Tamara Straus

Meet the Doctor Big Pharma Can't Shut Up

For the last 34 years, David Healy, an Irish psychiatrist and professor at Cardiff University School of Medicine in Wales, has written heavily researched university press books and academic journal articles on various aspects of psychopharmaceuticals. His output includes 20 books, 150 peer-reviewed papers and 200 other published works. He is not only well-pedigreed, with degrees and fellowships from Dublin, Galway and Cambridge medical schools, he is a widely recognized expert in both the history and the science of neurochemistry and psychopharmacology.

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Meet the Doctor Big Pharma Can't Shut Up

For the last 33 years, David Healy, an Irish psychiatrist and professor at Cardiff University School of Medicine in Wales, has written heavily researched university press books and academic journal articles on various aspects of psychopharmaceuticals. His output includes 20 books, 150 peer-reviewed papers and 200 other published works. He is not only well-pedigreed, with degrees and fellowships from Dublin, Galway and Cambridge medical schools, he is a widely recognized expert in both the history and the science of neurochemistry and psychopharmacology.

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Women Lead the Progressive Charge

EMILY's List, the Washington, D.C.-based political network that supports pro-choice Democratic women, has some not-so-subtle advice for Democrats: hijack the family values debate. And do it by targeting the interests of female voters.

According to a research study released by EMILY's List on June 22 entitled "Women at the Center of Change," Republicans are losing the support among women that won them the White House in 2004. The national survey of more than 2,000 women and 600 men found that one third of women who voted for Bush are not planning to vote Republican in the 2006 Congressional election.

"There is a clear message from the women we spoke to: never stand between a woman and her desire to protect and care for her family," said EMILY's List President Ellen R. Malcolm of the study. "Republicans will continue to lose women if they fail to respect that women see themselves -- not government or politicians -- as the arbiter of family values."

This family values argument may seem like a no-brainer to those who wrung their hands (or, more likely, gnashed their teeth) as the Republicans made one masterfully manipulative move after one mind-bogglingly stinging stab around issues of marriage, religion and economics during the 2004 presidential election, but it is instrumental to any future electoral successes for the Democrats. The most significant element of the study is that the concept of family is at the center of women's values.

"There's been a lot of conversation about which is more important -- values or economic concerns," said Karen M. White, national political director for EMILY's List. "Our data shows that's a false choice. For women, it's not an either/or decision. Democrats will not reach women by stressing economics alone."

Among the other top findings of the study are:
  • The gender gap among voters has emerged strongly, as 43 percent of women say they would now vote Democratic and 32 percent would vote Republican. By contrast, a 41 percent plurality of men say they would vote Republican for Congress and 36 percent say they would vote Democratic. This 16-point gender gap is dramatically larger than the 2004 presidential election (7 points) and the 2002 midterm election (5 points).
  • Democrats lead Republicans in every age group, particularly among women age 45 to 54 (46 percent to 29 percent) and those age 55 to 64 (45 percent to 27 percent), Likewise, Democrats have the edge among younger women: 44 percent to 35 percent among those under 35, and 40 percent to 39 percent among those 35 to 44. Seniors give Democrats and eight-point advantage (49 percent to 32 percent).
  • The Republican drop-off is particularly apparent among the following seven demographic subgroups of women: social conservatives, non-college-educated whites, Midwestern whites, Catholics, white married women without children at home, women "in the ideological middle" (or swing voters) and "weak" Republicans.

Why this sea change? The study finds women have moved away from the Republicans since Bush's reelection for three reasons.

First, they are dissatisfied with the country's general direction and blame the Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress and the White House, for the current course.

Second, the issue terrain has shifted from the war on terrorism toward domestic and foreign policy agendas on which Democrats have the advantage. Women in the study volunteered Social Security (27 percent) as their greatest concern, followed by the war in Iraq (25 percent), health care (20 percent), education (19 percent), the economy (16 percent), cost of living and gas prices (12 percent) and jobs (8 percent). This means, the study argues, that the area where Republicans had greatest advantage -- the war on terrorism -- has receded for American women and with it their chances for another electoral sweep. By 60 percent to 25 percent, women choose a diplomatic foreign policy approach over one that hunts down terrorists.

Third, women believe the Republicans have overstated their bounds on issues of privacy, most notably in the recent controversy over Terri Schiavo and euthanasia, and in the relationship between science and religion. Fifty six percent of Republican women believe government shouldn't impose any moral or religious point of view on the country (78 percent of Democratic women feel that way). Also, 60 percent of women choose a pro-science position and worry that the U.S. will not remain a leader in scientific advances in the 21st century.

But these statistics do not foretell a slam dunk for Democrats in 2006, said Geoff Garin of the Garin, Hart, Yang Research Group, a Democratic political polling group that conducted the study for EMILY's List. "Women are pessimistic about the economy and Democrats must offer them hope, but values -- especially those regarding family and community -- must be part of the dialogue."

Michael Moore Bowls a Strike at Telluride

In 1989 Michael Moore's life was changed by one of the kindler, gentler establishments of the movie industry. "Roger and Me," his documentary eviscerating GM head Roger Smith, was accepted by the Telluride Film Festival and from there went on to get a distribution deal and international critical acclaim.

"I didn't know anything about the film industry," Moore said of his Telluride experience. "I was broke. My original plan had been to get the crew together, rent a van and tour the country for roadside screenings."

Moore could be seen ambling through the streets of Telluride, Colorado again this year, rich from his best-selling book "Stupid White Men" but still the jovial populist, yanking at his trademark baseball cap and talking to adoring fans about the North American premiere of his powerful new film, "Bowling for Columbine."

The documentary, which he hopes will spark a national conversation about America's obsession with violence, is a radical exploration of America's love affair with guns, its "paranoid mentality," as Moore calls it, and the violent nature of U.S. foreign policy.

"I made [Bowling for Columbine] because I was angry," said Moore. "I wanted to know, 'Why us?' Not only why did Columbine happen, but why are 11,000 people killed by guns in the U.S. every year when almost everywhere else the numbers are in the low hundreds?"

To answer that question, Moore took his camera and crew from Littleton -- where he interviewed still shell-shocked survivors of the Columbine massacre and townspeople who now specialize in security systems -- to Beverly Hills, for a bizarre tête-à-tête with NRA spokesman Charlton Heston, and across the border to Canada where Moore, in one of the more hilarious scenes, trespasses into strangers' homes to prove that Canadians don't lock their doors.

Like "Roger and Me," "Bowling for Columbine" is propelled by a humorously enraged quest to find the truth. The movie is a journey -- Moore's and ours -- and it begins with Moore positing that the solution to violence must be gun control. (The unforgettable opening scene shows Moore acquiring a free rifle when he opens a new account at a Michigan bank.) But soon enough, Moore, ever the Midwestern Platonist, is arguing that controlling individual gun purchases is too easy an answer, since there are as many weapons in countries with low murder rates.

From there, "Bowling for Columbine" races off into a series of broadly related violence-in-America questions that include the U.S.'s military-industrial complex, its fascination with televised bloodshed, its tradition of scapegoating blacks, ignoring poverty and sanctioning what he calls "state-sponsored violence."

Moore is most convincing in showing that Americans are reluctant to embrace progressive reform because they have become deeply fearful. Although violence is statistically down, every night they watch on television the day's roster of rapes, abductions and murders. It is this violent TV sensationalism, Moore argues, that is creating "a national atmosphere of fear and paranoia" and distracting Americans from important social issues. The film has no final point, no single answer for Columbine or other killing sprees, but it is undoubtedly the most intelligent, thought-provoking and entertaining film about violence in America to have come along in years.

All of Telluride was buzzing about "Bowling for Columbine" the morning after the premiere. In a public conversation in Telluride's Elk Park, Nation columnist Christopher Hitchens did his best to roil Moore about his usage of Serbian film clips, his Ghandian stance on American foreign policy, his strategy of throwing a dozen theories in a kettle and stirring, but ended up being uncharacteristically mild.

"You're a man of the people and I'm a snob and an elitist," said Hitchens with a wave of his cigarette, letting Moore steal the show. Telluride --- whether because of the abundance of remarkable films or the limited oxygen at 10,000 feet -- seemed to have a calming effect on Hitchens.

For regulars the Telluride Film Festival is a kind of religious experience, a Burning Man for adults whose drug of choice is dramatic scenarios from all over the world. For 29 years the festival has pushed into the increasingly commercialistic film world movies by new directors that fuse politics, technology and art. This year the program included the world premiere of Paul Schrader's "Auto Focus," about the sexually sordid private life - and murder - of "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane; the world premiere of "Frida," Julie Taymor's ode to Frida Kahlo; a tribute to actor Peter O'Toole; the North American premiere of "Spider," the latest film from David Cronenberg and the North American premiere of "Talk to Her," a story about the friendship of two men from Oscar-winning Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, among others.

As usual, the festival offered a wide selection of independent and foreign films that need the kind of critical attention "Roger and Me" got to compete against Hollywood blockbusters. Chief among them was "City of God," a shattering epic about Rio de Janeiro's drug-riddled housing project Cidade de Deus directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund. Based on the novel by Paolo Lin, the movie is at once a masterpiece of contemporary filmmaking and an education on the cyclical nature of 20th-century urban poverty.

Meirelles and Lund shot the film on location in Cidade de Deus and interviewed 2,000 resident street kids, eventually settling on a cast of largely non-professional actors to tell the story of dozens of intertwined Cidade de Deus lives from the 1970s and 1980s. "The focus was always on the truth," said Meirelles in an interview. "In Cidade de Deus, a 16-year-old kid is at the height of his life. He knows that if he is lucky he'll last another three or four years. The wasting of lives is the theme of the film."

"City of God" may well mark a new era in Latin American filmmaking. It falls on the heals of such riveting movies as "Central Station," "Amores Perros" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien," which take on contemporary social issues with plots that pop and ferocious visuals. "City of God" uses the lightning-fast editing techniques of music videos, but never seems to fall prey to aesthetic slickness. Some critics are beginning to call the new movies from Latin America the "Buena Onda" (the Good Wave), in reference to the 1960s French New Wave of which François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard formed a part.

Whether or not arty video stores will soon have a section for the Buena Onda, "City of God" will be recognized as a 2002 cinematic tour de force (Miramax will release it in the U.S. this fall). The movie is Meirelles and Lund's first feature and they, like Michael Moore, might look back at Telluride as the pivotal moment in their careers as film directors.

Tamara Straus is editor in chief of Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope: All-Story magazine (www.all-story.com).

Justice After the Schizoid War

Ever since the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, the world has grown familiar with the idea of an international court putting to bed a brutal period in history. Nuremberg put a stark coda on the Holocaust, as may the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal on the genocide that took place in Yugoslavia.

But what of the countless wartime human rights violations that have gone untried? In Gail Pellett's latest documentary, "Justice and the Generals," that question is applied to El Salvador. By extension, it also is applied to the United States, which between 1980 and 1992 provided billions of dollars in aid to the Salvadoran military, abetting a 12-year civil war that by 1992 had claimed 75,000 (mostly civilian) lives.

"Justice and the Generals" is an international human rights drama with a strong message about the need for international law. Pellett, who produced, directed and narrates the film, focuses her story on two landmark human rights cases -- one involving the 1980 murder of four American churchwomen, the other brought by Salvadoran torture survivors; both against two high-ranking Salvadoran generals, Guillermo Garcia and Vides Cassanova, who were trained by the U.S. military. The film sheds harsh light on the U.S.'s conduct in Central American during the Cold War.

But will Americans care? Watching "Justice and the Generals," one can't help but wonder how it will be received by an audience that is a decade away from the Salvador debacle and in the midst of the most patriotic (and pro-military) period in recent U.S. history. Pellett seems to know this, though. Her film casts a net beyond the two human rights cases addressed, to larger questions of conduct for military powers as different as El Salvador and the United States. And her story is not pretty.

The film is organized in two parts. The first follows Bill Ford, the brother of one of the murdered nuns, in his quest to discover the truth behind the killings. Ford is a hard-nosed, indefatigable sort, who rolls up his sleeves to sort through reams of State Department documents, the many censored sections of which he likens to "small black windows shades."

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Life and Debt

In the early '90s documentary filmmaker Stephanie Black found herself in a quandary. She had been visiting Jamaica for several years, and every time she stepped off the plane she was struck by three things: 1) the increasing Americanization of the place; 2) the intractable poverty; and 3) the continual stream of stories in the Jamaican press about the International Monetary Fund's influence on economic policy.

Black didn't know much about the IMF or its sister lending institution, the World Bank. "I thought they were something like the Red Cross," said Black, a New Yorker who talks and gestures with the energy of three people. But after she finished making "H2-Worker," a 1990 documentary about Caribbean sugar cane laborers in Florida, she decided to set aside some time for research.

Thus began Black's unsentimental education into the policies of the two major postwar lending institutions and their effect on developing countries like Jamaica. The result, a feature-length documentary called "Life and Debt," has been racking up festival awards and will have theatrical releases across the country through March 24 (for listings see LifeandDebt.org).

The film is earning raves from critics, for it achieves the near impossible: It turns the stale subject of structural adjustment policies and debates about export markets and free trade into a riveting narrative. Black does not shape her film around droning talking heads. Rather "Life and Debt" is told as a journey. The "eye" of the film is a typical American -- a person much like Black, who comes to Jamaica as a tourist and at first sees only swaying palm trees and natives splashing in warm turquoise water.

Black says many have criticized her for ridiculing the tourists she films. They are seen gloating over the worth of the dollar, getting hammered on tropical drinks, dancing like buffoons to reggae and taking "real life" excursions through Jamaican ghettoes in a ridiculous zebra-striped jeep. These images are cross-cut with conversations with Jamaican farmers, workers and politicians about their inability to achieve economic independence after 400 years of colonialism.

"The use of the tourist goes back to the initial way I tell this story," said Black. "I'm not making fun of them. The tourists are me, too. They are really a metaphor for all Americans and people from rich countries, who may not know about life outside their hotel gates."

In "Life and Debt," Black constantly moves the viewer in and out of those gates -- from plush hotel rooms to filthy factory floors, from pool parties to street protests -- to draw attention to the metaphorical gate that exists between those in the developed and undeveloped sides of the world.

Once this torn curtain is established, Black goes to the jugular with her analysis of the IMF. She introduces former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, who was elected on a non-IMF platform in 1976. In a powerful interview, Manley explains how he was forced to sign Jamaica's first loan agreement with the IMF in 1977 because he lacked viable alternatives -- something he emphasizes is a global pattern in the Third World.

"Going to the IMF and signing that agreement was one of the more bitter, traumatic experiences of my life," says Manley. "[There is not one] IMF country that has a good educational system, a good agricultural system, a good public health system ... All of them are caught in the old colonial chains."

Among Manley's many points is that the IMF and World Bank were created without the cooperation or interests of developing countries. Intentionally or not, he argues, the bankers and bureaucrats who have required Jamaica to tighten its fiscal belt, resulting in slashes in social spending, or open its markets to exports, resulting in the crippling of its agricultural economy, have benefited from Jamaican instability and poverty.

These points are then illustrated in Black's film, and not subtlely. In a series of segments, Black takes the viewer inside the Jamaican economy, to examine the circumstances of the textile, banana, milk, potato and poultry industries. Most disturbing is the part on Kingston's Free Economic Zones, where workers sew clothes for American corporations like Tommy Hilfiger and Brooks Brothers for $5 a day on large swaths of "nationless" land ringed by barbed wire.

The Zones, the film underscores, were meant to provide low-income jobs and help integrate Jamaica into the global economy. But after witnessing interviews with poor workers, who describe the Zones' working conditions as a "slave boat," and with corporate representatives, who admit the main attraction for Tommy Hilfiger is freedom from taxes and cheap labor, it is hard to feel good about the progress of economic globalization.

The segments on Jamaica's ravaged agricultural economy leave the same impression. Black presents interview after interview with farmers, who speak with frightening acumen about the repercussions of loan agreements and the workings of entities like the Inter-American Development Bank. "When you open up the marketplace to those in a better position than yourself, who do you 'tink is going to win?" said one onion farmer, who cannot compete against the large and cheap quantities of U.S. onions flooding the Jamaican markets.

One segment ends with tons of fresh milk being dumped on the ground, because its producers simply cannot sell it. "This new world order means there will be no more regulation in the trading of commodities," said the milk producer. His company has gone from producing several million to 600 liters of milk a day, because the IMF directed Jamaica to abandon its subsidies to milk farmers and abandon control of milk imports. Stanley Fischer, former deputy director of the IMF, is then shown explaining that if such directives are not followed the IMF cuts off economic aid.

If you are American or have ever visited a country like Jamaica for a carefree beach holiday, it is hard not to feel culpable after watching "Life and Debt." You might say it's an educational guilt trip. This feeling is only strengthened by the voice-over narrative, adapted from Jamaica Kincaid's blistering essay on third world tourism, "In a Small Place."

"I wanted Jamaica Kincaid's text because it captured the anger and militancy I was feeling," said Black. "I always felt sick in Jamaica. Every time I went there, I had to go deeper into the countryside not to feel the Americanization and imperialization that is everywhere. What doesn't make sense to me is that, according to the IMF, countries like Jamaica are supposed to be able to compete after centuries of enslavement and economic exploitation."

I asked Black whether she thinks Americans should feel responsible for the impact of the IMF policies on Jamaica. "Well, that is the point of the film," she responded. "The question I was asking myself when I made the film was, What is my role in this? Am I responsible in any way, if my country has the greatest influence on this economy?"

Tamara Straus is senior editor of AlterNet.org.

Trading Democracy

We all know that the U.S. is the most litigious society in the world, that there are more lawyers involved in more far-fetched lawsuits and more people working late into the night figuring out how to win more settlement cash than in any time in any place in history.

But did you know that litigation fever has stretched beyond Court TV to lawsuits in which corporations take on democratically elected governments in closed trade tribunals? Did you know, for example, that last October, Mexico paid over $16 million to an American landfill company on the grounds that the local Mexican government had "expropriated the company's investment" by turning the area into an ecological zone in order to protect its citizens from toxic pollutants?

Welcome to Chapter 11, an obscure provision of North American Free Trade Agreement and the subject of the latest Bill Moyers/Sherry Jones documentary, "Trading Democracy." In the one-hour investigation to be aired on most PBS stations the evening of Feb. 5, Moyers' team lays out what may very well be the acme of global corporate malfeasance.

Like many frightening things, this devil is in the fine print: a one-page specification (in the 555-page NAFTA document) which allows corporations to demand compensation from governments if city, state or even federal laws harm the companies financially. Basically, Chapter 11 makes the protection of corporate profit the rule of the land -- from Canada's Queen Elizabeth Islands, straight through America, to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

"When the North American Free Trade Agreement became the law of the land almost a decade ago, the debate we heard was about jobs," Moyers says at the beginning of the documentary. "One provision was too obscure to stir up controversy. It was Chapter 11 ... and since NAFTA was ratified, corporations have used [it] to challenge the power of governments to protect their citizens, to undermine environmental and health laws, even attack our system of justice."

And you thought credit card agreements were bad. But the horror of NAFTA's Chapter 11 is that unlike the small print in credit card contracts, the Chapter 11 agreement is not revocable. In fact, as the Moyers documentary clearly illustrates, Chapter 11 is being exploited with vigor by multinational corporations and their teams of savvy, high-paid lawyers -- the very people who helped draft NAFTA in the first place. Says one lawyer interviewed in the film, "Lawyers are creative people ... They are hired to be creative."

In "Trading Democracy" we hear of the case of Methanex, a Canadian company that is the world's largest producer of the key ingredient in the gasoline additive MTBE, which was found to be a carcinogen. In 1995, MTBE was discovered in wells throughout California, and by 1999 had contaminated 30 public water systems and 10 ground water sites. California, reasonably enough, ordered the additive to be phased out. Methanex then filed suit under Chapter 11, even though it knew its product could pollute water systems and cause cancer. Methanex is seeking $970 million in compensation from the U.S. government for loss of market share and future profits.

As of this writing, the Methanex case has not been decided, and one can only hope the company willdrop its suit, if only for fear of bad public relations. But there is no opportunity for the public -- particularly Californians whose homes or health have been damaged by MTBE -- to present their views in a court of law. The deliberations will be secret and decided by a three-man NAFTA-appointed tribunal consisting of experts on international law. It will be a test of whether international corporate trade is more powerful than a government's mandate to protect the health of its people.

"I call [the NAFTA tribunal] an exclusive court for capital," says journalist William Greider, who appears in "Trading Democracy." He points out that "If Methanex wins its billion dollar claim over California environmental law, there ain't gonna be many states enacting that law, are there?" Greider's main argument is that Chapter 11 "hobbles the authority of government to act in the broader public interest. And, in fact, that was the idea in the first place."

Moyers builds a pretty tight case against Chapter 11. True, he interviews only one proponent of the measure -- Edmund Williamson, legal counsel to the State Department during the NAFTA negotiations, who tepidly argues that governments abiding by Chapter 11 strengthen their country's "rule of law." But the lack of pro-NAFTA voices has more to do with interviews refused than requested. Why would Carla Hills, for example, want to talk to Moyers? Hills was chief NAFTA negotiator for the U.S. government, and is now president of her own international consulting firm. Since NAFTA's passage, she has used Chapter 11 to bully the Canadian government from creating more environmentally friendly cigarette packaging -- probably not something she wanted to discuss on-camera with Moyers.

In the end, Moyers makes clear that Chapter 11's main hope -- and chance for inclusion in the 31-country Free Trade of Americas Agreement -- is public ignorance. International legal experts, trade negotiators and corporate law attorneys may know about Chapter 11, but the public certainly doesn't. Nor, probably, do most elected officials.

Among Moyers' most effective illustrations of Chapter 11's political power for corporations is a segment taped south of the border. In the Mexican state of San Luis Postosi, we are treated to the lugubrious story of an American company called Metaclad, which seeks to reopen a toxic waste dump that many citizens claim is making them sick.

Metaclad managed to get the green light from the Mexican federal government to take over the dump on the condition that it remove the toxins within five years. However, the San Luis Postosi city council demanded the cleanup happen first. Metaclad refused. Protests erupted around the site. In the end, Metaclad sued the Mexican government under Chapter 11 and won $16 million in compensation. The suit didn't argue that Mexico had taken money or property from Metaclad -- simply that Mexico's actions were "tantamount to expropriation."

Said Martin Wagner, an attorney for the Earth Justice League Defense Fund, who appears in the film: "Not only do governments have to compensate when they expropriate or take away property, but they have to do so whenever they do something that is 'tantamount to expropriation.'"

Scary, huh? But perhaps even more scary is the last case covered in "Trading Democracy," which could conceivably open the U.S. civil justice system to challenge from NAFTA law. The case takes place in Mississippi, where a Biloxi funeral home owner was awarded punitive damages in a civil suit against a large Canadian corporation called the Loewen Group. The local funeral home owner alleged that the Loewen Group had engaged in "fraudulent" and "predatory" trade practices. The jury agreed with this allegation, awarding him $500 million. Three years later, the Loewen Group filed a Chapter 11 claim against American taxpayers, arguing the jury was biased against Canadians and seeking $725 million in compensation. The NAFTA tribunal has declared it a legitimate accusation.

"Politics get very interesting if a claim like Loewen's wins," says Greider, who has called Chapter 11 "a ticking time bomb in the politics of globalization." The question now is: When will it explode, and will anyone understand how the detonation began?

Tamara Straus is senior editor of AlterNet.org.

The War for Public Opinion

In 1922, social critic Walter Lippmann wrote, "Decisions in modern states tend to be made by the interaction, not of Congress and the executive, but of public opinion and the executive." Never has this been truer than in the war on terrorism. The Bush administration has justified its bombing campaign against Afghanistan not with a congressional declaration of war, but with polls indicating that close to 90 percent of Americans want military action.

In American politics today, public opinion polls have become a kind of Fifth Estate. As soon as they are released, poll results become fodder to justify policies, attack opponents or wage wars. When the numbers hover around 90 percent, as do Bush's current approval ratings, they are political gospel. After all, when nine out of 10 Americans agree, the country's resolve must be strong as steel. Or is it?

Therein lies the rub. Public opinion is a fickle thing, sometimes turning on as little as one horrific image or triumphant speech. A few well-placed media messages can cause sea changes in national opinion: Think of Southern cops turning dogs and fire hoses loose on desegregation marches; or the videotape of Rodney King; or napalmed villagers in Vietnam.

The Bush administration knows this media truism all too well. They also know its corollary -- that with the right pressure, public opinion can be manipulated. And so, as bombs began to fall on Kabul, the administration launched an equally aggressive front at home: the war for America's approval of war.

Back in 1922, Lippmann noted that public opinion tends to solidify during times of war and that the media, becoming more patriotic, aids in this solidification. That was the case during World Wars I and II, when news items smelled heavily of government propaganda and Hollywood's most talented filmmakers were hired to make inspirational war movies.

That was also the case during the Persian Gulf War. Had the U.S. government allowed reporters to file from the front lines, showing the effect of the war on civilians and the region, public opinion might have been different. Instead, the Gulf War came into American living rooms as a series of fuzzy Defense Department abstractions. From the couch, what happened in Iraq looked like a video game. Unlike the images that poured into the tube during Vietnam, there was very little to get upset about. The campaign seemed clean, technologically efficient. The majority of the public came away with a favorable impression, even if they failed to feel the war was a moral victory, as was the case during World War II.

That was the media success story of George I. Now along comes George II, waging a more complicated war that is a descendant of his father's. Since the first shots were fired, the Bush administration has successfully squelched negative news reports from Afghanistan. Asked at an October press conference how he would handle the media's war coverage, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quoted Winston Churchill's statement about disinformation around the D-day invasion. "Sometimes the truth is so precious it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies," he said. "They plan to fight the war and then tell the press and the public how it turned out afterwards," said CNN Correspondent Jamie McIntyre, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

The Pentagon's tactics in the media war have been less than subtle. For starters, they bought up access to all commercial satellite photographs of the region, preventing any news outlets from obtaining them. They also have prevented journalists from accompanying soldiers or airmen on most missions, or even from interviewing them afterward.

Meanwhile, television news has been behaving more like a wing of the military than an objective Fourth Estate, with anchors like CBS�s Dan Rather pledging his allegiance on air: "Wherever [Bush] wants me to line up, just tell me where." CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson ordered news staff to limit reports of Afghan war casualties and use World Trade Center deaths to justify the killings. Newspaper editors have admitted to taking dead civilian Afghans off their front pages for fear of appearing unpatriotic.

In other words, so far, so good. Bush, far from being a brilliant statesman, has certainly proved himself an adept one, for he has never strayed from framing the war on terrorism as a fight of good against evil. Thus the further destruction of Afghanistan is just retribution against "evil doers," whether a majority of the Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan or not, whether military retaliation will quell terrorism or not. It's a message that domestic media outlets seem to like far more than reports of civilian casualties.

However, the Bush administration has had to contend with a new set of media forces arising from the "Information Revolution." The war on terrorism is the world's first war for the Internet and foreign news outlets. Never before have so many people ostensibly had access to so much news and opinion from so many sources. Never before has it been possible to gauge so many views, not only in the U.S., but from Europe and the Middle East. That is the quandary the Bush administration faces in "winning the war on ideas," as Bush phrased it. Public opinion is now vulnerable to what is reported outside the U.S.'s news borders.

In fact, of the 10 percent who don't approve of Phase I of the war on terrorism, many have probably taken to surfing the Internet for their information, reading critical reports on the progress and logic of the campaign from sites like the UK's Guardian, Dawn (Pakistan's English daily) and AlterNet.org (whose readership soared 500 percent in the days after Sept. 11). London's BBC has reported a record number of Americans tuning in to their Web site, radio and television broadcasts.

