Steven Mikulan

Walmart's New Research: A Grandiose and Distorted Self Portrait

This article originally appeared on Capital and Main, and is reprinted here with their permission.

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Losing Our Shirts

Look for the union label when you are buying that coat, dress or blouse. Remember somewhere our union's sewing, our wages going to feed the kids, and run the house. We work hard, but who's complaining? – Garment Union song

At midnight New Year's Eve, the world will come to an end for many apparel manufacturers and their workers, as the World Trade Organization terminates the 1974 Multifiber Arrangement's quotas that have stabilized the global clothing industry for 30 years. The end of these quotas for the WTO's 148 member nations is expected to trigger a flood of cheap, well-made Chinese textiles and clothing into factories and department stores from Manila to Mission Viejo. It's a flood that could drown some developing countries, destroying already fragile industries while continuing the steady deindustrialization of America's own economy. The effects threaten to reach far beyond the loss of indigenous manufacturing jobs, seriously damaging economies in poor countries and increasing emigration toward wealthier ones. It is the rag trade's Y2K, but this time the sky really is falling.

The quota expirations for 98 categories of textiles and apparel mark the final stage of a 10-year phase-out of restrictions on the annual metric tonnage countries could export to North America and Western Europe. Originally designed to protect these continents' local clothing industries, the export ceilings created new garment economies in places like Haiti, Mexico and Kenya. When, say, Wal-Mart exhausted its quota of pajamas that it had consigned from one country, it would turn to another for more inventory, thus spreading industrialization throughout Eastern Europe and the Third World.

In 2002, the last time specific quotas were abolished, Haiti lost half its U.S. market to China, which packs a triple threat of low wages, modern efficiency and quality merchandise. Since quotas on brassiere exports were phased out in 2002, for example, Haiti's U.S. exports have plunged more than 94 percent, while China's initially increased 232 percent; likewise, as China's unfettered exports of infantwear jumped 826 percent over the same period, Bangladesh's shrank 18 percent. These statistics, analysts warn, only hint at what lies ahead four weeks from now, when 701 quotas in the U.S. alone will disappear. In addition to the presumed tidal wave of Chinese products, post-January 1 predictions include:

More offshoring of American apparel companies, since companies that had previously been "shackled" to the U.S. by quotas will have no reason not to set up plants in Third World countries.

Sub-Saharan African countries, which had benefited from no-tariff agreements with the U.S., will lose trade because the savings they passed on to American retailers from not paying import duties will not match the savings offered by other countries with lower overhead and, now, no quotas. (Tariffs will not be affected January 1.)

By 2010, according to a federal task force on textiles and apparel, only one-quarter to one-third of the current 50 to 60 exporting countries will be doing business with the U.S.

"When [apparel quotas] came off in 2002, China's share in those 29 categories went from 9 percent then to over 70 percent today," says Mark Levinson, chief economist for the Union of Needletrades, Textiles and Industrial Employees (UNITE). "When quotas expire in January we expect the Chinese market share in the U.S. to increase from just under 20 to about 70 percent. That's a huge increase in millions of workers in developing countries [who] will lose their jobs – it's the largest industrial shift in the last century. Roughly tens of billions of dollars will be shifting to China. This is a monumental issue globally."

Locally, of course, the big question is how January 1 will affect Los Angeles, California's largest garment-producing center. The L.A. County Economic Development Corporation claims L.A.'s apparel-manufacturing sector generates $24.3 billion annually, making it the city's single largest industry. Still, it's an industry in decline. The number of Los Angeles' cut-and-sew garment workers peaked in 1996 at 97,500, according to the state's Employment Development Department; there are currently about 62,600 workers employed, the vast majority Latino or Asian women immigrants.

For now the consensus seems to be that there is no consensus. According to Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Association, 2005's first quarter will simply reflect the last months of 2004 – although she believes one immediate effect will be even more gridlock at the L.A. and Long Beach harbors, which are now operating at a crawl as Christmas goods from Asia stream into port.

"You've got a lot of nervousness in the industry," she says of the harbors possibly becoming worse chokepoints. "Retailers are afraid they won't have inventory on the shelf. It will all shake out about the end of April, beginning of May."

One thing Metchek is not counting on is price drops.

"Wal-Mart can't get any cheaper," she says, claiming the profit margin on clothing is already razor thin. "Apparel is 10 percent cheaper than it was 10 years ago. There's only so much [retailers] can buy. If any savings are to be had, they will be kept by the stores. The price of labor is not the biggest factor for stores – it's the cost of transportation."

Kent Smith, executive director of downtown L.A.'s Fashion District Business Improvement District, disagrees.

"The apparel industry is pretty price competitive," Smith tells the Weekly. "It'll be hard to resist lowering prices. And as the quotas come off we'll be seeing more wholesalers here, which will drive down prices."

Smith sees both silver linings and safety for the Los Angeles market.

"We have leather jackets made in our districts – China's lack of quotas will have no effect on us because the craftsmen are already located here. But places like Vernon and northern Orange County will be negatively impacted."

Lonnie Kane, the president of Karen Kane Inc., has his plant, which employs about 200 workers, in Vernon, although he sources about a third of his product with Chinese factories. Kane and his wife, Karen, began their company working out of their Studio City garage 25 years ago and have built it into a respected line specializing in high-end clothing. Like Smith, Kane believes higher-priced American apparel makers, especially in Los Angeles, will survive January 1 without problems.

"The budget end of apparel manufacturing is already gone," he tells the Weekly. "January 1 definitely could be the stake in the heart of moderate manufacturing, of the smaller manufacturer who's not sophisticated enough to import. And the [textile] guys who make basic fabrics look to be devastated if every khaki and denim product comes out of China."

