September/October 2002 Backtalk

Right Wing War Resisters
If the anti-war right has a hankering to join leftist-organized peace events, it must be prepared for some discomfort ( “Beyond Right: The Temptations of Empire”). The left is what it is; the left talks the way it talks. It’s not going to change. If the anti-war right wants to protest the war in complete comfort, they will have to organize their own peace events.

But I hope this is not what happens. I think the very best thing that could happen to this country would be for the right and the left to start talking to one another, to begin discovering that the other is not the problem — the problem is our government. The government which we have in common, our unresponsive government. Our government is unresponsive to citizens on the left AND on the right.

Brenda Teese
Quakertown, PA

Justin [Raimondo] is correct. The left should stop injecting its politics into the anti-war debate. He should, however, heed his own advice. He should stop inveighing against the Likud party and neo-conservatives. Not because he is wrong, but because it does not help. Anti-war advocates of all stripes should stop talking altogether about UN inspections, oil, Israel, terrorism, WMD, GWB, etc. etc. There is just one — and one reason alone — to oppose this war. And that is the fact that thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands or even millions, of individual men, women and children who have done nothing more than to have been born in Iraq, will be maimed and/or killed without even a semblance of the ability to defend themselves from the most horrific and terrible weapons that mankind has ever developed. And we will all be morally responsible, each and every one of us, whatever reason we used to justify our indifference.

Patrick Rathburn
Merrillville, IN

I am a theologically conservative evangelical and a political libertarian (free markets/anti-state). Justin [Raimondo] accurately represents the views of myself and many others in my circles. I was just talking with a Latin Mass Catholic friend who agrees with my perspective that this push for invasion of Iraq has gone beyond arcane political theory… It’s simple human compassion now to not keep on killing the people of a country who have been brutalized by the U.S. for 10 years and who are begging that we not attack them full-scale now.

Please, let us put aside our differences and work together to prevent our country having more Iraqi blood on our hands. We have to focus if we are to succeed, on one issue: stop the war!

Stephen W. Carson
St. Louis, MO

As a lifelong “liberal,” I have been bemused to find myself more and more in agreement with persons on the other end of the political spectrum. It seems that the standard of personal liberty and democratic ideals is more and more being carried by the traditional right wing, while the left seems more than willing to trade individual freedoms for re-election.

Maryalice Cheesman
Portland, OR

Justin Raimondo’s call for the anti-war movement to drop its opposition to domestic inequality and corporate domination and instead to focus narrowly on making the U.S. government adopt a foreign policy of non-interventionism is misguided.

Unless we build a movement which aims to make a democratic revolution in the United States we will be marching and protesting one “war cabal” after another ad infinitum. Contrary to Raimondo’s advice, the way for our movement to unite with the great majority of Americans is by embracing and explicitly articulating the anti-capitalist values of equality and solidarity and democracy that most Americans share.

When Raimondo defends his narrow non-interventionism with phrases like “Let the oil companies hire private armies to guard their oil concessions [in the Middle East]” he shows contempt for the values of solidarity and concern for other people. But it is precisely these values that any movement to change the world must embrace if it expects to draw upon the passionate commitment of the millions of Americans who know that the status quo based on “Me-first” self-interest and “screw the other guy” is wrong. It is only such a mass revolutionary movement, fired by confidence in its moral rightness, that has any chance of defeating the class power of the war-makers.

Raimondo’s movement is geared to the minority of Americans who feel they have it made and just want to be left alone to enjoy a status quo which, except for the war, they like. If we cater to this latter crowd, we will end up with a movement that may grumble about war, but it won’t ever aim to overthrow the power of the class that wages these terrible wars.

John Spritzler
Boston, MA

What Really Matters
I don’t want to see a war in Iraq, but neither do I want to see a “successful” peace movement that basically says “We don’t want THIS imperialist war, because it’s too dangerous and unpopular — find another way to keep the system running ( “Beyond Left: The Principles of Democracy”).” I would rather hold out and work for a movement that will finally be able to say, “There will be no more imperialist wars, because we have eliminated the need for them.” Why is the Left so prominent in the peace movement? I would suggest that people of other political stripes have been slow to oppose the war because it does not conflict as greatly with their ideologies. And why shouldn’t the Left lead? Who else has a program that will end the need for war and oppression? I am not opposed to unifying all those who oppose war with Iraq, but I do rise in opposition to the idea that we must hide our true beliefs in order to do so. If we buy into this, the warmongers have won without firing a shot.

Jared Laiti
Santa Rosa, CA

While many on the left want to use the possibility of a war on Iraq to further other issues on their agenda, such as national health care, women’s rights etc., it is important to note that if the war isn’t stopped, those issues won’t mean much because we’ll either be too financially strapped to pay for it or too politically divided to even get these issues debated in a sane and rational manner.

George Vukmanovich
Cleveland, OH

Funny Is as Funny Does
I had to write in and contest your theory about George Bush, the pretzel incident and the gin bottle ( “It’s Okay. You Can Laugh Now.”). I would be more willing to believe it if the bottle had a knoll of grass on it and the gin had been manufactured in a bathtub in Dallas.

