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  • Politics May 23, 2002



    Cambridge, Mass.

    William Schulz, in his respectful but selectively critical review of "less than two of [Shouting Fire]'s 550 pages," misses the point of my proposal regarding torture warrants ["The Torturer's Apprentice," May 13]. I am against torture, and I am seeking ways of preventing or minimizing its use. My argument begins with the empirical claim--not the moral argument--that if an actual ticking bomb case were ever to arise in this country, torture would in fact be used. FBI and CIA sources have virtually acknowledged this. Does Schulz agree or disagree with this factual assertion? If it is true that torture would in fact be used, then the following moral question arises: whether it is worse in the choice of evils for this torture to take place off the books, under the radar screen and without democratic accountability--or whether it is worse for this torture to be subjected to democratic accountability by means of some kind of judicial approval and supervision. This is a difficult and daunting question, with arguments on all sides. In my forthcoming book Why Terrorism Works, I devote an entire chapter to presenting the complexity of this issue, rather than simply proposing it as a heuristic, as I did in the two pages of Shouting Fire on which Schulz focuses. Schulz simply avoids this horrible choice of evils by arguing that it does not exist and by opting for a high road that will simply not be taken in the event that federal agents believe they can actually stop a terrorist nuclear or bioterrorist attack by administering nonlethal torture.

    Schulz asks whether I would also favor "brutality warrants," "testilying" warrants and prisoner rape warrants. The answer is a heuristic "yes," if requiring a warrant would subject these horribly brutal activities to judicial control and political accountability. The purpose of requiring judicial supervision, as the Framers of our Fourth Amendment understood better than Schulz does, is to assure accountability and judicial neutrality. There is another purpose as well: It forces a democratic country to confront the choice of evils in an open way. My question back to Schulz is, Do you prefer the current situation, in which brutality, testilying and prison rape are rampant, but we close our eyes to these evils?

    There is, of course, a downside: legitimating a horrible practice that we all want to see ended or minimized. Thus we have a triangular conflict unique to democratic societies: If these horrible practices continue to operate below the radar screen of accountability, there is no legitimation, but there is continuing and ever-expanding sub rosa employment of the practice. If we try to control the practice by demanding some kind of accountability, we add a degree of legitimation to it while perhaps reducing its frequency and severity. If we do nothing, and a preventable act of nuclear terrorism occurs, then the public will demand that we constrain liberty even more. There is no easy answer.

    I praise Amnesty International for taking the high road--that is its job, because it is not responsible for making hard judgments about choices of evil. Responsible government officials are in a somewhat different position. Professors have yet a different responsibility: to provoke debate about issues before they occur and to challenge absolutes. That is what Shouting Fire is all about.



    New York City

    Neither I nor Amnesty International can be accused of having closed our eyes to the reality of torture, police brutality or prison rape. Of course, some authorities may utilize torture under some circumstances, just as others choose to take bribes. The question is, What is the best way to eradicate these practices? By regulating them or outlawing them and enforcing the law? That an evil seems pervasive or even (at the moment) inevitable is no reason to grant it official approval. We tried that when it came to slavery, and the result was the Civil War. Had we applied Professor Dershowitz's approach to child labor, American 10-year-olds would still be sweating in shops.



    Princeton, N.J.

    Christopher Hitchens argues that "suicide murders would increase and not decrease" if a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians moved closer to reality ["Minority Report," May 13]. This claim seems to bolster Sharon's cataclysmic "war on terror" in the occupied territories: If terrorists seek to destroy peace and only feed on Israel's generosity and sincerity, surely Sharon is correct to eliminate "terror" as a precondition for negotiations?

    In fact, the Oslo process has moved the Palestinians further from the goal of a viable state, and the Israeli left's best offers to date (at Camp David and Taba) envisage the annexation of the vast majority of settlers to Israel in perpetuity along with blocs of land, which would fatally compromise a nascent Palestine. As for Hitchens's observation that the first suicide bombings coincided with the Rabin/Peres government: How does this undermine the explanation that Israel's prolonged oppression has created and fueled the bombers? Rabin and Peres imposed a curfew on Palestinians rather than Israeli settlers after the murder of twenty-nine Arabs by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron early in 1994 (the first suicide bombing was in response to this); they sent death squads into the West Bank and Gaza to kill militants and those who happened to be in their vicinity (the wave of suicide bombings in the spring of 1996 followed one such assassination); and they greatly expanded the settlements, contributing their share to the broader trend of illegal settlement expansion that's doubled the number of Israelis living across the Green Line since 1992.

    Hitchens's promotion of a "culture war" between religious extremists and secular opponents of "thuggery and tribalism" obfuscates the reality of Israel's prolonged and enduring oppression of Palestinians. His argument that a more generous Israeli policy would lead to more Palestinian violence, meanwhile, serves to legitimize Sharon's current tactics. How did such a clearsighted commentator become so myopic? Perhaps if Hitchens stopped looking at every situation through the lens of the "war on terror," he'd regain his former clarity of vision.



    Washington, DC

    I share Eric Alterman's admiration for the work of biographer Robert Caro ["Stop the Presses," May 6]. But why does Alterman feel compelled to refer to Lyndon Johnson as a "thoroughgoing racist"? Johnson was a white man born in 1908 in the most racist region of the most racist country on earth. He was born in a time and place where racism was accepted as part of the atmosphere, where lynching was commonplace, where black people led lives of unimaginable degradation (see Leon Litwack's Trouble in Mind, a portrait of the early twentieth-century Jim Crow South, which has to be read to be believed).

    Of course, given his background, political ambitions and ineligibility for sainthood, Johnson used racist language and shared racist assumptions. Who from that time and place, wanting what he wanted, did not? But what distinguishes Johnson, at all stages in his public career, was his relative lack of public racism. Johnson was a New Deal Congressman from 1937 to '48 who never strayed from loyalty to the national Democratic Party even though conservative Texas Democrats were in revolt against it from 1944 onward. Of course, running for the Senate against a Dixiecrat in 1948 as Southern resistance to civil rights was beginning to build, he opposed the Truman civil rights program. That was the minimum required to be elected to Texas statewide office. Given the pathological ferocity of Johnson's ambition, sticking with Truman for re-election, as Johnson did, took guts that year. As a senator, Johnson was never identified as a leader of the Southern bloc or as an enemy of civil rights. Again, especially in public, he said and did the political minimum to pay homage to the racist consensus. Caro evidently describes his involvement in the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the forerunner of all the other civil rights laws to come. Texas black and Hispanic voters never doubted that, given the alternatives, LBJ was their man.

    Johnson later became the greatest civil rights President in history, pushing through the epochal changes in the laws, appointing Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court and going so far as to vet prospective federal judges with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Blacks who worked with him, like Roger Wilkins, remember him fondly while acknowledging his ancestral racism, which he tried, not always successfully, to transcend. But if Johnson is a "thoroughgoing racist," where does that leave Richard Russell, James Eastland or Strom Thurmond--or Richard Nixon, for that matter? What about Barry Goldwater, who was probably less "racist" than Johnson but was an opponent of all civil rights legislation and was the leader of the forces of unrepentant segregation (i.e., racist murder and oppression) in 1964?

    As with Abraham Lincoln, also now under renewed attack on similarly ahistorical grounds, to describe Johnson as an extreme racist flattens the historical landscape and renders the fierce conflicts of a past age meaningless. There is nothing wrong with honestly describing anybody's racial views, including those of Lincoln or Johnson. But in studying history, context is everything. And in studying Lincoln or Johnson, what matters most is not the ways they shared their contemporaries' racial attitudes but the ways they did not, as reflected in their words and actions.



    New York City

    There's a bit of hyperbole in Peter Connolly's thoughtful letter, and I disagree with his point about it taking guts to stick with the Democratic President, but by and large I think his criticism is on the mark, and I appreciate it. He is right. Context is everything. Johnson may have been a racist, but unlike most politicians in his time and place he was not a "race man." That's an important distinction, and I wish I had considered it.


    Eric Alterman, William F. Schulz and Our Readers

  • Politics May 16, 2002



    Longwood, Fla.

    I just finished Studs Terkel's valentine to Dennis Kucinich ["Kucinich Is the One," May 6]. In the '60s I was on the copy desk of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, back when you edited with a thick black pencil and would cut and paste copy, literally, using big shears to cut and goo in a white coffee mug to paste. Dennis was a copy boy back then. He was a smartass--my emphasis is on "smart." Anyone with an ounce of brains could see that he was destined to be much more than a factory worker or, worse, a Midwestern newspaperman. Studs, I'm with you. I'd love to see Dennis debate Dubya. Go, Dennis, go.



