Backtalk

Jack Hitt's story "Harpy, Hero, Heretic: Hillary," on what drives the country's seemingly bottomless appetite for "Hillarating," drew plenty of attention from bloggers.

On Yappa Ding Ding, Ruth Ellis Haworth noted: "This article may be of historic importance to the place of women in politics…. The effect may be to clear the Pigpen-like haze that surrounds Hillary Clinton and give her a fair shot at running for president. The method is to expose everything — every gory detail, every prejudice, every fear, every thought we have about Hillary…. Once these things are out in the open, perhaps we can move on and see Hillary Clinton as a politician, and not as an icon of sexuality, motherhood, marital crisis, threatening femininity, female ambition/duplicity or feminine opportunism."

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz opined that "either Hitt has had the gumption to commit to glossy paper what millions of Americans have been quietly buzzing about, or he has done a triple-gainer off the high board into fantasyland." Our letter writers, who seem to favor the fantasy‑land interpretation, respond below:

It's Her Record, Stupid
"Harpy, Hero, Heretic: Hillary" uses up a lot of column inches with sociological psychobabble and, at this early stage of the political cycle, meaningless prognostications that trivialize our politics. There's barely a word about her political positions, her demonstrated leadership — or lack thereof. The day before the last election, a postcard from her showed up in my mailbox. The graphic was of one person saying to another, "I’m standing up for Hillary Clinton the way she stood up to George Bush!" Which stand would that have been? Fighting for better armor for the troops in Iraq? Demanding the secretary of defense's resignation long after the entire country had concluded that he should go? Or something else to create the perception of a fighting senator? These were jabs that cost her nothing.
DONALD WARNER
Bronx, New York

I am appalled at your decision to print an article about Hillary Rodham Clinton that had nothing to say about any issues. I would expect something like this from the likes of People or perhaps Rush Limbaugh, but not from a supposedly progressive magazine like Mother Jones. Would you ever read anything as ridiculous as this about a man?
NANCY DIETRICH-RYBICKI
Urbana, Illinois

Forget what Hillary says and what other people say about her. Look at her voting record. Pro-war? Check. Pro-tax cuts? Check. Pro-torture? Check. Pro-corporations? Check. Anti-choice? Check. Anti-privacy rights? Check. Anti-gay marriage? Check. Anti-immigrants? Check. Anti-working class? Check. Anti-unions? Check. Anti-environment? Check. That’s why true progressives hate her.
LISA AUG
Waddy, Kentucky

Road to Riches
Thanks for pointing out Goldman Sachs' double-dipping on the highway privatization deals ("The Highwaymen," by Daniel Schulman and James Ridgeway). But the repeated mention of highways being leased by "foreigners" is irrelevant and xenophobic. American companies will start winning these same deals when they get up to speed.

Also, privatization can be a positive thing. Look at Chile, where Ricardo Lagos, the socialist ex-president, rebuilt a large part of the infrastructure using just the model you are attacking. The resulting services are vastly superior to what the state was able to do. The same is true in Australia. Apparently your writers took a spin on the Chicago Skyway on their way to the Indiana Toll Road, but what they didn’t see was the terrible condition that road was in for decades prior to it being privatized. The city sold it to get out from under the costs of putting it right, something it proved chronically unable to do.

Your writers take umbrage with the profits lessees of these roads stand to make, but the facts cited belie the complaint: A 15-year break-even point is hardly a get-rich-quick scheme, and a 300 percent return over 75 years is only 4 percent a year. These investments offer low risk, not quick profits.
BUD THEISEN
Santiago, Chile

I have sent "The Highwaymen" to executives and Republican politicians who tell me, "This is the best thing I've ever read on the subject, and I can't believe it's in Mother Jones." Even better, they are passing it along. Motorists built our nation’s interstate highways with our gas taxes—we own them. However, as the article shows, our current secretary of transportation wants us to believe that it is better to rent than to own.
LANE KIDD
President, Arkansas Trucking Association
Little Rock, Arkansas

Don't Believe the Hypermiler
After reading "King of the Hypermilers" by Dennis Gaffney, I felt I should renew my subscription to Redneck Reactionary Suburban Auto and forget about raising hell or protecting the environment.

The article misses the point about Americans' addiction to oil. Increased fuel efficiency is great, but Wayne Gerdes' modern "suburban development" lifestyle, complete with a two-hour commute, SUV-driving wife, and Hummer-owning neighbors, is a dinosaur gasping for its last breath.

