Pacifism and Protest
We are under a moral imperative to make the Bush administration and those who are tag-a-longs understand that the act of war against Iraq is unacceptable (“On the Bus to Baghdad”). Everyone has to use his/her conscience to do it in the manner that they feel will have consequence. I applaud those who are acting as human shields. Not only are they showing resistance to being railroaded into a war that cannot be shown justified; these particular protesters are doing it with their lives, negating the blathering of those who would make the world believe that pacifism arises from cowardice. It is more the case in point that we are living with an administration who would not go to the front line themselves (wealthy old men don’t have to) and have long since forgotten that the United States is not their personal country to rule as they please (normally that would be deemed a dictatorship), but a nation of citizens who must be listened to and part of a global community as well. Short of a bolt of lightning striking Bush and Co., I fear their ears are closed to the people.

Jan Goddard Rosner
Cedar Falls, Iowa

I admire these people, but can’t help thinking they are spitting in the wind.

I feel it would have been more beneficial for them to collect money for medicines, bandages etc. and go into Iraq and help out the civilian population who are going to be the pawns in this game.

Sharyn Coady
Canberra, Australia

Personally I think these people are damned fools and disagree with their stance on the Iraq situation. However, I do give them high marks for their dedication to their cause. Unlike the folks at NION, ANSWER, WWOW et al, these folks are putting their butts where their mouths are. All the Hollywood crowd seems to be capable of doing is throwing some money around to take out newspaper ads, signing petitions, and getting their faces plastered all over television.

Greg McNinch
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Saddam Hussein has used his own people as human shields without regard to their well-being to protect military objectives and will undoubtedly use these people the same way. The deaths of these people would be strictly their own doing. The deaths of the Iraqi people used by Saddam Hussein are a tragedy, a tragedy of loss they suffer no matter what.

Judi Nickels
Atlanta, Georgia

Venezuela on the Edge
Is it possible that there is no one leader to cheer for here in Venezuela(“Chaos and Constitution”)?

If Chavez can have the lack of sense to visit a country’s leader, hostile to the largest Venezuelan exportee, one has to wonder what he is all about. Or at least question his economic prowess.

In this country many abuses are evident to me. How do we help with this from a foreigner’s perspective, I don’t know. I do know that it’s hard to find a personality that can be respected enough to cheer for.

Roberto Cemento
Maturine, Venezuela

President Chavez’s efforts to revitalize the economy with the poor sharing in it is commendable and he should be lauded for his efforts. But I have seen and studied various Latin-American economies, and they are primarily driven for the benefit of the elite and wealthy. This has always been an entrenched elite that controls the essential assets (land, energy, food production and distribution) of a nation for the benefit and well-being of an unelected, elite wealthy, with modest attempts to share with a small middle class, and largely ignoring the large poor sections.

President Chavez’s approach to educate and democratize the poor in sharing some of the economic gains should be further pursued. Our great American economy began with a similar background — similar with an agricultural beginning, but strong in ideals of allowing all farmers or plantation owners the ability to raise their crops and sell them at market. However, our American farmers and plantation owners were also blessed with a country rich in natural resources, democratic ideals and strong, religious ideals of sharing and compensating a man for his labor.

Al Beltran
Las Vegas, Nevada

When you portray Chavez as the defender of the poor you are totally mischaracterizing what is happening in Venezuela. Yes, Chavez supporters are mostly poor and ignorant people, to whom he promises the virtues of a revolution, and in the name of that supposed revolution, he arms them, illegally funnels funds to them, keeps them out of jail when they commit crimes, and keeps them happy.

Is this a struggle between rich and poor? If you tally the poor that support Chavez vs. the poor that live in Venezuela, you would note that he has little popular support. What Chavez is really up to is seizing power completely and absolutely. And so far he is winning the battle. For as long as people like you believe the “rich-poor justification,” us decent Venezuelans have no one else to turn to to denounce the reckless use of power with which he has sequestered this democracy.

