August Backtalk

Contents

Not Just an Obsession

Flawed Assumption

Mass Appeal

Customer Preference

Capitalist Sewers

Targeting Greed

Up in Smoke

Military Response
Mark Boal's article, "An American Sweatshop,"(May/June), contains some significant errors.

The Defense Logistics Agency does not have any contract with Lion Apparel to manufacture uniforms. The agency does contract with Lion-Vallen. Lion Apparel is a clothing company. Vallen is a distribution firm. Both companies formed the joint venture, Lion-Vallen, to provide uniform items to new recruits at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. DLA awarded Lion-Vallen a three-year, $51 million contract to serve as the prime vendor for that region. Items under the contract are provided by various manufacturers located all across the United States--Lion Apparel is not one of them. None of the uniform items DLA purchases are manufactured in any Lion Apparel factory.

All government contracts mandate contractor adherence to applicable federal and state laws, requiring firms to pay minimum wage, adhere to clean air and water requirements, and maintain a safe workplace. Subcontractors are subject to the same laws and regulations. The agency makes every effort to enforce contractor compliance with the provisions of DLA contracts and all applicable laws. Our contracts also provide for termination of the contract if the contractor does not comply with its terms.

The article incorrectly asserts that DLA cannot account for $109.6 million. As the article mentions, DLA is precluded from making a profit on any of its logistics support to America's armed forces. However, the agency must recover all costs to purchase, store, and distribute products to its service members. The 9.3 percent overhead you mention relates only to the costs of managing uniform items at our Supply Center in Philadelphia. Other DLA and Defense Department organizations handle warehousing, distribution, transportation, and other activities required to get the needed supplies to the troops. Further, there are nominal adjustments for inflation and program oversight built into the prices of all supply items. When all of these factors are included in the overall costs for uniforms, you account for the remaining $109.6 million. You were informed of these established cost recovery practices, but did not use the information.

Make no mistake: The sweatshop conditions described in your article are deplorable. To suggest that the DLA is in any way connected to the conditions you have described is wrong. We do not condone such conditions.

Daniel W. McGinty
Staff Director
Congressional and Public Affairs
Defense Logistics Agency
Fort Belvoir, Va.

Mark Boal Responds: In the course of reporting the story, I spoke to Lion Apparel's president, Richard Lapedes, about the very contract that Daniel McGinty mentions. At the time, Lapedes said Lion made "only a percentage" of the items in it, but he would not be specific as to which garments or to the location of the factories, although I repeatedly asked him for that level of detail. His response was that only the Defense Logistics Agency could release such information. When I sent a written request to the DLA's Freedom of Information Act department, the officer in charge, Linda Gunter, stated that the agency didn't have any records of what items Lion made as opposed to those it subcontracted. Gunter formally requested that Lion reveal the locations of its factories, but the company never responded.

My information came from three sources. First, there was the contract listing many of the items that Lion-Vallen was to supply, as distinguished from those supplied by other companies. Second, there were the reports of Lion's own workers. And finally, there were photographs I took of military jackets on the production line of a Lion subcontractor.

The practice of reselling uniforms and adding surcharges unrelated to the cost recovery was documented by the internal Defense Department report cited in my story. That report included overhead costs for the DLA and for the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia. Since the DSCP is the DLA division that handles uniform sales and distribution, it was their overhead figure I used. I repeatedly asked the DLA for a detailed breakdown of its overhead costs, but they never provided one.

Big City Stereotypes
In an attempt to embellish the story "An American Sweatshop", you unfairly trashed a community and its citizens. Relying on stereotyping, you missed the true character of Beattyville, Ky.

The story stated "Beattyville...is less a town than a three-light strip bordered by aluminum shacks and a pine forest." Did you not notice the large brick courthouse? It's hard to miss--it covers an entire block. You must not have driven down the street lined with Bradford pear trees, past the War Memorial Wall.

As for the "chief economic activity [moonshine and marijuana]," the town is not what it was during the heyday of oil and coal. However, there are viable, profitable businesses.

Your article is flooded with inconsistencies. On the one hand, you describe the area as having limited "legitimate work opportunities," and on the other hand, you blast Lion for "[taking] advantage of its labor pool." Would it be better if Lion was not there at all? Your source of information on conditions at Lion appears to be a few disgruntled former employees and a few current employees, out of 110 at the Beattyville plant.

