Taking Back Democracy
To the Editors:
While I am an admirer of Robert Reich, it puzzles me that he has put his faith in campaign finance reform ["Taking Back Democracy," December 4, 2000]. Corporations will always find a way to circumvent it.
Red Bluff, CA
To the Editors:
Robert Reich refers to "corporate-bashing neoprotectionists ... [who don't] accept the legitimacy of global corporations and the dynamism of the new economy."
Please clarify this for me: Which of the global corporations do you find legitimate? Could you be defending the oil companies who devastated the Ogoni region of Nigeria and now threaten the rainforests of Chad and the Cameroon? Monsanto's attempt to genetically engineer the need for pesticides into crops? The Malaysian logging giant WTK, which has undertaken illegal logging and contributed to deforestation in West Asia?
As to this "dynamism of the new economy," could you summarize its beneficial effects on the poor in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and its long-term environmental prospects?
Professor Roger S. Gottlieb
Worcester Polytechnical Institute
Robert Reich Responds:
Mr. Bahlke's skepticism about the efficacy of broad-based campaign finance reform is understandable, but we have to begin somewhere, and one promising route is a citizens' movement aimed at taking back our democracy. Professor Gottlieb's blanket condemnation of globalization and global corporations raises the same issue more broadly.
Global capital isn't the problem, per se--and the solution isn't to stop it from flowing across national borders. The problem is the relative weakness of nation-states in bargaining with global capital on behalf of their citizens. Here again, the only practical alternative is a revived democracy sufficiently potent to stand up for values other than a high return on investment.
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Speaking of Man-Boy Love
To the Editors:
After reading Wendy Kaminer's "Speaking of 'Man-Boy Love,'" [November 20, 2000], I wondered if she would have written a similar defense of a group that advocated decriminalizing rape, gay bashing, or wife beating. The National Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) is not an avant-garde artist like Vladimir Nabokov or Allen Ginsburg. It is a political advocacy group that works to normalize and decriminalize sexual predation.
The fact that NAMBLA does not explicitly encourage violence or coercion is not the point. A sexual relationship between an adult and a child is inherently coercive, because the child lacks the maturity to consent to a sexual relationship.
The value-neutral defense of First Amendment absolutism begs the question, Why is speech worth protecting at all? If we cannot "prove" that the advocacy of child abuse degrades our social mores and weakens taboos that might otherwise restrain sick individuals, neither can we "prove" that controversial works of high art enrich the human spirit or provide any net gain to society that outweighs the offense they may give. By scoffing at the notion that there could be a link between NAMBLA and pedophilia, Kaminer trivializes all speech.
Kaminer writes: "The notion that pubescent children could enter into consensual, mutually beneficial sexual relationships with adults seems absurd to me, but so do a lot of ideas I don't share--like a belief in reincarnation [or] the Resurrection." Leaving aside how insulting it is to compare advocacy of sex crimes to a belief in the Gospel, there is a crucial difference. Reasonable people could disagree on matters of religion. But a society that looks at child abuse and says "Chacun à son gout" is not tolerant. It is callous.
Jendi Reiter, Esq.
New York, NY
Wendy Kaminer Responds:
Of course I would defend the right to advocate decriminalization of rape, wife beating, or gay bashing. I defend the right to advocate anything, because freedom of speech depends on our willingness to distinguish between mere advocacy and actual incitement to violence.
But I've seen no evidence that NAMBLA advocates child abuse. The plaintiffs in the Jeffrey Curley case have been unable to identify any statements made by NAMBLA that allegedly led to Curley's murder. As far as I can tell, the group argues against violence or coercion in sexual relationships but argues for the decriminalization of statutory rape, in the belief that age-of-consent laws are intolerably arbitrary. I think statutory rape laws are necessary, because conferring upon minors a right to consent to sex holds great potential for abuse. I imagine that a lot of 15-year-olds today are engaging in consensual sex (as they did when I was a teenager). Statutory rape laws are sometimes unjustly applied: An 18-year-old boy who has sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend can be prosecuted for statutory rape and end up in a sex offender registry for the rest of his life. I suspect if NAMBLA were a group of heterosexuals advocating the repeal or reform of statutory rape laws, it would not be so universally condemned.
