FRIST: DOING ASBESTOS HE CAN?

Paso Robles, Calif.

I applaud Paul Brodeur’s May 3 “Educating Senator Frist,” on asbestos litigation. My father worked for Johns-Manville and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1997 and died of this horrible disease one year later. He was 69. I witnessed his decline and it was not a pretty sight. Senator Frist should follow an asbestos victim from diagnosis to death; maybe he’d change his mind about letting the companies that are responsible off the hook. It’s not about the money. I’ve lost out on some great quality time with my dad, for which I would trade any amount of money. So, please, Senator Frist, vote against your bill. I don’t think Halliburton will be crumbling under the weight of its obligations to families across America.

PAUL LOPEZ


DESTROYING THE HAMLET TO SAVE IT

Ottawa, Canada

William Greider’s parallels in “Iraq as Vietnam” [May 3] are well drawn. One can add the aim of “democratization,” about which Senator William Fulbright wrote in The Arrogance of Power in 1966: “I am reminded of the three Boy Scouts who reported to their scoutmaster that as their good deed for the day they had helped an old lady across the street. ‘That’s fine,’ said the scoutmaster, ‘but why did it take three of you?’ ‘Well,’ they explained, ‘she didn’t want to go.'”

RANDAL MARLIN


BUMMER OF ’68

Brunswick, Me.

Thanks for Jon Wiener’s review of Dominic Sandbrook’s book on Eugene McCarthy [“No Success Like Failure,” May 3]. It should be remembered that Gene McCarthy paved the way for Bobby Kennedy’s candidacy by showing how energized the antiwar movement was. McCarthy was the Howard Dean of 1968. Sadly, an assassin’s bullet killed Bobby, and the Democrats gave us a prowar candidate in Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey proclaimed “the politics of happiness” during the week of our highest death toll in Vietnam. It is hard to underestimate the depth of disillusionment in the antiwar movement in the fall of 1968. A lot of us sat the election out and, yes, helped elect Nixon. That was not the fault of Gene McCarthy.

H.R. COURSEN


THE UNSUITABLE ARCHIVIST

Cambridge, England

In your May 3 editorial “The Haunted Archives,” you mention that The Haunted Wood by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev has been criticized for its flawed handling of KGB archival materials. Too true, not only because confirmation of their notes is impossible, as the source is now closed, but also because of the long and fragile chain linking the original ma-terial with what we read in the book. This chain involves multiple transcriptions, translations, retranslations, code transmissions, decodings and interpretations, as well as possible selection and control at the Russian end. Plus distortions arising from the Soviet agents’ desire to amplify their data and enhance their standing. Plus the fact–which Weinstein has kept very quiet and which I only learned recently–that Weinstein doesn’t know Russian; so a lot depended on Vassiliev, whose role in the book is not clear, but I suspect it was mainly linguistic. The result, to say the least, is highly unreliable.

I can confirm this personally from firsthand knowledge, with regard to their treatment of my late husband, Theodore Hall, who as a very young Los Alamos physicist gave information to the Soviets on the A-bomb project in 1944-45. On page 195 Weinstein states: “Ted Hall…was a member of the Young Communist League, and it was through the mother of a mutual friend in the League, Saville Sax…himself a party member, that Hall met Kurnakov.” This is footnoted to one of the KGB documents, but it’s not true. Ted Hall was never a member of the Young Communist League, Sax was never a party member and Sax’s mother had nothing to do with the affair (in fact, they took pains to keep it secret from her). These falsehoods probably derive from a generous interpretation on the part of the New York agents, perhaps to reassure their superiors as to the reliability of the two young men.

Another example can be seen in the transcription of Kurnakov’s (rather charming) report of his first meeting with Ted Hall, which includes the remark “His father is a mere [sic] furrier; his mother is dead….” That “sic,” interpolated by Weinstein, is clearly meant to call attention to some sort of snobbery on Kurnakov’s part. Maybe. But Kurnakov wrote his report in Russian, and there is no indication of what word he used. I know some Russian, and a trawl of dictionaries yields no exact equivalent of “mere.” As in all translation, there is clearly an element of interpretation here. Without knowing what Kurnakov wrote in Russian, and what the possible social resonances of his Rus-sian words were, we can’t make a reliable judgment on that matter. A small thing, but it shows the pitfalls of such sources and emphasizes again the impossibility of certainty without full scholarly access. And it shows how little Weinstein knew or cared about such problems.

