Ken Silverstein demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the recent debate of the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act in the House (“So You Want to Trade With a Dictator,” May/June, and “Persecution Complex,” July/August).
I opposed the bill because I believe it will harm the national interest. The bill’s mandatory, automatic sanctions sharply restrict the president’s ability to advance a wide range of U.S. interests, including the promotion of religious freedom.
Churches and evangelical groups with tens of thousands of missionaries—people such as Ned Graham, Billy Graham’s son, who heads a Christian mission in China—have said they don’t like this bill. They worry that sanctions will produce a backlash against the persecuted religious communities they are trying to help.
Silverstein suggests that Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.) and I introduced a bill drafted by business lobbyists. He is completely wrong. We welcomed the advice of the USA*Engage business coalition, but we wrote the Sanctions Reform Act, and we alone are responsible for its contents.
Cooperation between outside groups and legislators is not uncommon. It is well known that, in drafting the Religious Persecution Act, its congressional sponsors received extensive input from outside groups, including the Family Research Council and several evangelical Christian organizations.
REP. LEE H. HAMILTON (D-Ind.)
Ken Silverstein’s suggestion that a $1,000 contribution from Chevron influenced Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) decision to co-sponsor the Sanctions Reform Act is specious and off base.
In 1993, Jefferson initiated the efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus to support the apparent victory of Moshood Abiola as president of Nigeria. This effort included a call for sanctions against Nigeria’s puppet civilian government.
As the political climate in Nigeria began to evolve under the military dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, Jefferson’s position on the question of sanctions changed.
Jefferson enunciated his support of constructive engagement in Nigeria during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as early as May 1995, more than two years prior to November 1997, when Chevron made the campaign contribution that Silverstein claims inspired his decision to co-sponsor the Sanctions Reform Act.
Director of Communications
Office of Rep. William J. Jefferson
Ken Silverstein’s article takes the National Council of Churches to task for siding with the business community. As someone who has done some joint lobbying visits with USA*Engage on this issue, I am aware of the strange-bedfellow dynamic. However, the Religious Persecution Act has created a gigantic stir among our religious partners overseas. We have taken a strong and unpopular stand on this issue because we are in close relation with persecuted Christians around the world, whose voice is very clear: “Keep the U.S. out of our interfaith relations!”
The religious right has found a great issue with which to beat up the State Department and political opponents. Mother Jones has found a great issue with which to beat up business. Our perspective may not fit your agenda, but our concern is what happens to those facing persecution.
THE REV. JAY LINTNER
Director, Washington Office
United Church of Christ
USA*Engage is quick to chide those who are not adequately “respecting the power of engagement.” But how can we do that as we look into the faces of starving children in the Sudan? People there are suffering, and foreign business activity is helping to underwrite savage brutality and religious persecution in that country.
Obviously, commerce and trade play a huge role in the world. But do we really want to endorse activities that produce this kind of suffering, just to get the gum arabic to bottle more soft drinks?
It’s a complicated world, but sometimes there is a simple right and wrong. What Anne Wexler and USA*Engage are doing is just plain wrong.
REP. FRANK R. WOLF (R-Va.)
KEN SILVERSTEIN responds: Hamilton says he and Crane, not USA*Engage lobbyists, wrote the Sanctions Reform Act. The USA*Engage memos that accompanied my story in Mother Jones, and which can be viewed on the MoJo Wire, say otherwise, showing far more than the usual “cooperation between outside groups and legislators.” Hamilton’s bill will directly benefit the corporations that worked on it. The Religious Persecution Act was influenced by a broad-based religious coalition that included the U.S. Catholic Council and the Committee to Free Tibet (not just the religious right, as Hamilton implies), and that sought a solution to documented human rights abuses. Surely there’s a difference.
During a phone conversation, LaPlace told me that he believes businesses give money to politicians simply to show their appreciation for good government—not to buy access or reward lawmakers for supporting their agendas. Mother Jones readers know better. Lintner questions Mother Jones‘ “agenda.” The agenda of both investigations into USA*Engage was neither to endorse the Religious Persecution Act nor to “beat up business.” It was to expose how high-priced corporate lobbyists are able to push their agendas through Congress and, in this case, alter a national debate.
THE BEGINNING OF VIOLENCE
I applaud Claudia Glenn Dowling’s article on family violence (“Violence Lessons,” July/August). As a former children’s program coordinator for a domestic violence project, I had the task of teaching abused children to break the “cycle of violence” through relearning behaviors and learning to respect themselves and their mothers.
One major problem of domestic violence is the response of the courts and the community. Ernie’s father would not have been jailed for his terrorist tactics in much of our country, nor would he have been returned to jail for entering the county of his ex-wife’s residence.
I have prepared many a frightened child to visit his or her abusive father. Teaching a 3-year-old girl what to do if her father starts shooting again is a monstrous task that should not fall to anyone.
