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TRADE AIN'T NOTHIN' IF IT AIN'T FREE

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Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn, The Nation's "Beat the Devil" columnist and one of America's best-known radical...

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Pose a political threat to Business As Usual and sooner or later, mostly sooner, someone will try to kill you.

Washington, DC

As House Democratic whip against CAFTA, I'd like to point out that Alexander Cockburn has a little trouble with math when he claims that "through the 1990s Democrats and Republicans voted for the free-trade agreements" that cost America so many jobs ["Beat the Devil," April 4]. The fact is that a growing majority of Democrats have opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China and Fast Track Authority. This year, I expect more than 90 percent of House Democrats to vote against the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

REPRESENTATIVE SHERROD BROWN
Author, Myths of Free Trade


COCKBURN REPLIES

Petrolia, Calif.

As with labor and Taft-Hartley, which tore the heart out of the Wagner Act in the 1940s, so with the trade votes in the 1990s. When it mattered, there were always enough Democrats on board to push the crucial bills through. On a fast-track disapproval vote in May 1991, ninety-one House Democrats supported Bush Senior (against 170 who opposed him); on the November 1993 vote on NAFTA, 102 Representatives and twenty-seven senators voted for the bill (versus 156 and twenty-eight, respectively, against). In both votes, although more Democrats were against free trade than for, Democratic votes made approval possible. The story gets worse: In November 1994, on the GATT approval bill, 167 House Democrats and forty-one senators were for it, only eighty-nine and fourteen, respectively, against. So Democrats, by a large majority, gave Clinton the free-trade bill he was looking for.

In July 1998, in a vote sponsored by Representative B. Sanders to prevent future bailouts of US banks and kindred investors, as had just happened in the Mexican peso collapse, only eighty-eight House Democrats supported Sanders; 110 voted to protect the banks. On a 1996 bill that disapproved extending MFN status to China, seventy-five Democrats voted for, 119 against. Then, when it was all far too late, after free trade had momentarily lost its luster in the wake of the Asian economic crisis, the Democrats voted 171 against extending MFN, twenty-nine for.

At this rate, when the last job has left America, we may well see Democrats bolting the stable door in the numbers that Representative Sherrod Brown confidently presages.

ALEXANDER COCKBURN


TERRI-BLE OR TERRI-FIC?

"Tasteless," "ugly," "callous," "vulgar," "abhorrent," "crass," "cruel," "gross," "nasty," "offensive," "disgusting," "mocking," "degrading," "counterproductive" were some of the adjectives aimed at Eric Fischl's April 18 cover art on the Terri Schiavo case, proving the rule that the angry write letters while the approving nod quietly in agreement. Readers were "appalled," "shocked," "revolted," "disappointed," "dismayed," "repelled," and demanded an apology from the editors (who were accused of poor judgment, disrespect, lack of compassion and exploitation) for what one reader called an "insensitive piece of evil crap" and others called a "cheap shot." One reader summed it up as "Sick, Sick, Sick." Not all readers agreed, however. --The Editors


St. Paul

I was deeply disappointed by your cover. By making a caricature of Terri Schiavo, you sink to the level of Tom DeLay, George and Jeb Bush, Jesse Jackson, Bill Frist and all the other opportunists who so cynically exploited this private family crisis.

BUTCH THOMPSON


Flushing, NY

Your cartoon of Terri Schiavo was extremely tasteless. Moreover, it plays into the hands of the right wing by alienating people who feel sympathy for Terri and her family.

ROBERT COWEN


Arlington, Mass.

While I found your editorial on Terri Schiavo to be thoughtful and informative, your cover was downright offensive, perpetuating the same indignity you purport to criticize. The cartooning of her face, the intimacy of the messages all beginning, "terri, smile if you..." were trivializing and exploitive. I am very disappointed and am considering canceling my subscription.

JUDITH N. STONE


Philadelphia

Terri, smile if you think The Nation sank to the level of those it criticizes when it so callously exploited you to advance its own political agenda on its April 18 cover.

CHRISTINE CARLSON


San Francisco

What a remarkable lack of judgment, charity, gravitas and class! It's bad enough DeLay and his ilk used Ms. Schiavo, who could not speak up for herself, as a poster child. Now The Nation has stooped to their level with Eric Fischl's "cover art." Just wait till they get their hands on this. How better to decry the callous liberals than to pass this around. I'm so disgusted this one is going straight to the recycling bin.

ANNE OSBORNE


New Freedom, Pa.

Your cover depicting the unfortunate Terri Schiavo is the cruelest, most tasteless political cartoon that I have ever seen. It is an affront to anyone with any sense of human dignity and common decency, regardless of where they stand on the issue. Your crass exploitation of her fate manages to trump the Congressional Republicans' crass, political exploitation of her. Quite a feat.

THOMAS R. RITZEL


Garden Grove, Calif.

