Should We Scrap the Second Amendment?

On August 15, in a California courtroom, Charles Andy Williams was convicted of murder and sentenced to fifty years in prison. Williams, for anyone who doesn't recall, was the 15-year old high school student, often tormented by bullies, who opened fire on a California campus last year, killing two people and injuring eleven more. On his arrest at the scene, he told police officers that he had planned to kill himself as well, but when the moment came lacked the nerve. His courtroom apology, given in the moments after his conviction, was wracked with sobs.

Less than two years ago, it seemed, we were on the brink of a serious discussion about the role of guns in America. A string of grisly killings, coupled with a President who saw opportunity in battling the National Rifle Association, had given new momentum to the seemingly endless and often fruitless quest for more gun control. But windows open and windows close, and at the end of that particular bout of self-examination we had no more meaningful legislation than we had before it started.

Proponents of gun control tend to blame the NRA for this, and the NRA, with its hyperactive lobbying campaign and its assiduously well-organized members, certainly owns a lion's share of the blame (or credit, depending on one's perspective.) Other factors played a role, though. The election of President Bush didn't help, partly because Bush himself supports the individual's right to bear arms, but mostly because he chose as his Attorney General John Ashcroft, a notoriously pro-gun official. Ashcroft hadn't been in office long before he quietly reversed the Justice Department's longstanding legal opinion on the Second Amendment, eliminating the idea, set forward by the Supreme Court in United States v. Miller, that the amendment is a guarantee only of "collective rights." The Miller decision says the amendment prevents the federal government from interfering with states' forming militias, but it does not prevent it from regulating individual ownership arms.

I tend to favor that interpretation, but I also don't put too much stock in Miller, largely because by the time the Court got the case Miller himself was dead, and so could not offer a very strong pro-gun argument. I am more troubled by Ashcroft's selective defense of the Constitution. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, when he seemed determined to apply elasticity to the entire the Bill of Rights -- when he wanted, it seemed, to know everything about anyone in the US who hailed from a Middle Eastern country -- he explicitly refused to find out if they owned guns. How this stood up to standards of logic or consistency was hard to fathom. Where the Fifth Amendment could be stretched and shorn, and the already-tattered writ of habeas corpus could be put through new gymnastic contortions, the Second Amendment, apparently, could not be touched.

But for a while now, this has been the case. The Second Amendment enjoys a rather exalted place in American jurisprudence precisely because, it seems, no one can agree on what it means. A few days before Charles Andy Williams sat in the dock awaiting judgment for his crimes, I was given an article, written by the economist Robert Solow, about the proper place for "intellectual ancestors." Solow was talking specifically about the land reformer Henry George, but in the article he took some time to discuss the downfall of Marxist economics. Whatever promise Marxism had, Solow said, fell apart when its original form, which as an innovative and highly learned form of social science inquiry, was replaced by a political movement. When that happened, the ideas of Marx himself stopped being a framework to apply to the still-moving world, and instead became considered incontrovertible truths. "Das Kapital," Marx's signature contribution to political economy, stopped being a useful starting point for the analysis of current events, and started being a political Bible. Marxist scholars, as a result, are often stuck making two arguments: that first, what they say is consistent with what is in "Das Kapital;" and (only secondly), that what they say has a bearing on the real world.

The parallel here is obvious. If Marxism is frozen in 1859, then our debate on gun control may be stalled somewhere around 1790. On both sides of the issue, scholars and advocates constantly stake claim to the Second Amendment, 27 words that -- let's face it -- would have earned an F from any respectable composition teacher. Advocates of stricter gun laws interpret the amendment as defending the need for state militias, while their adversaries claim it leaves unfettered both militias and an individual's right to carry.

