The Affordable-Housing Test


Connie Schultz gets it spot-on with “The Waitress Test” [July 14]. Class issues and identity politics (in this case, feminism) are inextricably intertwined, not pitted against each other, as too many commentators insist. One thing Schultz doesn’t mention is affordable housing. Whether it’s rental housing, public housing or homes owned, working- and middle-class people–especially single women with children–are finding it increasingly impossible to secure themselves domestically.

Beauty Turner, one of Chicago’s leading public-housing activists, speaks often of her experience as a woman who fled domestic violence and found affordable sanctuary in public housing. Now public housing is being torn down to open up land for developers; affordable rental housing is virtually impossible to find in gentrifying African-American and poor white neighborhoods; homeowners who purchased their homes fifteen, twenty or more years ago are being squeezed out by escalating property values and tax rates.

As Schultz reminds us, domestic violence and familial abandonment (usually by men) go hand in hand with economic and social desperation. The women and children left behind need safe, affordable places to live. Hillary Clinton did not address this issue; Barack Obama hasn’t either. It’s a crucial one, and he would benefit politically and morally if he did.


Siding With Mitchell

Orinda, Calif.

I read and re-read Kai Wright’s “The Subprime Swindle” [July 14], and I can only say, “Boohoo.” Wright picked the wrong example, as George Mitchell is the poster child for those who should not be bailed out. He did not alter his spending after a significant loss of household income and signed loan papers without understanding them–again and again. Mitchell is a victim of… George Mitchell. When you make bad decisions, there is a price to be paid. Wright’s attempt to conflate race and age with victimhood was laughable given the facts.


Greensburg, La.

I recommend a drastic and consumer-oriented solution: all subprime and prime mortgages, as well as all credit card debt with greater than 5 percent interest made between 1993 and 2008 be erased from the books. That’s right–I am advocating sinking the ships of the credit card and lending industry to save the rest of the fleet. If they don’t like it, too bad. It was their racism, sexism and greed that got us into this mess. It doesn’t take a financial expert to know that 29.99 percent interest and balloon payments will net defaults, not paid-off loans. The industry wrote those loans to fail. It should not be rewarded for deploying such weapons of mass destruction.


Dover, N.H.

The $68,000 loan the Mitchell family took out in 2003 for siding was not only a loan they should never have had foisted on them; it was for at least eight times what siding should have cost for the house shown on your July 14 cover. If the Mitchells paid more than $8,000 for materials and labor for vinyl siding in 2003, they were rooked not only by the loan terms but by the cost of the job.


Double-Issue Doublespeak

Knoxville, Tenn.

A letter writer in the August 4/11 issue playfully takes The Nation to task for “doublespeak worthy of the Bush Administration” for announcing the return of Frank W. Lewis’s crossword puzzle as a “weekly” feature just as you shift to your biweekly summer schedule. Then a friend noted the words Double Issue on the cover, assessed its heft and declared it no bigger than usual. Calling your biweekly offerings “double” issues, with the same number of pages as the weekly offerings, qualifies as nothing less than biweekly, bi-Orwellian “quadruplespeak”–deftly making half as much sound like twice as much. Madison Avenue and the Bush Administration must bow in awe at such sly spin!


Whale Ho!

La Mirada, Calif.

E.L. Doctorow delights this reader [“The White Whale,” July 14]. No matter the seriousness of subject, his sentences are perfectly constructed and warrant two readings: the first for content, the second for art’s sake.


Geneseo, N.Y.

“The White Whale” was so exceptionally astute, literate, analytically and historically acute and thoughtfully focused on what we are all living through today in America. To know that someone has put the feelings of so many of us on paper in this age of digital technology pleases me enormously.


Lethal Legacy

Cambridge, Mass.

Spencer Ackerman, in “The American Way of Spying” [July 14], claims that Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes is “the greatest book ever written about the CIA” and that if another writer “produces a book about the CIA half as insightful, thorough or penetrating, he or she can be proud of the achievement.” Legacy of Ashes is very welcome indeed, but it is by no means twice as good–or even half as good–as William Blum’s Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. Too much of Weiner’s book is devoted to reporting agency incompetence and bureaucratic conflict–useful, but not nearly as valuable as Blum’s comprehensive inventory of the lethal results of CIA covert operations over six decades.

Even more important, Weiner’s understanding of the real (rather than the stated) goals of US foreign policy is shallow. “A nation that wants to project its power beyond its borders,” he writes, “needs…a first-rate spy service.” It never occurs to him to explore the meaning, much less the consequences, of “projecting our power.” Blum, by contrast, makes very clear that maximizing economic penetration and control, both local and international, by US financial and business elites is the ultima ratio of US foreign policy and the defining framework of CIA activity. Without this understanding, no chronicle, however accurate or colorful, of CIA history can be much more than sound and fury.


Soap Out Your Mouth

Los Angeles

If you ever repeat the phrase “Commander in Chief” in its incomplete and misleadingly truncated form, I will personally fund any and all conservative efforts against your magazine. This lie must die. There is no “Commander in Chief.” The correct phrase, from our Constitution, is that “the President shall be Commander in Chief of United States Armed Forces.” The omission of the latter part of the phrase transforms the head of the military into the tyrant of the nation. Anyone who supports such a transformation has injured the Republic and aided the oppression of the American people.