It was quite a surprise reading Richard Goldstein's latest attack on
me and other non-leftist gay writers ["Attack of the Homocons," July 1].
The surprise was not that he disagrees with me but that he so
relentlessly misrepresented my work. Here's the most egregious example.
Goldstein wrote: "Marriage, Sullivan has written, is the only
alternative to 'a life of meaningless promiscuity followed by eternal
damnation.'" This "quote" is from a passage in which I criticize the
formula of some Christians with regard to homosexuals that they should
"hate the sin, love the sinner":
So the sexual pathologies which plague homosexuals are not relieved by
this formula; they are merely made more poignant, and intense. And it is
no mystery why they are. If you teach people that something as deep
inside them as their very personality is either a source of unimaginable
shame or unmentionable sin, and if you tell them that their only ethical
direction is either the suppression of that self in a life of suffering
or a life of meaningless promiscuity followed by eternal damnation, then
it is perhaps not surprising that their moral and sexual behavior
becomes wildly dichotic; that it veers from compulsive activity to shame
and withdrawal; or that it becomes anesthetized by drugs or alcohol or
fatally distorted by the false, crude ideology of easy prophets.
It will be apparent to any reader that I actually wrote the opposite of
Goldstein's claim. His excuse is that other ideologues had wrested these
words out of context and he hadn't checked the original. That is not an
You might forgive Goldstein for sloppy journalism. What he can't be
forgiven for is simple lying. His article was premised on my alleged
"revulsion at gay styles that depart from the norms of male
presentation. He's appalled by camping, prancing or any expression of
effeminacy," as he puts it in his book The Attack Queers, from
which his Nation article was adapted. He has no evidence for this
from my writing, except some affectionate ribbing of some gay guys in
San Francisco with back hair. But in a lecture that Goldstein actually
attended, after discussing the conflicts between biological gender and
"gender presentation," I said the following:
There are some people's natures that are naturally, biologically
androgynous, or more geared to being queer or effeminate or masculine or
up-ending certain social roles, because that's how they feel their
nature is. And, my God, do I defend their right and would I defend their
right to be who they want to be; and nothing I say about the importance
of encouraging most gay men and most gay women to embrace their own
gender means that we should therefore exclude people who do not feel
that way. There is an absolute central part in our community for the
drag queen as well as the leather bar. And my own commitment to the
First Amendment and to true diversity means I will defend them too.
It's possible to differ with me on the role of biology in gender without
asserting that I am intolerant of or hostile to many subversive aspects
of gay culture. That is simply untrue. Goldstein knows that, because he
was there. But he chose to lie about it. This isn't debate--it's
smearing. If you want to know why the gay left is effectively dead, or
why writers like Goldstein cannot get published outside a ghetto of
like-minded ideologues, you need look no further than the rank
intellectual dishonesty of this article.
Richard Goldstein betrays an extremely shallow understanding of the
appeal of Pim Fortuyn's campaign in Holland. Fortuyn hammered away at a
contradiction that many Dutch felt but were embarrassed to express: that
liberal Dutch values have allowed the immigration to Holland of socially
conservative Muslim groups that are essentially opposed to liberal Dutch
values. Specifically, they tend to be homophobic in a society generally
accepting of gays. To further complicate matters, liberal Dutch people
who would have no trouble criticizing one of their own for this
homophobia are reluctant to criticize Muslim immigrants for the same
attitudes for fear of displaying "cultural imperialism." It is here that
Fortuyn's being an openly gay man became quite relevant. Whatever one
feels about his position on immigration, he raised a genuinely troubling
issue that resonated with many Dutch people. To dismiss him as just
another trendy homocon does nothing to illuminate the issues Fortuyn
Richard Goldstein resents homosexuals who succeed, socially and
economically, on the terms of mainstream society. This seems to validate
the right's argument that the left really wants to keep minorities
marginalized and victimized and deeply resents anyone who escapes that
There is also an attitude that any "behavior," regardless of how
unhealthy or deviant, has to be accepted, but any dissent from leftist
orthodoxy is treason. Goldstein appears to be less troubled by
homosexuals who deliberately seek HIV infection (such a fetish exists),
imparting social and economic costs to society, than he is by
homosexuals who believe society is better saved by lower taxes, less
government intrusion and free-market economics.
Is it possible that what homocons want to escape is the cult of
victimhood and a stifling leftist orthodoxy?
MATT J. KURLANDER
It seems to me that most conservative gays are conservative for the
same reason most straight conservatives are. They care about little or
nothing but their pocketbooks. Many of the more thoughtful conservative
gays will admit, after some arm-twisting, that, yes, the Shrub/Ashcroft
Administration may well put them in a death camp someday, but until
then, by God, their taxes will be lower, their property rights will be
maximized and their businesses will be free to plunder whom they please
with no fear of government regulation.
Your "Homocon" cover is as eye-catching as it is relevant. However,
the pink triangle on the "femme" lesbian is upside down. The gay rights
logo (borrowed from Hitler concentration camp days, when gays were
identified with pink triangles) as used today has the point down. It
symbolizes the opposite of a hierarchical structure, as in a grassroots
movement, which has many people at the top.
So when people are just "born gay," it seems they're supposed to be
"born liberal" too? Queer conservatives represent the ultimate in gay
liberation. When the Republican Party recognizes the validity of the gay
lifestyle, gay liberation has been achieved. Homosexuality is the way
people fuck--not the way people vote.
And Paglia, a homocon? Simply because she doesn't share the Dworkin
belief that masculinity is the scourge of human existence? Read up:
Paglia's views on every variety of sexual nonconformity are gleefully
supportive. It is dishonest to lump her together with people like Andrew
Sullivan and Norah Vincent.
While I agree with Richard Goldstein on the many scary aspects of the
rise of the gay right, I had to laugh when he lumps Camille Paglia in
with the likes of Andrew Sullivan. Indeed, she labels her own ideas
"drag queen feminism." She even describes herself as a "bisexual lesbian
who's also monastic, celibate, pervert, deviant, voyeur." Not exactly a
friend of George W.'s, unless he's not telling us something.
Goldstein calls for "acceptance." Why do we queers have to be accepted?
Why can't we just live like who we are? Some of us are into leather and
enjoy getting our nipples tortured and whipped, some of us like to dress
up in women's clothing and be fabulous, some of us (like me) like to
listen to Sleater-Kinney and Coltrane and read and drink beer, some of
us go to clubs too often and have sex with too many people, some of us
don't have any sex at all and prefer to stay home, and some of us are
CEOs who hate Bill Clinton and think there are too many immigrants in
this country. Just like those damn heterosexuals!
San Antonio, Tex.
Richard Goldstein may regard Sullivan/Paglia/Vincent as significant gay voices, but this silly trio doesn't
mean spit out here in the boonies. Neither does/did Fortuyn, because we
don't live in The Netherlands. Amsterdam's bathhouse schedule means more
to us heartland homos than does Dutch politics!
What is important to those of us in the trenches is actual political
movement, especially on local issues of job protection and equality in
the courts. In a state like Texas, that means doing bidness with some
very conservative vested interests, whether we like it or not.
In San Antonio, the so-called progressive homos are so fragmented, the
local power structure considers them irrelevant. The Stonewallers are so
committed to assimilation, they hand out endorsements to any Democrats
who merely show up for political forums, even if the candidates have
demonstrated anti-queer records. I guess "progressives" don't like to
make their political enemies squirm.
It's true that many homocons are white males, but race, gender and
social class do not alone explain the rightward drift. Goldstein should
consider desperation as a major factor in the rise of homocon groups, at
least at the grassroots. "Progressives" have consistently exploited us
while relegating our issues to the margins. Where else does Goldstein
suggest we go? The Netherlands, perhaps.
In this very scary state, the Log Cabin boys and girls have attracted
attention and support by directly challenging the Christian right in
ways that "progressives" just talk about. And queer Republicans have
influenced several local elections, especially judicial races, for the
better. When a single-parent lesbian Latina can get treated fairly in a
South Texas courtroom, that's progress.
HARRY W. HAINES
New York City
I place Camille Paglia on the gay right because of her devotion to
masculinism, which I regard as a central tenet of social conservatism. I
don't condone "bug chasing," but it's possible to be promiscuous and
safe, and in gay liberation that's an important right.