There are points to be made on both sides. A favorite piece of propaganda brandished by gun control opponents is collection of quotations, from the Founding Fathers, on the meaning of the right to bear arms. The quotes almost unequivocally support an individualist interpretation. Alexander Hamilton, for instance, is quoted as saying "The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed." (It is an open question as to whether Hamilton felt the same way after Aaron Burr gunned him down in a duel). And Thomas Jefferson notes that "the gun" should be "the constant companion to your walks." Whether these quotes are in their proper context is something I'll not delve into; for the moment they can be taken at face value. The gun control side, for its part, enjoys trotting out one of James Madison's earlier drafts of the Second Amendment, which leaves little doubt as to its intent:

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From Mens Clothier to Pimp

One night, in 1997, after recently abandoning a career in luxury menswear, I had a peculiar and thoroughly tantalizing epiphany: the sex work trade and menswear retail had -- and have, at least the way I see it -- a seamy commonality. Both industries are peppered with excitable and emotional men -- men who conduct and close their respective business transactions by examining the features of a product and then feeling the benefits.

I felt I was on to something. It made perfect sense. And I made a decision. I would become a pimp. Not a Cadillac cruising, pheasant feather-wearing pimp; I'd become the manager of a staff of stylish and sexy service providers. A role I had played in retail. The only difference would be that then, my stable was filled with ready-to-wear consultants. Now, I would fill it with escorts.

James (the name of the agency I was to create) would be, like the stores that had employed me, a boutique operation. James would be modeled on the branding, management, operations and merchandising lessons I had learned in luxury apparel retailing. In short, James would offer its well-heeled clientele the attention to detail, quality and professional service they were accustomed to receiving from America's finest menswear stores.

In interview format then, is the story of how, and why, I did it. And why I chose, on a particularly sad evening for our nation, to stop doing it.

You went from luxury apparel to luxury sex. That's quite a career change. Why?

I suppose a combination of money and an interest in sex work. After ten years working in some of the finest menswear boutiques in America, I had an understanding of the emotional triggers that fire men. I figured those same men would appreciate and pay for quality companionship the way they had been trained to appreciate and pay for quality consumables, like luxury clothing and accessories.

Emotional triggers?

The apparel industry, whether at retail or wholesale, is a very passionate and emotional industry. No one needs fashion or luxury apparel, but consumers who buy it regularly, do so, I believe, in large part from a sense that it will make them something, or someone, they feel they're not. It's the same with paid companionship. Men buy companionship from escorts for the same reasons they buy $3,000 suits or $1,200 leather pants at BARNEYS. It's a business transaction which spins on an axis of emotion and ego.

It sounds like James was a 'If you build it they will come,' type of situation.

Men are driven by the illusion of sexuality. How many times have we heard from a salesperson in a store that a collection is "sophisticated", or "sexy", or "hot"? It's the same with paid companionship. New York has $10 street girls, $600 an-hour-call girls and $2000 weekend girls and every type of pay-for-sex in between. And they all advertise themselves the same way: the best. We knew if we presented overwhelming quality, we'd be successful. We never worried about our competition because we believed we were more than just a sex-for-pay service.

But isn't that what prostitution is all about? Sex?

We were an escort agency. We booked our agents with clients for proper and engaging social companionship. If they had sex it was their business. Sex was never our first consideration.

Well, your clients weren't paying for chitchat, were they?

Our fees were based on client request. We hired bilingual, degreed women who, to be hired, had to pass a rather rigorous testing process to determine their social intelligence. Of course they had to meet certain physical requirements as well. James was a value-equals-cost equation. Some things are wildly expensive because their astounding quality truly does equal their absurd price tags. Our clients were already conditioned to believe this from retailers and vendors.

So what types of women did you hire? Where did they come from?

We used one ad and ran it very selectively in business, art and certain trade publications one wouldn't associate with escort trade. But we felt that those women who responded had passed the first test -- they knew whom they were calling for an interview.

So what types of girls became James girls?

We hired on the same criteria that boutiques on Madison Avenue use, except we were more blunt about it, for obvious reasons. The physical characteristics of the employee had to represent and reinforce our brand. Once hired, employees were sent to a salon on Madison Avenue for cuts, color and nails and a dentist on the Upper East Side for bleaching. We didn't permit tattoos, exotic piercing, silicone or collagen injections. An employee had to have a strong and clear speaking voice and each woman was required to be fluent in at least one language other than English.

Okay, the luxury we understand. But how did you find clients? The Robb Report classifieds?

