Web Letters | The Nation


Free to Choose?

“The constant obligation to choose leaves people perpetually anxious and, at times, incapable of making up their minds at all”? No persuasive evidence for this claim is given. It’s overblown psychological dodokaka—at best.

Would Rosenfeld prefer her choices be made for her by someone else?

Most of the people I know who’ve lived in the US find the scope of choice in many domains there one of its advantages.

Look, collectivism is a necessity for managing global warming, and for planning community services like health and fire prevention. But as seventy awful years of the USSR showed, it’s dead in the water as a general approach to social organization.

First Cohen, now Rosenfeld. Will The Nation never tire of arguing for Soviet-style collectivism?

Peter Brawley

McComb, MS

Jun 10 2014 - 11:32pm

Inside the Working Families Party’s Deal With Governor Cuomo

This morning I officially withdrew my support for the Working Families Parties. From now on, when I want to vote for a Democratic candidate, I will vote under the Democratic line, not the Working Families Party line. For progressive candidates, I’ll go Green.

With this latest endorsement of Governor Cuomo, it is now clear that the Working Families Party exists as nothing more than a proxy vote for Democrats, regardless of a candidate’s positions on the issues. Yes, Governor Cuomo has some progressive policies, including his support for same-sex marriage, gun control and abortion rights. But his favorable attitudes toward businesses and banks are regrettable. What’s more, his treatment of educators and public education is deplorable. His property tax cap has left schools scrambling for resources, and his education policies are ones that only test publishers and prep companies could love. Simply put, his policies have hurt New York children, and that is unforgivable.


Massapequa Park, NY

Jun 3 2014 - 8:47am

How to Shrink Inequality

From Item 1 of Robert Reich’s ten-step plan: “No American who works full time should be in poverty.” What of those—and even under the economists’ paradise of “full employment” this would be at least 5.5 percent of the labor force—who are unable to find full-time employment?

It’s notable what’s missing from Reich’s ten-part plan to address inequality. For workers, there’s higher wages, unions, progressive taxation. For the unemployed, there’s nothing at all: no mention of the government as an employer of last resort, no guarantee of an income sufficient for a dignified life. There’s talk earlier in the article of “policies designed to upgrade the skills of Americans,” and though he doesn’t do so here, I suspect Reich would be happy to endorse a plan to offer training to the unemployed in the hope that they will be able to struggle onto the bottom rung of the ladder and, in the process, knock someone else into the pool of the structurally unemployed. But addressing the needs of that inevitable pool? Nada. One might even suspect they deserve their fate, since it’s only Americans who work full time that deserve better.

And that’s not a surprise. We learn where we stand in the opening paragraph. Inequality is a necessity; without the fear of an undignified poverty, what incentive would there be for people to work hard? It’s only when inequality “becomes so great as to pose a serious threat to our economy” that it becomes problematic.

Some of us would prefer to live in a world where the economy exists to serve the population and not the other way around.

Or, put another way: what does Reich have to offer the woman at the close of Elizabeth’s Warren’s piece in the same issue, who has earned two master’s degrees and has taught herself computer programming but has to walk two miles to hear Warren speak because she hasn’t been able to find work for eighteen months and can’t afford to keep a car running? More education, apparently.

Daniel McNeal

Cincinnati, OH

May 28 2014 - 2:20pm

What Was Democracy?

A timely topic—and some excellent points made. A bit unfortunate, then, that there were some excellent points unmade. This in part, I assume, was a limitation of space—but my deeper suspicion is the limitation of geography. The authors may have fallen into the trap they describe—assuming that in matters of political economy, ethnicity trumps all—in their focus on Europe and the USA, and the restriction to commentary from those particular polities. We antipodeans have suffered a lifetime of Euro-arrogance, but have been lucky enough to enjoy a lifetime of Indo-Asian experimentation. The latter gives some hope that the liberal democratic model—changeable beast that it is—provides the right template for aspiring politicians.

The main point left unmade is the success of globalization measured in jobs, health outcomes and living standards. You could throw in some nonmeasurables like information flow, the bastard child of the liberalism that has capped population growth rates everywhere but Africa. These “successes” have bought with them any number of unintended consequences—some quite nasty—but all of them probably addressable. Not, though, by economics alone—let’s avoid the Marxian trap of seeing life as a series of economic transactions.

Karl M. may have mediated the debate for 100 years, but through our fixation on him we have relegated ethics (and philosophers) to the stands. The authors are perpetuating the trend by the selective interpretation of both the Runciman and Habermas position. Both philosophers seems to me to be reasonably optimistic about the liberal democratic machinery—while remaining clear-eyed about the messy way it runs. We would do well to listen closely to them, as well as to the Confucian take on the idea being tested in the various Chinas.

