Web Letters | The Nation


Citizen Marx

Although the notion of putting Karl Marx’s life into the framework of the picaresque tale of a Candide (the author is far from putting it that way himself) leaving the small town to explore the big bad world sounds ridiculously reductive in some respects, Sperber has apparently channeled the work of of a prior generation such as Peter Loewenberg, Erik Erikson and others, although they are unacknowledged, perhaps because of their unfashionable psychological associations these days for historians. This rags-to-riches tale, as it were, is a drily witty take on the great anti-capitalist in that regard. Thus, I would say Sperber treats him very much as a contemporary, contrary to the Nation reviewer’s assertion.

Although it looks like an imaginative and interesting work overall, I think the reviewer is very much correct to point out one principle difficulty with this book:

the young Marx has influences but not also doubts, questions, an earnest need to understand his world, [but] he comes off as an insufferable pedant, reading all the same books as everyone else but enigmatically presuming that everyone else is reading them wrong. We also miss the role that the shared pursuit of truth, so passionately defended in his early journalism, played in Marx’s intellectual and political relationships, particularly with Engels, as well as with others less educated or cultured than Marx himself. Maybe Sperber could not have captured the animating messiness of Marx’s world without throwing his book off balance.

But it is perhaps likely that this book will be considered an invaluable contribution to understanding Marx nonetheless, particularly for a crucial thirty-year period that has sometimes presented Rashomon-like difficulties of competing interpretations, especially of the psycho-cultural as opposed to religio-economic. (The latter could relate to the life of Freud as well, as a Jew who was concerned with the mental self-regulations of the mind, a sort of internal market of the mind whose “invisible hand” he wanted to discredit or at least unveil.)

T.C. Southall


Oct 12 2013 - 6:56am

Riot and Reunion: Forty Years Later

I’ve had the opportunity to read information about the 1967 uprising in Plainfield that is not available on the Internet. I am convinced that the police actually incited the violence by forcing a meeting to end, frustrating those who wanted to see change in Plainfield.

Regarding the killing of Officer Gleason: unfortunately, police reports of what happened to Gleason are just that. Police reports. And they are contradictory and far from the truth. There were no police who witnessed what happened.

A witness described the circumstances that led to the killing of Police Officer Gleason:

“And I see Bobby, I laugh ’cause it’s funny now, backin’ down the street, look like a Zulu warrior head band on his head, and I see this big, white police. They in the middle of the street. Bobby’s walking backwards like this—I can’t understand what they saying, but see how you’re sitting? They comin’ straight at us. I’m lookin’ at him. I said, ‘You know Reb, what the fuck is he doing?’ ‘What the hell you askin’ me, Chic? Let’s wait and see.’ All right?

“Here come the police and here come Bobby. There about this much distance in between both of them. Bobby’s callin’ his mama, callin’ the police mama and all kinds of names and the police is callin’ him—you ever seen a white person and the black people callin’ each other names, askin’ for—it was funny to me …

“But this time, Bobby had backed up on the curb. Louie’s leanin’ up on the fence. He’s lookin’ at it. All of a sudden, all hell broke loose! He did like this and pulled out his gun, ̵b;sBlack, that’s no shit.’s He just, he just fired it. He hit Bobby five times. Scared me. I never in my life see anybody get shot. Now I’m really scared….

“Somebody across the street threw something, and hit his helmet, right? He had on one of them helmets? Hit his helmet. He panics and turns around. Now you got to remember, there’s black people all up and down, everybody sees this, you see what I’m sayin’? It’s not just me and you—this street is covered with people. He panics a little bit, he starts backin’ up and he starts backin’ up, backin’ up, backin’ up.

“Then he turns and he goes ahead—and he started to run. The crowd is on him, includin’ me! Chasin’ him, chasin’ him, he was runnin’. He do this—I don’t know where that bugger went—turns back, and he shoots, right? He’s in the middle Plainfield section by the playground. He’s en route. He gotta go all the way to First Street to get to his home ground. He’s runnin’, boy, excuse me ma’am—this white boy was in it—and he had some deer on his ass. See what I’m sayin’? He was flyin’! But he had some deers, and they was—swosh—he got to Second street, the other side of the tracks, where this brother comin’ down, and I don’t know how this brother knew what happened, he hid behind the bridge like this. Soon as Gleason ran under the bridge he said ‘Whoo!’—up in the air Gleason sit—and when he came down in the gutter, they were waitin’ on him. And he went up in the air and made that flip over, and he hit the gutter and looked up. The wave was on him and they beat him to death!”

