the US is simply untrue, although it is perhaps a wish fantasy in the minds of some of Green Party USA's rivals.

    The facts are that the Green Party USA--which was organized in 1991 as a formal reorganization of the original US Green Party (Green Committees of Correspondence formed in 1984) still exists, with annual FEC filings, a national membership, a clearinghouse in Chicago, national officers, a website, two national publications, a Program and Platform and an ongoing political campiagn of radical grassroots organizing (which does not exclude electoral organizing as a strategy/tactic). This is a simple fact which no amount of denial or evasion can change. The Green Party USA is probably one of the very few Green parties in the world that has not succumbed to the reformist deformation of the original Green vision that has overtaken so much of the Green movement. Perhaps this is why statements of its "non-existence" appear in the press. I would appreciate a comment from Sifry.

    PATRICK EYTCHISON

    Micah L. Sifry and Stanley Aronowitz