Amartya Sen starts his otherwise sensible "Population and Gender Equity" [July 24/31] with the unproven assertion that Thomas Malthus was wrong when he wrote that population growth would soon outstrip growth in food production. What Malthus didn't know is that the age of cheap and abundant fossil fuels was at hand and would, for a geologically brief 200 years, delay the fulfillment of his gloomy prediction. Now those fuels are running out while population has grown to numbers Malthus probably could not have conceived of.
Modern agriculture has been described as a means of turning petroleum into food, but sometime--very likely this decade--the world will reach peak oil production. Then all will change. Fertilizers made from petroleum and natural gas will be very expensive and then unavailable; transportation and the operation of farm machinery will be hugely expensive or impossible. The idea that alternative fuels and solar and wind power will make up the deficit is, so far, a fantasy, and the level of investment in such alternatives remains paltry. In a two-century orgy of consumption, we have burned up the solar energy that was for hundreds of millions of years stored under the earth's surface. Our oil-based civilization is about to come crashing to an end, and we have very little time to prepare to deal with the consequences. Not surprisingly, the oil companies don't acknowledge the problem. Even more disturbing, none of our politicians want to be the bearer of bad news.
One is loath to lump a man of Sen's decency and humanity in with the economic cultists who believe that "the market" will take care of the problem. Nevertheless, it is the bizarre beliefs of economists, including the notion that the world runs on investment rather than energy, that will probably result in Malthus being proved an accurate observer.
Amartya Sen dismisses concerns about the global food supply as it relates to burgeoning population for two reasons: Food production has expanded and the price of food continues to fall. But we should not be lulled into thinking the world's food supply is sustainable or secure. That's because at least one key part of food production is not reflected in current prices: water. In coming decades, increasing scarcity of water will make itself felt in prices and supply. Visions for a sustainable future must balance population density and growth with current and future water prices and availability. Food--grain, produce and livestock alike--represent huge investments of water. Producing a ton of beef can require up to 70,000 tons of water and a ton of grain up to 3,000 tons. Agriculture is a thirsty enterprise. As water becomes scarcer (as is already happening in the Central Valley of California, which, like many regions, relies on artificial water supplies) and soils become more salinized, food production will not hold at current levels. The earth's hydrological cycles have been mined to increase food production. This is a historical anomaly, not a sustainable trend.
College Park, Md.
In Amartya Sen's article on gender equity, structures of patriarchy and capitalism are nowhere visible. Problems are reduced to a series of variables--economic, cultural and political "handicaps" that are to be overcome. Sen's basic point that literacy and schooling bring a decline in fertility is simply a correlational, not causal, part of the tired argument that investment in human capital will yield wealth and progress. Historically, fertility rates did not decline because of education but because wealth made having large families unnecessary for survival. Unusual low-income, low-fertility-rate stories, like China and Kerala, are not due to education (Sen discounts the effects of China's "one child" policy) but because both have departed from traditional capitalist and patriarchal structures.
The most important issue Sen raises is how employment opportunities for women (and men) are essential to achieving greater gender equity. But Sen, like any mainstream economist, lacks understanding of structures of inequality and oppression. He believes that fostering the education of girls and women, promoting access to microcredit for rural women and fighting discrimination in urban labor markets are the policies that will improve employment and equity. To the contrary, the creation of sustainable, decent livelihoods for the 2 billion women, men and children living on the global margin will not come from better policies within structures rooted in poverty and inequality. "Reversing the...handicaps that make women voiceless and powerless" and "bringing gender equity and women's empowerment to the center of the stage," as Sen wishes to do, do not depend on a "unified framework of understanding" based on the results of "empirical and statistical research" but on a political struggle for economic rights and societal transformation.
STEVEN J. KLEES
Eugene Marner is right to express worry about the growth of world population, even though the source of this worry cannot really be the alleged accuracy of Malthus (I shall return to Malthus after discussing the general problem). The exhaustion of fossil fuel is certainly one source of concern (to which Marner rightly draws attention), as is the growing difficulty in guaranteeing adequate water supply (to which Michele Gale-Sinex devotes her letter). Even though each of them has chosen a singular focus of attention (petroleum and water, respectively), problems generated by excessive population growth can arise in many other ways as well, varying from the depletion of the ozone layer to overcrowding in a limited habitat (as I discussed in my essay).
The point of departure in my essay was the particular relation between (1) high fertility rates and (2) the low decisional power--indeed subjugation--of women. The critical linkage is that "the most immediate adversity caused by a high rate of population growth lies in the loss of freedom that women suffer when they are shackled by persistent bearing and rearing of children." This connection is important in itself because of its relevance to the well-being and freedom of women (and derivatively of men as well). Furthermore, since the interests of young women are so closely involved, it would also be natural to expect that anything that increases the voice and power of young women in family decisions will tend to have the effect of sharply decreasing fertility rates (and through that, reducing the environmental adversities associated with population explosion). This expected connection has received very substantial statistical confirmation in intercountry comparisons around the world as well as in interstate and interdistrict correspondences within India (as I indicated in my essay).
That was the reason for my conclusion that women's empowerment and agency (through such factors as their education and economic independence) are central to an effective resolution of the so-called population problem, including its environmental consequences. These connections, which draw on a firm interpretive framework, cannot be dismissed as "simply correlational," as Steven Klees does in his letter. Empirical work is inescapably dependent on statistical investigation. Causal connections, which demand interpretation, have to be assessed on the basis of statistical findings, not independently of them. This combination of interpretive scrutiny and statistical assessment gives causal plausibility to the empirical association between fertility decline and women's empowerment (reflected by such enabling factors as female literacy, women's gainful employment and access to microcredit, land and other resources, and public debates and political discussions on gender equity).
Klees argues that as a "mainstream economist," I cannot have any "understanding of structures of inequality and oppression." If correct, this would be very sad for me, since--mainstream or not--I have devoted a very big part of my life precisely to investigating inequality and oppression, including studying, at close quarters, their manifestations in such phenomena as famines and starvation, class- and gender-related atrocities, and military and police brutalities. I accept the possibility that Klees has been able to acquire (from his vantage point in College Park, Maryland) a direct understanding of these issues which I have failed to achieve. However, since Klees does not refer to any empirical work whatsoever, it would have been very nice to have been told a little about how he has accomplished this understanding. Indeed, despite his fleeting invocation of "patriarchy" (along with "capitalism"), Klees dismisses the relevance of the indicators of women's empowerment that well-researched empirical studies in feminist economics as well as demography have established as important (on which my essay drew).
I come, finally, to Eugene Marner on Malthus. Marner disputes what he describes as my "unproven assertion that Thomas Malthus was wrong when he wrote that population growth would soon outstrip growth in food production." Since exactly the opposite of what Malthus predicted has occurred and continues, why is the recording of the nonfulfillment of Malthus's prediction "unproven"? Is a period of 200 years not time enough to check a prediction? But we must not dismiss Marner's reasoned worries about the future, since the exhaustion of petroleum is an important issue. However, Marner surely oversimplifies with his "turning petroleum into food." There are a great many different factors (such as new seeds, better cultivation techniques, etc.) that have contributed to the sharp rise in food production per capita in the world, which has occurred since Malthus's gloomy predictions were made and which has continued to occur through the most recent decades. Nevertheless, given the difficulties that are visible now (including petroleum and water problems) and new adversities that might well arise, we do have good reason to consider ways and means of raising agricultural productivity as well as reducing fertility rates (as I discussed in my essay).
