This week’s “Free for All letters.”

India's socialist past

My jaw dropped when I read Sheri Berman’s March 3 Outlook essay, “Five Myths: Socialism.” Berman began by claiming that “socialism in the United States is prominent in a way it hasn’t been in decades,” but Gallup’s November 2018 poll found that 54 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents wanted the party to become “more moderate,” while only 41 percent wanted it to be more liberal. (Note: Fifty-seven percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents wanted a more conservative Republican Party.) At a minimum, Berman’s hope for social democracy in the United States is most premature.

Berman asserted that “social democracy has arguably been the single most successful modern ideology or political movement,” but that ignored the country that was the most social democratic in the 20th century. From 1947 through 1991, India had the purest form of social democracy, and the nation suffered with slow economic growth (about 3 percent). More than 60 percent of the rural population lived in poverty. Social democracy delivered only misery and deprivation. (Since 1991, when market-driven reforms were implemented, India’s gross domestic product has been increasing by more than 7 percent.)

While completely ignoring the record in India, Berman continued, “the parts of the world considered to be the most ‘social democratic,’ like the Scandinavian countries, are successful by almost any measure.” Sweden’s GDP growth rate averaged only 0.56 percent from 1981 through 2018. Moreover, Berman made no mention of Sweden’s 2009 stimulus, which used permanent tax cuts rather than bailouts or debt-financed social spending. Since 2000, Sweden has abandoned its wealth tax, eliminated its property tax, reduced corporate income taxes and made sharp cuts to unemployment benefits.

This lends little support to Berman’s claims.

Richard W. Burcik, Malvern, Pa.


Mahershala Ali won the best supporting actor Oscar for “Green Book” at the Academy Awards on Feb. 24. (Reuters)
Reading further into 'Green Book'

Ann Hornaday’s March 1 Style column, “Why ‘Green Book’ shouldn’t have people seeing red,” responded effectively to critics decrying the film’s Oscar for best picture. Even she, however, missed a key message implicit in its very title: the evil nature of Jim Crow. I saw that reality as a young boy living on a plantation in World War II — with a mother who told me it was wrong — and never forgot. Years later, traveling south, we saw again its “colored” motels and other aspects. You didn’t have to go far from Washington — down Route 1 — to see.

Young people today learn academically about segregation, but “Green Book” shows it — vividly, on-screen. It portrays clearly and accurately people who would happily invite black performers into their homes but expect them to eat separately and return to segregated quarters. Perhaps exposing Jim Crow’s ugliness wasn’t an intended message of the film, but I doubt it. It’s not just a feel-good movie and hardly one of “white saves black,” as some critics suggest. There were other excellent movies focused on the racism that still plagues us today, but “Green Book’s” Oscar wasn’t misplaced. It will cause more people to see the film. That’s good.

William Rope, Washington

I have worn out the pages of my dictionary over the years, thanks to Ann Hornaday, and now I need to buy a new one. In “Why ‘Green Book’ shouldn’t have people seeing red,” she used the words “coruscatingly,” “opprobrium” and “shibboleth.”

I am all for gaining knowledge, but having to pick up my dictionary every time I read one of her articles is getting a bit ridiculous.

Mary Bienvenue, Washington


Rep. Ralph M. Hall (R) in Rockwall, Tex., in 2014. (LM Otero/AP)
This congressman also was a real gentleman

The March 8 obituary for former congressman Ralph M. Hall, “Texan was oldest House member, final WWII veteran to serve,” left out an important attribute. During his tenure as chairman of a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I had the honor to testify several times at hearings Hall chaired.

He never failed to thank all the witnesses, regardless of whom they represented, for their time and effort in appearing before the committee. His questions always were aimed at establishing all sides of the policy issue at hand. He set a standard for civility and kindness that is sorely missed.

Guy F. Caruso, Annandale

The writer was administrator of the Energy Information Administration from 2002 to 2008.

See the whole person

In the March 2 news article “Crisis for Walmart’s disabled workers is a publicity nightmare for retailer,” reference was made six times to “disabled” employees, workers or greeters vs. three times to “greeters with disabilities.”

The more appropriate nomenclature is “persons with disabilities” or “individual with a disability,” where the individual himself or herself is recognized first over his or her disability.

