On August 1, 2000, Philadelphia police rounded up seventy-five activists inside a West Philadelphia warehouse. It was the second day of the Republican National Convention, and the activists had been making papier-mâché puppets, which they planned to use during street demonstrations. The Philadelphia district attorney ultimately charged the activists with a slew of misdemeanors, including conspiracy to obstruct the law and resisting arrest. These self-anointed puppetistas were kept in jail until after the Republicans had dropped the last of their balloons from the First Union Center rafters.
Ultimately, charges against all the puppet makers were dismissed. Last summer more than a third of them sued the city over alleged violations of their civil rights. They assumed their cases would be strong enough to net not only substantial cash payments but significant reform in the police department. Now it looks like they'll be getting neither.
The reason, they say, is the unusually aggressive tactics of the law firm representing the city in these cases. Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin attempted to depose plaintiffs' lawyers, arguing that they encouraged protesters to engage in civil disobedience, get themselves arrested and clog the city's jails. The firm has subpoenaed activists' address books, personal tax records and entire computer hard drives. Its lawyers hired investigators to question former spouses and flew across the country to interrogate witnesses.
About twenty-seven civil suits stemming from puppet warehouse arrests are now being settled out of court. A transcript from a June 18 hearing spells out the details of the agreement for twenty-four of the cases, which have been consolidated under Traci Franks v. the City of Philadelphia. It says that plaintiffs agree to accept $72,000, which will be divvied up between two nonprofit groups: the Spiral Q Puppet Theater and Books Through Bars. The figure was derived by awarding $3,000 to each of the twenty-four plaintiffs. (Separate settlements are being negotiated for the suits filed by warehouse owner Michael Graves and two other activists.)
In July the Traci Franks file was sealed, and a gag order forbids any of the parties involved from discussing details. But whatever the final dollar amount ends up being, the settlement agreement won't drain city coffers of a dime because it's all covered by insurance.
The host committee for the RNC, a group of high-profile Philadelphians, paid $100,000 for an insurance policy seven months prior to the convention. The policy specifically covers up to $3 million for personal injury arising from claims of false arrest and wrongful imprisonment, malicious prosecution and violation of civil rights. The insurer, Lexington Insurance Company in Boston, hired Hangley Aronchick to handle the civil suits. During the June 18 hearing Hangley Aronchick attorney David Wolfsohn implied that the insurance carrier may even be able to claim a tax deduction for contributing the $72,000 settlement to charity.
Many activists agreed to settle because they fear that turning over more e-mails and meeting minutes to city attorneys could compromise future legal protests, should documents wind up in government hands. They also decided to throw in the towel when it became clear the city would not agree to a reform of police procedures. In this post-September 11 world, law enforcement agencies are expanding their scope, not narrowing it.
People embarked on these suits to get injunctive relief, says Kris Hermes, a member of for the R2K Legal Collective. Because that wasn't happening, there was less incentive to carry on.
Plus, plaintiffs are doubtful a jury would be sympathetic to political dissenters, given the current political climate. "There is a deep desire on the part of many Americans to see police officers as the bulwark protecting them, and they don't want to confront anything indicating officers have the power to abuse us," says Pennsylvania ACLU legal director Stefan Presser.
But the biggest obstacle is that the activists' attorneys want out as quickly as possible. They accepted the puppetista cases on contingency fees, and they simply can't keep pace with a major law firm eager to rack up billable hours.
Angus Love, director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, was subpoenaed and deposed by Hangley Aronchick because he worked as a legal observer during the RNC. He says the city usually does a half-assed job of litigating these cases. "But now we have a private law firm that is used to a higher level of attack," Love says. Wolfsohn is going after political protesters as if they were right-wing terrorists.
Attorneys on both sides of the lawsuits, as well as Philadelphia officials, declined to comment for this story. At the time of the warehouse raid, however, Mayor John Street was vocal on the subject. As hundreds of criminal charges were being processed on August 2, 2000, Street told reporters that he fully expected the city to be sued. "But we expect that we will defend the city.... We will defend our police department to the Supreme Court if necessary," he said.
Presser was among the attorneys Hangley Aronchick had hoped to depose. He characterizes the request as extremely unusual, noting only one similar situation during his twenty years of practicing law. Hangley Aronchick has also subpoenaed people ranging from well-known activists to plaintiffs' relatives.
Matthew Hart, the director of the Spiral Q Puppet Theater, was ordered to turn over all his e-mails, date books and phone records. He characterizes his oral deposition as bizarre and perfunctory.
"Attorneys for the city inferred this massive conspiracy that I don't even think the people involved had the capacity to pull off," Hart says. "I think their biggest intention was to move as slowly as possible and bill more hours."
Traci Schlesinger, the lead plaintiff in the consolidated suit, says her deposition brought to mind the McCarthy era.
"It seemed as though he hoped to prove I was an anarchist, and then it would be legitimate for police to arrest me," Schlesinger says.
Women's bodies were central battlegrounds in the worst bout of Hindu-Muslim bloodletting to grip India in over ten years, in the western Indian state of Gujarat beginning on February 27. After an enraged Muslim mob allegedly set a train packed with Hindus on fire in Godhra, killing fifty-eight, a wave of retaliatory violence was unleashed on the minority Muslim population in the region, leaving up to 2,000 dead and 100,000 homeless. Under the indulgent gaze of the state government, and against a backdrop of ransacked houses and desecrated temples, at least 250 women and girls were brutally gang-raped and burned alive.
Shabnam Hashmi, founder of SAHMAT (a coalition of artists and intellectuals who work to strengthen secularism within Indian society), believes that although the pogrom was triggered by Godhra, the attacks were premeditated: "These mobs were trained in rape. Why else would the same pattern of brutality be repeated everywhere? Groups of women were stripped naked and then made to run for miles, before being gang-raped and burned alive. In some cases religious symbols were carved onto their bodies." In the documentary Evil Stalks the Land, produced by Hashmi's husband, Gauhar Raza, a young boy stares, unblinking, into the camera. "About 100 to 150 children my age were burned in a house," he recalls. "The tea stall in which we were hiding was set on fire using gas cylinders. My grandmother's limbs were chopped off and my aunt was brutally raped."
Among all the horrifying testimonies of sexual violence to emerge from Gujarat, one story has come to symbolize the collective suffering of the Muslim community. It is told and retold on news stories, in NGO reports, in eyewitness accounts: "I was running [and] I saw a pregnant woman's belly being cut open," states a young boy on Indian television. "The fetus was pulled out and thrown up in the air. As it came down it was collected on the tip of the sword." "[Kausar Bano] was nine months'pregnant," recalls Saira Banu at the Shah Alam camp for refugees. "They cut open her belly, took her fetus with a sword and threw it into a blazing fire. Then they burned her as well." "We were to hear this story many times," wrote the Citizen's Initiative fact-finding team of women, who saw photographic evidence of the burned body of a mother with a charred fetus lying on her stomach. Their April 16 report, The Survivors Speak, reflects upon the significance of this crime: "Kausar's story has come to embody the numerous experiences of evil that were felt by the Muslims.Sˇ In all instances where extreme violence is experienced collectively, meta-narratives are constructed. Each victim is part of the narrative; their experience subsumed by the collective experience. Kausar is that collective experience-a meta-narrative of bestiality; a meta-narrative of helpless victimhood." The image of Kausar and her unborn child has assumed a dual meaning, for both Hindu aggressors and Muslim victims: The humiliation of the enemy through violation of the female body, and the assault on the future of the Muslim community through the destruction of the next generation.
Why is gender violence such a consistent feature of the communal riots that spasmodically grip India? In an impassioned May 11 editorial in The Hindu, India's national daily, Raka Roy, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, offered one explanation. Roy asked: "Where does the creation of the inferior other in India begin?" It begins, she argues, with the divisive caste system, which has allowed the principle of inequality to become embedded in Hindu culture. It continues in the belief that "women are not only inferior, but also woman's sexuality has to be patrolled so that it is legitimately accessible to some men and inaccessible to others." If a woman's body belongs not to herself but to her community, then the violation of that body signifies an attack upon the honor (izzat) of the whole community. Hindu nationalists raped and burned minority women to destroy not only their bodies but also the integrity and identity of Muslim society, the inferior Other. Roy also suggests that the terrible legacy of the partition-with "protected and protectable women on one side and unprotected and rapable women on the other side"-still lingers in both the Hindu and Muslim subconscious.
It was the complicity of the state, however, that made it possible for mass rape to occur in Gujarat. A Human Rights Watch report concluded that the Sangh Parivar-the family of Hindu nationalist organizations including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads the Gujarat state government-was directly responsible [see Arundhati Roy's essay in this issue of The Nation]. According to the report, police told terrified groups of fleeing Muslims: "We have no orders to save you."
The thousands of displaced now live in temporary refugee camps, run almost exclusively by Muslim organizations. Harsh Mander writes: "It is as though the monumental pain, loss, betrayal and injustice suffered by the Muslim people is the concern only of other Muslim people, and the rest of us have no share in the responsibility to assuage, to heal and rebuild." The Citizen's Initiative report argues that the state's colossal failure to implement "international Human Rights norms and instructions and instruments as they relate to violence per se, especially violence against women," may amount to a crime under international law. The report recommends that a special task force, comprising people from outside Gujarat, be set up immediately to investigate the cases of sexual violence, and that counseling and rehabilitation programs be established to help the traumatized survivors. Although the government has proposed "Peace Committees," it remains unclear what form these would take. All this provides little consolation for the Muslim women and their families who must decide where to go when the squalid camps close, which is scheduled to occur before the Assembly elections following the resignation of Narendra Modi, the BJP's Chief Minister of Gujarat. Those who could afford to leave Gujarat have already done so. The rest will return to their villages, to live as second-class citizens in the ruins of their homes among the men who raped their sisters, burned their children and killed their friends.
Mike Dolan, one of the principal organizers of the "Battle of Seattle" three years ago, returned in late August--with Jim Hightower's Rolling Thunder DownHome Democracy Tour--to a changed city. As he juggled cell phones from the stage in Seattle's Petrovisky Park, near the burial site of Jimi Hendrix, Dolan noticed there was no tear gas this time, only sunshine.
There were still dirty tricksters hanging up posters on Broadway, the heart of radical Seattle, warning people to stay home because there was no parking at the event, but 5,000 people turned out, to reflect on the movement they launched at the World Trade Organization conclave in 1999.
The world of BS--"before Seattle"--was a dizzying can-do era of overnight millionaires with fantasies of wiring the planet in a grid of greed. Then came the protests, the greatest civil disobedience of the era, with thousands of people teaching the masters of the universe that they could no longer conduct business as usual, and the fantasy world began to shudder.
With dot.coms bombing and Boeing going, Seattle has lost its artificial luster, returning to the status of a lovely, cultured city instead of the mecca of a global kingdom. Corporate sway over the economy lost its sex appeal when the Nasdaq fell 355 points on a single March day in 2000, Bill Gates lost $10 billion in a week and 25,000 workers were laid off in the software sector. There was the campaign that coerced the public into voting to subsidize the local baseball stadium, and the team's star, Ken Griffey Jr., left anyway. In the same period, Boeing chose the global economy over loyalty to its hometown and announced it was headquartering in Chicago, downsizing production and relocating plants to places like Mexico, China and Malaysia. Even the pump-priming boondoggle of the war on terrorism couldn't save them from the grim morning-after logic of globalization.
Seattle might have salvaged a new identity by taking pride in the rough birth of the movement against corporate globalization on its streets in 1999, rooted in the militant Northwest populist and labor traditions that Hightower's tour echoes today, but the local legacy of that "people's history" remains contested and unclear. Shortly after the confrontations, the police chief resigned. An anti-WTO member of the King County Board of Supervisors was defeated. Mayor Paul Schell never fully recovered from that week, and was defeated for re-election last year under the growing cloud of civic malaise. On the other hand, state representative Velma Veloria who hosted progressive legislators during the WTO protests, is running for re-election this fall, and Nick Licata, who helped house and protect the protestors, remains an energetic force on the City Council. Both Veloria and Licata attended the rally in Petrovisky Park in high spirits. Veloria, in response to Seattle 1999, has formed a legislative oversight committee on the adverse impact of trade agreements on Washington State. (Nation readers who wish to support Velma Veloria should contact her at email@example.com.)