Gerdes' wacky analysis regarding Al Qaeda and oil revenues makes me suspect he's breathed in too many fumes while tailgating trucks. Imported oil and the tyrannies it supports are not directly related to 9/11 any more than to the depletion of cod stocks or high rates of hypertension.
ALISTAIR CAIRNS
Hampden, Maine

Any thinking person knows that 59 (or 65 or 75) miles per gallon is nothing more than trying to put a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. The only thing that will save this planet is reduced driving—by living closer to your job, using public transit, or, God forbid, your feet. I’m interested to know exactly how far this man had to drive on his "milk run." Maybe instead of engaging in his silly little contests, he could have walked. Can this punk beat 59 mpg? You bet I can. I don't own a car at all.
JAMIE CANTWELL
San Francisco, California

Let the Sunshine In
Kimberly Lisagor ("Sunshine’s Bottom Line") is correct — if you live on the power grid, installing photovoltaic panels doesn’t "pencil out." But there are more viable gadgets. Solar hydronic panels can heat your domestic hot water, your swimming pool, or a car wash. And then there's the most cost-efficient solar gadget of all — the clothesline.
JON KOVASH
Moab, Utah

Previous Issues

Unintelligent Design
The cover showing a chimp in a business suit is cute but is problematic from an evolutionary point of view. Implicit is the message that chimps are somehow a less evolved version of humans. In fact, humans did not evolve from chimps. They share a common ancestor but are two branches on the evolutionary tree. And because chimps are on the boundary of the evolutionary tree, they are just as well-evolved as humans.

I realize my point may seem trifling, but Mother Jones takes pride in being scientifically correct. Moreover, if left-wing intellectuals don't understand evolution correctly, what hope is there for the rest of society? Also, the implicit message that chimps are less evolved is human-centric. This belief, that humans are the sole end-products of evolution, justifies the view that the world exists primarily to further human aims, which in turn leads to a disregard of the environment. Human-centrism is the pseudoscientific analogue of religious dogma in which deities bestow upon humans a unique favored status among all species.
ARTHUR ROBB
Waldwick, New Jersey

Impeaching Negativity
In his review of several impeachment books ("So You Think You Want to Impeach?"), Tim Dickinson tells Americans not to bother with impeachment, effectively saying, "It won't happen, so shut up." Of all the rationalizations for inaction, this is perhaps the most insidious. The things worth fighting for will never happen if nobody takes up the fight. Fortunately for the nation, the congressional oath to uphold the Constitution is not an oath to win, it is an oath to fight: to "support and defend."

Americans must choose faith and courage over pessimism disguised as realism. Not that many more Americans are required—a recent Newsweek poll shows that 51 percent want impeachment to be a priority in the new Congress.
PATTY KEESHAN
Westfield, New Jersey

Doe Run Run Run
"Lead Astray" points out many apt comparisons between Herculaneum, Missouri, and La Oroya, Peru. However, despite the plan approved by the Peruvian government requiring Doe Run to invest in pollution controls, the company's own projections show that significant differences will remain. The proposed lead emissions for La Oroya are 11 times the reported emissions from Herculaneum. The levels for arsenic are 1,245 times greater and for cadmium, 19 times greater.
PERRY GOTTESFELD
Executive Director
Occupational Knowledge Intl.
San Francisco, California

No Good Publicity
Ann Friedman's "Mail-Order Abortions," about the use of Cytotec as an underground abortion pill, was dangerous and poorly researched. As a strongly pro-choice ob-gyn, I would warn your readers that self-administration of this drug is probably more hazardous than a back-alley abortion. Rupture of the uterus leading to maternal death could be quite common if dosed inappropriately in the second half of pregnancy. In the first trimester, Cytotec alone is fairly ineffective.
G. SEALY MASSINGILL
Fort Worth, Texas

Ann Friedman states, "Despite the legal and health risks, Cytotec will likely remain an attractive choice for many women—so long as it stays out of the spotlight." Then why is Mother Jones dragging it into the spotlight? Publicizing its use may lessen its availability for those women who have the fewest other choices.
LIZ KENTON
Willimantic, Connecticut

Gaga for Google
As Adam Penenberg points out, search engines keep unprecedented amounts of data, and what that means to the public is still being figured out. But his article "Is Google Evil?" is vague and irresponsible. Why is he so dismissive of the fact that Google denied the U.S. government's request for personal data, particularly when Microsoft and Yahoo handed this information over? Online privacy is a bigger issue than just Google, and thus far Google has done more than its peers to safeguard users' data. Why should we think that it will not continue to do so?
CHRIS SCHREIBER
San Francisco, California

I am flummoxed by Adam Penenberg's advice that, to avoid Google's data-collection tracking, we "use a European search engine, such as Kartoo, which must adhere to EU privacy rules that prohibit search engines from stashing your data." Penenberg's advice would be useful except that his example is such a sorry excuse for a search engine.

