Volume 17, Number 3
US in Denial as Poverty Rises
Daring to Talk about Zionism
G.W. Bush, Advocate for the Common Man
Freedom to be Ourselves
Gun Cult - Big and Small
A Rude Awakening
Israel: Desperate Alternatives
'No mas' to US-sponsored Terrorist Training
Phil Donahue Hails Victim as "Patron Saint"
A Dark Week for Democracy
Free Libraries, Free Societies
Send a Buck, Save a Life - Bush Won't
How to Shut Up Your Critics with a Single Word
Letters to the Editor:
Sex-Abuse Scandals in the Church
Master of the Universe
Swept Up to Heaven
: Apocalyptic Fundamentalism and the Crusade for Israel
In the November issue of Common Sense, Anatol Lieven suggested that Christian fundamentalists have helped to foment support for a US-led war in Iraq. Lieven went on to say, "the influence of millenarian thought [typical of much Christian fundamentalist theology] is equally important in shaping support for Israel: the existence of the Israeli state is seen as a necessary prelude to the arrival of the Antichrist, the Apocalypse and the [1000-year] rule of Christ and His saints." If Lieven's assertion is correct-and the evidence indicates that it is-then we are presented with yet another reason to question the foreign policy of the Bush administration. Unfortunately, the apocalyptic eschatology of Christian fundamentalism is no longer confined to the lunatic fringe of the Christian right. The number of Christians of the fundamentalist stripe has been growing steadily for the past three decades via, among other things, the fundamentalists' rather savvy appropriation of broadcast and print media. While scholars debate the socio-cultural roots of the wide popular appeal of fundamentalist theology, fundamentalist preachers continue to spread their fiery message. As Martha Patzer indicated in these pages last month, serious money and serious political influence are helping the likes of the Rev. Donald Wildmon and his "American Family Radio" to over power and buy out NPR affiliates across the country. In addition to filling the airwaves with broadcasts such as "Teaching People God's Financial Principles," fundamentalists are filling the bookshelves, too. Remnant, the tenth novel in Jerry Jenkins and Rev. Tim LaHaye's apocalyptic Left Behind series, recently debuted atop the New York Times bestseller list. The Left Behind series, a collection of stories detailing the events after the 'rapture'-which according to a fundamentalist reading of the Bible entails seven years of tribulation leading up to the cataclysmic Battle of Armageddon-has already sold over 50 million copies.
Admittedly, how a few conservative radio shows and a glut of poorly written, heavy-handed novels might affect US foreign policy is not immediately apparent. But when one considers that the millions both tuning into American Family Radio and buying the paperbacks of Rev. LaHaye's tales also complement the conservative constituency that elected President Bush and delivered Congress back to the Republicans, then perhaps the reason to worry becomes more evident. Make no mistake, it is not all conservatives nor even all Republicans, per se, who are 'people of concern,' but rather it is those within the GOP who are themselves fundamentalist Christians, or who are at least keen to sympathize with fundamentalist ideology.
Of course fundamentalists are not the only ones whose theology influences their politics; to be sure, the reality is quite the opposite. It is ridiculous to suppose that one's "private" religious beliefs (or lack thereof) can somehow be sequestered, divided from and have no influence upon one's "public" political opinions. The problem, however, arises when one completely abjures the truth and value of other religious faiths and even, I might grumblingly add, the value of secular-humanist beliefs, so to weld a bigoted theology with a very specific political agenda. For Christian fundamentalists have not only gone to great lengths to egregiously misconstrue orthodox Christian theology, but they have also striven to couple their religious zealotry with political leverage extending to the highest echelons of government-and they have succeeded. Second only to American weapons industrialists and arms profiteers, fundamentalist Christian Zionists espousing a "pre-millennial" eschatology have done the most to shape current US policy towards Israel. Some definition of terms: 'Fundamentalist' here refers to those who read the Bible literally-and often quite selectively. 'Christian Zionist' refers to all those Christians who support the nation-state of Israel, but more specifically to those who maintain based on God's promise to Abraham in Genesis that the Jews have a God-given right to occupy all the lands of Palestine from Egypt to Iraq- Eretz Israel. As will be explained below, Christian support for Israel on biblical grounds alone necessarily entails-as theologians since the earliest days of the Church have argued-both a failure to appreciate the import of the Incarnation and a misunderstanding of the Old Testament and the way in which it must be read by Christians: with Christian eyes.
Finally, 'pre-millennial eschatology' indicates those who expect the second coming of Jesus, the rapture, the tribulation and the Battle of Armageddon before the 1000-year reign of God on Earth. This is, as many scholars of Christian eschatology have pointed out, in contradistinction to both 'post-millennialists'-such as 17th century Scottish Presbyterians, who expect Jesus to return only after the kingdom of God has spread throughout the world-and 'amillennialists' such as Orthodox Christians, Catholics and most mainline Protestants, who believe that the kingdom of God is spiritual in nature and not one that will be physically set-up on Earth.
The impending doom that the fundamentalists envision is a spectacularly imaginative scenario. Three things must happen: First, Israel must be restored in the Holy Land as a political 'state'-this happened in 1948. Second, Jerusalem must be established as the spiritual capital of the Israeli state and ruled over by the Jews-this effectively happened with the overwhelming Israeli military victory in the Six Day War of 1967. Third, the Temple must be reconstructed on the Temple Mount (al-Haram ash-Sharif). In order to build the Third Temple, the al-Aqsa Mosque and one of Islam's holiest sites, the Dome of the Rock, must first be destroyed. If this were to happen, it would surely inflame the violence in Israel/Palestine into a monstrous, inter-regional conflagration. Fortunately, most Israelis recognize this and, incidentally, would probably be at a loss as to what to do if a Third Temple were built-the modern synagogue services that have developed since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD are based upon not having a temple in which to sacrifice animals.
As the fundamentalist story continues, the establishment of the Israeli state and Jewish rule over Jerusalem will take place amidst an "increase in decadence in the world" and a push towards a "global, one-world government." And, as Rev. LaHaye recently told Terry Gross in an interview on NPR's Fresh Air, a "conspiracy of financiers behind world-affairs" will develop with global disarmament as one of their aims. In Rev. LaHaye's novels, the head of the United Nations is, interestingly enough, the Antichrist. Thus, pre-millennialist "Christians" quite strangely regard working for global peace as something that is at its core an anti-Christian enterprise. By way of illustrating this, I can point to my personal experience of the supposedly 'anti-Christian' nature of working for peace. When I worked as a lobbyist for Illinois Peace Action in Chicago a few years ago, I was instructed not to waste my time attempting to persuade "Jehovah's Witnesses and fundamentalists" to support Peace Action's work. I considered this to be a rather facile and defeatist admonition, so, always the contrarian, I disregarded it. I very quickly learned why I should have heeded the warning. In an unfortunate, and unfortunately rather raucous, exchange with one self-proclaimed 'Bible Christian' who did not fancy the notion of 'peace,' I was told in no uncertain terms both where to go and how to get there. In another instance-this time with a Jehovah's Witness-after dodging a flurry of Bible verses and mounting a counter-attack with a pathetic salvo of my own (never a good idea for us biblically illiterate Catholics-who knew that there was a prophet named 'Haggai'?), the conversation ended abruptly when I was insulted as "a Trinitarian." How does one respond to that? In any case, once the groundwork is laid-Israel is a state once more, Jerusalem is controlled by the Jews and the Third Temple has been built-fundamentalists argue that the rapture will soon follow, wherein all the 'saved' (those who profess Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior) would be swept up bodily into heaven and meet the Lord in the clouds. Those 'left behind' would be faced with the wrath of God. (It should be discomforting for many of us here at Notre Dame that, as Catholics, we are the 'handmaidens of Satan' and the 'whores of Babylon.' Apparently, 'whore' status disqualifies one from being assumed in the rapture. Nevertheless, there are certain benefits accorded to us whores. As I see it, they are twofold: first, we would all have time to stay on campus and finish our degrees before the world ends; and second, as something of a side-benefit, without pesky teams from Nebraska and Texas to worry about, the ND vs. Boston College match-up could become the marquee event in college football.)
By all accounts, the intricacies of the modern fundamentalist theology behind the rapture and the other apocalyptic events date back to John Darby, a 19th century British preacher. Fundamentalists, though, will rarely acknowledge their inheritance of Darby's unraveling of Scripture, seeking as they do to present a literal reading of the Bible bereft of any context or pattern of historical interpretation. However, millenarianism is surely not the sole repose of British or American fundamentalists. Apocalyptic prophecy has been around for centuries in various guises within all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Islam and early, medieval and modern Christianity. As Fr. Robert Kerby, a Byzantine-rite Catholic priest, expressed in a homily delivered on September 1, 2002 (the beginning of the ecclesiastical year in many Eastern Churches), even the Hellenistically-minded Byzantines played the numbers in attempting to calculate the end of the world. They deduced that God created the world in the year 5508 BC; they also supposed that the world would last for only 7000 years, thereby mirroring the seven days of creation. Adding 7000 to 5508 BC, the court mathematicians concluded that the end times would begin on Easter Sunday, 1492 AD.
In the mid-15th century, as the once indefatigable walls of Theodosius crumbled under the onslaught of Turkish canons, it seemed to every Byzantine man, woman and child that the apocalypse was indeed imminent. When Constantinople finally fell to the Turks in 1453, the venerable Church of Holy Wisdom was summarily converted into a mosque and the role of 'protector of orthodoxy' shifted from the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate to the Russian Patriarchate in Moscow. Almost forty years later, as Easter 1492 approached, the Russian authorities were so certain that the world was going to end they did not even bother to draw-up an ecclesiastical calendar for the weeks and months after Easter 1492.
Though the history of apocalypticism is long and fascinating, it is really only since the events in the Middle East of 1948 and 1967-when two of the events supposedly preceding the rapture became a reality-that a pre-millennarian eschatology began to enjoy renewed popular favor in the US. Soon after the Six Day War, Hal Lindsey published The Late Great Planet Earth (an apocalyptic forerunner to the Left Behind series) which was translated into more than four dozen languages and also sold about 50 million copies. Lindsey's books-and now more recent counterparts such as Mike Evans' Israel: America's Key to Survival and Darrell Cole's When God Says War is Right-were instrumental in shaping the New Christian Right during the late 1970s and early '80s. Indeed, it is no secret that Lindsey influenced President Reagan, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the elder President Bush during this time. To what extent President George W. Bush would agree with pre-millennial views is uncertain (his advisers, at least, are wise enough to keep him from discussing such things in public). However, it is more than clear that President Bush is not only sympathetic with Ariel Sharon and the current Israeli state, but that in courting the Christian Coalition, calling himself a 'born again' Christian and speaking at Bob Jones University (Rev. LaHaye's alma mater), he is sympathetic with fundamentalists, too. Just this past October, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, stood alongside Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell at the Christian Coalition Convention and proclaimed eternal support for Israel. Dick Armey, DeLay's predecessor and also a Texas Republican, recently stated on the political television show Hardball what amounts to a position of ethnic cleansing: he argued that all Palestinians should be expelled from Israel proper and Palestinian-occupied Israel. In each case, the views expressed were thoroughly and unabashedly theological. The more conservative elements in Israel, particularly those associated with the Likud Party, are eager to court the financial, political and moral support of Christian Zionists. When Bill Clinton was president and Benjamin Netanyahu was the Israeli prime minister, in a staggering slap in the face to secular policy-makers and the president, Netanyahu visited Jerry Falwell before meeting President Clinton in the Oval Office. In the November 18 edition of The Jerusalem Report, journalist Gershom Gorenberg notes that Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Tel Aviv, recently appointed Rev. Pat Robertson as the co-chairman of an outreach effort called the "Jerusalem Prayer Team." (The same Pat Robertson who blamed gays and feminists, among others, for the September 11th attacks.) The point of the organization is, as Gorenberg writes, "to recruit financial and political support from American evangelicals." Indeed, for thirty years certain rightist factions in Israel have encouraged fundamentalist preachers and their flocks to travel to Israel, visit biblical sites and meet with Israeli political and military leaders. President Bush participated in one of these pilgrimages while he was governor of Texas, and the president says he came back from Israel a 'changed man.' One need only tune in to Channel 46 right here in South Bend to find advertisements for Christian Zionist pilgrimages to Israel-half-hour long info-mercials often rife with support for the brutal policies of 'the only democracy in the Middle East,' a nation of God poised tenuously among infidels.
The irony in all of this is thick. The two most progressive members of the US Senate-Democrats Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and the late Paul Wellstone of Minnesota-are both Jews and yet both support a Palestinian state and have worked extensively for peace in Israel/Palestine. Senator Wellstone even accompanied President Clinton on a visit to the Gaza Strip four years ago. Yet, with Wellstone gone, and Feingold excluded, the Jewish intelligentsia in the US, once almost universally aligned with the Democrats, has in large part shifted to the Republican fold thanks to the GOP's unwavering support for Israel over and against the Palestinians.
But it is precisely the constituents within the Republican Party who account for the Party's support for Israel (read: Christian Zionists) who also proclaim that two-thirds of the Jews in Israel will die in the Battle of Armageddon, "when the 200 mile valley from the Sea of Galilee to Eilat will flow with irradiated blood several feet deep." Fundamentalists tepidly disclaim this series of events saying they do not (necessarily) desire things to happen this way, but that it is simply how God proclaims it to be in Scripture. Therefore, fundamentalist politics dictate that if Christians are to make it out of life alive (being swept up to heaven in the rapture), it is essential that the Israeli state and all the other preconditions for Jesus' second coming remain in place. This entails not only maintaining the present boundaries of Israel, but perhaps expanding those boundaries to include the occupied territories and beyond. Meanwhile, Likud supporters seem content to be bedfellows with the very people who predicate the slaughter of the Jews as a proviso for the salvation of Christians. A match made in heaven, indeed. Beyond the blurred line between politics and religion, the state of pop theology in the US is abhorrent-especially when supposedly intelligent and 'well-bred' politicians have been infected by the vitriolic ramblings of jingoistic preachers who consider all ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue to be demonic. The fundamentalist articulates a thumbnail's appreciation for mystery and poetry and displays an astounding feat of arrogance by attempting to chart the mind of God, pigeon-holing the 'saved' and the 'damned' as if creation were a spreadsheet or a Power Point slide. Fortunately, not all is lost. Some evangelical Christians, such as Stephen Sizer (a vicar of Christ Church in England), have openly declared the lunacy of fundamentalist Christian Zionism.
