U.N. Urges Israel to Jettison any Weapons
- U.N. nuclear watchdog urges Israel to jettison any weapons
by Ramit Plushnick-Masti
ASSOCIATED PRESS JERUSALEM -- The head of the United Nations' nuclear
watchdog agency says he believes Israel has nuclear weapons and suggests
Israel rid itself of any stockpile to promote Mideast peace.
In the same interview, Mohamed ElBaradei also revealed that he has toured
some of Israel's nuclear plants, although not the reactor in the southern
town of Dimona, where it is believed Israel produces arms.
Mr. ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, spoke to the
Israeli daily Ha'aretz at his office in Vienna, Austria. The newspaper
didn't say when the interview was conducted.
Mr. ElBaradei said he has made several visits to Israel, most recently in
the late 1990s when he met with Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then prime
minister. The visits were not made public at the time.
The newspaper said Mr. ElBaradei was the guest of the Israeli Atomic Energy
Commission. Mr. ElBaradei has been a senior member of the International
Atomic Energy Agency since 1984.
Mr. ElBaradei said his most recent contact with Israeli leaders was at a
meeting in Vienna with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. The newspaper did not
say when the meeting occurred.
Mr. ElBaradei said he cannot confirm independently that Israel has nuclear
arms, but that "we work on the assumption that Israel has nuclear
"I haven't seen that Israel ever denied it," he added.
Israel has refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, aimed at
stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, because it objects to international
Although widely assumed to have a stockpile of nuclear weapons, the
government is purposely vague, stating only that Israel will not be the
first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.
In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at the Dimona plant, gave
pictures of his workplace to the Times of London. Based on the photographs,
scientists at the time said Israel had the sixth-largest stockpile of
nuclear weapons in the world. Vanunu is serving an 18-year term for treason
In his talks with Israeli officials, Mr. ElBaradei said he "raised the
regional situation and issues of nuclear weapons with them. The status quo
is not one with which I feel comfortable."
He told Ha'aretz that opening discussions on the nuclear issue does not
prejudge their outcome, but dialogue is essential to reduce tension.
"My fear is that without such a dialogue, there will be continued incentive
for the region's countries to develop weapons of mass destruction to match
the Israeli arsenal," he said.
"As I go around the Middle East, there is a sensation of frustration and
impotence. People say there is an asymmetrical situation and a situation
that is not sustainable and that we cannot go on like this, and I agree."
- Ad Hominem?
by Karen Kwiatkowski
As part of the occasional series "Know Your Neocons," we have Max Boot on
Monday�s edition of C-Span�s Washington Journal. It was quite informative.
Max was busy fending off a series of caller comments regarding the
war-mongering and war-profiteering of neoconservatives in America. Max seems
quite the reasonable man, but he refused to address a caller who asked why
people around the world sometimes see Israel as a threat to peace in the
region. Instead, he resorted to a cry of ad hominem.
By this he meant that callers complaining about neocons in Washington or
neoconservative assumptions are simply "appealing to personal considerations
rather than to logic or reason." Why not acknowledge how 200 nukes and a
very tough occupation might legitimately be considered a factor that
detracts from the image of "liberalism and a beacon of regional democracy"
that Max claims? There are several valid arguments that may be made, and Max
could have made them, but he did not.
Max likes to discuss evil, as did several callers. Max says amorphous
dictatorial evil like Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein must be addressed
militarily, and now. This fight against evil, in all of its Manichean
simplicity, gives powerful meaning to the wars sought by neoconservatives in
the Bush Administration. Several callers, however, felt that evil was more
accurately perceived as a beam in our own eye. Callers mentioned that
Saddam�s purported WMD, if they existed at all, were the degraded residuals
of our own sale and gifts of WMD to Saddam-the-ally over a decade ago. They
mentioned the lies we used to justify the 2003 adventures in Mesopotamia.
Callers mentioned the evil of institutional and executive disrespect of the
Constitution, of our leaders failing "to seek peace and pursue it" and
instead fomenting war, in the extreme and reckless waste of American
taxpayer contributions, past-present-future, by George W. Bush and his
minions. Max felt these were all ad hominem attacks, not appealing to logic
or reason. Max apparently has a very narrow definition of logic and reason.
Max fended off a question about Richard Perle�s war profiteering, again, as
an ad hominem insult against a major neoconservative. For future reference,
Max, intellectuals like yourself who do not, I assume, personally profit
from the current foreign policy of government subsidized contracts to
rebuild what government funded destruction has wrought, ought to seriously
consider putting some daylight between yourselves and profiteering
neoconservatives like Richard Perle. If you can.
A Democrat calls up. He fully supports the war in Iraq as justified (even if
started and continued ad nauseum on a foundation of lies and propaganda,
devoid of reality on the ground or in the region). This caller advocates a
"two-party system" for Iraq. Can you imagine? Max likes this idea. Iraq will
be resolved and all will be well if we could just put in place a two-party
system there. Kind of like the great two-party system we have today in
America. The same two-party system that brought us the pre-emptive war
against a fourth-class military power that did not threaten us, and Patriot
Acts I and II at home to keep dissenters in line.
But there is hope � a female caller claims that Bush is really playing the
man behind the green curtain, except the difference is that the Wizard of Oz
meant no harm, and Bush does. She is a Wes Clark supporter, and she believes
that Bush should be charged with treason. Hear, hear!
Max responds that treason is an unreasonable charge, because, thanks to the
two/one party system we have, both houses of Congress supported Bush in this
war. The argument that Max hopes we will follow is that it is unreasonable
to charge both houses of Congress with treason. Actually, Max, it�s not
unreasonable at all! You are, for this moment, approaching a clarity of
perception worthy of your intellect.
Finally, Max brings up the alleged anti-Semitic aspect of those who
criticize the neoconservative program. Earlier on the show, Max admitted
that neocons are mainly present in Washington thinktanks and exist only as
policy-makers, who neither have nor seek a domestic constituency, a neocon
"voting bloc" so to speak. Yet, when people criticize or question the
national "democracy" inherent in such a small, non-representative, and
powerful policy making group, Max is very sensitive that we have ignored all
the non-Jewish members of this policy bloc. Max mentions the virtuous
gambler Bill Bennett, former Director of Central Intelligence under Bill
Clinton, Jim Woolsey, and Catholic policy writer Rev. John Neuhaus.
Max failed to mention a far more substantive fact that separates
neoconservatism from any of the great Semitic religions � Judaism,
Christianity or Islam. Neoconservatism springs from a 1930s atheistic
communist/Marxist-leaning world revolution movement transformed throughout
the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s by a Cold War�driven domestic agenda, and crowned
by the current global military ascendance of the United States.
Neoconservatives indeed have a religious bent, but it's not monotheistic in
the tradition of the great religions. If neoconservatism has a religious
aspect, it may be found in its general anti-traditionalist roots, or perhaps
in its apparent worship of several lesser gods. Gods of unilateral power and
this idea of a holy American-enforced "democracy" spread all over the world
come to mind. There are probably other idols that animate neo-cons in the
privacy of their own minds, but I don�t want to go ad hominem on good old
Neoconservatism, Max, is a historical pinprick. It rose on the wings of
domestic tactical success in America only to be foiled by its remarkable
ability to create foreign and domestic policy disaster after disaster. These
disasters include falsely justified invasions and occupations of other
countries, as well as the profligate Bennett-ese gambling away of this
nation�s assets, in blood and treasure. Our immediate political future looks
to be one of painful, at times violent and angry, recovery from the
neoconservative era. An era that, logically, reasonably, and thankfully, is
at the cusp of its sorry existence.
December 30, 2003
Karen Kwiatkowski is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent
her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now
lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley.
- Now wait for the political tremors
The political after-effects of a terrible earthquake are already being felt
DISASTER could hardly have struck at a worse time or taken a less
anticipated form. Before dawn on December 26th, a Friday, the Muslim day of
rest, the sleeping town of Bam was all but razed by an earthquake measuring
6.7 on the Richter scale. More than one-third of the town�s 80,000
inhabitants were killed, either immediately, or later in the rubble of their
homes. The authorities were ill-prepared. It was Bam�s first big quake in a
New and old, public and private, the buildings of Bam had one thing in
common: their disregard for anti-earthquake regulations. Even the swankiest
homes collapsed: the governor was the only senior official to survive. Two
hospitals were destroyed. Prisoners fled a wrecked jail on the edge of the
town. One man, forewarned by a subterranean rumbling, had spent the night in
his car. He survived but lost about 40 relations. Fearing after-shocks,
survivors clogged the road to Kerman, the provincial capital.
In Tehran, Iran�s capital, more than 1,000km (621 miles) north-west,
sclerotic state organs lumbered into action. The Iranian Red Crescent was
hindered by the concentration of its stores and people in the quake-prone
north. As a result, thousands of survivors in Bam spent two freezing nights
without the tents they had been promised. The few bulldozers that arrived
promptly to sift through the rubble stopped working at nightfall. Most
�rescue� operations were in fact exhumations by the bereaved, using their
On the whole, the Iranians seemed unable to co-ordinate the emergency teams
that were dispatched from 26-odd countries, including the United States, the
Islamic republic�s bitter enemy. Would-be rescuers were stuck in their own
countries, while the Iranians got around to issuing them with formal
invitations. When they arrived at Bam�s tiny airport, no one was on hand to
guide them to those parts of the town where they would be of most help.
On Sunday evening, as supplies rolled belatedly into Bam, the authorities
abandoned hope of finding more survivors, and foreign helpers prepared to go
home. The interior minister said that more than 15,000 bodies had been
buried; by Tuesday an official said the final death toll would exceed
28,000, though it was unclear whether that figure included the many
casualties in villages nearby; by Wednesday, the most pessimistic estimates
put the number of dead at between 40,000 and 50,000.
For a few days, the reformist supporters of President Muhammad Khatami and
their rivals in the clerical establishment, which rallies around Iran�s
�supreme leader�, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave up their vicious politicking.
In scenes reminiscent of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, ordinary Iranians
responded to the disaster by piling up food and clothes at collection points
across the country.
In a trip to Bam on Monday, Mr Khamenei pledged that the town would be
rebuilt, �stronger than ever�. That would be some feat. The town lost its
Persian-speaking middle class long ago, to gradual migration. It, in turn,
was replaced by tribal Baluchis, whom Persians tend to look on with
distaste, partly for their reputation as traffickers of drugs.
More recently, the authorities tried to develop Bam by rebuilding the
ancient town as a tourist attraction and by building a car factory on the
edge of the desert. The plant still stands but the celebrated mud-brick
citadel was ruined in the quake. As for the palms that produce Bam�s
famously succulent dates, they survived. But the underwater channels that
irrigated them may have collapsed.
Iran�s brief unity may not engender lasting good sense. Bam is too distant,
its concerns too peripheral, for its agony to have much effect on building
techniques in vulnerable cities like Tehran, where developers and regulators
pay scant attention to best practice.
But the catastrophe may have one benign effect: a lessening of the Islamic
republic�s distrust of foreigners. That distrust was evident in 1990, when
the Iranians turned down many offers of outside help in the aftermath of a
previous catastrophic quake and officials denounced sniffer dogs as
�unclean�. Mr Khatami, in recent days, has showed no such qualms, appealing
for help from all bar Israel. Some people in Bam were rescued thanks to the
Mr Khatami�s conservative rivals have mixed feelings about foreign help.
During his trip to the area, the supreme leader did not deign to mention the
mainly western countries that had rushed to Iran�s aid, let alone thank the
rescuers in person. That is not untypical of Iran�s stand-offish
conservatives. Last Friday, while survivors of the disaster surveyed the
wreckage of their lives, Mr Khamenei found time to extol at length the
merits of making the pilgrimage to Mecca.
- Something nasty in the Balkans
The revival of extreme nationalists in Serbia bodes ill for the country�and
the Balkans as a whole
THE scene in Belgrade�s central Republic Square the morning after the
country�s general election on Sunday December 28th was striking. Young
people were handing out a free booklet to passers-by explaining their
citizens� rights. At the same time their sound system was playing a hit song
by the English chanteuse Dido, in which she warbles mournfully: �I won't put
my hands up and surrender.� Behind the youngsters stood the statue of
Mihaljo Obrenovic, prince of one of Serbia�s two royal households, whose
bloody feuding plagued Serbia throughout most of the 19th century.
The turnout was high and 2.1m people voted for more or less
western-oriented, democratic parties. However, the largest party in
parliament, with 81 out of 250 seats, will be the extreme nationalist
Serbian Radical Party, which along with the Socialists of the former
president, Slobodan Milosevic, got almost 1.4m votes. The revival of
nationalist groups in Serbia mirrors similar comebacks in recent elections
in two other parts of the former Yugoslavia. In Croatia, Ivo Sanader, the
leader of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), took office as
prime minister two days before Christmas, having won the largest share of
the vote in parliamentary elections in November. And nationalist Croat, Serb
and Muslim groups made big gains in Bosnia�s elections late last year.
Though Serbia's Radicals celebrated their comeback with champagne, there is
virtually no chance that they will actually be in government. It is back to
the future then, since Serbia's next administration will consist of many of
the same people who have run the country since Mr Milosevic was overthrown
three years ago.
A sigh of relief from all concerned then, except for the Radicals?
Unfortunately not. The result of Serbia�s election was as expected, only
worse. Opinion polls had shown that the Radicals might well be the largest
single party, but none had predicted that they would get as much as 27% of
the vote. Does this mean that Serbia is closing in on itself and is about to
plunge the whole Balkans back into war? After all, Vojislav Seselj, the
leader of the Radicals, boasted in 1991 that he intended to gouge out
Croatian eyes with a rusty spoon. Since many of his party militiamen then
went on to commit many a similar foul deed, he is now in jail in The Hague,
awaiting trial at the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal (where Mr Milosevic is
already on trial).
In fact, even if the hard core of nationalist voters do want to reverse the
Serbian losses of the Yugoslav wars, they have no means to do so. Serbia�s
army is a shadow of what it was and NATO-led troops are in Bosnia and
Kosovo, Serbia�s southern, majority-Albanian province, which is currently
under UN administration. Most Serbs are desperate for their country to get
into the European Union, not to go back to war.
Tomislav Nikolic, who is acting head of the Radicals while its leader is
otherwise detained, said recently that although his party remained committed
to a Greater Serbia, including much of Croatia, if it ever came to power it
would seek to gain what it had failed to win in war by diplomatic means.
Such nonsense implies that (as with recent nationalist gains elsewhere in
the Balkans) much of the Radical vote is a protest vote and comes from
Serbia�s most embittered people. Nationalists they may be, but they also
include workers who have lost their jobs thanks to privatisation,
middle-class professionals who, thanks to war, have ended up on the economic
scrapheap and Serbian refugees from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. According to
Aleksa Djilas, a commentator, Serbia �is a defeated country and [its] great
ideological zeal is burned out�.
That may be, but another stark reality is that Serbia will now more than
likely just lurch from crisis to crisis�and back to the polls again. Indeed,
Mr Nikolic may actually be glad that he will not be forming the next
government. Smart analysts, such as Vladimir Goati, are ringing alarm bells.
With no strong government in sight, they foresee new elections within a year
or so, in which many dispirited Serbs will fail to vote. That would lead to
an even stronger vote for the Radicals. The glum Mr Goati says that the
current situation reminds him of the cycle of elections and weak governments
in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, in which the Nazis became ever stronger
until they were actually able to take power.
Of course, it may not happen like that, but the outlook is still bleak. The
so-called democratic block now consists of four parties. The largest is led
by the man who ousted Mr Milosevic as president three years ago, Vojislav
Kostunica. He has sworn, like the leaders of the other three parties, that
he will not do business with the Radicals. Thus he must strike a bargain
with these leaders to create a coalition or minority government. Easiest to
do business with will be G17 Plus, a party of liberal, western-oriented
reformers. More difficult will be a party that includes Vuk Draskovic, a
monarchist who is notoriously unpredictable. Harder still will be dealing
with the Democratic Party, which was led by Zoran Djindjic, who was Serbia�s
prime minister until he was assassinated last March.
Apart from personal enmities, the most fundamental problem is that all these
parties stand for different things. G17 Plus is, for instance, in favour of
Serbian independence and cares little for Kosovo. Mr Kostunica, by contrast,
wants to strengthen the current weak �state union� with Montenegro and will
not willingly give up Kosovo, even if he has no other viable option.
Behind the scenes, horse-trading could now take a couple of months. Mr
Kostunica does not really want to be prime minister. Privately, he says that
he wants to be Serbia�s president again; currently the country does not have
one because voter turnout has been below the 50% threshold in each of the
recent presidential polls. Whatever the results of the bargaining, it is
clear that Serbia will lose time. Since the death of Mr Djindjic, reform has
stalled. Barring the extremely unlikely outbreak of harmony between the
leaders of the democratic block, Serbia will continue to drift.
It is not only Serbs who will suffer from weak government in Belgrade. An
economically moribund Serbia will be a drag on development for its
neighbours. Furthermore, if Serbia does not deliver indicted war-crimes
suspect General Ratko Mladic to The Hague by the end of March, America is
set to cut aid and prevent further loans from international financial
organisations. With nothing to gain, no Serbian politician will grasp the
thorny issue of Kosovo. And with no progress towards independence, more
Albanians in the province will be tempted to revert to violence.
And all the while, those who heard Dido singing in Republic Square will have
to wonder who is refusing to surrender: embittered, western-hating
nationalists or those who believe that Serbia can look forward to a
prosperous, outward-looking future?
- Milking lessons
It seems that a massive fraud was behind the collapse of Italy�s Parmalat.
But how did it happen and who benefited?
WHEN Enrico Bondi, a turnaround expert, arrived at Parmalat in mid-December,
he thought his job was merely to help restructure the finances of Italy�s
biggest dairy group. Within days, however, events moved faster than even the
shrewd Mr Bondi can have predicted. First, Calisto Tanzi, Parmalat�s founder
and boss, was ousted in a brutal show of strength by the company�s main
banks. Then Mr Bondi began to uncover the truth behind Parmalat�s strange
balance sheet, and a bad story got much worse.
The immediate problem at the company had been one of short-term liquidity.
As a regular heavy user of the bond markets, Parmalat had been criticised as
being inefficient for its habit of carrying large debts that were supposedly
offset by big cash holdings. Suddenly in December, it struggled to redeem a
�150m ($180m) eurobond, despite apparently having already bought back much
of the issue. Financial markets wondered why the redemption was a problem
for a group with more than �4 billion of reported cash and short-term
assets. Investors then panicked when Parmalat admitted that it had been
unable to release almost �500m trapped in a mutual fund based in the Cayman
That was when Mr Bondi arrived. He quickly discovered that Parmalat had
overseen a huge and long-running deception, perhaps dating back nearly a
decade. The Tanzi family lost control of the company as forensic accountants
got down to work. Mr Tanzi went abroad, but was arrested for questioning on
Saturday December 27th when he returned to Italy. On Monday, Parmalat�s by
now almost worthless shares were suspended indefinitely on the Milan stock
exchange. A full-scale judicial inquiry is under way, with some 20 people
under investigation. And America�s Securities and Exchange Commission has
accused Parmalat of misleading bond investors in �one of the largest and
most brazen corporate financial frauds in history.�
Colleagues of Mr Tanzi, including a former finance director, have alleged,
according to investigating magistrates, that he personally siphoned up to
�800m from Parmalat. Mr Tanzi�s lawyer denies that any money has
�disappeared�. Mr Tanzi did have a penchant for buying football clubs, but
his lifestyle was reportedly not especially lavish. Even if this specific
allegation against him turns out to be true, it would not explain the
billions more that have gone missing.
So where were Parmalat's auditors during all of this? Grant Thornton were
long-time auditors of Parmalat itself and have remained auditors of Bonlat,
a Parmalat subsidiary. Deloitte & Touche, Parmalat's main auditor since
1999, insists that it abided by Italian accounting standards and is
co-operating fully with investigators. For its part, Grant Thornton has
claimed that a letter from Bank of America vouching for �4 billion of cash
in Bonlat was a forgery good enough to fool them into approving accounts
that were fake.
