LiP Magazine

Exemplary IMCs

Exemplary IMCs, in no particular order, that make me proud to be an occasional Indymedia reporter:

Bolivia: Many collective members are involved in the day-to-day struggles of the region and have earned the trust of social movements. They broadcast a weekly radio news program in association with community-run Radio Wayna Tambo in El Alto, and provided all-day live coverage of last year's national referendum on natural gas, with around 15 reporters calling in with updates and interviews from 7 cities across the country. They also host video screenings. I went to one that was attended by about 80 people, 95 percent of whom were indigenous Aymara. Before the screening, the IMC organizers poured several pounds of coca leaf on a table--much appreciated by the audience. In addition, they are working to get donations of computers from the United States, not for their own use, but in a true act of solidarity, to give to an Aymara community on the Altiplano that requested them. http://bolivia.indymedia.org

India: An interesting site, though not frequently updated, and with a fairly low level of participation. Certainly, internet access is a luxury on the subcontinent, and only 60 percent of the over-15 population is literate. Content is almost exclusively in English, also a luxury. So though I don't think that the site accurately represents what's happening in India and who is making it happen (a near-impossible feat for any one site to do), it still has good writing, generally constructive engagement in comments sections, and information I would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. http://india.indymedia.org

Urbana-Champaign: After buying a downtown post office and transforming it into a community center, organizing successfully to prevent the local police from buying tasers, and playing an instrumental role in voting out a corrupt mayor, it's exciting to imagine what the folks at this IMC might do next. Well, actually, next up they are helping launch a community radio station that should be broadcasting in June. Their website covers local and global issues, and often features people signing what seem to be their real names to their work. Overall, they are truly embedded in their community, and provide valuable resources in terms of trainings, open debate, and lots of media. http://www. ucimc.org

Global: An excellent overview of the world's Indymedia, this site is incredibly useful, perhaps in large part because there is no open publishing--all posts are selected by editors. The editorial collective is accessible and responsive to stories pitched to them, and they are in the process of refining this process to make it even easier. With both Spanish- and English-language features teams, and with the birth of US Indymedia siphoning off a lot of US-dominant traffic, this site has truly gone global. http://www.indymedia.org

North Texas: With broad relevance to a diverse population, the site has everything a good community paper should have--news, book reviews, opinion pieces. The quality of writing is consistently high but not academic, using accessible language without lingo or mysterious acronyms. Coverage is primarily of local events, with a smattering of regional, national, and international items. It also serves as a message board, with announcements about such things as community garden plots available and biodiesel fuel for sale. http://www.ntimc.org

San Francisco Bay Area: With a carefully edited website laden with news, Enemy Combatant Radio streaming, and the year-old monthly newspaper Fault Lines, the Indybay IMC is one of the best. The site is well organized, easy to navigate, and provides broad coverage of issues. Many collective members are involved in a slew of local struggles, and it shows. http://www.indybay.org

NYC: Publishes The Indypendent, a biweekly newspaper with a circulation between 12,000 and 15,000. Its editors are highly skilled and work closely with writers. Their war coverage has been some of the best in the country, scooping several stories that even daily papers with high-salaried staffs missed. The website receives similarly attentive editing. http://nyc.indymedia.org

Ecuador: Covers a broad range of local, national, and international news, with minimal reprinting of corporate articles and very little spam or diatribe. Frequently updated and carrying excellent coverage and discussion of major issues, such as the recent ousting of President Gutierrez and the rise of neighborhood assemblies. http://ecuador.indymedia.org

Manila: Very well-written articles predominate on this site, and people actually sign their names to their work! Lots of radical analysis and less focus on protests is a welcome change. http://manila.indymedia.org

UK: With a weekly radio program on a community arts station in London, an erratically published newspaper, the Offline, and frequent video screenings, the UK (that stands for United Kollektives, by the way) team is on the case. Web stories range from action coverage to analysis to announcements and updates, with thorough coverage of national issues, and a broad smattering of international news. This site often features the lovely convention of an independently written article followed by links to corporate media coverage of the same topic, for folks wanting contrast, more info, or confirmation of facts and data. I wish others would do this more. They also encourage people to correct mistakes in the comments section, and, if notified, the editors will post the correction in the original article when appropriate. The UK site has also been, since its inception, the place to go for resources on longer term organizing of mass actions, whether they be local May Day protests, international days of action in other countries, or the upcoming G8 summit in Scotland. The writing is excellent, even on the newswire. Though its vigorous hiding of articles not meeting their editorial guidelines has been controversial in some circles, could it be that having the newswire tightly edited may push people to do better work in order to get published? I find the UK IMC site to be consistently one of the best. Though I do wish it weren't pink. http ://www.indymedia.org.uk

Argentina: In Buenos Aires, Indymedia set up shop for a while in a squatted building-formerly a bank and now a community center opened by the Cid Campeador neighborhood assembly. The association with the political birth of the squat has meant that participation among the unemployed, as well as the neighborhood, is high, although the physical site has shut down. Since the financial collapse in late 2001, participation on the website has come from a broad sector of the population, who have used it in their efforts to govern their own communities. http://argentina.indymedia.org

Brazil: One of the few Indymedias to do proactive investigative reporting, it's truly a political force in the country, to which municipal and state governments must occasionally respond. The center column is translated into three other languages (including, incredibly, Esperanto). They have a broad network of reporters, translators, techies, and radio stations spread across the enormous country. http://brazil.indymedia.org

Litterbug World

Heather Rogers' film, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, explores the "sinister success" of capitalism by looking at the life cycle of our waste. In the span of 20 minutes, the film examines the realities of planned-in obsolescence and waste-by-design in our market economy, asking deep questions from a fresh perspective. In the film, Rogers contends that recycling is far from an actual solution, and is at best a Band-Aid approach—a much harder look, she argues, needs to be taken at our addiction to waste. She recently spoke to us about her film, her forthcoming book of the same name (to be published in Fall 2005 by New Press), and the limits of "green capitalism."Ariane Conrad Hyde: What inspired or motivated you to make Gone Tomorrow?Heather Rogers: Two things: I wanted to know what happened to my garbage, because it seemed like it disappeared, but I knew that it didn't. I wanted to find out where it went. I also realized that "waste disposal" is a process through which the market's relations to labor and nature is made apparent. [The film] is a way of understanding that garbage is something everyone makes—everyone can relate to it. It's a way of connecting daily life and our daily interaction with waste to larger environmental crises.In your film, you document several of the major shifts that occurred in the attitude towards garbage in the U.S. Can you talk a little bit more about the most significant shifts?It's not so commonly known anymore, but in the 19th century there was a huge amount of re-use going on. A lot of it came from the fact that people couldn't afford to buy manufactured goods because they were so expensive. One of the big shifts came with the Industrial Revolution, when commodities suddenly became much cheaper. The spatial component of the Industrial Revolution transformed the way people lived, so that suddenly people were leaving the countryside and concentrating in cities, to go work in the factories. They didn't have places to save and store their waste like they had in the countryside, so it wasn't as easy to save fat, for example, or scraps of materials to re-use and repair. That, in conjunction with commodities becoming cheaper, meant that people bought more of the things they needed instead of making them themselves. At the same time, there was a transformation in land use practices, because garden markets also grew up around cities, and geography became more important to farming. Formerly, the colonial land use and farming practices entailed using a plot of land until it was exhausted, then moving on to another plot of land. But with the growth of cities, and needing to be close to cities in order to market fruits and vegetables to the people in the cities, farmers had to suddenly start tending their soil in a different way--they started fertilizing. Wastes were sent out of the cities to the country, and produce and hay was sent from the countryside to the city. There was what Richard A. Wines, who wrote a great history of fertilizer (Fertilizer in America: From Waste Recycling to Resource Exploitation), refers to as an "extended recycling system" between the city and the countryside.Then, after the Industrial Revolution, that connection between where resources come from, and where they go, and the symbiotic relationship between production, consumption and wasting began to break down. Commodities became much more affordable, and people started consuming a lot more. The 1841 version of Catherine Beecher's Treatise on Domestic Economy explains how to make candles and soap; her 1869 edition of the same book tells you to just buy those things instead of making them yourself. So there was this big shift in the use and re-use of discarded materials and resources. But even though there were these transformations going on, industry still used a lot of waste like metal and rags from households. A lot of the collection work was done by men with carts who would go around to houses in the city and the countryside collecting waste from people—waste that had been sorted, like rags and different kinds of paper, board, metal and rubber. They would take those things to the city and sell them to factories, so there was still this connection between what people discarded and what was produced. There was a direct line where household discards could be re-used in the manufacturing process.The next big shift came with World War II. During that time, there was a massive streamlining and perfecting of the production process. Along with that came mass production and the concomitant mass consumption. The byproduct of all that was a lot of waste. One of the great inventions of the postwar period was the disposable commodity. A lot of disposable commodities like paper towels and cups and disposable cans and bottles had been invented in the early years of the 20th century, but weren't marketed for various reasons. One reason for that was that producers didn't understand how profitable it was to make things that got immediately thrown away, and production wasn't as perfected as before World War II. After the war, there was real forced production, and cooperation between labor and capital—enforced by the government. And businesses had to cooperate with each other in unprecedented ways; they had to share information and they had to give in to this overarching discipline of churning out the goods for the U.S. military. When they emerged from that, they were so highly productive that, suddenly, making commodities that were meant to be thrown away made sense. It was economical, it was feasible, and there weren't controls on natural resources like there were during the war. So there was this boom in disposables—packaging was part of it—and the market share of disposable packaging has only grown since then. Also, obsolescence was a key development after World War II. It meant that durable goods began to be made to die faster than they previously had.And that was a conscious decision on the part of industry?Yes. Built-in obsolescence wasn't a new idea either, but there was this confluence of resources and comprehension of marketing and productive power that came together after World War II that made it all possible. Incomes were also high, and people had buying power they didn't have before the war.And shortly thereafter, as you point out in the film, there's the establishment of one of the first industrial front groups, Keep America Beautiful.Keep America Beautiful was established in 1953, it was the first of the green-washing corporate fronts. It started a few months after the state of Vermont passed a law that outlawed disposable beverage containers. Ironically, the Vermont law wasn't formulated by some kind of early environmentalist movement—it was passed by a state legislature comprised of two-thirds dairy farmers. What was happening was this: people had been tossing their [disposable] empty containers on the side of the road. These containers were ending up in the hay that the cows were eating, and the cows were dying—so these farmers were losing their livelihood, and they passed this law. At that point, disposable containers were still a new thing, and most beverages were distributed in refillable bottles. So they thought, fine, we can just stick to the refillable containers and we won't have this problem. Within months [of the law passing] the industry created Keep America Beautiful (KAB).What KAB proceeded to do was to form themselves into a very public relations-savvy beautification group. They identified a new political category of garbage called "litter," [a term which] had existed before, but not with the same meaning that KAB imbued it with. They connected with the federal government and regional governments, through politicians, local businesses, and the education system. They created this civic organization that [on the surface] was just against throwing litter on the side of the road. [Essentially,] they said that the problem isn't all of this garbage that's suddenly proliferating everywhere; the problem is that individuals don't understand what to do with it! To quote a film called Heritage of Splendor, which KAB made in 1963 (and which Ronald Reagan narrated for them): "Trash only becomes litter when it's been thoughtlessly discarded." Their idea is that the problem isn't what industry's doing, the extraction of natural resources at an ever-increasing rate or the destruction of the planet on a scale that had never happened before. No, the real problem is all of this garbage that individuals keep carelessly throwing around. They've stuck to that message and it's been very effective for them, because it displaces all responsibility from the people who make garbage—the producers of disposable commodities and commodities designed to wear out faster than they need to. It shifts the responsibility away from production, and onto the individual consumer.And didn't KAB also help popularize recycling?They didn't embrace recycling until later, not until the late '70s and '80s. They only took that up when they had to, and that was because of the rise of the environmental movement. They were very sophisticated: while they were doing this kind of PR work, getting out in front of the problem, they knew that garbage was going to become a huge issue. In the early 1960s, a magazine called Modern Packaging had a cover story [on] "the crisis of garbage." [The article predicted] that we're going to get to a point where consumers and municipalities are [questioning] all this waste.So they worked not only on the public relations front, but also worked to undermine legislation across the country. Vermont's law was the only law of its kind ever passed in the United States. No law banning disposable packaging has ever passed again. It sounds radical now. The fact that is sounds radical now says a lot about how effective KAB has been not only on the moral front, but also on the legislative and policy front.You mentioned this 1960s publication called Modern Packaging. Is that the first time packaging was spoken about as "packaging," this product that is not quite a commodity?I don't think so. The thing about packaging that is so interesting is that it is a commodity, but it's barely perceptible as a commodity. People accept that it's a commodity that's designed to be immediately thrown away. It again speaks volumes about how successful industry has been about training us to accept disposability, which has been a very concerted project that they have been engaged in for the last 100 years.Some of the first packaging arose in the late 19th century. Some of the earliest packaging was for Uneeda Biscuits. They were packaged in a box with wax paper that sealed in the biscuits so they wouldn't go stale. Packaging was all about easing distribution for producers, because before that, everything was sold in bulk containers. The transformation of production and distribution as well as retail sales—going from mom and pop stores to the chain supermarkets we have today—means that packaging represents the automation of the distribution system. I think producers are very conscious of how helpful packaging is in helping them centralize their businesses. In doing that, they get to downsize and streamline and create economies of scale that they couldn't create if they didn't get to consolidate—which is what a lot of the drive behind switching from the refillable to the disposable bottle and can was about. The beer and soda industries consolidated massively in the post-war period, and the number of producers shrank dramatically. And this massive consolidation in both of those industries was facilitated by the switch to disposable containers. The industry no longer has the necessity for regional bottling plants where trucks can only go so far to deliver the products because then they have to go retrieve the empties. Now they can just drive straight through, one way, and they don't have to take anything back. They can go to the next central hub, pick up more stuff, keep driving and drop it off.So what's different in countries like Germany? What makes them able to continue their refillable bottle programs?The state intervenes and regulates industry. In Germany, the government says that 72 percent of your bottles have to be refillable; there are quotas. If the industry doesn't meet those quotas—which actually happened last year in Germany -- the government comes in and imposes penalties on them. When you think about how the basic regulation of industry actually does work, in Germany, Denmark, Holland, and other countries in Europe, the popularity of refillable bottles is [obvious]. The vast majority of people prefer to take their bottles back to the store.In the U.S., the industry always says that they had to switch to disposable containers because customers demanded it -- that [consumers] want the convenience of disposability. Actually, there have been numerous polls done over the last 30 years asking people if they want deposit laws, which means that they would then have to take their bottles and cans back to some central location to get their deposits back. The vast majority of people always say that they would prefer for there to be a deposit law. This directly contradicts what the industry always says, which is that they've given in to consumer demand for convenience.When you see it working in these other countries, when countries like Denmark have 98 percent of their beverage containers refillable and they have something like a 98 percent participation rate—almost a hundred percent of the people are taking their bottles back—it's really hard to say this system doesn't work. The companies that are making those beverages are profitable! They haven't gone out of business, jobs haven't been lost, and the industry hasn't gone down in flames—which is another thing the beverage industry argues here in the U.S. The direct opposite has happened. They're doing well, it's good for the environment, the public likes it, and it works. It's totally realistic to do something like that, to reinstate the refillable bottle.I'm wondering if you'd care to reflect on the semantic shift that occurred: it seems like it went from "garbage" and "trash" to "waste." With your use of the word "garbage" in your title; are you taking a stand against use of the word "waste"?I use the word "garbage" in the title because I think it's really recognizable to people. I think that's what most people call their waste or their discards. That's why I use it; it's not a statement of my political or ideological stance on the issue of discards. A lot of people feel very strongly about choosing the right word, and I really respect where that comes from. I think that what we call the things we throw away is very important and it does relate to the way that what we throw out is constructed as dirty and not okay to touch or to consider as having value or being a resource. There are a lot of people like Mary Lou Van Deventer from Urban Ore (a "creative re-use" business in Berkeley, Calif.), who insists on calling everything that gets thrown away "discards," and I respect that. Because it's true: everything that gets thrown away is a resource that can be re-used. In the waste industry, especially the corporate waste industry, there's been a real conscious deployment of specific words to describe what gets thrown away. Often they'll call it the "waste stream"—they always try to sanitize it. They want discards to be off-limits, but also they want what they do to be perceived as environmentally innocuous. So they call all of the trash that they get from households and cities "municipal solid waste." They try and transform it into a technical problem, which blankets over the tougher questions about why are we throwing away so much stuff, and what's in there? Why are there so many resources getting crushed into the ground, or getting burned in the incinerator? Why are we wasting so much? The semantics are a really big part of how the system works and manages public perceptions of it.What do you think about green capitalism? Is it going to be industry vs. environmental justice, or can there be some kind of compromise, in your opinion?Companies like Waste Management Inc., which is the largest trash company in the world, tout their environmental sensitivity because they use all of these [environmentally friendly] technologies—all of which, they never tell you, are required by law. They act like they're doing it voluntarily. But when you go to these facilities and you see the wealth of resources used to destroy commodities—obliterating them, annihilating them, making them disappear—it's important to ask how many resources could instead be going into making the system that we've got more sustainable.In terms of how that happens, there's a lot of room for improvement, because the system we have is so bad right now. Obviously, it's better to recycle than to not recycle, but it's not a long-term solution. You're still producing all the waste—you're just treating it differently at the end. One thing I feel would really make a difference in environmental and human health would be to go in and look at how capitalism works—because it needs waste. I don't think that you can just make a few technical changes to parts of capitalism and expect it to work, or expect it to be an environmentally responsible system when at its core, capitalism needs unfettered access to natural resources and it needs to use them up. If you don't intervene in that cycle, you're never going to be able to deal with global warming, to stop de-forestation, and the endangerment of life on the planet. That isn't going to stop unless you change the economic system that we live under, because it has this fundamental characteristic of needing to consume nature and needing to produce at an ever-increasing rate. If there isn't an intervention made on that, it will just continue."Green capitalists" like Paul Hawken and William McDonough have some great ideas, like creating commodities that can be entirely disassembled, recycled and re-used. They say companies should do that voluntarily, that companies should just re-design their production systems and the raw materials they use so that they can be infinitely recycled and infinitely re-used. The thing is, that costs more at this point. If a "green company" is competing with a company outsourcing its labor to China and getting subsidies for raw materials extraction from some part of the U.S. government, as well as tax breaks on transportation, the green business is not going to be able to compete, and they're going to go out of business. It might be nice for a couple of years—it might make the owners of the green business feel good to do what they're doing, and it might make people feel good to buy those products. But at the end of the day, if they can't compete, they won't be around. The use of natural resources is incredibly profitable, and that's what will continue if there aren't regulations and controls put on production.Do you think that the U.S. can achieve a sustainable level of consumption? That a shift can occur given how entrenched the systems of capitalism are?I think that people like to consume because there's something really gratifying about it. In making changes like [reducing consumption,] there's a much greater chance of change coming about if we open up other channels [instead of] using the same pathway of relating to the individual consumer and their individual choices. And it's a bit problematic to say, "the state should just intervene," because the state has been intervening. They've funneled mass amounts of money to streamlining and perfecting the plastics industry, for example. The state helped create the disposable society that we have today. So it isn't enough to say the state needs to intervene—a democratized state needs to intervene, and people need to have more of a say in how much of our collective resources are being used, and how responsibly they're being used.I'm curious as to whether the spectrum of options that includes recycling, producer responsibility, re-designing of products, using different materials, refillable bottles ... all of these strategies, when added together: will the equation yield zero waste?All those things you mentioned are important changes that people are working toward. The Zero Waste movement has some great goals, in my opinion. What they aim for is to not actually throw anything away. They believe that nothing is waste, that everything continues to have value, and that everything that gets thrown away is a resource. I think that's an accurate reading of the situation. They are similar to green capitalists, [in that] they want to re-design the production system so that commodities and materials get re-used over and over again, but they actually believe there needs to be enforcement of that; it's not something that's going to happen on a voluntary basis. I think that's a more realistic approach. I think what they're doing—groups like the Grassroots Recycling Network, and the Institute for Local Self Reliance—are working on different fronts to make real change happen. They're working on public opinion and perceptions of garbage, and they're also working on the policy level.What about population control. Does that figure into it?I don't think that's a real issue. Like I said before, the problem the current economic system we live under has isn't being able to produce enough to supply everyone with food and the things that they need. There are enough resources and food for everyone on the planet—it's just a question of what bodies and mechanisms stand between people and the things that they need to live. And that is often the market, and the market's need for profit.I'm curious about the links between the issue of waste and racial justice. I know there were lawsuits filed against Waste Management Technologies by African-American and Latino communities, because these communities were unfairly bearing the burden of waste sites ...Environmental racism is a very real thing, and it has been all along. In the 19th century, the poorest of the poor were forced to work in, eat from, and live in garbage. In many ways that's still true today, and it reveals the realities of a fundamentally unequal system that produces so much wealth, poverty and environmental destruction. Inevitably, the people who have to live in the most toxic conditions are the poorest people. New York City, where I live, has the highest concentration of transfer stations (where garbage gets taken after it gets collected and before it goes to the recycling center, the landfill or the incinerator) in the South Bronx, which is one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York. They have some of the highest asthma rates in the country, and they deal with real environmental fallout on a daily basis. They deal with the diesel exhaust; they deal with the rats and the roaches that are everywhere because there's garbage everywhere. They deal with the [garbage] trucks rolling down the street where kids play. And they deal with it in a vastly disproportionate amount than the people who live on the Upper East Side. And New York City—the country's largest garbage producer, and one of the wealthiest cities in the country—ships its waste to poor, rural areas in Pennsylvania. The poorest regions in the U.S. get saddled with all the waste.Internationally, you've got loads of toxic waste getting shipped overseas to countries like the Philippines, India and China. The EPA did a study showing that it's 10 times cheaper to "recycle" a computer in China than it was to "recycle" one in California. There's an economic imperative to ship waste to [countries] where labor is cheaper. What that means is that those people have to live with the toxicity of that process. The environmental and labor laws are more lax, and again the poorest people end up with the greatest amount of filth and hazardous conditions, because it serves the interests of the wealthiest in the world.Is there anything else you're working on for the book that you want to talk about?Just briefly: in 1976 a law was passed called the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act. It stipulated that the EPA was to oversee states' setting safety standards for their landfill disposal sites, and it took several years—a decade, basically—for that to actually happen. So in the mid '80s, something like two-thirds of all landfills in the U.S. were shut down, because they didn't meet the new safety standards. You may remember the Khian Sea garbage barge that floated around the East Coast and then went down to Haiti, and ended up mysteriously offloading its cargo somewhere in the Pacific. Because of the landfill crisis, there was a need to find other solutions. The garbage industry and some of the old-line environmental groups like the Sierra Club endorsed incineration. But a really impressive grassroots resistance to incineration grew all across the country in Brooklyn, and Philadelphia, and Los Angeles—there were coalitions of mostly working-class residents who lived near where the incinerators were going to be built. They joined forces and taught themselves to understand how incinerators worked and what the potential toxicity risks were, and they ended up getting help from National Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, Barry Commoner, and Neil Seldman from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. These groups successfully fought incineration; now incineration is only responsible for about 15 percent of waste disposal. That's an example of how grassroots activism works in deciding policy and deciding what happens to our waste. It's really instructive. A lot of environmental consciousness was raised out of those movements.It sounds like that's where you draw hope from.Yeah. And on the policy side, I do think the Zero Waste movement offers some good and realistic solutions. They want to get rid of landfills and incinerators. They want to re-design the production process so that everything is designed to be re-used, so that toxics are removed from the process as much as possible. This would be enforced through government intervention and regulation, which means reaching back into the realm of production and telling industry that it can't just endlessly extract resources and design things to be thrown away within minutes of purchase. If you buy a bottle of water, within minutes of buying it you throw it away. Even if it goes to the recycling center, it usually doesn't get recycled; only 5 percent of all plastic gets recycled today. The Zero Waste movement is very hopeful, and they have a lot of good and realistic solutions. We can't just leave this up to the industry, and we can't just leave this up to the market—we need to intervene, because there's a fundamental lack of democracy in the use of our resources. We need to democratize the way that the state intervenes, and the way that our collective natural resources are being used, so that they don't get wasted and destroyed for this and future generations.