I’m sorry Mother Jones felt the need to give in to sensationalism with the July/August cover. The cover line—”At Risk: At first, children fear violence. Then they use it”—was neither accurate nor necessary. The photograph of Ernie Cushman, with a serious and faintly sociopathic facial expression and his hands out of sight in a position suggesting a heavy gun at the ready, was misleading and uncalled for.
On the other hand, the article about Ernie and his family was excellent and not without an offering of hope. This kind of reporting carries itself handsomely and doesn’t need the newsstand boost of inflammatory headlines.
M. CLARE PARIS
THE AIR UP THERE
I am an employee of one of the airlines mentioned in Karin Winegar’s article (“Danger in the Air,” Outfront, July/August) and an aircraft technician with 18 years of experience in aircraft maintenance.
Winegar quotes a representative of Northwest Airlines saying they treat their aircraft with pesticides for the safety of their passengers. She then discounts this because several pilots and flight attendants said disinsection is done to make passengers happy. Please don’t misunderstand this, but pilots don’t know shit about why these aircraft are treated. Pilots are trained to operate an aircraft safely, not in the inner workings of the machine.
The Federal Aviation Administration mandates that the maintenance department ground an aircraft until it is treated if a report of bugs or rodents is made in the aircraft logbook. This is mandated because pests endanger the airworthiness of the aircraft. I have personally witnessed a cabin fill with smoke due to a roach shorting out an electrical connector.
I have also personally tested an aircraft with a faulty system that was traced down to a wire that had been chewed all the way through by a rodent. We found damage to approximately 15 to 20 wires from all different systems of the aircraft, and rodent droppings right there with the chewed insulation and wires. This scared me.
So when Northwest comments that they treat for the safety of their passengers, I take it to mean exactly that.
I am a pilot with more than 15,000 hours of flight time, most of it with the major airlines. I have never heard of any problem stemming from the use of pesticides in aircraft. Of great danger, however, is the possibility of transporting from one place to another some critter that could make people ill or become a new pest with no natural enemies. Find a real problem to talk about.
Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Karin Winegar claims that the Department of Transportation’s involvement with the issue of disinsection on international flights was due to an article she wrote for Condé Nast Traveler in 1994. It was, in fact, the result of our originally having broken the story in a 1993 edition of Buzzworm’s Earth Journal magazine, which was summarized in a Dec. 21, 1993, USA Today business travel column for which we were interviewed.
That column subsequently came to the attention of Martin Tolchin, then aviation writer for the New York Times, who brought it to the attention of then Secretary of Transportation Federico Peña, who in turn initiated the letter-writing campaign that ultimately resulted in the requirement for disinsection being dropped by most of the countries that had maintained it.
BILL AND LINDA BONVIE
KARIN WINEGAR responds: I did not say pests aboard planes should not be treated, but that it would be less risky for all aboard if nontoxic methods were used (and the FAA told me it does not specifically require pesticide use). The experts I spoke with also questioned the efficacy of pesticides in reaching their targets. Wallace contends that because he hasn’t seen the consequences of airline pesticide use, they don’t exist. Nerve damage, cancer, and endocrine disruption don’t generally manifest themselves as you disembark from the plane. Wallace might want to hear from some of the approximately 300 flight attendants who filed suit in 1996 with the Houston firm of Reich and Binstock claiming they have been injured by pesticide use aboard international flights.
Linda Bonvie is a respected colleague. I believe we were reporting on the same topic at roughly the same time.
IT’S A BIRD! IT’S A TRAIN!
Yes, I do indeed “feel a little foolish now,” as David Fine wrote in “Planes, Supertrains, and Automobiles” (July/August). I’ve been overly optimistic in believing that by now we’d see high-speed trains running somewhere in America.
Congress created Amtrak in 1971 to provide modern, efficient intercity rail passenger service. But Amtrak botched its mission—so much so that Eberhard Jaensch of the German Federal Railway’s high-speed train division said Amtrak is “almost as bad” as the run-down system in the former East Germany. Its high-speed Boston-Washington project has been tarnished by delays and broken promises.
I worked to create Amtrak, and I’m appalled that it has degenerated into a preservation society for yesterday’s trains.
David Fine argues that the costs of upgrading railroads for high-speed service can “outweigh the benefits of increased ridership,” citing our $321 million electrification project on the Northeast Corridor as an example. By the most conservative estimate, Amtrak will earn $150 million in profit annually during the first year when all 20 trains are in service, recouping that investment in two years. (By the way, what interstate highway has ever earned a dime in revenue?)
Perhaps most perplexing is Fine’s reliance on alleged high-speed gurus whose contribution to the cause of high-speed rail in America has been standing on the sidelines criticizing those who are succeeding at what they failed to do. The enthusiasts who are actively involved in the industry know that the future for high-speed rail service in America has never been brighter.
