VICTIM-OFFENDER RECONCILIATION

San Francisco

Criminal justice is a topic my organization, Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility is engaged in (see www.adpsr.org/prisons), so I read the April 2 “Letters” column about Sunil Dutta’s “Kill the Death Penalty” [Feb. 26] with great interest. Dutta says “victims’ families can never forget the pain or overcome the loss” associated with crime, but the history of victim-offender reconciliation programs shows that many victims can indeed overcome their pain and suffering. Dutta argues for breaking the “vicious cycle of revenge,” so it would follow that crime victims should be given the opportunity to get beyond the desire for revenge and, further, that the door should somehow be kept open for those who commit crimes to be transformed as well–making Dutta’s support for life without parole seem inconsistent with his other argument.

I share Dutta’s sympathy for the victims of crime, but all too often victims are paraded as props by “tough on crime” politicians to stoke public fear and thinly veiled racism. Clearly Dutta is not in this category, but a better expression of sympathy with victims is to demand measures to reduce crime by empowering those most likely to be victims (women, people of color and poor people) and restoring the communities suffering most from crime (which law enforcement alone has repeatedly failed to achieve). Because so much harm due to crime cannot be reversed, hanging on to the suffering caused by crime must give way to truly healing individuals and communities so that far fewer tragedies occur in the future.

Raphael Sperry


WITHDRAWAL’S ‘MORAL IMPERATIVE’

Pound Ridge, NY

Stephen F. Cohen’s March 26 “Conscience and the War” should be required reading for every American. What a valuable service he has done, offering a crystal-clear overview of this unmitigated disaster and persuasively explaining the “moral imperative” of a quick and complete withdrawal. May we somehow find the courage to stop the Bush Administration’s runaway train of destruction.

Ken Swensen


Santa Rosa, Calif.

“Conscience and the War” is a superb statement of the catastrophe the United States has precipitated by its aggression in Iraq. We are now entangled in a monstrous Gordian knot of military professionals, private contractors, munitions manufacturers and arms merchants. This proliferating snarl feeds our “defense” establishment and eats away our financial resources. In Nemesis, Chalmers Johnson points out that an exit strategy was never planned because there was to be no exit. As for resolving the knotty Iraq debacle, political timidity and a warrior hero mystique apparently blocks conscience and common sense.

Rosemary H. Hayes


Moscow

I thoroughly agree with Stephen F. Cohen that “the only moral course [in Iraq] is withdrawal, along with a pledge to help fund the country’s reconstruction.” Meanwhile, however, Iraqi civilians are caught in a deadly crossfire between the US occupation and reactionary Islamic militias who systematically attack schoolteachers, health workers and trade unionists while creating a living hell for women–who formerly held more than half the civil service jobs in Iraq. What can “Americans of conscience” do? During Ronald Reagan’s contra wars of the 1980s, networks of Americans provided direct political support and vital material aid to democratic and progressive groups in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Today, US trade unions, teachers and other progressives are supporting the Iraqi Freedom Congress, which defends Iraqi women, unionized workers and secularists against the double depredations of reactionary Islamists and the occupation. Nation readers can learn more about the IFC (and make PayPal contributions) by clicking on www.ifcongress.com/English.

Richard Greeman


IT’S BROKE–FIX IT

Denver

I agreed with most of Mark Green’s points in “How to Fix Our Democracy” [March 12], but he’s off track when he attacks the way the Senate is elected as a “stunning violation of democracy.” I am originally from Vermont, which has produced such statesmen as George Aiken, Robert Stafford, Patrick Leahy, James Jeffords and Bernie Sanders. I would hate to think that the Senate would become all about New York and California because of fears of “small, rural, largely red states.” There is a place where “one person, one vote” applies. It’s called the House of Representatives.

Betsy Gottlieb


Hollis, NH

I am astounded that Mark Green states that “the 2002 Help America Vote Act properly required that states move to electronic voting.” HAVA didn’t do anything properly except to be a proper example of why our nation is a kleptocracy rather than a democratic republic. By mandating electronic voting systems, the government has enriched the corporations that make these systems and decreased the verifiability of our election process. My precinct uses paper ballots read by optical scanners. The votes can be recounted by hand. Each voting station costs about $20, and we have a more than ample supply. HAVA is going to force us to replace those twenty-dollar tables with corrupt machines from Diebold that cost thousands and do nothing but make it simple to steal votes.