Last November, addressing the Evangelical Theological Society in Colorado Springs, Sizer said, "This is therefore not simply an academic debate over whether Christian Zionism marginalizes the centrality of the Cross, denigrates the [Church] as merely a parenthesis to God's ultimate purposes on Earth or that it disregards the most basic moral imperatives of the New Testament-and I believe that elements of Christian Zionism does all these-it is also a theology which, in my opinion, defends racism and apartheid on biblical grounds, is directly implicated in the denial of basic human rights, is complicit in the destruction of the indigenous Christian community in Israel/Palestine and is fueling the fire that may ignite into an apocalyptic war between Islam and the West. [Christian Zionists] are in the words of Donald Wagner, "Anxious for Armageddon."
The mystical body of the Church (and thus all tradition) also becomes unimportant in the face of fundamentalist scriptural certainty. For the fundamentalist, Scripture itself is the truth. As David Tracy puts it, "Scripture is the canonical witness to the revelatory event [the Incarnation of the Word], but it is not the revelatory event itself." Or, following an old Zen koan: "one mustn't mistake the moon for the finger pointing at the moon." When the purposely "obscure and obfuscating" words of the Christian prophetic-mystical tradition are broken by the insertion of the apocalyptic, Christianity, too, devolves into a "desperate fundamentalism."
But Tracy concedes that Christianity must include elements of the apocalyptic.
Christians must remember their own mortality by way of recognizing their duty to serve the poor, care for the sick, feed the hungry and spurn the acquisition of worldly treasures. As the novelist Muriel Spark reminds us, without a nightly remembrance of death life becomes insipid and "we might as well live on the whites of eggs." Christians, as Tracy indicates, should keep in mind the closing words of the book of Revelation which anticipate the kingdom of God: "Come, Lord Jesus, Come."
Nevertheless, as any student of Theology 101 knows, St. Augustine's City of God counsels Christians that our focus must be the heavenly rather than the earthly city, as is written in the letter to the Hebrews. And though we look toward the coming of that 'other city,' the city of God is not some futuristic, far-off place, but rather it is the spiritual Jerusalem which has already been inaugurated, as John Howard Yoder insists, with the suffering of the Messiah. Moreover, as St. John Chrysostom preaches, we have already been "enrolled as citizens of another state, the heavenly Jerusalem," upon our baptism as Christians. The eschatological era is not to be predicted by attempting to read the wildly mystical book of Revelation as a mathematical code to be taken literally and 'worked out' as if it were the crossword puzzle from the Sunday Times. True Christian discipleship is an on-going process of conversion and re-version to the Cross: to sit by and idly await the second coming-much less to attempt to arrange it by force-is incongruent with orthodox Christianity. In this way, Origen of Alexandria understands the Christian as, fundamentally, a pilgrim on the way to Christ through Christ. Writing over seventeen hundred years ago, Origen recognizes, as Fr. Brian Daley notes, that the scriptural prophecies of the eschatological Jerusalem should not be taken to imply an extended period of earthly beatitude. Origen implores Christians to awaken to the boundless mystery of God and to conceive of themselves as dwelling in tents "with which they always walk and always move on, and the farther they go, so much more does the road still to walk grow long and stretch out endlessly." Understanding Zion in this way, Christians do not anticipate an apocalypse, but, as citizens of the eschatological Jerusalem, understand that we are called to witness in peace.
Kyle Smith is a graduate student in Early Christian Studies and a member of Common Sense.
Well, it's that time of year again. Hannukah has already begun, and Christmas lights are appearing in cities. The stores are gearing up for their major annual merchandising push, radio stations are gravitating toward Christmas or generically religious music. New toys are making their appearance in various stores, and the lines are already forming for the best-hyped of them: the horrific Forward Command Post, a war toy recommended for children over five, maybe, or the violently amoral Grand Theft Auto III.
In my slightly funky former neighborhood in Toronto, ethnic crches have appeared in all the windows of the stores run by immigrants from places with beautiful names and scary histories - or scarier presents. Some are quite beautiful, and most have a poignant charm that comes from seeing the traditional nativity scene enacted in the local idiom of some distant locale, and represented by images of people who share the poverty the scene suggests. But I'm having a lot of trouble with crches this year. They're starting to look too clean, the babies all look too well fed and cared-for, his parents and attendants too cheerful and unafraid. And they're too likely to end up in houses with central heating, tasteful appointments and the smell of healthy food cooking for the favored children of this world.
Increasingly children are subjected at birth to a kind of hideous triage. Some (very few) children are born to trust funds, reserved places in the right pre-schools, government sinecures and inherited wealth, some (many more) to the protections of two income-families, child-proofing on medications, protective car seats in monster SUVs and suburban or parochial schooling. Some children - indeed, the vast majority of children - seem to be marked for discard as soon as they come into the world.
At the moment, this is most evident in the children of Iraq, who for years have been dying of hunger and disease from direct and indirect results of the UN sanctions. Many more will die if (all right, when) the US goes to war against Iraq. Children always die in greater numbers than anyone else from war and its "collateral damage." Children are also always the first and most numerous victims of food shortages and famine. The end of the war in Angola has exposed the desperate situation of the children in its interior, where relief workers are finding more and more children on the brink of salvation. In Zimbabwe, half the population is threatened with severe food problems and Ethiopia also is suffering from famine. All over the world children will starve because AIDS has devastated the adult population and too few adults who survive are well enough to plant crops for the coming year. Many of the children are themselves infected. This desolation is particularly acute in China and South Africa, where the governments have chosen silence or deceit about the epidemic.
US domestic policy is becoming equally hostile to children. Here the problem is not a lack of political will to change for the good of children, but a surfeit of political will for very different sorts of change. In the US, the last 25 years have seen a relentless upward redistribution of income so that now the top 1% of American families have an income nearly equal to the bottom 40%. That means the wealthiest 1% have as much income as the 100 million poorest Americans. George Bush's tax cuts will significantly increase that disparity. Recent studies have shown not only that hereditary wealth has always been an important factor in family prosperity in US, but also that its importance is on the increase and opportunities for social mobility diminishing. Should Bush succeed in revoking the estate tax, families like his will further solidify their grip on the nation's wealth.
Other domestic policies are equally hostile to children - though more obviously hostile to women. Consider the dispositions of Medicaid, for instance, in the case of an HIV positive mother from Mexico. If her baby is born in the US, s/he will be a citizen. But Medicaid will not pay for the antiretroviral drugs that would protect the child from the infection. Never mind that the antiretrovirals are a world-class bargain compared to the expense of caring for an infected baby for the one to ten agonizing years it might live. Worse still are the newer Medicaid rules. The older rules allow for a broader range of coverage for pregnant women - that is women whose income would normally be slightly too high for Medicaid are eligible for care when they are pregnant. Under the Bush administration's newly rewritten rules, the care only extends to the fetus, not to the mother. Care for the mother that does not directly benefit the fetus is not covered. That includes illness or injury to the mother during pregnancy, pain medication during labor, or any illness or injury that results from the birth. These regulations enact as policy a purely instrumental view of the female body as the carrier of the fetus; they spring from the increasing political reach of apparently contradictory ideas that punitive measures will discourage women from having children and that fetal rights should supersede the rights of the mother.
The already appalling welfare rules that were passed under Bill Clinton will shortly push many people off the public rolls because their federally mandated five years are up. And the "workfare" rules are also slated by the Bush administration for a further turn of the screw. Welfare recipients, including all women whose youngest child is older that three months, will be required to work not thirty but forty hours a week. Now I personally am a great believer in child care, or better, early childhood education. Most children are infinitely better off spending five or six hours a day in the company of a teacher and several of their peers than being locked up full time with a mother who is being driven crazy by a combination of financial anxiety and lack of adult companionship. Many of us survivors of the fifties saw only too much of that particular benefit of full-time motherhood. But the new rules are accompanied only by penalties - they don't provide the financing that would ensure quality or at least safe alternative care for children - and certainly not for children as young as three months. And they leave no slack for the endless range of special needs and emergencies that day to day parenting involves. The loss of a day's work to a sick child, a missed appointment, transportation breakdown can all mean the loss of benefits and the arduous and time consuming effort of getting them reinstated.
More good news? The Office of Management and Budget estimates that about 900,000 more children will lose medical insurance over the next three years, thanks to the Congress' failure to adequately fund the State Children's Health Insurance Program. And the House's refusal to extend unemployment benefits means that this month alone more than 800,000 families will face a Christmas present of diminished income - or none. And none of this takes into account the various administration measures whose goal is to drive down wages and curb worker protections.
All of this means that while things seem bad now for women and children in poverty, rest assured that they will soon be worse, on the national as well as the international level. And a look at the local scene helps to fill the truly dire details. As of last spring, 47 - over half - of Indiana counties had no providers of obstetric care who accept Medicaid. And Indiana ranks 48th in the ratio of women's income to men's.
So this year, I've not only lost my sense of humor, I am also seriously resistant to good cheer. Spare me the Christmas cards and postage stamps with serene madonnas and pink-cheeked babies - they only remind me how many mothers and babies are on the cross. Christmas carols remind me how many mothers and children sleep - or lose sleep - in hellish war. In the real world the answer to "What Child is This?" is economic - and determines how long and how well every child will live.
Mary Rose D'Angelo teaches in the Theology Department at Notre Dame and is a member of Common Sense.
US in Denial as Poverty Rises
Next door to Yale, the bastion of privilege that turns out the land's leaders, lies a tent city of America's poor, huddled masses. In a story written just prior to the November elections, Ed Vulliamy reports on the rise in inequality as the nation prepares to vote.
The north wind cuts cold and sudden across the historic green of New Haven. It blows through the 'tent city' where the homeless huddle. And it blows round the spires and quadrangles of Yale University, one of America's richest Ivy League colleges. The contrast is stark: Charlene Johnson, three months pregnant, emerges from her bivouac, worrying about the winter that lies between her and her due date. And all around are Yale's stone walls, elegant colonial churches and smart people walking past boutiques and coffee shops, carrying their course books. "You know what's underneath you?" challenges Rod Cleary, who was released from prison in Los Angeles after a conviction for gang fighting, found but lost a job in New Haven, and has now been evicted. "I'll tell ya: bones. This green was a cemetery once; you're sitting on a pauper's grave. And, man, that's what it's going to be again if we ain't careful." Charlene fell behind with her rent in June and took a bribe of $200 to move out of her digs, so the landlord could hike up the price. "It seemed like I had some money for once, and it was summer." Her son Nikolas was billeted with a friend and Charlene started looking for a place with her boyfriend, Scott, hopefully before the cold set in. Without success - Scott was laid off on Wednesday from a construction firm. "Not enough work," he says. "And once you're out, you're a speck of dirt on the ground, and they walk over you." New Haven's tent city was established after the authorities closed down a homeless overflow shelter a few weeks ago. At sundown yesterday it was to be cleared by the police, with Charlene, Scott, Rod and 150 others sent on their way into what promises to be a vicious winter. New Haven is a metaphor for the America which on Tuesday elects its Senate and House of Representatives. It is the country's fourth poorest city, where the ghetto laps at the walls of a university worth $11 billion in tax-exempt endowments, educating America's next generation of rulers. A sign at the freeway turn-off advertises New Haven as the birthplace of President George Bush. It is a city with the same infant mortality rate as Malaysia and a terrifying rate of deaths from AIDS - one care centre alone commemorated the loss of 600 clients at a memorial service on Wednesday. But it is located in America's richest state, Connecticut, which has proportionally more millionaires than any other. This is the super-rich New York hinterland for those too wealthy even to feel the pinch on Wall Street. It is called the 'Zebra Coast', laid out in strips black/white, black/white; poor/rich, poor/rich. And in New Haven the polarity is underpinned by the history of Yale University's engagement in the slave trade - currently being excavated by some of its own students. "New Haven," says the Rev David Lee of Varick Church in the city's northwestern ghetto, "is a microcosm of America. It's the vicious cycle between rich and poor and the system of exploitation. The wealth is in your face all the time, something you can never aspire to. It's like being a kid in a candy store, being told you can look but you can't never have a lollipop." The mall downtown, on the 'wrong' side of the green, is a ghost mall; just a few 'hoodrats' hanging around Cross Flava records and security guards to keep them in order. "Folks who commute to work," says the boy behind the counter, "they spend where they live. And the people who live here don't have anything to spend."
Statistics released last month by the government census bureau show that for the first time in 10 years the number of people caught in the poverty trap has suddenly increased. Unemployment is up from 4.2 per cent in 2000 to 5.7 per cent last year. While the middle class shrinks, the numbers living below the official poverty line of $18,104 a year for a family of four has shot up to 33 million - from 11.3 to 11.7 per cent. That's the first increase since 1992. p
While President Bush's windfall tax breaks to the super-rich breezed through Congress (with Democratic help), the proposed rise in the minimum wage is frozen. The proportion of poor children without health coverage has increased from 63.8 per cent to 67.1 per cent. The poverty rate for children in the US is worse than in 19 'rich' countries, according to a study by the University of Michigan.
Income statistics showed the first significant decline in average income among blacks in two decades; the white average also fell, and only Hispanics maintained their level.
Statisticians are struck by differences between this dive and the usual downward turns that accompany recessions. "The poor are trailing further behind than in the past," says Robert Greenstein of the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington. "The increase in poverty is likely to be larger in 2002."
Such is the power of money in Connecticut and its neighbours that the Northeast was the only region in the country in which the mean income did not decline. But the price was paid here where Elm Street, after skirting the mock-Oxbridge walls and towers of Yale, twists abruptly into New Haven's own nightmare.
Students have been given special maps, and advice not to venture past the CITGO gas station, where the ghetto begins. Houses are boarded up and gas stations take cash only - payable up front - and have bullet-proof glass and bars at the pay point. Sandwich and gift card stores also deal in Western Union money transfers, like the one Carl Robbins is sending back to his family in Kingston, Jamaica - $150 out of the $650 he grossed this week as a hospital janitor.
At the gas station on Dixwell Avenue, Everton Mayne gets his money back on a pack of Newport cigarettes because he has found the same pack down the road four cents cheaper. "You got to think about these things," he cautions.
Monica Osborn works in the operating rooms at Yale and New Haven Hospital, and in 11 years has increased her wage from $8 to $13 an hour (Connecticut calculates that $17 is the 'liveable wage'). Recently her son suffered a concussion and, although she works at a hospital, health insurance comes extra and she was caught out. Her employer docked the cost of treatment from her wages, leaving her to manage for two months on $300 for a family of four. 'I can feel it getting worse,' she says. "Trying to feed the kids, we all have two, maybe three, jobs. I do hair braiding to get by."
Wages at the university are a little better, says Mark Wilson, who for years worked on the ancillary workforce before becoming an officer of the hotel and catering workers' union that fought to close what it calls the 'casual pipeline' whereby the university would lay off employees the day before it was obliged to take them on staff.