    In his admirable eloquence espousing Dennis Kucinich for national office, Studs Terkel says that three Ohioans became President after Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81): William McKinley (elected in 1896), William Howard Taft (1908) and Warren G. Harding (1920). There's one more: James Garfield, elected in 1880 but assassinated only months after taking office.

    I have long admired Kucinich. If there's a bandwagon for his national ambitions, I'd like to know where to sign up. Here in Minnesota, where Paul Wellstone has his hands full this year against a slippery Republican, I'm looking for a national progressive leader, and Kucinich just might be that person.


    Sunset Beach, Calif.

    Kucinich for President? Sounds better than condemning Congress to pruning the Shrub for four more years. But why not go all out? Put Jim Hightower on the ticket with him. Then Dubya just might not be able to take Texas for granted. And if you think a Kucinich-Bush debate would be a first round knockout, how would you classify Hightower-Cheney?



    Washington, DC

    I agree with many points made by former Senator Paul Simon ["Social Security Fixes," April 29]. While Social Security is projected to face modest financial challenges in several decades, it is emphatically not in crisis. And I agree that privatization will make Social Security's shortfall much worse.

    However, I strongly dissent from Senator Simon's support for reducing cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). I also want to build on the point Simon raised about the cap on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax.

    I have introduced legislation, HR 3315, the Social Security Stabilization and Enhancement Act, that has been certified by the Social Security actuaries as restoring seventy-five-year solvency to the program (for more information, see HR 3315 includes a provision to eliminate the cap on wages (currently $84,900) subject to the Social Security payroll tax, as Simon suggests. All wages are already subject to the Medicare payroll tax. It only makes sense to do the same for Social Security. However, my legislation does retain the cap for determining benefit calculations, which makes it much more progressive and still entitles all contributors to a benefit. These changes equal 2.13 percent of payroll, more than enough to solve the projected Social Security financing deficit of 1.87 percent of payroll.

    My legislation also exempts the first $4,000 in wages from the Social Security payroll tax, but not from calculation of benefits, so there's no benefit cut. The bottom line is that 95 percent of Americans would get a payroll tax cut.

    HR 3315 also includes a provision allowing aggregate investment of a portion of the Social Security Trust Fund in equities other than government debt, to increase the rate of return received by the Trust Fund without the individual risk and administrative complexity of privatization. Unfortunately, while the response from Oregonians about HR 3315 has been overwhelmingly positive, it has been tough to interest progressives inside the Beltway.

    I encourage Senator Simon to reconsider his support for lowering the CPI and thus reducing the COLAs of Social Security beneficiaries. The current CPI does a poor job of measuring inflation faced by seniors. Because seniors spend much of their money on healthcare, they are especially vulnerable to the annual increases in the medical costs, which run far above the rate of inflation. Rather than lowering COLAs for seniors because some economists argue the CPI overstates inflation for the general population, it makes more sense for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate a separate CPI for seniors. In fact, the BLS has calculated an experimental index based on seniors' consumption habits since 1984. It shows that seniors face an average inflation rate 0.4 percent higher than the general population. That argues for increasing seniors' COLAs, not lowering them.

    Member of Congress, 4th District, Oregon


    Carbondale, Ill.

    Peter DeFazio is an excellent Congressman, and his proposal is an improvement over where we are now. The actuaries disagree with his conclusion that we face "modest financial challenges in several decades." DeFazio may be correct, but when it comes to the basic income of so many millions of Americans I would err on the side of caution. His proposal to eliminate the cap but retain the ceiling on benefits is good. Exempting the first $4,000 of income makes our tax system more progressive, which I like, but reduces the long-term benefits of buttressing the system, which I do not like. The CPI should be accurate, and recent increases in healthcare costs for seniors may offset the failures to consider substitution, generic drugs and other factors that also must be calculated. But accuracy should be the goal, and that may involve a slight slowing of growth of benefits.

    Director, Public Policy Institute


    Conway, Mass.

    Is John Nichols ["Campaign Finance: The Sequel," April 29] unaware that, in addition to Maine, Arizona and Massachusetts, Vermont has an effective Clean Elections law? The 2000 gubernatorial campaign of Progressive Party candidate Anthony Pollina under that law came within one percentage point of forcing the election to be decided by the Vermont legislature. Nichols's reference to clean money election roadblocks erected by Massachusetts House speaker Tom Finneran begs amplification. Finneran's demagoguery, like that of Tom DeLay in Washington, defines the clean money struggle. The problem is not the buying of favors but politicians extracting money to maintain their abusive and undemocratic power.

    Nichols correctly concludes that McCain-Feingold falls far short of reform, as will any such window-dressing initiative in Congress. Change, as Pollina said during his campaign, will have to come from the states, and it's time other states join these four, which have set this country on a historic course of true reform.


    Oakland, Calif.; Boston

    John Nichols is correct to highlight a new "sense of possibility" since the passage of McCain-Feingold. Campaign finance reform finally does have the public's attention, and full public funding is on the horizon. Equally important, the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, the Greenlining Institute and others have done the critical work of redefining campaign reform as a civil rights issue. Still, the movement has been missing an important element, present in most other successful US movements for justice: the creative grassroots action of college students. Democracy Matters is a new campus-based organization that is mobilizing popular pressure from college students to get private money out of politics (



    Altadena, Calif.

    Susan Douglas's "Is There a Future for Pacifica?" [April 15] posits two polarized factions at war over the Pacifica Foundation radio network, then reasonably urges us to bring a unified Pacifica to bear upon common foes. In fact, people from all sides of the recent disputes are now working together to advance its mission for antiwar, cross-cultural, community-based free-speech programming. Why the unity? Magnanimity and openness. This is the first transition of power in Pacifica's fifty-three years that has not resulted in a purge. Some have left, but nobody's been fired, and the few who left got agreeable severance packages. Those remaining enjoy the rejuvenated community involvement.

    But there are lessons. Many who haughtily "avoided the fray" carefully protected their own personal privilege and airtime, even while the foundation's coffers were being openly looted. Conversely, others sacrificed jobs, money and personal privilege to gain broader community control over Pacifica. Equating these two cheapens the sacrifices of some and unfairly assuages the guilt of others. But that's history to learn from, not to relive.

    The issue now is not who did more but who is doing anything now and what still needs to be done. So instead of staying above the fray, those interested in Pacifica should jump in with both feet and help realize its potential. Unlike our predecessors, we welcome all who support Pacifica's mission, even those who once barred us from entering the stations.

    Interim Pacifica Advisory Board;
    KPFK local advisory board

    Tarentum, Pa.

    Your magazine is thin enough. Please don't waste any more space on Pacifica.




    In her review of my book Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut ["The Fishnet Fallacy," April 15], Elaine Blair accuses me of neglecting to talk about "what the rest of the school is thinking" when spreading rumors about these girls. In her reading (skimming?) Blair seems to have missed entire sections dedicated to the stories of kids who spread rumors. In fact, the whole book is built around my own memory of spreading rumors. While Blair wants to know what the kids were "thinking," the point of Fast Girls is that they weren't thinking--which is why I use words like "irrational" and "unconscious" throughout the book. Blair ends her slam by launching into her own memory of a girl who fit the "slut story." While this memory was clearly triggered by my book, and while Blair even borrows my language to fill it out ("the site of the slut's continuous re-creation, the high school hallways"), she still insists I haven't done my job.

    It's interesting to consider Blair's review alongside other slams of feminist writing in The Nation (Katha Pollitt on Carol Gilligan, Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels on Naomi Wolf). Maybe it's a vast left-wing conspiracy: It seems whenever a feminist writes a book, The Nation runs a review that says she shouldn't have.


    Our Readers

  • Politics May 2, 2002



    New York City

    As a longtime admirer of André Schiffrin's publishing programs, I was disappointed by a conspicuous omission in his coverage of developments in the book industry ["The Eurocrush on Books," Dec. 31, 2001]. The single most significant technological development to affect publishing since, arguably, the paperback revolution is the maturing of print-on-demand technology. Print-on-demand publishing, when applied to deep backlist (i.e., older) books, means that publishers need not put a book out of print or overprint it by the hundreds or thousands. Presses can now simply meet demand as it arises, whether a single copy or a hundred. Print-on-demand technology renders the economies of scale that have so fettered publishers--particularly such publishers of serious nonfiction as university presses and Schiffrin's New Press--largely obsolete, to the advantage of all.