Enrique Mercado
Miami, Florida

Federally Mandated Fat
I feel that part of your article had merit, but you failed to hit the high points of school lunches (“Official Secrets”). We provide lunches to many students who otherwise would not be getting a balanced meal. We are, by state regulations, to follow nutrition guidelines for the meals, including calorie numbers, fat content, sodium levels, etc. Along with the so-called fatty entrées you spoke about, you seemed to leave out the fruits/vegetables we also provide for our students.

We do all we can to provide nutritious meals, but we also need the help from parents through working with their children on learning about nutrition at home. With the rise of fast food, children come to school expecting that type of food. If other types of food are provided, such as baked chicken, vegetable soups, etc., that they may not have at home for various reasons, they aren’t willing to try it at school. They look for the foods they are most familiar with … fast food.

Deb Harper
Nutritional Services/Educational Programs
Windsor Re-4 School District
Windsor, Colorado

Backtalk | Week of February 16 – February 22

A Rose is a Rose?
I think it’s crazy that we are concerned with organic food but think nothing of the other reasons for putting pesticides and fertilizers into the environment (“The Red Rose Whispers of … “). I hadn’t considered personally the impact of large scale flower growing, but it just makes sense that everything we grow for consumer use should be organic. I shudder to think of the health risks which the Ecuadoran growers are facing just so we can satiate demand for what is ultimately a frivolous reason, such as Valentine’s Day.

Robin Williams
Horsham, England

My husband brought home a beautifully packaged, expensive bouquet of eight of the longest, lushest, long-stem red roses I have ever seen Monday night in honor of our eighth wedding anniversary. I had just read the Mother Jones article on the South American rose pesticides. Now I see only “blood” in that deep red color that sits proudly on my kitchen table. If only we had known sooner.

Sandi Murray
Downers Grove, Illinois

Virtual Peaceniks
My God, where has Barlow been hiding all this time(“Cognitive Dissident”)? And he uses a Mac! Just on the basis of his brand choice alone, he should have known that he was no longer a Republican.

He couldn’t be more on track decrying our grateful abdication of our freedoms. Maybe he is the spokesman; maybe he is the one to galvanize all of us virtual street-corner ranters; maybe we have been waiting for him and his time is now. You remember what freedom is? Well, I’m a classic boomer with nothing left to lose, and our numbers are legion.

Eric Berman
Memphis, Tennessee

John Barlow is right to be scared of the Bush gang riding hell for leather through everyone’s rights at home and abroad. We cannot believe that someone can do so much damage just because Sept. 11 happened on his watch. We are scared of America and America must wake up and oppose the tyrant before he buggers up the whole world.

Bruce Douglas
New Zealand

The Security Lie
I have yet to see one single “security” law that would have stopped the hijackers of Sept. 11, for they were planning their actions for a number of years, and could have even evaded the new security screening by using plastic knives (“Official Secrets”). The arming of pilots could be an effective deterrent, but that has not been approved, and pilots who have insisted on protecting passengers by flying with firearms have even been arrested. That is the logic of “security.”

Sadly, the mantra of “security” is being used to cover up abuses by government and government supporters in the US and other countries. In the US, this will lead to people losing faith … and hopefully they will realize that freedom, active citizens and civil liberties are the only true guarantees of security.

Manuel Perez
New York, New York

Backtalk | Week of February 2 – February 8

Digital Dissent
Barlow hits the nail on the head many times in this interview (“Cognitive Dissident”).

The Republican party has risen in stature by purporting to be the purveyors of family values, and keepers of all that is good and Christian. In contrast, when they take power in D.C., they seek to destroy everything that stands in their way. George Bush’s war on the world and America are just two of many examples of their hellbent, destructive nature.

Philip M. Matera
Farmingdale, New York

My biggest fear with the Bush administration is the lack of response on the part of the public in reaction to the erosion of our rights. People are nodding and saying that it is necessary. None of this will stop the next attack any more than terrorism has been stopped in other parts of the world. We are just farther away, which makes it more difficult to plan any type of attack. I believe that we will find one day our rights are gone and we are no safer and then it will be too late.

Frances DiDavide
River Grove, Illinois

People or Profit?
After reading “Culture Change” in the January-February 2003 issue, I looked at my Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia frozen yogurt container, and it doesn’t say that the company is owned by Unilever (“Culture Change”). Then I checked my Stonyfield Yogurt container, and there’s no clue that the company is now owned by Groupe Danone. Is there no law that requires identification of the ultimate owner?