"I don't actually wipe their butts," says Wesley Smith, earning $11 an hour loading a trolley full of students' dirty laundry, "but I got to get clean what they wipe off."
Yale is exempt from paying city taxes, except on commercial property it owns. But a consortium of community groups asked the university to donate a single day's interest on its invested endowment - that's $5.2 million - to the city's public schools. So far, no response.
"We just wanted some kind of partnership," says the Rev David Lee, who - as a graduate of Yale Divinity School - this year harvested enough signatures to seek election to the university board. He was defeated by the architect Maya Lin, in what was regarded as a brazen snub to what Lee's church calls "the host community." Dixwell Avenue is where Lee tries "to put a bit of hope back in people's eyes that's just been taken away." He says: "I can feel it, just over the past year; people is sinking back down. It's hard to keep people off drugs. It's hard to tell people not to go to crime, when they made that extra effort to straighten out, then got beaten back down again. I had a man in my congregation come to me on Sunday saying his daughter who is 13 was considering suicide."
There is now a brutally simple barometer of poverty in modern America: HIV.
At the Immanuel Baptist Church on Chapel Street, a few blocks from fancy restaurants where the young elite go for dinner, there was a service with a difference on Wednesday. The AIDS Interfaith Network was commemorating the lives of 600 of its clients who have died of the disease since it was established 15 years ago.
Some of the congregation were living with HIV, a couple in wheelchairs; others were those who work with and for them. The network was set up by a group of churches to fill the abyss between a dire need and the malfunctioning of America' commercial healthcare system.
Project director Joyce Poole says: "AIDS has become the disease of the poor - 80 to 90 per cent of our clients are living below the poverty level; 15 per cent are homeless; most have not worked in years. Half are dually diagnosed with HIV and Hepatitis C. If you can't support yourself, you do it by other means, and those means are often criminal. Most of our clients have had at least one encounter with the Department of Corrections."
Yet Connecticut's AIDS prevention budget has just been cut by 30 per cent - due, says America's richest state, to the economic downturn. "This is a discourse," says Poole, "about poverty." And as America prepares to go to the polls, the gap between rich and poor is widening by the day. Hard times One in 11 families, one in nine Americans, and one in six children are officially poor. ¥ The most affluent fifth of the population received half of all household income last year. The poorest fifth got 3.5 per cent. ¥ The official poverty line is an income of $18,104 for a family of four. A single parent of two working full-time for a minimum wage would make $10,712. 40 per cent of homeless men are veterans. ¥ Up to a fifth of America's food, worth $31billion, goes to waste each year, with 130lb of food per person ending up in landfills.
(c)The Observer. Guardian Unlimited, November 3, 2002.
Daring to Talk about Zionism
In the spring of 1986, Gore Vidal, novelist and chronicler of US history, published an essay in The Nation which became instantly notorious. Called "Empire Lovers Strike Back," its subject was the relationship of American Jewish neo-conservatives with the state of Israel. He chose as exemplars of the phenomenon, Commentary Magazine editor, Norman Podhoretz, and his spouse, Midge Decter (mother-in-law of Elliot Abrams of Iran Contra infamy now serving in the Bush administration). Podhoretz and Decter had once been liberals, but a triumphal Zionism led them to pitch their tent in the Republican Party. The plan was to use US political heft to advance Israel's interests in the Middle East.
The piece was vintage Vidal. It greatly provoked his critics, and to ensure that no one took seriously what he had to say - to silence the debate before it started - he was rubbished as the worst kind of anti-Semite. So, exactly what had Vidal said to earn this most feared of labels? In recent weeks we have heard a great deal about the cynical alliance between fundamentalist Christian Zionists and fundamentalist Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories who enjoy the support of the right-wing Likud party. Sixteen years ago in a display of considerable prescience, Vidal wrote: "since spades may not be called spades in freedom's land, let me spell it out. In order to get military and economic support for Israel, a small number of American Jews, who should know better, have made common cause with every sort of reactionary and anti-Semitic group in the United States, from the corridors of the Pentagon to the TV studios of the evangelical Jesus Christers... all in the interest of supporting the likes of Sharon as opposed to the Peace Now Israelis whom they disdain."
Central to Vidal's case was the indifference to US history which he discerned among these Jewish neo-conservatives. When he was writing a play, set during the American Civil War, he recalls Norman Podhoretz asking him, "Why are you writing a play about, of all things, the Civil War?" When Vidal explained that this was/is "the great, single tragic event that gives resonance to our Republic," Podhoretz replied. "To me, the Civil War is as remote and irrelevant as the War of the Roses." Vidal calls Podhoretz and his ilk Fifth Columnists (Israeli division) to indicate their extra-territorial priorities. They pursue political power, not in order to make the US a better place, to right wrongs or to fight inequality here, but to promote Israel's pre-eminence in the Middle East, to confine Palestinians to a couple of Bantustans or, better still, engineer their expulsion to Jordan. Writing last month in The New York Times about Podhoretz's new book, The Prophets: Who They Were And What They Are, Judith Shulavitz reports that for Podhoretz the biblical prophets message is: "the Jews are the people chosen to redeem the world... They will perform their divinely appointed duty only if they cling to the Covenant between God and themselves...and support Zionism." Any appropriation of the prophets in support of social justice he dismisses as false - a Christian overlay or redaction.
The influence of the old-guard Jewish neo-cons, such as Podhoretz and Decter, was exercised mainly through journals of opinion they edited or owned (in addition to Commentary, Martin Peretz's New Republic comes to mind). Now, however, a new generation has its hand on the tiller of power. In September, Bill Keller profiled Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz, for The New York Times' Sunday Magazine. Wolfowitz and fellow Jewish neo-cons Richard Perle and Douglas Feith have emerged as the Pentagon's Paladins, their aim being to subdue the Islamic world through decisive, pre-emptive use of American military superiority. While Wolfowitz is determined on war against Saddam Hussein, Keller notes his "scholarly detachment" from the disastrous Vietnam War (as remote as the War of the Roses?), in which, while eligible, he had chosen not to serve. Wolfowitz first formed ties to Israel when he accompanied his father there on a sabbatical year. He is known to have close links to Israeli generals and Likud politicians.
Keller, somewhat hesitatingly, discloses that there are people in Washington who hint at Wolfowitz's "dual loyalties." The (London) Guardian columnist, Hugo Young, is less reticent: "Only in Washington does one get a true sense of the obsession of these Pentagon civilians. Conversationally, it is common talk that some of them, not including Rumsfeld, are as much Israeli as American nationalists. Behind nervous, confiding hands come sardonic whispers of an American outpost of Likud. Most striking of all, however, is how unmentionable this is in the liberal press."
If dragons' teeth are being sown by American foreign policy in the Middle East, the urgent question is why a craven liberal press is not addressing the Israeli nationalism of the policy's architects. Thinking I might find clues, I trawled through a piece by Cliff Rothman in The Nation, entitled "Jewish Media Stranglehold?" Unfortunately, from the start Rothman delegitimized the question by reminding us that it was Richard Nixon who first posed it. He goes on to associate it with White Power rhetoric, trailer parks and compounds in Montana, so nothing of substance emerges. There was, however, an interesting exchange with Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harpers, whose monthly political essays are surely some of the best political writing in the US. When asked the question, Rothman writes that Lapham "ventured onto the treacherous terrain of hypothosizing a unique Jewish sensibility impacting the media because of the sheer number of Jewish editors and writers. But he recoiled: 'If I am going to take shit, I may as well write my own column.'"
About three years ago, Nightline's Ted Koppel came to Notre Dame to give the Red Smith journalism lecture. I remember having to summon every ounce of courage during question time to express my concern about the importance of US even-handedness on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and ask him, a Jewish-American, how he felt about an American foreign policy team which at that time was overwhelmingly Jewish. Madeleine Albright and her deputy, James Rubin, were at the State Department, Sandy Berger was Security Advisor and William Cohen Secretary of Defense; Richard Holbrooke was Ambassador to the UN. I felt sure that if the shoe was on the other foot - had the team's composition been almost entirely Arab-American - the issue of fairness would most certainly have been raised. Koppel was nonplussed by the question and responded by saying that this is a country where the gifted, regardless of background, could rise to the top - an answer that did not address my concern.
Each week, I have a marathon phone conversation with a Jewish friend, an octogenarian whose mental vigor remains undiminished. A retired college teacher, her take on virtually every political issue of importance is exemplary. Our friendship is very close and has easily survived occasional squalls over the one topic on which we have some disagreement, namely Israel and the Occupation. After reading something I had written on the neocon Zionists at the Pentagon, I received a no-holds-barred dressing down. In identifying Paul Wolfovitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, the Pentagon troika planning the war against Saddam Hussein, as Jewish-Americans, I had crossed the line into anti-Semitism. Go after them as bad guys, not as Jews she said. After all, there were lots of Jews, herself included, who find the troika a frightening bunch. For days I brooded about her comments, but in the end I demurred. Sure these are bad guys, but it is as Zionists that they are pursuing their war aims. The connections Gore Vidal was making in 1986 still need to be made in 2002.
Do I think that the case would be made more effectively by Jews themselves? Certainly. Robert Dreyfus, a senior correspondent at The American Prospect, came close in a first class expose he wrote on how the Pentagon's "well-placed hawks" are muzzling the CIA so that intelligence data that contradicts the case for war is not presented to the White House. Dreyfus is blunt: "For Perle, Wolfovitz and Feith...an attack on Iraq is a strategic necessity, not because Saddam Hussein is a threat, but because America needs to display an overwhelming show of force to keep unruly Arabs and Muslims all over the world in line." However, Dreyfus still cannot mention the elephant in the room, namely that these well-placed hawks are Jewish-Americans and it is their hard core Zionism that is shaping American foreign policy.
Zionism is fast becoming a poisoned chalice, yet here we are poised for a war largely propelled by its agenda. Most of the country is ignorant or in denial, and the mainstream media either too conflicted or in cahoots to sound the alarm. In the meantime, Richard Perle, addressing British members of parliament as UN arms inspectors were returning to Iraq, stated that the US will go to war no matter what. And on the BBC World Service, The Washington Times' Barry Fein proclaimed war as absolutely necessary, saying that from now on the US would decide what constituted international law. There is real madness here, but who will stop it?
Ann Pettifer is an alumna of Notre Dame.
G.W. Bush, Advocate for the Common Man
Browsing the internet in the wake of the elections, I came across a telling opinion poll. When asked: "Does George Bush care about the needs and problems of people such as yourself?" 68% of respondents replied in the affirmative. Those polled were not restricted to CEOs and the ultra-rich; it was a scientifically conducted poll representing a cross-section of America. This result should be striking to anyone familiar with Bush's economic agenda, and points to a political savvy carefully hidden behind a blunt and inarticulate faade. With a winning grin and straight-shootin' persona, Bush has successfully obscured his identity as a child of inherited wealth and privilege intent on perpetuating the inequality responsible for his wealth and power. Now that America has given their 'everyman' the political tools necessary to push through his conservative agenda, the question becomes how long Americans will tolerate Bush's obsequious service to the rich while still accepting that he is the champion of the people.
Our 'warrior for the average American' has, in two short years, made powerful strides toward widening the chasm between the rich and the rest. His economic assault on poor and middle-class America began with his promised tax-cuts. The tax-cuts were championed as a reward for all Americans, but now, after the modest checks mailed to middle-America last year, the remaining cuts are aimed primarily at relieving the 'burden' of taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Nearly 70% of remaining cuts benefit the top 10% (52.1% benefit the top 1%). In essence the promised tax relief is over for 90% of America. Worse yet, to finance the remaining cuts, and his exploding defense budget-most of which lands squarely in the hands of major corporations like G.E. and Lockheed Martin-Bush will be forced to tap Social Security reserves. This means that not only will most Americans not benefit from these cuts, but, on the contrary, will be directly harmed. In the words of Robert S. McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice, "Every American has a major stake in whether the Bush tax cuts continue to be phased in. For the very rich, hundreds of thousands of dollars ($342,000 each, on average, for the wealthiest 1%, an overall total of $477 billion) in tax reductions over the upcoming decade hang in the balance. For the vast majority of us, continuing to phase in the Bush tax plan will provide little relief, but will entail large costs-including higher interest rates, reduced government services and a bleaker future for Social Security." Nonetheless, when Bush heralded the tax cuts as his gift to Americans, we bought (and apparently continue to buy) that he has our best interest in mind. <
Bush's pandering to the ultra rich at the expense of the average American does not end there. In so-called 'economic stimulus packages' Bush has reduced corporate taxes to just 1.5% of our GDP, their lowest level since the Reagan Administration. He has also made overtures toward a repeal of the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax. This tax, adopted in the Tax Reform of 1986, assures that the largest corporate moneymakers have to pay a minimum amount of tax on income. It was adopted in the wake of abuses of loopholes that left corporations (G.E., Texaco, Dow Chemical, Pepsico, Boeing, and ITT among others) paying absolutely nothing in taxes. Bush seems to think that effectively exempting these corporations from taxes is acceptable. Moreover, he maintains that it is in the interest of the American people.
Bush's arguments for reducing taxes on the ultra rich have thus far been widely successful, and the precedent for duping Americans into believing such cuts are in their interest is alarming. A recent example is the anti-'death tax' propaganda (financed by the very people eliminating such tax benefits). Through heart-wrenching tales of hard-working farmers trying to leave a legacy to their children, only to have the death tax tear it away, the Republicans have won over many (all the while knowing that no such events have ever occurred). They have successfully depicted a tax that gets all of its revenues from the wealthiest 1.4% (two-thirds from the top 0.2%) as an evil force set to destroy the fabric of America.
Against this backdrop of duplicity, unemployment continues to grow, and the gap between the rich and poor widens. In a recent New York Times article Princeton Professor of Economics Paul Krugman notes that the top 1% of families receive 16% of pretax income. This amount has doubled in the past 30 years and now is almost equal to the total income of the bottom 40%. The trend isn't restricted to times of economic plenty either. As the economy continues to drag through what Greenspan has referred to as a "soft patch," the salaries of CEOs are not hit as hard as the average worker (some even continue to grow). Unemployment rises making it impossible for families that had been scraping along at or below poverty levels to even survive. Conservatives maintain that inequality is necessary, and point to the US per capita GDP as an indicator that all Americans, even the poor, are better off than their peers in foreign nations (and benefit from the growth at the top). Once again, the rich are selling a falsehood.