In Good Conscience

Aidan Delgado was a Florida college student looking for a change when he decided to join the Army Reserve. He signed his enlistment contract on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. After finishing the paperwork, he saw a television broadcast of the burning World Trade Center and realized he might be in for more than one weekend a month of low-key service.

In the ensuing months, Delgado became dedicated to Buddhism and its principles of pacifism. By April 2003, when he began his year-long tour in Iraq, he was openly questioning whether he could participate in the war in good conscience. Having grown up in Cairo, Delgado spoke Arabic and had not been steeped in the racism that drove many of his fellow soldiers. When he surrendered his rifle and declared himself a conscientious objector, he was punished by his officers and ostracized by his peers.

His unit, the 320th Military Police Company, spent six months in the southern city of Nasiriyah, and another six months helping to run the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. Now 23, having served his tour and been honorably discharged, Delgado is speaking out about what he witnessed. He says the prison abuse broadcast on 60 Minutes last spring was the tip of the iceberg; brutality, often racially motivated, infected the entire prison and the entire military operation in Iraq.

Why did you decide to join the Army?

It was not for high-minded reasons. I was in school, but I wasn't doing all that well. I was stagnating. I wanted to get a change of scenery, do something different. I signed up for the reserves, because in the pre-Sept. 11 world, the reserves meant you work just two days a month; you get to be in the army, but you don't have to do anything. I signed my contract the morning of Sept. 11 and then all of a sudden my reserve commitment meant a whole lot more.

How did you feel about your decision to join the army in light of what happened that day?

At the time, the whole country was riding high on this surge of patriotism, so I felt vindicated, that I had made the right decision. Because I joined before Sept. 11, I felt morally superior – I joined before it was popular to do so. Afterwards, when I saw the Sept. 11 feelings being redirected – Afghanistan was one thing, but then they started turning it towards Iraq – my feelings of patriotism waned.

It wasn't long after 9/11, maybe six months, before the Bush administration started publicly building their case for invading Iraq.

Yeah, that's what I thought was very striking. I felt like they had made a very strong case for attacking the Taliban and the whole Afghanistan campaign. But when they started talking about Iraq, I said, "Wait, there isn't any proven connection, and there are several facts that seem to indicate they were not connected."

How did Buddhism influence your feelings about the army and the war in Iraq?

My Buddhism developed parallel to being in the army. I wasn't a Buddhist before I joined the military, but after I signed on I had a couple of months before I went to basic training. That's when I started studying Buddhism intensely, doing research to cope with the stress of being in the army. I went into advanced training the next summer, and that's when I became really serious about Buddhism. I became a vegetarian. I started talking to my sergeants, saying, "I'm not sure the army's right for me; I'm a Buddhist now."

Within a few months of arriving in Iraq, I told them that I wanted to be a conscientious objector and I wanted to leave the military because of my religious beliefs. It ended up taking over a year to get my status, so I served in the whole conflict as a conscientious objector. I finally got conscientious objector status after my unit returned to the U.S.

How hard was it to get conscientious objector status?

Extremely difficult – there's a huge burden of proof. You have to do an interview with an investigating officer who grills you on your beliefs to find out if you're just making it up or if you've really thought it out. You have to have some kind of documentation. I think one of my strongest points was that I had a lot of military paperwork showing that I had gradually identified myself as a Buddhist. I also had a lot of conversations with my superiors where I talked about being an objector and being a Buddhist, and they went on the record and said, "Yes, he's talked about it progressively throughout the deployment." That really did a lot to establish my sincerity.

The command was extremely hostile to me, and there were all kinds of punitive measures. They wouldn't let me go on leave. They took my ballistic armor away – they told me that I didn't need the hard plate that goes inside your flak jacket, the part that actually protects you against bullets. They said that because I was an objector and I wasn't going to fight, I wouldn't need it. This proved not to be the case; when we got to Abu Ghraib, there was continuous mortar shelling. I did the whole year's deployment without that plate. I really feel that was more maliciously motivated than anything else.

Also, I was socially ostracized. A lot of my fellow soldiers didn't want to eat with me or hang out with me or go on missions with me. They felt I was untrustworthy because I was critical of the war and I was a Buddhist. My command "lost" my CO [Conscientious Objector] paperwork or misdirected it. They'd say, "We lost your copy, you'll have to do it again."

I eventually got my home leave back because I threatened my commander that I was going to have them prosecuted for discriminating against me on religious grounds. My company commander, my company first sergeant, and my battalion commander had all decided they were not going to let me leave – they said I couldn't go home on a two-week leave because I wouldn't come back. My stance was that they were just doing this because I'm a Buddhist and they didn't agree with my beliefs, and I was going to get the ACLU and the World Congress of Buddhists involved. Ultimately, they decided it wasn't worth the headache.

You were a mechanic, right? Were you going out on patrols?

Yes, I was a mechanic and I primarily worked on vehicles. But because I spoke Arabic – I was the only one in my company who spoke any Arabic – I ended up, especially in the south, doing a lot of mission support with military police (MPs) to speak to local people, usually to buy things or trade or exchange money. I would also help MPs get around in the city. I got to meet a lot of local Iraqis and see a different side of things. After Nasiriyah, I didn't do any more translating because by that point I had made my CO status request. I had been very critical of the war and the command knew I was not going to play ball, so they kept me far away from Iraqis and prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

Let's talk about Abu Ghraib. When you first arrived there in November 2003, wasn't that right around the time all the abuse that eventually made the papers was taking place?

We heard about that in late December or early January. We heard that someone had sent a tape to CNN and they had been abusing the prisoners in some way. We didn't know how, so the nature of the abuse was a shock. But that they were abusing [prisoners] was not news to us – we had known about that for a long time.

What kind of abuse did you witness?

There were prisoners who were beaten severely – to within an inch of their lives – for various infractions like disrespect or refusing to move. [They were] horribly brutal beatings.

There were a number of prisoners that I know of who were killed for throwing stones during a riot. I shouldn't say riot; it was more like a disturbance. I talked with a guy who shot several of the prisoners. The prisoners were protesting the conditions – lack of food, lack of cigarettes – and they were marching around the yard. Some of them started picking up stones and throwing stones at the guards. They deployed extra military police to quell the disturbance. At first, they had rubber bullets and tear gas, but they ran out of that, and it wasn't really effective. At some point – I'm not sure who authorized it – the guards requested the right to use lethal force and opened fire with a machine gun, and ultimately killed several prisoners for throwing stones. The guards testified that they felt they were in danger, so they opened fire. The military accepted that. There wasn't any inquiry, and no one glanced an eye at the dead prisoners. This was for throwing stones. The world community has roundly condemned Israel for shooting Palestinans for throwing stones. And that happened at Abu Ghraib.

Did you personally witness the incident in which the prisoners were shot?

Actually, I wasn't there. I was segregated in the motor pool when it happened, but I ended up getting photos from people who shot the prisoners – [the photos] were treated as trophies and were circulated in our company. It was not a secret; everyone knew about it. All the members of the unit were passing [photos] around, and they posted them in the command center for everyone to see. This was something they were proud of. It was a very macho thing to shoot unarmed prisoners. One guy was a local hero for the week because he'd killed X number of prisoners – one of the prisoners he had shot in the groin had taken three days to die. This was something people were laughing and joking about. This guy was strutting around after having killed these prisoners and I remember just being utterly sickened. We were soldiers, and to shoot an unarmed, caged prisoner was not something to be proud of. Abu Ghraib and all the prisoner abuse [came out of] this atmosphere of brutality.

Can you give more accounts of the day-to-day brutality at Abu Ghraib?

We talk about the Geneva Conventions a lot, but most people haven't read the Geneva Conventions and don't know what they say. [One thing] they say [is] that prisoners can't be held in an injurious climate. Abu Ghraib was extremely cold, and one of the ways guards used to control prisoners was to remove their clothing and tents, leaving them exposed to 30-degree weather. That's a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Another provision of the Conventions is that prisoners have to be protected. We were taking constant mortar and artillery bombardment [at Abu Ghraib] from the insurgents outside the prison. Of course, [the prisoners] weren't protected; they were in open tents, and over 50 of them were killed because they were out in the open, they couldn't flee, and they had no cover. I remember fearing for my life many times – and I had a flak vest, a helmet, and shelter. I can't imagine being a prisoner, hemmed into a barbed-wire lot with no overhead protection, no protective clothing, and no air raid shelter. When there were bombs falling, they just had to sit and hope they didn't get killed.

I'm not really interested in naming names or getting culprits caught; I'm just interested in letting people know that what happened in Abu Ghraib was not an anomaly. It was virtually standard operating procedure.

Another incident I heard about was that a prisoner had shot a guard in the chest with a smuggled-in handgun. The guard didn't die, but [the guards] retaliated by shooting [the prisoner] in the leg and the side with a shotgun. His leg had been broken by the shotgun blast and was hanging off by an odd angle. They were taking this guy to a hospital to get medical treatment for his broken leg, and dragged him on his snapped leg and then threw him into the back of a truck. Granted, this was a man who had attempted to kill a guard. There was no question that he was a dangerous individual – but he was not dangerous at that moment, handcuffed, with a bag over his head and a broken leg. To drag him on that broken leg and to toss him in the back of a truck was additional brutality that wasn't professional and wasn't humane.

What else did you witness at Abu Ghraib?

I worked in the radio headquarters of Abu Ghraib for a while. They were once again trying to punish me by putting me in an undesirable job. While I was there, I ended up reviewing the prisoner records and looking over the offenses of the people who were in Abu Ghraib prison. I found out that most of them were actually not there for anti-coalition offenses. They weren't insurgents. Most of them were there for petty theft, drunkenness, forged documents, really minor crimes.

Who would arrest them for these kinds of crimes?

We were the depository for the Iraqi justice system; they didn't have their own prisons. Iraqi judges would sentence criminals, and a lot of them would end up coming to Abu Ghraib prison. The military would also do random sweeps if they received fire or were attacked from a certain area; they would just arrest everyone of a certain age in that area and take them to Abu Ghraib for questioning. Most of them would be cleared, but the process took so long that you'd end up being in Abu Ghraib for six months to a year before being released. I felt very vindicated last week when a report came out from the Pentagon that talked about the reasons the Iraqis are so upset. One of the reasons [had to do with] these random sweeps and detentions. Family members or friends would get taken to a military prison for a year, for nothing. That was definitely highly immoral, if not illegal – and counterproductive, because of the animosity it generated.

How many prisoners are at Abu Ghraib?

I can't say exactly, because I might get in trouble with the army, but several thousand. It would fluctuate on a daily basis. There was a shuffling going on between Abu Ghraib, Basra, Umm Qasr, and lesser prison camps along the way. There was a continual shifting of prisoners. That would really upset the local Iraqis because sometimes relatives would be shuffled around between these prisons. Someone who was arrested in Baghdad might be sent out to Basra in the far south of the country and be out of contact with their relatives and in the process of being shuffled around. A lot of the paperwork got mishandled or mismanaged, so people wouldn't know where their relatives were. I encountered that routinely in the operations command. Relatives would come, trying to track down a prisoner, but we didn't know [where he was.]

How many of the guards or others working at Abu Ghraib are prison guards or police officers in the United States?

A relatively high percentage. Out of my unit of 140, I would say at least 30 were police officers or correctional officers.

Do you think a connection can be drawn between the criminal justice system and the prisons in the United States and the people who were working at Abu Ghraib?

I don't have much direct experience with corrections in the U.S., but what I hear from news reports is that the corrections system in America is rife with brutality and misconduct as well. So I'm not really surprised that they transplanted the misbehavior from American prisons overseas. At least in America there's some sense of responsibility; a prisoner has some recourse to seek redress. Over there, they are literally anonymous prisoners, and there is nothing they can do. The guards have absolute authority – life and death authority.

One of the things that disturbed me about Abu Ghraib was that the soldiers [claimed] they didn't know it was a violation of the Geneva Conventions. They said they didn't know that it was wrong, they didn't have experience in handling prisoners. But if my company was indicative of the rest of the guards at Abu Ghraib, there was a high percentage of police officers and correctional officers; there was plenty of experience with felons. They knew what the standard was for humane treatment of prisoners. That sort of defense rings hollow.

Did you ever try to report these kinds of incidents?

No, I never did – I didn't have good credibility in my unit, because I was known to be a liberal. I was a pacifist, I was against violence, and I was very critical of the war, so no one took me seriously. My command was very hostile to me because I was in the process of trying to get my conscientious objector status. I thought that what they did was immoral, but I thought that if the command was sympathetic they could easily find some legal basis for it. So I decided that nothing would happen [if I spoke out] because the command accepts what they did. There was no outrage about what they did, so there was not going to be any punishment. What I needed to do was to go home and try them in the court of public opinion.

You spent most of your formative years in Egypt. Here in America there has been a lot of racism against Arabs for a long time and it really increased after 9/11. How did that affect the army?

I think racism is a key motivating factor in the war. We witnessed a Marine kick a six-year-old child in the chest for bothering him about food and water. People in my unit used to break bottles over Iraqi civilians' heads as they drove by in their Humvees. A senior enlisted man in my unit lashed Iraqi children with a steel antenna because they were bothering him.

The only way people can do these sorts of things – which would never be acceptable in America – is [because of] the notion that Iraqis are somehow related to terrorists and 9/11. We completely dehumanize them. I used to come into conflict with other members of my unit who were doing these things, and [tell them] it was wrong. It made me really unpopular, the radical notion that you should treat Arabs or Iraqis as human beings.

Why did you decide to speak out about your experiences in Iraq?

At first, I just wanted to live quietly and leave the whole experience behind me. [But then] people started asking me about my war experiences. In a way, my first discussion was a response to all these people. I thought I would have a forum and talk to everybody at once and I would never have to tell anyone else ever again. As I went along, it snowballed and I gave a talk to [my] community – and that's when 400 people showed up.

After I spoke, people were really moved by what I had said. I received several offers to speak on college campuses in Florida. I don't think the American people are bad or willfully making wrong decisions. I think they're making misinformed decisions. If they had some more information, they wouldn't support the war and their views would change. That's really my goal, to create a sense of critical thinking, of disbelief, a sense of responsibility for the negative consequences of the war.

Have you made any links with other veterans who feel the way you do?

Yes. St. Pete for Peace is a group I've worked for, also Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Common Sense. My concern is that some of these groups haven't been very effective in creating a cogent movement. I feel that if I can personally draw 400 people with a slideshow, there's no reason why a group like Iraq Veterans Against the War shouldn't be able to draw an audience of thousands. I look around America and am dismayed by how the war is on the back burner for people – it's not in their consciences. I want to make it something that's on the forefront of peoples' minds every day, rather than something you see occasionally on the news when something particularly bad happens.

Working for the Man Every Night and Day

A few weeks ago, a young man approached me after a speech I had given at his college and handed me a small piece of paper with the name of a book he thought I should read. Given that the student and I had previously gotten into a bit of a row over the issue of racial profiling of Arabs, I didn't have high expectations about his recommendation.

I suppose it's a good thing I was prepared for what I got: the name of a book by black conservative Larry Elder, whose only real claim to fame is that he does a bad imitation of Judge Wapner on a pedantic little courtroom reality show called Moral Court.

Oh, and that white folks like the student in question really like him. Which, as it turns out, is all it takes to become a bestselling author in this country.

Elder – like Shelby Steele before him, and Walter Williams before that, and Ken Hamblin before that, and Thomas Sowell before him, and Clarence Thomas always – says the kinds of things that most white folks love to hear: essentially, that blacks are the source of their own problems in life. Black cultural pathology and bad behavior, according to these types, explain everything from black poverty rates to black incarceration rates.

What about racism?, you may ask. What racism? To the Larry Elders of the world – and to the whites who have made them media stars entirely out of proportion to their scholarly credentials (or decided lack thereof) – racism is just an excuse black people use to explain away their own internal shortcomings.

Lately, two of the more popular arguments made by black conservatives and the white people who love them are, first, that blacks spend too much money on luxury items they can't afford, refusing to save money the way responsible white folks do; and second, that blacks place too little value on education, preferring to critique learning as selling out or "acting white," and thereby sabotaging their own achievement.

That the evidence for both of these positions is utterly lacking makes little difference, it seems. After all, when one is saying what the Man wants to hear, the Man requires no footnotes or actual corroboration.

Black Consumption and the Myth of Black Profligacy

Arguments that support the dominant culture easily become popularized myths, bordering on legend, after which point they are almost impossible to assail. Black profligacy has pretty much attained that status, what with the regular portrayal of blacks as obsessed with "bling-bling," within mainstream TV and other media. While it would have been difficult for whites, on their own, to get away with presenting this one-dimensional, supersized cartoon of black spending, they have had help from folks like Yolanda Young. Young, like Elder and all the rest, is an African American who specializes in the kind of self-flagellating drivel that appeals to the sadistic side of white America's racism. We get a taste of her forthcoming book, SPADE: A Critical Look at Black America, in a recent USA Today article.

In her USA Today piece, Young claims that blacks have been spending exorbitant amounts of money lately, despite the tough economic times in which the larger black community finds itself. In other words, instead of rational belt tightening, African Americans have been going on a spending spree: the implication being either that black folks are irresponsible with their money, or at least that they are "motivated by a desire for instant gratification and social acceptance," caring more about their own selfish desires than "our future."

To back up her claims, Young turns to a group called Target Market, a company that tracks spending by black consumers. But a careful glance at the source of her claims makes it apparent that she is either incapable of interpreting basic data or that she deliberately deceives for political effect. In fact, not only do the figures from Target Market not suggest irresponsible spending by blacks in the face of a bad economy, they tend to suggest the opposite.

According to Young, blacks spent nearly $23 billion on clothes in 2002, and this, one presumes, is supposed to signal a level of irresponsible profligacy so obvious as to require no further context or clarification. But, in fact, the very tables on which Young bases her position indicate that from 2000 to 2002 (the period of a slowing economy), black expenditures on clothes fell by 7%, even before accounting for inflation. In other words, as the economy got worse, blacks reined in their consumption.

It's useful to watch how the pros at this dissing game make it work. Young consistently bases her arguments on raw numbers, counting on her readers to marvel at their size, while ignoring the comparative data that makes sense of those numbers. For example, Young tweaks blacks for spending $3.2 billion on consumer electronics, but fails to note that even before inflation, this is down roughly 16% from 2000, when blacks spent $3.8 billion on the same. She chastises her black brothers and sisters for spending $11.6 billion on furniture in 2002, but fails to note that black spending on furniture actually fell by 10%, even before inflation, and by 2002 was only a little higher in current dollars than it had been in 1996.

In other words, blacks did exactly what would make sense in a tightening economy: They spent less on the kinds of presumably frivolous items that Ms. Young claims her people just can't resist. Not so irresponsible after all, it seems.

Next, Young berates blacks for their consumption of cars and liquor, which she labels "our favorite purchases." Unfortunately, the "evidence" she marshals to support such silliness is embarrassingly weak. She notes that although blacks make up only 12% of the population, they account for 30% of the nation's scotch consumption. But what does that prove? It certainly says nothing about overall use of alcohol by blacks, which is actually quite low. Indeed, contrary to Young's claim, liquor is not among the favorite purchases of blacks, ranking instead behind 18 of the 25 categories listed in the tables from Target Market that she relied upon for her article.

In fact, in the past year alone black expenditures on alcoholic beverages fell by almost one-fourth, scotch consumption or no. And, of course, blacks spend far less than whites, per capita, on alcohol, and drink far less often and less heavily than whites according to all the available data from the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes on Drug Abuse and others.

As for cars, Young's "proof" of black profligacy in this area is limited to the fact that Lincoln had P. Diddy design a limited edition Navigator for them, with DVD players and plasma screens all around. And yet, the amount spent by African Americans (not P. Diddy, mind you, but the other 35 million or so black folks) on various vehicles still amounts to less than that spent, per capita, by whites, whose consumption of such items is roughly 27% higher that of blacks.

Race, Wealth and the Myth of Short-Term Orientation

Next, Young insists that blacks fail to save money the way whites do, the implication being that this – and not racism and unequal access to capital – explains the wealth gap between whites and African Americans.

Young cites the 2003 Black Investor Survey from Ariel Mutual Funds and Charles Schwab to suggest that black households with comparable upper-middle-class income to whites save nearly 20% less than whites for retirement. Furthermore, she notes, blacks are far less likely to invest in the stock market, thereby hindering their own ability to develop wealth. Yet a look at the Ariel/Schwab data – which itself is limited to 500 individuals with upper-level incomes from each racial group – indicates a far different set of conclusions than those reached by Young.

The report does suggest that whites are more likely to have an IRA than blacks. Yet it also reports that overall rates of retirement investment are essentially identical for whites and blacks: While 89% of whites have money in a retirement program, so do 85% of blacks.

As for the amounts of money being saved among this upper-income group, although whites do indeed save more, on average, the difference is not – according to the report itself – statistically significant. Indeed, whites are a third more likely than blacks to be saving nothing for retirement at this time, and roughly two-thirds of both groups are saving at least $100 or more monthly for retirement.

As for investments, while there are small differences between upper-income blacks and whites, the methodology of the Ariel/Schwab study makes it clear that those differences in monthly investments and savings are, once again, not statistically significant: amounting, as they do, to less than $60 per month.

This kind of "behavioral" gap hardly explains the fact that upper-income white households, on average, have about three times the net worth of upper-income black households. Instead, that is the residual effect of generations of racism that restricted the ability of blacks and other people of color to accumulate assets, while whites were allowed, encouraged and even subsidized to do the same.

While it is true that black investment in the stock market lags behind that of whites, the reasons for this can hardly be decoupled from the history of racism. After all, even upper-income blacks tend to have far less wealth to begin with than whites of similar income. As a result, the level of wealth they are willing to put at risk is going to be less than for those with more of it to spare.

Especially in the last few years, the volatility of the stock market has tended to scare away all but the most experienced investors, and certainly those whose assets are limited from the get-go. Surely, this describes much of black America, which has never had the excess wealth available to whites, that would allow them to roll the dice on Wall Street in the same way.

If black savings lag behind white, it is not because of black profligacy; it is because of a legacy of racism that left even well-to-do black families without the assets and resources of white families.

The Myth of Black Anti-Intellectualism

The second myth black conservatives love to promote is that blacks have not gotten ahead in the race of life because they devalue education. From Shelby Steele's early '90s bestseller The Content of Our Character to Berkeley linguist John McWhorter's near-hysterical rant in Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, right-wing black commentators have turned cocktail party chitchat into social science research for the sake of peddling the antiblack myth that blacks devalue education.

The evidence, of course, for those who still care about such things, reveals the duplicity of these hucksters in their crusade to blame blacks for their own academic and economic condition.

First, high school graduation rates for blacks and whites are today roughly equal to one another. In fact, as sociologist Dalton Conley demonstrates in his 1999 book, Being Black, Living in the Red, once family economic background is controlled for, blacks are actually more likely to finish high school than whites, and equally likely to complete college. In other words, whatever differences exist in black and white educational attainment are completely the result of blacks, on average, coming from lower-income families. Comparing whites and blacks of truly similar class status reveals greater or equal educational attainment for blacks.

Although it should hardly have been necessary – after all, the entire history of black America has been the history of attempting to access education even against great odds and laws prohibiting it – there have been a number of recent studies, all of which prove conclusively that blacks value education every bit as much as their white counterparts.

For example, a recent study conducted by the Minority Student Achievement Network looked at 40,000 students in grades seven through 11; it found little if any evidence that blacks placed lesser value on education than their white peers. Instead, they found that black males are more likely than white, Hispanic or Asian males to say that it is "very important" to study hard and get good grades; white males are the least likely to make this claim. The researchers also found that blacks were just as likely to study and work on homework as their white counterparts.

Even in high-poverty schools, disproportionately attended by inner-city students of color, attitudes towards schooling are far more positive than generally believed. Students in high-poverty schools are four-and-a-half times more likely to say they have a "very positive" attitude toward academic achievement than to say they have a "very negative" attitude, and 94% of all students in such schools report a generally positive attitude toward academics.

