Letters for December 18, 2003

Bravo for Stewart’s heresy!

Re “The power (elite) diet” by Jill Stewart (SN&R Capitol Punishment, December 11):

As a native Sacramento resident and lifelong Democrat, I had to pinch myself to make sure I was still in Sacramento when I read Jill Stewart’s article.

I applaud her astute comments and perception regarding the fiscal catastrophe the Democratically controlled Legislature has created.

And it’s true that we are not to discuss this in polite company because this would be expressing a view different than the party line. Imagine such heresy!

Some may think transforming a $30 billion surplus into a $30 billion deficit is a defensible party line. I do not.

Thank you for exposing the truth surrounding this debacle and raising some novel concepts that we all deal with in our daily lives: not spending more than we earn and prioritizing our expenditures.

Randall Schaber

In Cuba, the problem is Castro …

Re “Journey to Cuba” by Melinda Welsh (SN&R Cover, December 4):

Melinda Welsh is clearly a perceptive and honest reporter, as demonstrated in her reports of the lack of freedom of speech in Cuba. Unfortunately, such accuracy in depicting the degraded status of civil liberties makes Welsh’s failure to see equally clearly the causes of that country’s economic woes more disappointing.

Her repeated use of “blockade” to describe U.S. economic policy toward Cuba is untrue and prejudicial. A blockade is an act of war involving the use of military power to interdict a country’s trade. The U.S. policy, as Welsh implicitly acknowledges but then disregards, is an “embargo,” which is a legal prohibition of commercial and financial ties. This is not an insignificant point. Castro deliberately distorts the truth in order to deflect blame for the failures of his own regime by denouncing the U.S. policy as a “blockade.” To do the same is both to play his propaganda game and to call into question her objectivity.

More tellingly, her condemnatory conclusion regarding the so-called U.S. “blockade” depends on the claims of Cuban doctors that the lack of medicine and medical supplies in Cuba is due to the U.S. trade restrictions. Such claims are bogus, as sufficiently evidenced by the robust trade Cuba pursued until the Soviet Union cut off its massive financial subventions. Many countries are eager to continue this trade—if for no other reason than to position themselves for a post-Castro Cuba—but are unable to do so because Cuba, now lacking Soviet cash, cannot afford to pay for imports.

Common sense, along with some historical awareness, tells us that the cause of Cuba’s economic mess—as in any of Cuba’s other former fellow socialist republics—is the centrally planned command economy imposed on Cuba by Castro some four decades ago, a certain recipe for producing an economic sinkhole. Economic systems based on coercion, rather than incentives, sooner or later implode.

The fundamental flaw in Welsh’s take on the troubles plaguing Cuba’s society, then, is that, like so many other well-meaning American visitors to that island, she has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. The structural disorder in Cuba is not the result of anything the United States has done or is continuing to do. The problem is Castro.

G. T. Dempsey

… but a visit is eye-opening

Re “Journey to Cuba” by Melinda Welsh (SN&R Cover, December 4):

This was solid writing on a challenging topic. The many assumptions about Cuba that Welsh found to be questionable, persuasively challenged or simply unfounded is a good indicator of how poorly informed we are about this nation. On a similar licensed trip, exposure to life in that socialist country left members of our group with comparable eye-opening observations.

Though the vast majority of Cubans are extremely cash-poor, that status in a country with dependable access to basic foods, medical care, education through university, and basic housing appears different. The look of despair and expressions of anxiety and bitterness so prevalent among our poor simply weren’t there. Life and interaction in the urban streets is energetic and generally positive. Frontline law-enforcement officers in urban areas don’t carry firearms.

The widespread practice of hitchhiking appears to be a depressing hassle until you learn it works—because car owners with room are expected to stop, and government vehicles are required to do so. Schoolchildren wear stylish uniforms and walk to and from schools without CD headsets but instead engage in animated conversations and playful games. Judging from their public behavior, Cuban children probably don’t have access to violent video games.

A visit to the University of Havana Law School showed students there are very open to interaction with law students here. Their required constitutional law course’s Web page includes a link to the U.S. Constitution.

The contradictions in our relations with Cuba are many. Despite the September 4, 2003, federal Office of Management and Budget statement of policy to “deny economic resources to the brutal Castro regime” and the October 10, 2003, White House statement on travel restrictions, the November 20 Miami Herald reported officials from the Florida port of Manatee met in Havana with Cuban officials and signed a memorandum of understanding intended to increase the use of the Florida port to ship cargo bound for Cuba.

Peter Pursley

Better old than ugly

Re “Historic homes deserve special care” by Beth Hendrickson (SN&R Guest Comment, December 4):

Beth Hendrickson’s Guest Comment took the words out of my mouth.

My wife and I and Bruno, our dog, walk all over our East Sacramento neighborhood and decry the mutilation of vintage homes by the installation of cheap windows. We also amuse ourselves, on most Sundays, by snooping into open houses in the area and are often told by eager real-estate salespeople how this home has had upgraded windows, like that’s a good thing.

They forget that most of these homes also have zero, nada, insulation in the walls; so, what’s the good of an ugly but efficient window?

Beth is right; if you have the need for better insulation, fix what you got. On the other hand, I have recycled several beautiful vintage windows that were given to me by neighbors who were replacing them.

Lastly, new doesn’t have to be ugly. It is true, for new construction or remodeling, the city building codes require that efficient windows are installed. However, there are wonderful, vintage-looking—though expensive—windows on the market that could be installed.

I hope that Beth’s message gets through to these folks that come into the older neighborhoods and do what one contractor I work with calls “inappropriate owner improvements.”

Bill Schmidt

Windows are his world

Re “Historic homes deserve special care” by Beth Hendrickson (SN&R Guest Comment, December 4):

Beth Hendrickson wrote with passion regarding the windows in historic homes. As a Midtown resident and owner of a historic, mostly restored Craftsman who is also an employee of a local window manufacturer, I feel compelled to comment.

My first reaction was to agree with her premise that historic homes deserve better than they get oftentimes when it comes to remodeling. While I would certainly include windows in that statement, there are many examples of well-done window replacements in Midtown.

There are also companies that do a wonderful job restoring old windows, and in some cases, they are the correct choice. Remodeling is always about making choices. Budget, aesthetic and usability are important factors in the process, whether or not it’s a historic property.

I believe, however, the writer failed to consider or misstated several important facts in her general condemnation of the vinyl window industry.

Most glaring of the misstated facts was the claim that, within 20 years, vinyl and fiberglass windows currently being manufactured will be thrown into a landfill due to failed frames. This is ridiculous; these materials have been used considerably longer than that already without these dire consequences. Accelerated testing is constantly conducted to ensure the quality of the materials being used.

As for the potential failure of the insulated glass, the truth is that if you choose your manufacturer carefully, you will not experience that cost. I also take issue with her energy argument. The Vermont study quotes were interesting, but the difference in climate between there and California is dramatic. Heat gain, not loss, is a far bigger, more expensive issue for most of us. Replacing old windows with energy-efficient windows can dramatically cut energy usage and costs. PG&E did a study in Roseville that showed a 19-percent annual energy savings with just the addition of [low-emittance] glass to existing new energy-efficient windows.

Replacement windows are a good investment, not only for the wallet, but for the environment.

David Philipp