There is plenty of stomach-turning information out there to be found. In a Dec. 3 New York Times story, an Afghan man named Khalil, who survived U.S. bombs in the Tora Bora area, was quoted as saying, "The village is no more. All my family, 12 people were killed. I am the only one left in this family. I have lost my children, my wife. They are no more." According to AlterNet.org's David Corn, other Afghan refugees have reported similar slaughters: one said she had lost 38 relatives in a U.S. attack, another estimated up to 200 were dead in her village.

So what will Phase II of the war hold? According to a December Harris poll, more than eight of 10 Americans said the U.S. government's actions should be assisted by many countries, and that it is important to get support from the U.N. Security Council to expand the war. If this is true -- if multilateralism becomes increasingly important to Americans -- then views from Europe and the Middle East may suddenly become relevant.

In Europe, public approval of America's war in Afghanistan waned significantly in the month of November. In England, from a peak on par with U.S. public opinion right after the Sept. 11 attacks, support for the bombing campaign fell to two-thirds. In France, support dropped from two-thirds to half, and, in Germany and Italy, well over half the population wanted the attacks on Afghanistan to stop, according to the European press.

The reason for this wane in European support was fairly clear: The Europeans saw disturbing images of civilian casualties from the bombing campaign that Americans did not. "The public sees continuous bombing of buildings, and they see pictures from Al Jazeera of small villages that have made things immensely difficult," Helmut Lippelt, a German Green Party legislator, told the New York Times. This kind of negative opinion could come to haunt Americans if the war is widened or American troops get bogged down in civil unrest in Afghanistan.

Harder still to ignore will be views from the Middle East, where negative opinion about the war on terrorism has been of huge concern to the U.S. government. Never before in wartime has the U.S. had to work so hard to contain the views of its enemies. And that has everything to do with telecommunication advances as well as the growth of Middle Eastern news media. Back in August 1990, in the prelude to the Gulf War, news of Iraq's conquest of Kuwait did not hit the Arab world through official media for three entire days. There were no 24-hour Arab news networks, and Middle Eastern media were tightly controlled by government. Today, there are five pan-Arab news networks, including Al Jazeera, the 24-hour Qatar-based news station, which is watched by 35 million viewers in 20 Arab countries and airs sharp critiques of American policy in the region.

The Bush administration is well aware of the powers these news outlets possess, and has gone into high gear to convince Middle East citizens that the war on terrorism is aimed not at them, but at terrorists in their midst. As part of this effort, the Pentagon has hired the Rendon Group, a public relations firm in Washington, D.C., to help explain the U.S. military strikes to global audiences. The administration also has established a "coalition of information centers" in Washington, London and Islamabad to disseminate war news to Middle Eastern reporters -- a hard task since those in the region are 10 hours ahead of Washington.

Yet even with these recent moves, U.S. government officials have been quick to admit that, so far, they have lost the battle for Middle Eastern public opinion. The U.S. has almost no cultural organizations in the Middle East. As of Sept. 11 its main broadcasting arm, Voice of America, had an audience share of 2 percent in the region.

The chief problem is that the U.S. has low credibility in the Arab world -- in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Iran, and especially in Iraq and Palestine. In order to explain the Afghan bombing campaign, officials of the Bush administration, such as Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, have appeared on Al Jazeera. But, according to many news critics, the effect has not been positive. "Every time I see an American official speaking on Al Jazeera, I think of how much that person is inciting sentiment against America by promoting the American view," said Lamis Andoni, a Jordanian journalist who has covered the Middle East for 20 years. "It backfires. What does the U.S. have to say? That in order to get bin Laden it has to bomb all of Afghanistan and cause more misery in Afghanistan? This doesn't sell in the Arab world."

What does seem to sell is bin Laden's message -- not necessarily that a jihad should be waged against America, but that the U.S. is at fault for the economic, political and social problems of the Arab world. On Arab TV, bin Laden has listed the very issues that the U.S. government refuses to address: support of repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, which permit the stationing of U.S. troops; the economic sanctions against Iraq, which have stifled Middle Eastern trade; and globalization, which has weakened the cultural traditions of Islam and caused a stark awareness of the haves and the have-nots.

Indeed, bin Laden has proved to be the U.S.'s chief foe, not only because he presents a terrorist threat but because he is the savviest of media manipulators, the fiercest of propagandists. His chief weapon on Sept. 11 was not so much the bodily damage that can be achieved with jetliners but the psychological impact of watching those jetliners take out America's most important economic and military symbols. Bin Laden understood well in advance that the destruction would be watched over and over again on American television.

The question now remains: What is the level of support for bin Laden in the Arab world? If he is captured and executed by the U.S. military, will there be blowback? Will bin Laden's death unleash a new wave of terrorism in the U.S. and abroad? And if that happens, will the U.S. media hew as closely to government propaganda as it has thus far? Or will the media widen its net and focus more on what is being said in Europe and the Middle East as well as by critics of the war in the U.S.? The answers to those questions will shape the public opinion war to come.

Tamara Straus is senior editor of AlterNet.org.

Weapons of Mass Destruction Easier to Get Than Ever

At a Nov. 27 New York University conference on weapons of mass destruction, Paul Walker of Global Green's military waste cleanup program, told a scary story. It went like this:

A short time ago Mr. Walker was visiting a chemical weapons depot near the Kazakhstan border in Russia. The depot holds 500,000 tons of nerve agent and other chemical weapons material and a couple million rounds of artillery topped with the stuff. The depot is above ground and constructed from aging corrugated metal and wood. It abuts a day care center and military living quarters and is protected by a couple of officers, one of whom circles by jeep the forest road that surrounds the depot.

Mr. Walker asked his Russian host, "How do you protect the facility?"

"We keep the door locked," he responded.

"What if five rounds were, say, missing?" pursued Mr. Walker.

"We would know," said the host. "We keep the door locked."

With that, the host secured the facility with a large bicycle lock and left Mr. Walker standing outside with his mouth agape, at which point he turned to the young officer guarding the bicycle-locked building, and asked:

"When were you last paid?"

"Just before the American delegation arrived," said the officer with unconcealed irony.

"And before that?"

"Six months ago."

This story was among the most instructive -- and frightening -- of the many instructive and frightening tales told at the NYU conference, "Weapons of Mass Destruction: Cold War Legacies in the Post-9-11 World," which gathered together military experts from New York, Washington and Moscow.

Let's just say the conversation was lugubrious. For the consensus was that whereas the post-9-11 world has taken the veil off a manifold of problems -- Islamic hostility toward modernization, U.S. greed, Middle East corruption, widespread poverty and the failures of globalization -- a shroud remains over the slippery spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Here's the news: Iran is two to three years away from becoming a nuclear power. Nuclear wastes are not being adequately disposed of in Russia or the U.S. Arsenals of biological and chemical weapons are in the hands of "known terrorist states," such as Libya, Iran and Iraq. And arms reduction treaties, namely the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, are being disbanded by the U.S. with the result that nuclear weapon-seeking states can more freely seek nukes and strides in international law are in the toilet.

"The crazy part of the post-9-11 world," said Nation correspondent Jonathan Schell, "is that the line between conventional and nuclear war is blurring. The post-Cold War era did not end the old U.S.-Russia arms race. What it signaled was a new period of proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons to states like India, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq."

Of chief concern at the conference was the status of arms reduction treaties of the START and SALT variety, which were once considered the bedrock of deescalating the arms race. "No equivalent for these treaties exists today," said Michael Klare, director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies. "The Bush administration is making it clear they have no interest in negotiating mutually restrictive agreements."

Indeed, in July on CBS's Face the Nation, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said, "The arms control treaties of the 1970s and 1980s came out of peculiar, abnormal relationship between the United States and Russia. [Today] Russia is not a strategic adversary of the United States. We are not enemies. So the process can look different." In an August Fox News interview Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put it more succinctly. "Arms control treaties are not for friends," he said.

But is Russia really our friend? Kimberly Zisk, a professor at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, said at the conference, "We shouldn't have too high expectations of Russia," given that the Russian government is "limited in its ability to control dissemination of weapons of mass destruction."

Zisk warned that brain drain among Russian scientists is a very real problem -- 15 percent surveyed by the Carnegie Foundation this year said they would "go anywhere and work for anyone" -- and that Putin is in a struggle with the military to restructure the Russian weapons regime and armed forces. Meanwhile, the state is also under pressure to monetize its nuclear expertise. On Nov. 26 Russian energy officials began moving components of two 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactors to Iran.

"The problem with this," said Zisk, "is that Iran might be able to divert expertise for a nuclear reactor program to a nuclear weapon program." In a Dec. 3 article in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh reported that American and Israeli intelligence believe Russian scientists have already provided enough expertise to help Iran build a bomb. (Israel has had a nuclear arsenal for decades, although it has never publicly acknowledged this.)

According to the conference speakers, the above security risks from Russia are reason enough to abide old treaties and write new ones. Referring to the gentlemanly terms of the recent Crawford Summit agreement, in which Presidents Putin and Bush promised to a three-fold reduction of nuclear warheads based on a handshake, William D. Hartung of the New School's World Policy Institute, said, "Given the risks of relying on a handshake and a smile, President Bush should think twice before renouncing arms control agreements. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the president's credo should be "trust, but codify."

Hartung added Putin may have been smiling soulfully at his new American ally at the Crawford ranch, but he has been arguing for codifying reduction commitments in treaty language. Hartung also noted that the Crawford agreement, whereby Bush promised to reduce U.S. inventory to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads in a decade and Putin promised a goal of 1,500, were reiterations of agreements made by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin in 1997 as part of the START III talks. Said Hartung: "Nothing is new here. And 1,700 warheads is still enough to obliterate large swaths of the world."

Speaking from Moscow by video teleconference, General Vladimir Dvorkin, chief of the Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces, commented, "If the U.S. will not abide by the ABM and other treaties, we will find ourselves in an international legal vacuum. Russia is willing to further cuts, but it needs incentives." No one could say for certain how concerned the Bush administration is with such incentives. Recent actions indicate not very much at all.

Then there is the question of Star Wars, Reagan's dream project to defend the United States from a nuclear attack with a National Missile Defense system that leading scientists say is unworkable for at least 10 years. The word on National Missile Defense has been, up until Sept. 11, that it was Bush's main military priority -- and the reason for abolishing the ABM Treaty. But according to Frances Fitzgerald, who has documented the Star Wars' saga in "Way Out of the Blue," the U.S.'s disdain for the ABM treaty is no longer linked to National Missile Defense.

"A January 2001 National Institute for Public Policy report lays it out," said Fitzgerald. "Its authors, who are Bush's nuclear advisors, argue treaties prevent U.S. flexibility." In other words, deep reductions may be made, but they should be made unilaterally, so that the U.S. is not bound to any one treaty. By the same token, should China become a nuclear state, the U.S. can increase its nuclear assets. "The report implies," concluded Fitzgerald, "that U.S. security is best assured by unfettered autonomy."

There is some good news within this morass of bad, however. The 8-year-old U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction program, designed to help Moscow implement its arms control obligations, has made great strides. By spending $400-500 million a year for a total of $4 billion, the U.S. has helped Russia destroy 5,000 warheads, 4,000 intercontinental ballistic missiles and 19 nuclear submarines. The CTR program also has given the U.S. some inkling of Russia's vast chemical weapons arsenal and helped hundreds of Russian scientists, once employed in the Soviet Union's closed military cities, find jobs.

But Amy Smithson, director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Project of the Henry L. Stimson Center, argued the CTR program has not gone far enough. She said the CTR program is not adequately reducing threats from Russia's biological weapons program, which has weaponized 50 diseases like smallpox, anthrax and Marburg and put them on ICBMs facing the West.

"It costs $380 million to develop and test a gas mask for a U.S. soldier," she said. "Putting this kind of money toward preventing Russian brain drain is a no-brainer," especially when thousands of Russian weaponeers have lost their jobs and those still employed are getting paid wages equal to $1 a month. Smithson said she has interviewed Russian weaponeers who knew of colleagues who accepted offers to "teach" in Iran and North Korea. Others, she said, may have gone to China and Iraq.

So nukes are loose. There's nothing new in this. Both India and Pakistan, neighbor states of the tinderbox that is Afghanistan, have the bomb. By the end of the decade, the list of nuclear states will likely rise to nine. Chemical and biological weapons will be practically ubiquitous. And the U.S. will probably still have the greatest lethal capacity, and with that the greatest conviction of its safety.

"Now is the balloon mortgage of the nuclear age," said Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, "when the chickens are coming home to roost, regardless of National Missile Defense systems and deterrence."

Nonetheless U.S. leaders seem determined to pursue what Michael Klare called "unipolar dominance" -- or "supremacism," a combination of economic and military power not seen since the Roman empire. Klare said people like himself must now work on two fronts: they must deal with legacies of the Cold War in terms of nuclear and biological weapons, and "face a whole new raft of problems arising from unipolarity and globalization."

"The latter will be the hardest task -- the most difficult to persuade the American public of," said Klare. "Because of the dangers of National Missile Defense, abrogated treaties and supremacism are widely seen as sources of protection."

Tamara Straus is senior editor of AlterNet.org.

Falling Down in Qatar?

The latest World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar resembles the previous WTO meeting in Seattle about as much as Hollywood musicals resemble film noir. They might live in the same universe of substance, but they are galaxies apart in style.

In Doha, there have been almost no street protests, as an assembly of more than five people is illegal in this conservative Gulf emirate. Trade ministers and corporate heads are thus not racing through gauntlets of activists, but are sealed within a gulf shore complex surrounded by Qatari troops in purple camouflage and security guards in flowing white robes ready to defeat any hint of terrorism. Also, the world's booming economies have been replaced by teetering ones. The World Bank reported last week that international trade growth in 2001 was an anemic 1 percent compared to last year's 13.

Globalization also has a different connotation than it did in 1999. No longer is it easy to label those who oppose trade restrictions, such as those on genetically modified food or on the opening of agricultural markets, as violently anarchistic, technologically backward dunderheads. (I think here of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's amazingly simplistic accusations.)

Rather, globalization has a new, and much more dangerous, foe: the Islamic fundamentalism of Osama bin Laden, who has turned "globalization" once more on its head, by aligning it not just with American economic hegemony but with the very idea of modernity, which, according to bin Laden, is an immoral force that has millions of opponents in the Arab world.

Basically, the globalization debate has been dusted by the threat of terror: economic, political and just plain mortal.

So it is a new, more complex world that those in the Doha convention hall look out on. Yet some issues remain the same. Developing nations may still prevent the new round of trade liberalization negotiations from going forward if, as in Seattle, they are treated like second-class citizens and refused trade conditions that allow them, particularly, to overrule medical patents when public health is at stake or to protect their farmers from economically catastrophic food dumps.

Those who oppose the lack of transparency and equity of the WTO negotiations -- as well as the impoverishing impacts of trade liberalization -- have also put on their battle gear. Small but vociferous demonstrations against the WTO are being held in cities around the world (see protest.net/qatar.html for more information). And there is even some dissent in Doha, where Jose Bove, the French anti-McDonalds activist, can be found chanting with the few hundreds activists who could afford the $3,000 plane ride, "What do we want? Democracy!"

No one can say, "All eyes are on Qatar," however. Coverage of the largest and most important international trade meeting has been scant in the U.S. The exceptions are stories about China's entry into the WTO, which could increase American exports by $2 billion annually, and the debate over patents on AIDS drugs for countries like Kenya, which face a cataclysmic health crisis. Even the most admirable publicity stunt on the part of activists -- the sailing of Greenpeace's boat, The Rainbow Warrior, into Doha's harbor with five "trade witnesses" -- has not really piqued the U.S. news media's interest.

"We've had a huge amount of publicity and a huge amount of media interest from the European, Asian and local press," said Sara Holden, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace from aboard the Rainbow Warrior. "The United States media seems to be completely caught up in covering the war."

Holden's group emphasizes that the WTO should use itself as a force for good, since that's why it claims to exist. "In its rules and charter," said Holden, "the WTO states it works toward trade that will achieve sustainable development. Our belief is that unless you take environmental issues into consideration, you cannot possibly claim that you are working toward sustainable development."

For that reason, Greenpeace is using its floating PR platform to publicize two messages: one, that the WTO should pressure the U.S. to ratify the carbon emissions-cutting Kyoto Protocol (which President Bush rejected in March on the grounds that such climate control would hurt the U.S. economy); and two, that the WTO should cease punishing developing nations for environmental and labor protections.

Holden raised the example of a recent WTO ruling in which the European Union was forced to pay $190 million a year in compensation to U.S. exporters for refusing imports of GMO-laden seeds. Sri Lanka was also penalized for its parliamentary decision not to allow GMO imports, though it was compelled to retract that decision since it could not afford the yearly bill of $190 million.

How will the 4th ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization end? Probably not with either of Greenpeace's goals met, or with the end of GMO penalizations. A new round of trade liberalization meetings may not even occur after Doha. In a Nov. 7 AlterNet article, former secretary of labor Robert Reich argued: "[D]on't expect a major new round of global trade talks to emerge from the World Trade Organization meetings ... Many poorer nations are feeling the double punch of a slowing global economy and political unrest at home. They want rich nations to open their borders to exports of agricultural commodities, textiles and steel. But rich nations, including the United States, aren't in any mood" -- because, explains Reich, their own economies are wobbling and terrorism has put brakes on open borders.

Add to this the fact that the anti-corporate globalization protest movement has, since 1999, put a blazoning spotlight on the imbalance of trade between rich and poor countries. Last week, the World Bank, in its continued effort to support (at least rhetorically) growth for all, released a report stating that trading rights are skewed toward the rich. The Bank advocated that talks in Doha focus on agriculture, textiles and clothing -- the main exports of the poor -- to bring developing nations an income of $1.3 trillion over 10 years.

It is doubtful Robert Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative, is sitting around figuring out how to implement the World Bank's study, though he has been busy negotiating anti-dumping rules and meeting with trade representatives on the question of public health exceptions to patent rules. This signals that to advance the interests of U.S. trade -- specifically, the opening of markets to U.S. goods -- he may be forced to make concessions. Implying the uncertainty of the WTO talk's progress, Zoellick has argued that the new ministerial round is a "test of world leadership." He and other trade representatives from rich nations speak of something called the "bicycle theory" of trade -- the need to move forward to keep from falling down.

Falling down may prove a symbolic victory for those who oppose the WTO. But it will not come as a result of activists' demands to link trade to improved labor standards, environmental protections or health care -- or the call, that has been somewhat heeded, to have more participation from civil society in the trade negotiations. Rather, the falling down will be viewed as yet another outcome of the terror-plus-recession knot, in which progressive issues get the least attention, the least public and government pressure and thus the least chance for action.

Watch this week for an eyewitness report on the World Trade Organization meeting in Doha by Lori Wallach, head of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

Tamara Straus is the senior editor of AlterNet.org.

Women and the Future of Afghanistan

Tahmeena Faryal, a 26-year-old member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, has the makings of an Central Asian Victoria Woodhull.

Like the 19th-century feminist who ran for President of the United States in 1872, she speaks with blunt ferocity and sees the participation of women in politics as imperative. She also has devoted her life to improving the lot of the disenfranchised. And, like Woodhull, Faryal's mission is seen as far-fetched -- not because women are without political power today, but because in Afghanistan they are among the most oppressed people in the world.

Plus, as is now widely known, after two decades of civil war and the U.S.-led bombing campaign, Afghan politics are in complete disarray. A post-war coalition government that would include members of the country's 23 tribes is considered optimistic; one that also would include scores of women, given the extreme misogyny there, is deemed impossible.

I met Faryal at a pre-speech luncheon, on a U.S. speaking tour that was arranged before the Sept. 11 attacks. Previous to September few paid attention to women's rights abuses under the Taliban; now all eyes are on this bombed-out nation. So Faryal found ready ears for her story of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), the oldest feminist organization in the country, and for this she is darkly glad.

"The people of Afghanistan are paying the price for Sept. 11," she said to an audience of 500 organized by the human rights group Global Exchange. "Yet we're happy to have the attention. Amnesty International reports Afghanistan is the largest human rights tragedy in the world. I am here to tell you where that tragedy started and why there seems to be no resistance."

"Seems" is the operative word here. In reality, there is a resistance, and Faryal is part of it. She left Afghanistan at age 10 with her family, who fled the then-Soviet-occupied country for Pakistan. Her mother joined RAWA soon after it was formed in 1977 by an Afghan student activist named Meena, who became part of the anti-Soviet resistance, connected it to women's rights and was assassinated by fundamentalists and the KGB 10 years later. In Pakistan, Faryal went to RAWA schools and six years ago began teaching and organizing herself. She has come to the United States under a veil of secrecy and a false name, but given the publicity she has garnered since late October I wondered aloud what awaits her return in Pakistan.

"I am not sure," said Faryal. "But what could happen to me is typical of what happens to Afghan women and children every day. Women are raped, beaten, humiliated and robbed of their life. Children starve and the male ones are brainwashed into becoming fundamentalists who in turn hate and oppress women."

Faryal said that since the Soviet invasion of 1979, RAWA has been on the forefront of the women's and human rights movement in Afghanistan. The group now has 2,000 members in Afghanistan and Pakistan and runs secret, and illegal, schools and employment sites for women and girls in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, where the group is permitted to operate more openly, RAWA holds teach-ins and, until recently, operated a hospital. (It was closed because of financial constraints.)

But the group has critics. Western observers have called RAWA Maoist and some feminists in Central Asia have accused the group of pursuing an overly radical agenda.

"During the Soviet invasion, the rule of the Northern Alliance and then the Taliban, the goals of RAWA has remained the same," Faryal said in the group's defense. "We seek women's emancipation, freedom of speech and other human rights guarantees. But much of our work now is in reaction to the emergency situation, feeding people, tending to the sick and educating them to the extent we can."

According to RAWA's literature, approximately 35,000 children live in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, and 72 percent of Afghan children have experienced the death of a family member in the past four years, with 40 percent having lost a parent. Afghanistan is also, according to international human rights groups, the second hungriest country in the world, with the second largest refugee population and the world's highest mortality rate. The average age for death of men is 43; for women it is 40. Only 17 percent of Afghans have access to safe water, and only 10 percent to adequate sanitation. As Zieba Shorish-Shamley, director of the Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan, put it recently: "If you could think of a worst nightmare, Afghanistan is it."

The situation for women is particularly nightmarish because of the restrictions imposed on them by the Taliban. Since 1996 women are not permitted to work (previously, 40 percent of Afghan doctors were female, 60 percent were teachers and half the country's university students were women). They cannot go outdoors without a male escort. They must darken the windows of their home and avoid anything that supposedly brings male attention: colorful clothing, shoes that make noise and, especially, exposed flesh. Afghan women who lift the veil of their head-to-toe burka have been known to be publicly flogged.

Faryal said that such horrific restrictions have resulted in thousands of female suicides. But she added that RAWA's members have not joined out of desperation, or the desire to see women get the vote or be free from the burka. Rather, she said, most RAWA members join through the group's literacy classes (a draw that makes great sense given the literacy rate for Afghan women is 15 percent). Another draw is the skills and income RAWA affords women through its projects, such as weaving carpets, which are sold through their Web site, rawa.org. Such projects, said Faryal, have prevented a large population of widows from starving and becoming prostitutes.

RAWA's clandestine work has also extended to media projects. Their Web site, which is receiving millions of hits, thanks initially to Oprah Winfrey who mentioned it in a show in 1997, is their main public relations and fund-raising arm. Over the past few years, members also have risked their lives shooting film, through tiny holes in their burkas, of public executions and Afghan street life. The BBC film that resulted, "Beneath the Veil," has produced some of the most shocking film ever seen on television.

All this makes the case for RAWA's inclusion in a postwar government coalition plausible, if not absolutely necessary -- not just because RAWA understands the humanitarian problems of Afghanistan but because they have found ways to remedy it under the worst of circumstances. Faryal is hopeful for this outcome, but believes it is possible only through strong international support and the intervention of the United Nations. "The U.N. must make political participation of women key to any future government in Afghanistan," she said.

And her case is not going unheard, at least by American academics. A study by Jennifer Seymour, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was used as proof in a Nov. 4 New York Times article for the importance of women's advancement in Afghanistan and the Arab world in general. Seymour found that national standards of living -- family income, education, nutrition and life expectancy -- all improve as women move toward equality. Poverty decreases and economic development and stability tend to occur.

But, as Fouad Adjami, director of Middle East Studies at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said in the article, "This is the warriors' time. The warriors, the martyrs -- they're all men. In this moment in history, with the world of the Arabs and the larger world of Islam on the boil, the whole question of women and women's progress is shelved."

Faryal is well aware of this situation. But, like Woodhull, who once said, "the impossibilities of today are the common-places of tomorrow," she is undeterred. "It will take a long time to rebuild the country of Afghanistan," she said. "And it will take much longer, many generations, to rebuild its people. Women will have the longest road to tread. But they will do it."

For more information, go torawa.org.

Also, to help RAWA reopen their hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, go to Acting in Solidarity with Afghan People.

Tamara Straus is senior editor of AlterNet.org.

The CNN of the Arab World

A week into the bombing campaign against Afghanistan, Americans learned that CNN is not the only 24-hour news outlet with an elephant-size budget and a reach of millions. Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel, founded in 1996 and broadcast from the tiny Gulf emirate of Qatar, can now also make that claim. And by providing a video to American networks of Osama bin Laden declaring holy war against the United States the very day bombs began falling in Afghanistan, it at last brought itself into the wide berth of the American living room.

Al-Jazeera has been praised, vilified, described as both highly objective and highly irresponsible. On Oct. 7, day one of the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Colin Powell denounced the network for airing "vitriolic, irresponsible statements"; in other words, for broadcasting bin Laden's threat to terrorist war, which was picked up by every American network and played to the horror and shock of many.

American news outlets followed Powell's suit. The New York Times opined that Al-Jazeera "often slants its news with a vicious anti-Israel and anti-American bias" and airs "deeply irresponsible reporting [that] reinforces the region's anti-American views." Dan Rather questioned whether there was "any indication that Osama bin Laden has helped finance this operation." NPR warned listeners that Al-Jazeera's coverage should "come with a health warning."

So it was not surprising that when National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice requested networks not to air Al-Jazeera's bin Laden footage because he might be transmitting coded messages, they immediately said they wouldn't -- even though many realized terrorists could easily get bin Laden's alleged messages through Web or satellite broadcasts.

Meanwhile, Arab-American journalists and writers (as well as many Western reporters familiar with the network) leapt to Al-Jazeera's defense, describing it as a revolutionary force -- the first Arab news outlet to offer viewers in the Middle East uncensored information and free interpretation of political events. They pointed out that the channel interviews Israeli leaders and Arab government opposition leaders (something uncommon in the Arab world) and allows guests and viewers who call in to its programs to openly criticize Arab regimes and to discuss such taboo issues as sex, polygamy, political corruption and Islamic fundamentalism. They also argued that Al-Jazeera has unprecedented reporting freedom and a reach of 40 million people, because it receives a $30 million annual subsidy from the Qatar's Emir, who does not exercise editorial control, and because it employs over 50 correspondents from 31 countries.

"Because of its free-wheeling talk shows, Al-Jazeera has evoked the wrath of almost every Arab government," wrote Hussein Ibish and Ali Abunimah of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in a Los Angeles Times editorial titled "Al-Jazeera Tells the War Story Unfiltered." They also wrote that "Among the more remarkable developments since Sept. 11 is that the Western monopoly on global news production has met its first serious challenge from a Third World Source."

Does Al-Jazeera provide unfiltered news? Is it broadcasting more accurate and in-depth war coverage of the war in Afghanistan than American networks? Is it revolutionizing Middle East media? And what are its biases?

AlterNet spoke with veteran journalist Lamis Andoni to get behind the controversy brewing over the "CNN of the Arab world." Andoni is an appropriate interlocutor. A native of Jordan, she has reported on Middle Eastern affairs for two decades, and has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, Al Hayat (London), Al Ahram (Cairo), Le Monde Diplomatique and the Journal of Palestine Studies. She covered the War of the Camps in Lebanon from 1983-87, the Iran-Iraq war from 1984-88 and the Gulf War for the Christian Science Monitor. AlterNet spoke with Andoni from her home in Washington, D.C.