But there were numerous such documents. Indeed, investigating magistrates
claim that four times a year Parmalat was operating a crude, but effective,
system for forging documents that purported to show big cash balances within
Bonlat. The balance sheets of the subsidiaries were simply adjusted to make
sense of the group�s overall financial position, and then reported to the
centre as audited numbers.
Grant Thornton claims that it too was the �victim� of a fraud. But it seems
either to have been too close to its client or to have been incompetent. For
example, investigating magistrates say that, according to former finance
officials with Parmalat, the auditor used Parmalat�s internal mail to
request financial information, rather than dealing with banks or other
parties directly. If so, this would mean that vital transactions were not
scrutinised outside a closed loop of communications.
Among other things, Mr Bondi wants to know where the missing money has
gone�assuming it ever existed. The sooner he can separate invented assets
from real ones, the sooner he can reassure investors that there will be
money to recover from the mess. Shareholders seem set to lose everything and
there will be painful negotiations with the holders of Parmalat�s numerous
bond issues. However, Mr Bondi probably has just enough breathing room in
which to pare Parmalat back to a viable operating business with a manageable
financial structure and to save as many of the firm�s 36,000 jobs as
Using new laws rushed through by the government, Mr Bondi is now acting as
the sole administrator of Parmalat. He has 180 days to try to salvage what
he can. The new law allows Parmalat to use its working capital to pay
suppliers, and will also make it likely that its banks will give it more
short-term capital within a few weeks.
It remains possible that the task will prove too much, even for the talented
Mr Bondi. So far, there has been no good news to offset the steady flow of
bad developments at Parmalat. Outsiders are still guessing at the size of
the black hole in the firm�s accounts�is it �10 billion? �12 billion? More?
One likely scenario is that Mr Bondi will break Parmalat into pieces,
selling what he can and trying to retain a core milk business. Whether he
can close the funding gap, however, is a big question.
If he is to have a chance, Mr Bondi needs to know quickly, and in detail,
how the fraud was committed. Untangling such schemes is never easy,
especially when there are hundreds of interwoven subsidiaries and shell
companies, not to mention tax havens and offshore banks, involved. Mr Bondi
has done the sensible thing and looked first for the big sums, only to
realise the scale of his challenge. Now he must go after multiple, smaller
amounts. It will take time, perhaps several months.
Until there is more precise information, most people can only guess at how
such a large fraud can have been constructed. But the broad outlines have
begun to emerge. On the face of it, a financial-holding company seems to
have been used to grab cash from the operating company, before losing that
money through the silly use of derivatives and other speculative financial
dealings. As the losses mounted, instead of coming clean, it seems that the
stakes were raised in a desperate and ultimately futile effort to keep the
scam going. If such a picture is broadly accurate, then Parmalat will look
much like other corporate scandals. Until then, the worry is that fresh
horrors may yet emerge.
- The O'Connor Project
Can we end racial discrimination without affirmative action? Here's what it
Lisbeth B. Schorr
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, speaking for a majority of the U.S. Supreme
Court in the University of Michigan affirmative-action case, declared, "We
expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer
be necessary ... ."
What would it take for that to become a reality?
In what we might call The O'Connor Project, we would have to commit
ourselves to eliminating racial disparities at the starting line and at four
subsequent crucial points, each of them involving changes that we already
know how to make. By assembling existing knowledge, deepening it and scaling
up from current isolated successes, our society could make a long-term
commitment to action in each of these five arenas so that minority college
applicants of 2028 would be educationally so well-equipped that they would
not need the extra help of racial preferences.
Here are the concrete steps that would achieve that goal:
1. Eliminating racial disparities in birth outcomes. We could accomplish
this by reducing the incidence of teen births and ensuring every pregnant
woman high-quality prenatal care. Birth outcomes that predispose children to
trouble at school, such as low birth weight (found twice as often among
African American babies as among whites), are associated with serious
cognitive impairments, behavioral and learning disorders, health problems
and school failure.
2. Eliminating racial disparities in school readiness. By harnessing the
tremendous growth in understanding of how parental support and early
education (an essential part of high-quality child care) can equip young
children for school learning, we could reduce by at least half the existing
racial gap. A child's ability to reason and to master language and math
depends on the stimulation, caring relationships and supports he or she
experiences long before entering school. The founders of Head Start and
other early childhood education programs knew this 40 years ago. Their
successors are now proving it.
Because school readiness is more than a set of mechanical skills, the most
effective ways to set children on a path to school success rely less on
flash cards than on attention to emotional, social and health needs, and to
the necessity of nurturing, supportive adults in settings that are
language-rich and knowledge-centered. For families where parents are
impaired by depression, substance abuse, personality disorders or domestic
violence, programs must compensate by ensuring that all young children can
grow up in environments that are safe, nurturing, stimulating and
3. Eliminating racial disparities in the opportunities offered by
elementary, middle and high schools. Many individual schools have
successfully broken the link between academic achievement and racial,
economic and family background. Most recently, entire school districts have
begun to shrink the race-based gaps that were once seen as immutable.
Success has been most dramatic in the early grades. The latest results of
nationwide testing among fourth-graders have shown universal improvement,
and a significant narrowing in the gaps among racial groups.
Progress in middle schools has been slower and more sporadic, as broader
reform efforts have collided with lesser capacity among front-line educators
and greater chaos, indifference and hostility in the bureaucratic
In high schools, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is among those
showing that we know enough to attack the gross inequities in preparing
underserved young people for college. The foundation is successfully
investing in the creation of smaller, more personalized learning
environments, where every student is known by a school adult and held to
Schools at every level and in every neighborhood must be able to attract,
retain and support fully competent teachers, ending the scandal of children
who need the most skilled instructors being taught by those least able to
4. Eliminating racial disparities in the opportunities for adolescents to
make a healthy transition into young adulthood. Here, too, our understanding
of what works has taken a quantum leap in the last two decades. Local
organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters have been successful in matching
at-risk young people with adult mentors. These trusting relationships
produce measurable decreases in first-time drug use and improvements in
school performance and behavior. Boys and Girls clubs, YMCAs, 4-H clubs,
AmeriCorps and schools are running programs that are keeping youngsters
constructively occupied during the hours when teens without such
alternatives often get into trouble. In these ways, local communities are
already well ahead of federal policy-makers in putting together the adults
and resources that influence youth in a positive direction, complementing
the work of schools in strengthening the capacity of adolescents to become
competent and confident adults.
5. Eliminating racial disparities in the opportunities that families have to
provide their children a good start in life. Most families share the same
dreams for their children and would, if they could, provide them with safe
neighborhoods, decent housing and good schools. Most would transmit to their
children the security and optimism that usually comes to parents who work at
jobs that pay a living wage. Most would provide the guidance that children
need to grow into productive adults if they could command the resources to
afford regular meals, books, computers and time. And yet large numbers of
families, especially African American families in America's inner cities,
cannot realize these dreams without help -- from kin, from neighbors and
from social institutions, including government. We know how to provide
families with supports to enhance their economic well-being, the safety of
their neighborhoods, the cohesiveness of their social environment and their
parental abilities. We have work to do, though, before we are able to
provide the needed supports at sufficient scale and in ways that a majority
of Americans find compatible with their values. But that objective is also
within our reach.
The leadership and the financial and intellectual resources for such an
ambitious undertaking as the O'Connor Project would have to come from a
broad partnership, including government and public officials at all levels,
philanthropy, the professional and academic communities, and the local
groups throughout the country that are already working to make their
communities a better place to live.
While we seek a wide base of support for committing the necessary resources,
one model we could look to as a way to begin is the one now flourishing in
Great Britain. When Prime Minister Tony Blair took office, the long-standing
gap between the least and most advantaged populations was continuing to
increase. He committed his government to eliminating poverty among children,
to radically reducing income-based health disparities, and to narrowing the
gap between deprived neighborhoods and the rest of the country -- all within
20 years. Funding from both government and philanthropy has mobilized an
extraordinary array of Britain's most daring and able individuals into the
service of achieving these objectives. In the United States today, the
challenge to embrace similarly lofty aspirations may seem particularly
daunting, and even unrealistic. At a time of philanthropic retrenchment and
fierce cuts in federal, state and local human-service budgets, how can the
American public be expected to support an agenda as bold as the O'Connor
First, we must be realistic about what works. We have already seen teen
birth rates and juvenile violent crime decline in response to initiatives of
the last two decades, which incorporate some of the principles described
above. But the most effective initiatives are typically underfunded and do
not reach those most at-risk. And many well-intentioned efforts are not
achieving their objectives. We must be prepared to move resources from less
effective efforts to more effective ones -- and to pay the costs of what it
takes to understand the difference.
I calculate that the O'Connor Project would cost somewhere between $110
billion and $125 billion a year. These estimates do not include the costs to
universal health coverage for children, adolescents and pregnant women,
which the nation seems gradually to be moving toward for reasons other than
the elimination of racial disparities.) This amount could be recouped by
rescinding the portion of the 2001 tax cut allocated to the wealthiest 5
percent of U.S. families when fully phased in (about $88 billion a year),
together with a modest increase in the gas tax or a 25 percent cut in
To bring the nation's actions in line with our best intentions, in just the
ways that Justice O'Connor's decision implies, requires action on an agenda
that is coherent, bold -- and difficult. But don't let anybody tell you that
it can't be done or that we don't know how to do it.
- Poland, Israel sign missile deal
Warsaw reaps rewards for its politically risky support of the US-led war in
By Matthew Clark
After going out on a limb as one of the United States' staunchest allies in
the war in Iraq, Poland is starting to see some payback. The latest reward
comes not from the US but from Israel in the form of a ten-year missile
contract valued at around $350 million.
The anti-tank "Spike LR" missiles, which can be shoulder-fired, will be
produced in Poland under license from the state-owned Israeli Rafael arms
corporation by the Polish firm Mesko, reports the Associated Press. This
deal, which will help bring Poland's Soviet-era missile program up to NATO
standards, will also "give Mesko financial breathing room after a decade of
losses," reports AP.
As The Jerusalem Post reports, "the deal was so important for Poland that
[its] Minister of National Defense Jerzy Szmajdzinski was on hand to sign
it" in Skarzysko Kamienna, 90 miles south of Warsaw.
According to the Post, the Israeli Defense Force "has used the Spike and
various derivatives for a number of years," including in Lebanon, the West
Bank, and Gaza Strip. Director general of Israel's Defense Ministry Amos
Yaron pointed out that "this decision is not confined solely to the
industrial sphere but rather reflects a strategic choice that will hopefully
pave the way for a further enhancement of Polish-Israeli defense relations."
Last April marked a politically significant reward for Poland's support of
the coalition when the country signed a $3.5 billion deal to buy 48 US-made
F-16 jet fighters. This was the biggest defense contract by a former Soviet
bloc country since the end of Cold War. However, The New York Times reports
that the "contract is starting to stir frustration [in Poland] because of
the time it is taking Lockheed to fulfill its promise to steer American
investments to Poland to offset the purchase."
When it comes to economic payback for its support of the Iraq war, at least
in the form of rebuilding contracts in Iraq, "few people are waiting with
more impatience than the Poles," reports the Times.
While the Polish government cited moral and political reasons for its
support of the United States, economic motives were never far from the
surface. Polish officials freely acknowledged that they hoped that backing a
friend in a time of need would translate into more profitable economic ties.
To many here, winning contracts in Iraq is one way to judge whether that bet
paid off. Some see it as an ominous sign that Poland has so far netted just
one project, a $7 million telecommunications contract.
Poland might not have to wait long for recontruction contracts though. As
Reuters reports, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said on Saturday
that his country's involvement in Iraq's reconstruction will be on the
agenda during top-level bilateral talks in Washington next month. Speaking
after the deadly attack that killed 18 people in the Iraqi city of Karbala,
Mr. Kwasniewski also said that the coming weeks in Iraq might be
Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes of Poland as a "geopolitical spa" for
America and the "antidote to European anti-Americanism." But he points out
that this goodwill is tenuous.
Poland's becoming a member of the EU will give the US an important friend
within that body � a counterweight to those EU forces that would like to use
anti-Americanism as the glue to bind the expanding alliance and that would
like to see the EU forge its identity as the great Uncola to America's
But as powerful as Poland's bond to America is these days, we dare not take
it for granted. Poland has some 2,400 troops in Iraq. That's the good news.
The bad news is that roughly 75 percent of Poles oppose their deployment.
Polish officials will tell you Poland sent troops to Iraq to help keep the
Americans in Europe. But the public doesn't make such connections, and most
people don't understand what their boys are doing there or what Poland is
getting out of it.
Mr. Friedman cites a Polish foreign policy expert as saying that the US is
currently losing to Europe in the competition for the hearts and minds of
- Something's Rotten...
So, it seems Bush is still eating beef. A little Mad Cow disease, the White
House assures us, isn't going to scare our red meat-loving leader. We
suppose that's supposed to make us all feel better, encouraging us to accept
the USDA's assertion that its inspection rules are sufficient.
Somehow, we aren't convinced.
Maybe that's because the meat from the diseased heifer slaughtered in
Washington state wasn't distributed in Texas, where the prez is spending his
holiday. Maybe it's because one of the key administration officials telling
us everything's okay is a former agribusiness lobbyist. Or maybe it's just
because we know that the meat industry and its allies in Congress have for
years managed to kill every effort to reform the inspection and feed rules
-- including one that would have kept meat from this particular dairy cow
from ever reaching anybody's plate.
We should remember, this is not a new fight. It dates back nearly a century,
to Upton Sinclair and Teddy Roosevelt, uneasy allies who fought bitterly to
get the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 through a similarly recalcitrant
Congress. Ever since, cattle ranchers and meat packers have managed to water
down or kill efforts to strenghten federal rules on meat inspection,
slaughtering, and feed lot management. In that fight, the beef industry has
been aided by scores of allies in Congress, lawmakers willing to oppose any
measure that might make the meatpacking business less profitable. And with
the arrival of Bush and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman -- an
agribusiness lobbyist before joining Bush's team -- the industry has been
given red-carpet treatment. Now, the Madison Capital Times argues, the cost
of such laissez-faire political favoritism is becoming unavoidably clear.
"Veneman was put in charge of the Department of Agriculture by President
Bush because he knew the longtime advocate for the genetic modification of
food, factory farming and free trade policies that favor big agribusiness
over family farmers and consumers could be counted on to choose the side of
business interests over the public interest.
Veneman did just that when she announced that mad cow disease had been found
in the United States. Instead of offering a realistic response to the news,
she was still doing public relations for agribusiness. She declared the case
was isolated, praised the USDA for a 'swift and effective' response, and
discounted any risk to human health.
Unfortunately, because of the USDA's lax approach to inspections and
regulation, Venemen has no idea whether she is right."
In fact, the USDA has been more than lax -- as John Munsell knows too well.
As Mother Jones reported last month, the Montana meatpacker became a food
inspection activist after meat ground at his family-run plant tested
positive for E. coli. Munsell took his concerns to the USDA, and found out
what the agency's real priorities are.
"Instead of tracking the contaminated meat back to its source, the USDA
launched an investigation of Munsell's own operation in Miles City, Montana.
Never mind that the local federal inspector had seen the beef go straight
from the package into a clean grinder -- a USDA spokesman called that
testimony "hearsay." By February 2002, three more tests of meat Munsell was
grinding straight from the package came back positive in USDA tests for E.
coli. This time, as he would later testify in a government hearing, he had
paperwork documenting that the beef came from a single source: ConAgra's
massive Greeley, Colorado, facility, which kills as many cows in three hours
as Montana Quality Foods handles in a year.
Munsell fired off an angry email to the district USDA manager, warning of a
potential public-health emergency, and adding that if no one tracked down
the rest of the bad meat, "both of us should share a cell in Alcatraz." The
agency moved immediately and aggressively -- not to recall meat from
Greeley, but to shut down Munsell's grinding operation, a punishment that
lasted four months.
'I want the world to know what the real policies are,' says Munsell, driving
through Miles City, a ranching town on Montana's eastern plain where the
casinos compete with saddle shops on Main Street and the men don't take
their hats off for much. 'The real policies imperil the consumer," he says.
"The USDA doesn't want that out.'"
There is plenty of evidence to support Munsell's assertion. As James
Ridgeway of The Village Voice writes, a study by the Center for Public
Integrity found that "only 43 percent of all meat products recalled by their
manufacturers from 1990-1997 was recovered."
"The rest of the meat�some 17 million pounds�was eaten by unsuspecting
consumers. Yet Congress fought off efforts by the Secretary of Agriculture
during that time to get the authority to issue mandatory recalls of
The investigation found that during the 1990s the highly exclusive meat
business spent $41 million financing political campaigns of Congress
members, more than one third of them from House or Senate agriculture
committees. Among them: the majority and minority leaders of the Senate
(Trent Lott and Tom Daschle), the speaker of the House and the House
minority leader (Newt Gingrich and Dick Gephardt), and six past or present
chairmen or ranking minority members of the Senate and House agriculture
The cattle industry during that period employed 124 lobbyists to work the
Hill, 28 of them previously either lawmakers or aides to lawmakers. And it
worked. 'During the escalating public health crisis of the past decade,' the
Center reported, 'the food industry has managed to kill every bill that has
promised meaningful reform.' In lieu of any serious rulemaking, the Clinton
administration struck a weak-ass deal with the industry to allow cattlemen
to do their own inspections and label their records "trade secrets" so the
public can't look at them."
There is little chance the industry's friends in Congress will be able to
keep their stonewalling record intact. Already, the USDA has announced it
will ban the slaughtering of "downer" cattle -- animals that cannot move on
their own because of disease or some other ailment. The Washington state
dairy cow that tested positive for Mad Cow, it should be noted, was a
"downer". Of course, Congress had repeatedly failed to adopt a similar ban
-- even though it was already embraced by some of the meat industry's
largest clients, Wayne Pacelle writese in The Seattle Times.
"The fast-food industry -- led by McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King --
considers downer meat too dangerous for its customers and no longer buys it.
So do mink farmers who refuse to feed it to their animals.
Three years ago, the USDA banned it from the National School Lunch Program.
Several states including California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas,
Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin prohibit downers from being sold or killed at
state-inspected abattoirs, but have no control over federally regulated
slaughterhouses that process most of these disabled animals."
Still, there are other legislative initiatives in play, The Denver Post
reports, including one measure making it easier to track infected beef from
farms to markets. That bill was introduced a year ago, but has been blocked
by the beef industry's alllies on the Agriculture committee. But are such
changes enough? John Stauber, co-author of Mad Cow USA, insists it is not.
Writing on Alternet, Stauber argues that far more sweeping reforms are
"The feed rules that the United States must adopt can be summarized this
way: you might not be a vegetarian, but the animals you eat must be. The
United States must also institute an immediate testing regime that will test
millions of cattle, not the 20,000 tested out of 35 million slaughtered in
the past year in the United States. Japan now tests all cattle before
consumption, and disease experts like Dr. Prusiner recommend this goal for
the United States. And of course, no sick "downer" cows, barely able to
move, should be fed to any humans. These are the type of animals most likely
to be infected with mad cow and other ailments � although mad cows can also
seem completely healthy at the time of slaughter, which is why testing all
animals must be the goal.
Ann Veneman and the Bush administration, unfortunately, currently have no
plans to do the right thing. The United States meat industry still believes
that the millions of dollars in campaign contributions doled out over the
years will continue to forestall the necessary regulations, and that
soothing PR assurances will convince the consuming public that this is just
some vegetarian fear-mongering conspiracy concocted by the media to sell
organic food. Will the American public buy this bull? It has in the past."
