Cover of December 31, 2001 Issue

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December 31, 2001 Issue

Sara Austin asks where the women are in the debate over Afghanistan’s future, David Moberg decodes the AFL-CIO’s message at its…

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Press Watch

Seymore Hersh has had a string of scoops since September 11, laying bare the covert community's skulduggery. Now, though, it seems he's toeing the government's line ...

Cuban Embargo-Buster?

Food companies ship supplies to Cuba in the aftermath of Hurricane Michelle, in what could be the beginning of the end for the tediously long US embargo of the island country.

In Fact…

  UP AGAINST ASHCROFT Democratic criticism was so tempered during Attorney General John Ashcroft's December 6 appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the hyperventilating Wall Street Journal was right to term the session a "political rout" in Ashcroft's favor. When a fired-up Ashcroft declared that civil-liberties critics "aid terrorists...erode our national unity and diminish our resolve," the Democrats, wary of George W. Bush's sky-high poll numbers, barely pushed back. Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, says, "It is an open question whether Democrats and moderate Republicans have the will to stand up to Ashcroft and the right-wingers, who practice the politics of intimidation." Where does that leave civil libertarians? Where they have had most successes--the courts. People for the American Way, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the ACLU are exploring the possibility of challenging the Ashcroft order that permits the government to monitor conversations between detainees and attorneys. The Center for Democracy and Technology is trying to determine if any Internet service provider has received an over-broad government order instructing it to hand over electronic records of a customer. The Center for National Security Studies, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and seventeen other groups filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department seeking information on the more than 1,000 individuals arrested or detained after September 11 (The Nation is a plaintiff in that case). "The Attorney General, in defending his policies, says there have been no lawsuits," notes Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU. "He should hold on to his horses. They're coming."   CASUALTIES ON BOTH SIDES Robert Fisk, correspondent for The Independent and a Nation contributor, smelled trouble when his jeep broke down in the town of Kila Abdullah, near the Afghan-Pakistani border. A crowd of refugees gathered, at first friendly but then turning angry. Stones began flying. Fisk was grabbed and beaten until blood streamed down his face. He fought back and managed to break free. As he braced for another assault, a Muslim cleric took his arm and calmly escorted him to a Red Cross/Red Crescent ambulance, which carried him to a hospital. Later Fisk wrote: "The people who were assaulted were the Afghans, the scars inflicted by us--by B-52s.... If I was an Afghan refugee in Kila Abdullah, I would have done just what they did. I would have attacked Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find."   IT HAPPENED IN HOUSTON The minuscule Art Car Museum in Houston does shows of cutting-edge art, but its staff never expected that one of them would bring the Feds knocking on the door. Last month agents from the FBI and the Secret Service arrived and methodically toured the gallery, occasionally querying the meaning of a topical but obscure piece. They took a particular interest in "Empty Trellis," a sketch of George W. Bush behind a steel trellis, created before September 11 as a criticism of environmental policy. Later, Houston FBI spokesman Bob Dobuim told the Houston Press that the bureau had received a complaint that "Empty Trellis" threatened the President, hence the Secret Service man. In accordance with our Attorney General's call for Americans to be extra vigilant, the FBI was checking out all reports of things deemed "un-American or a concern or a threat."   PEACE BLACKOUT? Peace demonstrations these days receive scant attention in the media. David Potorti reports that he and several other members of families who lost someone in the September 11 attack made a march "for healing and peace" from the Pentagon to the World Trade Center. At Union Square park in New York, members of the group made speeches calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan and a search for alternatives to violence so other innocent families would not suffer as they had. The Sunday New York Times ran a prominent picture of the marchers but all their signs were cropped out and there was no explanation of the purpose of the march. None of the other media covering the event ran stories. And our friends at Peaceflags, which sells an American flag with the fifty stars arranged as a peace symbol, tell us that CNN canceled a story on them at the last minute, explaining that because it was for a "sponsored segment," headquarters in Atlanta "pulled the plug on the story." The prevailing attitude seems typified by the Washington Post's coverage of an antiwar demo involving some 60,000 people: The only picture showed a lone prowar demonstrator.   PRICE ANDERSON: STEALTH RENEWAL While you were watching the war news, the House of Representatives hastily and with no debate renewed the Price Anderson Act, which limits the liability of nuclear power generators in the event of an accident. Most sober estimates of the damage from a serious accident range up to $500 billion, yet Price Anderson caps the industry's liability at $9.5 billion. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that plants are vulnerable to attacks like those on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And nuclear waste storage areas around US reactors are even more vulnerable. The renewal bill also facilitates construction of the new Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, which has no containment structure. The bill is now in the Senate. See Matt Bivens's web piece, "Who Pays for Nuclear Power?" and sign an online petition.   NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW The Washington Times's "Inside the Beltway" column reported that a new book by author William Doyle "contains FBI and Pentagon documents detailing a surprise raid" at Ole Miss in 1962, by troops of the 716th Military Police Battalion. Their target: the Sigma Nu house. Inside, the MPs "seized and removed a total of 24 weapons: 21 shotguns, a .22 rifle, a .30 rifle and a .22 Colt pistol." The president of Sigma Nu at the time was the popular cheerleader Trent Lott, who has since risen to his present eminence as Senate minority leader. Lott has declined comment. Read More