Finally, I did not compare religion to child abuse. I was making the point that our own individual views about the merits or dangers of any idea (or the collective view of the majority) should not determine its legality. (If we did suppress ideas because of their suspected link to violence, I could make a case for suppressing various religious beliefs.)
"Every idea is an incitement," Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes observed; if you assume power to suppress one idea because it might inspire people to action, you assume power to suppress all ideas. And I prefer people armed with arguments to people armed with guns.
Should Jews Be Parochial?
To the Editors:
Reading Michael Massing's article "Should Jews Be Parochial?" [November 6, 2000], one would never guess that the actual crisis in Jewish philanthropy is the very opposite of "parochialism." The vast majority of Jewish philanthropists direct anywhere from 65 percent to 90 percent of their largess toward universal causes, not Jewish ones. Quite a few do not give a dime to Jewish needs. Even few mega-donors who are concerned with Jewish causes give greater sums to universities, symphonies, museums, medical institutions and the like. The real story is that most big Jewish donors are busy saving the world, while Jewish institutions struggle to stay afloat.
Professor Jack Wertheimer
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
New York, NY
To the Editors:
I acknowledge Michael Massing's thoughtful and serious treatment of Michael Steinhardt's philanthropy and of my work with him through Jewish Life Network, and I thank him for it.
However, the article pits efforts to renew Judaism against saving the world. Frankly, we reject this type of binary thinking. Ensuring Jews'--or any people's--survival is not parochial. The article's extreme dichotomy is worthy of the yevsektsias--the Russian Jewish Stalinists who closed down yeshivot and synagogues to hasten the day of universal redemption.
Social action is not Michael Steinhardt's highest priority, although he is supportive of specific projects in this field. His primary focus is on the fallout from American Jewish integration in this country. There is a massive bleeding away of Jewish loyalty and identity. The disappearance of Jewry would be a tragedy for Jews and for the world. Jewish culture has laid the golden egg of highly philanthropic, highly constructive American citizens. It generates high-achievement people; many lead American society in some of its finest values and areas. Now this goose is an endangered species; saving species is not a parochial activity.
You should lighten up; true pluralists would allow this people to look out for its own future so it will be around to help others.
Jewish Life Network
New York, NY
Michael Massing Responds:
I disagree with both Jack Wertheimer and Irving Greenberg on one fundamental point: that American Judaism is in crisis. The baby boomers flocking to synagogues, the dozens of Jewish-journey books being published, the popularity of Seinfeld, the explosion in Holocaust studies, the resurgence of klezmer music, and the nomination of an Orthodox Jew for the vice presidency of the United States would all seem to indicate that Judaism in this country is flourishing. The notion that Jews are engaged in a desperate struggle for survival reflects an exaggerated and outmoded fear on the part of the Jewish establishment about Jewish boys and girls marrying gentiles.
In my article, I did note that an estimated two-thirds of all giving by Jews goes to non-Jewish causes. What concerns me is that the funds being earmarked for Jewish causes are increasingly going to programs that are tribal and insular in nature, and that overwhelmingly serve an affluent elite. While hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to send upper-middle-class Jewish kids to Israel, groups like the American Jewish World Service go begging. For Michael Steinhardt to give to the former and not to the latter strikes me as unappealingly ethnocentric. As for Rabbi Greenberg's likening of me to Russian Jewish Stalinists--now that seems like a case of binary thinking.
The article "Party Schools" by Chris Adolph [December 18, 2000] incorrectly stated the effects of prolonged Republican rule on state educational aid. The figures in the article actually refer to the change in the share of all state educational aid flowing to students at different points in the income distribution, not to changes in the absolute level of aid. After eight years of Republican rule, the average student in the bottom third of the income spectrum receives 10 percent less of the total school aid pie, and the average black pupil in the bottom third receives 22 percent less. But the dollar amounts spent on these students may change in different proportions due to inflation and growth in total education spending.