One of those returning to interpret the continuing "Battle of Seattle" was Lori Wallach, the indefatigable, street-talking Harvard trade lawyer who coordinates fair-trade lobbying and activism at cyclone speed from her offices at Global Trade Watch in Washington, DC. Wallach has molded herself into one of the more dangerous enemies of the WTO on the planet, able to wipe out corporate lobbyists in television debates, maintain a laser-accurate understanding of thousands of pages of trade regulations, knit together international alliances, forge and hold together aliances on the left and right, and inspire hope for political reform, while scheming, if necessary, to "ratfuck" her enemies, a term she learned somewhere in the underworld of the planet's largest corporations.
Wallach is not entirely heartened by developments since Seattle 1999, citing the rise of internal disputes over "sectarianism" and "egoism" since the movement reached prime time. The emphasis on localism, and its philosophical corollary of anarchism, limits her role as a prime mover and shaker, while critiques of the whiteness of the movement makes alliance-building both essential and difficult. The alienation of many activists from electoral politics robs political victories, like the recent campaign finance reforms, of their potential energizing potency. The fallout from Ralph Nader's presidential campaign, combined with the failure of most Democrats to break cleanly from the corporate agenda, suggests a treacherous electoral future.
Nevertheless, Wallach is in fine form on this fine day, telling the audience that "Seattle" has become an international code word for the progressive spirit of the American people. When American diplomats and apologists argue with overseas audiences that globalization is good, she says, they are often rebuffed by foreign nationals who simply reply, "Seattle," as evidence that Americans themselves do not agree with the policies their government is trying to impose on other countries.
But, she notes, "the empire has struck back," through strenuous US attempts to cast the Seattle protests as "a fluke." The corporatists will try to make globalization seem as "inevitable as the moon's pull on the tides," but Wallach claims that it is "totally doable to take back what's ours" and that the corporate lobbyists "know what we need to know, that it's all a house of cards."
As evidence, she tells the story, hardly described in the mainstream media, of the Bush Administration's extraordinary efforts to squeeze out a three-vote-margin victory for its "fast track" trade authority in the House of Representatives on July 17. Trumpeted by Bush and the corporate media as an empowering victory for the free trade agenda, Wallach says that "what it took to get 'fast track' through was such an amazing flouting of Congressional rules that it showed our power." The fair trade movement had succeeded, by normal Washington standards, in stifling the Administration's "fast track" campaign until the President himself came to Capitol Hill trolling for votes, knocking on doors and making political horse-trades.
That wasn't enough, however. The House leadership held a closed nocturnal hearing to approve a "conceptual" 300-page bill, employing a rule reserved for occasions of martial law. There were no public hearings and no printing of the bill. Instead, it was e-mailed to House members with a link and set for a vote within twenty-four hours, effectively demobilizing the opposition and flaunting any pretense of an open, democratic process. When the House vote took place, and the Administration's forces still fell short, the leadership declared the clock irrelevent and continued making secret deals with holdout representatives until the three-vote margin was achieved. "It just shows how fragile they are," said Wallach, reminding the crowd to "spank" Washington State Democrats like Adam Smith and Rick Larsen, and "thank" representatives who kept their word to oppose fast track.
Undaunted, Wallach told the crowd to gear up for "Nafta on steroids," the Administration's plan to create a thirty-one-country "free trade" zone in the Americas and expand the WTO, culminating in the September 2003 WTO trade round in Cancun, Mexico. The corporate agenda there will aim to eliminate labor, environmental and public interest regulations across Central and Latin America as well as to privatize services like education, healthcare and water access. These so-called nontariff trade barriers represent protections of the public interest that have been created through years of struggle, thus widening the potential anti-WTO coalition to include, for example, schoolteachers, city officials, municipal water systems and other utilities, and construction workers worried about prevailing wage laws.
Recent events in Latin America along with corporate scandals in this country, Wallach thinks, "show that our analysis has been right." For example, Argentina was "the poster child, the model" of the corporate globalizers, but it now lies in ruins, the victim of International Monetary Fund policies which included demands that Argentina repeal its curbs on bankers who funnel money out of the country on the grounds "that the law chilled the investment climate there." The crisis is spawning new resistance movements as well, like the successful Bolivian "water war," which has blocked a government plan to sell its water rights to the Bechtel corporation. The spread of sweatshops and maquiladoras has peasant organizers conspiring and resistance mounting from southern Mexico to Central America.
"This trade stuff didn't get handed down by God like they think. If it doesn't work, it's time to throw it out and take back what is ours. The only way they can win is by our remaining calm," Wallach finishes. The crowd in Petrovisky Park gets the message, deeply and clearly. The spirit of Seattle is alive, carried in Wallach's words and, more important, in the confidence and memory of the crowd, in their commitment to vote, march, organize, campaign. As she spoke and they responded, it seemed to me that Seattle deserves a monument to the 1999 protests to reflect its progressive heart alongside the empty glory of the Space Needle, the Boeing hangars and the stadium that Junior left behind.
After all, I recalled, King County was persuaded to change its name to Martin Luther King Jr. County. Why not a monument to the Battle of Seattle in this city of the failed dotcom and defense contractor dreams? Someday perhaps, but for now the living monument of its creative, committed activist community will have to do.
Admiral James Loy, the nation's top aviation security official, confirmed at an August 22 press conference what thousands of immigrant airport screeners have dreaded for nearly a year. Loy promised that the Transportation Security Administration would without question meet the Congressionally mandated deadline to replace America's 30,000-member screener force with government-trained federal employees.
For Loy to accomplish this task, the TSA must remove an estimated 8,000 immigrant screeners from security checkpoints by November 19 because they fail to meet the new citizenship requirement. "The law of the land is the law of the land," Loy replied, when asked how the TSA justifies the impending shakeout at a time when the agency is scrambling to train and place an additional 16,000 employees at airports nationwide over the next eleven weeks.
Indeed, Loy is merely obeying the demands of Congress. Signed into law following a post-September 11 flurry, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act created the TSA and charged the agency with placing airport security under federal jurisdiction. Section 111 of the ATSA requires US citizenship for all screeners, which sets the absurd precedent that immigrants can join the military (no citizenship required) but not scan sneakers at airline security posts.
Both the TSA and members of Congress offer careful replies when it comes to explaining the reasons for the citizenship requirement. An aide for Senator John McCain, one of the ATSA's main proponents, did not want to comment on the provision's rationale. The Justice Department, however, came close to touching on the truth in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of nine screeners trying to keep their jobs. "It bears repeating that the ATSA was passed in the aftermath of an attack on the US by non-citizens, who penetrated the US aviation system," the motion stated.
The case, Gebin v. Mineta, names Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and his former No. 2, John Magaw (who was replaced by Loy), as the defendants. Federal Judge Robert Takasugi promised a decision on the case in early June but still has not issued a ruling.
All nine plaintiffs are noncitizens, lawfully living in the country as permanent residents. The lead plaintiff, Jeimy Gebin, believes that her three years in the US Army should be enough to allow her to stay employed at Los Angeles International Airport. Erlinda Valencia, a leader of the San Francisco airport's screening force, is another plaintiff. Two years ago Valencia's security firm honored her when she detected a toy hand grenade and two weeks later, a loaded handgun. But federal attorneys argue that the government can do as it pleases with its "alien guests," and that Congress acted rationally when, in the interest of airport security, it required screeners to formalize their "loyalty" and "commitment" through citizenship.
The situation between the government and immigrant screeners begs the comparison of Japanese-Americans who were fired from their jobs after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and were then herded into internment camps. Ironically, Secretary Mineta and Judge Takasugi were among those interned.
In addition to being unfair to immigrants, dismantling experienced screening units at the nation's 429 commercial airports could itself be a major security risk. By the November deadline, 80 percent of San Francisco International Airport's 915 screeners will be forced out of their jobs because they are not citizens. Washington-Dulles will also lose 80 percent of its existing force; Los Angeles International Airport will lose 40 percent; and Miami International Airport will lose 70 percent. Even worse, their replacements are being whisked through the training process: one new screener working at the Norfolk, Virginia, International Airport told Alan Gathright of the San Francisco Chronicle that he received only fifteen minutes of explosive detection training. There is also the matter of how the remaining 40,500 screeners waiting to be hired will complete the federally mandated 100 hours of classroom and onsite instruction before they begin work in late November.
While it is true that most federal employees and civil servants must be US citizens, screeners arrived on the job without this requirement; and the ATSA does not "grandfather" exemplary workers into the applicant pool for a federal screening position. "I am a legal immigrant. Now they are trying to make me a second-grade citizen," said Ashok Malakar, a San Francisco screener who is only a year from naturalization. "That is discrimination."
Why now? Why, one year after September 11, is the Bush Administration attempting to overthrow decades of precedents and precepts of international law, along with the best traditions of US foreign policy, in a relentless push to war? As high-level officials try to sell the Administration's case to the American people and the President prepares for an appearance before the UN General Assembly, the White House continues its attempt to restrict the debate on Iraq to details of timing and tactics while ignoring the basic question of whether an invasion of Iraq should be considered at all.
Elsewhere in this issue Stephen Zunes provides a detailed refutation of the points the Administration has used to argue for war. The arguments are debatable at best, spurious at worst--like the innuendo that Iraq is linked to Al Qaeda (in fact, Osama bin Laden regards Saddam Hussein as an apostate); that "containment has failed" (since the Gulf War, Iraq's military capabilities have weakened significantly and the regime poses little or no threat to its neighbors, who oppose invasion); or that inspection cannot adequately determine whether Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction (from 1991 to 1998, inspectors destroyed much of Iraq's stockpile of chemical and bioweapons). One could go on, but the point is that all along, this Administration has followed the Alice in Wonderland logic of the Queen: sentence first, verdict later.
The White House has sought to justify the right to mount an attack by the new Bush doctrine of pre-emption--or anticipatory self-defense. But this country is a member of the United Nations, which was founded to prevent wars of aggression. And under that body's charter, the United States can use force only in response to an attack on itself, or if approved by the Security Council. Otherwise, the Administration has no right to take this country into war--or even to threaten the use of force.
The Administration has found this doctrinal deviation a difficult sell even among its closest allies and thus has begun to search for new ways to bestow some international legitimacy on its actions. Hence the talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair, out of which has come a plan for a Security Council ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to meet British-American terms unconditionally or face "severe consequences." In short, the Administration, with British support, may have devised the perfect pretext for war: a UN demand for the reintroduction of inspectors into Iraq that Saddam will likely not accept. The Administration is hoping its plan will provide enough of a UN cover to gain French, Russian and Chinese support, or at least acquiescence.
Those who question the need or legitimacy of a war against Iraq should not be fooled. What incentive does the Administration's commitment to "regime change" give Iraq to readmit inspectors, especially when the inspectors could, like the last group, use the inspections for US espionage purposes? Washington should instead announce its support for inspections insulated from improper influence and pledge to abide by the UN's findings.
With the executive branch committed to war, those who morally oppose an invasion of Iraq--because of the suffering it would inflict on US soldiers and Iraqi civilians, because of its potential to destabilize the region, because it would distract this country from the brokering of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, because a war in Iraq would detract from the campaign against Al Qaeda and from pressing domestic needs--have only Congress to turn to. That prospect doesn't offer much comfort, since the Democratic leadership in the Senate appears ready to write the Administration a resolution authorizing military action, albeit with some conditions.
If Congress abdicates its role, it will harm not only the country but itself. Bush's claim of the right to make pre-emptive war would give him and future Presidents the authority to determine when a threat exists and to take action on that threat without subjecting it to debate or to verification by other branches of government. The principle of Congressional oversight of the most fundamental decision government can make--whether to send its sons and daughters into danger--will have been entirely abandoned. And because Congress is the only arena where the people's concerns can be aired, the structure of democracy itself will suffer a grievous blow. Even if UN inspections find that Iraq is trying to develop an advanced bomb program, there are ways of responding short of war. A Congressional vote for pre-emptive assault would create a damaging precedent, abrogate the UN charter, imperil the Constitution and transform the President into an imperial overlord.
Write, call, act now (see the box on page 5). Americans who oppose the war and this unconstitutional expansion of power must make their voices heard.