Why do you think the U.S government is critical of Al-Jazeera?

Lamis Adoni: Well, the United States wants to control the flow of information, especially now that there is an Arab station broadcasting live from the front line in Afghanistan. The other thing to remember is that there were no such outlets during the Gulf War. And now, with such outlets, Arab viewers are not just watching what's happening in Afghanistan, but they're watching all kinds of debates, hearing all kinds of views. Al-Jazeera is giving a bigger voice to Arab public opinion. And the U.S. is not used to that. The U.S. has been used to pressuring its allies in the region to stifle dissent and has always disregarded Arab public opinion. But now that there is Al-Jazeera and other TV stations and newspapers in the region, public opinion has become too loud and too inconvenient for them to ignore.

Many Middle Eastern writers, journalists and citizens have argued that Al-Jazeera has revolutionized television in the region. Do you agree? What is striking about Al-Jazeera's news coverage?

L.A.: I agree that Al-Jazeera has been revolutionary. But I also have to note the precedents set by other satellite networks in the region, such as MBC [Middle East Broadcasting Company], Orbit TV and LBC [Lebanese Broadcasting Company]. The difference, in the case of MBC, is that it was under strict control of the Saudis, whereas Al-Jazeera is mostly free of government interference. Together these stations, and now Al-Jazeera, have given people a greater choice of news sources. But Al-Jazeera has a special place because, first, it was the first 24-hour news service and, secondly, it ran interviews with people not heard on television before: opposition leaders, dissidents, intellectuals of all stripes.

And is that because Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, has given the network relatively free editorial reign?

L.A.: Well, it's relatively so because the Emir of Qatar, who owns Al-Jazeera, comes from a very tiny country that does not have the same political challenges to his regime as other countries in the region. Al-Jazeera has put Qatar on the map and increased its role in the region. The moment they decided to run live broadcasts, live talk shows and receive calls on the air from around the region, they opened up the airwaves to dissenting views.

How would you say Al-Jazeera's coverage differs from CNN or what you might see on ABC or other Americans networks?

L.A.: There's a big difference. Of course, you see all of the statements from American politicians. For example, when I turned it on earlier, I saw [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfield speaking live about the bombing campaign in Afghanistan with simultaneous translation. They broadcast all of Bush's statements. In addition to that, you see more news from around the world and the region that goes beyond the two-minute flashes and sound bites you see on American TV. For example, now, because of the violence in the West Bank and Gaza, you see what the Israelis are doing live: the tanks going in, the shooting, civilians dead.

One of the critiques by some U.S. journalists and government officials is that some of Al-Jazeera's correspondents call Palestinian suicide bombers martyrs, not terrorists, whereas they call those responsible for the attacks terrorists, or they do not label them in any definite way. Is that true, and how do you account for that?

L.A.: It's not just Palestinian correspondents that call the suicide bombers martyrs, it's Al-Jazeera. It's their policy and I can understand their policy. Mind you, I don't represent it, but I can tell you what they say. They say if you are reporting what's happening in Palestine, then you are reporting and acknowledging the occupation of Arab people by Israelis, and so Palestinians who are fighting for freedom from occupation are labeled martyrs.

What do you think about that acknowledgment?

L.A.: Well, I have to tell you, nobody is questioning the American media in the terms it uses. The U.S. media calls anyone Israel calls a terrorist a terrorist. Their definition of terrorism is always consistent with what Israel says. So if you want to debate the use of terms, the American media must also be questioned. Remember that in the Arab world, all Arab media outlets find the U.S. media extremely pro-Israel and the U.S. media doesn't hide its pro-Israeli stance. If you read any American newspaper, in the reporting or the editorials, it is blatantly pro-Israel. So what do I think? I think it would be difficult for Al-Jazeera not to call them martyrs.

What does Al-Jazeera call those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks? Are they terrorists or are they martyrs?

L.A.: No, they do not call them martyrs, because Al-Jazeera correspondents see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict differently, as one of occupation, whereas they do not make the same connection with what happened in the U.S. No, they don't call them martyrs. Some of them may think they are martyrs, but they don't say it. No, not at all.

Some critics in the U.S. and the West have argued that Al-Jazeera promotes the views of Islamic fundamentalists and therefore helps the movement win converts. Do you think that's true?

L.A.: Winning converts to Islamic fundamentalism is not an intention of the network. I think what happens is that Al-Jazeera and all the media of the Arab world are conscious of the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism and they have programs discussing this and surrounding issues. Al-Jazeera is not completely immune to non-secular thinking, although, mind you, most of its journalists are secular.

But my personal critique of Al-Jazeera is different. Sometimes on the talk shows, especially the most popular one, "The Opposite Direction," the producers pick people who represent the extreme sides of an issue. This irritates me because they bring into opposition two extreme views; for example, someone completely pro-U.S. with absolutely no criticism of U.S. policy and someone who totally rejects the U.S. I dislike this because it doesn't help understanding much and also because there are plenty of people critical of the U.S. in the Arab world who would say some of the same things, but not with the same vehemence.

Yet at the same time, Al-Jazeera does interview many people in the Arab world who are erudite and thoughtful, like Edward Said, and others who put forth a critique of globalization or American policies based on values of justice, equality and human rights. So my critique of Al-Jazeera must include the fact that you see more dissenting views and thoughtful commentaries than on American television. I think many in the West don't like the fact that these shows air many voices, whether they're Islamic ones or ones just critical of the U.S. What they don't understand is that the freer the Arab media is, the more criticism you will find of the U.S. role in the region.

This week it was reported that the Pentagon has hired the Rendon Group, a PR firm in Washington, D.C., to help explain the U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan to global audiences and, I assume, Middle Eastern audiences in particular. There are also reports that the U.S. government is considering buying political ads on Al-Jazeera. Do you think the U.S. can improve its public image in the Middle East through Al-Jazeera?

L.A.: Al-Jazeera might be useful to convey messages from the U.S. government, but the problem is their message. I can't believe it will make a difference. Buying paid advertisements assumes that political opinion can be bought by advertisements. It's not like that at all because actions speak louder than words. They're not going to change people's minds. In fact, every time I see an American official speaking on Al-Jazeera, I think of how much that person is inciting sentiment against America by promoting the American view. It backfires. What does the U.S. have to say: That in order to get bin Laden it has to bomb all of Afghanistan and cause more misery in Afghanistan? This doesn't sell in the Arab world. Neither does any position that tries to explain sanctions in Iraq or support of corrupt regimes.

So is your opinion that U.S. policies in the region, now followed by the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, have created a situation where it is impossible to convince Arabs that the U.S. has good intentions for the Arab world?

L.A.: The U.S. is starting from the position of zero, less than zero. It has no credibility in the Arab world. And when you start from a position of less than zero, you have to restore your credibility and you don't do that by bombing. You do it by taking measured steps.

But let's just say, best case scenario, the bombing campaign in Afghanistan results in the demolition of the Al Qaeda network and the imposing of a government in Kabul that is more democratic than the Taliban. Would that help the United States' credibility in the region?

L.A.: No, it wouldn't at all, because what Americans don't realize is that many people in the Arab world don't think that the U.S. has sufficient evidence against the Al Qaeda, even if they hate the Al Qaeda. This is important, and this is how bad the state of Arab opinion toward the U.S. is. Secondly, most people who follow the Arab media don't think that bombing Afghanistan and getting bin Laden will end terrorism. They think it will create more terrorists. Thirdly, with this war in Afghanistan, the U.S. has once again put forth a double standard when it comes to terrorism, when it comes to international law. Also, you have to remember that people don't have faith in U.S.-imposed governments because of the meddling of the CIA in governments in the region.

What images and reports of the war in Afghanistan are you seeing on Al-Jazeera that are not being shown on American media?

L.A.: A lot of civilian destruction, a lot of displaced people, people getting poorer. Also we see a lot of debate among Afghanis about the war. The Afghanis are divided, of course, but the bombing is making the divisions worse because supporting the campaign would undermine their credibility and not supporting it could also be dangerous. You also see more of U.N. statements on Al-Jazeera, and you see more interviews with international aid organizations, giving more details. You see more interviews about the situation in Pakistan. The front pages of Arab papers also show images either of destruction in Afghanistan or destruction in Gaza. Imagine the impact of these images. Remember these reports and images are juxtaposed to the reports and images of CNN, because CNN is watched across the Arab region. But CNN has not contributed to an understanding of why force in being used in Afghanistan or U.S. foreign policy.

I'd like to add that I don't view Al-Jazeera as an extremely progressive organization. It just shows the power of television. The journalists on Al-Jareeza are from all over the Arab world: Jordanian, Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians, everybody. Al-Jazeera also has shown that there are many qualified journalists in the Arab world. It has given many people professional experience. And many correspondents are women who appear on television uncovered, empowering their role in the region.

In an opinion piece in the London Guardian, the Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif wrote, "Within the Arab world, this channel has made censorship of news and opinion pointless. For us, on the outside, it provides the one window through which we can breathe ... [through it] we hear a variety of opinions of which ours is one." Do you view Al-Jazeera in the same way, as a means to gage Arab public opinion?

L.A.: No, my experience is very different because I have been a journalist covering Middle Eastern politics for a long time and I go there often. I am very aware of Arab public opinion. I'm just amazed it's on television. It hasn't changed my understanding because it has been part of my work from the beginning.

I'll tell you the difference: In the '80s people like me were persecuted because we were writing reports critical of governments. I lost my Jordanian passport twice, I was thrown out by the Syrian government, many of my articles were edited out of existence. It was an uphill struggle. So it's very personally important that Al-Jazeera is there, because people like me were slandered, censored, harassed, everything. When I see Al-Jazeera, it feels like what I and others worked for has been vindicated, that what we were writing about and what we were punished for is now in the open. Journalists can now say things they couldn't say before.

Given the changes wrought by Al-Jazeera and the changes in the state of journalism you describe, how hopeful are you for continued press freedoms in the Arab world? And do you think governments will become more democratic as public opinion becomes a stronger force?

L.A.: This war is setting back the struggle for democracy in the Arab world. Arab governments are very aware that they have to support the U.S. line, so they are curtailing press freedoms and forcing papers to curtail their critiques of the U.S. All Arab newspapers are receiving such instructions because they are owned partly by Arab governments. My opinion is that this war is creating more censorship, more fear, less chance for democratic progress in the Arab world.

Tamara Straus is senior editor of AlterNet.org

Peter Barnes Wants to Commodify the Sky

Before the attacks on the World Trade Center, before the war on terrorism, one of Americans' main policy concerns was global warming. News organizations were reporting as recently as September 9 that the effects of global warming would be melting glaciers, drowning islands, vanishing wildlife. And among the newer items in this journalism was that our most cherished vacation spots may soon cease to exist. No more coral reefs, come 2050. An ice-free Mount Kilimanjaro, come 2015. The South Pacific Island of Tuvali and Kiribati, evacuated and submerged, along potentially with Venice, well before the end of the century.

The proof for all this came from a third assessment report of the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in June. Its findings were confirmed by a panel of top American scientists -- including previous skeptics -- and now are considered the most authoritative global-warming statement to date.

Yet the impact of this report was minimal. Perhaps because it did not get significant television play. Perhaps because Americans were too distracted by the story of Gary Condit's extramarital behavior and the disappearance of Shandra Levy.

But it's time to look at the problem of climate change once again, if possible, lest all public policy issues get swept permanently under the carpet by our current anxieties about -- and the government's almost exclusive focus on -- terrorism, retaliation and war.

One place to start is "Who Owns the Sky?", a new book by Peter Barnes, the founder of the socially responsible telephone service Working Assets. His main solution to global warming, incredibly enough, is that pollution can be profitable. Barnes argues that the U.S. should claim its portion of the sky as a scarce resource that is neither free nor cheap, and force polluters to pay for the right to emit carbon dioxide, much the way companies must now pay to dispose of other kinds of waste.

This is a sensible solution that is at the basis of previous global warming treaties, which have called for carbon cap-and-trading systems between developed and developing countries. But Barnes' Sky Trust takes the idea a step further. He argues that, through the Sky Trust, all current and future U.S. citizens should become beneficiaries of what the polluters pay, an amount he calculates could generate $140 billion to $280 billion a year.

"Those who burn more carbon will pay more than those who burn less," he writes. "If you drive a sports utility vehicle, you'll use more of the sky than if you ride a bus; hence, you'll pay more scarcity rent. Since your dividend is the same no matter what, you'll come out ahead if you conserve, and lose money if you don't. In other words, money will flow from overusers of the sky to underusers. Economizers will be rewarded, squanders will pay."

Barnes' book is full of such detail. He imagines the Sky Trust being passed in 2003 when Congress passes the "Atmospheric Protection Act" by a two-to-one majority. He envisions Americans registering online at www.skytrustorg or at any bank, credit card company or savings institution in order to collect their dividends. He proposes the trust be a federally chartered institution that would 1) issue carbon burning permits established by Congress, 2) receive market prices for those permits and 3) distribute the income equally.

Even Barnes admits it is an utterly idealistic plan and impossible to implement during the Bush administration. But his point in "Who Owns the Sky?" is not so much to provide a blueprint (though the detail of the Sky Trust belies a businessman's love of business plans) as to foster an argument about possible market solutions for global warming and other ills.

"I think if we're going to survive in a world where capitalism is the only game," said Barnes in an interview, "we have to make capitalism reflect the true costs of our industrial economy, our wasteful industrial economy."

Such sentiments are the genius of "Who Owns the Sky?" Barnes is part of a small, but growing, movement of economists who have been arguing that the market system must be bent to the needs of society and ecology, and that one way to do that is to give value to previously valueless goods, namely natural resources.

"What I say is that capitalism is missing a major piece," says Barnes. "And that piece is what has been referred to as the Commons. If capitalism accounted for the sky, the atmosphere, more solutions could be found. I call this a New Common Sector, which would consist of real economic assets like the atmosphere."

Barnes' primary inspiration for the Sky Trust is the Alaska Permanent Fund, which pays annual dividends to every resident of Alaska, based on the state's income from its oil leases. Last year, every Alaskan -- including children -- received checks for $1,964.

But when I point out that oil already has valuation -- and high valuation at that -- Barnes barrels on. "There is another model to look at," he says. "The sulfur cap-and-trade program, which was established by the 1990 Clean Air Act and which said that sulfur emissions should be cut by 50 percent over 20 years. It is working, and sulfur emissions are going down faster than planned at a low cost to the coal industry."

Barnes admits, however, that in the case of sulfur emissions we were faced with undeniable environmental evidence. There was acid rain, dead fish, dying forests. In the case of global warming, the effects of carbon overload in the atmosphere are much less evident, especially in the temperate zone of the United States. So far, the main impacts of global warming are rising sea levels, the spread of tropical diseases, melting glaciers, the death of coral reefs, the increase in hurricanes and drought -- none of which have had a great effect on Americans, even if they are reported in the newspapers.

"Real change will require real disaster," Barnes eventually says with dark humor. "I'm thinking of a natural disaster that won't result in too many deaths but will result in a lot of property damage: a couple of huge hurricanes in Miami, floods in the Midwest, blizzards in New England, heat waves in Texas, droughts in California. That will make people realize that we better take global warming seriously."

What's frightening is that many Americans do take global warming seriously. They may not be aware that 21 of the past 25 worst natural disasters in history have occurred in the past decade (as insurance companies have found). Nor that roughly half of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was put there by Americans. But based on polls from Gallup to ABCNews to those conducted by environmental organizations, the majority of Americans are concerned that plans to stem global warming are not moving fast enough.

Is the U.S. Sky Trust and the ideas Barnes puts forward about a New Common Sector "the missing piece that will save capitalism from itself"? Perhaps. But not any time soon. It is a Big Idea for the 21st century, when it is very likely that environmental calamities will force governments and businesses to rethink the economic costs of pollution.

In the meantime, the book should be read as a visionary solution from a visionary businessman who wants to put a face that is green and humane on American capitalism.

To learn more about the U.S. Sky Trust, go to http://www.skybook.org.

When Work Goes Global

At one point in "PlanetWork," the two-part PBS special on how the global economy is transforming work life, the camera turns to a Venetian gondolier. He is methodically navigating a canal in his thousand-year-old home; he pushes his foot off a stone embankment crawling with tourists; and, looking up at a golden Renaissance façade, remarks, "In some ways, we are more advanced. In other ways, we are more primitive than we used to be."

Lorenzo the gondolier's sentiments sum up the middle ground struck by this PBS series. It is neither a condemnation of the effects of economic globalization nor a celebration of it, but an informative and often comic look at how the mass movement of information, products and people is affecting everything from national cultures to the nature of work and the patterns of individual lives.

Watching these two shows back-to-back is a little like swallowing down a globalization pill (were one to exist), with a slight candy-coat. We meet American cyber-boys volunteering their tech skills in Ghana for a group called GeekCorps, Cambodian garment workers striking for better pay in an offshore factory, connoisseurs of Italy's "Slow Food" movement advocating the pleasures of long meals with lots of parmigiano, as well as Gigi Wong, the ultimate American working mom, whose calendar could compete with a U.S. government trade representative out to conquer Asia.

PlanetWork is a whirlwind tour, and it is meant to be. The series' host, the comedian Will Durst, appears hyped and harried. Frenzy and wonder are his schtick as he races from Bangalore to Phnom Penh. And it is an appropriate approach, considering Americans are globalization's greatest partakers and advocates. Twenty million Americans work for multinational corporations. Global corporate mergers, two-thirds of which are American, have increased tenfold in the past 10 years. Last year alone, eight million Americans left the U.S. for business and 19 million for vacation.

At the end of the first part of the series, "Making the Planet Work," Durst concludes with jet-lagged eyes, "This planet is getting real small, real fast." Given the amount of terrain he has covered and lives he has crisscrossed, it is a statement that sinks in, however cliched.

But the purpose of "PlanetWork" -- both part one, "Making the Planet Work," and the part two, "Working the Planet" -- is not just to prove how fun it is to hopscotch the globe. There is much in its two hours that goes beneath entertaining notions of global work culture.

The segment on sweatshop labor in Cambodia, for example, offers an eyewitness account of working and living conditions for those who sew clothes for American designers. Their wages are low ($45 a month); they live five to a shack without plumbing; and they are constantly on strike -- bound up in a struggle between large companies in search of cheap labor and a country struggling to assert stricter labor standards.

"What happens in this part of the world in the next 10 years is important for the rest of the world," says Jason Judd, an American union organizer in Cambodia who appears in PlanetWork II. "The work is coming here. The money is coming here. That means the power is coming here. And if workers don't have any, they're going to suffer mightily."

Also leaning toward the serious side of the global labor debate, is the PlanetWork segment on fair trade coffee. Durst takes us to Waterbury, Vermont, the home of Green Mountain Coffee, an $80 million company that not only trades on Nasdaq but helps Central American farmers make ends meet by offering them a fair price of $1.26 per pound of coffee (rather than the standard price of $0.50 a pound). Thanks to this "fair trade," the show makes clear, Guatemalan coffee farmers can send their kids to school and people in rich countries can do something to ameliorate the international wealth gap: pay more for their coffee.

Generally, PlanetWorks' focus is on these brighter spots of the global economic story. The message of the producers -- The Working Group of Oakland, California -- it seems, is that individual effort and acumen will lead to greater fairness. One segment is devoted to New Balance sneakers, which, unlike Nike, has opted to keep some of its shoe factories in the U.S. rather than set up cost-cutting factories in China. One interviewee, a third-generation shoemaker from Maine, argues that the social-mindedness of Jim Davis, New Balance's CEO, is the only reason he still has a job in his field.

The greatest success of the series, though, is its portrayal of people. The Working Group, which has made seven PBS work-related shows, including "Shift Change," "Working Family Values" and "Honey, We Bought the Company," has done an outstanding job finding people whose daily lives embody some aspect of globalization.

One stellar example is Madhur Singh, a twentysomething Indian who works for a telemarketing firm owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch in Bangalore. By day, Madhur is a modern Indian woman, shopping for girlie t-shirts and hanging out with her friends. By night, she is "Jennifer Keating," an American saleswoman ready to sell you business products. Madhur and her colleagues are fantastic at impersonating American accents and idiomatic expressions of every possible region. They even like the dual identity, however virtual, because, as Madhur explains, "It shows how many worlds I can live in."

Also wonderfully illustrative of the weird cultural conditions of globalization is the portrait of Gigi Wong, who vibrates with the energy of four dot-comers about to make their first million. Gigi is the paradigm of a woman who can do it all in the new economy: bring home major bacon, negotiate international deals, be in Singapore in the morning and back the next day for a barbecue with the kids in California. Her husband, however, seems a bit bewildered by his wife's hyper work ethic, especially when she proposes their family relocate to Asia. "Sometimes I wonder why I have to live in a foreign country to see my wife more," he tells the camera. Retorts Gigi: "We have a very good opportunity to maximize our income."

Will Durst ends PlanetWork with the question, "Will we head in a direction that takes us to a wider chasm between people who have and those who don't? Or can we somehow manage to find a place where the best of us comes out?"

The verdict is out, but as the shows convey, globalization is as transformative as the industrial revolution. "Any idea that we can resist the globalization of culture is naïve," says Jean McDonald, a GeekCorps volunteer interviewed three months after working for the only Web firm in Accra. "People can now access any kind of culture, politics, news ... whatever. This is the reality."

PlanetWork 1 & 2 will air between August 31 and September 5. For information about showtimes, go to PBS.org.

The Mother Teresa of All Web Sites

There is an eerie quiet in America's tech boroughs these days. Restaurants are emptying out. For rent signs are going up. Just last week, I witnessed a dot-com employee whose ever-shrinking company occupies the floor beneath me try to palm off his limited edition Lotus. "It's a great family car too," he said to a middle-aged executive peering into the window of the tiny vehicle. Passing by was a homeless man with a cart full of candy-colored wires, evidently torn up from a hole in the street where new cable lines are lying fallow.

Such is the current clime for the wildly young, once wildly optimistic dot-com set. They have floated back to earth, if not slithered underground. But for some workers of the narrowing Internet economy, these are good times. Jay Backstrand, the 33-year-old founder of VolunteerMatch.org, is a quintessential example. His San Francisco-based Internet site, a nonprofit that helps people find volunteer opportunities online, proves that the Internet is not just for shopping and viewing porn in private. It's also for finding ways to connect with people -- and even beyond the cyber-realm.

Come Labor Day, VolunteerMatch will have put a half million people in touch with a manifold of volunteer gigs, assisting 16,000 nonprofits in over 4,000 U.S. cities. Basically, the site makes giving over your free time easy. You just get online, enter your zip code and chose your area of interest -- be it environmental cleanups, after school tutoring or, one of Backstrand's favorites, pretending to be a victim for disaster relief training at the Red Cross. Sounds interesting: look desperate, cry, pass out!

And unlike the volunteer positions of old -- the summer-long commitment at the local hospital, the semester of reading to kids -- the site mostly caters to the employed and the technologically minded. Most VolunteerMatch users do good for a day or a couple of hours. Nearly half are in the 18-29 year-old range. Most are college-educated. They are essentially the public service-minded set of Generation I.

It makes sense that VolunteerMatch would be the brainchild of someone raised on the wired Left Coast. Backstrand grew up in Palo Alto, California, and after attending Brown University and completing a master's in international relations at Johns Hopkins, found himself back home in a rambling New Year's eve conversation with John Gage, chief scientist of Sun Microsystems. Gage wanted to use the Internet to find volunteers to put public schools online and together they created NetDay 1996, which did just that.

Backstrand stayed on as a marketing manager at Sun Microsystems until '97, when he became intrigued about how to use the Internet for other volunteering projects -- and perhaps hungry for his own start-up. "NetDay was interesting for tech and schools," he says. "But I thought, What other types of volunteer opportunities? I had found it hard to find volunteer opportunities myself, online or otherwise, so I figured other Americans did too." After a year pooling funding from Palo Alto philanthropists and working with engineers, he launched the site with a friend. Today Backstrand has a young staff of 18, who sit in front of tangerine and blueberry iMacs in a sparkling clean loft-type office with requisite exposed brick.

But the secret of VolunteerMatch's success is not just "extending America's great tradition of volunteering," as Backstrand puts it. Such a narrow mission could well result in under-funding, the great killer of nonprofits. Backstrand is also an excellent businessman. One year after launching VolunteerMatch, he came up with a private version of the site to license to Fortune 500 companies, which brings in about $1 million a year. VolunteerMatch Corporate, as it is called, has a client list that would make any organization drool. Coca-Cola, Dell, Gap, Levi Strauss, Nike, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, Arthur Andersen -- they all pay Volunteer Match between $10,000 to over $100,000 a year to license the site's backend.

What that means is VolunteerMatch places its database of volunteer opportunities on a company's Web site. Backstrand has arranged deals with American Online to create its Helping.org site and Oprah's Oxygen.com also pulls from VolunteerMatch's 28,000 volunteer opportunities. The success of this particular endeavor does not elude Backstrand.

"I think what's interesting about VolunteerMatch Corporate is what it shows about people's lives," he reasons. "The emphasis for a lot of people today is their company. It's the center of what we do. You work a lot. And you get not just your health care and your 401K, you get your cafeteria and maybe your gym and other stuff. So companies want to provide their employees a way to give back to their community too."

In the end, VolunteerMatch is proving to be not just an online site with a good niche. It's a model nonprofit company that -- unlike so many others -- offers a service to corporate America. After just three years, it has an annual operating budget of $3 million, and receives close to $2 million in funding from foundations like Carnegie, Kellogg and Packard but also from a dozen Silicon Valley-based philanthropies that expect nonprofits to operate like businesses, which VolunteerMatch does.

I mention Robert Putnam's recent book, "Bowling Alone," and Backstrand nods his head. Putnam, a Harvard University sociologist, has argued that since 1950, the U.S.'s spirit of community activity and volunteerism has been on a serious wane. But a half million e-volunteers in three years proves some of Putnam's thesis wrong. Communities are being built online, whether urged on by corporate leadership or not.

Backstrand mentions a recent volunteer who showed up at one of his office get-togethers. "Through VolunteerMatch and a nonprofit that uses us, she's been going into the jail system and helping inmates who recently have been incarcerated. She's helping people without families, lawyers, the most basic connections, maintain contact with the outside world, which amazes me."

Backstrand turns back to his computer and muses a while. "You know what thrills me still? It's just seeing the range of interests, how people give their time. Half the country volunteers every year. And that's not declining. What's changing some is how they're doing it." Backstrand adds that beyond sustaining his nonprofit and winning two Webby Awards this year, what keeps him content is watching the number of VolunteerMatch referrals rise. Every day, the site sets up between 500 and 1,500 volunteer arrangements. The site also has been a boon to nonprofits. VolunteerMatch tends to save them between $200-$1,000 annually in volunteer recruitment costs.

And as for the dot-com demise and the thinning out of start-ups in his neighborhood -- is Backstrand smug? Far from it. "I didn't have a problem with it myself," he says. "Sure, a lot of people got involved in the Internet for the money. That's just the capitalist system. What are they supposed to do?" Yet Backstrand is relieved that the Internet economy is settling back into a period where ideas and technology will not be just flashes in the pan.

He's not certain, though, what will the future of the Internet will look like. "Community building is a weird idea," he says. "I think the Internet can lead to an increased understanding of what's happening and what the needs are in communities. But I think there are limits to what it can do socially, in the sense that if people don't want to volunteer the Internet's not going to make them do it."

So it seems Backstrand and his VolunteerMatch have melded old economy logic with new economy aplomb -- a rarity in his neck of the woods. "Technology doesn't solve problems," concludes Backstrand. "Technology makes things easier. We had a good idea simply because we are a good reflection of human behavior."