As becomes increasingly apparent through an examination of the numbers, growth in corporate wealth has failed to 'trickle down' to the masses. In fact, the standard of living for the poor in the United States is worse than many other advanced nations. In Sweden (the example cited by Krugman) just 6% of the population lives on less than $11 per day. In the States 14% experience this level of poverty. These statistics do no take into account non-financial compensation either, which would elevate Swedes - with their superior public health system and other utilities - even further above their American counterparts. This is a powerful indication of the failures inherent in per capita GDP comparisons; the very comparisons that conservatives rely on to support their line that prosperity reaches all classes. However, the US maintains a higher per capita GDP than other major nations primarily because our rich are so much richer. The obvious correlate is that our poor are not sharing in the economic largess.
America remains a nation wherein the poorest are hit hardest during our "soft patches" and rewarded the least during times of prosperity. Current economic policies threaten to further exacerbate this issue. More frightening, however, is that it is, and will remain, politically expedient to perpetuate this system of inequality so long as the public continues to accept the propaganda of the greedy and powerful. Only by casting widespread suspicion on Bush and others intent on pursuing his economic agenda, and demanding leaders that truly represent the interest of all Americans-not just the rich ones-will average citizens stop being complicit in their own degradation. Until then, we live with Bush, man of the people.
John Wojcik is a junior biology and philosophy major. A member of Common Sense, he is studying this semester in London.
Freedom to be Ourselves
"When ideas are neglected by those who ought to attend them - that is to say, those who have been trained to think critically about ideas - they sometimes acquire an unchecked momentum and an irresistible power over multitudes of men that may grow too violent to be affected by rational criticism." This is a quote from Oxford professor Isaiah Berlin's lecture "Two Concepts of Liberty." In that lecture he makes a useful distinction between "freedom from" and "freedom to" which is very pertinent in the United States today. Making note of the several differences between the two, he also makes a point of how one may come only at the expense of the other. Freedom to, Berlin notes, derives from the wish on the part of the individual to be his own master. "I wish, above all, to be conscious of myself as a thinking, willing active being, bearing responsibility for his choices and able to explain them by reference to his own ideas and purposes." Freedom from, on the other hand is "that of pursuing our own good in our own way."
Of these two freedoms, it is freedom to upon which our nation was founded. We are granted the freedom to express our opinions, the freedom to assemble, the freedom to practice whatever religion we choose, and the freedom to protect our rights. Nowhere are we guaranteed any freedom from: freedom from want, freedom from suffering, freedom from injustice, nor freedom from oppression. Those freedoms we are guaranteed, however, give us the power to fight for those other things.
Applying these concepts of freedom from and freedom to in today's political environment, I am forced to say that today's America, under the leadership of a very conservative President Bush, has taken a dramatic step away from the ideology of the founding fathers and is actively pursuing freedom from at the expense of our freedoms to.
Evidence supporting this claim is evident in both current policies proposed by the United States and in the sentiments of the general public. For example, as Sarah Edwards pointed out in October edition of Common Sense, public support of the First Amendment is at an all-time low. According to a poll conducted by the Sacramento Bee on August 29, 2002, 49% of Americans think that the First Amendment "goes too far." People are becoming increasingly willing to sacrifice this, their greatest guarantee for freedom to in order to obtain freedom from. As Edwards points out, we are willing to go so far as to fire reporters for negative comments made against the president, stop reporters from finding out about what's going on in Afghanistan, and to choke off information available to the public regarding the president and his policies.
Attempts by the White House to implement this apparent rejection of our freedom to in the policy of the United States abound. The fortunate failures of the White House include an attempt to set up an Office of Strategic Influence with the express purpose of planting propaganda in domestic and international news, as well as the TIPS (Terrorist Information and Prevention System) program, which originally would have recruited letter carriers, utility workers, cable installers and others whose jobs allow them access to private residences to report "suspicious" activity. The current version now excludes postal and utility workers, but still includes those who work in the transportation, trucking, shipping, maritime, and mass transit industries.
More disconcerting are the policy successes that proponents of this ideology have had, particularly the ease with which our military spending has skyrocketed. Already at 37% of entire world's national defense budgets, this is apparently not enough to guarantee our freedom from terrorists. If Bush's plans go through, which now seems more likely given the Republican control of both the House and the Senate, the defense budget for the United States will be $379 billion dollars, a total that is more than half of all the money that currently goes to defense world wide ($750 billion), and thus more than the defense spending of all the other countries in the world combined.
Further evidence is plain in the requests our president has made of us, the people of the United States. Not only does he expect and demand loyalty to himself in his endeavor to free us from the threats of terrorism and Saddam Hussein, he has gone so far as to accuse Senate democrats of being "more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people" for their opposition to the homeland security bill. He demands submission not only of U.S. citizens, but of German citizens as well. When Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's justice minister, exercised her freedom to express her opinion regarding Bush's tactic of pressuring Iraq, saying, "Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It's a classic tactic. It's one that Hitler used," she was ostracized by her government, lost her job, and President Bush refused to call in congratulations to Schroeder who was re-elected chancellor shortly after firing her.
What is causing this dramatic shift away from the characteristic American passion for freedom to and this embrace and mad dash towards freedom from? Fear. Americans are allowing fear to run their lives, and make their decisions for them. The desire to have freedom from terrorists, possible nuclear attack, and other threats is motivated by fear. We Americans are letting this fear rule our decisions and our lives. We are so afraid that we have become willing to take many innocent lives. This is evident in our attacks on Afghanistan that have resulted in far more innocent deaths than the 2,800 of the eleventh of September.
Not only are we willing to kill others in the hopes of pacifying our fear, and not only are we willing to sacrifice our freedoms to in order to do it, but what is most ironic is that we justify it with our freedoms to even as we abandon them. President Bush himself said "The terrorists hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." We justify the killings we commit because of fear for our freedoms to even as we stifle those essential freedoms in an embrace of freedom from and the fear that motivates it.
How, I ask, are we supposed to enjoy our freedoms to if we are giving them up at such an alarming rate to grant us freedom from? If we continue on this path, it will not be the terrorists who destroy our freedoms, for we will have done a better job than they ever could. And not only that, but we will not even succeed in achieving freedom from. When it is fear that motivates actions, there is nothing any president, any national defense shield, nor any continuing war on terrorism can do to quench that fear, for it festers in the imaginations of the American people. The only thing capable of expelling it, of cleansing it from our consciousness, is the exercise of our freedoms to. But suppressing our guarantees of these freedoms on the grounds that "they go too far" will make that an impossibility.
That is why I refuse. I refuse to submit myself to this fear, and I refuse to perpetuate it by denying myself the exercise of those freedoms to which define what it is to be an American. I am one of the free, one of the brave, and I will let neither terrorists nor presidents nor anyone else scare me into giving up my most sacred and essential freedoms. I will hold to those essential ideals of the United States, and I can only hope that the obsession with freedom from has not gained so much momentum that it cannot be limited by rational criticism.
Danny Richter is a sophmore member of Common Sense pursuing a degree in environmental science with a second major in philosophy.
Gun Cult - Big and Small
With Republicans gaining control of the Senate, few analysts doubt that 9-11 set the stage for George W. Bush to lead his party to victory. Fourteen months ago, in the national media vortex, a president widely perceived as simple-minded and problematic suddenly became inspirational. The massive violence boosting Bush's authoritative aura came in two basic configurations. For U.S. media, the threat of horrific violence aimed at America quickly became the overarching problem of the new epoch. In another category, the Pentagon's awesome capabilities to inflict horrific violence rapidly emerged as a central part of the touted solution. In such a media atmosphere, a president eager to unleash the nation's military prowess could hardly fail to gain in stature. Bush ascended to the political stratosphere. Much less often mentioned were the media dynamics that rocketed him there. The violence of 9/11 and the pledged U.S. war on Iraq are media bookends for the story of Bush's trajectory to the GOP triumph of Election Day 2002. In the closing months of this year's campaign, the specter of an overwhelming military assault on Iraq effectively swept aside other issues - notably the economic well-being of Americans - that could have meant big trouble for Bush's party on Nov. 5. While most Democrats on Capitol Hill voted against Bush's war resolution last month, party leaders such as Sen. Tom Daschle and Rep. Richard Gephardt eagerly went along with the war promoters. When the nation's media spotlight fell on them, Daschle and Gephardt had nothing of value to say. The president, and evidently most journalists, liked it that way. Here was bipartisan unity; the loyal opposition, dutifully serving as the caboose on a war train. But even on its own craven terms, the can't-beat-'em join-'em approach of harmonizing with the mediaspeak chorus was a dismal failure: America gets two Republican houses of Congress. And, almost certainly, a horrendous war with Iraq. About 180 degrees from all the craven blather, a new documentary provides chilling context for what has occurred and what is to come. Michael Moore's film "Bowling for Columbine," now showing at a small number of theaters across the country, is everything that the media-pandering statements along Pennsylvania Avenue have not been. The movie focuses on realities of violence and fear in the United States. In his latest film, Moore ventures where very few mainstream American journalists have been willing to tread. He looks at links between enthusiasm for guns that are small and enthusiasm for guns that are huge - weapons that fit in the palm of a hand or on a person's shoulder, and weapons that are launched from jet bombers and military ships. This country's "gun culture" has many facets. The victims include people randomly shot dead with a handgun or an assault rifle. But the media-framed issues of gun control do not extend to the big guns of the Pentagon. Major media outlets don't go there. Moore's documentary does. "Bowling for Columbine" is a brilliant movie, adroitly confronting our society's ongoing spirals of murderous violence. Oh, we have our reasons; our fears and hopes. Those who kill usually do. A domestic cornucopia of violence, the United States simultaneously wields what is, by far, the world's most powerful arsenal: the Pentagon, our tax dollars at work. Long trapped between the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein and lethal actions of the U.S. government, Iraqi people are in Uncle Sam's cross hairs. With violence, George W. Bush and GOP leaders find the reliable promise of adulatory media coverage and enormous political leverage. Terrorism and war strengthen their hands. These days, one of the few prominent TV pundits challenging the momentum toward U.S.-taxpayer-funded slaughter in Iraq is MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who offers some clarity about President Bush. "I'm afraid he's riding the tiger with all these hawks around him," Matthews said on Nov. 6, "and I'm afraid he can't stop them." At this point, there is no evidence that Bush wants to stop the hawks. He's one of them. And the fawning media coverage in the aftermath of Election Day can only embolden his zealotry. Strike up the band, send out the troops, start yet another war in the name of righteousness. Those who mourn will not be ready for prime time.
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist who has lectured at Notre Dame. His books include The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media and The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh.
A Rude Awakening
Early in the morning on the Friday before the November election, I was jarred from a most propitious slumber by the familiar nagging of my telephone. It was with some hesitation - and even a bit of trepidation - that I dragged myself out of bed and staggered to the kitchen to pick up the receiver. Friday mornings are usually the territory of telemarketers and survey takers, and nobody I know personally would be silly enough to call me before noon on a Friday. Nevertheless, a strange feeling deep in my gut compelled me to rouse myself and answer the call.
Imagine my surprise.
The female voice on the other end of the line enthusiastically invited me to attend the "Republican event of the year" and urged me not to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend an afternoon with my illustrious governor and his baby brother, President George W. Bush, along with an undercard of special guests. I could catch them live at the University of South Florida Sun Dome, and all I had to do was stop by my local Bush-Brogan campaign office to collect my prize - one ticket to this very special and exclusive event.
Unfortunately, the recording did not respond to my ensuing tirade, no matter how many profanities I spewed back at her. In fact, she seemed entirely unaffected by my virulence and merely repeated her seemingly innocuous invitation. Over and over again, while I stood paralyzed with incredulity, incapacitated with anger, half-naked in my kitchen.
I felt violated. And had I not had prior plans to drive to Tallahassee to watch Notre Dame play Florida State the next day, I certainly would have been in Tampa Saturday afternoon, waiting to give my anonymous caller and her cronies a piece of my mind. Lucky for her, I thought.
Turns out, it was lucky for me.
Seven protesters were arrested outside of the rally Saturday afternoon, all because they failed to stay within the "official protest zone," hundreds of yards away from the Sun Dome. All told, over 150 people protested the event. But most of them remained in the designated "First Amendment zone," tucked away in a remote corner of the campus, far from the television cameras, where their voices had no chances of reaching the deaf ears of the Republican bigwigs who had planned the event. The seven offenders, who refused to have their act of protest reduced to irrelevance, were charged with trespassing after warning, obstructing without violence, and disorderly conduct.
Trespassing? So it is illegal for citizens to demonstrate peacefully and respectfully on public lands, but it is all well and good for the Republican party to call private citizens unsolicited and invite them to their latest pep rally? These people can't stand outside of a public arena, but the Republican party can weasel its way into my home? I can't even begin to fathom how the former constitutes obstruction or disorderly conduct while the latter is an acceptable campaign tactic.
As it turns out, the arrestees weren't the only ones who ran into trouble outside of the Sun Dome on that fateful Saturday. At least six supporters of Bill McBride - the incredibly vague and underwhelming Democratic McCandidate for governor - were denied entrance to the main event. Their crime? They arrived wearing McBride buttons. Republican organizers promptly snatched their tickets away and sent them packing - and made it no secret that the buttons were the reason. These McBride supporters were not protesting or demonstrating. They weren't even complaining about the fact that this was the 12th time (12th time!) that W has stumped in Florida since taking office. In fact, many of them genuinely wanted to hear what their fearless leader had to say. "We just wanted to hear the president talk," marveled one woman, "We just had those little round pins on, and that's all it took."
It's too bad that these folks never made it through the front door - it sounds like they would have been in for a good ol' time. According to a report from the St. Petersburg Times, the crowds burst into cheers of "USA! USA!" as soon as W so much as mentioned Iraq and his evil foil, Saddam Hussein. I imagine there were probably plenty of beach balls and lots of backslapping as well - I'm almost sorry I missed it.
Hours after the rally, a spokeswoman for the Bush campaign insisted that the organizers had every right to turn the pin-wielding McBride supporters away - because the rally was a private event. Surely this is dubious reasoning. If this campaign rally was such a private and exclusive event, then why did I - I can assure you I have never had any ties to the Republican party - receive a phone call inviting me to attend? Did the Republicans not pluck my name from a public phone roll? This is more disingenuous than anything else the Bushies have pulled during the campaign - and that includes Jeb's private boast that he had "devious plans" to sabotage a citizen-backed class-size amendment if it passed.
Now there are several things going wrong here. First, these absurd "First Amendment zones" need to go. At the very least, they need to be relabeled - maybe something like "A little tiny bit of First Amendment zones." Or perhaps "Just enough First Amendment to keep you happy and shut you up zones." Second, how can the Republicans call half of Tampa Bay to invite them to an event and then turn around and claim that what they were hosting is a private affair? Further, it is a sad state of affairs when ordinary citizens cannot gain access to an audience with our nation's president. And finally, why the hell did the Republican party call me, of all people?
