A Whole Lotta Controversy
As a Southern progressive, I have endured Strom Thurmond as “my” US Senator for 48 of the 53 years I have lived in South Carolina (“A Lott to Answer For”). Anyone who thinks that a vote for Thurmond in 1948 was anything more than a vote for racism and segregation is profoundly naïve. It was during the presidential campaign of 1964, when Barry Goldwater and southern conservatives hijacked the Party of Lincoln, that Strom Thurmond switched to the Republican Party, leading South Carolina and much of the heart of the Old Confederacy to support Goldwater — almost exclusively on the issue of protecting racial segregation through “States’ Rights” and John Birch Society brand anti-Supreme Court (mostly Brown v. Board of Education) and anti-communism platforms. Strom, in that 1964 campaign, helped to start the process that Lyndon Johnson foresaw when he said that, by signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he had lost the South to the Democratic Party “for a generation.”

Ray P. McClain
Charleston, South Carolina

This sinuous emergence of silent racism from the longtime coiled nest of Republican leadership strikes at the exposed jugular of their grand pretense. May all the black members of our Congress behold at last the monster of indifference and repression they have servilely revered by endorsing the GOP. Senator Lott has been throughout his public and private life nothing but a scaled and venomous pretender of civil rights, a disgusting symbol of the reptilian regression that most of his party’s policies have represented for the entire 20th century. I welcome the introspection forced upon the Bush regime by Lott’s most unsurprising utterance. There is, I confess, a delectable irony in that these piercing and fatal words were jubilantly released like balloons at Strom Thurmond’s 100-year birthday party. There is great justice in the inevitable restraints to be imposed on dozens of Republican “worst offenders” of real American decency. Thanks, Strom.

R. Kim Edwards
Windsor, California

Venezuela on the Brink
Thank you, thank you, thank you for finally printing a story on Venezuela that makes sense and doesn’t just reek of U.S. media corruption (“Chaos and Constitution”). This article is balanced and full of the profound insights of the Venezuelan situation and culture that are being whitewashed out of every major American media report. This issue is so important and so misunderstood here in the U.S. Please continue your coverage of the real Venezuela, so that we can all wave an emphatic “good riddance” to the fantasy land portrayed in most other stories.

Nathaniel Delafield
Seattle, Washington

Backtalk | Week of December 15 – December 21

Smoking the Tobacco Settlement
Only two state attorneys general (Mississippi’s Mike Moore and Minnesota’s Skip Humphrey) insisted upon funding long-term, statewide tobacco control programs when negotiatiating settlements with the tobacco industry (“Up In Smoke”), while Florida’s settlement mandated funding for a two-year youth tobacco control program.

The other 47 state attorneys general, when negotiating with the tobacco industry, rejected pleas by health advocates to require that a portion of settlement funds be earmarked long-term for state tobacco control programs.

Had the state attorneys general truly wanted settlement funds to be spent on state tobacco control programs (as many publicly proclaimed then and now), they would have insisted upon that provision in their settlements, and they would have supported the remedial efforts by President Clinton and health advocates in Congress.

Instead of blaming state legislators for not appropriating settlement funds for tobacco control programs, state attorneys general should acknowledge their own culpability in creating this situation.

Bill Godshall
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Here in South Carolina, our Governor, who himself was accepting tobacco contributions, took the first $115 million that we sued to get from the tobacco companies, and turned around and handed it to those growing tobacco, with no strings attached. To this day, not one thin dime — not one — has been devoted toward helping any nicotine dependent South Carolinian reclaim control of their brain dopamine reward pathways.

John R. Polito
Summerville, South Carolina

A Solution for Sprawl
The problem with sprawl is simple: It doesn’t work ( “Dead Cities: A Natural History”). 20th century federal policy, particularly that of the post-WWII era, is what created sprawl as we now know it. Huge subsidies for housing (FHA and the unlimited home interest mortgage deduction), transportation (the freeways of the interstate highway system as well as direct subsidies to airlines), and energy costs (“guaranteed” cheap oil and local infrastructure grants), all combined to render sprawling areas much more affordable then they really were. Under the guise of empowering the middle class to pursue the “American Dream,” such policies have stripped the country of any collective identity, and enabled all political debate to degenerate into petty “us” versus “them” arguments.

The solution is simple: Beat conservatives at their own game. Strip away all subsidies to sprawl as a means to reduce the role that “big government” plays in Americans’ daily lives.

Any way one slices or dices it, the movement back to density will happen. In the end, it is a matter of time before sprawling areas implode under the weight of their own inefficiency.