Where Malthus is particularly counterproductive is in his dismissal of informed reproductive choice and of the effectiveness of women's conscious agency as ways of reducing fertility rates. Malthus took penury to be the only sure way of keeping fertility rates down (he did not revise his view on this particular subject, despite rethinking on some other issues) and even argued for suppressing the Poor Laws and the very modest arrangements for social safety nets and economic security that existed for the poor at his time. It would be unfortunate to rely on Malthus's harsh and dogmatic pronouncements for our understanding of the population problem.
As I have traveled the country in this election year, many progressives have asked me whether I believe a vote for Ralph Nader is justified to promote the longer-term goal of a truly representative democracy--with third and fourth parties--in which progressives would have a larger piece of the governing pie. My answer to them is no. Regardless of whether progressives believe that third-party politics makes sense, Nader is not, and cannot be, the standard-bearer for such an effort. Why not? In short, because Nader's agenda and his record have been far too narrow to serve as a springboard for progressive politics in the twenty-first century.
In fact, in any comparison between Nader and Vice President Gore, Gore is far more qualified to shepherd progressive causes than Nader. And I say this as someone who has fought for progressive causes in Congress for thirty-five years. I say this as someone who learned under Martin Luther King Jr.'s tutelage the interconnectedness of the multiple progressive issues in forming a more just society.
While Nader was fighting for a safer bus, Gore was fighting so that Rosa Parks could get a seat on the bus. It's not that Nader did not support civil rights but it did not appear to be a central concern. It was for Al Gore. Despite the potential cost (his father, Al Gore Sr., lost his Senate seat in part because of his support for civil rights legislation), Al Gore has been there not just in word but in deed for the civil rights struggle. As senator, he not only supported landmark civil rights legislation but actively sought out the Congressional Black Caucus to help plan strategy. In the White House, he was frequently our "go to" guy and our strongest inside ally on hate crimes and racial profiling and in our efforts to kill legislation to repeal affirmative action.
We in the civil rights movement know the difference between an active crusader and a mere supporter of the struggle. Gore has been an active crusader. Nader, by contrast, has been a mere supporter. Indeed, the same can be said of Nader across the spectrum of first-tier progressive causes, such as women's rights. While Nader led the commendable fight against dangerous contraceptives, seldom was he pounding the pavement in defense of choice. By contrast, Gore spent years in Congress and the White House actively fighting for choice. In Congress he fought to codify Roe v. Wade, and in the White House he campaigned to kill countless bills that encroached on the cherished constitutional protection. He also led the charge on the Violence Against Women Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Equal Pay Act and increasing the minimum wage. When you measure the sweat off the brow that Gore and Nader have expended on women's issues, Gore wins, hands down.
Al Gore has also made a centerpiece of his agenda something else that women, particularly mothers, are demanding--common-sense gun safety legislation. While Gore cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to close the gun show loophole and helped lead the fight for the Brady law in 1994, Nader has, until recently, been largely mum. Credible progressives are hard pressed to justify a vote for Nader over Gore based on this as well.
The space on this page does not allow me to continue the litany. But if we closely study not just the positions that each may take at election time but the level of passion and commitment that each has shown on these and other issues critical to progressives--supporting public education and smaller classrooms, maintaining the Social Security and Medicare safety nets, and a wide range of other issues--we'll find that Gore has toiled far longer, far more consistently and with far more sweat on issues fundamental to progressives. And while both Gore and Nader have dedicated themselves to progressive causes, Gore has devoted his career to a far broader progressive agenda.
I take the opportunity to express this on these pages not simply because I believe that a vote for Nader is effectively a vote for Bush, although I believe that it is. I say this also because I believe that progressives cannot build a multiracial, multicultural and multisocioeconomicmovement based on Nader's record as compared with Gore's.
JOHN CONYERS JR.
When I cast my vote Election Day, I intend to cast it in favor of progressive ideas and grassroots action. I'm going to support a genuine alternative to a closed system where two parties often act with a single agenda--an agenda that simply does not address the daily reality of millions of citizens. I'm going to lend my voice to the fundamental concept that government should serve the needs of the people, not a handful of multinational corporations. In other words, I'm voting for Ralph Nader.
If you're talkin' politics, my decision has never been simpler. Nader speaks openly against the death penalty and in support of women's rights, plus his environmental stand is exemplary. Nader and the Greens also want to cut military spending, end the drug war and attack poverty at its systemic roots. They represent the best way to follow through on the groundswell of anticapitalist activism currently uniting progressives across traditional boundaries of gender, class and generation. I don't expect him to win, of course, but I know that a vote for him truly counts over the long haul, because it's helping to bust open the stifling two-party stranglehold on our system and bring progressive voices into the national political discourse.
'Course, there's just one little hitch. The way the Electoral College works, a majority of votes for any given candidate wins the whole state, and there are certain states where Gore or Bush will be a clear winner. In my home state, New York, for instance, it's easy to vote for Nader without worrying that I am aiding a Bush victory. But in the swing states (currently, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin), a Green Party vote really does mean that Bush comes one vote closer to winning. While I am sensitive to the power of a symbolic protest vote, there are larger issues at stake in this election. It's true that Democrats and Republicans have grown disturbingly similar, but there are still profound differences between their agendas. If I found myself in a swing state, I'd remember the record number of executions Governor Bush has authorized in Texas, for instance, and I'd think long and hard about the bleak future of women's reproductive rights in a Republican-controlled White House. And my vote would go to Al Gore.
I firmly believe that if all of us progressive thinkers around the country collaborate in a thoughtful strategy, we can achieve the dual goals of getting the Green Party on the ballot for future elections and getting Gore into the White House, thereby preventing the tragedy of a Baby Bush administration.
Because my vote does count, this year more than ever. The choice may not be cut and dried, but one thing is obvious: I don't want an even dumber Bush in office, and I don't want my actions to allow that to happen.
P.S. These articles helped shape my thinking: Eric Alterman, "Bush or Gore: Does It Matter?" [Oct. 16] and Katha Pollitt's "Subject to Debate" of October 9.
Righteous Babe Records
Two weeks ago I heard my students here at UMass coughing in class from the lingering effects of the macing they received in Boston for trying to get Ralph Nader heard in the presidential debates. For the first time in decades there is something in the air, a genuine resistance to corporate tyranny--and then what? I come home tonight to read that a vote for Nader is, in your opinion, simply too radical an act. Why don't you just change your name to The New Republic and get it over with?
The Woodlands, Tex.
Your courageous and practical editorial urging people to vote for Gore in states where a vote for Nader might tip the election to Bush was a pleasant surprise. I am a lifelong (53-year-old), left-wing Democrat and have always chosen to fight my party from within. I wanted to bolt over the death penalty and welfare "reform," but I've seen new parties come and go while the Democratic Party endures, warts and all--the only party that can stand against the Republicans. And just think, most of the people in the House who would get chairmanships, if the Democrats take over, are liberals.
