Traci Hukill

Would You Eat Lab-Grown Meat?

As I type these words, men and women of science are growing meat in a laboratory. That's meat grown independently of any animal. It isn't hatched or born. It doesn't graze, walk or breathe. But it is alive. It sits growing in a room where somebody has called it into existence with a pipette and syringe.

"Cultured meat," it's called, and it is supposed to save us from the execrable pollution and guilt of factory farms while still allowing all 6.5 billion of us to stuff our gullets with ham sandwiches whenever we want to. It already exists in ground or chipped form. What Dutch scientists are working on now is a product that costs a few dollars per pound instead of a few thousand. It could be as little as five years away.

The concept is as simple as it is horrifying. Take some stem cells, or myoblasts, which are the precursors to muscle cells. Set them on "scaffolding" that they can attach to, like a flat sheet of plastic that the cells can later be slid off of. Put them in a "growth medium" -- some kind of fluid supplying the nutrients that blood would ordinarily provide. "Exercise" them regularly by administering electric currents or stretching the sheets of cells mechanically. Wait. Harvest. Eat.

It seems like something out of a chilling sci-fi future, the very epitome of bloodless Matrix-style barbarism. But growing flesh in a petri dish is an old idea from the early 20th century that received a fresh infusion of, how you say, growth medium in 2002. As part of a NASA-funded experiment to find a portable source of animal protein for astronauts, Touro College biology professors Morris Benjaminson and James Gilchriest sliced a bit of muscle from the abdomen of a goldfish and set it in a saline solution enriched with fetal calf serum. Over several weeks the muscle grew about 15 percent. Another muscle growing in a maitake mushroom solution did almost as well.

To determine whether the product was remotely appetizing or would be too repulsive even for space station humanoids to eat, Benjaminson and Gilchriest convened a panel of female employees, chosen for their gender's presumed pickiness and demonstrably superior sense of smell. Gilchriest, who used to be a professional chef ("He makes great calamari," says Benjaminson), breaded the tiny filet and sauteed it in extra virgin olive oil. He finished with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of pecorino cheese.

"And it smelled good to them," Benjaminson says. Understandably, the ladies were not asked to eat the "fish."

Whatever one's response to the idea of meat grown in a petri dish --revulsion seems to be a common one -- there are also some compelling reasons in favor of it.

"It's cleaner, healthier, less polluting and more humane," says Jason Matheny, a doctoral student in agricultural policy at the University of Maryland who sits on the board of New Harvest, a research organization for in vitro meat.

Meat grown in the sterile environment of a laboratory wouldn't harbor zoonotic diseases like avian flu or contribute to antibiotic resistance, Matheny says. As for human health, artery-clogging beef fat could be swapped out in vitro for salmon fat, for example, with its salubrious omega-3 fatty acids. And the squalid misery of factory farms could be bypassed altogether. No river would be fouled with manure and no chicken's beak would be clipped in the making of dinner.

These are important considerations. All the problems associated with modern meat production -- like the 64 million tons of manure excreted each year by factory farmed animals in the United States alone -- are poised to worsen as the earth's population heads toward 9 billion people by 2050. As up-and-coming nations like China and India develop large middle classes that adopt Western habits of consumption, that translates to an exponential rise in meat eaters and factory farms over the next 45 years.

Add it all up, and some people find cultured meat a splendid idea.

Bruce Friedrich, vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calls it "the best thing since sliced bread." Friedrich, who energetically denounces the eating of "animal corpses" every chance he gets, says that "anything that takes the cruelty out of meat-eating is good."

There are a couple of serious problems with cultured meat, though, starting with the fact that people seem to find the idea repellent.

"Yeah," Matheny admits. "There's a 'yuck' factor involved with producing any novel food."

Presented with the argument that cultured meat just ain't natural, Matheny gamely counters that wine and cheese are engineered products, too.

"And I would say cultured meat is not inherently more unnatural than producing chicken meat from tens of thousands of animals raised intensively in their own feces and fed antibiotics," he says.

That is a very good point. But then Matheny, who is vegetarian, probably won't be eating much cultured meat, either. Nor will Friedrich, who says he's done just fine without eating animal flesh for 18 years and plans to stick with his program.

As for Benjaminson, when asked if he finds the idea of cultured meat appealing, he answers, "From an esthetic standpoint? No. It would have to taste palatable, and that would require a lot of tissue engineering."

What a lot of trouble to go to for a solution that is frankly nightmarish (especially the "exercising" of the disembodied muscle by means of electrical shocks). All cultivation is a form of enslavement, however benevolent or necessary, but harnessing the manic energy of stem cells takes that dynamic into a realm where the side effects -- the "equal and opposite reaction" promised by Newton -- play out perilously close to the life process itself. If synthetic fertilizer, which seemed like such a great way to boost plant fertility, can create a dead zone the size of Maryland at the Mississippi Delta, wiping out a totally different link in the food chain, who's to say what would come of overexploited RNA or mitochondria?

Fred Kirschenmann of Iowa State University's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture just hopes there will be plenty of testing. "I'm not saying some of these new ideas can't be done and they won't work at some level, but every time we mess around with our ecological heritage there are always unintended side effects that come from it," he says. "We have a long history of unintended consequences.

"We've got all these animals out there right now," he adds, "and if we suddenly decide we don't want to raise them, what does that do to the larger ecology?"

Here's an idea: Instead of safeguarding our appetites and engineering our meat, let's safeguard our meat and engineer our appetites. What if real animals were raised humanely and in sustainable numbers, so that their meat cost more -- maybe even a lot more? What if people only ate it on special occasions? What if, instead of deciding that the most important thing was to be able to satisfy every idle hankering for a cheeseburger, humanity assessed the resources and made a rational decision about protein acquisition that did not involve divorcing its food source from the life cycle? What if we took the invisible hand of the market, which has all the self-discipline and foresight of a 14-year-old boy, off the job and put a grown-up in charge?

One of the many people who has already thought of this is Robert Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. Although Lawrence sits on New Harvest's board, he's skeptical about the possibilities for cultured meat.

"I think it's an interesting idea," he says . "I think in some situations it might have real value as an important bioavailable form of quality protein. But there are other more straightforward and readily available solutions."

The most obvious one is moderating intake, both frequency and portion size. The Center for a Livable Future sponsors a Meatless Mondays campaign that has attracted interest from public school systems in New York and Maryland. But as mild a suggestion as Meatless Monday is (Meatless Monday Through Thursday would be a lot closer to the mark) it has provoked what Lawrence calls a "backlash" by the meat industry.

"They called me an environmental extremist," he says with a laugh.

That bit of hysteria reveals volumes. It could be a long time before people smell the legume blossoms and start eating lower on the food chain. Matheny thinks cultured meat can be "a stopgap measure" aiding that process, methadone for meat eaters to ease the transition out of the era of 72-ounce steaks and into the days of dollops of hummus.

Maybe he's right. Maybe in vitro meat can serve that purpose. Or maybe it will work in a different way -- by so thoroughly grossing people out that they'll gladly reduce their meat consumption just so they lessen the risk of accidentally eating a meatri burger. That's how it's working on me.

In Praise of Darkness

Nothing affects my mood like sunshine. My years are divided into lightish and darkish, happyish and glummish. The long s-wave undulating across the calendar doesn't follow the schedule of Persephone's well-run express, slipping into the dusky realm on Sept. 23 and reemerging six months later on the vernal equinox. It follows U.S. Daylight Saving Time.

I am part of a disparate tribe, scattered throughout the general populace, who anticipate this rite of spring like anxious kids waiting for Christmas. Everyone is generally pleased about it, but our delight is intense and exultant, thrumming with the thrill of deliverance. Soon we'll walk in the sun again.

"Saving daylight" for the evening hours of summer started in 1918 as a wartime effort to lower domestic electricity use. People hated it (they went to bed earlier back then), and the next year Congress repealed the act. After that Daylight Saving Time was deployed in fits and starts until it was standardized in 1966. Henceforth the nation, except Indiana and a few other maverick states, would spring forward on the last Sunday in April and fall back on the last Sunday in October.

Since then Daylight Saving Time has been tweaked at will by Congress any time that august body wishes to deprive OPEC of the sale of a few hundred thousand barrels of oil. In 1974, in response to the energy crisis, DST started on Jan. 6. In 1987 its advent was permanently moved back to the first Sunday in April.

Next year the happy time will be extended once again. The 2005 energy bill decreed that starting in 2007, Daylight Saving Time will begin the second Sunday in March and end the first Sunday in November. That's 34 weeks of fun in the sun, up from 30 this year. If it had been up to the House it would have been 38 weeks.

"It just makes everyone feel sunnier," said savings-pusher Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachussetts, pressing his case.

You would think this would make me, a victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder if ever there was one, overjoyed. It doesn't. It leaves me ambivalent. Because I've come to believe the problem is not that there's too much darkness in life. It's that we don't revere the darkness we have. And like anything scorned, that makes it mean.

Leaving the lights up

We welcome the season of darkness apprehensively, armed with Christmas lights. Americans bought $823 million worth of them from China last year. Little twinkly lights to banish the darkness, to ease us into winter's darkest depths. On my street, people are leaving the lights up well into January. And I'm right there with them. My new habit of observing Epiphany (Jan. 6, the 12th day of Christmas, the day the wise men arrived in Bethlehem) is mostly an excuse to leave Christmas lights on a little longer.

I get by fine in January, even most of February. The new year has begun, and I'm abuzz with plans for self-improvement. But toward the end of February and into March -- duplicitous, now-you-see-it-now-you-don't March -- I get cranky. By now it's been months since I exercised regularly, and I'm tired of the rain. And this from someone who lives in California. My boyfriend assures me that this time of year in Montana, where he lived for many years, relationships are bursting into flame, lives are ending in suicide and average upstanding citizens are in a muddy slide toward alcoholism.

Maybe that's not the healthiest way to cope with the dark, but I kind of admire it anyway. These people are not struggling to appear chipper, fit and well-groomed, as most of us will feel compelled to once the late sunsets permit evening powerwalks. They are gloomy, slovenly and down in the dumps, squaring off against private demons at pitiful odds. Their good spirits are hibernating with eye masks and ear plugs. The seeds of their joy are fast asleep underground, waiting to go nuts when spring has finally sprung.

Dark nights of the soul

When did everybody get so scared of the dark? When did people decide they needed sunny and 70 and happy and safe all the time? One of the congressmen pushing the Daylight Saving expansion noted that kids everywhere will rejoice come Halloween 2007 because they'll be able to stay out trick-or-treating in their neighborhoods, thanks to Daylight Saving Time. Because now, of course, kids trick or treat in the afternoon at the mall. Where's the thrill in that? How are you going to have a chance encounter with a goblin in front of Hot Dog On A Stick? How do you get to practice facing danger, even the simulated variety provided by dragging your pillowcase of candy across the neighborhoods' darkened lawns, if your whole world is a clean, well-lighted place?

Apparently ordinary, garden-variety darkness is now unbearably creepy. And forget about dark nights of the soul. Those are not to be borne in any form.

Last year I inteviewed Rob Brezsny, the Freewill astrologer. As we trudged along a chalk-dust trail winding up a hot hillside near his house in Marin County, he talked about darkness.

There are two kinds, he said. "One is darkness that is most in play right now -- outright pathology, sickness, misery, cruelty, evil. And the other kind of darkness is mystery, the unknown, difficult challenge. That aspect of our own nature which is unripe and is on the way to growing into something more interesting but at this point is still ineffective and clumsy."

The trick, Brezsny mused, is to form an alliance with the Glenda-the-Good-Witch darkness, engage it so it crowds out the evil twin. "My opinion is to the extent that we ignore our own shadows and unripe qualities we conjure that other kind of darkness," he said.

I think I get what he's talking about. Not long ago my therapist suggested I read through some old journals to identify some patterns. I cringed, knowing it would be exquisitely embarrassing. It was. But it was worthwhile, if for only one reason: I found that each time I had approached the scary truths about the confining relationship of my 20s and my life's suspended trajectory, I had invariably veered away. It was terrifying to peer into those impenetrable depths and see what was probably obvious to my friends and family. Worse, in subsequent entries I would disavow the glimpses of truth. I labelled them mistakes, failures of bonhomie, or my favorite, PMS-induced temporary insanity. Not surprisingly, the whole thing finally blew up in my face, and I got the "opportunity" to face some of those difficult truths.

Moral of the story: Ignore your personal darkness, and it will sneak up later and bite you in the ass. Venture into it, and you might save yourself some misery.

Unnatural cheerfulness

Last fall New York University professor Christina Kotchemidova published an article titled "From Good Cheer to 'Drive-by Smiling': A Social History of Cheerfulness." In it she argued that cheerfulness is no more endemic to human character than bowling -- that in fact our cultural dictum to be perky is a uniquely American phenomenon rooted in the 18th century rise of the middle class, an outgrowth of the young capitalist republic's emphasis on pluck and self-sufficiency.

There are plenty of good things to come of the sunny national disposition, Kotchemidova writes. In the workplace cheerfulness benefits the individual and the group by keeping everyone upbeat and productive, while in the marketplace it stimulates consumerism. It's also nice to be nice and meet other nice people. So cheerfulness is uniquely useful socially and economically. But what are the costs?

One may be a skewed view of normalcy that has a lot of Americans believing they're depressed or otherwise defective. I remember how stung I was when I applied for a job at a Phoenix chiropractor's office only to be told I had in effect flunked the personality test by coming up too melancholic-phlegmatic. The New Age medievalist-huckster-bonecracker himself told me the receptionist really needed to be a sanguine sort. I hope he spends eternity soaking in a pool of black bile and phlegm. Just kidding.

Another cost could actually be higher rates of depression; people may be worn out by "emotion labor," the work of trying to stifle noncompliant, unacceptable emotions like anger or melancoholy or just general pissiness. Kotchemidova notes that Delta Airlines, which institutionalized cheerfulness training for flight attendants in the 1970s, spent $9 million on antidepressants for employees and dependents in 2003.

Eternal hyperactivity

For all you deductive thinkers out there rolling your eyeballs, I'm not suggesting a causal relationship between Daylight Saving Time and pervasive shallowness leading to depression. But there is a metaphysical correlation. The culture rejects repose. People are supposed to be upbeat all the time. They're supposed to be ever active, happy, hungry for more activity and experience. All that is an exhilarating part of human life, and summertime feeds it naturally, but it's like that's not good enough anymore. Even 30 weeks isn't enough anymore. We've got to be living in some kind of hyperactive state for 65 percent of the year.

A cantankerous writer featured on webexhibits.org weighed in on the subject in 1947: "As an admirer of moonlight, I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time for enjoying it. At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier and get them up earlier to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves."

The truth is there are a lot of good reasons for Daylight Saving Time. It does save some oil, about 1 percent a day. It cuts down on car accidents. There's also a public health argument to be made, since overweight America could use more after-dinner walks with the kids.

But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. We should get to know the darkness, the better to understand the light.

The Greening of Goldman Sachs

Last year the investment bank Goldman Sachs acquired a portfolio of mortgages in default that involved a remarkable piece of land in Tierra del Fuego, Chile. The wild, starkly beautiful island on the far tip of South America is a haven of biodiversity, home to old-growth beech forests and a unique network of peat bogs. So when the bank donated all 680,000 acres of the property -- an area about a third the size of Yellowstone -- to the Wildlife Conservation Society in trust to the people of Chile, it was a boon to ecological preservation.

It was also a source of perplexity in some quarters. While Goldman Sachs explained that it had simply acted on a "rare opportunity for the firm to benefit global conservation," many people found it hard to trust such a gesture of generosity from a financial institution.

But there is reason to think that skeptics can relax their vigilance on this one and maybe even entertain some hope. In November Goldman Sachs, a financial sector leader worth $60 billion, rolled out a new environmental policy that goes further, and is smarter, than any comparable policy in the corporate world.

The unveiling of the framework to address environmental degradation and climate change capped 18 months of consultations with environmental groups. Among them were Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Rainforest Alliance, World Resources Institute and Friends of the Earth.

Only eight pages long, the plan (PDF) contains some fairly typical stuff, such as a vow to use more recycled paper in Goldman's offices. But it also contains a promise to reject projects in environmental no-go zones, and to institute further changes in the way it does business--all with an eye on ethics and the environment.

According to the framework, Goldman Sachs will:

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A World Without Bosses?

As pizza counter guys go, Willie Perez is unusually cheerful, especially for the middle of a lunch rush that, by all rights, should be tailing off. At half-past one on a spring Tuesday, a line of hungry customers is snaking out The Pizza Collective storefront on Berkeley's Shattuck Avenue, the ovens are gusting heat into the kitchen and flushed workers in aprons and tennis shoes are darting about in what appears to be barely organized bedlam. This is not the best time for an interview, I think, as I make my way to the front. But Perez's face breaks into a huge smile of welcome, he greets me like an honored guest and I am ushered to a table with a delicious slice of organic vegetarian pizza.

Thin and quick, with guileless blue eyes and Tiggerish enthusiasm, the 28-year-old father of two has good reason to be happy. He's making close to $30 an hour, gets medical benefits for his family, enjoys four to five weeks paid time off each year and believes passionately in his work. Not the work of making pizza, particularly, but the work of running, along with 38 other people, a thriving worker-owned cooperative built on the principles of democracy and economic fairness. "I have a personal mission," Perez confesses. "I want to see more cooperatives."

Worker's Paradise?

It's easy to see why Perez is a tireless proselytizer who has worked to establish three spin-off coops, the Arizmendi bakeries in Oakland, San Francisco and Emeryville. To anyone who has slogged through a wage-slave job or had a domineering boss, a collectively run cooperative sounds like a workers' paradise. It has no hierarchy and no supervisors because everyone is an owner. Everyone makes the same amount of money and everyone is responsible for making the business work. Everyone does all the jobs. No one gets summarily fired. Decisions are made by consensus. At the end of the year, some money goes to charity and some is invested back into the business. The rest of the profits, instead of enriching one or two individuals, are returned to all the worker-owners -- a rising tide lifting many boats.

This level of emotional and financial investment creates a radically different attitude toward work, Perez says, one emphasizing personal responsibility and flexibility. "If we don't have a boss and I tell you to turn out the lights when you leave, you're going to do it because it means more money for all of us," Perez says. "But if someone is breathing down your neck, you might not."

He says he used to work at a big-box retailer. "Corporate America, okay? They don't treat you like human beings. They treat you like robots. Your opinion is not appreciated."

Terry Baird, 59, a member of the Arizmendi Cooperative on Oakland's Lakeshore Drive since it opened in 1997, jokes (or not) about the effect of this. "If you work here and go somewhere else, you're kind of wrecked for the traditional work environment," he says. "The first time you say to your boss, 'Let's vote on this,' they're gonna look at you funny."

There's something else about cooperatives. In an economy with a lot of coops, the number of well-paid, self-directed workers would mean a larger, wealthier middle class, and therefore a healthier community. The goal is a society in which all people, not only the fittest, enjoy economic security.

The Pizza Collective and its parent coop, the Cheese Board, recently brought in a member in his sixties. "And it was, well, this is physical work. Do we want to bring in an older person?" Perez recalls. "But he helps us, we help him, we help his family -- and that's one less family left to the wolves of Corporate America."