At least I've learned a lesson from this debacle - when the phone rings these days, I just roll over and hide under the covers.
Joe Napolitano, Notre Dame '01, writes for Common Sense from Port Richey, Florida. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Book Review: Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet
Many have been tempted to read the results of last month's elections as a vote of confidence for the Bush administration and their unabashed war on terror. All of the focus, however, has been on stopping a perceived evil in foreign places. This has resulted in a blinding to domestic issues, not least of which is the continued hijacking of our food - not by terrorists, but by capitalists. In their recent bestselling book, Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, the mother and daughter team of Frances and Anna Lappé show how communities around the world are practicing grassroots democracy and taking control of their own food sources. In the late 1960s Frances Moore Lappé was plagued with one question: why is there hunger? She had listened to the economic answer that hunger was caused by scarcity, namely, that enough food is not available for everyone on the planet. This common argument leads to the conclusion that the only available options are to reduce world population or at least curb its growth, and to rely on technological solutions to produce more food.
In 1971, Frances published the startling results of her agricultural research in Diet for a Small Planet, which sold over three million copies. She sought to dispel the myth that hunger is caused by scarcity; rather, Lappé demonstrated that hunger is caused by our social system. At the time she was able to document that enough food was being produced to satisfy the needs of every person on the planet, but a full third of it was being fed to livestock. Lappé states that "we don't realize the waste we are creating. We have turned cattle, which once ate grass and turned it into high-grade protein, into protein disposals." At the time, Lappé believed that this feedlot system of grain fed cattle was responsible for the tremendous inequity in food distribution, leaving thousands to starve to death each year while Americans ate their fill of beef. Thirty years later, in her most recent book, Hope's Edge, Lappé addresses her realization that such practices are only symptoms of a wider social problem. And the situation has worsened rather than improved. Today over half of the grain grown on earth is fed to cattle, one billion people are obese and roughly an equal number are starving, and yet we continue to embrace this high-sugar, high-fat diet that pumps hormones into our cattle and pours chemicals into the environment. Lappé says, "What I found was not a lack of food but a lack of democracy - a shortage of people making local decisions about their food sources and land use." So in 1999, Frances and her daughter Anna set off to discover places in the world where people were not allowing themselves to be forced into the prevailing ideological mold; places where through grassroots action they were taking charge of their own food. The result of this adventure to five continents was Hope's Edge. Their principal discovery was that in each of the locations they visited, food and access to it was viewed not as a commodity, but rather as a right of membership in the human family. One telling example of the kind of projects being undertaken is that which the Lappés term the Hyacinth Principle, taking its name from the sprawling growth of the hyacinth.
Over the past twenty years the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh has achieved what most international aid agencies thought impossible or frivolous: they built a lending institution for the poor that actually works. Their loans, which average only $160, have enabled over two million borrowers, almost all of them poor women, to farm their own land for rice, rather than working the fields of others. This has enabled them to be free to engage in other opportunities, many of which culminate in the building of their own homes. The venture has been successful in a variety of other spheres, having spun off roughly a dozen new enterprises, including involvement in weaving, renewable energy, marketing, and developing communication technologies for isolated villages. They have even created a system of health insurance for members of the bank and have begun offering educational scholarships. These are all ventures that grew organically from the initial microcredit extended to the poor farmers of Bangladesh, allowing them to take charge of their own food production. Closer to home, Anna and Frances attended a food festival in Madison, Wisconsin, where they met with José Bové. Bové is a French farm organizer known internationally for his dismantling of a McDonald's construction site in France and his recent destruction of genetically modified rice, in protest of the French government's support of genetically modified foods so common in the United States. During this visit, Bové was working to organize farmers in Wisconsin. Continuing to fight against the totalizing effect of McDonalds and their supporters in agribusiness, Bové encourages people to see the danger in "the same variety of potato fried the same way, with the same type of feed-lot hamburger from the same kind of beef fed the same increasingly bioengineered corn and soy, and treated with the same antibiotics." People are beginning to take back control and reject the lack of diversity in their food supply. The green revolution has begun in the countryside surrounding Madison, and elsewhere, with community supported agriculture (CSA). Anna and Frances visited Barb and Dave Perkins who "started their Vermont Valley Community Farm growing food for specific people-farm members who pay the Perkinses up front, around $400 a year. By sharing in Barb and Dave's risk-paying in the beginning of the season-Vermont Valley members get organic produce all summer and early fall at 80 percent of the retail price, and they get it delivered." The Vermont Valley Farm Community has nearly 500 members, who are also able to pay for their produce through worker-shares. While Barb and Dave concede that it might be more efficient to hire workers, rather than spending the time to show primarily city-dwellers the necessary skills for their part in the farming, those who are involved on the farm have a deep connection to the farm and the community.
Growing organic produce is a challenge and requires a change in the methods used, but by diversifying their produce they are able to provide security against pests and disease, without the risk of chemical hazards. "The idea [of community supported agriculture] emerged in the mid-'60s in Germany, Switzerland, and Japan. In Japan it is called teikei, which carries a meaning close to 'food with a farmer's face on it.' Fifteen years ago none existed here, but since 1986, a growing movement of dedicated farmers and consumers has been working to establish CSAs across the country. Today, more than fifty CSAs dot Wisconsin, and from Maine to Washington state there are more than 3,000 CSAs serving more than 30,000 families."
Clearly, we have a choice about our food; we have the ability to not only be consumers, but to have a hand in production. CSAs are a responsible form of agriculture that take into consideration intangible costs often neglected by large agribusinesses - the cost to the environment of their heavy reliance on chemicals, the possibility of increased susceptibility to disease brought about by monoculture and the increased use of preemptive antibiotics, and the breakdown of communities and families once united by their working of the land. As the title of the book Hope's Edge implies, we are at a important edge - some see hope fading away as fewer and fewer corporations come to dominate larger and larger shares of our food production, leaving us without a say.
But the Lappés have demonstrated that we are also on the edge of a hopeful future, a future where communities take control of their own food production. By organizing grassroots organizations, communities will not only build a sustainable future of nourishing and diverse produce, but will also develop the ties necessary to uphold a sense of belonging. It has been said many times, but perhaps not often enough, that we are what we eat. But we are also part of the community with whom we eat. Let us turn our attention from the war on terror that has blinded us from at least as important concerns, such as the declining quality of the American diet and the increasing control a few corporations have over it. It is time to take charge of our own food!
Israel: Desperate Alternatives
JERUSALEM: Returning to Israel after an extended absence can be a disturbing experience. On the way back from the airport to my Jerusalem apartment, I noticed new posters tacked onto electricity poles and bridges along the highway. They read: "Transfer = Peace and Security."
The meaning was unambiguous: Israel must expel the three million Palestinians from the occupied territories - and perhaps even its own Palestinian citizens - in order to achieve peace and security.
While racist slogans have become pervasive in Israel, it was this particular message - the notion of expulsion as a political solution - that unhinged me. One does not need to be a Holocaust survivor to recognize the phrase's lethal implications.
The slogan, however, does not merely underscore the moral bankruptcy of certain elements in Israeli society; it also uncovers some of the inherent contradictions underlying Israel's policies in the occupied territories.
From the extreme right (those behind the posters) to the radical left, Israelis agree on at least two points: the current crisis must be dealt with and land is the major issue around which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict revolves.
After more than two years of armed conflict, which has left close to 2,500 people dead - of which 300 Palestinians and 80 Israelis were minors - most people see the situation as hopeless, a view, ironically, that is shared by both Israelis and Palestinians.
Israeli hopelessness is not only due to the voiding of diplomacy in favor of military action (which despite its ruthlessness does not stabilize the situation), but also because public discourse has been hijacked by narrow military calculation which undercuts even the possibility of envisioning a positive change in the foreseeable future. The current absence of a political horizon helps explain why no one welcomed the announcement of early elections with any enthusiasm.
However, most Israelis appear to understand that the doctrine advanced by former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and adopted by Ariel Sharon is no longer tenable - namely, that the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty, while the Palestinian population would be given some form of autonomy without receiving full citizenship.
The Israeli left has rejected this solution for both pragmatic and ethical reasons, recognizing that in Israel's effort to maintain control over the territories it has become an Apartheid regime.
Israel has introduced a segregated road system in the territories, transforming all major arteries into roads for Jews only. Palestinian villages and towns are consequently isolated, hindering the population's access to medical facilities, work, and education. (According to UNICEF, close to a quarter of a million Palestinian children cannot reach schools.) Not surprisingly, the Palestinian economy has also collapsed - a recent Israeli military report states that between sixty and eighty percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.
Israelis on both the left and right now realize that the conflict cannot be resolved under the current conditions, regardless of the amount of military force Israel employs. A new government will be expected to come up with new ideas. Although the situation is complex, it will have only three options from which to choose if we are to break the current impasse.
The first is the two-state-solution. The Oslo format will have to be radically altered for this option to be viable. A two-state-solution would mean a withdrawal to the 1967 borders, and the dismantling of all Jewish settlements, which now contain almost 400,000 people. While this may appear to be an impossible endeavor, one should keep in mind that when France finally decided to cede control of Algiers it managed to evacuate a much larger number of French citizens.
The second option is the one proffered by the extreme right: the expulsion of all the Palestinians from their lands, forcefully transferring them to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria or Egypt. This idea, which until recently had been marginalized, is gaining broader support among the powers that be. Polls show that Ha'chud Haleumi (The National Union), a right wing party advocating expulsion, is slated to receive ten percent of the vote in the upcoming elections, and they are not the only ones who are promoting this solution.
The third option is for Israel to annex the West Bank and Gaza Strip, bestowing full citizenship on the Palestinian population, and thus turning itself into a bi-national state, rather than a Jewish one. This solution, which had been perceived by Palestinians as a betrayal of the struggle for self-determination, has recently gained legitimacy within corners of the Palestinian establishment, as pointed out by Ha'aretz analyst Meron Benvenisti. While the bi-national option is in a sense the most democratic of the three, within Israel it is still considered an abomination not only by the right but also by Labor and Meretz.
If Israel's next leader is to overcome the current crisis, he will have to decide whether to abandon the notion of a Jewish State, employ a policy used by the darkest regimes (not least the Third Reich), or dismantle the settlements and bring the Jewish settlers back home. Each of these options negates certain elements in the Zionist project, suggesting that the settlements constitute a contradiction; they are now destroying the very project that initiated and upheld them.
The Jewish settlements, in other words, have come back to haunt the Zionist dream, turning it into a nightmare.
Notre Dame graduate Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Double Jeopardy: Diamonds and Death in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
In the town of Mbuji-Mayi, in the heartland of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, diamonds are king. The main drag in this city of two million souls is lined with small diamond trading shops, wall to wall. "House of God! Eternal Treasure! Big Boss!" cry the signs above the shops, clamoring for attention. One is even called "Saddam Hussein's Diamonds". Mbuji-Mayi is the diamond capital of the DRC, and its muddy streets are reminiscent of America's Gold Rush towns of the turn of the last century: there are few amenities, and less than half the residents have running water or electricity.
Despite the fact that diamonds are the DRC's most valuable export, and Mbuji-Mayi is the biggest center of the diamond trade in the country, there is no visible prosperity, aside from the rare visiting mogul. Just three years ago, Mubji-Mayi was the scene of one of the most intense battles of the war in the Congo. Rebels supported by Ugandan and Rwandan forces moved to within 60 miles of the commercial center before being stopped and repelled by Zimbabwean troops brought in to help support the government in this central African quagmire. With Zimbabwean tanks still surrounding the town, the government has held on to its last diamond-studded treasure chest.
Today, the government of the DRC, headed by President Joseph Kabila, controls less than half of the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rebels, supported by Rwandan and Ugandan troops, control the rest. Two important and related international agreements, forged in early November, may hopefully have an important stabilizing impact on places like Mbuji-Mayi. One is a cease-fire and apparent agreement to form a coalition government in Kishasa. The other is a long-awaited international program for tracking the trail of diamonds from dirt to digit in an effort to eliminate the corruption and death that has tainted the entire industry since its inception.
The Congolese Civil War began in the mid-1990s when the bloody effects of the Rwandan genocide spilled over the border into the DRC. Rwandan troops, in an effort to bring to justice members of the Interhamwe genocidaires who had fled retribution, sparked an uprising in the Congo, eventually leading to the ascension of Laurent Kabila after the infamous Mobutu Sese Seku was deposed in 1997. Shortly thereafter, Kabila was assassinated and his son Joseph took control of the struggling government. The Rwandan and Ugandan forces that had helped install his father turned against Kabila, and soon the entire region was involved when several Southern African nations sent troops to support the government.
Over the course of the past five years, it is estimated that the Congolese Civil War killed between two and three million people (making the death toll close to one thousand times that of the latest intifada in Palestine). While the issues at stake went widely unreported in the American media, the motivations for parties' involvement quickly moved from political to financial, as each group-Congolese or foreign-sought to get its own piece of the rich pie that is the soil of the DRC. Indeed, the strategic value of Mbuji-Mayi as a target for the rebels is primarily because of its considerable diamond wealth, and the payment for Zimbabwe's aid in that battle was considerable mineral concessions in the DRC. According to the United Nations, all sides in the conflict have been guilty of looting the land's mineral wealth while the population suffers.
A recent tentative cease-fire reached in Sun City, South Africa, has promised at least a cessation of bloodshed, if not an end to corruption. The initial agreement was that a new sort of government would be set up, with Kabila at its head, and with four Vice-Presidents: one from the Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, one from the Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy, one from Kabila's party, and one from the DRC-based opposition party. As a condition of this cease-fire, foreign nations were to withdraw their troops from the DRC, to give credence to the talks and stability to their aftermath. According to the UN, however, departing Zimbabwean, Ugandan, and Rwandan troops have established permanent paramilitary and criminal proxies to control the trade in diamonds, gold, and other precious resources so vital to the DRC's precarious position.
This peace-far from assured-amounts to a deal by multiple parties, each of which has shown an insidious proclivity to corruption, theft and murder, and each of which will now have a legal share in the country's vast mineral wealth, and will have an interesting reality to face: they can now become partners in crime with their old enemies in battle. To further complicate matters, the very nature of the parties involved-amorphous and often lacking anything resembling central leadership or cohesive ideology-does not provide a sound basis for lasting enforceable peace accords. This tendency to group dissolution reveals the fragmented nature of the Congolese conflict, in which individual and group allegiances are often in flux, and all parties exhibit a low degree of discipline and organization. The perfect example of these problems is manifest in the incomprehensible Mai Mai, rebel warriors who have been engaged in some kind of combat since Congolese independence in 1960, with no apparent goals or group structure. South Africa's Thabo Mbeki has been heavily involved in the peace process, as have Nigerian leaders, but not even these regional powers will be able to bring to a halt the corruption and bloodshed in this conflict.