We advertised in places where men weren't looking for this sort of service, but where we knew once they saw our ad, they'd say, "Oh yeah, I forgot! I've been meaning to get one of those!" Our ads worked because we had no competition surrounding us (other escort ads). They also worked because our service seemed far milder and far worthier when introduced to a potential client through an unexpected, but very familiar resource.

What exactly does that mean?

Let me explain it like this. I worked in a certain store, years ago. There was a salesman there who forbade his established clients from seeing certain new items. He'd tell his clients they weren't ready to see -- or God forbid try on -- certain garments because the items in question were just too sophisticated. Now, these clients were wealthy, powerful and influential men. They were used to getting what they wanted. When they wanted it. This salesman used such reverence when describing a garment; the client would insist -- demand -- to buy it, even sight unseen. The items were always special and the client would invariably end up buying whatever it was, a pair of shoes, a tie, a sweater, a suit, and would, of course, rave about it for weeks. Until another new item arrived, worthy of the game.

Sounds like some salesman. That must have been some ad.

It took three weeks to draft and we ran it less than six times. A lot of escort agencies, and stores, run several ads, or types of ads, at a time. They make a lot of money but they run risks of falling short on selection, or quality, or customer service. They become cumbersome or greedy, just like stores.

But more advertising means more business, right?

It depends on the type of business you want to build. Last year in Queens, the NYPD busted two brothels. They were in two two-family homes on the same block. They cleared $2 million in cash annually. It cost fifteen dollars to get in. Each house had eighty girls working on the weekends and forty during the week. They had guys trolling the streets for johns. Those guys on the street were the ads. We advertised in such a way as to seem we were selling something else.

So what type of guys answered the ads? Who were your clients?

Our clients ranged from 23 to 62 years old. We had a small group of young guys, just out of college, working on Wall Street. They had the money to spend on this type of service and had set time into their schedules for hard-core, scheduled intimacy. For them it was dinners, shows, Saturday afternoon shopping and general ego inflation. There were a fair amount of parties and events too with the older guys. Lots of, "This is my niece, Allison, she's visiting from…" I don't go into detail on how we vetted clients, but all were required to meet me first. Meeting clients worked exactly as I envisioned it would. I was their personal shopper. I introduced them to products through a service they were familiar with from retail -- a highly unusual practice for escort work. But working with clients in this way assured I could deliver exactly what they desired, on their terms, while always learning more about them than just their phone number and address. We knew who these guys were, if you get my meaning. And they knew it.

So if the girls were your "collections," as it were, how did you merchandise them?

Well, packaging goes a long way. Men are visually oriented and so we knew much of the sexual component of James had to be based upon perception. Planting a sex seed in a guy's mind can make things easier -- and faster -- for the agent later, if it came to that.

How would you plant the seed?

Image. The ads we used. The way we dressed. We had to get one woman from Japan to understand the importance of thongs, especially with trousers. No panty lines at James. Unless requested. And waxing. You know the old salesman's saying, 'always be closing'? Well, at James, it was 'always be waxing.' We kept a list of props that our women had to travel with on first time appointments. Sheer pantyhose and thigh highs, lipsticks, surgical gloves, lubricant, a tape recorder, condoms, talc, oil, shower cap, quarters, fives and tens for cabs and doormen. No heels over three inches, no white shoes, no cheap lingerie or drugstore perfume, no visible wristwatch, no sequins, no Velcro. We had a lot of "no's". They helped us get "Yes, I'd like to become a client."

What about fees? How does that all work?

Our fees began at $600 and went to $2000. Cash only. Maximum appointments were twelve hours at two grand. Longer appointments were available, but they were rare. Average assignments were $800. It was always a 60/40 split, agents on top. I preferred rich, happy and well-treated employees and a lot of money to disgruntled, untrustworthy employees and a truckload of money. We held our agents to high standards and so we paid them to keep up. We worked those girls. We inspected their toenail polish, bags, cell phone batteries, and hair color. There was no playing around. They hipped to it pretty fast.

So the money really rolled in. That's a lot of dough.