Finally, while the current uproar is over a single cow, the problems with
our meat inspection and feed rules aren't limited to the beef industry, Geov
Parrish reminds us in his latest column on Working for Change. The entire
meat production business -- dominated by huge factory-farming conglomerates
-- is plagued by dangerous and inhumane practices which need to be exposed,
For the worst corporate violators, the ones actually inspected and found to
be egregiously violating food safety laws, the penalties are slaps on the
wrist. Many large operations consider such fines a cost of doing business, a
pittance compared to the money they save through mistreatment of the
animals, fouling of the environment, and careless handling of the meat.
These issues are hardly confined to cattle -- industrial pig farming has
become notorious for its noxiousness -- or to meat. The use of antibiotics
on farm animals, pesticides on crops, and genetic engineering on anything
agribusiness can figure out how to "improve" all carry risks right through
the food chain into our bodies.
The discovery of mad cow disease in one cow, out of nearly 100 million now
living in the U.S., is hardly a major risk to the public. But the factors
that made it possible -- big agribusiness, lax regulation, and consumer
ignorance -- also fuel any number of far more common problems. For meat,
such problems are usually avoidable by buying organic meat free of
antibiotics and the ravages of factory farming. In fact, for nutrients and
taste as well as food safety, organics in general are well worth the higher
In the meantime, while we wait for Congress and the Bush administration to
take action, the carnivores among us can always follow the lead of the folks
at Free Range Graphics -- the animation jocks behind The Meatrix. Or we
could embrace the vegetarian option. Apparently, producers of
vegetable-based meat alternatives expect many of us will -- Planet Ark
reports several such companies expect their business is about to boom --
just not in Crawford, Texas.
- Cry Haiti
By Kevin Y. Kim
Trouble brews as country heads toward bicentennial
Haiti celebrates its 200th anniversary in January. But the majority of
citizens of the Western Hemisphere�s second-oldest democracy still face
shorter lives, subsist on less than $1 a day, and struggle, jobless, in a
country sliding toward disorder, isolation and permanent penury.
�Haiti�s verged on crisis more times than I can count,� says Merrie Archer,
human rights director for the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. �This
past year alone, it�s courted catastrophe any number of times, yet reaches
the brink and pulls back again and again.�
In 2000, the country held legislative elections partly challenged by
international monitors who quit the country without overseeing the
presidential re-election of populist firebrand Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Since
then, Haiti has been stuck in political gridlock, unleashing a cycle of
violence that has left the hands of government partisans, opposition figures
and lawless thugs equally bloodied.
On October 26, a girl riding a bicycle in the northern town of Gonaives died
from a stray bullet during an attack by antigovernment forces on a police
station. One month later, Aristide partisans fired on a crowd of protesters
outside a courthouse in Petit-Goave, wounding a 2-year-old. As Haiti�s
political crisis worsens, such tragic events increasingly become everyday
incidents�in the past two months, violent demonstrations have left at least
15 dead and dozens wounded.
Critical independent reporting in Haiti largely has disappeared. Since 2000,
about 30 Haitian journalists have gone into exile. The murder of its most
prominent, outspoken journalist Jean Dominique, remains unsolved in the
burgeoning docket of a judiciary powerless to stop spreading human rights
abuses. Already 146th in the world in human development and the poorest
country in the Americas, Haiti is the region�s second-most dangerous country
for journalists, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect
The growing crisis coincides with Aristide�s long-delayed promise to hold
elections in November and December. Not only are Haiti�s peace and
development at stake, but more than $500 million in foreign aid frozen by
the international community in response to the 2000 elections�including
millions of dollars in direct U.S. aid to the Haitian government, which
direly needs to bolster its democratic institutions.
Many observers, including U.S. officials, regard Aristide�s ability to
conduct free and fair elections pivotal to Haiti�s problems and future
international support. But that narrow focus ignores the inability of the
recently formed Haitian National Police (HNP) to ensure safe elections that
include the political opposition. After a promising start under U.N.
auspices, the HNP�s abandonment by a fickle international community in the
mid-�90s led to its corruption and politicization by competing government
�I�m not sure Aristide has total control of the country,� says Robert
Maguire, a former State Department staffer and leading Haiti expert. �There
are deeply ingrained political habits in Haiti that, if not Aristide
himself, then many around him have fallen captive to.� Louis Joinet, a
recent U.N. envoy to Haiti, has reported that the HNP is demoralized by its
inability to enforce significant rule of law, with some high-ranking
officers simply quitting.
Unsurprisingly, as of press time the Haitian government had yet to announce
an elections timetable. Instead of taking tension-reducing steps within its
power, Aristide�s government seems content to muddle through for now. Either
way, it�s unclear if Aristide can appease an intransigent opposition�partly
composed of former authoritarian and elitist elements with disturbing ties
to the International Republican Institute, a D.C.-based advocacy group
influential in Bush administration circles. Unlike Aristide, the opposition
lacks popular support and seems more bent on ousting Aristide and
destabilizing Haiti than reaching any electoral compromise.
�The government and opposition need to put their money where their mouths
are and come up with a viable program for the country,� Archer says.
After three years of an inconsistent, hands-off approach leaving Haiti
policy strongly driven by special interests, the Bush administration is
showing signs of a closer engagement with Haiti that could facilitate a
much-needed breakthrough. Recent bilateral cooperation over
narco-trafficking and refugee migration�two of Washington�s primary
concerns�has led the Bush administration to reiterate U.S. support for
Aristide, appoint a high-level envoy to study the ongoing crisis and approve
$202 million in multilateral loans.
But simply giving aid, shunning Aristide or holding rushed, one-sided
elections are unlikely to stem Haiti�s downward spiral. Equal, sustained
pressure must be brought by the U.S.-led international community against
Aristide and the opposition to finally put Haiti�s suffering people ahead of
their mutually destructive self-interests.
�Aristide�s no devil, but no angel either,� Maguire says. �But instead of
Bush�s past estrangement policy or Clinton�s soft love stance, we need a
tough love policy holding everyone accountable.�
Kevin Y. Kim was a 2001-2002 Fulbright Scholar in South Korea.
- An Introduction to Classic American Pragmatism
Raymond Pfeiffer, who edited this issue, takes a look at the scope of the
If pragmatism has meant different things to different people, which it has,
then our current issue should ruffle few feathers. Purists may, of course
react differently. But how could one be both a pragmatist and a purist?
In everyday speech, �pragmatism� expresses a penchant for the practical. But
as a philosophical movement, its roots run deeper. Its originator, the
brilliant Charles Peirce, was a rebellious thinker who, in the second half
of the nineteenth century, was gripped by both the natural sciences and the
need to ponder great philosophical questions. The lead essay by Cornelis de
Waal shows how scientific pursuits shaped Peirce�s philosophy. Pragmatism
was originally the thesis that the meaning of an idea can be found by
attention to its practical consequences. Such an idea is no mere penchant
for the practical: Rather, it is a direct and specific theory of meaning
with implications beyond the laboratory and the library.
As David Boersema points out in his essay on Peirce and Sartre, Peirce
eschewed the possibility of some innate intuition of a priori knowledge.
Although not a positivist, he thought natural science would approach the
truth. Pragmatism was one way he applied logic and the methodology of
science to philosophy. His theory of knowledge was fallibilist, breaking
with much of the philosophical tradition and maintaining that some beliefs
are true, some not, but that no knowledge is infallible, and that there is
no certainty. Yet Perice wasn�t a skeptic � he didn�t go so far as to argue
that we should suspend belief on all matters. He thought it worthwhile to
pursue metaphysical (but still uncertain) knowledge by trying to identify
and state the most general categories of all phenomena.
The second great pragmatist was William James, who seized upon Peirce�s
pragmatic principle to understand the religious life. James argued that it
could be entirely reasonable to live a religious life even though one did
not know with any certainty about the truth of religion. If the choice is
real, important and unavoidable, one�s full decision and commitment to live
a fully and deeply religious life can be as rational, coherent and
defensible as any decision we make in the presence of uncertainty. And all
real human decisions are made in the presence of extensive uncertainty.
James maintained that the practical needs of humans in this world might
justify beliefs and practices that cannot otherwise be proven true. The
faith of our fathers and mothers might be reasonable not because it is true,
but because it is practical.
Kevin Decker points out that the third great pragmatist, John Dewey, was
struck by the implications of the pragmatic maxim for human thought and
history in a broad sense. A fallibilist like Peirce and James, Dewey viewed
the old philosophical search for real, final, truths as a threat rather than
a virtue. It is the search for knowledge that emerges from the junk heap of
human thought and misguided prophets. Whatever promotes thinking, dialogue
and rational inquiry should be encouraged, and whatever stifles it avoided.
Dewey identified certain philosophical distinctions, called dualisms, as
obstacles to improved understanding. In the end, both human experience and
nature, for Dewey, lack sharp breaks, distinctions or dichotomies.
Destructive dualisms include supposed sharp ontological and epistemological
divisions between mind and body, between knowledge and inquiry, between
logic and reality, and between government and society. Since Dewey, other
philosophers such as W.V.O. Quine have harnessed the tools of linguistic
analysis to level devastating attacks on distinctions between analytic and
synthetic sentences, a priori and a posteriori knowledge, facts and
theories. As Nikolas Gkogkas shows, Nelson Goodman continued the pragmatic
juggernaut by attacking in analytic detail the distinction between art and
The influence of American pragmatism has been broad, and its
interrelationships with other philosophies rich. Boersema�s essay reveals
some suggestive and possibly historic relationships between the approaches
and conclusions of Peirce and Jean-Paul Sartre. Both started their inquiries
from similar points and came to similar conclusions about the nature of the
Richard Rorty, one of the most influential recent American pragmatists, was
interviewed by Giancarlo Marchetti. Rorty offers us reflections on James and
Dewey and further thoughts on some more contemporary movements such as
deconstructionism, forms of relativism, and anti-foundationalism. Rorty�s
controversial political writings are briefly summarized by Carol Nicholson
in her article about pragmatic patriotism.
Where Kevin Decker explains how Dewey sought to extend democracy to all
areas of life and promote a dialogue that builds on openness of vision to
promote justice, Nicholson addresses a philosophical problem of patriotism.
Given Rorty�s recognition that a sense of patriotism can inspire the best in
a people, how can it do so in the USA today? What can Americans draw from
their rich and varied past that can, intellectually, bring moral leadership?
Nicholson argues that Rorty�s choices, Dewey and Whitman, are not suitable.
Yet, Decker�s essay offers possible grounds for defending Dewey from
So what then best characterizes American pragmatism? Consider six
characteristics. 1) Questions of the meaning of language are best resolved
by studying the practical consequences of the ideas and statements in
question. 2) The extent to which an idea fulfills important human goals
clarifies the idea and also provides important evidence for and against the
likelihood of its truth. 3) There is no real need for and little to be
gained from pursuit of a First Philosophy in Descartes� sense, or of a
foundation of our knowledge, or of the foundation of reality, or of the
foundation of all value, or of some set of basic truths that will answer the
great philosophical questions. 4) Sharp, fixed distinctions of thought and
reality are not reflected in nature, where one thing fades off into the
next, one flows into another and the complexity of our thought is clarified
only by theories that give tentative illumination to reality. 5)
Enlightenment by some form of a priori knowledge is illusory. Even the
definitions of our terms may be changed later, as inquiry proceeds. 6)
Whatever promotes reasoned dialogue, inquiry and further understanding is
good, and what stifles it is bad.
Can one be a strict pragmatist? It seems unlikely if one is to steer clear
of dualisms, recognize the tentative nature of concepts and theories and
avoid commitment to a supposed First Philosophy. Pragmatism does not merely
reach out in all directions to all forms of thought: it is self-conscious
and self-reflective and self-critical. That is, it is prone to examine its
own ideas as tentative. We may one day need to reformulate parts of some of
our thinking about ourselves. And finally, no parts of our thinking are
immune to the weight of evidence that might come in future experience.
- Sex in the Garden
by Sharman Apt Russell
They met in the desert, on a sultry New Mexican night. Their affair was
brief, a few stolen moments. It was everything they desired.
ach flower on a sacred datura plant blooms only for a night. During those
brief hours, the large silky trumpet-shaped blossom must do everything it
can to attract a suitor: one who will sip the sugary nectar at the base of
the floral tube, pick up grains of pollen (the flower's male sperm), and
carry these off to fertilize another flower on another sacred datura. Sex is
the sine qua non. For this reason alone, the creamy white petals of Datura
wrightii open at twilight (or on cloudy days), release a lemony scent, and
seem to glow in the dark.
Luscious and seductive, sensuous and sly, Datura wrightii is a rather common
weed whose dark-green heart-shaped leaves grow in mounds along roadsides, in
ditches and arroyos, on desert slopes and in pinyon-juniper forests from
California to Texas. Varieties of the plant are also called thorn apple,
angel's trumpet, moonflower, jimsonweed and, somewhat appropriately, devil's
When my children were small, I carefully rooted out the sacred datura around
my house and property in New Mexico. When they were older, I showed them a
patch of the blue-green leaves, a healthy tangle four feet high with green
prickly fruit and six-inch-long flowers, and I explained: These plants are
members of the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family, with high concentrates of
alkaloids such as atropine, a component of belladonna. Every part -- leaf,
flower, and seed -- is toxic.
Native Americans traditionally used sacred datura as a hallucinogen by
soaking and steeping the leaves into a tea or chewing the seeds or roots. In
one Zuni myth, "When the earth was still soft," two curious children spied
on the gods and later gossiped about the secrets they saw. The Twin War Gods
were so upset that they caused the earth to swallow up the children and, at
the place where they disappeared, the sacred datura grew and blossomed for
the first time. The use of the plant, even by experienced rain priests or
shamans, is considered dangerous: Visions can turn into convulsions or
death. Only a few years ago, teenagers in El Paso, Texas, went into the
desert near where I live and made a tea of sacred datura, hoping for a
vision or cheap high. Two boys died. A third came home, staggering and
delirious, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
I also grew up in the desert, and as a teenager in the early 1970s, I heard
stories about "datura tea." This gorgeous, sinister flower has become part
of my understanding of the natural world, where beauty and violence often
intertwine -- or wear the same face. The beautiful white trumpets of the
sacred datura still evoke in me a physical response: a slight hollowness in
the chest, a momentary stillness. Perhaps that is why when Datura wrightii
began to reappear on the edges of my garden, in the scruffier parts of the
backyard where the ground slopes and weeds take over, I was happy to see the
plant leaf and bloom. Often in the summer as the sky turned dusky, I would
take a backyard stroll, drawn ineluctably to those opening flowers flaunting
their scent, their curvy shape, their luminous color.
None of this come-hither had anything to do with me, of course. The drama of
any flower is designed to attract its pollinator, usually an insect. For
most sacred datura in the wild, that pollinator is a stout-bodied,
fast-flying species of sphinx moth, often the tobacco hornworm moth (Manduca
sexta). In my garden, however, the more popular visitor is the white-lined
sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) commonly found across the United States.
Sometimes mistaken for a hummingbird, the white-lined sphinx moth hovers
while feeding, its wings a-whir as it sips nectar from a larkspur or evening
primrose or the deep white tube of a sacred datura. Its proboscis, or
"drinking straw," extends more than an inch, over half the length of its
body, a kind of magic trick, like pulling an impossibly long scarf from your
sleeve. After a few seconds, the moth rotor-whirls away, a spinning dervish,
a Black Hawk on a mission. Although the body appears unnecessarily large, it
enables the moth to regulate its temperature: shivering to warm up and
circulating blood through the abdomen (which acts like an air-cooled
radiator) to cool down. They are hard to see despite their size; they seem
to be in constant motion, quickly buzzing past your ear or hair. Like most
moths, they have wonderful eyesight and they can keep feeding as the sun
sets, through dusk, starlight, and moonshine.
My experience with white-lined sphinx moths is kaleidoscopic. They are a
blur, a movement that seems half-imagined. Then, suddenly, they come
perfectly in focus, poised before a white flower, the heavy body kept aloft
by the beat of narrow wings. One can fully appreciate their display of color
and symmetry only when they are dead -- which is how I usually encounter
them, my broom sweeping up a stiff corpse hidden in a corner. (This is how
most of us get to know moths, when they invade our houses and die there.)
More often than not, I stop to spread out the sphinx moth's body and admire
its pattern: the upper wings slashed with a diagonal buff-colored band, the
shorter wings marked with broad bands of pink and black. The furry brown
head and thorax are vertically striped in white. Down the brown back are
alternating squares of black and white. The effect reminds me of an Escher
The caterpillars of these moths are also highly designed: variably colored,
often lime-green or yellow, with side rows of spots bordered by black lines,
and a protruding yellow-orange rear horn, whose function is to scare off
attackers. These larvae have the habit of rising up like miniature sphinxes,
regal and demanding, daring you to interfere with their happy lives of
eating. Periodically, they hatch from their eggs en masse and can be seen
migrating toward food. Recently, an amateur entomologist reported on the
Internet a herd of larvae stretched out for hundreds of yards on a
well-traveled road in Tucson, Arizona. Amid carcasses "splattered
everywhere," thousands of live yellow caterpillars were dashing across the
hot pavement. Eventually the larvae make shallow burrows in the soil where
they pupate and emerge, usually in several broods, from February to
My friend Rob Raguso, a biologist at the University of South Carolina, has
been studying sphinx moths for over a decade. In 1993, he placed electrodes
on their antennae to record their responses to different odor compounds. He
wondered what, exactly, these moths could smell. It turned out they could
smell everything, at least every floral odor from sweet to spicy that Rob
could produce. Rob also wondered how a sphinx moth, with its
sesame-seed-sized brain, knew when to stop and feed. How does a moth
experience the world?
At the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Rob manipulated sacred datura
plants. Flowers covered with dyed cheesecloth bags could be smelled but not
seen. Flowers with plastic bags over them could be seen but not smelled.
White paper funnels with nectar tubes simulated real flowers but without
fragrance. In the end, he realized that sphinx moths were fairly
discriminating. In order to be fully seduced -- to slow down and uncurl
their proboscis -- the moths need both the right smell (that lemony scent)
and a visual display (those creamy-white petals tinged with lavender).
Rob is studying the white-lined sphinx moth's courtship with evening
primroses in Utah. Wild evening primroses are delicate flowers with yellow
or white petals that seem tissue-thin, veined like the skin of the very
young or old. Female sphinx moths lay eggs on these plants while drinking
nectar. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the flower buds and petals. "I'd
like to look at the costs and benefits," Rob says, "of having white-lined
sphinxes as your pollinator."
In other words, why attract a suitor whose offspring will turn around and
eat you up? Perhaps the key is timing. If you have already sent your pollen
into the world, if your eggs have been fertilized and gone to seed, then
your job is done. You don't mind being nibbled to death.
Rob's study was inspired by his observation that primrose flowers being
eaten by sphinx moth caterpillars produce a fragrance different from that of
flowers from an undamaged plant. Like the sphinx moth, Rob specializes in
smell: where smells are produced on a flower, how they evolve in a plant,
what role they have in pollination and plant-insect interactions. Like a
perfumer, he has trained his nose to recognize hundreds of floral scents.
"Instead of smelling like Earl Grey tea," he says, "the flowers of these
wounded plants smell faintly like cream."
When being eaten by caterpillars, crop plants like corn and cotton produce
flowerlike fragrances from their leaves. This chemical cry for help drifts
through the air and attracts insects such as wasps, which hurry over to eat
or parasitize the caterpillars. From the plant's point of view, these wasps
are the cavalry. Rob wants to know what happens to plants such as evening
primroses that already produce a flowerlike fragrance. Is their change in
odor a similar cry for help? If not, what are their strategies against
pollinators who have become abusive?
In truth, pollination often involves abuse, a range of violence and deceit.
