KUCINICH SHINES FOR ALL
As John Nichols's "Kucinich Rocks the Boat" [March 25] indicates, Representative Dennis Kucinich has become a shooting star in the political firmament because of his willingness to challenge the irresponsible roller coaster ride on which George Bush has placed the nation. How far his courageous stand has taken Kucinich is reflected in his being one of eight national political figures to be nominated for this year's Wayne Morse Award for Integrity in Government. Candidates must demonstrate integrity and independence, the qualities for which the Oregon Senator was known during his quarter-century in the Senate.
GEORGE BERES, chairman
Wayne Morse Integrity in Government Committee
'PITY THE OFFENDER, BUT...'
Certainly no one who respects citizens' rights wishes to see anyone placed in "indeterminate confinement" unjustly. Alexander Cockburn's March 11 "Beat the Devil" column, however, inspects this issue through a narrow lens. He seems to argue in favor of letting sexual predators out of prisons and mental hospitals but offers no alternative to the current methods of determining which predators are safe for release. I will accept his scorn of courts, juries and multidisciplinary teams if he is willing to offer me something besides a goat's entrails as an alternative method of divining the future.
Cockburn quotes Bill Andriette, whose comments about culture are reasonable enough, but is he an expert on sexual abuse and the lifetime of posttraumatic suffering it causes? Marita Mayer, whose laudable purpose as a public defender is to win justice for her clients, is quoted not as an expert on recidivism among sexual offenders, and she seems not to discriminate between the repeat offender and the rehabilitated one. She is quoted not as a victim of such offense, yet she refers to sexual criminals as committing "a tiny crime" without having experienced that crime. She says "people don't care about child rapists," but they do indeed care very much about the victims of child rapists, even if she has lost sight of them.
There is a body of literature that supports very real public concerns about repeat offenses among this class of people. That same literature finds that they offend not because children are "the last stand of unbranded humanity, precious and rare," but because they themselves were abused as children. Every offense has the potential of creating a new offender.
As a healthcare provider who has served abused children and adults, I propose we owe it to thousands of years of human suffering to do all we can to prevent future suffering. As does Mayer, we should pity the offender but also prevent him from injuring another child. We shouldn't limit our pity to the offender but extend it to the next victim as well.
Recidivism rates are high for violent criminals who don't sexually molest their victims but who injure them badly, often leaving them with a lifetime of psychic or physical trauma. But no one suggests they be locked up in the penitentiary or a prison/madhouse on an indeterminate but never completed sentence. All sorts of criminals cause terrible injuries, including those who practice financial fraud and leave their victims destitute. Even determinate sentencing in this country is grotesque, with people regularly sent off for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years for offenses that scarcely merit these vast stretches of hard time. Studies show that after about three years in prison any rehabilitative function is over and all you are doing is hardening the prisoner.
I've found it startling to read letters from readers who regard a fifteen-year sentence for rape as trifling, and thirty years or life as more appropriate. The same people express impatience at my concern for constitutional restraints, regarding them as nonapplicable when it comes to sexual offenses. So yes, if Eric Wolf wants to call regard for constitutional protections as looking at the problem through "a narrow lens," I plead guilty. In recent months we've heard others arguing that the war on terrorism needs a wider lens than the Constitution, a lens that permits breaches of due process, or torture.
To say that we are living through a period of extreme hysteria about sexual offenses is not to condone the offenses, any more than to deprecate the frenzy over "satanic abuse" in daycare centers is to exonerate or discount the reality of child abuse in the home. Nor do I discount the existence of violent sociopaths who might well repeat their crimes if released into society without controls or supervision. There probably are some who should be locked up for good. American streets, shelters, diners and jails are filled with psychic time bombs, many of them veterans. It would probably be safer to lock them all up, after application of the sort of broad-band statistical tests imposed at Atascadero.
Back to my narrow focus: Here in California, as Marita Mayer pointed out, a system has evolved whereby no judge, prosecutor, juror or prison shrink is going to take even a notional "risk" when the utterly safe alternative is to keep locked up forever all those who have committed violent sex crimes in the past. The situation is the same or even worse in other states. That's wrong.
MORMONS ON HOMOSEXUALITY
As a Latter Day Saints Church member, I think I can speak for a lot of middle-of-the-road Mormons when I say that I am tired of the bashing [Katherine Rosman, "Mormon Family Values," Feb. 25]. If the Olympics had been held in Riyadh or Kabul or Medina, would The Nation gratify us with an anti-Islamic exposé on how badly gays are mistreated by Muslims? I am a proud member of a new generation of LDS people born in the seventies and raised in the eighties who have no problem at all meshing our devout faith with the realities of the world around us. I have gay friends; my wife and I have been to gay weddings; we love and support these people as just that: people. The fact that our religion says homosexuality is wrong in no way impacts our ability to be friends with, or even to love, people who choose this lifestyle. And we are happy and content in our religion, strict as it may seem to some on the outside. The fact of the matter is, we didn't decide that homosexuality is wrong, God did.
What's perhaps most galling is that the LDS Church is a unique minority in America. I thought The Nation would rush to take up the defense of any minority, especially one so misunderstood as the Mormon faith. I thought wrong.
BRAD R. TORGERSEN
Salt Lake City
As a gay Mormon, I grew up with the "love," "respect" and "inclusion" the Mormon Church says it practices. Some people do practice this toward gay members, but most don't. Growing up, I couldn't, and I still can't, take a same-sex date to a congregational social activity--especially a dance. That's a bad example for the youth. I know of teens who have tried this and have been threatened with excommunication.
I researched what current Mormon material says about homosexuality. The result shocked me; there are eighty-eight pieces of homophobic material readily available for church members. Here's an example, from a manual for 13-to-18-year-olds: "The unholy transgression of homosexuality is either rapidly growing or tolerance is giving it wider publicity.... The Lord condemns and forbids this practice. 'God made me that way,' some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves.... This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be 'that way'?" (See www.affirmation.org.) I found three pieces encouraging self-respect for gays.
The Mormon Church has no official support groups for its gay members and will only refer gays to groups or individuals who practice reparation therapy. Anyone who doesn't fit its mold is doctrinally or socially ostracized. This is a sad commentary on a people who were once excluded from the national social fabric for practicing a unique form of marriage.
As a former LDS bishop I can tell you I have met church members who have succeeded in reparation therapy. Of course, they have not rid themselves of same-sex attraction but have learned to not act on those feelings. While the church holds fast to its belief that same-sex attraction is not in accordance with moral behavior, just as premarital or extramarital sex is not condoned, the position of the church is to counsel these members from a perspective of love and concern, not condemnation. I agree that church leaders have made harsh remarks about homosexuality in the past, but I also believe that Gordon B. Hinckley has spoken more supportively of those with same-sex attraction than any other church president. His comments may not satisfy gay rights activists, but they have turned the corner on the ignorant positions of the past.
K. LAMONTE JOHN
Summerveld, South Africa
I was a Mormon bishop in South Africa and a member for fifteen years when I left the LDS church. Social banishment and absolute judgment of others were two reasons I left. There were many other historical and doctrinal reasons as well. The Mormon Church is a church of expedience, and when it is no longer expedient to uphold a doctrine for which they receive widespread and deserved condemnation, Elohim gives the prophet a revelation and things get changed (e.g., polygamy and opening the priesthood to black men). No doubt at some stage homosexuality will be acceptable to the church. For the first century of the church's existence there was no opposition to homosexuality, and it is thought by many that the women who were the first two general presidents of the primary organization were lovers. Furthermore, it was also known by many during the 1970s that Eldred Smith, the last Patriarch, was at least bisexual.
THE GENTLE MAN OF ENRON
Though all his colleagues dashed toward the shredder
Like famished vermin bearing down on cheddar,
He folded papers into shapes fantastic
And wore a grin quite origamiastic.
'CREEPS' ON PARADE
Wonderful to read David Corn on the return of all the creeps from contra ["Iran/Contra Rehab," March 11]. As a combat veteran, I always felt North's and Poindexter's convictions should have led to firing squads, not leadership positions and millionaire status. We can also add ol' Jimmie the Geek Watt to the list of convicted felons who walked courtesy of Reagan/
Bush court appointments. And why do some worry about Bill's sexcapades, when Bush and Cheney both got Layed?
