Web Letters | The Nation


Why #BlackLivesMatter Should Transform the Climate Debate

Klein’s linking of racism to climate change is clever, but her focus on environmental factors largely ignores the infectious diseases, hunger and violence that has had (and continues to have) a far greater impact on poor people of color than climate change. That will likely change in the coming years, but ignoring their more basic needs now will only accelerate the pace of that arrival. Promoting the massive climate march in NY, she spoke about the need for a “movement of movements,” bringing economic, social, peace and environmental movements together to transform the system now damaging our collective life support.

US foreign policy does appear to be racist. But it would more accurately be called “nationalist.” Our response to Ebola and ISIS was slow and insufficient… but we have done virtually nothing about Ukraine either. What’s needed is for all these movements to come together and make the Universal Declaration of Human Rights an enforceable document. At least the most of the world would have the basics to address the growing climate challenge we must all face.

[The author is the former chair of the United Nations Assocation Council of Organizations.]

Chuck Woolery

Rockville, MD

Dec 15 2014 - 12:22am

Why Is a Florida Man Facing Life in Prison For Lending a Friend His Car and Going to Sleep?

How could they logically, law or no law, convict a young man for giving his car to friends who then murdered someone? I could understand if he drove them there, that’s what I consider an accomplice, but he was a young kid who was drinking all night and I truly believe he thought they were kidding. I do not with all of my being think he thought these buddies of his were going to murder someone. To put him in jail for life with no change of parole is ludicrous. He’s done his time, which in my opinion was even too long. I think at a mile and a half, those buddies of his would have found a way to get there, it wasn’t that far.

Ursula Conroy

Scottsdale, AZ

Dec 10 2014 - 3:02pm

Our Public Education System Needs Transformation, Not ‘Reform’

Schools have become a disturbing microcosm of our society. Paradoxically, both the traditions of education and the new trends are contributing to our downfall. We need to dispel the notion that learning is twenty-five students sitting in a room listening to the teacher lecture at the front of the class. In some demographics, this traditionalist approach to education appears to work, but this is only because the homes that those students come from have trained them to sit silently and listen while an adult talks. Trust me, that was the home I came from, and that was the education I received.

Students who do not come from a culture or home where silence and respect for authority are valued spend the majority of their education being “managed,” not learning. For these students, if a teacher were to lecture at the front they would either sleep, talk to one another, or engage in other behaviors inappropriate for a classroom. As a result, the percentage of students graduating from high school who are actually ready for the intellectual demands of college has shrunk to 26 percent.

Everyone, from President Obama to a high school senior, can see that this percentage is far too low for a country that insists it is one of the finest in the world. Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction is to implement new standards, curriculum, and expensive education programs that solve nothing. In fact, these programs can drain a school’s budget, and rarely does a school see serious gains in achievement based off of a couple of new initiatives forced down an already over-worked staff’s collective throats.

As a teacher who has been told to implement at least five of these specialized reading programs and initiatives, I will tell you the real lessons the students learned: We all have to do things that don’t make sense in life or are boring. Do it anyway. Be silent. School is completely disconnected from real life. Reading is something you only do in school, and it is okay to stop once you’re out.

I will echo John Gatto, a teacher whose works have inspired me, in calling for learning to take place outside of the school walls. My greatest wish is, and will continue to be, for my students to leave my classroom as lifelong learners. When I became a teacher, I thought this was possible for all students. Now I realize that I am too small and impotent in the course of my students’ lives to change most of them. I think they look at me and say, “Okay, of course she reads, she’s an English teacher.” They don’t believe me or don’t understand that in order to be successful in life, you have to read widely, deeply, and passionately. Until I have the authority to take them outside of this building that they look at like a prison, they will never connect what we do here to life outside. Not until it is far too late.

Brianna Noll

Chicago, IL

Dec 9 2014 - 5:10pm

We Don’t Just Need Nicer Cops. We Need Fewer Cops.

Hi Alex, I think your article is a good entree into a discussion of the institutional nature of police violence, as opposed to the “good cop/bad cop” position pushed by the politicians and media, but I don’t think it goes far enough. In Counterpunch, Rob Urie used the oft-heard characterization of the police as an “occupying army.” This is far closer to the fundamental role of the police in a capitalist society. In “Militarism and Antimilitarism,” Karl Liebknecht spoke of the links between the “war abroad” and the “war at home,” and the application of state violence in waging that war. The role of the police in a capitalist society is not controlling disorder or waging the war on drugs or enforcing “broken windows” policies. These are all conjunctural expressions of their fundamental role, which is to sustain the “rights” of private property and uphold and reproduce the social relations that underlie our society, whether we are talking about the exploitation of labor or the racism that that glues together our society’s “hegemonic bloc,” among other things. In brief, the police is the clearest expression of the major role of the State as “a body of armed men,” in Engels terms.

