Readers ponder the Iraqi election and disagree over Terri Schiavo's right to life. Plus: Extorting lunch money from vets. And: Will NBC go the way of Fox?

Published February 1, 2005 10:21PM (EST)

[Read "A Proud Day in Iraq," by Mitchell Prothero.]

It is very nice that 93 percent of Iraqi expatriates voted, but it would have been nicer if they had been willing to fight in Iraq for the freedom they now seem to value so highly. I was disgusted by the sight of so many able-bodied expats dancing at the various polling stations; they let others do the dying for them so they can dance and vote in the comfort and safety of the United States and other countries. Does anyone really think they are going to return to live in Iraq? Maybe to do business -- nothing more. Our troops did not have to die to give Iraqis an election. What next? Saudi Arabia? Hey, that's a good idea.

-- Ruth A. Shalom

How can the Iraqi voter turnout "exceed expectations" when no one in the administration could even remotely say what those expectations were? After reading news reports and listening to radio talk shows for weeks, I have yet to hear any answer stating what would constitute a "good turnout." Were 10 million voters expected? 10 thousand? 10?! Just more obscure, obtuse, Orwellian doublespeak from the white house (lower case intentional).

-- Jay Brown

The majority of people in Middle Eastern countries have adopted the philosophy and psychology of Islam, which consists of untamed religion -- untamed by any hint of secularism or, politically speaking, separation of church and state. The degree to which this view dominates a society is the degree to which that society, if given a chance to vote, will certainly vote into office religious fanatics.

If the Iraqi people want a happy, fulfilling and productive life on earth -- and are willing to work for it -- then democracy will be a useful tool for them, so long as democracy is grounded in a respect for individual rights and basic freedoms such as separation of church and state. These are not values that the Americans can pound into their hearts, minds or psyches. American foreign policy should be about pounding and destroying dangerous regimes who threaten us. However, we can't make people want freedom. We can only protect ourselves -- and, in the process, anyone interested in freedom.

Unless or until the peoples of the Middle East tame and curb their Islam, freedom and prosperity are out of the question.

-- Michael J. Hurd

I'm a regular reader of Salon.com and enjoy reading the news from a relatively balanced perspective. I appreciate that your institution still practices journalism in an era when many in news media have apparently opted to toe the line of the Bush administration's propaganda. There is, however, one thing I am wondering about: How can Iraq possibly have a free and democratic election if it is carried out under the auspices of an occupying military force?

It seems likely that the insurgents are attempting to de-legitimize the election through a campaign of fear, but how legitimate would the elections be anyhow?

I believe these are important questions that should be addressed in any balanced discussion of the situation in Iraq.

-- Andrew Squire

[Read "The Value of a Life," by Linda Reid Chassiakos.]

Terri Schiavo is not disabled. She is in a permanent vegetative state (PVS). Most, if not all, of the brain tissue that enables higher functions -- that enables true personhood -- is gone and has been replaced by fluid. The tragedy of a PVS is that the person may appear to have emotions. But they are only appearances. Terri Schiavo is gone, and she's not coming back, not in this world.

Florida law defines PVS as a terminal condition. In addition artificial hydration and nutrition are considered to be medical interventions, initiated only upon a physician's order. As with any other intervention they can be accepted or rejected by the patient, either directly, through an advance directive, or through a proxy such as a spouse.

While there has been a very vocal and visible right-wing propaganda industry launched with the intention of keeping Terri's body alive, her husband, Michael, has largely reserved his comments for the courts. And he has consistently won in those courts, and rightly so.

Michael Schiavo will no doubt lose in the court of public opinion. He already has. There are a hundred organizations and ten thousand Web sites opposing him. The only things he has on his side are his own tenacity, the evidence, the official findings of fact, and the many court decisions that have consistently affirmed his side -- his wife's side -- of the case.

Terri Schiavo left long ago. It's time to let her body go as well.

-- Jim Holman

It is not surprising to read yet another article by a medical doctor upholding their sworn duty to protect life, no matter what. The majority of doctors in the U.S. are mentally paralyzed when it comes to this issue, due to U.S. medical school training. It is also not surprising that someone caring for a disabled child would write such an article. What is surprising is that Salon would publish it. This article makes no rational argument. Comparing paraplegics or a disabled child to Terri Schiavo makes no sense. Dr. Chassiakos lovingly describes her daughter's crawling, giggling, and playing with toys. Terri Schiavo can't do these things. She can't talk. She can't move. She can't think. She isn't really alive. The religious right may ask: "Well how do you know she can't think, that her brain isn't alive and working?" But that is the beauty of modern medical technology -- we do know she can't think. She is brain-dead. The majority of her brain, including all the parts required for thought, behavior, emotion, etc., are dead. Terri Schiavo is essentially a collection of organs being kept alive by machines. But as a human being, she is not alive in any sense of the word.