In January, when George W. Bush's pollster warned that "Enron is a much bigger story than anyone in Washington realizes," White House political director Karl Rove informed the Republican National Committee that this fall's election would have to be about national security rather than the economy. Rove wasn't practicing political rocket science; he was merely echoing the common-sense calculations of veteran Republican strategists like Jack Pitney, who says, "If voters go to the polls with corporate scandals at the top of their list, they're probably going to vote Democratic. If they go [thinking about] the war on terrorism and taxes," Republicans have the advantage. Now, with the election that will set the course for the second half of Bush's term less than two months away, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Rice and every other Republican with a talking-head permit is busy making the improbable case for war with Iraq.
Rove's sly strategy appears to be working. On September 4, the day Congress returned from its summer break, the Dow Jones average plunged 355 points. Yet the next morning's headlines talked about how Bush would "put the case for action in Iraq to key lawmakers." Whether Bush actually believes that the war he's promoting is necessary--or even marketable--there's no question that Republican prospects are aided by the fact that he's talking about Saddam Hussein rather than Enron, WorldCom, Harken, Halliburton, deficits, layoffs and 401(k)atastrophes. There is, however, some question as to why Democrats are allowing Rove's scenario to play out so smoothly. Along with those questions comes the fear that unless the supposed party of opposition finds its voice soon, Democrats could squander opportunities not only to stop a senseless and unnecessary war but also to hold the Senate and wrest control of the House from the right in November.
So far, however, most of the coherent Congressional challenges to the Bush strategy have been initiated by Republicans worried about the threat a war would pose to the domestic economy (House majority leader Dick Armey) or who actually listen to the State Department (Jim Leach, a key player on the House International Relations Committee). While Bush and Rove have had trouble keeping their GOP comrades in line, they've had more luck with Democrats. Only a handful of Democrats, like Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich, have echoed Armey's blunt criticisms of the rush to war. A few more have chimed in with practical arguments against the Administration line, a view perhaps best expressed by Martin Sabo of Minnesota, who says that "to move into a country and say we're going to topple the government and take over the government--and I think inherent in that is also 'run it'--is not something we have ever proved very capable of doing."
But House Democratic opposition has been muddled by the fact that minority leader Dick Gephardt has positioned himself as an enthusiastic backer of "regime change" in Iraq. One senior member of his caucus says, "You can pin most of the blame on Gephardt. If he hadn't been so enthusiastic about going to war when the Bush people brought this up in the first place, I think they would have backed off." Acknowledging that Gephardt's position could make it difficult to hold off a House vote in October, Kucinich says, "I think it could all come down to how Daschle handles the issue."
Senate majority leader Tom Daschle is not doing Bush as many favors as Gephardt--Daschle at least says Congress needs more information. But the Senate's leader has yet to echo likely 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry's suggestion that a policy of containment would be sufficient to manage any threat posed by Iraq, let alone to express the steady skepticism of Senate Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin, who left a meeting at which Rumsfeld tried to make the case for war and said, "I don't think [the Administration] added anything."
Daschle's caution is rooted in his concern that a misstep on issues of war and patriotism could jeopardize his continued leadership of the Senate. It's a legitimate worry; his one-seat majority could well be endangered if flag-waving appeals take hold--as they have before--in Senate battleground states like Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Daschle's own South Dakota. But Daschle's caution is not making things easier for Democrats in those states. It has simply left him playing Karl Rove's game when he should be saying what most Americans know: that in the absence of any credible evidence of an immediate and quantifiable threat from Iraq, Congress should not get bogged down in this issue. Moving aggressively to shift the focus from Iraq to corporate wrongdoing and economic instability would be smart politics for Daschle and the Democrats. More important, calling the President's bluff on Iraq would slow the rush toward a senseless war while freeing Congress to debate genuine threats to America.
George W. Bush's decision to "involve" the United Nations in his plans to attack Iraq does not indicate a conversion to multilateralism on the road to Baghdad. Washington's continuing campaign to neutralize the International Criminal Court and its disdain for the Kyoto Protocol are only part of the evidence that this would at best be a very expedient multilateralism.
There are sound pragmatic political considerations behind the shift to the UN track. The President's father and James Baker have almost certainly reminded him that it was Security Council Resolution 678 mandating military action to expel Iraq from Kuwait that was crucial to winning the bare majority for a war powers resolution on Capitol Hill. And even Tony Blair, assailed internally by opposition from his own party and public, and externally by his European colleagues, now wants some form of UN blessing--or excuse--for the crusade against Baghdad.
So what form will the Administration's use or abuse of the UN take? There is little or no chance of a Security Council resolution authorizing invasion to effect a change of regime. While Russia, China and France have all told Iraq it should admit weapons inspectors, none of them can countenance explicit support for an enforced removal of the Iraqi government, which would go against one of the most fundamental principles in the UN Charter. Instead, diplomats on the Security Council anticipate a US-inspired resolution setting a deadline--most speak of four weeks--for Baghdad to admit inspectors unconditionally, probably warning of "severe consequences" if it does not. The Administration's nightmare would be Saddam having a belated moment of rationality and allowing the inspectors in, but it's reasonably confident that Baghdad will oblige by refusing.
The Administration's confidence seems to be justified. Iraq's current ambivalent gestures--wanting Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC, the inspection unit, to come for talks but still declaring its refusal to admit his inspectors--is exasperating even some of Iraq's best friends, while the refusal to admit inspectors for the past two years has eroded the little support it had from other countries. The Security Council set up UNMOVIC in 1999 in response to criticisms made about its predecessor, UNSCOM. A later resolution, 1382, represented the high-water mark of sanity for the Bush Administration, since it actually mandated the end of sanctions after the inspectors had completed their timetabled examination and certification that Iraq was not producing weapons of mass destruction. In supporting the resolution, Colin Powell went much further than the Clinton Administration in offering what was termed "light at the end of the tunnel"--an end to sanctions in return for compliance with resolutions, rather than the regime change demanded by Clinton's UN ambassador, Madeleine Albright. UNMOVIC's new inspectors have also been carefully insulated from the allegations of undue Anglo-American influence that dogged their predecessors.
It is against this background that the Administration is working hard to make sure that there is no veto by France, Russia or China--and no doubt the US determination that Muslim separatists in the west of China are "terrorists" has helped mollify Chinese opposition. Even French President Jacques Chirac in his recent statements is moving toward acceptance of some kind of UN authorization for coercing Iraqi compliance, while Putin's US-friendly stance suggests that Russian opposition will be muted.
But even if Washington heads off vetoes, it still needs nine yes votes to win--and Syria is certain to vote against. For political legitimacy the British and Americans must win by more than a bare majority, which is why a diplomat representing one of the ten elected members on the Security Council said, "We're expecting to feel the grip on our testicles any day soon"--the traditional US route to hearts and minds in international forums, and no more so than with this Administration. In the end, it is likely that Washington will get its deadline, since the vote will be on Iraqi compliance, not "regime change"--although in a last act as friends of Iraq the Russians may negotiate a slightly longer deadline.
Once the United States has its deadline and if Iraq plays into its hands by defying the UN, then Washington has at least two options. One, which seems increasingly likely as US diplomacy gets to work on the council members, is a resolution that in some euphemistic measure calls down "severe consequences" on Saddam's head if he fails to comply with a demand to accept inspectors. The alternative would be a simple determination that Iraq has failed to comply, after which the United States and Britain will claim authority from the original Gulf War resolutions to use military means to enforce the inspection and disarmament demanded by the resolutions.
In both cases, it allows the Administration to shift some of the blame for "warmongering" onto the UN, as a duty of the global community rather than as US aggression. Internationally, it transforms what would have been a flagrant breach of international law--the unilateral overthrow of a sovereign government--into a move to assert UN authority, the consequence of which may be the downfall of a little-loved dictator.
Ariel Sharon may yet rescue Saddam Hussein with more assaults on Palestinians, allowing the Arabs to contrast starkly the different outcomes of egregious defiance of the United Nations by Israel and Iraq. Or Iraq's president may yet decide that survival with inspectors is preferable to martyrdom surrounded by half-finished projects for mass military mayhem. But it is a reasonable supposition that shooting will begin in some form sooner or later. And if Bush has his way on Capitol Hill, sooner than the November elections.
It's been known that Jack Welch is worth $900 million and that he draws a $9 million annual pension from General Electric. But it turns out that GE also pays for Welch's car and driver, his floor seats to Knicks games, VIP seating at Wimbledon, his box at the Metropolitan Opera, his boxes at Red Sox games and at Yankee games, fees to his four country clubs, satellite television at his four homes and more. And to think Welch's employment contract used to be praised as simple, clear and good corporate governance. That myth was dispelled on September 5 when Welch's wife, Jane, filed divorce papers. "It is appalling to me that Jack Welch's flowers are being paid for by retired firemen and teachers who are the GE shareholders and don't know this is going on," Nell Minow, an expert on corporate governance, told the New York Times. Imagine how appalled we'll all be if it turns out that the rest of GE is run this way.
AL QAEDA--BOON TO BUSINESS
Thank God for the war on terrorism, ExxonMobil's lawyers must be thinking regarding a case in which the oil company is being sued by villagers in Aceh province in Indonesia. In a lawsuit filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act, the villagers charged that Indonesian military troops, allegedly paid by the company and guarding an ExxonMobil facility committed human rights abuses, including murder, torture, sexual crimes and kidnapping [see David Corn, "Corporate Human Rights," July 15]. As part of its legal strategy, ExxonMobil requested that the Bush State Department declare whether the lawsuit would impede the war on terrorism--and the department complied. At the end of July, State notified the federal judge in the case that "adjudication of this lawsuit at this time would in fact risk a potentially serious adverse impact on significant interests related directly to the ongoing struggle against terrorism." How? State said the Indonesian government, which maintains a partnership with ExxonMobil, might respond to the lawsuit by curtailing cooperation with the United States. So here's an easy way for corporations to get off the hook: Raise the prospect that holding a business accountable will ruffle the feathers of a potential ally in the war on terrorism. (Remember, Al Qaeda has a presence in an estimated sixty nations.) Days after State weighed in, Unocal, facing a similar suit for its actions in Burma, asked a California court to seek a similar letter from State, and the judge agreed. The plaintiffs in the ExxonMobil case have filed a motion challenging the State Department letter, asserting it presents no legal grounds for dismissal, and the judge has not ruled on the matter. Will a consequence of the war on terrorism be a get-out-of-lawsuits-free card for US corporations accused of abuses overseas?
HONORING NORMAN LEAR
The perennially youthful political activist turned 80 in July, and in September the organization he was instrumental in founding, People for the American Way, held a tribute dinner for him in Los Angeles. Lear is also launching his Declaration of Independence road trip. He's sending the original copy of the Declaration he purchased all over the country so people will have a chance to take a close look at the primal charter of our liberties. What better reminder in these times? Congratulations to Lear and to PFAW for fighting the good fight in a good cause.
FLORIDA LEGAL FALLOUT
The results of the great Florida finagle of November 2000 are there in the White House for all to see; they also continue to play out in the courts and elsewhere, long after Bush v. Gore. One suit, NAACP v. Harris, was recently settled before trial. ChoicePoint, a defendant whose list of convicted felons and the deceased on the voter rolls was reported to be riddled with errors, agreed to do another run-through using more accurate criteria, and to give the NAACP $75,000 for "past and future efforts to further the electoral opportunities of Florida's minority voters." [See Gregory Palast's "Florida's Disappeared Voters," February 5, 2001.] The Justice Department recently disapproved Florida's proposal for a new method of cleansing the rolls of the convicted; apparently the plan was held to be too voter-unfriendly because it placed the burden of proving one's eligibility on the voter. Another election-related suit, Johnson v. Bush, brought by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU (brennancenter.org) on behalf of some 600,000 disfranchised felons, was dismissed by a federal judge but will be appealed. The Democratic and Republican parties were required by law to report to the IRS the donors of postelection money they collected to challenge the Florida results in the courts. The Democrats filed long ago, but the Republicans waited until the last possible day, July 15. Their total of $13.8 million was four times what the Dems pocketed. Two of the biggest contributors: Enron and Halliburton. Is that why the Republicans kept their report under wraps for so long?