The pretzel choking incident had to be true. Didn’t you hear of the large shipment of pretzels that was intercepted en route to the Taliban? Intelligence sources claimed the shipment originated in China. Of course, the Chinese completely denied any connection to this shipment of pretzels, saying it was only fortune cookies.

The response in Washington was to allocate 20 million dollars to study whether our President would choke on a fortune cookie. After careful study through scientific research and discovery, and the expenditure of 30 million dollars, it was determined that our President would be safe, even in the presence of the fortune cookies, so long as he didn’t try to read the little notes inside …

Just doing my part to set the record straight.

Carl Green
Conway, MO

Goddam right, Will [Durst]. Be as irreverent, iconoclastic, and ironic as your little brain will allow you to be. After the appropriate moment of silence, the feet must be reintroduced to the flame.

Derek Voorhees
West River, MD


Backtalk
| Week of October 20 – October 26, 2002

 
Whither the Movement?
When peace activists have friends like Todd Gitlin ( “Who Will Lead?”), who needs enemies? At least David Horowitz is openly serving the interests of power, and doesn’t pretend to be a critic.

It’s simple. The Peace Activists oppose bombings and sanctions and want, instead, to see a weapons inspection team successfully complete its mission. We want these inspections to lead to a lifting of sanctions.

Gitlin’s primary problem, I think, is that peace activists are actually holding US actions to basic moral standards. We are actually calling imperialist policies imperialism. We are calling murderous policies murder. Gitlin doesn’t like this. During the Vietnam conflict some critics of the war suggested that the war was too costly, too impractical, not effective. These were the commissars and politicos, those most entrenched in the mechanisms of elite power took this stance against the war. Others, including a younger Todd Gitlin, simply pointed out that the war on Vietnam was wrong.

Douglas Lain
Portland, OR

This [column] has resonance with me. I consistently feel conflicted after peace/anti-war rallies in San Francisco where I live. On one hand I’m inspired to see thousands of people gathered (8-10k a week ago for the Not In Our Name protest), but I’m also distracted by the disjointed and occasionally ridiculous (not radical) ideas being hawked. I tend to wind up thinking as much about the state of the “Left” as I do about better alternatives to U.S. policy.

The value of the rallies lies undoubtedly in the spiritual connection people feel contrasting the disconnect from the “Americans” that allegedly generate the frequently-quoted poll numbers. However, the flip side of this experience is that the ideas floated tend to be of the religious “revivals” variety –lots of passion and blaring speakers, but little substance.

Chris Foss
San Francisco, CA

I really don’t understand your viewpoint. Are you for protesting or against it? How does the ‘voice of the people’ fit into your ‘theory’ of all this being run by fanatical LEFT-WINGERS. Horrors, horrors. Your rhetoric sounds like you would rather see a protest orchestrated by an ad agency, doing and saying all the appropriate things. Don’t judge the entire protest field by what you saw one day. We don’t want this war, period. Whichever way it’s stated, it means the same.

Nancy Dion
Rancho Mirage, CA

Todd Gitlin misses one point about US foreign policy. The US, and Britain, are not interested in the well-being of the Kurds. The no-fly zones are there to maintain a military presence in the world’s second biggest oil state, pending a future US occupation.

Indeed, Gitlin is remarkably naive if he thinks wars are ever started at all for humanitarian reasons, yet these are always cited by the participants. Depending on where you lived, the First World War was about “poor little Belgium,” Prussian militarism, British imperialism, etc. Similarly the Vietnam War was about helping poor little S. Vietnam against its northern aggressors. Was it? Nothing to do with American power and influence in the world?

John Burton
London, UK

Right now I have no one to support. My only hope is that the Democrats retain a majority at least the Senate. NOT that I think they have much to offer but I do not want the current White House to have unchallenged power.

I am against the preemptive attack of Iraq. No valid argument has been made to me for such a reckless move which will change US foreign policy in such a drastic way. Where is a leader who can articulate the opposition to this far right militaristic agenda currently in control of our country?

Connie Cowley
Salt Lake City, UT

I am against Bush’s actions, and strongly. However, despite the early beginnings of some peace efforts, I have not found myself moved to fall in line behind those who appear to be leading the charge. Exactly as Gitlin described: While I have much in common with the current voices speaking out, I also have much that is not in common. While I am unhappy to have Bush speak for me, likewise I do not want the anti-Bush movement, at least in it’s present incarnation, to speak for me either.

I am confident that the anti-bush-doctrine movement will solidify and grow. Meanwhile, I will continue to formulate my own opinions, and to speak out where I see fit, all the while hoping to catch a wave of more realistic anti-war fervor.