The Miracle of Mondragon

In the United States, some 300 business concerns operate as worker-owned collectives, according to the National Cooperative Business Association. Some are relatively high-profile, like the Eugene, Ore.-based Burley Design Corporation, which manufactures distinctive yellow-and-blue bike trailers for children. Most, however, are local, and they are few and far between. Here, the worker-owned society is a dream, but in the Basque country of northern Spain it's become a reality. 

The Bay Area’s Arizmendi cooperative bakery/pizzerias take their name from a remarkable young Basque priest who ignited a movement from the rubble of Spain’s ruinous civil war. A defeated revolutionary who had entered the priesthood, Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta arrived in the Basque town of Mondragon in 1941 and soon set up a technical school where he taught the skills necessary for Spain’s reconstruction. There he also taught Catholic Social Doctrine, with its emphasis on human dignity and better conditions for laborers.

In 1956, a handful of Arizmendi's students, determined to put those principles into action, opened a worker-owned stove factory. Three years later, they opened a credit union, and the seeds of the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation were born. Today the 500-plus cooperatives that make up the MCC employ 72,000 people (about half are worker-owners, with more in the pipeline as membership catches up to rapid growth). The group posted 15 percent growth in profits last year to reach $612 million. It pours money into education, incubates new cooperatives, and provides worker benefits and collateral so members can buy houses.

When Perez visited Mondragon several years ago, he was stunned by the collective response to a fire that had leveled a refrigerator factory. The refrigerator factory workers were given jobs in other coops, even though that would almost surely mean lower profits for everyone at the other coops. "They're so unselfish in the way they run their business," Perez marvels.

The Cheese Board, which started in 1967, and the Pizza Collective, which opened in 1990, are attempting to replicate the MCC on a very small scale. They have helped establish the three Bay Area Arizmendis through training and recipe sharing, but each coop functions independently. They all, however, shovel four percent of gross profits back into the Arizmendi Association -- seed money to help start other coops and cushion economic blows.

A World Without Bosses

All the Arizmendis have needed help in learning to function as collectives. Not all cooperatives are collectives. Sunkist, for example, is a typical agricultural cooperative; it consists of a number of citrus growers who market their products as a group under the Sunkist label. A collective, on the other hand, is a flat organization with no hierarchy, no fatherly arbiter to say: "You're right, and you're wrong," which means people have to cooperate. Which is hard.

Lisa Bruzoni, who at 50 has been at the Cheese Board for 15 years, acknowledges that the $18 an hour the members make, plus the $9.99-per-hour profit-sharing bonus everyone got last year, is attractive. "Twenty-eight dollars an hour sounds like a great amount of pay, especially for what we're doing," she says. "But there are certain people who would want to work in a cooperative and certain people who wouldn't. It can be very frustrating."

Without exception, all the people interviewed for this story said the hardest thing about their jobs was learning to get along with others in an environment where no one -- or everyone, really -- is the boss.

For one thing, big decisions at these businesses must be made by consensus (that means everyone must agree that they can live with whatever is decided), and the only opportunity to do this is at monthly board meetings. Consequently, it takes a long time to get anything done. "It took us three years to write a book," says Bruzoni, who co-authored The Cheese Board Collective Works along with several other members. "Anywhere else, it would have taken a year and a half, but we kept having to check with the coop."

The gritty problem of personality conflicts is also wearing. Elizabeth Medina, 27, describes joining the Pizza Collective as "the most stressful thing I've ever done in my life." It was during her six-month probation period that some personality conflicts emerged. Knowing that any member could single-handedly block her bid to join, made the pressure that much worse. "It was so tough. I felt like I was totally under a microscope. I remember going home to my husband and crying and saying, 'Oh my God, this person doesn't like me.'"

Since most people join a collective for a long period of time -- the $1,000 buy-in at the Cheese Board and Pizza Collective is meant to foster commitment -- there's a sense that the relationships cannot be escaped. That seems to force people to figure out how to get along. "This place will humble you," says Perez, "because a lot of people aren't willing to say, 'Hey, can you cut pizza for me today?' to someone they had an argument with yesterday."

Then there is the more deeply personal issue of self-motivation. "Everybody thinks they don't want to have a boss," says Baird of the Oakland Arizmendi. "But what they haven't thought about is they don't want to be a boss, either. That is maybe the most revolutionary aspect to what we do here. People have to become in charge of themselves, and not everybody's equipped to do that."

Cooperatives, especially the collectively run variety, are a rarity. Even in the Bay Area, as progressive as it is, there is only a handful. This begs the question of whether they can make a difference.

Baird has given this some thought. "Sometimes I wonder, what is the meaning of all this?" he muses. "I enjoy the work, and I can live on the pay. But is it really gonna change things? And I think it does. When I read biographies about exceptional people, it never comes from nowhere. Rosa Parks wasn't just some lady; she was active in the civil rights movement. So yeah, I think we do good work. We do work we like and in a democratic fashion, and maybe it rubs off on people."

The Great Live 8 Debate

It's official, again. People suck.

You give them free tickets to a concert for a good cause and they try to sell them on eBay for hundreds of dollars. You organize eight kick-ass shows around the world and they complain that the lineup is too white, too commercial, too whatever. You call attention to one of the modern world's deepest sources of shame --a continent pillaged for centuries, now left to fester -- and they criticize you for being negative. They accuse you of grandstanding, of heaving your aging rocker's carcass back into the spotlight for one last pitiful boogie with fame.

If I were Bob Geldof, I'd go live in a cave after all this Live 8 business is over with. July 7 would be a good day to leave. By then, the free concerts that Geldof organized in London, Cornwall, Philadelphia, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Johannesburg, Tokyo and Toronto will be over. The Long Walk to Justice will have come to an end, culminating in hordes of people arriving on July 6 in Edinburgh, 20 miles from Gleneagles, where the leaders of the eight richest countries in the world are gathered for their annual summit July 6-8. The strains of Dido and Travis will have died out in Edinburgh's Murrayfield Stadium. The headaches will be over. Geldof can listen to results of the G-8 summit, the impetus for it all, on the transistor radio in his cave, absently finger-combing his unruly, sexy-old-rocker locks.

But Sir Bob, knighted in 1985 for his work fighting African poverty, is undoubtedly too tough, egotistical and committed for that, so he'll probably hang around for the end of the G-8 (which gathers the presidents of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States) before going on back home to London. There, he'll most likely continue doing the kind of work that got him named, alongside Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's seventeen-member Commission for Africa.

That's where the real work has been done; Live 8 is just unofficial publicity for it. The Commission's work has driven Blair's agenda of debt forgiveness, increased aid and better trade terms for Africa, with impressive success so far: the G-8 nations have agreed to write off all $40 billion of debt for Africa's poorest 14 nations and four others in Latin America. In response to the Commission's recommendation to double current aid to sub-Saharan Africa to $50 billion by 2010, Europe has agreed to raise its foreign aid spending to .7 percent of GNP, though Washington stubbornly refuses to budge from the .15 percent range.

People like to sneer at rock stars like Geldof and Bono, another crusader for Africa, as dilettantes whose egos have deluded them into thinking they are political forces to be reckoned with. In recent weeks, Geldof's been accused of hubris and megalomania by British politicians, of all people, for inviting Nelson Mandela and the Pope to the concerts. British commentator Peter Hitchens wrote in the Mail that it was in fact Africa's starving children who were rescuing the "sagging reputations" of "balding, clapped-out rock stars." Spiked Online's Mick Hume calls the whole thing "every bit as paternalistic as the old imperialist attitudes."

But from here, it looks like Geldof has rung the bell, musically and politically.

Musically, the nine shows scheduled for July 2 add up to an astounding lineup: the Sex Pistols, Coldplay, Madonna, Scissor Sisters, U2, Green Day, Roxy Music, REM, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, A-ha, The Cure, P. Diddy and Youssou N'Dour are just a few of the luminaries. There were immediate complaints that it was too white an event -- the United Kingdom's Black Information Link called it "hideously white" -- and the fact that most of the big-name African bands are relegated to Cornwall does in fact seem random. Live 8 organizers responded that the goal was simply to get as many big-name stadium-filling acts onstage as possible.

Politically, Live 8 is brilliant. Live Aid, 1985's spectacular charity concert, raised $100 million for Ethiopia, then in the grip of a four-year famine. After that Geldof was done, uninterested in lame follow-ups. But as soon as it became evident that things were conspiring to put Africa on the global stage in 2005, friends wouldn't let Geldof rest. First there was the Commission for Africa, which completed its work in March. Blair planned to use the U.K.'s turn at the head of the G-8, and its shift at the rotating helm of the European Union presidency starting in July, as bully pulpits to promote the Commission's recommendations. This in turn would coincide with United Nations' five-year checkup of the world's progress on meeting the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to end the world's worst poverty in 2015. Politically, it couldn't be a better moment to focus on Africa.

And it also happened that Live Aid's 20th anniversary was coming up. Friends Bono and Richard Curtis (who wrote Notting Hill) hectored Geldof into staging another event -- but Geldof made this one different, and herein lies the genius of Live 8. Twenty years ago, Live Aid was an appeal to individuals to give money, and they did, by purchasing expensive tickets for shows in London and Philadelphia. But this time, the eight concerts are free, the tickets given away by lottery, because Geldof has apparently realized that individual contributions to charity will not haul Africa out of poverty. It's gone way past the point where that can work. Only real political will in the world's richest capitals can do the job. And so Live 8's goal is not to raise cash, though that would help in the short run, but to raise awareness -- political awareness that can translate into political pressure to bring Africa into the family of self-sufficient nations.

"It's about justice, not charity," Geldof says. That represents an awakening on his part, a sophistication that was not in place 20 years ago when he was a conscience-stricken former frontman for the Boomtown Rats who had happened to catch a BBC documentary on Ethiopia on the tube. Band Aid, the group of musicians he gathered to record "Do They Know It's Christmas" in November 1984, was named in humble recognition of the limitations of cash aid. Now Geldof is putting that recognition into action and trying to use his influence to change policy.

That didn't quell his aggravation when Live 8 tickets started turning up on eBay. They were going for as much as $1,800, and Geldof did two things: he encouraged people to bid fake millions for the tickets to stop the bidding, and he bitched at eBay, prompting a firestorm of self-righteous whining after eBay backed down. "[This] may have serious consequences for the long-term shape of the online world," fretted BBC commentator Bill Thompson. "After all, if Geldof can get items removed from aution, who else is going to use this as a tactic in the future?" To which some of us might respond: Who cares?

The standoff had some symbolic import; Geldof refused to accept eBay's offer to donate the auction fees to charity, calling it "filthy money made on the back of the poorest people on the planet -- stick it where it belongs."

Good for him. Anyone who pays attention to what is happening in Africa -- and it's not that easy to keep doing that, because it is awfully depressing -- knows Africa needs it. There are eight U.N. peacekeeping operations in Africa and 15 million people who can't go home because of conflicts. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 300 million people -- about the population of the United States -- live on less than $1 a day. Another 300 million people lack access to clean water. Each year, 1 million African children, one every 30 seconds, die of malaria. Every day, 8,500 Africans contract HIV.

Okay, so this is too negative. There may be good news coming out of Africa about inspiring individuals and the resilience of the human spirit and the incremental victories of stable nations like Botswana and Ghana against AIDS and poverty, but I'm looking at the Human Development Report of the U.N. Development Program, and it tells a different story. The HDR 2004 ranks countries according to a formula that considers life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income. The first African country on the list is Seychelles, number 35, a little-populated tourist mecca and island paradise. The next is Libya, 58 -- oil country. Then there's Mauritius, 64 (island paradise); Algeria, 108 (oil and gas); and so on. Only at 119, South Africa, do you reach one of the continental Sub-Saharan countries that does not enjoy oil wealth -- in other words, a typical African country. And there are only 177 nations on the list. Most of Africa's 54 nations fill the bottom of it.

Live 8 is not going to make Africa whole, but it might start the ball rolling toward a solution. Forgiveness of debt is a start. Increased aid is needed to help get infrastructure, health care, education and agriculture up and running, according to economist and Millennium Goals adviser Jeffrey Sachs. Perhaps most important in the long run, though, is trade. Africa has just 2 percent of the world's trade, and the easing of textile tariffs on China could drain even that small amount by pressuring the infant textiles industry in southern Africa and Uganda. Economists suggest that if Africa could get just 1 percent more of global trade, it would equal $70 billion a year -- almost three times what it gets in annual development aid.

Geldof acknowledges the difficulty of all this, the quixotic nature of believing a handful of rock concerts staged four days before the start of a political summit can change the course of history. But, as he told Reuters, "How do we create domestic heat to pressure them into doing something they don't particularly want to do? We will not get there if we don't do ludicrous circuses like giant concerts ... and stars being rallied."

Peace Warrior

The last 10 miles of the Imperial Highway lead west from the blighted thirst of the Watts neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles to the glistening sea at El Segundo, where they are crisscrossed by the shadow of planes leaving LAX. For the 35,000 residents of Watts, that stretch of road might as well be a 14,000-foot pass through the Himalayas, so remote are the pleasures of travel and plush beaches from that hope-starved patch of ground.

Aqeela Sherrills has seen the worst Watts has to offer and made the best of it. His work to end gang violence started in 1989, when at 19 he joined former football and movie star Jim Brown on the road for three years, forging truces between gangs in cities across the country. In 1992, he returned home to Watts to help broker, with his brother Daude, a peace treaty between the Crips and the Bloods.

After a few years, the treaty began to fray. In response, in 1999 Aqeela and Daude started the Community Self-Determination Institute (CSDI) for gang prevention and conflict mediation. CSDI won street credibility as well as the confidence of city officials and became a city-wide program. With that came the challenges of running a non-profit: cajoling donors, securing city grants, paying the bills, hiring people. Siblings, cousins, friends, casual acquaintances all wanted jobs. There was trouble with the IRS. The work itself was hard enough, but managing the work was exhausting. Then, two years ago, his wife died of breast cancer. And the worst was yet to come.

It arrived just before midnight on Jan. 10, 2004, with a ring of Sherrills' cell phone. His son Terrell, 18 and home on break after his first semester studying theater arts at Humboldt State University, was being rushed to UCLA Medical Center bleeding profusely from a close-range gunshot wound to the back. A 16-year-old Crips member had mistaken the red Mickey Mouse sweater slung over Terrell's shoulders (in self-deprecating homage to his big ears) for a sign of membership in the Bloods, who wear red. Forty-five minutes later, Terrell was dead.

The cry for retribution went up immediately.

"The neighborhood mounted up, they were ready to roll, and I went and talked to folks and told folks, 'That's not what we're gonna do, and that's not Terrell's legacy,'" Sherrills recalls 14 months later, sitting in a room at CSDI painted sky blue and redolent of incense from a shrine in the corner. "'That's exactly the reaction that society wants from us. And what we're gonna do is this right here: We're gonna forgive that kid, you know? Because we're gonna hold space for the highest possibility of good to show up in him.'"

Sherrills was already something of a community hero. He was an inspiration to thousands of people who had heard him speak about personal and cultural healing and peacemaking. This act of forgiveness launched him to near-guru status. The organizer on the ground in Watts was becoming a man of the spirit: The activist was turning into a mystic.

Sherrills began to step back from the running of CSDI. He started turning over administrative responsibilities to other people and assuming an advisory role, formulating the vision and raising money. He wasn't interested in addressing the symptoms anymore. He wanted to tackle the root of the problem, the broken spirits around him.

As passionately as he speaks about his continuing work, for the last year and a half he has yearned to break free of its physical confines. On March 15, he took a definitive step in that direction when he boarded a plane to Mexico to begin a four-month tour of the world's sacred sites. After Teotihuacan, Machu Picchu and the rest, he plans to come back, but not to stay.

Within three years he hopes to move to Ghana. He says he is drawn to its ease of life, burgeoning African-American community and rich spiritual culture. There, away from frenetic America, he says he hopes to find the peace to live the ideas he has been mulling, ideas about how to shift ways of thinking and cherish human life and start a global outbreak of peace--the linchpins of what he calls "the reverence for human life movement."

Sherrills' hope of sparking a renewed reverence-for-life movement here anchors him to Watts. Talking about it animates him and intensifies the light in his hazel eyes. Tall and normally languorous, he leans forward and gestures excitedly, speaking with a preacher's deliberate enunciation. Now and then his ideas stray into the realm of the fanciful, but he has an undeniable gift for inspired speech.

"Reverence is a beholding--not a judging--of the challenges facing our culture," he says. "It's about the quality of attention you give something, and the practice of love and compassion and talking about your truth.

"The reverence movement is where all the movements of the past intersect, whether it's human rights or civil rights, because all of them are really about restoring vitality to the human spirit. If we as human beings don't have the ability to intuit a positive future, with our so-called enemies playing a different role, then we're almost foolin' ourselves about what is, and where we're going."

Listening to Sherrills in this rapt state, it's hard to reconcile his vegetarian, esoteric text-reading side with certain facts of his life. Sherrills has fathered seven children by six mothers, none of whom he lives with, and at 35 he is a grandfather; Terrell's girlfriend was pregnant when he died.

Sherrills appears to relish his role as a man of the world. In a turtleneck and rich wool peacoat, with his driver's cap, sculpted soul patch and sandalwood scent, taking calls on his cell phone at the wheel of his white BMW and scheduling lunches with donors in Santa Monica, Sherrills cuts a glamorous figure. Having traveled the country and to Russia and Croatia as a speaker and peace facilitator, he laments with a seasoned traveler's dismay about how few Americans travel and how even fewer people in Watts have been on an airplane--or even make the drive to the beach.

It's similarly difficult to determine CSDI's position. Several years ago it had 80 employees and a million-dollar budget; now it has 12 staffers and a swirl of volunteers. Several key individuals stand out as islands of discipline and efficiency in an otherwise chaotic environment--understandable, perhaps, given funding cuts and the monumental task the organization is trying to accomplish.

Three years ago, CSDI launched a 10-year initiative called the Passage to Peace that aims to transform the gangs in Watts from criminal to community organizations by 2012. The CSDI building, a bright, mural-covered ramshackle box on a street less drab than most in Watts, seems an unlikely birthplace for the world's next major peace movement. Nevertheless, that's what Sherrills envisions, and his charisma and willpower have already proven considerable catalysts for action.

Watts, he says, is a nexus for two uncontrollable elements spreading across the country: hip-hop culture and gang violence. Changes in Watts will ripple across the nation. The trick is to work with what already exists.

"The gang is a surrogate family when the nuclear family has been broken," Sherrills reminds us. "We'll never get rid of gangs, in a sense, but we can instill morals and values in that structure and shift their purpose. Let's shift this thing! This is not the ghetto. That's our perception of what it is because we've been told that. We're not gang members. That's something somebody else put on us."

One way to make the shift is through music, specifically through "conscious hip-hop" with a positive message. CSDI has put what Sherrills calls the theme music of the movement on a CD titled "Peace Warriors."

"There's no model for what peace is," he says. "And the image of peace is weak. It's this flimsy thing, like: Peace!" He makes a feckless face and throws a peace sign. "And war is like, powerful, sexy. So we can assign the virtues that have been stolen from peace and given to war back to peace. We can make peace strong and hard: peace warriors."

