September/October 2006 Letters

Popsicle Politics

Both "Breeder Reaction" and "Souls on Ice" begin to tackle the profound issues and difficult questions raised by new human biotechnologies: How do we take reproductive and genetic technologies out of the free-market realm of anything-goes-for-those-who-can-pay, while making sure that we protect reproductive rights? How do we reap the potential benefits of human biotech, while making sure that we're not on the road either to a brave new world of designer babies or to ever greater health inequities because of hugely expensive designer medicine?

A number of countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have put in place comprehensive policies to regulate assisted reproduction and research that involves human embryos. But not the United States—here again, we're a Wild West, with scant public oversight.

Marcy Darnovsky
Associate Director
Center for Genetics and Society

Oakland, California


Thanks very much for the article about the frozen embryo dilemma. If they end up passing some amendment declaring that embryos have full human rights, that will mean that the little Popsicles are citizens. Which states will get to count the half-million frozen ones for purposes of representation and federal funds?

Skip Mendler
Honesdale, Pennsylvania


The "having your cake and eating it too" cliché seems to have been created for the anti-choice congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who in "Souls on Ice" states his belief that a fertilized egg is not a potential life until it is implanted into a woman's body. How convenient for him. It's awe-inspiring how people can rationalize their own choices while at the same time denying others theirs. I would never presume to tell Rohrabacher and his wife, or others like them who decide to pursue in vitro fertilization, that their decision is right or wrong, just as they have no right to presume what is the best choice for me or any other woman when we make reproductive decisions about our own bodies. While in vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments certainly raise ethical questions that ought to be debated, these methods, as well as whether or not to have an abortion, are personal choices.

Rachel Sadlowski
Naugatuck, Connecticut



Both Sides of the Fence

I would like to thank James K. Galbraith for his column "The Kids Are All Right." Living in San Antonio, Texas (the largest city with a Hispanic plurality), I hear a lot of different opinions on the immigration debate. It seems that people living in places with a large immigrant population are less likely to go overboard and fall for the fear-mongering rhetoric. But quite a few people who have sensible concerns about immigration are being taken in by the hate speech of the Sensenbrenners, Tancredos, and Lou Dobbses of the world.

There is an important question we need to ask: What is the difference between a natural citizen and an immigrant, legal or illegal? One just so happened to be born in America. The other just so happened to be born in a country where he has no chance to make a better life for himself and his family.

Galbraith has articulated in words what I feel in my heart—immigrants are no different than you or me, and they deserve more than being demonized with all this hate and fear-mongering.

Regis Roberts
San Antonio, Texas


James K. Galbraith's article on the illegal-immigrant rallies makes many of the usual mistakes. For example, the House Republicans tried to remove the provision turning illegals into felons. But most Democrats voted for it, betting that reporters, like Galbraith, would not check the Congressional Record and would simply blame the Republicans. Second, the rallies were not about this provision; they were about a fear that immigration laws might be enforced and illegals might actually have to go home.

More important, Galbraith fails to address the real issue: Numerous studies have shown that by increasing the supply of workers, immigration (legal or illegal) reduces wages and job opportunities for natives and immigrants already here. The Wall Street Journal and the Chamber of Commerce get it: Continued high levels of immigration, legal or illegal, mean increased economic power for owners of capital, period. That's why business backs the Senate bill, which would legalize 10 million illegals and double or triple future legal immigration. If we're serious about improving the lives of low-wage workers, then constraining the supply of labor by reducing future legal immigration and enforcing the law against illegal immigration, mainly by going after employers who hire illegals, is an absolute prerequisite.

Steven A. Camarota
Director of ResearchCenter for Immigration Studies
Washington, D.C.


Illegal aliens are like a woman choosing prostitution to increase her chances of finding a husband, and the May 1 rallies are like that prostitute knocking on the door of the wife of the man who solicited her to demand equal treatment. What wife will invite that prostitute in to share her bed and her husband?

Most progressives are on the wrong side of this debate. The June 6 congressional runoff win by Republican Brian Bilbray over Democrat Francine Busby in San Diego should serve as a warning to Democrats that this issue will define the upcoming midterm elections. It is the one unifying issue that most Americans are most passionate about. Democrats can have knock-'em-dead positions on any other issue, but if they get this one wrong, I'm not confident they can win back Congress.

Legitimizing the prostitute by bringing her into the home would not bring her worth up but would merely reduce the wife's worth to the prostitute's level. Similarly, new amnesty laws will only increase illegal traffic, not diminish it, and will further exploit the illegal worker and the citizen alike. The answer is to support workers from other countries demonstrating in their own countries to try to improve conditions there, and to stop employers from hiring illegals here.