G. Girlando
Seattle, WA

I offer this response as a Veteran of the Armed Forces and a member of Veterans for Peace:

As citizens we must take leadership in our Democracy, and as leaders, be politically active, vocal, critical, questioning, bold, pointed and unapologetic. Criticism of the war is not only a right under FREE SPEECH, guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, it is a right fought for by those who have given their lives in defense of our nation. To best honor their ultimate sacrifice we must continue to constantly exercise our right of FREE SPEECH that they were so willing to valiantly give their lives to defend. To remain silent in the face of fear relegates those who have given their lives to have instead died in vain. But I am here to tell you that these men did not die in vain. Rather their sacrifice has ensured and conferred upon us all, as the people, the right to speak freely, critically, boldly and unapologetically. Criticism of war is not the same as criticism of the military and we must together further this point amongst ourselves and amongst our fellow citizens. So let us be perfectly clear:

It is patriotic and noble to protest the war. It is patriotic and noble to criticize the war. It is patriotic and noble to criticize those who take us to war. It is patriotic and noble to criticize a wartime president. It is patriotic and noble to criticize and to keep on criticizing.

Eric E. Johansson
San Francisco, CA

As someone who has marched at least half a dozen times this year, I am perpetually bothered by the inability of the anti-war movement to formulate a coherent stance on these issues. However, I don’t think the problem is one of Old Left Orthodoxy. Signs at these marches are as likely to ask for the release of Mumia as they are to demand an end to sanctions. If anything, the lack of coherence, rather than any particular stand, is the problem. One sixties veteran told me that she remembered anti-Vietnam rallies where you couldn’t participate unless you were of the same political-flavor as the organizers (Trotskyite, Anarchist, etc.).

While I appreciate the openness and inclusive nature of these events, I think Todd Gitlin hit the nail on the head when he pointed to the lack of any representation from mainstream America. While the views may be absurdly diverse, the participants are mostly college-aged white kids from the coasts. The fear that East and West Coast intellectuals have of the middle of the country (or even of poor people from the coasts) has been much written about, but until they get over it the movement will remain a joke.

Still, I don’t think it is a problem of orthodox rhetoric as much as it is a lack of effort on the part of the organizers. Perhaps they are worried about loosing control of the movement?

P. Kerim Friedman
New York, NY

Todd Gitlin appears to be saying that for dissent to be truly effective it must dress itself up in respectable clothes. He points to the ineffectiveness of such as Ramsey Clark (and other unnamed radicals) to speak in behalf of the left, and bemoans the absence of others perhaps more “palatable” to the public.

Instead of the question being why is the anti-war movement led by the hard left, it could also be why aren’t more people, in the position to be there, occupying the radical position. If there were enough, the radicals wouldn’t look so “crazy”.

James Rothenberg
N. Chatham, NY

Left sectarians have been the bane of progressives for as long as I have been active. Each pushing their tightly-knit world view and their wooly-headed “worker’s democracies” and other unquestioned orthodoxies. As much as they have been here annoying the hell out of everybody and generally making it easier to ignore the Left on US foreign policy, they have also always been a tiny fraction of the actual constituency for anti-war politics, then and now. And poor old Ramsey Clark has gone the way of UFO’s, Elvis-sightings and algae-based immortality diets. There is a slightly wider circle, perhaps best represented by the “Not in Our Name” petitioners, that can’t keep itself from dodging behind US-sponsored atrocities every time Al-Qaida or Saddam commits another one. It is true that these positions are likely to alienate a lot of otherwise concerned Americans. But look again.

Opposition to the UN sanctions in Iraq has also been voiced by other, very sober, experienced and credible voices, with extensive knowledge of Iraq and the region. We’ve had sanctions since 1991. They may have cost the lives of 500,000 Iraqis. And now our government is telling us that neither sanctions nor inspections worked and Saddam is more threatening than ever. So in what way were sanctions justified? Madeline Albright was given a chance to dispute the figure of 500,000 Iraqi dead as a result of the sanctions. She didn’t. She just said the results of sanctions were worth the price. What does it mean when a major architect of US foreign policy is publicly presented with evidence of a disaster at least partly caused by US policy and all she says is, “It was worth it.”? We are not required to endorse this, especially now when sanctions have been rejected by our own government

I don’t need to be a knee-jerk anti-American to take any of those positions. But I don’t have to bite for the Bush Regime’s oky-doke either.

Josh Reilly
Ben Lomond, CA

I agree that a united front needs to be organised for there to be any voice heard against the Bush War Machine. May I suggest it include international participants aligning with the thoughts and sentiments of U.S. citizens who oppose this direction.

Pesonally I hope that a united front appears soon with many respected world thinkers. Something tells me though that the Bush administration has probably stepped up efforts to quell dissent and discourage those who could feasibly form a serious popular front against anything this administration wants to do. Thirteen months have probably given ample time to establish tight control over the voices that can matter.