MANDELA: THE USA IS A THREAT TO PEACE
Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, gave an interview to Newsweek on September 9. Among his comments: "The United States has made serious mistakes in the conduct of its foreign affairs, which have had unfortunate repercussions long after the decisions were taken. Unqualified support of the Shah of Iran led directly to the Islamic revolution of 1979. Then the United States chose to arm and finance the [Islamic] mujahedin in Afghanistan instead of supporting and encouraging the moderate wing of the government in Afghanistan. That is what led to the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the most catastrophic action of the United States was to sabotage the decision that was painstakingly stitched together by the United Nations regarding the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. If you look at those matters, you will come to the conclusion that the attitude of the United States of America is a threat to world peace. Because what [America] is saying is that if you are afraid of a veto in the Security Council, you can go outside and take action and violate the sovereignty of other countries.... Scott Ritter, a former United Nations arms inspector who is in Baghdad, has said that there is no evidence whatsoever of [development of weapons of] mass destruction.... But what we know is that Israel has weapons of mass destruction. Nobody talks about that. Why should there be one standard for one country, especially because it is black, and another one for another country, Israel, that is white.... If the United States and Britain go to the United Nations and the United Nations says we have concrete evidence of the existence of these weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and we feel that we must do something about it, we would all support it." (Full text at www.msnbc.com/news/806174.asp.)
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr. assured skeptics that the timing of the effort to sell the invasion of Iraq was intentional, not a response to rising doubts. "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," said Card.
The political establishment is not united behind the Bush Administration's policy of forced "regime change" in Iraq. The rest of the world, and a good part of the American public, are also unconvinced. Make your voice heard. Write your elected officials in Washington urging them to show restraint and respect for international opinion (contact information at www.congress.com). Help make the war against Iraq a key issue in this fall's Congressional elections--see how in ten steps at the website of the National Network to End the War Against Iraq, an umbrella group of more than seventy peace and justice, student and faith-based organizations (www.endthewar.org).
Sign an online petition opposing US adventurism in Iraq. One such petition is sponsored by moveon.org, the citizen action group that in 1998 collected the signatures of more than a million people opposed to the impeachment of President Clinton. Add your name to the Campaign of Conscience Peace Pledge to Stop the Spread of War to Iraq, organized by the American Friends Service Committee and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, among others (www.peacepledge.org). Participate in one of the antiwar marches and protests scheduled coast to coast. You can find information on upcoming events at www.unitedforpeace.org, a new site launched by Global Exchange. If you're planning an event or teach-in, check out the Iraq Speakers Bureau (www.iraqspeakers.org), a project of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, which provides access to policy experts, diplomats, former UN officials, human rights activists and public health researchers.
See The Nation's special antiwar web page (www.thenation.comdirectory/view.mhtml?t=040307), where you can find a complete collection of relevant Nation material. Also included are a list of nine critical questions that can be clipped or copied for inclusion in letters to your representatives, friends, newspaper editors and others, and a series of activist and educational links.
he Powers That Be constantly try to keep the progressive majority divided: workers against environmentalists, enviros against farmers, farmers against consumers, consumers against workers, and around and around it goes. As we squawk and squabble with each other, they scoot off with ever more of our money and power, laughing all the way.
It's when we break this self-defeating circle that we put a little progress back in "progressive," much to the consternation of those Powers That Be, as we've seen recently with coalition efforts to pass everything from living-wage ordinances to public financing of elections. It's never easy to forge such coalitions--about like trying to load frogs in a wheelbarrow--but it's essential to the development of a true progressive movement that can be stronger than our separate parts.
If you were to map out a rational coalition strategy for a movement, you probably wouldn't start by trying to link farmers and farmworkers, two groups that have a long history of animosity and conflict. But organizing a movement sometimes has less to do with rationality than it does with creativity and opportunity, and, as Guadalupe Gamboa puts it, "In times of trouble is when people are open to new ideas."
A Different Way
Lupe Gamboa is a regional director of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), and from his base in Washington State this grassroots union leader knows plenty about times of trouble. The number-one crop there is apples, mostly produced around the central Washington towns of Wenatchee and Yakima. The apples are picked and packed by some 60,000 farmworkers, of whom 95 percent are Mexicans, averaging only $7,000 a year in pay, with no benefits. They live in cramped and often squalid housing, are constantly exposed to pesticides and suffer everything from ruined backs to early death as they toil in one of America's most dangerous industries.
So, time to strike against the apple growers, right? ¡Huelga!
No, says Gamboa and the UFW, we need a different way, because family farmers are not really the power in this multibillion-dollar industry. Indeed, farmers are suffering too, typically getting less money for their apples than it costs to produce them, which means they're being squeezed out of business. It's not that they're inefficient producers but that, ironically, both the apple farmers and workers are literally at the bottom of a food chain controlled by massive, monopolistic middlemen dictating prices from far-away corporate headquarters.
In the big-business fresh-apple economy, those who do the most get the least, which is perverse since, after all, an apple is an apple. From tree to you, very little has to be done to it. Yet only a pittance of what you pay in the supermarket trickles back to the actual producers. Here's how today's apple dollar is sliced: Workers get 4 cents, the farmer gets 7 cents, wholesalers and transporters take 21 cents and then comes the hog. The retailers, dominated by Wal-Mart and Safeway, grab 68 cents of every dollar.
These powerhouses have consolidated and nationalized their purchasing operations, eliminating regional buyers that dealt with individual growers. This further concentrates the big chains' buying power. Wal-Mart, now the largest grocery chain in the United States, proudly proclaims that it offers "Low Prices, Always," but those low prices (and high profits) are derived from its ability to bully the last dime from suppliers and extract the last ounce of toil from labor. Someone down the line always pays for Wal-Mart's cutthroat practices, and in apples those someones are the hard-hit farmers and the oppressed farmworkers, neither of whom Wal-Mart's ruling billionaires have to look in the eyes.
"Up to now we've been fighting with the employers," says Lupe Gamboa, "but it's time to take on the retailers." Taking them on, however, includes a positive and creative initiative that UFW is proposing: Fair Trade Apples. Rather than surrender to the top-down restructuring of the industry, the Fair Trade campaign creates an economic partnership among the union, willing growers, retailers and consumers.
A Nickel's Worth of Fairness
At the heart of the plan is a Fair Trade price premium that would come back to the growers and workers. Retailers would pay a bit extra per pound, either eating this small increase or passing it along to us apple buyers. Fair Trade Apples would bear stickers with the UFW's black eagle symbol, certifying to consumers that these fruits allow the farmer to earn a fairer return and workers to earn a fairer wage. As little as a nickel-a-pound premium could make the difference, a negligible sum on a high-volume, highly profitable grocery item.
The Fair Trade process begins in the orchards, where growers would agree to a union contract assuring better wages, a small pension and safety and health protections for apple workers. In turn, the farmers get an able and stable work force, a certified UFW label on their apples that carries special clout with consumers, and a premium price. Grocers get a premium product that can generate extra sales and a ton of community goodwill.
The key is you and me. As retailers have learned from organics, fair trade coffee and no-sweat garments, there's a growing market of consumers who care about how products are produced--care to the point that they'll pay more if necessary. UFW is betting that we'll also be there for apples, and it's planning a grassroots campaign through churches, campuses, unions, consumer groups and other networks.
One grower of organic apples is on the verge of signing the first contract, and some two dozen co-op grocers on the West Coast and in Minnesota are prepared to be the first retailers to market them. If it works with apples, it can work with other crops, solidifying the farmer/farmworker coalition and bringing a measure of progress to fields long barren of justice. To offer your support, contact the Fair Trade Apple Campaign at (206) 789-1947 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The biggest story of the biggest primary election night of 2002 echoed the biggest story of the 2000 election: Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and the gang that couldn't design a ballot straight blew it again. Just as the fierce indifference--and in some cases outright hostility--of Florida officials to the practical demands of democracy warped the Sunshine State's 2000 presidential vote, so the "fixes" initiated by Bush, Harris and their legislative allies have resulted in another election without a result. As The Nation went to press, the contest between former Attorney General Janet Reno and wealthy lawyer Bill McBride for the Democratic nomination against Jeb Bush was too close to call and both campaigns were readying legal teams.
When Floridians went to the polls September 10 to nominate a Democratic challenger to Jeb Bush, they were supposed to encounter voter-friendly ballots, machinery and procedures. Never again would Florida voters be victimized as they were in 2000 by election systems that even the US Supreme Court, which awarded the presidency to George W. Bush, acknowledges violated the Constitution's equal protection clause. That was the promise of Jeb Bush in May 2001, when he signed reform legislation and declared, "[We] have resolved the problem. Other states ought to look at this as a model...."
Bush boasted too soon. Instead of a fix, he and Harris--who quit her job to run for Congress--cut corners, failed to recognize potential technical problems and provided inadequate resources and information to local election officials. The byproduct was such chaos in at least fourteen counties on Primary Day 2002 that it sometimes made the 2000 presidential vote look like a smooth operation. Poll workers failed to show up in Broward County and didn't know how to turn on vote-counting machines in Duval County. An optical scan machine in Union County registered votes only for Republican candidates. When new, ATM-style voting machines couldn't be activated in Palm Beach County--home of the butterfly ballot--frustrated voters walked away. A polling place in Miami opened five hours late, after more than 500 voters were turned away. Across the state, voting machinery in dozens--perhaps hundreds--of precincts failed to operate properly. Problems were so widespread that Bush finally ordered voting sites to remain open for an additional two hours, but some precincts failed to get the message and shut their doors.
As in 2000, problems were reported most frequently in heavily Democratic districts and communities with large minority populations, like Miami's Liberty City district. And, just as flawed voting systems and procedures made it virtually impossible to get a precise read on the results of the 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore in Florida, so chaos in the 2002 primary voting muddled the result of the Reno-McBride contest. Reno had to wait for more than an hour for the computerized voting machine at her Miami-area precinct to function. "What is it with Democrats having a hard time voting?" Jeb Bush mused, displaying the same quickness to blame the victims of the state's incompetence as did Republicans in 2000.
The better question is: What is it with Jeb Bush and the Republicans who control the Florida legislature that they have such a hard time reforming a flawed election system that Cuban officials have offered to send democracy educators to the state? Florida isn't about to accept that offer anytime soon, so it falls to Congress to intervene. Bush, Harris and many Congressional Republicans have argued that states are best prepared to set election standards. But Florida's primary chaos makes it clear that it's time for Congress to pass uniform national standards--as proposed by Congressman John Conyers, among others--to guarantee that all states treat voters equally and that resources are allocated fairly to low-income and minority precincts.
Congressional Democrats, who have been negotiating compromises on election reform legislation in a House-Senate conference committee, should recognize that soft standards will be abused by the likes of Jeb Bush. And Florida Democrats, who have struggled to mount a coherent gubernatorial challenge to Bush, ought finally to recognize that repairing the state's damaged democracy can be a winning issue for their candidate--if they ever figure out his or her identity.
American labor still pays lip service to the idea that it seeks "bread and roses too"--a higher standard of living, plus the chance for workers to enjoy some of the finer things in life. In reality, the famous rallying cry of the 1912 textile workers' strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, is no more than a faint echo in today's unions. Few offer what anyone would call a rich cultural experience for their members. Most of the labor movement is no longer rooted in immigrant communities or working-class fraternal associations of the sort that once supported folk music, dance, theater and even literature in foreign-language newspapers like the Forward, the Yiddish daily. Postwar assimilation and suburbanization, the decline of indigenous working-class radicalism and the rise of "mass culture" and entertainment have left American workers with little claim to a culture of their own. Beset with many current problems (including threats to their very survival), unions are not inclined to embrace the additional challenge of making drama, poetry or music--in new or old forms--part of their internal life again.
The one AFL-CIO affiliate that has attempted this, on a large scale, is the union of New York City hospital and healthcare workers, best known by its number--1199. Now part of the Service Employees International Union, Local 1199 launched a cultural program called Bread and Roses in 1979, with labor and foundation funding. Since then, B&R has sponsored an impressive stream of union musicals and documentary films; exhibits of paintings, poster art, murals and photography dealing with workplace themes; poetry and writing classes for workers, oral histories of their struggles--all of which help foster membership solidarity and connection to the union.