That's the broad cultural mission. The other, more immediate, task is to transform the purpose of the gangs on the ground in Watts. The way Sherrills plans to do this is by creating "community covenants" and an alternative economy for a neighborhood where annual per capita income is under $7,000--one-third of that for the city of Los Angeles.

The process is laid out in a 27-page document Sherrills has been showing potential funders. It calls for a series of meetings to gather the young people from the neighborhood's four housing projects, who are grouped loosely in cliques professing loyalty to Crips or Bloods. The meetings are to be facilitated by trusted members of the community--Sherrills says there are people in Watts who are respected by members of all of the cliques.

Attendees will draw up and sign a covenant, swearing off violence and laying out principles of community life. These principles will embody his "reverence for life" ideas. The document is to be distributed throughout the neighborhood, with signatures for everyone to see.

Commissioners will then be elected from within the cliques, paid a small stipend and issued business cards. They will hold weekly meetings. The alternative-economy element of the plan involves an unusual idea: A fund is to be established through $10 monthly donations from everyone in the community, and life insurance policies will be taken out on the young men.

If it sounds pie in the sky, well, desperate times call for desperate measures. No one thought it possible to broker a cease-fire between the Crips and the Bloods in 1992, either.

Sherrills believes this will work because CSDI has already brought together the clique leaders and received their endorsement.

"We brought 'em here and we laid it out," he says. "And they were all with it. Totally. So the thing is this: We just don't have the resources to move it forward. We need a million dollars a year for three years. And this is what I'm telling these potential funders: I guarantee we will shift this neighborhood forever."

Sherrills is frustrated by a reluctance of donors to fund his plan. "The progressive-liberal community doesn't take risks," he laments. "There's a lack of real strategic investment taking place from those who actually have the resources to do it, and it has a lot to do with the wounds around money. The thing that keeps a rich person from giving is the same thing that keeps a poor person from making."

There's something else at play, he says: a pernicious culture-wide mindset that Sherrills blames for the death of his son. "How can they talk about seven murders on the news, and there is no uproar, no response?" he asks in disbelief. "Because it's not our child, or our people or our community? That's the killer--our lack of compassion. That's why this movement, this reverence movement, is a movement of the heart. It's the final frontier. I'm like, we done hid behind everything else."

"That's it right there," Sherrills says, not slowing down as he points at the bottom center unit of a bleached two-story building with six apartments. "Number 440. That's where I lived from sixth grade until I graduated high school."

Not a soul is in sight except for a teenage boy sauntering across a parking lot. If not for the trash cartwheeling in the breeze and the immense garbage cans in the street, one might think the Jordan Downs housing projects had been deserted long ago.

Living here with his mother and the youngest of his nine siblings, Sherrills learned to keep a secret that built up enormous energy. A family member had begun sexually abusing him several years earlier. The molestation eventually stopped, but the repercussions echoed through his life for years. When he finally told a girlfriend in college about it, the power of his revelation fueled a radical shift in consciousness.

"I now see it as a gift as opposed to it being a burden in my life," he says. "I've been able to forgive myself and the perpetrator and reconcile all the relationships around me. All these things can be used as a fulcrum to change patterns in life."

Sherrills is breaking another pattern with his gradual withdrawal from CSDI. He is adamant about not wanting to manage the daily operations anymore. He is just as adamant in his desire for the imagined paradise of Ghana, the living compound he sees for himself and his extended family, the garden, the library, the good dinners and wine and conversation, and the business opportunities. And he is equally adamant when asked if he has any misgivings about leaving his work here, despite his recent purchase of a building in Watts intended to serve as a family compound and community center featuring coffee, conversation and a lending library.

"Hm-mmm," he says with a decisive shake of his head. "There's an umbilical cord that needs to be cut. I had to do it not only with my family, the individualization I had to go through with them, but also with the community. People depend on me in a way that's unhealthy. I enable people. Folks need an opportunity to take the movement to the next level without me as a crutch."

Sherrills then tells a startling story he would be well-advised not to share with potential funders: He believes he has been to this crossroads before, in a previous life. He was a priest in Atlantis, he says, who was so committed to his order that he forwent the opportunity to flee the rising tide with his beloved and drowned.

You don't have to believe in the legend of Atlantis to see that Sherrills' tale is a parable about his current life: Duty is wearing him down and a part of him knows it. The clear blue sky at the other end of Imperial Highway is sending its siren song.

"I've been a martyr in many of my lives, and to stay here would be kind of like a martyrdom," Sherrills says. "I feel like I'm learning my lesson."

Waging War on War

Jeffrey Mapendere knows peace is hard. A senior associate at the Carter Center in Atlanta and a former liberation fighter in his native Zimbabwe, Mapendere walks with a cane and confesses to a fear of heights that didn't stop him from parachuting into hostile territory as part of his freedom-fighting duties. War demands much of its soldiers, he says, but peace requires more.

"Any idiot can make war," Mapendere told an audience in California last weekend. "A single person can cause chaos. But making peace, that's where you need moral giants, real generals -- and there are very few."

Last weekend, some of the few met on the campus of the Monterey Institute for International Studies (MIIS) for the inaugural conference of Global Majority, a fledgling organization dedicated to promoting dialogue as an alternative to war. Students and practitioners of the art of negotiation engaged in policy discussions, hands-on mediation workshops and in conference hammering out a declaration of their intention. Those deliberations produced the Monterey Call, the heart of which is the goal "to prioritize the use of non-violent means of conflict resolution as a moral imperative of the 21st century."

It's hard to imagine a more quixotic venture. War is a $1 trillion global industry. Global Majority, on the other hand, has almost no budget and all of 65 members, most of them MIIS students. To attend the conference, panelists flew in from Atlanta, Botswana, Gambia, Tel Aviv and Washington on their own dime, or on the largesse of their home organizations. A boon to the group's funding came in a Friday night benefit concert by the silver-maned anarchist-humorist-folk singer Utah Phillips that raised $1,100. Local media ignored the conference, with the exception of the local alternative weekly and Univision. Even the presence of Colombia's ambassador to the United States, Luis Moreno, could not rouse the mainstream television crews from their weather-and-traffic-induced stupor.

But no venture is more worthwhile, either. In two and a half days of panels and workshops, the audience got an earful: about the 3 million Colombians who have been driven from their homes by the 40-year civil war that the guerrillas, government and paramilitaries just won't put to rest; about the 3,000 refugees at Dukwi Refugee Camp in northern Botswana who, having escaped wars elsewhere, now face the area's 37.7 percent HIV prevalence rate even as their daughters face the necessity of selling sex to local men in exchange for food; about the estimated 10 African civilians who die from war-related causes for every African soldier who meets his death on the battlefield.

It goes without saying that the obstacles are formidable, starting with the fact that the peace movement remains stranded on the banks of the mainstream.

"Who actually has a voice?" asked Joyce Neu, executive director of the Joan Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice in San Diego. "The people who have a voice are the people who have options -- the option of waging war but choosing peace. At conferences like this we're preaching to the choir."

The war on terrorism emerged as a prime culprit. Two years ago on a visit to Washington, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni invoked the U.S.-led war on terrorism as an explanation for his army's harsh crackdown on rebels in northern Uganda. Similarly, Moscow has played the terrorist card against the Chechens, as has Nepal's King Gyanendra against the Maoist rebels and the notorious Uzbek government against Islamic groups. The United States has regularly turned a blind eye to abuses, tacitly endorsing violent suppression over negotiation.

In perhaps the ugliest example of where this kind of cynicism can lead, last month the chief of Sudan's intelligence agency -- a high-ranking member of the same government that is persecuting its own people in Darfur -- was invited to Washington because Sudan has uncovered valuable information about al Qaeda.

"Colin Powell said what is happening in Darfur is genocide," Mapendere said. "What is U.S. policy telling Sudan, though? It's 'If you give us information on terrorism, you are home and dry.'"

If terrorism and the ham-fisted global response to it is one of the chief barriers to promoting dialogue between angry parties, it may paradoxically teach the solution. We know how a small group of people can confront hegemony. They disappear into the structure, form a network, influence other people, and eventually weaken the monolith from the inside. They make ample use of symbolism, and they don't give up. It works for wreaking havoc -- why not good?

Defense analysis professor John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School spelled it out. Arquilla, who touched off a fierce debate in public policy circles last summer when he suggested the U.S. negotiate with al Qaeda, turned on its head the conventional wisdom that networks are the province of terrorists.

"We can put together a strategy by Sept. 11, 2006 whereby the people of the world can stand up -- and they're a network, too; civil society is a network," Arquilla said. "And the first great war between networks and nations can be waged by a network of civil society."

And that is, in fact, Global Majority's strategy: to bypass the seats of power and start a movement in decentralized fashion, forming a worldwide network of experts and activists who can nurture peacemaking in their individual spheres of influence, linking up with other organizations and individuals.

One of the next items on the group's agenda, along with securing enough funding for a staff member and completing work on a logo, is to come up with a symbolic act to commemorate an international day of nonviolent conflict resolution. George Mason University doctoral student Tatsushi Arai proposed one last weekend.

"September 11, 2006 is the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," he said. "Let us remember it is also the anniversary of the Johannesburg declaration of nonviolence by Mahatma Ghandi. What would happen if practitioners, students and teachers could start to have dialogue and talk to policymakers about the need for peaceful resolution of conflict?"

It might not be televised. But that's the way it goes in a peacebuilding network. You move forward, toiling in obscurity, one radical idea at a time.

Les Fleurs du Mall

For a long time I shunned the Biggest Shopping Day of the Year. I had my reasons, which now seem Grinchlike. There was disdain, more or less hypocritical, for crass consumerism; contempt, more or less authentic, for people who practice it; and impatience, possibly premature, for crowded places in general. Let other people fight to the death over some cheap plastic piece of crap, was my attitude toward the day after Thanksgiving. I'm going for a hike.

This year was different. My boyfriend and I took a look at the attractive, contented shoppers streaming through San Francisco's Union Square, looked at each other, and dove in. Surrender was effortless. We joined the crowd hovering around the famous Macy's store windows, where kittens and puppies gazed back from their perches on doll furniture. We rode the escalators at Saks and sat on every sofabed in Crate & Barrel. We beamed at each other. We beamed at strangers. We bought stemware.

There's a simple explanation for this turnaround: we gave over to the pre-rational phenomenon known as the orgiastic ritual.

To paraphrase the philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm, the orgiastic ritual is an activity cooked up by the group to scare away the very bad scariness of existential isolation. It's usually something a little racier than holiday shopping, but in this culture holiday shopping is frenzied and ritualistic enough to count. We meet in the marketplace, we all go a little crazy together, we have some fun, we make some mistakes. And in the end we're worn out and full of that good feeling of belonging to something larger than ourselves.

The problem for anyone trying to remain sane and responsible during the holidays lies in what the "something larger" is.

Maybe it's nothing more than a consumer-driven economy that requires a massive end-of-year cash infusion just to keep the wheels from coming off. Indeed, the retail sector has come to rely on the holiday season. Analysts predict that one quarter of this year's retail spending, or $220 billion worth, will take place during the 29 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The day that starts it all off is known in the biz as Black Friday for its legendary power to push retailers safely into the profit column for the year. From that point on the experts, like priests reading the entrails of slaughtered beasts, anxiously watch for signs of how big the holiday shopping season – and therefore the year – will be.

The pressure is on to make it very big. Thus, this year's must-have gifts – the digital cameras, flat-screen TVs and iPods. What is absolutely necessary to the smooth running of the machinery is that spending in a given year exceed spending in the previous year. The analysts have predicted that we consumers will do our part and spend 5 to 6 percent more this year than last. The spending orgy will take place as scheduled.

Like all orgies, this one involves lapses in judgment. This year the average American is planning to spend $716 on holiday purchases, according to Myvesta, a Rockville, Md.-based consumer education organization. And that's planned spending. U.S. consumers typically blow their holiday gift-buying budgets by 15 to 30 percent.

So credit card use is up. On Black Friday it was 10 percent higher than last year. An estimated $87 billion of the season's $220 billion in sales will be on major credit cards. It's no secret that debt rises during the holidays. That's good. For somebody.

So is that it? We're here to stoke the engine of the economy and enrich someone else? Is there anything the non-believer can find that's good about Christmas? Any reason at all to feel okay about shrugging off caution and leaping into the shopping, overspending, debt-incurring orgy?

Yes. It's fun to give stuff to people we like. Just as the holidays are perfectly timed to banish winter doldrums – the days get shorter and the nights get longer, so we hang up twinkling lights and start bingeing – so are they perfectly timed to make the exchange of gifts the most meaningful. The world outside is withering, closing, darkening, but we are giving things away, spreading around joy and abundance and positively lighting up with consumer confidence.

In order to give stuff away, we have to go shopping. And as everyone who has ever been on a quest for the perfect gift well knows, this can be a fevered experience in which reason falls by the wayside, bent and trampled. This madness can infect the most well-meaning, progressive sort of person, even one making a conscious effort to eschew the materialism of the season. I know this firsthand. One year, determined to make my own Christmas presents and save a little money while I was at it, I managed to spend $200 on bath salt supplies, because nothing but the finest essential oils of neroli and rose and the best Breton salts and the loveliest-shaped bottles and the most fetching little ribbons would do for my dear friends.

Anyone can get drawn into the orgy of holiday shopping. It's part of the greater feast, a modern ritual within an ancient tradition. The pagans had Yule, the Romans had the Saturnalia, we have Christmas. And with it, extended mall hours and an excuse to go nuts.

In the end, the season is about sharing with family and friends. In the meantime, it's about jumping into the fray, credit cards held aloft, and declaring that no parking lot is too full, no store too crowded, no widget too costly, no credit limit too inflexible to defeat our noble purpose.

So the bill comes in January and we hang our heads. So what? It wouldn't be an an orgy if we didn't do things we later regretted. Otherwise it would just be a party. And we can go to those anytime.

The Godmother of Green Health Care

Nobody breastfed in Charlotte, North Carolina in the late 1970s. That was for women who were too backward or poor to take advantage of the modern miracle of infant formula. So when registered nurse and new mother Charlotte Brody decided to nurse her baby, eyebrows went up.

Brody was undeterred. As someone who had worked with striking coal miners and disabled textile workers, many of whom suffered lung ailments, she considered the wellbeing of her newborn son more important than prevailing local mores. So she steered past the formula aisle, learned how to breastfeed by reading books, and ignored the stares and whispers.

Fast forward to 1994. Brody, now a mother of two, had just resigned as the executive director of the local Planned Parenthood affiliate to join Love Canal activist Lois Gibbs' Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste when the Environmental Protection Agency released a report that would change the course of her life. The study found that medical waste incinerators – used to burn everything from soiled bandages to syringes – were the nation's number one source of dioxin, a deadly carcinogenic byproduct of burning materials containing chlorine.

The thought that Planned Parenthood had been poisoning the air sent Brody reeling.

"We thought the more waste we could incinerate, the safer we were making our patients, because incineration burned up all the hepatitis and HIV bugs," she explains in a clear, careful voice that is both sweetly melodic and utterly resolved. Brody was stunned to learn that the waste was coming back into the hospital clinic as dioxin lodged in the breasts of women "whom we were trying so hard to keep healthy until they were ready to become mothers.

"I was particularly floored because I was very attached and proud of my breastfeeding of my sons," Brody recalls. "And the idea that I downloaded 20 years of toxic chemicals into my firstborn was just shocking and outrageous and deeply depressing."

The irony that the health care industry was a major polluter was not lost on Brody. But as a lifelong activist – she joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at the tender age of 16 – she also spied an opening for change.

In the spring of 1996, Citizens Clearinghouse and similar groups began a series of meetings in Bolinas on the grounds of Commonweal, a nonprofit research institute recognized as a leading force in the environmental health movement. That fall, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) was born. The new coalition had a straightforward mission: make the environment safer for humans by making hospitals safer for humans.

The campaign's starting point? Medical waste.

"Since there were alternatives to incineration, there was a sense that this was a problem we could solve if we just educated people and created an effort to make social change," Brody says. "And we've done it."

By approaching hospitals with information on alternative waste disposal systems just as costly new Clinton-era emissions rules kicked in, HCWH was able to reduce the number of medical incinerators operating nationwide from an estimated 6,000 in 1994 to 100 today.

HCWH has since grown to include more than 400 member organizations in 52 countries. In keeping with an ambitious mission to green the global health care industry, HCWH has launched campaigns to rid hospitals of mercury thermometers and toxics-leaching IV bags. It encourages hospitals to buy ecologically sound medical supplies, cleaners, building materials and organic food – a greening campaign with huge potential impact when you consider that the health care industry accounts for 15 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

Brody's work, too, has evolved. In addition to her role as HCWH's executive director, she is active in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which strives to get harmful substances out of makeup, lotions, deodorants and toothpaste. Most recently, in January, she took over as executive director of Commonweal. The position puts her at the helm of an eclectic organization with focus areas in cancer, health care, environmental health and juvenile justice.

For Brody, it's about reaching ever further to make a difference and striving to find the greatest leverage point. As she puts it, "I just want to be part of a global community that keeps learning how to keep making bigger, smarter transformational change."

The Right to Be Chemical-Free

The insidious nature of environmental pollutants is a deeply disturbing fact of modern life. Dioxin, for example, spews from smokestacks, drifts through the atmosphere, settles on crop fields, contaminates the meat and milk of cows and eventually shows up in the body tissue of most Americans. It can cause cancer, immune system damage, birth defects and low IQ.

Phthalates are another evil genie. Used to make shower curtains, nail polish, IV bags and countless other items, they leach into the environment like humidity and are present in the tissue of virtually every human being. In July 2002, the Environmental Working Group, a partner in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, released a study that found phthalates present in three-quarters of cosmetics tested. (A later project, Skin Deep, screened 7,500 beauty and body care products for the presence of phthalates and created a searchable online database.) These ubiquitous compounds have been linked to liver, kidney and lung damage and impaired development in fetuses.

This gets to the heart of Brody's philosophy on environmental health: it's about motherhood and the right of children to be born without chemical contamination. She likes to quote Katsi Cook, the Mohawk healer, midwife and environmental health researcher who says, "Women are the first environment."

"The old way was to think of the problem of industrial chemicals as: 'How much of one chemical will give a 50-year-old male worker cancer?' And as long as we all were exposed to less than that amount, we were supposed to be safe.

"I think that what we need to be aiming for is how do we create a society that encourages the birth of healthy children," Brody says. "Women of childbearing age – not just pregnant women – are the canaries in the mine. But the answer isn't to give our canaries a 10-page list of dos and don'ts. The answer is to remake the world so it's safe for them. A world that's safe for young women will also be safe for men and frogs and coral."

Healthy Patients, Healthy Planet

In her quest to remake the world, Brody has emerged as a savvy strategist with solid credentials among activists and CEOs alike. Several years ago, HCWH realized that going to individual hospitals and appealing to them to switch to safer IV bags and non-antibiotic meat was all well and good, but going to the five purchasing collectives that control 70 percent of the market was better. Today, two of the collectives have stopped offering mercury products altogether, and the rest are following suit. Some are also switching from IV bags made with PVC, which leaches phthalate, while the two biggest IV bag manufacturers have abandoned PVC.