Weinstein also maintains–and the Russians can’t be blamed for this–that Ted Hall later had a “teaching career,” which is untrue. The same is true of the claim that Ted came from an affluent family. Not true: His father’s small business failed when Ted was very young, after which they lived in a small walkup in Washington Heights, with no money to spare. Again, small points, but they do show how little importance Weinstein, and other cold war intellectuals, attach to accuracy. Not that those who appointed Weinstein as archivist care. Nation readers will find my article about Ted Hall’s motivations at www.historyhappens.com.

JOAN HALL


A WALK ON THE GREIDER SIDE

Kansas City, Mo.

Bill Greider is right, of course and as usual: Kerry must get his game together [“Kerry’s Crucible,” April 26]. But Kerry’s recycled (from the Clinton playbook) taxation and other economic policy proposals are limp biscuits for reasons not mentioned in Greider’s article: the high proportion of corporations that pay no taxes at all; the impenetrable maze of the Tax Code, concealing endless special-interest loopholes and exemptions that crimp taxable income for those who do pay some tax; and the (estimated) $14 billion in uncollected personal and other taxes, uncollected because there is not enough IRS staff to do even modest samplings of returns, and because of an apparent disinclination to subject high-income taxpayers to audits, where substantial returns could be realized if audits were done.

CHARLTON PRICE


Providence, RI.

After reading Greider on Kerry and watching the candidate fumble, dodge and then head down the field the wrong way on Iraq, I am dusting off my Ralph Nader buttons–in hopes Kerry will find himself yet. My memory goes back to 1984, when I was a (very) minor cog in the Mondale Machine. Walter walked away from a fight with Reaganism, posturing tough on enemies abroad and tough on taxpayers (does anyone remember “Where’s the Beef?”) at home. We’ve seen the same over and over again; it worked for Clinton, thanks to Perot and incumbency. Maybe, though, Ralph can threaten Kerry enough to drag him into the peace (make that “Exit Strategy”) camp. It’s the best hope we have.

PAUL BUHLE


THE NEEDLE & THE DAMAGE DONE

Minneapolis

I commend Daniel Wolfe for his excellent article “Condemned to Death” [April 26], on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, exacerbated by the US-led drug war. There is a related but much less widely publicized epidemic–that of hepatitis-C, often found in conjunction with HIV/AIDS patients, which is similarly transmitted by intravenous drug users. Here in the States, this problem is most prevalent in the burgeoning prison population. I refer your readers to Prison Nation, available from Prison Legal News in Seattle.

FRED VILLAUME


WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE

Ribera, NM

Those fighting against the forces of the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq are more and more often called “insurgents.” Not too surprising from the mainstream media, but now I see it in The Nation [“Buyer’s Remorse on Iraq,” May 10]. My dictionary defines “insurgent” as “a person who rises in forcible opposition to lawful authority.” What “lawful authority”? Certainly not those who illegally invaded Iraq. If we use this label often enough it turns those fighting to defend their homeland into something else and conveys a sense of legitimacy to the invaders. The Nation should not participate in this ghastly process.

CURTIS D. CLEMSON


Rock Springs, Wyo.

I fully expect the mainstream media to parrot the Bush line that he’s running for re-election. But when The Nation does the same thing [“Mission Unaccomplished,” May 17], I have to wonder whether there is any independent media at all. Bush is not running for re-election. He was never elected. He was chosen, first by the Supreme Court, then by a majority of electors who failed to represent the will of the electorate. This is not a semantic quibble. Bush’s claim that he seeks re-election is a dagger pointed at the heart of representative government.

JERRY P. THOMAS


Dana Point, Calif.

Three cheers for Susan Jacoby’s important April 19 “In Praise of Secularism,” calling attention to the Bush Administration’s assault on the separation of church and state. However, I was disappointed to see Christian Scientists lumped together with radical Islamic plane hijackers as examples of religions that do harm. The suggestion that Christian Science parents would allow their child to die in adherence to religious doctrine is uninformed. The Christian Science church provides members clear guidelines on adherence to public health policies and encourages them to consult with medical practitioners when necessary.

TODD HERZER


CORRECTIONS

Last week’s editorial “The Horror of Abu Ghraib” mentioned three detainees who died in US custody in Afghanistan. US military doctors termed two, not three, of the deaths “homicide.” The three deaths are still under investigation.

Contrary to David Graeber’s April 19 “Lying in Wait,” John Timoney has not been put in charge of security for this summer’s Democratic National Convention in Boston.