Jason M. Augustine
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Fueling Their Own Fire
Unfortunately, these conservatives have voted in the very people who are threatening their way of life (“A Rural Flare-Up”). Their political beliefs are coming back to haunt them, and I believe they would vote the same way as long as it wasn’t affecting them.

Al Graham
Roseland, Virginia

Who’s Rich?
Those of you who scream and shout, denouncing “tax cuts for the rich” (“An Open Letter to Nancy Pelosi”) might stop and think for just one moment that you are lumping half of the taxpayers in this country into the category of being “rich,” whereas, in fact, their average income is $87,180 (as opposed to a $50,200 average for the entire nation).

In reality, all you are suggesting is that we confiscate even more dollars from those who do pay taxes so that you can give them to the other half who don’t pay taxes. Now, there’s a novel idea for the Democrats. We’ve only been doing that for 80 years. What would be novel is to find ways not to waste the taxes we already collect, such as funding useless programs and squandering dollars in foreign aid.

William Ford
Orlando, Florida

Backtalk | Week of December 8 – December 14

Learning from Defeat
It isn’t enough to gain a backbone – though we Democrats do need one (“An Open Letter to Nancy Pelosi”). We need to frame issues in sensible and graspable ways. We need to claim the label “liberal.” It is an honorable name. It means liberality of spirit — does it not? — a willingness to listen and not become a shouting head. It means being for the little guy. Let’s claim that label now, before the far right takes it up and uses it as a shibboleth!

Carl Isaacson
Sterling, Kansas

The Democrats in Congress need to be reeducated in what a Liberal Democratic Party of the people in this country stands for. They need to start doing their jobs for the people, which is why they are in Washington, D.C. and not flipping burgers somewhere like many people in the US who have been put out of their jobs.

Shirley Smith
Longview, Texas

Perhaps the nation could learn from the vote in South Dakota, where our senate race was won by a mere 500 votes. Votes that were largely ignored by the Republican candidate, John Thune, proved to be the deciding factor in an extremely close race. The votes that were ignored were [those on] the American Indian Reservations, where a large number of the nation’s most disenfranchised people reside.

Emily Williams
Chamberlain, South Dakota

The Politics of Science
To screen a prospect for a science post on their political views to determine congruence with Mr. Bush (“Bush’s New Political Science”), and especially to query whether the prospect voted for the man is an egregious invasion of privacy, an arrogant imposition of political values into the world of science, and further demonstration of the unqualified hubris of the current administration. Like a rapidly metastasizing cancer, insidiously invading every crevice and hastening the demise of the body, so does Mr. Bush’s rampant egoism extrude itself ever further into the life of the republic, subversively killing the democracy upon which we depend.

Dr. D. J. MacMillan
Seminole, Florida

Science has never been much of a strong suit of the right wing, because honest science doesn’t have a political agenda to drive the research and shape the outcomes. The cabal now in power promises to establish a royal corporatocracy with endless privileges, paid for by the labor of the rest of us, with hegemony extending across the globe. It should be no surprise that this administration would seek to politicize science in pursuit of its aims, just as they will continue to politicize the judiciary to tailor Constitutional interpretation to suit their purposes.

Robert H. Walters, Ph. D.
Phoenix, Arizona

Silver Screen Saddam
A strong documentary, but many pieces of Iraqi history are left out, especially the dilapidated state of the country before Hussein took power (“Uncle Saddam”). No public sanitation, no property for the masses, few doctors, fewer dentists and terrible education.

True enough, Saddam’s extended family seems to have a Hatfield vs. McCoys way of dealing with disputes. But that is hardly responsible for the massive suffering of the Iraqi people under the UN-imposed but US-maintained sanctions.

Backtalk | Week of November 24 – November 30

Where Are the Bootstraps?
Todd, the Republicans are never going to admit that post World War II foreign policy has made the US the big bully (“An Open Letter to Nancy Pelosi”). We tout ourselves as the great light of democracy and freedom; we forget that our freedom is on the backs of dozens of non-democratic countries which supply our cheap oil, coffee, bananas….

Where are America’s allies? We have none. Pick a country that unflinchingly allies itself to “America’s values.” What we do have is a list of former allies who think we are wrong, but are too damned scared of economic sanctions to say so. Well, their people are saying so.

Todd, let’s help put this important issue in front of the American public. Let’s get the heated coffee shop debates going. Let’s get Americans asking their government, and each other: Why?

Brett Childs
Canberra, Australia

Personally, I would be quite happy to see the back of the entire pack of “blue dogs,” as I believe the Democratic Leadership Council members call themselves. Although they are not all geographically “Southerners,” cosmetic changes made to modernize their collective public image cannot hide the fact that they are Dixiecrats.

