Mail Call

Readers of our Sept. 19 Special Report on poverty and race in America tried to grapple with the issues arising in Katrina's wake. One found our piece "on target." Another asked, "Why did it take such a calamity to open America's eyes?" A European scolded: "America needs to put its house in order."

Thank you so much for Jonathan Alter's excellent article on poverty in America ("The Other America," Sept. 19). I pray with every fiber of my being that our elected representatives will take this opportunity to realign their priorities and start addressing this tragic and inexcusable situation. Thank you for showcasing this important issue in your fine magazine.

Danielle Masursky

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

After reading about all the horror, desolation, death and misery brought by the hurricanes through the southern United States, I hope America learns that it can't go around the world giving lessons about human rights--look at the human rights of your own African-Americans. It can't give lessons about its economic system--look at the millions of poor in the States. And it can't give lessons on equal rights or equal opportunities when so many in the South had the "opportunity" only to stay and die. America needs to put its house in order before telling the rest of the world to do so. Look at what we have achieved in Europe. We are not work- obsessed like Americans, but we live better, we take better care of our families and our elders, we enjoy life more with much less and we are less stressed here than you.

Carlos Bonafonte

Barcelona, Spain

Thank you for the excellent article "The Other America." I am relieved to see major media sources finally address the underlying poverty in our country, so renowned for its material wealth. However, one aspect of the problem that you glossed over is the funding of our public-education system. Because our schools are primarily funded by property taxes, some poor districts receive less than half the per-pupil allowance that their wealthier neighbors do. This means that children who are already disadvantaged by their poverty get shortchanged on their education--often their only way out of poverty. We pride ourselves on giving all our citizens equal opportunities to succeed, yet millions of children are left behind each year due to an unjust system that no amount of state testing, recess cutbacks or faith-based initiatives can fix. If we really want to snub out poverty, we need to put our money where our mouths are and provide adequate funding to all schools.

Caitlin Prentice

Traverse City, Michigan

Jonathan Alter writes, "Democrats have... shown more allegiance to the teachers unions... than to poor kids." Now teachers are being blamed for the poverty of children, too? If it were not for the teachers union, I would not have the job protection that allows me to advocate for the true needs of children. Poor children are not just a set of test scores to be changed. The overemphasis on test scores is partially to distract attention from the myriad problems in children's lives that the politicians and society cannot, or do not want to, change.

Debra J. Sarver

San Leandro, California

Your devastating photograph of the elderly black lady in your Special Report moved me more than anything else I have seen on this catastrophe. What must she have been thinking? She looks old enough to have experienced the Ku Klux Klan, the civil-rights movement and so many other indignities heaped on the poorest of our black citizens. Now we can add to her long life the terror of living through this storm and waiting days for help to arrive. This is the true picture of America's dirty little secret. We show the world the rich and powerful America, and now it sees us as we really are: totally uncaring toward our most needy people. I am a white, educated female who emigrated from a European country 40 years ago and have been welcomed with open arms and given every opportunity to succeed in this great country. I am ashamed to say I did not know such poverty existed. It is time to eradicate this national disgrace.

Philippa S. Davies

Center Ossipee, New Hampshire

Jonathan Alter's dissection of poverty describes the plight of one woman who was "forced" to drop out of high school at 17 because she was pregnant, and another woman who dropped out of school at 12 who then went on to have five children. Should it be a surprise to anyone that both these women live in poverty? We need to face the hard truths about the causes of poverty and look at the statistics that show that those who graduate from high school, don't have children until they are married and don't marry until they are at least 20 make up a small number of poor people. When we assign responsibility for a 17-year-old's becoming pregnant or a 12-year-old's dropping out of school and having five children, we must discuss the issue of personal responsibility. It is not the government that produces these children as a ploy to obstruct the path to economic advancement.

Joe Cordill

Shreveport, Louisiana

Sociologist Andrew Cherlin's notion that "we have a moral obligation to provide every American with a decent life" is ridiculous. Nobody has the obligation to provide me with anything. I have a responsibility to provide for myself and my family. In my 20s I found myself a single parent of four small children due to divorce. Welfare offered a temporary solution to my problem. I knew I had a responsibility to myself, my children and my community to provide for my family. Student loans and grants are available to those who choose to educate themselves in an effort to make a better life. I worked part time and attended college full time while raising my children, eating mostly macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly for four and a half years. I graduated at the top of my class. I can tell you firsthand that it can be done and that the increased income that comes with increased education is more than enough to make low-interest student-loan payments.

