Self-Identified Christians

I enjoyed reading the Rev. Allen Brill's "Liberals Get Cross-Wise" in the 5/15/04 edition of TPP and I would like to comment as one of the "progressive Presbyterians" he wrote about.

First, I question whether "all polling data indicates that more than 90% of Americans think of themselves as religious." According to recent surveys reported in Free Inquiry, 39% of Americans -- 111 million -- belong to no religious organization and an unprecedented 14% -- 40 million -- live without religion (atheists, agnostics, etc.). This could very well be the largest single minority in America. Therefore, America is a Christian nation only in terms of self-identity.

Second, are all evangelicals right-wingers? Of course not. Just as many are politically moderate (Ayelish McGarvey, The American Prospect, April 2004). Jack Marcum, writing in Presbyterians Today (April 2004), says that there are "from 12% to 57% of USA Presbyterians who are evangelicals, depending on the measurement one chooses. The bottom-line question is: Can Dems win their votes? God only knows but it's worth a try.

Third, "Will religion give Dems the usual fights this election year?" asked Richard Parker (The American Prospect, March 2004). Maybe. "But do not forget there is a Religious Left -- it just doesn't go around making lots of noise."

Fourth, Gertrude Himmelfarb, the queen of the neocons, said 91% of Bush's voters identified themselves as "religious" to pollsters -- but so had 81% of Gore's. The question then becomes: Can we get beyond "black, white and Brown"? (The Nation, May 3, 2004). I agree with Todd Gitlin: "Diversity killed the Left."

Fifth, the current campaign offers an opportunity to re-educate Americans about our secular heritage that has been decimated by the religious right and the failure of the public schools to teach the nation's secular roots. The Framers of the Constitution assigned supreme power to "We The People," not God. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place the sacred rights of man in her keeping -- or in her God's keeping (Robert G. Ingersoll).

Finally, there's more than a letter difference between G-O-D and G-O-P (Anna Quindlen). We all need to be "cross-wise."

B.J. Paschal
Sevierville, Tenn.

Let Disabled Vets Swim

Margot Ford McMillen [in "Time for New Resolutions," 4/15/04 TPP] asks: "How are we taking care of our returning Iraq veterans?" An answer: The Veterans Affairs Medical Center is cutting back on the use of its swimming pool at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., for aquatherapy. Veterans who were paralyzed in combat need this service to regain some mobility, but the VA contends that it is no longer standard medical service. Without it, crippled veterans would be completely bedridden, shortening their lives. Contacting your congressional representatives and the president may correct this problem.

Joseph J. Kuciejczyk
St. Louis, Mo.

Bush Doesn't Get It

The Bush administration is stealthily changing many well-run programs for the poor. These changes are for the worse, not the better. Some of these programs are Head Start, Earned Income Tax Credit, School Breakfast and Lunch, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, etc. etc.

President Bush is doing great harm to our country. His upside down tax structure gives huge sums of money back to corporations and the wealthy. This in turn rings up a very large debt that our great grandchildren could still be paying off.

Bush sent far too few troops to Afghanistan to catch Osama bin Laden. He also short-changed the amount of troops sent to Iraq. To cover these mistakes, Bush is paying contractors to hire mercenaries at $1,000 a day to fight and do whatever. Some of these mercenaries were in on the big debacle about the Iraqi prisoners. I have not yet heard an apology from Bush.

Bush may carry a Bible and go to church on Sunday but he doesn't get the big picture of Christ's teachings. Christ taught love, compassion, forgiveness, charity. Christ gave us the example of the good Samaritan -- love your neighbor. And you ask who is your neighbor? -- anybody and everybody who is living on this planet.

Bush's actions and directives depict anti Christ.

Bush should not be the head of a credit union, much less our nation.

Clare J. Crowley
Milwaukee, Wis.

Cockburn's Pill Talk

Re: Alexander Cockburn's article on antidepressants [5/1/04 TPP], Mr C. draws incorrect conclusions from the recent action by the FDA regarding antidepressants:

1. Anecdotes of people committing violent acts while on drugs carry no proof of a causal relationship between drug and act. Millions of people have taken these antidepressants. Consider how there must be occurrences of all sorts of terrible things in people taking these drugs, just as there are in people who don't take the drug. The only way to determine a causative relationship between drug and untoward events is with a comparison of the drug to placebo. Such data do not show in increase of violence on the drug.

2. The FDA did not report, despite Mr C's assertion, that antidepressants deepen depression, cause agitation, and violent behavior, or precipitates mania. It said, merely, that a possibility existed for a causal relationship to these bad effects, and it advises physicians to observe carefully. This is good advice for the physician treating anyone with depression with any treatment.

3. Mr C criticizes the FDA's selection of a term of well-regarded psychopharmacologist to determine whether the symptoms labeled as suicidal ideation or behavior truly were that. Mr C quotes an attorney saying that such a review must find the same number of suicidal symptoms or fewer, as if this showed a weakness of the review. This misses the point. The panel's conclusions probably will reduce the number of reports of suicidal symptoms, but that's not the primary question, which is whether there exists a difference between drug and placebo. Many depressed patients have suicidal intentions, but if it occurs more often on the antidepressant than with placebo, we have a problem. Despite Mr C's assertion, the drug companies can "take a hit" from the review. Published data of mood disorders do not show a drug-placebo difference in suicidal intentions. The catch here is that not all drug companies have published the data they collected. They must show them to the FDA, so the FDA has more information, that it must keep secret, than are available to the medical community.

4. Mr C compares antidepressants to martinis and says depression may occur when stopping both. That has never been found true for martinis or antidepressants.

5. Mr C accuses the American Psychiatric Association of helping drug companies make more money by making depression too easily diagnosed. That is a very serious charge. Does he have any evidence to support it? The criticism assumes that milder forms of depression respond better to nonpharmacological treatment than to drugs. No such evidence exists.