Well, it is, but I was paying for their doctor and dentist visits. We tested the girls for STD's every week and HIV twice a month. I was also paying two security guys, and an office person, plus my rent and phones. The bottom line is all based on the risk one is willing to absorb from overhead, marketing and facilities. Just like in retail. If you have a shop, you can offer employee's commission or salary, or a combination. They all have risks. One has to ask, what is necessary overhead? For many escort agencies there's a great deal of overhead. Fleets of cars and drivers, dozens of phones and expensive screening apparatus, mail box drop rentals, the girls themselves, drugs, pagers, offices, alarms, rent, advertising, it can go on and on. For a retailer it can be the same thing. I didn't want to absorb risk internally or externally. That's why we were small. A small, supremely focused, and extremely well organized agency. We paid well, treated the women like professionals and we all, as a team, reaped reward. Clients used to send us thank you cards!

How many employees did you have?

We had twenty. Fifteen escorts, plus two freelance girls the others didn't know about. Those girls had particular specialties and scenes they would engage in. Two security guys and one office support person.

So what happened? Why did you end it? It sounded like you had all the hatches battened down pretty tight.

Believe it or not, we closed after President Clinton's televised deposition from the Map Room during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He came on TV the evening of his morning's televised deposition to apologize to America, and all I saw in his face and heard in his voice were our clients. Before he was finished speaking, I knew James was finished as an agency. I didn't want to become a home wrecker.

I have no moral difficulty with the idea of paying for companionship. Women pay for it too, from men. It's quite common, actually, just a lot less visible. And it would have been nearly impossible for me, due to insulation, to learn that James (the agency) had ruined a marriage, or a family. But watching Clinton on television that night, while seven of our employees were out working, I knew we couldn't continue. We shut down the service about a week later.

Wow, a pimp with a heart of gold. What happened to your staff?

I only know of one girl who's working at a leg and foot fetish salon in the city. Guys come in and pay to worship at the altar of the female ankle. Those girls were good. Good people and good workers. When they left, they were good and rich. And they learned how to dress well. I have a Brazilian friend who always said one could never be too rich, too tan, or too well dressed.

We didn't know that.

Well, you learn something new every day! I got two out three. Now, it's time to move along.

A Colombian Liver With Your Turkish Cornea?

Your son wakes up with a cold. As a worried parent, you take him to the doctor. You pick him up two hours later and something is wrong. His head is wrapped in bandages, and his eyes are gone. The doctor tells you that your child was afflicted with a rare fatal disease which required immediate surgery. The tragedy of your loss is compounded by the fact that your child was healthy; the doctor took his eyes to sell them on a black market of human organs.

This scenario is all but inconceivable in America. But in poor Third World countries, stories like this are tragically commonplace. A healthy pair of human corneas can be easily sold to an El Messanjero for $3,000 US. Third World country children are no longer just work slaves or sexual toys, they're also spare parts. I met "Dr. A" (His name will not be mentioned. He does work in South America, where officially the problem doesn't exist), who works in a donor bank in Montreal. After speaking with me on the phone and screening my text, he agreed to tell me about this trade.

Calcagno: I've been hearing about this trading since my teens -- my step-mother is Colombian -- stories about kids and the homeless missing their eyes and organs are common. For instance, at The Barancilla, a medical university in Colombia, a guard killed and stole organs from 'recicladores' (homeless that live by selling recycling). An incident like this should have caused great panic and concern in the west, but nothing happened.

Dr. A: This is a lucrative business! Did you know that a human body can be sold for $35,000 and the skeleton alone can be sold for $200 a gram? That's almost four times the price of cocaine. Osteotech Corporation and Cryolife Inc. buy hearts from India for $150 and sells them for $5,000. They are multi-billion-dollar science companies.

Calcagno: Where does this happen?

Dr. A: Everywhere. In the US, for example, there's been a Congressional report to regulate donors banks. There is a lot of concern about the origin and quantity [of donated organs], but the report was rejected. Doctors and corporations don't want government control. These companies hate it when there's somebody watching over their shoulder.

Calcagno: But in 1987, The United Nation, The International Health Organization, OXFAM and non-governmental organizations from all over the world expressed concern about the commerce of humans organs. In 1991 The International Health Organization created principals to help stop this commerce: 1) Minors and vulnerable persons have to be protected against abusive and/or illegal organ donation; 2) No organs should be removed from a living human; and 3) The human body and parts of it cannot be part of any transaction.