In their groundbreaking volume The Source of the River, social scientists Douglas Massey, Camille Charles, Garvey Lundy and Mary Fischer examine longitudinal data for students of different races who were enrolled in selective colleges and universities. Among the issues they explore is the degree to which differential performance among black and white students in college, in terms of grades, could be attributed to blacks or their families placing less value on academic performance than their white and Asian counterparts. After all, this claim has been made by some like McWhorter, Steele and a plethora of white reactionaries who seek to explain the persistent GPA gaps between blacks, in particular, and others in college.

What Massey and his colleagues discovered is that the black students had parents who were more likely than white or Asian parents to have helped them with homework growing up, more likely than white or Asian parents to have met with their teachers, equally likely to have pushed them to "do their best" in school, more likely than white parents to enroll their kids in educational camps, and equally or more likely to have participated in the PTA. Black students' parents were also more likely than parents of any other race to regularly check to make sure their kids had completed their homework and to reward their kids for good grades, while Asian parents were the least likely to do either of these.

Likewise, the authors of this study found that black students' peers in high school are more likely than white peers to think studying hard and getting good grades are important, and indeed white peers are the least likely to endorse these notions. Overall, the data suggests that if anything it is white peer culture that is overly dismissive of academic achievement, not black peer culture.

While many of these studies have focused on middle-class-and-above African-American families, and while it is certainly possible that lower-income and poor blacks may occasionally evince a negativity toward academics, this can hardly be considered a racial (as opposed to economic) response, since low-income whites often manifest the same attitudes.

What's more, such a response, though not particularly functional in the long term, is also not particularly surprising, seeing as how young people from low-income backgrounds can see quite clearly the ways in which education so often fails to pay off for persons like themselves.

After all, over the last few decades, black academic achievement has risen, and the gap between whites and blacks on tests of academic "ability" have closed, often quite dramatically. Yet during the same time, the gaps in wages between whites and blacks have often risen, sending a rather blatant message to persons of color that no matter how hard they work, they will remain further and further behind.

In other words, to the extent that blacks, to any real degree, occasionally manifest antieducation attitudes and behaviors, the question remains: Where did they pick up the notion that education was not for them?

Might they have gotten this impression from a curriculum that negates the full history of their people, and gives the impression that everything great, everything worth knowing about, came from white folks?

Might they have gotten this impression from the tracking and sorting systems that placed so many of them, irrespective of talent and promise, in remedial and lower-level classes, because indeed the teachers themselves presumed at some level that education-at least higher-level education-wasn't for them?

Might they have gotten this impression from the workings of the low-wage economy, into which so many of their neighbors and family members have been thrown – even those with a formal education?

Or, better yet, maybe they got this impression from the black conservatives who regularly bash them: people who demonstrate that an education doesn't necessarily make you smart after all.

Busting Up the Black Conservative Hustle

None of this is to say that the black con-artist conservatives are entirely irrational. After all, their hustle has paid enormous dividends. Black conservatives, by dint of their hard work on behalf of institutionalized white domination, have managed to obtain access to the halls of power, and even occasionally positions of power themselves. On the one hand, this kind of step'n fetchit routine can be lucrative and professionally rewarding: for those willing to play the game, or convince themselves of the beneficence of their white cocktail party friends, it can mean foundation grants, endowed chairs at right-wing think tanks, radio shows, syndicated columns and regular appearances on Fox.

But one thing it will likely never bring is acceptance from one's own community, and this self-exiled condition, combined with an eventual recognition that one is being used, can lead to near-complete personal and professional meltdowns.

Consider Glenn Loury, formerly a shining light in the black conservative firmament, who eventually came to the conclusion that his friends and supporters really didn't like black folks much. After all, the same conservatives at the Bradley Foundation who hawk vouchers in public school so as to "save black children" also helped fund the writing of The Bell Curve, which says, among other things, that there's pretty much nothing that can be done for black folks, due to their congenital predisposition to ignorance, sloth and crime. Enough of those contradictions, and even the most hardened black conservative may come around.

Or maybe not. But luckily there are antidotes to the hustle emanating forcefully from the black community, such as the hard-hitting commentary and exposes at the Black Commentator, which have skewered not only the voucher con, but also the individual players from Powell to Rice to lesser-known but rising figures on the black right. What they and the bulk of black America knows well, and what the rest of us must learn, is that the propaganda dispensed by black conservatives is not only poisonous in its implications, but it is based on utterly false analysis, distorted data and the hope on the part of its purveyors that the rest of us will never wise up to their game.

Decoding Hot Girl-on-Girl Action

Hot chicks kicking celluloid ass are far from a new phenomenon. Varla, the outrageously busty, menacingly sexy antiheroine of Russ Meyer's seminal 1965 Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, isn't even the first in a long line of killer babes that includes the original Charlie's Angels, Alien's Ripley, Terminator 2's Sarah Connor, The Long Kiss Goodnight's Charly Baltimore, Buffy of vampire-slaying fame, Out of Sight's Karen Sisco, any number of Pam Grier characters and, of course, Thelma and Louise.

The past half-decade or so has yielded a particularly abundant crop: Tomb Raider's Lara Croft, Alias's Sydney Bristow, the new Charlie's Angels, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's double whammy of Yu Shu Lien and Jen Yu, and, most recently (and, perhaps, spectacularly), Kill Bill's the Bride. Such images are becoming both more common – just look at the pileup since 2000 – and more mainstream. Varla and Foxy Brown kept company in the ghetto of exploitation, but Lara, Buffy and Syd have moved well beyond their culty roots. And as for Nat, Dylan and Alex, well, Charlie's Angels and its sequel grossed more than $490 million worldwide.

To put it bluntly, there's something going on in the culture that makes the Ass-Kicking Babe such a hot property. I would love to argue that we're seeing a feminist influence on the way that femaleness can now be combined with power. Unfortunately, I can't: These contemporary babes' uberfemininity combined with competence in hand-to-hand combat may be refreshingly free of Varla's dubious "my sexuality is out of control and can kill you" appeal, but that doesn't mean it equals a feminist statement. It's a cliche at this point to even mention the way that Lara Croft, in both her pixelated and Angelina Jolie incarnations, is little more than silicone-injected eye candy with which to decorate action sequences in a new way (or, conversely, that action sequences are simply replacing Playboy-style cheesy canopy beds as a new backdrop against which to view silicone-injected eye candy). She may be the most extreme example, but all these ladies traffic in a similar appeal: the too-obvious use of stereotypical ideals of attractiveness in order to camouflage their physically threatening nature.

So while this puts quite the fly in the feminist ointment, I'm not ready to count those AKBs out as my allies. Representational violence, for all its flaws, does have political promise. When we see fictional violent women, it forces a shift in our ideas of what women are capable of both in real life and onscreen. As Martha McCaughey points out in 1997's Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women's Self-Defense, "Self-defense disrupts the gender ideology that makes men's violence against women seem inevitable." Thelma and Louise, for example, presented a vision of behavior that was both inspiring and deeply satisfying to a large number of viewers: Someone rapes you? Shoot the asshole. Criminally underseen independent films like Freeway and Girls Town went a step further to explore not just the power of fighting back, but the potential effect of conscious alliances among women willing to do physical harm to rapists and other abusers.
Then there's the way in which filmic violence acts as a response to the history of represented femininity – it asserts that our bodies are about more than passivity and display. Plus, it's an expression of anger that is all too often culturally trained out of us. Last but certainly not least is another of McCaughey's points: " The presumed inability to fight in part defines heterosexual femininity." As should be obvious, anything that can fuck with the culturally normative straight girl is a useful tool.

But, as should be equally obvious, cultural norms tend to fight back. It's no coincidence that the recent depictions of violent women onscreen have been accompanied by a refiguring of the catfight. Women are fighting more on film, yet they are increasingly fighting not male evildoers but one another.

Furthermore, such images take the AKB's sexualization to a whole new level. In the same way that "lesbian" porn made by and for straight men (you know, those movies featuring fake-titted high femmes with long, long fingernails) turns the notion of an autonomous female sexuality into a display dependent upon and intended for male consumption, today's increasingly common type of filmic catfight turns women's anger and violence into a show for the boys.

This is partly due to the problem I've already mentioned, that any woman with the physical characteristics necessary to be entrusted with headlining a Hollywood film will generally be considered "hot" by most male viewers; however, that's far from the end of the story. Girl-on-girl violence borrows not just its raison d'etre but its visual cues and costumes from the world of pornography. Evidence of this connection abounds. My video store has a shelf full of bikini-wrestling titles (FYI, it's right below the Russ Meyer section and to the left of the actual porn), which feature '80s-style starlet wannabes in "bouts" choreographed to get legs splayed, crotches grinding and bikini tops ripped off. AKBs love to do things like jump from rooftops while wearing stilettos, and their directors love to include foot-level closeups of the landing. In the neonoirsploitation Wild Things, Denise Richards' attempt to drown Neve Campbell, her partner in crime (and threesomes), culminates in face-caressing, finger-sucking and hot-and-heavy smooching.

The result is hobbled potential, a visual library with the political potential leached out in favor of cheap sex. What could emerge alive and kicking to channel women's anger ends up stillborn. Nowhere is this clearer than in the phenom's most prominent example, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. In their second outing, Nat (Cameron Diaz), Dylan (Drew Barrymore) and Alex (Lucy Liu) find themselves up against former Angel Madison Lee (Demi Moore) – and pornographic iconography pervades the film from its opening scene to its, um, climax. The opening set piece alone – Diaz, dressed in pigtails and a white fur-trimmed snowsuit, spouting faux-naivete in a Swedish accent and riding a mechanical bull; butch, card-playing Barrymore; Liu clad in a leather catsuit and stilettos – would be porno enough to make my argument. (Let's not forget that Swedish girls are a porn class all by themselves.) But that is literally just the beginning. We get Diaz and Moore in bikinis, leaning in to each other in an almost-kiss. We get Moore in a fur coat, bra and panty set, heels and a gun. We get the Angels fighting their final confrontation in a leather jacket and pants with a studded belt (Barrymore), low-riders with an off-the-shoulder midriff shirt that laces up the sides (Diaz) and a tiny skirt with fishnets and a little leather top (Liu).

But it's not just the costume choices that echo dirty movies; the film's precisely choreographed nature (featuring fight scenes that mimic sex acts) and its reliance on set pieces – including one that puts our gals on the stage of a retro-Teutonic burlesque strip bar – reveal a structural similarity to porn that can't be ignored. The "plot" here is nothing more than a thin glue to hold these pieces together so audience members can pretend they're watching for reasons other than pure gratification of the senses. And then there's the money shot: When Moore is finally vanquished, she falls through the floor of the final battleground, breaking a pipe as she goes and causing a spectacular ejaculation of water.

By comparison, Kill Bill has genuinely entered new territory, managing to dodge many of the gendered pitfalls that plague other AKB vehicles. Most superficially, the styling choices make clear that this is no jigglefest. While of course Uma Thurman, Vivica Fox, Daryl Hannah and Lucy Liu are still Babes, Tarantino doesn't put them in anything resembling the Angels' skin-baring low rider/halter ensembles or Alias's undercover-girl fetishware-inspired getups. Instead of stilettos and skintight leather pants, there's an iconic yellow tracksuit. When the Bride (Uma Thurman) fights, she gets disheveled, dirty and bloody. She's more about acting than appearing. (The Angels, even when they're acting, are really just appearing.)

Perhaps most refreshing is the way that gender often doesn't matter. It's ridiculous that we have to feel grateful for this at all, but when gender so consistently determines the range of female characters' motion and emotion, a celluloid scenario in which this isn't the case is to be treasured. Take, for example, the Bride's encounter with famed swordmaker-turned-sushi-chef Hattori Hanzo. A lifetime of filmgoing has prepped the viewer for a "what's a nice girl like you doing looking for a sword like that?" reaction to the Bride's request for Hanzo steel – but it never comes.

Furthermore, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 successfully gets at some of the powerful potential that screen violence holds. As the Bride lies supposedly helpless in her hospital bed, attendant/rapist Buck prepares to pimp out her unconscious body as he has presumably been doing without consequence for years; instead of a cheap thrill, the rapist/customer gets a grisly death, as does Buck. And then there's schoolgirl-turned-assassin Go Go Yubari. In her pigtails, short skirt and kneesocks, she embodies a pornographic icon even more common than the Swedish girl. The film itself, however, refuses pornographic logic even as it deploys the iconography: Witness Go Go sitting at a bar engaging in a grotesque mock flirtation with a drunk guy who's drooling all over her. After she not-so-coyly asks him if he wants to fuck her, and he admits that he does – perhaps thinking that she's making an offer, as she would be if this scene were taking place in a porno – she sticks a knife in his gut. Like Thelma and Louise's rape-revenge shooting, this is both a powerful reply to film history and a viscerally satisfying moment for many in the audience.

Unfortunately, Vol. 2 manages to turn the Bride into a different but equally overused feminine archetype – not porn star but fierce mama, fighting to protect her family. The film's second half reveals that it was the Bride's thwarted maternal instincts that set in motion the chain of events leading to her desire to kill Bill in the first place; its coda ensconces her and the kid in a tidy little mother-daughter dyad, sans threatening violence. It shores up this use of the maternal by reproducing the powerful fiction that women share a transcendent bond of sisterhood stemming from their potential to bear children: Just after the Bride has discovered that she's pregnant, a rival assassin shows up to prevent her from finishing her next assignment. The Bride saves her own life by pleading for that of her unborn child.

The simplistic questions to ask are if these images make for good role models, and whether they're good or bad for feminism. But what we need aren't better role models, or images that can easily be labeled "good" or "bad." Once pornographic iconography thoroughly saturates women's film violence, we'll be stuck with that tired old depoliticized sexualization clouding our vision whenever we watch it. What we need is substance beyond the pornographic. What we need are conceptions of female violence that preserve the potential of the threat that our rage and our power represent.

Held in Contempt

Since 1887, the U.S. government has been entitled to lease Indian lands and utilize their natural resources for everything from logging and mining to grazing cattle to pumping oil.
Today, the government does a brisk business in leasing, as royalties from the use of the land add up to more than $1 billion annually.

According to the Interior Department's own figures, 56 million acres of Indian land are now held in "trust" by the U.S. government, which is charged with redistributing most of those royalties to the individuals and tribes whose lands are being leased. Altogether, the Department of the Interior manages over 100,000 leases for approximately 236,000 Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders--in addition to 1,400 tribal accounts.

Individuals and tribes alike depend on these trust fund disbursements for rent, food, and the basic operation of social services in Indian Country.

The problem: Sometimes those checks arrive, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes the checks might arrive for hundreds or thousands of dollars, and sometimes those checks might only amount to pennies on the dollar. On Indian reservations, the problem has reached crisis levels; a check written out for a smaller amount than expected--or no check at all--can mean the difference between housing and homelessness.

All the while, the Interior Department's officials have made it clear that they're not sure how to fix a broken trust disbursement system, much less how much money is missing, or where the missing funds have gone. For their part, lawyers representing hundreds of thousands of Indians in the largest-ever class-action lawsuit against the government have put the cumulative total at $137.2 billion owed.

No matter what the final figure, there's no doubt that the nation's single most impoverished ethnic group could use a bit of that cash.

It's for this reason that a group representing 300,000 Indian plaintiffs have spent the last six years trying to get the Interior Department to account for all the money that they are owed. The plaintiffs, led by Elouise Cobell, an outspoken female banker and member of the Blackfoot Nation, insist that the Interior Department's officials and employees have broken the "trust" relationship between Indian people and the Federal Government, and are therefore neither fit nor equipped to continue overseeing the vast sums.

Even the federal judge overseeing this landmark case, Cobell v. Norton, has called the BIA the most "historically mismanaged federal program" in the U.S. In February 2002, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth had these, sharp words for the Interior Department and Secretary Gale Norton: "[T]he department has now undeniably shown that it can no longer be trusted to state accurately the status of its trust reform efforts. In short, there is no longer any doubt that the secretary of the Interior has been and continues to be an unfit trustee-delegate for the United States."

In November 2001, when Gale Norton became the second consecutive Interior Secretary to face contempt charges in a federal court for failing to provide an accounting of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) management of IIM accounts, its unlikely she or her co-defendant, former BIA director Neal McCaleb, a Chickasaw Indian, anticipated the emotional force and organizational unity of her detractors.

Both Norton and McCaleb were held in contempt in September 2002 for failing to heed the court's orders to fix trust oversight problems. (McCaleb, the nation's highest-ranking American Indian, resigned three months later, citing the "contentious and litigious environment" ahead of him.)

Norton and McCaleb were not the first government officials to be held in contempt for the handling of Indian trust monies: President Clinton's Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin had his turn at this dubious honor as well. Government officials who let down their constituencies and mismanage millions should be held accountable.

For the Interior Department, the accounting and management of the IIM trust fund has been an exercise in acronyms.

From the perspective of the department, Secretaries Babbitt and Norton have legitimately tried a variety of approaches to reconcile and improve a broken system as quickly as possible .

On January 6, 2003, the Interior Department met a court-imposed "compliance plan" deadline, assuring the court that it took the responsibility of meeting the conditions of the 1994 American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act (ITRA) seriously.

The 16-page document (intended to demonstrate to the court what kind of progress the Interior had made in meeting its fiduciary trust obligations) announced a reorganization within the BIA and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. According to the document, the Interior was also undergoing a "reengineering of Interior's trust business processes" and the implementation of a strategic plan formerly known as the Indian Trust Business Plan, and now entitled the Comprehensive Trust Management Plan (CTMP).

The CTMP, in turn, would be administered under the "leadership of the Office of Indian Trust Transition (OITT)."

After a while, the Interior's proclivity for the use of acronyms, appointed offices and grand restructuring plans begins to jumble together into a steaming, swirling bowl of alphabet soup.

In 2001, Norton had already proposed the creation of a new agency, the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM), to manage IIM accounts. Tribal leaders chafed at not being consulted about her plans, but BITAM remained the Interior's buzzword will into 2002.

In the spring of 2001, Norton proclaimed the staffing of a new division, the Office of Historical Trust Accounting (OHTA), which was supposed to perform a limited accounting of owed trust monies. But in a July 2002 Report to Congress on the Historical Accounting of Individual Indian Money Accounts, the dozens of employees and contract workers hired to work in the office concluded that it would take them 10 years and $2.5 billion to actually do that job. And even then, they admitted, such research and accounting would not necessarily produce usable results.

Similar examples of expenditure without result riddle the Interior's recent history. Thirty million dollars spent on data cleanup, for instance, resulted in a computer specialist's admission, in court, that he could not certify that a single account had been cleaned up despite the fact that tens of millions had already been spent.

In their own "Compliance Action Plan" submitted to Judge Lamberth on January 6, 2003, Cobell and her peers point out that the government now has a genuine opportunity to redeem itself to Indian trust beneficiaries by taking quick and decisive action.

In doing so, plaintiffs took the opportunity to excoriate the Interior Department's tactics: "[The] defendants are forever reorganizing themselves, moving organizational boxes around on a chart, devising new acronyms, and renaming tasks and entities in deeper and deeper bureaucratic jargon in a pathetic effort to create the phony impression of, if not progress, at least movement."

Unwilling to wait for the Interior to make real progress, the plaintiffs asked Judge Lamberth to consider their own proposal: Take trust management out of the hands of the Interior altogether. Key to the proposal is the idea that the IIM trust accounts should immediately be taken over by an "unconflicted" trust administration solely devoted to fixing and administering the trust debacle.

Cobell and lead attorneys from the Native American Rights Fund have emphasized that such an administration, made up of non-governmental employees, and funded with permanent appropriations, could hire the competent staff and supervisors necessary to ensure the proper management of trust money.

As Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians told the New York Times in early January, "This isn't taxpayer money. This is our money that the government took, and they have to give it back."

Moving Forward

Because of their statistically small numbers, the majority of congressional representatives outside of states like South Dakota, New Mexico and Arizona can safely ignore all but the most cursory issues pertaining to the modern struggles of American Indians. For U.S. politicians, the benefits of pushing for meaningful reform of federal Indian policy are negligible.

Between American politicians whose interest in Indians is tangential and inconsistent, and a majority non-Indian citizenry whose awareness of Indian realities is minimal, at best, the categorical failings of the BIA and Interior Department are simply allowed to pile up, year by year.

"Where has Congress been while this mugging has gone on for nearly six years?," asked Cobell of the House Resources Committee in 2002.

One saving grace has been increased attention from Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Tom Daschle (D-SD), and Tim Johnson (D-SD), who introduced S. 2212, the "Indian Trust Asset and Trust Fund Management and Reform Act" in April 2002.

The "discussion" bill--so entitled to encourage comment and modification, as warranted--focuses on the creation of a Deputy Secretary for Trust Management and Reform, and specific provisions for tribal participation and self-determination in the trust reform process.

"There is no more important challenge facing the tribes and their representatives in Congress than that of restoring accountability and efficiency to trust management," said Sen. Daschle when the bill was introduced.

Added Sen. Johnson, "Of all the extraordinary circumstances we find in Indian Country ... I do not think there is any more complex, more difficult and more shocking than the circumstances we have surrounding trust fund mismanagement."

But what happens from here, of course, is anybody's guess.

Will the Interior Department continue to invent an endless stream of new proposals and official acronyms to conveniently skirt their fiduciary obligations? At least in the near future, such a strategy seems likely, even predictable.

Will Cobell and her fellow plaintiffs eventually wear the government down? Anything is possible. Even now, signs are emerging that the White House itself wants to push the Interior Department to settle to prevent the additional costs of further litigation, as noted in a June 2001 letter from the Office of Management and Budget to the Interior Secretary.

But such settlement seems furthest from the Interior's agenda. J. Steven Griles, Deputy Interior Secretary, had this to say to the New York Times: "I am not settling a case with taxpayer money for billions of dollars when there is no supporting evidence that the money they say they lost ever existed."

In fact, a critical June 2002 report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) seemed to point toward the Department's "bunker mentality" where trust reform is concerned. "The Cobell litigation has so embroiled and angered those involved that they cannot see or think clearly in order to make a correct decision," as the OIG reported. "Every effort is thwarted by internal discord, distrust and a dysfunctional reluctance to assume ownership."

And so while a legitimate accounting of monies owed by the Interior becomes less and less likely, hundreds of thousands of Indians continue to go without what they're owed.

From the standpoint of Indian trust account holders, the trust debacle is but the latest insult in what amounts to a historical miscarriage of decency and justice toward the descendants of America's first inhabitants.

"Many of the intractable problems the tribes and federal policy makers wrestle with today stem from the wreckage caused by these misguided policies of the past," Senator John McCain noted while introducing S. 2212 last year.

"It took over 100 years to create the problems we now confront with the Indian trust funds and assets," he added. "The Indian people did not create these problems. The Federal Government did."

Silja Talvi and Brian Awehali are the editors of LiP Magazine.

It Takes A Nation of Detention Centers to Hold Us Back

It was with an 'insiders' perspective that Professor Michael Welch began to study what he calls an "undeniable reality" about the American prison system: color and class. Before joining the faculty at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Welch's experience on the 'inside' included employment in county jails, state prisons and even the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Fort Worth, Texas. The experiences gave him invaluable, firsthand insight into the real lives of prisoners and correctional officers alike. Other insights were soon to follow.

"One of the things that is just difficult to overlook as a criminologist ... is that criminal justice policy in the U.S. is about race," says Welch. "Most anyone who has really examined the situation has reached that conclusion."

An author of several books addressing issues of social control and the criminalization of protest, Welch began to take an interest in a growing trend: the detention of undocumented immigrants in the early 1990s.

In 2001, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) spent roughly $900 million on costs related to the detention of immigrants. And those figures are only likely to grow in the aftermath of 9-11, particularly as the widespread arrests and detentions of immigrants have saddled the agency with additional responsibilities it seems ill-equipped to handle.

In this exclusive interview, Silja Talvi talks with Professor Welch about his new book, Detained: Immigration Laws and the Expanding I.N.S. Complex, and explores how anti-immigrant sentiment--and crisis legislation--feeds off ethnic stereotyping, notions of cultural supremacy, and moral panic.



LiP: Criminal justice and corrections have been your areas of expertise for some time now. Given the plethora of criminal justice issues in the U.S., why did you decide to focus on immigrants?

