AFTER HE’S GONE…
Please, oh please, don’t let Katha Pollitt take the job on the Supreme Court [“If Not Miers, Who?” Oct. 31]. We desperately need her to be co-President with Molly Ivins after Bush is gone.
MIERS FIRES (SELF), RETIRES
Re: “One Possible Scenario” [Nov. 7]:
Hats off to Trillin! He inspires
By rhyming ten full times with Miers
(Renowned church-lady who aspires
To chant for George in black-robed choirs).
But now, ensnared in rhyming gyres
That sing like birds and prick like briars,
She’ll need a pair of rusty pliers
(Or else a pair of trusty liars).
It’s Trillin’s wit the left admires–
By God, I hope he never tires!
USE THE A-WORD
I found Dave Zirin’s “Pat Tillman, Our Hero” [Oct. 24] quite inspiring. But I must question why Zirin seemed to shy away from using a word that Tillman’s brother used to describe this hero. That would be “atheist.” As his brother Rich said at Pat’s memorial service: “Pat isn’t with God. He’s f—ing dead. He wasn’t religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he’s f—ing dead.”
GARY P. KERN
TO BE OR NOT TO BE A WORKING MOM?
Long Beach, NY
Thanks to Katha Pollitt for debunking the flawed argument Louise Story made in her New York Times article about career versus motherhood plans for Yale students [“Subject to Debate,” Oct. 17]. But really, who cares what Yale women, or Princeton or Harvard women, are planning after graduation? Given the small percentage of the working population they constitute, theirs is a sample from which we can’t generalize to the larger population. How about a study of women at state universities? Or community colleges? In other words, how about a study that tells us something useful?
MARY ANNE TRASCIATTI
Mount Airy, NC
“Desperate Housewives of the Ivy League?” by the ever-brilliant Katha Pollitt blew me away. I was similarly outraged that “journalism” of this brand still makes the front page of the Times in 2005. Pollitt gives me hope that if enough of us skillfully refute such restrictive notions of women’s roles, progress will be made.
GOT A HANGNAIL? POP A PILL!
Chapel Hill, NC
Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels’s “A Disease for Every Pill” [Oct. 17] does an excellent job of laying out the problem of the medicalization of life by the drug companies. It’s difficult for lay people to dispute the word of medical professionals, but it doesn’t take an advanced degree to know that you don’t need Zellnorm to treat chronic constipation, for example. Eat more vegetables. It’s pretty simple. But fixing the overmedicalization dilemma isn’t.
Common sense solutions like healthier diets and more exercise are going to make our lives better and our country healthier. They also make economic sense. Drug companies are spending billions inventing disorders and rebranding pills when they should be preparing for avian flu and other threats. Clearly, insurance companies are dishing out lots of cash for all these new prescription drugs, and that has a huge impact on our healthcare premiums. With rising healthcare costs hurting small businesses and even big hitters like the auto industry, it’s time to form a coalition of business leaders, conscientious doctors and progressive politicians to take a stand against the overmedicalization of everyday life.
Beware, ye women who use these “miracle drugs”! Along with the potential health risks associated with taking–and getting off–antidepressants comes the risk of compromising one’s future eligibility for health insurance. My complaints about mood swings following a hysterectomy years ago prompted my gynecologist to foist upon me samples of one of those ubiquitous SSRI antidepressants, for which close to 200 million prescriptions are filled annually. After taking them for a few years I painfully weaned myself off and celebrated.
Then, after a lapse in healthcare coverage, and with no major medical problems, I applied for a new policy. Our Blue Cross affiliate, which virtually monopolizes the market here, turned me down on the grounds that my “past treatment for depression” was too great a risk for the company to underwrite. Never mind that I was no longer taking the drug, was never treated for depression and the policy didn’t even cover prescription drugs! My complaint to the state insurance commission over this blatant discrimination went nowhere.
ABOUT THAT AD…
Melissa Farley’s vanity-press paid Nation ad [“Unequal,” Oct. 10 and 17] does not merit a reply. But we do have to answer her use of our Nation article to support her argument. In her first paragraph Farley sets up two false oppositions: considering prostitution to be a form of labor versus considering it violence against women, and representing the struggle as “the Left” versus “we feminists.” The quote from us comes next, but our article, “In the Penile Colony: Touring Thailand’s Sex Industry” [Nov. 1, 1993], clearly places the violence in the context of sex work in the global economy. Recognizing prostitution as labor neither trivializes nor glamorizes it. In The Globalized Woman Christa Wichterich quotes young female sweatshop workers in Bangladesh on their two great fears: fire in the workshop (with no emergency exits) and rape. We feminists are committed to fighting both kinds of atrocities.
