Volume 16, Number 3
Letter from the Editor: Rethink Competitive Honors System
Which America Will We Be Now?
The Green Party: Grassroots Democracy Is Possible
The Shame of Nature
Fundamentalism and Mainline Religion
Our Word is Our Weapon
On the School of the Americas
Prodding the Poor to the Altar
The Bishops and Just War
So Bush Did Steal the White House!
Rethink Competitive Honors System
This year's changes to the graduation honors and the dean's list policies satisfy the concern that in the old system "there was no element of competition and no consideration given to the college in which you were enrolled," as Notre Dame Magazine states in its Autumn issue. Now graduation honors and dean's list will be determined as a fixed percentage of the college enrollment, and not as the achievement of a certain grade point average-a GPA of 3.6 may get you on the dean's list this semester, but maybe not next, if you're not in the right percentile. Apparently, the benefits were spreading too widely across an over-achieving student body, and the Academic Council felt the need to limit the number of students who earn the honors: "They felt the distinctions had lost their luster because too large a portion of the enrollment was qualifying for them." It seems that one reason to have such honors in the first place is to encourage more students to strive for them, and it was apparently working. And now that's cause for concern?
I would like to propose that we rethink the idea of bestowing special honors based on GPA, rank in class, or percentile rank. Perhaps we should consider abolishing the system all together. I, for one, don't buy the assertion that instructors grade easier now, and that it's therefore easier to get an A. My architecture classmates and I can attest that the workload and expectations couldn't possibly be greater without being classified as ridiculous!
If education is about learning, sharing ideas, and growing in our intellectual and moral capacities, then introducing even more competition than already exists into the honors system seems only to distract from the goals of education. Competition, despite the prevailing orthodoxy, is not a fix-all solution. In the case of student academic achievement, it may be corrosive. With the new changes, a student may attain an excellent GPA but be cut off from honors because only a given percent of his or her class can achieve the honor-this is less about academic achievement than it is about creating a competitive elite. Let's take our education for what we will, and not be pitted against one another for coveted and limited honors.
The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and the Center for Social Concerns have both introduced web pages on September 11th and its aftermath. The Kroc Institute site is found at www.nd.edu/~krocinst/ sept11.html, and the CSC site is at www.nd.edu/~socconcn/sept11. In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union has a page dedicated to their work in defending our liberties and constitution in the wake of the recent laws passed by Congress and the executive orders of the President that curtail many rights and probably violate the Constitution. That site is found at www.aclu.org/safeandfree. Take a look at these sites to find more thoughtful perspectives in addition to those we try to provide in these pages.
Which America Will We Be Now?
For the past several years I've been taking every possible opportunity to talk about the soul of democracy. "Something is deeply wrong with politics today," I told anyone who would listen. And I wasn't referring to the partisan mudslinging, the negative TV ads, the excessive polling or the empty campaigns. I was talking about something fundamental, something troubling at the core of politics. The soul of democracy--the essence of the word itself--is government of, by and for the people. And the soul of democracy has been dying, drowning in a rising tide of big money contributed by a narrow, unrepresentative elite that has betrayed the faith of citizens in self-government.
But what's happened since the September 11 attacks would seem to put the lie to my fears. Americans have rallied together in a way that I cannot remember since World War II. This catastrophe has reminded us of a basic truth at the heart of our democracy: No matter our wealth or status or faith, we are all equal before the law, in the voting booth and when death rains down from the sky.
We have also been reminded that despite years of scandals and political corruption, despite the stream of stories of personal greed and pirates in Gucci scamming the Treasury, despite the retreat from the public sphere and the turn toward private privilege, despite squalor for the poor and gated communities for the rich, the great mass of Americans have not yet given up on the idea of "We, the People." And they have refused to accept the notion, promoted so diligently by our friends at the Heritage Foundation, that government should be shrunk to a size where, as Grover Norquist has put it, they can drown it in a bathtub. These ideologues at Heritage and elsewhere, by the way, earlier this year teamed up with deep-pocket bankers--many from Texas, with ties to the Bush White House--to stop America from cracking down on terrorist money havens. How about that for patriotism? Better that terrorists get their dirty money than tax cheaters be prevented from hiding theirs. And these people wrap themselves in the flag and sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" with gusto.
Contrary to right-wing denigration of government, however, today's heroes are public servants. The 20-year-old dot-com instant millionaires and the preening, pugnacious pundits of tabloid television and the crafty celebrity stock-pickers on the cable channels have all been exposed for what they are--barnacles on the hull of the great ship of state. In their stead we have those brave firefighters and policemen and Port Authority workers and emergency rescue personnel--public employees all, most of them drawing a modest middle-class income for extremely dangerous work. They have caught our imaginations not only for their heroic deeds but because we know so many people like them, people we took for granted. For once, our TV screens have been filled with the modest declarations of average Americans coming to each other's aid. I find this good and thrilling and sobering. It could offer a new beginning, a renewal of civic values that could leave our society stronger and more together than ever, working on common goals for the public good.
Already, in the wake of September 11, there's been a heartening change in how Americans view their government. For the first time in more than thirty years a majority of people say they trust the federal government to do the right thing at least "most of the time." It's as if the clock has been rolled back to the early 1960s, before Vietnam and Watergate took such a toll on the gross national psychology. This newfound respect for public service--this faith in public collaboration--is based in part on how people view what the government has done in response to the attacks. To most Americans, government right now doesn't mean a faceless bureaucrat or a politician auctioning access to the highest bidder. It means a courageous rescuer or brave soldier. Instead of our representatives spending their evenings clinking glasses with fat cats, they are out walking among the wounded.
There are, alas, less heartening signs to report. It didn't take long for the wartime opportunists--the mercenaries of Washington, the lobbyists, lawyers and political fundraisers--to crawl out of their offices on K Street determined to grab what they can for their clients. While in New York we are still attending memorial services for firemen and police, while everywhere Americans' cheeks are still stained with tears, while the President calls for patriotism, prayers and piety, the predators of Washington are up to their old tricks in the pursuit of private plunder at public expense. In the wake of this awful tragedy wrought by terrorism, they are cashing in. Would you like to know the memorial they would offer the thousands of people who died in the attacks? Or the legacy they would leave the children who lost a parent in the horror? How do they propose to fight the long and costly war on terrorism America must now undertake? Why, restore the three-martini lunch--that will surely strike fear in the heart of Osama bin Laden. You think I'm kidding, but bringing back the deductible lunch is one of the proposals on the table in Washington right now. And cut capital gains for the wealthy, naturally--that's America's patriotic duty, too. And while we're at it, don't forget to eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax, enacted fifteen years ago to prevent corporations from taking so many credits and deductions that they owed little if any taxes. But don't just repeal their minimum tax; refund to those corporations all the minimum tax they have ever been assessed.
What else can America do to strike at the terrorists? Why, slip in a special tax break for poor General Electric, and slip inside the EPA while everyone's distracted and torpedo the recent order to clean the Hudson River of PCBs. Don't worry about NBC, CNBC or MSNBC reporting it; they're all in the GE family. It's time for Churchillian courage, we're told. So how would this crowd assure that future generations will look back and say "This was their finest hour"? That's easy. Give those coal producers freedom to pollute. And shovel generous tax breaks to those giant energy companies. And open the Alaska wilderness to drilling--that's something to remember the 11th of September for. And while the red, white and blue waves at half-mast over the land of the free and the home of the brave--why, give the President the power to discard democratic debate and the rule of law concerning controversial trade agreements, and set up secret tribunals to run roughshod over local communities trying to protect their environment and their health. If I sound a little bitter about this, I am; the President rightly appeals every day for sacrifice. But to these mercenaries sacrifice is for suckers. So I am bitter, yes, and sad. Our business and political class owes us better than this. After all, it was they who declared class war twenty years ago, and it was they who won. They're on top. If ever they were going to put patriotism over profits, if ever they were going to practice the magnanimity of winners, this was the moment. To hide now behind the flag while ripping off a country in crisis fatally separates them from the common course of American life.
Some things just don't change. When I read that Dick Armey, the Republican majority leader in the House, said "it wouldn't be commensurate with the American spirit" to provide unemployment and other benefits to laid-off airline workers, I thought that once again the Republican Party has lived down to Harry Truman's description of the GOP as Guardians of Privilege. And as for Truman's Democratic Party--the party of the New Deal and the Fair Deal--well, it breaks my heart to report that the Democratic National Committee has used the terrorist attacks to call for widening the soft-money loophole in our election laws. How about that for a patriotic response to terrorism? Mencken got it right when he said, "Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it."
Let's face it: These realities present citizens with no options but to climb back in the ring. We are in what educators call "a teachable moment." And we'll lose it if we roll over and shut up. What's at stake is democracy. Democracy wasn't canceled on September 11, but democracy won't survive if citizens turn into lemmings. Yes, the President is our Commander in Chief, but we are not the President's minions. While firemen and police were racing into the fires of hell in downtown New York, and now, while our soldiers and airmen and Marines are putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan, the Administration and its Congressional allies are allowing multinational companies to make their most concerted effort in twenty years to roll back clean-air measures, exploit public lands and stuff the pockets of their executives and shareholders with undeserved cash. Against such crass exploitation, unequaled since the Teapot Dome scandal, it is every patriot's duty to join the loyal opposition. Even in war, politics is about who gets what and who doesn't. If the mercenaries and the politicians-for-rent in Washington try to exploit the emergency and America's good faith to grab what they wouldn't get through open debate in peacetime, the disloyalty will not be in our dissent but in our subservience. The greatest sedition would be our silence. Yes, there's a fight going on--against terrorists around the globe, but just as certainly there's a fight going on here at home, to decide the kind of country this will be during and after the war on terrorism.
What should our strategy be? Here are a couple of suggestions, beginning with how we elect our officials. As Congress debates new security measures, military spending, energy policies, economic stimulus packages and various bailout requests, wouldn't it be better if we knew that elected officials had to answer to the people who vote instead of the wealthy individual and corporate donors whose profit or failure may depend on how those new initiatives are carried out?
That's not a utopian notion. Thanks to the efforts of many hardworking pro-democracy activists who have been organizing at the grassroots for the past ten years, we already have four states--Maine, Arizona, Vermont and Massachusetts--where state representatives from governor on down have the option of rejecting all private campaign contributions and qualifying for full public financing of their campaigns. About a third of Maine's legislature and a quarter of Arizona's got elected last year running clean--that is, under their states' pioneering Clean Elections systems, they collected a set number of $5 contributions and then pledged to raise no other money and to abide by strict spending limits.
