Easthampton, Mass.

I was impressed by Chesa Boudin’s “Children Left Behind” [Sept. 29], about the importance of children visiting their imprisoned parents. I met Chesa when he was 8 and he listened to me tell the story of what happened to me after my parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were arrested. He commented, “Boy, his life was just like mine, only worse.”

Prison visits are the source of the only memories I have of my parents. Those memories were a vital part of what enabled me to overcome the challenges I faced. This is one of the reasons the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which I direct, established its Attica Fund Prison Visit Program to enable the children of prisoners to visit their incarcerated loved ones. But neither the Rosenberg Fund nor dozens of larger public foundations have the resources to address more than a small slice of a problem that touches millions of children in this country.

Chesa’s call for finding effective alternatives to jail is a necessary first step. If we drastically reduce the number of people imprisoned, it will dramatically cut the number of affected children. But we can also ameliorate the problem by housing inmates in prisons that are located near where their families live and by providing low-cost transportation and a child-friendly environment for children to visit their parents in prison.




Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss’s “Toward a Global Parliament” [Sept. 22] is right to draw attention to the lack of democratic accountability in international relations. However, their idea of an elected world parliament representing all peoples and functioning as a counterweight to the power of governments, laudable as it sounds, is unrealistic.

Aside from the logistical and representational problems, and the daunting task of defining the powers of such a body vis-à-vis national parliaments and governments, not to mention international institutions like the United Nations, a world parliament could not function until democratic values and practices are firmly established in the world. When one considers the war-torn countries where people have not voted seriously in decades, the countries where people’s electoral choices are limited to a single candidate or party and the countries whose electoral systems unfairly penalize minority views or discourage voting, it is clear that the road to democracy, especially outside national boundaries, is long and tortuous. And it always starts at home.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is perhaps the institution that most closely embodies the ideas and hopes that Falk and Strauss put forward. The IPU, with its 145 member parliaments and offices in Geneva and New York, is today the UN’s main point of contact with the world parliamentary community and the citizens beyond it. A key objective of the IPU is to bring a parliamentary dimension to the work of the UN and its related agencies, along with bodies like the WTO and World Bank. The statements and resolutions that member parliaments adopt at the biannual assemblies on virtually every topic of importance (climate change, food security, AIDS, trade) provide one way of making the views of parliaments, and their constituents, better known to the governments that run the UN and other international bodies. With its newly acquired observer status at the UN, the IPU is now in a position to participate directly in General Assembly debates.

The overall objective of the relationship between parliaments and the UN is to bring the voice of the people to the multilateral negotiating forums and engage parliaments more directly in their work. This includes increasing the understanding within parliaments of international agreements so that they can support them, and encouraging them to mobilize public opinion and forge national support for international action. It also involves assisting national parliaments, especially the newer and less experienced ones, to increase their capacity to exercise parliamentary scrutiny and oversight over matters that are subject to international cooperation.

All of the above may well be a far cry from international parliamentary assemblies attached to the UN, but it has the merit of being entirely practical. Thanks to the IPU, such a system already exists and will certainly gain a firmer hold in the future.

IPU secretary general


As Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss argue, a global parliament would enable citizens to organize beyond the confines of sovereign states and to move beyond the politics of protest, rejection and response to the actions of powerful states. It would create real citizens of the world. To paraphrase historian Prasenjit Duara, it could rescue politics from the nation-state.

I wonder, though, whether the best prototype is the European Parliament. A different, though equally gradual, approach would not have to begin with merely advisory status for its actions, nor require a large-scale international agreement to begin, nor rely upon approval or permission from the United States, nor even need a new institutional venue for the parliament. A simple reform could transform the United Nations entirely and provoke it to become the new institution. Individual nation-states could begin electing, rather than appointing, their UN representatives.

Eventually, inequities of the scale of the units would need to be addressed. At all times, regional and religious parties could emerge. Political parties at the merely national level would continually try to win the elections and hold on to their power. But parties with global appeal and larger constituencies might reframe debate in most localities and allow more people to participate in world determination rather than merely self-determination. World public opinion could better contain a Bush Administration and its weak coalition of willing states if global political parties took positions, with UN as well as US elections coming up. And even without a need to head off irrational exuberance at the helm of US power, the logic of us and them in politics would change. Europe and North America would care who wins an election in Madagascar or New Guinea. The UN would be composed of representatives responsible to citizens, not states. And nationalism would lose much of its utility.



Santa Barbara, Calif.; Wilmington, Del.

Anders Johnsson contends that our proposal for a global parliament is unrealistic because many countries do not yet have authentic national democracies. He assumes that democracy can proceed only in one specifically prescribed linear fashion, from local to global. We do not agree.

In the days when many of America’s biggest cities were still run by antidemocratic political machines, no one would have claimed that the United States should abandon democracy at the national level because, as Johnsson asserts, it always starts at home.

In fact, beginning to establish democratic practices globally promotes democratization locally. If there existed a global parliament whose membership was restricted to freely elected parliamentarians, authoritarian leaders would be under pressure to choose: Either hold fast to the politically embarrassing option of denying their people the right to be represented in the world’s only globally elected body or allow the introduction of democratic practices along with the emergence of a democratically legitimized leadership. As globalization proceeds and as decision-making power is increasingly situated at the international level, Johnsson asks us to wait indefinitely for global democracy until all countries are democratic. But for those of us in more democratic countries, to wait is to watch as our own hard-won democratic space becomes more and more restricted.

Johnsson is right, though, to put an emphasis on being realistic. Too often in the past, discussions of fundamental world-order reform have been too easily dismissed as utopianism. But, what is, after all, so unrealistic about our proposal? Is it unrealistic to suppose, as we suggest, that twenty or thirty more enlightened governments might agree to a treaty creating a stand-alone advisory parliament with very limited initial legal powers? This is, after all, the way the European Parliament began. Is it unrealistic to think that such an assembly, as the first popularly elected global body, would attract considerable attention and that various interests would attempt to gain the support of this singular democratic body to legitimize their policy positions? And, is it unrealistic to think that such a body would become a focal point for the pursuit of global reform, leading to expanding influence, inducing increases in membership and powers?

Of course, Johnsson is right that there are complex logistical, representational and jurisdictional matters to resolve in establishing such an international body. But, these matters present themselves whenever a new political organization is brought to life, and, yes, they are challenging, but far from impossible to overcome. We are, after all, living in a period when little over a decade ago the Soviet Union ceased to exist and the establishment of the International Criminal Court seemed a distant dream.

As for John Kelly’s proposal to move toward a more democratic global order by electing representatives to the UN, we find the idea worthy of further discussion; but we would question its feasibility, as it would mean displacing the representational role of governments altogether at the UN. We offer our own proposal not out of a conviction that it is the only way to proceed but from a sense that we need to begin a serious global discussion about how the world order can be made more democratic, peaceful, fair and sustainable.