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Is That What the Writer Really Meant? | The Nation

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Is That What the Writer Really Meant?

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"TEAR GAS IN THE ANDES," by Christian Parenti

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Torch-Eyed Elephant Stampede!… droning on… black & white & gray all over… hanging up her pencils…

Las Vegas, Nev.

Is the author crazy, or just stupid? The use of nonlethal weapons is good news. In the past the police or military would have simply shot the protesters. They may be unhappy about the use of nonlethal weapons, but they will all live to discuss it.

JOHN ALEXANDER


"THE LINCOLN MUSEUM AND SPRINGFIELD'S SHAME," by Adrian Brune

Steger, Ill.

Your article is insightful. I would not have known about the race riot in Springfield. However, the implication of your article is that the museum has failed to address the significance of the riot appropriately. I am wondering why you did not provide some insight as to the appropriate remedies. This is damnation through faint praise. Your article leads me to believe that the museum feels that it has addressed the matter and intends to do no more. Is that what you intended? Is that a matter of fact?

SCOTT ENLOE


"AN OPEN LETTER TO HOWARD DEAN," by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich

Hampton, NH

I suggest Dennis Kucinich's energy would have been better spent examining his own past failure to vigorously defend the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

Throughout the 2004 primary he did well. He gained the respect of progressives everywhere by imploring us to "vote our hopes, not our fears." But then, when the centrist juggernaut of John Kerry seemed to become unstoppable, he relaxed his antiwar pressure so as not to divide the party. If ever there was a time to do the opposite, to insist for inclusion and to stand on principle, even at risk of breaking rank and splitting the party, it was during the summer of 2004, when it became abundantly clear that progressives were "in the tent" in name only.

Yet he advocated no such boldness. He evidenced much hand-wringing and tears, but rather than play hardball with Kerry, he acquiesced to assure his continued seat at the table. In the end, in Boston, he stood side by side with John Kerry and on top of a very prowar democratic platform. Not only was this a colossal strategic mistake--his failure to effectively bring his antiwar sentiment into the platform and to the Kerry camp--it was a colossal failure of his leadership. He risked nothing on our behalf, and we got nothing in return.

He has not acknowledged his role in this, yet he now accuses Howard Dean of the same sort of timid political calculus.

While I agree with his observations regarding Dean, his position would be greatly strengthened if he were to first retreat to his glass house and acknowledge his own vulnerability to the ever-present and ever-daunting political currents. Then and only then could he begin to restore a credible commitment to the muscular defense of progressive values. Should he emerge with a such an awakening, empowered once again by the unwavering vision of the primacy of progressive values over all other values, including those of party loyalty, I would follow him once again.

He asks this much of Howard Dean. I ask this of him.

CALEB EWING


"COLUMBIA UNBECOMING," by Jennifer Washburn

Campeche, Mexico

Jennifer Washburn writes that signatures collected by union organizers "indicate strong majorities of graduate students at both Columbia and Yale do support a union." This is news to the large number of Yale graduate students who do not support the unionization effort.

There are 2,329 PhD students at Yale: 400-450 voted to approve the recent strike (17-19 percent), and 654 students voted in favor of unionization in April 2003 (about 28 percent).

I am not sure where 28 percent is a "strong majority," but I suspect it is the same place where 51 percent is a mandate: a place where facts are irrelevant and spin is the preferred mode of engagement.

Indeed, the organizers at Yale have been spinning patently false claims for some years now, and this is just one of many reasons they have such low support among graduate students. Other reasons include their overzealous recruiting tactics, undemocratic decision-making, disastrous leadership and their tendency to unnecessarily demonize the university. In other words, the organizers have worked hard to alienate many of us who might support the cause were it not being so ineptly pursued.

I understand that on the left, pro-unionization is the default setting. That should not justify uncritical acceptance of all pro-union propaganda.

JAMES TERRY


New York, NY

As a fourth-year graduate student and teaching fellow at Columbia University, I read Jennifer Washburn's article with great interest.

I disagree with Columbia University's current policy on unionization, and was shocked to read [Columbia provost Alan] Brinkley's internal memo suggesting, in addition to other disciplinary measures, that scholarships and summer stipends be denied to students participating in unionization efforts. While refusing to separate graduate students' teaching duties from their individual research and education, Brinkley nevertheless suggests monthly payments paid in exchange for teaching services be withheld. If this monthly pay, separate from the other stipend payments, can be docked, it proves that TAs and RAs are in fact workers.

Thank you for Washburn's insightful and objective article. I encourage you to continue covering graduate student unionization at a time of academic corporatization, since it affects not only TAs and RAs in private universities but also the American academy as a whole.

ANNELLE MARIE CURULLA


"JUSTICE SUNDAY PREACHERS," by Max Blumenthal

Irvington, NY

Max Blumental does a great job of unpacking the deep core of hypocrisy that reverberates through the Family Research Council. His story was missing was just one juicy fact. The FRC used to be in favor of the filibuster--as long as it was being used to block the appointment of a gay person, James Hormel, as ambassador to Luxembourg.

One of the group's senior spokespeople, Steven Schwartz, even went on NPR at that time to laud the tactic as an essential preserver of democracy. He said in part, "The Senate is not a majoritarian institution, like the House of Representatives is. It is a deliberative body, and it's got a number of checks and balances built into our government. The filibuster is one of those checks in which a majority cannot just sheerly force its will, even if they have a majority of votes in some cases."

I hope Blumenthal has the opportunity to do a follow-up piece in which he can ask the folks at the FRC when that changed.

JEANNE-MARIE BARON

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