Finally, the caption on page 51 regarding the Amtrak AEM-7 pictured on page 50 is grossly inaccurate. The AEM-7, which operates on the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C., New York City, and New Haven, Conn., does not have a top speed of 79 mph; its top operating speed is 125 mph.
Manager of Media Relations for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor
ONWARD GOATEED SOLDIERS
Congratulations. Lori Leibovich (“Generation †,” July/August) has scooped every other secular media organization by plugging into a religious movement that, until now, largely operated below the visible surface of evangelical Christianity. This movement, like others within evangelicalism, is really all about the heart, with politics and public policy being of marginal importance. It is about spreading the Good News in a timely and relevant way that affects people’s lives and changes their hearts, and I was pleased to see Mother Jones present it in a respectful way. Now if we can only get this generation to vote.
Director of Communications
Lori Leibovich presents a distorted view of the “postmodern church” by confusing evangelicals with fundamentalists, a mistake she could have easily avoided with a little research.
The difference is not so much doctrinal as it is cultural. As one historian has written, “A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something.” For instance, both agree that extramarital sex is wrong. But while fundamentalists generally seek to remake secular culture into “Christian culture,” evangelicals seek to engage, and make the Gospel understandable to, secular culture. And many—horror!—vote for Democrats.
Several items should have clued Leibovich in. A fundamentalist would not go to a gay bar. A fundamentalist would not deny that America is called to be a Christian nation. And a fundamentalist usually would not say “pansy-ass.”
Vancouver, British Columbia
Lind’s strategy for reducing immigration (“Hiring From Within,” July/August) plays to nativism, pits immigrants against trade unions, disregards the international context for migration, and undermines efforts to build a multiracial progressive movement. His analysis caters to conservative arguments that scapegoat immigrants for urban sprawl, low wages, crowded schools, and environmental degradation.
Immigration does not take place in a vacuum. U.S. economic interests often drive policies and practices that feed migration trends, and progressives should be tackling those profit-driven policies instead of focusing on its victims.
The significant difficulties facing the U.S. labor movement can hardly be laid at the feet of immigrants. Many unions have recognized that immigrant workers are among their most energetic new recruits, and many a successful organizing campaign has been fueled by immigrant workers in both urban and rural settings. This is a much more sound and unifying strategy in the interests of the working class and builds our capacity to confront big business, particularly those multinational corporations that exploit labor abroad while simultaneously profiting from immigrants and other low-wage workers in the U.S.
Director, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Michael Lind left out an important aspect of the progressive agenda that is undermined by current immigration policy—affirmative action. Because racial preferences have been extended to recent immigrant groups, primarily Latinos and, to a lesser extent, Asians, the underlying argument for affirmative action has been weakened significantly: Neither of these groups has had to endure anything comparable to what was inflicted upon African Americans and Native Americans.
To see how immigration destroys support for race-specific policies, we only need look at California, which is leading the way in abolishing affirmative action. In 1960, California’s population was roughly 13 percent nonwhite. Today Latinos constitute 30 percent, and Asians 11 percent, of the state’s population. Blacks, the group for which affirmative action was originally intended, constitute only 7 percent of the population. Immigration has transformed affirmative action from a program designed to help a small group with a long history of oppression to a mass program covering half the state’s population. By continually increasing the number of those who can potentially benefit from affirmative action, current immigration policy weakens political support for race-specific policies.
STEVEN A. CAMAROTA
Center for Immigration Studies
WHO’S AFRAID OF GARY BAUER?
William Saletan’s valentine to Gary Bauer (“Gary Bauer’s Moral Dilemma,” July/August) would make Mother Jones turn over in her grave.
While Bauer has expressed concern for working families, the real axis of his political philosophy is his bigotry against gays and lesbians. A fundraising letter for Bauer’s Campaign for Working Families (CWF) clearly reveals that he is in lockstep with other religious bigots and shares their fundamentalist agenda.
Bauer touts his CWF as “virtually the only organization in the country willing to take on the ‘gay rights’ establishment,” and rants about how American families are being destroyed by some mysterious, powerful gay agenda.
Bauer has stated that he will seek the Republican nomination for president this year. God forbid that articles such as Saletan’s would delude people into thinking that Bauer isn’t such a bad choice in the cesspit of contemporary politics.
FRUITS OF LABOR DENIED
Mother Jones can take the credit for many important changes in policy. But you should also give credit to more than 17,000 Organic Gardening readers for their part in helping change the USDA’s organic foods standards. The July/ August Updates (Outfront) imply that Leora Broydo’s exposé did the trick. Those OG readers who sent in letters and mailer cards (provided by OG) also probably had something to do with the policy change. Credit where it’s due, guys.