An addition to Christopher Hitchens's point about the use of the word "niggers" in Robert Lowell's poem, "For the Union Dead" ["Minority Report," March 4]: It was, in fact, a reference to a message--originally intended as an insult to the family of Robert Gould Shaw--from a Confederate: "We buried him with his niggers!"
The Shaw family turned it into an exultation, saying: "What finer bodyguard could he have had?" Robert Shaw's sister Josephine married Charles Russell Lowell, an ancestor of the poet, so this bit of Civil War lore was part of his family history.
JAMES F. PENCE
CHALLENGING THE BEAST
Marc Cooper's report from Porto Alegre ["From Protest to Politics," March 11] was inspiring and included some hints about the state of the US portion of the anti-corporate globalization movement. As an activist from the marine division of the ILWU here in Seattle, I was upset to read, "The post-9/11 labor movement doesn't want its rank and file to see its leaders in street demonstrations that turn violent." Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not condoning violence as a tactic; however, there is more to the story. Our union not only shut down the docks on the West Coast during the WTO meeting here in Seattle, a group of 200 of our members and elected leaders walked through the marshals and bolstered the Direct Action folks. We were not led by any NGOs or top AFL-CIO leaders. We took the initiative and did the right thing. We are fortunate to belong to one of the few remaining US rank-and-file-run unions with a heritage of militancy and direct action. The vast majority of unions are top-down business unions whose leaders are deathly afraid of their members thinking or acting on their own.
By the way, no one from the ILWU made it to sunny Brazil. But three of us flew back to the "bellybutton of the belly of the beast," New York, for the WEF street protest. We participated in a peaceful, fun, vibrant street protest of 12,000 to 15,000. Yes, there were more NGO superstars in Porto Alegre, but I think history will show that it was more important to brave the weather and 4,000 NYC cops to challenge the beast.
JEFF ENGELS, IBU-ILWU
RESIST LOCALLY--AND NONVIOLENTLY
David Cortright's "The Power of Nonviolence" [Feb. 18], combined with The Nation's call to oppose globalism locally, points us toward more than nonviolent demonstrations and more than pressure on Congress.
Those sitting at forbidden lunch counters in the 1960s were not different from Seattle vandals just by being nonviolent. They were also clearly demonstrating what their message was: They wanted to be able to sit at those counters. We need boycotts of big-box stores with human chains around them, human walls against bulldozers, demonstrations at factories proposing to move overseas, campaigns in the street to take money out of big banks and put it in local ones, student walkouts of schools targeted for privatization, local sandwich sales in front of McDonald's. We need to think globally and practice nonviolent resistance locally.
David Cortright is correct in arguing that "a 95 percent commitment to nonviolence is not enough" in the movement against corporate globalization. As long as protests are planned around such events as the WTO meetings in Seattle, it is likely that protesters who refuse nonviolence will show up. By planning protests on dates of their own choosing, at the offices of governments, corporations and global trade organizations, nonviolent organizers would be better able to "run their own show" and maintain stricter nonviolence. High-profile meetings offer the perks of free, guaranteed press coverage and a convenient kind of roadshow for the global protest movement. But the baseball-bat-and-football-helmet crowd is less likely to crash a nonviolent protest if staying away doesn't mean giving up those same perks themselves. The sit-ins of the civil rights movement took place at lunch counters, not at Klan rallies.
DANIEL J. MORIARTY
Have we heard this myth of protester violence so many times that we believe it ourselves? True, Seattle was violent, but not on the part of the protesters. As for Genoa, credible reports point out that most of the "street battles" and property destruction were carried out by police infil-traitors. Instead of giving our critics ammunition by adopting the rhetoric of a hostile media, why don't we cease framing the debate by pitting "violent" protesters vs. "nonviolent" protesters and alert others to the true nature of our cause, which is, after all, global justice and peace.
ZINN: 'ELOQUENT'? 'MUSHMOUTHED'?
There was a deluge of mail in response to Howard Zinn's "The Others" [Feb. 11]. A sampling appears below.
Thank you for "The Others" by Howard Zinn. Finally someone has the integrity to raise a voice for the innocent people of Afghanistan amid the blind fury of the US media and the government. Please don't stop raising this issue again and again.
Howard Zinn has given us an eloquent and devastating rebuttal to those who think there is such a thing as an acceptable loss of civilian life in warfare. Any loss of life through violence is unacceptable. Until we can understand that the "others" are really ourselves, we will be the playthings of madness.
It's sad to see Howard Zinn stoop to peddling such softheaded, mushmouthed, sentimental claptrap. "Those who celebrated the grisly deaths...what if, instead of symbols, they could see, up close, the faces of those who lost their lives? I wonder if they would have second thoughts, second feelings." Please! As a corrective to his "can't we all just get along?" speculations, we should recall that the hijackers had no trouble looking into the faces of those they were about to murder without any second thoughts.
My sister was at work on the eighty-first floor of the first tower of the WTC. It took her more than one hour to come down, but thank God she made it. I have followed the developments since September 11 and am not surprised that the casualties in Afghanistan are underreported, as clearly the Afghans are insignificant. We have come to know that only American blood is blood, and it is water that runs in the veins of all others. What happened at the WTC is way past reprehensible. But an eye for an eye makes for only blind men. The government had a golden opportunity to prove to the world that it is different from the terrorists, but sadly, it hasn't, because it isn't.
Fujisawa, Kanagawa, Japan
It has disturbed me that critics of the war on terrorism have not pointed out that besides the possible 4,000 Afghan civilians dead after September 11, some 1.7 million Afghans have fled as refugees, with no home to go back to. If we could imagine an equivalent number of Americans displaced so that several hundred militants could be arrested, well, it would not be tolerated.
My Japanese students are surprised when I speak against the bombing, and impressed. Everyone who speaks the truth has an impact. Thank you, Mr. Zinn.
Howard Zinn accuses the September 11 hijackers and US politicians of perpetrating "terrorism" against "men, women and children." To make a moral equivalence between the two events is ridiculous. Distinctions matter. In the case of the World Trade Center, civilians were massacred deliberately during a time of peace by a nonuniformed group whose intention was to spread terror. In the other case, civilians were killed during an exercise of legitimate self-defense by a state, in response to an act of war, and were killed unintentionally despite good faith efforts by targeteers to avoid doing so.
If I, as a young historian, can see the difference between the two incidents, it is strange that Zinn, whose breadth of knowledge vastly exceeds my own, cannot.
Howard Zinn's putting a human face on the Afghan people killed and maimed by our bombing is of dire importance. I teach US history in a big urban university and have told my students that the greatest obscenity in the corporate media's coverage of this and other recent US wars is that only American lives matter. People trying to live in whatever impoverished, defenseless country we are currently bombing do not register on big media's cockeyed moral compass. Hence we never get to see or feel any of their anguish. I only wish Zinn's words could be circulated more broadly.
George W. Bush said in his State of the Union address, "Evil is real, and it must be opposed." Upon reading Howard Zinn's article, one has to stop and wonder just who the evil nation is. If US bombs had just wiped out your village and family, you would know who is evil, just like those who lost friends and loved ones on September 11 know who is evil. It's all a matter of perception, I guess.
Just how would Howard Zinn defend US citizens? Or would he? He may be of the school that feels, because of past morally indefensible interventions, that this country owes a sacrifice to "even out" the accounting in blood. September 11 was not a one-shot Oklahoma City-like catastrophe: It was an opening salvo. An armed response was mandatory; the workings of that action were, I imagine, informed by the grown-ups who advise the President. Had Zinn been in that cohort, what would he have advised?
Howard Zinn's article is a powerful reminder of the horrors that are perpetrated in the world. I, too, cried as I saw the portraits of the 9/11 victims. I, too, was crying not only for them, and not only for the victims of the wars the United States and other powers perpetrate but also for the millions who die every year because of economic terrorism. Detailed, in-depth TV and newspaper portraits of, say, the 12 million children who die from hunger every year might wake up our collective consciousness.