KAREN A. SISCO
The Clinton/Gore Administration really has brought minorities into government in record numbers. That offsets, for me, the disappointment over the failure to enact national healthcare and other needed reforms. Another Clinton/
Gore policy was the return of Father Aristide to Haiti--the only US foreign policy initiative I've supported in the past forty years. My heart is with Nader, a truly heroic figure, but my head says Gore.
ROBERTO SANCHEZ MENDES
New York City
The Clinton years have made it crystal clear that Congress--especially the Senate--plays as important a role in governance (including who gets onto the Supreme Court) as the President. We also know that which party controls the Senate is likely to be decided by one or two state races. Therefore, it is essential that Joe Lieberman and not a Republican become the next senator from Connecticut. For that to happen, Lieberman must lose the election for Vice President. Viewed in that light, voting for Ralph Nader is not only morally right, it is strategically right. As a slogan for the remaining days of this election season, Greens might consider: "Help the Democrats Win Control of Congress--Vote for Ralph Nader."
I'm glad The Nation is calling on people to vote for Gore in close states. If Bush wins--in any way that can be attributed to Nader, and it's hard to imagine him winning in any other way--then for a number of people the entire left or progressive project/approach that The Nation champions will seem not to be worth the candle. I'd rather not face that miserable scenario.
Thank you for your Supreme Court issue, "Up for Grabs: The Supreme Court and the Election" [Oct. 9], which makes the point that Bush vs. Gore will literally make a life-or-death difference in the federal courts. As someone who practices daily in federal court, I can assure you that the difference between our new Clinton appointee (one of the few to be confirmed) and the prior Reagan appointee is the difference between day and night.
JAMES T. RANNEY
The Nation's special issue on the Supreme Court was a useful reminder about the importance of the judicial branch to progressives, but why was the only message, both explicit and implicit, to vote for Al Gore for President? We need a serious debate about growing reactionary trends in law and how to combat them, but you left out some significant voices and perspectives in your discussion. A full discussion paper, Saving the Courts, is available on our website (www.votenader.org/issues/court_save.html). I offer here a few remarks in the very limited space allowed.
Here in Washington, the front-page news recently was that the Supreme Court, by a margin of 8 to 1, summarily rejected a voting rights lawsuit brought by the District of Columbia on behalf of the 600,000 Americans who live in the city and have no voting representation in Congress. The sole dissenter was Justice John Paul Stevens, who was nominated by President Gerald Ford. In the prior 2-to-1 decision in the district court, two judges appointed by President Clinton had determined that Washingtonians, nearly two-thirds of whom are African-American, have no constitutional right to vote. The lone dissenter, Louis Oberdorfer, was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson and reflects the kind of passionate champion of civil rights and civil liberties who no longer gets appointed to the bench by Democratic Presidents. Needless to say, despite intense local appeals, the Clinton Justice Department vigorously opposed the voting rights suit, which had the strong support of the DC Council, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Anthony Williams.
The corporate Democratic judges recently appointed to the courts go with the flow in this fashion. The Clinton Administration itself has been something of a civil liberties nightmare, as documented repeatedly by Anthony Lewis and Nat Hentoff. Rapid expansion of the death penalty at the federal level, destruction of habeas corpus, warrantless searches of public housing, increasing wiretap authority, a stepped-up failed War on Drugs, secret evidence in deportation proceedings--these are policies pursued by the Democrats in the White House. Except for abortion (which George W. Bush appears to have surrendered on, given his understanding of where most Americans stand after the triumph of the women's movement), it is hard to think of any significant differences between the Democrats and Republicans on civil liberties issues. When at one of the debates Bush said he opposed allowing gays and lesbians to marry, Gore enthusiastically agreed, essentially now putting him to the right of Dick Cheney! I opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Democrats supported, and defend the equal rights of gays and lesbians in every sphere of life, including civil unions.
Whom do we suppose Al Gore would appoint to the Supreme Court? Not Lani Guinier, whom they dropped like a hot potato. Not longtime Clinton friend Peter Edelman, whose widely discussed nomination to a federal appeals judgeship was promptly dropped by Clinton after Republicans objected to his scholarship on ending poverty. Not anyone remotely so visionary or brave as the late Justices William Brennan or Thurgood Marshall. Not even anyone so progressive as Justice David Souter, President Bush's appointment, who has turned out to be significantly more interested in civil liberties and democracy than, for example, Justice Stephen Breyer. Recall Forbes v. Arkansas Educational Television Commission (1998), where a majority that included Breyer upheld the right of state-owned television broadcasters to exclude third-party candidates from government-sponsored campaign debates. It was only Souter, joined in his passionate dissent by Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who stood up for the First Amendment rights of outsider parties and the democratic right of the people to decide elections for ourselves. The same three (two Republican appointees, one Democratic) dissented in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party (1997), where Breyer cheerfully joined with the conservatives to uphold undemocratic antifusion laws that stifle third-party organization.
Many liberals like to complain about the growing conservatism of the Democratic Party but then jump on the bandwagon at election time in the name of saving the Supreme Court. Millions of people are refusing to play that game this year. Many remember the unanimous support for Justice Scalia by Senate Democrats and the eleven Democratic senators, in a Democrat-controlled Senate, who put Justice Thomas over the top in a 52-to-48 confirmation vote.
These views deserve some support and analysis in your fine pages.
New York City
You overestimate the historical correlation between the voting records of Supreme Court Justices and the politics of the Presidents who appointed them. Dwight Eisenhower, an opponent of big government and judicial activism, appointed not only liberal lion Earl Warren but also William Brennan. Richard Nixon selected Harry Blackmun as a law-and-order conservative. Ronald Reagan chose Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, and George Bush chose David Souter, primarily because they were expected to overturn Roe v. Wade; all three now vote to uphold Roe.
In contrast, progressive Presidents often elevate reactionary Justices: All four of Harry Truman's Court picks (Vinson, Burton, Minton and Clark) turned out to be far more conservative than the Democratic Party of the fifties; privacy-opponent Byron White's views certainly did not reflect those of booster John Kennedy. Franklin Roosevelt would have been surprised by the segregationist sentiments of his second nominee, Stanley Reed.
JACOB M. APPEL
In addition to abortion rights, there are a number of other constitutional and statutory protections for women's rights that could be threatened by even a slight change in the Supreme Court's majority. For one thing, equal protection guarantees are at risk. This Supreme Court term marks the thirtieth anniversary of the landmark decision, in Reed v. Reed, that applied Fourteenth Amendment equal-protection principles to prohibit sex discrimination. Since Reed, the Court has struck down laws based on stereotypes about women as the weaker sex and has opened jobs, educational opportunities and basic citizenship rights to women. Yet three current Justices (Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas) have rejected the post-Reed heightened scrutiny of gender classifications. Justice Scalia, in his dissent in the 1996 case opening up the Virginia Military Institute to women, even cited with approval a 1948 decision that upheld a state law prohibiting a woman from working as a bartender unless she was the daughter or wife of the bar owner.
A Court with a different majority could also extend its hostility to a woman's right to choose beyond abortion itself to opposing protection of women's access to reproductive health clinics, to allowing more state control over pregnant women and even to restricting specific forms of contraception. If the latter seems unthinkable, note that four current members of the Court have already endorsed the preamble to a Missouri law that defines human life to begin at conception, with conception defined as the time of fertilization. This could make methods of contraception, like forms of the pill and the IUD, unlawful.