Some orchids imprison their pollinators in a carnival fun-house of chutes
and cages. Sometimes these flowers eject their pollinium (a disk of pollen
with a stem attached) into a sphinx moth's eye, an experience akin to having
a hockey stick attached to your face. Eventually, the vision-impaired insect
may starve if it cannot feed itself. In the meantime, it might pollinate a
few more flowers. Flowers pretend to have nectar when they don't, or they
exaggerate the richness of their pollen with bright yellow coloring. In the
common milkweed, pollen can stick so persistently to a visiting bumblebee
that, as the bee flies away, its legs tear off. This doesn't matter so much
to the milkweed if the bee has already brought some pollen to fertilize its
By comparison, the interaction between a sacred datura and a white-lined
sphinx moth almost seems romantic. At least no one is getting hurt. In my
garden, after the big night, the datura flower hangs limp, wilted, hopefully
fertilized. The white-lined sphinx moth is somewhere around, waiting and
sheltering against the day's heat. If it is a male sphinx moth, he waits to
find a female to mate before he dies. If it is a female sphinx moth, she
waits to mate and then lay her eggs before she dies. In any case, her life
span as a moth measures three to ten days. Meanwhile, the datura plant is an
important food source.
I like this pollination story in part because it is a common one. The sacred
datura is classified as a weed and the white-lined sphinx moth as a pest,
not endangered, not threatened (although heavy uses of herbicides and
insecticides could change that). Their lives are entirely their own. They
are indifferent to me, my children, my garden. They care, really, about one
thing only. You know what that is. The white trumpet unfolds. The proboscis
uncurls. It's as complicated as that.
- The Tragedy of Rwanda
by Lukin Robinson
U.S. Hegemony: Continuing Decline, Enduring Danger
by Richard B. Du Boff
The Demand for Order and the Birth of Modern Policing
by Kristian Williams
Sneak and Peek
by Marge Piercy
The Tragedy of Rwanda
by Lukin Robinson
Lukin Robinson is a longtime trade unionist in Ontario, Canada.
Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the
Genocide in Rwanda (Princeton University Press, 2001), 384 pages, paperback
Linda Melvern, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda�s Genocide
(London and New York: Zed Books, 2000), 288 pages, hardcover $69.95,
In Rwanda, in four months of 1994, as many as a million people were
massacred in a well prepared and organized orgy of killing amounting to
genocide. Seldom in recorded history has there been such a concentrated
frenzy of mass murder of innocent people. How could such a thing have
happened? Who was responsible? Could it have been prevented and why wasn�t
it? These questions are the subject of the two books under review.
Linda Melvern�s book deals with all three questions, Mahmood Mamdani�s deals
mostly with the first. Melvern is an English journalist and author. Mamdani
was born and brought up in Uganda and is now a professor and the director of
the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University. The style of each
book reflects the profession of its author.
A Canadian, General Rom�o Dallaire, is the hero of the Rwandan tragedy. He
was the commander of the UN peacekeeping force sent to Rwanda in 1993. There
are a few other heroes as well, but mostly the genocide is a story of
hatred, slaughter, unimaginable horror, fear, cowardice and betrayal. It is
one of the great crimes of the last century. It is also the great
unacknowledged scandal of the Clinton administration.
Rwanda is a small, landlocked country in Central Africa, with seven to eight
million people. It is all hills, mountains, and valleys. It was in Rwanda
that Diane Fossey studied the mountain gorillas and tried at the cost of her
life to protect them from poachers. It has no railways, but passable roads.
The people are overwhelmingly rural and make their living from the land, as
owners, herdsmen or peasants. Most of them are also poor.
Unlike many African countries, Rwanda�s people all speak the same language
and, until the advent of the Catholic Church, shared the same religion and
told the same ancestral stories. But, when the Europeans arrived at the end
of the nineteenth century, Rwandans were divided into three castes: the
Tutsi, the Hutu, and a tiny minority of Twa.
The Tutsis, accounting for 14 percent of the population, were the rulers,
the Hutu, accounting for 85 percent, were the ruled, and the Twa were the
remaining 1 percent. The Tutsis owned the land and raised cows. The more
cows a Tutsi owned, the greater his wealth and power and the higher his
status in the ruling hierarchy. The Hutu cultivated the land and were in
effect serfs of the Tutsi lords, to whom they had to give part of their
harvest in return for protection and the use of a cow. As long as the
population was small, this system was stable, although oppressive.
But as the population grew, trouble developed. More Tutsis meant more cows,
taking up more and more of the land and pressing irreconcilably on the land
needed by the growing number of Hutu for cultivation. Just as the livelihood
of the Hutu majority was threatened, so was the power of the Tutsi minority.
The conflict came to a head in the 1950s.
The first European to set foot in Rwanda was the German Count G. A. von
G�tzen. He arrived in 1894. In 1885, the Berlin Conference had �awarded�
Rwanda to Germany�without consulting or even informing the Rwandans. In 1918
Rwanda and its neighbor Burundi were awarded to Belgium as a mandate under
the League of Nations and later the United Nations. With the Belgians came
the Catholic Church. It gathered many adherents and became a pillar of the
combined Belgian and Tutsi rule. When, in the 1950s, movements of national
liberation from colonialism took hold in Africa as they had elsewhere, the
Tutsis began to agitate against Belgian authority. Hoping to maintain its
position, Belgium switched its support to the Hutu, who were allowed to take
power in 1959 in a bloody revolution. The underdog became the top dog. There
were widespread massacres of Tutsis, as well as the first wave of Tutsis
fleeing in fear of their lives into neighboring countries, especially Uganda
to the north and Burundi to the south, where Tutsis still held power. They
were followed by many thousands more. This was the beginning of the descent
Mamdani sets out three identities: cultural, market-based, and political. By
political, he means a person�s ethnic or racial identity as defined by the
state. He considers political identity to be primary, so that the key
difference between Tutsi and Hutu was their ethnic or supposed racial
origin. He argues against the opposite tendency �to see political identity
as derivative of either market-based or cultural identities� (p. 21). But,
however important it may be in itself, political identity is also the door
to economic opportunity. Thus: �The key socioeconomic right is the right to
use land as a source of livelihood.� This right is �not accessed
individually but by virtue of membership in the ethnic community...The link
between political violence and social redistribution has been key to
revolutionary politics everywhere� (pp. 29, 201). So it was in Rwanda.
�Political� and �market-based� identities were inseparable. Colonialism made
use of both. Hence, �the Rwandan genocide needs to be thought through within
the logic of colonialism� (p. 9).
The Belgian colonial administration displaced the native king as the symbol
of national authority and made the local chiefs, all of whom were Tutsi,
their agents of government, solely responsible to the central administration
and ending any form of accountability to their communities. The colonial
administration, together with the Catholic Church, also promoted the myth
that the Tutsi were of Hamitic origin and were therefore descended from a
superior, partly Caucasian race who had come to Rwanda centuries ago from
the northeast�Ethiopia and southern Sudan. The administration thus changed
the difference between the Tutsi and the Hutu from an ethnic to a racial
one. This was confirmed in the identity card issued to each person which
�classified the entire population as Tutsi, Hutu or Twa.� Tutsi power and
privilege was thus identified with race, foreign versus indigenous,
non-native versus native. The Tutsi were exalted as superior, the Hutu
branded as inferior. As Mamdani explains, the change was crucial and
To make things worse, Belgian rule was the harshest the Hutu remembered ever
having endured. The power of the chiefs was reinforced; the administration
of �customary� law became stricter as well as arbitrary; state and church
taxes were increased, and more and more unpaid, forced labor was required
for a growing variety of purposes. Finally, because famines were frequent,
the peasants were required to grow famine-resistant but protein-deficient
crops plus coffee, which was the country�s main export and was required to
pay for �development.� The agents for all this oppression were the Tutsi
chiefs, who were happy to believe in the myth of their superiority. The Hutu
had their own reasons for believing the myth; it added acid to their hatred.
The revolution of 1959, leading to independence in 1962, changed the state�s
top personnel from Tutsi to Hutu. But the new regime failed to change much
else. The Tutsis retained their position in the lower ranks of government;
they continued to run the church and church education and most of the
non-agricultural economy. In short, they continued to dominate so-called
civil society. The gradually developing Hutu elite, in particular the
students vainly looking for jobs, became increasingly dissatisfied.
In July 1973, the relatively moderate Hutu government was overthrown and the
head of the Rwandan army (General Juvenal Habyarimana) became president. The
new government at first sought accommodation with the Tutsi. It changed the
designation of the Tutsi back from racial to ethnic and wanted to give them
a place in Rwandan society in proportion to their number, i.e. 14 percent.
This meant quotas throughout the government, the church, and the economy.
The Tutsi naturally did not see this �accommodation� as a blessing.
Thousands lost their jobs, and the tensions arising from enforcing the
quotas made many fear for their safety; thousands fled. From their point of
view, democracy for the Hutu meant despotism for them.
But a drive to exclude the Tutsi won out. In particular, the president�s
wife, Agathe Kazinga, her three brothers, and their cronies gained
increasing power and appropriated�actually stole�privatized state property.
The regime became a dictatorship, which the Tutsi, together with a small but
growing number of the Hutu majority, opposed. The economy also turned sour.
There were recurring droughts and famines, the price of coffee collapsed,
and a structural adjustment program (SAP) imposed by the IMF was the last
Many Tutsi fled to refugee camps in Uganda, seeing no hope under the new
regime. The early refugees wanted above all to go back home and, together
with the new generation growing up without hope or prospects, they turned
increasingly to armed struggle. At first there were only small groups of
so-called terrorists, but eventually a powerful force was built up under the
leadership of what called itself the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). It had
the support of the Ugandan government, which wanted the refugees out. Every
incursion into Rwanda led to renewed Tutsi massacres and new waves of
refugees, and each of these in turn lead to an increase in the determination
of the RPF and the strength of its army.
In 1990, the RPF forces embarked on a full-scale invasion. They saw
themselves as liberators; but most Hutu feared and hated them as returning
oppressors. When in 1993 the RPF reached the outskirts of the capital,
Kigali, President Habyarimana appealed to his friend President Mitterrand of
France�a bad man if ever there was one�who quickly sent a contingent of
French paratroopers. The RPF could easily have beaten the Rwandan army, but
French paratroopers were something else. The result was a stand-off.
During these years Agathe Kazinga and her clique began to advocate for the
extermination of the Tutsi, as well as of all Hutu opposed to the
increasingly corrupt and oppressive dictatorship. A new radio station was
established to spew hatred and prepare the Hutu population for the genocide.
More arms and ammunition were bought from abroad, mostly from Egypt, and
Rwanda became the third largest African importer of weapons. The army was
expanded from five thousand to twenty-eight thousand men and was trained by
the French. A new militia, the Interahamwe, crazed with racism, was
organized throughout the country. Together with the Presidential Guard and
the army, it took a leading part in the genocide. The hate broadcasts and
calls for the extermination of the Tutsis became more frequent and vicious;
arms were stockpiled and, when the time came, were openly distributed to the
waiting killers. The slaughter was planned and organized at the top, and was
systematically carried out. Lists of people to be killed were drawn up.
Every Hutu was encouraged to take part. Hundreds of thousands did. The
preparations for the coming slaughter were well known and reported many
times in the foreign press. Repeated warnings were sent to the Belgian,
French, and U.S. governments, and later also to the UN. No one would ever be
able to plead ignorance.
In the evening of April 6, 1994, the president�s plane was shot down as it
approached the Kigali airport. The president and his advisers were returning
from a meeting intended to ensure the implementation of the Arusha
Accords�the peace agreement between the government and the RPF reached the
previous summer. The genocide began the next day. It lasted one hundred
days. Most of the victims were Tutsi, but Hutu relatives, friends, and
political moderates were not spared either.
Both books describe what happened in horrifying detail. There was no effort
to keep the genocide secret or hidden. It was not carried out in death camps
and gas chambers in remote areas. It was all done in the open and publicly,
in the streets and public buildings, with clubs, knives, and machetes, as
often as with guns. It could be seen and heard everywhere. Churches,
schools, and hospitals, where people gathered thinking they would be safe,
were instead the scene of wholesale massacres; hundreds and probably
thousands were burned alive.
The ten Belgian peacekeepers sent to protect the prime minister were taken
prisoner and murdered. So was the prime minister and her husband, the
president of the Constitutional Court, and every member of the proposed
broad-based transitional government called for under the Arusha Accords, as
well as political leaders, government officials, and every priest, doctor,
lawyer, teacher, student, and journalist, whether Tutsi or Hutu, known to be
opposed to the dictatorship. Trying to help those in danger was to risk, and
for many to lose, one�s life.
Most astonishing of all, doctors and nurses as well as priests, nuns, and
teachers took an active part in the slaughter, including the murder of their
own Tutsi colleagues. All were prime enthusiasts of the genocide. Mamdani
writes: �How could it be that most massacres of the genocide took place in
churches? How could all these institutions that we associate with nurturing
life�not only churches, but schools and even hospitals�be turned into places
where life was taken with impunity and facility?� A doctor reported that
�some of the most horrific massacres occurred in maternity clinics, where
people gathered in the belief that no one would kill mothers and new born
babies� (p. 227).
Tutsi women and the children of mixed marriages were killed by their
husbands and fathers. A survivor told of Hutu men who were �forced to kill
their Tutsi wives before they got to kill anyone else. One man tried to
refuse. He was told he must choose between his wife and himself. He chose to
save his own life. Another man rebuked him for having killed his Tutsi wife.
That man was also killed� (p. 4).
The Rwandan army was finally routed in July 1994 and the genocide came to an
end. But the victorious RPF took over a ravaged and ruined country. The
government buildings were in a shambles, there were no chairs, no desks, no
paper, no telephones, nothing. The streets of the capital were almost empty.
Sixty percent of the population was either dead or displaced. The flood of
Hutu, fleeing the country as well as their own guilt and fear of revenge,
�broke all refugee records; it was the fastest and largest exodus ever
recorded. In two days, about one million people crossed into Zaire.
According to one observer, it was as though the whole country was emptying�
(Melvern, pp. 217�18).
And suddenly, when the flood began, the so-called international community
and the media opened their eyes and saw that a new humanitarian crisis was
in the making, although refusing to see that it was a consequence of the
genocide which they had done so little to prevent or stop. Having turned
their backs on the Tutsi and Hutu moderates when they were being
slaughtered, they now overflowed with sympathy and help for their killers.
The United States allocated $300�400 million for humanitarian aid, with up
to four thousand troops and hundreds of civilian relief workers. They
arrived within three days and began distributing fresh water and food to the
refugees. How easily it could have been done four months earlier!
The flood of refugees led to further disasters. The Hutu killer-leaders
among the refugees terrorized and made life hell for everyone else, so much
so that some relief agencies had to leave. The remnants of the Rwandan army
and militia were merged and slowly rearmed. They then began incursions into
Rwanda, killing and pillaging at random and boasting that they would
reconquer the whole country. They also got involved in Zaire�s civil war,
which eventually drew in several other central and southern African
countries and has cost up to three million lives. Recovery and
reconstruction in Rwanda proceeded at a snail�s pace. Outside help was�and
still is�a mere fraction of what was needed. It is easy to apologize after
the event, as President Clinton did when he visited Rwanda. What the people
have needed since the genocide, but did not get, is generous and
disinterested aid in rebuilding their ruined country.
A shortcoming of Mamdani�s book is his treatment of the question: could the
genocide have been prevented? He quotes the opinion of a United States
Agency for International Development official that �it would have been
virtually impossible to do anything under the circumstances,� but admits
that General Dallaire thought otherwise. He says,�Many were killed right in
front of UN troops, who just stood by and let it happen,� without mentioning
that, under instructions from UN headquarters in New York, they were
forbidden to intervene if it meant using force. His disinterest in the
international betrayal of Rwanda is illustrated by his single reference to
General Dallaire, whose name he misspells and whom he refers to as �the
Belgian commander in charge of UN forces in Rwanda� (emphasis added). In
contrast, Linda Melvern marshals the evidence which amply justifies the
title of her book.2
If Mitterand had not sent French paratroopers to support the government when
the RPF was about to take Kigali, the RPF would have won in 1993. A year
later the French intervened again to protect the fleeing ragtag of the
Rwandan army and helped it to escape into Zaire. The French bear a heavy
Under the Arusha Accords of 1993 to end the civil war, a UN peacekeeping
force was to be sent to Rwanda to observe and help the parties carry out the
agreement. The trouble was that the Rwandan government had no intention of
carrying them out. On the other hand, the UN force approved by the Security
Council was given only a peacekeeping mandate. This assumed that both sides
wanted the accords to succeed and needed only some help in resolving
differences. The peacekeeping mandate was thus based on an illusion. It also
had a low priority in New York. It did not take General Dallaire long to
realize this. He at first asked for a minimum of 4,500 troops. The Security
Council cut this down to 2,400. They were under-equipped, and many units had
only one or two days� water supply and rations, about twenty rounds of
ammunition for each soldier and practically no reserves of fuel. The
timorous officials in New York kept General Dallaire under constant
restraining instructions and he was not allowed to intervene with force when
the genocide began. And when the ten Belgian peacekeepers were killed,
Belgium recalled its entire contingent of 1,000 men. Thereupon Britain and
the United States proposed that all peacekeepers be withdrawn. A
�compromise� was eventually reached; the Security Council agreed that 270
would be left. Dallaire defied the council and kept 456. Even so, this was
hardly more than a token force. The exterminators in Rwanda concluded that
they had a free hand to do as they pleased, which they did.
Meanwhile, Belgium, France, and Italy sent troops, but under orders to
rescue Europeans only. Rwandan staff of foreign embassies and aid agencies
were left behind. This made it plain that foreign lives were valuable,
Rwandan lives were not. In authorizing the peacekeepers to use force if
necessary to help the evacuation, but not to protect Rwandans, UN
headquarters expressed the same view. It was a flagrant betrayal. Dallaire
was bitter: �We were left to fend for ourselves with neither mandate nor
supplies,...an inexcusable apathy by sovereign states that make up the UN
that is completely beyond comprehension and moral acceptability� (Melvern,
At every point, the United States blocked effective UN action and obstructed
every preventive measure, with the detestable Madeleine Albright taking the
lead and public responsibility for Clinton�s political cowardice. The
governments of Belgium, England, and France were not far behind. The excuse
that no troops were available is false. Troops to rescue foreigners were
sent within a couple of days, and later, troops�French troops in
particular�were promptly sent to protect the fleeing refugees from the
pursuing RFP. After the Belgium contingent was withdrawn, Ghana offered to
increase its contingent and ten other countries offered troops, but they
lacked weapons; these could easily have been supplied by the rich countries
with ample stocks and money. There were no offers. More than criminal
negligence, this amounted to knowingly encouraging the killers by allowing
them a free hand.
Linda Melvern writes: �Dallaire had trained and risen through the ranks of
an army proud of its tradition of peacekeeping. He was a committed
internationalist and had first hand experience of UN missions. He was a hard
worker. And he was obstinate� (p. 83). But nothing had prepared him for what
he was compelled to witness but not allowed to prevent in Rwanda. When he
returned to Canada, he suffered prolonged and disabling trauma, from which
he has now recovered and has become a powerful voice of conscience.
We must not forget the background and circumstances of the chicken-hearted
perfidy of the governments which allowed the genocide to happen. This was
not the first example of such behavior, nor will it be the last. The current
policy in the �war on terrorism� and against Iraq is but the latest in a
long line of imperialist villainy and crime. To know of this behavior, and
to be angered by it, is to oppose it. Mamdani�s book, as he himself says, is
mainly for specialists in area studies and as such is valuable. Linda
Melvern�s book is an exemplary piece of political history, and is for
Linda Melvern writes: �The idea that Hutu and Tutsi were distinct ethnic
groups appears to have originated with the colonial agent and celebrated
explorer John Hanning Speke, who �discovered� and named Lake Victoria in
1859....[He] theorized that in this part of Central Africa there was a
superior race, which differed from the common order of natives....The Tutsi
ruling classes were thought to have come from further north, perhaps
Ethiopia, and were more closely related to the �noble Europeans� � (p. 8).