Zinn makes another important point that I stress with my quantitative reasoning classes: Statistical data can distance us from a deep empathy and understanding of the conditions of people's lives. Of course, the data are important because they reveal the institutional structure of those conditions. But, also, quantitatively confident and knowledgeable people can use those data to deepen their connections to humanity. Those 12 million children are dying faster than we can speak their names.
New York City
SLENDER THREAD IN PALESTINE...
Panama City, Fla.
Neve Gordon's "An Antiwar Protest Grows in Israel" [Feb. 25] on the reservist protest is the most encouraging news to come out of Israel in months.
...AND IN AMERICA...
In "A New Current in Palestine" [Feb. 4] Edward Said asks, "Where are American liberals?" Said's certainly right that outside of "a tiny number of Jewish voices," far too few Americans of any stripe are protesting the Israeli occupation. Those few Jewish voices belong, by and large, to Tikkun magazine, a progressive Jewish critique I help edit.
Tikkun has published Said and other Palestinians, along with the remaining voices of the Israeli peace movement, like Uri Avnery, David Grossman and Tanya Reinhart. Some of our strongest pieces against the occupation are by our editor, Rabbi Michael Lerner, who argues that the occupation hurts the state of Israel by undermining core Jewish values. Because of this position we have received hate mail, and Lerner has received death threats. We are trying to mobilize an activist force to lobby US and Israeli leaders to end the occupation and to support Palestinians in nonviolent action. Please check out Tikkun on the newsstands or at www.tikkun.org.
JO ELLEN GREEN KAISER
...EVEN IN LA
Thank you for publishing Amy Wilentz's "In Cold Type" [Feb. 11]. Its reference to Al Jadid is perhaps the first mention that this Los Angeles quarterly, devoted to Arab culture and arts, has had in a mainstream US publication, although it has been published for several years now. Many of Al Jadid's contributors are Americans of Arab origin, and they represent a good segment of the Arab-American intellectuals and their community. If Al Jadid has been ignored, it is not because it has not been actively trying to communicate with other Americans but probably because mainstream American intellectuals are too concerned with their own "niche obsessions" (Wilentz's term for the concerns of some publications like Al Jadid). US intellectuals and others should pay more attention to minority publications if they want to have a better knowledge of those who share the country (and the world) with them. I commend Wilentz for commenting positively on Al Jadid (despite its "painful" review of her novel).
ISSA J. BOULLATA
PARADIGM SHIFT: DOES DUBYA GET IT?
Benjamin Barber remarks ["Beyond Jihad vs. McWorld," Jan. 21] that the September 11 attacks have produced a paradigm shift in government ideology: The old realpolitik has been replaced by a policy with rights and democracy as its goals. But though the tiger may have changed its stripes, we might well suspect it is still the same old tiger. The focus on democratic principles may make it easier to gain the support of fellow Western democracies, but these values can still be regarded as secondary to economic interests and the pursuit of empire as the dominant goals of US foreign policy. Such suspicions are strengthened by noticing the governments the United States is eager to take as allies in the struggle against terrorism: Pakistan and Uzbekistan, among others.
More persuasive is Barber's point that our newly recognized global interdependence offers the opportunity to work with international movements and the organizations representing them that have sprung up in the past half-century: the green and environmental movements, internationally oriented rights and labor movements, debt-reduction and literacy projects and many others. Arguably such grassroots activity has always been the most important source of social progress. The immense potential for progressive change inherent in these movements can give hope even in these politically regressive times.
I am not nearly as sanguine as Benjamin Barber about our government's ability or willingness to view the world through a new prism. When our leader declared "war" against the new world menace, I knew there would be a supreme effort to fit the new demons into the old cold war textbook. Barber suggests that "the myth of our independence can no longer be sustained." I do not believe the Administration understands that. In the same way that "realpolitik" protected our national interests against those of foreign nations, we will now protect our ideals and ideas against those that are foreign. The variety of foreign ideas that could fall under the rubric "evil" will allow for continuous conflict. Barber asks, "Do we think we can bomb into submission the millions who resent, fear and sometimes detest what they think America means?" Unfortunately, yes--we will force our ideology on the rest of the world with "for us or against us" absolutism. We will arm nations to insure that they can police dissent within their borders.
Barber's other main premise is that democracy and shared values will define friendship among nations in this new order. I suggest that it may be capitalism and globalization that will bring us together, but it will not be democracy--at least not in the short run. We will be hard pressed to promote democratic values abroad as we dismantle them at home. Both political parties appear to be moving away from expanding the franchise. Propaganda and secrecy assure an ill-informed electorate. Electoral reforms inspired by the 2000 election are not happening, and money still buys public policy. Interest in politics is shrinking--people have figured out that they have no real choice. And 2000 showed that the election can be rigged. Incumbency and special interest money will assure a favorable climate for free trade and unregulated capitalism. Our ethic will continue to be greed and consumerism. Words for the idea that we should sacrifice some of our bounty to help the poor of the world are not in our vocabulary. Ideas like cooperation, sharing, temperance, community, sustainability and reverence for the diversity of nature have no relevance in bottom-line, short-term thinking. As long as money equals redemption, our values will continue to clash with "primitive" cultures and with our own metaphysical yearnings for what we have lost. Interdependence may be realpolitik, but self-sufficiency and sustainability trump dependence and should be the defining goal of the world's communities.
J. RUSSELL TYLDESLEY
New York City
Both letters are pessimistic about the capacity of this Administration to absorb the lessons of the new realism. I am not exactly sanguine myself, but my object was not to persuade readers that George W. Bush had converted overnight to multilateralism--only to suggest that multilateralist interdependence is today a mandate of political realism. Whether or not prudent long-term realism can offset the seductions of "short-term thinking" remains to be seen. Realism does not describe what people do; it suggests what they should do when they heed the lessons of politics and history. What has changed for now is not US policy but the status of democracy--no longer a daydream of idealists but a prudent multilateralist instrument for securing the safety of Americans in a world in which, realistically speaking, independence is a myth and unilateralism a recipe for defeat.
UZBEKISTAN: JIHAD'S COUNTRY?
I take exception to Raffi Khatchadourian's portrayal of Namangan and the Fergana Valley as steeped in "radical Islamic fervor" ["Letter From Uzbekistan," Jan. 21]. I lived in Namangan for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer and in different areas of Uzbekistan for another three years. While the general population is taking on more religious beliefs than before their independence in 1991, I would not go so far as to describe them as Khatchadourian has done. Sure, there are the exceptions like the IMU's Juma Namangani, and of course there are human rights abuses by the government.
My experiences on the ground, however, were very positive. I worked closely with the local population. I came in contact with all social classes in Namangan, from "privileged" college students to collective farmers in the outlying villages of Qora-Tepa and Chinobod. Generally, I found the local citizens to be moderate in their religious views, social mores and political feelings.
New York City
I portrayed the Fergana Valley (a place The Economist describes as a "tinderbox") using firsthand experiences and interviews with local human-rights activists, journalists and religious leaders. A man I called Azizov offered evidence that "radical Islamic fervor has become inseparably interwoven with growing popular discontent," because the repressive regime of Islam Karimov is aggravating the very problem it is trying to stamp out by driving people to the only alternative to state terror--radical Islamic movements. Azizov, who has worked with the New York Times and the Washington Post and who would be in danger if I revealed his real name, is an Uzbek who has lived in Namangan for more than forty years and has interviewed founding members of the IMU.
Another source was Azizulla Ghazi, who works in Osh for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which released a report last year containing many on-the-ground interviews. I sought out members of the banned Hizb-ut Tahrir radical Islamic movement, who told me its numbers are growing. I suggest reading journalist Ahmed Rashid, who has written about this subject for The New Yorker and in his book Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. In the January 29 edition of Jane's Intelligence Review Tamara Makarenko observes that "developments over the past four months may actually result in the growth of political violence in the region."
As for my portrayal of Namangan, I believe it's fair to say that "poverty and unemployment are rampant" and that it is a place of "intense social conservatism and piety." These characterizations have been widely reported; neither suggests that everyone in Namangan is a burning jihadist.