The intractability of the Congolese civil war has much to do with the material motivations of the parties involved. The DRC's mineral wealth has brought about much meddling by its neighbors since its independence. Diamonds are the nation's biggest export, and all of the groups involved in the war are interested in harvesting plenty for themselves. In a place where diamonds are most often mined with a bucket and spade, it is a tempting proposition.
The illegal diamond trade has long fueled conflicts and civil wars throughout Africa, most infamously in Angola and Sierra Leone, where rebel groups were/are almost wholly financed by illegal diamonds. In an effort to stop this sort of violence, nations and companies involved in the diamond trade were recently pressured to come together to create a new system of governance to ensure that diamonds that reach the market are conflict-free. Termed the "Kimberley System," after Cecil Rhodes's most famous mine, the idea is to accompany each found diamond with a certificate that will stay with it from the time it is discovered through all steps of processing until it is eventually sold to the consumer (or company, in the case of industrial diamonds). The certificate would verify that individual diamond's status as legal, and not originating in rebel-held lands. Any diamond dealer found to be trucking in illicit goods would have his/her license revoked.
While the Kimberley agreement has a nice sound to it, the subtle reality is that it is little more than a balm to silence protests by human rights groups seeking to discourage the sale of "blood diamonds". The reality is that "Kimberley" is virtually unenforceable, as gaping holes in the production and distribution chains exist and would allow blood diamonds to enter a "clean" stream early on undetected. In regions where virtually anyone can become a diamond miner, with no more tools than a shovel and bucket (and many do, in an effort to alleviate their tremendous poverty), such a trade cannot possibly be effectively regulated.
But practical monitoring problems are not the only shortcoming of the agreement. The whole process is to be self-monitored, meaning it is diamond corporations and diamond-exporting countries that oversee the regulation of diamonds - the very same people who have been profiting from the sale of blood diamonds for so long. The perils of self-regulation even in the relatively controlled environment of corporate America have been exposed so recently. In a war zone, where the prospective regulators have been shown to be corrupt profiteers, all bets are off.
To further complicate matters, even the certified legal diamonds might not be blood-free. Are any of the diamonds coming out of the Congo-where all sides have been vicious, corrupt, and greedy throughout the war-really clean? The system, if it worked perfectly, would only ensure that the diamond in question did not come from rebel-held territory. Now that Sun City has granted legitimacy to the thieves involved in the war, there is no rebel-held territory-their diamonds become legal. Similar situations of corruption apply in many of the other major diamond-producing nations.
The two agreements forged last month: one for Congolese peace, one for assurance of conflict-free diamonds, have good intentions but lack any real hope for lasting success. They are, at best, a first step. Wars have been fought for diamonds and diamonds used to finance war in such a confusing and corrupt manner that even a peace agreement perpetuates and legitimizes the sale of blood diamonds. The impossibility of enforcing either agreement, in which so much profit can be had if the parties simply refuse to cooperate, is apparent. Further measures must be taken if the people of the Congo and other parts of the world are to be made safe from the perils of such shiny rocks.
Tom Ogorzalek, Notre Dame '01, is planning his foray into graduate school from Washington DC where he is currently editor of the Journal of Housing and Community Development for the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. He may be reached at email@example.com.
The Caricature of Christ: A Warmonger's Claim to Identification with the Prince of Peace
"War results from a lack of our imagination and faith in the face of evil and injustice; it results from a denial of our creative God-given gifts for resolving conflict with non-violence; and, for the church, it results from our failure to make visible the power of Christ's transforming, redemptive love as a means of responding to evil." Statement on Iraq by the General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church
"When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the Savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life. And that's what happened to me," Bush said when asked to elaborate on his statement that Jesus Christ was his favorite political philosopher and that he identified with him.
Who better to emulate Christ's example of peace, mercy, and love for all humans than someone who executes the mentally retarded, declares a doctrine of preemptive strikes, rewards nations that commit horrendous human rights abuses, and has relentlessly bombed war-torn Afghanistan in pursuit of terrorists, calling the resulting civilian casualties "collateral damage" as if they were mere objects instead of human beings?
Even apart from the argument that Jesus Christ stayed out of politics, in one famous instance stating that one should "give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God" and that the early Christians so strove to imitate Christ that they refused to participate in the military and the political life of the time, Bush doesn't seem to be practicing what Jesus Christ preached. Bush's actions seem to be motivated more by the Old Testament mindset of smiting enemies than by Christ's exhortation to turn the other cheek and love one's enemies.
Jesus Christ exemplified love of creation and everything in it ,but Bush shamelessly exploits resources and destroys the land through logging and drilling. His FY2003 budget for the EPA was slashed by three hundred million and the allowance for clean water protection was also slashed. In addition, he granted billions in tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel and nuclear power companies and he is also planning to open up public lands for drilling and mining.
During Bush's tenure as governor of Texas, he executed 152 people, including born again Christian Karla Faye Tucker. Despite her acknowledgement of guilt and expression of remorse, appeals from the pope, Pat Robertson, and many conservative leaders, Bush denied her clemency. In an interview with Tucker Carlson of Talk Magazine, Bush mocked the condemned and soon to be executed prisoner with a joke about her response to the question posed by Larry King - "What would you say to Governor Bush?" With a look of mock anguish and desperation, Bush whimpered "Please, don't kill me." Perhaps he should check out Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount where he states "blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
At a Houston church, Bush declared "my faith has made a big difference in my personal life and in my public life as well." During his administration, he has disregarded the Constitutionally mandated separation of church and state by backing faith based charities, vouchers, the teaching of creationism in schools, the posting of the Ten Commandments in public places, and the posting of "In God We Trust" posters in public schools. But one only need look at his record to see that his religiosity is selective. He has been a member of the United Methodist Church since his marriage to his wife Laura and has remained active in it. However, his beliefs and actions are contradictory to many UMC teachings.
In 1980, the UMC passed a resolution opposing capital punishment, stating that the traditional "eye for an eye" argument commonly used in its defense "does not give justification for the imposing of the penalty of death." Several bishops have written to Bush, asking him to consider his Church's stance on the issue and to at least put a moratorium on executions but none has ever received a response from him. The UMC is also opposed to nuclear proliferation and has called on all those who have nuclear weapons to "renounce unconditionally the use of nuclear weapons for deterrence and war-fighting purposes" and to "pledge never to use nuclear weapons against any adversary under any conditions." Bush supports the development of lower yield "usable" nuclear weapons and contingency plans that would allow nuclear weapons to be used against several countries, including Iran, North Korea, and Iraq.
Recently, Bush has announced a new doctrine of "preemption" and "defensive intervention" as formal options in the war on terror, replacing the former policies of deterrence and containment. In a speech at West Point, Bush declared that national security required that the U.S. "be ready for preemptive action." Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, has said, "preemptive strike does not allow for the adequate pursuit of peaceful means for resolving conflict. To be silent in the face of such a prospect is not an option for followers of Christ." The United Methodist Church has come out against the war on Iraq, believing that a preemptive strike was in direct conflict with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
In October, the UMC's General Board of Church and Society issued a Statement on Iraq, stating that "war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Jesus Christ" and that they "reject war as a usual instrument of foreign policy and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them." The Board also declared that "believing that international justice requires the participation of all peoples, we endorse the United Nations and its related bodies and the International Court of Justice as the best instruments now in existence to achieve a world of justice and law." George W. has pledged to attack Iraq whether or not the United Nations approves it. In "The American Jihad: The Entanglement of Religion and the War on Terrorism" (Common Sense, April 2002), I addressed the question of what side God would be on in the war on terrorism. Jesus would not take sides in this conflict but instead side with all of humanity, regardless of nationality, and confront violence with love and compassion. George W. Bush professes to identify with Christ but his refusal to emulate his virtues of mercy, love and forgiveness negates his declaration. He uses his attachment to his religion as justification for making public stances on hot button issues but can conveniently disregard it when it doesn't suit his purposes. His death penalty record, destruction of the environment, and alliances with nations that ignore basic human rights and dignity speak for themselves. In dealing with terrorism, Bush has chosen the path of revenge and destruction rather than the path of justice and forgiveness as his Favorite Philosopher would have done. Bush's "eye for an eye" brand of justice has rendered him blind to his own hypocrisy.
Saint Mary's Sophomore Sarah Edwards is a philosophy major and regular contributor to Common Sense.
'No mas' to US-sponsored Terrorist Training
A few weeks ago, over 10,000 people converged on Ft. Benning in Georgia to close the U.S. military's Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), formerly the infamous School of the Americas (SOA), in order to point out the Bush Administration's hypocritical approach to the War on Terrorism and to say "no ms" to U.S. sponsored violence in Latin America. I was among Notre Dame's 45 person mission of students and faculty in attendance at the weekend's Vigil.
The US Army founded the School of the Americas in 1946 to combat Communist influence in the western hemisphere by training Latin American militaries in the fine arts of psychological operations, counterinsurgency, and interrogation methods. SOA graduates have been notorious for their complicity in human rights abuses and death squad activity. These include the murders of Archbishop Romero, six Jesuit priests, and the rapes and murders of four U.S. churchwomen in El Salvador. In response to the claim of many SOA supporters that the responsibility for such incidents lies with a "few bad apples," and not the majority of SOA graduates, a UN report stated that more than two-thirds of the more than sixty officers cited in the worst atrocities of El Salvador were alumni of the School of the Americas.
In December 2000 the School of the Americas was closed and reopened in January 2001 as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Human rights abuses are ongoing in places like Colombia, Bolivia, and Guatemala, due in part to the training that many of the military personnel of these countries received from the United States. According to Human Rights Watch, "a thorough Colombian government investigation collected compelling evidence that Army officers worked intimately with paramilitaries under the command of Carlos Castao. They shared intelligence, planned and carried out joint operations, provided weapons and munitions, supported with helicopters and medical aid, and coordinated on a day to day basis. Some of the officers involved remain on active duty and in command of troops."
The necessity of a School of the Americas or a Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation is questionable at best with the Cold War over and considering that there have been no wars between nations in the western hemisphere for decades. Most of the conflict has been internal strife as Latin America's poor seek a greater voice in their governments after being silenced for five centuries by elites ranging from the colonial viceroys to modern day multinational corporations. The "Security Cooperation" in WHISC appears to be merely the cooperation of the United States with Latin American elites in ensuring that economic assets are protected from the poor and marginalized. The tactics used include torture, rape, and murder of innocent civilians, in short, terrorism.
With the War on Terrorism in full swing, with a new department of Homeland Security to impose a sort of Orwellian nightmare upon the people of the United States, and with Attorney General John Ashcroft chipping away at civil rights and the Constitution, those who in George W. Bush's own words, those "that harbor, finance, train, or equip the agents of terror" could not possibly be at work at one of our very own military bases. However, this is exactly what happens at Ft. Benning's SOA/WHISC, and this is why each year, thousands gather at its gates to demand its closure.
Unfortunately, this year's vigil was a testament to deteriorating civil liberties in the United States. As protesters walked down the street that led to Ft. Benning, they were greeted by police checkpoints where they were made to undergo a search with metal detectors, despite SOA Watch's decade-long mission and history of non-violence with as many protests without any incident. The conservative counter-protest down the street was not subject to any kind of search and was allowed to congregate without a permit.
Despite these insults and the rainy weather, spirits were high as numerous speakers and musicians took the stage to testify against SOA/WHISC violence, related economic injustice tied to corporate globalization, and U.S. sponsored violence and potential war in Iraq. The emotions of the program were at times overwhelming. One could not help but cry as a mother whose three young children had been "disappeared" by an officer trained at the SOA spoke while sobbing and gesturing towards the base behind her. Another highlight was the parade of the "Puppetistas," whose brightly colored 15-foot puppets accompanied by throngs of people waving blue, red, or yellow flags and banging pots and pans was truly a sight to behold.
The second day consisted of a solemn funeral procession down the street to the gates of Ft. Benning during which each of the names of those murdered by SOA graduates were read aloud to the resounding response by the crowd of "Presente!" Protesters decorated the gates with flowers, signs, and white crosses complete with the name of an SOA victim. There was also a mass die-in at the gates where 100 blood-spattered people laid down to represent the thousands of victims killed by those trained at the SOA. At least 95 people were arrested and are expecting a jail-sentence of up to six months. Two protesters were arrested for attempting to cut the lock on the gate so that the funeral procession could proceed down the street onto the base itself.
Additional action must be taken if the school is to be closed for good. The increasing number of protesters each year is extremely promising, but HR 1810, the bill to close SOA/WHISC did not have sufficient congressional support before midterm elections, and it is highly likely that support has diminished afterwards. It is important now more than ever that people continue to make their voice heard as their government speaks increasingly for a small clique of special interests.
Ryan Abrams is a freshman Arts and Letters major and a Member of Common Sense.
Phil Donahue Hails Victim as "Patron Saint"
Notre Dame grad Phil Donahue bestows the Thomas A. Dooley Award in memory of Father Mychal Judge on behalf of the Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College.
NEW YORK - Sept. 28, 2002 - Sept. 11 victim Father Mychal Judge is "a patron saint of gays struggling for equal rights," according to TV host Phil Donahue, who honored the late New York City firefighters' chaplain on Saturday night with the Thomas A. Dooley Award from the Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College (GALA-ND/SMC).
Judge died while administering last rites to firefighters in the World Trade Center tragedy. During his lifetime, the openly gay priest ministered to AIDS patients and other needy citizens of New York in the same crusading spirit displayed by Tom Dooley, the gay Notre Dame grad who achieved world fame in the 1950s as a doctor who set up charitable hospitals to assist the needy of Vietnam and Laos.
"Father Judge and Tom Dooley both knew what ministering was all about," Donahue said. "They were two generous and selfless men who happened to be gay."
"Mychal Judge chose to follow a path of honesty and openess on his life journey as a catholic priest and as a gay man," said Brendan Fay, a close friend of Judge's, who accepted the Dooley Award in his memory. In 1994, when Fay and others formed Lavender and Green Alliance, an outreach to New York's Irish gay community, Judge was an enthusiastic supporter and attended their annual "Oiche Aerach" celebrations. In March 2000, he joined the city's first St. Patrick's parade that included gay people. Fay recalls the historic event in the borough of Queens, "On Skillman Avenue, I remember that the friar joined us in his Franciscan habit, prayed with us, blessed many along the way, including a few who came to jeer. As they screamed he simply smiled back and whispered, 'Now there goes pure levels of madness.'"
