Backtalk

Our July/August issue triggered several debates. NRA members disagreed about what their organization wants, experts argued about “children who molest,” and AT&T reached out and touched us about downsizing. Also: a proposal for a tax on digital traffic; and further suggestions for worthy reading.

TWO VIEWS OF THE NRA

As a life member of the National Rifle Association, I found your latest attack (“Good Morning, Gun Lobby!” July/August) vastly interesting. Robert Dreyfuss actually got some things right: Neal Knox is a little tin dictator, whom we tolerate only so long as he brings us victory. The NRA is being run in an increasingly undemocratic fashion, with major decisions being made without consulting us members, or even in direct defiance of our expressed will.

On other points, though, Dreyfuss is wildly wrong. What in the world could lead to the notion that if the NRA became more democratic, it would be more “moderate”? Of the group’s more than 3 million members, better than two-thirds joined only after the NRA became an “extremist” political lobby. We may have been misled into thinking the leadership would be interested in our opinions, but we had no illusions concerning its goals. If we have problems with Knox, it’s with his means, not his ends.

Neal Knox is forever cutting deals, crafting compromises, and urging us to support candidates-like Bob Dole-whose only virtue is that they’re not quite as loathsome as their opponents. The dissent he’s suppressing comes from those who urge less moderation, not more.

Brett Bellmore
Capac, Mich.

The NRA’s rank and file-and the leadership, too, believe it or not-would like nothing better than to devote ourselves to promoting competitions, hunting, and firearms safety. And we would in a minute if we were left alone. But if we were to do so in today’s [anti-gun] climate, we would soon have no events or legal activities to sponsor.

Donald Woods
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

A CHILD’S BEST INTEREST?

Judith Levine’s article (“A Question of Abuse,” July/August) points out the challenge of investigating sexual abuse allegations. There have been many changes during my years in the field, the most recent being the emphasis on juvenile perpetrators.

It often seems there is a “no-win” situation for social workers investigating child abuse. They are either criticized for removing a child from his or her family or criticized for not removing the child and leaving him or her at risk.

The frustration is that there are studies supporting all the varying points of view. Where does this leave the social worker who is trying to assess risk to a child?

Liz Quinnett
Children’s Services Bureau
Department of Social Services
County of San Diego, Calif.

Having studied the excesses of the therapy industry in America, I’m no longer surprised at the specter of overzealous therapists pillaging government treasuries and condemning children and their parents to jail, or worse, to therapy prisons. This bunch of self-proclaimed specialists has in the past terrorized the country about benign-appearing daycare centers supposedly run by pedophile rings, and suggested that child-abusing satanic cults are killing and eating babies in almost every neighborhood.

Their strategy for obtaining customers is simple. First, they promote the rumor that a nonexistent or rare problem is epidemic in proportion. Then, they offer their unique therapy services as a cure.

Richard Ofshe, Author
Making Monsters: repressed Memories, Satanic Cult Abuse, and Sexual Hysteria
Oakland, Calif.

The problem of young molesters does exist. Taking the child molester, even if a child him- or herself, from the home is essential for the recovery of the victim and for the rehabilitation of the victimizer. I was sexually molested by my two older brothers. Their criminal behavior began when I was 7-they were 9 and 12-and went on for years. Back then (I’m 36 now), it was often the victim who was punished, and I was put in a detention home after I reported the abuse. My brothers, never punished, went on to lead lives exemplifying an inability to relate to others.

As for my life, the incest cast a long and terrible shadow, but the light has begun to show at last. My very sick family needed the intervention of people like the psychologists and social workers mentioned in your article.

Name withheld
Colorado Springs, Colo.

The phenomenon epitomized by the case of the “Diamond” family shows the widespread confusion over abnormal or abusive sexual behavior in children.

Developmental psychologists agree that young children’s interest in sex is an expression of natural curiosity. Children need to know their limits in this area, as in any other. But treating young children as “sex offenders” for violating sexual norms is like sending children who fight to violence-prevention workshops, or worse, sending them to juvenile detention halls as “violent offenders.” Judith Levine points out that some social workers overreacted to Tony’s (and his sister, Jessica’s) sexual behaviors and ignored the recommendations of mental health workers and myself regarding their therapeutic needs.

Philip Kaushall, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
San Diego, Calif.

One fact missing from your article was why Child Protective Services seems overeager to seize children, even resorting to falsely accusing parents of abuse.

There is a financial incentive to take children from their parents and place them in foster homes. The federal government pays local social services departments for nearly every child taken. And if that child can be shown to have “special needs,” more monies are paid.

Austin Miles
Oakley, Calif.

DOWNSIZED FOR DOLLARS

By no small coincidence, the 20-year decline in real wages in this country parallels a 20-year decline in the power of American unions. At a time when unions now represent only one in six American workers, it’s no wonder that corporations are free to downsize for no other reason than to lower wages and make a quick profit (“The Wages of Downsizing,” July/August).

