I spent the last year in Azerbaijan and experienced what David Case described in his article “The Crude Doctrine.” Democracy in Azerbaijan is kept from maturing by the politics of oil, but it will withstand President Bush’s international oil policy. Their richly democratic spirit is kept alive through classical poetry that all Azerbaijanis know. The verses of the great Nizami focus on the impermanence of tyranny and the bliss of justice.
I served as an international observer in the October 2003 presidential elections. At my polling station, in a small town at the foot of the Caucasus, I saw major fraud: Dozens of registered voters found their names absent from the voting roster, thus many people, mostly poor peasants, could not vote. Suddenly, one person suggested they go to the courthouse for a certificate stating they were legitimate precinct voters. And off they went. Other unlisted voters came to me as the “democracy expert” and asked me to do something about the roster problem. I suggested they follow the others to the courthouse. In the end, a few dozen people returned with this certificate. Azerbaijanis with courage and knowledge of their rights fought this fraud. They didn’t need my help. They already knew what to do.
Portsmouth, Rhode Island
As part of the Transportation Security Administration’s original Mobile Screening Force, I agree wholeheartedly with Michael Scherer’s article “Flight Risk,” about the loosening of airport security rules. I worked as a supervisor at some of the biggest airports in the country and saw firsthand the shortcomings of TSA and the cutting back of rules. Friends within TSA inform me that by November more than 100 airports will go back to using private screening. As I am now helping set up security at some of the country’s largest military bases for a private company, I can see where the trend is going.
George Packer’s piece on President Bush’s brittle inflexibility (“Like a Rock”) brings to mind an observation made by Cicero: “Persistence in one opinion has never been considered a merit in political leaders.”
We need leaders who, unlike Bush, have the ability to “do nuance.” By definition, to be politic is to be shrewdly tactful or discerning and considerate. The current holder of the highest office in our land doesn’t qualify for the job.
San Luis Obispo, California
Hitting the Wall
Although the wall presents clear and troubling hardships for Palestinians that deserve to be addressed, this does not amount to Chris Hedges’ conclusion, in “Life Against the Wall,” of ethnic cleansing. Ironically, if there is any ethnic cleansing, it is by Palestinian militants whose murder of Israeli civilians and utter rejection of Israel’s right to exist precipitated the wall’s construction in the first place.
Thank you for the excellent pro-file of your Hellraiser, Lucas Benitez. He reminds me of the fire, passion, and hope shown by Cesar Chavez as he led this country on its journey to justice for farmworkers.
Chavez taught us that each of us can make a difference if we care enough and are willing to pay the price. Benitez lives this truth. It is also important to keep in mind that the many injustices borne by Mexican workers are not confined to the fields. During the 1990s, a record-setting period of growth for our country, the U.S. absorbed more than 2.9 million Mexican workers in every major sector of the workforce, making possible the economic boom that benefited most Americans. Many of these nonagricultural workers were subject to the same abuses and disrespect as our farmworkers.
The larger issue that we must all face is a fair and just national policy on immigrant labor. As consumers, we need to recognize that the bargains we enjoy at the grocery store, the mall, and throughout American life come at a great cost to others. Fairness and justice have a price, often just a few pennies added on to make sure we treat people with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Executive Director, Catholic Charities
St. Petersburg, Florida
Pigs in the Machine
If you think humans have to endure the “choking stench” emitted from a factory-style hog farm, imagine what the 100 million pigs raised and slaughtered in the United States each year must endure. These animals spend their entire lives in con-finement, where dust, dander, and noxious gases are a constant presence, and disease is rampant.
The message of your article (“Hogging the Air”) is that if we can tweak and fine-tune this monster of a machine, human health will improve. The legitimacy of the system, in which pigs are treated as inanimate tools of production and spend their lives crowded into pens, is never questioned.