S. Ogilvie
Barcelona, Spain


Backtalk
| Week of October 13 – October 19, 2002

 
Police, Profling and Power
I am 39 years old ( “Biking While Black”). Over 25 years ago, when I was a teenager in the mid 1970’s, I was stopped by police officers in cruisers while riding my bicycle through Shaker Heights, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland). With sirens blaring and lights flashing, police officers would shout orders to dismount from the bike and then frisk me. I was then harshly interrogated by officers as to my name, where I lived, why I was in the neighborhood, where I was going to/ coming from, who owned the bicycle, and made to show I.D. and registration for the bike. This occurred several times.

I knew then when I was 13 and 14 years old that I was only being stopped and harassed because of my race. We just never had the politically correct term of calling it “Biking While Black.” But if you are of African descent living in this “land of the free,” then you know all too well that you can be doing “Anything While Black” and guilt can be presumed and your freedom taken away. And should you — after considerable cost in dollars or time locked in confinement — be able to prove your innocence, the pain, fear, lack of trust and loss of dignity are extremely difficult to overcome.

Carlos Cofield
Clinton, MD

As a youth I was required by law to sit in the FRONT of the bus and I didn’t like it one bit. Stealing an innocent child’s confidence and faith in society is a far greater crime than stealing a bike. These kids stole nothing — their anger at blatantly profiled arrests is powerful and one of the unfortunate reasons for tension between the races today.

B. I. Harris
Houston, TX

At the risk of being insensitive, if the police have a rash of black youths stealing bicycles on their hands, and they encounter two black youths riding bicycles through a subdivision where this has occurred, what are they supposed to do? Would you rather they let someone who matches the description of the offender just go by them? Their responsibility is to serve and protect. Being polite and sensitive is a rare luxury for a policeman in a large metropolitan area.

Aaron Bajor
Wilmette, IL

The needs of the police and the needs of individuals may always be at odds. Individuals require privacy and freedom from any police intrusions into their ability to move about and conduct their lives as free citizens, be they black, white, yellow, red or sky-blue-pink-with-purple-polka-dots.

We have to allow the police freedom to conduct their jobs as they see fit, or they are unable to be effective. But, we must protect our interest in our rights as free citizens. It isn’t easy. Freedom is messy. A dictatorship is clean, and well organized, and quite orderly.

We need our police and our prosecutors and our judges to be heroes. We need that desperately. We need to help them keep the peace and control crime. And we need to help them behave themselves by tossing the bad apples out of the barrel every single time we find one. And they should be helping themselves by doing the same. Then, and only then, will we all be able to look up to them as mere mortals — flawed human beings who also happen to be heroes.

Jim Fleming
Houston, TX

I think the profiling is unfortunate at worst. But it might be going a bit too far to sue. Suing will enrich the plaintiffs and their attorneys, perhaps, but it won’t fix the problem. It might make it even worse with the resentment it will stir up on all sides.

The anger of the black majority that obeys the law would be better directed at the habitual lawbreakers in their own community instead of blaming the police for searching out criminals. What would be better: having the police stop enforcing the law, or having law-abiding blacks start to show zero tolerance for the lawbreakers in their communities?

If the black majority starts to make their criminal minority feel ostracized and unwelcome, instead of supported and understood, the crime rate would go down and things would improve for everyone. And profiling would disappear.

Mary Mennona
Narberth, PA


Backtalk
| Week of October 6 – October 12, 2002

 
Profiling Injustice
I think everyone has the right to live without fear (“Biking While Black”). I am Native American and have been subjected to racial discrimination. It affects you and continues to live with you. You either get angry about it or try to show yourself better than them by not stooping to their level of ignorance. But it is something that is always there in your mind, that you cannot get rid of — wondering what else someone will do, carefully watching for the next incident.

I don’t think anyone should have to make excuses for what the Creator beautifully and carefully created. Our Creator is a god of diversity — just take a look around to see that. If he made us all the same where is the beauty in that? I get angry when people stereotype. When I read and watch the news, I see all kinds of white people stealing, cheating the system, and the list goes on and on. Because one of them does something wrong it doesn’t make me think that they are all like that, yet with minorities when one does something wrong we are all classified as evil.

Leslie Creed
Detroit Lakes, MN

There is a pattern of events emerging in the USA that gives many of us from the outside looking in serious cause for concern. Individual rights in the ‘Land of the Free’ seem to be under threat in every direction. We all sure hope you guys know what you are doing.

Richard Brinkman
Athelstone, Australia

Exploding Economic Myths
There is a glaring omission here ( “‘Office Park Dads’ and Economic Leadership”). No. 9 should be: The biggest budget deficits in history? Reagan constantly derided the Democrats as “big spenders.” Republicans still use that epithet. Yet Reagan was the all-time spending champion and still is. We ought to let a Republican president win one, don’t you think?

Daniel Zamos
North Myrtle Beach, SC

At last! someone in authority ready to tell the truth. This nonsense about Republicans being the best businessmen has always been untrue and is even more untrue now — as the scandals in the government and corporate boardrooms demonstrate. Good article.

