Living with our choices

I just stumbled upon your home page on the WWW tonight, I think it is great. After reading several articles, I am interested in further exploring Populist idealogy. But the reason I am writing this letter is to respond to an article, "Housewife from Hell," in your March 97 issue.

I sympathize with the author, Sharon Perpignani, regarding the challenge she faces in raising children in today's society. I don't think it's fair that she wants to vent her anger at politicians and society (letting her 'animals' loose at city hall), Uncle Sam doesn't give birth to children, does he? The author (and her significant other) chose to bring these children into the world, now it is their responsibility to raise them. Where is the father now? In reading the article it seems that he is no longer in the picture (to me, that sounds like lack of responsibility and commitment and a poor choice of a mate.)

I'm not a conservative, but a liberal with progressive ideas who believes in personal responsibility. Each and everyone of us needs to take responsibility for our choices and live with the consequences. Sharon Pepignani chose to procreate with a male who did not want to live up to his commitment and personal responsibility as a husband and a father, now she must live with that choice.

Jeffrey B. Fox
New Cumberland, PA 17070

Sharon Perpignani replies:
Mr. Fox's response to my essay expresses perfectly what many, if not most, people think about women raising kids. And he seems like a nice guy -- not even a conservative old meany!

We feel sympathetic, nonetheless, we need to blame mothers (perhaps the third oldest profession?), in lieu of helping them, so that we can still feel good about ourselves. Then we go save some whales (not in itself a bad thing to do) and feel really good about ourselves. "Choosing" to bear children is a concept barely 50 years old; procreating is what living creatures do -- everything else is just commentary.

Regarding my other "choice," do I sense some unwed-teenage-mother bashing here? My husband and I, both with degrees in "hard" sciences, were married almost 10 years before we "chose" to have kids, both of whom were planned. Indeed he is no longer in the picture, he died at the age of 39, four years ago this week. Stuff happens.

Food safety and world trade

The public's trust has been eroded by the sickening of thousands of school lunch program participants in Michigan after they ate strawberries imported from Mexico that contained the Hepatitis A virus. The incident is particularly disturbing because it occurred within the confines of the school lunch program, which parents trust to provide healthy, wholesome sustenance for their children.

The strawberry incident is also causing Americans to question the ability of U.S. authorities operating under World Trade Organization rules to ensure the safety of imported food. U.S. Customs officials say it is impossible for them to inspect each piece of fruit that enters the United States. At the Canadian-U.S. border, thousands of pounds of meat enter the U.S. without so much as a glance from a U.S. inspector. Inspectors have been prevented from conducting visual inspections following complaints by multi-national meat companies that such action impedes trade. Yet, these inspectors are obligated to stamp such products U.S.-inspected and passed.

The e. Coli breakout in the Northwest half a decade ago is suspected of being caused by third-country meat transshipped into the U.S. through Canada. Since visual inspection has been rendered impractical, American citizens must rely on a pledge by the exporting country that its own systems meet or exceed U.S. standards for food safety in the production and processing of the imported food.

Food safety was one of the issues raised by National Farmers Union in debating the North American Free Trade Agreement. It was passed off by some as protectionist. We felt it was (and is) entirely legitimate to protect public health from imported foods that do not meet U.S. health standards. The Hepatitis A outbreak is also hurting the domestic strawberry industry, particularly since produce is not currently required to have country of origin labeling requirements

Steps must be taken to re-establish public trust. Our children's health should not be up for negotiation.

Leland Swenson,
President National Farmers Union
Aurora Colo.

Could a frog be that stupid?

Dear Editor:

Shortly after I got married I granted an interview to a life insurance salesman. One of the stories he told me to motivate me to buy insurance was the story of the frog in gradually heating water. He said that if you put a frog in a pan of water and heat it very gradually the frog will sit right there until he dies from being in scalding water. He did not demonstrate his story and I found it impossible to believe that even a frog would be so stupid.

I'm still not convinced that any frog could be that stupid. Over the years I have watched it demonstrated, though, that the same type of stupidity may be what is keeping the Social Security Program from being corrected. Let me explain:

In the 1930's when Social Security was enacted normal life expectancy was about age sixty-one. That meant that many, many people who had paid contributions into the Social Security program died before they had a chance to retire at age sixty-five and withdraw even a small amount of their contributions through benefits. Of course these lost contributions helped to pay the benefits of those who were fortunate to live to retire and draw benefits. During the 1930's when one reached retirement at age sixty-five one could expect to live until about age seventy-two. In other words, if a person paid contributions for approximately forty-five years he/she could expect to draw Social Security benefits for approximately seven years.

Longevity of Americans have gradually increased over the years since the 1930's, very much the same as the temperature in the frog's pan would have increased, until now life expectancy is approximately seventy-six years instead of sixty-one as in the 1930's. When one retires at age sixty-five now he/she can expect to draw retirement benefits until age eighty-four. In other words, the people who control Social Security rules expect the contributions we pay into Social Security for approximately forty-five years to provide money to pay benefits, not for about seven years as in the 1930's, but for nineteen years or almost three times as long.

This indicates to me that all that has to be done to straighten out what is wrong with the Social Security program is to go back to the original ratio of the length of time contributions are paid into Social Security to the length of time benefits are received from Social Security. This also seems logical from another standpoint: most people are more physically fit for work today at age seventy, or even age seventy-five, than they were in the 1930's at age sixty-five. There are many things which should be more socrosanct about the Social Security program than retiring at age sixty-five, or earlier. I still cannot believe intelligent people would fail to find this as the cause for the financial problems in Social Security. Perhaps, instead of being more stupid than a frog, the politicians just do not want to lose what has proven to be a potent campaign issue. They may know that if they fix Social Security they will no longer be able to campaign by promising to fix Social Security.