To test your more beneficent online behavior, go to VolunteerMatch.org.

The Geeks Return

The Fifth Annual Webby Awards marked the return of the geek. Sure, there were a few slinky model types and well-suited men who might still be millionaires at the San Francisco ceremony honoring the best Internet sites. But gone was the bacchanalian sophistication of yesteryear, or rather, last year, when the venture capital-driven Ponzi scheme of the New Economy put a glazed smile on many a Web worker's face.

This year the subject was dot-com crash, not dot-com money madness, the suggested dress code was gutsy, not glitzy, drinks were scarce, food was scarcer and puerile pranks, the hallmark of the geek work world, were back in their rightful place.

Of course, the Webbys have always leaned heavily on the side of goofy satire. Instead of the gushing, rambling acceptance speeches typical of the Oscars and Emmys, Webby winners are required to be terse and preferably silly. This year's five-word acceptance declarations included "Spy on Washington, it's fun" (from the editor of OpenSecrets.org, the winner of the politics category) and "Sam Donaldson, dude, gnary toupe" (from the founder of the surfing site Swell.com, in recognition of the starchy news anchor who was reporting live via webcast).

Still, the New Economy pomp of 1999 and 2000, which had made such goofy satire cool and even glamorous, was gone this year. Limousines were few. Garments were tacky. It was like a tragic-comic play in which the geek emerged once again heroic, Internet culture's holy fool.

Scene I: Outside the Herbst Theatre, downtown San Francisco. Three Internet workers from an Annapolis culture site have arrived in various states of undress. The lead figure is a lanky twentysomething male with braces, a rainbow-colored wig and a polyester-shirt-and-pant ensemble circa Saturday Night Fever. His sidekicks: a buxom woman in a second-hand slip, rouged like Betty Boop, and an undertaker type, wall-eyed, perhaps from too many hours coding his beloved Web site.

"We are going to paaaaarty!" exclaims the man in braces, bouncing up and down on one foot. "I always get pussy in San Francisco." Something which, if true, explains why Net culture will never be like Hollywood, Academy Award-style award ceremonies or not.

Scene II: Herbst Theatre Auditorium (empty seats abound). Tiffany Schlain, the peppy blonde founder and director of the Webbys, is on stage making a disclaimer in a blue spandex halter top. "This is not a wake. It is a tribute," she says. And then blusters on: "It's been a hard year. It's important to honor people in good times and bad."

Tiffany is obviously suffering in the dot-crash clutch, for no one has worked harder than she to bring glamour to an industry birthed by shaggy-haired men with science PhDs who favor Birkenstocks. Whispers a person to my right, "The Webbys. Will there be a next year?"

Scene III: Auditorium (air heavy with lack of expectation). Enter the night's M.C., Alan Cumming, a Scottish actor who seems to be channeling Pee-Wee Herman, in sneakers and a worn tuxedo jacket. Cumming is up to the task given his opening theme -- "Do You Still Believe?" -- in which he argues the Internet was originally held together by the Star Trek mailing list, passed through an adolescent gestation period, went astray in the Great Cash Flood of 1999 and now has found its true mission: "To boldly take the Star Trek mailing list where it has never been before."

According to Cumming's analysis, Internet labor is on the right track. Marketing managers have become yoga instructors, former publicists now take their classes. Money is out. Spirituality is in.

Scene IV: Auditorium (much fidgeting in seats). Though the production value of the show is top notch -- as good as any BMW ad and definitely better than the Oscars -- its professionalism poses a troubling contrast to this troubled industry, for one fifth of last year's 135 Webby nominees are kaput.

But Julia Butterfly Hill, who sat in a redwood tree for two years, is here, in black vinyl hip huggers and a sequined camouflage tank top. Thank god. Julia is the bequeather of the Webby for best grassroots site, which goes to VolunteerMatch.com. There is much excited stage talk that the Internet has refound its original purpose: to connect people, spread needed information, get outside the box. Offers Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist.com, "Before money, money. After money, community." His elation is not fully met by the crowd.

Scene V: The Lobby. The lobby is full. Many a Webby-goer, disgusted by talk of community in lieu of cash, has left seat for bar, to quaff medicinal-tasting vodka concoction that would test the stomach of a hard-drinking Russian. Centerpiece: the founders of Google.com in Geek boy attire set off by flowing silver capes. They are on roller blades, hands clasped, whirling in circular fashion surrounded by TV cameras. The happy duo have received a Webby for "best practices," and are spinning and giggling, giggling and spinning, as if their real expertise lay not in search engine technology but playground highjinks. A beautiful chick in breast-revealing dress spits out, "Kinda pathetic," and turns from the elated whirlers with curled lip.

Scene VI: Herbst Theater Basement. Post-Ceremony Party. Everyone needs a drink, yet the bar is manned by four slow men and two sleepy women. And there are no waiters, which means hundreds of people are queuing for liquor. The only food companies that have showed offer itty-bitty pieces of cheese on itty-bitty crackers.

Hungry and sober, the partygoers begin to empty onto San Francisco's cold, foggy streets, dragging their gutsy bell bottoms and polyester sashes. But there is still geek light. On the dance floor are the employees of the Annapolis Web site, shimmying awkwardly to a techno beat.

And looking on is Randy Constan, winner of the "weird" category for his Peter Pan site. Constan extends a stockinged leg and tips his pointy green cap, "Groovy night, huh?"

The Anti-Bush Majority

According to a Fox News poll taken in late June, 58 percent of Americans are still angry about the 2000 presidential election. That's Fox News, TV's most conservative network. And that's June, more than six months after the Supreme Court handed over the presidency to George W. Bush.

Polls often aren't reliable. They can be easily manipulated. But a 58 percent anger rating among Americans toward an election that has widely been called a stolen election, an illegitimate election and an undemocratic election feels right. Americans that reside in the blue states, to put it bluntly, are pissed.

Still, there has been very little press attention on anger toward the Florida ballot debacle. No major news documentaries have been made on the subject. A senior producer at Frontline proposed one this spring, but supposedly it was shelved because "there was no story" in it. (However, Globalvision, the New York-based independent media company, is completing an investigative film, to be called "Counting on Democracy.")

The corporate-owned media also has been working extra hard to avoid the subject. Only the briefest coverage was given to the June Civil Rights Commission report on the election, which found, among other voting disasters, that black voters' ballots were 10 times more likely to be thrown out than those of white voters.

But log onto the Internet and type "anti-Bush" into any search engine, and you will be faced with a different vision of American public opinion. There are now approximately 800 sites whose mission is to analyze, attack and especially ridicule the 43rd president of the United States. Sites critical of Bush may not be visited by all the Americans of the Fox News poll, but they do show the Internet has become home to the largest, most underreported political coalition in the United States -- the anti-Bushies.

First stop on the anti-Bushie Web tour should be Anti-Bush.com. There you will find links to hundreds of sites that not only give in-depth accounts of Dubya's past and current dealings (often barely reported by the mainstream press) but offer information about protests, letter-writing campaigns and strategies to "take back the dark night of American politics." Or go to Hated.com, another top anti-Bush hub, whose tag line is "The Will of the People vs. the Never-Elected President," and from there embark on what amounts to a cathartic online journey for those who loathe the President. Sites of this sort include GoBackToTexas.com,BushonCrack.com and LickBush-2000.com, the latter of which seeks to put "racy back in democracy."

What's amazing about anti-Bush Web sites is not just their sophomoric humor but the steadfastness with which some follow the President. BushReport.com, for example, offers on a daily basis 20 to 40 "handmade, linked headlines" on any gaffe or guarantee the President makes. And there are a few more, such as DemocraticUnderground.com and Democrats.com, which not only aim to skewer Bush but do so in a sophisticated, hard news fashion, with tiny staffs who often get no pay. The editors of these sites say they receive on average 200,000 monthly visits. Sites like BuzzFlash.com and MediaWhoresOnline.com claim to to get even more.

Why is the readership of these one- or two-year old zines so high? Well, according to the editor of BartCop.com, one of the most irreverant anti-Bush sites, it's because "people can't believe the media is giving Bush such a free ride."

David Allen, the editor of DemocraticUnderground.com, also is fueled by anger at the press, which he says is one of the reasons anti-Bush Web sites are so acerbic."At first we were typical liberals," says Allen, "bent on being fair and understanding the opposition's point of view. But then we said to ourselves: 'Why should we, when they don't bother to understand ours?'" Democratic Underground's most popular feature is a weekly column called "The Top 10 Conservative Idiots," which Allen says is a joy to publish.

Allen is in a good company among those who "get a guilty pleasure" from bashing Bush. I spoke to one woman who lives in a gated community in North Carolina, who said the maintenance of her site, BushIsNotPresident.com, is pure therapy. "It's so satisfying," says Kim (who asked her last name be withheld). "I've gotten so much email thanking me for my work, which means a lot since I live in an area where there isn't much outrage against the administration."

Are the anti-Bushies then just a disconnected coterie of angry, tech-oriented liberals? Not so, according to Bob Fertik, editor of Democrats.com, a daily news service and grassroots networking organization. Fertik argues that Web sites critical of Bush, and the people who are drawn to them, are just one manifestation of the "tremendous anger and frustration felt by an enormous amount of Americans" toward the White House.

"You have to realize that every place Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Reinquist and Scalia have gone there are protests," he says. "And none of these protests have received the slightest media coverage." Fertik argues that the Web sites, the protests or any action or opinion that is highly critical of Bush's policies are "systematically denied by the mainstream media."

Anti-Bush sites did have a very small day in the media sun in May 2000. Tipped off that he was being eviscerated on the Web, Bush filed a legal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission against the creators of the satirical gwbush.com. And, in an attempt to quash the cyber-rebellion, Karl Rove, Bush's White House advisor, used his Karl Rove & Company to buy up 57 anti-Bush domain names. The result: no FCC lawsuit but 6 million visits to gwbush.com and only 30,000 to Bush's official site. Now when you got to Karl Rove & Company's BushSux.com or BushBites.com, you are redirected (for an even greater joke) to the placid Bush site. Go anywhere else on the anti-Bush cyber-realm, though, and you get "600 pages of documented lies," "T-Shirts that Tell the Truth" and encyclopedia of Bushisms with hourly additions.

The desire to bash Bush and read such bashing has also been good for all manner of progressive publications, which have seen their readership increase with every new article damning Dubya. AlterNet.org's lead story in June was "Bush Speak: An Interview with Mark Crispin Miller," who also has been enjoying hearty sales of his book, The Bush Dyslexicon. The Nation, The American Prospect and the Progressive assault Bush at every turn. Salon.com can't seem to get enough of Bush bashing. Its new section, Bushed!, was conceived of as a journalistically pleasurable money-maker.

Explains Gary Kamiya, Salon's executive editor, "We launched Bushed! because it was just too painful to suffer through the term of this reactionary bumbler in silence, and because we suspected that there were many people across this great country who would pay money to see a Whoopi Cushion placed under him on a daily or even hourly basis. That money would allow us, in Bush's words, to put food on our family."

It is not clear that Salon is putting food on its family by asking its readers to pay for its Bushed! rabble-rousing. Nor does anyone know how many anti-Bushies are out there, or if they even vote. But given the amount of time and energy being expended on sites blasting Bush and the fact that the lead ones have received millions of visitors, there is no doubt that the Internet has replaced the soapbox for left-wing Americans.

"Naturally, Bush Web sites could not exist without two ingredients, Bush and the Internet," offers Jerry Politex, editor of BushWatch.com. "If Bush has not been selected as our President by the Supreme Court, there would be no need for Bush sites. If the Internet did not exist, we would be passing out broadsheets about Bush on street corners."

But imagine if all the anti-Bush messages went beyond the confines of cyberspace. Imagine if they were echoed by the networks and written about in the mainstream dailies. Then the anti-Bushies would be considered an unavoidable political group. Maybe even a powerful majority coalition in an era of apathy toward politics.

The Pandemic and the Blue Lady

With over two dozen heads of state, hundreds of health ministers and another 2,500 representatives from civil society, nongovernmental and grassroots organizations having descended on New York for the first ever United Nations Special Session on AIDS, two things have become horrifically clear.

One is that the AIDS crisis is a global crisis. Thirty-six million people are living with HIV or AIDS today. Twenty-one million have died. Of that number, 75 percent have perished in sub-Saharan Africa. And 95 percent of those currently infected have no access to treatment, largely because their governments are poor and rich governments are stingy.

Two is that the AIDS crisis requires swift and immediate action -- and that swift and immediate action rarely comes from the United Nations. Though UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced in April the creation of a global fund to finance the fight against AIDS -- urging governments, foundations and corporations to come up with $7-10 billion annually -- so far, a measly $500 million plus has been raised. The U.S. has pledged $200 million from foreign aid previously earmarked by the Clinton administration. France has offered $127 million; Britain $100 million. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation handed over $100 million in mid June.

William Roedy, president of MTV Networks International and chair of the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS, had the courage to point out on one UN panel that western governments and businesses spent $100 billion on Y2K, whereas no more than $1 billion was expected to be raised by the same group by the end of the year for AIDS. That did not really answer the question by a youth activist from Swaziland about the intertwined problem of poverty and AIDS (or how he and his friends might find decent employment), but it did put the state of the AIDS crisis in perspective.

AIDS on its 20-year anniversary is like a tightly wound ball of thread quickly gaining girth as it gains speed on a precipitous slope. There is still no cure, but since 1987 there has been a treatment -- AZT -- and since 1996, a means to prolong life: the AIDS cocktail, which, thanks to generic drug companies like Cipla in India and pressure from activists on Big Pharma, may soon cost as little as $1 a day for poor countries, compared to the $150 daily price tag of a year ago.

Yet an available treatment has raised almost as many problems as solutions. Now that the triple cocktail has proved effective, the dark question remains: Who will get it? And if the AIDS cocktail is widely distributed, the lateral question is: Will new strains of AIDS develop should inadequate funding and decrepid health care systems result in administering the drugs incorrectly?

For the moment, in the absence of billions in aid, only the first question is being answered: those with health insurance living in wealthy countries will get the drugs. Konstantin Lezheatsev, a Ukrainian physician from Doctors without Borders, told me that of the 300,000 people in his country infected with HIV, only 50 are receiving anti-retroviral treatment. One of the untreated was standing at his side: a hallowed-out 34-year-old named Volodya Zhovtyak, who showed me, with an appropriate Russian curse, the stamp he received on his passport at U.S. customs to indicate he is infected. He said he expects to die.

AIDS workers like Lezheatsev talk quickly because, for them and their patients, time is running out. They race on with gruesome statistics, tragic anecdotes and a sense of utter frustration. But, just as rapidly, they point out that drug treatment is not the only challenge.

Participants in the UN special session tended to agree that combatting AIDS requires a three-pronged approach: drug treatment, preventative education and economic development. Should the $9 billion global AIDS fund coffers be filled this year, the UN plans to allocate half for prevention with measures like distributing condoms, educating young people and reducing mother-to-child transmission. The other $4-5 billion will go toward AIDS drug treatment and fighting opportunistic diseases like tuberculosis and malaria that occur among AIDs patients.

But there is still a lot of ambivalence, especially among AIDS workers, that the UN will be able to understand the wider dimensions of the crisis or get whatever money the superfund receives away from bureaucrats and into the hands of the needy. Martin Mosima, who came to the UN on behalf of the Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organization, made circular, sweeping motions with his arms as he talked about the need in Botswana for "universal access" -- to food, water and regular health care.

"What's missing from the UN's Declaration of Commitment on AIDS," said Mosima, referring to the central document of the UN conference, "is language that addresses all the development problems swarming around AIDS. We need debt relief from donor countries, so that we can spend more money on health care. We need funding, not just for drugs, but for food and basic amenities. We need a whole new infrastructure to adequately deal with this disease." According to the Harvard AIDS Institute, 85-90 percent of the 15-year-old boys in Botswana will die of AIDS before they reach the age of 40 "unless something is done."

That "something must be done" was felt by everyone milling in the airless halls of the United Nations. Roundtable discussions were held on HIV prevention and care, the socioeconomic impact of AIDS, HIV/AIDS and human rights, and international funding and cooperation. But the atmosphere tended to be as stale as the air, as government officials delivered mostly droning speeches to mostly empty auditoriums about the need to empower women, improve AIDS education, overcome prejudice and find funding.

Part of the frustration for those working at the grassroots of the AIDS crisis was that the General Assembly's plenary discussions, in which the Declaration of Commitment was being hammered out, were closed to all but a handful of civil society representatives. "Everything's already been decided," said Eric Sawyer, a New York representative of the AIDS activist group Act Up. "It's a non-meeting, a photo op by people who aren't doing anything."

During one fairly riveting General Assembly negotiation, however, in which nine Muslim countries objected to hearing testimonies from civil society representatives on the transmission of AIDS by IV drug users, sex workers and homosexuals, the UN representative from Norway said, "This is really a fight about the soul of the UN. If there is one area in which we need civil society participation, it is on the issue of AIDS."

Eventually, after hours of bureaucratic back-and-forth, the motion to prevent a representative from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission was voted down. "We won," said Scott Long of the IGLHRC. "It is precedent-setting that homosexuality will be discussed at the General Assembly within the context of AIDS and human rights."

In this day of MTV bump-and-grind videos, Internet porn and gay television characters it may seem ironic that a disease transmitted through sex is proliferating because of taboos about sex. But for Muslim nations, as well as the U.S. government, there is tremendous fear that sexual information will lead to sexual licentiousness -- and those fears were ultimately part of the drag-down effect at the special session.

"One of the main problems with this disease and the U.S. government's policies toward it is no one is willing to talk about sex," said Ruth Messinger, the former Manhattan Borough president, who now heads the American Jewish World Service.

A good many African heads of state were in agreement. Pascoal Mocumbi, prime minister of Mozambique, argued: "We must summon the courage to talk frankly and constructively about sexuality. We must recognize the pressures on our children to have sex that is neither safe nor loving and provide them with information, communication skills and, yes, condoms."

No such explicit language was included in the final version of the UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, because, for example, in Mauritania condoms are all but illegal and in rural Kenya wife sharing is the norm. But the declaration is groundbreaking in that it frames AIDS not solely as a medical issue but as a political, economic and human rights threat. There is also hope, and some evidence, that the declaration will provide a foundation for future action and that the UN special session will serve as a catalyst for combatting the AIDS crisis.

On June 26, for example, the U.S. government announced it would drop its WTO litigation against Brazil for planning to make generic anti-AIDS medicine, which basically leaves pharmaceutical companies unprotected from demands to deliver drugs to poor countries. Earlier in June, the Coca-Cola Company offered to use its enormous distribution network in Africa to carry information and medicine throughout the continent. Ford Motors, which is one of the largest private employers in South Africa, where one in five adults are infected, is providing anti-retrovirals to its employees and their immediate family for free, as is Daimler Chrysler. The Credit Suisse Group recently gave the global AIDS fund $1 million, no strings attached.

So a new era may be dawning for the AIDS crisis, one of corporate initiative and responsibility. Standing in the rain at an AIDS march in New York, Juliette Beck, of the international human rights organization Global Exchange, called the AIDS crisis the "ugliest aspect of corporate globalization" and said it was high time multinationals began sharing more of their wealth.

This may not happen on the level Beck and other activists hope, but what seems possible is that wealthy corporations, free to talk about sexuality and fearful for their reputations, will respond quicker to the AIDS crisis than governments or the UN.

"As AIDS creates more poverty and deepens inequalities, it fuels the growing public backlash against globalization," said Kofi Annan in an address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in June. He added: "This sentiment will only get stronger and more widespread if we don't show ourselves determined to mount a really serious response."

It seems Annan will do whatever he can to tackle the global AIDS crisis. The quickly arranged UN special session, however symbolic, is testament to that. But his global AIDS fund goes beyond symbolism. He knows, as do people like Lezheatsev, who calls the fund the the "virtual Annan project," that the crisis will spiral out of control without at least $10 billion annually.

So let's hope the UN can be a sprightly blue lady rather than a drooping, middle-aged one. More than 50 years after its creation, the United Nations faces an ultimate test with AIDS. If it fails to stem the spread of the disease, it will become not just a symbol of world governance but a symbol of world inefficacy. And there will be millions of deaths to attest to that.

When Wal-Mart Comes to Town

In 1998, David Glass, the chief operating officer of Wal-Mart, outlined his company's objective: "First we dominate North America, then South America, then Europe and Asia." If Glass had been speaking of any other enterprise his words might have seemed far-fetched. But Wal-Mart's growth since 1962 actually has resembled a blitzkrieg.

The largest retailer in the world has 3,000 stores in the U.S. as well as chains in Britain, Germany, China, Korea, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. It opens a megastore every two days. It is the U.S.'s largest private employer, with 925,000 people on the payroll, and the second largest employer in general after the Federal government. The company also boasts the largest computer, surpassing the Pentagon's, and the world's largest fleet of trucks. Wal-Mart might as well appear in the dictionary under the word huge.

I know the above statistics because I just watched "Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town," a documentary film by Micha Peled that will air on PBS in early June. "Store Wars" is not exactly a critique of Wal-Mart's business practices, but it is hard to come away with a favorable view of the company.

The documentary makes crystal clear Wal-Mart's savvy has been to provide funds to towns in the absence of adequate state and federal money. It lines its proposals with million-dollar incentives to cash-strapped towns and then, should the town balk, threatens to move its megastore to Town B if Town Council A says no.

"The only way most American towns can cover their budget today is by having big corporations like Wal-Mart come in and bring tax revenues," said Peled in a telephone interview. "Ever since the Reagan era, American municipalities have been scrambling for additional revenue sources. Wal-Mart, in this way, has 'come to the rescue.'"

Peled is an odd candidate for the very American story of Wal-Mart. He grew up in an Israeli farm town called Ganey-Yehuda about an hour's drive from Tel Aviv. His mother fled Nazi Germany. His first documentary was called "Teatro Latino." His last two films examined native themes: Israeli-Palestinian relations and Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

But Peled is no stranger to the U.S. He's lived here for the last 25 years, and spent the first few wandering the States with Kerouac's On the Road in hand. Ganey Yehuda means Judas' Garden, and perhaps growing up in a place that connotes betrayal and that has undergone continual land struggle prepared him better than most for understanding America's turf wars. Certainly, it has made him sensitive to small town politics, which are depicted in "Store Wars" with amusing detail.

"I wanted to tell the story of a town that is anywhere USA because that story has not really been told," said Peled. In Ashland, Virginia, where the film is set, the found that place. The town of 7,200 looks like a latter-day Norman Rockwell painting, has the only remaining Amtrack rail that stops in the middle of town and basically epitomizes what's left of small-town American life.

Which may be the main reason why Ashland was torn asunder by Wal-Mart's proposal to come to town. Not since the Civil War or the civil rights movement, it seems, have Ashlanders experienced such fierce public debate. In "Store Wars" there are street protests led by a group called the Pink Flamingos, late-night discussions over homemade pies and the inevitable political maneuverings among prominent citizens and elected officials.

Act I of "Store Wars" ends with Ashland rejecting Wal-Mart's offer, and with it a sense of relief. But with the company's second proposal, which included a $3 million investment for road repairs, the town council caved, even though the majority of Ashlanders remained opposed. Tears were shed by Pink Flamingo members; others chalked up the decision to the realities of small-town economics.

Aan appropriate activity to preface the watching of "Store Wars" would be an afternoon visit to both the local megastore and the local grocer. For the documentary illustrates just what the implications of those visits are: one offers convenience, needed jobs and the new style of American consumption; the other the shopping of the recent past -- in a local retail economy -- which companies like Wal-Mart tend to wipe out.

And in case you don't have an opinion about the Wal-Mart versus mom-and-pop store debate, "Store Wars" offers a cast of characters who do. There is Sharon McKinley, a matronly Southerner whose husband and daughter work at Wal-Mart and who argues the store is a boon to people with limited free time and a tight budget. There is the straight-laced Keith Morris, a Wal-Mart director of community relations, who comes to Ashland to convince the town folk of Wal-Mart's sweet deal. And there is Al Norman, a bearded activist and founder of a group called Sprawl Busters, who argues:

"Wal-Mart operates on a saturation strategy. They place stores so close together that they become their own competition. Once everyone else is wiped out, they're free to thin out their own stores. Wal-Mart currently has over 390 empty stores on the market today. This is a company that changes stores as casually as you or I change shoes."

That's America you might say. But in the end, Micha Peled would prefer if it were not. He is nostalgic for the regional variety he experienced on his Kerouacan journey of the '70s. "I was stunned by the scope of the problem," he said, referring to the homogenization of American towns. "And I was stunned that until I read about Wal-Mart in a book on globalization, I didn't know anything about how the company works."

Still, Peled sympathizes with towns that have fallen in with Goliaths like Wal-Mart: "They're essentially blackmailed. If the towns don't take on a Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart will move their new store two miles up the road out of the town's jurisdiction and still suffer the same economic devastation."

"Store Wars" also illustrates that Wal-Mart is not universally hated. Peled's Ashlanders note the company offers low-income people needed jobs. What they don't say, however, is that Wal-Mart's jobs fail to provide a living wage -- a salary that can adequately cover the costs of rent, food and health insurance.

According to research institutes like Jobs for Justice and United for a Fair Economy, one third of Wal-Mart's employees work part-time with no benefits or job security. Many employees also are limited to less than 28 hours a week, and therefore are not eligible for benefits at all.

This vicious cycle of unsupportable wages "Store Wars" does not tell. Nor does the film examine in much detail the race and class divisions raised by the Wal-Mart debate; the way, for example, low-income African-Americans in Ashland tended to support Wal-Mart and upper-class whites did not.

But "Store Wars" will be useful to people facing the same dilemmas experienced by those in Ashland. In fact, Peled has been holding public screening in places where Wal-Mart is trying to come to town. "I believe in something Arthur Miller once said," he noted, referring to his outreach efforts. "'Every piece of art should bring news' -- and news in the broadest sense of the word."

"Store Wars," which won a Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, does brings news -- the broad and disturbing sort.

To contact Micha Peled for a public screening, write to teddybearfilms@earthlink.net

For information about when "Store Wars" will air in your area, go to PBS's website.

The Moral Calculus of AIDS

Sometime between today and 2010, the AIDS crisis in Africa will become the moral litmus test of the post-cold war era. That is because rich countries will no longer be able to deny they failed to prevent a plague in Africa not seen since the Black Death of the 14th century.

The US has known about the AIDS pandemic for quite a long time. Back in 1990, a couple of intrepid national intelligence officers got permission to study the burgeoning growth of the disease. Interagency Intelligence Memorandum 91-10005, which was distributed to classified channels in July of the following year, projected that there would be 45 million infections by the year 2000 -- a number, the report noted, greater than all the combatants killed in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.

For those disgruntled by the CIA's recent miscalculations -- notably, its failure to predict the Soviet Union's economic collapse -- there may be reason to take heart. Memorandum 91-10005 was impressively accurate: Today there are anywhere from 34.3 to 53 million people with HIV and AIDS, and the number of new infections of HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, is estimated at 15,000 a day.

The only problem with the report -- tragedy, is actually the more appropriate word -- is that for the last 10 years the White House and Cabinet agencies ignored it. Even leaders of the World Health Organization, which also predicted AIDS in the tens of millions in the early '90s, met the news with indifference. Pouring over the numbers, the most powerful health officials on the planet concluded that prevention and treatment were just too expensive.

"I can't think of the coming of any event which was more heralded to less effect," James Sherry, director of program development for the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, said in July 2000 interview. "The bottom line is, the people who are dying from AIDS don't matter in this world."

6,000 a day

Such indifference may be distant geographically, but it is just as destructive as the indifference governments and individuals displayed toward the Nazi genocide. According to the World Health Organization, less than one tenth of the 36 million people infected with HIV/AIDS can afford drugs used to treat the disease. Unlike in the West, where the triple AIDS cocktail has prolonged the lives and improved the health of those infected, people with AIDS in poor countries simply die - in Africa, at the rate of 6,000 a day.