Not for Bread Alone is the story of that effort and a brief history of the union behind it, as told by 1199's longtime publicist, campaign strategist and cultural impresario, Moe Foner. The book also traces Foner's own career as a labor PR man par excellence and contains much useful advice for today's "union communicators." The author was a scrappy, streetwise hustler of the press who couldn't type but had on his desk one of the most formidable Rolodexes in the labor movement. A product of left-wing politics and CIO unionism in its Big Apple heyday, Foner was far more effective than the AFL-CIO's current crop of blow-dried, inside-the-Beltway "media consultants" (whose idea of"party work" is introducing labor clients to the Democratic candidates served by their firms, so that union treasuries and political action funds can be milked simultaneously). Foner displayed a different kind of political savvy, in countless picket-line battles and major lobbying efforts. As journalist Jack Newfield says, he "could publicize like P.T. Barnum, organize like Joe Hill and network like Bill Clinton."
For example, Foner's pioneering work on 1199 campaigns among private, non-profit hospital workers--who didn't have the right to bargain with management forty years ago--provides a good model for any union trying to make organizing rights a higher-profile issue today. Not for Bread Alone also reminds us about the important role played by the Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace--the anti-Vietnam War coalition launched by Foner, 1199 and their union allies in the late 1960s.
The author completed this memoir, with the assistance of former 1199 news editor Dan North, shortly before his death in January at age 86. As the book recounts, Foner was born into a Jewish working-class family in Brooklyn that produced not one, but four radical activists. A member of the Communist Party from the mid-1930s "until the Khrushchev revelations in 1956 about what went on under Stalin," Moe--along with his twin brothers, Jack and Phil--was victimized by an early purge of leftists from higher education. All three were forced out ofteaching or administrative jobs at City College of New York (CCNY) in 1941. (The resulting controversy led the highly musical Foners to change the name of their dance band--already popular on the Catskills small-hotel circuit--to "Suspended Swing.")
Despite their dismissal, Phil and Jack went on to have distinguished careers as academic historians. Henry Foner--youngest of the four and then a student at CCNY--joined the Furriers Union and later became its president. And the author, for much of his forty-year union career, became the living embodiment of the cultural politics that developed during the period of the Popular Front, when American liberals and radicals united to oppose fascism abroad and support Roosevelt's New Deal at home. Some of the best material in Foner's book is, thus, like a collection of old photos in a family album, faded but fascinating because of what it reveals about the social and political milieu of a now largely deceased generation of labor activists who managed to survive both McCarthyism and the self-inflicted wounds of the Communist Party.
In the 1930s and '40s, Foner observes, the left created "a vigorous cultural life that became part of its mass appeal."
The most famous writers...appeared in the New Masses magazine, which was close to the Communist Party. The Daily Worker had great cartoons by people like Robert Minor, William Gropper, and Art Young, but artists from the New Yorker also appeared there.
This was the era of the experimental Group Theater and...Waiting for Lefty, the Clifford Odets play about striking taxi drivers.... The International Ladies Garment Workers Union had already put on its immensely successful musical revue, Pins and Needles, and on a smaller scale, the American Student Union put on a musical every year. One of them, called Pens and Pencils, was a takeoff on the Marx Brothers.... There was a Theater Arts Committee that had a cabaret to support the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. And the YCL [Young Communist League] was always putting on skits and shows.
Foner was hired in 1947 as education director for a department store union. Many Manhattan store clerks of that era--like waiters and waitresses today--were aspiring actors. So when Foner put out a call for auditions for the union's first theatrical venture--a seventeen-song musical review called Thursdays 'Til Nine--400 members showed up. Through his dance band and party connections, Foner also "had access to an unusually large number of creative people who were, because of their political beliefs, more than happy to participate for little or no money in union cultural events." For music, lyrics or other help, he tapped show-business talents like Millard Lampell, later a successful Hollywood screenwriter; playwrights Arthur Miller and Norman Rosten; film producer/director Martin Ritt (who went on to win an Oscar for Norma Rae); comedians Sam Levinson and Irwin Corey; actors Jack Gilford and Zero Mostel; and future TV writer Mel Tolkin.
Although professionally written and produced, Thursdays 'Til Nine drew on the job experiences of store workers themselves and provided humorous commentary on contemporary labor issues (in numbers like "The Taft-Hartley Rumba"). Thousands of members applauded its performances, and Foner's singular career was launched. The show cost only a few thousand dollars, but in return it "reaped immense rewards in good publicity, education on labor issues, and membership pride in their union."
These positive results became a hallmark of Foner productions for his later union employers as well. The store workers soon merged with District 65, another "center of left unionism in New York," whose stewards were deployed in Peekskill in 1949 to protect Paul Robeson when a right-wing mob attacked one of his concerts. At District 65, Foner ran educational, social and cultural programs for 20,000 workers in retail, wholesale and warehouse jobs. One of the first things he did was start a nightclub on the top floor of the union's lower Manhattan office building.
Each week, a different group of members would be in charge of selling 400 tickets at fifty cents each. Rank-and-file committees would set up, check coats, wait on tables, serve drinks, etc.... I'd line up a band. And every Saturday night, I'd get a guest star to perform for free.... Harry Belafonte was just breaking in then, and he'd come down and sing in his dark glasses. We were packing them in, the place was always full.
On Saturday mornings, District 65 also had a "kiddy program," which featured sing-alongs with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, dance programs conducted by Guthrie's wife, Margie, and magic shows by Doc Horowitz, who brought along his daughter, a "terrific ventriloquist and puppeteer" who acted as emcee. Her name? Shari Lewis, later the star of one of the 1950s' most popular children's TV shows.
In 1952 Foner moved to 1199, where he spent three decades--editing the union newspaper, aiding strikes and organizing campaigns, advising union founder Leon Davis and eventually creating Bread and Roses. At midcentury, the union was quite different from what it is today; now it has more than 200,000 members, most of whom are black, Hispanic and/or female. When Foner was hired by Davis, a radical immigrant from Russia, 1199 had only 5,000 members and was overwhelmingly composed of Jewish men working as pharmacists or clerks in New York City drugstores. But, as Foner notes, 1199 had campaigned since the late 1930s for the hiring of black pharmacists and was one of the first unions anywhere to celebrate Negro History Week. When 1199 began organizing primarily nonwhite hospital workers in the late 1950s--which led to its explosive growth over the next twenty years--the union already had a strong record of support for civil rights.
Commitment to that cause was symbolized by 1199's close relationships with leading black artists and entertainers. Then relatively unknown as actors, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis (who contributed a loving foreword to this book) became lifelong friends and collaborators with the author. The couple directed or performed in a series of productions at 1199's annual "Salute to Freedom." Much later they helped Foner create Bread and Roses' best-known musical review, Take Care, which used humorous songs and sketches to tell the story of hospital workers' daily lives, their frustrations on the job and hopes for the future.
In 1199's initial hospital organizing and strikes, the union tried to fuse civil rights and working-class consciousness. Several vivid chapters in Not for Bread Alone describe how its "Union Power, Soul Power" campaigns were built--first in New York, then in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Charleston, South Carolina, site of an epic 113-day walkout aided by Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The photographs accompanying Foner's memoir confirm the breadth of the union's political alliances--with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Adam Clayton Powell.
If the 1960s and early '70s were years of triumph for 1199, they culminated in a decade of byzantine internal feuding. Leon Davis suffered a stroke in 1979 and decided, after nearly five decades as president, to turn over the reins to Doris Turner, an African-American and former dietary clerk who headed 1199's hospital division. At the same time, the union's founder tried to realize his longtime dream of creating "one big union for all healthcare workers" by merging 1199 with SEIU. Neither the merger nor the internal transfer of power proceeded as planned. Instead, the union was plunged into a terrible "civil war," replete with "bitter elements of racism, sexism, red-baiting, violence, and corruption."
For a majority of 1199 members, two things eventually became clear: Turner was an incompetent autocrat and their union had become a "busted Stradivarius." Turner purged all staff critics, surrounded herself with goons, moved the union to the right politically, engaged in vote fraud to win re-election and then, in 1984, led "one of the most inept, unplanned, and disastrous strikes in New York history." To get the union back on track, Foner and other 1199 veterans joined forces with Dennis Rivera, a staff organizer from Puerto Rico recently fired by Turner. They created a dissident group called "Save Our Union," which ran a slate headed by Georgianna Johnson in a federally supervised rerun election for 1199 officers. Johnson narrowly defeated Turner, but her presidency was only slightly less troubled. She was soon ousted by her former backer, Rivera, who has led 1199 in New York since 1989 (and engineered its long-delayed affiliation with SEIU three years ago).
On the subject of 1199's "self-destruction"--what Foner calls "the most heart-breaking experience" of his life--Not for Bread Alone is both unreflective and unrevealing. "To some extent, we all played out events based on our backgrounds, and mistakes were made. But the union survived," the author writes. Elsewhere, Foner admits that "the whole affair had disturbing overtones" but claims, unconvincingly, that during the union's 1989 leadership race he "was removed from the day-to-day running of 1199, and [has] only a hazy idea of the details."
As a history of 1199, then, Not for Bread Alone is best read along with Leon Fink and Brian Greenberg's Upheaval in the Quiet Zone (which Foner, to his credit, helped the authors research, despite its dissection of various 1199 flaws). Upheaval appeared thirteen years ago, when the union's bloody and embarrassing leadership succession fight was still unresolved. Yet it remains the definitive study of what went wrong then--and its analysis is just as relevant today, in light of 1199's recent right turn, under Rivera, into the camp of Republican Governor George Pataki, a questionable ally for any "progressive" trade union.
Fink and Greenberg criticize Davis not only for his disastrous choice of Turner as heir apparent but also for functioning as a "charismatic patriarch" whose "unquestioned authority verged on benevolent despotism." According to them, even the 1199 bylaw reforms championed by Save Our Union failed to address the problem of overly centralized decision-making in a "local" union far larger than most national ones. "Without provisions for an elected 'chief delegate' at each hospital or elected area directors, there is still no structural accommodation to pluralistic power centers within the union and little place for leaders of the future to spread their wings," they contended. "Communication as well as decision-making will still be formulated in a room at the top."
The local's history and internal politics aside, the main question raised by Foner's memoir is whether Bread and Roses offers a viable model for cultural programming elsewhere in labor. Or is it too much a product of New York City exceptionalism--a unique expression of 1199's interracialism and now-fading political traditions, including its Popular Front alliance with artists and entertainers long in the orbit of the Old Left?
B&R has, from the beginning, inspired other labor arts initiatives. Just as 1199 once tried to spread its unique brand of hospital unionism elsewhere in the country (with varying degrees of success), Foner helped organize, in 1980, the first in a series of Bread and Roses cultural festivals in Lawrence, Massachusetts, which have been held there on Labor Day weekend ever since. For almost as long, the Labor Heritage Foundation in Washington has hosted an annual Arts Exchange and Conference on Creative Organizing, which brings together union activists and entertainers. LHF also sells poster art, videos and CDs of union music to help publicize the work of labor choruses and individual singer-songwriters. At the local level, however, few unions have the kind of membership base and staff support--or access to foundation funding--that has kept B&R afloat for nearly twenty-five years. (During his period of forced exile from 1199 during the mid-1980s, even Foner found it hard to reproduce his past successes while working part-time for a small Meat Cutters local in Queens.)
According to Esther Cohen, Bread and Roses' current director, the project continues to achieve its founder's goal of providing professional-quality programming and opportunities for creative expression by 1199 members themselves. B&R's permanent art gallery at union headquarters currently hosts eight exhibits a year, on topics ranging from Haitian culture and Dominican religion to the lives of Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson and Pennsylvania coal miners, and the death-row experiences of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Once a month, Cohen reports, the gallery becomes "a cozy nightclub" and cafe, with entertainment provided by 1199 rank-and-filers. More than 150 members recently signed up for a creative-writing workshop as well; and as part of an amateur photography program called "Unseen America," Bread and Roses is helping scores of its members--and other immigrant workers--record and display scenes of workplace and community life rarely shown in the mass media.
However, in the issue of New Labor Forum that recently published Cohen's account of B&R activity, the Queens College magazine also bemoaned the fact that most professionals in the arts are no longer stirred by "the plight of working people and the intoxicating promise of their liberation." According to NLF's editors:
For two centuries, until now that is, there was always a cultural alternative, a point of opposition that said no to the callous calculations of the marketplace.... While many kinds of people and institutions have, at one time or another, joined the opposition, the labor movement was always part of the picture, sometimes at the center of the canvas. No more.... The labor movement is at a cultural dead end. It has been defeated in the struggle for the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens.