Mark Roddy


New York City

A historical footnote to Mark Green’s thoughtful piece: During the drafting of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Benjamin Franklin submitted this provision: “That an enormous Proportion of Property vested in a few Individuals is dangerous to the Rights, and destructive of the Common Happiness, of Mankind; and therefore every free State hath a Right by its Laws to discourage the Possession of such Property.” It was voted down (by the property holders). Time to reconsider.

Carl Ginsburg


IMMIGRANT FACTS & FICTIONS

Franklin Twp., NJ

Andrea Batista Schlesinger [“Pro-Immigrant Populism,” March 5] is on target when she says “if we want to avoid a race to the bottom between native and immigrant workers, we must create a policy that strengthens the workplace rights of immigrant workers.” We also need to challenge the half-truths and distortions of the anti-immigrant populists (as well as some of the oversimplifications of pro-immigrant forces, which undermine their credibility). Two examples from the article: Do immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in wages? Generally, yes, but there are some communities, apparently, where the increasing cost of emergency health services is at least partially due to use by low-income immigrant families. This problem needs to be confronted. Do immigrants working in the “underground economy” bring down the wages of native workers? Sometimes, but not necessarily. It depends on where, and what jobs. There is a great deal of research on these and related subjects, much of it controversial. But we need to make it clear that unequivocal statements about immigrants’ taking jobs away from US-born workers, or undermining their wages, are wrong. This is one small step toward overcoming the divide between US-born and immigrant working people.

Martin Oppenheimer


Loveland, Colo.

I agree with Andrea Batista Schlesinger that we must strengthen workers’ rights so that no worker, legal or illegal, is afraid to fight for better working conditions. However, unless we stop mass immigration, all efforts to strengthen workers’ rights will be futile. There are so many poor people south of the border that continued mass immigration will create a large labor surplus that will drive down wages, especially for blacks and Hispanics who are already here. We must limit immigration. But we should also get serious about helping Mexico’s economy. We can begin by undoing the damage that NAFTA’s “free trade” policies have done to Mexico.

Robert Baillie


Phoenix

I am as liberal as anyone. However, I do not believe the criminals that control Mexico should be left free to rape their people of their rights and benefits, use the United States as a welfare office and chase their uneducated population over the border to send home $300 billion a year. Mexico should be assuring its people of a living wage. American workers should be joining the Mexican workers in bringing a living wage to both countries. Help organize concerned Americans and Mexicans to push for meaningful changes in Mexico at the same time we try to solve our own problems!

James McClernan


MY NIRVANA MOMENT

Brooklyn, NY

It’s 1:30 Wednesday, the last day of January, and I’ve just gotten off the Staten Island ferry to take the Brooklyn-bound R train. The subway’s closed, streets are blocked off, police cars everywhere. Oh God no! It can’t… Then I remember Bush is in town. All right, I’ll walk up a few blocks to the A. Beautiful day, happy to be alive in New York City. I love my job. Perfect time for a giant Snickers bar. I hand a buck and a quarter to the newsstand guy. The thing’s still frozen. Usually I have no patience and break the frozen candy with my teeth. However, tens of thousands of dollars in recent dental bills for caps, crowns, bridges and God knows what else remind me vaguely of the Buddhist concept of slowly savoring each morsel. This is what I’m doing as thirty or forty police motorcycles roar by. There he is, passing before my eyes on Broad Street. Even through the tinted glass I can see the smarmy “What me worry?” smirk. Instinctively I stick out the middle finger of both hands and stand there quietly moving my arms up and down.

Now, some of us spend entire lifetimes searching for, and perhaps never finding, that perfect moment. Well, all I can tell you is the taste of that slowly dissolving chocolate–the caramel, the nuts, the nougat–the sun shining down through the canyons, the half-completed Times crossword under my arm, and the absolute freedom for a 60-year-old guy to express, in the most immature of ways, my total contempt and disdain for the leader of the free world… God I love this country.

Bill Bartlett, director
Imagine Project