A large portion of the article is a discussion of attempted unionization at Lion. Have any companies met the union at the door, saying, Come on in? Just maybe, the employees at Lion don't feel the need to be organized.

While our family no longer resides in Lee County, it is the soil for our roots. We are productive citizens whose work ethic and values were formed growing up in this small Appalachian town. You should come back to Beattyville during the nationally recognized Woolly Worm Festival and take the opportunity to interview residents who consider themselves more than "hillbilly rednecks."

Beverly Oliver
Georgetown, Ky.
Sandra Anderson
Columbus, Ohio

I was shocked by your magazine's lack of taste. I am from Beattyville and found little truth in your description of it. Was such a description necessary in an article that was meant to publicize poor working conditions at a factory on the outskirts of town? You fell into the trap of using stereotypical ideas, not proven facts, in your article. You wanted to portray Beattyville as a poor, stupid, drug-crazy town. As it is, people from Appalachia have enough obstacles to overcome. We do not need a "big city magazine" wrongfully portraying our culture. I think Mother Jones owes Appalachia an apology.

Megan Thomas
Beattyville, Ky.

Not Just an Obsession
As someone who was interviewed extensively for "Is Your Office Bullyproof?" (May/June), I was happy to see that Mother Jones saw fit to run a feature article on the problem of workplace bullying. However, by emphasizing the singular story of a seemingly eccentric and obsessed target of workplace bullying, the article missed a key point verified by a growing amount of behavioral research: Psychologically abusive work environments wreak havoc on employee morale and productivity. Workplace bullying can happen to anyone, including talented, hardworking individuals who happen to get in a bully's way.

David Yamada
Associate Professor of Law
Suffolk University Law School
Boston, Mass.

Flawed Assumptions
Nancy Updike("Hitting the Wall," May/June) gives the impression that advocates in the domestic abuse movement didn't like the results of a 1980 study that suggested women were equally violent in relationships, and that therefore we simply dismissed the results. In fact, we did a great deal of critical analysis of the findings because they were so different from our own experiences with domestic violence victims. The study had many flaws in it, and no other study I've seen has been able to replicate the findings, including the new study by University of Wisconsin professor Terrie Moffitt.

Moffitt's study seems to be based on a very small population: the partners of former juvenile offenders. This group cannot be used as the basis for extrapolating findings to the general female population.

Moffitt also relies on batterers to report their violent acts. The most important factor in the dynamics of batterers seems lost on many researchers. Batterers lie about their use of violence. They minimize it or they deny it. They cannot be trusted to be truthful about how much violence they use or how badly their victim was injured. That is the issue facing researchers trying to document the extent of domestic violence.

Rita Smith
Executive Director
National Coalition Against
Domestic Violence
Denver, Colo.

If responsible domestic violence advocates become "outraged" by new research, it's not because we reject credible data--but because we've grown weary of what happens every time domestic violence data is released. A researcher conducts a serious study, the media covers the story, and then a so-called expert attacks the data, charging that it in some way exaggerates the problem. As the attacks are publicized, the debate over solutions ends. This is a terribly unproductive dynamic for a nation facing an epidemic of violence against women. It is time to end the controversies over whether women or men are most often the instigators of partner abuse, who is injured more frequently, and who is most often the victim. Only when we end the diversionary debates over data will we finally be able to identify and implement real solutions that keep women safer.

Esta Soler
Executive Director
Family Violence Prevention Fund
San Francisco, Calif.

I'm surprised that Mother Jones would publish such a slanted article on domestic violence. Updike relies on a study conducted in New Zealand by Terrie Moffitt, "a developmental psychologist who has spent most of her career studying juvenile delinquency, which was the original focus of her research," to discredit the entire current body of domestic violence research. Updike contacts only one-- unnamed--women's organization, and based on its statement that it doesn't collect statistics on violence by teenage girls, she reasons that all domestic violence researchers are giving up "on determining the roots of violence." Violence is not a tree with a set of common roots. Men who hit women do so in a violent attempt to exert control. Updike doesn't even mention issues of control or gender inequity. As a woman who was married to a batterer for just over a year, I am still, 20 years later, haunted by memories of that time with him. Updike doesn't contact women who have been battered, or anyone who works with them or with batterers. She just makes her assumptions and Mother Jones prints them.

