Views in brief

Tribal lines do exist in Iraq

IN HIS letter "Don't stereotype Iraqis," Brian Kwoba's criticism of Ashley Smith's use of the term "tribe" in his review of Patrick Cockburn's book on Moktada al-Sadr is off the mark.

It is accurate to describe elements of Iraqi society as tribal. This is a translation of an Arabic term, actually. Tribe is "ashira" in Arabic. Tribes are groupings of clans, families and extended families that have long lineages and associations. Tribes are often organized into larger associations and alliances.

As in any country that has seen the kind of industrial development as Iraq, sections of Iraqi society, especially in urban centers, do not primarily identify with a clan or tribe. But this does not undo the fact that much of Iraqi society today--especially considering the widespread destruction of the country by the ongoing U.S. occupation--is organized along tribal lines.

Racist characterizations of societies with tribal traditions as "primitive, backward, irrational, monolithic or eternal" are the garbage of colonialism. But an accurate description of Iraqi society using the best English translations we have to describe tribal affiliations has nothing to do with this.
Monique Dols, New York City

Will Obama be better?

IN A letter to Socialist Worker ("Socialists should vote Obama"), Bruce Burleson wrote that Barack Obama is "going to be a hell of a lot better than the imbecile that has illegally inhabited the White House for seven years."

Better at what? Conquering and exploiting Iraq? Supporting Israel? Convincing Americans to go to war with Iran? Obama's article, entitled "Renewing American Leadership," proves that he is committed to Bush's foreign policy goals. Perhaps Obama has different ideas on how to achieve those goals, but that doesn't mean he's better than the imbecile.

I'm considering voting for Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. She left the Democratic Party, and said in an interview available online that "the Democrats are the ones who say impeachment [of George Bush is] off the table. The Democrats are the ones who failed to repeal the Patriot Act. The Democrats are the ones who continue to fund the war."

Now that sounds like a candidate who really wants change!
Dominic Renda, New York City

Massachusetts school budgets slashed

RECENTLY, THE attack on public schools has intensified, resulting in losses for teachers and students alike. With an economy dangerously close to recession and tax dollars being siphoned into imperialist expeditions overseas, federal and state funding is being cut from the U.S. public school systems. This becomes evident when you consider that in 2007, the Department of Education had a budget of $53.1 billion. Compare that to the 2007 military budget of $439 billion.

The fact that funds are being disproportionately cut from public schools becomes even more evident when you look at the schools themselves. In the city of Holyoke, Mass., severe cuts to the public education budget have forced the school system to close three schools in the city. Even after closing these schools and making other cuts totaling $6.4 million, the school committee still must cut an additional $3.7 million from its budget. One of the possible changes being discussed is a cutback of substitute pay from $100 a day to $65 a day.

PVPA, a charter public high school in South Hadley, Mass., has been forced to abolish its Plane Tree program, a program that helps assimilate home-schooled students to the school. As a public charter school, PVPA is allocated public money, but is exempt from many of the rules and regulations that apply to public schools.

Unfortunately, charter schools, both private and public, are notoriously open shop. This has put teachers at the school in a strategically weaker position to fight back against the budget cuts in a coordinated effort with other teachers in the area.

In the face of a worsening economy that will likely bring about more cuts to Massachusetts public education, it is imperative that all teachers, be they in charter or public schools, can utilize unions to fight back against cuts in funding for education.
Dan Gagnon and Michael Fiorentino, Amherst, Mass.

Shutting down debate about racism

REGARDING YOUR editorial "The new debate about racism," this election cycle has highlighted the inability of U.S. political culture to even discuss, much less resolve, the problem of racial injustice in the U.S..

The entire subject of racism is taboo; the only acceptable political views about race are to claim it no longer matters, or to talk about how much "progress" has been made since the civil rights movement. Anyone who dares talk about the persistence of racism in the U.S. is immediately shot down with the now familiar catchphrase: Stop playing the race card!

Say you're concerned about segregation in public schools? Stop playing the race card! Upset about discrimination in lending? Stop playing the race card! Shocked by disparities in criminal sentencing? Stop playing the race card!

Like the phrase "politically correct," "stop playing the race card" is designed to shut down discussion and shout down those with legitimate points of view.
Dennis Fritz, Chicago

Who owns the airwaves?

I HAVE always heard that we (the people) own the airwaves. The federal government recently auctioned off some of our public airwaves for $19 billion. When do we get our cut? If we do own (or used to own) the airwaves, then shouldn't we receive some commissions, residuals, or user fees?
Chuck Mann, Greensboro, N.C.