DENNIS KUCINICH–BOY WONDER

Longwood, Fla.

I just finished Studs Terkel’s valentine to Dennis Kucinich [“Kucinich Is the One,” May 6]. In the ’60s I was on the copy desk of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, back when you edited with a thick black pencil and would cut and paste copy, literally, using big shears to cut and goo in a white coffee mug to paste. Dennis was a copy boy back then. He was a smartass–my emphasis is on “smart.” Anyone with an ounce of brains could see that he was destined to be much more than a factory worker or, worse, a Midwestern newspaperman. Studs, I’m with you. I’d love to see Dennis debate Dubya. Go, Dennis, go.

ROBERT J. HAVEL


Minneapolis

In his admirable eloquence espousing Dennis Kucinich for national office, Studs Terkel says that three Ohioans became President after Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81): William McKinley (elected in 1896), William Howard Taft (1908) and Warren G. Harding (1920). There’s one more: James Garfield, elected in 1880 but assassinated only months after taking office.

I have long admired Kucinich. If there’s a bandwagon for his national ambitions, I’d like to know where to sign up. Here in Minnesota, where Paul Wellstone has his hands full this year against a slippery Republican, I’m looking for a national progressive leader, and Kucinich just might be that person.

JAMES NAIDEN


Sunset Beach, Calif.

Kucinich for President? Sounds better than condemning Congress to pruning the Shrub for four more years. But why not go all out? Put Jim Hightower on the ticket with him. Then Dubya just might not be able to take Texas for granted. And if you think a Kucinich-Bush debate would be a first round knockout, how would you classify Hightower-Cheney?

GEORGE McCALIP


$OCIAL $ECURITY FIX: HR 3315

Washington, DC

I agree with many points made by former Senator Paul Simon [“Social Security Fixes,” April 29]. While Social Security is projected to face modest financial challenges in several decades, it is emphatically not in crisis. And I agree that privatization will make Social Security’s shortfall much worse.

However, I strongly dissent from Senator Simon’s support for reducing cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). I also want to build on the point Simon raised about the cap on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax.

I have introduced legislation, HR 3315, the Social Security Stabilization and Enhancement Act, that has been certified by the Social Security actuaries as restoring seventy-five-year solvency to the program (for more information, see www.house.gov/defazio). HR 3315 includes a provision to eliminate the cap on wages (currently $84,900) subject to the Social Security payroll tax, as Simon suggests. All wages are already subject to the Medicare payroll tax. It only makes sense to do the same for Social Security. However, my legislation does retain the cap for determining benefit calculations, which makes it much more progressive and still entitles all contributors to a benefit. These changes equal 2.13 percent of payroll, more than enough to solve the projected Social Security financing deficit of 1.87 percent of payroll.

My legislation also exempts the first $4,000 in wages from the Social Security payroll tax, but not from calculation of benefits, so there’s no benefit cut. The bottom line is that 95 percent of Americans would get a payroll tax cut.

HR 3315 also includes a provision allowing aggregate investment of a portion of the Social Security Trust Fund in equities other than government debt, to increase the rate of return received by the Trust Fund without the individual risk and administrative complexity of privatization. Unfortunately, while the response from Oregonians about HR 3315 has been overwhelmingly positive, it has been tough to interest progressives inside the Beltway.

I encourage Senator Simon to reconsider his support for lowering the CPI and thus reducing the COLAs of Social Security beneficiaries. The current CPI does a poor job of measuring inflation faced by seniors. Because seniors spend much of their money on healthcare, they are especially vulnerable to the annual increases in the medical costs, which run far above the rate of inflation. Rather than lowering COLAs for seniors because some economists argue the CPI overstates inflation for the general population, it makes more sense for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate a separate CPI for seniors. In fact, the BLS has calculated an experimental index based on seniors’ consumption habits since 1984. It shows that seniors face an average inflation rate 0.4 percent higher than the general population. That argues for increasing seniors’ COLAs, not lowering them.

PETER DeFAZIO
Member of Congress, 4th District, Oregon


SIMON REPLIES

Carbondale, Ill.

Peter DeFazio is an excellent Congressman, and his proposal is an improvement over where we are now. The actuaries disagree with his conclusion that we face “modest financial challenges in several decades.” DeFazio may be correct, but when it comes to the basic income of so many millions of Americans I would err on the side of caution. His proposal to eliminate the cap but retain the ceiling on benefits is good. Exempting the first $4,000 of income makes our tax system more progressive, which I like, but reduces the long-term benefits of buttressing the system, which I do not like. The CPI should be accurate, and recent increases in healthcare costs for seniors may offset the failures to consider substitution, generic drugs and other factors that also must be calculated. But accuracy should be the goal, and that may involve a slight slowing of growth of benefits.