"The health care sector is waking up to its purchasing power to drive sustainability and health care goals – healthy patients, healthy workers, healthy communities, healthy planet," says HCWH co-founder Gary Cohen. "The possibilities here are just enormous."

This kind of strategic vision has earned Brody the respect of powerful industry leaders, says Kathy Gerwig, former director of environmental stewardship for Kaiser Permanente and an HCWH board member. She started working with Brody in 1997.

"The CEO then and our CEO now, George Halvorson, have both interacted with Charlotte and Health Care Without Harm and view the organization as extremely credible partners," Gerwig says. "She can sit in a meeting and talk to Housekeeping about chemical cleaners and talk to the CEO of a $22 billion medical organization about how to be a leader in environmentally sustainable health care."

Brody is also a born collaborator, Gerwig says. "In other settings, [with] somebody like Charlotte, an activist, and someone like me on the corporate side, the natural order of things is to be adversaries," she says, "and her natural order of things is to find the nexus. There is no 'across the table' with Charlotte. You're on the same side."

Janet Nudelman, program director of the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Fund and a longtime collaborator of Brody's, most recently on the Safe Cosmetics Campaign, says Brody is the same way with fellow activists.

"Anyone that's done social change work has often come out of that work feeling really bruised," she says. "People sometimes give themselves the excuse that the work is so important that relationships don't matter. Charlotte is really the antithesis of that. She really is the personification of the belief that relationships matter."

Asked what discovery has aided her most in her work, Brody takes a minute to consider. "It's that I don't know everything," she says at last. "And that some of the cultural trappings of the left are less than useful. The people who have been the champions of moving Health Care Without Harm issues in their hospitals can't all quote Bob Dylan or Billy Bragg, and I think really creating an organization where you didn't have to fit one cultural mold .... Well, you don't have to be a hiker or a biker or a Billy Bragg fan."

A Holistic View of Change

Commonweal sits on 60 windblown acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean, two miles up the road from the hamlet of Bolinas and a remote hour from San Francisco along vertiginous coastal corkscrews. A few buildings huddle among clumps of trees, but otherwise the place seems deserted, a plain of blowing grasses framed against indigo foothills. Rising abruptly from the middle of this scene are dozens of ghostly radio antennas, now-silent transmitters placed there by radio's inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, in 1913. It was here that Commonweal founder Michael Lerner was struck by inspiration one day in 1975.

"I had an image, a strong image that it might be possible to create a center there that we could use for work on both personal and planetary healing," he says. The next year, he and a group of friends started Commonweal with the goal of creating "a safer world for people and all life."

Lerner guided Commonweal for 27 years, fashioning it into a multi-dimensional institute with four areas of focus: helping people with cancer live better lives, reacquainting physicians with the spiritual aspect of healing, reforming the juvenile justice system, and fostering better health for people and the environment. When he suffered a heart attack last year, he began looking for the next generation of leadership to take over Commonweal. In January, he handed his baby to Charlotte Brody.

"Here was a person who had a lifelong commitment to poor people, workers and peace and the environment and justice," Lerner says of his successor. "So it was just a deeply natural fit for the Commonweal community. But on top of that, Charlotte is someone who is more than a good organizer. She is a really capacious thinker and a broad-gauge human being."

Nudelman concurs and observes that Commonweal, with its holistic view of creating change, is a natural home for Brody. "Commonweal is really an organization that understands the interconnectedness of things – public health, women's health, environmental justice," she says, "and it makes sense that Charlotte has arrived there because it's such a clear intellectual practice for her to see how these things relate."

Brody herself pondered the interconnectedness recently. "It's a dangerous myth to believe that you can make yourself into a healthy person on a sick planet," she said. "You can eat wild salmon instead of tuna to reduce your exposure to PCBs and mercury. You can exercise and reduce your risk of heart disease and hypertension. But we can't shop our way or lifestyle our way out of being connected to everything else on our planet."

The New Southern Democrats

In "The Motorcycle Diaries," director Walter Salles' tribute to Che Guevara, the hero speeds up the spine of the Andes clinging to his buddy on the back of a wheezing Norton. The year is 1952 and it is dawning on the young Che that the gorgeous vistas of his beloved Latin America conceal a corrosive cancer of greed and oppression. He dedicates himself to fighting for the common people, and the film ends on a hopeful note: change is coming.

The film has been a bright spot in the dark weeks surrounding the U.S. election. But it's just a movie, after all. We know how the real story ends. Che will die in Bolivia before his 40th birthday, betrayed by the peasants he sought to deliver, and right-wing governments throughout the continent will spend the next four decades brutally suppressing liberation movements while transnational corporations plunder the region's wealth unimpeded.

All the more reason to welcome recent real-life developments in Latin America. Chronically ignored by the Bush administration but expected to embrace its free trade proposals, Latin America is pushing back. Over the past weekend, as George W. Bush and other Pacific Rim leaders descended on the Chilean capital of Santiago to press a trade agenda, 30,000 protesters flowed into the streets like lava, chanting against the Iraq war and globalization.

That was a dramatic illustration of anti-American sentiment, but in reality the protest goes much deeper. Citizens throughout Latin America have been steadily turning leftward since the late 1990s, electing leaders in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela with strong social agendas and demonstrated independence from the U.S. Some defied Bush on the Iraq war. Most have displayed deep skepticism of the so-called Washington Consensus, a philosophy originating in the U.S. and upheld by the International Monetary Fund that emphasizes free trade, tightened government spending and the privatization of state-held utilities.

Whether this is a revolution or a momentary spasm is the subject of much speculation. Major media have downplayed the shift, remarking that recently elected leftists are more likely to work within the system than openly challenge it.

Nevertheless, change is afoot. Ariel Perez, a native of Argentina who teaches language at the University of California-Santa Cruz, thinks it's fueled by anger over economic bullying by the global North and the havoc wreaked by a decade and more of globalization.

"There is a pride there," he says. "We can't drop our pants and turn around every time. And that is the attitude of these men, and that is what the people are liking now."

Trading Up for a Leftist

Two days before Americans reelected the most conservative leader ever to sit in the White House, the small country of Uruguay put a leftist president in office for the first time in its 170-year history. Tabare Vazquez, a cancer specialist, ran for office pledging to tackle poverty in the once-prosperous country and to prioritize trade within Brazil's Mercosur trade bloc. This was an implicit jab at the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a Bush project to drop trade barriers throughout the Western Hemisphere (with a key exception that has irritated governments throughout Latin America: Washington wants to keep giving subsidies to American farmers). Vazquez was rewarded with more than 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race against the two U.S.-friendly political parties that had run the country for all time.

As if to hammer home their point, voters also rejected a typical piece of advice from the IMF – the privatization of the state water utility – deciding, in the words of Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, that "water, a scarce and finite resource, must be the right of every person and not the privilege of those who can afford it."

Clearly, the connection between their own miseries and the neoliberal reforms advocated by Washington and the IMF was not lost on the Uruguayans. The country suffered an economic crisis culminating in a run on the banks after neighboring Argentina's economy crashed in 2001 under a staggering debt load made worse by U.S. and IMF dictates. The contagious downturn left the relatively affluent and progressive Uruguayans, who identify closely with Europe and led Latin America in adopting a welfare system and women's suffrage, facing a 30 percent poverty rate and watching their young people leave en masse in search of opportunity.

Independence from the IMF

Uruguay, huddled between Brazil and Argentina on the Atlantic coast, is only the latest country to rebuff the free-market charge led by the Bush White House and the IMF. Its two neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, as well as Venezuela, have the region's strongest left-leaning presidents.

Argentina's Nestor Kirchner, a member of the Peronist party, arrived in office in May 2003 and promptly put the IMF on notice: Argentina would not pay back its $100 billion debt at the expense of the Argentinean people. (When a country defaults on an IMF loan, as Argentina had, the fund usually relaxes its repayment schedule and even agrees to keep the monetary spigot turned on – as long as the country agrees to "austerity measures," which means less money for social programs, and other conditions like the privatization of utilities, widely seen as benefiting transnational corporations.) Through a protracted tussle with the IMF Kirchner held his ground.

Brazil has seen pronounced change as well. Two years ago Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, a former union leader, became Brazil's first working-class president. Lula did not default on Brazil's $250 billion debt – centrist forces within his party had prevailed on this issue in the run-up to the election – so he did not take Brazil's new spirit of independence to the IMF arena as Kirchner would six months later. But by promoting his Zero Hunger campaign, restored ties with Cuba and regional trade through Mercosur, Lula made it clear that Brazil, the country with the most inequitable distribution of wealth in the world, would honor its socialist yearnings and conduct trade on its own terms. Like many other Latin American countries, Brazil also now has a blossoming economic relationship with China, another threat to Washington.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, backed by the clout that comes with having the world's 7th-largest oil reserves, is more brazen. A former guerrilla commander from the impoverished hinterlands, Chavez came into power in 1998 and began firmly regrouping the national oil company under state control after a series of moves by the previous administration to privatize it. Oil company managers and some unions that stood to gain from privatization went ballistic; meanwhile, Venezuela's elites bristled at Chavez's warm relations with Fidel Castro, who supplied Venezuela's guerrillas with arms in the 1960s and now sends doctors to care for Venezuela's poor in exchange for cheap oil. A Chavez opposition sprang up with Washington's support but has failed twice – once in an April 2002 coup and in August at the polls – to oust him. Meanwhile Chavez makes no bones about his contempt for Bush's vision of world trade domination and has even publicly called Bush a pendejo, or asshole.

Gaining Footholds

Signs of unrest are developing elsewhere as well. A year ago, Bolivia's Washington-backed president, Gonzala Sanchez de Lozada, fled to Miami via helicopter after riots broke out over his privatization campaign and plans to sell natural gas abroad. His replacement, Carlos Mesa, has pledged to put the natural gas industry under state control.

In Nicaragua and El Salvador, the political parties that grew out of the guerrilla movements of the 1980s are losing national elections but dominating at the local level – a possible precursor, says University of New Mexico professor Benjamin Goldfrank, to success at the national level.

"My sense is the left has come back based on two things," says Goldfrank. "One is charismatic presidential candidates. And on the other hand, the left has been experimenting with local-level participatory democracy in major cities of the region."

By gaining a foothold in local government and then opening up the doors to the public – not to mention improving services – leftist parties in Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela have established their credibility, Goldfrank says, paving the way to presidential victories.

"So while you have the failure of neoliberal and traditional right-wing policies at the national level, at the local level you also get the idea that the left won't produce chaos, but will govern effectively."

Latin America is hardly a worker's paradise. Colombia stands out as a throwback, its President Alvaro Uribe hewing closely to Washington's dictates on drug eradication and approach to the left-wing rebels that get their money from the narcotics trade. Peru's Alejandro Toledo, that country's first indigenous president, came to office in 2001 promising to create 1 million new jobs, but has been unable to deliver and now has an approval rating of 10 percent.

Meanwhile, in countries with a leftist in office, things are far from rosy. Unemployment in Brazil is 11 percent, and Brazilians grumble that Lula has failed to deliver on his promises – a factor that probably contributed to his Workers Party's loss of the mayoralties of Sao Paolo and even its stronghold of Porto Allegre a month ago. Goldfrank reports that the more radical contingent of the Workers Party has left the building. And the other day some students tried to egg Lula, Goldfrank says, but missed.

This could be a clue to the future. The leftist presidents may have sailed to victory on populist agendas, but the realities of their agreements with the IMF, and of their economies' dependence on foreign investment, limits what they can do.

"All these left-wing governments are doomed to fail again as they did before," says Perez. "When capital doesn't get what it wants, it pulls out, and that means hunger."

So they are caught in a vise. If they don't do enough, the people will fire them. If they do too much, the system will retaliate, precipitating crisis, and the people will fire them.

As a result, they have moderated. Vazquez agreed on the campaign trail to honor IMF austerity measures that accompanied a bailout in the wake of the economic collapse. That may imperil his ability to fulfill the promises that got him elected. In Argentina, a country that privatized its oil company a decade ago, Perez says Kirchner took tentative steps toward returning to that arrangement by setting up a state oil company – 45 percent of which is privately held.

"And that's it," says Perez. "That's as far as he can go. As soon as you start shaking the tree to get some money back, they're going to start doing something to create an unstable situation."

Goldfrank does not see the recent trend as a flash in the pan, nor as mere reactionism. But he does take a wait-and-see attitude.

"The real question is whether they can do anything different from previous regimes," he says. "Chavez has much more leeway to do that because of Venezuela's oil wealth. Vazquez and Lula don't have the extra resources. They have less room to maneuver."

It is the poetic Galeano, writing about Uruguay, who has the most hope to share about the fate of the people 6,000 miles down the road.

"We are now starting to recover that creative energy, which seemed lost in the long night of memory," he writes. "... It won't be easy. Relentless reality will soon remind us of the inevitable distance between what we want and what we can do ... We have limited space to move. But what alone seems difficult, and even impossible, can be imagined, and even attained, if we get together with our neighboring countries like we have been able to get together with our street neighbors."

AIDS Prevention Is Harder Than ABC

President George W. Bush's $15 billion, five-year AIDS initiative took a beating recently at the 15th International AIDS Conference in Thailand. For starters, the United States is taking a shamelessly unilateralist approach to dispensing its largesse, preferring to dole out assistance to 15 stricken nations like a neighborhood don at Christmastime rather than risk losing some PR by sending the money to a more effective global effort, namely the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

If the tenor of the Bush administration's approach to fighting AIDS seems arrogant, though, the philosophy behind it seems just silly – or at least it did until last week. The "ABC" approach to HIV prevention (Abstain from sex; failing that, Be faithful; as a last resort, use a Condom) has long been suspected by activists to be a cover for a right-wing agenda. And the fact that the Bush administration is going to spend $5 billion over the next five years trying to convince people not to have sex is, let's face it, pretty rich.  But new research unveiled in Bangkok suggests ABC might actually be so naïve it's dangerous.

According to the new UN report, "Women and HIV/AIDS: Confronting the Crisis," global HIV prevalence is rising rapidly among women. Forty-eight percent of the world's HIV-infected adults are now women, up from 35 percent in 1985. In sub-Saharan Africa, where women make up 57 percent of those infected with the virus, girls and young women account for a staggering 75 percent of HIV-positive youths aged 15-24.

Experts say women's powerlessness is behind the feminization of HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa, home to most of the world's 38 million HIV-positive people, early marriage is common, poverty is widespread and custom is kinder to men than it is to women, according them privileges and power in the marketplace and the bedroom. Being a woman and staying healthy is not, it turns out, as easy as ABC.

Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), put it best. Obaid has no love for Bush, who last week refused to fund UNFPA for the third year in a row, and her assessment was terse.

"Abstinence is meaningless to women who are coerced into sex," she said.  "Faithfulness offers little protection to wives whose husbands have several partners or were infected before marriage. And condoms require the cooperation of men."

Obaid's comment gets at the heart of the idea that the ability to exert control over one's sex life is increasingly critical to survival. But Africa offers one challenge after another in this regard.

Sexual coercion takes place in many arenas in Africa. One of them is in the context of conflict. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Sudan's Darfur, rape is used as a weapon of war. Thousands of women have been gang raped, some so violently that without intervention, they will suffer incontinence for the rest of their lives.

When one considers that HIV is two to five times as prevalent among members of the military in Africa as among civilians, it becomes clear that rape can also be fatal. A study in Rwanda last year found that in a quarter of the country's provinces, 66 percent of widows assaulted in the 1994 genocide were HIV-positive.

"After killing our husbands, they turned to us," a Tutsi woman said of the Hutu militias. "They knew very well that they were infected with the virus and wanted us to experience the same agony."

Sexual coercion can also be a matter of domestic violence – an acute problem in South Africa – or an element of an economically necessary liaison.  Many young women facing poor employment prospects enter into relationships – sometimes with a more financially secure older man, sometimes with a young man, sometimes with more than one man – that provide them with money for groceries, rent or small luxuries. Dubbed "transactional sex," it is sex for survival in some measure, and therefore the relationships are inherently unequal. A woman can't say no in such a situation and preserve her economic security.

As for "being faithful," fidelity is not always under women's control, activists and researchers point out. Infidelity plagues transactional relationships almost by definition, and it also enters marriages – especially unions in which the husband is much older than the wife. Even in faithful marriages, sexual history is a threat that does not discriminate.

Needless to say, the availability of condoms matters little in these instances. Only if a woman has negotiating power with regard to sex can she insist that her boyfriend or husband use a condom. Only if she is omniscient can she be certain it's not necessary.

To be fair, the ABC method is credited with reducing Uganda's HIV infection rate from 21 percent to 6 percent in 10 years, starting in 1991. Researchers suggest that the campaign's "zero grazing" message advocating fidelity was the secret to Uganda's success. Some also say the national culture, and a vibrant women's rights movement, helped the effort along.

While acknowledging Uganda's success, Obaid and other women's advocates worry that Bush's ABC method will flop in southern Africa, the disease's epicenter, unless it is fortified by solid legal and economic measures promoting equality.

"The social and economic empowerment of women is key," Obaid says. "The epidemic won't be reversed unless governments provide the resources needed to ensure women's rights to sexual and reproductive health."

African women without the power to negotiate safe sex don't need lessons in abstinence. They need schooling, jobs, a social safety net, reasonable pay. They need legally enshrined equal rights. They need peace. They need debt forgiveness, national industries, foreign investment, dismantled trade barriers – all of which the Bush administration, if it decided to investigate, would find is a lot more complicated than ABC.

War Crimes

News this winter that 112 women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan reported having been sexually assaulted by fellow U.S. soldiers in the last 18 months shocked the public and shamed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld into appointing a task force to investigate the matter. The task force, headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Ellen Embrey, is due to present its findings to Rumsfeld on April 30. The team is highly regarded, and victim advocates say they have faith in members' commitment to the job. The question is: Will anyone listen to what they have to say?

The answer is a disappointing "probably not." Sex scandals have rocked the military with dismaying regularity in the last 13 years; in 1991, when dozens of women in uniform were harassed and some sexually assaulted at the Navy's Tailhook Association convention; in 1993, when reports of rape first emerged at the Air Force Academy; in 1994, when the General Accounting Office found widespread harassment of female cadets at West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy; in 1997, when drill sergeants at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland were accused of raping and assaulting dozens of female recruits; in 2003, with fresh allegations of rape and coercion at the Air Force Academy.

Each of these eruptions has provoked an outraged response, a commission, a task force, a report. Christine Hansen, executive director of the Miles Foundation, which provides services to victims of violence associated with the armed services, counts 20 in the last 17 years.

"In all of these recommendations, we have seen very few of them implemented," Hansen says. "Our concern is, at what priority level is this?"

In the five months since the Denver Post published a damning article about incidents of rape in Central Command -- which includes the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia, and therefore Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait -- the military's official response has been swift, decisive and proactive, but its response at the ground level has been lackluster. The Army said in February it had already started doing quarterly reviews of sexual assault cases. The Marines said that starting March 1 it would incorporate sexual harassment training into its programs. Rumsfeld formed the task force. Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu whipped out a survey showing that assaults in the military were down by half since 1995 (although news organizations pointed out that the margin of error nearly cancelled out that progress).

