Correspondence

Fiscal Irresponsibility

Three cheers for Robert B. Reich's "Fiscal
Irresponsibility
" and its portrayal of Democrats in disarray [August 27,
2001]. I
hope TAP will begin the movement in progressive circles to repeal the Bush
tax cut. And there's an implicit "shame on them" message to all the progressive
groups trying to get members' tax refunds as donations. There's only one place
those refunds should go: back to the U.S. Treasury.

Stephen Roop

Prides Crossing, MA

Bush Burning

Great article by Harold Meyerson ["Bush
Burning
," August 13, 2001], but I have
one correction to make: The Constitution doesn't prohibit electing a president
and a vice president from the same state.
It does, however, specifically seek to prevent two people from the same state
from having the electoral votes from that state counted for both of them.
Therefore, Bush and Cheney should have had to decide which one of them would get
the Texas votes. This is clearly stated and not subject to debate, so I'm not
quite sure how the Supreme Court missed it.

Tim Rath

Durham, NC

Transpotting

I usually don't respond to articles I've read,
but E.J. Graff's "Transpotting" [August
27, 2001]was exceptional. I think that
females-to-males are being discussed and written about because they have become
such a diverse and vocal group--they're gay, straight, bisexual--not like when I
made the transition in 1982. Males-to-females were very vocal; we just wanted to
be like other men--to get married, to raise families. Thanks for the article.

Weslan A. Condit

Via e-mail

Smells Like School Spirit

in his otherwise able review of the PBS
documentary School, Peter Schrag deplores the program's failure to censure
teachers' unions for opposing differential pay for teachers [" HREF="/print/V12/16/schrag-p.html">Smells Like School
Spirit," September 10, 2001]. As a retired teacher, I deplore Schrag's remark
for two reasons. First, to my knowledge, wherever merit-based pay programs have
been
instituted, they have failed; to suggest that this fatuous, essentially
managerial strategy could substantially improve conditions in our schools is both
ill-informed and wishful.

Second, the remark identifies teachers' unions as opposing
"reform" in schools, as if teachers care more about their own interests than
about the development of their students. Thus the remark insults the many
splendid human beings who were my colleagues for nearly 40 years, some members of
teachers' unions, some--like myself--not. Schrag can do better than to offer
superficial and offensive asides.

Roger Plumsky

Johnsonburg, PA

Peter Schrag responds:

I'm not concerned about the issue of merit,
and I certainly said nothing about teachers caring more about their own interests
than about their students. The whole piece says precisely the opposite. What I do
care about is union resistance to differential pay and seniority provisions in
contracts, both of which make it hard for schools serving low-income and minority
children to retain experienced teachers and to attract people with special
skills.

A Reform That Lobbyists Could Love

Ellen S. Miller argues in "A Reform that
Lobbyists Could Love
," [September 10, 2001],that compromises have left the
Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill a meaningless shell. She is wrong.

First, the soft-money ban in the bill would prevent people like oilman Roger
Tamraz from buying face time at $100,000 "coffees" and $300,000 weekends with
party leaders. That's real progress.

Second, raising hard-money contribution limits will change little, because
most of us are already priced out of the system. Miller, David Donnelly, and
Janice Fine tell us (in their book Money and Politics) that in the 1996
election just one-fourth of 1 percent of Americans gave contributions of $200 or
more, providing 80 percent of the campaign money for that election. Now the rest
of us are going to be "further" disenfranchised by raising limits? That's like
saying ants will become "more irrelevant" to an elephant fight if the elephants
get bigger. More skew makes little difference. It's a worthwhile trade for the
soft-money ban.

Finally, we need to consider where Congress is now when we think about the
kind of progress it currently is capable of. Senator Paul Wellstone proposed an
amendment to McCain-Feingold that would have allowed states to set up publicly
financed campaign systems for their congressional elections. Even such a weak nod
toward public financing won just 36 votes.

Let's not undermine and question the motives of those willing to do the often
stomach-turning work of fighting in the congressional muck for grudging steps
forward just because those steps aren't beautiful and pure. Shays-Meehan is
progress worth fighting for.

Kenneth Forsberg

Washington, D.C.

Ellen S. Miller responds:

Forsberg overstates my case. I don't argue that Shays-Meehan isn't worth
having, only that we shouldn't buy a pig in a poke. The debate must go beyond
today's constricted view of campaign finance reform. If we had focused our
sights on full public financing over the last 25 years, we'd have it now. The
public is for fundamental reform--not reform that promises more than it can
deliver.

The Corporation as a Way of Life

I enjoyed Michael Kazin's review of Colossus [" HREF="/print/V12/14/kazin-m.html">The Corporation as a Way of
Life," August 13, 2001] and wish to take up the task of explaining "how
justice can be won without grounding the great jets of Progress."

While WTO protests are indeed "the public face of
anticorporate activism" they are an unlikely source for the solutions he (and all
of us) seek. In this context, protestors are essentially teachers and
"anti-publicists"; they educate the public on the issues behind corporate
malfeasance, even while prosecuting those same corporations in the court of
public opinion. Still, protestors are only half the story.

The other half comes in the form of the entrepreneurs and their allies who
create enlightened forms of business. When activists boycotted Home Depot last
year for selling lumber from old-growth forests, they depended on the fact that
someone else had already made available a reliable source of sustainably
harvested wood. When Starbucks was forced to carry fair-trade coffee, they
implicitly depended upon our cooperative's demonstration that fair-trade coffee
was easily available and financially viable. In both cases, there was a proven
alternative to the "corporate colossus."

As liberals and radicals working inside the marketplace, we believe there are
many ingredients to reforming the economy: attentive consumers who "vote their
dollars"; active citizens who vote their votes; and a more engaged government
that listens to both. The final ingredient is firms, new or old, that pioneer
nonexploitative forms of business.

Rodney North

Canton, MA

Michael Kazin responds:

It is impossible to know at this date how soon Americans will again be
willing to listen to anticorporate voices as opposed to anti-terrorist ones. But
Rodney North is correct to draw a distinction between protest and the building of
alternatives. I wonder, however, whether a handful of virtuous producers of wood,
coffee, and the like can accomplish more than make a few thousand people feel
better about their purchases. I suspect that the main arena of activism will be
within the corporate universe itself--by responsible workers, stockholders, and
the politicians who support them.

The God That Fails

I enjoyed george Scialabba's dissection of
Charles E. Lindblom's book on the free-market "system" [" HREF="/print/V12/15/scialabba-g.html">The God That Fails,"
August 27, 2001]. Mr. Scialabba was far too kind.

There is no system involved in markets or enterprise as we
now practice them. The use of the word system implies the existence of
variables that interact in predictable patterns--something that no one has been
able to show is true of economic phenomena as we predefine it. There is an entire
well-paid industry built up around the need to explain repeatedly what just
happened in our economy because no one predicted it in the form in which it
occurred.

Some of us persist in studying economics as if it were a branch of
mathematics. It is not. It is more closely related to psychology and sociology
and therefore subject to the vagaries of personality rather than the presumed
certainties of arithmetic.

Earl Gates

Appleton, WI

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