See Mamdani, p. 23. See also Ryszard Kapuscinski, �A Lecture on Rwanda� in
The Shadow of the Sun (New York: Knopf, Vintage Books, 2002). �Only one
group inhabits Rwanda, the Banyarwanda, a single nation divided into three
castes; the Tutsi cattle owners, the Hutu farmers and the Twa labourers and
servants� (p. 165). Kapuscinski�s lecture is an eloquent and moving summary
of the background and events of the genocide, although regrettably it does
not deal with the role of West.
There is another account of the Rwanda tragedy for which two Canadians can
take a great deal of credit. In 1997, the Organization for African Unity
(OAU) appointed an International Panel of Eminent Persons to report on what
had happened. Stephen Lewis was a member of the Panel and Gerald Caplan was
its principal writer and author of the report, Rwanda �The Preventable
Genocide. It confirms all the main facts and conclusions of Linda Melvern�s
book and carries the story of the resulting upheavals in Central Africa
forward for the following five years. It is unsparing in its criticism and
condemnation of the UN, the United States, France, Belgium, and others
responsible for what happened, all the more remarkable because it has the
authority of the eleven panelists from four continents who signed it.
Unfortunately, copies of the report are as scarce as hens� teeth and
practically impossible to get, except perhaps from the OAU.
Proposed mining activity by BHP Billiton, backed by the Australian
government, threatens both West Papua�s environment and Indonesia�s fragile
by Jason Mcleod
Abdul Teng is in his element. Mr Teng is from the North Malukus and is the
head of Gambir Village, the only settlement on Gag Island, a diminutive and
isolated 56-square-kilometre coral atoll located 150km north-west of Sorong,
in the Raja Ampat archipelago, the world�s most diverse marine environment.
He agreed to talk about BHP Billiton�s planned open-pit nickel mine on Gag
Island, and his settlement of around 600 people.
Abdul Teng talks animatedly about his time working for the company and his
hopes that the mine may soon be operational. Asked about the company�s
environmental record, Mr Teng looks reflective, smiles, pulls back on his
clove cigarette and tells a story:
One time a big snake came into our village. Everybody was running around in
a panic. We all wanted to kill it, but one of the Australian men who worked
for the company wouldn�t let us. He made us catch the snake. We put it in a
sack and carried it into the forest where we released it. Also whenever we
travelled on the company�s boat we weren�t allowed to throw our cigarette
butts into the ocean. All the workers had to put out their smokes in the
ashtrays provided. So you see, this is definitely a company that cares about
Abdul Teng says that he trusts that BHP Billiton will respect the
environment and protect the people�s gardens, sago palms and fishing
grounds, but adds that if they don�t �the people will close the mine down�.
Mr Teng hasn�t heard of Ok Tedi. He doesn�t know that the same company that
wanted the people of Gambir Village to protect snakes on Gag and encouraged
them not to throw their cigarette butts into the ocean also dumped 80,000
tons of toxic tailings daily into the Fly River. The tailings sucked the
life out of the Fly and destroyed the livelihood of those who depended on
it. Local people can no longer catch fish. Their sago palms and food gardens
are smothered under a blanket of waste stretching for hundreds of kilometres
along the river. Thousands of square kilometres of rainforest have been
poisoned. The dead trunks point upwards like bony fingers, giving silent
testimony beside the deoxygenated banks.
Afterwards, the company walked away and, in a widely criticised deal, has
left the Papua New Guinea government to pick up the pieces. The profits have
been effectively privatised, but the debt � a damaged environment and the
clean-up costs � have been socialised. The local people have paid the
heaviest price. This hasn�t happened yet on Gag. But it could.
Protestors hand out information about Gag Island at BHP Billiton's 2003
annual general meeting in Melbourne
Gag Island is part of West Papua, a resource rich territory on the western
rim of the Pacific bordering independent Papua New Guinea. Indonesia gained
sovereignty of the former Dutch colony after a widely condemned and
fraudulent referendum known as the 1969 Act of Free Choice. West Papuans
call it the Act of No Choice. It is not hard to understand why. The
Indonesian government, advised and assisted by the United Nations who
sanctioned the process, press-ganged 1022 tribal elders, less than one per
cent of the population, to vote on the question of independence or
integration. Observers, including internationals present at the time, say
that participants were told to vote for integration or have their tongues
cut out. Not surprisingly, in this climate of intimidation and outright
violence, 100 per cent of �participants chose� to remain with Indonesia. The
United Nations rubber-stamped the result, but the struggle for
self-determination hasn�t gone away.
The waters surrounding Gag Island are an underwater paradise. The tiny
island is one of hundreds of islets that make up the Raja Ampat archipelago,
an area believed to be the richest source of coral reefs, with the highest
marine bio-diversity in the world. A 2003 study by a UNESCO expedition
covering 61,200 square kilometres of the Raja Ampat archipelago found
hundreds of previously undocumented fish and coral species, bringing the
number of new species discovered to 1065 fish species and 505 coral species.
Significantly, the coral reefs were found to contain an incredible 64 per
cent of the world�s total coral diversity. Because of its outstanding
scenery and immense marine bio-diversity, the Raja Ampat archipelago is
currently being considered by UNESCO for world heritage listing.
Gag Island also sits on top of an incredibly rich seam of nickel which
stretches from Halmahera Island in the Northern Malukus, continuing in a
sweeping arc into West Papua, through Gag Island and across to Waigeo Island
on the eastern end of the Raja Ampat archipelago. BHP Billiton began
exploration in 1995 and P.T. Gag Nickel (75 per cent owned by BHP Billiton
and 25 per cent owned by the Indonesian company Aneka Tambang) and the
Indonesian government signed a contract of work in 1998. Operations were
stalled after the Indonesian government enacted one of its most impressive
pieces of environmental legislation to date, Forestry Law No. 41, which
prevented open-cut mining in protected forests, of which Gag Island was
declared one. Since then, however, the mine has been held in care and
Ian Wood, previously BHP�s environmental manager for Ok Tedi and now the man
responsible for the Gag Island project as head of External Affairs at BHP
Billiton�s Melbourne office, claims that since BHP�s merger with Billiton,
Gag Island �is no longer on our current five-year development schedule�.
However he is quick to reassure me that the company has made a significant
investment in Gag. �It is a project that the company would ultimately like
to see come to fruition,� he says.
The same message was reinforced by the current CEO, Chipp Goodyear, at the
recent annual general meeting in Melbourne. Goodyear argued that the
company�s success is predicated on a strategy involving a �diverse mix of
commodities and geography�. BHP Billiton is currently the world�s third
largest nickel producer, a mineral essential for the production of aluminium
and stainless steel. Runaway Chinese demand for nickel is driving up world
prices and putting pressure on BHP Billiton to bring the Gag mine out of the
project development pipeline and into full operation.
If mining operations do go ahead as planned, up to three-quarters of the
total landmass of the island will be turned into an open-pit mine. Mining
would continue for up to twenty years and extract up to 33,000 metric tons
of nickel from the 660,000 metric tons of rock dug out of Gag. That�s a lot
of waste for a tiny island in the middle of a marine wonderland.
Wood explained that the company is currently considering three likely
options for tailings disposal. The first method effectively involves
strip-mining two-thirds to three-quarters of the island via a series of
holes drilled into the earth to extract the nickel. These old mined-out
holes are then filled in with the mine tailings. This is the most expensive
option for the company. The second method involves building a tailings dam
in a small valley in the northern section of the island. This valley also
happens to be where local people have their food gardens. Both of these
land-based options are considered extremely risky, partly because of cost
and partly because the high levels of rainfall and seismic activity in the
region could jeopardise the structural stability of a land-based tailings
option and adversely affect the health and wellbeing of those who live and
work on Gag. Spillage from a land-based tailing option could also damage the
island�s fragile fringe of coral reefs, which are extremely sensitive to
run-off and turbidity. Wood concedes that the community would oppose a
conventional tailings dam because it would affect their food gardens.
The disposal option most favoured by the company is Submarine Tailings
Disposal (STD) � that is, the company wants to dump toxic waste in the
ocean. It is a practice outlawed in Australia and condemned by
environmentalists worldwide. It wouldn�t be allowed in the Great Barrier
Reef, so why is BHP Billiton even considering doing it next door? Dumping
mine tailings in the world�s most diverse marine environment is a practice
that is hard to reconcile with BHP Billiton�s much lauded public policy
position of �zero-harm� to the environment. A position that chairman Don
Argus says he �is very proud of. ... A leadership position that � is not an
add-on � but an integral part of what the company does�.
Widely respected West Papua specialist and Australian National University
academic Chris Ballard, who has worked for years with communities affected
by mining in West Papua, says that this is the standard modus operandi for
mining companies operating in the Asia Pacific region. �Line up the option
for tailings disposal that you really want � in this case STD � then
identify two other horror options to pressure the community into accepting
your preference. I�d be very surprised if their engineers could only come up
with three options. I would want to know what other options are technically
feasible but were discarded because of cost,� says Ballard.
In an effort to pressure the Indonesian government to allow mining on Gag,
BHP Billiton has enlisted the support of the Australian Government. Normally
reticent to be seen as meddling in Indonesia�s domestic affairs, especially
when it comes to West Papua, the Australian government established a special
departmental position within the Australian embassy to lobby the Indonesian
government on behalf of Australian mining companies. Responding to questions
asked in Parliament by Greens Senator Bob Brown in 2002, Foreign Affairs
Minister, Alexander Downer, admitted that former Australian Ambassador to
Indonesia, Richard Smith, personally lobbied the Indonesian Minister for
Mines and Energy, the Minister for Economic Affairs, the Minister for the
Environment, the Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources, Indonesian
parliamentarians and senior Indonesian officials from the Department of
Forests on behalf of BHP Billiton and other Australian mining companies to
pressure Jakarta to make changes to legislation to allow mining in protected
According to Downer, �the Ambassador meets on a quarterly basis with
representatives of Australian owned mining operations in Indonesia... to
discuss issues of concern to the Australian mining industry in Indonesia.�
In other words, the Australian government will obstruct and deny the West
Papuan people�s legitimate right for self-determination on the one hand, but
actively support corporations to maximise profit at the expense of the
environment and local communities on the other.
Early last year the Secretary of the Australian Department of Industry,
Tourism and Resources, Mark Patterson, proposed the abolition of the
embassy�s pro-mining activities. The mining industry was infuriated.
Regional exploration manager for Newcrest Indonesia, Tim Richards � whose
company is desperately trying to get approval for a mine in neighbouring
Halmahera Island � says that those who had worked in the role had done a
�terrific job in Indonesia ... to discuss issues of concern to the
Australian mining industry in Indonesia�.
BHP Billiton has denied pressuring the Indonesian government to allow mining
in protected environmental areas. In reply to a question from shareholder
Roger Moody at the company�s 2003 AGM in London, Chairman Don Argus stated:
�To my knowledge, no. And I certainly wouldn't believe we would apply any
pressure anywhere�. Argus again denied knowledge of the Australian
government pressuring the Indonesian government on behalf of the mining
giant at the AGM in Melbourne.
Given the high level lobbying and the Australian government�s admission that
it had done this work on behalf of BHP Billiton, Mr Argus�s comments just
don�t add up.
The pressure is certainly having an effect. Pro-mining, anti-environment
activities by the Australian government and mining industry threaten to
undermine not just the environment but also threaten Indonesia�s fragile
democratic process with foreign intervention. In June 2002, the Indonesian
Director General of Geology and Mineral Resources, Wimpie S. Tjejep, and the
Minister for the Environment, Nabiel Makarim, revealed that the Indonesian
government feared international legal action if it excluded mining from
protected areas. �There were investment activities before the Forestry Act
was effective. If shut down, investors demand and Indonesia cannot pay,�
said Minister Makarim. This is exactly Ian Wood�s point and obviously the
one Australia�s ambassador was pushing when meeting Indonesian ministers and
officials on behalf of BHP Billiton: that the company had a legal agreement
prior to Gag Island being protected under Forestry Law No. 41.
Some Indonesian government ministers have expressed concern regarding the
threat by foreign mining companies to seek international arbitration, if not
granted exemptions to Forestry Act 41/1999. Members of Indonesian
parliamentary environment committee VIII have complained of the
international pressure to allow mining to continue in protected forest areas
or lose all foreign investment. Oxfam CAA Mining Ombudsperson, Ingrid
Macdonald, writes: �industry sources now believe that, despite the forestry
law and the intervention of reputable NGOs and institutions like UNESCO,
mining on Gag is inevitable�.
Mining watchdog, the Mineral Policy Institute, says that central to
Australian lobbying of the Indonesian government �is the dubious claim that
some of the protected areas are �not forested� or are not of high quality or
biodiversity value. [These] claims are unsupported by documented independent
investigations but in any case ignore key functions of protected forest
Under the Forestry Law of 1999, a protected forest is defined as an area
with the purpose of protecting livelihoods and ecology through flood
mitigation, controlling erosion, inhibiting the intrusion of saltwater and
maintaining soil fertility and other lifesaving functions. Indonesian
environmentalists point to evidence that clearly shows that Indonesia�s
forests and coral reefs are in crisis; both are disappearing at an
unprecedented rate. Pollution and catastrophic flooding plague water
catchments. Indonesian environmentalists insist that Forest Law No. 41/1999
is essential to protect Indonesia�s rapidly diminishing forests and coral
A few weeks ago, I returned to West Papua. Riding on the back of a
motorcycle taxi, I sped along Jayapura�s foreshore to meet Mama Loretha. She
is an indigenous Papuan from the Beteuw tribe, which she claims is the
original custodian of Gag. The motorcycle climbed up the side of the hill,
stopping outside a simple and sparsely furnished dwelling with a view out to
Cendrawasih Bay. At first Mama Loretha is shy, perhaps even suspicious of
me. To begin with she stays in the kitchen, stoking the wood fire, but
before long joins her husband and me in conversation. The Beteuw, says Mama
Loretha, are from neighbouring Pam Island but have always maintained a
living relationship with Gag, regularly visiting the island which she says
is �a place of great supernatural power�. Over the last few years Mama
Loretha and her husband � from the North Malukus � have traversed nearly the
length of the Indonesian archipelago to resolve the conflict on Gag. They
have travelled by boat from Jayapura to Sorong, then to Jakarta and back to
Jayapura, and the weariness of it all shows on their faces.
She tells me that shortly after the contract of work was signed between P.T.
Gag Nickel and the Indonesian government in 1998, members of the Beteuw
approached the company to discuss their traditional rights and claim over
Gag Island. Until now, she says, the company have refused to meet with them.
�Everyone living on Gag,� says Mama Loretha, �are migrants from the Malukus.
They are not from Gag at all. We are!� she says, pointing to herself. �Why
does the company refuse to talk to us?�
Despite this, Mama Loretha insists that the Beteuw have a good relationship
with those now living on Gag and that the people living at Gambir Village
are free to garden and fish. Their anger is directed at BHP Billiton.
�Everybody on Gag knows who owns the land,� says Mama Loretha. She backs
this up by saying that when BHP Billiton paid Rp.439,000,000 (approximately
AU$80,000) compensation to the villagers of Gambir in recognition, the
people of Gambir Village � migrants from the neighbouring North Malukus �
independently paid the Beteuw Rp.30,000,000 (approximately AU$6000) in
recognition of their prior existing land rights over Gag Island. �If the
migrants living on Gag acknowledge and respect us,� ask the Beteuw, �why
can�t BHP Billiton?�
It is a question that Ian Wood avoids by questioning the legitimacy of their
claim, adding that the company doesn�t want to meet with the Beteuw because
it could create expectations that the project will begin in the near future.
�I feel sorry for the people on Gag,� says Wood. �They have been waiting for
this project to go ahead for nearly 30 years.� For the Beteuw, however, it
is not a question of expectations about future work, but about addressing
conflict over work already completed. Mama Loretha says that the company
hasn�t negotiated with them or compensated the Beteuw for the extraction of
several tons worth of samples during the exploration phase or for the
building of the airstrip and base camp.
Both the Beteuw and those on Gag are adamant that they want the project to
go ahead, hopeful that at the same time the environment will be respected.
Both communities also acknowledge the good that the company has done so far,
helping to build a boat and supplying the island with much needed
facilities. They believe that the project will be a means to provide for the
health, education, employment and welfare needs for both themselves and
future generations. The Beteuw in particular want the company to ensure that
the wealth generated by the mine benefits the Beteuw, local communities from
Raja Ampat and indigenous Papuans in particular, rather than being siphoned
off to Jakarta and western shareholders. The Beteuw have drafted up
recommendations for the percentage of Beteuw, indigenous Papuans,
non-Papuans (Indonesians) and outsiders to be trained and employed by the
company. They have yet to receive a response to this document from BHP
The Beteuw and the community of Gambir Village, however, are not the only
parties closely watching what happens on the island. Pro-independence
activists also argue that mining companies are exploiting West Papuan
resources without their permission, creating havoc, destroying the
environment and undermining a future economic basis for an independent West
Papua. Indigenous West Papuans living in island communities surrounding Gag,
however, don�t have the liberty to speak freely about their aspirations. In
violence-ridden West Papua, the manner in which the conflict is framed can
be a matter of life and death. Mama Loretha goes to great lengths to explain
to me that this issue is not about �M� � the code for �Merdeka� or �Freedom
from Indonesian rule�. She and her husband, Pak Ibrahim, even meet with
local police and military commanders to explain their problem and reassure
the security forces that their anger and frustration centers around the
company�s failure to recognise and respect local indigenous people and has
nothing to do with the struggle for independence.
It is not hard to understand her concern. Around the gargantuan Freeport-Rio
Tinto gold and copper mine in West Papua, for example, the military have
targeted local communities opposed to the mine, on the pretext that they are
pro-M. The result: killings, detention without trial, torture, the
destruction of homes and food gardens, hunger and a legacy of deep distrust
and collective trauma. In Waisor, communities opposed to illegal and legal
logging have been subject to sweepings, sadistic killings and the
destruction of homes and gardens.
The pattern in West Papua is that security forces create the need for their
involvement by engineering incidents. Resource extractive industries are
then used as a base to wage further military operations and solidify the
military�s economic base. BHP Billiton has not addressed this systemic
problem. In Indonesia, the military only receives 20 to 30 per cent of its
budget from the government. In order to make up the shortfall, and to enrich
individual soldiers, the military engages in a variety of offline budget
activities: business ventures that include illegal and legal logging
operations, fishing, prostitution, extortion, gun- and drug-running and
trading in flora and fauna. Freeport-Rio Tinto, for example, has been widely
criticised for its practice of paying the Indonesian military to provide
protection for the mine. Again and again in West Papua, legitimate community
concerns get re-framed within the rubric of law and order, justifying
repression by the security forces and guaranteeing their continued presence
in order to protect companies involved in resource extraction.
On Gag Island, the problem is further complicated by the project�s proximity
to the Malukus, the scene of sectarian violence between Muslims and
Christians and a base for the feared Muslim militia, Laskar Jihad, which has
links to terrorist outfit Jeemah Islamiyah. In the last few years, Laskar
Jihad have been establishing themselves in West Papua, particularly in
Sorong and Fak Fak, the two West Papuan cities closest to Gag Island.
Indigenous West Papuans and human rights defenders from these two regencies
are scared that if the Gag Island mine goes ahead the huge influx of money
created by the project could be yet another a lightening rod to deep-seated
tensions simmering away under the surface � tensions that could easily be
exploited by the military and their militia proxies.
In a place where conflict is rife and government weak, companies have an
added responsibility to take an active role in the resolution of conflict.
In Gag, this means negotiating with all parties, including neighbouring
island communities. BHP Billiton needs to face the issues of land rights
head on. Local communities need independent information in order to make
informed decisions. The company also needs to ensure that the problems of
Freeport-Rio Tinto and the military are not revisited on Gag.
