Backtalk

Deep Water

I read with growing despair and a heavy heart Julia Whitty’s article, “The Fate of the Ocean.” It now stands as self-evident that every natural system on this planet is either in decline or severely threatened. Our very way of life is leading us down a path toward mass extinction.

It is high time for the federal government to take bold steps, in concert with the international community. Massive investments in alternative energy are needed, along with tough, enforceable global regulations, and incentives will have to be implemented to conserve and restore our biosphere, oceans, and forests. We need to abandon the current economic model based on mass consumption and implement a way to calculate economic growth that takes environmental effects into heavy consideration.

I used to think that global climate change and resource depletion were things the next couple of generations would have to deal with, while I could go on with my comfortable life unaffected. I was wrong. The time to act is now. As Whitty points out: The meteor is coming and it is us. What does it say for us, a supposedly intelligent species, knowingly and willingly destroying our only home?


MAGNUS RASMUSSON
Fort Lauderdale, Florida


“The Catch” sheds needed light on the conflicts of interest in the makeup of the management councils that oversee our ocean fisheries. Your readers may also be interested to know that I have introduced legislation, H.R.1431, the Fisheries Science and Management Enhancement Act, to correct many of the problems noted in the article.

H.R.1431 would require that scientists with no direct financial interest in fisheries set the catch levels instead of the councils, which today are composed largely of fishermen. Addition-ally, council membership would be broadened, so that persons representing the public interest would also have a seat at the table. And new council members could not derive any income from commercial or recreational fishing, or be employed by someone who does.

REP. NICK J. RAHALL II
Committee on Resources
Beckley, West Virginia


Thank you for your superb feature “The Fate of the Ocean.” We particularly appreciated the piece by Marla Cone on the plight of the polar bear.

Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for species threatened by global warming is now needed more than ever. That’s why we petitioned the government to list polar bears as a threatened species. On Febru-ary 8, 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a positive initial finding on the petition and requested comments. Since all ESA listing decisions must be made on the basis of the “best available science,” this process should compel the government to act on the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and provide additional impetus to curb greenhouse gas pollution.

If protected, the polar bear would be the first mammal ever listed as threatened or endangered due to climate change, but if we don’t immediately slash greenhouse gas pollution, it will be far from the last.

PHOEBE GARFINKEL
Center for Biological Diversity
Tucson, Arizona


Can’t Eat It, Too?

Your hypocrisy is so thick you could cut it with the same knife used to bone your fish. You devote the better part of the issue to all that is wrong with the mass killing of wild fish species, then devote a page and a pullout to advising your readers which fish they should eat [“Navigating the Catch of the Day”]. For the taste of fish flesh, or perhaps the unwillingness to challenge the ecocidal habits of so many of your readers, you just can’t seem to find the voice to support a meaningful end to the destruction of the marine environment.

On a planet where only the relatively rich are free to choose the “catch of the day,” Mother Jones could better advocate for a truly sustainable lifestyle, including a plant-based diet.

JERRY W. VLASAK, M.D.
Santa Monica, California


Not Justice at All

After two shotgun blasts took my father’s life in the doorway of our family home 18 years ago, many people assumed that my family and I would become proponents of the death penalty. “I hope they fry those people,” a friend said to us soon after the murder, “so your family can get some peace.”

In the aftermath, my family and I did not feel that an execution would give us peace. We did not believe that another killing would honor our father’s memory. Since that time, I have met and worked closely with hundreds of other family members of murder victims who share that belief and who work to abolish the death penalty from the perspective of victims, in the name of victims.

The Texas group Justice for All [“Vengeance Is Mom’s”] does not promote a justice that we are seeking. It does not represent or speak for all survivors of homicide victims—not even in Texas. All across the United States, family members of murder victims are protesting executions, testifying in support of bills that would abolish the death penalty, and educating the public about the possibility of being both pro-victim and anti-death penalty.

RENNY CUSHING
Executive Director, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights
Cambridge, Massachusetts


Behind the Frontline

In “Heroes in Error,” reporter Jack Fairweather says Frontline and the New York Times were duped by the Iraqi National Congress before the Iraq war. A defector provided by the INC appeared in one of our programs. He may have been an impostor.

Your readers should know that checking inside Saddam’s Iraq at the time of the broadcast, on the bona fides of Iraqis who had fled the country, was virtually impossible. Frontline did its best to vet his interview with American officials and hired its own translators. In the broadcast, we included material that cast doubt on his story suggesting a link between Iraq and the 9/11 hijackers.

After the war, the defector’s story was discredited, along with much of the information provided by the INC. In a 2003 Frontline, we caught up with INC leader Ahmed Chalabi and questioned him on all the false information that his organization had provided. Chalabi’s answer—“We’re in Baghdad now”—was much the same as he gave to Fairweather two years later when he told him that the misinformation didn’t matter.