These unsung heroes of democracy, the first class of elected officials to owe their elections solely to their voters and not to any deep-pocketed backers, report a greater sense of independence from special interests and more freedom to speak their minds. "The business lobbyists left me alone," says State Representative Glenn Cummings, a freshman from Maine who was the first candidate in the country to qualify for Clean Elections funding. "I think they assumed I was unapproachable. It sure made it easier to get through the hallways on the way to a vote!" His colleague in the Statehouse, Senator Ed Youngblood, recalls that running clean changed the whole process of campaigning. "When people would say that it didn't matter how they voted, because legislators would just vote the way the money wants," he tells us, "it was great to be able to say, 'I don't have to vote the way some lobbyist wants just to insure that I'll get funded by him in two years for re-election.'"
It's too soon to say that money no longer talks in either state capital, but it clearly doesn't swagger as much. In Maine, the legislature passed a bill creating a Health Security Board tasked with devising a detailed plan to implement a single-payer healthcare system for the state. The bill wasn't everything its sponsor, Representative Paul Volenik, wanted, but he saw real progress toward a universal healthcare system in its passage. Two years ago, he noted, only fifty-five members of the House of Representatives (out of 151) voted for the bill. This time eighty-seven did, including almost all the Democrats and a few Republicans. The bill moved dramatically further, and a portion of that is because of the Clean Elections system they have there, Volenik said.
But the problem is larger than that of money in politics. Democracy needs a broader housecleaning. Consider, for example, what a different country we would be if we had a Citizens Channel with a mandate to cover real social problems, not shark attacks or Gary Condit's love life, while covering up Rupert Murdoch's manipulations of the FCC and CBS's ploy to filch tax breaks for its post-terrorist losses. Such a channel could have spurred serious attention to the weakness of airport security, for starters, pointing out long ago how the industry, through its contributions, had wrung from government the right to contract that security to the lowest bidder. It might have pushed the issue of offshore-banking havens to page one, or turned up the astonishing deceit of the NAFTA provision that enables secret tribunals to protect the interests of investors while subverting the well-being of workers and the health of communities. Such a channel--committed to news for the sake of democracy--might also have told how corporations and their alumni in the Bush Administration have thwarted the development of clean, home-grown energy that would slow global warming and the degradation of our soil, air and water, while reducing our dependence on oligarchs, dictators and theocrats abroad.
Even now the media elite, with occasional exceptions, remain indifferent to the hypocrisy of Washington's mercenary class as it goes about the dirty work of its paymasters. What a contrast to those citizens who during these weeks of loss and mourning have reminded us that the kingdom of the human heart is large, containing not only hatred but courage. Much has been made of the comparison to December 7, 1941. I find it apt. In response to the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans waged and won a great war, then came home to make this country more prosperous and just. It is not beyond this generation to live up to that example. To do so, we must define ourselves not by the lives we led until September 11 but by the lives we will lead from now on. If we seize the opportunity to build a stronger country, we too will ultimately prevail in the challenges ahead, at home and abroad. But we cannot win this new struggle by military might alone. We will prevail only if we lead by example, as a democracy committed to the rule of law and the spirit of fairness, whose corporate and political elites recognize that it isn't only firefighters, police and families grieving their missing kin who are called upon to sacrifice.
©The Nation. November 19, 2001.
The Green Party: Grassroots Democracy Is Possible
Following his successful December 2000 election as a city supervisor of San Francisco, Mark Sanchez announced that he was switching from the Democratic Party to join the Green Party. Sanchez told the San Francisco Bay Guardian, "I'm a little disenchanted with the Democratic Party. It's not progressive enough, and I agree with the values of the Green Party." Sanchez, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley's School of Education, taught in an elementary school for seven years and is co-founder of a group seeking to raise public awareness of the needs of public school teachers and students.
Sanchez is just one of many such individuals who no longer feel satisfied with the Democratic Party. The ideals for which the Democratic Party once stood - social change and a progressive stance towards such issues as Civil Rights - have faded into the background as the Democratic Party has become engulfed in the corporate mire of the two-party system in the United States. Sanchez and others are reacting by creating a grassroots network of people dedicated to change, allying their desire for social action to those same ideas that the Green Party supports, rather than maintaining allegiance to the Democratic Party that has sold itself out to corporate interest.
In light of the 2000 presidential election, a large number of people are looking to third parties like the Green Party with a variety of interests. Some look to the Green Party and claim that if all those who had voted for Ralph Nader had merely voted for Al Gore that George Bush would not have won the election. Perhaps this is true, but why must we feel that we should vote for the "lesser of two evils?" Why must we, as educated citizens of a democracy be forced to choose between two slates offered to us, substantially the same when it comes to a variety of issues? Would it not be better for us to voice our opinions at the polls and in public life, declaring those points that are the greatest concerns for us, not of the corporations who sponsor the two parties in the United States? The Green Party offers an alternative for Americans who are concerned about important issues and wish their voice to be heard.
Many people hear of the Green Party and assume that the party is composed of tree-hugging hippies seeking to create a carefree style of living, far removed from the cares and worries of the modern world. And while you may never have heard of Mark Sanchez, Medea Benjamin, or the other 120 successful Greens, you most likely have heard of the values that the Green Party espouses. I challenge you to consider the following points, the ten key values of the Green Party, and decide for yourself whether these points of the Green Party or those of the Democratic and Republican Parties most closely match your ideals.
1. Grassroots Democracy
Members of the Green Party work to increase public participation at every level of decision-making in government and seek to ensure that our public representatives are fully accountable to the people who elect them.
For example, members of the Green Party have currently created a variety of measures at local levels to institute instant run-off voting. In instant run-off voting, voters rank their choice of candidates according to their first choice, second choice, and so forth. Instant run-off voting increases the chance of majority rule, by eliminating the possibility of a candidate winning without the majority of the popular vote.
Instant run-off likewise eliminates the need to choose the "lesser of two evils," which is known as the spoiler effect. For example, many progressively minded people would have liked to have voted for Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader in the 2000 elections, but felt that to do so would result in one less vote for Gore in his campaign against Bush. With a system of instant run-off voting a given voter could have ranked Nader and the Green Party as their first choice, followed by Gore and the Democratic Party. The result would have been that having voted a first choice of Nader, who did not earn enough of a percentage to be in the running for President, the second choice would be counted.
Furthermore, should the second choice also not have garnered enough votes to be in the running, the third choice would then be counted. And in the event that a voter's first choice does indeed have enough votes to be counted, their second and third choices would simply be irrelevant.
This process of election is more democratic in that it increases the choice that voters have at the polls by eliminating the need to choose between only two candidates, both of whom have been sponsored by corporate interest groups. This increase in voter choice has been shown to increase voter turnout, fostering a more democratic society. Far too often people feel disenfranchised from the election process, having decided that their vote is of no consequence and furthermore left without any choice.
Instant run-off voting is but one example of how members of the Green Party are seeking to improve the democratic structures of the United States from the roots up - beginning at the local level to increase participation and representation.
2. Social Justice and Equal Opportunity
Greens hold that all persons should have the rights and opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, barriers such as discrimination based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, and other factors which act to deny fair treatment, equal justice, and dignity to all human persons.
3. Ecological Wisdom
Greens understand that human societies must operate with the understanding that we are part of nature, not separate from nature. We must maintain an ecological balance and live within the ecological and resource limits of our communities and our planet. Members of the Green Party encourage and support a sustainable society that utilizes resources in such a way that future generations will benefit and not suffer from the practices of our generation. In order to obtain this we must practice agriculture which replenishes the soil; move to an energy efficient economy; and live in ways that respect the integrity of natural systems.
In acting upon this key Green value, Greens in the United States and the other seventy nations where Green parties are active have encouraged the replacement of the Kyoto treaty, which despite being too weak on environmental protection has not been ratified by the United States. Since the Kyoto treaty panders to corporate interests it "fails to provide near term incentives for green energy development or early emission reductions" and has a "lack of a significant inducement to developing countries to institute comprehensive greenhouse mitigation measures." In place of the Kyoto treaty, the Green Party is supporting the aptly named Buenos Aires Convention. Our stewardship of the earth and its resources is of immense importance to Greens.
As Greens, it is essential that we promote and develop effective alternatives to society's current patterns of violence at all levels - from within families and on the streets to the violence which rages between the nations and the world. We work to demilitarize, and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, without being naive about the intentions of other governments. We recognize the need for self-defense and the defense of others who are in helpless situations. We promote non-violent methods to oppose practices and policies with which we disagree, and will guide our actions toward lasting personal, community and global peace.
The Green Party's stance against violence has been consistent, from the declaration against the United States action in Iraq under the former President Bush through the current military action against the nation of Afghanistan under the current President Bush.
As the Green Party is itself part of a wider network of international Green parties, an understanding of the necessity of world-wide collaboration to end violence pervades the Green focus on non-violence. The Green Party continues to hope that "the criminals behind the September 11 atrocities be tried according to international law in an appropriate court. The Rome Statute, which the U.S. refuses to ratify, would provide such a forum."
The Greens thus propose that the United States ratify such international tribunals to reduce violence and set aside national interest to make room for a "massive intervention from the U.N. Such an effort must provide emergency food and medical supplies, attempt to prevent further bloodshed in the civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, and address the brutal treatment of Afghan people." The Green Party actively opposes the use of violence in any form and for that reason continues to call for an end to military operation against Afghanistan.
The centralization of wealth and power contributes to social and economic injustice, environmental destruction, and militarization. Robert Fatton argued in the last edition of Common Sense in "Globalization, Poverty, and Terror" that "the reality of 'globalization' has made the so-called 'good life' of the West imaginable to all and yet accessible to few." This is one way in which the centralization of wealth and power has lead not only to social and economic injustice, but to acts of violence. To remedy this, the Green Party supports a restructuring of social, political and economic institutions away from a system that is controlled by and mostly benefits the powerful few, to a democratic, less bureaucratic system. Decision-making should, as much as possible, remain at the individual and local level, while assuring that civil rights are protected for all citizens.
6. Community-Based Economics and Economic Justice
The Green Party recognizes that it is essential to create a vibrant and sustainable economic system, one that can create jobs and provide a decent standard of living for all people while maintaining a healthy ecological balance. A successful economic system will offer meaningful work with dignity, while paying a "living wage" which reflects the real value of a person's work. Local communities must look to economic development that assures protection of the environment and workers' rights; broad citizen participation in planning; and enhancement of our "quality of life." We support independently owned and operated companies which are socially responsible, as well as co-operatives and public enterprises that distribute resources and control to more people through democratic participation.
7. Feminism and Gender Equity
We have inherited a social system based on male domination of politics and economics. The Green Party calls for the replacement of the cultural ethics of domination and control with more cooperative ways of interacting that respect differences of opinion and gender. The contribution which feminism has made to our understanding of human relations is not only limited to those relations based on biological sex, but a critique of all human relationships based on domination and subjugation. Human values such as equality between the sexes, interpersonal responsibility, and honesty must be developed with moral conscience. We should remember that the process that determines our decisions and actions is just as important as achieving the outcome we want.