In addition, many key federal statutory protections against discrimination are in place only as a result of slim majorities, and a current majority holds a restrictive view of Congress's authority, which has already resulted in the invalidation of an important provision of the Violence Against Women Act and which could jeopardize other critical protections for women's rights. These include the right of state employees to sue their employers for damages under civil rights laws of particular importance to women, such as the Equal Pay Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Many rights women take for granted are not nearly as secure as they might think. A new report, The Supreme Court and Women's Rights: Fundamental Protections Hanging in the Balance, provides more detail and is available at www.nwlc.org.
MARCIA D. GREENBERGER
NANCY DUFF CAMPBELL
National Women's Law Center
Those who argue that "it's the Supreme Court, stupid" in this election have misread judicial history. The Court rarely leads; it "follows th' iliction returns," in the words of Mr. Dooley.
The Dred Scott decision validated the pervasive racism of the nineteenth century and said the Constitution was a slaveholders' document, the identical view of the abolitionists. The objectors in the North did not primarily object to its racism but to the argument that Congress had no power to restrict slavery in the territories. After all, slavery was buttressed by those pillars of society, market capitalism, the Constitution, property rights and the protection of property from federal interference. The Court in Dred Scott did not lead, it validated the values of the time.
What about Plessy v. Ferguson, which enshrined segregation in the 1890s? The conservative Court simply ratified the abandonment of radical Reconstruction, which gave blacks the vote but left them economically defenseless.
When the Court in the thirties validated the National Labor Relations Act, it did so after violent and painful organizing drives of the CIO and a growing number of sit-down strikes. When labor suffered numerous Court defeats between 1900 and 1937, it was after the redbaiting of World War I, the crushing of the Wobblies, the open-shop propaganda, etc. The Court in 1915 even said workers who signed a "yellow dog" contract, pledging not to join a union, were off-limits to union organizers.
Brown v. Board of Education was not an open road to the end of segregation; it took another ten years to write in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and desegregation "with all deliberate speed" became a perfect out for school boards. The courts are like the public schools, both presumably bulwarks of democracy, but as a retired Chicago public school teacher I would argue that the schools, like the courts, validate both the good and evil of the time.
GERALD R. ADLER
Dennis Hoover is mistaken when he recommends that we say "Yes to Charitable Choice" [Aug. 7/14]. The issue is exactly the same as with religious schools. If some people believe that God wants them to establish schools for their children, the Constitution says they have the right to do that but not to receive public tax money for it. If they believe God wants them to accept other children into their schools and keep religious indoctrination to a minimum, they still cannot use public tax money. Likewise, if some people believe God wants them to do charitable works and not to restrict the beneficiaries to their own denomination, the Constitution says they have the right to do that but not to receive public tax money for it. There is no question that both activities benefit society. The problem is that how the activities are carried out depends entirely on what those people happen to believe. Government restrictions on how the tax money is spent still do not solve this problem, since the money releases other money to be spent however the religious organization believes it should be. The only consistent position on both questions is the one indicated by the Constitution: no government financial aid to religious organizations, even when their activities benefit society as a whole.
RICHARD J. BURKE
New York City
Dennis Hoover writes that support for charitable choice is linked philosophically to a "new religious center" and not to the religious right. It's true that moderate groups are now being aggressively recruited to act as service providers under charitable choice contracts. But the core impetus and ideology behind the current spate of legislation and promotion do not come from the center, and they deserve careful scrutiny. The charitable choice concept draws heavily on the thinking of Abraham Kuyper, who developed and implemented the notion of social "pillarization" in the Netherlands a hundred years ago. In Kuyper's scheme, each ethnic and religious group in a pluralistic society runs its own institutions and services; these separate "pillars" support the social whole, but public services as we have known them in this country--services open to all and fostering interaction and mutual understanding--are made to disappear. Hardcore charitable choice ideologues in the United States make no secret of the fact that they want to see Horace Mann's conception of "common" schools replaced with a similar patchwork of faith-based or group-based schools. Should this really be on the progressive agenda?
Hoover correctly reports that as the legislation is written, faith-based service providers won't be able to discriminate against clients on religious grounds. But it is by no means clear that they won't be able to discriminate on other grounds, notably sexual orientation; moreover, faith-based groups have historically had fairly wide latitude to engage in employment discrimination when claiming a religious rationale, and there is no reason to think this will change when these groups are spending public funds.
Charitable choice is a provision of the failed welfare reform legislation of 1996, founded on the principle that people are impoverished because of bad choices and irresponsible behavior. The systemic causes of poverty and the unprecedented wealth gap of the past twenty-five years are not considered. Part of the neoliberal project clearly involves tempering the harshness and salving some wounds with a dose of good old Christian charity. But should the churches be accepting the basic situation of systemic injustice? What happens to their prophetic voice if they are willing to play the role of junior partner to Pharaoh? This is not just a matter of the churches' own integrity; nonreligious progressives also have a stake in preserving an independent religious sector that has not been bought out by the totalizing neoliberal agenda.
REV. PETER LAARMAN
Judson Memorial Church
REV. PAUL CHAPMAN
The Employment Project
If progressives support charitable choice, they will unnecessarily sacrifice civil liberties in their war against poverty. Charitable choice was designed to allow houses of worship (and other groups that integrate religion into their social service) to receive government grants and contracts for their social service ministries. But how can the government fund faith-drenched services without unconstitutionally advancing religion? Hoover insists that the government will simply require churches and other religious providers to "demonstrate that public funds do not pay for religious speech (specifically 'sectarian worship, instruction or proselytization')." But no one has begun to explain how the government will perform this task and otherwise regulate a church or other pervasively religious group without becoming excessively and unconstitutionally entangled with religion.
Although Hoover and others assure us that politicians will pass out a limited number of social service grants and contracts to selected religions without favoritism for "secularism over religion, religion over secularism or for one religion over another," the truth is that politicians find it almost impossible to resist playing politics with religion, including favoring majority over minority faiths. Furthermore, progressives should ask how the government will insure that social service beneficiaries will truly have the ability to opt out of religious activities in these settings. Finally, progressives should consider the fact that charitable choice attempts to allow a religious provider to reject a particular taxpayer for a tax-funded employee position because he or she isn't the "right" religion or does not hold the "right" religious beliefs.
What Hoover characterizes as potential minor defects are actually grave structural errors. These problems can be avoided with appropriate safeguards, but such safeguards have been repeatedly rejected by charitable choice supporters. Progressives should not join charitable choice proponents who, for many different reasons, are dismissing profound constitutional and civil liberties concerns. Instead, progressives should raise questions about charitable choice and demand appropriate safeguards to protect individual liberties.