If not for three men, Cathcart, Ylvisaker and Hughes, there would have been a bloodbath. Ylvisaker said, “I am taking over in the name of the governor and you are relieved of this responsibility right now.” The Plainfield police were so angry that they were not permitted to flex their muscles and re-establish their form of “law and order” that they all quit their jobs. Of course, this was simply bravado. They returned to their jobs.

Elizabeth Faraone

Plainfield, NJ

Oct 9 2013 - 4:56pm

Racism and Cruelty: What’s Behind the GOP’s Healthcare Agenda?

I am really disgusted by the suggestion of Robert Scheer’s article and others that opposition to the Affordable Care Act is racist. It is just absurd. It may be true that Southern state governors have not bought into the law and setting up exchanges but it is not because race, it is their genuine belief that the ACA fundamentally changes American society in a negative way. There is a great cultural divide in our country as to what kind of country we want to be. Southern States tend to have a more traditional view in respect to values and culture and want the government to leave them alone. This is not about race, but about the character of the nation. Just because people disagree with the president does not make them racists and the claim is juvenile. So stop it.

Michael Hall

New Orleans

Oct 9 2013 - 3:03pm

The Real Hunger Games

There are no words more eloquent and to the point than those of the late Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, who said, “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” America has thus far failed that test.

During the height of the Great Recession food banks all across America were hurting because of substantially decreased donations, yet the number of people who were going to bed hungry, the very young and the elderly, has increased. The supermarket I shop at has coupons from the local food bank you get when you pay for your groceries in denominations of $1, $3 and $5, and you give them to the cashier with your donation and the cashier uses the bar code on the coupon to register your contribution. Countless number of times when I was shopping for food I saw people in line with shopping carts overflowing with food, and when the cashier asked each one of them, “Would you like to make a contribution to the local food bank?” every single person declined.

There is not a week that goes by when a newspaper somewhere in America does not report incidents of abuse, abandonment and neglect of the elderly, whether in their own home by their children or at nursing homes. Ask a physician or nurse who has it the worst in America and they will all respond “the elderly.” This is inexcusable in the richest nation in the world, and the problem grows worse year after year.

In Asia age is venerated, but in America it seems when the elderly are harmed by incompetent healthcare staff little if anything is ever done. The constant refrain is “well, they’re 80 years old and are not going to live forever. They’ve lived their life and probably didn’t have that much time left anyway, so although the poor care they received may have pushed them out the door they already had one foot out the door.” That attitude is something that is too prevalent in our society and is inexcusable and will not change until many more people find it intolerable and demand that states and the federal government do more to ensure that elderly citizens are treated with more respect and greater attention is paid to their care when they become unable to take care of themselves any longer.

The Republican Party seems hellbent on destroying the safety net that tens of millions of Americans have depended on for decades. To the Republicans food stamps, unemployment compensation, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are all evil and need to be drastically cut. What’s sad about all of this is that while we express our anger at the Republican politicians in Congress we forget that they would not be in office unless millions of Americans were voting for them. Since they are aware of the views of the people they are electing, they are just as guilty if not moreso than the politicians.

It’s sadly not only the Republican Party and the voters that support them. Listen to sports talk-radio shows all across America and you will hear caller after caller lambasting their local team for not paying an athlete tens of millions of dollars. In my own hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I heard hundreds of callers call in and say things like this at the same time the City of Philadelphia closed libraries in hundreds of public schools as well as closed a hospital in a poor neighborhood for lack of funding. At the same time they closed the hospital the city and state found hundreds of millions of dollars to give to the billionaire owners of the baseball and football team to build their stadiums. Schools were being closed, some schools had no heat in the winter and had dangerous asbestos problems, but somehow millions of dollars in taxpayers money was used to help very rich men build their sports arenas.

If the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped, then America has thus far failed that test.

Mark Jeffery Koch

Cherry Hill, NJ

Sep 27 2013 - 3:39pm

Can Pope Francis Change the Church?

The Catholic Church evolved alongside monarchical rule for centuries. Getting rid of the pope will not change things. Monarchical rule has morphed into plutocratic rule (i.e., rule by the wealthy). Along the way we were once a democracy, which has largly morphed into a plutocracy. Asking our president to step down would not change the way things are politically, and economically, nor will it change the Catholic church if the pope were to abdicate. The church like other major institutions has learned a lot from the corporate world, reflected in the way it and colleges and universities “do business.” If all corporate CEOs stepped down, it wouldn’t change the fact that “the bottom line rules” and trumps fairness, integrity, distributive justice, equal rights for all.

Joshua Krasnoff

Southern California

Sep 26 2013 - 4:33pm

How Bashar al-Assad Destroyed My Country

Did Mr. Assad destroy Syria? I think the story is more complex.

