BackTalk

Industry front group USA*Engage spins the fallout from Ken Silverstein's exposé in our last issue. For the real dirt on the anti-sanctions "movement," see Silverstein's response below, as well as "Persecution Complex," his follow-up investigation into USA*Engage. Plus: Clones are people, too; she blinded us with science.

ROUGH TRADE
While overly theatrical in tone, unduly suggestive as to intent, and a bit loose with the facts, Ken Silverstein's article "So You Want to Trade With a Dictator" (May/June) might just represent the beginning of a serious dialogue about an issue of concern to Mother Jones readers and USA*Engage members.

USA*Engage was formed last year because the business community recognized that unilateral economic sanctions were quickly becoming the weapon of choice for U.S. foreign policy. Rather than respecting the power of engagement, U.S. policymakers were increasingly falling prey to quick-fix actions that provided political cover, but rarely worked and were almost always costly to other national interests.

Contrary to the title of Silverstein's article, many of the 75 countries that are targets of U.S. sanctions are important allies and trading partners. I'm sure Russia, France, Switzerland, Mexico, South Korea, and Canada would all object to being called dictatorships by Mother Jones. As for countries like China, Colombia, Cuba, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia, we are unapologetic in our belief that positive change will more likely result from a policy of engagement rather than from one based on unilateral sanctions.

USA*Engage realizes that sanctions may be necessary at times. In those cases, policymakers should follow a far more deliberative and thoughtful process than they now do, and should work with our allies to enforce multilateral responses wherever possible.

We are proud to be associated with some of the true foreign policy authorities in Congress. Sen. Richard Lugar and Rep. Lee Hamilton are highly ethical people with well-deserved reputations as foreign policy experts. For Silverstein to suggest otherwise does not serve him well.

Finally, I was somewhat befuddled by Silverstein's claims of having confidential information about USA*Engage. Aside from the Wexler Group's billing records, which are clearly proprietary [see "Persecution Complex"], most of the information about USA*Engage could be obtained by (1) checking our Web site at www.usaengage.org; (2) receiving our information mailings and broadcast faxes; or (3) calling us at (202) 628-7515. Put another way: With 670 members, there is not a whole lot that is confidential about the USA*Engage effort.

Frank D. Kittredge
Vice Chairman, USA*Engage
President, National Foreign Trade Council
Washington, D.C.

KEN SILVERSTEIN IS completely wrong in contending that the business lobby successfully recruited the U.S. Catholic Conference to oppose the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act (Wolf-Specter). In fact, as anyone who has followed this debate would know, the U.S. Catholic Conference has been, and is now, a strong supporter of this legislation.

Silverstein refers to our September 1997 testimony before the House International Relations Committee as evidence of our opposition to Wolf-Specter, yet ignores the five reasons we gave for offering our general support for the bill. He also ignores our October 22 letter to the committee in which the bishops' conference supported the revised bill as "a framework for bipartisan action in this Congress to increase U.S. attention and action on religious liberty." The USCC offered similar support for the revised bill in February and May of this year.

While Silverstein correctly states that we have urged caution in invoking sanctions, he ignores other parts of our September testimony in which we noted that targeted sanctions may be justified in some cases and that the Catholic Bishops have, in fact, supported sanctions similar to those proposed in Wolf-Specter in a number of cases.

In offering our support for Wolf-Specter, the U.S. Bishops urged certain revisions—such as broadening the humanitarian exemption, expanding public input, and including a presidential waiver—not because of any pressure from the business community, but because of our concern that sanctions not harm ordinary people, especially those the bill is meant to help. If we were reading from the USA*Engage playbook, we certainly would not have also urged that the number of targeted countries be expanded by broadening the definition of religious groups and types of religious persecution covered by the bill.

Silverstein exposes the hypocrisy of those who oppose cutting off aid to dictatorial regimes when human rights are at stake while supporting trade sanctions against those same countries when business interests are threatened. Wolf-Specter is a modest and reasonable tool that will help ensure that the U.S. government is not financing or selling weapons to regimes that are responsible for the worst cases of religious persecution around the world.

JOHN L. CARR
Secretary, Department of Social
Development and World Peace
U.S. Catholic Conference
Washington, D.C.

KEN SILVERSTEIN responds: Frank Kittredge claims that I was "a bit loose with the facts," but he ignores the facts entirely. Let me remind him that his organization's own lobbyist, Anne Wexler, told the Washington Post that my article was "a perfectly accurate story."

Kittredge's claim that there's "not a whole lot that is confidential about the USA*Engage effort" and that my article contained no "confidential information" is ironic, considering that when I interviewed him for the story, he refused to reveal USA*Engage's budget and key members, or to provide a list of think tanks that it has discreetly funded to produce anti-sanctions studies and reports. He openly admitted that his corporate members found it embarrassing to be seen as supporters of countries like Burma, and that USA*Engage was formed so that the companies could stay out of the "spotlight." Kittredge's line is clever spin, though: Since our cover and modus operandi have been fully exposed, let's pretend that we had nothing to hide to begin with.