I've responded ad nauseam to Sullivan's allegation (you can check out my
reply at www.thenation.com//doc.mhtml?i=special&s=goldstein20020625). Clearly his
aim is to deflect attention from my argument. If you attack Sullivan, he
will turn it into a scandal if he can. It's no surprise that he refers
to me on his website as a Communist and a Marxist. Redbaiting and
scandalizing go hand in hand for Sullivan's kind of conservative, and
they always have.
Sullivan's work is replete with nasty comments about sluts and gender
benders. Take that remark he mentions about men with back hair. The
actual quote refers to a hairy man "dressed from head to toe in flamingo
motifs." Sullivan's omission of this phrase is telling, as is his very
selective account of the lecture he gave. He doesn't say that it was
called "The Emasculation of Gay Politics" or that it featured an attack
on the gay movement for placing women in positions of power. In this
talk, Sullivan asserted that drag queens are "at war with their
essential nature." This prompted a brief outburst from the audience, to
which Sullivan replied with a desperate attempt to cover his tracks. Now
he would like this addendum to stand for his actual statement. I would
no more honor his evasion than I would support Sullivan's contention
that he is a liberal, even though he terms abortion "illicit," refers
slyly to a leftist "fifth column" and calls antigay discrimination "a
A slippery character like Sullivan can get very far in a community whose
history is never taught and whose connection with progressive politics
is constantly maligned. That's why it's so important for the left to
engage the gay community--and to fight the gay right.
I was shocked to open my Nation and read the ill-informed and
superficial June 17 "Beat the Devil" column, "The Future Wellstone
Deserves," by Alexander Cockburn, who isn't generally ill-informed or
To begin, there is no one--no one--in Washington more efficient than
Wellstone in supporting green issues. Why is there no drilling in ANWR
today? The answer: Paul Wellstone. As a freshman senator on the Energy
Committee he made a scathing attack on the Johnston-Wallop bill, put
forth by chairman Bennett Johnston on behalf of the oil companies. Of
course, Wellstone didn't win many of his points against the powerful
Johnston then, but he stood firm on ANWR and won that one, and that
victory has given us a dozen years of no drilling.
As for healthcare, it is simply not true that he has abandoned support
of single-payer health. But insurance is not the only health issue:
Wellstone has worked for several years to gain parity for mental health
insurance, and this year the Wellstone-Domenici bill finally passed in
the Senate; and what about his success on the domestic violence bill? As
for campaign reform, Wellstone is working on Clean Money-Clean Elections
Bills, which promise reform far better than the swiss-cheese bans on
As for the statement about "some timid Greens...backstabbing McGaa": If
Cockburn were in Minnesota, he'd realize that no backstabbing is
necessary; McGaa is already self-destructing with progressives.
"The suggestion that progressive politics will now stand or fall in
sync with Wellstone's future is offensive," says Alexander Cockburn, who
apparently has not realized that the principal sequitur of the election
is control of the Senate. If the Democrats lose a single seat, control
will pass to the Republicans. George W. Bush could, as he has promised,
appoint Supreme Court Justices in the image of Clarence Thomas or
Antonin Scalia. Progressive politics would have to cope with a
reactionary Court for the next quarter-century. Like Cockburn, I have
differences with Wellstone and every other Senate Democrat. Unlike
Cockburn, I realize the price we would all pay for handing the Senate to
Yes, Minnesota Greens may mess up Paul Wellstone's chances for
re-election and end up electing a Republican in his place. But Wellstone
needs to realize something--he's clinging to a party that doesn't
represent the same things he does. Jim Jeffords jumped ship, and
Wellstone can do the same. Why not ask the Minnesota Greens if he can
join them and if Ed McGaa would graciously step aside and let him run as
their candidate? Let's abandon the Democratic Party the same way they've
abandoned us and stand behind a party that cares about the things that
matter most in our lives.
Our warmongering Administration appears to have both barrels aimed at
Paul Wellstone, a senator who stands up with the courage of his
convictions. Why don't we dig into our wallets and send our $5, $10 or
$50 to Wellstone's campaign and give him and the Administration of
sleaze an overwhelming message that we're not going to take it
On my desk I had a check for $50 for the Wellstone Senate campaign.
Then I read Alexander Cockburn's column, and I ripped it up. Wellstone
may be a liberal, but unlike Abourezk, Metzenbaum and Feingold, he's no
fighting liberal! No one wants to see the Senate go Republican,
but perhaps we in New Hampshire can send Jeanne Shaheen. She has never
advertised herself as the savior of the left, but if in one stroke she
can get rid of the troglodyte Bob Smith and prevent the possibility of a
"Senator Sununu" her value to the left will far exceed Wellstone's.
Like Cockburn, I'm disappointed that Wellstone didn't stay firm in his
commitment to a single-payer national health program, but as a
Congressional contender once told me: "The only way you can be sure a
candidate agrees with you on every issue is to run yourself." As a
result of Cockburn's column I'm sending Wellstone another
GAIL GIANASI NATALE
So, Alexander Cockburn thinks that Minnesota voters should deny
Senator Wellstone a third term because he isn't perfect. Well, who is?
Senator Feingold, of whom Cockburn seems to approve, voted to confirm
Ashcroft as Attorney General! In 2000, while I voted Green for President
and Representative, I voted for Jon Corzine, a Democrat, for senator.
Perhaps he isn't perfect either, but if I and others in New Jersey
hadn't done that, we might now have a Republican Senate and twins of
Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas on the Supreme Court.
DANIEL D. SCHECHTER
The future Paul Wellstone deserves is to retire after two terms, as he
promised Minnesotans when he first ran for office. In 1996 Wellstone
voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, nullifying the chance for
same-gender couples to have their marriages (or civil ceremonies)
recognized by the federal government. Wellstone boasts of his advocacy
for working families. But his voting record indicates that he is not
willing to give legal recognition to working families headed by
JOHN R. YOAKAM
Senator Wellstone says, "I am a civil rights senator." If and when
Wellstone takes a more honest and humane stance on US foreign
policy--i.e., even Iraqi and Palestinian civilians have civil rights,
and Israel does not deserve full support for its inhumane
policies--I might believe some of the rest of his rhetoric. Until then,
I will believe he is for civil rights for some (in this country) but not
others (not in this country, particularly if Arab).
MARY ELYNNE TAPPERO
Alexander Cockburn didn't point out Wellstone's greatest failing: a
no-show as the Congressional Black Caucus needed just one senator to
challenge the Florida "election" results. How progressive is it to
ignore the voting rights of African-Americans, much less stand silent as
this coup went forward?
I find it odd how cannibalistic some in the progressive left can be.
Before Alexander Cockburn was so quick to highlight Wellstone's
"failures" he should have read John Nichols's May 27 Nation
article, which accurately highlighted Wellstone's role as one of the
few true fighters against the regressive legislation continually
proposed by the Bush White House. And there is nothing "supposed" about
the irresponsibility of Minnesota Greens in this race. It's one thing to
vote for Ralph Nader over Al Gore but entirely another to say a Green is
needed in Wellstone's Senate race. Cockburn and those like him need to
end the cannibalism. If the left can't come together behind Wellstone,
one of our strongest leaders, then maybe we do deserve to be
marginalized. Minnesota Greens should remember that, as Winona LaDuke
said, Paul Wellstone is your friend.
CLUELESSNESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS
Jefferson Valley, NY
When I took my copy of The Nation from my mailbox today, I was
appalled at the cover showing George W. Bush, in hunter's garb, over the
caption "Clueless?" The Nation has long been a debater of ideas,
home for such writers as Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal and Jim
Hightower. This cover is a personal attack on the President of the
United States and does little to debate his policies. They're certainly
open to debate, but they are the product of the President and a group
that includes Ms. Rice and Messrs. Powell, Cheney, Rumsfeld and
O'Neill--not a "clueless" bunch at all. Let's debate policies, political
philosophies and economic theories and leave personal ridicule to
JOHN F. MCMULLEN
I am shocked and dismayed at the glaring copy-editing/proofreading
error on your cover. The question mark after "Clueless" is such an
egregious mistake it is hard to find words to express my dismay. After
all, if anyone at The Nation has even the smallest shred of a
doubt that Shrub is clueless...well, there's no hope; we're doomed.
