Cheverly, Md.



Cheverly, Md.

In the wake of the illegal wiretap scandal, Bush critics are invoking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act like it’s the Magna Carta. Actually, FISA is flawed legislation that imperils civil liberties and opens the door to abusive law enforcement. In the 1990s federal “anti-terror” agents secretly searched American homes and manipulated phone-tap data to prosecute people who obviously posed no terrorist threat. In the case of my husband, Kurt Stand, the government netted three domestic dissidents. Terrorism had nothing to do with it. The three harmless defendants are still serving draconian prison terms, and some of the evidence used to that end is still secret, its veracity unexamined. One more Bush outrage notwithstanding, let’s not glorify the past. Janet Reno and Louis Freeh used highly dubious tools for highly dubious reasons, with Congressional authorization. The FISA Court went along. Instead of defending FISA, we should call for procedural reforms that will really protect individuals.


GOODBYE 2005, HELLO 2006

Arlington, Va.

Katha Pollitt’s 2005 retrospective, “It Wasn’t All Bad,” was outstanding [“Subject to Debate,” Jan. 9/16]. You can sit around and groan about the year having been a train wreck, or you can take her perspective, which actually made me pretty happy. Living in Virginia, I found Number 8 (the decline of support for the death penalty) especially pertinent. Thankfully, my state saw fit to elect the anti-death penalty Tim Kaine to be governor. He beat his opponent, Jerry Kilgore, a run-of-the-mill Republican, in areas that even Mark Warner couldn’t take four years ago, and that’s with Kilgore trying to exploit Kaine’s controversial stance on capital punishment. But as Pollitt suggests, citizens of many so-called red states, like Virginia, are beginning to see through the vacuous gesturing and are doing what’s right for themselves and their country. 2005 did have its good moments.



Kansas City, Mo.

As a Clean-for-Gene soixante-huitard, I came nearly to tears over George McGovern’s perfect tribute [“Gene McCarthy,” Jan. 2]. No one better to write it, and none better to read it than student warriors of that not-so-quixotic campaign who, with McCarthy’s inspiration, awakened their world irreversibly.



Palisades Park, NJ

I am a mother of an American soldier (my only son and child) who currently has orders to go to Iraq. I have written to several Congressmen and Senators and pleaded with them to say no to the war and to stand up and demand an exit of our troops from Iraq. I keep getting the same response over and over. “We are doing our best to support the troops.”

This is not a war–this is a suicide mission. The Iraqis do not want us there. We brought on more terrorism by going there. We (America) are more at risk now than ever for a terrorist attack. Our troops should be here at home protecting us and our borders.

I must say that at least some of the Senators and Congressmen had the respect to respond to my e-mails and letters. As for President Bush and Vice President Cheney, they act as though I don’t even exist. That is the respect the President gives a soldier’s mom: Just ignore them and they will go away. I will never give up the fight to bring our troops home.

If they all put themselves in my shoes for five minutes, then maybe they would rethink the war on Iraq and decide it’s time to bring our troops home now!



Los Altos, Calif.

Thank you for Ari Kelman’s article on post-Katrina reconstruction, “In the Shadow of Disaster” [Jan. 2]. As a structural engineer trained in postdisaster structural risk assessment, I spent a week in mid-October doing voluntary building inspections in Saint Bernard Parish, a community that had been built on a narrow strip of low-lying land between the levees containing Lake Borgne and the Mississippi River. What I saw there could not have been prevented even if the levees had all remained intact. People I spoke with claimed that the storm surge crested the top of the northern levees by more than twenty feet, flooding the entire parish in minutes.

The evidence I saw (ten-foot ceilings washed away to leave bare rafters adorned with swamp grass, entire houses floated off their foundations and left hundreds of yards away) certainly confirmed this claim. The 1.1 million gallons of oil added to the floodwaters by the nearby Murphy Oil Company didn’t help matters.

The strongest levees on earth won’t prevent a recurrence of this flooding because the wetlands that once acted as a buffer no longer exist. If we are truly interested in rebuilding New Orleans, we have to first rebuild the natural buffers that disappeared when the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet and Intercoastal Waterway were built. While the shipping industry has vowed to protect these artificial waterways (which effectively acted like funnels to further exacerbate the storm-surge damage), it was their creation that allowed salt water from the Gulf to pour in and eventually kill thousands of acres of marshland. Any plan that does not include restoring the natural buffers will do nothing to prevent a recurrence of the disaster we’re still trying to deal with.




Thank you for David Yaffe’s review of my biography of Gypsy jazzman Django Reinhardt [“Soul on Ice,” Dec. 5]. I’m sorry my prose so disappointed him; it often disappoints me as well. The most difficult part of writing on a storied figure like Django is sorting myths from facts; with Yaffe’s review we now need to dispel his freshly minted myth that Django’s mother was Jewish. Yaffe writes that this essential element is not even mentioned until chapter nine. This is a misreading: It was the mother of Django’s erstwhile impresario, Charles Delaunay, who was Jewish. The near-fairy tale story of Django’s own Romany mother, Laurence “Negros” Reinhardt, makes up much of chapter one.



Syracuse, NY

I am sorry to misrepresent Dregni and Reinhardt, but looking at the book now, I can see why I was misled. In the paragraph before the one at issue, there are many references to Delaunay and Reinhardt, so that the antecedent for “his mother was Jewish” was unclear. The sentence previous to the one Dregni refers to reads “Delaunay read Hitler’s Mein Kampf and feared for the future of all Europe,” technically making “Hitler” the antecedent for “his.” Of course, I never thought that was what Dregni meant and assumed–incorrectly, it turns out–that he was continuing his discussion of Delaunay’s concern about Reinhardt’s prospects in Vichy France. I thank Dregni for clearing this up and offer my apologies.



Oakdale, Minn.

After further review, the diagnosis stands: George W. Bush has Iraqtile dysfunction!


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