Nancy Churchill
Normal, Illinois



Framing the Elephant

Kevin Drum hits the nail on the head in his article on the right's demonization of the word "liberal" ("At a Loss for Words"). But why don't we return tit for tat? Who are the conservatives? From the end of Reconstruction until the 1970s and beyond they were segregationists and those who thought civil rights were none of anyone's business. Today they are people who think civil rights are no longer a valid national issue. Before the Civil War they were slave owners and those who thought slavery was fair and just.

It is interesting that all the right-wing churches advocating a return of back-alley abortion clinics are the same ones that fought civil rights tooth and nail and supported slavery as biblically based.

Robert Roser
Stafford, Virginia


It is frustrating to read an article that addresses the language and framing problems of the Democrats, yet minimizes the issue in favor of "passion and principle." I'm sorry, but an extra dollop of passion will not turn a lousy communicator into an effective one. A vigorous insistence on repetitive framing just might. Every Republican talking about the Iraq resolutions used the phrase "cut and run," and thus, so did the media. This should have been met every time with "stay and pay." Whether we like it or not, this is the age of the sound bite. We should not refer to someone as a Republican. We should refer to him or her as a "Pro-Torture Republican." Everywhere, every time, at every opportunity. The message will get through.

Jamie Hanes
Los Angeles, California



Damning With Faint Praise

Jacques Leslie's report on Indian anti-dam campaigner Medha Patkar ("Over Her Dead Body") highlights a lesson we can learn from in the United States. Patkar is an inspiring example of the type of campaigner that Kevin Drum pines for elsewhere in the same issue. "There are still plenty of issues we can win on if we have the guts to stand up and say what we really believe," Drum writes, as if about the need for more Patkars.

Not so for Leslie, who insists on a character assassination of Patkar as suicidal. Instead of seeing Patkar's efforts as "backed up by genuine passion and principle" (Drum) as she and her allies work to stop a massive dam that is forcing more than 200,000 people from their homes and destroying India's Narmada River watershed, Leslie fixates on Patkar's supposed tendency for martyrdom.

Mother Jones can't have it both ways by mourning the lack of dedicated and passionate activists and then proceeding to paint people like Patkar as somehow psychologically imbalanced. What is imbalanced is not their passion and commitment, as Leslie's article seems to imply, but development projects like the Narmada dam that inflict massive injustice and environmental damage.

Robert Ovetz
Sebastopol, California



Grounded


As a retired FAA flight standards inspector, I read your article about air-safety oversight ("Waiting to Happen") with great interest. I find most of your report factual, and while it identifies some of the problems with inspectors, it overlooks the issue of the experience and technical abilities of the average inspector.

In the early '90s the FAA started moving from a technically experienced workforce to one based entirely on diversity, political correctness, and union cronyism. It became increasingly difficult to hire industry-experienced personnel, especially on the air carrier side of the workforce. The FAA and the union took the position that all inspectors are equal and if not, a few weeks of training in Oklahoma City would level the playing field. In an industry as complex as American civil aviation, this attitude is as wrongheaded as one could possibly be. It's absurd to believe that a person with 10, 12, or even 20 years in the U.S. Air Force working on fighter aircraft, or a similar time in the Army maintaining helicopters or working for a state Highway Patrol, is the equivalent of one who has been working for an airline.

The FAA routinely hires people with little or no air carrier civil experience and places them in positions of oversight of air carriers. Without experience in the technical regulatory requirements of air carrier programs, these inspectors are not only ineffectual, they are dangerous.

The FAA senior management staff in Washington are fully aware of what they have created but cannot or will not take corrective measures until the tombstones start piling up. It's only a matter of time.

Lonnie R. Giles
Phoenix, Arizona



Local vs. Organic, Round Two

It was disappointing to see Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, someone I've respected in the past, take potshots at Michael Pollan in a letter to the editor. Especially after Pollan clearly recognized a place and a need for the Whole Foods of the world in a diverse food system. Yet Pollan rightly praises supporting local agriculture as the most environmentally righteous and healthy path one can take. Industrial organic from thousands of miles away can't touch even conventionally grown local produce for quality and reduced environmental impact. Local agriculture clearly can't do it all, but it can do a whole lot more than the current tiny percentage of food sales, with those communities and the world being better off for it.

Incidentally, I have over 30 years' experience growing and marketing fruits and vegetables, along with a four-year agricultural degree, but was not hired for a produce managerial position at Whole Foods, in favor of someone being brought in from out of state. I could have hooked them into good relationships with all the local organic growers. As it stands now, I know of no local grower hereabouts whom they've tried to support…and I continue to compete with Whole Foods by selling my local organic produce at the farmers' market two blocks away. Perhaps with a company that big, making money comes to trump the good intentions that I believe Mackey sincerely has.

Peter Burkard
Sarasota, Florida


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.