Alicia Siegel
Long Beach, California

It’s time for true liberals to stop wasting their time with the Democratic party. The party has long abandoned the true issues of the left: education, health care, environment, progressive taxes, reforming corporate america, increasing voter participation, etcetera. Instead, Bill Clinton and the DLC have reshaped the party as moderate conservatives, allowing the Republicans to run as far to the right as they have ever dreamed would be possible.

The result of chasing behind the Republicans has been a nightmare for liberals. Clinton passed NAFTA, welfare reform, massively expanded the prison industrial complex, renewed interest in Reagan’s Star Wars missile system, made a mockery of the United Nations to bomb Yugoslavia (not to mention the host of other nations he bombed), openly supported several repressive regimes (most notably in Columbia, Turkey & Afghanistan), while giving lip service to the left. Bush simply dropped the rhetoric and continued openly with the business of the right.

Ron Mayes
Los Angeles, California

To call Jean Carnahan, Max Cleland and Jeanne Shaheen “right-wing Democrats” is absolute garbage. Right-wing aptly describes senators such as Trent Lott and Jesse Helms. Carnahan, Shaheen, and Cleland are all moderates. Shaheen for instance could be seen as liberal for some of her view points on women’s issues and gay rights. Don’t smear Cleland, Carnahan, and Shaheen with the right-wing label. It’s completely absurd.

Brian Giulieri
Denver, Colorado

Well, I am a “Paul Wellstone liberal” on domestic and environmental issues, but I do not believe that the war against Saddam Hussein is unjustified or unnecessary. I believe that this is a valid position for a liberal, although I might be called a war monger and a racist for expressing my position. We can and should fight Hussein and al-Qaeda at the same time.

Susan A. Stein
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mr. Gitlin writes: “Put forward a fighting patriotism — tough on terrorism….” That seems to me to play right to what Harry Truman said about when given a choice between phony Republicans and real Republicans, people will vote for real Republicans every time.

The Democrats’ future, I believe, lies in their ability to convince the vast majority of Americans that the Republicans are no more in their corner than the fox wants to play with the chickens. “Compassionate conservatism” has been revealed as a smokescreen for a far right agenda, which Bush is justifying with our fear of terrorism. The Democrats must convince Americans that Bush’s economic policy of tax cuts and less government spending sacrifices the middle class to the ultra-rich.

That’s the only way the Democrats will win, by being Democrats, not by being Republicrats.

Ira Lacher
Des Moines, Iowa

Backtalk | Week of November 17 – November 23

Recruiting Recriminations
Releasing private contact information of all school kids to military recruiters is just another step to get an early grip on those kids (“No Child Unrecruited”, November/December). I thought the US had a professional army of volunteers … Why would the military need this kind of student information? Is it for the future wars we plan to conduct in the name of peacekeeping and policing the world? I wish G.W. Bush would remember his own words from campaign days: “We need less government” or something to that extent. I fully agree. I am a whole lot more willing to support our armed forces when they stick to democratic principles. And my highest respect to those school principals who hold back student information or encourage students to bar release of their private information.

Thomas Thorisch
Owasso, Oklahoma

The scariest part is that all these things seem to fade into the background as the next violation of our rights happens. People don’t seem to be able to focus on anything for long enough to do something about a particular item. Keeping the general population in “Overwhelm” seems intentional. The severity of the intrusions and violations is growing rapidly. Remember the story about boiling the frog?

Miriam Ascher
Kalispell, Montana

It is time to wake up and smell the coffee. The theory behind US democracy is excellent, and freedom is something one should fight for, yes, I don’t dispute this. But the reality that this wonderful dream has become is somewhat more into the ways of an “empire.” They do not tell the entire truth to their own citizens, sometimes even lie and “forget” their own Constitution when necessary. These are the actions of certain people who use the power they receive to further their own goals. They set the needs of one before the needs of the many. The question any person should ask is “What can I do to better the situation?”

Marc Lejoly
Brussels, Belgium

I don’t know how the reluctance to disclose one’s name to the military adds up to an “anti-military attitude.” And I certainly wouldn’t want any children to be reluctant to express their attitude about the military or any other aspect they had strong feelings about. I think educators want and work hard to have students share their views, which ultimately opens them up and can help them see broader perspectives.

Monty Berman
Ithaca, New York

I pay extra to have my home and cell phone numbers completely unpublished to decrease the number of unsolicited calls, and the high schools are now “required” to turn this information over to military recruiters?