John von Hartz
New York, NY

Grading on a Curve?
I think that most of the 693 students at Hampshire College that voted to condemn the war on terrorism (“Protests That Made the Grade”) are showing what their rich white parents paid for: indoctrination. When they grow up, some of them will hopefully look back at this time and realize how silly they were behaving. (This is coming from a blue-collar high school graduate. No, I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh.)

Ryan King
Fremont, CA

Thank you for bringing this information on student activism to your readers. I am heartened by the commitment and awareness of these young people. As a veteran of the 1960s/70s protests, I know the risks they are taking. Much more than getting arrested is at stake.

Miriam Ascher
Kalispell, MT


Backtalk
| Week of September 29 – October 5, 2002

 
Economic Honesty
The only problem I can foresee is that, predictably, Republicans will say the Congress was Republican-controlled during those Democratic presidents’ tenures and therefore the kudos should go to the GOP (“‘Office Park Dads’ and Economic Leadership”). Problems with the economy? Democratic-controlled Congress. Our economy is the pits, health care is coding in the emergency room, our liberties are in serious jeopardy (oh, except for gun ownership, thank you very much), and our place in the world is, well, what is our place in the world? Bully? Tyrant? Oil potentate?

Betsy Fiske
Lodi, CA

You are giving President Clinton far too much credit for deficit reduction. The only reason his tax increase reduced the deficit was that he was so politically inept in his efforts to impose socialized medicine on America that the American people had a chance to consider this issue in the 1994 elections. And they elected a Republican Congress, which put the brakes on the “social spending” that Clinton would doubtless have liked to engage in, given the chance.

John F. Bradley

Breaking the “Defensive Clinch”
For the “restless poor” of the world, America is the US government, which doesn’t care any more about them than it does about us ( “Salma’s World”). Although I love our brand of individual freedom, it exacts a high price on individuals, communities and the nation as a whole. Individuals who come from vastly different cultures — far more communal societies, whether they like it or not — are ill-prepared to live by these values. America will make some of them free, all right…free to fight and starve and die, just like it does with its people at home.

C.R. Lomax
Oakland, CA

Mr. Packer, given the things you’ve experienced firsthand, it’s understandable that you may feel compelled (and to some extent, justifiably so) to believe that all liberals have been bought by, or conscripted into, the “new reality.” I, too, had my moment of “withdraw(al) into a defensive clinch” — it lasted until around the 17th of September 2001. I was in shock, just like most of my fellow citizens, and the manifestation of that shock was as real and visceral as a blow from a rubber bullet, or the slamming of my body into the steering wheel of a car as it rammed squarely into a concrete wall at 80 miles per hour. Thank you for an excellent article. Thank you for playing the part of witness and remaining vital under the weight of that burden. Please remember though, that you are not alone; and in spite of everything, despite the legions of blank stares, you are also still among friends.

Christian Welch
Austin, TX


Backtalk
| Week of September 22 – 28, 2002

 
George and Gerhard
If only Bush would use those ears to hear! (“How to Lose a Friend”) I had severe misgivings about the future course of his administration when he selected the last generation of cold warriors for his cabinet, and my worst fears are being realized. 9-11 has only accelerated the progress backward!!

David Wirth
Dayton, Ohio

Look at it from the perspective of the U.S. forcing the Germans to be our friends over the last half century through the protection we have provided. They needed us. Perhaps they didn’t want us but they surely needed us. Now the threat of Soviet domination of Europe has been vanquished and perhaps the Germans no longer feel the pressure to play nice with the U.S. That is their decision to make and I’m sure that the peoples of our two countries will continue to get along quite amicably. However, maybe it is the Germans and other Europeans who are going another direction. Do you think that this kind of rhetoric would be coming out of Germany if they still needed the U.S. shield to protect it? I think not! Gerhard Schroeder recently made comments about Germany’s wallet being open or shut. Fortunately for him and the rest of the Axis powers of WWII, the United States may defeat the enemy but we will also fill it’s wallet and hand it back with a smile and offer of friendship. This is more than can be said of the European countries and their defeated enemies of the past.

Greg McNinch
Tulsa, Oklahoma

If we assume that Saddam Hussein really will have nuclear weapons by Christmas, then what kind of ally is Gerhard Schroeder anyway? He rejects action against a brutal tyrant, not because he has a grand vision of peace or some other useful proposal, but instead because it serves his own political interests. Unilateralism becomes more attractive with every passing day.

Matthew P. Crandall
Cleveland, Ohio

Finally an American viewpoint that I can connect with. When will this US government realize not only its own illogic, but the dangerous precedent it is setting as well? If they go it alone against Iraq, sidestepping UN convention, what is to stop China from repressing Tibetan sovereignty, Russia from squashing Chechnyan rebels, using the same facile arguments that Bush is spouting on Iraq?

G.A. Peters
Waterloo, Ontario
Canada

Squandering? Bush?
There are two distinct voices in America today ( How to Squander Moral Capital”).