    At Oxford University Press, we have breathed new life into literally thousands of dormant books, much to the delight of our authors and of readers and booksellers everywhere. We, and many other presses, both commercial and academic, are simply applying new technologies to do what we do best: publish good books and, now, with print-on-demand, keep them available ad infinitum.

    Oxford University Press


    Pasadena, Calif.

    Gee, it's heartening to see reviews of poetry by women, especially those working in an experimental vein [Eileen Myles, "Not Betsy Rosses," March 11]. I hope The Nation plans more coverage of the subversive issues that these poets explore: power, ideology and subjectivity at the levels of syntax of everyday language, (non)aestheticized ideas of composition and the disruption of, to paraphrase the poet Martha Ronk, the easy-to-digest, like breast milk or nostalgia--in effect, the Romantic project that has dominated US literary consciousness.

    It may be useful to readers of Dodie Bellamy's Cunt-Ups to go beyond Myles's characterization of it as a book that "uses overtly sexual texts, her own and ones written by others" to turn to the author's statement in Issue 7 of Chain, the premiere literary journal of experimental poetry, where Bellamy wrote, "I used a variety of texts written by myself and others, including the police report of Jeffrey Dahmer's confession (which I bought on eBay).... I cut each page of this material into four squares. For each Cunt-Up I chose two or three squares from my own source text, and one or two from the other sources. I taped the new Frankenstein page together, typed it into my computer and then re-worked the material. Oddly, even though I've spent up to four hours on each Cunt-Up, afterwards I cannot recognize them--just like in sex, intense focus and then sensual amnesia. They enter the free zone of writing; they have cut their own ties to the writer. She no longer remembers them as her text." Then Bellamy asks provocatively: "Is the cut-up a male form? I've always considered it so--needing the violence of a pair of scissors in order to reach nonlinearity," and she devilishly continues by claiming that her finished poems remind her of Adrienne Rich's "Twenty-One Love Poems," which begin:

    Whenever in this city, screens flicker
    with pornography, with science-fiction vampires

    and concludes by dedicating her Cunt-Ups to Rich and "to Kathy Acker, who I was reading when I started the project and who inspired me to behave this badly."



    Mendocino, Calif.

    Taline Voskeritchian's fine review "Lines Beyond the Nakba" [Feb. 11] points out that there are almost no translations of Mahmoud Darwish's poetry in English but doesn't mention that Darwish's prose is also his poetry. I would like to recommend Memory for Forgetfulness/August, Beirut, 1982 to readers who wish to learn more about the blending of Darwish's prose, poetry and poetic sensibilities. In the introduction to his translation, Ibrahim Muhawi, following talks with the poet, points out that Darwish does not distinguish aesthetically between prose and poetry. This will become readily apparent while reading one of the world's great meditations on life in the face of death.



    Ossining, N.Y.

    Hats off to The Nation and Meredith Tax for giving Ursula Le Guin her due ["In the Year of Harry Potter, Enter the Dragon," Jan. 28]. When Harry Potter failed to grab me, I wondered if I had a wizard allergy. To test the idea I turned to A Wizard of Earthsea. It delighted me, and it taught me that, as Tax notes, "style is key in fantasy." Tax's discussion of the literalness of most modern fantasy is right on target. Certainly "fantasy" films (e.g., Star Wars) have contributed to this hard-edged realism, with their need to fill every frame with concrete detail. Although I wish Le Guin riches in royalties, I like to think of her work as defying translation to film. Thanks for telling us about Tales From Earthsea. I plan to request it for my seventy-fifth birthday.



    Albany, N.Y.

    John Leonard's "The Jewish Cossack" [Nov. 26, 2001] is a truly wise and erudite review of Isaac Babel's life and work against the background of the epic nightmare of Russian literature in the twentieth century. However, when he mentions that Bruno Schultz was murdered about the same time as Isaac Babel, some may not be aware that Bruno Schultz, a Jew like Babel, who brought radical and fresh depth to the Polish language, was shot by the Nazis in a ghetto in eastern Poland. His death has to be properly assigned to the other murderous ideology of Europe.


    Brookline, Mass.

    As the author of Tangled Loyalties, a biography of Ilya Ehrenburg, I would like to clarify several aspects of the friendship John Leonard alludes to between Isaac Babel and Ehrenburg. After citing Ehrenburg's loving remarks about Babel in his memoirs, Leonard implies that Ehrenburg "wouldn't say so in public until it was safe," as if Ehrenburg would acknowledge his closeness to Babel only once Stalin was dead. But it was Ehrenburg, during the First Soviet Writers' Congress, in 1934, who defended Babel for publishing so little. In 1939, following Babel's arrest, only Ehrenburg's secretary came to Babel's Moscow wife, Antonina Pirozhkova, and gave her money.

    Ehrenburg was in Paris when Babel was arrested, but he was not in Paris for convenience, as Leonard implies. As Stalin was negotiating with Hitler, Ehrenburg's articles stopped appearing in the Soviet press; he was too much the Jew and the outspoken opponent of Fascism. Following the signing of the Nonaggression Pact, Ehrenburg lost the ability to swallow solid food for eight months and prolonged his stay in Paris to protest Stalin's new alliance. Leonard seems to think Ehrenburg was never that vulnerable. But in the spring of 1940, his dacha in Peredelkino was taken, and he was publicly condemned as a defector, leaving his daughter Irina the subject of abusive late-night phone calls that could have come only from one source.

    Leonard also refers to Ehrenburg's troubling encounters with Evgenia Gronfein, Babel's first wife, who lived in Paris for many years. It was cruel for Ehrenburg, in 1956, to tell her so abruptly about Babel's other widow and daughter in Moscow and to ask her to sign a statement that she and Babel were divorced, which wasn't true. I am convinced that he wanted to preserve Pirozhkova's status as Babel's legitimate widow (and heir) in Moscow. He always brought her copies of Western editions of Babel's works (I saw scores in her Moscow apartment in 1984), just as he brought foreign editions of Doctor Zhivago to Pasternak's family. Pirozhkova remained devoted to Ehrenburg, in part because of his solicitude for her and her family. When he died in 1967, she sat with his widow at the funeral and often stayed with her at the dacha. Ehrenburg could not save Babel, but, next to Babel's wives and children, he did more to preserve his memory and make his work available to generations who were supposed to have forgotten him.




    Thank you, thank you, thank you, to Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels, for their review of Naomi Wolf's latest excretion, Misconceptions (oh, the delicious irony of the title that is apt in unintended ways) ["The Belly Politic," Nov. 26, 2001]. I urge women and friends of women everywhere to send this review to anyone interested or implicated in the debate about essentialist views of pregnancy and motherhood. Wolf's book is as pernicious as it is narcissistic, for two reasons: She is (was?) considered a feminist, and it is hard to argue with the authority of experience. If a writer speaks with the authority of the first person, especially the persuasive and pseudo-confessional narrative of self-discovery, it is usually cited as hard proof. The last thing women need is for a high-profile so-called feminist to start spouting essentialism. Her book can, and no doubt will, be used against women who try to put forward a different narrative of pregnancy. Here's a book by one of you feminists, we will be told. Read this and it will make you see what you should be feeling. If a feminist admits she has cuddle hormones and needs a man, then that must be what is best for all women, right? Wolf may not have intended for her narrative to be used against women who argue for a different experience of pregnancy, but that's exactly what will happen, and she must take responsibility for how her book will be used in the ongoing motherhood debates.



    Santa Monica, Calif.

    My 88-year-old writing partner, Irv Brecher, had a rough week, losing two friends. And then he went to the Milton Berle funeral without me, the bastard. Jan Murray spoke ("way too fucking long," said Irv, "not offended" that he wasn't asked), and Red Buttons said some things. Rickles too. Larry Gelbart read a wonderful tribute.

    "It was a show," Irv said. "It went two and a half hours, and then we all went over to the Rainbow Room for a feast at 4 o'clock."

    Irv said both Gelbart and Sid Caesar came over and asked him why he didn't speak, since Milton Berle gave Irv his first job writing gags for him at the Loews State Theater in Manhattan, in March of 1933. Here's what Irv told me about his friend Milton: "He was, after all, 93. He had a great life. He was an original, outstanding at his craft, and he taught them all. I might not be here if it weren't for him. Your life turns on not only what you do, but what everyone else does."

    About being at the Hillside cemetery Irv said, "The way it is these days, when I go there I leave the motor running."

    "Are you going to Billy Wilder's funeral?" I asked him. (Irv and Billy took morning walks together around Holmby Park in Westwood for years. I wondered if they talked about writing and great filmmaking, etc. He told me no, "Wilder did birdcalls mostly, and the birds sneered at him.")