Only the most gullible person would believe that USA*Engage or Wexler would have made public the many confidential documents that Mother Jones exposed, including the memos detailing the coalition's plans to kill Wolf-Specter by manipulating religious leaders and showing how USA*Engage lobbyists drafted the Sanctions Reform Act and timed its introduction into Congress.

Kittredge knows full well that France, Canada, and Switzerland face no risk of serious sanctions. USA*Engage's efforts are focused almost entirely on protecting trade with countries like China, Burma, Nigeria, and Indonesia—in short, some of the most despotic regimes on the planet.

John Carr points out that the U.S. Catholic Conference is vigorously supporting the current version of Wolf-Specter. That's good news, but, as my original article stated, the USCC criticized the original version. Its objections to the bill, along with those of USA*Engage's other allies in the religious community, resulted in the bill being watered down to a symbolic measure.

Furthermore, as the USA*Engage strategy memo on how to kill Wolf-Specter stated, business groups recognized that they should not be out front on the issue and that they should enlist religious leaders instead. The memo further stated that USA*Engage lobbyists would ask Drew Christiansen of the U.S. Catholic Conference to speak out against the bill, which he subsequently did. So while it may well be that the U.S. Bishops had concerns about Wolf-Specter independently of USA*Engage, it's clear that business interests successfully sought to use religious groups to gut the measure.

BLOND DERISION
Although I was interested to read about the genetic research going on in Iceland, I was disappointed in the choice of the photograph accompanying "Iceland's Blond Ambition," as well as the cover photo for the issue (May/June). One might guess, based on these photos, that Iceland's genetic research will be conducted exclusively on young, pretty, blond girls in swimsuits. Or perhaps that Iceland's population consists only of beautiful, slender women under the age of 21—no, wait, there was the guy [deCode Genetics founder Kari Stefansson] who was described as "blond, ambitious, and Nordic." Funny, though—for some reason he was not pictured wearing a teeny little Speedo. As hard as I tried, I failed to think of any good reason why an article about genetic research, which is presumably being conducted on both genders and all age groups, and a cover story about the human genome (not the female genome), would need to be illustrated by pictures of scantily clad young women. Sadly, I concluded that Mother Jones, like everyone else, knows that pretty girls in swimsuits are used to sell all sorts of things, including, it seems, investigative journalism.

MARY LYNN WESTENBROEK
Holland, Mich.

The cover of the last issue of Mother Jones featured a photograph of young, blue-eyed, blond-haired, Icelandic women to illustrate a story implying that corporate science is dipping into the Icelandic gene pool, intending to make millions from selling Icelandic blue-eye genes.

But deCode Genetics' research is much less sexy and glamorous than the cover photo implies: It is seeking the genetic sequences that are responsible for such hereditary diseases as shaky limbs, multiple sclerosis, alcoholism, colon cancer, and the least sexy of all, inflammatory bowel disease. The hope is that the research will lead to medications that will cure these diseases. The high rate of hereditary disease in Iceland belies the image promoted by Mother Jones of Icelanders being blond, blue-eyed, and genetically "pure."

Ironically, Hitler had the same idea about Icelanders until, to his disappointment, his spies (who came to Iceland posing as scientists) did not find a pure Aryan nation on the island. True, they found some blue-eyed, blond Icelanders, but there were also many with dirty-blond, brown, black, or red hair. And their eye color ranged from blue to gray and green and even brown and black. In other words, Hitler's scientists discovered that Icelanders were just as varied and imperfect as the members of any other European nation.

INGA DORA BJORNSDOTTIR
Department of Anthropology
University of California at Santa Barbara

TEARS OF A CLONE
William Saletan ("Fetal Positions," May/June) correctly states the first paragraph of the clone bill of rights, which I read during my testimony to Congress: "Every person's DNA is his or her personal property. To have that DNA cloned into another extended life is part and parcel of his or her right to control his or her own reproduction." But his subsequent declaration that "then you own your own clone" distorts everything we stand for.

A child conceived through cloning will have as much individuality, integrity of self, and personhood as anyone else, and will be no more a "property" than any other child.

Saletan displays an abysmal ignorance about the serious damage to scientific research that the proposed Republican anti-cloning legislation embodied. Sen. Ted Kennedy was not "entrusting cloning to private interests." He and Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed a bill that simply banned the implantation of a cloned embryo into a woman's uterus. It catered to anti-cloning hysteria just like the Republican bill, but by narrowing the focus of its restrictions, it spared promising cloning-related research into the treatment of countless diseases. Fortunately, an informed bipartisan coalition defeated the Republican proposal 54-42.

Saletan's article was worse than an editorial miscarriage, it was an intellectual abortion.