Gitlin’s is the voice of the sour-tempered, ugly, self-sabotaging collegiate dumbass who cannot stand to see a shrewd Republican achieve a measure of respect in a world filled with despots and socialists. (Oh, that’s right. Socialism isn’t really bad. Just look at the former Soviet Union. They loved socialism, didn’t they?) Bush’s speech to the United Nations was, in every measure, brilliant and timely. George Bush has garnered more acclaim from the international community for his speech addressing the irrelevancy of the United Nations’ ability to enforce its own resolutions than all of Gitlin’s dish and wisecracks can admit. The United Nations has been unable to effect any kind of change in Iraq after twelve years of resolution upon resolution. George Bush gets weapons inspectors back into the country mere days after his speech. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Mark Volpe
Hollywood, California


Backtalk
| Week of September 15 – 21, 2002

 
Democracy Under Bush
The people of the US have many things of which they can be proud (“How to Squander Moral Capital”). Unfortunately the current federal government is not one of those things. In a true democracy, people have the right to free speech without fear. Many US groups are afraid to speak out because they fear for their lives. This could include not only some small splinter religious groups but gays, police officers, members of your armed forces, survivalists and many whistle blowers. The current government lets the Ken Lay’s of the US walk the earth while arresting and imprisoning a Utah bigamist, black marijuana users, or hounding Martha Stewart about who she talks to before selling her stock.

Patrick Cline
Niagara, Ontario
Canada

It’s astonishing, maddening, and horrifying the rate at which we are alienating the rest of the world. The fact that we have a “foreign policy” (instead of “international relations”) indicates the state of otherness we project onto potential allies. We are not acting like reasonable members of a global community. The sad thing is that Bush’s bluster at Iraq is based on a desire to control the flow of oil in that country. What is even sadder is that petroleum is an obsolete fuel, and that soldiers will be asked to die for something we don’t really need, all in the name of lining the pockets of a wealthy few.

Eric P. Stanley
Berkeley, California

The “Ugly American” reincarnate lives in the White House, grew up in Texas, and came of age during the Cold War without ever actually transcending it. It is frightening and revolting, all that power seeing to control America and the world behind closed doors. When a dictatorship plots within secret meetings, changing laws that strip us of civil rights, one by one, history has a good chance of repeating itself.

Pat Fisher
Albany, Oregon

I think it’s true that ignorance is not only bliss, but also characteristically American. It’s not anti-American to criticize the nation’s practices at home and abroad; rather, it is called being aware and informed. It so happens that American media and education are provincial in scope. Abroad, there is a global awareness which allows citizens of many other countries to be more aware of us as Americans than we are of ourselves.

Danielle Hilton
Charlotte, North Carolina

1. Bush won the election. Get over it. Stop sounding like a typical, whining liberal. If anything, the fact that the media projected Florida for Gore early on only cost George W. Bush votes in the panhandle, which is highly Republican.

2. You’d have a much better piece, even though I disagree with it, if you’d check your vitriol at the door. That’s the typical liberal tactic — if you can’t debunk someone’s argument, try to smear their name.

3. You seem to identify more with the anti-American crowd than the patriotic American crowd. What are you still doing here? Oh, yeah, I remember…your ivory tower is taxpayer subsidized.

4. All you liberals whining about Bush wanting to take Saddam out now would be the first to bellyache that the government didn’t do enough to stop another terror attack (and then you’d run to the lawyers). You people have done that before — remember the headlines in, I believe, either the Washington Post, or the New York Times, that “BUSH KNEW”? You can’t have it both ways.

5. Liberals need to wake up. WE’RE AT WAR.

Scott Gout
Tecumseh, Michigan

The True Refuseniks
Using the word “Refusenik” (Interview “Behind the Thin Green Line”)to describe the few Israeli reservists who refuse to serve in the military is a slap in the face to the people about whom the term was originally coined.

During the dark days of the “Iron Curtain,” the term Refusenik was used to describe any Soviet Jew who, seeking religious and personal freedom, applied to immigrate to Israel and was refused by the Soviet Union. For the most part, the Refusenik was immediately terminated from his/her job, arrested on various trumped-up charges, and summarily sentenced to endless years of banishment and forced labor in the Siberian Gulag. The Refusenik was starved and beaten because he/she desired freedom. Probably the best known of these Refuseniks is Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, who is, today, a prominent member of Israel’s Knesset.

The world owes a debt of gratitude to the Refuseniks of old. The defiance of these brave individuals and their struggle for freedom against the Communists formed the cracks that eventually brought down that totalitarian regime. The Russian Refuseniks’ fight for freedom should never be confused with the outspoken reservists who obviously take that freedom for granted.

No military organization can operate effectively if it allows its soldiers to pick and choose their assignments. In the United States military, a soldier who refuses to do his duty faces disciplinary action, including court-martial and jail. Israel should do the same.