    "No," Irv replied. "I'm not going to his funeral. And I'm trying to arrange not going to mine either." I was wondering what Red Buttons had said when Irv told me this about life and death: "When you're 88, time is of the essence. At my age, hurry."


    Our Readers

  • Politics April 25, 2002



    Rocky River, Ohio

    I was unable to digest William Greider's "Enron Democrats" [April 8]. It's important to know about Dems who had Enron ties, but to consider them unacceptable as presidential candidates is nonsense. Any potential candidate will have liabilities, but comparison on issues is what's necessary. Progressive Democrats always manage to damage potential candidates who aren't "perfect," which makes a unified response to the right impossible. Let me introduce you to the real world. It's OK to feel guilty that these Democrats did not do the right thing, but shooting ourselves in the foot is not the way to relieve our guilt. It just might be the way to support the right wing.


    Issaquah, Wash.

    William Greider is right on: We do have a problem of viable candidates in the Democratic Party. Here's a list of those I believe could get the job done, based on speaking ability and intact ethics: John Kerry, Russ Feingold, Mark Udall, Dennis Kucinich and Chaka Fattah. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt may be qualified but won't get the votes, and our erstwhile ex-VP has taken far too much money from Enron to even be considered.



    "Enron Democrats" explains why I left the Democratic Party in the early 1990s. As near as I can tell, the main difference between Democrats and Republicans in economic matters is that the Democrats feel sheepish about doing the bidding of big business while the Republicans consider it a virtue.


    New York City

    I enjoyed William Greider's article, including his mention of Terry McAuliffe's overlapping role at Global Crossing. The political intricacies of Global Crossing are astonishing, given its five-year history relative to Enron's seventeen-year one.

    Global Crossing isn't simply the fourth-largest US telecommunications-industry bankruptcy; it leads the list of telecommunications bankruptcies of more than $60 billion filed just in the past year. This list includes ancient darlings like Exodus, Winstar, PSInet and 360 networks. It may grow to include Qwest and Worldcom as the SEC and Congressional investigations gain steam. It may also include XO and Metromedia, tottering under heavy debt. A major Democratic Party cause of this meltdown was Bill Clinton, who signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Republican Tom Bliley, chairman of the House energy and commerce committee at the time (and buddy of Leo Hindery, ex-CEO of Global Crossing) helped. Both lobbied the WTO to pass their 1998 telecommunications liberalization rules, which allowed the globalization of deregulated networks.

    Global Crossing's Republican ties also include co-chairman Lodwrick Cook's $862,000 election gift for George Bush Senior's 1988 presidential campaign while he was CEO of ARCO, the seventh-largest oil company. Republican ex­Defense Secretary William Cohen sat on Global Crossing's board as he helped pass key defense initiatives enabling growth of its fiber optic networks. Global Crossing Development gave more than 62 percent of its $1.33 million political donations to the GOP. Gary Winnick and Cook are trustee and board member, respectively, of the George W. Bush Library foundation. Campaign finance reform may help untangle future corporate-government ties but will unfortunately not undo the myriad of past bipartisan damage.



    Worcester, Mass.

    Katha Pollitt was dead right in identifying and roundly criticizing the hypocrisy and immorality of contemporary religion, from Boston's Cardinal Law to violent fundamentalists of all stripes ["God Changes Everything," April 1]. The question, however, is what all this tells us about the nature of religion in general; and my hunch is that it tells us very little. A
    lot of people use their religion to justify all sorts of horrible things; but a lot of people use their religion to justify all sorts of progressive, positive things.

    "God changes everything" for Rabbis for Human Rights and for the West Bank settlers, for engaged Buddhists working for peace and ecology and for Buddhists who fight with Hindus in Sri Lanka, for courageous Christian peacemakers like the Mennonites and Sant'Egidio and for Osama bin Laden. The problem is not with religion; and the problem with religious violence and suppression is violence and suppression, not religion. I imagine Pollitt would be irritated if we talked about how "the secular changes everything" and by implication lumped Stalin with Eugene Debs, Margaret Thatcher with Robin Morgan, and Henry Kissinger with Ralph Nader. The secular IMF, World Bank and WTO can match the destructiveness of any crazed Islamic, Jewish or Christian fanatic. In our tortured time, religion has not cornered the market on sin, nor secular politics, on virtue.


    Kingston, R.I.

    God and his/her/its adherents can be blamed for much human misery, but they've had lots of help from nonbelievers. There is Nicolae Ceausescu, Idi Amin, Jonas Savimbi, Slobodan Milosevic, Roberto D'Aubuisson, Gen. Rios Montt (a born-again Christian but not killing in God's name), not to mention Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, the rulers of Red China. And those are just a few of the twentieth-century butchers. None of these blood-stained "leaders" benefited their compatriots, nor was any god the inspiration for their murderous acts. Clearly, human beings don't need a deus ex machina to take the blame for their violence.


    Northampton, Mass.

    Too bad Andrea Yates wasn't a priest. Had she been, the Catholic Church would have moved her quietly to another town where she could have begun another family; she would have been assured a living wage and become a pillar of spiritual and moral leadership until the next time her psychosis overtook her. She would have had the backing of a powerful and moneyed patriarchal institution pressuring the community to suffer her crimes in silence. Instead, the delusional Mrs. Yates will pay dearly for killing her children in an attempt to save them from the devil, while those sane priests who harm children for pleasure will be flanking Cardinal Law at the bake sale to pay off their legal debts.


    South Orange, N.J.

    Every time I read Katha Pollitt I have one comment, and "God Changes Everything" was no exception: Amen.



    Los Angeles

    In "The Politics of Ethics" [April 8], Randy Cohen levels two laughable and false charges against Reason magazine. First, he asserts that Reason is "right wing," lumping us in with the weekend Wall Street Journal, The American Spectator and National Review. That Reason is right wing is news to me. We have praised vulgar culture as liberatory, argued that illegal drugs can be used responsibly and should be legalized, and raised serious civil liberties concerns regarding the war on terrorism. We support gay marriage, open immigration, choice and human biotech--none of which was particularly popular on the right the last time I checked. To be sure, we're not left wing, either; authoritarianism, wearing a Che beret or a bishop's miter, leaves us as cold as Lenin's corpse. But I'd expect a professional ethicist to understand that American politics is not simply the bipolar, manic-depressive spectacle it often seems to be.

    Second, Cohen mischaracterizes Reason's critique of his column. "There was something particularly vituperative about these screeds," writes Cohen of his detractors en masse, also referring to "the virulence of these attacks." Make no mistake: In 1999 Reason panned his "Ethicist" column as trivial, but the critique is made in measured tones, with ample evidence. Unless Cohen believes that to criticize him is inherently virulent and vituperative--alas, a position held by windbags irrespective of ideology--I'd say he's mistaken. In fact, I'm tempted to say he's willfully mistaken. The alternative is that he's simply delusional. (Nation readers can judge for themselves by reading the Reason column at

    editor in chief, Reason


    New York City

    It seems to me that the only people absorbed by the precise taxonomy of Reason are its editors and its readers, assuming it has readers. What insensitive American was it who, when asked what his countrymen think of Canada, replied: "Well, er, we don't"?



    Brooklyn, N.Y.

    Like Jonathan Schell ["Letter From Ground Zero," April 1], I too was born, raised, live in and love New York City and am worried about the destruction of this incredible place and its people. But he offers no prescription for having the iconic city of the Western world de-targeted by terrorists. Instead he frets about the Nuclear Posture Review, which will "inspire those targeted to do likewise to us."

    Aren't we already targets of these nations, as they finance and supply terrorists? The difference between a fuel-laden plane crashing into a skyscraper and a nuclear weapon detonating in a shipping container is one of the magnitude of destruction; it is not a question of motive or intent. The intent to destroy us is already present, as it was in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and in every attack before and since.

    Leo Szilard was right; nuclear weapons will eventually be available to all. During the cold war, the Soviet Union had a lot to lose in a nuclear exchange, just as we did--the primary reason a nuclear war never occurred. But the ghettos of the Middle East, Africa and every other poor place on earth produce people who feel they have nothing to lose. The terrorists and some of their state sponsors are not interested in our world. They don't just want to be left alone or to get along, they want us gone. We face nihilistic, theologically extreme enemies. No amount of negotiation will yield the results they seek, so we will not be de-targeted.