8. Respect for Diversity
The Green Party believes it is important to value cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and spiritual diversity, and to promote the development of respectful relationships across these lines. We believe that the many diverse elements of society should be reflected in our organizations and decision-making bodies, and we support the leadership of people who have been traditionally closed out of leadership roles. We acknowledge and encourage respect for other life forms than our own and the preservation of biodiversity.
9. Personal and Global Responsibility
In order to foster global changes, the Green Party must begin at the most basic level and encourage individuals to act to improve their personal well-being and, at the same time, to enhance ecological balance and social harmony. We seek to join with people and organizations around the world to foster peace, economic justice, and the health of the planet. Our stewardship exists for our own bodies, our families, the local communities of which we are part, and the global milieu of both humankind and the environment.
10. Future Focus and Sustainability
Our actions, stewardship, and policies should be motivated by long-term goals. The members of the Green Party seek to protect valuable natural resources, safely disposing of, reducing, and reusing all waste we create, while developing a sustainable economics that does not depend on continual expansion for survival. The Green Party is opposed to the premise that underlies consumerism, which only takes from the environment, both natural and social, without adding anything to that environment. We must counterbalance the drive for short-term profits by assuring that economic development, new technologies, and fiscal policies are responsible to future generations who will inherit the results of our actions.
Our role as citizens of a democratic nation and stewards of a fragile world should incite us to act in accordance with a set of values worthy of such a station. We should seek to promote democracy, care for others and the environment, and an eye for future generations. The Green Party offers a valid alternative to the two-party political system that seeks only to please the interests of the wealthy and the powerful. Even though Ralph Nader did not win the Presidency in 2000, nor was his voice allowed to be heard at the debates, the message of the Green Party will not be silenced. The values of the Green Party are too important to go away and with the recognition given the Green Party by the Federal Elections Commission less than a month ago, the message will continue to be heard ever more loudly that the Green Party is "the only political party to oppose the big money that is corrupting politics in America."
I encourage you to consider the ten key values of the Green Party enumerated above, to decide for yourself whether these points of the Green Party or those of the two-party corporate money parties most closely match your ideals.
For more information about the Green Party and what you can do get involved at the grassroots level, please check out the home page for the Green Party, USA at http://www.greenparty.org/ or http://www.gp-us.org/
Andrew Casad is a graduate student in Theology and a member of Common Sense.
The Shame of Nature
My mother had three bachelor brothers who lived together in querulous amity. No one really knew if they were shy about sex, or appalled by it. All I remember, is that when anything remotely “suggestive”(their word) came on the television screen, one of them would make a frantic dash across the room to switch the set off. In his fifties, the youngest of the trio married. A determined widow set her cap at him (his siblings’ interpretation), though the union was assumed to be a marriage blanc. The lives of the other two (they were twins) were scarred to the end by a puritanism which had extinguished their life-force. The wholesomeness and even the ordinariness of sexual desire had never been understood in their family. My grandfather’s work ethic and frugality were legendary; however, he seems to have regarded sex as a base urge, a design flaw in creation. He maintained a separate bedroom, even as he fathered fifteen pregnancies (ten survived). Any interest in the opposite sex shown by his children when their hormones blossomed was disparaged - nipped in the bud. None emerged unscathed by their Papa’s unremitting distrust of human sexuality. My mother probably did best by escaping to nursing school in a big city when she was eighteen. Things were not so severe on my father’s side of the family, although he claimed that his mother could never utter the word “pregnant.” She would indicate the condition with a meaningful sniff, which he imitated perfectly.
A news item last month in the National Catholic Reporter, confirmed how much at home my grandfather would have been in the current Vatican. The Pope’s fear of the erotic. would have made sense to him. In what is believed to be the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, a husband and wife were beatified together. The intention, apparently, was to signal to Catholic couples that conjugal relations are no impediment to sanctity. Nevertheless, what appeared to have commended the pair, Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and his wife Maria, to John Paul II, was their less than robust enthusiasm for sex. Maria and Luigi, who had been fascists, only switching sides at the very end of World War II, lived as brother and sister for nearly three decades - a move to separate beds was made after twenty years of marriage. All four children born to the couple shunned sex; the sons became priests, while one daughter entered the convent and the other lived as a consecrated laywoman. (It was the sons who tipped the Pope off about the separate beds.) Finally, there was the trump card - Maria’s fourth pregnancy. She carried the child to term in spite of being warned that there was only a 5% chance of her surviving the pregnancy. Heroic gestation is a guaranteed fast track to sainthood under this papacy. Not long ago, the Pope canonized a woman who, while working as a missionary doctor, became pregnant and shortly after was diagnosed with cancer. She then refused treatment so that the fetus would not be harmed. The child, delivered prematurely, lived and the mother died. While the woman’s choice may have been a brave one, raising her to sainthood sends an odd, mixed-message to women. One gets the distinct impression that this Pope is more comfortable with unsexed or deceased women; the full bloodied, lusty woman troubles him.
In May of this year, Regina Apostolorum College in Rome held a conference to explore the potential for a new feminism, one that would eschew the “Rights” focus of secular feminism and concentrate on “essential female qualities”(the self-sacrificial stuff: cleaning up the mess guys make of the world). The quintessential emphasis was on woman’s destiny as mother - one of the speakers had written a book with the cringe-making title, Militant Mothering. A number of the Pope’s female acolytes were on hand, including Wanda Poltawska, a Polish psychiatrist. Unwittingly, friend Wanda let a very large cat out of the bag while holding forth on John Paul’s sense of decency. She claimed that the Pope believes that nudity is a gift “only in the context of a total love which has a capacity to absorb the shame of nature (italics mine).” So there you have it. Nature is shameful and sexual congress clearly a barnyard activity unless redeemed by the higher spirituality of maternity.
One reason we do not have a sound theology of sexuality in the Catholic Church is because the terms of the debate are being set by clerics whose thinking about the subject has been arrested at the level of adolescence. These fellows do not sound like grown-ups. They radiate fear. Men like the Pope and his Top Cop, the scary Cardinal Ratzinger, have never overcome the shock, the squeamishness about sex and its mechanics that most children experience when told the “facts of life.” There is the bewildering moment when the young person has to face the brute fact that parents have engaged in these strange rites which involve what Monty Python calls “the naughty bits.” ( In my case, growing up Anglican (Episcopalian) in the United Kingdom, I had the added burden of imagining the Monarch or the Archbishop of Canterbury in flagrante delicto, so to speak.) Roman clerics are all to often stuck in this pre-adult, fevered mindset where sex is always fraught with transgressive possibility.
In an odd paradox, the Pope and the pornographer are on the same page. Both invest sex with an ineffable power: the one sacralizes and the other desecrates. In the Church, the mystique of male celibacy derives from the power of sex denied. ( Zulu Impis (warriors) also foreswore marriage to enhance their aura.) Undefiled by intimate contact with the weaker sex, the celibate priest thus becomes the natural guardian of hierarchical order, ritual and orthodoxy. I was amused by the photograph on the front of a brochure for “A Culture of Life” conference held at Notre Dame in November. The picture was worth more than a thousand words. We see a stooped, octogenarian Pope, a mitre on his head, weighed down by a vast, ornate ecclesial cope; he is surrounded by other prelates in similar costume. The tableau is framed by the massive doors of St. Peter’s. The image conveys nothing about “life.” It is designed only to project clerical, male authority. No wonder the French mystic and political activist, Simone Weil, understood religion to be the enemy of faith.
In the end, there is no point in quarreling with observant Catholics who make the choice to submit to Rome’s peculiar teachings and prohibitions on sex - folk like those at the “Culture of Life” conference. (One of the speakers, George Weigel, had given the keynote address at the ceremony of Beatification for Luigi and Maria.) However, when the Church’s take on sexual morality worms its way into the center of public policy, the stage is set for real harm. In the September19 issue of The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell has written a quirky and delightfully sane piece on abortion. Car manufacturers, he says, “don’t wax philosophical about the sanctity of life (it wouldn’t achieve much).” Instead, on the basis of precise calculations, they try to make cars safer. Steel beams in a car’s side doors cut fatalities by 1.7%; the use of a seatbelt in a right front collision, reduces the chances of being killed through ejection by 14%, and so on. Gladwell argues that we should apply the same calculus to abortion. He notes that the Federal Title X Program which, since the seventies, funded thousands of family planning clinics around the country, has prevented an estimated 9 million abortions.
Moreover, Gladwell continues, “there is solid evidence that a comprehensive sex education curriculum could help to reduce pregnancies even further. For example, American adolescents have six times as many abortions as their peers in the Netherlands who are given sex education. Then there is that awkward statistic confronting Catholics: abortion rates are lower in countries where abortions are easier to obtain than in the USA. None of this, of course, cuts any ice with the absolutist mentality. The rise of the Christian Right, spearheaded by the Catholic hierarchy, has both undermined Title X and opposed sex education for teenagers. Gladwell concludes that “squeamishness about sex has turned America into the abortion capital of the world.”
Ann Pettifer is an alumna of Notre Dame and member of Common Sense.
Left Behind: Israel’s Labor Party is silenced as violence erupts
JERUSALEM-“You, who killed my father, you are temporary residents and Canaanites. I’m letting you know: We are staying because [the land] is ours.” That was how the son of Israel’s slain tourism minister warned Palestinians when he spoke at the state funeral.
In life, Rehavam Zeevi was the modern incarnation of ideas many Israelis thought had disappeared. Zeevi, who advocated the physical transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, only came into his ministerial seat on the heels of right-wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in February. Two days before Zeevi was killed on October 17 by Palestinian assassins, he had tendered his resignation in protest of government policies he believed were soft on Arabs.
But in his death, Zeevi may have brought to pass both the final downfall of a meaningful Israeli left, as well as a further hobbling of the Palestinian leadership governing parts of the Occupied Territories. “Listen well, killers of Ramallah, listen well, assassins of Jenin,” said Knesset speaker and leading Labor official Avraham Burg in his eulogy. “All our differences are not weaknesses, but differences. ... We will not surrender.”
In retaliation for the killing, the Israeli government took a series of dramatic steps. First, it reimposed a blockade on Palestinian towns and villages that had been eased two days earlier as part of a joint ceasefire. Next, it invaded six Palestinian towns and left its tanks to patrol those areas, including almost all of the town of Bethlehem. Twenty-two Palestinians, a number of them women and children, were killed over four days. Palestinian fighters resisted the invasion, injuring nine Israeli soldiers. Finally, Sharon’s government shrewdly demanded that the Palestinian Authority hand over the assassins from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who killed Zeevi.
