Backtalk

Global Meltdown

G. Pascal Zachary's article, "The World Gets in Touch with Its Inner American" (January/February), did not sufficiently address globalization issues from the perspective of smaller nations.

Globalization does not, in the main, benefit the unskilled and semiskilled in any society. It can lead to a breakdown of order -- witness the catastrophe in Indonesia last year, the responsibility for which must lie at the doorsteps of the International Monetary Fund and U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Economic policy decisions can never be divorced from the sociopolitical realities on the ground. The political leaders of smaller nations must balance the need for stability against the demands of an increasingly shrill and American-dominated international media. Economic unorthodoxy is viewed as heresy and damned forthwith.

Globalization has become the new mantra of Washington policymakers. In years to come we will recognize the twin debacles of Indonesia and Russia as the death knell for this misguided and deeply inhumane political and economic doctrine. Human beings, whether they live in Akron, Chisinau, Chongqing, or Penang, are not mere factors of production. We forget that at our own peril.

Karim Raslan
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Explaining globalization as Americanization has become too easy a way out of doing our homework on what it actually is. Already in the 1950s and through the 1960s, Americanization described the ascendance of large U.S. firms in much of the world and the glamorization of all things American. But there was a very important distinction from the current period: the mutually advantageous rise to power of these U.S. firms and the U.S. government. They fed each other's ascendance and power. And to some extent this translated into advantages for the U.S. public: Even though many were excluded and inequality was sharp, the dynamic produced a growing middle class, strong unions, and an expanding domestic economy. In today's phase of Americanization, this confluence of interests is absent.

The current phase is distinguished by the growing sophistication and scope of private systems of governance. These systems, such as the increasingly privatized legal system (which seeks to avoid the national laws and courts of any country, including the U.S.) and private credit agencies (e.g., Moody's and Standard & Poor's), are not accountable to citizens. The rest of us, including many sectors of U.S. capital and the U.S. government, are left out of the picture. Privatization is further strengthened by the fact that the logic of the global capital market has become the rule for how economies should be run. It is not merely the "market knows best." It is a new norm.

Saskia Sassen
Author, Globalization and Its Discontents
Chicago, Ill.

Wetlands Raider

Kudos to Mark Hertsgaard for a balanced and informative look at Los Angeles' Ballona wetlands
("Spielberg's Other Lost World," January/February). The controversy typifies the battle between dedicated environmental activists and mainstream "liberals" who talk a good environmental game but, when push comes to shove, cut outrageous deals with developers and other corporate raiders.

Los Angeles is a company town, and that company is the entertainment industry. All the public relations people in Hollywood can't change the fact that this massive project will engulf the wetlands and destroy a chance for Los Angeles to create a world-class wildlife refuge rather than more condos, traffic, and air pollution. ,P. Shame on Steven Spielberg for espousing social responsibility everywhere but in his own back yard. Instead of doing the right thing for the Ballona wetlands, he'll go down in history as the Raider of the Last Park.

Bruce Robertson
Director
Ballona Valley Preservation League
Los Angeles, Calif.

First, Playa Vista is restoring the Ballona wetlands, and our restoration will create a larger wetland ecosystem than exists today.

Second, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times calls the campaign by Playa Vista's opponents "a big lie that has already managed to cripple some of the restoration at Ballona and conceivably could scuttle it altogether."

Third, since July, when Hertsgaard came to town, state Sen. Tom Hayden and Playa Vista's president, Peter Denniston, hosted a news conference promoting Playa Vista's job program for at-risk youth. Obviously, you saw little interest in the truly newsworthy aspects of Playa Vista.

Fourth, your focus on DreamWorks SKG demonstrates that you follow the same pattern as our opponents: Mischaracterize the "Hollywood" angle to create sensational headlines. I will end with the words of L.A. Weekly columnist Marc Haefele in describing Marcia Hanscom, the individual on whose assertions you based your story: "She should now admit that she's falsely charged Spielberg with raping the environment and then apologize. Otherwise, she should be permanently shunned by everyone who still considers public honesty a personal virtue."

I am disappointed that Mother Jones does not value that virtue.