But as recently as this week, when asked to provide updated figures on attacks, spokespersons for the Army, the Marines and the Air Force were unable to do so. Nor were they able to give the status of investigations into sexual assault charges. The issue is probably not that the public affairs people aren't doing their jobs but rather that no one is tracking the numbers. No one is paying attention -- still.

Asked if the spotlight of the media had sped up the pace of investigations, Hansen answered, "Not to the best of our knowledge."

The exception is the Navy, which in 1990 formed the Sexual Assault Victim Intervention program, a two-pronged approach that combines training on sexual misconduct with a strong victim response component. SAVI has an office and a staff, so the Navy was able to report that from October 2002 until February 2004 there were 12 reported assault cases in Central Command, seven of which were closed, and 358 Navy-wide.

Meaningful numbers are difficult to pin down. Hansen's Miles Foundation has received 129 reports of rape or attempted rape of servicewomen in Central Command since October 2002, with only 27 of those having been reported to military authorities. But the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence estimates that only 16 percent of all rapes are ever reported. Extrapolating from that basis, then, the numbers get big, fast.

In real life these cases are not, of course, numbers. They are harrowing tales. Alternet was not able to speak with any of the victims, but their stories emerged in congressional testimonies and news reports.

One woman, a major in the Army Reserves, was assaulted in Iraq by a noncommissioned officer during a SCUD missile alert, after which medics handed her "a lot of pills to take" for emergency contraception. Although her examination verified that she had been penetrated, the assailant's DNA evidence was not available and her case was closed.

Another woman, an Army sergeant, says she was raped in Afghanistan by a soldier with the U.S.-led coalition. There was no privacy for a sexual assault exam, and clinic staffers gave her antibiotics instead of emergency contraception, but she was sent back into action and then pulled off duty when her supervisor started to worry that she would "lose it." Fellow soldiers accused her of trumping up the rape charges.

Another female soldier in Kuwait was hit in the back of the head while entering the latrine and awoke as her assailant was raping her after having tied her hands and cut off her clothes with a knife, slicing her in the process.

All the victims said they felt betrayed by the authorities' response, from inept handling by medics to insensitive suggestions of having invited assault, and some said they would not report rape if it happened again. That, in fact, is at the heart of the task force's mission: to find out what services are available to victims of rape in the military. It is also charged with ascertaining the barriers to reporting sexual assault.

Victim advocates say one of the chief barriers is the military's lack of confidentiality. Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, says this is the worst thing possible for rape victims.

"The FBI ranks rape as the second most violent crime, trailing only murder. In other words, it is the most violent and traumatic crime a victim lives to remember," Berkowitz told the Congressional Women's Caucus in March, adding that it carries the risk of depression, addiction and shame. "Now, add to this mix the fact that reporting will mean everyone knows -- and I do mean everyone, from your superiors to your bunkmates," Berkowitz said.

Berkowitz blames this more on clumsiness than callousness. "Out of prior scandals, where the military was charged with not investigating cases, the policy became when a charge is leveled, it immediately goes up the chain of command, and 12 to 15 people are immediately notified," Berkowitz told Alternet. "And like any small community, once 15 people know, everybody knows. It's well-intentioned, but it had the opposite effect."

Another barrier to reporting is that it seems pointless. Assailants are transferred (or sometimes the victim is, in what feels like retaliation), docked pay or discharged, but rarely court-martialed or incarcerated.

"Predominantly the cases are handled through an administrative as opposed to a judicial process," Hansen says. "A commander has at their discretion from zero to court martial, if you will. Oftentimes we find they choose administrative action."

"Commander discretion" is enshrined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice and vigorously defended by military leaders as a way to protect the investment represented by a soldier; leniency is endorsed essentially for assailants who are regarded as good soldiers. A 2001 panel that assessed the UCMJ on its 50th anniversary recommended curtailing some of that discretion, but military and civilian defense officials resist the idea.

In any case, overhauling the UCMJ is beyond the scope of Embrey's task force, and Berkowitz says that for now, perhaps that's a good thing.

"It's probably good that the focus is a little narrower -- it might increase the odds that the recommendations actually get implemented," he said. "An overhaul [of the UCMJ] would be ideal, but with an incrementalist approach at least some change will begin to happen. Then we can go back and work on the next piece."

Hansen and Berkowitz, both of whom testified at a Congressional Women's Caucus hearing on March 31, have different ideas about how to fix the problem of victim response once the task force returns from visiting installations in Central Command to present its report.

Hansen suggests creating an Office of the Victim Advocate that would be housed within the Defense Secretary's office. It would set up victim services, help victims navigate the military bureaucracy, standardize the response to sexual assaults and in general serve as a clearinghouse for sexual assault issues. It would also establish a "privacy privilege" for victims -- one place it might run into resistance from military officials wary of setting a precedent to cut commanders out of the loop. Hansen has asked for $10 million to fund it next year.

Berkowitz says the military branches might rail against "another dictate from Washington," so he favors setting up a network of nonprofits like RAINN around military bases that can serve as victim advocates and give them an alternative to the chain-of-command reporting scenario.

"The second thing is we have to change incentives. When there's no punishment for a crime there will be a lot of it," he says.

One thing that needs to happen, Berkowitz says, is for the military to stop lumping sexual assault in with "sexual misconduct" -- a wide-ranging designation that includes everything from inappropriate comments to rape. Again, Berkowitz invokes the FBI's ranking of rape just behind murder as the most violent crime.

"If military folks were seeing rape as something close to murder rather than as something close to a crude joke or a pinch," he says, "it would be taken more seriously."

Traci Hukill is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.

The Vision Men

Early in his tenure as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle spent the better part of a New York-to-Washington flight pestering a Japanese businessman to invest in his new firm Trireme. A colleague of Perle's on the defense board was seated behind them on the same flight.

bookThe exchange involved known knowns, to borrow a phrase from Perle's friend Donald Rumsfeld, and unknown unknowns. One of the known knowns to the Japanese businessman was that as Defense Policy Board chairman, Perle had an inside line on America's future defense needs -- handy information for the head of a security-oriented investment firm like Trireme.

Another known known, this one the board member�s, was that Perle was at that moment not passing the sniff test. The Defense Policy Board, which is supposed to serve as a broad-based advisory council for the defense secretary, has strayed far from its nonpartisan mission, stocked as it is with partisan hawks like Newt Gingrich and Perle whose far-right views mirror Rumsfeld's own. But Perle's position still carried with it ethical considerations, among them the responsibility not to profit from his appointment by doing things like pimping his insider status at the Pentagon to potential investors for personal enrichment.

The unknown unknown, from Perle's point of view, was that his fellow board member was sitting behind him. Upon landing and discovering this discomfiting fact, Perle hurried to explain that it wasn't what it sounded like, really it wasn't ... Within two years, though, Perle was busted by the press doing the same thing, only carrying it out to fruition. He stepped down from the chairmanship in March 2003 when the story broke that he had exploited his position on the board to win $100 million in Trireme investments, this time from a Saudi businessman and his friends. The meeting had been arranged by a middleman in the Iran/Contra affair.

The airplane story, told to author William Hartung by the backseat board member, is one of dozens of accounts of shenanigans, cronyism and warmongering in How Much Are You Making on the War, Daddy?: A Quick and Dirty Guide to War Profiteering in the Bush Administration (2004, Nation Books/Avalon). What emerges from Hartung's analysis is a portrait of an entrenched cadre that has been biding its time since the Cold War, waiting for a sympathizer to make it into the White House so the group can advance its agenda of lasting American global dominance through overwhelming military might. Some are motivated by greed, others by ideology, but this is the goal.

They're making progress, by the way. Not including the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush's proposed 2005 budget allocates $401.7 billion to defense -- $100 billion more than when he took office -- and a 13 percent increase in funding for missile defense.

The main characters in Hartung's book are Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Perle and Frank Gaffney of the right-wing think tank Center for Security Policy, neoconservatives all. Hartung visits their younger selves in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations and traces their careers in the defense industry and at think tanks like CSP and the American Enterprise Institute during the Clinton years. He also chronicles numerous examples of unsavory activity since they reentered the halls of power and the Iraq war began.

Hartung, a senior research fellow at the New School's World Policy Institute, has plucked much of his material from newspapers and magazines, and many of the stories will be familiar to readers. There's the infamous no-bid contract for Halliburton -- which still pays its old boss Dick Cheney $150,000 a year in deferred compensation -- that could rake in as much as $7 billion over the next two years to fight oil fires in Iraq and rebuild the oil infrastructure. When outraged critics insisted part of the contract be put up again for a proper bidding process, the Army sped up the timetable so that Halliburton was paid for much of the work anyway.

Later it was discovered that Halliburton got the no-bid contract because it wrote the plan for rebuilding Iraq's oil facilities. Curiously, Cheney became vice president in much the same way. Charged with finding a running mate for Bush the younger, Cheney gave the matter some thought, then dispensed with Colin Powell, Tom Ridge, Frank Keating and others in favor of his very own self. Former Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes later referred to Cheney's lordly powers of objectivity when she stated, "Secretary Cheney told me he subjected himself to the same kind of scrutiny" as he had the other candidates.

That's a knee-slapper. Slightly less amusing is Donald Rumsfeld's history as an avid proponent of nuclear weapons. While Gerald Ford's defense secretary, Rumsfeld -- along with a few other hard-liners -- decided that the Soviet threat was far more dire than American intelligence portrayed it to be and pushed for an alternative analysis that later drove the Reagan-era push for massive defense spending and the Star Wars program. In 1998 Rumsfeld was recruited by Gaffney's CSP to reprise the alarmist routine, this time in regard to the ballistic missile threat from North Korea and other quarters, priming the pump for George W. Bush's dramatic increase in Pentagon funding. As defense secretary this time around, Rumsfeld doubled spending on the Star Wars program and spearheaded the effort to free the United States from the strictures of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty once and for all.

Hartung also devotes a chapter to the Carlyle Group, the defense investment firm that has George Herbert Walker Bush on retainer and former Secretary of State James Baker as a senior counselor. The group openly trades on its still-viable political connections. "Without its ability to give investors the impression that it has inside dope on the direction of U.S. government policy that no other firm can get, there would be no rationale for the Carlyle Group to exist," Hartung writes.

In Hartung's view, involvement in the market, however unseemly, actually has a moderating influence on the hawks. Asked whom he considers the most dangerous of Bush's advisers, Hartung does not hesitate: Wolfowitz. His forays into the business world have been trifling -- a consulting job with weapons-maker Northrop Grumman in the mere thousands rather than hundreds of thousands -- but he is the one who, after Sept. 11, was calling for a multiple-front war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon.

"It seems Wolfowitz is by far more possessed by ideology than with money," Hartung says. "For that reason, in some ways he's more dangerous. I don't think he really cares about money, but he cares about carrying through on this vision, whereas guys who have one eye on 'which country am I gonna work with when I get out' -- that has a moderating effect, sort of.

"Someone like a James Baker at the Carlyle Group, I think his outlook is a little more of a live-and-let-live approach," he says, adding, "That's not always a good thing because it leads to a certain tolerance for tyrants and human rights abuses and so forth."

Still, they are far less eager to identify new candidates for the axis of evil than their ideologically driven counterparts. "Take China," Hartung says. "The neocons view China as the next big thing after the Middle East, the next threat on the horizon. On the other hand, China's a new market. The ones with the business connections are much more likely to entertain the idea that maybe we could come to an accommodation with China that would make it less likely that 15, 20 years down the road we have to have a conflict.

"Of course," he says wryly, "there's a hybrid like Perle, who's willing to take money from the tyrant right up to the moment when he crushes him. And that's a real skill."

The fact that Perle and David Frum (who coined the gem "axis of hatred" that later became an �axis of evil") found it necessary to collaborate on An End to Evil, their manifesto on regime change, suggests that the neocons are finding George W. Bush too timid for their taste. Yet Bush and Karl Rove have enough political sense not to change another regime before 2004, and therein Hartung finds a small glimmer of hope.

"The question is: Is this a temporary lull?" Hartung says. "That's what the neoconservatives are hoping it is."

Given their gross underestimation of the human and financial costs of Iraq, though, Bush may feel burned by the neocons and start reassessing their advice. "You certainly saw a case with Ronald Reagan where he changed substantially in the second term from the first term," Hartung says, referring to Reagan's mellowed stance on nuclear weapons development starting in 1984. "But I don't know if Bush is capable of that in the same way. He seems more immature."

Traci Hukill is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.

Who Wants to Marry a Marriage Initiative?

The Bush administration's $1.5 billion drive to promote marriage among poor people is being received with joy on the religious right as a sign that George W. Bush is still their man. But the news is meeting a cooler reception everywhere else on the political spectrum. To most on the left and even some on the right, the marriage initiative sounds now just like it did when it emerged three years ago as a component of a new Republican welfare system: patronizing and wrongheaded.

First aired by President Bush in early 2001 as a cure for the poverty among many single mothers, the marriage initiative is included as a rider in the welfare reauthorization bill, which renews welfare programs for another five years. That means it's almost certainly going to become law. When it does, it will for five years mandate $200 million a year in federal money as well as $100 million a year in state funds to be spent on programs teaching low-income people the skills to enter and sustain "healthy marriages."

Half the federal money will go to state agencies. The other half, or $100 million each year, will be up for grabs by religious groups and nonprofits. Grant applicants have considerable leeway in both the form and content of their projects, and the programs may target high school students, single mothers, engaged couples, unmarried couples with children or married couples on the rocks. The only criterion is that the participants be heterosexual.

Politically Driven

The timing and nature of the announcement are clearly driven by politics. Offered up to the religious right as the Bush reelection campaign starts in earnest, the proposal shores up the president's conservative credentials after a year in which Texas and Massachusetts courts handed down significant rulings in favor of gay rights. Outraged religious conservatives want presidential support for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, but Bush has waffled on giving it. This vanilla endorsement of "healthy marriage" could spare his having to venture into those waters while mollifying a key constituency.

Meanwhile, the Bush campaign gets to offer socially conservative Democrats an alternative to Howard Dean, who as governor of Vermont signed the country's first civil union law in 2000 granting most of the rights of marriage to same-sex couples.

The contradictions at work are not lost on the people at the Human Rights Campaign, a bipartisan gay rights group.

"We think it's ironic that the administration is spending $1.5 billion to support this [marriage initiative] while at the same time considering a constitutional amendment that would deny the security and stability and protection of marriage to literally millions of same-sex couples who are in lifelong devoted, committed relationships and want to embrace those rights," said HRC spokesman Mark Shields.

That's a pretty good sound bite, all too rare where this initiative is concerned, according to Stephanie Coontz of the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit that advocates for the recognition and rights of nontraditional family structures.

"It's a very slippery kind of proposal to condemn," said Coontz, an Evergreen State College history professor. "The general for-public-consumption approach is it's apple pie: 'Of course we don't want to force people into marriage -- we just want to give extra money to programs that help people who do want to get married.'"

Nevertheless, progressives and libertarians alike see nightmarish figures when they look at the marriage initiative: Big Brother, the Bourgeois Moralizer, the Great Society-Attacker, the Stingy Darwinian Social Engineer, the Politically Pandering Money-Waster and the Crusader for the Inappropriate Introduction of Religion into State Affairs.

Yet the silence from Congressional Democrats has been deafening. Who wants to go on the record as "anti-marriage," especially during an election year, especially this one?

Marriage Ambassadors

Supporters claim the marriage initiative is rooted in two notions: that unmarried mothers are impoverished mothers and that two parents are better for kids than one. Coax the nation's mothers into marriage, the thinking goes, and the nation's children will be financially and emotionally better off. The federal government has already released millions of dollars in grants to community- and faith-based marriage education initiatives, many of which have focused on premarital counseling for engaged couples but are slowly entering the arena of marriage education for singles.

There are state-level precedents for this kind of activity. Oklahoma has had a marriage initiative since 1999, when then-Gov. Frank Keating created a $10 million program that sends forth "marriage ambassadors" to universities and churches to tout the benefits of their exemplary unions. Meanwhile, churches hold classes for women on how to get and keep a man through good communication skills (an enterprise that seems doomed by the unavailability of suitable men, judging from Katherine Boo's expertly rendered account in last August's New Yorker). The Oklahoma model has been imported to Florida. West Virginia has taken a more direct approach, offering $100 extra per month to low-income women who marry the fathers of their children.

None of the healthy marriage advocates interviewed for this story said they wish to force anyone into marriage.

"We don't say marriage is for everybody, and we don't try to get people to marry just because they had a baby together," said Rev. Jerome Warfield of Family Life Ministries of Metropolitan Detroit, which is even now selecting the grant writers who will make pitches to the federal government when the $1.5 billion initiative comes online. "We make sure marriage is a choice."

Healthy Marriage Grand Rapids, a Michigan group that received a $1.5 million federal grant in October, conducted a focus group to see whether unwed mothers were even interested in marriage (two-thirds were).

"There's enough independent interest that there's no need to coerce," said the group's executive director, Dr. Mark Eastburg. "This is all voluntary. And second, we're talking about healthy marriage, not marriage for marriage's sake. As a corollary to that, we're doing our best to screen for domestic violence, so if there are warning signs we can pick up on that."

Good intentions don't allay the serious concern that single mothers will be prodded into potentially abusive relationships. The National Organization for Women and other critics point out that some marriages are bad, and that even unions that don't result in outright abuse can be harmful.

Stephanie Coontz, in a paper co-written by University of Massachusetts economics professor Nancy Folbre, agrees that healthy two-parent families are best for kids. However, two-parent families aren't necessarily healthy. "Studies show a marriage marked by conflict, jealousy and anger is often worse for children's well-being than divorce or residence from birth in a stable single-parent family," the pair writes. Take-home message: a bad marriage is worse for kids than no marriage at all.

Faulty Logic

Critics also have attacked the logic underlying the entire proposal.

The marriage initiative is partly driven by recent census figures showing that 6 percent of two-parent families live in poverty, compared to 33 percent of single-parent families. But it's a chicken-and-egg thing: Does single parenthood cause poverty, or do the conditions that go along with poverty -- unemployment, a lack of education and hopelessness -- keep people from marrying?

Criticism of the Bush administration's logic on this subject has resulted in some unlikely alliances. Michael Tanner of the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, who has appeared on stage with presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and NOW representatives in opposition to the marriage initiative, is definitely coming at the issue from a dislike of big government. He calls the initiative a "colossal waste of money," primarily because it misses the point. There isn't a marriage crisis, he says, noting that 90 percent of Americans are married by their 40s. What there is, among the poor, is a marriagability crisis.

"Getting girls to marry the fathers of their children is not the problem -- they would if the fathers were marriageable," Tanner said. "The fathers of these children, 38 percent have criminal records, 20 percent are unemployed and another 20 percent earn less than $10,000 a year. These are not men who women are going to gain a great deal by marrying."

Just as women eyeball their prospective mates' economic prospects, especially if they are responsible for children, so too do men assess their brides' futures, says Coontz.

"Very few men decide to get married because they want to rescue a woman from poverty," she writes. "Women with few skills and poor education are therefore quite disadvantaged in the marriage market. Giving women more education and job training would make them more marriageable while also improving their ability to support their children if they remain unmarried." Add "child care" to that wish list.