The Palestinian leadership, aware that its people will not accept a handover, staunchly rejected the Israeli demand but outlawed the Popular Front’s military wing. “There is no chance of such an extradition-and whoever drafted the Israeli ultimatum knew this well and planned his steps accordingly,” wrote analyst Danny Rubenstein in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. “In other words, this ultimatum is in fact not an ultimatum, but a declaration of war.”
Appalled by the army’s invasion, some members of the Labor Party have loudly expressed their concern. “We are very close to a brink,” says Matan Vilnai, Israel’s culture, science and sports minister. “Maybe we are going to cross it. It is the brink of a Lebanon-style operation. I hope we will be clever enough and smart enough to examine the situation and not … cross this red line.”
The evoking of Israel’s war in Lebanon, in which then Defense Minister Sharon led the Israeli army all the way to Beirut, is further indication of unease. That 1982 incursion ended in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s banishment from Beirut and the killing of more than 1,000 Palestinian refugees by Lebanese Maronite forces under Israeli army watch.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has already hinted that he felt misled in discussions of how far the Israeli army would go inside the Palestinian-controlled areas. As a result, Peres wants out of the government coalition, say some analysts. The very identity of the Labor Party could be at stake. “The Labor Party has to have its own profile,” says Open University of Israel professor Benny Noberger. “Even if it is in the government, it has to be clear that it is influencing policy. Otherwise, in the next election, it will disintegrate.”
Since the Labor Party joined the right-of-center Likud in the government, it has been plagued by infighting and disputes. The Palestinian-Israeli confrontations that broke out last September, and the widespread belief that peace with Palestinians is no longer possible, have caused a mass exodus from Israel’s left flank. The party at the heart of Israel’s creation, the roots of the kibbutz movement and the ideology of Zionist founder Theodor Herzl himself could be reduced to a position as Israel’s fourth largest political party (behind Likud, ultra-orthodox Shas and far-left Meretz) if it does not now distinguish itself in meaningful opposition.
Slowly but prudently, Sharon has followed a policy of assassinating Palestinian activists, invading Palestinian-controlled territory and economically weakening Palestinian businesses as a way of undermining the peace process begun in Oslo in 1993, which he has always opposed. “Oslo is not continuing,” Sharon told a group of settlers at a meeting last week. “There won’t be Oslo. Oslo is over.”
Recently, the prime minister pointedly defied a blunt U.S. request that he withdraw the army, telling the Knesset that “Israel is on its own.”
The few remaining on the Israeli left fear that Sharon is headed for catastrophe. In an editorial last month, journalist Amira Hass noted the dangers of a weakened opposition in the context of a distracting American war. “Skepticism that Israel may try to expel the country’s Arabs … is natural and encouraging,” she wrote. “It shows that the majority of Jewish Israelis accept as an unequivocal fact that the Palestinians are natives of this land.” Still, Hass warns, now is the time to ask, “Is Israeli society immune to an idea such as the transfer of the Palestinian population as a ‘solution’ to the protracted conflict?”
A poll taken just after Zeevi’s assassination gave credence to Hass’ concern: 66 percent of Israeli adults surveyed said they would support a “voluntary transfer” of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
While one advocate of transferring Palestinians through military force is now dead, the specter of his ideas remains a living possibility.
©In These Times. November 26, 2001
Fundamentalism and Mainline Religion
As the nation and the world at large attempted to sort out the meaning and consequences of the terrorist raids on New York City and Washington, D.C. on September 11, one topic remained always at the center of the mix, namely, the role of religion as a motivating factor.
Some have tried valiantly to forestall the temptation to blame Islam itself for these horrific events. We were regularly assured, by Christian and Muslim commentators alike, that the fundamentalist terrorists totally mis-read and mis-used the Koran and that their murderous actions were in no sense approved, much less encouraged, by Islam itself.
A leading expert on fundamentalism, Martin Marty, emeritus professor of church history at the University of Chicago, made that very point in The New York Times Magazine (10/30/01): “I cannot say it emphatically enough: this is not Islam. This takes Islamic texts-it takes elements in its tradition-and skews them.”
In an op-ed piece published elsewhere in the same paper, a respected Islamic scholar at Harvard suggested that there is no more of a connection between the religious fanaticism of the terrorists with Islam than there was between I.R.A. extremists and Roman Catholicism.
Almost exactly one month after the attacks, however, another, more critical interpretation began to emerge in the press.
Mark Lilla, professor of social thought at the University of Chicago, argued in an op-ed piece for The New York Times (10/7/01) that fundamentalisms of this sort do not spring up through a process of spontaneous generation. However extreme they might be in relation to the parent religion’s mainstream, the two are on the same continuum.
Thus, the Catholic Church cannot be considered completely blameless for the often violent anti-Semitic behavior that many church members inflicted on European Jews in the Middle Ages and at the time of the Holocaust. Indeed, popes themselves were sometimes directly involved.
“It is all very well for Catholics today to insist that their faith, properly interpreted, does not condone anti-Semitism,” Prof. Lilla wrote. “But that does not get us closer to understanding how millions of Catholics over a millennium could have thought that it did.”
Judaism, too, must bear some responsibility for the attitudes and behavior of the more radical branches of the Israeli settlers movement, “which is fired by the eschatological belief that reclaiming the land will hasten the coming of the Messiah.”
But what applies to Christianity and Judaism applies also to Islam. “That Islamic fundamentalism and its militant offshoots appeal to the Koran is therefore not an incidental matter,” Lilla continued. “It means that they have found a way to breed in the religious space opened up by the revelation Islam presupposes.”
Recent efforts to promote a spirit of tolerance and understanding toward Islam may be well-intentioned, “but they mark an abdication of intellectual responsibility among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.” Serious, critical reflection “must begin with the uncomfortable fact that in religion, as in nature, there is no such thing as spontaneous generation.”
Andrew Sullivan’s much longer piece in The New York Times Magazine, “This Is a Religious War” (10/7/01), made a similar point. Osama bin Laden’s form of Islam is not restricted to bin Laden alone, Sullivan insisted.
“Most interpreters of the Koran find no arguments in it for the murder of innocents,” he continued. “But it would be naïve to ignore in Islam a deep thread of intolerance toward unbelievers, especially if those unbelievers are believed to be a threat to the Islamic world.”
Sullivan, a Catholic, did not spare his own religious tradition, citing the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the bloody religious wars of the 16 and 17th centuries. “It seems almost as if there is something inherent in religious monotheism that lends itself to this kind of terrorist temptation,” he wrote. “And our bland attempts to ignore this-to speak of this violence as if it did not have religious roots-is some kind of denial.”
Sullivan has called the struggle that is just beginning an epic one. “What is at stake is yet another battle against a religion that is succumbing to the temptation Jesus refused in the desert-to rule by force.”
One major reason why the United States poses such a menacing threat to the Islamists is the success of America’s own constitutional arrangement. In spite of our complete separation of religion from the state and the government’s official toleration of every kind of religious belief and of unbelief as well, this remains one of the most religious nations on the face of the earth and also one of the most internally peaceful. According to the Islamists, that should not be the case.
Here again, reality trumps ideology.
Richard McBrien teaches in the Theology Department at Notre Dame.
Our Word is Our Weapon
The opening chapter of Our Word is Our Weapon describes the first offensive launched by the Zapatista National Liberation Army during the cold early hours of January 1, 1994, the day the NAFTA agreement was to be implemented. It tells the story of a group of indigenous women commanders, each one leading her troops to capture towns or strategic posts in the Chiapas region. After being robbed, oppressed, and subjugated for centuries, the indigenous people finally decided to initiate a courageous struggle against the Mexican government and its neoliberal economic policies.
Through the cursory portrayal of those critical hours of fighting, one gets a sense of the people involved, their motivations, aspirations, and dreams. These are the kind of people who would know exactly what the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was talking about when he wrote the powerful lines: "I stood by truth:/ to establish light in the land/ I wanted to be common like bread:/ so when the struggle came/ she wouldn't find me missing."
Our Word is a compilation of Subcomandate Marcos's writings, many of which were written in the hot and muddy Mexican jungles and first distributed via the internet to thousands of readers; Marcos was perhaps the first insurgent to use a laptop connected to cyberspace as a strategic weapon in the service of guerrilla warfare. The book is divided into three parts, it begins with essays describing the Zapatista movement, its political views, actions, and objectives, then turns to Marcos's personal reflections, including letters to politicians and other activists, and concludes with a section introducing the reader to indigenous folk tales and myths which in many ways inform the Zapatistas' revolutionary project.
Marcos is the man behind the ski mask. He wears the mask not only as a precaution against assassination attempts by security forces, but as Juana Ponce de León explains in her introductory remarks, because the mask "has a transformative power that allows Marcos to shed the idiosyncrasies of his birth and assume a communal identity. The nonself makes it possible for Marcos to become the spokesperson for the indigenous communities." Indeed, the mask reveals much more than it hides because it urges people to look beyond the persona of the rebel, and, in this way, it actually helps expose the injustices that have been perpetrated against the 10 million indigenous people of Mexico. Before the Zapatistas rebels donned the mask and began their struggle most people were unaware that 54 percent of the indigenous population suffer from malnutrition, 15 percent do not have access to medical services, 10 percent are illiterate, and the vast majority have to cope with grinding poverty on a daily basis. Many of us didn't even know where Chiapas was located.
"The thick mantle with which they try to cover their crime," Marcos writes, "is called neoliberalism, and it represents death and misery for the original peoples of these lands." Marcos's goal, as he explains in the book, is "not to usurp power but to exercise it," that is, to democratize it. This is precisely the reason why the mask has become such a frightening symbol to the privileged few, for it has come to represent the momentous struggle to empower the people. It is therefore no surprise that in the New York Times review of Our Word (April 8, 2001) Tim Golden, the reviewer, rushes to doff the mask and to expose Marcos's identity; writing for the powers that be he wants to undermine the Zapatistas' goals.
But the significance of the mask, as Marcos's essays reveal, is even deeper, for it actually reflects the worldview underlying the Zapatistas' struggle, a view that also informs many of the beautiful folk tales which appear in the book's third section. The Zapatistas are attempting to "open a crack in history" by transcending the ubiquitous practice which reduces politics to a sphere of contestation among competing egotistical interests and by (re)introducing in its stead a politics which is concerned with questions of justice, equality, and freedom.
While it is hard for us to imagine a politics that is not intricately tied to interests, it is important to note that the word "interest" does not appear in the Hebrew Bible, nor do interests inform the words, deeds and political struggles of the great Jewish prophets. The Zapatistas appear to recognize that even if they were to attain the upper hand in any given battle, appropriating an interest politics standpoint would undermine their demand for social justice. Thus, the mask becomes a device that enables Marcos to lead a struggle that is not about his interests or even about the interests of the people he represents, but rather one that is about and for justice. It is precisely this message which the book so eloquently conveys.