MW: As an expert in incarceration, I was puzzled that other criminologists were not taking a look at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), since they were really running their own incarceration project ... it's an incarceration phenomenon that should be taken seriously. The INS is not even conforming to the Bureau of Prisons in terms of their standards of confinement. So I approached the study of the detention of immigrants from the point of view of a criminalization campaign, that being an immigrant or an undocumented foreigner in the U.S. is one that's been framed along the lines of criminal justice. It has criminalized these people and their situations, and by incarcerating them they're reinforcing the notion that these people belong behind bars.

In a nutshell, my approach to this is two-fold: It's an examination of the criminalization process and it's also an examination of how this process is racialized.

LiP: Are certain groups of immigrants treated differently by the INS?

MW: What is going on in the INS--which parallels other forms of racial profiling--is that [they are relying on] constructs that are based on stereotypes.

Back in the 1920s, Walter Lippman and said that stereotypes are pictures in our heads, and those pictures in our head correspond to profiling ... These are constructs developed to suggest that these people are menacing and can be easily generalized because they're reinforced by old, tired stereotypes ...

So when you ask people about illegal immigrants, they think primarily of Central Americans, Africans, Mexicans, Chinese, but they don't often think of Irish, Canadians, Austrians, or the English. These are constructs being based on stereotypes of what the problem is ... and the problem has a face, and the face is that of a non-white immigrant. There's enormous uneven treatment of the "illegal alien." There's greater public concern over "non-whites" than there are of "white" immigrants.

I draw a lot of parallels to the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs is putting more cops in bad neighborhoods, focusing on guys selling $3 rocks. They're not busting in the doors of wealthy, middle-income residents who are engaged in the recreational use of cocaine.

LiP: How do the conditions of confinement differ in INS facilities from those of prisons?

MW: Overall, the conditions of confinement are not great, and in some cases, they are abysmal. It's inherent in the problem of farming out detainees. The INS only has so much room or capacity to house their detainees, so they've embarked on this huge, complex system of utilizing as many as 900 county jails, state prisons, and private facilities. [Detainees are welcomed] because the INS pays twice the rate.

They're being detained while their hearings are being processed. By and large, they're not being detained for reasons of flight, because the INS knows that these people are not going to flee. These people want their day in court. Secondarily, the INS knows that these immigrants are not a threat to the community, because if they had committed a criminal offense, they would be processed through the criminal justice system.

The housing of them in county jails and other prison facilities only reinforces the criminalization process. Because once they're in the county jail, those who work in the jail don't know who their [captives] are. Prisoners have to obey the rules, regardless of their circumstances.

So on the one hand, you have conditions that aren't great, but anyone who has been locked up knows that being confined is really next to torture and death. Locking someone up is arguably one of the worst things a human being can do to another.

We're locking up people who don't need to be locked up ... we have a culture that has a very cavalier attitude toward locking people up ... in an effort to avoid complex issues. This is particularly atrocious when you consider that we do the same for asylum seekers. I refer to a couple of cases in my book about the survivors of torture who are detained in county jails, and who don't understand the language, or the nature of the situation. You can imagine the terror that these people experience.

Overall, things aren't great. And especially in light of the alternatives, which are to release them into the community, allowing them to continue to work, support their families and relatives, and reduce the financial burden on the INS and the taxpayers.

LiP: In conducting your research into the treatment of immigrants and the implementation of immigration laws for this book, what findings or themes surprised you the most?

MW: Nothing really surprised me as much as confirmed a lot of my suspicions ... The situation for the INS detainees is in large part because the INS really doesn't know what's happening to their [detainees]. And I don't think they really care ... they seem to have the approach that if there's a problem, there will eventually be a criminal investigation, and then they'll look into it.

[My research also] confirmed the central component of race. Racializing the phenomenon also makes it a little bit easier to live with the situation facing immigrants if you're a mainstream white American. If we were mistreating middle income white people the same way in immigrant detention or in the criminal justice system ... there would be moral outrage.

I think we still live in a racial hierarchy and non-whites are criminalized very easily if they have a minor brush with the criminal justice system. Individual acts are very easily seen as emblematic of that person and their [ethnicity] ... And the more the INS looks like a criminal justice system, the more socially acceptable it is for the agency to continue to rely on incarceration and detention.

LiP: On any given day, how many people are being held in INS detention?

MW: In my book, I offer the estimates from a couple of agencies, including the INS. And the ballpark figure is roughly 24,000 people, including juveniles.

LiP: In the past, the anti-immigration movement has easily been categorized as a partisan issue spearheaded by political conservatives. But you make the case that the growing national trend of detaining and deporting "undesirable" immigrants has drawn supporters from both parties, from conservatives and self-described liberals alike. What's given rise to this kind of bipartisan anti-immigrant sentiment?

MW: The debate over immigration is a very complex one.

You will have, on the one hand, some political leaders who talk the talk that we're a nation of immigrants and we should adhere to the principles of accommodating new arrivals. Once you see who they favor in terms of restrictions and enforcement--I'm speaking in general terms--it's often that they change their tune. Then instead of immigration, it's a criminal justice or a national security issue.

LiP: And were those some of the arguments that were being made in 1996 when the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) were signed into law during Clinton's presidency?

MW: Yes. There were rumblings years before that, when the World Trade Center was first bombed in 1993. That contributed to the stereotype that immigrants--especially from the Middle East--were terrorists. And that was a slow burning issue that then escalated with the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

LiP: Even though that had nothing to do with immigrants whatsoever ...

MW: Right.

LiP: As I recall, within minutes, reporters and commentators on television news were speculating that Middle Eastern Muslims were involved ...

MW: Absolutely. In fact after McVeigh was apprehended, there were many journalists who were still writing that we had the wrong guy; that a white guy who served in the Persian Gulf War could not be responsible for this, and that it had to be a [foreign] terror network.

LiP: You write in Detained about the "moral panic" that has contributed to a "disaster mentality" about immigration, including refugees and asylum-seekers who now seem to elicit little sympathy compared with decades past.

Could you expand on the concept of America's "moral panic" where immigrants are concerned? If there's no real threat to our societal values and interests, why the hysteria?

MW: Moral panic is a sociological theory that I borrow from British criminology in the 1960s. Moral panic refers to a turbulent and exaggerated response to a social problem. The disaster mentality component of moral panic draws attention to a sense of urgency, and that's why moral panic or hysteria over any given issue explains why it so easily and quickly manifests in legislation and social policy. It's easy to pass legislation when people are worried sick ...

Moral panic is a construct that helps us understand how that anxiety is experienced at the collective level. The disaster mentality is easily seen in the rhetoric used by politicians ... and they contribute to a sense of urgency that something has to be done now.

LiP: And where immigrants are concerned, how is that sense of urgency or disaster mentality being manipulated?

MW: Let's go back to the internment of Japanese Americans. You probably couldn't find a more docile group than Japanese Americans in the 1940s. They cooperated with the internment, they lost their homes and businesses, and they were still demonized by American citizens and political and military leaders.

Nowadays, with the roundup of Arabs and Muslims, the experience very closely parallels the interment of Japanese Americans. They are people who are easy to identify, and easy to dislike. They're non-white non-Christians in a prevailing American culture that places great emphasis on whiteness and Christianity ...

Along with the racial component, the religious component is very difficult to overlook. They're not rounding up Presbyterians.

LiP: You've stated that mass arrests and the continued practice of detention of immigrants actually erodes the efforts to try to track down terrorists hiding out in the U.S. How so?

MW: The government inadvertently defeats its own policies and practices by resorting to tactics that erode public trust.

The INS is an agency that has two mandates: on the one hand it has to coercively control people and on the other, it has to control people in less coercive manners--providing services and helping them pursue naturalization and so on.

In the specific case of the "war against terror," those policymakers continue to make public announcements that citizens should be mindful of suspicious activity. Now the only people who can really detect suspicious activity by other immigrants are people who live in those communities.

And so that's one of the great ironies of this kind of social control; it erodes the cooperation of these immigrant communities. Those who have access to attorneys are unwilling to cooperate with the government without their attorneys present. This turns the whole process into an adversarial relationship.

When a government sets out to interview thousands of young Arab Muslim men, I think that they're publicly announcing that they don't have a lot to go on and that they're embarking on a fishing expedition ... we don't have a lot of clues, so let's go after everybody. And that exhausts resources.

When you tell law enforcement agencies that they have to round up this many people rather than honing their investigation, they're going to spend a lot of time dealing with people with minor visa violations who are not a threat to the community. Those cases still have to be investigated, reported, written up, and [that's less] time to pursue concrete clues. It strikes me as a very large, very poorly guided fishing expedition.

LiP: In the December 2001 Los Angeles mass detention, the INS apparently rounded up at least a few Iraqi and Iranian Jews ...

MW: The code word is "Middle Easterner," for sure.

I think that's a dark side of American culture. America is really globally isolated by two oceans--and really doesn't care what happens to the south or north of us. We're really culturally disinterested in other people and other languages and other religions and philosophies.

Anything that is different than us is experienced as something bad. That's a concept that sociologists use called ethnocentrism: looking at our culture from a point of view of superiority.

LiP: Some European legislators have made the case that although a kind of moral panic may exist--whether about terrorism or some other form of crime--that their legislation does not move as quickly through their parliaments as our legislation can move through Congress--and therefore the issues involved receive far more consideration.

MW: The response to September 11th is found in European legislation as well. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have followed such legislation very closely--those laws that have made it easier for the authorities to detain foreign nationals. In many ways, these laws resemble the USA PATRIOT Act. The United States is not alone in this regard.

Moral panic is a phenomenon that can and does take place in other countries and societies. But back to your point about European politics ... What you do find in Western Europe is that the parliamentary system is one that has many divergent voices of labor, conservatives, the Greens, and they have to work together as a coalition.

The European Union as well as the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany have passed legislation similar to the USA PATRIOT Act, but generally, their laws are developed with a little bit more consideration because you have so many different voices that must be heard. I think that if we had more political choice in the U.S., we wouldn't have such bad legislation ...

LiP: In August 2001 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report about the treatment of immigrants since 9/11, noting that the Justice Dept. "flouted regular procedures" to keep non-citizens in the custody of the INS on the off-chance that they would be linked to terrorist activities.

These practices are considered a form of "preventative detention", according to HRW. In your opinion, is this an accurate assessment of what's going on?

MW: The work of Human Rights Watch is profoundly important. They do really terrific work ... They know what they're doing and they don't back down. They are one of many human rights groups that have added significantly to a larger resistance against these policies.

In terms of preventative detention, I'm don't think that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sees it as a form of preventative detention. My sense is that this is such a large dragnet that I find it hard to believe that the DOJ believes that everyone they detain is a potential risk. I think that they've dragged the net so broadly that they know that they're picking up people that don't belong in that net. That's their own flawed program for law enforcement.

What I see going on is the INS and law enforcement agencies just rounding people up. They don't know who they're picking up. It could be a Christian from India, or a Sikh. They don't care. They're not providing evidence to justify these detentions.

The DOJ has taken a very strong stand on protecting its secrecy. This is the most secretive administration in recent memory ...

While there are some people who are being individually targeted, on the whole, I think that they're just rounding people up. For instance, inviting all those eligible to adjust their status at an INS office, and then handcuffing them and carting them off.

I'm not critical of the use of the term "preventative detention," but I see it more as a roundup than a selective process. It's a roundup that is driven by race and perceptions of religion.

LiP: What about "indefinite" and "secret" detention? Before 9-11, hadn't the Supreme Court ruled that indefinite detentions were, in fact, unconstitutional?

Are substantial numbers of immigrants being treated this way in the U.S.? And if so, how is this legal?

MW: You're absolutely right ... The "Ma decision" (ed: a Supreme Court ruling on two related cases, Zadvydas v. Davis and Ashcroft v. Ma), applied to Vietnamese, Cubans, Palestinians, Cambodians and others who were considered undeportable "lifers" in the INS detention facilities because their countries of origin would not take them back.

In the Ma decision, the Supreme Court ... ruled that the INS could no longer hold these men indefinitely, and that they must be released. Here we are, a year and a half later, and most of them are still behind bars. So, even though the highest court in the land has ruled against the executive branch, those who are locked up are at the mercy of the government. The judiciary has a difficult time getting immigrants released, and has cited the Ashcroft administration's failure to comply with court orders. So, the law of the land has been changed in terms of indefinite detention but these guys are still locked up.

That's one of the dangers of bad legislation. Very often, Americans have a cavalier attitude toward legislation, thinking that if it really becomes bad enough, we can change it by taking it to the courts. But federal and state legislatures do not have good records of changing their own bad policies ... and in the meantime, what do you tell people who are sitting in [indefinite detention]?

LiP: Did the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act make the use of secret evidence and indefinite detentions even easier for Ashcroft and law enforcement officials?

MW: Yes. We can expect a Supreme Court decision this term, maybe as early as May, on an attempt to settle on the use of secret evidence.

A Cincinnati Court ruled against the Ashcroft policy, starting that [the DOJ] didn't have the authority to engage in secret hearings. The Philadelphia decision said that, for the most part, the US Attorney General should not engage in secret evidence and hearings, but under certain circumstances, he could.

LiP: You've argued that the incarceration of immigrants is the next, highly profitable frontier for private corrections companies like Wackenhut and CCA, among others.

Advocates of privatization would argue that privately-run facilities save taxpayers money while abiding by INS regulations about the treatment of immigrants. Why should Americans be concerned if private companies are getting into the business of detaining refugees and immigrants?

MW: First of all, we should confront the myth that privatization saves money. The books of these private correctional facilities have been examined by the General Accounting Office and other agencies, and there is not a savings passed onto taxpayers.

This goes back to government accountability. We're allowing government to abdicate its responsibility to care for and house people that the government detains, and passing it onto the lowest bidder. We're passing this problem into an economic framework that is driven by revenue and maximizing profits.

The detainees are raw materials, and correctional companies have to cut operational costs, and cutting operational costs is a code word for reducing labor costs. So they hire the fewest number of corrections officers and they compete against the fast food industry for workers. These are not professionally trained corrections officers who see themselves as career officersincluding the many whom I've known at correctional facilities around the country. These are people who have a job for $5.50-$7.00 an hour. They think, "My job is to make sure that these guys don't leave and are kept in line." That's the economic environment in which these detainees are being placed.

Cutting corners, in some cases that I documented in my book, are even done in terms of food. Detainees left to fight for food. Or, in some cases, cutting corners means reducing clothing. One of the institutions that I discuss in my book ... in there, during the cold weather, they decided that the detainees are not allowed to go outside because company would have to purchase coats.

It contributes to the dehumanizing process of being detained. They're being criminalized and treated as lawbreakers. Compounding matters, they're treated as raw material there to generate revenue.

LiP: What hopes do you have, if any, of the restructuring of the INS under the new Department of Homeland Security? Are you optimistic about the upcoming split of enforcement and service responsibilities where immigrants are concerned?

MW: One bright spot--and I'm very cautious in my optimism--is the plan to move juveniles into another agency, the Office of Refugee Settlement in the Department of Health and Human Services. That's one positive thing. The other split between enforcement and service, we'll have to see how that unfolds.

The whole dual mandate has been a problem from the beginning. The lion's share of resources and interests go into law enforcement, in effect compromising services to immigrants who are entitled to them.

Still, it's a step in the right direction. I don't think that necessarily means that life is going to be easier for immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. I think things will remain difficult for these populations ... There have been some steps in right direction, but I think that until we really democratize our government, poor people, racial and ethnic minorities will be discriminated against. The problems that we see in the INS are reflective of larger social problems.

Democracy is a rough-and-tumble form of social and human organization. It's not for the squeamish. And that's the brilliance of democracy, that is has diversity. It has divergent points of view. I quote Nat Hentoff in my work--he's a great constitutional journalist--and he says that the First Amendment gives you the right to tell people what they don't want to hear, and that's the nature of democracy.

Imposing secret hearings and secret detentions is undemocratic. We should demand that the government be accountable and tell us who they've locked up. Where are they and what are the circumstances?

Silja J.A. Talvi is a freelance journalist and winner of the first-place magazine feature writing award from the Western Washington chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Misreading the Dream

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that someone as oft-quoted as Martin Luther King Jr., might occasionally have his words misinterpreted, misunderstood, or taken out of context. King's status as something of a secular saint only magnifies the willingness and desire of writers, academics, political commentators, and elected officials to expropriate King's words to advance one or another agenda.

Nowhere is the tendency to "play the King card" more apparent than in the claim by dozens of contemporary writers and theorists that King's principal goal was "color-blindness" and that he viewed the development of such a legally codified visual disability as the avenue by which racism would best be attacked.

To support this view, these writers rely principally on one line, from one speech--and it's not only the most famous line delivered by King, but also one of the few most folks have probably heard: namely, the one from the 1963 March on Washington, wherein King proclaimed his "dream" that one day persons "will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

For many, this is proof that King, were he alive today, would oppose race-conscious policies like affirmative action, since, after all, such efforts require targeted outreach, recruitment, and hiring goals for people of color previously locked out of opportunity in education, employment, and contracting.

Shelby Steele, in his 1990 best-seller "The Content of Our Character" presents a harsh critique of affirmative action efforts, claiming they have "done more harm than good" and implying that King would agree. Steele seeks to prove this not only with reference to the Dream speech, but also by recounting a 1964 presentation in which King implored black youth to "run faster" to get ahead: the implication being that King was an apostle of self-help and hostile to special efforts to provide full opportunities to people of color.

Clint Bolick--one of the leading critics of affirmative action--writes in his 1996 book, "The Affirmative Action Fraud," that King did not seek "special treatment" for blacks, and, as with Steele, mentions the "content of their character" remark as justification for his position. Tamar Jacoby, in her 1998 offering "Someone Else's House: America's Unfinished Struggle for Integration," says King's "dream" was color-blindness. Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, in "America in Black and White," make the same claim as part of their critique of race-conscious programs, as do Terry Eastland, in "Ending Affirmative Action," and Paul Sniderman and Edward Carmines, in "Reaching Beyond Race," who say "the civil rights movement...took as its ideal a truly colorblind society, where, as Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied, our children would be judged..." by you know what.

Even writers not particularly hostile to affirmative action often make the same argument. Consider John David Skrentny's historical survey of race-conscious programs, "The Ironies of Affirmative Action," in which the author writes: "Martin Luther King believed in color-blindness and...also sensed that affirmative action would be counterproductive to the long-range goals of civil rights groups."

Similarly, Richard Kahlenberg--whose book "The Remedy" calls for a reorientation of affirmative action from a race to a class focus--argues the move to race-conscious affirmative action was a "changed direction" by the civil rights movement, after King's assassination, and that this shift has pushed America "further than ever from King's vision of a color-blind society."

Perhaps the most extensive articulation of the notion that the modern civil rights movement has betrayed King by supporting affirmative action comes from Dinesh D'Souza in his 1995 book "The End of Racism."

D'Souza says affirmative action "seems to be a repudiation of King's vision, in that it involves a celebration and affirmation of group identity." He then claims "black leaders are the strongest opponents of King's principles," which he defines as the doctrine that "race should be ignored and we should be judged on our merits as persons." Oddly enough, despite the faint praise for King's "vision," as he understands it, D'Souza then calls for the repeal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, arguably the crowning legislative achievement of the movement King led.

Yet, despite the wealth of literature claiming that Dr. King principally sought color-blindness and would have opposed affirmative action, an examination of his writings makes such a position difficult to maintain. From the beginning, King placed responsibility for the nation's racial inequality squarely on whites.

In a 1956 article, collected in James Washington's superbly edited collection, "Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.," King said that whites had "rejected the very center of their own ethical professions...and so they rationalized" the conditions under which they had forced blacks to live.

And in his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (1963), King specifically criticized white ministers and white moderates, who he faulted for being "more devoted to 'order' than to justice," and whom he said were perhaps more of a barrier to true freedom for blacks than the Klan.

In short, King was hardly color-blind. He was clear as to who the victims, and who the chief perpetrators of racism were, and he said so forcefully.

King was even more clear on so-called "preferential treatment"--what we now typically refer to as affirmative action. Although it is true that King called for universal programs of economic and educational opportunity for all the poor, regardless of race, he also saw the need for programs targeted at the victims of American racial apartheid.

In 1961, after visiting India, King praised that nation's "preferential" policies that had been put in place to provide opportunity to those at the bottom of the caste system, and in a 1963 article in Newsweek, published the very month of the "I Have a Dream" speech, King actually suggested it might be necessary to have something akin to "discrimination in reverse" as a form of national "atonement" for the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. The most direct articulation of his views on the subject is found in his 1963 classic "Why We Can't Wait," in which King noted:

"Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask for nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up."

In his 1967 volume, "Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community?," King was even more explicit when he said "A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, in order to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis."

In a 1965 Playboy interview, King spelled out what "something special" might entail, and it was far more substantive than affirmative action. In fact, King stated his support for an aid package for black America in the amount of $50 billion. As King explained:

"...for two centuries the Negro was enslaved and robbed of any wages--potential accrued wealth which would have been the legacy of his descendants. All of America's wealth today could not adequately compensate its Negroes for his centuries of exploitation and humiliation."

Although some might consider the differing interpretations of King's views regarding affirmative action or color-blindness to be mere debate, the fact is that the claims of King's hostility to any race-conscious effort--claims which are evidently counter to his true beliefs--have had an impact on public policy and the national debate over affirmative action. For example, during the ultimately successful campaign in California to eliminate racial "preferences," supporters of Proposition 209 conjured the image of King repeatedly and, until criticized by the King family, had been planning to air a TV spot showing the "content of their character" segment of King's "Dream" speech.

According to Lydia Chavez, in "The Color-Bind: California's Battle to End Affirmative Action," the voiceover for the ad said: "Martin Luther King was right. Bill Clinton is wrong to oppose Proposition 209. Let's get rid of all preferences."

Similarly, Louisiana Governor Mike Foster eliminated certain affirmative action programs in that state upon taking office in 1996. According to Ellis Cose in "Color-Blind: Seeing Beyond Race in a Race-Obsessed World," as Foster signed the legislation outlawing a handful of race-conscious programs, he noted: "This just says we've got to be color-blind...Dr. King believed all men should be judged by their character, not by the color of their skin."

Foster went so far as to say that he "could find nothing in King's writing" that would indicate King would have disagreed with his actions that day, leading one to wonder just how much of King's work the governor had actually read.

Of course, in the end, how people feel about affirmative action or other race-conscious efforts to remedy the legacy and ongoing problem of discrimination is up to them. No one should assume that simply because Dr. King appears to have supported such efforts that this necessarily makes King, and those who support affirmative action today, correct. But it is telling that so many feel the need to link their views to King in an attempt to roll back such programs; to claim the mantle of moral authority provided by the words of this particular individual. It is an indication of how powerful a figure King remains, even 35 years after his death. But at the very least, regardless of the debate over the legitimacy of affirmative action, it seems only fair to insist that we present King's views honestly and completely and not attempt to use his words for purposes he would have found unacceptable.

Tim Wise is an antiracist essayist, lecturer and activist. He can be reached at timjwise@msn.com.

Inventing Thanksgiving

"On Thanksgiving Day all over America, families sit down to dinner at the same moment - halftime."
--Unknown

Every year, as Thanksgiving approaches, I am filled with profound ambivalence. Even as a child, the standard Thanksgiving story always seemed too simple, too wholesome, and too peaceful to be true or truly American. Finally, past the faux-historicism of school textbook-styled Pilgrims and Indians, I was able to delve into the actual construction of the story of Thanksgiving. And, in this way, I learned just how fabricated and utterly bizarre this American "holiday" really is.

In 1621, at Plymouth Plantation on Massachusetts Bay, 50 Pilgrim settlers joined with at least 90 Native guests in a three-day feast which is now traditionally cited as the "First Thanksgiving."

In reality, this seasonal, quasi-secular New England harvest celebration was not repeated in Plymouth and was in fact forgotten until a reference to it was discovered almost 200 years later, in a contemporary book known as "Mourt's Relation."

Contrary to the widely accepted, idyllic account of two cultures sitting down to share a meal in harmony, most 17th-century colonial images relating to Native Americans depict violent confrontation. It was only around 1900, when the western Indian wars had largely subsided due to a shortage of Indians left to kill--and when it was safe for Euroamericans to supplant fear with nostalgia--that the romantic Thanksgiving narrative most Americans today are familiar with took hold.