Cartoon fans might appreciate a different caption on your June 10
cover: "Be vewy quiet. I'm hunting tewwowists."
An alternate caption might be: "George W. Fudd: 'Is that you, Osama,
you wascawwy Awab?'"
Thank you for the picture of King George II attired for the hunt. It
joins the collection of pictures of people like Jerry Falwell, Pat
Robertson and Ronald Reagan on my dartboard. I took the liberty of
deleting the question mark following the word "clueless."
St. Cirq Souillaguet, France
Your amusing cover picture of a clueless Bush was a great success in
our village, reflecting as it did a widely held French opinion of the
man. One neighbor went further: "If it's true that your President has an
80 percent approval rating, should one then assume that a majority of
your citizens are equally dimwitted?" I was unable to answer.
SUN, WIND & WIRES
Liberty Hill, Tex.
Matt Bivens's excellent "Fighting for America's Energy Independence"
[April 15] and the ensuing "Exchange" [June 17] covered many important
bases but requires a post-mortem.
The idea of a 110-by-110-mile solar field in Nevada providing all our
nation's electricity is seductive, but it ignores the fact that unless
generation is located near the consumers, you need wires to transmit it.
West Texas has the nation's largest wind farms, with plenty more
capacity. The problem is that the people who want to use that
electricity live in Dallas, 500 miles away. Transmission constraints,
not economics or politics, have slowed the growth of wind energy.
Building high-voltage power lines where people live is problematic; the
financial and political challenges of moving tens of thousands of solar
megawatts from Nevada to, say, New York, are daunting to the point of
The big green solution includes a combination of commercial-scale
renewable power (primarily wind and geothermal), decentralized clean
energy (mainly rooftop solar and stationary fuel cells, with the excess
sold back into the grid) and the three-legged stool of conservation,
efficiency and demand response. A staggering percentage of generation
plants are built solely to accommodate demand on midsummer weekday
afternoons. Demand response, or peak load management, teaches us that
the availability (not to mention cost) of electricity isn't always the
same. California's legendary rolling blackouts are largely a result of
inefficient use of the grid and can be avoided if consumers shift their
consumption away from the peaks. People have learned to make phone calls
and plane trips off-peak; we can use electricity the same way. This
relieves wire congestion and delays the need for new power plants,
accelerating our charge to the day when clean energy is overabundant.
Paul Wattles is correct that getting electricity down transmission
lines would make it impractical to power America on solar electricity
harvested across 12,000 square miles in Nevada. I never meant to suggest
we try. My observations that Nevada could gather enough sun to power
America--and that the Dakotas and Texas alone could also produce enough
windpower to do that--were purely illustrative. The point is that our
nation is rich in wind and sun, the technologies to harvest them are
finally here and working, and yet we aren't moving forward as smartly as
we could--in part thanks to our government's bizarre insistence on
showering huge subsidies on oil, gas, coal and nuclear power while
giving tiny sums to renewables and sniffing that they aren't "market
Some of the best winds are remote from population centers, and
new transmission lines can cost more than $1 million per mile.
Electricity gets wasted when sent long distances down such lines, and
stringing new lines is unpopular--people don't want to live near them.
And wind and solar power are intermittent--churning out wattages
only when the sun shines or the wind blows.
So these are all challenges--and it's striking how many of those
challenges are finessed by the hydrogen fuel cell. Wind- or
solar-generated electricity can now be stored as hydrogen (by using that
electricity to "zap" water, which releases hydrogen). John Turner of the
National Renewable Energy Laboratories observes that hydrogen made from
the sun or the winds could be trucked or pipelined out of remote areas
at a lot less cost and a lot more efficiency than hanging new power
lines. A Dakota-to-Chicago hydrogen pipeline, anyone? Unlike
transmission lines, it could even be buried.
Finally, I accept much of Wattles's "big green solution," but one small
quibble: I'm all for more efficient air conditioners; I'm less enamored
of training people to turn them off when it gets hot. Like berating
people who drive gas-guzzling SUVs, it's a distraction and a political
nonstarter. People have indeed learned to make phone calls
off-peak--i.e., when it's inconvenient. But they don't like it! So why
focus on it as the solution, when there is a much more positive
vision--one that has room for an emissions-free hydrogen-fueled SUV?
Yes, even one with a flag on it.
'JEWS FOR JUSTICE'--SOME THOUGHTS
"Hear, hear!" to Michael Lerner's "Jews for Justice" [May 20]--the
best opinion piece I've read on the Middle East morass, and the only one
brave enough to admit that Jews are themselves mostly to blame for the
recent surge of anti-Semitism around the world--at least insofar as they
participate, support and/or remain silent about Israel's arrogant,
apartheidlike policies. It makes me especially sad and angry that in
their eagerness to placate the conservative Jewish lobby, the most
prominent Jewish voices in American public life today (Dianne Feinstein
and Joseph Lieberman) refuse to recognize this, instead going blindly
forward with their We-Are-a-Victimized-People and Israel-Can-Do-No-Wrong
stance. I thank God nightly that my ancestors immigrated to America.
I suggest Rabbi Lerner move to Gaza and see how much "love" he will
get from the Palestinians; or maybe he should move to Syria and share
the "love" the other Arab countries have for Jews. He can preach "love"
and equal treatment there, if they let him.
New York City
No one can quarrel with Rabbi Lerner's call for a Jewish voice to
speak out for justice for Palestinians (and Israelis). But he is not
correct in saying that there have been no pro-Israel alternatives to
AIPAC, no organized voices that would speak out for the end of the
occupation and the violence, for a Palestinian state as well as for
security and acceptance for Israel.
There are such voices. One is Americans for Peace Now. APN has
been working hard for this agenda for many years, at the grassroots
level, in Washington and in Israel, with a very large coalition of peace
activists there. They speak to the US Jewish community, they speak to
other Americans, they speak to Palestinians and they speak to power. New
voices mean new strength for this agenda, so welcome to the Tikkun
Community. But they are not voices in the wilderness.
ROSALIND S. PAASWELL
I am delighted to read some constructive ideas on the Israel/Palestine
quagmire. As Rabbi Lerner proposes, a good place to start is with a "big
stick" wielded by an international effort to impose some separation and
order. However, I also think a "carrot" is essential to effect a change
of mind. I propose a Marshall Plan for Palestine--a model for the Middle
East. They need democracy, schools, infrastructure, small business
financing--all the basics for a progressive, prosperous country. When
there is prosperity for all, reasonable people don't want to rock the
boat. The religious fanatics would become increasingly irrelevant. Peace
in the area would thus be reinforced. The United States should lead the
effort, as we have much to gain. We'd be the good guys for a change.
I have never felt the urge to respond to anything I've read on the
Internet, but I want to show my admiration and gratitude to Michael
Lerner. His is about the only sane and objective Jewish voice on the
Israeli-Palestinian crisis I've heard. More power (and media outlets) to
you for recognizing the suffering of and injustices done to the
Palestinians. It really hurts to see so many turn a blind eye to the
root cause of the violence. As an Arab-American I am heartened to read
this article and hope that it reaches Jewish and non-Jewish Americans
and helps them realize the moral obligation of the United States to help
solve this crisis.
Although I admire Michael Lerner's courage (I understand that he has
been getting death threats) and strongly agree with his opposition to
Israel's armed occupation of the Palestinian territories, I regret that
he seems unwilling to face the most difficult moral dilemma presented by
the state of Israel and its very disturbing history, which must be
resolved by both Jews and non-Jews. Is there any moral justification for
supporting a state that is fundamentally dedicated to the welfare and
power of one religion and its believers over all others? Is there any
moral justification for supporting a state that has repeatedly invaded
its neighbors, killed thousands of nonbelligerents, destroyed housing,
agriculture and civil infrastructure and confiscated the land and
property of others without compensation? Is there any moral
justification for supporting a state that has repeatedly violated
international law and UN resolutions while scorning world opinion and
humiliating the leadership of the United States, without whose aid it
would not exist? Finally, is support for Israel truly an expression of
solidarity with fellow Jews or is it a profound betrayal of centuries of
Jewish tradition, from Hillel to Einstein, which has always celebrated
human dignity, justice and peace?