Misinformation does matter, but as Fairweather notes, the defector’s story was “only a small segment” of the Frontline report that aired in November 2001. “Gunning for Saddam” gave the American people an early look at the forces pushing for war against Iraq. Airing less than two months after 9/11, while attention was focused on Al Qaeda and Afghanistan, the report correctly anticipated what was coming next. And, for this, perhaps we deserve some credit.

LOUIS WILEY JR.
Executive Editor, Frontline
Boston, Massachusetts


Checks and Balances

I was disappointed to read Robin Mejia’s article [“Taxes Made Tolerable”] in support of California’s Ready Return system, in which the state would prepare tax returns and send a determination to the taxpayer—as opposed to the voluntary compliance system, in which a taxpayer calculates his or her own return.

Such a system—at the state or the federal level—will create an inherent conflict of interest when the tax collector is also your tax preparer. It is not difficult to envision the impulse to maximize revenue superseding the interest of the taxpayer in minimizing his or her tax burden to the fullest extent of the law. Further, since the taxpayer will still bear ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of his or her return under Ready Return, there is a very real danger that taxpayers will end up erroneously overpaying or underpaying through no fault of their own, and then be liable for the government’s errors.

Filing a return enables taxpayers to know how their tax burden is calculated, and reminds us that we are all consumers of government, with an interest in how it collects and spends our money. Preparation of tax returns belongs in the hands of taxpayers, not government bureaucrats.

GROVER NORQUIST
President, Americans for Tax Reform
Washington, D.C.


Eyes Back on the Prize

Clara Jeffery’s “Intellectual Property Run Amok” referenced the classic civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize and the intellectual property woes that have prevented a rebroadcast. There’s good news for those who have been awaiting its return. The Eyes on the Prize Renewal Project, led by the production company Blackside Inc., has recently won an arduous campaign to renew the rights of copyrighted images, footage, and songs, which had expired following filmmaker Henry Hampton’s death in 1998. Eyes will air in late 2006 on PBS as part of the American Experience series.

MARK SAMELS
Executive Producer, American Experience
Boston, Massachusetts


Size Does Matter

The sincere and informative article on Los Angeles’ gangs by Daniel Duane [“Straight Outta Boston,” January/February] ultimately derails itself like so many efforts to address this city’s crisis in the streets. The author promotes the Harvard-inspired, federally funded program, Operation Ceasefire, otherwise known as the “Boston Miracle,” as the “only anti-gang-violence strategy that has ever worked against modern street gangs” and the model that should be followed here. Rev. Eugene Rivers, the minister credited with founding the program, did try to bring it to L.A. a few years ago. Rivers is part of the black clergy network tied to the Bush administration and the religious right, committed to “faith-based” alternatives to government programs. Ultimately, a “Ten Point Coalition” based on the Boston model was established at the West Angeles Church with federal funding. Its small staff works hard on such programs as mentoring. But it is hardly the all-encompassing “miracle” solution suggested in your article.

The reason is not, as the article implies, the turf consciousness of the police chief and sheriff. The sheer size of Los Angeles dwarfs the Boston model, which was based in two small ghettos. Los Angeles has a “rainbow” of Mexican and Central American immigrant gangs along with its black gangs. The Boston model was limited to African American communities.

Operation Ceasefire also is a morally troubling and perhaps unconstitutional approach. It says stop the violence (thus “ceasefire”) or else every alleged member of the alleged gang will face selective arrests on trivial, even trumped-up charges. These discriminatory enforcement measures are supposedly balanced by the carrot of job-training services for jobs that simply have never materialized.

Hello! Los Angeles already imposes this draconian justice through more gang injunctions than the rest of American cities combined. Violence is thus displaced to our overcrowded county jail, the largest in the country, where, at this writing, race riots are in their 10th consecutive day. The author ignores the most important lesson of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, after which the heralded Watts truce between the Crips and Bloods held together. After five years, the Los Angeles Times reported that “police and residents of Watts confirm that gang-on-gang slayings over emotional issues of turf boundaries or gang clothing have virtually disappeared.” Yet your article cites a Ceasefire advocate who claims there is no evidence as to whether the truce was ever effective!

TOM HAYDENM
Author, Street Wars: Gangs and the Future of Violence
Los Angeles, California


Correction

“The Fate of the Ocean” in the March/April issue referred to the negative impact on marine life of the ocean’s “rising pH levels.” As several readers pointed out, when the ocean absorbs CO2 pollution from the atmosphere, its water becomes more acidic, a property associated with low pH levels. It is the rising acidity (and hence the falling pH) of ocean water that threatens the survival of marine species—from plankton and coral, to fish and squid. We regret the error.

BACKTALK 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. Email to backtalk@motherjones.com; fax to (415) 321-1701; or send to Backtalk, Mother Jones, 222 Sutter Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94108. MAY/JUNE 2006 | MOTHER JONES 13