The Thernstroms in Black and White

To The Editors:

I thought The American Prospect was a journal of ideas. I also thought you prided yourself on your feminist ideals and respect for women. All the more disquieting, then, to come across the degrading physical description of Abigail Thernstrom in "The Thernstroms in Black and White" by Adam Shatz [March 12–26, 2001]: a description that dwells on her hairstyle and the quality of her voice and compares her to a cartoon character. What does any of this have to do with the Thernstroms' politics or their place in the American race debate? And when was the last time--or when can we expect to see--The American Prospect pillory a man in this way, whether on the right or the left?

Quite apart from the other inaccuracies and nasty innuendo in the piece, this is the kind of sophomoric caricature one expects to hear among junior high school students, not read in a national journal of opinion--and in the long run, it only demeans your magazine.
Tamar Jacoby

Senior Fellow, The Manhattan Institute

Montclair, NJ

Robert Kuttner reponds:

What a howler that Tamar Jacoby wraps her apologia for Abigail Thernstrom in, of all things, offended feminist sensibility. As Jacoby surely knows, magazine profiles of women, men, and children routinely describe, often wryly, their physical appearance. If it's foul play to describe mannerisms, which it isn't, profile writers are equal-opportunity offenders. Indeed, this magazine made sport of Congressman Jim Traficant ["Bad Hair #2," March 13, 2000] for both his bizarre politics and odd mannerisms.

Here's a bet: If I can't find at least three examples of magazine profiles of men that mention appearance, mannerisms, and voice, I'll donate $1,000 to the not-terribly-feminist Manhattan Institute (which doesn't need the money). And if I can, Tamar Jacoby owes $1,000 to The American Prospect.

How about it?

How Do You Spell Relief?

To the Editors:

In "How Do You Spell Relief?" Max B. Sawicky and Robert Denk [March 12–26, 2001] indicate that one option for a fairer, better tax policy than the Bush tax plan would be a fully refundable Child Tax Credit. However, they quickly dismiss it, explaining that it would be "tantamount to cash welfare [and thus] politically improbable." It is baffling that progressives should be the first to tar a promising idea as welfare. A refundable tax credit is not more like welfare than survivors insurance or payments to farmers who let their fields lie fallow, which were certainly politically probable (PP).

Sawicky and Denk are addressing the 24 million children whose parents do not pay enough in income taxes to benefit from the Bush proposal to increase the $500 Child Tax Credit to $1,000. They suggest that it may be more PP to tie an enhanced Child Tax Credit to qualifying income. Unfortunately, this leaves out the five million children, at a rough approximation, whose families do not include an employed member.

These five million are undoubtedly the most deeply deprived of all deprived children. A fully refundable credit would help them as well at what--in the terms being discussed--is a modest additional cost. And it would treat all children alike, a goal that Sawicky and Denk seek. The fact is that PP is the PC of our time. A dependent young mother or father who does not work, whatever the reason, is viewed across ideological lines as a pariah. It is particularly strange to hold this view as we face a recession.

Alvin L. Schorr

Emeritus Professor

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, OH

Max B. Sawicky and Robert Denk Respond:

Professor Schorr's concerns are well taken. For the sake of precision in language, we should make a bit more clear what he is driving at. A payment that is not conditioned by income or taxes, what Professor Schorr calls a "fully refundable Child Tax Credit," is not a tax credit. It's a transfer payment that economists sometimes call "unrequited" and that unsympathetic politicians call a dole. Clearly, doles are ubiquitous in the federal budget and tax system, and they are often provided to those with substantial incomes. Especially in the current era of dubious triumphalism over welfare reform, our judgment is that a dole for the poor is not in the cards. Professor Schorr is correct that it would not be very expensive. And we don't disagree that it is the right thing to do. Given the likelihood of significant tax cuts, our choice is to describe progressive tax cuts.

The Joy of Sects

To The Editors:

Let me add a historical note to Wendy Kaminer's instructive article on faith-based programs ["The Joy of Sects," February 12, 2001]. The constitutionality of such programs was challenged directly by President James Madison in 1811. In that year, President Madison vetoed a bill passed by Congress that gave a charter to an Episcopal church in the District of Columbia. The bill referred to the church's providing charity and education to the poor in the neighborhood. In his veto, the president stated that this would violate the First Amendment and "would be a precedent to giving to religious societies as such a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civic duty."

Elmer S. Newman

Cleveland, OH

Stealth TV

To the Editors:

Russ Baker's excellent article on why Channel One does not belong in our nation's classrooms, quotes a 1999 stockholder's report from Primedia, which declared that when it comes to helping advertisers reach the teenage market, "Channel One News has no direct competition in schools" ["Stealth TV," February 12, 2001].

Fortunately, there is an alternative for educators who want to provide news in schools without commercial manipulation: CNN Newsroom. Created by Turner Learning, Inc., the educational division of Turner Broadcasting System, CNN Newsroom is a 30-minute program consisting of commercial-free news developed especially for classroom use and offered free to schools. The program provides schools with free taping rights and is designed so that teachers, who record it off-air, can show the entire program or select individual segments that complement the curriculum. Broadcast weekdays on CNN at 4:30 a.m./(ET) 50 weeks a year, the program is accompanied by a free daily classroom guide that's available over the Internet ( CNN Newsroom is seen in 15,400 schools across the country.

Since launching this initiative in 1989, Turner Broadcasting has spent millions on CNN Newsroom, a public-service program that wins awards and generates no revenue for the network. There is no excuse for school administrators who want news in schools to choose instead to sell their students to advertisers in return for a few TV sets from Channel One.

Peggy Charren


Action for Children's Television

Cambridge, MA

The Democrats' Pet Shop

To the Editors:

Robert B. Reich's takeoff on Monty Python's "Dead Parrot Sketch" ["The Democrats' Pet Shop," March 12–26, 2001]--to use a proper British phrase--was brilliant ! One way to give the "parrot" (party) a decent burial is to address a requiem to today's successors to the Reagan-era boll weevils: Vote with the party or be expelled from the new Democratic Party. If that had been done early in the 1980s, the job of "tearing down and building up" a new Democratic Party would have been completed in time to avoid a Bush family repeat, and would have accelerated George H.W.'s retirement. One plank in that rebuilding should be a renewal of a party membership emphasis, with nominal dues for grass-roots strength, much as the U.K.'s Labour Party has always had in place.

Robert Pettigrew

McLean, VA