-- Jason Hamilton

Thank you for having the courage to publish Linda Reid Chassiakos' brave and moving essay. I've noticed over the years that your editorial policy toward the value of human life has been reflexively "pro-choice," a position that, in its support for the destruction of children conceived in inconvenient or difficult circumstances, would go hand in hand with the controversial decision to remove Terri Schiavo from her feeding tube. I hope that your decision to publish Chassiakos' article may signal a turn in a different direction, one that recognizes that the value of each human life is not something that can be arbitrarily given or taken away when that life becomes problematic.

-- Julia Grella

While I am certainly sympathetic to Dr. Chassiakos' suffering as a parent of severely disabled child, I think there can be little comparison between her plight and that of Terri Schiavo's family. Dr. Chassiakos also makes many factual errors in her argument to preserve Terri's life.

First of all, Terri's parents aren't her caregivers, as Dr. Chassiakos claims; Terri is in a hospital facility. Next, her husband isn't making the decision to terminate the feeding tube; Terri made that decision before she became ill.

Dr. Chassiakos implies strongly that Michael Schiavo is lying and that he's out to maliciously murder his wife. But Terri isn't being allowed to die because she is an inconvenience for her "uncommitted" husband. If Michael had wanted to just walk away and marry his current girlfriend, he could have done that years ago. Instead, he chose to stand by his wife and remain married to her so he could honor her wish that she not persist in a vegetative state. Michael Schiavo has shown a level of dedication that I think is honorable, and I haven't seen any evidence that his motivations are selfish.

The question of whether adults should be allowed to make decisions about the level of medical intervention they would want in the case of catastrophe is entirely different from the question of whether society should be able to euthanize disabled children. The difference is so extreme this can't even be considered a "slippery slope"-type argument. I am deeply sorry that any parent must suffer the emotional grief caused by having children with profound medical problems, but that doesn't diminish an adult's right to self-determination.

-- Jacqui Cain

[Read "Insult to Injury," by Mark Benjamin.]

I was in the 10th Mountain Division from 1993 to 1997, so I know a couple of things about how they deal with meal allowances, known in the Army as BAS [basic allowance for subsistence]. For the longest time, soldiers living with their families were not required to eat in the mess hall and were given "separate rations" -- the subsistence allowance -- instead. Since you can eat a lot more spending this money at the commissary (grocery store) than you can in the mess hall, this is a pretty sweet deal.

When you go to the field, or deploy on some mission, you are fed in the field, and you lose your BAS for however many days you are out in the field. While this is fine for your plain old 5- or 10-day field exercise, you really feel it if you have to go on an extended mission -- to Desert Storm, for example. As a matter of fact, it was Desert Storm that provided most of the stories about single soldiers getting over like the mess hall cats, while poor married troops with children at home were getting combat pay on one hand while losing their BAS.

The solution? Well, if you're going out to the woods for a few days, the usual rules should still apply, but if you're going on a real-world mission that requires hostile-fire pay, you should get to keep your subsistence allowance, regardless of your family status. Single soldiers would receive this allowance in addition to their hostile-fire pay so that everybody's equal, and everybody's happy. Nobody thought about what would happen when soldiers were wounded in action and had to leave the hostile-fire zone, thus losing their hostile-fire benefits.

-- David Jansing

It's outrageous, unbelievable, that this is occurring. Our troops are sent over to Iraq on the cheap and then brought home wounded and taken care of on the cheap.

What a disgrace! This administration has shown disregard for the fighting men and women from the start of this illegal war. It's time to hold those in power in Washington accountable for this abomination.

-- Beverly Monaghan

It seems that all of us who served in the Army at least during the Vietnam War were either extremely docile or we understood the military policy. Soldiers who are on separate rations (not living in the barracks, not eating for free in the mess hall) receive a monthly stipend. This is not for the military member's family, but for the soldier. Soldiers have had to repay the hospital from their separate rations, as far as I know, since the Korean War.

-- Anne Philiben

[Read "Right Hook," by Mark Follman.]

I wish the conservative religious lobby luck in their quest to convince the president to push for a ban on gay marriage. I've known for some time that Bush has a bad habit of saying what people want to hear and then doing what he wants. Maybe religious conservatives should start lobbying for impeachment; if they feel they elected Bush on this issue, they have every reason to feel betrayed.

-- Juli Brazile

I recently saw Brian Williams on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" (who seems to become more Republican with each show). It was just after Bush's inauguration. Mr. Williams said thought it was a shame that Democrats had spoiled Dr. Rice's chance to be sworn in right after Bush, which was the plan. He seemed to think that they should not have asked her those questions, because it was a forgone conclusion that she was going to be our next secretary of state.

I've been concerned that NBC news has been more conservative lately and have decided to quit watching its national news completely. I watch ABC and PBS and read news on the Internet every day instead. Finding the truth is getting harder and scarier. I guess Mr. Williams doesn't truly understand the importance of the fourth estate in a democracy. How can any clear-thinking individual listen to the hateful ravings of Rush Limbaugh (a serial divorcer and drug addict) and not see the hypocrisy of this prejudiced pap he is spouting?

-- Pamela Hampson

By Salon Staff

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