Women’s Work…


On Leaning Out,” Ashley Nelson’s article [July 22/29] about the challenges and trade-offs working women face when they give birth, was a sad commentary on workers’ rights in this country. I was happy that she described the European approach to supporting women, which is light-years ahead of the United States.

It is also important to point out why it is so critical for women to be home with their young children for their first few years. Research is increasingly clear that a constant maternal presence during early childhood—particularly up to age 2—is critical for a child’s growth into a mentally and physically healthy adult. This is not a happy message for feminists who value women’s economic independence over their roles as mothers. But the evidence grows that women who, by choice or necessity, sacrifice time with their infants and toddlers are neglecting their most important role in the child’s life.


West Plains, Mo.

“On Leaning Out” reminded me of being a working mother—I worked in an auto plant. When I was pregnant, I took a leave without pay, and I had to return six weeks after the baby was born. Half my pay went to the baby sitter. We were often laid off, and then I didn’t need the baby sitter, so my unemployment compensation gave me the same net income as the job. Once, when I went to the unemployment office with my children, the agent said, “You can’t work because you have these children. If you come with them again, I’m going to disallow you.” So I had to get someone to watch the children when I went to the unemployment office.  I know things are better organized for women in other countries. Here, you are on your own.


Reader Discretion Advised

Roseville, Minn.

I have clipped out the full-page ad from the July 22/29 issue for your new e-book Molly Ivins’s Letters to The Nation (TheNation.com/ebooks) and posted it on my office wall. I didn’t know her well, but I was one of a number of PR people (aka “goddamn flacks”) who, along with journalists from the Star Tribune, including Molly, frequented the Little Wagon bar two blocks from the newspaper’s offices in Minneapolis.

It didn’t take much to get her going. One hot summer night, after getting a little buzzed, Molly jumped on a table and shouted in her broad Texas accent, “Goddamn it! Minnesota beer tastes like shit, and Minnesota men can’t fuck!” She was right about some Minnesota beers, but evidently no one had had the courage to tell her that the man she had cast her eye on to be her lover was gay (a term not yet in use then). I think he must have been unaware that the eyes of Texas were upon him. Molly, of course, went on to bigger and better things. She will long be remembered for her brilliant journalistic career, which cancer ended all too soon.

RIP, darlin’.


White Wash?

New York City

Pity James Boughton, who in “Dirtying White” [June 24/July 1] sets out to persuade Nation readers that my “aim” in writing The Battle of Bretton Woods is to liberate markets by “eliminat[ing] bureaucracies like the IMF.” Apparently, all those anti-IMF rallies are populated by hard-core capitalists demanding that we “bring back the gold standard.”

Boughton is a former IMF historian who has been engaged in a lonely two-decade effort to defend the IMF’s chief architect, Harry Dexter White, from the ever-growing mountain of evidence that he acted as an agent for Soviet intelligence for much of the period from 1935 to 1946.

The most devastating of such evidence, the Venona decrypts of World War II Soviet intelligence cables, was only made public in the mid-1990s, after which a Senate commission headed by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan concluded that White’s complicity in espionage “seems settled.”

In Boughton’s rendering of this “benign” story, the cables reveal nothing more than White engaged in “indiscreet gossip” with Soviet contacts. In fact, the eighteen cables—dated from March 1944 to January 1946 (Boughton’s dates are wrong)—reveal far more than this. They show White passing confidential strategic information to Soviet intelligence through US moles, as well as directly to Soviet operatives, and expressing grave concern over whether and how his activities could continue to be kept secret. Boughton also says nothing about the notebooks of former KGB officer Alexander Vassiliev, available online, which corroborate the cable details.

As for White’s essay, which my book brings to light, Boughton mocks the notion that it corroborates accounts of White’s admiration for Soviet economics. He does this by quoting irrelevant passages and leaving out those like the essay’s closing: “Russia is the first instance of a socialist economy in action. And it works!”

BENN STEIL, Council on Foreign Relations

Boughton Replies

Washington, D.C.

I appreciate Benn Steil’s pity, but his letter could have been more useful if he had chosen to go beyond repeating assertions from his book. To understand Harry Dexter White’s interactions with Soviet officials, one must take the trouble to learn the context of what White was doing for the Treasury during World War II, and what the Roosevelt administration was doing to hold the Grand Alliance together—not just to win the war, but to preserve the peace in the aftermath.

Certainly some people who worked for White at the Treasury were involved in espionage for the Soviets. The assertion that White knew of this espionage, much less was directing it, is a conjecture based on hearsay and unreliable sources. Yes, the Venona decrypts and other documents constitute a “mountain of evidence,” but it is a mountain shrouded in fog. I don’t know what really happened. Neither does Steil, nor anyone else. To pretend otherwise is just silly.

A number of researchers, not just I, have examined the evidence carefully in context and have concluded that White was no more than a blind source. He was a New Deal Keynesian economist who was open to talking to Soviet officials and helping them understand US policies as part of a national strategy to defeat the Axis. That role was no secret; White’s job was to talk to the Soviets. Making anything more out of the evidence is no more credible than is Steil’s solicitude over my imaginary loneliness.



Katha Pollitt’s August 19/26 “Subject to Debate” column referred to Germany’s and Italy’s low birth rates. It is true that these countries have low birth rates, but the  fertility rate—also low in both countries—is a more relevant figure. (Birth rate measures the number of live births per 1,000, while fertility rate refers to the average number of children per woman.) In 2011, Germany and Italy had fertility rates of 1.4 births per woman. Also, unlike the other two conservatives noted in the column, Ross Douthat and Michael Gerson, David Frum is pro-choice.