According to Kane, however, Los Angeles' rag trade cannot expect any help from city government.

"L.A. is unfriendly to the apparel industry," he says. "It likes the prestige of having a creative industry like Hollywood, but doesn't want 'dirty businesses' like sewing factories. Yet cities tend to lose sight of the fact that we need to have employment at every level and sewing factories provide entry jobs to unskilled and immigrant workers."

Karin Mak, of Sweatshop Watch, a Los Angeles-based garment-worker advocacy group, is equally pessimistic: "The L.A. economy will be devastated as much as the garment industry, because workers contribute to the local economy. Half the industry will stay, and half of it will move – especially if workers try to unionize."

There are, of course, people for whom January 1 is more than a theoretical headache.

"I would sell fruit in the street," says Areceli Ruiz, when asked what she will do if the direst predictions come true. "The worst thing that could happen is that I would be left without a garment job. I've cleaned houses, but it's harder to find those jobs because they want references. I've never asked for help from the government even though everyone says we immigrants only want welfare. I pay taxes but get nothing back because I have no Social Security number."

I speak to Areceli and her sister, Alejandra Ventura, through a translator in the Sweatshop Watch offices, a block away from downtown's bustling Santee Alley retail center – a sprawling market selling low-price clothing, knockoffs and bootleg DVDs. Santee will probably remain untouched by January 1's quota changes – except that many locally produced garments will be replaced by cheaper imports. The two sisters are Guatemalan immigrants who, along with thousands of others like them, helped build both Santee Alley and the upscale California Mart a few blocks west.

Alejandra, who arrived here in 1986, remembers her early years when she worked side by side with former doctors, nurses and professors – immigrants whose first North American jobs were on sweatshop floors. She knows too well the constant yelling and threats from supervisors, the filthy bathrooms and long hours.

"The bosses think we're slaves," she says, "that we don't feel pain or get hurt." Alejandra says her best years came at the end of the 1980s, when she pulled down between $400 and $500 a week, working 10- to 12-hour days. But after the North American Free Trade Agreement, she says, wages in L.A. went down. Today, she only works sporadically, partly because she insists on receiving a taxable paycheck from her employers, as opposed to the lump of cash most prefer to pay. Without a paycheck record, she is ineligible for any kind of government medical care or Social Security benefits.

Areceli and Alejandra live within a one- or two-bus commute from their homes in the MacArthur Park area. Alejandra has five children, two of whom are adults working back in Guatemala, while her sister has one 10-year-old.

Areceli says that when the post-9/11 economy slumped, conditions got worse downtown. Today she makes $243 per week working 10 to 12 hours a day sewing single-needle work on blouses, pants and jackets, plus two and a half on Saturday; she receives one 15-minute break during her workday.

I ask Alejandra what she thinks will happen when the quotas are removed.

"I believe it's already starting," she says, "because what they pay is less than before. The bosses look for people who won't speak up, who need to send money back home."

The economic dislocation brought on by the end of textile and garment quotas is only the latest iceberg to appear on the high seas of free trade. Since the Clinton administration inaugurated NAFTA, more than a million and a half American jobs have been offshored as multinational buccaneers move plants and assembly lines to countries whose workers are paid poverty wages. But far from having their living standards raised, workers in the developing world have had what few job safeguards they enjoyed superceded by WTO rules and find themselves competing with workers of even poorer nations.

It reminds one of the close of Bertolt Brecht's Weimar satire, The Threepenny Opera, in which the privileged and connected characters celebrate their good fortune while London's beggars shamble off into the shadows:

For some are in darkness

And others are in light.

And you see the ones in brightness

Those in darkness drop from sight.

Capitalism, as Marx famously said, "has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – free trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation." The bittersweet irony is that China, the world's last Marxist power, will be the cause of so much of the coming misery. Still, as Sweatshop Watch claimed in a "working paper" published last year, it is the multinationals, in their never-ending search for lower labor costs, that have actually taken jobs out of the United States, not China.

"Who benefits from the expiration besides China?" Mark Levinson asks. "Wal-Mart, the Gap – most apparel companies are the big multinational retailers. They want to source product anywhere they can."

Levinson's organization is the descendant of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. It merged last summer with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE) to form UNITE HERE. UNITE has plenty to lose New Year's Day. Since 1990 the number of American garment and textile workers has declined more than 50 percent; today about half a million workers are employed in what remains of America's once robust apparel and textile manufacturing industries. Worse, UNITE's partner, HERE, is engaged in a bitter and protracted contract dispute with hotels in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The combined unions claim a membership of 840,000, but more than 400,000 of these are retirees.

"There's absolutely no question that the end of quotas will result in job loss in the U.S. textile and apparel industry," Levinson says. "We're trying to protect the numbers we have right now and to expand, but we're not going to organize in a factory that's going to be shut down."

Levinson says his union is now concentrating on organizing America's largest domestic apparel manufacturers – those contracted by the Defense Department.

"Our argument is 'Look, you don't want sweatshops making garments for our soldiers.'"

UNITE HERE has joined the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC), an industry-labor lobby that is petitioning the Commerce Department through an interagency group called the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA), to stall the quota terminations or to adopt "safeguard" restrictions on imports.

As of this writing, CITA, which can thwart the removal of quotas if it believes they will cause a serious disruption to America's clothing and textile industry, has agreed to review eight of the petitions and is considering the remaining three. This is an unprecedented action because such petitions are normally only filed after evidence of economic disruption can be proved, not in anticipation of it. Needless to say, the Chinese, who joined the WTO in 2001, are not happy. Although repeated queries by the Weekly to Chinese trade agencies, as well as to the Chinese embassy and to China's Los Angeles consulate, went unanswered, Beijing's China Daily recently made clear its displeasure by quoting a Beijing textile manager as saying "it is 'ridiculous' that the U.S. government would decide the fate of Chinese pant producers by pure speculation."