Joint Baptist Committee
As a clergyman who cherishes the First Amendment, I was shocked to see a defense of charitable choice in The Nation. Charitable choice goes further in destroying the time-tested separation of church and state, and replaces it with a doctrine of religious accommodation by government, than any initiative on the political agenda. It transforms churches into administrative arms of the state and is a very dangerous idea. Dennis Hoover's claim that charitable choice is predominantly supported by mainline religious groups is debatable. What is certain is that the judicial doctrine invoked to legitimize charitable choice is a darling of the far right. The dubious constitutional doctrine of non-preferentialism, which asserts that government may support religious groups as long as it doesn't discriminate among religions, is powerfully championed by the Christian Coalition and receives endorsement from Justices Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas. Lamentably, Bush, Gore and Lieberman have appropriated this new turn in constitutional interpretation.
Hoover states that faith-based organizations "must demonstrate that public funds do not pay for religious speech," including proselytization. Whom are we kidding? Does he really believe that when confronted with a commandment from God Almighty to win souls, committed evangelicals will be deterred by what will seem like a bureaucratic nicety? Why should they, when the guiding premise of charitable choice is that services rendered through faith commitments are superior to those delivered by secular agencies? Moreover, charitable choice permits faith-based organizations to serve the needy in religious sanctuaries rather than in secular settings, as has pertained. The stage is set for rampant missioning. No one should ever be placed in the demeaning position of having to compromise his or her religious conscience in the face of neediness and dependence on others. Charitable choice will make this violation commonplace.
Charitable choice augurs other dangers. It will set church against church in a battle for public funds. It will force the courts to pass judgment on competing theological positions in order to determine which churches are pervasively sectarian and which not. Government oversight of public funds will be either rigorous or lax. If lax, churches will be tempted to use funding for their ongoing religious purposes. If strict, government agents will show up at church doors demanding to audit their books. Is that what we want in a nation that professes religious freedom?
Hoover states that charitable choice provides protection for the religious identities of service workers. Yes, for those within the faith of the organization but not for those outside it. Faith-based organizations will be able to discriminate, for example, against those who dance, drink, smoke, are divorced or have had an abortion, if those practices offend the strictures of the faith.
Finally, charitable choice will muffle religion's prophetic voice. Religion plays its most important social role when it stands outside the precincts of secular power and critiques the abuses of government from the plateau of higher moral values. It's dubious that churches, as recipients of the state's largesse, will bite the hand that feeds them. In this age of moral anxiety, of which religious triumphalism is a consequence, it's become widely assumed that religion can be nothing but good. It's an ominous blindness. The Founding Fathers knew better. Experience had taught them that the entanglement of religion with state inevitably oppresses religious freedom and elevates the state's power to dangerous proportions.
Western society has taken 300 years to put the tiger in the cage. It's disturbing that Dennis Hoover joins those who want to let it loose.
DR. JOSEPH CHUMAN
Ethical Culture Society
The most striking error in these letters is Joseph Chuman's assertion that charitable choice forces government to determine which religious organizations are "pervasively sectarian." This problematic task is precisely what the government used to have to undertake under the old "no aid" regime, which denied eligibility for grants to "pervasively sectarian" organizations, and thus unjustly discriminated in favor of providers whose vision of social service could abide secularization. Charitable choice embodies a more robust understanding of government neutrality toward all in a religiously pluralistic and multicultural society. It levels the playing field, requiring not that grantees strip themselves of "sectarianism," whatever that means, but rather that they be able to account for their use of public funds.
Melissa Rogers frets over the intrusiveness of this accounting requirement, but how can measuring degrees of religious sectarianism be considered less difficult and meddlesome than reviewing accounting records? Rogers will also have to explain why she thinks politicians are more likely to try to play favorites under charitable choice than they were under the old rules.
Rogers is joined by Chuman, Peter Laarman and Paul Chapman in complaining about the fact that charitable choice allows a faith-based organization to hire only those who agree with its religious worldview. But this complaint is simply another way for critics to say they don't like the way charitable choice levels the playing field. Nothing could be more basic to maintaining the distinctive religious character of an organization than making sure the relevant staff share foundational assumptions. What could be more "totalizing" than forcing all nonprofit grantees into the same secular mold? Consider also that religious organizations have long had an exemption from the bar on religious discrimination in employment found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and this exemption is not sacrificed when religious organizations receive public funds not earmarked for specific positions.
Furthermore, the word "choice" is in the label "charitable choice" for good reason. Rogers, Laarman and Chapman are concerned about religious liberty for individual welfare beneficiaries, but the law is clear: Charitable choice mandates that secular programs be available for clients who so choose. Also, if a beneficiary agrees to receive services from a religious provider, he or she is empowered to opt out of explicitly religious activities. Analogous principles of choice have long been reflected in federal subsidy programs for college education (such as the GI Bill).
It is nonsense to charge, as does Chuman, that charitable choice is the "darling of the far right." Is there really a vast right-wing conspiracy interested in spending public money on welfare services? In achieving genuine neutrality in the relationship between church and state? For rhetorical purposes, it is obvious enough why leftist critics of charitable choice would characterize their own position as "mainstream" and relegate others to the lunatic fringe. But, like it or not, "centrist" is easily the best shorthand way of characterizing charitable choice. Both Al Gore and George W. Bush endorse charitable choice, and Joe Lieberman is a co-chair of Congress's bipartisan Empowerment Caucus, which supports charitable choice. There are also Democratic governors who have made implementing charitable choice a priority (e.g., Governor Frank O'Bannon of Indiana). The coalition of religious groups that back charitable choice likewise spans the usual left-right divide.
Several critics say charitable choice is somehow uniquely corrupting of religion--in particular that it "will muffle religion's prophetic voice," as Chuman puts it. Chuman presumes to tell us that the right social role for religion is to "stand outside" secular power and hand down critiques "from the plateau of higher moral values." But the actual prophetic tradition includes some who were court insiders. And even if we acknowledge the potentially subversive effects of government subsidies, this is hardly a new problem unique to charitable choice. Religiously affiliated agencies have long received subsidies to deliver services. If religious groups think that it is important to speak out against the systemic sources of injustice (and I wish more did) but fear suffering a complete moral collapse when faced with a grant application, they need not participate. Charitable choice is just an option, not a draft notice.
In fact, legally, charitable choice is consistent with the free speech principle, long touted by liberals in the nonprofit community, that government cannot censor the privately funded speech of grant recipients. For years, right-wing forces have attempted to deny grants to nonprofits that use private money to engage in advocacy activities on behalf of disadvantaged constituencies. Liberals have rightly challenged this, defending the ability of nonprofits to properly account for their use of public funds. Charitable choice says religious nonprofits should not have their privately funded religious speech censored when they take public money to deliver welfare services. We cannot play favorites with the First Amendment rights of nonprofits.
Richard Burke's letter sniffs at my suggestion that we factor lowly "public opinion" into our thinking. But I wonder if he realizes whose opinions he so pointedly refuses to dignify with a response? More Democrats (61 percent) than Republicans (46 percent) favor the charitable choice concept, and support among African-Americans rises to 74 percent. Recent studies by Mark Chaves of the University of Arizona show that liberal congregations and African-American congregations are the most likely to be interested in participating.
In recent years some voices on the left (see for example Michael Kazin, "The Politics of Devotion," in the April 6, 1998, Nation) have warned that if the left wants to avoid permanently alienating itself from a mass constituency, it must reacquaint itself with religious progressives and make peace with new antipoverty movements among Christians, such as the Call to Renewal (which supports charitable choice). But, rhetorical gestures notwithstanding, the idea that social policy might actually include religious institutions is still hard for some progressives to get their minds around.