David A. Herbst
Vice President of Corporate Affairs
Playa Vista
Los Angeles, Calif.

After reading Hertsgaard's article, one would think Spielberg is about to pave over the wetlands pictured in the story. But having spent 20 years fighting for the Ballona wetlands, I know better. The wetlands are slated to be preserved, restored, and expanded at a cost of more than $13 million. Friends of Ballona Wetlands achieved this, and Spielberg had nothing to do with it.

Like Mother Jones, the coalition of environmentalists needs the DreamWorks media hook. (They were nowhere in sight before the Spielberg connection.) But since the Los Angeles Times exposed the lie that DreamWorks would be on wetlands, the coalition has been frantically backtracking. DreamWorks is suddenly OK. What's Mother Jones' excuse for perpetuating the myth?

Compounding the propaganda, the photograph of a bulldozer implies that wetlands are being scraped clean. A "before" photo would have shown 22 buildings, runways, and parking lots. Hardly wildlife habitat.

Hertsgaard says Friends actively supports the project and that we reserve the right to oppose "future" projects. Incorrect. We reserve the right to oppose this project. And so far, we have supported only phase one (the DreamWorks area), which will not impact the wetlands. Until we see and analyze plans for phase two, we will not actively support Playa Vista.

Steve Crandall's remarks (only "a little bit" of wetland will be restored, and the freshwater marsh is a "sump pond") illustrate his bias. Less than 190 acres of the 1,087-acre Playa Vista site are designated wetlands. Friends has saved 300 acres of habitat, nearly one-third of the property. State and federal permits for the marsh require it to function as habitat superior to what existed before. That, too, was Friends' achievement.

Ruth Lansford
President
Friends of Ballona Wetlands
Playa del Rey, Calif.

Mark Hertsgaard responds: Scan the complaining letters again. You'll see that they object not to the facts I reported but to the interpretation of those facts. Herbst merely repeats Playa Vista's unsurprising claim of environmental benevolence, then slings irrelevant mud by quoting the opinions of two newspaper columnists. Sorry, that's not evidence.

Like Herbst, Lansford insists that the massive Playa Vista development will improve, not destroy, the Ballona wetlands. That bit of magic would be nice if it were true, but for the reasons detailed in my story, it seems highly unlikely. As for Lansford's claim that Friends of Ballona Wetlands is free to oppose Playa Vista, I refer her to the legal agreement she showed me that specifically prohibits Friends from objecting to anything about Playa Vista except its direct impact on the wetlands themselves; traffic, air pollution, and all other negative impacts of the development must be abided in silence.

Finally, the Spielberg connection: As I repeatedly told Herbst and Lansford while investigating this story, the destruction of the last open space in Los Angeles would be a big story no matter who was behind it. But does either of them believe Playa Vista would get built if DreamWorks dropped out of the deal? If not, why not invite it to do so?

Feingold's Lesser Evil

William Saletan is mistaken in his analysis of the likely effect of the bill that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and I have been promoting (Power Plays, January/February).

Saletan argues that our bill is doomed to failure because "independent expenditures" (which are not limited) are an easy substitute for ads paid for with soft money. He is wrong. Not only must independent expenditures be disclosed and not coordinated with candidates, as Saletan notes in his article, they also must be paid for with funds subject to federal contribution limits -- so-called hard money. To run independent-expenditure ads, the parties must raise money from individuals in amounts no greater than $20,000 per year and groups must seek annual contributions of no more than $5,000 per donor.

Saletan correctly notes that I asked the Democratic Party not to run hard money independent-expenditure ads in my campaign last year, but at least the ads that did run were not paid for with unlimited corporate and union contributions. They therefore present a much smaller threat to the integrity of our legislative and electoral process. In addition, the McCain-Feingold bill requires the parties to choose between running hard money independent-expenditure ads and making coordinated expenditures, which are permitted under current law. Many candidates will choose limited coordinated support from parties rather than unlimited independent expenditures, because they can work with the party to design and place the ads.

McCain-Feingold is not a panacea, but it is a significant step in the right direction. In recent years, parties and outside groups have exploited the soft money and issue-ad loopholes so fully that contribution limits are now virtually meaningless. McCain-Feingold will restore a check on the potential for corruption in our political system. It will end the unseemly spectacle of our parties taking millions of dollars in soft money contributions from the richest corporations and individuals in the country.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.)
Washington, D.C.