For its part, AMTAC accuses the Chinese of using currency manipulation and state subsidies to create unfair trade conditions. It's worth noting that China's command economy, which assigns individual factories their own, internal quotas (apart from the WTO's), has created a Byzantine system in which factories can "sell" surplus quotas to other factories. For example, if a Los Angeles apparel maker called Teen Seen contracts for 10,000 tank tops from People's Tank Top Factory No. 1, and the Chinese plant is only permitted to make 9,000 units, it will have to buy 1,000 quota units from People's Tank Top Factory No. 2. But the cost for the subsequent 1,000 units, which can easily account for 10 percent of the overall tank top cost, is passed on to Teen Seen in Los Angeles. In some cases, the selling of quotas has become bigger business than manufacturing itself and, in the Wild, Wild East of today, creative entrepreneurs have set up dummy factories to make money by selling the quota units they've been granted to real factories.

Until the first signs of economic change appear after New Year's, observers will content themselves with predicting the most likely winners of a world without quotas – China, India and Vietnam, the last of which is poised to join the WTO. And there are the losers, a long list that includes Honduras, Bangladesh, Mauritius and the Philippines – all the former equatorial colonies whose teeming millions live beneath tin roofs, forever at the mercy of foreigners.

It's unclear what direction CITA is leaning toward regarding the pleas now before it, although a Chinese textile industry spokesman has noted that CITA's decision to review AMTAC's petitions was made before the presidential elections and seemed to be more of a political gesture by the Bush administration than a genuine signal of concern. (A spokeswoman for the Commerce Department declined to answer questions directly for this article, preferring instead to give only background information via e-mail.)

He may be right, given the White House's reluctance even to go through the motions of jawboning with foreign trade partners. Still, maybe there will be a period of adjustment long enough for the world's apparel and textile industries – and American garment workers – to prepare for the worse. Who knows? Perhaps there is an apparel glut – if not in the stores, then in Los Angeles' harbors – and China will not be receiving a tremendous number of orders immediately after January 1. Or perhaps China, which is currently racked by severe power outages because of its rapidly growing industrial sector, simply won't be able to keep up with increased orders in the near future.

For now, local apparel manufacturers appear mildly optimistic – or fatalistic, depending on one's interpretation.

"Nothing's the end of the world," says Lonnie Kane. "We saw this with the shoe business – 98 percent of which is now imported. Apparel and textiles have slowly moved offshore. It's all about price. We don't have a place for low-wage industries. But I don't want local manufacturers to go away because I enjoy the flexibility and don't want to depend solely on imports."

And what happens to the people who formerly worked in those industries – will they all be forced to sell fruit on the street and clean houses?

"When your economy is undergoing massive change," says the L.A. Fashion District's Kent Smith, "people are unfortunately going to lose jobs. We're just not masters of our economy anymore."

University of Fear

Last September the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the first 100 recipients of its new collegiate financial-aid program. Grouped in the applied, social and behavioral sciences, the winners included 13 Californians. The undergraduate scholarships cover tuition and fees, along with a nine-month stipend of $9,000; graduate fellowships also cover tuition and fees, and come with a yearlong $27,600 living subsidy. All must be U.S. citizens and “indicate a willingness to accept, after graduation, competitive employment offers from DHS, state and local security offices, DHS-affiliated federal laboratories, or DHS-related university faculty or research staff positions.”

At the time no one knew of these new Homeland facilities — they didn’t exist. But last November DHS announced a $12 million, three-year grant to the University of Southern California to establish, under the school’s engineering department, the Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE). In April two new centers will open, concentrating on “agro-terrorism,” while other, long-established research facilities are falling under DHS control. And, in a little-publicized battle, a congressional bill championed by conservatives would require DHS or other “security” officers to be appointed to a new advisory board overseeing international studies and foreign-language programs receiving federal aid; it unanimously passed the House last October and is now steaming through the Senate.

The speed and scope of DHS’s financial-aid program, aimed at “harnessing the nation’s scientific knowledge to protect America and our way of life from terrorists and their weapons of mass destruction,” has been breathtaking — scholarship programs can require a year to get off the ground, but the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education cobbled it together in a matter of weeks, using a pre-existing model.

DHS’s growing sugar-daddy role on American campuses is but one way in which the year-old security agency, formed in the wake of 9/11, has begun to leave a deep boot print on academia. Primed with a $70 million scholarship and research budget, DHS represents the biggest intrusion into America’s intellectual life by security agencies since the height of the Cold War. However, while the CIA surreptitiously worked its magic in the 1950s to control, say, the National Student Association, Praeger Publishers or Encounter magazine, DHS’s influence is a broad-daylight affair.

Only the Manhattan Project or America’s space program can compare to the commitment of federal resources and political will that have been lavished on the Department of Homeland Security, an amoeba-like bureaucracy formed by fusing 22 formerly independent agencies. Homeland, with the third largest civilian work force of the 15 executive-Cabinet departments, employs 183,000 people (including 1,500 lawyers) and commands a nearly $40 billion budget. Yet while the Manhattan Project and NASA narrowly targeted two specific goals (the building of the atomic bomb and the exploration of space), the war on terror is so amorphous, its enemy so indeterminate and DHS’s technological goals so esoteric that the department’s mission could conceivably run till the end of time without any gauge of success. To even question Homeland’s effectiveness one has to disprove a negative because, the reasoning goes, if it’s not raining hijacked jets and snowing anthrax, DHS must be doing its job.