MARVIN A. GLUCK
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GOULD & SCIENCE FOR THE PEOPLE
In his excellent June 17 piece on Stephen Jay Gould, John Nichols
mentions the Science for the People movement and our involvement in it,
and by implication incorrectly places Steve and me in leading roles.
Neither Steve nor I was a founder of Science for the People, nor were we
in any sense leading actors in it. True, we did each write an occasional
piece for the Science for the People Magazine and were members of
SftP study groups--for example, the Sociobiology Study Group--and we
each appeared at some SftP public functions and press conferences and
helped write some of its public statements. We were, however, much less
responsible and active in the movement than many others who devoted
immense amounts of time and energy to it and who kept it going for so
It is important to understand the nature of the Science for the People
movement. It came out of the anti-elitist, anti-authoritarian movement
of the 1960s and was committed to participatory democracy and lack of
central organization. Like many others, Steve and I separately became
adherents of the movement precisely because of its anti-elitism and
participatory nature, as well as for its political orientation. We all
struggled very hard to prevent those outside it from picturing it
falsely and conventionally as being composed of leading persons and
their allies. If, despite everyone's best efforts, there were some
people who from time to time were forced into leading roles, Steve and I
were never among them.
TOUGH LOVE FOR ISRAEL
Philadelphia; New York City
Liza Featherstone in "The Mideast War Breaks Out on Campus" [June 17]
mentions a number of Jewish groups critical of Israeli policy in the
occupied territories, including Rabbinical Students for a Just Peace,
the group of 108 students from seven rabbinical seminaries (not only the
Jewish Theological Seminary, as indicated in the article) who recently
sent a letter asking American Jewish leaders to recognize the suffering
of the Palestinians and to support the creation of a viable Palestinian
As two of the organizers of this letter, we wish to clarify that our
goal is both, as Featherstone indicates, to be "outspoken critics of
Israeli policy" and to support Israel's right to a secure existence
within its pre-1967 borders. Discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict generally suffers from a lack of nuance. Both pro-Israel and
pro-Palestine activists routinely vilify the other and ignore the
mistakes and abuses committed by those they support.
As future rabbis who have spent significant time living in Israel, we
speak out of deep love for Israel and concern for Israel's continued
security. We are committed to creating a Zionist, pro-Israel voice
willing to criticize Israeli policy, out of a desire to guarantee
Palestinians the right to live in dignity in their own state, and to
insure the security of Israel. Our views may appear radical within the
context of an American Jewish community that offers unqualified support
for the Israeli government, but they are in no way inconsistent with the
mainstream Israeli political debate, which has always allowed for a
greater range of opinion than does the US pro-Israel community.
SHOSHANA LEIS GROSS
DO WHAT MEN DO: HAVE IT ALL
I agree with Katha Pollitt that being childless can be as voluntary a
choice for women as for men ["Subject to Debate," May 13] and that we
sometimes make choices "unconsciously" by giving a goal a low priority
and then getting to the point where it is no longer achievable. But I'd
like to make one point: Successful, high-achieving women might consider
the "marriage strategy" of successful, high-achieving men. If you want a
fulfilling marriage and a high-powered career, choose a spouse
who is willing to put your career ahead of theirs--someone who loves you
enough to "hitch their wagon to your star."
Men have always felt free to marry for love and emotional support and to
choose women younger, poorer and less educated than themselves. Women
could broaden their "eligibility pool" in a similar way.
JOHN F. BRADLEY
RAWA IN THE USA & AFGHANISTAN
We applaud Jan Goodwin's "An Uneasy Peace" [April 29] on the perilous
situation for Afghan women and the crucial need for basic security.
However, we were dismayed by her characterization of the Afghan women's
organization RAWA as having "garnered considerably more publicity in the
United States than it has credibility in its own country." Both sides of
this comparison are oversimplified and dangerously misleading.
RAWA (www.rawa.org), an indigenous organization founded in 1977, has
indeed become better known in recent years, but not only in the United
States, and not for superficial reasons (as Goodwin suggests by setting
"publicity" against "credibility"). Rather, RAWA's website (since 1997)
and its dogged work for humanitarian relief, underground education and
documenting fundamentalist atrocities have broadened its international
Goodwin's statement also implies that RAWA lacks credibility in
Afghanistan. Certainly, jihadis, Taliban and other extremists will say
RAWA members are whores and communists, because they oppose RAWA's goals
(e.g., secular democratic government) and very existence. Among Afghan
refugees, however, RAWA is said by many to be one of the few
organizations that keeps its promises and is respected because it is
Afghan and has remained active in Afghanistan across two decades of
conflict. People in both Afghanistan and Pakistan speak highly of its
schools, orphanages, hospital, income-generating projects and views.
However, many inside Afghanistan do not know when they have benefited
from RAWA's help, since threats and persecution have made it impossibly
dangerous for RAWA to take credit for much of its work.
This is indeed a pivotal moment for human rights in Afghanistan,
including women's rights. It would therefore be a grave mistake to
misrepresent a major force advancing these goals: RAWA is,
unfortunately, the only independent, pro-democracy, humanitarian and
political women's grassroots organization in Afghanistan.
As a factual correction, while Sima Samar is a former member of RAWA,
she was not among the founders.
ANNE E. BRODSKY
New York City
Concerning RAWA's credibility, I was surprised that Anne Brodsky, who
was handling press and helping to host the RAWA representative during
her tour of the United States last fall, failed to disclose that
Western feminists may be able to identify with what RAWA has to say, but
as I mentioned in my article, the group lacks credibility and acceptance
in its own country. Part of its marginalization has to do with its
inability to make alliances with other Afghan organizations of any
stripe. RAWA is also not the only humanitarian and political women's
organization in Afghanistan, and to suggest so is to insult the many
Afghan women who have risked their lives to work in these arenas through
twenty-three years of conflict. Sima Samar was indeed a founding member
of RAWA but since breaking with the organization some years ago has been
disavowed by them.
A GEORGE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Senator McGovern's "Questions for Mr. Bush" [April 22] speaks to my heart.
Bravo! We do have fascist madmen in the White House, and phrases like
"Axis of Evil" and "War on Terrorism" are going to be the end of us. I
am relieved that there are still intelligent men in the world working
for the good.
Melrose Park, Pa.
I voted for George McGovern in 1972, but I cannot agree with some of
the views in his editorial. He wonders if the Bush Administration's
bunker mentality suffers from paranoia, if the Bush team has become
obsessed with terrorism and if terrorism may replace Communism "as the
second great hobgoblin of our age." These questions reflect a deep
skepticism about the severity of the threat from Al Qaeda, a skepticism
shared by many writers for The Nation and close to denial in its
pervasiveness. Millions of other Americans, however, realized soon after
September 11 that our immense infrastructure is vulnerable precisely
because it is so large and diverse. Dams, bridges, tunnels, 103 nuclear
reactors, airports--all these and more must now be guarded against
Senator Ted Kennedy has co-sponsored funding for measures against
bioterrorism, while Senators Tom Harkin, Carl Levin and Paul Sarbanes
have chaired major hearings. Gary Hart chaired a commission two years
ago that warned of attacks such as September 11. These former colleagues
of Senator McGovern appear to believe that the terrorist threat is not a
hobgoblin, but all too real.
George McGovern was my hero when he ran for the presidency, oh so many
years ago. A more decent and capable man would be hard to imagine. The
weakness in his bid may, in fact, have been his honesty and
kindness--commodities not in much demand in a system that worships money
and power. McGovern argues for the nexus of poverty, oppression and
violence. He is far too generous in giving the Bush team the benefit of
the doubt that they will learn on the job and improve policies. I
started with Truman, and in my lifetime the presidency has never been
occupied by a smaller figure.
J. RUSSELL TYLDESLEY
I so wish George McGovern were our President right now.
CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR
If Fidel Castro rises to George W. Bush's challenge to hold "a real
election" and "to count [the] votes" ["In Fact...," June 10], will Bush
also challenge him to figure out a way to take office even if the people
don't elect him?