Nope — Ed.

Mary Wirth
Utica, New York

Their sellout to a larger and visible greed is evidence of their fate. They were opportunists when their profit ran into long term ethics. Like the Democrats, if you aim for the middle of the road, you wind up in the ditch.

Joe Rowe
San Francisco, California

Backtalk | Week of January 26 – February 1

Security? Or Just Secrecy?
The fact that both liberals and conservatives are concerned about this trend is scary (“Official Secrets”). This usually means that there is something to worry about. The Bush administration was overly secretive prior to 9/11; there seems to be no limit to what they will now do to guard their secrets on every subject, not just true security issues. It is time for citizens to begin to get involved in this issue and to put pressure on the administration to change its ways. Open government and a free press are the keys to the success of our society. Let’s not lose them.

John Ruckman
Denver, Colorado

It is easily agreed that restricting public access to government records and private company info is disturbing on the face of it, but you’re only spinning one side of the story. If the “people” of the US want and demand “homeland security” after the devastation of 9/11, this is the unfortunate consequence — restricted freedoms.

Tom Gorman
Phoenix, Arizona

It is difficult for me to shake the feeling that President Bush and his gang have used 9/11 as a means of advancing their own agenda — an agenda that favors the energy industry, the defense establishment, and the executive’s authority to unilaterally protect these interests (for instance, by hiding the dirty laundry and hampering reform efforts). Of course, it is true that these expanded powers can be used to improve our security and ability to combat terrorism. I am concerned about the price that we pay.

Philip Usatine
McLean, Virginia

Arguing Abortion
When I was 21, I applied to a state college with the intentions of becoming a microbiologist (“Fetal Position”). I received a letter of admission to this college’s impacted mb program, and the same week, found out that I was pregnant. I went immediately to a pregnancy counseling center, with the intentions of aborting, and was given an ultrasound. You are correct, ultrasounds are powerful tools to convince a woman to go through with an unwanted pregnancy. I declined the admission and instead became a mother.

Although I later returned to school, I never was able to complete my degree. I work in a totally unrelated field, get paid far less as an undegreed person, enjoy my son, but wonder what my life might have been like had I gone to Family Planning instead of the clinic.

I have always been and will continue to be pro-choice. I resent the fact that my tax dollars are being used to dupe other young girls in the same way I was.

Christina Phillips
San Diego, California

I think that since abortion clinics so often try to immediately persuade women to have an abortion (from my own experience and that of many others), downplay the risks, etc., I don’t see any reason why there shouldn’t also be others who try to dissuade them.

An unplanned pregnancy is traumatic, no matter what the woman chooses to do, but the “choice” should include all options, not just pushing the abortion.

Laradia Smith
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Backtalk | Week of January 19 – January 25

Imperial Democracy
Mr. Packer’s article entirely misses the point (“America’s Age of Empire: The Liberal Challenge”). It is precisely the idea that the world needs the United States to come marching down the road paved with good intentions that is the core problem. Let the Democrats revive the foreign policy vision of Kennedy and Roosevelt, or Carter and Clinton, for that matter; that vision will be instantly co-opted by the forces that perverted it every other time around. Perhaps it is too painful a pill to swallow, but the foreign policy message we need to hear is, “Physician, heal thyself.” The biggest threat to democracy on the planet is an unelected demagogue sitting on the throne of the World’s Only Super Power. If we can’t defend our democracy at home, democracy is not what we are going to spread around.

As it is, our fingerprints, and those of the forces of corporate globalization that we support with our military and tax money, are all over just about every mess on the planet. The silver lining of this cloud is that, if we could just restrain ourselves and withdraw this support, homegrown democracies would have a chance. Judging from the immigrants and refugees I meet, we will find that most countries are already filled with people who would be adequate forces for democracy, if they weren’t stymied by the interjections of the CIA, the IMF and other such entities. Sometimes I suspect that we are so attached to the idea that we are the proper distributors of democracy, that we actually fear the prospect of spontaneous democracy arising elsewhere and this is why we act to undermine it so often! It isn’t pretty, but it’s the truth, and what we need to do is to face the truth, not revive old fantasies.