This makes Homeland a money magnet, one of the rare federal agencies for which Congress appropriates more funds than the president seeks. And, perhaps not surprisingly, most DHS directorate leaders without backgrounds in law enforcement, the military or CIA/FBI come from an array of iconic corporate and financial institutions including Coca-Cola, PG&E, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, Vivendi Universal S.A. and Corning Inc. Charles E. McQueary, who heads the Directorate of Science and Technology, is a former division president of defense contractor General Dynamics; Elizabeth Lautner, whom McQueary appointed to oversee the troubled Plum Island Animal Disease Center, is a former vice president of the National Pork Board. Furthermore, the security needs of such sector industries as oil, banking and real estate are catered to by DHS’s Information Sharing and Analysis Centers.

In one sense DHS is a 21st-century New Deal — a New Deal, that is, for the military-industrial complex. Technology — especially surveillance and detection technology — is the name of the game at DHS, and so the largesse its Science and Technology Directorate has shown to college and university students is only fitting. Still, many jaws dropped when veteran research scientists first heard of DHS’s Scholars and Fellows awards.

“Twenty-seven thousand, six hundred dollars for a grad student is pretty darn good — that’s lucrative!” says David Wright, an MIT member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “I’m amazed — usually you think of a program seeding about seven fellows or scholarships a year. But 100? We in the scientific community get frustrated when we hear of government departments like Homeland Security funding new programs that haven’t been fully developed.”

Anthropologist and public-policy scholar Hugh Gusterson, also of MIT as well as the Georgia Institute of Technology, was likewise surprised when first told of the program.

“Financially,” predicts Gusterson, “this will create a group of students that will be better off than their peers — a caste of national-security Brahmin students.” Gusterson finds parallels between DHS’s awards and the private scholarships awarded to bright science and engineering students since the Cold War by the Hertz Foundation, a defense-oriented group created by the ultraconservative rental car magnate John Hertz.

“In the 1960s and ’70s,” he says, “the Hertz Foundation would screen students who they thought likely to work on nuclear-weapons research and send them to Livermore for a summer.”

DHS’s Scholars and Fellows program also flies students on paid summer internships to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, as well as other Energy Department labs specializing in security and nuclear-weapons research such as Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Sandia and Brookhaven. About 2,500 students applied for the aid program during its inaugural year, even though its existence was not widely known. (“This is the first I’m hearing about it,” USC’s senior associate director of financial aid, Guy Hunter, recently told the Weekly.) Last December computer-science grad student Steven J. Bethard and the other recipients of the first year of awards were flown to Washington, D.C., where they met DHS Secretary Tom Ridge and toured DHS facilities.

“The real reason I applied,” says Bethard, a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado, “was because my adviser said, ‘Would you mind applying for this? Colorado University doesn’t have enough money to go around, and the fellowship pays more than your stipend.’”

At the time of his application, Bethard was working on a “data-mining” project that would teach computers to recognize and extract opinions from raw text. One year later, he still is. All he had to do in his application essay was suggest ways his research might help DHS.

“You tool your essay to your audience,” Bethard says. “I said I had this project I’m already working on, and I’m going to convince you guys that this is what you need. I’m not solving anthrax. Someone else who applied was an entomologist. He told them how insects can carry diseases. He got a fellowship too.”

Young science students aren’t the only ones receiving grants and a trip to Washington. DHS, in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, also offers three postdoctoral Homeland Security Fellows awards to be spent at the Directorate for Science and Technology. These one- to two-year renewable stipends range between $60,000 and $75,000, and are intended “to provide the opportunity to learn through participation how scientific and technological information is used in federal policymaking, to demonstrate the value of science-government interaction, and to bring technical backgrounds and external perspectives to DHS.” Already, then, a policy trout farm based on the malleable concept of anti-terrorism has been established at the undergraduate level and through the senior ranks of scholarship into government itself.

Academia, accordingly, has recognized homeland security as a financial salt lick in these lean times. After all, if nine rural Minnesota fire departments could receive $600,517 in grants from a DHS division and the Little League World Series land $250,000 from the Pennsylvania Commonwealth’s own homeland-security office, why shouldn’t higher education get a little of the runoff? Not surprisingly, then, nearly every college today offers some homeland-security and terror-themed courses, while many major universities have established homeland-security departments — UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Laboratory has a homeland-security office; UCLA’s Extension school offers homeland-security courses; and there are homeland sub-departments at Johns Hopkins, MIT and Ohio State University. Likewise, high-profile conferences and symposia on homeland-security issues have become staples for public-policy institutes, strategic-studies think tanks and engineering schools.

“A lot of that would have happened without the Department of Homeland Security,” Gusterson says about the academy’s new paper chase. “Faculty are pretty entrepreneurial and a lot of professors look for classes that tap into current events and generate excitement.”

There are plenty of current events to tap into these days as America engages more countries and makes more enemies around the world. For now, the dialectic between DHS and the students it funds remains in flux, and it is too early to tell who is using whom. Laura Nader, a senior anthropology professor at UC Berkeley, told the Weekly that ultimately the relationship is not going to benefit the students.

“There is a vulnerability among the young,” she says, “and there are also no jobs for them after they graduate. As a professor it breaks your heart to watch these kids who want to do the right thing but who’ll probably get jobs with him who pays the piper.”

Last January students walking along USC’s Downey Way found their path blocked by several cars and a large detail of campus cops, Highway Patrol officers and federal security agents. The commotion was caused by DHS Secretary Tom Ridge’s paying a secretive visit to the campus after it had beat more than 71 competing institutions to become his agency’s first Center of Excellence. Ridge spent 45 minutes in a congratulatory meeting with members of the School of Engineering, which supervises the center. When the handshaking was over, Ridge was whisked away without so much as a press conference or photo op beneath Tommy Trojan.