Willis Whitehorn
904 Dallas Street
De Soto, IA 50069
e mail: willisw@worldnet.att.net

Pass the Word

I only recently became aware of your newspaper, The Progrssive Populist and your web page. Fantastic!

I'm going to pass the word. This really could be a movement after all.

But few people yet know about this. I have the following suggestion. You ask your subscribers to donate to a special fund the purpose of which is to finance the printing up of copies of the Populist that can be handed out for free in places where ordinary folks can find them; like supermarkets, sports arenas, etc. -- like the other freebie newspapers.

Another idea is to ask your subscribers to write letters to local papers discussing your paper and how to subscribe. Also, some of your followers might be able to get themselves on local TV and discuss it.

The above ideas are focused on getting the word out about your paper. Of course, we all need to talk about the issues, so perhaps one of your writers could strongly suggest for subscribers to speak out; speak out and speak out some more about these issues. Your paper can become one of the cheerleaders of the movement.

Joseph Zorzin

Editor's Reply:
Thanks for your encouraging words. We welcome all the help we can get in spreading the word about The Progressive Populist. If somebody is willing to distribute of copies in their town and will underwrite the printing and shipping costs we certainly welcome that assistance. We also have set up a fund to pay for subscriptions for low-income readers.

Readers can call in to radio and TV stations to talk about The Progressive Populist. Some stations might not want to plug us, but it's worth a try. Make sure you give the toll-free number for free samples: 1-800-205-7067.

We have a hard time getting into newstands and bookstores. Distributors don't like to handle us because we are not a slick magazine and we are not well-financed. Those are two big strikes. We send copies to a handful of independent bookstores, but we don't reallly have the staff to handle newsstand sales on a national basis.

As a practical matter, the best advertisement for The Progressive Populist is a personal recommendation from our readers to their friends. If each of our subscribers got 2 friends to subscribe (and renewed their own subscriptions), we would break even overnight. (And if you renew for $18 you can buy a gift subscription for $12 for each of your friends or family members.)

Bill Bennett's clouded mind

Dear Sir/Madam,

Bill Bennett's opinion (AP, 2/6/97) that "no one has polarized race relations in this country more than Jesse Jackson" is the product of a clouded mind. He doesn't want to get it. The problem is our history of racial oppression, injustice and inequality, or, as Ken Burns (public TV, 2/97) said of Thomas Jefferson, our own criminal behavior . . . and the unresolved, and mostly unacknowledged, legacy of bitterness, suffering and grief.

Which, some whites say, blacks should just forget.

"Forget? Hell, it ain't even over yet."

Because it's whites who would rather forget, and focus on more tangential issues like OJ, or Ebonics, or demonizing Farrakhan; rather than make amends (or reparations) for this legacy, by seriously addressing our inner-city problems, for example, or taking a realistic and compassionate approach to welfare reform.

It's largely whites who continue to scapegoat, control, exploit, neglect and punish groups which, in many cases, are already victims of our institutional injustices and cruelty, read the powerless and poor generally, while favoring, and ignoring the abuses of, the powerful and well-placed.

The abuse of the powerless, and the obsessive need for regulation and punishment, in a society already drunk with it, is no sign of virtue or justice, but of guilty, sick and violent minds.

The angry, self-righteous, even fanatical, pursuit of justice, in the case of real crimes, without the balance of mercy and compassion arising from an essential, humane identification with the criminal is, likewise, a sign of sickness.

Favor the powerful and privileged; excoriate the poor and the unrighteous. Look there for a judgment of our moral bankruptcy and decline.

Whatever we choose to do, or not to do, our true fortunes will rise and fall in relation to our establishing social justice and healing in all spheres of business, family, health care, gun regulation, education, the military, tax and welfare policy, the environment et al., relative to blacks and whites, rich and poor alike.

It's what we came for, and what many have already died for.

John Hector
1602 Woodcliff Drive
Lilburn, Ga. 30247

Stuck in the Indiana mud

Dear Sirs,

I enjoy reading your paper. My nephew never fails to share his copy with my wife and I.

I am a 70-something Hoosier, born and bred. I feel I must comment on Mr. Farruggio's insightful satire on agitation (or lack thereof) in Indy.

This past fall I attended two meetings of the new Alliance for Democracy. I was also present in November, when Mr. Farruggio gave a speech to the legislative committee on campaign finance. His direct, honest approach moved both my wife and myself. In Indiana, we are not accustomed to such candor.

At one of the Alliance meetings I attended, Mr. Farruggio seemed to be pleading for members to take action. He urged a mass letter writing campaign, along with a demonstration at the next committee meeting. His pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears. At the next committee meeting, there was no demonstration, no letter-writing campaign (my wife and I sent letters ourselves) and a few scattered faces from this Alliance.

I think what happened to sour Mr. Farruggio was the Hoosier mentality. He's an East Coast person, a New Yorker. I firmly believe his forthrightness and energy was seen as a threat to the generally apathetic Hoosiers. In psychology, the term for such a reaction is "passive aggressive" by doing absolutely nothing you attack someone and thwart their energy.

Needless to say, I ceased attending meetings of the Alliance. It truly was a coffee klatch, filled with rhetoric and no call for action.

If Hoosiers don't wake up and see how we are losing energetic and articulate people like Mr. Farruggio, by our stuck in the mud, mulelike behavior, these two political parties will continue to have us "pulling their plows".

Yours truly,
Ben Coates
Indianapolis, Ind.

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