Sue Ann Lorig
Texas

Mass Appeal
I read with interest your interview with John Hockenberry (Mother Jones Interview,May/June), particularly his comments regarding National Public Radio. He says it "was an audience-driven, revenue-driven entity...The programming strategy was dominated by the ideal that we had to grow our audience in the same way that the commercial media grows its audience." But if NPR had not tried to meet the needs of its audience, we wouldn't have on the air today such excellent news programs as "Morning Edition."

Working for NPR from 1978 to 1985, I was heartened by the network's broadening reach. Call me crazy, but as a broadcaster, I've always liked knowing there was an audience out there. Perhaps Hockenberry feels otherwise. After all, he does work for MSNBC.

Clem Taylor
Producer
"Fox Files"
New York, N.Y.

Customer Preference
I take issue with the implication of your piece regarding Borders bookstore's shelving policies ("Color Coding," Outfront,May/June). The decision to shelve the works of minority authors separately is motivated neither by a desire to distinguish ethnic literature from general literature, nor to provide a privileged status to one group of writers. Rather, Borders' shelving decisions are motivated by customer convenience and a due respect for the diverse communities it serves.

I am a member of Borders' Diversity Task Force, along with the president of Borders, the company's top human resources official, and a member of the corporate board of directors. At our last meeting, we discussed the issue and while we were sensitive to perceptions that niche-shelving might appear to marginalize minority authors, we were also sensitive to the many customers who have expressed appreciation for the practice. We resolved, however, that individual stores should continue to monitor their customers' shelving preferences.

As your article acknowledged, individual Borders stores are authorized to cross-shelve books written by minority authors. Each store is then free to respond to its customers in a manner that best serves them.

Brian W. Jones
Board of Directors
Center for New Black Leadership
San Francisco, Calif.

Capitalist Sewers
Clearly, you are trying to make a point about how horrible life is in today's China (This Photograph, May/June). However, your method is dishonest, because the quote on Tibetan living conditions from Raidi [chairman of the People's Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region] was once true. You failed to make a distinction between Tibet in 1951 and Tibet since 1977, when Deng Xiaoping made his coup and began to drag China down into the stinking sewer of capitalism.

The Chinese did not liberate Tibet in 1951--they showed the Tibetan people the way to liberate themselves under the leadership of the then-revolutionary Communist Party. The people overturned the barbaric feudal system that had worked them to an early death for centuries.

Today, the Communist Party is nothing but a bunch of elite capitalists who, under a veil of socialist doublespeak, exploit and oppress the Chinese and Tibetan people through widespread human rights abuses. They learned this trick from the rulers of the United States, who love to talk freedom while their military beats down poor people all over the world. While it's right to be concerned about the poor in Tibet, we must not forget that we have millions of poverty-stricken people right here at home, and for the same reason: Capitalism never has, doesn't now, and can't ever serve the interests of the masses.

Fanshen Meiling
Chicago, Ill.

Targeting Greed
Since Mark Hertsgaard posed a question to me in his response to my previous letter (Backtalk, March/April), I should be permitted to reply. He asks: Do I believe the Playa Vista development project in Los Angeles would get built if DreamWorks dropped out of the deal? Emphatically yes. It might not be called Playa Vista, but it would be infinitely worse. The property could easily be sold piecemeal and developed without a central plan. Launching campaigns to prevent individual landowners from developing smaller properties would be much harder than targeting corporate greed.

Ruth Lansford
President
Friends of Ballona Wetlands
Playa del Rey, Calif.

Up in Smoke
When we read that the American Civil Liberties Union infringed on cartoonist Matt Groening's rights (Mother Jones Interview, March/April), a collective "D'oh!" arose from our offices. Nearly 10 years ago--before the Simpsons became a household word--we received permission from Groening to use his "Life in Hell" cartoons in an ACLU publication. Groening, as he states in the interview, was less than pleased with the final product. But he is incorrect when he says he "couldn't force the ACLU to burn [the pamphlets]." In fact, his corporate lawyer insisted we destroy the remaining 18,000 copies of the 20,000 that were printed. We had not intended to offend Groening. By destroying the pamphlets, we made it clear that we had never intended to infringe upon his rights. We sincerely hope he will never tell the pamphlet story again. But if he does, we'll defend his right to free speech!

Dorothy M. Ehrlich
Executive Director
ACLU of Northern California
San Francisco, Calif.