A similar cloak-and-dagger visit occurred last August, when DHS undersecretary Charles McQueary and a retinue of security staff descended on the University of Colorado at Boulder — after requesting a media blackout of the event, which campus authorities had hoped would result in their receiving funds for security-related research programs.

“No one was supposed to know about it,” UCB mathematics professor Martin Walter told the Weekly. “The only way you found out he was coming was through the [school] underground.”

The science that will emerge from the dozen new DHS research centers will likely be more of the same unsexy-sounding discoveries that come out of America’s non-DHS national labs — screening methodologies to identify dirty-bomb debris, airborne-particulate analysis, or synthetic aperture radar that will better help drones locate tall men standing in robes. Indeed, to the extent that any of us hears about government research, it’s usually when the 6 o’clock news carries jokey stories about the recent Pentagon-sponsored robot-vehicle race from L.A. to Las Vegas, or a passing item about the Army blowing up willed cadavers with land mines to make a better boot.

Even when such science is filtered through the simian chatter of Action News anchors, however, American consumers intuit that at least some of the nascent technology will trickle down into their cars and TV remotes. They can also assume that, through the miracle of “technology transfer,” tax-funded inventions to emerge from the DHS Centers of Excellence are likely to reap profits for private corporations.

“Homeland Security has been a bonanza for science,” says professor David Hounshell, a technology historian at Carnegie Mellon University. “Immediately after 9/11, people saw these enormous opportunities — if the game was played just right, they could sell Washington these programs that would ‘solve the problem’ of terrorism through technology. That’s very typical because when a major research initiative is announced, researchers start a major repackaging of existing research to get on the gravy train.”

These are perilous times not only for higher education but also for scientific research and development. The level of federal funding for R&D practically flattened in fiscal year 2004, except for three agencies: DHS, the Defense Department and the National Institutes for Health. (NIH’s budget increased primarily to expand its terror-related anthrax research.) This trio accounted for 93 percent of the $9.5 billion increase over 2003’s R&D budget, clearly making them the places to be for a scientist seeking government money.

At DHS, the relationship between government and the private sector is no back-street romance, but a passionate telenovella played out in conference rooms, seminars and press releases. The Homeland Security Advisory Council, for example, is chaired by UBS Paine Webber chief executive officer Joseph Grano Jr. and “staffed” with the CEOs and directors of Lockheed Martin, Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, Eli Lilly and Conoco Phillips, to name a few corporate parties interested in fighting terrorism.

“Pharmaceutical companies can’t make money off finding a cure for malaria,” Georgia Tech’s Gusterson told the Weekly, explaining why industry never seems to produce the science the public really needs. “But they can selling Viagra to rich white men who can’t get it up.” And if the government showers tax dollars on the start-up research, so much the better.

Later this year USC’s CREATE program, funded by DHS, will move into the new Tudor Engineering Hall and will offer a master’s degree in systems, safety and security. As senior associate dean for research, Randolph Hall is responsible for technology transfer at the university’s engineering school. Still, Hall, who is CREATE’s co-director, says that the facility will not be marketing technology.

“Our role is to access vulnerability and consequences of terrorism by assessing initial risks, potential targets, loss of life and property damage. The software tools for risk assessment we’ll develop will be freely distributed to governmental markets. We’re not in the business of creating sensors.”

Hall, in fact, says the $12 million that CREATE has received is not a massive amount of money, and indeed it isn’t, compared to the Lotto jackpot received by Carnegie Mellon University, which David Hounshell estimates has received upward of $100 million in homeland-security-related funding.

“The computer-sciences department alone received $35 million almost immediately after 9/11,” Hounshell told the Weekly. “I think a lot of it has to do with Tom Ridge’s previous relationship with us. When he was governor of Pennsylvania he channeled a lot of money to Carnegie Mellon. It’s natural that some money would be channeled here now.”

American research has responded to five major traumas during the last 90 years — the sinking of the Lusitania, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Soviet Sputnik launch, the foreign-oil embargoes of the 1970s, and 9/11, Hounshell wrote in a 2003 essay published last year in the journal History and Technology. Each of these sudden shocks was a windfall to science because they triggered massive federal funding of research; but he also warns that these events conjure “opportunists” with private-enterprise or political agendas.

UC Berkeley’s Laura Nader has also written of the Cold War spending spree that followed the Sputnik launch — research that tapped fellow anthropologists to work on nation-building and counterinsurgency projects in Latin America and Southeast Asia with names like Camelot, Simpatico and Colony. One laudable response to Sputnik was the National Defense Education Act of 1958, which, among other things, appropriated federal funds for universities to increase foreign-language and “area studies” programs — programs that would enable Americans to understand and interact with parts of the world with which they traditionally had little contact.

Today, a part of that initiative, now called Title VI of the Higher Education Act, has been turned into a political punching bag by hard-right ideologues cashing in on 9/11 paranoia. Last October, egged on by Middle East Quarterly editor Martin Kramer, the Hoover Institution’s Stanley Kurtz and, from a discreet distance, Campus Watch’s Daniel Pipes, Congress passed HR 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act, which is now before the Senate.

The bill has two features that scare people who actually work in language and international-studies programs. The first is the creation of a politically appointed, seven-member advisory committee, two of whom would come from government security organizations such as the DHS. The other is the measure’s call to identify and cultivate immigrant communities “critical to the national security of the United States.” This last component supposedly arose in response to the scarceness of Arabic speakers in America’s armed forces and intelligence organizations. (Even though the Army’s Defense Language Institute in Monterey saw fit to fire 37 gay linguists, including several Arabic speakers, after 9/11.)