Karen Scott
Ithaca, New York

Chavez’ Constitution
As for the many … allegations of supposed class wars and the control of the “elite” over the poor, I beg to differ because my family is proof of the social mobility of rural poor in that country (“Chaos and Constitution”). Venezuela (and the oil boom) allowed many, many poor to study and/or set up private enterprises and become successful entrepreneurs and professionals. In addition, scholarship programs that allowed thousands of poor and middle-class students to study overseas were eminently successful, especially the “Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho” program that included many of its graduates among Chavez supporters.

I am opposed to the Chavez government basically because it does not follow the new Constitution nor the due process of law. Military seizure of private property and declaring soft drinks “primary foods,” as was done this week, are but the latest examples of non-democratic rule. And, lest the writer forget the Venezuelan Constitution’s Article 350, it states (my translation):

“The people of Venezuela, loyal to its’ republican tradition, its fight for independence, peace, and to liberty, will ignore (translators note: could also mean “reject” or “disown”) any regime, legislation or authority contrary to the values, principles and democratic warranties, or that restrict human rights.”

Manuel Perez
New York, New York

Mr. Lynn should be interested in this week’s news. The DISIP (Venezuelan federal police) have been clearly shown as harassing Chavez’s opposition, beating up people in jail. A lawyer of one of the victims uses the word “torture” but we will wait for the judicial inquiry. But the very bruised face of the student was a clear testimonial of the beating he received.

Mr. Lynn, it seems that the DISIP and the National Guard are up to their old tricks again. From the other side of the street perhaps, but I hardly think that it justifies police brutality. I would suggest a quick trip to check up on how the Chavez government has been mocking the legal system that Chavez himself set up after obtaining “his” constitution.

Daniel Duffaud
San Felipe, Venezuela

Tin Soldiers
The “I’ve been to War” quote that you attribute to an interview that George Bush gave to The Houston Chronicle was also made at least one other time (“We were Soldiers Once?”). It was in a speech he gave to a group of college students last year. He was discussing the possibility of going to war with Iraq. One of the cable news shows showed that portion of his speech but made no comment on his war claims. As I watched this I could not help but think of the uproar in the press if Al Gore had made such a claim. Of course, unlike Mr. Bush and most of the patriots in his administration, Mr. Gore did actually serve his country when asked.

Robert Curley
Baldwinsville, New York

Bucking the Business Tide
Missing from your story on Stonyfield are the most important yet overlooked aspects of building these types of companies: growth capital, shareholder liquidity, and mission control (“Culture Change”). To succeed, not only must those who come after Stonyfield continue to defy business convention, but their investors must defy investing convention. This means a willingness to act in concert with other investors, to be patient, and to accept a predetermined valuation formula. I firmly believe that this can and will happen. And when it does, even the largest businesses will have to take note. Because cost of capital is the ultimate equalizer.

Rupert Ayton
San Francisco, California

Pipeline Dreams
The rhetoric of President Bush and proponents of neo-liberal economic policy in both political parties would have us believe that the wealth of the United States and its multinational corporations was built on rugged entrepreneurism and market forces (“Public Money in the Pipeline”). Well, Daphne Eviatar demonstrates in her article that the U.S. oil industry is yet another major industry that allows the U.S. taxpayer to saddle the financial risk, build infrastructure abroad, and create technology so that multinational corporations can privatize the profits of public investment.

Paul Kershaw
West Hartford, Connecticut

Recruiting Violations?
I am writing in response to “No Child Unrecruited” by David Goodman in your November / December 2002 edition (“No Child Unrecruited”). Let me assure you and your readers that the statements by an Army Recruiting company commander do not reflect the policy of this command, the Army, or Department of Defense.

Our reason for requesting directory information is so recruiters can present students and parents information on what the Army can offer them: educational opportunities, leadership and skill training, and service to country.

The intent of Section 9528 of the “No Child Left Behind Act” is to ensure recruiters have the same access to directory information as do post-secondary institutions and prospective employers. The legislation allows parents to ask that their child’s directory information not be released. I assure you that we will abide by the parents’ wishes and have no intention of trying to force schools to release directory information against a parent’s stated request.