Bush’s Domestic War

Recent calamitous events—9/11, the recession, Enron's collapse—haven't affected the Bush administration's aims: tax cuts, drilling and Social Security &#...

Unfriendly Skies

The FAA, which had long ignored airlines' requests for help with unruly passengers, is now relying on those same airlines' apparent racial profiling when deciding who ge...




  'ASSAULT ON THE CONSTITUTION'   Alexandria, Va. I could not agree more with "National Security State" by David Cole [Dec 17]. As a twice-wounded Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, I am horrified by the "security" measures hastily taken by this Administration. We have not seen such a blatant assault on the Constitution since we incarcerated Japanese-Americans in World War II. Perhaps the Attorney General should issue orders to mail letters to males aged 50 to 70 with Italian surnames asking them to "voluntarily" come in and talk about what they might know about organized crime. The real threat to the freedom of the citizens of the United States does not come from the Taliban or Osama bin Laden. The greatest threat to our freedoms comes from George W. Bush and John Ashcroft. TIMOTHY J. MCKINNEY JR.       BOXERS' BILL OF RIGHTS   Westhampton Beach, N.Y. I agree with many of your letter writers ["Boxing Days" Dec. 17]. Jack Newfield, as usual, has hit the nail cleanly on the head. The beautiful and brutal sport of boxing can't be abolished, because every time it has been--nineteenth-century England or early twentieth-century New York--it has mushroomed in illegal form, like speakeasies in the 1920s. What it begs for is reform, an honest and aggressive trade union for the only professional athlete with no protection, no pension. Newfield's Bill of Rights for Boxers should be our fistic Ten Commandments. May the powers that be (and the powers that shouldn't be) heed his prayers. Power to the fighters. BUDD SCHULBERG       'CIVILIZATIONAL' CONFLICT?   Reno, Nev. Thanks to Edward Said for some rare clarity ["The Clash of Ignorance," Oct. 22]. Yes, we need to destroy those bastards--in self-defense, not because of any far-flung notions like a "clash of civilizations." Hitler & Co. were Western (Christian) analogues of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, to the nth power. Now that was a bastard offspring if ever there was one. What civilization did they represent? The guiding principle? (Mass) psychosis happens. It's in the genes. DOUG LOWENTHAL     New York City Samuel Huntington, in his The Clash of Civilizations, did not suggest that the Islamic world was "evil" or "bankrupt." He did not suggest that it did not have a rich cultural, scientific or technical heritage. He emphasized how recent the West's ascendancy has been. The point that Huntington was making was that the twentieth-century obsession with ideology (democracy, fascism, communism) was no longer the rallying point of peoples but rather their ethnicity, religion, language grouping and cultural heritage. And in a world of competing interests, the West and Islam (facing common borders, incompatible ideologies and shared enmities) would come into conflict. This would happen with or without Osama bin Laden. This is not about terrorism--or fundamentalism. It's about a broader move for competition between cultures, made all the more prescient with the decline in the relative strength of the West. Edward Said chooses to ignore Huntington's thesis and offers up political correctness in response, thereby failing to challenge Huntington on a theoretical basis. MANISH THAKUR     Seattle Edward Said portrays the September 11 attackers as an isolated band of fanatical criminals with no significant relationship to the broader Islamic world. Said's claims clearly do not hold water. He says, "Why not instead see parallels, admittedly less spectacular in their destructiveness, for Osama bin Laden and his followers in cults like the Branch Davidians or the disciples of the Rev. Jim Jones at Guyana or the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo?" The falsity of such parallels is immediately evident. Attempts by authorities to restrict or eliminate those cults did not result in demonstrations across half the globe of tens of thousands of sympathizers and supporters. The pro-bin Laden demonstrations we have seen from Gaza to Pakistan to Indonesia do not bode well for his claims. This is not to say that the vast majority of Muslims are not tolerant practitioners of their faith; it is merely to say that bin Laden and his camp are not a tiny isolated friendless minority; if they are an aberration, they are a vast one. ZEV HANDEL     Palo Alto, Calif. Let me add a footnote to Edward Said's excellent article. While Said is certainly correct in his description of Huntington's "civilizational" argument against Islam, the remedy Huntington seeks for the United States targets another large group internally--not only ethnic and diasporic groups but a number of political protesters as well. Indeed, Huntington finds that "the central issue for the West is whether, quite