What the economists can tell us is that the policies that thrust the European Social Democrats into power have run their course—as the author points out, the rising tide of postwar growth floated a well-appointed welfare boat, but that growth is over. No amount of taxation will pay for the welfare net being demanded by electorates today. The adjustment will be painful, and involve a reassessment of not just socialism but the role of the family, environmental values and individual ethical values.

“It turns out that these were crises [WWI/WWII/oil shortages/nuclear war] that democracy was able to surmount. But all of this provides scant comfort to those who worry about the crises of today.” Maybe not to the authors, but to this reader this record provides significant comfort. Not just the surmounting but the (reasonably) nonviolent process by which alternatives are emerging.

Rob Fraser


May 26 2014 - 1:06am

Why Narendra Modi’s Election Threatens Democracy in India

While you go on raving about Narendra Modi record in Gujarat riots, perhaps you should see what he actually said.

Do you know that millions of Muslims have actually been killed by the actions of Bush and Obama and millions have been left homeless?

Vinoba Bhave


May 24 2014 - 12:10pm

Teachers Are Losing Their Jobs, but Teach for America’s Expanding. What’s Wrong With That?

As a source for the May 5 article “Teachers Are Losing Their Jobs, but Teach for America’s Axpanding,” by Alexandra Hootnick, I thought it was a disingenuous take on an organization that has been recruiting and preparing new teachers for high-needs schools across the country for over twenty-four years.

I was surprised that the author used a two-year-old interview with me in my first year of teaching (a bewildering flashpoint for any new teacher or professional, for that matter) to frame her argument that Teach For America’s growth is outpacing need. If she had followed up with me today she would have learned that I’m currently headed into my fourth year of teaching math at South Shore Elementary, a high-needs school where 63 percent of kids receive Free and Reduced Lunch. She would have learned that while I do spend my summer vacation as an instructional coach helping train and support new corps members, I am not pursuing full-time roles with the organization, nor planning to leave the classroom anytime soon. She also would have learned about the incredible veteran teachers in my school who are a source of tremendous support and comradery. And most importantly, she would have heard about the incredible students I have taught for two years.

I was left wondering where the interviews with supporters were—such as the principals in the Puget Sound and now South Central Washington who hire corps members, and the 2011 alums in Washington who’ve been teaching well beyond two years. Or the parents who were standing up in those early school board meetings—parents like Mr. Keller who testified on my behalf during an unusually public and stressful hiring process. Or community leaders, who’ve welcomed us to the community with open arms. Or the committed faculty at UW who’ve played a huge role in my growth as a teacher and my ambitions to pursue a PhD in math education.

Like any good educator, I respect constructive criticism. Unfortunately, this piece just felt like digging into old wounds.

Kenneth Maldonado


May 20 2014 - 2:28pm

The Oklahoma Way of Death

Kim has it all wrong. The Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett was a total success. Granted it might have taken just a bit longer than the authorites and doctors had anticipated, but in the end it was still a successful execution. Only if Lockett had gotten up from the gurney and asked for a Snickers would that process be accurately called a “botched execution.” Semantics are everything in writing. As far Kim’s use of the word “cruel” in reference to the execution, considering that Lockett kidnapped, raped and shot his victim, and then buried her alive, to employ the adjective “cruel” in Lockett’s demise is purely conjecture.

John Zavesky

Riverside, CA

May 19 2014 - 4:48pm

Could a Hindu Extremist Become India’s Next Prime Minister?

This article was a hilarious read. The author has spent the past decade accusing Modi of a crime that, despite all efforts, no one could find any evidence Modi committed. Among the people who have investigated the case was the Congress party’s own Congress Bureau of Investigation. Now, when a party that absolutely hates Modi is forced to declare there is no evidence, you can be pretty sure that there is no evidence. I mean if they had any, they would have locked him up and avoided the 2014 election.

Now the author has cleverly changed his accusation to the charge that “the investigations” were false. A nice move, sir. Clearly, your last set of lies failed miserably, so why not try a new approach? This will also fail, because unlike under Sharia Law, in India we actually have to present evidence in a court of law to convict someone.

Finally, I thoroughly enjoy how our author is a fan of the Congress Party that presided over every single communal riot in Indian history (including the 1984 genocide of Sikhs and Gujarat’s worst riot—the 1969 riots.) However, like a true quack journalist, the author targets the sole riot to have occurred under BJP leadership. He also cleverly ignores the fact that the Samajwadi Party, which is led by a man who believes men have the right to rape women and his close friend Abu Azmi, who has demanded that rape victims in India be beaten as per Sharia, is currently ruling in the Centre and just had a terrible riot in their home-ruled state. But of course, our “secular” author ignores this while living in the only country that provides Hajj subsidy to Muslims. (That’s right, even Muslim countries dont subsidize Hajj), or the only country with separate civil laws for Muslims (laws whose treatment of women violates our own Constitution).

