Cover of February 14, 2011 Issue

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February 14, 2011 Issue

Sasha Abramsky on the collapse of the housing bubble in Stockton, California; Doug Harvey on the revival of the culture wars; and Calvin Trillin on Silvio Berlusconi

Cover art by: Cover photo by Mike Segar/Reuters, design by Milton Glaser Incorporated

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Energy Justice Cataumet, Mass. American progressives are still in denial about energy policy [Mark Hertsgaard, “The Cancún Compromise,” Jan. 3]. Even The Nation publishes commentary about climate change without acknowledging that there are millions of people in the world who need to increase their use of energy in order to live with some measure of dignity. Terms like “fuel poverty,” “energy poverty” and “energy justice” are seldom seen in US publications. In the 1930s, the left fought for electrification and enlightenment. Voters were excited about energy justice. Nowadays, self-styled liberals throw cold water on the world, saying, “Stop wasting energy. Turn out the lights.” If this is liberalism, Thomas Malthus and Ebenezer Scrooge were liberal prophets. Bah, humbug. Robert F. Murphy     Tiptoeing the Af-Pak Tightrope St. Louis Anatol Lieven’s analysis of the Afghan/Pakistani puzzle, “How the Afghan Counterinsurgency Threatens Pakistan” [Jan. 3], is among the very best I have seen. He mentions one important variable I haven’t noticed elsewhere regarding Pakistan’s reluctance to suppress the North Waziristan Afghan Taliban, who use this border region as their rear area bolt-hole. Beyond the more recognized desire of the Pakistanis to preserve the Afghan Taliban as a rear reserve force for possible conflict with India, Lieven mentions that such a military move would be so unpopular as to create a grave government crisis. And he is right to argue that developments in Pakistan are far more important to US and Western security in the long run. Another point, perhaps speculative but worth concern: President Karzai may be unenthusiastic and even foot-dragging about the fundamental US goal of “standing up” the Afghan army (and police) to take on the Taliban. Aside from the questionable cultural mechanics of the Afghan army’s training, Karzai may suspect, and fear, the loyalty and motivation of a large semimodern army largely made up of recruits from the non-Pashtun minorities. Past coups still echo. In the face of somber analyses on “unwinnability,” President Obama is sending in 1,200 more troops to keep fighting during the winter off-season, perhaps to catch the Taliban hibernating or as an easy way to occupy vacated land. This sounds like one of the serial gimmicks General Petraeus keeps pulling out of the “throw it against the wall” bag of bootless ideas, perhaps for a meager but meaningless uptick in Taliban casualties. AL EDGELL     Copyright? How Quaint New Orleans What is most disheartening about the letters [“Exchange,” Dec. 27] published in response to “The Pirate’s Prophet” [Nov. 15] and the piece itself is that the whole conversation takes for granted that no kind of culture worth having could grow or survive in the absence of copyright, the free market, the profit motive. Is this really the sine qua non of the artistic impulse, of the human spirit? This seems to be the animating principle of this argument, which has found a strange berth in The Nation. Or is merely to ask such a question hopelessly naïve, “anarchistic” or, most shameful, “romantic”? And how is it that these terms (in various dreary permutations) pass for reasoned argument, as though they were shorthand for some unassailable argument or commonplace of everyday wisdom that only fools such as I could possibly be unaware of? Bottom line: is it a historical fact that culture—the sort of culture our own wan culture supposedly reveres—is viable only under the aegis of copyright and capitalism? It is not a fact, and even Wallace-Wells’s examples tell against his assumption. This whole debate savors of a gaggle of myopic theologians straining to see how many angels they can find dancing on the head of a pin. A lot of us are waiting for somebody to make the pronouncement: “Could it be possible? These old saints in the forest have not yet heard anything of this, that copyright is dead!” RUBY QUINCUNX     Shoot Me Now Carlsbad, N.M. It’s so much fun reading The Nation. It’s a way to get all fired up to do something about the dire situation we find ourselves in. So many fronts require attention—the wars; joblessness; homelessness; lack of healthcare and unions; dwindling resources; out-of-control corporations, banks and Wall Street; misguided education policies; immigration reform; poverty; tax cuts for the superwealthy but budget cuts to social programs. If only we could muster the will to get out there and take to the streets, contact our Congress members, make phone calls, write letters, donate to all the causes. But how do you do all that when you’re working multiple low-paying jobs; are sick because you don’t have the money to see a doctor and are stuck eating low-quality, pesticide-laden GMO foods that make you sicker; are being foreclosed upon and are looking for a cheap motel to park your family in; or are worried about your son or daughter who is fighting for questionable reasons in far-off lands because he/she couldn’t get loans to go to college and can’t get scholarships because public education is so lacking; feel apathetic about politics because the people you vote for turn out to be different from what you hoped. Tell those neocons who want to start yet another bankrupting war, this time in Iran, to do it themselves [Robert Dreyfuss, “The Hawks Call for War Against Iran,” Dec. 20]—we the people don’t have the money or the time. MARGARET BARRY     American Apparatchik Ann Arbor, Mich. In his superb review of the recently republished writings of Vasily Grossman [“The Maximalist,” Dec. 20], Jochen Hellbeck says that a Grossman story showing the “corrosive impact of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima on the crew of the Enola Gay” had been “inexplicably left out of the present collection.” But Hellbeck also notes that the US editor of the Grossman volumes, Robert Chandler, retailed a false description of the Ukraine famine under Stalin that aligned with the propaganda of Ukrainian right-wingers. Bear those two editorial choices in mind and the omission of the story is no longer “inexplicable.” Grossman was anti-totalitarian but not anti-socialist. He was not a cold warrior. But clearly Chandler is. He preferred, like an American version of a Soviet cultural apparatchik, to censor Grossman rather than to expose readers to Grossman’s critique of the potential for totalitarianism inherent in US imperialism. JOHN WOODFORD     For Crying Out Loud Winter Park, Fla. How about this for a slogan? “Speaker Boehner—a crying shame” [“Letters,” Jan. 31]. ROBERT J. HAVEL Read More


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