Thanksgiving Day provides an ideal opportunity to consider the formation of national identity and the concept of a civil religion. It's also a living metaphor of the prevailing American model for immigrant assimilation and the ways in which history can be reinterpreted, and indeed wholly reinvented, to serve competing ethnic, patriotic, religious, and commercial ends.

A Host of Victory Thanksgivings

An overview of historical documents reveals the many uses to which various thanksgivings have been put. The Continental Congress declared the first national day of thanksgiving on November 1, 1777, to celebrate an American victory over British general John Burgoyne:
Forasmuch as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such further Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defence and Establishment of our inalienable Rights and Liberties... It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES, to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for the Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise: That at one Time and with one voice, the good People may express themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor.
Did such a weighty declaration to the Divine Benefactor cement the basic contours of the holiday? Hardly. Then as now, political struggles (electoral and military) were often interpreted as theaters for the enactment of divine will, and so victories great and small led to a rush of thanksgiving declarations. The Confederate Congress proclaimed separate thanksgiving observations in July 1861 and again in September 1862, after the First and Second Battles of Bull Run. And it wasn't just the South. President Lincoln similarly set aside days of thanksgiving in April 1862 and August 1863 to commemorate the important Union victories at Shiloh and Gettysburg. These ad hoc decrees fell in some cases on Sundays (a common day for religious observance) and in other cases on Thursdays. Lincoln declared yet another Thanksgiving Day in 1863, for the last Thursday in November--and it has been celebrated annually in late November ever since. In his proclamation he drew attention to affairs both national and international:
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.
It was not until 1931, when President Herbert Hoover made his proclamation, that any of the presidential declarations of thanksgiving mentioned the Plymouth Pilgrims and the 1621 harvest festival as a precursor to the modern holiday. By this time, yet another willfully amnesiac reinvention of Thanksgiving was under way.

Industrialization, Commercialization, Assimilation

The general anxieties of the 1920s and 1930s provide telling insights into the creation of Thanksgiving Day as it is generally practiced and taught in the present-day United States. Elizabeth Pleck, writing in the Journal of Social History, asks why it's historically important that "domestic occasions" like Thanksgiving be old-fashioned:

Thanksgiving eased the social dislocations of the industrial and commercial revolutions... The growth of commerce, industry, and urban life created a radical break between past and present, a gap that could be bridged by threshold reunions at the family manse. Nostalgia at Thanksgiving was a yearning for a simpler, more virtuous, more public-spirited and wholesome past, located in the countryside, not the city. In gaining wealth, the family and nation, it was believed, had lost its sense of spiritual mission. Perhaps celebrating one special day might help restore the religious morality of an earlier generation.

In the aftermath of World War I, at a time when many Americans were concerned both with preserving and promoting (in Pleck's words) a "close-knit, religiously inspired [Protestant] community," and, not coincidentally, with the "Americanization" of Northern and Eastern European immigrants, Thanksgiving Day provided a compelling occasion for emphasizing civil religion, the quasi-religious belief in national institutions, purposes, and destiny. Furthermore, the model of the Pilgrim as the archetypal "good" immigrant, peacefully coexisting in prosperity with other ethnic communities, proved all but irresistible. The ideal of the "melting pot" in the United States -- often less about relishing a diverse mix of ethnic elements than about reducing ethnic culture to an assimilated national identity -- also exerted a powerful influence. By the time of Hoover's 1931 proclamation, the codification of Thanksgiving as the fundamental American holiday was essentially complete.

Which is not to say that Americans were done tinkering. One noteworthy and almost quintessentially American reformulation was ushered in by the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. This commercial pageant began in 1924 as the Macy's Christmas Parade because, as Elizabeth Pleck observes, "The department store wanted to stage a parade as a prelude to the Christmas shopping season." Pleck also notes that even in the 1920s, the parade did not exist in the shadow of the family feast or the church service, but in very real competition with another Thanksgiving tradition: the afternoon football game.

Football was clearly the more significant of the two forms of out-of-home entertainment, as changes in the timing of Macy's parade in the 1920s indicate. Initially, Macy's parade offended patriotic groups, who decried a spectacle on "a national and essentially religious holiday." Macy's hired a public relations man, who decided the critics could be placated if the parade in the morning was postponed until at least after church services had ended. The parade, pushed to the afternoon, began at the same time as the kickoff for most football games. Customers and football fans complained. By the late 1920s, Macy's had returned to an early morning parade, presumably so as not to compete with afternoon football games.

The parade featured different groups of immigrants demonstrating their American cultural fluency with floats that echoed and reinforced the core Thanksgiving origin myth. At about the same time, schoolchildren were being exposed to similar ideas about celebration, national history, customs, and cultural symbols, all of which came together to form the narrative that persists more or less intact to this day.

Lies, Half-Truths, and What a Nation Will Tell Itself

Perhaps, given the patent falsehood of the Story of Thanksgiving, one of the better questions to ask as the holiday approaches is what, in fact, it really stands for. As a Cherokee, I have never felt much like celebrating an event that essentially commemorates one of several stages in the genocide of Native Americans by European settlers, a process which continues to this day in the form of environmental racism, structural poverty, and lack of educational resources. There were times, to be sure, when I appreciated sitting with my family and devouring an embarrassment of culinary riches. But those I hold separate from the holiday itself.

For me, this now agreed upon Thanksgiving symbolizes first and foremost the alarmingly subjective nature of history, which, as Howard Zinn reminds us, is almost always written by the winners. It symbolizes the triumph of football over religion, and of American commercialism over virtually everything standing in its wasteful path. And perhaps most importantly, it symbolizes the lies and half-truths on which a profoundly diverse country must depend in order to prop up the specious concept of a broadly shared civil religion or national identity.

Thanksgiving, then, symbolizes that there is still great work to be done before a nation that readily prides itself in its goodness, honesty, and wholesome relationship with Divine Grace will actually resemble the stories it tells itself.

Brian Awehali is the publisher and co-editor of LiP Magazine.

New World Disorder

What's wrong with this picture? The world's lone superpower, fearful of being attacked by one of many real or perceived enemies, sets out to solve the problem by increasing weapon sales and military aid to the world, but not just to existing allies. Indeed, in the wake of Sept. 11, the race is on to arm governments formerly considered unstable or otherwise "off-limits" due to gross human rights violations, on grounds that these nations are assisting in the sweeping "war against terrorism."

If that sounds illogical, then perhaps you're beginning to understand the perverse logic that pervades the U.S. arms industry. After Sept 11, the industry has -- with the support of the Bush Administration -- stepped up its efforts to further reduce oversight and regulation of arms sales and military aid. This, despite a clear track record of providing weapons to the very forces now portrayed to a frightened public as threats.

In the process, the administration is apparently jettisoning efforts to use military aid as a carrot to encourage the advancement of human rights. In the past year, restrictions on military aid and arms sales to formerly off-limits regimes have largely been eliminated. Of the 67 countries which have received or are set to receive U.S. military aid, 32 have been identified by the State Department as having "poor" or worse human rights records.

"Two key [FY2002] Defense Department funding allocations -- $390 million to reimburse nations providing support to U.S. operations in the war on terror and $120 million 'for certain classified activities,' according to a report in the Arms Sales Monitor (Aug. 2002), can now be delivered 'notwithstanding any other provision of the law'."

In other words, Congress has approved a staggeringly large sum of military aid for regimes fighting an ill-defined "war on terror," and is working to ensure that there will be little or no public scrutiny of how such aid is spent.

The central question is: does this makes the world a safer place for anyone but arms manufacturers and the politicians who love them?

Conflicts of Interest

From 1991 to 2000, the U.S. delivered $74 billion worth of military equipment, services and training to countries in the Middle East, according to a Sept. 2002 General Accounting Office (GAO) report. You might expect that a majority of that military aid went to our staunch ally in the region, Israel, which has been cited repeatedly by the U.N. and Amnesty International for human rights abuses. However, military aid to Saudi Arabia -- where a majority of the terrorists reported to be involved in the Sept 11 attacks were from -- topped $33 billion for the period, outpacing aid to Israel by a more than 5-to-1 margin.

What's more, there is ample evidence that arms sales to the Middle East are, in fact, destabilizing and dangerous.

"Foreign [military] assistance to the Middle East," noted West Virginia Democratic Senator Robert Byrd in 2001, "virtually ignores the spiraling violence in the region."

In a Nov. 9, 2001 interview with Pakistan's Ausaf newspaper, none other than Osama bin Laden justified the Sept. 11 attacks by noting that the U.S. sells to Israel advanced weaponry that it uses in the military occupation of Palestinian territories. Bin Laden was specifically discussing the sale of Lockheed Martin's F-16 fighter planes. It's worth noting that Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice-President Dick Cheney, was on the board of Lockheed Martin from 1994 until 2001, and would have been involved in overseeing this sale.

On July 13, 2002, the New York Times also reported that Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer, the Halliburton Company, is "benefiting very directly from the United States' effort to combat terrorism." From building cells for detainees at Guantanamo Bay ($300 million) to feeding American troops in Uzbekistan, the Times reported, "the Pentagon is increasingly relying on a unit of Halliburton called KBR, sometimes referred to as Kellogg Brown & Root." KBR is the "exclusive logistics supplier for both the Navy and the Army, providing services like cooking, construction, power generation and fuel transportation."

And then there's the Carlyle Group, described by the The Industry Standard as "the world's largest private equity firm," with more than $12 billion in assets. A Washington merchant bank specializing in buyouts of defense and aerospace companies, the Carlyle Group stands to make a substantial sum of money from a global "war on terror." Former U.S. President George Bush, Sr. -- whom current President Bush is known to consult about policy matters almost daily -- works for the firm.

According to the Baltimore Sun, so do former Secretary of State James Baker III and former Bush Sr. campaign manager Fred Malek. Former Republican Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci (a college roommate of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld), is the Carlyle Group's chairman and managing director.

The bin Laden family, hailing from Saudi Arabia, is also heavily invested in the Carlyle Group. On Sept. 27, 2001, the Wall Sreet Journal published an article entitled "Bin Laden Family Could Profit From Jump in Defense Spending Due to Ties to U.S. Bank." The "bank" in question? You guessed it: the Carlyle Group.

Cold War Communism vs. New World Terrorism

One of the more disturbing aspects of post-9/11 arms sales is the wanton redefinition of various dissident groups around the world as "terrorists." Even longstanding conflicts such as the 38-year-old civil war in Colombia have been re-cast as a war between our Colombian allies and "terrorists."

In the Phillipines, "counter-terrorism aid" has been released to fight a band of Islamic militants, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), despite the fact that even government analysts admit the ASG poses no credible threat to the U.S. In Nepal, counter-terrorism aid has been allocated to help the Nepalese military quell Maoist dissent, despite State Department testimony that there's no evidence that these dissidents are connected to al-Qaeda. Military aid flowing to Central Asia under the auspices of fighting terrorism seems equally ill-justified, with virtually every country in the region receiving increases in U.S. military aid despite connections to the war on terrorism that are, at best, tenuous.

What seems clear from a close look at military aid policy over the past year is that the U.S. military is using the threat of terrorism to garner support for its ambitious goals for extending its reach around the world, and that it doesn't mind arming unstable or anti-democratic regimes in the process.

The "weapons against terror" rationale is strained even further by a 2001 report released by the Centre for Defense Information, an independent non-profit research group. The report, entitled "US Arms Exports to Countries Where Terror Thrives," found the following:

"There are 28 terrorist groups currently operating in 18 countries, according to the State Department's bi-annual list of active foreign terrorist organizations...In the period of 1990-1999, the United States supplied 16 of the 18 countries on the State Department list with arms....In addition, the U.S. military (and CIA) has trained the forces of many of these 18 countries in U.S. war fighting tactics, in some cases including individuals now involved in terrorism."

In sum, the U.S. has sold weapons or training to almost 90 percent of the countries it has identified as harboring terrorists. A severe restructuring of U.S. arms export policy is in order, but little or nothing is being done to ensure a safer future.

Guns and History in the Middle East: Why Insecurity Sells

Perhaps nowhere is the correlation between arms sales and violence more apparent than in the Middle East, where the U.S. sells an enormous amount of weapons.

According to an Aug. 6, 2002 congressional report on arms sales to developing countries, "The Persian Gulf War....played a major role in further stimulating already high levels of arms transfer agreements with nations in the Near East region. The war created new demands by key purchasers such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for a variety of advanced weapons systems."

"The Gulf states' arms purchase demands," the report continued, "were not only a response to Iraq's aggression against Kuwait, but a reflection of concerns regarding perceived threats from a potentially hostile Iran."

The U.S. dominated the arms market in the region from 1994-2001, selling more than $13 billion worth of weapons to Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Russia and China also sold $8 billion worth of weapons to Iran, Algeria, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Judging by numbers alone, it's hard to miss the parallels to Cold War-era geopolitical strategy.

Also hard to miss is the profit motive. 2001 marked a slump for arms dealers, as sales to developing nations dropped 43 percent, according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report. Peace, obviously, is not good business for the "defense" industry.

Why would countries siphon money from all manner of social programs in order to purchase expensive weapons systems if they didn't feel threatened? The reason has more to do with insecurity than fiscal logic, as evidenced by the fact that Israel, despite a declining economy, was the number one U.S. arms importer in 2001, purchasing, among other weapons, 52 F-16 fighter jets and six Apache helicopters.

Given that Israel has repeatedly violated international humanitarian law with its advanced U.S. weapons systems, it's clear that profits -- and geopolitical advantage -- trump human rights when it comes to selling weapons.

Focusing on the War, Not the Battle

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," proclaimed former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. "The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

Fifty years later, the figures seem to back Eisenhower up. The 2002 Federal Military Budget stands at a mind-boggling $343 billion. Consider that the same budget allocates a comparatively paltry $39 billion to children's health, $6 billion to the Headstart program, and $1 billion to combat world hunger. It's estimated that it would cost just $6 billion a year -- or approximately 1/57th of the military budget -- to provide healthcare for all uninsured children in the United States.

Given the broad bipartisan support for a war with Iraq, and considering the largely abysmal quality of most mainstream coverage of the subject, even the encouragingly large number of spirited anti-war protests around the world may not be enough to prevent an attack. However, there are battles and there are wars: The battle to prevent an attack on Iraq might fail, but the war to end a global arms race and U.S. militarism can still be won.

The U.S. military-industrial complex is a giant enterprise, employing hundreds of thousands of people, raking in billions of dollars in profits every year, with a veritable army of lobbyists and Washington insiders to maintain its dominant position in the U.S. economy. As such, the struggle to wean the country from its dependence on the defense industry has been -- and will continue to be -- a difficult one.

The good news is that the defense industry is not a monolith, and that opposition to U.S. arms sales is actually a popular, majoritarian stance. The problem is not so much one of educating the public on why arming the world to the teeth is a bad idea, but what can be done about it.

We can start by supporting efforts to end export subsidies on U.S. arms sales. Ever year, defense contractors receive billions of dollars in subsidies, taxpayer money poured right into the pockets of arms dealers; this needs to stop. Defense industry types claim they need these subsidies in order to remain competitive around the globe, but at a time when U.S. arms sales dwarfs our nearest competitor -- Russia -- by a margin of more than 9-to-1, this argument simply demonstrates the greed and lack of restraint that defines the defense industry.

The Bush Administration has been working, with relative success, to end all export controls on weapons in the name of fighting terrorism. Rebuffed in their efforts to completely eliminate weapons controls, they have turned to a strategy of incrementalism, successfully weakening or circumventing a host of weapons export controls, including the Export Administration Act. All efforts to weaken the control, oversight, and regulation of arms exports should be challenged vigorously.

Most importantly, the defense industry must not be allowed the secrecy it seeks. Public servants of both major parties must be scrutinized for conflicts of interest, and barred from public office if such conflicts come to light. This should include virtually everyone in the Bush Administration.

The agency once called the Bureau of Export Administration, which controls weapons exports, recently changed its name to the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). The BIS is part of the Commerce Department, and although lip service is paid to the office's responsibility for controlling arms exports, the BIS is also charged with promoting arms exports.

Politicians cannot simultaneously serve the interests of peace and war, nor can an office like the BIS serve two masters well. This office must be restructured or split in two if the concept of arms "control" is to be taken seriously. Instead of crowing on its website about its Defense Trade Advocacy Program generating "high-level, government-to-government advocacy on behalf of U.S. firms," helping them "succeed in today's highly competitive global defense market," and supporting "$22 billion in U.S. [weapons] exports since 1994," the BIS might instead make it its business to actually help stem the flow of arms to the rest of the world.

In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge uttered the famous line, "The business of America is business." However repugnant a truth that may be, fighting over the long haul against U.S. arms exports to the world -- and diminishing the political influence of the defense industry -- is important if we, as a nation wish to avoid the continuation of an even uglier truth: that the business of America is the business of war.

Brian Awehali is co-editor of LiP Magazine

Women of the Promised Land

"A climate of fear and an obsession with reprisal now grip our two peoples. We women refuse to be paralyzed or polarized by such fear."
--Statement from The Jerusalem Center for Women and Bat Shalom, April 15, 2002

"We cannot afford to waste any more time, or any more lives. We need to think of a new approach. We as women want to bring a new understanding to the situation in the Middle East."
--Palestinian feminist Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas, in a speech before the UN Security Council, May 7, 2002

"Where are you men of Ramallah?!"

Such were the cries of Palestinian women who took to the streets, en masse, in the nascent stages of the first Intifada.

Today, the televised battles between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians have largely been framed as an ongoing battle of angry men locked in a deadly and senseless spiral of armed conflict.

But in the beginning, it was women who were the first to take to the streets. All throughout the West Bank, they demonstrated loudly and non-violently for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, the members of Palestinian women's and neighborhood committees devoted their lives to building a comprehensive and concrete resistance movement -- effectively carrying the Palestinian revolution to a point where the world sat up and was forced to take notice. By March 1988, in fact, there were an average of 115 women's marches in the Occupied Territories per week, many of them in protest over miscarriages suffered from tear gas, as well as in grief over the injuries and deaths of children, parents, friends, and husbands.

The demonstrations themselves thrust Palestinian women into a new role in their society, sparking debate over difficult gender issues including "honor killings," bride prices, spousal abuse, occupational status, and equal payment, as well as the physical safety of women who rejected the rules and constraints of Islamic shari'a dress, including the wearing of the hijab.

Yet then, as now, the televised images broadcast into homes across the world were of rock-throwing Palestinian boys and men, engaged in David and Goliath-styled skirmishes with the heavily armed young male soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

Lesser known -- and rarely reported on -- has been the remarkable extent to which Palestinian and Israeli women have worked together and organized for a peaceful end to the 35-year occupation.

Away from the public spotlight, Palestinian and Israeli female dissidents and journalists have endured torture in Israeli prisons, while dedicated Orthodox Jewish women have objected loudly, on religious principles, to the Occupation. Feminist Jewish lesbians have joined the likes of the internationally-recognized Women in Black in organizing protests and vigils. Palestinian and Israeli women academics have written declarations, essays, articles and books about their opposition to the Israeli government's brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and have issued stinging criticisms of the Palestinian Authority's summary executions, jailings and squelching of dissenting viewpoints.

More so than any other Palestinian woman, the high-profile negotiating skills of the articulate and analytical Hanan Ashrawi defied gender lines and societal expectations. Replying to a 1992 question about how it felt to be the only woman in the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams, Ashrawi told a Ms. interviewer the following:
"It is a tremendous responsibility, a great challenge. It is also a great victory for women in general, and in particular for Arab and Palestinian women. Because this didn't come out of a vacuum but as a result of a long history of women's struggle in the Occupied Territories, Palestine. I came buttressed by a clear feminist vision and agenda and a new definition of value ... My role legitimizes women's struggles; I can speak out on behalf of all the women whose voices have not been heard. This is collective work, not tokenism."
Pushed Out of the Spotlight

In 2002, the feminist peace movement continues to try to advance a shared vision similar to Ashrawi's, but women's voices now barely register in the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict except in the roles of vitriolic settlers, terrorized mothers, shellshocked refugees, and bloodied, frantic shoppers rushing to get away from a suicide bombing.

"Those of us who remain committed to the joint work and have sustainable relationships are continuing to meet when possible, but the closures and curfews mean that scheduling is improvisational and crazy-making," explains Terry Greenblatt, the director of one of Israel's more prominent feminist peace organizations, Bat Shalom.

Bat Shalom and the Palestinian women's peace organization, The Jerusalem Center for Women, comprise what's known as The Jerusalem Link -- a group that works together toward "a real peace -- not merely a treaty of mutual deterrence, but a culture of peace and cooperation between our peoples."

Women's organizations like these have made a difference, in keeping the prospect of peace and cooperation alive and visible in the face long odds. But, as Greenblatt explains, "We are [still] struggling against chauvinism, misogyny, stereotypes, and the fact that in Israel most of our political leaders are catapulted from distinguished army careers right into the Knesset."

Sexism is hardly unique to Israel, where women have worked hard to attain proportionate representation and leadership positions in the political system, in labor unions, and in the workplace. But misogyny in the Holy Land wears a particular face. Jewish and Arab Israeli feminists openly talk about problematic gender relations when the predominant construction of masculinity is that of a sabra (native-born) strong Jewish man, born out of the ashes of the Holocaust, and raised with the intertwined narratives of Arab anti-Semitism and anti-Arab Zionism.

A different reality looked possible for Israel from the early 1910s through the 1950s when the anarchistic kibbutzim -- the largely self-sufficient communal farms and settlements that became the backbone of Israel's early agricultural success -- promised the idea of a new, egalitarian future for Jewish men and women alike.

In the wake of the 1967 and 1973 Israeli-Arab wars, a markedly more militaristic, male-dominated Israeli identity began to emerge. The creation of the new, macho Israeli identity existed alongside other troubling developments: increasingly influential and right-wing ultra-Orthodox Jews and a growth in the number of fanatical settlers in the Occupied Territories. In this context, the prospects for Israeli women's true equality dimmed immeasurably.

Such losses, of course, have not taken away from the fact that Israeli women, Jewish and Arab alike, are still free to pursue nearly any occupation or lifestyle that they choose, and are among the most well-educated, politically-informed and independent women in the Middle East. Despite this, women's peace activism has not yet been accorded the legitimacy and import that it deserves.

Today, in the midst of the second (and more deadly) al-Aqsa Intifada, Palestinian women are no longer playing a central a role in organizing, whether in street demonstrations, campaigning, or the writing of the bayanat leaflet communiques which circulated widely among Palestinians in the first Intifada. In a Jerusalem Post inteview, Professor Eileen Kuttab, the director of the Women's Studies Institute at Bir Zeit University, explained that Palestinian women have struggled to find a constructive, nonviolent role in the latest uprising, which has created widespread hunger, poverty and suffering.

"Oslo came, and it didn't deliver for women," she told the Post in February 2002. "We weren't really included in the negotiations. When the political structures were established in the Palestinian Authority, women were not given the opportunity to become more involved."

Today, only five members of the Palestinian Legislative Council are women. Hanan Ashrawi herself moved on from Arafat's cabinet in 1998 to found the East Jerusalem-based Miftah (the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy). And earlier this year, Ashrawi agreed to become an information attaché for the Arab League, something which has been interpreted as a "defection" from a Palestinian establishment that did not seem to take kindly to her ardent support of women's and Palestinian civil rights -- despite her pivotal and longstanding role in fighting for Palestinian independence.

In an address before the U.N. Security Council in May 2002, Palestinian feminist and Director of the Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas explained the situation facing Palestinian women this way:

"The Palestinian women's movement has succeeded in making inroads in addressing cultural values and attitudes particular to the Arab world that handicap the healthy development of girls and women. We Palestinian women were in the process of engaging ourselves in legislative development at the local as well as the international levels ... We were witnessing the development of a budding but vibrant young feminist movement, an essential sector for democratic development within the Palestinian society. However, the last so-called Israeli re-occupation of Palestinian-controlled areas has manifested itself in the systematic destruction of all that we have been able to achieve in the last ten years."