You are correct that the scope of policing and incarceration has expanded in recent decades, but I feel that you don’t dig deeply enough into this process or its repercussions. And the “New Jim Crow” is only part of this. I believe the roots of the expansion lie in the very capitalist reason for being of the police, and reflect the advent of the neoliberal era. Remember the famous writings of Samuel P. Huntington for the Trilateral Commission, quoted by Holly Sklar, on the American public’s “excessive democratic expectations” and the breakdown of “traditional means of sociel control” in the wake of the civil rights and anti-war movements? Recall the similar statements in a more economic vein by then Federal Reserve Chair and fellow Trilateralist Paul Volcker: “The standard [of living] of the average American has to decline”? These indicate the direction that the state repressive apparatus would take from that time until now, in line with the neoliberal restructuring of capital and the State, itself.

Among the elements of modern policing that you failed to mention, are some that are extremely telling in terms of this much broader repressive mission of the forces that secure us against the “enemy at home.” The “war on drugs” is one key piece, because overall, the “war on drugs” is the repressive counterpart to NAFTA and other free trade agreements. William I. Robinson makes an extremely important point in this regard: “The “war on drugs” is the pretext for militarizing Mexico and organizing the systematic repression of any real and potential dissent. But the “war on drugs” has multiple functions for the system. In addition to legitimating the militarization of Mexico it allows for the criminalization of the dispossessed and of marginalized communities on both sides of the border, justifying the system of mass incarceration in the United States, especially of (but not limited to) black and Latino youth. It disrupts communities and undermines collective resistance, facilitates the imposition of vast new systems of social control. From Ferguson to Ayotzinapa; same enemy, same struggle.”

US immigration policy is part and parcel of this neoliberal restructuring. Among other things, it puts a lid on the pressure-cooker created by NAFTA for working people and the poor in Mexico and Central America. The “enemy abroad” becomes the “enemy at home” and, incidentally, that much more exploitable. It is no accident that many on the right have argued for an increased role for local police in immigration enforcement. For the moment, however, direct enforcement of immigration policy falls to ICE. But, immigrants are criminalized (particularly working class immigrants of color), and police do cooperate in their repression.

And then we have the “war on terrorism,” intertwined with the above and yet another domain of expanded policing and criminalization in the age of neoliberalism: It is explicitly under Homeland Security legislation that the police have become increasingly militarized, and centrally coordinated, as we saw in the repression of the Occupy movement. Like the “drug war,” this is also racialized repression (with all of the ideological “glue” mentioned above), as we saw in police spying against Muslim students, infiltration of mosques, sting operations, etc.

By looking at the big picture, it becomes clear that mere reforms or tinkering around the edges will not change the way policing is conducted. You are absolutely correct in that body cameras without accountability will have little effect. But, under the corporate state, can the police ever be held accountable? It is correct that multicultural policing is meaningless, given the role and institutional demands of policing. It is true that “community policing,” like “community school boards” are meaningless, while communities are disempowered entities beholden to monied interests. So, what are the implications that one could draw from the institutional role of the police? How will the problem of police violence be resolved?

Mike Friedman

Dec 6 2014 - 10:57pm

Darren Wilson: America’s ‘Model Policeman’

I don’t know how much experience the author has in black neighborhoods such as the one Michael Brown lived in, where the robbery of a storekeeper is just a “distraction” and is not really important. Michael Brown was a strong-arm thug. It speaks volumes for the neighborhood (and the author) that a strong-arm robbery was not considered important. It tells me that Michael Brown flouted the law whenever he wished, and used strong-arm tactics on anyone who tried to stop him. This was his normal reaction, so when a cop asked him to get out of the road, he responded with cursing and derogatory remarks. When the cop realized that he had stolen merchandise in plain sight and tried to interrogate him, he responded as he usually did—with violence. The author takes the word of Brown’s friend, who aided and abetted Brown’s robbery as valid? What nonsense! Anybody try to give him a lie-detector test?

Michael Brown didn’t start acting this way just recently, he most likely had a string of petty thefts in his past and a history of using his strength to bully his way out of trouble—only this time he tried to bully an armed adversary, with disastrous results. When people operate on the edges of the law, they are putting themselves in a dangerous position.