Kartoo should put an "n" at the end of its name; it is both fun and utterly futile. When you "Kartoo" a subject, a cerulean blue screen with little floating yellow web pages comes up. When you click on a yellow page, it becomes red and throbs. (Love the visual acuity of the French.) Whenever you click on the arrow for the next entries, you are interrupted by a three-tiered birthday cake with lit candles, apparently celebrating Kartoo's fifth birthday. When I Kartooed "The Coca-Cola Company," almost all the yellow pages I clicked on were official Coca-Cola sites.
I am, by the way, a bilingual French teacher—a definite Francophile, but I'm sticking with the evil Google, faute de mieux.
ELIZABETH LANCASTER
Springfield, Massachusetts

Fuel for the Fire
I just spent the past three hours reading, bemoaning, and screaming over your feature "Chronicle of a War Foretold" by Tim Dickinson and Jonathan Stein. I've kept fairly well abreast of Iraq news, but still found this conclusive and well-researched timeline of events (and nonevents) to be devastating, infuriating, and illuminating. Thank you for providing the clarity and fuel needed to stir up settling passion.
LISA MCNAMARA
Chicago, Illinois

Epic "Exodus"
Thanks for the emotional, visual, and factual tour de force that is "Exodus." I grew up in Laredo, Texas, during World War II, and became a part of the vibrant and, to me, exciting flow of life between Mexico and the United States. Obviously, neither writer Charles Bowden nor photographer Julián Cardona are politicians—they saw the reality up close and personal. The pity is how many well-intentioned Americans will be hoodwinked by the political gamesmanship in Washington, where the aim is not a solution to border problems but reelection.
JACK HEACOCK
Bristol, Virginia

Since Mother Jones recognized me as a Hellraiser a few years ago, I have to raise a modest amount in regard to Charles Bowden's well-written piece on the Mexican exodus. I agree with his analysis almost whole cloth, yet he concludes, "We either find a way to make their world better or they will come to our better world." Yes, there must be a change—by us. We're buying the drugs. We're exploiting the agriculture. We're making the waters non-potable. Our boardrooms and congressional markup sessions have to quit putting Mexico over the hitching rail and taking turns going at her. Without question, this side of the border is a place to earn a better livelihood, but it is not necessarily a better world.
  None of the bills before Congress will decrease the number of migrants coming through the desert. They come because we reward them with employment. However, even if we had full economic parity with Mexico (as is the case with Ireland), we'd still have migrants coming because of social and cultural reasons (as is also the case with Ireland). Bowden tells a good story, but it lacks hope. I hope the United States will one day share because it wants to, and not just out of economic necessity. Until then, Humane Borders will man the largest network of watercoolers on the way to the U.S. jobs.
REVEREND ROBIN HOOVER
Founder, Humane Borders
Tucson, Arizona

I'm grappling with words after reading, and rereading, Charles Bowden's comprehensive portrait of the U.S.-Mexican border. After living in Southern California for 16 years, peppered with a few of my own purely superficial forays into Mexican border towns, I'm finally beginning to see the complexity of the situation. Bowden's clear-eyed take on the evolution of this nearly overwhelming reality graphically illustrates the pitfalls of a modern world where great disparities are not only tolerated but legislated, maintained, and on the increase.
  We either radically transform a flawed system that is leaving the vast majority of people on the outside looking in, or buttress our lifestyles against the relentless flow of humanity determined to risk their lives for what we are merely born to.
DAVID NEWSOM
Los Angeles, California

Freedom on the March
These questions should've been in "Sweet Subpoena," James Ridgeway's article about investigations that Congress should launch: Why in the world isn't Osama bin Laden in prison? And who will go to prison for the government response to Hurricane Katrina?
  History will judge post-9/11 lack of oversight as one of our government's greatest failures. Five years after 9/11, our government has not captured or prosecuted bin Laden, the mastermind of arguably the worst crime ever committed on U.S. soil. Accordingly, I'm wary of our ability to hold anyone accountable for the criminally negligent government response to Katrina.
DARREN HARDY
Santa Barbara, California

Georgia on My Mind
Sasha Abramsky's article "Just Try Voting Here," which singles out Georgia as one of the worst places in the nation to vote, deserves an update. Yes, a bill was passed—and subsequently struck down—requiring photo ID. After many fair complaints about a "poll tax," however, the state made these IDs free. And after many arguments regarding the elderly or infirm who could not get to the DMV, the state temporarily issued IDs from a "mobile DMV" bus that came to voters' houses.
LACY GEORGE
Lebanon, New Hampshire

No '70s Revival Here
Your 30th anniversary issue is great. I was especially interested in your account of the mistakes you made in your first year, when you "soft-pedaled the magazine's politics" and your pages "were filled with pieces about backpacking and cooking." When my wife suggested that we subscribe, I was skeptical, because I hadn't looked at Mother Jones closely since then, and I remember being disgusted, as a West Virginia native, that you were using a great hero's name to sell all that lifestyle piffle. "Aaargh, it's the '70s," I groaned. How glad I am that my wife, free of such associations, rediscovered the magazine.
RODGER CUNNINGHAM
Pippa Passes, Kentucky

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.