The idea is to see the individual as a whole person, without a primary label as a disabled person. As an advocate for people with disabilities, I’ve been honored to work with many wonderful individuals and see them uniquely as whole persons, who happen to manage a disability in addition to managing all other aspects of their lives.

Linda M. Moore, Reston

The writer is chair of the board of St. John’s Community Services.

The tax reform could break them

My husband and I just did our taxes. We owe an additional $5,435. This tax season, I’ve read a lot of articles blaming taxpayers for the shock they are experiencing after filing 2018 taxes, including Michelle Singletary’s March 6 Color of Money column, “Blindsided by your 2018 taxes? Here are some answers for your 2019 return.” [Economy & Business]. The message to taxpayers was “Oh, Silly, you didn’t withhold enough from your paycheck.”

I knew there was going to be a problem with the slashing of the state and local tax deduction, so my husband and I increased our withholding by the same amount the deduction had gone down. Sadly, that wasn’t enough. And we were not getting “a little more in each check.”

The enormous change that does not get enough media coverage is the cap on the deduction for state and local taxes. For a tax system that is based on dollar amounts, across a country with a wide variation in cost of living, the only leveler was the state and local tax deduction. When the tax bill passed, there were pundits who opined that it was designed to hurt only blue states. The implication was blue-state Democrats enact “socialist” policies that drive up taxes. But blue states are also where the cities are big and the cost of living is high, where services such as public transit are needed, and where teachers, police and firefighters must earn something close to a living wage. Yes, our state and local taxes are higher. So, the advice is to increase our withholdings for 2019? Duh.

If you are a middle-class family living in a highly populated state with a high cost of living, effectively, there is no tax break for you; in fact, you probably will pay more. This tax law is just one more straw added to the back of the middle class. When will we break?  

Mary Twillman, Olney


Ben Carson at a 2017 hearing on his nomination as housing and urban development secretary. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
A notorious malapropism

An egregious linguistic solecism vitiated the otherwise well-written and informative March 5 news article “Ben Carson to leave HUD at end of Trump’s term.” The article said “Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who gained notoriety for his pioneering surgery separating conjoined twins.” It is baffling how a pioneering medical breakthrough such as Carson’s could possibly bring someone “notoriety.”

“Notorious” means famous for some bad quality or deed. Out of a wide range of antonyms available for notoriety — e.g., repute, distinction, celebrity, renown, eminence, to list a handful — any one of which would fit the context nicely. Thus, the phrase can be rewritten as “Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who gained renown for separating conjoined twins.” A truly outstanding medical achievement, indeed.

This type of verbal infelicity underscores the limitations of automatic, computerized word and spelling-check mechanisms, whereby a word or words can slip through undetected, regardless of the context of usage, however inapposite.

Amit Raychaudhuri, Alexandria

Insulting Italian Americans

David Von Drehle’s pointed references in his March 3 op-ed, “Why Trump’s cronies don’t stand up to him,” to “Guys and Dolls,” “Paulie Suits,” the Meadowlands (the New Jersey wetlands and long-rumored final resting place of Jimmy Hoffa), Michael Corleone (of “Godfather” infamy) and “goombah[s]” constituted slurs against Italian Americans.

That last one particularly tests one’s patience. In my family and community, it is commonly considered as offensive as far more publicly incendiary epithets in various minority communities. Why was this necessary or accepted? It was especially galling in an edition that included front-page articles on a white-supremacist group that fortunately may soon implode [“A black man now controls a hate group”] and regrettable “immigration” practices and abuses targeting Hispanic families from Central America [“To the border again, in hopes of reuniting”].

I have let scores of such casually insensitive articles and references pass uncommented upon through the years, so I am not thin-skinned. But The Post owes its readers better.

Chad Sarchio, Alexandria


Stephanie Hinze makes cookies with her son Ethan, 3, on March 3 in their Gainesville, Ga., home. (Elijah Nouvelage/For The Washington Post)
A luminous glimpse of everyday life

A photograph that accompanied the March 7 front-page article “Scientists set sights on rarely studied condition: Pregnancy” was sublimely gorgeous. It was the 21st-century version of the famed 17th-century Dutch oil paintings. The beautifully luminous triangle of the mother, child and family dog amid the gloriously lit background of this particular setting were all elements that made this photo a true rival of any European genre art.