I, sir, would much prefer a “Hindu extremist” in power than one of the Muslim extremists you suggest. As a non-Hindu and non-Muslim, I know one thing for sure—some Hindus may be crazy, but even they won’t try to kill me nor will they try to force me to live under their religious law (they haven’t for the past 7,000 years!). The Muslims will.

Finally, let’s be honest, you won’t print this, because when have you ever printed the truth?



May 14 2014 - 6:20am

Where Shame Is Policy: Inside LA’s ‘Teacher Jail’

I am a lawyer. I “unretired” thirty-three months ago to represent a whistleblower who was suspended without pay and threatened with dismissal.

During the past thirty-three months I have been accumulating evidence that the Stevenson and Schiller cases are not exceptions but are the rule.

LAUSD is engaged in economic extortion: teachers are threatened with lengthy disciplinary procedures and given a “choice”: (a) resign, and LAUSD will allow you to slink away and nobody will know why you left; (b) challenge the charges, and you will be suspended without pay and benefits for an indefinite period of time. Further, until very recently, every teacher who chose to defend themselves against the charges was accused of “immoral conduct” under Education Code section 44939. However, since I have been challenging this vague, unconstitutional denial of due process, LAUSD recently started charging teachers with “willful refusal to perform regular assignments without reasonable cause”, another ground for summary suspension under section 44939.

As your article points out, most of the targeted teachers are over 40. However, the blatant age discrimination is only the tip of the iceberg, because most of these teachers are close to vesting lifetime, fully paid, health benefits.

LAUSD has actually calculated that it will save about a quarter of a million dollars for every teacher who does not vest lifetime health benefits. Add to this “bounty” the fact that these teachers are also at the top of the salary scale and being replaced by inexperienced teachers at the bottom of the scale, and LAUSD has a further financial incentive to engage in the academic equivalent of genocide based on seniority, age and length of service.

As you also point out, UTLA, the teacher’s union, has been ineffective, to say the least. Although very strong arguments can be made that UTLA should be filing an action against LAUSD to cease and desist its unconstitutional acts under Article V of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, UTLA has diverted its scarce resources to paying a single law firm to represent teachers, one case at a time.

I am willing to share my information with anyone who is interested in looking at “evidence” instead of public relations pieces—which is what it appears that you actually did. For example, you might be interested in a teacher who is, in effect, being dismissed for hitting a student’s fist with his ribs. Another has a charge that there was a dim bulb in her room (and it wasn’t just the person evaluating her, pardon the pun). Another recently won a hearing—and LAUSD immediately took it up a notch by filing a writ in superior court—where LAUSD lost! But, where is the press attention? It ain’t in LA … so, Nation, please take a look for us.

Ronald C. Lapekas

Los Angeles

May 13 2014 - 12:51am

The New Abolitionism

Christopher Hayes refers to Bill McKibben’s 2012 essay in Rolling Stone titled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” discussing McKibben’s conclusion that the fossil fuel industry needs to leave 80 percent of the carbon in the ground.

While certainly on point given the proposed Keystone XL project and the US fracking boom, Bill McKibben’s 2013 Rolling Stone “The Fossil Fuel Resistance” states that the magnitude of global warming means that “you need to do more than change your light bulbs.”

California, often heralded as the national if not international leader in decarbonizing California’s energy system and greening the grid, has very aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets requiring an 80 percent reduction in GHG emissions below 1990 levels by 2050. Energy efficiency (EE) often tops the lists of strategies by which state policy makers hope to achieve these goals. California’s recent decade of EE is a combination of largely short-lived light bulbs, longer-lived appliances and equipment, and state building codes and standards. With conservatively one-quarter of savings from higher efficiency light bulbs that burn out in about five years, cumulative savings decay over time. California has generally continued to discount the same light bulbs, while counting burn-out replacements as new savings, thus contributing to an overstatement of EE accomplishments. Because California’s GHG emission reduction targets are “forever,” EE savings must translate into consumption reductions that last decade(s) into the future. The state needs to redouble its EE efforts to meet its 2020 GHG intermediate electric sector EE targets, with even more aggressive EE savings after that to meet the ultimate state GHG 2050 targets.

Cynthia Mitchell

May 12 2014 - 1:23pm