If recruiters do not receive this information from the schools, they can obtain student information from other sources, such as drivers license lists. So although a parent may ask that the high school not release directory information, recruiters may still write, call or visit the students and their parents at their homes. But in any case, if we are asked not to call or write again, we will comply with that request.

Ward W. Wood
Lieutenant Colonel, US Army
Director, Advertising and Public Affairs

Backtalk | Week of January 12 – January 18

Students or Soldiers?
The critics quoted in the article present their concerns over the military’s access to student information principally as a matter of student privacy (“No Child Unrecruited”). But does anyone seriously believe that the San Francisco Board of Education would object to sharing such information on privacy grounds had the law been written on behalf of a cause it actually favored — such as the Peace Corps or an Education Department effort to recruit teachers for inner-city schools? Of course not.

“Privacy” is the smokescreen behind which Mother Jones and these critics mask their discomfort with the U.S. military — the same military that saved hundreds of thousands of Africans from certain starvation in the early 1990s, saved hundreds of thousands of Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims from mass murder just a few years later, and which today trains the young men and women who risk and sometimes lose their lives to protect us all from terrorists who would happily take the lives of every last Mother Jones editor, writer, and subscriber, quite without regard for their progressive reading habits.

As for principal Shea-Keneally’s inability to “see the link” between the education bill and the U.S. military, she should know that hundreds of thousands of young Americans (especially those from the most disadvantaged sectors of our society) gain access to higher education and valuable job training skills through their military service.

For many Americans, military service is not only an expression of their dedication to democracy and the security of their fellow citizens, but is their best shot for a college degree — all of which ought to be considered and respected by the public education officials cited in the article. The scandal is that they apparently needed an Act of Congress to compel them to.

Steven J. Naplan
Washington, D.C.

Big Handouts for Big Oil
Before George Bush and his backers blatantly stole the 2000 presidential election, there was a chance to save the earth from ecological catastrophe — that chance no longer exists (“Public Money in the Pipeline”). Conflicts of interest abound in this Administration, confirming Ambrose Bierce’s definition of politics as “The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” So much evil and foulness have not existed in one place since the heyday of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. If the Founding Fathers had foreseen this revolting development, they might have called off the revolution. Government of the people by big oil and for big oil was not exactly what they had in mind when they declared our independence and wrote the Constitution. If ever the time was ripe for a second American revolution, that time is now.

Charles B. Edelman
Los Angeles, California

Democratic Gut-Check
As a party the Democrats do indeed need not just a foreign policy but a policy on every issue facing this Nation and its citizens today (“America’s Age of Empire: The Liberal Challenge”). I don’t see them as having any policy of any worth any where on any thing.

I suggest for one the Democrats get off the “provide jobs for your buddies” system and establish a stance of hiring the best first & appointing the best first. Once we have cleared away all the dead wood lifetime bureaucrats that suckle on the Republican teat as quickly as they do the Democratic, we may have a chance of actually being able to claim to be the greatest nation on the planet.

There are just far too many silly, self-defeating, naïve and doomed stances that are tied to the Democrats’ tails at this moment for us to claim to be the party of the people, the future or anything realistic.

Don Greene
Leon, West Virginia

Chiding Chavez
My family comes from the poor agricultural class who made an effort to send their children to school, and my parents, now 74 years old, are those children who became university teachers with a lot of effort (“Chaos and Constitution”). I have a Master’s degree and I am proud of my family efforts and results. In our days in Venezuela this way is seen as a bad thing. If you have made a middle class life, like this, Mr Chavez will say to his partisans that you are an “oligarca” which would mean someone who is rich. Do you agree? A lot of middle class and poor people voted Chavez in the 1998 elections, against the corruption of the two traditional political parties. You cannot deny that today most of his voters have seen how much they have been deceived by Chavez. Look at his promises and his results.

