Letters From the January 25–February 1, 2016, Issue

Letters From the January 25–February 1, 2016, Issue

Letters From the January 25–February 1, 2016, Issue

Nader haters and lovers… ties that unbind… cold war, hot debate… exchange with Tim Shorrock (web-only)


Nader Haters and Lovers

In “Nader Then and Now” [Dec. 21/28, 2015], Mark Green extols Ralph Nader’s virtues as though he were a demigod. I consider him a Don Quixote who led a simple bunch of Sancho Panzas to waste their votes in Florida in 2000. That, consequently, gave the state’s electoral votes to George W. Bush and led to the Iraq War and the resulting chaos we face today. Therefore, whatever Nader may (or may not) have accomplished before or since, I consider him a boob.
Bill Wiseman
quincy, ill.

Your article about Ralph Nader was much appreciated. I have never, for one moment, regretted voting for him. I cherish the memory that, for the first and last time since John Kennedy, I was able to vote for the candidate I wanted instead of the lesser of two evils.
Gayle Voeller
carmichael, calif.

Mark Green’s piece on Ralph Nader was on target. When Lyndon Johnson signed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act into law, Nader’s work on protecting the American consumer was vindicated.

However, it’s interesting to note that it took years to force the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into taking action on GM cars after ignition-lock failures were first reported in 2001, and two-plus years before it took action on Takata air-bag inflators. In July 2014, nine automakers issued recalls on cars using Takata air bags while the NHTSA was still “investigating.” The agency was either asleep at the switch or cajoled by GM and Takata into believing that the issues were a tiny anomaly that could be easily corrected during the manufacturing process.

What started as a great piece of legislation has been severely diminished over time, in part by a lack of proper funding for the NHTSA as well as competent oversight.

Tom Pincu
los angeles

Ties That Unbind

With regard to Sylvia A. Harvey’s “What About Us?” [Dec. 21/28], I taught courses on parenting and family and social responsibility in women’s and men’s prisons in Washington State for 18 years. After retirement, I went back inside to facilitate “Preparing for Release” programs for offenders and their families. Every offender’s best hope for survival inside prison and for successful reentry into society is his or her family ties. Prison is not only for punishment; it is also meant to rehabilitate.

Mass incarceration has caused many of the programs I developed and taught over the years to be slashed. Offenders need basic education and job-skill training. They also need programs that help them reach out to their children and family members.

Janet D. Walker
gig harbor, wash.

Cold War, Hot Debate

In “Coalition or Cold War” [Dec. 21/28], Steven F. Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel have laid out the most persuasive course for defending US and international security: “Joining Moscow in a military, political, diplomatic, and economic coalition against the Islamic State and other terrorist movements, especially in and around Syria.” Yet Hillary Clinton’s intention to take on Assad, rather than form a coalition with Russia, suggests that she remains committed to aggressive neocon policies, whose outcomes continue to be more problematic than the possibilities of cooperating for mutual benefit.

Frankly, the choice between this admittedly bright woman, whose rigid foreign-policy positions are nevertheless seriously frightening, versus an even more frightening bunch of Republican presidential candidates leaves knowledgeable voters with just one hopeful option. May Bernie Sanders confound the mainstream pundits and succeed in getting the Democratic nomination.

Ann Galloway
ponte vedra beach, fla.

As implied by the title, “Coalition or Cold War” are the only two options in the authors’ view. Although it is extremely important to prevent a return to the Cold War, the nature of any collaboration with Putin’s Russia and Assad’s Syria should be based on a realistic assessment of their interests and goals, as well as an accurate depiction of their actions. Ignoring their interests, goals, and actions—including the atrocities committed by them—leads to the kind of simplistic rhetorical calls that might be expected from Pat Buchanan rather than progressives.

According to the authors, Putin and Assad will be key players in a coalition to defend “US and international security, and human life.” Russia’s important assets, in this regard, are its “long experience as a significantly Muslim country” and its “efficacy against terrorist forces” in Syria. Indeed, Russia does have a “long experience” of aggression and brutality toward Muslims. Chechnya serves an example: The capital, Grozny, was leveled by a bombing campaign; women were raped by Russian soldiers; and widespread pillaging took place. In Russian cities, migrants from the Caucasus are often subject to beatings and are victims of racial discrimination.

Furthermore, Russia’s “efficacy” in Syria has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, including those of women and children. Assad’s war crimes are well documented, including barrel bombs dropped on civilian targets and the use of chemical weapons. Why are the atrocities of Putin and Assad not noted by Cohen and vanden Heuvel? Do they actually believe that Putin and Assad are driven by humanitarian considerations? That Putin is not interested in retaining Russia’s bases in Syria? That Assad does not desire to continue ruling the country?