    The prescription must have three components: a strong defense, a renewed commitment to nonproliferation and a long-term commitment to lifting the poor out of their misery. A strong defense requires us to signal potential enemies that they will lose everything, including their states and lives, if they are governments supporting terrorism (the reason the Nuclear Posture Review was leaked), and we must capture or kill terrorists. Nonproliferation must be pursued not because it is effective but because it is right. And while not generally effective, the treaties and negotiations surrounding nonproliferation may be useful tools. A long-term commitment to lift the poor out of their misery will require us to change the way we interact with the world, and it will require the rise of local leaders who have the best interests of their people in mind, another factor we must gently nurture.


    Our Readers

  • Politics April 18, 2002


    Judith Butler's April 1 "Guantánamo Limbo" intelligently discusses the failure of the Geneva Conventions to take account of "prisoners of the new war" and links this failure to its flawed premises regarding states.

    Judith Butler and Our Readers

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  • Politics April 11, 2002




    We would like to thank Alexander Cockburn for his excellent March 25 "Beat the Devil" column, "The Nightmare in Israel." As activists in Ta'ayush (Arab-Jewish Partnership), we commend his giving voice to the courageous Jewish Israelis who are fighting against Sharon's state terror. However, we were disappointed that Cockburn did not mention any women. Ruchama Marton, for example, as founder and president of Physicians for Human Rights Israel, has been struggling against Israel's occupation and draconian policies in the territories for over a decade. Gila Svirsky is one of the leading activists in the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace; this group has been instrumental in raising public awareness and organizing protests and vigils over the past year and a half. Yehudith Keshet is one of the organizers of Machsom Watch, a group of women who stand witness at the various Israeli checkpoints around the country. These are just three of the many Jewish women who deserve recognition for speaking and acting out against the evil being perpetuated by the Israeli government. And while it is crucial at times like these to heed the voices of all progressive Jewish opposition, it is equally vital to recognize the participation of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the same struggles. Often forgotten in a conflict purportedly between "Arabs" and "Jews," Palestinians in Israel continue to play a foundational role in anti-occupation groups like Ta'ayush, PHR and Bat Shalom. We must insure that women and minorities are not, once again, elided from the historical record.



    Clinton, N.Y.

    We encourage readers interested in the debate about black abolitionist Denmark Vesey to turn to the October 2001 and January 2002 William and Mary Quarterly (WMQ) rather than rely on Jon Wiener's misleading and error-ridden recapitulation of it ["Denmark Vesey: A New Verdict," March 11]. Wiener applauds the "stunning piece of historical detective work" by Michael Johnson, who contends that the Vesey plot in Charleston in 1822 was "not a plan by blacks to kill whites but rather a conspiracy by whites to kill blacks." In pinning superlatives on Johnson, however, Wiener neglects to disclose that he and Johnson have been close friends for almost thirty years, dating back at least to the 1970s when both worked together at the University of California, Irvine. With the ethics of historians currently under a great deal of public scrutiny, we find this omission disingenuous at best.

    We will have more to say about Johnson's novel interpretation in future publications. We do agree with Wiener that Johnson relies on the manuscript court records, although Wiener errs in implying that scholars writing prior to Johnson neglected to examine those documents. We also agree with Wiener that the coerced testimony of Carolina bondmen in the court records, like virtually all documents pertaining to slavery, should not "be taken at face value." Thus, we do not agree with him (or Johnson) that the manuscript court record "is the only authoritative contemporary source." As with any other surviving document about slave resistance, the court record must be evaluated in the context of other relevant sources. We do not believe that Johnson has adequately responded to our criticism in the WMQ. Indeed, given his energetic investment in denying black agency, we wonder what sort of evidence short of the second coming of Vesey himself with an admission of guilt on his lips would persuade Johnson that at least some of the slaves in Charleston in 1822 were planning to liberate themselves by force.

    Johnson responded to his critics by concluding that Vesey and his followers were really the victims of a Machiavellian hoax perpetrated by James Hamilton Jr., the politically ambitious Charleston mayor. For the moment, we will merely say that the principals of 1822, white as well as black, were far more complicated than Johnson, or Wiener, seems to think.



    Irvine, Calif.

    Did Denmark Vesey plan what would have been the biggest slave uprising in US history? Or was he framed because of a rivalry between political factions of the slaveholding elite? For decades historians--including myself--have been teaching the former. Now there's important evidence that we may have been wrong. The evidence comes from Michael Johnson. It's true that he was my colleague at UC Irvine until he left for Johns Hopkins eight years ago and that we remain friends. But Southern history is a small field in which people tend to know one another, and I'm friends with those on both sides of this debate. These friendships are less significant for readers than the quality of the evidence about Vesey's trial and execution. Egerton and Paquette promise they'll tell us what they think about that "complicated" issue in "future publications." It's too bad they didn't give us more substance in this one. Meanwhile, Johnson's piece has just been honored by the board of editors of the William and Mary Quarterly, the leading journal of early American history, as its best article of 2001.



    Tulsa, Okla.

    Adrian Brune's insightful and informative article "Tulsa's Shame" [March 18] shines light on a subject once cloaked in a conspiracy of silence. But Tulsa's shame--a horrible act of ethnic cleansing of blacks by the institutions of white power--is not solely Tulsa's or Oklahoma's but America's shame as well. After World War I white mob violence, often tacitly supported by local governments, flared up across the country. Chicago, Omaha and St. Louis were just some of the cities that experienced race riots similar to Tulsa's. The systematic violence and disfranchisement of blacks in Tulsa is not unique to this little oil town on the plains, even though its remoteness from national centers of political and cultural power make it an easy target.

    Tulsa may indeed be a conservative town on the buckle of the Bible Belt, but it is the only city, as far as I know, that has been courageous enough to take a good hard look in the mirror in its attempt to seek justice and reconciliation for its almost forgotten victims of racial violence during the pre-civil rights movement era. And it wasn't the legions of cosmopolitan journalists now swooping over the story that broke the silence but the voices of a few brave souls who cared enough about the riot's legacy to keep its history alive.


    Tulsa, Okla.

    I am of Native American descent and have lived in Tulsa my whole life, except for a tour in the Navy. The US government took the Oklahoma Territory, gave it away to whoever wanted it and drove Native Americans out of our lands and onto reservations with poor living conditions, then and now. The people who should be upset are the Native Americans, but you don't see Native Americans fighting or complaining that "you took my land." We were here first, but you don't see us wanting a memorial for something that happened long ago. So as far as I am concerned on the race riot, yes, it was a tragedy, the Oklahoma City bombing was a tragedy, September 11 was a tragedy, and I am, with the rest of the country, sorry for those people's losses. Life goes on. Always remember, never forget, but move on.


    Lexington, Ky.

    Adrian Brune mentions that at the end of the Civil War blacks flocked to Oklahoma looking for a state to "call their own." But Tulsa was, as a part of Indian Territory, not a place for either blacks or whites to call their own--unless they were stealing it. Tulsa was part of the Creek Nation, given to the displaced Creeks for "as long as grass grows and water flows." I support reparations for the victims of the Tulsa race riot but find it appalling that there is no recognition that the entire eastern part of the state was created in an orgy of racism unparalleled in the history of our country.



    To clarify a statement toward the end of the article that "the Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries has raised about $20,000 toward reparations privately": The Unitarian Universalist Association contributed that $20,000 to the TMM, an interfaith coalition, to initiate a fund for the direct payment of reparations to riot survivors. The UUA has also contributed another $5,000 to help TMM set up antiracism programs.


    Tulsa, Okla.

    As one who has discussed this history with students, colleagues and fellow residents, I know that the riot remains highly controversial. The question is who, if anyone, is going to pay? The city? state? federal government? Tulsa is undergoing significant demographic change with the influx of immigrants from Latin America and Asia. Might it not be more effective to "correct" for past injustices by investing in public services and providing grants to innovative community groups, businesses and individuals to facilitate positive, progressive cultural relations across not just black-white but a number of racial and ethnic lines?


    Bixby, Okla.

    The plan backed by many Tulsans, a museum in the old Vernon AME church in Greenwood, and memorial and educational resources funded through the Greenwood Cultural Center, would do more than reparations could ever do. Why feed a few when you can teach a city's population to fish?



    Washington, D.C.

    Barbara Ehrenreich and Frances Fox Piven charge that think tanks, including the Economic Policy Institute, failed to look "ahead to the prospect of rising unemployment" in the context of welfare reform ["Who's Utopian Now?" Feb. 4]. That erroneous critique from people we respect and we hoped would be more familiar with our work was disappointing. EPI researchers have published many papers and developed mountains of data on the need to address welfare reform with labor market conditions in mind. We've highlighted the problems of unemployment and underemployment for low-wage workers. We've also shown that falling wages among low-wage workers reflected these problems, which are only worsened by forcing people into the labor market without any corresponding job creation programs.