My husband is a career Marine (over 24 years and counting) and our children have the freedom of choice if they want to enter the military themselves. Giving the recruiters free access to the schools is more than ample opportunity to pursue new recruits. More often than not, if you have to “use school lists to aggressively pursue students through mailings, phone calls, and personal visits — even if parents object,” the recruit will not be worth the effort in the long run, either not finishing boot camp, tech school or the entire length of their enlistment.

I understand how hard it is to recruit for the military, but especially in this time of history it has gotten easier. The Marine Corps has consistently met quota for recruiting; what is wrong with the other services that they have to employ these methods?

Lisa Morrison
Aiea, Hawaii

Gridiron Community?
I’m surprised that Mother Jones, with a reputation for investigative, factual, fearless reporting, fell for the Lambeau Scambeau by running a puff piece (“Home Field Advantage,” November/December). A little digging would have unearthed the truth beneath the stadium turf, that this was little different than other sports palace deals, getting the taxpayers to pay for a private enterprise. We love Brett Favre; he’d be playing if he was paid $350 a week and had to live above a store, and the team is good for the city and the state, but management should have had the decency and foresight to pay for the renovation with its own money and debt, not burden an already overtaxed citizenry.

Keith Kramer
Green Bay, Wisconsin

| Week of November 10 – November 16

Of Recruiters and Rights
Whatever happened to the idea that Republicans don’t like “big government”? (“No Child Unrecruited”, November/December) I also was under the impression that government interference in our daily lives was something to be avoided and stopped. Well, it seems that just as in the abortion issue, when Republicans want to make everyone toe the line, big government is a good value. Why can’t big government be seen as something positive when it comes to environmental issues, welfare and poverty concerns, homelessness, and dealing with racism?

John Walsh
Redlands, California

To me this reinforces the strength of what has been called “the economic draft,” targeting kids who know that there’s no way for them to afford college, and where in a serious recession job prospects for high school graduates are slim, the military with its glowing promises looks like “the only game in town.” What a tragic and potentially fatal choice in a war scenario without end! What a plan to assure that the majority of war fatalities come from the poor and minorities!

Reid L. Seastrand
Redmond, Oregon

As a Canadian I should probably exclude myself from this discussion, but as a former teacher and principal I find it appalling that schools should be called upon to provide confidential information about their students for whatever purpose. Surely Americans, with their proud tradition of individual rights, will rebel against such an unjustified infringement on their personal liberties.

Stan Roberts
Vancouver, British Columbia

The military is already spending millions on slick media advertising so why isn’t this enough? While serving with the Army in Vietnam I handled the remains of fellow servicemen everyday for months on end many of whom had been drafted. And it was all for some self-serving politicians who had been lied to by LBJ concerning the Gulf of Tonkin incident which is now known never to have taken place. I’m surprised the law doesn’t exempt the children of Congressmen and Congresswomen! I hope all students will opt to be excluded!!

Stephen Acai
Raleigh, North Carolina

I am not an American citizen, but I am horrified by this story. So this is the country that claims to uphold freedom and democracy?! How sad that a country that produced the Declaration of Independence can stoop to the tactics of a third-rate militaristic regime. Now that President Bush has a majority in both the House and Senate, who is going to stop the erosion of freedom and human rights in the United States. Thank God for the likes of Mother Jones and the work that you are doing to inform people.

Jane Stark
Galway, Ireland

Bottom line — the US military is a unique situation and is totally different than colleges or any other group that would want to get their hands on students’ information. The US military needs to have access to the best and the brightest and everyone knows that to recruit strong people you have to go after them — like everyone else does. It’s fair to me that since our national security is and needs to continue to be one of our top priorities that the armed forces get favorable conditions to identify and recruit the students deemed most desirable, and at the same time these students enjoy their right as Americans to politely decline if they are not interested.

Jason T. Ayers
Honolulu, Hawaii

Detecting Injustice
It was hard not to miss the irony of qualified people being denied government jobs (“Lie Detector Roulette”, November/December) because they failed pre-employment polygraphs or were honest about previous drug use or arrests, though George W. Bush was not subjected to the same scrutiny when he was campaigning for the highest government office in the land. He refused to answer questions about his previous drug use and misdemeanor DUI arrests and the subject was dropped, all chalked up to “youthful indiscretions.”

Jeff Grunewald
Chicago, Illinois

I am a twelve year veteran of law enforcement. The frank discussion of the inadequacies of lie detector results is refreshing.