Coontz and Folbre say single parenthood need not be a ticket to a lifetime of poverty -- for an example they point to Sweden, where a closely woven social safety net keeps that country's many single parents in reasonable economic health. And two-parent families are hardly immune to economic stress, which, incidentally, contributes to breakups: a 2001 study by sociologist Scott South showed that every time the unemployment rate rises 1 percent, 10,000 couples get divorced.

Tripping Down the Altar

Marriage initiative advocates say many of their programs perform an important service by targeting engaged couples for premarital counseling precisely in order to prevent the pain and familial disruption of divorce. Eastburg, whose Healthy Marriage Grand Rapids created an inexpensive ($30), secular premarital workshop for couples who choose civil ceremonies, says the judges his group approached to recommend the course had some "pretty wild" stories about newlyweds-to-be who had no idea what they were getting into. He has seen some himself, firsthand.

"One guy called to register," Eastburg says. "We asked him his name and we asked his bride's name and he said, 'Linda.' We said, 'What's her last name?' He said, 'Can I get back to you on that?' So we feel like we meet a need. We're tapping the brakes."

Fine, says Coontz. "To the extent that this acts as a precedent that the government is prepared to provide social counseling for people, that's great," she says. "That part of it is potentially very healthy." She worries, though, about the advent of federally funded groups whose "marriage counselors" received their credentials after a weekend workshop. And, she asks, given the involvement of faith-based groups," What are they going to be counseled?"

Dr. Sandra Bender, who started the Cleveland Marriage Coalition after 30 years as a marriage counselor, smells a self-satisfied liberal rat in the arguments against programs like hers.

"Poor people want relationships," she says. "It's really discriminatory for people to say, 'Poor people don't need relationships, they need jobs.' How can you say poor people don't need healthy relationships just like everybody else? And there's a great deal of money already being spent to provide jobs for poor people. This is filling a gap."

"Of course poor people need relationships," counters Coontz. "What kind of a straw man is that? It's this fetish about attaching it to marriage."

Excluding people who don't intend to marry from receiving the benefits of social counseling is misguided, she says. In a book on the history of marriage she's working on for a fall publication date, Coontz shows that marriage has changed more in the last 30 years than in the last 3,000. Because people wait longer to get married and often outlive their partners, the primacy of marriage is fading.

"It will never again be the exclusive institution, or even the main one, where people's main interpersonal needs get met," she says. "And so I think it's terribly irresponsible to pretend every relationship is going to end in marriage."

All in all, Coontz says, "There's too much tendency to pretend this is an anti-poverty measure that can substitute for the more proven anti-poverty measures of educating men and women, providing jobs and providing child care. Those are things we know will reduce the poverty rate."

Traci Hukill is a freelancer writer in Washington D.C.

Rally Recipe Wins No Prizes

It was, as the saying goes, all good. The weather was great. The crowd was pissed but in a cheerful, spirited way. The Washington, DC cops, though fully in thrall to their Powellesque doctrine of completely unnecessary and overwhelming force, more or less just lined up in their cruisers, saddles, motorcycles, dirt bikes, bicycles and black boots and watched the proceedings. The A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition and United for Peace and Justice, the two organizers, had obviously mended fences after some squabbles earlier in the year, so that was nice.

In fact, except for its totally unfocused message and the fact that organizers missed a golden opportunity by not holding it three weeks earlier, the anti-war rally in Washington, DC on Saturday was a tremendous success.

At about 11:00 a.m., the rally's scheduled start, a festive but relaxed crowd of 5,000 or so gathered on the north side of the Washington Monument, ostensibly to register their disapproval of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. People were still streaming toward the site at that point; next-day estimates by media put the number of people who marched on the White House several hours later at 10,000 to 20,000 -- far closer to reality, by my lights, than the estimate of 100,000 claimed by some overenthused organizers at one point.

It is always good to see people fired up about something and doing something about that something; it's even better when that something is the Bush administration's voluminous catalog of misdeeds, missteps and misstatements of the truth. But if anyone -- a Democratic party strategist, let's say -- wanted to gain some understanding of the hurdles faced by the left between now and November 2004, this would have been the place to be. This is going to be a hard group to pull together into a viable force.

The first thing such an observer might have noticed is that the rally's message was an omnibus, diffuse expression of dissatisfaction on many fronts. While that is an important thing for a constituency to communicate, it fails as a strategy for making a coherent point engineered to ignite change, which is, I believe, what a rally is supposed to do. This was a cupboard casserole of a demonstration, something thrown together with whatever was on hand. The main ingredients were "end the occupation now" (mushroom soup),"Bush is a liar who should be impeached" (noodles) and "bring our troops home safely" (tuna fish). That is a fairly harmonious combination, one enhanced by "Dude, Where's My Country?" (salt) and "Osama bin forgotten" (pepper).

Unfortunately, other, less compatible, ingredients worked their way in: "support to the Palestinians" (beets), "no to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas" (pickle relish) and "does your food have a face?" (Apple Jacks). These points of view were expounded both by speakers and by the placard-bearers in the crowd, to the detriment of the rally at large; worthy though each may be as an independent concern, their addition to the mix confused the message hopelessly and probably made it just a little too easy for anyone peering out the windows of the West Wing (not the president; he was in Camp David) to dismiss the whole crowd as a bunch of wackos.

Granted, a rally like this is tough to pull off. In the run-up to the war, it was easy to gather people for the no-invasion-of-Iraq cause. People's reasons for opposing the war didn't matter as much as the fact that they didn't want it and they poured out by the hundreds of thousands to say so. This was much trickier. Occupation is more abstract, and it doesn't come with the same package of grisly images that war does.

However, our fictitious political operative might have seized on another, more fundamental, problem than that the demonstration-as-casserole tasted weird. The real problem is that the base ingredient, the mushroom soup -- "end the occupation now" -- is basically void of the nutritional content that for the purposes of this argument could be called a savvy and intellectually rigorous position.

"Ending the occupation now" is not just an idea that will never see fruition, it's a bad, irresponsible, naïve one that would have disastrous consequences if it were carried out. Many of us -- not enough, but many of us -- think the United States never should have invaded Iraq. Now that it has done so -- and yanked out the indigenous civil administration by its roots, fired the entire army and left Sunni snarling at Shiite and vice-versa -- it, or someone, has to stay until the Iraqis themselves are on their feet. That means a civil service that can make sure the 60 percent of Iraqis who were fully dependent on U.N. food aid before the war get food, water and power. That means a national police force that can keep score-settling, theft, abductions and rape in check. That means a parliamentary structure that is representative enough and acceptable enough to citizens that they will allow differences to be settled in the political arena and not the streets.

And this is where the organizers' great missed opportunity comes in. This demonstration should have taken place three Saturdays ago, prior to the U.N. resolution that passed Oct. 15. And instead of calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, demonstrators should have thrown their full weight behind U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal, still on the table at that time, that the Coalition Provisional Authority give a "greater role" to the United Nations and, more importantly, set up a process for establishing an Iraqi government similar to the one put in place in 2001 for Afghanistan.

That plan would have provided the cover needed to get international peacekeepers in (they currently number 8,000, and there is little hope now of getting troops from major contributors like India and Pakistan), which would have made U.S. withdrawal more of a possibility. Such a multinational force would have filled the requirement, the absolute requirement, for a stabilizing force to keep at bay the worst human impulses that tend to surface in a security vacuum while Iraqis set about the business of rebuilding their government. One need only look at Afghanistan -- where the government has been politely screaming for more peacekeepers to quell warlords, marauding militias and common criminals -- to see what happens when no one is around to make certain elements of society behave.

More importantly, Annan's plan would have set up a provisional, broadly representative Iraqi government (not the CPA-picked Governing Council) within three to five months and handed power to it right away. This government would have appointed a commission to start drafting a constitution on a timetable that would allow for some deliberation, with national elections to follow the new constitution. The idea is that Iraqis would have time to decide what they want and do it correctly. It's more or less the Afghanistan model, which left two and a half years between the installment of the provisional government and first national elections -- and in that country even that is not seeming like enough time to take into account what citizens want and what can feasibly be accomplished.

What the United States wanted, and what it got, was the opposite: It will not hand over power to the Iraqis until they have a constitution and national elections, which will inevitably rush both processes. There have been rumblings from the administration about elections by the end of next year -- hardly enough time to make the psychological, much less political, shift from life in a totalitarian state to democratic self-rule.

Annan's plan died a too-early death, replaced by a watered-down Franco-Russo-German version that failed anyway. Twenty-thousand demonstrators carrying "U.S. Out, U.N. In" signs -- instead of the lone soul I saw doing so on Saturday -- might not have won the day, but at least they would have been rallying behind a single compelling idea that would have produced progress instead of mayhem had it reached manifestation. That kind of demonstration could have been a powerful show of unity that showed progressives as a discerning group grounded in political realities. And all would have been spared picking through that bizarre casserole in search of something substantial.

Traci Hukill is a freelance writer in Washington, DC.

The Billion-Dollar Breakup

Last weekend, the Bush administration announced it would soon propose a $1 billion aid package for Afghanistan, more than triple the amount of assistance the war-shattered country received this year. The money will fund badly needed reconstruction projects: roads, schools, women's employment programs, the hastened build-up of the Afghan National Army.

The move, seemingly out of nowhere, met with a gracious welcome from President Hamid Karzai's government.

"Reconstruction creates jobs," Karzai Chief of Staff Said Tayab Jawad said. "It creates a sense of trust and gives people hope for a more peaceful future."

The proposal signifies an abrupt turnaround for the White House, which earlier this year submitted a budget that included exactly zero dollars in humanitarian and reconstruction aid for the country, preferring to funnel all its spending in Afghanistan -- about $1 billion a month -- into the U.S. military's war against terrorism. The only reason Afghanistan got any reconstruction money at all this year was that Congress hurriedly tacked on a $300 million aid package just before the budget passed. (To get a sense of the kind of commitment this represents, consider that the 2003 U.S. foreign aid budget, not including military expenses for Afghanistan and Iraq, was $16 billion.)

The White House decision, then, to administer a $1-billion cash infusion to a country so egregiously neglected in the last round of budget proposals would seem to signal a shift in priorities. But a change in tactics should not be confused with a change of heart. The administration is more eager than ever to extricate itself from Afghanistan. This plan is designed to speed that process; it is a fancy candlelit dinner and a new outfit on the eve of the breakup -- after months of heavy hints that the relationship just isn't working out.

The clues lie in the nature of the projects to be funded and the origin of the plan itself. Unnamed officials cited in The Washington Post said the package was designed to fund highly visible projects that can be finished in a year, boosting the image of the U.S.-backed Karzai government in time for national elections in October 2004.

On a visit to Washington last month, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah stressed the importance of noticeable improvements to daily Afghan life to the transitional government's chances of winning the elections, originally scheduled for June 2004.

"If in June 2004 the capital is in dark because of [a lack of] electricity, will anybody believe this government that things will be different in two and a half years from then?" he asked. "No. I think this government will lose credibility; its friends will lose credibility. To the eyes of the Afghan people, it will be $4.5 billion spent and still no electricity in Kabul, in the capital." Handsome new schools and smooth black ribbons of highway where once were pothole-riddled jeep-busters are just the sorts of showcase projects to reassure Afghans that Karzai is the right horse to bet on. Other destinations for the new aid are programs to get women back into the workforce -- a crowd-pleaser here at home, where the touted improvements to Afghan women's lives are a treasured, if largely fictitious, source of satisfaction -- and the strengthening of a national police force and army, for which a small contingent of U.S. lawmakers and foreign policy insiders have been pressing with mounting urgency.

The question, of course, is how long the United States will remain involved with Afghanistan after the goal of installing Karzai in office has been met. That the $1 billion aid plan originated inside the Pentagon is a bad sign for the long-term prospects of a mutually caring and respectful relationship between Washington and Kabul. Not only does it highlight the trend of Defense Department encroachment on State Department turf, but it suggests that the ultimate goal of this proposal is to free up troop and treasure commitments for other ventures. Iraq, North Korea and Iran call.

"We noted that there's a lot we're spending in Afghanistan and there's a lot at stake strategically," said Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, whose office conceived the plan. "And we asked ourselves are we investing enough, given the expense of everything that we're doing, the importance of success and the benefits, strategic and financial, of completing our mission there sooner rather than later."

What some might have hoped for from the office charged with formulating U.S. military policy, rather than a series of quickie cosmetic projects designed to get our man in office, is a military strategy to fulfill the stated aim of U.S. presence in Afghanistan, which is to stabilize the country so terrorist elements cannot proliferate there. Consensus among the foreign policy establishment is that the best way to do that is to expand the 4,500-member International Security Assistance Force, currently confined to Kabul. Even with fresh assistance, the Afghan National Army will not reach its full strength of 70,000 for several years. In the interim, the experts agree, peacekeepers are needed throughout the provinces to quell banditry, rape and murder by roving bands of warlord-backed militiamen and common criminals.

But a U.S. effort to expand ISAF would require political capital. NATO assumes command of the force on Aug. 11, and NATO members, if not the alliance itself, are under U.S. pressure to send troops to Iraq, not Afghanistan. Furthermore, it would be harder to bow out of a long-term engagement in Afghanistan if other nations were more heavily invested than they are now -- and as the May bombing of a busload of German peacekeepers in Kabul proved, troop investment in Afghanistan is not without risks. Risks like that inform decisions: Two weeks ago Germany said it would be cutting its Afghanistan force by a third.

Frank Wisner, former U.S. ambassador to India and chairman of a Council on Foreign Relations task force that released a June report recommending an expanded ISAF, says he does not know why the United States has refused to push for a stronger mandate.

"That's a good question, and only my friends in Washington at the Pentagon and State can answer it," Wisner said in an interview last month. "I imagine the answer lies in the Pentagon. I am only speculating, but maybe there was a thought that an international force would get ahead of itself, that it would get into a long-term commitment that could keep the United States involved longer than the United States wanted to be."

The Pentagon plan will probably do what it is supposed to do: The new reconstruction projects will be appreciated and Karzai will be elected, putting the face of U.S. success on a nation-building project just about the time the administration asks for more international help in Iraq. Afghanistan will be no safer from the internal unrest that feeds terrorism a year from now than it is today, but it had better figure out how to cope with that problem on its own. The day is coming when the ride will be over and Afghanistan will be let out by the side of a brand-new highway in front of a brand-new school to find its own way home.

Traci Hukill is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.

A Safe Haven Turns Hostile

February was an unusual month at Vive La Casa shelter in Buffalo, NY, and not only because its aid workers helped process three times the normal number of applications for people from the U.S. seeking asylum in Canada. It was unusual because of the applicants' composition: Of the 952 people who came to ask the non-profit for help with their paperwork and a place to stay while it was being processed, some 550 were Pakistani, about 50 were Egyptian, and the rest were a mosaic of Indonesians, Bangladeshis, Colombians and others -- all trying to leave the United States to seek safe haven in Canada.

A similar scenario unfolded at border crossings into Ontario in January, when 871 people sought Canadian asylum, double November's figure. The New York Times reported that half of them were Pakistani.

Prompting them was a Feb. 19 INS special registration deadline for nationals of seven countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait. Under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program, men over the age of 16 from 25 countries -- all of them Muslim except for North Korea -- must report to immigration officials to show their papers and be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed. Not all men have to register; those with green cards or pending asylum applications are exempt. But those who show up with expired tourist, work or student visas are detained or told to appear in immigration court, where a judge decides whether to begin deportation proceedings. Those who don't show up, if caught later, face arrest and possible deportation.

The Pakistanis and others crowding the border in January and February weren't taking any chances of being shipped back home on chartered flights, as so many others have been. They wanted to be someplace safe, and they had determined that place was not the U.S. Since NSEERS went into effect, 3,000 Pakistanis have fled to Canada and 1,100 have been deported. According to the Karachi-based magazine The Herald, 50,000 will return voluntarily to Pakistan before it's all over.

For now, though, most of those who fled to the border are still stuck there, waiting the four to six weeks it now takes to get an appointment with a Canadian immigration official. Before the mass exodus swamped Canadian immigration offices, the waiting period was a week.

Fundamental Image Problems

The NSEERS program is not helping the United States' image in Pakistan, a country where fundamentalists made startling gains in the last election and where thrives a deep suspicion of American intentions. "The street is very radical in Pakistan," says Faiz Rehman, president and founder of the National Council for Pakistani Americans. "The popular view is Americans are out to get all the Muslims."

Pakistani newspapers follow INS developments closely. But one could not ask for a more effective marketing tool than the structure by which American money -- and American news -- get disseminated throughout Pakistan. As explained by Asad Hayauddin, spokesman for the Pakistani embassy in Washington, many Pakistanis in America are supporting six or seven family members back home.

"So the impact is multiplied," Hayauddin says. "It's not one guy going back, it's many people being affected. Domestically, this does not play well. This is going to affect the hearts and minds campaign."

Pakistan's domestic mood is already restive. President Pervez Musharraf's policy reversal following 9/11, in which he withdrew support from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and allied himself with the U.S., angered religious conservatives, as has the presence of American special forces hunting for Taliban and al-Qaeda members. Pakistan's cooperation in that effort has helped net 450 suspects to date.

One symptom of the mounting resentment toward Islamabad's Western leanings was the October election, in which a coalition of six hard-line Islamist parties won two of the western provinces -- those closest to Afghanistan -- and became the third-biggest bloc in parliament.

Inclusion in a list of potentially dangerous states is something Musharraf's government might reasonably construe as an insult, and poor repayment for a politically risky show of loyalty. It goes without saying that the fundamentalists are incensed by the implications of the NSEERS program.

The country, in essence, feels snubbed. "They don't feel they've been repaid in the same coin, so to speak," says Rehman.

"It is argued that [the NSEERS] policy is meant to increase security for the United States," wrote Pakistani newspaper editor and visiting Brooking Institute scholar Ejaz Haider in a February op-ed piece in the Washington Post. "A worse way of doing so could hardly be imagined. The policy is an attempt to draw a Maginot line around America. Not only is it likely to fail in securing the homeland, it is creating more resentment against the United States. Does America need a policy that fails to differentiate between friend and foe?"

Haider's commentary sprang from personal experience. On Jan. 28, Haider was arrested by immigration agents outside his Brookings office in Washington and bundled off to a Virginia detention facility for having missed a check-in appointment at INS.

As it happened, Pakistani Foreign Minister Kurshid Mahmud Kasuri, a friend of Haider's, was in town that week to discuss Pakistan's inclusion in the NSEERS program. The day after Haider's unceremonious arrest, Kasuri raised the matter in a meeting with Attorney General John Ashcroft.

"Everybody was embarrassed," Kasuri told the Post. "I told him that this is the sort of thing that is going to happen [if enforcement is not more restrained]. If that is the sort of person that can be nabbed, then no one is safe."

In the end, Kasuri was assured that Pakistanis would not be deported en masse, and the Department of Justice agreed to push back the deadline for Pakistani special registration to March 21. But U.S. leniency only went so far; three weeks later Musharraf's own nephew was detained for 16 days in Memphis, Tenn. when he showed up for the special registration, apparently having missed an earlier appointment. Pressure from the embassy in Washington yielded no results.