Neve Gordon, a Notre Dame graduate, teaches in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, and can be reached at email@example.com
On the School of the Americas
On the weekend of November 17 and 18th, a large number of people came together from all across America. We came together to remember the victims of violence who have been raped, tortured, and murdered by graduates of the School of the Americas (SOA) in Ft. Benning, Georgia. We came together to tell the United States government that we would not close our eyes to the seeds of injustice that were sown at Ft. Benning. We would not ignore the human rights violations that were committed by those trained at the School of the Americas. We came together to be a voice for the voiceless.
The School of the Americas is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), but its mission and teachings still violate practices of human rights. According to the SOA Watch website (www.soaw.org), SOA/WHISC trains soldiers native to Latin American in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics. Graduates of the SOA have committed or been involved with many of the largest human rights violations in Latin America. The SOA has trained many leaders including such dictators as Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. Lower-level SOA graduates have participated in human rights abuses that include the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the El Mozote Massacre of 900 civilians.
The weekend started with a rally on Saturday. Due to heightened security, we were not able to gather at the gates of Ft. Benning, as the group had done in previous years. Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of the SOA Watch, with the staff of the SOA Watch received a permit to gather at a minor league baseball field a few miles from the gates of Ft. Benning. The day included music, a puppet show, speeches calling for the closing of the SOA/WHISC and remembrances of those who died at the hands of SOA graduates. Despite the nearly 80 degree weather, I had goosebumps most of the day. The day concluded with training sessions for Sunday’s solemn funeral procession, and mass provided by the Jesuits in their large gathering tent.
Sunday’s gathering was more somber. We gathered at the gates of Ft. Benning, after just recently being granted a permit for the march, thus lessening our chance of arrest. White crosses were distributed with the victims' names on them. People also held pictures of the victims, signs, and crucifixes. Some had on shirts that prayed for peace. Others wore “Close the SOA” shirts. Others dressed in black garb as they carried caskets in the funeral procession. After a short ceremony, the procession began. Names of the victims were sung in litany as the processing crowd sang back “Presente.” When we neared the gates of Ft. Benning to the newly constructed wire fence, we placed our crosses, pictures, and signs on the gates of Ft. Benning. We turned the fence they erected to keep us out into a memorial wall for those slain because of the training provided at that Army base.
That weekend in November, 23 Notre Dame and St. Mary’s students drove the 14 hours to the heart of Georgia to make a stand. We spent a weekend of our lives, remembering those that had lost their lives, or had lost family members to the School of the Americas. We joined our sisters and brothers-Muslims, Jews, priests, nuns, politicians, pastors, social anarchists, socialists, and many others-to stand and proclaim that we would dedicate our lives to closing the School of the Americas regardless of the moniker it bears. Now, we stand and invite you to join us in our pleas to the government. Find out more about the SOA/WHISC from www.soaw.org or by talking to anyone you know who went on the trip. Learn what the United States government is doing in our name and make a decision to stand for it or try to change it. As Oscar Romero charged, be a voice for those who have no voice.
Nathan Farley is a Notre Dame graduate student and member of Moreau Seminary.
Prodding the Poor to the Altar
A new survey from the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University finds romantic love on the ascendancy among the young. A full 94 percent of never-married singles in their twenties are looking to marry a "soul mate, first and foremost," as opposed to, say, a breadwinner, a sex object, or a person who is capable of repairing a leaky faucet. Among the women surveyed, more than 80 percent agreed that it is "more important to them to have a husband who can communicate about his deepest feelings than to have a husband who makes a good living."
Good news, right? At least it should be good news for those of us who grew up in the pre-feminist era, when marriage was supposed to be a sex-for-food exchange, as in prostitution or Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?
But the authors of the study, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, are already grumping that the young may be setting their sights too high, on an overly "exalted and demanding standard of a spiritualized union of souls." You will perhaps remember that these are the same folks who brought us dire warnings, a year ago, on the dangers of pre-marital cohabitation. Since couples who cohabit are somewhat more likely to divorce when they do marry, Whitehead and Popenoe announced that prior cohabitation predisposes people to divorce--overlooking the more likely possibility that those who are unconventional enough to cohabit may also be quicker to leave an unhappy marriage. Never mind the unconventional--the National Marriage Project and cultural conservatives in general want to see everyone (every heterosexual, anyway) married. And if that means lowering your standards to the point where you'll accept anyone who doesn't activate the gag reflex, so be it.
So far, the advocates of early (just do it!) and eternal marriage have been frustrated by the romantic predilections of the public. Most of us insist on marrying potential soul mates and, of course, divorcing them when our souls begin to flutter apart. Ultra-tight "covenant marriages," which are difficult to get out of unless a spouse commits a felony, have found few takers, even though they are available in Arizona and Louisiana. More Americans every year choose not to marry at all rather than settle for a sub-perfect spouse.
But there is one group that may have little choice in the matter: poor women on welfare. Conservative policy wonks are cooking up schemes to get welfare recipients married off as quickly as possible. Others may be starry-eyed enough to wait for true love, but poor women should marry to get their share of some working stiff's paycheck, goddamnit, just as most women did in the era of the feminine mystique.
The idea of marrying off the welfare poor was embedded in the 1996 welfare reform law, which said marriage was the "foundation of a successful society." That law created Temporary Aid to Needy Families, and its stated goals include: "to end dependency of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage," and "encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families."
Five years after welfare reform, there's been no surge of weddings among single mothers in poverty, nor should we expect marriage to solve their problems, anyway. Sadly enough, welfare recipients are unlikely to marry CEOs or even the residents of conservative think tanks; they're likely to marry blue collar men--a group whose wages have been declining since the '80s. So, the real question is: How many such men would a woman have to marry to lift herself and her children out of poverty? By my calculations, approximately 2.3, although, strangely enough, the conservative marriage advocates are not offering to abolish the laws against polyandry.
At last, however, they seem to understand that the chance to share in a blue-collar-male wage is not, even for very poor women, a powerful lure to the altar. So the latest fashion in marriage incentives is government-applied carrots and sticks. Wade Horn, who has just been appointed Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, is perhaps best known for proposing, in 1997, that the government "give preference to two-parent married households" when doling out services like public housing and Head Start slots. He's backed off from that--somebody must have reminded him of the existence of widows and orphans--but he's gung-ho for other ways to reward anyone who'll take the plunge. A number of states, he notes approvingly, now offer small financial advantages to welfare recipients who marry, with West Virginia handing out a $100-a-month marriage bonus.
Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, who has spent much of the last decade obsessing about the supposed sexual libertinism of low income single mothers, goes much further. He would like the government to provide women at "high risk of bearing a child out of wedlock" with a $5,000 cash payment for marrying before childbirth. Just how extensive this program would be is not clear, so any bride-to-be might want to claim she's in the high-risk category and use that bonus to pay for the wedding favors. At least we know that conservatives aren't really opposed to government handouts.
Now some people will marry for $5,000 cash down, or even for $100 a month. After all, people get married every day for health insurance, a green card, or a rent-controlled apartment. But marriages based on financial calculation may be even less likely to last than the soul-mate unions Whitehead and Popenoe are fretting about. Recall Darva Conger, who married for a million dollars only to demand an annulment shortly thereafter.
If marriage won't solve welfare recipients' financial problems--and may, in fact, leave many of them with an extra mouth to feed--then why are the conservatives so eager to get them all married off? Horn cites "countless studies demonstrat[ing] that children fare better in continuously married households than in any other family structure." But I doubt if any of those studies compare children in married households to those in the homes of continuously cohabiting adults--gay couples, for example, or people who just don't feel the government ought to be involved in their private lives. And what about people who choose to marry in unconventional ways, like the nonconforming Catholics who pick married priests to administer their vows? Would Horn be pleased by them--perhaps doubly pleased, since even their priests are married?
suspicion--completely unsupported, of course, but who's talking evidence?--is that conservatives want all women married because, statistically speaking, married women are more likely to vote Republican than single ones are. If this is what lies behind the conservative pro-marriage movement, then its leaders should be honest enough to say so. Otherwise, they end up looking like awful meanies--pooh-poohing true love in favor of old-fashioned gold-digging.
©The Progressive, August 2001. Barbara Ehrenreich is a columnist for The Progressive and the author of "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in Boom-Time America" (Metropolitan Books, 2001).
Who's Reading Your E-Mail?: Draconian law enforcement is not a solution to terrorism
I live just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. In New York, we are still mourning the loss of so many after the attacks on our city. We want to arrest and punish the terrorists, eliminate the terrorist network and prevent future attacks. But the government's declared war on terrorism, and some of the anti-terrorism measures planned, include a curtailment of freedom and constitutional rights that have many of us concerned.
The domestic consequences of the war on terrorism include massive arrests of immigrants, the creation of a special new cabinet office of Homeland Security and the passage of legislation granting intelligence and law enforcement agencies much broader powers to intrude into the private lives of Americans. The war on terrorism also means pervasive government and media censorship of information, the silencing of dissent, and widespread ethnic and religious profiling of Muslims, Arabs and Asian people.
The claimed necessity for this war at home is problematic. The legislation and other governmental actions are premised on the belief that the intelligence agencies failed to stop the September 11th attack because they lacked the spying capability to find and arrest the conspirators. Yet neither the government nor the agencies have demonstrated that this is the reason.
This war at home gives Americans a false sense of security, allowing us to believe that tighter borders, vastly empowered intelligence agencies, and increased surveillance will stop terrorism. The United States is not yet a police state. But even a police state could not stop terrorists intent on doing us harm. And the fantasy of Fortress America keeps us from examining the root causes of terrorism, and the consequences of decades of American foreign policy in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Unless some of the grievances against the United States are studied and addressed, terrorism will continue.
The New Legal Regime
The government has established a tripartite plan in its efforts to eradicate terrorism in the United States. President Bush has created a new cabinet-level Homeland Security Office; the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating thousands of individuals and groups and making hundreds of arrests; and Congress is enacting new laws that will grant the FBI and other intelligence agencies vast new powers to wiretap and spy on people in the United States:
• The Office of Homeland Security
• FBI Investigations and Arrests
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attack, Attorney General John Ashcroft focused on non-citizens, whether permanent residents, students, temporary workers or tourists. Normally, an alien can only be held for 48 hours prior to the filing of charges. Ashcroft's new regulation allowed arrested aliens to be held without any charges for a "reasonable time," presumably months or longer.
The FBI began massive detentions and investigations of individuals suspected of terrorist connections, almost all of them non-citizens of Middle Eastern descent; over 1,100 have been arrested. Many were held for days without access to lawyers or knowledge of the charges against them; many are still in detention. Few, if any, have been proven to have a connection with the September 11 attacks and remain in jail despite having been cleared. In some cases, people were arrested merely for being from a country like Pakistan and having expired student visas. Stories of mistreatment of such detainees are not uncommon.