As it currently stands, the political future of these two peoples -- Semitic cousins to one another in religious and ethnic heritage, cuisine and culture -- has been left in the hands of the corrupt, male-dominated Palestinian Authority on one side, and the warmongering Sharon and his fractious Knesset on the other.

Upcoming Israeli elections may indeed help to bring down Sharon's scarred and violence-riddled term as prime minister, but they are hardly likely to bring about true gender parity -- or a peaceful solution to the ever-deepening political crisis -- as long as Israeli-styled military bravado remains the order of the day.

"Is it not preposterous that not a single Israeli woman, and only one Palestinian woman, have held leadership roles at a Middle East peace summit?" asks Gila Svirsky, who has been a key figure in both Women in Black and the Coalition of Women for Peace. "Instead, the negotiators have been men with portfolios of brutal crimes against each other -- military men who have honed the art of war and who measure their success by the unconditional surrender of the other. Is it any wonder that we are still locked in combat?"

Women's Proposals for Peace

Suicide bombers, who could fairly be characterized as the most visible and barbaric consequence of a conflict gone mad, are openly criticized by Israeli and Palestinian feminists alike for their murderous actions. But for all of the Israeli government's demands for an end to such violence, peace activists insist that Israel will not see an end to the mounting death toll until it is willing to withdraw, unilaterally, from the Occupied Territories and dismantle Jewish settlements.

Toward that end, Israel's Coalition of Women for a Just Peace -- consisting of nine different women's peace organizations -- has made these five demands its platform:

  1. The Occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip must end.


  2. The Occupation must end with a sovereign, independent and secure Palestinian state.


  3. Jerusalem must be the capital for both Israel and Palestine.


  4. Israel must acknowledge its responsibility for the refugees and negotiate a just solution.


  5. There must be a shared cooperative destiny between Israel and Palestine which removes the enormous present economic disparity between Israelis and Palestinians.


"There is one future for us both," read an April 15, 2002 peace declaration by The Jerusalem Center and Bat Shalom. "We believe that women can develop an alternative voice promoting sound approaches and effective peace initiatives between our two nations and peoples."

And it is toward this overreaching goal that women's groups from Israel and Palestine have continued to devote themselves to the prospect of a peaceful and equitable solution to over thirty years of conflict.

Earlier this year, both Bat Shalom's Greenblatt and Abu-Dayyeh Shamas took precisely this message to the U.N. Security Council with the support of the U.S.-based feminist organization, Equality Now. The women asked member nations to recognize "the vital role of women in the resolution of the current conflict in the Middle East," and to create a means "through which women can contribute ... to conflict resolution efforts."

Greenblatt, Abu-Dayyeh Shamas and other organizers have called for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325, particularly where Israeli and Palestinian women are concerned. SCR 1325, adopted in October 2000, affirms the importance of equal participation and the full involvement of women in all efforts toward the maintenance of peace.

"A process that should lead to a political solution ... should not be left to the confines of the generals, and should be transparent to the relevant societies," said Abu-Sayyeh Shamas in her presentation to the Security Council.

"We have to address and understand each other's history with an open mind," she added. "If we leave it only to men we get Israeli generals and Palestinians who will not be defeated and there is no room to negotiate ... The participation of women in any future peace process is essential to maintain connection to the realities of the relevant societies and their yearnings for peace and security."

Thus far, the request has received an encouraging response. The next step, says Greenblatt, is to ask U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to convene a special commission of women peace activists through the office of the U.N. Special Advisor on Gender Issues.

Such progress and cause for optimism notwithstanding, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "going to get much worse, and it is going to be bad for a very long time," admits Greenblatt. "The price of peace is going to be expensive and painful -- for both sides."

Greenblatt adds that the impending war against Iraq has Israelis and Palestinians worried about another counter-attack on Israel, which not only poses danger for innocent civilians, but also gives the Israeli government further justification for land expropriations and crackdowns against Palestinians.

"As an Israeli woman," Greenblatt says, "I know that if war is the answer, we are still not asking the right question."

Silja J.A. Talvi is a Santa Fe-based freelance journalist and co- editor of LiP Magazine.

The Color of the Drug War

"The drug war is a proxy for racism," says Andy Ko, Project Director of ACLU-Washington's Drug Policy Reform Project. "Most modern politicians wouldn't dream of explicitly advocating that society persecute or enslave poor people or members of minority communities. But that is exactly what is happening as a result of the 'get-tough-on-crime' drug war policies of the past few decades."

Ten years ago, perspectives such as these might still have been viewed as exaggerated rhetorical stabs at trying to reverse the trend of skyrocketing U.S. incarceration rates.

But today, civil liberties attorneys like Ko are being joined by what amounts to a nationwide chorus of drug war dissenters.

"It's impossible, in the [sociohistorical] context that we're living in now, to think about civil and human rights without looking at the impact of the War on Drugs," says Sharda Sekaran, Associate Director of Public Policy and Community Outreach for the Drug Policy Alliance in New York. "We now have the vantage point from which to examine the impact of decades of failed drug policies on the nation's most vulnerable communities."

A Growing Movement

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation's leading organization promoting alternatives to the War on Drugs, recently held a national conference focusing on the impact of punitive drug policies on communities of color.

"Breaking the Chains: People of Color and the War on Drugs" brought hundreds of religious leaders, civil rights advocates, addiction treatment specialists, musicians and elected officials to downtown Los Angeles last month to discuss what the organization has unabashedly referred to as America's "apartheid-like" criminal justice system.

The conference built on the momentum generated in August 2001, when an ad-hoc group of more than 100 celebrities, politicians, religious leaders and drug policy reform activists (including Danny Glover, New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, NAACP Chair Julian Bond and former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders) sent a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urging recognition of the War on Drugs as a "de facto form of racism." Representatives of the group then took their message to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, to generate discussion and awareness about the disproportionate arrest and sentencing of low-income minorities on drug-related charges in the U.S.

The time was right for the Los Angeles conference, says DPA's Sekaran, because the inequities are now "glaringly obvious." Citizen-supported initiatives favoring treatment over incarceration in states including New Mexico, Arizona, California and Washington have convinced some politicians that a shift away from incarceration toward the treatment of drug addiction as a public health concern, is no longer a "third rail issue."

But the shift is slow in coming, largely because the national criminal justice trend over the past two decades has overwhelmingly favored long, punitive prison sentences over comprehensive strategies toward addressing drug addiction, alcoholism, poverty and mental illness. Beginning with the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the modern era of the War on Drugs was ratcheted up by the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, which imposed harsh sentences for the possession of crack cocaine. Parole was essentially abolished for drug offenders in federal prisons and then made difficult (if not impossible) for many state prisoners. In the years to follow, many states followed suit with intensified mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, and the jingoistic "three-strikes-you're-out" legislation, sealing the fate of hundreds of thousands of men and women behind bars.

The results of this intensification of the drug war have been dramatic and devastating. With two million Americans doing time behind bars, our country now imprisons roughly 500,000 men and women on drug-related charges, at an annual cost of $9.4 billion.

Undeniable Disparities

Of the men and women serving more than one year in state prisons for drug-related offenses in 2001, over three-quarters were people of color. Regardless of the fact that, numerically speaking, five times as many Euro-Americans use drugs in the U.S. as African Americans (for more on this subject, see Tim Wise's article in this issue, "Affirmative Inaction"), a host of practices in law enforcement and the criminal justice system have led to glaring disparities in incarceration rates.

Indeed, racial profiling, buy-and-bust undercover operations, and specially-funded gang task forces have all but guaranteed higher arrest rates within communities of color. These policies and procedures have then, in turn, been exacerbated by overzealous city prosecutors and judges who have little or no wiggle room in meting out mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.

African Americans are by far the most overrepresented ethnic group in the prison system: At just 12.3 percent of the national population, African Americans made up 58 percent of the state prison population in 2000 doing time for drug-related offenses. Euro-Americans, by comparison, constitute 75 percent of the national population, but make up 23 percent of men and women doing time for drug-related crimes in state prisons. "For young black men born in 1966, they are more likely to have gone to prison than to have graduated from a four-year college," says Professor Bruce Western, a professor of sociology at Princeton University. "Prison is now as common as any other life event."

The government's own Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that fully ten percent of African American men nationwide between the ages of 25-29 were in prison in 2001. And although men still far outnumber women in state and federal prisons (at 93.4 percent versus 6.6 percent), African American women now represent the single fastest growing segment of the prison population.

According to Human Rights Watch's Punishment and Prejudice: "Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs," African Americans in seven states actually account for between 80 and 90 percent of all people sent to prison on drug charges. The extreme end of the racial disparity continuum is represented by states like Illinois, where African American men are sent to prison on drug charges at 57 times the rate of Euro-American men.

The extent to which African Americans are incarcerated has led to a political disenfranchisement unparalleled since the Jim Crow era: Today, almost 1.4 million African American men have been temporarily or permanently stripped of the right to vote because of a felony conviction.

Latinos are similarly over-represented behind bars, particularly in the federal prison system. In 1999, almost half of men and women charged with a federal drug offense were Latino, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly 30 percent were African American, while 25 percent were Euro-American. From 1985 to 1995, the presence of Latinos in prisons in the U.S. grew faster than any other ethnic group by 219 percent.

While the Bureau of Justice Statistics does not track the proportions of Native Americans in prison, the rise in these populations has been documented by correctional departments in such states as New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Washington and California. Notably, the percentage of Asian-Americans in the federal prison population increased fourfold from 1980 to 1999.

"The 'drug warriors' know perfectly well who they're after: African Americans, Latinos, Asian 'gang members,' and, increasingly, poor European Americans," says Ko.

Ruined Lives

The drug war arrest and sentencing trends in communities of color have not been limited to adults. Youth of color convicted of drug-related offenses are being sent to juvenile detention centers and even to adult prisons in states like New Mexico and Arizona at rates that far surpass those of their Euro-American counterparts.

A report released this past July by Building Blocks for Youth, for instance, revealed that the average incarceration rate for Latino youth is now 13 times the rate of Euro-American youth. Between 1983 and 1991, the percentage of Latino youth in public detention facilities increased by 84 percent, compared with an 8 percent increase for Euro-American youth.

Because most juvenile detention facilities are geared toward the notion of punishment rather than rehabilitation, youth emerge from the system undereducated and emotionally ill-equipped to deal with the pressures and economic demands of life in the free world. In this sense, many youth of color make a quick transition from juvenile detention facilities to adult prisons, where their age, size and inexperience often make them the target of physical and sexual abuse.

Tellingly, two-thirds of state prisoners have less than a high school education and one-third were unemployed at the time of their arrest.

Professor Western, who has studied the impact and cycle of joblessness and incarceration on the lives of African American men, notes that ex-offenders tend to do "poorly on the outside."

Employers, he points out, are very reluctant to hire people with criminal backgrounds. And the ex-offender pool among African American men, adds Western, is "is enormous and will only continue to exacerbate wage inequality."

In 2001, roughly 400,000 men and women, most of who were people of color, were released from prison or jail. And year after year, the same recidivism trends play out. With limited employment and housing resources, roughly two-thirds of people released from incarceration nationwide are rearrested within three years. Most of the arrests take place within the first six months after release.

The reason for high recidivism rates among all former prisoners and particularly drug offenders has everything to do with the host of problems that they face in trying to reintegrate into society. Once released, prisoners are often sicker, angrier, and more alienated from their communities. Outside of 12-step peer groups, drug treatment services and programs are increasingly scarce in most prisons in the U.S. Under the best of circumstances, ex-offenders are often confronted with the reality that their old habits, coping mechanisms and temptations hold an enormous amount of power over their lives, particularly when even the lowest-paying jobs prove difficult to obtain with a prison record.

Ex-felons convicted of drug offenses also promptly lose their eligibility for federal assistance for both higher education and public housing. (To worsen matters, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that even innocent family members of people who used drugs can be evicted from public housing, regardless of whether they had knowledge of such drug use.)

And because of a hastily tacked-on amendment to the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, both food stamps and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) are now denied to most men and women convicted of drug felonies in the U.S.

"The War on Drugs has really been a war on the poor. Rather than supporting those who are vulnerable, we are punishing them and making it even more difficult for them to participate in a very competitive society," says Dan Merkle, co-chair of the Race and Class Disparity Task Force for the Seattle/King County Bar Association's Drug Policy Project.

Nothing about the nation's drug war strategy, adds Ko, indicates a genuine desire to help people battle serious drug problems, particularly in light of consistent cuts in state and federal funding for drug treatment.

"Treatment, harm reduction, education, and regulation are the answers to self-destructive drug use and the drug market," Ko says emphatically. "But our current drug policy depends on prison, deprivation of voting rights, ineligibility for subsistence level food and housing assistance, and loss of eligibility for educational loans, which only compound the misery that often is at the root of compulsive drug use."

The Color of the War on Drugs

"The drug war is a proxy for racism," says Andy Ko, Project Director of ACLU-Washington's Drug Policy Reform Project. "Most modern politicians wouldn't dream of explicitly advocating that society persecute or enslave poor people or members of minority communities. But that is exactly what is happening as a result of the 'get-tough-on-crime' drug war policies of the past few decades."

Ten years ago, perspectives such as these might still have been viewed as exaggerated, rhetorical stabs at trying to reverse the trend of skyrocketing U.S. incarceration rates.

But today, civil liberties attorneys like Ko are being joined by what amounts to a nationwide chorus of drug war dissenters.

"It's impossible, in the [sociohistorical] context that we're living in now, to think about civil and human rights without looking at the impact of the War on Drugs," says Sharda Sekaran, Associate Director of Public Policy and Community Outreach for the Drug Policy Alliance in New York. "We now have the vantage point from which to examine the impact of decades of failed drug policies on the nation's most vulnerable communities."

A Growing Movement

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation's leading organization promoting alternatives to the War on Drugs, is gearing up for a national conference focusing on the impact of punitive drug policies on communities of color

"Breaking the Chains: People of Color and the War on Drugs" plans to bring hundreds of religious leaders, civil rights advocates, addiction treatment specialists, musicians and elected officials to downtown Los Angeles from September 26th-28th to discuss what the organization has unabashedly referred to as America's "apartheid-like" criminal justice system.

The conference hopes to build on the momentum generated in August 2001, when an ad-hoc group of more than 100 celebrities, politicians, religious leaders and drug policy reform activists (including Danny Glover, New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, NAACP Chair Julian Bond and former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders) sent a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urging recognition of the War on Drugs as a "de facto form of racism." Representatives of the group then took their message to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, to generate discussion and awareness about the disproportionate arrest and sentencing of low-income minorities on drug-related charges in the U.S.

The time is right for the Los Angeles conference, says DPA's Sekaran, because the inequities are now "glaringly obvious." Citizen-supported initiatives favoring treatment over incarceration in states including New Mexico, Arizona, California and Washington have convinced some politicians that a shift away from incarceration toward the treatment of drug addiction as a public health concern, is no longer a "third rail issue."

But the shift is slow in coming, largely because the national criminal justice trend over the past two decades has overwhelmingly favored long, punitive prison sentences over comprehensive strategies toward addressing drug addiction, alcoholism, poverty and mental illness. Beginning with the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the modern era of the War on Drugs was ratcheted up by the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, which imposed harsh sentences for the possession of crack cocaine. Parole was essentially abolished for drug offenders in federal prisoners—and then made difficult (if not impossible) for many state prisoners. In the years to follow, many states followed suit with intensified mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, and the jingoistic "three-strikes-you're-out legislation," sealing the fate of hundreds of thousands of men and women behind bars.

The results of this intensification of the drug war have been dramatic and devastating. With two million Americans doing time behind bars, our country now imprisons roughly 500,000 men and women on drug-related charges, at an annual cost of $9.4 billion.

Undeniable Disparities

Of the men and women serving more than one year in state prisons for drug-related offenses in 2001, over three-quarters were people of color. Regardless of the fact that, numerically speaking, five times as many Euro-Americans use drugs in the U.S. as African Americans (for more on this subject, see Tim Wise's article in this issue, "Affirmative Inaction"), a host of practices in law enforcement and the criminal justice system have led to glaring disparities in incarceration rates.

Indeed, racial profiling, buy-and-bust undercover operations, and specially-funded gang task forces have all but guaranteed higher arrest rates within communities of color. These policies and procedures have then, in turn, been exacerbated by overzealous city prosecutors and judges who have little or no wiggle room in meting out mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.

African Americans are, by and far, the most overrepresented ethnic group in the prison system: at just 12.3% of the national population, African Americans made up 58% of the state prison population in 2000 doing time for drug-related offenses. Euro-Americans, by comparison, constitute 75% of the national population, but make up 23% of men and women doing time for drug-related crimes in state prisons.

"For young Black men born in 1966, they are more likely to have gone to prison than to have graduated from a four-year college," says Professor Bruce Western, a professor of sociology at Princeton University. "Prison is now as common as any other life event."

The government's own Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that fully ten percent of African American men nationwide between the ages of 25-29 were in prison in 2001. And although men still far outnumber women in state and federal prisons (at 93.4% versus 6.6%), African American women now represent the single fastest growing segment of the prison population.

According to Human Rights Watch's "Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs," African Americans in seven states actually account for between 80 and 90 percent of all people sent to prison on drug charges. The extreme end of the racial disparity continuum is represented by states like Illinois, where African American men are sent to prison on drug charges at 57 times the rate of Euro-American men.

The extent to which African Americans are incarcerated has led to a political disenfranchisement unparalleled since the Jim Crow era: today, almost 1.4 million African American men have been temporarily or permanently stripped of the right to vote because of a felony conviction. Latinos are similarly over-represented behind bars, particularly in the federal prison system. In 1999, almost half of men and women charged with a federal drug offense were Latino, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly 30% were African American, while 25% were Euro-American. From 1985 to 1995, the presence of Latinos in prisons in the U.S. grew faster than any other ethnic group—by 219%.

While the Bureau of Justice Statistics does not track the proportions of Native Americans in prison, the rise in these populations has been documented by correctional departments in such states as New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Washington and California. Notably, the percentage of Asian-Americans in the federal prison population increased fourfold from 1980 to 1999.

"The 'drug warriors' know perfectly well who they're after: African Americans, Latinos, Asian 'gang members,' and, increasingly, poor European Americans," says Ko.

Ruined Lives

The drug war arrest and sentencing trends in communities of color have not been limited to adults. Youth of color convicted of drug-related offenses are being sent to juvenile detention centers—and even to adult prisons in states like New Mexico and Arizona—at rates that far surpass those of their Euro-American counterparts.

A report released this past July by Building Blocks for Youth, for instance, revealed that the average incarceration rate for Latino youth is now 13 times the rate of Euro-American youth. Between 1983 and 1991, the percentage of Latino youth in public detention facilities increased by 84%, compared with an 8% increase for Euro-American youth.

Because most juvenile detention facilities are geared toward the notion of punishment rather than rehabilitation, youth emerge from the system undereducated and emotionally ill equipped to deal with the pressures and economic demands of life in the free world. In this sense, many youth of color make a quick transition from juvenile detention facilities to adult prisons, where their age, size and inexperience often makes them the target of physical and sexual abuse.

Tellingly, two-thirds of state prisoners have less than a high school education and one-third were unemployed at the time of their arrest.

Professor Western, who has studied the impact and cycle of joblessness and incarceration on the lives of African American men, notes that ex-offenders tend to do "poorly on the outside."

Employers, he points out, are very reluctant to hire people with criminal backgrounds. And the ex-offender pool among African American men, adds Western, is "is enormous and will only continue to exacerbate wage inequality."

In 2001, roughly 400,000 men and women, most of who were people of color, were released from prison or jail. And year after year, the same recidivism trends play out. With limited employment and housing resources, roughly two-thirds of people released from incarceration nationwide are rearrested within three years. Most of the arrests take place within the first six months after release.

The reason for high recidivism rates among all former prisoners—and particularly drug offenders—has everything to do with the host of problems that they face in trying to reintegrate into society. Once released, prisoners are often sicker, angrier, and more alienated from their communities. Outside of 12-step peer groups, drug treatment services and programs are increasingly scarce in most prisons in the U.S. Under the best of circumstances, ex-offenders are often confronted with the reality that their old habits, coping mechanisms and temptations hold an enormous amount of power over their lives, particularly when even the lowest-paying jobs prove difficult to obtain with a prison record.

Ex-felons convicted of drug offenses also promptly lose their eligibility for federal assistance for both higher education and public housing. (To worsen matters, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that even innocent family members of people who used drugs can be evicted from public housing, regardless of whether they had knowledge of such drug use.)

And because of a hastily tacked-on amendment to the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, both food stamps and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) are now denied to most men and women convicted of drug felonies in the U.S.

"The War on Drugs has really been a war on the poor. Rather than supporting those who are vulnerable, we are punishing them and making it even more difficult for them to participate in a very competitive society," says Dan Merkle, co-chair of the Race and Class Disparity Task Force for the Seattle/King County Bar Association's Drug Policy Project.

Nothing about the nation's drug war strategy, adds Ko, indicates a genuine desire to help people battle serious drug problems, particularly in light of consistent cuts in state and federal funding for drug treatment.

"Treatment, harm reduction, education, and regulation are the answers to self-destructive drug use and the drug market," Ko says emphatically. "But our current drug policy depends on prison, deprivation of voting rights, ineligibility for subsistence level food and housing assistance, and loss of eligibility for educational loans, which only compound the misery that often is at the root of compulsive drug use."

Silja J.A. Talvi is a Santa Fe-based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in In These Times, Z Magazine and ColorLines Magazine, among others. She is co-editor of LiP Magazine.

Affirmative Inaction

The war on drugs never came to my college dorm. Not because of insufficient enemies in sight -- for indeed there were plenty -- but rather because the drug war has rarely ever made its way to the cloistered residences of mostly white, well-off private school co-eds. Too busy busting the black and brown in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans, I guess, to make a stop Uptown, where the Tulane freshmen on the 8th floor of Monroe Hall were busy filling up two foot bong chambers with pot smoke, and then inhaling until our eyes rolled back in our heads.

It's not like the drug warriors didn't know we were there. They've seen the studies on college drug use; they know what's going on in the dorms, in the frat houses, and in the cramped college apartments. The campus cops know, the Administration knows, and the city police know too. They know but they don't care; for the white and economically-advantaged, drugs have been essentially decriminalized for a long time.

Back in high school even, weekend parties at the homes of fellow white brethren would be routinely visited by police who had received a noise complaint. Although I find it hard to believe that they could have missed either the underage drinking or the smell of pot smoke hanging in the air, never once did they search anyone, raid the house, or make a bust. They would ask us politely to turn down the music, hop in their cruisers, and head down to the 'hood to arrest some folks who had made the mistake of doing their drugs somewhere other than our party.

Or on the road following the Grateful Dead in 1990 (don't ask): a traveling pharmaceutical warehouse if ever there was one. Everyone knew that the falafel stand was a front; that there was hash in the brownies; that nobody dances like that who isn't dosed out of their mind. But when I slid quietly into the beat-up Chevy in the parking lot to purchase my daily supply of psilocybin (hallucinogenic mushrooms, for those who don't know), I never worried about whether the dealer was a cop. After all, it was the Grateful Dead and the crowd was white; surely there had to be some black folks in Louisville to shake down; maybe a LL Cool J show to bust up.

Oh sure, I know there are some white college kids who have been busted in drug raids; and yes, some have even done time. I know one of these folks myself actually; arrested at a different University than my own for selling acid -- lots of it. And yes he went to prison; and now he's out; and he's the President of a company just five years after his release from the joint. Note to self: if I ever decide to sell drugs, make sure to be rich first, so I can have a nice range of opportunities waiting for me upon my release. I'm already white, so I figure I'm halfway home.

This is all to say that if we're going to understand the implications of the war on drugs, we have to go beyond the standard analysis. It's one thing, after all, to note the costs of this war to people of color -- and many writers have done a marvelous job of that, including Silja Talvi in this issue -- but it's quite another to recognize the flipside of that cost: that for every black or Latino or American Indian casualty in the drug war, there are thousands, or indeed millions of white folks who broke the same laws, did the same drugs, sold the same merchandise, and yet the closest they've been to a prison cell is watching OZ on a flat-screen TV.

