Volume 1, Number 21
3 September 2001

A Few Questions

Dear Friends,

Upon leaving for Europe (back September 21), I entrust a few questions for you. Please tell me your opinions about these subjects, and which you would prefer to discuss in future Newsletters.

Global warming

Despite media reports on the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientists who wrote it were not in agreement. All believe that global warming is taking place. But physicist Richard Lindzen of MIT shows evidence that the current warming is part of a centuries-long cycle of warming and cooling, about which we can do nothing. Is Lindzen another "Galileo," telling the truth to an unbelieving world, or is he "off beam?"

Several years ago the late Walter Roberts, founder of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told me global warming could not be stopped — whether it occurs naturally or by human intervention doesn't matter. We should begin preparing for what to do about it. How do you feel about that?

Human rights

During the 1960s two covenants on human rights were thrashed out: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The former covers the right to vote, to live peacefully, not to be tortured, and others. The latter includes the right to food, health care, and employment.

Neither covenant is honored in practice everywhere. But the second has caused much dissent. Do people have rights to food, housing, and employment, or should these be the result of one's endeavor ("if you don't work, you don't eat"). Every right implies someone else's obligation. If everyone has the right to (say) food, health care, and employment, who has the obligation to provide these?

Health care

What would you think of the following health care program?

  1. Government and employers stay out, except as individually agreed between employee and employer.
  2. Everyone required to have minimum, private health insurance from birth. This is to protect the rest of society, which would be compassionate enough to provide care where needed but which should not be "put upon" by free riders. Minimum would be stipulated by Congress.
  3. Subsidize with cash those not able to pay for the minimum, on a sliding scale depending on income, as verified by tax returns. The poorest would be subsidized 100%.
  4. Prescription drugs to be included, totally, partially, or not at all, according to insurance policies freely offered and freely bought.
  5. Anyone might buy more than the minimum out of private funds.
  6. Those choosing HMOs make their own contracts with them, provided they meet the minimum requirement. If either side does not live up to the contract, lawsuits should be for contract violation (no other "patients' rights" nor "drug requirement").

Please let me know if you would favor such a program, all or in part, or what you see as the problems with it.


Until recently, only three countries besides the United States used the U.S. dollar as their official currency (Liberia, Panama, and the British Virgin Islands). Last year Ecuador adopted it (sucres were exchanged for dollars). Now the Argentines are considering it seriously, and many economists have suggested that the dollar should be the currency of all the Western Hemisphere. Although the peso remains its official currency, the Argentine government promises to exchange any number of pesos for dollars and is legally required to have enough dollars in reserve to do so. Nevertheless it has many more government bonds outstanding than could be redeemed with dollars. The interest rate on Argentina peso obligations is higher than that on dollar obligations because the peso is distrusted (devaluation feared). This difference also reflects a distrust of the Argentine government itself. (Consider Argentina as Country X in TQE #20).

Question: Should the western hemisphere adopt the U.S. dollar as a universal currency? What are the pros and cons of this? Does doing so imply a new brand of U.S. imperialism, even if the Latin governments themselves make the choice?

An international court to try war criminals

Should the United States join other nations in favoring a court to try accused war criminals such as Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, if he is ever captured?

How about dictators who abuse their own citizens, like Augusto Pinochet of Chile?

Did you favor the Nuremberg trials? If Germany had won the war, would Roosevelt have been tried instead of Hitler? (Of course, they were both dead, but you get the idea).

Suppose the court were dominated by countries hostile to the United States, and Clinton and Kissinger were kidnapped and tried before it for crimes in Libya and Kosovo. Suppose lesser figures, like ordinary American soldiers, were tried for "peace keeping" in Somalia and Kosovo. How would you feel about that?

Do we require the poor to live like the rich, when they cannot afford it?

A farm I know of in Colorado was housing legal Mexican migrant workers in huts that were substandard according to our building codes, but that were much better than the housing they were accustomed to in Mexico. The authorities required the farmer to upgrade the houses. He could not do so economically, and the farm was closed, the workers thrown into the streets, and I do not know what became of them.

If the codes on maximum occupancy in New York City were strictly enforced, thousands of people would be thrown into the streets. Is it proper to have laws that we do not enforce because doing so would create intolerable conditions?