Apparently, some of those arrested are not willing to talk to the FBI, although they have been offered shorter jail sentences, jobs, money and new identities. Astonishingly, the FBI and the Department of Justice are discussing methods to force them to talk, which include "using drugs or pressure tactics such as those employed by the Israeli interrogators." The accurate term to describe these tactics is torture. Our government wants to torture people to make them talk. There is resistance to this even from law enforcement officials. One former FBI Chief of Counter Terrorism, said in an October New York Newsday article, "Torture goes against every grain in my body. Chances are you are going to get the wrong person and risk damage or killing them."
As torture is illegal in the United States and under international law, U.S. officials risk lawsuits by such practices. For this reason, they have suggested having another country do their dirty work; they want to extradite the suspects to allied countries where security services threaten family members and use torture. It would be difficult to imagine a more ominous signal of the repressive period we are facing.
The FBI is also currently investigating groups it claims are linked to terrorism -- among them pacifist groups such as the U.S. chapter of Women in Black, which holds vigils to protest violence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The FBI has threatened to force members of Women in Black to either talk about their group or go to jail. As one of the group's members said, "If the FBI cannot or will not distinguish between groups who collude in hatred and terrorism, and peace activists who struggle in the full light of day against all forms of terrorism we are in serious trouble."
Unfortunately, the FBI does not make that distinction. We are facing not only the roundup of thousands on flimsy suspicions, but also an all-out investigation of dissent in the United States:
• The New Anti-Terrorist Legislation
Rights of Aliens
Prior to the legislation, anti-terrorist laws passed in the wake of the 1996 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma had already given the government wide powers to arrest, detain and deport aliens based upon secret evidence -- evidence that neither the alien nor his attorney could view or refute. The current proposed legislation makes it even worse for aliens.
First, the law would permit "mandatory detention" of aliens certified by the attorney general as "suspected terrorists." These could include aliens involved in barroom brawls or those who have provided only humanitarian assistance to organizations disfavored by the United States. Once certified in this way, an alien could be imprisoned indefinitely with no real opportunity for court challenge. Until now, such "preventive detention" was believed to be flatly unconstitutional.
Second, current law permits deportation of aliens who support terrorist activity; the proposed law would make aliens deportable for almost any association with a "terrorist organization." Although this change seems to have a certain surface plausibility, it represents a dangerous erosion of Americans' constitutionallyprotected rights of association. "Terrorist organization" is a broad and open-ended term that could include liberation groups such as the Irish Republican Army, the African National Congress, or civic groups that have ever engaged in any violent activity, such as Greenpeace. An alien who gives only medical or humanitarian aid to similar groups, or simply supports their political message in a material way could be jailed indefinitely.
More Powers to the FBI and CIA
A key element in the new law is the wide expansion of wiretapping. In the United States wiretapping is permitted, but generally only when there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and a judge signs a special wiretapping order that contains limited time periods, the numbers of the telephones wiretapped and the type of conversations that can be overheard.
In 1978, an exception was made to these strict requirements, permitting wiretapping to be carried out to gather intelligence information about foreign governments and foreign terrorist organizations. A secret court was established that could approve such wiretaps without requiring the government to show evidence of criminal conduct. In doing so the constitutional protections necessary when investigating crimes could be bypassed. Eventually, the secret court's jurisdiction was expanded so that it could permit the FBI to secretly search homes and offices as well as obtain bank records and the like. The secret court is little more than a rubber stamp for wiretapping requests by the spy agencies. It has authorized over 10,000 wiretaps in its 22-year existence, approximately a thousand last year, and has apparently never denied a request.
Under the new law, the same secret court will have the power to authorize wiretaps and secret searches of homes in criminal cases -- not just to gather foreign intelligence. The FBI will be able to wiretap individuals and organizations without meeting the stringent requirements of the Constitution. The law will authorize the secret court to permit roving wiretaps of any phones, computers or cell phones that might possibly be used by a suspect. Widespread reading of e-mail will be allowed, even before the recipient opens it. Thousands of conversations will be listened to or read that have nothing to do with the suspect or any crime.
The new legislation is filled with many other expansions of investigative and prosecutorial power, including wider use of undercover agents to infiltrate organizations, longer jail sentences and lifetime supervision for some who have served their sentences, more crimes that can receive the death penalty and longer statutes of limitations for prosecuting crimes. Another provision of the new bill makes it a crime for a person to fail to notify the FBI if he or she has "reasonable grounds to believe" that someone is about to commit a terrorist offense. The language of this provision is so vague that anyone, however innocent, with any connection to anyone suspected of being a terrorist can be prosecuted.
Overall, the new legislation represents one of the most sweeping assaults on liberties in the last 50 years. It is unlikely to make us more secure; it is certain to make us less free.
Censorship at Home: Unofficial and Official
Censorship in the United States during this war period is rampant. The White House press secretary, Ari Fleisher, warned that "people have to watch what they say and what they do." A prevalent attitude is that you are either with us or against us; questioning the practices and policies of the United States is considered unpatriotic. Dissenters from the drumbeats of war or those who want to examine underlying causes for the attack are given almost no voice; if they dare to speak they are roundly castigated. The logic is that we do not criticize our nation at war and that to examine causes is to excuse the terrorists.
This is what happened when Susan Sontag, the New York intellectual, disputed the assumption that the September 11 attack was an assault on "civilization" or "liberty." Instead she wrote that it was an attack on "the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions." She was furiously attacked in the media as part of the "hate-America crowd" and as "morally obtuse." Almost anyone who dares examine what might lie behind the hatred felt by many in the Mideast toward America is attacked for those views. The New York Daily News described those who sought to look at the roots of the terror as "60's throwbacks, radical Muslims, far-far-left fringe and just plain wackdoodles ... [that] the enemy might love."
Self-censorship by the media and even liberal organizations is also occurring. Often this occurs by simply not airing alternative views -- one show actually cutoff the microphone in mid -sentence of a guest arguing for a legal not a military response. A radio station apparently fired a well-known journalist for broadcasting an interview with the one member of Congress, Barbara Lee, who voted against the war. A number of journalists have been fired for criticizing the president. TV stations have rarely covered the protests against the war and the views of those opposed to the war are demeaned. A New York Times headline about a peace demonstration was titled "Protestors Urge Peace with Terrorists" despite calls at the demonstration for bringing the terrorists to justice.
Almost no criticism of U.S. leaders is permitted--even when unrelated to the war. Two major environmental organizations, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, pulled ads criticizing Bush's environmental policies and one even removed critical comments from its website. The long-running website criticizing the policies of Mayor Giuliani of New York was taken down and replaced with a message of support for him. A group of news organizations including The New York Times decided not to publish the results of its recount of the votes in the disputed presidential election in Florida; it was believed it would undermine the legitimacy of the president.
Government censorship has become more and more overt. For a short while President Bush said he was going to curtail military and intelligence briefings to Congress. This would have cut the Congress out of the war making process and left all decisions in the hands of the President--an act both dangerous and unconstitutional. Luckily, the president reversed himself within a few days, but whether he is giving Congress a full report is unknown.
However, the press receives very little information; it receives briefings of a general nature about military affairs, but reporters are not permitted to accompany the troops onto the aircraft carriers or even into Oman, where Army Rangers are based. Nor has there been full access to government officials; many have refused to answer requests for interviews. These are the most severe restrictions on the press probably in U.S. history, and certainly since before World War II.
The most remarkable act of censorship was the government's request that the five major TV networks not fully air the prerecorded statements of Osama bin Laden and his associates. The White House claimed it did not want bin Laden's propaganda messages about killing Americans widely broadcast, and that the statements might contain secret codes. Neither reason made much sense: bin Laden's statements are already widely available around the world, and airing them in the United States would more likely build support for the war among Americans, not undermine it. As for secret messages, the government admits that none have been found. Nonetheless, the TV networks agreed not to run the tapes, and the government has extended its request to print media.
The United States has always prided itself on its constitutional protection of free speech and a free press, a freedom considered especially important at times of war when vigorous public debate is essential to a democracy.
It is not uncommon for governments to reach for draconian law enforcement solutions in times of war or national crisis. It has happened often in the United States and elsewhere. We should learn from historical example: times of hysteria, of war, and of instability are not the times to rush to enact new laws that curtail our freedoms and grant more authority to the government and its intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
The U.S government has conceptualized the war against terrorism as a permanent war, a war without boundaries. Terrorism is frightening to all of us, but it's equally chilling to think that in the name of antiterrorism our government is willing to suspend constitutional freedoms permanently as well.
Michael Ratner is a human rights attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.
The Bishops and Just War
“Our nation and the Church are being tested in fundamental ways.” So concludes the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ November 14th pastoral message “Living With Faith and Hope After September 11.” Wisely, the bishops recognize in their letter that the cause of the September 11 attacks has much to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the sanctions on Iraq, the continuing war in Sudan, the abuse of human rights worldwide, the US role in the conventional arms trade, and the “grinding poverty amidst plenty.” After September 11, they say that it is a time for, among other things, prayer, fasting, and teaching. We should, they say, share our principles with others and teach our fellow Catholics about just war theory. These are all good things, and I’m relieved to finally (over two months after the fact) hear the bishops acknowledge what many on the left have been saying all along: that the tragedies of September 11 cannot be quickly dismissed as merely a problem of fundamentalist Islam, nor as ‘senseless’ acts of violence-the terrorists’ motivations are far more complex than that.
What the bishops did say in response to September 11 isn’t a problem, but what they didn’t say is. The bishops, while clearly reiterating the very strict moral principles of just war theory, stopped short of declaring, as a conference, that this current war is just or unjust-leaving the matter for individual Catholics to squabble over. The bishops came to no consensus, acknowledging that while the principles of the just war theory are clear, individuals differ over how the principles are applied. This is the test, then, for the bishops: if the principles of just war theory are clear, then even with the limited information we have from Afghanistan why are the bishops so ambivalent about declaring this war just or unjust? We know enough about what is going on to make up our minds one way or the other. But this is more than a test for the bishops. The present test is for all Catholics, American or not, and the test is how far we will follow the Gospels’ teaching and the lived example of Jesus Christ. This is fundamental. The question of what it means to be Christian has, for many of us, never been more poignant.
