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DEMOCRATS SHOW SOME SPINE

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New York City

John Nichols is far too generous when he observes that "Congressional Democrats may finally be waking from their long slumber and stirring into a functional opposition party" [ "Senate Democrats Show Some Spine," Nov. 1]. They waited until the Republicans had finally dug a ditch too deep for themselves before suddenly becoming politicians concerned about our nation. I don't call that "waking" but continuation of the old opportunism and caution. Were it not for the Libby indictment, together with mounting casualties in Iraq, revelations about Judith Miller and large increases in the price of oil, we may safely assume that the Democrats would continue their supine ways, avoiding at all costs a serious debate on the Middle East and Iraq, and the influence that sundry neocons and thieves had on our course of action. From the perspective of future historians, Bush and the Republicans will surely be rated as having brought upon the Republic one of its greatest misadventures. The Democrats will be seen as wholly irresponsible, and the press as never having been more obedient to an administration.

MIRIAM REIK


Location Withheld

John Nichols is exactly right about the Democrats' lack of backbone up to today. Finally, they're doing something. Let's hope they keep it up. I'm tired of the right wing having complete control, with the Democrats quivering in the background in fear of their jobs. By their inaction, they're in de facto collusion with the Administration.

ROGER HALL


Riverview, Fla.

Give me a break! The Democrats are hardly an opposition party. That they differ with the Republicans is only on strategy--not policy in general. In fact, the Republicans can count on their good friends the Democrats to provide whatever cover they can for them on this potentially devastating issue.

It should be noted that the Democrats are hardly in a position to challenge Bush, Cheney and the boys regarding the lies that led to the Iraq War, since they too are complicit in the pursuit of this illegal war.

Exactly how do the "opposition" Democrats differ from the Republicans? They support the Iraq War; they support the Patriot Act; they support tax cuts for the wealthy; they support the right-wing Bush Supreme Court appointments. They are allowed by their class affiliations to differ from the Republicans only on issues that don't challenge the obscene pursuit of wealth by the superrich; issues like abortion, gun control or gay rights. They never rally against key right-wing economic initiatives that affect the class interests that both they and the Republicans represent. The Iraq War, of course, is such an issue. The real political left in this country, the working class, go completely unrepresented.

I suspect that the closed-door session was little more than a stunt, the goal of which was an attempt to rally support for the party from the liberal members of our society who are increasingly dissatisfied with the always-ready-to-yield Democratic Party. Those who foolishly place their faith in the Democrats will once again be bitterly disappointed.

BRIAN MATTOX


ABRAMOFF'S LAST STAND

St. John, Virgin Islands

I appreciate greatly Ari Berman's story on Abramoff [Nov. 2]. The inner workings of lobbying in the Department of the Interior resonate with many of us in the Virgin Islands as we think back to how, through Lawrence Rockefeller and Jackson Hole, the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service came to own approximately two-thirds of the island of St. John.

Bits and pieces of information are now coming to our attention that reveal cronyism in high places and public policy tainted by self-interest. The trouble with policy carried out in this fashion is that a half-century later small property owners on our island either find themselves hopelessly landlocked with holdings, paying increasingly high taxes or hopelessly squabbling with family members over what became of their "piece of the rock."

GILBERT A. SPRAUVE


CRIMINAL OR CAPITALIST?

Orange Park, Fla.

Regarding Nicholas von Hoffman's "Gas Price-Gouging or Business as Usual?" [Nov. 7]: Excess profits taxes have been used in the past. During the Carter Administration there was an excess profits tax on old oil as opposed to new. The oil companies falsely classified old oil as new.

When caught doing this, they were usually able to settle with the government for 50 cents on the dollar of taxes owed.

Wouldn't you like to have a job where you could steal as much as you want, and if not caught, keep it, but if caught only give half of it back? I'd work for free.

BOB REYNOLDS


OUT OF THE CLOSET

Oakland, Calif.

Dave Zirin's story on Sheryl Swoopes [Nov. 4] was great, but to compare her to Jackie Robinson is completely ridiculous. Swoopes didn't break into the league defying truly hateful and threatening protests against lesbians, and it's pretty obvious that her coming out has not threatened her career (or life) either. She is to be applauded for her accomplishments and courage. However, Jackie Robinson grew up in another time and faced some of the most rabid, insane and (sadly) widely accepted bigotry that any person could possibly imagine or withstand. Both will go down as elites in their profession, but I would never equate the lack of publicity that Swoopes has received in coming out with the truly scary obstacles and threats that Robinson overcame in breaking the color barrier in baseball.

NAME WITHHELD


Platteville, Wis.

Gay jocks may have reason to be jealous, but the reason many of us went "ho-hum" about the Swoopes story is simply that it's no big deal. Period. She's a great basketball player. She says she's a lesbian. She used to be straight. Maybe in ten years she'll have done an Anne Heche and made another choice. Who knows? And more to the point, who cares?

Life goes on.

CONNIE STEPHENS


Toronto

It is about time that someone got the whole point about this, and The Nation did! As a black lesbian woman living daily with homophobia from my family and racism in the wider (whiter, righter) community, I did not think that any hetero-normative white male could ever understand the huge moment that Swoopes's revelation is. This is my liberation...many people do not understand female athletes or take them seriously.

Bona fide female athletes who respect themselves and their sports by playing hard and playing to win are derided, and a real lesbian athlete who is at the top of her game leaves many confused and numb in her wake because she doesn't want sexual attention and she takes herself seriously.

Well done, Sheryl. You have saved the life of a black gay young person, and we are all proud of you!

VIRMA BENJAMIN

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