It is the advisory board, however, that causes the most concern on campuses, although the bill’s proponents point out that the panel would not supervise curricula or other aspects of teaching. What clearly prompted the ire of Messrs. Kurtz, Kramer and Pipes is the lingering shadow of the late literary scholar Edward Said, whom they blame for what they see as an anti-American tinge to Middle East–studies departments and centers. Under the proposed legislation, if an institution refuses to be “advised” by the proposed board, it would lose its share of the $80 million that Title VI will distribute to foreign-language and international-studies departments this year.

“Those people are the new McCarthyites,” Laura Nader told the Weekly. “They’re extremely dangerous because they’re saying we should be ignorant of our enemies. It’s shameful that Kurtz is an anthropologist.”

Gil Merkx, vice provost for international affairs at Duke University, has been a point man in the academy’s efforts to stop the act. He notes that attacks on Title VI are hardly new — both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan tried to kill the program because of academic criticism of their respective wars in Vietnam and Central America, even though no area-studies department ever takes an editorial stance on policy issues. Nixon did get an advisory board to oversee Title VI, but seats on it soon became political patronage gifts.

“One member from Texas owned a costume company that made cheerleader costumes,” Merkx told the Weekly. “The board became an ineffectual excuse to fly presidential donors to Washington, and the first President Bush quietly dropped it.”

The proposed new board would be a much more serious affair.

“The board would be authorized to utilize security agencies,” Merkx said. “It could collect and initiate FBI and CIA information and intelligence gathering on faculty, it could hold hearings and investigate grantees’ political activities.”

Merkx said he was attacked by Pipes’ Sharonist Campus Watch Web site after he testified in Congress against HR 3077.

“This legislation’s supporters are anxious to get on this board and drive agendas because they want a pro-Israeli, Likud perspective reflected in every program. The bill says that area studies departments must reflect the full range of perspectives on issues, but no department has those kinds of resources — it would be like requiring every biology department to teach creation theory. No university would accept such funding.”

The changes to Title VI were not, it should be pointed out, initiated by DHS, and the proposed International Studies Act is but part of a national push by the right to create “balanced faculties” through affirmative-action programs that would set aside quotas at universities for conservative professors. However, it’s a measure of the department’s stature that all discussion about the act refers to DHS members as possible, if not probable, candidates to fulfill the security faction of the advisory board.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks traumatized an America that had long felt apart from international politics and impervious to the violence that plagues much of the rest of the world. Suddenly, it seemed, death might come hurtling from the sky at any moment. “Every landmark,” The New York Times noted, “— the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty — looks as though it could be molded not with concrete but with marzipan.” Even if George W. Bush were to be turned out of office in November, the Department of Homeland Security is here to stay. It is already too big and too self-perpetuating to go away, and every day its presence on American campuses grows. The Cold War showed how even hard-science research is affected by political climate, and, of course, the Bush White House has displayed a whimsical attitude in selecting which science is “real” and which is “pagan” when it comes to matters like global warming and birth control. The impulse to return to the time before 9/11 is natural, but Homeland Security’s new role in shaping academic life is leaving behind a peculiar taste, and it isn’t marzipan.

Why I Drive a Hate Crime

At a party a while back, the talk, as it usually does these days, turned to the Internet. When I mentioned to some people that Earthlink was my server, a shocked friend exclaimed, "But that's run by Scientologists!" She was referring to the Hubbardian bent of Sky Dayton, Earthlink's founder, and continued ribbing me until I replied that I doubted my monthly fees went toward the upkeep of the Celebrity Center or any of the cult's other enterprises. My friend nodded politely, and the conversation moved on to other matters. We both knew she didn't really care about the Scientology connection, just as I wasn't really defending my choice of a server. The important thing is that she got to partake in the American pastime of Making Friends Feel Bad, and I had not taken offense.

My friend and I are both card-carrying "progressives," and that morning stood sipping champagne in a room mostly filled with like-minded people. I knew the drill: You admit to a seemingly benign consumer preference, your chums shoot you down for it. Either someone's read that your favorite marketer of merino-wool sweaters has a side business in the Sudan selling iron slave collars, or it's pointed out that a cherished neighborhood hardware store peddles old-growth redwood.

Making your pals feel bad (but not so bad as to lose them) is a refined social skill highly regarded in my neck of the political woods. It has roots, ironically enough, in traditional class snobbery as well as in the consumer chauvinism that first spread from the pages of Playboy and Esquire into the popular consciousness of the early 1970s -- a belief that the kind of stereo speakers we own or the wine we drink are not merely practical choices but statements of identity.

Evaluations of other people's tastes tend to be political judgments issued from the bench of one's own private Nuremberg. No longer content to merely dismiss a friend's contrarian tastes as gauche, we detect in them nothing less than a threat to the planet -- implying that the offender is a kind of consumer criminal. In today's casual conversations, you run the constant risk of being made to feel guilty (as opposed to merely stupid) for wearing, eating or driving the wrong product at the wrong time.

A few months ago, for example, a friend commented on the base villainy of sports-utility vehicles and their owners. I politely told him that I was an SUV owner. He looked at me as though I had just admitted to collecting human-skin lampshades. His response was not new. "That's your car?" a horrified colleague had once asked me in my company's parking lot. "I'm so disappointed -- that's the kind someone in advertising would buy." I had my reasons for owning my Pathfinder, not the least of which has to do with the fact that I actually use it to go off-road camping. No matter -- my choice of transportation was so heinous that, in the morality of the left, it amounted to a hate crime.