Phil Donahue, a 1957 graduate of Notre Dame, noted that religious intolerance continues today at his alma mater and he enlisted recruits in the struggle against the school's gay policy as Donahue addressed New York City government and national gay leaders, including Patricia Gatling, chair of the NYC Commission on Human Rights; Tom Ryan, president of Fireflag, a gay firefighters' organization; Francis Coppola, head of the police department's Gay Officers' Action League; plus leaders of New Ways Ministry, Dignity, Integrity, SAGE (Senior Action in Gay Environment), PFLAG, the Stonewall Community Foundation, the New York City Department of Health and three local Catholic churches (St. Francis, St. Joseph and St. Paul).
"Please march in our army," Donahue implored them all as he inveighed against Notre Dame's refusal to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy. "We're not even asking Notre Dame for an act of courage. Fordham, Georgetown and other Catholic universities already have adopted the policy. Save our school from second-class status! Notre Dame is supposed to be a Leader among Catholic universities and a champion of human rights."
Donahue, a noted crusader for gay rights, was joined at the awards ceremony at Porter's restaurant in Manhattan by his wife Marlo Thomas. The Dooley prize he bestowed included a donation of $1,000 from GALA, which was presented to Carl Siciliano, executive director of Ali Forney House, a homeless shelter for gay youths.
In addition to being chaplain of the New York City firefighters, Judge ran an AIDS program at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York and was actively involved in counseling fellow members of Alcoholics Anonymous. After his death in 9/11, President Bush invoked his name by signing the Mychal Judge Act, which grants death benefits to the beneficiaries of public safety officers - including the same sex partners of police, fire, and ambulance workers - killed during the line of duty.
The Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College is a nonprofit organization comprised of more than 850 national members. It's the largest gay and lesbian alumni group of a Catholic university in the country. Past recipients of its Dooley Award include Brian McNaught, a champion of work-place diversity training and corporate domestic-partner benefits; and Virginia M. Apuzzo, who is the highest-ranking openly lesbian official ever to serve in the White House; and Phil Donahue.
Tom Dooley was once called "the most respected man in the United States" by President Dwight Eisenhower. He documented his ministerial work in three books that became bestsellers - Deliver Us from Evil,The Edge of Tomorrow and The Night They Burned the Mountain. Dooley died of cancer at the age of 34 in 1961, but Notre Dame has made an extraordinary effort to keep his memory alive since then by building notable memorials to him around its campus, including a tribute room in the student center and a statue of Dooley at the school's famed grotto. In 1993, Randy Shilts' book, Conduct Unbecoming revealed a secret fact about the heroic figure who was once seriously considered for Catholic sainthood: Dooley had been ousted from the U.S. Navy for being gay.
Tom O'Neil is a Notre Dame alumnus.
A Dark Week for Democracy
Editors' note: How we are seen from abroad: The stranglehold the far Right now has on America will make it a more divided, reactionary and illiberal country, so argues Will Hutton.
The election in Georgia said it all. The Democrat governor, Roy Barnes, had dared to remove the Confederate symbol from the state flag last year. His Republican challenger wanted to bring it back, to honour, he said, 300,000 Confederate 'veterans.' A Republican has not occupied Georgia's governor's mansion since 1872. After last Tuesday, one does, courtesy of wanting to celebrate a civil war fought to defend slavery.
Europeans do not understand the curious civilisation that the current America is becoming, and the grip that a visceral and idiosyncratic conservatism has on its national discourse. They especially do not understand the undercurrents of an increasingly self-confident and subtle racism that is its own variant of the forces that in Europe gave us Le Pen and Pim Fortuyn. George Bush Jr is a chip off the old multilateralist, transatlantic establishment, runs the European argument. He may seem hawkishly conservative but, in the end, he seeks UN resolutions like other American presidents. Even at home, his bark is worse than his bite.
Wrong, wrong and wrong again. Anyone who thinks the Tory party is 'nasty' has not encountered contemporary American republicanism. Georgia's Republican Party, for example, is now led by Ralph Reed, a long-time crusader against abortion, divorce and single-parent families. He would regard last week's vote in the House of Lords allowing unmarried and gay couples to adopt as the work of Satan. He is part of US conservatism's ideological hard core.
Reed played every card he could. If the governorship was to be won celebrating the Confederacy, the race for the Senate seat would be no less shameless. The Democrat incumbent had lost three limbs fighting in Vietnam, but was attacked for being unpatriotic - the worst accusation in today's US - because he believed that unions should be able to recruit in the newly established Department of Homeland Security.
And so one of American liberalism's darkest days was repeated across the country. Minnesota and Missouri, long-time Democrat strongholds, fell. Governor Jeb Bush, despite the Democrats insisting that justice now be done for those infamous chads, won in Florida. As if to underscore conservatism's ascendancy, the only Democrat gain was in Arkansas where the Republican senator had suffered a messy divorce and his Democrat challenger was even more pro-gun and pro-Bible than the incumbent. <
The result is that the Republicans now control the Senate, House and the presidency for the first time since President Eisenhower. The consolidation of America as an ultra conservative country is going to take place rapidly. Mr Bush may have offered a few tit-bits to show his credentials as a 'compassionate conservative,' like his concern to reduce the price of prescription drugs for the elderly, but the core of the Republican programme is anything but. There will be radical tax cuts for the rich and the corporations, a freezing of all efforts to stiffen regulation in the wake of America's corporate scandals, moves to privatise the social security system, and a roll-back of environmental protection.
Abroad, there will be the continued construction of a new international order built around the prejudices of the American Right: unqualified support for Israel, building the National Missile Defence System and tepid support for the framework of international law and treaties.
Nor do the Conservatives' ambitions stop there. Following the ideas of the high priest of ultra conservatism, Leo Strauss, they want to construct a republic of 'moral,' god-fearing citizens who adhere to traditional virtues, rewarding the rich who can only have become rich through the virtue of hard work and penalising the poor who are only poor because of their own fecklessness. Above all, by now having the opportunity to pack the judiciary with extreme right-wing judges, they intend to do away with the famous Roe v. Wade judgment that legalised abortion. This is the most fiercely reactionary programme to have emerged in any Western democracy since the war, and for which last Tuesday's vote, argue Republicans, is an explicit mandate.
Horseshit. George Bush has al-Qaeda and a low turn-out to thank for his victory. The central message of his five-day tour of 15 key states in the last week of the election was to play on Americans' fears about terrorism, rallying them behind their national leader. When the electorate voted locally, the Democrats had the edge, winning governorships in four of the biggest industrial states - Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. The Democrats I have spoken to are so traumatised by the overall defeat that they dismiss these gains as irrelevant; I think they are wrong.
America is not a happy place. A generation of increasingly conservative policies has shrunk the American middle and induced not just fantastic inequality but a sharp decline in social mobility and opportunity. The US's social contract, never more than minimalist, is now threadbare. Consumer confidence is low; job insecurity high. American capitalism is viewed with deep scepticism. Nor are the majority of Americans social conservatives and closet racists; they do not want the clock put back over women's rights, the environment and race.
The trouble was that this silent liberal majority was only prepared to voice its preoccupations at state rather than national level, if it bothered to vote at all. The Democrats had to find a way of voicing the concerns of the mass of Americans while not undermining the President during a national emergency, but to do that they had to have a powerful pitch based on a liberal ideology as animating and dynamic as that of the conservatives. They didn't and they lost.
But the game isn't up. America's conservatives, blinded by their ideology and in control of every lever of government, will overreach themselves and the reality of what they plan will become evident to all, stirring the apathetic voter and reminding the best of America what it stands for. Last week represented the highwater mark of American conservatism and, although it looks bleak, the beginnings of the long-awaited liberal revival. Not just the United States, but the world, needs it badly. In the meantime, despite its flaws, give thanks to the European Union for partial shelter from the conservative storm.
(c) Guardian Newspapers Limited, November 10, 2002
Free Libraries, Free Societies
Robert Hughes, the highly regarded cultural critic, warns of the threat of "patriotic correctness."
I once wrote a book attacking two ways of lying. We used to call the one on the left, political correctness; the one on the right, patriotic correctness. That was in 1993, I think. Then, as one does, I went on to other books.
But two weeks ago something made me drop my morning bagel, lox side down. It made me realize how deep the rot had gone.
It was a report in The New York Times that officials from the State Education Department of New York, while preparing English exams for high school kids, had been rewriting excerpts from well-known writers and public figures, without asking them first or even saying the cuts had been made. They had, for instance, taken all references to Jews out of a piece by Isaac Bashevis Singer, which is quite a trick. A passage about killing a snake in a paragraph by Frank Conroy was cut, because it seemed to glorify violence. Words like "hell" were replaced by words like "heck." Anything that showed a whiff of sexism, ageism, left-handedness, and the rest of the usual suspects was submitted to the intrusive pinking shears of the censors, and no writer, however eminent, was exempt.
I know that hack journalism is in the habit of calling things Orwellian even when they're not, but this really was. It was straight out of the Ministry of Truth and, like the work of that ministry, it was routinely done by apparatchiks who had of course no personal feelings about the matter.
To say that such people were defacing literature would have made no sense to them. They were streamlining texts in order that they should not give offense or disturbance to any examinee, thereby misrepresenting their true abilities and skewing the examination results. It was all totally benign and probably good for minorities. You know, the usual putrid PC drivel about sensitivity review guidelines, but this time raised to the point of real mania.
Trivial, you might say. But much more serious is the present hooha over patriotic correctness. And it stems from one of the most hastily drafted, and constitutionally chilling, pieces of legislation to come down the American pike in quite a long while. I speak, of course, of the USA Patriot Act, passed on October 26 last year, in the frenzy that followed the destruction of the World Trade Center. One of the purposes of this act is to expand the already excessive powers of the FBI to poke and pry and rummage into the conduct of private lives, by systematic data-mining. It can investigate where there is no pertinent cause for suspicion - for instance, by going into the use made of internet facilities by the library-using public. The Patriot Act can greatly increase the number of requests for sign-in lists from American libraries. Translation: Go on the Web for any kind of information that can be related, however nationally, to a hot political topic, and you can end up on a government list - merely for having used a completely legal service offered by your library. I don't think it's hard to see the dangers this poses for free speech. It is wrong that libraries should be forced into a role in this game of self-inflating paranoia. It is a citizen's right that his or her use of a public library should be private, confidential, and sacrosanct.
Bush, Ashcroft, and the rest keep telling you to lead normal lives: Don't give in to fear. They also keep telling you to be afraid, be very afraid, because it is not probable but certain that there will be more September 11ths. Any behavioral scientist will tell you that that's the way to drive lab rats crazy. It is also the way to neutralize criticism and to create the illusion that Bush and his team are somehow on top of the game, which they are so obviously not.
There are some bright signs on this dour prospect of incipient repression. For instance, at the end of May, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia struck down on free-speech grounds a measure adopted by Congress two years ago, the Children's Internet Protection Act, which was written to force public libraries to filter sexually explicit Web sites from their computers as a condition of their receiving federal funds. That would have fit the stereotype of libraries: those caves of knowledge whose arcana were vigilantly guarded by fierce women who knew what you did not know, and rather looked down on you for not knowing it. I have never felt this.
I have been a writer all my life. Those who do not read cannot write, any more than their cars can run on water. Libraries have always been home to me. They have seemed not inhibiting, not scary, but veritable lighthouses of Utopian order and generosity amid the clutter and ignorance and selfishness of so much of the life that is lived in this world.
To confine the contents of a library in any way is to commit a kind of vandalism. It is like a stranger telling you: In the future, this library may only contain texts whose sentences start with the letter l, or poems that only praise furry mammals and must be written in anapests. The choice is always yours.
The point of a library's existence is not persuasion or evangelism, but knowledge. It is irrelevant to the good library whether, as an institution, it shares or promotes your core values, or mine, or the attorney-general's, or Saddam Hussein's. The library is always an instrument of choice and the choice is always yours, not your elected or designated leaders. The library wants to have everything and its opposite.
With every week that passes, the world grows more diverse, less tolerant, more micro-divided, and more networked. The explanations of what happens in it become harder to judge exactly, even as the shrieks of anger against relativism, uttered by those who are frustrated by its lack of simplicity, rise against the voices of reason and reflection like floodwaters against a rock. Then the terrible simplifiers come out and their terrible simplicities begin, and people preach barbarism, like George Bush promising everyone a religious crusade. Of course, if such people were historically literate and had some idea what superstition and murder drove the real crusades, if they knew what an idiot's tale the fictions of chivalry attached to them were, they might not invoke them.
One of the most repellent moments that followed September 11 was when the evangelist Jerry Falwell, friend of presidents and crass double insult to the names of Christian pity and human intelligence, opined to his flock that the destruction of the World Trade Center was foreordained, part of jealous Jehovah's revenge for the sodomy and fornication for which New Yorkers were world-renowned. We will never know how many sodomites and fornicators perished in al-Qaeda's cleansing fire that day, but we do know that when his thought brought down public outrage on his head, Falwell tried to weasel out of it, claiming he had been quoted out of context, the retroactive excuse of every liar and bigot since people began scratching messages on clay tablets in Mesopotamia and media began.
But Falwell has a lot of friends. You sure didn't hear old Praisegod Barebones Ashcroft denouncing him. Absolute good and absolute evil
Liberals like me have difficulty getting to grips with fundamentalists like Falwell, let alone their Islamic equivalents. We appear to live on different planets, with different laws of matter and gravitation. What is automatically clear to them is not so to you or me.
The fundamentalist thinks in terms of cosmic struggles, warfare on a huge scale between absolute good and absolute evil. Everything is related to absolutes, which is why Bush's shrill nattering about the "axis of evil" made sense to some Americans but sounded nuts to me. Even allowing for the fact that his grasp of English seems normally rather shaky.
In the fundamentalist view, whatever lies between the absolutes - reality, to most of us - is nothing more than a mask for the essentially cosmic and eternal nature of this struggle, which is fated to end in permanent world domination by Christ or Allah. This eschatological point of view can justify any insanity, any cruelty, any murder in the name of History, and of course, any censorship in the name of Virtue. The anti-abortion activist can demonstrate how pro-life he is by killing some doctors and nurses. The Hamas activist knows that the front line in the struggle against Israeli oppression runs through the heart of every Jew, and that there are no innocent bystanders; all civilians can equally be killed without remorse. The follower of that atrocious fanatic the Rabbi Meir Kahane knows that the intifada goes back to Biblical times and that the only good Palestinian is a dead Palestinian. Both sides know there is no reason for coexistence and no Biblical sanction for it. War is no longer territorial or national. It is ideological and spiritual.