RONDOLFE WICKER
Public Relations Director
Clone Rights United Front
New York, N.Y.

WILLIAM SALETAN responds: Wicker does not posit merely that (1) each person has a right to control her body. He also posits that (2) this is a property right (as opposed to, say, a right of moral autonomy), and (3) it includes the right to clone one's DNA into "another extended life." The second and third principles do not follow from the first. They require two additional assumptions: first, that DNA is an object, not a subject (hence is property), and second, that the right to control one's DNA extends through generations. It is up to Wicker to explain why these assumptions do not entail a property right over one's clone, and why, for that matter, I should not have the right to combine my DNA with a dog's DNA to create a monster.

The best argument against a property right over one's progeny is that each "extended life," i.e., each person, is autonomous and morally distinct from previous incarnations of the same DNA. Wicker evidently shares this view, since he says that every child has an "integrity of self." But to defend that conclusion, he must rethink his assumptions.

THE FARM TEAM
What spell has compelled such an independent, strong-willed, self- sufficient, and contrary group as organic farmers and consumers ("Organic Engineering," May/June) to plead with the federal government and invite it onto our farms and into our businesses?

The organic movement began with people asking questions: How was this grown? What materials were used in its production? Now we need to start asking new questions like: How far did it travel from the field to my plate? Whose hands grew and harvested it? Were they paid a living wage?

The USDA cannot place a definition on these values. What I call "community certification" can. It is carried out by individuals who look each other in the eye at farmers markets, in Community Supported Agriculture programs, and at on-farm produce stands. It is based on honor and trust. No federal program will ever match the integrity of such a system.

MICHAEL ABLEMAN
Author, On Good Land:
The Autobiography of an Urban Farm
Goleta, Calif.

THE WAY TO ensure your own personal organic standards is clear to me: Shop at local farmers markets or roadside stands. Buy directly from the local organic grower. Get to know him and his gardening practices; ask him his personal definition of organic. Use your own judgment to determine whether he is sincere or just pulling your organically grown leg. If possible, visit his farm. You'll have a better idea of what you're eating than if you place your trust in a USDA- and industry-approved stamp of "organic."

JANICE PETTY
Catalina, Ariz.

PUNDIT ENVY
Am I the only one who resents the hell out of the fact that Michael Lind, erstwhile conservative darling, presumes to tutor Mother Jones' readers on how to improve our so-called democracy? Am I the only one who resents the editors of Mother Jones for giving him the opportunity to expound his views beyond the confines of a letter to the editor?

If Lind is such a wunderkind, why did he have to enlist under the forces of darkness (which, mind you, encompass the glorious Clinton administration just as surely as they did the Reagan and Bush administrations) before he could appreciate just how dark they were?

The conservative-to-liberal "I once was lost but now I'm found" school of bootstrapping seems to have become a minor growth industry. Well, we have a saying down here in Texas: "Dance with them that brung ya." I'm not arguing that Lind deserves lifetime banishment from civilized society. I'm just asking how the hell his track record comes to qualify him for a full fellowship at the Institute of Cushy Left-Wing Press Punditry. Can't you folks get your pages filled and your bons mots motted by those among us who can discern damn-fool treachery peddled by pettifogging blackguards for what it is without having to join in its promotion?

The next time you have work to offer, try these words: "Leftist political writer wanted; will train" and let the Michael Linds air their views in letters to the editor just as I have to do. You're supposed to be different, dammit.

G.B.
Dallas, Texas

MICHAEL LIND (a Texan) responds: In the spirit of the Lone Star good ol' boys network, I have passed along G.B.'s letter of application for on-the-job training to the editors at Mother Jones.

MAD SCIENTIST
Browsing the May/June issue, I was sorely tempted to dismiss your writers as a bunch of lamebrained liberal arts types, the sort who took only the two science courses required for graduation and whined all the while that they couldn't see the use for it.

G. Beato's description of Scientific American as needing a "graduate degree in one or more of the hard sciences or Mensa membership" in order to understand the articles is absurd (MediaJones, "Unscientific Americans"). Scientific American is written on a level that should be comprehensible to the average sophomore university science major.

Beato's chart only served to scare perfectly intelligent people away from science. Granted, science isn't always easy, but it is always fascinating. It does nothing but harm to convince people that science is incomprehensible, and therefore probably very bad. That conviction shows quite clearly in your articles on genetic research in the same issue.

L. MILLER
Sparks, Nev.

G. BEATO responds: Miller is uncannily accurate. I did indeed take only two science courses in college, both pass/fail. One was about the history of technology; the other was an introduction to rocks and dirt. If Miller had taken more than two liberal arts classes, however, she might have recognized the chart's "humor" and "hyperbole." Nonetheless, I do feel sad that my superficial assessments may ultimately dissuade Mother Jones' readers from pursuing a career in the hard sciences.

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