I applaud the photographer, Elijah Nouvelage, for his magnificent artistry.

Linda "Maia" Belosevic Linzer, Gaithersburg

Harper isn't the only loss

Regarding the March 1 front-page article “See . . . you . . . later! Harper heads to Phillies.”:

Not only does Bryce Harper’s defection to Philadelphia leave the Washington Nationals without a bona fide slugger and charismatic star, but also devoted fans must cope this season without the incomparable Nats beat writer Chelsea Janes. Harper is off to a fast-rising National League rival (ugh), and Janes is taking her insightful writing to the (crowded) arena of national politics. Two superb talents, to be sure. But sound career moves? Doubtful.

Score this as a loss for this Nats baseball fan and avid reader of Post sportswriting.

Charles Maier, Rockville

The 'green' in Vermont

The March 10 Business article “Growth and decline of the most European of U.S. states” omitted mention of Vermont as a climate change haven. The state’s potential as a refuge from the harmful effects of climate change is quite promising.

Frederick S. Potter, Apollo Beach, Fla.

Escalation in the war of words

Regarding Vice President Pence’s March 3 Sunday Opinion essay, “America needs a Space Force”:

It is disturbing that the term of art for people in the military has morphed from “service members” to “troops” to “war-fighters.” Changes intended to intimidate, perhaps?

John M. Burke, Colchester, Vt.

Rankled by 'rankings'

In her Feb. 27 op-ed, “Drafting women is a daft idea,” Kathleen Parker wrote that, “without combat experience, women couldn’t compete with men for the highest military rankings.” The word should have been military “ranks,” official positions occupied by military officers, based on standards and attained through a formal selection (promotion) process. A “ranking” is a list, usually subjective, indicating relative standing, such as the ranking of college basketball teams.  

Roger Hartman, Annandale

Overabundant appreciation

Luke Perry, an actor from a drama whose final episode was produced in 2000, died on March 4, and that merited, in the March 5 Post, a blurb with a color photograph on the front page, a full obituary in the Metro section [“For a generation of viewers, actor remained the heartthrob Dylan McKay”] and an “appreciation” with another color photo, this one spread over five columns on the front of the Style section [“He put the zip in ‘90210’ ”]. Was “Beverly Hills, 90210” really that memorable?

Must have been a really slow news day.

Graham Vink, Vienna

Readers don't need graphic abuse details

What is the news value in describing acts of child abuse, sexual harassment and other sexual molestation in graphic terms? Articles in The Post about the abuses within the Catholic Church, including the Feb. 28 news article “Australian cardinal jailed to await sentencing,” invariably include detailed visual descriptions about which body parts were touched, forcibly put in someone’s mouth and the like. Are editors incapable of subtlety? Do they not believe there is a need for it in this realm? Are they incapable of conveying sexual abuse in less specific terms such that the general idea is known to the reader?

Would it not be acceptable and sufficiently informative for the main purposes of the news article to simply refer to touching, groping or forced sexual acts without additional specifics? If we want our children to read the newspaper to learn how to become informed citizens, we now have to contend with them reading emotionally disturbing descriptions of adults forcing themselves on children and other adult-on-adult sexually aggressive acts. Detailed descriptions of sexual abuse are unnecessary.

Michelle High, Chevy Chase

What schools are up against

The March 11 news article “In booming Colorado, public schools suffer” outlined the difficulty of adequately funding schools in the face of constitutional and legislative barriers specifically targeting public education. The article attributed these limits on school funding to citizen resistance to increased taxes. However, it neglected to mention the long-term campaigns by the Koch organization through groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council to drastically reduce government spending in Colorado, particularly spending to support public education.

Among the chief goals of the approach is to find an ideal way of “abolishing the public school system ” and eliminating all the taxes that pay for it, economist Milton Friedman, an ALEC supporter, said in an address to an ALEC group in 2006. When public education is facing enemies such as these, it is important to include a consideration of their activities in any discussion of  the financial crisis facing our schools.

Larry Specht, Washington