Such funereal observations were not part of Moe Foner's game. He was ever the optimist, the union survivor and upbeat promoter of new ideas and causes. If still on the job at B&R, he'd be on the phone right now buttonholing talent for its next production, badgering reporters to cover it and rallying members to fill every seat in the house--while organizing labor opposition to US intervention in Iraq on the side! He'd also be applauding the role played by hip-hop stars in the mass rally of New York City teachers (and thousands of their music-loving students) held in late May during contract talks between Mayor Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers. Better than some activists in his field, the author knew that if "labor culture" is going to be sustained, it must be periodically renewed--that Ossie and Ruby must finally give way to the likes of Sean (Puff Daddy) Combs, Jay-Z, LL Cool J, and Erykah Badu, all of whom graced the platform of the UFT.
As New York City union historian Joshua Freeman observed, in another recent exchange about the future of labor-oriented art and entertainment: "There is no going back in time, and no reason to do so. The strength of mid-century New York left culture lay in its organic relationship to the needs and tastes of the city's working class. It remains for another generation, in its own way, to build a new culture of labor and the left."
Soon after the surrender of Nazi Germany, the reporter Martha Gellhorn made her way to Dachau. There she interviewed a recently liberated doctor who told her how the Germans immersed inmates in icy water for hours at a time to determine the human body's ability to withstand extreme temperatures.
"Didn't they scream or cry out?" asked Gellhorn. The doctor smiled. "There was no use in this place for a man to scream or cry out. It was no use for any man ever."
For Fred Inglis, professor of cultural studies and author of People's Witness: The Journalist in Modern Politics, the exchange and the article that surrounds it are great examples of what journalism should be. It bears witness, it is "truthful" and "faithful to the facts," and it matches a story with "adequate feelings and moral judgment." Gellhorn is the first of a long procession of journalists who march through this book over the course of the twentieth century. The best of them, in Inglis's view, fight the good fight for democracy, decency and international solidarity. The worst bow to the pressures of the market or fawn before the powerful. Together, their lives teach lessons about the purposes of journalism and its place in the history of what the historian Eric Hobsbawm has popularized as the short twentieth century, the period stretching from the beginning of World War I in 1914 to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Inglis insists that the purpose of journalism is about more than providing objective information. He conducts a respectful but pointed debate with Phillip Knightley, author of The First Casualty: From the Crimea to Vietnam: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth Maker. Where Knightley criticizes generations of war correspondents for partiality, errors and becoming little more than government propagandists, Inglis treats objectivity as an impossibility. Truthful reporting is possible, Inglis argues, but the search for the facts and their presentation can't be separated from values and beliefs. "The moral view is always somebody's, located somewhere," Inglis writes, adding later that "the best journalists square their human allegiance with their feeling for truth."
In showing how journalists responded to war, revolution, the Depression and the cold war, Inglis charts a ragged story that identifies the reciprocal relationship between journalists and their time. Themes that structure other histories of journalism--the quickening speed of communications, the growth of freedom of expression, professionalization of the press--receive less attention. More important for Inglis is how a journalist in a particular time and place balanced ideals and expedience, and helped to move the world toward more cruelty or less.
His method is to present a series of biographies, grouped according to events or themes. With a few exceptions (such as the Italian journalist and political theorist Antonio Gramsci) those chronicled here are British or American. Gellhorn's story illuminates the moral lessons of covering the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Walter Lippmann's life suggests the challenges of retaining intellectual integrity amid the American rise to globalism and Lippmann's own proximity to the heights of power. Harry Evans's career at the Times of London shows what happens when an intelligent and crusading editor meets with the purse and politics of a Rupert Murdoch.
The length of the biographies varies, from more than two dozen pages for the broadcaster Edward R. Murrow to a few sentences for the murdered Irish reporter Veronica Guerin. The longer biographies in People's Witness provide rewarding lessons, but the short ones can be too brief to be satisfying.
The sources for People's Witness are generally published biographies, memoirs and collected articles. (The book contains some unfortunate errors. James "Scotty" Reston is rendered as "Sonny." Arthur O. Sulzberger of the New York Times is presented as "Sulzbeyer." And Ben Bagdikian is identified as Ben "Bagdikim.") Fresh material for the volume comes from the author's interviews and own analytical insight. Some of the book's most memorable lines are in its summary passages, as when Inglis describes Alistair Cooke as "tranquilly reactionary," and Norman Mailer, on the eve of writing The Armies of the Night, as one who "had done everything a dustjacket could require."
Yet People's Witness is more than a collective biography that extols engaged journalism and criticizes conventional ideas about objectivity. What makes this book valuable is not one life story or another but its historical perspective--the place of journalism from World War I to 1989.
Inglis's story is largely an international narrative, framed mostly by British and American experiences during World War II and the cold war. The book's chapter on World War II, revealingly titled "The Blessed Simplicity of Action," argues that for many journalists the war provided a way of reconciling reporting and antifascism. In the story of Edward R. Murrow, Inglis finds broadcasting that closed the distance between Britain and America with vivid details and high ideals. During the bombing of London, Murrow told listeners how "shrapnel clicked as it hit the concrete road nearby." Covering the Normandy invasion, he said it was possible to imagine hearing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" above the roaring motors of Allied bombers.
Things get messier during the cold war. Some American reporters, such as I.F. Stone, maintained their independence. Others uncritically accepted government lines. In discussions of coverage of the Korean War, Vietnam and more, Inglis's dual perspective--British and American--provides a second line of sight on America's global struggle with Communism. For many American readers, the book is likely be an introduction to Commonwealth journalists--John Pilger and James Cameron, for example--whose perspectives have departed from the standard frames found in the US media.
For all its cruelty and bloodshed, and for all the confusion that has appeared since its end (especially since September 11, 2001), the short twentieth century was a remarkably good period for journalism. The years from the end of World War II to the end of the cold war, in particular, saw a flowering of public service broadcasting, muckraking, dissenting critics, samizdat publishers, adventurers reporting from hellholes and reporters' efforts to hold democratic countries to their best values. Why?
Part of the explanation has to do with historical circumstances. As People's Witness suggests, memorable journalism opposes something in the name of something better. (American journalists today may subscribe to a belief in "objectivity," but some of their most revered forebears--Jacob Riis, Lincoln Steffens, Jessica Mitford--have been muckrakers with a pronounced political purpose in their work.) During World War II and the cold war, journalists in Britain and America had a great choice of adversaries--from fascists to Stalinists to citizens of democratic countries who trampled their country's best values in the name of fighting Communism. Even if the early years of the cold war were marked by an excessive faith in government sources among American journalists, once conflict broke out within government over the Vietnam War, journalists began to expand and enrich public debate.
As communications professor Michael Schudson has observed, news gains power in societies when people believe that if they are armed with knowledge, they can influence the course of events. America in the era of the civil rights movement was such a place, and it produced great journalism that connected the demands of the oppressed with the consciences of the many.
In the same period, the successes of social democracy--or at least the mixed economy--gave journalists breathing room from the kind of economic pressures that afflict them today. In the extraordinary thirty years after World War II, in Western Europe and North America, nations concluded that the market was not to be the measure of all things. Activist governments were willing to provide everything from national health insurance to grants for artists. In journalism this meant financial support for public broadcasters who were, at least in theory, independent of both the political pressures of the state and commercial pressures of advertisers. The best work of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Public Broadcasting Service testifies to the enduring validity of this idea. Among private broadcasters, specifically in American television, federal regulations required fairness and public service in broadcasting--a requirement that fostered, in thoroughly commercial networks, the creation of substantial news and documentary units. The death of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 led to the decline of public service broadcasting. People's Witness offers yet more proof that journalists, whatever their party affiliation, have a strong interest in the maintenance of societies where the profit motive does not always rule.
In America, the journalists of 1945 to 1989 also enjoyed the benefit of reporting for a society characterized by mass media and mass politics. Particularly in television, journalists could act with the confidence that they were reaching large segments of their fellow citizens. Today, in the age of 24/7 cable television, when the public is subdivided into niche markets, much news and journalism can seem to be both ubiquitous and insubstantial. Then came September 11.
From journalists, in Inglis's view, the good journalistic responses to 9/11 combined individual survivors' stories and "what they could count on as the trustiest of their national values," finding its heroes in self-sacrificing firefighters. Some of the worst reactions, he argues, came from elements of the left--which he would normally support--that failed to recognize the flaws in radical Islamism and the virtues of Western democracy. He identifies three journalists whose work can help bring us into an uncertain future: Seymour Hersh, who "discovers what we could not possibly discover for ourselves, and tells us what it is"; Tim Judah, whose reporting from the Balkans and then Afghanistan "moved easily between the obligatory self-deprecation of being there and the sure deployment of big strategic tropes"; and Michael Ignatieff, who calls for an internationalism with a strong sense of both ideals and interests.
Is this enough? As People's Witness suggests, journalism as an institution rises and falls with the currents of its time. Journalists as individuals sometimes do better. Since economics triumphed over politics, it is harder to envision a solution to the market pressures that deform public and private broadcasters. This book, for all its virtues, has no obvious solution to that problem.
But in the lives of journalists, and in Inglis's ruminations on the meaning of journalism, possibilities emerge. In the face of Pentagon media managers who would censor war news in the name of keeping up morale on the home front, journalists will need Knightley's dogged insistence on independence and truth. In the face of the kind of men who murdered Daniel Pearl, journalists will need Inglis's stouthearted vision of reporting that stands for democracy and decency, and against cruelty and sectarianism. But without a new version of the ideals and structures that serve to protect public service journalism, will this be enough?
William Eastlake once gave William Kittredge a piece of advice about writing as a Westerner. Never allow a publisher to put a picture of a horse on the cover of your novel: "The people who buy it will think it's some goddamned shoot-up. And they'll hate it when it isn't."
For more than a century, picking up a "western" meant caressing a myth. The plot rarely varied. Decent folk who'd left behind the corrupt world--always somewhere to the east--came to a land of primeval beauty and promise and set about turning a little chunk of it into a nice, prosperous garden. But there were a few corrupt souls lurking in the vicinity, and before long they showed themselves: heedless savages, horse thieves, men with pistols on their hips. The good folks had no choice but to confront the bad guys on their terms--often with the aid of a mysterious and taciturn stranger on horseback. Violence, regrettable but necessary, ensued. The good guys were wounded. The bad guys were killed. Our happy homesteaders returned to taming the wilderness, cultivating their corner of paradise, a little less innocent but having earned in blood their claim to the land. The taciturn stranger was saddled and gone by morning, having left neither a card nor a silver bullet.
Louis L'Amour wrote more than a hundred works of fiction along those lines, 260 million copies of which are moldering on cheap pulp paper all over the world. In the second half of the nineteenth century alone, 1,700 novels about Buffalo Bill were published. Our appetite for the myths of law-bringing and wilderness-taming is as old as America itself. The pulp western simply spruced it up with big hats, six-guns and blue roan appaloosas. Hollywood seized on the concept and tinkered with its variations for more than thirty years; John Wayne had one of the longest runs of any male movie icon of the past century.
This is the seductive mythology serious writers in the West have to grapple with as they set out to write the much messier, much less uplifting story of the true Western experience. They also face an Eastern literary establishment that is often indifferent or unsympathetic to their aims. Norman Maclean couldn't find a major publisher to bite on his masterpiece, A River Runs Through It. "These stories have trees in them," he was told. And in a snotty review in these very pages, Edward Abbey was called "puerile" and "dopey" and was accused of arrogance and xenophobia.
Not that every literary effort to come out of the West deserved canonization. Kittredge published a collection of stories, We Are Not in This Together, that borrowed much from the old myth--except the happy ending, which leaves a rather curdled vision. Despite a laudatory foreword from Kittredge's friend Raymond Carver, the stories contain a predictable mix of unfaithful women, barroom hijinks, cold-blooded killings, guns and knives and whisky and tight-lipped men who, when they deign to speak, do so not with or even at but past one another. "My stories were mostly imitations about old men and wounded boys, reeking of sorrow and sad romance about the ways love is bound to fail, and could never have been enough anyway," Kittredge eventually admitted.