Even in the midst of the insanity that is the war on drugs, there is white privilege. Not just class privilege -- for there are plenty of middle class black and brown folks wearing prison blues and plenty of poor and working class whites whose indulgence of narcotics gets ignored -- but race privilege. The kind of privilege that keeps one from being suspected (despite the studies that show whites are equally or more likely to use drugs than blacks and Latinos); keeps us from getting searched (despite the fact that according to the Department of Justice, whites are twice as likely as blacks to have drugs in our cars when we are searched); keeps us from getting arrested; and keeps us from going to jail. At the worst, it's off to rehab: 28 days and out; and then it's back to that two-foot bong; back to poppin' X at the club; back to makin' pipes out of Pepsi cans -- anything to get high. Crazy shit. And everyone knows it and looks the other way.

White privilege: the same privilege that makes Amsterdam a hip, bohemian, cosmopolitan hangout for world travelers looking for a good high; but renders South Central L.A. -- where you can also score some pretty good shit -- a place that white folks are afraid to even look at on a map. Not hip, not cool, and definitely not a tourist destination.

White privilege: the same privilege that renders low-income black folks "crackheads" in the eyes of much of white America while characterizing low-income whites as innocuous "Joe Six-packs" -- a reference to a nice, legal drug -- no matter how much of the hard stuff these folks ingest.

Not that I'm suggesting a new front for the drug war, of course. It's just that so long as we allow a public policy to criminalize entire generations of youth of color, while ignoring the equally illegal proclivities of their pale-skinned counterparts, we not only guarantee that the war on drugs can never succeed (since it's tough to win a war when you ignore 76% of the folks whose behavior classifies them technically as the adversary), but we also further entrench racial inequity and de facto apartheid in the criminal justice system. Indeed, this apartheid extends far beyond the justice system, since a drug conviction severely diminishes a person's prospects for future employment, stable families, and even a person's ability to participate in civic life as a voter.

It's important to quantify this kind of thing. Anecdotes are nice, of course: they illustrate points, and I've got lots of 'em. Like the fact that I saw more drugs on the high school competitive debate circuit in one month than I ever saw in an entire year, working in public housing as a community organizer.

But anecdotes can't make points of their own accord. So it's more effective, in some ways, to take a look at the statistics on who gets arrested for drugs, and compare that to the available data on who actually uses drugs, or sells them. By doing so, we can not only gain insight into the devastation wrought upon people of color by the drug warriors, but can also begin to quantify the numbers of whites whose presence in the free world, and without an arrest record, is merely a matter of racial preference: affirmative inaction, if you will, on the part of law enforcement.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 6.4% of whites and 6.4% of blacks, age twelve and older, are current drug users; so, too, for 5.3% of Latinos that age. This translates into approximately 10.7 million whites, 1.9 million blacks, and 1.3 million Latinos who have used drugs in the past month. Whites are 76% of current users, while blacks are 13.5% and Latino/as are 9.2% of current drug users. Combined, these people of color comprise less than 23% of all drug users, but over the past several years, have come to represent 90% of all persons sent to jail or prison for a drug possession charge.

Beyond percentages, what does this mean? Look at it this way. In 2000, there were a little more than one million arrests for drugs in the United States. Most of these arrests resulted in state or local drug charges, although there were also about 33,000 federal drug arrests. While the federal arrests were almost all for distribution and manufacture, the state and local level cases were overwhelmingly for mere possession. Indeed, roughly 75% of all drug arrests annually are possession arrests. This means that in 2000, there were essentially 750,000 arrests for possession alone.

Of the total, thirty-five percent of those arrested (roughly 350,000) were African American. If seventy-five percent of these were for possession, this means that approximately 263,000 blacks were arrested in 2000 for possession alone; this, despite being less than 14% of users (and thus, possessors of narcotics at any given moment).

In that same year, data tells us that whites were a little over 64% of all persons arrested for drugs. But there's a problem: namely, those the government classifies as "Hispanic" are rolled in with the white folks. Furthermore, given what we know from federal drug arrest data (where Hispanics arrested are looked at separately), the percentage of Latinos arrested for drugs is well above their share of the racially-"white" population, and well above their share of actual drug offenders. Even if we assume that Latinos are only arrested for drugs at a rate that is double their share of the population (a conservative guess given federal data where they comprise nearly half of all arrests), this would mean that at roughly eleven percent of the 12-and-over "white" population, Latino "whites" would represent at least twenty-two percent of drug arrests: roughly 220,000. Of these, at least three-quarters (or 165,000) would be for possession alone.

This would leave approximately 447,000 drug arrests of non-Hispanic whites, or 43% of the total arrests for drugs in 2000. Of these, 335,000 or so would be for possession alone. In other words, the group that comprises 76% of all drug users would represent well under half of all possession arrests.

If we assume that the various law enforcement agencies have the resources to arrest 750,000 people each year for drug possession, calculating the privilege of being a white user isn't very difficult. If enforcement followed relative rates of violation, more than three-quarters of those busted would be white. That would mean 570,000 white folks arrested each year for drug possession, as opposed to the 335,000 currently arrested: a difference of 235,000 whites every year, not being arrested, not getting a record, not being prosecuted, and not facing jail time, irrespective of their actions. By the same token, there would be only a little more than 100,000 blacks busted for possession each year: a number that is less than four-tenths as large as the 263,000 African Americans actually getting popped for possession. For Latinos, enforcement based on rates of violation would bring less than 70,000 possession arrests annually, as opposed to the low-ball estimate of 165,000 for 2000.

Imagine what this kind of reality would do for the complexion of the burgeoning jail and prison industry; what impact it would have on common stereotypes of criminality and drug use in particular.

Even among drug dealers, evidence suggests that blacks are only 16% of persons who sell drugs, while whites (including Hispanics) are 82%. Even if we make the absurdly high estimation that half of that white total is ethnically Hispanic, this would still mean that around four in ten dealers are Caucasian. Yet, at the federal level, where most of the distribution arrests are made, only one-fourth of those busted are white. Over the course of the last decade, that would mean that tens of thousands of whites who sold drugs escaped notice, arrest and long-term confinement.

Over the course of the nearly two-decades-long war on drugs, it is no exaggeration then to suggest that a few million white people have benefited directly from the racially-selective prosecution of said war. That is the measure of white privilege: a measure that has allowed those millions to continue to lead their lives, make money, get educations, start families and maintain them, vote for candidates for political office who will pass laws relating to drug policy, and generally escape the stigma that comes with a mug shot and prison ID number.

That's millions of white people, every bit as guilty as those of color, but who by virtue of their freedom -- a gift from a justice system that ignores their wrongdoing -- have been able to make hundreds of millions of dollars in income, and accumulate wealth, property, and additional advantages, relative to the equally substantial million or so who are black and brown and have been unable to accumulate the same because they instead have been labeled drug felons.

Indeed, much of white America owes damn near everything we have to the existence of racism as the framework for the War on Drugs. Without it, we'd be doing time.

That said, does white America really want to end institutional racism? Are we really prepared to give up the advantages to which we have grown accustomed? Do we really want to be treated as merely individuals? Or do we deep down want to be treated like members of a group -- so long as the group is the one being afforded the free pass?

Are we prepared for what ending the war on drugs would mean, including forcing us to actually compete for jobs and college slots, and homes with an awful lot of people who up to now have been viewed as surplus, and written off? After all, a hundred thousand or so less blacks carted off to jail each year is a hundred thousand or so who will suddenly become available to move next door or date your daughter. And we know how most white folks feel about that.

And if it's too much to think about, we can always just pop another nitrous oxide canister, or hook up a gas mask to the two-foot bong (because two feet, after all, just isn't enough) and bake ourselves into oblivion. Who's going to stop us, after all?

Tim Wise is a Nashville-based writer, lecturer and antiracism activist. He can be reached at tjwise@mindspring.com.

On the Porousness of Racial Identity

Until recently, I fooled myself into thinking that biology determined race.

Realistically, it doesn't matter who my parents are, where they came from, and what cultural traditions I do or don't practice. I am only the stranger's mirror. I am a reflection of their racial impulse, their chance encounters with the white, black, brown, yellow and the red.

I'm the itchy trigger finger that exposes their racial prejudices. I'm the reminder of some kid they went to grade school with, or I might look like someone in their office. If my hair is cropped almost bald, I'm a threatening Mexican cholo gangster. A full head of hair makes me a wimpy Asian dork. Clamming on the beach, and, by God, I'm exercising my tribal treaty rights! It doesn't matter that in my whitewashed hometown of Seattle there are probably more half-Asians than Mexicans or Indians. Sure, my walk, talk and garb may reveal some clues to people looking to figure out who or what I am. But my face is always the same, and yet a stranger has never asked me if I was half-Korean because, to them, half-Koreans don't exist.

Like too many of us, "Hi, I am half Korean and half white," was the topic sentence of my life's confirmation that I really did exist, even if a history of stereotypes had yet to confine by defining me. If I chose not to disclose my racial recipe, most people would keep their curiosity and guesses to themselves. But even after centuries of mixing and melting, Americans still cling to the impossible idea that race means either black or white, even as mixed-race Americans fill the gray areas in-between. To strangers who assault us daily with questions like, "What are you?" my answer today is simply, "Yes."

"What are you?" (A.k.a. "Help me define you.")

"Yes." (Whatever you want.)

"Are you Hawaiian?"

"Yes."

"Do you speak Spanish, Tlingit or Tagalog?"

"Yes."

"Are you a war baby?" "Is that Native American poetry you're writing?" "Do your exotic features blending East and West originate in none other but the Galapagos Islands of Darwin fame, where you spent an idyllic childhood riding giant tortoises in shabby loin cloths?"

"Yes."

Why say no? If their experience of me is Mexican, then I'm Mexican. If their treatment of me is based on believing that I am Japanese, then I am, in a small way, experiencing what it's like to be Japanese.

Of course, there's a huge difference between being Japanese for a day versus a lifetime. But it's not really about my life experiences, but about theirs. And since race is ostensibly a fixed concept in America, a stranger's momentary encounter may well determine your race for them forever.

Of course, the race that's chosen for me has almost never matched the one I choose for myself. When I'm alone, I relish being raceless. As a kid, I wanted nothing more than consistency -- to be recognized as Asian to at least ten of the next twelve people on the sidewalk, or even Mexican to fifty-one percent of the waiters whose tables I bussed on weeknights. But these days, I'm usually half-Cuban.

My half-Cuban "identity" comes from a 1997 trip to Havana's tiny Chinatown where I met a restaurant owner named Fong. He had dark brown skin, wavy black hair and almond-shaped eyes. He called himself and his fusion cuisine Chinese. (How porous the boundaries of race truly are!)

Even with a dark tan, I don't think I pull off half-Cuban convincingly. But 23 years of feedback says that I don't pull off Korean/white convincingly either, even though that's what I'm supposed to be, biologically anyway. In my world where race changes, I'm all the above. I check off all of the boxes. The only real factor determining how many times my race changes is how many people I pass going from point A to point B.

Of course, a big reason why my race changes is because it doesn't have widespread recognition. In the U.S.A., I've yet to have a race assigned to me. Not that I really want one, but there isn't an official Asian/white box for all of us Eurasian mulattos on employment or SAT test forms. I don't get a race, even though there are more multiracial babies born on the West coast than any other race except white babies.

Maybe an Asian/white box sounds arbitrary to you. But America already has mixed-race boxes. Given our nation's history, what is white, American Indian, black and Latino, if not shorthand for saying "African/Native American/European"? Racially, they are all scooped from the same jars; they just scooped more from some and less from others. The point is that we're all mixed. It just matters that the "race" has a name, and that a critical mass of people acknowledge it.

If being Asian/white in America means not having a name, then at best, I'm stuck in racial no-man's-land, and at worst, I don't exist. Living outside the racial paradigm has forced me to acknowledge the fiction of race, however uncomfortable that may be. The problem is that I still sometimes ignore my own, lived experience to buy into that persistent idea that everyone fits into five distinct and separate races.

Until I accept the insecurity of life outside or in-between, I'll still feel guilty saying I'm Cuban or anything else, for that matter, to strangers who feel entitled to ask what instead of who I am.

Matt Kelley is the founder and president of The MAVIN Foundation, a non-profit organization that celebrates mixed-race young people. Contact him at mattk@mavinfoundation.org.

Prison Policy in a Media-driven America

It doesn't matter where you live. It makes no difference what your education, age, gender or income is. Within any demographic group, people who watch a lot of television are more afraid of crime than people who don't.

According to studies by communications professor George Gerbner, people who watch more TV are more likely to believe that their neighborhoods are unsafe, to state that fear of crime is a very serious personal problem and to go out and buy new locks, watchdogs and guns for protection.

And if you think these people are just better informed, think again. No matter what the neighborhood, heavier television viewers are also more likely to overstate their chances of involvement in violence and to assume that crime is on the rise, regardless of the local facts.

This unjustified level of panic among TV viewers makes perfect sense. Gerbner explains that people who watch just a moderate amount of primetime television drama are "entertained" by an average of 21 violent criminals each week, who (together with the "good guys") commit approximately 150 acts of violence, including 15 murders.

If television make-believe can influence Americans' level of anxiety, perhaps it also influences their views on prison policy. Ever wonder why a person could support a justice system that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world, at a cost of billions of dollars to taxpayers each year, despite the fact that violent crime is down and two-thirds of prisoners are actually locked up for nonviolent offenses? Just consider the world that media consumers are confronted with every day.

Hardasses or Hard Copy?

Reality shows like America's Most Wanted paint the nation as filled to the brim with depraved murderers, brutal serial rapists and career con artists -- all with callous indifference to their ever-increasing stream of victims.

Dramas like Law and Order, CSI and NYPD Blue leave viewers expecting to find a body no matter what corner they turn. Police and victims are depicted as having to battle against a mountainous number of unfair technicalities and uncaring defense attorneys, while alleged perpetrators are most often shown to be common thugs.

Even shows like The Practice -- which sends the radical message that any person accused of a crime deserves a good defense -- also send the message that any person accused of a crime gets a good defense. Lawyers from the program's expensive private law firm constantly take on the cases of indigent defendants, getting them acquitted from all sorts of charges even though the lawyers, clients and viewing audience all know the person is guilty.

Our "objective," "neutral" and "balanced" mainstream news doesn't do much to correct this slanted image of the world either. In fact, most television news works to actually increase America's culture of fear.

If it Bleeds, it Leads

Paul Klite, the late Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Media Watch (RMMW), once pointed out that "Murder, one of the least common crimes, is the number one topic on newscasts." According to the group Children Now, while the homicide rate dropped 33% during the period between 1990 and 1998, news coverage of homicides actually increased by 473%.

An RMMW study of local TV newscasts across the country shows that 40-50% of all news airtime is devoted to violent topics. It's little wonder that heavy television viewers are more afraid of crime than less frequent viewers in the same demographic.

Children Now recommends that parents speak with their kids about the levels of violent crime reported in the news and explain to them that crime reporting is not accurate representation of reality. Perhaps parents should speak with their adult friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives as well.

Anyone working for progressive prison reform has undoubtedly run up against individuals with a "lock 'em up and throw away the key" attitude. We should keep in mind that this position -- while not necessarily well thought out from a public policy perspective -- does seem understandable for a person that believes violent indifference and criminal brutality are pandemic.

The fact that newspapers like The New York Times, Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times have all used the phrase "country club prison" in headlines also makes the calls for more harsher punishment for prisoners seem somewhat reasonable.

The Idle, Carefree Life of the Prisoner

The prison coverage by Fox News several years back was not atypical. It aired James Fotis of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America stating that "some prisons are like hotels." Guests on the show highlighted prisoners' access to perks like television, videos and tennis courts.

A report that aired multiple times on 20/20 in the 1990s which, according to host Hugh Downes, was about "thieves, child molesters, [and] murderers" suing prisons over "petty gripes," quoted an Attorney General explaining the situation quite clearly:

"What we've got here is a system in this country where prisoners -- the worst of the worst of our society -- have been given special privileges across the board. They get free everything."

You almost expect the next exposé to be about people trying to get into prison. Never mind being locked away from one's family, told when to eat and sleep, having absolutely no privacy, forced to submit to humiliation on a regular basis, living at the mercy of the mood swings of individual prison guards and other prisoners -- you get "free everything"!

As long as people view the "justice" system through the mainstream media's skewed lens on the world, America's insane prison system will continue to seem right to an awful lot of people. Government policies will continue to focus on warehousing and punishment, rather than education, rehabilitation and victim services.

The "prisoners get what they deserve" attitude that is so prevalent in our society, "isn't because of any natural consequence of people's thinking process," explains Prison Legal News editor and Washington state prisoner Paul Wright. "Rather, it is the carefully inculcated notion that comes after years of bombardment on what to think by the media."

The Real Societal Cost of Paying with Plastic

Where is the stability in an economy that revolves around the acquisition of debt? Have we unwittingly, perhaps complacently, become so dependent on credit cards that we no longer see our national addiction to debt for what it is?

If the title of Robert Manning's book, "Credit Card Nation: The Consequences of America's Addiction to Credit" (Basic Books: 2000), seems to phrase the problem in exaggerated terms, then consider the real numbers: U.S. consumer debt is now at an astonishing $6.5 trillion, surpassing the federal debt of $5.8 trillion, which itself tops the nation's total corporate debt at $4.3 trillion. It's a "triangle of debt" that seems to threaten the very future and economic security of the nation. To make matters worse, the situation is compounded by a negative national savings rate, banking deregulation and conglomeration (starting in the Reagan-era 1980s and accelerated by the 1999 Financial Services Modernization Act), and the erosion of real wages and job security.

Today, there is no disputing that credit cards are everywhere. No less than 158 million Americans now own 1.5 billion shiny pieces of embossed plastic, ranging from retail cards to gasoline cards. Once the privileged possession of the credit-worthy and the employed, credit cards now jut out of the wallets of unemployed college students and Social Security-dependent elderly persons.

Credit cards have become the currency of our culture, argues Manning, helping us acquire the things we might not otherwise afford, masking our financial woes and sinking us further and further into the enveloping pit of debt. Manning has harsh words for the strategic marketing tactics of the credit card industry, but his strongest outrage is reserved for the largely unregulated predatory lending practices that have been unleashed on low-income communities across the nation.

We spoke to Professor Manning, a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Higher Education Governance and Law, University of Houston Law Center, to learn more about his impetus for writing about this crucial problem.

Why did you write Credit Card Nation?

I think there's growing national and public sentiment that the [credit card/banking] industry is out of control, and I was hoping that this book would provide some guidance on why [people] should be angry and why they should be afraid.

[All of this is] happening so fast, and the [credit] industry has presented it in a very individualistic manner. They have been pretty successful in making sure people don't see the larger picture. [They present] the whole moral underpinning of the dramatic increase in consumer credit as an individual decision and individual cost, and if you play, you pay. In other words, if you don't want to pay 24 percent interest, you don't have to.

You explain throughout your book that the transformation of America's Puritan-influenced ethos of thrift and savings toward an attitude that embraces the regular use of credit -- and that makes debt or even bankruptcy commonplace -- was one of the most important "cultural revolutions" of the postwar era. What were some of the key factors that contributed to this transformation?

Number one was sustained high rate of inflation in the late 1970s. The double-digit rate of inflation during the Carter administration made it economically rational to be in debt ... [A]s wages stagnated and started to fall in the late 70s, being in debt to pay off your washing machine or your car was financially feasible ...

At the same time, this is when the banks finally got deregulation, and they were not prepared for it. That's when they got clobbered by their third world loans, their bad real estate investments, and the recession of 1981-82 hit [during Reagan's presidency]. It was kind of like a purging.

It was a shakeout period. That's when banks realized that retail [financial] services would work, although in the past they were looked down upon ... That's where the confluence really hit. Low wages, high inflation, banks desperate for new markets, and people willing to pay unprecedented high interest rates for credit cards.

Banks then shifted their resources into marketing, going after displaced middle and working class people. People losing their jobs during the industrial restructuring were specifically targeted for credit cards, where before they would not have been approved. Banks transformed their underwriting criteria -- instead of only approving customers that will repay their loans, they now see that their prime market are customers that cannot repay their loans. That's this whole, fundamental shift from installment loans to revolving credit, where real money is finding people who will never repay. All of that occurs in that very brief period of time.

[W]hen the credit card companies got so successful, they started to buy each other out and then selling their credit card debt to insurance companies ... And once they realized they weren't holding all the risk anymore, then they realized, hey, we can loan to anybody because we [might] get hurt, but it's not going to be a disaster.

At this point, insurance companies are diversifying and instead of buying treasury notes, now they're buying secured rights to credit card debt ... [So], banks do the processing, they get the merchant fees and all that. And after they've gotten a good chunk of the money, they transfer the entire risk to these other companies that are buying credit card debt.

It's very extraordinary for them, because they can go after much more risky sectors of the market, whereas before they would never have done that. You've got to give these guys credit, they've got some of the most sophisticated marketing campaigns you could ever imagine and they're darn good.

When did the aggressive credit card marketing to college students really start?

The late 1980s. That's why I argue that it is so critical in terms of the transformation of American attitudes because what they have done is turned on its head the social responsibility [previously] associated with credit and debt. Before, you were only getting credit if you had proved yourself worthy by having a good credit history or by having job ... now the industry has allowed people to get credit without ever having a job.

Banks are having a more profound influence on this generation's attitude toward debt. Now it even can precede the influence of parents ... these attitudes are shaped prior to parents being able to teach what is good [debt] and what is bad debt.

Even during the slight dip in bankruptcy rates over the last two years, people 25 and under showed a sharp increase in bankruptcy. Using the term "graduating into debt" is now "graduating into bankruptcy." There are people just a couple of years out of college who can't pay their bills because of credit card debt.

You've made the point in your book that credit-using lower and middle classes are essentially subsidizing what you call the "free credit" of more affluent groups. How does that work?

The bottom line is that there's no real reason why people who pay off their credit cards at the end of the month should get zero or three percent interest. The reality is that if someone pays off their debt at the end of the month, they forget that the cost of borrowing that money, from the credit card company's perspective, could be anywhere from 4-7 percent.

They think they're being frugal when they pay off their credit cards. If they charge an average of $1,000 a month, it'll cost the company five percent ... and that means that the people who don't pay [off their credit cards each month] have to pay triple [in interest rates]. That's the way that industry has played upon this Puritan ethos in terms of giving credibility to the moral divide. People who get a free ride are those who need it the least, and people who have to pay exorbitant rates are those who need it the most.

That is part of the public discussion that people don't want to go into. I get angry emails on that. "How dare you say that poor people are subsidizing me?" It goes back to this issue of individual responsibility, that if you assume responsibility and pay it off that somehow you're more moral, more righteous than someone who is in debt. I hope discussion on this topic starts to expand so that there's a more democratic discussion of what the real costs should be ... How are you going to bash a single mother who just lost her job and is trying to pay for her kid's medical expenses and pay off her credit card bills and say she deserves to pay 24 percent interest?

I would wager that many people would be shocked to learn about some of the exorbitant rates being charged in low-income neighborhoods by pawnshops, check-cashing outlets, rent-to-own shops, and so on.

In your own fieldwork, you documented the interest rates of these "second-tier" financial services in the typical range of 180 to 391 percent APR, but you note that cash leasing is typically at 730 percent APR and payday loans range from 442 to 988 percent APR. What, if anything, is done about this?

I'm basically involved in trying to affect three pieces of legislation, the College Student Credit Card Protection Act, the Bankruptcy bill, and Predatory Lending issues which relate to these second-tier financial services, where it's very clear that there is bipartisan support.

The industry knows that those rates are not defensible. But they're so lucrative, that they're just trying to figure out how to get a piece of it.

Why would people subject themselves to these kinds of interest rates instead of, for instance, opening a bank account and then obtaining bank loans?

To take one example, there are entire areas of Houston where there are simply no banks, and that's true in other parts of the country as well.

Banks started consolidating and ignoring the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which basically said that if a bank takes your money as a depositor, it has an obligation to loan some of the money back to the community. With bank mergers and consolidation, it's hard to figure out how a bank headquartered in Charlotte assumes its responsibility in Central Florida.