Kathryn Zimmerman


Dec 3 2014 - 12:22am

Why It’s Impossible to Indict a Cop

Not only do police in riot gear look uncomfortable, they are being asked to use force they are not trained in to resolve problems that are not resolvable by riot gear armies. If anything, the stupid uniforms provoke more than intimidate. Police do best on a one-to-one basis in helping people. That is their real job. When they are asked to look like a trained armed military, they look unusual. Unless police want to keep looking like the Charley Manson Police Brigade, they need to stop being aggressive looking and go back to talking to people in normal ways.

The role of the police has never been to kill people. It can never be the role of local police to kill unless there is a crazy person in our neighborhoods—only in the most severe situations (Brown was not). When a criminal assaults a policeman, they need to be punished, not killed, unless a life-threatening situation is at hand.

Joe Friday


Nov 28 2014 - 8:54pm

Why Ferguson Burns

The title should have read “Why Black Ferguson Burns” with pertinent facts. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! stood at the scene and pointed out that the burning sites were all in the black residential area, with not a cop standing guard, nor fire trucks rushing in with blaring horns. All the heavily armed, militarized troopers were guarding the white section of the city.

“Two Americas, one white and one black” still exist today.

Ben Jone


Nov 27 2014 - 3:45pm

When It Comes to Race, the Famous Dutch ‘Tolerance’ Runs Out

Good morning, I am very annoyed with the article you wrote regarding the old tradition of Sint Nikolaas in Holland. It is always easy to make judgements from outside. We do have the same tradition in Belgium, though Swarte Piet is not as present as it used to be. First, I am sure that none of the Dutch disguised as Zwarte Piet despise colored people.

Maybe you should have a look at your country. We do not treat colored people in Europe as you do in the USA. We do not park American natives destroying them gradually but surely. Colored people in Europe are entitled to social security, they receive free medical care, their children go to school like “white” children, free of charge. And if our social security system is not perfect, at least, it is accessible to everybody.

Last year, the Christmas decoration were taken off from our “Palais de Justice” because someone thought it would shock Muslims. Schools do not serve pork anymore at lunch time because, again, we must not shock Muslims. Well, you see, I start to find it difficult to accept. Belgium is a Christian country, and apparently, it seems to annoy people coming from abroad.

I cannot accept this. There must be a limit. As we say in French, when you want to beat a dog, you will always find a stick. Nothing is black and white. I was so happy to find your website and to read that, yes, there are Americans thinking differently. But I also know that the politically correct is one of your religion. Maybe, things are not so simple and the politically correct can be another expression of tyranny when it is applied without “shading”. Anyway, thank you for being there, after all, life is full of pleasant surprises.

Marianne Oppitz


Nov 22 2014 - 3:01pm

Midterm Media Meltdown

To Ben Franklin’s saying “in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” I would add “and not knowing the true vote counts cast on or tabulated by machines”. Why the American media ignores the documented failures of electronic voting machines and tabulators and blindly accepts the completely unverifiable results is enough to make a conspiracy theorist of Stephen Hawking.

There were hundreds of instances of electronic voting failures around the country in the last election but the national media pretended they didn’t happen or dismissed them as “local or isolated” issues. The problem with that treatment is unlike near nonexistent voter impersonation thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of votes were misapplied or not applied at all to candidates and or initiatives and unquestionably changed results and subverted the will of the people. When those problematic counts are for Congressional candidates they are a national issue that demands the attention of the national media.

As the media looks at the wreckage of the 2014 pre-election polls compared to the reported results the question of the accuracy of the reported totals is never asked. For the past eight years the press, and particularly the electronic media, has amplified the GOP screaming about what the press knew was nonexistent voter fraud. Even armed with the facts on the paucity of in person voter fraud the electronic media continued to provide thousands of hours for the GOP to make these specious claims unchallenged. The media’s acquiesce on the need for tougher voter ID allowed the GOP to justify voting restrictions unquestionably targeted at the Democrat base. We now know those restrictions reduce turnout by 3 percent or more and seemingly accounts for a significant portion of the pre-election variance.

Yet when the issue is about documented problems with casting and tabulating votes electronically they are completely silent or worse dismissive of those bringing the issue to the fore.

So when the subject of trying to understand how this years pre-election polls were so far off we have to demand the conversation include the issue of electronic voting and the known and demonstrable problems associated with electronic voting. Not demanding scrutiny of the problems is not only a failure of journalism but a failure of our civic responsibility as voters and citizens in a representative democracy where the common mans voice is expressed via the ballot box.



Nov 17 2014 - 6:08pm

Vote Working Families Party to Pressure Andrew Cuomo

The Working Party Families folks sold independent, progressive New Yorkers down the river when they caved to the Cuomo faction in the run-up to the Democratic Party primary. Despicable.

Paul J. Eichten

Syracuse, NY

Oct 30 2014 - 9:12pm