I don’t wish to exonerate Mr Assad of any untried accusations, but there are other players whose involvement has, in my eyes, do them no credit.

The New York Times reported CIA involvement in moving weapons to various various rebel factions. More recently, after the chemical weapons attack of August 21, Russian President Putin’s op-ed was published in the Times. That was September 11.

My own concerns date from 2011, when I noted that Avaaz was asking for public support in supplying secure satellite radios to “peace activists”.

I wrote Avaaz Campaign Director Stephanie Brancaforte to clarify its policy on providing materiel to nonviolent protesters that could expose them to deadly risk.

Here is part of that exchange:

Tue, Jun 14, 2011
Dear Stephanie Brancaforte,

A recent story in the NYT…leads me to question the wisdom of providing protestors with satellite phones.

I am concerned that…supply of high-tech communications equipment may put people clearly in harms way.… I do not think it is a good idea for Avaaz to continue to supply satellite phones to nonviolent protestors.

I am hoping to hear…that the matter has been discussed at the executive level of Avaaz. I am very interested in the policy decision reached.

Thank you for your consideration.

*-* *

From: Stephanie
To: Robert
Sent: Friday, July 22, 2011 10:15 PM
Subject: Re: “safer communications equipment”

Greetings, …Yes, I very much appreciate your concern on the danger of filming or providing information in these locations. We would never send equipment to anyone who wasn’t already engaged in this line of work—we’re working with front-line activists who desperately want to get the information out about what’s happening in their countries, and who have long had to deal with regime pressure and scrutiny. We are also supplying tech equipment to free-lance journalists who are in the region but have poor comms equipment to get the story out.

I hope that clarifies things!

Best wishes and thanks so much for your feedback.

*-* *

Fri, Jul 22,
Dear Stephanie,

Thank you for your reply. May I take your words…as a statement of Avaaz policy on supply of satellite phones and tech equipment to front-line activists and free-lance journalists? Thank you for your consideration.

*-* *

From: Stephanie Brancaforte
To: Robert
Sent: Friday, July 22, 2011 10:55 PM
Subject: Re: “safer communications equipment”—Avaaz policy

Dear Robert,

For which purpose do you need a policy statement? If it is for officials or for publication/media?


The linked story associated with this exchange, and other items available on the Internet, cause me to question the value of blaming Mr Assad for the destruction of Syria.

Avaaz is not the only NGO with partisan involvement in this conflict. Human Rights Watch chose sides in 2011, choosing to repeatedly condemn the Assad government for the use of cluster munitions, with no chain of evidence. Respect for justice and good sense were abandoned, and in my opinion, they have done their reputation grave harm by condemning a suspected perpetrator instead of a known deed.

The role of HRW is queried (and not before time) by this article:

Your article is informative, and well-written, but Mr. Assad is not the only player in this conflict. The unending human suffering and tragedy deserve something better than the simplistic partisanship that has been encouraged from early on by NGOs whose links to the US government merit deeper examination.

Robert Rands


Sep 25 2013 - 4:49pm

Miss America Nina Davuluri Is Not a Symbol of Progress

I want to thank Ms. Mukhopahyay for addressing the recent Miss America pageant and its winner, Ms. Nina Duvulari, with an insightful observation that has not been pursued by others reporting on the event. Yes, many of the responses to Ms. Davualari’s win was saddening to hear and many reported their own outrage and wrote to emphasize the “great” strides the pageant has made over the years, but your article was the only one I have read so far that spoke of the underlying truth about Miss America. I would like to share my own personal experience, hopefully for your enjoyment.

In 1963, at age 20, I was encouraged to participate in my hometown, Elgin, Illinois (a medium-sized town northwest of Chicago), Miss America pageant. At the time, the national organization the Jaycees encouraged its local branch to hold contests with each local winner then going on to the state contest and these state winners to the “big” finale’. I was working at the time and also enrolled at the local community college. The local pageants promised college scholarships for the top three winners. These were small in terms of college costs.

I was not interested in the least. (1.) I thought the whole affair was demeaning of women, objectifying,and downright stupid and that (2) I was not beautiful or lovely. (Appearing on a stage in a swimsuit? Puuulease!) (3) I had no talent for the “talent” part of the pageant.

But my cousin’s husband who was in charge that year needed contestants. He very well knew my opinion, but he was unrelenting, a born salesman. I agreed to participate, and was very open about the fact I was going to join as satire. It is interesting that for the “talent” portion of the pageant I chose to sing the song, “All American Girl” from the then Broadway hit, “Stop the World I Want to Get Off”. Check it out sometime, it is delightful. I donned a blond wig, Marilyn Monroe–style. At the time I was a brown-haired, medium-sized, little-breasted witnit, considered funny by many, and difficult by others.

