Pittsboro, NC

To Tony Kushner: Thank you so much for your words, for the heart and soul behind them, for your humor and for bringing tears to my eyes each time (so far twice) I have read “A Word to Graduates: Organize!” [July 1] I hope to organize more.



San Francisco

I applaud Marc Siegel for exposing the hazards of direct-to-consumer drug advertising in “Fighting the Drug (Ad) Wars” [June 17]. You might think that as a women’s health advocate I’d welcome direct-to-patient appeals and an emphasis on prevention. But ads are not unbiased. Their promises to cure and prevent everything from allergies and depression to cancer and heart disease downplay–or leave out altogether–the serious, sometimes life-threatening side effects of the pills they push.

AstraZeneca, the manufacturer of tamoxifen, has urged healthy women to ask their doctors to prescribe a heavy-duty drug to reduce breast cancer risk, despite a wide array of dangerous side effects, from endometrial cancer to deep-vein blood clots. Because the Food and Drug Administration, still leaderless, is turning its back, new consumer health coalitions like Prevention First, whose members accept no funds from pharmaceutical firms, are calling for a ban on these ads. Lowering the risk of breast cancer, indeed good health generally, is much more likely to result from clean air and water, healthy food and unbiased information than from popping pills with life-threatening potential.

BARBARA BRENNER, executive director,
Breast Cancer Action


Brooklyn, NY

I was pleased to see Dick Flacks and Peter Dreier highlight my grandfather and Earl Robinson’s song “The House I Live In” [“Patriotism’s Secret History,” June 3]. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the song is making a significant comeback. When I noticed in November that it had been played on Entertainment Tonight, I wrote a piece about the song and my grandfather’s politics, which appeared in the February issue of O. Meanwhile, the short 1944 movie by the same name starring Frank Sinatra appears regularly on the Turner Classic Movie channel, and Michael Feinstein has recorded the song, the proceeds of which he is donating to the September 11 fund.

One important fact about “The House I Live In” will not be apparent to those who only see the Sinatra movie or hear his recording. My grandfather wrote the following lines in one of the verses: “The house I live in/My neighbors white and black.” Flacks and Dreier correctly note that “the song evokes America as a place where all races can live freely”–however, that particular line was omitted from the Sinatra versions, recorded and onscreen. I believe only Paul Robeson’s recording includes those lines.

Readers who want to learn more about my grandfather should see, in the Spring issue of American Music, a scholarly article by Dr. Nancy Kovaleff Baker, “Abel Meeropol (a k a Lewis Allan): Political Commentator and Social Conscience.”



New York City

Jack Newfield’s June 17 lead article “The Full Rudy” called Rudy Giuliani “a C-plus Mayor who has become an A-plus myth.” What would it have taken to give him a failing grade?

You might re-examine the pluses you award him (e.g., for the drop in crime, which began under Dinkins and was pretty much nationwide) and two minuses the article didn’t mention: Giuliani’s heartless treatment of Haitian refugees as a federal officer during the 1980s and the vicious racism that marked his successful campaign to oust New York’s first black mayor. Newfield could have shed some light on why he and a few other white liberal journalists supported Giuliani in that campaign.


Lowell, Mass.

Jack Newfield’s comment about the former mayor of New York, “They don’t allow this kind of behavior in trailer parks!” is inappropriate and deeply disappointing in a progressive magazine. Replace “trailer parks” with “public housing” or “Indian reservations,” and you’ll see what I mean. The Trailer Trash stereotype is an expression of bigotry based on socioeconomic class. That residents of mobile homes are largely white and rural should not make working-class people fair game for leftist scorn.



Providence, RI

In a letter in the July 8 issue, John Bradley presents the appealingly egalitarian notion that women might “have it all” by following the strategy of high-achieving men: choosing a man “younger, poorer and less educated than themselves.” I would be much obliged if Bradley could identify that pool of men who would even consider a date with a woman older, richer and more educated than themselves, let alone be willing to marry one, raise her children and tend to her emotional well-being.