apart from any external challenges, it is capable of stopping and reversing the internal processes of decay" [emphasis added]. He names the causes of this "decay": "Western culture is challenged by groups within Western culture. One such challenge comes from immigrants from other civilizations who reject assimilation and continue to adhere to and propagate the values, customs, and cultures of their home societies.... In the late twentieth century...American identity [has] come under concentrated and sustained onslaught from a small but influential number of intellectuals and publicists. In the name of multiculturalism they have attacked the identification of the United States with Western civilization, denied the existence of a common American culture, and promoted racial, ethnic, and other subnational cultural identities and groupings." Huntington does not mince words: "Rejection of the [American] Creed and of Western civilization means the end of the United States of America as we have known it. It also means effectively the end of Western civilization." Two years after the The Clash of Civilizations was published, Huntington drew the connection between immigrants and progressive academics in an essay for Foreign Affairs: "The growing role of ethnic groups in shaping American foreign policy is reinforced by the waves of recent immigration and by the arguments for diversity and multiculturalism." But it is crucial to note that this 1995 piece merely develops a line of reasoning Huntington began two decades earlier, in his work for the Trilateral Commission. In the commission's 1975 publication The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, Huntington remarks: "The essence of the democratic surge of the 1960s was a general challenge to existing systems of authority, public and private.... People no longer felt the same obligation to obey those whom they had previously considered superior to themselves.... Each group claimed its right to participate equally--in the decision which affected itself." In short, while lauding the active participation of more and more diverse populations on the one hand, on the other hand Huntington is concerned that there may be too much of a good thing: "The vitality of democracy in the 1960s raised questions about the governability of democracy in the 1970s.... In the United States, the strength of democracy poses a problem for the governability of democracy.... We have come to recognize that there are potentially desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy." Thus, with the growing calls to re-examine domestic civil liberties, it is useful to see how a "civilizational" conflict abroad ties into one at home, with specific ramifications for immigrants, ethnic Americans and certain progressive points of view. DAVID PALUMBO-LIU       DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR FLAG IS?   Chapel Hill, N.C. Perhaps the intensity of patriotic zeal in the aftermath of the September 11 attack has abated enough finally to pose the question, What was the fate of the many millions of flags printed in newspapers back in mid-September? A casual glance around store and car windows confirms that only a small fraction of them are actually on display. Have the others been stored away after a duly ceremonious and careful folding, stars on top? Or, as is more likely, have they been thrown away and, if so, has the disposal been done as 4 USC §8, stipulates "in a dignified way, preferably by burning"? It is a sad fact that all who recycled those newspapers without first removing the flag are guilty of flag desecration, and environmentalism is at last confirmed to be an anti-American plot. On the other hand, those who sent their papers to the incinerator are true patriots, the dioxin released in the flag-burning assuredly no more dangerous than the smoke that once hung over Fort McHenry. But woe to those who may have used their newsprint flag to wrap fish, since the code explicitly forbids "using the flag as a receptacle." DAN COLEMAN       COFFEE & CROISSANTS   An addendum to the letter, and Christopher Hitchens's reply [Dec. 10], about the introduction of coffee to Vienna in 1683: Some bakers' apprentices were working at night, preparing the next day's bread, and heard the sounds of a tunnel being dug by the Turks under the city wall. The boys alerted the army and thus an invasion was forestalled. As a reward, the baker boys were granted the exclusive privilege of baking a rich roll in the shape of the Turkish crescent. It became popular as the Kipfel. About 100 years later Maria Theresa's daughter Marie Antoinette came to France as the bride of Louis XVI. She missed her morning Kipfel and imported a Viennese baker to teach the French how to make it. The latter, of course, improved the recipe, and produced the croissant. The rest is gastronomic history. ANDREW LINN       WELCOME BACK, KLAWANS   Brooklyn, N.Y. There is no one like him. We have missed him. We can go to the movies again! ISABEL BYRON   Read More


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