If BHP Billiton decides to begin operations on Gag, it has a responsibility
to tackle the concerns of local communities already affected by their
presence. If the mining multinational decides to walk away, it has a
responsibility to ensure that a legacy of mistrust and conflict is not
handed on to the next mining player, who may be less scrupulous. Given BHP
Billiton�s failure to outlaw the use of STD in this marine wonderland; its
lack of policy around dealing with the military; and the ongoing and
unresolved complexity that still surrounds land rights issues, one can�t
help wondering if the company has learnt anything at all from its reckless
adventurism at Ok Tedi. For the sake of local communities, the people of
West Papua and a stunning marine environment, I hope I am wrong.
- Taking the asylum war to Blunkett
By Nigel Rose
While energetic in campaigning against the specific excesses of government
asylum policy, the left has yet to offer any ideas for an alternative
programme. Here, Red Pepper aims to initiate a debate on the issue. By Nigel
The latest Immigration and Asylum Bill is the fifth piece of such
legislation in the last 11 years. Each has been more repressive than the
last, with the latest including measures such as electronic tagging and the
removal of children from failed asylum seeker parents if the latter refuse
to return to their countries of origin. It is disheartening that the left�s
response to the government�s plans has been so muted. If ever there was a
repressed and marginalised minority asylum seekers are it. They are the
bottom of the pile. In the most basic terms asylum seekers, especially
failed ones, are the poorest people in society.
We have allowed the government, particularly home secretary David Blunkett
(though we can�t be sure how much Tony Blair is backing him on this issue),
to make the running in terms of policy on immigration and asylum seekers �
not only in the UK, but in Europe as well. There has been a good deal of
protest from the liberal press, pressure groups and the left that has
secured some successes, the most notable being the withdrawal of the
food-vouchers scheme. But nobody seems to be making much effort to formulate
a realistic alternative that might unite this opposition and mobilise the
mass of the people against government asylum policy.
The truth is that many of us working with refugee organisations are so
immersed in the desperate daily problems facing asylum seekers that we have
had little time to stand back and work on a comprehensive alternative. Any
such programme must involve countering the demonisation of asylum seekers in
the media. This demonisation conflicts directly with the government�s stated
aim of community cohesion. Red Pepper wants to use its pages to stimulate an
urgent debate to produce such a programme. First we need to be clear about
what we are up against.
The main thrust of government policy is to reduce the number of asylum
seekers coming to the UK. This is to be achieved by making it very difficult
for people to get into the country and by making the period in which people
must wait for decisions on asylum applications as unpleasant as possible.
Superficially, the policy seems to have worked. The number of people
claiming asylum has halved over the past six months.
The likelihood is, however, that just as many people are entering the
country as before but that 50 per cent of them are not bothering to claim
asylum. There is only anecdotal evidence of this, but if it is the case then
the government may have simply compounded the burden on refugee communities
supporting relatives and friends, and increased the numbers of
super-exploited workers paid below the minimum wage.
On the Continent the focus is on border controls in the EU�s perimeter
countries. EU member states have agreed to share information so as to
prevent people from claiming asylum in more than one EU country, and to
allow the UK to return asylum seekers to other European countries that they
may have passed through previously. Discussions are continuing about
harmonising � effectively to the lowest level � support for asylum seekers.
The stated aims of the British government are four-fold: asylum seekers
should spend the minimum time in the UK before a decision is made about
their claims; assistance should be at a sub-Income Support level, and asylum
seekers should have a minimum level of rights compared with UK citizens;
asylum seekers should be closely tracked and monitored while in the UK; and
failed applicants should leave the country immediately following a negative
The UK�s already biased and unfair process of making decisions on asylum
applications has been made much worse. There is now radically reduced access
to competent legal services. Financial and material support has been reduced
to the extent that people cannot always afford food. The final brutality is
that the government has removed access to support for people facing
deportation; the idea is to force failed asylum seekers to return home
�voluntarily�. These measures have reinforced the media frenzy against
asylum seekers that has fuelled the kind of fears and xenophobia that drive
people towards the BNP. Polls show that over 30 per cent of the British
public believes the issue of asylum seekers is their number-one concern.
What alternatives policies are currently under debate? The mainstream
liberal line is that we just need to make existing agreements work properly:
there is nothing wrong with the UN�s 1951 Refugee Convention, the problem is
to do with the way the convention is exercised; there should be a fair
immigration system, in which people�s claims are carefully but quickly
considered and they are given permission to stay in the UK or are returned
to their countries of origin; while they remain in the UK, asylum seekers
should be supported decently by the state.
This view is based on the suspect belief that it is right to distinguish
those who have been persecuted from migrants who may be moving because they
have no possibilities of earning a living, they have been displaced or they
have suffered in any number of other ways. But suffering feels much the same
whether it is caused by a repressive regime or grinding poverty.
More recently the mainstream line has embraced the concept of managed
migration. This acknowledges the highly problematic relationship between
developed and developing nations. It legitimises the present situation of
effectively setting quotas by which the state decides how many new economic
and other migrants it is prepared to let into the country. However, it is
entirely unclear on what basis decisions are made about quotas. And the
principle of managed migration is based on the questionable assumption that
the UK is really able to control its borders.
The radical alternative, and the one that many of us feel in our hearts is
the right one, is the idea of �no borders�: people should be free to go
wherever they please. The nation state is a recently created and dangerous
racist fallacy that should be opposed. This solution takes the moral high
ground, but to make it a feasible policy we need to go on to debate the
steps that must be taken to get there. It is essential that asylum seekers
themselves should participate in that debate.
Any such debate must:
� put the latest wave of migration into its proper historical
context by highlighting the importance of immigration to the cultural and
economic history of the UK;
� address the reasons why people migrate, including the
relationships between developed and developing countries;
� take place within the context of a wider European debate about
� address the issue of forcible return; this is the most difficult
issue for many of us, but if there are to be any kinds of control then it
needs to be discussed;
� recognise the level of public concern about immigration, not just
dismiss people because we don�t like what they are saying;
� address the impact of migration on employment rights, particularly
with regard to enforcement of the minimum wage and exploitation of illegal
� deal with the issue of numbers, both to dispel myths and to
address real issues including sustainability and regional distribution;
� address the impact of migration on local services, including
health, housing and education; and
� promote active integration; the state has a responsibility to
enable and hasten integration, and must address related issues of
citizenship and community cohesion.
This would not be an easy debate. But we have to provide an alternative to
government policy, or we will fail the migrants that we want to welcome to
the UK. We need to be leading the debate for realisable alternative
policies, not just responding to the next wave of repressive legislation.
Many asylum seekers still see the UK as a tolerant, multi-racial beacon of
democracy. This is something to be proud of but which we are in danger of
- Stolen Lives: Fighting Against the Nightstick
"Kenneth R. Dukes was a ... son, brother, cousin, nephew, friend" reads the
poster Dukes's sister, Jacinta Whitlow, is carrying down the street of
downtown Chicago on October 22.
On August 3, Dukes was killed by Chicago police while trying to get into the
back door of his home in the comfortable Belmont Morgan Park neighborhood of
Chicago. They shot him five times in the back and twice in the back of the
head. He didn't even have time to figure out what was going on. He was only
"I don't even know what they were doing there," said Whitlow, 30. "There
were no circumstances leading up to it, he wasn't wanted for anything, he
had no weapons. It was completely unjustified. It was just because he was
As usually happens in cases of police brutality and murder, so far, no
disciplinary action has been taken against the officers who killed Dukes.
That's why Whitlow and thousands of others like her took to the streets in
cities around the country on October 22, the 8th annual national day of
protest against police brutality, repression and criminalization of youth.
"We want the cops who did this to pay, to go to prison," said Whitlow.
"We're trying to bring attention to police brutality."
Whitlow noted that her brother, who worked as a construction worker, "came
from a family of doctors and lawyers and nurses" and had dreams of buying a
home and having a family.
"Now he'll never be able to buy his first home or have kids," she said.
Besides the impunity that her brother's killers themselves are enjoying,
Whitlow is also angry at what she sees as the general public's indifference
to police brutality, the fact that many people assume police brutality
victims must have been guilty of something.
"People don't understand until it happens to them," she said. "Our family is
devastated, we'll never see the world the same way again. I'll never be
joyous again now that my brother has been ripped away from me. And someone
has the nerve to tell me that it's okay, he must have deserved to die."
Juanita Young's son, Malcolm Ferguson, was also 23 when he was killed by
police in Bronx, New York on March 1, 2000. Young is still fighting for
justice for his killer, and she is suffering ongoing harassment and turmoil
because she is speaking out.
Ferguson was shot at point blank range in the lobby of a building where he
and a friend were waiting out the rain. She said he and his friends acted
defensively as plainclothes officers burst into the lobby with guns drawn.
"They thought they were being robbed," she said. "They didn't know they were
Young said she wasn't surprised police had rushed her son in the lobby that
day, since he had been having trouble with police for a while, as many youth
of color in low-income neighborhoods do. She noted that three times in 1999
he was arrested for drugs, but had the charges dropped since he didn't
actually have any drugs on him.
"The DA knew something was wrong with those cases," she said. "They were
trying to frame him."
During one arrest, his hand was broken by improper handcuffing and he wasn't
given medical treatment for two days, leading the family to file a lawsuit
against the police department. But now that Ferguson is dead, that lawsuit
has been dismissed.
"They would continually harass him, and he was angry about it," Young said.
"People would tell me how they saw him on the street being harassed."
No criminal charges were filed against the officer who killed Ferguson, of
course, though Young has filed a civil suit for wrongful death.
Meanwhile, Young is facing criminal charges herself in connection with her
eviction from her apartment this summer. She says police officers and her
landlord, who is a former cop, treated her violently during the eviction,
breaking down doors, handcuffing her and throwing her to the floor and even
killing her cat.
She was charged with trespassing, and when she demanded to go to the
hospital for injuries to her hand during the scuffle, she says police
upgraded the charges against her to criminal trespassing.
"He pushed me into the police car and said, 'You're not going to anymore
rallies now,'" she said. "That's how I know there was something behind it
all. They knew who I was."
Young, 49, noted that recently at least two local residents have had heart
attacks after police used grenades to break down their doors. One woman died
from the attack.
Besides the rampant acts of brutality and murder themselves, the October 22
events and ongoing campaigns against police brutality aim to raise public
awareness of the issue, and to address the almost complete immunity that
police like Ferguson's and Duke's killers enjoy. In Chicago and New York, as
in most cities, complaints against police, including complaints of serious
violence and murder, are handled by internal affairs divisions that hand out
shockingly light punishments. And even these disciplinary measures are
usually challenged by the police officers' union. Rarely are officers
prosecuted for anything in criminal court. In extreme cases, they might be
fired from the force, but normally they receive only suspensions of two
weeks or less, often with pay.
"How can you have the police policing themselves?" asks Whitlow, who wears a
T-shirt with her brother's photo and the words, "Justice for Kenny: We won't
go quietly into the night" at the October 22 protest. "How can there be
justice in this unjust system?"
The crowd in Chicago this year on October 22 was smaller than in most years
past, perhaps because of the chilly weather or all the attention that has
been focused on fighting human rights and civil liberties abuses related to
the war on terrorism. Still, Whitlow was joined by a crowd of other
activists including many victims of police brutality and family members of
people killed by police, carrying posters with photos of their loved ones.
Among them was Fred Hampton Jr., whose father, the Black Panther Fred
Hampton, became a famous victim of police murder when he was shot to death
while sleeping with his pregnant girlfriend in their Chicago home in 1969.
A black cardboard gravestone topped with artificial flowers bore the names
in stark white of various people killed by police over the years, and photos
of victims of police murder lined the stage where people of various races,
sexual orientations and economic classes spoke about how police brutality
has affected their lives.
Among the photos was a graduation photograph of Robert Russ, a 22-year-old
Northwestern University student and football player who was shot to death by
police in June 1999 after he failed to immediately pull over for a traffic
stop. He drove for only 10 minutes at 45-50 mph, hardly overly suspicious or
dangerous behavior, before being shot to death through his back windshield.
The week before the October 22 march, Russ's family was awarded $9.6 million
in damages by a jury for his wrongful death. But still, the officers
responsible received only a 15-day suspension. Latanya Haggerty, a
26-year-old woman who worked as a computer programmer, was killed by police
in a similar situation the same weekend as Russ. She was the passenger in a
car that refused to pull over. Even though a police dispatcher had ordered
officers to call off the chase, they continued and ended up shooting
Haggerty in the head, claiming they mistook her cell phone for a gun. Last
year, Haggerty's family was awarded $18 million in damages, yet the officers
involved in that case likewise were barely disciplined and faced no criminal
The Russ and Haggerty cases made headlines in the city, probably partly
because the killings happened on the same weekend and both were "good" young
people with clean records and promising futures. But most police brutality
and even murder by police gets little attention from the media or the
The Stolen Lives Project aims to change that. The project tries to document
every case of murder by police around the country, commemorate the victims
and publicize the circumstances. Since 1990, the project has documented over
5,000 cases and published two books. It is trying to raise funds to publish
a third book, and also wants to publish one in Spanish. Along with
documenting the specific cases, the project shows the systematic nature of
police brutality as well as the racist dimensions of the problem.
For "people who don't deal with police brutality in their daily lives, this
book shows that it's more than just a 'few bad apples' or some 'isolated
incidents,'" a flier about the book states. "Many such people will be moved
to join the struggle against police brutality and stand with those under the
gun when they see the shocking scope of this epidemic."
The Stolen Lives Project, which is a joint project of the National Lawyer's
Guild, The Anthony Baez Foundation and the October 22nd Coalition, has aired
public service announcements with the voices of families of victims as well
as artists including Wyclef Jean and Chuck D of Public Enemy.
It also includes an emergency response network, which dispatches people
immediately to the scene of a police killing to take photos and witness
statements "before police can intimidate people into giving false
statements," their literature says. "Often a press conference helps get the
truth out before police can put their own spin on media coverage."
While the Stolen Lives Project and other grassroots efforts do a good job of
documenting cases of police murder and vicious brutality, another side of
the story is the countless daily incidents of lower level police harassment
and abuse that are far too numerous to catalogue, yet have a definite and
direct effect on people's lives. In many low-income minority communities,
being harassed, intimidated, groundlessly searched and even beaten by police
is literally a daily occurrence�one that becomes almost "normal" to
residents, yet can't help but have a massive psychological and emotional
effect over time.
Fourteen-year-old Tiera Brown, a member of the Urban Youth International
Journalism Program in Chicago, recently wrote a story for The Residents'
Journal newspaper about the effect police brutality has on her community.
"Last week I was downstairs playing and the police came for nothing and took
some boys to jail because they said they had drugs on them, but people
thought the police had put the drugs on them," Brown wrote. "In most of the
interviews I did, people said police brutality is bad because police are
beating and destroying people and taking people out of their territory and
leaving them in other territory where they might get attacked."
"Also not long ago the police had raided our buildings and the building next
to mine," Brown said. "There was a lady coming down the stairs and the
police officer made her suck his penis."
Brown notes that even if they work hard and do well in school, the youth in
her community are terrified of being scapegoated by police.
"The police are putting a bad reputation on young kids and some of the kids
are so afraid of the police that when they see them they run and start
crying," she said.
Police brutality turns many "regular people" into activists, both victims of
police abuse themselves and family members like Whitlow. Whitlow says, "It
is such a shame that this is the only time a story is being written about my
brother. He was such a great guy."
And she is determined to keep his memory alive, and to fight for justice for
him and others like him.
"We will keep fighting, until we die if need be," she said.
Young feels the same way.
"No matter what they do to me, it's not going to stop me from going out and
speaking against them," she said. �
Kari Lydersen is a journalist based in Chicago and an instructor for the
Urban Youth International Journalism Program.
- Good News for Women
By Katha Pollitt
There was plenty of gloomy news for women in 2003. American women make just
under 80 cents on the male dollar for full-time, year-round work. We lost
Carolyn Heilbrun, Carol Shields, Rachel Corrie, Nina Simone and Martha
Griffiths. Russia tightened its abortion laws; in Slovakia Romani women were
sterilized without their permission; Iraqi women were freed from Saddam but
confined to their houses by crime and Islamic fundamentalists. The Globe ran
a slutty cover photo of Kobe Bryant's accuser. The New York Times reported
that women are having painful and potentially crippling surgery on their
toes in order to fit into their Manolos and Jimmy Choos, while in China,
where short people are subject to major discrimination, they are undergoing
excruciating operations to lengthen their legs. What's the matter with
people? Don't answer that.
Still, it's the end of the year, so let's break out the champagne for good
news around the world for women in 2003--accomplishments, activism, bold
deeds and grounds for hope.
1. Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Iranian feminist and human
rights crusader is the first Muslim woman to receive this honor. The
ayatollahs are furious!
2. Hormone replacement therapy was further debunked. Instead of protecting
you from Alzheimer's, it doubles your risk. The unmasking of HRT is a major
triumph for the women's health movement, which has claimed for decades that
its supposed benefits are drug-industry hype. You can read all about it in
Barbara Seaman's devastating expos�, The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed
on Women: Exploding the Estrogen Myth.
3. Antiwar activism got a feminist edge. The Lysistrata Project saw 1,029
productions of Aristophanes' hilarious, bawdy comedy performed all over the
world on March 3. Code Pink took on Bush--and Schwarzenegger--with nervy
4. Barbara Ransby's moving and invaluable Ella Baker and the Black Freedom
Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision illuminated a behind-the-scenes
heroine of the civil rights struggle. As Ransby showed, there are other,
more egalitarian ways to move forward than by playing follow the leader.
5. A Department of Education commission rejected energetic efforts to water
down Title IX, the main legal vehicle promoting equality for women's
athletics in schools; the Supreme Court didn't overturn affirmative action.
6. Some movies had leading female characters who were not wives,
girlfriends, prostitutes or assassins: Whale Rider, Bend It Like Beckham,
Sylvia, Mona Lisa Smile. Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation got raves.
Older women were beautiful and sexy in Swimming Pool, starring the
ever-fabulous Charlotte Rampling, and in Something's Gotta Give, where
57-year-old Diane Keaton gets to choose between grumpy-old-man Jack
Nicholson and boy toy Keanu Reeves.
7. One in four people in Ireland saw The Magdalene Sisters, the movie that
exposed the lifelong virtual consignment to hard labor in convent laundries
of Irish girls who fell afoul of the church's harsh double standard of
sexual morality by, for example, being raped.
8. Afghan women set the gold standard for courage with major conferences in
Kandahar and Kabul to push for women's rights in the new constitution. At
the loya jirga, 25-year-old delegate Malalai Joya electrified the world when
she accused the mujahedeen who control the assembly of destroying the
country in the early 1990s.
9. In Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws
criminalizing gay sex. The Massachusetts Supreme Court, headed by a woman,
ruled that the state Constitution required that gays should be able to
10. Amina Lawal, condemned to death by stoning by a Nigerian Sharia court
for having sex out of wedlock, was set free on appeal.
11. Prodded by an ACLU lawsuit, Michigan stopped drug-testing welfare
recipients (only 7.8 percent came up positive, by the way--the same as at
your office) as well as applicants.
12. Jessica Lynch showed herself a real heroine by refusing to go along with
the propaganda parade.
13. Seventy-eight-year-old Essie Mae Washington-Williams confirmed
longstanding rumors that she is the daughter of racist Senator Strom
Thurmond and his family's 16-year-old black maid, Carrie Butler. That Strom
died at 100, reputation intact, definitely proves that God does not exist.
14. In New York, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the
2001 ruling in Nicholson v. Scoppetta that child services can't take away
the children of battered women.
15. Louise Gl�ck, who has written poems that are burned into my brain,
became Poet Laureate, only the ninth woman to hold the post in the past
16. Desperately poor women in Nigeria's Niger Delta staged militant
demonstrations--including stripping--against Shell, demanding that the
company employ locals and share the wealth with the community. They won!