American corporations have discarded the social compact of the ’50s and ’60s (when we all shared the gains of a growing economy) in favor of a “winner take all” system. Our economy has grown by a third since the 1980s, but all the new income has gone to the wealthiest 20 percent in our society. The remaining 80 percent has seen real incomes stagnate or decline.

The minimum wage increase recently passed by Congress is a step in the right direction. So are current legislative proposals offering incentives to employers who provide good wages and secure jobs. But ultimately, the only effective counterbalance to the power of corporate America is a powerful and effective labor movement.

John J. Sweeney, President, AFL-CIO
Author, America Needs a Raise
Washington, D.C.

Clearly, companies, large and small, are trimming nonessential products, jobs, and offices to ensure future prosperity. Many companies that are “downsizing” with one hand are adding people, products, and offices with the other. Few businesses subtract exclusively-or add. AT&T is no different. If assignments are phased out, AT&T spends millions to retrain and/or relocate employees for continued employment within AT&T-or to prepare them for jobs elsewhere. Granted, the best thing a company can do for an individual is to provide a paycheck, but if you work for AT&T, you can be assured the company will offer you ways to enhance your employability.

Burke Stinson
Public Relations Manager, AT&T
Basking Ridge, N.J.

Alan Downs’ article said Flora Francis received “scant help” from the company or the union [after being laid off by AT&T]. Francis was a member of my local when she was laid off; I lost my job during the same “surplus.” The union held demonstrations, commissioned a study to quantify the hidden costs to taxpayers of each AT&T layoff, and presented the results to the New York City Council. We attempted all kinds of tactics to avert the layoff. Failing that, CWA negotiated extremely good termination benefits. We arranged to provide career counseling and training on job-searching, interviewing, and rZsumZ-writing.

My local has lost over 1,600 jobs in the last six years. Throughout AT&T we have lost over 140,000 union jobs since AT&T divested in 1984. Fault us, and the entire labor movement if you must, for failing to develop a strategy for dealing with this endless corporate greed. But we worked day and night to provide for every worker who was threatened with a layoff.

Laura Unger, President, Local 1150
Communications Workers of America
New York, N.Y.

CYBERSELFISH

Paulina Borsook’s attack on libertarianism (“Cyberselfish,” July/August) claims that without the government there would be no Internet. But if the government had not squeezed out the competition by providing a free (i.e., tax-supported) service, who knows what private enterprise may have set up? Borsook’s argument is like saying that without the monopolies granted to cable TV by cities around the country, we would have no cable television.

James S. Lawrence
Southfield, Mich.

The move to a new economy should be matched by a new tax base. Why not tax the digital traffic on the “information highway,” similar to a gasoline tax, a bridge toll, or a vehicle license fee? Whether the digital bit is part of a business teleconference, check-clearance information, or an ATM transaction, each bit is a physical manifestation of the new economy at work. The new wealth of nations is found in the trillions of digital bits of information pulsing through global networks. The challenge is to fully access the new productivity. One approach is to “follow the money”: Go to where the new wealth is being created.

Automatically metered, a bit tax will cause fewer collection problems than most others. This new tax can lead to the monetization of all productivity. One result: Economic growth numbers will more accurately reflect the productivity advances brought by information technologies. With monetization will come higher revenues for schools, parks, health care, job retraining, and a social safety net.

Arthur J. Cordell, Economist
Ottawa, Canada

Paulina Borsook’s dissection of libertarian hegemony in high-tech culture should be required reading for any young activist wondering why the guy in Birkenstocks who signed their gay marriage petition is still going to vote for Dole.

Daraka Larimore-Hall
University of Chicago
Chicago, Ill.

RELIGIOUS WRONGS?

Adele M. Stan provided some valuable insights into the organizing efforts of the religious left (“Keeping Faith,” May/June). But she completely missed the boat regarding Catholics.

It was the concerted effort of Catholic leaders that stopped some of the worst components of the Republican welfare reform proposals, such as the family-cap and child-exclusion provisions. Long before the organizing efforts that Stan cites got off the ground, Catholic leaders took on the Republican revolution.

Stan’s dismissive asides about the Catholic Church are apparently rooted in her strong pro-choice stance. The only Catholics worth forming an alliance with seem to be “the best-organized sector of the Catholic dissent community-the pro-choice forces.” Perhaps Stan failed to notice, but one milestone during the welfare reform battle occurred when Catholic Charities joined forces with Planned Parenthood to denounce the Republican proposals.

Meinrad Scherer-Emunds
Managing Editor, Salt of the Earth
Chicago, Ill.

I must express my ire at the photos selected to accompany Adele M. Stan’s article. In both pictures, the men are engaged in animated conversation, while the women, both literally and figuratively, are outside looking in or away. Shame on you for including Jill Hanauer, Mary E. Hunt, and me as equals in the article, but then treating us as ineffectual objects in the photos.

Rabbi Jody R. Cohen
Interreligious Affairs Specialist
American Jewish Committee
New York, N.Y.