Dawn S. Judiscak

O'fallon, Illinois

I am happy to see an article about poverty in America. It is sad that it took such a disaster to attract the media's attention. I am a 26-year-old single mother of four, recently out of an abusive relationship. I make $9 an hour after working at my job for four years. This is the most I can expect to make at this level of employment. It offers no 401(k), no pension and no insurance. I receive child-care assistance, food stamps, Medicaid and Earned Income Credit. I need these things to survive. I could go on and on about the problems that I face and that I see people around me dealing with on a daily basis, but there is no room for that here. Most people in the middle and upper classes have no idea what it is like to have to choose between paying the bills and buying shoes or food for their children. They are angry because they see someone getting something that he or she doesn't have to pay for. What they don't see is that many of these people work just as hard as they do, usually in much less desirable conditions, and bring home far less money. They also do not know what it is like to look at your life and see no hope for the future. So they blame poor people for their own situation. But if we are working and contributing to society, don't we deserve at least to live a stable and comfortable existence? Are our jobs and roles in society so much less important that we do not deserve to have adequate housing and to feed and clothe our children?

Samantha Stewart

Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

As Evan Thomas wrote in "Deadly Mistakes" (Sept. 19), America's response to the disaster in New Orleans "ranked as a national disgrace." While officials squabbled over who was at fault and scrambled to emerge from the bureaucratic wreckage as unscathed as possible, thousands of the nation's most vulnerable people were just trying to survive--and too many just did not make it. Perhaps the coverage of this national tragedy will awaken Americans from their complacency to show them what their leaders have tried for so long to insulate them from: the marginalization of their poor, the real national disgrace.

Silas West

Katmandu, Nepal

President George W. Bush, his predecessors and Congress, present and past, blew it long before Katrina came along. The flooding of New Orleans was not the result of a natural event, Katrina or any other hurricane. It was man-made by those who, knowing the levee system was not up to a serious hurricane, still refused to fund an upgrade. Had that been done, Katrina's damage to New Orleans would have been slight by comparison. How many other tragedies are waiting to happen courtesy of budget, tax and political ideology?

Dan Thompson

Union, Oregon

Never in my wildest dreams could I have pictured a scenario in which President Bush's aides nervously debated which of them should advise him to cut his five-week vacation short in a time of national crisis. Yet that is exactly what Evan Thomas describes. That alone should strike fear in all Americans. Whatever Bill Clinton's perceived personal and moral failings were (and the accompanying, relentless criticism), it is impossible to imagine a similar debate in the Clinton White House.

Maranna Meehan

Havertown, Pennsylvania

There is plenty of blame to go around in the immediate local, state and federal response to the Hurricane Katrina crisis. President Bush has accepted responsibility for federal failures. However, his well-known enemies continue to target him without holding the Louisiana governor's or the New Orleans mayor's feet to the fire. Clearly, the Katrina disaster has been reduced to mindless, hateful politics beyond reason and common sense, deepening social, political and economic divisions that are dangerous to our national health and security. Maybe the time has come for nonpartisan elections and government. Our survival may very well depend on it.

Daniel B. Jeffs

Apple Valley, California

Please, do not play the blame and shame game. I am not ashamed; I am very proud of the outpouring of compassion and compensation by my countrymen and my government. And is it necessary to blame the president? Let's learn from our mistakes so we can do better the next time--and we will. Blame and shame have no place in the midst of this catastrophe.

Howard Morin

Woodstock, Georgia

After reading Evan Thomas's article "Deadly Mistakes," I have become even more convinced that 50 to 100 years from now, objective historians will remember George W. Bush as the most unfairly criticized president in U.S. history.

Harry Wastrack

Sterling, Virginia

Thanks for your story on the Rolling Stones ("Satisfaction Guaranteed," Aug. 15). After 43 years of leading the world's greatest rock-and-roll band, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger are true musical geniuses who deserve the attention. They've written and recorded the emotions of our lives, with one hit song after another in diverse genres--rock, country, punk, reggae, disco, techno and blues. They aren't old; they're timeless.

Janet Jones

Durango, Colorado

The Rolling Stones' faces might give kids nightmares, but reading about their energy and love of performing should give baby boomers hope. After they've lived the rock-star lifestyle for years, the energy the Stones show at retirement age is inspirational. May they rock and roll into their 80s!

Nancy Nolan

Lexington, Massachusetts