When banks left minority urban communities in the late 70s and 80s, white middle class people really didn't care. But now that the banks got away with that, and now that you have these conglomerate bank/financial services like Citibank, they're going to start abandoning lower-middle class neighborhoods. If you're talking about a neighborhood where the median income is $35,000, they're not going to be buying new cars every two years, and they'll buy a maximum of one or two houses, and they're not going to be buying annuities for a pension or investment services or insurance services ... it's just a matter of time until the Citibank branch gets pulled out and gets replaced with First Capital Associates, which is a predatory lender.

The next question is are they going to be bold enough to turn their backs on white, lower and middle class communities?

And you think they are?

I think they are.

Can you explain what cash-leasing and payday loans are?

That's when you take anything of value -- a refrigerator, for instance -- and bring it in and sell it for $300, and then you lease it back at 30 percent interest per month. One of outcomes of financial deregulation is that it has redefined what a loan is so that usurious rates can be charged. Cash leasing emerges so that they can charge 30 percent interest for a 15-day loan. Because they can say that they're not making a loan, they're simply leasing the money.

Payday loans are the fastest growing component of second-tier financial services. Essentially, you're postdating a check at anywhere from 15-40 percent per two week loan. What's extraordinary about the second-tier financial services is that as long as it was poor people, nobody really cared. But now you're seeing more middle class that are heavily in debt ... we're now seeing second tier financial services becoming a normal part of the suburban landscape.

And that's also manifested in the form of these "refund anticipation loans," issued at H&R Block and so on?

Yes ... If there's a way to charge usurious interest, they do it. What's astounding is that the states haven't successfully fought it.

What does the future of the credit card industry look like?

Citibank has a goal of a billion customers by the year 2012, so it's very clear that their future agenda is worldwide expansion. It'll be a tweaking of the very successful marketing campaign in the US, [but] taking place in Europe.

What they did in the US was their proving ground. And as the banking conglomerates have emerged and grown, the only way to sustain that growth is to go after the European middle class ... Citibank knows that there's not much more they're going to get out of the US other than going after college students, and the working poor doesn't take long to tap out. Their market penetration is pretty much done. So that's why for the future -- to keep these double-digit growth rates -- they've got to get much more aggressive overseas.

Citibank is already starting to break away from Visa, and they're not going to keep paying all the fees of belonging to the association ... There's this whole myth that underlies the argument of the industry that there [are] over 6,000 issuers [of credit cards]. Most of the issuers are actually owned by the top ten credit card companies. There [are] a lot of very good reasons to file antitrust suits, but this administration isn't going to pursue them.

Che Guevara Goes to Business School

My mind plays havoc with my soul, and my heart in turn feels as though it were being devoured by a thousand sharp-toothed weasels, delicate in purpose but implacable in mission. From the desolate wreckage of experience I deliver this message to you, full of hope and bereft of doubt. My decision has been made.

You have raised me to believe that the wretched of this earth can only improve their lot through bloody revolution. I was brought up thinking that land must be seized from the powerful, grabbed from the rich, removed from the hands of the greedy finqueros who curse our starving continent.

Well, madre y padre, I have wandered the countryside, on motorcycle, bicycle, unicycle and pack mule. I have seen toddlers no bigger than my whiskey bottle roaming the streets with machetes. I have seen a 90-year-old woman bite off the head of her plantation foreman. I have seen a colonel, a venal, corrupt torturer, suffer a savage beating at the hands of a gaggle of portly nuns.

Yet nothing has changed in our land. There is no justice. There is no peace. The people do not rule.

And that, my dear parents, is why I have decided to go...to business school.

Many will call me an adventurer, and that I am; only of a different type-of those who believe spreadsheets and marketing plans and globalization will once and for all end the cycle of poverty and inequality that plague our planet. I have been an artist, a doctor, a writer, a rallier of peasants, but it has been my experience that nothing-nothing-brings about social justice faster than a well-ordered business plan.

Take as example the people of the wretched Peruvian hamlet of Santa Puta de la Chingada, a place where the life expectancy is seventeen years of age, and that, until five weeks ago, had no running water, electricity, grass, or household pets.

Then, from seemingly nowhere, up rumbled a United Nations jeep containing a team of seven business students from Wharton, in the state of Pennsylvania. Within three days, Santa Puta had its first concrete building. Within five, its first factory. After a week, the town had a bagel shop and a little perfume boutique. Now, barely more than a month after the business students arrived, it is the third largest city in Peru and boasts one of the world's leading opera companies.

You must understand, dear parents, that the world is changing. Although I am deeply pleased that vicious criminals like Augusto Pinochet and P.W. Botha are being brought to justice, you also must understand that the politics of those who opposed them are outmoded and dull. There is no more room for uncontrolled rebellion in today's fast-changing global economy.

I encourage you to subscribe to a new publication, Forbes Global. We are reading it in business school, and it is nothing short of a revolution. In a world where five-year plans change every five minutes, where timely, accurate information is the universal currency, Forbes Global is the only hope for survival.

It was on the back of a Mexican second-class bus, headed for Juarez, where I found my first copy of Forbes Global. I'd been planning to organize Sony-employed maquiladora workers on the border, but instead crossed that picket line and joined the company's elite management team in planning world-class business solutions for the 21st century. My decision to go to business school was sealed forever.

In fact, parents, I am so convinced that Forbes Global will change your life forever, that I'm sending you a six-month trial subscription, free of charge. I'm that confident that this publication will give you courage to move forward with your lives.

I never would have imagined so much could be accomplished by using a personal digital assistant, cellular phone, and speculative capital. I see now that the weary lungs of our continent will soon be breathing fresh air. As I take to the jungle next time, I will not be armed with a carbine and grenades. Instead, I will take my wits. Instead, I will take my laptop. Instead of wearing fatigues, I will wear a $3,000 suit.

I apologize for this change of heart, mother and father. I know that this must be difficult for you to hear as you huddle in your bunker, fearing the knock of the right-wing death squad that has hunted you for so long. But now the will that I have polished with the delight of a revolutionary must sustain a vibrant and healthy business career.

Be strong in the knowledge, my dear parents, that soon the sorrow-stricken of the earth, the teeming, bleeding, filth-covered mass of struggling workers, will soon be free of their burden. I am convinced that business school, and Forbes Global, shall set them free. This remains my shining hope.

Yours in the struggle for freedom and justice,

Che

Prisons Breeding Ground for Hepatitis C

It's been called the nation's most insidious virus.

In a medium-security prison in La Grange, Kentucky, Anthony Nicholas Ware has got it. And at F.C.I. Coleman, a federal prison in Florida, Raymond James Hannum has got it as well.

A 'silent epidemic' that has swept the nation, hepatitis C virus (or HCV) is now the most common, chronic, blood-borne infection in the U.S. And it's precisely the stealthy, long-term silence of the virus that makes it as dangerous as it is. Because hepatitis C often causes no noticeable symptoms for up to 20 or 30 years after infection, most of those who are infected have no idea they are living with the potentially life-threatening infection.

The Damage Done

Conservatively, it's estimated that some 4 million Americans are now infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). By comparison, less than 1 million Americans are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

And the nation's 2 million prisoners aren't even included in that estimate. While the number of new HCV infections in the nation has declined over the last decade, the incremental progress that has been made on educating and testing the general public is now severely threatened by what amounts to staggering infection rates behind bars.

By many accounts, the nation's prison populations are harboring the highest concentrations of HCV in the country. From state to state, between 20% to 60% of the current national inmate population is believed to harbor the virus, which can lead to chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer. There is no vaccine--or foolproof cure--for HCV.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

In response, state prison administrators have been implementing varied and divergent approaches to address the rates of infection.

Some state prison systems, including Oklahoma's, have gone so far as to adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" policy as a way of avoiding costs affiliated with treatment of HCV. Faced with 28% and 37% infection rates among male and female inmates, respectively, the Texas state prison system took a different approach and drafted a plan last year to provide HCV testing, monitoring and treatment to those with chronic infections.

Other state correctional systems, including those in New York and California, say they provide testing upon request, and treatment if a prisoner can pass certain criteria.

But prisoners and their advocates insist that too little is being done, too late. The bottom line, they say, comes down to money, and not the welfare of inmates--or the community at large.

"Prisoners are going in expecting to do 10 to 15 years, and they're ending up with a death sentence," says Jackie Walker, AIDS Information Coordinator for the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in Washington, D.C. "They're not getting the [medical] treatment that they deserve to receive."

Often, says Walker, prison officials cite the high cost of treatment to prisoners as the reason for the denial of treatment.

And treatment is expensive. Only two antiviral drugs are currently approved for use in treating HCV: interferon and ribavirin. Standard treatment per person, per year, can run from $8,000-$20,000. HCV medications are usually given over the course of one year.

Nor is drug therapy guaranteed to work. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), interferon has a 10 to 20 percent success rate when used alone. Combination therapy, using both interferon and ribavirin, is effective 30 to 40 percent of the time. Both drugs are known to have potentially severe side effects.

"This is an area where, ultimately, the patient should be able to choose whether to go on the treatment. But in [the prison system], that's not the way it works," says Jack Beck, a Supervising Attorney of the Prisoner's Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society in New York. "If someone knows what the risks and benefits are, they should be able to receive treatment as long as it's within medical guidelines. And that is not currently the case."

Beck, who has been involved in a case against the New York Department of Corrections for over a decade relating to the care of HIV-positive prisoners, says that he and others believe upwards of 30 to 40 percent of all inmates are infected, amounting to roughly 25,000 prisoners. Co-infection of HIV and HCV, according to Beck, is also very high among the prisoners.

But only slightly over 100 inmates are currently receiving treatment, says Beck, out of more than 70,000 prisoners statewide.

That number is as low as it is, he says, because the diagnostic process in prison can drag on for months, and the criteria for treatment is very difficult to meet. "I believe part of the strategy [of prison officials] is to 'filter' as much as possible, and to restrict the number of people on therapy, because if they really started treating all the people who are infected, the cost would be phenomenal."

The New York State Department of Corrections did not provide a response to this allegation or to general questions about treatment policies.

Cruel & Unusual Punishment

Beck and other advocates for prisoners say that not treating inmates in need of care is both a violation of the 8th amendment (prohibiting "cruel and unusual punishment"), as well as a violation of a landmark 1976 Supreme Court ruling in Estelle v. Gamble, which determined that inmates have a right to adequate medical care for serious medical needs.

People at particular risk for infection include past or present injection drug users (IDUs), medical care workers exposed to contaminated blood, and those who received blood transfusions before 1992, when a screening test was widely implemented. According to the CDC, roughly 20 percent of recent cases of HCV infection are due to sexual activity. Unsterilized tattoo or piercing equipment, as well as intranasal drug use also put people at higher risk for HCV.

Some 10,000 deaths a year are currently attributed to chronic HCV infection, and the CDC has predicted that this number will triple in the next 20 years. HCV infection is also the most common reason for liver transplantation in the U.S. One transplant can easily cost over a quarter-million dollars.

Dying For Treatment

Anthony Nicholas Ware, a 42-year-old inmate serving a 22-year-sentence at the medium-security Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in La Grange, Kentucky, hopes that he will receive treatment before his HCV infection worsens significantly. Already, says Ware, he gets severely fatigued, and suspects that his infection has progressed to the middle, or moderate fibrosis stage.

Ware, who has joined a lawsuit against the correctional facility, can only guess at the status of his HCV infection because the prison has yet to perform a requested liver biopsy. Ware says that he has been requesting additional testing and treatment for his HCV since, and his requests to treat himself with herbs and vitamins were thwarted. Despite his doctor's approval, says Ware, he could not obtain the prison's permission to order liver-cleansing products like milk thistle from outside vendors.

Alan S. Rubin, a Louisville-based attorney representing Ware and roughly 50 other inmates in their complaint against the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, says the prison has always maintained that treatment is available, but that no one was able to meet strict treatment criteria. The list of exclusionary criteria, obtained by this reporter, mandates that inmates who are HIV-positive, and those who have a history of illicit drug use in the preceding 12 months, cannot be treated.

Already, says Rubin, at least two people have died behind bars at this prison because of complications from HCV. And he continues to receive letters on a weekly basis from inmates who are learning that they're HCV-infected and want to be monitored and treated.

"It's not right," says Rubin, who points to testimony from Kentucky's Department of Corrections that one-third of inmates are likely infected with HCV. "In the next five to ten years, if something doesn't change, we're going to see the death rates from liver disease skyrocketing among prisoners and among those who have been recently paroled."

Rubin has won a single, significant legal victory on the issue of HCV treatment in the case of Michael Paulley, an Army veteran serving a 20-year sentence at Luther Luckett. Paulley tested positive for HCV and had already developed cirrhosis of the liver when he was seen by a hepatitis specialist, Dr. Cecil Bennett, at the Louisville Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Although the Veteran's Affairs office was willing to pay for Paulley's treatment, the Corrections Department denied him that opportunity, saying that he did not meet the prison's medical guidelines for drug therapy. Rubin, in turn, argued that the Corrections Department was using those guidelines as a pretext for denying all prisoners treatment for HCV for fear of the costs involved.

In March, Federal Judge John Heyburn II agreed, and issued an injunction ordering the prison to allow Paulley to be treated.

"Money, not medicine, was the driving force behind the department's decision," wrote Magistrate Judge C. Cleveland Gambill in his findings to Judge Heyburn.

Warden Larry Chandler's office did not respond to a request for an interview.

Where Did I Get That?

"Prisoners have a moral and legal right to medical care," says Dr. Bennett, who specializes in treating hepatitis in Louisville, and who advocates that all prisoners, as a first step, should be tested for HCV infection and told of their status.

In the Luther Luckett Correctional Facility--as in most other state prisons in the country--no formal prevention or peer education program specifically geared toward HCV currently exists.

Interviewed by phone from prison, Anthony Ware explains that he only discovered his HCV status after going through the state's Open Records Act and paying for copies of all of his lab work.

"There it was: hepatitis C," says Ware. "I thought, 'Oh my God, where did I get that?"

That situation, says Judy Greenspan of the prisoner's advocate group, California Prison Focus (CPF), is being seen in some of California's prisons as well.

"Mostly, we've found that when prisoners have tested [positive for HCV], they haven't been told," says Greenspan. "People find out, for instance, when they're told they're not eligible for a job in the kitchen because they have hepatitis. That's the first they hear that they even took the test. Obviously, they're doing some sort of routine screening, somewhere. But most people are not being informed of their status."

Terry Thornton, Communications Director for the California Department of Corrections, explains that inmates are medically evaluated upon entry to the CDC, and may request medical attention when they have health questions or concerns. "Hepatitis testing is done when medically appropriate as indicated by history, physical examination, laboratory testing showing abnormalities, or by inmate request," she explains.

The California state prison system is, in fact, one of the few that has taken the initiative of completing a comprehensive study of how prevalent HCV is in the prison population. A March 1996 research study, completed in cooperation with the California Department of Health Services, demonstrated that the rates of infection among incoming inmates were 54.5 percent for women, and 39.4 percent for men. Among HIV-positive men, 61.3 percent were found to be co-infected with HCV, while HIV-positive women were found to have an astounding 85 percent co-infection rate with HCV.

But treatment for HCV is available in California state prisons, answers Thornton, and includes treatment for those who are co-infected with HIV. "Inmates are treated on a case-by-case basis," she says. "We treat patients for hepatitis C if they have otherwise healthy medical parameters and continue to do well while on the hepatitis medications. Many have successfully completed such therapy."

Peer education programs are continuing to expand, she adds. "The key here is to educate, working toward elimination of the source for disease transmission."

But budgetary restrictions are likely to prevent the implementation of more widespread treatment. In fiscal year 99/00, the Department of Corrections was funded only $325,000 to provide drug treatment. By the Department's own estimates, it costs $12,000-$20,000 per year, per patient, to treat HCV. Even on the low end of that scale, only 27 inmates would be eligible for a full course of drug treatment, out of a current state prison population of over 161,000 men and women.

Greenspan worries that more prisoners will die behind bars in the interim. "The tragedy about the hepatitis C epidemic is that we're finding out about it in the sundown years of the AIDS activist movement," says Greenspan. "The mass activism [around HIV] has faded, and trying to get people motivated about this issue is difficult because most people infected [with HCV] have a history of injection drug use, are mostly poor people of color, and people who are in prison."

"For many people who are in and out of the prison system, the only time they access medical care is on the inside. That's their reality," adds Greenspan. "If the system doesn't want to provide medical care, then they shouldn't lock up so many people."

Walker, of the ACLU's National Prison Project, insists that Americans have to begin thinking of prisons "as part of the community," on both humanitarian and public health grounds.

"The majority of people are not in there for extreme, violent crimes," she says. "The majority are in there for non-violent crimes, doing time for five, ten or 15 years. These are people who are going to be returning to our communities. Do we want people coming back out sicker than they were when they went in?"

Real Economy 101

The last decade of American economic growth has made history. High employment rates, stock market riches, low inflation and the availability of a mind-boggling array of luxury goods has brought about an unprecedented level of American material comfort and created millionaires overnight.

Life in the United States, we've been told, is the best it has ever been. Our present pre-recession slump notwithstanding, Americans should feel fortunate for having lived through and benefited from such an exciting boom time.

"But economic boom for whom?" ask co-authors Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel in their new book, Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality and Insecurity (The New Press).

Co-directors of the Boston-based organization, United for a Fair Economy, Collins and Yeskel wrote Economic Apartheid to draw attention to the fast-growing gap between the poorest and the richest members of American society.

That gap is neither subtle nor widely reported on: The average CEO at a Fortune 500 company, for instance, now makes 419 times what an average employee makes. But statistics like this are disheartening, and don't make the evening news.

The problem of economic inequality is hardly limited to grossly inflated corporate executive salaries, or even the pressing issues of access to housing and life's basic necessities. At the heart of the matter, write Collins and Yeskel, "economic inequality is the single greatest factor that puts our nation's social cohesion at risk."

Chuck Collins talked about the US's own kind of economic apartheid.

One of the primary assertions made in Economic Apartheid in America is that our much-hyped economic prosperity is precarious. In what ways is the US economy actually less stable than it may appear?

Chuck Collins: Our basic premise is that a lot of people have not shared at all in the economic boom. People in the bottom fifth and maybe the bottom 40 percent are worse off in terms of their real wages and savings and what they have to fall back on. At the same time that housing costs and health care costs have gone up, real wages for the bottom 40 percent have actually fallen. What's masking some of these trends is that for people in the so-called "middle class," they're not feeling the real brunt of this economy because people are working longer hours and borrowing money on credit. The real story of the 1990s was exploding consumer debt, not the stock market boom.

People are buying stuff and getting cool things, and yet a lot of it is based on borrowing. It's not based on real wage increase, it's based on plastic. That contributes to a precarious economic prosperity, and when there is more of an economic slowdown, the mask will be pulled back and people will make up and say, "Oh, I'm in the new economy now. I have $20,000 in consumer debt, 60 percent of my income is going to housing costs."

The values of the new economy -- the message of the new economy -- is "You're on your own." We have to organize to protect our interests and protect ourselves.

In your introduction, you mention that Economic Apartheid is not a treatise against rich people, but that wealthy people have a special responsibility where their money is concerned. What kind of responsibility are you referring to?

CC: Our premise is that this growing economic apartheid economy is bad for everybody, even people who are wealthy. It contributes to a polarization of society. It's our premise that this 25-year breaking apart of society is the result of a power shift and the rules of the economy are being changed. It's not some people working harder than others, and some people being smarter than others. It's that there's just a power imbalance and the winners get more, and everybody else gets less. Some people's contribution is overvalued, and other people's efforts and hard work is undervalued.

So wealthy people should recognize that public policies are skewed to their benefit?

CC: The responsibility for everybody is to make sure that the rules work for everybody. Responsible Wealth [a coalition of rich, concerned citizens] conducts programs at religious and civic groups. We talk about the impact of inequality and people come up to us and say, "You know, I'm actually in the richest one percent, or I'm a retired CEO and I'm with you. I see the dangers of inequality, I see how it's going to backfire. I have children and grandchildren who have to go out into the world in a polarized society, and I see that that's not the kind of country or world I want to live in."

So, it's the rich's responsibility to make sure the rules are fair: tax policy, living wages, making sure that corporations are accountable. It's not a mandate for charity, it's a mandate to work for a just economy. Giving can be part of it. But charity and philanthropy are not the answer. They are just a part of how you change the rules.

You've written about a grassroots social movement that is mobilizing people around growing economic disparities. Where have you seen evidence of this movement?

CC:The four places where things are really cooking are within religious denominations, the labor movement, communities of color and new immigrant communities and student/youth groups. I'm hopeful because I hear a kind of rumbling in the land. I see the formation of institutions, organizations, people coming together and educating themselves.

Most of it's below the radar screen, but I think events in Seattle around the World Trade Organization made the movement more visible, particularly the efforts that are forming around challenging corporate power, challenging the values of individualism and the notion of the market as a new kind of god.

I travel and meet people and see and hear the different threads coming together. A few years from now, we're going to see more organized people-power. I think the impulse behind Ralph Nader's candidacy -- there are many, many more people who supported Nader than voted for him -- if someone like him got more of a public forum, it would contribute to a real realignment in politics.

I wonder if you would talk about the living wage movement. How has it worked in various cities?

CC:I'm working right now in Pittsburgh with a coalition that is pushing for a $10/hour minimum wage, which, in a Seattle or San Francisco housing market, is way below what's needed. There are around 120 communities in the country that now have living wage movements, and 46 have passed living wage ordinances.

In rich cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, it's not one neighborhood that's gentrifying, it's the whole metropolitan area that has exploded with housing costs. It's not like people are being pushed from one neighborhood to another; they're actually being pushed to outlying communities. So, a living wage is part of the solution, but certainly not the whole solution.

We could become like Toronto, which is a booming metropolis, but 15-20 percent of the housing is social housing -- public housing or in a social ownership structure: a limited equity cooperative or a mutual housing association or a land trust. Then, you can have investment in a community without displacement.

In "The Wealth Holders" section of your book, you point out that between 1996 and 1999 Bill Gates' personal wealth went from $18 billion to over $85 billion dollars, and that his personal wealth now exceeds the combined wealth of the bottom 45 percent of the U.S. population. Is someone like Gates, by virtue of his hard work and acumen, entitled to that kind of wealth, especially if he's giving some of it away?

CC: I think his contribution is significant, and his own labor and time and effort is significant. His charitable acts are righteous and good. All that being said, his contribution is overvalued. There are lots and lots of people working at all levels of society who are also making significant contributions. People who teach at a local high school, the nurse at the local hospital, the researcher working on a cure for cancer or AIDS, the parent who raises a child so that they have self-respect. There's other work in the world that is so undervalued and his share is overvalued. It's not that it's insignificant. It's that it's a distorted market that overvalues his contribution more than other people's.

There's so much focus on "let's fix the poor." Problems are phrased in terms of "let's fix people in the bottom fifth of our society." Whereas I would say that a lot of our social problems are rooted in an over-concentration of wealth and power. Why do we have such a bad energy policy in this country? Why is it that the rules of society are not aimed at long-term sustainable energy policies? It's because the oil interests have so much power and they can block certain progressive policies from happening.

The 1997 Taxpayer Relief Act is something you single out as having compounded the unfairness of the American tax code. Responsible Wealth responded at the time by launching a "Tax Us More" campaign. Tell me more about this campaign.

CC: We had roughly 150 people who would have benefited from that tax cut protesting it, saying that the last thing that we should be doing right now is giving the wealthy more tax cuts. In a time of great inequality, you don't give rich people more tax breaks!

More recently, last summer, Congress passed a complete repeal of the estate tax, which is the most progressive tax there is. It really only falls on the richest one percent of households, and the Responsible Wealth people were out there demanding that the estate taxes not be eliminated. We purchased ads to make sure there were enough votes so that when Clinton vetoed the tax repeal, there were enough votes to sustain the veto.

But Bush has made elimination of the estate tax priority. It's going to be a tax cut for the richest 3,000 households in American, at the expense of everyone else. If you cut $28 billion dollars in revenue, you have to make up for it with cuts in services. Not only that, but the estate taxes are a way to prevent concentrated fortunes from accumulating. It's one of the "brakes" against concentrated wealth and power. If you eliminate that, we become even more of a plutocracy: a nation governed by wealth.

Versions of this interview first appeared in Real Change, Seattle's newspaper of the poor and homeless, and online at LiP Magazine.

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