Progressive Voices is creating a national directory of progressive, community-based organizations to better bring us together as a movement--a formidable though very fulfilling task. We have been able to identify more than 1,000 progressive community groups through various media and personal contacts, but if this project is to be successful, we must find a way to reach progressives in even the most rural locations, to reach those with the most modest technology. Nation readers, please send us the names, contact information and basic description of any groups that fit the criteria.
6469 Ral Mar
Rockford, IL 61109
Thanks to Stephen Metcalf for his informed article "Reading Between the Lines" [Jan. 28]. There is another winner from Bush's education act: Ignite! Learning, which promotes an "innovative approach to standards-based middle school subject matter." In other words, Ignite!'s multimedia, online, interactive program is designed just for those students most affected by the new bill and its emphasis on standardized testing. The chairman and CEO of Ignite! Learning? Neil Bush, the pResident's brother.
Cape Coral, Fla.
Kudos on your article about the Bush family's love affair with standardized testing. Here in Florida, where I teach, Governor Jeb Bush has pushed a test called the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Based on their scores, schools receive a grade that can affect their funding, so ignoring the test is not an option. Good teachers are forced into teaching to a test that does not necessarily represent what a child knows. At the same time, Governor Bush has encouraged the state legislature to cut school funding, so teachers are in a no-win situation--they must get the students ready for a standardized test without the resources to prepare the kids. Thanks for reporting that the real concern is not for children but for the profits to be made by testing companies.
SCOTT B. KILHEFNER
George Bush made a great show of voluntarily taking a drug test. Let's see him volunteer to take the mandatory eighth grade test and promise to reveal his score.
Although Stephen Metcalf correctly alerts us to the way large textbook and testing companies influence education policy, his simplistic view of reading instruction insults many progressive educators who applaud the instructional strategies advocated by the National Reading Panel (NRP). In a simple-minded dichotomy, Metcalf places educators politically into two camps based on their views on phonics. One camp aims to cultivate critical and reflective citizens. The other, which supports systematic phonics, aims to produce minimally competent and uncritical workers for big business.
But understanding that comprehending texts requires critical thinking and reflection has little connection with one's politics or position on phonics. The NRP report and its most recent summary, Put Reading First (www.nifl.gov), devote more pages to vocabulary, comprehension and fluency instruction than to phonics.
Agreement with NRP about systematic phonics is no clue to one's politics. In fact, many progressives hope that approach will close the achievement gap between rich and poor students, at least in the early grades. Most children of well-educated, affluent parents enter school with thousands of hours of literacy preparation, and for them a more casual approach to phonics suffices. Systematic instruction, however, insures that children lacking such backgrounds are introduced to every sound and letter element--the basic tools for true reading comprehension, which goes far beyond simple phonics.
Calling supporters of systematic phonics reactionary lackeys is a harmful simplification that insults many socially committed educators seeking effective ways to narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Principal Education Consultant
Illinois Board of Education
Note: Ms. Goldsmith-Conley's views are her own, not those of the Illinois Board of Education.
Just when we might have hoped for an end to the politicization of the debate over reading instruction, along comes Stephen Metcalf to keep the battle going. The debate was always scientific and educational, not political: To what extent can written language be acquired naturally (the way spoken language is), and to what extent is structured teaching necessary? Representatives of one theory, whole language, asserted in the 1970s and '80s that written language can be acquired naturally. But whole language contradicted what linguistics and cognitive psychology teach us: that written language is a subtle code for spoken language; learning to read is unlike learning to speak; and explicit instruction--phonics--is essential for many. Although whole language should have been a nonstarter, it had a significant impact because of its political marketing. Whole language wrapped itself in liberation rhetoric, promising such things as "the empowerment of learners and teachers." The right wing was jubilant. Here was a left-wing conspiracy that could imperil children's literacy! A flurry of newsletters and websites appeared attacking the left-wing menace of whole language and vigorously promoting phonics. In the end, as Metcalf makes clear, the phonics counterrevolution found a home in the Bush White House.
Metcalf suggests that we look to the Bush family's links to McGraw-Hill for an explanation of the current situation. I disagree. Metcalf's anecdotes of corruption on the reading front, if true, are a sideshow--a symptom, not a cause. If effective phonics instruction is now inextricably linked to educational trends promoted by "conservatives and business leaders," as Metcalf claims, the progressive community has no one but itself to blame. The war against phonics was a Lysenkoist aberration. It is time to put it to rest. There is no connection between politics and how we should teach children to read, and there never was.
New York City
I would like to clarify several of the misconceptions in Stephen Metcalf's "Reading Between the Lines." McGraw-Hill Education is proud of the role we play in improving student achievement. We have products that meet the standards and pedagogical approaches our customers require. And our materials have demonstrated positive results, especially in the critically important arena of reading.
Results matter. Accountability must be part of the educational system. However, education leaders in all fifty states will determine the appropriate pedagogical approach for their constituents. McGraw-Hill must be prepared to address the needs state and local governments identify. The phonics-based reading programs Metcalf references are but two of a range of programs published by McGraw-Hill. Collectively, these instructional programs represent an approach to reading instruction that is as diverse as the broad-based support this year's education bill received in Congress. Regrettably, Metcalf's one-sided view only examined one successful approach to reading instruction.
We are proud of the collaborative relationships we have with our customers. The products and programs we produce are not created in a vacuum. They are produced using the best research available to us, the input of our customers and our decades of experience.
Metcalf's article also attempted to diminish the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education, which in its fourteen-year history has become one of the most prestigious awards in education. Honorees are selected by a highly respected panel of judges, and winners have come from all parts of the academic, pedagogical and political spectrum.
As the nation's largest K-12 textbook publisher, we are committed to improving teaching and learning and will continue to work with our customers and public officials across the nation in pursuit of this goal.
ROBERT E. EVANSON
President, McGraw-Hill Education
New York City
I urge readers to please go back and read my article. I nowhere placed educators into camps, accused phonics of being a waste of time or advertised whole language as a cure for illiteracy, and certainly never reached for so silly a phrase as "reactionary lackeys." Furthermore, I imagine that Elizabeth Goldsmith-Conley and I agree that gifted teachers should use any means necessary to teach children the ABCs, politics be damned. But it is simply a fact: A vocal subset of the phonics constituency is politically motivated. Even a glance at the public record reveals that the "reading wars" is a red-meat issue for social conservatives, many of whom demonize whole language by way of camouflaging the root causes of illiteracy--poverty and the chronic underfunding of schools.
I did argue that the standardized testing industry, controlled by three major publishing companies, now has exactly the education policy it wants--centered on radically expanding standardized testing. It has done this by lobbying heavily and by having a friend in the White House; and an assist should be credited to the enormous prestige business leaders and social conservatives wield in educational circles, at the local, state and now federal level. Educators of any political stripe must be happy with increased attention and funding, but phonics and testing are often promoted by conservatives as virtually cost-free solutions to a broken system. I know no serious educator, progressive or otherwise, who can swallow this without gagging.
The reading wars, sadly, do continue--not because a handful of flat-earthers refuse to acknowledge good science but because the supposedly ironclad scientific neutrality (not to mention validity) of the NRP's work has come under serious fire. Even a cursory examination of the NRP report--as opposed to its widely circulated summary--reveals that science has not determined a straightforward, uniform prescription for reading failure; that the panel's findings were often quite narrow and based on dubious interpretations of the research; and that the summary overstated (to put it mildly) the panel's conclusions. Nonetheless, the report was presented to policy-makers, educators and the public as the end of the reading wars by a publicist whose prominent clients include McGraw-Hill, which in turn stands to profit mightily from a Bush reading plan based in its specifics on--guess what?--the NRP report. I leave it to readers--Lysenkoist, Taoist, Maoist and otherwise--to conclude whether they prefer their educational policies to travel this route into public consciousness and federal legislation.
It's hard to imagine a better example of the new market paradigm for public education than Robert Evanson's letter, where we hear (three times) about "customers," as well as politicians and their "constituents," but nothing about teachers or students. As to his suggestion that my article was "one-sided," I never felt any burden to address McGraw-Hill's entire product line when pointing out the controversy over two of its programs--and still don't. I did not diminish the McGraw Prize, though a glance at the roster of past winners reveals a curious number of superintendents--Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Los Angeles super Roy Romer and recent winners Nancy Grasmick and Carl Cohn--who have adopted or promoted Open Court, one of McGraw-Hill's primary phonics programs. Maybe we should retain a qualified researcher to tell us if this is statistically random.