LILLIAN S. ROBINSON
HUMAN TRAFFICKING TODAY
There are some errors in Debbie Nathan’s reply [“Exchange,” Oct. 3] and in her “Oversexed” [Aug. 29/Sept. 5]. Our research on slavery in the United States was the first to clearly state that the majority of US trafficking victims are not held in forced prostitution but in other sectors of the economy–the opposite of what Nathan suggests we found. Our estimate is that less than half (46.4 percent) of all slaves in the United States are held in forced prostitution and the rest are forced to work in such sectors as domestic service, agriculture and manufacturing. I suspect she misunderstood our research methods, fully explained in the report (www.freetheslaves.net/tn/Hidden_Slaves.pdf). It seems she misunderstands the International Labor Organization’s recent report on forced labor as well, which Nathan references as a contrast to our findings. It actually corroborates them, stating that in transition economies and industrialized countries forced prostitution makes up around half of forced labor. (In fact, Hidden Slaves was written in close consultation with the ILO.) Nathan also incorrectly attributes Hidden Slaves to Free the Slaves and our president, Kevin Bales, alone. It was conducted jointly with the Human Rights Center of University of California, Berkeley.
Last, Nathan wrongly asserts that Bales “regularly publicizes his belief that sex trafficking prevails over other types, worldwide.” I challenge Nathan to find an example of this. Free the Slaves and Bales have debunked the myth that slavery is just about sex. Bales’s book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy was the first to demonstrate how modern slavery permeates the global economy and that the majority of the world’s slaves work in agriculture, mining and elsewhere. Nathan suggests that Free the Slaves has an ax to grind. She is right; it is this: Slavery is too high a price to pay for cheap goods.
Executive director, Free the Slaves
New York City
Jolene Smith’s criticisms are based on semantic sleight of hand. An analogy: In an imaginary election the media report that candidate X was the favorite at the largest number of polling places. We would assume that X won. But we’d be wrong, because X did not get the most votes or even win at most of the polling places. The sites that went for her were in sparsely populated areas like North Dakota. Moreover, this was not a two-person race; there were five other contenders, many of whom did well in densely populated places, say, on the East Coast. Each won fewer polling places than X, and some got fewer votes, but taken as a group, they outstripped her in both respects. That’s how Free the Slaves’ sex trafficking rhetoric works. Hidden Slaves, the study Smith mentions that her organization co-produced, says prostitution is the largest US category of forced labor. Hidden Slaves‘ own data suggest that sex trafficking cases generally contain a handful of victims compared with other categories, which tend to each have scores or hundreds of victims. Thus, two farmworker and three sweatshop cases could easily have a total of 800 victims, while eight prostitution cases might have only seventeen victims. But in terms of number of cases, “prostitution” is publicized as the largest category.
Hidden Slaves also breaks forced “nonprostitution” work into several subdivisions: agricultural, sweatshop, domestic service and so on. If all these pieces are recombined, it’s obvious that most trafficking victims aren’t prostitutes and that prostitution doesn’t even predominate as a case category. But Hidden Slaves says otherwise. And it’s technically right–just as the media were right when they said X won the largest number of polling places. The ILO’s study performs similar language tricks–which result in governments, the media and the public obsessing about sex slavery while virtually ignoring other types of exploitation.
Smith is right that I neglected to mention that Free the Slaves president Kevin Bales and several other employees, including Smith herself, did Hidden Slaves with UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center. Sorry about that. Now I wonder if the HRC will clarify the murky, misleading representations discussed here. The center might want to distance itself from some of Bales’s public assertions, which go far beyond Hidden Slaves‘ findings (see slate.msn.com/id/2120553/). Hidden Slaves estimates that there are 10,000 US trafficking victims, doing all kinds of work. But at an NYU forum this year, Bales reckoned 40,000, and that’s just prostitutes. In the New York Times last year he said 50,000.
As Smith must know, slavery is related to, yet different from, trafficking. Bales often says that 27 million people worldwide are slaves. And he does add that most of them labor in non-sex venues. But most of this horror takes place in victims’ own countries. Only 2 million have been moved across international borders, according to Bales’s estimates. That transport is what defines trafficking. Free the Slaves’ website links to an article from the evangelical Christianity Today warning that “two million people are enslaved by the international sex market.” By Bales’s reckoning that would be not just the majority of trafficking victims worldwide but the totality. Smith should edit her group’s URLs.
A transmission error in Victor Navasky’s “State of the Magazines” [Nov. 14] rendered the Workmen’s Circle as a conservative group rather than, of course, a progressive one.