17. An FDA panel gave the thumbs-up to making emergency contraception an
over-the-counter drug. Teen pregnancy, still too high, has hit a historic
18. Under heavy attack from women, DaimlerChrysler abandoned its sponsorship
of the Lingerie Bowl, a pay-per-view Super Bowl halftime event involving
models playing full-contact football in their underwear. Turns out women buy
19. Lieut. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, who thinks Allah is an idol and that
God put Bush in the White House, quoted his ex-wife as follows: "I don't
love you anymore, you're a religious fanatic, and I'm leaving you."
20. The Dixie Chicks survived. Pro-war crowds stomped on their records,
Clear Channel refused to give them airplay and Christopher Hitchens called
them "f**king fat slags." But they're still singing to sold-out crowds, and
they're still great.
Hoping you are the same,
Happy New Year!
- This interview took place in Boston, Massachusetts.
IS: Poetry and politics. In you and your work, the two converge. What does a
ME: A professor of mine, Herbert Hill, used to say that ideas have
consequences. I really believe that. Poems communicate ideas in a variety of
ways. One never knows what kind of impact the poem is going to have, who
it's going to reach, what change it might engender. I don't put too many
expectations on an individual poem. Eduardo Galeano has written that it�s
madness or arrogance to think a work of art, by itself, can accomplish
social change, but it would be equally foolish to think that a work of art
can�t contribute to making that change. Personally, I see what I do as my
The crossroads of poetry and politics is a place where craft encounters
commitment, where the spirit of dissent encounters the imagination, where we
labor to create a culture of conscience. There the dynamic of oppression and
resistance distills itself through the image, the senses. It is essential
that we see and hear, taste and touch and smell in the world of the
political poem. It is essential for the political poem to be crowded with
exact, human details. We must work to give history a human face, eyes, nose,
mouth. If we do otherwise, than we risks all the familiar perils of
political poetry. The complacency you refer to is indeed widespread among
poets, and often begins with the rationalization that good political poetry
is impossible. Aside from the huge body of evidence to the contrary, this
argument strikes me as utterly arbitrary. We can write about anything, in
theory�but not things political.
This is akin to saying that we should never write any poems with trees in
them. (Parenthetically, if we're going to write political poems we should
know our trees; we must draw our metaphors from the world around us, and our
metaphors have to be accurate.) True, there is a great deal of bad political
poetry out there, filled with rhetoric, but this does not prove the
impossibility of the political poem. There is a great deal of bad love
poetry or bad nature poetry in circulation, yet no one seriously argues that
love poems or nature poems are impossible. The argument that political
poetry is a contradiction in terms is advanced by complacent poets who
defend their lethargy with impressive fury. They justify their apathy with
passion. If only these poets devoted the same energies to writing poems that
mattered to other human beings. I want to see poems pinned on the
refrigerator, carried in wallets until they crumble, read aloud on the phone
at 3 AM. I want to see poems that are political in the broad sense of urgent
engagement with the human condition, poems that defend human dignity.
IS: How did you discover poetry? Or better, when did you first see yourself
as a poet?
ME: I discovered poetry when I was 15 years old. At that age, I was a
terrible student. I failed English one semester, in the eighth grade. By the
tenth grade, I was more interested in the exploration of mood-altering
substances in the parking lot than in the mysteries of poetry. Yet, those
mysteries found me. A tenth grade teacher confronted a group of us young
thugs in the back row of his classroom, and gave us an assignment: We had to
produce our own issue of The New Yorker magazine. We had never seen The New
Yorker magazine. We were all New Yorkers, but that was a different New York.
Nevertheless, the magazine was passed from hand to hand, down the hierarchy
of thuggery, until it came at last to me. All that was left, at the back of
the magazine, was a poem. I was rather agitated. However, I didn't want to
fail English again, so I went to the window, sat down, and wrote a poem. It
was raining that day. I wrote a poem about rain. I don't have the poem
anymore, and I don't remember it, except for one line�"tiny silver hammers
pounding the earth"�to describe rain. I had just invented my first metaphor.
I didn't know what a metaphor was. I found out a week later, and went
strutting down the hallway. But I discovered something else that day. I
discovered that I loved words. I loved slamming words into each other and
watching them spin around the room. I soon discovered that I had something
to say with all those words. Virtually from the start, I have written about
the idea of justice, in practical, philosophical, and political terms.
IS: Let's talk more about the tension between Puerto Rico as an island and
the Puerto Rican diaspora. Do you feel a connection with island literature
today, and with its poetry in particular?
ME: There is a definite tension between Puerto Rico and the Puerto Ricans of
the diaspora. The island and the diaspora represent opposite poles of
identity in constant reaction to each other. We are a colonized people, by
definition divided. We will remain powerless as long as we are engaged in
distracted squabbles over authenticity, ethnic purity, our own brand of
"blood quantum." In spite of all this, Puerto Rico is poetry to me. The
impact on my senses, and on my sense of history, is overwhelming. Moreover,
I feel a strong connection with two poets of the island: Clemente Soto V�lez
and Juan Antonio Corretjer. These were major Nationalist poets imprisoned in
the 1930s and 40s for their pro-independence ideas and activities. I met and
read with Corretjer, but my deepest influence came from Soto V�lez, who
became a close friend and mentor in the last decade of his life (he died in
1994). Soto provided a political and ethical example for me to follow. His
poems were powerfully surreal, yet totally engaged with the fate of
humankind. Inspiration does not necessarily equal imitation; yet, to the
extent that my poems ever leap into surreal and fantastic places, I owe it
IS: There�s a lack of interest of US newspapers and magazines in Puerto
Rican poetry, which is hardly reviewed in any significant fashion.
ME: Let's look at simple demographics. There are precious few Puerto Rican
editors employed by newspapers and magazines and publishing houses in this
country. Puerto Rican writers and especially readers are widely regarded as
nonexistent. Puerto Rican literature is received by Anglos as Puerto Rican
food is received, in the words of our friend Earl Shorris: "dinner with the
doorman, a janitor's repast, the flavor of failure." That won't sell. No
Puerto Rican writer has ever received a major book award in the U.S. On the
other hand, I would prefer that we be left alone rather than be manipulated
and twisted into knots by the mainstream media. I was recently interviewed
for a New York Times article about Nuyorican poetry, and I was appalled at
the results. My words were grossly distorted so that a false debate was
created between me and some of the Nuyorican poets in the article. I was
quoted as opposing the creation of a film about Miguel Pi�ero, an early
influence of mine. I said no such thing. Instead, I warned the reporter that
I had never seen the film. I also said that many more films should be made
about Puerto Rican writers like Clemente Soto V�lez. Other writers
interviewed for the piece were furious as well. One young poet was
supposedly "energized" by the Pi�ero film�in contrast to me�but she hadn't
seen the film either. In other words, writers who had not seen this movie
were asked about the movie, and then pitted against each other in a phony,
manufactured argument about this movie they hadn't seen. In the New York
Times, por favor.
IS: Since World War II poets have been "bought" by academic institutions to
teach in English Departments and in Creative Writing Programs. You are part
of this trend. Can you reflect on the tension between literature and the
university at the level of language, pedagogy, politics, etc.?
ME: Certainly, the academy has been perfecting its stranglehold over poetry
since the days of Pound and Eliot. Though I receive a paycheck from the
English Department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, they haven't
"bought" me. I have not mutilated my ideas, or censored the expression of my
ideas, to suit the academy�and no one has asked me to do so. On the other
hand, I�m critical of MFA programs as a rule. More often than not, they do a
terrible job recruiting poets of color; they rely on reading lists that are
often relentlessly white; they turn out poets who mimic their masters in a
pose of detached, hip cynicism; they train their students in the arts of
social-climbing and professional ambition above the arts of poetry; they
hand out countless degrees as credentials for teaching jobs that don't
exist; they are run autocratically; they are extremely resistant to change,
especially political change, and exercise a chilling effect on real academic
freedom. Bulletin: No one needs an MFA to be a good poet. There are decent
MFA programs, but not many. I work outside the MFA system, and am glad for
IS: Your Puerto Ricanness is at the core of your identity and of the poetry
that you've been writing since 1981 or '82 when your first book was
published. And yet, you were not born in Puerto Rico, you were born in
Brooklyn. How did the Puerto Rican-ness come to you, from the neighborhood,
from the family, when you were a child?
ME: New York is the largest Puerto Rican city in the world. There are more
Puerto Ricans in New York than in San Juan. I was surrounded by that from
the beginning. My father, Frank Espada, was an activist, a leader in the
Puerto Rican community of New York in the 1960's, and his role in the
community was reflected everywhere around me. Later on he made a transition
and worked as a documentary photographer, recording the life of the Puerto
Rican community; again, that had a big impact on me. It was quite natural to
develop and to nurture that identity, even though I was born in Brooklyn and
not in San Juan.
IS: When did words become in you a tool to begin exploring your own universe
and to begin communicating the ideas that were in your mind?
ME: I can remember early on the influence of my father and his use of
language. I recall a political use of language in particular. Again, this
was natural. This was endemic to the environment. When I was about seven
years old, my father participated in a demonstration at the New York World's
Fair. He was protesting, with other members of the Congress of Racial
Equality [CORE], against discriminatory hiring practices at the Schaeffer
Brewing Company. There were many, many arrests at that World's Fair. One of
the people arrested was my father, who disappeared for at least a week. No
one explained this to me at the age of seven. I simply assumed that my
father was dead. I would sit holding a picture of him and crying, and that's
the way it was up until the moment he walked through the door.
I looked at him and said, �I thought you were dead.� He thought that was
funny and started laughing. Then he realized, on another level, that he had
to begin explaining all of this to me, that the time had come. Over the
years I would follow him to various kinds of events, demonstrations, what
have you. He had a storefront headquarters in the East New York section of
Brooklyn, on Blake Avenue, called East New York Action, and I would go visit
My first art, if you will, was visual. I drew, constantly. I would draw
demonstrations on the back of flyers announcing these demonstrations. It was
just part of my environment. There's a blank piece of paper. It happens to
announce a demonstration, but I flip it over and draw on it. I remember this
being part of the whole ethos. I was raised with an ethos of resistance all
IS: When did you eventually or finally make it to Puerto Rico, what was the
experience of having been born in the so-called Diaspora, in the mainland,
and being exposed to the island culture? You have poems that deal with this.
I'd like you to reflect a little bit.
ME: Yes. I first went to the island at the age of 10, around 1967. For me,
it was first and foremost an explosion of the senses. I came from Brooklyn.
I came from that urban environment, that industrialized city, and found
myself in Puerto Rico. It was absolutely remarkable to see the trees. For
the first time in my life, to actually hold a real coconut in my hand, not
the hairy shriveled up husk we see in the supermarket, but a big green
shell, and to watch someone cut the top of that shell off so I could drink
right out of the damn thing--it was a revelation. It was miraculous. I was
surrounded by miracles. The island revealed itself to me in that way, as an
explosion of the senses. Being that little fat kid, I ate and drank my way
across the island like Pac Man.
For me, Puerto Rico is a constant learning experience. The island is, I
believe, only 111 miles long. and yet to me it is enormous, so deep and so
rich. I'm always going to mine something from the experience of being there.
IS: The poetics of compassion� And yet, somewhere in your past you were a
bouncer at a bar.
ME: I was a bouncer in a bar in Madison, Wisconsin, of all places. The
physical was definitely there. Now, mind you, being a bouncer can be a
compassionate business, because most of the time you're not punching people
in the face. You are helping people who have had too much drink find the way
out the door and, eventually, home. That was what I did most of the time. I
could stand there and watch someone drink seven, eight, nine hours, slowly
killing themselves. But once that person indeed had blacked out, it was my
job to find the coat, to find the hat, to find the books, to call a cab, to
carry that person and all of their worldly possessions down the stairs, to
get that person and the stuff into the cab, to make sure that person got
IS: Aside from being a poet, which is, I would assume, the essence of who
you are, you are also a professor, but you have been a lawyer involved in a
variety of different areas of law. Tell me about that and how that informs,
yet again, your condition of poetry.
ME: Both as a poet and a lawyer, I was engaged in the business of advocacy,
speaking on behalf of those without an opportunity to be heard. It made
perfect sense. Sometimes people would ask me: �How could you be a poet and a
lawyer?� They are two totally contrary ways of using the brain. For me, it
was perfectly congruent. I was an advocate both as a poet and a lawyer,
speaking on behalf of people without an opportunity to be heard in the
Latino community, immigrants, the poor, and so on. I went to Northeastern
University Law School in Boston, graduated from there and pursued the
practice of law in the Boston area.
I practiced bilingual education law with an organization called META. Later
I worked as a supervisor for a program called Su Clinica Legal, a legal
services program for low-income, Spanish-speaking tenants in Chelsea, a city
right outside Boston, representing immigrants from Puerto Rico, the
Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador, and occasionally even from
Vietnam or Cambodia when necessary. We did the things that tenant lawyers
do: eviction defense, no-heat cases, rats and roaches, crazy landlords. I
wrote about those things. I wrote lawyer poems. To this day, once in a
while, I read one and still get this familiar kind of chill.
IS: In your poetry I see obviously influences from Whitman and Neruda. The
elasticity that Whitman brought to American literature in many ways opened
the door for somebody like you. The passion and the pathos of somebody like
the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, is also there. When did you discover the
early poems and poets that influenced you, and how did they influence you?
ME: I began writing poetry before I knew what it was. I started using poetic
devices before I knew that these devices had names, that these tools had
actually been used before and came from somebody else's toolbox, so to
speak. I began writing poetry when I was 15 years old. There were no books
of poetry in my house at that time. That was not part of our experience, per
se. My parents read. My father, in particular, would read books about
politics and history, but I didn't read poetry and they didn't read poetry,
as a rule. I just began writing it, and later on I would discover that there
was a place for me. There was a history and a tradition from which I
emerged, that I only dimly perceived at first, and discovered in a strange
attempt to find out who I was, both as a person and a poet.
I didn't start at the beginning. I didn't start with Whitman and move
forward. I moved backwards to Whitman. I was influenced by Allen Ginsberg. I
was influenced by Langston Hughes, by Carl Sandburg, by Pablo Neruda. Only
later did I realize that they were all descended from Walt Whitman. Then,
once I discovered Whitman, that was like going to the source; that was the
fountain from which the waters sprang. I actually carried Leaves of Grass
under my arm (as Whitman instructed me to do by the way; I mean, it's in the
book). I would open it periodically and realize I had discovered a kind of
Bible. What strikes me even now as I read Whitman, as with his disciples
like Neruda, is the profound empathy, a poetics of compassion, which guides
everything that Whitman does. Whitman is about this ultimate empathy, this
deep fellow feeling.
IS: In between Whitman and Ginsberg is, of course, William Carlos Williams�
ME: Williams was a wonderful poet. Like most of his readers, I had no idea
he was Puerto Rican when I first encountered him. Even without this
knowledge, I loved his precise, jeweled images of urban life, the green
bottle in the trash, the fire engine. He is not a major influence on my
work, but he is certainly present.
IS: How do you perceive his influence on the Beat Generation?
ME: Williams, of course, wrote the famous introduction to Ginsberg's Howl:
"Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell."
Again, I would say that Williams was a presence but not a major influence
for the Beats. Whitman was their guru. (Mine, too.)
IS: There appears to be a few degrees of separation between your work and
the Nuyorican tradition. It all comes down, I guess, to what one perceives
as street poetry. Pietri, Algarin, Pi�ero, Esteves � there�s an urgency in
their voices, urgency and roughness. Your style, in contrast, is more
ME: I have various links to the Nuyorican tradition: I�m culturally
Nuyorican�that is, a Puerto Rican born and raised in New York City. I�m
writing from the same general experience and perspective as the poets of the
Nuyorican school. In my twenties, I was inspired and influenced by several
major Nuyorican works: Puerto Rican Obituary, by Pedro Pietri; Down These
Mean Streets, by Piri Thomas; and Short Eyes by Miguel Pi�ero. Again, to be
inspired by a writer is not to say that I must imitate that writer. To be
influenced by a writer is not to say that I must emulate that writer.
Hopefully, our inspirations and influences lead us to discover our own
unique voices. Though I was born and raised in New York, I evolved as a poet
elsewhere, particularly in Boston, where, keep in mind, I practiced tenant
law in the Latino community at the same time I was practicing poetry. My use
of language is indeed different from most poets of the Nuyorican tradition.
I don't want to sound like anyone else. Moreover, why we should invent and
repeat our own clich�s, like every other community of writers? My language,
though "lyrical," is hopefully accessible, available to the community that
provoked these poems in the first place. When I gave a reading just the
other day at the local jail, the Puerto Rican inmates responded strongly.
The experience, the point of view of the community, is still reflected in
the poems. I�m ultimately more interested in what unites the Puerto Rican
community, and its writers, than in what divides us.
IS: There is often among Latino writers a perceived sense of burden. As a
so-called ethnic writer, one is destined to become the spokesperson for your
people. You're destined to use political tools and infuse your work with
that. You don't share this concept of burden. It is for you something all
together different. It comes naturally. It comes from also the tradition in
Latin America of the writer that represents the voiceless. Do you feel a
constraint for Latino writers forced to represent, forced to speak out for
others? What does that create in you?
ME: I don't feel that this is a burden. I don't feel that it's something I'm
forced to do. It's a privilege. It's a responsibility, but also an honor. I
have a subject. I have something to say. For me one of the great dilemmas of
contemporary poetry in this country is that most poets don't have anything
to say. They're writing poems instead of putting down new tile in the
bathroom, or horseback riding, or tending the garden, or something else that
could have been done just as easily. I feel blessed with a certain kind of
gift, which is the gift of a tale to tell. There is a story. That's a gift.
It's not a burden at all.
IS: Tell me how the story comes to you and how it gets formed? How is the
poem born and how does it mature? How does it become an entity? And once
published does it keep on evolving or does it stop evolving?
ME: Many of my poems are narrative poems, so it does begin, quite literally,
with a story. Over the years I�ve developed the same eye for a story that a
journalist might develop. There are certain instincts. You watch events
unfold before you, or someone tells you the tale, and you find yourself
translating it into poetry. There's a reflex action which takes over.
I think of it as a kind of internal tuning fork. I sometimes think that
sound, that �ting� I'm hearing, can only be heard by poets and dogs. It�s a
very high-pitched sound.
It's a combination of instinct plus experience, plus practice, practice,
practice. All of that creates the impulse towards a poem. There are
situations where I'll sit up in bed at three o'clock in the morning and
realize that something that happened to me when I was 16 years old is, in
fact, a poem.
IS: And how long does it take to become a fully developed poem? How long do
you work and rework?
ME: The poems are so idiosyncratic. Some of them come quickly. In fact, some
of the poems that have gained the most circulation for me are the ones that
came most quickly and easily.
IS: As if they were dictated to you?
ME: As if dictated. It almost feels like cheating. I feel as if I didn't
work hard enough on that kind of poem; why would anyone want to read it? I
wrote a poem about a janitor called "Jorge the Church Janitor Finally
Quits", in the voice of a janitor friend who worked at a church in Harvard
Square, Cambridge, years ago. One night he had had enough and walked off the
job. When I found out that he had done this, I was so angry about it that I
sat down and wrote the poem on the back of a napkin in about ten minutes.
IS: And that was it?
ME: That was it. I remember another occasion when I wrote a poem in my head,
while I was sitting with my wife watching a production of the Nutcracker in
Boston (her idea, not mine). I was so bored. After staring at the Exit sign
for a good long time, I began to develop a poem about a totally unrelated
scenario. After we got out of the theater I said: �We've got to get
someplace fast.� We went to a nearby restaurant. Then I said: �I need
something to write on.� She gave me a paper bag; that's all she had in her
purse. Then I said: �I need something to write with.� She found a magic
marker. I tore the bag open lengthwise, so I would have enough space to
write on. I wrote this poem on the bag with a magic marker. It was called,
�Portrait of a Real Hijo de Puta,� about an abused child my wife worked with
as a swim coach at the Dorchester House in Boston.
IS: But others take longer?