An architect friend of mine wanted to build affordable housing for the poor. He designed an electrical socket that could be operated by a string extending from the upper floor to the lower. It was rejected by the inspectors, who insisted on three-way switches in both locations — which would have made the house more expensive. How do you feel about that?

Would homelessness be alleviated if people were allowed to double up more? Do our housing codes cause homelessness?

This raises a broader question: Do we require the poor to live like the rich when they cannot afford to do so? This question applies to sweatshops abroad, debt repayment, conditions of foreign aid, and other. It applies to Canadian foreign aid to Tanzania, in which roofs were required to withstand three feet of snow.

Other questions

What other questions shall we consider in future Letters? Please let me know.

Current plans

As you receive this letter, Robin (my wife) and I will be on a river cruise from Amsterdam to Vienna. Then we will fly to Frankfurt and entrain for Heidelberg, where I will participate in a conference, giving a paper on Japan. (You didn't know I was an expert on Japan, did you? Well, neither did I. But I am not going to turn down an opportunity just because I am not the most qualified person.)

Right after World War II, while employed as an auditor (living in Paris), I was assigned to a three-month audit in Frankfurt, which lay in ruins. Not wanting to live in the expatriates' hotel, I found a German Quaker family to take me in. I slept on the couch in their living room in a partly bombed building. The stairway to their floor had no wall on the outside, so I looked out on ruined buildings across the street. I paid my "rent" with food they could not buy but to which I was entitled in the post exchange.

The American Friends Service Committee had organized a Neighborhood House (Nachbarschaftsheim) to bring some semblance of community life in a bombed-out neighborhood. I taught folk dancing to young Germans there. A hiking club, called Naturfreunde, met there, and, wearing Lederhosen, I joined them for some of the best hikes of my life. (An American soldier once threatened to shoot me because I walked too close to a military rest resort). One of the Germans, named Klaus, became my special friend. Now, 54 years later, Robin and I will visit Klaus and his family in Frankfurt, just before we return home. (P.S. The Nachbarschaftsheim still exists).

Sincerely your friend,

Jack Powelson

Readers' Comments

Please send comments on any TQE, at any time. Selected comments will be appended to the appropriate letter as they are received. Please indicate in the subject line the number of the Letter to which you refer! The email address is tqe-comment followed by @quaker.org. All published letters will be edited for spelling, grammar, clarity, and brevity. Please mention your home meeting, church, synagogue (or ...), and where you live.

TQE received a wealth of replies and suggestions to the questions raised in this letter. All topics except dollarization had many responses. Instead of publishing these responses separately, I would like to write a Letter on each of these issues, incorporating into its body the messages of readers and giving my responses, many of which will be in agreement, some not. Therefore, you may expect that all these topics except dollarization will be taken up in future Letters. Love and Peace, — Jack

I am not a Quaker, but I subscribed to your letter after Catherine Murray sent it to me. I like it very much. I knew many Quakers growing up in Philadelphia, especially when my father was investigated by HUAC in 1953. The Quakers provided a pro bono attorney, Henry Sawyer, and helped us financially and by sending my sister and me to families in a Quaker community, Bryn Gwellyd, for a summer vacation. Later I became much more conservative, and was upset by the mindless leftism of so many Quakers, which has led well-meaning people to endorse evil. But I have always kept a soft spot for Quakers both because of my own past and because of your noble history in the anti-slavery movement and other social movements. I am so happy to receive your letter and see that not all Quakers are politically naive and silly, and that the principles that have been such a force for good in the past are being coupled with economic sophistication and common sense. I wish you great success.

— Judy Warner


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Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting

Editorial Board

  • Rich Ailes, Middletown (PA) Friends Meeting.
  • Roger Conant, Mount Hope Friends Meeting, Northampton, MA.
  • Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting.
  • Janet Minshall, Anneewakee Creek Friends Worship Group, Douglasville, GA.
  • Jack Powelson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends, Principal Editor.
  • J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
  • Geoffrey Williams, Bethesda (MD) Friends Meeting.

Members of the Editorial Board receive Letters several days in advance for their criticisms, but they do not necessarily endorse the contents of any of them.

This newsletter was formerly known as The Classic Liberal Quaker.

Copyright © 2001 by Jack Powelson. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for non-commercial reproduction.

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