There are many grave problems with Jerome M. Segal's "A New Middle East Approach" [Jan. 28]. I will discuss two. The first is Segal's repeated insistence that the United Nations and any government of a state of Palestine recognize Israel's right to exist "as a Jewish state." Has the UN, out respect for everyone's civil "rights," not tended to call upon states to respect the various religious preferences of all their citizens, to avoid setting themselves up as theocracies, whether they be "Jewish states" or "Islamic republics"?
Segal's desire represents an unspoken effort by Jewish Israelis to avoid responding constructively to demands that they address the misery of the vast numbers of Arab refugees who were driven from the area that is now Israel, refugees who have languished for more than a half-century in wretched encampments in Lebanon and Jordan. This avoidance may be understandable, but it is a deal-breaker. Peace cannot come to Palestine until Israeli Jews transform their nation into a secular state and make amends to those who lost their homes.
A second problem is Segal's absurd and demeaning insistence that a state of Palestine not be allowed to import weapons. Palestinians must be permitted to ward off Israel's relentless attacks on them. The expressions of outrage by Israel and the United States at the discovery of an arms shipment bound for Palestine were deliriously hypocritical. Until the Palestinians cease to be victimized by overwhelming (mostly US-supplied) Israeli firepower, there will be no peace in the area.
Now, I suppose that the Palestinians would agree to forgo importation of weapons if the Israelis would do likewise, but I suspect that even the "dovish" Segal would not agree to that. These two points alone undercut Segal's apparent desire for peace. Taken together, all his proposals constitute nothing more than the latest effort by Jewish immigrants to Palestine and their descendants to maintain their position of extreme privilege. Their privilege has played the largest part in sustaining the hostilities that have scarred Palestine for fifty-four years. Until Israeli Jews agree to live equally and respectfully with their Arab neighbors, they will not experience peace.
LAWRENCE A. BECK
Jerome Segal's approach is inherently flawed. The major flaw lies in his suggestion that Israel withdraw from only 95 percent of the occupied West Bank (percentage according to what? the 1967 Green Line? including East Jerusalem?). First, Israel controls the entire water and electrical supplies for the occupied West Bank from Israel proper. The remaining 5 percent of the West Bank that Israel wants to retain is made up of its settlement blocks, strategically positioned over underground aquifers along the 1967 Green Line. If a land swap were to occur for this remaining 5 percent, it would (1) legitimate the Israeli colonization/settlement effort in the West Bank, already deemed illegal by UN resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention, and (2) maintain Israeli control over the West Bank's underground water supply, thereby insuring a Palestinian state dependent on Israel.
Second, there is an issue of the quality of the land swapped. One proposed land swap would have resulted in Israel obtaining land that can support agriculture and, more important, that is above underground water aquifers. In exchange, the Palestinians would have received a sliver of land located next to the Gaza Strip that has no resources and cannot support agriculture. The only solution must be grounded in a 100 percent withdrawal to the 1967 Green Line and include evacuation of all settlements.
For Jerome Segal, Israel's and Israelis' security prevails over everything and anything, including the Palestinians (who have nothing of Israel's might, ordinarily directed at Palestinian civilians--their roads, their trees, their homes, their liberty and their lives), but is immune from the charge of terror. Segal is able to notice none of the Palestinians' suffering, nor their recognized rights under international law.
Segal is advocating a supposedly popular Israeli trend called "separation" from the Palestinians. The term reveals a burden that Israel and Israelis are so keen to dispose of, namely the Palestinians, and thus pursue living in a pure Jewish state. One may ask, therefore, what about the 1 million Palestinians living inside Israel, who have official citizenship but actual third-class status? How exactly are Israel and Israelis going to separate from them? The answer is easy: by continuing to negate the binational reality of the country, together with its history and memory.
A problem with Jerome Segal's Middle East approach is that most Israelis do not trust the UN Security Council to implement (not impose--relatively easy--but follow through on) an equitable peace settlement. Will the Council be as diligent in intercepting illegal arms shipments to the Palestinian state as the IDF? Can it prevent a Palestinian state from meddling in Jordanian politics or from, say, concluding a defensive alliance with Iraq against Jordan, with its obvious strategic implications for Israel's security? There is much talk these days about building trust. It seems to me that the Security Council, working from a deficit, has some preliminary work to do here (if it hasn't already squandered its opportunity).
College Park, Md.
I will respond to the issues raised by the letter writers in turn:
(1) The plan asks the PLO to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but is such a state morally legitimate?
Obviously a big question, one under considerable debate in Israel. A good part of the issue depends on what one means by a Jewish state. There are all sorts of possible meanings under which such a state would not be legitimate. The issue is whether there are any in which it would be. Contrary to the suggestion in the first letter, the idea of a Jewish state does not necessarily imply a theocracy, that is rule by religious authorities or by religious law. Neither of these characterizes Israel. Nor does it necessarily imply discrimination among its citizens. I favor a rather minimal definition of a Jewish state, aside from one that might proclaim itself as such; this implies one that structures its immigration policy specifically with the goal of maintaining a Jewish majority. This does not require that no Palestinians will be able to return, but it does involve limitations. Given both a belief in the right of a people to self-determination, as well as the history of the conflict, I believe this can be justified. It is worth remembering that in response to the continued struggle over who would dominate in historic Palestine, in 1947 the UN Partition Resolution provided for two states, one Arab and one Jewish. This resolution, and this specific phrase, was for the first time endorsed by the Palestinians, in their Declaration of Independence adopted in 1988.
(2) How can one justify limiting the state of Palestine's ability to arm itself?
The harsh reality is that the asymmetry of military strength is part of what makes it possible to resolve the conflict. Given that Palestinians believe that the creation of Israel was a vast injustice, if they were equal to Israel militarily, the prospect of a land-for-peace deal would evaporate. This is true on the Israeli side as well. It is their military superiority that serves as a basis for a willingness to give up land and run the risk of a new, possibly hostile state next to them without any natural boundaries. The Palestinians, at Taba, have already agreed that theirs would be a nonmilitarized state.
(3) Would allowing Israel to retain even 5 percent of the West Bank prevent Palestinian development and legitimize the settlements?
At Taba, the Palestinians offered an Israeli retention of about 3 percent plus a 1-for-1 territorial swap. My proposal sets 5 percent as a maximum and also requires a 1-for-1 swap, which is not vastly different. The Security Council would serve as arbitrator. It need not accept the Israeli proposal. It will review it, hold hearings and possibly amend it.
(4) What happens to the 1 million Palestinian citizens of Israel?
My proposal raises no new problems with respect to the situation of the Palestinian citizens of Israel not raised by any other way of getting to the two-state solution. The greatest danger faced by the Palestinian minority in Israel is the continuation of the conflict and its possible escalation. If things escalate into genuine war, they will be in peril. With a stable peace, something Israel has never had, there will be increased likelihood of moving toward fuller equality.
(5) How can Israel trust the UN Security Council?
To be sure, many Israelis will be quite wary about having the Security Council serve as arbitrator. Unlike in the General Assembly, however, the United States exercises a veto in the Council, and Israel retains plenty of influence over American policy. Vis-à-vis the Council, Israel is certainly more fully protected than the Palestinians. But there are risks for both sides. Every other proposal has risks as well. As to the interception of arms shipments, the provision for international monitoring does not imply that Israel would abandon its own monitoring efforts, merely that insofar as these were done on Palestinian territory it would be through Israeli participation in an international force.
In the end, it must be realized that if we are truly seeking policies that can end the conflict and provide some measure of justice, then the issue is not whether a specific proposal is free from legitimate concerns. Even the best policy may be less than perfect. The real question is whether there are better approaches. I see very few alternatives that are worth considering. If there is a better idea, what is it?