A 15-year-old in South Africa has a better than even chance of dying of AIDS. One in five adults there is infected with HIV. None of the countries with high infection rates can afford the per-patient $10-15,000 price tag of non-generic HIV drugs. What this could mean in the long run is that African countries will soon face a social, economic and political devastation of apocalyptic proportions. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tina Rosenberg predicts that South Africa -- once considered the miracle country of the continent -- will be one-fifth poorer by 2010 if help does not come soon.

AIDS is also not just an African crisis. Although approximately 70 percent, or 25 million, of the world's AIDS cases are in Africa, with the majority in sub-Saharan region, the plague is taking victims in the Caribbean as well. More than one in 50 adults in the islands south of the US are HIV-positive. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the number of infected doubled last year. The numbers of HIV cases in India, Thailand, Brazil and practically every other poor country with meager health care budgets also has leapt to a point where no one can deny that AIDS has become a global epidemic.

But here's the rub.

Solving the world AIDS crisis will require something that governments, international lending institutions and multinational companies -- the other flank of international governance -- often lack: compassion and the ability to see beyond profit. Racism also will have to be factored into such moral calculus.

A human life or a "disability-adjusted life year"?

Some officials at the World Bank, for example, have concluded there may be a silver lining in the plague. "If the only effect of the AIDS epidemic were to reduce the population growth rate, it would increase the growth rate of per capita income in any plausible economic model," argued a June 1992 report by the Bank's population and human resources department. In other words, like the 14th-century bubonic plague in Europe, AIDS in Africa might propel an economic rebirth.

Similarly, Dean Jamison of the World Bank has come up with the idea of "disability-adjusted life year," or DALY, to measure the number of years lost to illness or death. "By his calculus," reported the Washington Post, "a country that spent $1,000 a year to save the life of someone earning $500 a year would suffer a net economic loss."

Such analyses have made Africa policy experts writhe with the kind of anger that strikes the enlightened but impotent. "If this would have happened in the Balkans, or Eastern Europe, or in Mexico, with white people, the reaction would be different," said Dr. Peter Piot of the UNAIDS program.

"AIDS is the black plague!" wrote Salih Booker, director of the Africa Fund/American Committee on Africa. "It is mainly killing black people. And that is the cruel truth about why the world has failed to respond with dispatch."

Unsurprisingly, such anger has led to protest. In South Africa, thousands have taken to the streets to demand HIV medicine. In Uganda, AIDS patients have gone on hunger strikes to draw attention to their plight. American advocacy groups like Act Up, which in the past few years has slowed down its operations as the AIDS crisis in the United States levels off, have returned to Washington to cry "medication for every nation" and are questioning the high price of AIDS drugs at home.

One of the more favored AIDS plans among activists is modeled after the Unicef system of vaccination. "In my calculus," argued Rosenberg, "applying the Unicef system to AIDS would cost $3 billion a year in retrovirals alone, assuming five million patients at $600 a year. And the costs will increase as countries reach more patients. This is a large sum of money. It seems somewhat smaller, however, next to the wards of shaven-head babies -- or the collapse of a continent."

Enforced noblesse oblige

Over the past year and especially over the past month, such media pressure and activism have begun to force pharmaceutical companies to cave.

In May 2000, the five leading companies that produce AIDS drugs -- Merck, Hoffmann-La Roche, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo Wellcome and Boehringer Ingelheim -- announced they would make AIDS medicines widely available in the poorest countries at deep discounts. Exact prices were supposed to be settled a few weeks later. But six months later nothing had been done. A year later, the effort has resulted in agreements with only three countries: Uganda, Senegal and Rwanda.

In a parallel gesture, the Clinton administration pledged $1 billion to fight AIDS in Africa. But the money turned out to be in the form of Export-Import Bank loans, at commercial interest rates, to buy American drugs at market price. This initiative was hailed by American pharmaceutical companies, which looked forward to more profits for their $1 billion-a-year industry. But there were no takers.

Poor countries opted out of the Clinton initiative because buying drugs on high-interest loans would mean more debt -- exactly the kind of debt that has forced countries like South Africa to cut governmental health programs. As Helen Epstein argued in a recent New York Review of Books article, American policy makers and journalists often overlook the role the World Bank, the IMF, multinational corporations, donor governments and commercial banks have played in "creat[ing] enormous political and economic obstacles to better public health."

To prove her point, Epstein reported that as a result of IMF-imposed government cutbacks, or structural adjustment programs, as they are called, "In Zaire, 80,000 teachers and health care workers lost their jobs in the 1980s, while in Ghana the number of nurses fell sixfold, so that by 1990, there was only one nurse per more than 13,000 people. In the early 1990s, Zimbabwe laid off 7,000 nurses and thousands of teachers. Inflation slashed public-sector salaries, and many doctors left the country."

Like so many others, Epstein's article shows that economic influence, not ideological influence, has become the lead force in post-cold war international relations. Nobody worries whether Zaire goes red. But policy makers are greatly concerned the country tightens its belt and buys American.

This latter emphasis, however, changes the whole conception of foreign aid. Unlike in the cold war era when aid was given to countries to ensure their ideological allegiance, today aid comes with economic strings attached: high-interest loans, structural adjustment requirements or the threat of being left out of the global marketplace. The US' new political ideology is global capitalism. But it will have just as hard a time proving this ideology is democratic and fair as when it conducted covert operations against the Evil Empire.

And this is the main problem for the AIDS crisis. There is no economic incentive to solve it. As Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs told the Washington Post, "Like most things in the world, it comes down to money, and nobody has been willing to commit money to [the AIDS crisis]." Sachs, as well as debt relief activists like Ann Pettifor of Jubilee 2000, believe the only way to force governments and pharmaceutical companies to evince the necessary noblesse oblige is if they are pummeled by outraged citizens.

Slowly, this seems to be happening. In March, the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders learned that Yale University holds the patent to d4T, an antiretroviral drug that forms part of the AIDS cocktail. Yale licensed d4T to Bristol-Myers Squibb, but when Doctors Without Borders began to publicize the Yale connection -- leading to damning articles by Yale's law students and a New York Times article that quoted dT4 co-creator William Prusoff as saying the drug should either be cheap or free in sub-Saharan Africa -- Bristol-Myers announced it would cut the cost of the drug to 15 cents for a daily dose, or 1.5 percent of what it costs an American patient.

Meanwhile, sensing the growing tide of bad PR, Merck announced on March 7 that it would cut prices for its anti-AIDS drugs in developing countries "to the point where it won't make a profit on sales there." Bristol-Myers followed suit, announcing on March 14 that it will sell not one, but two, AIDS drugs to sub-Saharan African countries at "below cost."

The free market of death

Whether or not Merck and Bristol-Myers will lose money when Merck offers Crixivan at $600 a year rather than its usual $6,016 and Bristol-Meyers provides Zerit at $54 a year rather than $3,589 will be very difficult to find out. But what is certain is that many countries will not be able to afford the triple cocktail even at these prices. Also, regardless of this gesture, the two companies have already made an enormous profit off the AIDS plague.

American business leaders and conservative columnists tend to say this is reasonable. Andrew Sullivan of The New Republic, for example, argues that "the free-market system � rewards serious research with serious money," and therefore patent protection and high prices are only fair. Executives of pharmaceutical companies constantly point out that billions of dollars are lost on research and development, making high drug costs the only way to recoup investments. Other commentators argue that antiretroviral drugs have many negative side effects and, because the triple therapy treatment is rigorous and complicated, cannot be easily introduced in the third world countries.

But none of these arguments touch the subject of how much AIDS research was conducted with public funds or -- even more troubling -- what moral responsibility companies, governments and individuals have to prevent mass death. Which has led countries like Brazil, India and South Africa to take matters into their own hands.

Brazil, which the World Bank projected would have 1.2 million HIV-positive people by 2000, has half that many. Why? The Brazilian government, under World Trade Organization laws, can ignore patents on medicines commercialized before May 1997 and, as a sresult, has produced generic versions of the AIDS cocktail that it distributes free. One study reported that this move saved the Brazilian Health Ministry $422 million in hospitalizations between 1997 and 1999.

India, which does not recognize patents on medicines, and will not be required to do so by the WTO until 2005, has proved equally savvy by leading the world in the manufacture of generic AIDS drugs. The Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla is making triple therapy available at $600 per year, and according to its managing director, "prices are likely to come down as we improve techniques." Within a few years, Cipla has become an extremely profitable company and has helped to prolong the lives of those with HIV in India.

Such successes led the South African government in 1997 to introduce new legislation that allows it to import generic AIDS drugs. But unlike Brazil and India, South Africa is not permitted to create or import generic medicines by the WTO unless it declares a state of emergency, which it will not do, since such a declaration would hinder foreign investments and further hurt its stumbling economy. The result has been a lawsuit by the AIDS drug giants against the South African government, set for trial in April.

Undoubtedly, the South Africa suit will be a landmark case. For it will test whether human rights can serve as a justifiable reason for breaking international trade law. The case will also, in a more profound way, foretell how governments and multinationals will handle the inequalities of economic globalization in the post-cold war era. Will it see the "new era of peace" as an opportunity to do global good works?

The big fear for Big Pharma

Whatever happens, American pharmaceutical companies don't fear lost profits from developing nations as much as a backlash by American consumers. Americans pay more for drugs than any other country. And drug company executives are worried that if low-priced AIDS drugs begin to leak back home from poor countries, the trickle will become a flood, causing a black market of cheap generics that could gouge their profits.

For that reason, drug companies have agreed to work with the WTO to negotiate patent laws for poor member countries. Its executives attended an April meeting in Hosbjor, Norway convened by the Global Health Council, which -- if all goes well -- could result in new ways to price and finance AIDS drugs as well as a means for the World Health Organization to administer their distribution.

But again, morality will have to trump greed -- or at least the fear of more bad PR. The word about Big Pharma, as the industry is known, is out. The public views their research and development pleas with skepticism. The novelist John Le Carré has chronicled Pharma's outright deceptiveness in his new book, The Constant Gardener. Those who are critical of the World Bank, the IMF and multinationals are well aware they are partly responsible for the African health crisis. There is cynicism and anger. But is it familiar, familiar as the arms race and the bloody battles over Vietnam and Afghanistan.

As Le Carré put it in a recent Nation article, "Times have changed since the cold war, but not half as much as we might think."

To lobby for greater access to AIDS drugs for patients in poor countries, go to the Doctors Without Borderswebsite

The best reporting on the global AIDS crisis (much of which was used in this article) has been conducted by the Washington Post. See the Post's AIDS in Africa archive

See also:

Tina Rosenberg's "Look At Brazil,"The New York Times Magazine

Helen Epstein's "Time of Indifference,"The New York Review of Books

The Top Ten Censored Stories of 2000

Have you read the one about corporations planning to charge you hundreds of dollars a month for your tap water? Or the one about military "psychological operations" specialists manipulating viewers of CNN? What about the highly skilled programmers in Silicon Valley who, because they are immigrants, are laboring under sweatshop-like conditions?

If none of these stories rings a bell, it's not because you've missed the latest e-mail hoax. It's because these very real tales -- and many others like them -- weren't reported in the mainstream media.

Instead, they were among this year's "Top Ten Censored Stories," according to Project Censored, a veteran media watchdog group. Every year for the past 25, Project Censored has tracked important stories that are underreported or blacked out by the mainstream press. The articles are honored with an award and then compiled in a book published by Seven Stories Press.

The consistent theme exposed by these articles is that our government routinely fails to protect our rights, health and safety, especially if there's corporate money at stake. While Americans often bad-mouth "big government," we overwhelmingly favor health and environmental regulations, and trust that they keep us safe. Unfortunately, as these stories show, our trust may be misplaced.

The yearly release of the Project's Top Ten list (and 15 runner-ups) is often accompanied by controversy and a pinch of confusion, mostly because of the Project's complicated definition of censorship. Few mainstream news organizations experience overt, top-down censorship -- for example, an editor killing a controversial story or firing a reporter who has dug too deep.

The reality of censorship in American newsrooms is far more subtle and, arguably, far more pervasive. As mainstream media outlets are increasingly dominated by large corporate conglomerates, they become ever more beholden to the bottom line. Stories that don't make money -- either because they don't capture a large audience, are too expensive to research or might offend advertisers and investors -- often end up on the newsroom floor.

Reporters and editors quickly learn to play by the narrow rules of the game, and to keep their stories within a certain range of ideas and topics. On top of this self-censorship, the relentless pace of mainstream news outlets rarely allows for anything more than simplified treatments of complex subjects.

Fortunately, as Project Censored points out year after year, there are other media outlets that do investigate and report on controversial, complicated stories -- the independent press. Ranging from established national magazines (In These Times, The Progressive, Washington Monthly) to web outlets (MotherJones.com, AlterNet.org) to alternative newsweeklies, these publications, as the Project puts it, report "the news that doesn't make the news."

Unfortunately, because their reach is small compared to the massive media giants that dominate print, radio, television and online news, stories in these indy publications often don't get the attention they deserve. That's where Project Censored believes it can help. By honoring the Top Ten Censored Stories, the Project hopes both to provoke mainstream media to cover these issues and to strengthen the independent press.

"We must redevelop news and information systems from the bottom up," writes Peter Phillips, Project Censored's director and a journalism professor at Sonoma State University. "Thousands of alternative news organizations already exist. We just need to connect and put their news on the breakfast tables of millions of working people."

Executing that vision is easier said than done, of course. And while highlighting the top ten underreported stories every year will hardly cause a media revolution, it will keep more people informed about the pressing issues that passed quietly by last year. So without further ado, the Top Ten Censored Stories of 2000 are ...

1. World Bank and Multinational Companies Seek to Privatize Water

Awards to: Jim Shultz, In These Times and This, Maude Barlow, International Forum on Globalization, Vandana Shiva, Canadian Dimension, Daniel Zoll and Pratap Chatterjee, the San Francisco Bay Guardian

The authors of this year's first-place award all started with the same premise: that global water consumption is doubling every 20 years and that by 2025 the demand for fresh water is expected to rise to 56 percent more than the amount of water currently available.

This frightens environmentalists. But for officials at international lending institutions and multinational companies, it's a business opportunity. "Water is the last infrastructure frontier for private investors," declared one banking official. Monsanto corporation certainly agrees; it plans to earn revenues of $420 million and a net income of $63 million by 2008 from its water business in India and Mexico.

The Bechtel corporation is also on the case, but has botched its scramble for blue gold. While attempting to privatize the local water system of Cochamba, Bolivia, not only did they provoke mass strikes that injured hundreds and shut down the city of 600,000 for a week, but they sought to pin the blame for the uprising on narcotics traffickers. Nevertheless, this bad PR has not stopped Bechtel -- the company appears to be positioning itself to privatize San Francisco's water system.

2. OSHA Can't -- or Won't -- Help Powerless Workers

Award to: Christopher Cook, The Progressive

Though focused on one particularly egregious scandal, Project Censored's second-place winner is more a broad indictment of OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. As author Christopher Cook points out, OSHA has only 2,300 inspectors to cover 102 million workers in 6.7 million workplaces. That's one inspector for every 44,348 workers. It would take OSHA 110 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once.

Even when OSHA does inspect workplaces that are violating safety rules, the fines they force employers to pay are a joke. In one case at Titan International, the manufacturing company profiled in Cook's article, OSHA only imposed a paltry $10,000 fine after Titan's illegal equipment, which lacked crucial safety features, killed a worker. For a company raking in hundreds of millions a year, a couple grand is laughable.

The net effect is that employers like Titan pay no attention to rules and regulations designed to keep their workers safe. While it would cost them plenty of short-term dollars to install safety guards and properly train workers, it will only cost them relatively small amounts in fines over a long period if they do not. Their workers, of course, are caught in the middle.

3. Army Propaganda Team Worked at CNN

Award to: Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch

The corporate media has long relied on government spinmeisters to produce news during times of war. The army has entire units of men, called "psychological operations" groups, devoted in part to spreading information and propaganda to news organizations. From them, media outlets get insider, official information without having to do much reporting.

But the military took the principle way too far when it actually placed army psy-ops personnel at CNN's TV, radio and satellite bureaus during the Kosovo war.

Through a program called "Training With Industry," the army stationed five psy-ops soldiers as interns at CNN's Southeast bureau. Later, in a closed-door army symposium, a psy-ops Commander said the cooperation with CNN was a textbook example of the kind of ties the American army wants to have with the media.

"The U.S. Army ... confirmed to me that military personnel have been involved in news production at CNN's newsdesks," said Abe De Vried, who first broke the story in a respected Dutch newspaper. "I found it simply astonishing. These kind of close ties with the army are, in my view, completely unacceptable for any serious news organization."

As award-winner Alexander Cockburn speculated, "It could be that CNN was the target of a psy-ops penetration and is still too naive to figure out what was going on."

4. Did the U.S. Deliberately Bomb the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade?

Awards to: Joel Bleifuss and Seth Ackerman, In These Times, Yoichi Shimatsu, Pacific News Service

On May 7, 1999, U.S. figher pilots bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three people. The Clinton administration apologized and called it a "tragic mistake" resulting from an outdated map. Chinese authorities rejected both the explanation and the apology and insisted the bombing was deliberate.

Five months later, reports in the Observer of London and Copenhagen's Politiken alleged that the CIA had coordinated the attack in order to destroy a Yugoslavian army rebroadcast center housed in the embassy. Secretary of State Madeline Albright dismissed the allegations as "balderdash," and both stories were ignored by mainstream news outlets in the U.S.

In response to a campaign by media critic group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the Times finally ran an investigative story in April of last year, claiming it found no conclusive evidence of a deliberate attack -- though the reporter, Times Pentagon correspondent Steven Lee Myers, seemed to have his doubts. But the real issue was the reluctance of the U.S. media to confront a story that was receiving serious attention abroad.

5. U.S. Taxes Underwrite Nuke Plants Overseas

Award to: Ken Silverstein and Ian Urbina, The Progressive

"Here's a story you probably won't see on CBS." So begins Silverstein and Urbina's expose of the U.S. Export-Import Bank's foreign nuclear power plant deals. The writers start smugly for good reason: Westinghouse, which built unsafe and overpriced Ex-Im-backed nuclear power plants, owns the CBS network. And sure enough CBS did not cover the story.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank is a government agency that underwrites exports through tax-payer backed loans. As the writers document, between 1959 and 1993, it spent $7.7 billion to help sell American-made reactors overseas. The reason for this "help," however, was not altruistic. U.S. nuclear contractors like Westinghouse, Bechtel and General Electric have watched their home markets shrink, as nuclear power has become riddled with risks and uncertainties. Thus they have searched for clients abroad. Since most countries can't afford to buy nuclear power facilities, the contractors often provide financing backed by Ex-Im and you.

Often, contractors make windfall profits from such loans. In 1985, Westinghouse built the Bataan nuclear power facility in the Philippines at a cost of $1.2 billion, 150 percent above projections. The plant was situated near an active volcano and never generated a single watt of energy. Nevertheless, the Philippines pays $300,000 a day in interest on the loan that funded the project. Of course, none of this should be a huge surprise -- the leader of the council overseeing Ex-Im loans is also the head honcho at Westinghouse.

6. Our Role in the Genocide in Rwanda

Awards to: David Corn, AlterNet.org; Ellen Ray, Covert Action Quarterly

In censored story #6, AlterNet.org columnist David Corn examines a low point of Bill Clinton's foreign policy: the alleged U.S. collusion in the genocide of more than half a million Tutsi people by the Hutus in Rwanda.

Corn noticed a modest news story in the New York Times which said that the Organization for African Unity had issued a report critical of United States -- especially of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- for handling the Rwandan genocide so poorly. "But the story did not go into details," Corn wrote, "[even though] the report demolished the Clinton assertion that he had not been fully aware of the genocide when it had been under way." Ellen Ray's lengthy article about the Congo in Covert Action Quarterly echoed this condemning assertion.


Sidebar: The Rest of the Best

The following stories were selected as the Censored Stories 11 to 25.

11. United Nations Corporate Partnerships -- A Human Rights Peril
Kenny Bruno, Dollars and Sense; Danielle Knight, Multinational Monitor

12. Cuba Leads the World in Organic Farming
Hugh Warwick, Third World Resurgence; Alison Auld, Sustainable Times; Stephen Zunes, Designer/Builder

13. The World Trade Organization is an Illegal Institution
Michel Chossudovsky, Covert Action Quarterly

14. Europe Holds Companies Environmentally Responsible, Despite U.S. Opposition
Joel Bleifuss, In These Times

15. Gerber Uses the WTO to Suppress Laws that Promote Breastfeeding
Peter Montague, Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly; Robert Weissman, Multinational Monitor

16. Human Genome Project Opens the Door to Ethnically Specific Bioweapens
Roy Blake, Washington Free Press; Greg Bishop, Konformist; Robert Lederman, North Coast Xpress

17. IMF and World Bank Staff Tightly Connected to New Yugoslav Government
Michel Chossudovsky and Jared Israel, Emperor's New Clothes; Christian Parenti, San Francisco Bay Guardian

18. Indigenous People Challenge Private Ownership and Patenting of Life
Kimberly Wilson, GeneWatch

19. U.S. Using Dangerous Fungus to Eradicate Coca Plants in Colombia
Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, CounterPunch; Ed Vulliamy, London Observer

20. Disabled Most Likely to be Victims of Serious Crime
Dan Sorensen, Tash Newsletter

21. U.S Military Bombing Range Destroys Korean Village Life
Karen Talbot, Freespeech.org

22. U.S. Government Repressed Marijuana-Tumor Research
Raymond Cushing, AlterNet.org

23. Very Small Levels of Chemical Exposures Can be Dangerous
Stephen Lester, Everyone's Backyard; Frances Cerra Whittelsey, In These Times

24. Pentagon Seeks Mega-Mergers Between International Arms Corporations
Federation of American Scientists, Arms Sales Monitor

25. Community Activists Outsit McDonalds
McLibel Support Campaign, A-Infos New Service



Other mass killings have occurred during Rwanda's brutal history. However, under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, once a genocide is recognized, the nations of the world are obligated to prevent the killings and to punish the murderers. A story that strongly suggests that our government knew about this horrible rampage and might have been prevented it deserves significant media follow-up.

7. Biotech Industry Censors Critics of Genetically Engineered Food

Awards to: Joel Bleifuss, In These Times; Karen Charman, Extra!; Ben Lilliston, Multinational Monitor

In 1998, Scottish researcher Arpad Pusztai found that genetically engineered (GE) potatoes seemed to be causing sickness and poor brain development in rats. When he went to the press with his preliminary findings, the biotech industry -- poised to make billions from GE foods -- came down on him like a ton of bricks.

Pusztai was quickly fired by his employer, the Rowett Research Institute, while his research team was disbanded and his data seized. It later came out that Rowett had received a $224,000 grant from biotech giant Monsanto prior to Pusztai's firing.

Pusztai pushed his case in the media, creating a firestorm of controversy in the British press. His main point: Why not continue the experiments he had started to determine the health risks of GE potatoes? Eventually, he found an ally in Prince Charles, who wrote a widely publicized article in the Daily Mail questioning the lack of safety testing on GE foods. In a highly unusual move, British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- a biotech advocate -- called Charles to advise him to withdraw his opinion and refrain from any further public comments. Just another startling illustration of how effectively industry, in collusion with industry-friendly government officials, can squash opinions or evidence that might threaten profit margins.

8. Drug Companies Influence Doctors and Health Organizations to Push Meds

Awards to: Stephen Pomper, Washington Monthly; Ken Silverstein, MotherJones.com; David Oaks, Dendron; Jacqueline Sparks Miller, Family Therapy Networker

Advertising would seem an effective enough marketing tool for drugs, since research shows that most patients who ask for a drug they saw on TV get the prescription they want. But pharmaceutical companies are hedging their bets, spending billions each year to influence doctors and even bankrolling "patients" groups to advocate on their behalf.

In "Drug Rush," Stephen Pomper describes how an accelerated FDA drug approval process, combined with too few experts to monitor reports of problems with drugs already on the market, leaves patients vulnerable. The risk to public health increases when pharmaceutical companies ply doctors with incentives to turn them into salesmen for the latest medications.

Meanwhile, Ken Silverstein�s research for Mother Jones revealed that the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), a non-profit advocacy group that calls itself "a grassroots organization for individuals with brain disorders, and their family members," received millions from pharmaceutical companies, including a large chunk from Prozac manufacturer Eli Lilly.

"Mother Jones cracked the shell," David Oaks concluded in a follow up story for Dendron that connects the dots between the drug companies' largess and a coercive medication monitoring program sponsored by NAMI. "It's up to the grassroots to finish the job."

9. EPA Planned to Dump Toxic Waste into Denver Sewers

Award to: Will Fantle, The Progressive

A year ago, the city of Denver planned to "clean" the nearby Lowry Superfund site by pumping radioactive waste through the city's sewer system and selling the sludge to commercial agribusiness concerns for use as fertilizer on crops grown for human consumption.

The local EPA office said there's no credible evidence of dangerous levels of radioactive waste at the site, but a group headed by local law professor Adrienne Anderson said the plan stinks a mile high. Anderson's research convinced 7,000 citizens to sign a petition that prompted the EPA's inspector general to call for an investigation of the proposed cleanup methods. Since this story was published in The Progressive, the city of Denver started, then stopped accepting liquid waste from Lowry, but the program is slated to resume.

What do the local papers, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News (which merged this year) have to say about it? Not much, the story reports -- maybe because for many years, their companies contributed their own toxic waste to Lowry.

10. Silicon Valley Sweatshops

Award to: David Bacon, Labor Notes and the Washington Free Press

There is a silver lining for employers who hire immigrant workers on H1-B visas. They are brought to the U.S. on individual contracts, and therefore, unlike U.S. workers, do not have the legal protection to organize, sue for unfair treatment or even demand the salaries they are promised.

This is particularly true for high-tech workers from India and Pakistan employed by Silicon Valley tech firms. Kim Singh, for example, received an H1-B visa for a software engineer job. Upon arriving from India, he worked for one company that withheld 25 percent of his and other immigrant workers' salaries. At his second Silicon Valley job, he worked seven days a week with no overtime compensation, and discovered only H1-B workers were required to work weekends. His third employer rented him and three other H1-B workers an apartment, charging each $1,450 a month, while holding onto their passports. Complaints about this kind of treatment were met by firings and exportation.

Such abuses have far-ranging effects. Silicon Valley tech companies have lobbied Congress to increase the yearly number of H1-B workers to 300,000 as well as to lift the cap entirely, potentially increasing abuses. And high-tech jobs that have gone to foreigners have prevented firms from training American workers, whom they would have to pay higher wages. "Contract labor boosts corporate bottom lines," David Bacon reported, "but it has a devastating impact on workers."

The Dioxin Deception

The causes of cancer are contested. Certainly, there is evidence that the disease can be passed down from generation to generation. There is also, of course, proof that smoking can cause lung cancer and a diet high in salt and sugar can cause stomach cancer. But there is no way to predict with certainty who will get cancer or why. And so the wives' tales proliferate: deodorant causes breast cancer; stress causes brain cancer; repression causes colon cancer.

Yet there is one general connection that has been proved but remains buried. It is the connection between dioxin and cancer. Dioxin is formed when chlorine-containing chemicals, like plastic or industrial waste, are burned, or when pulp or paper are bleached. The chemical then becomes airborne, settling on plants that are eaten by animals, which, in turn, are eaten by humans. Humans retain dioxins in their fatty tissue through both meat and dairy consumption. And once dioxin is lodged in the body there it remains.

Scientists have known the dangers of dioxin for a long time. When the US Environmental Protection Agency completed its first health assessment of dioxin in 1985, it reported that more people will get more cancer from dioxin than any other chemical on earth. The assessment was intended to form the basis of all future EPA regulations of dioxin emissions.