Thankfully, in 1978, Terry McDonell of Rocky Mountain Magazine asked Kittredge to write an essay on the theme of "redneck secrets." Kittredge said he had no idea how to write an essay. A friend who sat in one of Kittredge's writing workshops at the University of Montana told me that Kittredge recounted McDonell's advice this way: Give me five scenes or anecdotes strung together with your own bullshit philosophy. Five hundred words of anecdote, 200 of your own bullshit, scene, bullshit, leading to a summation or revelation. It's that easy.
And for Kittredge, it was; turned out he could bullshit better than most, and in a rugged, poetic and wholly Western prose style. He's since written mostly nonfiction, looking at the West as a set of true stories that deserve telling in all their complexity. Like this, from his very first essay: "A Redneck pounding a hippie in a dark barroom is embarrassing because we see the cowardice. What he wants to hit is a banker in broad daylight."
Yee-haw! Now we're getting someplace.
Kittredge's first essay collection, Owning It All, published in 1987 and just reissued by Graywolf, is one of the quintessential books to read if you want to understand the ferment of the modern West. He followed that with Hole in the Sky, a memoir that recounted his youth and early manhood on his grandfather's ranch in southeastern Oregon, a backlands enclave in a "huge drift of country...pretty much nonexistent in the American imagination," where "we knew a history filled with omissions, which can be thought of as lies." Kittredge took it as his duty to fill in the omissions, most involving violence done to Native Americans, and he told his own story with astonishing candor: boy buckaroo, teenage dandy, self-pitying young man, a ranch kid in a swampland version of Eden that he and his family ultimately ruined through a combination of greed, pesticides, overly ambitious irrigation schemes and an overweening lust for property.
Over something like three decades my family played out the entire melodrama of the nineteenth-century European novel. It was another real-life run of that masterplot which drives so many histories, domination of loved ones through a mix of power and affection; it is the story of ruling-class decadence that we fondle and love, that we reenact over and over, our worst bad habit and the prime source of our sadness about our society. We want to own everything, and we demand love. We are like children; we are spoiled and throw tantrums. Our wreckage is everywhere.
All of this from a book with a horse on its cover.
Hole in the Sky placed Kittredge in a blossoming tradition of Western writers who can be thought of as anti-mythological. They begin, not surprisingly, with women--Willa Cather (read Death Comes for the Archbishop) and Mari Sandoz (Old Jules)--and continue with writers such as A.B. Guthrie, Wallace Stegner, Ivan Doig, Marilynne Robinson and Denis Johnson, whose novel Angels is among the bleakest visions of the urban West ever committed to paper. And that's merely a few of the white folk from the mountains and plains, a list that leaves off the interlopers, Texans, Californians, poets, Hispanics (Rudolfo Anaya, Jimmy Santiago Baca) and Native Americans (N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich) who have enriched the region's literature.
Stegner dreamt of a West that had "a civilization to match its scenery," and no other writer did more to bring that transformation about. His influence can be felt all over a fine anthology edited by Kittredge, The Portable Western Reader, which Stegner didn't live to see but would have appreciated as a marker of how far the storytelling culture of the region had come. "The Westerner is less a person than a continuing adaptation," he wrote. "The West is less a place than a process." On the evidence of his new book, Kittredge is in total agreement.
In Southwestern Homelands, he tells stories from thirty years of tooling the freeways and back roads of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, mostly with his longtime love Annick Smith (another fine writer) and often with a set of golf clubs in the trunk. He goes in search of history and the earthy flux of the present, and he's as fine a travel companion as a reader could hope for. I'm with him for all but the golf.
It helps to have friends to show you around an unfamiliar land, and Kittredge had some good ones, including Eastlake, Abbey and Doug Peacock, the renowned grizzly-bear expert and model for George Hayduke in Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang. Eastlake once told Kittredge a perhaps apocryphal tale in which he and Abbey drove the Southwest's Interstate highways, felling billboards with a chainsaw. Whether or not the tale is true--don't you like to think so?--it symbolizes the tension at the heart of the region's history. What is progress? What are its costs? And, to paraphrase Charles Bowden, can we not imagine a future in which we have less but are more?
Everywhere Kittredge goes, these questions haunt the air. At Chaco Canyon the Anasazi built immaculate pueblos across four square miles between 1025 and 1100 AD. "The houses were fitted together from tons of red stone cut in quarries and mortared into tapered load-bearing walls, five stories high on the curving back side of Pueblo Bonito. Tens of thousands of pine timbers were cut and trimmed with stone axes in mountains sixty miles away and brought to Chaco by people without horses or wheels." They built irrigation systems to channel rainwater toward domesticated crops. Abruptly, around 1150, they abandoned all of it. To this day, no one knows for certain why. Drought? Enemy siege? Whatever the cause, their attempt at constructing a secure homeland failed. The Anasazi drifted to the north and west. In Canyon de Chelly, they built cliff houses accessible only by ladders, which they pulled up when they feared attack.
One millennium later, dreams of an impenetrable fortress persist. Phoenix, another human settlement fed by diverted water, spreads on the landscape like a malignant tumor; its gated communities might be compared to ancient fortified pueblos. One severe or prolonged drought would also send that city's inhabitants scurrying to more hospitable climes to the north and west. Aridity, as Stegner incessantly pointed out, is the defining characteristic of the West. In some distant future, tourists may gawk at the splendid, dune-covered ruins of Phoenix or Albuquerque the way we seek out the spooky grandeur of abandoned cliff dwellings.
The Glen Canyon Dam, on the Colorado River, is among man's most ambitious efforts to compensate for a lack of rainfall. It flooded what Kittredge calls "one of the most exquisite runs of landform on earth," a labyrinth of canyons formed by 10-million-year-old sand dunes compacted by wind and carved by running water. Abbey once wrote, "To grasp the nature of the crime that was committed imagine the Taj Mahal or Chartres Cathedral buried in mud until only the spires remain visible." Kittredge consoles himself with the thought that canyons and species don't last forever. I'm surprised it doesn't make him happier to think that dams are even more ephemeral.
Gated communities, seething barrios, cross-border maquiladoras, crimes against humans and nature--that's one side of the coin. On the other: spicy food, entrancing native ceremonies, breathtaking landscapes, hummingbirds flitting among the saguaro and art that soars into timelessness, from the overcommodified Georgia O'Keeffe to Mogollon Mimbres pottery. The exquisite care taken in crafting the Mimbres bowls, decorated with imagery that made use of communal symbols and stories, might even be a valuable example for careless book editors. In the middle of a very moving passage, we find Kittredge viewing "my mother's powered face that last time before she was interned." You might be forgiven for momentarily thinking she was a robot on her way to prison camp.
But if you hang with him, you discover him working through one of the keystone moments of the book. "On Second Mesa, in the village of Walpi, a man came up while I was walking the balustrade around the edge of the mesa, and offered to explain the Hopi beliefs. I imagined he was hitting on me, running some scam, and I turned away." His failure to connect gnaws at him; he keeps brooding over Walpi until he settles on a "message" from the ancients: "Be communal, join up, share your goods, and once in a while give your sweet time away, no charge, pro bono, and you'll be as close to home as you're likely to be." He could have merely bought a trinket or a piece of Native art and moved on. Instead, and despite his failure to connect at first, he was driven to seek some cross-cultural pollination to take with him as he returns to his own homeland in Montana. Which ought to be one of the points of travel for anyone who does it seriously. "Intimacy with otherness is close to impossible without taking some time to stop playing the game of anthropologist," he writes. In other words, open up, drop your guard, talk to strangers. The world awaits: desert and mountain, laughter and tears, bedrock and paradox.
From the chair where I write this, in a fire lookout tower in the Gila National Forest of southwestern New Mexico, I can see nearly 100 miles in all directions. The landscape is multifarious: austere desert to the east, rising into pinyon and juniper on the foothills and up to peaks covered in aspen and ponderosa pine, before falling away to mesas and grassland river valleys to the west. Hard to recall that just a month ago I was a cog in the corporate journalism machine, a rearranger of commas, scourge of the split infinitive. "Flight involves a spot of reinventing the sweet old psychic self," Kittredge writes. Amen.
Everything out my window sings to my soul the way Beethoven's Archduke Trio speaks to Kittredge's when he's on the road. Yet the feature I find most intriguing from my perch is a man-made one on the edge of Silver City: a giant open-pit copper mine that looks like a gaping wound in the earth. Just above it, at the end of a shelf of exposed rock, a solitary spire looms. The locals called it the Kneeling Nun, and through my binoculars I can see why: It resembles the shape of a woman wearing a habit, bowed in supplication to an ancient altar of stone.
I like to think whoever named it also saw our need for forgiveness. All across the West, man-made monstrosities punctuate the landscape--dams, clearcuts, open-pit mines, oil refineries. Some of us silently seethe, some of us protest, others work quietly toward a new definition of progress. As we dream and argue our way toward the homeland of the future, we could do worse than to take our cues from an old boy from a ranch in the backlands of Oregon, a man who himself learned to take a few cues from the ancients: "Everything evolves. Nothing lasts. Don't destroy that which your people depend on. Take care, and plan for the seventh generation, the long future."
Walking at a good New Yorker's clip, you would need about fifteen minutes to go between Film Forum and the World Trade Center site: a straight shot down Varick Street from three cozy screening rooms and fresh-made popcorn to the remains of a mass grave. I sketch this geography to suggest what September 11, 2001, meant to the Film Forum staff, and to clarify the meaning of their decision to commemorate the other September 11 attack: the one that killed Salvador Allende in 1973.
The calendar links these two events, and so too does the roughest kind of arithmetic. About as many people died at the World Trade Center as were snatched up and murdered by the Pinochet regime. Because the United States helped install and maintain that dictatorship, you might imagine that Film Forum is also connecting these Septembers politically. You would not be entirely wrong; after presenting Patricio Guzmán's new documentary, The Pinochet Case (on view through September 24), the theater will continue its Chilean theme by showing The Trials of Henry Kissinger. But if you know the Manhattan streets, you will realize this schedule doesn't mean to explain--or, worse, to excuse--the criminals who destroyed the Twin Towers. Rather, the Film Forum staff have added sorrow to sorrow, looking beyond themselves and their neighbors to others who are neglected at this moment. Generosity inspires this programming choice, along with hope--precisely the qualities that shine through The Pinochet Case.
If you remember the dangerous immediacy of Guzmán's now-classic The Battle of Chile, you may be surprised to see The Pinochet Case begin as a landscape film. Guzmán sets the tone by showing views of mountains under a clear blue sky, as glimpsed from a car on a lonely highway. A little time passes before the car reaches its destination: a site where corpses were dumped. Two fully clothed men, breathing and fidgeting, lie on the ocher ground to show where the remains were found. By the very inadequacy of their imposture, these surrogates hint at a horror you can't imagine; and maybe they suggest as well that this place belongs to the living. Nothing is left of the victims except for a few fragments--precious to the forensic experts--and the memories borne by their families, who have come here with Guzmán so they can testify to what cannot be seen or heard. A woman speaks of her missing son, meanwhile fingering a photograph that she has slung around her neck. A man recalls his missing brother by reciting a song lyric by Victor Jara: "The spring will come from your heart." He says the line several times over; and somehow, in this place of natural beauty and man-made bitterness, he doesn't choke on the words.
The Pinochet Case belongs to witnesses like these. They sit for their portraits, singly or in groups, sometimes while the moving camera seems to caress their faces. They talk about whatever was hardest for them to endure. (For Nelly, it was admitting that her missing husband would never use the suitcase she packed for him. For Gabriela, who was tortured and raped, it was seeing others killed.) Above all, these witnesses hold out. "My revenge," Luisa says, "is just staying alive."
Not subsisting--staying alive. For Luisa and other witnesses, that meant compiling data that Chilean society preferred to ignore, pressing lawsuits that Chilean courts refused to hear, seeking justice that seemed unattainable even after Pinochet stepped down. Underneath the forms of democracy, as one witness explains, Chile remained unchanged, since the thousands who had cooperated in state terror were still around, still powerful, still unwilling to see their deeds uncovered. And yet, "The spring will come from your heart." The witnesses went on expecting justice--and suddenly, in 1998, they got it.
Narrating the story with brisk reverence for its heroes, The Pinochet Case explains how Spanish prosecutor Carlos Castressana ingeniously recognized that "crimes against humanity" are by definition the business of all courts everywhere. Charges of torture and political murder could therefore be brought against Augusto Pinochet in a Spanish court, even though the crimes took place in Chile. Judge Baltasar Garzón accepted this argument and began to hear testimony--quixotically, it seemed, since no one imagined there would be a trial. But then Castressana and Garzón had the further insight that if their court could enter charges, it could also request extradition. They sprang upon Pinochet during his annual visit to London. All at once, the Senator for Life found himself under house arrest, while the British legal system began fitfully to strip away his immunity from prosecution.