Chavez has exploited the inferiority complexes, the personal downfall, even the skin color of the people to manipulate them, to make them angry against those who are in a better situation, as if those people were responsible for the poor’s bad lives and retiring their own responsibility. You put the problem in terms of race and class. To the contrary, now it is a thing of emotions. The poor that still are with Chavez act only by emotions, there are no real facts which move them. I do not deny that this has a big power, but it does not change their daily needs.They have been continuously manipulated to anger.

Yajaira Barreto
Caracas, Venezuela


Lie Detector Truth
Please thank Brendan Koerner for “ Lie Detector Roulette” (November/December 2002). Years ago, the FBI chose me for a program that would have sent me to Quantico, Virginia. I passed the extensive background check and was given a tour of the Sacramento FBI office. There was just one hurdle left: a polygraph. I was faced to a wall and hooked up to several devices. There was no modification allowed for my hearing impairment, which requires me to rely heavily on lipreading. Faced away from the tester, I failed the polygraph, probably because I overanalyzed the questions I did hear (Does drug use include the daily dose of five ibuprofen tablets from when I was a wrestler? Does one comment about my boss mean I have spoken against my previous employers?). I still remember asking the tester to repeat one question. I was met with silence, as answering with anything other than yes/no meant you’d screwed up the result. That experience diminished my faith in our domestic security.

Nevertheless, lie detector tests will always appeal to law-enforcement agencies because they favor people who think in black and white (you’re either with us, or you’re against us) and who dismiss nuance as obfuscation. Unfortunately, the ability to see nuances in human behavior, as well as an interest in global affairs, is what allows tragedies like 9/11 to become foreseeable.

Matthew Mehdi Rafat
Campbell, California

I am a 12-year veteran of law enforcement. Our department frequently administers lie detector tests to criminal suspects. I cannot argue that our conviction rate on crimes is augmented by the use of the tests. However, I know that a court officer or judge would throw out a confession that was compelled at the point of a gun or nightstick. Likewise, if we use psychological warfare (guilt, ego, plying emotion) to urge a confession, they can throw it out. Why, then, is it any different if a person submits to a lengthy psychological beating through a lie detector test that forces a confession?

I wonder how many innocent people just give up and admit to a crime out of sheer exhaustion? I have never offered a lie detector test to a suspect. I could not rest well at night after convicting someone on the basis of a confession that I had beat out of him with a machine.

S. Andrew Marth
Mount Carroll, Illinois

Priceless Drops
Your insightful article on the perils of water privatization (“ Water for Profit,” November/December 2002) will hopefully spur readers into action. Here in New Orleans the resistance to privatization ßourished into a grassroots coalition of more than 90 labor unions, environmental groups, churches, and community associations, all working together to block the takeover of our most precious resource. We convinced the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board to do the right thing and reject the bids offered by U.S. Filter and United Water. Let this be an inspiration to other cities — and a testament to the power of grassroots organizing.

Orli Cotel
New Orleans, Louisiana

Short-Range Profits
Your article “ The New Range Wars” (November/December 2002) absolutely captures the reality of coalbed methane development for landowners in the West.

The Powder River Basin, of course, is not the only region being developed. The Raton Basin in southern Colorado is also facing CBM devastation and a battle between state regulators and county governments trying to protect their constituents and resources. The result has been numerous lawsuits against the state, which is frequently joined in court by the cbm industry itself.

As your article implies, our shortsighted rush for profits may have devastating consequences for centuries to come.

Penny Bieber
Weston, Colorado

Lessons in Privacy
As a former teacher and principal I find it appalling that schools should be required to provide confidential information about their students for military recruiting or any other purpose (“ No Child Unrecruited,” November/December 2002). 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

Penalty Flag
The Green Bay Packers public-relations staff is in for a big bonus, and they deserve it! Sue Halpern’s article (“ Home Field Advantage,” November/December 2002) could have come straight out of the P.R. office. The stadium renovation is being paid for by Brown County taxpayers through a half percent increase in the county sales tax. Oh, the Packer contribution? That came by imposing a “seat license,” charging season ticket holders $1,400 for something they already owned.

Keith Kramer
Green Bay, Wisconsin

“No Child Unrecruited” (November/December 2002) incorrectly stated that in 1999 the Pentagon was denied access to 19,228 public schools. In fact, it was denied access to schools on 19,228 occasions. We regret the error.