But, according to a report released on April 3 by the Center for Health, Environmental and Justice, the paper and chlorine industries pressured the EPA to reconsider publishing its assessment -- and have succeeded in burying, waylaying and buying off government officials ever since. CHEJ's report, "Behind Closed Doors," is among the most damning studies ever written on how the chemical industry has influenced policy makers and concealed vital health information from the public.

Behind Closed Doors reveals that year after year the publication of the EPA's report on dioxin has been stalled due to pressure from the chemical industry. Tactics have included:

- funding alternative scientific panels, which downplay the health threats of dioxin

- pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaigns of President Bush and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (who now runs the EPA)

- influencing the negotiations of the United Nations Treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS), which is intended to eliminate the proliferation of dioxin and other pollutants

- suing the EPA on the grounds that its guidelines for classifying dioxin as a "known human carcinogen" are false

- squelching community groups and anti-dioxin activists

- and attempting to prevent local governments, such as the California counties of San Francisco and Marin and the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco and Palo Alto, from passing resolutions to phase out dioxin sources.

"If you start telling people that every child born in this country has dioxin in their body," said Gary Cohen of the Environmental Health Fund, a partner of CHEJ, "if you show them the list of health effects and that every mother is passing dioxin on to her child, if you say we are all being exposed to hundreds of thousands of chemicals -- it's an explosive issue. And the chemical industry, particularly the chlorine section of the chemical industry, will be in trouble."

So you might say it is in the chemical industry's interests to keep scientific studies of dioxin poisoning under wraps. Among the key findings of "Behind Closed Doors" is the role the American Chemical Council and the Chlorine Chemistry Council have played in preventing a final release of the EPA's dioxin assessment.

Chiefly, the report shows that the ACC and CCC have manipulated the Science Advisory Board of the EPA's dioxin committee through money. The CHEJ's research on the November 2000 dioxin committee shows that a third of its members received funding from 91 dioxin-generating companies, like Dow and DuPont.

One panel member, John Graham, the director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, who has a long history of working for the chemical industry, told National Public Radio last year that the chances of getting cancer from dioxin and getting killed in a car crash were both 1 in 100, which put dioxin "on par with common risks." However, the EPA's 2000 draft report on dioxin health risks reports that the "chemical is 10 times more likely to cause cancer than previously estimated," according to a May 18 New York Times article.

Of course, the EPA's report has not been released, so the EPA scientist who talked to the Times spoke on the condition of anonymity. But he also mentioned that the EPA's data showed that "dioxin might alter [human] development and that it might affect thyroid secretions." Other known health risks of dioxin documented by the EPA and CHEJ include attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, weakened immune system, birth defects and endometriosis, which often results in infertility.

Health activists had hoped that the EPA would publish its dioxin report during the Clinton administration. As Cohen put it last fall, "if the report is not released before November or if Gore does not win the presidency, it will never see the light of day."

For that reason, "Behind Closed Doors" was released the same day Whitman met with top EPA scientists and policy officials to talk about the future of the dioxin reassessment. But given that, according to CHEJ, Whitman did much to deregulate the chemical industry's environmental standards while governor (reducing, for example, air and water pollution violation fines from $40 million to $11 million in eight years), and that, according to Newsweek, the American Chemistry Council raised over $350,000 for Bush's campaign, further stalls are likely.

So Americans will remain in the dark. Still, there is evidence of a growing movement against the chemical industry. On March 26, Bill Moyers' PBS special "Trade Secrets" exposed how chemical companies hid damaging information about vinyl chloride, one of the most potent sources of dioxin.

This unearthing of years of chemical industry documents by Moyers, as well as the reports of CHEJ and other groups may well lead to a public outcry and class action lawsuits. In which case, the chemical industry will find itself embroiled in scandal similar to the one the tobacco industry faced during the last decade.

For more information on the health risks of dioxin, go to the Center for Health, Justice and the Environment (http://www.chej.org).

The Ecstasy Generation

On Saturday, February 3, a 24-year-old Dane by the name of Andy Ramon Jacobs swallowed 84 condoms, containing 3,500 Ecstasy pills, and boarded a plane for the United States.

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Bush Ignores the Anti-Drug War Tide

There have been many ironic moments during the now thirty-years-long, $300 billion war on drugs.

There was the time when Elvis, strung out on all manner of narcotics, presented himself to President Nixon as drug-busting king and was credentialed a Special Assistant in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs hours before he overdosed and died.

There was the downfall of Carter administration drug czar Peter Bourne, who after being caught writing a fraudulent prescription for Quaaludes and accused of snorting cocaine at a marijuana legalizers' party, unintentionally transformed the drug war from a public health campaign to a moral and law enforcement battle.

And there was the realization on the part of the DEA that even after the 1984 bust of Tranquilandia, a Colombian jungle lab that produced $15 billion in cocaine, there was no impact on the availability or purity of cocaine on the American market.

Now yet another moment of blistering irony has come: just when the drug war is swinging into reform mode, when opinion among politicians and the public about the success of imprisoning nonviolent drug offenders and interdicting drug traffic is at an all-time low, the most conservative cabinet in years is settling into the White House.

Realists have long said the drug war is intractable. Americans have a problem. They like experimenting with mind-altering substances. Drugs will never be legalized and therefore a lucrative black market will always thrive. But there are now close to 2 million people in American prisons and 500,000 of them -- a full fourth -- are nonviolent drug offenders. Of that number, 62.7 percent are black, even though five times as many whites use drugs. Meanwhile, the United States spends over $40 billion a year to fight the flow of narcotics, and the only sure beneficiary is the prison industry, which has boomed to keep up with a prison population that has doubled since 1980. In big states like New York and California more money is spent on keeping people locked up than on education or health care.

These are some of the numbers, a few of the damning facts. And more and more Americans are aware of them. On Election Day, voters in California, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and Nevada made it clear they believe the war on drugs has created -- in departing drug czar Barry McCaffrey's words -- a veritable "drug gulag." Ballot initiatives challenging law enforcement's blanket treatment of criminals passed by wide margins. Additionally, in Oregon and Utah initiatives to restrict police from keeping seized property of drug offenders -- for years criticized as unconstitutional -- also easily passed. In California, a landmark bill, Proposition 36, will now require that nonviolent offenders be treated instead of jailed, with the result that as many as 37,000 fewer Californians will be incarcerated annually and hundreds of millions of dollars will be saved.

If that were not enough proof of the public's loss of faith in recent drug policy, a 1998 Harvard School of Public Health reports that 78 percent of Americans believe anti-drug efforts have failed, with 58 percent asserting that after five years of increased anti-drug spending the nation's drug problems have not improved.

So it seems we reached a "tipping point" in the war on drugs, to use writer Malcolm Gladwell's phrase for the viral-like passage of an idea into wide acceptance. Indeed, over the past few months condemning drug policy has reached epidemic proportions. Editorialists from the Washington Post, the New York Times and Newsweek have been demanding decreased prison sentences, an end to racist discrepancies between crack and cocaine sentencing and increases in funding for treatment. "Until now," wrote Washington Post columnist Judy Mann, referring to the drug reform movement, "we have had hysteria instead of sensible debate about the way to deal with the wreckage brought on families, society and the Constitution by illegal drugs and the failed war against them."

Such calls for change have also become bipartisan. Public policy organizations as diverse as the libertarian Cato Institute, which developed the idea of privatizing part of Social Security, and the liberal Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, which is leading the effort to refocus federal drug policies on public health and harm reduction, are working together and backing the same drug initiatives that passed on Election Day. Just published by the Cato Institute is "After Prohibition: An Adult Approach to Drug Policies in the 21st Century," which includes some of the most damning indictments of the drug war ever written.

What is perhaps most amazing is that drug reform gusto among journalists and policy wonks is not taking place in a political vacuum. Two high-ranking Republican politicians are leading the call. In his recent State of the State address, New York Gov. George Pataki announced he would seek legislation to "dramatically reform" the state's 1970s Rockefeller drug laws, which are some of the toughest in the country. Under them, a person convicted of selling two or more ounces of heroin or possessing four or more ounces of cocaine faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 15 years and those convicted of selling a single vial of crack or bag of heroin are sent away for five years or more. Now Pataki is proposing minimum sentences of 8 1/3 years for nonviolent drug offenders and more money for treatment centers.

One-upping New York on the drug reform front is New Mexico, whose governor, Gary Johnson, has been among the most vocal critics of current drug policies. Like Pataki, Johnson has called for reducing mandatory minimum sentences and investing in treatment and education. But Johnson has gone a few steps further. The panel he convened to overhaul the New Mexico's drug policies has recommended the decriminalization of "personal use" of marijuana as well as abandoning zero tolerance educational policies. With his usual straightforward aplomb, Governor Johnson is backing these recommendations. "You hear you're going to lose your mind and go crazy and even die if you smoke marijuana," he told Playboy magazine. "You have to tell the truth. When kids realize you're lying, they will no longer listen to you. They may think the stuff you've been telling them about other drugs isn't true either ... People try pot and they don't go crazy."

So far most Democrats have remained mum on such drug reform logic, fearful of the usual accusations that they are soft on crime. However those leaving the Clinton administration, including the President himself, have been spreading the gospel. In an interview published in the December 28 issue of Rolling Stone, Clinton said, albeit too late, he was for a "re-examination of entire policy of imprisonment."

"[A] lot of people are in prison today because they have drug problems or alcohol problems," Clinton told Rolling Stone. "And too many of them are getting out -- particularly out of state systems -- without treatment, without education, without skills, without serious efforts at job placement. There are tons of people in prison who are nonviolent offenders -- who have drug-related charges that are directly related to their own drug problems. . . Our prison policies are counterproductive."

Treatment versus criminalization: it's the oldest story of the drug war. Should the government view America's drug problems as a crisis of public health or of crime? Should it spend more money to reform the addicted and retrain the drug-dealing, or should it put the bulk of tax-payers' dollars into prisons, SWAT teams and international military operations?

Back in 1971, when Nixon launched the war on drugs, his aim was to gain the backing of white middle-class Americans horrified by drug-taking hippies and the rise in inner-city crime. Yet Nixon's initial approach was not so different from the Johnson administration's, which viewed drugs as a social disease to be treated by doctors and social workers. During Nixon's first term, a nation-wide system of methadone clinics was set up. The clinics were successful; addicts kicked the habit, cities became more livable. And for the first and only time in U.S. drug policy history treatment supplanted law enforcement.

But times changed -- and with them what was politically favorable. Nixon won the White House again in 1972, partly through appeals to restore law and order by beefing up the drug war. He authorized the formation of a new enforcement "superagency" to fight drugs, the Drug Enforcement Administration, ordered the CIA to join the drug fight and, abandoning his former drug czar's treatment approach, poured millions of dollars into going after street peddlers, smugglers and overseas growers.

Since then, not much has changed, with the exception of Carter's administrations botched attempts to reverse the treatment-versus-law enforcement tide. And so, year after year drug reformers have watched with horror as generations of inner-city blacks go to prison and politicians, eager to appear tough on crime, earmark fewer dollars for harm reduction. Ethan Nadelmann, one of the movement's leaders and founder of the Lindesmith Institute, insists this law enforcement approach has led to a cycle of violence, corruption and enrichment -- on the part of drug dealers and fund-hungry government drug agencies -- "that has ruined countless lives."

Director Steven Soderbergh's new movie "Traffic" crystallizes the drug war's throes of cyclical insanity better than any series of two-and-a-half second slices of time. During one of the film's key scenes, the newly installed drug czar (played by Michael Douglas) -- whose suburban-dwelling, Boticelli-looking daughter has become an addict and whose bewilderment at how to stop drug trafficking is aflower -- asks his staff to "think outside the box" about the drug problem. He is met with stony silence. Cut to more scenes of unenforceable laws, manipulated policeman, incredibly rich criminals, violence, addiction and death.

The message of "Traffic" is that the drug war is futile -- and it is a message being met by millions of nods. But are we really headed toward reform? But the chances are slim that George W. Bush will become an enlightened drug war president.

Bush has made almost no public statements about his views on drug policy, with the exception of a January 19 CNN interview in which -- after considerable prodding -- he said he was "willing to look at" reducing minimum sentences for first-time users and the effectiveness of drug-prevention programs.

But his attorney general, John Ashcroft, who will have great influence in directing federal drug spending and selecting the next drug czar, appears to be a firm believer of enforcement over treatment. In his clearest statement on drug policy, Ashcroft said: "A government which takes the resources that we would devote toward the interdiction of drugs and converts them to treatment resources ... is a government that accommodates us at our lowest and least."

While Governor of Missori, Ashcroft went so far as to ignore drug laws while in office. Investigative journalist Daniel Forbes reported recently that Ashcroft "agreed to look the other way" while state police seized assets of drug offenders for their agencies, when the Missouri Constitution requires drug forfeiture funds go to the state's school system.

Already Republican House drug warriors have sent a letter to Bush urging him to "re-energize" the drug war and not to drop the drug czar's cabinet-level status. "We believe that any downgrade of the drug czar position to below Cabinet status at the outset of the administration would be a misstep," their letter said. It also was critical of Clinton's efforts to reduce staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Given that Bush needs the support of House Repbulicans, he will probably do their bidding and bury demands for drug reform at the federal level. But if he chooses to ignore the growing drug reform movement, he will take a gamble with his career prospects. As pundits have been saying for weeks, Bush faces a nation divided, especially along racial and geographic lines. He didn't win America's cities, where citizens have witnessed the results of massive arrests and militaristic drug sweeps. He certainly didn't take the African American vote. Gore won it by 90 percent, as he did the Latino vote by 62 percent and the Asian vote by 55 percent.

What these numbers prove is that Bush's America is essentially white and suburban -- the very demographic least affected by the drug war's spiral of crime, incarceration and civic disempowerment. Bush can appoint as many African Americans and Latinos to his cabinet as he likes, but it will not help to "heal the nation's wounds," or -- to put it more plainly -- bring non-elite urbanites and minorities over to his camp. Only federal policy aimed at the problems of this growing population of Americans can do this. Drug reform would be an excellent start.

Super Predators No More?

Although 1999 was the year of the Columbine shooting in Littleton, Colo. and mass anxiety about youth crime, it also was the year that juvenile arrests for murder fell to their lowest rate since 1966.

Is this an example of millennial inversions, of discrepancies inexplicable and strange? According to Howard N. Snyder, author of the just-released U.S. Justice Department report, Juvenile Arrests 1999, "It is very difficult to determine the cause of rates in murder, rape, robbery and assault from year to year."

But given the results of his number-crunching: that, among Americans under 18, robbery dropped 53 percent from 1991 to 1999; that rape went down 31 percent from 1991 to 1999; that burglary decreased 60 percent from 1980 to 1999; and that crime in almost every category -- assault, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson -- fell by more than 23 percent over the last six to 10 years, it is difficult to believe there are no general causes.

One of the most obvious is the economy. When times are good, crime rates tend to go down. The other is the relationship between federal policy, such as handgun and imprisonment legislation, and crime. This may seem like simplistic thinking, but in the world of policy makers and criminologists, making such connections is the stuff of political tightrope walking.

"Nobody mentioned crime during the federal welfare debate, for example," said Vincent Schiraldi, director of the Justice Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC, which studies crime rates closely. "The reason is that since the '80s criminologists have taken a beating from the right wing. The right views human beings as completely responsible actors, unaffected by racism, poverty, unemployment and education, and this thinking has seeped from academia to think tanks to practically everywhere."

The other reason juvenile crime rates are a political hot potato is because they can say quite a lot about the state -- healthy or sick -- of American culture. In 1995, 20/20 aired a report titled "Super Predators." Its subject was the early 1990's rise in juvenile crime, and among its leading commentators was John DiIulio, a Princeton sociologist, who claimed youth crime spelled a crisis in American morals.

"These kids are fatherless," DiIulio said. "Godless and without conscience. They have no hope, no direction and no future. We're not dealing with kids who are economically poor ... we're dealing with kids who are spiritually poor."

To learn more about the dissemination of information on youth crime as well as the Justice Department's new report, AlterNet spoke with Vincent Schiraldi of the Justice Policy Institute.

AlterNet: Why has the rate of juvenile crime dropped in almost every category over the past decade?

Schiraldi: It's always difficult to try to simplify the complex factors that contribute to crime into one or two causes. Having said that, if I had to pick two factors, I'd pick guns and poverty. The sharp increases in youth homicides we saw from the mid-1980s to the early '90s came during a time when handgun availability was escalating and the economy was reeling. This, in turn, created the climate -- particularly in inner city areas of concentrated poverty -- in which the crack-cocaine epidemic flourished.

Since the mid-1990s, two things have happened that have doubtless contributed to the decline in youth crime. Domestic production of civilian firearms, particularly handguns, peaked in 1993. The number of families with children below the poverty level peaked in 1993. And juvenile homicides peaked in 1993. All three have simultaneously plummeted, so that today there are a quarter fewer families with children in poverty, over a thousand fewer guns put into circulation annually and 68 percent fewer youth homicide arrests -- the lowest juvenile homicide arrest rates since the 1960s. It defies the imagination to think that those powerful factors have simply coincided.

AlterNet: Are the crime rate drops also related to the economic boom?

Schiraldi: This economic boom has been different from previous economic booms, and it has many in the criminological community playing catch-up. The connection between unemployment and crime was often considered to be a tenuous one, largely because economic booms of the past never reached into truly impoverished neighborhoods. This boom, on the other hand, has. The wage-earning cohort that has received the largest increase in wages during the current boom, for example, is the lowest earning workers. The economic improvements for the poor and very poor in turn have a multiplier effect on young people. It employs teenagers who are thereby productively occupied. It employs their parents, thereby lifting their self-esteem and rendering them less likely to abuse substances and abuse their kids. And it has a beneficial affect on their neighborhoods, making them healthier places in which to grow up. Now I'm not saying that poor people are making out like bandits, just that they are more likely to be employed and are making more than in the past, and that's having a beneficial impact on crime by adults and youth.

AlterNet: Why do Americans today think kids commit more crimes than they actually do?

Schiraldi: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there really was a significant increase in juvenile crime, particularly homicides, by kids. Caught up in the political feeding-frenzy over crime, many ne'er-do-well politicians sought to mine the crime issue for votes, whipping up fears to aggrandize their political careers. During this time, 43 states made it easier to try juveniles as adults, for example, and adult prison populations doubled to nearly two million.

The mainstream media generally followed the rantings of many of these politicians. So, for example, between 1992 and 1996, despite the fact that there was a 20 percent decline in homicides in America, there was a 721 percent increase in coverage of murders on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news. Since three-quarters of Americans form their opinions about crime from information they garner from the news media, it is not surprising that two-thirds of the public think juvenile crime is up, even though it is as low as it has been in a generation.

AlterNet: How much has the Columbine shooting and other recent school shootings affected people's views about juvenile crime?

Schiraldi: It is difficult to overstate how the highly publicized spate of school shootings affected public opinion and policy. The year of the tragedy at Columbine, there were 26 school-associated deaths in America's schools, which educate a population of 52 million school students. This means that there was less than a 1 in a 2 million chance of being killed in one of America's schools that year, a decline of 40 percent from the previous year. Assaults and carrying weapons in schools had also all declined by double digits in the years leading up to Columbine. School violence and school shootings were and are on the decline, and schools continue to be one of the safest places for America's children to be.

Yet Americans are perhaps as afraid of their schools as they've ever been. Seven in 10 respondents to a Wall Street Journal Poll believe it is likely that there will be a shooting in their neighborhood school. Despite the 40 percent decline in school shootings, respondents to a USA Today poll were 49 percent more likely to believe such a shooting was likely in 1999 than in 1998. Although data consistently show that youths in rural schools are the least likely to be victimized by crime, rural parents are more fearful of crime in their schools than urban or suburban parents. All of this has resulted in 3.1 million suspensions and expulsions from America's schools, expulsions which occur at twice the rate they occurred when my, more violent classmates and I attended school in the late 1970s.

AlterNet: Is the decline in juvenile crime related to the passage of tough juvenile justice laws such as Proposition 21 in California and the "10-20-Life Junior" plan in Florida?

Schiraldi: Interestingly, many of these juvenile crackdowns occurred after declines in juvenile crime had already occurred and despite the fact that youth crime was dropping sharply. For example, in California, during the 1990s, the adult incarceration rate rose precipitously, while the youth incarceration rate stayed fairly stable, and no major juvenile crime legislation passed. Yet, during the 1990s, youth crime in the Golden State experienced a greater decline than adult crime did -- hardly a shot in the arm for the "law and order" crowd. Still, in March of 2000, well after a substantial drop in youth crime had already occurred, California voters passed Proposition 21, making it easier to try thousands of youth in adult court and imprison them in adult prisons. One possible reason why is that 60 percent of respondents to a 1996 California Wellness Foundation poll reported that they thought that young people "commit most crime nowadays," even though youth in California made up less than one in five arrests in 1996.

AlterNet: Why have juvenile arrests for drug abuse violations and arrests for curfew and loitering violations increased 132 percent and 113 percent, respectively, between 1990 and 1999?

Schiraldi: Part of the problem with the public's misperception that youth crime is increasing when it's really falling is that, even as kids behave better, we treat them worse. So, despite the fact that young people today are less likely than my generation was to commit crimes, take drugs, binge drink and have children during their teenage years, we're finding ways to criminalize them anyway.

This shows up in the fact that schools suspend and expell twice as many young people today than they did when I was in high school. It also shows up in arrests for things like drugs and curfew violations. Through police sweeps targetted largely at inner city, minority youth, America's law enforcement approach has targetted young blacks and Latinos as public enemy number one. While the Drug Czar's polling data consistently show that African-American and white youth use drugs at roughly the same rates, African-American youth consistently make up the overwhelming majority of kids locked up for drug offenses. Instead of "driving while black" arrests, these youth are often subject to "standing while black" arrests. As we endeavor to create a fair and effective juvenile justice system in this century, the disparate treatment of minority youth needs to be at the top of our agenda.

AlterNet: What can be done to further decrease juvenile crime? to improve the juvenile incarceration system?

Schiraldi: America has a tremendous opportunity now to move forward on reducing youth crime and improving our juvenile justice system. With youth crime rates falling to 1960s levels, communities should be downsizing or eliminating their youth prisons, and diverting funds that currently go to incarceration into model youth development efforts and alternatives to youth incarceration. That's why it is so disturbing that much of the public and many policy makers are still unaware of declines in youth crime. In an environment saturated with this much bad information about our young people, it is exceedingly difficult to set sound public policy for youth.

AlterNet: What did you find to be the most surprising revelations in the Justice Department study?

Schiraldi: The National Crime Victimization survey is an annual survey conducted by the Census Bureau and analyzed and published by the Justice Department and is broadly considered to be the best measure of crime by criminologists. In their most recent survey, youth crime was at its lowest since that survey began in 1973. The FBI Uniform Crime Reports, which the Justice Department released last week, is the best source of youth crime data on youth homicide arrests (which are not counted in the Census Bureau survey). That showed homicides at their lowest since the 1960s. This means that youth crime is lower today than it was for most of the baby-boom generation. As a baby-boomer, I can tell you on behalf of my generation -- that was surprising.

AlterNet: Has the toughening mood in America's juvenile justice system been meted out equally along racial and ethnic lines?

Schiraldi: Study after study consistently shows that, even controlling for prior record and current offenses, black and Latino youth consistently get a worse deal at the hands of the juvenile justice system. The Building Blocks for Youth Initiative is a project that was recently established to specifically address the disproportionate confinement of minority youth in the juvenile justice system. In one of their studies, they showed that when you compare groups of white youth and African-American youth who have no prior history of incarceration who have been charged with drug offenses, the African-American youth are 48 times as likely to be sentenced to incarceration as the white youth. This overrepresentation was most extreme in the drug category, but was true for violent, property and public order offenses as well.

AlterNet: Why has there been so little press coverage of the Justice Department report?

Schiraldi: Good news always has a hard time penetrating the media. If there was a 68 percent increase in youth homicides, I suspect it would have made the front page of most U.S. newspapers. In addition today, as compared to when I was a teenager in the '70s, there are an abundance of 24-hour news shows that blast youth crime (and adult crime) at viewers morning, noon and night. The news media are voracious consumers of their own product. I believe that watching graphic depictions of youth crime in high doses has convinced not only the public and policy makers, but news directors, that youth today are out of control. Reports about declining youth crime don't fit the media's script about youth in America. Such reports are therefore trivialized.

Get Involved!

For more information about the Building Blocks for Youth Initiative, see www.buildingblocksforyouth.org.

For more information about the work of the Justice Policy Institute, see www.cjcj.org.

To view the Juvenile Arrest 1999 report, see www.ojjdp.ncjrs.org.

Study Finds Rise in Corporate Power

Not since the Gilded Age when John D. Rockefeller dominated the oil industry and J. P. Morgan served as America's unofficial central banker has there been so much talk about how big corporations threaten democracy. Al Gore got on the bandwagon this summer; wherever the vice president went he talked about the powerful -- "big tobacco, big oil, big polluters" -- versus the powerless of the people. And of course corporate power and its discontents were at the center of Ralph Nader's run for the presidency.

A critic of corporate power will probably not occupy the White House in January. But whoever the 43rd president of the United States is, it is doubtful he will see the issue go away. According to a September 2000 Business Week/Harris Poll, between 72 and 82 percent of Americans believe that "business has gained too much power over too many aspects of American life" and 74 to 82 percent believe that big companies have too much influence over "government policy, politicians, and policy-makers in Washington."

Now, to add to this growing consensus is a new study, published by the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank in Washington, DC. "Top 200: The Rise of Corporate Global Power" argues that the leading economic story of the last five years is one of rapid growth of the world's top 200 corporations and diminishment of government and citizen control.

Perhaps the most important finding of IPS's study is that of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations, whereas 49 are countries. In other words, General Motors has greater economic power than the majority of the world's nation-states, as does Wal-Mart and Exxon Mobil.

The report also provides statistical evidence that combined sales of the top 200 corporations are bigger than the combined economies of all countries minus the biggest 10, and that such sales are 18 times the size of the combined annual income of the 1.2 billion people (or 24 percent of the world population) living in "severe" poverty.

"Growing private power has enormous economic consequences," concludes the study. "However, the greatest impact may be political, as corporations transform economic clout into political power."

To learn more about IPS' study, AlterNet spoke with Sarah Anderson, co-author of "Top 200" and director of the Global Economy Project of Institute for Policy Studies.

AlterNet: How does the 2000 report on global corporate power differ from the one IPS published in 1996?

Anderson: One disturbing change is evident in the largest employers on the top 200 list. In 1995, General Motors was the biggest, with 709,000 workers. By 1999, GM's employment had dropped to only 388,000, largely because of outsourcing. The firm that took GM's place as the No. 1 employer is Wal-Mart, with a staggering 1,140,000 employees, up from 648,500 in 1995. Whereas a good share of GM's jobs were unionized and decently paid, Wal-Mart is a notorious union-buster that employs armies of workers on a part-time basis to avoid paying benefits. These changes reflect the overall trend towards fewer and fewer union manufacturing jobs and the rise in poorly paid, non-union service-sector work.

Another dramatic development over the past five years is the surge in economic power of U.S. firms over those in other countries. Largely because of economic stagnation in Japan and mega-mergers among U.S. firms, the United States dominates the top 200. U.S. corporations hold 82 slots, followed by Japan, with only 41. In 1995, these countries were virtually tied, with 59 and 58 firms in the top 200, respectively.

AlterNet: What do you consider to be the most surprising results of your research?

Anderson: What surprises most people is not that these firms have tremendous power, but that their power is so out of whack with the contributions they make in terms of jobs and taxes. When I tell people that their sales are the equivalent of more than a quarter of world economic activity, they assume that they must provide somewhere near an equal amount of the world's jobs or taxes. The reality is that they employ less than 1 percent of the world's workforce and many of the top corporations don't pay any U.S. federal taxes at all.