ME: Others take much longer. Often, I'm scratching and chipping away at
anything that doesn't look like a poem. That could take years. If I don't
feel like it's ready, I'll hold it back. I won't send it out or include it
in a book until I have it in its least objectionable form.
IS: You speak Spanish and English or better, English and Spanish. These are
two universes, these are two ways of life, these are two languages. And as
far as I know you mostly or only write in English, although your poems are
infused with Spanish. What's your relationship--love/hate, passion--towards
the two languages, Shakespeare's language and Cervantes'?
ME: I have the entire range of emotions you describe with respect to both
languages. I love both languages and struggle with both languages. English
is my first language and Spanish my second language, but they blend into
each other. They influence each other. I find more and more with my poetry
that this is the case. The relationship between the two languages has taken
various forms over the years. There are poems I�ve written in English which
have been translated into Spanish, where I serve as the co-translator. There
are other situations where I will combine the two languages and bounce them
off one another. I recently did a poem called "En La Calle San Sebasti�n,"
about a street in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is famous for its music.
I alternate one line of Spanish with one line of English throughout the
poem. The alternating line in Spanish is �En la calle San Sebastian:� On
Saint Sebastian Street. I'm trying to evoke the sound of the music by using
this refrain, because Spanish has that great musicality.
IS: And when you do that as you do in that poem, are you conscious or even
perhaps paralyzed by the fact that someone in the audience might not speak
Spanish, and that there might be a line in that case or a few words
sprinkled in other cases that might pass by that person's understanding? Do
you feel compelled to explain everything that is in the other language?
ME: I try to be accessible. I try to communicate. That accessibility can be
achieved in a variety of ways when it comes to the use of Spanish in the
body of an English-language poem. I think of it in terms of "the three C's":
context, cognates and crossover words. I will employ some of those devices
in the process of putting a bilingual poem out into the world. Oftentimes
that seems to be enough.
On the other hand, I don't feel obligated to explain all the time. I don't
feel obligated to translate all the time. There's a point at which I think
the reader must do some of the work. Hopefully, the poet can motivate the
reader to do that work. If I get the reader engaged, then the reader will
want to know what certain words mean. Thus, I may use the word �alabanza� in
a poem, and repeat that word, emphasizing its importance. If the reader in
English doesn�t know that �alabanza� is �praise,� he or she might just be
compelled to look it up in the Spanish dictionary, even if that means buying
the dictionary first.
It first aired on PBS-WGBH as part of La Plaza: Conversations with Ilan
Stavans (September 24th, 2002)
- Antibiotics legislation needs your support today!
Antibiotics are being misused in meat production to accelerate animal growth
and prevent diseases caused by overcrowded and unsanitary factory farm
conditions, contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases in
humans. Fortunately, bi-partisan bills to end the overuse of medically
important antibiotics in animal agriculture were recently introduced in the
House and the Senate. Please urge your Congressmembers to cosponsor these
bills to preserve antibiotics for you and your family.
Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) recently joined
their House colleagues, Representatives Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Wayne
Gilchrest (R-MD) to introduce legislation that, if enacted, will end the
overuse of medically important antibiotics in animal agriculture.
The overuse of antibiotics contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant
infections in humans that are costly and difficult to treat. Moreover, the
burden of antibiotic resistance is borne by the most vulnerable in our
society: children, the elderly, and those with already weakened immune
systems, such as people undergoing chemotherapy or persons with HIV/AIDS.
The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (S. 1460/H.R.
2932) will phase out the practice of feeding massive quantities of
antibiotics to food animals within two years of enactment. Livestock and
poultry producers misuse these life-saving medicines to accelerate animal
growth and prevent diseases caused by overcrowded and unsanitary conditions
on industrial-style factory farms, not to treat disease. An estimated 70% of
antibiotics and related drugs produced in this country--nearly 25 million
pounds per year--are used in animal agriculture for these nontherapeutic
purposes. This amount is more than 8 times the antibiotics and related drugs
used to treat human illness.
While some producers and retailers of meat products have announced policies
that take steps to curb antibiotic use, private-sector initiatives to reduce
antibiotic use in animal agriculture are rare, limited in scope, and
difficult to verify. Federal action is needed to achieve comprehensive
reductions and create a level playing field for all producers and retailers.
Passage of The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act is
critical to keep antibiotics working for human health. In addition to
averting the harmful effects of antibiotic overuse on human health, ending
this practice will force producers to raise animals using more sustainable
The American Medical Association and over 300 other health, consumer,
environmental, agricultural, and humane organizations support The
Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act.
Your voice is needed to build support for this critical legislation. Write
to your Senators and member of Congress and urge them to cosponsor this
legislation to preserve antibiotics as an important tool to protect human
January 01, 2004
Your U.S. senators
Your U.S. representative
I am writing to urge you to protect human health and cosponsor The
Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act.
The overuse of antibiotics contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant
infections in humans that are costly and difficult to treat. Moreover, the
burden of antibiotic resistance is borne by the most vulnerable in our
society: children, the elderly, and those with already weakened immune
systems, such as people undergoing chemotherapy or persons with HIV/AIDS.
The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (S. 1460/H.R.
2932) will phase out the practice of feeding massive quantities of
antibiotics to food animals within two years of enactment. Livestock and
poultry producers misuse these life-saving medicines to accelerate animal
growth and prevent diseases caused by overcrowded and unsanitary conditions
on industrial-style factory farms, not to treat disease. An estimated 70%
of antibiotics and related drugs produced in this country--nearly 25 million
pounds per year--are used in animal agriculture for these nontherapeutic
purposes. This amount is more than 8 times the antibiotics and related
drugs used to treat human illness.
While some producers and retailers of meat products have announced policies
that take steps to curb antibiotic use, private-sector initiatives to reduce
antibiotic use in animal agriculture are rare, limited in scope, and
difficult to verify. Federal action is needed to achieve comprehensive
reductions and create a level playing field for all producers and retailers.
I urge you to act immediately to preserve antibiotics for my family and me
by cosponsoring The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act.
Sign your letter in the following link:
- Equality Now Campaign Against Video Travel
Video Travel is a sex tour company based in Honolulu, Hawaii, owned by
Melvin M. Hamaguchi and operating under license from the Hawaii Department
of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Video Travel sends sex tourists on its
Ultimate Asian Sex Tour to Thailand every May and November. The next sex
tour was scheduled to leave for Thailand on November 12, 2003. Equality Now
believes Mr. Hamaguchi through Video Travel is promoting prostitution in
violation of Hawaii�s Penal Code.
In August 2002, Equality Now filed a complaint with the Regulated Industries
Complaints Office (RICO) of the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and
Consumer Affairs, requesting that Mr. Hamaguchi�s travel agency license be
revoked on the basis that he is an �unfit person� to hold a license or be
registered as a travel agent. As far as Equality Now is aware, in the 15
months since the complaint was filed, Mr. Hamaguchi�s license or
registration has not been revoked, and Video Travel is still conducting
business promoting and organizing sex tours.
Equality Now is continuing its campaign against Video Travel by urging
Hawaii Attorney General Mark J. Bennett to shut down the operations of Video
Travel and prosecute Mr. Hamaguchi to the fullest extent of the law. Acts of
prostitution that take place on Mr. Hamaguchi�s tours are explicitly
highlighted in Video Travel�s promotional materials and on its website,
http://www.videotravel.net The Frequently Asked Asian Sex Tour Questions
section of Video Travel�s website provides information on the �cost to have
sex with a lady.� It then explains that there is a �barfine� to remove a
woman from the bar where she works and an additional �tip� to the woman
taken from the bar. The �tip� is given directly to the girl or woman from
whom the sex is being purchased and according to the website is �expected�
Equality Now believes Mr. Hamaguchi is promoting prostitution by:
advertising the services of Ultimate Asian Sex Tour via the internet,
answering inquiries from potential customers and mailing promotional
materials, organizing the trip abroad for customers, and receiving payments
from customers for his services, all for purposes of facilitating sex tours.
In Thailand, Mr. Hamaguchi continues to advance prostitution by providing
�guided tours to three major sex areas in Bangkok, including selected go-go
bars and massage parlors...� Mr. Hamaguchi also assures his customers that
�this isn�t the type of tour where you will be dropped off and picked up
later.� He promises that, �I will personally be your guide throughout your
stay in Thailand.�
This heightened campaign follows on the heels of Equality Now�s seven-year
campaign against Big Apple Oriental Tours, a sex tour company based in New
York. In July 2003, the New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer
obtained a temporary restraining order against Big Apple Oriental Tours,
which severely restricted its ability to continue its business and
effectively disabled its website. Equality Now hopes that the successful
campaign against Big Apple Oriental Tours will serve as a precedent to other
law enforcement and relevant agencies, including those in Hawaii, to close
down all sex tour operations based in the United States.
In February 2003, President George W. Bush signed a National Security
Presidential Directive to advance the United States Government's fight
against trafficking in persons. It characterized prostitution and related
activities as "inherently harmful and dehumanizing" and stated that sex
tourism contributes to the trafficking of persons. The 2003 Trafficking In
Persons Report issued by the U.S. Department of State lists "discouraging
sex tourism" as one of the best practices in the fight against trafficking.
Equality Now believes sex tourism contributes to the demand for trafficking
in women and is a human rights violation. Melvin Hamaguchi and Video
Travel�s customers must no longer be allowed to respectively promote and
engage in the prostitution and sexual exploitation of women and girls.
November 4, 2003
Contact: Lakshmi Anantnarayan lanant@...
- INDIANA SUPREME COURT GIVES GREEN LIGHT TO GARY, INDIANA'S LAWSUIT AGAINST
Immunity Bill Pending in Congress Would Override Court's Decision and
In an important legal victory against the gun industry, the Indiana Supreme
Court today unanimously ruled that the City of Gary may proceed with its
lawsuit against gun manufacturers and sellers. The Court reversed a lower
court ruling dismissing the City's claims and rejected virtually every
argument made by the industry against the suit.
This ruling comes as Congress is considering legislation to ban civil suits
by gun violence victims and cities and immunize negligent gun sellers.
Currently, 44 states allow suits by victims or cities against negligent gun
sellers. The federal immunity bill would override all of these states' laws.
Attorneys with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence represent Gary,
Indiana in this case.
"This is a tremendous victory for cities seeking to hold gun manufacturers
and sellers accountable for supplying guns to criminals," said Daniel R.
Vice, Staff Attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and
attorney. "The U.S. Senate should reject pending legislation to immunize
negligent gun sellers and allow these important cases to go forward."
The Gary suit charges that the industry has designed, marketed and
distributed firearms in ways that ensure the widespread accessibility of
handguns to prohibited purchasers, including children and criminals. It
asserts nuisance, negligence and product liability theories of recovery
against the industry, seeking damages for the millions of dollars in costs
incurred by the City in combating illegal guns.
The Indiana Supreme Court decision clears the way for the Gary suit to
proceed to pretrial discovery and trial.
Since 1989, the Legal Action Project has pioneered innovative legal theories
of liability against gun manufacturers and sellers in an effort to reform
the industry. The Project provides free legal representation to victims of
gun violence as well as to the cities and counties that have filed lawsuits
against the gun industry. Through its groundbreaking legal work, the
Project's goal is to compel the gun industry to change its irresponsible
business practices that contribute to the shameful level of gun violence in
For more information about this lawsuit, other litigation against the gun
industry, and efforts to reform the gun industry, visit the Legal Action
Project's web site at www.gunlawsuits.org.
- THE MEANING OF MARXISM
Marxism is more relevant than ever
By Paul D�Amato |
ON THE 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto in 1998, an investment
banker told the New Yorker, "The longer I spend on Wall Street, the more
convinced I am that Marx was right. I am absolutely convinced that Marx�s
approach is the best way to look at capitalism."
Perhaps the banker read the Communist Manifesto, which reads almost like it
was written yesterday: "[The bourgeoisie] has resolved personal worth into
exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered
freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom--Free Trade. In one
word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has
substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation."
Or perhaps he read the Manifesto on capitalist economic crisis: "In these
crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have
seemed an absurdity--the epidemic of overproduction. Society suddenly finds
itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as a famine,
a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of
subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed. And why? Because
there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much
industry, too much commerce."
No doubt the investment banker would be less charitable toward Marx�s ideas
about getting rid of the capitalist system--that the workers who produce the
profits that investment bankers rake in should collectively seize that
It�s one thing to point out that the system has "problems," and another to
argue that if we are to survive, capitalism--through its own internal
contradictions--must make way for a higher human form of existence, without
class distinctions, without poverty and without war.
Marx and Engels wrote the Manifesto not as an academic exercise, but as a
call to action. Its aim was not only to expose the system�s failings, but to
show how it could be transformed by the collective action of the mass of
workers and oppressed people.
Of course for every banker enthusiastic about Marx�s theory of crisis,
there�s a "renowned" figure proclaiming that "Marxism is dead." The latest
round of assertions came after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
"Socialism is dead! Capitalism is triumphant!" It�s time for the "peace
This assertion came amid a growing gap between rich and poor the world over,
where the assets of the top three billionaires are more than the combined
GNP of all the least developed countries, with a population of 600 million
people. In the U.S., profits and CEO salaries skyrocketed in the 1990s,
while workers� wages stagnated or slumped.
Notwithstanding claims about the end of world conflict, our world has become
increasingly dangerous, where powerful nations like the U.S. threaten the
world with war to maintain their empire.
So, try as they may to dismiss him, Marx keeps coming back. His ideas are
alive because his indictment of capitalism--that it is a class society that
creates great wealth for the few, the rich capitalists, at the expense of
the many, the working class; that it is a society prone to economic crisis
and war that create misery for millions--continues to be confirmed on a
As the misery worsens, the glaring class divisions give rise to what Marx
argued was always the motor of historical change. "The history of all
hitherto existing societies," Marx and Engels wrote in the first sentence of
the Manifesto, "is the history of class struggle."
Moreover, those who loudly applauded the fall of Stalinism left out one
important factor: The death of what passed for communism in the East--but
what was in reality bureaucratic, state capitalism--paves the way for masses
of people to rediscover the real Marxist tradition behind years of
distortion that was encouraged both East and West.
Far from being dead, Marxism is experiencing a rebirth.
- THE MEANING OF MARXISM
Proving Marxist ideas into practice
By Paul D'Amato
I WAS at a meeting on Marxism the other day, and someone asked, "How do you
know if your ideas are correct?" Good question. What, indeed, is there to
recommend Marxism over any other view of society and how to change it?
For Marx and Engels, the question of whether this or that view of the world
was correct or not was something that had to be tested against experience.
"The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking,"
Marx wrote, "is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man
must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the this-worldliness of
his thinking in practice."
Debating the truth or non-truth of any idea without reference to the real
world "is purely a scholastic question." Just as in the "hard" sciences, the
truth of this or that scientific theory is tested successfully or
unsuccessfully in experiments, so theories of society must also be tested.
We can sit for hours debating whether or not socialism--the collective
ownership of the means of production by the associated producers--can be
achieved through the ballot box. But the answer has already been provided by
a number of practical experiments in which socialist parties succeeded in
getting elected only to find that they themselves were changed by the system
rather than changing it. The compromising role played by left candidates,
moreover, is itself clear proof of the Marxist analysis that the state is
not a neutral body, standing over society, but rather the instrument for the
maintenance of the rule of one class over another.
Marxism is therefore very different from religion, which asks that its
followers accept its ideas on faith, or from utopians, who simply
counterpose what exists to what ought to exist. "Communism is for us," wrote
Marx and Engels, "not...an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust
itself. It is "the real movement which abolishes the present state of
Marxism was based on the idea that capitalism�s own social and class
contradictions--marked by recurring economic crisis in spite of the
tremendous development of social wealth, and by a working class whose
struggles are of necessity collective and social rather than
individual--created the conditions for a new society. The starting point of
Marx and Engels, therefore, was not "what men say, imagined, conceived, in
order to arrive at men in the flesh."
They "set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real-life
process demonstrating the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes
of this life-process." Our ideas are social, rather than individual,
The point was not that it was impossible to have ideas about freedom before
the conditions for their realization existed, or that there was a mechanical
one-to-one relationship between people�s ideas and their material conditions
of life. However, "one cannot be liberated," if one is "unable to obtain
food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity."
"Liberation," they argued, "is a historical and not a mental act."
It�s true, someone might argue, that reformism has never worked. But your
method--collective revolution--also failed. Just look at Russia. But the
truth is that a materialist analysis of the failure of the Russian
revolution explains clearly why it failed.
Socialism must be based on abundance. But the conditions for abundance in
1917 existed only on a world scale--not within the confines of an isolated
Russia. Revolution could begin in Russia, but it had to be finished
elsewhere in order to be consummated, because on a national scale the
material conditions for the achievement of socialism did not exist in
As Marx wrote in the German Ideology, anticipating this problem: "This
development of the productive forces...is an absolutely necessary practical
premise, because without it privation, want is merely made general, and with
want the struggle for necessities would begin again, and all the old filthy
business would necessarily be restored."
- THE MEANING OF MARXISM
Can individuals change history?
By Paul D'Amato
MOST HISTORY books treat historical change as the accomplishment of great
men (and an occasional woman). According to this view, the movers and
shakers in history are the Napoleons, Lincolns and FDRs of the world.
This view is also applied to revolutions. George Washington, Robespierre,
Lenin--these men shaped history, and the actions of the masses of people in
these revolutions were merely events scripted by their leaders.
The only difference between the treatment of Washington and Lenin as great
men is that Washington, as a leader of the American Revolution, gets a plus
sign in front of his name, whereas Lenin, a leader of a working-class
revolution, gets a minus sign.
The opposite, though less popular, view is that history follows a path which
no individual can influence--"great men" are merely agents for its
realization. According to this view, individuals and their actions are
purely products of historical conditions.
Had there been no Napoleon Bonaparte, another figure would have played the
same role, because historical conditions in the period of the early 18th
century demanded a "Napoleon." "We cannot make history," wrote Bismarck,
taking this to its extreme. "We must wait while it is being made."
The first view serves as an ideological justification for the rule by a
minority--"great" kings, presidents and leaders have special qualities that
give them the ability to rule whereas the rest of the "herd" must follow.
But the second view can also serve as a means to justify brutal exploitation
and suffering. How can you fault a ruler whose actions are historically
determined and therefore beyond his control?
Both of these ideas are mistaken, though they contain elements of truth.
There are, for example, a few cases where different scientists working
independently of each other made the same discovery--historical conditions
were ripe for it.
Individuals do indeed make history. But they cannot influence society or
history in any direction they so choose. Individuals cannot exert their will
independently of the social conditions in which they find themselves.
"Individuals can influence the fate of society," wrote the Russian Marxist
George Plekhanov, "by virtue of definite traits in their nature. Their
influence is sometimes very considerable, but the possibility of its being
exercised and its extent are determined by society�s organization and the
alignment of its forces.
"An individual�s character is a �factor� in social development," concludes
Plekhanov, "only where, when and to the extent that social relations permit
it to be."
Many examples come to mind. It may, for example, have been possible for a
philosopher in ancient Greece to dream of circumnavigating the globe, but
the technology and knowledge for such a voyage did not exist until the 15th
An early Christian may have dreamed of a society free of exploitation where
wealth is shared, but only with the development of modern capitalism have
the material conditions been created which make such a world possible.
For ideas expressed by groups or individuals to become a material force that
can affect the outcome of history, therefore, there must be both the
objective conditions and the subjective conditions. To put it crudely: if
there is not enough food to go around, then my dream of feeding everyone is
not realizable. But if there is enough food to go around--and capitalist
production has now made that a reality--there still must be the subjective
conditions to make a world free of hunger possible.
There must be a level of consciousness and organization among a sufficient
number of people to transform social relations and create a new system of
production and distribution. In this scenario, the role of individuals can
be decisive at certain key moments--but only if they are a link in a chain
of other factors. I�ll come back to this in my next article.