Cheryl Zwiren
Flushing, New York


Backtalk
| Week of September 8 – 14, 2002

 
A Simplistic ‘Takeover’?
I don’t think much of this kind of superficial article (Taking Stock of the Takeover). For someone to use broad-brush statements like “neo-liberalism” is to demonstrate a misunderstanding of the complexities in building economies. Having an MBA from Wharton probably makes things even worse for someone with that training — she’ll get the impression that she knows how things work. MBA training provides a hubris regardless of whether one’s ideology is neo-liberal or someone has had an “epiphany.”

I expect much more from an “investigative” journalist than this drivel. I learned nothing from this article. It is time that people stop looking for the villains (there are plenty for sure) and start looking for solutions.

It is time that both sides of this debate take a breath and think about the people that they claim to be helping. I don’t see this Hertz person as doing anything but trying to get her 15 minutes of fame.

Ron Hira

Planned Parenthood and the Police
The Iowa court considers every woman who was pregnant during this period a suspect (“Planned Parenthood’s Iowa Predicament”), and so all of them must surrender their medical records? The Iowa court thinks it’s prudent and efficient to investigate this crime by discovering the name of every woman who was found by a physician to be pregnant at a specific time, and then they go to each of their homes to see if a baby is there?

How is this an effective investigative procedure to discover the perpetrator of this horrible crime? Perhaps the mother drove in from somewhere else to get rid of the child and is now living somewhere in Missouri. Spread the pregnancy dragnet to Missouri? How about Illinois?

Pat Goudey O’Brien
Warren, Vermont

Iowa Planned Parenthood has by the nature of their work no incentive to aid the police in finding the murderer of this child. Planned Parenthood’s agenda is one of treating and teaching others to treat tender children as a commodity to be kept or disposed of at will. They ought not be allowed to be the arbiters in matters of children and justice. One would hope that the appeals court will demand the requested information without delay, with the threat of search and seizure if Planned Parenthood defies the court. But, alas, that is pretty much asking that sanity return to the courts.

Allan Wafkowski
Pomton Lakes, NJ

Forest Thinning and Erosion
As an environmentalist, avid hiker, and river rafter, I think that the major issue within the thinning of our forests (“Fight Fire With Logging?”) is the subsequent sediment flow into our lakes and rivers. It is well documented via controlled studies that decreased ground cover leads to erosion.

Derrick Ransom


Backtalk
|

Marketing Maladies
I am grateful for Brendan I. Koerner’s article about drug companies marketing illnesses to create demand for their products (“Disorders, Made to Order,” July/August). As a person with an anxiety disorder, I am disturbed by the disastrous side effects of these so-called public awareness campaigns. The best treatment for anxiety disorders is both therapy and medication. But as drug companies use the stigma of mental illness to push their wares, doctors simply prescribe drugs rather than directing patients to the psychiatrist’s couch. Since people are not learning coping skills, they remain dependent on medication — a fact am sure the drug companies will never place on a billboard.

Dee Dee Brower
Latham, New York

Koerner suggests that the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual of mental disorders (DSM-IV) enables pharmaceutical companies to widen their market by claiming new indications for medications already FDA approved. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth: Efforts to widen their market are actually hampered by the specificity of the scientifically determined definitions in the DSM, namely, the requirement that minimum severity and impairment criteria must be met in order to avoid inappropriate overdiagnosis.

Michael B. First, M.D.
Editor, DSM-IV

New York, New York

Thank you for the thorough and provocative article on the marketing of disorders by drug companies. Another angle to consider is the patenting of drug formulations. By promoting premenstrual dysphoric disorder, Eli Lilly did indeed create a new market for fluoxetine, which it markets as Prozac and Sarafem. In doing so, it also extended its patent on the drug, ensuring the medicine will not be available in cheaper generic form until 2007. Hence, the company will enjoy five more years of profiting off of consumers and insurers by selling the same drug for the “new” disorder.

Lauren Schmidt
Nashville, Tennessee

In raising concerns about new medications for generalized anxiety disorder, you intimate that the disorder is in some way created or exaggerated. I awake each day and thank God for Paxil. I consider it a miracle drug for myself and people I love. Whatever advertising and public relations work has been done to promote the medicine is well worth the money and the effort. This is how to get the word out about products — especially those that give us peace, relief, and energy formerly spent on fighting anxiety. Naturally, those with mild symptoms don’t require treatment, just as many women told to have hysterectomies do not need them. We will always have to fight being misled in every aspect of our lives — but to diminish a discovery that has brought relief and new life to so many is myopic and insensitive. What is wrong with increasing the public’s awareness of social anxiety disorder? Would you prefer that those who suffer live in the dark, untreated and uninformed?

Marlene Gelfond
Chicago, Illinois

Wind vs. Wildlife
Bill McKibben (“It’s Easy Being Green,” July/August) leads us to believe that the primary opposition to the offshore wind farm slated for Cape Cod, Massachusetts, invokes a NIVOMD argument (Not in View of My Deck). However, a growing consortium of environmental groups opposes the placement of 170 wind turbines within 13 miles of Monomoy Islands. The area is an important haul-out area and pupping site for gray seals, home to the endangered roseate tern and other threatened waterfowl, and an essential fish habitat under the Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Environmental groups and citizens are understandably concerned about the construction and maintenance of such an enormous project in this delicate location.