We have two options. In times of war, the Church has traditionally upheld for us two clear alternatives with which Catholics may legitimately respond: pacifism and ‘just war.’ The first option, pacifism, though respected by the Church, is not the prevailing viewpoint of most Catholics-especially now. Professor Charles Rice of the Notre Dame law school recently went so far as to argue that ‘extreme’ pacifism contradicts the Church. Not all on the right agree with him: in their December 2001 issue, the editors of First Things, a traditionally conservative journal, regard even ‘extreme’ pacifism as a heroic virtue and an example of radical discipleship. The editors find what they call ‘real’ pacifism (which they erroneously define as complete nonresistance to evil-calling nonviolent resistance a ‘fraudulent’ form of pacifism) to be “institutionalized in monasticism” among Catholics, and present among Protestants in small groups such as the Mennonites and the Amish. They respect these ‘real’ pacifists as morally righteous and logically coherent in their practices and beliefs, but they quickly brush such pacifism aside as un-‘real’ ideals for “the rest of us.” Pacifism is an unreal ideal for most of us; it is terribly difficult to suffer violence and not respond likewise. So, for those not called to be monks, martyrs, or Mennonites, the Church provides us with the option of waging a just war in self-defense and in defense of the innocent.
In their pastoral letter, the bishops acknowledge “the right and duty of a nation and the international community to use military force if necessary to defend the common good.” The bishops are clear in asserting that a military response must, however, be used as a last resort, and, because of the terrible consequences of a military response, “must always be undertaken with a sense of deep regret.” When military force is used, it must be in accord with moral principles and “such norms of the just war tradition as non-combatant immunity, proportionality, right intention and probability of success.” Some follow this; some toss it out altogether. St. Thomas More used the just war theory to condemn all war, seeing how no war in history or in the future could meet its strict criteria in reality. John Howard Yoder, however, says that the question “Has there ever been a just war?” is wrong; he says, instead, that the fitting question “is whether in the current case those who claim that heritage [just war theory] are in fact letting it set the limits of their action.” Perhaps we should revise this question and ask not if those who claim the heritage of just war theory are letting it set the limits of their action, but rather if those who are actually waging the war (over 25% of the US military is Catholic) are letting it shape their action.
A true political realist, Professor Dan Lindley of the Notre Dame Government Department, sees this war in likely the same light as many in the US government and military. He has no patience for those who critique the war based on the ‘just war’ ideals of necessity, proportionality, and humanitarian consequences. Lindley says “we must use every tool at our disposal” to destroy al Qaeda, kill bin Laden, and oust the Taliban. President Bush echoed this, calling for bin Laden and those who harbor him to be brought to justice “dead or alive.”
More than just restating the just war criteria from the Catechism, the bishops urge that this war and every war must be “monitored on an ongoing basis” to ensure it does not violate the principles of just war theory. But the bishops themselves, Cardinal George most notably, have already failed to critically reevaluate this war “on an ongoing basis.” Cardinal George stated on October 9th that “this is a just war,” but has since failed to publicly evaluate the war and declare his position one way or the other. We are left, then, to presume that the Cardinal still believes this is just war. Cardinal George said that “our government” responded to the September 11th attacks “with careful deliberation” and that “our political and military leaders are using no more force than is necessary.” I question this. The bishops, again, are quick to acknowledge that those who subscribe to just war theory differ in how it is applied, but they nonetheless assert that the criteria must be taken as a whole to determine whether or not a war is just. One can easily argue that this current war fails to meet at least three criteria of just war theory. As all criteria must be met (or at least reasonably approached) for a war to be considered just, I see no basis for Cardinal George’s claim that this is a just war. Indeed, the burden of proof rests on those who call a war ‘just’ to show why it is. The following three points must be refuted if we are to call this war ‘just’:
First, it is not the case that all means to avoid war and end the conflict were exhausted or shown to be impractical and ineffective before the US started bombing. No legitimate or serious attempt to resolve the conflict peacefully was made. Moreover, I would argue that the time between September 11 and when the first bombs were dropped was not a time of reflection or debate about how to resolve the conflict without war, but rather a time to shore up international support and mobilize troops. The US never considered not going to war. The Taliban offered to put bin Laden on trial before the US started bombing. After the air attacks had commenced, the Taliban offered to hand bin Laden over to a third country for a trial; President Bush rejected this offer, saying, “When I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations.” As war could have been avoided, but purposefully wasn’t, this war fails the ‘Last Resort’ criterion of just war theory.
Second, there exists no real chance of success in this war. Other than ending terrorism, the US government has formulated no definition of what ‘success’ in this war is. Rooting out all terrorists is next to impossible, and this is surely made even more difficult by killing people and reducing to smaller pieces of rubble a country that was already in ruin. In the December 2001 issue of The Progressive, Howard Zinn asks, “How can a war be truly just when it involves the daily killing of civilians, when it causes hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to leave their homes to escape the bombs, when it may not find those who planned the September 11 attacks, and when it will multiply the ranks of people who are angry enough at this country to become terrorists themselves?” As the bishops note, the fuel for terrorists like bin Laden is the ubiquitous presence of the US military. The bishops also say “we must be sure that we do not violate the norms of civilian immunity.” But UNICEF estimates that 100,000 children will die in Afghanistan this winter as a result of being displaced by American bombs. The New York Times reported that US bombs have mistakenly hit residential areas in Kabul and-twice-the warehouses for the Red Cross. Again Howard Zinn: “Even if you grant that the intention is not to kill civilians, if they nevertheless become victims, again and again and again, can that be called an accident?” Thus, according to just war theory, because ‘success’ is not clear and because no serious effort to minimize civilian casualties has been employed, other means of ending terrorism must be used.
Third, it is not clear or even reasonably certain that bombing Afghanistan is an evil less than the evil to be eliminated, e.g. terrorism. The ends do not justify the means, and the not-very-discriminating use of cluster bombs and other weapons of great destruction guarantee that the loss of life, civilian life included, will be high. Dan Lindley says, “If we lose our will to combat terrorism at every level and with every means, we will eventually pay a terrible price.” This is for many a convincing argument. Even if we define ‘success’ as eliminating the possibility of a great evil (that a terrorist will obtain and use a weapon of mass destruction), we, as Catholics, are nevertheless bound to ensure such an end is achieved justly. For if we are successful in eliminating the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but kill hundreds of thousands of women and children in the process (read: Iraq), we have not been successful in living or acting justly-we must remember that glorifying God and living justly are why we are here.
The same logic that Lindley uses to support a ‘war on terrorists’ motivates the economic sanctions on Iraq and the popular support for the ‘Star Wars’ missile shield. This is a logic based in fear, what Thomas Merton called “the root of all war.” In opposition to this fear, Michael Baxter, CSC (who teaches a popular undergraduate course entitled “A Faith to Die For”) makes what is for many a disquieting suggestion: “We are not here to survive; we are here to live justly,” he says. We are afraid to live justly. It’s too hard, too unsettling, and makes too much of a demand on us as individuals. But seeing ourselves as individuals, as Americans, as justified in any military response, is antithetical to both pacifism and just war theory, too-the only options we have. Our test is not how much we can do as individuals or as a nation, but rather how far we will follow our faith as members of the mystical Body of Christ. Being ‘theoretical’ proponents of a ‘theory’ of just war is even worse than being altogether indifferent to war. We can reaffirm, reiterate, repeat, and restate the criteria of the just war theory, but unless we allow these principles to bind us and shape our actions, they become nothing more than hollow rhetoric and empty repetition.
Kyle Smith is a graduate student in Early Christian Studies and a member of Common Sense.
So Bush Did Steal the White House!
George W. Bush now appears to have claimed the most powerful office in the world by blocking a court-ordered recount of votes in Florida that likely would have elected Al Gore to be president of the United States.
A document, revealed by Newsweek magazine, indicates that the Florida recount that was stopped last year by five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court would have taken into account so-called “overvotes” that heavily favored Gore.
If those “overvotes” were counted, as now it appears they would have been, Gore would have carried Florida regardless of what standard of chad - dimpled, hanging, punched-through - was used in counting the so-called “undervotes,” according to an examination of those ballots by a group of leading news organizations.
In other words, Bush lost not only the national popular vote by more than a half million ballots, but he would have lost the key state of Florida and thus the presidency, if Florida’s authorities had been allowed to count the votes that met the state’s legal requirement of demonstrating the clear intent of the voter.
The Newsweek disclosure - a memo that the presiding judge in the state recount sent to a county canvassing board - shows that the judge was instructing the county boards to collect “overvotes” that had been rejected for indicating two choices for president when, in reality, the voters had made clear their one choice.
“If you would segregate ‘overvotes’ as you describe and indicate in your final report how many where you determined the clear intent of the voter,” wrote Judge Terry Lewis, who had been named by the Florida Supreme Court to oversee the statewide recount, “I will rule on the issue for all counties.”
Lewis’s memo to the chairman of the Charlotte County canvassing board was written on Dec. 9, 2000, just hours before Bush succeeded in getting five conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the Florida recount.
Lewis has said in more recent interviews that he might well have expanded the recount to include those “overvotes.” Indeed, it would be hard to imagine that he wouldn’t count those legitimate votes once they were recovered by the counties and were submitted to Lewis.
The “overvotes” in which voters marked the name of their choice and also wrote in his name would be even more clearly legal votes than the so-called “undervotes” which were kicked out for failing to register a choice that could be read by voting machines.
This new information indicating that the wrong presidential candidate moved into the White House also makes a mockery of the Nov. 12 front-page stories of the New York Times, the Washington Post and other leading news outlets, which stated that Bush would have won regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.
Those stories were based on the hypothetical results if the state-ordered recount had looked only at “undervotes.” The news organizations assumed, incorrectly it now appears, that the “overvotes” would have been excluded from such a tally, leaving Bush with a tiny lead.
In going with the “Bush Wins” headlines, the news organizations downplayed their more dramatic finding that Gore would have won if a full statewide recount had been conducted in accordance with state law. Using the clear-intent-of-the-voter standard, Gore beat Bush by margins ranging from 60 to 171 votes, depending on what standard was used in judging the “undervotes.”
Beyond the big newspapers’ false assumptions about the state recount, the news stories showed a pro-Bush bias in their choice of language and the overall slant of the articles.
The New York Times, for instance, used the word “would” and even declarative statements when referring to Bush prevailing in hypothetical partial recounts. By contrast, the word “might” was used when mentioning that Gore topped Bush if all ballots were considered.
“A comprehensive review of the uncounted Florida ballots,” the Times wrote, “reveal that George W. Bush would have won even if the United States Supreme Court had allowed the statewide manual recount of the votes that the Florida Supreme Court had ordered to go forward. Contrary to what many partisans of former Vice President Al Gore have charged, the United State Supreme Court did not award an election to Mr. Bush that otherwise would have been won by Mr. Gore.”
Two paragraphs later, the Times noted that the examination of all rejected ballots “found that Mr. Gore might have won if the courts had ordered a full statewide recount. … The findings indicate that Mr. Gore might have eked out a victory if he had pursued in court a course like the one he publicly advocated when he called on the state to ‘count all the votes.’”