Pro-pfundity

Metric advocacy ("Waits and Measures," January/February) is a century-old American crusade. Melvil Dewey, the decimal-system man, was also a metric entrepreneur; he hoped to make a fortune selling models to teach the system in schools.

A significant obstacle to U.S. metrication is the system's everyday disadvantages. It has no equivalent of the foot as a unit, so adult human heights generally fall between one and two meters. Kilograms are too heavy for measuring many retail commodities; German fruit vendors often quote bananas as a metric pfund -- 500 grams. Nor is there a gallon for gasoline purchases; somehow a liter is artificially small, even for the most fuel-efficient cars.

And metric standards lead to anomalies of their own: The long side of a sheet of A4 paper is 297 millimeters, because metric paper sizes are based on a ratio of one to the square root of two. (On the other hand, lots of small things are more sensibly measured in millimeters than in eighths and sixteenths of an inch.)

The coexistence of metric and customary standards represents the rule of reason.

Edward Tenner
Author
, Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences
Plainsboro, N.J.

The underlying premise of your magazine seems to be that we must work for a better America. Thus, I suggest a better focus for your article would have been why America is adopting the metric system, rather than the National Institute of Standards and Technology Metric Program, which is but a minuscule part of U.S. metrication.

For more than two decades, American industry has been converting to the metric system. Because 95 percent of the world uses the metric system, U.S. companies have been systematically converting to making metric products.

The passage of the 1988 Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act, which requires federal agencies to use the metric system, has been a great success. Federally funded construction of buildings and highways amounts to about $15-$20 billion annually, and these projects are being built to metric standards. More than half the states are constructing metric highways and bridges.

What we need now is leadership. The president must use the bully pulpit to change the public's apathy into knowledge.

Lorelle Young
President
U.S. Metric Association
Northridge, Calif.

A Question of Ethics

As the attorney for the 6,000 Job Corps applicants who were placed in a control group and denied services, I was pleased with "Job Corps Lottery" (Outfront, January/February).

The article, however, omitted one fact that I find particularly fascinating: Job Corps increased its advertising and marketing budget because officials were concerned that not enough applicants would be found after these 6,000 people had been excluded. American youths were enticed to apply for Job Corps simply to be denied its services.

Perhaps the reason no one seems interested is that the young people applying to Job Corps are poor and largely nonwhite. Perhaps if the government decided to withhold work-study jobs from a control group to watch them flounder and then fail to complete college, someone would pay attention.

Alan Blakley
Missoula, Mont.

Unfortunately, your article did not present a balanced view of the social-policy research field. You implied that random selection is inherently unethical, a position at odds with mainstream social science opinion. The method is not appropriate for all evaluations, such as programs that have adequate resources or a legal mandate to enroll all eligible people, because that would unjustly deny services that would otherwise be available. But Job Corps has a limited number of slots. Job Corps counselors must constantly make decisions about whom to enroll and whom to refuse. In such a situation, choosing enrollees at random is arguably a fairer way to provide access to the program.

The analogy to the Tuskegee study simply does not hold water. With Tuskegee, researchers deliberately withheld an effective treatment for syphilis in order to study the degenerative effects of the untreated disease. With Job Corps, the program's effectiveness had yet to be proved. With Tuskegee, the harm was immense and devastating. With Job Corps, the harm is unknown, especially because subjects remained free to seek out other employment and training services while the study was being conducted. Finally, the Tuskegee subjects were deliberately kept ignorant of what was happening to them, while Job Corps participants were informed of the research protocol.

Ironically, the article itself makes a good case for social-policy research by describing Job Corps as having "recently come under fire as a wasteful program." This rigorous evaluation should produce reliable data for wiser decisions about where to invest finite resources.

Judith M. Gueron
President
Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation
New York, N.Y.

Corrections:

Alan Blakley's name ("Job Corps Lottery," Outfront, January/February) was misspelled.

The photograph on page 49 of our January/February issue should have been credited to Peter Charlesworth/Saba.