New York City
The Nation acknowledges that military and civilian trials in Peru violate due process of law in terrorism cases, that thousands of innocent people have been convicted and that thousands remain in prison in Peru today after political trials. Presumably it agrees that DINCOTE, the Peruvian antiterrorism police responsible for those convictions, are about as restrained and trustworthy as the elite national police that served Pinochet in Chile, the military governments in Argentina and Guatemala in the seventies and eighties and similar other police states.
Why then did The Nation choose to use its resources and invest its credibility to challenge Lori Berenson's innocence by relying on what are allegedly DINCOTE documents [Jonathan Levi and Liz Mineo, "The Lori Berenson Papers," Sept. 4/11]? The Nation was told that Peru planned to nullify Lori's military tribunal conviction and sentence to life imprisonment on the basis of a petition she filed in December 1999, and that The Nation was being used by DINCOTE to support charges against Lori for a new show trial.
Jonathan Levi misleads his readers by implying that the Berensons and I questioned only the authenticity of the records. If he will listen to the tape he made of our interview, he will hear it was the reliability of the papers, not merely their authenticity, that we challenged. We told The Nation that DINCOTE leaked the papers, "never before seen by the public but obtained by The Nation," precisely to spread false information about Lori in its pages, which reach so many of Lori's supporters, at the very time Peru would nullify Lori's military trial and begin yet another propaganda campaign against her in a new show trial in civilian courts, a trial that is itself illegal and not capable of fairness. The military tribunal, after a nine-month delay, nullified Lori's conviction and began the new proceedings just as the Nation cover story with its picture of Lori was being distributed.
The article accepts as gospel the false DINCOTE allegations of fact even where Lori has had the rare opportunity to state the opposite. The article refers repeatedly to Lori's "testimony," "deposition," "transcripts," suggesting there exist exact verifiable statements by Lori. But there are no transcripts, depositions or verbatim testimony, there is only what Levi claims a DINCOTE file they will not disclose contains. Who believes DINCOTE? Nor is it accurate to say that the papers "shed new light." All the false claims about Lori have been leaked to the press and printed repeatedly.
Levi has refused to permit the Berensons, or me, to see the papers he has. This places him in the same position as DINCOTE, which he concedes refused to provide copies of the documents "even to her lawyers," and in the same position as the Fujimori government, which has refused to provide any documents to the Berensons, Lori's counsel or the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Levi said he is "especially afraid with the trial coming up" to provide Lori a copy of the documents, because that would "have us working for the defense." Incredible. He is working for DINCOTE. He claims to have "sources intimately familiar with [its] workings." We ask only for a copy of the false papers with which Levi challenges Lori's innocence, not the source for the papers.
Aside from the moral outrage of promoting DINCOTE propaganda, the Nation article is patently cheap and demeaning to Lori Berenson. In a single sentence, asserting how "most ordinary Peruvians" feel about Lori, Levi writes that she "is a Beauty who slouches...toward Latin America, only to turn into a terrorist Beast, eyes wide open." Why the triple play on a fairy tale, a Didion book title and a prurient movie? Why the repeated references and allusions to sex? Above all, why is Levi, who has never met Lori, compelled to deny the possibility that she acted from inner qualities of goodness, even greatness, as he observes heroines in "classical tragedy" to do? Instead, he argues that she is doing the reverse: "She seems to be translating her fall into a theatrical grandeur." Lori has spent nearly five years in life-threatening prison conditions without a trial by any civilized standard on false charges in complete isolation, where any effort at "theatrical grandeur" can be seen by no one. All while the controlled press in Peru demonize her daily and The Nation serves DINCOTE's cause here in the United States.
Levi seems to know little about Peru, or Lori's case, except what DINCOTE and people within its sphere of influence told him. Lori's Peruvian lawyer in the military trial, who has not represented her for years, despite Levi's assertion that he still does, "although he is not as active as he once was," was never present during her nearly nine days of intense interrogation and sleep deprivation when Lori was alone in the tender hands of DINCOTE. On the day the statement DINCOTE prepared was given to her to sign, he saw Lori for the first time but was never able to talk with her in private before, during or thereafter. From time to time he has made statements harmful to Lori for whatever reason, which Levi joins the Peruvian press in repeating with glee.
The utter emptiness of the effort to support some level of guilt is found in Levi's repeated references to the one exposure to the Peruvian press just before her sentencing that was forced on Lori, in which she courageously and angrily spoke with passion about her concerns for the poor and about the absence of social justice in Peru. She also expressed the opinion that the MRTA is a revolutionary movement, not a terrorist group. Can the expression of a single opinion in less than twenty words be a crime? Levi thinks so. He refers to the "contempt in that face" from the film clips, although he has never seen her face. Lori was very angry for good reasons. Peru claims her words are the crime translated as "apology." It carries a lengthy prison term. Levi distinguishes the fate of an Italian woman who was convicted like Lori--but according to them on "more hard evidence"--and who was released after seventeen months, based on her claim of innocence, but Lori has always insisted she was innocent. Apparently he never saw the film clips of the Italian woman, who appeared far more agitated than Lori.
Levi called the Berensons to congratulate them when they heard Lori would get a new trial. But surely even he knows such a trial will not be fair. We can ignore the outrageous and repetitious claims of DINCOTE against Lori carried in The Nation. They are false. Lori will tell the truth if she is forced into a public show trial, and the truth will keep her free in spirit and someday make her free in body.
It is more difficult to ignore the role of The Nation in using its pages to support false DINCOTE propaganda planted to poison US opinion about Lori. A majority of Congress has demanded Lori's release from prison because Lori's parents, despite all the propaganda from Peru and the "Washington Peru policy," have persuaded them Lori is innocent. The Nation has not helped truth find its way out.
Perhaps the Nation Institute will now investigate how this happened.
LEVI & MINEO REPLY
New York City; Cambridge, Mass.
It's sad to watch such a historic defender of human rights as former Attorney General Ramsey Clark so willfully misread our report on his client, Lori Berenson. This misreading starts even before our story begins. Throughout his letter Clark attributes the article solely to Jonathan Levi. In fact, the byline was shared by Levi and Liz Mineo. Clark writes: "Levi seems to know little about Peru or Lori's case." Mineo, a full partner in the research and writing of the piece, was not only born in Lima but lived there for more than thirty-five years and worked (as her bio indicated) as an investigative reporter for a variety of newspapers and magazines, including El Comercio, a newspaper that the Berensons have lauded for its fair coverage of their daughter's case.
Clark makes some strong claims about our journalistic integrity and the motivations behind our story, but he fails to provide any evidence to support them. We reported in the article that Berenson's own lawyer in Peru, Grimaldo Achahui, signed the DINCOTE record of her interrogation and later confirmed its authenticity. Clark attempts to disparage Achahui by declaring that he "has not represented [Lori] for years" and that "he has made statements harmful to Lori." In fact, his last action on her behalf was filing Berenson's appeal to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 1999, and as recently as August the Berensons themselves referred to Achahui as Lori's Peruvian lawyer. The only statements of his that we repeat pertain to his verification of Lori's testimony to DINCOTE and his opinion that her sentence was unfair.