Left out of that formulation, which suggests that Gore was a hypocrite, is the fact that Bush rejected Gore’s early proposal for a full statewide recount. Bush also waged a relentless campaign of obstruction that left no time for the state courts to address the equal-protection-under-the-law concerns raised by the U.S. Supreme Court in its final ruling on Dec. 12, 2000.
Note also how the Times denigrates as misguided Gore “partisans” those American citizens who concluded, apparently correctly, that the U.S. Supreme Court awarded the election to Bush.
The headlines, too, favored Bush. The Times’ front-page headline on Nov. 12 read, “Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote.” The Washington Post’s headline read, “Florida Recounts Would Have Favored Bush.”
The pro-Bush themes in the headlines and stories were repeated over and over by television and other newspapers, creating a widespread belief among casual news consumers that Bush had prevailed in the full statewide recount, rather than only in truncated recounts based on dubious hypotheses.
Now, Judge Lewis’s memo undercuts both the tone and the content of those news reports. It is certainly not clear anymore that the state-ordered recount would have favored Bush. It also appears likely that the interference by the U.S. Supreme Court was decisive. Based on the new evidence, the major newspapers look to be wrong on both these high-profile points.
Beyond Gore’s narrow victory from the recoverable ballots, the news organizations concluded - but played down - that Gore lost thousands of unrecoverable ballots because of flawed ballot designs in several Democratic strongholds. Gore lost other votes because Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration disqualified hundreds of predominantly black voters who were falsely labeled felons.
The New York Times also reported that Bush achieved a net gain of about 290 votes by getting illegally cast absentee votes counted in Republican counties while enforcing the rules strictly in Democratic counties. Though the new recount tallies did not include any adjustments for these irregularities, the news organizations estimated that Gore lost tens of thousands of votes from these disparities, compared to Bush’s official victory margin of 537 votes.
For months, the leading news organizations have been bending over backwards to protect Bush’s fragile legitimacy, possibly out of concern for the nation’s image in a time of crisis. Yet, whatever the motivation for trying to make Bush look good, the evidence is now overwhelming that Bush strong-armed his way, illegitimately, to the presidency.
In the days immediately after the election, Bush obstructed a full-and-fair recount in Florida, even dispatching hooligans from outside the state to intimidate vote counters. When Gore pressed for recounts in the courts, Bush sent in lawyers to prevent the tallies. Then, after losing before the Florida Supreme Court and the federal appeals court, Bush ultimately got a friendly hearing from five political allies on the U.S. Supreme Court.
If Bush truly respected the precepts of democracy and what those principles mean to the world, he could have joined Gore in demanding as full and fair a Florida recount as possible. He could have accepted the results, win or lose.
Instead Bush opted for the opposite course, deciding that his getting the White House was more important than the voters having their judgment accepted, both nationally and in Florida. By refusing to hold Bush accountable for his key role in thwarting the voters’ will, the major news organizations are not doing the cause of democracy any service.
It turns out that the thousands of demonstrators who protested Bush’s Inauguration were closer to the truth when they shouted at his motorcade, “Hail to the Thief!”
©consortiumnews.com. November 22, 2001
Becoming a Void: The Social and Economic Invisibility of the Poor
Every day in the United States millions of wageworkers participate in a system that offers them subsistence in return for their soul. The level of sustenance varies somewhat among members of this group, but with the lowest third receiving little more than enough to survive to work another day.
For many members of the lowest sector of wage earners, survival is a goal achieved through profound strength and dedication in the face of endless toil and ceaseless hardship. The role of wage labor in American society is examined in two recently published books. Barbara Ehrenreich's account records her personal experience of complete immersion in poor America. She depicts an America segregated by rigid distinctions in class that serve to threaten the very existence of the poor. In her analysis of the social invisibility of the wageworker, she finds common ground with Ben Cheever, who embarked upon his own odyssey in wage earning. Together, the entirety of Barbara Ehrenreich's work and the message of social invisibility in Ben Cheever's, provide a powerful indictment of the myth of prosperity in the United States, and question the continuing existence of an economy built on those it negates.
In Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Barbara Ehrenreich places herself within the large class of American workers who attempt to survive on a daily basis receiving poverty-level wages. Ultimately, Ehrenreich finds, making a living in America is extraordinarily difficult, and making a life is nearly impossible. Ehrenreich's sojourn in the depths of poverty began in 1998, as the US economy was experiencing a period of growth and prosperity. As her journey continued however, it became painfully apparent that the poorest Americans went completely untouched by the upturn in the nation's financial health. In fact, Ehrenreich found, the financial gains of the wealthy served to perpetuate the economic and social subjugation of the poor.
This was most clearly evinced in her continuous struggle for low-budget housing. During her project, Ehrenreich lived in apartments, trailer parks, and even extended-stay hotels and motels. Each arrangement had advantages and disadvantages, and often there was no real choice between them. She was forced to live in whatever was available at a reasonable cost, which meant living on microwave food in motels, having no room to stand in a trailer, and coping with the reflux of raw sewage onto her apartment floor. Such living conditions were standard for her and her peers. In one case, she noticed that two friends rented an apartment barely large enough for one. They traded off sleeping in a car and in the bed in the apartment so as to be allowed minimal comfort every-other night. In other cases entire families lived in rooms the size of which she found to be small for her alone. Such occurrences, standard for an entire class of Americans, were merely something to be endured for a single month by Ehrenreich. She found that each arrangement entailed a litany of inconveniences. Ultimately, however, regardless of type of housing found by Ehrenreich, it proved to be unaffordable even when working two jobs for a total of over 60 hours a week.
The increase in the cost of housing that proved crippling to Ehrenreich's budget is an indirect result of the economic prosperity that has been carefully shielded from the poor. As earnings rise for the wealthy and remain stagnant for the poor, competition for available housing naturally favors those who can afford higher rents. This eventually forces those struggling to subsist quite literally out into the cold. As Ehrenreich remarked, "the housing subsidy I normally receive in my real life--over $20,000 a year in the form of a mortgage-interest deduction--would have allowed a truly low-income family to live in relative splendor." Instead, "the poor have necessarily been forced into housing that is more expensive, more dilapidated, or more distant from their places of work."
The widening of the economic rift between the wealthy and the poor has largely been ignored due to the relatively consistent poverty level, which is currently around 12.5% according to the 2000 census. This estimate however, does not even approach the actual state of emergency in which many Americans live. According to the Economic Policy Institute, roughly 29% of American families do not make enough money to provide the necessities for living.
The disparity between the poverty figures and the actual magnitude of the crisis is due to the method of calculation. The national poverty level has, since the 1960s, been calculated by the rather crude method of multiplying the average cost of subsistence-level food by three. Such an estimate, though flawed from the beginning, was slightly more reasonable in the 1960s, when food accounted for approximately 24% of the family budget. Currently however, this index is a woefully inadequate measure of financial health, as food only accounts for an average of 16% of the family budget. This is attributable to the sharp rise in housing costs remarked upon above.
Living-wage models are aimed at rectifying this disparity. These indices estimate the combined cost of all necessities, and account for regional differences in the cost of housing. Using living wage criteria to estimate financial despair would be a step toward recognizing the true extent of the economic ills of American society. However, in a country where the poor are systematically negated, politicians will likely hold fast to the smaller, more comfortable figures, even at the expense of millions of workers.
The invisibility of the poor was consistently displayed on a twofold level: economically and socially. Just as poverty statistics render the majority of the poor economically invisible, their work creates a similar social pathology. In every job Ehrenreich worked, she faced stark divisions between the employers and the employed. Whether working as a maid, a waitress, or a sales associate, the wealthy customers or management were consistently shown to be incapable of recognizing or having compassion for the workforce that sustained them. This division between employer and employed, witnessed on a small scale in each job, underscored the pervasive theme of a divided America. A fellow maid, when questioned by Ehrenreich about the lack of regard exhibited by the homeowner for whom she toiled, responded, "We're nothing to these people." Sadly, this sentiment was echoed by coworkers in every place Ehrenreich worked.
Ben Cheever also bore witness to the invisibility of the economically oppressed in his work, Selling Ben Cheever: Back to Square One in a Service Economy. While working as a charity Santa he was consistently ignored by the young and wealthy, who rushed by in their suits without even glancing in his direction. Later, when working as a clerk in a computer store, he was awed by the disregard shown him by the very customers whom he went to great lengths to please. In that same store, the conflict within was also made explicit when his manager ran down the list of employees at the end of the day, informing them of how "In one category or another, we all sucked." This saddening picture of a working-class largely invisible and inconsequential to the wealthy, marks the consensus between the two works. An entire population of people, ignored and marginalized by the system they support through their body and spirit-breaking labors, is the painful corollary to the prosperity of wealthy America.
The tone of Barbara Ehrenreich's examination of the economic and social inequities created by continued neglect and negation of the poor is necessarily dark. To a wageworker, the battle for survival is a daily ordeal. Her work expresses tremendous admiration and profound sympathy for those who do daily what she was unable to do: survive on next to nothing. Additionally, along with the work of Ben Cheever, it questions the continued existence of an economic system built on the bodies of workers that remain nameless and faceless to their economic superiors.
Despite this system of exploitation and dehumanization that threatens to disintegrate an entire class already deemed invisible, many workers are able to find solidarity. Moving interactions among their fellow employees were recounted in each book. The offering of a sandwich to a fellow worker, weak and pale from lack of nourishment, the break-time discussions about their families, who provide vital emotional and financial support; such beautiful assertions of human dignity stand in stark contrast to the abuse endured by the very people who bear the burden of an inhumane economic system. Thus, even as the outside world attempts to ignore the poor and dispossessed, they continue to assert their humanity to those willing to listen.
But even the strongest foundation is eventually undermined by continued stress. If this neglect continues indefinitely, the foundation will finally give way. Those nearest the ground may survive, but those that stand upon them will be crushed.
John Wojcik is a sophomore Biology and Philosophy major and a member of Common Sense.
Autumn Leaves, Autumn Love
We live in a world that is not our own,
Already, you can see it--
What of these blazoned days?
is there now space for us?
Where is the space
is that really now all changed?
Where, under the pressure of reality,
all say again, say once more,
Jacque Vaught Brogan is Professor of English at Notre Dame. Her recent writing includes Notes from the Body (poetry) and Words, War, and Women: The Critical Stages of Wallace Stevens' Revolutionary Poetics. This is the fifteenth in her series of fall leaf poems for Common Sense.
Where I Was
Each morning remains unchanged,
Jessica Maich is a graduate of the Notre Dame Creative Writing Program. She resides in Granger, Indiana.
1962, and there we were, a hundred stories high,
with the sky. "Top of the world, Ma," our wise-guy shouted,
On the way down, we met a circus troupe of policemen
Driving home from the courthouse, my old man was fit to be
Max Westler teaches English at Saint Mary's and is a regular contributor to Common Sense.