BRIDEFARE OF FRANKENSTEIN
Katha Pollitt ["$hotgun Weddings," Feb. 4] makes many very excellent points about the horrors of "bridefare," but she does not address a major tragedy of the benefits-for-wedlock policies--i.e., the oppressively heterosexist and homophobic assumptions and ideology that undergird such programs.
Though one might never know it from pop-culture representations of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, a recent report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, analyzing the impact of welfare reform on GLBT people, estimates that there are 900,000 to 2.5 million low-income GLBT people in the United States, many of whom have children to support. This excellent report (see www.ngltf.org) details many other ways current and proposed welfare policies and practices are detrimental to GLBT people and their children. For example, in addition to the potential for discrimination and mistreatment associated with coming out to their caseworkers, current policies that privilege marriage often serve to coerce lesbian and bisexual women who apply for public assistance to establish the paternity of potentially violent former male partners. These policies can also force GLBT minors to return to homophobic parents--the same parents who may have kicked them out of the house for being queer--in order to receive benefits.
Not surprisingly, many of the same right-wing ideologues who promote bridefare are also pushing, among other things, a constitutional amendment (nicknamed "super-DOMA") that would bar same-sex unions, as well as legal bans on adoptions by GLBT people. Those on the right are not interested in aiding this type of "family formation"--they would much rather punish GLBT people in need of public assistance and use antipoverty policy as another way to further their campaigns of stigma and hate.
DARA Z. STROLOVITCH
LORDS OF THE RING
New York City
Jack Newfield felt called upon to denigrate several other athletes--all of them black--while exalting Muhammad Ali ["The Meaning of Muhammad," Feb. 4] as America's "Dalai Lama, who personifies peace and harmony." Jackie Robinson was criticized for becoming a Republican and Michael Jordan was faulted for being unwilling to do anything controversial.
In his race-conscious comparisons, Newfield was grossly unfair to two black former heavyweight fighters. Jack Johnson, the first black champion, low-rated by Newfield as an "apolitical hedonist," was in fact a proud man whose defiance of the lynch-law standards of his time aroused a frenzied national search for a "White Hope" to dethrone him.
Joe Louis, whom Newfield scorns for being "modest" and a "patriot," was assertive enough in the ring to be "the greatest" with his fists (if not in self-praise) during the twelve years of his championship. If Louis is charged with being a "patriot" because of his readiness to serve in World War II, it may be noted that there were 11 million of us, black and white, who shared his view that the war against Hitler was a just war.
Appearing with Paul Robeson at a tribute to black war veterans, Joe Louis expressed warm support for that redbaited artist and activist. The champion hailed Robeson as "my friend and a great fighter for the Negro people," and said, "There are some people who don't like the way Paul Robeson fights for my people. Well, I say that Paul is fighting for what all of us want, and that's freedom to be a man."
LLOYD L. BROWN
NON CAMPUS MENTIS
Thank you so much for your coverage of the campus unrest of our times ["War on Campus," Dec. 3]. Professor Berthold is not the only one under attack at the University of New Mexico. Students, faculty and those from the campus community who question, demonstrate or educate about "the war on terrorism" are scorned by a local politician and the shrill campus Republicans. My English 102 students struggled hard to understand the events of September 11 and beyond, and they deserve the respect of those who claim to stand for our foundational freedoms. One freedom that is often overlooked is the right of intellectually curious students to have access to information so as to formulate their own educated opinions. Letters to the campus newspaper demonstrate a variety of positions on our current war. They also show Professor Berthold to be a very popular teacher, even when students disagree with the positions he takes.
Neither I nor frontpagemagazine.com have ever called for the firing of anyone from any university for expressing views that are leftist, idiotic, traitorous or otherwise, as David Glenn implies in his article. One of my employees--a young graduate of UNC--did make an emotional statement to this effect, which Glenn quoted, which is fine. But since I myself disagree with the statement, which did not appear in my magazine, I should not be accused of hypocrisy on free speech issues by Glenn or anyone else. My issue with so-called teach-ins was their totalitarian exclusion of opposing views. It ill behooves leftists who have not uttered a word of protest or concern while the conservative viewpoint has been purged from the faculties of virtually every major university in the country--including those that provide subsidies to Nation editors--to pose as defenders of academic freedom.
David Glenn exposes the inevitable result of the "hostile environment" cabal, which is one sad inevitable result of identity politics. When the focus is exclusively on race or sex, what do you expect? That pro-Israeli shills wouldn't see criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism? Such could only happen here in California, where Cal students bum-rushed the Daily Californian for running David Horowitz's stupid anti-reparations ad instead of directing readers to consider the source and let Horowitz hang himself. The left has suffered because of people who have to begin every political statement with the words "as a...(fill in the blank)." Only when it returns to emphasizing how we've all been injured will it help address the real gaps in our lives.
New York City
David Glenn refers to the editors of the pernicious New York Pest saying they were "rethinking their support" for increased CUNY funding because faculty have dared to criticize US policy in Afghanistan. What a joke! Both the malignant New York trash papers, the Pest and the Daily Ooze, have been enemies of City University for years. They have never let mere truth interfere with their endless drumfire of defamation of the university, its faculty and its students. The trustees (busily trying to suppress student and faculty dissent) and the chancellor have never seen fit to respond to these dishonest tabloid attacks. Shamefully, instead of doing their job, which is to defend the university as a free space for the debate of any and all public issues without censorship or interference, they prefer to attack unpopular views on campus and meddle irresponsibly in curricular matters beyond their competence. That is a greater menace to the fundamental moral and intellectual health of our society than crazed terrorists or anthrax-laden mail.
David Horowitz says that he and FrontPage shouldn't be stigmatized for comments made on NPR by one of his junior editors. Fair enough. Let's see what FrontPage itself had to say (www.frontpagemag.com/guestcolumnists/oswell09-21-01.htm). FrontPage describes the September 17 teach-in on terrorism, sponsored by UNC's Progressive Faculty Network, as a "nauseating" "shameful" exercise in "spewing hatred for America." Fine, fine, fine. Far be it from The Nation to discourage vigorous polemic. But then there's an editorial box below the article: "Tell the good folks at UNC-Chapel Hill what you think of their decision to allow anti-American rallies on their state-supported campus. Chancellor James Moeser can be reached at...," followed by phone number and e-mail address. This call was not simply tucked into a corner of the website. According to the Daily Tar Heel, Horowitz's staff aggressively faxed the article to right-wing radio hosts and other media outlets.
Note that the editorial box did not say, "Here are the e-mail addresses of the professors who spoke at the teach-in. Write to them and point out where their logic has gone astray." (Had this been the request, I might have been tempted to join in myself. Personally, I lean toward Christopher Hitchens's view of the war.)
Nor did it say, as Horowitz's letter implies: "Write to Chancellor Moeser and complain about UNC's double standards--the university gives a platform to leftists but suppresses conservative voices." For there is no evidence that UNC has done any such thing. In early October, the College Republicans sponsored a "patriotic rally" with no interference from the university. Moeser, whose office was besieged by angry phone calls instigated by FrontPage, was no more and no less responsible for the Progressive Faculty Network's teach-in than for the College Republicans' rally.
Beneath the coy phrasing, there is really only one meaning to FrontPage's "Tell the good folks...". It's impossible to parse that sentence as anything other than a call for censorship. In his NPR appearance, Horowitz protégé Scott Rubush at least had the courage to make the call in plain language.
'OUTSIDE THE BOX' NO MORE
E.J. Graff's fantastic article on the gender movement makes one important error ["The M/F Boxes," Dec. 17]. Graff says that "all the major lesbian and gay organizations...have added transgendered folks to their mission statements." As a legal assistant at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the nation's largest lesbian and gay legal group, I and others lobbied for such inclusion, only to be rebuffed by its overly cautious leadership. I'm pleased to report, however, that Lambda's board voted in January to include bisexual and transgendered people in their mission statement, falling in step with national groups like the ACLU.
I must say that Katha Pollitt's exquisite and moving memorial to Pierre Bourdieu ["Subject to Debate," Feb. 18] brought a little warmth to this soul, calloused and made cynical by the current state of things in the world. As a sociologist/social activist whose venue for change has been healthcare and medical education, I have seen Bourdieu as one of my guiding lights, both intellectually and morally. In keeping with Bourdieu's central thesis, contemporary American medicine clearly qualifies as a "stratified social system of hierarchy and domination that persists and reproduces intergenerationally without powerful resistance and without the conscious recognition of [its] members."