    When welfare reform was first debated, we produced a widely cited report that examined the potential for increased labor supply to outstrip demand and therefore lower wages (by 12 percent!) among low-wage workers. We provided statistics on wages, unemployment and underemployment among workers likely to have left welfare, to illustrate the weaknesses in the job market for former welfare recipients. We published frequent analyses on the labor market experiences of young minority women. We even added staff to try to insure that this work reached a large network of advocates and activists.

    To accuse us of not noticing the relationship between the labor market and welfare reform is inaccurate and unfair. We have continued to examine the job prospects of former welfare recipients, even during the boom years. Our current work focuses on how the downturn is affecting former welfare recipients. We haven't once dropped the ball.


    Jon Wiener and Our Readers

  • Politics March 28, 2002



    Eugene, Ore.

    As John Nichols's "Kucinich Rocks the Boat" [March 25] indicates, Representative Dennis Kucinich has become a shooting star in the political firmament because of his willingness to challenge the irresponsible roller coaster ride on which George Bush has placed the nation. How far his courageous stand has taken Kucinich is reflected in his being one of eight national political figures to be nominated for this year's Wayne Morse Award for Integrity in Government. Candidates must demonstrate integrity and independence, the qualities for which the Oregon Senator was known during his quarter-century in the Senate.

    GEORGE BERES, chairman
    Wayne Morse Integrity in Government Committee


    Santa Fe

    Certainly no one who respects citizens' rights wishes to see anyone placed in "indeterminate confinement" unjustly. Alexander Cockburn's March 11 "Beat the Devil" column, however, inspects this issue through a narrow lens. He seems to argue in favor of letting sexual predators out of prisons and mental hospitals but offers no alternative to the current methods of determining which predators are safe for release. I will accept his scorn of courts, juries and multidisciplinary teams if he is willing to offer me something besides a goat's entrails as an alternative method of divining the future.

    Cockburn quotes Bill Andriette, whose comments about culture are reasonable enough, but is he an expert on sexual abuse and the lifetime of posttraumatic suffering it causes? Marita Mayer, whose laudable purpose as a public defender is to win justice for her clients, is quoted not as an expert on recidivism among sexual offenders, and she seems not to discriminate between the repeat offender and the rehabilitated one. She is quoted not as a victim of such offense, yet she refers to sexual criminals as committing "a tiny crime" without having experienced that crime. She says "people don't care about child rapists," but they do indeed care very much about the victims of child rapists, even if she has lost sight of them.

    There is a body of literature that supports very real public concerns about repeat offenses among this class of people. That same literature finds that they offend not because children are "the last stand of unbranded humanity, precious and rare," but because they themselves were abused as children. Every offense has the potential of creating a new offender.

    As a healthcare provider who has served abused children and adults, I propose we owe it to thousands of years of human suffering to do all we can to prevent future suffering. As does Mayer, we should pity the offender but also prevent him from injuring another child. We shouldn't limit our pity to the offender but extend it to the next victim as well.



    Petrolia, Calif.

    Recidivism rates are high for violent criminals who don't sexually molest their victims but who injure them badly, often leaving them with a lifetime of psychic or physical trauma. But no one suggests they be locked up in the penitentiary or a prison/madhouse on an indeterminate but never completed sentence. All sorts of criminals cause terrible injuries, including those who practice financial fraud and leave their victims destitute. Even determinate sentencing in this country is grotesque, with people regularly sent off for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years for offenses that scarcely merit these vast stretches of hard time. Studies show that after about three years in prison any rehabilitative function is over and all you are doing is hardening the prisoner.

    I've found it startling to read letters from readers who regard a fifteen-year sentence for rape as trifling, and thirty years or life as more appropriate. The same people express impatience at my concern for constitutional restraints, regarding them as nonapplicable when it comes to sexual offenses. So yes, if Eric Wolf wants to call regard for constitutional protections as looking at the problem through "a narrow lens," I plead guilty. In recent months we've heard others arguing that the war on terrorism needs a wider lens than the Constitution, a lens that permits breaches of due process, or torture.

    To say that we are living through a period of extreme hysteria about sexual offenses is not to condone the offenses, any more than to deprecate the frenzy over "satanic abuse" in daycare centers is to exonerate or discount the reality of child abuse in the home. Nor do I discount the existence of violent sociopaths who might well repeat their crimes if released into society without controls or supervision. There probably are some who should be locked up for good. American streets, shelters, diners and jails are filled with psychic time bombs, many of them veterans. It would probably be safer to lock them all up, after application of the sort of broad-band statistical tests imposed at Atascadero.

    Back to my narrow focus: Here in California, as Marita Mayer pointed out, a system has evolved whereby no judge, prosecutor, juror or prison shrink is going to take even a notional "risk" when the utterly safe alternative is to keep locked up forever all those who have committed violent sex crimes in the past. The situation is the same or even worse in other states. That's wrong.




    As a Latter Day Saints Church member, I think I can speak for a lot of middle-of-the-road Mormons when I say that I am tired of the bashing [Katherine Rosman, "Mormon Family Values," Feb. 25]. If the Olympics had been held in Riyadh or Kabul or Medina, would The Nation gratify us with an anti-Islamic exposé on how badly gays are mistreated by Muslims? I am a proud member of a new generation of LDS people born in the seventies and raised in the eighties who have no problem at all meshing our devout faith with the realities of the world around us. I have gay friends; my wife and I have been to gay weddings; we love and support these people as just that: people. The fact that our religion says homosexuality is wrong in no way impacts our ability to be friends with, or even to love, people who choose this lifestyle. And we are happy and content in our religion, strict as it may seem to some on the outside. The fact of the matter is, we didn't decide that homosexuality is wrong, God did.

    What's perhaps most galling is that the LDS Church is a unique minority in America. I thought The Nation would rush to take up the defense of any minority, especially one so misunderstood as the Mormon faith. I thought wrong.


    Salt Lake City

    As a gay Mormon, I grew up with the "love," "respect" and "inclusion" the Mormon Church says it practices. Some people do practice this toward gay members, but most don't. Growing up, I couldn't, and I still can't, take a same-sex date to a congregational social activity--especially a dance. That's a bad example for the youth. I know of teens who have tried this and have been threatened with excommunication.

    I researched what current Mormon material says about homosexuality. The result shocked me; there are eighty-eight pieces of homophobic material readily available for church members. Here's an example, from a manual for 13-to-18-year-olds: "The unholy transgression of homosexuality is either rapidly growing or tolerance is giving it wider publicity.... The Lord condemns and forbids this practice. 'God made me that way,' some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves.... This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be 'that way'?" (See I found three pieces encouraging self-respect for gays.

    The Mormon Church has no official support groups for its gay members and will only refer gays to groups or individuals who practice reparation therapy. Anyone who doesn't fit its mold is doctrinally or socially ostracized. This is a sad commentary on a people who were once excluded from the national social fabric for practicing a unique form of marriage.


    Burke, Va.

    As a former LDS bishop I can tell you I have met church members who have succeeded in reparation therapy. Of course, they have not rid themselves of same-sex attraction but have learned to not act on those feelings. While the church holds fast to its belief that same-sex attraction is not in accordance with moral behavior, just as premarital or extramarital sex is not condoned, the position of the church is to counsel these members from a perspective of love and concern, not condemnation. I agree that church leaders have made harsh remarks about homosexuality in the past, but I also believe that Gordon B. Hinckley has spoken more supportively of those with same-sex attraction than any other church president. His comments may not satisfy gay rights activists, but they have turned the corner on the ignorant positions of the past.


    Summerveld, South Africa

    I was a Mormon bishop in South Africa and a member for fifteen years when I left the LDS church. Social banishment and absolute judgment of others were two reasons I left. There were many other historical and doctrinal reasons as well. The Mormon Church is a church of expedience, and when it is no longer expedient to uphold a doctrine for which they receive widespread and deserved condemnation, Elohim gives the prophet a revelation and things get changed (e.g., polygamy and opening the priesthood to black men). No doubt at some stage homosexuality will be acceptable to the church. For the first century of the church's existence there was no opposition to homosexuality, and it is thought by many that the women who were the first two general presidents of the primary organization were lovers. Furthermore, it was also known by many during the 1970s that Eldred Smith, the last Patriarch, was at least bisexual.



    Annandale, N.J.