I've read The Nation for several years and enjoyed your spirited advocacy of a political philosophy I largely share. But now you've gone too far. The cruel caricature of the late Terri Schiavo, serving only to exploit her memory in the service of that philosophy, is an unfeeling and tasteless slap at those who actually cared for her, on both sides of the argument. "Have you no sense of decency, sirs? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

CHARLES W. AUSTIN


Janesville, Wisc.

I was appalled at the cover of your magazine. Perhaps a caricature of Tom Delay see-sawing between his own family's life-ending decision and pandering to the Christian right in an attempt to garner support for this Administration's misguided and failed issues would have been more appropriate.

ALICE HESSENAUER


Brooklyn, NY

Eric Fischl's cover seems an attempt to satirize the various conflicting efforts to interpret Terri Schiavo's poignant facial expression according to individuals' and groups' own needs and wishes. However, in failing to distinguish between those who ruthlessly exploited her for their own advantage (Bush, DeLay et al.) and parents and family whose years of anguish fed their desperate attempts to keep Terri alive, Fischl himself becomes a subject for scrutiny. Those who cared about Terri deserve sympathy, not Fischl's disdain. The final box of the illustration, perhaps intended as a Swiftian comment on all of us, succeeds rather, as does the entirely tasteless cover, in diminishing Terri and being insensitive to her terrible circumstance.

ARTHUR GELLER


Queens, NY

The Terri Schiavo episode has had many ramifications. In my case, possibly the most liberal cartoonist in the country has been silenced. After seven-plus years, King Features and I have parted ways because they refused to run my editorial cartoon on the subject (see it at www.batemania.com/e032105.jpg). Although that meant it didn't appear in print anywhere, it showed up on all sorts of sites online: Slate, Daily Kos and many smaller blogs that don't generally run cartoons but linked to mine because it made an important point. Net effect: one less left-oriented voice on mainstream editorial pages.

SCOTT BATEMAN


Northampton, Mass.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the incredibly incisive "Smile, Terri" cover. As a subscriber, I am gratified that the editors chose to rise above all the various cheap, standard, ultrareactionary arguments of the Schiavo spectacle and direct us instead to the deeper, more complicated human mystery of this appalling episode. And as one who avidly followed news of the case throughout, with a whole range of conflicting emotions about it, I'm even more gratified that The Nation went with a rarity: the philosopher's view. Whichever side one chose in the non-Terri-centered political imbroglio, and however achingly personal the issues involved might be to some, there is one fact upon which all must agree: Terri Schiavo was, for everyone but the brilliant author of this cover, a pawn. In its exquisite irony, in its redefining as iconic art the otherwise revolting replay of Mrs. Schiavo's most recent televised image, Eric Fischl's cover was actually the most authentically respectful and loving interpretation of Terri Schiavo's fate. Only Fischl got the "us" in her and, so somberly, the "us" in all the "them"s who sought to define her for their own purposes. Bravo.

LESLIE ANN FULLER


Minneapolis

Eric Fischl's sobering meditation on the Schiavo case was about the only thing I saw in the media that shed any light on that utterly sad ordeal. It was the best American political art since Richard Serra detoured one of Goya's Black Paintings to show Bush Devouring Everything in the back-cover ad you ran last summer.

I suspect, though, that like Serra's piece, Fischl's cover will generate the same predictable storm of outrage: "As a longtime Nation reader blah blah unbelievably tasteless blah blah what were you blah thinking blah? Do you want the Republican right to win blah?" Which would be unfortunate, of course, because the time is way past for pompous pieties. We need the carefully measured, coldly uninflected truth of work such as Fischl's to épater every last over-mediatized bourgeoisie among us. The bloated Sacred Cow has become the new Trojan Horse, hiding a politics of cynicism, which cunningly exploits our stubborn insistence on the sentimental values of social nostalgia. Young talents like Eminem and the South Park creators have realized this.

That Fischl was able to achieve the same outraged response to our new religion of cultural hypocrisy, without vulgarity, I found inspiring. The drawing was brilliant, touchingly beatific; leave it to a great artist to insist on reappropriating religious iconography from the boors who claim to speak in its name. Fischl's double-gesture was profound: using that compellingly rendered image of Ms. Schiavo to preserve her last shred of dying humanity, while his words bemoan our culture's brain-dead morality.

America is on some serious life-support, all right; and if, as I fear, the major reaction to this last-gasp-of-common-sense cover is knee-jerk outrage, it might be time to pull the plug.

GEOFFREY SIRC


FISCHL REPLIES

New York City

Terri Schiavo's unfortunate, senseless facial expression became the mirror for everyone's political, social and religious agendas. No one was spared this disgusting spectacle. No interest group was innocent of projecting its own interpretations, its own urgency, its own meaning onto her unresponsive face.

For those who felt deeply that this was and should have been a private tragedy, I couldn't agree more. But it was not private. It was an unremitting and inescapable public event. I was horrified by how she was being used by the government, the antiabortionists, the Creationists, the media and politicians (right and left). My piece simply showed the mirroring. Judging from most of the responses The Nation has been receiving, people are continuing to see only what they want to see in it.

ERIC FISCHL

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