Dr. A: All those organizations are empty shells with no power. The World Trade Organization is the only one that can move something. These health and human rights organizations just make reports, no more no less. It took almost forty years and some big guns to legally make pedophilia trading an international issue, with an international task force to prosecute and arrest pedophiles.

Calcagno: What do you mean "officially" organ trafficking doesn't exist in Latin America?

Dr. A: There is no real investigation or collaborated proof to back such allegations. There are magazines in South-America, like El Tiempo, La Tribuna and Cambio, that have investigated and even proved of the existence of this market, but they all had to retract the stories. Too many high-placed officials and, of course, the Mafia were involved.

Calcagno: Is there a market for blood?

Dr. A: Travenol Hyland and Armour Revlon, USA; Nayer and Hoechst, in Germany; Immuno in Austria buy 10 billions liters of blood every year in Third World countries and their profit are over $5 billion. They have medical facilities all over the world. Put this in your head: Everything can be sold. Everything has a value, if you can use it.

Calcagno: Is the waiting list for donors long?

Dr. A: The list is way too long. People get desperate. You have to understand something. If you are a parent and your kid is dying because he's waiting for a transplant, you will do anything in your power to save him, even if is taking someone's life.

Calcagno: What can be done about organ trafficking?

Dr. A: Sign your donor cards. The traffic persists because there is great demand for organs. People don't sign their donor card for a number of reasons, some religious and others personal. Contact your officials and demand investigations, call Human Right international and sign petitions, demand a tighter control of donor banks.

Calcagno: We know that a lot of Third World governments are corrupt and anything goes if you have money. My trips to South America have confirmed that. But I know there's been a couple of arrests by local police against foreigners.

Dr. A: Money talks. There is no [international] agreement to arrest such activities. The foreigners just get a fine and continue.

Calcagno: Can you give me some examples of arrests?

Dr. A: Guatemalan police arrested two Israeli brothers who exported babies to Israel and the US, which cut in pieces and their organs for were sold for $75,000. Los Robaninos (children stealers) at the Mexican border kidnapped kids for their livers. Turks sell organs to the UK, France and Germany, just so they could eat or save their farm. In Villivakkam, India, 150 people reported that they sold their organs to a Munich private hospital for $1,000. I could go on forever, but politicians don't care because people don't know or just don't care.

Calcagno: Is this part of continuing colonization and the European idea of superiority?

Dr. A: You've been to South America. You are a white Latino American, you are one of the "lucky" ones. Indians, black or dark skinned classes are seen and used as utilities.

Calcagno: Hasn't there been any protest or human right watch about organ smuggling?

Dr. A: There was this protest a couple of years ago in Bogota, Colombia, by 'Los Desechables' (The Disposables) because they are tired of being seen as a Coca-Cola deposit bottle -- the deposit on a bottle has more value for some people. When I went to Brazil, Colombia and Peru, there is graffiti with slogans like 'Muerte a los Ninos' (Death to Kids) and 'Medellin and Cali limpia' (Medellin and Cali clean). Did you know that there are 8 kids killed every day by Los Escuadron de la Muerte (Death Squadrons) in South America. Poverty has always been the factor. The black market for organs will always be alive. It's survival.

Leonardo Calcagno, who is based in Montreal, writes a weekly column for He also contributes to various French and Spanish zines.

News for the NASDAQ-obsessed Elite

In a thousand years, when the alien anthropologists want to understand fin de siècle human civilization before the war or the flooding or whatever it is that mercifully wiped us out, they will find no better site to dig than the satellite signals squiggling through space of CNN International, the omnipotent atlas-straddling face of Ted Turner's Atlanta based dream child, now a Time-Warner product.

Nothing else so effectively squeegees the cultural plasma of the Brave New Global Economy. Nothing else so mirrors the inch deep psuedo-occupations of the airport waiting, stock owning global elite. The programming and the advertising, to the extent that they can be separated on CNNi, constitute the Ur-text of post-fixed line NASDAQ-obsessed humanity, a text produced on the assumption that the world preforma kneels before the gilded calves of instant stock quotes and telecom tech dish. The network initiate who does not understand this is soon consumed by an overwhelming urge to spit blood and inhale deeply the rich, liberating fumes of crack cocaine.