Clark writes, "The article accepts as gospel the false DINCOTE allegations of fact...." Perhaps Clark missed the following sentence: "The story that emerges from the documents is one of unusually hasty police surveillance, negligent interrogation and reckless reliance on one witness whose testimony was neither challenged nor corroborated. The documents give a crude demonstration of how hyperinflation can be applied to a police charge, raising Berenson, in its final pages, from the obscurity of a minor suspect to the limelight of a major leader of the MRTA." Our aim was to examine all received truths about the case. To that end, we conducted interviews with dozens of people in Peru, including former and current members of DINCOTE as well as former and current members of the MRTA and educated observers within the diplomatic and business community. Nowhere did we represent the DINCOTE documents as the record of a fair and balanced judicial process. Although we described discrepancies between Berenson's story as it appears in the documents and other available evidence, we also clearly showed grave inconsistencies in the government's case against her.
It is Clark who displays a striking ignorance of Fujimori's Peru. Although anti-regime journalists (including Mineo and many of her former colleagues) have been harassed and threatened by the government, they continue to operate with vigor. Like journalists everywhere, they routinely use anonymous government sources in their work. We came upon the documents in question through sources within DINCOTE who, in our judgment and that of other independent journalists in Peru, were reliable.
Moreover, contrary to Clark's implication, our article, which was published five days before the announcement that the military charges against Berenson had been dismissed, fairly represented the Berensons' fear that their daughter would be retried in civilian court on the charge of collaboration with terrorism, which carries a sentence of twenty years. (She had previously received a life sentence for "treason against the fatherland and conspiracy to overthrow Congress.")
Clark seems most angry that, after our article appeared, we would not show him the documents. An associate of Clark's asked for the documents on a Monday because Lori was due to be examined by the civilian judge on Wednesday. Once the new legal process had begun, we would have risked compromising our credibility as journalists by showing Clark or his associates the documents. We believe that the Peruvian court was wrong to withhold these documents from Berenson and her attorneys. But one does not have to be a lawyer to understand the difference between a judge and a journalist.
In Clark's view, since we were not willing to work for him and the Berensons, we must be working for DINCOTE. It is a charge that is beneath Clark, a veteran of the struggle during the dark cold war days of this country, when loyalty was painted red or white, and if you weren't on our side you were on theirs. Although we feel great sympathy for Mark and Rhoda Berenson and can only hope that our parents might fight so tirelessly and energetically if we found ourselves in Lori's position, we react with an appalled sadness to Clark's slander.
THE EDITORS REPLY
We stand by Jonathan Levi and Liz Mineo's careful reporting for this magazine on the Lori Berenson case. We also share Ramsey Clark's belief that justice is not possible for Berenson in Peru and that she should be released, a view we expressed in an editorial accompanying Levi and Mineo's article and another just after her new civilian trial was announced. The only "truth" we presumed to reveal was that the investigation of her case, her trial and conviction were deeply unfair and the government's evidence against her hopelessly tainted. Therefore, our recommendation was not for her case to be reopened but for human rights advocates to step up pressure on the regime to free her and all those unjustly convicted of terrorism in Peru.
I read with interest the timely report on Lori Berenson, which coincided with the Peruvian government's decision to grant her a retrial. This decision, welcome as it may be by human rights activists and the Berenson family and friends, is, however, seen by large sectors of the Peruvian public as a cynical attempt by a beleaguered government nationally and internationally perceived as illegitimate to improve its relations with the United States. While it makes sense for Berenson's family and well-wishers to portray her at best as totally innocent and at worst as a useful idiot, the documentation provided by The Nation points to a much more conscious collaboration with a guerrilla group intent on forcibly deposing a foreign government. In the United States too, long sentences have been imposed on foreigners convicted of aiding in the planning and/or perpetration of acts of terrorism. The World Trade Center case comes to mind.
As a Peruvian, I find the methods used by my government against the guerrillas excessive and often more criminal than the groups it was fighting. The time has come to re-evaluate many of those actions, in both the military and the legal realms. As scandalous as the lack of due process that led to Berenson's incarceration was, it would be equally scandalous for her to be set free simply because she is a well-represented American at a time when freeing her becomes expedient to the Peruvian and US governments, while hundreds or thousands of others remain indefinitely in jail, sentenced under similar conditions and including the truly innocent.
New York City
That Lori Berenson was denied fair jurisprudence and that our government has not secured her release are both clear. But Jonathan Levi and Liz Mineo's attempts to paint a personal portrait of Lori Berenson (through evidence that may have been completely fabricated or through her "militant" attitude during her press statement, where she was instructed to yell to be heard) miss the point. In an instance of gross human and civil rights violations, it is entirely inappropriate to look for kernels of rationale based on the victim's behavior. That Lori is innocent isn't even the issue here--would you deem it appropriate to examine the behavior of a Jewish storekeeper in Nazi-era Germany in order to find a shred of justification in his subsequent gassing at Auschwitz? Lori's imprisonment, her health problems and the outrageous treatment she has suffered by the Peruvian courts are the issues. I don't care if she's a country club Republican or an Uzi-toting terrorist's moll. She's a human being and an American, and she must come home.
'THE HOLOCAUST INDUSTRY'
New York City
Christopher Hitchens is correct to point out that Norman Finkelstein's book The Holocaust Industry has enjoyed a great deal of success in Europe, particularly in Germany, while it has been given short shrift in the United States ["Minority Report," Sept. 18/25]. What he fails to note, however, is that as a work of scholarship, Finkelstein's book is all but worthless. Finkelstein sees Holocaust reparations as part of an ideological apparatus by which avaricious Jews oppress American blacks, Palestinians and others. This lunatic thesis does indeed appear to have struck a chord in certain right-wing quarters in Germany and Switzerland and also in certain left-wing quarters in the United States and England. It is also why his book has been harshly dismissed by reviewers in this country and why, in my article in the September issue of Commentary, "Holocaust Reparations--A Growing Scandal," I was right to lump him with the Holocaust deniers and others on the far fringes of intellectual life.
New York City
Christopher Hitchens is mistaken in his criticism of recent litigation aimed at forcing Swiss banks and German corporations to return property stolen from victims of Nazi persecution. I fear that his view of the Holocaust litigation has been distorted by the unfortunate antics of a single lawyer, Edward Fagan, whose blatant self-promotion and single-minded pursuit of fees obscure a remarkable judicial achievement. Since I am serving as court-appointed lead counsel in the Swiss banks case, and as one of the principal lawyers in the cases against German industry, let me try to set the record straight.
First, the Holocaust cases cannot fairly be described, in Hitchens's words, as efforts to use "dubious methods" to "reap vast sums from an already penitent state." In each of the cases, corporate defendants knowingly exploited Holocaust victims in order to reap unjust profits. For example, drawn by a 1934 statute promising Swiss bank secrecy, thousands of frightened depositors poured money into Swiss banks from all over Europe to shield their property from the Nazis. When World War II ended with vast numbers of the depositors dead at the hands of the Nazis, most Swiss banks, in what must be the greatest double-cross in banking history, declined to provide information to surviving family members about the possible existence of Holocaust-era accounts, claiming that the 1934 secrecy law forbade discussing the accounts without the permission of the depositor. The Swiss banks simply kept the Holocaust deposits for sixty years, while they systematically destroyed the deposit records. After several years of fiercely contested litigation, Crédit Suisse and UBS, the two largest surviving Swiss banks, finally agreed to a settlement of $1.25 billion, an amount that, in my opinion, barely scratches the surface of the stolen funds. But, with the passage of time and the destruction of the records relating to more than 2 million wartime accounts, it was the best we could do. Given his usual sensitivity to corporate double-dealing, I hope Hitchens reconsiders the Swiss bank cases. Would he really prefer that the banks get away scot-free?