    Though all his colleagues dashed toward the shredder
    Like famished vermin bearing down on cheddar,
    He folded papers into shapes fantastic
    And wore a grin quite origamiastic.


    Alexander Cockburn and Our Readers

  • Politics March 21, 2002



    Lakeview, Ore.

    Wonderful to read David Corn on the return of all the creeps from contra ["Iran/Contra Rehab," March 11]. As a combat veteran, I always felt North's and Poindexter's convictions should have led to firing squads, not leadership positions and millionaire status. We can also add ol' Jimmie the Geek Watt to the list of convicted felons who walked courtesy of Reagan/
    Bush court appointments. And why do some worry about Bill's sexcapades, when Bush and Cheney both got Layed?



    Rosemount, Minn.

    An addition to Christopher Hitchens's point about the use of the word "niggers" in Robert Lowell's poem, "For the Union Dead" ["Minority Report," March 4]: It was, in fact, a reference to a message--originally intended as an insult to the family of Robert Gould Shaw--from a Confederate: "We buried him with his niggers!"

    The Shaw family turned it into an exultation, saying: "What finer bodyguard could he have had?" Robert Shaw's sister Josephine married Charles Russell Lowell, an ancestor of the poet, so this bit of Civil War lore was part of his family history.




    Marc Cooper's report from Porto Alegre ["From Protest to Politics," March 11] was inspiring and included some hints about the state of the US portion of the anti-corporate globalization movement. As an activist from the marine division of the ILWU here in Seattle, I was upset to read, "The post-9/11 labor movement doesn't want its rank and file to see its leaders in street demonstrations that turn violent." Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not condoning violence as a tactic; however, there is more to the story. Our union not only shut down the docks on the West Coast during the WTO meeting here in Seattle, a group of 200 of our members and elected leaders walked through the marshals and bolstered the Direct Action folks. We were not led by any NGOs or top AFL-CIO leaders. We took the initiative and did the right thing. We are fortunate to belong to one of the few remaining US rank-and-file-run unions with a heritage of militancy and direct action. The vast majority of unions are top-down business unions whose leaders are deathly afraid of their members thinking or acting on their own.

    By the way, no one from the ILWU made it to sunny Brazil. But three of us flew back to the "bellybutton of the belly of the beast," New York, for the WEF street protest. We participated in a peaceful, fun, vibrant street protest of 12,000 to 15,000. Yes, there were more NGO superstars in Porto Alegre, but I think history will show that it was more important to brave the weather and 4,000 NYC cops to challenge the beast.



    Cheverly, Md.

    David Cortright's "The Power of Nonviolence" [Feb. 18], combined with The Nation's call to oppose globalism locally, points us toward more than nonviolent demonstrations and more than pressure on Congress.

    Those sitting at forbidden lunch counters in the 1960s were not different from Seattle vandals just by being nonviolent. They were also clearly demonstrating what their message was: They wanted to be able to sit at those counters. We need boycotts of big-box stores with human chains around them, human walls against bulldozers, demonstrations at factories proposing to move overseas, campaigns in the street to take money out of big banks and put it in local ones, student walkouts of schools targeted for privatization, local sandwich sales in front of McDonald's. We need to think globally and practice nonviolent resistance locally.



    David Cortright is correct in arguing that "a 95 percent commitment to nonviolence is not enough" in the movement against corporate globalization. As long as protests are planned around such events as the WTO meetings in Seattle, it is likely that protesters who refuse nonviolence will show up. By planning protests on dates of their own choosing, at the offices of governments, corporations and global trade organizations, nonviolent organizers would be better able to "run their own show" and maintain stricter nonviolence. High-profile meetings offer the perks of free, guaranteed press coverage and a convenient kind of roadshow for the global protest movement. But the baseball-bat-and-football-helmet crowd is less likely to crash a nonviolent protest if staying away doesn't mean giving up those same perks themselves. The sit-ins of the civil rights movement took place at lunch counters, not at Klan rallies.



    Have we heard this myth of protester violence so many times that we believe it ourselves? True, Seattle was violent, but not on the part of the protesters. As for Genoa, credible reports point out that most of the "street battles" and property destruction were carried out by police infil-traitors. Instead of giving our critics ammunition by adopting the rhetoric of a hostile media, why don't we cease framing the debate by pitting "violent" protesters vs. "nonviolent" protesters and alert others to the true nature of our cause, which is, after all, global justice and peace.



    There was a deluge of mail in response to Howard Zinn's "The Others" [Feb. 11]. A sampling appears below.
    --The Editors


    Thank you for "The Others" by Howard Zinn. Finally someone has the integrity to raise a voice for the innocent people of Afghanistan amid the blind fury of the US media and the government. Please don't stop raising this issue again and again.



    Howard Zinn has given us an eloquent and devastating rebuttal to those who think there is such a thing as an acceptable loss of civilian life in warfare. Any loss of life through violence is unacceptable. Until we can understand that the "others" are really ourselves, we will be the playthings of madness.


    San Francisco

    It's sad to see Howard Zinn stoop to peddling such softheaded, mushmouthed, sentimental claptrap. "Those who celebrated the grisly deaths...what if, instead of symbols, they could see, up close, the faces of those who lost their lives? I wonder if they would have second thoughts, second feelings." Please! As a corrective to his "can't we all just get along?" speculations, we should recall that the hijackers had no trouble looking into the faces of those they were about to murder without any second thoughts.


    My sister was at work on the eighty-first floor of the first tower of the WTC. It took her more than one hour to come down, but thank God she made it. I have followed the developments since September 11 and am not surprised that the casualties in Afghanistan are underreported, as clearly the Afghans are insignificant. We have come to know that only American blood is blood, and it is water that runs in the veins of all others. What happened at the WTC is way past reprehensible. But an eye for an eye makes for only blind men. The government had a golden opportunity to prove to the world that it is different from the terrorists, but sadly, it hasn't, because it isn't.


    Fujisawa, Kanagawa, Japan

    It has disturbed me that critics of the war on terrorism have not pointed out that besides the possible 4,000 Afghan civilians dead after September 11, some 1.7 million Afghans have fled as refugees, with no home to go back to. If we could imagine an equivalent number of Americans displaced so that several hundred militants could be arrested, well, it would not be tolerated.

    My Japanese students are surprised when I speak against the bombing, and impressed. Everyone who speaks the truth has an impact. Thank you, Mr. Zinn.


    Bayonne, N.J.

    Howard Zinn accuses the September 11 hijackers and US politicians of perpetrating "terrorism" against "men, women and children." To make a moral equivalence between the two events is ridiculous. Distinctions matter. In the case of the World Trade Center, civilians were massacred deliberately during a time of peace by a nonuniformed group whose intention was to spread terror. In the other case, civilians were killed during an exercise of legitimate self-defense by a state, in response to an act of war, and were killed unintentionally despite good faith efforts by targeteers to avoid doing so.

    If I, as a young historian, can see the difference between the two incidents, it is strange that Zinn, whose breadth of knowledge vastly exceeds my own, cannot.


    Carlsbad, Calif.

    Howard Zinn's putting a human face on the Afghan people killed and maimed by our bombing is of dire importance. I teach US history in a big urban university and have told my students that the greatest obscenity in the corporate media's coverage of this and other recent US wars is that only American lives matter. People trying to live in whatever impoverished, defenseless country we are currently bombing do not register on big media's cockeyed moral compass. Hence we never get to see or feel any of their anguish. I only wish Zinn's words could be circulated more broadly.



    George W. Bush said in his State of the Union address, "Evil is real, and it must be opposed." Upon reading Howard Zinn's article, one has to stop and wonder just who the evil nation is. If US bombs had just wiped out your village and family, you would know who is evil, just like those who lost friends and loved ones on September 11 know who is evil. It's all a matter of perception, I guess.


    San Francisco

    Just how would Howard Zinn defend US citizens? Or would he? He may be of the school that feels, because of past morally indefensible interventions, that this country owes a sacrifice to "even out" the accounting in blood. September 11 was not a one-shot Oklahoma City-like catastrophe: It was an opening salvo. An armed response was mandatory; the workings of that action were, I imagine, informed by the grown-ups who advise the President. Had Zinn been in that cohort, what would he have advised?



    Howard Zinn's article is a powerful reminder of the horrors that are perpetrated in the world. I, too, cried as I saw the portraits of the 9/11 victims. I, too, was crying not only for them, and not only for the victims of the wars the United States and other powers perpetrate but also for the millions who die every year because of economic terrorism. Detailed, in-depth TV and newspaper portraits of, say, the 12 million children who die from hunger every year might wake up our collective consciousness.