And this is the American response to a country enjoying a moment of favor with Washington, thanks to its help in the war on terrorism.

Pakistan Pressure

Analysts generally agreed that Islamabad was off the hook during the arm-twisting festival at the United Nations two weeks ago, back when the United States was still in the game of diplomacy, albeit a hard-ball version, and trying to drum up support for war against Iraq. While the governments of Angola, Cameroon and Guinea were quailing to think of their U.S. aid cut off, while Chile was contemplating a future without a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. and Mexico was thinking long and hard about immigration reform and having its goods ignored by its main trading partner, Pakistan was enjoying a relatively pressure-free week.

Even loud talk of Pakistan's abstaining from a vote on Iraq did not ruffle the Bush administration's feathers enough to stop it from lifting the last of military sanctions against the country. Two days later the doomed second resolution gasped its last breath and died, and Pakistan was spared making a decision.

"Most of the Muslim countries did not have a problem with this," says Rehman of the NSEERS program. "The Saudis didn't say anything, the Egyptians didn't say anything, the Yemenis didn't say anything, the Jordanians didn't say anything. They accepted this as a fait accompli. Only Pakistan has raised so much hell."

The reasons, he says, have to do with the number of people affected -- Pakistanis comprise almost 1 million of the 7 million Muslims in the United States -- combined with their leadership roles in the Islamic community and their higher education levels. Hayauddin agrees that Pakistan took the lead on the issue, mostly because the special registration is thought to affect anywhere from 14,000 to 40,000 Pakistani men. He's quick to say, however, that Pakistan understands the security concerns of the United States and seeks only a more humanitarian implementation of the new law.

That diplomatic disclaimer is undoubtedly necessary. Jordan's consul in Washington, Muhib Nimrat, says when Jordan learned it was included in the fourth group of designated countries, in January, it asked for meetings with U.S. officials -- but not to object to its inclusion in the program.

"We do understand the security concerns that prompted the American government to take such procedures," Nimrat says, "however, we voiced our concern regarding the process of registration itself. It should be easier -- they should not be detaining innocent people who comply and go to register."

Nimrat concedes that the folks at home don't like the sounds of the program. "I believe, yes, it makes it very difficult for them to come to the U.S.," he says.

"Even Jordanian students have been suffering and I believe many of them changed their route and went to Canada or England to study because it was difficult to get the visa and they were a little bit afraid once they come here that they will be subject to registration and it will be a long and difficult process. Of course, it has a negative outcome."

Jordan is one of the five countries whose deadline got pushed back to April 25. The deadline for 18 other countries, all of them Muslim except for North Korea, came and went on Feb. 7.

That long list includes some of the usual suspects, like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan (all State Department-designated terrorist states), but also some surprises: hitherto invisible Eritrea, troop-friendly Qatar, progressive Bahrain.

So far more than 50,000 males have shown up for special registration in the last four months, 22,000 of them from Pakistan. According to official U.S. sources, 5,000 of the total have been given court notices; 1,700 have been detained. Another 45,000 males entering the United States have registered at ports of entry. U.S. immigration service statistics as a whole tell the story of a closing society. Asylum cases approved in January 2003 were 43 percent lower than in January 2002. Non-criminal removals (i.e., deportations for immigration violations) are up 45 percent. And fewer people are trying for naturalization; applications are down 46 percent from last year.

"The problem with this registration program is they're using it to apprehend illegal aliens, and Congress's objective was to apprehend security risks," says Syed Nai yer Izfar, a Houston immigration attorney. "It's not a security program anymore. It's a program to round up illegal aliens.

"The fact of the matter is they're not catching any terrorists as a result of special registration. They've said, 'We've caught a lot of criminals.' If that's the point, then why don't we register the whole nation? I'm sure we'll catch a lot of criminals."

Reasons for Fear

Meanwhile, says Izfar, normally law-abiding people are avoiding special registration because they're afraid of deportation.

The very first special registration day gave the Muslim community good reason to fear the process. On Dec. 16, men from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria showed up at the INS center in Los Angeles to register. Unprepared immigration officials, faced with malfunctioning computers, detained 1,100 men rather than risk having them not return after the computers were fixed. The detention facilities were miserable -- cold, crowded and unable to feed anyone. Eventually all but six of the detainees were released, their papers found to be in order.

"And these were the people who showed up!" says Rehman.

The National Council for Pakistani Americans was one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought against the Department of Justice on Dec. 27 over the fiasco. The suit received national and international press, and although it was thrown out by a California judge in January, the group decided not to appeal.

"It served our purpose," says Rehman. "It raised the profile of the issue."

But there will be more special registration deadlines. The immigration service's website promises that another group of countries has been identified, though the information is not yet public.

"They told us the list would expand, not shrink," says Hayauddin. "That's what Ashcroft told us."

With the second and final date for special registration having come and gone, the Pakistanis camped on the Canadian border in shelters, motels and host houses are in what is known in Ashcroft country as a pickle. While they wait for their interviews in Canada, they are also, many of them, officially now categorized as absconders for not having undergone the special registration they are trying to avoid. A last-ditch effort to push the deadline back until June failed, so they are in the worst kind of vulnerable position.

When Rehman visited Vive La Casa recently, he says, people were terrified and depressed.

"I met one guy who left New York City for Buffalo and paid $900 for a taxi cab because he didn't want to ride a bus or train or take a plane because he thought he would be spotted as a Pakistani and detained," says Rehman. "I met a family with two kids, one 10 months old, who left their apartment with everything in it, just like this -- handed over the key. Left everything."

Another well-off family with two teenaged daughters, one of them in college, had left a nice house in Manhattan and was staying in the shelter.

Liz Woike, assistant manager at Vive La Casa, says going back home is not an option for many of them. "Lots of people don't want to go back to Pakistan -- they're from opposition parties or from persecuted social groups. We have women fleeing gender persecution," she says.

Normally the solution would be to apply for asylum in a country that offers greater social and political freedoms -- a country like the United States. But no longer.

"We have people who feel they're not going to get a fair hearing for their case for persecution in the U.S., so they're going to Canada," says Woike. And while Woike says U.S. immigration authorities generally turn a blind eye to groups of people trying to leave the country, the fact remains that what was once a safe haven has turned hostile.

To make matters worse, the U.S. and Canada signed a "safe third country" agreement in December declaring each other to be so safe for refugees that people living on one side of the U.S.-Canadian border have no need to seek asylum on the other side -- and soon won't be allowed to.

But the evidence would suggest that the people who need refuge the most think otherwise.

As Haider wrote in the Post, "Perhaps for the first time in American history, we are witnessing the spectacle of families migrating from the United States in search of safety. Mere rhetoric about Islam's being a great religion or the fact that the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam or even that registration is not about racial and religious profiling will not do. People out there are neither stupid nor intellectually challenged. It does not serve any purpose for the United States to test their intelligence."

Traci Hukill is a freelance writer in Washington, DC.

Will Middle America Board the Peace Train?

Consider the difference between two anti-war demonstrations that took place last week in Washington:

On Wednesday, March 19, the night the war began, a half-dozen women in pink wearing gruesome war-victim makeup and mock bandages led a crowd of 200 protesters from DuPont Circle to the Kalorama home of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about a mile away. They managed to stop rush-hour traffic en route, had a brief skirmish with police in which a young man was arrested, and presented a child-sized coffin made of Styrofoam to a two-story brick house across from the French ambassador's palatial residence.

"Donald Rumsfeld!" shouted Medea Benjamin. "Shame on you! You've got the blood of Iraqi civilians on your hands!"

A cry went up from the demonstrators. Some were already lying down, staging a die-in on the street. "Donald, come get this casket! How are you going to sleep at night knowing this war is immoral, unjust and illegal?" When the group turned to leave 45 minutes later, Benjamin propped up the Styrofoam coffin on the roof of a silver Impala parked in front of the house. It was Code Pink at its best -- vocal, theatrical and radical.

The following Saturday, after U.S. forces had shocked and awed Baghdad and the rest of the world with a brutal all-night pummeling, a more august group of speakers took turns at the podium in the chapel at American University to denounce Bush's doctrine of preemptive war and the imperialist posture implied therein. A Nobel Peace Prize winner, retired military officers, Vietnam veterans, former intelligence agents, scholars, celebrated leakers of Pentagon Papers -- one by one they laid out their arguments in the language and environment of the academy.

The audience of 250 or so, composed mostly of students, erupted into rowdy applause, especially when John Brown, the diplomat who tendered his resignation to the State Department last week over objections to the war, took the stage. But this time the C-SPAN cameras were rolling. And while protesters by the hundreds get arrested in San Francisco, and Code Pink keeps beating its drum, it is this movement, the one gaining momentum among the middleweights of the political and military establishment, that might finally get mainstream America on board the anti-war wagon.

It helps that this particular part of the antiwar movement has as its unofficial centerpiece a very official document: the National Security Strategy, released by the White House in September 2002.

Middle America -- indeed, Western civilization -- loves documents. Documents bear the stamp of legitimacy. They can be examined, referred to, brandished. They literally put issues in black and white. The National Security Strategy lays out the doctrine for preemptive war. Its summary contains this paragraph:

"We will cooperate with other nations to deny, contain, and curtail our enemies' efforts to acquire dangerous technologies. And, as a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed. We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. So we must be prepared to defeat our enemies' plans, using the best intelligence and proceeding with deliberation. History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action."

It was the emergence of this manifesto prescribing preemptive military action, one year after 9/11, that spurred Gulf War veterans Charles Sheehan-Miles, Erik Gustafson, Erin Cole and Dan Fahey to form Veterans For Common Sense (www.veteransforcommonsense.org), a primary organizer of the teach-in at American University. Two weeks ago VCS sent a letter to President Bush objecting to the war. It was signed by more than 1,000 veterans, among them two vice-admirals, a brigadier general and a handful of colonels.

"The White House policy is frightening, and it basically spells out empire for the U.S. I don't know what else to call it," says Sheehan-Miles. "This is such a dramatic change in what American foreign policy is all about that we should be having a huge public debate about it. And we're not -- all we're having a debate about are these other things: Saddam Hussein, regime change -- something does need to be done about Saddam Hussein, but this isn't it."

Coming from a combat veteran, Sheehan-Miles' words might carry extra weight for the 76 percent of Americans who now support the war. But if Sheehan-Miles, who left the Army as a conscientious objector after his unit's killing of undefended Iraqis left him badly shaken, isn't convincing enough for Middle America, there's always Ret. Rear Admiral Gene LaRocque.

LaRocque survived the destruction of his ship at Pearl Harbor to fight in World War II and command a nuclear-armed carrier task force during the Cold War. Later he was a planner in the Pentagon. No squishy-minded peacenik, he.

On Saturday, LaRocque stood at the microphone in full Navy regalia and in mild, avuncular tones excoriated those who would cast aspersions on the right to dissent in wartime, the burgeoning militarism taking root here and the nation's "pride and joy" in its precision weapons. And he criticized one of the main principles enshrined in the Bush doctrine: That it is America's "responsibility to lead" the rest of the world to freedom.

"Is it the sole responsibility of the U.S. to decide which nations' form of government will stand and which will fall?" he asked. "Is it the responsibility of the U.S. to kill or destroy to bring about a change of government? I think not. I don't believe George Bush has the right to kill one person to bring about a change in government."

LaRocque was inspiringly set up by Bobby Muller, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. A Marine lieutenant in Vietnam, Muller took a bullet that severed his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the chest down. He has since campaigned unceasingly for veterans' rights, for reconciliation with the people of Vietnam and for the international banning of land mines.

The parallels with Iraq and Vietnam are obvious. But Iraq is not the problem, said Muller. "This is only the beginning. Iraq will be over in a few days. The problem is an ideology that is controlling this administration. It has to do with how you look at the world and America's role in the world. It's called the Bush doctrine."

Muller laid out the doctrine's history. In 1992, Dick Cheney, then Secretary of Defense for President George Bush, and Paul Wolfowitz, then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, leaked a draft of a plan for the aggressive establishment of American dominance in the post-Cold War era under the aegis of the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf. It sparked a firestorm, and Bush, worried about a reelection campaign he was about to lose, repudiated it. It resurfaced in 1997 when the Project for a New American Century formed. This time the doctrine was signed onto by Project founder William Kristol, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, among others. In September 2002 their creation finally found a home in the National Security Strategy.

"At its heart is the notion of exceptionalism -- that America is in a unique position, it has the responsibility of leadership. It must maintain absolute military supremacy -- no other group of countries is to get to the point where they can compete," said Muller.

"It takes us not only to preemption -- which implies an imminent threat -- but to prevention, before the point of imminent threat is reached. Iraq is preventive, not preemptive. I tell you this so you will know we are more than a decade behind and understand the magnitude of what we are up against, and the head start these guys have on us," Muller said.

The civilians were there, too. John Brown, who joined John Brady Kiesling and Mary Wright in leaving the State Department because of their objections to the war, slammed Bush for employing "the crudest propaganda to make us believe his positions are justifiable" and skewered the use of slogans and the demonization of critics in place of coherent arguments.

Ray McGovern, a former intelligence officer and founder of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, debunked the alleged connection between Hussein and al-Qaeda and drew perhaps the harshest conclusion of all about the historical moment at which America finds itself as its soldiers invade a country that poses no imminent threat:

"I was born in August, 1939, one week before Hitler sent troops into Poland," McGovern said. "I have been thinking March 2003 is our August 1939."

It has taken time, but the middleweights of the establishment -- and some of the heavyweights -- have found a point around which to rally. The comparisons to World War II keep coming. In a March 23 Los Angeles Times commentary, special assistant to President Kennedy Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. added his voice to the chorus of dissent. His subject: the Bush doctrine.

"The choice reflects a fatal turn in U.S. foreign policy," Schlesinger wrote. "The president has adopted a policy of 'anticipatory self-defense' that is alarmingly similar to the policy that imperial Japan employed at Pearl Harbor on a date which, as an earlier American president said it would, lives in infamy. Franklin D. Roosevelt was right, but today it is we Americans who live in infamy."

This is what the anti-war movement has needed in order to reach the living rooms between the coasts: the mantle of respectability. Criticism of the administration by civic and military leaders has been mighty scarce around Washington, and Saturday's teach-in was a first.

In the end there was one denizen of the establishment -- okay, a former denizen of the establishment -- who bridged the gap between this faction of the peace movement and the Code Pink crowd.

Daniel Ellsberg, who stood trial in 1973 on 12 felony counts for leaking the Pentagon Papers and exposing the Nixon administration's willful deceit of the American public in order to drum up support for the Vietnam War, arrived at the teach-in rather reluctantly. He had decided to spend the weekend in jail to register his displeasure -- "I just didn't want to watch television this weekend," he deadpanned -- and had been sprung by the event's organizers, to his visible annoyance. He was intending to go back later that day and still wore the plastic bracelet of the District of Columbia's hospitality.

Ellsberg spoke about another unjust war, the Mexican-American War. The wresting of Texas from Mexico was condemned by none other than General Ulysses Grant as "one of the most unjust wars ever waged by a stronger power against a weaker," a cynical attempt to acquire territory out of which a slave state could be formed.

"I believe that a consequence of this wrongful war will be wrongful terrorism," Ellsberg concluded. "The question is: what do you do about it?"

He answered himself with a quote by Henry David Thoreau. "Cast your whole vote," he said, showing his bracelet. "I voted. As they used to say in Boston, vote early and vote often. Thank you."

Traci Hukill is a freelance writer in Washington, DC.

Signs of Peace in DC

The signs were good. Really good. Almost good enough, in some cases, to make you forget about the bitter, 24-degree cold that turned feet and hands into aching blocks of ice and froze the ink in pens.

The signs were folded and wedged between people on the bulging Metro trains that carried protesters from the suburbs into Washington, DC all morning. They popped up by the score from the swirling sea of humanity that filled the Mall four city blocks, from the Reflecting Pool in front of the Capitol halfway to the Washington Monument. They floated over the mile-long column that flowed down Pennsylvania Avenue, turned right on 8th and right again at Virginia to the Navy Yard.

And they were funny. They ranged from the Onionesque ("Drunk Frat Boy Drives Country Into Ditch, Starts War to Cover Up") to the slyly blasphemous ("Who Would Jesus Bomb?") to the exasperated ("Who Elected This Fucker?").

Another played the pop culture angle: "Frodo Failed! Bush Has The Ring!" Among the standard-issue "No Blood for Oil" signs were placards revealing the reach of this movement to stop a military juggernaut before it reaches Iraq ("Montanans for Peace," "Vermonters for Peace"). A host of them reflected the unofficial social justice theme of this event ("Drop Tuition, Not Bombs," "Liberate Health Care, Not Iraq").

And it wasn't just signs. Half the protesters, it seemed, had camcorders trained on some riveting thing at all times -- a ghoulish Nixon tossing a bloody globe, or oversized Bush and Cheney masks on two slouching gray-suited hippies.But even distracted by witty slogans and pressed in on all sides by the mass body heat of the throng as one speaker after another took to the PA system, it was impossible to forget the cold.

Which might have been why the question heard most often in the crowd was, "Do they have a count yet?" When you’re suffering, you at least want to know you’re making a difference.

No one knows for sure how many protesters were there; the National Park Service, which used to count crowds on the Mall, got out of that business after its estimate put the Million Man March at more like 400,000, prompting Louis Farrakhan to threaten a lawsuit. Nevertheless, at 11:45 a.m. a rally organizer exulted into the microphone that half the buses still had not arrived. (The buses were legion; according to one union member, New York's SEIU local 1199 alone was planning on bringing 27 buses.)

By noon organizers were estimating 200,000, based on guesses that the October march here drew 100,000 and that this one was twice as big. Tony Murphy, a spokesman for ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), said he'd heard someone estimate a half million -- "and no one was contradicting them."

More than 40 scheduled speakers took turns at the microphone. "It's not about peace, democracy and justice," declared former Labour Party MP Tony Benn. "It's about oil, and it will benefit the arms manufacturers who have benefited from so much misery for so long."

"We are here," said actress Jessica Lange, "making sure that our legacy to the next generation is not shame and greed and bloodshed."

"The war makes no sense," intoned Michigan Congressman John Conyers. "Its costs would be horrendous in lost lives, in an inflamed Middle East, in increased terrorism in our cities, in billions of dollars desperately needed here at home."

In keeping with the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday, it didn't take long for a strong social justice message to emerge from the podium. Rev. Jesse Jackson exhorted the crowd to "choose minds over missiles and negotiation over confrontation." Michael Letwin of NYC Labor Against the War started his speech by invoking the 58,000 names on the Vietnam Memorial at the other end of the Mall, most of whom were working class young men. "Today the chicken hawks who didn't go to that war because they were wealthy enough to get out of it want to send us to war again!" he blared into the mic to spontaneous cheers.

"The poor and the homeless people are in need of some homeland security here in our own country," hollered Cheri Honkala of Pennsylvania's Kensington Welfare Rights Organization as the crowd erupted into applause.

"One-point-five million New Yorkers have to go to the food pantry for food to feed their families," said the International Action Center's Brian Becker. "We want the 200 billion dollars that's designed for war!"