Throughout the week of meeting the other contestants and practicing for the big night, I constantly mocked myself, the pageant, the whole load of b.s. we were enduring. The other girls were so nice about my caustic remarks and thought I was a “hoot”, mainly because I helped to alleviate their jittery nerves. It was OK to laugh at me.I found the interviews with the judges were a real joke. They went totally silent when I revealed I had no formal or professional training in anything, yet I was going to sing and attempt some comedy. Many of the girls left their interviews in tears. I was appalled at the power the so-called judges had over them.

To shorten this letter, I made it to the final four out of eighteen.. That was then the proverbial light when off in my head. Holy #*&*&! What if I went on to win and was then obliged to go to the state pageant?? Thank goodness, I did not win. I did come in third, and my favorite, Miss Congeniality. My fellow contestants got the final laugh. I hope you enjoyed my reminiscence. Again, thank you for your article.

Mary Schmitz Busse

Greenville, SS

Sep 20 2013 - 6:40pm

The Evangelical Adoption Crusade

Joyce never considers fathers in her criticism of international adoption. It is as if fathers are second-class parents. An obvious analysis is the lack of fathers in adoptees’ birth families.

David Weir

Nashua, NH

Sep 18 2013 - 3:10pm

The Case Against Military Intervention in Syria

I am a Jewish American who was born five years after World War II ended and the world had learned about the Holocaust and the 6 million Jews who were murdered, of which 1 million were children. We later learned that Roosevelt knew what was going on and chose to do nothing. Fast forward fifty years later, and Clinton did nothing to prevent the slaughter of close to a million people in Rwanda.

We cannot be the world’s policeman, but we are the only power capable of projecting military power on a worldwide basis to help prevent genocide and war. We used our military to stop the genocide in Kosovo, end the famine in Somalia, aid the victims from the earthquake in Haiti and assist Japan after the tsunami. We got it wrong in Iraq, but we get it right most of the time.

My fear is that Obama will cave in to the Russians and have some sort of peace conference that will leave Assad in power and not be held accountable for the murders of 100,000 people and the use of chemical weapons against civilians, and this will embolden dictators like Assad around the world. I also believe that coming out publicly promising a limited attack (if one happens at all) plays into the hands of tyrants like Assad and Putin.

I have read hundreds of readers’ comments posted on The Nation and several other media sites and 95 percent are against America doing anything at all to stop the slaughter in Syria. I find this morally repugnant and reprehensible. If we can prevent mass murder without having boots on the ground, we should do it. For whatever reason, history has empowered America with the ability to make a stand for what is morally right, even if it is not in America’s strategic interests to act. I fear that this time America is going to stand down rather than stand up and make a statement that mass murder, the use of chemical weapons and indiscriminately using warplanes, tanks, and artillery to destroy cities in Syria will not be tolerated.

Unfortunately, as with the aftermath in Vietnam, because of gross miscalculations and stupidity on the part of politicians, America will draw inward and become more isolationist, and history has shown when that happens brutal dictators and tyrants around the world will be emboldened. There will not be fewer Rwandas and fewer Syrias if America does nothing, there will be more, and the killing will only get worse.

I voted for our president enthusiastically in 2008 and 2012 and hope he acts and does not cave in to those who want us to stay completely out of the conflict. We can make a strong statement that the slaughter of innocent men, women and children will not be tolerated without sending our men and women to another land to fight and die.

America has many faults and we have made many, many mistakes, but when the Chinese students protested against their government they held up a homemade display of the Statue of Liberty. It wasn’t just our Constitution and Bill of Rights they held up as a symbol of freedom but also America’s resolve to stand up for those who were denied freedom by their governments who not only sought to deny their citizens the right to free speech, a free press and freedom of assembly but also to those governments who believed they could imprison, murder and torture their civilians without being held accountable or made to stop their barbarity.

Mark Jeffery Koch

Cherry Hill, NJ

Aug 29 2013 - 3:45pm

Have You Marched on Washington?

My years in the movement started in the 1950s in interracial summer camps and continued in support of the Freedom Vote in Mississippi in the fall of 1963 and with James Farmer and Bayard Rustin and Norman Hill in New York City in 1964. I was in Selma in 1965 and went to jail in Montgomery during the march and was almost killed by Klansmen the night before they killed Viola Luizzo. Not everyone put their lives on the line, but many were needed to do the work behind the scenes supporting those who were constantly in danger. I chose to do both then and this year I have finally told the story I wrote about those times: Student Activism and Civil Rights in Mississippi: Protest Politics and the Struggle for Racial Justice, 1960-1965.

James P Marshall

Brookline, MA

Aug 26 2013 - 6:53pm