PAUL SIMON
Director, Public Policy Institute


STATES LEAD US TO CLEAN ELECTIONS

Conway, Mass.

Is John Nichols [“Campaign Finance: The Sequel,” April 29] unaware that, in addition to Maine, Arizona and Massachusetts, Vermont has an effective Clean Elections law? The 2000 gubernatorial campaign of Progressive Party candidate Anthony Pollina under that law came within one percentage point of forcing the election to be decided by the Vermont legislature. Nichols’s reference to clean money election roadblocks erected by Massachusetts House speaker Tom Finneran begs amplification. Finneran’s demagoguery, like that of Tom DeLay in Washington, defines the clean money struggle. The problem is not the buying of favors but politicians extracting money to maintain their abusive and undemocratic power.

Nichols correctly concludes that McCain-Feingold falls far short of reform, as will any such window-dressing initiative in Congress. Change, as Pollina said during his campaign, will have to come from the states, and it’s time other states join these four, which have set this country on a historic course of true reform.

CARL DOERNER


Oakland, Calif.; Boston

John Nichols is correct to highlight a new “sense of possibility” since the passage of McCain-Feingold. Campaign finance reform finally does have the public’s attention, and full public funding is on the horizon. Equally important, the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, the Greenlining Institute and others have done the critical work of redefining campaign reform as a civil rights issue. Still, the movement has been missing an important element, present in most other successful US movements for justice: the creative grassroots action of college students. Democracy Matters is a new campus-based organization that is mobilizing popular pressure from college students to get private money out of politics (www.democracymatters.org).

ADONAL FOYLE, CHRIS VAETH


PACIFICA LICKS ITS WOUNDS

Altadena, Calif.

Susan Douglas’s “Is There a Future for Pacifica?” [April 15] posits two polarized factions at war over the Pacifica Foundation radio network, then reasonably urges us to bring a unified Pacifica to bear upon common foes. In fact, people from all sides of the recent disputes are now working together to advance its mission for antiwar, cross-cultural, community-based free-speech programming. Why the unity? Magnanimity and openness. This is the first transition of power in Pacifica’s fifty-three years that has not resulted in a purge. Some have left, but nobody’s been fired, and the few who left got agreeable severance packages. Those remaining enjoy the rejuvenated community involvement.

But there are lessons. Many who haughtily “avoided the fray” carefully protected their own personal privilege and airtime, even while the foundation’s coffers were being openly looted. Conversely, others sacrificed jobs, money and personal privilege to gain broader community control over Pacifica. Equating these two cheapens the sacrifices of some and unfairly assuages the guilt of others. But that’s history to learn from, not to relive.

The issue now is not who did more but who is doing anything now and what still needs to be done. So instead of staying above the fray, those interested in Pacifica should jump in with both feet and help realize its potential. Unlike our predecessors, we welcome all who support Pacifica’s mission, even those who once barred us from entering the stations.

DAVE FERTIG
Interim Pacifica Advisory Board;
KPFK local advisory board


Tarentum, Pa.

Your magazine is thin enough. Please don’t waste any more space on Pacifica.

ROBERT JEDRZEJEWSKI


NATION ‘SLAMS’ FEMINISTS

Seattle

In her review of my book Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut [“The Fishnet Fallacy,” April 15], Elaine Blair accuses me of neglecting to talk about “what the rest of the school is thinking” when spreading rumors about these girls. In her reading (skimming?) Blair seems to have missed entire sections dedicated to the stories of kids who spread rumors. In fact, the whole book is built around my own memory of spreading rumors. While Blair wants to know what the kids were “thinking,” the point of Fast Girls is that they weren’t thinking–which is why I use words like “irrational” and “unconscious” throughout the book. Blair ends her slam by launching into her own memory of a girl who fit the “slut story.” While this memory was clearly triggered by my book, and while Blair even borrows my language to fill it out (“the site of the slut’s continuous re-creation, the high school hallways”), she still insists I haven’t done my job.

It’s interesting to consider Blair’s review alongside other slams of feminist writing in The Nation (Katha Pollitt on Carol Gilligan, Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels on Naomi Wolf). Maybe it’s a vast left-wing conspiracy: It seems whenever a feminist writes a book, The Nation runs a review that says she shouldn’t have.

EMILY WHITE