Thanks to Richard Falk and The Nation for daring to defy the
party line in the American media when it comes to Middle East coverage
["Ending the Death Dance," April 29]. Keep up the good work.
YUSUF A. NUR
Except for its criticism of the Bush Administration, Richard Falk's
article contains more sophisticated nonsense than almost anything I've
read. Bush is wrong, Sharon is wrong and Arafat stands by as young women
prostitute themselves as mass murderers. Meanwhile, Falk and The
Nation raise sophistry to new heights.
Even in the Arab press it would be hard to find such distortions,
misleading statements and open justification of suicide bombers as are
in Richard Falk's article. For example:
(1) Falk justifies suicide bombers as the "only means still available"
for the Palestinians. One can only react to such an endorsement of
suicide bombers with outrage.
(2) Then he equates the suicide Passover bombing at Netanya with the
Israeli incursion in the West Bank. The Israeli incursion may have been
wrong, but not all wrongs are moral equivalents. The suicide bombings
have no possible justification and are sheer terror.
(3) Falk says Arafat did not opt for terrorism. What a distortion.
Arafat's history of terrorism, from hijacking in 1968 to Munich in 1972
and thereafter is documented beyond contradiction. Has Falk forgotten
Arafat's financial support for and public tribute to "martyrs"?
There are numerous other distortions in the article, but worst of all is
Falk's blatant justification of suicide bombers. Just what is Falk's
affinity for terrorists?
JEROME J. SHESTACK
Richard Falk says, "surely the United States is not primarily
responsible for this horrifying spectacle of bloodshed and suffering."
Such a view is typical of coverage of the conflict across the spectrum
of the US press, from left to right. If we look solely at the
actions of the United States, it is clear that this country is
backing the occupation of Palestine with great vigor and enthusiasm.
Last December, the Defense Department signed off on a sale of fifty-two
F-16 fighter jets and 106 million gallons of jet fuel to Israel through
the Foreign Military Sales program, earning Lockheed Martin $1.3 billion
and Valero Energy $95 million.
If this doesn't constitute a green light to Prime Minister Sharon for
the siege of Ramallah, then it certainly enables it. There is some
controversy over whether Iran is backing the Palestinian Authority with
military aid; it's beyond dispute that Israel is armed to the teeth with
US-made weapons. If President Bush is genuine in his call for an Israeli
withdrawal, then he should suspend military aid to Israel immediately.
Of course the violence is not beyond our control.
Senator Jesse Helms, once head of the Foreign Relations Committee,
stated in 1995: "Israel is at least the equivalent of a US aircraft
carrier in the Middle East." There is no mystery here. Israel's military
aggression guarantees the maintenance of US global domination. As long
as we keep silent about the crimes committed in our name, Palestinians
and Israelis alike will continue to die.
Richard Falk begins on a false premise and goes downhill from there.
He claims simplistically that many analysts fault Arafat and the
Palestinians because Ehud Barak at Camp David made an offer Arafat
should have accepted. Actually, the argument is not that Arafat should
have accepted the offer but that Arafat should have negotiated and made
a counteroffer. Any counteroffer at all would have been welcome.
Instead, Arafat made a fool of Barak and President Clinton and crushed
the hopes that political moderates in Israel would be the driving force
for peace. Falk treats the most significant gesture on Israel's part
toward peace as rather trivial and similarly downplays Arafat's present
attempt to make Israel bargain against itself through targeting innocent
women and children.
Falk apparently feels that sophisticated people will agree that the
Palestinians have no choice but to send suicide bombers into churches
and marketplaces. However, there are certain tactics that cannot be
rationalized as part of a bargaining process. The Palestinians can
bargain by using publicity, civil disobedience, general strikes,
boycotts, marches and other peaceful methods to help obtain their goals
and popularize them. Instead, they violate the most fundamental notions
of civilized behavior. No one can endorse wholeheartedly Israel's
fiercely violent response. However, we can understand it and agree that
it is necessary for the self-defense of its citizens.
EDWARD C. SWEENEY
Richard Falk ignorantly states that the Oslo agreements concerned 22
percent of the original British Mandate over Palestine, leaving 78
percent to Israel. The original mandate over Palestine also included
what is now Jordan, which was essentially created by Winston Churchill
when the British client Sharif Hussein was booted out of Mecca. Will
Falk say next that the Six-Day War was a war of Israeli conquest? Or
that there was a Palestinian national consciousness in 1948? You should
JEFFREY A. GOLDMAN
New York City
Thank you for Richard Falk's bold and clear analysis of the current
morass in the Middle East, which provides some much-needed corrections
to the mainstream media's narrative of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It
was high time someone pointed out that Sharon is at least as much an
obstacle to peace as Arafat.
Indeed, nothing in Sharon's career, or in his actions since his visit to
the Temple Mount, suggests that peace is remotely a priority for him.
His only goal is to expand Israeli settlements so that the prospect of a
contiguous, viable state within which Palestinians can live in dignity
becomes ever more slim. He is basically continuing the same colonialist
project that he helped initiate as agriculture minister.
It is amazing that in this country, for the most part, people react with
such horror to the suicide bombings (which are indeed deplorable) but
take no notice of the Israeli settlements. The settlements are the
original violence to which all Palestinian action is a retaliation. To
pretend that violence originates with the Palestinians and that Israel
only retaliates out of necessity is a grotesque reversal of causality.
One hopes that Falk's bold piece will give at least a momentary pause to
many who are otherwise committed to perpetuating the official lies.
How long can pernicious myths persist? Richard Falk writes, "It was
Sharon's own provocative visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque that started the
second intifada." This is a blatant deception. On December 6, 2000, the
semiofficial Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Ayyam reported as
follows: "Speaking at a symposium in Gaza, Palestinian Minister of
Communications, Imad Al-Falouji, confirmed that the Palestinian
Authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current
intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, this in
accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself. Mr.
Falouji went on to state that Arafat launched this intifada as a
culminating stage to the immutable Palestinian stance in the
negotiations, and was not meant merely as a protest of Israeli
opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount." Why does
Falk ignore the damning statements of a Palestinian government official
in an article that purports to get at the reality behind the image?
Thank you for Richard Falk's intelligent and balanced piece, which
places blame and responsibility for the madness in the Middle East right
where it really belongs--with Sharon. I am sick of the lies that assault
us endlessly in the nonexistent daily "news." Sharon is a butcher and an
intransigent, blind criminal whose actions could easily cascade into
World War III and destroy everyone on earth just to fulfill his own
sick, narcissistic sense of destiny. The parallels to Hitler are now
Superb! If only all American media had the guts to address the blatant
hypocrisy and bias the US government employs when dealing with the
Israel-Palestine crisis. Richard Falk has done an outstanding job of
delineating the injustices perpetrated by the Israelis and has revealed
another side to the story that should be reported on a far greater
I anchor my response in a personal observation. My whole intention in
"Ending the Death Dance" was to focus on the need for a fair solution
that brings peace and justice to both peoples. As a Jew I am profoundly
concerned with the future and well-being of the Jewish people. To
consider me "a self-hating Jew" because I am critical of the Israeli
government or of certain interpretations of Zionism is absurd, as if
being an opponent of the Vietnam War made me "a self-hating American"!
The most vital premise of democracy and cosmopolitanism is that
conscience trumps both obedience to the state and tribal loyalties, and
that international law should be respected to the extent possible,
especially by one's own country.
The harsh tone of the critical letters reveals a partisan unwillingness
to engage in serious dialogue; denunciation and distortion takes the
place of argument and discussion, thus reinforcing the gathering gloom
about how to resolve the Israel-Palestine struggle. Take Jerome
Shestack's provocative assertion that my analysis displays a "blatant
justification of suicide bombers" and an "affinity for terrorists."
Could I have been clearer than to assert early in the piece that what I
write is "not in any way to excuse Palestinian suicide bombers and other
violence against civilians"? Far from any alleged affinity for
terrorists, I condemned all forms of terrorism, and avoided the
distorted effects of treating only antistate violence as terrorism and
regarding state violence as "self-defense" and "security." As I argued,
George W. Bush has contributed mightily to this lethal distortion of the
meaning of terrorism by the way he phrased the post-September 11
campaign against global terrorism.
