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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

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