His moral stance, regardless of his own stature in the academy, served as a source of reaffirmation for me in my relationship with my students, whose personal and professional development was nurtured through providing care to the disadvantaged in the inner city of Chicago or making themselves vulnerable to the needs of the disfranchised in Africa, southeastern Europe or Central America.
Regarding Richard Posner, that silly ass, besides his megalomania (a contagious virus that seems to have reached epidemic proportions in the law school and economics department at the University of Chicago), he is the prime example of the philosophical conservative who is willing to pay the price of other people's suffering for his own principles.
EDWARD J. ECKENFELS
ENRON RON-RON-RON , O ENRON-RON
I'm still scratching my head after reading Alexander Cockburn's attack on my support for Enron's merger with the Portland General Electric Company (PGE) almost five years ago ["Beat the Devil," Jan. 7/14]. His baffling conclusion that "the role of that green seal of approval [in Enron's collapse] should not be forgotten" is a non sequitur of the highest order.
Natural Resources Defense Council was part of a coalition of environmental and consumer groups that negotiated an agreement with the merging companies on future investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy, watershed restoration and low-income energy services. Cockburn is indignant that I said I trusted Enron to execute the agreement. But Cockburn, who never called me before publishing his diatribe, evidently didn't check to find out what actually happened. Enron and PGE did indeed meet their merger obligations, and environmental and consumer interests were among the winners. Enron left in place a hometown management group with a commitment to improved performance on both environmental and equity issues. Its subsequent decision to leave the utility business, long before its collapse, had no adverse environmental consequences at PGE or elsewhere.
There is no connection between Enron's current calamity and the merger that NRDC and many others supported conditionally nearly five years ago. Only Cockburn's overactive imagination could suggest otherwise.
Natural Resources Defense Council
Lest your readers believe that all Oregon environmental groups were bought off by Enron, none of my clients agreed to the contract ("memorandum") with Enron. In fact, the Utility Reform Project, Lloyd Marbet and Larry Tuttle appealed the Oregon Public Utility Commission's 1997 merger approval to the courts, where we eventually lost in December 2000.
As of October 1, 2001, Enron was granted a $400 million (41 percent) annual rate increase by the Oregon commission. Enron also squirmed out of its merger commitment to pay its Oregon ratepayers $105 million for the use of assets paid for by those ratepayers, after having paid only $32 million.
Former PGE executives Ken Harrison and Joseph Hirko cashed in more than $110 million in Enron stock options before the collapse, while hundreds of PGE employees lost their life savings while locked into a 401(k) plan that consisted of 58 percent Enron stock, now essentially worthless. The Enron bankruptcy now threatens to dismember PGE (with transmission and hydro assets sold out from under state regulation), which would cause massive additional rate hikes.
Thank you, Alexander Cockburn, for beginning an important dialogue about the harm done when environmental groups run interference for corporations. The Enron debacle in Portland, Oregon, is just one piece of the story about how certain organizations and their funders promoted utility deregulation in the name of protecting the environment. Some even lent their names to defeat a grassroots initiative movement in California to stop the nuclear bailout associated with the deregulation legislation in the state.
Early in the debate over deregulation, a small group of us working on energy issues argued with the funders and environmental proponents of deregulation. We pleaded with them to put their resources and leadership behind a grassroots movement against electricity deregulation, consolidation in the electricity industry and a bailout for the nuclear utilities. Our arguments fell on deaf ears. The dissenting organizations formed a coalition against deregulation called the Ratepayers for Green Electricity. Over the next several years we fought deregulation, but always on a shoestring because the prevailing wisdom was to "cooperate and deregulate."
Since then, with the blessing and help of some public-interest advocates, deregulation bills have passed in more than twenty states. The crumbs the environmental supporters of deregulation got in exchange for their support are not lasting or significant enough to protect consumers or the environment. We predict more trouble ahead as these deregulation bills are phased in. Fortunately, so far no federal legislation has been enacted, although the proponents of deregulation are still pushing for it.
Furthermore, as we predicted, deregulation has been a disaster for consumers and the environment. Prices are higher, and the promised increase in competition has not come to pass. Rather than creating a green market for renewable energy, deregulation has resulted in thousands of megawatts of new, nonrenewable electricity plants being built or planned. Energy-efficiency programs have lost ground, and the entire thrust is to use more electricity, since under deregulation there is no incentive to save it.
But what is more important than the hollow victory of saying we told you so or naming names is understanding the lessons of the deregulation battle. Deregulation and privatization of public services is about making a profit (just watch the coming industry efforts to privatize water), not about helping consumers or protecting the environment. When environmental groups sign off on these deals in hopes of good will from profit-hungry corporations, they are deluding themselves and betraying the public. Environmental organizations and the foundations that support them should take a hard look at the "market-based" strategy and start putting their resources into creating a broad-based grassroots movement to protect people and the environment.
Energy & Environment Program
Just to inject one tiny sliver of reality into Ralph Cavanagh's bland tissue of self-exculpation, which will be read with hilarity in Oregon. Portland General Electric sought and received $340 million in rate hikes on PGE customers for federal income taxes over the past three years. It shipped the money to Enron HQ in Houston. Over that period, Enron paid only $17 million in taxes in 1998, nothing in 1999 or in 2000. In fact, the company got a big tax rebate.
OUR LEADERS NEED TO HEAR THIS
In "And Darkness Covered the Land" [Dec. 24] Robert I. Friedman has given voice to what very few other US journalists have the guts to say--that people don't blow themselves up in crowded restaurants because their Coke doesn't have enough ice. It takes desperation to commit suicide for one's cause. America's role in the Palestinian apartheid is appalling and intensely hypocritical. Thank you to Friedman for having the cojones to point it out. If only our government would listen before our military support of Israel leads to more blood spilt on our or any other country's soil.
Yet another nauseatingly inaccurate and biased dispatch from Israel. Just to correct the (intentional?) inaccuracies would take almost as many pages as this article runs. Just one example: No one disputes that Arabs feel perfectly safe in Jewish towns in Israel. However, no Jew would venture into an Arab village, as brutal death awaits those who do, like the two Jewish kids lost on a hike who were stoned to death. By the time Truth has put on her shoes, Lie has run twice around the globe. It is tragic that The Nation supports Lie before an international audience.
EVA S. BELAVSKY
Robert Friedman's article makes clear the real tragedy for both the Israeli and Palestinian people. All Americans should read it. Our leaders should read it at least twice.
What can we do to get a movement going in this country to demand that the United States and/or the United Nations impose and enforce a peace settlement? Sharon, as Friedman points out, has no desire for a peace that would give a viable country to the Palestinians. Conditions in the West Bank and Gaza can only breed more hatred and consequently more suicide bombers. An imposed peace settlement, which could be altered as cooler heads emerge on both sides, would save face for Israel and Palestine.
Why, if the world can impose peace and peacekeepers between the Greeks and the Turks in Cyprus; between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo; between Albanians and Slavs in Macedonia; and among the Croats, Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia, why not between Israelis and Palestinians? I am old enough to remember when Gdansk was Danzig, and now the Germans and Poles manage to live in peace. I would rather have my tax money supporting peacekeepers than supplying military equipment to Israel. And certainly a more even-handed US relationship with Israel and Palestine would have immense ramifications for a real peace between the West and the Muslim world.
MILDRED P. KATZ
AN INADVERTENT DECAPITATION
In last week's issue, we inadvertently lopped off the head of artist Jonathan Twingley's name, rendering him Jonathan Wingley. (His illustrations appear on pages 11, 16 and 18.) Our apologies.
Our Big Ten media issue (
ABOUT THAT AD...