Many people also ask whether the clout of global corporations is really new. How is this different from the power of the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds in the last century? What the report shows is that the concentration of power among the top 200 firms has been steadily increasing in relation to world economic activity in general. Between 1983 and 1999, the top 200s' sales grew from the equivalent of 25 percent to 27.5 percent of world GDP. Yes, we've had mammoth firms for a long time, but we haven't had this level of concentration of economic clout on a global scale.

AlterNet: What has the feedback on the report been so far? Have conservative think tanks, for example, contested your research?

Anderson: USA Today quoted two people who were critical of the study. The first was Murray Weidenbaum, former economic adviser to President Reagan, who pointed out that a large share of corporate revenue goes to pay for worker compensation. My response to that is yes, many workers do depend on wages from these firms, but they are hardly getting their fair share of the dramatic profit growth we've seen over the past decade. In the United States alone, CEO pay grew 535 percent during the past decade while average worker pay grew only 32.3 percent. And of course many of these firms are shifting production to low-wage countries, making the global gap even wider.

The other person they quoted was Michael Santoro, of the Rutgers Business School. He stated that these corporations create products that consumers want and that they are "in general using the resources of the world in a positive way." Our study doesn't deny that these firms influence our lives in ways other than by providing jobs and taxes. Nevertheless, I thought Santoro's statement was a rather sweeping one to make about a group that includes tobacco-peddler Philip Morris, major polluters like Exxon Mobil, companies with questionable environmental and human rights records like Royal Dutch/Shell and Chevron, and controversial genetic engineer Novartis.

AlterNet: Given that 51 of the largest 100 economies in the world are corporations, what conclusions can be drawn about the state of economic democracy?

Anderson: I think once you understand the extent of their economic power, it should be no surprise that most governments in the world have been pursuing policies that are in the interest of these large corporations. Through the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and also regional trade agreements, large corporations are getting more and more powers and privileges to operate as they like around the world.

Meanwhile, workers and communities are not getting any new powers to fight for their fair share of the benefits of the globalized economy or to prevent these corporations from destroying the environment to make a profit. It's a dismal scenario, but what I always try to remember is that while they might have the economic power, we have the people. And as we've seen in Seattle and Prague and many other places around the world, a new peoples' movement against corporate globalization is beginning to take off.

AlterNet: In your opinion, what can be done to restore greater economic egalitarianism?

Anderson: One reason corporations have so much power around the world is because so many countries are so desperate for foreign investment and export revenues to pay off their external debts that they are willing to look the other way when global corporations behave in socially irresponsible ways. So full debt relief for the poorest countries is a first step.

The bigger challenge, though, is to rewrite the rules of the road to globalization. Right now, the rules set by the WTO, World Bank, IMF and other trade and investment agreements are designed to benefit large corporations. We need new rules that will put the goals of environmental sustainability, reduced inequality and human rights at the forefront. To create a political climate in which these types of radical changes would be possible, we also need to get big money out of politics and to regain the spirit of monopoly-busting that has been subverted by the goal of global competitiveness.

"Top 200: The Rise of Corporate Global Power" can be found at: www.ips-dc.org/top200.htm.

The Critic as Radical

I considered myself pretty clever for arranging an interview with cultural critic Thomas Frank at San Francisco's newest cineplex mall, the Sony Metreon. Not only had I proposed we meet in its 350,000-square feet of faux-futuristic gadget shops, where thumping techno and screechy R & B blare from thousands of competing speakers, I had suggested we first grab a coffee at the most loathsome retailer of the "New Economy:" Starbucks.

Starbucks, I imagined, would allow Frank, a writer with the acerbic punch of H.L. Mencken and the caterwauling wit of Tom Wolfe, to riff freely on the extremes of American consumer culture. I could imagine him passing a caustic eye on the Metreon's "multicultural bistro-style" restaurants and, after a knowing sigh, saying: "Consumerism is no longer about 'conformity' but about 'difference,'" as he had written in an essay published in his journal The Baffler. Or passing the Microsoft Store, whose entrance is flanked by ATM machines, and pronouncing: "Markets may look like democracy, in that we are all involved in their making, but they are fundamentally not democratic," as he had propounded in page after page of his new book: "One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy."

But my plans for such a made-for-journalism mise-en-scène were foiled. Forty minutes passed before I discovered it was not Frank who was late but I who had misjudged the commercial reach of Starbucks. To my great horror, I was informed that there was not a Starbucks in the Sony Metreon but five and Frank, should he be in the complex that would have sent Aldous Huxley straight to the hospital, was in one of them.

I did find Thomas Frank, after much frantic searching. He is a surprisingly mild-looking man. Rosy-faced and bespectacled in a pink Oxford shirt and nicely tailored jacket, he looks more like someone given to spending time in a country club parlor chatting about stocks than in a cramped, book-lined office in Chicago, editing and writing articles on cultural co-optation and the demise of economic equality.

Frank is an anomaly in this day of intellectuals who have no audience beyond their Ivory Tower. Like the social critics Edmund Wilson and Susan Sontag, he is a man made for academia (he has a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Chicago) who decided not to pursue tenure track and go it alone as a writer and editor. He is also a scholar who believes he can fight for the working class. For the last five years he has written on how corporate life has dominated American culture, while his former fellow classmates have produced fashionable treatises on pop culture's "hidden loci of resistance" in TV series, rock videos, and shopping malls.

After noting that the nearby clamor was "barristas doing the Starbucks cheer in the Starbucks Number Three of the Sony Metreon," Frank told me that he wrote "One Market Under God" -- his book on the "fraud of the 'New Economy'" -- because an event similar in scale to the anti-Vietnam or the civil rights movement is soon to befall the post-'60s generation.

"I think very soon we're going to be faced with something not so far from those movements because of what we've done to the welfare state, because of what we've allowed corporations to do," Frank explained with no inkling of pleasure. "The huge issue is going to be getting the beast back into the box, bringing democracy to bear on economic life."

Frank, who grew up in the '70s in Kansas City, the son of a mechanical engineer, has found little salvation in the radical legacies of the Age of Aquarius. His first book, "The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism" became a national bestseller among twenty- and thirtysomethings because he argued that the '60s counterculture was a kind of marketing hoax, as much an invention of the advertising industry as a movement with authentic grass roots. For him, the last genuine progressive era -- uncorrupted by ad men and the chimeric media world -- took place longer ago, during the 1930s populist politics of the New Deal.

This frightens Frank to no end, since he is well aware that almost nothing is left, let alone remembered, about the labor movement, tax policies and social welfare systems that came out of the FDR administration. "That huge effort made by our ancestors to bring about economic democracy has been lost and now we'll have to do it all over again," said Frank, who admits he is not so sure how a New Deal revival will happen.

But Frank does not lack for words or ideas. "One Market Under God" is a brilliant blast through today's leading myth: the democratization of wealth through the 1990s bull market. The book has earned raves from reviewers. They have compared him to Thomas Carlyle, to Mark Twain, for showing that Americans leaders' overwhelming faith in the market has made a sham of democracy.

"[M]arkets enjoyed some mystic, organic connection to the people" in the 1990s, Frank writes in his preface, "while governments were fundamentally illegitimate . . . . Markets expressed the popular will more articulately and meaningfully than did mere elections. Markets conferred democratic legitimacy; markets were a friend of the little guy."

Frank moves his thesis along by coining and building on the term market populism, a 1990s ideology in which populism was severed from social justice movements and government programs and tied to the magic of the Dow Jones. To him, this conflation spells doom. While Americans were imbibing their nightly dose of upbeat market forecasts on television, investing heartily in Cisco and reading about the inevitability of laissez-faire capitalism in books by George Gilder, Warren Buffet and Lester Thurow, an insidious undercurrent, argues Frank, was at work: a politics for the rich by the rich that has resulted in the final smashing of the New Deal.

"I must drawn your attention to a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Peggy Noonan, Reagan's speechwriter," said Frank by way of example. "Noonan argued Americans should vote for Bush because he is a man of the people, a humble person, who understands business, rather than Al Gore, an affected, elitist snob who believes in the power of government to fix things." In other words, Frank concluded, "the common people are identified one-to-one with the market -- and Bush, as a man of the market, is a man of the common people."

Frank is adamant that the rhetoric of market populism has been the grand wool-over-the-eyes of 1990s America. And to a great degree he is right. Never before has there been such uniform consensus about the ability of the stock market to do the work of government. (Who 40 years ago would have imagined that a presidential candidate could find support to privatize Social Security? Or that so many people would believe the vast salaries of CEOs would trickle down to meet the needs of over-worked, recently down-sized employees?)

Frank has been lauded for his insights in "One Market Under God," but attacked for his methods. Some critics like Michelle Goldberg of Salon.com have faulted him for not offering a coherent strategy for dealing with unchecked global economics. Others, like Rob Walker in The New York Times, have accused him of looking at corporate America too much like a literary theorist and not enough as an economist.

The latter is absolutely true. Frank's analysis focuses mostly on the literature of Wall Street and management theory, books he insists are the cultural handprint of the "business-as-God" fever that has struck America. This critical tack, however, is what makes his book strident and original. Frank is at his best analyzing how business writers, journalists and politicians have adopted the language of populism as a means to cast the market as the one true democratic force.

"New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is one of the worst market populists," Frank assured me. "One of his favorite arguments is that there is no alternative to the market. Every country will be forced to accede to its politics, which means there can be no dissent." Frank, who voted for Ralph Nader in Illinois, added: "The other day Friedman proposed Nader should be appointed ambassador to North Korea because that's where policies like his go over." Frank called this vicious red-baiting and a bullish approach to political alternatives. "If I wrote something like that at any publication," he said, "I'd be fired."

Of course, Frank writes for himself. When I asked him who he thought his audience was, he seemed uncertain. "I know that almost every magazine editor in the world starts with the question: Who is our target audience? Let's write to that audience." Frank said he has never done that at The Baffler or in his books. This is evident from almost any random Frankian phrase. Try, for example, this riff on the new Everyman of the market populist decade:

"What emerged as the decade wore on was a curious hybrid of 'Adam Smith's' Neitzschean traders and Peter Lynch's everyman-as-expert: Everyman as his own cigar-chomping, commodity-broking, devil-take-the-hindmost asshole, hovering over the office computer (fuck the boss!) to spread rumors on the Raging Bull message boards and scalp the gains on E*Trade, all the while listening to the scabrous ranting of Limp Bizkit, cultivating a goatee, and dreaming about Xtreme sports. Generation X and stocks, it now seemed, went together like Kurt and Courtney."

"One Market Under God" is certainly worth reading for passages like this. In fact, it has been too long since a cultural critic has had the guts to draw together history, philosophy and pop anything, rage like an over-educated madman, and come up with controversial theories on American culture. Think: Marshall McLulan, Frederic Jameson. But it is unclear whether this frenetic style of academic analysis will detract readers from his broader political message.

Frank wants to get readers thinking about why it has become acceptable that the country's richest 1 percent hold an estimated 40.1 percent of the nation's wealth, why corporations have retreated from their traditional responsibilities to workers, while America's ruling class has pretended, like Bill Gates, to be "just folks." He wants people to understand that "What beat the left in America wasn't inflation and uppity workers, it was the culture war" -- and not the culture war over families values and political correctness, which he identifies as a right-wing feint, but the war over the language of economic democracy.

"What I was trying to do was something along the lines of what Richard Hofstadter or Christopher Lasch used to do: serious history, serious thinking, but for a general audience," Frank explained. "I think my ideas and solutions are more by implication than overt strategy. And those are: to start talking about social class again; to take the language of social class back from the right, from the market; and to try to rebuild a movement based on the idea of economic and social democracy."

Frank admits he has no idea how influential his book will be. But he said that labor organizers, academics and friends of all stripe who have read "One Market Under God" have understood his argument. "People across the spectrum understand how incredible it is that critics of market capitalism, like myself, have been branded elitists while those who support it get to wear the nametag of populists."

As for those who say "One Market Under God" is too in thrall to picking apart all the pro-business messages -- from management literature, the advertising industry, Wall Street, newspapers and conservative politicians -- to make the New Economy appear anything more than a hideous unstoppable joke, a kind of Grendel in a land of defenseless Lilliputians, Frank can only react with puzzlement and exhaustion.

"You know, I brought it home to myself today, quite by accident," said Frank in reference to an earlier interview. "You see, my wife and I are about to have a child. And I don't know how I'm ever going to pay to send that child to college. I went totally on financial aid and need-based scholarships, stuff that now only exists for a very limited number of people. And so, I will never be able to afford to give my child the kind of education I had unless I live in a social democracy."

Frank paused for a moment, after an hour of talking about his role as a cultural critic, after days of talking about the democratic failings of 1990s market capitalism, and said: "You know that's a horrible realization, that I was the first Frank to get a degree in liberal arts, and guess what: unless something really, really good happens, I'll be the last."

A Manifesto for Third Wave Feminism

It is easy to be cynical about feminist activism today. The quest for equality -- in the workplace, at home, on the street and particularly in the corridors of power -- is far from what advocates of the 1970s women's movement, the so-called Second Wave, fought for. There are few women in government; a glass ceiling in the workplace, although wearing thin, still looms overhead; and perhaps most important of all, American women -- though mostly free of the centuries' long economic dependence on men -- are now hamstrung between the pressures of making money or pursuing a profession and raising children.

Go to the magazine shelves, pick up any glossy rag -- Redbook, Mademoiselle, Cosmo -- and there you will read one benumbing article after another in reaction to (though rarely insightful about) the hackneyed belief that "You can't have it all"; that Second Wave feminism, with its derogation of marriage and emphasis on social and economic justice, has sold out a whole generation of women, who can't get hitched in the booming marketplace of sexual liberation.

It's no wonder that people aren't even familiar with the term Third Wave feminism. The more general assumption is that feminism is dead, that the Second Wavers did their work -- and not particularly well -- and now we're stuck with a bucket-load of unsolvable problems.

But hark! Feminism is not dead, nor has it ever found itself in the throes of final expiration. It just, like all movements, has mutated and transformed.

Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards know this implicitly, which is one of the reasons they wrote Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000), a book that argues for the continued importance of feminism in politics, education and culture.

The other reason they spent five years dissecting the state of the women's movement is to define the controversial ascendance of "girlie culture," a phenomenon of female self-empowerment that emerged in the 1990s with movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, activist groups like Riot Grrrl and books like Elizabeth Wurtzel's Bitch.

Baumgardner and Richards advocate girlie culture. They have done so as journalists (both 30-year-olds got their start at Ms. magazine) and as activists (both are leaders of the Third Wave, an activist group for young women). But their main problem is that Second Wave feminists, and especially Second Wave politicians and journalists, are largely against their advocation.

Women like former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen have argued that equating lipstick with empowerment, however playful or ironic, and reclaiming such words a bitch and slut makes a mockery of feminism' longtime and still unachieved goals of social and economic equality. Second Wavers bemoan girlie culture's focus on the personal and the cultural over the political.

So an intergenerational struggle has sprung forth between mothers and daughters. On the one side are Second Wavers who lashed out against their sexually limiting roles as wives and mothers in exchange for equal pay and egalitarian partnerships. And on the other are Third Wavers who, perhaps dismissive of the battles fought and often won by their mothers, aspire to be Madonna, the woman who rose to fame as the ultimate virgin whore. Third Wavers, say Baumgardner and Richards, want to continue the fight for equal rights, but not to the detriment of their sexuality. They want to be both subject and object, when it comes to their sexual roles, their political power and their place in American culture.

As you will discover in the following interview and accompanying excerpt, Baumgardner and Richards believe the generational struggle over feminism marks a new era: the tapering off of the Second Wave and the growing pains of Third.

The question to ask as you read along is: Can a Third Wave that tries to push forward urgent feminist issues -- such as national heath care and child care as well as the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment -- also champion girlie power with its penchant for adolescent role playing? Can Baumgardner and Richards' Third Wave manifesto be taken seriously not only by the Second Wave but also by young American women in general?

Why is sex or sexual self-esteem so important for this generation rather than issues of economic and social equality? Why has so-called lipstick or girlie feminism emerged?

Richards: What people don't understand is that talking about sex and sexual self-esteem is talking about equality. When I meet with high school students and they want to discuss sex, I realize we are talking about equality. It's just a different path to the same goal. In our book, we put emphasis on the "Do-Mes," the lipstick feminists, because that's been our culture. I think we've seen women in our generation -- Bust magazine is a great example of this -- who say, adamantly, "I'm going to be female, and being female is just as valuable as being male." I don't think these women are saying, "I'm going to be female, going to be objectified, going to wear sexy clothes and so on and be part of the backlash against feminism." I think they're saying, "I'm going to do all these things because I want to embrace my femininity."

Baumgardner: They're also not saying, "I am inherently female. I am essentially female." They're saying, "I am not going to put on this female dress, role, what have you, because I do not want this thing that's called female to be considered stupid. And I like it!" What we were responding to [in Second Wavers' accusations that girlie culture is not real feminism] is that they are doing to younger women what men have done to them. Second Wavers are saying to us, "You're silly. That isn't an important issue. What you talk about is dumb. Let me tell you what real feminism is. It's what we talk about." We focus on the intergenerational issue because we think it has gone unexamined.

You embrace several new, and for some, outrageous feminist epithets: girl, bitch, slut and cunt. What does the use of these words by Third Wave feminists mean?

RICHARDS: Well, I think it stems from the perception that the discussion of sex was shut off to feminists, except if it involved violent or invasive sex. But I think there's also a question of who is in control of those words. For so long those words were used against women. Now using them is women's attempt to reclaim them and to say, "Yes, I am difficult. I am a bitch. Call me a bitch. I'm going to reclaim bitch and make it my own word, because the word has more hostility when it's being used against me than when it's being used by me." Slut too. Slut is just a girl with a libido, whereas a boy with a libido is just a boy.

BAUMGARDNER: You also have to remember that the word feminist is used against us and is entirely different when we use it ourselves. Often women, younger women especially, refuse to use the term feminist to describe themselves. They do this for really good, self-protective reasons, because they see the term being used against women and perhaps they see it as too confining. In our chapter on girlie culture, "Barbie vs. the Menstrual Kit," we argue that young women's primary expression these days is a joy and ownership of sexuality and that's a form of power, a type of energy.

Why is competition so difficult for women who see themselves as feminists? And is the recent focus on pre-adolescent girls' self-esteem -- by Harvard psychologist Carol Gilligan in particular -- a way for feminists to address the issue of female power, to teach girls to be competitive and not feel uncomfortable about it?

Richards: What's difficult for feminists is that competition implies a winner and a loser. Since for so long women have been the losers in society, the notion of competition is very threatening. But I think young women are giving older women an alternative. We do not say, "Get over your differences," but we show them that there can be disagreement that's productive. I was on a panel recently for a documentary called "The Strength To Resist," based on Jean Kilbourne's book on women and advertising, and the question posed to me was: "What would your advice be to girls to help them find their strength?" I said, "Play sports. Be athletic." And all of these older women jumped on me because they thought I implied competitive sports and that's not what we should be teaching girls. So there's fear of competition.

Baumgardner: I don't think feminists talk about self-esteem in terms of competition and maybe that's a mistake because girls should know what we really mean. Competition would be a very good word for the struggle for self-esteem. But Amy is right: competition isn't so much a feminist word because it implies a winner and a loser and so it runs counter to feminist cooperation. I'm in an intergenerational feminist activist group and the women in it, many of whom are prominent writers, fight constantly, and competition is one of the issues that comes up. They say, "God, we never had these conversations in front of each other." And even though these fights are hard for me to watch, I can appreciate that they're trying to work out demons from 30 years ago. What used to happen in feminist activism was that there was a fight and women would form different groups and keep dividing because it was too painful to disagree.

In this way, do you think Second Wavers did not come to grips with the power of their sexuality, that since it had been practically the only source of their power, they had to repress it in order to fight for economic and social justice -- and now what has been repressed is resurfacing?

Richards: Yes, I think it's also that we realize there's more than one way to be sexual. Historically, there was only one way, at least it was perceived that way, and that's what people were resisting. And I think now there are many ways to be sexual -- athleticism is sexy, different body types are sexy, androgyny is sexy.

Does defining Third Wave feminism raise problems?

Baumgardner: Yes, If we had defined Third Wave activism in strict terms in the book we would have been criticized for it. People always ask us what the most important issue is and my response is: "Name an issue, if that's what you're interested in, then it's the most important, whether it's eating disorders, sexual harassment, child care, etc." This insistence on definitions is really frustrating because feminism gets backed into a corner. People keep insisting on defining and defining and defining and making a smaller and smaller definition -- and it's just lazy thinking on their part. Feminism is something individual to each feminist.

Does the Third Wave movement need a leader, someone like Gloria Steinem?

Richards: Steinem didn't maker herself a leader, the media did, which is more and more the case. We live in a culture dominated by a cult of celebrity, in which leadership is based on who gets the most face time and who gets the most PR time. But a leader is made because she or he does something different. This is muddied now -- leadership is dependent on who gets the most press. Hollywood actors are treated like leaders because they get the most PR. I'm constantly screaming: "What did Leonardo DiCaprio ever do?" And so while it's wonderful that certain celebrities put their money and personality behind a certain cause, it masks who really is fighting for that cause.

Baumgardner: The other way I've always read the quote Amy mentions is: The people who in one generation are totally singular because they were brave enough to challenge the system, in the next inherit their victories. We are all Gloria Steinems now -- without the fame, of course -- because we all have the rights that she fought for: to be single and financially independent and so on. So we are the private citizens who have the same rights as yesterday's public heroines.

The Antiglobalization Movement Gets Global

If you were watching news coverage of the protests in Prague the other week, then what you probably saw were bleeding cops, Molotov cocktail-throwing anarchists and thousands of youthful radicals in a disorganized protest. But the truth was far from those images. Although violence did break out among some demonstrators and up to 55 Czech cops did get injured, the protests organized by the Initiative against Economic Globalization in Prague (INPEG) were largely nonviolent and successful.

Come September 26, 10,000 protesters from practically every major city in Europe and North America gathered in the city of spires. Black-clad anarchists from Bristol could be seen rubbing shoulders with Slovak environmentalists. Members of the Italian group Ya Basta!, which takes its name from its support of the Zapatista revolutionaries, could be found marching in matching white fire suits, followed by Greek workers in red bandanas carrying flags with the hammer and sickle. There were Canadians and Americans, Swedes and Poles. And their target was the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- the two international lending institutions which were holding their 55th annual meetings in Prague and which protesters insist have increased world poverty, wrought environmental damage and sought to make the world over in terms that best suit the United States.

Franz Kafka was the true host of last week's events. His ghostly presence loomed over the sea of 12,000 dark-suited bureaucrats, bankers and politicians who had gathered in a meeting hall intended for apparatchiks of the Communist Party. Surely the author of The Castle would have appreciated that the financial elite were forced to share the same medieval city with a gang of postmodern flower children. He also would have been amused by the presence of hundreds of representatives of non-governmental organizations -- environmentalists, human rights activists and church leaders -- who had made a pilgrimage to Prague to denounce the Bank and the Fund. I am certain the Czech misanthrope was present when David Hawley, a spokesman for the International Monetary Fund, announced in perfect bureaucratese that the meetings were closing ahead of time. "They moved more quickly than anticipated," said Hawley. "It has nothing to do with protesters."

But the protesters knew better. They had pulled off much of what they intended: disruption of the Bank meetings and a media spotlight, however weak, on the darker sides of globalization. "We have continued the spirit of Seattle," said Scott Codey, an American organizer with INPEG. "The atmosphere was positive, celebratory. Thousands of people from all over the world shared their views on antiglobalization."

However there was much not to celebrate in Prague. After dozens of demonstrators broke through police barricades and got within yards of the bankers' meeting hall for a one-hour battle with cops, and after protesters were covered in tear gas after the more radical types smashed storefront windows in the Wenceslas Square neighborhood, Czech police abandoned the restraint that had been so admirable the first day of the protests. Come the second day, the 11,000-member force rounded up activists for no apparent reason and put them in jail. There things got decidedly worse. Among the 859 protesters in jail, many were denied food, water and phone calls. In numerous cases, they were severely beaten. Reports were flooding in of broken limbs and ribs, black eyes and other kinds of abuse. Suddenly, the benign image of the fledgling Czech democracy had endured some serious tarnishing.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism of the police at first," said Marek Vesely, a legal observer with Citizens Legal Watch, a Czech nonprofit. "But it seems that the emotions repressed were released elsewhere." In addition to investigating a range of human rights violations, Citizens Legal Watch is tying to determine if police provocateurs urged on the crowds and -- as was widely rumored -- if the FBI provided names of those activists who were not allowed to cross the Czech border.

With almost a tenth of their number in jail, Prague activists spent the latter part of their stay in Prague protesting not the IMF and the World Bank but the Czech police system. It was not unlike Seattle, Washington, D.C, Philadelphia or L.A. But there was an increased sense that violent protest -- and police brutality -- can no longer take center stage of anticapitalist demonstrations.

"If we're really serious about doing an action," said Tedd Cain, an INPEG activist from Chicago, "then we need to make certain there are de-escalation teams, people who are responsible for breaking up the violence." Other activists were not so sure of this possibility. They talked about different traditions of protest, particularly those of Europeans, some of whom see violence as a means toward radical reform. "You cannot control who comes to the protests," said Scott Codey.

What activists uniformly would like to control is their media presentation. They are deeply frustrated the press describes them as ignorant and rebellious simply because of their youth. Also among activist frustrations is the way the term antiglobalization is used against them. Activists argue they are not against the benefits of globalization: speedy travel, mass communications and quick dissemination of information (especially through the Internet, which is a key weapon in the activist arsenal.) "We have a fleet of messenger pigeons and we'll be using them in the next protest," joked INPEG organizer Patrick Twomey in reference to the usual Luddite accusations.

Rather activists say they seek to get out a complex message: that multinational corporations and the institutions that support them (the WTO, the World Bank, the IMF and many a Western government) are causing vast economic imbalances between rich and poor and tremendous third world debt. They are anticapitalists not because they are against private business but because they believe capitalism has gone too far.

It is unclear what the reactions to the Prague protests will be. Certainly, many in the United States are horrified by protesters' brawls with Czech police and the $2.5 million in property damage Prague incurred. But among the financial elite there are signs that opinions about economic globalization are changing. Even before the Prague protests Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, acknowledged there is a "deep-seated antipathy toward free market competition." And the day after protests sent delegates scurrying to the safety of their hotels, World Bank President James Wolfensohn told an audience of central bankers, finance ministers and financiers: "Outside these walls, young people are demonstrating against globalization. I believe deeply that many of them are asking legitimate questions, and I embrace the commitment of a new generation to fight poverty. I share their passion and their questioning."

Whether or not Wolfensohn's statement is the stuff of empty rhetoric remains to be seen. But what is clear is that the World Bank, largely because of Wolfensohnn, is taking steps toward reform. In the Bank's World Development Report 2000/2001 the focus was on reducing poverty not only through macroeconomic restructuring but also through attention to health, environmental and educational issues. This is what the NGO community has been advocating for over 30 years. And though very few Bank critics felt change was happening quick enough, 350 of them were permitted to attend this year's annual meetings (as opposed to the two NGOs who were let in five years ago).

As for the International Monetary Fund's declarations of reform -- encapsulated by IMF Managing Director Horst Kohler who said "we need to make the globalization work for the benefit of all" -- the response among institutionalized activists was generally bleary-eyed. Ryan Hunter, who works for Friends of the Earth, Slovakia, told me, "We cannot do needed environmental research because the IMF refuses documents on its Slovakian programs, even though the Slovakian government has written to Kohler in support of our request." Unlike the World Bank, which has begun to make some documents available for public scrunity, the IMF remains an institution with zero transparency.

Whither the antiglobalization movement? you might ask at this point. Will it continue to hopscotch from protest to protest? Will it remain mired in police brutality scandals that shed harsh light on the limits of civil disobedience? The best answer I heard was from an environmental activist from Seattle. "I think many people from many international communities will go back home and organize against corporate power and corporate control," said Robin Denburg. "Prague has created connections that we can use to organize ourselves."