About the time Patti Smith came on and started playing "People Have the Power," the crowd was starting to break up and head down Pennsylvania, where U.S. Capitol Police on parked motorcycles lined the route in some places and guys in S.W.A.T. gear stood stationed every so often to keep the marchers on the street.

For the most part, though, the police stayed out of the way. Only once was there real tension between cops and protesters, and that was on a stretch of 8th Street, close to the Navy Yard. A group of counter-protesters was enjoying a spacious and protected segment of sidewalk behind yellow tape and a line of cops, from where they shouted at protesters to "Get a job" and "Go home, hippie," etc. The cops started herding the marchers much more aggressively at that point; the lights came on, the sirens wailed, and people started getting very nervous.

Ultimately nothing came of it. The column turned down Virginia and continued to some vaguely defined place, and at that point things more or less broke apart. ANSWER had been denied a permit for a PA system, a last-minute glitch that effectively dismantled the plan to conduct a symbolic People's Inspection for weapons at the Navy Yard. With no loudspeaker to rally around, people more or less milled about for a while, then just drifted away to find their buses or to stand in block-long lines to get on the Metro. By then it was well after 4pm, and many of the protesters had been out in the sub-freezing weather for five or six hours.

And that's how it ended. A few streets away the buses idled, jammed two and three abreast on the streets in a hopeless gridlock, while protesters stood in groups and tried to figure out where their own buses were. The fumes from the diesel engines were suffocatingly thick. And the "No Blood for Oil" signs paraded up the steps of the buses and rested against the windows, ready to go home.

Traci Rae Hukill is a freelance writer in Washington, DC.

Limited Tolerance

To hear Rob Hicks tell it, you can't swing a cat around the US Army's Defense Language Institute (DLI) without hitting a gay soldier.

"On my hall of 14, I knew nine men that were gay," says the 28-year-old Korean language student, who was discharged from the Army in October after a late-night barracks inspection found him in his boyfriend's room. "In my class of 27, seven of them were gay -- and those were just people I knew in my company who I had close contact with."

Maybe "gaydar" is adding a few percentage points to Hicks's evaluation of the gay-to-straight ratio at the Presidio, but if so, he's not alone in his assessment. Collin Smith (not his real name), a first-year Russian language student at the Monterey, California military graduate school, concurs.

"I've only met maybe four or five hundred people here, and of that, maybe 120 were gay or bi," Smith figures. "Surprisingly enough, it's very prevalent in the military."

At DLI, where some 3,000 men and women from various branches of the service, are studying 19 foreign languages in intensive training programs, the Army discharged nine students last month because of their homosexuality. That's in spite of what former student Alastair Gamble describes as a very gay-friendly culture there. Gamble, 24, was more than halfway through the school's Arabic program when he and Hicks were discovered in his barracks last April. He received his discharge in the summer and now lives with Hicks in Beltsville, Maryland.

"There are a lot of gay soldiers and airmen and seamen at DLI," Gamble says. "I don't know if they're represented more than in any other given unit. But certainly there are more who are out. You're dealing with people who are typically older, more mature, more intelligent, so you get higher degrees of tolerance, and within that, people who are more open about their sexuality."

Hicks agrees that DLI is exceptionally tolerant. "When I was pulled from class for this, the person who had to give me the message was a Marine sergeant who'd been in for six or seven years. He knew a long time before I was kicked out, and he never even blinked. And he was a Marine. We actually saw him at Disneyland when we went to see Alastair's aunt."

None of this comes as a surprise to Chris Lewis, who is gay and served in the Navy from 1982 to 1986. He says that's how it's always been. He recalls the situation aboard his ship, the Mobile, which he says was nicknamed "The HoMobile." "I had 331 people on the ship I was on," he says. "Of the 331, a good 40 were gay and everybody knew it. There were some flaming queens. The whole admin ops was gay. You'd go in there and it was like -- pardon me, but a bunch of women. Cologne, chewing gum, they'd be laughing and talking, the whole thing."

"Everybody" might have known those sailors were gay, just as "everybody" might have known that Hicks and Gamble were a couple even before they were caught. But proof of homosexual activity is still enough to get a person kicked out of the U.S. military. The military's policy toward homosexuals has enjoyed an uncomfortable moment in the spotlight since the story broke last month about the nine discharged students, six of whom were studying Arabic. Two of the nine, Hicks and Gamble, were caught by their superiors. The other seven, all acting independently, voluntarily declared their homosexuality to their commanding officers and got their walking papers soon afterward.

In a time when soldiers fluent in Arabic are considered vital to national security, the Army's decision to expel Arabic students because they are gay has been attacked as absurd. The story has also called attention to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which allows the military to look the other way unless presented with irrefutable evidence of a soldier's homosexuality. (In Gamble's and Hicks's case, the evidence wasn't the fact that they were in the same room at 3:30 a.m., but rather that the inspectors found photographs of them together in affectionate poses.)

While it seemed, before last month, that "don't ask, don't tell" was a relatively permissive stance, it now seems like an antiquated piece of moral legislation. Especially since, as these present and former soldiers maintain, most fellow soldiers and officers don't really care if their cohorts are gay. "They didn't care then and they don't care now," Lewis says bluntly. Hicks and Gamble agree, which is why they have a hard time believing that the other seven servicemen and women were being harassed at DLI.

According to Steve Ralls of the Servicemen's Legal Defense Network, those men and women found the environment at DLI to be hostile toward gays, so they went to their commanding officers and declared their homosexuality, knowing it would result in their discharges.

"Like a lot of service members who go into the service believing that 'don't ask, don't tell' is as simple as 'don't ask, don't tell,' they then realized it required them to be dishonest 24 hours a day," Ralls says. "These service members realized that if they were going to put their lives on the line for their nation, then they should have the same rights and respect as their heterosexual colleagues."

Gamble snorts at this. He thinks they were using the policy to get a world-class education and then skip out on their duty to the armed forces, where the pay is lower and the work more dangerous than in the private sector. "When they're handing you a year and a half of unbelievable training, people say at the end of this training, 'Wow, I have this fantastic education and fantastic ability to speak the language and oh, by the way, I'm gay now,'" says Gamble. "You'll find people often come out at the end of training -- conveniently."

Hicks says one of the discharged men, who was in his Korean classes, angered his commanding officer by making his declaration. "His platoon sergeant was my platoon sergeant," Hicks says. "She was upset, very upset, that he pulled that. But there was nothing she could do. She had to report it."

The other discharged service members could not be reached for comment. The Defense Language Institute deferred all calls from the media to the Department of Defense. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jim Cassella gave the official position toward homosexuals as this: "First of all, a service member's sexuality is a personal and private matter. We conduct extensive training to eliminate harassment of all types. We expect all our service members to be treated with dignity and respect." Cassella would not speak to individual discharges, but he did say that "commanders have a good deal of latitude. But we do expect them to apply the policy in a manner that is fair and consistent."

For the fiscal year ending in September 2001, a total of 1,227 service members were discharged from the US military on the grounds that they were homosexuals. The argument against allowing gays in the military has traditionally been that the presence of a gay man or lesbian would upset "unit cohesion" -- the ability of soldiers to bond and think and react as one. But even conservative service members don't view their gay counterparts as different, Hicks says.

He tells the story of a fundamentalist Christian classmate who frequently disagreed with him in class. "We were not on very good terms," says Hicks. "But he came up to me while all this was happening and he said, 'I don't agree with what you're doing, but I think it's really rotten what [the Army is] doing. If I had a choice between you and 75 percent of the rest of the company to be in a foxhole with, I would pick you.'" "You remember what Barry Goldwater said," says Lewis, paraphrasing the Arizona conservative. "He said, 'We said they had to shoot straight, not be straight.'"

Traci Rae Hukill is associate editor of the Monterey County Coast Weekly.

Insecurity Complex

Leave it to Sen. Robert Byrd, the last of the old-school senatorial orators, to put it best. In a tirade that won him an arched eyebrow from the New York Times -- a sure sign that he was onto something -- the senator from West Virginia, now serving his 50th year in Congress, uncorked all the ire he'd been saving up since the latest sumo-sized version of the homeland security bill had hit his desk with a crash two days earlier, leaving scarcely any time to examine it in detail before the scheduled vote.

"How is it that the Bush administration's No. 1 priority has evolved into a plan to create a giant, huge bureaucracy?" he demanded on the Senate floor on Nov. 19, just before 90 of his colleagues gave the nod to the bill. "How is it that the Congress bought into the belief that to take a plethora of federal agencies and departments and shuffle them around would make us safer from future terrorist attacks?"

Everything about the bill offended Byrd's sensibilities--its size (484 pages), its haste ("Our poor staffs were up most of the night studying it. They know some of the things that are in there, but they don't know all of them"), and its last-minute inclusion of provisions benefiting private corporations in general and a presidential alma mater in particular.

Most of all, Byrd took umbrage at the bill's subject: the creation of an enormous cabinet-level bureaucracy gathering under its awkward roofline 22 wildly divergent agencies, 170,000 civil servants and $37 billion worth of goods and services, making it the third-largest department in the government; only the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans' Affairs are bigger.

"Never have I seen such a monstrous piece of legislation sent to this body... this is a hoax. This is a hoax. To tell the American people they are going to be safer when we pass this is to hoax," Byrd fumed. "We ought to tell people the truth."

The truth is that no one expects the Department of Homeland Security to be very good at securing anything, except funding, for quite some time.

In July the General Accounting Office, the government's internal watchdog, cautioned that "the potential exists for an uncoordinated approach to homeland security that may lead to duplication of efforts or gaps in coverage, misallocation of resources, and inadequate monitoring of expenditures."

Tom Ridge, the president's nominee for secretary of the new department, has acknowledged that launching it will be a nightmare. And anyone nervously hoping that Homeland Security gets it together in time to prevent terrorist attacks in the event of a messy war in the Middle East need only read about the difficulties of getting the agencies' computers linked up to know that won't happen.

But the Department of Homeland Security is so far pretty good at one thing: transforming the character of the agencies under its roof by funding massive increases for military and security operations, while other services remain in a holding pattern. It's a hawk's dream project -- a blank slate, generous funding for intelligence and defense, and an ever-present threat to ensure a long life.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the case of the new department's two largest bodies, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Coast Guard.

Enforcement Mentality INS

The second-biggest agency to be folded into the new Department of Homeland Security is the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Currently the INS resides within the Department of Justice, where its two branches -- enforcement and services -- coexist somewhat unhappily, one charged with barring entry to the U.S., the other with facilitating it. On March 1, these two branches will escape their troubled marriage and move into separate quarters in the Homeland Security building.

Once the INS is dissolved, the Bush administration will be left to reshape the way in which the nation deals with immigrants. It already seems clear that the two branches are not going to be treated as "equally important," as the Homeland Security bill's text states they should be. The enforcement branch, its $4 billion-plus budget in tow, is destined for the Bureau of Border and Transportation Security.

Not only will it be a heavy hitter within that bureau, but it will be one of the heaviest on a team of heavy hitters; the Bureau of Border and Transportation Security far outguns all the other six major divisions within Homeland Security when it comes to money ($16 billion) and employees (105,000). This is an outfit that will have Secretary Tom Ridge's rapt attention.

The services branch of the INS, on the other hand, will take its relatively puny $1.5 billion budget and set up shop as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. It will be competing with the mammoth Border and Transportation Security division for funding and attention, and it's hard not to think that the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services will be at a disadvantage in this game. On the organizational chart, it hovers off to the side, a vestigial tail of a government office by comparison to the other robust divisions. It doesn't even get its own undersecretary.

This intrinsic inequality worries Jeanne Butterfield, executive director for the American Immigrant Lawyers Association.

"We have advocated for a long time for the separation of services and enforcement functions of INS, but we always wanted them to be in the same agency so the nuances and interpretations of policy would be consistent," she says.

"What I fear will happen is that the enforcement mentality to keep everyone out will predominate, and the little citizenship bureau is going to be subject to whatever legal interpretations and policy come out of the enforcement side."

Every indication points to the favored status of the enforcement branch. Since September 2001 the INS's budget has grown from $4.8 billion to $6.3 billion, a 31 percent increase. Virtually all the extra money has gone to border enforcement and inspections. Through the ensuing two budget cycles, funding for immigration services has remained stagnant at about $1.4 billion, while enforcement programs gained more than $1 billion to land at $3.9 billion this year. In addition, most of a third category of new programs falling under the heading "support and administration" -- which total nearly $200 million for 2003 -- are aimed at increasing security.

In 2003, enforcement will receive a $790 million increase over 2002. Services will receive $50 million. And of the 2,200 new positions approved for the INS next year, not one will be in the citizenship bureau -- despite a two-year-old mandate to speed up the naturalization process.

All of this adds up to a fundamental shift in philosophy: The policing half of the agency, pumped full of money and employees, is bulking up like a football player in training, while the clerkish services division is shunted aside and told to make do with what it already has. It's a case of enlargement of the enforcement gland.

Though it will easily escape detection by most American citizens, this shift will be very obvious to those trying to enter the country for legitimate purposes. The process of getting approved to work or study in the United States is about to become not just a wearying bureaucratic exercise but a vaguely hostile one. Though the State Department will still be responsible for issuing visas through its consular offices abroad, it's the Department of Homeland Security that will formulate policy on who gets those visas. And Homeland Security officers will be stationed at the major visa-issuing posts to oversee the process (in Saudi Arabia, they will be reviewing the actual visa applications). As if that's not intimidating enough, the government will track students' course of study throughout their stay.

Here's a taste of the new flavor of immigration policy: Starting Jan. 10, 2003, men of a certain age from a select group of 12 nations, most of them Gulf states, will have to be fingerprinted, photographed and questioned before they are allowed to enter the US. Even those who are already here must go to an INS office by that date to submit to the terms of "special registration."

This posture is anathema to the country's founding principles, says Katherine Newell Biernan, staff attorney for immigrants' rights at the National Asian Pacific-American Legal Consortium.

"Our position when this debate first began was that it would be a bad idea to put INS in Homeland Security because all immigration would be viewed through the lens of terrorism," she says. "That's neither good for our national security nor true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants."

A Different Coast Guard

In her statement about the Homeland Security bill, Sen. Barbara Boxer announced that she would support it, then proceeded to recite all the things she didn't like about it. Among them was the future of the Coast Guard.

"The Department of Homeland Security is largely about protection and enforcement," Boxer said. "When vital services for the people of this country -- such as FEMA disaster assistance and the Coast Guard's search and rescue role -- are thrown into an agency whose mission and purpose is primarily enforcement, I fear that these much-needed services will suffer."

The Coast Guard says they won't.

"As far as changes going into the Department of Homeland Security, there shouldn't be many changes," says Lt. Commander Jeff Carter of the Coast Guard. "The same job we're doing today we'll be doing tomorrow. The president has committed to taking us intact."

But a GAO report issued last week notes that in the immediate aftermath of September 11, non-homeland security Coast Guard functions have already seen a precipitous decline in man-hours. At first, law enforcement relating to drug interdiction, migrant interdiction and fisheries protection took the biggest hit, with man-hours dropping by nearly half as vessels and crews were used to patrol harbors instead.

Since then, law enforcement has generally rebounded; "However," the GAO authors write, "during our visits at individual Coast Guard sites, we were provided many examples showing that as of mid-2002, expanded security responsibilities were still affecting levels of effort for [non-security] missions."

The Coast Guard, though considered a branch of the military, has been part of the Department of Transportation since 1967. It fell under the Treasury Department for 177 years before that. Thanks to its civilian-friendly duties -- search and rescue, marine life protection, ice-breaking -- it has always been more lovable than the other branches of the military.

Come March 1, it will leave the Department of Transportation behind and become the largest single agency (43,000 employees and a $7.2 billion budget) within the Department of Homeland Security. And it will be a different Coast Guard.

The change in priorities over the last two budget cycles is marked. The 2001 Budget in Brief (released in September 2000 for the coming year) identifies seven main threats to American's maritime safety and security. The first is depletion of fish and other resources. The second is violations of laws that protect the environment. Terrorism is last on the list.

The Coast Guard is fond of reminding the public that homeland security has been one of its missions all along. That's true. But until the fall of 2001, homeland security fell under the rubric of the Marine Safety and Security program, along with managing vessel traffic and enforcing the rules of navigation. In 2001, Marine Safety and Security's operating expenses were $440 million.

Following September 11, however, the homeland security element was extracted from the Marine Safety program, put on steroids and rechristened Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security. This year, that department alone will account for $1 billion, or 22 percent of the Coast Guard's operating expenses budget.

The Coast Guard has used its post-September 11 windfall to assemble four of six planned "maritime SWAT teams," as a spokesman described them -- 100-person rapid-deployment teams of high-speed boats that fit into the belly of a C-130, in case they're needed overseas. And with passage two weeks ago of a seaport security bill, the Coast Guard's jurisdiction just quadrupled -- from three miles offshore to 12.

At the same time, the Coast Guard's environmental missions are getting smaller pieces of the pie than before.

Marine Environmental Protection (which deals with oil spills and other pollution hazards) got 11 percent of the Coast Guard's resources in 2001. This year it receives 8 percent. Living Marine Resources, the law enforcement program that protects against overfishing of dwindling fish species, made up 18 percent of the 2001 budget; this year it's 11 percent, $20 million less than two years ago.

Because the Coast Guard's total budget has leaped from $5 billion in 2001 to $7.2 billion in 2003, the dollar figures for non-homeland security programs have remained more or less constant. But the Coast Guard is currently in the eye of a public that doesn't want to lose its search and rescue services. The question is: What will funding for search and rescue, fisheries enforcement and marine environmental patrols be in five years, after the scrutiny has subsided and the Department of Homeland Security is just another bureaucracy?

Super Secret Service

Critics have leveled their protests at the Department of Homeland Security for a number of reasons: It duplicates the intelligence analysis that currently takes place at the CIA and the FBI, and in so doing wastes money and lays the ground for turf battles with those agencies; it severely undercuts employees' rights to collective bargaining, not just during emergencies but at all times; and it strictly limits the press's right to information pertaining to private companies, such as telecommunications corporations, that run parts of the "critical infrastructure."

As Byrd's speech attests, even the process of passing the bill was odious to many. After the Senate Governmental Affairs committee fashioned its own proposal, then reached a compromise with President Bush's version in the summer -- a lengthy bipartisan process -- various amendments began cropping up. The version that passed, called the Thompson amendment, differs from the bipartisan version in that it contained all of the controversial matters detailed above. Produced a scant two days before the scheduled vote, it was not subject to committee hearings.

Most of the commentary and outrage have swirled around particulars of the bill or how it came to be. More difficult to ascertain, though -- and maybe more important -- is how the government entities in the new Department of Homeland Security will mutate under its aegis.

The department draws a bewildering array of agencies together: INS, Customs, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Inspections division, two FBI offices, Health and Human Services' chem/bio/nuclear response team, part of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, and a smattering of other intelligence, research and emergency preparedness offices. Though it will probably be years hence, their cultures and missions will eventually blend into a new creature, with its own trademark culture and mission: to be ever-vigilant to threat. In the end, that inexorable process may be the most insidious of all.

Traci Rae Hukill is associate editor of the Monterey County Coast Weekly.

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