I essentially agree with Edward Sweeney's point that Arafat is to be
faulted not for rejecting the Barak/Clinton proposals but for his
lamentable failure to explain the grounds of his rejection and, even
more, for his failure to produce a credible counteroffer, providing the
Palestinians and the world with an image on behalf of the Palestinian
Authority of a fair peace. Arafat remains an enigmatic figure, as
disappointing to militant Palestinians who feel shamed by their leader's
deference to Washington as he is enraging to those who expect the
Palestinians to accept Israeli occupation of their territories without a
whimper of resistance.
Jeffrey Goldman's comments about the British Mandate of Palestine and
its relation to modern Jordan are confusing and wrong. The part of the
original Palestine Mandate that has been the scene of the
Israel-Palestine struggle has nothing to do with the sovereign territory
of Jordan. Jordan occupied the West Bank during the 1948 war, and
administered the territory until 1967, when Israel became the occupying
power as a result of the Six-Day War, but with the understanding
unanimously backed by the Security Council in famous Resolution 242 that
Israel was under a duty to withdraw "from territories occupied in the
recent conflict." The US government has all along backed this 1967
resolution as the starting point for any vision of peace between the two
My point was different and, I feel, important. By removing pre-1967
Israel from the Oslo negotiations, the Palestinians were conceding 78
percent of the territory of the Palestine Mandate partitioned by the UN
in 1947, leaving 22 percent available for a potential Palestinian state
(that is, 5,897 square kilometers versus Israel's 20,235 square
kilometers) and making the presence of more than 200 armed settlements
in the West Bank protected by IDF forces radically inconsistent with the
agreed goal of a viable Palestinian state. There is a second Palestinian
concession that should also be taken into account: In contrast to the
modern belief that legitimate sovereign states should be secular,
without religious or ethnic identity, the Palestinian leadership has not
questioned the Jewish identity of Israel even though it means that the
Palestinian minority of over 1 million will remain second-class Israeli
citizens indefinitely and that any Palestine that emerges will be an
ethnic state whether the Palestinians desire it or not. Israel has not
even contemplated comparable concessions to Palestinian aspirations.
Finally, Jordan Green's argument that the US government has seen Israel,
at least since 1967, as a strategic partner in the Middle East is
pushing against an open door. My only point was to stress that in the
setting of the conflict with the Palestinians, it is Israel that makes
the decisions on how to pursue peace and security, and although backed
to the hilt by Washington, "primary responsibility" lies with Israel.
NOT AN APOLOGIST FOR ISRAEL
His justifiable zeal to defend Palestinian rights leads Alexander
Cockburn to call me an apologist for "policies put into practice by
racists, ethnic cleansers and, in Sharon's case, an unquestioned war
criminal who should be in the dock for his conduct" ["Beat the Devil,"
June 3]. Since I share Cockburn's criticism of reflexive support for
every Israeli policy and I agree with much of what he says about false
claims of anti-Semitism, I wish he'd accompanied his identification of
my possible inconsistencies with accurate reporting of what I actually
wrote. Ascribing to me words I'd never say and views I reject is either
sloppy or dishonest.
My essay in Salon suggested the pro-Palestinian left should
address, where it exists, anti-Semitism, superficial argumentation and
difficulties of communication. I end with this: "The justice-based left
must seek analyses and solutions built on general principles, and reject
those that make new forms of oppression inevitable."
I also say this: I march to protest Israeli policy; Israel has committed
past massacres and West Bank atrocities; ending Palestinian oppression
is central; the occupation must end; expulsion of Palestinians would
amount to ethnic cleansing; the pro-Israel explanation of how
Palestinians became refugees in 1948 is unsupported; armed resistance
(though not against uninvolved civilians) is legitimate; a Palestinian
call for militant nonviolent resistance is welcome. And I say clearly
that opposing Israeli policy is not anti-Semitic.
Cockburn's absolutism is matched by his opposites. A letter to my local
newspaper, for which I write a column, claimed that my views would lead
to "the destruction of Israel and create a danger to Jews throughout the
world." That writer, too, sees only what he wants to see.
I continue to advocate justice-focused discussion. Please see
people.uis.edu/dfox1/politics/israel.html for more.
There was nothing sloppy or dishonest about what I wrote. The third
paragraph of Fox's letter is fine, and if my column pushed him to make
it clear, it served its purpose. I wish he'd written it in his
NOT AN ON-THE-RECORD SOURCE
Jason Leopold's "White Should Go--Now" [May 27] is built upon lies and
unethical reporting. Not only did Leopold unethically list me as an
on-the-record source, he attributed comments to me that were never
discussed and are absolutely not true.
In reference to energy contracts signed with major California customers
in 1998, the article incorrectly states, "Jestings said he told [Thomas]
White that EES [Enron Energy Services] would actually lose money this
way, but White said Enron would make up the difference by selling
electricity on the spot market...which Enron had bet would skyrocket in
2000." The article continues the lies by stating that "Jestings said he
continued to complain to White that the profits declared by the retail
unit were not real." These statements were never made to Leopold and are
absolutely false. I had significant responsibility for these 1998
contracts and believed that they would be profitable, and therefore I
would never have made such statements. Furthermore, if Enron believed
the spot market would skyrocket in 2000, it would never have signed
long-term, fixed-rate contracts with these California customers in 1998!
Leopold then states that "Jestings said he resigned from EES in 2000
because he did not agree with the way EES reported profits." Again, this
is not true. I resigned in early 1999 for personal reasons and not
because of the way EES reported profits. In fact, EES was not making
profits when I left.
It is clear that Leopold is trying to build a picture of cover-up and
manipulation by White using statements falsely attributed to me. This is
irresponsible reporting at its worst. In my short tenure at EES, I
developed great respect for White. He is an honest and ethical man and
deserves fair reporting.
During my hourlong conversations with Lee Jestings on not one but
three different occasions leading up to the publication of this story, I
reminded Jestings that I would be using his comments in print. Simply
put, Jestings was well aware that he was on the record. He cannot
retract his statements after the fact and then accuse me of being
unethical and a liar. I sought out Jestings, and when I found him he
chose to respond to my numerous questions about EES and Thomas White. I
did, however, mistakenly report that Jestings left EES in 2000.
Jestings says that EES did not show a profit when he left. However, EES
under White's leadership reported that the unit was profitable in 1999
after Jestings left the company. But Enron was forced in April to
restate those profits because they were illusory. Moreover, Jestings
said during the interview that he had taken issue with EES's use of
"mark to market" accounting, in which the unit was able to immediately
book gains based on contracts signed with large businesses. Jestings
never said during the interview that he believed these contracts would
eventually become profitable. But that's beside the point. Jestings said
EES's use of aggressive accounting tactics during White's tenure left
shareholders believing the company was performing better than it
Jestings says White was honest and ethical while he was vice chairman at
EES. My report indicates otherwise.
NOT SMALLER THAN A DAISY CUTTER
West Orange, NJ
There was a critical error in "Relearning to Love the Bomb" by Raffi
Khatchadourian [April 1]. Khatchadourian says that so-called mini-nukes
of about five-kiloton yield have smaller explosive effects than the US
conventional "daisy cutter" bombs. This is clearly wrong. A five-kiloton
explosion is equal to 5,000 tons of TNT, while the daisy cutter weighs
only 7.5 tons. Even allowing for the development of modern explosives
more powerful than TNT, the difference between the weapons, and their
relative destructive potential, is of several orders of magnitude. The
following excerpt from the Federation of American Scientists' Military
Analysis Network (www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/dumb/blu-82.htm) directly addresses that point.
"The BLU-82B/C-130 weapon system, nicknamed Commando Vault in Vietnam
and Daisy Cutter in Afghanistan, is a high altitude delivery of
15,000-pound conventional bomb, delivered from an MC-130 since it is far
too heavy for the bomb racks on any bomber or attack aircraft.
Originally designed to create an instant clearing in the jungle, it has
been used in Afghanistan as an anti-personnel weapon and as an
intimidation weapon because of its very large lethal radius (variously
reported as 300-900 feet) combined with flash and sound visible at long
distances. It is the largest conventional bomb in existence but is less
than one thousandth the power of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb."