CNNi was conceived as a shared news source for the English-speaking international consuming class, the Walter Cronkite of the middle-brow stateless modern. But the trappings that allow the network to pose as merely a more sophisticated version of the domestic US station are deceptive. Standard news updates are sandwiched tight between business shows and regular updates from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The straight news is routinely filtered through the lens of its effect on 'investor confidence'. Indeed, one begins to pity the event untouched by comment from those newly knighted wonks of the privatized planet: the specialized 'industry analyst'. Whereas business news once fit into the larger puzzle of world events, it is now sum total of those events. CNNi is the unwatchable triumph of this fact. Bloomberg for stock-option generalists. Time Magazine for post-Westphalian silicon citizens. What the fuck happened to the news?

Of course this uniquely 90s trend has influenced the whole of Anglo news, including dents in the once venerable pillar of Second Wave journalistic integrity, the BBC. But somehow I feel especially revulsed by the way in which the values of business and their pin-striped shock troops are strained through the trademarked looking glass mincer of CNN International. Here the worst tropes of American news -- the idiotic banter, the stern yet moronic presenters, the predictable establishment spin -- are amplified into the global arena with a happy pro-business multinational cast, as if the white and black and brown and (sometimes) yellow men and women of CNNi had declared an island television nation at the End of History called always has a pleasant climate. Even while global warming induced storms wreak havoc upon most corners of the world, the CNNi weather update -- presented by an attractive yuppified West African -- manages to create all of the comfort and piped-in calm of the VIP elevator at Rockefeller Plaza. You know the one: an out of focus waterfall bubbles in the background as a soothing dimestore native pan-flute soundtrack eases the upward flow of every capital in which one could possibly need to do business. From Addis Ababa to Zurich, we're together in first class. Wink.

After the weather report, the viewer is ready for one of the many advertorials posing half-heartedly as informational news programming. Perhaps it is the travel show, in which upscale resorts and exclusive islands are displayed for the jaded National Geographic subscriber. Or maybe "Business Unusual", generously underwritten by Sir Arthur Anderson, will treat us to in-depth interviews and fascinating human interest stories about "different kinds of" companies "making a difference" who just happened to be preparing a IPO. If the viewer has a particularly large number of buckets in the room, he or she may want to enjoy "Inside Africa", which at times bears an uncanny resemblance to a real estate report. HIV bad; mineral rights good.

True, CNNi hasn't completely morphed into CNBC, the all-business channel that causes seizures in epileptic viewers by scrolling stock quotes from several simultaneous angles. CNNi even on occasion recognizes the existence of a world beyond Wall Street, and will run a good program on some non-tech stock related issue, such as nuclear war or the disappearing ozone layer or Art. But these are trimmings. Serious coverage of world events are bite-sized appendages to business-oriented 'news you can use,' to use an expression that captures in four words why you should not have children.

CNN can no longer convincingly hold up the front. It should follow Reuters and simply declare itself to be a "business information provider," not a traditional news source.

Alex Zaitchik is an editor at Freezerbox, where this column first appeared.

FBI to Monitor European Activists

Once upon a time the FBI investigated leftists at home, and the CIA subverted them abroad. This started to change in the 1960s, when crack intelligence squads from the CIA were required to stamp out domestic 'threats to stability.' The Black Panthers, anti-war groups and the American Indian Movement were all targeted by the CIA, which according to its own charter was restricted from doing so. Once the precedent was set, it was a smooth transition to gun running and drug smuggling onto private US airstrips in the 1980s, when the agency wiped its patriotic rear with the Constitution and helped turn Black America into a nation of crack zombies in order to illegally fund the Contras.

If the 1960s saw the CIA cut in on the FBI's turf, then recent years are witnessing the opposite trend. The FBI has caught globalization fever, and is currently dotting Central Europe with offices to complement its already impressive network of 43 centers operating off US soil. Along with one in Budapest, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation is launching an office in Prague. According to Czech State Television, FBI chief Louis Freeh met with Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross to finalize arrangements and discuss an agenda for the joint US-Czech project, which is to include at least one agent and an administrative force. Although the training and intelligence gathering center is supposed to be fighting organized crime, the Central and Eastern European Review reports that one of the "main topics of discussion during Freeh's visit was the upcoming joint IMF/World Bank annual meeting in Prague in September."