6. Mr C misses the weakness of our system, about which he should complain: The ability of drug companies to keep results of studies secret.

7. Mr C's ill-considered critique of antidepressant drugs might lead depressed people to forego drug treatment. This would be a shame since there is clear evidence supporting the efficacy of the drug treatment of depression.

Arthur Rifkin, MD
Glen Oaks, N.Y.
(Professor of Psychiatry, Albert Einstein College of Medicine)

Don't Knock Kerry

Of course we progressives welcome all thoughts on this presidential election cycle, although it is a bit disappointing to see such noteworthy columnists as Alexander Cockburn and Sam Smith knocking the Kerry candidacy so far as to labeling him a "worthy successor to Mondale and Dukakis" ("Clouds Loom Over Kerry Challenge" by Cockburn, 5/15/04) or suggesting such unrealistic scenarios as Kerry trading the nomination for a promised Supreme Court seat ("Is This Best The Dems Can Do?" by Smith, 5/15/04). This is a cycle where progressive idealists must become extraordinary realists if we are to achieve the paramount objective of removing Bush. I don't mean to harp on the obvious, but either Bush will remain in office or Kerry will unseat him. That's it. Nader, who has not won, cannot win, and will not win, would do much better by his cause going the Dean-type route and forming a new entity to work toward the kind of grassroots-driven political reform he advocates. As things stand in the election process, a progressive Nader vote becomes a Bush vote. Winning this election means assembling the broad coalitions and financing necessary to compete with the Bush warchest and the right-leaning news media. (The Democratic Party has the apparatus to do so.)

This close vote will be ultimately decided by moderate independents who must perceive an acceptable alternative. Right now, a serious presidential contender has to face these tough political realities. Progressives have many ways to advance our causes at all levels. But on all tiers, we won't make much headway with four more years of Bush. Even if it isn't ideal, I am completely willing to optimistically support the only candidacy that has a realistic chance of sending Bush back to the ranch. A Kerry administration would be more open to progressive causes than the current White House occupants, and I therefore urge progressives to actively support Kerry even if you feel you have to hold your proverbial noses every step of the way.

Ron Bilancia
Brewer, Maine

No High Road in Iraq

In a lengthy BBC interview over Nick Berg's grisly death, Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska used the phrase "claiming the moral high ground" responding to what happened and how he perceives our position in Iraq.

Nelson, however, was among the seventy-seven senators who, in mid-October 2002, voted for HJ Resolution 114, "Authorization for use of military force against Iraq." (Twenty-six senators responsibly voted "no.") Now he sounds socked-in-the-gut, as if he could not have imagined this indecency done to a young, civilian Philadelphian; yet Sen. Nelson was in the majority who agreed to preemptive war -&endash; precedent setting for repudiating laws. ...

"Our thoughts and prayers are with [Berg's] family," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. "It shows the true nature of the enemies of freedom. They have no regard for the lives of innocent men, women and children."

Is this sleight of hand all the Bush voices can muster? We've disrupted Iraq -&endash; its innocent men, women and children &endash;- who now on their home turf can only hope for survival. We are out-of-place, intruders, war-makers.

The web site, Iraq Body Count, gives a minimum of 9,061 and maximum of 10,918 civilians now dead because of our war, soon 14 months long. Iraq's 24 million population is close to Texas' 21 million. If in a little more than a year war-making invaders killed somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 Texans in their own streets, and also made a mockery of justice as we have in our jail system there in Iraq, would our Texans not tear off the gloves, "return indecency for indecency?" Launchers of preemptive war don't get to "claim the moral high ground." Sorry, Sen. Nelson, and why didn't you think all this through when you voted as you did?

We can all truly be sorry for Nick Berg's grieving family. But our representatives agreed to this war that Bush and all rushed into, impatient. We must oust this dangerous administration in our November election. And I think it means putting new Democrats &endash;- more populist in their thinking, Wellstone types -&endash; into office too, as well as new Republicans who are not greedy neo-conservatives.

Lynn Rudmin Chong
Sanbornton, N.H.

Kucinich for VP

I think John Kerry seriously needs to consider making Dennis Kucinich his running mate for the following reasons:

1. This will probably cause Ralph Nader to drop his candidacy.

2. John Kerry cannot win without support from the progressive wing of his party.

3. Dennis Kucinich will add passion and excitement to a campaign that is perceived by many as lackluster and waffling.

4. John Kerry's poll numbers have been dropping since he began moving to the center and since Mr. Nader entered the race.

5. Dennis Kucinich will dominate any VP debate with Dick Cheney, even if the questions are given to the candidates in advance.

6. Ohio is a badly needed swing state.

7. Dennis Kucinich can pick up thousands of new supporters in key swing states by using his "Other America" campaign (campaigning in low-income housing projects, for example).

8. Dennis Kucinich and his campaign workers have done a great deal about the electronic voting machine issue, a problem that must be solved before November to ensure a clean election.

9. His career has been untainted by scandal. The other party will not have a legitimate angle to attack him from.

10. Dennis Kucinich can exert a big and positive leadership influence over John Kerry and get him to adopt a more firm progressive platform.

Gordon Kobayashi
Valley Springs, Calif.

Condi Lies

In the 5/1/04 issue, if some of what is printed on what, under oath, Ms. Condoleezza Rice stated is not truth, will she be charged and taken to trial for perjury? Or due to the fact of very powerful backers, it will just slip by?

Frank Piojda
Mount Pleasant, N.C.


In "With Trembling Fingers," by Hal Crowther [6/1/04 TPP], the fourth paragraph from the end of the essay concludes "the tab on Iraq [is] well over $100 million and running." The figure should have been $100 billion.


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