No useful analysis of nuclear policy can be made by equating large
conventional bombs with even the smallest nuclear bombs in any way. An
analysis of policy and decision-making regarding the
conventional/nuclear threshold demands a clear understanding of how very
powerful and devastating nuclear weapons are. The author seems to be
blurring the lines of allowable nuclear-weapons use far more than the
Administration he criticizes.
New York City
Let me begin by pointing out that I said "five kilotons or less." Some
proponents of new nukes have pushed for weapons of lower tonnage. Others
argue that five kilotons is roughly optimal.
C. Paul Robinson, director of Sandia National Laboratories, demonstrates
the debate: "I'm not talking about sub-kiloton weapons...
as some have advocated, but devices in the low-kiloton range, in order
to contemplate the destruction of hard or hidden targets, while being
mindful of the need to minimize collateral damage." In April, Benjamin
Friedman, an analyst at the Center for Defense Information, wrote: "What
is revolutionary about current proposals is the idea of reducing the
yield of tactical nuclear weapons to levels approaching those of
conventional explosives, to around one-tenth of a kiloton, which would
theoretically bridge the gap between a conventional and a nuclear
The United States has developed "sub-kiloton" atomic weapons before. One
such weapon, the Davy Crockett, contained warheads weighing only
fifty-one pounds, with explosive yields near 0.01 kilotons (roughly 10
tons of TNT). We made 2,100 of those between 1956 and 1963.
When my article was written, it was unclear what size the Bush
Administration's defense team envisioned for its nuclear bunker buster.
To a degree it still isn't, although some now suggest it could be above
five kilotons. However, this doesn't change what's being contemplated: a
weapon that appears to avoid the kind of casualties that put current
nukes outside the boundary of political acceptability.
I regret if I seemed to suggest that a five-kiloton nuclear warhead
could be smaller in explosive power than the world's largest
conventional weapon. That is inaccurate. I attempted to illustrate that
on the continuum of weaponry, a gap that appeared inconceivably wide not
so long ago is now being pushed closer. As the recent Nuclear Posture
Review demonstrates, narrowing that distance is as much a matter of
ideas as a matter of tons.
NOT THE GREAT WHITE HOPE?
Katha Pollitt is right on about great white hope Dennis Kucinich
["Subject to Debate," May 27 and June 10]. The boys who disparage
abortion rights as a foolish, single-issue orthodoxy don't have a clue.
Here's a hint for you guys. "Abortion" is about equitable reproductive
health services for women, obviously including the ability to end a
pregnancy, but it's also about how we think of women, and how we treat
them. Are women valued as the sum of their reproductive parts, or as
We know where the fundamentalists stand: Protestant, Catholic, Hindu,
Islamic and Jewish fundamentalisms, as well as secular dictatorships,
are united on the need to control women's bodies. And now, thanks to
Pollitt, we know where Kucinich stands. He moves or he loses.
New York City
As co-directors of an organization of the economic left, we second
Katha Pollitt's admonition that Dennis Kucinich cannot claim the mantle
of an economic progressive while being virulently anti-choice.
Reproductive freedom is not just a matter of personal morality, it is a
fundamental element of economic justice. No woman can determine her own
economic destiny without the freedom to choose whether to bear a child.
Progressives looking for champions cannot be so desperate as to overlook
such a fundamental right. There are numerous other members of
Congress--of course, we'd like a lot more--who understand that
reproductive rights are part of the fight for economic justice.
RICHARD KIRSCH, KAREN SCHARFF
Citizen Action of New York
My weekly ritual of reading the Nation cover to cover on Monday
was stymied last week when my postman left my mailbox door open on a
soaker of a day. I got home eager for the week's insights only to find a
soggy Nation limp in the box. Eek! I ran upstairs and spastically looked
for options. My girlfriend with astonishment: "What the heck are you
doing?" when she saw me using the hair dryer to dry my coveted pages one
by one. Did you ever know how important your work is!
I enjoyed Matt Bivens's April 15 "Fighting for America's Energy
Independence," which is important in getting the vision and
possibilities of renewable energy sources to the public. I have one
small correction. Bivens says, "The Union of Concerned Scientists says
100 square miles in Nevada could produce enough solar electricity to
power the nation." The actual land area is more like 10,000 square miles
(a square 100 miles on a side) and the photovoltaic panels cover only
half that land. My explanation of the calculation of that number is in
the July 30, 1999, Science. Since then our energy use has grown,
and the area is now almost 12,000 square miles (110 miles on a
side)--still not a large area, when compared with the 45,000 square
miles of land we've covered with paved roads.
It is interesting to note, given the Freedom car announcement, that if
you wanted to supply hydrogen for 200 million fuel-cell vehicles
(current US fleet), you would need an area of only 3,600 square miles.
This is not necessarily the way we should do it, but it is important to
note that we have the technologies in hand to utilize the solar
resource, should we wish to exploit it.
JOHN A. TURNER
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Matt Bivens's implicit assumption that so-called renewable energies
have negligible external costs in relation to nuclear power is an often
repeated canard. According to an exhaustive study by the European Union,
the externalities of nuclear power are comparable to those of wind- or
solar-generated electricity. The study calculates external costs on a
euros-per-megawatt-hour basis for several means of generating
electricity and finds that the basic premise of Bivens's article cannot
be supported in Europe. Naturally, nuclear power also has the tremendous
advantage of not being beholden to the weather and being able to provide
a reliable base load, night and day, 24/7, 365 days a year. Many US
nuclear power plants routinely operate continuously for more than a year
without a glitch (see www.externe.info).
Simply put, to produce relatively small, unreliable amounts of
electricity, renewable energies must consume large amounts of materials
(some toxic, like selenium or cadmium for solar panels), land, natural
resources and person-power. Nuclear power produces abundant power from
small amounts of material, at small external costs, even when one
accounts for the vanishingly small probability of accidents and the cost
of waste disposal.
Matt Bivens does not mention battery-powered vehicles, which have zero
pollution and are now available as fleet vehicles (e.g., buses, trucks,
rental cars). One company, Electric Fuel Corp. (www.electric-fuel.com),
has demonstrated an electric bus using zinc/air batteries, which will
power a loaded, air-conditioned bus over a full day's bus route.
While the battery-powered (electric) bus is now available, a vehicle
will not be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell in the near future. The
current hydrogen fuel cell is many times the cost of an
internal-combustion engine, and it is likely that the hydrogen fuel will
be generated on board the vehicle from an oil derivative (e.g.,
methane), which will emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. It is high
time that someone recognized the high cost and limited usefulness of the
hydrogen fuel cell and the availability (today) of a zero-emission
(all-electric) fleet vehicle (see the MIT January/February Technology
Matt Bivens leaves out the single most effective method of reducing
dependence on fossil fuels: increased taxes on all types of fossil fuels
(with tax rebates/credits for low-income households). History shows that
the only truly effective way to reduce consumption of any good is to
raise its price. Increased fossil fuel taxes will get all businesses and
consumers to look hard for energy efficiency and alternative sources of
energy. Look at the gasoline tax in Europe and then look at the types of
cars people drive. Taxes on fuels will drive innovations in efficiency
and alternative sources of energy more directly and efficiently than
subsidies. Increased taxes will also reflect the true environmental
costs of fossil fuels, something the "market" does not do now.
Here in Florida (one of the most pesticide-polluted states in the
nation) it is almost impossible to produce your own electricity with
photovoltaic cells because it is too expensive. FP&L, the bandits
making electricity, using a very polluting plant, don't want it to
happen. Until March 18 you couldn't have a system because it was
prohibited, prohibitive and you couldn't connect to the grid. Now you
can, but it takes an investment of about $40,000. We subsidize the
polluters while the program that offered about $16,000 back to people
installing a solar system will not be renewed.
Florida's governor, like his brother, is not an environmentalist. The
only reason he doesn't want drilling along the coast of Florida is that
it would be bad for tourism. I hope they will drill along the
coast, as close as possible to the pristine beaches. Maybe then people
will wake up and abandon their SUVs (Stupid Ugly Vehicles) and start
thinking about the legacy they're leaving their kids. (I just exchanged
a minivan for a Toyota hybrid.)
Like most of the country, we are having a drought, but no one wants to
force new constructions to install water caption from roofs with
cisterns. My roof will collect 90,000 gallons of water a year, more than
my wife and I need, with enough left over to irrigate our fruit trees.