Another surprise: While The Pinochet Case is meditative and leisurely when dealing with the witnesses, it becomes lively and even raucous when it details the court proceedings in England. Part of this energy comes from the polyrhythmic demonstrations that sprang up around Pinochet. (Wherever he was, Chileans and their supporters turned out in force, to bang on drums and shout "Murderer!") Another part of the film's energy comes from the personalities of the lawyers--Castressana, for example, is memorably forceful when he speaks of the historic ties he feels with the Chileans--and still more is contributed by the filmmaker himself. Guzmán illustrates the legal tactics with a chessboard; the political maneuvering with some patched-in footage of Margaret Thatcher, who paid a courtesy call on Pinochet during his period of house arrest. "I'm very much aware," she intoned for his benefit and the camera's, "that it's you who brought democracy to Chile."
What kind of laughter should those words arouse? If I know my New York audiences, a jeer will greet them. We're good at jeering, and Thatcher deserves it. What haunts me about The Pinochet Case, though, is a far different expression of amusement: the bright smile of one of the witnesses toward the end of the movie. She has lived to see Pinochet humiliated; she knows the history books in her country can no longer pass over his crimes; and although full justice has hardly been done, although killers live unmolested all around her, she speaks with a tone of laughter in her voice, a laughter without spite. The killers, she says, are ashamed before their children; but we, we are free.
In September 2002, in New York City, The Pinochet Case is a gift.
Short Takes: The Method actor and the sensitive young junkie emerged together in film history. New versions of the rebellious city boy, scruffy yet soft and inward-looking, they both elected to hunch over a pain in the gut, seeming to protect and even savor the inner flaws that made them writhe.
Half a century later, those figures are still with us, most recently in a Warner Bros. release titled City by the Sea and in a film from China, Quitting. Both are based-on-a-true-story movies; both are exercises in acting. Only one of them touches on the social disaffection that used to spark these now-mythical types.
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones from a screenplay by Ken Hixon, City by the Sea stars Robert DeNiro as a police detective whose long-abandoned junkie son (James Franco) is now wanted for murder. The dialogue is thick with intergenerational doom; the images with establishing shots, as the action bounces between lower Manhattan (where the cop lives and works) and the derelict boardwalk of Long Beach, the son's all-too-symbolic hangout. But the real locus of interest is the face and body of DeNiro, who once might have played the son but now has grown meaty and measured, avuncular if not exactly paternal. You spend the movie admiring his self-control but waiting for the performance to start, until it finally does, on schedule, at the very end. Too bad the acting doesn't benefit the son. The turmoil in this pretty-good picture serves only DeNiro, helping him say farewell to his Method youth to settle comfortably into a chair at the beach.
So I prefer Quitting by Zhang Yang, a fiction film in which young actor Jia Hongsheng, playing himself, re-enacts his years of drug addiction, his struggles with his family (who also play themselves) and his time spent in a psychiatric hospital. Directed and performed with a mercifully light touch, the movie is full of telling details, not just about the characters but about their world: Jia's contempt for his parents' "peasant" manner of speech and dress, for example, or his fascination with Western youth culture, meaning drugs, rock and roll and Method acting. (On the door of his room hangs a poster of DeNiro in Taxi Driver.) All this is right on the surface, unlike Jia's sexual orientation; but if you've got an eye for tight blue jeans and midriff T-shirts, maybe that theme, too, comes to light.
In "A Different Israel" [August 5/12] Martha C. Nussbaum wrote that she became relaxed in her "moralistic heart" while accepting an honorary degree from the University of Haifa in May. She indicates she was able to wear the Star of David during the ceremony, while she never does when in her "anti-Zionistic frame of mind." The University of Chicago professor of ethics and law says her relaxation resulted from the peaceful cooperation in Haifa among Israelis and Arabs. The reason given for accepting the degree was to oppose the "ugly campaign" among academics to boycott Israeli universities.
One should distinguish between relaxation and anesthesia! Perhaps if Nussbaum had gone to Ramallah instead of Haifa, as an acquaintance of mine did recently, her "moralistic heart" would have remained awake. As Nussbaum did, my acquaintance is converting to the Jewish faith of her father and of her husband. Unlike Nussbaum, having seen the Star of David used by occupation troops as a graffiti symbol of hatred and humiliation, she does not feel comfortable wearing hers. Perhaps in Ramallah the campaign to boycott would not have looked quite so ugly.
CLAIBORNE M. CLARK
In Haifa University Martha C. Nussbaum found another Israel. But her praise for the university as a symbol of coexistence and peace belies the dismal reality of that campus, which does not (according to one of the many fallacies in her article) have "many Arab faculty members" but only six, out of 600. Her stress on the Arab-Jewish nature of the campus is particularly annoying, as Haifa University has been singled out in the past two years for its harsh and oppressive treatment of Arab students.
There is a university other than the one Nussbaum described after she received a precious prize there. I have been in the university since 1984, and I think what Nussbaum describes is more in line with the aspirations we had back then but has very little to do with the realities on campus today.
Haifa University nowadays is an institution that tried to expel me in May because of my claims that Israel committed an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in the 1948 war--a claim that contradicts the Zionist narrative of that year. I have been prosecuted, and my tenure nearly annulled, for my support of an MA student who was disqualified for his revelation of an unknown massacre perpetrated by the IDF in the village of Tantura in 1948. Had it not been for overwhelming international pressure exerted on this "peace-loving" university, I would have been out of a job.
This university has silenced its Arab students. They are barred from any political activity on campus, while the Jewish union can openly preach its Zionist ideology. Arab students are discriminated against in accommodations and scholarship policies, and their basic rights as a national group totally denied.
It is hard enough to watch helplessly the demise of pluralism and free speech in Israel in general and at Haifa University in particular. It is worse when it is supplemented by embarrassingly pro-Israeli stances in the United States that either fail to see reality or, worse, are knowingly serving the present Israeli regime and its evil policies.
New York City
I agree with Martha Nussbaum about a "different Israel." I was invited to give a lecture in June at Ben Gurion University, where progressive, liberal and left scholars, activists and professional community workers in and outside national and local government were discussing ways to build a more just, peaceful and secure society in Israel.
I also met with ninety community organizers from Shatil, an independent, foundation-funded organization. For more than twenty years Shatil has worked in almost every distressed community in Israel and with its most excluded population groups. It has Israeli-Palestinian Arab, Bedouin and Druze staff, and Jews from many origins and cultures. They are engaged in coalition-building around the environment, intergroup relations, poverty, health, housing, education and welfare, and social insurance. With the informal support of some government planners, it is organizing an antipoverty movement, because the government is cutting back on the amount of social allowances and healthcare.
What was devastating to these articulate and involved progressive people was the sense of hopelessness about the larger political and military picture that surrounds them. They see no peacemakers on the horizon. They view Sharon and Arafat as warmongers and can't identify a single leader on either side who could shift the kaleidoscope toward peace and security.
They were buoyed momentarily in June because for the first time a group of Palestinian scholars, activists and poets wrote an open letter in Arabic to their leaders calling for an end to suicide bombings and for negotiations. Just as many of us here are working hard to improve the quality of life and conditions for people in this country despite Bush Administration policies, so are many Israelis. There is another Israel, and it must be seen.
Claiborne Clark's odd logic holds that if a nation is doing anything bad, there cannot possibly be any good in it. This demonization of an entire people is just the sort of nonthinking that produces ethnic violence all over the world; it is all too common between Palestinians and Israelis. To counter this pernicious tendency, we need to find examples that show that cooperation is possible and that peace and justice are not impossibly utopian aspirations. I therefore welcome Terry Mizrahi's letter and agree with everything it says. I can add that the group of Palestinians whose letter opposing suicide bombings has by now been widely published is headed by Sari Nusseibeh, a courageous politician, philosopher and university administrator who is one of the best hopes for responsible leadership on the Palestinian side. Nusseibeh is so far from supporting the boycott of Israeli scholars that he has written books with some, and he makes a point of speaking at international conferences that include Israeli speakers. When in the United States, he insists on addressing both Arab and Jewish audiences.
Clark also gives an inaccurate impression of my article. I said that I decided to accept the honorary degree both as a statement of opposition to the boycott of Israeli scholars and as an opportunity to make a public statement about issues of global justice that have implications for the just solution to the conflict. As I recorded, I was encouraged to make such a speech and did so. (My position is roughly that of Amram Mitzna, mayor of Haifa and candidate for leadership of the Labor Party, who favors immediate resumption of negotiations, eventual evacuation of the settlements and a partition of Jerusalem.) I can now add that the identity of other recipients of honorary degrees at the ceremony, including Joschka Fischer, the German Green Party foreign minister, encouraged me to believe that this ceremony was a celebration of dissent and the search for justice. What surprised me was that I found in Haifa an entire city that makes peaceful cooperation and the search for a just solution a way of life, that understands Zionism as I do, as a moral commitment, not a commitment to nationalistic triumph. No moral commitment is without struggle, since we live in an imperfect human world. But it seems right to focus on reasons for hope at a time when too many are losing hope.
I had not heard of Ilan Pappé before I went to Haifa, and I am not in a position to speak about his grievances against the university. I therefore prefer to cite an official statement by the university, responding to his letter:
"During the course of the past years Dr. Pappé has waged a puzzling and eccentric one-man campaign to defame his colleagues and the University of Haifa. The university has reacted with great patience to his curious and unethical behavior as the issue of academic freedom and freedom of speech is of great concern to us. Dr. Pappé's letter is predictably and consistently inaccurate. Here we will address only the most conspicuous nonissues raised in his letter.
"1. Contrary to his claims that there are only six Arab lecturers at the University of Haifa, there are in fact sixty-two, nineteen of them in tenure-track positions. This modest number is constantly rising. Moreover, there are more Arab faculty members at the University of Haifa than at any other Israeli university.
"2. The University of Haifa is proud of its efforts in recruiting Arab students and offering them a wide range of affirmative-action programs. The Arab students are, themselves, aware of these programs and, as such, tend to choose Haifa over other colleges and universities in the country. In fact about 18 percent of our student body are members of Israel's Arab community. No other university in the country has such a large percentage of minority students.
"3. We are dismayed by Dr. Pappé's bewildering claim that Arab students have been barred from political activity while their Jewish peers preach Zionist ideology with impunity. Nothing can be further from the truth. Despite the impossible situation of daily life in Israel and the tense, close encounters between Jews and Arabs on campus, we have upheld a brave policy of full and uncensored freedom of expression. Our only limitations were short and limited moratoriums on demonstrations during exceptional periods (when, for example, some of our students were killed in terrorist attacks). These limitations applied to Jews and Arabs alike. Moreover, even during the most stressful times, we did not limit other features of free speech (fliers, information booths, political assemblies, etc.).
"4. Dr. Pappé's assertion that Arab students suffer discrimination in student housing is a mystery. During the course of the academic year 2001-2, the percentage of Arab students in our dorms reached 30 percent, while the percentage of Arab students at the university is about 18 percent.
"5. Contrary to his claims, the university made no attempt to expel Dr. Pappé. One of his colleagues did indeed lodge a complaint with the internal faculty disciplinary committee. The complaint focused on Dr. Pappé's unethical efforts to disbar his colleagues from international forums for daring to contradict his views. The complaint had nothing to do with his political views, which are shared by other members of the campus community. Moreover, Dr. Pappé has omitted the important fact that he was never summoned by the disciplinary committee, as the committee's chairperson decided not to pursue the complaint in its present form.
"6. As for the MA thesis mentioned by Dr. Pappé, the claims in this study were the subject of a court case, during the course of which the student-author of the paper tendered a court-sanctioned, written apology for misrepresentations. Following the court settlement, the student was offered the opportunity to revise his MA thesis.
"In sum, Dr. Pappé does not appear to be concerned to give
readers of The Nation a full and accurate account of the facts.
Needless to say, despite his odd and unethical behavior, we shall
continue to invest efforts and resources for securing our island of
sanity in this troubled region.
--University of Haifa"
MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM