Letters for December 18, 2008

Socialism defended

Re “Your 401(k) on socialism” by Bob Schmidt (SN&R Essay, December 11):

The lighthearted essay by Bob Schmidt raises some interesting comparisons of how big business has failed and how government might fail in the current economic crisis. What it did not do, however, is provide a reasonable and rational definition of socialism.

We are unfortunately seeing today the disastrous results of crony capitalism and the looting of the U.S. economy. Nobel Prize-winning economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and others have described how Congress has allocated over $700 billion, and the Federal Reserve has promised another $300 billion in reserves. Democratic socialists seek to strengthen our society by extending democracy to our major economic institutions so they will be accountable and work for the good of all rather than for the profits of the current small elite.

Socialism, including U.S.-based socialism, is not so far away. For example, consider credit unions, that is, people owning their own banks. There are over 9,000 credit unions in the U.S. serving over 50 million members and holding over $700 billion in assets. I belong to one, and it works just fine. Think about Sacramento Municipal Utilities (SMUD), public schools and public universities. Which can you afford, Stanford or Sac State? That is socialism at work.

Democratic Socialists of America, including the Sacramento local (http://sites.google.com/site/sacramentodsa/), are members of Socialist International, a worldwide organization of more than 140 organizations that includes currently or recently governing parties in Great Britain, Germany, France, Spain and other nations that are allies of the United States. Only in the U.S. have right-wing propagandists been able to confuse the public about the nature of democratic socialism by equating it with authoritarian communism.

Democratic socialists have consistently defended political and civil liberties and argue that only by extending democracy into economic life can the full promise of democracy be realized.

The recent financial bailout—something designed to preserve the basic capitalist structure of society (a bailout socialists opposed)—has been routinely described as “socialist.” The progressive income tax, a reform instituted during the time of [presidents] Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, is now being labeled “socialist.” Refundable tax credits—signed into law by [President] Ronald Reagan in the form of the earned-income tax credit—are described as “socialist.”

If journalists are going to use the socialist label as something more than a curse word, they ought to learn just a little bit about what socialism means today. There exists a rich but often overlooked democratic socialist tradition in the U.S., upheld by such staunch democrats as Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Norman Thomas, Walter Reuther, Michael Harrington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Socialists played a key role in the building of the labor, civil-rights, and feminist movements, all of which enriched our democracy. Throughout the 20th century, many U.S. cities elected socialist mayors who were known for good government. And today, [Independent] Sen. Bernie Sanders [of Vermont], who identifies himself as a democratic socialist, is considered his state’s most popular elected official.

Readers who would like to learn what U.S. socialists believe in and work for today should visit our Web site, www.dsausa.org.

Duane Campbell

Campbell is the Sacramento chair of Democratic Socialists of America.

Cruz nails NIN

Re “Fragile, but not broken” by Alia Cruz (SN&R Arts&Culture, December 11):

Holy crap, that was a good interview! The SN&R writer was obviously a [Nine Inch Nails] fan, and you could tell by the quality of the questions. Great job. Keep it up!

Adrian House
via e-mail

Thank you, General Dang

Re “The trial of General Dang” by R.V. Scheide (SN&R Feature, December 4):

I was very emotional after reading this story. My father-in-law and mother-in-law have been close friends of [Lt. Gen. Quang Van] Dang ever since they settled here in Sacramento. And I happened to be the driver of the van that picked up Gen. Dang and his wife from the San Francisco airport when they first arrived here.

I did not know who he really is until now. Thank you.

Hung Pham

Poles are private property

Re “Fear of fliering” by Nick Miller (SN&R Frontlines, December 4):

It’s not just the city that fines. SMUD [also] fines for signs on their poles.

I used to have to do sign abatement for them. It is a pain in the ass! The poles are not city or public property. They are the property of the utilities that own them. They’re private property. Putting signs on poles is like someone putting a sign on your front door.

The SMUD abatement program was started for safety. The nails, tacks, staples, etc., that are put into the poles damage the poles and come flying out when workers climb them. Yes, they do fine all types of signs: campaign, band, store, “we buy houses.” I’ve even had to tell people that they had to remove their mailboxes from poles.

It’s a safety and aesthetic concern, not a moneymaking scheme. If more groups made an active attempt to clean up after themselves, I don’t think that citizens, the city, the county or the utility companies would have such a problem.

Gia Moreno

But what about campaign signs?

Re “Fear of fliering” by Nick Miller (SN&R Frontlines, December 4):

Calling these posters a “blight on the community” is hardly fair. Who could possibly even notice them behind the 4’ x 8’ [John] McCain or [Barack] Obama signs we have seen every 20 feet driving [through] town. And they only charge about $10 per sign to any political hopeful that leaves that detritus out after Election Day!

Music is part of the heart of Sacramento. Thank God for that single pillar in front of The Beat on J Street. And by the way, Sac City bigwigs, Starbucks only allows posters/fliers for events benefiting nonprofits. No one leans against telephone poles. They are filthy and urine-covered. Staples are the least of their problems.

Ryan Anne Polli

Stop reading the news

Re “News overkill” by David Watts Barton (SN&R Essay, December 4):

The former Sacramento Bee employee is absolutely right in suggesting that reading the daily newspaper is an addiction. It’s an addiction affecting over 80 million Americans, whether they are aware of it or not.

We somehow think that if we don’t read the daily published reports of who was killed, robbed, threatened, maimed or went out of business, that we’ve somehow missed something. Is our each new day better off because we read our daily newspaper? I hardly think so. In fact, reading it may contribute to declining mental health for many Americans, especially in these distressing economic times.

Try going one week without reading the daily newspaper. I guarantee that by the end of the week, not only will your psychological outlook on the world be healthier, but also your physical health will improve as well.

Besides, there’s nothing more useless than a daily newspaper once it’s read. And where does all that newsprint end up? Well, that’s a whole new issue.

Scott R. Hadley

She says no sending animals …

Re “Top 5 holiday tips” by Sena Christian (SN&R Green Town, November 26):

I loved your article revealing your top five holiday tips on how to celebrate the holidays as a greenie. Your recommendations hit on some of the themes and actions that are closest to my heart: buying sustainable items grown or produced locally, volunteering at soup kitchens or bike clubs, giving teenagers gifts that are free of harmful chemicals, and helping both animals and the environment by forgoing meat for a month.

I hate to nitpick, but lurking among all these great suggestions was an idea that I just can’t embrace: shipping live animals overseas to poverty-stricken countries and families as some sort of gift or handout.

I’m sure that folks with great intentions have fallen for this, but I hope that your readers will see this enterprise for what it really is: a disaster. If folks are so poor that they have to rely on others for their day-to-day sustenance, then they cannot possibly care for an animal that’s been handed over to them. This is especially true for a large animal like a cow or pig that needs lots of food and water to survive. And transporting live animals to foreign countries with an entirely different climate, geography and disease risks is just a bad idea for many reasons.

So, for those who really want to help impoverished families—please donate books, clothes or even money. Just don’t send animals over there.

Barbara Schmitz

… but there’s more to it than meat

Re “One cow does not a factory make” (SN&R Letters, December 4):

By a happy coincidence, I read Ellen McMahill’s letter dissing Heifer International on the same day an H.I. catalog arrived in my mailbox.

She claims that the organization “promotes animal production and all the environmental hazards that go with it.”

True, the pigs, chickens and sheep H.I. donates can be used for food. However, the organization educates recipients in grazing techniques such as zero-grazing pens for sheep and native-grass planting for llamas. Other animals donated are chickens, which in addition to eating food scraps, will gladly patrol gardens for insect pests; goats, which will eat nearly anything and produce milk and cheese; bees, which can nearly double fruit and vegetable crops; water buffalo which not only give milk but are used as draft animals and live off grasses not used for harvest; and Angora rabbits which live off greens and produce income-generating yarn.

With regard to “environmental hazards,” H.I. also donates trees and instructs families how to prevent erosion and enrich soil in order to maximize crop yields.

Heifer International promotes sustainable farming and micro-enterprise, not just meat production. If Ms. McMahill would like to read about the organization, I will be happy to pass along my brochure to her.

Candy Tutt

Dept. of corrections

Due to an editing error, last week’s lead news story (“On the dole” by Seth Sandronsky, SN&R Frontlines, December 11) incorrectly stated the time range of the state’s unemployment benefits. Eligible workers can receive benefits ranging from $40 to $450 every week for 26 weeks. If this period ends and workers are still jobless and eligible, they can file for federal extensions for up to 33 weeks. The Employment Development Department urges applicants to apply for regular and extended benefits through the department’s Web site at www.edd.ca.gov.