The stuff we do to our earth is crazy. Future generations will curse us
all the way to hell, with good reasons.
Matt Bivens's article is a "breath of fresh air." With Texas leading
the way in windpower plants, and several states following, I am anxious
to see the results of the two wind plants that are on the drawing board
here in Illinois. To a citizen in a small community of 15,000-plus
residents, this seems like a logical and safe way for our state, and our
country, to get our energy. The obvious worry is of the reliability of
wind to keep the turbines going, but with the billions upon billions the
government spends on slowly killing us all, I think we should take a
chance on it.
Your cover graphic perfectly illustrates the behavior of most
Americans regarding energy consumption/consumer habits. They're addicts.
It says that the masses of Americans indulge in an orgy of consumption
while engaging in a level of collective denial that would delight a
totalitarian regime. Every day I see them: overweight Americans (usually
alone) sucking on cigarettes and gobbling Big Macs while they careen
down the ever-expanding highways in their gas-guzzling,
pollution-belching SUVs. They're often waving American flags--their
statement to the world that they are somehow entitled to binge on the
world's finite resources.
As Bivens points out, we have the knowledge to take another path, of
energy independence, a much cleaner environment, a more sustainable
economy, lives saved, other countries not exploited, wars averted--but
one of reduced profits for the few in power. There's knowledge but lack
of will. And such is the denial of the addict who lies, cheats, exploits
and is hellbent on self-destruction. Such is the tragedy of the America
that is unfolding in the twenty-first century.
Please follow the advice of Boro Malinovic, and check out the Externe
research project he cites. There you'll read: "A major EU-funded
research study undertaken over the past 10 years has proven that the
cost of producing electricity from coal or oil would double and the cost
of electricity from gas would increase by 30 percent if external costs
such as damage to the environment and to health were taken into
So, this study backs up a key assertion
of my article: Renewables are already cost-competitive, provided the
market gets the prices right. Unfortunately, our market doesn't get the
prices right, and instead subsidizes oil, gas and coal with billions of
dollars of tax breaks and pork funding out of Washington, and less
directly, by shifting to you and me the financial burden for illnesses
and property destruction caused by pollution.
The text then asserts that "nuclear power involves relatively low
external costs due to its low influence on global warming and its low
probability of accidents in the EU power plants. Wind and hydro energy
present the lowest external costs." In other words: Even if you use a
very forgiving methodology that assumes no nuclear accidents,
wind power still beats nuclear power. Malinovic and Externe are
too boosterish in arguing the low probability of nuclear accidents.
After all, we have repeatedly heard since 9/11 that terrorists may hit
our nuclear plants. And a Chernobyl comes with a helluva price tag.
Even without acts of malice, our fleet of reactors is aging poorly.
Perhaps Malinovic and Externe are unaware of the spate of nozzle cracks
at reactors across America that have the NRC frightened; or of the
six-inch hole discovered in the reactor vessel head at Ohio's Davis
Beese nuclear power plant, where boric acid had eaten through the
reactor roof. Yes, in March Ohio was three-eighths of an inch from a
chain of possibilities ranging from bad to meltdown. A "vanishingly
small probability of accidents"? Then let the nuclear industry buy its
insurance on the open market like the rest of us instead of wheedling it
out of the government like a bunch of Soviet-era factory directors.
Malinovic worries about solar power's "large amounts" of toxics, like
cadmium and selenium. Irresponsible nonsense. (Whenever a nuclear-power
booster frets about "solar-power-generated toxic waste," hold on to your
George Douglas of the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy
Laboratory (NREL) puts that into perspective. Even if we got a whopping
20 percent of our energy from solar power, he says, we would still come
nowhere near to using as much cadmium for that as we do now in cell
phone and digital videocamera batteries. In fact, cadmium we now toss
away in the form of dead or obsolete rechargeable batteries can instead
be recycled into solar panels--where it will sit, inert and safe, for
the thirty-year life of the panel. Bottom line: Toxics are already out
in the world, and dealt with routinely at levels many times that
produced by solar power production. Malinovic is welcome to pursue his
concern about cadmium proliferation and launch a campaign to mandate
background checks and five-day waiting periods for purchasing cell
phones. Perhaps next he will tackle a far scarier menace: the highly
toxic and occasionally explosive mix of sulfuric acid--which eats
through skin and clothing--with lead dioxide plates and molded
polypropylene, otherwise known as the car battery, an institution that
will dwarf, for all time, all hazardous-material disposal problems
associated with solar power.
Josh Bruns is hopeful for wind but worried about its being an
intermittent power source. This is a drawback for both wind and solar
power. But as John Turner of NREL observes, we could use solar-generated
electricity to zap water and create hydrogen--which is another way of
saying we are technologically prepared to store electricity. The
hydrogen generated by wind farms at night could be poured into fuel
cells by day, and the fuel cells could churn out electricity for
everything from cars to factories. (I gratefully accept Turner's
correction and update of the figure I cited from the UCS.) It's also
worth noting that we have a grid that mixes electricity generated from
all sorts of sources. So as the EPA has observed, a kilowatt-hour of
solar PV capacity at work represents somewhere from 1,300 to 5,000
pounds of CO
Bill King says there are zinc/air battery-powered buses on the road, and
that's a fine thing. But he is incorrect in asserting there are no
fuel-cell vehicles; in fact, fuel-cell-powered buses are everywhere,
from California to Chicago to Vancouver. (The January/February
Technology Review has tons of articles about the rise of the fuel
cell; nothing about zinc/air batteries.) The municipal bus is a very
specific animal, however: It doesn't go fast, it has lots of room for
monster engine structures, and no one minds plugging it in for several
hours overnight. The real test will be personal autos, and the industry
and science consensus is that fuel cells are the next step. King is
correct in noting the debate over where the hydrogen comes from. Will it
be made from water by wind-powered electrolysis? Someday, yes, but later
is better than sooner for the oil-and-gas oligarchy. Will it in the
meantime be made from hydrocarbons like methane and natural gas?
Probably, because, again, that suits the oil companies. Will this happen
at a factory--with resulting hydrogen pumped to filling stations and
then to cars--or will it happen on board the car itself, with methane or
natural gas pumped into the tank and then "re-formed" to hydrogen?
Either way, harvesting hydrogen from natural gas or methane creates
carbon dioxide pollution. But it creates far less than burning gasoline
in internal combustion engines, it doesn't create other automobile
exhaust pollutants, and it's still a huge step toward the
wind-and-sun-fueled emission-free car.
I appreciate the ire of Jean Renoux and Glenn Reed and the tax argument
of John Mattar. It's good to be pissed off about these things. We are
paying extra for the privilege of being made sick; we should demand a
refund. But where I part ways with the left is in condemning SUVs, or
thinking of ways to make people do what we want by taxing them. There's
a much more positive argument to make: Charge the oil and gas companies
and nuclear power utilities the full cost of their revenue-generating
activities. Let them pay for at least some of the asthma hospital bills,
the catastrophic nuclear accident insurance, the cleaning up of uranium
mine tailings and for honest-to-goodness post-9/11 security along
pipelines, at refineries and at reactor facilities. Phase those charges
in at the right pace, and you'll see a pretty smooth market-driven,
job-creating transition to a twenty-first-century, clean,
terrorist-proof energy infrastructure.
TORTURE 'OFF THE BOOKS'?
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
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.
WILLIAM F. SCHULZ
HITCHENS'S 'CULTURE WAR'
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.
LBJ A RACIST? THINK AGAIN
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
PETER M. CONNOLLY
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.
DENNIS KUCINICH--BOY WONDER
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.
ROBERT J. HAVEL
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
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?
$OCIAL $ECURITY FIX: HR 3315
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
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 www.house.gov/defazio). 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
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
STATES LEAD US TO CLEAN ELECTIONS
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 (www.democracymatters.org).
ADONAL FOYLE, CHRIS VAETH
PACIFICA LICKS ITS WOUNDS
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
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
Interim Pacifica Advisory Board;
KPFK local advisory board
Your magazine is thin enough. Please don't waste any more space on
NATION 'SLAMS' FEMINISTS
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.