Automobiles, those expensive scourges of global climate, are high on the list of possessions that can be used to make us feel bad. Still, most of us nurse some guilty memory of a car or two that we treated as almost human. Mine is of my father's '55 Chevy Bel Air, a big gray block of steel that was old the day he drove it off the used-car lot. It wasn't just a machine that took us from one place to another, it was the largest thing we owned; it had a radio in it, and during winter afternoons it became my own private solarium.

I have an album of mental snapshots of our Chevy that will never fade: my mother pushing the stuck car through snow while my father steered, or her making sandwiches in the back seat on one of our cross-country moves, rain hammering on the roof. And there was one golden afternoon when my father had driven a cousin and me from eastern Long Island into Manhattan to see the American Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium. We sailed down Fifth Avenue in a ticker-tape parade of my own imagining, everything in that late afternoon becoming lost in the blare of horns and the glint of summery light on the Empire State Building.

The only journey friends seem to let me take in my Pathfinder is a guilt trip. Guilt, of course, takes the fun out of owning anything and is the torture tool of choice used by people to make others feel bad. Usually this guilt accrues from the suffering of distant peoples or some ecological outrage -- sometimes both. I remember the time I invited a man active in Latino cultural politics over to a balcony barbecue. At first he was enthusiastic on the idea, especially when we got to talking about how much we preferred mesquite over chemically soaked briquettes. Then his political conscience kicked in. "But we shouldn't burn mesquite," he said quietly, pausing to remember just why. "The environment, you know . . . and Mexico. It's cutting down their mesquite forests."

I laugh at all this because I graduated from Berkeley during the Age of Boycotts (the early 1970s), when I learned how to needle people about owning Krugerrands, drinking Gallo wine or wearing Farrah jeans. But as the 1970s boogied along, the number of boycotts multiplied exponentially until people simply ignored them. (Today, a list for the venerable Nestlé embargo alone proscribes no fewer than 200 products and businesses, from Arrowhead Water to Friskies Cat Chow.) So a funny thing happened on the way to the Finland Station -- the Age of Boycotts morphed into the materialistic and narcissistic Me Decade, followed by a kind of ongoing Me Century.

Apparently there was one eternal law of history Marx had forgotten to tell us about: Affluence eventually afflicts all but the most self-destructive radicals, something every generation discovers and which I only dimly perceived some 30 years ago as I sat in on a meeting of the Young Workers Liberation League, the bell-bottomed successor of the Young Communist League. At one point it came up that the CP boss for Northern California, Mickie Lima, would let the group use his Mendocino ranch for a weekend getaway. "He's got a ranch?" someone sniffed. "Yeah, really! That's kinda funny," another remarked tartly.

Lima had been born in the small town of Usal, and got his baptism in radical politics during a 1935 strike of barrel makers in Arcata, in which three strikers were killed. He'd had a pretty tough life up there on the North Coast, and probably didn't see anything wrong with owning a little piece of real estate during the vexingly prolonged "twilight of capitalism"; but to a group of college radicals still in their teens, the idea of a property-owning Communist was on par with that old gag about anarchists who wear watches.

"I hated having to visit your family's place. You were so poor, and I'd think, 'How can people live like this?' My cousin -- the one who had gone with me to the Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium -- blurted this out some years back, as we reminisced about our childhoods one evening.

Looking back, I suppose I can see why he might've considered my brother and me "poor cousins." We were the ones who ate spaghetti on Thanksgiving, whose mother washed our laundry in the bathtub and whose family occasionally needed a handout from the Red Cross. Still, we lived like pharaohs compared to some of the kids I knew, with their ketchup sandwiches and homes built into the lofts of abandoned garages. At the time of my cousin's confession, however, I was stunned. What could have made him think this way? Of course, I realized -- it was the Chevy. And our rented home's dirt yard and perhaps the derelict graveyard that lay just beyond it. Or possibly, too, it had something to do with the neighborhood drunks who walked through our driveway on their way to sleep things off in that cemetery. But mostly, I figured, it was the '55 Bel Air, for it had always stuck out when parked next to my aunts' and uncles' new Impalas. Forget the blare of horns and the glint of summery light -- my cousin had probably cringed in embarrassment when we drove down Fifth Avenue in our old gray car. Not that anyone said anything then, of course, because 35 years ago making those close to you feel bad had not yet come into vogue.

Today, I tell myself that my reasons for driving an SUV are practical ones. With it, I can camp off-road and, on the admittedly rare occasions I need to, I can haul two-by-fours and sheet rock fairly easily. But I suspect part of me also likes owning an automobile that doesn't get stuck in the snow or stick out next to new Impalas. I figure if Mickie Lima could own a ranch, why can't I drive a big, shiny car? At least, like Lima, my SUV is red.

The Youngest Delegate Speaks

Sunday, August 13 -- We made Thomas Santaniello famous.

Not that he wouldn't have, in time, become famous in his own right, but tonight, between bites of caviar and blue cheese on new potatoes and vegetable kabobs dripping with butter, we have brought him the first flurry of media attention in his emerging political career. Because Santaniello -- at age 17 the youngest delegate to attend the Democratic National Convention 2000, the youngest attendee at the Young Democrats of America's Knitting Factory shindig -- is the only delegate who came close enough to be mobbed.

"Is this the first time you've been jumped by the media?" we ask Santaniello as not just three reporters swarm this lone, newbie delegate -- three-on-one being the convention's official journalist-to-delegate ratio -- but seven, two with cameras. Santaniello, fresh out of Spartanburg, South Carolina, wearing a suit and tie and a wide-eyed expression, his short brown hair neatly Brylcreamed to the side, barely knows what to say.