Our department frequently administers lie detector tests on criminal suspects. I can not argue that our conviction rate on crimes is augmented by the use of the tests. However, I wonder how a court officer or judge would feel if we introduced a confession that was compelled at the point of a gun, or a nightstick. They would throw it out. Likewise, if we use psychological warfare (guilt, ego, plying emotion) to urge a similar confession out of a suspect who is seated in our squad car or at our police department, they can throw it out. Why then is it any different if a person submits to a lengthy psychological beating to urge a confession?

I can see more of a lie in a person’s eyes that I can in a bunch of meaningless scribbles. I could not rest well at night for having convicted someone on the basis of a confession that I beat out of them with a machine.

Scott Marth
Mount Carroll, Illinois


Peaceniks Into Peacekeepers
Gershom Gorenberg is a very skilled writer. His article, “The Thin Green Line” (September/October) — which raised the question: “Do Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied territories advance the cause of peace or hurt it?” — was fair and balanced.

Currently, a group of Senior Israel Defense Force ofÞcers who oppose “The Occupation” have formed a unit of “Humanitarian Officers” to oversee the young soldiers who man checkpoints and engage in sweep operations. The deployment of these mature, experienced officers should result in a decrease in violence and human rights abuses. I’d recommend that the refuseniks he profiled volunteer for these assignments.

L.M. Howard
Torrance, California

Using the word refusenik to describe the Israeli reservists who refuse to serve in the military is a slap in the face to the people about whom the term was originally coined.

During the dark days of the Iron Curtain, the term was used to describe any Soviet Jew who, seeking religious and personal freedom, applied to emigrate to Israel and was refused by the Soviet Union. Most often, the refusenik was terminated from his/her job, arrested, and banished to the Siberian Gulag. The refusenik was starved and beaten because he/she desired freedom.

The Russian refuseniks’ fight should never be confused with the outspoken reservists who obviously take that freedom for granted. In the U.S. military, a soldier who refuses to do his duty faces disciplinary action, including court-martial and jail. Israel should do the same.

Cheryl Zwiren
Flushing, New York

Whose Wilderness?
Ted Williams’ article on the Tongass National Forest (“A Crossroad for Wilderness,” September/October) advocating a roadless policy makes me wonder for whom he and like-minded individuals would preserve our wilderness. Without roads, the only ones who could access the Tongass are environmental elitists who can afford to charter a plane, helicopter, or boat.

Judy Ripley
Juneau, Alaska

Kilted, Not Cross-Dressed
I am no fan of Trent Lott. However, I don’t think he did anything wrong by wearing a kilt (“The Diddly Awards,” September/October). It is an ancient and honorable garment for one of Scottish heritage. Furthermore, it is entirely inappropriate to refer to the kilt as “Scottish drag” especially for a supposedly “liberal” publication.

Clifford Abrams
St. Louis, Missouri

Least Activist Campus
It is encouraging for me to read the “Top 10 Activist Campuses” (September/October), because there is not a glimmer of social activism here at the University of Akron. No one debated the meaning of September 11th on the anniversary and everyone seems content to follow right along with the war on terrorism without a question as to its validity. Perhaps you should do a survey of the 10 least active campuses with more than 20,000 students. We would certainly make the grade, unfortunately.

Jonathan Pittman
Akron, Ohio

A Real Eye-Opener
I was amused to read about “Shower Shock” in Exhibit (September/October). Soap with caffeine in it: How silly can you get, right? But then I read an Associated Press story saying scientists have discovered that rubbing caffeine on the skin of mice significantly lowers the risk of skin cancer. I want to know two things. Why would it ever occur to a researcher to rub caffeine on skin? And where can I get some of that soap?

Georgia West
Neversink, New York

Contact Labor
Thank you for Eric Schlosser’s article “Making It Work” (September/October). As a third generation Puerto Rican, it breaks my heart to see these day laborers struggle in my very own neighborhood. The article was very informative, however, I did not see any contact information in the magazine for the National Day Labor Organizing Network mentioned in the article. If possible, could you please print that information?

Laura Castells
New York, New York

The National Day Labor Organizing Network (an association of 18 nonprofit groups) can be reached c/o The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, 1521 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90017.

Greening the Fast Lane
Thank you for publishing Bill McKibben’s article, “It’s Easy Being Green” (July/August). When my own car was stolen recently, his message echoed in my ears and inßuenced my decision to buy a hybrid gas/electric car. Thanks to McKibben for educating and inspiring so many of us.

Andrea Ayvazian
Northampton, Massachusetts

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. Send to Backtalk, Mother Jones, 731 Market Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94103; fax to (415) 665-6696; or email to backtalk@motherjones.com.