Something tells me that those Albanian heroin rings aren't going to be out in full force next September 26th during the protests. No, the FBI is colluding with the Czech police to gather information on citizens exercising their constitutional rights. Not that anybody should be gasping at this.

In terms of practical obstruction, it is not clear what a bunch of G-men can accomplish. They can plant moles, monitor the listserves, collect names, and forward everything to the mother database in Washington; but they can't stop tens of thousands of European activists from trying to get into the country and filling the streets. It is no secret where activists are organizing in Prague, and anybody can join the email list offering detailed information about the protests. The FBI will basically be eavesdropping on an open conversation.

The FBI may be convinced, along with Czech political elites, that the "largest threat to stability in the country is the extreme left" (Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman), but they should not be surprised to find no bomb making materials in opposition quarters. Unlike the extreme right, which actually kills people and has explicit political ambitions, the Czech anarchists, whose political expression is limited to an annual street party powered by a couple of diesel generators, are harmless. A minority of militants hold a penchant for breaking the occasional window and many of them fancy shocking imagined bourgeois sensibilities with pierced faces and various flavors of self-imposed disfigurement, but their actions cannot be anticipated or controlled by anyone, not even their fellow anarchists.

In short, they are isolated, unpredictable and largely unaffiliated. If the FBI is after an imagined clique of well organized Fidelistas buried deep within some Molotov cocktail factory, they are wasting their time.

A more cynical and dystopic view of FBI involvement posits that global elites are merely integrating their intelligence networks as part of a long-term project in countering international movements for economic and social justice; which is to say, in countering the pan-European Left. Just as these movements gathered force in the 1960s and challenged traditional structures of power, it is possible that we are moving toward a similar era at the dawn of the new century.

The Battle of Seattle -- followed by Mayday demonstrations around the world and the IMF protests in Washington -- was a wake up call to those interested in seeing popular struggle against the reign of capital stunted or reversed. We must remember that the 1960s were viewed by elites not as a flowering of consciousness or a period of liberation for subjected groups, but constituted a "crisis of democracy," according to the Trilateral Commission, the collective voice for elites in the US, Europe and Japan. Networks of activists involved in the struggle against the investor-centric model of globalization may become future targets of state repression, just as they were in the 60s and 70s. And the FBI is apparently doing the preparatory fieldwork.

Attempts to undermine or track these activist networks will be more difficult than in the past. They are extremely decentered. They extend beyond both national and hemispheric boundaries. They overlap. They have excellent communication systems. But perhaps most importantly, it is extremely difficult to garner popular approval for repression against them. For they are overwhelmingly nonviolent and support causes with widespread support. Unlike the Black Panthers, which worked out of a lone office and had an arsenal of guns aimed against 'whitey', the new protest organizations cannot be so easily raided and shut down. They can try, as they did in Washington, but it is all to little effect.

Clearly, the groundswell of global opposition to corporate tyranny -- as represented by the policies of the IMF/World Bank -- is bigger than the FBI, or any other organization for that matter. Even within the limited context of a single protest, I cannot see how their function can be anything but symbolic. Given the thousands of people who will descend on Prague in September -- from Germany, Spain, England, Poland -- the image of a handful of ear-wired US FBI officials in their three room office is almost laughable.

What isn't laughable are the priorities of those in power, who feel that democratic opposition to fascist structures of world governance should take law enforcement precedence over serious criminal syndicates operating in Central Europe. For there are in fact well funded and well organized cliques who warrant international cooperation between intelligence operatives in the US and Europe. But these cliques are not interested in sustainable development or debt relief, however. They have other interests, like the abduction and forced prostitution of teenage Ukrainian girls, kilos of heroin, cases of Kalishnakovs, and little vials of weapons grade Strontium.

I say let the FBI worry about these things, and let the citizens of the world take care of the IMF. But if the Bureau is really worried about us activists, they can start their files with me.