    Zinn makes another important point that I stress with my quantitative reasoning classes: Statistical data can distance us from a deep empathy and understanding of the conditions of people's lives. Of course, the data are important because they reveal the institutional structure of those conditions. But, also, quantitatively confident and knowledgeable people can use those data to deepen their connections to humanity. Those 12 million children are dying faster than we can speak their names.


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  • Politics March 21, 2002

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  • Politics March 14, 2002



    Panama City, Fla.

    Neve Gordon's "An Antiwar Protest Grows in Israel" [Feb. 25] on the reservist protest is the most encouraging news to come out of Israel in months.


    ...AND IN AMERICA...

    San Francisco

    In "A New Current in Palestine" [Feb. 4] Edward Said asks, "Where are American liberals?" Said's certainly right that outside of "a tiny number of Jewish voices," far too few Americans of any stripe are protesting the Israeli occupation. Those few Jewish voices belong, by and large, to Tikkun magazine, a progressive Jewish critique I help edit.

    Tikkun has published Said and other Palestinians, along with the remaining voices of the Israeli peace movement, like Uri Avnery, David Grossman and Tanya Reinhart. Some of our strongest pieces against the occupation are by our editor, Rabbi Michael Lerner, who argues that the occupation hurts the state of Israel by undermining core Jewish values. Because of this position we have received hate mail, and Lerner has received death threats. We are trying to mobilize an activist force to lobby US and Israeli leaders to end the occupation and to support Palestinians in nonviolent action. Please check out Tikkun on the newsstands or at


    ...EVEN IN LA


    Thank you for publishing Amy Wilentz's "In Cold Type" [Feb. 11]. Its reference to Al Jadid is perhaps the first mention that this Los Angeles quarterly, devoted to Arab culture and arts, has had in a mainstream US publication, although it has been published for several years now. Many of Al Jadid's contributors are Americans of Arab origin, and they represent a good segment of the Arab-American intellectuals and their community. If Al Jadid has been ignored, it is not because it has not been actively trying to communicate with other Americans but probably because mainstream American intellectuals are too concerned with their own "niche obsessions" (Wilentz's term for the concerns of some publications like Al Jadid). US intellectuals and others should pay more attention to minority publications if they want to have a better knowledge of those who share the country (and the world) with them. I commend Wilentz for commenting positively on Al Jadid (despite its "painful" review of her novel).



    Northridge, Calif.

    Benjamin Barber remarks ["Beyond Jihad vs. McWorld," Jan. 21] that the September 11 attacks have produced a paradigm shift in government ideology: The old realpolitik has been replaced by a policy with rights and democracy as its goals. But though the tiger may have changed its stripes, we might well suspect it is still the same old tiger. The focus on democratic principles may make it easier to gain the support of fellow Western democracies, but these values can still be regarded as secondary to economic interests and the pursuit of empire as the dominant goals of US foreign policy. Such suspicions are strengthened by noticing the governments the United States is eager to take as allies in the struggle against terrorism: Pakistan and Uzbekistan, among others.

    More persuasive is Barber's point that our newly recognized global interdependence offers the opportunity to work with international movements and the organizations representing them that have sprung up in the past half-century: the green and environmental movements, internationally oriented rights and labor movements, debt-reduction and literacy projects and many others. Arguably such grassroots activity has always been the most important source of social progress. The immense potential for progressive change inherent in these movements can give hope even in these politically regressive times.


    Catonsville, Md.

    I am not nearly as sanguine as Benjamin Barber about our government's ability or willingness to view the world through a new prism. When our leader declared "war" against the new world menace, I knew there would be a supreme effort to fit the new demons into the old cold war textbook. Barber suggests that "the myth of our independence can no longer be sustained." I do not believe the Administration understands that. In the same way that "realpolitik" protected our national interests against those of foreign nations, we will now protect our ideals and ideas against those that are foreign. The variety of foreign ideas that could fall under the rubric "evil" will allow for continuous conflict. Barber asks, "Do we think we can bomb into submission the millions who resent, fear and sometimes detest what they think America means?" Unfortunately, yes--we will force our ideology on the rest of the world with "for us or against us" absolutism. We will arm nations to insure that they can police dissent within their borders.

    Barber's other main premise is that democracy and shared values will define friendship among nations in this new order. I suggest that it may be capitalism and globalization that will bring us together, but it will not be democracy--at least not in the short run. We will be hard pressed to promote democratic values abroad as we dismantle them at home. Both political parties appear to be moving away from expanding the franchise. Propaganda and secrecy assure an ill-informed electorate. Electoral reforms inspired by the 2000 election are not happening, and money still buys public policy. Interest in politics is shrinking--people have figured out that they have no real choice. And 2000 showed that the election can be rigged. Incumbency and special interest money will assure a favorable climate for free trade and unregulated capitalism. Our ethic will continue to be greed and consumerism. Words for the idea that we should sacrifice some of our bounty to help the poor of the world are not in our vocabulary. Ideas like cooperation, sharing, temperance, community, sustainability and reverence for the diversity of nature have no relevance in bottom-line, short-term thinking. As long as money equals redemption, our values will continue to clash with "primitive" cultures and with our own metaphysical yearnings for what we have lost. Interdependence may be realpolitik, but self-sufficiency and sustainability trump dependence and should be the defining goal of the world's communities.



    New York City

    Both letters are pessimistic about the capacity of this Administration to absorb the lessons of the new realism. I am not exactly sanguine myself, but my object was not to persuade readers that George W. Bush had converted overnight to multilateralism--only to suggest that multilateralist interdependence is today a mandate of political realism. Whether or not prudent long-term realism can offset the seductions of "short-term thinking" remains to be seen. Realism does not describe what people do; it suggests what they should do when they heed the lessons of politics and history. What has changed for now is not US policy but the status of democracy--no longer a daydream of idealists but a prudent multilateralist instrument for securing the safety of Americans in a world in which, realistically speaking, independence is a myth and unilateralism a recipe for defeat.



    Madison, Wisc.

    I take exception to Raffi Khatchadourian's portrayal of Namangan and the Fergana Valley as steeped in "radical Islamic fervor" ["Letter From Uzbekistan," Jan. 21]. I lived in Namangan for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer and in different areas of Uzbekistan for another three years. While the general population is taking on more religious beliefs than before their independence in 1991, I would not go so far as to describe them as Khatchadourian has done. Sure, there are the exceptions like the IMU's Juma Namangani, and of course there are human rights abuses by the government.

    My experiences on the ground, however, were very positive. I worked closely with the local population. I came in contact with all social classes in Namangan, from "privileged" college students to collective farmers in the outlying villages of Qora-Tepa and Chinobod. Generally, I found the local citizens to be moderate in their religious views, social mores and political feelings.



    New York City

    I portrayed the Fergana Valley (a place The Economist describes as a "tinderbox") using firsthand experiences and interviews with local human-rights activists, journalists and religious leaders. A man I called Azizov offered evidence that "radical Islamic fervor has become inseparably interwoven with growing popular discontent," because the repressive regime of Islam Karimov is aggravating the very problem it is trying to stamp out by driving people to the only alternative to state terror--radical Islamic movements. Azizov, who has worked with the New York Times and the Washington Post and who would be in danger if I revealed his real name, is an Uzbek who has lived in Namangan for more than forty years and has interviewed founding members of the IMU.

    Another source was Azizulla Ghazi, who works in Osh for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which released a report last year containing many on-the-ground interviews. I sought out members of the banned Hizb-ut Tahrir radical Islamic movement, who told me its numbers are growing. I suggest reading journalist Ahmed Rashid, who has written about this subject for The New Yorker and in his book Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. In the January 29 edition of Jane's Intelligence Review Tamara Makarenko observes that "developments over the past four months may actually result in the growth of political violence in the region."

    As for my portrayal of Namangan, I believe it's fair to say that "poverty and unemployment are rampant" and that it is a place of "intense social conservatism and piety." These characterizations have been widely reported; neither suggests that everyone in Namangan is a burning jihadist.



    Rockford, Ill.

    Progressive Voices is creating a national directory of progressive, community-based organizations to better bring us together as a movement--a formidable though very fulfilling task. We have been able to identify more than 1,000 progressive community groups through various media and personal contacts, but if this project is to be successful, we must find a way to reach progressives in even the most rural locations, to reach those with the most modest technology. Nation readers, please send us the names, contact information and basic description of any groups that fit the criteria.

    Progressive Voices
    6469 Ral Mar
    Rockford, IL 61109
    (661) 742-1161

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