Suffern, NY

Michael Massing’s June 10 piece, “The Israel Lobby,” is the first article I’ve read in a US publication that even mentions the power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In England, I listened to a show on BBC radio that dealt with the same subject. It amazed me that I had to go to another country to get an in-depth analysis of the relationship between this powerful lobbying group and Washington. It seems that since 9/11 one has to do this more and more to get the real story–or any story at all.


Port Matilda, Pa.

While it isn’t news that AIPAC is so influential in Washington, it is noteworthy that the organization and its effect on policy is so underreported. I can’t imagine a story on guns without mention of the NRA or one on workplace safety without mention of the influence of the AFL-CIO. And when did an abortion story last appear without position statements from NARAL and/or Right to Life?


San Rafael, Calif.

Michael Massing is correct: “AIPAC is widely regarded as the most powerful foreign-policy lobby in Washington.” Much of its power lies in the concealment from the media and therefore from public scrutiny of the degree of its financial dealings and the political use of this wealth. Unlike other lobbies, AIPAC keeps its cards close to its chest. Despite the Federal Election Commission rules requiring lobbies to register with the FEC and open their books to the public, this behemoth has managed to do neither. It rules in secret and is so massively involved in Washington politics that few senators or congressmen will vote on an issue without ringing up AIPAC to determine which way to vote.

AIPAC, collecting money from over a hundred Jewish PACs, directs just how it will be spent, pouring millions into the campaigns of candidates who vote the AIPAC way while funneling millions to the opponents of those seen as voting out of step with AIPAC.

In an attempt to bring this monster under public scrutiny, in January 1989 then-Under Secretary of State George Ball, then-Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Atkins and then-Illinois Congressman Paul Findley filed a complaint with the FEC, charging AIPAC with failing to register as a political action committee. After almost nine years, as AIPAC fought this through the courts, the plaintiffs received a favorable 8-2 decision in circuit court, only to have the Supreme Court toss the too-hot issue back to the FEC, asking it to review its decision.

In December 1999 the FEC waffled, citing insufficient evidence. The surviving plaintiffs have appealed that decision. I refer readers to two books: Paul Findley’s They Dare to Speak Out and The Passionate Attachment, by George and Douglas Ball.



New York City

Your April 8 “In Fact…” column carried the following item: “Some thirty public television stations suspended Bill Moyers’s NOW during pledge drives, apparently on the theory that the program’s controversial stories might offend donors.” While we appreciate The Nation‘s interest in public television’s programming, the implication of this story is wrong.

We at PBS do not know of any member station that has pre-empted NOW during pledge drives out of concern that the show might offend donors. Just the opposite, station and viewer feedback on NOW has been overwhelmingly positive. Stations frequently alter their schedules during pledge drives. Such long-running shows as American Experience, Masterpiece Theatre and NOVA have all been pre-empted to accommodate the specific formats and objectives of pledge drives, so it would not be at all unusual for the same to happen with NOW.

Senior vice president
Co-chief program executive, PBS


Davis, Calif.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for Gene Santoro’s “Folk’s Missing Link” [April 22]. I first heard Dave Van Ronk at The Catacombs or the Second Fret in Philadelphia in the early sixties. When I moved to northern California in 1971 I despaired of enjoying him in person again–I knew he didn’t like to fly–but then I discovered that he, somehow, had a special relationship with a little club in Davis, California, called The Palms, in a rundown barn south of the freeway. I got my semiannual Van Ronk fix there. Now he’s gone and the barn is to be torn down, but I will keep the faith by teaching still more generations of field-trippers in my ecology courses the tune and lyrics of “Rompin’ in the Swamp.” Ave atque vale, Dave.



Sierra Madre, Calif.

Calvin Trillin is quite right in observing that Dick Cheney has perfected the art of the tilted head [“Cheney’s Head: An Explanation,” June 24], but I don’t think Cheney invented the maneuver. A perusal of 1988 campaign footage will reveal that Michael Dukakis often assumed the slanted-head position. He was preceded by the master of that maneuver, the late Rod Serling, who frequently appeared with his head at an angle in his opening segments for The Twilight Zone.