In light of Norman Finkelstein's effort to peddle his vituperative book by taking out advertisements in The Nation [see page 17] calling me a liar, I have asked The Nation to print the letter I sent to Finkelstein prior to the publication of his attack on me, pointing out the numerous errors in his work. I'll let fair-minded readers decide which of us is the liar. Shame on Verso for descending to such a level of venomous and blatantly false sensationalism just to make a buck. I only hope The Nation is charging premium rates for the ads. Finally, to be called a liar by Norman Finkelstein is like being called a traitor by Osama bin Laden. It means you must be doing something right.
New York City
Since you were courteous enough to provide me with a prepublication copy of your proposed text labeling me, among other things, a hypocrite, a coward, a falsifier of documents and a shakedown artist and calling for my disbarment, I will provide you the reciprocal courtesy of a serious response, without the venom. Before dealing specifically with your material, though, I want to correct an apparent misapprehension about my relationship with what you call "the Holocaust industry." I have never met Edgar Bronfman or any member of his staff. I did not attend the dinner that opens your chapter. I have never represented the Claims Conference. Indeed, before this litigation, I had never even heard of it. For most of my career, I have been at odds with many Jewish organizations because, as an ACLU lawyer, I represented Nazis--and everyone else--in free speech cases.
In fact I was drawn into the Swiss banks case by a specific request from Chief Judge Korman, who, because of my academic reputation and my earlier work in his court challenging unconstitutional restrictions on access to the ballot, asked me to organize the plaintiffs' Executive Committee and to serve as co-counsel for all plaintiffs. My career has been as a civil rights/civil liberties lawyer and an academic. I spent eleven years on the full-time legal staff of the ACLU, eventually serving as ACLU National Legal Director during the Reagan years. Thus, while I have no quarrel with your right to criticize my work and my judgment, I do object to your inaccurate effort to cast me as a participant in some larger conspiracy. I am simply an experienced constitutional lawyer who was asked by a respected federal judge to take on a difficult case. Once I accepted Judge Korman's invitation to work on the Swiss bank litigation for deeply personal reasons, I fulfilled my duties as a lawyer to the best of my ability.
Your claim that I played a major role in developing the legal theories underlying the Swiss bank cases is true. My June 16, 1997, memorandum of law, together with the four amended complaints I filed on July 30, 1997, set out the legal arguments against Swiss banks. Your characterization of the legal theories as a "shakedown" is, however, completely false. The contract, bailment and constructive trust legal theories underlying the demand for the return of Holocaust-era bank accounts are conventional and universally acknowledged. The international law theories underlying the demand for the disgorgement of unjust enrichment obtained by Swiss banks through knowingly dealing in Nazi plunder and knowingly financing slave labor camps, while more controversial, fall comfortably within precedents in this circuit upholding international law claims against foreign defendants. If you took the time to read my June, 16, 1997, memorandum of law, you would see that the legal theories are very carefully developed. The best test of the validity of my theories is that the banks elected to pay $1.25 billion rather than face them in court.
Your accusation that "hypocrisy and cowardice" explain my failure to have sued the United States for its appalling immigration policy during World War II is ridiculous. If you had done a minimum of research, you would know that I have repeatedly sued the United States in far more challenging circumstances. I was the lawyer who sued the United States several times between 1968 and 1973, arguing that the Vietnam War was illegal. I was the lawyer who sued the United States on behalf of Morton Sobell when the parole board attempted to muzzle him after his release from federal prison. I was one of Daniel Ellsberg's lawyers arguing that the United States lacked power to enjoin publication of the Pentagon Papers. I represented The Progressive magazine when the United States sought to block publication of H-bomb designs. I was counsel in the first wave of flag desecration cases, arguing that the First Amendment protects symbolic use of the flag. I represented homeless plaintiffs in the Supreme Court when they sought to erect a tent city in Lafayette Park across from the White House. I represented the Socialist Labor Party when the authorities blocked its presidential candidate from the ballot. I challenged the effort to prevent Americans from traveling to Cuba. As National Legal Director of the ACLU during the Reagan years, I repeatedly challenged efforts by the United States to cut back on constitutional rights, including efforts to muzzle Palestinian speakers, and efforts to foreclose on family farmers. This year, in Velazquez, I successfully represented federally funded lawyers for the poor in the Supreme Court against the United States when Congress attempted to limit their ability to argue effectively in welfare cases.
The real reason that no suit was brought against the United States challenging its appalling World War II immigration record was not my "hypocrisy and cowardice" but the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Under well-settled law, you simply cannot sue the United States for damages arising out of an immigration decision, even an appalling one. For your information, we never sued Switzerland for its refugee policy because sovereign immunity would have blocked the action. The Swiss asked that refugees be allowed to participate in the settlement, and we agreed.
You seem to imply that it was dishonest of me to have criticized the Volcker audit in my June 16, 1997, memorandum of law while later praising the results of the audit in my subsequent submissions to the Court defending the Swiss bank settlement. But your incomplete description of my June 16, 1997, memorandum badly distorts my position.
The criticism of the Volcker committee audit contained in my June 16, 1997, memorandum was in response to a formal motion by counsel for the Swiss bank defendants seeking to dismiss the Swiss bank litigation as unnecessary because the Volcker audit could be trusted to deal with the problem of Holocaust-era bank deposits without the need for judicial involvement. I argued then--and would repeat the argument now--that a private, nonjudicial audit financed by a defendant can never be a complete substitute for judicial involvement in a difficult case. I noted in the portion of the memorandum you choose to ignore that the lawsuit and the audit should complement each other, and that by working together the two efforts could ultimately achieve a measure of justice for Holocaust victims. I was right. The Volcker audit was enormously valuable in providing the information needed to administer a credible claims program designed to return as many accounts as possible to their true owners. The lawsuit was crucial in pressing the banks to cooperate with the auditors, to provide necessary information to claimants, such as the publication of information concerning 21,000 accounts identified by the Volcker report as "probably" belonging to Holocaust victims, and to establish a credible claims process designed to return accounts to their true owners.
As you know, Chief Judge Korman noted that the Volcker audit validated the core allegations underlying the Swiss bank litigation. You conveniently omit the fact that once the banks' effort to use the audit as an excuse for dismissing the lawsuit failed, extremely close cooperation between the Volcker audit and the lawsuit was achieved. Indeed, Paul Volcker was ultimately appointed by Chief Judge Korman as an officer of the court to supervise the CRT claims process in Zurich designed to return as many Swiss bank accounts as possible to their true owners.
Finally, I note that you have correctly abandoned your untenable claim that Swiss banks did not engage in massive destruction of Holocaust-era bank records.
Your charge that I "flagrantly falsify key documents in published correspondence" is a lie--and you know it. Our exchange of letters in The Nation [Dec. 18 and 25, 2000] makes it clear that I was referring to the figures used by the German foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" in estimating Holocaust survivors. I was responding to your claim that I had overstated the number of surviving Holocaust victims. You challenged my assertion that more than 1 million Holocaust survivors would be benefited by a combination of the Swiss and German funds. I responded by stating that you must be using figures for Jewish survivors but overlooking the large number of non-Jews who suffered in the Holocaust. In making that statement, I was relying on the findings of the German foundation that more than 1 million surviving Nazi slave and forced laborers exist, about three-quarters of whom are non-Jewish. You conveniently ignore the German foundation in your chapter, perhaps because it doesn't support your obsession.
I will leave to Judah Gribetz the pleasure of demolishing your effort to mischaracterize his remarkable work as a "shakedown" of Holocaust victims. You misstate virtually everything about the allocation plan. In fact, the allocation plan is rigorously designed to distribute Swiss bank settlement funds to individual Holocaust victims, not organizations. In fact, all appeals affecting the ability to distribute are now over, and distribution is about to begin. In fact, the Second Circuit explicitly upheld the limitation of the Swiss settlement fund to targets of the Nuremberg race laws but not to persons who were persecuted on political or national origin grounds because the settlement fund is far too small to cover everyone in Europe. And that's just a few of your mistakes.
I have no illusions that you will alter your chapter to bring it closer to the truth. You appear to be so obsessed with waging your private political war against militant Zionism and the Jewish establishment that you simply cannot see anything except corruption and bad faith. No person or institution is free from actions that would justify criticism. But your stridency and rage prevents your work from playing any constructive role. Rather, you just become fodder for someone else's political obsessions.