Young Activists Speak Out at WireTap Youth Panel

The Independent Media Institute brought together youth activists and organizers to celebrate the launch of WireTap magazine, an independent information source by and for socially conscious youth, Friday, June 30. The topic under discussion was youth rights -- in other words, youths' access to such fundamental rights as the right to speak without being censored, to get an education and to live free of discrimination and violence.

What is the status of youth rights in the United States today? participants asked themselves. Are young people, particularly young people of color, being criminalized? Do they receive fair treatment by the media? What forces do they struggle against?

As you will see from the discussion below, questions of youth rights reflect larger social justice issues, but with a twist -- since youth are often more at risk and less protected than adults. Yet what youth can do, these activists make clear, is organize and speak out to make such urgent topics as drugs, violence, poverty and race relations more visible on the public agenda. As one participant put it: "We have to find ways of empowerment and ways in which we can communicate our basic, fundamental needs."

Robin Templeton is the communications director at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in San Francisco. She also works for The Beat Within, a writing program for youth in Bay Area juvenile detention facilities, and serves on board of Youth Speaks, an international youth spoken word organization. Templeton served as the moderator of the WireTap youth rights panel discussion.

Robin Templeton: It's important to talk about rights whenever rights are being violated, and to claim, demand and defend the rights of people fighting back. When it comes to young people and their rights, we know that young people are the most impoverished demographic living in society -- and the most criminalized. This is why we talk about the war on youth. We also know that whenever we look at young people we can see the rest of society, and that when young people get organized the rest of the world tends to follow.

These are a lot of generalizations. And there are a lot of contradictions pitted against these generalizations. For instance, Americans tend to think that young people are more violent than other age groups. Which young people? Young people of color. Actually that's not true and a lot of us know this to be untrue. There is a list of facts that a statistician named Mike Males compiled, and it addresses the misconceptions about young people today. Males shows, contrary to popular belief, that young people have the lowest rates of HIV contraction, that young people's rates of violent arrest are at the same level now as they were in 1966 (LINK TO MALES PAGE).

Yet what do we hear about young people? That they are violent. And that's why we got Proposition 21 [a measure passed in California last March which eased restrictions on jailing juvenile offenders with adults]. Proposition 21 passed overwhelmingly because the public believes there is a problem with gang and youth violence. But that's not true. What the media doesn't talk too much about is that Proposition 21 passed by a margin of voters that was 15 percent lower than was the passage of Three Strikes [another California proposition that puts criminals in jail for a minimum of 25 years upon their third offense]. The mainstream press also didn't make much out of where Proposition 21 did not pass. Namely: it didn't pass in counties where young people were organized.

It is very extreme to say that there is a war on youth. The youth mobilization against Proposition 21 coined this phrase and used it a great deal. Pecolia, Charles, since you were involved in this mobilization effort, I want to start the discussion with you:

How did the fight against Proposition 21 change how you see the world? And if there is a war on youth, where do you think it came from and what are young people doing about it?

Pecolia Manigo, a high school student, is summer program coordinator for Third Eye Movement, a Bay Area youth empowerment organization.

Pecolia Manigo: As far as Proposition 21 goes, there are a couple things that I've seen come out of it. One is the youth organizing that people think just sprung out of nowhere. But organizing by youth has been going on for a long time. It kind of died down a little bit, but it has been coming back since we've been attacked by all these propositions -- 187, 21, 209.

Proposition 21 has raised the political consciousness of youth, but not to the level where they're ready to take the step and say, "You know, I'm willing to get down and organize for the rest of my life." Some youth have done that, but not most of them. I think the reason this hasn't happened more is because no one is continuously out there at the schools and in the neighborhoods, saying, "You know what? There's social change out there that needs to happen and you guys are going to be the leaders. Y'all got to fight for your future." I think that's one thing that everybody has got to see change. We've got to be continuously outreaching to youth. It started to happen with the Prop. 21 battle, but it dropped just as soon as Proposition 21 passed.

We've been very reactive to things so far; we've not been proactive. I didn't get involved in the movement until someone kept calling my house and saying, "Girl, if you don't get to this action... And Girl, if you don't do this... And Girl, if you don't do that..." I had no choice. I think that's what we generally need to make the movement strong, so you'll see youth outside City Hall every day saying, "Y'all got to make San Francisco a prop-free zone." We need to see youth continuously organizing. We need to make youth understand that if that don't organize, they don't have a future.

Charles Jones is an urban issues journalist for the Pacific News Service and a senior contributor to PNS's Youth Outlooks magazine. He also facilitates workshops for young writers.

Charles Jones: Prop. 21 was a defining issue for my generation in the sense that with it, we will lose our generation. I have ten brothers and sisters and if they were to make mistakes under the Prop. 21 law, some of those mistakes could get them locked away as adults for longer periods of time than they would now in the juvenile system. I'd lose them for years. I wouldn't get to see them grow up. They'd grow up in the penitentiary, in an atmosphere not just too adult for them, but too sick and dangerous.

In Oakland there's a middle school called Frick where I went to summer school. Right across the street from Frick is a graveyard. That graveyard is a kind of metaphor for me. A friend of mine is buried there, a dude named Kevin Reid, who got killed at age 12-and-half, 13. Kevin didn't really live that wild a life, but his older brothers did and he sort of took the repercussions for some of his older brothers' actions. What happened to Kevin is an example to me; it shows me what paths you can take. Now, though, with Prop. 21, things have changed. People can easily lock you away. I dropped out of school during my teenage years but I never went to juvenile hall. It's no longer the path you take; it's the path you pull through.

I think about economics. People talk a lot about the Digital Divide. They say, "We need more people in impoverished areas, more people in the projects, more black people, more Latino people, more low-income people to have computers in their households and access to the Internet." Okay, well, you've got to pay for that access. A lot of folks I know can't afford a phone. They've got rent due. And if you don't have enough money for rent but you've got this nice computer in your house, the computer can go. The Digital Divide is just an extension of financial divisions. It's a branch off the financial tree that people are not picking the leaves off of, my people specifically. They call this the "age of information" or the "age of access." But the question is: What information do we have access to? And who has access to information and who can benefit from that information? That's what people need to focus on.

Robin Templeton: I want to talk about economics since you brought it up, Charles. This generation is growing up in a situation where wealth is more concentrated than ever before, which has everything to do with corporate power. Many people seem to have a great deal of concern about globalization and corporate power. One percent of the population has 90 percent of the wealth. Which leads me to my next question:

Do you think your generation is more anti-corporate than generations that have preceded it? What is your concern about commercialism and corporate control over culture?

Oci Henderson is an undergraduate at University of California, Santa Cruz, and a summer web content editor for youthradio.com.

Oci Henderson: I think a lot of people in my generation are anti-Men, but still pro-Men at the same time.

You know I rock Polo Sports sometimes. I like the way it looks. But people tell me I have no idea what the revolution is because my jeans aren't as dirty as theirs are. I'm not out every day passing out flyers. Yet a lot of the people who are, are from the Berkeley Hills. I get the feeling they're involved because they feel guilty about not going through poverty.

I think it's very popular right now to be against the system, but a lot of people are still working within it at the same time. I was at a demonstration in downtown San Francisco one time for Mumia and I was marching, but I was very peaceful about it. Meanwhile, a lot of people were hitting up against police cars and acting completely unruly. It's okay to have outlets like that sometimes; everybody needs a valve. However, they were demonstrating to prove the innocence of a man and acting completely unruly. And when 20/20 got a hold of it, as they did, it was horrible. They made the demonstrators look like zombies and monsters, thanks to a lot of clever editing. It shows you've got to be careful with the way you protest the system.

Lodrina Cherne is a technical intern at WireTap. She also works for Open Voice, a nonprofit organization in East Palo Alto that empowers youth through technology, and for KQED TV on its youth programs.

Lodrina Cherne: I know a lot of people who are very progressive, very pro-earth, and I know other people who feel very pressured to pretend to feel the same way. There's this absolute -- you either can be in the circle of activists or you can't. There's no a middle ground. And the issue of commercialism is often the reason for this.

On WireTap we published an article by the magazine Adbusters, which addressed commercialism in schools and how valuable it is for corporations to have the undivided attention of youth, sitting in the classroom, looking at logos, watching television that is supposedly educational, but is corporate-sponsored (http://alternettest.wpengine.com/wiretapmag/story.html?StoryID=284). Some people want to pay attention to this; some people don't, or don't have the time to. And, unfortunately, what has happened is that a divide has developed between those who feel they can support activism against commercialism and for fair media, and those who are afraid to be in the fight or don't understand it. So there's just a divide. It's pretty evident once you start looking for it, and it is a problem as far as continuing the conversation about the impact of commercialism on youth.

Fidel Rodriguez is an organizer for Better Communities for a Better Environment in Los Angeles and is host and producer of Seditious Beats, a critical thinking hip-hop radio and television show.

Fidel Rodriguez: I think the media -- regardless if it's the Beat, KMEL, ABC, CNN -- is a hypnotizing device. The best metaphor I use when I speak to youth about the media and commercialism is the movie The Matrix. In The Matrix, the choice is between the blue pill or the red pill. The blue pill leads to a materialistic, non-spiritual-type of life. The red pill leads to the opposite; it leads you to something real, truthful; it involves going back to your indigenous practices whether they be European, African, Latin American, etc.

When I worked at the radio station The Beat -- which is part of a media conglomerate that grosses $35 million a year and is owned by a white man named Thomas Hick who is a buyout specialist on Wall Street -- I learned the importance of critical thinking. I began to study the situation and I said to myself, "Wow. The general manager is white, the program director is white, the promotions director is white, and everybody else under them -- making five, six dollars an hour -- are people of color, mostly people from the inner cities who listen to hip-hop."

I became a critical thinker. I began to pay attention to the media industry and made myself analyze the types of commercials the networks are pumping. They're pumping out commercials for corporations that do a lot of bad stuff, that invest in the prison-industrial complex. I began to see that the United States is motivated by and based on Machiavellian principles in the sense that Machiavelli believed you rule best through fear, not love. We know that crime is down, we know that violent crime is down, but what are the images being put out through the media? When you become a critical thinker, you can begin to see through all this.

[To Oci] You brought up Polo. You're 20. I'm 31. Later on down the line, you might say, "Damn, Polo's made in Laos. They're using 14-year-old girls brought over from the Philippines to Laos to be prostitutes, and when they don't prostitute themselves they put them to work in sweatshops -- and that's how Ralph Lauren and Polo make their things."

There are contradictions in all of this. I've got Adidas on. But I'm a critical thinker. The more knowledge that you gain the more we you see you're either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Working at The Beat, I realized my coworkers are just human beings. They've been taught to be racist because of an educational system that is racist and a society that is racist.

As for violence, this country has always been violent. Huge numbers of Native Americans and Africans died for this country to be built. I'm from the Chumash Nation. The Chumash were wiped out by the Spanish; my ancestors' bones lie in the Santa Barbara Mission. My upbringing was violent. My dad was a cocaine dealer. I never knew how to deal with my anger growing up, which is why I've been on probation since I was 7 years old. I'm 31. I'm still on probation. But I'm dealing with these things. I used to be violent, sell cocaine. Yet as I became a critical thinker, I changed, became critical of myself and began to learn about my history.

Isaias Rodriguez is the founder of Rodriguez Brothers Productions, an independent media group based in Los Angeles that produces of Poetry Television and poetrytelevision.com.

Isaias Rodriguez: I want to comment on what you said, Fidel, about critical thinking. I think you described very accurately the process people have to go through to hand out flyers, to produce youth radio, to start writing, to become an editor. When I was hosting a TV show called Chicano Thoughts and talking about Chiapas, I said to my audience: "You know what, I don't want you to come down and protest. I don't want you to say, 'Burn the flag,' I want you to start thinking about what's happening in Mexico."

I think Rage Against the Machine said it best: "What does the billboard say? It says: "Come and play, come and play. Forget about the movement." I think youth feel under siege by the forces around them and, at the same time, we're all conditioned to be wealthy. We're all conditioned to go up that ladder. We're all conditioned to step on our fellow brothers and sisters. This world is all about personal growth and gain -- nothing is communal. Yet activism of all sorts has got to happen. There's room for you to wear your Polo and do what you've got to do. There's room for all kinds of people. I think a lot of people have to recognize there can be unity in difference.

Ben Porter Lewis, a Beat spoken word poet and activist, is co-founder of Onyx Spoken Word and Projector Press. He is the creator of the Los Angeles Teen Poetry Slam and is involved in youth poetry workshops in schools, juvenile detention halls and community centers in and around Los Angeles.

Ben Porter Lewis: As a spoken word poet, I ask myself: Are we awake to the inherent needs of each other? What ways and means do we actually have of understanding each other? We have to find ways of empowerment and ways in which we can communicate our basic, fundamental needs, especially to youth. This is a very important task. We have to continue growing, so we can become more analytical and critical. We have to learn to be compassionate, forgiving, so we don't allow things the past to dictate and control the future. Because if we don't know where we begin and we don't figure out ways to get past that, we're not going anywhere. So we need to come up with very constructive paths and develop ideas that will not harm and limit us.

Suemyra Shah works in production and management for Spearhead, a soul/funk/hip hop music group out of San Francisco. She is also one of the two youth members on the board of directors of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Suemyra Shah: I think one really important thing Robin mentioned at the beginning of the discussion is that youth -- not just in the United States, but all over -- are poor. This is especially true for youth of color.

In the Bay Area we're sort of in a bubble, because here there's a big push to get out and organize and raise awareness. But I think one thing organizers take for granted when they're trying to organize youth here is that there's a ton of youth that can't focus on organizing because they're trying to get something to eat. They don't know where their next meal is coming from. I hear a lot of folks talking about hitting the block and getting people in the inner city involved, when in reality the inner city people are outside hustling to feed their families, to try to pay rent.

How we organize ourselves has to be looked at critically. For so many people, the most important issue is survival. The Black Panthers knew that. Their programs, like free breakfasts and the clothes drives, helped people in a real fashion, so they could then think about doing things to uplift themselves. A lot of organizing has been taken from "Is our folks gonna be able to eat?" to "Go to this hip-hop thing. It's gonna be $5 and we're gonna talk about the prison-industrial complex."

As youth, I think the first thing we have to look out for is each other. We have to ask each other: Are you going to be able to get enrolled in school? Are you going to be able to get enough to eat? And then we can look at other issues and ask: Why are we and all our folks so strapped for cash? Why do people know folks or are related to folks that are in prison? Who is putting out whatever information we have? What can we do to raise consciousness, raise awareness and organize people, in a way that provides real solutions?

Robin Templeton: I am very impressed and inspired by young people who are taking up issues about being on the economic margins. There's a group of young people here in San Francisco who are doing just that. They're called Transaction and they're out to protect a sector of transgender people in the Bay Area who are routinely brutalized and terrorized by police. Sierra, would you tell us about this?

Sierra Spingarn is the transgender youth program coordinator at LYRIC, the Lavender Youth and Recreation Center, and a board member of the Youth Gender Project, both of which serve the Bay Area.

Sierra Spingarn: It's very true that there is some organizing going on within the transgender youth community in San Francisco around the fact that a lot of violence is going on against transgender people. Something that Robin and I were talking about yesterday on the phone is that the predominant amount of violence that takes place is against older transgender people. Trans people tend to come out about their true gender later in life because our society is oppressive from so many angles about what it means to be a male or female. How you have to act, and how you have to look, and how you have to interact with other people, is clearly defined.

But it takes money to pass as a gender other than the one you were born with. Not everybody can afford to go out and buy hormones all the time or have surgery, so that they can alter what their body looks like. And if people cannot afford to augment themselves enough to fit into the society norms of a gendered person, they're going to go out there and people are going to look at them funny. They're not going to be able to get a job and they're not going to be able to get a home. They're going to get hassled when they go to buy food even if they have the money to buy it with.

There's a stereotype that a lot of sex workers are transgender females. And that stereotype is often true, especially in San Francisco because transgender people are placed in an economic state where they are not able to access to general services. So this often means that a lot of the violence against transgender people is against an older set of people, whether they're sex workers or not. A lot of violence that takes place against them comes from government authorities, such as the police, which is a lot of what Transaction organizes against.

What's interesting about Transaction is that it is run mostly by young people who are looking at transgender issues differently than the older generation. Rather than just wanting to be accepted in society like everyone else, this younger generation is looking at things in a more fluid and open way about gender norms. They are saying to their elders: "Although you may be just trying to be the gender you want to be, you are being oppressed even while you're doing that. So we're going to fight for you against the people who are oppressing you."

Robin Templeton: I think that gender is a pretty intransigent thing and it requires a lot of work to get people to think about gender differently. It's a kind of border. But it's one of the borders that this generation is grappling with and questioning and changing. I want to make a segue way to Jose to bring in the issue of geographical borders. Down south a lot of people with immigrant parents or who are immigrants themselves are struggling with the Immigration and Naturalizatison Service and the relationship between the INS and the prison system. Jose, How do you think borders and immigration have defined your generation?

Jose Palafox is a graduate student in ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and a freelance journalist. He is also involved in National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Oakland.

Jose Palafox: I was born in Tijuana and grew up in San Diego. When I was a kid in Tijuana, my mom would go to San Diego where she was cleaning houses and come back at night, crossing the border twice a day. Years later, when I was studying South Africa and apartheid, where people went to the cities to work and came back to their townships at night, it reminded me of our situation.

Borders and boundaries are important, not just materially but also symbolically. Every year the United Nations puts out a report on the status of the world. It shows that the 356 people who are billionaires control 80 percent of the world's resources. From there, we start to see the importance of borders and boundaries. We start to understand a lot more about a zero-sum society, where if some get a benefit others have to lose. We start to realize the importance of militarized borders to reinforce these asymmetrical relations between rich and poor people, between rich and poor countries. It's a border that is there to divide people.

My band was on tour last summer and we played in Ohio, where I met a young guy who told me about the farm crisis there. What he said was absolutely related to what I was studying about globalization. When you look at farmers in this country their situation is not so different from farmers in Chiapas, who are being displaced by cheap U.S. agribusiness flooding into Mexico. There are borders in place to divide people of color, to divide poor people, to divide those who have and those who do not.

I think borders are also being put up to divide young people in this society. Statistics show that crime is down, yet there's a whole social construction of crime and who is a criminal. Same thing goes with undocumented immigrants. Certainly when we think about borders we don't think about Chase Manhattan Bank or the IMF or the World Bank. For them there's no border.

I don't want to come out of this discussion demoralized. We're tackling a lot of things we have to deal with in our communities and that's crucial. One thing I learned when I was working as freelance journalist is how much strength we have. I was writing about Urban Warrior, a new U.S. military exercise, and interviewed some of the military people. One of things they seemed to understand is that the world is increasingly becoming polarized between the rich and the poor -- and that's why they're doing this new training. So let us not forget that there's much power in all of us and the reason why they're clamping down on us is because they're scared of us. We've got a lot of work to do, but there's also a lot of strength and power when people get organized.

Prague Protests Heating Up

9.25.2000, Prague -- These are trying times for the Czech Republic. Not just because the Czech government has been besieged by corruption scandals and attempts at rapid privatization have largely failed. But because the country's crown jewel, Prague, home to Kafka and the Velvet Revolution, has been inundated by two radically different -- though symbiotic -- delegations of foreigners.

The first group comprises 15,000 bankers, executives of multinational companies and finance ministers who have come to Prague to attend the 55th Annual Meeting of the World Bank and Board International Monetary Fund. Their suits are crisp. They tend to speak the language of neoliberal economics. And, as the Czech government had hoped, they are giving the city a financial boost by filling its four-star hotels and restaurants -- as well as glossing its reputation as the most cosmopolitan of Central European capitals.

The second group is, to put it mildly, a more motley crew. They are young. They are sleeping on the cheap -- in hostels, living rooms or in tents in the Sakhova Stadium. And besides sharing a romantically bedraggled dress code, they tend to view the world as being under a ruthless capitalist siege, in need of revolutionary antidotes that they intend to bring to fruition. These are the antiglobalization protesters, who Czech authorities are praying will not make their city better known as Seattle II.

But given the first few days of antiglobalization demonstrations and meetings this is unlikely to happen. The seven demonstrations that took place on Saturday and the half dozen that occurred on Sunday have been small in number (ranging from 50-500), peaceful and remarkably free of violent clashes with Prague's specially formed 11,000-member police force. Although there are now anywhere from 2-7,000 antiglobalization protesters in the city, their number is a far cry from the 20-50,000 that had been predicted.

This may well be because the Czech border police have been doing their utmost to bar protesters from the country. All last week and this weekend caravans of protesters from Germany, England and other European countries were detained at the borders, often for ten hours at a time, while police searched their vehicles and checked their passports against a master list of "radical insurgents" culled by the FBI and Canadian and European security agencies.

On Sunday, a 24-hour standoff took place at the Czech-Austrian border when 1,000 Italian activists coming by train from Venice decided to block the tracks rather then leave without three of their comrades who had been labeled "personas non grata," evidently because their names appeared on the list. Thanks to the cell phone, the activists managed to get in touch with the Italian Embassy in Prague, which sent a deputy to negotiate on their behalf with the Czech police. The train only got rolling again after the activists decided by mutual consent to leave the three "personas non grata" with the embassy deputy who promised to help them join their group in Prague.

"I am not at all surprised by this," said Czech legal observer Marek Vesely. "According to our laws, the police do have to explain why you are being detained or what it means that you are a persona non grata." He added: "It now looks like if you attend a demonstration anywhere in the world, your name will be entered on a list and your photograph will be taken."

Although protesters who rallied at the train station and in front of the Ministry of Interior on Sunday, were angered by the Czech border police they did not appear to be in the least defeated.

"This is a unique event," said Miranda, a dreadlocked 22-year-old from Bristol, England. "Never before has the movement been this international. Never before have Americans been able to get together with Europeans, face-to-face, to trade ideas and tales of action."

Indeed the meeting on Saturday at the protesters' "convergence center" -- an abandoned ship hanger on a scruffy island in the middle of Prague -- was truly international. Close to one thousand protesters from Spain, France, Canada, England, Sweden, Finland and the U.S. milled the grounds while the most vigilant gathered around a large map of central Prague to decide their course of action.

Like Seattle, the Prague antiglobalists are organizing themselves in "affinity groups" and making decisions by consensus. They have decided to march without a permit to the Prague Congress Center on Tuesday, September 26, the day that the IMF and World Bank meeting formally begins, with the goal of encircling the massive congress center and preventing the delegates form leaving until they "agree to radical reform or abolish their institutions."

Such a plan is near impossible, logistically let alone politically, as the congress center, a kind of Stalinist era Getty Museum, is ringed by police and difficult to access. The only direct route to the hall is a four-lane road that links the main part of the city to the congress center by an overpass, known locally as "suicide bridge" for the large number of people who leapt to their death during the communist era.

But such details do not seem to bother the youthful protesters. "We are on a fight to be known," said one of them. "We don't care about what's possible and what's not. We want justice and equality for everyone in the world."

Not everyone protesting in Prague this week is as buoyantly idealistic as this group loosely organized by INPEG, the Initiative Against Economic Globalization, a Prague-based coalition of mainly foreign activists. Also in town are representatives from 350 nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations who have been holding lectures on the negative repercussions of globalization and meeting with representatives from the IMF and World Bank.

On Saturday morning, Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright turned Czech president, held a forum at the Palace for leaders from environmental, human rights and interfaith groups with world financial leaders. World Bank President James Wolfensohn was there, as was IMF Managing Director Horst Kohler and the billionaire financier George Soros, to discuss "the responsibility of humankind for the development of the poorest areas of the world," as the forum flyer put it. The meeting went smoothly and inconclusively. And although Havel did not make any critical comments on the Bank or the global economic system that many had hoped for, his gesture was not perceived as a failure.

What angered activists were comments made by James Wolfensohn at another NGO-Bank session on Friday. "Understand we are not the world government," said Wolfensohn. "Very often people blame us for the politics in a country when they should really blame themselves. It is not me who has the vote. It is you."

Such reasoning is unacceptable to veteran anti-IMF and -World Bank activists, who have spent years painstakingly researching the impact of the lending institutions' policies -- particularly the IMF's structural economic policies (SAPs) -- on poor nations. Activists argue that World Bank loans for such large scale projects as dams and oil pipelines enrich the Bank and line the coffers of corporations, while causing havoc on poor economies' social infrastructure and environment. They point out that the World Bank has $30 billion in reserves, but refuses to use this money to cancel the debt.

In the case of the IMF, there is now close to uniform agreement among critics that macroeconomic remedies, such as currency devaluations, high interest rates and budget cuts, may bring poor countries into global markets but at the expense of instability and further debt. Even insiders like Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, and Jeffrey Sachs, the Harvard economist who has advised the governments of Russia and Poland on privatization, argue that the IMF helped cause the Asian financial crisis of 1997 which spread to Russia a year later.

The World Bank and the IMF are thus finding themselves in a tight spot. Their recently released World Development Report is a much-publicized effort to recast themselves as fighters of poverty. To prove this, they are putting an emphasis on the projects that give people the basic tools to benefit from a global economy: education, access to technology and encouragement of stock ownership. But the very statistics they use -- that half the world's population lives on $2 a day, that one fifth of the world's people living in the highest income countries have 86 percent of the world GDP -- seem to call into question their development economics.

Although the leaders of the IMF and World Bank are making dialogue with their critics a priority -- inviting representatives from such organizations as the Environmental Rights Action Group of Nigeria and the Public Interest Center of India -- activist groups so far are not overly impressed.

"Globalized economics is nothing but global apartheid," said Sam Koba, a Kenyan from the World Council of Churches.

Perhaps the most successful group campaigning against the IMF and the World Bank in Prague is Jubilee 2000, an interfaith group that is calling for the cancellation of third world debt. Unlike the jumble of issues that many antiglobalization groups are airing, Jubilee's goal is clear -- correct global economic imbalances through debt forgiveness -- which is probably why it is one of the few organizations in the movement that has members in the countries it is fighting for. Jubilee has 20 million members in 150 countries.

"We get our message not necessarily through NGOs but through the power of faith and religion," said Liana Cisneros, Jubilee's 2000's coordinator for the Caribbean and Latin America. "In the places I work people understand debt even if they don't have access to the Internet."

Cisneros' comment raises one of the thorniest problems for the antiglobalization movement: How to become truly global? At INPEG's convergence center there were almost no African or Asian faces and few activists from Prague. This small number of Czechs, especially among young activists, worries some who realize that the Czech Republic has had its share of economic instability due in part to the IMF's economic recommendations.

"You must realize that the Czech people have a tradition of being obedient," said Arnost Novak, a 22-year-old organizer for INPEG and resident of Prague. "It is true that they are less idealistic about capitalism since the 1997 financial crisis. But not enough to be political. Young people here have lots of new entertainment: clubs, cafes, restaurants."

Novak adds that the police have been very efficient in disseminating "anti-protester propaganda." For three months alarmist announcements have been made in Czech newspapers and on television to stay clear of protesters, obey cops, and, if possible, leave the city. The city's 1,000 public schools are closed. McDonalds in boarded up. And residents of Prague, no matter how much they admire the nonviolent protests that toppled the communists in 1989, seem to be unmoved by the demands of the antiglobalists.

Tuesday is the big day for the antiglobalization demonstrators. INPEG's march to the conference center will be joined by almost all groups in attendance. What this will mean for the success of S26, as the day of the march is called, is unknown. But what is certain is that most Czechs, especially in the government, are hoping the day passes without incident.

"Vaclav Klaus wanted the meetings here," said Tereza Brdeckova, a novelist and newspaper critic referring to the former prime minister who was ousted after the 1997 corruption scandal. "Everyone else would have preferred the meetings be canceled."
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