"It is!" he beams. "It is! It's a madhouse! It's crazy! I can't believe it!"

The convoy of cop cars screaming up Highland Avenue, along with the Fort Knox security in force at the newest Hollywood hotspot, might have clued us in that we would not be attending a typical delegate party, the kind at which delegates are the most honored guests. Instead, YDA has the honor of hosting not only Bill Clinton, but Al Gore and his daughters, Kristin and Karenna Gore-Schiff. The press, like guilty plotters in a failed coup attempt, have been hustled by a pert but panicked blonde through back hallways and up stairwells, and herded without much ceremony into a cramped media pit overlooking the club's dance floor. Once behind the tape in our 15-by-6-foot corral, our quarantine became complete: Even our cell phones had been rendered inert by microwave transmitters.

We did, however, manage to score two drink tickets apiece before the lockdown, and a young woman with close-cropped curls and a smart-aleck attitude was happy to cash them in for us. "Drink a lot," she advised. "You're trapped."

The YDA is the training ground for the party's activists and the farm team for tomorrow's Clintons and Gores, an organization in which ideals and ambitions easily coexist. From our crowded confines, we had summoned one of their legion, Evelyn Jerome, president of the L.A. County Young Democrats, and begged her to bring us a delegate, any delegate. Moments later she returned -- "Am I quick or what?" -- with Santaniello in tow. And suddenly Santaniello is verging on celebrity, glowing under the glare of video-camera lights, energetically shouting replies to reporters' questions over the din of music and partiers. Repeatedly, reporters demand to know how a 17-year-old qualifies to be a delegate. And Santaniello consistently obliges to answer. "I'll be 18 on August 28," he announces. "Because I can vote in November, I get to be a delegate."

"And how did you get so interested in politics?"

"It was really just the '96 election and all the media coverage that did it," he says. "You guys did a good job." From another delegate, such a remark might sound shrewd. It is perhaps a sign of Santaniello's youth that he means it.

If Santaniello seems unbelievably young to carry the weight of being a voting delegate at a national political convention, consider that he's been campaigning since the eighth grade, when he first entered the beltway of student government. Later, at James F. Burns High School, he formed a nonpartisan organization devoted to involving teenagers in state government. "I organized a voter-registration drive and registered 150 seniors to vote," he says. "We brought the voter drive to them, and what we found was not apathy, but people being enthusiastic to vote for the first time." Santaniello didn't exactly attempt to sell his schoolmates on the Democratic Party, but encouraged them to "take a serious look at the candidates and get out and vote. But of course," he admits, "I try to steer them in my direction."

Today Santaniello is every bit the partisan player, paying homage as only a true believer can. "The Democratic Party represents the best interests of America and young people," he tells his personal press corps, now hovering about like a medical team preparing for surgery. "That's why the party drew me in." He proceeds to rattle off a chronology of the Clinton administration's legislative wars: education, health care, patients' bill of rights, gun safety, the environment, campaign-finance reform.

"We're putting emphasis on public education," he continues. "We're raising teachers' salaries, putting more teachers in classrooms, making class sizes smaller, rebuilding schools, providing college assistance to students."

Santaniello doesn't venture opinions on subjects that lurk beyond the periphery of the Democratic Party platform. He claims ignorance of such looming hot-button issues as genetic engineering and the copyright battles being fought on the Internet. "I'm not familiar with it," he says of the music-trading protocol Napster. "I still go out to the store and buy my CDs, and I can understand the concerns of the record industry about the music that's copyrighted being on the Internet." But he does dream of a few new planks. "My dream would be to increase medical-research funding to find cures for diseases such as cancer," he says, adding that Al Gore has also expressed concerns in this area.

As for the armada of protest groups that have assembled in Los Angeles around the Democratic Convention, many of whose members are closer to his age than his fellow YDA'ers are, he allows that "They have a right to be here, protesting for their causes. I just hope that they don't block me from getting into the convention."

What does the future hold for Tom Santaniello beyond this momentous week? "I'm going to study political science at Firman University in Greenville, South Carolina," he says. "Then I'd like to possibly work as a political consultant." Having been surrounded by the drama of a national convention, will he want to run for office? "I'm looking to that as a possibility," he concedes, furrowing his young brow. "I'd start out at the bottom, maybe some day work up to congressman."

By the time he makes that decision, it may be easier to be a Democrat in South Carolina, a state that despite the recent election of a Democratic governor, Jim Hodges, still votes predominantly Republican. "It's especially hard in Spartanburg," he says, "where even a lot of my friends are influenced by their parents to become Republicans. But the thing is, we're changing -- we have a Democratically controlled Senate and a good chance of taking back the House."

Things are looking particularly bright for Dems in South Carolina since the state-supported lottery became a significant political issue. "Our governor is supporting a lottery to help fund education, like most other states on the East Coast," Santaniello says, "but the Republicans are against it -- they think gambling is wrong, and that education should not rely on gambling. But the fact is, Georgia has a state lottery and South Carolina puts about $80 million a year into Georgia's lottery, which is helping fund Georgia's students going to college. We need to keep that money in South Carolina," he insists. "We need to help our own students get scholarships." (Voters in Alabama felt much the same in November '98, when Democratic Governor Don Eugene Siegelman was elected largely because of his support for a state-run lottery.)

But even if South Carolina goes the other direction and, post-lottery, finds itself in the hands of conservatives, Santaniello insists he'll never make the ultimate Satanic conversion. "I'll never be a Republican!" he insists. "People say all the time that when you get older you become more conservative. But I see plenty of adults who are Democrats, and I look to them as reasons to stay in the party."


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