Yes, the United States should cooperate with all willing participants in taking certain actions to fight the ISIS threat, but it also shouldn’t ignore their often brutal practices and what their intentions may be. Hopefully, The Nation will not succumb to “Trumpism” (i.e., quick, no-risk rhetorical solutions) and promote “coalition” demagoguery.

Bohdan Futala
santa monica, calif.


Thomas Meaney’s “The Revolutionologist” [Dec. 7] stated: “The charismatic heroes of the Third World seemed to promise a heady combination of radical nationalism, Cold War neutrality, collective opposition to Western imperialism, and ‘Great Leap Forward’ material progress.” This idea should have been attributed to Clifford Geertz’s essay “What Was the Third World Revolution?” Also, the phrases “undeviating sense of purpose” and “the chosen were required to commit themselves for long periods of time” should have been attributed to Michael Walzer’s The Revolution of the Saints. We regret the oversights.

History Repeats Itself

The December 1 article “In South Korea, a Dictator’s Daughter Cracks Down on Labor” contains some inaccuracies. As it is feared they will damage the image of the Korean government, I want to bring them to your attention.

First, the Korean government is pushing for labor reforms to increase youth employment and bridge divides within the labor market by introducing reforms, including of wages and working hours. The crucial factors include an overhaul of the seniority-based wage system unique to Korea to promote the introduction of a performance-based one, and reduction in work hours by limiting overtime.

Second, the argument that the labor reforms will make it easier to fire workers and increase the number of part-time irregular workers is not true. An initiative aimed at giving employers greater leeway in dismissing workers was excluded this time. The government also seeks to enact laws to put restraints on renewing very short-term contracts repeatedly and to allow companies to hire irregular workers beyond the current two-year limit. There are no grounds for arguing that these measures would expand the ranks of irregular workers.

Third, the contention that labor reforms would allow employers to unilaterally change working conditions without consulting with labor unions also distorts facts. The current law will not be changed. The government will clarify labor-management consultation procedures in the event that businesses adopt a peak-wage system in line with the new statutory retirement age of 60.

Fourth, the assertion that the Korean government’s move on history textbooks is an attempt at cleansing the dictatorial legacy is an insult to the Korean people who fought for and established a fully functioning democracy. The planned publication of a unified history textbook written by a group of reputable historians and experts is a response to the biases and inaccuracies in existing textbooks. The plan is to ensure that history education will not be politicized.

Gheewhan Kim
Consul General of the Republic of Korea in New York
new york city

Tim Shorrock Replies

I’m flattered that the Consul General of the Republic of Korea is reading The Nation, which I’ve been writing for since 1983. But this is not the first time I’ve heard from the Korean government.

In 1985, the military dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan complained about my reporting to a Korean magazine in Seoul, where I was a Washington correspondent. As my publisher explained to me then, Chun’s security forces made it clear they could pull his magazine license if he didn’t fire me. And so he did—to his great regret.

To be sure, times have changed. But my December 1 article pointed to signs that the current government of Park Guen-hye is reviving some of the authoritarian practices of Chun and her father, the longtime military dictator Park Chung-hee.

One example was the government’s use of force in November to disperse mass demonstrations against the labor “reforms” Kim praises. Another is its outrageous decision to try Korean labor leader Han Sang-gyun on charges of sedition for organizing those protests—the first time this charge has been used since the 1980s.

Kim asserts that my critique of President Park’s attempt to rewrite history is “an insult to the Korean people” who fought for democracy. In reality, Park’s practices themselves are insulting to those brave souls who stood up for human rights in the 1970s and ’80s against the brutal practices of her father and his successor, General Chun.

As Kim knows, President Park is on record defending her father’s 1961 military coup and his massive crackdown on dissent in the 1970s. He also knows she has openly criticized history books that claim her dictator father held power for too long. “It’s such a huge distortion to lead children to that conclusion,” she said in one interview. “Politicizing” is in the eyes of the beholder.

As for those labor “reforms,” media reports make clear that the Park government is determined to enact IMF-style “market flexibility” changes that will severely weaken worker rights—particularly those of older workers—as a way to boost employer profits. If the changes are enacted, warns Han Sang-gyun, the labor leader, “it would simply be a matter of time before the entire labor force in South Korea becomes irregular or precarious.”

The Korean government could prove to the world that it’s serious about democracy by lifting its sedition charge against Han, ending its police raids on union offices, and listening to the demand of its citizens and workers massing in the streets. It should also stop its silly practice of complaining to foreign publications about their reports. That’s far more damaging to South Korea’s image than a critical article or two in the US press.

Tim Shorrock
washington, dc

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