The Old Testament, with Jehovah's genocidally primitive injunctions to the Chosen People to root up and annihilate their territorial rivals in the Middle East, is the blueprint, right there in the Bible. Under its ancient and abiding pattern, war is the natural condition of spiritual man and there is no escape from it.
It is the growing likeness between those there and these here that gives me the willies. Theocracies tend to behave in disturbingly similar ways, and whenever I hear someone claiming that God is on his, or more rarely her, side, we do right to smell the familiar odor of repression in the making. And of course the overriding irony is that not so long ago, when Russia was in Afghanistan, another president whose name was also Bush was heaping praise on the heads of Afghan guerrilla resisters, notably the pious and freedom loving Osama bin Laden and his comrades.
Americans love to talk about their traditions of freedom, and so they should. The shaping of American liberty is one of the great achievements in human history. But it is not a machine that fixes itself; it is not a tree that grows without water. And right now, this difficult year 2002, is an extraordinarily testing moment for it - and for several reasons. The main one is fundamentalism. Ours and theirs.
Fundamentalism is to intelligent faith what polio is to the body. Islam is hideously debased by it. Christianity is disfigured and cretinized by it.
Islam's fundamentalist descendants, who pretend to represent the Prophet, can invent nothing, preserve nothing, create nothing; their sum of cultural achievement is to intone "Allah is Great" while field-stripping their AK-47s.
And it's not so different on our side. Offhand, I can't think of one worthwhile contribution to American culture that has been made by our Christian fundamentalists: not a painting, not a poem, not a novel or a play and, despite all the churches that encumber our highway strips like shiny toys, freshly unpacked and dedicated to the cult of Baby Jesus the Marketing Whiz, not a building. Only bland cliches; only suspicion, antiscientific ignorance, and bigotry masquerading as "faith."
The true fundamentalist faith transcends probability, reason, and even history. But that is why people long to believe in it and why the World Trade Center no longer exists. How do people come to believe such stuff?.
There is only one place to find out; one place that will give us some clue, some understanding of our present terrors. It's the library, stupid. And may there be a special curse on those who have the hubris and indecency to pervert it from a repository of knowledge into a spying platform. For if all this results in a net decrease of our liberties at the hands of a too intrusive State, then those poor souls who died on September 11 will indeed have died in vain.
Robert Hughes is a writer and documentary film maker. He is a regular reviewer for Time Magazine. (c)American Libraries, August 2002, where a somewhat longer version of this article originally appeared. Reprinted with permission.
Send a Buck, Save a Life - Bush Won't
As all the Miss Witherspoons of our lives used to call in those clear, flutey tones, "Attention, girls!" Heads up, women, we've got problems.
The latest in a long line of anti-woman decisions by the Bush administration is, for once, getting some attention, in part because of the sheer cheapness of the move.
President Bush has decided not to send the $34 million approved by both houses of Congress for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). The fund provides contraception, family planning and safe births, and works against the spread of HIV and against female genital mutilation in the poorest countries of the world. Thirty-four million dollars goes a long way in the parts of the world where over 600,000 women die every year from pregnancy and childbirth, many of them children themselves.
Of course, our poor government is so broke it can't afford to waste $34 million on women in poor countries. It has more important things to do, like spending $100 million on "promoting marriage." (I'm in favor of recycling old Nike ads for this one: "Marriage. Just do it.")
Two women - Jane Roberts, a retired teacher in California, and Lois Abraham, a lawyer in New Mexico - have started a splendid symbolic protest, and it is spreading by email, fax, newsletters and all kinds of women's groups. The organizers are looking for "34 million Friends of UNFPA" to send $1 each to the United Nations (FPA) at 220 East 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10017.
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, director of the UNFPA, said the $34 million U.S. contribution would have helped prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies, 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, and 77,000 infant and child deaths. We don't have $34 million to save the lives of poor women, but President Bush wants to spend $135 million on abstinence education, which doesn't work worth a damn.
According to that fountain of misinformation, the Rev. Jerry Falwell: "This announcement angered school sex educators, who concentrate on teaching our nation's students that they should explore their sexuality and ignore the consequences. But Mr. Bush said government can teach children how to exhibit sexual control."
Actually, sex education is entirely about the consequences of "exploring sexuality," and it works. The Guttmacher Institute published a report recently showing that the abortion rate is down by 11 percent in this country precisely because young people are now getting more education about sex. One would think the anti-abortion forces would be grateful.
Instead, there is every indication that in addition to taking away a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion, the Bush administration is going after contraception, as well. Bush's first action on his first day as president was to reinstitute the global "gag rule" that no foreign aid can go to any women's clinic abroad that mentions the word abortion, even when the life of the mother is at stake. Now he wants to make W. David Hager chairman of the Food and Drug Administration's panel on women's health policy. Hager is an ob-gyn from Kentucky who wants the FDA to reverse its approval of RU-486, the so-called "abortion pill."
Although Hager is the editor of a book that includes the essay, "Using the Birth Control Pill is Ethically Unacceptable," he told Maureen Dowd of The New York Times he does not agree with the essay. Then why include it? He does not prescribe contraceptives for single women, does not do abortions, will not prescribe RU-486 and will not insert IUDs. Hager also believes headaches, PMS and eating disorders can be cured by reading Scripture. I do not want this man in charge of my health policy.
It took almost all of human history for the population of the globe to reach 1 billion in people in 1800. It took only from 1987 to 1999 for world population to grow from 5 billion to 6 billion. At current rates, we will reach 13 billion by the middle of the 21st century. Ninety-five percent of this growth will be in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Studies estimate that by 2025, two out of every three people on Earth will live in water-stressed conditions. The stress on global resources is already apparent. The National Wildlife Federation points to severe deforestation, habitat fragmentation, species extinction, water scarcity, climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution. Eighty percent of the original forest is gone or degraded. The grim toll on the Earth's resources goes on and on.
While we spend trillions of dollars on weapons, the military and homeland security, the real threats - water scarcity, climate change and population growth - advance unchecked. Of course, you would know more about all this if the media weren't so busy wasting hours of time on rank speculation about the Maryland sniper. Crime doesn't pay, but it sells.
Bottom line: Please send $1 to UN FPA (Fund for Population Activities) 220 E. 42nd St NYC 10017 NOW!
Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated columnist.
How to Shut Up Your Critics with a Single Word
Thank God, I often say, for the Israeli press. For where else will you find the sort of courageous condemnation of Israel's cruel and brutal treatment of the Palestinians? Where else can we read that Moshe Ya'alon, Ariel Sharon's new chief of staff, described the "Palestinian threat" as "like a cancer - there are all sorts of solutions to cancerous manifestations. For the time being, I am applying chemotherapy."
Where else can we read that the Israeli Herut Party chairman, Michael Kleiner, said that "for every victim of ours there must be 1,000 dead Palestinians". Where else can we read that Eitan Ben Eliahu, the former Israeli Air Force commander, said that "eventually we will have to thin out the number of Palestinians living in the territories". Where else can we read that the new head of Mossad, General Meir Dagan - a close personal friend of Mr Sharon - believes in "liquidation units", that other Mossad men regard him as a threat because "if Dagan brings his morality to the Mossad, Israel could become a country in which no normal Jew would want to live".
You will have to read all this in Ma'ariv, Ha'aretz or Yediot Ahronot because in much of the Western world, a vicious campaign of slander is being waged against any journalist or activist who dares to criticise Israeli policies or those that shape them. The all-purpose slander of "anti-Semitism" is now used with ever-increasing promiscuity against anyone - people who condemn the wickedness of Palestinian suicide bombings every bit as much as they do the cruelty of Israel's repeated killing of children - in an attempt to shut them up.
Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer of the Middle East Forum now run a website in the United States to denounce academics who are deemed to have shown "hatred of Israel". One of the eight professors already on this contemptible McCarthyite list - it is grotesquely called "Campus Watch" - committed the unpardonable sin of signing a petition in support of the Palestinian scholar Edward Said. Pipes wants students to inform on professors who are guilty of "campus anti-Semitism".
The University of North Carolina is being targeted - apparently because freshmen were required to read passages from the Koran-along with Harvard where, like students in many other US universities, undergraduates are demanding that their colleges disinvest in companies that sell weapons to Israel. In some cases, American universities - which happily disinvested in tobacco companies - have now taken the step of blocking all student access to their records of investment.
Lawrence Summers, the Jewish president of Harvard, has denounced "profoundly anti-Israel views" in "progressive intellectual communities", that are - I enjoyed this academic sleight of hand - "advocating and taking actions that are anti-semitic in their effect if not their intent". Mr Said himself has already described all this as a campaign "to ask students and faculty to inform against pro-Palestinian colleagues, intimidating the right of free speech and seriously curtailing academic freedom".
Ted Honderich, a Canadian-born philosopher who teaches at University College London, tells me that Oxfam has refused to accept £5,000 plus other royalties from his new book After the Terror following a campaign against him in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail. Now I happen to take issue with some of Professor Honderich's conclusions and I think his book - praised by the American-Jewish scholar Noam Chomsky - meanders. I especially don't like his assertion that Palestinians, in trying to free themselves from occupation, have a "moral right to terrorism". Blowing up children in pizzerias - and Professor Honderich's book is not an endorsement of such atrocities - is a crime against humanity. There is no moral right to do this. But what in God's name is Oxfam doing refusing Professor Honderich's money for its humanitarian work? Who was behind this?
Our own John Pilger made a programme for Carlton Television called Palestine Is Still The Issue. I have watched it three times. It is accurate in every historical detail; indeed its historical adviser was a left-wing Israeli academic. But Carlton's own chairman, Michael Green - in one of the most gutless statements in recent British journalism - announced that it was "a tragedy for Israel so far as accuracy is concerned". Why Mr Green should want to utter such trash is beyond me. But what does he mean by "tragedy"? Is he comparing Pilger to a suicide bomber?
And so it goes on. It is left, of course, to the likes of Uri Avneri in Israel to state that "the Sharon government is a giant laboratory for the growing of the anti-Semitism virus". He rightly says that by smearing those who detest the persecution of the Palestinians as anti-Semites, "the sting is taken out of this word, giving it something approaching respectability". But we can take comfort that 28 brave academics have signed a petition condemning President George Bush's build-up to war and Israel's support for it and warning that the Israeli government may be contemplating crimes against humanity on the Palestinians, including ethnic cleansing.
Have Mr Pipes and his chums put the names of these good men and women on their hate list? You bet they haven't. Because all of them are Israeli scholars at Israeli universities. I wonder why we weren't told about this.
(c)The Independent (UK), 21 October 2002.
In Peter Walshe's recent article on the clerical-corporate culture that he sees as pervasive at Notre Dame, he says that the Faculty Senate, of which I am the current chair, was "restructured by fiat." Because I am not sure I know what Professor Walshe meant by that phrase and because your readers may be interested in an account of the recent history of the Senate, I am sending my aacount of that history to you.
In the spring of 2001, after years of frustration, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution that called upon the Academic Council to amend the Academic Articles in such a way that the Faculty Senate would no longer exist. Pending action on that resolution, a few of the senators who thought that the dissolution of the Senate would deprive the faculty of its sole collective voice in the life of the University, devised a plan to make the Senate both more appropriately representative and more forceful as a voice in university life. The group of senators then convinced both their fellow senators and some key adminstrators on the wisdom of their plan. As a result, the Academic Articles were amended last March in ways that make a restructured Senate legal, and the Senate's by-laws were amended last week in ways that reflect the Senate's restructuring.
It's too early to tell if the restructured Senate will succeed or fail. That depends on the wisdom the Senate displays in its deliberations and decisions as much as it depends on the University's administators' willingness to engage in genuine dialogue with the Senate. For the sake of the University and its aspirations to excellence, I hope that it does succeed. I cannot for the life of me see why anyone would want it to fail.
Sex-Abuse Scandals in the Church
Inspired by the excellent articles in Common Sense concerning the sex-abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, I would like to draw attention to an aspect of Catholic thinking which I believe is a factor behind the relatively mild reaction on the part of the hierarchy which is, by contrast, so forthright when condemning birth control and abortion. The reason for this is that sex with a boy, or homosexual intercourse between men, is considered less evil than non-procreative sex with a woman.
While teaching at St. Joseph's High School in South Bend, I was part of a discussion/prayer group of lay women and sisters of St. Mary's College where we explored ways of improving the status of women in the Church. When one of my daughters heard about this, she said: "Mom, it's like a black person joining the Ku Klux Klan to challenge the Klan's attitude towards blacks!" I was shocked, but then she was a typical teenager and they do tend to exaggerate, don't they?
Around that time, abortion was being discussed among the faculty at St. Joe, and I wondered why the emphasis seemed to be much more on the welfare of the foetus than that of the child after birth. One of my colleagues enlightened me: "The unborn child is innocent." I was speechless, for surely so was the new-born babe, the 3-month-old, possibly the 2-year-old? But no, apparently my theology was wrong. Unlike the foetus, the new-born was tainted by original sin. I was informed that original sin was passed on to the child as a result of passage through the vagina. I experienced a rush of blood to my head, my heart raced with disbelief and I went straight to our resident priest and asked if this was true. He confirmed it. So, sex between males is the lesser evil - avoiding, as it does, the "gate" through which original sin is passed on to humanity! Deeply troubled, I realized there must be a reason why celibate, male clerical scholars write erudite articles about the inferiority of women and debate whether the hymen of the Mother of God was or was not intact after Christ's birth - or whether Mary and Joseph had intercourse after Jesus' birth. I spent some time researching the origin of such thinking and found it in the writings of both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. It was then that I recalled my daughter's comment about our discussion group and I made a wrenching decision: As long as any church or organization holds such beliefs about women, I - a daughter of a loving and living God - could not be part of it.
Hildegard Stalzer, Vienna, Austria.
come again - and gone -
More than we can bear,
while the wildest reds this fall
This tapestry, with its pigments unfolding,
Such late beauty -
as if we were really in the climate
And every day, as I read
(poesis/polis forever entwined)
Jacque Vaught Brogan is Professor of English at Notre Dame. Her recent work includes Notes from the Body (poetry) and Words, War, and Women: The Critical Stages of Wallace Stevens' Revolutionary Poetics. This is the sixteenth in her series of fall leaf poems for Common Sense.
Master of the Universe
He sees a small boy stretching out
Out behind the palace,
Meanwhile across town
Poet Max Westler teaches in the English Department at Saint Mary's and is a regular contributor to Common Sense.