Similarly, the cases against German industrial giants like Ford, Volkswagen, Siemens and Degussa sought to require German corporations that earned huge profits by employing slave labor during the war to disgorge those unjust profits to the forced workers. The corporate defendants in the German industry cases freely admit that they employed huge numbers of slave laborers under horrific conditions. But until the filing of the litigation, the companies refused to compensate slave laborers, arguing that it was the German government's duty to pay compensation. The government, however, argued that since the companies had reaped vast profits from the use of slaves, it was German industry's duty to pay. While the two sides played "Alphonse, Gaston" for sixty years, nothing was done for the forced workers. As a direct result of the negotiations aimed at settling the litigation, German industry and government have finally agreed to establish a German Foundation, with assets of $5.2 billion, to compensate the slave laborers. Again, would Hitchens rather see the German companies get away with profiting from slave labor?
Hitchens's second major error is to assume that the recent Holocaust litigation was exclusively, or even primarily, designed to benefit Jews. Recognizing that the Holocaust is not exclusively a Jewish tragedy, the lawyers (most of whom are Jewish) sought to assure that the litigation benefited all victims. The leading cases against Ford, Siemens, VW and Degussa that led to the formation of the German Foundation were brought on behalf of non-Jewish Polish and Russian forced laborers. In fact, Jews will receive only 23 percent of the payments from the foundation, with more than three-quarters of the funds going to non-Jewish Holocaust victims. Similarly, the Swiss bank litigation is designed to benefit not only Jews but other victims or targets of Nazi persecution, including Jehovah's Witnesses, Sinti-Roma (Gypsies), gays and the disabled. The fact that Hitchens, ordinarily a careful writer, seems to believe that the litigation is designed to benefit Jews and only Jews speaks volumes about the need for clear discussion.
Finally, it's long past time to put the canard to rest that these cases seek to benefit from the agony of Holocaust victims without providing any real benefits to them. Every penny in the $1.25 billion Swiss bank case will go to Holocaust victims. The bulk of the money will go to the heirs of the original depositors, unless the destruction of records makes it impossible to locate them. The names of 26,000 account holders deemed probably linked to the Holocaust will be published this year. Significant distributions will also be made to surviving slave laborers and to the heirs of refugees barred from entering Switzerland because they were Jews. I only wish a similar sanction could be imposed on the United States for its identical refusal to accept desperate refugees from Nazi persecution. Substantial funds, in the form of food and medicine, will be distributed to the poorest survivors, especially the so-called double victims, who suffered under both Hitler and Stalin and who have been left out of reparations programs. In short, contrary to Hitchens's implication, there simply are no "Holocaust memorials" or payments to institutions. It all goes to people, with the exception of a modest grant to researchers to compile a complete, publicly available list of victims for posterity. Similarly, $4 billion will be distributed from the foundation to surviving slave and forced laborers. The remaining $1.2 billion will go to victims whose property was stolen or whose insurance policies were ignored. A Future Fund of $350 million will be set aside to support the principle of toleration.
It is neither fair nor accurate to characterize the lawyers as greedy. Lawyers worked extremely hard for years to develop novel legal theories and to uncover the facts sixty years after the events. Despite their enormous effort, more than half the lawyers in the Swiss bank cases have waived all fees. Those lawyers who are seeking fees, with the conspicuous and unfortunate exception of Edward Fagan, have filed modest requests. When the dust clears, I predict that the fees to all lawyers in the Swiss case will total less than 1 percent of the settlement figure and that Fagan will get just what he deserves--a small fraction of his absurd $4 million request. Similarly, the parties in the litigation leading to the formation of the German Foundation have agreed that the attorneys' fees in the more than fifty cases will total 1 to 1.25 percent of the settlement figure. That is, I believe, the lowest fee structure in history for comparable levels of success.
So, corporate malefactors have been forced to disgorge almost $6.5 billion to a wide range of Holocaust victims--Jew and non-Jew alike. Lawyers are charging about 1 percent, a mere fraction of their normal fee. Victims will get everything else under a scrupulously fair set of allocations and distributions. I'm happy to leave Hitchens to his concerns about the Holocaust. Reasonable people can differ passionately over how best to come to terms with Nazi barbarity. I ask only that he not allow his political beliefs to cloud his perception of efforts to provide a modicum of delayed justice to proven Holocaust victims who were the targets of corporate exploitation by real Holocaust profiteers.
Finally, the less said about Norman Finkelstein, the better. There has for years been an unfortunate strain of radical left-wing thought that has equated Israel with colonialism and has viewed the Israeli state as a pretext for the Western theft of Palestinian land. Since the memory of the Holocaust provides moral justification for the establishment of a Jewish homeland, even at the expense of the Palestinians, people like Finkelstein find the Holocaust an obstacle to their political views. Consequently, they seek to understate its horror, especially as applied to Jews. Unfortunately, their efforts to minimize the Holocaust are occasionally mirrored by an extremely small number of Jewish fanatics who view the Holocaust as an exclusively Jewish event and who seek to use the memory of the tragedy for short-term political and financial goals. When peace is achieved between a sovereign Palestinian state and a sovereign Israel, the political motives for minimizing the Holocaust will disappear. We can then get on with the necessity of seeking to understand a universal human tragedy of unimaginable dimensions that fell with particular severity on Jews.
GOD BLESS JOHN...
God bless John Leonard ["How a Caged Bird Learns to Sing," June 26]. God bless his tenacity in the service of talent and integrity and simple human intelligence. God bless his unsparing appreciation and defense of what is truthful and healing in art and science and that strange beast we humans call culture. God bless his outrage and his indignation and his unwavering horseshit-detector. Thank God for his painful awareness of just what's at stake in the midst of this swirl of pop and dot-com celebrity drool. Honor to his name for having the matchless courage to stand up for what anyone with an electrical charge on their brain knows is of immense importance to us all. Would that all men and women who aspire to the writing craft had such sand. Honor to the name of John Leonard. Honor and blessings on his name.
...AND GOD BLESS SEPARATION
Readers interested in learning more about church-state separation issues [Katha Pollitt, "Subject to Debate," Sept. 18/25] can contact the Freedom From Religion Foundation at PO Box 750, Madison, WI 53701; (608) 256-8900; www.ffrf.org.
Our readers and Ellen Schrecker and Maurice Isserman on "The Right's Cold War Revision."
Marc Cooper's July 24/31 "Where's Hoffa Driving the Teamsters?"
provoked a storm of controversy from Honolulu to Brooklyn.
"Biased" was the term used most often in the scores of letters sent
in response to John Dinges's "What's Going on at Pacifi