The proposed site does have one main benefit to investor James Gordon: free land. If he is permitted to destroy this ecosystem for his own profit, Massachusetts citizens will lose a public resource in the name of environmentalism.

Kimberly Amaral
Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Lone-Star Drilling
I read with a queasy feeling of familiarity the article by Bob Burtman on drilling in the West (“Open Season on Open Space,” July/August). Here in Texas, home of George W. Bush, federal agencies have keeled over and played dead when it comes to oil and gas development. In February, the National Park Service approved gas drilling in the Padre Island National Seashore, allowing 18-wheelers to threaten the nests of endangered sea turtles. In May, the Park Service reduced the environmental analysis needed to drill oil wells within a few hundred feet of the Big Thicket National Preserve, endangering the ecologically sensitive Neches River. And for the past year, the U.S. Forest Service has approved oil and gas drilling in Sam Houston National Forest, falsely claiming it has no authority to stop drilling on federal lands involving private mineral rights. Any way you look at it, Bush is slashing environmental protection and ignoring public concern — and no one is listening.

Brandt Mannchen
Houston, Texas

Asleep at the Wheel
Could you let me know exactly how, as you say in your Editor’s Note (July/August), “the president conducted himself admirably in those awful days last fall”? Was it the way he hid in a bunker for a day, then took several days to visit the site of the attacks? Was it his poor-taste joke about a “trifecta”? Or the way he asked Congress not to investigate too closely the failure of federal agencies to prevent the attacks? There are so many disturbing things about what Bush did and does. Do you really want to give him credit for waking up behind the wheel?

Juanita Salisbury
Menlo Park, California

Do-Gooders in the Desert
It certainly gives one a warm and fuzzy feeling to read about folks putting out water jugs in the desert to aid and abet those who are breaking our laws (“A Thirst for Justice,” July/August). No doubt their next do-good program will be similar comfort stations outside the walls of prisons to give escapees a better chance of evading capture. Reverend Robin Hoover’s comment that the Border Patrol is “forcing people down death trails” is pure claptrap. The Border Patrol does not “force” people to commit crimes any more than teachers “force” students to flunk. This is the same old liberal mantra that if something goes wrong in your life, you can always find someone else to blame. The Border Patrol is doing its best to enforce our laws despite any number of impediments, Reverend Hoover’s group among them. If our immigration policies are wrong, then there is a legislative process via a group of people in Washington called the “Congress” to make whatever changes as may be mandated by the citizenry of the United States. In the meantime, let’s vigorously enforce the laws we have and punish those who facilitate and, implicitly, encourage these illegal acts.

Stewart Crawford
Murrieta, California

Reading about Reverend Hoover made me so angry I couldn’t see straight. We Americans are made to obey our laws or suffer severe consequences, but apparently the same does not apply to aliens who illegally cross our border. How dare this man make it easier for them to enter our country? Not that I believe these people should die for lack of water, but it should be supplied by the Border Patrol, as they round up these illegals and send them back to where they belong.

Zoe Metallo
Waukegan, Illinois

Censoring Education
It is increasingly apparent that the far right is fighting the culture wars of the 21st century by setting its sights on our nation’s schools (“Rewriting Texas Texts,” July/August). To deliberately misinform or outright withhold information from schoolchildren by censoring textbooks suggests that a small but vocal minority truly believes that “knowledge is power” — and, thus, that knowledge is dangerous. Such thinking is central to the debates over abstinence-only education, evolution, and, yes, even textbook adoption. No curriculum will ever be acceptable to everyone. But shouldn’t we at least strive for an education worthy of our future leaders — one in which censorship plays no part?

Gary Daniels
New York, New York

A Calculated Risk
As former director of health physics at Stanford University, I read with interest Susan Q. Stranahan’s opinion that there is “widespread opposition” from scientists to recycling radioactive material (“Radioactive Recycling,” July/August). In fact, the National Research Council concludes that the government’s plan is “sufficiently protective of public health.” Rather than rely on the tired shibboleth of the antinuclear movement that “any dose of radiation, no matter how small, increases the risk to public health,” the scientists support waste recycling within a dose standard of 1 millirem per year — a fraction of the 360 millirem of radiation received annually from natural sources. Should any members of the public actually experience this limit for an entire lifetime, their risk of harm might be on the order of 1 in a million. Society would meanwhile save billions of dollars and avoid the need for milling millions of tons of raw materials. I agree with Public Citizen that “you can’t draw a line and say anything above that line is dangerous and anything below is safe,” but an extra 1 millirem per year is safe enough for me.

Roland Finston
Palo Alto, California

Mother Jones welcomes letters from readers. Please include your name, address, and telephone number; to ensure timely publication of your letter, please send it as soon as possible. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. Send to Backtalk, Mother Jones, 731 Market Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94103; fax to (415) 665-6696; or email to backtalk@motherjones.com.